Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nano - World's Cheapest Car Launched in India

As the calendar turns to April, the Tata Nano car will go on sale all over India. At 100,000 rupees (less than $2,000), it will be the world’s cheapest car. At this price you get a 10x5x5’ (3.1x1.5 x1.6 m) car whose bodywork is comprised of sheet-metal and plastic. Instead of welding, plastic and adhesive is used. The basic model has no air-conditioning, no air bag, has manual steering, and crank-down windows. Its 624cc two-cylinder engine (in the trunk) enables speeds of up to 43 mph (70 km/h). This almost makes the YUGO look luxurious!

Although a slightly larger model is being offered for European markets, Tata is hoping to attract Indians who currently are using motorcycles. While fitting entire families on a motorcycle may be more crowded, I’m not quite sure how a vehicle held together with adhesive will be that much safer. It will also mean more polluting vehicles on the already crowded, chaotic roads of India. That is something no one is looking forward to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Preserver and Sustainer

Amidst the colorful garlands of flowers and pooja items in the chariot was a statue of Lord Vishnu. In Hindu religion, Vishnu is considered the Supreme God. He is considered the preserver and sustainer of life. During the 10-day festivity, this statue was dressed in different elegant clothes on each day. The temple on my street is dedicated to Vishnu.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Attendees of Vishnu

Sharing the temple chariot with the statue of Lord Vishnu were two priests. They made sure that Vishnu was well taken care for, presenting garlands of jasmine flowers around its shoulders and more flowers at its feet. Other offerings presented by the devotees such as coconut, bananas, and greens were heaped before the statue’s feet. Occasionally the priests would pass a lamp before Vishnu, its flame flickering as the chariot proceeded along the street. Like the chariot pushers, the bare-chested attending priests wore orange cloth tied around their waists.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Many Names of Vishnu

In contrast to the front and sides of the temple chariot, the role of women dominated the rear. The women, particularly the grey-haired ones, chanted in a happy sounding but reserved song. Sometimes it sounded like a call-and-response, while other times the chanting was in unison. These women were chanting the many names of Vishnu. With 1,000 names attributed to Lord Vishnu, it could take quite a while to get all of them covered!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bombing of Belgrade: Ten Years Later

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the start of NATO's bombing campaign on Serbia (then Yugoslavia). On March 24, 1999, NATO forces began their 11-week attack with the goal of driving Serb forces out of Kosovo. Although sites all around the country were targets, Belgrade was one of the hardest hit. Many of my former co-workers were in Belgrade during this stressful time, facing constant power outages, night skies lit up with bombs & resulting explosions like fireworks, fuel shortages, and never quite sure if the bridge they took to school would be destroyed. One even delivered her first child during the intense bombing and power outtage. At first, many huddled in shelters; as the weeks drew on, some began trying to sleep through it.

Nonetheless, the stress, trauma and scars still remain - both on the residents and buildings. Along some of the main arteries of downtown Belgrade including Knez Milosa, some of these bombed buildings lie much as they were when the fires died out. Eyesores such as these serve as reminders of an unpleasant past, fuel nationalist sentiments, and point out lack of needed funding to remove the remnants. The top photo is the former Interior Ministry. The bottom photo is of a TV station, destroyed while young workers were still in it.

In commemoration of the anniversary, BBC News has posted a short audio slideshow.

Update: My friend Pat has some photos posted on her blog that were taken of the bombings right from her apartment window.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pushing the Chariot

On both sides of the wooden chariot were several men helping to move the vehicle along. From a lower vantage point, they reminded me a bit of pallbearers. Over the chanting voices I could hear the sound of a motor or generator, which I presume helped propel the chariot along as well as creating electricity for the spotlight on the statue. In the photo they don’t appear to be exerting much force, as I’m sure they traditionally would have had in olden times when temple chariots had creaky wooden wheels. No doubt it is quite an honor to be able to push the chariot. Note the decorative pooja white marks on the tires & wood and the red dots around the wheel rims.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chariot Procession

The chariot containing a statue of Lord Vishnu through the streets had to stop often in order for the two electric wire people to push up the wires and tree branches to make way for the chariot. These breaks were an opportunity for somewhat of a commercial break. Devotees would press their palms together in prayer, sing, bow down, or give to the chariot priests some offerings such as coconut, bananas, or floral garlands. Omnipresent entrepreneurs were also on the scene, selling pooja items for offerings, coffee, necklaces, and of course the balloon guy was there with his colorful wares. Photographers and a videographer also took advantage of the situation. Once the wire or branch obstacle was out of the way, the crowd turned and proceeded down the street, ready for another repeat a short distance away.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hold your horses!

As mentioned in yesterday's post, the temple chariot had to stop often in order for branches and telephone/electric wires to be lifted out of the way. A musician signaled for the procession to stop, with the chariot pushers putting on the brakes. Some women would place a pile of white granules right in front of the parked tires. I originally thought that was the coarse sugar candy given to me by one of the spectators, but one of my colleagues told me it was camphor. She explained that camphor is a natural insecticide, and by driving over the pile, the tires would spread the insect controller over the path. Although now more of a tradition, this repellent would have been espeically welcomed in rural areas as the chariot was rolled through the paths between fields. Also note the decorated tires and kolam design on the road.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Temple Chariot

This wooden chariot is brought out on special occasions, transporting a statue of the god Lord Vishnu. Carved out of wood, these horses were adorned with brightly colored floral garlands and the fragrant jasmine flowers. Compared to some temple chariots, this one is rather small, as it must be able to fit under the trees and telephone/electric wires of the neighborhood streets. Even so, the chariot had to stop rather often for two men to lift up obstructions with a specially-designed wooden pole.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Would you like a weiner dog or a poodle?

This elderly man took advantage of the crowd gathered for the Lord Vishnu celebration, hoping to sell a few balloons. Rubbing a balloon to make a peculiar noise, he drew attention to his colorful wares. When sales got a little slow, he would make creatures out of a few balloons, such as the one pictured on the ground. I wonder how many he would need to sell in order to call it a successful day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Let the Procession Begin!

The trumpeting from these horn players signaled the start of the procession celebrating Lord Vishnu. Walking along the streets of Gandhi Nagar, these two musicians headed the procession, with other musicians behind them. Drummers, a few nagaswaram (double-reed instrument) players, and a shruti player (drone instrument with bellows) completed the band. These musicians are hired to perform at various temple events and other Hindu celebrations around the city.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vishnu Festival Kolams

Every morning and evening women sprinkled water on the driveway entrances to their homes and then proceeded to create kolam designs that were larger and more complex than those made on ordinary days. Multiple kolams adorned many places, spilling out onto the main road. In some places, the women bravely made large kolams in the middle of the road, keeping a watchful eye out for traffic! No doubt it was probably considered auspicious for the procession chariot and devotees to travel over the kolam. In addition to the white rice flour designs, many were filled with colored powder. A few designs were specific to the festival. As part of the festivities, it would be common to visit each other’s homes, admiring the kolams as you entered. It amazes me that such care goes into this traditional art form, full aware of its transient nature. It certainly gave me a chance to have something beautiful to look at when going for a walk!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Local Temple Lord Vishnu Festival

A 10-day festival dedicated to Lord Vishnu has just ended. During this festive time, my neighborhood was transformed into a place of celebration. Music, parades, large colorful kolams, a swelling of temple visitors, and of course more litter were some items observed. Every morning and night the temple’s statue of Lord Vishnu was paraded around the neighborhood, dressed in different clothing representing some various gods. It is said during this time Vishnu visits the community as the statue is paraded past the homes. It is a time of happiness and community togetherness.

Unlike other festivals, this celebration varies from temple to temple. In many cases it’s a commemoration of some anniversary at the temple; when it was built, when special statues were installed, or when a special high-ranking religious person visited the temple. Such staggering of celebration times enables devotees to visit temples scattered throughout an area. For Indians, the more festivities, the better!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Marriage Survey in India

BharatMatrimony, an online matrimony portal, recently conducted a survey on “Women and Marriage” in selected Indian cities. The results, considering that 1,058 women between the ages of 20 and 30 were surveyed, reveal a combination of deeply traditional beliefs and modernistic practices.
  • 49% prefer arranged marriage
  • 59% consider the parents’ decisions the most important factor in a marriage.
  • 27% prefer to sacrifice their career or marriage
  • 71% pick the age range of 21-24 as the ideal age for marriage
  • 75% of the women say they will refer online matrimony to others
  • 46% consider this an ideal platform that helps one access profiles on their own time and convenience
I wonder what the survey results would look like if women in towns and villages were surveyed. Likely we would see an even higher percentage favoring arranged marriage, the role of parents, foregoing a career, and the ideal age range being the same or lower. As TV is finally coming into some village homes (a politician promised a TV if you voted for him), the much lower access to the Internet would indicate less familiarity with the concept of online marriage portals and thus its acceptance. I would like to know if there was data gathered specifically for groups such as; those who were university educated outside India, those with advanced degrees, IT and engineering professionals, doctors & lawyers.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tamil Nadu Catamarans

These simple flat log boats used in the Tamil Nadu region are known as kattumarams. The derivative word for catamarans, a form of these boats were used by the ancient Tamil Chola Dynasty to invade Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Burma, and Indonesia. The small catamarans pictured here are primarily used by fishermen.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Serve it on Ice

Boats that go out to sea for several days or a week need ice in order to keep their valuable large catch fresh. This photo shows large blocks of ice bicycled right up to the docked boats. In Chennai's heat, the blocks must quickly be unloaded and broken up by hand with a chisel. The smaller chunks are then placed in the boat's storage area.

Roll Out the Swordfish

These swordfish were just hauled out of the bottom part of a fishing boat in Chennai. Now out of the chilled area, these men must move the fish out quickly before they spoil. Considering the size (14.5 feet or 4.5 m) and weight (1,190 lbs or 540 kg) that swordfish can get, it's quite something to see men pull a cart loaded with several of these fish. Although fish is commonly served, it is unlikely that these swordfish would end up on the fisherman's plate. Rather, such fish are mostly exported to western countries.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

At the banks

No, we're not talking about those beleaguered institutions, but the ones next to a body of water. This scene was taken at a fishing village in Chennai. I couldn't get close enough to see what was going on by the shore, but a number of people carrying small fish in those baskets walked past me. I loved the "sea" of colors and intense liveliness of the scene, each person with a role.

The scene reminded me of the one I witnessed along the shores of the Niger River in Mopti, Mali (West Africa). While fish was also an important item harvested from the waters, the salt slabs north of Timbuktu were what made the Mopti an important port town.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Don't Forget to Floss

At a fishing village in Chennai our fourth graders received so many white flashy smiles. Walking past one small fishing boat with its string of small colorful appliances, I now knew why.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Laid out to Dry

I spotted this playing card amidst a pile of drying fish. I did see the men inside the shelter playing cards, as their fish nets repair jobs had already been completed for the day. This was a sizeable distance away though. Was this pile of fish bet on and claimed by the winner?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Gravestones for Export

On Friday the fourth grade classes toured the GEMS granite company as part of its study on the economy of the Tamil Nadu state. This Chennai-based company has over 150 different quarries with unique granite colors throughout India, as well as importing some other types from a few countries. Using modern equipment, the massive blocks are transformed into monuments, memorials & mausoleums for export. GEM also produces modular tiles, vanity and counter tops, tabletops, sculptures, and structural building slabs out of their high-quality granite.

Walking through the large buildings with their massive, noisy machines, a row of Christian gravestone markers were ready for export. In a Hindu-dominated country where it’s common practice to cremate the dead, it was a bit strange seeing so many gravestones, their shiny sides blank and ready for engraving of the deceased’s names when it reaches the destination. In fact, over 80% of the world’s gravestones being produced in Asia. Europe, the US, and Japan were some of the biggest customers of Indian granite gravestones. However, in recent years, the Chinese market has begun to undercut Indian-based companies, taking granite from India (as well as some quarried in China) and using their own machines to produce cheaper gravestones. Currently Indian-based granite companies still seem to have the edge due to high quality and the large variety of beautiful granite types present in the subcontinent.