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

English vinglish

In a movie hailed as the comeback of the queen of silver screen, feministic undertones are not only laudable but heartwarming.

Every scene of English Vinglish is crafted beautifully. Every expression, every sigh, every look and every frame is the work of a perfectionist. Or it is the work of Sridevi, who not only understands the travails of a home maker struggling to keep herself happy but also braves the odds to liberate her from the clutches of language. But seen from the vantage point of an immigrant, there are some unique aspects that stand out and amuse me.

• Why is it that during my innumerable trips to and from India, my economy seating has never been accompanied by Ajith or Amitabh? But if I were to lament, I would prefer Surya. Now that’s worth feigning ignorance. The hostess never offers Chardonnay or Merlot instead stares blankly through the cartons of Apple & Orange juice.

• It is eternally warming to see Sridevi strolling through the streets of NYC in a sari. If there is one place in the world outside of India, where a sari can be worn with elegance and get its standing, it is in NYC. Nobody gawks or mocks at you and you don’t have to make excuses for sporting one. When invitations to parties leave me in wardrobe failure, there is a twinge of pride to see her walking tall in the six yards. It is sometimes the outfit but always the real YOUthat stays with people long after you have walked out.

• The movie silently puts forth certain stereotypes. The French chef, Spanish nanny, gay New Yorker, south Indian software professional, Pakistani taxi driver, Chinese parlor girl, Indian home maker but does it in a way that is not derogatory to either one. In a way, to see their friendships evolve and develop is amusing. The barriers, it seems, are not in what we speak but how we speak.

• Shashi cooks deliciously. She is the super mom, super wife and super daughter in law who whips us a different breakfast for every member. Yet there are only two people who cherish her, the eldest in the family, her mother in law and the youngest, her son. When the man cooks it is art and when the woman does it, it is duty? After having a kid, cooking has become a chore. What was once therapeutic has becomes a necessary evil to quiet the grumbling stomach. Shashi’s parathas and ladoos are appreciated and devoured by her sister and nieces for whom these are delicacies. I can understand that kind of wistfulness when it comes to food. In a land far away from delicious home style take away’s, it is a blessing when the husband can appreciate the wife’s culinary abilities. And unless we let the man wield the spoon once in a while, they might never get the travails of being a chef.

• When the husband cuts her calls short using excuses as trivial as stepping into an elevator, he cannot handle her excuse for not accompanying them to view the Empire state. Men cannot handle rejection even after two kids? They always need a punching bag by their side so they can make mean jokes about Jazz? How many times have we seen newly married brides walking shyly behind their grooms? How many times have they remained mum when spoken to only to let their husbands do the talking? How many times have seen kids abuse their mothers and manipulate them? This is not unique to immigrants alone. It is definitely apt that Sridevi finds her voice and confidence in the end and does not cringe from using it. Though she pauses and falters along the way, she does go all the way and that deserves an ovation, a standing ovation.

Shashi, is empowered after conquering her weakness. It was learning a new language but it could be anything. She went out, braved the odds and emerged successful. In the end, she returns to her cocoon, silently yet with more strength when she enquires for a Hindi newspaper in the flight.

And Shashi is right; nobody can help yourself better than you!

Motherhood: A Song For Life

As I look down at my baby feeding hungrily, pain jolting through my entire body, tears cloud my eyes and stream down my cheeks. Amma is stroking my hand reassuringly. I look up and she dries my cheeks. “It is going to get better. You will learn to love him!” I close my eyes, draw a deep breath and lean back. Will I?

The day we found out we were expecting will be etched in my memory forever. We hugged each other with tears of joy and called parents and siblings to share the “good news”. Everybody was ecstatic. The fact we refused to find out the gender and wanted to be surprised added to the anticipation. We cruised through pregnancy and they were the most cherished days of my life. My parents guarded me with fierce love and watched every step I took with eagle eyes. My husband was my rock. He did not miss a single appointment, always carried chocolate bars for instant energy, took me on long leisurely strolls and kept me sane. He weathered my hormones and cooked my favorites. In many ways he had already began his journey of becoming a great father.

As the due date came closer, we realized that we had one stubborn child. He was so happily cocooned inside my belly, he refused to show up. Finally after a week the doctor decided to induce me. I was nervous since I wanted a normal delivery and this was slowly beginning to look different. Then my child read my mind and calmed my nerves. I had my first contraction. We drove to the hospital frantically, exactly the way I had dreamed it would be for nine months. After 23 hours of labor with the magic of epidural and countless popsicles, he made his appearance. I was nervous, were we ok with a boy? They placed him on my chest and he peeped at me with his barely open eyes. With my eyes filled with tears and his mop of hair, I could hardly see him. And I was wailing more than him glad that this was over. But little did I realize that the journey had just begun.

For the days we were in the hospital, I remember being a basket case. I moaned in pain, I cried because it was not hot or cold enough. At one point, my husband stood in front of the thermostat waiting for divine intervention. Should I turn it higher or lower? Even after we came home, I was completely consumed by the demands that motherhood had physically that I had failed to acknowledge the miracle of this tiny person in my arms.

Breastfeeding was painful and demanding and I did not feel the overflow of motherly love. In fact I cried a lot. I cried because I couldn’t sleep for more than 2 hours. I cried because I couldn’t walk more than a few steps. I cried because I couldn’t do anything without worrying about the baby. Was he hungry? Should I change his diaper? Is he getting a rash? When will his cord fall off? Amidst all this there were no moments where I proclaimed that I was his mother and I shall protect him from the evils of this world. After a couple of months I began to worry that something was wrong with me. Why did I not feel those emotions? Why did I not love him with my entire being? In Tamil cinema, there are several rolls of film dedicated to these emotions, several songs in glory of the relationship. Yet, yet, here I felt zilch. I had waited anxiously for months to become a mother. But now that I was one, I did not feel it. Surely, I’m a bad mother.

But as my wounds healed and my baby started cooing and gurgling, things changed. There is not going to be one aha moment. But as stranger anxiety fills him and he finds me amongst the pool of people and whimpers, I begin to love him a little more. When suddenly he open his mouth wide and grabs my entire cheek and wets it, I know he is telling me something. When I try to burp him, his hands encircle my neck and tighten, his face nestles on my bony shoulder and I smell his hair. The soft baby scent intoxicates me and as I rub my cheek against him, I begin to love him a little more. As I feed him with a spoon and he is blowing bubbles covering both our faces with cereal and chuckles effortlessly. We both grin like fools and I begin to love him a little more. Through these little moments I’m learning to love him. Love him unconditionally.

Cuddling him through sleepless nights, cajoling him through endless feeding sessions, cheering him even he trails the races, feeling pride even when he doesn’t ace his milestones, soothing him through sick days and struggling to put his needs above my wants, always. It was not meant be a platonic love at first sight relationship. This is heartbreaking and traumatic yet exciting and heartwarming. This will always be a work in progress because this is hard and life consuming.

Loving him comes naturally to me now but the time it took prepared me for being a parent. You have to choose what kind of  mother you want to be. This journey is going to have dead ends, sudden turns, heart-on-your-mouth bumps and screaming highs. It is going to require epic amounts of endurance, patience and love. Do I scream at him or walk away calmly? There is no such thing as a good mother. But being a mother is a commitment. A promise filled with toothless grins, stubby fingers, smothering kisses, breathless hugs, unscented aromas and heartwarming surprises. As he wraps his fingers around mine and tightens his grip, I know that am hopelessly in love and I’m ready for the ride.

Also,

Women’s web has a contest based on the journey of motherhood. Since I wanted to chronicle it myself, this works great. They have a wonderful video illustrating the anxiousness, insecurities and challenges of motherhood.

Hermes Silk and the South Indian

Some thought it was condescending and cocky, some opined that it was reserved for Bollywood plastic figures. Yet some more thought it was for wallets in poor taste.

Introducing a silk sari at an astronomical price in a country that has been wearing them for centuries together is quite ballsy. It definitely does not strike me as a proper way of thanking the Indian customers. Imagine if I went to Italy and tried selling my pizzas(a blander version) at a sky-high price.

Hermes introduces a silk sari line in India. Clearly, they haven’t met their Indian counterpart – the traditional Kancheevaram.

Read on

HERMES silk and the South Indian

Summer Island

Summer Island by Kristin Hannah was a book that i started to read on a sunday evening and decided to bunk monday and finish it through. It gives me immense pleasure to take a day off just to finish a book, something i have not done in many years. The last i remember was in college and back then we were not accountable for anything. Sometimes when i look at my sister juggling office and family i wonder if such simple pleasures would ever come back, where taking a day off was just about that and nothing more and nothing less.
Neverthless, this was a book review so let me stick to that. What got me bowled over was the number of characters in the book and how Kristin had detailed each of these characters. Nora Bridge is the woman who not only walked out from her marriage but motherhood and even though she has made peace with the former, the latter haunts her every living day. Ruby is a strong willed, honest to the word teenager in an adult and when she comes of age, she sheds wisdom on every one of us. The tangles of the family, how it is important to realize that mistakes are a part of it and how to forgive is what holds us together is easily penned. When i started reading this book i compared it to one of the mills & boons but it never treads on the physical strings but leans on the emotional side.
I really enjoyed reading Kristin Hannah’s writing and now i want to read her latest – Fire Fly lane. Summer Island is a book you need to curl up with coffee and cookies and be ready to make a call to your mom or sis immediately after that.