Tamarind City

I know what you are thinking… It has taken me far too long to read this book. A book which is about my favorite place on earth – Chennai. A book written by someone associated with my favorite publication – The Hindu.

I want to say Ghosh nailed it. But I can’t… He gets close though. The book starts off slow and Ghosh ambles on about his love for Chennai and we wait for the book to focus…. On chennai. It does and he ensures that he travels the breadth and length of the city. From St Thomas mount to Sriperambathur, from Mylapore to Marina, from Triplicane to T M Krishna, from Appa Gardens to Amma, from George Town to Gymkhana club. Sometimes we feel that he has rearranged the archives from S Muthiah’s archives. But most of the time he sticks true to his quest.

Ghosh misses two very important facets of Chennai – koyambedu and kollywood. The koyambedu market is definitely a landmark that should feature in a travel book and kollywood is the arm candy of chennai. How did he miss that? Editorial arm wriggling?

But Tamarind city brings alive the streets of Chennai – the cacophony, chaos and the civility. We are painfully modest, traditional yet tech savvy, loyal yet accommodating… Chennai is truly where modern India began.

I read this book on a train ride from munich to vienna and instead of dreaming about the sights in the Austrian capital, Ghosh made me wistful of my filter Kappi. That my friend is a good book.

Star Power

Tamil cinema fans are often seen as rowdy and raucous bursting crackers, pouring milk, erecting effigies and in general doing nothing worthwhile. But when a star uses his clout to direct this huge mob towards social service the results could be monumental.

http://www.behindwoods.com/tamil-movies-cinema-column/superstar-ilayathalapathy-suriya-big-b-and-king-khan.html

East vs West – The paper trail

The Alternative is an initiative that focuses on sustainable living and for a while I’ve been contributing to their site. But on my recent visit to India, I observed that many practices and everyday living that my parents followed rarely affected the environment. Infact it nurtured and protected it. In contradiction, the western lives that we led in the USA was causing a severe strain to the major players. Yet we were the ones making all the noise and hoopla about going green and protecting the environment. So who was really making a bigger mess and hence had to do a better clean up? This series East vs West is an extension of my introspection of the Indian and immigrant lifestyles.

The first post focuses on paper. Contrasting consumption, production and recycling techniques The Paper Trail urges us to recycle more. Would be very happy to hear your thoughts.

The long road HOME

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In less than a week, my son will step foot on the land that is a part of me. This city that defines me, the cacophony that am at ease with and the roots that I cling on to. He will see for the first time the walls that I grew up in, the roads I travelled and the extended family that raised me.

He is still too young to understand India – The myriad contradictions, the restricting culture, the frustrating traditions and the free flowing banter that borders on the offensive. But he will be old enough to get kissed every time a pair of hands pick him up, the affection that envelops him like a cozy quilt on a cold day, the aromas that linger from his parents childhood, the granny who wants to nestle him on her lap with her fingers lacing through his hair singing sweet lullabies.

His arrival will be celebrated like Diwali,his grandparents will wait on him hand and foot. The auto drivers will willingly take him on a drive, the flower lady will deliver extra garlands just for him to rip, the fruit vendor will give him bananas for free just by patting his cheek wishing him to grow fat, even the Ganesha in the corner will bat his lashes welcoming him home. Babysitting will be done without request, cows and dogs will parade for his meal time entertainment and the television will provide the much needed white noise. Here is where he will be the center of the world, the star of the show and king of an entire clan.

My son will love my city. The city that is a part of my identity and the language that I resort to in happiness and grief. He will see the grand marina – soak in its water and realize beaches have tides and warm water. He will step foot in countless temples with the puliyodharai and sakkarai pongal defining a new level of deliciousness. He will ride in all modes of transportation from cars to bullock carts. There will be shocks but there will also be surprises.

In less than a week my son will see where I come from. India – complex yet comforting, aggressive yet adoring, nosy yet devoting, confining yet generous. My hope is that on this long road home, he learns an important life lesson – To always look on the bright side.

Mango Mania

02mango190_1Photo courtesy: nytimes.com

The advent of summer was marked with the arrival of pickles. Succulent tender mangoes marinating in hot chili sauce, tangy and tart lemons infused with powdered spices and foul smelling sariba soaked in curd and turmeric. The pickles were packaged under the guarded eyes of my paternal grandmother and came with specific instructions. The lemon was stashed away and except for my father, the rest of us steered clear of the sariba. The war was always over the tender mangoes. The smaller ones were the most delicious, so copious quantities of curd rice were gobbled to cajole my mother into serving more of those mini-sized marvels.

One of the many treats that came with the sweltering heat of Indian summers was the ripe mango. They made the incessant sweating and scalp frying scorch almost bearable.

Continue reading here.

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