30 September 2012

Ganesh takes a dip

For the past ten days, the city has been celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. I have written about different aspects of this festival already in previous years. In this post and this post, I describe the preparations leading up to the festival, and this post describes some of the festivities.

Like many Hindu festivals, the Ganesh puja is a noisy affair. Almost all week my nights have been punctuated by the loud frenetic drumming and firecrackers coming from the main road. Add to this my cat who howls in terror from under the bed! The police block off the road to let the night-long processions make their way to Ulsoor lake where the Ganesh idols are immersed.

I decided to go to Ulsoor lake on Sunday morning to have a look at where Ganesh meets his end. The timing was perfect - a small truck soon arrived carrying a large idol and a noisy posse of celebrants. They unloaded Ganesh from the truck and carried him to a small table. After breaking a coconut on the ground and paying their last respects, they carried the idol to a waiting platform.

The municipality (BBMP) has put everything in place to make sure things go as smoothly as possible and to try to limit pollution. The idols are not dumped into the lake itself but into a tank, an enclosure filled with water. A powerful crane lifts the platform and swings it over the tank so that the idols can be immersed. BBMP workers in yellow t-shirts are on hand to assist with this. A policeman supervises the scene and controls the crowds.

Lift off for Ganesh!

The idol is lowered over the tank.

The BBMP workers gently release the idol into the water.

In he goes. The celebrants are yelling Jai Ganesha the whole time.

The celebrants go home and won't be back until next year. The BBMP's work is not finished though. My next post will be on the aftermath of the festival on the lake surroundings.

27 September 2012

Some gold with your dosa?

Dosas are a favourite South Indian snack. There are many types of dosa: Plain dosa. Masala dosa. Paper dosa. Rava Dosa. Set Dosa. Ragi Dosa. Neer Dosa.

And now there’s gold dosa. That’s what a restaurant in Bangalore is offering on its menu! This crispy dosa made of the usual rice and lentil batter comes covered in a thin layer of gold foil.

Why gold dosa? It appears that the restaurant owner wanted to do something different to attract clients. Of course he has a certain type of client in mind: a gold dosa costs 1,011 rupees (15EUR/19CAD/19USD/12GBP/), about 20 times more expensive than a simple, plain dosa. Not only is this gold dosa ISO certified, the restaurant owners have plans to patent it.

It may look nice, but who would eat a gold dosa? I’m not sure, but according to this article, the gold dosa is a big hit. For those who prefer silver, the restaurant also serves a dosa covered with silver foil, for the more moderate price of 151 rupees.

Food covered in precious metals is not a new thing in India. Many Indian sweets are covered in silver foil or Varakh (which, I add here as an aside, is made by pounding silver between sheets made of sheep intestines. Which sounds pretty gross in addition to the fact that by eating Varakh you’re eating, well, metal).

This trend seems to be catching on. A restaurant in Chennai has introduced gold appams. Perhaps many more eateries will want to cash in on this golden business opportunity!

24 September 2012

India’s fascination with Hitler

One morning I was casually flipping through The Hindu’s children’s supplement, Young World, when something caught my eye on the page where they feature drawings made by schoolchildren (see image above). Among the innocent drawings of cute and colourful animals was a stark pencil portrait of Hilter. Below that was a swastika. I was taken aback. What was this dictator and murderer doing here, in a child’s drawing? What inspired this child to draw this assassin? Why did his teacher let him? Why did this respectable newspaper publish it? In many countries, this would not be possible, even illegal, considering the swastika is banned in many places. Such a drawing would definitely not be encouraged and it would certainly not be published in a newspaper! The child could even be expelled from school.

India seems to have a fascination with Hitler. Walk into any bookstore and you’re sure to find a copy of Mein Kampf. This is always a bit of a shock for any Westerner. I took the photo below with my phone last week at my local bookstore. As you can see, several copies were available, in several different editions! Again, this is a book which is banned in several countries.

So what’s the fascination with Hitler? Why is Mein Kampf a bestseller in India? Apparently this book is required reading for many management courses! Some posit that people in India are curious to read a book which is so polemic in the West. This article says that Hitler is idolised and admired by young people in India and that they are “attracted by his ‘discipline and patriotism’”. The article includes quotes by young Indians who say things like: “I have idolised Hitler ever since I have had a sense of history. I admire his leadership qualities and his discipline… He mesmerised the whole nation with his leadership and iron discipline. India needs his discipline.” Apparently these adolescents are not completely ignorant and do know about the Holocaust, but they seem to easily overlook it and not realise the magnitude of this black page of history.

More recently, an incident in Gujarat revealed this innocent ignorance of what Hitler stands for. A shop selling men’s clothing opened in Ahmedabad with the regrettable name ‘Hitler’. If this wasn’t controversial enough, on the shop’s sign, the ‘i’ in Hitler was dotted with a swastika. The shopowner apparently did not realise the enormity of his gaffe or the controversy that this would stir up!

Or course, the swastika is a Hindu symbol which was misappropriated by the Nazis. In the West, it will always represent Nazism, while in India it hasn’t lost its religious significance and is still very much present, represented in its original context. In this post, I give examples (and mention an incident of an Indian who travelled to the US obliviously wearing a swastika on his jacket).

The fascination with Hitler however, is baffling. Another insightful blogger did his own examination of India’s fascination with Hilter here.

10 September 2012

Internet gurus and Skype pujas

In a previous post, I had written about websites which offer the possibility of doing pujas online. Recently I read in the paper about how online technology is making summoning the gods much easier. Forget doing your morning puja online via cute websites. The latest trend is doing pujas ‘live’ with a real Hindu priest, direct over the Internet via Skype.

The technology offered by Skype has taken Internet communication to a new level. With a camera and mike, you can not only speak to, but also see your interlocutor. You can even have video conference calls with several people at once

I’ve heard of Skype being used by teachers of Indian classical music. These tech savvy vidwans teach their students sitting in Dubai, Washington or London across a computer screen. This takes guru-shisya parampara to a new, modern-day level. I wonder if shisyas prostate in front of the screen to symbolically touch their Internet guru’s feet after each lesson.

The article in The Hindu describes Sridhar, a California-based NRI, who is getting ready for a puja across Skype. Sridhar is decked out in traditional garb and sitting in front of his computer along with all the required puja paraphernalia assembled around him. Sacred darba grass? Check. Black sesame seeds in a bowl? Check. Silver pot filled with water? Check. Large plate? Check. Everything is available in California, na?! At the appointed time, the priest in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu connects to Skype on his laptop and appears on Sridhar’s screen in his California living room. He chants the necessary mantras which Sridhar is asked to repeat them.

I love the photograph accompanying the article. It shows a computer screenshot of a young priest sporting the Thenkalai Iyengar caste mark on his forehead and dressed in customary priest attire. He’s also wearing headphones with an integrated mike. You can tell he’s in India because a typical Indian ‘almirah’ is to his right and behind him you see one of the plastic mirrors you find above sinks all over India. In the right-hand corner, you see a much smaller image of Sridhar the NRI, piously holding his palms together in prayer. (Unfortunately the photo above which accompanied the article has been cropped so you don’t see Sridhar!).

In the article, the priest maintains that this high-tech puja is not diluted by a laptop screen. “This does not violate any ritualistic rule,” he says. “In any case, the effect of homams is always carried across to the intended recipient through vibrations, so it works even when the person is far away. It is all a matter of faith and belief,” he concludes, demonstrating that holy intentions are more important than the medium used to attain them.

You call read the article here.

(Photo: The Hindu)