Togetherness of a culture !

We’ve been going here. For the last couple of years.

It took us a while this time. Passing through metal detectors and a desultory security guard who would look at you and make you wonder if you bore a resemblance to Bin Laden or somebody. He then, would proceed to ask, whats in the camera bag. You could tell him anything from ‘Rolls Royce’ or even ‘dirty underwear’. For he insists on opening each bag. ‘Whats in the bag’ is more of a greeting. Like a ‘good morning’ thats randomly spewed in one of those airlines.

Opening each bag with an interest which reasonable men can only do, if they were told that in one of those bags, beneath the camera, there were two rasagullas and a samosa. Such thoroughness. What follows is a frisking of the body by a volunteer, wearing a rectangular card with a thick red tag around the neck that seems to confer powers on him, that ma durga could envy.

If you would want to experience sensuous pleasures at their tallest crest, well, visit a Durga Pujo pandal. ( For some reason pronounced as you would pronounce ‘sandal’, with a P). Mind bogglingly endless feast of community, a superlative exhibition of whats loosely called ‘culture’, a sense of devotion. Not to mention wholehearted gluttony.

The gluttons that we are, we make it a point to turn up here every year.

For some reason, the Powai Bengali Association seems keen on bringing size and scale to Powai. Last year, it was the Sun Temple at Konark which was recreated. This year it was the Jor temple. Recreated, we are told, by artists from Kolkatta and thereabouts.

For one, there is Durga ma. In all her splendour. Like every year. A spear, an asura and his splatter of blood right through his pectoralis major. A roaring lion. Two other Gods and two other goddesses for company. All created in such resplendent finery that there is a gasp that escapes everyone that sees the arrangement for the first time.

Durga Ma has deep eyes and has always eyed me and my camera with some interest. Or so I would like to think. But these days, with more mega pixels in every mobile phone, there are more outstretched hands clicking snaps than those in prayer. There seems to be a new meaning in her look.

Housed as she is in an elaborate reconstruction of the Jor temple. A magic brought alive by thermacol, paint, wood and lighting. You almost feel your stomach muscles go taut, to think all of this will be in a garbage dump after Durga Ma finds her space in the Powai lake. But during the ten days of Pujo, these produce a certain energy. A source. A centrepoint of sorts. For everything else.

After jostling for space infront of the Goddess and wondering why a bald head always finds my elbow just as I am clicking a picture, we leave the place. Take two steps, and walk straight into a stall selling fish fry, chicken, mutton and such else. Ofcourse, best complimented by Chinese food, spelt with one ‘e’ less.

And you are right. Only a moronic mind can nitpick on the English spelling of ‘Chinese’ in a Bengali festival being conducted in Mumbai, with so much food in front to pick and choose from. But, goodness gracious me, what food !!

The divide between gluttony and devotion is the closest here. All hell broke loose. No. That was wrong. It was heaven.

While that statement is about food, well, I could as well, continue with a comma !

Picture a whole lot of beautiful women. In an array of costumes that could well pass for a giant mosaic of a fashion parade in sartorial diversity. Crisp cotton sarees rubbing shoulders with garish silks which somehow sit so pretty, seamlessly co-existing with the modern types : miniskirts and an occasional sprinkling of jeans

Some of them sporting Gold, enough to set some insecurity in the minds of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Oh yeah.. and some foreheads adorned with bindis that could well double for a Frisbee disk and unleashed on anyone that acts funny. That big.

The men. Ah the men. Colourful free flowing Kurta-Pajama. That’s something of an ‘identity’ thing. You could hazard that guess without much danger. Bright yellows to garish purples. Violent blacks to spotless whites. All glittering under those big lights and sweat. (Some with so much embroidery that could get my curtains look so cheap). Many of them with the volunteer tag and a whistle.

There are streams of them. Walking by. Ofcourse, there is commerce. There are small stalls selling stuff from marble flooring to sarees to vada pav, all on one side. A divide apart, there is ‘enclosure’ space for cultural performances. The divide, perhaps to accentuate the thinly veiled struggle to keep a thick line between commerce and culture. Or so it appears.

Immense happiness permeates. People walk around in such joy. The young and old connecting up and coming together. For conversation, connections and chatter. Perhaps to catch up on the year that’s gone by and to draw energy for the years ahead.

There is energy here. An energy woven by a community coming together. An evident joy that presents itself in the twinkle of the eye and the sparkle in the laughter.

A passion that stays alive and ever present, to bring a certain part of West Bengal here. To keep alive a tradition that made their growing up years. To resurrect nostalgia by indulging in the present and perhaps laying the foundations for the year ahead!

Music. Conversation. Tradition. Devotion. Food. Laughter. Connections. Culture. Giving. Art. And much more. Well, go on, try making a more fetching combination than that.

That night, I slept fitfully. In my dreams came a few kurta clad gentlemen, all of them with whistles and volunteer tags waxing eloquence on a tall subject. It was apparent that cows were a long way from home.

Only to be awakened by a giant red Frisbee spinning away under the watchful eyes of Durga Maa.

Links to earlier year’s posts are here, here, here and here !

Chitirai Festival

The ‘Chitirai Thiruvizha’ ( The festival that happens in the Tamil month of Chitirai) is an annual feature in a Madurai calendar. There is splendour. Pomp. Simplicity. Devotion. Revelry And a letting down of hair by rural and urban folk. Every body lets their hair down.

Save perhaps the policemen on duty !

Here is a video that i chanced on YouTube !

Pretty much covers one part of the festival spread over many days. The festival itself is a ten day long affair. The pomp and show of a ‘celestial wedding’. The majesticity of a ‘God’ in motion. The piety of the simple. The preparedness of the city. The commerce that keeps knocking on traditions doors. Yet a culture that somehow survives, are all things to see.

Its a must watch.

The next year around, give me a shout if you’d want to visit ! 🙂 The festival involves a deity taken in procession from Alagarkoil into the heart of the city ( a distance of more than 20 odd KM). The young and old rejoice. As part of the festival there is this traditional ‘water spray’ by the young and the old. Specially adorned. Chanting the name of Govinda.

Spraying water to cool things down. Spraying everywhere. Often targeting the camera of a stray blogger !

Here are some images that survived such targeting !

Its that time

Yes..its that time…

Airlines, credit cards, banks, ice-cream stores all recall my existence. Sending in a note of wishes, cheer, Christmas greeting and New Year Greeting all rolled into one e-mail :” Seasons Greetings”, they scream. The cynical side of skeptical folks wonder if this is just a 3-in-1 opportunity thats getting well exploited.

But hey.. ! Its that time when ‘i am on leave’ is as normal as the Monday morning ‘its Monday’ groan.

‘Clients are closed’ is an oft heard response. These are indeed modern times where ‘customer service’ is the most parroted mantra that beats all mantras and vedic hymns ever chanted. And of course, clients are indeed God.

If ‘clients’ are closed, ofcourse, God is not looking. You see, its time to take off. Therefore, God bless clients.

Auto-reply mails are shooting off every mail box. ‘I am on holiday…’ as the standard response. Sometimes, these mails are treasured, for they are the only replies that come any way !

Long lost colleagues and every half person that has exchanged business cards is keen on doing his or her bit to email traffic, with a ‘seasons greetings’ message !

But hey…there is a genuine festive cheer in the air. Festoons adorn office walls. From the corner office to the commode with an equanimity that would make a communist beam .

The canteen serves ‘special’ food that is thulped taking some comfort from looking at an obese Santa run around ! In some time though, the obese looking Santa disembarks from all his stuffing while the stuffing http://www.eta-i.org/ambien.html that went through the food pipe stays forever !

Its that time where there is festivity in the air. Literally as well. Radio Jockeys… whose world didn’t go beyond the latest Hindi movies suddenly are playing carols from far away lands ! But, Introducing carols like they introduce a Salman Khan song. Panting parlance and halting sing song, an arbid competition and a phone number to call !

Five start hotels are turning on all the decorations with so much lights that could light up neighbourhoods. Next door ofcourse there are entire neighbourhoods with one proud star to show ! Christmas trees adorn houses blessed either with belief or wailing children !

Its Christmas time people. The world is taking it easy. The doubt however stays on my mind. The question that i am supposed to have asked my junior school teacher. “If it is supposed to be Jesus’s birthday, how come we dont sing the ‘happy birthday to you’ ?!? “

On other another note, Just now a mail hit the inbox. ‘Marry Christmas’ screams the subject line. Could have been written in a long weekend hurry ! But, it sure caught the attention. Marry Christmas ! Sure thing. Marry Christmas people. Embrace the spirit. Beget progeny . it sure will help the world.

Merry Christmas people ! May peace prevail. And love resurface. And may you all pray for the for more Christmases to provide for a long weekend !

Stay safe. Embrace the spirit ! Share some love !

Ganesh Chatruti !! My word !

I had to publish this today. Now ! I gave my word, just an hour ago. To a policeman. And i am already late !

We are just back from visarjan. The 10 day long Ganesh Chaturti festival is through. Infact, its still happening, as i write this. And Mumbai celebrated it. In style ! The elephant God indeed has some fans !

Any festivity is a mood that i love to soak up . Whichever city. Mingle with the people. And watch life, as people go by. Or perhaps, watch people, as life goes by.

Here at the Powai lake, crowds jostled to take a closer look at the immersions. And seek blessings. I got better access than most others.

With T-shirt, camera, shorts and sandals, i guess, i must have looked like a TV journo indeed ! For, there he was, a friendly cop. Who asks me, “which TV channel are your from!?!”

And seeing my surprise, modifies his question : ‘Ok, which newspaper ? Where will you publish all these pictures ? When will you publish the pictures ?”

I clear my throat. I tell him, Having this blog in mind, “This will be published on the Internet”. He continues to stare into me. And i add, ‘in half an hour’.

He perhaps had visions of ‘Breaking News’ and thought of himself to be a facilitator of such news. And waved me in. I was free to click !

I walked in. Beaming. Only to realise there already was a motley crew. Presumably from newspapers. For they had bigger and far more sophisticated cameras. Some tourists. And some other junta like me.. All clicking away.

So here are images. But they sure are not going to send in the images, like what i am doing now ! At this speed, that is !! That’s for sure.

‘Breaking News : Immersions happen in Powai Lake. As well’.

They have those huge cranes, that lift off the Ganpati idols that are brought in trucks. Taken to a deeper part of the lake and ‘immersed’ ! Its an an awesome sight.

The crowd, the trucks, the electric mood, the food, the noise, the lights, and of course, the policemen. Offer a unique Mosaic which is quite something. Indeed.

Here are some pictures.

Hmm. So, there. Thats Visarjan in Powai for you. I can sleep well. The word given to that policeman, is kept !

Regular posting, ofcourse, will resume shortly !

Upgrade to life !

Upgrades are everywhere. You upgrade from live shows to gramophones. To radios. To TV. To Plasma. To LCD to iPods. To God knows what !

You upgrade from a bullock cart to a bicycle. To bikes. To cars. To a bigger car. To a bigger car with a fancy number plate and swanky shine. To.. God knows what !

You upgrade from crayons to pencils. To ballpoint pens. To fountain pens. To fancy pens to….God knows what !

You upgrade from ‘water from the lakes’, to ‘water from the wells’. To ‘water from the canals’. To ‘spring water from a fancy bottle’. To …God knows what !

You upgrade from pigeons carrying messages. To human messengers carrying messages. To the postman carrying mail. To email carrying attachments… to God knows what.

You upgrade from simple means, to glorious comforts. You upgrade from simple equations to deep relationship(s).

And God has been upgraded too. From being a concept. To God being nature. To God being another man or woman. To God becoming a statue and a stone. A Temple. A mosque. A church. And of course, the latest upgrade version is some man or woman claiming to be God ! And the next….only God knows what !

Upgrades themselves were designed to get life simpler. At least that was the ostensible reason. Merely a means. That’s where they all started out with. Hmm. Somewhere, along the way, upgrades started becoming the end ! hmm

Thats a tonne of ramble.

On another note,

Its Ganesh Chaturti ! The festivities have started in right earnest. Ganeshji seemed to have been given a new transportation as he was taken to a home ! An upgrade of sorts. From the good old mouse to a bullock cart !

The newspaper and the TV is full of ‘pick me for i am the latest‘ ! As one upgrade shouts out ‘Try me‘ over another, and just as living becomes a race to keep pace with the ‘new, latest’.

I am telling myself to bear in mind, that there is a life to live, love & joy to spread, and a ‘oneness’ to eschew. Moving there, would be a real upgrade !

So may the real upgrade, reach all of us, around the world. This Ganesh Chaturti ! Am praying for peace. Happiness & health. Joy and life. Fulfillment & hope. For us.

For all of us.

Cutting Chai !

An art installation on Cutting Chai at the Kala Ghoda festival

‘Give me two cutting’ shouted a colleague. That was some months ago after a careless & loud ‘would you care for a tea’?!? I was new to Mumbai, staring wide eyed at every interaction & new culture. And this was my first tryst with a roadside tea shop in Mumbai. There were a group of us. And his sound thundered. ‘Dho cutting chai’ ( RTT: Two cutting tea) ‘Cutting?”

The infamous imagination wandered. “Cutting?” Now what was that !?! Whatever could it be ? I rankled all of my ramshackle brain.

And just as the tea was getting made, i conjured up the following.

Could it be ‘cutting edge’ tea? Like embellished with secret potions of nectar and holy water. Perhaps it had some technology infusion. Perhaps it helped survive the heat and the crowd. And gave a degree of resilience ! All of that could fall under the category of ‘cutting edge’.

Or perhaps it was to do with ‘cut’ as in ‘take a cut’. As in bribes. As in stock market gains. And so on. So, perhaps ‘cutting’ meant the shop keeper would take a sip before serving it to you, perhaps !

Or perhaps it was tea with lesser quantum of sugar, milk, tea powder. You know, tea where some quantity of regular ingredients were cut off !?! Budgetary necessities. Perhaps dietary !

Perhaps it was tea to give you an incisive cut !! Like in Julius Caesar, ‘this was the most unkindest cut of all’ !

Maybe it was to do with multi lane driving, where one driver from another lane ‘cut into your lane’, and the tea kind of cut into your routine.. That sounded far fetched.

The mind wandered and multiple visages of tailors dangling big scissors to accountants with spreadsheets, to doctors on operating tables with a phalanx of anaesthetists came up.

To put a stop all the floating images that were terrifying me further, with a hesitant quiver, i asked ‘err…what is cutting tea’ ?

There was a cumulative commotion of explanations. And the essence was ‘one’ ‘tea’, split in two ( or more) glasses for two (or more) people. And variants there on !

I said, “ah ! Back in Bangalore, its called ‘By – Two’ ” and before i could explain that its origins were in ‘one cup divided by two’, one wisecrack in the group, asked aloud : ‘Bite Who ? That sounds violent !”

I was new here. And i wanted to make friends. And in all seriouslness i said : “Yes. By-two sounds so violent. Cutting is so smooth’. There was a solemness that emerged from nowhere. And i gulped the tea.

I have embraced Mumbai since then, with multiple rounds of cutting tea ! That group member who abhors violence, for some strange reason goes the other way when i walk by.

(This post was inspired by a rekindled memory, thanks to an art installation on ‘Cutting Chai’ at the Kala Ghoda Festival )

Kala Ghoda Festival ’09

The Kala Ghoda Art Festival of Mumbai beckoned. Kala Ghoda ( Black Horse ) is the name of that area. (Named after a statue of Prince Edward astride on a black horse, which incidentally is long gone) .

Read the details of the festival here.

A festival, to my mind, is a swarm of people, a riot of colour, a ring of happiness, sounds of cheer, loads of music, tonnes to see, and of course leaves you with a ring of joy. That’s what happens at the Chitrai festival in Madurai.

That’s what happens at all festivals. That’s something that was abundant at the Kala Ghoda Festival too. Make no mistake though, each has a different character and ring to it !

Here are some pictures from the Kala Ghoda festival !

The Entry Arch !
Art out of bottles, buckets and such other ‘water carriers’ ! The amount of plastic and waste that we use seem to be going sky high !

We seek to look upto the sky for some answers !

This stall both educated and appealed to the people with toilets at home. And sought to remind that there are many without that facility. And what a way to do that ! This one stayed with me.
The stage backdrop

A clothes stall with puppets in front.

Of course. The symbolism was hard to miss. As i stood outside, looking at other sights, the missus was inside !

A flute vendor

I wonder why they don’t give some flute lessons along ! The chap plays flute so well, that you are tempted to buy it with the hope that the magic is in the flute. And that you too would be able to pull off such mellifluous music from thin air.

Alas. When the flute comes to my lip, all it could produce was a vague gust of air and some strange sound that was almost like a fire alarm.

A wire made man walking a narrow strips !

Art from metal was captivating ! And captivating was just not the word. I stood there for a long while. Just to revel in the ingenuity of the human mind. And wondered why we seem to go in tangents so very often.

There are faces on the wall. They seem to be saying something. And that’s there on all walls of the world ! Aren’t there !?!

Empty well arranged bottles that had a people squinting, jostling and keen to look at what was inside ! And all the jostle had more people jostling to take a look ! Curiosity value gets some takers ! But this Osmosis was quite a sight !!
A kathak performance that we watched. Enthralled. Standing. Jostling. Yet, eyes rivet ted on the synchronous movement of legs, arms and body, to create a delight for the eyes and the ears.

And when we walked away at the end of it all, there was no mistaking the thrill that was there in our hearts !

Happy Pongal !

Happy Pongal !

Tomorrow is Pongal. Wikipedia informs me that Pongal is akin to Thanksgiving. I only know that it is a festival of harvest. It is a festival of a new beginning, of sugar, of jaggery, of decorated cows and of course of pristine joy! Perhaps a flowing over the brim of all of these !!

Wikipedia also informs that the Tamil Nadu government has decided to announce that from this year on, Pongal will be Tamil New Year ! I guess they wanted to become Julius Caesar or somebody by changing the calendar. (Ah. I have given a word to my missus : No politics on the blog. Ok. So, i stop there. Right there). Thats a different issue.

Back home, Pongal meant four days of holidays. And those wonderful dishes that amma made. The prayer and the offering to the Sun, in the spacious courtyard of home ! And of course, sugarcane ! Endless sugarcane !

Pongal. Madurai ’06

This is a picture from the album. Pongal celebrations at home. 2006 ! My taste buds are already active, when i look at the offerings on the leaf. And of course, you cant miss the sugarcane. Those long, thick purple hued delights.

Pongal brings to mind a different time. And makes me miss home. And when you miss home, you miss home and the glorious times that were part of home ! Parents. Friends and the times !

Tomorrow however, the missus will wake up early in the morning, and make Pongal (the dish). And we’ll have a prayer standing in our apartment kitchen, from where we hope to catch a glimpse of the sun, and say a quiet thank you. And then, i run away to work and and she goes her way !

In that space would escape a thousand memories and a few techni colour memories peppered with longing for recreation and renewal to a far away land that’s close to a migrant heart.

Sugarcane. Pongal ’08

The one material thing that i would miss, is the purple hued sugar cane. We went around shopping for sugar cane, and ended up with what you see. That size would make a home grown drumstick from Madurai beam with pride !!

On another note, i guess Pongal is about a new beginning. About acknowledging the forces of nature that sustain us. About peace. About happiness. About community. About sincerity of a wish for a better tomorrow.

And that sincerity is not dependent on where you are or for that matter, by the length of sugarcane in your region !

So here is a sincere wish for you ! A sincere acknowledgement for being there and a prayer + hope for a better tomorrow for all of us !

Happy Pongal !

A Diwali that was besides the point !

Deepavali or Diwali. This year, it was markedly different for me. For us. For the first time in our lives, we chose to embrace the festivity with a ‘getaway spirit’ than a ‘stay and splurge’ spirit. So we chose to drive away into the mountain whorls of the Western Ghats. And headed to Mahabaleshwar.

The stillness of the morning air. The smooth chill. The green. The no-network coverage for mobile phones. The well laid out roads. Mother nature’s inviting green & pristine colours. And the need to just put a leg up in the air and reflect on whats been and what will be. The scent that the winds would carry in the near and far seasons perhaps need a quieter sniffing.

That to me was good. All good. Diwali after all is the spirit of victory of good over evil. Isn’t it. ( OK, I grant it. ‘Strawberry with cream’ is definitely EVIL. But that’s an indulgent evil, if that was some http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/asthma/ consolation !

Getting away for four days was good. But getting back to spots of road that are present amids roads of potholes, concrete ‘uprisings’, the computer, killer news ridden news papers et al has been quite an effort.

But the days spent in quiet hibernation seems to give me momentum. The open space, fresh air, star filled skies have evoked a spirit that says, ‘a difference can be made’ !

So, this Diwali, we were bereft of a slew of things. New clothes and calorie rich spirit and smoke ridden happiness and jazzy clothes and ever beeping mobile phones and ever growing ‘to-do’ lists.

But why am i feeling richer ? Is this really victory of good over evil ? hmm!! , i would like to think so.

But that really is besides the point !!! Or atleast, was besides many points. This Diwali !

Happy Diwali. Cheers for a great festive season !

Explosive memories !

Clicked from home. Neigbourhood kids at Ganesh Puja.
Mumbai. Sept ’08

Deepavali as we used to call it, is here. Over here people call this festival Diwali ! And i guess this will be acceptable to the mo-text-gen. ‘Mobile phone – messaging – generation’ to the uninitiated !

A day filled with oil bath, prayers, new clothes, and fire crackers ! ‘Fire-Crackers’ then started sharing space with Television programs. But the essence of my recollections of Deepavali of the wonder years, revolves around fire-crackers.

They came in many shapes and sizes. Of inordinate length. And of course, the essence was to produce the loudest noise that had the potential of bringing the neighbourhood down ! Who cared about the neighbourhood, it had to be louder than the neighbours fire-cracker ! Looked forward to, with a great degree of excitement the purchase process brought endless levels of delight.

I don’t recall when the change started to set in. Mine and my brother’s interest in the fire-cracker started to wane. To a point, where every burst of a cracker was greeted with a grimace usually reserved for a divisive politician.

Today, when i see youngsters queuing up to set off fire-crackers, ( especially at odd times) an urge to talk to these kids emerges from somewhere. To talk to them about simple living, about good over evil, about pragmatic thinking, about making a difference, about having fun without causing inconvenience etc etc.

I guess i wear on my sleeve, whats on the mind. At least, that’s what the data indicates , from my wifes responses. And of course, she knows my pet peeves !

Today, as she serves dinner, she cocks her head and asks me, ‘what would you have done, if somebody told you to live a simple life etc etc, when you were all set to burst a cracker?’. I laugh and say, at that age i perhaps would have burst a louder fire cracker !

‘Old man, do you think we can afford more noise’ she asks. I get the hint. Suddenly whats on the dinner plate seems interesting.

Somewhere below, a fire-cracker goes off. I can hear it. Loud and clear.
And that sound segues me into my wonder years. I see in my mind, vivid scenes. Of me setting of loud crackers in brand new clothes and raw happy energy.

Perhaps the kid who set off the fire-cracker will remember this night, many years laterr, just like i did today. Triggered by a cracker from somewhere, grimacing at the noise and smiling at the memory of his wonder years.

And of course, his wife’s dinner !

Diwali is here.