Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scenes from the Marketplace, Part 1

After we explored the flower market, we observed the transformation back into the regular scene of market business on the same area that a mere few moments earlier had been a florist's paradise; then we went down some steep, uneven steps to the market proper, which resides underground. There was a flower section spilling irrepressibly from the street into the hall; but as we prowled down narrow passageways and navigated odd little corners, scenes of fecund lushness greeted us at every turn.

The pictures below in no way represent the whole of the vast City Market; but they'll give you a hint of a pleasurable hour whiled away amidst some of the colourful ingredients of gustatory Bangalore.

Observing the morning's activity

Traces of beauty in the ubiquitous rubbish

Mustering what comforts can be found
at the start of a long day

The banana leaf stall: these are used
as disposable plates for the throngs of guests
at wedding receptions and other functions

A makeshift street of herbs

The garlic cart:
Less than $2 per KG!
Setting up for the day
on her little patch of pavement

One of several herb carts.
An enormous bunch of mint costs
less than 25 cents ...

Mint and coriander tossed away as
unsellable is of better quality than
what I get at grocery stores here!

Like Ruth of Biblical times,
gleaning from what has been
dropped or discarded

The Market comes to life with a roar of engines ...

View from the top of the stairs looking down
into the entrance hall of the indoor bazaar

A peek down one of the many
produce stall lanes in this market

General produce stall

Chili mountain

Fruit stall - look at those papayas ...

The flavour of the vegetables makes a person
WANT to eat his or her vegetables!

Picking through the potatoes

Tomatoes are red all the way
through, and exploding
with flavour

Sorting and grading chilis

The basis for every good curry:
tender onions and fresh "ginger-garlic"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Word of the Month: "Cleave"

Crossed-Flag-Pins India Canada

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

1 to chop or break apart; to split       
2 to stick fast; to adhere

And on this bleak Friday evening in Three Hills, this is how I feel. I feel numb, not myself. I feel like I've been split wide apart again; yet I feel completely contained, tightly restrained.

I walk into Nilgiris on Thursday night with the oddest sensation that I am slightly outside of my body, that I am seeing the TH for the first time.

I carefully examine the pictures on the piano, reacquainting myself with my grandparents; my Dad holding the baby that was I; two little sisters in a grainy black and white; my nephews; my siblings; my friend Bernadette and I, golden from the sun and the happiness of her wedding day; Brent and Curt; Virgil; George; Maynard. The scribble on the back of the envelope that represents the last song Mum taught me is also there, floating in a broken glass frame. I look curiously at the familiar black and white keys, wondering if I can remember any songs. I don't sit down to try them out. I'm not in need of comfort on this odd evening; I'm more in need of recognition, of familiarity, of a touchstone.

I see a sign from Don and Norma:

For Your Homecoming.
Left in Winter          Back in Spring

But how I feel is exactly the reverse: I have just left an incredibly hot spring and now I'm plunged back into an unexpected winter: snow is actually falling as I look outside. I feel like I'm inside a snow globe, like everything is surreal and I might be flipped over and shaken until the tiny particles float, sparkling in a make-believe world, all around me again.

How can I be pulled so insistently in two different directions and still be whole? Does one have to cleave from something in order to cleave to something else?

Is there any happy medium?

I think of my ethereal friend Meaghan, whom I met this visit to India after a time passage of about 35 years. Her exquisite appearance and delicate demeanour belie a strength of character and a willingness to adapt, to do whatever it takes in order to protect and serve her children's best interests.

I think of my adopted niece, Chloe, starting to feel the pull, starting to know that there are going to be hard choices in the not-too-distant future.

I think of Dad, who is more at home in India than in Canada in many ways, but who is at complete peace with where God would have him to be at any given moment. Dad, who says when arriving both in Bangalore on March 3 and Three Hills on March 23, "It's good to be home, isn't it?"

I wonder afresh what these dual yearnings in my heart will lead to. I wonder if I will always feel incomplete in some sense wherever I go, always intuit subconsciously that something significant is missing from the fabric of my being, always seek to reconcile the elusive elements of what it is to be a Third Culture Kid.

And at the same time I am so thankful that I have the privilege of belonging in some small way to both of these great countries.

How can one word have such diametrically opposed meanings and yet make so much sense?

Flag Canada animated gif 240x180
Flag India animated gif 240x180
Flag images courtesy of

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Flower Market

Every morning at 6:00 a.m. a corner of the city is transformed from a somewhat squalid area into a bowery where people come to buy and sell flowers - flowers for hotels, for flower shops, for temples, for export.

And the perfume of the flowers rests gently on every person in the vicinity.

By 8:00 a.m. it's all over and the regular thrust and parry of the street and the market resumes. But oh, those two magical hours where the world is a paradise and even the negotiations being waged seem to be in a kinder tone ...

Thank you, Mr Subbaiah, for this spectacular sensory experience!

Morning chai among the greenery

Lilies at dawn


Birds of Paradise
Shades of blue


Buying and selling

Shades of white

Roses at 60 cents a dozen ...

Pondering the marigolds

Packing the marigolds

Flowers by the yard ...

Garland merchants

Temple garlands


Two of Mum's favourites:
Tuberoses and gladioli
Bags of roses ready to go

Please give a good price:
I need just a few for the house!

Street hawkers loading up their cycles

How's he going to ride this thing?!

Wedding garlands

Flowers for garlands

When you have nothing - no
home, negligible mental faculties,
no one to love you - a couple of
flowers can provide you comfort
and beauty and possibly some peace

Tallying up the sales

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Children of the Tsunami

It was December 26, 2004. The sea roiled and the third-largest recorded undersea earthquake exploded in the Indian Ocean. Its magnitude was between 9.1 and 9.3, and at almost 10 minutes was the longest observed duration of faulting. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, in that order, were the countries the most devastated by loss of life and destruction of the land and economies.

But when it came to displaced persons, India was the most severely affected:

Indonesia          500,000+
Sri Lanka           516,150
India                647,599
Thailand              7,000
Maldives            15,000+

People, in deep shock, roamed aimlessly on the beaches of South India, looking for loved ones, looking for their homes, looking for meaning.

And in this group of people was a large contingent of children orphaned by the monstrous wave, bereft of all they knew of security, of family, of hope. These children stayed on the beach because they had nowhere else to go. They had no one to take them in, to offer comfort, direction. They had not even the basic necessities of life.

Into this tragic situation came the most despicable of humanity, the vermin who prey on vulnerable children. They started collecting these children with promises of homes, of food, of shelter. And they absorbed them into the monstrous underground network of human trafficking and the sex trade that thrives in India.

On the south-west coast of India is a former student of Dad's who now is the President of his own Bible College in a place called Trivandrum. Dr. G.S. Nair saw the dangers these children were in, and he sent students to go and rescue those they could. In the next few days the students brought over 50 children back with them to a makeshift shelter in a nearby village where Dr. Nair had recruited a local pastor and his wife to care for them.

Over the entryway to the Children's Home

The girls greet us
Over the last few years a small orphanage has been built for these children through Dr. Nair's ministry. They are fed; they are educated - the eldest of them started at a local college this year!; they are safe. The reason they could afford the property is that it is next door to a property with a few old graves on it ("At least the neighbours don't complain about the noise!" Nair jokes).

The big girls' room
Conditions are fairly primitive: the children sleep on thin mattresses on the floor and store their belongings in suitcases and makeshift boxes because there is no extra money for luxuries - and 25 bunk beds or a few shelves are considered luxuries when you have to purchase water every day as the well is dry, even in India, where things like basic furniture are relatively expensive.

The pastor's daughter with Shelly,
the girls' matron, in front
of the food supply shelves

And the children themselves suffer from the horrible trauma to this day. One little guy and his even smaller brother couldn't find their parents that December 26. The older brother held onto his little brother's hand as tightly as he could in the battering wind and rain, until the wave viciously wrested their hands apart and the littler boy was flung out to sea before his brother's tortured eyes. Who we would call the "surviving child" still weeps about it over six years later.

The boys singing at prayer time

Candy, handed out by the
pastor's beautiful daughter

These children are cobbling together a life and a family of sorts, a family patched together with the frayed pieces of despair and of loss and of desperation and even of resignation. Debs had brought some mini chocolate treats for them, and before they took any for themselves they made sure there was enough for the children who were away at tuition. They are safe and they are cared for but in their eyes is written the story of parents who don't come to comfort the little girl who screams out in the night; the story of the 14-year-old boy who prays every day that the local MP will change the rules to make things safer for his people. The story of kids who wonder if anyone cares about who they were and sees who they are now.

"What number hair?" (G.S. Nair is
sitting next to Dad.)

One person sees. That evening at prayer time, which is held in the little chapel on the compound, Dad called up a tiny waif who was sitting on the floor in the front row. He hugged the little boy and started tousling his hair. Then he grabbed onto one hair and yanked it out of the child's head. The kid giggled.

"What number hair did I just pull out of your head?" he asked the boy.

"I don't know, Sir," the boy responded uncertainly.

"How many hairs does your friend have on his head?" Dad asked the boys.

"Don't know, Sir," came back the chorus. "Too many to count!"

Saying goodbye. The boy waving
is the one who prays for his
government official every day.

"God knows," Dad said. "It tells us in the Bible that God knows each of us by our names. He knows all about our whole lives. He has even numbered each hair on our heads.

"And the One who knows how many hairs are on your heads, He cares about your lives. He knows your suffering. He loves you.

"He will never leave you. You are in His hand. He will never let you go."

And as we were getting ready to leave, he hugged each child that came up to him.

Almost all of them came up to him.