I hope fall finds you well. Although it's still dreadfully humid and hot here, there has been intermittent breaks to the heat recently, which is lovely.
Aakash and I continue to meet new people and friends. We've established a nice group of American friends (plus one Brittish friend) who we see a few times a week. I'm slowly starting to get leads regarding a job. Last week I met with the head of the Calcutta School of Music and she seems interested in having me teach private voice lessons. The biggest challenge right now is that everyone is on holiday because of Durga Puja. This holiday centers around the idol Durga, the mother goddess, and celebrates her defeat of the demon Mahishasura. Durga is said to be able to turn into a lion, so she's always depicted (with her six arms) with a lion, while Mahishasura is also depicted as a bull.
Durga Puja is a particular massive holiday in Kolkata. Every neighborhood builds structures called pandels to house idols of Durga killing Mahishasura, along with Durga's four children (and their accompanied animals.) Pandels typically have a theme of some sort. We've seen a pandel on reading, Egypt, mosaics, and a variety of colors and more. It was interesting watching the pandels be built (we pass three two and from the grocery store) and it's truly crazy to walk around to each, especially because of the crowds of people all out and taking pictures. The pandel closest to our house is traditionally really exquisite, so it's basically been like a carnival with the food stands, games, and other kiosks that were set up.
On Thursday, we went to the unveiling of a Puja to see a Hindustani singer perform. After a delay of over two hours, the governor of West Bengal finally arrived to give a short speech and basically do a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Puja. (In this case, he mostly just removed newspaper cover some idols and opened a curtain.) The theme of the Puja was kind of bizarre- it was kindness. Normally, Durga is all about overcoming evil, but in this, they decided Durga would teach the demon kindness. Kind of a good idea I guess, but it was funny because they had commissioned paintings of the demon doing good, humanitarian acts, such as pushing a child in a wheel chair, picking up trash, and helping kids water a garden. Finally, the musicians performed, but half way through their short three song set, a Bollywood movie star with her family came and the crowd went crazy.
Today is the last day of Durga Puja. To prep for the holiday, idols are sculpted out of clay, pandels are built, and the idols are painted and decorated. Today is the immersion ceremony, which we went to the river for. All day long, people from all over Kolkata bring the idols to a big loading dock on the Ganga (Ganges) River. They take the idols out of the truck, turn it around three times, and submerge it in the river. The idols are made out of a clay that disintegrates, so the idols were traditionally dumped in the river and left there. Today, in an effort to combat pollution, because the idols are covered with toxic paint, paper, flowers, and other things, they actually immerse them in the river, then use a giant crane to remove them and pile them in a heap. It was astonishing to see both the music, dancing, and celebrations at the river and how the idols that had so much time and energy put into them were just tossed aside. To see a short video I took of the process, click here.
Please know we're thinking of you all and hope you're well. I hope to hear from you soon and please let us know if you're able to skype sometime. Have a great week!