Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Coconuts, Apples and bombs

I could say that this is the time when India celebrates but India has a celebration almost every week so I won’t. But for a few of us it has been busier than usual.  H was informed that some staff from her placement would like to clean her house. Until recently there were two living in her house but number two has, after going on a token strike (how can a volunteer go on strike?) finally taken possession of her house. There was some difficulty with a previous tenant but then what is surprising about that. Outgoing tenants always present problems. So, M departs into a very western style house while H is left alone. This, for some reason requires that H’s house be cleaned. This I understand is no reflection on M but one wonders. H was asked to purchase a coconut for the cleaning crew. Another puzzle and we are both intrigued as to the magical and as yet unknown to us cleaning powers of the humble coconut. A coconut is purchased from the local market. 

In the meantime I am engaged elsewhere firing up the IPod that a local has been given by a wealthy relative. For those of you that follow Charlie Brooker you will know what’s coming next. He has no time for the Apples of this world, neither have I. Who else but Apple would market something where a laptop wasn’t an optional extra but a mandatory essential? After a lengthy (our internet broadband is broadband Jim, but not as we know it) download of some hours I get the software. Most hardware from the PC world comes with at least the smidgen of start up software. But oh no, not the IPod. I digress. My laptop is a fast dual core but it means another cup of coffee before Mr Jobs and his cohorts allow me to access the b***** thing.  I discover everything is Internet based. Here the Internet is an optional extra. By the end of the whole sorry business, including fixing the IPod owners laptop so that he can actually use the d**n thing, we have a working IPod. Irritatingly, Apple keeps asking for money which is in quite short supply in this neck of the woods. But I am the guy that refuses to even carry a bag with a logo on unless I’m paid to do the marketing so you will understand my grief at Apple. Designer man I am not. 

Coconuts are far more interesting to me. As I fume over the obstacles Apples is placing before me I watch the clock as I want to be at H’s house to witness the use of this coconut. Making my excuses I leave somewhat late (it is India so I am not that worried, everyone is always late, for everything) for H’s. Naturally I am the first to arrive and H offers me a broom (I joke, there are no brooms here, only cane swatches) to start the process off. I decline as politely as I can and explain I am only here for the beer (and the coconut). 

Some indeterminate time later the cleaning crew arrives. But not carrying any cleaning materials. Panic, maybe H misunderstood and a coconut is the local slang for brooms etc. It turns out cleaning actually means a spiritual cleansing of the demons and other bogies from the house to ensure the well being of the new occupant(s).  Then, total disaster. I miss the coconut event. Somehow, whilst talking to the foreman cleaner, the coconut has been put to its appointed use. The short story is that it is smashed on the floor, three joss sticks are placed in a container in the spilt coconut oil and lit, and a small bowl of water containing some yellowish substance is placed beside it and a small offering of food items next to that. The chief cleaner then moves around the house sprinkling water everywhere and the final ceremony is him sprinkling each one of us with a handful of rice over our heads. Tradition or ritual, I have no idea but I rather like the idea, don’t you? The downside to this story is H has to leave the coconut oil until it has gone naturally. Given the endemic presence of roaches they will have a feast removing it. Somehow I think H will allow a token period and then slyly remove the oil. Only guessing of course.

Then Diwali, Divali, Diweepi, Deweli, Dowhaly and any other spelling one cares to use (I’ve seen them all used here and they should know) started this weekend. So we all, H, A and I met up at M’s new house to both house warm and witness the start of this very important Hindu celebration of their ancestors’.  Staffs from their placements also drop in to wish us all Happy Diwali. We sip beer covertly, though we know they have no objection to us drinking beer we are sensitive to their beliefs. At 6pm or close after the fun begins. Bangers, normal fireworks, and rockets are ignited. Our respective houses are on a hill surrounding Koraput so we adjourn to M’s rooftop to witness better the spectacle. And what a spectacle. In every direction as far as our eyes can see we see the flames of all manner of firework erupting into the night sky. Rockets take off with abandon, and I say that under advice. They shoot straight up, they shoot off horizontally and at every angle between the two extremes. Most fly flat. We all become instant ballistics engineers trying to calculate whether one will land near us. Then we become complacent about the missiles as we enjoy the free display. Wrong. One lands, still fizzing, within half a meter of M. Unanimously deciding discretion is the better part of valour we take cover under her roofed veranda. We can only see 50% of the conflagrations so the brave amongst us return to the roof. I, having spent years in hazardous environments, and a self declared coward, choose to stay under the roof. Plus, the beer is here so why leave it. During this whole time bangers are going off. 

Now, there are bangers and there are BANGERS. Who needs a nuclear deterrent when you have these instruments of audible torture. Small boys of no greater than six years old seem to be the demolition experts here. Across the lane from us he is determined either to blow their wall down or Dad has upset him and assassination is to the fore. Whatever, his bangs get bangier as the evening gets later. Nobody can actually buy things this loud without a firearms licence so this guy must be some sort of prodigy. In reality he is probably tying a few of them together, who knows. To finish the evening off small boy must be in despair as the wall is still standing so he lets off a rocket bomb (combined BANGER and rocket) but it is misdirected and heads straight into one of their window openings. A few whoops and hollers and order is restored. No idea what happened to small boy. 

I am told that at the end of Diwali in ten days time the local market traders have a rocket bomb battle where they shoot at each other across the road. Under advice we are warned to take care that evening. For once I think we will take heed of the advice.


  1. The coconut story reminds me of attending a college mate's wedding celebration in the Poplar, in London in the mid 70s. Not many Sri Lankan Buddhists around there then, so after a civil ceremony in the local town hall everyone amassed back to a room above a bar - now they don't drink, but exception was made for a small glass a champange to toast with and then there was another English colleague, me and my partner with the beers. The pub landlords didn't know what hit them. A wedding with out beer? Then there was the whole cultural celebration - no Buddhist priest in London so the grooom's uncle did the honours and the aunt translated for our benefit. It was an amazing experience witnessing the ceremony, rich in symbolism. yes I am coming to the coconut. One of the rtuals was to have the groom split a cocunu open. Now as you know there are two ends to a coconut - suffice to say one can be seen as being female by the markings on the nut and the other end is considered male. depending on which half of the broken cocunut is largest means that that half of the marriage will predominate, or wear the trousers in the relationship! All good clean fun, and the cause of much hilarity.

  2. details, Mike, it's all in the details. The joss sticks were stuffed into my last 2 bananas which make good bases for burning incense apparently. BTW - the yellow was the result of a liberal sprinkling of turneric. All good fun