Friday, July 24, 2009


Marriages in India are complecated to some extent. People from other countries may find it difficult to digest the whole things regarding the selection partners. Most often it is the parents who select the partners, above the choice of the bride and groom. Here are some "stages" from marriage.

Empty stage waiting for the bride and groom. The lights are the witness. Fire is a good omen as per Hindu mythology. Hence the lighted lamps are the "witness"

Groom enters the stage First. Wait in the Stage...

Music, is inevitable to the marriage. Traditional way of Music.

And Finally, the Wedding "lock" and ringing of wedding bell....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Zen & The Freedom Of Motorcycle Ownership

I’ve recently made friends online with someone from Iran. He describes the country he lives in as something like a prison because so many of the freedoms I take for granted in my life are literally not available to him. The simple act of being able to freely say what I like and identify myself in this blog would be totally impossible for him. It is a kind of luxury which would be both intoxicating and, particularly at this present moment in time, quite possibly dangerous.

We have different expectations about what our lives could be dependent upon where we live in the world. When I travelled to India I sent a series of e-mails back to my colleagues in England describing the place. Climate, language, architecture, even the vegetation one encounters make anywhere away from our home seem alien, and even exotic. Yet the thing which made the most lasting impact was something very familiar – transport.

I described to my friends what I saw as the hierarchy of travel in India:

Firstly there were the people walking on foot – these tended to be people who were less well dressed (and obviously poor) or younger children, heading places with boundless energy, women and young girls, or groups of men or boys heading just short distances. Many barefoot which would be something almost unthinkable for a western person.

Next came the bicycles – people on bikes tended to be slightly older children ambling along avoiding potholes, loose limbed and almost exclusively male.

Then were the rickshaws – bright yellow and motorised little tuk tuks darting and weaving their varied passengers onward through the traffic.

At the top of the transportation food chain were the car drivers - an altogether rarer species than the rest. Here was a way of demonstrating a level of status not generally afforded to anyone but those at the top of society. The others were those being driven around in nice white taxis owned by the hotels and driven by men in caps and crisp white uniforms.

Yet these aren’t the symbol of the new India. There is one other form of transport which seems to be the status symbol. The one people can afford above the car, desire above the humble bicycle, and the one which provides the symphony of the road, with bleating horns and high pitched engine whines: the motorbike.

In the UK the motorbike is something quite different. People who own them tend to be young people who want to ride something at 16, which is the year before they can drive a car although even this trend has diminished somewhat in the past decade. The others are much more powerful racing bikes and seemed to be owned by a particular group of men. They tend to be somewhere between 35 – 45 and of particular class who are likely to have paid off all their significant financial commitments and now want something more from their life in the form of a thrill. A number of them are also divorced so they are looking for a statement of virility.

It’s a far cry from the obvious ubiquity of the motorbike in India. Even the advertisements seem to suggest something different. On Indian TV they replace the car in the advertising schedule. Here it’s the bike – a symbol of youth, excitement, and desirability. The adverts contain images of virile young men (who start in an office looking clean cut) who then leave the office for their bike clad in a leather jacket and they then speed off into the city (or some remote rugged terrain) speeding through the traffic, halting only at the sight of a beautiful young girl. The bikes have names like Hero, Hunk, Menace, Isotope, Ninja, and Inteceptor which all add to the young macho virility they imply.

It’s a totally different perspective to the older males here in the UK seek. For a start the bikes they drive have much bigger engines and more power. Yet the actual thinking behind it is exactly the same. They both want independence and freedom to travel just for them and they want people to notice them. Here the sound of the accelerating motorbike is something like the sight of the car in Indian cities, it is a status symbol and status symbols get the girl (or so they think).

Then I think of the freedoms my friend in Iran can consider. He was a young man in 1979 and took to the streets to rid his country of what was considered a corrupt and out of touch leadership. Today he sees that those he replaced them with have become just as corrupt and out of touch with the wishes and desires of today’s young people. He feels the frustrations of the new generation and wants more chances to be able to express his views and opinions but he told me that he’s not on the streets this time as it’s too dangerous. The young don’t feel that fear, I thought, that’s why they are out there risking their lives for the chance for a little extra freedom. I’m sure when my friend comes to the UK (as he often does) he sees with the eyes of the outsider, all our faults and follies and that a lot of what we do with our lives and desire for our lives as something slightly foolish.

Yet I suspect that deep down he’d replace the desire for freedom of expression, the worries about if his calls and text messages are being monitored (and for what purpose) for something closer to our worries. We may think it’s not always fair, that we don’t have everything in our societies, that they are badly run and probably corrupt, but we’re free to worry about the motorbikes, not our freedoms all the same.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lovely Weather We're Having?

I recently went to a topical comedy event where the premise was a panel of comedians sat with the Sunday newspapers and discussed what they found in them. It was an interesting show as it highlighted some of the ridiculous and banal stuff that ends up in our newspapers. One of the funniest moments was when one of the panelists pointed out that people were sad about the end of the spell of hot weather despite the fact the very same people had been complaining about the heat when it was here.

I'd been reading the updates of my friends muttering, twittering, and complaining about the oppressive heat of those days. The heat seems to have an effect on all of us. Now, I have never been a hot weather person and I don't know how I'd deal with it. If not having work has any small mercies then this has been one of them. I can hide out in the shade and the relative cool of my home. Here in London the weather is news. If we get a handful of inches of snow the media will report almost nothing else. It stops the infrastructure of the country functioning properly. I have a friend in Canada who lives with snow for the entire winter and they measure the amounts in feet and meters. What we suffer is something akin to the dusting of icing sugar that might be added to decorate a cake. That said, the recent summer heat is the kind of heat one doesn't get in some countries. It is a dry oppressive heat without the sense of moisture you would experience in more tropical climes.

The weather here is an utter obsession. It is part of the fabric of our communication. "Lovely weather we're having!", or, "Cold today isn't it". For the British it's something used to make conversation, an opening and opportunity to start or extend, a conversation. If you go on a date and the conversation begins to steer toward the weather, you know it's gone wrong, you've probably exhausted your interest in the person. It is an indicator that you have nothing much to say to the person themselves and it's a quintessential way we avoid actually communicating with people. There is something sad about the fact that we use this almost as a way of distancing ourselves from people. We communicate without really saying anything.

I wonder if this is an English obsession. I suspect that the rest of the world only focuses on the weather when it creates something truly disastrous. Droughts affect millions and have a very telling effect both on the landscape and the people themselves. The same can be said of excessive rain and the flooding that this can cause. Monsoons themselves don't really generate too much interest unless something out of the ordinary happens as a result of them. It's the same with hurricanes. We're told of some of the big ones but the Caribbean has a season full of them every year. Katrina captured the imagination simply because its effect was that much greater on the region and especially New Orleans.

Perhaps in our evolving world this is about to change. With the onset of global warming now being more widely accepted as a reality there may well be a change in the way that we perceive the powers of the sun, the wind, and the rain. Talking about the weather may become much less of a conversational banality. As we deal with the consequences of this, perhaps people in England will have to find different things to complain about, and talk about.

I grew up on the coast, and as a child I used to love to see the sea in all its different phases through the passing of a year. To this day I think the sound of waves - particularly the big incessant ones - is possibly my favourite sound. Coming from someone with more music than his house can reasonably hold, this is a confession. I remember the storms and the power it exerted. A few years later I remember returning to the same beaches and seeing countless rock islands had been placed a little way out at sea so, I'm informed, that the waves won't damage the coastline. Watching a storm the waves seemed angrier, bigger, and much more powerful than I remembered them as a small child.

Memory is one of those strange warping phenomena. Things we see as impossibly huge as children often turn out to be insignificant when we view them as adults. Watching these waves - and this is 13 years ago - I remember thinking that someone clearly wasn't telling me something about global warming. Why else would a storm now seem so much larger than my memory. I'm still chilled by that thought. Perhaps we are going to change our views about the weather and see it less as this malign influence and instead see it for what it really is, something capable of utter destruction and devastation, something requiring our respect. Maybe then, to my colleagues, friends, and fellow countrymen, it might not seem quite so lovely.