31 December 2012

Bangalore auto-rickshaw animation

FOR HIRE! – BANGALORE RICKSHAW from Xaver Xylophon on Vimeo.

To end the year, I bring you this brilliant animation by Xaver Xylophon. Thanks for looking with me through my window faithful readers, I'll continue to share the view as I embark on my 7th year in India in 2013.

I wish a wonderful New Year full of good surprises to all!

22 December 2012

Violence and injustice

The subject of this post is more sombre than usual and is prompted by recent acts of violence against women which have outraged many in India and caused a media frenzy.

First, I was shocked and upset by an incident that happened in Bangalore a few weeks ago. A woman was in her car, waiting at a stoplight, when she was rear-ended by a motorcycle. When she got out of her car to inspect the damage, she was verbally abused by the motorist who caused the accident. He was then joined by a crowd of men who joined in in taunting her, verbally and physically. When she tried to get help from a police officer, he made no effort to help her and even physically assaulted her. Despite filing an official complaint against the officer, he was back at work the next day. To add insult to injury, the police later declared that the incident was all her fault!

Then there was the horrific incident this week which happened in Delhi where a woman was gang raped and beaten in a moving bus. The male friend she was with was also beaten up, before both were thrown out of the bus onto the road. The whole country is up in arms, with demonstrations happening across India and people expressing their outrage at the horrendous violence which is perpetrated against women on a daily basis.

This incident got a lot of media attention but there are stories of rape every day in the paper, and often the victims are children.

This week I also read about a schoolgirl’s ordeal to seek justice which took her 6 YEARS. She had been sexually assaulted by her teacher and what was the sentence he was given? 2 years of imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 rupees. That’s the conviction a teacher gets for sexually abusing a minor?

No wonder women don’t try to go the police for help when they’re being hassled by men. No wonder they don’t bother reporting rape to the police. No wonder they don’t try to seek justice.

Something is seriously wrong.

14 December 2012

The fisherman

During my early morning walk along the beach in Visakhapatnam, I came across this man staring at the sea. It wasn’t a contemplative look, it was a look of concentration and complete attention. He held a net in his hands. He was obviously a fisherman.

I looked out to the sea to see if I could see any fish just beyond the shore. I didn’t see anything except surf and sand. I decided to stick around to watch him in action.

He suddenly dropped the net from his shoulder and looked like he was ready to react at any moment. Did he see a fish? I looked again into the surf and saw nothing at all...

Suddenly he ran into the sea, casting his net in a wide arc. He dragged it towards him. Sure enough, there were two fish caught in his net!

I was amazed the way he was able to fish from the shore with just a net. He must have a very sharp and trained eye to spot fish swimming in the shallow surf.

He removed the fish from the net and put them in the bag he carried on his back. He would sell the fish later in the market for 50 rupees each.

09 December 2012

On the beaches of Visakhapatnam

Recently I had the chance to visit Visakhapatnam (also known as Vizag) in coastal Andhra Pradesh. This is a picturesque seaside city on the Bay of Bengal, surrounded by the rolling hills of the Eastern Ghats. Visakhapatnam is a city of beautiful, scenic and unspoilt beaches.

Here are a few shots of some of its beaches. First (above) is this big baby I came across on Ramakrishna beach.

Contemplation on Bheemili beach.

Rishikonda beach and a view of the hills.

Afternoon on Bheemili beach.

A view of the city from Ramakrishna beach.

Moments before sunrise on Ramakrishna beach.

Salutation to the rising sun.

Chhath puja at sunrise.

30 November 2012

The amazing cockroach

The last time I was with my friend A. (the contributor of the snake encounters stories in my previous post), our discussion somehow turned to cockroaches...

Before I moved to India, my experience with cockroaches was very limited. Thankfully I never had to share spaces with them, and the cockroaches I had seen were quite small… compared to the super-size cockroaches you see here. Luckily, I rarely encounter one at home and when I do, it’s usually already dead because the cat immediately stalks and kills anything smaller than herself. I’ve also learnt how to deal with them – dead or alive – I just take a broom and sweep them out the door.

My husband told me some amusing stories about cockroaches at the office. One day at the canteen, a co-worker found a dead cockroach in his food. When he complained to the management, the explanation he got was: "We have a new chef."

Another colleague told him about a co-worker who had the misfortune of finding one in her coffee cup. He thought it important to add that the unfortunate girl was a vegetarian.

Anyway, back to the discussion on cockroaches… A. mentioned an article in The Hindu by Menaka Gandhi which listed many interesting facts about cockroaches. A faithful Hindu reader, I didn’t recall the article but made a mental note to look it up. A day or so later, I picked up some newspapers I had put aside to read in more detail and one had the cockroach article...

So here are some amazing facts you probably didn’t know about the cockroach:

It can run three miles in one hour — the fastest insect alive.

It can hold its breath for 40 minutes.

It can live a week without a head, only dying of thirst because it has no mouth to drink water.

It can squeeze into cracks that are 1.6 millimetres thick — the equivalent of you trying to fit into a football.

It can survive temperatures as low as 0 degrees centigrade but when it gets really cold, it likes snuggling with humans or any other warm body.

It can recognise members of its own family just by their smell.

Its heart is a simple tube that can pump blood both backwards and forward and even stop at will without harming the insect.

The cockroach is the greatest escape artist of all time with an uncanny ability to sense danger, whether that of a live predator or a broom. How does it do that? With its hair (when was the last time your hair told you anything?)

You can read the full article by Menaka Gandhi here.

27 November 2012

Snake encounters

In a recent post, I had written about some of the animals that share our living space, often without us noticing them. I had also mentioned that the night watchman had seen a snake on the road one night.

Snakes are quite common, even in cities. Recently a friend found a baby cobra in her garage. In Whitefield, on the city’s eastern limits, snake sightings are even more common. A friend has seen cobras in her Whitefield compound on several occasions and the community office has anti-venom available at all times. Snake catchers are often called in to come and catch the forlorn snake and take it to a forest outside the city, where it won’t be disturbed by humans. Snakes are not usually killed because they’re considered to be a manifestation of the snake god and killing it would be inauspicious.

Luckily I haven’t had many encounters with snakes. I did see a cobra once in Sri Lanka (caught in the photo above). And last year while travelling with a friend in Orissa, we saw what we first thought was a monkey’s tail resting on a wooden fence next to our cottage. But then the ‘tail’ started to slither away… which took some time, it was so big! And we had slept with all the doors and windows wide open because it was so hot!

Just when I was thinking of writing this post on snakes, I got an email from my friend A who lives in rural Tamil Nadu. The subject of the email was ‘snake stories’. I thought I would share them here:

About a month ago was out for my late afternoon walk. It was about 1/2 hr. before dark. Walking down a pathway saw a woman in front of me stopped. She was looking at something. As I got closer saw the scene of 2 snakes wrapped around each other. We stood in silence watching them struggling and every so often making a move like kissing each other! They were smack in the middle of the path so no way to walk around them. After about 10 min. we turned back to find an alternate way home. We couldn't figure out whether the snakes were fighting or mating! Next day looked on the Net and found something on youtube that looked similar to what I had witnessed. It was mentioned as a mating ritual. A week later met a guy who is a snake catcher. Described what I had seen and he said that they were definitely fighting to be 'top snake'. The amazing thing was though that they usually move in and out of the bush but in this case they stayed on the pathway as though giving a show. They were non-poisonous rat snakes. If they had been cobras don't think I would have stayed so close!
There is a man, Rom by name, who is a herpetologist. He has travelled the world studying snake habits. His wife writes a column in the newspaper called "My husband and other animals". The articles are both educative and amusing. She tells of the time Rom was working in Papua New Guinea studying pythons. One day he arrived home after being away for a few days and found his house door broken open. Just inside the door the thieves had dropped their tools. Nothing had been stolen. Why? His window sills were very wide and he kept pythons, for study purposes, on several of the ledges. When the thieves saw the snakes they hightailed it out of there!
The neighbour where I stayed for 18 months had a habit of beating snakes to death. Neighbours would call upon him when necessary. One day he thought he had killed the offending snake. As he walked away though the snake started chasing him. Lucky for him, he managed to run to safety.
I stayed in a nice little cottage for 1 year. It was located just outside a cashew trope and seemed to be in the pathway for snakes travelling back and forth for their food. One night I arrived home at around 9:30 p.m. Got ready for bed and on my way to the staircase (bedroom was upstairs) saw movement behind a chair located just next to the staircase. Behind the chair was a fat brown snake with diamond shape patches on it. It moved toward the staircase. Decided to talk to it as could think of no other options. Said something about 'I won't hurt you. When I come downstairs in the morning I want you gone'. It moved back behind the chair and I went upstairs, got into bed, making sure the mosquito net was tightly tucked around my bed. Next morning the snake was gone! Found out from someone later that it was a Russell's viper, poisonous.
My colleague, M, tells the story of a cobra falling into his rainwater tank. The snake could not get its grip on the sides of the tank to climb out. So M put a ladder into the tank and the snake came out. A week or so later M was walking towards his house when he saw a snakehead raised up moving back and forth. M stopped. After a few more movements the snake went away. He believes it was the cobra he rescued saying a thank you.

My next post will be about another type of creepy crawly! (Also inspired by my friend A.)

16 November 2012

Bizarre Indian ads

There are some ads I see in the Indian media, either in print, on billboards or on television which I find surprising and more than a bit peculiar. Some leave me completely baffled, and a few are even controversial.

I often come across an ad in magazines for Elite Matrimony (see above). It’s a glossy picture of a young woman dressed in an evening gown and flashy jewellery. “Match it right for your child,” it says across the top. This is followed by a list: “handbags, chocolate, perfumes, wardrobe, education, French fragrance, Ivy League, Parisian chic, Italian leather, Swiss indulgence”. It then suggests: “After having provided the best for your children, help them discover life’s most precious gift: A HAPPY MARRIAGE”. Elite Matrimony is described as a ‘premium matchmaking service’. Across the bottom it says: “Specially created for the crème de la crème of the society, Elite Matrimony finds you that exceptional marriage partner befitting your social standing. Many leading families, both Indian and NRI, have benefited from this unique service.” I wonder how they choose their clients… do they ask how many millions they have in the bank? Which Ivy League university they studied at? Where they go on holiday? What handbag does Madam carry? And her favourite perfume?

Then there are the ads for the many whitening products on the market. I had written about fairness creams before in this post. However, there are whitening products meant not only for facial use. Have you heard of whitening deodorants? It seems it’s not enough to have dry and nice-smelling armpits – they have to be white too. An ad for Dove Whitening Deodorant shows a young women raising her arms over her head exposing her fair underarms. “No more dark patches – with new Dove Whitening Deodorant. For even toned underarms,” says the ad.

Another ad for a similar product by Nivea, drives the message further (and makes me howl with laughter). “Ride that bike. Slice that frog. Try that raft. Get that tattoo,” it says in small letters (I wish I were a fly on the wall when the copyrighters were coming up with this ad!), followed by: “Be bold, go sleeveless,” in big, bold letters. Yes, raising your sleeveless arms is a bold and courageous act!

Watch this ad for Dove asking women to ‘raise their arms to the mirror’:

And this one by Nivea which says: ‘go sleeveless on him’:

The fairness obsession hit a new low (pun intended) with the ad for ‘Clean and Dry’, described as an ‘intimate wash’. This television ad shows a young couple sitting in their living room. The man is busy reading the newspaper and the woman is looking off in the distance with a resentful pout. She then has a shower and uses this product... “Freshness… and Fairness” flashes on the screen. Presto! Her husband’s attitude towards her automatically changes! Watch the ad here:

More recently, there’s been a lot of talk about another controversial product called ‘18 Again’. The marketing for this ‘female renewal gel’ is quite aggressive and clever. A (hilarious!) video of the commercial started circulating as an ad on Facebook and You Tube. And from the bus the other day, I noticed that many major arteries of the city are plastered with poster-size ads for this product. ‘Poor intimacy?’ asks one. ‘Post pregnancy issues?’ says the next. Followed by ‘Sour relationship?’ and ‘Lack of confidence?’… ‘Here’s the answer to the question you fear the most…’

Needless to say there has been a lot of reaction and backlash to this ridiculous product which claims to empower women. You can watch the commercial here:

Elite matchmaking, fair and even-toned armpits, white and ‘renewed’ nether parts… What’s next??

24 October 2012

Namma Metro celebrates ayudha puja

Yesterday was Ayudha puja (the 9th day of Dasara), and the day when tools and machines which are used to carry out everyday work and make a living are worshipped and blessed. I love the way Hinduism reveres and sees the divine in not only its many gods and goddesses, but also animals, and even inanimate objects!

When I stepped out yesterday, I couldn’t help be reminded that it was Ayudha puja because many of the cars on the roads were decorated with banana leaves and flowers. Later on when I took the metro at Trinity station, I noticed that the entrance to the station was decorated with flower garlands. As I put my bag through the scanner, I saw that the computer screen on which the scanned objects appear was smeared with kumkum and decorated with flowers. When I reached the turnstiles, a small yellow flower had been placed delicately on each one!

I then came across a group of Namma Metro employees celebrating this important puja day. They had made a beautiful and elaborate rangoli on the floor with flowers. A purple-shirted employee offered me prasad of fruit and sweets. Another offered me puffed rice.

A makeshift altar was set up with pictures of deities, garlands and balloons. Notice that their log books and walkie-talkie have been properly blessed!

And they didn't forget the cleaning machines! I had to get a few shots of this celebration. I didn’t have my DSLR with me, so I apologise for the bad-quality photos taken with my phone!

22 October 2012

Royal Mysore Walks

While in Mysore, I had the chance to take in a city walking tour with Royal Mysore Walks. This was a unique way to see the city, guided by locals who know Mysore inside out and all it has to offer.

Vinay Parameswarappa (the founder), Vinay Nagaraju and Manu Bharadwaj of Royal Mysore Walks describe themselves as ‘corporate dropouts’: each of them left a high-flying but soul-destroying job in Bangalore to devote themselves to promoting the cultural heritage of Mysore, a city which is close to their hearts.

For close to three years, they have been sharing their passion and knowledge with visitors by taking them around their city, sharing interesting facts about this former kingdom, and showing them not only the many majestic palaces and monuments, but also offering fascinating glimpses into local life that many on the typical tourist trail often miss.

This being Dasara and Mysore’s most important festival, the Royal Mysore Walks team have planned a series of special Dasara walks during the 10-day festival.

Vinay P, our guide for the Dasara Royal Walk, was all decked up in traditional ‘Durbar dress’. He explained that the city’s menfolk used to wear turbans (called ‘peta’) in the Maharaja’s day, and that the way the peta was worn indicated the person’s social standing. Vinay P was dressed up the way a minister would dress if he was invited to the Maharajah’s private durbar. Of course, no one dresses like this anymore, so a lot of research went into assembling the costume. His black overcoat had a high neck and was collarless, with six buttons running down the front. He wore a silk sash over his left shoulder. The most important part of the costume was of course the peta. The Royal Mysore Walks team managed to find someone from a family which was specialised in tying these elaborate turbans during the days of the Mysore kingdom, who gave them a crash course in turban-tying for ministers. The elegant period costume was completed with a walking stick. As our dapper guide led us through the streets of Mysore, he got quite a few curious looks and questions from the locals!

The Dasara walks also generated a lot of media interest. Journalists from local television and newspapers showed up to interview the team. They were featured in all the major newspapers the next day, as well as on television.

During the Royal Walk, we witnessed the preparations for the Mysore Dasara, which was the topic of my previous post.

Here are a few glimpses of other things we saw during our walk that day:

Guru Sweet Mart, located just outside Devaraja market, is famous for its Mysore Pak which was invented by this man’s great grandfather, Kakasara Madappa.

Pomegranate sellers and other colourful scenes from Devaraja market, a bustling 125-year-old market with more than 700 stalls.

Artisans doing inlay work in the neighbourhood of Mandi Mohalla, the home to many artists specialised in this intricate handicraft.

Sculpture students busy at work at Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA)

Vinay N. and Vinay P., part of the passionate team at Royal Mysore Walks.

To learn more about their walks and other activities, visit their website.

17 October 2012

Mysore Dasara

I arrived in Mysore just before the start of the Dasara celebrations. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air as the city was busy getting ready for its most important event of the year.
(Above: the city is freshened up for the big event.)
Dasara (also called Navaratri) is an important 10-day festival which celebrates the victory of good over evil – this is when the goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura.
(Above: a statue of Maharaja Chamarajendra Wodeyar is garlanded with lights.)
The Mysore Dasara is an elaborate festival which has been celebrated with much pomp for the past 400 years. This is a city of palaces and the former seat of the Mysore Kingdom.
(Above: Cultural programmes are held every evening at Mysore palace.)
The Mysore Palace is the centre of festivities. During each night of Dasara, the palace is lit up with colourful lights, as well as each important monument and square, including the streets where the Dasara procession takes place on the last day of the festival.

Many of the city's important buildings, monuments and squares are lit up specially for Dasara.

The Dasara procession is led by elephants. I happened to see them rehearsing for their big day. The lead elephant carries a golden palanquin called a ‘howdah’. This weighs 750kg and is made of 80kg of gold. The Maharaja used to ride in the howdah during the procession but for the past 40 years an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari has been given this place of honour.

On Vijayadashami, the last day of Dasara (which falls on October 24th this year), the elephants will lead the procession through the streets of Mysore.

It's hard not to be impressed by the majestic beauty of the elephants.

Once Dasara is over, the elephants will go back to their respective homes. I found some interesting information on the Dasara elephants on this page.

Later on today, I'll go see my landlady's puja room which she decorates every year specially for Dasara.
Happy Dasara to all my readers!

08 October 2012

Another bandh

I like bandh days. This is the only time India goes to sleep and gets really quiet. I woke up on Saturday morning to almost complete silence. No traffic noise. No electric saw noise coming from the marble works. No calls of ‘paper’ from the paper collection boys, and no ‘tarakari’ from the walking vegetable vendors. No one was around.

I had to step outside to get a glimpse of the deserted streets, a rare sight in India. There were a few people walking around, and police officers stationed here and there. But no buses. A few motorcycles. Very few cars. A few auto-rickshaws.

One of my very first blog posts was about the bandh which took place during my first weeks here. As I had mentioned in that post, bandh (strike) was one of the first words I learned after coming to India! Since then there have been many other bandhs – this is not something which happens on a very regular basis in Bangalore – but at least once or twice a year.

But recently there have been two bandhs in the space of a little over two weeks. On September 20th there was a national bandh against ever increasing petrol prices. The bandh that happened this past Saturday was a state-level bandh, called in Karnataka. We saw this bandh coming. Every day the newspaper would report on the protests happening regarding the Cauvery water issue. The first bandh I had experienced in Bangalore was about the same issue. Water. As I had mentioned in that blog post, whoever said that future wars will be waged over water was so right. Water is a precious commodity and this is something you cannot overlook when living in India.

Growing up in Canada, I took water for granted. We had the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls – lots of water! Drinking clean water from the tap is something I miss! In this post about water, I explained that we get our water delivered by a tanker. Knowing that water is limited, I’m more aware about how I use it. Before I do a load of laundry I go up to the roof, open the water tank and check to see if there’s enough water in it. If the water level gets too low, the pipes will get blocked with air and water won’t run through the taps. So I have to be careful. If there isn’t enough water in the tank, I ask the landlords to switch on the electric pump which will pump the water stored in the sump up to our tank. Sometimes they say there is no water and that they’re waiting for the tanker to arrive. In that case, I have to wait and hope they don’t take too long! Sometimes they do. And you never know when they’ll show up. The other night it was at 2am!

Back to the bandh… Since Karnataka shares the Cauvery river with Tamil Nadu, water supply has been a very contentious issue for a very long time. Under a Supreme Court ruling, Karnataka is obliged to release a certain amount of water to Tamil Nadu daily. Recently there have been fierce protests against giving water to Tamil Nadu because this year the monsoon rains have not been sufficient and many farmers in Karnataka have been struggling with drought-like conditions. A precise summary of recent events can be found here. The bandh lasted only a day, but the issue is yet to be resolved. In the meantime, traffic and noise levels have gone back to ‘normal’.

02 October 2012

After Ganesh puja

Scanning the huge water tank at Ulsoor lake on the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, I saw many murky shapes and shadows just beneath the surface of the water. This is where Ganesh idols of all sizes, some so huge they need to be lifted by crane, are submerged at the end of the 10-day festival.

Floating on the surface were flower garlands, plastic bags, chunks of plaster, pieces of wood and clumps of earth.

I also saw blotches of colour rising up to the surface. The municipality recommends that only idols made with natural colours be used, to avoid pollution of lakes with toxic metals used in paints.

Flower garlands and decorations are removed from the idols at the gate before they're carried in to be immersed in the water.

The effigies are made of clay or soil and dissolve easily once in contact with water. Here the BBMP workers are fishing out some of the bigger idols from the tank.

The job wasn’t easy. This statue seemed to be very heavy.

A mess of limbs, the stripped straw skeletons of the idols are piled up next to the water tank.

People come here to scavenge for firewood.

The authorities try to sensitise people to the environmental effects of this festival by issuing guidelines.

This blog post talks about the environmental aftermath of the Ganesh festival in Bombay where 100,000 idols are dumped into the sea every year!