Sunday, October 06, 2013

Why I will not stay to witness Kolkata Pujo

It is that time of the year in Kolkata when every waking moment is spent to plan the upcoming weekend. Every person I meet only has plans for the Pujo weekend-what to shop for, what to wear, where to go, what to eat blah blah blah. Every space available is covered either by a huge pandal (pronounced 'pandle' like a handle by locals) or by huge flex advertisements. Every establishment is on sale or is so good that it doesn't need to be. Every building is covered with lights. Every one is obsessed.

I have asked many of the self proclaimed Pujo lovers what this weekend means to them. They all said fun. I further asked who did the actual Pujo at the Pujo and after a small pause, I got the same answer. The purohit.

Is this devotion? I don't know. For an outsider, starkly no. I was brought up in a simple north Indian home in, duhh, north India and Navratri have been a time of prayers, smoky mornings to wake up to(thanks to the morning Puja), satvik food that more than covers the days' fasts, cheerfulness and a general devotion to the Goddess. It meant feeding 8 girls and 1 boy at the end of the Ashtmi and then having the best home made brunch of the year with aloo, chane, kheer, halwa and puri. A small hawan at home has been the symbol of the bi-annual period of our dedicated attempts of devotion. Giving up non-veg or tamasic food is also a representation of that emotion. All this make up Navratri for me.

Call me anti-commercialisation but every time I see an event that reeks of it, I get turned off. The Pujos here in my latest city of inhabitation are overflowing with it. Maybe I am an outsider and I have an outsider's view but that itself is not very inviting. I see a city obsessed with a carnival that they garb in the name of devotion. I see a city obsessed with making its citizens fight for supremacy in everything that the Goddess is supposed to destroy-greed, vanity and lust. I see a city obsessed with outdoing itself. I see a pageant where pandals, people and localities compete. If there ever was an annual event management cum street beauty pageant, this is it.

As an outsider I am surrounded by messages communicating an immense need to look good for those 4days. Slim down, get Botox shots, take a spa session, buy new clothes, get new jewellery, pick a new phone, dab some makeup, fund a wacky pandal design, buy tickets to enter a pandal from the VIP gate, get invited to parties, host a catered lunch. In short, show the world your "ideal" self-image or be left out. I've seen a few cultures in my short life but never have I witnessed an annual fiesta that forces you to conform to such a degree as this one. I always thought weddings in north India were uselessly flashy and forced conformity in dress et al but frankly the madness around me right now is over shadowing all that and more. No one dare be caught in old, repetitive clothes in that period. You just can't not be pandal hopping (move over pub hopping). You just have to have the latest look for your appearance. You just have to conform.

In this celebrations of a Goddess' homecoming, there is a menagerie competing to show-off where and how they'd keep her. Maybe the route to salvation with the Goddess does come from the opposite extreme of austerity. Kolkata seems to believe so. Has believed so and would continue to. I however choose to stay an outsider and not witness the madness.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Skin care regime in India is getting more product oriented. With insane number of products and brands available at every price range, it is only normal that they can't be told apart one from another. I have been a dedicated user of select products but I draw the line at products that attack my self esteem-fairness creams, anti-cellulite creams, acne preventing creams and their ilk.

Found a very touching post by Neelesh Mishra on the issue of fairness creams

Friday, April 26, 2013

Food and Culture: My Jackfruit story

I love Kathal aka Jackfruit. I always have since I was a kid. Making it was a pain for my mother since raw kathal is sticky, secretes all kinds of juices, is hard to clean and cut and in short makes a mess. And the green outer skin is also deceptive-it is still green when it goes ripe and hence undeclared unusable. But once cut, cleaned and cooked, the end result-oh yum!

My mother's recipe for her signature kathal-do pyaaza had one element I loved. The amount of onions she used! It is called "do pyaaza" for a reason! And then the taste. It is said that cooked jackfruit tastes like meat and is a vegetarian's substitute for the taste. Maybe that's why Ma took the effort of cooking it like one. I still saunter in to the kitchen when it's cooking (my nose is very good at this), become the official taster and help myself to the dish. Having it with rotis for dinner is round two. Round three is gorging on the leftover masala after the meal and reaching the spicy side of food heaven!

Now imagine my shock when after years of living with the food wonder called kathal, I meet people who have never eaten the cooked form but eat it as a fruit, uncooked! It has taken me a while to understand the cultural difference between the north of India and the south of India and one factor in my study has been this. If I were giving an EVS exam in school and had a question, "Differentiate between north Indians and south Indians", I'd have listed this as one of the top 5! We eat is when it is hard, sticky and unripe. We cook it and serve it hot. For people below the Vindhyas, it is served as it is when ripe golden, uniquely sweet and very strongly smelling.

I finally tasted ripe kathal last week in Mumbai. I'd seen it being sold outside the local stations and every time I passed the hawker, I could smell the fruit. It was overpoweringly sweet, almost honey like. So one day I tried one piece. I liked it for a first timer. I am unsure if I'd go out of my way to eat it again sometime but I am sure I am the first one in my family to taste it. After all, ripe kathal is unusable for a north Indian.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Travelling Solo: Elephanta Caves

I have now been in Mumbai for a cumulative period of almost 8 months. Even though I have family and friends, I have had the liberty and opportunity to live alone. I admit that hasn't been very pleasant  experience all through. To stop relying on other people's times and schedules I gave up and decided to explore this city alone.

My first solo trip was to Elephanta Caves. Ancient stone carved Hindu caves, Elephanta is an hour's boat ride away from the Gateway of India, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai. The entire location of the Gateway of India is like getting transferred to the England of yore. Completely built in Gothic architecture, the south Mumbai lanes deserve a post of their own. Ride to Elephanta caves costs 150INR in a deluxe boat and covers a return trip to the island. Since time flies by at the island and I am still a Delhi girl at heart, I'd boarded an 11am ferry leaving Gateway and returned well in time by 4pm. That I'd say was very smart of me! :D

The boat ride was spent in silence admiring the open seas. Coming from the land locked part of India, the openness of the endless ocean still fascinates me. Big ships and trawlers still get curious stares from me. And both were endlessly supplied on the way to Elephanta. It was also interesting to note the riches of Mumbai parked safely in the ocean-the personal yatches of the richy rich! Ok so it may not be as classy or as jam packed as the French Riviera but it was good to see some for myself. Between the container rigs and the naval setup, the personal wealth of a few individuals gleamed like tacky baubles.

Landing at the Elephanta caves, one has to jump over, pass through and hold on to thick ropes, old tyres and previously parked boats, not in that order though. Covered with barnacles, the landing leads up to the walkway that further leads to the steps rising up to the caves. A small toy-train ride costs INR 20 and saves you the walk in the hot burning sun. Hats and caps of all kinds were available but one is obviously paying the premium for buying them there. I stuck to my scarf and sun glasses. My ever handy water bottle proved its value over and over again during the trip.

Climbing the stairs was not easy. I am not the most physically fit person around and the climb didn't help. Shops lining the side have idle shopkeepers that made me more conscious of being fat than fit people in a gym. In short, their stares kept me going. reaching the top hafting and panting, I kept going. At the entrance, a board caught my attention that advertised Government Guides that were available for free. Upon inquiring I was told that the guard inside would point me to the correct person. I couldn't be happier.

I entered the ancient temple and felt dwarfed. The skill, the imagination and the scale, it all overawes you. Most of it was destroyed and disfigured by the invading Portuguese. What remains are faceless figures and tiny details that even today help archeologists identify the carvings. My hunt for the guide didn't start very well since the private guides would not allow the guards to point out the free one. I persisted and he relented. After a small self tour and guess-who game with myself, I finally met a young lady who was my guide! A student of history at the University of Mumbai, she was a volunteer who spent 5hours a week at Elephanta giving people like me a crash course in Hindu carvings.

What she taught me was very basic but very helpful. Since most carvings have been destroyed, it is next to impossible to identify the Gods and their avatars by their faces. Instead they are identified by their vehicles and their accessories! So a God in the background with a bird underneath is Vishnu! A mouse makes it Ganesh! I don't remember much but back then it made very logical sense! She also knew the stories/myths that related to each of the carvings and the was very keen to explain the eco system of the island. Self sustaining, it has no source of fresh water except the rains! She showed us the natural filtering process of the rock cuts caves and the underground pool that keeps the entire island alive.

I think I shall visit again. With people and food this time.
Leaving for Elephanta from the Gateway of India

Welcome to Elephanta!

Toy train at Elephanta

Rock Carvings

The iconic Mahesh Carving

Entrance to Elephanta

Sunset on my way back

Thursday, April 18, 2013


It's been far too long since I wrote anything. I am going to change that. Hopefully this second shot at a blog would go much better than the first.
Fingers crossed!

Friday, November 30, 2012


My latest addiction is Grey's Anatomy. Nothing exceptional about it. Star World just airs it at a convenient time and like everyother drama series, it is addictive.

Last night's episode had something a character, Mama Burke, said. It goes like this:
Do you know when to walk away? Do you know when not to take less than you deserve, if you do, then you’re an honorable man

It stayed with me enought to blog about it. I don't think I qualify as honourable really most of the times according to this definition. But I also think it needs more to be added to what constitutes honourable.

So I asked a friend. He thinks you qualify as honorable if you stand tall to what you have decided or promised to achieve/do. And you achieve without compromising yourself or your values. At night wen you sleep without any guilt of having not put effort're an honourable man. You sacrifice when needed and grab when desired ..honourable.

Touching really. But big holes for me to fall into. To me honour is simpler yet strikingly similar. Believe in something, stand for that, dodge the bullets, get shot, bleed a little, know something's protected, look in the mirror and be able to look yourself in your eyes.

But I like what the GA's character said about knowing what you deserve. About knowing your self-worth and knowing when to walk away. It's the hardest, this decision to live alone, to break away. But is it our upbringing that keeps us from not wanting isolation or living alone or is it something else?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ironies that face you

Ironies often stand in front of you, facing you, taunting you. I am facing one right now. I love marketing. I love to do it. But a current marketing phenomenon is irking me to no end. Here are samples of why.

Karwa Chauth. A day that was special because mom dressed in her wedding finery and I got to play with her silks. A day that was like any other except we'd go moon hunting for ma. A day we'd get puris and kheer. Then came Karan Johar.

I hadn't seen half the fanfare shown in Bollywood happening anywhere around me. And to come to think of it, Karwa Chauth is a festival native to my homeland! It's an out and out north Indian festival holding religious significance in UP, Bihar and the ilk. Punjabis just did the pooja in a community like every other festival. Bollywood then made it a party.

Last few years I have seen this day being transformed into an Indian contribution to the gifting industry. I'd always read about what happened to Mother's Day from its humble beginnings, Valentine's Day from its clandestine marriages and creation of days left, right and centre. To see it happening to this somehow, somewhere touched an irritated nerve in me. I am supposed to marvel and learn how to create such amazing platforms for brands. I am supposed to understand consumer behaviour and how to best exploit it. But when I am a consumer, I find it intrusive, exploitive and damn right irritating. And this is irony.