A nameless child & more cow pee

October 2011

While in the West parents already know which name their child will have while it is still nestled in mommy’s womb, in India babies are born nameless and it is considered very inauspicious to even think about how it will be called. It was a bit strange for me to cuddle this little no-name person I loved so much and to call her just “baby” or “little one”.

The name giving ceremony, called Namkaran (Nam = name, karan = to make), usually takes place eleven days after the baby’s birth. It also marks the day of the end of mother and child being impure, after the ceremony, of course. A pandit (priest) is called to perform a sacred ritual; he purifies mother and child and then suggests auspicious names according to the date and time of birth. Hindus believe in the power of sounds and to each person’s birth chart there are corresponding syllables. This auspicious sound shall accompany the name bearer throughout his journey of life and attract good luck.

The proud Baba-Papa was really busy for some days: he had to build a terrace so the guests could sit comfortably in our garden, to find fire wood for the cooking and organize the village catering company; which consists of a bunch of villagers who turned up in the morning of the Namkaran with their enormous pots and cooking spoons which look rather like weapons of war than kitchen tools.

According to the Indian sense of punctuality, the pandit arrived three hours late. Nobody seemed to really bother. Same as in other social ceremonies Indians did not really care that much about the happening itself. The first Indian marriages I attended for instance really surprised me: In our culture the wedding party attends the marriage ceremony keeping quiet and at least pretend to pay attention, forming part of the event in some way. Here, people come around from time to time, to take a peek at the ceremony, walk around, talk on their mobile phones or merrily chat with each other in loud voices. Maybe that is so, because Hindu ceremonies can last pretty long.

Outside it was a bit chilly and the ceremony took place on in our living room. The first thing the pandit did was to draw a square with some kind of white powder on the floor and instructed me to sit in the middle of it together with the baby. I was not allowed to step out of the mark until the puja would be over, otherwise I would contaminate the surroundings.

Then he drew a yantra with sandalwood powder and curcuma and placed a lump of cow dung besmeared with ghee in its center. There were also severel other items, like a coconut, oil lamps and a lot of incense, but to my amusement the piece of cow dung enjoyed most of the attention throughout the ceremony. I had to pull myself together not to grin as I pictured a cow pie being worshiped during a baptism in a Christian church. After I found out that a pile of cow dung might represent the obstacle removing elephant god Ganesh, in case there is no appropriate image of him available.

Another thing that made me smile was that the pandit had told Baba to cover his had and in his hurry, Baba took the first thing he found, which was a green hat in Tyrolean style.

INDIA INDEED IS DIFFERENT!

The ceremony lasted about two hours and I observed with devotion and concentration the pandit’s movements backed with beautiful sacred chants. Everything was really mystic and nice; the only thing that irritated me was that from time to time we were sprinkled with a liquid, which I correctly guessed was of course: COW PEE.

Then the pandid handed me a glass and grinned “Drink! Medicine!”

My worst guess turned out to be true, as I could tell by its smell:

IT WAS COW PISS DILUTED WITH MILK!

But I am really proud to say that I managed to do it!

I DRANK IT!

And not only once, I had to drink two times five sips of this special cocktail! My mind came up with some useful information to get over it: Most of the ayurvedic medicines contain cow urine and even in the West many beauty creams have a component called urea, which is actually nothing else than uric acid.After my purification I had to sit in our room where the guests would visit me and the Baby to congratulate. They offered presents or pressed some money into her little fists. To bless her everybody applied a red tikka on her forehead and after only half an hour my little girl looked like postmarked all over her tiny face.

It had been a long, tiring, but happy day for all three of us which eventually ended without having chosen any name for her. The pandit had suggested five names. Four of them absolutely not pronounceable for the European part of the family and the fifth one very old fashioned. But the pandithad told us to take our time and not to worry. Any name starting with the sounds NI, NA or YU (by the way which names start with” YU”?!?) would be fine.

After another couple of days we found it and so she was named her “NITYA” – which means “ETERNAL

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Sounds and Letters

CIMG4557As you already might have guessed by my writing I am not a native English speaker. But even for someone like me it is quite amusing to read signboards and restaurant menus in India. Not even the word restaurant is spelled properly in most of the cases and sometimes you need a bit of fantasy to find out which items on a menu are actually available; to be hundred percent sure, better ask the waiter!

For instance I could find Paper Chicken, Milk Snakes, Tomato sauce with wild herpes

and (sorry for using this word but this was literally written):

Diet Cock.

The real meanings of the last examples are still pretty understandable. My favourite one though, which left me really clueless was:

Smashed over Gin

Although it appeared in the food section, I pictured in my mind a delicious cocktail with high alcohol content, which comes along with a really nasty hangover for the next day. Eventually I asked the waiter about that dish and found out what it actually meant:

Mashed eggplant (which turned into my favourite Indian dish… maybe I should post the recipe one day; it’s a very nice veg dish for the barbecue season).

Public signboards can be equally interesting: One day I saw a man standing lost in thought in front of a promotional signboard for Ayurvedic treatments. As I walked by, he stopped me and asked:

“Sorry, may I ask you something? What the hell are body-eyes?”

Til this day it remained a mystery to me, and probably to the wondering man as well.

Another curious thing in India is that you can find plenty of wine shops, which sell all kind of alcoholic items, except wine. Once I accompanied a friend who wanted to buy vodka for his birthday party. On his question, which vodka was available, the shopkeeper said: “White Mischief, Criminal or Magic Moments”.  Of course, his choice was Magic Moment. Anyways, more than one of these shops I saw had the following advertisement in big letters painted on the front wall:

CHILD BEER

–interesting-

what was meant, of course, was “chilled beer”.

Even in our small village a local travel desk came up with a pretty curious tourist attraction in their brochure: “Birth watching” (Bird watching). Maybe I should have applied there before giving birth to my daughter; some extra rupees are always welcome 😉

One more thing to get used to, if it is your first trip to India, is the Indian accent. For instance many people pronounce the “s” as “sh”. So don’t feel offended, when a local asks you to take a seat and tells you:

“please, shit here!”

The “f” sound as we have it, does not really exist in Hindi. They use a “P” followed by a weak “h”; that made me witness of a never-ending conversation between a traveler and an Indian while sipping my tea in a small chai shop. The topic was piss; but what the local actually meant was fish.

“Yes, Ganga inside, you possible find much piss!”

It still makes me smile, when I think about the bewildered facial expression of the backpacker, which only faded away as they finally ended up resolving the little misunderstanding.

Another curious phenomenon is that India has the power to change your English. Something that worried some of my Spanish friends before coming to India for the first time was that they thought their English was not good enough to get along with. But in the contrary, after only some weeks, they spoke it very well and had no problems at all to make themselves understand. On the other hand, my native English-speaking friends were asked after their return from India, why they were talking so strangely.

My own English was pretty okay before coming to India; but eventually I caught myself speaking like a caveman; instead of saying for example:

“Could you please show me this item?”

I would just point at something and say

“Me want this!”

With this spirit, let’s conclude this post with the statement on the following picture:

World Piss unitey!

World Piss