Today is Rath Yatra. As an Indian, its tough keeping track of all our festivals. There seems to be one every single day.
A very cute deity picture appeared in the local daily as an advertisement and that is what informed us, the outsiders, of the event.
It is surprising how many such events a single city can have. Marketers opportunity indeed! Apart from a handful (a million?) of the population, there is not much involvement of the middle and above middle classes in these events, unless ofcourse there is some political affiliation.
Bengalis seem to like two things, one is things to eat and the other is intellectual pursuits. It is ironical however that a place which gives the world so much talent, itself hasn’t grown with the rest of the world.
Reading an eighth grade textbook with a neighbor’s kid enlightened me to some historic facts. Amid many yawns that history textbooks bring, it was almost like a modern day thriller.
In short here is what happened:
1500s: Europe wanted cinnamon for their bread. and silks. They form trading companies and set asea. They find Bengal, a treasure trove of natural resources, gold and silks.
1600s: they establish east India trading companies, after bowing a part of the profits to their queen.
1700s: last of mughal rulers died. British companies look at the divided princely states and start their policy of quietly annexing states one by one. They promise to protect one ruler of a princely state from another, however, they annex one state after another.
1800s: Industrialization begins and Europeans want coal for their trains and markets for their “manufactured” goods. They kill the self sufficient cottage industry of Bengal and start sending in imported “manufactured” goods to the natives. An age of plundering and corruption begins. They take the 16 year old son of the last ruler, give him passage to the royal family in Britain along with a British military doctor, as his guardian. Shrewdly they get the young king to pass over the family jewels to the crown. The Kohinoor diamond included.
1900s: world wars happen. Britain transfers debt of war to India and exits.
2000s: Neo colonials, unscrupulous traders and political machinery still carries forward the legacy of loot and corruption.( I need to stop here, otherwise they put people in jail)
People tend to turn a blind eye (?) and carry on work as if nothing happened. Education machinery works overtime and kids are brought up to be prepared to be “educated” and mostly they leave the state.
Then some religious event happens and all unite to celebrate the forgotten prosperity and good times. Of some 400 years before.
The Rath yatra today, celebrates an event of 625 years before.
If you were to travel or stay in India, you can be certain about one thing. The flavors would change when you move from one state to another. That wouldn’t mean less or more spicy, but the entire culture would have a traditional favourite one or two fruit ingredients appealing to local palette. While most of the country may have its own version of a mango species and the raw mango or Ambi would find its way into most preparations, there are some flavours which are predominant in some regions than others. In north be prepared to encounter the purple Jamun fruit, its colour staining the lips. The Imli, ( tamarind) would travel in most of the plains with you; but come west coast and you would find a red fruit called Kokum. I encountered this fruit for the first time in Goa in a vegetable dish. It’s natural red colour was a pale pink after cooking. At the steps to the east, across the country, a date and jaggery mix, called Nolen Gur is found. Move south and even the hotels could offer you a beverage “cold TC water” or Tender Coconut.
It was 5.30 am. The sky had just started clearing up the slumber of the night. A Coppersmith Barbet held a twig of grass in the beak and prepared for the dawn ahead.
Next, a grey headed Mynah announced that it was 7.00 am and that the sun was unbearably hot.
A Black headed Oriole “hid” behind a tree, but her colours and call gave her away.
This is a city you can’t move around without cabs. Is it long unconnected stretches you ask? Too much traffic, you get the answer. One way traffic at different times on different roads. So if you are new and caught on the wrong side of the road, heavens bless you or the miraculous stop to traffic by a friendly traffic policeman.
While the yellow cab is on its way to be phased out, you can’t but help noticing the “No Refusal” printed on its side. Its refreshing, up to the time, you actually reach the cab and are told various reasons why you should not be traveling by the cab to your destination.
Enter Ola cabs and Uber. Taxi hailing turns pleasant and air conditioned. You wait, and wait and wait for your “one minute away” cab. The one minute distance showing in Ola is perhaps by Air. The roads and the cabbies are a different story.
Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.
Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.
Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.
Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.
Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.
Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.
Parks. Schools. A city that studies.
Stark Rich Poor Divide.
Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.
Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.
Sleeps at ten.
Saturday morning is generally quite lazy. After a few kilometers walk and a cup of beverage, it is more so. Rather than walking back, I decide to take a cab. Saturday morning at 8.00 am is in no way a good time to find a cab easily on Nariman point. Overpriced Merus and Cool cabs line against the street, waiting for an unassuming tourist to step out from Trident. I am in no mood to pay price of a Starbucks coffee for the short commute, so do what comes naturally to many Bombayites; hail a kaali peeli.
Kaali-Peeli , translated : Yellow-Black cab; comes in many versions. Gone are the days of the oversized Ambassador, the linear Fiat; now we see stout Korean brands, most newly bought; zipping past and stopping only if they like where you are going. (!)
So, when I spotted a kaali peeli, I got a bit disheartened.
“The old Fiat!” I sighed and waved to the driver.
He caught my eye and soon trudged down the road with his 1990’s engine roaring while I waited impatiently.
I almost shut my eyes while I mumbled out the destination.
It was just a moment, …then…Blink! Blink!
My seat was a canvas of colour. Bollywood colours and dialogues made me a captive audience.
Then I asked him about the interiors.
( to be continued tomorrow)
Every year starting winters, tens of thousands of flamingos make their way to a little known jetty point in Mumbai. They travel from the Rann of Kutch, which is their breeding ground and make way to two areas in Mumbai, one is a less known jetty point for their morning feeding and the other is their evening spot near New Bombay. when they arrive here in early winter, their wings are a shade of white, but during thier departure they become a pink.
How does this happen? Our guide from BNHS explained that these muddy flats near Mumbai are filled with blue green algae from which the birds’ digestive tract extract the pigment from the carotenoid and an algae rich diet ensures the pink colour to the flamingos. those better the diet, the pinker will be the color to the flamingos.
Rann of Kutch is a good breeding spot for these flamingos but is not rich in blue green algae. The birds travel hundreds of miles till Mumbai to get their adequate dose of nutrition.
However, the story could be short-lived as there are plans to create a trans harbour link over this area and the effects of that on the ecosystem, diversity and habitat is not known.
As the day turns to night,
Glows an amber light,
Not of the warm sun,
But something magically fun.