Thursday, November 29, 2007

the birth certificate

Well, it is finally official, little Annie has a birth certificate.

As we checked out of the hospital on Saturday, they told me to return on Tuesday regarding the birth certificate. We left, wondering about the process of procuring a birth certificate in India, where the paperwork is illegible and inconsistent and plentiful. I returned on Tuesday to hear the hospitable hospital lady tell me that everything would be all taken care of by the hospital, I would just need to go over to the city board in two days and give them the names of the parents.

"I know who the parents are now, could we just send... that information... with the..." I felt myself trailing off, weakly wondering if the irony of such an errand would occur to her. The very idea of a Mussoorie city government had my palms sweating. I did not know what or where the city board was, but I was immediately certain that somewhere in Mussoorie, within the thick walls of a crumbling building, there was a dank little room full of battered registers and purple stamps and eddies of beedi smoke wandering through the dirty window beams that illuminated the musty offices of the City Board. A room full of papers and paperclips and little pots of glue for fixing stamps to official papers whose letters had been fused together and worn smooth generations ago by the photocopier. A room full of paperwork, full of circular queues that would have me wasting my hours, full of self-contradictory rubber stamps that would have my family stuck in immigration with our baby (that any idiot could see had been born) as our plane flew toward loving relatives and baseball games and hamburgers. I hate paperwork.

So I gritted my teeth and smiled and asked directions to the city board before stepping out of the hospital toward the unknown. The differences between a step of faith and a stride of sheer resignation are few and sometimes invisible. I found the city board, and an alarming number of my predictions were accurate, including the part about the directions being a kilometer off.

When I was fairly certain I was on the premises, I asked where to go, stood in the only line I found, and waited. A kind man pointed me in the right direction, and I found a room full of ancient seven-foot-tall enameled cabinets and desks with blotters and windows of wavy glass.

There were four men leaning on a desk over a few papers, so I waited. I explained my desire to get a birth certificate, and I showed them the form from the hospital. With no English and in spite of my own ignorance of Hindi, one of the men was able to show me that I needed to copy down a hand-written request for the issue of a birth certificate, as submitted by the previous father. I idly wondered if mine would go unprocessed until it had served as the model for the next father.

When the letter was done, I was taken to a different room and asked to wait. This small room contained two large desks, several of the looming cabinets, and no less than seven wall calendars. Eventually I was asked how many copies I would like. My mind went wild with the temptation to ask for five hundred copies of little Annie's birth certificate. I mustered the restraint to say that two copies would be sufficient. I probably overcompensated from my initial impulse, maybe three or four would have been good planning. They asked for ten rupees and told me to come back in two days.

I went back today and received the birth certificates, which were hand written (translated into English even though I didn't ask--I guess I still come across as a foreigner) and duly substantiated by the purple stamp of Indian paperwork. The process was in no way miserable, and I was even able to be thankful for the chance to live in India.

Pictures of Annie:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Esther Anna Elisabeth

This is our new baby girl! She was born this morning at 8:05 AM. Mother and Annie are healthy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

wallet paradox

Two people, Andre and Erik, are going to play a game. They are going to take out their wallets, count the money in each wallet, and give all of the money to the person whose wallet contains the least. Assume for the sake of the problem that they do not know anything about the other person's cash habits.

Andre thinks about it and concludes that if he loses, he will lose all of the cash that he has, but if he wins (meaning that Erik had more), he will win Erik's money, which was even more than he would have lost. With equal chances of winning and losing, he decides that the advantage is his.

Likewise, Erik has the advantage. With equal chances of winning and losing, he would potentially win more than he would potentially lose, so the advantage in the game is his.

Can they both have the advantage?

This puzzle was found on, and is apparently attributed to Maurice Kraitchik.

jigsaw paradox

If both of the figures are assembled with the same shapes, why does the top one have a hole in it? Verify that shapes which are shaded the same have the same area. This one had kids staying after class on a friday afternoon.

Friday, November 9, 2007

what you've all been waiting for

Here is the webpage I just completed to show off all of my hard work with Geometer's Sketchpad, a program that few of you have which concerns a subject that few of you enjoy.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

an oldie but a goodie

Okay, so these three guys walk into a hotel. They ask how much a room is, and the manager tells them that they can get a triple room for $30. They each pay the man $10, and they are seen to their room. A little while later, the manager, who is exceedingly honest, realizes that he has overcharged them men, and the room should cost only $25. He asks the bellboy, who is not exceedingly honest, to quickly go and give the men the $5 that has been overpaid. The bellboy wonders how the men will decide to split $5 amongst themselves. He then realizes that the men do not realize that they have overpaid, and they certainly do not know the amount of money involved. He decides to do them a favor by refunding them only three of the dollars. He knocks on the door, gives them each $1, and returns to the desk with $2 for himself. The men have now paid a total of $27 for the room, and the bellboy has taken $2, which makes $29. What happened to the other dollar?

Monday, November 5, 2007

gunpowder treason and plot

I recently spent a week in the village of Sarab Talla. Three hundred people living on a mountainside by growing handfuls of corn and mustard. Each field is a narrow terrace of land, cleared and leveled with decades of sweat and toil and a profound hope in a future without promises. Some of the fields were only as wide as the swath of a small tractor, but they are all plowed by bullocks and sown by strong and sinewy hands.

Before coming to India, I could not have been sure that there existed these little corners of forgotten people that time does not touch. The people of Sarab Talla certainly appear protected from those winds of change that seem to drive the rest of the world. They plod behind their bullocks, guiding wooden plows that leave a dusty wake of stones that their grandfathers plowed. They cook simple food over fires of sticks that they gather patiently from a heartless mountain that always gives enough but no more. They chop grass from the mountain to feed their animals, they send their boys to chase the goats over stony paths that drape the mountain like a fishnet. They also watch satellite television, and some of them have cell-phones.

Our hosts in the village offered to catch some fish for us when we hiked to the bottom of the valley to spend a day on the Aglar. They intended to use dynamite to stun the fish so that we could pick them up as they floated downstream. When we expressed concern about this technique, they offered to use a different method that consists of dumping bleach in the water and picking up the poisoned fish as they float downstream. This also seemed like eco-terrorism rather than eco-tourism, so we declined the bleach as well as their final offer of poisoning all of the fish in one area of the river with a certain root that is crushed and thrown into the water. In the end, they tried unsuccessfully to net us some fish. Environmentalism is a lost art in India.

The village of Sarab Talla has a government school. Not every village has a school. Sarab Talla only has a school through grade 8, and the older kids have to walk 10 kilometers to school, if their parents can spare them. The kids who walk to school are poorly educated for their efforts. India has a big problem with public school teachers skipping class. The school we visited has three teachers for eight grades, but the teachers take turns coming, one month working and two months off. They are supposed to come all at once, which they do when there is a government inspection. If there is a holiday, and there are many, the teacher usually takes off a couple days on each side of the holiday. There is a free-lunch program in place, but the teachers have been known to take the food for themselves.

I think that seeing the problems with the school made me feel even less optimistic about India as a 'developing' nation. I am starting to suspect that India may simply be more fully developed than most nations.

I have posted some pictures from Sarab Talla here.