Monday, 24 December 2007


Is this how Santa would have looked when he was young?
That Santa there on the hoarding in Borivili SV Road Station, Mumbai, is my nephew Vinay Venkatesh.
His face is all over the city,and my sister says she had the shock of her life one morning, when his face floated past her on a bus.

Friday, 21 December 2007


It was our first venture.

Our music class has now been functioning for more than a year.* And we have learnt quite a few kirthanams and bhajans. An ideal time to display what we have learnt, felt our guru Ganga. So when the opportunity arose, she encouraged us to go for it.

One of the more enterprising ones in our class had met someone who was organising night-long singing at a temple for Vaikunta Ekadesi. Now night-long was too ambitious, she said, but we could sing for an hour and a bit. And so we practiced vigorously and sincerely, till we were all singing in unison.

Last night all of us congregated in the small Pattu Kolavizhiamman temple, adjoining the premises of Sanskrit College. It is a temple with several images of various deities, housed in a private building, and is looked after by the lady of the house. (How this transpired, is a story in itself). The alankaram of the recumbent Vishnu was simply divine, and the sorga vaasal effect was complete even in the small place. Gita and I, just back from an uplifting concert by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, felt that the ensuing euphoria had heightened our musical sensiblities.

We sang about a dozen songs, chosen carefully. To our astonishment, there were mikes and speakers! Tabla and dholak players scheduled to accompany the next singing group joined in – and with the percussion, the effect was more dramatic - though we did have to hurry a bit to keep up with the tabla player’s pace. To be honest, we did stumble in a couple of places, but with Ganga in charge, we soon got back on track.

Our first concert taking place in a temple seemed a good indication. It was a satisfying experience. Not just to us, but our audience, too, as they told us. The listeners, who were in the main devotees who had come to the temple and the group of singers scheduled to go on next, were impressed enough to compliment us.

We could only feel grateful that there were not too many present unkind (or discerning?) enough to point out the faults!

* Read about our class here:


The name intrigued me, as apparently it has many others. The instinctive reaction seems to be ‘Mammudha? What is that?’

To merely say that it is the title of the new dance opera from Shree Bharatalaya is simply inadequate. What or who is Mammudha is the obvious question. Mammudha is the name Manmatha, a variation formed through usage, as he is known in the interior south where he is worshipped as a God, and Mammudha festivals are conducted even today. (Any true Madrasvasi worth his salt knows what ‘mammatha rasa’ is – it is a corruption of ‘Manmatha Raja’.)

The opera narrates the story of Manmatha being burnt to ashes by Siva’s third eye, when he fires his bana at Siva, at the behest of Lord Indra. The request stemmed from the fact that only a son born to Siva could destroy the demon who had usurped Indra’s heavens. Rathi, the beloved of Manmatha is distraught by the sequence of events, but is comforted by Siva, who says when he marries Parvati, Manmatha will be resurrected, but visible only to her eyes. Rathi is satisfied.

This story from the myths is presented in a medley of dance and art forms, that keeps the show going and the audience mesmerized. From the opening scene with the two narrators as in a Greek chorus – one in Bharatanatyam style and the other in folk style - the show took off at a brisk pace.
Being a layman but a lover of music and dance, I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

I was happy to see my young friend Aruna Subbiah as the Bharatanatyam narrator – and that set the tone for my evening. She looked so pretty and demure in her golden costume, and her delicate movements reminded me of the Tanjore dancing dolls. In contrast style appeared Sasirekha Balasubramaniam, the vigorous narrator of the folk art style.

The presence of Lord Indra in the therukoothu style was effective, and the dancer (Priya Murle) expressed what her face could not (because of the make up) in the movements. A little aside in mime between Indra and the kattiyakaran - Indra asking for a soda, and drinking it while waiting for his turn to come on was charming.

Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy was a gentle and sedate Manmatha gracefully wielding the sugarcane bow and the panchabana. I was also impressed with the dance movements of Nandi (Anusha Venkataramani). In fact, all the dancers were at their best.

A pleasant surprise was in store with young dancers frisking in Western dance movements to Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’, one of the few pieces in Western classical music that I can identify and enjoy.
The music and dialogue was all recorded, and the singing was of a high order.

The d├ęcor was by V. V. Ramani, suitably unobtrusive to set off the multicoloured lighting. He was also responsible for the costumes, as well as the art in the publicity material. We see Sudharani’s face as Mammudha holding a sugarcane bow, and arrayed in twin costumes of Bharatanatyam and folk art.

It was a neat blend of different dance forms, with no dissonance whatsoever. K. S. R. Anirudha, son of Sudharani Ragupathy, is the mastermind behind the show – and is to be congratulated.

Will this set off a new trend? We will have to wait and see what next year’s ‘season’ has in store for us.

Photographs courtesy:
For more photographs visit:

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


A dear relative passed away last week. She was 79. She was a very sweet and affectionate person, and everyone who spent time with her was drawn into the warmth of her loving circle. Her death has left us with great sadness – the manner of her death more so.

On the day of Karthigai Deepam, she was sitting in front of the pooja room, doing what she had been doing for years - stringing the flowers, and saying her prayers. She stretched to clean one of the pictures, and her sari caught fire from the lamp placed in the pooja room, and in no time it had spread right up to her chest.
With great presence of mind, she had tried to douse the flames, but wasn’t successful. By the time the family came to her side hearing her cries, she had been burnt quite a bit.
After a week in hospital, she died. One can only imagine the suffering she would have borne.

It was a terrible way to go.
Another lady, the mother of my son’s friend, died the same way last year – she was also in her late 70s. It has happened to two other old ladies known to me – dying after the saree catching fire in the pooja room from the lamp.

Which brings me to the point.
Is it really safe for older women to light the traditional lamp with the oil and wick in the pooja rooms?

The idea of lighting lamps, or even candles, is to dispel darkness. This can now be done with the flick of a switch, and we should consider it for the sake of safety.
And for the more conventional minded, there are electric lamps fashioned after the traditional ones, with little bulbs flickering like flames.
Then there are those traditional little lamps meant for outside use as in the thulasi madam, which are enclosed in small glass walled chambers, so that the flame is protected. These can be used in the pooja room, without fear of setting anything alight.

We should consider this seriously, as it really is a matter of life and death.
I already have one in my pooja room.


Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Nothing can prepare one for the magnitude of the Taj.
Not the millions of photographs, pictures or videos I have seen. (It was a first time for me).
The magnificent spectacle of the Taj in the balmy sunlight of a pre-winter afternoon was far greater than my expectations - truly deserving the ‘Wonder of the World’ title.

Beautifully maintained grounds added to the charm of the monument.
I had heard enough about the deterioration of the monument and its discolouration, but happily that was not too evident.

Though too little too late, efforts have been made to preserve the monument and care is taken not to pollute the vicinity. Special electric cars and camel ghadis are provided for the almost one mile stretch to the monument.

But the approach to the town, and the surrounding areas are in sad contrast to the beautiful wonder.
The Taj stands like a lotus in the slush.
Tourists throng the place. And enough funds are generated through the collections. (Foreigners are charged Rs. 750!).
Surely some can be put aside to make the city and surrounding area more inviting.

In contrast Delhi seemed to me to be a beautiful city.


It was the most wonderful occasion.
It was my mother’s 80th birthday.
November 27, and the whole family had managed to get together for a week in New Delhi, where my mother, known to everyone as Maiji, has spent most of her life – and all her married life.

There were the five of us, her children, and our families in full force. And this must have delighted Maiji more than anything else. Only one grandson and his family could not make it, and his absence was felt.

The last time we were together was for our youngest sister Gowri’s wedding in 1986, which was celebrated in Delhi too.
Since then many have been added to our family.
And a vital member, my father, lost…

What we did together in those few days was simply have fun, and make beautiful memories that will be remembered in family anecdotes.

Moments of fun - when my brother Bala presented Maiji with a Janata stove, which was her regular birthday gift in the late 60s and early 70s; when Parvati delighted us with her songs, and we sisters pitched in merrily; when the youngsters went out to make merry after the seniors had retired to bed……

The highlight was the party at the India International Centre, organised by my journalist brother known variously as T. R. and Thambi.. Friends and family based in New Delhi, were all present, and they included our friends too, who could not but remember how they had feasted on Maiji’s cooking on innumerable occasions.

I got to meet friends from my college days I had not seen in decades – I was in Delhi after nearly 20 years!

Maiji has been blogging for more than a year, writing her memories down. To mark the occasion, her writings were collected and published as booklets. Viji, my sister, and her daughter-in-law Deepa, were in charge of this. Guests were thrilled to receive copies. Maiji’s posts can be read here:

The next day we took a day trip, again organized by my brother, to see the Taj Mahal, which, strangely, Maiji had not seen in all those years of living in Delhi. Only Mohan, Gowri’s husband was missing – he had to leave for his tea garden that morning.
We travelled in a van and it took nearly five hours to get to Agra. A fantastic lunch was laid out at the ITC there.

Maiji cut a cake, ably assisted by the youngest in the group, grandson Sankar’s daughter. After enjoying the view of the Taj from the hotel, we proceeded to look at it up close.

The day after, the group sort of fragmented, with Bala’s wife Jaishree leaving, too.
But the youngsters grouped and regrouped, sightseeing and partying, till one by one we all had to leave.

To quote someone’s classic words, “A wonderful time was had by all!”


Or rather, New Delhi.
After nearly 20 years!

And the first thing that caught my eye was the auto-rickshaw, or scooter as it is called there.
Instead of the staid black body with yellow top as they used to be, the scooters were now painted vivid green and bright yellow – you could certainly not miss them.
I was told that they run on CNG – Compressed Natural Gas – to reduce pollution in the city, and hence the green, symbolic of a pollution-free environment.
The public buses also run on CNG.

Delhiwallahs say that the city is still polluted, and the dust and traffic is far too much.
But going from Chennai, I could not help but notice how much better the traffic is.
The roads are wide with many lanes, and there are fewer two wheelers. People are encouraged to use the Metro. And in the few days that I was there, and the few places that I went to, I did not see any encroachments on the pavements
There is beautiful greenery all around, albeit shrouded in some dust, but I am sure it looks good after the rains. Lung space is something that has always been evident in the capital.
No matter where the housing colonies sprout, emphasis has been laid on that vital patch of green.

A visit to Delhi Hat took me to where we once lived, West Kidwai Nagar, and I could see several changes.
A flyover has arisen near the crossroads of Ring Road where Safdarjang Hospital and AIIMS are (were it not for my companions, I would never have recognized the area) and the sides have been converted to sloping lawns, which are pleasing to the eye. I was told that several flyovers have been built over the last few years.

I was never fond of Delhi when I lived there; the cold winters always made me uncomfortable - but now I think I may begin to like it. End November, and I did not find the city cold at all; being well-upholstered and insulated may have something to do with it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


There are only horror stories about them.
We can’t do without them, and they exploit our need.

Last week, coming back from New Delhi after a family affair, we had chosen to take the evening flight to Madras, so as to reach here before dark.
Even as we reached the Delhi airport, the flight notice board read that our flight was delayed by two hours, taking off at 6.30 pm. We comforted ourselves saying that it was only two hours, and the flight was only two and a half hours. My son, who came to drop us off asked if we would like to go back and wait, but we chose not to.

Checking in took a long time with the computer hanging, and the person in charge, maybe a novice, looking miserable as he tried to cope. So that took care of 45 minutes and I said to myself, only an hour and a bit now to wait. But by the time we finished checking in we found that the flight was delayed by yet another hour.
And then another.
And then another.

Okay, so there was some problem.
Languid announcements from the airlines, once in an hour, held no note of apology for the inconvenience, or explanations for the delay.
Another indistinct announcement was a sap to suckers who had paid money well in advance to enjoy the comfort of an air trip – they could avail themselves of ‘refreshments’ at the airlines’ cost.

My heart ached for the young couple waiting with us. On their honeymoon, they had to catch a connecting flight to Singapore from Madras at 11 pm – and it did not look like they were going to make it.

At about 7.40 pm a flight to Madras was announced – but it was not our flight.
It was the flight that was scheduled for 8 pm.
That is when the collective hackles of the passengers booked on our flight rose. They trooped to the attendant in charge at the boarding gate, and wanted to know why when they were kept waiting, the aircraft bound for Chennai could not take them. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing , our flight was announced.

And finally we made it, boarding the aircraft at about 9 pm. I don’t even want to think what happened to the other flight!

This is not an ailment of domestic airlines alone.
My son and daughter-in-law had tickets on the 2 am KLM flight to go to New York from New Delhi; they found that the flight was overbooked by many numbers. The passengers crowded the counters; a request from my son to the attendant there to control the queue brought the response “Aap hi sambhalo” (You manage it please). Finally the passengers were distributed and accommodated on other airlines. My son and his wife travelled by Aeroflot via Moscow - from what they said I don’t think they want to repeat the experience.

These are only two isolated accounts – everyone must have an experience to relate.
There is no accountability at all on the part of airlines for any inconvenience caused. Neither apology nor compensation is offered. Early booking to avoid such problems becomes a farce in the face of such irregularities.

A recent judgement against Go Air Airlines, to recompense the passengers for inconvenience caused by cancelling a flight, should serve as a lesson.

As for lost luggage – now that is another story!