Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dussehra / Durga Puja - Juhu (Mumbai)

For three years Paro has been inviting us to the North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Puja. This is our last opportunity, so we went to Bombay for Dussehra -- the holiday that marks the end of Navratri / Durga Puja.

The Bollywood roots of this Durga Puja show from the very beginning. While most pandals have a fancy entry gate, this one is made to look like a temple entrance. A famous early Bollywood director helped start this puja over 65 years ago.
The entryway -- again made to look like a temple hallway. The Meenakhshi Temple in Madurai was the inspiration for this year's Durga Puja set. While it looks like stone, it's mostly fabricated from plaster. Very impressive.
Another view of the entryway.
The main pandal. The air-conditioning is very welcome! Durga is the center attraction, with Ganesha and Laxmi on her right, and Saraswati and Kartikeya on her left.
A closer view of Durga.
Durga is Shiva's wife, so there was a Nandi bull facing the Goddess and Shiva. (See next photo below.)
Shiva sits atop the entrance to the pandal.
The puja serves about 3000 meals each day. This is the kitchen area where the food is prepared. (We got the "backstage tour" because Paro's family is one of the families that started this Durga Puja many years ago.)
We returned in the evening to bid good-bye to the gods. Disassembly of the set had already commenced, the priests had left to return to their homes, and the gods were being prepared for their immersion in the Arabian Sea.

Women went up to each god, starting with Durga, and added sindoor (red powder) to the face, cheeks, and hands, then fed them a bit of sweets. Some also performed a brief aarti with an oil lamp.
After anointing the gods, women greet and apply sindoor to each other. Red is everywhere! In the background you can see the set being dismantled. It's too bad these amazing sets are simply trashed. In the US these sets could be sold/auctioned to help with next year's expenses.

Navratri & Durga Puja - Vapi

Navratri is a nine-night celebration for the goddess Durga. It is Gujarat's "specialty" festival with garba dancing past midnight. (Of course, the dances don't really start until 10 PM.)

The Amba Mata temple inVapi is all decked-out for Navratri. ("Amba Mata" is another name for Durga. "The goddess" takes many forms and names in Hinduism. I find this very confusing!)
The temple is for worship and having "darshan" with the goddess. The real celebration takes place at the garba dances. Just about every apartment building has it's own garba. There are competing loud sound systems every 50 meters or so in residential areas.
Another apartment block garba venue.
There are also a number of large garba celebrations in town. This one is sponsored by the Rotary Club and is its major fundraiser for schools and hospitals. The costumes are the very elaborate traditional Gujarati ones. The music is loud enough to feel like you're on the receiving end of CPR with each drumbeat.
A small child gets a formal photograph in his garba garb.
While Gujaratis like to dance the night away, Bengalis take the occasion more seriously with "Durga Puja".

The local Bengali community has been holding a Durga Puja for 32 years now. The traditional Durga set holds the goddess and her children. From left to right: Ganesha, Laxmi, Saraswati, and Kartikeya.
A closer view of Durga. You can see her elaborate clothing. Her ten arms hold ten different weapons that vanquished ten different incarnations of the buffalo demon, Mahishasura. Her "vehicle" is a lion (or sometimes a tiger).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

This Week in Vapi

I'll post on Navratri in a few days. In the meantime, here are sights around Vapi this week.

Nothing says festival season like street carts selling make-you-own garland supplies. The chilies are not for eating -- they're for the garlands. Note that the marigolds are sold by weight, not piece.
This is the local version of a "food truck" -- a food bicycle, complete with umbrella (for rain during monsoon, for sun during the rest of the year). The bicycle frame is specially equipped to carry the pails of food and the umbrella. There are also similarly equipped motorcycles.
There were probably 50 people squeezed into this tempo (small truck).
We have gecko inside our house that helps with insect control. Outside are lizards like this that have exceptionally long tails.

Friday, October 16, 2015

WestRock Morai Office Pooja

WestRock held a pooja on Monday before officially opening their new office facilities in Morai. The pooja was held in the reception area.

The little idol is Ganesha; the large one is Durga.
Ready to start.
The end of the pooja.
The completed altar.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dharavi (Mumbai)

Yesterday I finally took the famous (infamous?) tour of the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. The tour, run by Reality Tours, takes a 2-hour walk through Asia's largest slum -- 1 million people live and work on a site that's about 500 acres.

For privacy reasons, photography is not permitted on the tour, but at one point, the tour climbs ladders to the roof, and photos are permitted.

A view of Dharavi from a rooftop in the plastics recycling area. Just about everything that can be recycled is processed in Dharavi -- including such truly dangerous industries as melting aluminum cans into aluminum ingots. The blue bridge structure is an under-construction pedestrian walkway over the main market street in Dharavi. It also will be a pedestrian connection between the Central Railroad and the Western Railroad.
Roof tops are used for drying and storage. As you can see, mobile phone service is available, and most residents have a satellite dish for television. The electricity supply is among the best in India.
These high-rises are part of a slum redevelopment project, which has its plusses and minuses. Sanitation is much better in modern units, but the modern housing does not provide for the cottage industries that many residents depend upon for their income.
Sanitation is a huge problem. With only 1 toilet for every 700 residents, preventable diseases are common. Nonetheless, the houses are generally very clean, and every cubic inch of space is used. There were no beggars or hawkers, and everyone seemed to have a job and a purpose. Violence is low -- you feel quite safe on the tour.

If you find yourself in Mumbai, I highly recommend this tour. It shows a side of Mumbai that is usually sensationalized in movies (most famously, Slumdog Millionaire -- a movie which most Indians find disrespectful at best). Go with Reality Tours -- they target their profits to improving education and lives in Dharavi. Not to mention that their guides are outstanding in their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Getting Ready for Navratri

Navratri starts on Tuesday -- nine nights of garba and dandiya dancing. The music is so loud and powerful that it can feel like it's performing CPR on your chest. Ear protection required!

Setting up for garba in a housing complex.
Chaniya cholis for sale. ("Chaniya" is the skirt; "choli" is the blouse.)
The men's costumes are as colorful as the women's. The children's versions are particularly cute.
More garba costumes.
Some of the dances require dandiya sticks.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


If you hate telemarketing calls at home (I certainly do), just think about that hard sell in a foreign language. I get about 3 calls a day on my cell phone -- mostly from TataSky (our satellite TV provider)  and Vodafone (mobile phone).

About half of them are robo-calls -- easy to hang up on. The Bollywood beat when you connect is a dead giveaway. The others have a real person on the other end. I ask to speak English, but most of the callers haven't any idea what I'm asking for. Even if I get an English speaker, I usually have trouble following the pitch -- sometimes I can't even figure out who the company is. I usually just hang up. Then I get an SMS -- "You just spoke to 'Mike'. Please rate our service." No answer from me there either!

Nice to know that some annoyances are universal!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Another Vapi Sunday

It's been too hot to do much walking around Vapi this week, so there are only three pictures this week.

A new statue of Shiva has appeared under a peepal tree near the railroad tracks. I've photographed the tree a number of times because it's a favorite place to leave offerings and images.
Only in India. Our favorite ice cream shop was very low on stock today. There's been a transporters strike for several days, and apparently supplies have not come through from Mumbai. But while we were there for our regular Sunday waffle cone, a large shipment came in by tuk-tuk. Only in India would a truck carrying ice cream also possibly be carrying people sleeping on top of the cargo. Of course, I suspect that those who might be sleeping in the back of a truck probably can't read English!
I'd suspected for a long time that Vapi's rain would be quite acidic from all the coal burning and chemical pollution in town. Last spring I brought back some pH strips from the US. We had a rain shower on Friday evening, and I finally remembered to collect a rainwater sample. A pH of 4.0 is quite acidic. "Pure" rainwater should have pH of about 5.6. (It's not a neutral pH 7.0 because rain has a lot of dissolved carbon dioxide in it, which as "carbonic acid", makes rain weakly acidic.)