Mumbai Attacks

We are currently watching the tv reports about the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  These attacks are very frightening and heartbreaking.  Satya is flipping back and forth between CNN and Indian news stations.  Nobody seems to know much.

To everyone in Mumbai, our thoughts and prayers are with you!!

Cousin’s Lingayat Wedding

Satya’s cousin got married in India this past weekend.  It was a little bittersweet for him since he is happy his cousin is getting married, but sad he wasn’t able to attend.  Here are some things we found out:

-The festivities occurred over 3 days.  The dates are checked astrologically to make sure they are auspicious.  It is also important that parts of the ceremony are done at certain times, down to the minute.  Again, this is to make the ceremony is auspicious and the marriage begins on the right foot.

-Each of the three days Satya’s cousin got turmeric applied to his skin. 

-He wore different outfits for each day–one day in a suit, one day in a sherwani (the long-sleeved coats that end around a man’s knees), and the South Indian dyoti.

-3,000 people attended which is medium-sized.

-The cousin’s hand hurt after shaking so many hands.

-On the invitation, the women’s names go first.  This is a reverse of how it is in the U.S.  For formal occassions here, invitations are addressed Mr. and Mrs. Man’s first name Man’s last name.  There, the Mrs. goes first and her name is written out first and last and then her husband’s name is mentioned his first name and last name.  Is it the same in North India too?

-Brides are considered incarnations of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, happiness, and health.

There was one tradition that puzzled both me and Satya…for some reason after the wedding his cousin was not allowed to return to his home.  This was a big deal because Satya’s sister took lots of pictures and so the two of them wanted to e-mail pictures.  They ended up going to a friend’s house, but the friend’s computer has a virus.  No fun. 

Another part that confused us was that Satya says that in his family it is tradition to set out a pole and bucket in front of the cousin’s house.  The pole is then set on fire.  I don’t know what happens with the bucket…in case the pole fire gets out of control??  Has anybody else heard of this tradition and/or know the reasoning behind it?  Maybe the pole is to tell time….after it is burnt the cousin can re-enter his family’s house?  Satya has no idea. 

Yes, the cousin did have a traditional arranged marriage.  It was a process that took a few years because sometimes a girl was found that his cousin liked and his parents did not or the his parents would like a girl and he didn’t.  They met each other in August and decided by early September that they would get married in late November.  Both are Lingayats and they are both professionals in their mid to late 20s.  It turned out that the bride was related to somebody in Satya’s old neighborhood so perhaps that is how they found each other.  No, there wasn’t a dowry because in general dowries make Lingayats uncomfortable.

Everything went well, from what Satya heard.  His sister is returning to the U.S. this week.  Someday I’d like to see a Lingayat wedding, but that will have to wait.

South Indian Temple Cafeteria and Gift Shop

After we finished praying, Satya and I decided to explore the lower levels of the temple.  We found that there was a small cafeteria that offered vegetarian South Indian food (uttapam, dosa, vada, etc.) at very affordable prices.  We tried the uttapam (kind of like a pancake made out of a batter of fermented rice and beans).  Mine was with onions and Satya’s had onions and chilis.  His was so spicy he got teary!  There were some chutneys and sambar (spicy soup) to go with them.  The meal was delicious! We both agreed that the uttapam was better than any we had at restaurants and better than our own efforts at home.  The cafeteria makes a lot of sense because people come from long distances to go to the temple.  Also, traditionally, temples do offer food.  The cafeteria was staffed by volunteers and in itself is very bare bones-seating is on plastic picnic benches, paper plates, Styrofoam cups for tea, etc.  We saw many families and even another mixed couple although we didn’t visit with anyone.  I think we will definitely be eating at the temple cafeteria again because of the affordable prices and delicious food. 

 

The gift shop was interesting too.  The gift shop had an extensive cd collection ranging from morning Hindu prayers in Sanskrit, to cds for a healthy pregnancy and baby, to yoga cds.  There was also a selection of Tamil and Telegu cds.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any Kannada cds.  What else?  There was a selection of books on spiritual topics and some very introductory Hinduism books.  One thing that surprises me is how pragmatic Hinduism is.  For example, Hinduism places a large emphasis on health-both physical and mental and what they say actually works (for me, anyway).   I don’t recall Catholicism having anything to say about stress relief, although many Catholics were and are very involved in healthcare.  Another way it is pragmatic is how it embraces a lot from other religions.  It seems like it tries to embrace whatever is good or makes sense from other religions.  For example, there was a series of books on the usual spiritual topics like “love”, “death”, “inner peace”.  Those books have chapters written by people from a variety of religions-the love one included Muslim and Catholic writers. 

 

There was a small selection of idols and some idols that can even be put in the car (Satya decided against those because he was afraid that the idol would become unstuck, fall to the car floor and thus be an insult to the god).  Those aren’t really so different from the statues or amulets that Catholics sometimes have in their cars.  Satya was happy to discover that the gift shop also had the same comic books that he read as a child.  The comic books are about different gods, goddesses, and Hindu myths.  We bought three.  Those comic books will be a later blog post. 

 

Overall, I thought the temple was a fascinating place.  I think it merges the spiritual with the practical very well.  I like how modern life is incorporated-for example, you can go to the temple and get a “car puja”.  I liked the peace of the temple.  I don’t know yet how much Hinduism I will incorporate into my own beliefs.

My first visit to a South Indian Temple

Yesterday we went to a large South Indian temple.  It was the first time I’d been to a South Indian temple.  The first thing that sticks out most in my mind is that the temple did have the feeling of the holy and the sacred.  I wasn’t sure I’d feel that as my grasp of Hinduism is tenuous at the moment and because not all churches even give me that feeling.  My second reaction is admiration of how well-run it is, how people are pleasant, and how beautiful it is.

 

Below is a more detailed account:

 

We arrived in the rear of the temple.  The parking spaces closest to the door are reserved for handicapped people and for temple volunteers.  There are many volunteers.  As we approached the door, there were signs reminding people that the walkway is not a play area.  The first thing I worried about was my shoes.  I was searching for a place to take them off as wearing shoes is a taboo in the house, especially in front of home altars, and even more so for temples.  There was a smiling priest near the entrance who gestured for us to continue inside to find a place to take off our shoes.  We walked around the lower level of the temple passing the gift shop and went around to where we could take our coats off.  Then, we walked some more and found the room to take off our shoes.  Most people also took off their socks too which surprised me a little. 

 

Next, we saw the washing station.  It is two low faucets that are motion activated.  There is a sign reminding people to wash their hands and feet.  Then we left that room and climbed the stairs to the holy part of the temple.  Right at the entrance to the that part is a place where people can purchase the things they need (like flowers, for example) to do their pujas.

 

Finally, we entered the prayer area.  This was a large area with small altars to many different gods.  Each god or goddess was lovingly dressed.  Even the linga which is Shiva was dressed with cloth wrapped around it.  Lingas are stones in the shape of cylinders, they are not in human shape so it surprised me that had cloth wrapped around it. Satya says that every day before the temple is opened that they are washed and dressed.  Each altar is based on a design from a temple in India.  Satya liked to point out which aspects were from Karnataka.  Each altar is labeled with the name(s) of the god(s) or goddess(es).   Around the room were religious sayings carved into the wall stones.  The sayings were written first in Hindi or Sanskrit and below had an English translation.  Each altar had a large box beside it labeled “Hundi”.  People can put their monetary offerings into the boxes.  Some of the altars had plates with red powder.  People can anoint their foreheads or necks with the powder.

 

We walked around to each altar and said a short prayer at each.  Some of the gods and goddesses were familiar to me like Ganesha, Shiva and some were unfamiliar like Ambika or the 9 that represent different parts of the day (some of the 9 are benevolent and you pray for their help and some are not, so you pray that they leave you alone).

 

Then, we stood in line for a blessing from the priests.  In the middle of the room is a much larger altar with a very large god inside.  The god is covered in flowers and dressed.  There is a priest who stands inside chanting.  Outside, people stand.  People join in the crowd at any time, it isn’t necessary to be present for the whole ritual.  It reminded me of a Greek Orthodox service in that way-people come and go, but towards the end many people are there.  At the end, one priest walks in the middle holding the plate with the lamp.  People hold their hands over the flame and then bring their hands to their forehead.  Some also bring their hands to their forehead and then over their heads as if they are washing themselves.  People can leave monetary offerings on the plate. 

 

Next, two more priests come around.  One holds a hat-shaped object.  To get this blessing, you bow your head and the priest will put it on your head for a second or two.  There is also a priest who will put a juice or oil (coconut, I think) into your hand.  For this, Satya told me to hold my hands like for Catholic communion-cupped with the right hand over the left.  The priest will put the juice or oil into the right palm.  Then, you are to drink it.  Anything leftover you put into your hair instead of rubbing into the left hand or rubbing it off on your clothes.  Finally, a priest came around with a spoon and put a spoonful of raisins into everyone’s hand.  Satya was disappointed that none of the priests offered us flowers.  He said that sometimes the priests will gather the flowers that fall from the gods or goddesses and give them to the waiting people.  After the raisins, the ceremony was over and everyone dispersed.

 

We sat on the floor for a while praying and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.  Satya told me that in some old temples in India there are checker or chessboards carved into the floors.  Temples used to be community gathering places where people would relax with their friends and play games in addition to praying.  There were others sitting on the floor too.  At the back there were a few folding chairs. 

 

I enjoyed looking at the people.  The little girls were very cute.  Small baby girls wear little anklets with bells on them.  Older girls wear long, brightly colored dresses and tops or tunics and leggings like salwar kameezes.  Most young girls don’t wear sarees. One young girl had white flowers strung into her ponytail.  It is very traditional in South India for girls and women to have white flowers, usually jasmine, in their hair. Boys do not wear traditional clothing.  Some women wore sarees or tunics but many also wore regular sweaters and jeans.  The priests wore traditional clothing, but the men did not.

 

Some families performed special pujas.  One family we saw sat on the ground on a narrow red rug.  It looked like there were parents, grandparents, and small kids.  A priest sat in front of them chanting prayers.  Near another altar was an area where people could smash coconuts.  Coconuts are often used in South Indian ceremonies.

 

I liked the atmosphere of the temple and how relaxed it was.  Everyone was intent on their own prayers-some walking around and praying.  Others sitting on the ground and praying or quietly chatting with friends and family.  Some prostrated themselves in front of a particular altar. 

 

I enjoyed seeing the families together.  Grandparents would show their grandchildren what to do.  I like how participatory many rituals are.  Kids can help break coconuts and put flowers on the altars. 

 

We hope to visit more.  Satya hadn’t been there for three or four years.  We hope to go once or twice a month.  It is a long drive for us-over an hour each way, but we thought that it was worth the drive.  

 

My next entry will be about the temple cafeteria and gift shop.

Book Review “Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India” by Anita Jain

I was eagerly looking forward to this book, but it disappointed me a lot.  I admire the author’s honesty in recounting her dating and relationship adventures but some aspects of the book got tiresome.  She seemed to be caught in a dating rut or she’d waste her time meeting guys who were completely inappropriate (men who couldn’t speak English well when that is her first language, men who were too young, etc.)  Some reviews note that Jain writes eloquently about the life of a professional, single, urban woman and that she is especially good at detailing the loneliness that sometimes comes with that life.  I can see that point of view.

Book Synopsis:  Her parents moved to the U.S. from Northern India.  She moved around the U.S. with her family.  Eventually, she went to Harvard and became a financial journalist.  She was able to live and work around the world.  She spent some time in NYC and discovered the dating scene there to be soul crushing.  Her parents pressure her to get married so she decides to move to New Delhi to get find a husband.  Unfortunately, her experiences in New Delhi are not that different from her experiences in NYC.  She leaves New Delhi unmarried.

What irritated me?  She seemed to make the same mistake over and over of partying and then ending up drunk and passed out in her bed or someone else’s.  The next day there would be much embarrassment and awkwardness and the man would vanish forever.  This happened more than once in the book.  Or she would fantasize and build imaginary relationships with men who were clearly not available or not interested.  Again, this happened repeatedly.  Men who did match her in education, world experience, and age she did not find attractive.  This begged the question…how serious was she?  It seemed she was more interested in fantasy than reality. 

What I did like: her honesty, her vocabulary, and her relationship with her parents.  Her parents seemed very sympathetic and lovable. 

“The New India”:  Here are some of the interesting facts and anecdotes that Jain includes in her book.

-50% of the population is under age 25

 -Styles of dressing and modesty seem to be the same in New Delhi as New York

-She noted that in some ways, a woman of Indian heritage has more freedom in New Delhi than NYC.  NYC has a lot more expectations about how a woman should act.  It is easier to smoke, drink, party, and smoke marijuana there than in NYC.

-Still it is incredibly difficult for a single, professional woman to find an apartment in New Delhi.  Apparently, landlords consider single women to be of questionable values.  Other Indian cities do not have that view.

-New Delhi is still considered the rape capital of India and generally unsafe for women.  Fortunately, the author does not have to encounter this herself first hand. 

-Cars are common places for sex because young people in India lack privacy. 

-Divorce and premarital sex are no longer so taboo in India among the young and urban.  Still, she meets a surprising number of people in their 20s and 30s who did not date before marrying.

-Acid attacks are not uncommon.  In the book, a friend of a friend gets acid thrown in her face.  Her crime?  Marrying.  Apparently, the girl got married and a married male relative who had always had feelings for her followed her onto a train and threw acid in her face.  Satya says this is mostly a phenomenon of Northern India.  On the bright side he says, shootings are not as common as here.

-In rural areas, time has not changed much.  Her father goes back to his hometown and announced that nothing has changed.  Her cousins who live there live with their kids and husbands in the same house as their in laws.  Her cousins devote themselves to the welfare of their kids, husbands, and in laws.  The mother in law controls such minute things as whether her cousin can take off her bangles and wear a watch or not and decrees that after defecating they must change their clothes completely as they are only supposed to do that once a day upon waking up in the morning and before bathing.  Still, Jain notes that her cousins seem healthy and happy with their lives.

Overall:  I enjoyed the snippets of what life is like in India today.  What I gathered is that there are huge extremes between generations and between urban vs. rural.  I’d recommend this book for skimming, not for savoring.  This is a book to borrow, not to buy.  Also, it also might be useful as a guide on how not to get married. 

What is your opinion?

Divorce because of Abortion

Today, Satya brought an article to my attention that says that under Indian Hindu Marriage laws, a husband can divorce his wife if she has an abortion without his consent.  To me, the law makes sense because if one person really wants to have a family and the other doesn’t then they are probably best off with a partner that shares their goals.  I would think it would be extremely difficult to stay in a marriage like that because what is the compromise–just have one child?  Adopt a 10 year old because the child is half grown already?  Not likely.

In the U.S. I don’t think an issue like this would come up.  Most American couples can divorce if they simply have grown apart and aren’t in love anymore.  The only way this would come up I’d think is if to get a divorce one party would have to prove the divorce is the other’s fault. 

There are sticky implications to the law.  It does limit the freedom of a married woman to make independent decisions about her body.  I don’t think there is any denying that.  What choice will poorer women have?  If there is a divorce, would they be able to support themselves or would they be doomed to a life in poverty?  Would women be doomed to having pregnancy after pregnancy?  Perhaps not because India’s government emphasizes small families and birth control.  Another thing to consider is India’s high maternal death rate.  An Indian woman has a 1 in 70 chance of dying in childbirth according to Unicef.  For comparison, an American woman has a 1 in 4800 chance of dying in childbirth. 

What do you think of the law?

Voting

Satya and I have been watching the election very closely.  He noted a few differences in how voting is done here vs. India.  I think the differences are very interesting and maybe in the future the U.S. will adopt some practices.   Here is how the largest democracy in the world operates its elections:

 

-Election Day is a holiday in India.

 

-There is not just one Election Day for the whole country.  This is because the military and the para military keep a close watch to ensure violence does not break out.  The whol military cannot cover the whole country on the same day. 

 

-There are symbols for each candidate (a wheel, hand, etc.) so that even illiterate people or those unable to read the local language can vote.  This already happens in some places here.  A woman from NY was saying that there people stamp either an elephant or donkey for their choices. 

 

-Voters get one of their fingers dipped in indelible ink to prevent repeat voting.  The ink is very noticeable and lasts for nearly a month.  When Satya’s parents arrived here last May, this ink was on their fingers and lasted for a long time.  The ink is called “Mysore Ink” and is owned and operated by Karnataka’s government.  Other countries using the ink include such varied countries as Canada, Singapore, Afganistan, Ghana. http://www.mysorepaints.in/profile.html

 

-Electronic voting machines.  I think the whole of India uses the same style of machines vs. the U.S.’s variety of voting mechanisms (touch screens, pencil and paper, stamps, etc.).  I think for fairness that the whole country should use the same type of machine. 

 

-Campaigning stops 48 hours before the election.  In the U.S. both Obama and McCain were campaigning the morning of Election Day.

 

-People in India do not directly vote for the prime minister or president.  They are selected by the parties in power and are chosen from the members of parliament. 

 

I do think that Election Day should be a holiday so that everyone gets a chance to vote and that the same style of voting machine should be used by all.  That will increase fairness and help those who move often. 

 

Also, I think all U.S. states should agree on how people can register to vote.  In my home state of Minnesota, people can register to vote on the day of the election itself.  Where I live now, the deadline to register was one month before the election which I think is ridiculous because it potentially excludes a lot of people because people may not know about the registration deadline.  Without being registered, people cannot vote.  Voting should be made as simple as possible to include the greatest number of people.

 

Overall, both Satya and I were very relieved that yesterday’s election went much smoother than those of 2000 and 2004.  The results are clear-Obama won both the popular and electoral votes and there were no major repeats of the previous fiascos in Florida and Ohio.