Category Archives: The Indian Way

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Happy 70th! What ails my country?

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I wish A Very Happy 70th Independence Day to all my fellow Indian brothers and sisters 🙂 On this momentous occasion I’d like to briefly discuss about what ails India and Indians in general. It is not meant as a criticism but as an opportunity to reflect.

Its inertia. 

Yes that’s what it is. We are so used to a life of drudgery that we have no desire to get out of it. Its become a way of life for us. We are so used to corruption and handing out bribes for every little thing that we can’t envision a life without it. Like my father (rest his soul) used to say whenever he happened to visit a government office armed with a few thousand rupees and then proceed to dole them out incrementally starting from the peon to the officer in charge: “You have to or the job won’t get done.”

People are lackadaisical. They will stand around and stare at a dying man on the street and observe a helpless girl as she gets harassed by a bunch of goons but they won’t step in to help. Why? Because its a tamasha. A spectacle like that which unfolds in a movie theater. Why buy trouble?

And we have lost our voice that independence provided us. We feel empathy, shake our heads with regret but we don’t speak when we need to.

But all is not lost. Right now I feel a new India in my veins. We are waking up and perhaps realizing that the bonds that held us down for so long are old and rusty. They can be broken. Freedom is not a fairytale. It is a reality. Jai Hind!

Jugaad–Innovation the Indian Way!

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Necessity is the mother of invention. This is no more true in India where the lack of resources and the unquenchable aspirations of the common citizens prompts them to come up with ingenuous and often insane inventions. Here is a tiny sampling 🙂

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No electricity required- ‘Mitti fridge’ (a refrigerator made all of clay)

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The Allure of the Sari and an excerpt from ‘The Accidental Wife’

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A sampling from my mother’s closet

The image of a woman wearing a sari conjures up both the remarkable beauty of women and the exquisite artistry of textile and embroidery. The sari is a garment created from a single piece of fabric five to nine yards long. Its ingenious design allows for wrapping around a woman’s body in different ways. This allows for a variety of effects: stunning traditional gown, alluring evening wear, or simple utilitarian work attire.

The thought of wearing a loosely draped strip of fabric might seem somewhat awkward to westerners. But consider the heat of a tropical climate and one realizes that this airy soft garment is a brilliant idea. No wonder 75% of women in India still wear the sari as a key element of their wardrobe.

The beauty of a woman in an Indian sari is breathtaking. How luscious life could be with a wardrobe filled with saris of vibrant colors and various fabrics adorned with embroidery. If you do a quick search on the internet of “sari images” you’ll see for yourself. One for example features fabrics of the richest jewel tone colors—turquoise blue set against fuchsia, green, royal blue—and embellished with flowers of gold.

While sometimes thought of as traditional attire, the sari has the power to transform a woman into a beguiling apsara (celestial nymph). Rihaan (our hero), in The Accidental Wife, has the opportunity to discover this for himself.

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 Excerpt from The Accidental Wife 

But what Rihaan saw there brought an immediate diversion to his purpose—the image of his beautiful wife wrapped in a traditional sari. It was a simple yet clever garment worn with a dual purpose in mind—to please her in-laws by presenting them a vision of ideal domestic harmony, while simultaneously promising her husband never-ending conjugal bliss. The lure of the unstitched garment was such that it transformed his already beautiful wife into a beguiling apsara causing his nerve endings to release some kind of erotic pleasure juice thus making him slowly yet inexorably lose control over all his senses.

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Stop! Take your Shoes Off!

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Photo courtesy- franandwally.blogspot.com

The above scene isn’t uncommon in India or for that matter elsewhere in the world especially if you happen to drop by an Indian home. Why, you may ask do I have to remove my footwear before I enter your house?

Well, the explanation is simple. For us Indians, our house or home is a sacred place and to contaminate it by bringing dirt from outside is not just disrespectful, it is almost akin to sacrilege. And, if you happen to visit a temple you will be often expected to not just remove your footwear but also wash your feet before entering.

This is not necessarily a religious tradition. It is practiced across most communities in India and  as I discovered,  in many other countries of the world, including Asia, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, as well as some corners of Europe.

So the next time you happen to spy footwear outside a residence, you may want to remove yours too 🙂

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This tradition is mentioned in the PROLOGUE my book ‘INCONVENIENT RELATIONS‘ 

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Thank you!

Navratri- Celebration of the Divine Feminine

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Navratri  (in Sanskrit meaning Nine Nights) is the celebration of the feminine divine.  During this festival nine forms of Shakti or Devi are worshiped. She is the ultimate embodiment of creative energy and celebrating her is considered most auspicious. This is one of the most important festivals of the Hindus and is celebrated all over India and the opportunity arrives twice a year: in the beginning of spring and autumn.

Just as India is a land of many languages and cultures, the celebration of Navratri too takes various forms. In West Bengal, the last four days are celebrated as Durga Puja where exquisitely decorated life size clay dolls of the Goddess depicted as slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up and on the fifth day are immersed in the river.

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In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the festival is celebrated with the energetic Garba and Dandiya Raas dances.

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In South India steps are set up and decorated with dolls in an arrangement called Golu.

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The festival culminates in on the tenth day in Vijayadashami meaning ‘victory on the tenth day’ which refers to Lord Rama’s victory over the ten headed demon Ravana as well as that of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahisasura.

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Holi ‘The Festival of Colors’

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celebrating Holi in India (Courtesy National Geo)

When Holika burned, Good won over evil

When Krishna playfully colored Radha’s face, he ensured the purity of love

Holi invokes Spring, the genesis of new hope and relationships

Let’s celebrate it’s spirit and forget and forgive

HAPPY HOLI

Food- A Celebration

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When the simple act of partaking food becomes a sacred event, one just doesn’t feed the stomach but feeds the soul.

A very good example is the traditional South Indian meal that is served on a banana leaf (biodegradable and lends a special flavor). The food is simple and wholesome, prepared from scratch, with love and devotion. The distinct aroma and flavors achieved by the correct blend of fresh spices such as  curry leaves, mustard seeds, coriander, ginger, garlic, chili, pepper, cinnamon,cloves, green cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut and rosewater.

Whenever I travel back to my homeland, I have the pleasure of savoring such meals in the homes of my family members where tradition is still adhered to especially during festivals and formal occasions. The above picture shows a very basic South Indian vegetarian meal that consists of cooked white rice, banana chips,  lentil papadam (thin, crisp, disc shaped, deep fried appetizers), beetroot poriyal (vegetable),  savory lentil vada (fritter), yogurt and payasam (pudding made by boiling rice, cracked wheat or vermicelli with milk and sugar).

The wooden man is dressed in traditional South Indian attire of cotton dhoti (long loincloth) and angavastram (upper garment).

‘Sindoor’ (the Vermilion powder on the forehead) & ‘Inconvenient Relations.’

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“By placing this Sindoor on your forehead, I make you mine. I take you as my wife.”

Sindoor सिन्दूर : Hindi pronounced Sin-Dur is the red vermilion powder worn by married Hindu women along the Maang (parting) of their hair. Being in use since the Vedic era, it is also called ‘Kumkum’ when mixed with turmeric.

Why Sindoor or Kumkum?

Considered scientifically and spiritually beneficial, it absorbs the ‘bad’ influences and enhances the power of concentration through the 3rd chakra which is centered on the forehead in between the eyebrows. It also enhances feminine grace and beauty. RED is the color of love and passion and hence is worn by women to win the hearts of their husbands.

It signifies that the woman who wears it is married and under the protection of her husband, therefore no one dare make the mistake of casting the evil eye on her.

Red is also the color of fire and strength. By wearing it, even the slight unassuming Indian woman can assume the role of Shakti (the divine feminine power) not only to protect herself but also for the security of her children.

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Excerpt from ‘Inconvenient Relations’

You’re Mine

Ruhi saw Debo examining her curiously and realized that the sari had slipped off her shoulder while tending to Anu.

“What is up, dear? Where is your mangalsutra and sindoor? I noticed earlier but didn’t bring it up.”

 “Umm…the chain broke. I have given it for fixing.”

 “Then what about the sindoor?”

 “I…The whole thing fell on the carpet yesterday and made a mess. I have to go get some more.”

 “Ruhi look at me.” Debo gently propped her face up by the chin. “You consider me like your elder sister, right?”

 She answered with an apprehensive nod.

 “Then there are certain things, which are essential for a married Indian woman. It doesn’t matter what your husband may say, but you should not take them lightly. You should never go without your sindoor because it is an auspicious symbol of your marriage and also a sign that indicates your love will prosper. Therefore, even if you don’t have your wedding necklace, you should at least wear your sindoor.”

 “Yes, di, I will try to get some as soon as possible.”

 “Soon? Why not now?”

 Ruhi felt trapped as Debo dragged her to a tiny shrine and picked up a small silver receptacle full of the vermilion powder.

 “I can put it on, di, give it to me.”

 “No, I have a better idea. Shaan!” Debo called out.

 Ruhi felt upset; her body began to tremble.

 “What is it, bhabhi? Time for food?” Shaan appeared, smiling along with Sujoy.

 “Shaan, I didn’t expect this from you. I know you love your wife dearly, but letting her go about bareheaded. It is not right.”

 “Let them be, Debo, they are a modern couple. It’s their life. You don’t have to interfere.” Sujoy chimed in acutely embarrassed; his wife was quite the traditionalist.

“You keep out of it, Sujoy, I know my sister. She will listen to me.”

 She handed Shaan the receptacle and urged him, “Take this and put it back where it belongs with God as your witness and don’t ever let her go unadorned again.”

 Then as he hesitated, she asked, frowning, ”Is there something wrong between you two?”

 “No, of course not.” He looked at Ruhi who had grown completely silent.

 “Go ahead, Shaan,” Bee said softly, giving him permission.

 He pinched a small amount of the red powder and placed it firmly in the parting on her forehead. Not entirely certain why, but this makeshift ceremony appeared more meaningful to him than the one on his wedding day.

 “Perfect! Now my mishti bon looks like a bride, a very beautiful bride.”

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The Indian Way- Everyday Etiquette: Bhai Sahib and Behenji

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A street side stall where a vendor sells Soan papdi or Soanpapri which is a popular South Asian sweet with a crisp and flaky texture.

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“Kaise diye bhai sahib?” What is the asking price, brother?

“Bees rupiah kilo behenji.” 20 rupees/kilo sister.

A conversation very similar to the above, modified to fit the situation and scripted in various regional languages, can be overheard if one happens to wander inside any store, or pass by a street shop  on any given day in India.

I am not talking about the skyrocketing prices of fresh fruit and vegetables (that’s another topic altogether,) but of the way two strangers address each other.

The housewife who is trying to find the best deal she can as she goes around the market, addresses the vendor as ‘Bhai sahib’ [Bhaee-saab]. Hindi: भाई साहिब  Bhai – Brother, Sahib- term of respect.

She uses this term even though he bears no relationship to her.

Similarly the tradesman or vendor responds with the term ‘Behen ji’ [Bahen-jee] Hindi: बहन जी Behen – Sister, Ji – gender neutral term of respect.

Indians use these terms often during the course of a typical day while doing business with strangers; such as while buying groceries, haggling over the price of fruits and vegetables, dealing with the milkman, or hailing a taxi or an auto rickshaw.

It is a means of establishing a temporary bond or kinship which places the conversation on a congenial and non-confrontational platform.

So on your next trip to India, these two terms should come in very handy.