Indian Festivities

September 3, 2011

Technically this was the first week of school, but because of festivals on Wednesday and Thursday I still haven’t had all of my classes. Wednesday was Eid, which is the end of Ramazan during which Muslims fast. Most of the festivities associated with this holiday take place in the home, so there wasn’t a lot we could do related to that. And since we didn’t have class, Jacob, our program director, took us to Majestic, another shopping area with fabrics as well as some readymade kurtas in addition to a street of second hand book stores.

Afterwards some of us went to Forum, which is the mall about half-way between the National Games Village, where we are staying, and Christ University, where I am studying, and watched a Hindi film, Aarakshan. (In India most major malls have theaters on the top floor.) There weren’t any subtitles and only a couple of phrases in English, but for the most part we were able to figure out the plot fairly well. It also helped that a very nice Indian man confirmed and expanded upon our understanding at intermission. The movie dealt with affirmative action at the college level, with spots reserved for lower caste students. According to the Indian man, this was a major issue of contention in the 80’s in India.

Thursday was Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindi god Ganesha’s birthday. A Buddhism and Hinduism professor took those of us who were interested to her local temple to observe the festivities. Offerings were made via fire and accompanied by music while everyone watched and, at times, threw pink rice. One of the instruments being played actually looked quite similar to an oboe and had a double reed, though sounded more like a saxophone. Afterwards everyone went upstairs for the meal, which was made by the devotees and consisted of special festival foods, which Jacob said tend to be richer. All I know is they were absolutely delicious! In fact, it’s the best food I’ve had so far. One of the desserts was almost like a cross between shortbread and brown sugar, and another was this squiggly sugar candy that when you bit into it had juice of some variety inside. As I’m sure you can tell by my descriptions, I’m not entirely sure what I was eating, but it was delicious! 

The highlight of Friday though was by far the cooking class. Jacob actually taught us, which was a pleasant surprise. He was absolutely wonderful about answering my endless questions. We made an insane amount of food, including poori, chai tea, and this amazing noodle, milk, and spice dessert. The chai was the best I’ve ever had. Both Jacob and the woman helping him just eyeballed everything and only had to glance at a dish to know if it was done. I’m disappointed that we only have one more class, but am hoping to find other ways to learn some dishes and techniques. We actually pushed the next class back though since this coming Friday is Onam, which means more delicious festival food, which Jacob says you can only have once a year.

From Mukilteo, Washington, Marielle Larson ’13 is a Process Management and Consulting major at the College of William & Mary, with a minor in Sociology – a combination which she hopes to apply to addressing social issues. This semester she is studying abroad in Bangalore, India with USAC (University Study Abroad Consortium). The program centers upon service-learning, combining classes taught primarily by Indian professors with volunteer work at local NGOs. Read more about Marielle’s time in India on her blog, My Indian Adventure.

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