Sunday, 11 December 2011

Deepavali

"Hi. My name is Lauren, and I'm a sporadic blogger."

"Hi, Lauren."

"It's been six weeks (or so) since my last post and— wait, why are you all gasping and shaking your heads like that? ... I've been busy— I swear!!!"

Honestly, it HAS been a very busy couple of months, though not of the particularly "blog worthy" kind. I've been scouting out nursery schools for Dagny, getting her involved in play groups, and readying the family for our return trip the States. The past few Friday nights, I feel like I should be collapsing on the couch with the kind of triumphant exhaustion that comes with saying, "This week I saved the whales, found loving homes for 40 orphans, and solved the US debt crisis" ... when in actuality, I'm telling Brad, "I located a new place to hang the laundry so it doesn't get soaked by the afternoon monsoons, found a local nursery school where the tuition doesn't rival what I paid to attend Ohio State, and taught Dagny how to put on her own sunscreen." See? Aren't you all glad I decided NOT to blog for a while?

Okay, now take a sip of coffee, wipe that sleepy river of drool from the side of your mouth, and prepare yourself for a fun expedition to the Deepavali festival in Little India! (Yes, like so many of my blogs anymore, this one is being written retrospectively... very retrospectively... since Deepavali actually took place back in October)

Deepavali (also called Diwali, or the "Festival of Lights") is a celebration of the Hindu faith, the "lights" referring to displays of clay pot candles and fireworks. I'm told the fireworks are ignited in order to ward off evil spirits, but I'm beginning to think all Singaporeans, no matter their religion, just really love fireworks and will use any holiday as an excuse to set them off.

Celebrants of Deepavali wear colorful clothes and oodles of jewelry (mostly bangles). The dress alone made me feel like I'd stumbled onto a fantastical party located at the end of a rainbow. The air smells like fruit and flowers (which is nice, since sometimes the Little India crowds coupled with the heat can produce a far less pleasant fragrance) and locals are passing out lots and lots of sweets, which means Dagny (with her winning smile, huge blue eyes, and unusual copper-blonde hair) is on a sugar high within five minutes of our arrival, thanks to all the freebies the shopkeepers can't wait to push into her chubby little cheeks.

We actually made two separate trips to the festival, once in the afternoon, a week or so before Deepavali (Little India is decorated for most of the month) and another time in the evening, on the actual day of Deepavali, in hopes of watching the lighting of the candles and fireworks once the sun went down. The first visit was great. The second was a bit of a mistake.

The first time we went, Dagny and I didn't have too many crowds to deal with, and were able to peruse the shops without being jostled. I bought a few items for my family back in the States, but found I much preferred to just wander around while eyeing jewelry and fabrics from a distance. Why? Well, there's a funny thing about Little India... nothing is marked with a price tag. So when I ask the woman running a shop how much something costs, she has me wait while she hollers for her husband, who magically appears from behind a wall of fabric, glances me up and down, and tells her what to charge me. Which, as it turns out, was about three times more than the Indian woman beside me is being quoted for a nearly-identical item. I know, I know... I'm supposed to haggle. The shopkeepers expect it. But that doesn't mean I'll ever be comfortable with it. And each time I told a shop keeper that I would think the purchase over and maybe come back, they would immediately, without fail, lean toward me and whisper a new "special price," just for me. Wow, really? JUST for ME???

As you can see, I really don't like haggling. I don't respect the practice from either side of the shop keeper's table.

Once Dags and I were done exploring and perusing, Brad joined us for lunch, and I'm glad he did. Brad's been to India, and knew just what to order us to eat (I can be picky when it comes to curry). We had a pretty amazing spread, loaded with chickpeas and colorful pastes that I'm not sure I could have named even while I was eating them, never mind nearly a month later. There is no customary flatware at the table, which I'm used to here in Singapore, but there also are no chopsticks. There's just naan, an absolutely delicious kind of flatbread (we ordered garlic, cheese, and plain). To eat, you first dollop some food onto a banana leaf (this is also a popular way to eat fish in Katong, a Malay district near my apartment). Then you rip off a piece of naan and pinch the food with it. Clever. And also pretty fun! Brad challenged me to eat like a true Indian, which is with just one hand (the other hand is used for, ummm, sanitary purposes throughout the day, and therefore is not considered proper to handle food with). I didn't think this was going to be too difficult, until he informed me that I also had to tear my naan with just one hand. The Indians seated around us made it look so easy... but it's NOT! Give it a shot next time you're eating dinner and find yourself bored.

The second trip Dags and I made to Little India for the festival was on the actual day of Deepavali, and Brad was out of town. Well, this turned out to be a very short-lived adventure. The district was PACKED! I finally had to fold up Dagny's umbrella stroller (which is as tiny as they come) and carry it over my arm because there was no room in the streets for it. The crowds were pushy and the drivers of delivery trucks just honked and honked and honked at the immobilizing masses. It really wasn't much fun. I found us a couple of quieter side streets to wander, and one nice little perch where we hung out for a while to people watch, but within an hour, we were weaving our way back to the MRT station.

Dagny stopping to admire some pools on our way to the MRT station.


Little India at the start of Deepavali... stores and stalls setting out trinkets and flowers.



Anyone in the market for some replicas of Indian gods and goddesses?

I complain to Brad that I hate department stores because I find them to be overwhelming. There's so much to look at, I don't know where to begin hunting for, say, a dress. But, wow... Nordstrom's seems a whole lot more navigable to me now.

I was tempted to ask to see the strand of flowers at the very top... no, a little more to the left... now the right... oooh, or maybe that one ten feet over...

At one point, I got a neck cramp. Seriously. And believe it or not, I actually bought one of these for Dagny's bedroom. I have no idea how I picked it out. In the swirl of colors and bells and swinging tassels, I think I just pointed vaguely upward and said, "I'll take that one."


A very kind shop owner giving Dagny her first set of Deepavali bangles. She was in heaven.

Deepavali in the evening. Getting a little crowded.

Soon after ditching the stroller. "Mom, where did all these people come from?"



A SIDE NOTE: I actually wrote this blog back in November (believe it or not!), but my site was one of the many Blogger sites that was plagued with an inability to upload photos for a while. Brad, Dagny and I have since made our pilgrimage back to the US and are once again home, safe and sound (though still jet lagged) in Singapore. More about our trip later...

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