Bonfires & Kites!

Last night, I attended my first Lohri celebration 🙂 Lohri is how the Punjabi community celebrates the winter solstice. It is twinned with Makar Sankranti – a day that heralds the arrival of Spring and the transition of the Sun into Capricorn. Whatever the religious and cultural significance – it doesn’t really matter to me. Every festival in India is a riot of colour, a cacophony of sound and a photo-op made in heaven 😉 Lohri last night and Sankranti this morning were no different!

Lohri was celebrated last night with characteristic Punjabi aplomb! Bhangra beats filled the air, the crowds lined up to gorge on the yummy eats (chole bhature to die for!), children of all ages lit floating lanterns, and when the Bonfire was lit – it was time to circle it, make a wish perhaps, and dance! There’s an exuberance to a community celebration that is quite unmatched by any private party, no matter how jolly. It’s as if the positive vibes multiply and ensconce all those present in a happy bubble – so that for a while – All is Well. Troubles are Forgotten. Life is Good 🙂

Today is Makar Sankranti – and for whatever reason is celebrated in my home state of Goa and neighbouring Maharashtra and probably in many others – by flying kites. Yeah! Go Figure! We had already bought a kite last night for Junior, and so armed with it, we made our way down to the playground where hundreds of people had gathered for some major kite-flying action! Never mind that we had neglected to buy a spool 😛 Never mind that all of us were kite-flying dummies! Never mind that we were trying to fly the kite with some sewing thread that we tied randomly to it, with utter disregard for the physics of flying 😉 IT WAS FUN 😀 Junior held the kite and the spool alternately trying to make it rise into the air, catch the current – fly! We got it a few feet off the ground for a few seconds at a time and we were so excited you’d think we’d made it to the moon 😉 It’s a wonderful feeling – trying something new, having no expectations, just letting go!

And I got more pictures – not quite a Skyful of Kites that I was hoping for, but enough to make this 1 minute film that i’m sharing below! I’m really impressed with iPhoto – my yearning for Adobe Lightroom has all but disappeared! It was a piece of cake, making the slideshow and turning it into a movie. It even told me how long my music piece to go with should be! I see many long, happy hours of experimentation ahead 🙂

And so let me with you all a Very Happy Lohri, A Very Happy Sankranti! May this Spring be a beautiful harbinger to a fruitful Summer!

Happiness Always People 🙂

 

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival – II

Turns out my second trip to the Festival was much shorter than the first 😦 The one-hour drive from school turned into a 2-hr exercise in patience and restraint, as three humungous weddings in the vicinity led to a massive traffic jam!! How I hate these huge, ostentatious weddings which are all about appearance and not at all about the sanctity of marriage…uuuuugggghhhh 😦

Had time to browse a few shops that I had identified the first time – one being a stall by KEC Games – that deals with traditional games from all over the world done in wood! A great idea and wonderfully executed too! The games are beautifully packaged and contain instructions on handmade paper inside to help with play! They are very reasonably priced for the quality delivered 🙂 It took all my will power to restrict myself from buying everything on display 😛 I settled for some gorgeous Gond Art Puzzles (Gond are a tribe in India known for their intricate paintings), a set of spinning tops, and a cute as a button set of Tic Tac Toe 🙂 Thankfully they are online! Their products will make wonderful gifts for most children I know 🙂 

KEC Games

Another nifty little stall, 61c KIDS, had fabulous stationery and you know how I adore stationery (well, if you didn’t you do now)!! They had packs of Color Me In greeting cards, where kids can color in a printed drawing to give their friends and family! They had wonderful animal-themed magnetic bookmarks, innovative notepads and lots of other stuff that I have to check out online! You should too! I have included the links to both these websites so you can check them out from this page right here.

IMG_2077

There were a lot of jewellery shops as well – each teeming with starry-eyed women of all ages 😉 Bags, clothes, linen, pottery, photography – you name it and there it was! There was a potter displaying his skill on the wheel and inviting us spectators to try our hand at it!

DSC_0001

And I got to see some more installations…one called ‘Corruptus’ – that featured a horde of immaculately dressed white terracotta figures of politicians saluting a Flag that was a 100-rupee note! We were laughing out loud, it was so on the spot 😛

The Corruptus Republic!
The Corruptus Republic!

Then there was an ancient Ambassador car (remember those?), glittering all over with 1-rupee coins.

DSC_0002

A turtle representative of defense strategy for humans…it’s body made of white marble slabs and each turtle limb replaced by organs representing one of the 5 human senses – an eye, an ear, a mouth, a nose, a hand and a foot! Rather a cool concept I thought 🙂

DSC_0042

Another interesting installation was a coffin and cell phone combo that highlighted the obvious dangers of talking and driving at the same time!

DSC_0043

And at the entrance, a large 3-D Display titled ‘Dhanda’ (Hindi slang for ‘Business’, although used mostly for notorious & seedy businesses associated with the underworld, prostitution, gambling etc.), a word that stands for the seamier side of this city of Dreams.

DSC_0023

After a quick, delicious lunch of pasta and mushroom-stuffed brioches, I had to leave. I love the ‘feel’ and ‘energy’ of such an event, which gives us inhabitants a chance to amble along without fear of being run over while soaking ourselves in Art and its interpretation by fellow Mumbaiites! An interesting, enjoyable experience that I highly recommend to one and all and that I will look forward to next year 🙂

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival – I

Every year, a 9-day Festival of the Arts, ‘The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival’ is held in Mumbai. Initiated in 1999, it is a celebration of the culture and various Art forms of India, with an aim to involving the community and so helping in their preservation. The historic Kala Ghoda district is the hub of Mumbai’s Art World…lined with Art Galleries, Museums, Libraries, located in heritage buildings dating back to the days of the Raj. 

DSC_0012

The Festival is a colorful spectacle of Art installations, street acts, musical concerts, movie screenings, and a myriad of workshops in various fields. The energy is palpable as families wander through the pedestrian zone, cameras at the ready, taking in the sights, catching the latest street acts, grabbing a bite to eat, jostling to shop at the many interesting stalls that line the walk, and studying the many installations that dot the landscape. I have happy memories of wandering here when we were last in Mumbai – it was much smaller then, less crowded although thoroughly enjoyable. Like everything else in this city – it has ballooned in size and scope and attendance so that it is quite difficult to walk around without stepping on anonymous toes and warding off strange elbows with your own, as we found out when we were there last Sunday! Since Ishaan was with us, I was quite paranoid of holding on to his hand, lest the crowd swallow him up!! There were scouts too – they approached us to ask whether we would be interested in Ishaan being a child model and Hubby, much to my annoyance gave them his number!! Not that he has a say in the matter. My decision is quite final and it’s a resounding NO!

We did however soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the street – it’s impossible not to! I took pictures of the various installations – the theme this year seemed to be skulls made out of refuse – which would explain this gigantic model made out of disemboweled computer parts!

DSC_0049

A scooter shaped like a fly reminiscent of a recent Bollywood blockbuster titled ‘Makkhi’, (fly in Hindi);

DSC_0026

A giant pair of glasses served as a showcase for the normal-sized ones ensconced within;

IMG_2060

A shiny copper bicycle encouraging Mumbai denizens towards an environment-friendly lifestyle;

DSC_0032

Totem poles made out of recyclable materials and a green map of India strung with fairy lights that lit up when cyclists pedaled hard creating energy!

DSC_0017

DSC_0015

The boys ate ice-cream and we all enjoyed a 20 min tightrope performance by a troupe of local acrobats! Ishaan was extremely excited but confused by the boy on stilts and utterly in awe of the boy balancing on the rope all to riveting beat of handheld drums! It was his first time watching a show like this and I’m so glad he was able to experience it, even in the 21st century 🙂 It took me back to my childhood, when there were several such troupes wandering around Bombay, usually families, where the children performed all sorts of dare-devilry and acrobatics! ‘Dombari’ they are called in Marathi and their appearance was always exciting if a little scary!

The 'Dombari' displaying their formidable skills!
The ‘Dombari’ displaying their formidable skills!

With the boys in tow, I didn’t get to shop or even browse, but I’m going back with a friend, during school hours tomorrow, to do exactly that! There are always a couple of stalls that are out of the ordinary 🙂

Wish me Luck 😀

Happy Birthday Mr. G!

Dear Mr. G,

You’re a year older and I suppose wiser (at least that’s what us mortals reckon ;-)), although when you’ve been around since the very beginning (whatever or whenever that was!), a year is probably like the proverbial drop in the universal ocean huh?! 

Happy Birthday Mr. G!

Still, a Birthday’s a Birthday and yours just gets us all in a tizzy! We scamper around trying to get everything we need to welcome you into our homes in just the ‘right’ way; ordering sweets (cakes (if any) are strictly egg less I assure you :P), buying fireworks (what’s a little pollution in honor of a God?!), and veggies that most Goans will eat reluctantly for as long as you stay! I know of quite a few that are thankful you’re only here for a short visit 😉 I’ve always meant to ask you…would you like to try fish some day? I mean, it seems entirely unfair to keep the one thing we love above all else from you 😉 And I know that you love your chicken in Bali 🙂 I’ve always wondered about the fuss surrounding your arrival. I mean, you may be coming into our homes once a year but aren’t you always resident in our hearts? Wouldn’t we better off making ourselves worthier of your presence in our lives rather than our houses? But then what do I know? I’m a rebel of sorts, with my radical ideas and crazy notions 😛 Mom certainly thinks so!

Moving on (I’m already on the verge of being excommunicated coz of my perceived irreverence ;-))…there is the question of the gift. I guess most of us trust that your favorite sweet the ‘modak’, which we offer you this day will be enough. Coz seriously, what do you give the One that has everything? Although I wonder about that. I mean look at your kids!! You’ve got some serious heartache there! Me, I offer you a renewal of my faith and devotion, both given in a very private, discreet way, which is how I would like to keep it 🙂 A lot of people do love to deck you up in jewels and things these days though…it’s become quite the fashion. You do look rather stunning in all your finery I must admit 🙂 So that’s the gifts done and there’s not much else to it is there?

Just a few things I’ve always wanted to ask you, and some that I just wanted to get off my chest…you don’t mind do you? Nah!! Didn’t think you would 🙂

Does your mouse get the day off today? You know, it being your Birthday and all? I certainly hope so 🙂 By the way, we found one today, a mouse in the house I mean, and we let him go, coz we didn’t want to hurt him on your Birthday, but we did shoo him away. I’m afraid I cannot be tolerant of mice even for you!

Do you ever look at us mortals and wonder, ‘What on Earth was I thinking???!!’

Do you enjoy all the noise and smoke from the fireworks or would you prefer a quieter celebration? Be honest now!

Would you truly throw a fit if we offered you the good old ‘fish curry-rice’ combo? Everyone seems to think so, but I’ve always wondered 😛

Would you ever consider giving our self-appointed, know-it-all, middle-men, a whack on the head? Especially when they go into a ritualistic-frenzy that would be the envy of any self-respecting coven?! If I said ‘Pretty Please’ perhaps? 😛

But my main purpose in writing you this letter, was just to let you know, you’re my favorite God! Always have been, ever since I can remember. You’re just so cute and charismatic! Also, you’re smart! That helps 🙂 And my brother was named for you and he was pretty special! Another point in your favor!

And so here’s my Birthday wish for you. I wish you the very same thing I wish my loved ones…Happiness and Love always 🙂 Oh and when you see B, tell him I miss him and I love him…now more than ever. Oh and while I have your attention, would you please just make it so I can find the time and the inclination to get back to writing? Please! Pretty Please!!!

Have a Good one Mr. G 🙂 

Until next year!

Love, H ❤

 

 

Art Therapy

For most of my life, I’ve shunned museums. Shocked?! Not more than me, I can assure you! Even as I type, I’m amazed at how ludicrous it seems, how absurd, considering how much I have grown to love them in recent years 🙂 I guess it was a combination of several things that made me feel museums were boring places, the first being a lack of exposure to good ones! Goa isn’t exactly the Museum capital of the world and although I did travel often in Southeast Asia during my teens, Art wasn’t exactly my priority then! Also, my family wasn’t exactly encouraging, which is surprising considering how creative they are! My Grandma was an award-winning seamstress in her day, my aunt is a poet and we have several talented musicians, actors and painters too; but growing up, there was never a conscious effort made to introduce us kids to the Arts. All the stress was on getting an academic education and the Arts were looked upon as definitely inferior to Science. Sad but true 😦 So I grew up with a limited understanding of Art and artists (I’m referring to paintings here), and although I knew of the Mona Lisa, I thought it was a huge fuss to make over some silly smile! I blame it now on the shoddy prints I saw 😛 I grew up in a computer-less world people, a simpler time 🙂

Even with my limited exposure to Art though, I was both fascinated & curious about its existence & creators, probably coz I sucked at all forms of it myself and because most artists I read about seemed to lead such weirdly wonderful lives far removed from my own sane, secure reality! So even though I was a klutz (still am) and delicacy was beyond me, I could recognize and appreciate it in my fellow humans and was in awe of them 🙂 My friend M could draw fabulous pictures of almost anything and I would watch in wonder as she made something beautiful out of a void. She drew me this Pixie/Elf in my autograph book (remember those?), that brings me joy to this day! Thanks M 🙂

Recent events have meant that I’m making a concerted and conscious effort to look around my world and find beauty, joy, anything really, that lightens the heart and brings a smile to my face. Not so very difficult when you know where to look and sometimes even when you don’t! I remember very clearly standing in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona (my kind of city!), gazing at this particular painting (the one below)… awestruck at the beautiful asymmetry and bold lines. I fell in love instantly & quite unexpectedly with Picasso, I might add 🙂 If I were a painter, I would want to paint like him…with abandon & verve. 

Same trip, a few days later & I’m at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In front of me is a simple canvas of almond blossoms on a blue sky, so real, I can inhale their scent, feel their soft petals against my skin. Magical! Then I learnt that Van Gogh painted this on the birth of his nephew Vincent, and chose almond blossoms to represent the coming of spring, and that made it all the more special. It’s my absolute favorite Van Gogh 🙂 That blue sky, painted way back in 1890 (imagine that!) is to die for!

The next day I’m at the Rijkmuseum and standing with my jaw dropping to the floor, awestruck at the massive canvas that is The Night Watch. I stare at the play of light & shadows, the detail, the scale, the way the characters seem alive – like they’re about to walk out of the canvas and into the room, and again, I’m in love 🙂 I find it hard to tear myself away.

A week later in Brussels, I discover Klimt and I’m head over heels again! The sheer brilliance of his work (he used gold leaf in his work) and his sensuality won me over. My kind of guy this!

Then there are other paintings that have touched my heart over the years…not the Masters, but artists whose work I’ve admired and occasionally bought. One such is Mariann Johansen-Ellis, of Dutch origin whose original prints from copper etchings caught my eye. I met her at an exhibition in Singapore and she was as charming as her work. I have two prints by her hanging in Ishaan’s room 🙂

Another time I went to an exhibition by a Ukranian artist who painted the most adorable figures 🙂 How can the sight of that maiden on the beach not make you smile?

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s not even the tip of a giant iceberg. I haven’t even spoken about other forms of Art like sculpture and music and architecture! But it’ll have to do for now, coz it’s Ishaan’s bed-time! I’ll save the Indian paintings that I love for another post, coz there are oh so many!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this spot of Art Therapy 🙂 I know I’ve enjoyed reliving happy memories. In fact I’ve enjoyed it so much that I think I’ll be posting more posts like this one regularly 🙂 But then that’s what Art does, doesn’t it? It shows you that no matter how hard and long the winter in your neck of the woods, spring and almond blossoms are never far away 🙂 And ever so often…we need to remember and stop to inhale the wonder!

I’m sure you have your favorite paintings. Feel free to share 🙂

Inhale, People 🙂

P. S. By a strange & sad co-incidence, Hubby has just informed me that M. F. Hussian, arguably India’s most famous painter has passed away in London at the ripe old age of 96. Certainly the end of an era. He was pretty controversial, especially towards the latter part of his life, and always seemed to be in the news for the wrong reasons, but he was an awesome painter! I loved his horses (his hallmark).



Language versus Culture?

6th June, Ishaan’s first day back to school nearly didn’t happen because of the Goa ‘Bandh’. A ‘Bandh’ (for the uninitiated), is local lingo for a call to close shop, a Shutdown. Businesses, schools, transport and private enterprises that support the issue at hand remain closed voluntarily; those that don’t do so out of fear of violence (stone-throwing and tire-burning incidents are extremely common), usually for a day. The aim is to disrupt normal routine, cause inconvenience to the public (most of whom don’t give a damn about the issue!), and generally create a nuisance, in the hopes of attracting publicity and on the rare occasion surprising positive results from inept Governments.

This one, was organized by a group of people who claim to protect local Goan culture and language. As I understand it, they were opposing the State Government’s decision to grant aid to primary schools where English is the medium of instruction. They feel this will cause an exodus of students from primary schools that use the local language Konkani and Marathi as the medium of instruction (which also receive Government aid), and this in turn will lead to an erosion of what they term ‘Goan Culture’. They claim they have the right to protest, and certainly they do, this is a democracy after all, but I fail to see how shutting down the State will help their cause! In this case, moreover, the Government for once, is being inclusive rather than divisive. It isn’t doing anything other than granting aid to schools that didn’t previously get any, and it’s not withdrawing aid from any local language schools to do this! I would have thought that was a win-win situation all around. And still, they protest! But Hey! What do I know?

Other than cause a headache for all concerned, it’s difficult to see what they achieved, except I suppose, newspaper headlines (although I don’t recall seeing too many of those either!). Once they receive aid, English schools will be no doubt become more attractive and affordable to certain parents, who couldn’t afford them before, and if they choose to send their children there, shouldn’t that be their choice? Isn’t that what democracy is all about? A freedom of choice, including the choice to get educated in any language you want? How is this a bad thing? All this tom-tomming about democracy seems rather rich coming from people who are protesting this basic freedom in the name of Culture-preservation! From those who are looking to foist their own narrow-mindedness on the rest of us more open-minded citizens. Where does it say that Culture is something that must be forcibly foisted on a community? Isn’t society in general an amalgamation of Cultures? Isn’t that what makes for this wonderfully textured fabric we call Life? But again, what do I know?

I’m no historian nor any expert on Goan politics, but I do know that language has always been a contentious issue in the Goan context. We have a history of language agitation and when all else fails, politicians can always rely on the ‘Language’ issue to stir public passions and win votes. I find the whole issue silly, but then that’s me and I’m only Goan by the accident of birth 😛 When Goa became a State in 1987, there was a huge agitation to declare the local language Konkani, the official State language. Until then, all official Government business was conducted exclusively in English (still is). Now people wanted Konkani to be used too as opposed to Marathi (the State language of neighboring Maharashtra). Unfortunately, Konkani is more of a dialect, a spoken language rather than a written one. It is heavily influenced by both Portuguese and Marathi and changes in the way it’s spoken and the words used as you travel the length and breadth of our tiny State. We don’t have our own word for ‘Thank You’! We use ‘Dev Bare Karu’ which means ‘God Bless You’ or ‘Obrigad’ which means ‘Thank You’ in Portuguese! Similarly window can be ‘zanel’ (derived from the Portuguese ‘janela’) or ‘khidki’ (derived from Marathi). What you call it depends on what version you were brought up speaking. For me, therein lies its inherent charm 🙂 Hubby who was raised in South Goa speaks a Konkani that is heavily influenced by Portuguese. My family, speaks a version that is heavily influenced by Marathi because we are from North Goa and also because we’ve lived a large part of our lives in Bombay. Hubby studied in Marathi until 5th Grade (very common at the time), when the medium switched to English. It was terribly hard for him and he had to repeat the grade, because English was so unfamiliar. I, on the other hand, have studied in English all my life. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we both became doctors, we are both multi-lingual and we share the same values and principles in Life. Culture or otherwise, I don’t see that the language we studied in has made that much of a difference in the grand scheme of Life!

Perhaps that’s why I have difficulty understanding why parents nowadays expect schools to teach ‘Culture’, and how Goans are increasingly equating Language with Culture. It seems regressive and is scary. I do not consider myself any less ‘Cultured’ or ‘Goan’ just because I choose or prefer to speak English most of the time! The one has nothing to do with the other! Schools are for education. ‘Culture’ is something you learn and absorb from the environment you live in at home, in society and yes in school too I suppose. I’ve always thought of it though, as an ongoing process – part active learning and part osmosis, and I expect Ishaan’s school not so much to teach him ‘Culture’ as to teach him about ‘Culture’. For our part, we will do our best to raise Ishaan to respect and value life, love, integrity, equality and hard work, both in himself and in others, and honestly, if that isn’t enough, I don’t know what is! What is this ‘Culture’ that these people are so afraid to lose? Most of the time, they use the term to exclusively represent their religious beliefs and rituals, which are necessarily a part of Culture, but not its be all and end all. And again I say, this is something that is taught in family, handed down through generations, evolving along the way. I find it hard to imagine a static Culture. To me that would mean something is terribly wrong. I think any Culture that is not ‘dynamic’ and able to evolve with the times we live in, will find it extremely hard to survive.

But as always, with an issue that’s close to my heart, I digress 😛 No one with half a brain is deceived by these self-proclaimed upholders of ‘Goan Culture’ (their version of it), for a minute! For one, most of their children have either studied or are studying in the very schools they now say are ‘Culture-Killers’. For another, most of us recognize this for what it really is, a vote-getting stunt backed by unscrupulous politicians as elections approach. But politicians posture, organizations lecture and gullible members of the public get swept away by the rhetoric! The local papers have been full of nothing else this last week, presenting the issue from every conceivable angle complete with expert opinions and comments. Is it just me or does this seem like a silly waste of time? A Brouhaha over a complete non-issue!

There are more, much more important issues that one can choose to protest. Issues that mean the difference between Life and death – female infanticide, the state of healthcare, the sorry state of our infrastructure, corruption, unemployment, rampant tourism and resultant environmental abuse…the list is endless. But no! Lets choose instead to agitate over an issue that will only give more people the chance to learn a new language if they wish. That will make learning that language more affordable. That will significantly brighten their job prospects! Oh no! That will never do! Coz if we progress as a society and evolve rationally, where does that leave corrupt politicians and their hired stooges? With s*#$% on their face, is where 😉

So no indeed. Let’s protest! Long Live Goan Culture! Hip Hip Hurrah 😛

* The views expressed in this piece are mine and mine alone. I reserve the right to change them without explanation whenever I choose 😉 If you agree, welcome to the land of the sane 🙂 If you don’t…get well soon 😛

Demon Diwali

This is an old post that was initially a page. Switching from ‘Page’ to ‘Post’ requires me to hit the ‘Publish’ button and so you will see a whole lot of new ‘old’ posts on the Blog as revamping progresses! Sorry for the inconvenience and confusion, although far be it for me to stop you from actually reading some of them if so inclined! They haven’t been read much and would love your attention 😀

This Diwali, there’s an undercurrent of sadness for me and mine, but there is also great joy & comfort in Ishaan! It’s his first Diwali and we’ve stuck to good old (is there any other kind?) tradition!

Narkasur!

Diwali is celebrated for a thousand reasons in India – every community picks their own 😉 It’s a democracy after all!  Here in Goa, it’s a celebration of Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon ‘Narkasur’! Yes I know, yet another demon, yet another victory!! It’s a wonder they kept a track of them all 😉

This Narkasur guy harassed the Gods & Men, in the usual manner of demons until, the Gods ran to Lord Vishnu and begged for help! They always did this! Never was Indra as King of the Gods able to handle any demon himself! So, Lord Vishnu as Krishna fought and defeated Narkasur, who to save himself from certain death hid in a little excessively bitter fruit called the ‘kaarit’, which Krishna then coolly proceeded to smash with his big toe!!!!

The moral of the story – when you’re trying to save your life, don’t hide in a fruit!!

The humble 'karit' and a diya...symbols of a Goan Diwali.

In honor of this rather squishy death, we Goans duly smash our own little ‘kaarits’ and symbolically have a taste, each of us turning into momentary Krishnas’! 😉 Well, be that as it may, we have ‘Narkasur’ competitions here in our major cities, Panjim, Mapusa and Margao.

So, this year, like all ‘good’ parents, Ishaan loaded into the car-seat, off we went to Panjim for a little ‘demon-viewing’! It was pretty cool actually…normally sleepy Panjim was buzzing with traffic and people. Both moving ever so slowly, stopping after every few meters, to gaze upon the sometimes fierce, often funny ‘demon-faces’, all to the accompaniment of the latest Bollywood hits, blaring from giant loudspeakers! Deafening! Colorful! Hilarious!

3 in a row!

 

 

We joined the procession and viewed a few ourselves, unloaded Ishaan and took the mandatory picture! He blew the demon a flying kiss and promptly lost all interest!

Now, that’s what I call setting priorities 😉

Kiss and be done with it! That’s my boy! 🙂

Nostalgia

This last weekend was a trip down memory lane. Bittersweet.

Saturday, we took Ishaan to see the Carnival Parade…or maybe I should say, the remains of what once used to be a great Parade 😦 I remember when I was a kid, we always went to watch the Parade. We went early to get ourselves good seats at a vantage point from where to watch the colorful floats, King Momo – the King of the Carnival, and the dancers 🙂 There was always a festive atmosphere in the streets and the locals were out in full strength – there weren’t many tourists then. I wonder now, whether it truly was the atmosphere, or whether it was just us children, finding joy in the little things as children so often do, seeing wonder in everything and allowing our imaginations to do the rest 🙂 I wonder, because I see the sorry state of affairs the parade is now in, the forced festivities and the feeble turnout (mostly tourists) that along its new & altered route, cheering along the motley ensemble. When did this happen? Just another icon of my childhood gone…Poof! Disappeared like so much smoke 😦

Ishaan however, unaffected by the loss of my childhood memory, enjoys himself! We walk along the route for a good 20 minutes, following a float that depicts a rural Goan village scene, complete with a well, a cowshed and three life-sized buffalo effigies, one of which is being milked for water from its udder!! That has even me laughing…water from a buffalo, like milk from monkeys 😛 The floats are accompanied by local Konkani songs blaring out from a concealed player. After a couple of repeats, they begin to jangle my already frayed nerves. Not so much the music as the heat though, which is murderous and has caused me to sweat like a pig (not an exaggeration!), and my blouse to stick to my back like I’ve just come out of the shower! My only interest in coming to the parade is to show Ishaan a good time and get a few good pictures. The latter though proves difficult, since we’ve missed a good part of the parade including King Momo, and most of what I see, I don’t care for.

 

King Momo - Carnival King!

They start the parade these days at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, a ridiculous hour for any parade (but especially in this early summer heat), and a time when Ishaan is enjoying his afternoon nap. Still we manage to catch a few floats…two circus cars with a few clowns and children (sweltering in the heat and their costumes, poor darlings!); a large Gorilla smothered in giant bamboo; and a gigantic praying mantis that moves up and down thanks to a guy that’s pulling a string attached to its behind! I’m beginning to wonder what the theme might be…Endangered animals and murderous insects comes immediately to mind 😛 There’s a float sponsored by Maggi, that has large product effigies covering the truck in their trademark red on yellow colors, with two Carnival masks stuck on to one side. Following the truck are a group of dancers dressed in yellow & red satin, trying to muster up some energy & carnival spirit. They’re not doing a very good job and I for one don’t blame them. Suddenly a fight breaks out right next to where we’re standing! A couple of guys get physical and everyone around joins in the shouting match, parade easily forgotten!! Thankfully, there are police around and as they appear, surprisingly prompt, one of the aggressors slinks away and all is quickly back to normal!

By 6 o’clock we are done and so is the parade. We walk to the car and relax in the cool blast from the AC…Heaven! Ishaan seems happy which makes the ordeal worthwhile 🙂 He thought the mantis was a dinosaur and I don’t bother to set him right 😉 On the way home though, I’m still reminiscing about the past, the way things used to be and how most things disintegrate with Time rather than endure – even memories.

Carnival Memories!

Sunday on the other hand is fun. We are at my Dad’s ancestral home, in the sleepy village of Amona, an hour’s drive away from home. We’re here to witness a traditional ceremony called simply ‘Dev’ (literally translated as God), that has been taking place, probably over centuries. A few family members have gathered and the women are seeing to lunch, while the men get ready for the ceremony. I like the concept of ‘Dev’. In return for us going to the temples to worship, every so often, ‘God’ pays us a home visit! He comes to us in our homes and blesses us. Howz that for a great God huh? 😀 I remember the ceremony only vaguely from when I was a child. I seem to remember whirling colors on tall sticks, standing in the afternoon sun with my uncles soaking in the air of expectation. I remember throngs of villagers, sweaty bodies and a subconscious acknowledgement of religious fervor. I remember thinking, ‘This is fun!’

We get there at noon and Ishaan spends time playing cricket in the yard with his cousins. I watch as my uncles get ready to welcome God! Turns out, He doesn’t need much. A couple of wooden seating boards (‘paath’ in local lingo), some flowers, a few incense sticks, coconuts, a gorgeous brass lamp and some coconut pieces mixed with jaggery for ‘prasad’ later! My uncle decorates the final arrangement with a ‘rangoli’ (a decorative design using colored powders), in two colors, white & purple, and all is readiness. His arrival is announced by loud drumbeats and the family all rush out into the yard. I see Him arrive! He, consists of  two brass hands, each one atop a tall, decorated pole (I see later they are painted red and decorated with pictures from Hindu mythology), wrapped in brightly colored, layered saris, one red, the other green with gold borders. The poles are held by two men in traditional dress, and coming into our yard they rest them on the wooden platforms. As one, the family bows their heads, at once welcoming and worshipping. We tell Ishaan to fold his hands and inexplicably my eyes are tearing up…I feel part of a collective whole, a solid core of belief, faith and joy. I feel protected and I know deep within – All is right with the world. The feeling is rather overwhelming, but thankfully private, coz I’m not an overtly religious person and I don’t actually believe in rituals. But it’s a powerful moment and I am moved.

Godly visitors!

A priest arranges a head on the platform, a silver God’s head, decorating it with flowers and we bow once again. Then he asks God to bless our entire family, keep us safe, happy and successful, wherever we are. To the thunder of drumbeats, the two poles are twirled in unison, a whirl of bright colors, and brought down on our heads, and I feel the light touch of the sari on the nape of my neck. I’ve been blessed! Then they’re off after a final salute from the family and we eat the coconut and jaggery mixture, before moving on to the mandatory fish-lunch! That’s it, a short and sweet ceremony of barely 20 minutes, that somehow manages to refresh and uplift sagging spirits. A divine boost, if you will 🙂

It’s a good feeling and as good a way as any to be starting off a new week with 🙂

Have a great week ahead People!

Om Namah Shivay!

On Wednesday, Ishaan had a school holiday. It was for ‘Mahashivratri’, loosely translated as ‘The Night of the Great Lord Shiva. On the day, all over India, people celebrate the festival by fasting, performing ‘Pujas’ and praying for the well-being of loved ones. Like everything in Hinduism, there are several legends about Mahashivratri. Some believe it is the wedding day of Shiva & his wife Parvati; others, that this was the night he danced the ‘Tandava’ – a divine dance symbolizing creation, preservation & destruction; still others that this was the night he manifested in the form of the Lingam(the phallic form, in which he is most commonly worshipped to this day). Whatever one chooses to believe or disbelieve, it’s a day of worship, piety and celebration all rolled into one, like most Hindu festivals!

Shiva is one of the super Gods, part of the Holy Hindu Trinity of Gods, Brahma – the Creator, Vishnu – The Protector & Shiva – the Destroyer. They’re the big guns…like the Godfather, the ones that all the thousands of little Gods go running to in times of trouble (and believe me that’s more often than you think!). They grant boons, kill villains and reward devotees much like their juniors, but they just do it better, and bigger! He’s always been my favorite. I like his no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude and although he’s not the best looker (what with the deadly ‘Eye’ in the center of his blue forehead, the deadly Trident in his hand, the matted locks of hair that hold the mighty river Ganges, the ash-smeared blue-skinned body and the snakes he uses for jewelry!), his charisma & the divine aura that surrounds him, attracts every kind of life-force. And he welcomes them all…the good, the bad and the ugly; offering them all his love, his advice, his protection. What’s not to like?

He’s wise and simple, often granting terrible boons to his devotees that help them become monsters! And when he gets angry…the ‘Eye’ opens and burns whoever has pissed him off to a crisp! Now that’s a power I could do with some days 😉 He once burned the God of Love, Kama (Cupid’s Hindu avatar), to a crisp, in a moment of rage, because the poor dear had shot a love-arrow at him, at the request of the other Gods, when they were trying to get him hitched again after the death of his beloved first wife, Sati. However in a typical God-like display of forgiveness, he later revived Kama at the request of Kama’s wife Rati (Goddess of the Moon), and his own second wife – The Goddess Parvati (she is the Mother Goddess incarnate and also a reincarnation of his first wife Sati! Confused? Don’t be…just go with the flow :P). I identify with this guy…he’s quick to anger, quick to forgive and bears no malice, rather like me 😛

Did I mention he’s big in Goa? Well he is and my family worship him at the Mangeshi Temple. I’m not big on rituals, but I’m surrounded by them and there is no escape. There’s an interesting story that I would like to share that happened a long time ago…when I was newly married. It’s a tradition for newly married couples on Hubby’s side of the family, to worship at the Mangeshi Temple. This involves getting up at the crack of dawn, bathing, dressing in traditional garb (a 9-yard sari for women & the ‘dhotar’ for men), and entering the innermost sanctum of the Temple, where the ‘Lingam’ is located, to worship. Inside there’s a well and at the end of the ritual, the couple draws water from the well to bathe the holy ‘Lingam’! Hubby & I for one reason or another hadn’t gone through with this ritual in the first year of marriage and frankly were completely unaware that it even existed! One day, we found ourselves at his ancestral house and were about to enter to pray to the family deity, when we were stopped in our tracks by a pair of black snakes allegedly cobras but I can’t prove it), that seemed to be involved in their mating dance! They were on the front porch and were in no mood to let us pass. We tried to go around the back (Yes we were silly! Young and silly, wanting to enter a house with snakes dancing on the porch!), but they appeared again at the back door, rather miraculously, and we couldn’t enter. Finally chastised, we headed home and narrated the incident to our in-laws as nothing more than an interesting anecdote. Should have known better (but we were silly & young!). My in-laws took a rather serious view of the whole event and my father-in-law set off immediately for the Mangeshi temple to discuss with the family priest and interpret the significance, of what to them was clearly a divine sign of some sort! The priest duly informed him that we had failed to perform the ritual ‘puja’ at the temple, and this was Shiva’s way of reminding us that we had forgotten! Snakes are Shiva’s pets so to speak! And so, off we went, obediently, into the inner sanctum, duly purified and properly attired to ask forgiveness for our oversight and blessings for a happy marriage. In true God fashion – He forgave & blessed!

In traditional garb! This was taken 2 years ago.

There’s another great story that I like, about how he got his blue-skin. The Gods & their cousins the evil ‘Asuras’ (demons) were once involved in a quest for ‘Amrut’ (The nectar of immortality, Ambrosia), and were told that the last jar of the stuff was at the bottom of the ocean bed. They were also told that the only way to get it, was to churn the ocean and drain it, to reveal the hidden treasure. So off they went to the Holy Trinity and on their advice, used a giant snake tied around a mountain as the churner (don’t you just love these stories ;-)), and had a sage drink up the ocean (child’s play to a great sage that!). Still they churned, but instead of the Nectar, poison spurted up which would have killed them. Again, they asked the Holy Trinity for help and Shiva offered to drink the poison so they could get to the Nectar. And so he drank up and as he did the poison turned his neck & skin blue…and so he’s also called ‘Neelkanth’ (neel = blue, kanth = throat), in many parts of India, especially the south. He rides a bull…his faithful mount Nandi (an idol is found in every temple dedicated to Shiva), drinks ‘Somras’ (alcohol to me & you!) and is God to ghouls and humans alike! He is father to my favorite ‘Ganesha’, the Elephant God, and a great dancer! In his dancing form, he is worshipped as ‘Nataraja’, Lord of Dance.

Lord Shiva as Nataraja, the Dancer.

 

He is Timeless – wisest of sages, granter of wishes, destroyer of ignorance, master of destiny, and keeper of the balance of the universe – in His name is hidden the secret of Nirvana.

He is, to me, the epitome of Cool 🙂

Shiv-Parvati!

p. s. ‘Om Namah Shivay’…this simple chant is used to invoke his name and may be loosely translated to mean ‘Holy Is Thy Name Shiva’.

p. p. s. I’m no Sanskrit nor religious scholar however, so don’t take my word for Gospel 😛 Google Him for more info 😉

Monday Musings…A Fishy Story!

This post is inevitable really. You’ll know what I mean instantly if you’re Goan. Impossible to live here and ignore the Fish!

Fish is to Goans what air is to us other lesser mortals (I’m including myself here, coz I’m Goan only by birth…in all other ways, I’m anything but! Much to my family’s distress and my infinite relief ;-))! For the uninitiated (read lesser mortals), Goans LIVE for fish! I’m pretty sure they would kill for it if the need arose and most would die without it! A life without fish is no life at all for a Goan, you understand! [Alcohol is another substance that arouses similar passion! Ahem! I must confess to being Goan in this way ;-)] You’re laughing??! Don’t. Fish is no laughing matter here people. Fish is serious business. One glance at the fat, prosperous fisherwomen (Strangely, very few men actually sell fish. They’re the ones who go out and catch it!), with their arms weighted in gold bangles and their ear lobes stretched to tearing-point from the heaviness of their solid gold earrings, will tell you that there is serious money to be made here.

Everyone eats fish in Goa. It cuts across caste, class and religious barriers and every Goan worth his salt swears by that staple food combination that has sustained us, evidently since Vedic times – the humble ‘fish-curry& rice’. Even today, many Goans are reluctant to leave their home State for distant shores, for fear of dying from ‘fish-deprivation’ and resultant starvation 😉 I’m NOT kidding!! As I said, fish cuts across caste barriers in Goa. So although Brahmins elsewhere in India are traditionally vegetarians (for the most part), the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs for short) of Goa are an exception to this ancient rule. But like everything else in Hinduism, exceptions require justification and explanation, so everyone involved can feel good about breaking rules while escaping ‘sinner’ status and so assured of their place in Heaven!

This is a story about how us Goan GSBs, defied tradition, became fish-eaters and in doing so became one of a rare breed – the meat-eating Brahmin communities of India. Here it is, in the words of my uncle, who has interesting opinions (as you’ll see!), and who shares my fascination and interest in Hindu Mythology 🙂 I’ve kept my editing to a bare minimum.

The Pomfret Story

Once upon a time there lived a tribe of people whose job was to study and learn stuff about the universe. This was the tribe of Brahmins. Many of them stayed and studied on the banks of the river Saraswati (a mythical river, named after the Goddess of Knowledge, which forms the sacred trinity of holy Hindu rivers along with the Ganga & the Yamuna). There is no physical evidence that such a river ever existed and naturally none is needed for the faithful 😉 This sub-tribe of Brahmins was called ‘Saraswat Brahmins’ or SBs.

Over time, there was famine and the fertile riverbanks became barren, whether from natural causes like floods and over-farming or due to some God’s anger, it’s hard to tell. So far the Brahmins had remained true vegetarians, shunning all foods that could run, fly and swim. As times became harder however, they realized they would have to migrate or break their ancient rule of vegetarianism to stay alive. They were intelligent, learned scholars, who probably loved where they lived and so according to my uncle used their considerable knowledge of genetic engineering (he’s an engineer himself), to solve their problem in the unique fashion described below!

Step I – Catch plenty of fish from the river. The fish were evidently unaffected by the famine and were rather large.

Step II – Cut said fish into 3 parts: Head, Body, Tail. (see attached diagram)


Step III – Eat the body while exclaiming “Ooooooooh!! I’m saved! & Whoa! That tastes awesome :)” (my contribution). A change in name seemed indicated with the change in diet and they were now called GSBs or ‘fish-eating’ Brahmins. (Name-changing is an ancient hobby with us Indians and we follow it faithfully to this day, changing names of roads, towns and cities at the drop of a hat or rather the whim of a politician!)

Step IV – Connect the remaining parts together, the head to the tail to create a body-less fish, with afore-mentioned engineering skills or perhaps they were just skilled in the black arts (I favor the latter!).

Step V – Breathe life into the newly created fish and release it back into the river (This is why I favor the black magic theory!), hence escaping the ‘sin’ of committing murder, replenishing food stores & enabling self to retain the Brahmin title and status (possibly the only thing more important than the delicious taste of that fish :P), all in one brilliant master-stroke of genius (Did I mention they were really smart?)! I include a second illustration of the new species of fish thus created all those millennia ago and enjoyed with relish to this day – the Pomfret!


Step VI – (I made this up but it’s not too far from the truth :P) Bask in glory of having escaped starvation, Hell and creating a new species, by vowing never to eat another vegetable for as long as they live!! (Don’t scoff! Thoroughbred Goans like hubby, do not consider vegetables an essential part of their diet! Any mention draws looks of incredulous consternation!)

Moral of the Story – If you’re an intelligent Brahmin, you’ll eat fish 😉 (That’s the Goan interpretation, don’t sue me! I just tell it like it is :P)

Pics courtesy Google, but collage by me!

The intelligent Brahmins however could stave off famine for only so long. Eventually the river itself dried up (not hard to do when you’re a myth in the first place!) and they had to migrate. They traveled to Kashmir in the north (where they became the Kashmiri Pundits), to Bengal in the east, and to Goa in the west, thus establishing the three major meat-eating Brahmin communities in India!

And that people, is the end of this story 🙂 Fascinating huh?

So as you can see we Goans have a special relationship with our fish. We love them, revere them and are eternally grateful for their sacrifice in keeping us alive 😉 They are therefore we are!

Enough said 😉 Happy Monday People 🙂