27 October 2009

The Stage is Set

The first day I was there, honestly, I had absolutely no clue as to what to expect. I had imagined the Ram Leela to be a small scale affair considering I had skipped the most famous venues (= places where the Prime Minister visited). But as it turned out, that was not to be the case. There were security guards everywhere, security checks, seats well arranged in anticipation of the show and a nice fair drawing in crowds adjacent to the stage.
Images from the Ramleela ground where the stage was being set for the evening performance, Sept. 27 2009, New Delhi. It was almost eerie to see large numbers of empty seats reserved for an exclusive audience who never bother to turn up on time. I was told that one can watch the Ramleela only if one had the tickets or passes for the same. I suppose the organizers, Shree Ramlila Committee have to make sure they recover the costs.
A half baked Ravan's effigy. Having never seen one before, I was quite impressed by the scale of the effigy. Preeti shook her head solemnly stating that she would give this one 3 points out of 10. She has seen better! "We are doing this for you." I looked behind my back wondering if there was anyone standing behind me. No. The women were talking to me as they swept the floor. "Keechlo. Par chehara nahi.. " (Click. But not the face)
Like I mentioned, the police were omnipresent. You need special permission even to go anywhere near the stage.
One of the organisers shows off the set up. I kept wondering whether the Ravan was smiling through his moustache! The power house. Our electrician was in the middle of an evening nap when I found him. He didn't budge (except for opening his eyes) even when I started taking pictures. A security guard is strategically positioned at the Ramleela ground.

24 October 2009

Ram's Leela - Coming Soon...

Very often, I've noticed, that whenever I post an image as a precursor to a story, I almost always end up not publishing it! I'm hoping this story is not jinxed, for it was funny (note : funny) shooting the whole gimmick which had fleshed out on the last night of my Dusshera experience in Delhi.

21 October 2009

Diwali Celebrations - Bangalore 2009

I spent most part of my long weekend in the company of my laptop. But I did manage to squeeze in a few hours to celebrate Diwali with my friends on Saturday evening. I'm quite sure that these images will not see the light of the day until 2010 Diwali, once i chuck it into the abyss of my hard disk. So I chose to edit them now. Hope you guys had a safe, fun Diwali.. I sure did.
Sowmya was our official torch light :)
Kruti - our hostess
Kunal threatens Sowmya. Its Kunal's 'surprise' birthday cake on display!
Meagan is already scared of the weird uncle :$
Laura and kids watch the fireworks burst in the neighbourhood.
Sowmya, Meagan and my sis
Divya and Kruti's dad were by far the most enthusiastic of the lot!
Yes yes. For a sec, I thought I had turned deaf too.
The demise of our special (= most expensive) cracker happened in such a short time that I'm honestly surprised that I did manage to freeze the first few moments of its existence. (Please note the 'dark shadow' alias 'the cool dude' alias 'Kunal Basu' walking away as if he is on an evening stroll)

17 October 2009

Ramayan : 880,000 years later

Ram and Laxman goes around the Red Fort ground on Sept. 28 in a procession to mark his victory over Ravana.
Young boys climb onto a scaffold for a better view of the spectacle of Ram's victorious procession at Red Fort, Delhi on Sept. 28 2009.
I was in Delhi two weeks ago, covering Ram Leela (enactment of Ramayana) during the Dusshera festivities. In essence, the festival was all about the triumph of good over evil. Towards the end of the Ram Leela, Ram, the hero of the epic Ramayana strode around the ground in his chariot pompously waving at the cheering crowd. He is back in his kingdom after a 14 year exile in the forest. And yes, he has defeated the devil himself... Ravana.
An effigy of Ravana ready to be burnt for the grand finale of Ram Leela. The demon king is supposed to have sported 10 heads while in battle with Ram. My favorite interpretation of that story is that the Demon king had turned out to be so intelligent that his IQ was parallel to that of ten heads put together. Quite the clever devil!!
This morning, on Oct. 17, the news channels were blaring stories about Diwali. About how we Indians welcome Goddess (of wealth) Lakshmi into our homes, how we keep our houses clean to welcome her, how this festival is the embodiment of feminine beauty (I really did wonder where the hell did NDTV get that from! ), blah blah blah. My sister simply said that Diwali (in North India) is the occasion when Ram returned from his exile after defeating Ravana and Wikipedia affirms this story adding that the people of Ayodhya had welcomed their beloved King by lighting lamps in the streets and hence the name Diwali (meaning row of lamps).
People arrive at the Red Fort ground to watch the Ram Leela and to enjoy the fair that was going on.
The reason for celebrating the same event twice (Dusshera/ Diwali) in a year is quite beyond my understanding. But what caught my attention was that ultimately, we were celebrating the triumph of good over evil, the symbol of evil being Ravana who had abducted a married woman (Sita). The crowd cheered on as though they were the victorious warriors from the Battle of Lanka (war between Ram and Ravana). As though, they would lay their lives for the victory of what is deemed as good. But what really happened on Sept. 28, the day of defeat for all that is evil, was this. As the Ram Leela celebrations came to an end at the Red Fort, the crowd started pushing their way through the bottle neck exit. My friend, Preeti and I were at a stall trying to get hold of a soft drink when the crowd suddenly turned chaotic. Our warriors of Ayodhya had turned to an unsuspecting foreigner, trying to grab her wherever they could lay hands on. There is little one can do to help or to escape when caught in a narrow passage with hundreds of lustful unruly men zeroing in on you. Worse still was the possibility of getting caught in a stampede. Perhaps by divine intervention, some men in the crowd decided to help. I do not have much idea about how they gained control of the mob. However, during the confusion, while i was bracing myself trying not to get robbed or molested, Preeti had already slapped a few men and kicked some in their groins. But after a few minutes I was able to stick my hand out to take a picture and a few minutes later everybody went about their business as though nothing had happened. As we elbowed our way out of the crowd, we found the young couple following us out of the ground... the boy had his arm protectively clasped around his girl. I wish they didn't have to go through this. Not in my country.
Preeti Singh : fixer, interpreter, companion and most importantly, a friend in need.
We were silent as we took a ride back home in a rickshaw that evening. Shadows of the Ram Leela, the mob, the girl.... refused to leave my head. "There isn't anything anyone could have done to prevent it you know..," Preeti tried to assure me after a while. I wasn't convinced. "These things happen all the time. The important thing is to fight back, " she added. After all these years of incarnations, evolutions and progress, nothing much has changed I thought. A woman is abducted by a demon king, her husband later rescues her after a glorious war and she is then banished from the kingdom due to questions raised about her chastity. 880,000 years later, crowds gather to celebrate the successful rescue mission of this epic hero but has no qualms in man handling the very beings their hero had once symbolically rescued from a lustful demon. Perhaps the ten headed demon king was never completely defeated in the first place... Perhaps a piece of Ravana continues to live in all of us. The shadows continue to drift across my mind...

15 October 2009

Sweet Shop

13 October 2009


12 October 2009

Introducing Swami

We met Swami at the Durga Devi Temple, Anegudi. A young man in his late twenties trying to make a living out of guiding tourists. If you are in Anegudi, you will find him in the temple premises. He will tell you tales from the Ramayana, take you to view points which you would be sure to miss otherwise, tell you about the local beliefs and recent developments in the village and of course, he will make sure that you visit every cave and every shrine which is supposed to be blessed with the presence of characters from our Indian Epics. He was obviously proud of his village and its temples.
The Durga Devi temple in Anegudi. You should have the lemon rice (which they give you in large quantities) from the temple, which is the prasad (blessing) that the temple has to offer to you. In its backyard, you will find the ruins of a palace from the Vijayanagara era. Although the area is now private property, you can still explore the place. Swami had shown us caves where Bali (one of the key figures in Ramayana ) is supposed to have prayed and tunnels which connect strategic locations in Hampi.
At the Mahavishnu temple, Anegudi. Although small, this temple had beautiful murals on its walls completed by artists in the late 90's. A short trek through the rocky terrain behind the Durga Temple had taken us to this point where we could see an ant hill at some 10m depth. Swami told us that the priest from the temple took a bowl of milk to this ant hill everyday and did pooja for the Snake gods. A King Cobra is often seen in the premises. Swami believes that this snake drinks all the milk that the temple offers daily. "Have you seen the snake drinking the milk from the bowl?" "I have seen the snake.. the big black snake. I have seen it often crawl down to the pit. Along that trail." "But have you SEEN the snake DRINKING the milk from the bowl?" "I have seen the king cobra... One should keep him happy. One should give him milk.. " I shrugged. My mother gave me a reproachful look. Silence. I desperately wanted to see how the anthill would look like at a close distance. After a while, Swami offered to climb down the snake trail (he said it was dangerous for me to try climbing down) to reach the ant hill and take pictures of it. Without much thought, I handed over my camera, the most priced possession of my life to a man whom i had met only an hour ago. "I will be back in a short while. I climb up and down quite often." He had disappeared from out view. Five minutes passed. Six, seven, eight... My mother and I remained silent. We were in the middle of nowhere. The terrain wasn't easy to navigate. My mother is old, and I knew she was tired. I was sure we would easily be lost trying to find our way back. My mobile didn't have range there. The guest house will not notice our absence until the next day. A king cobra was somewhere near by. I couldn't stop blaming myself. "Madam..... " I heard a voice echoing from beneath. There he was, trying to get a picture of the sacred ant hill. Another ten minutes lapsed as he climbed back up. "Have i got a clear picture madam?" Swami was asking me as he handed the camera back to me. I have seldom been happier.
Picture of the ant hill taken by Swami.
Swami poses for a picture with the 'Pampa Sarovar' in the backdrop. The small tank seen near the Pampa Sarovar temple is said to be the source of the Tungabadra river (also known as river Pampa). There is something beguiling about the innocence that the villagers seem to have preserved in those villages of the lost kingdom of Kishkinda. As though, the legends of the land had made a deep impression of good and evil in them. Trusting, naive, honest.. I wish there were more Swamis in this world...