Author Archives: emlyt

Thrissur to Coimbatore

The journey from Thrissur in Kerala to Coimbatore takes about 4 hours. The train passes through several stations, and travels through a stunning mountain range that separates Kerala from Tamil Nadu- the end of the Western Ghats, a world heritage listed natural wonder.

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As usual, I travelled with an unreserved ticket, and didn’t see a conductor at all during my trip. I have an unfortunate, unavoidable habit of falling asleep while travelling: I sat on my window seat, had my arm over my backpack and slept. Being a seasoned public transport sleeper, I always make sure to put at least one earbud headphone in and set an alarm for 10 minutes before my scheduled arrival time, to make sure I don’t miss my stop! So, I woke up to my alarm a few minutes out of Coimbatore, and hopped off.

Trying to get from the station home was a nightmare- the taxi guys in Coimbatore are very difficult to negotiate with. The group was trying to charge me 3 times what I had paid to get to the station four days earlier- apparently the cost of petrol had risen significantly since last I was there (it hadn’t). Eventually a rickshaw wallah wandered over and offered to undercut what the taxi guys were trying to charge me by about 100 rupees ($2), so I just went with him.

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How to: wear a salwar kameez

The salwar kameez is a tunic, pants and scarf outfit that is worn by a large number of women in India. With the exception of the younger generation in big cities like Bangalore, if the women aren’t wearing saris then they are wearing a salwar.

The suit is worn throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and is thought to have originated during the Mongol rule of the area. It is incredibly comfortable in the heat, and very modest.

The suit consists of three different items of clothing:

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Kurta: A tunic with slits on the side to your hips, and can be worn long (shin/knee length) or short (thigh length). The sleeves also vary – from sleeveless, to short sleeve, elbow length or full length sleeve.

Anarkali: A dress-like top, which has a reasonably tight/fitted bodice and then a flared knee/shin length skirt (which is sewn from multiple panels depending on the region it originates from: sometimes as few as 8, or as many as 80.

PANTS

Churidar: similar to leggings, but more loose fitting and longer, with bunching (churis) at the ankle.

Salwar: loose pants fitting pants, with a straight cut leg, ending at the ankle.

Pattiala: baggy loose pants with pleats at the top, so the pants fall like balloons over your legs.

SCARF

Dupatta: scarf/shawl worn around the neck, covering your chest and back over your shoulders. Traditionally this is a huge shawl, quite wide and long. But there is also the shorter, narrower scarf.

Now the salwar kameez can be bought as a set, or as separate items. The trick is to figure out how much colour and pattern you are comfortable with, because it can be quite extreme.

If you are diving in and creating your own ensemble, its important to remember a few rules:

  • Kurtas above the knee are to be worn with loose pants (preferably pattialas)
  • Anarkali and kurtas below the knee can be worn with anything, but look better with churidas
  • It is easiest to start with a single coloured kurta, and then match it with pants with a pattern in a complementary colour
  • The dupatta must match the pants you are wearing first, and then secondly match the kurta
  • Wearing three items all with different patterns can be a disaster, so if you want that much pattern it is best to look for a pre-made set.
Me, wearing a kurta, churrdar and dupatta

Me, wearing a kurta, churrdar and scarf dupatta

It can be a lot of fun experimenting with the different patterns and colours that are avaliable. However it can be very easy to end up with a lot of different items that can only be worn in one or two ways. The most productive shopping expedition I ever had was one where I had a patterned dupatta, and I found two kurta and three pairs of pants that I could wear with it. So that equates to 6 different outfits.

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It is fun.

Poetry in action

Every month in Bangalore there is a flea market called Kitsch Mandi held at Palace Grounds, on Airport Road.

It’s a very cool affair- local artists and designers pay a small fee to have a stall at the market, and they sell all manner of things. From second hand books, to hand made jewellery, to clothes, to stationary. There has also been activities in the past such as book binding classes.

Last month two girls had a stall offering free tea in return for a poem. So Anu and I came up with two brilliant poems. What all we will do for a cup of tea…

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Anasua’s poem:

There was a market called Kitsch Mandi,
The only thing we didn’t find was biryani in a handi,
But instead she got a cup of tea,
And the best part was that it was for free.

My poem:

There once was a girl who wanted some tea,
And she found some people who would give it for free,
They said ‘write us a poem’,
And she wrote what she wanted,
Just because she didn’t know ’em.

Pure genius.

Terrace Party

One of my friends in Bangalore invited us around to his house for a party at his house. His parents were out of town for the weekend, and in true living at home style, that meant house party time.

Now the way that he sold it to us was that we would get some drinks, take them up to the terrace and drink. Apparently the terrace was a really great place to hang out, and had a great view over Bangalore.

Now I’m not one to turn down such an invitation. And I love terraces. I like spending time outside, and I like the idea of drinking on a roof. Now my mental picture that was formed after this conversation was something like this:

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Ok maybe something much less luxurious. No fruit bowl, more utilitarian furniture, and no hot babes reclining on the couch. Something more like this:

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Just a simple space with a table and some chairs/stools, maybe some potted plants. All in all a pretty chilled place to sit and drink and talk nonsense.

So the night of the party comes around, and we go around to his house. And we walk up to the terrace. And I look around for the chairs. Nothing. I look around for the potted plants. Nothing. I look around for the hot babes. Nothing.

Turns out the terrace that I imagine was very different to the reality! We found a spot on the flat roof without puddles, and sat down in a circle around our bottles of alcohol in the middle.

Despite the fact that my expectations were ridiculously off the mark, it was a fantastic night, still one of the best I’ve had in Bangalore. Just goes to prove that its more about the people you are with than where you are!

There was a pretty bangin’ view of the city too!

View from the top

View from the top

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Found some hot babes up there after all

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Thanks for the party!

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Decorations

I still think you should get some seats up there though buddy…

Landlady

This is a photo of me and my landlady. She owns the block of houses I stay at in Coimbatore, and stays in the front house. She has several attached apartments, and rents them to various families. She comes to check out what is happening in the apartment some mornings, and tells us that we need to clean more often, and offers to have her maid come by to help us clean. I think she must think that we have no idea how to clean up after ourselves!

She doesn’t speak much English (none) and I don’t speak much Tamil (none), but with hand gestures me manage to understand each other mostly.

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One morning we woke up and there was no water in the taps! We’d just gotten home the night before from a weekend trip, and were both in desperate need of a shower before work. So we went downstairs to ask the Landlady about it, and she came up. After 15 minutes of misunderstanding what she was trying to say we finally figured out that one of our taps had been leaking all weekend, and kept draining the water tank. So they had turned off our water at the main tap on the roof – we simply needed to turn it back on. And remember to turn the flush off properly on the toilet so it didn’t constantly run and drain the water tank that everyone shared!

We have the apartment at the back of the building, up some stairs. It’s a two bedroom flat, with access to the terrace (which is only really used by the others to dry their washing). Its a wonderful huge terrace with a nice view over the buildings around us, and it seems like a shame that they don’t use the space. The equivalent terrace in Australia would be covered in potted plants, have an outdoor table and chairs, possibly even a table tennis table.

Now it was a bit of a battle to get this lady to agree to have two single, white, girls stay alone in her apartment out the back. This was for several reasons I think, mostly out of concern for our well being. I was told that crime was on a rise in the city of Coimbatore, and there was a highly publicised incident involving an old woman found chopped into pieces, which placed fear into everyone’s hearts. After this it was very difficult to find people who were willing to have two girls stay alone in an apartment they were renting out. I guess I can understand that sentiment!

Despite this (this is for you Mum), I’ve never felt unsafe in the neighbourhood. Obviously it was quite a novelty at first for everyone in the neighbourhood for us to move in, but everyone quickly got used to it. After going to a few of the shops in the street a few times, I’ve found that no one really gives me a second glance anymore.

The Uncle in the phone shop out the front of the house always says hello when I come home from work, and the boy working in the rice shop next to it has helped us out almost every day that Scooty decides she doesn’t want to go to work. He comes over with a huge grin on his face and gets her started. The woman at the eatery across the road has a good natured laugh at our expense every morning when we are trying to kick start Scooty.

The woman down the road who runs the vegetable shop is wonderful, and always greets me with a huge grin and helps me out in figuring out what all everything is: who would have thought spinach could look so different! And the pani puri cart guys always say hey as I walk past… I think they were quite disappointed the day I started walking past them to the vegetable store!

How to: pick a mango

The mango trees are starting to get heavy with mangos!

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Mangos are my favourite thing in the world. They are wonderful by themselves, they are wonderful in cooking. And they are wonderful as pickle.

Problem is, they grow in tall trees. So they aren’t always easy to pluck.

Now there’s two ways to pick mangos: one is to climb the tree and pluck them. However heights and I don’t agree, so that’s not such a good option for me.

So instead, I used a stick to hit them and shake them loose.

RK showed me the technique: the trick is to hit the mango with the stick from behind, and to try to knock it down.

Now it seems quite easy in theory. But in practice it took a bit of work. We managed to hit down half a dozen green mangos before we bent the metal stick we were using. Game over.

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Fair & Lovely

I was shopping for some face cream the other day, and went to a small chemist to pick it up. I asked the man for some face cream, and he looked at me and then pulled out Fair&Lovely – a skin whitening cream. I laughed and told him I had no need for that, and he gave me a different one. A fairly innocuous event you would think, but after being amongst the advertising in this country for a few months, I don’t think so.

India has an obsession with fair skin, one that I struggle to understand. At home women spend lots of money on bronzing products, and one in three Australians develops skin cancer from being in the sun too much, trying to tan.

India is the opposite: Ads on TV are full of very fair skinned women selling products designed to lighten your skin. Fair & Lovely is only the tip of the iceberg. International brands have developed specific products for the Indian market: Garnier, Loreal, Clinique, Ponds and Revlon have multiple products designed to lighten complexion. From face creams to face washes, even lotions for baby’s skin. Recently there has been controversy surrounding the release of an intimate wash for women, promising to whiten ‘down there’ (read what Vice had to say about it).

India’s cosmetic industry is set to grow to 200 Billion Rupees ($3.6Bn) by 2014, so it seems to be worth the while of these companies to continue to develop such products, and to continue to convince Indians that fairer is lovelier. This ‘colourism‘, as Jyothi Gupta points out, is linked closely to the still-present caste bias in Indian society and exploited by advertising and pharmaceutical companies. Heres an interview she conducted with Dr Parameswaran, a Professor at Indiana University (transcript) on colourism:

I really like the point made towards the end of this interview: what is worrying about the focus on fairness in India is the lack of discourse surrounding it. In Australia the same amount of focus is placed on being skinny, and that image is propagated throughout the media. However, this is accompanied by alternate discourse about health and women’s bodies (whether its doing its job or not is another matter). In India there is no alternate discourse about the harm that this image could be doing to young girl’s self-esteem.

Discourse surrounds colourism amongst Latinos and African-Americans in the States, and studies have been conducted on the impact that skin tone has on salary and education of individuals in America. What is interesting about this particular article is that its published in the Indian paper The Hindu, but talks almost solely about colourism in relation to the States. However there doesn’t seem to be much discussion about it within the Indian context.

Here is another article by Nisha Susan from the Indian magazine Tehelka, if you’re interested. She looks at the idealised image of an Indian in the media and Bollywood.

Walking around the streets of Bangalore and Coimbatore makes me wonder where they even find these women on TV selling these products. Because no-one I see on the streets is as fair as these women – on the TV screen they seem to be even whiter than me!

I’m told that these women are found in the North, however I still think that like the promises and image they are selling, they are mythical beasts.

 

 

Here’s Obama’s two cents worth:

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