Friday, December 24, 2010

Heritage Homes

Do you know Maison Perumal?

No… OK.

Do you know Anandham Swamimalai?

No… okay … Then… Mantra Veppathur?


No, no, they are not names of people whom I know. In fact, even I didn’t know them till I saw them featured as most favored holiday home stays.

Yes, these are nothing but holiday homes which are an extension of your ancestral or patti-thatha’s (grandparents) house - a fading heritage house which has been embellished with modern comforts and special luxuries.

These home stays serve traditional cuisine for lunch and dinner. You can experience the timeless old world elegance, rediscover yourself and blend with the rhythm of the surroundings. All these are neatly packaged and marketed as holiday home stays/holiday homes.

A typical traditional Tamil home in a gramam(village) has a pillared verandah with tiled awning and stone benches called thinnais which doubles as a reception area for unknown strangers. Known people are ushered in through the rezhi (hall way) through the main solid wooden door which has beautiful alcoves embedded in the walls on either side called ‘maadam’. Diyas are lit inside this alcoves in the evening.

Inside you will find an inner open courtyard called ‘ Nadu mittam’ generally open to the sky or having grilled ceiling through which the sun’s ray filter. Around the inner courtyard on all the 4 sides you will have the bed rooms, store room and kitchen.

Behind this at the backyard you will find a place called 'pin mittam'( utility area) where you have ammi kal, kal ural,(grinding stone) and thoikkara kal( washing platform) along with kinaru (water well). This is the design of such homes.

For most of us staying in high-rises, caught in traffic locks, inhaling the polluted air and caught in the web of robotic city life, working lunch, fast food, deadlines etc., These home stays help us to recharge, rejuvenate and connects our children with age old traditions , culture and our roots.

Some of us are lucky to have old relatives staying and maintaining these ancestral traditional houses in gramam (village) while the children and grand children are at faraway places.

I have experienced many such beautiful holidays with my relatives and cousins at my husband’s grandmother’s home ‘Madhurambika Ashram’ in Lalgudi (a small town near Tiruchi in Southern Tamilnadu).

Waking up to the calls of chirping birds, the fresh scent of the unpolluted air tingling your noses and step out to the kitchen garden glistening with morning dew in the backyard or ‘mittam’ with a cup of hot frothy filter kaapi (typical south Indian coffee) in steel davara and tumbler (traditional cup and saucer) and enjoy them outside in the ‘ mittam’ under the shade of the narthangai tree ( citron) along with our aunts and cousins where huge patterns of kolam( rangoli) adorn, while our children enjoy the exercise of drawing water from the wells.

The bath water is not heated in a geyser here instead on a huge copper pot in the mittam on a viragu aduppu( chulha/ firewood stove).

Atthai patti(Mil’s aunt), chitti (MIL’s sister) and M-I-L (all of them are 70+ and very active) have their bath and get together to slow cook authentic traditional recipes with patient hands in earthern stove (aduppu) and gas stove on gentle low flames in vessels like kal chatty(stone vessels), irumbu vanali(Iron wok), vengala uruli( brass vessels), Iya chombu( tin vessel).These vessels guard and endow the dishes with essence and aroma enhancing the dishes with a distinct flavor which cannot be experienced in microwave cooking.

The dishes are made from the keerai(greens) like mudakathan,vada narayana keerai, murungai keerai( drumstick leaves), lemons, curry leaf, sundakkai(turkey berry) ,Manathakali, Narthangai, coconut all grown in the kitchen backyard or from fresh native vegetables like vazhaipoo( plaintain flower),garden beans, vazhaikkai( raw plaintain), pooshnikai,(pumpkin), senai (yam), pidi karanai etc brought from the market.

The maamis (uncle’s wives) in their 50’s help them in grinding the spices in ammi kal and kal-ural (grinding stones) while we cousins and DIL’s help in de-stemming, de-veining the keerai and chopping the vegetable.

Anna thatha(MIL's uncle) and mamas(uncles) are engaged in keeping the children busy with traditional games and storytelling.

Evenings are spent chatting, visiting nearby temple, shopping or making arrangements to take a tour to nearby places on the banks of the river Cauvery and star-gazing.(How many of us have seen a star spangled sky especially those like me staying in a city like HYD?)

We decided to have one such leisurely holiday at Lalgudi with atthai patti this December and promised atthai patti that I would be there, but thanks to the T-factor in our state, the schools have not declared X-mas vacation for a fortnight. It is just a 3 day vacation, so we have decided for a homestay, but of a different kind. We stayback at our own home for a vacation.

Happy vacation to all my blog readers and blogger friends.

Photo of mantra veppatur courtesy: The hindu

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Festival Choristers

I had the rare experience of attending a scintillating Christmas concert sung by ‘The festival choristers’ of Hyderabad. And the venue was the prestigious Raj Bhavan (Governor’s official residence).

The invitation was extended by my Chittappa(uncle) and Aruna Aunty (both senior bureaucrats).

After the high tea, we were ushered into the rich durbar hall which had select guests numbering around 50 which included the Governor of AP, his wife and many distinguished persons.

The Festival choristers is a group of 40 members which comprises of a broad spectrum of senior bureaucrats like Aruna aunty , Indians as well as expats, just out of school youngsters, children etc. All the ladies were dressed in the Christmas colors of red and green while the men were in Ivory colored kurtas. They presented many new and tasteful compositions like ‘ shout the news’, story of Christmas, Gabriel from God, Can you hear the Christmas bells?, Calypso Gloria, song of liberty etc.

The choristers sang in sync with the conductor creating a harmonius ambience of peace and warmth with their soothing melodies. They were well complemented by the accompanists.

The noble idea behind the choristers is to spread the message of cheer, hope and festive fervor and an attempt to spread peace and harmony in the lives of people. They give many concerts at various places throughout the month and cast a spell on their audience.

As rightly pointed by the Governor in the closing address they have to be renamed as ‘ Cheer choristers’ for enveloping the place with cheer and peace.

Truly choristers - How Excellent thy name and how excellent and noble thy thoughts. The wintry cold December of Hyderabad is blanketted with your message of warmth, cheer,love and peace. May your tribe increase.

Thanks to Chittappa and Aruna aunty for the mesmerizing evening where we met so many lovely and warm people.

The songs are still ringing in our ears and my 14 and 11 year olds too thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the effect is radiating at home with both of them singing ‘Shout the news’ as they go about their work.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Science and legend behind Vaikunta Ekadashi

Pious hindus observe fast on every Ekadashi, the eleventh lunar day of every fortnight. They don’t eat cereals and pulses on this day. They drink only milk and tulsi(holy basil) water. Some take fruits.

Margazhi is the month where in the northern hemisphere, winter solstice occurs.The early morning atmosphere is rich in ozone. Ladies wake up early in the morning and draw huge kolams in front of their houses and devotees rise early and visit temples early in the morning.

The ekadashi of the hindu month margashira( according to lunar cycle) is observed as Vaikunta Ekadashi or mukkoti ekadashi(equivalent to 3 crore ekadashis) by South Indians.

The legend behind Vaikunta ekadashi.

Sri Nammalwar who was a great devotee in Sri Ramanuja lineage entered the spiritual abode Vaikunta. Lord Balaji( Vishnu incarnate) was waiting at the door( swarga vaasal) on Dhanurmasa ekadashi to receive his great devotee, so generally devotees believe that on this day swarga vaasal(gates of heaven) is open.

According to mythology, it was on this day, during the great sagar manthan(churning of milk ocean) the nectar( amrut) emerged out of the ocean.

On this day the gate of heaven ( swarga vaasal) is open to all devotees in the temples of Lord Vishnu. Thousands of devotees throng Tirupati, Sri rangam, Tiruvallikeni, Pittsburgh and other abodes of Lord Vishnu. I remember the serpentine queue running to more than 5 kms outside the famous Devagiri temple near my Banashankari house in Bangalore. My MIL and FIL were regular to this temple on saturdays.

Devotees who seek salvation(moksha) believe passing through this gate will beget them the special mercy and blessing of Lord Vishnu. They fast and chant prayers of Lord Vishnu. Some stay awake through out the night by chanting prayers of Lord Vishnu and some even play the game of ‘Mokshapat’ or parama pada sopanam( tamil), the snakes and ladders(English).

Science behind fasting:

According to scriptures, fasting helps create a harmonius relationship between the body and soul. There is a control over our mind, senses and desires. Meditation reins the mind.

The influence of the phases of the moon has an effect on our body and mind since our body is made up of fluids, so ancient hindu scientists recommended fasting and meditation based on the moon cycle, such as on ekadashi.

Fasting is like servicing our body as in car service. When we don’t consume cereals and pulses, it does not strain our digestive system. It causes a natural slow down of the system. The fruits and water flushes out the toxins from our body and empowers our body with more strength.

The ekadashi fast is broken the next lunar day( dvadashi) by partaking nourishing herbs and fruits. Nellikkai( gooseberry), agatti keerai(leaves of humming bird) acts as a toning agent on our digestive tract and sundakkai(turkey berry) removes the remaining toxins.

So again, there is a scientific reasoning behind ekadashi, thanks to our ancestors who have designed such beautiful practices by weaving science, health and leisure.

Courtesy: facts on fasting- by S.R Kishore kumar on podhigai TV
facts on ekadashi: hindu devotional site

Monday, December 13, 2010

The divine december season

Lovers of Carnatic music all over the world will keep their ears and eyes tuned to Tamil channels in the month of December. This is the month of The unparalleled ‘ December kutcheri’ season of Madras .

All famous sabhas( cultural academy) of Madras like Narada gana sabha, Mylapore fine arts club, parthasarathy sabha , vani mahal and many more organize music concerts of celebrated and accomplished musicians & singers . Upcoming and budding artistes also find a platform to show case their talent. Many carnatic musicians based out of Madras travel from faraway countries to visit and participate in the music season.

It is a treat to watch all mamis( elderly woman) in rustling silk sarees and mamas( elderly men) in pattu veshtis( dhoti) and jibba( kurta) attending the concerts along with their restless peran and petthis(grand children).

The misty December evenings are warmed up with Sabha canteens dishing out excellent traditional food like hot kasi halwa, asoka halwa, dosa, vadai, bajji, upma, pongal etc,. Each day the menu would be different. All good food can be washed down with hot degree Kapi.

In our family too, we have music lovers and singers, who will be tuned in to the musical concerts on TV.

MIL is not a trained musician but can sing well. She is self-taught through kelvi gnanam and can identify and appreciate traditional music. She was lucky to have the great carnatic legend ‘GNB’ sing during her wedding.

My mom and her 3 sisters are all well trained veena players and have given many concerts at their home town Mylapore. Their marriage and subsequent shift to different places in India applied brakes on their musical training and practice. Amma especially is very fond of 'kuil pattu' played by the famous veena player chitti babu and often recalls to us her visits to his concert at mylapore.

Amma encouraged me and my sister to take up vocals and she made us listen to the concerts on radio. After a lot of search amma managed to find a music teacher in our neighborhood. I and my sister started our music lessons under her and a year later our till then spinster teacher who had decided to remain unmarried all her life, got married at the age of 44. Our music training went for a toss. My sister later joined Veena classes.

My 7 year old niece Janavi(sister's daughter) is learning music from the age of 3 from her paternal grandmom (disciple of Musiri Subramania Iyer). It is a treat to watch her sing - Chinna chinna muruga…. Children are like sponges.They pick up anything taught to them quickly and music makes it so much easier for them.

To channelize the energy of my bubbly and enthusiastic daughter, I initiated her into music at the age of 4 under her first guru Mrs. Pankaja Krishnamurthy. She was a reluctant learner in the beginning and her training was aborted when we shifted to Hyderabad.

Three years later, she resumed her training under Mrs. Kamala Narayan (sister of south Indian actor Sai kumar and a great musician himself) and continued till her geetham and under her training she completed the junior exams conducted by Gandharva maha vidyalaya at the age of 9. All this with very less enthusiasm.

Our shift from that locality led me to find a new teacher for her and it ended with her present tutor ‘Karuna Raman’. She is being trained in classical carnatic under her for the past 5 years and has graduated to 'keerthanai'.

Now without coaxing or cajoling, She loves to go to music class amidst her tight school projects and play time. She misses her friend’s birthday party when it clashes with her music class. While at school project work or at leisure, she listens to carnatic songs on i-pod and tries to catch the nuances. She is able to judge and appreciate the finer points of the contestants on musical reality shows .

Though I admit she does not do much saadhakam (practice), I am glad she has turned from a reluctant beginner to an enthusiastic appreciative singer of carnatic music. Hope her musical journey continues…... For music is a great stabiliser in today's turbulent world.

(Disciples of Mrs. Karuna Raman during Ganesh Utsav)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The name is RAJNIKANTH

During a recent socio- cultural religious meeting, after the function all of us had gathered for the Prasadam. I was surprised to find that the talks of all the 60+ aunties gathered were centred around one man. (his latest release robot).

Similarly when you ask a 2 year/3 year old to imitate a style. This too would be centered around this one man.

Yes, the man whom you and I have seen tossing up cigars,twirling his glares, pulping up villians and dancing with the same step movie after movie for the past 35 years.

No conventional good looks, no filmi back ground, no great acting histrionics but he is the man ringing the box-office registers and looks younger with each movie.

He is the pied piper who leads people across all ages be it men/women.

Such is the charisma of this man who attracts his fans with his punch one liners and his magenetic eyes.

He is ‘the Rajinikanth’.

The man who turns 61 today and along with it he dons a new avatar of management guru.

According to TOI, his punch one liners which are famous all around Tamilnadu and sends all his fans spinning into a tizzy and used even by politicians during their meeting are now introduced in management books.

This book, Rajini’s Punch tantra- ‘ Value statements on business and life management’ has some of his famous one liners which ascribes management insights. One of his famous one liner 'En vazhi thani vazhi'(My way is a unique way' The book analyses the 'value statement' and says ‘ one has to be different to succeed. Don’t choose a ‘me too’ line of business or a ‘me too’ way of running a business. And then comes the example: “ recent history talks of many failures on account of this very herd culture. The failure of many dotcom companies is a typical example"

Some of his famous PUNCHtantra in Tamil movies:

Naan oru dadavai sonna, nooru dadavai sonna madiri .( If is say once, it’s equivalent to having said 1000 times)

Andavan solran. Arunachalam seiran. ( God commands, I obey)

Naan solrathaiyum seiven, Sollathathiyum seiven. ( I’ll do what I say. I’ll also do what I don’t say)

Kanna, panni daan kootama varum. Singam singleaa dhaan varum ( dear, Only Pigs come in herds. The lion always comes alone)

Another one-liner packed with Rajni wisdom is Khatam... Khatam... Mudinjathu mudinju potchu from the movie Baba.( let bygones be bygones). The book says that this is a typical example to let bygones be bygones. In an analysis of the line, the book says "If history was all that is there to the business game, then the richest corporations will be mere libraries... One reason God created time was so that there would be a place to bury the past.

Happy birthday to the simple and humble man who has fought against all odds and emerged a winner at work and at life and has dedicated himself to many social and spiritual causes.

I am a great fan of this real and reel life hero.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Whose side would you take?

We are going to have entertaining weekends this December. Cultural organizations of twin cities( Hyderabad and secunderabad) like SICA(south Indian Cultural association), Kalasagaram, Sharada cultural trust, Desika Sabha of twin cities, Sri chandrasekarandra music academy have organized music concerts, Dance, dramas , harikathas lined up for the lovers of music and fine arts.

It is difficult for us to attend the weekday schedules and so far we missed the concerts of T.M. Krishna, Nityashree, Ranjani- Gayathri sisters.

Last week end, we happened to watch the play of Kathadi Ramamurthy titled ‘ Neenga yaar pakkam’ (whose side are you?).

It is the story of a retired man ( sivaraman) and his wife lalitha. Their only son is settled in the USA. After retirement, The son wants his parents to join him in the USA and help him tide over the cooking problem while his wife is posted in another city for 6 months.

Sivaraman refuses to go to USA telling that one becomes a prisoner in an alien land and has to wait for their children’s approval to go out whereas he is free at his native Mylapore and can keep himself engaged and active and can visit temples, take strolls in the local parks with friends and do as he wishes.

After a series of arguments, Lalitha his wife decides to help her son and so travels to USA all alone with out her husband. While in US her son tells her not to talk to or smile at their neighbours since they would take offence. With no socializing /outing and her son also busy with work, Lalitha turns a mental wreck.

Doctors in the USA declare to her son and D-I-L that she cannot be cured.

So she returns to India with her son and DIL and the son accuses his father of being too strict, principled and selfish.

Meanwhile, Sivaraman calls up a friend and he comes home and narrates her the neighbourhood happenings and gossips. She hears the gossip of ‘edathathu alamelu’ telling the neighbourhood that Lalitha has fought with her DIL in America and has returned. This does the trick and immediately Lalitha springs up from her seat and jumps to defend.

Every body is surprised by the cure and her dil finds this unbelievable since the efficient American doctors found her uncurable. Sivaraman says Socialising and gossiping helped her maintain sanity and Here they had their own lives too lead and the short quality time they interacted each day kept them bonded, here too if they were thrown together all the time watching each others face, they would have ended up with frayed nerves. The visit to Niagara, Disney world and other US attractions pales in comparison to his & Lalitha’s social life In Mylapore.

Sivaraman says all retired people should stay in their own place and should not become a puppet in the hands of their NRI children, besides in old age it is the familiar people and surroundings that is reassuring. If children cared , they should find jobs in their home land and support their aged parents.

Lalitha says there is no harm in helping their NRI children and so one can travel abroad when they require their help.

Their son suresh says, children move out for greener pastures and parents have to support their children.

Another friend suggests that there is no harm in parental migration to US.

Now, Whose side would you take?. NEENGA YAAR PAKKAM?.

I side with Sivaraman.

A relevant to times play, not preachy ,not judgemental but let's the audience to ponder.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Priceless memories - made and some lost

I’m a nostalgic person and so the latest advertisement of LIVE.LOVE.REWIND of Sony camcorder reminded of my days as an young mom 14 years back. Just like the advt, I used to capture those priceless moments - the laughs, gurgles, smiles and cries of my children.

Their first roll on, their first crawl, their first stand up, their first step, first hold on the feeding bottle, their first mottai (tonsure) their prayer time, rhyme time and all the natural camaraderie the two little ones shared, their special moments like birthday, ayush homam, vidyarambham, their bonding with their grandparents, their nursery days, their outings, early school events and beyond( they are still in school) were silently captured by my camcorder and some of them on my still cameras (analog one). Their milestones are also recorded in a scrap book.

The still photos developed into many albums and every event was marked. The videos captured were all copied on an anti-fungal Panasonic VHS-casette ( CD’s were not popular 14 years back) and safely kept (or so I thought) to be cherished later. The photos taken during their pre-school days in my digital camera were all stored on my computer.

Days roll by fast and before I realize my children have grown. Now, These memories link our present with the past. I want them to remember those old times and reminiscence on their infancy and early childhood (they are now at 14 and 11.8).

During holidays, it is our favorite past time to watch all those photo albums. We huddle together and enjoy all their infanthood moments which are carefully captured and preserved in photo albums. I recall to them all the warm memories of their baby hood times which they treasure and enjoy listening. They enjoy this wonderful trip back in time and always ask me gleefully,

“amma, naan chinna kuzhandai ya irukkum bodu enna sonnen?’’ ( Amma, what did I talk when I was a baby?)

All the while, I was aware that my children’s beautiful times of childhood are safe in a VHS casette. Our VCP is not in working condition and is stored in the attic and since they have become obsolete, we never bothered to watch the videos.

I recently decided to burn the VHS cassette into a DVD so that we could sit and watch their childhood videos, but was greatly disappointed when the DVD shop owner told me that the cassette was corrupted and he could not read the cassette. All those priceless moments which were made with love are now lost.

Luckily my daughter’s appearance in the kannada movie ‘ amma ninna tholinalli’ for a song sequence with her little friends when she was 5 years old, her first dance show from her dance academy at town hall,Bangalore (again at the age of 5) which was relayed on TV were all recorded in a separate VHS. These could be burnt, albeit not perfectly.

The photos of my children captured on the digital camera which were stored on my old computer were also lost when my computer crashed.

All the memories which were such an incredible part of our life have been lost. Time does not stand still, my children are growing fast, what will they have to look back on their times spent together and growing days?.

I want them to reminiscence about their past when they grow up.

Except those photo albums and a few scrap books and yes, I hope this blog survives and in later days this serves to make their hearts smile.

“Life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood”
Charlotte Davis Kasl

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An ancient festival - Karthigai

Agal vilakkus (terracotta diyas) lit in rows in the backyard, frontyard, on window sills, on the compound walls, staircases, inside alcoves, on the threshold, in the kitchens, in the puja room add that special glow and festivity to the house. All silver lamps like ‘kuthi vilakku’ which have been received as a part of the heirloom and wedding gifts are removed from the lockers, cleaned and lighted in the evening inside the house. Diyas are also placed on the Kolams( rangoli) drawn with rice flour.

Pori urundai(made from jaggery and puffed rice), appam( a fried sweet dish made from jaggery and wheat flour) are the special karthigai sweets and is offered to god as neivedyam (bhog) in the evening along with fruits and betel leaf.

This is the festival of lights for tamils called ‘Karthikai deepam’, one of my favorite festival celebrated on the full moon day of tamil month Karthigai(Karthik Purnima).

Many legends are associated with this ancient tamil festival dating back to 200 B.C which is older than deepavali and navarathri. Some famous legend associated with Karthigai month are-

The Birth of Lord Muruga/Karthikeya: Lord Muruga was born from 6 sparks shot forth from shiva’s head. These sparks turned into 6 babies who were cared by the 6 celestial nymphs called krittikas . The 6 babies were later merged into a single baby by goddess parvati and hence he is also called ‘ Arumugan’in tamil meaning 6 faced . His birth star is kritika.

The second legend is that Murugan is supposed to have taught the meaning of Pranava mantra ‘OM” to Lord Shiva. Thus the lamps lit on this day are in remembrance of sharing the ultimate knowledge of OM symbolically representing knowledge. Hence Lord muruga is also known as Kumara guru.

Another legend has that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma had a ego quarrel of who was the most powerful of the two. While they were fighting Lord shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Shiva told them both to find the ends of the pillar, accordingly Brahma assumed the form of Swan and flew upwards and Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug deep into the earth. Years of search did not yield the ends but Brahma came and lied to Lord shiva that he found the end and he used the ‘Thazham poo’ as a witness. Lord shiva was angry about the lie and pronounced that Brahma would never have temples in his honour and hence there are few temples for Lord Brahma and ‘ thazham poo’ would not be used for worshipping Shiva.

Soon afterwards Lord shiva turned into Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu also called agni sthalam(one of the 5 elements). The Bharani deepam lit here atop the hill draws thousands of devotees here from all over and the tiny agal vilakkus lit during the festival at homes is supposed to be symbolic of the fire linga( shiva). Nearly 3000 kgs of Cow ghee and 1000 metres of cloth as wick is used atop the hill to light the Bharani deepam in a huge brass cauldron. This light glows for nearly 10 days at Tiruvanna malai. Another interesting fact about this temple is that this temple spread over 25 acres has 6 praharams and 9 gopurams. Archaelogists have found an inscription on the compound wall of the 5th praharam that there was an earthquake nearly 400 years back at Tiruvannamalai and this quake absolutely had no effect on Tiruvannamalai.

The scientific reason behind this festival was today narrated by a scientific astrologer Dr. Pazhaninathan on TV. I missed it by a few minutes.

Whatever be the reason and significance , festive days give us a break from our routine and the sights of the oil filled diyas de-stresses the mind and adds certain warmth to the misty evening atmosphere. Electric serial lights are also used these days by many households but the beauty of this pales in comparison to the traditional agal vilakkus.

Karthigai deepam is a festival to light up your mind, soul and uplift your spirit.

Happy karthigai to all.

Karthigai info courtesy: a tamil magazine.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Delectable dosa redefined

The simple and humble dosa has fused and adapted itself with world cuisines that this is now the star of most food carnivals and desi fast food joints and almost every other month there is a dosa carnival or dosa fest featuring dosas with bizarre prefixes like chocolate fondue dosa, risotto dosa etc.,

What is so unique about this dosa?

The signature food of most south Indians are Idli and dosa. You walk into any tamilian household unannounced and open the refridgerator, you will find the idli/dosa batter.

There cannot be many variations in idli though it is made with the same batter. But the variety of dosa’s you can make depends simply on the way you would love it. It can be plain/stuffed with filling, It can be small as a medal or as big as your table. It can be crisp like a wafer or thick like an American pizza. Most often it is the size of a regular pizza(8”) but it can be in any shape as you desire. Sometimes rolled like a newspaper some times shaped like a cone/triangle.

The Indian dosa, whose origin predates to the sangam age of Tamil literature has its cousins in American pancake and French crepes. They are made from a batter of parboiled rice and full urad dal (round one not the split urad dal) in the ratio of 4:3/4. One can also add 1 table spoon of ground fenugreek seeds to make it softer. When tasted by itself it is very simple and boring, but it turns delicious when it is eaten with an accompaniment like Sambar( thick lentil soup),ground chutney( ground coconut sauce/onion sauce with chillies or milaga podi( spiced powder). It can also be rolled with fillings of your choice.

You can get very creative with dosa. Few years back, people were just enjoying plain/masala dosa. But now every road screams of a dosa corner and they surprise you with the unexpected fillings. The adaptable dosa is now slowly emerging as desi fast food.

Having grown in South Bangalore, which was famous for thindi beedhi’s (eat streets) like Sajjan Rao circle, Gandhi bazaar, Mavalli tiffin room( MTR), Hotel Kamat etc., The purist dosa lover in me refuses to accept the fusion taste, although i love the various fillings.

My tryst with the variety dosas started at Dosa corner at Jayanagar IV block in Bangalore.(perhaps they were the pioneers of the variations and fillings - not too sure about this)

15 years back when we were staying at JP nagar in Bangalore, We used to frequently make many trips to this joint. It was a part of Ganesh darshini but because of the oil and smoke the griddle of dosa emits the dosa making area was towards the corner of the shop.

We had to buy tokens and stand in a serpentine queque till your turn came. You could watch the dosa’s being flipped on a big black griddle. The griddle was seasoned with oil and wiped clean and then a scoop of batter would be taken and drawn into a circular shape and oil would be drizzled around . When it would turn brown below, it would be smeared with red chutney made of onion and chilli and then customized with filling of the customer’s choice. At one go they make 8-10 dosa’s. It was a feast for the eyes and nose while they flipped making those crispy brown dosas. It is definitely an art to make so many dosa’s of the same shape and size and so quickly.

They have a variety of fillings here. All dosa’s irrespective of the filling is served with sambar and chutney.

Set dosa: a set of medium sized dosa’s( 3 no) served with sambar and coconut chutney. This is also very famous at Dwaraka hotel near bull temple road.

Masala dosa: Dosa with potato curry filling along with sambar and chutney. This is extremely tasty at the Janta hotel at Vijayanagar(near my parents house), At MTR and also at vidyarthi bhavan ( Gandhi bazaar). Here the chutney is served with mint flavor, though of late I find the standard of taste at vidyarthi bhavan has detiorated.

Benarsi masala dosa: Few Bread croutons spread along with the red chutney, filled with potato curry and served with sambar and chutney.( a must try at dosa corner, ganesh darshini)

Butter masala dosa: Masala dosa made with butter and topped with a spoonful of butter.

Cucumber dosa: Along with the batter cucumber is also ground and then made into dosas.

Ragi( millet dosa). Ragi is mixed with the regular batter to make dosa

Gobi masala dosa: Dosa with cauliflower curry.

Peas masala: Dosa with peas curry filling

Vegetable dosa: Dosa layered with mixed vegetable curry made with carrot,cabbage etc.,

Upma dosa: dosa with upma as filling.

Cocktail dosa: mix of all the curries and upma as stuffing.( famous at sindhi colony,sec'bad)

Tiranga dosa : Dosa having tricolor chutney, Ginger and tomato(red), green chutney (made with mint and coriander), and white chutney made with coconut.

Paneer dosa: dosa with paneer curry.

Rava dosa: made with riceflour, maida/wheat flour and rava in the ratio 1:1:1/2 and to this batter are added pepper corns,curry leaf, coriander leaves and finely chopped onions and chillies. This should not be ladled on the griddle like a regular dosa. You have to simple go around dropping on the hot griddle here and there with, you will find lots of spaces in between , you should’’nt fill them. This is best eaten hot and crispy.(this tastes excellent at Arusuvai, Mayajaal, Chennai)

Steamed dosa aka Chiranjeevi dosa --- famous at chutney’s, Hyderabad. This dosa was named as Chiranjeevi dosa since the recipe came from the Telugu actor. He tried to recreate the set dosa he ate at mysore.

Medal sized dosa: This is famous at Saravana Bhavan, T.nagar- 7 small medal sized dosas topped with different chutney and milaga podi.

MLA dosa – I hav’nt tasted this, saw it on Chutney’s(Hyderabad) menu card. This is supposed to be bigger and have a rich filling(like a MLA).

Spring roll dosa, Manchurian dosa ,sczhewan dosa --- our neighbor china’s gift to our desi dosa and not to forget all those western influence like peanut butter dosa, pizza dosa, chocolate dosa, Mexican dosa, Salsa dosa etc.,.. Each passing day the humble dosa is redefined.

Many more like uttappams, pesaruttu, adai etc., just unleash your imaginative skills and fill it with any edible curry and you have a dosa. I know, I am leaving this list incomplete.

Having said all the above, nothing to beat the home made dosa to the accompaniment of milagi podi and nallennai( sesame oil) made on a seasoned iron tava. ( a seasoned iron tava needs little oil and is better than a non-stick).

Dosa in its original form is the ultimate - an anytime dish in our home.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Deepavali- a Global festival

Deepavali- a delightful festival celebrated with lighting diyas has many interesting legends associated with it across different parts of India.

For Tamils, it is associated with the killing of Narakasura by Lord Krishna. The story goes that Narakasura- an asura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram (modern day Guwahati). He was the son of Bhudevi and acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma. The people of his kingdom were tortured and suffered a lot of hardships. Women were kidnapped and imprisoned.

Unable to bear the cruelty of the asura, the Devas pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from this asura. Narakasura had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother, Bhudevi. Krishna accompanied by Satyabhama(re-incarnation of bhudevi) as his charioteer battles with Naraka.

During the battle when Krishna falls unconscious after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Sathyabhama takes the bow and shoots at Naraka killing him instantly.

The death of Narakasura- The triumph of good over evil is Deepavali in Tamilnadu also called Naraka Chaturdashi since it happened on the 14th day of the Tamil month Aipasi.

Ritually, it is followed by people cleaning the vessel in which water is heated for having bath on the eve of chaturdashi. The vessel called ‘Anda’(now geyser) is cleaned and decorated with kolam of a sun and moon drawn on it. All the new clothes, sweets and savories along with a herbal concoction called ‘ Deepavali legiyam’ are placed in front of the God along with gingelly oil( Godess Lakshmi is believed to reside in gingelly oil) and shikakai.

In the wee hours (before sunrise) of chaturdashi, The senior most female member of the family makes all the younger members sit in a row and applies oil on the head . Then they go out and light a cracker symbolizing the killing of Narakasura.

Now the killing of narakasura is celebrated with a head bath and all the members of the family have their bath before the sunrise. It is believed that a bath before sunrise when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in River Ganga and hence tamilians greet each other with ‘ Ganga Snanam accha?’ meaning ‘Did you have a bath in Ganga?’ After the bath, the family elder gives them their new dress. They wear the new dress and seek blessings of elder family members and partake the ‘Deepavali legiyam’ which acts as an antidote to all the sweets and savories taken later.
In the evening, relatives and friends visit and greet each other. A Tamilian Diwali lasts for a couple of hours before sunrise with no elaborate pujas.

Traditionally, Tamils do not light diyas during Deepavali but a fortnight later in the Tamil month of ‘ Karthigai’ diyas are lit.

In Northern India, deepavali is celebrated as the return of Lord Ram after his exile and killing of Ravana . To rejoice over his return, the people of Ayodhya bursted crackers and illuminated the kingdom by lighting diyas.

For Gujarathis, Marwaris and other business community, Diwali marks the worship of godess Lakshmi and the beginning of new financial year.

For Bengalis, it is the worship of Godess Kali.

Different legends, different rituals across different regions but the essence is the same – rejoicing over the triumph of Good over evil.

Thanks to globalization, the festival is now being celebrated all over the globe and it has even become an official festival at the white house.

Rejoice, Indulge and celebrate a safe and Happy Deepavali.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grand delights

It was a diwali time during the late 80’s when all of us cousins and my mom’s siblings from various towns had gathered at my Grand parents place in Chennai. One of my mom’s maternal uncle Ranga mama visited us with a box full of sweets. Patti(grand mom) went about distributing the sweet to all of us. The burfi which had the scent and color of a pink rose simply melted in my mouth and 20+ years later the heavenly taste still lingers when i think of that rose pink burfi.

Ranga mama said that the sweet was gulkand burfi( made from pink rose petals) which was specially prepared during Diwali time at a snack and sweet shop called ‘ The Grand Sweets and snacks’ Adyar,Chennai. This shop requires no introduction to chennaites all over the world.

The sweets and snacks of this shop would definitely remind you of your patti’s or amma’s kai pakkuvam (ghar ka khana). That is one of the USP of this shop which has no business strategy but still has food connoisseurs of the world in its customer list.

The best ingredients are sourced with no compromise on quality and prepared painstakingly by mostly women( women are majorly employed) at their factory in suburban chennai and then sold at their Anna nagar and Adyar outlets.

My Grand parents have patronized their products ever since the shop was open in the early 80’s. Due to old age and failing health, when patti was unable to prepare the sweets and savouries, she bought them from Grand sweets and sent it across to all her children living in Trichy, Bangalore, Dehradun and Delhi and to other relatives across the globe.

I have always sourced their thokkus and savouries through friends and relatives and so had never visited their shop but recently during the diwali time of 2008, I visited their shop for the first time at Anna nagar accompanied by my aunt, who brought bulk diwali sweets and savouries for her family.

I was looking for a glass facaded , chrome polished a/c shop on the main road, but the car turned into a by lane and stopped in front of a dignified shop nestled amongst houses. An inverted V shaped brick tiled awning in a green courtyard with a few seating arrangements in the front could be mistaken for a house if you do not notice the board.

In the frontyard, there is an open kitchen which serves traditional items like adai-avial, appam-stew, kuzhi paniyaram, thanjavur poli etc.

Their main products are the traditional Indian sweets like laddoo, jangiri, jilebi, poli, Bengali sweets, pedas etc, and savouries like murukku, thattai, cheedai, mixture etc., along with ready made rice mixes like pulikkachal, paruppu podi and thokkus( a thick pickled sauce) of onion, coriander, curryleaf, tomato,kadambam(mixed vegetable) etc.,which have a shelf life of 3months.

These ready mixes are a boon to bachelors, home makers and busy working women. All they have to cook is rice and mix them with any of your choicest of thokku to make tamarind rice, tomato rice, coriander rice, kadamba rice etc. These products are very carefully double packed and seal proofed, since they have large number of regular NRI customers.

They also cater to weddings and parties and specialize in making seer murukku and paruppu thengai (given during weddings and special occasions). The ladies clad in yellow sarees work like an automated machine to attend to your orders.

Another highlight is that the customers get to taste their prasadam in leaf bowls called 'donnai' along with free booklets on culture and traditions. These prasadam is given soon after their morning prayers and evening prayers to all their customers.

This shop was started by Mr.Natarajan who after a series of business setbacks, started this food business in a small way at Adyar in chennai in the early 80’s by capitalizing his wife’s culinary skill and slowly and steadily today it has a grown into a store of global fame. The world wide clientele was built on a strong foundation of tradition,hygiene and simple home atmosphere.

I am only glad like other food chains, they have no plans of branching out. It would lose its authenticity and may have to compromise on quality.

@ Chennaites - This diwali look out for the ‘Gulkand burfi’ prepared exclusively during diwali time and non-chennaites, If you are a connoisseur of traditional home made food and are camping in Chennai, include this shop in your shopping list and stock your pantry with their ready made mixes.

So, indulge this diwali season at ‘The grand sweets and snacks’ .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An innovator at home

Ever since, he heard from his friend 4 months back, My 11 year old son was interested in a science camp held by Butterfly fields, an Indian backyard science program.

This dussehra holidays, he was very keen on joining this camp although he was busy with his friends playing football & cricket matches and was also catching up with his cartoons and Common wealth games on TV.

The advertisement in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper were very attractive and claimed they would teach innovative science concepts in a playful method for 5 days and it would be followed with a contest and the winner would win a hamper worth Rs1000. They would also provide all the material required for the camp and a free back pack worth Rs250 - all these for Rs 1200.

One of the 6 camp centre was close by home and so decided this was the right opportunity to enroll him, since he showed interest.

The concepts taught was about magnetic levitation, piston pump, mysteries of chemistry, paddle boat and the 6th day children from all the centres were taken to the main center where they all assembled for a competition based on the principles taught. They were also told about the applications of the above concepts and before each day’s session began, the children were given a lot of science books and encyclopedias to find information on the day’s experiments.

After the class, he would display his experiments in our golu (a display of dolls during Navarathri), and when people who came to our house asked him about the principles involved, he would conveniently give the scientific jargon like potential energy, kinetic energy etc., a miss and talk in simple words like push-pull action, spring enery etc., all with a ‘chaltha hai’ attitude and an eye on TV.(His mind would be in CW Games)

The contest day coincided with Saraswathi puja day, and I was slightly sad that we had to rush through the puja and send him to the contest. He was forced to have a hurried puja brunch. We dropped him at the nearby centre and all the children were pooled and taken to the parent center for the contest at where children from the other branches also assembled. ( More than 30)

By 1.00p.m, Sharun called me from his facilitator's mobile telling that he won the contest and the prize hamper.(The hamper had a board game and a card game designed by Butterflyfields)

Sharun sailed through the prelims by doing two DIY things one a parachute and other was fixing a two pin plug (these were not taught during the program, but an instruction paper was given at the contest center) and a 10 mark paper on the applications of the principles taught.

In the finals where he was pitted against 3 finalists, he did a time bound experiment based on Newton’s 3rd law of motion called Newton’s car with the help of poker( similar to screw driver),card board wheels,Kabab sticks,, bent straw, balloon etc.

The camp, the contest are all over now, but the hangover of the science camp is all around my house. My wash basin has turned brown, thanks to the mysteries of chemistry. There are water droplets all over the ivory colored vitrified tiled house, we have to carefully watch our steps or else the floor would turn into a skating rink , all credit to the piston pump and on our bath tub water you will find a 'pet' water bottle with two chopsticks and marble disguised as a paddle boat and all soap dishes in the wash rooms and the skewer sticks from the kitchen are getting converted to motor cars and paddle boats.

Now I have an innovator at home, Thanks to Butterfly fields,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Golu at Skandagiri

Tha above Golu is staged at Skandagiri, hanuman temple at secunderabad. All the 9 days the hanuman idol is decorated with different alangarams like vetthalai(betel leaf), jangiri, vegetables, vadai, butter etc., There are concerts in the evening by renowned singers and also encourages young talents.

Beside this hanumantemple, on a small hillock is a murugan temple. HEre too there is different alangarams for Ambal. Concerts are arranged in the evening and prasadam is distributed. There is a branch of Giri trading center which is where all tamils source their panchangams, bhakthi cassettes, shloka books, golu bommai sets etc.,

This temple and its surroundings are like mini madras in Secunderabad.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Golu @ home-2010

This is the golu at home which came up suddenly on Mahalaya amavasya, all credit to my daughter,son and MIL. With our travel plans getting grounded,this vacation I decided to enrol my son in the science workshop at the indian backyard science which he was pestering me to enrol since long at butterfly fields.

As I was through with the winter cleaning on Mahalaya amavasya day, I decided to clean the display unit & display the little doll collection,but my daughter turned around some tables, brought down the plywood sheets from attic with a bathla ladder and set up the whole unit with the help of my MIL and son. Seeing her interest, I only contributed by adding some finishing touches.

Natarajar, a reclining clay doll of ganesa, a colorful ganesa in a hibiscus, standing ganesa, channapatna wooden toys, a wedding doll, some animals like elephants,ducks, a rajasthani seth and sethni(instead of chettiyar and chettichi) along with small brass utensils like aduppu(stove), idli stand, maaram( used to chaff rice) are some of the items you will see. All the above have replaced the olden 'man bommais' which my mil used to display. The older 'man bommais' are carefully packed and stored in an attic at my husband's grandparents home at Lalgudi.

My children have also designed a park with a pillaiyar temple in a mini village set up.

Now I am busy with the theatre workshop(winter camp), i am conducting in the morning and in the afternoon i go to get the vethhalai pakku, poo, pazham etc and in the evening I go over to visit other people's golu and invite them over to my house golu.

Enjoying the festive season.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The significance of Golu

During Navarathri, all traditional Tamil house holds arrange dolls called golu in 9 successive slanting steps. The significance of golu is that Goddess Durga is sitting in her durbar(golu) prior to the slaying of Mahishasura. The house wives place golu with kalasam which depicts the goddess instead of a icon or photo. They invoke the goddess Durga to reside in the kalasam by the avahana puja. After this puja, It is believed that the goddess Durga reigns in the household for the entire nine days.

Along with the kalasam, clay idols of Gods and goddesses (man bommai) are arranged in according to the householder’s convenience in steps of 3,5,7 or 9. Generally, these man bommais are handed from one generation to another and so it is collected over the years. Golu is also said to symbolize the evolution of life and so the creators or Gods are placed in the top three tiers, The next 3 tiers are devoted to Godly men like rishis and munis . The last 3 steps depict the social life with the placement of helpers of our society like postman, police man, chettiyar, chettichi and miniature wedding sets,parks etc.

Daily Llalitha Sahasranamam is chanted in the morning and a neivedhyam (bhog) generally payasam/pongal made with jaggery is offered in the morning. To appease the navagraha deities sundal is offered as neivedhyam. Friends and relatives are invited home and offered haldi, kum kum and ravikkai thuni(blouse bits) along with sundal and other snacks. Children & women also exercise their vocal chords by rendering devotional songs . Daily aarthi is performed to the deity at the end of the day.

On saraswathi puja day, all books and tools( ayudha) are placed in front of Goddess saraswathi and Saraswathi puja is performed.

The tenth day is Vijayadashmi day – an auspicious day for starting good tasks and initiating children into education called ‘Akshara abhysam’. After the prayers and puja, one doll in the golu padi is made to ‘sleep’ on the rack perhaps symbolizing the end of the festival.

The next days golu dolls are packed back and put into the attic until use for the next year. The kalasa water is also poured back into a well or pond .
Having written all the above from hear say from elders , I still wonder how and who started this concept of Kolu?.

Some records mention that it started 500 years ago by Krishna Deva raya and some records mention it was started by Raja Raja Chola who encouraged artisans to make manbommais when they were rendered jobless after the construction of the periya koil.

Does anybody have authentic info?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lingering memories of Navarathri

Around me, I find Bangiya sanskritik sangh’s Durga puja, The Gujarati haveli’s Dandiya mahotsav, Kanchi kamakoti's Navarathri utsavam and the gated communities and other cultural and religious association organizing Lalitha Sahasranama chantings and cultural concerts. Not to be outdone, the regional craft emporia like Lepakshi,Poompuhar, Cauvery , Gurjari have organized exhibitions.

Feeling very festive, that time of the year where there are celebrations and holidays all around irrespective of the region we belong to.

The navarathri festival time. A Pan india festival which charmingly links religion, rituals,social and cultural life. A festival across India under various names and various ways but the essence of celebration is the same that of triumph of good over evil.

Essentially a ten day and nine night festival where Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and saraswathi are worshipped for 3 days each and the tenth day is Vijayadashmi.

With Dussehra vacation , Puja , golu and festive air around me , my mind is wandering around Mylapore in Madras. Festivals are so much interwoven into the life of Mylapore and navarathri is no exception.

If you are a person who believes in vibrations and positive energy of a place, then Mylapore is one such divine place and so this Dussehra vacation too my magical mylapore beckons me to relive and celebrate my childhood Dussehra vacation .

I am now on my nostalgic trip down to my birth town.

My dussehra vacations were always spent at my Grandmother’s house at Kutcheri road. The whole area around Kapali Koil would be festive and matching it on ground around teppakulam and mada veedhi were hawkers selling traditional Man bommais( clay dolls) and other small plastic items. The regular shops like Srividya manjal kunkuma kadai, Sukra’s, Vijaya stores, would be doing brisk business selling flowers and pooja items like manjal kungumam, blouse bits, combs, mirrors and token gifts.

We cousins along with mami,chitti, amma and perimma would walk through the narrow senghaneer koil street to reach the Kapali koil and get lost among the sea of devotees and the purifying devotional activities. The beautiful karpagambal and kapaleeswarar decorated in different alangarams were a visual feast and the highlight of the koil was the golu and the miniature teppakulam which was recreated in front of the saneeswara sannidhi. After the darshan we would sit and enjoy the concert and walk back home with sundal in hand.

The daily dose of sweets, bakshanam( savories), sundal , token gifts of plastic miniatures like house, handpumps, mixie and kal chatty choppu(miniature sandstone) during various golu visits at relatives and friends place are all the beautiful memories that still linger in my mind.

Simply put, it may be easy to take me out of mylapore but impossible to take mylapore out of me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A voyage of discovery

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you did’nt do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” – Mark Twain.

Thus Quoted the invitation of my children’s school day function(primary section).

My children’s school day functions are theme based. Each year is different with themes like Panchatantra( based on Panchatantra stories) , Ithihas ke pannon se… ( emperors of India), Around the world in 80 minutes( self explanatory), Indradanush(rainbow), Raga sudha rasa (about emotions), Pancha bhootha( about the 5 elements) etc.,

This year the staff and students of class I to VII presented ‘A voyage of Discovery’ to highlight the pleasure and importance of travel.

Lot of research, creative work, hardwork, team spirit, co-ordination and practice translated on to the stage where children showcased their voyages to China, Hawaii , Mexico, West Indies etc.
See the invitation below showing the countries against the presenting classes.

Each country’s culture was showcased through the music, dance and a tableaux depicting the landmarks. The uniqueness,contributions and achievements were ably anchored by the respective class children in impeccable English and shuddh hindi. Now, shall we go ….

Off to see ‘ The great wall of China’
China’s culture was beautifully portrayed with a breezy fan dance (The kingdom of fans), a lantern dance,exhibition of martial art skills and with beautiful props of a fire spitting dragon, laughing Buddha, Giant Panda, China ware and the great wall of china and the now world famous china bazaar. Very breezy and bright.

Our next voyage was to….
Aloha….. HAWAII … Here we come!---- A wave like prop embellished with shiny blue sand in the fore ground and a blue duppatta in the back ground turned the stage into a virtual beach. In the back ground were the palm trees, canopy and a volcano . In between the boys and girls of Class II were having sun bath in their beach wear. The stage was sizzling like the tropics, Of course, there was the Hawaiian dance.

From Hawaii we flew to

Mexican fiesta…. Fun ‘n’ Frolic of Class 6 ( my son participated ) was again supported by beautiful props, a salsa dance, bull fighting, a mock beauty pageant and mock footballand other interesting facts on Mexico. The stage was totally on fire with a Mexican ball dance.

Our next port was
Sun ‘n’ Sand of West indies came alive on stage with beautiful beaches , swaying coconut laden palms and a lovely Caribbean song and dance followed by excellent mock cricket. After a long time , we saw Viv Richard and Clive Lloyd in action. We were cleanly bowled.

From there we landed at….
Spanish Rhapsody- Spain was ably recreated on stage by class 3. A Spanish dance, bull fight, salsa dance and again a few boys replayed the FIFA 2010 to ‘ Waka, Waka…’ and held aloft the FIFA world cup. Even as I was thinking that Mexico and spain had similar cultures, the mindreading compere of Class 3 said that the culture was similar since Spanish immigrants settled in Mexico and retained the Spanish culture. Waka waka mesmerized…

From the land of FIFA 2010 winners to..
The intriguing land of the Pharoahs- Fascinating Egyptian culture was weaved on stage with the magnificient pyramids, mummies, sphinx and the blue nile river flowed on stage while queen nephertiti and the beauty queen Cleopatra walked on stage as their rich history was enacted & anchored by class V through a skit. Every one was mummified….

From one ancient civilization to another……we flew to the land of rich culture…i.e..

Incredible India ---- Well, what shall I say about this country? My words would not do justice to the efforts of the children and staff of this excellent school. India’s show began with an invocation to Lord Ganesha complemented with the oldest dance form Bharatanatyam , a jugalbandi of carnatic and Hindustani music, A kathak performance with a huge prop of Taj mahal - The mood and lighting took us back to the time of Shahjehan and the crown of the show was the tableau depicting the culture of India Kerala’ boat race to the northern Himalayas, The Garba of Gujarat to the culture of the northeast were all flawlessly put to act by the children. The tranced audience stood up to give a standing ovation and as for me, I had goose bumps.

Truly, I N C R E D I B L E I N D I A.

It must have certainly been a proud moment for all parents who inspite of being a working evening took time off to be present at the show and had a comfortable armchair voyage .

A very enriching and memorable evening, Thank you Pallavians. I am sure the message of your show must have definitely reached the audience.

“Travel is more than seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard. ( again quoted from the invitation).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The In-house counsellor and doctor

They are the best architects, but they have not studied architecture.
They are the best dietician and nutritionist, but they have not studied food science.
They are the best beauticians, but they have no certificate in cosmetology.
They are the best counselors and psychologists, but they have not studied psychology.
They are the best doctors of home remedies, but they are not masters of medical science.
They are worldly wise , but no student of Socrates /Aristotle.
They are the best cooks, but no certificate in catering.
They are the best managers, but no fancy management degree.
They are positive thinkers, but have’nt read any self-help books.
They are all rolled into one, They are OUR ELDERS.

They are our inhouse counsellor,Psychologists, doctors , Management gurus and wield a positive influence on us with their rich native and practical wisdom.

When we fail somewhere and feel this is the end, they console by saying it is only a bend and help us to mend the bend.

Most youngsters facing emotional turbulence at school, college and work resort to extreme steps, If only they had these elders with whom they could communicate and get de-stressed, the competitive world would be a better place to live in and all psychologists would be out of business.

I am blessed to have many such elders in my family.

Long live all the senior citizens and Happy elders day to all the elders .

Friday, September 24, 2010

Health by numbers

Most Corporates, these days are concerned about the fitness and health of their employees. They organise and conduct special health programs, health check-ups, implementing diet lunches,access to well equipped gyms at workplace and lectures by renowned physicians etc.,.

I recently came across a health booklet from GE(Genral Electric). This booklet came out of concern and for their associates health safety.

The booklet is named 0 5 10 25.

What is 0 5 10 25?

These numbers are the easiest way to remember GE energy's most important health message for its employees.

0 is for living tobacco free and highlights the importance of getting healthier by breaking our dependence on tobacco and its products.

5 – eat 5 servings of veggies and fruits each day, The 5 reminds us that we all need 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables . This helps in displacing bad fat in our diet and helps us to enjoy the color and texture of fruits and veggies daily. By making this number we lower our cholesterol, level out our blood sugar, improve bowel regularity and decrease cancer risks.

10—10,000 steps or get 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day. This number prompts us to walk 10k steps which helps us feeling refreshed and relaxed. This helps us to move easily up the stairs ,helps in sound sleep at night and cut our diabetes risk. If exercise were a medication it would be a wonder drug without rival.

25—and keep your BMI(Body Mass Index) below 25. This number is the target recommended by WHO for BMI. As our BMI approaches this number, we feel healthier and happy with our new found energy levels

Courtesy: GE energy

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pillaiyar kuthu and Thorpukaranam

We Indians follow a lot of cultural and ritualistic practices. They differ from region to region. Our respected elders formulated and practiced many customs based on their native knowledge and wisdom and strongly backed by scientific truths. These practices were inducted into their daily life in the form of rituals and beliefs. Perhaps, the reason why our elders never suffered from life style diseases and led a de-stressed life. These have been practiced from many generations and our elders who respected their elders never questioned these practices and blindly followed them without reasoning.

But with our generation, things have changed, our fast paced life style do not allow us to practice many of these rituals. Moreover, We question elders and would like to know the significance and scientific reason (if there is any) behind all these practices and In today’s rocket science age, are these practices still relevant?

If they are relevant, it is our moral duty today as parents, to pass the baton of Indian cultural values to the gennext, all those values that have been cherished and nurtured so far by our ancestors, lest they get drowned under the skilful marketing tactics of the west and the Chinese values.

I have decided to post all these cultural and ritual details with their scientific reasoning as and when I source the authentic details, under the label culture, so that it may be a ready reckoner for my children and their friends at a later date.

Hindus strongly believe that before starting any work, if they pray to Lord ganesha, there wouldn’t be any hurdles till they accomplish their task.

While praying to Lord Ganesha ‘Pillaiyar kuthu’ and ‘Thorpukaranam’ are performed. These are two exercises performed by tamils (like namaskar)when they see Lord Ganesha on roads, temples or houses.

Pillaiyar is the tamil name for Lord ganesha and kuttu is the tap. In this you tap your temples(side of forehead) with your fists. This act helps in stimulating the nerve points which helps in retaining your memory.

Thorpukaranam -- Thorpu is hands and karanam is ear in Sanskrit. This is a form of sit up, done by catching your left ear lobe with your right hand and your right earlobe with your left hand. This action is performed 108 times. This exercise which has been blended into our culture is supported by science.

This action of touching the earlobes activates the pressure points on our ears, thus making our right and left brains active. This is more effective when performed for a longer duration and hence 108 times.( will make a separate post on the auspicious 108)

This exercise is now renamed and popularized as ‘Superbrain yoga’ and introduced in many medical schools in the west

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Uriyadi at Varagur

Today is Sri jayanthi and all hindu households sport a festive look in the evenings. Houses are decorated with festoons of mango leaves, maa kolam(rangoli) and foot prints of Lord Krishna drawn with wet ground rice flour.

Traditionally , savories like murukku ,cheedai and sweets like vella avul(jaggery and parched rice) and vella cheedai, vella appam along with payasam are made with lot of devotion and care. This is then offered to God as Neivedhyam with butter.
A story goes that when lord Krishna was born , his maternal uncle Kamsa had a nightmare and clenched his teeth which produced the sound ‘naranara’ and hence cheedai , which produces the same sound while eating is offered to god.

Temples too celebrate this festival with special pujas, alankarams and a customary sport called uriadi. Uriadi is famous at Varagur Venkatesa perumal temple. This temple is at a picturesque place on the banks of River kudamurutti, a tributary of River Cauvery in Thanjavur district, Tamil nadu.

I visited this temple five years back but still the calmness and simplicity of the temple is vivid in my memory.

We drove to Varagur from Lalgudi (B’s maternal grand parents home. From the main road ,we drove through a serpentine mud road flanked with emerald green sesame fields and a brook which led to the temple in the midst of a Agraharam. Agraharams are colonies where practicing Brahmins have their houses. The main deity here is Venkatesa perumal. Richly decorated Silver idols of the god and his consorts on a silver swing are a treat for one’s mind and eyes.

The uriyadi performed here during Sri jayanthi draws many devotees from neighbouring villages. Savouries like cheedai, murukku and some money is tied in a bundle and this bundle is then tied at the top of a slippery pole called ‘vazhukkumaram’. My MIL who has witnessed this recalls how castor oil is smeared on the pole to make it slippery so that it makes the task of reaching the top difficult. Many devotees climb the slippery pole to reach the top. The one who manages to reach the top gets the booty.

The festival here lasts for 11days with bhajans, discourses, veda parayanam and ends with Rukmini Kalyanam .

Monday, August 30, 2010

My family tree on Geni

Twenty five years back I enjoyed the company of houseful of people during my vacations. All of us staying in various cities assembled at our grandparents house in Chennai. My cousins along with our parents, grandparents filled the house and each day was like an occasion.

The visits of our parent’s uncles, aunts, second cousins and third cousins and our visits to their houses and other family ocassions completed our vacation. These get-togethers forged a strong bond amongst all the relatives.

Weddings planned during holidays added more fun and if it was planned away from Chennai then it was more merrier. Travelling by trains and buses to the wedding venue with an army of relatives blocking a whole compartment/bus was absolute joy. I have enjoyed many such wonderful moments with my folks. One such cousin was Radhika (Her great grandfather (GGF) and my GGF were brothers)and that makes radhu my third cousin.

With passage of time, I lost contact with her though our mothers met during some Chennai weddings. I recently pinned her on a social networking site where I placed her through a display photo (surnames have changed and is now based in Atlanta). We immediately exchanged mails and now share all those beautiful memories over mails and during our telecons. She introduced me to our family tree on Geni.

Geni, again is a networking site connecting relatives with a family tree. It displays the relationship at the top of the tree and has a news wall where you can share information and photos with relatives who are in the branch. I have also appended my father’s side (edakkudi branch) to the tree. We are all scattered all over the world while rooted to Edakkudi, practically this whole village (3kms from Mayavaram) belonged to my GGGfather.

Today , Geni tree shows that I have 900+ relatives(500+ blood relatives) and it is still growing. To this tree I have also appended my MIL(lalgudi) and FIL( tiruvaiyaru) family and so I am still counting.

In modern society, generally most of the families have single/two children. Children of the next generation miss the pleasure and warmth of extended family members during vacation and also work and other priorities are grounding most of us and we are unable to attend many family functions, though here i must admit i never miss an opportunity and take my children to their maternal and paternal homes on all vacations.

Geni has helped me connect with so many relatives and it is really nice to see the shastiaptha poorthi(60th birthday) and sadabhisheka(80th birthday) photos of senior relatives, the birth announcement of young ones etc. Old people also share and record some important incidents , anecdotes and sepia toned photos of their youth which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. It also gives moments of pleasure to old people who are unable to meet their relatives in far away places.

People who are interested in connecting with relatives should discover Geni and build their tree and this will also serve as a gentle reminder for our next gen to know about their ancestors.

This is my golden post(50th post) and I dedicate this to all the people on my family tree especially the elders.

Friday, August 13, 2010


During our weekend trip to Bidar, we went to a place called chaubara, a typical olden day bazaar where bidriware artisans worked in very old shops. Bidriware is a metal handicraft. The handicraft is supposed to have originated in Iran and patronized by the Deccan rulers from the 15th century. The art is usually handed from generation to generation and is now crafted only in Bidar. ( as told by the artisan)

The artisans in the shop we went to, had an order of making tea coasters for the 2010 Delhi Common wealth games and so they were making it with the name ‘ Delhi 2010’ arched on an edge of a round metal plate of 3 inch diameter. The base metal is an alloy of zinc and copper which is brittle in nature and does not corrode/rust and has an advantage of being polished with just coconut oil. On one side of the plate was a beautiful free hand rangoli pattern drawn and later engraved with a sharp chisel to an appropriate depth ,enough to fit in a thin silver wire. The silver wire is then embedded into the groove by hammering.

Later on a combination of chemicals are applied to the surface of the metal which transforms the metal to jet black. The final polishing with sandpaper and coconut oil sets the silver inlay work in sharp contrast to its satiny black background
Bidriware products are traditionally designed in the form of cosmetic boxes, surahi, vases, paan dabbas in various shapes like recangtle, oval, round, fish, leaf shapes, water jugs, wine decanters, hookahs etc. but with passage of time it has given shape to cigar boxes, ashtrays, cufflink, fruit bowls and now as tea coaster for commonwealth games.

The articles are reasonably priced at the artisans workship compared to the prices at the gift shops at hotels.

The below show piece(black one) costed me Rs. 350 at the artisans place while the same product( same design and size) was sold at the hotel for rs.800.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friends Forever

Thank you Blogadda for announcing the theme . Friendship and friends were one subject on which I wanted to make a post since long but for some reason never prioritized it and now Blogadda’s contest has nudged me to write this and so here goes my ode to all my friends who have touched and influenced my life.

I am a friendly and a communicative person and have made many friends in school/college, at work ,near home and now through blogs.

I still remember my school friends though I am not in touch with any of them. Having studied in many schools I had many friends. I don’t remember my nursery/kinder garden friends. But my first friend in school was Poovarasi who also stayed close to my house (Class I, st. Thomas, HAL, Bangalore,) Sri Vidya in Class II,( kumarans, mylapore), Debra in class 3, Meena in class 4 &5, ( chennama memorial school,Bangalore), class 6 was Radhika naik(BSVP) and when she got transferred it was Kiran Lotia in class 7, when I got into high school Kiran’s section changed and now it was Anitha, Lalitha and Akhila. In college it was Anita again along with Dimple(MLA college, malleswaram). In degree days it was Asha ( I am still in touch with her), Padmini, Anita, Vidya, Nirmala and Jayalakshmi(all in BMS college, Bangalore) and now friends at work, near home and blogger friends like SSStoryteller, Preethi shenoy and others.

The above were all part of my school/college life, but one friend whom I cherish and still nourish is Shamira Rai( shammi) who was 2 years my junior and is my friend since the age of 10. She was my neighbor and we lived in adjacent houses with just a 4ft compound wall separating the two buildings. Almost practically every day we have shared together till the age of 20. We have played pretend games, solved crossword, sang songs, had sleep overs , read story books, watched movies and all those normal things which two friends do.

As we grew older into teenagers playing games took a back seat and we were more into girlie talks, watching movies, TV and reading books.

Both of us were great fans of Amitabh and Anil kapoor and have never missed any of Anil’s intial day movies,including his first movie. ( incidentally Anil Kapoor’s first movie was a Kannada movie ‘Pallavi Anu pallavi’ made by Maniratnam). When ever Anil’s movie was released I & shammi would travel to Majestic(Bangalore) where most of the theatres are located to buy tickets. Our Parents were not interested in Anil’s movies and so we were escorted by our neighbor aunties who used to come to the theatre after their half a day work(usually it was on a Saturday since they worked in Karnataka high court and the other was with the Bangalore transport). Simple togetherness like discussing, reviewing the movie and TV shows like Humlog ,Buniyaad,cricket etc., going to the corner shop around the bend of the road gave us joy and we had great fun.

We both studied in different colleges and so it became almost mandatory for us to reach out and talk across the compound wall for atleast one hour about all the happenings of our college & friends. Our neighbours wondered what we were talking about always. We both had sisters who were of the same age ( 6 years younger) and these two girls would always hang around us to find out our talks. These talks were theraupetic and helped us de-stress.

Temperamentally we were different, but our thoughts, likes and dislikes were so similar and we influenced each other. We have had arguments, disagreements but many a times we have compromised and convinced each other. We have also had angry moments, ego clashes and we had even stopped talking to each other for a month.

Our daily meetings discontinued when her father got transferred and her family shifted to Doddballapur, Shammi stayed back at her aunt’s place at a different location(Koramangala) to complete her college. But here again during every Christmas vacation we both boarded the bus from Bangalore and spent a week in Doddaballapur. So many nights and days were spent talking about our dreams, likes, dislikes , thoughts etc.,. We have also influenced each other so much that I have learnt her mother tongue Tulu and her culture and she has picked up my mother tongue tamil.

Simple pleasures have lasted our friendship thus long and I am still in touch with her and our friendship is 30 years old. She is now a high flier with an MNC , mother of two kids and lives in Bangalore. I too lead a busy life in secunderabad and now our priorities have changed. I don’t have to mail her, message her or talk over phone daily to her or wish her on a ‘made up’ occasion like friendship day. But I know we can count on each other and when we meet even after a year we feel as though we have met just yesterday. We recently met in Bangalore along with our sisters ( who live in different cities)and our kids on May 25th, and that quality time will suffice till we meet next time.

My namesake Asha Srikantaiah (now Dinesh) is another friend with whom I still nourish my friendship. She was my college mate and this friendship is 23 years old. Many a times during our conversation we travel back to our college times and recall the times spent playing hang man, word building on our college staircase, manipulating our electronic experiment readings ( we never got our meter readings right, but we had to give the right result to get goodmarks), practicing songs for our college shows and together as a gang with friends JK( Jayalakshmi) , Vidya we have rocked our college shows. We have sung many songs like careless whispers, ABBA and we even rewrote a popular song ‘ hurray, hurray it’s a holi holiday’ into a sports day song and sung in front of our sports day chief guest ex Indian wicket keeper SMH Kirmani. Many fun filled times and memories are still ever green, I could still go on and on. After our graduation She married and left to the US. She too is now a mother of two kids and owns a web school portal. Distance was never a matter in this friendship . She is visiting India this month and I hope to meet her.

As we grow older it is difficult to adjust and find friends who match our wavelength and we definitely need to try 100 friends to make that one special friend . I now have situational friends, friends for a reason or just for a season but I am still looking for that one ‘special friend’ with whom I can meet and share my daily thoughts.

Blogadda, I prefer the pringoo mug.(color of friendship)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bidri fort

The next day started late for us since our friend’s son was not keeping well and so we had to skip the Panchadara temple which we could not reach early. We drove to the Bidar fort but over shot the road and our we went down the lane which had beautiful meadows on either side and on our left we saw Bidar milk diary a part of KMF. My son is a great fan of nandini milk( product of KMF) and so he wanted to see how the milk was being packeted.

We drove into the diary to see the process. Cow and buffalo milk are brought from neighbouring villages into the diary in huge aluminium cans and are poured into a big tank before a small sample of milk from each can is taken for testing the fat content of the milk. The milk filtered here is then sent into the cooling plants . From here it is sent to Gulbarga for packeting and marketing. The men working there said they do not use any chemicals and so the milk has to consumed within 4 hours or within a day if under refridgeration.

We came out and drove back on the same road to reach the fort which is the pride of Bidar. It is a huge fort with well manicured lawns and being maintained by the Archaelogical survey of India. Was really amazed by the architectural splendor, the intricate designs, the symmetry of the work all crafted with skilled hands when machines were unheard of. Lot of hard work must have gone into the making. Read more about it here..

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Water cave temple at Bidar

(in the above picture you can see the way to the tunnel beside the idol)

It was past 6 in the evening when we reached Bidar town. Our next stop at Bidar was Sri Kshetra Jharni Narsimha temple – a water cave temple dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Narsimha.

The legend goes that Vishnu after killing Hiranyakashyap killed another giant Jharasura. While breathing his last the giant requested Vishnu to live in the cave in which he lived and to grant wishes to devotees. Granting his wish, Narsimha came to live in the cave.

It is a temple over looking a deep valley. After descending nearly 40 steps we were told the temple was nearing its closing time.

We rushed down the remaining flight . We had to buy an entrance ticket of Rs.5/head.

Though we heard from our friends who visited before , about the uniqueness of the temple, We were really surprised when we saw the temple.

At the entrance of the temple is an Idol of Narsimha. Beside this idol is a flight of nearly10 steps which leads to a water canal inside a cave. The entrance of the cave is populated with hyperactive bats(yes, the mammals were flying in and out of the cave but never near us)

One has to wade through this water canal of nearly 90 metres with bats hovering above to reach the main idol. The canal water is supposed to emerge from the feet of the lord. At no point of time has the level of water receded / exceeded and the flow of water is continuous. The tunnel is adequately lit with electrical lights and ventilated by an air- duct .

The devotees have the privilege of doing puja and ksheera abhishekam to the lord personally.

I ,my daughter and our friends family accompanying us were scared to enter the tunnel and stood at the entrance of the temple while my 11 year old son and my husband went inside and offered puja and did Ksheera abhishekam. My son came back from the tunnel after 20 minutes and told ‘Amma, romba nalla irukku, neriya ladies irukka and neriya cockroaches koda irukku’ (the god is beautiful and there are many lady devotees inside and cockroaches too).

The temple closes on all days by 6.p.m except on Saturdays it closes by 6.30p.m.

Prasadam is distributed after mahamangalaarthi to the Idol of the lord installed outside.

After a good darshan we went back to rest in our hotel room and planned to visit the Panchanatha temple, gurudwara ,fort and bidriware workshop next day.