Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day snuck up on me this year.  I don’t think Satya and I have anything huge planned for tonight.  In a few weeks it will be our first wedding anniversary so we more looking forward to that date.

When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with my mom’s family who lived less than a mile away.  We would go to my grandparent’s house for a big formal meal-nice china, real silverware, a glass or two of wine for the adults, 7 UP and a cherry for the kids, candles, and a beautiful flower centerpiece.   After the meal, we would open our Valentine’s.  This always had a certain hierarchy to it.  My grandfather would go to the mall to get Fanny Farmer candy for everyone.  They would come in red heart shaped cardboard boxes and inside have an assortment of candy.  My grandmother would get the biggest box of candy.  Then, my parents and my aunt would get medium sized boxes.  All of us kids would get the smallest size.  The four of us kids would also get Valentine’s cards from my grandparents, my parents, and my aunt. 

For us, Valentine’s Day was about gathering with the people we loved most and enjoying a nice meal and chocolates.

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In Search of a Great Yoga DVD

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor and was surprised to learn that I’ve gained over 10 lbs in the past year.  I would have expected that switching to a mostly vegetarian diet would have had an opposite effect, but I was wrong.  I guess it is true that after marriage the weight gain begins.  Or maybe it was all the white rice?  Satya heard someplace that we are supposed to eat what our grandparents ate.  White rice was definitely not on their plates.  So now, I’ve decided to become more physically active and to pay more attention to what I eat.  My current plan involves yoga and walking.  In college I took a semester long yoga class that I loved.  It gave me a great workout that I could also do on my own in my dorm room and that was easy on my knees and shins, unlike running.  With that in mind, last week I tried two yoga dvds.  They are very different, but both give a good workout. 

 

The first is Ease into Ashtanga.  Ashtanga yoga is very vigorous and is where Power Yoga came from.  I took a few classes at a yoga studio and one of its greatest positives and drawbacks is that it is always the same routine.  I liked that the dvd was divided into segments.  If you want to just do the routine, you can.  If you’d like the postures explained, they are.  The scenery is beautiful-Hawai’i with all the beaches and flowers you associate with Hawai’i.  They also explain basic modifications for beginners like me.  My quibbles are that I don’t think they hold the “down dog” position very long and that the insert says that one of the producer’s goals was to show a variety of different body types.  There is a large group of people doing the flow routine together, but I didn’t think they had a very wide range of bodytypes.  I think this dvd does a great job and I will continue to use it.

 

 

The second DVD is Yoga Weight Loss Workout for Dummies.  While this will get you sweating and keep your heat rate up, it is not “for dummies”.  She does not fully explain some of the poses.  For example, you must either know what “chair pose” is or pick it up from watching her.  Some poses I don’t think really exist-I’d never heard of “five point star” before.  The instructor is also fond of “pulses”.  In chair pose for example, you are supposed to raise your arms above your head and then “pulse” them forward and backward.  I liked that she included some balance poses-those have always been among my favorites.  She does not include another of my favorites, shavasana or corpse pose.  Don’t buy this one if you want yoga, but if you want a workout it is perfectly fine.  Overall, it is an enjoyable workout that will burn calories. 

 

A few years ago I bought a Shiva Rea yoga dvd so I’ll be trying that one next.  Also, Satya’s sister found a good one so I will have to ask her about it one of these days.  Yoga dvds are easy to find in Indian video stores and in the temple shop.  I’m eager to try some of those as well to see the similarities and differences. 

 

It is funny that some schools objected to yoga being taught in schools on religious grounds.  Both yoga dvds did not have anything religious in them-in fact that is one of Satya’s critiques of them-that they have taken all the spirituality out of them and turned yoga into a workout, nothing more.  He says of the dvds, “I miss the om.”  He also thinks that yoga should not include background music, but I don’t see Americans being very comfortable with that.  Myself, I don’t mind the background music.  The only sounds he thinks are appropriate are breathing, movement, and chanting. 

 

One thing that surprised me a little about his family is that they actually do yoga.  I thought that it was only a stereotype and not part of modern Indian life.  His dad has been doing it all his life.  Satya and his two cousins went to “yoga camp” for a few summers when they were teenagers and his sister and her husband still do it.  Satya’s mother gives him suggestions about which leaders she likes and which she thinks would be worthwhile for him to find on dvd.  They do place a lot of emphasis on breathing and on yoga to bring peace of mind and balance. 

 

Does anybody have any suggestions of yoga dvds?  Do you prefer the American style of yoga or the Indian style?

Our MultiCultural Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! 

 

A while back some people asked me to blog about how Satya and I will be celebrating Christmas this year.  This year will be a bit different because we aren’t celebrating it in Minnesota with my family.

 

My aunt seems a little worried that I’ll turn my back on my Catholic upbringing.  For my birthday this year she gave me: cloth Christmas placemats and napkins, an Advent wreath, and some homemade soap from a monastery (smells like Christmas soap), and a batch of her special 7 Step Bars (one of my favorite sweets). 

 

Advent wreaths count down the weeks until Christmas.  The first Sunday of Advent one candle is lit.  This past weekend was the fourth Sunday so all candles were lit.  The third Sunday of Advent always has a pink candle.  The other candles are all either purple or blue-the colors of advent. Each Sunday has a name and a special theme.  For example, the third Sunday is called “Gaudete” which means “Rejoice” because soon Christmas will arrive.  The Advent wreath also came with prayers to say while lighting the candles.  Each week has a different prayer.  When I was a kid, we would make Advent wreaths in Wednesday night religion class and be sent home with prayers to say. 

 

Each Christmas season sometime after Thanksgiving my mom’s family would start baking.  They’d make fudge, gingerbread, spritz cookies, lemon bars, plantation bars, 7 Step Bars (graham cracker crust, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and more), and more.  On the weekends when we’d come to my grandparent’s house for Sunday Supper we’d play games and watch movies and eat lots of sweets.  The sweets would be stored in empty Blue Bunny ice cream buckets and put in “the cold room”-the coldest room of the upstairs near the attic where there was no heat.  This year, since we aren’t making it back, my aunt sent me my favorite kind.  Someday I’m sure I will make 7 Step bars with my own kids.  Luckily, Satya likes them too.

 

We did get a Christmas tree.  We got ours about two weeks ago.  It was a journey!  First we went to Home Depot because we heard they had $30 trees.  We didn’t like any of their trees.  Then, we went to Lowe’s.  Their trees weren’t much better, but they were on sale and we found a cute round one.  It was also bitterly cold outside-the wind was blowing hard.  We asked Lowe’s for a tree stand, but they sold out.  We went back to Home Depot but they also had sold out.  2 weeks before Christmas!!  Then we tried Target.  At Target we found some cute ornaments and some great multi-colored lights, but no tree stand. We even got so desperate as to go to Whole Foods because they had a lot of Christmas trees for sale.  They too were sold out of tree stands.  After Whole Foods, we got so sick of the whole thing we decided to go across the river to New Jersey.  We raced back to our apartment, put the tree in a mixing bowl in the tub so it wouldn’t dry out too much and then continued our search.  We had to drive almost an hour, but the first place we tried did have a tree stand. They sold out of their metal tree stands, but still had plenty of the plastic kind. 

 

Then, we decided to eat at one of our favorite South Indian restaurants, but it was packed so we walked down to an Italian one.  We returned home, put the tree in the stand and then decorated it.  When we were finished at roughly 12:30 am, Satya got on Skype and showed his parents our tree.  It was our first tree as a couple and Satya’s first Christmas tree period. 

 

Ornaments:  We got our ornaments at Pier 1, Target and A.C. Moore.  Pier 1 has some gorgeous ornaments.  We found a simple angel holding a harp go at the top of the tree. At Pier 1 I found a red bird ornament complete with green glitter to outline the wings and bright red tail feathers.  My grandmother had Christmas ornaments from her family going back to the ’20s and ’30s.  Some of my favorites were the delicate bird ornaments.  She even had little nests to go with the birds!  We also found the obligatory “Merry Christmas 2008” ornament to commemorate our first Christmas tree and first Christmas married.  Satya’s ornament taste runs more to the rustic.  He loves cabins for some reason.  One of his picks was a little house painted dark red with a tin roof.  Maybe some day we will have a little red cabin…We did try to find a star to go on top the tree. Stars and angels are the most popular choices for tree toppers.  Also, stars are more multicultural for us than angels since Hindu representations of angels don’t look like Christian representations of angels.  Stars are basically stars though and stars are also very important for Deepauli.  Once we find one we like we’ll replace the angel.  Other ornaments are a red reindeer, sled, white owl, and a beaded reindeer.  We have about 12 ornaments.  I figure that as the years go by we will slowly gather more. 

 

Tonight we plan on traveling to be with the family of my sister-in-law.  Her family is from Argentina so we will be having a very multicultural celebration.  We will be doing a simple gift exchange and eating lots of food.  Satya mentioned going to midnight Mass, but I don’t think anybody else is Catholic besides me.  We might try to find one, or may not.  Going to church does make Christmas seem more real-my favorite time of year for churchgoing was always Advent and the Christmas Season.

Book Review–Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading this on lunch breaks and on the train.  First off, it is a long book 560+ pages!  Secondly, I can see why some love this book and some hate it.  Mehta is a great writer who writes with beauty and power.  Some of the pages brought tears to my eyes-describing the street children, interviewing those who burned Muslims during riots, etc. 

 

I think the reason people hate the book is because Mehta does not spend much of his book talking about ordinary, middle-class people.  Instead, much of the book is given over to gangsters, rioters, bar dancers and their customers, Bollywood, and slum dwellers.   Do these people make Mumbai unique?  Are the middle classes the same as everywhere?  Perhaps not, but maybe Mehta wanted to focus on people who are far from ordinary or maybe he wanted to find out “why?”  Why do gangsters become gangsters?  Why would a girl choose to be a bar girl?  Why would someone leave their comfortable village life for a crowded room in a slum that they’d share with their spouse and 3 children?  How could someone marry someone only 4 weeks after they met for the first time and never having met their future spouse alone?  I think Mehta does answer all those questions well.  Maybe Mehta is calculating-he focuses on those people because those are the people that people in the West know about, wonder about, and want to read about.

 

Another reason people might not like the book is that Mehta does not do much to change Western stereotypes about India.  The India he chronicles is (mostly) the India that Westerners see on tv commercials that ask for donations to help feed starving children.  The India in the book is mostly dirty, poor, and chaotic.  Or it is fantastically wealthy draped in gold, diamonds, and silks.   Perhaps if Mehta had chosen to write about more mundane characters perceptions would change a bit or if he’d chosen to write about other parts of India. 

 

I read parts of the book to my husband.  He does not have fond memories of Mumbai. Each time his family visited or passed through, they would get ripped off.  The “Mumbai for Mumbaikers” mentality doesn’t make it more popular with him or his family.  Also, the city is very crowded, loud, chaotic, corrupt, and dirty.  He takes umbrage at Mehta’s assumption that all Indians aspire to Mumbai and that Mumbai is the future of India.  He prefers to think of Bangalore as the future and as a Gandhi follower, thinks most people are better off in villages.  Strangely enough though, he doesn’t think Mumbai is any more corrupt than NY or any other huge metropolis.  To him, all big cities are the same.  For those that have read the book and visited both cities, do you think they are equally corrupt?

 

Reading this book did not make me long to visit Mumbai.  I can see why people love it-relying on personal networks to get things done rather than on “the system”, the excitement, etc.  Despite the corruption, in some ways Mumbai is a very safe city.  For example, if you walk alone at night you are not likely to be robbed, raped, or killed.  People are still kind to each other and accommodating-even the people in the insanely crowded commuter trains will make efforts to make room for each other and to help others catch the train if they are running late. 

 

Some parts of the book were fascinating and I think very relevant to today.  Mehta clearly describes why Mumbaikers rip off each other and everyone else possible and why gangsters are so powerful there.  He also clearly makes the connection between gangsters and terrorists. 

 

I enjoyed reading the book a lot.  It did help explain why some things are the way they are.  Mehta wrote a great book.

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.

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.

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