Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Krishnar Paadam and Seeveli on Sri Jayanthi

Today is Sri Jayanti. The atmosphere at all Lord Krishna temples would be celebratory  today night and most households will be decorated with festoons and kolams(rangoli)  and  for bhog, lot of crispy snacks like murukku, thattai and seedai will be made in households apart from Sri Krishna's favorite Avul( parched rice flakes) and fresh butter.

Many will decorate their homes with footprints of Sri Krishna leading to the altar from the main door. There is a legend behind this 'Foot legend' after all Indian mythology is all about myths and legends.

                                          'Krishnar paadam' at home

The legend goes thus, Since Sri Krishna is a 'Maakan chor' ( steals Butter) from the matkas hanging in the ceiling. Many a times he spills it while stealing. When he stealthily walks out, he places his feet on the spilt butter blob and so the whole house has his butter soaked foot prints. Symbolically representing this, feet patterns are drawn in most homes.  

Everyone has their own way of praying or connecting with god. I too have my own way. I am not very religious, pious or ritualistic when it comes to connecting with god. I don't find it mandatory to visit temples on auspicious days when it is overcrowded, neither do i get up early in the morning and chant shlokas loudly.  I don't offer hefty donations or contribute generously to temples.  But i do have faith and connect with god to feel at peace.  I pray to him whenever and wherever it pleases me like during travel or from bed or during my walk etc. It is a general  "Let everyone be happy and healthy" type of prayer or sometimes i switch on 'Vishnusahasranamam' on my ipod during walks. At times, when i am unable to take a decision, i  do seek his help and my faith in him gets stronger.  When i go through trying times, I say to myself  'Shhh.... god is working on my problem" and leave it to god, time and faith to take care of my problem. Such is my connection with god.

I do light diyas and incense, place flowers at the altar that is because i like the ambience and vibes it creates. I also visit temples when i feel like  to absorb the cosmic vibes. I believe,  idols in temples are supposed to have esoteric power due to the continuous chants  and temples are built according to agamic principles which absorb the geo-magnetic and cosmic waves. That said, i don't sense the vibes at all temples but there are  a few ancient  temples, where i have felt the mystical vibrations. Though all temples are god's abode there are a few where you feel the calm and peace.  The older the better.

One of them is the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Krishna.

It was late in the evening when i first visited this temple. To be precise, on the eve of christmas in 2009. We drove from Kalady( Adi sankara's birth place) straight to Guruvayoor. We freshened up quickly so that we had to be on time before the temple closes for the day. Fortunately for us there was no long temple queue and the devotees were few in number( though it was holiday season).

As we entered the temple, we found it was the seeveli time.The nearly 1000 lights around in the vilakkumadam( wooden framed structure designed into small squares with each square holding a lit diya) were lit.  Seeveli is the procession of caparisoned elephants in the inner praharam(corridor) around the temple. Lord Krishna is carried on one of the elephants and the remaining elephants follow to the beat of the drums, cymbals , pipes and other percussion instruments. There is a rhythm in the beat. The tempo is slow initially and then reaches a crescendo.

                                                           The seeveli
                                            The lighted vilakkumadam

The beat of the drums, cymbals, the lighted vilakkumadam, the caparisoned elephants all transport you to an unexplainable divine world. Despite the rhythmic beating and sound, there is a sense of peace and calm that  has to be experienced to be believed.   

Seeveli is an occassional feature in most kerala temples. But at Guruvayoor it is a daily feature.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Aromatic memories of home and hearth

Sometimes a faint whiff of a fragrance/aroma can remind you of the long forgotten events of our life. Many such aromas have evoked beautiful memories in me, some of which I am listing here in detail.

      1. Sambrani (Benzoin resin) : This incident happened some 10 years back, At Hyderabad’s Paradise signal. Our car was idling at the signal when a  man with a long beard and an incense holder in one hand and a peacock feather hand fan in the other tried to sway the white curls of the smoke from the incense holder towards our  car window. I downed the window panes to offer him some coins and the white curls of fragrant smoke tingled my nasal senses. The fragrant curls of smoke  threw me back in time to my patti’s(grandma) home and hearth. I immediately connected the frankincense as Sambrani. How can I not?  I have grown inhaling the smell of this at my grandparents home, “Sri Ramana villa”.
                                                        Chunks of sambrani 

“Sri Ramana Villa” was a lovely duplex home in a beautiful Suburb of Chennai, Mylapore.  It  had modern amenities in the first floor,  While the ground floor was traditional.   The backyard had a  closed well, Patti would place  a portable charcoal iron stove(sigri) in the backyard, once the charcoal was heated red, she threw the sambrani chunks  over that, immediately grey white curls of smoke would emanate from the stove. These fragrant smoke was used to dry our hair after our headbath. I and my cousins who often visited for vacations  were not interested  in this  oil head bath ritual. but patti insisted we have to  dry our hair since we would catch cold and the sambrani had anti-dandruff property also. It would even leave our hair fragrant for a long time and the fragrance would linger long after the incense was fully burnt.
From then on, everytime I passed the paradise signal, I started looking for that ‘Sambrani Man’. I now recreate the ambience at home by lighting a sambrani resin  in an incense holder and the fragrance and the white curls of smoke  has a beautiful effect on my psyche.

·         2. Kafir lime leaf powder(Narthelai Podi). One of the bottles that adorn my kitchen shelf is that of Kafir lime leaf powder. I use it to spice my oat porridge or as an accompaniment for curd rice. The moment I open the bottle, the lemony fragrance tingles my nose buds and refreshes me. No wonder, lemon oil is used for de-stressing in aromatherapy.   The fragrance also  leads me to the backyard of my husband’s patti’s home  at Lalgudi, a riverside town near Trichy.

                                           The kafir lime plant  in our ancestral village vaduvakudi

“Madhurambika Ashram” was a traditional home built according to tamil architecture. The backyard (pin mittam in tamil) had a broad platform with thatched roof. It was flanked by a tiny room and on the otherside a kitchen garden with herbal and traditional vegetable plants like mudakatthan(balloon vine)manathakkali(black night shade), sundakkai(thai brinjal), the regular citrus lemon which yields golf ball sized lemons, plaintain, 10 coconut trees, curry leaf,greens, moringa and more….All these grew beyond the well which had shallow water level.  It also had a beautiful brindavan(tulsi).

Between the platform and the rear door of the house,  grew a kafir lime tree. The branches and foliage of this tree formed a canopy between the door and the platform’s thatched roof. When on a vacation here, it was my favorite pastime to pluck the tender leaves of the kafir lime. I would wash it with the well water and dry clean them on piece of clean muslin cloth. The clean tender leaves along with ajwain,  salt, and dry red chillies would be pounded with  a hand pestle and mortar.  And the lemony smell emanating while pounding  would tingle my nosebuds and refresh my spirits.  This house was sold a few years back since it had no caretaker. Sadly, my children too miss this home. They loved drawing water from the well and going around the garden.

Now, I buy the commercially made narthelai podi, but whenever, I open the bottle the lemony fragrance not only lifts my spirits but also  reminds of the  beautiful times I spent in the backyard platform of my patti’s home at Lalgudi.

3. Frangipani and Ylang ylang. Every spring time, when I go for walk, I find the Frangipani(temple trees) and Ylang ylang( manoranjitham) in bloom, it reminds me of the hospital where I was born.  The Durgabhai Deshmukh hospital at Adyar in Chennai was where the whole brood of us maternal cousins were born. From the eldest cousin who is 4 years older  to the youngest who is 15 years younger to me and so I have been a visitor to this hospital during many of my cousins birth as well as during my own sis birth. This hospital has acres of greenery but the scent and beauty of frangipani and Ylang ylang always attracted me. I loved picking the frangipanis from the ground when I went there to see my new born cousins.  I pluck/pick  the frangipanis now  to float them in a uruli at my home.It leaves a beautiful fragrance all around the home and the memories of those times play in my mind.

                                        Frangipanis from my neighbourhood enclave adorning my home.

There are other aromas like freshly baked plum cakes which reminds me of my aunt’s home at Sankey tank,   the  comforting aroma of hot rice, ghee and dal reminds me of my mom’s kitchen @ Vijayanagar, the sandal fragrance reminds me of my first school trip to  The government soap factory, yeshwantpur( the makers of Mysore sandal soap). The  sandal fragrance is all around in the atmosphere when you pass through this road. Next time you are at Orion mall, or at ISKCON, Bangalore, inhale deeply to smell the fragrance of sandal in the air.

Many such  invigorating aromas/ smells  evoke warm childhood memories. All these cloaks me in a cocoon of warmth and serenity, filling me with nostalgia and positivity. 

This post exclusively written for Indiblogger's "Smelly to Smiley" in association with

Monday, August 19, 2013

A city celebrates its birth week.

Madras celebrates its birthweek from Aug 18-25. I have already blogged about my connection with this city and why i hold it special . The events of Madras day throws us back in time with lot of storytelling sessions from elders, lec-dems, contests, quiz, debate, heritage walks etc.,  For those of you  who stay in chennai and would love to attend the events  here is the events calender. 

That's Vincent D souza, the initiatorof Madras day and kutcheribuzz with the merchandise of Madras day

                                                                     (a close up)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chennai express - not a review

Chennai express - the latest comical flick is just a week old and the movie is already breaking all records despite the controversies, criticisms and a frail story line(almost nil).

 There are many reviews,  controversies  and comments regarding this movie but I must say I  liked the'Time pass' movie in  parts where it was peppered with some creative and comical situations  for instance like the antakshri dialogues between Shahrukh Khan(SRK) and Deepika Padukone(DP).
I also awed when I saw some mindblowing and brilliant locales  of South India,  especially  while the train winded through beautiful valleys, the pamban bridge shots, while SRK first meets Deepika’s father over a gushing waterfall and the movie also has some beautiful settings especially the fairytale village(loved the bucket wheel well) where the marriage scene takes place. This is not a review of the movie because by review standards I am already late by a week and in any case, my review is not going to make any difference because despite trade pundits giving negative reviews, the movie is lapped up by the masses.   There are mixed reviews , some like it, some don’t. It depends on the viewers preferences.
Regarding The controversy surrounding it. Many felt that SRK and the movie maker Rohit shetty( himself  a south Indian) and Deepika Padukone( another Southie)  are making a mockery of Tamil culture which generally most film makers do when they depict a region in a comical movie. It is not even a realistic movie( just a time pass movie)  and so some viewers like me would even take the depiction lightly.
In most Indian films (Hindi and regional) they typecast the communities/ regions  like,

  • When a Keralite is shown, she is shown with a mundu (wrap around)and a tight blouse with some chandan on the fore head .
  •   A maharashtrian  mostly is a kaamwali bhai in a navsari and naath( nosering).
  •   a UP  kaka in a kurta pyjama spitting paan and mouthing  dialogues through his paan stained teeth.
  •  A Christian Dsouza uncle in hat,  shorts holding a  daaru bottle.
  •  A gujju miserly  pawner(seth)  asking for interest on loan with a 'yeh apko sobha( shobha)  nahi deta' type of dialogue.
  • A Bihari babu as an uneducated villager( and to think this is the state that throws many IAS officers)
( all  the above characters with heavy regional accents)

But the most popular sterotypes in Indian movies would be a Madrasi or a Punjabi.

For  most film makers, anybody south of Vindhyas is a Madrasi and to depict a northie, it would be a Punjabi.

So a “Madrasi”  always wears a lungi/dhoti, with a kudumi( small tuft of hair) and  with a deep tamilian accent saying ‘Aiyo’ or 'aiaiyo' out of his  idli eating mouth,  if he is a goonda, then he is of gigantic proportion and dark skinned gobbling idlis from  a plate like in this movie. 

A Punjabi  is generally a  loud mouthed pot bellied fat man eating  a leg piece with both his hands and washing it down with a  bottle of beer or going ballistic with ‘balle balle’ and dhol.

 If you are regular movie goer or even a observer, you might  agree with me on the stereotypes and would even add more to the list.

There are a few critics  who felt offended that their region is not depicted properly in ‘Chennai express’ and they have voiced their views on social network. Fair enough, obviously it is not possible for all people to think on the same lines.

But what bothered me was the comments to such posts.  Some intolerant language people so freely use in the name of comments on internet is seriously shocking. It is racist, offensive and abusive. It is not that everybody is free of  biases. Each of us have our own bias and think, eat and live differently. Must we be responding it with such vitriolic comments. 

But No, everybody feels their culture is supreme. And the sad part, is that we always blame the politicians of exploiting people on the basis of caste, creed and religion. When we have to respond with maturity, instead we use vitriolic language and crumble at the slightest provocation.

Here reminds me of a beautiful little story which we used to narrate to students as part of our life skill course. Here goes,

A  Japanese and an American go to a cemetery to offer homage to their ancestors. The Japanese as part of his culture takes a rice cake to offer at the cemetery. The American who crosses his path pokes fun at him and asks” Would your ancestor get up from the grave to eat the Rice cake? 

When  the American goes to place a bouquet of flowers at his ancestors grave. The Japanese walks  over to him and says “ If your ancestor would wake up from the grave to receive your bouquet, then my ancestor too would eat the rice cake".  Each has their own culture right? 

And especially in a country like ours, we have to take pride in our cultural diversity. Why trade insults especially such abusive and foul ones?

 Everyone seems to be convinced that they and only they can be right. Why can't people realize that different people can think differently and have different likes and we must respect their likes and culture? Why are people forever trying to convert others to their school of thought or spend time convincing that what others believe or practice is stupid.And what's with the arrogance, sitting at home and typing away in abusive language?  Can’t we show some restraint and differentiate ourselves from the uncivilized creatures or psychos?

P.S: I live in a multicultural society and  we co-exist in harmony helping each other like in a joint family, extending support in times of need and get together for parties and festivals. The abusive comments in internet is what triggered this post.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Catch'em young to do those little acts that make a big difference

We attended a family wedding in Chennai last June. On the day of departure, when we were all set to return, farewell pleasantries like thanks, compliments, namaskarams( falling at the elders feet)   were exchanged. My SIL's co-sister, who is of my age, came up to us and  she said  " My husband often cites you guys as example for being the best parents. Both your children have been raised beautifully. They are kind and know how to respect elders and for the past two days,  I observed how they walked elders to the dining hall and respected elders by wishing them". Needless, to say our hearts swelled with pride.

As a parent, For us, the most proudest moment  is not  just when our children goes to receive the "best student", "Topper" or  "All rounder award" on a podium but the proudest moments  are when we are told  Our children are instilled good values like respecting fellow humans, loving, trusting, being kind, compassionate and being humble. And, I have received such compliments on many occasions. 

Little acts of kindness and showing respect to fellow humans by fetching a glass of water, wishing them "Good morning",  "Hello aunty", picking up their bags or groceries for the elderly,  helping a mom carry her baby stroller into the lift or holding open the lift door, saying magical words like "Thank you", " Please", "Sorry", giving away good old clothes to the needy when they get a new one, parting away with  extra gifts , teaching the underpriveleged, feeding the children of lesser god,  are some of the simple things we have shown them and taught to them since they were little kids. They have absorbed and display little acts like these.   

It also makes us happy to see them bond with the elders in the family and respect them.  Elders love being shown respect and their views being considered . It is an ageing process and not ego. What the elders need is respect and the need for it increases as they age.  Infact, even when there is a disagreement over ideas with the elders, my children never rebel or negate their ideas.  They put it down so beautifully and convince them without hurting them and disrespecting them. The elders eventually agree my children were right and adapt themselves saying  times are changing.

One of the greatest source of human happiness is being respected. Irrespective of age, caste, creed or social position, every single human being, right from the  President to the peon, needs it. Infact, it could be the only reason to live for many so much so that it sometimes takes precedence even over our survival. We hear of many people taking lives or taking another's life over this matter.

Respect, like love, has to be consciously expressed in such a manner that the other person sees it. That is why perhaps in our culture, we bow our heads, or join hands, or fall at our elders feet or touch their feet, wish people etc.

Not Big, but little acts like these were effortlessly inculcated from the very young age in our children. Today, they have a great bonding with many of our relatives, friends and well wishers. 

Infact they have even overtaken me  in this aspect. The other day, while coming up in the elevator, i was checking the mails on my mobile. Manu, the Grade X boy who lives on the 6th  floor wished me "Hello Aunty". Without looking up at him,  i just nodded my head and was busy reading the mail. My son who was with me observed this.  When we landed on our floor and walked out, my son said,  " Ma, when even a child wishes you, please reciprocate ma. It feels bad, when we wish elders and they simply ignore and don't even smile and wish back". That moment was an eyeopener. 

A moment I realized like elders, we have to respect even the children. Even they have lot of self-esteem. From that day, i make it a point to reciprocate and wish every child too. 

Now, they have surpassed me, it is a great pleasure to see them respect fellow beings with ease, finesse, poise and sophistication and much more greater is the pride and pleasure when we hear compliments saying " They are raised with good values". 

I am sharing my Do RIght Stories at in association with Tata Capital.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Days of fun, games, crazy activities with friends

I often recall  my footloose and fancy free childhood times when we playmates played in gay abandon. Those Times when life was replete with fun,  games and crazy activities followed by frenzied study time. Those times when we kicked up a ball raising a sand storm, fell from our rented cycles and bruised our knees, dirtied our clothes, drenched in the rain, splashed the water puddles, floated paper boats or played in the hot sun without worrying about sunburns.

Such childhood memories with my playmates were made in different areas of Bangalore but most of them were made at Vijayanagar.  Those unerasable memories often surfs up  at different times in bits and pieces. I am stringing some of them together here cause “Those were the best days of my life" with my friends.

Those were times when we found joy in the smallest of things. Happiness filled the air and that was an age of innocence. Money was scarce but happiness abundant. A time that seems like  (actually is) a bygone era.

The joy of buying an i-pad or iphone like now was not known then,  but the joy was in keeping the navilugari( peacock feather) amongst pages of books. The idea  would start with one person and then like a Domino effect spread amongst others. Some friend would then tell keeping the feather amongst pages of the book, it would multiply ( mari hakkodu) meaning giving birth to a new ones. Nobody bothered to verify the fact, everybody trusted the friends implicitly. Similarly, we would place rose petals, scented papers like the facewipes etc.( remember Indian airlines wet face wipes) amongst the pages of the books. We would sometimes exchange all these things along with stamps and coins and feel so happy.

 Another friend would say, pencil shavings when ground with perfume would make a scent rubber(eraser). Like a mexican wave, the very next day, the whole class would start collecting the pencil shavings in their pencil boxes. Vigorously grinding the pencil shavings with scent made no rubber but the class room would be tidy and clean devoid of pencil shavings on the ground. 

Another day, another friend would come up with something new. This tim e it was a peepal leaf. She would say a veined peepal leaf would bring good luck. The next day, all of us would march to the playground behind our house, where there was a huge peepal tree. We would collect the heart shaped leaves and distribute it amongst our friends. Each one of us would immerse it in water for 10-15 days. After 15days, the dermis (green layer of the leaf) would  be rubbed of with fingers leaving behind a network of veins. We would then dry it and keep it amongst the  pages of books. The pleasure was in showing off the  uncut veined naked leaf to our friends and awaiting our luck. 

                        The above pic taken at Dakshinchitra. They make traditional paintings on these veined leaves

Then to the funtimes on road,

Soon after we were back from school, we changed our dress, finished our school work and then  I and friend S along with other  friends  surfed up like bubbles on the road. We would gather to play many games. In each season the games would be different.  Though we had the  Gandhi maidan (now floodlit cricket and soccer ground) next road. We would play only on the road. The traffic was less those days.

 Lagori(7 stones), kalla police(chor-police), kho-kho, tennikoit, kunte bille(hopscotch) badminton, throwball, cricket there was not a game we did not play. Cries of ‘Jhoot’(catch me),'Love all',  ‘time please’, kho( as in kho kho) would rent the air. But ‘I spy’ took the cake. Since we played on roads,  most of us would hide on the adjacent main roads and walk till the 9th main road, some of us would even do our own things like leisurely buy ourselves a piece of honeycake/dilkush/ kismi toffeebar in the Belur iyengars bakery( we would pay him later), relish them and slowly walk back and wait to see from the corner of the 5th mainroad if anybody has been caught out. We never surfaced until a person was caught out. Most often, many of us never got a chance to count or got out. Then the person who counts would get angry, throw a fit and we would have an endless fight that is till an elder would intervene to sort things out and declare nobody should hide beyond the  5th main road.

During ganesha habba( Ganesh chaturthi), we would hop from house to house go around to see the ganeshji asking "Ganesha ittidira?"( meaning have you installed Ganeshji in your house).  If ever, we got a chance, we would even sing songs on stage at the ganesh pandals and during Karnataka Rajyotsava.

We would stage plays, dance to songs like "hosili juttu helps her mother" and invite people in our neighbourhood to watch us.

We would go to Kannika parameshwari temple exactly when the satya narayana katha ends. Not for praying, You know why?
 Just for the ghee laden ksheera prasadam. Similarly, we would go to Malthi aunty’s house  not to enquire her welfare but for thambittu ( a delicious rice dumpling made with jaggery and elaichi).

 Sitting below the gooseberry tree and exchanging tinkles, ACKs, Enid blytons, tintins was another of our past time.

All these fun and games ended with the advent of TV in most homes and then it was time for humlog, buniyaad, Quiz time, yeh jo hai zindagi and slowly life changed thereafter and I made different set of beautiful memories. I am still making good memories with my current set of friends but “Those were the best days of my life”.

 This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

P.S: I am still in touch with my friend S whom i mentioned in this post(she is not on FB). Our friendship is 33 years old. I don't pick up phone and talk to her daily or even weekly, sometimes not even monthly. But everytime i catch up with her it is as though i have spoken to her just yesterday.