Gift from the Gods

My baby’s skin was soft and radiant, fresh from his bath. His wet mop of hair was jet black and silky. I stared at him mesmerized with my mother’s stern instructions ringing through my ears. Oil bath twice every week and use only coconut oil. It was the purest and most natural lubricant for his growing limbs and agile muscles. The only chemical free moisturizer and toner fit for his tender skin. The market was flooded with oils from almonds to aloe vera but she would hear none of it. Only the best and most reliable for her precious grandchild, so my son was treated with this coco wonder from infancy.

Tropical Spa
(Pic Copyright: http://www.healthycrush.com)

As I finished drying him I recollected the days when my grandmother massaged my scalp with coconut oil. A Sunday ritual, she applied the lightly warmed oil into our scalp, kneading, scratching and rubbing. While our eyes drooped, our tresses would drip from the excess oil. If we protested she lectured on how the oil cools our system, soothes the mind and frees the body from stress. As children the need for such an elaborate cleansing mechanism was lost on us but now with our hectic lifestyles these therapeutic rituals are what we beg for. We splurge good money to relax and rejuvenate while our ancestors knew that the spa was right in our backyards.

coconut-oil-massage
(Pic Copyright: http://www.prestigemed.hu)

Looking at my cooing baby, his velvety cheeks were irresistible. Instinctively, my fingers traced my own cheeks and wondered when I started to neglect them. During my teens, I was breaking out with acne and pimples when our neighbor from Kerala came over and prophesized the goodness of coconut milk on the skin. It was a gift from the gods and was miraculous, she whispered. She rattled out the benefits – Anti aging, anti bacterial and hydrating. So every week, coconuts were plucked, milk extracted and infused with rose petals. The acne and pimples disappeared and for years I was blemish free. Why had I given up this natural magical mantra for store brought madness?

Thoughts came rushing back to reality as my baby wriggled and reached out for the moisturizer. I slowly yet surely moved it aside. There was no need for that today. I picked him up and opened the cabinet. It was filled with moisturizers, toners and exfoliaters. The coconut oil and the coconut milk moisturizer were hiding in the rear. Why did I resort to traditional and natural nourishment for my baby yet settled for artificial chemicals for myself? This was the essence of our earth, the promise of generations, goodness from our garden and the most organic and chemical free cosmetic that nature had blessed us with. Did I forget this age old wisdom in the arrogance of modern day living? I picked up the coconut miracles and placed those on the counter, right in front –From today, the best was not just for the baby but also for his mother. Maa ka pyar, Maa ko bhi!

(This post is an entry to the Goodness Of Coconut contest hosted by Parachute Advanced)

Magic of Margazhi

Margazhith Thingal mathi niraidha nannaalal

…starts the Thiruppavai verse rendered by Andal. Margazhi is the last month in the Tamil calendar starting on the 16th of December. This is the time when the otherwise sleepy streets rouse before the crack of dawn. Kolams, designs made with ground rice flour, adorn wet pavements, MS Subbulakshmi’s enchanting Suprabhatam wakes the God from his slumber, freshly ground filter coffee stirs the sleepy eyed human and fragrant jasmine adorns the pictures of God and oiled braids alike.

Kolam Design

(Copyright: Sridhar Rao Chaganti Flickr Stream)

Fond memories of Margazhi mornings hunched over kolam books waft before my eyes. My maternal grandmother was deft in drawing kolams and she would expertly sketch the most complicated designs without faltering on a single curve. She quickly took me under her arm and that was to be my first tryst with Margazhi. After the kolam, we would quickly bathe, deck up and walk up to the nearest Vishnu temple. My mother and granny would recite the Thiruppavai while we ran helter skelter all the while keeping an eagle eye on the prasadams.

Winter breaks during Margazhi were spent lying on my grandmother’s lap cushioned by her soft yet supple Sungundi saree. The scent of her sari’s starch, her face glowing from the daily application of turmeric and the diamonds glittering in her nose and ears were a thing of comfort. As we lay in a semi comatose state pushing our bellies that were belching from the heavy lunch, she would churn out her usual dose of mythological tales that were interspersed with events from her own life.   Her parents lived in the temple town of Pillayarpati which is famous for the Lord Pillayar temple. Her father was the temple accountant and every day after the morning offering, a huge box of kozhakattais would make their way home. My mother remembers reserving the sweet and savoury kozhakattais in case she had to run to the vaigai to fetch water. One kozhakattai was big enough to satiate their breakfast pangs. My grandmother’s vivid narration of the story of Andal during my teens still lingers on my mind. Her enthralling account of Kothai being discovered near the Tulsi plant, wearing the garland knotted for her God in an effort to become his bride and the Lord himself flanked by a thousand elephants arriving to seek her hand left an indomitable mark. Andal was born in the temple town of Sriviliputhoor and resides in the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Rangam after wedded bliss. Every time I witness a Vaishnavite wedding, my grandmother’s voice and her brilliant folklore rings in my ears.

Musical Trinity(Copyright:Kaleesuwari.com)

Margazhi also signifies the start of the music season. Artists from around the world descend in Chennai, equipped with rich knowledge to satiate the audience’s year long craving. Their renditions are a feast for the senses and food for the soul. Margazhi is when Kodambakkam plays gracious host to Mambalam. The rustle of silk, rhythm of instruments and the confluence of artists are legendary.   In the absence of the internet, we would turn to the television or Radio for the music to flow into our homes. But before we tuned in to the day’s performances, we had to freshen up. It did not matter that we were merely the passive audience. Right before six our tresses would be neatly braided, coconut oil dripping from every strand, faces scrubbed, kohl lined our eyes, a round bindi rested between our eyebrows and ash smeared above it to signal the completion of evening prayers. On Fridays, strands of jasmine were neatly pinned up to the oiled hair.   As we huddled around giggling indifferent to the ragas and renditions, she etched the story behind Jagodadharana penned by Purandaradasar in the Navaneetha Krishnan temple in Dodamallur. Tales of Saint Thygaraja’s unflinching devotion to Lord Rama and the Thiruvaiaru and Muthusami Dikshitar’s vision of Lord Muruga filled our drawing rooms.

As I stare outside my window into the snow filled emptiness, strains of Carnatic music makes its way through the miles to warm my senses. Margazhi for me is not just about the tales or the temples. Margazhi is the divine month when music and mythology intersect. The misty mornings, mellifluous music, mesmerizing rhythms and mythological Margazhi, all signify a slice of heaven. So if God decided to pick a time for a mortal dwelling, it would be during this magical month of Margazhi.

P.S: The author wishes to make a trip during one of the forthcoming Margazhis to all the temples that her grandmother filled her childhood with.

P.P.S: This piece was published in thealternative.in

War over your love story: NEP vs KSY

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The Menon’s classic love story Nee Thane en Ponvasantham trudges along while Mohan’s rulebook romance Kadhalil Sothapuvathy Eppadi races when pitted against each other.
Both talk tirelessly about the failings and triumphs of being in love. The petty fights, ego battles, endless search and finally moments dunked in romance. While the former spans various ages, the latter stick to one time frame. What Gautham Menon could not achieve even after directing a blockbuster like VTV, Balaji Mohan accomplishes in his debut effortlessly. And that sums up how 2012 went – Established directors faltering while newcomers delivered in style.
But let’s focus our lens on the NEP Vs KSY warfare. When you graduate out of college, your life is a little aimless. Very few are focused and if you are in love, you simply want to follow the significant other, career be damned. So when Parvathy decides to pursue her Masters abroad, Karthik gives it a thought as well. The same happens in NEP except we see a lot of talking, debating, lecturing and finger pointing that we just wish they would break up. Of course this is commonplace in a relationship but in KSY we want the leads to stay together and earnestly wish they would sort out the differences because we can sense their love for each other. In NEP, we only see them squabble. There is some amount of cuteness infused to propel the story forward but even that doesn’t keep our interests hooked.
KSY did not make any tall claims about being a musical. We saw the short film, found it hilarious, caught the trailer, found it engaging, saw the movie, laughed a lot and came out satisfied. NEP was an Illayaraja musical. So we eagerly awaited the audio release of this “Raja genre”, shuddered hearing Yuvan’s out of tune singing, dropped our jaws at the almost absent or out of place BGM and scratched our heads at the shoddy placements of songs. In the former we would have dismissed it as his first attempt but with the latter the bar is set, so he miserably fell short.
Both movies revolve around the leads exclusively. So their families and friends are given very little screen time and most of it is left to our comprehension. But KSY uses these external factors to provide the much needed comic relief and a boost to the narration. In NEP, they are mere caricatures. Even Santhanam who make us sigh in relief at his appearance does not quite cut it. Why does Varun’s father wait until the last minute to give him the “Be A Man” speech? Why doesn’t Nithya’s father worry when his daughter stays out all night? The VTV spoof does not fit well and why does Varun wait that long to go in search of Nithya?
KSY does not balk away awkwardly in the romantic scenes. NEP made us think of yesteryear movies where a flower or a lamp is propped up to signify the romance. This from a guy who shot the poetic Anal Mele Pani Thuli sequence in Vaaranam Aayiram.
Varun is from a lower income society, yet the brothers address each other casually as “bro”, the kitchen is modular and the bedroom is furnished with sleek wooden furniture. The same applies to Parvathy in KSY but there the furniture is cane and she uses a desktop which is more plausible. Why does Menon try desperately to inject the urban feel into a middle class milieu and ends up alienating both?
Of course, there are ample differences between the movies that we can peck at. But while KSY achieves its goal effortlessly as a light hearted movie, NEP fails miserably as a romantic musical. Maybe Varun and Nithya should have watched KSY before striving to walk the path of love. But it is my earnest hope that 2013 would be a year where directors do not take their audience for granted.