A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Coca Cola Protest in Varanasi

I went to a Coca Cola Protest on Monday 30 November to support the Medihganj community, some twenty kilometres away from Varanasi.

The reason for the protest was this; cut and pasted from the small poster I had made for this event:

The Coca-Cola plant is situated on National Highway 2 (Varanasi-Allahabad highway) in the outskirts of Varanasi near Rajatalab block, about 15 km from BHU (Banaras Hindu University). Since its establishment in 1999, the surrounding local community (Mehdiganj) has been facing serious water and health problems. They are completely dependent on agriculture, but Coke ruining the water through its exploitation has disastrous consequences: the community cannot grow anything, and they do not get enough water even to drink during the summer season, as all the wells dry up and the hand pumps stop working due to Coke's continuous exploitation.

Several scientific institutions have urged Coke to leave Varanasi as soon as possible because the ground water is contaminated with cadmium, chromium and lead now. It is a serious social and environmental issue but the government does not take it seriously as it is bribed by the giant company.

The surrounding community have been protesting against Coke continuously for the past eight years. Several plants have already been shut because they were endangering the ecosystem and local people's lives in the same way: one in Kerala (closed by order of the High Court of Kerala), one in Sivaganga (Tamil Nadu), and one plant in Balia district in Singhachavar village (near Gorakhpur about 200 km from Varanasi) was shut before any campaign even started.

More than 25 universities in the US, UK and Canada have banned Coca Cola products in university premises only because of the company's Crazy Work in India and Colombia.

I had tried to attract some foreigners with my poster by putting it in a few restaurants and shops populated by non-Indians - unfortunately just a week before the protest, because I thought that even a modest gathering of non-Indians may have some impact - since Coca Cola is obviously a non-Indian company. We were only four foreigners to attend the protest, only women: an American, an Italian, my Japanese neighbour and myself (French). But I was happy to be there. We set for the Medihganj community at about 10:00 in shared rickshaws. The community was gathered in front of a stage; many speakers were there. Extremely loud music was played when we arrived; it sounded more like a party than a protest! We waited perhaps a couple of hours before it started. It was amazing to be part of such an event in India. There were banners with Hindi but also English slogans. "Dirt means Coca Cola", "Save water, save life", "Coca Cola leave India", "Coca Cola water thief" etc. People were happy to see us there, clearly, and it was nice to be able to speak to them a little in Hindi. The children wanted to pose for photo holding their banners. There were many, many women; their sarees made the protest look very colourful! And men, and children and babies. It was not far from Varanasi but the change of scenery was radical; a very rural indeed, and a non-educated community.

Nandan told me that they had been expecting a few thousands people more, and trucks loaded had been on their way, but someone had told them that the police was beating people up to scare them away - with success. Coca Cola had paid a LOT the police force to guard the plant about 300 metres away. We reached a barricade of many policemen (and some policewomen!) on foot or on horses; we couldn't go further. There we stayed for quite some time. At one point, suddenly someone started running towards the field. In panick we started to run away also. It was very quick, suddenly I saw myself running, heart beating fast, away from the road. As if the police had become violent but it was a false alarm. We never knew what provoked this. For perhaps ten minutes after that I felt my legs shaking. But nothing had happened, to my knowledge and experience. My three foreign fellows decided to leave at 3:30pm but it was not over and I was too curious to leave, despite the risk of police beatings. I stayed another hour until it all ended. There were some more talks, and some of what I understood was "marenge nahi; mannenge nahi" - "we will not hit, (but) we will not accept". The crowd was very enthusiastic. Then the Coke demon was finally burnt down and it was over. The burning statue was surrounded by a gathering of excited, singing men. We were surprised that the police had allowed this; but It was peaceful.

Most of the time the police had seemed pretty quite curious about our presence. They were kind of looking at us with interest (I guess also because we were all female foreigners!!) as if we were distracting them from doing their jobs. I found it quite amusing. Some asked what we were doing in Varanasi, and later a policeman asked me why I had come here. I simply said "because I don't like Coca Cola!"; it seemed pretty obvious to me, but he was very surprised by my answer...

By about 5 o'clock we left. It had been an exhausting but happy day...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Guruji's nephew's wedding

i was invited at the wedding of my guruji's nephew, yesterday. The day before the wedding I was also invited to come to the family house to get my hands tattooed with henna, as is custom for women before any marriage party. Guruji was playing a concert (with an wonderful singer, actually) about three minutes from my house that evening, so i went to listen to him and he took me home on his scooter after the concert. I wasn't quite sure that i wanted to go just for henna tattoo, but then i thought i should accept any opportunity to dip more into the indian culture actually. so i went. well, it was not yet even the wedding day but it was crazy in the house. the music was playing full blast, bollywood or indian pop music. a part of the "main hall" was made into a stage area, and members of the family were taking turns to dance in front of the excited audience. now i realised this was of course a musician family. they all danced so well! the women already were wearing sumptuous suits or sarees; i watched that bollywood movie with astonishment. a young professional dancer took the stage and he was amazing. when the dancers started doing something silly or perhaps move their hips a little more, the crowd started screaming with excitement. crowd, because there were at least 100 people in there - and this was only family! a soon as i got in my Guruji's wife asked one of the girls to tattoo my hands. it was fun. the groom-to-be was also getting all pampered and getting his hands all tattooed. soon it was 10pm and i was taken upstairs to eat with everyone. blankets were laid down on every bits of floor for the guests to sit on, and the food was served from an enormous pot into leaf-plates. i was glad i had eaten a little before going because it was those deep fried chapatis or puris, as is custom to eat during most festivals. it wasn't exactly easy to eat with drying henna on my hands, but i managed with a spoon, and all my fingers were not covered in paste, thankfully. Afte my dinner Guruji drove me back home on his scooter.

yesterday evening i went to my Guruji's house for the wedding day. i was wearing my best suit, but of course i was never going to be as shiny as any decorated indian woman. however much i may dare to decorate myself with glitter and make-up, an indian woman would always look ten times more stunning anyway, beyond my imagination. for weddings even more so, especially in a more well-off family of the brahmin caste. heavily decorated sarees, heavy gold jewellery, enormous nose rings chained up to the left ear, ear and forehead ornaments, half their forearms covered with shiny, colourful, jingling bangles, and pretty heavy make-up to. the women are not shy with black coal and here at least i know my blackened eyes will pass with success. so, i was wearing my best modest suit, the one i had bought for my cousin's wedding back in june. and i managed to find some modest lady shoes, pretty shiny for my style but "passe partout" and comfortable and flat shoes. This kind of shoe is called nagra; mine are made of leather and decorated with pearls. two other students of my teacher were present and it was good not to be the only westerner this time. besides, unlike modest families, this big-city, educated family is very used to the presence of foreigners, so we didn't pass for the main attraction of the night at all! it was lovely to just be part of it without standing out!

so when we arrived it was last-minute finishing touch time, people getting ready to go. pretty soon we all left the house. around six jeeps were taking us to the bride's family for the marriage puja (religious ceremony) and celebration. with so many people it took quite some time to get organised, we had to wait quite a lot - perhaps two hours in total before we finally got on our car. it wasn't too cold thankfully, and the shawl i had borrowed from my flatmate was sufficient. we waited with a chai. i was introduced with my "grand guruji", guruji's older brother who had taught him violin when he was small. it was lovely to meet my teacher's family - they are six brothers all musician of course, and three sisters although one has passed away. three brothers live in varanasi, two in lucknow (the capital of the state of madhya pradesh) and one in mumbai. it was lovely to meet them and to see similarities between them. it is a beautiful family. finally we got on the car. the wedding venue wasn't too far, although i was to engaged talking with leon, a new (french) fellow student who only started taking classes with sukhdev last week. this brave man, of my age, stopped going to school when he was only 11, because he had a brain tumour. it took numerous doctors and four years to diagnose the cancer; it took him a few years after to get through the treatment including a full year in hospital. and after all that ten more year to recover to full capacity. he came very close to death, and he was granted with quite a new sense of intuition. i was completely amazed to hear his story and wanted to ask him too many questions...

a few questions later we arrived at the first venue. it was a government school. there we had some sweets and coffee, waiting for the the groom's horse and band to arrive. all the time guruji was really good to his students. even though he was extremely busy with family and guests he was never forgetting us, explaining to us what to do or where to go and introducing us to interesting people. perhaps after one hour, i don't really know, the band and horse arrived. in an indian wedding the groom's family forms a procession to go to the wedding venue where the bride his waiting. so the procession started, with drums and shehnai (indian oboe) - definitely a musician family, as the music is a lot more pleasant than the cacophonies i have heard in weddings before! the procession forms a dense queue between two rows of small people (there was a tiny old woman there!) or children holding big decorated and flashing lights on their heads, and the groom follows at the very back on his horse. while we go forward people dance like silly sausages. indians love moving their hips, man! in this family, women were dancing also, and it was lovely to see. perhaps a more educated, and musician family takes the tradition more lightly than a less educated family, who is necessarily more blinded by it and tin a less educated family they seem to segregate men and women a lot more. here they were all more light-hearted, enjoying the fun all together. the atmosphere was for me was a lot lighter and fun too. of course guruji was the first to go and join the silly dancers; he is definitely the youngest of the six brothers.

we finally arrived at the wedding venue. it was very big, very beautifully decorated, inside an enormous white tent. there was a very long table with a buffet of amazing dishes. we arrived there passed 11 o'clock. i was happily surprised with how amazing the food was, some of it was LIGHT and delicate, no deep-fried puris! there we met some more interesting and lovely people, some other musicians whom i had definitely seen on stage before but i forgot on which instruments. in another large room the puja was going on on the groom while the bride was waiting in another room, i think hidden from her husband still.

finally, after the puja, the groom went on a stage to sit on his sort of thrown, on a swing! followed by the bride. before they sat they had to give each other a garland of mala flowers. the bride had to throw the garland around the groom neck whilst he was carried up by some of the men around him. this game provoked more screams and laughters in the watching audience, and the bride herself had to stop herself from laughing! this was lovely for me to see, because i had only seen serious or even sad brides before! the groom, too, was relaxed and happy. indians seem to know no shyness; it must be because of their strongly collective culture, and because they are so numerous that they live all together as family with little privacy. in a family of traditional musicians, of course they are all used to being on a stage from a young age, too. After the garland exchange the new couple sat on their seat ready for a photo session, with groups going one after next. we sukhdev students were also invited to pose behind them, which showed how welcome we were.

after the photo session, all the women of the groom's family had to return to the house, because traditionally women are not allowed to take part in the long puja that was to follow for the rest of the night. it was about 1 o'clock in the morning by the time we left and i was pretty glad not to be allowed to stay so late; i was tired! so all the women and children returned in jeeps back to the house, where we students were invited to spend the night. guruji had told ixchel and i we could stay in his room with his wife. on a three-person bed (equivalent western standard) we were seven to sleep. (granted, the children took less room!) it was a little crowded, but i love the sociability in india. we are all human and we share everything. but most women didn't go to bed til at least 5 o'clock. they started percussion and singing folk song, sat all together. when i woke up later they were taking turn to dance on bollywood songs, full blast. i was happy i had my earplugs, but it only prevented me to hurt my ears; it didn't help me sleep very much.... at 7:30 i woke up with ixchel who was leaving so i decided to leave as well to try and sleep better in my own bed. without much success...

and the party is not over: tomorrow there will be a reception, with even more guests... in india, it's like everything is western times ten. everything happens with ten times more intensity!