The Taj

The Taj
The Crown Palace (The Taj Mahal)
Welcome!! Swagat, Dumela, Valkommen, Jee Aayan Noo, Tashreef, Bula, Swasdee, Bienvenido, Tashi Delek. Thanks for joining me.....

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Belated Diwali Gratitude!!

While I've had years where i have not been able to celebrate it, there has never been  a year when I got the date for Diwali wrong.  But this year, I did and therefore did not do anything special that day except set up a shrine, after which I was too tired to do anything and offered my prayers the day after Diwali.  Unlike Botswana 7 hrs), the US (10-13 hrs) or Fiji (17 hrs), Sweden is only 3.5 hrs behind the US and therefore holidays fall on pretty much the same day.  My lovely niece in India sent me pictures of these Rangolis---which are floor art in India.  They can be made with coloured powder, coloured sawdust, spices, rice, rice paste, special colours made for Rangoli (called aplana and other names in different states), coloured tapioca, or flowers.  

It was a quiet Diwali, as I tried to ask friends to come over at the last minute but everyone was busy.  So I bought my middle eastern sweets, --we have no Indian store here and these sweets are sweet enough to be considered Indian.  I also bought Zaleba which in India is called Jalebi.  Until I came to Sweden, I did not know that it was actually a persian sweet, that we Indians have borrowed and made it our own.  And a fresh coconut,which we must have for all celebrations.  I played my bhajans (devotional songs), and had as merry a time as I could.  Deadlines looming, this was enough. 

And I came across this article on how so many people are not able to take time off to celebrate their holiday.  And this video--while its great, I think the fact that it was made by Pepsi, upsets me. Many Pepsi folks over work their staff.  Many Pepsi like companies are responsible for this wonder of stress in our lives.  I also remember how my Jewish students in the US would come sheepishly to me to let me know that they were taking a few days off to celebrate their holidays since there were no days off for any other but Christian holidays in the US.  I guess Fiji and India spoilt me. South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and some other countries do give days off for all the religions represented in the country.  As it should be.  But the problem is not just the US, but Australia and NZ and even many Islamic countries that do not acknowledge the changing demographics.  

But these pictures of rangoli, sent by my niece, made me smile.  Due to my regular visits to India I have forged a relationship with these children who were barely 2-3 years old when I left or not yet on this planet.....that is something that only technology could not bring us.

This Diwali, I am grateful that I can afford tickets and time --mostly--to maintain some important relationships in my life.  

And this post goes to all my friends and family members...thanks for being my life.  With you my life is Diwali!! 

The World Catches Up: Step Into Halloween!!

In the last four years that I have been in Sweden, I have seen more and more signs of Americanisation.  Halloween, which barely was even talked about when I first came, is now becoming a bigger, if not big celebration.  Last year I even had a big conversation in the class, where one of the students said that after all ¨We borrow things from others, just like Santa Lucia, is Italian, but we have made it a Swedish Tradition.  What is so wrong with borrowing Halloween.¨

Well, nothing really. I really enjoyed the holiday when I was in the US, I loved the decorations in the window shops, and markets, bought my pumpkins and orange candles.  But really, what was it.  If it is a celebration of the season, great, I understand.  But the celebration of Halloween, which was children knocking at the doors asking for treats, was created because people in neighbourhood knew each other.  Children could dress up, and would walk the neighbourhood on their own without any fear, or parental concern.  That does not happen today.  Often times there is an adult who goes around with children.

But more than anything else, the holiday has become another partying excuse.  And therefore in many ways commercial.  In Sweden, during this time, I usually saw little pumpkins and decorative squashes on people's tables, some even started to bring out Christmas figures, or Santa Lucia Figurines.  But there were no parties, and there was no trick or treating.  Trick or treating is still not common, because Sweden does it during Easter, when children dressed as witches and old men knock at your door, gift you their art work and ask for candy in return.  So, something.....some creativity, some joy, some exchange.  The parties today have little creativity.  yes, people come up with their costumes etc. but most of them are rented and once the party begins, ......not much is remembered after that......

So, what is the fear here....or concern?  Well that that adoption is usually one way....and the trend is to turn every holiday into a party, a big fiesta instead of what they originally were for....a connection with nature, a reminder of community, a time to reflect. 

KLIV IN TILL HALLOWEEN: Step into halloween!! The entrance to the 'marked' area in a supermarket based on Walmart model--ICA.  

Here is a scary old man offering you berries.....

Sweden has a Alla helgons dag, or All Saint's day which is a day to honour those gone before us.  Here is what a website statesAll Saints’ Day is a day of dignity and reflection. The custom of lighting candles on family graves is still widely practised, and anyone passing a cemetery in Sweden this weekend is met by some beautiful scenes. The countless points of light from the candles and lanterns placed on graves form beautiful patterns in the snow and lend a special feel to the landscape. People also lay flowers and wreaths on graves on All Saints’ Day. A jar of flowering heather stands up well to the cold. All Saint's day is celebrated the first saturday of November every year, so shortly after Halloween. 

A ghost attached to the entrance of ICA--the main Swedish grocery store, based on Walmart model.  

In India, around the same time (October-November, according to Indian calendar) we have Shraada, which wikipedia describes as is a Sanskrit word which literally means anything or any act that is performed with all sincerity and faith (Śraddhā). In the Hindureligion, it is the ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s 'ancestors' (Sanskrit: Pitṛs), especially to one’s dead parents. Conceptually, it is a way for people to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks towards their parents and ancestors, for having helped them to be what they are and praying for their peace. It also can be thought of as a "day of remembrance." It is performed for both the father and mother separately, on the days they became deceased. It is performed on the death anniversary or collectively during the Pitru Paksha or Shraaddha paksha (Fortnight of ancestors), right before Sharad Navaratri in autumn.

Complete with special effects, there was smoke coming out from this well carved, pumpkin!!  Outside-ICA

Mexicans have the Day of the Dead, which again, courtesy wiki, is described as Day of the Dead (SpanishDía de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday observed throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a bank holiday. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the triduum of AllhallowtideAll Hallows' Eve,Hallowmas, and All Souls' Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skullsmarigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

All of these festivals fall around the same time, especially for countries in the northern hemisphere.  Which means that as autumn fell upon us, we thought --it was time of reflection before the death of winter.  Nothing wrong with celebration or parties, but if that becomes so big that the reflection part is forgotten, then it takes us away from us, and away from a connection with nature.  

And, media is a big part of it.  Yesterday I saw many youngsters dressed like monsters heading, obviously towards a party or a graveyard....(your guess is as good as mine....:).

I enjoy it and still love the spirit of the season and even the holiday, just wish it would as its ritual also include a bit of reflection rather than all commercialism, and empty fun with drunk youngsters.  In Sweden, Halloween is a young holiday, and is celebrated by youngsters. Now, if that changes in a generation, meaning the grown ups are also celebrating (nostalgia will play a big part) then it would become a cultural tradition,  However, so long as it remains restricted to the young, it will always be considered a 'childish' holiday.  Such is the story of cultural change. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

T-Shirts: Rule Number #1

T-shirts and their popularity fascinates me, especially since they have become increasing available and used in the last fifteen years. Which is a very American invention, as I learnt once from a documentary. The following two lines are taken directly from wiki's entry on T Shirt.

By the Great Depression, the T-Shirt was often the default garment to be worn when doing farm or ranch chores, as well as other times when modesty called for a torso covering but conditions called for lightweight fabrics. 

A V-neck T-Shirt has a V shaped neckline, as opposed to the round neckline of the more common crew neck shirt.  V necks were introduced so that the neckline of the shirt does not stand out when an outer shirt is worn over it, thus reducing or eliminating the visible cloth above the outer shirt of a crew neck shirt. 

But the more interesting and amusing aspect for me is the use of quotes and interesting images on T-Shirts.  T-shirts are like public art, and because they are on people, it is also mobile art--more often than not, the quotes are meant to be witty, funny, and occasionally condescending.  The latter part has become more common, as our culture has become proud of the irreverence that we exhibit, whether it is in smart-alecky humour from Chandler of Friends or razor sharp jokes of late night talk show hosts. 

Yet many a times I have read quotes that have made me smile. I never noticed them so much as I did in Fiji, and so I kept an account of various T-Shirt quotes.  T-shirts have become a trend, many of these end up in second hand shops, some defected material that visibly isn't so makes it there and people don them as an expression of their wit--or not.  Often times I think they are not even aware of what it means.  For example, a very nice straight Indian man was wearing this T-Shirt with a rainbow on it that proudly claimed, that 'It was in to be out¨.  But two of my favourites were, 1. I tried being good (on a child who was about four years of age).  2. 100% Instant human, just add coffee!!  

And how can I forget the only one I remember from Portugal, on an ageing but agile man, who was unkempt, looked like he had not bathed in a while, had a loose cigarette hanging from his cracked lips----which read--¨Believe me, I am a virgin.¨  I doubt he knew what that meant either.  But there it was a claim!!

So, the following few pictures reminded me of my fascination with T-Shirts with words.  We were going to my teacher's place (yes, I keep in touch with my teachers too, and try to visit her every year when I am home)--so we stopped for some fresh fruit to take as gift.  And there was this buff vegetable seller, who was so different from the vegetable sellers that I used to know. Scrawny, malnourished and hardly interested in anything, or so they looked.  This one, looked like he was a bollywood star, or getting ready to go there.

I kept moving my head and my camera to get a look at what his T Shirt said.  He must think that I was taking pictures of him. But I did like what his T Shirt said, even though, I am not sure if he could read it.

A slightly better view, but I still could not get the whole thing. 

And there it was--almost a message for me at the time...

Plain and simple truth--through a T-Shirt--Rule # 1 of Life, Do what makes YOU HAPPY.  Once again life is not as simple as that, sometimes we should think of other people's happiness over ours, but we will leave it at that....may be we need to first ask ourselves, what makes us happy.....(for you and I know, we loose that in the rigour of life...)

Fresh apples and bit of life philosophy, you can't beat that....