Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bangle Shop

Long, long ago, in villages and towns across India, the 'bangle man' roamed the streets. A cloth knapsack slung on his shoulders, he called out his wares - glass bangles in resplendent colors, some plain, some decorated with gold or silver paint - and made the rounds of his beat perhaps once a month, but more frequently during the marriage or festival seasons.

Inside the knapsack - fashioned out of a large cotton cloth whose four ends were knotted together - the bangles would be strung on long jute strings tied up at the ends to make a garland of the bangles. Many such colorful garlands nestled together in the knapsack.

The soles of his feet cracked from walking miles and miles on dry, dusty roads in worn out sandals or in bare feet, his head wrapped in a towel to ward off the heat of the sun, his teeth stained from years of chewing tobacco, the one-man, walking, talking bangle shop was a welcome sight nonetheless, his sing-song call a cause for great excitement especially if you'd been waiting for a delivery.

Women-folk (like my mom-in-law's mother, for example) hardly ever left the house, even to go to the market. They got their vegetables and grains from their farm and nearly everything else was home-delivered, including saris. Each family would have their favorite street hawker, one who knew the family's needs and would make special trips to his suppliers make sure he had what his customers needed. The same for bangles.

Most homes had a porch, screened with mesh or metal bars, where the bangle man and the women-folk would settle down to pore over the bangles, trying them on for size, flipping their wrists back and forth to check out the feel of the bangles, the clinking sounds providing a rhythm to their conversations. It was more than likely that neighbors would gather together on one porch, saving the bangle man from having to pack and unpack his knapsack over and over.

An old home with a screened porch

This little interlude was a welcome break for the women from their household chores and a welcome respite for the bangle man, a chance to rest his aching feet and take the load off his shoulders.

I wish I had a photo of one for myself and to show you because these days, the bangle man is a dead breed, especially in cities and the larger towns. Although street hawkers can still be found in the older residential neighborhoods, their wares are limited to vegetables in most cases.

The bangle shops have taken over. Even a small shop is able to carry a much larger variety than a hawker ever could. Street-side shops, such as the ones below, are quite popular in Bangalore.

And then there are ones like Bhavani Bangle Shop, which is a shop of the bone fida variety and is spread across four floors in Jayanagar, one of the busiest commercial areas of Bangalore. In all the years I lived in Bangalore, I dissed that shop. I grew up hating the thought of having to wear bangles or bracelets. Now it's a different story. Every time I've been back in the past few years, I've visited that shop, trying on and buying what a few years ago I thought was junk.

In the picture above, the owner receives boxes of new supplies for his shop.

The rows and rows of bangles and ear rings are mesmerizing. They are all costume jewellery, many of the designs (even those of the 'bindis' or the dots worn on the forehead) inspired by the heavily bejewelled heroines and vamps of the Indian soaps that rule the airwaves at all times of day and night.

Costume jewellery has caught on so well that this shop even offers to put together an entire set (bangles, necklaces, ear rings and other accessories) that will match your sari or other dress you might be planning to wear for a special event. I'd never heard of such a service before!

Most interesting of all, have you noticed something? The sales people are all men. A holdover from the bangle-man days, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers as Seen From the Air

ABC News has obtained aerial photographs of the collapse of the Twin Towers taken in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. They were taken by Det. Greg Semendinger of the NY Police Aviation Unit, the only photographer allowed in the airspace around that time, according to the NY Times.

They make for stunning visuals. All of my visual memory of that day seems to contain images of the towers seen from the bottom up, of debris falling all around the people fleeing the carnage of building parts falling, of ash falling.

These pictures offer an entirely new perspective, especially when grouped together as aerial pictures - the ash looks like it's spreading sideways and up, not falling.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Hurt Locker: A Review

The Hurt Locker is the tale of a trio of soldiers that makes up the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), a bomb disposal squad, attached to an army regiment on rotation in Iraq. Of the three, Staff Sgt. William James (played by James Renner, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year) functions as the bomb-disposal technician, Specialist Owen Eldridge (played by Brian Geraghty) and Sgt. JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie) serve as look-outs, scouting the area for threats (other than the bomb which obviously everyone is very aware of) and keeping it clear so the expert can focus on the job at hand and there is as little human casualty as possible.

The movie starts ominously, with the nail-biting suspense of the team heading out to diffuse a bomb. Just the visuals of the team preparing to approach the bomb in full protective paraphernalia - including the act of putting on the elaborate bomb suit - set your pulses racing. Of course, the fact that the very first outing goes horribly wrong and the team has a dead bomb-disposal expert on its hands (Guy Pearce in a short appearance) does nothing to dissipate the tension.

Thus it transpires that the EOD must now find a replacement, which arrives in the form of a barely-restrained ball of energy known as Staff Sgt. William James. We soon find out that James is a strange animal - he courts danger with a vengeance, does not heed sensible advice, likes to get into violent fist fights in the barracks with his fellow soldiers, and has difficulty adjusting to situations that do not involve tons of explosives, nails and a tangle of colorful wires.

James' proclivities cause tension within the team, which has only a few days left on its rotation and the two original members want nothing more than to finish up and go home to their families. How the team learns to work together and comes to respect James' uncommon ways and his leadership forms the rest of the movie.

People who've been in the military might find aspects of the movie wrong from a factual point of view (like such and such gun was not in use during the year in which the movie is set), but The Hurt Locker does a stupendous job of conveying to the layperson the horrors and the vagaries of dealing with explosive devices - which has become an unavoidable aspect of war - and the grit, dedication and determination of a band of soldiers.

The title of the movie refers to a figurative place of intense physical or emotional pain. The film succeeds in opening a window into that dark and little-known space, and into the psyche of a person who is very, very good at a job that most of us would never entertain even for a second as a viable career choice; it shines a light on a situation in which showing even the slightest bit of humanity might bring swift retribution (such as when James - who has left behind a wife and a toddler son at home - befriends a young boy near the army base and a few days later, in a particularly gory scene, finds an nearly identical boy killed and wired with an explosive that James must diffuse by inserting his hands into the boy's dead body). Mind games played at a dangerously high level of intensity, the stakes ratcheted up so high the protagonists (and the viewers) can barely hear themselves think.

We might think we know something about roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices given how much of it we hear in the news every single day. But what do we really know? What do we know about the devious minds that build bombs to extricate maximum damage? About how any one of the innocent-looking onlookers, that you are trying desperately to protect, might hold the trigger that sets off the bomb? What do we know about how to tell who the enemy is or who might be the victim? Do we really know what kind of human being it takes to willingly walk into a trap knowing fully well that one wrong move could blow him and everyone else within a radius of a few hundred feet into smithereens?

The film ably crafts the message that in urban warfare all bets are off, that the only rule in modern-day combat is that there are no rules, and draws the viewer deep into the characters' tension-filled world. From the moment the team hears of a possible explosive device that must be diffused, as their truck winds its way through dangerous streets and alleys, as the look-outs scour their field of vision for suspicious movements, as the technician makes his way to the wires and the odd-looking lump on the rocky, dusty ground, we see every aspect of the scene from their perspective and feel their nerves and desperation. The reaction is visceral. I wouldn't be surprised if you jumped out of your seat once in a while or found yourself trying to brush off the dirt and grime off your clothes as you walked out of the theater.

Before The Hurt Locker I had never heard of its director, Kathryn Bigelow, and I was rather surprised to see Ralph Fiennes in a small role as the leader of a band of British mercenaries (which the protagonists end up fighting alongside in the middle of the desert), but apparently she is a prolific movie maker with a cult following, and they had both worked together in Strange Days as director and actor early in their careers.

The movie is certainly deserving of its nine Oscar nominations and with a win at the Directors' Guild Awards, it looks like Bigelow is well on her way to a Directors' Oscar as well. And I'm on my way to mining Netflix for more Bigelow movies.

The movie's IMDb page. Image from.

Seen on the street: Snow art

Gotta love the wicked sense of humor that produced this! Can you make out the tiny flush handle on the left?

"Building a snow man is so boring," the man said. Yup! When you can build something like this, why settle for a snow man?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Blizzard of 2010 aka Snowmageddon

The snow came down thick and fast and wet. If you didn't keep up with it, it got heavy as the minutes ticked by. Fluffy and light on top, watery (later icy) at the bottom.

Just beyond the windows, the kitchen was warm and inviting.

We shoveled and shoveled. And shoveled. At least five times on the deck in the back and four times out front.

This morning, the sun was out!

Our fence grew a few inches overnight.

Winter is here, but spring seems so far away.

Icicles cling on to the roof edge for dear life.

A jet zooms across a nearly cloudless, blue sky this morning.

The sidewalk looks like a tunnel.

We lost the top of our holly tree to the weight of the snow.

I have a feeling we'll remember this for a long time.

Friday, February 05, 2010