26 January 2012

Doors and doorways

Bellur village, Karnataka

Russell Market, Bangalore

Raghurajpur, Orissa

Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu


Shivajinagar, Bangalore

Russell Market, Bangalore

20 January 2012

Lakshmi the elephant

One of the most popular tourist sights in Pondicherry is Lakshmi the elephant. Lakshmi stands outside the Ganesh temple on Manakula Vinayagar Koil Street for a few hours every morning and evening. A local celebrity, she gets many visitors who come to receive her blessings and feed her treats like fruit, bunches of grass and sugarcane they buy from the stalls outside the temple. If you offer her a coin, she’ll take it with her trunk, hand it to her mahout (keeper) and give you her blessing by lightly tapping you on the head.

I found this short article which tells Lakshmi’s story.

I took this picture of Lakshmi in early 2003, almost ten years ago.

Lakshmi was smaller then, and noticeably thinner. As you can see, the same mahout is with her (he seems to have changed less than Lakshmi).

Meet Lakshmi the elephant:

19 January 2012

After the storm

Driving down the East Coast Road from Chennai to Pondicherry, it wasn’t until I was 30 kilometres away that I started to notice the scars of the cyclone that hit on December 29th. From the road I saw fallen trees, damaged houses, and palm trees leaning over at 90 degrees.

In the city the destruction was visible everywhere. Dead tree branches littered the sidewalks, many new stumps marked where trees used to be, compound walls and fences were broken, many roof tiles missing and thatched roofs completely gone. Bharathi Park was closed: many trees were uprooted and the paths obstructed with fallen branches.

In nearby Auroville, there was still no electricity or water supply in some parts two weeks after the storm. Electrical wires lay on the ground while the sounds of generators, chain saws and earth movers resonated in the air. It’s estimated that Auroville lost more than half of its trees. Many houses were damaged and the windmills which were used to harness wind energy were destroyed.

Having experienced violent storms in the past, many people told me that they knew a cyclone was on its way but underestimated its violence. It will take several more weeks to clear the debris and repair roofs, buildings and windmills. But apart from these reminders of the ferocity that was cyclone Thane, life seems to go on as usual with no damage to people’s spirits.

15 January 2012

Happy Pongal / Sankranti!

Two days ago I was on a bus travelling through Tamil Nadu from Pondicherry to Bangalore. I passed villages where the preparations for Pongal were visible. Markets were bustling and crowded, sugar cane was for sale everywhere, as well as colourful ropes and bells. I assume the bells (and maybe the ropes too but I’m not sure) are for the cattle who are revered on the third day of Pongal, to thank them for their help with the harvest.

Watching the scenes going by, I remembered that I had been on a bus at this time of year nine years ago, on my way from Villupuram to Tiruvannamalai. It was early morning and from the bus I had seen people drawing huge, elaborate rangoli designs in front of their houses, with drawings of sugar cane stalks and overflowing pots, symbolising abundance and the words Happy Pongal! written in Tamil and English. In Tamil Nadu this must be one of the most important festivals because it last three days, while in Karnataka it seems to be more low-key.

In Karnataka and other parts of India this harvest festival is called Sankranti. This morning I took a walk through my neighbourhood and here's what I saw:

Sugar cane for sale!

This man goes door to door with his cow, playing an instrument called Nadaswaram. I see him often in the neighbourhood, not only on festival days.

A rangoli with drawings of overflowing pots.

More overflowing pots, lamps and sugar cane stalks.

I had posted pictures of Sankranti rangoli I had taken a previous year here.