Tuesday, 27 January 2009


I went to the Mylapore festival just to see the kolams on North Mada Street at the kolam contest.

Do click on the pictures for an enlarged view

Squares about three or four feet wide had been marked and numbered, and contestants were given each a bag of white powder and 40 minutes to exhibit their skills.

Kolams are the patterns traditionally drawn by women with rice flour on the ground, smeared and cleaned with cowdung, in front of their homes. It is considered auspicious, and of course decorative and ornamental.

Cowdung is used for its anti bacterial properties, and helps to make the ground smooth and dark. Rice flour is used so that living beings like ants and birds can feed off it.

This art has been prevalent for so many centuries, handed down from generation to generation, learnt by girls by watching other women do it. To these they add their own creations and designs, letting their imagination and artistic skills take over.

Women who have never been to schools, and cannot count even up to thirty, can with ease draw kolams which require even a hundred dots.

At the Mylapore festival, no colours are allowed for the kolams (which then become rangolis) and the rule says they have to be based on pullis (dots), the traditional way of drawing them.

Neither age nor gender was a deterrent to the participants’ enthusiasm.

This is a post script. In many homes in Chennai, it is the domestic helper who does the kolam in the mornings in front of the house. Here is my assistant with her creation in front of our neighbour's house on Pongal day.

And this is My World Tuesday this week at Mylapore.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


This is the season for awards – nominating, announcing, presenting - the Globe, the Oscars, the Screen, NDTV, the Padma Shri…

I got my own little award, too from fellow blogger Sunita. It is a heart-warming, smile-inducing award – the Friendship award.

And I would like to pass it on to all my fellow bloggers and readers, who come to my page, and who with their visits and comments have made blogging such a pleasure for me.

Thank you everyone. This award is for you, you and you. . . .

(Have I been watching too many Oscar shows?)

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Fellow blogger Anjali’s post ‘The transition' put me on this track. This is something that has to be dealt with - by all of us.
Domestic violence.

Often have the women who help me at home complained of the menfolk in their families beating up either themselves, or their daughters or their sisters. They take it with resignation, while I advise them to protest, or make a complaint at the nearest police station.

All to no avail. While some men think it is their birthright to slap their womenfolk around, the victimised women tend to say that it is a family matter, and outsiders should not interfere.

Sons, who grow up watching their mothers subjected to violence and sympathizing with them, unfortunately end up like their fathers, thinking it is their heritage to hammer women. And so it continues….

Apparently this is prevalent in all layers of society.

It may not be possible for us to physically be present and prevent such abuse. But we can at least raise the level of awareness about this problem. Talk to the men, wherever possible - make them understand their responsibility to care for their women; tough I know, but at least an effort would have been made. Talk to the women, tell them they don’t have to suffer this indignity, and ask for help. We can put them in touch with organisations that help women in such situations, or other social services.

When I saw this in my mailbox today, it was too much of a coincidence for me to pass over. It is the publicity material for an awareness programme about domestic violence. Actor Boman Irani is the Brand Ambassador for the programme called “Bell Bajao” (Ring The Bell).

This video has been created by Ogilvy & Mather,
The project was created by ”Breakthrough” in collaboration with the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development and UNIFEM.

Watch the video here:

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


I was just so happy to see these blossoms on our mango tree - I had to share them. And those lovely russet coloured leaves! (Do click on the picture for an enlarged view.) I am told that in Thamizh literature, description of a beautiful skin colour is 'Manthalir meni' - like the tender leaves of the mango tree.

I remembered a Malayalam rhyme our mother sang to us when we were children - in fact, the minute she saw the picture now, she recited it.

വേനല്‍ വന്നു, വെയില്‍ മൂത്ത് ,
മാവ് പൂത്തു , മണം പാറി ,
വണ്ട്‌ വന്നു, തേന്‍ കുടിച്ചു,
കണ്ടു നിന്ന് മടിയന്മാര്‍.

"Venal Vannu, Veyil Moothu, maavu poothu, manam pari, vandu vannu , then kudichu, kandu ninnu madiyanmaar." It is a lovely description of a summer day full of flurried activity.

A loose translation might read something like this:
"The hot days are back, and the sun is stronger. The mango tree has bloomed, and spread its fragrance. The honey bees arrive and sip the honey. The lazy ones just stand and watch."

Sunday, 18 January 2009


It began as a kolam festival organized by our neighbourhood paper Mylapore Times. It was the brainchild of the editor, Vincent D’Souza, a man with a passion for the preservation of tradition and heritage. Over the years, under his guidance, it grew into something unique, the Mylapore festival, a festival along the lines of a village thiruvizha, centred around our Sri Kapali Temple, and extending up to Nageswara Park.

After some years, the festival came to be known as, and still is, as the Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival, after the sponsors.

The festival promotes village and folk arts like street plays, and urban entertainment like heritage walks and stage plays. It showcases various art forms (like classical dancing in the temple, concerts in the park) and revives traditional games like pallankuzhi. I remember the men on stilts and how they danced to the frenzied rhythms of the drum. Wonder if they will be present this year – watch this space.

The area around the temple wears a vibrant look, and one feels glad to be part of it. Usually the days earmarked for this festival are the Pongal holidays, but this year it made way for the 'Chennai Sanagmam', which is actually, if you ask me, an offshoot of the localised Mylapore Festival, but on a much grander scale and level, what with Rajya Sabha MP Ms. Kanimozhi being part of the organising committee. (And it doesn’t hurt that she just happens to be the Tamilnadu Chief Minister’s daughter.)

The event is spread over four days this year from January 22 to 25. Some of the attractions this year are the Mylapore Light and Sound Show, put together by Mylaporeans, and a Thamizh lit fest.

A first this year is the Mylapore anthem or Geetham – listen to it. (You may have to scroll down a bit).

All details of the festival can be found at the official website of the festival.

But the star attraction of the festival will be, as always, the kolam contest on January 24 and 25. Women from places far away come to the festival to show their skill at drawing those wonderful patterns. The street(North Mada Street) is turned into a veritable carpet of floral decorations.
The picture here was taken by my sister Viji at the 2005 festival when she was visiting. I was part of the behind-the-scenes activity then. That is me inside the booth answering questions.

I still remember the euphoria after the first contest,(only one day then) and the satisfaction with which our small group went home to a good strong cup of coffee, which Maiji had waiting for us.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


How does one manage young children on flights? Most parents travel with books and favourite toys. Many airlines have small toys to gift to the young ones to keep them entertained.

One was given to my granddaughter on a domestic flight from Chennai to Trivandrum.

The air hostess had promised it to her while boarding. “What is your name?” she asked. When no reply was forthcoming, she urged, “Tell me your name, and I will give you a gift.” The ploy worked, and Arundati gave her name to the smiling air hostess, who later came up to her seat and gave her the pack.

It was a short flight and Arundati did not open the packet immediately. But we saw that the children in the neighbouring seats (well into their teens) had opened a similar packet and were looking at the contents in a most puzzled manner. By the end of the flight they still had not figured it out, and had to gather the pieces and put them in a bag and carry them.

At night before going to bed, Arundati wanted to take a look at her package. It was a make-it yourself F-15 fighter plane, with all the different pre-stamped pieces cut out and held together in two wooden frameworks, ready to be pushed out No way did the bits look as though they could form a fighter plane, and Arundati lost interest soon.

The instructions were rather weird too – aimed at what age level, I can’t imagine. (The sheet said “For kids over two.”)
They went something like this (see photo - click on it to enlarge)
1.First push out each pre-stamped piece.
That is a good start, we figured.
2 wasn’t bad either, asking that the rough edges be smoothed with the enclosed sandpaper.
But 3 had all of us stumped.
Figure out how to assemble the individual parts. How indeed?
The next one was confusing – Pick up two pieces which correspond with each other by number and assemble.
How, we wondered, because I did not see any number on the pieces. Maybe we had to copy the numbers from the figures on the instruction sheet?

Arundati’s mother Jaisri, patiently worked out how it had to be done – but in between rushing here and there with various businesses, she could not finish it in Trivandrum.

Back in Chennai, she managed to assemble the pieces and presented the finished product to Arundati, who anyway prefers dolls.
The last instruction was hilarious – If connecting joint is loose, use glue – Jaisri decided to use rubber bands.

One thing is certain - children will be so busy trying to understand the instructions and follow them (or harassing their parents for help) they will not be bored on the flight.

Monday, 12 January 2009


My friend Vatsala gave this to my mother on her birthday.

How true. The recent visit of my granddaughter ( four and a half) filled us with so much happiness and joy.

Everything Arundati did seemed so delightful, right from teasing her 'Thatha' (grandfather) by taking away his woollen night cap and running to hide it, to rubbing away the kolam in the pooja room. Every evening at 6.30 she would pull up her little chair and sit as close as possible to my mother while she watched the 'Ramayana' (in Malayalam) on TV. She does not understand the language at all, but was so fascinated by the epic. Her mother has been telling her the story of the 'Ramayana', and Arundati feels a great attraction to it. So much so that she can answer many basic questions on the epic.

But indulgent grandmothers tend to run on about their grandchildren’s antics, so I shall stop here.

And go on to my mother – and share some nice news about her.

My mother has done us all proud by getting featured in the January issue of the monthly magazine ME (of the Mumbai newspaper DNA) as a senior blogger – some of you know her as Maiji. Nicely reported by Supriya Kantak, it is a beautiful display on two pages with colour pictures.
Read it here and here.

Maiji's blogs are Memories and Musings and Memories and Musings II - Life in Pondicherry

Sunday, 11 January 2009


Another Pongal, the exclusively Thamilzh harvest festival, is here. This time, with the additional distinction of being the Thamizh New Year. So that is two New Years in a month.

Sometime last year, the Tamilnadu Government changed the Thamizh New Year date from the first date of the month Chithrai to Thai 1. So this is the first Pongal with the tag ‘New Year’. (The Thamizh year last year which was born in April , Sarvadhari, dies a premature death at eight months, and the new year Virodhi comes early to us. But I find that some calendars are holding on to Sarvadhari till April. Utter confusion).

And guess who is sponsoring my ‘sakkarai pongal’, the special sweet dish made on Pongal day?

To make Pongal a ‘Happy’ New Year, the Tamilnadu government is presenting to all ration card holders a gift of the required ingredients for the ‘sakkarai pongal’. The packet includes – half a kilo each of rice and jaggery, a 100gms of 'pasi paruppu' (moong dal), and a small pack of cashew nuts, raisins and cardamoms. (There is no ghee).

The lady who works at the ration shop where I picked up my packet told me there are almost 2000 cardholders attached to the shop. Multiply this by the number of shops in the whole of Tamilnadu, and you come up with a mind-boggling number. Assuming that the package cost, on an average Rs. 25 (this is a very, very low estimate), what will the total amount spent be! And where is the money coming from? Certainly not anybody’s personal funds, I am sure. It is the tax payers’ money, which is why I went to collect my packet – I had already paid for it.

Free colour TVs, free gas stoves, free spices and condiments, whatever next!

Happy New Year, and Happy Pongal!

An edited news-report version of this appeared in the Mylapore Times dated Jan. 10, 2009.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


The music season is almost over, and I attended only a few concerts this year.

It struck me how electronic and digital equipment have become indispensable at concerts – drawbacks and all.

Click on picture for an enlarged and better view

Flautist N. Ramani kept his cool when his mike went berserk in the middle of his concert at the Narada Gana Sabha, like a banshee wailing. It is a fire alarm drill, whispered someone. The person in charge came rushing in from outside to stop the awful sound. Ramani had already stopped playing, and with great sangfroid, kept time all the while the feedback was being fixed, never missing a beat, and then resumed from where he had left off, as though nothing had happened. At 10 in the morning – an odd time for a person of his stature, certainly - there were only a few people in the audience, but I was happy to see that it was a discerning crowd. When two oldish men started to natter rather loudly during the concert, everyone turned round to look at them pointedly, while another oldish man shushed them. Soon the crowd increased and soon the hall was half full.

I last heard Ramani last year at the Thiruvaiyaru festival, we sat on the sands on the banks of the Kaveri under pandals and listened to him in the cool of the evening. What a difference in the ambience! There was no room at all, and it was a tight squeeze. There were mikes relaying the concert, not just at the open air venue, but in every nook and corner of the town. The town simply comes alive at this time. Here at the sabhas, you can hear nothing if you step out even for a coffee.

At the Sanjay Subrahmanyan concert of the Sri Bhairavi Sabha, I sat next to a lady, a hardcore Sanjay fan, who told me proudly that she had attended five concerts of his in this season. She had an electronic/digital recorder, fitting neatly into her palm and recorded the whole two hour concert. (Some of us in our music class use this to record our lessons.) I understand that many do this, and go back home to relive the joys of the concert. There have been debates on this – is it ethical? Is there an issue of copyright violation here? There is a school that feels that as long as the recording is not done for commercial purposes, it is permissible. A friend of ours has recorded many such concerts and burnt them on CDs, and now has an enviable collection.

Electronic pieces are now associated with music in other ways too. Musicians almost always have a small electronic box instead of the traditional tambura.(See picture.) But I understand that the Music Academy does not allow any electronic tambura on the stage. Mridangam player Umayalpuram Kalyanaraman, gave me this piece of information recently. He is the son of Tambura Venkataraman, and told me how his father’s services were always in demand till he retired.

But for recordings, so many of these brilliant concerts would be lost to posterity – science supporting art so smoothly. How marvellous would it have been had it been possible to make recordings of Sri Thyagaraja singing his own compositions.

Tambura picture: Courtesy Internet.

Thursday, 1 January 2009