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Diwali 2012

It was a nice Diwali this year. Last year we had beautified the apartment with diyas, rangoli and lights but generally spent it low-key. Later we found out that many people gather at Shree Radheshyam Mandir in Sandton and even light fireworks there! So this year we were determined not to miss it.

Firstly, we had to go get firecrackers. At the annual Newtown Diwali festival that we attended at the beginning of the month, we had seen a flyer for a store in Lenasia selling fireworks. And since we hadn’t really seen Lenasia yet anyway, we decided to give it a try. So, on Saturday (which was coincidentally my birthday) we did the somewhat long-ish drive to Lenasia and went to this store called Milan’s. I don’t remember the last time I walked into a shop that was so filled to the brim with fireworks! It was a nice feeling, something I hadn’t experienced in maybe 15 years or more. As we started enquiring about crackers and bombs, we realized that it was a bit different here than in India. They did not understand what ‘flower pot’ or ‘anaar’ meant. Instead, we got something called ‘volcano’ which looked similar but much bigger. I noticed that these were Chinese fireworks, not the ones from Sivakasi, Tamilnadu that we used to get regularly in India. Anyway, we got all the basics – sparklers, flower pots, a few loose bombs etc. Didn’t want to go overboard… just wanted a handful to get that festive feeling.

The evening before Diwali (called ‘chhoti diwali’ in India) we put our string of led lights up. I tried my best to tape it on to a window in the form of a diya. Diwali day itself was a normal workday (no holiday here despite the significantly large Indian population!) so we quickly wished all our loved ones back home before heading to work. Late afternoon/evening some friends dropped by and we exchanged sweets. Got that nice feeling one gets in India when neighbourhood friends and relatives visit over a festive occasion. Then we made a few calls to our parents and siblings, wishing them once again. Before we knew it, it was time to get dressed and head out for the temple festivities.

There were a lot of people at the temple and it was interesting to see everybody dressed to the nines in their best Diwali garb. The Lakshmi Puja was supposed to start at 7 pm and the fireworks were scheduled to start at 8:30. We reached there on time, luckily found parking amidst the sea of cars and said our prayers in the busy hall. As we sat there doing a bit of people-watching, some had already started setting off crackers in the lawn and it was only 7:30 or so. Clearly, most people were there for the fireworks! To our pleasant surprise we also saw a couple who we knew and started chatting with them. Soon, we too headed into the large lawn to join in the celebrations. It was just like in India… people lighting fireworks all over the place, within hardly a few feet from each other. Of course, this being a foreign country, there were plenty of fire extinguishers strategically placed on the lawn should something untoward happen. There was originally a tape running across the lawn demarcating the safe viewing zone with the live firework zone. But Indians will be Indians, so that rule was soon broken and people were all over the place. It was also amusing to see a black guy who had come with his Indian buddies who tried their best to explain to him in detail about how people go nuts over these fireworks back home. All in all, it was so great to relive this experience after more than a decade! People were generally friendly too. Nothing like lighting your sparkler with the help of somebody else’s already lit sparkler – the perfect ice-breaker!

It was a weeknight though, so we had to return home at a decent time. After dinner, we had our own little party on the front patio with friendly light-emitting sparklers. Didn’t risk any sound-producing bombs, though my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I simply had to try out a tiny little ‘dancing cracker’, which at most would have woken up an alley cat nearby. Overall, it turned out be a really fun evening and I was happy to see so many Indians celebrating in an alien country.

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So this is Christmas…

Our tree

And what have you done?

Another year over

A new one just begun

Well, not quite yet but… I just wanted to start with a John Lennon quote this Christmas day. It is always a nice time of the year and seeing decorated trees with strings of lights never fails to put me in a good mood no matter how many times I have seen these kinds of things before.

So what are we doing for Xmas?… We went to see an ice skating ballet called ‘The Nutcracker on Ice’ last night at the Teatro at Montecasino. It was very pretty, colourful and wonderfully done with extremely talented ice skaters but there seemed to be a little too much repetition. Also, since we did not read up on the story beforehand it was quite hard to follow exactly what was going on from one scene to the next. Nevertheless, the stunts were awesome! Seeing the cast effortlessly glide from one end of the stage to the other, spin around in the air and land without making a single mistake was very nice. There were some acrobats as well who I thought really stole the show. But somehow the whole event did not carry the same excitement as say, Riverdance, which we had seen sometime back. Maybe it’s a personal thing. Anyway, I absolutely loved Tchaikovsky’s musical score though.

Later, after getting back home we set up our tree (finally just before midnight!) and plugged in the lights. There were plenty of decorations left over from last year, so we did not buy any new ones this year. Still I have to say that it looks happily well-decked. It is something that I always enjoyed doing growing up despite coming from a traditional Hindu family. Christmas just has that feel like it is for everyone, no matter what religion. Of course, it could be due to the fact that it has been thrust in our faces through satellite television for years and years. But I digress.

I wish Christmas was more happening in Joburg though. Except for malls and casinos where there are plenty of decorations and cheer, I haven’t seen the whole town light up like say, in NYC. You should not have to go into a closed building or entertainment complex to enjoy the Christmas spirit. I miss seeing decorated lampposts and lit-up trees. There needs to be more open shopping areas and street-facing stores here. Not that we don’t have them in areas like Melville and Parktown but there are way more complexes and enclosed spaces. I suppose it is a security thing.

As for any other plans, we might go check out a beautiful Russian orthodox church in our neighbourhood which we have been thinking of visiting. And as soon as my wife is done with the baking, we will have Christmas cake, some white wine and hopefully a good movie like ‘A Christmas Story’ to watch in the evening. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Nik Rabinowitz “You Can’t Be Serious!”

Nik Rabinowitz

I’d been wanting to catch this guy’s stand-up routine for quite some time. So when I noticed on Computicket’s website that Nik Rabinowitz was coming to Joburg, I was thrilled! I heard him first on the Redi Tlhabi show on Talk Radio 702 where he does his segment, The Week That Wasn’t, every Friday. He is a white Jewish guy from Cape Town who apparently speaks very good isiXhosa. He does the funniest ethnic South African impressions ever! My wife and I saw him on a chilly Tuesday evening, the opening night of his Joburg tour titled “You Can’t Be Serious” and it was absolutely splendid.

The venue where we saw him is called The Market Theatre and it is very close to Johannesburg’s CBD or downtown area… not the safest place to be! I was a little unsure about this location especially after our recent bad experience when we attempted to visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery, blissfully ignorant of the shady, decrepit surrounding park it lay in. But this theatre was actually nice. It gave me a very artsy old-time feel, somewhat reminiscent of Nederlander Theatre in NYC where I saw ‘Rent’.

As for the show itself, it was hilarious! Nik targeted all the usual suspects like Jacob ‘world-famous polygamist’ Zuma, the notorious Julius Malema of the ANC Youth League, DA’s Helen Zille, Jimmy Manyi, Bishop Desmond ‘tutu-zela’ and practically anybody who has been in the South African news media lately. The best bit was his take on what would happen if the taxi industry really started flying airlines like they have so boldly suggested. We did not necessarily get all the jokes though, since we’ve been living in this country for only a year or two now. But it was not difficult to find things funny in context of his brilliant imitations of people in the news. Overall, we had an awesome evening out with one of South Africa’s best comedians!

U2 360 Tour in Johannesburg – Literally larger than life!

This is a late entry but I have finally decided to write about my recent U2 concert experience. It was my 3rd time seeing them live after catching them twice on the Vertigo tour in 2005. U2 has always been my favourite band growing up and there was a time in the 90’s when I was completely obsessed with them. In the 2000’s they lost me a bit with their back-to-basics approach which arguably ended up sounding too conservative and seemed like they weren’t pushing their creative limits enough. Nonetheless, I enjoy all of their albums in varying degrees. The best aspect about them in this late stage of their career is that, they create one hell of an awesome live concert experience! The night of 13th February 2011 was no different.

First of all, I couldn’t believe that U2 had finally decided to come to South Africa again, after almost 13 years! When I left the US in 2009, I did not have much hope of catching their live show again anytime soon. In recent memory, the band has not performed outside the Americas, Europe, Australasia and Japan. So when the announcement came that the 360 degrees tour was coming to SA, I was both delighted and surprised. Last year’s successful FIFA world cup here had perhaps left a good impression on their minds.

Anyway, it was an excellent show with great performances of their all-time classic songs like ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘I Will Follow’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘Pride’, ‘One’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘With Or Without You’ and several others. They even included a couple of obscure ones from their catalogue, namely ‘Miss Sarajevo’ and ‘Scarlet’ in a fresh new instrumental version; plus songs such as ‘Until The End Of The World’, ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me’ and the recent ‘Moment Of Surrender’ which are all both lyrically and musically brilliant! As for that huge claw-shaped spaceship of a set, I just do not know how to describe the wide-eyed awesomeness of the light shows it created! It was pretty much the best concert stage lighting I have ever seen! And I’d like to think that I have seen a fair bit of big name rock acts, like Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Radiohead, Green Day and Metallica among others. At the risk of sounding like a total U2 geek but trying my best to be as unbiased as possible, I have to say that the 360 tour set was the best I have seen since U2’s own Vertigo tour which was absolutely stunning! Of course, I have not seen Pink Floyd live and judging from their ‘Pulse’ dvd, that would be an otherworldly experience of its own. So overall from U2’s side, the concert was amazing and exceeded all my expectations.

The venue had some problems though. Parking at FNB Stadium (formerly Soccer City) was a mess with attendants having no clue where to direct people with the Park n Walk tickets. The beer and beverage queues were too long due to an insufficient number of vending clerks. To make things worse, they had this system where one had to stand in line to get tokens first and then stand in another line to get the drinks, using said tokens. The problem was that the person issuing the tokens was clueless about the price of certain drinks. So basically we had to almost guess how much it would be and get a good number of tokens to be on the safe side. That was completely ridiculous! And I heard that the women’s toilets were not very clean. The men’s ones were thankfully fine. Otherwise, to mention something positive here, the cops did a great job directing traffic out of the stadium area after the gig was over.

Despite being packed to the gills with a 98,000 strong audience, I felt that the crowd was not lively enough for a rock show of this magnitude. So many people around us were sitting down for the major part of the show! Why would you sit down at a rock concert??? This is not opera! Some people around me did get up and started singing along or dancing to the big chorus songs but this was mostly not the case. Even if somebody did not know any songs, they could have at least got up and danced around or done something that shows that they are happy they came! Anyway, thankfully this did not ruin our personal enjoyment or participation at this awesome show.

Here are some photos: