Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ladies Night at I-Bar

After whining that OWC India Night was all work and no play and most importantly no dancing - I got to shake and shimmy at I-Bar in Bangalore on Ladies Night. This really was Ladies night - vodka and whiskey based drinks free to the gals!! These gals are a really fun, welcoming group, friends of Shubha and lots of fun!
The shots looked a lot more fiery than they tasted - colored sugar water in the most part, but the flames added a dramatic twist. The bar doesn't actually have a dance floor but that didn't stop us - chairs were cleared aside and we moved!

Tonight was "commercial night" music wise, which appears to mean the prevailing top hits, - which thanks to my syncing (is that the correct terminology) with Ads i-pod I am well familiar with. I didn't see the day coming when I would be boogying to the music Adam listens to but it has arrived! I have however been able to educate Ads, giving him "history" lessons  - finding u-tube videos of The Stones to show Ads the namesake of one of his favorites  - "Moves like Jagger."

How many Holidays????

Simon and I left the UK in 1997 with very few Holidays on our schedule. Valentine's was only for lovers or secret admirers, Easter - just REAL chocolate easter eggs,  Halloween not really established, and of course Christmas, celebrated in a typical British understated way.

We then arrived in the U.S. to amplify our existing holidays and add a few more! Valentines sent to all - a mandatory requirement to send to all the kids in the classroom complete with candy, St Patrick's Day - going green with a difference!, Easter - an introduction to the Easter Bunny and his hidden candy filled PLASTIC eggs, the red, white and blue of July 4th, Halloween - costumes and candy - parties for adults and kids, Thanksgiving, and the one we spend mega bucks on, affix lights inside and out, bake cookies and cakes, party big time, cut trees, take pics with the big red, bearded chap  - Christmas!

On moving to India - surprisingly we haven't dropped any but gained yet more. The British Embassy sees we keep up the British end  - even an invite to a party to celebrate this year's royal wedding - toasts to Kate and William! Halloween made it to Indus and appears with gusto in the confines of Vista. We will unfortunately miss it this year as we will be on the overnight bus from Goa - more on that later! Wills, needless to say is not too happy with my bad planning on this one!

At the bus stop no ties or hideous formal Indus shoes on Friday, just an array of costumes......

Wills, aka Ninja (from old Ninja hand down top, Prince Caspian pants and the neckerchief cut out of an old batman cape!).

Since we have been in B'lore we have celebrated - India's birth and Independence, paint hurling Holi, Ganesha, Navrati/Dussera and now we are mid Diwali - which will get it's own blog but suffice to say the first firework I heard this morning was before 7.30am - now was this a hangover from last night celebrations or the beginning of today's celebrations?

Can we stand the pace?

Dynamite Diwali!!

Diwali, the festival of lights, and seriously the loudest of the loud, firecrackers galore! Not a distant echo from a far off field reverberating from an organized display but on the street, out of the front door, to celebrate good prevailing over evil and light over dark. Dawn breaking at 5.20 am along with the first of many bangs, booms, bursts, whooshes, whizzes and fizzes into the now lightening sky.

The fun actually started a few days ago when many of the houses in the 'hood were decorated with lights:
Even some of the Vista streets were prepared for party time, I know I really need to go on that night time photography course! Over the last few days there have been street parties and house parties all bursting with exuberance and goodwill -not to mention noise and food, going on into the early hours. With the party resuming at dawn, well actually before, as there are rituals to be performed before the first fireworks head skyward to greet the dawn, I tell you Indians have stamina!!
Huge temporary firework stalls have been appearing along the city streets getting busier and busier with folks buying literaly carts of firecrackers. Even now at 10.00am there is a steady rumble of firecracker pops. Its all very simple here, merely grab your fireworks, matches, walk onto the street and let rip!!

Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers and there are a few, what the festival of lights seems to stand for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple - and not so simple joys of life.

At the more peaceful end, the little Diwalli lamps, Diyas, I saw being made at pottery town some months ago, are lit, placed both outside and around everyones houses, gifts are exchanged, new clothes bought and worn, friends and relatives visited.....
The festival goes on for at least another day but we are off on the overnight bus to Goa - now therein lies a blog!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Indus will rock you!!

Over the last week I have had a tempestuous relationship with the kid's school. Being told the day before that Wills has to wear a Halloween costume the following day - not helpful in a land where you can't nip out a buy one at the last moment - managed to cobble together a ninja costume out of 3 old costumes. Then Adam's holiday homework.......supposed to be 40 mins a subject  - as he has at least 8 subjects that's no quick sit down and dash it off ....but then as the English is to read a book and write a book report thereon....all in 40 mins, I feel its going to take a lot longer!!!!

However Saturday night we went to see the schools performance of "We all rock you" and it did!!

The evening started off with a tribute to the Indus community school. On the campus Indus has built a free school for the kids from the local villages which it sponsors - each kid even gets a laptop. Adam gets to visit to help the kids with their English.  Some of the community school girls put on a traditional Indian dance, which was beautiful. The girls were elegant and confident.

One of the girls then gave a speech talking about the advantages Indus had given to her and her peers. There then followed too many tributes and thanks to the VIPs present, including a speech by the founder of Indus which was actually a good speech  - about corporate greed and the values they are trying to instill in their students - but it was a case of wrong time wrong place - everyone wanted the show to begin.

The school did an excellent job and I guess it's one of the advantages of having a k thro' 12th school in that the little kids can be involved alongside the incredible skills, application and confidence of the higher grades. Some of the jokes probably were more time-relevant to the parents!
Apparently Wills is singing "We will rock you" in his music class at school and now we all have Bohemian Rhapsody on our i-pods or equivalent - a tribute to the late great Freddie Mercury!!

Caught the Cornrows!

After a not very successful attempt by yours truly, a futile attempt at a salon, I tracked down an African lady to give Wills a professional looking Didya Drogba, Karate Kid (Jaden Smith).....
 Like all in this land of adventure the whole process was not as easy as just driving up to the salon. We had a sort of address - get to a specific hotel near a bank about 30 mins from here, turn down 3rd cross and call. So we did and after driving down this single track road among the Indians going about their business appeared an African lady. She took Wills and I down a side alley into a tiny little house and sat Wills down in the middle of the front room. Shankar meanwhile drove off leaving Wills and I to find a rick home, given we could successfully impart where we needed to go!
Wills was very stoic as his hair having grown a few inches long with a variety of very tight and looser curls, was a tangled mess and she had to tug somewhat to get a comb through it. He also had to sit still for about an hour.......
Nearly there........
After the drive there, the whole process and the rick ride back, Wills has decided when the braids come out (up to 2 weeks) he's going to have his hair cut short! But I'm so glad he did decide to get it done as it looks so wonderful - if only once. Now we have to oil it and tie a scarf round it for the night to get maximum life out of the braids! The price of beauty!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Staircase to Heaven (Navrati Dolls)

Navrati is a time to go visiting in southern India! It is a nine day all female affair - first 3 days dedicated to the Goddess Durga (power and energy), then Laxshmi (prosperity and peace) and finally Saraswathi (art and knowledge). A tiered step like structure is erected in the living room  which is decorated with dolls/models which  may have been collected over the years, handed down from generation to generation. Friends (and friends of friends aka gate-crashers - like me!!) are invited round to celebrate the festival and admire the Kolu.

The dolls essentially represent the court of the Goddess Durga.They are some rules to the arrangements - firstly the number of steps has to be odd (it's auspicious), secondly there is a hierarchy. The most holy are closest to heaven, on the uppermost step. The top step therefore hold the gods, below are the avatars of vishnu (includes Krishna and Rama), then saints and great men. These are followed by mere mortals, perhaps wedding scenes and then tools of business, musical instruments or study books and also animals.

On the 10th night, after the ceremonial arti and prayers, the dolls are laid down and put to ‘sleep.’ And the next day, the exhibits are packed carefully away and preserved for use the next year. Some of these must take a lot of storage.

In the neighborhood, I visited, and saw the two decorations above. Casual California this is not. You don't pop round in your sweats. This is an auspicious occasion and one dresses accordingly (the faux pas I would have made without Shubha do not bear thinking about). Hospitality in India is second to none and as is par for the course I was made to feel at home and the rituals explained to me.

Another friends of Shubha's we visited had a slightly different approach. Around their conservatory they had set up maybe 20 scenarios telling the story of Rama. These were the most intricate and detailed scenes. Below is just one. I think in total there were over 300 dolls/models. The setting up took 2 weeks. Beautiful pictures of an amazing story, an inspiring example of dharma, a great love affair, a tragic exile, a horrific war, which ends in victory and a new emperor.  
Below are a few of the scenes spreading out along one side of the wall.
At the end of each visit we were given a gift bag as we departed. Each of the traditional items to wish us well. 

I am beginning to find tracking down the underlying stories behind these rituals a bit trickier than one would imagine. There are variations from region to region, maybe traditions evolving over time, the individual flourish etc.etc. But in the end the details are not important, the underlying messages of dharma - in order to find the divinely instituted natural order of things, human beings must live in accordance with justice, social harmony and human happiness - look for blessings, wisdom and peace along the way from their gods/goddesses. I maybe losing the plot a bit here!! but suffice to say there is a spiritual feeling and understanding beneath the rituals and traditions which burns strong and hence the details of which god is represented how and when is not so important.

Monday, October 17, 2011

India Night a la OWC

This was the biggie - the major fundraiser of the year for the OWC (Overseas Womens Club), my first as "treasurer in training." Grand plan is when the current treasurer heads back to the UK, muggins here steps in, in an official capacity!!

India Night was quite an extravaganza - big posh hotel, pre-dinner entertainment, free bar (as always a few over-enthusiastic supporters thereof!), raffles, silent auction, fashion show, dinner, bollywood dancers and dancing until the cinderella hour in Bangalore - midnight, surprisingly early for an international hub.

We sold nearly 300 tickets and most arrived attired in formal Indian dress, elaborate sari's for the gals and formal kurta with bling for the guys. All the sari's looked professionally wrapped and I didn't see any wardrobe malfunctions!!

I was attached to my clip board for most of the evening - managed a few glasses of wine but no food and worst of all no dancing!!! They say "you can go anywhere if you look serious and carry a clip board" but what they forget to add is that this bit of nondescript hardboard with it's metal clip also renders you invisible, much like when you deal with someone in uniform you deal with the office/position not the individual. Thus I think I became an extension of my clipboard for the evening not a gal at a party!

Amongst other activities, my date for the evening (my clip board) and I explored the bowels of the Hotel tracking down the photographer's printer, were berated by an enthusiastic supporter of the free booze for the lack of tonic to go with their gin and spent some cosy together time in the designated finance room safely removed from all the fun. However, most importantly we raised lots of dosh for the charities the OWC sponsors and after all that is what it is all about.

But maybe next year my clipboard and I will manage quick shimmy on the dance floor, or perhaps I'll even temporarily dump said partner in a dark corner and find a more interesting companion for a few illicit bollywood moves!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grandparents Day at an International School?

If you were rating this for the number of Grandparents present, then not a great success! But for cuteness - high marks.

Not many of first grade at an "International" school have grandparents in state, in the country or even on the continent, so with minimal notice (typical Indus) there were very few grandparents there. Some kids like Wills had co-opted parents to be in attendance, some hadn't bothered.

Anyway I found out why Wills loves his Grandpa - because he gives him chocolate!! This was a big moment for Wills, he voluntarily took the mic to speak in front of his year and the parents, for him a big step forward!

These days Wills hardly ever wears civies - its all uniforms, 2 days a week at school its gym uniform (above), 3 days a week it's formals:
At the weekend it's cricket strip - blues not whites for training!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's your car wearing today? - Ayudha Puja

When I staggered into the gym early yesterday I thought it a little odd that all the weight machines were proudly wearing the three line talika (that's three horizontal lines in a sort of paste which can be turmeric/water) usually used as devotional symbols for followers of Shiva. I didn't question this - this is India after all and things happen!

I get back home to see Shankar giving the car an extra vigorous wash and Sweetie asking if she and Shankar can do a special puja for the car. No reason why not, and she and Shankar go to buy the necessary. Time for some serious googling!!

Now, I was aware that we are currently in the 10 days of Navrati. However it transpires that yesterday was Ayudha Puja - the day for the worship of the gods of implements. This day is always the 9th day of Navrati. One of the wonders of India is that festivals vary from state to state - not only which ones are celebrated, but also the underlying legends and the traditions. Maybe accepting the different ways their own Hindi festivals are celebrated throughout the country has lead to the acceptance of all other religions and their festivals in India or maybe Indians just like to party period! Anyways in Karnataka the tradition started when weapons were prayed over the day before some big battle. This is the day to seek blessings over all tools and implements. This includes musical instruments and school books. Aparently in years gone by students looked forward to this time when their books were laid out to the gods for three days and guess what - they couldn't study! However these days it is assumed that one book is sufficient to summon blessings from the gods so no break in study patterns.

Sweetie and Shankar reappear with bags of loot! Firstly the pastes are made up and the car gets numerous talikas on its now gleaming body work, tires, hubcaps, windows....
Next step is interesting. A square hole is cut in a white pumpkin and into the hole some of the red vermillion paste is poured, the hole plugged and the pumpkin shaken. I am now thinking that the sort of strange watermelon I saw smashed on the pavement/sidewalks earlier today were not watermelons after all! Apparently the pumpkin gets hurled to the ground as part of the puja and then the broken segments are left in front of the doors of the garage. The pumpkin is a substitute for animal sacrifices as it is fleshy and the red vermilion represents ...... yes you got it the blood!  Shankar is horrified at the business savvy of the local traders. Prices of the puja kit have apparently doubled for these few days. Driving around later we see streets lined with white pumpkins, banana leafs, garlands of flowers etc. for sale, and some of the best dressed vehicles ever!

The incense is lit and we are ready to roll. Under each car wheel is a lemon. When all is said and done the car will roll over these and smash them - which wards off evil.  There are a variety of fruits, sweets (hoping we get to eat these!), coconuts and puffed rice on the tray as offerings.
Shankar then conducts the puja. The white pumpkin and coconuts have some sort of burning wax put on them and are picked up and circled in the front of the car three times, then hurled and smashed to the ground while some words are chanted (didn't get to the bottom of what these were). We had by this time drawn a crowd of some of the neighborhood gardeners, as is custom, they are given the puffed rice and sweets and some money as a gesture of goodwill.
So the car is blessed for a year. Having spent the best part of a year negotiating the roads of Bangalore our car has aged beyond its years in terms of scratches and dents. Maybe the next twelve months will be kinder!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chicks with Sticks aka Dandiya Night

Dandiya night at the Adarsh Vista club house. This was another example of how the Indian culture is so all-embracing. Since we have been here we have been welcomed so enthusiastically to join and take part in all traditional festivities. This was a great night - music, dancing, socializing and food!!

Wills was sleeping over somewhere else in Vista, Simon in Mumbai on a biz trip and Ads somewhere with his buds in the 'hood, but keeping well away from the music and dancing. So it was up to me to represent the Towers family, armed with my sticks. Dandya sticks represent the Goddess Druga's sword. Druga, meaning invincible, is the embodiment of creative feminine force! She stands for fearlessness and patience. Durga was created as a warrior goddess to fight an inhuman force/demon named Mahishasura, who could not be defeated by either man or one of the gods. When the going gets tough, in legend as in life, you need a woman!!  At the end of nine days Druga eventually defeated Mahishasura. This is part of the Navarartri festival which I do have more to blog about. 

The clubhouse was lit up, the DJ in place and everyone (except for me - having been more than feeble here) clothed either in Gujarati (lots of color and festooned with mirrors and sequins) dress or equally vibrant traditional Indian attire. Not only the Indians but the French and Dutch kept up the European end with their Indian outfits. Next year I will be more appropriately attired.

Not only did I have to master the tapping of my sticks, without causing anyone any injury, but also draw on reserves of stamina! Some of the dances had set patterns and stick taps, but of course there was some flexibility and everyone inserted their own little flourish. Two circles - inner and outer, 3 or 4 dance moves with sticks (without hitting anyone!) facing one partner, quick twirl and move on to face another partner. For the British, it's a bit like barn dancing with weapons! It was so much fun and everyone had patience while I fumbled with my sticks!
When the sticks were downed the dancing continued - the colors, the rhythms oscillating into the night.
Luckily, to replenish our energy reserves, there was wonderful Indian street food. I love this food but for gastrointestinal reasons we can't just stop, jump out the car and buy from the street sellers so we only get to eat this when it is catered. My favorite Indian foods to date are not the more fancy Indian foods, but the street/snack foods - the dosa, pabhaji and pan puri.

At some point I found Ads who told me he was tired and was going home to bed but it was OK if I stayed out - role reversal or something here. But he did tell me he'd seen me dancing and while I wasn't embarrassing I did stand out - I took that as a compliment but I'm not 100 percent sure!

Annual Anguish!

We are now approaching our one year anniversary - we left the US November 19th and arrived here in Bangalore November 21st - so not exactly sure which of these days is our actual 1st year Bangalorean Birthday, or what happened to November 20th 2010?

Anyway we are now embroiled in the process of renewing/extending our visas and residence permits.

After collecting the relevant documents and photos we (just Simon and me for the first leg) set off for the FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office) which we last visited December 2nd 2010. How do I remember?, it was our wedding anniversary and we plus kids spent a substantial amount of time there for our initial residents permits. Anyway this was a quick visit (Part 1 of 2) to get a police report request document, essentially an official signed document telling us we needed to go and get a police report.....

Next stop HAL police station. I don't have many police station visits in the western world with which to compare this with. But it was definitely like a trip back in time. Although there was an armed policeman at the door, neither we nor our bags were searched on the way in and the policeman frequently left his gun unattended, propped against the wall when he went off to do other things. Not sure if that was reassuring or not!
These pics were taken surreptitiously with my phone so are not very clear. Behind the desk is a cork board headed "Rouge Gallary" (their spelling errors - not mine) onto which villains pictures were pinned and graded 1 to 5 - whether an evilness ranking or danger factor who knows! There were piles of huge, cumbersome ledgers, all hand written, each for a specific criminal event -  from "Rowdy Incidences" to "Cow Theft." There was a lot of handwriting going on with copious amounts of carbon paper!

There was indeed a "lock up" for the bad guys - in the middle of the hallway black iron bars though which we could see the rather tame, quiet and subdued looking villains, watching us watching them. I sometimes wonder if in India we are the spectator or the spectacle!!

Our first port of call was with the "Station Writer" who had to write up a report to justify that we are indeed residents in their jurisdiction. For some reason a signed lease is not good enough. This had to be signed off by the big boss of the police station who wasn't yet available (or arrived) and there didn't seem to be an ETA. We decided to go home and wait to be summoned, which happened several hours later. The people waiting when we first arrived were still there. We were finally signed off as true residents and now have to plan our second visit to the FRRO with the kids - that'll be the long drawn out wait, wait, wait which will sign and seal our second year here in B'lore.