30 September 2011

Pavement jobs

For many people in Bangalore and other Indian cities, their place of work is the city’s roads and footpaths. These entrepreneurs take their services to the places where they’re needed. A good example is the many cobblers who are found on every busy street. When my sandal broke while walking down the street one day – that most important little strip that goes between the toes detached itself from the sole of my sandal – I didn’t have to go far to find a shoemaker: about 5 metres. 2 minutes and 5 rupees later, my sandal was fixed and I could be on my way again.

There are also many bicycle repairmen who operate on street corners. Cyclists can stop to get a flat tire repaired or spoke fixed. On a road in my neighbourhood there’s a man who stands around wearing grease-stained clothes and holding tools. I always wondered what he was up to until one day I saw him in his usual spot fixing an auto-rickshaw.

Outside a post office in Calcutta I once observed a row of temporary pavement stalls selling envelopes, string, tape and anything else needed to prepare letters and packages. And a row of typists sitting on the ground behind typewriters, ready to type up any correspondence needed. I haven’t seen this in Bangalore, but I took the photo below in Pondicherry.

This mobile workshop belongs to a key maker who works on the roadside:

This knife-sharpener walks the streets offering his services. This reminds me of the sound of a bell that I would hear in my neighbourhood when I was growing up in Toronto. The regular cling-clang sound would come closer and closer. My mother would gather up all the knives which had gone blunt and take them outside to the knife-sharpener who’d sharpen them on the sidewalk. I wonder if he still comes by.

23 September 2011

Drumming the point home

I haven’t written about sounds for a while, and since my blog is all about the colours, sights and sounds of South India, it’s time to make some noise.

The sound of drumming is a sound I hear often in my neighbourhood, especially since the festive season started with Ganesh Chaturthi. Processions carrying large idols of the god to the nearest lake for immersion are almost always accompanied by a posse of drummers drumming along energetically.

But in today’s paper, I read about drumming of a different kind… the city authorities have decided to hire drummers to drum a point home and embarrass tax defaulters into paying up. Apparently this tactic was a ‘thumping success’:

The Hindu, BANGALORE, September 23, 2011

It was a thumping success


A group of drumbeaters was hired by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike on Thursday to embarrass a tax defaulter on Indiranagar 100 Foot Road in HAL 2nd Stage.

In a move to force defaulters to pay up the tax, the BBMP authorities drummed home the message by hiring a set of raucous percussionists to perform before Ramachittaranjan Das, who owns a four-storey complex in the tony neighbourhood, which has been leased or rented out to multinational companies.

The owner of the property, a BBMP release said, has defaulted on property tax since 2007-08.

The dues ran up to a whopping Rs. 72 lakh, and repeated reminders were fruitless.

Thursday's initiative, however, was a thumping success. “The owner of the property has given us a cheque,” a BBMP official said.

A large number of property owners in the city are tax defaulters, owing BBMP more than Rs. 200 crore. Such drumbeating programmes have been planned in 10 places in each of the eight zones once a week to mobilise funds.

Though the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act 1976 does not empower BBMP to beat drums, it allows it to issue notice and seize movable properties of defaulters, BBMP sources said.

20 September 2011

An afternoon at the beauty parlour

After I moved to India I quickly discovered the luxury of the beauty parlour. Of course these exist everywhere, but in India the beauty parlour seems to be an indispensable part of every self-respecting woman’s life. This is where women go on a weekly basis to get waxed and threaded, massaged and pampered.

The reason why this is a luxury I’ve indulged in only in India is because it’s so cheap. In Europe it costs at least 50 Euro (3300 rupees) for a hair cut and blow dry. For this price in India I can also get a manicure, pedicure, hair treatment and facial thrown in for that price. I admit it: I’ve become a beauty parlour junkie of sorts.

I also now know why the beauty parlour is so indispensable. Since I’m always barefoot at home and wear sandals year-round, my feet are usually in a bad state. They also take a pounding in dance class. So pedicures have become a necessity. Also, neatly-painted toenails seem to be fashionable. Then there’s my hair, which is usually a frizzy mess because of the heat and humidity. Head massages, hair spas and conditioning treatments are hard to resist. I’ve also become a fan of eyebrow threading. This was the newest trend in London five years ago. But it cost 15 pounds: 75 times more than the 15 rupees it costs here.

I also tried waxing for the first time in India. The full-leg wax was not a good experience because of an over-zealous beautician. But the half-leg wax is bearable. The beauty parlour ladies have also tried many times – unsuccessfully – to submit me to an arm wax. “Arm wax?”, I had asked them, puzzled. “You mean Indian women wax their arms?” “Yes Madam, Indian ladies do full waxing,” they assured me. This was not something I had considered before. Nor had I known that hairy arms are undesirable. I started to surreptitiously scrutinize my friends’ arms. And I discovered they were indeed hairless. So it must be true! Then a foreign friend told me her Indian husband insists she wax her arms! I was horrified at the thought that my hairy arms could be considered repulsive. Then another friend told me that she had tried waxing her arms but was appalled by the stubble that grew back. That settled it. I like my hairy arms.

The beauty parlour is also a place to exchange news with the beauty parlour ladies and read Femina magazine. And a chance to observe the hierarchy of the Indian working environment in action. The new girls are always bullied by the more senior staff. They have to do the dingy jobs like washing hair, serving tea and coffee and sweeping up bits of hair.

Another discovery for me was that the beauty parlour is not only for ladies! There are beauty parlours which cater exclusively to men while others offer services for both. Men also come to get manicured, pedicured, facialled and threaded! The beauty parlour ladies used to tell me that they offer services for men too and would ask me to “inform Sir”. ‘Sir’ would find the thought of getting a facial or pedicure hilarious. But he tells me about what goes on at the barber shop: hair cuts and head massages of course, but also hair dying, eyebrow threading and fruit-scented facials. I’m not sure about arm waxing though.

03 September 2011

Ganesh puja

This past week has been a particularly festive one. On Wednesday, the city’s Muslims celebrated Eid, while the Hindu community was celebrating Gowri puja. Thursday was a holiday on account of Ganesh Puja. This marks the beginning of the festive season. The next few months will see a flurry of festivals and celebrations: Dasara, Durga Puja, Diwali.

Earlier this week I took another trip to Pottery Town. I knew it would be particularly busy, just days before Ganesh Chaturthi. The lanes were crowded with 10-foot statues of Ganesh wrapped in plastic. Artists were busy with last-minute preparations. Trucks were being loaded with statues, with straw or newspaper used as padding to protect the fragile effigies on their way to shops. There were families shopping for a statue to take home for the puja.

Take a walk through the lanes of Pottery Town: