Bonfire, for Walpugris Night, April 30, 2014

Bonfire, for Walpugris Night, April 30, 2014
A Swedish Cottage in Midsummer!!
Welcome!! Swagat, Dumela, Valkommen, Jee Aayan Noo, Tashreef, Bula, Swasdee, Bienvenido, Tashi Delek. Thanks for joining me.....

Sunday, August 31, 2014

That White Mausoleum: Ofcourse, the Taj Mahal!!

This year I got to see the Taj Mahal, the second time. It was exactly a decade ago I saw it for the first time.  Only a few hours drive away from Delhi, I had never seen it growing up. We never value things that are closely.  The building remains ever so majestic.  Sadly, I have never seen it at dawn, dusk, or a moonlit night, where I believe it looks the most beautiful.  But I did notice there were so many changes to the surrounding area.  It has become a lot more tourist friendly!! 

The best thing for me was to see that many rural folks had come to see the Taj Mahal, implying domestic tourism. These were the farmers, often illiterate, and not modern in our sense of the word--but they looked majestic--NO wonder after all their job is to feed an entire country.  I took this picture to show two of the many things that the country can be proud of.  Architecture and those who feed a country of more than a billion people!!

Nostalgia Nearby

The first time, when something as unholy as a phone was brought to our homes, it stayed in the hallway, in a small separate room for itself.  In hindi they were called 'alla'.  Also used in old time to leave a burning oil lamp, even after people had electricity at home.  Since lighting a lamp in the evening is considered sacred in Indian homes (I would guess all ancient societies).  

General Knowledge points for telling naming these things...I have written later in the post.  I was amazed as well.  But there was a shop that sold vintage stuff--and I could not resist walking in.  Karlstad, Sweden, 2014.

One of my earliest memories of using the telephone is trying to climb up the sofa, and reaching the phone sitting in a little box like hole in the wall between our bedroom and living room.  It had tiny 'doors'  that hung down when you opened them to access the phone.  I remember whenever I was punished for not finishing my homework and made to sit in the bedroom to work, because the living room had television, I would try to sneak a look from this hole, hoping that the other side of the door was down as well.  

Having doors on both the sides made the phone accessible from both the rooms.  Phone was important and an expensive commodity.  I remember when we grew older we would put a lock on it because sometimes guests would make phone calls and make a habit of never asking to cover the costs.  As is the case in India, no one ever asks, and we would have huge phone bills.  I remember making a little note with sketch of a phone booth--also going extinct now--that said, 'please keep it short'.  

I also remember we were one of the two families that had phone in the neighbourhood, which meant ,we often got to deliver messages.  Mom would send me, 'go run to Vijay uncle's house and let him know his uncle from the US will call in two hours.'

Ah, the days of trunk calls.  

It was an ongoing party, at least for us kids. We would get sweets when we delivered the messages, and if and when people had to accompany us back, then mom would make tea and bring out nice snacks for the guests, who chatted while they waited for the phone calls.  

Well, gone are the days.  In the next two decades most people would get phones, we saw the transition from phone 'dials' to phone 'punch'--where instead of dialling you would punch the phone numbers.  

I left home, and while in Africa I would walk for about 15 minutes to get to the closest phone, in the US, phone could get connected by a phone call. That simple!!

While in the beginning I paid via check that was mailed it, I quickly to paying via credit card soon as I had one.  I remember when I got my answering machine, what a joy it was. My second year in the US.  How fun it was to change the answering message.  A few years later, I had one for every season!!

And then major shifts started to happen, one that was quite ironical for me was a flat rate--now for a flat rate every month you could make unlimited number of calls to the US and Canada.  But now, I had little time.  When I had the time there was no money.  

I kept avoiding cell phones, because I did not want to be accessible.  But the move to Fiji changed it.  I was back in the world where getting landlines was time consuming and I really needed a phone.  I remember once using a public phone to call within Fiji and it seemed to me that the call had gone through the connect back to Fiji.  

Mobile phones became a necessity ---as much as I detested sending texts, I relied on them for so much communication.  

But now with the instant messaging, mobile phones that are more like computers---our way of conducting ourselves is different.  What is feasible is different.  Now we do not walk to deliver messages, we actually text before we visit to ask if it is ok to visit....we are constantly glued to screens, be it computers or phones.

A moment of recognition came when a year before I owned a cell phone, on a visit to India, I was in a  room where everyone but I was on their cell talking to someone else, while all of them had come to visit me, since I had not been back in a while. 

I am not going to engage in conversation about what cell phones have done and what they imply for the material on that is rich and available.  

I want to talk about what happened about a week ago, that made me think of not only the phones but simplicity of living in towns where people are generous and trusting.

I walked into this store that was selling some vintage stuff. I wanted to buy a container just to store lentils. Nothing special about it, but the color matched other containers I have --so I picked it up and walked inside--right into nostalgia lane. There were these old things some which I recognised, others I didn't but I knew that it was a store selling old things, that now will be considered relics!!

Music the owner played was from the 1970s as well.  

And what is that--I pointed to these little benches, that I thought were probably writing desks to be used while sitting on the bed.  Öh, those were used for keeping phones and then he pointed at some old phones.  I smiled.

When I handed him my card, he said his machine was not working and that he required cash.  But I didn't have any.  And then he waived his hand and said, 'Oh, just take it'

No--I protested.

No, please, and he smiled.

Ok, I will bring back the money, I live close by. 

Not to worry.

I walked out cleansed of nostalgia --and the pain that comes with it, because in the present, he had shown a value that today seems forgotten.  

But I guess, kindness will always be in fashion!!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Culture of Capitalism

Years after the movie was released the title of the movie can be used to sell T-shirt as nostalgia memorabilia...Even though that not all the movie was sot in the city....Sleepless in Seattle, Seattle airport shop, 2014. 

 While the rest of the world is catching up (or already has caught up), no other country knows how to commercialize and capitalize every image, every emotion, as the US--mainly Hollywood. Seatac Airport, 2014

My first semester in the US I realized how well the country preserved its very short history, and how it spun tales around that short time span (no one counts the 12,000 years of Native American history, for the world was not known to Euro Origin people before that) to make it sound grand.

That one founder's Hall, just over a hundred years old when I joined, was presented with same pride as if it was at par in salience as the Eiffel Tower or better Taj Mahal.  It was surely a magnificent building. But it had no grand history.  However, in it presenting it as if was an important monument, it was preserved, and considered by us, as sacred.  We had our meetings there, we performed several times in the building, and it housed some important offices, including the international student office.

From then on, I was just as susceptible to the best of the US---advertising and PR.  I fell for the printed ribbons on silk boxes, large cartons on moisturizers, and colorful hand bags that my shopping was given to me in.  Only later on, when I encountered several frictions from some americans and started reading about capitalism, is when things started to make sense.

Every act was seduction.  Everything was seductive.  Men's bodies were objectified just as much as women's. I witnessed fast food joints and later Wal-mart kill the spirit of small town America. When I arrived in that small town in the US, there was only a MacDee's and a KFC in the town, as a competition to several family run small joints, even though none of them was a real diner--or provided the warmth of a family owned business.  The one room film theatre which charged us only USD 5 was shut down to open a multiplex near the highway, right alongside Walmart, Perkins, AppleBee's and several other chains that though owned by faceless people, seemed to be run by people who were hardly interested in their customers, and worked odd shifts without any health benefits.  These shopping malls, and complexes provide for one stop shopping, and entertainment, but no engagement with the staff or a familiarity of knowing the community.  Those who worked there were either young students in the need of immediate cash, or those who were not very educated and were likely to stay that way.  If you stayed and worked in these places, without ever climbing up to the position of a manager, which still did not mean you owned the establishment, you were likely considered a looser.  

So what was this culture?  A culture which was rooted in consumption---jobs are sustained when people are consuming.  People with low motivation, and no interest in self-development could be easily hired for a lifelong employment at minimum wages, without benefits.  It spells profit for the company--and death for the community. 

Small towns are then not developed, and those who are managers and CEOs come to the town for short stays, --for who with a taste for city and sophistication wants to live there for long--and those who are not equipped to survive in a city --namely the under achievers and less educated, never leave.  What is left of a small town then?  In that vacuum come the big stores, and hollywood movies, giving a semblance of city life to rural folks, and a call of promise to those who wish to join the consumption culture.

So when last year I realized that there was no gift shop at Hans C. Anderson's I realised what a difference it makes to not focus on selling everything.  For a short while, in that small museum, I was in the fairy tale world that Anderson had created.  I read about his popularity over Niels Bohr--who I studied in high school physics--I started at scenes from various of his fairy tales, I took some pictures, but mostly I absorbed the scenes, and could not, even when I wished, take anything home--except pictures and memories.  

It allowed me that innocence.

But, constant focus on buying does the biggest damage when it takes us away from creating, making and designing.  Like being social is our basic need, being a creator in all diverse ways is one of human needs, for we--if were to follow ultra religious views, were created in the image of our creator.   So we must create, and not just consume.

Consuming dulls the mind.  Like eating too much sugar.  As we get addicted to the comfort that sugar--or consumption provides--we are less likely to want to create and are forever disconnected from ourselves.

Another post will follow on the new tradition in India of getting cooks---people are eating, but not cooking or cleaning.  

But the most insidious of effects of capitalism is a disconnect from ourselves.  A dangerous thing, because in that connection, lies the seed of our connection to others, that allows us to be empathetic, and extend generosity, --and without which we begin to feed on each other.