Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Makes Christmas?

When you're away from home and away from family you tend to think about what makes Christmas special? Is it the tree, the lights, or Christmas carols? Is it stockings and presents under the tree? Is it a feeling, a taste or a smell?

I think I started to panic (a little) in November when it seemed too warm to be almost Christmas. Then there was the tree situation and so few decorations. No homes lit up with lights and Christmas displays.  No stockings, no turkey, no...you get the point!

On December 1st I brought out a few Christmas things I'd packed from home: our special advent calendar, Christmas piano music and three Christmas books (Rudolph, The Christmas Story, Twas the Night Before Christmas). The kids were ecstatic. Soon the advent calendar was up and the first little box opened. The sound of Christmas carols and singing - tradition.




I bought the Christmas tree and put the lights on. Some Danish friends showed Alanna how to make some pretty decorations. She set to work and filled the tree. Still a bit too much space between the branches so we bought white feather boas to wrap around it to look like snow. It's reminds me of a "Grinch" Christmas tree - full of fun and color!




Stockings are a must and so we set out to make some. We bought material, cut it, and pinned it together. Our driver's sister is a tailor so we asked her to sew them up. The kids decorated them and we hung them on the "mantle" with, what else...bangles.



One thing is missing and we aren't minding it much - commercialism and the hectic shopping rush. There will be a few gifts under the tree but there is a feeling of calm, not stress.

I thought it was the turkey that made Christmas and I've done my research. We went out for American Thanksgiving to the Taj Vivante - it was horrible. Then I went out for the OWC Christmas lunch at the Taj Residency - it was disappointing. Next Michael and I went to a wine dinner at the Ista. The company is always good at these events but the turkey - two thumbs down - no stuffing, no gravy!

So I've given up on the turkey...almost. Tonight, one more shot at Toscano's for their Christmas Eve dinner. But expectations have been lowered. On Christmas day I won't fight it, I'll try not to crave it - we will have steak!

So what is it really? There are things that we miss but we'll have them again soon enough. I think it is pretty obvious - we can't replace family, we'll miss them alot. But, we have the four of us and our own traditions. We'll go to mass tonight and try to remember the true meaning of Christmas. And we will enjoy the excitement waking up in the morning and hoping that Santa remembers us on the other side of the world.

We will enjoy our coffee in the warmth on the patio and be thankful for what we have.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Global Christmas Baking

The kids and I always spend a day making gingerbread cookies before Christmas. Shortbread and a white chocolate, candy cane treat are also favorites. Shortbread is easy, no problem finding the ingredients. But nowhere have I seen candy canes or smarties in Bangalore. White chocolate can be found but is very expensive. I haven't seen brown sugar but others have found it. Mollases? Not sure about that one. In other words I would have to hunt all over town for these things.

So when Michael went to Boston one week and Singapore the next, there was one strange list of items to get. But success! He found the candy canes in Boston and smarties at the airport in London. In Singapore he picked up the white chocolate, brown sugar and mollases.

The kids finished school on Thursday and we started baking on Friday. I don't have my usual gingerbread recipe so I chose one off the internet. The dough turned out bland and crumbly so then I went to another recipe and added eggs, more butter and spices. Left it in the fridge to harden overnight.

I also didn't bring my cookie cutters so Craig made some paper cutouts of gingerbread men, a candy cane and a christmas tree. I roled out half the dough and tried cutting out some festive shapes. Far too time comsuming so switched to simple round cookie cutters.

The cookies came out of my "easy bake oven" looking sad and bland. Added more spices to the rest of the dough and continued on, rather frustrated. Meanwhile Alanna made the shortbread which turned out pretty good. Then we made the candy which you can't really go wrong with unless you burn the chocolate while trying to melt it, "Mom is it supposed to turn brown?"  Luckily we had enough chocolate to make a second batch.

We figured we could salvage the gingerbread cookies by decorating them with lots of icing and smarties. The icing was pretty liquidy even after all the icing sugar was used up. So I just kind of drizzled it over the cookies and Alanna applied the smarties. It looked like a couple of three years olds had made the cookies.

I got the kitchen cleaned up just in time as we were having two couples and their children over for dinner. Even though I wasn't thrilled with how the baking turned out I served them anyway. The candy was a hit - neither the Danes, nor the Americans had tried that before. And to my surprise none of them new what smarties were. Apparently in the States, smarties are sour candies. Everyone liked the shortbread (Mom's recipe) and in fact, everything was eaten.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Charity Gift Drive


Each year the OWC raises money to give gifts to some of the charities at Christmastime. Today three of us went to two charities to deliver gifts: Shiela Kothavala Institute for the Deaf (SKID)and Asha Niketan.

The first, SKID, is a school for hearing impaired children, mainly from financially disadvantaged families. There are 160 kids from kindergarten up to 10th level. They are able to lip read, sign language, read and write. The school is a three story building with a large area to run around and lots of trees. It is quiet, close to the city, but sheltered from all the noise.

Now that I think about it, these children are always sheltered from the noise of the city. Wow, I wonder what Bangalore would be like without noise?

We had a nice chat with the principal while we waited for the children to finish their lunch. Some of them travel two and a half hours by public bus to get to school. Many of the kids families do not sign. The school offers to teach the parents to sign but most do not as they are poor. To take time away from work would mean no food on the table. So they are unable to communicate properly with their own children.


The children wear uniforms (including shoes). They lined up after lunch and we gave each of them wrapped gifts: a chocolate bar, a lunch bag and a water bottle. The children were very appreciative and tried their best to say "thank you" and gave us a big smile. I had to remember to make eye contact and say "your welcome" to each one since they can lip read.

We saw the library after that and it was stalked with quite a few books. We were really impressed by some of the artwork the kids had put together - 3D roadways and parks with cars and people and rickshaws.



The second charity, Asha Niketan, is a home and vocational center for mentally challenged men and women. They are taught to take care of themselves and learn skills. The OWC provides wax for candlemaking which they are able to sell. As well, we pay for dance lessons and while we were there they did some dancing for us. It is very therapeutic and enjoyable for them - they were having a good time. We gave out gifts to about 25 people while we were there.



It was nice to see two more of the OWC charities. These two are both well established and well run. Some of the charities can be quite depressing but both of these left me with a feeling that a lot of good is being done and progress is being made.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!





The Christmas tree has arrived! I really didn't know what kind of tree we would have this year - a fake tree, a palm tree, a Charlie Brown tree? Had to do some hard bargaining but in the end I'm happy with what I got.
Last week I went to a nursery and looked at trees. Found one I liked but the woman had the nerve to tell me it was 3000 Rp ($70 Can.). I was not impressed at all. I told her that was ridiculous and that I would pay 600 Rp ($13) which I think is quite reasonable. She came down to 2000Rp and then I just walked away.

So today a friend and I went to two other places. The first wouldn't go lower than 1500 Rp but the second came down from 1200 Rp to 800 Rp pretty quick. Add another 180 Rp for a pot and 150 Rp each for delivery and it came to a grand total of $25 Can. I was happy with that, considering I'll have it for two Christmas's.



The best part about the day was walking around the nursery - it's huge - with all sorts of flowering plants, bushes and trees. I even bought two massive poinsettias to put outside the front door ($5 each). Having flowers all year round is definitely one of the best things about living in this climate.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bananas! Bananas!

Here's an article that I wrote for the Rangoli magazine titled: Bananas!!! Bananas!!! And this photo, courtesy of my brother-in-law, Taras, appears on the front cover!


Bananas!!! Bananas!!!
The Many Uses and Curiosities of the Banana... Herb

To have a banana tree outside ones bedroom window is an extraordinary thing...for a Canadian. Each time I walk by the window or sit on the patio I admire the banana tree with its tall stalk and long, bright green leaves.

I often think about the many uses for the banana leaves. The small ones make great placemats or even plates. The large ones can take the place of a tablecloth. During monsoon a giant leaf can substitute for an umbrella in a pinch. The leaves are abundant and the Indian people customarily use banana leaves to decorate their homes, temples and vehicles during festivals and ceremonies.

One day, as I marvelled at my tree, I noticed a strange thing. A large alien mass drooped down from one of the leaves. I jumped out of my chair and ran over to see what it was. A purple pod had appeared and behind it – several miniature bananas.

I took pictures every few days as if it some miracle had happened. A banana tree that actually produces bananas! But then I got to thinking about the tree and after a bit of research discovered some curious information. The most curious of all is that the banana tree is not a tree at all. It is a perennial herb! A tree has woody tissue, whereas the banana stalk is made up of tightly wrapped leaves.

The banana stem itself, grows underground, horizontally providing many shoots. The true stem shoots up through the wrapped leaves. The pod appears with tiny flowers behind it, and they quickly open into rows and rows of bananas.

No wonder the Indian people wrap food in a banana leaf. The aromatic leaves of the herb add to the flavour of many dishes. Fish, chicken, vegetables and even curries can be steamed, baked or grilled in a leaf. Food cooked and served in a banana leaf is not only convenient (less dishes to wash), but smells and looks exotic.

In the Hindu culture the banana plant (banana herb just doesn’t sound right) is a symbol of fertility and prosperity, due to its continuous reproduction. The leaves and bananas are left on doorsteps of houses where marriages are taking place.

Of course, bananas are full of nutritional value, being high in potassium, iron, carbohydrates and vitamins. They give us energy, great for eating right before exercising or playing a sport. They make us more alert for school or work, and fill us up, so we are less likely to crave unhealthy snacks.

As well, the high potassium, low sodium combination of the banana helps reduce blood pressure and cut the risk of strokes. It has an antacid effect and is beneficial in reducing heartburn and protecting against and treating stomach ulcers.

Nowadays, when I pass by my banana plant, I see the fruit ripening before my eyes. I think about all the ways to eat those tasty bananas. Simply peel and eat, as the monkeys do; that’s the healthy and easy way. I am looking forward to banana smoothies, banana pancakes, and banana bread. But, top of my list is banana flambĂ© with coconut ice cream - chocolate sauce optional, of course!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nrityagram Dance Village




 

 Click here for the most recent post Nrityagram Dance Village 


Two weeks ago we were spell bound by their dance performance in Bangalore. This weekend we took a day trip to their village to watch them practice and see where they live. The Nrityagram village is two hours from Whitefield, less-so from west Bangalore.
Leave behind Bangalore and breathe in the fresh air. Whisper, don't break the silence. Follow the winding stone path under trellises and trees. Enjoy the sight of a small statue on a ledge or many scattered atop a grassy pitch.
The dancers practice almost everyday when they are not touring. They are a dedicated group, committing themselves to the ways of village life and dance education...for years. They have toured the world.
The three hour practice starts by taking the dancers through a series of seemingly effortless movements. After half an hour, sweat soaks their clothing and we begin to understand the difficulty and strength required to perform these unique movements.
This day, five women and two men practice. Some are stronger and more experienced than others. They instruct, and help each other. This type of Indian Classical dance is incomparable. I believe they train their brain to connect to every muscle in their body - to move independently of one another - that is how in touch with their body they are.
At one point the instuctor spoke to two of the dancers, asking them to only move their torso: "left side up and down, right side up and down. Only move your torso, it is not necessary to move your neck or lower body."
And then the opposite, "Move only your lower body without moving the upper. They do not have to be connected." And then she quickly stood up and demonstrated the movement with incredible ease, only moving her lower body - upper body still.
Much emphasis is on the eyes and facial expression as the dancers are always telling a story. Fingers and hand movements, and every muscle follows along to do their part and create perfection.
For much of the practice no music is played. The instructor sits on a low chair keeping time by hitting a smooth wooden stick on a stone block. She sounds out the rhythm with her voice, an unusual but captivating sound.
The dancers live in simple surroundings, growing most of their own food. There is a temple, an outdoor yoga center, and of course the dance studio. They live in small round huts. The buildings are architecturally appealing, made of stone and wood. Flowering bushes and trees abound and add to the natural, calming ambiance.
The public can watch the dancers practice Tues. - Sat. 10:30 - 1:30, and can watch the dancers teach children from nearby villages on Sundays. They are closed Mondays. Do phone ahead to make sure they are not touring.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Christmas Decorations


Click here for the most recent post Christmas Decorations


Went shopping for Christmas decorations today. Heard through the OWC grapevine that Safina Plaza, near Commercial Street, is the place to go. Apparently we were too early - "next month." We found one shop selling a few Kashmir baubles, bells and balls to hang from the tree.

Next we went one street down from Commercial Street where we came upon tiny stores that had transformed into Christmas stores. Most of which were piled high with garlands of every bright color, plastic Santa decorations and boxes of Christmas balls and stars. We perused and bought a few tree decorations.

Most of these little stores are Muslim owned and usually sell plastic flowers or party favours. The store in this photo: "Dealers in Ayurvedic Drugs, Chemicals Decorative Disposable Houskeeping Items." Well, not for the next month I guess.


A lady in a sari came into one asking for a Santa suit. She explained it was for the Children's Christmas party at her church. As we walked on we noticed more and more shops taking down their usual stock and putting up Christmas decorations. Nothing fancy here though.

Stopped at a store called Eka on the way home. Highly recommended. A lovely store with tasteful decorations, candles, and angels as well as a few quality pieces of furniture, art and jewellery.

Picked up a few things and between all three stops I'd have to say I have enough to decorate a small tree. Hmm, yes there's still the tree to think about isn't there? Well, it's a start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Me to We

A good friend of mine posted these lyrics on Facebook:

"There are some things in this world that you just can't change. There are some things that you don't see until it's to late."

A couple minutes later Michael sent me a link "Mia Farrow inspires and moves 16,000 youth in Vancouver's GM Place."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDocOPzlTaY

When you move to a country like India you might think that you are going to show people "the right way" to do things. When you get here you realize there are things you just can't change.

When you live far away from human suffering - the holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, the slums of India - you may think you can't change it or you may not see it until it is too late.

Mia Farrow, the Dalai Lama and many others, spoke to 16,000 youth for WE day in Vancouver, Canada, organized by Free the Children. Free The Children "empowers children in North America to take action to improve the lives of fellow children overseas."

Can we make a change? Of course we can, we know we can. We just have to make an effort. To quote Mia: "The world is a dangerous place, not only because of those who would do evil things, but because of those who look on and do nothing. I think our own feelings of helplessness are our own worst enemy. We are not helpless."

I love her analogy of the "ripple within us...you (the audience)became a wave...keep shouting and this mighty wave will become the tide that can shape the course of history."

Craig Kielburger started Free the Children when he was 12 years old. I think at 12 one does not feel helpless, they feel like they can do anything. That is why his organization targets children - educating children to help other children - to change the world. At 12 he felt a ripple. Today children around the world benefit from the wave.

http://www.freethechildren.com/

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Months in Bangalore

What do you call a Canadian who lives in Bangalore - a Canalore? a Bangadian? Crazy?

It's hard to believe we've been here five months. I think I am actually starting to feel settled. We had a good period lately. The electricity is working - we have to remember that 40% of the people in India do not even have electricity and those that do, experience major outages. We are lucky that our backup system kicks in almost immediately when there is an outage.

We switched from cable to satellite and now when I turn the tv on, it actually works and there is a clear picture. The internet works. The fridge and dishwasher have both been serviced since we've been here and they work now. In other words I have not had to sit around waiting for people to come and fix things or deliver things lately.

Someone said to me recently, "When people ask me what I'm doing in Bangalore, I say, 'I'm waiting!' "

How true! So much time in the first few months was spent waiting for the delivery of furniture or for people to fix things. The best thing I did was stop waiting. I would give them my cell number and say, "call me when you get to the house."


There are some things we've given up on. The bank, for instance is unbelievable. Michael opened up an account as soon as we got here. A guy came to his office and had him sign a bunch of forms. That night Michael got a text saying the manager rejected his signature because they didn't match - even though someone from the bank witnessed him signing.

A few weeks later I signed forms to make it a joint account and Michael signed forms to get a credit card. I was told a bank card would be couriered with in a week. Three months later still no bank card for me and Michael receives his credit card - with the wrong name on it! The guy tells him he should write a letter requesting a name change. He cannot seem to understand that this is not a name change - it is their mistake.

I write a cheque which is rejected...because the joint account was never put through. The guy comes to the house and has me sign a bunch of forms again as though I'd never signed them before.

Four months later, still no credit card and no bank card. Thank goodness the only thing they are efficient at is transferring money. We transfer money to our Canadian account and use our Canadian credit cards.

Are we used to the traffic? Not completely, but you learn to time things and learn what to expect. The biggest problem is that Bangalore has grown at such a fast rate that they are playing catch-up with the infrastructure. Everywhere you go the streets and sidewalks are being torn up and construction is going on. At the same time they are building a skytrain so that adds to traffic slowdowns and detours.

Grocery shopping is hit and miss. Don't get me wrong - you can get almost anything here in Bangalore. There are a couple of big supermarkets like Spar where I go once or twice a month and load up on cheese, nice breads, cleaning products, biscotti, etc.

Around the area we live I have four different small grocery stores - Namdhari's is best for fruit and veggies, Food Zone or Food World for canned goods and staples, 'Sorbet, the Gourmet' store for tortilla wraps and tortilla chips (finally found them but had to stop buying/eating them), salsa and much more. Once in a while there's always a little shock when you walk into a store and they are out of a staple like butter - for weeks. Once they were completely out of toilet paper and last week - no milk. So, off you go to another store.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of seasons. But what do you know - a week later the rains came and it actually got chilly. Even though today I'm sitting outside in a sleeveless dress, we've had some long sleeve weather and I even wore socks once.

It's been overcast and although it is certainly not as cold as it is in Vancouver, the rains have put me into "fall going on winter" mode and I've been thinking about Christmas. I've heard there is a store near Commercial St. that sells decorations so I'll have to check it out next week. Not sure what to do about a tree. Michael says "bring in a palm tree" but I don't think that is going to work for me.

The kids are doing well at school. Craig is always in a good mood and is really enjoying field hockey and socializing with all his friends. Alanna is still determined not to like anything about India (except for the mall and the chocolate shop). However I know she has made friends at school and my spies tell me she is "friends" with all the teachers, chatting away to them.

Michael seems to be making some progress at work. He went on a team building weekend to one of the National Parks. He enjoyed getting back to nature (except for the mosquitos), camping and doing all sorts of survivor style "challenges" with his co-workers.

For me, the OWC has been a great way to meet people and get involved in different events whether it is charities, cooking classes, lunches, or wine dinners. I've been writing an article every month for the OWC Rangoli magazine and entered a photo contest. Keeping busy is the key.

The upside to all the socializing is getting to try lots of different restaurants, eating great food and meeting and learning from some of the cities top chefs. The downside is that it really is possible to gain weight in India. Now I have to fit the gym into my busy schedule!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nrityagram


Precision. Strength. Passion. Grace. Control. Beauty. Magic.
I could go on and on, yet I cannot find the perfert word to describe the Nrityagram dancers who performed tonight. Three dancers took the stage at Chowdiah Memorial Hall to perform Odissi, a classical Indian dance.
Odissi is described as "a synthesis of the ancient and exotic and modern and intellectual. Odissi creates an illusion of sculpture coming to life."
These dancers captured that desciption perfectly. This dance troupe tours the world and they certainly are world class. I have never seen such precision; they are as one.
The dancers live together and practice daily two hours outside of Bangalore in Nrityagram village. The public can watch most days. We plan to visit soon.
http://www.nrityagram.org/

Friday, November 13, 2009

Booking Rajasthan

After a week of emailing and phoning hotels, airlines and India Railways I think our plans are in place for Rajasthan just after Christmas. We've kept the train travel down to three days. One day we will have to arrange for a car/driver. Many hotels are booked so it took a lot to find something decent and at a reasonable price. We tend to go by Tripadvisor as they have advised us well in the past. Now to sort through all the emails and figure out where we booked and in what city.

We decided against Pushkar (famous for it's camel fair) as the beautiful lake has completely dried up and thus is just a big hole in the ground. Apparently the governments attempt to clean up the lake and make it deeper went awry.

We are looking forward to travelling and seeing a different part of India: palaces and forts, camels and desert, and the brilliant colors of the nothern sarees and turbans.

Of course we had the initial problem with IndiGo airlines cancelling our tickets because Michael's name on his passport and visa are different (Michael/Mike). Then yesterday we noticed that their prices for the same flight had gone down by 8000Rp/$200Can. (for the four of us).
So, Michael got back on the phone with the airline and this time we gladly paid the cancellation fee ($15), then rebooked at the lower price. Saving $200 feels good!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trains, Planes cont...

...Travel Woes Continued from earlier.

8:00pm

Managed to get through to the airlines about the return trip from Udaipur. For some unbeknownst reason that booking never went through either. So neither bookings were made and now we start from scratch.

We were going to rebook and fly into Jodhpur but all the trains are booked from there. Now we have gone back to the original booking, flying into Jaipur and out of Udaipur. We used my credit card as it has the same name as my passport. So far it looks like the bookings have gone through. No rogue texts as of yet.

Immediately went to "Make My Trip" website to book train tickets but the website is not connecting...

...10:35pm

Resolved to hire a taxi from Jodhpur to Udaipur at the end of the trip. Still not sure about the road but apparently it is scenic and we will be able to see the Jain Temples at Ranakpur on the way. It will be a full days drive.

Had a difficult time with the trains as I really wanted to be in the desert at Jaisalmer for New Year's Eve - but apparently so does everyone else. Long waitlists for the trains prior to New Year's. So we ended up finding seats available on the 2nd and returning to Jodhpur on the 5th.

Still haven't decided the first leg of the trip - Jaipur to Pushkar or straight to Jodhpur? Looks like lots of availability so we'll look into it tomorrow. Next...hotels.

Booking Airline Tickets - Simple...or Not

Want to book airplane tickets? Go online, find the flight you want, give credit card info and click "buy now." Simple right? Apparently not.

Last night we decided to book our flight to Rajasthan for the two weeks following Christmas. We had it in our minds that we would fly into Jaipur and fly out of Udaipur, taking trains to all the cities inbetween. So, that's what we did - we booked IndiGo Airline to Jaipur. And booked through "Make My Trip" home from Udaipur.

Then we started looking into train travel and noticed a bit of an error - there is no train from Jodphur to Udaipur which meant that we would have to back-track alot to get a train to Udaipur or hire a taxi. But we have no idea how the road is on this part of the trip. It would have been better to fly into Jodphur and start from there.

Then Michael gets a text from IndiGo Airline saying they have cancelled our Bangalore to Jaipur tickets because his passport and credit card have different names - one has Michael, one has Mike. He phones and explains that both are one and the same. He's booked flights through other airlines in India with no problem.

Sorry, but they aren't going to budge, they have to cancel the tickets. Oh, and by the way they've already charged our Visa, and now there will be a 720 rupee cancellation fee - per person (four of us). What?!! That's about $65 total, PLUS whatever we loose out on with the exchange rate.

Michael kept saying "this is unacceptable, put me through to your manager," and the guy was like a recording, "sorry sir but my manager will tell you the same thing." Finally the guy put Michael on hold and came back on within ten seconds, "OK sir, we will not charge you any cancellation fee."

So, now we have the trip home booked and we think maybe this will turn out ok because now we can rebook (with my Visa) and fly into Jodhpur. Checked the flights, looked good. Then checked the trains - everything is booked with 20 or more on the wait list. Not so good.

Now it looks like the flight home from Udaipur may not be booked as we thought either. Stuck on the phone trying to get it sorted out; on hold, listening to Kenny G...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Transportation Part 2

"Transportation" continues with guest blogger Terry...

Having graduated from foot traffic, it is necessary to investigate the most versatile vehicle in India. It is used as transport for people, goods, long distances and short ones. We have seen families, older folks, and young'uns using them: business people, delivery folks, boys, girls, men and women. You may have guessed, this is the motorcycle.

As a people transporter, the cleverest usage is to transport entire families on the highway or through town. You will see in the photo below, the Indian version of the motorcycle/ minivan. Child one sits on the gas tank, dad at the front of the seat, child two and three behind dad, and mom riding side-saddle holding the baby. Yes, you counted correctly, there are six people riding on the motorcycle. The number of people we saw on a motorcycle maxes out at six. But we are sure somewhere out there is a record seven people on a bike, cruising India.


Bikes range from old, beat-up scooters to units that look like western crotch rockets. On closer examination however, the biggest engine we saw on one of those testosterone chargers was 185cc and most of them are 125cc or smaller. For those of you who are techno weenies when it comes to mechanics, the speedy bikes in Canada have 1000cc up to 1200cc. So, the India bikes are about 1/10th the size of the engine as Canadian chargers. And the Indian ones can carry six folks down the highway. Gives a whole new meaning to easy rider!

OK, so they carry people, what else? You name it, we have seen it. Photo attached shows one carrying a load of plastic bottles. We have seen sheets of glass 3 x 5 feet tall being carried by the passenger on a motorcycle in busy city traffic. Sacks of rice, wood, sheets of plywood, the list goes on. We tried not to be too near the guys carrying the glass but they seemed quite OK with it all.


Now, safety is certainly a concern on motorcycles and so in many, but not all places there are laws that the men must wear helmets. One of our guides told us women are exempt as the helmet would ruin their hair. He was serious about this explanation. Nevertheless the women often wore their saris or a scarf over their head and/or face. They also rode side-saddle. I suppose it is not too easy to straddle a bike in the five meter long wrap of cloth known as the sari. The bikes have a special foot rest and grid to provide comfort and prevent clothes from catching in the wheel spokes.

How do they drive these 125cc multi-purpose machines? Frankly, any way they want to. The adherence to the laws of the road range from being a strong suggestion in Delhi, to vague recommendations in Jaipur, to the ultimate "you mean there are rules?" in Bangalore and Varanasi.

As in Europe, bikes all crowd to the front of traffic as traffic lights or slow downs are experienced. They then take off en masse zigging and zagging. They drive VERY close to cars, trucks and each other, squeezing through gaps they may or may not fit. It appears to be a competitive sport! There is no regard for lanes by the bikes. They often go the wrong way down a road to progress.


We saw them drive on sidewalks. We saw them ride two, three or four abreast. We saw them scoot between cars and trucks. We did not however see them hit anything. Well almost never, one pesky bike scratched the side of Michael's driver's van. A discussion ensued with the biker clearly arguing he did nothing of the sort and the scratch must have occurred at another time. Shoulders shrug and off we all went into traffic.

On the highway in Canada you are likely to be passed by motorcycles racing well above the speed limit. In India they have such small engines that they drive well below the speed limit which is a pleasant and welcome change. And yes, they are carrying minivan sized passenger loads or goods piled high.

Passing is an art here, for any vehicle. Vehicles in the city drive so close together that the rear and side mirrors are aimed at allowing the driver to see only 2-4 inches on either side. No hyperbole here folks. We have seen vehicles so closely packed that they had to fold in their side mirrors to get through the gaps without scraping each other. With mirrors only showing the driver the sides of their vehicle, they can't tell if anyone is behind them, let alone wanting to pass. To address this, a modern language has been developed which is eloquent and highly functional: this language is the beep of the horn.

A short beep says, “I am behind you,” perhaps a couple to say, “I am passing.” At a corner, they beep to let any oncoming traffic know they are there. They beep to say thanks for moving over when they pass.

The one beep we hear so often in Canada was actually rare here: the "you dirty rotten so-and-so why did you cut me off?” yelling at the other driver kind of beep. For the most part drivers of all vehicles just trundled along with little road rage evident.

Back to the motorcycles. To pass a pedestrian they move over a bit and go by with a little beep. They seem to do this regardless of what is coming up beside or behind them. Ditto for passing bicycles, other motorcycles, cars, etc. The effect is a fluid sigmoid path, arcing through the roadways of the worlds’ second most populous nation; a veritable ballet on wheels.

Lanes are generally respected in Delhi until traffic gets busy. Everywhere else the preferred position for driving is directly on top of the dotted line. This allows the driver to shift left or right depending on what is happening around them. Alas, in other places the dotted lines are a serious waste of paint. One lane will have three cars wide - bikes, rickshaws and everyone else vying for their place on the road.

In all of the cacophony of beeps, swerves and maneuvers, we managed to safely traversed the cities and highways of India.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Transportation (Part One)

Guest Blogger, Terry, tells us his experience with transportation in India:

Getting around is a key part of any world and in India this is truly a unique experience. The first mode is walking, as we and the Indians have progressed past the crawling stage. Traffic in India, however, has not yet progressed past this crawling stage in many cases.

Walking would seem to be pretty simple: lift your right leg and place it in front of the left. Transfer weight, and repeat with alternating legs and enjoy the world passing by. Not so fast though. First of all in India, one must make careful navigation of the terra firma. The first priority is to dodge the ubiquitous cow pies. Apparently it is good luck to have stepped in one, but our guide confirms it is better luck to avoid them.

Then there are the remnants of similar “movements” of dogs that roam the streets in India. Garbage is pretty widespread in most locations and that also needs to be avoided.

Looking down, there are cracks, potholes, missing tiles and holes in the sidewalks, roads and pathways. Some of these are from the aging walkways, many of which are centuries old! Some are from construction, which seems to be consuming every inch of Bangalore. And some are just from wear and tear.



Ok, so now you are placing legs in front of each other, navigating the terra firma and you decide to look up a little. There is a clue in the cow pie discovery; low and behold there are cows at every turn. They believe they own the place and sit, walk and do what cows do, with ‘The King of the Road’ as their theme song.

As you try to move past the cows, a crowd of people squeeze past, stand around or push forward. All of this must be anticipated and avoided. There is also a low regard of personal space and people are quite comfortable being glued to your back. They confidently stride forward, sweeping you along.

Just when you have this down, a motorcycle whizzes past, then an auto rickshaw, then a car and there is yet another thing to be aware of and beware of! All these vehicles are constantly beeping their horns. It becomes as much an experience of sound as it is sight. The motorcycles are everywhere. In small laneways that are 3 people wide, you hear the beep of a motorcycle horn and you gain the instinct to quickly move to the side because the bike certainly doesn't move aside as it passes by you.


Ok, so terra firma covered, dodging motorcycles and people covered, and you inevitably need to cross the street. Look to the left, take a step and OOPS they drive on the left here so you were supposed to look right to see oncoming traffic. Once that becomes habit you realize that driving rules are merely suggestions. In reality cars, motorcycles, auto rickshaws and trucks routinely drive on the wrong side of the road, moving in the wrong direction. Add this to the sheer volume of vehicles and one has a veritable maze of hardware to negotiate.




Lastly, there are all of the sights you want to see. Stores and stalls selling all possible goods and food, people in interesting clothing, buildings that are gorgeous and ill kept (often at the same time). There are smells of cooking and of those pesky cows and their by-products.

By this point you are scanning the ground avoiding pitfalls, navigating people, vehicles, crowds, traffic, sights, sounds, smells and voila you are actually walking down the street and enjoying India up close. Your head is also spinning and we were literally left feeling dizzy at times in the early going.

Now we are almost expert and have spent much time using our newly developed Indian style on foot. As you can tell, not all is a bed of roses. An auto rickshaw ran over Lynn's foot and broke her baby toe which is healing slowly. Other than all that, walking here is a breeze.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Charities

Amongst the travelling, daily electrical problems and such, I have managed to get involved with some charity work. I volunteered to be on the charity committee of the Overseas Women's Club. We meet once or twice a month depending on the need and decisions that must be made.

I've attended two meetings and I am impressed with the professionalism of the group of ten women. The OWC currently helps fund 22 charities. Right now we are revising the list, bringing on some new charities and letting go of some that do not need our assistance anymore.

We are looking at six new charities and have gone out in groups of two or three to visit each one. The two I visited were interesting. The first, a home for mentally ill homeless women. There is one room for 35 women to eat and sleep, and a tiny kitchen. I was shocked to learn that the women sleep on the floor but my co-workers explained this is quite common. So many people in India sleep on the floor in their homes. That is what they are used to and that is what they will go home to.

The second charity I visited is a home for children who used to be sex workers or are children of sex workers, ages 5 - 20. Some of them are HIV+. There are 70 children living in three houses. They are given all the basics, medical care, counselling and are sent to school or home schooled - depending on their state-of-being.

Three of us visited each house and met the children. They were so happy to see us and each one stood and said their name and what grade they were in. Given their circumstance, I was surprised at the confidence in their voices. Some of the older children are going to college and proudly showed us their uniforms and blazers. A few of the other older children are learning a skill such as weaving or tailoring so they will be able to support themselves.

Those of us on the charity committee will meet and present our findings. Once we decide which charities meet our requirements we will have their financial statements looked at by professionals. As I said, the committee takes their responsibility seriously. We go to great lengths to make sure the charities use funds appropriately and make a difference in the community.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time Stands Still

The apparant lack of seasons is an interesting thing. Late October in Vancouver, Canada means the leaves have changed color and are falling from the trees. The weather is turning cool and rainy. Summer clothes are regretfully put away, as long sleeve shirts and winter jackets are brought out. Flower baskets and gardens are cleaned out, not to be seen again until spring.

Here in Bangalore I open the curtains and walk outside to blue skies and sun. The monsoons have gone - what little there was of them - and the skies have cleared. The temperature has not changed. It's a steady 28-30 degrees and not much cooler at night.

It is strange to think it is Halloween in less than a week and Christmas just a couple months away. I didn't realize how little the calendar links me to these events - moreso, the seasons. The calendar says it is October but it doesn't register.

Warm weather indicates summer to me. Here, flowers and trees continue to bloom and I sit outside and have my coffee each morning - bliss. How can Christmas be just around the corner without the potential for snow and scarves and mittens? It doesn't make sense. For me, without seasons, time stands still.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali


Diwali is the most festive day of the year for Hindus. The "festival of lights" is celebrated with families decorating their homes with lanterns, festival lights (Christmas lights), and garlands.

We arrived home from vacation on Diwali and everyone at the airport was greeted with a Diwali gift box. We each received two diya and a toran. The diya is a lamp (candles) used to light the entrance to the home. The toran is a garland used to decorate the doorway.

From the moment we got home we could hear the fireworks going off. We felt like we were in a war zone until midnight when the sounds died down. We walked around the complex admiring the decorated houses and lantern displays. On any festival day rangoli artwork brightens sidewalks and doorsteps.


Our neighbours had lots of fireworks, big and small which we all enjoyed. But I must admit it was the Dad's who had to keep lighting "just one more."


Friday, October 9, 2009

A Week with the T's (Part 3)

Just a quick note to say I probably won't have internet access for the next week or so. Have a look back at the archives. Happy Thanksgiving to all in Canada!

Back to Bangalore on the train. This time we arrived with only 15 min. to spare and it was on time. Sat in second class sleeper so had lots of room and the kids liked the bunks.

At home Lynn has taken to making fresh papaya/yogurt smoothies and I add a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds to make them look as spectacular as they taste. Taras is eating his way through town and is determined to be the only person to come to India and gain weight.

The auto rickshaws are a big hit, especially when all six of us try to cram in. Or when we decide to splurge and take two, we race each other down the street – the drivers think it’s pretty funny too.

Lynn and I had to get the top for our sarees and the petticoat made and we found a tailor in the Commercial area to make them – inexpensive.

Two restaurants we tried out on Commercial – Woody’s, where Taras felt he should order two meals: a dosa and the “mini meal,” which turned out to be huge. The food was excellent. Next we tried Shiv Sagar which has cool murals on the walls of camels and Indian people. The food wasn’t as good but it was ok.

Now Lynn and Taras are off to Darjeeling and to tour the north for a couple weeks. We are “back to normal” and catching up on life.

A Week with the T's (Part Two)








The day after Dasara, Lynn and Taras toured the palace and the four of us went to the Deveraja Market in Mysore. This is probably the best market I've ever seen. Gorgeous displays of flowers, fruits, veggies, incense, colored paints piled high and so much more. It's almost like a big department store: an aisle for housewares; another for bananas or garlic; men sit and string flowers for garlands in another section. And the deliveries coming and going - guys with 100 lbs of bananas on their backs. The market is big and colorful and clean.

Alanna and I met up with Lynn and Taras and we were off to a Mysore silk shop to try on sarees. It was fun to see the colors and fabrics and have them draped on Lynn and I, while Alanna and Taras took photos and drank the "best tea ever." We both bought sarees for our big evening out later in the month.

Now I just have to practice draping the saree and wear it around to get used to it. I'd hate for it to unravel at an inopportune moment. For anyone wanting to learn or just have a good laugh here is a great video on "how to wear a saree.":

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Week With the T's (Part One)










Our first guests arrived early in the morning Sept. 26th from Canada, and Michael was there to greet them - in Germany! It so happened he had business in Finland and came home via Frankfurt. So he arranged to surprise Lynn and Taras and got the same connecting flight they were getting. Even though Lynn saw him first (that blue MEC jacket gave him away) they were surprised.

I must say, these two are machines - not a sign of jeg lag. They are up early every morning and ready to go, go, go. Within the first two days they had toured the village near our house, Lynn bought herself a salwar kameez and had her first dose of Cipro (Bangalore Belly). They got to experience the festive atmosphere of Dasara as well as puja for all mechanical things. Everything from cars and tractors to rickshaws, buses and trains were decorated with flower garlands and palm/banana leaves and taken to temple to be blessed.

I described the Dasara festival in the last blog but there were a few things I left out. Like the train ride. First of all it takes an hour to get to the train station and we arrived an hour early. Then there was a two hour delay (you do the math). We did a lot of people watching - good thing the people here are interesting!

The funny/crazy thing that happened while we were waiting on Platform 9 was when someone came over the loudspeaker and said something about our train, the Tippu Express. We didn't understand but all of a sudden everyone around us start jumping down onto the track and climbing over and up to another platform. Evidently the train was coming to another platform.

We were lucky an Indian lady told us to follow her to a safe place to cross. We could see a train coming so hurried to cross before it got there. But then another announcement and she confirmed the train was coming to Platform nine after all. All these poor elderly people and people with huge boxes and luggage going back and forth - chaos.

The train ride was pretty good, 1st class AC chair, basic seats but comfortable for 2 1/2 hrs. Only about $12 Can. Got to Mysore in the evening and walked to the hotel. Lynn and Taras got their first lesson in crossing the street. As Lynn took off I'd yell "look right" and then when she got to the middle of the street, "stop, look left!" There is a certain rhythm to crossing and they mastered it quickly.
The next day we all had a good time with the troupes (you have to read the previous blog). Taras and I got pulled over to one group to have our foreheads painted while the others were mesmerized by a group of drummers and dancers. There were some pretty wild costumes and the cats were the best with the amazing body paint.

Alanna still has not embraced India so the experience with the mob put her over the edge and she started crying which prompted us to come to our senses and get out of there. And as we were jumping off the truck Taras felt a tug at his pack that he had over his shoulder. He pulled it around to the front to find it had been slashed with a knife. Luckily he didn't get hurt and the MEC pack was thick enough they weren't able to slash through it or steal anything.

That night the four adults went to the palace and we were able to see the elephants, still painted from the days event. They were quite spectacular, but chained up. Always a sense of sadness when you see those great beasts unable to move about - much better to see them in the wild, on safari.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mysore Dasara: Magic or Mayhem?







The Dasara festival is celebrated all over India but nowhere is the pomp and circumstance more revelled in than Mysore. The Maharaja, the decorated elephants, the grand procession - the six of us couldn’t wait to see it all.

My sister and brother-in-law flew in from Canada Friday at midnight and Sunday afternoon we were on the Tippu Express to Mysore. Sunday evening we joined throngs of people in front of Mysore Palace to watch traditional Indian dancing. The palace, lit with thousands of lights, made a wonderful backdrop.

Monday morning we were on our way to source out a spot to watch the grand procession. Along the way we happened upon many of the groups in the procession gathered in a courtyard. It was like being backstage at the biggest festival of the year - in fact I guess we were. It was a riot of sights, sounds and colors.

Drummers and dancers worked themselves into a frenzy perfecting their acts. Others added last minute touches to their makeup and costumes. Stilt walkers leaned against trucks and those dressed as Indian Gods and Goddesses got into character.

We wandered from group to group always greeted with big smiles. We were wowed with the costumes and creativity. Full body paint was used to turn one group into an amazing array of tigers and wild cats.

Some men in bright yellow turbans painted each other’s foreheads with three horizontal white lines– the sign of Shiva. Before we knew it they pulled us over and painted the same on us. We felt lucky to have experienced the magic of all these participants up close before the procession started.

As with all things in India there seems to be a balance. If the morning was magic, the afternoon could only be mayhem. The procession started in the early afternoon. We tried to get through the crowd but it soon turned into a mob, pushing in all directions. We held hands and retreated to a safe spot.

Oddly enough a small truck pulled up next to us with a few potato sacks in the back. The driver let us climb onto the open back and we could see the procession route. But a bunch of guys started to pile onto the truck. The weight was too much and it actually tipped backwards. The guys jumped off and the truck righted itself, but we all jumped down and back to our safe spot.

At that point we felt defeated. Three of us caught a rickshaw to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant for a good stiff drink. Well, Alanna had a coke, Lynn and I had the stiff drink. The others stayed and the only one who ended up seeing anything was Craig who got to sit on his Dad’s shoulders. But after a few floats and some of the almighty elephants they exited, worried about getting caught up in the mob at the end.

Magic or mayhem? Well, that’s obvious I guess. Not seeing the procession was a disappointment – it was mayhem. Next time I would see about buying tickets to view the procession in the stands on the palace grounds. But I would also want to talk to someone to make sure it is worth it and there is a good view.

Meeting the groups in the morning was a great experience. Everyone was so friendly and we couldn’t have been closer or got better pictures had we been in the front row of the procession. Luckily we had the magic of the morning to balance out the mayhem of the afternoon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Magic or Mayhem? (Published Article)

Click for the most recent post Magic or Mayhem? 


Here's an article that I wrote for the Rangoli magazine (Nov. 2009):
Magic or Mayhem?

The Dasara festival is celebrated all over India, but nowhere is the pomp and circumstance more revelled in than Mysore. Royalty, decorated elephants, and the grand procession: the six of us (four adults/two children, 12 and 10 years) couldn’t wait to see it.

My sister and brother-in-law flew in from Canada Friday at midnight, and Sunday afternoon we were on the Tippu Express to Mysore. That evening we joined throngs of people in front of Mysore Palace to watch traditional Indian dancing. The palace, lit with thousands of lights, made a wonderful backdrop.

Monday morning we were off to look for a good spot to watch the grand procession. By chance we came upon many of the troupes assembled in a courtyard, readying themselves for the big event. It was like being backstage at the biggest festival of the year – and I guess we were. It was a riot of sights, sounds and colors.

Drummers and dancers worked themselves into a frenzy perfecting their acts. Others added last minute touches to their makeup and costumes. Stilt walkers leaned against trucks and those dressed as Indian Gods and Goddesses transformed into their characters.

We wandered from group to group and everyone greeted us with a big smile. Men in bright yellow turbans painted each other’s foreheads with three horizontal white lines: the sign of Shiva. Before we knew it they pulled us over and painted the same on us.

Head-to-toe body paint turned another set of performers into wild tigers and cats. The costumes and creativity wowed us. Many of the performers posed for us. We took their photo and they took ours as well. It was an all around good time.


As with all things in India it seems there must be a balance. If the morning was magic, the afternoon could only be mayhem. The procession started in the early afternoon. We tried to get through the crowd but it soon turned into a mob, pushing in all directions. We held hands and retreated to a safe spot.

Oddly enough a small truck pulled up. The driver let us climb onto the open back where we could see the procession route. Some other guys tried to pile onto the truck but the weight was too much and the truck tipped backwards. They jumped off and the truck righted, but we’d had enough. We jumped down, out of harms way.

We felt defeated. Three of us caught a rickshaw to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant for a good stiff drink. The others stayed and the only one who ended up seeing anything was ten-year-old Craig who sat on his Dad’s shoulders. After a few floats and four mighty elephants, they too left, worried about getting caught up in the mob at the end.

Magic or mayhem? Well, that’s obvious. For us the procession was mayhem. Next time I would see about buying tickets to view the procession from the stands within the palace grounds.
However, the magic of the morning clearly balanced out the mayhem of the afternoon. Spending the morning “backstage” with the performers was an unexpected and joyous experience – an experience we will never forget.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Walk Down the Street






It's amazing how a simple Sunday afternoon walk can turn into something so wild. As soon as we came to the village (10 min from our house) we noticed a house decorated with flower garlands and palm branches. People were streaming in and out. We thought it might be a wedding or a birth. But as we continued our walk we followed the sound of drums to where we came upon a group of men making a stretcher out of bamboo poles, decorated with flowers and woven palm leaves. Now we understood - a funeral.
We carried on down a side street where a man came out to chat with us and invited us in for tea. We declined on the tea part but had a nice talk with him.

A little further on we heard more drums and saw a tractor pulling a big Ganesh. A rickshaw with three huge megaphones blared music as drummers and villagers followed along.

The group stopped outside a small temple and we watched from a shady spot as they formed a circle and danced. But then they spotted us and a couple guys came over. I thought they might tell us to leave - maybe this was another funeral. But their hands were outstretched and they beckoned us over saying, "You are most welcome to join us, you can take photos if you wish."
We were over there in a split second and it soon became an impromptu photo session. Kids and adults wanted us to take their photos and some of them took ours as well. One little lady with a toothless grin stuck right by me, pinning flowers in my hair, talking to me in Hindi and posing for pictures - but no matter how many I took she wouldn't smile for the camera!

Then the drummers started again and the men wanted Michael to dance with them. He smiled but wouldn't, so they started dancing around him. Next the drummers formed a circle and one guy crouched down in the middle. He looked possessed or like a snake and did some strange facial and body movements. This went on for awhile with the crazy loud music and hypnotic drumming. Then a bunch of men jumped in the circle and they all danced wildly.

Eventually they stopped and the rickshaw and the tractor started to move down the street. The villagers followed and we waved goodbye. But they went no more than 100 meters and they stopped and started the music and dancing all over again. We have no idea what this was all about. Perhaps we'll go back next week and try to find out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just Another Week...(last week)

It's been a busy week of socializing, ticked some things off the to-do list and the usual mishaps.

First, our spare bedroom mattress arrived and it was even the right size! Our guests can rest easy and so can we - we won't have to share beds with them!

Last Thursday I went to a lunch organized by the OWC (Overseas Women's Club) at Khansama Restaurant in UB City Mall. We were greeted with the traditional bindi on the forehead, sandlewood paste rubbed on the hand and flowers. Ambiance was great with big copper plates and goblets, and large Indian paintings on the walls. We were able to taste an array of Indian food and came away stuffed. A mehndi artist came around and "painted" designs on our hands - it only took ten minutes each. A nice way to meet some people and sample some great food.

Friday was very busy. I dropped Michael off at work at 8:00am and an hour later was at a Charity function at the Windsor Hotel. Most of the 25 charities that the OWC helps fund were there and had set up information booths. It was an excellent way for me to talk to a lot of people from different charities and see what kind of work they do. They are all passionate and dedicated.

Right after that I had to go out to the school for the primary Parent/Teacher day. It was more of a "fun" day with games and booths set up. Craig and I did the 3-legged race and tug-of-war and then we were so hot and sweaty we decided to duck out early.

Saturday night Michael and I went to a Wine Dinner at Paul Hotel. It was a five course Kerala Indian style dinner paired with wines from Big Banyan Winery. We had no expectations as far as the wine went which was lucky because it wasn't very good. The food was good though, and again we were able to taste many different dishes.

Sat with an interesting couple from UK who have been here 4 1/2 yrs. They told lots of "India" stories. Told us about an ashram they went to - getting up at 5:00am everyday and mandatory laughing sessions for 1/2 hr. They were at the Maldives when the tsunami hit (spoiler- they lived).

Tuesday was Michael's birthday and unfortunately it didn't start off too well. I noticed a black mark on one of our pictures in the living room and when I went to wipe it off, realized that mold was growing on the inside of the glass. Don't worry, it gets worse. I took the picture off the wall, thinking I could clean it but the whole back of the picture and the wall had become one heck of a science experiment. It was alive and growing! The picture is gone, the mold is cleaned up but we're waiting to see if it's really gone before fixing the wall. The owners and the management company would have just painted over it if we had let them - uhg!

The day got better as I got to go to a cooking class at Caperberry Restaurant which was fun and got some good tips and recipes...and lunch. In the evening the kids and I took Michael out for dinner to Toscana's. This restaurant is in the Forum Value Mall and is within walking distance. It has excellent non-Indian food: thin crust pizza's just like Italy, excellent caesar salad, bruschetta, steak, grilled fish and more.

Another week of ups and downs...but mostly ups.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dandiya




Here we are at the start of another ten day festival - Navrati - which means the nine divine nights. It's all a little complicated as it's also called Dasara which means ten days. Here's the "Coles's notes" version: three goddesses are worshipped over the first nine days (for three days each): Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakhsmi and Goddess Saraswati. The tenth day, Dasara, is a big celebration marking the victory of Lord Rama over Ravina.
So where does Dandiya fit in? Dandiya is the dance that is featured on the nights of Navrati, using Dandiya sticks.
Everyone in our neighbourhood got together last night to celebrate at the soccer field. Alanna and I got mehndi on our hands (the photo above is Alanna's hands) and people got dressed up in their Dandiya outfits, sari's, and kurta's.
They set up food stalls and games. The only problem - it started to rain just as we were going out the door at 6:30pm. Got our umbrellas and off we went anyway. Had some good Indian food, samosas and chaat. It seemed the rain was not going to ease off so at 8:00pm we moved to the clubhouse for puja and dancing.
Everyone gathered around a small table with a picture (of the Goddess Durga?), flames, and offerings of food for puja. People took turns lifting the plate with the flames and offerings and moving them in circular motion while everyone else clapped or hit their Dandiya sticks together in a rhythmic motion.
The DJ started up the music and people danced in a rotating circle with children running and dancing in the middle. Some of the outfits were elaborate and it was mesmorizing to watch them go round and round, with scarves and sarees flowing.
Then came Dandiya and everyone had fun learning and playing with the Dandiya sticks. I had watched some video's of Dandiya on the internet and it seemed to be a group dance but here they did it more with partners or small impromptu groups.
Next week we are going to Mysore for the Dasara festival, the tenth day of the celebrations. It is to be a grand occassion of elephant processions, a torchlight parade and fireworks. And we have relatives flying in the day before - talk about stimulating the senses right away!