Friday 26 February 2010

Food for thought

The last two weeks have seen my diet diversify - I got some really good fish from the market one weekend, and my local grocer got me some chicken this week. So I have been eating well.  I say this because I'm brought to attention sharpely , by an article in the Hindustan Times  registering just how fortunate I am even when eating only veg, that I am in a very priviledge position here. Many people do not have enough to eat.

I've talked before about the price of things and how much people earn when they do work. And also about some of the various government schemes and initiatives like NGREGS to enable each household to get some number of days work per year. Then there is the mid day meal program for schools where a school is given so much allowance to prepare and deliver a meal to the children. These are all great ideas in theory but they fall down when they are implemented in practice.

There are a number of reasons for this. First most tribal village people are illiterate, they cannot read nor write. Secondly, many villages and hamlets, especially in the more remote areas, on the hilltops,  are distant from road and transport links and this means government officials never visit these places. Quite often their occupants are not accounted for, known or acknowledged by local offialdom.

How then are these people meant to know about their entitlements? There is no Tv, no radio, no newspapers. First, they don't know about the NGREGA Act so they don't know about their entitlement to work, then they don't know they have to register for a job card and then they don't realise that they have to go and demand their work entitlement from local officals. The only way they can find out these things to is for someone to tell them. Government officals do not visit, so they don't tell them.

Actually local officials are demotivated from getting the people registered, because if they register and then the official cannot find them work, he has to pay a fine. It is meant to motivate the finding of jobs such as the setting up of public works which need to be done eg repairing and building roads etc, but in practice it acts to disincentivise the offical from registerring too many people under the scheme. Sneaky bureacrats always finding the route to the easy life :)

Likewise with the mid day meal program for school kids. Great dea, give every  child a regular good meal in the middle of each day at school. Many children will attend school just to get the meal. In fact story has it that was how it arose in the first place with a young boy telling a Minister why he was hearding his family's animals and wasn't at school - "I can't learn if I don't eat". But how do parents know about this scheme? How do parents know that the food allowance for the school mid day meal is supposed to included fresh vegetables?  Some schools are only serving rice and dalh. If you do not know what is provided for you do not realise your child is  not getting it.

It is in these situations that many of the NGOs active in these areas come in. My NGO is no exception. It has established projects in many villages for different reasons, but the first thing it always does is to conduct a village survey. This establishes who lives where, what animals there are, what land they have, who gets their pension, who is not getting their pension, how many children there are, of what ages, whether they go to school or not, what resources the village has - water, forest, land, animals etc, how many households have ownership rights to their land, how many households are registered for the NGREGA job cards, how much work each of these households got last year and so far this year through the scheme, how relatvely weathy/poor each household is deemed to be by the other villagers etc etc . This in itself spins out a great amount of work for the NGO to do - for example working with villagers to construct water supply systems - not something done by any government scheme - but more about those works in a later post. The NGO then works with  the local village elders, PRI representatives and any other village organisations to increase people's awareness of issues, of their rights, and how to go about demanding and getting them. It gets mothers, not just the teachers, involved in the preparation of the mid day meal. It gets the women involved in cultivating and managing a vegetabe garden for the school. It gets every household a form for registering for the job card and these are taken en masse to the registration office by the village representatives taking it in turns to go with handholding support from the NGO - the idea being one or two applications can be lost or slip through the net, but several tens or hundreds cannot be dismissed away so easily. It makes the officals do their job. It educates the villagers how to work the system.

So back to the point about income, nutrition and food. Before you sit down to each dinner tonight please read the following article from today's Hindustan Times  - it really brings home the facts of life for many people living in the tribal areas of south and western Orissa - one of the poorest areas, in one of the poorest states in India.

When you read the Hindustan Times article you will see the difference in opinion about what the causes are - I suspect this reflects the lack of attention paid by local officialdom to these areas, these villages and these people - they do not visit, they do not record, they do not notice, for them these villages, these people quite simply do not exist. Contrast the Doctor's comments and the district state official's comments in the article  - quite a dispartity. I've also heard stories that local officials would take a cut of the money earned from work. They way around this is that NGO's are introducing tribal people to the banking system, establishing bank accounts and getting monies paid in, this way the step where cash is handed out to workers by the local officals is bypassed and the opportuity for their cash backhand is eliminated. If you are illiterate how do you know you are entitled to 80 Rps and have just signed for 80 Rps but have only been given 50Rps?
 Nice little earner, for someone! This is petty corrpution but it is pervasive. Take the local official who whist visiting says "Oh I see you are growing some really nice pumpkins!" What would you do? Give him one to show off how good they are, to be friendly and hospitable? Ok, until the next time when it is "I'll take two this time". I'm trying not to be too cynical here but I have been told that these things happen regularly.

So please read the article and think  for a moment,  contrast what it depicts to your own situation and what you are planning to eat for dinner tonight and the relatively small percentage of you income you will have spent on it. Perhaps it reads more like what you might be expecting to read about from some sub Saharan country, contrast that to the opulence of Bollywood and the Delhi elite, contrast that to the booming IT sectors in Bangalore. By the way another interesting income level - I met someoe here recently who works for McAfee in Bangalore in a middle management role. His salary is 2,200,000 Rps per year of which about 30,000 goes in taxes - compare that to the other salaries I've mentioned before. Yes it is a country of contrasts, of have's and have nots, separated perhaps less by caste nowadays than previously but still separated, and separated by language, education and the ability to access to information.

Thursday 25 February 2010

The Dongria Kondha of the Niyamgiri Hills, Western Orissa

This post is simply a reference to a Guardian Weekly article on the situation in the Niyamgiri Hills in Western Orissa . As I reported in my previous post my NGO is working with some of the villages belonging to these people.

Wednesday 24 February 2010


I am strangely compelled this evening to write.  It is with much sadness that I do because I found out today that, an only recently discovered light in this world, has all to soon been extinguished.

Jodhri's home was the Old Aged People's Home run by my NGO. I first met him not long after I came here when he came to help me move into my flat. He helped me unpack the things I'd bought to set up my home, and to take away all the packaging. He came again to help install the gas cylinder to supply my cooking hob. As I enountered him over the next few weeks he was always doing something, always there to lend a helping hand to Mr G who manages the home.

Physically he was of medium height, white haired, aged somewhere in the late 60s. He told me he originated from Calcutta but how he ended up here in southern Orissa I was never able to establish other than it was for work, but how long ago that was I couldn't understand. Oddly he was a Hindi speaker, with some, very rusty, English learnt in his youth. Every so often in one's live one meets someone who has a special quality about them. Jodhri had it. Let me try to explain.

I've just stared to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Early in that story it tells of the developing realtionship between the young girl Liesel and her adoptive papa, Hans Hubberman, as she settles into life in her new life with her foster parents. There are some tender moments in the book as the two of them "conspire" to teach Leisel to read, but reading together at night when her adoptive mother is not around. Children know when there is something about a person which is inherently good and to be trusted, and a bond is build between them.

When I was a child up to the age of about 6 or 7, my someone was my uncle John. Jodhri reminded me of him a great deal. Not just physically - they actually looked very similar with angular facial features, same built, same hair colour - but also in personality and disposition. John had served at Ypres in the first World War and although I did not realise until much later in my life, this had had a huge and lasting impact on him. He clearly suffered from shell shock. All I remember as a child was I loved his company - he'd take me out in my pram, and later for long walks, we played, we'd potter in the garden, or in the shed, making mud castles with the flowerpots, getting wet in the rain, and returning to see my mother's priceless face as I came home covered in muck. Like Liesel and Hans Hubberman, John and I would wink in conspiratorial delight! John was a very quiet reserved man, a postman and he used to take me to the annual Post Office Christmas party, which I suspect he enjoyed as much as I did. He was clearly very at home with the chidren he never had, he'd never married. All I'm sure because of the effect of his war experience. As with many at that time,  he'd been below sign up age when he enlisted. Behind his eyes was a deep sadness that at that age I did not understand. Eyes that have seen those sort of things look different to eyes which have not.

To me Jodri had those eyes, to me they told of a great loss or great sadness in his life. I have no idea what it was, although I do know that although he had a family he never saw or heard from them. He had no where to go and no one to go to, so he ended up in the Old Aged People's Home. In India, he was one of the lucky ones. I spent more time with Jodhri when my arm broke, he came with me to the hospital and sat with me throughout, looking after my bag, which I couldn't easily carry, just being there. It was so thoughtful.

Some time during the night on Saturday Johdri fell to his death. He'd been sleeping on the roof of the home, his spectacles still lay beside his mat. Mr G thinks he must have woken in the night, was perhaps a bit disorriented, and as he came down he fell. His head cracked open on impact and they found him dead in the morning. Everyone has been shocked as you can imagine. As is normal here, the creation is done very quickly, within the same day and took place on Sunday evening. So he was cremated before I even knew it had happened. Everyone from the home attended, all the Shakti staff of the home and many of Shakti's office staff as well. So at least he had a proper send off.

So Johdri, rest in peace and may your Lord Krishna, Rama or whoever you believed in recognise the person you were and the pleasure others got from your company grant you a better, happier, next life, full this time of lasting family and friends appropriate to the gregarious person I glimpsed in our far too short acquaintance.

Thursday 18 February 2010

For the sake of mind and body

 This past week has seen the arrival of various goodies for mind and body!

First the Guardian Weekly newspaper arrived, the first one since I took out the subscriptin in January.

Next to arrive  was the box of second hand paperbacks I left with friends Paul and Gill to post This arrived intact as you can see. I'd thought it would be good to test the postal system with something that didn't matter too much if it never arrived. As it happens it survived amazingly well so I now have even more reading material and ones I can do some swaps with the other VSO volunteers hereabouts.

Then this morning a real treat, a goodies box sent by my friend Helen.  A real mixture - what you don't see in this picture is the amazing packing job she did, each item was individually wrapped in bubble wrap! The woman is a star! The Oatcakes haven't even crumbled! What with Muesli bars and tins of fish my diet over the next few weeks will  be a bit different.

Before you ask , the face atop the pile is a soft ball for exercising my wrist as the soft tissue repairs after the break. Time and patience heals!

Here in Orissa, I  am back to spending most of my time barefoot. In fact the only time I have anything on my feet it is flip flops as I wak to and from work, and actually I could probably do it barefoot now. The soles of my feet have toughened up again. They were beginning to return to the soft western soles of their origin last year. So far I am doing OK with them, Other volunteers report terrible probems as skin adjust, with bleeding cuts - yuck! For me,. the "râpé" stage as Ahmed calls it where the skins shreds and peels past without to much trouble, although I still get some cracks at the heals which fill up with dirt really easily and look totally unsightly! I love that turn of phrase, râpé, from the French for a grater, so descriptive!
Anyway back to my feet - I indulge them. They need to get washed at least once a day, over and above the normal everyday showering that one does. But even a good wash never gets the dirt out, they still look  mucky. So twice a week they get a real going over, a hot water soak, a scrub down, and a massage with foot cream.  That will probably increase in frequency as the weather changes. So Helen's other goodies were for my feet - cream, nail files and a fantastic looking foot scrubber/scraper which I can't wait to use.

So in total from these 3 deliveries real treats awaits my feet, my tummy and my mind! Now I wonder what else needs a bit of pampering? :)

Wednesday 17 February 2010

To be or not to be - a rambling about language

Language is a competancy we all take for granted as we communicate in the spoken and written word everyday. It is not until we encounter someone who doesn't speak our particular language that we even think about how we learnt our own as children. Learning another language has never been an easily acquired skill for me. And if I'm honest the root is because is I'm lazy, without a real motivation to understand and to speak another tongue as everyone speaks bettter English than I do their Spanish, French, Italian, Hindi, etc etc I also think I started comparatively late in life

My breakthrough came having got the best reason ever to learn French :)  So I made a real effort, to the extent now that I can happily converse with Ahmed albeit every so often we encounter a word or phrase I just don't know, can't work out what it means and don't understand. In which case we go "small small" and go back to simple words and short sentances to explain and exemplify the word, phrase and its meaning. We get there, it may not be perfect French, but the name of the game is communication not academic achievement. afterall.

Which brings me back to education and learning. At school I only started to learn a second language, French, at aged 12/13 in my first year at secondary school.The sole purpose was to get you through the exam. No way was I competent at speaking the language. Then of course I never used it, so I lost it. Although actually a lot was retained sublimibly and comes back easily when it returns to being used. Also with a language like French you hear French words and phrases being banded about - merci, bon appetit, rendevouis, mon cheri, avante guard, je ne sais pas, n'est pas? moi? and restaurant menus are full of French - sauce mutard, duck a l'orange, etc etc

At least nowadays language education has changed for the better. Children can be starting a second language at primary school, usually French or Spanish, but also many more children are growing up in mixed families where mother and father speak different languages to each other, or where their parents speak a language other than English at home, so kids can be coming to school and learning English as a second or even  thrid language at age 5 yrs. Also with the advent of language laboratories, then language tapes, cds and more recently the ubiquitous MP3 player or ipod, language learning has become very oral and of course big business. The choice of courses is enormous, and even personal tuition is not out of the world expensive, certainly comparable in cost to to other personal services eg fitness trainer, chiropracters, reiki, refloxology etc although probably not as costly as ladies hairdressing in major salons is in the UK! All this is great. Although everyone still keeps saying Englsh is the world venacular for business, with the opening up of China especially the world is getting bigger/smaller, ordinary people are travelling much more and further afield than when I was young and more importantly people are living and working in more places. And that's where learning the language comes in. How much easier it must be to settle in and learn about a new culture when you can understand what's being said, and can speak it back. Language and culture are so intimately linked. I have a saying on my facebook favorite quotations from Mano Dayak who said “Must a people disappear for us to know they exist?”  - the classic example being the 38 words for snow in Inuit - but certainly even Auld Scots words and phrases are a distinct representation of Scottish culture that is no found south of the border in England - just read Rabbie Burns and you'll see what I mean. Another example would be desert, In English a desert is a desert, not so in Arabic - erg, hamada, reg, chech, raoui, tenere.

I'm just starting to read Chimanada Ngozi Adichie's book Half a Yellow Sun which is set in Nigeria at the time of the Biafran War. Nigeria like many countries is multi-ethnic, with multiple languages drawn across these ethnic divides. The story shows at one point how some armed militia think a person is Ibo, until she turns and speaks Yoruba to them fluently - speaking Ibo only would have cost her life. I can imagine similar situation ocurring in other racial conflict such as Rwanda and Bosnia. At least only speaking English has never had that outcome attached to it for me, thank goodness.

Africa like much of the world is full of people who are mulitlingual. My friends in Algeria are Tuareg. There native tongue is Tamashek, they learn Arabic at school, start French as 12 and only learn English if they are lucky enough to stay on after 16 yrs of age. Their conversation migrates in and out of these 3 languages with great rapidity and ease. I'm in awe.

In Vanuatu, each of the islands have their own languages and it is a pidgen tongue with is the common method of interisland communication. Bislama is an interesting concoction. It came back to me recently as I was reading Alexander McCall Smith's Scotland Street series, where in one of the book Dominica, the anthropologist goes of to the Maalacca straights to study modern day pirates and finds herself taking pidgeon with the locals. "Nam blong me Sheila. Wat name blong you?"  But the best one is the word for piano "black fala box we igat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you fatem hard I singout" Amazing!

Here in India, most people speak 3 or 4 languages to some extent. The local language here in Orissa is Oriya, but across the state border into Andrah Pradesh the local language is Telugu. There are many Telugu speakers living here in the southern part of Orissa so many folks here speak some of each. For folks who made it into the education system Hindi is the next language to be learnt, and then if you stayed on at school and went to university English is the language of business and of the educated classes. But status and class aside, everywhere one goes one encounters people who think nothing of conversing in multiple tongues.

Now many of these folks can't read or write their native tongue never mind their second or third. And of course some languages are not written at all their tradition is purely oral, or their script has been lost. The more I encounter such people the more I think that the way their memory works is different than mine and the way they learn is different.  I 've heard of  a spatial memory test which clearly shows that Australian aborigine children have a much superior level of spatial and visual memory than their western white conterparts - the test involves the items on a tray game where a number of articles are laid out on a tray, the person gets a small amount of time to look at the tray, which is then taken away,some items are removed, some new items added, and some items change position on the tray. The aim is to say which items did what. Whether this is sound scientifically or not I don't know , all I do know is that my short term memory is no where near as strong as some peoples. Say something to me such as a new word and I've forgotton it tomorrow, no matter how many times I make myself say it over and over again. Whereas if I can also write it down, I've a better chance of recalling it. Without the ability to write, illiterate people are much more dependent upon their memory to learn - it is almost like taking someone's sight away and finding that their hearing becomes much more acute to enable them to make sense of what is happening round about them without the visual cues.

This, of course, has a big impact on how one therefore sets about learning a language. The best language courses I ever found for me are the ones which follow the Michel Thomas method. They are purely audio, they have no written material other than a tape transcript, there is no rote learning, no learning verb drills. The secret is in the teaching, he believed the teacher is responsible for your learning. On the tapes he works with two students, a man and a women, to give different voices. One picks things up more quickly than the other, and so inevitably you feel you are somewhere in the middle - clever!. The approach is one of building ever increasing complexities into a sentance, taking a building block approach, using the same blocks then adding one new one in at a time eg Would you like to have dinner? Would you like to have dinner with me? Would you like to have dinner with me tonight? Would you like to have dinner with me tonight in a restaurant?

For someone who always thought I absolutely had to have a visual element to my learning these courses were a revelation to me. So much so that I bought the Arabic one to start before I ended up getting my placement here in India.  They would definitely be the way to learn a language written in another script. Sadly no Michel Thomas Oriya, not surprisingly, but more of a surprise was the fact that there was no Hindi - the 5th largest language community in the world behind Chinese, English, Arabic and Spanish for all of these there are Michel Thomas courses. There are ones for Japanese, for Greek, but alas no Hindi and no plans for one because I even contactedthe publisher! Perhaps it is a question of getting the right teacher to record the material now the man himself is dead.

So yes I'm rambling on again, but at least it is not about food this time! The reasons for this ramble is that having come to Rayagada with the expectation of hearing and being able to speak very very little English but finding that that was by no means the case I have had a lazy first few months language wise. But one of the challenges of this placement was for me the opportunity to learn another language and if I'm being honest more than one was my target for the two years I am here. For now I'm working in English, speak French with Ahmed when we phone, manage to get around with a bit of Hindi and have only a few words of Oriya. Not good enough I tell myself!  Knuckle under and get started! Again I don't expect or need to get fluent, I just want to be able to converse on an everyday level in Hindi and Oriya, or even a mixture of both.

So this week it has been out with the Oriya book VSO gave me in Delhi - not that our language lessons were Oriya as I had thought they would be. We got Hindi lessons instead. Were they useful? Who knows. I certainly didn't learn much more than I had come away with from 6 or so sessions of Pimsluer audio Hindi.

However, I did start to plough through the Oriya book in Delhi even though I only managed to hear a few words of the language via a man who was in the administratve office of the Institute where we were staying who spoke some Oriya. What I find I have remembered is the basic verb structures. Learning grammar has never been a problem that's just rules, for me it is all a question of having the confidence to speak. Having a 1-2-1 tutor for a couple of lessons a week for a month helped immensely with my French, and having the motivation of course, and speaking with someone who is very patient and isn't forever turning to Englsh when I struggle with French is great. So I will be trying to get a tutor here for Hindi and/or for Oriya, but for now its me and my book for Oriya and me and Pimsleur audio for Hindi.

Tonight I spent a hour just reminding myself of what I know of verbs. And when I think of it I know quite a bit  - in theory at least I know more than I thought I knew - I know the present continuous, the past continuous, the present perfect, the past perfect, the future indefinite, the present indefinite, the past indefinite. For those of you who never did grammer at school that means I can say I am coming, I was coming, I have come, I had come, I will come, I come, I came.

Feeling confident that I can practice some of these with the verbs I know (eg my landlady's daughter always asks me what I had for lunch, she's practicing her English, so I must now get ito the habit of asking her in Oriya - tame kana khaiba? = what will you eat?) I thought I better tackle negatives. In Hindi it is simple nahi means no, nahi means not. In Oriya it is not always so simple.
For example,
Santosh ghare achi = Santosh is at home
Santosh ghare nahi = Santosh is not at home


Mora swami ghare achanti = My husband is home
Mora swami ghare nahanti - My husband is not home

Seu nahi = There is no apple
Sue nuhe = It isn't an apple
Mrs Das ghare nahanti = Mrs Das is not home
Mrs Das nuhanti = It is not Mrs Das
ie when it is a point of identity nuhe or nuhanti is used not nahi

Mitha amba nahi = There is no sweet mango
Amba mitha nuhe = The mango is not sweet.
ie when it is a point of equality nuhe is used not nahi.

Best summed up with
Chini achi-ki? = Is there sugar?
Chini nahi-ki? = Is there no sugar?
Chini nuhe = It is not sugar.

Likewise with verbs
mu asuchi = I am coming
mu asuni = I am not coming

and when refering politely to someone eg Mr Das
se asuchanti = he is coming
se asunahanti = he is not coming
se asithili = he has come
se asinahanti = he has not come

So not so straight forward as adding a not or a ne...pas or even a nahi in Hindi. Oriya negativest will need lots of practice to come quicky and naturally.

But the best is "power asuni" ... yes you guessed it power cut! Literally power is not coming!

Thoughts upon buying a fridge & opening a bank account

I went with Manoj, one of our project oordinators, to buy a fridge on Thursday evening. It is always useful to have someone  who speaks the lingo along to help understand the process of buying something like this here, you can't just up and walk out with it! How do you get the fridge home, where do you fiind the delivery man, how do you tell the delivery man where your house is when it has no address and both you and the fridge cannot both get into the autorickshaw, and how much should I pay him, never mind making sure I am only paying the correct price for the fridge in the first place.

There wasn't much of a choice, only a few models, all basically the same size 175 cu litres, one door, with ice making compartment . There was more choice of colour than of make or model. At 9700 Rupees, plus 150 Rupees for the stand, plus 100 Rupees for delivery it was quite a bit more than the 7000 VSO allowance for a fridge. The only other model, a smaller one, was 8000 Rupees and no where near as solidly built as the other models. Clearly I was going to have to put money to it so I may as well buy the better one. It has got to last 2 years after all. So I coughed up the extra 3 grand and am now the proud owner of a grey fridge - no I could quite see me with a strawberry pink one, or a turquoise one, too reminiscient of those avocado coloured 1970s bathroom suites everyone had then and now can't wait to rip out of their houses back home.

The next morning in the office I was asked how the shopping trip went. Then someone asked me how much I paid. I know that even my allowance is more than what some of the project managers are getting as a salary, but I also know that it is very acceptable here in India to ask how much someone earns and how much you paid for something, be it a large item or a small one, so I'd decided always to be open about it. It doesn't make it any easier however, when you see the reaction in people's faces when I say I paid nearly 10000 Rupees for the fridge. To them that is two months salary, even the project managers do not have fridges at home. I'm asked why I need one -- what can I say? Food goes of from day to day? Butter turn rancid from  one day to the next? What can I say when it is the same for them, or maybe they just buy every day, or not eat things which go off that quickly. I add that VSO paid me an allowance for buying the fridge. Oh that's alright then, suddenly it becomes accepted that I should have the fridge and pay this sort of money for it. Weird.

I'm sitting a couple of days ago with the same guy, my NGO minder, in the bank trying to open a bank account for me. This was the third bank we'd tired. The first could not open accounts for non Indians, the second, the State Bank of India, could but the manager clearly did not know how to do it, needed to consult with other people, but then never got back to us, never was there when we phoned and then was out of town, so we gave up and tried our third bank, the Indian Overseas Bank. What a difference! Here the manager not only knew that his bank could make an account for a foreigner but knew how to do it, within 10 minutes he had reviewed my documentation and I had the appropriate forms to fill in! Amazingly quick for Indian bureaucracy! We had to return to the NGO office to fill in the form as it needed  my boss to countersign it, but we returned with the form later the same day and again within minutes the process was complete and an inital deposit of 500 Rupees made, receipted, and instructions given one when and how to collect my passbook, when my PIN will arrive, how to then collect my ATM card, and how to register for Internet Banking.  Let's hope those parts of the process go as smoothly!

Anyway the reason for starting to tell you about this wasn't to be amazed at how quickly everything can be done, and what a difference the attitude of the manager made, but to mention that one of the questions he asked me was how much would be paid in each month as my salary. So I explained that there would be 9000 Rupees in total, 7000 from VSO and another 3000 from my NGO. I don't know whether my fixer knew what I was being paid but he certainly does now. I'm aware it is more than they get, but there is no point in being embarrased about it, that's just the way it is.

Everyone asks me how much things cost in the UK. I always say it is very difficult to make direct comparisons but then give an example of food prices. Vegetables costing 20 Rupees per kg here would cost anything from £1.00 to £1.50 per kg, that's 3-5 times as much. On the other hand my fridge, costing equivalent of £140 is probably about the same price, the netbook computer that a colleague bought in Delhi for 16500 Rupees is probably about the same price in the UK. One can readily see how consumer goods are totally out of the price range of ordinary, working and many middle class Indians, never mind those less well off. Think back to what I said about salaries in my earlier post

Wednesday 10 February 2010

A Bit of a Do

Preparations for the event begun in earnest the day before with wooden poles being erected in the ground around our neighbours house. Actually now I come to think of it, preparations clearly started weeks ago, when they had their house painted, transforming the non descript mucky white cconcrete block into a blue
 one. Colorful and distinctive enough to act as a landmark when my VSO colleagues visted a few weeks back. But back the the wooden poles. They made up a couple of box frameworks. Were we going to have the Indian equivaent of a marquee, I wondered?

There was also much coming and going on the house roof, lots of washing hanging out, with things being moved around and cleaned. Then on Saturday the music system was  tested - in a word loud! But believe me nowhere near as loud as I have heard others! Clearly if the proceedings went on late, sleeping was going to be an issue being in the nearest house.

Sunday morning saw the first trappings of colour going up, red edgings and borders onto the wooden frames. Then the arrival of many people in the afternoon and the delivery of a tanker full of drinking water to supply two large vats which had materialised in the grounds. Now when I say grounds, don't think that this is some lovely  garden, gated estate, no one in this nagar has the likes of that, the ground surrounding a house and between houses is wasteland, left for the animals to roam and rubbish to be flung onto. As to how one acquires or buys land to build a house on I have yet to find out. I've seen lots of people walking out plots and plans on the vacant areas - clearly there is some process, as other parts of the nagar have number posts in the ground as if delineating plots. But that may be the post of another blog story.

The next thing to happen was the lighting of fires, and I could make out huge pots, more like vat like in size, being mad handled into place by the army of cooks. By the time darkness fell the site had been transformed. Fairy lights adorned the house and the track upto the house was covered and lined with lights and a fluorescent banner announing Pinky weds Sunil.

I attended the event with my landlady, Sushila, and her 12 year daughter, Rinky. Sushila doesn't have much Englsh but Rinky's is very good for her age and I often need her to convey complex messages to her mother, and vice versa. 

We arrived just after the stated time of 7:30PM but before the 8PM time billed for the arrival of the groom. As I expected much of this earlier part of the evening is a women's and family event like some other cultures do where the bride is "on show" at home, and everyone comes to pay respects and give their gifts. Gifts came in all shapes and sizes.

In Scotland, presents are for the couple are usually delivered to the bride prior to the wedding. There is a "showing of the presents" day held at the bride's family's home, where all the presents are laid out on show for everyone to come and admire, and nosey as to who has given what. Tea, sandwiches etc is usually served and its an occassion for a good old chinwag. In England, there is nothing quite so formal. Some presents are given before the wedding, others are brought to the wedding. Even this is now being sperceeded by The Wedding List, where the couple decide on one or more stores, pick items they would like and compile a list. Then guests go to the store either in person or online and pick an item from the wedding list. It works quite well as couples do get the things in the designs and colours they want, and more importantly for second time round couples who dont need home furnishings, they can include things like holiday vouchers etc on their list. Here in India, no wedding lists yet, at least not in Rayagada. At least some  of the presents were delivered on the night and clearly to the bride's house. None was opened on the night, but slowly a pile began to take shape in the corner of the room where the bride was holding her audience.

This room had been converted for the day and lots of chairs had been lined up along two of the walls to enable the more elderly ladies to sit. The bride was installed on a rug covered mattress along the thrid wall amidst the ever growing pile of gift boxes. She was being constantly attended to by her sister and friends, her mother and other family members to ensure she was perfect - her clothes, her hair etc - were the flowers in her hair tied up properly, when they were droopig they were refeshed or cut; her jewellery was fixed to ensure it all stayed in place and was laid out and worn perfectly, in particular the one worn down the parting line of the hair, which seemed in Pinky's case to be forever slipping sideways.

There  was a never ending stream of people, men and women coming in and respectfully handing over their gifts and clearly also their best wishes. I joined the line and sat for some time with the other women. Although I couldn't say much my few words of Hindi and few words of Oriya helped to break the ice, and making faces at little children always helps. Everyone was intrigued by my presence, but I was made very welcome, not just by Pinky, her sister and parents, but by everyone.

In addition to the growing pile of boxes, Pinky had beside her a handbag. Now we all know about women's handbags! How much is crammed into even the smallest one, they are never big enough no matter how big they are, and you'll find everything and anything you ever wanted in one. Well as bags go this one wasn't at all big, not tiny like a clutch, just ordinary everyday size, but boy was it getting full. Full thhat is of envelopes, mine included which were the gifts of money. I have no idea how much people were giving but the number of envelopes was large. I suspect there were a few hundred there.

ll the married women guests had henna painted tattoos on their feet, but he most amzing were the bride's hands - an incredible work of art. How long this took I dread to think - definitely hours!

The next big even of the night was the dinner. The army of cooks had done themselves and the family proud. The food was excellent. In the Indian tradition of finding work for everyone thee was a server on each dish, load of people picking up and disposing of used plates, and the inevitable person in charge shouting orders and sprucing up the servers shirts and ties. The dinner started with Pani Puri as an appetiser, served in small leaf pressed bowls - very eco friendly. t Indian retaurannts back home I've had a varant on this usually made with prawns. here all the food was completely vegetarian. Pani Puri takes a small puri, breaks the air  pocket and places a small ball, of about a teaspoonfull in size, of spicy potato mixture inside, then the whole item is dipped into tamarind water. very tasty - slightly sweet with the tamarind, with a touch of chilli on the potato. I had to ration myself to I think 5-6! The main courses were served up carvary style - grab a plate and join the queue - Indians here at least were adopting the great British tradition of patiently queuing! Well at least to begin with, then as people started going back for seconds the queuing idea seems to disappear as their appetites grew. The main courses I can remember were dishes of mushroom and paneer, dates cooked in a sweet tomato sauce, some sort of dry vegetable pakhora, dahl, two rice dishes - plain and vegetable and Indian breads. My memory of the different dishes is completely colouured by the fact that the date dish was excellent. I love dates at the best of time and adore arabic style dishes with dates and apricots, and even just dried dates to nibble on - all of which take my thoughts back to Djanet. But I digress. I shall definately have to try and recreate the dates in sweet tomato sauce dish I could eat that quite regularly or for as long as my date supply held up! I never fail to be amazed at how much people here can eat. There is no way I can eat anywhere near as much rice and bread, even on a vegatarian diet. I get such funny looks when I say that I want only a small portion of rice. But I'm usually understood even if it is with disbelief that anyone would want such a thing.

Then desert - I've fallen in love with Indian puddings!. Forget those awful sickly sweet cakes, think rice puddings. Now I've never been one  for liking rice pudding, except for when I was a baby and was given stuff from a can that I can't remember the brand name of. Otherwise the rice puddings I've tasted have been white, bland and soppy. Not inspiring at all. But here rice puddings are la creme de la creme! They are a rich creamy colour, sometimes with added saffron threads, they have a full nutty taste, sometimes with whole cashew nuts in them, sometimes you can see the rice grains, other times they are more ground, sometimes there have vermecilli like structures in them, and something in the taste most imply the use of condensed or boiled milk - so many variants on a theme. They are sweet, but not sickly, and in my opinion absolutely delicious. Again I ration myself. But they are heavenly. I am now a registered rice pudding fanatic! Then the sweet tooths of the Indian really took over and there was also ice cream cones delivered to each person.

Remember that here people eat with their hands, there's no cutlery at all. I'm getting used to this and managed all the dinner without a prooblem and without causing any amused grins and giggles at a European trying to eat properly.  It is quite something to see people eating with their hands at the best oftimes but it is a bit incongruous when they are decked out in their finaery for a wedding, with smart saris and jewelery, to see folks taking handfulls of rice, mixing it up with the vegetable dishes, scooing up a ball and shovelling a handfull into their mouths. Your right hand is a real mess after eating and this of course is where that huge water delivery comes into play - the water butts are strategically positioned one the cooks for cooking, and one for the guests for hand washing, and another load of water bags for drinking. No alcohol of course, in fact no fizzy drinks either, just water. ater comes in plastic bags here - so you have to bite of the corner and pour or suck it into your mouth, there is a knack to not getting it all down your front.

What has happened when all this eating has been going on is that the groom is late. That's usually deemed to be the bride's perogative back home, but here because the groom comes to the brides house it is the man who can be late. This one was over 2 hours late! I suspect the boys had been partying! He arrives in a big white car, being driving a break neck speed at a snail's pace or slower...with his mates dancing in front of it all along the road and down into our nagar. You can see and hear it as it turns of the main road and winnds slowlly through the lanes towards the house. I reckon it took over 30 minutes to drive down from the main road, which is less than 5 minutes drive away at normal speeds. The boys are letting rip, music is blaring out, chants are sung, fire crackers are let off, fireworks lit evey few steps along the lanes.

They stop at the end of the approach which has been laid out and defined by the lights and welcoming signs. Clearly something is happening. There are murmours and much coming and goings. Then the parade starts of again. Has he had second thoughts?  No, someone has decided that it is auspcious to approach from the east and the entrance way is from the west. Minor panic is averted by some clever chappy sussing out an alternatve route and the procession snakes off down along side our house, turns and comes back to the brides house from the better direction.

The groom then gets out of the car and walkes with his father towards the brides house. he is met by the Brahmin priest and everyone stops by a basket of flowers and other godoies place in the middle of the road. There is much clamouring to see what is happening and I can only manage to fling my camera in the air and hope for a shot. The pries is undertaking some sort of blessing, puja, on the groom and his father. This goes on for what feels like ages before the progression chants its way into the body of the house grounds.

The groom, his father and preist are steated on the dias which had been  erected on the grounds just outdie the house's entrance. The next stage is a very long singing blessing by the priest, with both father and son undertaking pujaand making offerings. Much throwing of insence, water and grains around. None of which I understand. Again this takes a lot of time. During this everyone is just sitting around. I do the tourist bit and step up as close as I can to get some pictures without causing any offence.

The next stage sees the dias cleared of the groom and in his place comes the bride. She is escorted out from her room by her sister and mother to much wooping by the women. She sits beside her future father in law, head bowed, covered by her beautiful red and gold sparkling shawl. More puja.

All the symbolism is lost on me and appears to be lost on everyone else. I'd met Pinky's uncle who has good English and ask him what is happening. He can't explain the symbolism just that  this is what happens. I'm slightly disappointed. The only other time I ahve been in a similar situation was in the late 70s when I was a student in London, one of the girls on my course got married. She and her husband were Singhalese Buddhists from Sri Lanka. His family lived in London, by her's coudln't make the trip from Sri Lanka and so she had already been entrusted to her new familys care via some aunt and uncle. Her aunt spent the whole ceremony explaining the symbolism to us. It was a weird experience, it took place above a typical London eat end pub, only use two the Europeans from the course and my then partner were drinking alcohol, The pub staff had seen nothing like it. This was 1976 and there wasn't a Buddhist preist to coduct the ceremnoy in London so the uncle did the role.  I bet there are load now. How times have changed. Anyway I had been hoping someone could explain al the puja rituals to me, but no such luck.

However, one part was clear even to me. At one point a twin is wound round the third finger of the right hand of the bride and another round the same of the father in law. I'm sure that what this symbolises is that they are now bound together, the bride of course becoming part of the husband's family.

With everything running so behind schedule, it was now gone midnight and still no sign of bride and groom coming together. It was also very cold. Lookig around, numbers had already started to dwindle. My landlady and I had to get up for work and Rinky had to head of to school by 7am, so relunctantly we decided to head home at 12:30am leaving the family and closets friends to await the final stages. As it was I was awoken around 2:30am by much noise and blowing of horns, which I took to be the departure of bride and groom.

Perhaps not quite the expereince I had thought it would be but always interesting to see how it is done elsewhere. I think the biggest difference to wedding in other cultures is that here the wedding ceremony is precedent, and lasts ages, the fun part seems to be missing for many, or totally subdued within the ritual. Ma souer du desert, Clair, and I were treated to a video last March of Moussa's brother's wedding the year before in Djanet. There again, much of the wedding is split into the women's part and the man's part. hat struck mee tere was how the women took to the streets and raced round from house to house gathering people as they went, enjoying the relative coolness of the night in the peak Saharan summer. The whole proceeding seemed and sounded joyous. The noisy part of this Hindi event was the arrival of the groom, but throughout both bride and groom maintained a certain decorum, head bowed, face solum. Perhaps I've not yet tuned in the the Indian sense of mirth.

The Wedding Video

Thursday 4 February 2010

A surprise invite!

I'm slumbering away in bed this morning trying to wake up - well you know me and mornings :)  - when the door bell goes. It is still before 8AM! It can't be my sabzi walla this early, surely! I scramble for the door keys , unlock the door to be met by my landlady and a man - he looks familar but I can't place him. It turns out he is our neighbour from the blue house across the road from us. He has come to invite me over on Sunday evening to attend the celebration for their elder daughter's wedding, saying they would really like me to come to experience an Indian wedding. I'm amazed. The formal invitation is presented. It would be lovely to attend I reply, trying to be polite in my pyjamas!

So now I just have to find out about Indian wedding ettiquete - dooes one arrive early, on time, late? Does one take a gift? If so what would be appropriate from me? What is the appropriate attire?
The invite says dinner at 7:30PM, the groom arrives 8PM, and the marriage ceremony is 10:55PM. All incredibly precise for Indian stretch time.

I ask at work and am told the wedding timings are very fixed, 10:55 PM will have been indicated by the bride and grooms horoscopes as an auspicious time. I'm advised I should arrive later than 7:30 but before 8PM and that the whole thing will last till about 11:30PM Sanghamitra assures me one of the outfits I bought last weekend will be perfect acceptable and yes there ought to be a gift or a gift envelope of money and tells me that appropriate amount for me is an amazingly small 100 rupees!

I'm sure I'll end up being the subject of much interest, but roll on Sunday!

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Investigating new vegetables 2

I went marketing at the weekend with Mrs P and ended up in her parents home. Her mother is just a few years younger than me and remarkably looks still too young to have had Sanghamitra, never mind her younger sister. They have a compartatively larger garden for houses here, and when I said that I had a big garden at home I was promptly shown round. Their garden has great shade, very important here as the temperatures start to rise. They grow tomatoes, beans, various leaves, there's a jackfruit tree, and others I didn't recognise.

I was presented with freshly picked coriander leaves, scrumptious! and a bunch of drumstick beans. Now I'd seen these bean trees before but had no idea what they would be like to eat. Although they are called a bean they are not a true bean. Botanically they are Moringa oleifera so check out  what they look like.

I was told that the way to cook them was to first peel the skin back, chop them into lengths of about 1-2 in, fry with onions, tomatoes, cumin seeds and chili to your taste. 

It is one of the delights of living in another country that you come across strange new foods and of course you just have to try them. Well I did last night! What a disaster! perhaps I didn't follow S's instructions but I won't be buying these. Imagine stringy celery wiithout the juice, and with a bitter taste. Definitely not for me.    After they went out for the cows, it was a quick noodles with a simple tomato and onion sauce with lots of coriander leaves for dinner - much enjoyed.

Monday 1 February 2010

The Volunteer's New Clothes

Now my caste is off and my arm at least mobile again I can try for some more substantial shopping expeditions and and having managed the few days in Vizag I'm up for more travelling too. But first things first, I have major shopping to do in Rayagada over the next few weeks. The main item on the shopping list is a fridge. But that wasn't to be bought this Sunday but I did manage to find some new clothes. As my friend K says, I have of course "gone native" - eating with my fingers (right hand),  using my left for other business!, and I have taken to wearing the local  attire, the  Shalwaar Kemeez - cotton, loose and ideal for the dust and the heat. I purchased some kurta tops in Delhi to start my Indian wardrobe, but they were rather flimsy and probably won't last that long as I sweat my way through the expected 50 degree C temperatures come the summer months. So expecting that I will need several in the wardrobe to enable changes and getting them dry in the monsoon Sunday ended up being mainly a clothes shopping trip. I ended up with 3 new tops and 2 new trousers.

I also managed to acquire some new dishes. Up to now I have only had one set of small and large plate and bowl. Not so handy when you have guests! Also they are melamine, that plastic picnic ware stuff and I think perhars they get too scratched and become less then hygenie. So I have again adopted local custom and gone for the metal plates and bowls. Amazingly after searching high and low for a colander before there was one staring me right in the face as soon as I walked in this shop!
It never fails to amaze me how long it takes to shop and to find things. This lot took me 3 hours! It is not at all clear to me which shops sell what, I end up having to wander up and stare round the shelves. And not all of them are the ones where you can walk in, some are just counters at street side with people running to shelves at the rear as patrons shout their orders. So you have to know what you want, and be assertive. So just so you get the feel this is the main thoroughfare through the centre of Rayagada Market.

A dog's life!

In my post Outdoors, in a bit of a lather I recorded how some of the local humans used a building site temporarily vacated for a holiday. Well here is its alternative set of inhabitants!