Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas lights in Mumbai

I took these pictures a couple of days after Christmas, in the vicinity of Sacred Heart Church in the Mumbai suburb of Santa Cruz. This church was built in the 1930s, I think in place of the Santa Cruz church from which the area got its name. The old church was destroyed long ago. Below is a picture of lights in the church driveway.

Below is a picture of the intersection of Church Avenue and Hasanabad Lane. A street with a Christian name and a church on it, and one with a Muslim name and a mosque on it. The neighborhood is home to plenty of Christians (nearly all Catholic), Muslims, Hindus, and no doubt other religious minorities.

Up to perhaps the mid-90s, the surrounding lanes were lined with cute little cottages that belonged mostly to Christians. The houses had names like "Carmel", "Villa Linda", "Aurora", "La Petite Fleur", "Violet" and "Homestead". Some still exist, but others are replaced with ugly buildings like the one at the intersection below. Many of these new buildings have names that reflect cultural poverty -- "Silver Symphony", "Silver Melody" and "Silver Harmony". One unpretentious villa (I think it was Violet) got torn down in the years I was away from the city, and in its place sprang up a little pink fortress called, equally incredibly, "Pinky Cottage". I have to wonder if such strange names are chosen by people who insist on using the English language despite having no feel for it. That is sad. Why not name your home something nice in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Sanskrit, or whatever? Do the people who name them have no beautiful vocabulary they can call their own?

Below, a closer look at the star. It says "Love was born at Christmas, star 'n' angels gave the sign", and then hope, love, joy, peace, and "Wishing you a merry Christmas".

I don't know for sure what this little bit of road is called. I'm just calling it Convent Avenue. It's the lane right across from the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana. Every year the entire lane is lit up, and for some reason it always reminds me of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet.

Below, the star on Convent Avenue.

I think from a distance this star looks like an LED dragonfly.

I took the picture below with a flash, so you can see the Christmas lights intertwined with tropical bougainvillea. India is north of the equator so technically it's "winter" in Mumbai, but that just means about 15 degrees Celsius (roughly 60 Fahrenheit), so I was in T-shirt and sandals.

I walked past the dragonfly/star, and took the picture below.

Below, a closer look at the star/dragonfly. It was a lot of LED bulbs strung around a wire frame. Probably nothing special to look at in the daytime, but quite pretty at night. I thought the sign dangling below struck a jarring visual note. FWIW, it says "The star guides you to the Christ, Prince of Peace".

Somebody's home on either Convent Av or St. Francis Road.

Below, a vinyl sign at the corner of Convent Av and St. Francis Road, put up by the Congress Party. Mumbai can always count on its politicians to uglify everything with their poor aesthetic sense. There was a bigger, uglier Christmas greeting put up by the BJP near Sacred Heart Church, but I didn't take a picture. If they want to make our neighborhood ugly, the least they can do is make us laugh - Baba Siddique should have worn a Santa suit for this picture. Next election I'm not voting for anyone unless they wear a Santa suit in their Christmas poster.

Below, a dilapidated cross outside a dilapidated cottage at the corner of Hasanabad Lane and St. Francis Road. My camera is straight, the cross is crooked.

Below, festive decorations outside a coffee shop in Santa Cruz East.

Happy 2010!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at St. Thomas Cathedral, Bombay (Mumbai)

The cathedral of St. Thomas (part of the Church of North India) is in the heart of Mumbai's business district, which is still called "Fort" (it used to be a walled-off fort in the early British settlement, but nothing of the wall remains now). The church was built in 1718, a century before the British defeated the Maratha rulers of western India. In 1718, Bombay was just a spot of British territory in a vast swathe of native-controlled territory.

Below is the fountain in the small hemmed-in front yard. I took the picture just a few days ago. No white Christmas in Bombay!

Embossed on the fountain are the words, "Whosoever drinketh the water that I shall give him shall never thirst". Bit ironic in a city suffering from an acute water crisis entirely because of utter disregard for nature and greed for profit. The fountain is dry as a bone, although there were a hose and two earthen pots of water nearby, and the yard looks well-watered.

Below is the entrance to the church. For some reason I couldn't avoid the haze.

Below is the view of the church from the narthex.

Below, a memorial to a colonel of the Bombay Army. The walls and floor of the cathedral are crammed with memorials of varying degrees of ornateness. A remarkable number of them commemorate people who died in their 30s or 40s. This stone is faded and stained, perhaps from moisture, but most are in good condition.

Below is the crib. I tried to shoot it in as Christmas-card-like a manner as I could.

Below, a longer shot of the crib. As you can see, it's tucked between memorials.

Below, a memorial to the Old Toughs. It reads: "To the Glory of God and Sacred to the Memory of All Ranks of The 'Old Toughs' who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918, and in the many campaigns through which the battalion served since it's [sic] formation in 1668 till it's [sic] disbandment July 31st 1922. This tablet is erected in the city of their origin and their home for over 200 years by their comrades on disbandment in proud and grateful memory of the sacrifice they made for King - Country. 'Spectamur Agendo'.".

Below, Christmas tree and eagle lectern. Where I'm standing is the crossing, where the nave and transepts of the church meet.

Eagle lecterns are commonly seen in churches. The eagle is a symbol of the apostle John.

Below, an historic pew. The lesson I learned from this photo: wear gray or brown to make a non-descript reflection if you want to stay out of the picture!

Above, a memorial to Robert Money. The name is familiar to many people in Mumbai because there's a high school and technical college named after him. It was founded in 1836, a year after the East India Company civil servant died of illness at age 32.

Below, stained glass window to one side of the entrance, depicting saints Gabriel, Thomas and Michael.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Diwali joy and regrets

I had a happy Diwali. But some precious pictures are only in my mind, and I can only share them through words because I had no camera and/or no time to stop and take pictures.

  1. People setting up their bedding on the street for the night on Delisle Road (N. M. Joshi Marg) under cheap strings of LED lights that decorated their shanties for Diwali.
  2. Diwali lantern bazaar in Mahim, a little south of Victoria School.
  3. Yesterday (Sunday, Oct 25), a police van illegally parked on the kerb outside Nanda Cottage, Church Avenue, Khar. I don't know if the police were there to investigate a local crime, or just on patrol for Chhat Pooja (hundreds of thousands of people were expected at Juhu Beach, and Church Avenue is an arterial road).

Still, here are some pictures I did take during Dassera and Diwali:

Below: Swastikas - an ancient Indic auspicious symbol that invokes good fortune - embellish a neighbor's apartment entrance at Dassera

Below: Fresh marigolds and stalks of grain mark celebration, prosperity and the harvest of the kharif (monsoon) crop

Below: Remains of religious rituals - red-and-yellow cotton thread, red fabric, coconut shells, marigolds and zinnias, and incense ash - are disposed of near the roots of a tree. The plastic bags and polyester fabric are unfortunate mutants of an environmentally friendly tradition of composting religious remnants.

Below: A giant paper Raavan towers over traffic on a busy road. Effigies of Raavan are burned on Dassera, to commemorate the victory of good (Lord Ram) over evil (Raavan).

Below: Clearly the 10-headed demon king disapproves of the way people drive in Mumbai.

Below: Dassera procession on Haines Road at Agripada. Cops were posted in areas where Hindu-Muslim tension may be a possibility, and also along visarjan routes (routes to the beaches, where idols of Durga would be immersed in the water).

Below: All the ladies were out in their colorful finery to bid the mother goddess farewell.

And Durga Maata deserves nothing less than a proper western-style drum kit mounted on wheels:

Below: Durga stands on a float, in front of her tiger and carrying her trident. She is flanked by three priest types. Traditional marigolds have been eschewed for colored gerbera daisies.

Below: Man selling LED lights in the pedestrian subway that connects Capitol Cinema and VT Station. This was a couple of days before Diwali, the festival of lights. The electricity is probably stolen or bought with a bribe.

Below: Rangoli (sand painting) at the entrance of my home for Diwali. I made it long and narrow to fit the threshold, because a bigger one would be in the way of people entering neighboring apartments. The swastika is not anti-semitic, just a wish for good fortune.

Below: The lamps are earthen, with coconut oil and cotton wicks. Some people say they are to welcome the victorious Lord Ram back to Ayodhya. Another explanation is that they welcome Lakshmi (goddess of material prosperity) into one's home. The adherents of the latter theory are generally of the business/trading communities who celebrate a new year (2066 this year) the day after Diwali. For them, Diwali is also the occasion for Lakshmi pooja (worship) , to open new account books on an auspicious note. A swastika is marked in vermilion paste on the first page. Whatever the reason for the lamps, the city looks lovely all lit up.

Below: More offerings under a tree. These must have been left by the Gujarati working-class community near my apartment, because the camel-riding devi, Dashaamaa, is not traditionally worshipped by the trading and Brahman castes as far as I know. The plastic bag is full of a mung bean-like legume called matki.

Below: This is what Diwali is really about in Mumbai - sales on electronics ;) Two men transport a flat-screen LCD TV on a motorcycle near Kamla Mills. I actually saw two other men on another motorcycle a few kilometres further south, doing the same thing. I'm still trying to figure out why someone who spent at least Rs 30,000 on the TV wouldn't pay another Rs 150 for a cab, which would be safer and more comfortable for the men and for the TV.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thank you, Mercedes Sosa

Mercedes Sosa was born in July 1935, just a few days before my own mother, on the other side of the world. I can't recall when I first heard her, although I'm fairly sure it was in the US, well after Sosa was already famous and past her sixtieth birthday. Like my own mother's voice, her voice became a strong, reassuring, inspiring familiar presence in my life without my even noticing it.

Sosa was among the leading voices of the Nueva Canción movement of 1960s Latin America, which combined folk music with progressive/political lyrics, sort of like the American protest song.

Sosa supported Juan Perón's pro-labor politics. As Argentina grew more repressive, she found herself being searched an arrested on stage at a performance in 1979. She moved to Europe as she was banned in her own country. She moved back around the time of the Falklands War (1982).

Sosa has collaborated with many great musicians, including Joan Baez, Milton Nascimento, Nana Mouskouri, Luciano Pavarotti, Caetano Veloso, Shakira, and Sting.

She was suffering from renal ailments, and died earlier today. RIP.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Indian independence day

Some pictures I took around Mumbai in the week before Independence Day. Barring the flag in first picture, I was looking for saffron-white-green that was not intended as patriotic.

Below, a girl sells flags for Rs. 2 (US$ 0.04) at the Capitol Cinema traffic light.

Below: Billboard, tree, pedestrians and bus stop near Mahalakshmi train station

Below: Store front on Haines Road / Baburao Jagtap Marg, Agripada

Below: Freshly washed or dyed clothes dry above a tin roof off Jacob Circle, Mahalakshmi

Below: Municipal garbage truck

Below: Grimy decoration on the back of a cab

Below: Ganesh, nestled among fresh marigolds and spider lilies, protects this cabbie from potholes and the swine flu.