Monthly Archives: May 2012

When Indians can swim…

I was named after a swimming pool.

Quite peculiar considering my parents never took to water.

(Life of Pi, Charles Martel, chapter 3)

A water world:

Although water is everywhere in Indians’ lives and although water is a sign of purity par excellence, swimming is not so common. Worshippers plunge themselves into sacred lakes or rivers, but they hardly ever swim and prefer to wade in shallow water.

 Such a lack of swimming skills can be fatal in areas where boats are used everyday to go from a place to another. On board lifejackets sometimes go missing and the number of lifeguards is unsufficient.  In 2009, journalist and novelist Preety Shenoy showed on her blog how upset she was after the Thekkady boat tragedy; a tourist boat had sunk in a lake in Kerala, causing the deaths of about 40 people out of 80 passengers.

« However what really strikes me as I write this post, is that so many of them could have saved themselves had they known how to swim. The shore isn’t ‘unreachable’. For a person who knows swimming , it is really not hard to swim to safety. « 

Swimming, a western tradition:

In many parts of India, swimming has never been a recreational practice.

  People who live in urban areas and more precisely people from the lower or middle class, have very few opportunities to swim unless they pay the price. Even when you live by the sea, going swimming may not be a usual activity, in particular because beaches are not always fitted for swimmers.

  Akshay Kumar – a Bollywood actor, he’s so keekee! Well, that’s not the point! – stated in an interview to Nri Pulse”Most Indians don’t know how to swim, though not due to any fault of their own because they are not given the opportunity to learn.” 

Contrary to Europeen countries, swimming is not part of the national school curriculum. For a long time, sport was not a priority in education and in families, money was used for something else than learning to swim.  

In addition, let’s not forget that most of people are culturally and religiously timid and it would be extremely indecent to wear a swimsuit on a public beach. (Have you ever noticed Indian people who take photos with their mobiles when they see gori girls basking in their bikinis in Goa? ) My Hindi teacher explained that the English word « beach » itself, was used by the Indians but had quite a pejorative connotation, implying something like « a place where people hang around naked » So, when people go to the seaside, they have grilled fish, candy floss, or go splashing about keeping their clothes on, the hubbies holding firmly their wives’ hands.

      In Rupinder Gill’s novel On the Outside Looking Indian, the author humourously explains:  Indians don’t swim. They don’t have cottages, they don’t go on cruises, and they are rarely seen basking in the sun at the beach. Indian girls especially don’t swim, because only a fool would think that learning a lifesaving skill is more important than keeping your body hidden forever. No doubt the Indian women’s swimming team practises in full snowsuits with matching glittery bracelets. This was a life skill I had just assumed I would never have; it was time to change that thinking.

(This article continues after the photo…)

 Swimming in the Kingdom of Cricket:

 For all these reasons, swimming has not really been considered as an important kind of sport in India. India is not a very sporty country yet (just take a look at their Olympic teams for example), despite their performances in cricket, field hockey, tennis or archery (I have left regional sports aside deliberately).

 However, Swimmers exist even if they have sometimes difficulties to stand out:

Marathon swimmer Kutral Ramesh, despite being in the Guiness Book of Records for crossing five channels in a year at the age of twelve (including the English Channel and Andaman Channel) had to stop his career because he could not find any sponsorships.

The sports awareness and the infrastructure are quite bad in our country. Going further, the prize money has to increase, else it is not sustainable. In Australia or US, an average sports guy makes much better than an engineer at Google. But take the case of India. An average sports man can’t make a living. He hardly earns anything with sports, the swimmer said to Coffee with

Even seventeen-year-old champion Virdawal Khade had difficulties finding financial support until he was qualified for the Olympics!


The web’s protest:

 As a comfortable French municipal-pool goer, I decided to ask their opinion to Indians or India’s inhabitants on Forums about India (EDIT: I have withdrawn their link because they talked to me as if I was sh**, so I won’t promote their forum! My tolerance is limited!). My thread was really successful and the debate animated; that is what happens when a question does not have one answer but several.

According to most of them, saying that « Indians can’t swim » is wrong; and « one mustn’t generalize ».

Of course! It is like saying that the French can’t play cricket and yet… Click!

Some of the India Mikers took the example of these picturesque scenes of young boys diving and swimming in lakes, rivers or wells, washing their water buffaloes, the kind of scenes you can see when you walk around the countryside or when you simply watch a documentary about India on television.

However, a few posts further, a Delhi inhabitant remarked that children often dived or splashed about but did not always swim. So, could they really swim if they were in a pool?

Another-one stated that even women swam, in their saris or salwar kameez, but as they were concerned about hiding from strangers’ eyes, people were not able to see them. An Indian boy took the example of his countryside granny who swam like a fish.

 Of course, I understand these remarks, like in every other country, people who live by the water tend to learn how to swim by themselves, following their instinct or helped by their relatives. Especially when it is a question of live or death.

On her blog, Preeti Shenoy illustrates this point by telling how she learned to swim when she was a girl and went to Kerala on holidays: « I too learnt to swim in this very river. The current was stong. Summer vacations were always spent at Kerala. My dad would take me and my brother along with numerous cousins. We were the ‘city dwellers’, the ‘softies’. They were all excellent swimmers as they had lived there. »  Then she concludes her article by saying that if the Indian government doesn’t do too much, Indians themselves, those who are reading her blog, should act and teach their children how to swim.

 Finally, as far as the boat capsizing issue is concerned, my dear forumers from India Mike considered that being able to swim is often of no use as the currents are too powerful. One of them explains in gory details all the different ways of dying in water; hypothermia, bullshark attacks, exhaustion, long distance from the shore and so on… (This article continues after the photos…)


Swimmer India:

But of course, things change fast in India.

In addition to the swimming-pools in luxury hotels where people from the upper class can practise swimming, more and more private pools are built in wealthy areas. Well-off Indian people travel abroad and enjoy basking and bathing on beaches.

They have realised the importance of sports for their health and figure and swimming is now considered as good as training in Fitness Clubs or jogging on Marina Beach. Consequently, more and more Indian families send their children to learn how to swim in Summer Camps because they think it is fun and useful.

 As regards education, Indian states have started to organize swimming programmes in government schools, like in Madurai where four pools are at the students’ disposal for swimming coaching.

Obviously, the consequence of the spreading of public and private pools in the country is the question of security. Thus, safety norms about the number of lifeguards required and the depths of the pools are regularly discussed in the media.

Rural areas are improving too. Even if a certain number of youngsters learn how to swim in the waterbodies near their villages, associations and local authorities think that is not enough at all. Different solutions have been found such as teaching parents rescusitation techniques in case of drowning. Other simple ideas have been suggested such as putting bells on children when the Monsoon rains start to be threatening.

 At last, the importance of swimming has begun to appear in international events: Sport Schools bet on challenging sports. For instance, GoSports, based in Bangalore, discovered and supported champion Virdawal Khade who has been the youngest Indian to qualify for the Olympics. 

In 2008, India sent a team of four swimmers for the first time to the Olympic Games. And this year, in London, four Indian young men will represent swimming India again and I hope they will do it, supported by the whole Indian people living in England!

*Someone commented this article by saying that my figures were wrong and that I had just taken stats on Google instead of searching “real” stats and that Africa had the highest number of drownings… Ok, thank you for encouraging me! :-/  But I agree to say that these figures may not be 100% reliable, so, let’s be prudent!

Click on the pictures to see which website they are from.

The French translation is online!

Categories: Society, Sports | 6 Comments

Jaisalmer: Golden Town, Gold Memories

I love photos because they arouse memory. Each picture taken gives birth to a swarm of other mind pictures. The more you take photographs, the less you forget the moments in your past life. 
I went to India in April 2011. It seems to be a long time ago but actually the atmosphere of happiness and the emotions are still alive.

We visited Jaisalmer after Bikaner. To get there, we had to spend several hours on a coach, going through the Thar Desert in the sun and even in the rain. The friendly guide Gopal had served glasses of Rum and Coke to all the passengers, because he hoped he would sell us a few bottles at the end of the stay. Unfortunately, I do not like rum. But I liked the Indian crackers he gave us; it is called Hot Mix. It looks like fish- food but it is crunchy and spicy. It is not easy to eat with your fingers; a spoon or a bick would be more practical!


So Jaisalmer is a town in the middle of the desert, its walls are made of sandstone, so they have the colour of the Thar: yellow. It is situated in the West part of Rajasthan, only 100 km from Pakistan. It is nicknamed the Golden Town, or the Indian Carcassonne, as the French like joking about it…because like Caracassonne, it is an impressive fortress in the middle of nowhere, both have the same earth colour, but Jaisalmer does not have the sharp towers at the top nor the green meadows around…

Jaisalmer was a rajput city, founded in the 12th century by Maharawal Jaisal Singh, whose portait I took from Wikipedia and I show it to you because I find it is a really nice portrait – I like the colours and the artless strokes -. Caravans carried spices and silk and used to stop in Jaisalmer during their business trips. You can also note the presence of Jains who built their temples in the heart of the city between the 12th and the 15th century. I am going to write an article about jains because they have a fascinating religion and I confess that I am more sensitive to their temples than to the Hindus’, as they create a kind of quiet meditative atmosphere which is close to the atmosphere in Christian churches, as well as a form of aestheticism through stone carving and chiaroscuro!


When we arrived at the fortress, dogs were barking and barking because there was a bitch in heat in the pack. Some women and children were wearing traditional garments and excessive paint on their faces. They were selling jewels which were supposed to be silver. A shoe-shine boy followed us till the end of the tour. I was lucky because I had brand new Converse sneakers and he could not take me hostage to clean my shoes or change my soles. Nevertheless, he was a kind guy and we gave him some money for his obtinacy.

Then, we started walking in the narrow streets which were decorated with Ganesh paintings and carved-stone friezes. It was a real maze! The walls and the ledges of the windows looked like lace. It was breathtaking. Lace of stone! Lace of stone everywhere! I remember being really moved by the Alhambra, in Spain, when I was younger, but Jaisalmer is ten or twenty times as impressive as the Alhambra!

The only thing I could criticize, is the lack of preservation of such a treasure. 2000 people still live behind the walls of Jasailmer and I guess the weather, the pollution and people’s everyday lives are a probable source of damage.

But that’s the point: the charm of Jaisalmer lies in its people. It is a real town! Children play cricket, women chat on the doorsteps, lay their wet sarees on the roofs, sweep the pavement and men stay in front of their souvenir stalls or workshops, have a chai with the neighbours and watch the tourists pass by. It smells of spices, hot cow dung and sunny stone. I love this smell!

After the walk, we sat down at a terrasse. We had a delicious sweet lemon juice. It was refreshing and unexpected as lemons are supposed to be acid. A salesman had hung patchwork blankets on the wall. It was beautiful. We took pictures in front of this wall of colourful fabric.


Please, if you use my pictures for your blog, don’t forget to give a link towards my site!

Categories: Voyages | Leave a comment

Two Indian Art Books

I am currently writing a long article for this blog. It takes a lot of time and a lot of thinking! That is why today, I will just talk to you about two books I bought during my school trip in London. I bought them in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I love this place! You can walk around and choose to watch Chinese furniture, Indian jewels, British design, Greek sculptures or whatever. I feel good in museums. I feel protected from noise, from violence, from boring reality.

I hardly ever buy art books because I think they always end up on a shelf, catching dust and being forgotten.

But I was so fascinated by the V&A Book shop that I could not help picking a couple of books from the small Indian Art department.

The first one is small but plenty of colours, accessible and untertaining:

MADE IN INDIA by Kalim Winata and Reed Darmon (Chroniclebooks)

 The back cover says: Collected in this delightfully compact book are hundreds of images of everyday India design and pop culture ephemera from the past century including folk art; religious prints; Raj-era postcards; matchbox art; Bollywood posters; household product packaging and ads; children’s comics, toys and games; and much more.



The second one is a bit more complex but certainly really interesting as it answers the questions of Art in India:

INDIAN ART by Partha Mitter (Oxford History of Art)

 The author explains the evolvement of Indian Art from the Buddhist and Hindu Art and Architecture to Contemporary artists:


Excerpt about Erotic art: (p.79)

In the case of the erotic sculptures in Hindu temples, art historical interpretations reveal a basis in Christian thinking on sexuality. Faced with public displays of private acts, including oral sex, group sex, and bestiality, above all in a temple, scholars felt obliged to search for their hidden meaning. This is because such images could not be reconciled with an essentially modern, western outlook. But this search for meaning stems from our assumption that sex is a « natural » act, whereas no human activity could be more culturally conditioned. To answer to libertarians, for instance, who admire Hindu erotic art as an expression of a « natural » society, ancient Indians were no more liberated than we are. It is simply that their notion od « decency » differed from ours.

no French translation available

Categories: India in pictures, Museum | Leave a comment

The Mumbai Wallbook

Last Sunday, a lovely project was organized by Tata Housing to decorate the boring outside walls of Mahim railways in Mumbai. The theme was « Design your dream city ». 600 experienced artists were assigned a section of wall and they just had to let their brushes and imagination flow.

At the end, two kilometers of wall had been decorated showing, flying rickshaws, cinema posters, flowers, skyscrapers in trees, and many other messages against corruption, violence and pollution.

The winner got a mobile phone and an eternal work of art on the walls of Bombay.

Categories: India in pictures | Leave a comment

Shahrukh, Sachin, Gandhi…and me!

   I have just come back from a trip to London with my fifteen-year-old students. I India-love London because it is the kind of town where you can meet Sikhs driving expensive cars near Covent Garden, women in saris visiting the V&A museum, young Asian businessmen reading Hindi newspapers in the tube or elderly Hindus climbing step by step up to the top of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

I may be silly, but I envy Londoners because part of their culture is Indian, part of their food is spicy and part of their people have an accent from over there.

This Indian presence is obvious when you visit places like Madame Tussaud’s Museum. Everybody knows this outstanding museum where wax models are displayed.

I was surprised to see that visitors were allowed to take pictures next to their favourite celebrities and even to touch them. It was fun! There, I saw different great « people » like the Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher, Nicolas Sarkozy (we had to hurry to take a picture, he will be replaced very soon, I guess!), Brad Pitt and Angelina Joly, Nelson Mandela or even Adolf Hitler!

But I also met…

Mohandas Gandhi

Shahrukh Khan

Categories: Fun!, Museum | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rickshaw in Jodhpur

Categories: India in pictures | Leave a comment

Sad Web site: Tamil Express

 Tamil Express is a French site about and for Tamils in France.

I found this idea brilliant because this community is quite important and the French media hardly ever deal with it. Indeed, Asian issues ( when I say Asian, I mean people from the whole Asian continent) are not often developed by French journalists. Tamil Express tends to address this problem by publishing different kinds of news about what is going on in France among Tamils and also abroad, in Sri Lanka or in Tamil Nadu. These articles are most of the time written by wannabe journalists or people living in the Tamil community.

I was very excited to read so much news about « les Indiens français » but what I read on this site made me a little puzzled and uneasy.

Contrary to what people think, Tamils are not always that submissive and discreet. When you read Tamil Express, you realise that rivalry and competition are sometimes harsh among them and that people have to fight everyday for their rights and against acts of violence.

Indeed, violence is on every page of this site: harrassment, attacks, rapes, street fights, fraud, the little Tamil world seems to be overwhelmed by evil deeds. Is that really what Tamil life is like in France? Even offenceless articles like the organisation of Indian parties in Paris may end up dealing with moonlighting!

Too much crime news. Too much sensationalism, maybe?

In my opinion, this site lacks a bit of humour and culture. Why not write reviews about books, films, shows or religious festivals? The Tamils’ existence in Paris is not only based on burglary and bus attacks! In addition, a high number of comments published are offencive and threatening, which can be easy to understand, when the articles are controversial.

Hopefully, Tamil Express also informs people about entertainments, especially new Tamil films, actors and sometimes, Indian gossip. And despite a few doubts about the accuracy of some news, (for instance, the article about the Taj Mahal doomed to fail within five years), you can read uncommon and interesting topics such as the Tamil Evangelist Church or the French election results in South Asian areas.

My reading advice on this site:  

Ces femmes qui allaitent les gazelles    Personne ne veut de la Tata Nano   Anna Hazar 

Categories: Media | Leave a comment

Bollywood Actors: Good Day, Bad Day…

It is Saturday! Let’s have a little fun! Before being demigods, Bollywood stars are human beings! Like all of us, they have their good days (on the left) and their bad days (on the right!). Let’s go!

Aamir Khan   
Good day!         

Sharukh Khan…

Good day!        Bad day!

Salman Khan

Good day!      Bad day!

Amitabh Bachchan

Good day! Bad day!

Amitabh Bachchan…a few years later…
Bad day!

Ranbir Kapoor


Ajay Devgan


Rahul Dev


And last but not least… Abhishek Bachchan


Categories: Fun! | Leave a comment

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