When Rima invited me to attend her father’s 75th birthday celebration, at a temple in southern Bangalore, I was more than happy to accept. A 75th birthday is a special event for anyone, anywhere, and I was honored to be asked to share such an event. Even more honored to be invited to a family event, in a culture where family is so important — and families are so welcoming.
So I put on my finest kurta and pyjamas, and set out to find an auto driver who could understand where I wanted to go. (I’ve written about autos, and auto drivers, before – and this day was pretty typical. They quote overly high prices, I get out of the auto and walk a few blocks ’til I find another auto; this is the routine.) Finally I found a willing driver, but we had to duck into a nearby shop so the shopkeeper could read the address and help the driver figure out where it was. After a bit more price negotiation, we headed south.
Eventually, I found the temple. I spotted an entrance with a huge collection of shoes and sandals outside, and rightly guessed that was the way to go. I was unprepared for the size of the gathering! There were easily a hundred people seated behind Rima and her father and her mother. I arrived just as the puja was finished – apparently this part lasts three hours – and we all moved to a larger hall for the final blessings and a meal. A fascinating ceremony, and fun to photograph. (I felt awkward using my camera, but Rima assured me it was fine, and anyway there was a professional photographer and videographer using their bright lights so I was more like a fly on the wall.)
Ceremonies were finished, the floor was swept clean, and lunch prepared. The staff laid out about a hundred banana leaves, in rows, on the marble floor. Each guest chose a place to sit. Next to each leaf was placed a metal cup with water. Then the staff came along with buckets of food, rapidly scooping out chutneys, curries, dals, rice, curd, sweets, and more, using their hand (or sometimes a spoon). Sitting on a marble floor eating food served by hand from a bucket onto a leaf — this is not everyone’s idea of fine dining — but the food was wonderful and plentiful and the mood festive. I marveled at how quickly the food was served to so many – really, it took them about 3 seconds per person as they came by with each dish. I ate so much it was hard to stand up! As we all prepared to leave, a group of cleaning women came along stacking the leaves and their leftovers; it occurred to me that, other than the reusable metal cups, everything left was compostable.
[Why are so many of my blog entries about food? Why do I have a Smugmug tag specifically for photos of food? Can you tell I love Indian food?]
I really enjoyed my time at the celebration. Many of Rima’s cousins introduced themselves and were very kind in welcoming me to the event. Thank you all for inviting me, for allowing me to join your family for the day. And thanks for the two photos of me, above.
I posted a dozen more photos. My very best wishes to Rima’s father on his 75th birthday!