23 August 2008

Krishna Jayanthi

Statues of Lord Krishna for sale in my neighbourhood.

The festive season continues. Another day, another god is worshipped. Today is Lord Krishna’s birthday, another hugely popular god in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. Krishna is much loved because he is one of the most ‘human’ of the Hindu gods. He’s depicted as a cowherd, playing a flute, with a peacock feather in his hair, surrounded by admiring gopis or milkmaids. He also takes the form of a baby or a small child who loves butter and milk – so special sweets made of ghee (clarified butter) and milk are specially made today. Children dress up as Lord Krishna and music is played to celebrate his birthday. Interestingly, this feast is celebrated today in South India – starting at 11:55pm – while in North India it will be celebrated tomorrow.

20 August 2008

Time Out Bengaluru

Something happened while I was away. Time Out Bengaluru was launched! For a culture buff like me, this is great news. I picked up a copy yesterday and read it from cover to cover. It seems to have the most comprehensive listings of what's going on in Bangalore. This is good news because previously I had to check several papers to find out what was happening around town.

The magazine seems to have launched its own campaign (amongst others) against the death of Bangalore's nightlife. Some background: following an incident on New Year's Eve (no one seems to know what exactly happened) the government banned dancing and live music at all of Bangalore's clubs, bars and pubs. 8 months and a new government later, things haven't changed. Protests are getting louder but the authorities don't seem to be budging.

Time Out's Nightlife section starts with a black page marked 'Obituary', and declares: "Bangalore's nightlife, once vibrant, died at 41. According to Rule 11 of the Karnataka State Excise Licence General Conditions Rules, 1967, 'no dancing, no get-together and no feast shall be allowed in clubs, bars and pubs'."

For now, 'nightlife' is restricted to drinking and listening to music, but no live music and no dancing. This is a shame, because a few months ago I discovered a great place that plays retro music - but the dance floor has now been transformed into a lounge area. The only public place where dancing seems to be allowed for now is in dance class!

16 August 2008

Raksha Bandhan

I think India has more festivals than days in the year. Yesterday was Independence Day but also Varalakshmi Puja dedicated to the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. The festive spirit continues today with Raksha Bandhan. This festival celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters.

Today sisters will be trying a thread or bracelet (a rakhi) on their brothers' right wrists to wish them good health. Brothers then take on the responsibility to protect their sisters and give them a small gift in return.

If a brother lives far away, no problem - his sister can easily send him his rakhi in a special tear-proof and water resistant Rakhi envelope available at the post office.

Happy Raksha Bandhan to brothers and sisters everywhere!

15 August 2008

Independence Day

Today India celebrates 61 years of independence. Indians are very proud of their country, and I think they have lots of reasons to be. I don't know any other country as culturally and linguistically rich as India. This is what fascinates me about this country.

This week in The Times of India, Shashi Tharoor made some interesting reflections on India's linguistic diversity. He described how 12 years ago when India was celebrating its 49th year of independence, the then Prime Minister, HD Deve Gowda, made a speech in Hindi. This was nothing remarkable, as such a speech happens every year, but what was unusual was that this Prime Minister, coming from Karnataka and having Kannada as his mother tongue, didn't actually know how to speak Hindi. So how did he do it then? The Hindi script was transcribed for him in the Kannada alphabet which he then read out to the nation. "...which of course made no sense," Tharoor concludes.

Tharoor reflects that such an incident "represents the best of the oddities that help make India India. Only in India could a country be ruled by a man who does not understand its 'national language'. Only in India, for that matter, is there a 'national language' that half the population does not understand. And only in India could this particular solution be found to enable the prime minister to address his people."

He describes Hindi as "the language which we have all learned to refer to (though the term has no constitutional basis) as India's 'national language'," and confirms that "No language enjoys majority status in India, though Hindi is coming perilously close." He then describes his linguistic reality which may be the reality for many Indians: "... I was a typically Indian child: I spoke Malayalam to my mother, English to my father, Hindi to our driver, Bengali to our domestic help and Sanskrit to God."

Indians seem to learn languages by some strange process of osmosis. Many people speak 3, 4, 5 languages. When I ask "How did you learn Tamil?" I get the response: "Oh, I had a Tamil neighbour." Or "How come you speak Telugu?" "I had a Telugu friend at school who taught me." In the west, a person who speaks many languages is held in awe and considered to be highly intelligent. In India this is commonplace. The lady who comes to wash my floors told me she has never been to school but she speaks four languages: Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. English is not in that list, so how do we communicate? Between my six words of Kannada, eight words of Tamil and numbers in Hindi up to five, and her ten words of English and some sign language we manage to understand each other!

Tharoor concludes his column by 'singing the virtues of pluralism': "It is a reality that pluralism emerges from the very nature of our country; it is a choice made inevitable by India's geography, reaffirmed by its history and reflected in its ethnography. Let us celebrate our Independence on August 15 in a multitude of languages, so long as we can say in all of them how proud we are to be Indian."

Above photo © The Times of India.

Listen to the Indian National Anthem performed by some of India's best-known classical musicians:

11 August 2008

Back to Bangalore

The new Bangalore International Airport

After five weeks in Europe, I’m now back in Bangalore under its monsoon skies!

My landlady has given me a full update on what I missed while I was away: “We had rain for a full week,” and: “One day last week we had a power cut that lasted six hours!” I certainly hadn’t missed the power cuts and I had had enough monsoon-like rain during my first two weeks in Belgium.

She wanted to know what the spanking brand-new Bangalore International Airport is like. “My friends told me it’s just like in Western countries!” Yes, Bangaloreans are proud of their new airport and it’s everything you would expect in an international airport, complete with designer shops and even an Illy cafĂ©. The only problem is the distance… while the old airport was just an easy 10-minute drive away, it took me an hour to get to the new airport which is 35 kilometres away. The same journey could take 2 to 3 hours during daytime traffic.

Arriving in the middle of the night, I learned that the pre-paid taxi system has been replaced by a fleet of brand new air-conditioned ‘city cabs’ which run on metres. In no time we were speeding along the near-empty multi-lane road which had been specially-built to provide access to the new airport. I was wondering if I had somehow landed in Dubai instead, but soon the new road ended as we approached Bangalore city and the familiar beep-beep of road traffic woke me from my reverie and I realised that I was back in India after all!