November 9, 2009

Mumbai : Street performers

The streets of Mumbai are one of the most interesting places to people-watch. Contrary to popular belief, it is not lined only with beggars. Performers of every hue and calling display their talents and marketing skills here for a few rupees and heart-warming smiles.

I don't know whether I should be calling the Kadak Laxmis street performers or social activists. After all, their livelihood involves taking on the spirit of other people's illnesses onto themselves and whipping themselves till they bleed to get rid of it.

I saw this Kadak Laxmi striding purposefully down a road, dressed in the brightest of vivid colours. A blood-red skirt-like lungi, topped by another shorter multi-hued one. Silver discs encircled his arm and a silver belt, his waist. And as he walked, the bells on his anklets chimed a challenge. But the most important part of his attire, the thick rope with which he whips himself was slung oh-so casually over his shoulder. Everything seemed to clash like a tropical storm but it certainly drew attention to him.

In sharp contrast, his wife following a good 10 feet behind him, was almost drab. As if carrying a baby in a cloth sling and a drum to set the tone for his performance were nothing out of the ordinary, she balanced a large bundle which seemed to carry all their earthly goods, perfectly on her head.

The drum was the accompaniment of choice for another set of performers too but this woman was balancing a small altar with a statue of a deity on her head. She was joined by another girl and a young boy ( I think) wearing a shirt and skirt and carrying the same thick rope used by the Kadak Laxmi. Hardly as dramatic-looking as the older man but maybe he is in training?
He didn't seem in the least bit bothered by the prospect of whipping himself but was laughing and chatting with his friends.

The first photos in this post are not very clear as the people were quite a distance away. For a truly amazing view, take a look at this photo from Charmayne and David de Souza's book "Itinerants : Mumbai's Nomads". Isn't it fantastic ! And the whole book is crammed with more mind-blowing photos of the very colourful people who make their living off the streets of Mumbai. Go... buy a copy for yourself to feast on. It's more than worth it.

(This last photo is from airoots )

September 23, 2009

Mumbai : A link to modernity

Move over Gateway, the people of Mumbai have found a new icon to identify themselves with.
The Worli Sea Link .
I know it's been officially named the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, a.k.a the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, but everyone I've heard seems to just call it the Worli Sea Link. Let's leave the longer names for politicians, shall we?

And now, voices are being heard, asking for a change. It's time to put the Gateway of India out to pasture, they say. That symbol of colonial times has to give way to this proud new tribute to modern India.

Seen at night, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link takes on magical proportions. The network of cables spanning out from the tall towers gleam softly like something out of a fantasy. It is a wondrous thing indeed that such fragile-looking strands can actually hold the whole thing up.

So would I support such a sea change in symbolism?
Oh yes! I would... a hundred times over. The Gateway stood for another age, when the strength of India bowed to colonial powers. A stodgy old lady, not quite in touch with anything anymore .
The Worli Sea Link is a symbol of the new, rejuvenated, empowered Mumbai. A thing of beauty as well as engineering skill.

Plus, if I can see if it from almost 25 kms away, across half the length of this city, it damn well deserves to be the symbol of Mumbai!

September 4, 2009

Ganeshotsav : Mumbai's favourite festival

It's the morning after, and Mumbai's all danced out.
Yesterday was 'Anant Chaturdashi', the culmination of the 10-day long festival in honour of Ganesha, the elephant-headed , pot-bellied god. And Mumbai's favourite !
For Ganpati or Vinayaka , as he is also known, is the Remover of Obstacles, the Lord of Wisdom and Prosperity. A very powerful combination indeed.

Idols of Ganesha, made of clay or Plaster of Paris and exquisitely decorated, are installed and worshipped in homes with a lot of pujas and celebration .
Modaks, the favourite of Ganesha (and of everyone with a sweet-tooth), are almost always associated with this festival.
It's not just individual homes, whole localities pool in their resources and instal their Ganesha idol for the whole community. These idols are usually massive, and are installed in temporary structures called mandaps, which are ideally located at junctions and other vantage points.

The community mandaps are truly a sight to marvel at . Each one has a theme and is lavishly decorated.

After 10 days of worship, the idols are taken to a natural water-body, such as a river or sea, for immersion. This is a jubilant procession, filled with music and dancing. Loud, thumping drum-beats and cymbals give dancing feet to even the most lethargic.

They take the idols in the back of cars

or even on carts, but the sentiment and jubilation is the same.

Then there are the community idols... ! Huge, ponderous and awe-inspiring , these are carried on beautifully decorated trucks, accompanied by loud music and hundreds of worshippers dancing as if their feet will never tire!

Crowds of joyful celebrants dance for miles all the way to the immersion site.

Even heavy rain doesn't dim their enthusiasm one little bit! They only seem to dance even more energetically as they shout "pudchya varsha lavkar ya!" (which translates into "come early next year" ) to their beloved Ganpati Bappa.
Ganeshotsav may be celebrated all over India but nowhere with as much fervour as in Mumbai. It is Mumbai's own festival!

Take a look at this collection of photos from Times of India .

September 1, 2009

Onam: Festival of abundance

A profusion of flowers. Wrought into the most intricate of designs. It has to be Onam!

Onam, the festival dearest to a Keralite's heart, draws to its grand culmination tomorrow.
The legend behind it is interesting... a beloved king who is banished from his land, yet granted a boon . To return once every year to check whether his subjects are happy.
And for this annual visit, all of Kerala goes into an over-drive of feasting and family bonding .
Of friends and games and snake-boat races.
Of spruced up, squeaky clean homes, and lavishly decorated yards. For ten days the ladies and girls of the house let their artistic talents flow and the result is the exquisitely beautiful poo-kalam.

'Pookalam' or floral design, is so intrinsically a part of the Onam celebration that it is always a colourful festival. A brilliant splash of happy colour, welcoming every visitor to their home.
Petals, blooms and leaves in intricate designs, declaring the patience and artistry of the girls working on them. And obviously, the fun they've been having, decorating the pookalam together.
Yellow and deep orange marigolds, pure white jasmine, rich purple Gomphrena globosas, red rose petals, hibiscus, lantana ... these are some of the favourite flowers of choice.
Rich, vibrant, colourful, beautiful ... much like the land itself! And the festival it loves the most.

( Photos courtesy : George Joseph of CGH Earth )

August 17, 2009

Mumbai : Temple on a pavement

Where else but in Mumbai would you see a temple on the pavement of a busy road and the faithful lining up for prayers in the middle of screeching traffic which weaves around them as they stand oblivious to everything else !

I saw this tiny, very colourful temple as I was driving by the other day and was fascinated by the numerous statues of deities on its roof .

From a board which I read later in a photo, I found out that this temple is called the Mariamman Temple.

I spent a long time staring at the work on the roof and kept finding new things that delighted me. Like that peacock and the duck on the arch . And isn't it just such a vibrant explosion of colour?

August 5, 2009

Varkala : Street Art

The unsung artist finds expression on a wall along narrow Varkala roads. Unknown, but definitely not unappreciated!
The unexpected blaze of colour burns through the predominant green of foliage and white of white-washed houses.
Blue sings the hue of Krishna ... or is that Ram with his brother Lakshman?
As lovingly detailed as its surroundings are crudely unfinished ... did the artist's soul find this blank canvas irresistible and take it on himself to fill this void ?

August 3, 2009

Kovalam : A time to muse

Sunset on Kovalam beach.
As the sun slips through a rosy haze, fishing boats sleepily watch from their soft beach beds. All covered up with braided palm-leaf blankets , tucked in and safe for the night.
The sun-worshippers have rolled up their mats and gone home.
The waves hush their crashing roar and a cool breeze steals in .
It's a time to pause and muse awhile. A time to feel at one with the universe.

August 2, 2009

Goa : Awaiting the Monsoon

Driving down country roads in Goa...
No beaches to distract me, only miles and miles of green. Paddy fields fringed with coconut palms, lie waiting for the touch of the monsoon . Quaint, white-washed homes wink by in a flash but stay imprinted in my memory.