Thursday, 9 July 2015


Here, in Spain, I drink a beer, a sangría, a margarita or a mojito whenever I want to. I have one (or more) at a pub or bar, or I go to a supermarket and buy as many as I wish. And the same happens with the rest of alcoholic drinks. You just go, get them and drink them. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, young (over 16) or old. Nobody thinks of you as being loose or a drunkard!
In India it's different! The concepts of alcohol and women don't match! Indian girls might drink alcohol, but they cannot be seen in public buying it.
Drinking alcohol is perfectly legal, though there are dry days. These days are specific days when the sale of alcohol is banned. Consumption in the privacy of your home is permitted. Most of the Indian states observe these days on major national festivals and around voting days. In Andhra Pradesh these are Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti.
Much of Indian drinking is done on the sly and off the books! In big cities it's easy to spot the off-licences. In these offies you can find different plonk, beer, Western booze, and so on. But in a small village it's a different kettle of fish! In villages men get loaded on home-brewed hooch; they spend hours throwing booze down their necks. The men I saw celebrating Vinayaka Chavithi were second to none in being trashed!!! Nothing compared to how teenagers get in the famous Spanish drinking binges!

But it's unthinkable that a woman goes to one of the hidden spots where booze can be bought.
Alcohol consumption among women in India has been on the rise lately due to the changing sociocultural milieu. The statistical data for women remain vague, though. Seeing a woman glugging any kind of booze would mean a social stigma for life. Not to mention if she was having a fag at the same time!!!
Every now and then, my friend and I had a drink while in Punganur. Nobody knew I drank alcohol; they'd have gone aghast and looked at me in horror if they'd known! I had my first beer after a month and I can say it tasted heavenly! It was a sort of odessey to find them! Due to the circumstances my friend had to get someone to sneakily buy them.

That's why every time I went on a trip, anywhere, I stored up on booze. I remember going on a booze hunt in Pondicherry. As this city has a special administration status due to the fact that it was a French colony, you have to go through customs when leaving. Bottles clanked conspicuously in my suitcase, but, I don't know how, I managed to get through.

Mind you! We needn't go to an AA meeting! We just had a dozen beers, some wine and a bottle of vodka in a year! We just felt like indulging in some spirits every now and then, not to get hammered, but to do something different. (In Europe we have a drink just to socialize).

It was because of this lack of practising that I had the worst hangover in my life on 1st January after a New Year's Eve with just one beer and two screwdrivers. I recall everybody coming to my room to wish me "happy new year" and me pretending to be perfectly well!
Anyway, good memories (despite the aftereffects)! But I prefer the freedom we have in Spain to crave a drink without being included in the "loose women" list.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


You may or you may not know that I am studying to be a tourist guide now. Well, that doesn't matter much; the thing is that the other day, one of my teachers told us to make a list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. And what was my surprise when I discovered that Kathakali is on the list!

Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting. It dramatizes stories based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It originated in the country's present day state of Kerala, during the 17th century.

Kathakali has many interesting aspects: elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, well-defined body movements,... But the most interesting of them all is its attractive elaborate make-up of characters.

The make-up is so elaborate that it is more like a mask than make-up in the strict sense of the word. Plus, the contours of the face are extended with moulded lime. The colours are not merely decoration, but also a means of portraying characters. For instance, excessively evil characters such as demons have predominantly red in the face; green, as the dominant colour is used to symbolize noble male characters; uncivilised hunters and woodsmen are represented with a predominantly black make-up base; women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces,... Mind you! It is performed only by men. Female characters are portrayed by men dressed in women's costumes.

The costumes are very large and heavy. It takes the actors hours to get dressed, and they use their colleagues' help to do so.

These extraordinary dresses, together with the make-up, serve to raise the dancers above the level of mere mortals, so that they can transport the audience to a world of wonders.

So, each character is instantly recognisable by their characteristic make-up and costume. At least, to the Keralite audiences.

The enactment of the play takes place in tune with the accompaniment of music and percussion instruments. The orchestra includes two drums (chenda and maddalam) along with cymbals and an ela taalam. Two singers provide the vocal accompaniment. All together, instruments and voices, provide, not only the background to the dancing, but also act as a highly expressive special effect team.

And last, but not least, we have the refined gestures, highly developed body movements and rigorous footwork, through which the artists can convey whole stories. To attain the high degree of flexibility and muscle control required for this demanding role, Katakali dancers undergo strenuous training and special periods of body massage. They need immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from regimented discipline based on kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art of Kerala. The intense instruction period can last for 8 to 10 years.

Actors also undergo special practice sessions to learn how to control their eye movements.

Their hands are their words, their faces and eyes are their emotions and the actions of their bodies are the punctuation and poetry of their sentences.

According to the tradition there are 101 classical Kathakali stories, though less than a third of them are staged nowadays. 

A traditional Kathakali performance was initially composed to last a whole night, beginning in the evening and continuing throughout the night, when good finally conquers evil. Today, however, it has been modified so that audiences can enjoy it within the span of a couple of hours. Thus, many stories find stage presentation in parts rather than totality.

Here you have a video with a little sample of this jewel. Enjoy it!

Oops! I couldn't upload it! But you can find thousands of them in YouTube!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


This morning, talking to a classmate of mine (who has quite a lecherous mind and is obsessed with the subject) I remembered the last trip I went on while living in Punganur.
I had the opportunity to go to Kolar Gold Fields (Karnataka). After having a huge lunch at a friend's friends' house, my friend and I visited a temple nearby where there are thousands and thousands of lingams. This temple, Kotilingeshwara, also boasts of having the largest lingam in Asia.
As I've just said, the main attraction of this retreat is a colosal lingam, measuring 33 metres, surrounded by 9.000.000 smaller ones. The entire project involves the installation of 10 million lingams of various sizes, hence the name of the temple (koti = 10.000.000).
The big lingam is in front of a huge Nandi (the name of the bull which serves as Lord Shiva's mount) on a jumbo platform.
Within the premises there are also some small temples, a water tank, a meditation hall and two cannon ball flower tres, around which unmarried women tie a yellow thread wishing for a happy married life.
There are so many lingams since devotees can have their own installed paying some money for it to be laid (excuse the easy joke). The bigger you want it to be, the more money you have to spend. The lingam will then be built in the name of the devotee, whose name will be carved on it and prayers will be offered everyday for their well-being.
The lingam is represented alongside the yoni. The unión of the two symbolizes the indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female. Although there's been some controversy about its meaning! While some say that the lingam represents graphically a phallus which arouses erotic emotions in its devotees, others claim that it's connected neither with indecent ideas nor with sexual love.
Whatever! It was nice to see a shrine different from the ones we have here, for a change!

Saturday, 21 March 2015


Ugadi marks the first day of the New Year for people between The Vindhyas  River and The Kaveri River who follow the South Indian lunar calendar; that is Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.
In 2013, when I was in India, that festival fell on 11th April. This year, 2015, Ugadi is celebrated today, 21st March.
As far as I know, Ugadi commemorates that Lord Brahma, the great creator of the universe, began creation on this very day. It also welcomes the spring season when nature seems to be immersed in the festive mood and new leaves and new buds feed the Ugadi spirit. I've read somewhere that Lord Vishnu avatars on this day, too.

People celebrate this festival with great zeal and fanfare. Gatherings of extended families and sumptuous feasts are "de rigueur".  Celebrations include thorough house cleaning, decorating entrances and buying new clothes for all the members. All these begin a day or two prior to the actual date.
They wake up early in the morning and the day starts with ritural showers (with sesame oil). After the baths, people start decorating their homes with colourful rangolis, drawn in front of their houses, followed by visits to temples to offer their prayers. Later on, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year and the general forecast for the year to come by an elderly and respected person in the family.
People prepare delicious dishes on this day, which they share with their loved ones. And that is what I did mainly when I was there: try every single delicacy they made! I read somewhere another inseparable ritual that has been followed for centuries is the preparation of a dish called Ugadi Pachhadi. This dish is a unique mixture of six different tastes, symbolizing the fact that life is a mixture of different experiences, which each individual should learn to respect and accept and move ahead unrelentingly. It is made from: neem buds (sadness for its bitter taste), jaggery (happiness for its sweetness), green chili (anger for its hotness), salt (fear for its saltiness), tamarind juice (disgust for its sourness) and unripened mango (surprise for its tanginess).
I don't think I tried that. What I did try, in dozens, was homemade puran polis.

Puran poli is a kind of extremely sweet flatbread. I can't tell you what it's made from, but, what I'm pretty sure about is that it has tons and tons of sugar or jaggery or any other awfully, exceedingly sugared stuff. To tell you the truth, I can't say I liked it, but, just to be polite, I ate, like 20 of them!

What I also ate on this day was vadas. Yummy vadas! Bhavith Kumar made sure his mum prepared some for me! They are a kind of savory deep-fried snack. It's a pitty I can't find the ingredients to cook them here, in Spain.

Any way, it is believed that any venture that is started on this day ends in success, so... why not think of some new resolutions for this other New Year?
And HAPPY UGADI to everyone!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


Have I ever told you that everything in India is different? Of course I have! I was just being ironic! Well, here we have another example: LAKHS and CRORES!

I don't know if it's to drive us (foreigners) crazy or an "English arrogance" problem which the Indians have inherited from the British. Looking at the way the British lace their communications with words and terms nobody but them can understand (stones, shillings, bobs, gallons, miles, inches, quarts, Fahrenheit,...), the Indians couldn't be any less and decided to invent these two words: LAKHS and CRORES!

The Indian number system not only sounds different, it's written differently too! Well, in fact, I think this system is used not just in India but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. It dates since the early Vedic period (1500 BC).

The comma positioning in written form signifies different numerical blocks as compared to the commonly used system. We separate a number into sets of three digits, while the Indian system separates the last three digits first, just like the Western system, but the rest into sets of two digits. Commas are inserted at the thousand, lakh and crore levels.

Summing up: 1 lakh = 1,00,000 and 1 crore = 1,00,00,000.

I read somewhere that 100 has a lot of significance in Sanskrit, or was it 108? I could make do with some help from my Indians readers!

I've also read that they use the tems padm (1,00,00,00,00,00,00,000) and shankh (1,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,000) but that was not a figure the people around me used at all. Their salary was not 1 padm a month and they definitely didn't have a house worth a shankh!

It may look complicated at first glance, and you might even find yourself thinking, "what's the deal with lakh and crore?" but the thing is: one fifth of the world population is Indian, so, maybe it's us the ones who should change!