Monthly Archives: February 2014

Chaos in the City

It’s the end of the month and time for a guest post. (How time flies!) We have the honour to present Gaia’s first post.

~Admin

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It is six pm in Kampala and traffic flow is at its peak. Ten hours earlier, at eight am, the situation was the same. The slow movement of cars, mini-vans and even large trucks on the congested roads has become more than a slight irritation. As the long lines forming across the city become longer and longer, with what seem like each passing day, more and more are anguished by this sudden increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

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The major roads in Kampala were constructed in the 1980s and the population at the time was 480,000. There is still little difference in the roads and road networking but the population has increased by more than 300%. Almost 1.5 million people now reside in Kampala central, with many more commuting daily into the city from Greater Kampala. So is it any wonder that there is a traffic surge when the width and number of our roads have stayed the same?
 

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The despondent motorists sit, clutching the steering wheel and inhaling the thick black smoke that is spit out by the vehicles ahead of them and watch with more than a little envy as those on motorcycles (commonly known as boda bodas) whiz past with smug looks on their faces. Of course, these boda bodas must stop at the front of the line. They swarm around the first car, waiting for a gap in the traffic to zoom off to the front of the next queue of cars. Adding to this horde of people and metal are salesmen who take advantage of the standstill and try to sell various goods to the motorists.
 
During these peak times of traffic flow, some motorists seem to toss away the idea of civility and begin to behave in an almost belligerent manner. Creating three lanes, all going in the same direction, on a road that can capacitate only one lane in each direction would be a fine example of this. The major culprits of this crime are the matatu (a 14-seater van) drivers. One of the most upsetting things about this loutish behaviour is when an emergency vehicle, especially an ambulance, is unable to get through the masses of cars and simply has to wait like the others while the life of another person is in jeopardy.
 
Many new cars and motorcycles are registered everyday and if expansion of roads does not take place soon, could the traffic flow in Kampala come to a complete standstill? Perhaps the government will suggest implementing high tolls for motorists, but is this the right solution? A better way to approach it could be through improving the city’s public transport system or through expanding the roads. Making public transport safer would encourage more people to use the provided services and therefore reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Expansion would lead to smooth flow of traffic and reduce bottlenecks.
 

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It’s not all bad news though! The Uganda National Roads Authority is definitely on the right track to improving the situation. The expansion of the Northern Bypass in Kampala is one such example and there are many other projects in the pipeline for the UNRA: But for now: sit tight, put on that radio and imagine that the car horns bleeping around you are an accompaniment to the music!

~Gaia

 

28 Feb 2014

The big banyan tree and silk worms

So… so our quest to find the tribal settlement where they make their traditional jewelry ended without much success. And the time was only around noon. What now? Bala came up with a solution… let’s go take a look at Innovative Film City. And there we headed right away.
 
Innovative Film City is a combined movie shooting and entertainment facility. Located about 25 miles from Bangalore, it has a facade built up in the style of Roman monuments. Though the place boasts of many attractions, everything except for the Mirror Maze and Ripley’s Believe It or Not were total disappointments.
 
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Now what? Time on our hands… And true to form Bala came up with the suggestion… Dodda Alada Mara! And we set out in that direction immediately.
 
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Dodda alada mara is a huge banyan tree, located in the town of Ramohalli, 17 miles from Bangalore. It is the fourth largest banyan tree in the whole of India.
 
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Banyan trees (scientific name: Ficus benghalensis) are a variety of fig trees that sprout aerial roots. When these roots touch the ground, they take on the role of supporting the tree and start growing in girth. Slowly, they begin to resemble a tree trunk and soon one will not be able to tell them apart from the main trunk. Thus the tree spreads across vast areas as if walking across the area.
 
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According to Wikipedia, the Ramohalli banyan covers an area of three acres and is 400 years old. It has more than a thousand aerial roots, with the circumference at the crown reaching close to a thousand feet.
 
By the way, banyan is the national tree of the Republic of India.
 
The tree is teeming with whole families of monkeys, always on the prowl for any food stuff that can be snatched from unwary hands. Curiously, they seem to have developed a taste for soda pop!
 
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On the way back from the dodda alada mara, we saw an interesting sight. Huge frames made of bamboo and palm leaves are set on the sides of the road. The frames hold concentric circles with what looks like fluffy white oval shaped cotton balls in them. These are about an inch long and half as much wide.
 
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Looking closely, I realise that these cotton balls are cocoons of the silk worms.
 
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And sure enough, there are other frames nearby which have silk worms crawling along the circles on the frame.
 
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We tried speaking to the person tending to the frames, but he couldn’t understand English. Some others nearby came to our help. I was mainly curious about how the cocoons are processed further. However, we were told that they are not processed locally, but sold to silk makers by the weight in the nearby market.
 
What impressed me throughout this trip was how friendly people are. I am always wary of taking photos without asking permission first, but was so happy to see that people had no problems with being photographed. I still remember clearly the incident where one of my friends was yelled at by a homeless person near Columbus Circle over just the suspicion of a photograph being taken!
 

~Ria

26 Feb 2014

In search of tribal treasure…

The car flies along the Mysore road. My cousin Bala is driving and the roads are delightfully empty as it is a Sunday morning. We are headed for the Lambani tribal settlement on the outskirts on the city. This tribe makes beautiful metal jewelry and embroidered cloth with mirror work, well known for their excellent craftsmanship. We are hoping to see the making of the lovely artefacts and to buy some, if available.
 
The progress is not so fast though, as we have to stop frequently to ask for directions. Many of these stops turn out to be exercises in character assessment as it seems inconceivable that anyone would willingly say ‘I don’t know’ around here. So one has to gauge whether the directions given are anywhere near dependable, based on the person’s apparent confidence, his body language, whether he looks you straight in the eyes…
 
From the highway we turn onto a paved road; just barely paved. Soon the going gets worse as the paving disappears from under the wheels and the terrain gets increasingly tough. Soon the path becomes two ruts hardly visible among the high grass, climbing up and down hillocks. The vehicle is lurching from side to side, the bottom often touching the ground with scraping noises. I’m getting more and more uneasy, as I’m the instigator of the plan. The other occupants of the car – Min and Bala’s wife Su – have this scared look on their faces and are looking uneasily around.
 
Soon the trees on either side are brushing the car and we can hear scratchy scrapy noises. Any indication of a road or path is almost gone. There is all kinds of discussion in the car… what if we get stuck somewhere, how will we turn the car around, what if we are not welcome where we are going… Su and I try to dissuade Bala from going any further. And Min looks like she is ready to scream at the first indication of trouble.
 
But apparently Bala is looking for adventure. We have come this far; now we don’t want to turn back without seeing the village… the road is sure to get better further along, says Bala the eternal optimist.
 
All of a sudden, the car bursts out into a clearing. Far off across the flat ground we can see some kind of construction. Just as we start looking around from the now stopped car, there is this loud whoop and flurry of action. A bunch of men, all dressed in tribal finery and shaking huge spears, rush towards the car from across the clearing. The loud shouting and yelling fill the air, combined with the noise of their running feet. Bala makes a tight circle with the car and in the blinking of an eye, we are driving helter skelter out of that clearing. As the car turns, we catch a quick glimpse of a huge cauldron, steam rising out of it, set on three gigantic stones with a roaring fire under it, in a corner of the clearing. It is being stirred by a bunch of women who are standing on stilts so that they can see into the pot. That is all we see and that is enough to set us out of there at the speed of thought…
 
Aah… I guess my imagination ran away with me… The story up to the point where we burst into the clearing is all true. We find ourselves in a grove of young mango trees, with some construction happening at one end of the grove. We speak to the people there… yes, we are on the right track; the Lambanis live around the area. No, they do not carry on their traditional arts anymore, at least not around there. And at this time, mid-morning, most of them will be at their work places.

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Young mangoes – mouthwatering stuff!

So, a wild goose chase, but we thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂 And the day provided many other enjoyments as well. On the way where we stopped for breakfast, we got to taste moode idli, a delicacy of the locale. Made of a mix of rice and lentils, it is steamed wrapped in pandanus leaves.

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Moode Idli

Also, we stopped at Janapada Loka, a cultural center set up to nourish the arts and crafts of Karnataka. Founded in 1994, it is located on the Bangalore-Mysore Road on a 15-acre campus.

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Statues inside the gate of Janapada Loka

Artists in residence perform and conduct training in the traditional dance forms and music. Bangalore University has recognised Janapada Loka as a research centre.

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Dancers at the Janapada Loka

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The day we visited, there was a Yakshagana performance scheduled at Janapada Loka. But unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for that as we had to go see the Lambani settlement… 🙂

~Ria

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With sincere apologies to the Lambani people. The above story is no indication of the behaviour of the friendly and peaceful tribes; it only proves the influence of popular fiction on my imagination.

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24 Feb 2014

Namma Metro… Bangalore ahead…

Last time I was in Bangalore, construction was going on all over the city for the Metro transit system, named Namma Metro meaning Our Metro. As you probably know, Bangalore is the tech hub of the country, with a population surge already way beyond its infrastructure can support. And extended traffic snarls during the peak hours are as predictable as the sunrise every morning.

All this digging in the middle of the roads added considerably to my commute times. It was easy for me to not get irritated by this as it was a matter of only three weeks, after which I would be going back to my PATH trains… And I had a grand new Metro system to look forward to on my next visit… 🙂

Hence I was a bit amused by the venting of the cab driver one day on my way to work. We were stopped at a traffic signal and had to inch forward missing at least two greens. ‘Madam, who are they building all this for? Can the ordinary people afford the fares of the Metro? Never. All it has done is fill the pockets of the politicians… they all get rich, a white elephant Metro will sit there, and god alone knows whether it will even be completed!’ And I had to wonder whether his frustration had anything to do with the possible competition his trade would face from an efficiently run, on time Metro!

The first stretch of the Metro – from M.G. Road to Baiyyappanahalli – was inaugurated in October 2011. This visit, I took a ride on the Metro on that same stretch. First impression… Wow!

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The stations are expansive, spic and span, and maybe because I entered around 10.30 am, deserted. The personnel in charge of the strict security screening of all passengers are extremely courteous. Energy saving escalators, helpful signs… above all, everything spotlessly dust free; it is a bit hard to believe you are still in Bangalore! 😉

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The train compartments are of international standards and not at all crowded, especially at the non-peak hour that I travelled. Now I do have to check out the crowds during the peak hours, of course!

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To my delight, the trains run on elevated rails, not underground. And provide a wonderful view of whatever can be called the down town on the M.G. Road – Baiyyappanahalli route.

Two things to do next… check out the longer Malleswaram-Peenya stretch and check out the downtown stretch during peak hours. Another day…

~Ria

21 Feb 2014

Crested Cranes – the crowned beauties of Uganda

When you plan to write about different birds at Kibimba, Bugiri district in Eastern Uganda, it’s quite appropriate to begin with Crested Cranes, the national bird of Uganda. It’s one of the most cherished birds in Uganda and features in the country’s flag and coat of arms.
At Kibimba we always get to see flocks of them in the fields as they prefer freshly ploughed fields to tall grass and plants. They also prefer wetter habitats near water bodies for nesting. Crested Cranes are a friendly, gentle and peace loving bird, which is pretty much true about the Ugandan people as well. 🙂

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The large flock of crested cranes moving slowly and gracefully along a field is a beautiful sight. You would think you could just walk up to them and touch them. But as you move towards them, they too will move at the same speed. So that even after following them for a long time, the distance between you and the flock will be exactly the same. Only if you make any threatening move or sound would they rise up and fly away. Clever birds indeed.

crested crane close up
The scientific name of the grey Crested Crane is Balearica Regulorum. Their body plumage is mainly grey and wings are predominantly white. Younger birds are greyer than adults. These cranes are tall, generally over 3 feet, standing on slender black legs. Their necks are almost as long as their legs. The black velvety forehead, yellowish golden crest and the bright red wattle make the crested crane an elegant bird. These three colours on their heads make Uganda’s national flag.

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The crested cranes are a monogamous species; they have only one breeding partner through their entire life. The crested cranes are known for their spectacular dancing. Dancing is an integral part of their courtship. In East Africa the mating season is throughout the year, peaking during the rainy months. During their mating dance two cranes hop and jump gracefully with each other, with their wings partly spread. Then they open their wings and jump in the air. Also can see them running around each other during courtship. It’s quite obvious that traditional dances have adopted many movements from their dance.

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Crested cranes have a loud, booming two note call  except when they are calling their family; they use a guttural purr when calling to their chicks or mates.

Crested Cranes are omnivores . They feed on cereal heads, grains, new tips of grasses, insects, frogs, lizards etc. They stamp their feet hard on the ground when they walk across the ploughed fields. This flushes out the insects which they pick and eat quickly.
The crested cranes generally live up to 22 years in wild and 25 years or more in captivity.
Unlike other cranes, crested cranes are the only cranes that roost on trees as their hind toe is adapted for grasping. They are the earliest evolved species among cranes which is evident from the animal fossils of Eocene period (about 58 to 37 million years ago).

Enjoying a stroll with other cranes

Enjoying a stroll with other cranes

According to the International Crane Foundation, crested cranes are an endangered species and the population has declined 50 – 79 % for the past 45 years. They are most abundant in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

~Min

19 Feb 2014

Really not sure… Why?

So… I walk back into the store. By this time, I have realised that my car battery is gone, kaput, dead, and needs to be replaced. Triple A does have a battery replacement service, but the recorded message about the limited services…
 
With doubled energy, I dial their number. Sorry, the battery replacement service is temporarily unavailable; call back in the evening for the service. And yes, a service truck will come by in two hours and jump start my car. Two hours? Two hours.
 
Outside it is bright and sunny. For a fleeting second, I think of walking home, a distance of 20 minutes. That indeed was a very short-lived thought. What if I lose a toe or two to frost bite? Very possible in the bone chilling, mind numbing cold. And another toe or two in the walk back to the car… definitely not worth it.
 
Have you ever considered how it it would be to spend two hours in the grocery store? After you have just finished your grocery shopping? Neither had I. But, let’s look on the bright side… now I know that every brand of canned fruit – Del Monte, Dole, the store brand… they all contain the same ingredients and preservatives and colourants, in the same proportions. The next time you need some peach slices for a recipe, just grab the best priced can. Not so with pie fillings though… And thanks to the two hours spent wandering through the aisles of that grocery store, I can now confidently pen a scholarly thesis on ‘Price point variations in papier mache food consumption equipment relative to spatial dimensions and considered with brand identities’. In layman’s terms, how the price of paper plates vary according to size and brand… 🙂
 
With frequent staring at the watch, I force time to move on. Triple A calls to inform that the service truck is outside in the parking lot. I walk out and spot the truck right away. It is the same truck and the same man who helped jump start my car in the morning. Was it only this morning?
 
Again, it is a matter of two minutes to get the car started. This time it is straight back home, no driving around to get the battery charged. It is past 2 pm. I haven’t eaten a thing the whole day. All I can do is grab a sandwich – ham and cheese with lots of lettuce, in case you wanted to know – and plonk myself on the couch.
 
My shopping is not yet done, and won’t be, till the car is fixed. Promptly at 5 pm, I’m on the phone with Triple A. Yes, a service truck will be around to replace the defective battery. By 6.30 pm.
 
It is already dark outside at 5 pm. The temperature has started its night time plunge into the depths of negative numbers. By 6 pm, I’m dressed in layers and waiting for the call. Promptly at 6.30, the truck arrives. This time it is a small one and has no problem getting into the garage.
 
The man parks his truck, gets a bunch of tools and a jump cable and walks over to my car. Opens the hood, looks at things, touches a few things. Goes back to his truck, brings more stuff over. Turns, unscrews this and that under the hood. This goes on for 15 minutes. Cold wind is blowing into the garage through the open sides. I move around to keep the shivering to a minimum. After 25 minutes of tinkering, the man declares that Volkswagen cars have special battery installed batteries that can only be detached in a workshop. He offers to tow my car to an auto repair workshop. In a display of supreme self-restraint I mutter politely, No, thank you.
 
While seeing him out and rushing back to my warm home, all I can think amidst the fuming is, at what point in the 25 minutes of tinkering did he realise that my Beetle is a Volkswagen make?
 
My car service shop is just two blocks away. Next day, despite it being a Sunday, it is open at 9 am. And I’m there narrating my saga of woes to Luke, the owner. And true to his life saver persona, he asks two of his assistants to go get my car. In two hours, I get the call to tell me it’s all done. I get there, my beautiful Beetle is waiting for me, all nice and freshly washed. And the engine purrs into life with a single turn of the key.
 
They say all is well that ends well… and I know that things happen, apartments get flooded, car batteries go bad, but why oh why at this particular point in time?
 

~Ria

17 Feb 2014

Still wondering… Why, why?

So where were we? Yeah, the flood that threatened my door step did not materialise. So far, so good.

As per my plans, I was to go and do some shopping – last minute gifts, chocolates, etc – Friday evening. But after a stressful Thursday evening, I did not feel like driving out in the early dark. After all, what is Saturday for? I could comfortably do the shopping in the day time. So that was decided. Maybe, just maybe… the fact that I was in the middle of an interesting book might have had something to do with that decision. 🙂

Saturday dawned nice and sunny, with an expected high of 10 degree fahrenheit, waaay below freezing. 10ish in the morning, I go down to the car park, start the car. Grrrrr…. and nothing. Turn the keys again. GGGrrrrrr…. the engine refuses to turn over. I realise that the continued freezing cold has done a job on the car battery.

What else to do than trudge back up to the apartment and call triple A! As the phone connects, the recorded message warns that services are limited due to adverse weather. Excellent! My car battery chose the perfect day to go on strike! Hoping that jump starting will not be among the services that are chopped, I wait patiently on the line. The lady who takes the call is very polite and informs me that a service truck will be over in two hours. In the relief that the service is available, I did not even think of protesting the two hours. Not that it would have done any good, with almost all traffic slowed down with snow and ice.

As promised, in around two hours, the service truck arrives. I go down and open the garage door. But alas, the truck is too big to get in through the door, though overall it is not a too big truck at all. We go to check the door on the other side of the garage. The man is of the opinion that it is larger than the first one though I cannot see any difference. Finally he squeezes his truck through. Then, the truck cannot reach my car from this side of the garage. I have to go and request one of my neighbours to move his car so that the truck can have a way to get to my car. Done. Mr. W is very gracious and moves his car readily.

It is a matter of two minutes to jump start the car. The man tells me to keep it running for 15 minutes before driving out. Fine. By this time, the cold is seeping onto my fingers even through the heavily insulated gloves. I’m only happy to sit in the car that is warming up by the second.

I let the car warm up for a good 20 minutes and start out, headed for the grocery store first as it is closer. And drive around for a while to give the car battery time to get charged. Reaching the parking lot of the grocery store, I switch off the car, switch it back on. No problem. Switch off and wait two minutes, switch back on. No problem. The car kicks up right away. A weight off my mind, I traipse along to the store.

20 minutes back, I’m back in the car, grocery bags in the trunk. . Grrrrr…. and nothing. Turn the keys again. GGGrrrrrr…. the engine refuses to turn over. Triple A, come and save me… again!

To be continued…

~Ria

14 Feb 2014

Why Oh Why?

It all started in the week before I was scheduled to start on my winter vacation. This was a planned vacation, tickets booked a while back. Still, you know how it is… you plan all the things you need to do before you go, and you have every intention of sticking to those plans… then somehow things happen differently and you are left scrambling at the last minute. What I cannot understand is how this is the case every year, every vacation. But I digress…

So it was the week before my travel. Came back from work Wednesday evening. Entering the apartment, I can already see the flashing lights reflected on the window panes.

Looking out the window (being on the second floor, I do have a good view of the street), I can see two cop cars parked among the small hillocks of snow on the sides of the street. Suddenly I realise… the snow hills on the near side are no longer there. Instead there is a muddy stream meandering towards the rainwater drain at the end of the street. Oh no! Water main break… No wonder, considering the below freezing temperatures we have been consistently having. And it was apparent that the problem was with the main pipe that supplied water to our building.

So the smart aleck that I am, I ran to the kitchen. Put a cooking pot under the tap and started filling it with water. Already the flow of water was slowing down. As I watched, the tap spluttered a few times and the water stopped. I was not worried. Enough drinking water in the house, and of course water will be back the next day.

Next day, went to work as usual. Around 4 pm, as I’m getting ready to leave for home, my phone rings. It is Mr J, our condo president. ‘Ria, where are you? Can you get home right away? The water was turned back on a while back, after the repairs, and there is flooding in your apartment.’

The kitchen tap… I had forgotten to close it last evening! All the way home, all I could think of was, all the things I will have to throw away because of water damage. The bottom rows of my book shelves were sure to go… Gosh, all the heavy classics are on the bottom shelves…

By the time I reached home – Manhattan traffic is so unmindful of your personal emergencies! – three of my friends were waiting to help me with damage control. We rushed up. No water coming out under the door. I gingerly opened the door… expecting to step into squelching water. Nothing. Looked into the bed rooms… no problem there. Moved on to the living room… the floor is dry as a bone. Then to the kitchen… yes, the floor has patches of water puddled here and there. But beyond that, no sign of flooding at all.

What had happened was that the water had seeped under the dish washer and the floor cabinets in the kitchen and gotten to the outside corridor under the wall. And to prevent it getting to the apartment across the corridor, Mr J had the water turned off. What a relief it was, to see all the horror scenarios in my mind come to nought!

Wiping up the remaining water was a matter of minutes. And my friends insisted on celebrating my transition from panic to relief in a short hour by treating me to takeout pizza. 🙂

To be continued…

~Ria

12 Feb 2014

Performance by Ndere Troupe – A visual treat indeed!

Dance has always been a passion for me. However, my first encounter with dance did not go well. 🙂 When I was just three years, I was put in a dance class run by my school as an after class activity. To my surprise I still have a vague memory of that class packed with 25–30 children of different age groups, trying to copy what the instructor was doing. I got so disillusioned after the first class that I adamantly refused to go to the class any more. Then at the age of eight I had the opportunity to join a professionally run dance school (apparently my parents recognised the interest I I have in dance) and from then onwards dance has always been a part of my life. Never miss a chance to perform or watch various dance genres.
Dance has always been an important part of celebrations, ceremony and entertainment. It’s difficult to say when dance has become a part of human culture. The Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from 3300 BCE and 9000 year old Bhimbekta rock shelters paintings in India indicate the prevalence of dance even in prehistoric times. Dance figurines were a permanent feature of ancient temple architecture.
Dances are usually performed as a mode of expression, as part of healing rituals or as an offering to God. Dance forms are also used as a tool to communicate with people about social evils, prohibiting the progress of the society. Ballet, bharatnatyam, hip hop, rumba belly dance, calypso, gigue, lap dance… there are sooo many varieties of dance we enjoy today.
The entertaining performance of traditional Ugandan dance and music by Ndere Troupe is what initiated these thoughts on various dance forms. I’d watched traditional Ugandan dances many a time. But getting to enjoy the playing of musical instruments, singing and dancing in a serene ambience in the amphitheatre at the Ndere Centre was an entirely unique experience. To quote from Ndere Troupe’s website, “In Africa written words didn’t exist, thus Africa’s cultural history, literature, knowledge and wisdom were recorded and passed on to succeeding generations through the medium of performing arts music, dance, storytelling and poetry.”

 

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The programme started with playing of various instruments and singing.

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Kiganda dance from Buganda was originally only to be performed by the people of Obutiko clan and only in the palace.

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Dance of Bunyoro tribe. Bunyoro tribe belongs to the Toro region in Western Uganda. This is a courtship dance. Men and women sit around a fire reciting poems. Then men start dancing in front of each girl and the luckiest one gets chosen.

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Banyankole are the people who belong to the Ankole tribe, one of the four traditional tribes of Uganda. They are from South Western Uganda. This region is also famous for the Ankole cows with their distinctive curved horns.

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Dancers of Alur tribe hail from north western Uganda. One of the main instruments they play is called an Adungu.

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These are the dancers of the Acholi tribe. They belong to the Luo Nilotic ethnic group from northern Uganda.

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The percussion ensemble from Burundi , another east African country, was quite amazing. They came in balancing the heavy log drums on their heads drumming and singing. These drums are made from the trunks of a tree which grows only in Burundi.

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Intore (the dance of heroes) is the most famous traditional dance form of Rwanda, another east African country.

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It was a visual treat indeed. This post will not be complete unless I mention the tasty Ugandan meal which we all enjoyed after the performance.

Min

10 Feb 2014

Sunset at Kappad Beach

Global awareness, global warming, global politics, global citizen, global governance… the word ‘global’ has become part of our daily conversations. It is hard to imagine a world where you cannot pick and choose goods and products from all over the globe. We are truly enjoying the fruits of globalisation. I was reminded of a significant historical incident on the route to this globalisation, when I visited Kappad, a beach on the Malabar coast on the south western shore of India.kappad-beach2
In 1453 Ottoman Turks, under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed II, conquered the city of Constantinople, after a siege that lasted 50 days. With the fall of Constantinople (the city was renamed Istanbul), the Ottoman Turks cut off the overland caravan routes that were essential to the spice trade between Europe and countries in Asia that produced spices like cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric.
Meanwhile, the demand for spices which were scarce and costly kept growing in Europe. In addition to flavouring food, spices were valued for their medicinal qualities and as a status symbol.
Finding a sea route to India became an immediate need. Tales carried by travellers, of the fabulous wealth of the East, also fuelled the quest. It was under these circumstances that King Manuel of Portugal commissioned an expedition to India under Captain-Major Vasco da Gama, who set out with four ships on July 8, 1497. After much hardship, Vasco da Gama landed at Kappad near Calicut (of Calico fame) on May 20, 1498. Thus was started an era of strife and competition and warfare among the European nations for mastery over the land and wealth of the East. At the same time, it also was the beginning of cultural and commercial interactions on a global scale.kappad-beach1
Calm, serene, peaceful… these are the words that best describe Kappad beach today.
The place is very beautiful and quite. Rocky formations extending into the ocean on either side of the sandy beach add an extra charm. The huge rocks can easily be climbed and provide wonderful views.
On a regular day, the beach is not crowded at all.
It is glorious to sit on the rocks and watch the sun setting in the Arabian Sea.

The old temple on one of the rocky formations is quite charming.temple
If you are an early bird and get to the beach, in the morning when the fishermen’s boats land, you can buy almost live fish, including the fabulous pearl spots.

Pearl spots taken through their natural progression (unfortunately, not from Kappad)

Pearl spots taken through their natural progression (unfortunately, not from Kappad)

A pillar near the beach commemorates Vasco da Gama’s landing at the Kappad, which used to be known locally as Kappakadavu. pillar

~Ria

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Interesting note
The early stories about the mysterious East were so full of fantasy… In the 7th century, Europeans believed that pepper grew on trees guarded by serpents. The only way it could be harvested was by setting the trees on fire, which would frighten the serpents away. May be that would have explained why pepper was black… 🙂divider-recipe-end

07 Feb 2014