Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Shopping and cow racing...

Hi there!

Well, Jan has flown by. The lady I worked with decided to leave at the end of Dec meaning it's been just me and R who works part time since then. On the 14-16th Jan was the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal which is a big celebration and warrents one or three new outfits for each Tamil and their family.

To prepare for that, on the 8th, me, R and A who works in the tailor section of Nandini headed up to Chennai for a full day of shopping. Mostly we shop in Pondy as it's much closer but for certain items (sarees, punjabi material, mens t-shirts and shirts, jeans etc) it's much more cost effective to spend the day in Chennai. We tend to go there once every 3-4 months and this was my first time.

We set off at 6am in our taxi, stopping just once at around 8.30 for breakfast. Once we were in Chennai it took quite a while to head through the city to our first destination. The traffic was so busy! By 10am we were at the first shop, a huge place selling sarees, material, tops etc. We went in and with our price range in mind started to pick stuff out.


2 hours later we stumbled out of there into the bright hot midday sun leaden down with huge bags of Indian ladies clothing and several thousand rupees lighter.
Next we went to a textile area known as Old Washermenpet, this is where the sweatshop export rejects end up. Huge sacks of clothing are bought by the kilo and sold off at bargain prices. Often these places are just rooms full of piles of clothing where you have to check each item for stains, defective stitching etc, I saw plenty of recognised brands from home.
It's not something I feel totally comfortable with, especially since Auroville is meant to be a progressive, ecologically sound place but it's the trade off for supply and demand and is very big business here in India. Demand is big at Nandini especially amongst the Tamil community but to tailor make everything to people's needs would take too much time, labour etc and wouldn't be cost effective. Already a mens shirt costs 400rs which is an adults monthly contribution, add to the fact that they want shorts, a t-shirt, underwear maybe even a pair of trousers at the same time and you end up with a co-operative that isn't self sustaining. Anyway, I still don't feel right about it and didnt feel right about taking photos at those places either.
I did get a pic from the t-shirt shop however:
By 7pm we were done and with the taxi groaning under the weight of our bags and sacks of clothing we made our way home, getting back and unloading the car at 11pm. Phew!
The next day we did our best to get all the new stock priced and put in with the old stock ready for the onslaught of the Pongal shopping frenzy.
Sure enough the Friday and Saturday were manic, especially with just two of us. We closed on the final day of Pongal, the Thursday as did many other businesses which freed me, C and K up to attend the celebrations in Kuilapalayam, a nearby village. The main event being the cow race, which I saw during my first visit to India 6 years ago.
We arrived at 10am just as the market area was setting up - we had a look at the wares, mostly super cheap plasticy toys, plastic and stainless steel homewares and food stands.
Then we headed to the village square area and watched the place gradually fill up with people of all ages and races. People lined every available space on roofs, balconies, in trees etc. Kids clutching their new cheap plasticy toy, ladies in their finest sarees and punjabis with beautiful flowers in their hair, men in their jeans and shirts, hair slick and shiney with oil and baggy clothed backpacked tourists, camera in hand waiting for the spectacle. We recognised quite a few Aurovillians too, mostly those with kids, which was nice for K to have some partners in mischief.
Candy floss seller - a regular sight along the beach in Pondy:

 Bag seller, a regular sight everywhere you find tourists: 
Then came the cows, each one lead through the throng to a huge cheer by their owners/entourage. Nearly all were painted/decorated with baloons, bananas, flowers, bells etc


The only undecorated cow :)
Once most of the cows had passed by, C turned to me and said, "it's a shame that they're not having the usual banana fight", just as the first banana got thrown. It's not as bad as it sounds as the local bananas are tiny but they tend to spatter on impact. I got a rough film of the madness which you can see here: Pongal Banana Fight
Apologies for the poor quality, but you hopefully get the idea...
A shot of the usually empty square:
I'm ending today with a film of the race itself. Again apologies for the shakiness but maybe it just adds to the overall effect ;)
Me and C are gearing up for a night away this coming Sunday when we head off to Bangalore whilst C's mum has K overnight for the first time. We're going to a gig featuring artists from UK label Twisted Records (Shpongle, Hallucinogen, Younger Brother and Prometheus). We're seen them all bar Prometheus before in London and at festivals but to see them here in India should be interesting, I'm especially interested to see how modern India does nightlife, surely it can't be like UK nightlife...can it??? Anyway, it'll be fun. A night out together is a very rare thing indeed and it's our 7 year anniversary the following week so it seems fitting we see artists we danced to when we first got together.
More soon.


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