We had an unexpected long holiday this weekend. October 2 (Tuesday) is Gandhi's birthday, but now a Bandh (means "closed" in Hindi) has been called for October 1. Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister, has said that the strike is not called by the government, but "by the alliance parties to draw attention to the people's demand in a peaceful manner." The "people's demand" is for the realization of the Sethusamudram Shipping project, which would involve dredging a canal between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Since the waters between the two are quite shallow, large ocean going ships have to navigate around Sri Lanka to reach the eastern coast of India. The canal would allow a shipping lane through this strait between the two countries.
As an idea, the canal project has been around more than 150 years, but for various reasons has never materialized. It got more of a kick start a couple of years ago when it was backed by PM Manmohan Singh, but still faces controversy---according to some reports, it isn't economically viable, and the environmental impact on marine life--including the trade of small fishermen along the Coromandel coast--could be devastating. There are religious objections, too---a necklace of islands between the two countries is called Rama's Bridge (Hindu) or Adam's Bridge (Islamic) and is tied to mythology about Rama's pals building the bridge so he could reach Lanka to rescue his wife Sita. The Islamic version would have Adam crossing to stand on one foot on the highest peak in Ceylon (old for Sri Lanka) for a 1000 years to repent his sins. This same mountain is also sacred to the Buddhists. Anyway, interesting timing to choose a "bridge day" between a weekend and a major holiday to announce a bandh over such a project...
Although things are expected to be peaceful and the Madras High Court has charged the government to ensure that services are not disrupted and traffic runs normally, I decided to take the opportunity for a bit of travel. So I got on the web and quickly organized a short trip to Kolkata. Despite its association with poverty through the work of Mother Teresa, it's supposed to be a lovely old city with lots of places to see and old Raj charm. And Bengali food is among the best....more when I return....
(Video in 2 parts)
Since coming to India, I've seemed to miss the annual plaster- of- paris- to- the- sea festival that is otherwise known as Ganesh Chaturthi. But this year it fell on Sunday and I had Antony drive me down to the beach to see the festivities. On the way,we passed three wheelers, trucks, and bullock carts with statues of varying size accompanied by shouting and cheering devotees.
The festival is the culmination of a 10 day long celebration of the birthday of Lord Ganesh, one of the principal Hindu gods. Ganesh is the elephant god, a roly poly deity with the head of an elephant and human features such as arms, and he is worshipped as the bringer of prosperity and protector against obstacles. You can follow this link to read more about the story of Ganesh creation.
Ganesh Charturthi is celebrated in Bombay, Tamil Nadu and other states that have ready access to water. The ceremony is not that old -it was popularized by Lakmanya Tilak in the late 1800s whose motives were less religious than political, as he felt that religious celebrations would fuel nationalism and help thwart British rule. The Ganesh idols are decorated by the devotees with garlands and brought to a body of water where--depending on the size-- it is hoisted on a crane and lowered into the sea and then taken out in the water by several men. Although I went around 1 in the afternoon, probably a few hundred Ganeshes had already been submerged--and judging from the idol-laden lineup of trucks and carts on the road to the beach when we left, many more were to come.
In recent years, Ganesh Chaturthi has also attracted criticism for the environmental impact of throwing several thousand pounds of plaster of paris into the seas and rivers. In addition to the longer term impact, scores of dead fish are found in the waters around the festival sites in the days following the ceremony.
I'm in the U.S. for a week or so for the High Holidays, and will return to Chennai next week. Weather in Michigan is pleasant---a bit cool today, with rain.
This post is dedicated to our friend Karen Mika, who died of breast cancer this past week. She battled bravely for 7 years, but lost her fight last Wednesday, and we attended her services yesterday. Whenever I wipe down a kitchen counter, I think of her--it was a legacy from both our mothers who were of a certain generation, and a private joke we shared. There are many other things to remember--she was a wonderful mother and friend to many--- but this is one that was a funny and unique bond. May her memory be a blessing.