"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

culture

The Contradictions Of Handicraft

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From spiritual sightseeing to ethnic ersatz:
Sanjeez moved us on to the grandly titled “Directorate of Handicraft & Handloom”,
an institute dedicated to preserving local crafts.

We passed through quiet and spacious classrooms, 

where students sat at their work in almost total silence.

There was no sign of any teachers.
And like our visit to the Tibetan monastery, this experience felt rather unreal.

We had been charged a small admission fee and I began to wonder if the institute’s main purpose was to be included on the itinerary of every tourist who passed through Gangtok.

The students seemed almost like mime performers,
trapped in their cultural tableau vivant.

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Pictures taken at the Directorate of Handicraft and Handloom, Gangtok.


Liaisons Dangereuses

It’s a scene rarely encountered here in southern India:
A single young woman in the company of several young men.

All the more “shocking” as the girl’s dress marks her out as Muslim. 

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Picture taken from a taxi window, in Ernakulam.


Not Exactly Delighted

Wherever I go, I try to remember my camera.

I am fortunate.
Due to a steady flow of tourists, the local population are pretty inured to photographers capturing their images.

Tact and sensitivity are especially required, however, when taking pictures of women:
A male stranger attempting to photograph a woman can cause offence. 

By respecting my neighbour’s customs and dignity, I have mostly avoided misunderstandings.

But, 
just occasionally, 
I get it decidedly wrong

And photograph a less than ecstatic subject..

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Picture “stolen” in Palace Road, Cochin.


Look To Your Laurels

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The procession has reached St Anthony’s chapel.

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The garlanded statue of its patron saint is displayed.

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But St Anthony is not the only bearer of garlands.

A few chosen men are sporting laurels of pastelled flowers and richly coloured capes:

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The influence of western Mediterranean Catholicism, which came to Kerala in the seventeenth century, along with Portuguese military conquest.

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A markedly different style to the two thousand year-old, Syrian Christian community of Kerala,

whose rites and vestments are close to those of the Orthodox Church.

And their liturgy, until very recently, still celebrated in Aramaic.

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The Barber Of Cochin

This is not Seville.

My barber’s set is less restrained;
the music more Rahman than Rossini.

There are neither cappuccinos nor biscotti.
Enquiries into future holidays are not made, but complimentary head and neck massage is included.

The bill comes to just twenty-five rupees.  ( 35p UK, 55¢ US )

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I leave a tip.


A Time of Shame

This Commonwealth Games debacle wounds the pride of India

By Jenny McCartney

The fiasco that has surrounded the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, with ceilings and bridges collapsing, athletes threatening to stay away and child labourers desperately struggling to install spectator seating, has not been pretty. Nor have the shots of the interior of the athletes’ village, with wires from open junction boxes dangling next to mosquito-ridden pools of stagnant water, and lavatories that have been well-used but not plumbed in.

Games officials and foreign athletes are furious – but so are the Indians themselves. The Times of India carried a poll in which 97 per cent of respondents said that they felt their country’s reputation had been damaged by the shambles. None the less, as an embarrassed government makes frantic efforts to complete the work, the building-site jokes are already making the rounds. One wag advised: “When walking near venues or watching the Games in the stadium, kindly wear a helmet at all times.” More worryingly, another Times of India reader claimed that a cousin had been working as a civil engineer on one of the Games’ buildings. When they had completed the first floor, the inspecting official reportedly requested a Mercedes in exchange for signing it off: the contractor allegedly agreed, but subtracted the cost of the car from the budget for the remaining floors.

I am married to a man of Indian origin, whose parents came to Britain from New Delhi, and have visited the city a number of times. Despite the marvels that it has to offer any traveller, the lack of readiness for the Games did not come as a total surprise. For a start, Indian construction workers have an unusually carefree attitude to electricity: as a first-time visitor, I was mightily struck by the great, snaking tangle of power cables that hangs in swags across streets in the Old Town. What was even more astonishing was that it appeared to work.

On a larger scale, and by similarly unorthodox methods, India works, too: as a country, it is a functioning mixture of the maddening and the miraculous. But it just doesn’t work to a deadline. And health and safety, almost a religion in the West, often appears of negligible importance.

My husband and I were driven, by a local driver of merciful competence, up the narrow, winding roads of the Kullu Valley in Himachel Pradesh. The steep drops at the roadside were dotted with the crumpled wrecks of trucks that had plunged off the edge. We turned a corner, and there, on a hairpin bend atop a 100ft drop, were two smiling teenage boys enjoying a leisurely game of cricket.

When we stayed the night in a little guesthouse, the temperature dropped to freezing. We asked for a heater, which came with two unprotected, dangling wires, which the owner cheerily rammed directly into holes in the wall. After the crackling that ensued, I decided I’d rather freeze to death than burn.

The Indian people have enormous reserves of stamina, resilience, intelligence and drive, qualities which are setting their nation on the route to becoming an economic superpower. What they do not have is a government which makes rules consistently and enforces them swiftly and fairly. The result is that the rich – who have the money to pay handsome bribes and to employ the best lawyers – prosper further, while the poor often remain unprotected.

Campaigning journalism – as practised by Tehelka, a wonderful weekly magazine – is increasingly holding politicians, officials and police chiefs to account. Sadly, while the parlous state of the privies in the athletes’ village makes international headlines, the fate of the 100 workers killed since 1998 in the construction of the New Delhi Metro does not.

A spotlight has been turned on the worst of India in the run-up to these Games: the chaos, the child labour, the corruption. But the athletes who take part will also discover the best of it: new friends will be made, ingenious solutions proffered, fresh accommodation found. As I said, India always works. But its government should take a sharp lesson from the anger of its own people, who yearn to take an unqualified pride in their nation: an emergent superpower should work a hell of a lot better than this.

From The Daily Telegraph

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They’re Loving It?

Until recently, a fast food snack in south India might consist of

Vada, usually served with coconut chutney

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or pazaham pori.

But times are changing.

There is new competition.

And this is its shape:

The McAloo Tikki Burger

Described as:

“A totally vegetarian sandwich, with regular bun, a crispy, breaded spicy potato and vegetable patty, eggless tomato mayonnaise, two slices of tomatoes and shredded onion.”

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“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet”

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Many Indians see the cow as sacred. It is believed to be a symbol of both the earth and idealised motherhood, representing perpetual generosity which asks nothing in return.

The cow is not worshipped as a deity but figures frequently in Hindu iconography both as Krishna’s favourite animal and Shiva’s vehicle. In some ways, the cow holds a place similar to sheep in Christian symbolism.

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With India reluctant to view the cow as walking hamburgers, perhaps it’s not surprising that McDonalds went for the vegetarian option .

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Fame

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Less than an hour’s journey from Thrissur is the Kalamandalam, Kerala’s school of performing arts.

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On our tour of the campus, we join up with a party of very English Girl Guides.

It seems a somewhat surreal juxtaposition.

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The Art Of Kalam

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The current arts festival in Thrissur celebrates the vanishing art of Kalam, an ancient Kerala folk tradition associated with the cult of Kali.


During the day a floor painting is drawn, using pigments from ground rice, turmeric, charcoal and other natural products.

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But as darkness descends, the celebration takes on a more sinister form.

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Are You Sitting Comfortably?

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Are you sitting comfortably?

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Then I’ll begin.

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Fine Art

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Kerala has just one college of fine art.

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On Saturday I travelled to Thrissur, and spent my happy hour at their graduation exhibition.

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Heard In The Opera House

Following on from yesterday’s story of ill-fated love,

I am put in mind of a visit to the opera.

The production was staged in The London Coliseum:

A performance of Bizet’s Carmen.

The lights dimmed,

As the plaintive chords of the prelude resonated throughout the opera house.

Then, over the sound of her rustling sweet wrappers, the voice of the woman sitting behind me could clearly be heard.

“Eh” she announced, in a strong rural accent.

“Listen to that music.”

“You can tell it’ll end in tears.”


Buying Into The Dream

Like most Indians, I have cable television.

I am offered almost 100 television channels in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and English.

The English language channels are a necessity for me. I speak none of the other languages.

I do however flick through the non-English channels; occasionally enjoying the high production values of song and dance routines from a Bollywood movie; smiling at the ham acting of a local soap opera; and always interested by what advertisements reveal of the Indian Zeitgeist.

One constant aspiration, that to my eyes seems particularly sad, is this.

The advert was so successful that it became the first of a four-part series, telling the story of a doomed, colour-uncoordinated romance.

And the phenomenon is aimed not just at women. There are plenty of products and sales pitches solely for men.

One of the ironies is that the actors in all these advertisements are Indian “super-stars”: highly successful film actors; and beautiful.

The girl in the first advert, apparently rejected because of her dark skin, was in reality, Miss World, before she stormed the heights of Bollywood.

Meanwhile, back in my motherland, I gather from newspapers that another advertisment has fed into dreams and values,

Drawing comment and questions.

But I, too, am far from impervious to a well-crafted dream.


Spiritual Masala

Here spirituality is a religious ratatouille:

The recipe includes Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

Each providing

Colour

St Sebastian's Day Festival

Cochin Synagogue

Jain Temple

Culture

Preparing for Kathakali dance

Christian Festival

Curiosity

Commerce

Temple souvenirs

Temple traders

Conversation

Comfort

And

Contemplation