Today is the end of a ten day folk arts festival, Dastkari Bazaar, held at Pingale Farms in Koregaon Park where, in addition to being awed by the quality and quantity of craftsmen from all over India, I stumbled upon a new obsession, pattachitra painting. I also had an incredible kheema kulcha (chicken mince stuffed in bread which is fired in a tandoor an slathered with ghee) with chana dal and spicy onion chutney.
Among the beautiful saris, tussar silks, painted pickle jars, animal hide lampshades, made-to-order cooking utensils and other handicrafts at the bazaar, I found a stall selling these paintings, created by a family who lives in Raghurajpur, a village known for its artists near Puri, Odisha (or "Orissa" depending to whom one is speaking) on the Northeastern coast of India. The man stationed at the table was Bijay Kumar Bariki, and the paintings showcased the work of himself, his father Akshaya, grandfather, and brother, among other artists. Each one was tied to mythology, and his level of knowledge regarding the twisting and gnarled folkloric storylines in them seemed infinite, especially to a layperson like me. Truth be told, I couldn't keep up with all the names and stories, but I did see immediately that these works of art were something really special. I was mesmerized, through and through.
We moved from painting to painting and through little statements here and there I started to get background on how they are made. The canvas is actually cotton cloth which has been coated with gum, dried for several days, then polished by hand with special stones. The paints are also made by hand using natural materials such as soot, shells, and stones, and the paintbrushes are made from buffalo or mouse hair. With a little digging at home, I found a pretty interesting read on the "making-of" pattachitra paintings here.
I looked at all the big ones at least three times, paying attention to the detail, getting a feel for which ones I preferred and trying to see the stylistic differences he was pointing out between him and his relatives. After a while some of them stood out. Multiple layers of borders, a higher level of detail...it became fuzzy after about the 15th look-over though, so I had to come back with a fresh set of eyes (Marc) to make a decision.
We ended up buying this one, which shows the life of Krishna, and I hope that one day I will be able to explain the story to my kids as well as Bijay himself could do, though I'm pretty sure it will take some solid time with my nose in the books to really understand it all. Perhaps an educational trip to Raghurajpur is in order... ;-)
I thought it would be fitting to follow up my "20 Things I Miss About Home" post with "20 Things I love About Pune" because, if you couldn't tell from this whole blog, there are so many great things that I absolutely love here!
1.) Friends. Of course this is first ;-) I've met some great friends here, and they make this experience even more awesome than it already is!
2.) Street Food. We have tons of food trucks and lunch carts in the cities at home, but the street food here is such a nice departure from the usual. It's cheap, often bite-sized, and they can be found everywhere! I hold off on the sauces and chutneys, and make sure everything I eat is heated past boiling point, but other than that I'm happy to try anything I can!
3.) Chai. I love stopping during my day to take five minutes and enjoy a cup of tea. There are chai stalls everywhere here, my favorite places: Diamond Queen, Southin Cafe, Good Luck, and the stall that has no name near Marc's office. Chai here comes in tiny glasses which hold about 2-4 ounces, and is some combination of spices, milk, water, and tea, the proportions of which are usually a closely guarded secret :-) My favorite tea is a bit less sweet, with more milk than water, and lots of spices.
4.) Shivaji Market. I love this farmer's market more in the winter and summer than I do in the monsoon, due to the smell that it gives off during the wet months. Structurally, it's operating in the same way I'd imagine it did a century ago, with the waste water running through stategically constructed channels and the refuse gathering in piles on the floor around the support beams -- one does have to mind the ground when navigating through but it's worth it. The market consists of vendors, some of which have been selling at the market for generations, which are separated into categories: fruits and veg, poultry, lamb, fish, and beef. It is the best place I have found to get whole ingredients, especially meats and poultry butchered to order. Have had some great conversations with the merchants too.
5.) Lower cost of living. Some things cost much less here than at home. For example, food items (6 eggs $.75, loaf of bread $.65, 1lb tomatoes $.65), medical costs (doctors visit $4.50, specialist visit $8.13, one night in the hospital in a private room $100, 16 doses of Paracetamol/Acetaminophen $.25), and services (manicure $8.00, hour long massage $30.00, hour long foot reflexology $12.00, dog groomer for Stella $25.00, haircut for Marc $3.00). As a matter of fact, just last night Stella got into the trash and an emergency visit PLUS an abdominal X-Ray cost us only $13.00! Stella is fine, BTW.
6.) Home delivery. Stores deliver everything, most of the time for free. The liquor store, the grocery store, laundry service, the milk man, the dog food store. I could even have my blood drawn for testing at home by a mobile lab tech!
7.) Time for Family. I griped for a while about not working but this break from my career couldn't have come at a better time. Hopefully in the next year or so we'll be adding to our family and I'm looking forward to being at home then.
8.) Our sweet home. I would take our home here over any other place we've ever lived...it will be hard to leave!
9.) Being centrally located in Asia. This is an awesome location for travel -- Hong Kong is 5.5 hours away, Goa is a 37 minute flight, Dubai is 3.5 hours, Bangkok is 4 hours, Tokyo and Paris are 8...we really hope to maximize our vacation time here.
10.) INDIA is so DIVERSE! Before we moved to India, everything here just kind of got lumped together in a very general concept of "India". After being here for a short while however, we have seen that there is a staggering amount of diversity! Dialects, customs, dress, food; it has been such a pleasure to discover new and interesting things here.
11.) Thali. It gets it's own number. It's like a combination of a buffet and a Brazilian rodizio. The waiters come around filling up your cups as they empty until you beg them to stop. YES PLEASE!
12.) The Urban Barnyard. I see chickens, dogs, cats, goats, horses, water buffalo, cows, pigs, and occasionally a camel or elephant being led by a handler on a daily basis. I've started to recognize which herd of water buffalo belongs to whom and at what times they go from place to place for grazing. I'm happy that I'm not the only one -- I have a friend here who's been updating everyday on the whereabouts of one camel in particular...it's funny :-) As far as the dogs and cats, I wish there was a better effort put forth on spaying/neutering, but there are a good amount of people take an interest in them by providing food and vet services when they can. Progress, not perfection, I guess.
13.) Shopping. It's funny, this makes both my "20 Things I Miss About Home" list, and the "20 Things I love about India" list! Shopping here is an awesome experience. The haggling, the dizzying assortment of items, the helpfulness of the store clerks, the upselling. There are stores that sell everything under the sun! My favorite shop here looks like the size of a closet, but if I'm looking for something in particular, I just need to say it and it magically appears. The owner knows where EVERY SINGLE THING is, and if he doesn't have it, he will try his best to find it for me. THAT is awesome.
14.) The weather. We have three seasons: hot-as-hell summer where it's dry and gets up to 110ºF, rainy/monsoon season which is wet and a little cooler, and winter, which is dry, cool, breezy, and pleasant. The summer is fine because I'm in the A/C, the rainy/monsoon season we've decided is the season for us to travel, and winter is beautiful! What's not to love about that?!
15.) The active expat community. This is a great place to be an expat. Especially through Facebook and WhatsApp, there's always a class or a party or a day trip being planned and it's an easy place to make friends and meet different people. I've found it to be a very welcoming place as a newcomer.
16.) The Festivals. It seems like every week there's another festival happening. As soon as the firecrackers, colored powder, and banners are cleaned up from the streets, they're replaced with new ones for the next one. It really feels like every day is a celebration here!
17.) Green City. Pune is a rather green city, and in addition to all the parks, most of which are well-maintained, the majority of streets are provided with a nice canopy from the mature trees that line them.
18.) My cell phone bill. I'm going to have some choice words when I have to return to a ridiculous contract if/when we return to the US. My cell phone bill is usually about $25.00 now and that's with international calls.
19.) Mahalaxmi Super Shoppee - This is my go-to store for everything. It's not very big, but it has three floors and is connected to a fruit and veg stand. The third floor is cosmetics, the second floor is housewares/cell phone store/repair shop (they replaced my iPhone battery and my shattered back plate!), and the first floor is the grocery part. They have a ton of imported products in addition to the usual eggs/milk/bread/butter/cheese staples. No meat, but that's ok because that's what the Hyatt and Shivaji Market are for :-) . The guys in this shop are very helpful, nice, and know where everything is.
20.) Short Trips. Fort Jadhavgadh, Parvati Hill, Mahabaleshwar, Fort Sinhagad, Shillim and Lonavala are just a few of the beautiful places that are perfect for a day or weekend trip from Pune.
Do you live in Pune? What do you like most about being here? :-)