23 December 2009

Christmas in India

My friends often ask me what Christmas is like in India, and whether it’s celebrated. Christmas Day is an official holiday here, and it is celebrated by India’s Christian community – which makes up about 2.4% of the population – so that comes to 24 million people, which is more than the population of some countries in Europe!

For the past few days, some shops and restaurants have been displaying Christmas decorations. There are trees and decorations for sale. There are also street vendors selling Santa caps on the city's roads! In India, the tradition is to hang a big, colourful lantern in the shape of a star outside your house. These look beautiful when they’re lit at night. So I can tell which of my neighbours are Christian by the star lanterns hanging in front of their doors.

Being away from home is of course always a bit difficult at Christmas time. Many of my foreign friends have already gone home for the holidays. Others take advantage of the Christmas Break to travel. Schools will close for almost two weeks and many people are looking forward to the long weekend.

The advantage of being in India is that you can almost forget it’s Christmas. First of all, of course there’s no snow, and the weather is too warm. Overall Christmas is very low-key, without the commercialism which is overdone in the West. I admit that I don’t miss that aspect.

For this Christmas break, I decided to visit a state I have never been to and know little about. Also, I don’t want to go too far north because of the cold! So I’m heading to Madhya Pradesh. I have done some research and have learned that there are lots of interesting places to see. I’ll write about my impressions once I get back. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all my readers!

21 December 2009

Achala's pups

As I closed the gate and headed down the street I saw two schoolgirls crouching beside a car. Their attention was caught by something underneath it. It was a puppy! They were trying to get it to come to them. I thought it was theirs, but when they walked off I realized it was probably a lost, homeless puppy.

With the help of my landlord, I tried to catch it so I could put it inside the gate where it would be safe and I could give it some food. But this little puppy was too scared and only wanted to hide. That night I heard it crying. I phoned my vet to ask him what I could do. He suggested I call the animal shelter who would come pick him up. I phoned the shelter and explained the situation. They replied that they could only come the next morning and promised to get back to me. I went outside to see if I could try to catch the puppy again. It slipped under a stone slab in the gutter, out of reach. At least he’ll be safe there, I thought.

The animal shelter phoned me the next day, as promised. At 6am I got a call: “Puppy is there, Madam?” a voice boomed on the phone. I went outside to see if it was still there. I caught of peek of it sleeping soundly under the stone slab.

Later, the man from the animal shelter reached in and picked up the puppy by the skin of its neck. He was so small! All of a sudden, I felt a little sad: Will they treat him well? Will he find a good home?

If I had known Achala at the time, I would have contacted her. This young woman with a big heart has decided to do all she can for Bangalore’s street dogs. She helps lost and abandoned puppies by finding caring families to adopt and take care of them. Life on the streets isn’t easy for Bangalore’s street dogs. They aren’t often given the love and respect they deserve. Adoption is a way to keep these dogs safe and off the streets.

So far Achala has rescued and found homes for 55 puppies. She has created her own organisation called Let’s Live Together and regularly holds puppy adoption camps and awareness campaigns to sensitize the public about street dogs.

To find out more visit her website: http://letslivetogether.wordpress.com/

Photos courtesy of Achala Paani.

02 December 2009

Hanuman Jayanthi

I was woken up by the sound of chanting coming from the temple. It was 5am. Living close to a temple may be auspicious, but it can affect your sleep. The next morning I again had the privilege of waking up in this lucky way. And the next day too...

I knew what was up. The temple is a Hanuman temple and Hanuman Jayanthi was just around the corner. I knew this because of the colourful banner that had been hung up in front of the temple informing (or warning?) the neighbourhood that Hanuman’s special day was on the 30th of November.

Hanuman is the popular and much-loved monkey-god. In the Ramayana, Hanuman flies off (yes, a flying monkey!) to (Sri) Lanka to save Sita from the evil Ravana and return her to Lord Rama. As a result, Rama and Hanuman are great friends and Rama Navami (Rama’s birthday) is also celebrated with much pomp (and noise!) at Hanuman temples.

On the evening of the 30th, the road in front of the temple was crowded with people. The temple and surrounding buildings were decorated with colourful garlands of lights. I was passing the temple on my way home when I saw the priests carrying the idol out of the sanctum. They perched it on a throne under a canopy made of flowers. A tractor then slowly pulled the idol in a procession down the street. Traffic had been blocked. The ceremonial drummers were there as usual, leading the way with their frenetic drumming. The procession stopped and the drumming got even more frenetic. The vibrations were so strong I could feel them bouncing off me. A few men started to dance wildly. Crowds of people were standing on the sidelines watching the scene.

There’s a picture I wanted to take but I missed it, so I’ll describe it here. The priest had handed the arati plate to a woman who took it to a group of women standing on the sidewalk. The women rushed forward to pass their hands over the flames and then over their heads, receiving the god’s blessing. The light of the fire cast a glow on their faces as they crowded around it. I wanted to catch this image but it happened so fast and then it was over. But I have it in my memory.