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!!!