Announcing Apraila Murkha

Table Land in Panchgani. Photo credit: “Waiting for master” by Flickr user Sindhur Reddy

In March 2011 I was living in Panchgani, India doing some work with the Baha’i Academy. At that same time my mother was doing community development work with the Baha’is of Slovenia and my dad and sister were back home in Ottawa.

Just before going to bed on 30 March I send my family a very carefully-worded email with the subject line ‘Big news!’.

Dear mum and dad (and Julie and Fanfan, too),

I want to apologize for not being in very much touch over the past couple of weeks, but soon you will understand. I have some really big news. The day you worried would never arrive has finally come.

See, just less than two very eventful weeks ago I went to Table Land in the evening to meet some friends and ride on the horses they have there. There I met this young woman named Apraila Murkha and we immediately hit it off. We started spending almost all of our time together just talking about everything. She’s from a village called Nakali here in Maharashtra and studied dance and singing at a college in Pune. We have lots in common, like we’re both vegetarians, like India, and are kinda short.

Anyways the idea of getting married came up exactly three days ago and we are both really excited about the possibility. That’s why I’m writing.

Its a little complicated because she is still technically married to this guy she married when she was 13 who is actually also her first cousin. Doesn’t really count because it was an arranged marriage and she hasn’t even seen him in like two weeks. She is just now arranging for the divorce.

Her parents are cool with it, so I’m writing you guys to see if you want to come over within a few weeks to meet her or if you are cool with giving the okay remotely and sequestering some carbon in the process. Although if you want to come, that would be cool – you could probably stay here at the Academy, there’s lots of bunk beds.

I’ll tell you a bit more right now to maybe answer some of your questions before you need to ask them and make the whole process a bit faster. Let’s see… we are planning on living with her parents in Nakali and taking care of their strawberry farm while Apraila sometimes goes into Mumbai to audition for films. They also have cows and onions. She’s a 36 years old, but she looks like she could be 15, which is weird. What else do you need to know? That’s all I can think of.

As exciting as this big news is, please don’t tell a soul just yet. I would prefer to do myself. And besides, you guys haven’t even said yes yet!

From your son and future daughter-in-law,

Samuel and Apraila

The reason I would send my parents an email like this is that I am a Baha’i and to have a Baha’i marriage, I would need the consent of all the parents to go through with it.

Out of my excitement I couldn’t resist sharing this announcement with a few of my friends even while I waited for my parents reaction.

Hey guys, I just shared some really big news with my parents and I was too excited to wait for their response not to tell you guys.  Way too excited!  Don’t tell anyone yet, though.

I was excited to check my email the next morning to see the reactions from my family and friends in Europe and Canada.  Among those friends, one was disappointed by how obvious the prank was.  This critic, who knows who she is, had this to say:

Really, Sam? You couldn’t even provide some pics of you and April Fool’s Day fiancee to make this more convincing?

You’ve lost your touch.

…No you’re NOT supposed the crank the ridiculous dial! The best part about pranks is make them subtle enough to be believable! MASS FALLOUT.

My BFF and renowned egg punster Chloe Filson replied:


The effect I was going for was to make it plausible on first glance, but then to reveal itself as an obvious joke by the second reading.  I didn’t want anyone to suffer of a heart attack.  I put in many details that were meant to raise the suspicion of anyone who knows me well.  And who knows me better than my parents, right?

Let’s review:  I sent an email to my parents asking them to hurry to India to meet a woman ten years my senior, but only looks 15, “which is weird”.   I have only known her for two weeks.  She’s married, but she hasn’t seen her husband in awhile. Two weeks, in fact.  It has been suggested that my parents can either give their blessing remotely or come on over to stay in some bunk beds.

Another April Fool’s day wasted on an obvious joke.  Better luck next year.

My classmate Niketa playing the role of Apraila

A few hours later I finally heard from someone in my family.  My sister Julie wrote:

Ok, now is the time to say “April fools!” because I just called dad and it hadn’t even occured to him that you could be joking and I think I caught him mid-heart attack.  You are joking right?!?

Apparently she didn’t buy the story, but my dad totally did.  She called him and found him to be very perturbed.  She said that he was practically hyperventilating.  He was totally consumed with trying to get in touch with my mom in Slovenia to figure out what to do now that their son had gone off the deep end.  He emailed her:

I do not have a good feeling about this.  Please Skype me as soon as you get this.

In the meantime, Julie did her homework.  Using Google Translate, she realized that the name of my fiance-to-be, Apraila Murkha is April fool in Hindi.  Her village Nakali is the word fake.  She emailed me again:

Well you didn’t get me but your poor dad!!!  You are going to have to talk to him on the phone to fully appreciate your achievement.

When Julie pointed out to him that it must be a joke, he was incredulous.  “No!  He would never do that to us!” he said.  Julie had him read it again to see how far fetched it was and he came around.  The two of them decided to join on the fun and wait until they be together to see my mother’s reaction over Skype.

It turns out she was duped too and was sent into same panic as my father, all by herself in Slovenia.  It took them a few long hours for them to all meet up and reveal the truth.  My mother quickly transitioned from panic, to anger, then embarrassment, laughter, and finally revenge.

Back in India, I was going through my own personal hell waiting to hear back from my parents.  Finally, I reciecieved a very serious email from my mother.

Dear Sam,

Daddy and I have consulted on Skype about your Big News. We have not been able to reach Julie for her reaction, unfortunately.

We are quite concerned about your idea for several reasons.
Please don’t think that we will be coming to meet Apraila in the very near future, because we have too many questions that would need responses before we take on such an expense. Also, Daddy would have trouble getting away from work again, He was just here in Slovenia for 2 weeks.

A this point we don’t have a good feeling about this plan, Sam. We are grateful for the marriage law that you are being obedient to. We will not give consent without meeting Apraila and maybe even her family, so you are going to have to imagine a longish wait for all that to happen.

We hope this is not too painful for you to read. We think there will be wisdom in waiting.

We love you and will pray for a good outcome to all this.

Much love,

Mum and Dad

I rushed to call my mother and put end to this before my parents disown me forever for being such a brat.  When I finally got through to her I fessed up straight away that I was just kidding.  She giggled with glee as she told me that she was kidding too.  She got the last laugh and has been dining out on the story ever since.

Our reunion when I came home many months later.  I insisted on not telling anyone when I was coming home from India, which my mother did not appreciate.  I finally showed up part way through my nephew's birthday party at my sister's place.

Click here to read about how my friend Eric and I celebrated April Fool’s Day 2012.


The Baha’i Academy (where I have been for the past two months)

Motiwala Homeopathic Medical College
I have always been fascinated by how Baha’i and Baha’i-inspired organizations tend to evolve so drastically to meet changing conditions and build on experience.  The Baha’i Academy is a perfect example.  It began in 1982  to provide an academic home for some of the many Baha’i scholars who were forced to flee Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  For many years they ran training programs for Baha’is who were coming in from all over the world in venues all over Panchgani like the campus of the New Era Teacher Training Centre and the famous Prospect Hotel.  In 1998 the Academy moved into its current home right next to the Baha’i Bhavan (Baha’i Centre) and an old house that apparently Gandhi had stayed in at some point.

'Baha'i Academy 002' by Flickr user Neissan Alessandro

In 2000 it began to collaborate with a number of colleges and universities across the state of Maharashtra to offer a program that helps to fill the gap that exists in value education offered to students.  Since then the Academy has gone on to focus more and more on this program and develop curriculum that is used along side curriculum developed by the The Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences (FUNDAEC) in Columbia.

To support the Academy’s efforts to build institutional capacity I have had the chance to help out things like their three year planning process, website planning, curriculum development and public relations work.  One of the main reasons I decided to set out on from home again this year was to have the chance to work in an environment where I could more directly and explicitly apply the teachings of the Baha’i Faith in the context of a formal organization.  It’s been incredibly stimulating to spend so much time studying material to try to draw from the experience of other Baha’i-inspired organizations all over the world that are part of this collective learning process about how to effectively engage in social action and discourse.

Click here to see a small set of photos from trip I went on to Nashik for the Baha’i Academy.  Click here to see a larger set from the Baha’i Academy, including many of enormous toads.


To vote or to not not vote

Inukshuk hindustani

Inukshuk in small town India?! Canadian was here?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is once again applying to renew his contract with the people of Canada, but there are a handful of other guys that think that they can do the job better.  Over here in India I feel connected with all my fellow Canadians as we reflect once again on our electoral process, wondering how it got so ugly.  A recent article from the Canadian Baha’i News Service contrasting the partisan political system to the Baha’i electoral model put it very well when it says:

… Although the Canadian political system reflects well fundamental democratic reforms that have served to advance humanity’s ability to govern itself, it is not without its challenges. Cynicism and apathy about the Canadian electoral system seem to have reached a new high, especially among younger voters. Some political scientists have attributed this apathy to a general decline in interest in institutional democracy.

They correlate it to a disconnect between what politicians are saying and doing and the way people, and especially youth, would like to see democracy operate. Ethical scandals, attack ads and the heightened acrimony between parties sour the public’s attitude toward politicians and government.

Such practices are perhaps inevitable characteristics of political systems founded on a competitive, partisan approach. These systems often tend to work in the interest of those with the influence and money required to mount and finance electoral campaigns. The ethic of partisan politics fosters divisiveness and immoderate rhetoric which reinforces the voter’s sense of disillusionment.

That said, I personally don’t think that opting out of the system is going to fix it, but I might be wrong about that.  This election I have realized that voting in civic elections is definitely one of the shakiest elements in my conceptual framework for social action.  Even if there is a leader on the ballot who doesn’t give you the creeps, how can an free-thinking person approve of all of the positions that leader’s party has preselected, seemingly at random?

As broken as the system is, my inner citizen has never failed to cycle over to the community centre to throw my vote away.  No way am I going to miss out this time just because I live on the other side of the planet.  At first I thought it would involve an epic, democracy-themed road trip to the nearest Canadian consulate in Mumbai to cast my vote.  It turns out that with just enough paperwork I could vote from up here in the remote hill station of Panchgani where I now reside.

If my ballot could talk, it would have quite the travelogue to share.  First I needed to download, fill in and fax a form from the Elections Canada website with some ID to Ottawa.  They then spent untold taxpayer’s dollars to send me a ballot via international courier company TNT.  When I received an email from Elections Canada to that effect, I went to TNT’s main page to find a photo the dude I like to think was the actual guy with the actual facial expression that carried my ballot all the way India.

What they brought was the ballot for me to fill out and place inside a series of envelopes like a Russian doll.

My ballotRather than to mail my ballot directly to Ottawa, I decided to send it to the Canadian Consulate in Mumbai who would then send it to the Canadian High Commission in Delhi who would send it to Ottawa.  Once it was ready to go one my colleagues was on his way to town and I asked him to drop my sealed ballot off at the post office.  “The Canadian democracy is in your hands, my friend.  My whole country is counting on you to safely deliver this ballot.  Do not fail us.”

“Relax, yarr! I will drop your letter and your democracy will be fine, okay?”  He said as he threw up his hands and turned around to climb up the hill towards town.

A short film about sports


If I don’t understand footballcurling, or even marathon running – there is no way I am going to understand the sport that the majority of the planet has long written off as too perplexing to even try.  As little as I understand about cricket, I did have the feeling that if India was going to win their ICC World Cup final match against Sri Lanka last night – the quiet hill station of Panchgani was going to get loud.

Check out the above video if you would like a taste of what broke out all over this giant country last night.  Share it if you like it.

A Magic Show by Parmesh


Every 19 days Baha’i communities all over the globe get together for an event called the Nineteen Day Feast.  The Feast generally consists of collective worship, consultation and socializing – but each of those elements can take any of a number of forms depending on the culture and style of the community. Continue reading

Panchgani to Mahableshwar to Pune to Ajanta


The present has a tendency to move much faster than my capacity to report on the past, so I am going to try to pick up the pace some.  I have just returned from a second trip to Delhi that I am eager to tell you about, but haven’t yet reported on the first.  This visit I was having fun imagining all the tourists coming to North India at this time of year expecting a tropical destination setting foot out of the airport and getting blasted by cold air.  People climbing the hills to Panchgani probably go through a similar experience, creating demand for the large shop dedicated to sweaters, probably opened years ago by the enterprising young Nuri Yazdani.  Continue reading

Return to NEDI – oops, I mean NETTC


The third and last stop of my personal pilgrimage through Panchgani was to my parent’s workplace and the buildings my father helped to build when we were there.  In the summer of 1996, an old friend, Sherif Rushdy saw that my father was inbetween project management jobs and asked him to bring us over to India to help with the construction marathon that the New Era Development Institute (NEDI) was entering.  Continue reading

Return to old house


                       1997                                                             2007

After hitting my old school during the first day of my visit to Panchgani, next stop along the road was my family’s old house.  The plan was to walk up to it, knock on the door and language barrier or no – invite myself in for a self-guided tour.  Continue reading