Archive for the 'Pondicherry' Category

Happy Pongal

Wish You Happy Pongal

Inset of kolam featuring clay pongal pot and deepam

Pongal Tableau

Another inset of Kolam featuring the over-flowing pongal

A more linear tableau: sugar cane, pongal being cooked to over-flowing over a wood fire, the sun, and a plate of offerings

A few of the Pongal kolams drawn on two streets in Kuruchikuppam, Pondicherry

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Meter-long Coffee

South Indian filter coffee is rapidly disappearing, replaced by instant coffee powder.  But whether or not these street-side coffee bars use filter or instant coffee, the “mixing” of boiled milk and coffee is still done the same way.

Cooling coffee

The coffee is generally served in a steel cup with a lip and a small, empty bowl (also with a lip) so that the customer can perform a mini version of the same process – pouring the coffee from the cup into the bowl, and vice verse, holding on to the edge of the lips of the vessels (the liquid is boiling hot!) – but this time, to cool the coffee enough to drink.

And the taste?  Like coffee candy.

Making Garlands

Garland maker on Rue Francois Martin, Kuruchikuppam

Just as onion prices have gone sky high, so have the price of garlands that South Indian women wear in their hair or drape around the necks of idols or pictures of gods (or place on the pillows of their Western guests).

Garland supplies, Goubert Market, Pondicherry

Women sit on the ground or on makeshift tables and make garlands from morning to evening in long strands that they then break into different lengths depending on customer desires.

Garland maker at Goubert Market

The garlands are sold by the “arm”  – that is, the length from the tips of your fingers to your elbow.  An “arm” of sweet-smelling jasmine used to cost Rs. 5 to 10 two years ago.  Now, they are Rs. 15 to 20, depending on the season.

The video below is a short clip of the garland maker pictured in the red sari on Rue Francois Martin in Kuruchikuppam, Pondicherry.

Women sit on the ground or on makeshift tables and make garlands from morning to evening in long strands that they then break into different lengths depending on customer desires.

Fishing Village at Pillaichavady, Pondicherry

Fishing boats at Pillaichavady, Pondicherry

Mending nets

Mending nets on the beach

Boat motor

Dwelling, Pillaichavady

Running water tap

Older sister

Younger sister

India Imports Onions from Pakistan

The astonishingly high price of onions throughout India has pushed the local topic of conversation away from the mega corruption scandals of the day (the Commonwealth Games (CWG), Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, the give-away of the 2G telecommunications spectrum, etc.) to the lowly onion, an indispensable ingredient in Indian cooking.  Nationwide, prices are around Rs. 60 to 80 per kilo.  In Pondicherry, it is Rs. 80 ($1.82 at Rs. 44 to U.S. $1).

India exported onions until April 2010.  Prolongued rains in the onion growing areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and South India resulted in the current shortages.  Effective yesterday, 21 December 2010, the Price Fixation Advisory Committee (PFAC) of the Ministry of Agriculture issued a decision to “voluntarily suspend issuance of NOCs [no objection certificates] for export of onion by NAFED [National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India], NCCF [National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India], and other STEs [I assume this stands for State Trading Enterpises]…” and that NAFED and NCCF would sell onions at Rs. 35-40 through their retail outlets. Wholesale prices in Nasik, one of the major growing areas, came down 35% based on the announcement.  The same day, in a complete reversal, India imported onions from Pakistan. (The cost of onions from Pakistan, including customs duty, cess, transportation and handling chareges, is Rs. 18-20/kg.)  Now, prices in Pakistan are expected to go up 25-30%.

How is the common wo/man affected?  In Pondicherry, street vendors are adding cabbage as filler to supplement onions.  A Times of India Poll:  Will you continue to buy onions? currently stands at 48% (Yes) to 52% (No).  One “no” voter blames the price rise on the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.  This article claims that onion prices will threaten India’s growth and government, and a Facebook comment states:  “Give me my bonus in onions.”

India’s Dying Beaches

I almost feel as though I am in Pondicherry.  The vicarious excitement and stress of trying to keep up with the sudden barrage of media stories and activities initiated by NDTV’s coverage of “The Death of India’s Beaches” has my adrenelin pumping as I try and support our colleagues at PondyCAN.

On 28 May, 2009, Probir Banerjee, PondyCAN’s President, was interviewed by Prannoy Roy of NDTV, fulfilling a promise Roy made months before to take up the issue of coastal erosion.  Realizing the magnitude of the problem, Roy initiated a state-by-state coverage of the issue in a series called “India’s Dying Beaches.”

Continue reading ‘India’s Dying Beaches’

Bahour Lake, Pondicherry

 Bahour Lake
Bahour Lake 

Bahour Lake is a seasonal (it is generally dry for 5-6 months) freshwater wetland located about 20 miles south of Pondicherry town, near the village of Bahour.  It is the second largest lake in Pondicherry, with a storage capacity of 6.3 million cubic meters.

Toddy pots
Toddy pots

Bahour is one of two Important Bird Areas of India in Pondicherry for the number of birds sighted (over 25,000 waterfowl counted in 1995 and 1998) and for having more than 1% of the biogeographic population of several species of waterfowl including Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope and Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis.

Planting Paddy
Planting paddy 

Farming is still the primary activity in Bahour commune.  Water intensive paddy and sugarcane are the major crops, with some coconut plantations and toddy palms.

Harvesting sugarcane
Harvesting sugarcane

Loading sugarcane
Loading sugarcane for transport

Local transport of sugarcane
Local transport of sugarcane

All the irrigation for the crops grown around Bahour is done using groundwater.  According to a farmer we met on the road, the government does not allow the farmers to use the water from the lake.  As in Ousteri, the government lets out fishing contracts, draining the lake 5 months after fingerlings have been introduced into Bahour to make the catch easier.

Local farmer
Local farmer 

And here too, as in Ousteri, the government has plans to build a boat house and initiate tourism with motor boat rides on the lake.

Now, how is this going to work, you ask, since the lake is dry for much of the year?  Why spend all this money for a three-year project to build the infrastructure to allow boating?  According to a local Councilor and her son, the plan is to sink a borewell in the middle of the lake to pump groundwater to fill the lake when it is dry.  !?! This way, you get to catch your fish and have boating too.

Either way, the local farmers lose.  They have no access to surface water for irrigation, they are prohibited from fishing the lake, and their groundwater has turned saline.  The departments of Agriculture and Ground Water have had to install new wells up to 225 meters deep in Bahour since salt water has intruded into the second aquifer in the region.  An incredible mismanagement of ground water recharge mechanisms.  Hello people – you have a large lake right here!

“What will you do when your ground water turns saline? ” we ask the Councilor, who is a sugarcane farmer.  “We’ll sell the land for plots.”

Advertisement for residential plots in Bahour commune
Advertisement for residential plots in Bahour commune

Indeed, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Bahour, who is also the Social Welfare Minister for the Union Territory of Pondicherry, is putting pressure on the farmers to sell their land.  Real estate speculators are preying on farmers who are in debt to acquire their land for Rs. 30 lakhs (close to US$ 77,000) an acre. They then divide the acre into 20’X60′ plots, which they sell for Rs. 3 lakhs each, for a total of Rs. 108 lakhs, turning a tidy profit of Rs. 78 lakhs.


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