Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Saree

They are having “ethnic day” in Daniela’s office, so she had to wear something local. No jeans and certainly no salwar kameez as that is “North Indian”; though is is in the process of slowly replacing the saree as the daily wear of women down here. (For women our age or younger, the choice of whether to wear a saree or salwar kameez as daily wear seems to be a fairly clear indicator of socioeconomic status) Dani wore a saree to the office today.

Oh the irony that they chose Halloween to have ethnic day!

Dani in a saree

Dani in a saree

Hogenakal Falls

On Sunday, we took a day trip to Hogenakal Falls, on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. It is a three and a half hour drive from our house in Bangalore. In any country but India, I’d regard this as outside of daytrip distance, but the fact that it takes forever to get anywhere has toughened us with regard to out daytrip driving tolerance.

After driving 100 kilometers while dodging ghost driving motorcycles and busses on the superhighway (ummm… guys, you have two lanes demarcated for you just over there ) and a 50 km jaunt through rural Tamil Nadu, the road came to a barrier. We paid twenty rupees road toll and another ten to the forest department and started into the park that houses the falls.

It was almost like being in an American national park. Suddenly there was no traffic, just the road through the mountainous forest, scenic vistas and the odd roadside monkey troop. It was a tropical Smokey Mountain National Park, complete with stone kilometer markers.

Then we arrived in Hogenakal village, at the falls itself.

It was as if someone took a Tamil rendition of Pigeon Forge and instead of thoughtfully leaving it just outside the park’s boundaries, dumped it smack in the middle of the park. Oh and given Indians’ attraction to waterfalls, it was another taste of Athirapilly style mass tourism. Not a foreigner in sight, besides ourselves. Oddly, every second person asked us if we wanted a massage. It turns out that this stretch of the Kaveri River is famous for its healing properties and has become a bit of a domestic spa town.

The falls themselves were magnificent! They are not high. At their highest part, they are only 120 feet high and look to be much less. They are formed where a wide, shallow section of the river is speared head on by a narrow, rocky gorge. This gorge spears a kilometer (about 2/3 mile) into the river as the river collapses into it.

How the falls are laid out

How the falls are laid out

The result is an endless series of falls on both sides. And we were there at the height of the Northeast Monsoon; so the river was an angry white torrent as it crashed into and trough the gorge. We walked around the lower and middle falls and then we and the rest of India took a ride in a coracle – a kind of round canoe – to a small island at the very tip of the falls; perhaps too close in retrospect. But hey, they were definitely worth a visit; despite the distance and the crowds.

Lower Falls

Lower Falls


Middle falls with the upper falls in the distance

Middle falls with the upper falls in the distance


Upper Falls

Upper Falls


Boatman with his coracle

Boatman with his coracle

Happy – oops, we just set a palm tree on fire – Diwalli

We had initially planned to go away this weekend. The kids had three days off of school, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to go to the beach, or to go hiking in an old growth mountain jungle. Diwalli after all, had no meaning for us as foreigners. It was just an extra long weekend. We are glad that plans fell through.

Diwalli is not a one day affair. It extends over several days. It helps that depending on where you are from, you either use a solar or lunar calendar to decide which day is the big day and whether you do all your partying before dawn or after dusk. So our neighbor waking up the whole street with a cracker bomb at 6AM; well, that was because he is from Tamil Nadu and they did the big thing on Monday before dawn if they were traditional and after dusk if less so. The rest of the neighbors are from Hyderabad and Mumbai, so the big day was yesterday.

Naturally, if someone has the principal day, then it is an excuse for everyone to party in the street and blow up the world, one cracker bomb at a time.

Both Monday and Tuesday, all of the neighbors drew chalk designs on the streets, sidewalks, driveways and doorsteps. Then they “painted” those designs with brightly colored powder. Photographs of vendors selling this powder is one of the cliché photographs of India; where arrays of metal plates, each piled high with a different color powder abound. Well, those vendors exist because there is a market for them.

After our kids sponged off of the neighbors’ fireworks on Monday evening, I rode with a couple of neighbors to one of the ubiquitous fireworks vendors. If our kids will be blowing up Bangalore, we can at least help foot the bill and let their kids sponge off our fireworks in return. They have a huge, red “Standard” banner; Standard being the brand name. The banner actually looks like something from a circus. There is an enormous cluster of these kiosks along the highway in Hosour. We had driven past it on Sunday and my thought at the time had been, “Is there a circus in town”?

In a way, yes.

Darkness fell and we forced an overly exited five year old boy to wait until after dinner before we started setting them off. By an hour after sunset, all the neighbors were out on the street with the adults supervising the kids lighting small firecrackers and lighting off the ones that were too dangerous for kids. Then one of the neighbors produced a package of enormous, dual fuse, bottle rockets. We put the first in an empty wine bottle and lit the fuses. It soared up into the sky and exploded, releasing a flaming ball of phosphorous suspended by a parachute.

Then we put another in. The engine turned out to be a dud. It went up ten meters and kind of flopped into a palm tree. The explosive was not a dud and we had a brightly colored explosion in the palm tree; which left behind a flaming ball of phosphorous.

The tree sort of started smoldering.

Luckily, it was not one of the drier ones on the street, which might have gone up like a torch. I grabbed a garden hose and spent the next five minutes spraying the tree, trying to put it out.

To all of this, a neighbor could only say:

See! He’s American! Dave! You’re supposed to point that thing at Pakistan!

Diwalli

It is currently Diwalli in India. It celebrates the god Rama returning from exile and seems to be a bit like Christmas, Fourth of July and New Years all rolled into one. They all go home to visit family, do the “Christmas lights” decorations, eat a lot and set off firecrackers, which are known as “crackers” here.

Oh the firecrackers.

World War Three is currently being fought outside. It began on Friday and has intensified with each passing day. I’m not yet sure who is winning. I’ll be sure to post when I know.

It also starts early. This morning at six AM, I sat down with a cup of coffee for my normal early routine of quietly drinking coffee, reading newspapers on the internet and phoning my mother in New Jersey. Just outside the house, there was an earth shattering KABOOM!

Jeez! Who is setting off fireworks at 6AM?

I continued to read my news and drink my coffee. A few minutes later, another went off. The kids began to stir. A short while later, a long string of firecrackers went off down the street. Coffee cup in hand, I ventured outside and started down the block. I wanted a good look at the churlish teenager who was behind it.

Our next door neighbor, Raju the neurology professor (who is in his 50’s), was standing in his driveway looking over the morning newspaper.

Hi Dave! How was your trip yesterday? (we went to Hogenekkal Falls. A topic for another time)

Fantastic! It was a three and a half hour drive each way, but was worth it. What the hell is wrong with that guy setting off the fireworks down the street?

Oh! Don’t worry about it. Everyone is celebrating. It’s just one day a year.

JESUS CHRIST! They woke the kids up! They could at least wait until 8AM or so when the kids are awake!

I’m sorry! That was me!

When I got back inside, I nearly spit my coffee out laughing.

The drama of the collapse

The plot seems to have thickened in the Prestige Group building collapse story.

I’ll start with a correction – The collapse did not happen at the mall under construction, but rather at a large complex of a half dozen or so apartment towers under construction a few minutes up the road from that. First, the company was never willing to help with regard to interviewing the workers, one of whom is still missing and possibly under the rubble.

Then it got even better. A security guard from the site was found dead on the railroad tracks the next day. The police commisioner said that the guard had a history of drinking and ruled out foul play.

We have also verified the duty register where Shivanna had signed around 8 pm, after completing his duties. We have eye-witnesses who had seen Shivanna manning the people after the building collapse, so there is no doubt over the reason of his death. The city Railway Police who have registered the unnatural death, are continuing with the investigation.’

Gee… the company is impeding an investigation and suddenly this guy turns up dead on railway tracks. I wonder how many lakh (100’s of thousands of Rupees) it took for city police commissioner Shankar Bidari to come to that conclusion so quickly.

There have been arrests in this case, but something tells me that these people are scapegoats.

The case of the disappearing workers

In today’s morning paper (The Hindu again), I read something that really shocked me.

In a nutshell: There is a shopping mall tower being built about a mile or so from here. It is a prominent feature of the skyline if I stand on the roof of our house and look towards the East. Yesterday, there was a construction accident when a portion of an upper floor collapsed, triggering a World Trade Center style cascading pancake. Luckily, nobody was killed, but several individuals were injured.

And then they disappeared.

That is right, the company, Prestige Group, a prominent property developer here in Bangalore actually hid the injured workers from the media and police. They claim that all of the workers were given outpatient treatment and then released.

That is simply mind boggling.

In America or Europe, the company’s PR machine would be kicking into overdrive right now, but they would not dare interfere with a police investigation. This would get the CEO of the company sent to jail on obstruction of justice charges and would forever tarnish the company’s reputation. Somehow, the fact that they did this seems to indicate that they feel that there will no repercussions.

So let me say it:

Dear Prestige Group, you disgust me!

Daniela and I have agreed not to go shopping there when it is finished.

Newspapers

The Times of India was part of my introduction to India. I learned a lot in those first few days. Corruption is rampant. Infrastructure is inadequate. The local term for rolling blackouts is “load shedding”. If you are against the nuclear treaty with the US, it is because you take orders from Beijing.

I also learned many other things:

  • Some Bollywood actress that I’ve never heard of is ready to take on a bad girl image.
  • Another Bollywood actress is ready to re-enter films after being in TV.
  • So and so is moving to Kannada films from Tamil/Telegu/Hindi.
  • So and so is moving the other way.
  • Some actor has “no problem” kissing in his films and even looks forward to it.

NEWSFLASH! Man enjoys being paid substantial sums of money to kiss beautiful women on camera.

The thing is that I don’t even care about Hollywood stars. Fixating on the social lives people whom I do not personally know is just not for me. In a nutshell, I simply don’t care about “stars” and can recognize only a few. Now Bollywood stars really are just names to me; except that Khan guy who seems to be ubiquitous, that other Khan guy – the older one – who seems equally ubiquitous, the woman who starred in Jab We Met (what was her name again?) and that Ganesh guy who’s face I always seem to see on Kannada movie posters. The last on always wears his shirt half unbuttoned, seems to be photographed in a tough guy walk and wears mirrored Ray Bans.

My problem is that half of the Times of India is either about cricket or these Bollywood types. So earlier this week we switched the newspaper subscription to The Hindu; a paper somewhat similar to the New York Times in tone. So far this week, I have learned that:

  • The nuclear agreement is potentially bad for India, especially after the US congress passed its list of “reservations”, because it would make India dependent on a fickle US for fuel.
  • There are 6000 transgender individuals in Bangalore. They are often harassed by the police.
  • Bollywood seems to have silently disappeared.

I am rather pleased with this latest development, though the newspaper man mistakenly delivered TOI today instead of The Hindu and Bollywood seems to have reappeared a mysteriously as it vanished.