Archive for September, 2008

Ganesh Chathurti lives on

September 24, 2008

It is twelve days since the Ganesh festivities finished but the after effects rumble on.

The electicity bill is now 21 days late. Reason? The 10 day Ganesh holiday. The company operates a strange system anyway. The consumer gets a bill every two months. But the bill refers to the units used during the preceding two months. For example: what we used during April and May will be invoiced at the beginning of Spetember for payment at the end of September. Unless it’s the middle of October because of Ganesh.

We know that inflation is rising in the UK. Here too. The latest increase is in airmail postage. 15 rupees to 25 = 65%. No half measures here. Mind you we always thought that 15 rupees (about 20p) was a bit lightweight for airmail. It now takes longer than ever to purchase stamps while the staff work out what four x Rs25/- is. The problem is caused by the absence of Rs25/- stamp, thus an assortment of stamps is issued to make up the requisite amount. It really is a long-winded performance.

We are back online after a short absence due to computer failure and replacement… traumatic but not as much as it could have been.


A murderous society?

September 19, 2008

It’s interesting how our perceptions have changed while learning to live in a different culture. We don’t think it at all odd that there have been 17 cases of suspected murder in South Goa since January.
Remember Goa is about the size of Cornwall and a population of 1.3 million; and these 17 cases are just in South Goa. Not reported is the number of suspected murders in North and Central Goa, but may we hazard a guess that it’s a similar number for each? Roughly calculated that’s one every 5 days. Fortunately (if that’s the right choice of word) most of them appear to be family disputes and we are unlikely to become a statistic in this field. In the UK we couldn’t have not believed that this many murders were taking place… but maybe we are wrong.

Everything and nothing surprises us in India. The country is so very different.

20 years married… or not

September 18, 2008

20 years ago, an English woman married a Goan in the UK. The couple have since moved to Goa and have decided to seperate and divorce. This has created a problem… bureaucratic of course.

It is not enough for a Goan to return to Goa married. He or she should register the marriage within 30 days of arrival. This of course is not publicised and is probably not known by ‘aam admii’, the man in the street.

So our couple start to file for divorce and fall at the first bureaucratic hurdle, which is a penalty for late filing… in this case twenty years too late. They cleared this one eventually, but fell and have not yet remounted at the second. The second hinges around the UK marriage certificate, wherein the name of the husband’s father is correctly spelt but incomplete. Only four of the six, in this case Christian, names were present. And since the father is long-deceased, the bureaucrats feel that it is not possible to correct the error.

Which leaves our couple in limbo. It’s not just a case of not legally married… in which case no divorce necessary… it’s a case of not registered as married, and nobody to register it.

Panjim’s new baby has indigestion

September 12, 2008

Anaerobic digester. Panjim Goa

Anaerobic digester. Panjim Goa

Anaerobic digester. Lubeck Germany

Anaerobic digester. Lubeck Germany

We can’t say that the Goa government isn’t trying, it’s very trying. But we can say that it’s attempts to deal with the garbage crisis are pathetic.

There is and has been a rubbish disposal problem here for many years, and probably will be for many years to come. We have already reported on Margao’s wheelie bin effort…. and mirabile dictu, the system is still functioning, but doesn’t appear to have expanded beyond a tiny number of streets. We are grateful as rats and smells have reduced considerably.

In Panjim however the six month old anaerobic digester conveniently situated on the doorstep of Panjim’s modern highrise office sector, which the government and media lead us to believe will cope with ten tons daily or one fifth of Panjim’s output, has broken after six months useage and is now proving a stinking health hazard.

We are not sure if the Panjim digester looked like this when installed, but that wouldn’t surprise us… but it does look very sad for a brand new piece of kit. We can only guess that two thirds of the money ear-marked wasn’t spent on actually buying the plant from the supplier; perhaps they only got what looked like and digester. By the way, the Lubeck plant is at least one year older. We know, we know! Comparisons are odious, but we couldn’t resist.


September 10, 2008

It’s eighteen months since Alison started her Goan practice and we are really pleased to report that it is now flying. Since our July visit to the UK, numbers have increased to above the level we originally targetted.

Communication difficulties are being reduced and our comprehension of how sub-continental pain is expressed is growing.

Here’s to the next eighteen months!

Chalk and Cheese

September 10, 2008

Menlha, our medicine Buddha

Menlha, our medicine Buddha

Last night after one final (we hope) eruption at 9.00pm the town fell silent. For the last four nights it’s been bangers, bombs and firecrackers blasting away until the early hours. The worst night was when a loud maroon was exploded at about twenty minute intervals for six hours; just enough time to drop off before being woken.

We guess the noise is all to do with the Ganesh festival, see earlier blog, where you can take your pick between two and fifteen days to celebrate.

It got us thinking about India’s religions and we concluded that, because it is a country of extremes and contradictions in all walks of life, Hinduism (80% of the population) is the people’s way of responding to a thousand years of Buddhism. In Hinduism there is a vast pantheon of gods, in the latter none. The Hindu faithful are perpetually noisy in their worship of their gods, the Buddhist enjoys the occasional bell and quiet contemplation. The Hindu gods are spectacularly colourful, sometimes multi-limbed or with animal heads, whereas the portrayal of Buddha (who is not god, not even the word of god, but a man who propounded a philosophy for life) is usually subdued. (Not every Buddha is that fat, jovial barrel of a man).

It’s almost as if the requirement for peaceful introspection of Buddhism became too boring for the man in the street and he junked it for something more exciting and while he was about it he turbo-charged the whole shebang. Amongst other things, to the ‘thou shalt not kill’ section he added ‘unless you are in the right’ , which must have livened things up a bit. We understand that to be ‘in the right’ means that you and your family benefit and suffer no ill-effects from the result of the deed.

Back to the subject of noise, we read in the paper that one Ganesh committee was asking for noise pollution restrictions should be eased for a few more days as they were spoiling the celebrations.

Chennai blog 5: we take to the road

September 9, 2008

Nandi Bull

Nandi Bull

Having seen everything we wanted in Mamallapuram, we decided the head off for the day. Being the adventurous types we are (or should that be foolhardy?), we hired an Enfield and made our own way north.

The journey was full of our usual toings and froings, largely because the signposts for the places we wanted to visit only faced one direction, not the one we were driving in.

First stop was the Madras Crocodile Bank ( ). The Bank began life 15 years ago as a breeding programme for endangered Indian crocodiles. From 15 crocs at the start, they now have 5,000 and they breed and return to the wild endangered species from all over the world. They breed snakes, lizards and turtles as well.

Highlights for us were the Gharials, Indian fish-eating crocs with very long noses. We watched one under water. When he/she (not sure which) went up for air, all these turtles emerged from underneath, stretched their legs then settled back down under the croc. Not sure what the basis of the relationship is. Then there was the saltwater crocodile who appeared just out of the water then sunk below the surface again. As soon as he/she disappeared, you wouldn’t have known the croc was there. Given the ‘saltys’ are also the most likely to attack people, it was a little unnerving to watch.

Second stop was the Dakshina Chitra (, an impressive open-air museum dedicated to keeping alive traditional crafts and culture from South India. It’s a project from the Chennai Craft Foundation and it was so well put together we had to keep pinching ourselves to remind us we were still in India. The site contains traditional buildings from different states and communities across South India. The buildings have been bought from ‘in situ’ and rebuilt, then filled with artefacts from daily life across the centuries. Everywhere you look there are craftspeople working – pottery, basket making, weaving, puppet making – plus when we were there a temple group from Kerala performed music and dance. Hypnotic and the second time we’ve found ourselves thinking that a trip to a full temple performance might have to be made (they go on from 10pm to 6am).

The Dakshina Chitra also gave us our first proper chance to push back on what we locally call ‘skin tax’. It’s a pejorative title but it reflects the Indian practice of charging Indians one price for entry to places and ‘foreigners’ a different one ie higher. You might argue we can afford it, however we object given that we live here and work for Indian wages, and pay Indian taxes, to being treated as ‘rich tourists’.

Anyway, we struck out at the Shore Temple, where it was one price for Indian nationals and everyone else paid more. As a result, we didn’t take our Resident’s Permits with us later in the day. At Dakshina Chitra, it was Indian residents the lower price. Initially we paid the higher price because we didn’t have our Permits with us. Then we realised we did have our driving licenses and our income tax (PAN) cards – you cannot get either of these unless you’re a resident. On presentation of these, the museum offered us money back. We didn’t accept – the museum was worth the money – but the principle was made.

Chennai blog 4: the beauty of Mamallapuram

September 7, 2008

Shore Temple

Shore Temple

We spent the weekend of our trip in the small seaside town of Mamallapuram. The town was a major port between the fifth and ninth centuries – the Pallava dynasty (by name and nature, we hear you cry?). Today it’s a World Heritage Site because it was the centre for a stone-carving tradition the impact of which can be seen all over southern India and into south-east Asia.

The main monument is the Shore Temple, thought to be the earliest stone-built temple in South India. It’s style, with two intricately-carved towers, is now seen in temple buildings all over this part of India and influenced building as far north as Ellora and the huge Kailash temple (a subject of an earlier blog).

Just outside Mamallapuram is the second major site – the Pancha Pandava rathas. These are five free-standing structures which imitate some aspects of temple architecture and are dedicated to the five Pandava brothers and their queen Draupadi (the story of whom is told in the Bhagavad Gita). The rathas weren’t used for worship but to show off the craftsmen’s work. The site includes some lifesize animal sculputures, with a particularly beautiful elepant and a Nandi bull.

Elsewhere around Mamallapuram there are other carved temples, a lighthouse, a precariously-balanced rock known as Krishna’s Butter Ball, and bas reliefs such as Arjuna’s Penance (see the picture of the carved elephants in our Chennai blog 3.

All the sites were well maintained and generally cared for and respected. All that culture and there’s a lovely beach as well.

Chennai blog 3: on the road to Mamallapuram

September 7, 2008

Elephant rock carving - Mamallapuram

Elephant rock carving - Mamallapuram

Off we nobly set on Saturday morning, confidently expecting to reach Mamallapuram in not much over three hours. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say it took us that long to get out of Chennai.

We were planning to go by bus, however the main bus stand in Chennai – Moffussil – is 10km west of the city and none of the rickshaw drivers seemed to know what it was called, or they couldn’t understand us. Anyway, the advice from the Rough Guide was get a local train to Guindy and pick up an East Coast Road (ECR) bus there.

The first bit was easy – pleasant 15 minute train ride to Guindy successfully negotiated. Then the fun started. We couldn’t spot many buses saying ECR and those we could spot weren’t stopping. We asked around and were told the 118 and to move further down the road. We got on a 118 and had travelled about 5km before it became clear this was a bus for ‘Lapuram’ not ‘Mamallapuram’. However the woman we were sat with did tell us we had been waiting on the wrong side of the road!

A shared rickshaw and about half an hour later we were back at Guindy. We waited a while, no buses, so we resolved to get a rickshaw to Moffussil. When we reached there it was much simpler, with buses to Mamallapuram and also to Pondicherry (also some signed Puducherry, which we think is the same place) via Mamallapuram. We got on one of these and subsequently discovered that when the shared rickshaw deposited us back at Guindy, he dropped us on the corner of the street where the ECRs stop – something the driver who took us to Moffussil must have known! As usual most of our direct questions had been answered with a ‘Yes’, which added to our puzzlement.

Still, we then enjoyed a two-hour ride to Mamallapuram down the ECR – a road in very good condition (Goan’s, take note) but not much in the way of scenery.

PS It’s worthwhile sometimes to have a look at the photos full size… there’s a lot of detail.

Ganesh Chaturthi (aka Vinayak Chaturthi or Chavat)

September 4, 2008

Our Ganesh

Our Ganesh

Arriving back from Chennai we had overlooked the Ganesh Chaturthi holiday on Wednesday and Thursday. This is one of the biggest Hindu festivals, but particularly celebrated in Goa and our neighbouring state Maharastra. Ganesh is the god with an elephant head. Most projects or business ventures are started with prayers and offerings for this happy remover of obstacles (he’s got a huge job in India with bureaucratic hurdles) and bringer of good fortune. Chaturti is a particularly auspicious time to get something new going, because this is the one occasion in the year when Ganesh leaves his planet and comes down to earth. Dennis did some gardening and planted some cuttings after offering some modak sweet (the utmost important offering made to Lord Ganesh).

There was an unnerving quiet on Wednesday morning (much quieter than a Sunday) until 7.00am when firecrackers and maroons startled us and the pariah dogs. These continued intermittently throughout the day and well into the evening. Today, Thursday, is ghostly quiet again and mercifully they’ve run out of bangers.

Villages and towns have Ganesh Chaturti committees that mainly raise funds through running ever-popular lotteries. Even small villages are known to raffle several cars at a time.

Anyway, we’ll have to review how we get to grips with which holiday comes when and how long and what or who for. At the moment they seem random, but they really tie in phases of the moon, like Easter. We’ve, or at least Alison has been busy with patients during the two days… so it’s probably as well to work through these holidays if business is brisk.