Astad Deboo

Yesterday I went to the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu to see Astad Deboo, one of the few Indian modern dancers/choreographers. The Prithvi Theatre is quite an interesting venue; I had wanted to go see something there for a while. Tickets are only a bit more than a dollar, but unfortunately there were many empty seats, and probably not because the evening’s program leaflet was almost half the price of a ticket. I can’t say I loved it all, but it definitely had its moments. He is quite fascinating to watch, and the eight dancers (all of them deaf teenage girls) were very impressive.

Afterwards, I went to a place called Seijou, which had its regular French DJ evening. He wasn’t so great though, but the place is nice (and pretty much empty until midnight), despite the assembled collection of blinking red yellow green blue orange lightbulbs. Maybe those were leftovers from Ganpati, or maybe they are already preparing for Diwali or Christmas or something. Or maybe they thought it looked cool, which it didn’t.

In other news, I don’t know what my maid did today, but she must have done something to disturb my local cockroach population, because when I got home, there were five big and fat ones running around in the kitchen. The strategically placed can of NEW! HIT! COCKROACHES! came in handy though, so that was the end of that. Unfortunately, I also dropped my bowl of yummy Indian food, so there was a nasty mix of dead cockroaches and food on the kitchen floor, and me without any idea where the maid keeps the mop. I do remember her buying one, or at least asking for money for it, but I ended up using old issues of the Times of India, which gave it a nice original touch I felt.

I also ventured out onto the Western Express Highway for the first time in two weeks or so, just to see how the highway construction mafia is coming along. Not surprisingly, they are doing great, and so the highway still looks like one of the tougher stretches of the Paris-Dakar Rally. So I was thinking, if even a Texas DA can manage to finally get Tom DeLay by his balls and hopefully throw the guy in jail, I wonder how long it will take … But, ah well, I guess until then I will take the local roads to get to work. And this weekend I am set on getting out of town to Kashid, which is supposedly a very nice and quiet place, one of the nicest beaches outside of Goa, and only three or four hours outside of Mumbai.

Condensation Detected

Maybe I have gotten used to the weather, or maybe it is actually getting better, but today seemed like an exceptionally nice day. Pretty hot, but not too bad, and not too humid. Unfortunately, I had slept too long; I should have gone for a drive out of town. Especially, since I picked up my car from the workshop yesterday. The muffler had made some odd sounds, and also I wanted to get a few dents fixed, because they started to rust pretty badly. Obviously, with the humidity around here, a little paint damage very quickly develops into a rusting sore. And those weren’t just paint damages, they were real dents from a three rickshaws running into my car. Or maybe it was me running into them; it doesn’t really matter.

I sort of expected I could drop off the car in the evening and then pick it up 24 hours later, but of course it took Tuesday to Saturday to get the job done. They told me they would call me to tell me what the total bill would be, but that never happened. When I called them Saturday to ask for it (mainly because they take cash only), they said they would call me back, and that never happened either. I am really no longer aggravated by stuff like that; I don’t even really know why I still bother asking anybody to call me back. I had a pretty shit week at work due to two people being even more unreliable and unethical than my car workshop, so by now I have generally pretty low expectations, which is a bit sad. A lot of people are fantastically warm and helpful, but, if I had to choose, I’d rather have people be cold and impersonal than lying and sneaky – not that this is a real choice, but that’s what I am thinking.

I took the train to the car workshop, just like I took the train to work once (the other days I got a ride from a colleague), and it really wasn’t bad at all. There were no free seats, but because it was a reverse commute during the week and a weekend day yesterday, it was no problem. I almost missed my stop yesterday, but luckily the trains have no doors, so it was easy to jump off the train as it was slowly pulling out of the station. When I got to the car workshop, the guy who knows what to do was out for lunch, while twenty or so either people were busy reading the newspaper, playing with their mobile phones, sitting around looking at me, or playing with each other. It was quite the scene. So I had a tea and waited around for an hour, half of which I watched three people clean my car, in between taking breaks laughing and fooling around. These guys are all in their twenties or so, only speak Marathi, and to an outside observer who doesn’t understand a word, their behavior reminds of a bunch of teenage boys screwing around on a lazy Sunday afternoon. In a way, it’s quite charming and fun to watch; and in a way, it’s quite annoying.

In other news, it looks like our camcorder has become the victim of the weather here. Whenever I insert a tape, it tells me to remove the tape and sometimes it tells me Condensation Detected. No kidding, you got that right! Yes, it is humid in Mumbai, thanks for reminding me. I am guessing that getting this thing repaired here will be a minor adventure, so maybe it would be smarter to just send it back to the US, because, as far as I can tell, there is no certified service center for the thing in Mumbai. Ah well.

Mumbai People

Ganesh Chaturthi III

So the grande finale of Ganesh Chaturthi was indeed pretty grande. The firecrackers started going off sometime in the afternoon, which made me frantically search for earplugs. I found them, because Ksenia is always fantastically well prepared for this sort of stuff, but then I ended up not actually needing them. Rumor has it that people tend to go crazy with these things – kind of like with the rats during the floods: the boys just throw them into the crowds, having a laugh. But no such thing happened.

Instead, we starting walking towards Juhu, got drenched by a quick rain shower, and assembled with quite a few people on the beach. It was still light out, so we were somewhat early. The main event at this time was that we got constantly mobbed by people begging us to take pictures of them. It is quite strange, but people just love to be photographed; they can’t seem to get enough of it. But that’s great, because one doesn’t usually get a chance to take people pictures all that often, and of course the faces and clothes are always fantastic. So we did that for while, and then it was slowly getting dark, so we moved further along on the road to the main Juhu Beach area.

The crowds by now had noticeably densified and there was a good amount of pushing and shoving, and of course constant drumming, chanting, and lots of laughter. We were lucky to find a troupe that had a sizable big Ganesh and a lot of women. Also, it seemed like the smaller the Ganesh the louder and more ecstatic the crowd in front and behind of it. A lot of the crowds seem to enforce a strict teenage boys only policy, which was a bit scary, especially for K and S, who weren’t in the mood to be the only women among a hundred teenage boys. So our troupe was pretty grown up and solidly serious, which was nice.

A few heavy rain showers later, we were passing the VIP stage. There was bunch of important looking people in either all white Indian dress, or in uniforms, some of them well beyond retirement age and bedtime. I was later told that if they were wearing white, then they are most likely politicians. So these politicians and the uniformed brass were sitting there on their armchairs overseeing the crowds like Napoleon a battlefield. It had an odd feel of Soviet Russia, but I guess it was really just India. In any Western country during this sort of event with large teenage crowds one could hope for an odd plastic cup of beer or maybe a paint or water bomb here and there being thrown at the VIP stage, but there was probably no danger of any such thing happening here. After all, Ganesh Chaturthi is also a dry day, i.e. no alcohol whatsoever is being served or sold anywhere in the country, unless it’s a private club, i.e. some place like the Gymkhana. Imagine 4th of July in the US, or Rosenmontag in Germany, or any day in the UK without drinks? People would call for a general strike, I suspect.

Anyways, we then proceeded towards the water, there was a Pooja, i.e. some prayer, offerings, chanting, etc., a small fire was lit, and a few other things were happening, which I couldn’t quite make out. At some point, I was politely asked to take pictures later, and so eventually the big Ganesh got lifted off his pedestal and off he went, slowly being carried into the muddy waters of Juhu Beach. It was quite the spectacle and a lot of fun to watch.

On the way back home, there were hundreds of trucks fully loaded with worshippers and Ganeshes, and the most elaborate one attracted quite a scene. This Ganesh had its own little elaborate house. Inside was what I suspect was a Hindu priest, and so this truck slowly made its way to the beach with an enormous crowd around it, cameras rolling, people dancing, the whole nine yards. Apparently, some of these Ganeshes are 25 feet high, but this on was the biggest that we had seen, and it was quite impressive. I got a few nice pictures of the whole story, which I will put up on my photo blog over the next few days.


Monday evening I drove downtown to see a German/Turkish movie called Gegen Die Wand / Duvara Karsi (Head-on) at the Goethe-Institute. The little room where they were showing the movie was packed with maybe 80 people, mostly Indian intellectuals, young and old. The movie plays in Hamburg, Germany, so I was happy to see some pictures of my hometown. It is about a slightly confused young Turkish couple living there. He is suicidal (well, they both are), she wants to get out of her traditional Muslim family. They meet and ten minutes later, she asks him to marry her for show, so she can live a little, have a little fun, do some drugs and fuck around a bit, and then it goes downhill from there. Not surprisingly, the movie is rated R in the US for strong graphic sexuality, pervasive language, some brutal violence and drug content, while it is PG13 in Germany (actually FSK12). So watching this in India, which is even more prude than the US, was quite interesting.

I quite liked the movie. The characters are very believable, the music is great, and the story is pretty good. Also, the couple might as well have been Indians living in London, so I thought, I wonder what the audience is thinking. After all, there’s a lot of suggestive dancing in Bollywood, but certainly no real kissing, let alone full-on sex, full nudity, or cocaine – and there was plenty of that here. Some seemed to be squirming around in their seats a bit and going tsk, tsk, and at least one was leaving early. Unfortunately, there was no talk or discussion afterwards, but given that censorship is still alive and kicking around here, this movie won’t make it to the theaters any time soon.

Tuesday was another long evening in traffic, and when I got home and the next day I felt kind of sick. It wasn’t anything serious, and I am actually surprised that I’ve been here for three months now and still haven’t been really sick. Judging from the doctor in NYC, who had given me all my shots, I would have thought that I’d be guaranteed to catch a life threatening disease just by looking at the food here. So I guess he was just full of crap. Another expat at work did actually end up in hospital for a few days a while ago, but that was because he went to get food at the local Subways, and, well, you kind of deserve to get hospitalized for going to Subway in India, or anywhere else, for that matter.

In other news, yesterday I read in the paper that India ranks way behind Iraq in terms of doing business, as measured by number of forms to produce and red tape to consume in order to open a business. It doesn’t really surprise me, because bureaucracy really is spelled in all caps here. There is a pervasive culture of rules and regulations that don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever and for which no-one seems to know or care about what’s the reason. My simple standard question Why? is regularly met either with blank stares or with excuses and explanations that are incredibly surreal and mostly represent a very tight circular loop.

But I’ll stop my rant there and move on to the Western Express Highway, which I have basically stopped using. After the sewage of the big floods had receded (final number is 944mm in one day), they had fixed up the highway pretty well and traffic was moving swiftly. A week or so ago, everything was great. Then there was another day or two of heavy rain last week, and the surface developed potholes the size of the Grand Canyon again, and the road looked like someone had set off thousands of little landmines. It was truly ridiculous. The funny thing is, there’s only a few long stretches like that. Other parts of the highway are perfectly fine. So it is obviously not incompetence or lack of construction materials or engineering skills. It is simply criminal corruption and big business. Well, if they fixed it up properly, they wouldn’t make any money, I was told. Is anyone going to try to throw the construction companies and the politicians that give them the contracts into jail? I guess not – after all, everybody seems to agree that law enforcement and the judicial system are pretty much non-existent. So I guess the Haliburton business model is alive and kicking here as well.

OK, enough of my rants, I will go get some sleep so that I will be fully rested and prepared for tomorrow’s final Ganesh extravaganza.