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.