Friday, 30 November 2012

A Fish Tale

Mt. Arunachala from the roof of our house. (Deepam 2012)
There are times when I find myself thinking of how much my life has changed from my days as a suburban soccer mom in Boulder, Colorado. Doing errands around town is not quite the same as simply running to a 'superstore'  like King Soopers or PetsMart to buy some cat food. It entails hopping on the back of David's moped for a sometimes hair-raising ride through the streets of Tiruvannamalai stopping at various little shops along the way to pick up the items on our shopping list.

Each shop is known for selling a specific type of item; there is the stationary store, the sari store, the bike store, the medical shop for drugs and medicine. I have not seen a 'one stop' shopping place since coming to India, which is a gratifying experience. Walmart has tried to elbow its way into India, but there has been an uproar in India from small scale merchants; hopefully, India will have the good sense to eschew the mega-retailer.

Last night there was a stop at the stationary store to buy computer paper and five new ball point pens.  Indian shops are basically a counter facing the street; you tell the merchant what you need and he scurries behind the counter, disappearing into various aisles piled to the ceiling with items unreachable by the customer. If he emerges with the correct item the first time, one considers that a success. It typically takes a few tries before the exact item is located, wrapped and paid for.

After stopping to get my glasses fixed, we maneuvered our way through the crowded streets to the tropical fish store where we filled two huge plastic bags with goldfish for two of our outdoor ponds. The fish were swimming lazily around a few tired looking tanks, and the owner used a small net to plop them into the clear plastic bags for the trip home. This is where it got interesting. We had several other bags full of fresh veggies, which we hung under the handlebars of the moped as usual. The two large bags of fish were my job to protect on the way home. I usually hold onto David's waist with one hand and grip the moped seat with the other hand. Now I had to use both arms to encircle the two big plastic bags as we darted in and out of traffic on our way home. It must have looked somewhat amusing to see the fish sloshing around on the back of the moped, but you see many interesting things piled onto Indian mopeds so we were lost in the crowd, I'm sure.

As we made our way down the bumpy dirt road towards our house with me gripping the two bags full of fish to my chest, I could see the fire on Mt. Arunachala burning in the distance and felt an instant sense of calm.  Life is much simpler here, not always easy, but so rich in ways that I could have never imagined.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Deepam 2012 Link

Please join us at 6 pm, November 27th for a live broadcast of the lighting of the fire on Mt. Arunachala.

Update: Apologies! Our latest video was not the best due to lighting difficulties and a sub-standard camera. Please see the link in the previous post for last year's video. It is much better!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Deepam in Tiruvannamalai

This week I am working from home in Tiruvannamalai because tomorrow marks the fesival of Deepam with the lighting of the fire atop Mt. Arunachala, plus I am a bit under-the-weather with a stomach bug. We have a wonderful view of the mountain from the roof of our house. Last year we streamed the lighting of the fire live to friends all over the world via a ustream link. We will do the same this year. I will post the link address tomorrow; the fire is lit at 6 PM so we will begin our live stream at that time!

Here is the link to last year's blog post with information about Deepam:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from India!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. This year since I have a job in India, it's just another Thursday in Chennai, and I put in a full day at the office. Since I am a vegetarian, I am not really missing the turkey. But, as a potato fanatic, I AM missing my mashed potatoes and gravy; a staple at any proper Thanksgiving meal. I also have to admit that I am missing the family ritual of eating till you burst and then watching a movie later in the day. Today is also my younger sister's birthday, and the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated 49 years ago.

Two of the writers in my office are leaving the company next week, so I took them out for a pizza instead of eating our free South Indian lunch at the office. (One of the nicer perks of working at this office is that they provide a buffet lunch each day.) We went across the street to Dominoes Pizza; it was the first pizza I have had in India since moving here 18 months ago. It wasn't quite mashed potatoes and gravy, but it did mark the day for me as something more than just a Thursday at the office.

I head back to Tiruvannamalai tomorrow. Next week is Deepam, a huge festival celebrated only in Tiru with over 2 million people in attendance for the lighting of the flame on Mt. Arunachala. Last year David and I streamed the event from our rooftop. We are planning to do the same this year so look for the link to the stream in the next blog entry!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Miss India vs the Cows

Miss India  (the bicycle) at home in Tiruvannamalai, South India
I'm not sure if I have mentioned this before in my blog, but I have a bicycle here in Tiruvannamalai; her name is Miss India. The name is emblazoned on the mud guard near the back tire. I was told it's not actually a 'mud' guard but a 'sari' guard for female passengers riding on the back of the bike. I like the fact that my bike has a sari guard and that someone had the good sense to put such a thing on a bike to protect women's saris.

At any rate, Miss India was seriously neglected during the hot season here. With temperatures hovering near 38+ degrees Celsius (100+ Fahrenheit), it was all I could do to make it to the bedroom for my afternoon nap during the dog days of the South Indian summer. There is no central A/C at our house in Tiruvannamalai, but we do have a room A/C that works, if and when the power is on....but that's another story.

So, now that the days are markedly cooler, I have begun taking Miss India for a daily meander along the country roads between our house and Mt. Arunachala. It's very much rural India; goats and cows are frequent travelers on the one lane roads here.

Yesterday, Miss India and I were going the wrong direction at milking time near the local milking station. Baby calves followed their mothers down the dusty dirt road coming directly at us. This happens on a much lesser scale at times, but yesterday Miss India and I were surrounded by a herd of dutiful cows headed resolutely to their evening milking session. I have a small bell on the handlebar of my bike, but the soft tinkle of the bell did little to stop the forward movement of the cows, so I gave up. Miss India and I were swallowed up for a few moments in bovine bliss.

I head back to Chennai and my office in corporate India on Monday morning. Miss India will wait here in Tiruvannamalai under my husband's watchful eye until our next non-corporate Indian adventure. I can't wait.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Happy Diwali 2012!

Today India celebrates the festival of Dewali. From our front veranda in Tiruvannamalai, I can hear the distant popping of firecrackers and exploding of bottle rockets. Before making India my home nearly 18 months ago, I had always thought of Diwali as a quiet 'festival of lights' full of sweets, candles, friends, family and gifts of new clothes for the children.

As luck would have it, last year I spent Diwali 2011 in Chennai where the sound of firecrackers and bottle rockets shook the windows and rattled plates and glasses in my kitchen. I found myself diving for cover until I finally acclimated to the constant explosions. I wasn't prepared at all for the 'real' Diwali. After doing a bit of research, I found that, traditionally, firecrackers were used to chase away evil spirits. Now, it seems that the louder and noisier the pyrotechnics, the better. It's a 48 hour show stopping celebration sure to rival any 4th of July type extravaganza in the US.

My office is closed today, so it really is a day off to relax, work in the garden, eat some sticky sweet treats and enjoy the noise and celebration that is Diwali in India.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cyclone Nilam

After my last entry, life became very interesting. I did not end up going into Chennai for work since weather reports showed that a cyclone (hurricane) was headed towards Chennai within the next two days. I knew that my office manager would just tell us to work from home in Chennai, so I texted my boss on Sunday night and told him that I wanted to stay in Tiru since Chennai would most likely be flooded for the duration of the week when the storm finally hit the city.

We had been watching the weather news and CNN reports on our TV. The weather was getting ugly along the East Coast of the US with Frankenstorm Sandy and, at the same time, the weather here was gearing up for a cyclone just making its way from the Bay of Bengal towards Chennai. As we watched scenes of the aftermath of Sandy flash across our TV screen, we were tracking the course of what was now called Cyclone Nilam making its way toward the state of Tamil Nadu, where we live. We managed to find an interesting group of weather bloggers who are up 24/7 reporting on the tropical storms that may affect India.

KEA Weather Blog:

Cyclone Nilam made landfall last night nearly 100 km from us but we felt the winds and rain all day yesterday. According to our homemade rain gauge, which is one of our dogs' bowl sitting out in the garden, we received about 10 cm of rain from the storm. I don't plan to go into Chennai until next Monday. The photos we are getting online of the city makes me thankful that I did not go in. It's a flooded mess. My coworkers have not gone into the office for the past two days and said it has been a nightmare getting around the city. Reports say that the cyclone has headed across India to the west, not to the north as was predicted.

All is all, the global weather patterns have been wild this week. Update soon with photos.