Ganpati 2019 Lego and Playdoh

It has been a while since I wrote, but I’m back baby and I hope you enjoy this post.

September is my favorite time of year and no, it is not because of pumpkin spice and the crisp fall weather. In September (or end of August, depending on the lunar calendar) we get to celebrate the birth of Lord Ganesh. It’s Ganesh Chaturthi! I am trying to introduce Indian festivals to my children organically. I want these celebrations to be as much a part of their lives as Halloween and Thanksgiving are.

This year to commemorate the beloved Lord Ganesh, Vihaan is participating in an Indian cultural dance. I take him to practice two times a week where he is paired with other 5 and 6 year-olds to learn and Indian dance. Sidebar- Vihaan adores his dance teacher, which I think is so cute. On the last day of the Ganpati festival Vihaan will perform this dance on stage with his buddies.

Another thing I’ve done past couple years is make the Ganesh idol at home, either using clay/ pottery techniques or plain ol’ playdoh. I prefer playdoh, while the idol does not come out as sophisticated and elegant as clay or a store bought one; it is easy to return to its elements at the end of the festival.

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Ganpati needs a home to reside in during the festival, a palace and his throne is collectively called a makhar. Last year I made the makhar out of magna-tiles because my children were into magna-tiles. I wanted them to have a stake in it, and feel ownership of the makhar. This year we stepped it up a notch and used lego blocks to make the makhar. I was helped by my two top assistants, Vihaan and Aarini. I’ll admit their involvement is more distracting than constructive, but it was fun nonetheless. Vihaan helped sort the legos into different colors and Aarini was given the task of finding all the flower blocks. We were preparing a little Ganesh cityscape. The focal point of our city is Ganpati’s home. I used orange and dark yellow blocks for the pillars and back wall. The roof has some bright red blocks and Ganpati’s chair is a red lego chair. Maintaining color themes gives it a sense of purpose. I didn’t want the makhar to look like I threw some blocks together. We made it look even more legit when we arranged Batman and Hulk as devotees. Aarini and Vihaan are big into superheroes. Vihaan was so pleased that superheroes are getting their superpowers from Ganesh.

IMG_8691During the festival we offer flowers and prasad (Indian sweets and fruit) to the God. I wanted to add that to the cityscape. My assistants located brown blocks for the ground, and green ones for leaves. Aarini gave me all the lego flowers she could find for our little garden. Vihaan asked if we could put a bird in the garden, just like the birds we see in our backyard. Of course we can! We had a yellow lego bird in the pile. It was added to the garden. I wanted a gardener tending to the flowers. We found a handsome lego dude with a suit tie and glasses. I paired him with a watering can, and we got ourselves not just a gardener but a high-end landscape artist. Garden complete.

IMG_8692The flowers need to be transported from the garden to the temple. We made a little train by linking a couple wagons together. Vihaan picked out a girl driver and Aarini helped me fill the wagons with flowers and we used lego grapes and cake as prasad. I put another lego girl in the back end of the train to keep a watch on the goods and water the flowers.

 

Tada! And here is our full set up.

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I continue to seek ways of getting the children interested and involved. Vihaan checks in on the superheros and Ganapti each morning. Aarini watches her brother adoringly. And we pray as a family.

Ganpati Bappa, Morya!

Previous posts: Ganesh 2018 and Ganesh 2015

 

100 Years since Armistice Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 a ceasefire was signed between the Allies and Germany to mark the end of the Great War. World War I changed the political landscape of Europe and severely altered the socioeconomic future of people the world over. I had to look up what “armistice” meant, it means truce or peace agreement. World War I started in August 1914 and was expected to be over in a matter of months. A snippet from NPR said that people anticipated the war to end by winter. We have seen this time and time again in history, Nuwan was just telling me how the Gulf War was expected to last a weekend. As a people, we severely underestimate the tenacity of human beings on both sides of the fence. World War I didn’t end by the winter, it lasted more than 4 years 8 million died and more than 29 million were injured. A British writer H.G. Wells penned this would be the “War to end all wars”. A statement that was then re-quoted by several hopefuls.

 

World War I history is often written from the eyes of Europeans. But lately more articles have surfaced about the other nations involved and the sacrifice of their people. I can speak on behalf of what I’ve learned about India’s involvement in the war. Approximately 1.5 million Indians fought in East Africa, the Middle East and the Western Front. India was a colony of Great Britain, which inadvertently meant we provided more than just manpower. It is worth noting that over 100 countries were involved in the war, spanning across the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe; though the level of involvement was varied.

 

In the U.S. Armistice Day is recognized as Veteran’s Day, at day to honor all who have served in the United Armed Forces. Veteran’s Day was like any other day for me when I moved to the US. Classes went on as usual and when I started work there was nothing extraordinary about the day. Things have changed over the past decade. My office in Seymour, Indiana had a special lunch for veterans on Friday and showcased a Fallen Comrade Table. The table, also called the Missing Man Table was set up to remember the fallen, missing or imprisoned military service members. Next week my office plans on doing a Wall of Honor. We have been encouraged to put up photos of family members that have served on this wall. Today marks one hundred years since the end of World War I. It is a sobering reminder to see leaders the world over pay homage to our soldiers.

 

There is a special story behind how Armistice day is honored in the UK. When I first moved to England on a 6-month assignment, I noticed friends and colleagues wearing a red poppy brooch on their clothing during the month of November. I figured it was a European way to honor the fallen heroes of World War I, I didn’t give a second thought to the red poppy flower. The Caterpillar Perkins facility I worked at observed a one-minute silence at 11 am on 11 November for WWI. I thought it was such a poignant reminder of what this day represents. The darling husband gave me another tidbit of knowledge. Poppy seeds thrive in the conditions of disturbed earth and places of high vibrations- for example the bleak grounds shattered from shelling. After the war, the barren battlefields of France turned blood red with poppy flowers. These resilient flowers grew around bodies of heroes and soon became a symbol to the fallen. I didn’t know there was such a thoughtful meaning behind the poppy flower. I have wanted to get a brooch for many years but didn’t know how people would react to it. I feel differently now, I am in search of a poppy flower brooch that I can wear proudly next year, to honor the fallen and pay homage to India’s 1.5 million soldiers that served in the war. I’ll end with a poem from John McCrae;

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short day ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

Period Indignity

In the early 1990’s a temple in India called Sabrimala banned women of menstrual age, girls over the age of 10 and women under 50, from entering the temple. Last month, the Supreme Court, in its supreme wisdom lifted this ban citing discrimination. What followed was a religious debate, articles on menstrual practices, uproar from conservative Hindus and jubilation from feminists.  This post isn’t about the Sabrimala Temple case, it is about the taboo surrounding periods and my exposure to it as an Indian Hindu.

 

For starters Indian culture is not unique in its perception of periods. Here’s an article from the Huffington Post All The Inconceivable Ways Women Deal With Their Periods Worldwide.. And How To Help It talks about the plight of Nepalese girls that made to stay in period huts overnight, Afghani women that are advised not to shower during their periods, Bolivian girls who are told sanitary napkins cause cancer. There’s another article I learned from Why a monthly period is especially hard for millions of women and girls around the world. This is a misunderstood and mystified topic across the globe.

 

_MG_0586My first brush with period-indignity was when I was 13. We were visiting my grandmother in Nagpur and had planned to go a local temple. My cousin came with us but didn’t enter the temple, she said she was unwell. I naively said to my mother, “It’s not like Ganesha was going to catch her cold. Why is she waiting at the doorstep?” My mother told my cousin was on her period and it’s common practice for women to refrain from praying during their periods because menstruation is considered impure. I asked my mother, “Why would Ganesha have a gripe against the very body he has created? The time of month doesn’t alter my desire to pray or taint my soul.” Moreover, how was this anybody’s business? I asked my mother what she thought about this practice. Her answer left a lasting impression on my young mind, “You eat when you’re on your period, you sleep when you’re on your period. You to go school, do your homework and play with your friends. Why would you not pray when you’re on your period?” We did not follow these archaic traditions in my household.

 

As I became more comfortable in my own skin, I wanted to learn more about the taboo surrounding periods. I read articles about the origins behind menstrual customs and talked to friends about what they learned as kids. A buddy told me that when his mother was on her period she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen. Another friend told me she was forbidden from feeding her son if she was on her period, yet was expected to go to work. Strong enough to earn a living but too unsanitary to touch her own child, who by the way is only here because this woman had her periods and was fertile.

 

I will sheepishly now admit how I learned to associate periods with fertility, which I consider a positive connotation. After two years of breastfeeding my son, my periods had returned and I was sad, inexplicably ashamed. I talked to my obstetrician about it and he said to me, “Niyati this means you’re fertile.” That right there, a simple statement shed a positive light on periods. I am embarrassed that at the age of 33 a physician had to link periods and fertility for me, but hey it was a revelation. I was just not used to thinking about it that way. We should use these words to educate our girls and boys about periods, instead of making it some mysterious phenomenon or shameful burden.

 

Here’s the problem, menstrual practices in India have a deep-rooted history. Some say periods make a woman weak because she loses blood and she needs a break from her chores to rest. The peddlers of period huts, describe it as a safe haven for women to recuperate. Theologists cite Vedic literature and claim that it causes an imbalance in the universe or that women have negative energy. Whatever the justification, it is a tool to restrict women’s freedom and shame them about something that is completely natural. While we can debate over why it started or the value of preserving tradition, the plight of women is forgotten. Girls get raped in period huts. Telling your pubescent daughter to hide her sanitary napkins strips her off her dignity. Banishing a mother from the kitchen teaches boys that there’s something unclean about their mother. Allowing postmenopausal women to enter Sabrimala Temple is derogatory, because it implies they are no longer desirable and cannot entice the celibate God. What does this say about how our culture thinks of postmenopausal women? The truth is; us menstruating, child-bearing, pregnant, breastfeeding, postmenopausal women go to work, do chores, care for our family and volunteer in the community. We are not impure, weak, unsanitary or tantalizing- at any age or any time of the month.

 

My sister and I grew up in the metropolis of Mumbai to a feminist father and a physician mother. My father didn’t pose any restrictions on my mother about her freedom, hygiene or piety. My mother taught my sister and me about feminine hygiene and never once used the words such as impure or weak. I owe this post to my parents for raising us to be self-respecting women. I went to temple on my periods, and I prayed with a pure heart. With this body God gave me, I bore two children. I will educate my daughter and son about periods and fertility. I want them to know we will not stand for discrimination against women on any grounds. Period.

 

Magna-Tile Makhar and Play-Doh Ganesh

It’s that time of year again when social media posts are flooded with Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. I noticed whatsapp profile pictures updated with the God of Wisdom as Indians fervently pray to the Remover of Obstacles for his blessings. Ganesh Chaturthi crept up on us this year, I can hardly believe we are in September already. 2018 has been a challenging year for us and I’ve missed celebrating a few important festivals such as Janmashtami, the birth of Lord Krishna. I did not want to miss my favorite Hindu festival so with little planning, I had to whip an idea for Ganesh Chaturthi. I want my children to learn about their heritage and festivals and sometimes it is a struggle living so far away from home.

One evening I was sitting in the living room playing with Aarini with magna-tiles. We made little cubes, a house, triangle flowers, small tunnels; when it struck me! I could make a makhar (a home, temple and sacred platform for the Ganesh idol to be placed on) with magna-tiles. Sure it would be a colorful, a bit gaudy and rather childish but hey it was a last minute idea and I have a feeling that the Remover of Obstacles Lord Ganesh had something to do with this brain wave. I constructed a small temple-like structure using magna-tiles and tried hard to not have too many clashing colors.

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I did not want to buy an idol from the Indian store or reuse one from home and since the makhar was so child-like I wanted to complete the look with a homemade play-doh Ganpati. This is not a novel idea, play-doh Ganesh workshops for kids pop- up all over the place around Ganesh Chaturthi festival. I googled some images, went to Target and picked up assorted play-doh colors and made an idol at home. Aarini was unwell that day and at home with me. I had to keep her from squishing my rendition of the idol several times and keep her distracted with other play-doh formations. While I would like to say that I involved Vihaan in constructing the magna-tile temple, the truth is I hid it from him as he would think it’s a game we are playing and want to destroy and rebuild endlessly. Next year maybe Vihaan and Aarini can help construct a lego makhar, the possibilities are endless. Vihaan will be older and he is very much into legos right now.

Nuwan bought beautiful white roses from the store to decorate our Ganpati. We inaugurated Ganesh and did a small aarti, we prayed as a family and asked for Ganpati’s protection and blessings. I followed it up with reciting the Aatharvashirsa, Sanskrit verses to honor Ganesh. The kids were antsy, and it got chaotic so I did my recital alone.

Thanks to the God of Wisdom and Remover of Obstacles, we could continue our family tradition of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganpati Bappa, Morya!

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Revelations of the 2-hour Power Loss

There was freak storm yesterday, a bit of thunder and lighting, a sudden downpour and it was over as quickly as it had started. But the storm managed to knock out the power in our neighborhood. My bestie and roommate from Ohio State, Jen is visiting us. Jen was going to make fajitas for dinner, we had a whole evening planned. We joked that without electricity we might need to take our eyes off the screen, make eye contact, talk, maybe pull out a board game or two, find some candles, get drunk and make an evening out of it.

Nuwan came home around the time of the outage and realized the only reason he could enter the house was because we were home to let him in. How is losing power equate to getting locked out? Simple- we use the garage door opener to enter the garage, and then enter the house from the side door. The garage door motor is powered by… you guessed it, electricity. Without power the garage door won’t open from the outside. We have a home security system that is wifi-connected, it could let us into the house, but that too requires power.

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Loss of power meant no wifi, home security beeped at us a few times and then shutdown, it sent us emails and texts saying, “No power, no power!”. Our stove is electric, so Jen’s fajitas had to be put on a hold. Nuwan said he wouldn’t be surprised if more people were locked out of their homes, we depend on electricity, wifi and some form of connectivity to enter our houses. Who uses a key anymore?

Nuwan’s prediction was spot on. 10 minutes later we hear a knock on our door. A friendly neighbor was locked out of his house. We laughed so hard when he came over, Nuwan said we would love to offer you some tea but… we laughed some more.

The house started to warm up and get muggy. It was a hot day in Columbus yesterday with temperatures in the 90s (mid 30 C). Nuwan suggested that we might have to spend the night in the basement, the coolest part of the house. Funny thing was when he said that I told Jen we have a bed downstairs and we can pull out the air mattresses, it’ll be a slumber party. Correction, we have air mattresses that needs to be inflated with an air pump that needs to be plugged in. So, unless someone wants to manually blow air into a queen-sized air mattress, we don’t have a functional air mattress. Here we go, another dependency on Mother Electricity.

The evening progressed kids were getting antsy and hungry so we decided to head to a fine diner (read fast food) for supper. As we were corralling the kids into the car I got a text from another neighbor. She and her two daughters were locked out of their home too. I comforted her saying we are hosting another neighbor and that she is most welcome to stay over at our place. She said as soon as power is back on the first thing she will do is keep a set of her front door keys in her purse.

Speaking of front door keys, I am embarrassed to admit we had to first locate ours. Yes, I confess neither Nuwan nor I keep or recognize our house keys. We just knew that there is a random drawer of miscellaneous junk that had keys. There were 6 sets of assorted door keys, one of those had to be The One. Some keys belonged to older properties we lived in, one set belonged to a neighbor-friend who has since moved to Wisconsin, I’m pretty sure 1 key belongs to my childhood friend who lives in Mumbai and viola, the last key we tried was the key to our home. We laughed so much as Nuwan tested each key. I am proud to say we now have a key to our house which will let us enter the home in case of power loss.

Kids in their car seats, house keys in my purse and feeling so accomplished, Nuwan unplugged his hybrid car and we zipped away for dinner.

 

A New Era of Rakshabandhan

Tomorrow is Raakhi, the festival of Rakshabandhan. It is a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between a brother and sister. On this day, sisters tie a decorative thread around the brother’s wrist, symbolizing their bond. And in turn the brother promises to protect his sister. The work “Raksha” itself means protection. I don’t know of any other culture, religion or region that honors the sacred bond between a man and a woman as siblings. I find it so unique and I am so proud that it is part of my culture. This year I’ve been a bad sister, I haven’t sent raakhis to my cousin- brothers. I will make more of an effort next year and try to be more consistent with Rakshabandhan.

My sister has a son who is 4 years old and a daughter that’s nearly 10 months old. I have a son that is 4 too, and a daughter who is 18 months old. Raakhi is something we want our children to learn about and celebrate, to further strengthen the bond between siblings. My sister, Priya wants to make the raakhis at home so the kids can do a craft activity and we can tie these homemade raakhi’s tomorrow for the festival. If possible, I’ll try and get the kids dressed in Indian clothes too – wish me luck.

This year is very special because my sister and I want to start a new tradition. Priya said to me Rakshabandhan is about protection and love for your sibling. Why does it have to be about the brother protecting his sister? Why can’t it be about both- the sister TOO needs to protect her brother. So ideally my daughter Aarini will tie raakhi to her big brother Vihaan dada, which is the expected tradition. And this year, for the first time, Vihaan dada will tie a raakhi to Aarini too, seeking her protection. (Let’s just say Vihaan is going to need it, he is innocent as a lamb and Aarini is Ms. Smarty Pants who always gets her way.)

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I thought to myself, Priya can’t be the only person who thought of this gender disparity in Rakshabandhan, yet it is something that never once occurred to me and I have not heard about this amongst friends and family.

Starting 2018 Raakhi will be celebrated uniquely in the Jobanputra – Gallege – Tamaskar family. Our kids will learn boy or girl – you protect each other, you stand up for each other, you defend each other and the responsibility between siblings is to be shared equally. Here’s to a new era of Rakshabandhan.

This an older post about Raakhi I wrote in 2012 The Festival of Rakshabandhan

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, even if you disagree with me, your candid comments will be appreciated and we can have an open discussion.

Totality

21 August 2017, the United States was in for a cosmic treat. A total solar eclipse would be visible across the US, from the Pacific coast in Oregon to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina.  Nuwan and I drove to Hopkinsville, Kentucky with two other nerds to witness this phenomenon. It was us and about 100,000 other visitors that descended upon “Eclipseville”. The interstate and smaller state routes linking civilization to Hopkinsville had a line of tens- maybe hundreds- of cars all heading one-way to the epicenter of the eclipse. It was like a scene out of the movies.

DSC_0997The eclipse started around 12 noon. We looked up at the sun with our solar-eclipse glasses and saw in amazement as a tiny part of the sun had been “bitten off” at the 1 o’clock position. It was unnatural to see a blotch on the brilliant sun. That little notch of darkness kept growing, as if the sun was being swallowed by a dragon. Over the course of an hour and a half strange things happened as the sun got progressively more eclipsed and only a small glowing crescent remained. Day light turned into an inexplicable twilight. It is not the kind you experience in the evenings, but a subdued light, almost as if the environment around us had a photo-filter. It went from scorching 90F heat, to a slightly cooler feel. Cicadas started chirping, and the critters got louder as it got darker. It is impressive that even at 99% eclipse, the sun’s powerful rays are able to light up the earth.

At 1324 we reached Totality. The last sliver of sunlight got completely blocked by the moon’s shadow and a loud cheer erupted in the crowds! We took off our glasses and looked at the most magnificent object in our sky- the closest star to our planet, the formidable sun, the source of life itself. It was a sight to behold. I have goose bumps as I write this. We could see the sun’s atmosphere with our naked eyes! The wispy corona is mesmerizing, it is constantly moving and radiates really far out. The magnitude of the corona was a humbling sight, it gave me a sense of the intensity of the sun. We started to notice red dots appear at the 2 o’clock, 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock position. These red dots are the sun’s plasma loops near the photosphere, it was completely surreal to be able to witness this without powerful telescopes.

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Above us was the night sky, stars and planets were out. Around us the horizon had this subtle orange glow. Totality did not feel like dawn or dusk, it is neither day nor night. It is like nothing I have experienced before and there is nothing that can prepare you for it. I was brought to tears by the corona. We could see the sun’s atmosphere and the exquisite solar flares with our naked eyes, it was a life-changing experience.

We gawked at the sun, totally dumbstruck as we saw the last bits of sunlight pass through the moon’s valleys. 2 minutes 40 seconds of Totality ended abruptly and with no warning at all the diamond ring appeared. The diamond ring was blinding, it is said to be 400,000 times brighter than the sun’s corona and not safe to view without eye protection. We had to put our glasses back on and that was it, the corona was no longer visible. Those were the fastest 2 minutes 40 seconds of my life. Nuwan and I checked our watches to see where the time went. We were convinced that there must have been a disruption in the space-time continuum because it felt like no longer than 30 seconds.

The moon’s shadow aka the umbra traveled through Kentucky at a staggering 1462 mph. After my first experience of the solar eclipse I am a self-proclaimed umbraphile (NPR taught me this word, it means shadow lover and is used to describe eclipse chasers). Under the shadow of the moon, I am reminded of my place in the universe. Tiny but not insignificant. No other planet within our solar system experiences a total solar eclipse. And we are conscious beings that have the intelligence to understand and appreciate the movement of celestial objects. Totality for some is a spiritual experience, others it is the hand of God. Some talk about how long they waited since the 1979 eclipse and others started making plans for 2024 US eclipse, myself included. I bow to the cosmos, humbled by its grandeur. I am grateful. Until next time… May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace (a quote from ABC reporter Frank Reynolds).