Monday, March 30, 2009

Preparing for summer

For me preparing for summer used to involve fishing out my T-shirts, washing the windows so I could see out of them if the sun did actually come out and hoping it would get warmer. Well, the weather has certainly got warmer - it's currently about 90°F (32°C) – and it's still only spring. "This is cool compared to May", I keep being told. There are some nice things about the change in season though, you get more lassi (a yoghurt based drink) served in the office; mangos have come into season; and the quality and the variety of the vegetables in the market has improved significantly - I even found some spring onions last week. Despite the enhancements on the food front, I get the feeling that summer in Bhawanipatna is greeted with a sense of foreboding rather than relief or joy. The first thing you notice is that everyone is lining their windows with polystyrene sheets to prevent the heat of the sun coming through - I'm having some installed later this week. The other thing is the arrival of air-coolers for sale on every street corner. These are essentially boxes with leaves of straw inserted down three sides, a fan at the front and a tank of water. The idea is the water wets the straw which evaporates and then the fan forces out cold air which in turn expels the hot air out of the room. Having sweated my way through the last 10 nights – the ceiling fan just seemed to be blowing hot air at me – this evening I trotted down the road to buy one. Although they're clearly all the rage, they're not as simple as they're made out to be. The main problem is that Indians just don't seem go in for instructions. Having taken it out of the box (which was for something completely different so didn't even a sport a helpful picture), I spent most of this evening putting the thing together on the fly. First, I removed a random screw from the base – which I'll inevitably lose before I find out what it's for. I then poured a couple of buckets of water into the base - assuring myself there really wasn't anywhere else it could go - and in the process submerged something electrical that I think is the pump and sincerely hope is waterproof. Should I have removed the plastic strap that was holding it down? I didn't. Next I spent a good hour forcing an arbitrary array rubber tubes into the only places they seemed to fit and finally I switched on all the knobs – Pump, Main and Swing – heaven knows what Swing does - and ... well ... it hasn't blown up yet. It does, however, sound like a plane taking off so now I'm left with two options – hot or deaf. I have sneaking suspicion that I'll be choosing cool over quiet as we approach May unless of course it does blow up because that screw really was important or the plastic strap is to keep the electrical thing above the water not in it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Holi

One of the reasons I haven't written my blog recently is that I have been immersed in my Managing Rural Development course but I took the day off last week to celebrate Holi - one of the main Hindu festivals which honours Prahlad's miraculous escape from a fire due to his unshakable devotion to Lord Vishnu. The main event took place last Thursday when people come out onto the streets and daub each other with powdered paints which are traditionally made of medicinal herbs that are believed to chase away fevers and colds. Baijayant and his son, Soyem, arrived at my door at 8am armed with plastic bags of "colour" which they proceeded to daub all over my face and head - fortunately, I also had some so was able to return the favour. We then proceeded downstairs where my landlord, Surendra, was preparing a festival drink called thandai made from bananas, yoghurt and chopped nuts. I then "played holi" with the household children who definitely had one up on me as they also had water pistols filled with coloured water. Bizarrely, soon after breakfast most men decamp for the morning to have picnics with their male friends leaving their wives and other female relatives to celebrate on their own – and Baijayant was no exception - so I went across the road to his house where I took part in a more civilised paint daubing exercise with his wife, Geeta, his mother and his father. On my return home I walked into the exhuberant fray that had been taking place at my chez Surendra. Although in the more conservative places like Bhawanipatna, you rarely see women on the streets during the festival, it was clear that behind closed doors some women were determined not to miss out on the fun and all Surendra's female relatives were covered in paint of every colour under the sun although pink is the predominant holi colour. The proceedings end at mid-day on the dot – even though it's India, they're pretty punctual about this – and everyone wanders home to clean themselves up. It took about an hour to get the colour off my face and out of my hair and ears after I which I proceeded back to Geeta's for lunch. In Bhawanipatna, holi is the day you start eating pakhala bhaat, otherwise known as water rice, that is traditionally eaten in the summer months. To prepare the dish, water and yoghurt are added to cooked rice which makes it a much lighter affair than the boiled rice you normally get and I rather liked it. The meal ended with Orissa cakes which to be honest I could have lived without as they taste like fried stale pastry. Mid-afternoon, I wandered back home for a quick snooze – it's started to get quite hot and I can see myself becoming a fan of the afternoon nap in between the studying. Click here to see more pictures.