Diwali is the season for hosting card parties! It’s the one time during the year when almost everyone gambles – the amount of money you’re playing with doesn’t matter, it can be as little as Rs. 5, what matters is the spirit of the game.
We hosted our first card party last night, and it was a smashing success. Though I was hyperventilating at the thought of all that needed to be done and organized, I managed to get the living room clean and clutter-free in an hour, brought out candles and diyas, floated some flowers in an earthenware pot, and the house was set to welcome our friends.
The night passed by so quick as we played, laughed, talked, ate and made merry. Before we realized it, it was 3:00 am, and grudgingly, we decided that it was time to say goodbye.
Yesterday night, as I was squaring things up a bit post all the revelry, I realized that I love hosting parties and entertaining. It’s a warm feeling that you get when you have friends over, laughing and having a good time, and even better when you get Diwali gifts! 😉
I got this lovely Tibetan evil eye that doubles up as a door knocker:
and this rice husk wall hanging for prosperity and a brass diya that can be either displayed as a showpiece or used in the temple at home:
What do you enjoy most about hosting get togethers at home?
Diwali is my absolute favorite festival. I love the lights, diyas, colors…just about everything associated with the festival.
The almost two weeks leading up to Diwali (it’s on 5th November this year) feel like holiday season. I took a day off work just to go to the Blind School mela, an annual ritual for the husband and me. They have a variety of stalls selling the most beautiful and unusal stuff, ranging from furniture to lamps, pottery to jewelery, and clothes to knick-knacks. From there, we headed over to the potters market near Sarojni Nagar to buy diyas (small earthenware oil lamps) and idols of Ganesh and Lakhsmi. An entire day spent shopping, rounded off with dinner at Fez Dining, one of my favorite hangouts at Malcha Marg.
A potter at Dilli Haat
The atmosphere was festive, with people out doing their Diwali shopping and all the shops and malls and houses beautifully decorated with lights and lamps…I wish we could have at least 3 days off for the festival, but alas. All we get is the one day off for Diwali.
For those of you who don’t know much about the festival, here’s an overview of Diwali:
A still from Ramayana (animated 3D movie)
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance, although the actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India.
The Times of India summed up the modern meaning of Diwali as follows:
Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.
Diwali is known as the “festival of lights” because houses, shops and public places are decorated with diyas (these days fairy lights). The lamps are traditioanlly lit to help the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) find her way into people’s homes. They also celebrate one of the Diwali legends, which tells of the return of Rama and Sita to Rama’s kingdom after 14 years of exile.
Billed as the largest Bollywood musical extravaganza, Zangoora — The Gypsy Price is one of the first musicals to be staged in India along the lines of musicals staged abroad. Since it’s being staged at the Nautanki Mahal at Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon, I had to go watch it. My only worry was that the husband might balk at the prices — the extravaganza doesn’t come cheap, with prices ranging from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 6,500 — as he’s not into musicals and theater, but he agreed without batting an eye!
Zangoora - the gypsy prince
The Nautanki Mahal is done up in old-world style. It follows a predominantly red and gold color scheme, evoking the grandeur of a bygone era, with beautiful, huge chandeliers dominating the central dome in the waiting area, throne-like chairs scattered around, a bar at both ends of the waiting area, and walls painted to look give an inlay effect.
Photography wasn’t allowed inside the theater, while the play was going on, though I did get a shot of the stage before the play began. 😉
The story itself is simple. The play opens with the Prince Rudra’s first birthday celebrations, during the course of which the king declares that he will not charge taxes during the year, and asks his kingdom’s three chieftains to make the same declaration in their provinces. The three — Thodamal, Daulat Rai and Zohravar — are none too pleased with this decision, and hatch a plot to wipe out the king and his family.
Opening scene: elephant throne
Prince Rudra, however, is saved, and ends up with a gypsy caravan, where he is brought up as Zangoora (Hussain Kuwajerwalla), the leader of the gypsies, who sets the stage on fire with his gypsy dancing partner Laachi (Gauahar Khan). Meanwhile, Zohravar (Sadanand Patil) takes over the throne and launches his reign of terror on Shaktisheela. Of course, since this is a Bollywood musical, the story has to end well, with good winning vs. evil and Zangoora, a.k.a. Prince Rudra, winning back his rightful place on the throne as well as his lady love, Sonali (Kashmira Irani).
The dancing gypsies outside their caravan
A typical Bollywood plot, you say, whose chances at the box office may not be that great? But hey! This is live…and it’s magic!
Right from the opening scene, where you have the king and queen holding court on the back of an elephant, to the electrifying, high-energy dances, the play keeps you captivated and begging for more! The cable work is excellent, reminiscent of a Broadway musical, as actors fly through the air, spin cartwheels, fly into a dream sequence, or come onstage, suspended upside-down, to deliver prophesies to Zohravar. The sets and props are excellent, breathing life into the different sets — be it the forest, the gypsy caravan, or the throne room. One scene in particular, which is set underwater, is breathtaking. LED screens and special effects are used to show fishes and plants, while two mermaids swim through the water suspended on cables. Pure magic!
Celeberating Zangoora's coronation
If you’re around Delhi/NCR, this musical should be on your must-watch list. It’s slated to go on until December, so you have plenty of time to catch it!
Still need some convincing? Check out this sneak preview of the musical. Note: this is a shot from a promo night, so it doesn’t showcase all the scenic elements.
In Empires of the Indus, Alice Albinia traces the route of the River Indus from Pakistan and Afghanistan, upstream through west India and to its source in Tibet. Part travelogue, part history lesson, Albinia goes where angels fear to tread in her quest to trace the route of the River Indus. During the journey, she shares details about the myths and legends associated with the river, which through millennia, has been worshipped as a God and used as a means of imperial expansion.
A major portion of the book is set in Pakistan, and as an Indian reader, it gave me a rare glimpse into that country’s culture and history. While it is a known fact that Pakistan is a Muslim dominated country, what is not so widely known is just how badly it treats its minorities.
Sheedis of Pakistan
For instance, Sheedis — an African-Muslim tribe — have worked very hard to erase their rich musical past, having all but given up playing the mugarman, an African drum, and singing and dancing in order to better assimilate themselves into Pakistani culture. Still, the community largely remains mired in poverty and illiteracy. Another tribe that is tenuously holding on to its culture is the Kalash, who live in the remote Bumboret village, 150 km north of Pirsar.
“Neither Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, the Kalash religion is syncretic, involving a pantheon of gods, sacred goats, and a reverence for river sources and mountain tops. [But] Such is the pressure from Islam in Bumboret, few young Kalash seem proud of their pantheon, or even to know of its existence.” — p. 225
Albinia travels through remote areas of Pakistan, through the now Taliban-infested Swat region (which at the time of her travel itself was seeing a resurgence of that fundamentalist faction) and into Afghanistan on foot, as she traces Alexander the Great’s route along the River Indus as he set out on his campaign to conquer India. What is most surprising is the danger she knowingly put herself into in this quest, but it is heartening that she met a number of helpful people along the way.
River Indus, Skardu, Pakistan
Vast swathes of regions that Albania travelled across are now disconnected from the rest of Pakistan due to the heavy floods there, which have set back the country’s infrastructure by at least 30 years. So in a way, her book serves as the most recent glimpse into the culture, geography and people of that area.
From Pakistan — the bulk of her 305-page book is about her travels through Pakistan and her two cross-overs into Afghanistan — Albinia travels into India and then Tibet as she traces the Indus to its origin — the Senge Khabab. Her trip to India is covered in one 22-page chapter, while the last chapter, 24 pages, details her travel through Tibet, up to the source of the river.
Though her travels through these two countries are glossed over, this is an interesting novel given the breadth and depth of history and geography that she covers. If you want to know more about Pakistan, or are an avid historian, you’ll definitely like the book.
If you’ve read this book, do let me know what you thought about it!
Mom came home this year around Diwali, and we decided to go over to her brother’s (my mama) house in Kanpur to celebrate the festival of lights. This was the first time after marriage that I wasn’t celebrating Diwali at home. I missed decorating the house, making rangoli and lighting the diyas on Diwali. BUT, I had an awesome time at Kanpur!
Since our plans were rather last minute, there was no way we were going to get train reservations. So, we did the next best thing — fly. Delhi to Lucknow (30 mins) and then by taxi to Kanpur (1 hr 15 mins approx).
I was going back to the city after about 15 years…and the area where mama stays is just the same. Those same narrow roads, which of course can’t change, a lot of the same shops, the halwais that I remember being there…it was a trip down memory lane. As we used to when we were kids, we were staying at mom’s cousin’s house (my masi), which is a 5 min walk from mama’s house.
Filkhana and Viranha Road to Kanpur are what Chandani Chowk is to Delhi. Opportunities for photography abound, but being Diwali time, and seeing as I was wearing salwar kurtas and chappals and having to manage duppatas and my purse (so, no chance that I could bolt at the first sign of an eve teaser or chain snatcher) and was constantly running between mama’s house and masi’s, I had no time to pause and capture even one single image. Crummy. Well, I guess we’ll have to keep it for next time.
My cousins were also there, and so every evening all of us youngsters would get together and go out on a gastronomic adventure. I had the most awesome bhelpuri this side of Pune at Bombay Bhel House, tried tikka rice, which was a HUGE disappointment, and had yummy butter chicken from Babas. And since winters had set in, we had malai makkhan every day for breakfast. For the uninitiated, this is the most heavenly, lightest, awesomest sweet dish that you can have — ever — and it is available ONLY during winters and ONLY in Kanpur. I’ve heard that it’s available in Old Delhi too, as Daulat Ki Chaat, but those who have had both say that nothing comes even close to the malai makhan you get in Kanpur — only at Filkhana.
We also managed to squeeze in a trip to Lucknow — a shopping trip for mom and masi and an overnight halt to visit relatives and friends for Abid and me. And of course, while in Lucknow, how could I not squeeze in a shopping trip too? Picked up some lovely chicken peieces — both kurtas and suit materials — from Hazratganj. All in all, a pretty action-packed, fun-filled Diwali!
…and he was! Barack Obama has made history by becoming the first African American president of the United States of America. This was a closely watched election around the world (the US election generally is!), but what was different this time was the spontaneous erruption of joy the world over and a feeling of having achieved something! A change is truly coming.
But why, for someone sitting in India, should this be such a magical moment? Maybe it’s the interconnectedness of human beings, maybe it’s joy at seeing the rise of a historically opressed race…maybe, it gives a glimmer of hope that something similar could happen here, some day.
While we all followed the US presidential campaign and watched the US elections, the fact of the matter is that for most youngsters in India, elections in our country hold absolutely no charm. I was discussing this with some friends over lunch yesterday, and we came to a few conclusions.
The US system is, in some ways, really simple. There are just two majour parties and two major canditates to vote for. Election manifestos are available and accessable to the general public, and most of what they talk about during the rallies seems relevant to the nation as a whole, unlike here, where vote bank politics rules the roost. The candidates, typically, are people you would want to see as leaders, who you could put your faith in — Obama this time, Al Gore during the last presidential election — whereas here, we really couldn’t care less. We have old foggies like Mr. Advani as PM hopeful — and he’s in his 90s! People in the US actually queue up and cast their vote! We take election day as a holiday, the perfect time to sleep-in late! But then, look at our choices!
We have no faith in the system, things aren’t going to change. Even if there are a few politicians willing to bring about a change (Rahul Gandhi seems to be doing quite a bit these days), most of the old guard and the old parties are not going to let them function. We have a huge number of political parties here, none of whom we have any faith in! There’s the Congress, which was famous for the Mandal Commission, and now is known for its sectarian politics. The BJP is blatantly pro-Hindutva — they still field and respect Naredra Modi after the Gujrat carnage! The Left is against technology and progress. The BSP is Mayawati. I’m not entirely sure why people are against her, though. She’s the Obama of India, a Dalit who is a PM hopeful. Yes, she has got corruption cases against her, but then, which politician doesn’t? And she has done a lot for the Dalits. She is someone I don’t know too much about, but there seems to be no support for her either.
Unless there are some changes to our political system and to our politicians sometime soon, I don’t think we’re going to see the youth or the young professionals turning out to vote. I know I wouldnt! I simply couldn’t care less!
I had heard a lot about Jaisalmer and how beautiful it is, but nothing can quite prepare you for the city. The fort in Jaisalmer is the only living fort in the world, and we stayed at a hotel inside the fort itself, which is the best thing to do.
The whole place looks magical, like a scene out of Arabian Nights. It looks like someone has put up a historical set, and opened it up for the public, and that the next time you come, it might disappear! There are lots and lots and lots of shops inside the fort – the city, after all, is a tourist city. Its entire economy depends on tourism. Once you’ve been there, it works such magic on you that you would want to visit it again and again.
Architecture in temple – dancers on the roof
I think I spent most of my time walking while looking up, because almost all the houses have beautifully carved jharokas and balconies. I kept poking the husband in the ribs and pointing out almost every second house! The guide was also amused, said this is so normal for them that they don’t even see it! Apparently, the government has passed an order that all houses built in Jaisalmer have to have a sandstone front and have to have some carving on the doors and window, since the carving and the sandstone is all that attracts tourists to the city.
There are a lot of Jain temples, built in between and 12th and 15th century, inside the fort, and again, all I can say is that the carving is awesome! The biggest temple has got 11 dancers carved on the roof, with musicians below them, and one figure of Indira. The Jains believe that once the temple is closed, the dancers descend from the roof and dance for the Gods. How quaint! The statue looks like it is made of marble, but is actually made of desert sand! Every year it is polished with diamond dust, milk, sandalwood, and turmeric, which gives it the look of marble!
Patwon ki Haveli
The entire temple is built on the basis of interlocking columns, since there was no water for limestone joining at that time, and cement was not invented yet. One of the other temples had different form of Ganeshji carved on the roof. Seeing it just takes your breath away! Especially when you think of when they were built and what kind of ability and skill it would have taken then, to make something that is so timeless in its beauty, without the technology that we have access to today.
The museum in the fort had some interesting things on display – line the entire family tree of the rulers, right down to the present king. There was also the king’s bedroom, and one of the king’s nightgown on display. It’s so huge that both the husband and me could fit into it, and still have some space left over!
One of the most elaborate and magnificent of all the havelis (bungalows) in Jaisalmer is Patwon ki Haveli, which was built between 1800 and 1860 by five Jain brothers who made their fortunes by trading jewelry and fine brocades. The entire façade of the haveli is made of sandstone, which has through-and-through, intricate carving. I went crazy photographing close-ups of different sections of the haveli! And the most amazing thing is that there is a similar house, which was made in 1993! It belongs to someone who is based in Surat, and would have cost him Rs. 1 crore to build! The sandstone is cheap, but the carving is really expensive, about Rs. 500 per square foot!
Following the trend of converting palaces into hotels and leaving a section open for visitors is Badal Mahal, which is topped by the Tazia Tower. Each story of this five-tiered tower has a beautifully carved balcony. Muslim craftsmen built it in the shape of a Tazia and gifted to the king. Tazias are ornately decorated bamboo, paper, and tinsel replicas of a bier carried in procession during Muharram. Visitors can’t go into the tower, because the king has his residence in that section of the palace.
Surprisingly, this desert city also has a lake! A man-made lake, but a lake nevertheless – the Gadisar lake. At one time it was the town’s main water supply, but is currently a big tourist attraction. Who wouldn’t want to go boating in the desert?
And of course, how can I neglect to mention the desert itself?
Riding Into the Sunset
We went to Sam Sand Dunes for New Year. It is a one hour drive on a lonely road, there are hardly one or two small villages along the way. Sam is not really just sand dunes, though, there are a lot of shrubs too, which I wasn’t expecting. It just didn’t fit into my mental image of what a desert should look like, but it did give me a sense of serenity and timelessness, despite all the crowds that were there for New Year. We plan to return here again, and spend a couple of days in the desert.
New Year celebrations were organized by the hotel, and were held at one of the many desert camps. There was traditional Rajasthani folk music and dances organized at the venue, along with dinner and drinks. While we had originally planned on staying till 12:30 am at least, it was too cold to even think about it. While we were sitting in front of the fire it was fine, but our backs were bearing the brunt of the cold air blowing in, despite all the layers of clothes we were wearing!
The New Year program was an interesting experience, though it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I had a completely different image in my mind, fueled by all the things we had heard from people when we mentioned we were planning to spend New Year at Jaisalmer! It was a little disappointing, but an experience worth remembering nonetheless.