Krishna Janmashtami

It’s Tuesday afternoon. I am producing a record amount of blogs! Go me! But the pace will slow down a lot and very soon. Things are about to get busy for me. Tomorrow morning I set out for Pune, a short 3-4 hour bus ride from Mumbai. I’ll be staying with a friend of a friend there for a few nights and then, hopefully, moving into an apartment (or flat, as they say here) with another Fulbright student researcher, Robin. All this on top of beginning language school at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS). Needless to say, things will be very busy over the next few days.

So, while I have the time, I will let you all have a glimpse at the life that is unfolding for me here in India.

I was supposed to meet with my advisor, Dr. Ritambhara Hebbar, today. Unfortunately her mother has been very ill the past few days and it was not possible for her to come see me at TISS. Lucky for you, that means I can tell you about my adventure yesterday!

Baby Krishna!

Yesterday, Monday August 22, 2011, was Janmashtami, or the celebration of the birth of the Hindu god, Krishna. I don’t know much about Krishna, except that he is often depicted with a flute (like in the picture above), and he is often portrayed as “a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero and the Supreme Being” (thank you wikipedia). Sounds like a god worth celebrating!

I grabbed my camera and a few other things and headed out to explore the area surrounding TISS. I didn’t have to walk far before I heard loud joyful music and saw a crowd gathering. I stuck out like a sore thumb, being basically the only woman and the only white person. But I couldn’t help lingering. Garlands of gold and orange marigolds were strung on rope that suspended a decorative clay pot. One of the Fulbright coordinators had told me that it’s tradition for boys and men to climb up and try to break the pot. The pot is filled with a sweet sugary curd that is often died orange. Krishna liked his sweets! I really wanted to see a group of guys successfully break the pot!

There were crowds and clay pots everywhere! I walked about a 3 mile loop. I think that each neighborhood was having their own celebration. Some were very big, with stages and news cameras. I kept walking and soon it was pouring rain! Hello MONSOON! I was prepared with my purple umbrella. I finally stumbled upon a smaller more secluded celebration. And I spied a group of women and girls observing from across the street. One of the girls spoke English and explained to me that they didn’t know when the guys would successfully break the pot. Part of the celebration was waiting with anticipation.

I was amazed! The pot was at least four stories high. When I had heard about this tradition, I thought that it was a scramble up something to get to the pot. Not at all! This festival combined the ultimate human pyramid with the ultimate team challenge. I later found out that these guys had been practicing and strategizing for weeks! The team that finally breaks the pot wins a prize. Every attempt that each team of guys made had me standing on my tippy-toes. How dangerous and exciting!

"It's too high up! Lower it a bit!" the crowd shouts to the women in command who sit atop the building.

After dumping buckets of water onto the crowd, they laughingly comply.

Success! I was so lucky to see them break the pot! I thanked the little girl (whose name I’ve forgotten) for explaining everything to me. “No, no,” she bobbled her head. “It was my pleasure.”

As I continued to walk the three mile loop back to campus, truckloads of teenage guys in orange and white shirts passed by on the street. As soon as one of the guys saw me, they’d start to shout and cheer and all the other guys in the truck would follow suit. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of being the center of attention like that, but the joy of the festivities was infectious. I smiled and waved at every shouting, waving orange truckload of boys that passed.

I got back to campus, hungry and soaked. And I was just in time for lunch. I finally made a friend in the dining hall. Sajid sat down next to me and started a conversation. He’s from Pune and when I told him I am going there tomorrow to start learning Marathi he beamed a smile back in my direction. “I will start to teach you,” he said. I smiled and thanked him. I can’t wait to walk into Marathi class on Thursday morning and ask my teacher, “Kashi Ahes?” (kah-shee ah-hace, How are you?).

I’ve been hunkering down in the library, starting to think more about the direction of my research. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. And now, every time I feel like this living adjustment has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever had so far and I start to get down and miss my loved ones back at home, I think about how important my project is. It’s worth it!

Well friends, next time I write I will be in Pune. Hopefully settled into my own apartment. Until then!

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One thought on “Krishna Janmashtami

  1. It is worth it and thank you for being so brave and selfless in the doing of it – I love you tons & tons, Momma

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