Thursday, March 8, 2012

Last Post from Chandelao

The last post
This will be our last post from Chandelao,. It is Thursday 8th March – full moon, and the Indian festival of Holi. We will be finishing work here on Saturday. On Sunday we become tourists, when Lin's sister Brenda and her husband Anthony arrive from England. Then we are off on a three week tour of Rajasthan.
Sandy is currently scurrying to get his second web site project, for the Sunder Rang Women's Craft Centre, finished before we leave. Lin's school is closed for three days for the holiday, so she has just one more day at school. She hopes to be able to present the school with the supplies she has bought with her grant money, though the Holi holidays have extended the excuses for non-delivery and it may not happen till next week. Saturday will still be a day for difficult goodbyes.
The past week has been occupied with two major events – our three day trip to Pushkar, and the Holi holiday.
Lin and Sandy standing at the lake in Pushkar
A week ago, our hotel in Chandelao was overbooked and we were “thrown out”. Luckily we were able to make this coincide with our FSD “mid-term” retreat, so FSD arranged for us to take a trip to Pushkar, about 3 hours from Chandelao. Pushkar is an unusual and attractive place, where no one eats meat or eggs, and no alcohol is sold. Groups of Hindu pilgrims visit the sacred lake and the only Brahma temple in India, young Israelis are there to decompress after their military service, and ageing hippies hang out and don't seem to realise that the 60's are over. The main street is lined with a wide variety of small shops where we spent a lot of time and a little money buying easily portable presents and souvenirs. The main street also had many good restaurants, more than the usual complement of cows, too many motor scooters, but no cars or rickshaws. There were some hilarious signs in the shops – our favorite was a painter who styled himself “Kickasso, the Indian Picasso”.
Our hotel was right beside the lake with great views of the sunset, ghats and bathers. Pilgrim activity starts with the sunrise and from then on the sound of bells, gongs, drums and prayers continues throughout the day. We paid our respects to Brahma, the creator of the universe, by throwing some flowers at his statue in the temple and giving some sweets. We also threw flowers in the lake so good fortune is sure to come our way. On our second morning, we climbed a tall pointed hill on the outskirts of the town, up to a temple for Saraswati, Brahma's wronged wife, and the home of handsome, silky, gray langur monkey families who seemed to enjoy posing for photographs. We were lucky on our last evening that our visit coincided with a performance of Indian classical dance and music by a local dance school. We sat mesmerized for 2 hours by haunting music from a large group of excellent musicians and some very fine, intricate dancing in the Orissa style 
A lot has changed in 44 years
Sandy first visited India in 1966 when he came to work in Shimla (then Simla) for the Commonwealth Save the Children Fund in a school for Tibetan refugee children. A lot has changed in India in those 44 years. He remembers a sign outside the railway station in Delhi stating that the population of India was over 500 million, and exhorting people to not let it reach 600 million. The population is now nearly 1,200 million! At that time, only 19 years after independence – even 20-year-old white boys were addressed as “sahib” – a word he has only heard used ironically this visit. English was widely spoken by bus and taxi drivers; much less so now. Bicycle rickshaws and hand pulled rickshaws were common in the cities; we have only seen noisy, dirty motorised rickshaws this time. Most obvious, and most deleterious, is the ubiquity of plastic. 44 years ago there were no plastic bags or plastic containers. Chai was served in small unglazed earthenware cups which were returned to the soil after one use. Now there is plastic and plastic trash everywhere. Village rubbish dumps which used to rot away quite quickly and safely, are now piled with plastic trash. Jodhpur City has actually banned the use of plastic bags in shops, but the ban is widely ignored. Interestingly, the ban was not introduced solely to decrease the trash problem, but to protect cows from swallowing plastic bags which cause them terrible problems with their digestive systems.

Help! We got “holi”ed
Some of Lin's students going holi-crazy
Yesterday when we were in Jodhpur, there were preparations everywhere for Holi, the Hindu festival on the day of the full moon to celebrate the coming of spring. Sweet shops were doing a roaring trade;stalls had sprung up to sell cowdung donuts to make Holi fires; and everywhere were entrepreneurs with barrows piled high with brightly colored paint powders and water pistols. Already there were a few well-dyed people and cows in the street.
Today we became the target of paint throwers and sprayers the moment we stepped out of the haveli gate. We had been warned to wear our least respectable clothes, which were lovingly and sometimes mischievously daubed with splotches and splashes of bright color in Jackson Pollock style, along with our hair and face, amid a chorus of Happy Holi. Fortunately we managed to keep our cameras away from the colored water bombs, and the kids were amenable to the use of “bas” when we had had enough. Lin was dragged off to friends' houses where she was treated as a special guest, given lassi or chai to drink and a variety of snacks, as well as a fat 7-month old baby to hold for one of her many photos. Meanwhile the village elders in spectaculr holiday turbans have been drinking opium and conferring in a corner of the yard with the Thakur, our host Praduman Singh.
Sandy's shirt has not recovered after a soaking in Tide, apparently because the pink dye has potassium permanganate in it, so we will be saving our clothing in case we are here for Holi again next year.
Block-printed cloth dyed with indigo drying in the sun
Our afternoon trip to Pipar with some Norwegian and French guests introduced us to groups of highly painted red-faced young men dancing for Holi and wielding stout sticks in the street, as well as to the dyes used in the famous local block-printing factory. This is a traditional family business, open on Holi because the Muslim owners do not celebrate the festival. We watched and participated in the block-printing process, covering strips of cotton or silk with patterns and designs carved into wood blocks dipped in dyes made from natural products. The indigo dye was contained in a ten foot deep well that has not been emptied for thirty years, and the printed fabric was laid out in the sun to dry before being washed in vats of water. Deep blue finger prints were added to Lin's already decorated shirt by a gloved hand. Some of the wooden printing blocks used in the business were over 300 years old, and the skill and inventiveness of the printing was wonderful to see.
Again this evening we will be celebrating with a special dinner at the hotel, where a family party of thirty from Jodhpur has more or less taken over the place since yesterday. There has been cricket on the lawn all day, and much indulgence in spicy foods and treats, as the party hired their own caterers who took over the hotel kitchen for last night's dinner and all day today. A troupe of turbaned Rajasthani musicians and gypsy dancers in mirrored dresses decorated with sequins and bells came to entertain us all after dark.
We got holied!

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