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Museum day for kids: The Body in Indian Art @ National Museum, Delhi

Taking the kids to the museum on a hot hot day in May makes perfect sense. Except that museums aren’t really the coolest places even in India’s capital city New Delhi. I really wanted to catch the National Museum’s exhibition titled ‘The body in Indian art’ curated by Naman Ahuja. I had read about it and thought it would be interesting.

I didn’t know how the kids would take it though, but summer vacations are made for experimenting. And we found ourselves in the curiously circular National Museum building, embarking on a journey of artistic interpretation that views the body in the light of thematic constructs like spirituality, death, fertility and perfection.

I quite enjoyed the display, but it was quite a bit for the children to take in. Aadyaa and her friend Myrah amazed us by how many characters and situations they could recognize from the popular epics as well as the number of Gods they could recognize from what they wore, what they held in their hands, their expression or posture! Far from us haviong to explain to them, they ran ahead pointing out – “See, Ram, Lakshman and Sita are in vanvaas!” or “Radha and Krishna are on a swing!” or “Vishnuji ke haath mein sudarshan chakra hota hai, dekho!”

At one point, the girls and Udai debated over a figure that had snakes in his hair. The girls thought it was Shiva, while Udai who can read was trying to convince them it is Nagdev (even though he pretended to be bored for the larger part of our time there)! IMG_6699IMG_6697IMG_6702IMG_6703IMG_6704

I was struck repeatedly by waves of nostalgia. Childhood memories of visiting Belur, Halebid, Somnathpuram and later Khajuraho, all of which are full of carved stone statues; many many trips to the Cauvery Emporium on Bangalore’s MG Road where older relatives admired bronzes in tones of awe and admiration. You get the drift- I had been indoctrinated early!

We wrapped the visit up with Udai running up to see the swords and guns, while my friend Hansa and me ensured the girls had something to eat and drink. Of course, the ice lollies we ate in the car park were the highlight of the trip for the kids. Did you really think statues and paintings can compete with ice cream?

 

Trigger happy in a Jaipur hotel

Our short trip to Jaipur last month was not just about the fabulous wedding we attended. A small but significant highlight was the delightful beauty of the Hotel Mandawa Haveli, where we stayed. Before checking out and heading back home, I caught Aadyaa and Amma in action. They bonded, as only a granddaughter and a grandmother can over flowers and decor, a shimmering swimming pool and tantalizing jharokhas. I followed them around, taking these pictures and admiring the unassuming yet typically Rajasthani beauty of this modest, but well run hotel.

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Savouring Dubai, the land of opportunity and refuge

Dubai has been on the cards for a while now. The last and only time I visited was in early 2010 for a conference. I vaguely remember doing a brief spin of a city deep in the doldrums of economic depression, staring at half-built buildings and getting the sense that I was experiencing a ‘freeze frame’. That first impression and the idea that I am motivated by (hi-fi?) stuff like art, culture and history and not so taken in by glitzy glass-clad skyscrapers (sarcasm, confusion, loads of self-judgement in those words!) ensured that Dubai wasn’t really on my radar for some time. But then, Rahul started to come here every year for his annual training refresher and Dubai was back on my list!

This time round though, the city feels very different. Alive and buzzing with the energy of the Dubai Shopping Festival and a renewed construction boom kicked off in part by the fact that the World Expo 2020 is being hosted here. I promised myself to reserve the judgement before I came and have been happy tramping about the city by myself (while Rahul is working), exploring the Metro and meeting friends and shopping! Despite myself and because of the way this city is, it is impossible not to appreciate the sense of organization, the aesthetic of opulence, the ease of getting around, the effortless intermingling of cultures very different.

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

The cranes are swinging again in Dubai!

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

An organized city, the cars speed by and you let a different-yet-familiar cultural ethos seep into you

It's strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

It’s strange how mass transit has begun to define your experience of a new city. The Dubai Metro, though limited in coverage, is simple to use. I wish metro experts in India would think to have these sort of protection screens at the platform edges on stations!

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

I really like the signages. Here, people are not-so-subtly encouraged to let passengers exit from the centre while they climb in from the side. The Dubai metro also like Delhi) has a ladies only coach, only at peak times though

In conversations with those who live here, friends as well as strangers I met on the Metro, I can see how it is easy to get used to the conveniences of Dubai, especially in the face of the employment opportunities and improved pay packages it provides as compared to ‘back home’. Dubai has attracted people from a plethora of nationalities- Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Yemenis, Syrians, Egyptians and many more- for whom it represents a better life. Yes, by corollary it also means that life ‘back home’ wasn’t that great for many of those who have come here. By all accounts, most of these immigrants will never ever go back, or even want to go back. Despite the big brother watching, despite the controlled media and the heightened awareness of the need to mind your own business if you want to survive, Dubai is a good experience, a place that treats you well.

Both strangers and friends confided to me that a sense of personal safety, the lawfulness and speedy execution of justice were what made them most comfortable here in Dubai, as compared to India. I wasn’t too surprised by this admission, even though I had to curb my urge to fiercely defend my country. You have to read papers here to see that nearly all news out of India is negative! In contrast, the media reports about the UAE are a mix of heady, positive, self-congratulatory stories interspersed with rather watered-down criticism. My analysis: You cannot compare apples and oranges, you gotta see things in perspective. By this I mean that living in a democracy and an autocracy are very different, but I can also see that this difference may matter little for citizens who are happy to have their daily needs well met. Walking among the glitzy edifices and seeing families out carefree and happy in the middle of the night, it’s hard to push this point without sounding defensive!

And so, I let it go and shop some more. I click pictures of dancing fountains and ornate ceilings. I enjoy the pleasure of the us-time Rahul and me are getting as we choose from a fantastic selection of restaurants, eat, talk, laugh… I savour Dubai, I refrain from judging, I miss home.

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you

Malls in Dubai are works of art, with ornate interiors and grandiose ceilings that rise high above you. This is at the Mall of the Emirates, where I trawled aimlessly for an hour, clicking pictures and feeling intimidated by the determined shoppers!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

The Dubai mall, next to Burj Khalifa, is the place to be! Absolutely monumental in scale, the spaces are so large that even the most bizarre ceiling fixtures seem to fit right in!

Another ornate ceiling

Another ornate ceiling…

...and the space below it!

…and the space below it!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

At every juncture, we miss the children, and become kids ourselves!

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The curtain of water inside the Dubai Mall

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It's pretty spectacular.

The dancing fountains outside are infamous. Every half-hour, they dance to a different tune, ranging from Western classic to Arabic to pop, against the backdrop of the dazzling and slender Burj Khalifa. It’s pretty spectacular.

Sights, sounds, stories: In & around our stately old Kanpur home

Family weddings are to enjoy and the incredibly complex nature of Indian families makes them even more entertaining, if you are intent on taking each experience in the spirit of tolerance that is! Every wedding is remembered for various incidents, squabbles and comic antics alike and this one was no exception. But I’m not inclined to air my family’s dirty or not-so-dirty linen in public so I’ll refrain from sharing the juicy details!

As the bahu (daughter-in-law) of the family, I’ve received unconditional love from all of Rahul’s relatives and as a bit of an outsider (no longer now though!), I’ve also enjoyed exploring a new culture and context. Rahul’s maternal side are Rajputs, belonging originally to Bihar but having settled in the Lucknow-Kanpur area for a few generations now. This time, as in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the rambling ancient home in which the family lives right in the heart of Kanpur. The house, now over a century old, is located inside a sprawling complex that houses the Bishambhar Nath Sanatan Dharam (BNSD) College that was once surrounded by orchards and is now dotted with homes of the upper caste families that were originally associated with the Trust that owns the land. One enters this little development through Chunniganj, an old mohalla of the city with a dominant Muslim population. The contrast between one side of the home is fascinating. One side green, not so densely populated, occupied mostly by Brahmin families, sounds of cows, kids playing, pooja bells, family squabbles, parrots; and the other, dense, haphazard, Muslim, sounds of the azaan from two dofferent mosques punsture the air at regular intervals through the day, dawn to dusk! It is quite an experience!

Our home is an imposing structure, stately and colonial in bearing, but now a bit run over with the changes that have been made to it over time. The additions are a bit haphazard and make for an interesting study and many of the original adornment remain, looking askance but somehow hanging in there! Adding substantially to the character are the paraphernalia over generations that are lying around. A discarded table top here, old books there, an out-of-use VCR in a bag in tucked in a corner, construction debris of varying dates and so on. And of course the stories that accompany the objects, the buildings and the people around us….the stories that bring everything to life!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

Entry from the gali! Check out how the sagging vault is propped up by a pillar! Jugaad!

Facade

Facade

One of the porches that isn't built over

One of the smaller porches

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Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Incongrous details: Mooch waala lion, fortress like parapets and the shaadi ka tent!

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Early morning gup-shup! Multiple terraces being enjoyed

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Another terrace being enjoyed and the old discarded table top!

Stuff lying around on the terrace...old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

Stuff lying around on the terrace…old houses are fascinating collections of junk. Rahul even found books that he owned as a child somewhere!

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

From a recent spurt of additions to the house

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul's memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

Chunni ganj before us and Rahul’s memories of the Shami Safi villa that added a room or a floor each time he visited in his childhood!

A commitment towards equitable, sustainable growth #kumaon #tourism

My links with Kumaon go back to my school days, when my parents were associated with an NGO called Kassar Trust near Bageshwar and would make frequent trips to hold health camps and plan health-related interventions for mountain villages that had unique problems. In my teen years and into my early twenties, I gathered that life in Kumaon’s charming landscape was hard, especially for women who were often left coping as single parents as the menfolk migrated to the plains in search if employment. In our visits, we observed that Kassar Trust focused on empowering women to be able to take decisions in a stringent hierarchy of both caste and gender; decisions that could impact their lives hugely like signing up for better hand pumps and improve water access or build toilets in their homes. Further, they emphasized that the village people demand accountability from servants of the State and demand access to healthcare, education, etc. My parents and the NGO they worked with were convinced that this is the route to long-term and sustainable progress.

It's like watching a gigantic water colour, being up in the hills!

It’s like watching a gigantic water colour, being up in the hills! View from Te Aroha, Dhanachuli

Graced by a glimpse of the mighty Himayan range on the one clear day among many misty, cloudy ones

Graced by a glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range on the one clear day among many misty, cloudy ones. View from Te Aroha, Dhanachuli

In the aftermath of the recent floods that devastated parts of Uttarakhand, especially the Garwal region, I read articles by several notable experts that suggested that the state of Uttarakhand was born out of pressure from grassroots movements, many led by women. The editorials suggested that the ecological nightmare created by rampant and negligent development and construction and the apathetic and corrupt governance of the State was a betrayal of the local people who fought for and believed in a vision of a smaller, better governed, more productive State that would prioritize the happiness of its people, ecological balance and equitable growth over large investments that might be less sensitive. Knowing what I know of Kumaonis, I could well imagine the determination and perseverance of these shy but tenacious people in wanting more for themselves.

My recent trips to Kumaon have left me with a curiosity to know more about the development of the region and how it is perceived by locals. On one hand, this fruit growing belt appears enchantingly prosperous. You do not see, on the face of it, huge signs of poverty. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. I gleaned some insights from Deepa, who with her husband Ashish runs an enchanting resort called the Himalayan Village, Sonapani tucked away into the hills near the village of Satoli a little beyond Ramgarh and Nathuakhan. Deepa and Ashish have been running The Himalayan Village for a decade now. Cut off from the hordes (you have to trek to get there), they have made their life there and have fantastic insights into the lives of the Kumaoni people. Sitting there amid the beautiful wild flowers with a breathtaking view of the pine scented slopes, I was disheartened to hear about the caste biases that still prevail, the corruption that prevents government schemes from reaching the villagers. Deepa runs a small sewing centre from her property where local women learn to make bags and other small handicraft items that are then marketed and sold by Deepa through various channels. We heard of an upper caste woman, who was freshly widowed but faced criticism from her family when she joined the centre in a bid to be financially independent. We heard about low caste women who politely declined to participate in savings schemes, preferring to focus on ensuring their family gets decent nutrition. Lower caste families usually have very small land holdings and are subsistence farmers. Eloquent and honest, Deepa’s stories painted alive the conditions of women here, still leading tough lives, still tenacious and persevering. I know I will return to Sonapani, the history of which goes back over 100 years and which is the site of an ancient and therapeutic spring, to experience more, hear more, learn more and perhaps even do more…

The breathtaking view from The Himalayan Village Sonapani, a manicured wilderness...could imagine my children here, running free and wild!

The breathtaking view from The Himalayan Village Sonapani, a manicured wilderness…could imagine my children here, running free and wild!

The resort is as much about the people as the place. Deepa in here element, making us feel so at home!

The resort is as much about the people as the place. Deepa in here element, making us feel so at home!

Caught our fancy...these large colourful spiders all over the property...click, click, click is all we heard for a while!

Caught our fancy…these large colourful spiders all over the property…click, click, click is all we heard for a while!

Charming details

Charming details

Bringing up children here...the mommy in me was impressed, charmed, worried...all at once. But so reassured to see people practice a philosophy so few of us have the courage to..inspired, Deepa!

Bringing up children here…the mommy in me was impressed, charmed, worried…all at once. But so reassured to see people practice a philosophy so few of us have the courage to..inspired, Deepa!

As we drove back from Satoli to Dhanachuli, we observed other contradictions worth thinking about. While this region is not exactly overrun by tourists, many from the plains are beginning to populate these hillsides with second homes. Corrupting village pradhans to acquire land and using insensitive construction practices to build gigantic structures that are barely occupied for a few weeks a year seems like a recipe for disaster to me. As we drove through a protected forest on the way, I could see that year’s abundant monsoon has left the region greener and more thickly forested than before. Sumant Batra who kindly invited us to Te Aroha in Dhanachuli pointed out to us that the monsoons had other impacts too. Nature has had its way with irresponsible developments and we saw more than one spectacular collapse among properties that had been built in concrete using massive retaining wall structures, that had involved large scale and illegal felling of trees and in general been built with scant respect to the local conditions. It angered me, this sort of greed that not only disregards the ecology and culture of the region but actively endangers the lives and property of local villagers!

Clearly, the future of the region lies in empowering local communities with knowledge and power. It is a long road ahead, but I do know that if local governance is possible anywhere, it is in the hills where people are deeply connected to their roots and understand the devastating impact of pushing Mother Nature to the brink. We mustn’t lose hope, perhaps.

There are many ways by which you and me can contribute. By visiting regions like Kumaon in a responsible way, realizing full well that tourism if done rightly can be a strong economic backbone to address issues of poverty and inequity. By ensuring that as corporates and individuals we give back to the society and support genuine not for profits that work to empower local communities in the area. By falling in love with the mountains, again and again!

Chavath in Goa Day 3: The joy of Au revoir, till we meet again!

Those familiar with the classical arts in India would understand that it is vital for the tempo to reach a crescendo, like the taan in a Hindustani vocal musical recital, before the climax is achieved and the experience of the rasik (connoisseur) draws to a joyful end, which itself is a state that anticipates the experience of yet another cycle of beauty.

The last day of chavath in Goa feels like this. The family turns out in the best clothes and prepares to enjoy to the fullest even as the mind prepares to big adieu to Ganapati by immersing the God into the waters at the end of the day. Till next year….

I will focus on two experiences of this day that I particularly enjoyed this time round on our trip to Goa. The first is the ritual of taking a trip out to the fields to cut a bunch of rice stalks from the fields. At this time of the year, the rice fields are an electric green and the short stalks of rice stand in still water, imbuing the countryside with a sheen of magical greenery that contrasts and yet blends with the deeper green of the coconut palm skyline.

Nave, tender stalks of rice standing in the marshy fields

Nave, tender stalks of rice standing in the marshy fields

Goa's Green, a salve for the soul!

Goa’s Green, a salve for the soul!

We all trundled into Rohit’s van, a few of us adults and the entire gang of kids! Snehit, Saurabh and Udai were led on by Raunak, the oldest of the lot. Aadyaa tagged along, happy to be part of an adventure. We drove a short distance to the fields nearby, where a few families were engaged in wading out into the field and acquiring the nave, which was subsequently received into the house with pomp and ceremony. This time, Neela kaki did the aarti of the three young boys, washing their feet first, putting a teeka on them and also showing them the reflection of their faces in a shallow plate of water that had been made auspicious by the addition of kumkum and rice. This particular step of the aarti is unique to the Western coast in India, it seems. I’m married into a north Indian family and I haven’t seen anyone do this reflection stuff in these parts. The entire ritual of bringing in the nave seems to be another way, like the matoli, to connect the festival of chavath to the agricultural traditions of the community.

All watching the process of collecting the stalks of rice

All watching the process of collecting the stalks of rice

From a Catholic's fields, but then rice feeds everyone, right? :)

From a Catholic’s fields, but then rice feeds everyone, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

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At some point, Aadyaa decides to adjust her dupatta...

At some point, Aadyaa decides to adjust her dupatta…

Anuja, Nandan kaka and Rohit light an auspicious lamp

Anuja, Nandan kaka and Rohit light an auspicious lamp

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Ushering in the nave, back at home

Ushering in the nave, back at home

Neela kaki in action....

Neela kaki in action….

Kids chilling at home after the little excursion...how cute they are...Snehit, Udai and Saurabh

Kids chilling at home after the little excursion…how cute they are…Snehit, Udai and Saurabh

And these two together are cute too....Saurabh and Aadyaa

And these two together are cute too….Saurabh and Aadyaa

The other tradition unique that may be unique to Goa happens towards the end of the day. Each house in the vaddo (a unit of the village) is visited by a group of singers comprised of a few people from every Hindu household from the vaddo. Our house is the last in the vaddo and so we wait a long time for this group of people to turn up, spending the afternoon preparing the prasad and neatly distributing it into 50-60 portions to distribute later. Even after they have sung the aartiyo so many times over, or perhaps because of that, the sheer energy they bring to the singing fills the air with an electric pulse of joyful energy. This time, I took video clips of their singing, that you can see here.

I found this tradition fascinating. In Rahul’s village in Rajasthan, ladies from the village come in to sing auspicious songs at daybreak during weddings and this is a great form of community participation. In Goa, the ritual of singing the final aarti not just with members of your family but with the larger family that is the village community takes relationships onto a new platform. These are people you may not know very well, but in the socio-economical construct of the village, they are your extended support structure and a certain level of interaction accompanied by the requisite dose of mutual respect is expected. By dedicating a person or two from your home (Viraj and Rohit took turns to go from our family this year) to join this group of singers, villagers create a collective identity that extends into their lives, tying the community together in an intangible manner. Yes, this group is a male group and this sort of distinction between the duties of men and women is also a mark of the traditional functioning of a Goan village that have remained intact through generations.

After the guests leave, the family carried the idol of Ganapati into the living room and we danced around Ganya, showering him with laayo (puffed rice, considered auspicious in most parts of the country). Watch my kakis and even the kiddos Udai and Snehit participate with gusto at close to midnight in this video clip of our little send off ritual. Udai saw this business to its end, insisting on going all the way to the immersion ghaat till he watched our little Ganapati sink into the waters to the sounds of more firecrackers and shouts of “Morya! Morya! Ganapati Bappa Morya!”

Goodbye Goa! We will be back for more, next year!

Ramuli kaka carrying our Ganapati out into the living room for his send off ritual

Ramuli kaka carrying our Ganapati out into the living room for his send off ritual

Our little jig around Ganapati. Check out the video link as well!

Our little jig around Ganapati. Check out the video link as well!

 

Chavath in Goa Day 2: Ganapati Bappa arrives!

We arrived in the ancestral home in our village Kalapur close to lunch time. Anookaka, who is my father’s older brother and was the senior most male member of the family present had gone ahead early and performed the pooja to ensconce our beloved Ganapati in his beautiful altar. When we walked in, we were greeted by his resplendent presence and beatific smile!

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My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

My cousin Nimish in traditional attire paying his respects to the deity

Through the morning, male members of the Naik family offered doorva (a specific type of grass considered auspicious) to Ganapati as an offering. By tradition, an upanayan ceremony is performed for Brahmin boys about the age of 7 to formally adorn him with the sacred thread. All boys who had their upanayan ceremonies done took turns to change into traditional savle attire (dhoti, bare chest, sacred thread and angavastram) and offer dhruv to the deity. Last year, we attended Arnav’s upanayan in Goa. For those of you curious to see what that ceremony is like, here’s a link to my blog post from then.

We all sat around and talked some more. Then we assembled for the aartis, sang them and finally, ate lunch together. Lunch is a traditional spread, the few days in the year when Goan Brahmins remain absolutely vegetarian. Coconut, kokum, ambade and whole bunch of local seasonal vegetables are used to cook traditional delicacies like khatkhate, kokum kadhi, chanyache tonaak, phodi, bhaji, papad, etc.

Talking, playing on phones, giggling....

Talking, playing on phones, giggling….two generations of boys!

All set to sing!

All set to sing!

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Fruits and modaks for prasad

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh's vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Unneer! The mouse who is Lord Ganesh’s vehicle is sculpted out of flour. Kids and older people excited about this small artistic creation!

Bonding on a full tummy.... :)

Bonding on a full tummy…. ๐Ÿ™‚

Us with Ajjee!

Us with Ajjee!

Family portrait on the front steps

Family portrait on the front steps

Posing!

Posing!

Chavath in Goa Day 1: Dedicated to Gouri-Mahadev and easy bonding!

This is a day for bonding and easing into the celebrations. As per tradition, married ladies fast on this day, in empathy with Parvati or Gouri, Ganesh’s mother. This is a day dedicated to the Goddess and to Mahadev or Shiv, her husband and also our family deity.

My camera’s roving eye found various groups of people in conversation, in camaraderie over activities like cooking or decorating or, in the case of the children, on burning firecrackers! Looking back at the pictures I clicked, I see how the young and old come together, how barriers come down as people ease their guard, how the ritual activities of a family festival take over a rhythm of their own and individual moods, opinions and priorities take a backseat. It is this transformation that grips me each time I come to Goa for Chavath. I revel in the slowing down of the pace of life, in the inversion of priorities away from the self and into the realm of family, community, ritual and perhaps even faith.

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Cousins posing....a series

Cousins posing….a series

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mamas, mavshis, kiddos...

mamas, mavshis, kiddos…

Favorite mama!

Favorite mama!

My little girl...

My little girl…

My aunts sat together, peeling and cutting vegetables and also sharing memories and planning the menu for the next two days. Ajjee sort of oversaw what they were doing, out of sheer force of habit because this is what she has been doing for the last forty odd years! We cousins swapped stories, clicked pictures and ‘Whatsapped’ them to each other and to other cousins far away.

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

All smiles!

All smiles!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

As evening came, we gathered to sing together. The aarti, to me, is the crescendo towards which the events move. The chaal, best described as the rhythmic tune, in which we sing the aartiyo in Goa are distinct from those in Maharashtra. More musical and complex rather than merely chanted, participating in the aarti is as much about skill as gusto. We all enjoy this bit immensely, as you can see in this video. The kids particularly charm me with their enthusiasm!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Saurabh on the cymbals

Saurabh on the cymbals

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The kids utilize the evening to do what they enjoy the most- Fog, or firecrackers! See the joy on their faces!

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Chavath in Goa Day 0: Matoli time!

Despite being from Goa, I never made it home for Chavath except perhaps one time during my childhood. I grew up barely aware of the immense importance of Ganesh Chaturthi to Hindu Goan families.

In Mumbai, where I stayed through ages 6-11, Ganpati was all about visiting countless pandals with enormously elaborate statues of the Elephant God as well as interesting tableaus telling stories from the scriptures or even commenting on current politics or sports! We sang the evening aarti with great gusto, running from one community celebration to another to catch the aarti and collect the prasaad, usually sweet modak or laadu.

In 2008, I first attended chavath in Goa, where the festival plays out within the domain of the family rather than in the community or saarvajanik form. I was mesmerized by the numerous ritual and activities that went into the two and half day festival and fell in love with the feeling of family bonding that I experienced. My children were very small then, Udai was four and Aadyaa was a few months old. I felt Goa and family exert an unmistakable pull on my heartstrings and I came back for more, in 2011 and now in 2013. The next few posts on this blog are an attempt at describing the festival as it is celebrated in my ancestral home in Calapur, a few kilometres outside Goa’s capital city, Panaji.

We reached Goa on Saturday, 7th of September. Rahul, the kids and me. All enthused to participate. This was the day the family prepared for the festival. As we entered the home, we saw that the matoli had been put up. On our last visit, we had been in time to actually hang seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers on the wooden grid (usually made of bamboo or wood from the betelnut palm) that is permanently suspended from the ceiling in the puja room. Ganesh Chaturthi, like Onam in Kerala, is also an autumnal festival, celebrating new life that you can see all around after the three months of rain. Typical items that are plucked (or bought nowadays, the bazars full of these typical seasonal items that would go up on matolis in ancestral homes across the state) and hung are chibud (a cousin of the cucumber), nirphanas, torand (grapefruit), ambade, coconuts, betelnuts, bananas, local yam and bunches of wild fruits and flowers. These are interspersed with mango leaves, considered auspicious in Hindu culture, and tied together using a local vine.

The stage is set for the most popular and fun festival of the year!

The completed matoli....vibrant, symbolizing nature, life...

The completed matoli….vibrant, symbolizing nature, life…

In 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

Flashback to 2011: My cousin Rohit putting up the matoli and a different decor for Ganpati in the background

 

We also got a glimpse of this time's fantastic decoration around Ganesh's altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

We also got a glimpse of this time’s fantastic decoration around Ganesh’s altar. The artist in the family is Rashmi kaki (in the corner), who outdoes herself every year!

My piece in support of informal landlordism @ Next City #rentalhousing #informalcity

Am super proud to be published (read my article here) in a magazine I have admired for the last couple of years. The Next Cityย formerly focused on the US now carried in reportage from a number of cities across the world. A dedicated section called the Informal City Dialogues , supported by the Rockefeller Foundation specially focuses on urban issues in developing countries and holds a wealth of insights that I have often used in my work in low-income housing.

The editors at Next City worked off a piece I had originally written as a book chapter. The book idea was to develop caricature essays based on the various people I have interacted with during my fieldwork on rental housing in Gurgaon. The first one was about Billu, the landlord. Interviewing him was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. We had very different notion of body language and personal comfort zones, for instance. And yet, his passion for life and his work (he manages about 80 rental rooms for migrants) and his extremely practical approach to complex issues like identity, politics and change made me wonder about whether I am given to over-analyzing situations!

The Next City piece has been edited to give it adequate context. Would be curious to get your feedback. I still nurture the dream of writing that book, you see!

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