memories of family outings.....


Once Upon A Diwali..........

Small communities of expatriate Indians , living in far flung small towns in alien land, are always thrilled to seize upon any excuse to have a jingoistic bash where they can wallow in nostalgia and longing for "home", with over- the- top exhibitions of Desi-ness.
Hyper-Desi sentiments, Uber-Desi attire, Ultra-Desi feasts .
Diwali is one such excuse and a grand one at that.

In the ghetto of the factory -campus in a smaller- than -small town of Indonesia, where we once lived, Diwali was always a Big Fat Desi Affaire par Excellence - yeah, Bollywood dances religiously included ! The Party was usually held not on actual Diwali day, but on the Saturday night nearest to it.
Since Fireworks were prohibited, a few anaemic chinese flare sticks were burnt for "tradition's" sake. But the rest of the party was great fun. Women turned out in bridal finery, men togged up like residual royalty, children stumbled around in cumbersome "ethnic" wear.
Dark odiferous chinese Gingelli oil , fuelled an assortment of wick lamps ( some lit in Pyrex dessert cups);
Sugar and coloured flour, incarnating in dozens of shapes and flavours, were exchanged by tray loads;
Reluctant children were bullied into reciting atrociously accented bhajans and shlokas ;
Any auntie who ever had sa-re-ga-ma dinned into her in her past, however remote, was given a concert hall opportunity ;
Rummy and Bingo went on in dizzying rounds ;
the latest ' filmi geets ' provided the background score ;
A lavish feast ,prepared by a battalion of housekeepers, was pigged into at unholy and unhealthy hours ;
And finally when everyone staggered home with take away gifts, it would almost be the dayafter. Who says we expats din't nurture Bharatiya Sanskriti !

Once, on a Diwali day ( midweek), a group of us decided to go on a little picnic to Garut, a district much eulogised for its Natural Beauty and geological curiosities. (Garut is also widely known for the delicious fudge , Dodol).
About 3 hours from home, the district is dotted with Volcanoes of all sort- active,dead, resting, incipient, susceptible , take-your-pick. Though stuck with an intimidating scientific label : " unstable stratovolcanic complex", Garut District ,which lies on elevated land , has a lovely crisp, newly washed feel to it.
When faint traces of sulphurous fumes start tainting the cool air, we know we are in proximity of the Patuha Volcano with its two huge craters Kawah Putih and Kawah Patuha..... We choose to visit the former as it has a 8 meter deep lake , while the latter is dry. Both places are marked out as tourist sight seeing spots, so there are ticket booths, paved walk ways , snack kiosks and trash bins at the entrance. A five minute walk from there takes us to the crater proper. It is v-a-s-t.
The water in the crater has a milky, greenish glaze to it and dense white fumes keep issuing out of it. The rim is well covered with vegetation and bleached volcanic rocks. It looks beautiful . And also a wee bit sinister, reminding one of Dante's "Inferno".From there, we drive for half an hour more to reach"Bumi Panas Kawah Kamojang" , a 25 hectare Geothermal Field, sitting on Mount Guntur ( =meaning Thunder), which incidentally is listed as "Active" ! We soon learn, to our relief ,that the activity consists only of boiling mudpools and steam geysers. There are about two dozen geysers, some of which shoot steam upto 20 meters into the air. PERTAMINA, the state owned Energy outfit, taps this geothermal energy for production of electricity.

The small Kamojang Township that we pass through looks very pretty and unbelievably like the toy town in Noddy stories. Neat as a pin !
A copse of woodland later, we enter the actual Geothermal Field.
The whole Field is heavily guarded and we are let in only after necessary clearance from the check post.

As we drive down, we can see dense white clouds issuing from the forest cover. Flanking the road are emerald meadows which are criss -crossed with snaking and twisting miles of large blue tubing . Looks like some futuristic movie set. They all lead to the power plant at the far end of the field, but we have no access to it. Tourists are expected to disembark at the parking lot and stroll through the jungle paths . And an awesome trek it is !

Boiling mud pools and steam vents pop up along the beaten paths without notice. Geysers howl intermittently behind bushes. And sulphur steam clouds up vision here and there. Often, we tip toe cautiously, picking our way gingerly between two simmering mud pools. At many places one can feel the heat through the very ground one is walking on.
The earth is literally seething here. Some particularly powerful geysers are( mercifully) fenced in ! One Geyser called "The Locomotive" makes a sound very similar to a steam engine.
Such tremendous heat just underfoot, yet, the jungle is so lush ; the air remains cool, even nippy; birds and small animals romp around merrily. Difficult to understand this compatibility.
By noon, we were heading home.
'Look at us' we told ourselves, 'good bharatiya behenjis, goose- stepping around smelly craters , instead of going to a temple on Diwali day ! '
The day was still young. So, on an impulse, we decided to take a small detour and visit Cangkuang Picnic Spot , a site we had heard about.
We had heard that there was a nice island there, in a nice lake , with nice boating facilities, surrounded by nice gardens. We arrived expectantly. And it was .....NICE !
Pretty picture. The nice lake even had nice patches of white and purple waterlilies in full bloom. Boating meant taking a nice reed raft fitted with benches and an awning. So pretty and so nice that anyone weaned on a diet of Desi movies could break into a nice song .
As we rafted towards the island, which was covered with tall straight trees, we noticed , with excitement, the outline of a........Candi ! A hindu temple ! Now this was a real discovery for we had had no info. about it before that. We scrambled up the bank and, sure enough, found a small stone temple of some antiquity. It looked austere with not much ornamentation.

Of course, compared to the magnificent Siwa temples of Central Java, this one was only a bare and humble structure, but it's importance lay in its utmost rarity in West Jawa. A sign board explained that the present temple was reassembled from ruins excavated from under old volcanic debris. We peeped inside the sanctum and found only a small, unidentifiable torso . But it was called "Durga" ! Right behind the temple lay a grave. That of a revered muslim preacher of 17th. century named Arif Mohammad, who, as a Mataram warlord, had earlier resisted , unsuccessfully, the invading Dutch adventurers.

We returned home by dusk, happy at having witnessed the steaming detritus of Mother Nature's own fireworks and happier still with our unexpected visit to an ancient Durga temple on Diwali day.
A nice co-incidence, which can also be called a nice miracle.


avdi said...

What a unique way of celebrating Diwali. I daresay nature's fireworks beat anything created by man.
And finding that quaint temple !

I loved your descriptionof being desi in Pardes. :)

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Right about the expats behaving more Indian when they are overseas, witnessed enough of that the last couple of days in Singapore although this is a bigger celebration as you know, because of the Indian origin Singaporeans. But the expats stand out somehow! The Volcano descriptions was just great, I could almost smell the Sulfur in the air..oh maybe that smell is from the Pasir Gudang refinery across in Malaysia near my place! I did not know they had a geothermal electric station there. Great to hear about that. As always, your sketches give a real feel to the place than picture postcard type photos.

YOSEE said...

Avdi,while expatriates flaunt their "roots and identity" with a vengeance,cant say they'd care all that much for it when they become resident indians . I have also noticed that long time non- residents get so emotionally attached to a dated image of their country that they find it painful and impossible to accept the real India when they visit home! nature's fireworks, my long time wish is to see a volcano in action.

YOSEE said...

Anup : I know, Singapore -Indians are a species by themselves. Their Indianness (and Tamilness) are quite different from ours here.Ditto Malaysian-Tamils. We were in Sing. one Diwali season and I couldn't believe the strange Carnival type hoopla that had erupted in Serangoon for the occassion !....i dont know if Malaysia taps geothermal energy for power, but Indonesia does not waste any of it. And the archipelago, sitting on the Volcanic Arc has a god given bounty of geothermal energy.They are a pro. in spotting and exploiting any potential.For instance, the number of "Picnik spots" each district has is just unbelievable. Like,say they noticed the 'view point' near the Nandi in Chamundi hill, the very next day, there'll be a signboard, ticket booth, visitor amenities, brochures et all and 'pariwisata' buses start lining up in no time ! ( My sketches are out of sheer necessity. i am a total loss as photographer :-)

JC said...

Yosee, Nice description of the visit literally to a 'Shakti Peeth' or 'energy centre' on Diwali, that is 'Kali puja' for Bengalis, where Kali (or Sati, that is, 'shakti' the energy) the Goddess with protruding red tongue, believably resides in the heart of Shiva the Gangadhar (that is earth)! It is understood as the 'destructive' form of energy that gets manifested as 'active' volcanoes, that in the model forms get reflected as 'Anars', i.e., one of the Diwali fireworks! Geysers also, similarly, reflect the same characteristics by water/ gases, intead of fire, rising from virtually a point (mooladhar) high into the fall back to earth in hundreds of channels (sahastra dhara)...

Best wishes for many Happy returns of Diwali!

LORANDI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Keep the sketches going, they speaks volumes more than photos. I don't think Malaysia taps geothermal energy at all. I meant that we have an oil refinery across the narrow stretch of water near our house in Singapore. It is on the Malaysia side. That oil refinery puts out smoke and odor that sometimes drifts our way!

YOSEE said...

JC : That was an interesting analogy. Thank you. Best wishes to you too.

YOSEE said...

Anup : Yeah, had figured out about Pasir Gudang.....NO2 from Malaysia, CO2 from Indonesia ( kalimantan forest fires). Poor S'pore !

Kamini said...

How evocatively you have described your Deepavali experience!
Alas, it is so hard for us (I live in New York) to conjure up the Deepavali spirit, in spite of the Indian community organizing all manner of events which somehow come across as farcical and insincere, lacking the proper spirit. I avoid those, and just light a few candles at home and make a simple payasam.
By the way, your drawings are really wonderful!

Kamini said...

How evocatively you have described your Deepavali experience!
Alas, it is so hard for us (I live in New York) to conjure up the Deepavali spirit, in spite of the Indian community organizing all manner of events which somehow come across as farcical and insincere, lacking the proper spirit. I avoid those, and just light a few candles at home and make a simple payasam.
By the way, your drawings are really wonderful!

YOSEE said...

Kamini : Thank you.
"Farcical" is the word ! You missed nothing . A simple celebration at home with payasam is more honest. :-)

JC said...

Yosee: It has taken 'me' almost three decades to read the minds of the ancient 'Hindus' to a certain extent...Of course, the use of apparently inferior 'digital computers' helped 'me' know that human brain is a super 'analogical computer'...And, not just the brain, but the entire human form itself is a computer, an integrated one that utilises 9 computers, each one of which is related with a member of our solar system that believably controls one of the 8 cardinal directions (imagined radiating from any given point on earth on a horizontal plane) and one controlling both the upward and downward directions, analogous to the near spherical globe/ earth that is nearly 'perfect' and thus exists for over 4 billion years!...

Regarding 'present day' higher degree of pollution in 'Nature', and so also relative deterioration in human behaviours in all aspects of human life, leading to a virtual 'surrender', one could perhaps explain it from the believable realisation of the ancients that
Time, analogous to water, moves downwards, from Satya Yuga to Kaliyuga...thankfully repeatedly over 1000 times and thus at a certain stage Satya Yuga is reached again and again - 'naturally'!

YOSEE said...

JC; Thank you for sharing the insight. Regards.

Destiny's child... said...

This is my first visit to this blogand I am sure to return. I loved the vivid description of the desi festival in a videsi land..lovely! :)
We used to celebrate it when we were in UP. After coming to Kerala...sigh...I still sit and think of the fun we used to have on I sit and light the diyas on the terrace, only to be reminded that we are the only house in the neighbourhood to light diyas....

Rwitoja said...

Diwali in an foreign land was an interesting read and brought back memories. Loud crackers were not allowed in the Middle East. On our very first Diwali there,we heard a few loud bangs and were aghast to see our building caretaker and his brood being marched off to the police station. Crackers were sold clandestinely by the Indian shops.As the proliferation of Bollywood and Indian TV channels increased, the local populace(which is inordinately fond of Bollywood)became more knowledgeable about Indian festivals and customs, and were more tolerant.Enjoyed the trip through volcano country!

YOSEE said...

D's Child : Thank you. I dint know Kerala cold shouldered Diwali. Most of our festivals have crossed their respective territorial borders and become pan-indian so that now-a-days we see that everyone everywhere celebrates everything in similar manner ! Examples : Raksha Bandan, Onam , Akka-Teej ( Akshaya Tritiyai), Navratra ( with Dandiya)- Currently here, even Oktoberfest from Germany ! ....Anyhow, it must be fun still to be Special : the only house lighting diyas !

YOSEE said...

Rwitoja: Thanks. Poor Caretaker and Co. Hope they were not whipped or stoned !....yeah, Bollywood has penetrated to such remote corners of the globe that nowadays, anything Indian ( read Hindi Filmi)is greatly appreciated. I read that a mexican ( or brazilian ?) soap opera made in Bollywood formula is such a smash hit there that even some hindi idioms have gained currency in their speech !....and ofcourse we had Obama Almighty himself celebrating it in White House this year !

Dibs said...

I am trying to recollect if you took me to Garut! I remember one muddy trail where there were a couple of hot springs. Your descriptions are so awesome ..wish I could go again!

This is our 2nd diwali in Sydney. Since I did not go out I dont know if there were any celebs here. At our neighbourhood (despite many desis) it was like any other day ..not a flare, not a sound ..nothing at all. We bought a few berry scented candles from IKEA and lit them in our balcony.

Billus is Harris Park however was jam paked. They had to put several tables outside their restaurant to cater to the crowds buying desi sweets. Hubby stood for hours in the queue, and came back with jalebis,milk pedas, laddoos and kaju katlis. We were pleasant;ly surprised that they were really good (unlike the granite idlis, and the tasteless orange coloured biryani, that contained brocolli and sweet corn!!!!! ...and left the orange stains on our fingers!!!!)

YOSEE said...

Hi Dibs : So glad you could grab some really edible sweets for Diwali.... LOL!Granite Idlis and Broccoli Biryanis !People are that desperate, eh ?...and no, you dint visit Garut, went only to Kawah Putih and the waterfalls in our neighbourhood....This diwali was quite quiet here too, but according to newspapers, there was much dhoom-daam in the city as though to snub recession, with a vengeance.