Monday, August 31, 2009

A Swine Flu Shrine?

Walking through Chennai, one can find shrines of all sizes and shapes, many which are tucked in rather humble or obscure places. This shrine is dedicated to Maari amman, the goddess regarded as having the power to bestow or remove life-threatening fevers. She is revered in Tamil villages in Sri Lanka and South India. Considering the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus (aka "Swine Flu") in Chennai, it is quite possible that this shrine is set up to ward off the virus.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Going eat at the Runs

This restaurant in my Chennai neighborhood specializes in intercontinental Indian and Chinese food and prides itself on rapid service, hence its name. Perhaps a restaurant in Indian English having "Runs" as part of its name is just fine, but to Westerners, that phrase connotes a whole different thing...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Puja offerings for Ganesh

In front of the temple, one could buy an assortment of puja items for paying respects to Ganesh. While flowers of some sort are available on other occasions, the umbrellas are very particular to this festival. The small garlands of flowers are placed over the heads of the Ganesh sculptures.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ganesh and his Vehicle

Like all Hindu gods, Ganesh has a vehicle that he uses for transport; that of a rat/mouse. Note the black rodent in the base below Ganesh's belly. The size difference between the two creatures is rather interesting. Does the mouse assume a larger size or does the portly elephant god make himself lighter and smaller?

Worship of Ganesh

In honor of Ganesh's birthday, Hindus lined up at this temple in my neighborhood, looking on as the priests performed pujas. Outside the temple, special floral garlands, ghee lamps, and bundles of leaves/grasses/petals were for sale.
Hindus invoke Ganesh's blessings before starting business ventures, getting married, house construction, or even embarking on a journey. Ganesh is also seen as a remover of obstacles.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ganesh!

Yes, it's another celebration in India. This time it's Ganesh's birtday, otherwise known as Ganesh Chaturti. On this day clay images of the elephant god Ganesh are made. After offerings and prayers have been made, the sculpture is then taken to the sea or river for immersion. Like most Indian holiday, this one also involves special sweets, with laddu and steamed rice dumplings stuffed with jaggery and coconut being made.

Below the photo of the clay Ganeshes we see a man and children selling colorful umbrellas to accompany the clay sculpture.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Independence Day, India!

August 15 marks the 62nd anniversary of India's independence from British rule. Unlike in the US where people would typically don clothing with patriotic colors or even elements of the flag, Indians in my neighborhood chose to display their patriotism in other ways. Schoolkids dressed in crisp uniforms all had small paper flags pinned to their tops. Several kolams incorporated Indian flags in their designs. Ever enterprising folks peddled around or set up shop on the sidewalk, selling small flags & other patriotic trinkets, along with balloons in the tricolors of the flag.
Happy Independence Day!

Between the Waves

Fishermen brave the strong currents go out on their humble catamaran log boats for their daily catch. No doubt these men have to be quite strong to battle the powerful currents and waves. I wonder what happens when they get caught between incoming and outgoing waves...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Slightly Shy

Parents in the neighborhood love to have their kids photographed. Often times the kids stiffen up and give the frozen look; others begin to cry; still others play the shy act, as this girl did. What a cutey though.

Happy Janmashtami

Today is yet another festivity for Indians - Janmashtami, the birthday of the Hindu Lord Krishna. When I came home from school, one of my apartment neighbors was preparing a special kolam for the occasion. Baby-sized footprints made from watered-down rice flour adorned the steps leading up to her floor. The painted footprints led right to a special kolam which had footprints in the middle of the design as well. Those families with babies use real footprints, placing the baby's feet in the rice flour mixture and encouraging them to walk towards the door. South Indian women carry out this decoration with joy, knowing that Lord Krishna has blessed the family by entering the house.
Most households will also prepare some sweets said to have been enjoyed by Krishna. Butter and other dairy products are often a main ingredient. Traditionally the sweets were made by the women, but now (like my neighbor) it is often more convenient to buy them from a local sweet shop. Chanting, devotional songs, and dancing often accompanies this festival.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cool Enough for a Photo

These slightly older boys thought it important to give the "cool" look for their photo. I've seen makeshift cricket bats before, but I sure hope the nail-riddled board the boy here has won't be used for that!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Here's Looking at You

There was something about this boy's eyes that compelled me to take such a close picture of him. Piercing, yet curious. Just after that he posed with other kids in a much more relaxed manner.

Grinning Grannies

These two grannies were enjoying the slightly cooler (or less hot) temperatures in the late afternoon. I've taken photos of the toothless one sitting on the floor before, but this is the first time I've seen her more stoic sister. A great grinning duo.

My First Earthquake

This morning around 1:30 AM I was awaken by the sensation of my bed shaking. For about 30 seconds it vibrated back and forth, followed by stillness. Indeed, a powerful earthquake (7.6) had hit the Indian Ocean about 257km (160 miles) north of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. Tsunami warning were issues, but later expired without any occurrences. I'm glad my first earthquake occurred while laying down - safe position in my home. All piled up in a bus or just out there on a chaotic road would have been a potential scary situation.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spare Parts Toys

These boys don't need store bought toys to have fun. One boy rolled the bicycle tire down the lane with a stick, while the older boy carried a hand carved cricket bat. Have fun, boys!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A kitty for the camera

Just like a little kid, this woman struggled to hold on to the kitty in order to be photographed. Whether it was a substitute for a child (many prefer to be photographed with their children) or she truly loved this kitty, I'm not sure. She sure is enjoying herself here though.

My First Bollywood Movie

Even though this is now my second school year in India, there will still be a lot of "firsts." Today I went to the movie theatre with three Indian women from school. Tickets (between $1.30 and $3.14, depending on location) were purchased ahead of time, as most shows would be sell-outs, particularly during the weekend. After stepping through the metal detector, a lady asked to see my purse and then asked if I had any cameras. The air-conditioned theatre room was quite large, with the screen filling the entire front. We climbed the carpeted stairs up to our seats which were quite roomy. No sticky floors or left-over popcorn here; the rooms are cleaned thoroughly after every show.

After several commercials (no movie previews though), the movie began. As soon as the main male actor came on, some audience members began cheering and hooting. Same with the female actress, also light skinned. The love story took place in England, India, and San Francisco. No bed scenes here; only brief kissing. Profanity typically isn't present either, with only one instance in this movie - and it was bleeped. Dialogue was mostly in Hindi, with the occasional English word or phrase. I did pretty good at following what was going on and asked my friend for the occasional clarification. As any Indian performance should be, this movie didn't disappoint in terms of colorful, ornate costumes from Northern India. It's impossible to be in India without marveling at the exquisite textiles.

Most of the India scenes took place in Delhi. From my trip this spring, I recognized most of the sites, including the Qutb Minar, India Gate, and Red Fort. The movie also featured an extravagant wedding scene as only wealthy people in North India could do it.

As most Indian movies are long (2 1/2 -3 hours), a brief intermission was provided. We were already set with popcorn and soda so we stayed seated. The jingle of an Indian cell phone company played over and over (as it did before the movie), its annoying repetition only slightly lessened through variations on the tune. By the time the commercials finished once again, the seats were all filled.

I was told to expect three to four dance numbers. True to form, this movie had four full dance scenes, with more dancing interspersed in small doses. Suddenly people erupted in dance, swinging their hips and performing complicated synchronous moves. Most seemed rather incongruous with the scenes before it, but that didn't seem to matter. Audience members expected to see the dances and they were excited when it happened. While the final dance was in progress, the credits appeared and the exit door opened. I had now watched my first (full) Bollywood movie.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Neighborhood walk

Yesterday afternoon I took a walk through the poor area of my neighborhood. Despite the poverty and dirt, this place always puts a smile on my face. Kids follow me, curious to see where I am going next, hoping to sneak in the next picture as well. Proud mothers and fathers hold up their babies to be photographed, excitedly showing neighbors the small preview on my camera. Lots of hands, both small and large were shaken, along with the traditional palms together greeting/gratitude. And once again there were several offers of coffee. Such smiling faces from young and old keep me coming back.
This week I'll post some of the photos I took from the neighborhood. Perhaps they'll put a smile on your face as well.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fed Ex, India Style

Fed Ex centers come in all different sizes - and construction materials...

The Milk Man Cometh

Early every morning this spot in my neighborhood is transformed into a milk distribution center. Delivery people load up their bikes or baskets (often balanced on the head) and distribute the small plastic bags to the doors of customers. Fresh milk is used in large quantities both for coffee and chai.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Scents of the Spice Warehouse

Spices have gone through the port of Cochin (Fort Kochi) in Kerala for thousands of years. Aromatic mixtures of many spices filled the air of the rather dilapidated warehouse, the contents of which are still destined for domestic and international markets.

Color pencil. See more of my India artwork:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Charming the Snake

I recently finished this color pencil drawing of a man from Jaipur playing a pungi instrument. He deftly practiced circular breathing, manipulating the double reed instrument made from a gourd. His pungi had a brass-colored tube attached to it, extending quite a ways out. Was this to provide a buffer between himself and the snake?

See more of my India paintings:

Back in Chennai

Well, after three long flights I am back in Chennai. Ripe sour cherry trees and temps in the 60's (16° C) were replaced with coconut palms and sultry temperatures. Rolling quiet country roads were superseded by flat concrete roads filled with chaotic traffic. Instead of cherry soup, I'm once again eating rice-based dishes. Now begins more adventures in India, starting with school tomorrow.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Even they have to sleep

This cricket field on an early Monday morning was a stark difference to the scene yesterday, when the area was the scene of at least 8 different teams all crammed on the area. I guess even die-hard cricket players have to sleep and work!