My summer of volunteer in Spiti leads me to a nunnery in the Morang village of the valley, in the backdrop of snow-hooded Himalayas and on the shore of the Spiti River. Read more
Posts tagged ‘culture’
“Experiencing a country through its cities is like judging a book by its cover.” ~yours truly.
Welcome to Gargnano. An unassuming little village on the northern shores of Lake Garda in Italy, away from the touristy towns of Desenzano and Sirmione. Here everyone knows everyone else. Two days is how long it takes for the locals to know me, despite my broken language. Read more
My 17-year old self landed on the shores of sunny Singapore in 2005, filled with curiosity to see the other side of Asia. Despite my 5-year long stint, some things about this tiny country continue to surprise me, and I’m not talking chewing gum bans and jay-walking fines. Read more
A wedding is a must-attend to graduate in the understanding of a culture. A batch-mate at work took the plunge last night, giving me my first sneak peak into a Chinese-Singaporean wedding.
The title’s a misnomer. It’s a Singaporean tradition in which the groom must earn the right to his bride. The groom, accompanied by his brothers (the western equivalent of the best man), shows up early in the morning at the bride’s house. They are greeted by the bridesmaids and tasked to pass tests on life’s essential skills (culinary, physical, endurance etc). Before the tasks started, all the brothers were made to sign indemnity forms! In this particular wedding, the tasks were considered rather mild, and included doing push-ups, decorating a cake, dancing & eating dumplings of 4 kinds – sweet, sour, spicy (stuffed with chilli) & bitter (boiled with panadol!) After completing all the tasks, the groom is given the key to his bride’s room where she waits in her bridal gown – rescuing the girl, Bollywood style
The gate crashing is followed by a tea ceremony at the groom’s house, where the bride & the groom kneel down and serve tea to the groom’s parents, as a symbol of respect.
I was part of this, primarily dinner, at the ballroom at a hotel. Lack of much literature online of what to wear, what to gift, what to expect, prompted me to compose this post! A simple party dress sufficed – the range of dressing varied from very evening wear to rather casual wear. In my little research, I had read that black & white were considered inappropriate to be worn at a Chinese wedding, because black signifies death / bad fortune while white is the distinct color of the bride. However, black was a prominent color at the wedding and the tradition is mostly limited to the much older generation.
Much to my surprise, the reception area had a registration booth for guests to tick against their names & see their pre-determined table numbers! There was a box to drop the red packets – the ang-paos – the standard practice is to give cash the equivalent of your seat at the ballroom (or gift vouchers of the same amount). The sit down dinner was interspersed with videos of the bride & the groom growing up as individuals & as a couple, along with one on the gate crashing before.
I feel so much more in the know of Chinese culture!
[I still keep my view on marriages being societal rather than necessary, but more on that later.]
I am trying to stifle the fan within me as I write this post, because objectivity is important. There is a 4-letter word doing the rounds on Indian news channels and I cannot hold my silence any more. My intention here is merely to weigh the arguments I have been constructing in my head since June 16, rant about the media, and assess the state of affairs in my dear country.
If you haven’t figured out yet, I am talking about Shiney Ahuja. The 4-letter word is rape.
I quote from Wikipedia (which I am way more tempted to trust as a source than everything that appears as breaking news on CNN IBN, NDTV, Headlines Today and the like):
On the evening of Sunday, June 14 2009, a household maid working at Ahuja’s house lodged a compliant with the Mumbai Police alleging that Ahuja raped her when they were alone that same afternoon. She further claimed that he threatened her life to prevent her from disclosing the incident.
At first glance, or if you have already been victimized by the media’s daily rants during the initial days of his arrest, the case might sound straightforward. He’s a celebrity and a guy, she’s female and she’s poor. He HAS to be wrong.
Before you cringe at where this post might lead, remember that I belong to the weaker sex, and I am very aware of the extent to which mankind is capable of stooping. I know that everyday, our country witnesses a shameful number of rape cases, in the Capital, in The Valley, even in our City of dreams.
In a country so frequented by this heinous crime therefore, an accused person is deemed guilty until proven otherwise. And of course, our media ensured it stands by that.
1. He is a celebrity: Weakest argument. Think about it; given his status and physical appearance, he could, forgive my candor, indeed get paid for the act that he allegedly forcibly performed on his victim. In fact, the very celebrity status makes it that much easier and tempting to frame him.
2. The victim’s testimony: Gone are the days when a woman’s dignity, her pride in her sanctity, could be taken at face value and her word accepted as evidence. The greed for money has darkened even the virtue of innocence our society once hailed as sacred; undoubtedly we have progressed, and going by the case made for The White Tiger, it may even be justified. A conspiracy theory about the victim’s boyfriend being in huge debt is already breaking the news.
3. He confessed: So says the media, as tipped by the police. I hate to say it, but if the prevalence of corruption among our safe-keeping force is to be believed, my best guess is that it couldn’t find a better source of income than demanding bribe of a celebrity. According to his lawyer though, he has made no such confession. Either way, any confession made out of court is not accepted by the law as evidence.
4. His marital relationship: This is when the media retracted its endless accusations and began considering the possibility of Shiney being framed. So far, he was also being accused of a failed marriage, by you know who. But in what I can only describe as a brave press conference, his wife gracefully stepped into the limelight and vouched for her husband.
I would love to hear your take if you have been following this case as closely as me.
I must agree and admit that in an accusation as sensitive and private as rape, evidence is hard to accumulate, and therefore justice hard to administer to either of the involved parties. I sure hope that the truth will surface in this, and in all such cases.
May justice prevail.
PS: On a lighter note & like my friend aptly said, Bollywood is fast!
The soul of an Indian is incomplete without a journey into the heart of rural India. The 2 weeks I spent in the slum region of Hegdenagar / Kamanahalli (to which I partly owe my long absence from the blogosphere) has transformed my perspective on India’s development, and my own ambitions and issues.
Hegdenagar is an ignored little village, about an hour’s distance from Bangalore city, and a few decades’ development. Honestly though, I had imagined a replica of the Dharavi slums, and Hegnenagar’s cemented, albiet small and dilapidated houses, alleviated, if only for the shortest time, my anticipation of the living standards of our rural countrymen. I learnt later that most Dharavi-styled slums stand on illegal land, and Habitat India has fought its fair battle to abide by the law and take Hegdenagar through its first stage of development. The same houses which teased us with a heartening peek into rural life, home 8-10 families in their 300-350 sq-ft boundaries, math that left me bewildered. Constructing new homes for such families that could afford to move out formed the bulk of the physical aspect of our project. Unfortunately, sanitation, largely government terrain, is still ignored and untouched, and the stench of uncovered drains and waste threatens to curb any real progress.
We got our hands dirty and covered in cement and sand, shovelled and sifted sand and stones, lifted and transported stone bricks weighing 22 kgs, tore down and built and plastered walls, and experienced the hardships of construction workers while toiling under the scorching summer sun. But construction, even though a 9 to 4 task, was only a filler in our interaction with the residents of Hegdenagar, whose swarms of children breathed life into each sweaty afternoon, and whose women defined new levels of endurance in their heart-wrenching stories. However, what began as a construction project became, in no time, an immersion into what Aravind Adiga describes as the darkness in The White Tiger.
Hegdenagar proved, among other things, that all children, irrespective of religion, upbringing and family income, dream the same dreams. Everyone wants to fly on a plane, devour chocolates and become a doctor. And everyone is united in spirit by cricket, which never failed to transform the narrow lanes of the village into a festival of cheering, hooting and fighting. The kids, with their innocent smiles and sparkling eyes, and their excitement and curiosity in befriending new people, evoked in us something more than sympathy in their vulnerable living conditions; a desire to inspire them so that someday, they too could see the world that lies beyond the borders of Hegdenagar, a sense of gratitude because unfair as it may be, the odds at birth were only slightly tilted in our favor, and a conviction that by virtue of those odds, we have the chance to impact the future of our country.
While The Aasha Build has altered my impression of rural India, Habitat India has strengthened my faith in the non-profit sector. Although Habitat For Humanity’s cause is projected purely as housing, Habitat India is involved in the lives of its beneficiaries to a commendable extent. In Hegdenagar, for instance, Habitat works with a smaller NGO called Birds, which directly oversees self-help groups in the region (a concept which demands a dedicated blog post). Birds runs a joint bank account for these women-only groups, supports microentrepreneurs, encourages savings, and ensures timely repayments of home loans for homes approved and built by Habitat; in short, Habitat and Birds together try to create some semblance of fair opportunity for all. Over the course of 14 days, I met some really inspiring, incredible people, who have dedicated their entire lives to causes they believe in. I hope to document their stories on The Aasha Build blog.
Tangibly, our team completed 2.5 houses, and contributed the cost price of 5 houses, which have been added to Habitat’s revolving housing fund. Intangibly though, the people of Hegdenagar showed me a face of India that I have sparingly dared to imagine. The hospitality and warmth demonstrated by the residents despite their modest living conditions was both suprising and touching. The hope that glows in the faces of its children tugged at our hearts, the innocence of their youth stirred an affection that I know will draw us back to the world that is rural India.
*Photos courtesy Deep & Aditya, The Aasha Build’s official photographers.
Somewhere among the clouds lie the highlands of Tagaytay, green and misty, 2 hours away from the busy city life of Manila, the capital. It is here that I spent the weekend, treated to a gorgeous view of the Taal lake, and among people so warm and friendly that it almost felt like home.
The trip was sponsored by Accenture, for a 3-day Student Leadership Conference (SLC), during which all of Taal Vista was filled with what I believe to be some of the brightest minds in the Philippines. It never ceases to amaze me that despite our geographical remoteness, the journey we undertake as students tends to bind us in no time at all, like we were always in it together. The SLC was styled with seminars conducted by senior Accenture executives, and intersparsed with team activities that made me feel like a college freshie again!
The highlight of the stay was the post-conference bonding with students from different parts of the Philippines, including Baguio, Cebu and Manila. It took me less than a day to become a fan of the Filipino culture, and it took them less than a day to appear as though they’ve all known each other forever! I admire how Filipinos are so supportive of each other, so full of life, so hospitable, and despite the language barrier, so welcoming.
I spent my last day sightseeing around Tagaytay. Low visibility due to the mist and clouds made a boat-ride to the Taal Volcano too unsafe, so we had to settle for People’s Park in the Sky, apparently the highest point in Tagaytay. It is the unfinished mansion of a former Filipino president, and offers a captivating view of the city and the volcano. The Picnic Grove, our second sight-seeing destination, is a family hangout, much like a mini park. I’m still thrilled by our Zip Liner ride there, a non-automated ride over the forest; it’s the closest I’ll probably ever get to flying!
On another note, this trip made me realize how Slumdog Millionaire has shaped people’s perceptions of India. Everyone seems to have watched the movie, some have memorized the lyrics to Jai Ho, and largely, most imagine India entirely as depicted in the movie. I even got asked if kids in India really jump into poop! If you’ve ever wondered, I’d like to direct you to this Slumdog review by my friend Pranav, or this one, by another friend, Varun.
Anyway, it was a quite a weekend, with my first gambling visit to a casino and my first encounter with San Miguel. I’m still beating myself about not staying longer and travelling, but hopefully, there will be a next time.
Till then, Sige!
Astrology has been a rampant theme in several Shakespearean plays, together with omens, folklores & superstitions. The soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar, “Beware the ides of March,” has made today subconsciously linked with a sense of foreboding. Despite all science, the human mind can be trained to shun logic and stick to intuition.
Here’s a collection of some rather whacky superstitions from around the world:
#1: Korea: Don’t wash your hair on an exam day. Apparently, people believed that when they washed their hair, their memories were cleaned by the water, making them forget the stuff they had studied.
#2: Mexico, America: Counting stars will make your eyes look like those of a fish, or cause corns on your feet.
#3: Korea: If you marry someone with a five years difference in age, you’ll fight with your spouse every day, but you won’t get divorced. If you marry someone six years older or younger than you, you and your spouse will live happily, but you will always be beggars.
#4: Russia: If you look in a broken mirror, you’ll have bad luck. If you eat and look in a mirror at the same time, you will choke your luck. If you drink at the same moment you look in a mirror, you will improve your luck.
#5: Thailand: You will meet your soul mate soon if you dream that a snake is holding you tightly.
#6: Turkey: If you stand between two people whose names are the same, you should wish for something because your wish will come true.
#7: Venezuela: Never give a packet of handkerchiefs as a present because if you do, this can make the two people (the giver and the receiver) have a fight.
#8: Afghanistan: If you don’t cover your bald head, it will start raining.
#9: Bangladesh: If you eat an egg (especially a boiled egg) before appearing for an exam, it will make you get a result like an egg – a zero.
#10: Portugal: Find a penny, pick it up, all day long, you’ll have good luck.
Since we just passed Friday the 13th, I was tempted to read up on paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th, which primarily stems from the combination of Friday (considered unlucky in Nordic mythology) and the number 13. Its origins are vague, mostly passed down in oral tradition.
Do you believe in superstitions? What superstitions did you grow up with?
One of the side effects of turning 21 is that the word ‘marriage’ seems to be floating in the air, all the time. It makes people emanate all kinds of sentiments – obsession, fantasy, detest, and the most boring, acceptance. Lately, too many of my discussions with people revolve around the subject, and I hope this post is going to be a closure.
Given how rapidly our Indian culture has progressed, generation gaps are so glaringly obvious. Apparently generation gaps work in multiples of 7, and on some level, I have started to notice that. Anyway, this cultural progression seems to have been segregated by community, and some orthodox ones are still in the 20th century phase of arranged marriage, where girls are showcased to boys and only one-sided approval is necessary. I won’t address such an outrageously ridiculous custom here.
Recently however, I had a long debate with a friend who compares arranged marriages to Swayamvaras of history. The similarity is uncanny, if you think about it. Back in the day, suitors would line up and a girl would choose her husband by putting a garland around him. Arranged marriages (modern ones, with a courtship period et al) work in the same way, except that both sides get to choose. I bought my friend’s argument uptil here, but I beg to differ when this arrangement of marriage is given an upper hand over a ‘love’ marriage. Agreed, once in the marriage, the risks in both cases are about the same, but to begin with, an arranged marriage escalates the risk involved. While it’s possible to fall out of love in both, the possibility of falling ‘in’ love, unlike in an arranged marriage, is clearly definite in a love marriage. I rest my case.
In the bigger scheme of things, it still never seizes to amaze me why people need a legal stamp to endorse their relationship. To a large extent, it seems societal, redundant and conformist. None other than the state of Thakeray seems to agree with me, for Maharashtra has become the first in India to legalize live-in relationships.
There’s a whole anti-marriage literature that I’m going to read on Wikipedia now. So much for closure.
If you wear eyeglasses, I’m sure you can remember what it felt like the first time you wore them. Personally, I was in denial for 2 years before I got my first pair. My bespectacled self realized that my whole world had been a blur. Suddenly, everything was bright and all those blotches had defined shapes. I could see clearly again, thanks to Salvino D’Armate, peace be upon him.
Unfortunately, millions the world over, and nearly 15 million people in India can never experience their first time. I shall resist brooding over how this affects their quality of life and how unfair the financial inequality in our country is. I will however mention that the aftermath of unaided poor vision is often blindness.
A while ago, a friend told me how some IIT students had found this problem an ingenious solution. Today, I stumbled upon a similar initiative by Lions Club International. Apparently it has been in place for over 80 years! I’m still blown away by the idea, and to prevent further anticipation, here goes:
One can barely estimate the number of spectacle lenses that must go to waste each time a person’s eye-power changes, making it necessary to replace old, used pairs of spectacles. Throughout the year, Lions Clubs collect such obsolete pairs of spectacles, donated by owners who can no longer use them. These pairs are cleaned and classified by the power of their lenses. Volunteers then go to rural areas in developing countries and each pair of eyeglasses finds a new pair of eyes as soon as a suitable match is found. Really, a bright idea!
If you are still hoarding your old pair of eyeglasses, donate them now and let someone see the world again!