Make Shift Kitchens, Indian Style

Indians love to travel. They are visible all over India: going to weddings, making a pilgrimage to a holy destination and on school holidays, just to name a few. For the most part, they travel in groups and aren’t familiar with the concept of traveling light.

While in south India I was taking a short cut through the bus station and came upon two parked buses that caught my attention.  They were colorfully painted but beside them you could see entire kitchens set up right there in the station with the tantalizing aroma of delicious meals filling the air.

Open Air Kitchen

Open Air Kitchen

Bus Station Kitchen

Bus Station Kitchen

You can see that these groups are traveling with their own canisters of gas and huge cauldrons. In the south in particular, strict vegetarians are common.  Their dietary requirements are very important to them so they bring a cook along and everything else necessary.  Make shift kitchens go up wherever possible, not just in the bus station.

A Few Chiles?

A Few Chiles?

No meal in India is complete without lots of dried, red chiles…and piles of tomatoes and onions…and a big smile.

Steaming Cauldrons

Steaming Cauldrons and Smiles

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Chillum Smoker with Camels

Camel Camp

Camel Camp

While traveling through rural Rajasthan by car during one of my tours, we stopped to admire this group of camel keepers. They travel around the state and make camp where tourists (mostly domestic in this case) congregate, offering them a chance to ride a camel. Here they are seen at leisure.

Chillum Smoker

Chillum Smoker

They are gregarious and not at all camera-shy.

Masculinity takes various form around the globe. Here, smoking a chillum epitomizes  the Rajasthani idea of macho. A chillum is a clay cylinder shaped pipe that is open at both ends. At the narrower end a stone stopper prevents the burning contents from falling out of the bottom of the cylinder. A damp cloth placed over the openingt acts as a filter and helps to prevent any cinders from burning the smoker. The chillum is usually filled with a combination of tobacco and hashish.

Ah!

Ah!

Parked Camels

Parked Camels in Rajasthan

A Big Puff

A Big Puff

Though exceedingly colorful and charming, these men are professional showmen and they smell money. After a few friendly photographs and smiles, we leave them in their intoxicated haze but we are the ones giggling with delight.

 

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A Democratic Toilet

Originally posted on Ninagrandiose's Blog:

When I first started blogging I had no idea what I wanted to blog about or even much idea about what a blog was. My first posts had no photos and rambled on about this and that. This is one of them. I’ve added this photo and thought you might find this entertaining.

I can’t afford to be squeamish here in India when I go to the ladies room. Even that term doesn’t exist. If you ask for the ladies room no one will know what you want unless they’re U.S. ” returned” as it’s referred to  here. They speak plainly, much of their usage a remnant from the past. They don’t even use the word bathroom. For them, that is where one takes a bath. Here one asks for the toilet, no euphemisms please. I like this no nonsense approach. However, the range of toilets vary greatly.

Last night I…

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Full Power

If you occasionally drop by here or follow this blog then I am sure that you can understand the need to take a break from everything. What a luxury it is especially if you are in India.  The confines of traveling light make it difficult for me to blog now but I have lots of great tales and photos to share soon. Please be patient, something that really comes in handy in India.

I love the expression that you hear frequently all over India, “Full Power.” Many people with limited English vocabulary use it as a short cut to express multiple things. Mystics and salesmen use it too. The gods have the most power and whenever anyone says it, I think of these gods churning up the ocean, raising mountains like an umbrella and changing their sex at whim. When Shiva demonstrates his Full Power, the universe trembles in fear.

As each year begins, I look for a theme to contemplate during the coming year. This is my theme for 2015, Full Power!

Thank you all for being there, reading, liking, following and commenting. Without you there is no full power. Naturally, I wish you all Full Power too in 2015!

Ninagrandiose

 

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The Essential Street Entrepreneurs of India

Waiting for Customers

Waiting for Customers

With a population now bursting at just over 1.2 billion people, the competition for jobs and just about anything else is fierce in India. There aren’t enough jobs for every one who wants one nor are there enough schools and universities for every one who desires an education. It is simply a question of supply and demand. The demand is there; the supply is inadequate. What is that expression? Necessity is the father of invention, or something like that. India certainly exemplifies that, especially when it comes to earning a living.

Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs myself, my admiration and respect for this group of hard-working souls is boundless. What this small series has in common is that each entrepreneur photographed here has little more than the item(s) they are selling. To my mind, this is the essence of the retail business in its purest state, unaided and unadorned. You want it, I have it. Please buy it. Here is the price. Take it. Finish.

In the photograph above, the man seated reading the paper is selling small packets of a tobacco laced stimulant known as gutka or pan masala which is extraordinarily popular. He sits in the doorway of an unoccupied building with just his wooden box for display and a canvas tote bag with his back-up inventory. How much simpler can it get? He comes nearly every day; I look out for him with interest. I doubt that he earns very much though he certainly doesn’t look worried about it.

 

 

Itinerant Duster Vendor

Itinerant Duster Vendor

The subject in this photograph, the Duster Vendor, has no display equipment or visible back-up inventory. He carries his dusters wherever he goes. He has chosen an outdoor market to drum up some sales. I suspect that his primary audience are the formal shops that border the edge of the market. He sells a very specialized duster, used for distant and high up places like dusting the top of a ceiling fan or a high shelf because the duster has such a very long handle. A shopkeeper might just find this tool handy.

 

 

Sikh Bracelet Merchant

Sikh Bracelet Merchant

This smiling Sikh merchant has nothing more than his supply of steel kara bracelets and a white cloth for display. He seems pleased that I want to take his photograph. You may notice that behind him is yet another vendor, the sugar cane vendor. At every turn entrepreneurs engage in small-scale business out on the street.

Flower Seller

Flower Seller

While exploring the flower market in Madurai, I came across this gorgeous display of roses. This vendor actually purchased her goods at the very market where she is selling them! She was gracious and allowed me to take a few photographs and even offered to put some roses in my hair for free. I didn’t have any hair pins so another woman took a pin out of her hair and helped to arrange the flowers for me.

 

Cloth Merchant

Cloth Merchant

This Muslim cloth merchant still falls into this category but is burdened by the weight of such a bulky and heavy item, cloth. But he comes to his selling spot with nothing more than a plastic tarp that he spreads on the ground where he neatly piles his selection of fabrics. He also has a mark that indicates a meter and can measure the cloth that way but mostly he uses a particular arm length for his measuring system.

Book Seller

Book Seller

 

Last but certainly not least is the book seller. He, too, has a heavy product that he packs into cartons and spreads on a plastic cloth right on the pavement.  I have often shopped these stalls and chatted with the vendors.  They truly epitomize the clever, wily entrepreneur. More often than not, they are not serious readers. They know what sells, what the public wants and carry all the popular titles but most of them have never read any of the books that they sell. I’ve tried discussing some of the books with them and they openly admit this.

For me, one of the many delights of spending time in India are all the wonderful books available in English everywhere at reasonable rates when compared to the west.

These imaginative and creative entrepreneurs can easily be overlooked as they are so omnipresent and an essential part of the landscape but like so many things that strike you at first, like the cows, they eventually fade into the background and you stop noticing them.

Ironically, their survival is under threat by India’s very own progress. With their rudimentary methods of merchandising, marketing and selling, these people represent the essential entrepreneur of India; I call them the street-preneurs.

 

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Life of the Holy Cow in India

City Cow

City Cow

Of all the myths and mystiques associated with India, the most puzzling for a westerner to grasp is the cow’s elevated status in Hindu society. With my many decades of travel in India, the veneration of cows is just another aspect of Indian life that I now take for granted, find charming and in an odd way, has rubbed off on me but it is not something that I understood easily at first.

Most Hindus claim that they do not worship the cow, per se, but honor the cow for what it represents, that which they hold dear, important and sacred. The average person on the street in India would probably tell you that the cow is like the mother who protects its offspring and whose body produce milk to nourish it. Hindu rituals employ all the products and by-products that come from the cow for their prayers or pujas. These five products include milk, curd, ghee (clarified butter), urine and dung. The cow gives selflessly as the undemanding provider, never considering what it will receive in return. It gives more than it takes, just as a good mother does.

It has taken many centuries for this view to evolve. In ancient verses of the Rigveda,there are references to the cow being associated with Aditi, the mother of the Gods. Before the birth of Christ, the giving of a cow as a gift to a Brahmin was the only gift acceptable to give to a Brahmin. Later, this evolved into the strict protection of cows until the killing of a cow became associated with the killing of Brahmins or priests. For the Hindus, the cow is Aghanya or that which cannot be slaughtered.

What this boils down to is that Hindus adore cows. All over India, except in the downtown areas of the big cities, cows roam freely. Indians feed them, touch them with reverence and treat them like royalty.

 

 

 

Cow at the Door

Cow at the Door

The cow shown in the photograph above is waiting for food. No doubt, the woman of the house saves her vegetable peels, scraps and leftovers for this cow who probably visits on a daily basis.

Don't You Dare

Don’t You Dare

This dark brown cow comes dangerously close to this coconut vendor. The vendor watches patiently, waiting in case the cow crosses the line. Once crossed, the vendor will take action but he will not harm the cow.

Bottom View

Bottom View

These women are washing their pots and pans. This cow has stepped up hoping to get some leftovers.

Cow Relief

Cow Relief

I clicked this shot not really sure what was happening. I think that the cow may have been sick or injured and they were lifting it inside for its comfort.

Licking the Pot Clean

Licking the Pot Clean

At a small, local eatery, the cook brought out this pot with a bit of food still clinging to its sides for this cow to savor, not an eatery that I frequent!

Cow on the Beach

Cow on the Beach

Cow Portrait with Horns

Cow Portrait with Horns

No matter what your opinion of cows was before visiting India, your views will definitely be permanently altered after your visit. When a cow passes by me in India, I touch its flank without thinking. I sneak a blessing. And I keep coming back. This is my blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mehendi and the Feminine Mystique in India

Marriage Bangles & Mehendi

Marriage Bangles with Mehendi Patterns

I am not the only one who finds the ornate patterns painted on Indian women’s hands with a paste of mehendi (also known as henna)  alluring, as it is one of the many important features of the bridal attire and accompanying rituals. The bride’s mehendi patterns are the most intricate, elaborate and expensive. It is not unheard of for the mehendi artist to deftly paint in the groom’s name, hidden amongst all the swirls and arabesques. On their wedding night, the groom is now allowed to see his new wife’s painted limbs and attempts to find his camouflaged name, a very romantic tradition.

I clicked the above photograph during the “marriage season,” whose dates are determined according to astrology. Nearly all newly wedded Hindu brides wear a set of matched red and white bangle bracelets known as choora or choori, which is the plural form. She wears them for forty days. Traditionally, they are gifted to her from her mother’s brother. After the forty days end, so does the honeymoon. I read that this tradition began in the Punjab but has spread throughout most of India. The design of the choori has distinct regional differences but the red and white ones are the most popular.

Women all over Indian enjoy preparing for a special occasion by getting their hands decorated with mehendi, myself included. I admit, though, I don’t need a special occasion to have it done. I especially like to have my hands hennaed  when I am about to leave India. It lasts for about a week and helps me to say farewell. I look down at my hands when I am back in the west with fondness. Though I am sad, there is this visible reminder of my connection to India even though it is fading, it gives me pleasure and is a reassurance that it was real, that I really was there and that I will return.

Mehendi in Process

Mehendi Painting Drying

While seated on a low stool where many mehendiwallas offer their skills in Delhi, waiting for my hands to dry, a foreigner stopped to watch with fascination. After a few minutes he asked if he could take a photograph of my hands. I agreed. Afterwards, he asked if I had a camera and if I wanted him to take a photograph with my camera. He was pleasant and had an honest face or I wouldn’t have allowed him to open my bag and take out my camera and take this photo of me! My hands were damp with the mehendi paste and the drying process is essential to its success. Without drying properly, you could end up with a big smudged mess.

The art of mehendi has been part of the cultures of India, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle  East for more than 5,000 years. It is known to have cooling properties too. In the desert districts of Rajasthan, especially during the summer, the locals apply mehendi  to their palms and feet and even to the scalp, without any pattern just to help maintain a slightly lower body temperature and to keep them cool.

Bride at the Beauty Salon

Bride at the Beauty Salon

I love going to Indian beauty salons, partly because they are much more affordable than in the west but also because of all the unusual treatments that are on offer. While waiting for my pedicure and threading in the salon that I photographed above, I couldn’t help but notice the exquisite and finely detailed mehendi patterns on this bride- to- be’s arms. She traveled to Bombay solely for this purpose. Here, back in Rajasthan, she is having her hair styled. Unfortunately, my battery ran out, my spare was back in the room and this was the only shot I got!

The Indian treatment of all things feminine is so beautiful that next year I am going to incorporate them into one of my tours. Who knows, you might just want to discover, ” The Feminine Mystique in India” with me.

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