Posts tagged "culture"

A Most Distinguished Guest

I’m told by my team mates that there are plenty of advantages of being a foreigner in India. For example, they claim that whenever we go out for dinner together, they get better service in restaurants. Now that’s not for me to comment on because I’ve got nothing to compare it against. I’m friendly to waiting staff and they mostly seem to be friendly to me.

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National Art Exhibition in Chennai

Chennai held the Indian National Art Exhibition this year where established and upcoming artists from all over India submit their artwork for the chance to be exhibited to the public and also the opportunity to win Rs 100,000 (about £1,450). India isn’t spoken of in the same circles as Rome, Florence, London, Paris and New York when it comes to art but it does have a pretty active art community and the Government really tries to encourage it by offering heavily subsidized courses, subsidized amenities and organizing fairs and exhibitions for the artists.

I’m sure there are a great many undiscovered artists and sculptors in India sitting behind a desk and speaking to you on the phone right now, calling themselves “Chrissy” or something because a lot of middle class families push their children to do engineering degrees so they can get a good job at the end, rather than perusing their passion. Infact even in my company I know there are people with a good talent for drawing but instead they are helping from people around the world because it probably pays better.

Anyway, being the patron of the arts that I am, I took it upon myself to go and investigate the upcoming and established art talent that India has to offer. Since I apparently appreciate art in a different way to arty people though, I actually preferred what the Stella Maris fine arts students did compared to this exhibition.

A Patron of the Arts?!

In keeping with the Saturday evenings of culture and learning (like the traditional Indian dances I saw the other week when we came across the cultural exchange show), and in a rather depressing sign that my youth and partying days are drawing to a close, I got invited to an art exhibition inauguration event by my friend who had some of her pieces featured.

The exhibition showcased work from the final year fine arts students from the Stella Maris College for Girls – and before you jump to any conclusions I would like to lay to rest any vicious rumours that the only reason I went was to mingle with exceptionally pretty young 20-something girls…that was just an added bonus 😀 (note to mother: I really AM trying!).

Indian art gallery

Indian art gallery

Art...really!

Art...really!

Now this is art that even I can appreciate!

Now this is art that even I can appreciate!

Now first and foremost I should say that I am by no means an art critic (ha! Imagine!) and I think a lot of the art scene is so far up its own arse they’ve lost touch with reality.

With that said and out of the way, I was really taken aback by just how good exceptional a lot of the work was. I don’t know my Classic from Renaissance (private ‘in’ joke there, wonder if they’ll get it), but I do know what I like when I see it. To me, what I like is waaaaay more important than what some pompous art/design critic says.

Infact, I liked what I saw so much, I’ve decided to actually go ahead and buy some (yeah, it came as a complete surprise to me too!), the problem is, I can’t decide which pieces to buy because I’d happily take them all, so I’m going the ask the audience and see what you think. Take a look at the photos, and let me know if you have any opinions!

I really like this one

I really like this one

I love the green and black on this one

I love the green and black on this one

I have no idea why, but it's great!

I have no idea why, but it's great!

This is actually my personal favourite...but I couldn't tell you why

This is actually my personal favourite...but I couldn't tell you why

i love the colours and the style of hair

i love the colours and the style of hair

It's quite an ethnic feel to it

It's quite an ethnic feel to it

I want to be very clear on this, I don’t want to be mistaken! I’m not turning arty farty, I’m not buying them as an investment, I just genuinely like them, and at the price they are being sold at, they are a bargain!

I’m usually very harsh about the creativity of Indians because in my line of work it’s incredibly hard to find good graphic designers (my old work colleague, Vel might be an exception here), but these pieces show me that there are very talented artists…if only I could convince them to come and try their hand at web design!

The highlight of the inauguration was a live painting by an artist called R.B. Bhaskaran who regularly sells his art work across the globe for thousands of pounds. He literally stood there in the gallery while everyone was watching and painted this – although on a personal note, in this case I prefer the students work to the one he knocked up in 30 minutes.

R.B. Bhaskaran painted this in 30 minutes!

R.B. Bhaskaran painted this in 30 minutes!

Culture Vulturing In Chennai

One of my friends here in Chennai is a classical Tamil singer. The guy is as American as a Ford pickup truck, but he’s discovered a talent for the ancient and somewhat obscure art of warbling (which I’m reliably informed is actually singing). If you want to hear what it sounds like point your cursor over this link and press the left mouse button.

We are always being invited to hear him sing, and despite having not a single clue on what he’s singing about, people often go along to support him and attempt understand what’s going on. I’ve only been to see him sing once and I was completely confused, however when he invited us to listen to him sing on Saturday evening I decided, since I had bugger all else to do, to go along.

Now, this being India when you get given an address you should always head over to Google maps and try and ascertain exactly where the place is because in Chennai they have the most archaic address system known to man. Take my address for example. I live on 3rd Cross Street and the house number is 20. Except it’s also on 2nd Main Road and the house number is 26. To further complicate matters there are no less than four 3rd Cross Streets in my local area and this causes no end of fun when trying to get a home delivery or explain to a taxi driver where you live so he can pick you up. The zip/postal code system still eludes India. Oh. Wait. Not fun. Trauma.

In this instance we were told that the concert was being performed at a place called Spaces, #1 Elliots Beach Road. A quick lookup on Google Maps identifies the location and we were good to go.

When we arrived we looked up and down the road. There was no place called “Spaces”. We asked in a few shops. There was still no place called “Spaces”. We found a building that claimed to be #4 Elliots Beach Road, but unless our friend was performing in one of the houses next door we decided to discount it as pure conjecture. That coupled with the fact that the building was on a different road to what Google claimed to be Elliots Beach Road.

So after a bit of wandering we ended up walking down a little side street that we would never have gone down. It was packed with tiny little one room houses which doubled up as a shop front, the merchandise spilling out in to the street and selling everything from sea shells to mobile phones.

As we continued down this street we heard the sound of drums being played and suddenly the cramped lane opened out in to a big square overlooked by one of the biggest temples I’ve seen in Chennai.

Up on stage were a group of dancers playing the drums and putting on a bit of a performance. We stayed and watched by the sidelines, not meaning to stay very long when the friend I was with suddenly became mobbed by a load of Indians – she’s well over 6ft tall, female and white and hence is a giant magnet for young inquisitive Indian males 😀

Before we knew it we were chatting away to these university students from Pune (pronounced “pooh-nay” for the ignorant westerners reading my blog). It’s all the usual questions that I’ve mentioned in a previous and somewhat controversial blog post.

The thing that strikes me is just how friendly, inquisitive and innocent people are here. If this had been England, or most other western countries for that matter, and a couple of tourists rocked up to watch a cultural performance they wouldn’t get a second glance, but in India you get mobbed by people asking a million questions and wanting to know all about you, all about England, what you think of India – everything.

So we weren’t planning on sticking around but before we knew it they were making space for us, finding and offering us chairs to sit down, explaining what was going on, explaining about the dancers and singers, telling us about themselves and generally being extremely friendly.

My mum asked if we felt a little bit overwhelmed or out of our depth or concerned out our safety because you can literally be surrounded by dozens of people asking questions, wanting photos, trying to get you to go somewhere, but in Chennai I’ve never considered personal safety to be an issue, even late at night walking down deserted roads I’ve never felt unsafe, so speaking, interacting and joining with a big group of locals is perfectly ok. Even walking down the little sidestreet is fine because people will treat you with curiosity rather than any malice. It might be different in other parts of India, but definitely not in Chennai.

Back to the show…just like in Ooty, we quickly became a bigger attraction than the show itself as more people gathered round.

What was happening was that this show was a kind of internal, inter-state cultural exchange, designed to get people to understand more about other states’ cultures…err, through the medium of dance. They were all young people showcasing singing and dancing from the state they were from.

It actually turned out to be a really good show, and it just typifies India in that we were made to feel very welcome and everyone is so interested in you and were all so keen to tell us what’s going on. It’s just not something you’d ever find in the west.

It also sums up a lot about India that’s very hard to put your finger on, but it’s something along the lines of “things always tend to work out in the end”. We had originalyl gone to see our friend sing, we got stumped by TII (this is India) but ended up landing on our feet by having a great evening and chatting to loads of people. It’s difficult to put in to words just how differently guests are treated

Once the show finished, they even took my friend in to the massive temple that was next door to show her around. They even wanted us to join them for dinner but we were being picked up by another friend so had to say our goodbyes, however, not before all the photos were taken and they even asked us to give them our signature and write a little bit about India! No idea where they got the pen and paper from but once we had finished it was passed around so everyone could read it.

This is what I wrote…

India has a wonderfully diverse culture with some of the most friendly, welcoming and accommodating people in the world. It’s well known for the incredible food and the passion that people have for it. India is like no where else on Earth which is why so many tourists come to experience it. Jai Ho!

Haha, they loved the “Jai Ho” bit!

And now for some photos…


The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Massive temple right on the beach

Massive temple right on the beach

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

Soon more people came over and took photos

Soon more people came over and took photos

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

...She was also quite pretty :)

...She was also quite pretty 🙂

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

Another guy asks my friend for her "good name"
We were quite the tourist attraction!

We were quite the tourist attraction!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

Huge crowds of people were there

Huge crowds of people were there

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai


The Two Indias and Generalizations

I’ve been accused on more than a few occasions (well, OK, on every blog post I make that mentions India) of over generalizing (yes, weirdly, my English has be Americanized since being in India and I now spell stuff with zee’s insteaded of esses) with my sweeping statements about the country, population and culture.

To some extent this is very true, but if I noted the exceptions to my generalizations they’d be longer than the blog post itself and then it would be, well, frankly boring. Even more boring infact.

However, I thought I’d talk some more about these generalizations, and then add a few more micro-generalizations in to the mix to annoy my Indian friends even more 🙂

The first generalization that I make is that I often allude to the fact that I’m talking about all of India, when infact what I may have observed or seen was just in Chennai, a city in the state of Tamil Nadu. To put this in perspective, imagine if I said everyone in Europe eats big sausages called frankfurters because I went to Munich and saw people eating them there. Get the picture?

The second generalization that I make is that I assume that what happens in the cities is the same as what happens in the rural countryside. Again, to give this some perspective, imagine if I said all teenagers in England wear their trousers below their arse and have big hoodie tops because I’d been to Brixton in London and seen this.

India should probably be called the United States of India because each state has its own language, culture and customs. They even have state laws, so some states are dry (like Gujurat) while others are fairly liberal with alcohol laws (like Goa). I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, but you have to imagine Europe being one country and then you can understand how varied the India is and how difficult it must be to manage.

What’s more is that North India is different to South India. South India is generally (there goes those generalizations again!) considered to be more conservative than the North, so anytime I mention something being ridiculously conservative or prudish, it may not apply to North India.

Similarly the metros (that’s major cities to you and I) are a much different kettle of fish to the rural areas. It’s fairly safe to say that the metro cities are less conservative and traditional than the rural counter parts. Infact, someone told me that marriage within the family almost never happens within the city now 🙂 awesome progress!

So when reading my blog and I use the stock phrase “in India”, consider the fact that I might be talking about something I saw down a side street in a slummy part of Chennai 🙂

As one of my friends said: Everything you’ve heard or read about India is true. But then, the opposite is also true.