A Mountain Retreat (with Sari shopping, a Movie and a Play)

One of the great things about India is that it is a place you have to experience. I can describe how we get from one place to another—squeezing into a rickshaw in damp heat, or the terror I have in crossing the street—especially when cars don’t maintain lanes…but it’s not the same as being here. However, the last few days have been a hodgepodge of new experiences, though I will report that I am no closer to getting information out of my grandmother than I was five days ago despite having an excellent birthday party, with some amazing images from her past, present and future (great-grand kids who are absolutely adorable).

Baar baar din ye aaye, baar baar dil ye gaaye
Tu jiye hazaaron saal, ye meri hai aarzoo
Happy Birthday to you

Time And Again, Let This Day Return, Time And Again Let The Heart Sing This
May You Live Thousands Of Years, This Is My Wish
Happy Birthday to you

From Faarz (1967)|Listen to the song here|

The birthday celebrations launched with a trip to Khandala—a mountain retreat about an hour outside of Mumbai. The gaggle of family members that came with me (21 in all) ranged from 80 to 3. It included uncles, aunts, cousins, cousin-in-law’s who came from India and the UAE. Aside from the general family revelry (who doesn’t love 21 people in a room with a Karaoke machine) we visited some waterfalls and had exciting encounters with crabs. The one in the picture here is one that decided it lived in my cousin’s toilet—and sometime in the night crawled out to visit.

That being said, Khandala was beautiful. A tad cooler than the city, it boasted amazing view shed’s of lush greenery, though due to low rainfall the waterfalls had been reduced to a trickle. At one point we found ourselves driving up the windy roadway engulfed in a fog bank, unable to see more than a foot in front or behind. Then there were the monkey’s that hung out on the expressway as we took pictures of the Duke’s nose on our way home.

Silky Saris and Other Shopping Fun

After our trip the shopping for the wedding began in earnest. Its hard to explain the magic of a sari shop which holds rows upon rows of the six yard long garment in varying prices, sizes, and fabrics. Some come in dual tone with nothing but embroidery while others are filled with jari (translation lots and lots of beading and stones, almost like someone ran a muck with a beadazzler). When you step into a shop you sit in front of a table and give one of two things—a price point or a description of what you are looking for. Then the sales clerks pull out product after product trying to gauge your reaction. The fun in all this is seeing the flashing color swirl around you olive greens, deep purples, pinks and lavenders, oranges and blues (sometimes on the same garment) while checking out how the blouse piece contrasts with the actual sari. Then once you decide on the color you have to remember to take a a critical eye to the “palu” the end of the garment that drapes down your back (or in front depending on how you drape the fabric—trust me, there are many, many ways). Click here for a video of how we try on Saris at the store (starring my sister).

Another way that we shop is to take older sari’s of my mothers and take it to a tailor who transforms them into gaghra choli’s (basically a blouse/skirt/scarf) or a punjabi suit (a long top with pants). In order to get those made you have to buy lining which involves a whole other type of shopping—as seen here. I know that fabric shops exist in the United States but the process of making and buying clothes here is a full-service one that uses a different set of skills than one usually uses.

Bollywood & Kaanji

I’m not going to lie. We didn’t spend all our time inside stores, ogling clothing. When we first got back from Khandala we went to see a Hindi movie called Dabaang (Fearless). It stars Salmaan Kahn, an actor who I don’t particularly like but was what we call a timepass movie. Turn off your brain and enjoy….the colors, the fights (which were a combination of Kill Bill and Matrix style feats and acrobatics). Not to mention the song and dance numbers which I still can’t get out of my head. (Click on the link for a music video).

Then on Viserajan— we decided to brave the crowds to go see my cousin’s husband in a Gujarati play, something we’ve always wanted to do but have never had the chance. I know I mentioned earlier that I don’t have a firm grasp on either Hindi or Gujarati, something I always vow to fix, but I was amazed at how much I understood. Entitled Kaanji versus Kaanji (Kaanji being another name for Lord Krishna)it was essentially an adapted piece about a man who loses his lively hood due to an earthquake (“an act of God”)  and upon being turned down for insurance decides to sue god.

It was fantastic. I’m not saying this just because my cousin was in it, but it was funny, serious, and meaningful all at the same time. It dealt with issues of spirituality, ritual, and made some cutting observations about the practice of Hinduism in the modern (and digital) age.

The final part of the play, which dealt with belief, practice, life and death asked the audience to first find god within yourself before looking for him/she/it out in the world.

This is India I suppose, one part spirituality, one part entertainment, and another part full of vivid color and family. A portrait, a rendering of philosophical theory, mixed in with millions of unique stories and lives.

Click here to view more pictures of Khandala and Shopping.

Finding Passion: 3 Idiots and Up in The Air

For the second of my three movie themed posts this week I thought I would review two movies that are incredibly different in subject matter and scope—but still bear a sort of resonance on a common theme.

3 Idiots is a new movie from Bollywood that follows two college friends (Farhan and Raju) as they try and find the third of their group (Rancho) ten years after graduation. Through flashbacks we learn about their friendship in flashbacks at their college—a place similar to MIT but much more competitive. Like most Indian movies it has its fair share of drama, love and music. That being said it also takes a hard look at the pressures put on Indian kids to follow their parent’s dream rather than their own. It is also a very funny movie.

In stark contrast Up in the Air is a movie, to some extent, about loneliness and the need for human relationships. It follows frequent flier George Clooney as he travels around the country firing people from their jobs. While there are lighthearted moments, the movie is more serious than anything else and is ultimately about taking a hard look at your life and figuring out what is really worth sacrificing happiness for.

The way that the two movies link up is sort of chronological. In 3 Idiots we have three kids struggling to find the career, the job that will make them happy and excited about life. One is an engineering student because he loves it, but is stifled by the pressures of providing for his not-so-rich family (Raju).  The second is, once again, in school because its what is expected of him—but all through the movie you see him taking pictures—something his parents see as a hobby rather than a career (Farhan). The third, Rancho—well his is the role of the eye-opener. The one who can see all the flaws in the system and thinks he has the answers to make everything right. He is the questioner, he is the one who asks why we memorize definitions instead of thinking creatively. He is the one who asks why many students in India are encouraged towards the paths leading toward the most wealth, rather than the career they would be the most inspired. I often joke with my other Indian-American friends that there are only five acceptable careers for kids of Indian decent (Doctor, Lawyer, Finance/Business, Engineering, Dentist). It took some considerable convincing on my part to change my parent’s mind about the validity of being a historian—and I know that a lot of this has to do with the hard work and sacrifice my parents had in coming to this country and making their own way.

The idea of working toward something you love is also dealt with in Up in the Air. In this movie the questioner is Clooney’s character who asks the individuals he is firing what they could do if they could suddenly reinvent their life. He presents being fired as a way to make dreams come true, that now these individuals are free to take those steps they were too afraid or barred from taking earlier in life. Now they are free to take steps towards their passion.  He asks a father to look at his kids, and ask himself if the job he is losing is something that will make them look up to him. (A statement that I don’t necessarily agree with, since it is not what you do that makes your kids look up to you, but how you act and treat others.)

I know neither of these movies necessarily have anything to do with history, but they have to do a lot with the idea of finding your lot in life, your calling. That no matter what stage in life you are it is  not too late to step back and reevaluate what truly makes you happy. For me it is all about finding inspiration around me, and sharing that inspiration with others—and taking what comes next to inform and influence the mind and spirit at the same time.

What about you?