A Little Bit of World in One Place

2nd Street Public Market - Dayton, Ohio

2nd Street Public Market - Dayton, Ohio

How about being able to see a little bit of art and culture from various parts of the world, all in one place? It’s probably a like a feast to an artist or someone who admires it. Like the “melas” that we have in India, I had a chance to be in a place like this with dazzling traditions from around the world. This place that made me grow, learn and admire diversities is the Second Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

41o NW Bazaar - My Store

41o NW Bazaar - My Store

While living in the USA, I owned a small shop called 41o NW Bazaar from 2004 until 2006, where I imported handicrafts from India and introduced our art to the small city of Dayton. They seemed to be the best days of my life because business-wise, I did very well and not only that, there was some feeling within me that I am promoting and introducing some piece of our culture and art to the world. Asides my little store that market was like an ocean of people selling such a vast variety of things which were made by them or which belonged to the corner of the world they came from. This market was previously and railway station which was saved from demolition and made into this wonderful place in 2001. While I was one of its vendors, it accommodated 39 more like me, each displaying something unique in its own way.

Lucky Bamboo, Julia's store who sold Paper Stars from India

Lucky Bamboo, Julia's store who sold Paper Stars from India

Now let me explain what I meant when I said it had a little bit of culture from various parts of the world. Alongside my store, I had Julia a short sweet stout woman selling the most forgotten yet widely used thing in India; it was the “Akash Kandeel” or the lanterns we use during Diwali! She sold paper stars in various designs, sizes and colours and people bought it like hot cakes. She had a container full of them shipped from her supplier in Delhi. It was superb to see her do so well and also sell a small part of us half a globe away! Now Julia was my left-hand side neighbour while Gigi from Alpaca Designs was my right-hand side neighbour. Gigi sold the warmest and softest Alpaca wool sweaters and shawls and handicrafts from Peru. Alpaca is from the same family of lamas from which they make the best wool in the world. Her store was always full of people buying wool wear for the harsh winters of Dayton. Bang opposite me was the easiest lady I have ever met and she was Delia from A Little Bit of Mexico who sold the earthen pottery from Mexico rich in designs and colours made so creatively in the form of pots and plates, bowls, etc. I was surrounded by so many cultures and languages and artwork that everyday seemed new to me.

Delia, Bipin & myself with the Talavera Pottery from Mexico

Delia, Bipin & myself with the Talavera Pottery from Mexico

Lorry with her Wicker Baskets

Lorry with her Wicker Baskets

Besides the handicrafts we had some others who sold some real creative things. We had Jon Grahams Pottery where he spun his potter’s wheel and made different types of earthenware for his customers. We also had a Lorry who weaved wicker baskets in the most creative fashion and of course there was Joshua who made garden items like bird houses and tin pots, etc to make gardens look more beautiful. One other astonishing count to the market was the Spice Rack owned by Homer. He had all the spices from around the world. He had spices like chhole mix and cumin and so many more from India too! He often asked me what I thought of them and often gave sachets to try them while cooking. He always kept the aroma lingering through the market.

Homer with his Spice Rack

Homer with his Spice Rack

Every morning we had a great breakfast of hot breads from Gina along with Dan the Organic Man who sold organic vegetables and meat. Our breakfast was always followed by Christine and Robs cheese cakes and a cup of coffee from Steven who owned a coffee shop called Caffeine. The whole two course meal was so sumptuous and satisfying that it gave us energy to go through our busy day. There were a lot of others who made the market vivacious and lively. We helped each other by looking after each other’s stores in case of a busy day or shared our lunch, talked and flourished in our own ways.

The World of the Elephant – Coorg

A year ago, I decided to visit a small stretch not so known to tourist, called Coorg. It is the land of coffee and spices. The vastness of its plantations is not only lush but also enchanting. The region is also known for its forests, wildlife and natural beauty which took me so far away from my busy life in the city. Here, for the first time in my life, I got acquainted with this magnificent and bright headed animal – the elephant.

 Elephant ride at Dubarey

Elephant ride at Dubarey

Since I am very fond of animals, I wanted to know more about elephants. Through our resort, we booked a small elephant safari to a place called Dubarey. There was nothing very exceptional about the safari, it had an elephant ride, and we could bathe them, feed them and so on. What got me very keen was how intelligent the animal was and the remarkable coexistence between man and the elephant. Let me start by narrating how from each experience we learnt so much more about the creature of wisdom.

 The mahouts bathing their elephants in the Kaveri River

The mahouts bathing their elephants in the Kaveri River

While waiting for our turn to ride on the elephant, I noticed how the mahout sat erect with his legs lodged behind the animal’s ears and rock back and forth with the elephants stride. As soon as one ride was over the mahout gave orders to the elephant to sit down to let people embark him. The elephant obeyed instantly proving his loyalty to his master. When it was our turn, I decided to speak to the mahout about their lives with the elephant. The mahout began by saying that he and his elephant are inseparable. Every day they started their day by feeding and bathing the elephant, followed by lifting and dragging felled trees. The cycle of eating and working continued. He said they spend every waking moment together. It was fascinating to see the familiarity between a small human and the gigantic animal.

The coarse skin and prickly black hair on the Elephant

The coarse skin and prickly black hair on the Elephant

Me trying to touch and get acquainted with Ekadanta - the elephant

Me trying to touch and get acquainted with Ekadanta - the elephant

The other thing I noticed is how the huge animal is so child-like and does everything in order to get pampered. There were a few elephants enjoying their baths in the Kaveri River. Since it was summer already, the waters weren’t high and therefore we got a change to step into the beautiful river and bathe the elephants. I noticed a mahout vigorously scrubbing his elephant called Ekadanta (one tooth) since he had only one tusk. He encouraged me to touch him. I reached out my hand and touched his trunk. The skin was coarse and covered with prickly black hair. Ekadanta seemed to enjoy the human contact. Every time the mahout scrubbed the animal, he made sure the mahout could do it easily by raising his foot or trunk or simply closing his eyes and enjoying the brush. The mahout told us that the elephant is very intelligent; they learn many commands as many as, between 26 to 43. There are commands to stand, move forward, lie down, pick up, and also a few, where the elephant is asked to suck up water and blow it over his back. According to him, the elephant’s brain expands upto 65 percent and makes them curious and gives them the ability to learn naturally. The whole idea of the animal being so smart and so close to the human intellect surprised me. That is when I realised why Lord Ganesh is the deity of Intelligence.

From my safari, I was so enthralled by this animal and felt so small and ignorant. We as humans do not even once think about the potential and ability of these animals. For us they are just a source of entertainment or we simply disrespect and neglect them by encroaching upon their lands. That day I decided never to underestimate or take any animal for granted but treat them with respect and admiration.

My Wonderful Stay in Grenoble

I was one of the lucky students of Fergusson College, Pune who got a chance to study and live in the capital of the French Alps – Grenoble. It’s a city with a happy mixture of different culture, students, and businesses unsullied by wilderness of the surrounding mountains. This capital city of the French Alps is the only city of its kind in Europe. It is the only urban centre with powerful industrial resources, to be surrounded by a ring of mountains, of which the peaks rise nearly 4,000 metres above sea level.

As a student of ESC-Grenoble l’Ecole Supérieure de Commerce doing my Masters in International Business, I got an opportunity to learn and interact with different people from all over the world. Grenoble being a mélange of cultures from the east to the west and north to the south, with a count of more than 50,000 students, helps open up your outlook and prospects.

During my days in school, whenever we got a chance, we explored the city and its vicinity. Our favorite pastime was going climbing, hiking, collecting and eating walnuts and apples, tasting different cheeses and wines and so on. What I cherish the most among all the others is skiing during winters. Being an Indian and not have skied before, it was a challenge but with the help of my teammates, not only did I start skiing but even started enjoying the sport thoroughly. One of the many ski resorts that I got rather fond of was Les Deux Alpes, Chamrousse, Chatrreuse etc. This superb ring of alternately green and snow-covered mountains justifies the city’s Alpine identity and explains why it is known as the French capital of the Alps.

My friends and myself plucking apples in the Alps

My friends and myself plucking apples in the Alps

Gearing up for Speleology with friends

Gearing up for Speleology with friends

Another very distinctive feature of this city was its Farmer’s Market which comes once on Sunday on Cours Jean Jaurès which forms the longest thoroughfare in Europe, stretching 15 kilometers towards the south. It was wonderful to be living on such a street which was always bustling with families buying baguette or fresh cheeses and a brilliant mouth- watering range of local specialties.

Cours Jean Jaurès

View Of Grenoble from La Bastille

Last but not the least of my memoirs of the picturesque city is the view oldest Saint Laurent bridge in the entire Isère with its breath-taking view of the limestone peaks of mountains of Trois Pucelles and Vercore Massif embellished by the four bubble cable cars connecting the city to its little fort of La Bastille.

Bubbles connecting La Bastille with Grenoble

Bubbles connecting La Bastille with Grenoble

To conclude in a small note this city has abundance of colour and tradition and people are always keen to perpetuate both. I have actually just mentioned a few of its assets and since it’s a short article, I am bound to overlook a great deal. Indeed it is unusual for such diversity to coincide with such quality and that’s what Grenoble is.

The Legend of Popo – Mexico

Legend of Popo

Since I had a few friends living in Mexico, I decided to visit the culturally rich and beautiful country. Before I left, I had no idea about the stunning experience I was about to have.  While driving from Mexico City to visit my friend in Puebla, I noticed a high mountain, amidst the misty clouds reaching an incredible height of 17,802 feet. That was the volcano called Popo or Popocatepetl or the “Smoking Mountain”!  One of the continually active volcanoes of the world!

The Smoking Mountain - Popo rises upto 17,802ft
View of the Popo from the highway with its emissions

The Legend of Popo & Izta

Izta, the dormant volcano lies in a shape of a “Sleeping Woman” next to the Popo
The Izta, a dormant volcano lies in a shape of a Sleeping Lady

I was bubbling with immense excitement and did not once take my eyes of the enchanting view. This was my first experience with an active volcano though it was at least 20 kms away from me. That is when I decided to know more about it. Since I wanted to grasp it all, we stopped on the highway to get a good view of it. I could not hold my curiosity and hence started asking questions with a help of my Spanish book to the people around me. I wanted to know what people thought about it, how was life living around such a dangerously beautiful volcano, or if people worshipped it and so on. A very old lady selling a local desert fruit called the prickly pear started narrating the mythological beliefs of the people of Mexico. The tragically beautiful story is from the Aztec era where Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (mountain next to Popo) were lovers. The father of Iztaccíhuatl, a mighty ruler, placed a demanding condition upon Popocatépetl before he could take Iztaccíhuatl as his bride. His mandate required that Popocatépetl first engage in battle against the tribe’s enemy and return victorious. Treacherously, a rival of Popocatépetl’s sends a false message back to the ruler that the warrior has been slain when in fact, Popocatépetl had won the battle and was ready to return to his Iztaccíhuatl. However, the princess upon hearing the false news falls ill, dying of a broken heart. When Popocatépetl returns only to encounter his beloved’s death, his heartbreak is inconsolable. He carries Iztaccíhuatl’s body to the mountains whereupon he has a funeral pyre built for both himself and his princess. Grief-stricken beyond measure, Popocatépetl dies next to his beloved.  And hence, both the mountains lie next to each other, one dormant and the other yet sizzling. So this was a heart-rending story or myth that people of Mexico believe.

Ixta_Popo_from_PueblaDormant Mount Izta next to the Smoking Popo

Later after we reached Puebla, I decided to talk to the “city” people about the Popo. While walking around the city, my friend met an acquaintance and we got together to have a cup of coffee. I couldn’t wait to start asking question as my curiosity of the Popo wasn’t fulfilled. To my surprise, he owned a farm at the base of the Popo and described the way the local farmers and Indians in the area have different opinions and ways of worshiping the mountain. He said the most common thing was to trek up the ash-coated, belching mountain with offerings of fruit, flowers and chocolate mole chilli sauce, beseeching the angry “Smoking Mountain” not to blow its top. He also agreed that prayers and offerings will help them as he lives in the Yellow Alert or “not so urgent” area while his friend who lives in the Red Alert or “run for your life” area had actually clambered to the caves high in its rugged folds to make offerings to the 17,802-foot volcano.  After the 1994 eruption of ash and sulphur-di-oxide, the farm town people of the Americanas have started indulging more and more into pleasing the chain-smoking mountain. Almost 75,000 people were evacuated though no lives were lost but one cannot forget that the volcano is just 60kms from the largest city in the world – Mexico City and 40kms from Puebla putting almost 20 million lives at stake.

After perceiving the stories of the volcano, I thought about how we as people create and make ourselves believe in little legends and stories in order to exult the land we live on or the crop we grow or ask the natural forces to protect us. Even though so many people live with their lives at stake,  the Americanas boast and worship  the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl’s along with the farmland of peaches, corn, rice, beans, fruit, the culture, art and its historic churches. It indeed makes it unique and dangerously spectacular.

Tibetan Art & Architecture

The Prayer Turbines called Mané

The Prayer Turbines called Mané

Just recently, I came back from a trip to Sikkim. Now you might think that the article is titled Tibetan Art and I am talking about a visit to Sikkim. The fact is, Sikkim is heavily influenced by Tibet and its culture. Most of the people in Sikkim have direct origins from Tibet and have migrated to India in the last 100 years and more. The place is so surreal, untouched, spiritual and colourful that I couldn’t help but write more about the art and architecture. It deeply inspired me to implement it in my work but before that I wish to share it with all of you.

Tibetan Architecture

The rich colours of the Museum of Tibetology

The rich colours of the Museum of Tibetology

Tibetan architecture is one of the most simple, colourful and splendid form of art. Its simplicity brings out the temperament and character of the lives and people of the place. Tibetan Buddhist architecture, in the cultural regions of the Tibetan people, has been highly influenced by China and India. For example, the Buddhist prayer wheel, along with two dragons, can be seen on nearly every temple in Sikkim. Many of the houses and monasteries are typically built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. Rocks, wood, cement and earth are the primary building materials. Flat roofs are built to conserve heat and multiple windows are constructed to let in the sunlight. Due to frequent earthquakes, walls are usually sloped inward at 10 degrees.

Hand-carved Pillar of Tibetology

Hand-carved Pillar of Tibetology

Rabdentse Ruins of the 17th century

Rabdentse Ruins of the 17th century

Tibetan Furniture

Traditional Tibetan Furniture

Traditional Tibetan Furniture

Furniture from Tibet has always been quite rare. Except for the wealthy, Tibetans used very little furniture in their homes, and the population of Tibet has always been so small that not much was ever made. Most of it was probably always found in the monasteries, and of course most of these monasteries were destroyed by the Chinese during the “Cultural Revolution” along with huge amounts of furniture. Made primarily from pine and other Himalayan soft woods, it is noted more for its sometimes lavishly painted surface and/or carved decoration than for its joinery.

Tibetan Motifs & Symbols

8 Symbols of Good Fortune

8 Symbols of Good Fortune

The eight Buddhist auspicious symbols consist of – a parasol, pair of golden fish, the great treasure vase, a lotus, the right turning conch, the endless knot, the banner of victory and the wheel of dharma. These originated from a group of early Indian symbols of royalty which were presented at special ceremonies such as the coronation of a king. The symbols differed between different groups, for example the Jains and Newar Buddhists. In Buddhism these symbols of good fortune represent the offerings that were made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he attained enlightenment. Brahma appeared offering the thousand spoked golden wheel as a request to Shakyamuni to turn the teaching wheel of dharma. Indra appeared presenting the right spiraling conch shell as a symbol of the proclamation of the dharma and Sthavara presented the golden vase full of the nectar of immortality.

Sri-Yantra

Sri-Yantra

The Sri Chakra or Shri Yantra is formed by nine interlocking triangles that surround and radiate out from the bindu point, the junction point between the physical universe and its unmanifest source. It represents Sri Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance on all levels, in abstract geometric form. It also represents Tripura Sundari, “the beauty of the three worlds.” Four of the triangles points upwards, representing Shiva or the Masculine. Five of these triangles point downwards, representing Shakti or the Feminine. Thus the Sri Yantra also represents the union of Masculine and Feminine Divine. Together the nine triangles are interlaced in such a way as to form 43 smaller triangles in a web symbolic of the entire cosmos or a womb symbolic of creation. This is surrounded by a lotus of eight petals, a lotus of sixteen petals, and an earth square resembling a temple with four doors.

For more pictures of Sikkim, click http://picasaweb.google.com/livelywood/Sikkim2009?feat=directlink or go to Photos of Sikkim, India on the home page