Friday, 23 May 2008


“At least 160 people, around 90 of them in Bangalore and its neighbourhood, have died in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu after drinking spurious liquor on Sunday,”

This was a very sad report of needless deaths, mainly among the working class. I thought about the lost lives, the fatherless families left behind. Not the first time this has happened, either. Some policemen and excise men have been suspended in connection with this. The manufacturers of illicit liquor have been traced and arrested, and stored sachets of the liquor seized and destroyed by the state police.

And it made me sad. And then mad. And then, very angry. The anger strangely is not so much at the manufacturers of the illicit brew (who I am sure will suffer in purgatory forever) but at the consumers.

Do not the people who drank the liquor have any accountability? Are they not responsible for their own tragedies? It is not as if someone held a gun to their heads and forced them to drink the spurious liquor. Have they not heard of looking after themselves? Why drink at all in the first place? (I can hear various voices of dissent here). Do they not know they have wives and children to be taken care of? Is it okay for them to go and drink every evening after a hard day’s work? Don’t their wives work just as hard? Do the women go and relax and unwind by drinking liquor, spurious or not? High time this culture of tolerating liquor consumption by men was changed. What is good for the women (stay away from drink) should be just as good for the men.

All the nethas who have deified Gandhi and swear by his principles, but have forgotten Prohibition, are busy showing sympathy to the families of the dead, and visiting the survivors in the hospital. No doubt thinking of the vote bank.

What made me angrier was this: “The Karnataka government has increased the compensation to the kin of the dead to Rs.50,000 from Rs.10,000 announced Monday.”

WHAT? Compensation for dying by drinking! Is this not encouragement of more foolhardiness? Is the government showing sympathy to those who CHOSE to drink? Will the government show the same sympathy to people if they die of food poisoning at some place where they have voluntarily eaten? Or in a road accident in a private vehicle? And whose money is it that is being so sanguinely distributed to the families – for whom I am genuinely sorry for having lost a member (breadwinner may not be true in all cases ) – of the dead ? The tax payers’?

Sure, definitely disburse it in cases like natural disasters or accidents. But state recompense for people’s own folly is just a little too hard to digest. This will only encourage people to repeat the recklessness.


Gardenia tagged me for this – here are the questions and my answers. (Am not much of a foodie - or cook, for that matter - so the answers may not be appropriate.)

What’s your favourite table?
The water table in Chennai, when it is high.

What would you have for your last supper?
It does not matter.

What’s your poison?
Coffeee, coffee, coffee, never can say ‘kafi hai’ to coffee.

Name your three desert island ingredients.
Essentials : A cook and his essential ingredients

What would you put in Room 101?
Too may to fit in there.

Which book gets you cooking?
None, the minute I pick up a book I don’t want to cook.

What’s your dream dinner party line-up?
I'll skip this.

What was your childhood teatime treat?
You know, can’t remember a thing!

What was your most memorable meal?
Can’t remember – may be it is yet to happen

What was your biggest food disaster?
Ah – when my Prestige Pressure Pan flew off the gas, with the vegetable pulao in it, banged against the ceiling and landed on the floor, leaving the pulao decorating the ceiling in various colours, like some wedding tent top. Had to settle for upma for dinner.

What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?
Another can’t remember – yet to happen, maybe.

Who’s your food hero/food villain?

Nigella or Delia?
Who are they? Could be the answers to the above?

Vegetarians: genius or madness?

Fast food or fresh food?
The fresher it is, the faster we eat it.

Who would you most like to cook for?
Prefer not to cook at all.

What would you cook to impress a date?
Why impress at all? Let the date do the impressing

Make a wish.
Only one?

Would like to tag Indrani, Kalyani, Meera, Alaphia and anyone who cares to answer the above questions.

Saturday, 17 May 2008


A look at the picture of a young boy and girl circa 1947 interested me deeply. They were wearing clothes that today would be totally archaic, yet to me they looked sweet and smart. The boy was wearing shorts held up by straps, and the girl a frock (does even the term exist today, I wonder!) with Peter Pan collar and puff sleeves.

The children could have been my sister (or me) and my brother(see photo). We were always well turned out by my mother. Both she and my father were very particular about keeping us well groomed. Our hair would be oiled and neatly parted. The girls would have the hair plaited, if long, and the boys have it combed just so. And the shoes so well-polished and gleaming – my brother used to brag that his shoes were the shiniest in school.

Getting new clothes was a thrill indeed. No ready made clothes then. In Pondicherry, where we spent part of our childhood, my mother found a good tailor, Velayudham. He would come home, the inch tape round his neck and scissors in hand, to take measurements and instructions, carry away the uncut fabric and model clothes wrapped casually in a newspaper. He would bring them back tailored, wrapped in another newspaper. His visits would raise extreme excitement, because we were eager to see how the dresses had turned out. Mine were usually pavadai (long skirt) and blouses – my grandmother felt at ten plus it would be indecent for me to wear short skirts. The pavadai could haven no variation, but the blouses did – different styled necks and sleeves. I showed scant interest in how my brother’s clothes turned out.

But my sister was only six, and her frocks were each made differently. My mother would patiently explain to Velayudan how she wanted them made, and he would listen earnestly. He would stand there in his white dhoti and not-so-white shirt, the collar pulled back from his neck, and a handkerchief tucked in there, the full sleeves folded up to his forearms, his body language exuding earnestness. Sometimes my mother would have the patterns taken from magazines. Nora and Tilly were the cut out paper dolls who would appear every month in the magazine ‘Woman and Home’. Their frocks were pert and pretty, and these patterns were copied most often. I am not sure, but I think my mother used to get the fabrics as close to the patterns shown in the pages. I remember my sister’s collection of frocks hanging neatly in a big cupboard with a lot of hanging space, where the starched dresses could remain uncrushed. Her frocks were quite the talk of the town then. Sadly, not much photographic evidence of them remains, but here is she in one of the frocks.

By the time we left Pondicherry, my younger sister was born and three months old. To Velayudhan was given the job of making her clothes. My mother gave him a bundle of many pretty pieces of printed fabrics - some were gifts, and others that she had chosen. She gave him the ultimate compliment of designing them himself – the only condition that he made optimum use of the material. He stood there, with his eyes large and bright, his sheepish expression even more sheepish as he accepted the honour. He returned a few days later with the dresses wrapped up in a newspaper – and we all went ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’, over the cute little dresses in varying sizes he had created. I realise now he must have been only in his early twenties; to me then he was an ‘old man’!

When we left Pondicherry my baby sister had a wardrobe large enough to last her a year. We had also acquired a sewing machine – presented to my mother by her brother. This later became my inseparable companion. Velayudhan’s mantle fell on me, and I enjoyed making pretty dresses for both my sisters. Here is my younger sister in one of those.
After I got married, my husband bought me an Usha pedal machine, and that too I used to a great extent, making my own clothes, and my sons’. I could not do much by way of creative tailoring for them, but I did manage to make some interesting shirts - and continued to till they were old enough to protest.

After many years, when my arthritic knees creaked even more than the pedals, we exchanged the machine for an electric one – it is now 15 years old, and I use it only to make my blouses, and do some random repairs.

The picture that set me off - Terry Fletcher and his sister.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008


I recently read a post which bothered me quite a bit. It was about how a young woman did not get married because her horoscope said that whoever she married would die a few months after the marriage. And so she remained a spinster till late, when she founds a soul mate, who overcame her apprehensions and married her. After a few months he died unexpectedly. The focus in the blog was not on this woman, but her story is what affected me most.

This was apparently a true story. I just could not get the thought of the lady, who had found happiness late but had it snatched away, out of my mind.

Can horoscopes predict the futures so unerringly? Is there wisdom in our forefathers charting horoscopes at birth and then at the age of marriage find persons with matching horoscopes to get married to?

I had a great-uncle who was a Major in the British army in the 1940s – very rare for a South Indian Iyer. His horoscope said that if he married before 35, his wife would die - 35 was considered over the hill then. So his family did not consider marriage for him while he was young. He did not wait for them to find a bride, and coolly married an English woman he met when he was about 30. His wife died - eventually at the ripe old age of 75. They had four children, and she outlived her husband by more than 10 years. So much so for that prediction. Could it have been that her horoscope, if charted, would have shown a long life?

I feel that horoscopes should be exchanged, yes, but as visiting cards are – to serve as an introduction, to tell you about the person, his or her background, family, education and even blood groups if one so desires. After all, in a society where arranged marriages are still widely prevalent, one needs a launching pad to set the wheels in motion. And best of all, it leaves a door open if one does not want to proceed further - just say that the horoscopes do not match!

I must tell you the story of a wedding that happened more than 80 years ago. The hero of our story was called, let us say, Krishna. He was only 19, and he went with his family to another town to condole the death of an uncle. The uncle’s sudden death had caused the cancellation of his granddaughter Swarnambal’s wedding to a lawyer. The lawyer’s family had felt that with the grandfather dying, certain commitments regarding dowry would not be honoured, as Swarna was fatherless. It was to have been a double wedding, the other wedding being that of Swarna’s aunt. That wedding was going to take place anyway at the scheduled muhurtham and Swarna’s family wanted to go ahead with her wedding as well. Looking for a suitable groom they decided on Krishna. And so he married Swarnambal on the auspicious day.

No horoscopes were exchanged or matched. No discussions of dowry or exchange of moneys proposed or demanded. And how does this story end?

The couple lived to see their 75 th wedding anniversary. They had two sons, and lived healthy lives. Neither of them suffered any major illness. Krishna, whose real name was Jayarama Iyer, was a school teacher who later became, and retired as, the headmaster of a renowned school in Madras. He enjoyed reading philosophy and could hold discussions on any subject. His wife was deeply interested in music, and even taught many to play the veena. One of the sons is a respected doctor, and the other son worked in an established firm and retired. The grandchildren are all married and settled happily. Jayarama Iyer and Swarnambal lived long enough to see their great grandchildren.

Jayarama Iyer died in 2001 when he was 94, and his wife in 2003. They were closely related to us.

So now, what do you think?

Monday, 12 May 2008


Sambar and kari again?” was the refrain I used to hear through the years of my children’s growing up.

They could not understand why we could not have any thing else, other than the routine menu of our household - well-balanced menu of vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates, if you ask me. They longed for the un-tasted thrills of a veggie burger or a pizza to which they were introduced via Archie comics - MacDonald’s was still a distant dream in India then – or the delicacies of the cuisine above the border - rotis or parathas, sabjis and dal.

Delhi being the place where I spent many years in my childhood and college years, I too love samosas and tikkis, rotis and parathas. The samosas and bread pakoras of our college canteen with pudhina chutney still linger in the memory of my taste buds.

But my own kitchen did not see the cooking of these delicacies, as my husband is a hardcore Southie food person. Not for him the wheat preparations of the north, though wheat rava upma was welcome, or wheat flour dosai, and of course the hot favourite rava dosai. The only times I made pooris and parathas were as tiffin for the kids when they returned from school. As they grew older and more demanding, the frequency of these increased, and my husband had to give in.

In the growing up days of my children, eating out was an uncommon pastime. We only went as a special treat on a birthday, or when someone was visiting. When my brother visited, he would take us to the nearest five star hotel as an experience. While the children revelled, my husband did not. He preferred to go to Woodlands, one of the few decent eating places then. And there, while I would choose to order something that I did (or could) not cook at home, and the children look for the dishes most removed form mother’s regulars, my husband would calmly order a ‘thali’.

And a South Indian ‘thali’ at that! The same sambar, rasam, koottu, poriyal, and vatha kuzhzambu that he got at home everyday! At first I rebelled, and exhorted him to try something else, but he would not budge. If it was a tiffin item, then he would go for the rava dosai. Later I did not bother him with my attempts to change the taste of his palate – and as in everything else, we agreed to disagree.

After the children left home, their coming home was marked by occasions of ‘going out to eat’, and forays into newer restaurants. As usual it was a struggle getting my husband to come to any other place other than Woodlands, and attempts to introduce him to any other cuisine failed miserably. He sulked his way through a whole Chinese meal, and we did not repeat that disaster.

But he was thawing and coming round to eating vegetable dishes prepared in the North Indian manner – 'Paneer Butter Masala', (which had been rejected earlier because of the mistaken notion that it was Chinese!) became a hot favourite.

When we went to visit our children abroad, they wanted to introduce us to varied cuisine from all over the world – strictly vegetarian of course, with maybe eggs. Thai, and Mexican which was closest to our food they insisted, Italian, which I loved, and Greek and other Mediterranean eating places were offered whenever an occasion arose to eat out, and rejected by my husband, who said, “Indian, please.” The very fact that he had graduated to saying Indian, rather than South Indian was accepted with relief. But there were places when we went around where there were no Indian restaurants. In such places he would have a quick discussion with the waiter, and a special omelette stuffed with vegetables would be made for him, while we ate falafal. At an Italian restaurant he offended the sensibilities of the maitre d’ by asking for a pizza. “Pizza?” sniffed he, “we do not serve that!” Quite insouciant, my husband settled for some bread and soup.

'Thayir saatham' at the Taj city

Last December we went en famille to Agra as part of the celebrations of my mother’s 80th birthday. For lunch, my brother had organised a superb Italian spread that was served to us al fresco under shady trees with scented blossoms
A waiter spotted us for the southies we are – given away by me mostly in my sari and big pottu; the others were more discreetly attired – and decided to take care of us. Chidambaram (as said his badge, and he said he was from Madurai) solicitously seated us, and taking a look at my mother’s not-so-grey hair, asked her if she was comfortable with the menu. “We also have thayir saatham, if you would like that," he said. My mother who has travelled quite a bit and enjoyed various cuisines, refused saying she was happy to eat Italian. I couldn’t resist it however, and pointing to my husband seated at a different table, told him to take care of the gentleman there.

After lunch my husband, totally oblivious of the fact that I was the instigator, came and told me with a delighted grin that he had had a very good meal of thayir saatham and mor milagai! He had not even looked at the delectable raviolis or other dishes! He was in for a great deal of “Trust Muthki to manage to get thayir saatham even here” kind of pleasant ragging that day.

By the way, the menus at my children’s homes are not any more exotic than they were in mine (though Vandana occasionally experiments with different recipes unconnected to South Indian food). Comfort food rules the roost.

The wheel has come full circle.

Inspired by:

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


Photo courtesy The Hindu

Another sizzling scorcher in the city yesterday, and I was only too happy to find refuge in the air-conditioned Smt. Sivagami Pethachi auditorium on the occasion of the Devan Endowments award ceremony. This programme is an annual one, organised by writer Charukesi, who is the Managing Trustee.

Any self-respecting Thamizh weekly reader knows who Devan is – the famed humorist, whose writings (in Ananda Vikatan, mainly) raised a laugh in the hearts and hearths of many. Though he died in 1957, his name has lived on....Many remember him for the character of Thuppariyum Sambu, who sort of bumbled his way into solving mysteries (a forerunner of Inspector Clousseau, maybe?). The face of Thuppariyum Sambu was immortalised by artist Gopulu, who drew him just as Devan had described him – with a sharp nose, a balding head, a weak chin, along with a generally vacant look. It was most touching to see Gopulu present on the occasion, and to hear him say to a friend how he and Devan were inseparable in those days. Kathadi Ramamurthi, who had played the character on stage, was also present.

Devan Endowments was formed about thirty years ago, and the trust has been honouring writers and artistes with medals from 1997. This year the Trust honoured two young dramatists – C. V. Chandramohan and S. Ananthkrishnan (Ananthu), who have been making waes with their offerings. R. Krishnaswami, secretary of Narada Gana Sabha, presented the medals, and talked about 'Stage Plays - Past and Present’. It was most interesting, for the speaker clearly knew what he was talking about. He traced the history of the Thamizh play from 1890, when Pammal Sammanda Mudaliar and V. V. Srinivasa Iyengar wrote plays and made them decent enough to be performed in public. Earlier plays, he said, used to be rather vulgar. Their sources included Shakespeare and Moliere. He outlined its growth of Thamizh drama through V. C. Gopalaratnam, - Krishnaswamy, who is a lawyer, said that he had also acted in plays presented by the Lawyers’ Association many years ago with him - Nawab Rajamanickam, to Y. G. Parthasarathy and his writer Pattu – who gave a clear definition to Thamizh drama - and others right up to the time of K. Balachandar and Cho, which he termed the golden period of Thamizh drama. He felt the current crop of dramatists should include some relevance and substance to their plays, and not just write one line stories for their one-liners.

This was followed by the presentation of ‘Natta Kal’ by Indira Parthasarathy. A short play, it sought to present the theme of finding one’s god in oneself . The story of Poosalar of Thiruninravoor, for whose sake Lord Siva decided to forego the grand kumbabhishekham planned by the king, was presented by K.S. Nagarajan’s Kalanilayam. When the Lord appears to the king to tell him he has to be present at the kumbabhishekham of another temple built by Poosalar, the king decides to go there. And is surprised to find that Poosalar is a poor Brahmin whose temple is in his heart.

This theme was foretold in the prayer song - an M.L.Vasanthakumari classic from the film ‘Thai Ullam’, as Charukesi pointed out - by Sikkil Gurucharan. Another reason I was glad I went - Gurucharan sang divinely, and looked good, too!

As we came away, I could not but help think - Mylapore is certainly the cultural hub of this city. So many sabhas, all situated in this area. Almost all the dramatists, actors, artistes, musicians and dancers, almost everyone has a base in the Mylapore area. Devan lived in Mylapore, and so do Gopulu, Kathadi Ramamurthi, Charukesi, Sikkil Gurucharan, and Cho and the late Sujata, the first two recipients of Devan Endowments….

Friday, 2 May 2008


Suddenly my social life has perked up – I am in the swim again.

It started early this week with a visit from an e friend and her family, who were in town to do some shopping for a forthcoming wedding. A most delightful time – thank you, Kalyani. A young friend of my newspaper days dropped in the same day and made me promise I would go with her to a movie followed by dinner. The next day we went out to dinner with family friends - it was the lady's 60th birthday. Another lunch appointment on Saturday with the Gangamritham gals – and it becomes a busy week.

And midweek we went to see a play with the unusual title ‘Ranganathan Photo Studio' to which we had received an invitation from playwright-director Augusto. At the staging, at Narada Gana Sabha, theatre personalities like ARS, Kathadi Ramamurthi and T.V.Varadharajan were present. So was movie director S.P. Muthuraman(see photograph). The play was part of the summer festival competition of plays presented under the aegis of Kartik Fine Arts. Augusto has been a winner in many categories in previous festivals.

Augusto’s plays, which he writes and directs, are known for their thrills and chills, and unlike plays which are mere structures for the one-liners of the playwright, there is always a strong story. This was the case with this play, too. A young couple has been inveigled into killing the owner of a photo studio, who has the misfortune of crossing the path of a powerful ‘annachi’. This is the crux. The development of the story to this point and how it works out to a satisfactory denouement makes up the play. The very start is intriguing, with the scene opening on to a nervous young girl (excellent acting throughout by Soundarya) and a middle-aged, tall and powerful looking man in white dhoti and shirt (uniform of the local dada?) who is menacing, and threatening her.(Seen in photograph). A strong performance by K. Raja here, using the colloquial Thirunelveli accent of annachis. In a previous play ‘Unmai Sambhavam’ his portrayal of a police inspector was excellent, I remember.

The effect of an old photo studio was created by use of black and white stills, (provided by R. Saravanan of Malar Stills, who also took the pictures seen on this post) and old cameras. Lighting was used imaginatively to create the effect of a studio. Characterisation was crisp, and the artiste who portrayed Rangnathan looked the devotee he is to the hilt. The dialogue was to the point, and humour came by way of the studio owner’s friend, a retired X-ray technician, whose lines, including comparisons to his occupation to the art of the photographer, raised many laughs. A flashback technique onstage seemed unusual. The social message about caring for aged parents was woven into the plot without being obtrusive. The brisk dance of young Suraj was a light moment in an otherwise thriller play. It was, however, a tad too long - over two hours.

Augusto is an oculist, and his Augusto Opticals is well-known. Why Augusto, I once asked him. “Because I was born in August,” he said. His real name is Purushothaman.