Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Durga Puja Photos

I didn't get too many shots of Durga Puja this year but here are a few.

The fist two pictures are of the Bagh Bazaar Puja pandal, one of the larger pandals in North Kolkata. On the final day of the Puja the idols are taken from there places in the pandals and thrown into a body of water. Most idols are dropped into the Hooghly River, a distributary of the Ganges. In my community, the closest body of water was the local pond so that's where Durga and her consort were left with the fishes.

Kumatuli Park, also in Northern Kolkata, is the area that all the idols for the Puja are crafted. Needless to say, Kumatuli went all out with their pandal. It was packed and people pushed and elbowed to get inside. The exit of the pandal led to a carnival with food, games, and rides. Rajdeep and I were feeling brave so we took a ride on the fastest spinning Ferris Wheel I have ever been on! I was expecting a nice slow ride but the operator put it into high gear and, well, it was scary!

These last two pics are from the Kumatuli Park Puja. A view from the scary Ferris Wheel shows the park's gigantic pandal in the distance. Also, one of myself, looking like I'm about to be thrown from the ride!

A dollar goes a long way

Hello friends and family! (the recipes I promised are coming up soon)

I just stepped out to get some things at the local grocer's store. It's a small corner shop with windows in the walls that you communicate with the grocer through. He collects everything you want inside and you wait outside. That's how most of the grocery shops are here in Kolkata. Sure, big Western-style supermarkets exist but they tend to have slightly higher prices, plus you miss out on the shopkeeper-customer chitchat that you get at these little street-side grocery stores.

Anyway, I just got home and while I was unpacking everything that I bought I got to thinking "I can get a ridiculous amount of stuff for $1!" Of course this only holds true for a person with dollars in their bank account but, boy, my money sure goes a long way in this country!

Here is what I bought for $1:
  • a loaf of bread
  • a pack of cumin powder
  • a pack of turmeric powder
  • instant noodles
  • half kg of potatoes
  • a bag of chips
  • half kg of onions
Doesn't a single loaf of bread in the States cost more than a buck? Well you'd think I would save money since I get so much more bang for the buck here but, no. I find I'm eating even more just knowing that I can afford to buy more!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

For Foodies

One of my greatest passions is sampling various kinds of international cuisine. Ranking as my personal favorites are Indian and Chinese (authentic Chinese that is, not the "egg roll" and "chow mein" you find in the West). Especially since I've had the opportunity to live in both India and China for extended periods of time, I've realized that as exotic as these foods seem the first time you try them, that feeling of eating something that really excites the taste buds doesn't have to disappear when you eat that same food a second, tenth, or hundredth time.

I suppose my love for eating Indian food (and let's not forget the fact that my better half, Rajdeep, is an Indian Chef) has really motivated me to try my hand at learning to cook. He has taught me the basics and it seems that knowing just a few simple steps is enough to create a variety of dishes. It gives me such a great feeling of satisfaction and pride when I cook an Indian meal and Rajdeep says he likes it. If the chef approves, I must be doing it right!

I know a bunch of you would love to learn to cook Indian food and this is where my cooking lessons come in. I want to share with you, every now and then, some of the recipes I've been learning. They are, for the most part, quite easy to master but you'll need to first stalk your kitchen with a few key ingredients. Without these, it just won't taste right.

Key Ingredients for Indian Cooking:

  • coriander powder
  • cumin powder
  • cumin seed
  • red chili powder
  • turmeric
  • whole green cardamom seeds
  • whole dried red chilies

Ingredients you probably already have, but if you don't you should have some handy:

  • bay leaves
  • cinnamon sticks
  • salt
  • oil (I use vegetable oil, you can also use soybean oil or mustard oil)
  • most dishes will require tomato, onion, and green chili (if you like a little zing)
  • potato (optional, but I use it in most of my dishes)

I'll leave you with that basic list of ingredients for now. Get to the store and get prepared! Next time we'll start with our first recipe: a simple, yet, delicious aloo (potato) curry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kali Puja and Diwali

This past weekend was Kali Puja and Diwali. Kali is a fearsome goddess but in Bengal especially she is viewed as a Mother goddess and protector. The term puja means prayer or religious ceremony.

Diwali is the festival of light. At dusk families place small candles called prodip in the windows and doorways. The lights are a symbol or good over evil, knowledge over ignorace. Every home and building is decorated with lights and it really is a beautiful sight. It reminds me of Christmas time in the West. Along with lighting the prodip, many set off firecrackers. My neighbors have been setting them off for a few days just behind my apartment. These sound like bombs and I have to say, my heart cannot handle too many more deafening blasts.

Both of these holidays fall at the same time and in many other parts of India I think Diwali is the one that gets more attentions. But here in West Bengal, Kali Puja takes the limelight. There are pandals set up all over the city. These are temporary shrines for the goddess Kali. Some communities spends thousands of dollars to build these and Indians have a tendency to go all out. So, you can imagine, these pandals are huge and beautiful.

Since Rajdeep is away visiting family, I celebrated the Puja by myself. Mostly I just lit some prodip in the evenings and stayed indoors to avoid getting blasted by these annoying firecrackers.

I wish I had some photos of the pandals to show you. I'll try to get out and take some so you can have a better idea of what I'm talking about.

Friday, October 16, 2009

the long overdue update

ohhhh I was going to start off by apologizing about how long it's been since I gave any sort of update on this blog but, let's face it, if you've followed the blog in the past you should already know that I'm not the most consistent poster. After months with no or very very slow internet connection, I am finally reconnected to the world and will try my best to blog more often.

There really are so many interesting things that I see or that happen to me here everyday and it is a shame that I'm not sharing these stories. ... maybe I should back up and first explain my situation.

I had been studying Bengali (the language of some parts of Northeast India and Bangladesh) from last September 08 until June 09. I completed my course at my school, Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata and at the end of June I went back to the states for my brother's wedding in July and a good friend's wedding in August.

I finally made my way back to Kolkata September 3. So yes, I'm back in Kolkata again. Rajdeep had been working in China and staying with his family in his hometown until June so I spent the greater part of last year surviving Kolkata by myself. But this time Rajdeep is here in Kolkata with me!

I had a job teaching English lined up before I returned here but, unfortunately, it has not worked out. ..something about not enough students lined up for the courses. Anyways, that was a big disappointment but I'm trying to find some other sort of opportunity to volunteer and make use of my time.

Rajdeep is visiting his family in Assam for two weeks. That means I will have infinitely more free time and I plan to use at least some of that time to write a few updates here. Don't hold me to it, but I will try.

Coming up next.... photos from Durga Puja, are real stories of my everyday experiences here in the wonderful, yet at times daunting, city of Kolkata.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My speech at Ramakrishna Mission went alright. I was pretty nervous but apparantely everyone could understand my Bengali which was the most important thing. Not much else to tell though besides that the weather is quickly killing me. It has been + 41C lately (I think that's around 105F) and the humidity is above 90%. I've been using the AC and I'm a little afraid to see my electricity bill when it comes. But I suppose I'd rather shell out a little more cash than be uncomfortable all summer.

In other news, Rajdeep was supposed to come to Calcutta to visit in April but he won't be coming til the end of May now. His sister's wedding was scheduled for May 10 so he's had a lot of preparations to take care of. His family wants to meet me too and that should happen around the end of May/early June.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Speech Date

Well the date has been set to April 11 for my big speech. The icing on the cake is that it will be broadcast not on the local news channel as I originally assumed, no, its on the national channel all over the country. ughhh the embarrassment