Monday, January 29, 2018

Makar Sankranti, Maaghi Ganesh, Basant Panchami, Madhav Ashtami.

Makar Sankranti is not just a kite flying festival. There is much more to it. The sun moves its position  towards the Northern hemisphere. It signals the end of winters and the onset of spring. Sankranti comes on 14th January every year. All the 'Tithi' fall in place. Another festival is Vishwakarma Puja which happens on 17th September every year. The Indian calendar or 'Panchaang' is the world's best calendar. It gives you not just past and future days and dates but gives you the same for years to come and years gone by. It also tells one the planetary positions and the movement of the stars and the planets. The eclipse and 'Nakshatra' movement are predicted much in advance. This all has been done by our 'Rishis' much before the advent of telescope and computers. The world follows lunar calendar. In India, we always had sidereal calendar which means that we knew not only that the sun is the centre and planets are going around it, but we also calculated all stars, constellation and planetary position and movements with respect to earth as the centre. All our predictions from Vedic texts regarding weather, stars, constellations are hundred percent accurate. This was much before the Europeans realised that Earth is round and invented A.D. and B.C. Kumbh Mela starts on Makar Sankranti. In Kerala, it is the end of Shabrimala pilgrimage. In Punjab, it is Lohri time with the beginning of the harvest season, bonfire, food and dancing.India knew routes by sea and land to all over the world. These routes were documented in maps.  Our astrology and astronomy was the most advanced. When the British, the French, Portuguese came to India, they stole the sea route maps from temples and from the merchants. The Gurukul with its Guru Shishya parampara was doing great in imparting knowledge which enabled students to live a life and earn their own living. 

This year, I learnt how Maharashtra celebrates Makar Sankranti as I was a part of it. There are Haldi Kumkum celebrations all over. Haldi Kumkum is applying red (turmeric and lime) and yellow (turmeric) colours on the forehead. All women participate in it. There are  traditional games for Sankranti which test your mind and body. All this celebration is a group activity. Women old and young of all age groups and all status are a part of it. Big Rangoli is made in the centre or at the entrance of the hall/ ground/ aangan/ courtyard. The traditional colour worn for Sankranti is black. Modern Reason being Sankranti is a very cold night. Temperatures dip and black colour absorbs heat. So it is ideal to wear it.I knew in our family, when the daughter in law comes in, she is given a black Bandhni Saree. I never knew why this tradition. Similarly in Tamils, when the woman is pregnant, she is gifted a black heavy saree.  This was told to us but with our modern education, we thought all this is humbug or superstition . Colours have an impact on us. Now the modern science is using colour therapy to help people in various mental and physical diseases. 

In Maharashtra, Sankrant is celebrated to honour the new daughter-in-law in the family. The event I was a part of, She wore jewellery made of sugar and Til ( sesame). Years ago, women knew how to make these white jewellery beads at home. On Sankranti, before sunrise, sugar was melted and the beads were made by covering each Til with the sugar syrup. In Marathi, it is called 'Halwe che daagine' which is jewellery made of sugar. First time I saw how gorgeous this jewellery can look. All pieces of jewellery is made from this along with black beads..earrings, necklaces, Mangalsutra, finger rings, waist bands or kammar bandhs, bangles and more. A lady in Pune made intricate sugar jewellery. She is no more but her work is carried forwards by her daughter-in-law. The creativity of this jewellery and its grandeur is worth a look. Sankrant songs and games are a big equaliser among women. We played 'Fugdi' in pairs. Fugdi is crossing your hands and holding your partner's crossed hands and going round and round real fast. It is best done bare feet.  The trick is to look up at the sky, feel the breeze in your eyes and lungs and move without lifting your feet from the ground. The bonus is that I got to sight the early half moon. Fugdi is so exhilarating.  Even when I did not know a lady, holding crossed hands, looking at each other and matching your steps with her so that she doesn't fall and neither do you is the experience of true partnership. Now, the modern women go to self help seminars, shrinks and a Life Coach to learn these basics. All women from the family and friend circle were invited Grandmothers to Granddaughters. The men were in the side lines supporting the event. The new daughter-in-law for whom this function was organised, applied tilak/ 'Haldi Kumkum' for all ladies/ women/ girls and gave us gifts. What an acknowledgment for all the female members of the large social circle. The daughter-in-law also gets connected to all the women tribe and vice versa. The ceremony started with the mother-in-law putting the 'Halwe che daagine' sugar jewellery for the daughter-in-law. The newly married son gets the same from his mother-in-law.

The Dadar market was bustling with people pre and post Sankranti. The steel utensils shops and the plastic household item shops were buzzing with customers. Women were buying gifts to give to all ladies for Haldi Kumkum.  Everything was being bought in dozens. I questioned my friend about this kind of buying so much. She said it is your way of showing gratitude to all the women in your life and to the Gods of life, weather, harvest, food and more. 

The same time we have ' Bor Choth' or Ganesh Jayanti or Maghi Ganpati. My Grandmom used to make Churma Laddu for Ganpati Bappa's birthday. When I came to Mumbai, I forgot about Bor Choth as we started celebrating Ganpati. Lot of people get Bappa home for Maghi Ganpati in the month of Maagh on the fourth day, which is the original birthday of Ganeshji. 

Next day is the fifth day of Maagh month called Basant Panchami. In Gujarati, we called it 'Vasant Paacham'. We pray to Saraswati Mata for knowledge. We wear yellow to signify the onset of spring. In Jharia, all girls wore sarees on this day. We went to Gujarati school for Saraswati Puja darshan. Got little 'halwa' as prasaad. Kept out books near the God at the temple and worshipped it. Did not study the whole day. 

Magi Ganpati goes on till Madhav Ashtami which is four days later.  Madhav Ashtami is a  celebration of Vithoba at Pandharpur.  This year Madhav Ashtami coincided with Republic Day. There was Haldi Kumkum in all the Chawls and societies in most areas. I celebrate this weather and be in gratitude of life itself. 





Friday, January 19, 2018

Bheema Koregaon from my Window

Every morning, when my house help walks into the house, we have a little chat. Her first question to me is did the kids go to school properly. I nod and ask about her two boys. Then the conversation veers towards her relatives and what she is dealing with them. Sometimes she tells me how she has to go to for a funeral or a wedding and how she plans to manage her jobs. This year we were at home on New Year's eve. On 1st January, she told me she did not clean her house on 31st December which is a ritual as they have prayers on the New Year. She said the boys were making the decorations for that. It is a creative bunch of boys in the Chawl.They are good in sports, music, dance and creativity. Our issues are so similar. We worry about our children. We feel bad by weird behaviour of our relatives and neighbours. We worry about what to cook for lunch and dinner. We think alike and empathise with each other. I speak less and she understands more. She is always upset when my other support staff  don't do their work properly or bunk work. 

The 1st January celebration in the Kasalrwadi chawl was very elegant this year. The decor was not garish. They have a program for the community. Money is collected from each house for the decoration, for inviting their political leaders and for gifting the invitees. The food is charged extra. All my maids feel bad that the money is spent on the outsiders to invite and give them gifts. This year there was a sound and light show. I could hear some words like war, Maratha, Peshwa etc. This was followed by the speech by some leader. He sounded like a young sensible guy. He did not rave and rant on the mike. Usually they have an anti Hindu tirade going on. This guy said that we are getting admissions and jobs but our community is still backward because we lack communication skills. He encouraged the youth to move with times. I was very impressed with the way the guy tone and the tenor of his speech. It was so unlike the past leaders' fiery speeches and there is absolutely no gratitude for the reservations. 

On 2nd January, it was a different woman who walked into my house. Her language had changed. It had become 'Amche Manus' (Our people) and 'Tumi loka' (You guys). She said our people were beaten to death in Pune. She watches TV and then her leaders from the chawl give her another picture. I explained that only one man was killed and he was a Maratha not a Dalit. Babasaheb was a good man and had all the good intentions. She talked about his grandson. She did not know the history of Bheema Koregaon. She just knew they have to pray.By this time, I had read up on Bheema Koregaon. Next day, she was okay about the violence and mayhem in Mumbai. She kept saying we have to stand up against you guys. Her leaders had said they had to go for the procession. I tried dissuading her from letting her family go for it. She said the local Chawl leaders will boycott us from the community if we do not go. She has grown up in a lovely house by the sea in Mumbai. She has not gone through any discrimination. She is enjoying all the perks and so is her family with a government  jobs and houses. Her son looses a cell phone every year. But she has been taught by her community leaders to hate others. It was a quiet day in Mumbai. Cop vans were stationed in all the areas where processions would start. By afternoon, the woman leaders were calling them out of their houses. The men all dressed in white started coming out of the Chawls. Lots of new blue flags materialised from inside the chawl. Some of them went to heckle the lone cop. He called for help and another police van came in. The 'Narebaazi' or sloganeering started. Anti Maratha, Anti Shivaji, Anti Hindu, Anti everything. All maids of the Chawl joined in. I could recognise some of them. The atmosphere did not feel good. 

They came back in an hour. I heaved a sigh of relief. In the Evening, I saw one lady from the Chawl, shouting some boys who were on a couple of bikes. She was telling them not to create ruckus in this area. Next day, our lady walked in a bit calmer. She said that they were having a peaceful march and were asking everyone to shut their business or shops when some unknown bikers joined them and started threatening the shopkeepers. The Chawl people told the cops that these bikers are not with us. The bikers sped off. These bikers had come back to check on the area. They did not look like Dalits or people from the Chawl opposite our house. They did look like rogues. They looked like outsiders by their language and dressing. Riots don't happen so easily. They are instigated by certain elements. I saw all of this at play from my window. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shaken Not Stirred

The Kamala Mills tragedy is still on my mind. I am shaken up by it. I had been to 1 Above, the restaurant which caught fire and where all the deaths happened. It just did not have a good vibe. The elevators were not working in the supposedly cool building which houses so many TV channels offices and studios. The staircase is not very big. It was full of empty plastic bottles of mineral water and cold drinks along with coffee cups n cigarette stubs. Did not feel very safe as we trudged up six floors to reach the terrace. The side entrance was narrow. The left side was like a store room and the right side had some 50 odd gas cylinders  lying in a straight line one on top of the other making a corridor which we had to cross to enter the restaurant. Terrace was all artificial plants, poles, curtains and candles with wooden furniture. The air conditioned area which also looked illegal had an extremely narrow service entrance opposite the toilet. The food was bad and so was the service. The crowd looked listless like the staff. I was wondering why the place was so popular. We just completed our meal and decided never to go back again. Walked back the dirty staircase down six or seven floors. Husband and me were talking that may be the alcohol was cheap to make it popular. 

I have this thing with all Kamala Mills eateries, I do not like the vibe or the food there. And I keep going there on and off just to try a new place which has come up. Right from Tamasha to Bombay Canteen to Grand Mamma s cafe to Milk to Smaash, each place manages to disappoint in food and service. I remember my nephew visiting  and wanting to go to Smaash. We went there and actually walked out as we thought it was no place for children. Why would it be so popular with parents to host parties for their children? It is so artificial, the games, the gadgets, the lighting and the ambience, definitely not for the kids. Aren't children supposed to play in open air and around nature? Why can't someone buy a piece of land and plant trees and make it a real children's park? Why do we have to put turf on the flooring so the child doesn't not fall and hurt himself ? What kind of environment are parents providing their children in Kidzania or Snow World? How hygienic is a place all air-conditioned permanently with no fresh air and no sunlight. Cleaning with detergents and Dettol just pollutes the closed air further. 

Coming back to the tragedy in Kamala Mills, the BMC broke down the encroachments in 600 odd eateries. The pressure came from their bosses and promptly a fortnight break was given to restaurants. All are back to operating the way they were. BMC is happy with some other things. On the day after the fire, the lunch business in the Kamala Mills restaurants was going on. In the night people were partying and the music was on, till the cops got it shut. Humanity has taken a back seat. Anyways, it comes out only for animals during the Indian festivals. People still flock to all the illegal terrace restaurants. The young honcho of the BMC ruling party has always said rooftop eateries are a good business idea. The BMC follows his orders and gives permission to all. I mean, the 1 Above eatery, got the fire clearance five days before the fire. The gas cylinders could not have been hidden anywhere else. 

They are catching the owners of the eateries but not the owner of the land who is renting it out to all the places and allowing encroachments. Junior officers of BMC bear the brunt by being suspended. All restaurants seem to have political contacts in the BMC and are able to flout all rules. I won't even talk about the kitchen, toilets and staff hygiene here. The less said the better. The fire which killed an equal number of people in a 'Farsaan' Snack making factory was heart breaking. All the nameless people who make snacks for us which our kids munch when they are not fed the factory machine prepared chips by the MNCs. Life disappears in a jiffy. Caution should be a way of life. Why do people want to flout these rules? What is this kind of urge to make money at the cost of other people's lives? 

Went for a 'Prarthana Sabha' or a prayer meet for the departed. There was a band of musicians singing Bhajans. The lady said we think we do not steal but think of all the taxes we don't pay or don't want to pay and manage to subvert, that is stealing too. This was an entire community of business people and the lady singer made this announcement between Bhajans. Even death does not stir us. 
Can we  start reading the fine print of our life? 


Monday, January 1, 2018

Sassoon Dock Art Project

Every place has a feeling. In today's fast world, who is listening to it. Last evening I had gone to Sasson Dock for the Street Art Project. It was the last day and we finally managed to reach. A young gentleman who has worked with Julia, the curator,  was showing us around. This was not like an art gallery with paintings or sculptures or some new age modern stuff. This was real as real could get. Each artist and I think there were about 30 of them, got connected to the soul of Sassoon Dock. The art made you realise what the Metropolis was doing to your mind and soul. This was not the cynical liberal Art, which just criticises what is. This was Art with passion and love for the place. Panditji, to whom I go for Bhagwadgeeta Satsang and Ramcharitmanas, uses a word called "Sakaratmak Bhaav". Loosely translated it means positive feeling but it means also not negating what is and going beyond that with a trust in the universal design. This St+Art was all about that. Karan who showed us around did it with the same zeal. He got us so involved with the space, the urban art, the people, the pigeons, the damp walls and the whole spirit of Sassoon Dock. He took us through the journey of how the artist reacted when he was first asked if he or she would like to be a part of it, the kind of music they played while working and the kind of work that went in by the volunteers and the 'Kolis' who helped this work come alive. 

An abandoned godown in the 142 year old Sassoon Dock was given by the Bombay Port Trust to the  St+Art . The place had pigeons, cats, dogs and filth. It was cleaned up. Some walls repaired. Some were left like that to let you know how it was. The roof had gaping holes where transparent asbestos sheets were put to allow the sunlight. An installation is made of iron mesh of a dog peeing. The fishing nets were used with stencilled tissue paper fabric with words which we associate with smell like mother's cooking, brown paper to cover books, new bag etc. The smell plays a role in another place which is selling perfume of Sassoon Dock with the fishy smell. It says that anything packaged well, will sell.

 Shivo, an artist, loves Nammalvar's poems which are love poems for Vishnu Bhagwan. Organza and pearl, silk threads, net, tissue created the man and woman with Intricate embroidery by Mushtaq from Dharavi. One artist worked with bamboos, tubelights and the cloth used by the Koli men and women. The installation looked haphazard and then from a distance looked like one piece. The naked tubelights did not hurt the eye. The painting on the terrace wall with pillars which merged into the painting when seen from a distance, was awesome. Of course, it had elements of the Sassoon Dock hidden in it. 

The Singapore artist,Tan Zi Xi, came with plastic sheets from Singapore and then realised India really recycles plastic. She made an ocean of plastic and how a fish must be seeing it. It was insane as you sat on the flat in a room full of plastic making a ceiling on you. The artist went to Dharavi and chose the variety of scrap she wanted to use. The plastic sheets were washed, dried and sanitised and dried again. A cat gave her litter on the plastic sheets. And again the washing and sanitising had to be done. The volunteers plus 8 Koli women helped string the plastic bottles. The artist had the vision of how the ceiling should look like a sea of plastic.

One artist known as Livil, did work on Stencils in Austria and flew in with it. The Airline lost the bag of stencils and how they all went berserk. Luckily it was found within a day. The Stencil had Koli women with their children praying to the Sea God and offering coconut. It was a huge installation. The lighting behind had an aluminium sheet as Aluminium reflects light. Behind it was a two wall right angled Art which showed how Colonisation led to Westernisation and yet the front Stencil showed that it could not take away the culture of the place.

There was one room with a narrow opening under the staircase. We had to really bend down and go in through pipes and plastic sheets. Two artists worked on it. One with plastic and the other with the iron rods and bamboo installation. The way it was amalagamated to give us the urban feel where the city life is closing in on us and our consciousness. It is the most inorganic thing happening in an organic way.

The top floor had artists working with beautiful colours. They made a museum of a fish called 'Shunya' which was made with baskets woven in Dharavi. The eyes, the fins, the tooth all as museum artifacts. The walls colours were superb. This room would be a children s delight. Soothing purple, burnt pinks and oranges along with the moon. The artists worked with music right through the creation and one could sense the difference that had brought in the space. Music was lingering in the air. This was supposed to be like a temple and sure enough had the vibrance of a Mandir.

The toilets had very catchy art installations and were a part of the installations open to public viewing. The Big Minimalist is an Indian artist who did some walls with typography. Sajid Wajid used waste to make faces on the walls. 'Life inside the camera' was a room which you could see in daylight as it shows the sea, the boats the dock upside down as the lens captures it.

Most artists are graphic designers and work a lot with typography. The Instagram wall was two walls of colours. The walls were at right angles and the way the heart is created with fingers is insane. Karan, our amazingly sweet, well spoken and knowledgeable friend who made this alive for us, used the word 'insane' often. I am copying him and not succeeding at all.

Guido, the Australian artist, makes wall size portraits of real people. He does spray painting. Does not use any lazer technology to mark or outline the face. He had clicked these Koli women selling fish. In one of the guided tours, two of the three women had come. They had no idea they would see themselves on the walls. One of the walls got damp with the unseasonal rains in Mumbai and the way the paint has aged along with the lady, is mind blowing. Needless to say, it was Asian Paints.

The outer walls had portraits of the local Koli people. With the rains, the paper had torn away in places and it looked so authentic like the old hand painted film posters in smaller towns which get torn even with a kite string. Reminds me that 'Sankranti' n 'Lohri' is on its way. And then the weather starts changing. The feeling of New. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Benares

These days the bed time stories are all about my childhood "Jatras". Jatra is a Gujarati word which means a trip to religious places. In Bengali, Jatra is a popular folk theatre form. Jatra comes from the word Yatra which means a journey. As a child, we went for a lot of Jatras with my Grandmother Bai and the entire family. Every Jatra is clearly etched in my mind as a soulful experience without a fancy resort,Tibetan chants and a spa. Our context of travel was oneness and being one with God or a journey towards becoming one with God. Never had these fancy words in my vocabulary then nor this 'holier than thou' attitude. They were the only vacations I had as there was no luxury of Nani Ghar or Mamar Baadi. Nani is the maternal grandmother and Mama is the mother's brother. Both these relations are very close. Most married women used to travel to their parents house with their children during vacations. People did not marry in the same city or town and for a married girl her mother's house or 'Maayka' was the most favoured destination. I mean it still is for most of them. The married daughter is treated like royalty and is pampered at her Maayka by her parents, brothers and Bhabhis. This is a typical Indian scenario is played out with various degrees of pampering. My Grandmom Bai had been fortunate to have her parents in the same town. My Mom had her brother in Jharia. In fact, all our relatives lived in Jharia in the same lane for years, a few houses away. This includes my Nani's maayka and my Bai's maayka.

When I am sharing the story of Benares which was always our first stop for the jatra, I am completely transported there. The Ambassador  car with ten or eleven of us. The 'Bistara' which was the bedding which contained all our Gudris and a few blankets and small pillows. My Dad got an inflatable pillow. It was so uncomfortable. The Swaminarayan temple in Kashi is very close to the banks of Ganga. We reached by sunset. My Grandma would go to ask for rooms for us Bhakt jan. 'Bhakt' means devotee and 'jan' means people.

Those days, at all the Swaminarayan temples, there were Bhagats. Bhagats used to be young boys who stayed in the temples and studied in the Gurukul. Gurukul is school run by the Swaminarayan sect. Their entire cost of living and education was the temple's responsibilty. After their education and securing a job, the Bhagats moved to Grihasthashram. Grihasth was someone married with a family. They got married and settled down with their families. They learnt Karma yog, Bhakti yog and Gyan yog in the temples living along with the Sadhus or Swamis. The Bhagats were young boys whose parents were followers of Swaminarayan panth. In some cases, they were orphans or their parents were of weak financial backgrounds. Bhagat also referred to men who were going to become Sant. They had a waiting period where they lived with the Sants and practiced the temple austere life and education. They were again given a choice if they really want to leave their families and join the Sant way of life. After much consideration, they were taken in to become a Sant only if the person chose to devote his life to it. And they still had freedom to leave the sect, whenever they wish too. 

Next day was always about going for Ganga Snaan. Bai, my grandmother, went to the temple for Mangala Arti. The early morning before the dawn is most auspicious time of the day. God is woken up with prayers and Arti.  It used to be cold, but my Bai never missed the Mangala arti, as we all slept right through it. She would come to room with hot tea for all of us at 6.30 am. Mom and Aunt would open the biscuit, bread or thepla packets which they had carried and six hungry kids would eat happily. Then it was time for Ganga Snaan. Carrying our clothes in one bag, we would all trot down to the Ghaat from the back door of the temple. That was a short cut through a by lane with shops selling hot milk and colourful bangles and Puja Samagri..stuff needed for the Puja. The big long flat steps led to the Ganga river. We walked praying Om Namah Shivaay. The clothes were kept on the steps leading to the banks. All of us would walk to the river. Hai took the dip first and we all followed. We would not use soap in the river water. Prayers were said together as we stood shivering and yet enjoying the cold waters of Ganga. Bai knew the full Mantra to be said while bathing. We only managed to say "Om Gange Namah". Then we offered Aragh to the Sun God or Surya Bhagwan. God was not some entity or higher being. We saw him everyday in the Surya / Sun. We faced the sun and said "Shri Suryaay Namah" seven times after bathing. Did we know meanings or history? Not at all. All we had was complete trust in Bai and our belief that what she said was real and true. Strange, but even now three decades later, all of it is  real and true. After coming out of the water, we wore fresh clothes in small rooms made for women to change on the banks of the river. Then we got a "Sankalp" done with the Panditji. There were lot of Pandits on the steps who promised to help you with prayers, darshan of various temples and various Puja rituals. Benares  or Kashi is the most auspicious land in India. They say one's death should be in Kashi to achieve Nirvana. Sankalp was a short prayer the Pandit did with your name while you held little Gangajal in the palm of your right hand. After the Shlok, we just dropped the water on the earth in front of us. Sankalp is like a resolution but has a much vaster meaning and impact than the English word. Return walk to the temple involved doing Darshan at all the small temples enroute without entering any shrine. We would stop at the Doodh waala who sold hot milk. He had two huge Kadhaais of boiling milk which was sweetened with sugar. The milk was cooked in coal and wood fire for hours. It was served in Kullar with a dash of Malaai or cream. It tasted divine but too hot for our tongues. They would cool the milk and make it frothy by pouring it from one tumbler or jug to another by making a high water fall like movement. Rejuvenation was this. Not the synthetic spas I have grown fond of nowadays.

Next was going to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. The mosque next door with all the stories of the invaders of India was always scary. The temple was crowded in the main shrine and empty elsewhere.  Finally got to see the shrine live on TV in 2014 and all the memories came rushing back. We did the evening Ganga Arti once during our stay. Had to come back to the Swaminarayan temple at Kashi. The temple would close doors in the night. We had to be back in the temple for the Shayan arti and dinner. Shayan arti means the Arti when we put the God to sleep. The God seems so close as he is human like the rest of us. Shawls of different colours were draped and all flowers and jewellery was removed for the night. Water in silver jugs was kept in all the shrines for God to drink in case they are thirsty. This time the temple lights were slowly put off. In the Swaminarayan temples, one prayer said after the Arti

Friday, December 29, 2017

Adieu 2017

Thoughts and feelings have a way of going away. Yet we give so much importance to them. There are so many thoughts that come in the whole day. I cannot even imagine recording so much. Low energy phase is on. People are chilling in the winters. The climate is telling us to back off and release the pedal. It is the same noise of the construction of the Metro and building repairs around me but the dust and noise is bothering less. Last week of the year is that dark part of the night when you are in deep slumber. A friend said that if  a year passed by too soon, then it was a good year. Bad times pass slowly. All along, I used to think, if the year passed by quick then may be I did not do enough. 

All mothers who think they are cool moms are actually hyper moms who micro manage their kids' lives. Then the other category of mothers always think they cannot relax because they have children. I want to know what the children ate at a party. When children are invited for a birthday party, I am like a cranky kid, who did not get the invite. I don't care about the games they play or the fun they have. That is obvious as they are with friends. I just miss the outside food. I just want my kitchen to rest for one meal. With a cook coming in twice a day, even if we are out for a meal, I ask her to make a dry snack for us. In short, the kitchen keeps churning meals all the time. And yet the pasta never tastes like the restaurant pasta and the fried rice is not like the one we love at China One. I know all about home food being better for health and cooked in hygienic conditions. But it is never the same. 

Took my younger one to the main vegetable market. She just coughed and coughed with the smell of green chilly in the air. It was hilarious how I molly coddle my children. Carrying bags and helping parents is something children need to be taught. Are we pampering ourselves too much? End of the year is a time to pamper one's self and the loved ones. Do all the things you wanted to do and could not. Go to meet your friends. Coffee dates are fine but sit in your friend's kitchen as she makes tea for you. Clear the clutter at home and make some space for 2018. Let somethings go. Gift a few things away without expecting something in return. Save some paper by not wrapping gifts. Write a few essays or affirmations. Write in your mother tongue or any language you know and do not use often. Colour, paint, clean and go easy on yourself. Go easy on others too. 

Give a fond adieu to 2017.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Weddings and Sangeet

Wedding season is on. It is a big deal for us. Our weddings are not solemn affairs. It is all haphazard and there is fun all around. We jump from one ceremony to another. Some involves the Pandit and some involve elders of the family or young girls or married ladies. There is no seriousness to any affair. People are laughing and joking. There is no Master of Ceremonies and no speeches given. People just flow from one room to the other in the Shaadi ghar. The photographs are not structured where each couple stands with their spouse and there is a pecking order to the relations. The photographer knows this too and doesn't insist on coupling for pictures or trying to balance the number of men and women in the pictures. There is a lot of movement and freedom. There are traditional wedding songs being sung for every step of the ceremony. In Gujaratis, the wedding songs have lot of humour on the Pandit, the bride and the groom and all their relatives. These songs are sung while the ladies clean the grains for the wedding. In Jharia, I remember all women friends and relatives invited every afternoon to clean the rice and wheat for the wedding. Then the 'Papad Beloing' would start. Women got their own 'Belan' or rolling pin for the same. Tea was made at home and given to all. We had steel cups and dishes. For years, my grandmother Gauri Bai did not eat in glassware or ceramic. We had the crockery which was used only when the guests came home. We ate food in steel. The house help ate in Aluminium plates with big edges like pans because they took lot of 'Usna Chawal' aka brown rice and 'maad' ie rice starch along with their food. SitaRam and Daivaa both liked to slurp and eat as they made balls of rice. This laughter and giggles of Sangeet happened daily a fortnight before the wedding. 

The first structured Sangeet I attended was for a Marwari wedding on the terrace of the 'Shaadi Bari' house. Young girls and Bhabhis ( daughters in law) of the house were all dancing to songs sung by the elderly women of the family. The steps of the dance were practiced. They were dancing in the centre of the room and dancing facing the women. The family men were trying to look disinterested but were dying to step in to dance. For me, Garba happened in the Sangeet. The bride and the groom got up to do only Dandiya Raas. They sat together on a sofa or a swing and watched Garba Raas where all the seventy year old Grandparents to the youngest nephew played Garba together on Gujarati Garba songs. When I am writing in English and thinking in Gujarati and then trying to make the memory not slip out before I finish typing it out, I mess up on the sequence. But Garba is all about dancing in a circle with everyone. No choreographed numbers for the wedding Garba Raas. I was very fascinated by the beautiful shy Marwari women dancing as there is no shyness in the Garba. The Sangeet of today s times are like the school Annual Day functions. Lot of practice sessions, colour and dressing themes, the bride doing an item number and saying I am a better dancer than all in my wedding crowd. Then the stage, the lights, the music which is mixed professionally and the choreographer, of course. The rest of the relatives have to sit and watch the stage performances and are not included in the skit. Then there is a lavish dinner and thankfully everyone enjoys that. 

In Jharia weddings, there was a sit down lunch or dinner. All sat on long 'Paat' wooden Aasan and food was served in 'Pattal'. There were no starters only 'Farsaan' like 'aloo vada' or batata vada as it is known in Mumbai. The women folk ate first and then the men. The young and agile men from the bride and the groom s side served the food. The bride or the groom s parents also sat to eat in the same 'pangat' albeit not together. There were certain key people in charge of ensuring there was a smooth flow of the food from the kitchen to the 'pangat'. This was a very important job. There was someone responsible to manage the Maharaj and his team as all food was freshly prepared on coal fire and in the absence of all kitchen gadgets. The women helped in the chopping or peeling of vegetables if it wasn't managed well by the cook. The water was kept in two large 'drums' like kegs and we had 'earthen glasses'. Breaking those glasses was fun in those days. All the garbage was organic and environment friendly. No confetti or silk or plastic moulds for decoration. Only fresh  local flowers and red and yellow reused cloth from the decorators. Every single stuff was sourced locally. Much later when I was studying in college, the Garba singers used to come from Kolkata. 

I love elaborate weddings where all is in sync. Who doesn't enjoy grand weddings? I am not someone who will think instead of spending so much, they should have given to the poor and the needy. Everyone celebrates weddings their way and with what gives them joy. The money spent gives employment to so many poor. Man is a social being and a wedding is a social event. 'Yahan har show off jayaz hai'. A simple home wedding which I had in my house for our friends was beautiful. Marigold flowers decorated all the doors and windows. We all sat around as the 'Pheras' happened. The Pandit who got this wedding done is now quite old. I still meet him at the temple in Juhu. I remind him of the wedding he conducted in our home, every time I greet him. He smiles as he gives me Charnamrut ( water with Tulsi )and some Prasaad.

I  always go home smiling from the beautiful weddings I attend and am a party to.