Sunday, November 27, 2011

Holy Cow!

Q :How can you spot a newbie in India?
A: They are taking photographs of street cows!

We've all been there, done that and then deleted all the pics. However I had to write an article for the Rangoli (OWC magazine) about the beast which in Bangalore is more effective than any speed bump. So it was time to probe a little deeper!

These cows are not, as one might first imagine, wandering nomads. They are, in fact, owned and are the major bread winner for some families. Apparently, cows do have a pretty good homing instinct but in any case do not wander far. Their owners are thus close by and are very quick to appear if any man, other beast or vehicle is doing their cow harm. During the day the cows will roam free, scavenging for food and taking naps as and when – we all know that drill! As evening falls, milking time, the cow will return home – to be relieved of its milk, and also, if it’s lucky, more food. These cows usually live in a shed next to their owner’s house. There are places in Bangalore akin to little urban cow farms/dairies; essentially where a few sheds are built round a bit of scrubland, deserted by day but a mass of milk machines by night.

Historically, leaving your cow free to roam and forage was both an efficient and cheap way to feed it. There  being plenty of grass to be found. In today's world it costs 250 rupees a day to provide a cow with the food and nutrients it needs, outside the pocket of most cow keepers. However, unfortunately, a major health hazard lurks indistinguishable by said beast from the waste food it forages for in the road side trash – plastic!!  A case was reported in Mumbai where 30kg of plastic was removed from a cow’s belly during a surgery lasting five hours. Apparently her belly was so distended and her digestive system so screwed up, food was coming out of her nose.  It was reported that a full recovery was in fact made.

The cow has a very important role in Hinduism, which seems to date back to Krishna – the naughty, cheeky little blue boy playing his flute, who grew up as a cow herder, aside from being a supreme being and a major contributor to the Bhagvard Gita.  The cow, itself, is not actually worshipped in any way and only sacred in that it is taboo to harm it. In the Bhagvard Gita, Krishna said that one of the three activities of the rural worker should be ‘cow protection”. The cow provides five important basic elements – milk, obviously for nourishment especially for children, butter-ghee, curds, and also cow dung (for fuel/energy) and cow urine (yes – you did read that correctly!) But drinking cow pee?….yes! In 2009 cow urine was packaged, launched and marketed (if you google you can also find cow urine champagne) This was supposed to be the real thing – the healthy alternative to pepsi and coke!! “Gau jal” – cow water - is actually sold in auyeredic health shops for its medicinal properties, and also can be used for cleaning - it apparently has antiseptic powers.

In Karnataka in 2010, the state government passed a prevention of cow slaughter bill, amidst much opposition from non-Hindus (presumably beef eating and leather wearing) and also Hindu cow owners. It is now illegal to kill livestock under the age of 12 but, sadly for the Bangalore cow population, these rules are mostly ignored and go unheeded. Most cow owners are not wealthy and thus old, past their milking date cows and of course any bull babies are a financial burden and usually sold off to butchers for beef eating non-Hindus. The financial aspect taking priority over the religious angle! The slaughter is carried out in extremely unpleasant and painful ways. There are charities in Bangalore which have been set up to try to protect both cow and oxen, which manages to strike a balance between protecting the cows and being sympathetic to the financial constraints of the owners. For example, when a cow comes into heat it will be artificially inseminated and if pregnancy does not ensue, obviously its milk yield falls, it loses it's financial credibility and, odds on, its end is nigh. The charity, financed purely by donations, visits the villages and gives these cows hormonal shots to try and increase the chance both of pregnancy and the pregnancy holding, and hence both income for the owner and life for the cow. The Indian breeds of cow, while strongly built to walk long distances, do not have a particularly high milk yield, so a lot of hybrid cows are bred which produce more milk but are not suited to either the Indian extremes of temperature or the inherent walking lifestyle. This gives rise to more bovine medical conditions which the charities try to address.

Bangalore bovines do not have terribly happy, healthy or hopeful lives but come one day in January, after Pongal (the Kannada harvest) and the supposed anniversary of when Krishna was promoted from calf minder to cow herder, it is their day. They are dressed and decorated, Pooja done on their behalf and hopefully another year of mindlessly meandering the streets of Bangalore producing magnitudes of marvelous milk lies ahead.

So next time you are delayed in traffic by a ungainly, malnourished, but gentle-looking beast lying unconcernedly mid-street taking a nap, you can take a mooooooment (I resisted all bad cow puns until this last paragraph) to reflect on its history, its present and it's pretty gloomy future! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The show will go on....OWC Christmas Bazaar.

It was wet, soggy and dark. This was not the sharp, fast, warm, torrential cleansing rains we are used to in Bangalore, but enduring, steady, cold and grey. As a fellow early bird volunteer commented, "it was like waking up in England this morning". With rain jackets over our festive but totally unsexy green or red volunteer tee's and aprons, the main stay of the OWC arrived at the church grounds in the dewy to survey the damage done to the previous afternoon's set up by the elements.
It was 7.00am and no sign of anything but grey. It was hard to believe this annual fundraiser was going to fly. The vendor tables were soaked, there were steady persistent drips from the shamiana overhead. We all had rain jackets but everything we needed to set up: tickets, signage, arts and crafts, baked goodies weren't so protected...where to start....

Even the stage for Santa, his elves and the performers from local schools had lost it's sparkle and looked jaded and sad.

However, the women of the OWC, like all volunteers, are a  mix of optimism, fortitude and true grit! So the show would go on!!

Then, life got busy, the vendors started to arrive and unpack their produce - their grimaces and complaints fading with the rain. The skies brightened and we were in business. As part of the finance team we were first in and last out so it was a long day. Floats went out and money came in from all directions - parking, vendors, entrance tickets, Santa photos, kids corner, raffle tickets, bake sale, refreshment sale... all of which had several selling desks and multiple shifts. Our infamous bright yellow bag, padlocked and secured to a tree, was soon bulging with takings - counting starts on Monday!!

It was a whirl of hectic activities - kids singing with enthusiasm if not always talent, folks shopping for the Holidays  - jewelry, clothes, scarfs both high end and hand made for charities, food from candy floss. hand baked cookies, breads and cakes to the food vendors with international fair.
And all too soon it was done, after all that work and effort over the last few weeks - but it felt good to be part off and to know we have raised lots of money for the charities the OWC supports. For all volunteers wherever you are - a huge thanks!! We battle on in all weathers, take flak left and right from all and sundry, put in hours and hours when we could be by the pool, at lunch, the remember where-ever you are VOLUNTEERS ROCK!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Year In and....................

I can't think of anything profound to say!

November 19th - one year since we left the US, November 21st - one year since we touched down in B'lore.

I thought that I would have lots to write about, the goods the bads and the ugglies of our first year, the highs and lows, the lessons learned, the things we love, the things we miss.... ..but it's all an ongoing process and most of that reflection would be a repetition of passed blogs.

The ex-pat life in India is a bit like a holiday romance - intense, passionate but knowing it can't and won't last forever, in someways it's not like real life, but in someways it's all so real and will never be forgotten. We have seen, experienced and learnt lessons we never could have imagined. We have been taken out of our comfort zones in a hundred different ways. Life does now have a rhythm  - we have friends, favorite restaurants, weekly activities, but often there are extra beats or missed notes! I really don't think I could live here for ever - and that is a failing on my behalf not this wild, exotic, wonderful country. While I love the exuberance, the enthusiasm, the energy, it sometimes feels like there is too little personal space and too little impulse control for an emotionally stunted Brit. While exciting it can also feel exhausting! It's sometimes all too much, too vibrant, too out there, too harsh on the senses, jerks too hard on the conscience, tugs too strongly on the heart strings for poor little me to ever think I'd really understand what makes it tick and to feel part of it.  I think we would always be both spectacles and spectators. That is an education in itself - we are all on this planet, broadly united in our human forms but also so very different - we need worldwide to acknowledge our samenesses and appreciate our differences.

In some ways life here remains an ongoing adventure but in other ways I feel very safe. While people will try to scam us - it's sort of out there - catch them out and it's a fair cop - almost gaining some respect - its a dog eat dog existence for the poor, and understandably so. But people are so kind and so hospitable. Its a sea of contrasts, the old and the new pushing along side each other, the traditional and the innovative, and the waves are big, exciting but tumultuous. There are so many issues here that need to be resolved but so many facets that it would be tragic to lose as India charges at top pelt into the future. Lesson to be learned from the west, but also so many lessons to teach.

But one thing I have obviously learnt is how to "waffle write"  - put words on paper without saying anything of significance - so lets just say we have been here a year and leave it at that!!

National Children's Day

In India National Childrens Day is an annual celebration - and celebrated it is too. Vista had both party halls in action. One was a compilation of classical Indian dance and song put on by the children of Vista - it was a 3 plus hour long extravaganza, obviously some very talented kids live in our neighborhood with some very patient parents!! What struck me was that all these kids were happy to practice and perform and also not shy to dance/sing solos.

In the other party hall the folks of Vista hosted a party for the kids who live in the sheds behind our neighborhood (shed being one up on a slum but still with no electricity, running water etc.) and some of the offspring of the Vista maintenance workers.

November 14th is the date of Nehru's birthday - India's first Prime Minister who emphasized the importance of giving love and affection to kids who he saw as the bright future of his country and bright these kids were, so gorgeous, bright and alive. 

The entertainment was provided by a magician who really looked the part, had the kids total attention. He spoke in Kannada but the language of magic is universal!
These kids were so appreciative, so open in their enjoyment and soooooooo well behaved! My kids could learn a lot!
They laughed,
They listened from the youngest...
They came in their best clothes .......

and even make-up - (kohl round the eyes)
This little man....was such a dude (see the juice cartoon in his pocket!)
I'm not sure who had more fun and took away more memories from the party - the kids or the Vista adults involved in organizing the afternoon - it sure feels as good to give as it does to get, if not more so. The kids were given party bags when they left with toys, school supplies and some fruit. 
 To think of the future these kids will have compared with the opportunities and experiences ahead for our  kids is hard to contemplate.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We thought we'd have lots of new experiences moving to India......

but a personal invitation to a fashion show was not one of them!!
Can you picture Simon and me with a "bevy of the city's fashionistas and socialites" (Bangalore Times) - I bet you can't!!

My vocabulary is no way as imaginative or flowery, nor am I such a fashion connoisseur as that of the paparazzi - so beware lots of quotes following!

But we were there.....witnessing a "showcase of the transformation of urbanism brought on by an ever-changing world" (from the invitation).

The evening was sponsored by Chivas, the whiskey makers. The complimentary cocktails were you guessed it...a shot of Chivas with every conceivable mixer and given exotic names. Whiskey and grapefruit juice with aforementioned fruit disintegrating in it.......actually tasted pretty good!!

Deepika Govind, Bangalore's "fiesty and spirited" (Bangalore Times) fashion designer put on a great show.  Even tho' some of the clothes could never be worn by folks of normal dimensions without looking ridiculous, the colors and fabrics were beautiful. The models were gorgeous, tho' by western standards were definitely "healthy" and perhaps a little meaty - no skin tauntly covering jutting out bones here! Deepika, although a forefront designer, uses fabrics and patterns to marry the traditional weaving skills and fabrics of times gone by with the styles and images of today. Therein lies a message. As India changes at such  speed with the advances of technology and the invasion of the West she must not loose the traditions and values which make her the rich, wonderful, vibrant country she is.

I won't even try to describe the clothes - "The collection salutes the spirit of the dreamer, the adventurer and the spirited! It’s about women – valiant, dauntless, inexorable, notable and nonconformist, a daredevil of sorts and inimitably stylish" 

The whole evening was " an eclectic amalgamation of fashion, art, mixology, gourmet food and music which offers a unique experience that integrates art and luxury". Mixology is apparently the art of making cocktails (I had to google!) The music was performed by an incredibly cool violinist. It's always great to hear classical instruments jumping out of the orchestra and taking the floor on their own and showing they still belong in this "ever changing world". But the art, this poor guy - in a sort of unflattering pair of nylon looking female 1950's pajama's with a huge amount of kohl round his eyes trying to look concentrated and interesting moving/dancing in an expressive exaggerated manner on a podium in the midst of the bar area. He looked as if he was taking himself exceptionally seriously ...but unfortunately I couldn't!

It was a really good evening - a new experience, one we never expected!

Lazy, lazy, lazy................

Having had so many "busy" trips, having already been to Goa and done the tourist stuff, this was our "do as little as possible except beach and food" trip. And we succeeded!!

Couldn't decide if my orange or black and white sunsets and silhouettes of the boys are you get both!! Enough to say the evenings were awesome.

We rented a little house, with mini kitchen, 2 bedrooms, living area, small yard and terraces 2 minutes easy walk to the beach in one direction and 2 minutes to the main street complete with serial restaurants serving fresh prawns in coconut curried sauce with butter naan and cold more need be said!

Candolim beach was long and golden, just waking up for the start of the season. Beach shacks were literally spring up before our eyes but it was still relatively quiet.

The beach hawkers were already out in force - but when they heard I lived in Bangalore and was not therefore going to be paying as high a premium as the real tourists they knew they were in for a tougher time. In fact the harder I negotiated and the more I beat them down the more respect they seemed to have for me and they'd stop as they walked past just to chat!

Watching the Indians and the European at play on the beach was an eye opener! The Indian Ladies, even the quite young ones, wear their full clothes in the sea - its hot so all dries quickly - no need for towels, sun oil, spare clothes etc. I'm not saying their western counterparts need to copy but surely we could have some sensibilities and not waggle, wiggling, wobbling, white buttocks in their faces!
I took far too many pics of the kids - so here are some of my favorites - the tip of the iceberg!
I love this pic of Adam - I have a similar one when he was younger with him embracing the snow. Both are so symbolic of his approach to life.
Wills, looking purposeful and determined - a look seen quite often these days.
The brothers, how I wish they were more often - sharing, plotting or planning but with a common cause!
And to finish, one of us all -which if I can't manage any better (have grand plans of us dressed Indian style) will be seen again on our Christmas cards!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The wheels on the bus go round and round....all through the night!

The overnight bus was an experience - but surprisingly a good one. I had thought it was going to be a "grin and bear it" type of experience but it was actually quite fun!

Bus depot or even bus stop is an exageration for the non marked "pick-up" area for all the overnight buses. We had booked tickets on the top of the range model : the volvo a/c sleeper bus. All the buses use the same road side stop areas and believe you me, there must be a lot of buses rolling along the roads of India through the night. You seriously need to have your wits about you - buses pull up, folks climb on and bus disappears into the night. No checking names off lists or making announcements. But true to Indian style everyone seems to end up on the right bus with their bags! So many people waiting - the young turks headed to party city (some did return mummied up, victims of motorbiking induced road rash), families of multiple generations carrying new borns and propping up the extremely the aged, a few white travelers - backpackers headed for cheap beds and booze, intellectual middle-aged pseudo bohemians choosing to see India the "real" way and us!, a couple of nuns, business men....... a people watching heaven!! So many people, so many buses, so much potential for bus rage - but no, that Indian calm, "it'll be alright on the night", "c'est la vie", attitude prevailed even when some folks were seen tearing down the street yelling for their bus which was gathering sped and spitting out vast quantities of black diesel, to stop and open it's doors, which it always did!
My plan was to catch the bus at it's last pick-up point on it's way out of Bangalore, so we spent the least time possible onboard. With hindsight, not a good idea as we just spent more time in the car and we tumbled onto the bus in the dark. The berths are on either side of the bus, up and down. I had elected lower berths. Each double cot is the size of a normal double coach seat. I had wondered why when choosing your beds you had to check "male" or "female" - that is which you are not who you want to sleep next to! Now I know!

Once we had found our berths, not so easy in the dark as the bus was already on the move, the kids fell straight to sleep. Wills and I had an all night war over my shawl as it was cold and we hadn't asked for blankets which you can rent for the journey. In his sleep he seemed to have more perseverance, determination and strength than me and end up swaddled while I shivered. Once I had worked out how to subdue the a/c it was surprisingly comfortable - after lurching and bumping around the streets of Bangalore by car, I was expecting lying horizontal at the back of a bus with limited suspension, to be akin to being inside a spin dryer on maximum rpm -but not at all - this was OK - not comparable to my own bed, but not bad in fact very civilized!

It was quite amazing - sleeping on this bus hearing people snoring, fidgeting, coughing etc, but having no idea who they were (curtains for each double berth) until toilet stops or the morning. Aghhh the toilet stops - pretty basic ranging from a field (definately the most hygienic!) to the test your thigh muscles ceramic hole. The kids, who woke for the first time at the 6.00am cup of tea stop, are so used to Indian toilets, they don't blink an eye and are proficient at the don't touch anything routine. That cup of chai at the buzzing, bustling bus rest stop tasted so good. Once again tho' you can't get distracted - bus driver does not count people off and on - when he is ready the bus hits the road. And hit the road, or something thereon, we did on the return journey. At 3.00am, in the pitch black at the side of the road the bus crew were trying the bashed up bumper back onto the bus!

We arrived at our Goan home efficiently and by mid- morning were unpacked and ready to head for the beach - instead of still being at the airport waiting to hear the latest delay for that elusive Kingfisher flight. Would we do it again.... the kids a resounding "yes", for them it was efficient - they slept so well, had more room than they would have done in the car and are fed up of airports! For me, the cost is a big incentive - the cheaper the travel the more we can travel and the more we can see of this wonderful country, for Simon?????