Friday, December 30, 2011

A cake's aroma evokes a cherished December memory

Like every December, this year too  the Xmas tree, nativity scene, festive holly, be-ribboned gifts, colored lights, poinsettias, mistle toe and the reindeer driven Santa  warm up the otherwise chilly blue Hyderabadi nights and makes my mood perkier and  merrier.

It is a visual treat to watch all the lifestyle and leisure stores deck up their windows with their merchandise and other Christmas embellishments.

Not to forget the bakeries which stock X-mas goodies like marzipans, pastries, ginger bread,Rose cookies, kalkals, Yule log and ofcourse the tastiest of them all the X-mas and New year Plum cakes.

Plum cakes for me reminds me only of two things, one is the famous nilgiris plum cake and the other the one baked by my chitti(mom’s younger sis), but she baked not for X-mas or for new year but for my cousin’s birthday which falls on the last week of December.

 This beautiful memory of late 70’s which is nestled in the crevice of my heart surfed up today when the aroma of the Christmas fruit cake wafted from my microwave.

My chittappa worked with FRL(now called the Institute of wood science) and so stayed in the quarter adjoining Sankey tank. The whole area belonged to the Forest department and so it was wooded. In the late 70’s or 80’s there was no dearth of greenery and the quarter and the forest area was separated by a huge green land like a meadow with lot of flowering plants. This extended till the sankey tank which was  barricaded with a picket fence.  

I and my cousin (he was the only child and my sis was just 2 years old) along with his friends Ganga, Shyama, Vyas and Akhila  would go around doing simple things like  throwing stones into the lake and enjoy watching the ripples, chasing butterflies and holding them in our hands till the color of their wings stuck to our hands , running around the huge green lawns ducking from the buzzing bees and printing colored flowers onto our dress etc., Suddenly we would drop all those things and go around picking up the mica flakes in the nearby earthy area. We would crush those flakes to powder which would shimmer in our hands under the sun’s rays. We would then dust it on our dress.  We would loaf around flaunting our shimmering dress.

Around noon, the aroma of the plum cake would draw us like a magnet to home. We all would wait longingly for our share but we would get a mouthful of scoldings for dirtying our dress.We got our piece of cake too that was  after a game of musical chair in the evening.

 Such footloose and fancy free days(sigh!) was a regular December routine for me till they got transferred and moved to Dehradun.

When I last passed by Sankey tank, I saw the area  stripped of trees to make way for real estate development and road widening and sadly this is supposed to be the First tree court of India, meaning if anybody wants to chop  trees in public area they have to seek permission from this place.

3 decades have passed since then and with each passing year, I feel that the year is getting shorter else how do I explain that it seems like just yesterday that 2011 rang in and is  already coming to an end so early. Though I know it sounds clich├ęd, I just can’t stop myself from thinking how time flies and now another goes by making way for new one , nevertheless giving us time and opportunity to build bridge to our destinies.

As the year closes in,  My prayers to  God to bless this earth with  eternal peace, cheer, harmony,  love, warmth, innocence and a healthy safe world for years to come.

Looking forward to 2012 with high hope.

 May god bless you all with good health, happiness and fulfill all your dreams in the coming year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dhanushkodi - A port town under the sea

In my childhood,  one of the stories  I heard from my family elders was that of Dhanushkodi, a town  on the east coast of India, which  submerged  when a cyclone of wind velocity 270km/hour crashed into it on the night of 22-23 December 1964. The killer wind  and the accompanying tidal wave blew away all structures and the storm marooned the land,  wiping almost the whole town.  Infact the Government of Madras declared it as a ghost town and unfit for living.

But a few survived to  tell the tale and one of the surviving family was my mom’s maternal uncle who worked there as DS of Customs and Central excise and lived there with his family.

Though I  have heard the story many times when I was young,  I recently asked my mom’s mama ( he is now 84 and lives in Madras) to tell it me again during our telecon a few weeks back.

And he said “ Even now, The thought gives me shivers”.(ippo ninaichalum nadungaradu)

On Dec 22, 1964, My mom’s mama, his wife and two sons aged 4 and 2 were  having their noon day siesta.  They were surprised when the water gushed into their house and in no time it slowly raised to the level of bed.  Worried about their sleeping sons and the rising water levels, they immediately placed two tall wooden stools over the bed and stood over the stool holding their 4 and 2 year old and tied them with a rope to the ceiling. The 20 metre  tidal wave flooded the home  and by evening the water came up to their neck level and it was getting difficult for them to hold  the children up there and balance themselves. Thankfully the rising water stopped just there.  With great difficulty they sustained all throughout the night with the wailing children. The water subsided only in the morning around 10 and then they were evacuated to a  temple,  where they were given food and shelter  for 3 days and finally rescued to mandapam relief camp  along with other survivors in  a ship (INS Sarada).Needless to say that they lost all their belongings.

Dhanushkodi ( also known as Sethukkarai)  was a town at the southern tip of Rameshwaram Island(in southern Tamilnadu) on the East coast of India, and the nearest Indian town close to SriLanka (just 18kms to Talaimannar,Srilanka). It was a quiet town till then (1964) except for low tidal waves, It had a post office, a Customs office,  a railway station, temples and a church. All the needs of the town like groceries, vegetables  were met by the railway people who after getting the people’s list would  bring their needs through Indo-ceylon express( also called Boat mail) which connected Madras to Colombo and the ferries from talaimannar brought them textiles and other luxury goods like jewels etc.,  Before 1964,   a train was connected to Srilanka from Chennai. It came up till a pier in Dhanush kodi and from there,  passengers used a ferry service to cross the 18km(13km?)  Adam’s bridge( a series of coral reefs) to reach Talaimannar in Srilanka. (This Adam’s bridge is also called ‘Ramsetu’ the one built by Lord Hanuman to help Lord Rama cross to Srilanka)

It had no colleges or schools so all students travelled to Rameshwaram by a train for their education. On that fateful night, This train which was approaching Dhanushkodi was washed away by the high tidal wave. The train carried  the students  who were travelling back after school and college.

The  mythological importance assigned to this town is that,  according to the hindu scriptures after the Lanka war, when Lord Rama  returned to India, Vibhisana pleaded that Lord Ram break the sethu(bridge) so that no other armies use it. Rama gave in to his request and broke the Indian side of the bridge with the end of his bow. This place came to be known as Dhanushkodi (Dhanush –bow and kodi is end). Thus this is a holy place for Hindus , further made holier by the confluence of two sea bodies, The bay of Bengal and Indian ocean.

Today , 46 years later, The structures that withstood the tidal wave still exist buried  under the sand and some partly weathered by the Sea adding a mysterious beauty to the place. A few fishermen have settled here in thatched huts and life goes on for them unaware of tomorrow.  Of late, I read in a magazine that the sea water is slowly receding and some parts of the submerged town are visible. 

 I have’nt visited Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, but it is on my ‘to do list’ to see  and experience how it feels, standing at the land mass which is at the tip of India.  Many tourists who travel to Rameshwaram are unaware of Dhanushkodi and the ones who visit sing praises about its  its beautiful coral reefs and rich marine life which is supposed to be very active  here since the ocean waters are very shallow.  

It  is also the birth place of our ex President and missile man APJ Kalam. and this  is  also the town  through which Swami Vivekananda entered India Via SriLanka after his famous Chicago conference.

A port, a holy town, nature lover's paradise   that was (is) Dhanushkodi. Mark it next time around Rameshwaram.
                                                The ruins in the ghost town

                                                           the remains of the church 
                                                         The shores of the bay today

Picture courtesy: Google images

Friday, December 16, 2011

My carnatic musings

Much before the advent of  TV in Bangalore, my mom, a veena player would tune into one of those  carnatic concerts called December Kacheri held in chennai on AIR.  Amma would hum the kritis and  could identify the ragas , When I asked her how she could identify  the ragas?.  She told me since she had learnt music and with continuous listening and practice, one could identify. 

Till then, I who was a passive listener told my mom I too wanted to play veena like her, Amma advised  me  to take carnatic vocal, since veena or Sitar would be difficult to lug around and so enrolled me  in a vocal class. Thus started my love for this carnatic music, though my music lessons were aborted after a year and half, my love for this genre has grown manifold . (my very old teacher got married and left and with no music tutors around it got aborted).

And now it’s December again or Margazhi in tamil.

Madras aka Chennai’s air would be musical  in margazhi (mid dec –Mid jan) hosting a  cultural/musical extravaganza which is one of its kind in the  world.

This cultural  fest also called as December Kacheri(concert) or margazhi kacheri was started in 1927 to commemorate the founding of Madras music academy. A music conference was held during the Madras session of Indian national congress.(info courtesy: India Heritage) and today adopted by various sabhas(concert halls) in different parts of the city. According to a cultural magazine sruti ,  a few years back  53 organisations conducted  60 festivals in a period of 117 days . Music  and dance concerts  numbered at 1604 and its increasing every year.  Possibly nowhere in the world so many organizations conduct so many festivals in such a short period of time ,thus making it as one of the unparalled fests  in the world.The fest is not restricted to vocals. It showcases a wide spectrum of talent in Instruments, dance, drama and even lec-dems are held.

Come December and World over,  many cities gear up to  attract holiday tourism while   Madras attracts concert tourism.  Musicians and scholars from all over the world  congregrate to this city to participate in the music fest, It is considered prestigious to sing in these cultural sabhas during MArgazhi. It also serves as a platform for  upcoming artists. 

 Today this genre of music has reached international arena and similar fests are organized by Indians abroad.  Recently  Jaya TV had organized an event called carnatic music idol,USA specially for children born and raised in the USA.  It was a pure aural and visual treat to find so many children dressed traditionally  rendering carnatic song. I could'nt stop admiring and appreciate the kids  for keeping the cultural flag flying high in foreign shores.

When it was my turn to introduce my children to this music, taking them to concerts organized in Hyderabad like S.Sowmya,  Mahanadhi Shobhana , various concerts at skandagiri helped them to develop interest.

 Listening to music is theraupetic, more so when the music form is rooted in devotion and main content is spiritual like in one of the oldest form of music – carnatic music.

Today,this music is slightly  fused with western instruments to create a new genre called pep or pop carnatic.

My favorite voice on carnatic belongs to Bharat Ratna   M.S.Subbalakshmi whose timeless and matchless voice is bound to resonate till eternity.  Her Bhavayami Gopalabalam is one of my favorite.  The divine voice transports you to a different plane altogether

My favorite Bhavayami gopalabalam by MSS

A fused kriti set to orchestration by Rock to raaga band

A fused varnam by Amogha band  for a telugu movie 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Celebrating 'Light'

                                 (bharani deepam in my puja room, courtesy my MIL)

Praying to god is a part of our culture and each one of us have our own special way of connecting with god. I am  not very ritualistic and conveniently tweak some of our traditions and rituals, but placing flowers to god and lighting the silver lamp in my pooja alcove has a meditative effect on me . The glowing golden filters  of the diya  further accentuated by the fragrance of the sambrani dhoop or incense sends me into a trance. Truly sublime!! 

If just one diya can give immense joy and peace, imagine the amount of joy and peace when rows of such lighted  agal vilakkus(terracotta lamps) can give.

This tamil month of Karthigai( mid nov- Mid Dec), Tamil homes celebrate Karthigai deepam on the full moon day, an ancient festival. It is also considered as the extension of  Deepavali and in some homes people double the number of lamps every day from the day of Deepavali and conclude with a number of lamps on the day of Karthigai Deepam. Rows of agal vilakku (clay diyas, not electric ones) arranged in the  pooja room, threshold of living room, kitchen, even wash rooms,  alcove, on the compound walls, on window sills is a sight to behold making the whole place dreamlike. It cannot get surreal than this.

Many legends are associated with this festival, which I have already written  in detail here and here.  

A scientific astrologer Dr. Pazhinathan stated  in TV, that in  ancient times, when there was no electricity and darkness fell early during the winter months, the  scholars had informed the people to light the lamps so that it would serve as street light  for way farers. But people being people did not heed to the scholars. They in turn told the King and he immediately proclaimed it as a festival and ordered all people to light diyas on their front yards and back yards.  This also doubled as a street light.

The clay diyas brought during this time also adds to the potters kitty, who do brisk business during the time of deepavali and now.

                        ( a pottery stall set up at a corporate campus as part of their celebration)

What ever be the reason - spiritual, mythological or scientific or the argument that it is not relevant for today's times, It does not deter me from holding on to such traditions and customs. If anything, it only anchors me from the rigours of life and helps me to pass on our cultural baton to the gen next. I enjoy those special days called festivals.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

May their tribe increase!!!

There is a tribe which silently serves, champions and crusades for the children of the lesser god by  donating all their wealth, time and shower them with their unconditional love and care.  
They selflessly help the society by caring for the underprivileged  and their work definitely needs  help and a wider reach. Listing  two of them here which have had a great impact on me.
The first in the list is  Mr. Vidyakar  and his Udavum Karangal( helping hands) an NGO based out of chennai, whose advertisements seeking volunteers and donations have always caught my attention.

Udavum Karangal - Because everyone deserves a home!

Udavum Karangal (Helping Hands) is a registered, non-governmental, non-religious and non-profit social service organization, established in 1983, with the sole objective of serving people in need.
Life surprises you when you are least prepared for it. For Mr.Vidyaakar who was running a small community centre in the slums of NSK Nagar, surprise came in a ragged bundle of clothes. Within it was a frail child crying his heart out and reaching out to him with his puny fingers. When he gave his hand for the little boy to hold, it was the beginning of an ardent journey. Udavum Karangal (Helping hands) was thus born to help anyone who needs a hand to stand and to this day, it continues to give hope where there exists none.

Udavum Karangal believes that everyone deserves to be loved. Till date, there have been around 2000 unfortunate brethren from new born babies to dying destitutes who have found a home here. The centre provides individualized services - treatment, care, rehabilitation and education.

Anything i write more about this would only be a repeat of their website so click on that to know more. courtesy: Udavum karangal

The second  NGO in  my list is  CNN hero Narayanan Krishnan and his Akshaya trust. I first heard and saw his interview on TV when he was shortlisted as one of the Top ten CNN heroes for world. His video clippings feeding the needy was all over the social networking sites and on national networks  and moved many to tears. 

In 2002, Narayanan Krishnan, a gifted young chef from Madurai, India, was working for an exclusive hotel group preparing haute cuisine for the ultra-rich. But when he went home to Madurai to visit his family, something he saw shocked him to his core.“I saw a very old man eating his own human waste for food,"
Krishnan knew he couldn’t go back to the gourmet restaurants he’d been working in when his own countrymen were starving to death. So he decided to stay in India and began fixing meals for that man, and for the countless others who could not care for themselves.
The following year, he founded the nonprofit group Akshaya Trust. The organization is named from the “Akshaya bowl” from Hindu mythology, a bottomless inexhaustible bowl that can feed the hungry forever—just as Krishnan hopes his group will do.
Each morning, Krishnan and his team rise at 4 AM, and seek out the homeless throughout a 123-mile radius, armed with packets of hot vegetarian meals that Krishnan has prepared by hand. He brings the meals to a crowd of about 400 regulars, and gives them free haircuts and beard trims when they need it. In the years since starting the nonprofit, he’s served over 1.2 million meals.
His recipients are nearly all mentally ill, and do not have the capacity to thank him. Nonetheless, Krishnan receives great pleasure from the work he does.
“I get this energy from the people,” he said. “The food which I cook ... the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people.”

For more on him and his work check out their site akshaya.

And there are celebrities who care and have initiated  AGARAM and BEING HUMAN, the various corporates which serve as part of their corporate social responsiblity and schools which serve through the social service clubs, thus inculcating the value of compassion, share and care for the needy.

All these unsung heroes deserve space on our blog, newspapers and other media. Don't they?

                                             May their tribe increase!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A proud mom writes

I could'nt rest till I wrote this.

In the past 16 years, I have not watched any serial regularly.  I repeat, regularly, except two comedy serials in tamil called 'veetukku veedu looty' and kasalavu nesam. I havn't followed  any of the K series serials neither do i watch any english sitcoms( I don't understand them). But i have recently made exception with Bade acche lagte hain.(click on the link to know wjat the serial is about) There is suddenly a spurt of beautiful value based serials on sony TV.

While i was watching the repeat telecast with my children, in between were the promos for an upcoming serial called parvarish. This serial is about parenting. The teaser showed two sisters pinky and sweety who are mom of teens. Pinky says a parent should be strict and must never give liberty to children. She does'nt even  understand and realise her pre teen daughter is a talented singer, while her sis sweety is a very liberal mom and has to face the consequences of that  in her teen daughter.

While this promo was going on, my son who was having his noon lunch after coming back from school said

"A parent should never be strict like pinky aunty and lenient like sweety aunty. A parent has to be like amma and appa - a combination of both".

for which my dot retorted - yes, they should be like our amma and appa, they should be a combo of both and not too friendly too, we have lot of friends but amma and appa can only be one.

And these are the children who made me proud during the recent PTA meet when my dot's teacher told. "It's rare to have a child who can be sincere, dedicated and meticulous these days. you are blessed to have such a child."
.Her hindi teacher( she topped in hindi amongst her mother tongue hindi speaking classmates) and her strict maths teacher told her in front me
"you should'nt be scared of trignometry.  Remember  Sh, trignometry should be scared of  you. (she lost 4 marks in this branch and scored 76/80). All the other teachers too  had only words of praise for her like sincere, diligent, meticulous, well behaved , affectionate, obedient behaves well with her peers and teachers etc.,

It's a different story that she throws tantrums and fights with her bro for the silliest reason at home, but I came home a proud mom.

My son's teacher was equally appreciative and said. 'He is attentive and gives me extra information about the subject. Never mind if he does'nt top the class, he understands the concept and applies them. Though his handwriting is not good and legible like his sis, that is how boys his age are. He gets away with his naughtiness by throwing his beautiful and obedient smile".

As a mom, i was glad to hear those remarks and see the marks. All these when my children don't even go to tuitions but attend music, drawing and play games(it is very difficult to pin down my  playful son for studies, but when he concentrates he catches up things in no time) till the day prior to the exam.

This post may sound pompous, a proud mom writes this because I was certified by my children.

Thank you my dear dot and son.  My only wish is -  God bless them to remain that way in the future too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Written in Heaven....... celebrated on Earth

That  time of the  year when soulmates unite,    lifelong commitment is made  to share their life and grow old together. Yes, the  celebration season  is on with wedding invitations rolling in, where the bride and groom have a  headrush and butterflies overcome their senses while  the luster of a bright future engulf their thoughts.
In these days of trans continental weddings ,  I have a  Gujrati,  Kannada and Punjabi invitation  and  some  invitations are from my own community, the venue in my birth town which I would have to give a miss,  which in turn means giving the  colorful festivities and feast a miss.

Like in any of our subcontinental wedding, even tamil  iyer weddings are celebrated richly, ritualistically traditionally and colorfully.

 Most wedding halls  in Tamilnadu   would be adorned with full grown  plaintain trees, signifying evergreen plenty for endless generations and overhead  festoons of mango leaves and coconut glades signify the never fading bonding  which would begin there(though scientifically it has a different reason).  Mellifluous sounds of nadaswaram  reaches its crescendo signifying everyone present  that the union of two souls is sacred and divine.  Beautiful  kolams in white and red would match the mood of the occasion  ushering in the well wishers dressed in  rustling silk sarees and white veshti’s( dhoti)  or  their traditional best.

All guests would be welcomed by the sprinkle of the perfumed rosewater, flowers and sugar candy(mishri) /
In its festive splendor it is a fitting beginning to the richness of the wedding to follow. What was once a five day affair during my MIL’s time( she was married in the 40’s at the age of 12)  has now been reduced to a  2 day affair or in some cases it also has been briefed to a few hours at the temple or at the civil court, arya samaj or in a hotel.

These days the bride and groom design their own website and roll out invitations defining  the various rituals and their significance. In an arranged marriage, It all begins with the matching of  horoscopes and then the mutual like of the bride,  groom and their families  and once this is over.  The  preparations begin for the celebrations.

Sharing with you all what I found in one of the invitations.

Ah! wait......Before that an interesting  anecdote, I had a tam brahm neighbor  who was an army personnel. He was very spiritual and  a follower of one of the famous Indian saint who died recently. He was looking for an alliance for his only son who was an engineer in the United states.   He left for the US the following month and so handed his house keys and car for its upkeep and care to us.  Before leaving   he  told me and my husband that his main job in the US would be to look for a suitable girl for his son through the various matrimonial sites and asked us also to let him know if we knew a suitable girl in our community.
And guess what we hear from him the following week. He called  us to tell in a sing-song voice that his would-be dil is  a brit-american girl Catherine Box. 

Is'nt that  how the weddings are these days?  Global and trans continental.  I just can’t stop admiring at many such  parents who are broad minded , progressive, adjust and adapt so well to the new relationship and there are so many such parents now. Of course, that uncle related to me how he debated the cultural differences with his son but to change his culturally conditioned mind at the age of 60 needs lot of maturity.

And yes, I have seen that girl who on  a visit to India last navrathri wore a saree  and gave haldi-kunkum to all the invited ladies .

 A pretty long post, so will post the rituals and  their significance in my next post.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Toyland, Ahoy!

Whenever I travel the Bangalore –Mysore route, the child in me pops on seeing  the arch “Toy town - Chennapatna welcomes you”.   I always try to stop at this place to have a look at all those beautiful  and colorful  chennapatnada gombegulu( chennapatna dolls) adorning the shelves on those tiny shops which are on either side of the highway.
This little town which is 60kms from Bangalore just after the Sholay town ramnagaram( hindi movie sholay was shot here) is famous for eco-friendly hand made wooden toys and locally it is called gombegala ooru ( toy town).
This ancient art which has survived many generations is believed to be the art of Persian toy makers, who were brought to India by the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.  Made out of rain forest tree wood, colored with vegetable dyes and polished with  blades of grass which have an abrasive property , these toys have no sharp edges . These are child-friendly, eco-friendly and non-toxic  compared to the battery operated expensive electronic toys. From each rain wood tree they make 2000 toys and for every 20 toys they sell they plant a tree, thus for every tree cut to make toys, they plant 100 trees making their rain forest multiplier as100. Similarly the vibrant colours, ivory tones and lacquer finish  comes from natural tree waxes and cactus leaf oil, all of which are non-toxic.  
 What’s more you save on the cost of batteries and e-waste, when you buy these mechanical toys which work on the principle of winding. 
Like any other child, my children too born in the electronic age played with battery operated electronic toys.  These toys were educational and entertaining. No doubt on that but they were’nt safe. Made with plastic and lead these toys required constant monitoring while they played ,  moreover the batteries were an additional expense on our monthly budget and  the batteries were part of our monthly provision or shopping list with one toy having a 9v Duracell battery costing 120Rs  and 6 numbers of 1.5v battery. That way, these wooden toys are a good alternative and an ideal gift material.
A decade back,  this industry  faced a  huge challenge from the Chinese toy market and was almost on the brink of close-down but survived, due to the interest shown by  some NGO’s and  bulk orders from some famous MNC’s .  After surviving the challenge, today they have diversified to meet the modern day requirements and so along with traditional toys like dolls, mind games, mathematical games, dolls abacus, tic-tac-toe spinning tops,rocking horse, pallankuzhi etc.,  they also make modern day games and meet the requirements of emerging markets by making roller-bead seat cover, car  back rests, mandasanam( pooja alcoves),candle holders, decorative pieces like vintage cars, motorcycles, wooden bead curtains, chess board table etc,. They have products for all ages from  toddler toys to old man's walking aids.( see the pics below)

  These toys/products/dolls are now popular in most of the art and craft exhibitions  held across India and have a huge export order market from western and European countries.   During her recent visit to India  Michelle obama has picked some of these Chennapatna toys as mementos and today they adorn  White house too. With the help of NGO’s and MNC’s they design and produce world class toys which has led to the revival of this craft and  the artisans. Microsoft is one of their major customer.
Personally ( to the best of my knowledge),my first visit to  this place was when I was just 11 and my paternal grand mom got me a jewel box which i cherish to this date.( she passed away a couple of months later and so was the last gift from her) and a stencilled colored alphabet kit for my 5 year old sis and from then on it is a ritualistic stop for me at chennapatna  whenever enroute mysore. 
 Next time while you are on the Bangalore –Mysore highway, indulge the child in you and pay a visit to these toy shops or if you’re luckier pay a visit to the homes where these dolls are crafted and have a visual tour. You will be thrilled to see the child in you surf up!
Check the pics below clicked by me on my latest visit and have your pick....

                                  ....  keychains, car hangings, window and wall hangings........

                                   .... showpieces, wall masks,  pooja mantaps

                                   The traditional stacker ring dolls.

                                      roller toys and colorful pallankuzhi

                               stationary items like erasers, sharpeners, stand alone dolls.............

                               pen holders, jewel boxes, kunkum bharnis and roller rabbits...........

                                casks, wooden vintage bikes, cars 
and many more like  crafted rosewood inlay tables, centre tables ........all at any of the chennapatna wooden toy stall anywhere in Indian art/craft exhibition or at Cauvery emporias across India.

Monday, October 31, 2011

This movie kept me hypnotised with awe...........

 I'Ezham arivu' (7th sense) is a tamil movie which released this diwali. This movie  is a pot- pourri of  historical reality, fantasy, thrills, romance, comedy, good music,  sci-fi, special fx all  put together. This movie had an extensive and expensive promotion and so easily  such movies leave public with great expectations.  

 A.R. Murugadoss (ghajini fame) has directed Surya sivakumar,  Shruti haasan( kamal hassan’s daughter)  and Vietnamese American actor  Johnny tri nguyen and the movie, despite mixed reviews did impress me a lot.

The movie begins with the 6th century tamil  prince of pallava lineage, who is a master in the art of ' nokku varmam' ( like hypnotism, it is a peculiar martial art through which a particular part in the opponent’s body could be attacked by mere sight itself.),master in the use of  herbal medicine and martial art (kalari). He travels to china to cure the  people  suffering there from a dreadful disease. The Chinese  don’t accept the intruder initially until he has cured one of their fellow men.  He cures the  contagious disease and saves the people from an epidemic.  Finally people accept him as their master when he also fights their territorial enemies single handedly with the help of kalari and nokku varmam.  They compile all his wisdom into a book. After fulfilling his  mission of curing and saving  the Chinese, He decides to leave china but  they poison him to death with the belief that when he is buried in their village they will remain disease free. 

Cut to the present 2011 chennai, where   doctoral student in genetics,  Shruti does research  on the genes of the pallava heirs and finds the pallava king's genetical traits dormant in the hero Surya.

 Meanwhile China over the centuries  has utilized the prince’s healing powers of  medicine, martial arts ( according to historians Kung Fu is  Kalari , originated in India) and hypnotism and trained many youngsters. One of them Dong lee( Johnny Tri Nguyen) who is a hypnotic expert and martial art expert travels to India to wage a bio-war by injecting the deadly 6th century disease into the general public.( So that china can release the antidote and make money)

How the heroine activates the dormant genes in the hero and together how they thwart the plans  of Dong Lee and the Chinese government is what the movie is all about.

The movie’ s screenplay is woven around  a  historical fact  with lots of thrilling fights and car crashes( hypnotism has been overtly used).

But all the above was not the reason I was hooked to the movie.

The movie had me awestruck because   Bodhidharman is a fact and his healing powers, hypnotic powers and martial art powers are practiced  by Chinese. On death this prince is worshipped even today in china as Tao and as Zen’ in Japan. His martial art is renamed as ‘Kung Fu’ and his philosophy as Zen philosophy. This  Pallava prince  is  revered all around china, Vietnam, japan and is considered as the 28th partriarch of Lord Buddha. The public of all these Asian countries are aware of him, while we in India, atleast me are not aware of him.

 In his closing shots, the hero Surya says  " We indians  are rich in knowledge and wisdom, some of us dismiss traditions and customs as regressive or irrelevant and attribute it to religion, while all our customs, rituals and practices are science based. For eg, the use of turmeric  in rituals and cooking  is mostly because it is an antiseptic or the use of tulsi, cowdung and so on..... Unfortunately what has been advised by our elders is copied by the westerners and today they have patented turmeric. Teach your children the  rich history of India  and reason the rituals and religious beliefs scientifically.  Like export quality products  Intelligent Indians export themselves and work on foreign shores and contribute their knowledge and intelligence  there". and he said much more which i am unable to recollect. 

That dialogue touched  me  and yes those words are truly said.....

Time to unearth more such facts about india. We seem to be the pioneers in many fields , many  of them are buried under the earth. Bodhi dharman was one such revelation. Check him here.

P.S: I had written about the  Indian exercise of thorpukarnam which has been renamed as Brain yoga and is now practised in Yale university of medicine. If interested read about it here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall in line, Please

or  Queue please....... that's what I was yelling  when I went  around the labyrinth to see the world's most visited and second richest god in the world......... but........ who's to listen?......... It fell on deaf ears.

With a free ticket, i thought i had direct darshan to see the god and so after refreshing ourselves we went in search of the Vaikuntam -2 gate through which we 'Divya darshan' ticket holders had to get into the labyrinth.
We went around the temple in search of the gate and easily passed a few metres after depositing our cell phones and chappals and finally reached the queue  only to be seated in an enclosure. We were allowed to rest in this place till the previous entrants  had their darshan.

 Suddenly when the enclosure was opened, like a broken dam  the fitter and impatient devotees started rushing out of the door like  water gushing out of a broken dam using all the heptathlon events. From then on it was a nightmare, they  were crushing or elbowing elders/children  whoever came in their path, while some were jostling for space. It was a tough time for senior citizens and devotees with children. Some had placed their kids  over their shoulders and some on their waist, while some children were sandwiched between elders and gasping for breath.

All cries for help and some patience only fell on deaf ears. The irony was when the security guards and policemen stood like statues or 'Golu bommais'.  When I told one of the security guards to control the crowd, he was totally expressionless and standing  motionless. It was disastrous. Thankfully there was no stampede since there was no space for anybody to fall.

This continued inside the temple until the sanctum and finally we had a peek of the god, again a huge rush to come out of the temple.

After the darshan it was another ordeal to find your cellphone counter and  your chappal counter and  the laddu counter. All these places, you are to stand in a queue where some smart people think it is their privilege to jump the queue and those who are standing in the q are jobless.

It is painful to recollect these things when you go to have a peaceful darshan of god.

On the flipside the same fortnight I had a chance to stand in the US consulate queue,where the queue was streaming out like a well oiled machine.

The elders and those with children had a separate  queue and great care was taken by the security guards to screen the people.  With a smile on their face, they were so helpful and courteous. After the whole exercise, when we were on our way back home , we suddenly received a call from the consulate telling that my daughter had not given her thumb expression( she was 14  going to be 15, hence the confusion). When she and my husband went back her name was called from one entry point  to the other entry point  till she reached inside without any difficulty.

Both the places were manned by Indians and the crowd in both the places were Indians, then where was the difference?

I wish they used the riches to educate( with flyers on behaviour and conduct code) and organise the crowd, then it would be a pleasure for all senior citizens, kids and their parents to visit Tirumala.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My step(s) up to Tirumala via Srivari Mettu

When I decided to join my husband for the trek to  Tirumala, our friends discouraged me by telling that I would’nt keep pace with my husband ( he is a jogger and walks upto 6kms /day)and it would’nt be possible for me to finish, but I was keen on going with him rather than stay alone in the guest house, after all the Kapoors too were going for the ‘Mundan’( tonsuring). I told them I regularly walk for an hour and so I would join him.
We off-loaded our back packs into their cab which they had hired to tirumala and with just a waterbottle and handbag we took an auto to Srivari mettu.
There are two trekking paths to tirumala – the regular one is the alipiri route( 4kms and 3000+ steps)  which is in use for a long time and the other is the Srivari mettu which was renovated and thrown open to the public some two years back due to the  increase in the number of pilgrims trekking to Tirumala. This is supposed to be the shorter  and arduous of the two.
Srivari mettu is said to be older than the Alipiri route and is believed to have been used by legendery emperor SriKrishnadevaraya and even by the saint composer and singer Annamacharya.
I was too eager to trek up the hill, after all we had done it before too at the rugged mountains of Abbey falls in coorg, Bhramagiri hills(coorg), in Kodaikanal but all these were long back, I did’nt realize that I was 10 years older now to those times.
       All along the autodriver was telling us it would take just two hours and it was just 2 to 2.5kms, but when I reached the base of Srivari mettu and enquired at the base camp office  the real length of the route. He told me 2300 steps.

Now  that was a dampener for me, walking on plain surface is easier but to ascend the steps......

Putting all my doubts aside, I ascended the first few steps motivating myself that with each step, I was closer to the target, I easily ascended 200 steps, there on it became slightly difficult, I started panting and had to take rest at the landing of every 50 steps.

Slowly but steadily I Scaled  700 steps.

After ascending 700 steps, there were boards which read there was a biometric ticket counter  offering a quick and free darshan at the 1200th step. After reading this, I told my husband I would push myself till that counter and then if there were any vans/cabs at the landing I would take that while he could finish his trek.

To my luck, there were no such facility it was just a counter to issue a photo ticket called ‘Divya Darshan’.

 Motivated by my husband, I was slightly charging myself up slowly with a sip of water and now I rested after every  20-25 steps, the steps were steeper from  now on…..

Slowly  I inched and pushed myself and many a times I  doubted if I ever would reach the top, I rested now at every 10th step and washed my sweaty face to perk up myself.

 Finally at the end of 2000th step got our ticket validated at the second counter.

Now  I was slightly happy and rested at a landing for sometime  and it was only now that I realized I was walking up the forest of Red Sandal wood(Rakth chandan from which the famous  marapacchi dolls were made) and missed out the beauty  of the birds like blue jay  around me.

The plains of Tirupati below looked like a white town with lots of buildings and I was uphill. Slowly and steadily like a ‘cool down’ the steps lost its steepness and  Lo!  There I was….. I finally ascended the 2300 steps and heaved a sigh of relief when I  reached Tirumala clocking  1 hour and 55 minutes.

While I was climbing, I thought I did a mistake of taking the steps, but the pain and trouble I went through was totally washed off when I reached the top and it was so satisfying and all those troubles translated to joy.

Having reached Tirumala with a Divya Darshan ticket, I thought the pain was through,  I would’nt be standing in the queue and it entailed me to have a direct access to the sanctum. But no …., I got  it wrong. The trouble was ahead.

The queue ordeal deserves a separate post.

P.S: Don't be discouraged by this post,  If you are physically and clinically fit ,  it is not difficult to climb up. There were many senior citizens and young children who climbed up effortlessly only in my case I had a  knee twist due to Vit B12 deficiency, just a few weeks back and so found it slightly difficult.