Monday, January 26, 2009

Tamil language lessons

Little Shriya in the front, then her mother Shemi, Carolyn, Jayanti, and Mariama
Just wanted to show you my first Tamil language lesson. I was expecting Jayanti, sitting on the far side of me in the picture to come and give me a language lesson. But as usual, I was living in my American brain. Naturally, the neighbors would want to participate.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Puja for Dexter

When we were suggesting to our friend Gopal that we do a puja here at our house, he didn't realize we had a little temple in our bedroom. Immediately, he decided to do a puja here. Apparently, in his village he is the caretaker of the temple and considers himself a pujari. He wanted to meet at 6am the following morning, make pongal, and do the puja (Hindu religious service) at our house. (He and his wife, Mariama, have been asked by Gopalji's brother to take care of his daughter, Aishwarya, while she goes to college in Ooty.)

The other Gopal making pongal in my kitchen
The two Gopals making pongal

Our little temple in our bedroom

Setting things up, putting incense in the holder

Burning camphor


Gopal holding up a towel as the other Gopal performed the private portion of the ceremony

A portion of the pongal had been placed on the temple as prasad, to be blessed by the gods. After puja, Gopalji placed the pongal on a banana leaf, along with a banana, and a piece of candy. I took that outside for the crows to eat. It is believed that when the crows eat the prasad, the person blessed has eaten the prasad (in this case, my grandson, Dexter) and therefore has received the blessing from the puja. We waited for crows, at two points moving the prasad farther and farther from the houses until it ended up across the road. Success! A crow came down and ate some of the prasad.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Walking through my neighborhood

Friends have asked me about shopping here, and do we have something like Safeway or Longs. Well, here's a view of our walk in the morning that takes us through Boys Company, the village we live in. It should answer those questions.
Gopal and neighbor Gopal in front of me as we walk along the main road to town
Boys Company

Where we buy our vegetables

The tailor

The Gopals where we buy our newspapers (one English "The Hindu Times", one Tamil)

Where we buy our fruit (the flaps are to shield the produce from the heat of the morning sun)

The other Gopal and Carolyn walking through military housing
(I tried hard to fit in and not wear my hat, but I just broke down and started wearing my hat to keep my cataracts from growing, ya know? Wearing that hat, I will never fit in.)

Where we buy flowers
I buy flowers for our home shrine, and they also sell strings of white fragrant flowers women of Tamil Nadu wear in their hair

Bakery (blue sign) and pharmacy (red sign next to it)

Boys Company's bus stand, where the buses stop

Someone taking grass home for the cows

Meat vendor
Gopal and I are vegetarian so never shop here, but I had to show you. In the cages closest to the front wall on the left of the doorway are chickens. It's awful.

The hardware store (needless to say, autorickshaws park along that part of the road)

Homes along the road home

A temple
Lingama Colony where we live (the driveway is just next to that yellow cement mixer)

Mariama, the other Gopal's wife

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Monday morning, our landlady Jayanti asked us to come to temple. We would be leaviing at 10am. (We actually left at 11:30.) Gopal didn't want to come. I had never been invited to go to temple with my neighbors and was very glad to go. I had to solicit help with my saree from Mariama. The first surprise was that we rode in a car with my neighbor Janaki's family. The second surprise was that we went to a different temple than I had imagined they went to. The reality is that I know nothing about any of this. The third surprise was that I was expected to wear a white cotton shawl, so I found a white cotten lungi of Gopal's and wore that. My little friend Shriya came with us.

After doing a few circumnavigations of the first little temple, we walked up the lane to Jayanti's sister's house, where her sister gave me a different white shawl to wear because mine was yellowed compared to everyone else's. ahem. Following Jayanti's lead, we (Shriya, Jayanti and I) left our shoes at Jayanti's sister's (big mistake). Barefoot, we climed up the hill to the Badaga Hindu temple where everyone wears white. It's part of their culture. I have not been in many temples. This was larger than expected and very crowded. I followed Jayanti around the periphery where we paid our respects to several gods, one she revered as her grandmother. Then we joined the crowd surrounding several swamis who were moving to drums and chanting, one apparently giving blessings to selected people. It appeared to me that the swamis would toss a small bunch of flowers into the crowd. The person catchiing the flowers would come into the center of the circle to receive a special blessing from the holy man. Often the people singled out were parents holding small children.

The sun in the Nilgiri Hills is intense. This temple was painted white with dirt floor smeared with dried dung. The shady spots were full of people, so we had to do our best to shade ourselves with our shawls. Eventually, food began to be served. We all sat wherever we could. We each received a banana leaf (used as a plate). Someone came around with a pitcher of water so we could each rinse our hands and sprinkle a little on the banana leaf. Then came the rice, a little ghee (clarified butter), and a vegetable stew. South Indians eat with their hands, so so did I. (Did I bring my hand sanitizer? No!) In the meantime, I was cooking. (Did I bring my sunscreen? No!) (Did I know that going to temple meant being out in the sun? No!) Living and learning.

As we all left the temple, stopping by a water spout to wash our hands, Jayanti asked if I would be willing to go to another temple. So off we went, further up the hill. The way up was long and over some badly paved stretches of path (remember we're still barefoot). We ended up in a clearing behind a large, fancy house with a great garden. I think it was the CEO's house of the cordite factory where they make bombs and sell them to the military base nearby. There was a big Badaga cultural event going on in that clearing. (There were chairs!) Again, it was crowded with people continuing to stream in. Badaga native music was playing, and the men were beginning to dance native Badaga dance. Soon, boys and girls joined in. Eventually, to my relief, Badaga women finally joined in. Can you imagine?! Fantastic!

In the meantime, we were seated in rows of plastic chairs. A young girl (6?) named Aishwarya introduced herself to me from the row in front of us. Soon, a girl (7?) who knew Shriya in school came over to talk to me. Pretty soon, all three of the little girls were singing songs to me in English, including "We Shall Overcome." I finally had to ask them to be quiet so I could listen and enjoy the Badaga music and dance. Banana leaves were again distributed, as well as a channa (chickpeas, garlic, etc.) and sweet pongal (rice/milk pudding). After we ate, Jayanti lead us to the little temple right there, after we washed our hands. As I believed we were leaving, we went to watch the dancing more closely. Shriya is a good dancer, and I thought she wanted to dance. So, I tried to get her out there to dance with me. She was too shy. I was scared to death of trying to dance a dance I didn't know and in a saree no less. I was afraid of tripping on my saree. Not to mention that I stuck out like a sore thumb, being so white and so tall. But as soon as I made a move toward the dancing area, I was swept into the dancing. One woman was kind enough to lead me in the dancing. It was wonderful. Everyone was so thrilled to see this elder white lady dancing their dance, I think. After that, on our way out, I was deluged with people wanting to shake my hand and tell me what a good dancer I was. So nice. I was terrible out there, but they are gracious people, ya know?

Then, the walk all the way down the hill to our shoes was long and on very bad pavement/non pavement. My feet were terribly sore when we finally arrived back at Jayanti's sister's. It was heaven to just sit in her front room, have a cup of hot water, and answer questions in English from Jayanti's brother-in-law. Everyone is so nice. When we left the house, all her neighbors were crowded around wanting me to come eat at their houses. I just wanted to go home. It was the cutest, coziest little neighborhood far off the main road. Charming and so friendly.

My feet were so glad to be back in my sandals. We walked home from there. It was such a nice day. A good way for me to get to know Jayanti better too. (Shriya and I were pretty tired.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bhoomi Shanthi Project Organic Boutique and Restaurant

While wandering outside Nankem Hospital, we recently noticed a building out back with a new sign reading Organic Boutique. I never see the word Organic here in Restaurant. I found badly needed biodegradable dish soap, brown and red rice, and many other organic products I hadn't seen since leaving the U.S. Fado was the proprietress, an avid organic gardener, with a heavy French accent. Take a look at this elegant place. The food, cooked by Christopher, is organic right out of Fado's garden and prepared with such skill and taste, it has been a real pleasure to eat there. So delicious and so healthy! Yay!

Gopal in the restaurant

I plan to visit Fado in her garden, so will report further about their garden and their project, which strives "to preserve Mother Earth and yur health, leave a heritage and Peace to our future generatioons located in The Nilgiris."

Pongal, The Harvest Festival - 13-15 January 2009

"Pongal is the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving. In an -based civilization the harvest plays an important part. The farmer cultivating his land depends on cattle, timely rain and the sun. Once a year, he expresses his gratitude to these during the harvest festival. With the end of the wet month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January) the new Tamil month of Thae heralds a series of festivals. The first day of this month is a festival day known as "Pongal Day". Pongal means the "boiling over" of milk and rice during the month of Thai."
It was my expectation that all my neighbors' families would visit, that people would visit us, that everyoone would wear new clothes, cook pongal, decorate the pavement in front of their doors with kolams in colors, and that the cows would be decorated. Well, first of all, it rained, no one came to visit, except the children next door who are always at our house. No one made their kolam with colored powder. I saw no new clothes. I had a new outfit I had never worn because I thought it was too fancy (velvet), so I wore that. The children's mother, Shemi, made payasam (a sweet holiday dish) for us using a sugar substitute out of respect for my diabetes AND she brought over vegetable biriyani and tomato/onion curd. Yum! It was a generous amount, too. I was so grateful. It was delicious.
The cows that usually graze on our lawn haven't been here for a couple days, so I took my camera into town today in search of decorated cows. I found some!

My fancy new outfit

My friend, Atul, overlooking my Pongal kolam
Pongal kolams in town
Cows decorated for Pongal

Friday, January 2, 2009

TARAgram, Orchha, U.P., 10 December 08

When we arrived in Orchha, we decided to call TARAgram where my training was supposed to have taken place. We were interested to see what kind of enterprise TARA was. So, on 10 December, we went over there to take a look around. In the material sent regarding the training I had signed up for I read what they wrote about TARA. Here is where the cultural differences get in the way. Indian English is ponderous and seems very self-righteous and grandeose. So, I reacted to what they had written by worrying that it was all grand language hiding the fact that TARA really wasn't much. Well, to my relief and pleasure, it was just the opposite. TARAgram was everything they wrote and more. TARAgram is the place where these operations happen. Hopefully these pictures will tell the story.
Here's the link to their website - If you don't get there through this link, try going to Google India and searching for Within, if you wish you can search for TARAgram.

TARAgram entrance Madhuban Pandey, Executive Training

Juhi Nigam, Training Assistant

Carolyn and staff person (we forgot his name)
Banner for recently launched radio station, reaching rural villages with messages about health, water, food, etc. This project was particularly thrilling to me because I see the need for education everywhere I go, and this is the perfect vehicle. It is actually designed around village women's input.
Recording studio
Anujaa Shukla, Associate Programme Manager, Development Alternative
(head of the radio project)
Carolyn and Juhi Nigam, our guide Micro Concrete Roofing Tile Unit

Concrete rural cooking stoves
Walkway tiles
Water purification, filtering work
Paper mill
where materials left over from textile industry production are used to make paper products. The men and women of local villages work here and benefit from the sale of the products. It is my understanding that the poor people come up with entrepreneurial ideas, and TARA helps make it happen.

Presses at the paper mill
The women would actually sit on the presses to make the imprint, but they didn't seem to want us to take a picture of that.

Thermal electricity
Wood chips used in the thermal electricity process Binding shop
Where some paper products are turned into sellable products like picture frames, notebooks, writing paper, lampshades

This project was impressive and has been functioning productively for twenty years. As soon as Joint Assistance Centre, Inc. (JAC), our volunteer agency, undergoes its planned transition to non-profit fundraising organization, TARA is an organization we would like to consider as a funding recipient.