Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Dussehra to Self-Absorption

During the month of Kartika two big things happen: the Durga pooja, and Dussehra. Dussehra is the celebration of Rama over Ravana. In the Ramayan, the great Sanskrit epic, Ram and Sita are happily married, until Ravan, the King of Lanka, abducts Sita. Ram teams up with Hanuman and they track down Ravan, and in the end Ram and Ravan have a space fight on their chariots and Ravan dies. Even though he's a bad guy, he's also a mahatma -- a great soul, an intellectual -- and so during this festival his defeat is celebrated, but he's not vilified. It's rarely so black-and-white in Hinduism.

A giant Ravan paper statue, awaiting the fire. They are built with lots of firecrackers in their bellies, so they explode with great fanfare.

Like this.

Ravan with his ten sexy heads. This picture is both very Indian and non-Indian. Indian because hilarious; non-Indian because a little risque. It made it onto the internet, but I don't think it would make it past the TV censors.

Ram was assisted by Hanuman, here a small boy. On his chest is the word Ram written in lipstick. Hanuman is the ideal representation of pure devotion, selfless worship. He's also physically powerful (able to grow in stature so that he can step from India to Lanka in a single stride), and the god of preference for the North Indian wrestlers.

At night I like to walk around my colony and out to the main road. In this picture, the homeless are sleeping on a road divider as huge trucks fly past.

My pooch friends and bodyguards. They walk with me late at night, chasing down cows or other dogs who get too near.

When night, animals rule. Indian nights feel different than in other countries, because the few hours of quiet and desolation are in such stark contrast to the usual crush of humanity.

My eye.

My face.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Babies, Animals, Durga Pooja and Man with Vegetable

My neighbor. I call him "the Clever Mouse" in Hindi as a nickname. He doesn't talk, just cries and looks with big inquiring eyes. He often wears a shirt sans pants. There's something particularly Indian about toddlers wearing oversized shirts and no garments for their nether regions. In this picture, he's all dressed up for a pooja service -- but no pants!

There are two dogs that patrol the colony. Of course we're close associates. The other one (not seen) has a keen street instinct, and is all business when it comes to a brawl. This guy, Moti, is a bit of a lover, not the smartest dog but somehow he gets along. He follows me back to my room, and if I don't let him in he sits at the door with this pathetic look.

In Nepal I collected some masks; this one is my favorite. Whenever the kids are making too much noise in the hallway, I'll rush out of my room wearing only a lungi and my dragon mask, and curse them with future impotence. You should see the look of sheer terror on their little faces.

In another post, I'll show pics of my Hindi tutor and her extended family. For now, this is her father-in-law, at his vegetable stall. Next to him is his "nauker" or servant. The going price for Bihari labor these days: 2,000 rupees ($40) per month, and free food and accommodation. I like the man very much, and we often talk, but I can't help but feel like hiring cheap labor from the Darkness (the state of Bihar) is ethically unsupportable, India's big moral failing, just like Americans hiring Mexican workers under-the-table for $2.00 an hour (only child labor is a big issue in India still).

What a cute cat, my best friend in the colony. You should see her hunt lizards; completely ruthless. Down goes the head first, and then the tail and legs, sticking out like a lollipop, eventually slow and stop.

About once a week outside my apartment there will be a parade. Either Sikh or Hindu. If Hindu, they'll take the image out of its house in the temple, load it onto a 3-wheeler and scoot it around, and women will follow and chant, and men will dance and play the drums. This is Durga. Big Durga festival these days.

Indian style.

With my Korean friends in their ritzy part of Delhi, in their posh apartment, eating Kimchi and playing cards unto our heart's content.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Claire Danes, Communism, the God who Feasts on the Sun and Moon, Barchester Towers and Kathmandu

I went to Nepal for about a week to renew my India visa. After dropping off the application on Thursday, I had until Wednesday, and wanting to get out of Kathmandu proper, I took to the ridge around the valley. Kathmandu basically sits in a valley. There's Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur -- the ancient capital. But just a matter of kilometers away is country life. Since I'm condemned to Delhi, i was looking for a more rustic experience, so I fled for the foothills. This picture is the view from the ridge right over the Kathmandu Valley.

Two sisters. I think the elder looks a little like a young Claire Danes. But I am always finding the celebrity equivalent of the people I meet. Just today in Delhi I met a man who bore a striking resemblance to John Malkovitch.

A no-good gang of kite-flying goons, laying waste to the countryside in pursuit of rupees and pens. Notice the one boy's t-shirt.

Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, a mammoth of Victorian fiction. One of my favorite sentences: Wit is the outward mental casing of the man, and has no more to do with the inner mind of thought and feelings than have the rich brocaded garments of the priest at the altar with the asceticism of the anchorite below them, whose skin is tormented with sackcloth, and whose body is half flayed with rods.

This house quite literally sprouted.

A half-day's walk too me to Changu Nayaran, the second-oldest temple in Nepal. Here the sun is setting over the the pagoda.

This is the underside of the main structure within Changu Nayaran. It's unusual for the strong colors, and the animistic chandelier.

A tender moment -- a shepherd with her baby goat.

And a boy with his pup.

And me with my pup.

A moss-covered stupa in Thamel, a subset of Kathmandu.

A hartal, or protest -- I believe for the Communist party.

I bought a few thangkas, or Tibetan scroll paintings, from my friend here, Sumon. He gave me a good deal, I hope.

An example. This one is a kalachakra mandala -- behind it is complex Buddhist philosophy. Basically it represents the enlightened person, along with the four cardinal directions and the five essential elements. But simply as a geometric design it's a worthy specimen.

Rahula, variously the God of Planets, a fierce incarnation of Shiva, the bringer of disease, the defeater of the Nagas (snakes), or the swallower of the Sun and Moon during eclipses. This kind of black thangka became popular in Tibet as recently as the 16th century. Notice Rahula's nine heads, each one representing a psychological state of mind.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Delhi, Krishna's Birthday, and the Local Restaurant

I’ve been living in the Punjabi Basti (Colony) across the street from the Tibetan Refugee Camp, in North Delhi. I’ll be here until December picking up local habits and studying language, and also putting my graduate school applications in order – I hope to apply to anthropology programs by the December 15th deadline. My neighborhood is on the government utility grid, which means that the only water available is through a back-up pump that runs whenever my landlord feels like it, and there are scheduled power cuts from 3-4pm and 7-8pm, and unscheduled cuts throughout the night. This is my studio apartment.

The best part of my bathroom you can’t see in the photo. Someone knocked a two foot hole into the wall, so there’s lots of fresh air to compensate for the lack of a flushing toilet.

My neighbors have about 30 kids. This one likes to waltz into my room and play with my earplugs. He cries much more than he talks, and he always has this deer-in-the-headlights look.

Today was Krishna’s birthday, but the celebration started last night. A parade marched down my road, and these boys wanted their picture taken in front of the lead horses. Maybe the boy on the left is trying to avoid the Avian Flu. Two cases hit the south, and there's mass hysteria.

Tonight at midnight a group of neighbors amassed in the local temple to celebrate.

Some dancing girls.

Some acting men (including boys representing girls, like on the Elizabethan stage).

And here was the great moment of release: baby Krishna in his basket getting gingerly carried around the room while everybody jockeyed to touch the baby’s auspicious feet.

Twice a day I take my meals here. It’s called a “dhaba” – a roadside restaurant. They use clay ovens to make some delicious north Indian breads, and their specialty food is the potato. In this picture, “bhai” (elder brother) is dumping my eggplant into a takeaway baggie.

The bread maker. This guy rolls a wicked roti. I call him “bhai” also. He’s Hindu but he wears a necklace with a holographic image of Christ being crucified. We met up and went to the temple tonight at midnight. He's a really hard worker. Starts at 9am, finishes after midnight, seven days a week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Last Pics from Ladakh

Vairochana, of the four directions.

Sometimes the wall deterioration actually enhances the mystery.

Gonpa doors.

A wrathful deity riding on a Silk Road camel.

The Shargol Gonpa, built into the face of a mountain.

A drum.

In Jaipur, a depiction of Krishna, his consort Radha, and Kali in the form of a black stone.

Some monks replacing the fabric over the entrance to the Padmasambhava Gonpa.

The Leh Palace.

The Lamayuru Gonpa, famous all the world over for their tomato soup and soft mattresses.

Also in Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal, or Wind Palace, which was once a thriving harem. The small windows allowed the courtesans to view the road without being viewed themselves.

A Ladakhi rustic playing the part.

Inside, on the second floor is a huge statue of Padmasambhava. You can identify him by his semi-wrathful moustache, and his vajra staff, which will always have some impaled heads on it, topped off by a smiling skull.

Giant Shakyamuni Buddha at the Shay Gonpa.

Elaborate butter candles.

An unusual representation.

A mask.

A huge butter candle illuminating the thousand Buddhas on the wall behind.