Flower show!

When I woke up this morning, it was with the thought that I shouldn’t be wimpy and let the idea of crowds and traffic jams keep me away from a show which thousands of people come to attend. I thought I would  go right away, by scooter, avoid the crowds, have a quick look  and be back to cook breakfast.  And then my husband, said he would come too! Getting him to do anything or go anywhere is like pushing an elephant, so this was a shocker!

This year’s theme seems to be roses. Large frameworks in are covered with flowers and as the years go by, the focus has shifted more and more to the man made constructions rather than the flowers themselves.

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but the individual flowers are always more interesting

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The fruit section has decreased drastically in size, maybe because there is a separate Fruit show at Coonoor.  This year the display was solely fruits that grow in the Nilgiris.  The man in charge, gave a detailed explanation about each fruit and even some to taste! 🙂

And it seems to have been a good decision to go in the morning.  It has been pouring here ever since  11 o’clock!

Life in India

The gas man had said  ‘come at 9.30 a.m. ‘  After dealing with a couple of inopportune phone calls in the course of a  rushed morning routine, I managed to leave the  house in a dash at 9.40. I was rushing as much as one can on a hilly  road decorated with holes. The road had been dug up about 6 months prior, to lay some pipe lines and never got leveled  properly which left us about half the road. When one met with a vehicle coming up in the opposite direction, one prayed, snarled, made rude gestures and finally moved grudgingly to the side barely missing scraping sides. Today, I moved aside and couldn’t move back to the road after the vehicle had passed. The car was stuck at an angle. I tried reverse, forward with lots of smoke and noise. A vehicle came up behind me.  A few young men got down and gave lots of directions. Finally they lifted the car back on to the road! And I sped on smiling.

The smile got wiped when I reached the gas agency and found a huge crowd of milling men all waving their gas books probably with their wives voices in their head saying ‘ no deepavali without gas’.  It took an hour to get the bill made. Meanwhile we all had to move our vehicles a few time to let traffic pass on the narrow road. As each man emerged from the melee, waving his book and bill, his face was filled with a triumphant glow like he had just passed his exam.

Then all of us filed up to the top of another hill where the truck filled with cylinders waited on a remote road.  Again a queue, again a  we created a traffic jam with autos, bikes and cars parked on all sides. I had left behind my cell phone and so I could really connect with the scene. I thought  – these are the people one reads about in all the magazines; the real India waiting patiently for a gas cylinder, spending half a day for a basic need.  Some people were talking about ration queues. Others about the auto charges they would have to pay with all this waiting. No wonder , people drift away to foreign countries where basic needs are met so simply.

Next stop  was a school to request permission to take some of the children for a  radio program the next day. Some unexpected insight led me to take a box of sweets for the headmistress ; after all, its the season of sweets.  And she was pretty sweet about it all 🙂

This year  I have had to step off my self raised pedestal of I-am-one-of- the -few -people- who make-sweets-at home-for deepavali. Reasons could range from death in the family so no celebrations to no maid for a couple of weeks but truly it is little time and less inclination.

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So the second half of the day was spent in buying packets of sweets at a local  shop and distributing them to several people who render us service through the year including the  laundry man and  friendly bank assistant. I skipped my friends this year although  I hope they won’t pass over me! Everywhere people seem to be in a benign happy mood, wishing each other . And I think, this is maybe why we choose to stay in India.

Wishing you a wonderful Deepavali!

Ayudha pooja

Half educated, half believing, I am not sure what rituals I want to follow on particular festive days. Finally it seems to boil down to the mood of the day, what else is happening and the time available. This time I thought I wasn’t going to make an effort for Ayudha/Saraswati pooja. I have to question the ritual of worshiping or doing puja to inanimate objects used in every day life. In a way, it seems prehistoric.

Festivals are for bringing people together in shared activities.  And when the household becomes a 2-people unit, then the need to follow rituals becomes less and less. Many flats now form communities celebrating festivals together which seems a good thing harking  back to village festivities. NRI’s have Facebook to share their puja.

We usually make do with our gardener/car washer/ general help. He is so enthusiastic that we have to provide all the usual trappings. Now he has taken to bringing them himself –  in disapproval of my offerings of dried up limes and my aversion to buying yards of very expensive flowers.

This time he was here at 11 a.m. and started washing the vehicles. He brought his own lorry too. His brother and brother’s kids turned up to help. Every time I looked out of the window , there was lots of enthusiastic washing going on. I got tired of waiting for the puja to happen and we had lunch.

Finally at 4 p.m., he announced that it was all ready. There was a line up of vehicles outside including a scooter and a cycle. ayudha1The lorry was festooned with thick garlands (the kind used for film stars), balloons, streamers and banana leaves. The cars were decorated with patterns in vibhuti and kumkum and sandalwood. But lacking the grandeur of the lorry, potted plants were arranged in front.  And there was a whole bunch of people from his family including half a dozen kids.  I had to triple the sundal, vadai and payasam.

The puja took quite a while because the aarrthi had to be shown to the wheels and pedals and interiors and exteriors of all the vehicles. To these people, the vehicles are their means of livelihood. They don’t stint on expense and are truly happy to celebrate. And we were lucky to participate in their from-the-heart , happy celebration.

Ooty, the village

Snooty Ooty conjures up a picture of planters sipping cognacs while an uniformed Indian (without slippers ) pulls off his master’s boots and then  serves perfect sandwiches  to beribboned and bonneted memsahibs.

Of course we know this is an image created by movies and books; but people coming up to Ooty  expect the  town to have a different atmosphere and different lifestyle  from towns and villages in the plains below.  Rolling lawns, pretty flowers, cool and clean air at the least.

Ooty does its best to deliver inspite  of increasing crowds and strain on the infrastructure. A town where a population of 1 lakh lives and  hosts the same amount of people every day during the Season. We have the Tourism Festival, the Tea festival, the Flower Show, The Boat Regatta, The Horse Races,  Cultural Shows , everything meant for the tourist . The clubs, the billiards rooms, the lake, the pretty gardens, the race course are at their glittering and colourful best.

Where does their support system for all this show hang out? The bearers, the nurses, the cleaners, the tea estate workers, the mason who build all those resorts , the people in the shops , the people hawking yellow flowers and woolen caps.  The guys who row the boats, the guys who fry the chicken , the women who clean the rooms.

Besides the wine shops and cinemas. It’s at the temple Festivals of course.

And the biggest in Ooty is the Mariamman theru. The ther takes about 12 hours to be pulled around the market. Starting at 1.30 p.m., it circumambulates the market and ends up at the temple again in the early hours of  the morning.

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Through the night, people flock to throw salt at the deity, feel blessed, state their requests and then move off to look at all the shops.

Its  a thiruvizhaa. Anyone who has grown up within walking distance of the market makes their obeisance at some time during the evening or night. The very sentimental may come back to Ooty just for the festival.  Groups of families dressed in their very newest clothes make their way to the festival. The convent educated imports like me may  talk of crowds and discomfort and stay away.

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The main deity is preceded by a number of smaller ones, each sponsored by a particular group or community.

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Enterprising boys will come out with their makeshift cart and clink their hundis at all passersby.

And it’s this that lured me out of the house instead of an evening spent on the couch.  Now I’m there to cheer on my kids from my area with their little ther.

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But the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the  normally vehicle packed  streets around the market  turn into a joyful market selling every colourful thing possible infests me and everyone. I buy a couple of things I don’t need.

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Various groups and organizations sponsor stalls doing different things.  One offers a brightly green coloured kesari. Another offers badam paal.  Over it all are the strains of the  loud band  sponsored by the Mel Gate  Mootai thookum Thozilalar sangham celebrating 40 years of their Sangam. As the night and the ther progresses, the songs will move from the religious to the raucous.

It could only happen in India.

Deepavali wishes

Wishing everyone who logs in here a very Happy Deepavali.

I’m  off to Coimbatore tomorrow for Deepavali and Sindhu’s engagement . It sure is going to be family time with all its madness.  My birthday will come and go inbetween,  significant in number because its my 50th,  but lost in the scheme of other things.  I should be ready to write about ‘what I’ve learnt in 50 years of living’ or ’50 things I would like to do’ or ‘ 50 different things I’ve done’.  Or ‘Life begins at 50’.  But right now, all I can think of is ‘ will the tailor finish?’  and ‘ are they coming?’ . Maybe, when I get back I can ponder over the deeper questions of life.

Until then, hope you enjoy the festival.

Of gifts and gift horses

Im learning about gift horses these days. How much tact and diplomacy  should be summoned to  deflect being landed with the horse or if one does get the horse, to talk of saddles and bridles with grace.  But one cannot easily summon what is not there ; so I end up having crazy conversations with my crazy family.

My sister:

‘I want to buy some artificial jewellery for Sindhu for the engagement. What colour is her saree?’

” I don’t think she needs any artificial jewellery .  Why don’t you buy her a salwar instead?”

” This is why I shouldn’t ask you. I’m going to buy any colour I like”.

My coz brother:

I’m thinking of buying a small diamond pendant for Sindhu which she can wear to the office.  Do you think its a good idea?”

” Why don’t you buy something in gold instead? I don’t know if she will wear diamonds to the office “.

( This is because the pendant that someone gifted Dachu is sitting in the locker )

” This is about what Sindhu wants, not you. Im going to buy what I like”.

There is my father, who would always like to gift something large in brass for any wedding though I tell him no one has the space or time these days  and a gift cheque is so preferable. But how will they remember me then, he says.

In total, most people have strong ideas abut what they would like to give if they think about it at all.

And that includes me. I’ve cut out the thengai, manjal kumkum and vethalai from the thengai pai which is handed out at the close of every wedding as things that get discarded . And that leaves me  an empty bag I have to think very hard to fill 🙂 Bags which I’ve been block printing myself the past few days instead of being busy organizing things.

More than the gift, the way we give , ‘cheerfully quickly and without hesitation’, to quote Seneca – can mean so much and the way we receive too , should be joyous enough to make the giver happy.

Some people have the gift of receiving even the smallest thing so happily, the giver is made doubly happy. The rest of us can learn.

Do you really need me?

Functions  are about how you make people feel connected and involved , not about what you are doing or wearing or how well orchestrated the whole show is.

With Sindhu’s wedding coming up, my mind reels with no, not the organization but everyone’s ideas of what is right.

-Some people are natural event managers.. they plan to the last detail, like to do it their way, have lots of minions to do their bidding , the money to command  and total confidence. They are sure theirs is the Right Way and so are clear in what they want. They tolerate very little interference.

– Some people are open to suggestion.  They listen to the ideas of dearly beloved people which may be right or not. And get a little swayed each time.

I belong to the second category and have a lot of people from the first category in my life. All happy to get their mind into organizing Sindhu’s engagement. Of course, they all say, ‘its your choice ’ but we all know better.

Its mostly the women.  Women love weddings as an excuse of bustle and shopping and lists and menus and what not. Men in our family don’t get too involved. Or are asked to hush. This is our day.

Being an interstate wedding, we host the engagement is ours while they do the  wedding. So our family would like to bring out the rituals and lay them out with colour and grandeur as much as possible in one function.

The venue oscillates like the scales of justice in a Tamil movie with music crescendoing in the background between a nice, clean, precise  hotel and the messy, warm home of my father with all its indeterminate factors.

A sister living in Canada, not wanting to be left out,  wants me to rope in the help of her student who runs a restaurant in Chennai for help over the menu. Ask him for something different/unusual she says.

Another cousin wants me to use his friend, a restaurateur to deliver the food at home.

One sister is busy scouring out weavers for ‘new designs’.

Another is looking out for designs for the ‘aarathi’

A cousin is busy planning all the ‘thattus’ of goodies to be displayed.

Another locates a ‘blouse designer’ in an exhibition.

My Malayalam speaking friends are delighted to be roped in  to bridge the language barrier

The guest list is gently creeping up.

Too many people, too much of a good thing? I don’t think so really.

Vinayaka Chathurthi!!

Today was Vinayaka Chathurthi and I spent it unlike the way I’ve spent 48 Chathurthis. And I’m still feeling the slightest tinge of surprise that the wrath of an Unknown power or more likely, the words of   a Known Power haven’t struck me down. It still is hard to digest that ultimately, one is answerable to oneself only. And if I don’t want to do something, its perfectly okay.

The kids and I started off the day at a Lab to have some blood tests done and then spent the rest of the day shopping. We ate two meals at restaurants, met some relatives and generally had a nice day out.   Blameless and innocuous but on a special day?? Around us, celebrations were on in all parts of the city with lots of loud music, huge Ganeshas and decorations in paper and flowers.

The strange part was discovering that a great many people in the city don’t go all out to celebrate the festival either. Many people make a stab at making either kolukattais or sundal and many don’t even try , preferring to queue up at ‘Krishna sweets’ instead. A  simple puja with a Ganesh idol in new mud or even an old idol suffices (more kind to the environment this way). While public celebrations are getting wilder and louder and more political, private celebrations are toning down.

The times are changing and I’m mostly fine with it 🙂

Season Highlights

Ooty has a month long carnival during May with events ranging from cultural shows to boat races to the grand crescendo of the Flower Show. No one quite knows what’s going on , where and for whom all this is stage managed. The tourist department probably gives out a few notices and passes and proceeds to make merry.

I suddenly thought that all this is going on right here and we (the locals) never participate. We have a lovely lake right in the town and the only time we ever  see it, is when guests arrive. So Geetha and I decided we should go see the Boat Pageant. We’d missed the Boat Race  by a couple of days.

The board with listing of all the ‘Summer Festival’ said 10 a.m. With lots of commitments of both sides, we ended up at the Lake only at 11.30. The board there said ‘ 11a.m. -1’ and we thought ‘just in time’. We scurried dazedly through the crowds to the lakeside – so many shops and music and side attractions seemed to have been added. There were the usual boats on the lake. No signs of any pageantry.

Eating icecreams and strolling around we discovered a little tent with lots of chairs lined up and some harried looking officials who wouldn’t and couldn’t answer our question of when?

Faithlessly , we left at 1.00 after having had our day out and being cheered by the sight of all the crowds and the half-happiness of people on Holiday. And behind us , the loudspeakers called to the faithful to  come and look at the pageantry. We turned around and saw a few boats decorated with balloons and some flowers.

We hadn’t missed much but yet the idea to actually go out and do something different filled us out.