The Midsummer Bonfire

I suppose I am always in look out for a story; especially, when I am travelling. Its always the local stories that go behind the local traditions and the local food that fascinates me. I think in order to assimilate with the local culture and understand people in an adopted country, knowing their culture and the history behind that culture and tradition is very important. The stories that give rise to decades old tradition are not mere stories. In fact I think they are a lot more than a string of words strung together to form a, more or less, linear, dramatic arc. These stories matter so much and are the ones that have been held on to and kept the longest, because they are the stories that are build, organically, with no boundaries set in theme or time; these are the stories of who we are; each one of us. What our lives mean. Who we love and count among our tribe, our family. What be believe, truly in our hearts. Why we strive. These are stories, and the people and places we choose to include as characters and settings, enter in and leave us. Some stay. Most move on. Some are like snowflakes that arrive gently and some are like hail that batter us hard. But they’re all pieces of this puzzle we call life.

As we begin the second year in Denmark, learning more about the local culture and the stories that have given rise to this culture is up on my agenda. And to further this agenda, I begin with the first tradition that is celebrated across the country to mark the summer solstice and the eve of St John the Baptist alleged birthday, the Sankt Hans or the Midsummer Bonfire.

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In Denmark this day is celebrated on the 23rd of June, the eve of the summer solstice. It is something similar to celebrating Christmas eve more than Christmas. To mark the occasion, gathering and celebrations are organised where people bring in their picnic dinner to share, huge bonfires are lit, music is both sung and played, and speeches are made.

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Sankt Hans is the Danish name of St. John the Baptist who was allegedly born on 24th June. Huge bonfires are lit to ward of any evil that were presumed to be roaming freely when the sun was slowly turning towards the south side again. They are lit in order to protect people from the evil eyes of the witches who were believed to become powerful during this astronomical transitional phase as they often met more powerful beings to increase their dark powers.

In ancient times, during the period of 1540 to 1693, many women who were considered witches by the church were burnt alive in these bonfires in Denmark. However, from the 1920’s an effigy of a witch made out of straw and cloth was burnt traditionally in the bonfire as a remembrance to the past brutality that were inflicted upon many innocents. In the modern era, the witches are now made out wood. People gather around the bonfire and sing midsummer hymns as the effigy burns. It is believed that the burning of the ‘symbolic witch’ would send the witch to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region of Germany where it is believed that the great witch gathering was held on this day.

We celebrated this tradition as a couple this year as our little one had fallen asleep in her stroller. It is said the occasion is best celebrated near the water. As we do not have any water body in Billund, we celebrated it in a nearby park with a huge crowd gathering with live music, dance and grilled and roasted bread and of course drinks. A gospel choir entertained hundreds of spectators with a short concert and at 9 pm the bonfire was set ablaze. We stood there watching the fire, pulling our jackets close, as it was a windy day, and clapped merrily with the crowd. 20150623_214946

Walking the Red Carpet…

“And The Award Goes to…”

A familiar phrase heard a number of times when we skim through the TV channels broadcasting the awards ceremonies for different categories of films and television shows. And it is not very often until one is himself/herself a movie star or a relative to a superstar that an ordinary person like myself get to attend these award shows. But I was lucky to attend one such show; I was lucky to walk the red carpet. If you are wondering which one then let me wade away the cloud of disbelief; it was the show of not the stars but the budding stars in different categories hosted by the International School of Billund; the super-stars of tomorrow.

As I made way into the dimly lit auditorium, I was greeted by a massive screen which said “1st ISB Movie Premiere”. Wow that was indeed inviting and exciting.

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So there were 4 movies which were to be screened for the premiere and the winners for all categories were to be decided from them. The movies were Robin Hood, Bloody Mary, The Little Red Riding Hood, and The Lego Movie 2.

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And the categories of winners were: Best Scriptwriter, Best Movie, Best Director, Best Editor, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cameraman, Best Sound, Best Costumes etc. Here are the awards that were to be given away to the best of the best.

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The children displayed some great levels of creativity, talent, motivation and enthusiasm in organizing this amazing show. All the movies were shot by the children of the Primary Section. They designed their own costumes, created the special effects, edited the videos. Even the awards were made by the children using different Lego Bricks.

The audience which included the parents were equally enthusiastic because am sure many including myself were attending a movie premiere followed by an awards ceremony for the first time in their lives; and all thanks to the wonderfully talented little kids.

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So the movies were screened and the awards were given out. There were a bunch of enthusiastic kids and parents who walked out of the auditorium feeling fulfilled.

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This was the first Annual Movie Premiere and Awards Ceremony of the ISB kids. Will be looking forward to more such amazing display of talent shows from these super talented kids. I wish we had such amazing exposure to the variety of opportunities that are being bestowed on today’s kids. But feeling extremely proud to be part of a team and school where kids are being given the opportunity and the scope for getting the best out of themselves. Kudos to team ISB and the wonderful kids.

A Dunk, A Dip its all about the Early Morning Sip

the dip

I am not an early bird, never have been. But motherhood brings in a basket of changes and one of the biggest change in my life has been ‘To become a morning riser’.

Early morning is the zippiest phase of the whole day in the Parija household. Flinging the blanket as the alarm goes off; whisking the little one as she gets busy in skimming around the bed still recovering from the slumber, expeditious gulping of the breakfast and Voila! All set to begin the day!

As I come back after dropping the little one in school, the instant urge to have an energy drink becomes way too overwhelming. So out comes the cup and a set of 4 Marie biscuits. Ah! My little set of morning happiness.

I have never been a tea person, coffee makes my day. As the house plunges into silence; I raise my feet on the neighboring chair; dunk my Maries in the smoking hot coffee; and let it melt in my mouth slowly. Ah! some happiness in life are priceless and home is where I can just raise my feet on the chair in front and dunk my biscuit in my coffee; because no body is watching. Its all about savouring the Early Morning Sip and appreciating the ‘Me’ times.

Fighting the demons

“Why do you want to go back to India? This is a much safer place for women and you have a daughter too. Why do you want to go back to a country where the women folks have to constantly watch their backs and look out for hungry sex predators waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon you?”

These were the concerned words from one of my European friends who had come over for dinner last night. Well I appreciate the noble thoughts behind the words, but simultaneously I do not approve of the sentiments that go along with the words. I am a proud Indian and I will always be one; unlike some of my fellow countrymen settled abroad who are so ashamed of their country of origin that they prefer talking to their kids in their adopted country language than their native language.

Yes I agree recently there has been a spurt in the sexually motivated incidents against women, some being extremely brutal and heinous. The news reports all over the world have been rife with atrocities towards Indian women of-late reducing an Indian women to a subject of pity. But are these so called atrocities, brutality, and sexually motivated crimes against women restricted to the geographical boundaries of India? NO! Atrocities and crimes against women have no geographical demarcations. In fact they are spread out all over the world. Unfortunately they do not get reported. But just being not reported doesn’t mean they do not happen; they do happen; and they are done by men; but not all men. So if not all men are rapists and perverts then why are you generalizing Indian Men? Not all Indian men are rapists, not all Indian men disrespect women, not all Indian men ask for dowry, not all Indian men kill female foetuses, not all Indian men are perverts. India has always been a patriarchal society but so has been the societies of many countries around the world but that doesn’t mean women are not respected in the country. Women have always played pivotal roles in an Indian family and continue to do so. In fact a lesser known fact is India has matriarchal societies in many parts of the country too where the ‘woman’ and not the ‘man’ is the head of the family.

So here is the answer that I gave to my ‘European’ friends too last night. Yes I will go back to my country; in fact I do not intend to settle anywhere in the world except my own motherland. Irrespective of all the patriarchal values, atrocities against women in everyday life, poverty, disease, population, garbage, filth, cows, goats, elephants, camels on the streets I will definitely go back to my country. Not because it is the only country that is trying to sustain such a vast population against all odds but because India gives me an identity and if I let go of that identity I will have to live a life where I have to struggle life long with an identity crisis.

I would like to mention a short story from my life’s experience in the light of all the controversies that surround Indian women, Indian men, Indian society; its a story which will make you realise that India is just as safe as any other country in the world, if not more.

It was the last day of my final year graduation exams. All my friends had left for home except me. I had my tickets booked from Varanasi station in the Doon express till Durgapur. It was to leave the station a little after 4.00 PM. So I call up the railway enquiry and they informed me that the train was delayed by half hour. I quickly finished off the last minute packing, checked the time on my watch, called the auto rickshaw, loaded my stuff, and headed for the station. It was about 3.35 PM by my watch. I reached the station, unloaded my stuff, and looked up the electromechanical display device to check for the platform. The train was indeed half an hour delayed but the board also said that it had ‘Departed’ in bright red. A flurry of emotions started settling in as I read the word ‘Departed’. How can that be? The time next to the train showed 4.30 PM, its 3.35 PM by my watch then how can the train go! I wondered!

As I turned around to walk to the ‘Enquiry’ office, I happened to look at the ‘Big’ watch on the platform which said 4.45 PM in bold numbers. What! That’s not true, my watch says, 3.35 still, although it has been almost 20 minutes since I had reached the station.

As the truth started seeping inside about the missed train, thanks to my watch, my mind eventually started organizing Plan B. It was the last day in Varanasi, so all my money had been spent in either buying small tidbits for my parents or clearing off my hostel and college dues. Even in my wildest of dreams I had never thought that I would miss my train and stand there alone in the middle of the station with peering eyes of strangers, loads of luggages to carry back and no money in my pockets.

It took me sometime to gather myself together. Finally I walked to the ticket counter to get my ticket cancelled; firmly keeping an eye on my luggage mountain. The man behind the counter cancelled my ticket and handed me half of the fare that I had paid for the booking. I asked him to book me in the next train. He looked at me and stopped typing on his keyboard and asked, “are you in trouble sister?”

I was almost on the verge of breaking down but was careful not to show myself too vulnerable. So I carefully marked my words before saying, took a deep breath to control my emotions and said,

“Actually I have missed my train, Doon Express and I want to take the next train back home. I am travelling alone with a lot of luggages and am a bit short on the cash too. Can you help me please in getting a current reservation?”

“The next train is the Poorva Express and I can book you in that but the current reservation for that will happen only 2 hours before the scheduled departure of the train so you need to wait and come here at around 3.20 AM as the train’s departure timing is 5.20 AM. As for the fare, well the return money that you have after the cancellation of your original ticket is enough to suffice the current reservation,” the man behind the counter said patiently.

“You do one thing, fill in the reservation form and give it to me. I will make the reservation and give it to you the moment the lines are open. You can wait in the waiting room with your luggages. My uncle and aunt will be travelling as well in the Poorva Express tomorrow so I will talk to the ticket checker in the train and swap your seat near them so that you do not have to worry about the luggages and you will be safe as well,” he continued.

It was about 3.23 AM and the man behind the counter walks in to the waiting room where I was sitting with my truck load of luggages and handed over the tickets to me. There was an elderly couple with him whom he introduced as his uncle and aunt. They sat down beside me and we chit chatted a while. As the train hit the platform at around 5.15 AM, the man behind the counter walked inside the waiting room again, helped me with the luggages, spoke to the ticket checker of the train, stacked the luggages in appropriate places, turned around and said with an honest smile, “wish you a very happy and safe journey sister, and don’t miss your train again.”

“I won’t and thank you so much,” was all I said as I watched him disembark the train and walk away inside the station.

The man behind the counter, a man, a complete stranger had not only stuck to his words when he addressed me as sister and protected me from being a vulnerable victim but also ensured he left me with safe hands so that I reach my destination safely. I do not know his name, I do not remember his face but what I know and what I remember is what he did for me. It is for this reason I want to go back to my country since I know a handful of perverts who bring a bad name and shame to the country cannot undermine and over-rule the efforts of scores of other men who respect women and ensure they are safe from these psychopaths.

If one racist attack in Australia or USA or Canada or anywhere else in Europe cannot brand the entire country as racist, then similarly one off incident in the second most populous country in the world cannot brand it as a ‘nation of rapists’ and a ‘nation unfit for women’. Crimes against women are prevalent everywhere around the world; you have to look behind your back everywhere in the world; you have to protect yourself and your loved ones everywhere in the world; than why separate just one nation. We are fighting our own demons just as everyone else around the world.