Archive for April, 2008

28
Apr
08

fishmonger.

Of all the people I have encountered in Bombay, the group I find most intriguing are the fishmongers, who live in a small community near the sea. At low tide their little wooden crafts are grounded among the rocks of the coast. I first noticed this community when Sam and I drove past rows of little fish drying on wooden racks in the sun. Later I started accompanying him to the market near the train station, and I instantly fell in love with the fishmongers.

We enter the market through a special style of fence that only humans (and cats) can navigate. I notice the sound of chickens rustling and clucking in their cages; the butcher is through the doorway on the far side of the building. This wisps of incense momentarily mask the pungent odor of the market. I carefully wind my way around the platforms on which each woman has displayed her family’s catch. I can’t help but think of Tony’s early dream sequence on “The Sopranos” when I notice the rows of empty, glassy fish eyes staring up at me.

We approach the place where Vithabai sits. She has been selling fish to Sam’s family for years and remembers when he was a boy. She still makes him bargain for a decent price, but this is India after all. Vithabai and the other fishmongers sit perched on stools slightly above our eye level, giving the vague impression of a queen enthroned. These women are not shy; they are big and strong and loud. They chop off fish heads and scoop out the guts while haggling with potential customers. These women, I think, must not be afraid of anything. I am completely enchanted.


Advertisements
23
Apr
08

witness.

Yesterday I watched that tree across the street for about four and a half minutes as a little boy hid a sleeping mat and small suitcase among the center branches.

21
Apr
08

shaadi.

Hindu wedding ceremonies are long and elaborate rituals with customs that vary by region and community. A canopy adorned with flowers is erected, under which the couple sits with their family. Traditionally, a veil separates the bride and groom so they do not see each other; the veil is removed during a certain part of the ceremony. In the presence of fire, the divine witness, the couple chant vedic prayers and ask for blessings on their union. They offer sandalwood, sugar, rice, herbs, and ghee (clarified butter) to the fire in order that their prayers be answered by god. The couple exchange flower garlands as a symbol of their acceptance of the other as their partner in marriage; they may also exchange rings. A portion of the bride’s saree is tied to the groom’s clothes as a symbol of their union. The groom bestows on the bride a mangal sutra, a necklace signifying the masculine energy of Shiva. He also places sindhoor, a red powder, on the bride’s hair, solidifying her status as a married woman. The entire ceremony is usually completed in over an hour, but it can last longer depending on the rituals that are included.

The bride and groom, along with their families, greeted guests and received their blessings after the ceremony. Fireworks marked the celebration last night at the wedding of our friend’s brother.

This banquet was truly a feast. There were a variety of foods from different regions in India, as well as pizza, nachos, and a type of Chinese stir-fry. Desserts included traditional Indian sweets, ice cream, fondue, chocolate mousse, cakes, and fresh fruit.

16
Apr
08

mehndi.


Sipping water through a straw so as not to spoil my mehndi, I enjoy the company of other women in the family as the wedding festivities (unofficially) begin. The ceremony and reception will undoubtedly be the highlight of the week, but for me the mehndi function is the most enjoyable part of Indian weddings. Even the numbness in my legs (from sitting on the floor too long) and the tingling in my arms (from holding my hands up) cannot spoil the experience. I love these moments in life, of coming together with other women to share our stories. I listen as the older women reminisce about their own weddings or when the bride and groom were young children. Family histories are unraveled as women explore and explain relationships to the newcomers. In our case, the mehndi function was also a time to celebrate the joy of diverse families (the bride is a Sikh from north India and the groom is a Hindu from a Kashmiri-Gujarati family). The application of mehndi takes some time, filling the morning and afternoon with comfortable conversation, laughter, advice, memories, and friendly teasing.


The bride sits patiently for hours as mehndi is applied to her hands and feet.

12
Apr
08

fairest fruit of hindustan.

Dear Friends & Family,

I know you’re wondering where I’ve been. I apologize for my absence. The truth is that I’ve been up to my elbows in “the fairest fruit of Hindustan”. I am enchanted by the juicy nectar and firm flesh of the alfonso mango. Hypnotized as the juice flows past my wrist, I can think of nothing but the next indulgent bite. In fact, I had to wash my hands just to write this post. These mangoes are so yummy that George Bush lifted the import ban as part of the nuclear deal negotiations last year. I will write again soon, hopefully before the end of mango season next month. In the mean time, head to your nearest Indian market and pick up a box of alfonsos.
Love, Marybeth

p.s. The Whole Foods alfonsos are not Indian, so don’t bother.

08
Apr
08

horn (not ok) please.

Bombay drivers use the horn the way drivers in the rest of the world use the accelerator. The horn is not just a tool for venting frustration, but also a means of signaling your position to pedestrians and other drivers. Honking horns are a constant presence on the streets of this city. Recently a group of activists got together and decided to promote “No Honking Day” in Bombay. The local section of the newspaper printed occasional reminders of the event, and some banners were (not very prominently) displayed in our neighborhood. This morning I read that “No Honking Day” was yesterday. I hadn’t noticed, but some student researchers reported that the noise level had dropped to about 80 decibels in some parts of the city. Outside of hospitals– which are permanently designated “no honking zones”– noise levels were slightly lower, around 75 decibels. Mumbai police reported issuing over 6000 tickets to drivers who used their horn for too long, with too much intensity, or in restricted areas. The streets this afternoon were uncharacteristically quiet.