17 October 2009

a beautiful ending to a wondrous holiday

as evening fell, the firecrackers gave way to multicolored fireworks, on the streets, in people’s yards, just like the 4th of july, filling the air with that wonderful firework smell and with the brightest of colors.
and at my office, we held a puja, a religious ceremony for the holiday. a table was set up, with a white tablecloth, embroidered in colored patterns that looked like the exploding fireworks. around the table were plates with ceremonial foods like sweets, bananas, and dried fruits and nuts. on the table were a number of items. a small lit candle, small decorated boxes filled with clove and cardamom, flowers garlands, and most importantly, 5 deities, each made of brass, sitting on a pedestal, and each about 5 inches tall. they were ganesh, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom, nandi, a bull representing shiva, baby krishna, and buddha. there were 6 of us in the office, including baby tara, who recently turned 1.
the ceremony went as follows: one at a time, we each washed each deity by pouring water over their heads twice. the first time we used water with sandlewood oil, and the second time was water with perfume oil. one of us poured the sandlewood water on ganesh, then each of us in turn did the same, then we moved on to the other deities, washing them one at a time. then we repeated the whole thing with the perfumed water. this took a few minutes, and it was done in peaceful silence.
once the deities were washed, we each placed a beautiful tiny flower garland around each deity, and we clothed baby krishna, putting a lovely robe on the little statue.
then we anointed each deity with 4 holy substances. in turn, we each applied one of the substances to all the deities, then we moved onto the next substances and we each applied that one. the substances were sandlewood powder, turmeric powder, red tikka powder, and grains of rice.
each time each of us visited each deity was a special moment which began and ended with a namaste, bringing the hands together in prayer position. i said little mantras to each deity, said hello to each one, and thanked each one for their presence.
after the ceremony, i led the group in a meditation where we saw the deities and their appreciation for our devotion, and dedicated the peacefulness of the moment to the happiness of all beings, and wished for a year of love, peace and prosperity for all.
then we were each presented with a blank book, put a couple celebratory diwali stickers in them, and dabbed a dot of the sandlewood, turmeric and red tikka powder on the first page of the book. then we wrote whatever came to mind; our wishes for the new year.
we followed with a celebration where we took prasadam, which just means that we ate together with a devotional and spiritual attitude towards the food. there were yummy doughnut type things, another kind of fried sweet dough, potato chips and peanuts, and bananas.
we all felt very peaceful, very calm and blissful, and full of joy. it was a beautiful and meaningful ceremony, rosh hashanah and 4th of july rolled into 1, and i was honored to be a part of it. it really made my day, and between last night’s wedding extravaganza and tonight’s puja ceremony, i really feel that my first diwali in india was meaningful and special.

and at the end, we took our books home, everyone got one of the little boxes filled with cloves and cardamom, and the group presented me with the baby krishna, and his robe, garland and pedestal to keep. the gift really touched me and i will treasure it. and i LOVE baby krishna! he loves butter, is a little mischievous, grows up to be a musician and a lover of women, and especially a lover of his one true mate, radha. i feel very close to krishna, especially now that i’ve found my radha, my heather, my wife.
i hope everyone had a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. may all beings attain happiness and the causes of happiness, and be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

2 of the 7 dwarves

it’s amazing how quickly i can go from happy to grumpy. sometimes i wish i were more evenly-keeled, but i suppose that would take some of the bliss out of my life, so i guess i don’t. i had such an amazing night last night, so fun, but today everything is annoying me.
first the fun. last night i happened upon a wedding celebration, and i crashed it, and it was amazing. one of those incredible india moments.
it was Diwali eve, and i was walking home. there was much celebrating going on. after taking a couple pictures of kids lighting sparklers, i saw bright lights coming from behind the block of shops. i thought it was a temple doing diwali prayers so i walked around to go in. it turned out to be a wedding; there were lots of decorations, people dressed up beautifully, a fan blowing cool rose scented air. i went up to the bar and asked them what was going on, if it was a wedding (it was kinda obvious) and they said yes and offered me a drink. i turned that first one down. then i saw some folks dressed up like me at my wedding, in fancy indian suits. one was the brother of the bride. i congratulated him and asked if i could stay a while. he implored me to stay and be his guest. he sat me in one of the chairs. the kids came right up to me and started talking. the women on the other side were watching and laughing, especially when i started singing along to the music that was playing. the couple was on the stage walking around a firepit 7 times while a guy was reciting prayers into a microphone. they had a mickey mouse bounce house for the kids, and popcorn and cotton candy.
then the waiters kept coming by and offering me appetizers. i had just eaten but i didn't want to be rude so i accepted. they were delish. then i got one of the kids to get me some cotton candy. soon i got up and walked around. felt a little badly that everyone was paying attention to me, but whatever the couple was busy on stage anyway.
they had a bar with brightly colored "mocktails", and fire eaters, and a midget dude dancing (that’s a common entertainment here. it didn’t strike me as exploitative, just fun, and he was well paid. that’s a very common thing at parties here.)
the spread was crazy; indian food, bread baking, chinese food, all kinds of stuff.
i kept meeting family members of the happy couple, they were so friendly and welcoming, and all the other random guys wanted to hang out with me too. the kids did first, of course, but then after the adults did too. the decorations were bright and beautiful, it was quite a party.
you can see pictures here:

on the other hand, i was woken up today before sunrise by ridiculously loud explosions. firecrackers for diwali, lit by kids in the streets before 6am, right under my window, which won’t close because the old air conditioner was taken out and the new one has not been put in yet. they were like grenades, you could never find firecrackers this big in the States. i know it’s festive and all, but it wasn’t a great way to wake up. then i had a not-so-great skype chat with my family back home. i’ll leave out the details because i want to respect everyone’s privacy, but those pre-dawn and outrageously loud explosions and that call left me kinda grumpy. PLUS dell computer released a commercial here where they totally rip off a line from the original willy wonka movie without giving any credit. that's low. it’s funny, sometimes i’m walking around outside and people laugh as i pass, or say something to each other, and sometimes it’s great, i join them, life is great, it’s funny that i’m here and being friendly to all, we're all happy to see each other, and other times i perceive it as them laughing at me and it’s just annoying. it’s all in the perception. we create our own experience.

to end on a happy note, i just learned that it’s a tradition on Diwali to play cards and gamble, so i’ll do just that. and my office is having a Diwali Puja (religious ceremony) together this evening, which should be wonderful. so maybe i’ll take a nap and head out for that, and all will be well.

I wish everyone a happy Diwali and a prosperous new year. may Lakshmi smile upon us all this year!

election update: same same but different

well, election day came and went, and it really doesn't seem much different than politics in the US. there were basically 2 parties, though they were both alliances. the ruling party is Congress-Nationalist Congress, which as i've said is the party of Gandhi. they've been in charge pretty much for all of india's independence since 1947, except for a brief period in the late 90's, when it was controlled by the BJP (bharatiya janata) - Shiv Sena alliance.
the problem with the congress party is that they are totally corrupt, don't keep their promises, and don't really do anything. the problem with bjp-shiv sena is that they are right wing and they practice the politics of hate; hatred against any religion except hindus, especially muslims.
few people are falling for the bjp hate politics, but some people like them because at least they keep some of their promises to the people (a similar problem to hamas in gaza; they are evil, but they are (or used to be) less corrupt than the palestinian authority and are perceived as taking care of the people better, although that can be argued).
as a result, very few people voted. in mumbai only 45% of eligible voters exercised their rights; amazingly, in colaba, the place where the terrorist attacks took place a year ago, the turnout was only 35% (source: hindustan times). and they even forced all businesses to close and give their employees paid time off. over 90% of malls, movie theaters, restaurants and hotels were closed until voting ended at 5:00pm, and they still couldn't get a decent turnout.
the reason, of course, is that no one expected any change. they knew Congress would win about 55% of the assembly seats, and that bjp would win about 45%, that the stalemates would continue, that the people would be ignored for the most part.
still, there was some nice stories: young people happy to be able to vote for the first time, one old woman who left her house for the first time in 6 months to vote; a man who traveled over 1,000 kilometers from his job, just to vote. but in the end, the results were as predicted, and life for ordinary Indians will go on, unchanged.