Last week in Bangalore

Yeah, I know, I’m riffing on Last Week in Krita and Last Week in KOffice… Marijn and me have been in Bangalore for a week now. I think that, code-wise, we’ve made really good progress. I’ve completed most of the work to make KOffice’s flake library flexible enough that a canvas widget can be implemented either as a QWidget or a QGraphicsWidget. Marijn has implemented a QGraphicsWidge-based canvas for KSpread, and I’ve done the same for KWord — and now we’re testing that, and that will probably mean we’ll have to fix some stuff in our canvas implementations, of course. And Marijn has also been working on fixing memcheck errors and performance issues, notably a recent regression in loading speed in KSpread. Probably caused by the new text-on-shape feature.

Friday afternoon, we met with the students again. They’ve been doing some really good work. I’ve already written about a lot of it in my Last Week in KOffice blog, but this time they demoed it to us. Two new students are working on a QML front-end for KOffice — and testing the Qt SDK with KOffice and FreOffice. They’ve also written a detailed guide on setting up the SDK to deploy applications to a device like the N900 — and with Marijn’s help, they succeeded in doing that with FreOffice. Tricky, because the SDK doesn’t support CMake, and because they needed to deploy two extra dependencies both in the cross-compilation environment and on the device: the KDE libraries and the KOffice libraries and plugins.

Saturday we played the tourist. Bangalore really isn’t a touristy city, there’s a handful of Things to See — the most interesting thing about Bangalore is the people. In the morning, we visited Lal Bagh, the botanical gardens. It’s quite a restful place — unless you’re part of a school outing and are doing a running game. Must be a muslim school because both teachers were heavily veiled (looking like Orthodox nuns, but I doubt they were…)

We had actually wanted to go to Blossom’s House of Books — but the hotel manager felt that we could squeeze in some more attractions. So from Lal Bagh the driver brought us to the Bangalore Fort a handicraft emporium. Sorry, nothing doing. (And the same happened today, when an auto driver drove us to a different handicraft emporium. He’d have earned 20 rupees if we’d have stayed inside for 20 minutes, but we weren’t interested.) The Fort has some impressive gates and walls. It’s really a pity most of it has gone — it’s really only the gatehouse that is left.

I love the veg food — and I have to say that the chicken center (nor the Meat Shop, Part of the Bangalore Ham Emporium since 1924) tempt me to try chicken biryani…

When you’ve done the fort, the next stop is Tippoo Sultan’s palace. Only the darbar is still standing, and it’s quite nice. The rest of the palace has disappeared, and there’s a school right behind it.

It must have been pretty amazing, but like most tourist attractions in Bangalore you need your imagination to make the most of it. The temple in the corner of the palace grounds is said to be ancient — but the statue looks quite new in style to me.

As for the books — I got Foley and van Dam on Computer Graphics (finally! No Krita maintainer should be without it!), Aho on compilers, two books on Indian music, Learn Kannada in 30 days, a Wodehouse I hadn’t seen before and Vedic Hymns (2 vols) and the Dhammapadda in the Sacred Texts of the Orient series edited by Max Müller. Is it just me, or has research in this field come to a standstill? It’s the same 19th century series of books I used at the University, and those translations are old.

Today, Amit — who used to work on KPresenter for FreOffice — took us out in the afternoon. First to the aerospace and heritage museum, where there are planes, a frog, and an adorable pair of four-year old twins watching the fishes. We visited the Karnataka State Museum and the Venkatappa Art Gallery. Weirdness of the day: making pictures is strictly forbidden, even of the statues, which surely cannot be harmed by taking a photo, but no guard tells anyone to stop touching the statues. There are some extremely good miniatures displayed in the museum, but the toute ensemble gives the impression that nobody did any work on the collection since the early fifties.

It was great to have Amit with us, since he could explain the background of some of the stories behind the miniatures and statues. Venkatappa’s work is strange: his plaster reliefs are very fine, his busts are quite good, his paintings are pretty weird. He must have been very talented and his work looks like he has been struggling between Europe and India all his life. We could only take pictures outside…

With perfect timing, Amit then landed us in the Shiv Mandir, a temple dedicated to Shiva. I didn’t take any pictures, though Marijn did. This was on many levels a strange experience. The temple is quite new, and built on a site behind a big shopping mall. There’s a VIP entrance from the parking garage under the mall, and we took the VIP tickets, thus short-circuiting the enormous queue that stretched from the street all along the mall to the ordinary entrance. Our ticket was good for four kinds of worshipping activity….

Inside, everyone queued again along some kind of itinerary. We went through the incredibly kitschy decor, with reliefs of hills done in plastic glued to the walls around the courtyard, plastic imitation boulders separating different areas. Still… I was impressed by the devotion of the multitude who came here for evensong (well, it turning dark, and there was quite good singing by an enthousiastic though overly-amplified choir mistress, as well as an orchestra doing its best, so evening + singing == evensong).

First, my ticket allowed me to offer a coconut, some greenery, a flower and banana to a ling, and to pour a cup of milk over it. I would almost say “it could have been a spritual experience had it not been for the people pressing around me doing the same”, but that’s not true, strangely enough. After the milk pouring ceremony, people held their hand over a censer and then made a movement that looked like crossing themselves.

I was given back my plastic bag with half of the greenery and the banana — not sure why…

Next up was a gallery of dioramas represeting various lings from all over India. Some dioramas were animated, and in the (small, low, cramped) gallery there were also several animated statues. Many people in the queue paid their respects with complete devotion. I then realized that these were just the same sort of thing as our icons: windows on what is holy but what these people would probably never see in their life.

From there — still along the route, there was a chance to buy a candle and let it float on water. Something I’ve always wanted to do and I didn’t restrain myself. Apparently I put it in the wrong part of the water, but it kept burning, so that was all well. This was so close to the loud speakers that I couldn’t hear the instructions of the candle seller. Like all non-priest, non-female staff of this temple, the man who sold the candles was a midget — and I think a leper as well. The Shiv Mandir says — everywhere, in big letters, that all the money they get from tickets, candles, everything, goes to children’s hospitals and other humanitarian goals.

The candle pool was in front of the big Shiva statue. Again I was struck by the devotion with which people touched the lion’s head, touched Shiva — making the same reverent movement we do when touching an Icon.

The final devotion our ticket gave us a right to (they took two tickets at the milk-pouring, I’m still not sure why) was putting a stick on a fire in a pit and pouring oil on it — and then walking around the fire, once. That was the moment I think I got a flash of illumination: all these rituals, presented as if it were a fun-fair in this temple, originate in villages. And people in an enormous city like Bangalore simply wouldn’t be able to have their rituals if it weren’t for a temple like this. But I may very well be wrong.

In the end, we sat down on blue cushions looking at the statue of Shiva and a screen on which the words the choir mistress was singing were projected. She really was singing with a lot of gusto and enthousiasm. I was just wondering about the difference between religion as I know it and as practiced here — mainly that there is no sense of community, or of communion here. Every family does the round as a unit, isolated from everybody else. But then a small girl about four years old in a beautiful red sari sat down next to me and smiled at me, happily, sharing her pleasure in being here.