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).