Friday, February 22, 2013


On our first night in Kerala we went to a Kathakali performance.  This is a highly stylized classical Indian dance noted for the make-up of its characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and body movements.  It originated in Kerala during the 17th century.  We were able to turn up an hour before the performance to look at the artists putting on their make-up.

Kathakali is usually performed in front of the huge lamp with a thick wick sunk till the neck in coconut oil. Traditionally, this lamp used to provide only light when the plays used to be performed inside temples, palaces or houses.  

A distinguishing characteristic of this art form is that the actors never speak but use hand gestures, expressions and rhythmic dancing instead of dialogue.  A Kathakali actor trains for about 8 - 10 years.  The entire story is acted purely by the movement of the hands (mudras) and facial expressions (rasas). 

Fort Cochin - Kerala

Lex and I went to Kochi (or Cochin as it was previously called) for the recent long weekend.  We flew down early on Friday morning and then back again on Sunday evening.  Although it was only 3 days away we got to see a lot of this part of Kerala.  On the Friday morning itself we took the ferry from near our hotel across to Fort Cochin.  

In Fort Cochin we wandered up to the cultural centre to investigate booking tickets for the Kathakali dance performance in the evening and booking for a boat trip through the backwaters the following day.  The cultural centre was a great place to start our trip.

Kochi is a major port city.  Back in the 1500s the first European settlement in India was here as the Portuguese arrived with Pedro Cabral.  Portuguese rule was then followed by the Dutch, and finally the British.

Kochi is famous for its spices.  You can't go far without seeing a multitude of shops selling all sorts of local spices.  The smells are amazing.

As we walked further along the main street we came to the area of the Chinese Fishing Nets.  These were a gift from the court of Kublai Khan, the Chinese ruler.  They work on a system of balancing counter weights to submerge them in the water as a way of catching fish.

Following lunch at a restaurant called Teapot, we proceeded to walk further around Fort Cochin.  We went to St Francis Church, which is the first and oldest European church built in India.  It was originally dedicated to St Andrew under the Portuguese, but later changed to St Francis by the English (after the Franciscan friars who built it).  Vasco da Gama was buried here for 14 years after he died on his third voyage to India.  Although his remains were later taken to Portugal, his gravestone can still be seen in the churchyard.

I liked Fort Cochin a lot - I found it a quirky little place (as can been seen by the local reading room below with a huge picture of Che Guevera there).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

Every year the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is held in Mumbai.  It's full of performers, artists and lots of places where you can buy interesting crafts.  Lex and I travelled down on the train - the first time we have ever been 1st Class in India - and what a difference!  We could get on without any fuss and we could find a seat, and best of all we didn't have to worry whether we'd be able to push through the crowds to get off at the right stop.

A variety of things were on sale:  home-made soaps, various fabric items, jewelry, paintings and so on. I really liked the brass and the colourful lampshades.  I did buy some things - but mostly to give as presents.

On the way to the festival we walked through Bombay University.  The buildings are beautiful and actually remind me of Cambridge.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Worli Fishing Village

Worli was one of the original 7 islands that formed the city of Mumbai (the land between the islands was later filled in by the British). The original inhabitants were the Koli fisherfolk who still live here in a fishing village which is about 600 years old. Worli is probably one of the most undeveloped parts of Mumbai - here life goes on in its traditional way with the men and women working together to catch, sort, dry and sell the fish. Worli also has one of Mumbai's old forts, originally built by the British in 1675 to defend the bay against enemy ships and pirates. Now the Bandra-Worli Sea Link ends fairly close to the village and I'm sure that the traditional life of the Koli fisherfolk will start to change.

Some of the fishing fleet - with the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in the background.

A Koli woman at a Christian shrine in the village

Worli is one of the most undeveloped parts of Mumbai and by anyone's standards the people are poor - in money terms - but I don't think they count their happiness in money. Their lives are vibrant and the sense of community is one that many around the world would envy.  Here is a narrow alley in the village. They were built like this to prevent pirates being able to easily raid and steal.

Everywhere in the village there are the most vibrant colours!

The men sort the daily catch

Colourful chicks were everywhere

Worli Fort

The contrast between old and new, rich and poor, developed and undeveloped is stark here in Mumbai.

At the market it's the women who sell the fish. Because it's the women who make the money, the men traditionally paid a bride price in Worli (and not the women who had to pay a dowry).

People Watching in Worli

I've developed a real interest in taking photos of people and their lives since moving to India.  The faces of people are so expressive!  Yet often I don't know whether or not to approach people and ask them if I may take their photo.  Do they see this as an intrusion?  Are they wondering why I'm photographing them?  Children and young people are generally keen to have their photos taken, older people not so.  This week on my walk around Worli fishing village I tried to capture the lives of the people by taking their portraits.
This old man was very happy to have his photo taken

This lady was Ok about me taking her photo but didn't want to smile or look at the camera

Making and selling flower garlands

Two ladies selling fish

Children in an alleyway.  They didn't want to come any closer

The man who was standing next to this woman urged me to take her photo .  I asked her "Is this your husband?" She was horrified and said "No!"

This man buys recycled paper by weight.  However he seems to have higher aspirations - look at the way he posed for this photo - I think he'd like to be a Bollywood actor!

Another old lady who wouldn't look at the camera

Does this girl live among the rubbish?  Who knows, but she was happy to have her photo taken.

Children outside their home

Lady and baby

Fisherfolk gathering up their nets

This man really wanted his daughter to smile.  She wouldn't!

Grandma looks after the children

This old lady was sitting combing her hair.  Look at how long it is!

Washing the clothes.  I thought she was cooking in the pot on the fire, but actually she was boiling hot water.

This photo wasn't taken in Worli but at the Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill.  Just look at how happy this lady is - it shines out of her eyes, even though you can't see her smile.