Lola’s Visit!

Next month will mark the second anniversary of my move to India! I’ve changed so much over the last two years, I’ve adapted to many parts of Indian life, but I know I still have a long way to go. I know that no matter how long I live here, I will still get homesick from time to time. I have missed England quite a bit lately, especially family and friends.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my wonderful friend, Lola, came to visit! It was so surreal to see her here in Nagpur! It took so long to sink in and even longer to get my head around how lucky I am to have a friend who will travel halfway around the Earth to come and visit us! Such a breath of fresh air and a boost to my morale!

Lola ramtek Feeding monkey

Argh, it’s hard to find the words to express how wonderful it was to have Lola here!

Lola was really keen to try the unique tastes of India and is a huge fan of pani puri but wasn’t so keen on dhokla. Dhokla is pretty unique, and although I adore it now, I was really surprised how weird it was when I first tried it too. Lola was also surprised at the amount of staring we had to try to ignore, seeing a foreigner in Nagpur is one thing, seeing two foreigners belonging to two different races seemed to blow people’s minds. College kids wanted selfies with us and families wanted to have their photograph taken standing next to us.

baby langur adorable

dog rangoli Nagpur street stall

It was so refreshing to see India again through fresh eyes, this was Lola’s first time in India so I wanted to show her the best Nagpur had to offer. We went to Ramtek temple and on a tigerless tiger safari. My homesickness, like a pair of sad sunglasses, had stopped me seeing the incredible and colourful side to India. Lola’s visit removed the shades.

I really hope Lola had as much fun as we did, friends are such a gift and I feel so blessed! Thank you, gorgeous Lola!!

Friends together Ramtek Lake

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Hartalika: Honouring the Green & Golden Goddess

I never imagined I would be making phallic looking symbols out of sand with my grandmother and mother-in-law, but that’s what we did this morning during our two hour Hartalika pooja (prayer).  This festival is for women to celebrate the day Lord Shiva accepted the green and golden goddess, Gauri (a form of Goddess Parvati) as his wife. Lord Shiva and Gauri represent the divine masculine and divine feminine energy of the universe, their souls inseparable. 

Gold and Green Goddess: Hartalika

Golden and green saree

Each of us made Lord Shiva and Gauri with five handfuls of sand, on this day our husbands become Lord Shiva and so we are actually making idols of our husbands as the God. Lord Shiva is usually worshiped in the form of a Shiva linga, some scholars consider this to be a representation of the divine male energy (the phallus) which produced the seed which created the universe, whilst others find this extremely offensive and see it as an auspicious symbol (a literal translation of the Sanskirt word linga) of the formless and omnipotent Lord Shiva. Gauri, the divine feminine, is placed besides Lord Shiva as small quarts stones found in the same sand.

Hartalika Gauri, making a Shiva Lingam (Sneaky Pug in the background)

Making my husband out of sand

We then preformed a, what seemed to me, complicated pooja. There were lots of placing flowers, removing flowers, throwing rice, curd, a variety of leaves, cotton and water. Each item having its own significance.The quartz stones of Gauri were adorned with small manglesutras, sindoor and bangles, she was even given some coal for her eyes. A left handed person, like myself, can find a pooja difficult because everything should be done with the right hand, I had to be corrected several times. Grandma chanted mantras throughout and told the story of Hartalika.

Women of the family, celebrating Hartalika pooja

Gauri loved Lord Shiva very deeply, she lived many lives of suffering, waiting and longing to be united with him. In one of these lives, her father was a King and had found her a husband, but she refused as she had vowed to love only Lord Shiva. Gauri’s best friend went with her into a thick forest so Gauri could not be marred against her will. There they stayed, living a simple life of penance and prayer, waiting for Gauri’s true love to come.

Lord Shiva saw this and he came to cave where the two women were living and finally married Gauri. That day, overjoyed, Gauri and her best friend observed a fast for Lord Shiva. So, not only is this festival about romantic love, it also honours the love and loyalty between female friends.

hartalika gauri shiva lingam poojahartalika gauri shiva lingam, celebrating with flowershartalika gauri shiva lingam flowers basil, leaves of Indiahartalika pooja

Today, women fast and stay up all night together as a tribute to the many life times of penance and austerity that Gauri, and her friend, endured so Gauri and Lord Shiva could be married. After all, wouldn’t we all do anything for the our friends?

Alfonso was very well behaved and sat behind me the entire time, he did very well for his first pooja. Tomorrow we will immerse the three Lord Shiva idols (our husbands) in the nearby lake before welcoming Lord Ganesh (the son of Lord Shiva and Gauri) into our home (Ganesh Chathurthi starts tomorrow!).

Happy Hartalika! May true love and friendship overcome all obstacles and hardships.

How my relationship with the maids has changed

I found it really difficult to live in a house with maids, it felt so strange. When I first moved to India, I will be honest, I was scared of them! Even though both of the maids who work here are extremely friendly, I felt intimidated. I would creep around them, worried I would be getting in their way. I would always wait for them to leave the house before I left my room, my daily routine revolved around their work schedule. I hid from them and did everything in my power to avoid them, I even stopped eating because they spent so much time in the kitchen.

Why? I was still suffering from my anxiety disorder and quite honestly most things were scary, but having maids was just way out of my comfort zone. When I came to live in India, I was not the same person I was when I came to visit only six months previous. During my time back in England I had fallen into depression and developed an anxiety disorder and I have worked on recovering from those two demons ever since.

I wanted to hide away from people and the maids would always be around. If I would leave my room and they were still there, I would feel terrified, my heart would race and my palms become sweaty. Why? I don’t know. I guess, anxiety disorder is irrational by nature and they became the focus of my panic.

Over time  I have become accustomed to having maids around and my anxiety levels have decreased, this means that I am not scared of them anymore. Now, I enjoy their company. When my husband is at work, I feel so comfortable with the maids. We have a great time, usually laughing at Alfonso’s antics!  I still insist on cleaning my room myself and cook for my husband and I, I still want my privacy and so glad they don’t just walk into my room uninvited anymore.

We have an understanding even though we lack a common spoken language, instead we use laughter and hand signals to communicate. They are both very lovely and kind-hearted women, and I feel foolish for being scared of them, but it just shows how debilitating misplaced and irrational anxiety is. I will miss both of the maids when we move to another place, I am sure Alfonso will miss them too! I am not sure if we will get a maid in our new place though, it took me a while to trust these two and I will want to bask in the privacy I am craving so much for a while.