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The Festival of Lights

The festival of lights, better known as Diwali or Deepavali is a celebration found in the Hindu culture that embodies light overcoming darkness. It was one of the most eagerly awaited celebrations on the Hindu calendar and is usually celebrated towards the end of October  or the beginning of November.

This celebration is full of happiness and love as it focuses on knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. In India, it has been known to be one of the most beautiful nights of the year as houses are lit with lamps and the night to celebrated by lighting fireworks. South Africa is also big on Diwali and we celebrate it in a similar way.

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A satellite image of India on Diwali

On Diwali, we wear our best clothes, we prepare by spring cleaning and renovating just to get our homes and families ready for this day. Our houses are decorated with lights (a lot like Christmas lights) from a few days before to bring in this special day in style.

As a child, Diwali was my favorite day. We got to take a day off school, we got to buy new clothes, new shoes and sometimes my mom even took us to get our henna and hair done at the salon. For some Hindus, this day was also the day we take part in a family prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi who brings good health, wealth and prosperity.

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The Goddess Lakshmi

Relationships, family and friendships are extremely important during this time. So we exchange sweets (known as Mithai) to our loved ones. Sometimes these can be homemade Indian sweets, chocolates and biscuits. This is one of the most eagerly awaited parts of Diwali. We go from house to house, visiting all our relatives and giving them a beautifully wrapped parcel of sweets.  We spend most of this day eating! It is the best part which is why people like my sister spends about three days of excessive gyming as most of our Mithai is made with TONS of fattening ingredients that makes it so good.

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My mom’s perfect parcel of mithai. Individually handmade and designed. She calls this her Bon-Bon option where she makes the usual sweets such as burfee or ladoo all into little perfect bite sized balls. 

 

Unfortunately, I have spent Diwali away from my family as I was at University. But this has never stopped me from decorating my own home, lighting my own beautiful lights, overeating my sweets and having a delicious dinner!

My mother is one of the most talented and creative people I know. She has always made the best Mithai and many people just wait to receive my moms parcel so they can indulge. Her love of baking promoted her to start a little business where she specializes in making these sweets for functions and celebrations. Her business has boomed over the last few years and I am lucky to enough to have received a HUGE cooler bag filled with her designer sweets!

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My morning tray. We prepare a tray in the morning to add to our prayer as an offering to the God’s. My tray was colourful and had some of my mom’s but sweetmeats. After the prayer is complete.

 

Although I didn’t get to spend this day with my family, I still managed to stick to old traditions and make this day a beautiful one filled with love, light and tons of food!

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Some homes have the tradition of making a milkshake in the morning called Bombay Crush. It is made with cardamom syrup or rose syrup and some vanilla ice cream. This is my version, and to accompany it I had Poli. Poli is a sweet pastry shaped in a half moon and filled with coconut and nuts. It is then fried n oil and enjoyed! I also decided to make some coconut macaroons.
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This is a lamp or better known as Dhiya in hindi. This lamp is a special one because it is lit the night before Diwali and placed at your front or back door. 
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The weather in Grahamstown was pretty bad on Diwali. It was cold, windy and rainy. So based on what my mom has taught me, I used little brown bags filled with sand to leave my lamps in. These lamps are usually tea lights.

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Maybe next year you could light a lamp and exchange some homemade sweets with your loved ones!

Pierce Brosnan goes Desi

Ever since Die Another Day (James Bond), I was smitten by Pierce Brosnan. Yes, I was really young… So he might have been my first old man crush! But can you blame me? He is a beautiful salt and pepper man. Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Saturday morning and while doing my early social media checks I see tons of tweets and tags about  James Bond going desi. Yes… DESI!

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Indian products have never been endorsed by Hollywood actors so this has taken India by surprise. We have often seen the Western world borrow Bollywood beauties like Aishwariya Rai and Sonam Kapoor, which is why this has been pretty entertaining for me. Also because the product is called Pan Bahar, it is a brand of the infamous chewing pan masala that is widely used around India. It is a bit like the habit of smoking but often has no tobacco or nicotine, although it still contains harmful ingredients that can be injurious to health.

If you have ever traveled to this part of world, you would be familiar with seeing men and some women randomly spitting red stuff on walls or on the ground (while you are walking) .

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Because of the harmful effects of this product and the infamous reputation it has in India (although extremely popular), the tweets and memes have been hilarious! My favourite headline was “Licence to spit” (you know, like James Bond licence to kill?, pretty funny, right?)

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This is what you will probably look like if you are a pan chewer!
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Since the product is made out of something called ‘Beetle Leaf”

Nevertheless, I am still in love with the advert and I think it is time India made use of some Hollywood faces!

Take a look at the super bad(ass) video here…

This Way to ‘I do’- Whimsical Wedding

This Way to ‘I do’- Sangeet Sensations

This Way to ‘I do’- Mendhi Moments

This Way to ‘I do’- Capturing Moments

It has been about three months since This Way to ‘I do’ so I have decided to share some of the magnificent photographs from the weekend we will never forget! Kashmir and the rest of my family spent sleepless nights to make #vivwedskash an absolute success and everything a bride could ever dream of.

As mentioned in my posts during the series, the wedding week turned out to be such a blur for the immediate family because we were extremely busy. But luckily, we had a fantastic photographer who managed to capture all the right moments.

Stay tuned for galleries of each day!

Hand Me the Henna: Phase 2

Hand Me the Henna

Hand Me the Henna continues to explore the process of the henna application which a Hindu bride undergoes. If you missed phase 1, click here

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Location: Bagwandeen Household

Mission: Mehndi Day (phase 2) 

Time: 11:00am

The Body- What is happening?

As minimal movement becomes more persistent, my sister is beginning to get somewhat restless. The oppressive heat covers us like a heavy blanket and as I turn away to get myself something to quench my thirst, I hear the bride-to-be beckon me by name. I turn around to respond to her call and think to myself, It’s too hot for this, what could she want now?” Expecting a request like brushing her hair back, or maybe even feeding her a sip of water, I find myself facing a more familiar appeal.
My sister communicates to me without words, and instead uses the glare of her eyes to signal me to her side – This was similar in the way in which she would initiate an encounter in which we would meet to gossip (as sisters do.) I walk towards her and position myself so that my ear is close enough to hear her whisper, “Khinali, I need to call Vivek (the fiancé) because he has forgotten to bring the tables for tonight!” I giggle at the distress in her voice.

The bride-to-be is in the middle of what is supposed to be a charmed and captivating activity, but her concern is focused on something as trivial as tables. Maybe this was her defense mechanism in coping with ‘wedding jitters’. I tell her to relax, and that it is not an issue because he will bring them (I mean, he’s a pretty responsible guy) but she insists that she needs to make a call to him. I try hard to contain my laughter as she points at her phone and tells me to dial his number. I dial Vivek and place the phone to her ear awkwardly because getting too close would mean risking a stain on my outfit. As he answers, my sister starts harping on about everythingbut the tables.

I think to myself, “definitely wedding jitters.” and try to imagine what must be going through his head as she speaks in low, aggressive whispers into the receiver. Naturally, I position myself close to my hand holding the phone, to try to listen to his response while, at the same time, gently reminding my sister (who instinctively wants to grab her phone and crush the life out of it while carrying out her verbal assault) that her hands are still covered in mehndi. She cautiously places her hands at her sides, so as not to wreck the delicate designs or her outfit.

She (now reminding Vivek about the table) is inspecting the marvel; that is the masterpiece that was created on her skin. I wonder what she is thinking as she simultaneously waves her beautifully dressed hand in my face; as if to tell me to ‘shoo’. She does this in the same manner in which you would, with a fly, that’s hovering in your personal space – I think she wants me to cut the call.

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Time: 12:00pm

The Mind- The Backdrop of Henna as an Art

A traditional Eastern wedding ceremony often consists of a series of (preparation) events leading up to the official (wedding day) affair; where one of the customary events is a “mehndi ceremony”. During this ceremony, the bride-to-be is adorned with decorative henna patterns which are applied by a practicing mehndi artist.

The application period is usually 3-4 hours depending on the intensity of the design. Although in earlier times when artist were not so acquainted with art of henna designs, they used toothpicks to apply the henna, hence it could take up twenty hours to complete bridal designs.

The expression is transferred through the elaborate designs the bride-to-be chooses to have applied on herself. The henna artist is equivalent to a conventional artist that expresses her/himself through their paintbrush, musical instrument or tattoo gun. It takes extreme concentration and a steady hand to have the capacity to draw intricate designs.

Once the application on the limbs and extremities (hands and feet) have been completed, the bride is not allowed to use her hands and minimal movement is essential. This is due to the fact that the henna remains wet for a period of time so there’s is a risk of “smudging”. It is crucial that it is left untouched to dry and once it does, the artist will continue to add moisture so that it better adheres to the skin.

Some elders who are well versed in the tradition speculate that the bride should not partake in any strenuous activities during her wedding week, and this could possibly be why.

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Time: 12:35pm

The Spirit- How does it make me feel?

The self-expression channeled and projected through the henna ceremony that many traditional Hindu brides part-take in is often a procedure that is unexplained to the brides but is performed based on accepted traditions, much like the application of other more common beautifying phases such as make-up.

I feel that there are instances where one’s self expression peaks during an unconscious state of awareness. During the ceremonious in my home, I personally was swathed in the many conversations, laughter and playful moments we shared together as a family that I didn’t realise the intricacy of the situation, and I abandoned the magnificence of it.

It is much like this, in which certain forms of self-expression go unnoticed, but they are still in existence, whether they stand alone or in the multitude of our conscious mind. After processing the hours that passed by during the mehndi application, I reflect back and think about the moments in which my sister’s face lit up after beholding the beautiful patterns on her body- it is this enchanted feeling of what looks like euphoria to me, that I wholeheartedly believe is the absolute and paramount reward of self-expression; this gradually existing as the feeling that is a deduction of an inconspicuous sensation that shields us.

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Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Hand Me the Henna: Phase 1

Hand Me the Henna

 

The henna process that a traditional Hindu bride undergoes before her big day is one with great significance and beauty attached to it. Hand Me the Henna will explore the journey in three parts (phases) Each part will give you a sense of the body (what is happening at the exact moment), the mind (the history behind henna) and the spirit (how it makes me as the writer feel.)

 

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Location: Bagwandeen Household

Mission: Mehndi Day
Time: 08:25am

The Body: What is happening?

I disconnect my gaze and instantaneously squint as I adjust to the warm sunshine. The mellifluous sound of the tabla and sitar fills the home as my sister adorns herself in her majestic Indian attire. I glance at my sister and notice a look of anticipation: it seems to have hit her swiftly, almost like a wave, that today (which already feels like a lifetime) is the day that encompasses everything that she has ever envisioned for herself. Today marks the day that it will all finally come to life.

My family gathers in the garden and we embark on the first leg of the wedding festivities: the mehndi (henna) ceremony. As we await the arrival of the mehndi artist, the bride-to-be has her last meal of the day (other than this, my mom has permitted some snacking if the bride-to-be insists). Being a small eater, this ‘meal’ happens to be a tiny bowl of  chocolate ProNutro. This is the last time that she will use her hands without assistance, until the sun exits stage to let the stars dance around a blushing moon.

Consumed by vigour and exhilaration, she makes herself comfortable; sitting under a pagoda draped with fragrant, bright marigolds that were grown on my uncle’s farm especially for this purpose.  Once the artist arrives, the process of the particularly intricate art commences. Her steady hand begins dressing my sister’s skin with transiently elusive patterns and the bride-to-be is now no longer allowed to use her hands. The henna remains wet for at least two hours, although every time it dries completely the artist will moisten it again using a ‘trade secret concoction’, resulting in the risk of ‘smudging’. Consequently, minimum movement is essential. So I sit myself right next to my sister (in attempt to distract her from potentially messing some mehndi) and we begin to chat about whether the groom’s festivities tonight will be better than ours – as sisters do.

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Time: 09:15am

The Mind: The Backdrop of Henna as an Art

The art of henna application has been practiced for over five thousand years in countries of Indian and African cultures. The English name (henna) comes from the Arabic “innā” but is now more commonly known as Mehndhi (men-dee) in Eastern cultures.

Henna paste is prepared from the henna plant; botanically referred to as Lawsonia inermis. Its practical use became increasingly common when the Egyptians discovered that it had, ideal cooling properties which could counter the high temperatures of the desert. After realising that henna leaves a distinguishable tint on the body, its popularity grew when it was used in mainstream culture for decorative purposes on the body; often in the form of temporary tattoos and hair and fabric dye.

Where make-up can evoke a form of self-expression, similarly henna embodies the aspects of projecting an identity through the ‘enhancement’ of beauty. Henna continued to grow, aesthetically, in India and Pakistan as a decorative form in light of special and auspicious occasions. These included birthdays, pregnancy and marriage – marriage the most prominent celebration that calls for the application of henna.

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Time: 10:30am

The Spirit: How does it make me feel?

There was a feeling of twilight in the air for me. It might have been a bright, sunny day for everyone else, but to me, this was more like a magical dream and I was lost in another world. I found myself sitting there reflecting, as I observed my sister’s hands become immersed in the dark brown, moist henna.

Mehndi has constantly been a titillating subject for me. From a young age, I would attend family weddings and fervently anticipate the mehndi ceremony so I could join in on the festivities and beautify my palms with the elegant copper-tinted stain. I waited increasingly eagerly to celebrate this day with someone as close to me as my sister. Henna plays a vital role in the progression of the bride’s preparation leading up to her wedding day. This has had an incessantly had a poignant effect on me.

The way in which a woman can use something natural and extravagant at the same time to express her internal beauty externally has remained perpetually close to me. Internal beauty tends to be something that many women see as personal. Internal beauty, I believe, can only be seen by a few people – not everyone sees me internalize myself and my beauty. It is almost like offering your raw soul to just anyone. It is also quite challenging to find ways in which we can actually externalize inner beauty, which is why I feel henna is a precious practice because it follows tradition. Women sometimes choose patterns to be decorated on their hands that were seen on their grandmother’s hands during her wedding celebrations. It is factors such as tradition and the way in which we give significance to this tradition that can be a definition of internal beauty in my eyes

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Stay tuned for phase two, where things get a little messy and a bit more intense!

Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen

This Way To ‘I Do’- Let’s Get Jiggy With It (Part 4)

 

The wedding weekend has just flashed passed us. It feels like it hasn’t even happened yet. When you are actively involved in such a mountainous event, there is such a long list of things to be done that actually immersing yourself in the function becomes impossible. Nevertheless, we had an unforgettable time marking the marriage of Vivek and Kashmir.

The Vision of Iris was slightly absent through it all, but I tried to keep you all updated as much as possible in the middle of pick ups, hair, make up, setting up and so much more.

My mother and I had innumerable arguments about me sitting on my laptop in the middle of the day while there was work to be done, so yes- I tried! But now that the rush is all over, I have gathered and accumulated so much to share with you all, from parents to pups- I have it all!

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The newly weds are off to their honeymoon and according to Vivek, this is where his work begins!

The Sangeet (our night of dance) was so exquisite and ravishing, everyone had a blast. The theme was a Royal Rajasthani Affair.

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The set up was enchanting and the moment we walked in, it felt like we were teleported to the middle of Rajasthan. This is exactly what Kashmir wanted for her guests. All we really wanted was a fun night that brought everyone together- that is exactly what we had.

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The dances went off smoothly, and everyone, young and old took part in the festivities.

The background– Dancing has always been such a dominant factor in our family. Both my sisters are qualified Kathak dancers (a North Indian classical dance form) Kajal and Kashmir have both been dancing from age 9 and 6, and since then, dance has been what makes us who we are.

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Every time you see a dancer dance, you see them in the best version of themselves. Albert Einstein once said, “We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams- we are the dancers; we create the dreams.” This embodies the life of a dancer, and the passion a dancer holds within. Kashmir wanted nothing more than to celebrate her marriage with her passion.

Our family commends my parents for pushing their daughters in the direction of dance, and from a very young age, every family function has adopted a dance aspect to light up the evening and ignite the celebrations.

The production- Kajal, my eldest sister could be defined (in the conventional sense) as Kashmir’s maid of honor. So it was her duty to rally up the troops and construct a group of dancers from our enthusiastic and talented family. In the space of three weeks, she had convinced a group of doctors, businessmen, busy students, and the young to help us put on a show for the rest of our family.

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Rehearsals were full of laughter and fun (well, according to my family. I wasn’t there 😦 ) Even after a few beers on a chilled Sunday afternoon, they still got jiggy with it and had a blast!

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Kajal had no doubt that it would be a victory for us. And it was! Together with our dancer friends, they managed to put together a performance that could’ve almost been a professional show.

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The result was exactly what we intended for, it brought everyone together, even after the dances, the spirit lingered and filled the room with a fire that burned inside of everyone to party on!

The power dance had on our family left us speechless, the fun we had at the Sangeet still lingered on the lips of everyone even days after!

P.S- To add to the beautiful theme, we had a prop filled photo booth with Rajasthani props.

These are some of the fun pictures!

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