Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some bright building

Seeing as many are cooped up indoors with dull grey skies outside, I though this photo would be a booster for color-deprived eyes. This lime green building with red and magenta trim is in the town of Pondicherry, a few hours south of Chennai. It was one of many buildings in the "Tamil" side of the town that had decorative grillwork which included female figures. Definitely a noticable building!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in India

Mid-December I began noticing bright decorations hanging in some shops, both in Chennai and then in Pondicherry. Large 3-dimensional colorful stars, garland, fake Christmas trees, lights, and cheap Chinese ornaments could be purchased by the passersby. In Pondicherry vendors around one of the old churches were selling sizeable Nativity sets.

India’s pervasive culture also has managed to intermingle with western Christmas traditions, forming a unique Indian flavor. In some homes people decorate a banana or mango tree instead of a pine tree. Instead of candles, some use the small clay oil lamps commonly used for Diwali. In the highly touristic site of Goa, huge celebrations take place on Christmas. Seen as the cradle of Christianity in India since St. Thomas arrived on the Kerala shores in 52 AD, Christmas is a large celebration throughout the south. Stew and appams (pancakes made of a batter of rice flour and coconut milk) are enjoyed in Kerala. In other south Indian states, murukku (a fried pretzel made of lentils and rice flour) are enjoyed. Rose cookies and other sweets are shared. Christmas services with their sweet hymns and chanting are accompanied with drums. Gift exchange is also common.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christianity in India

While in Pondicherry we visited several churches. Like churches around the world, they too were preparing for Christ's birth. In the 1st century AD, St. Thomas ("Doubting Thomas") arrived in Kerala and set up seven churches and then traveled to southeastern India and continued to spread the Gospel. It was in Chennai where he was martyred and now buried within St. Thome Basilica. When the Portuguese arrived after Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India, they continued spreading the Christian faith. The cherished Mother Theresa was one such visitor, making India her home. Today India is home to over 25 million Christians - about the entire population of Australia! Over 3/4 of India's Christians (accounting for about 2.3% of the total Indian population) live in southern India.

India Fleece for sale

When the temps drop below 80F (26C) in south India, it's time for some to get out the fleece. This photo was taken in Pondicherry along a street where one could buy Gap and other American branded clothes (made in India) at cheap prices.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kepi Caps

This policeman in Pondicherry is wearing a kepi, a red cap with a circular flat top traditionally worn by the French Army. Such headgear is one of many lasting influences of the French in the southern India town.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ecole Francais - in India?

This weekend I went with a friend to Pondicherry, a coastal town about 162 km south of Chennai. Our 200 year-old hotel, once a spacious house with high ceilings, was located within the area once known as the "Ville Blanche," meaning "White Town". When wandering through this French section, one could almost be mistaken in thinking that they were in France. Street signs, the characteristic blue metal background with white letters, are written in French. Names of hotels, restaurants, and even schools also bear French names. A pleasant park is a short walk away from the beach promenade, replete with benches, a central stately white colonnaded government building, and leisurely strollers. Near our hotel was the Ecole Francais d’Extreme Orient, one of many grand French buildings painted in bright hues. Even the streets were cleaner in this area.
Pondicherry was actually one of several French colonial settlements throughout the country, part of a scheme to gain dominance over India and possibly oust the British. In the late 1600’s, the French began building up Pondicherry, transforming it from a small fishing village into a town with a strategic port. The English and French fought for control over the town until 1816 when the French regained control, lasting until 1954 when the French handed over the city. Although the city’s grand buildings were destroyed during the French-English bickering, the French stubbornly rebuilt on top of old foundations.

Today Pondicherry is a popular destination for French tourists. Ties to France continue to be strong.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Karthigai Deepam

As I was coming up the stairs to my apartment, I saw my neighbor creating a rather large kolam. Asking what the special occasion was, she told me that today was the Karthigai Deepam, a festival of lights celebrated in the Tamil month of Karthigai. In some households, the number of lamps lit are double the amount from the festival of Diwali, with the number of lamps doubled each day until Karthigai Deepam. Unlike Diwali which is celebrated throughout India, Karthigai Deepam is uniquely Tamilian.

After my neighbor deftly transformed the dotted grid of 8 points across on each edge of the hexagonal design and 15 points in the middle using fine rice flour, she placed five small oil lamps on the design. Because the family was in mourning (her father-in-law passed away one year ago), the design wasn’t as large as it normally would have been. In villages, she explained, the creation of the kolams becomes quite an affair, with a sense of competition to see who can create the largest or intricate kolam.

Invited inside her apartment, she gave me a sweet bowl of rice (which looked like Rice Crispies) cooked in jaggery (unrefined sugar made from the sap of palm trees) and shredded coconut. As I enjoyed the sweet treat, she turned on the TV, on which a live special celebration in Thiruvannamalai was taking place. As I had visited this holy place this August, I was particularly fascinated by how the huge temple grounds had been transformed into a near carnival-type atmosphere, illuminated with strings of white lights, fireworks, and mobs of people. My neighbor recalled the time she went to the event, uncomfortable with the sheer number of people. This year security was tighter, in light of the recent events in Mumbai. On the zenith of the hill I had ascended a few months earlier, a large torch was lit. Here it is believed that Shiva’s jothi (light of fire form that Shiva assumed) is visible on this night.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Steeple Scaffolding

This image is "scaffolded" from the previous construction photo theme. While taking photos of a Kerala-style church building in Trivandrum, I found an old man staring back at me when looking through my lens. Although the steeple was not very tall, the construction scene still looked rather precarious.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Church construction

Since I’m on the topic of construction, here are some photos of a church that is being built in my neighborhood. Note the rather crude scaffolding. No OSHA standards here!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Piling on the Bricks

With a population of around 7.5 million, laborers are plentiful in Chennai. You see people sweeping the highways and roads with a broom, cleaning out the road drainage by hand (even during the rain), and conducting a fair amount of the construction with manual labor. This man carefully balanced himself as he proceeded to pile more bricks on top of each other, walking with the load on his head towards the apartment construction site. Watch your step!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Get out those striped winter hats!

As I went out for my morning walk at 5:30, I actually felt a slight chill in the air. Not that it was cold, but for a place where temperatures rarely dip below 80 F (32 C), the morning temps around 70 (21 C) were a big change. While walking and then on my auto rickshaw ride to school, I noticed more people wearing those striped "hats" - essentially a wide knitted strip with an attached knitted band to tie below the chin. Older ladies with saris, men with shawls draped over their shoulders, children, and the many motorcyclists all donned these fashion headgear.

It reminded me of in Mali where during this time of year I would find the men huddled around the fire, wearing winter jackets and commercially knitted hats. Granted, the humidity during this time of year was very low. I received quizzical stares as I walked past them wearing only a long-sleeved cotton shirt, smiling as I enjoyed the morning air.

Now we'll see how I do when I go back to Wisconsin for Christmas....

Monday, December 01, 2008

Melissa's artwork of India

I have now posted the paintings I have done of India on my website. Two are done in color pencil, one in watercolor, and the fourth in pastel. Here is a sneak peek:

Soccer Net - or Water Polo?

Above are two pictures of the Gandhi Nagar Cricket & Sports Club. It is a favorite spot for young men who spend countless hours playing the country's favorite sport - cricket. During heavy rains the sports field tends to flood. Looking at the goal net reflecting in the water, one might wonder if they're looking at a water polo field instead....