Tuesday 26 November 2013

[Translation] Bharathiyaar's Maayayai Pazhithal

Maayayai Pazhithal, is a less known philosophical poem by the Mahakavi. We see the poet in conversation with the concept of Maya and while recognizing it's power is confident of defeating it. Though Maya is broadly translated as illusion, it is in fact a rather complex concept which in the Vedas denotes knowledge, might and power. In Vedanta it refers to the cognition of reality, and Maya is a veil that the seeker must see through in order to experience the epiphany and set out on the path of liberation. Maya makes one view the world as duality - superimposing a perceived reality over Brahman consciousness. 

The English translation was done in collaboration with Shekar Raghavan.


Unmai arindhavar unnai kanipaaro Maayaiye --
Mana thinmai ullaarai nee  seivadhum ondrundo Maayaiye.

Ethanai kodi padai kondu vanthaalum Maayaiye
Nee sitha thelivenum theeyin mun nirpaayo Maayaiye.

Ennai kedupathark kennamutrai ketta Maayaiye 
Naan unnai kedupathuruthi yendreyunar Maayaiye

Saaga thuniyir samuthiram emmattu Maayaiye
Indha degham poi yendrunar dheerarai yenseivaai Mayaiye

Irumai yizhandhapin engirupaai arpa Maayaiye
thelindorumai kandaar munnam odaathu nirpaayo Maayaiye

Neetharum inbathai nerendru kolvano Maayaiye
Singam naaithara  kollumo nallara saatchiyai Maayaiye
Yennichai kondunai yettrivida vallen Maayaiye
Ini unnichai kondena kondrum varathu kaan Maayaiye

Yaarkum adiyallen yaanena therthanan Maayaiye
Undran porkanjuveno podiyakkuven unnai Maayaiye 


Those who know the truth, do they ever judge you O Maya
Do you ever harm those of determined hearts, O Maya

Come armed, you might, with raging armies O Maya
But can you endure the fire of clear thought O Maya

You seem most determined to destroy me O evil Maya
But know this, that I shall certainly crush you O Maya

Braced for death, of what consequence is the ocean O Maya
 Can you harm the fearless who have realized this body as false O Maya

With loss of all duality where will you be O petty Maya
In the presence of those enlightened with Oneness will you not flee O Maya

The pleasures you yield, would I hold them as true O Maya
Will a lion accept sovereign counsel from a mongrel O Maya

I have the power to cast you whenever I wish O Maya
Know that nothing shall befall me of your volition O Maya

I have realized I am captive to none, O Maya
I fear not your strike, but shall annihilate your might O Maya.

Here is a rendition of this song by Shri S.Kalyanaraman:

Sunday 17 November 2013

[Blog] Popular Culture : The proliferation of item numbers

The item song is a phenomenon that now dominates the Indian film industry. We seem to have them in all languages. It has replaced the bar song that was quite popular a while back, which has now returned after a hiatus in the form of the item number.

Typically an item song has a set of very predicable characteristics: it usually features a very popular, highly paid, good looking actress (and actor) or the occasional 'Western' model. The marvelously beautiful woman occupies centre screen and is usually surrounded by a host of men who appear, poor, uneducated, ill dressed and drunken. What makes the item song so remote from reality is the fact that the actress seems to be at ease dancing in their company in her skimpy costume while appealing all the time for them to love her. The song has a catchy tune and ingrains itself in the audience's imagination through its choice of words, facial expressions, dance moves, music and style of singing. Paradoxically, the song manages to attract all sections of society- prodding one to want to see and hear it innumerable times. The tune generates an upbeat mood which encourages one to see and hear it often.

 The very presence of a respected, sophisticated, popular, good looking and highly paid actor 'sanitizes' the song and its lewd picturization and surprisingly lends it an undeserved credence and credibility. This directly contributes to it a garb of 'decency.'  I never cease to marvel at the way the actors cleverly manage to portray facial expression and gestures that exude an air of 'innocence' and 'sweetness' in these songs -- be it  Katrina Kaif in Sheila ki Jawani or Kareena Kapoor in the recent Fevicol song.

 The life cycle of an item number: The song is released after much fanfare and publicity and is played over and over in the media, at every wedding, every party, every festival and every school annual event and if that isn't enough, some local groups even manage to make parodies replacing the theme with a religious one and playing it over loudspeakers at all festivals. This constant bombardment of the psyche with the tune feeds on itself and makes one want to hear it more often until saturation kicks in at which point the scales tip - paving the way for a new item number.

Now, unlike the bar song that used to have overweight 'vamps' ( at least in Tamizh) which only entertained a section of the male audience, these songs now feature fashionable, main stream actresses thereby attracting all sections of people including women. Interestingly, it is women who play these songs at home and dance to them at private parties and social gatherings.  Another surprising trend is that the presence of a lesser known (albeit more talented) woman in a song doesn't attract the same degree of popularity and public endorsement. An example I can think of is : En peru Meenakumari from the film Kandasami which might not be allowed into 'respectable middle class homes but  a song like Pottu thakku that features Ramya Krishnan may find better acceptance.

Sadly, the item song has a direct impact on the safety of women on the streets of India. I feel that they fuel the fallacy that urban, educated, fashionable women and western women are promiscuous and decadent and these songs might be the single unwitting cause for an incidence in rape.
All I can wish for is an increase in the maturity of the audiences to view them as mere entertainment which might take a while. A more realistic wish would be the 'death' of the item number and its replacement with a more sensible form of entertainment.

Monday 30 September 2013

[Blog] Empathy - Sympathy - Apathy


Picture a nursery filled with new-born babies all lying quietly in their tiny cribs, suddenly one begins to cry feebly and surprisingly one by one the others join in- psychologists call this empathy – which is the capacity to experience someone else’s pain as one’s own and respond in the best way one can.
This same attribute is exhibited by toddlers as well - in the first few weeks of a nursery or a kindergarten class when one child begins to cry and if he or she is not pacified quickly, the other children will join in and raise quite a din–all on account of toddler empathy.

Very young children are usually quite selfish but when they find a fellow being in distress they might decide to part with their favourite toy just to comfort another - especially if she or he has been the cause of this distress but some toddlers are downright altruistic - they stop their play and rush to the aid of a distraught one with a touch, a token or a kind look. It would seem that we humans are quite capable of selflessness and empathy when we start out in life.

And starting with school all the way through college and beyond humans are capable of sympathy- they are capable of compassion, , commiseration, congeniality -and respond with kindness to others' distress- so unlike early childhood we just don’t stop with feeling the pain but translate empathy into direct action to address the problem.

Long lasting friendships are forged through these years and we witness people becoming less and less emotionally dependent on their immediate family and more and more focused on the world outside. Life is rife with numerous examples of kindness – from helping a close friend pay for his college tuition to helping a perfect stranger with a blood donation. Individuals jointly fight for a cause and seek justice. People volunteer when disaster strikes like an earthquake or a tsunami. People even travel to other countries as voluntary aid workers, to participate in disaster management efforts.

But the greatest paradox is that somewhere along the way – even maybe as part of gaining adulthood and becoming successful in life we humans let logic and reason dominate our thinking and we withdraw our gaze little by little from the outer world. Slowly but steadily all of our actions pass through these filters of logic and reason and financial considerations. We summarily dismiss calls to action and social justice as the exuberance of youth.

However this earth that we inhabit has been the site of unspeakable and unimaginable acts of cruelty and violence– we are guilty of the genocide that began with the Holocaust, and continues today in countries in Africa like Darfur for example– the many wars that have wrecked many nations and it would seem that we are guilty of not just perpetrating violence but are also guilty of being silent spectators-– we are guilty of apathy.

We have conveniently turned the Japanese maxim of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil to I will not see the evil, I will not hear the evil and I will not speak out against evil. A social conscience is not the responsibility of the media, the police, the judiciary and organizations like Amnesty International alone but it is also the responsibility of every individual.

John Donne a 17th Century poet, said- “ No man is an island” what he meant was that we are all part of a society and we exist as cogs of a giant human wheel and we cannot ignore the evil that abounds in society as long as we are not affected by it- he says –“any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,”

I would also like to quote a very famous saying attributed to Martin Niemöller a German pastor and theologian

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Although, in the aftermath of a crisis there is a huge uproar in the media and Arnab Goswami may express his outrage and we all do join in– but people’s memories are quite short lived and every scandal and sensational news quickly fades from public memory and very rarely are perpetrators brought to book. Our social and political apathy makes us live safely cocooned in our own little worlds oblivious to the tragedies taking place around us.

What we need to ask ourselves is does adulthood cause this apathy, this dehumanization or does our humanity simply lie dormant somewhere deep within and can be awakened with the right stimulus.
For all our sakes I do hope that this is indeed the case and that we are definitely capable of the empathy we were capable of even as infants.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

[Poem] : Age


Stop right there,
Right at the door,
Right in your tracks,
Stay yet, your feverish hands

I dread the aching bones
The faltering step,
The halting breath,
The falling teeth,
The memory loss,
Being the hospital’s dross.

Most of all I dread
A wrinkling face,
The sinking eye,
A shriveling skin,
A timorous voice.

But age draws near…
His fangs eager…
Oh! The savage plundering rampage,
The cruel ravage of my vestigial youth
Drawn out to the last embers…

Sunday 1 September 2013

[Blog] Posing for photographs...

This is an age for photography- additionally it’s an age of globalization, liberalization, global warming, urbanization and so on… but let’s leave such trivialities to the underutilized intellectuals. As I was saying, this is the ‘age’ for photographs what with a zillion digital cameras flooding the market.

I have become quite shutter happy of late, arming myself with a reasonably good camera, shooting all at sight, (whether willing or otherwise) and sharing the spoils with friends and family and of course posting some on my Facebook wall. While I am very pleased with the very generous comments my friends and well wishers post, I have come to realize one thing though, that posing for photos surprisingly, is not the easiest thing-- just as photography isn’t simply about “aiming and shooting,” posing is not just about “looking and smiling!”  My worst nightmare begins when I look at the photographs after I have diligently transferred them to my computer.

Which makes me wish we were living in the black and white era… In the black and white era – one could wear any saree, any jewellery (It would all look the same anyway) and stand ramrod straight and glare sternly at the camera and it was done. No worries of any kind. But then colour photography entered the scene and someone must have decided "Now let's have some smiling faces!"-People (read the photographer) suddenly took to saying ‘cheese!’  Now I don't know about you, but I have tried saying cheese in front of a mirror but instead of a smile all I get is a grimace!

While posing for group photographs, someone decides to crack a joke with the noble intention of eliciting smiles but with very disastrous consequences and results in a 'natural' photograph of monstrous facial expressions. So posing is indeed one of the greatest calamities confounding mankind. Every time I pose for a photograph all I wish for is to look like this:

 With hair blowing naturally, with makeup intact – instead I end up in most photos with, well smudged eye liner, and a persistent weather competing with my foundation and compact- declaring – "I am way better than both of you combined,"  and yet my true friends write comments like – "I love the natural colour on your cheek!" Dear friend both you and I know – what caused that 'flush' in the first place!

 I guess I should be grateful if I don't end up looking like this:

But when the odd photograph does turn out well and when I proudly share it, what I dread most to hear is the comment, “You are photogenic!” which is not really a compliment at all– what it actually means is  either, the light was great, or your camera is awesome!

But I am really thankful that we have digital cameras now and we can click away all we like till we get the perfect image! And if any of you have some tips on the subject please don't forget to share them...

Wednesday 28 August 2013

[Book Review] Chetan Bhagat's Two States

I recently read Chetan Bhagat's novel Two States (2009).
The book was highly recommended by a friend and since I had moderately liked Five Point Someone and One night at the Call Centre, I was rather curious to read it.
The novel is autobiographical by the writer's own admission and is inspired by his marriage to Anusha Suryanarayanan. The name of the 'hero' Krish is reminiscent of Hari from Five Point Someone. Krish is a Punjabi, who again studied at IIT.

Well the positives first.

It is a realistic, first hand account of student life and of the campus recruitment process in India. The book aims to outline the complications arising from love marriage in India with the added complications of an Interstate union. Bhagat begins with an intense focus on the two people in love and then slowly pans the camera as it were, to introduce the family members on either side, one by one.

It is commendable that the writer has devoted only a few pages to the boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love part and devotes the rest of the narration to familial conflicts that arise. Bhagat accentuates an important nuance of marriages in India - marriages here are not just between two individuals, but between two entire families.

If I were to accord percentages to the handling of different interactions within the story - it would go something like this -
Girl and boy- 50%
Girl's family description -25%
Boy's family description- 15%
Boy's experiences in Chennai - 10%

I believe, like most others that, for a novel to be credible it must have characters that are realistic. CB seems to have devoted all of his attention to the two main characters in the book. Other than them, it is disappointing to find stereotyped characters floating all over the book, who had no substance to themselves.

The second glaring disappointment in the book is the lack of adequate research about the language and practices of the Tambrahm community. He ought to have paid closer attention to the transliteration of Tamizh words that dot the book. There are quite a few misspellings too of very commonly used words. 

Yet, despite the literati lament, writers like him will rise and flourish as they cater to an emerging and ever growing audience that values light reading over literary merit.

Thursday 22 August 2013

[Blog] Visa Vista

Have any of you taken leave right in the middle of school just for travel? Well I have done so not just once but many times...

The good old days...

You see, my father did not believe in advance booking of tickets the in summer vacation– he was all for travel in off season- his logic was –that everything was easier this way - less queues, less people everywhere and most of all the weather would be good –so, I would take off, right in the middle of the academic year, citing the death of an already dead grandparent - my poor grandparents- how often have they died for me!

Travel after marriage became infrequent as my husband unlike my father believed in full attendance for my son. So we went back to travelling like normal people in peak summer and soon gave it up for all the obvious reasons.

Then came Facebook...

Firstly it lets you tell everyone where you are and drops a pin on all the places you have visited on a map – I am not usually jealous but, the evil demon enters my heart especially when a friend boasts of a 100 pins on her map.

Secondly my friends post an insane number of photographs of their travel to exotic locations. There are photographs of people in mid air- so I told myself I can’t manage the mid air pose but I certainly can get one against an amazing backdrop... So I took to travelling. I don’t know why but despite experiencing the travails with visa & immigration I still happily pack my bags in readiness for travel.

Recently I visited a new country. The airport was small with a compact waiting area with many shops close at hand. Best of all there was high-speed free internet- I hurriedly accessed Facebook. replied to emails and called my son for free on Skype. I spoke to him for a while – would have spoken longer but he had a pressing engagement -- he wanted to finish the film he was watching.

I quickly calculated the money I had saved in making free phone calls and thought I had earned for self and husband 2 large mugs of Costa coffee. We drank the coffee taking in the ambiance, when my husband suddenly realized that we still needed to complete immigration.

We reached a large hall where there were several queues – we were directed to the first, which was seemingly small. I saw a sign to the left – which read visa in 3 easy steps-

Step one - complete the form;
Step two - eye scan;
Step three - pay the fee.

"Wow!" I thought, "it can't get easier than this..."

In a few minutes I noticed that the serpentine queues to my right were actually vanishing in a jiffy while mine was moving very slowly. I wanted to be the clever Indian and join the fast vanishing queue but my husband whispered in annoyance –that’s for local residents. Finally we reached the counter and I greeted the officer with all the charm I could muster but he was unmoved and all he was interested in, was my husband’s designation. It was only after he verified this did he hand us the form. We filled the form very carefully as the slightest mistake would lead us back to the end of the queue.

We then went for the eye scan- where I had to sit in a low seat and dilate my eyes and stare at a camera that was a little away. Now I have had eye scans before with my gentle and considerate ophthalmologist. Therefore, I was quite taken aback to see a uniformed policeman conducting the test. The official was in animated conversation with his friend in the next seat and was barking instructions at me now and then – he would say right and then left and then right and left – this went on for some time –and I made good use of my training in classical Indian dance (Bharathanatyam) – but it didn’t help much as the official was dissatisfied with the outcome and made me dance some more.

Anyway as I left the room I was distracted by the picture of a monster in the official’s computer and wondered why he would keep such a picture -- but all too soon it dawned on me that it was actually a picture of me taking the eye scan.

I was heart broken and I dejectedly re joined the queue. After what seemed like an eternity I reached the officer who fed our particulars into a computer (I fumbled for my purse to take out the fee for step three) but he nonchalantly waved us to wait.

Finally, six hours after landing, we walked out of the airport.

A great realization has now dawned on me -- for travel one needs energy, patience and a dogged determination and as I am low in all of these attributes I have devised a new plan...

I have identified a photographer at the local studio who has agreed to photoshop my pictures against any background I desire.

Now I am on the look out for someone who will fake the location pins on my face book page.
Can anyone help me?

Monday 19 August 2013

[Translation] Bharathiyaar's dramatic monologue: Kani kandavan tholurikka kaathirupeno?

Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi was a journalist, poet, nationalist and a social reformer. He has written thousands of verses on extremely diverse themes-- ranging from Indian Nationalism, the Mahabharat, the glory of the Tamil language, odes to prominent Indian freedom fighters, to love songs, children's songs and songs of nature.

His poems display a patriotic fervour and his love poetry Kannan padalgal with the theme of Krishna are well loved and popularised by films and by carnatic musicians. But Bharathy also wrote equally moving erotic love poetry. When I translated the following piece I was reminded of John Donne's Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”

Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,

But a far fairer world encompassing.

Unpin that spangled breastplate, which you wear

That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:

Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime

Tells me from you that now it is bed time.

-- From “Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”:
In this dramatic monologue Bharathy displays a similar, rakish eagerness to tear away the veil from his mistress' face. He starts off by condemning the practice of veiling the face and we are made aware of his auditor's presence when Bharathy directly addresses her in the middle of the poem.

Dilli thurukargal seitha vazhakkam -- Pengal
Thiraiyittu mugamalar maraithu vaithal;
Valliyidaiyinaiyum Ongimunnirkkum -- indha
Maarbaiyum mooduvathu sathirankandaai
Valliyidaiyinaiyum maarbirandaiyum -- thuni
Maraitha naalazhagu maraidhadillai;
Solli therivadillai, manmadhakalai --mughach
Jothi maraithumoru kaadhalingundo?

Aariya munnerigal menmaiyengindrai? -- pandai
Aariya pengalukku thiraigal undo?
Oriru muraikandu pazhagiyapin --verum
Opukku kaatuvathin naanamennadi?
Yaarirunth thennaiyingu thadhuthiduvaar?-- valu
Vaaga mugathiraiyai agatrivittal?
Kariya millaiyadi veenpasapile -- kani
Kandavan tholurikka kathirupeno?


The Delhi Turks popularised the practice- of veiling
Women, hiding their efflorescent face;
How pointless the custom, that covers,
A slender waist and the raised upward thrust
Of these breasts
No cloth could successfully hide the beauty
Of your narrow waist and the two breasts
The art of wooing can never be taught – can
Love blossom with the lustrous face hidden thus?

You’re all praise for old Aryan norms; Did ancient
Aryan women cover themselves so?
Have we not met a couple of times now- why
Then this sudden show of coyness for customs' sake?
Who do you think is here to prevent me - from
Flinging open that veil?
Off with this needless banter lass --having sighted
The fruit, would I pause ere I peel off the skin?

Sunday 21 July 2013

[Translation] Bharathiyaar: Ninnaiye Rathiyendru Ninaikirenadi

This song is a short and intense expression of love. Each of the four couplets have references to gods and a sage from the Indian pantheon. As its a love song, it features Manmatha (Maran, Cupid) his wife Rathi (Venus), the goddess Lakshmi and finally the sage Sukha.
The song's beauty lies in the pithy yet economical use of language.

Ninnaiye rathi yendru ninakirenadi-Kannamma,
Thannaiye sasi yendru saranam yeithinen.
Ponnaye nigartha meni, minnaye nigartha saayal,
Pinnaiye, nithya kanniye, Kannamma
Maaran ambugal en meethu vari vari veesa nee-
kanparaayo, Vandhu seraayo, Kannamma
Yavume suka munivarkku or eesanaa menakku un thotram,
Mevume, ingu yavume kannamma.

Considering you as Rathi, and myself, the moon god,
I surrender willingly to you O Kanamma!
Oh golden hued one with luminous features resembling lightning,
Oh Lakshmi, Oh eternal virgin, Oh Kanamma!
When I am targeted by Maran's arrows,
Would you not glance my way or reach my side Oh Kanamma?
Much like the sage Sukha, who saw Shiva in everything,
I too perceive your form, in everything around me, Oh Kanamma!

Here is a soulful rendition of this song by P Unnikrishnan in Sindhu Bharavi.

It has also found a place in the film Kanne Kaniyamude and is sung by K J Yesudas.

Friday 28 June 2013

[Blog] Madras Bashai: The Power of the Spoken word!

I have a confession to make – I have been an ardent fan of this dialect for as long as I can remember. I came into contact with this unique idiom as a child, when my brother would read with great élan and gusto a very delectable section in Madras Bashai from Cho Ramaswami's Tughlaq. I was in the process of discovering new languages such as English, Tamizh and Hindi and here was my exposure to an entertaining fourth. 

 The language felt strange, it needed a different vocalization and it had an element that I couldn't quite put my finger on back then. I was far from the best academically at school but I would meticulously find the meaning of every word and have a hearty laugh at each recollection. Though I knew that there was something very special about MB but only later did it dawn upon me that it is the 'attitude' that comes with the language that makes it so irresistible. The attitude and vocalization is automatically accompanied by an assertive body language. But more of this a little later on…

My interest in (MB) dwindled for some years but thankfully I happened to watch actors like 'loose' Mohan who handled it with such ease much like Rafa Nadal cruising along to victory at Roland Garros Other notable contributors that I can think of are Nagesh and Janakaraj but who can forget Kamal Haasan's flawless renditions in so many films?  But for me, MB is best experienced first hand in the streets of Chennai and in conversations with college junta who have taken upon themselves the task of its endorsement.

You might very well ask what sustains my continued interest in this language?  The answer paradoxically links back to my study of English Literature. It is widely known that English constantly expands itself through its borrowings from several languages worldwide. Hence an important component of English Studies is etymology (the study of the origin or roots of its words) - as far as I know MB in a way shares this trait; it has borrowings from the maximum number of languages- Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, English and of course Tamil. I could spend hours studying origins and the several transformations that words have undergone in their incorporation.

And now to the power, attitude and body language: MB is the language of the streets and a common occurrence is a mild flare-up every now and then as people in vehicles of every imaginable kind negotiate their way through the incredibly narrow by lanes and crowded roads. To survive, one has to blindly follow the dictum- offense is the best form of defense and what better way to demonstrate this than to unleash a barrage of the choicest expletives and establish one’s supremacy- of course one should be prepared to be paid in the same coin in such encounters. Personally, I prefer being  like R K Lakshman’s common man, observing the  proceedings while making mental notes.

While I am all for the purification of Tamizh and ridding it of its many corruptions, calling MB as Chennai Tamizh is simply not acceptable. This move completely robs MB of its uniqueness and hybridity and consigns it to the realm of the pedestrian. It is as ludicrous as  having a gaana concert at Music Academy or passing off instant coffee as authentic filter kaapi. 
  This is simply not done.
  In one stroke such nomenclature dismisses the creative, adoptive processes at work and ignores the talent of the common man.

But, despite my abundant admiration for MB, I must grudgingly admit that while MB gives the speaker a sense of power and can make one feel a lot like HE MAN when he proudly proclaims- “I have the Power!” it is sadly stultified by its limited vocabulary. You can’t write a commentary on the Bhagawad Gita for example nor can you deliver a scholarly discourse on its own merits, using the dialect. But like me, if you have no such ambitions, you can enjoy the language for all the joy it offers and revel in the power it bestows. 

That being said, unleashing a choice phrase or two from MB in a Tamizh speaking crowd automatically livens the atmosphere. And if you ever run out of topics to speak on after you have discussed  Chennai weather- which doesn’t help  much (as its always variables of hot) and quite an undesirable topic of conversation anyway, you need the good offices of MB to the rescue. And believe me MB never fails - it works like a tonic every time, all the time.

So for the sake of all those ardent worshippers out there and the neophytes who have entered the fold after reading this piece, here are a few links for your further research.


Monday 10 June 2013

[Blog] My days with grandmother - An abiding love

Whenever I think of my maternal grandmother (paati) two images quickly spring to mind - a large red rexine bag with a self pattern of roses and leaves and a pair of blue and white Bata slippers barely larger than mine placed neatly on the doormat.

I had no clue of paati's visits in those pre-telephone and pre-email days and even if she were to send a letter, she would probably arrive sooner as she lived just about a hundred kilometers away in the outskirts of Chennai, in my uncle's house.

Paati usually arrived sometime during the day when I was away at school and if I spotted the blue slippers, I would hammer impatiently at the door and rush screaming into the arms of the frail four foot frame of patti who waited equally impatiently for my arrival.She was a petite woman with silver white lustrous hair that she always wore in a neat bun in the back of her neck and I was always amazed at how she managed to swathe her frail form in the customary nine yard saree. Her face was wrinkled and shrunk like the rest of her body and her once fair complexion had changed to an even brown hue. Her ears and nose were no longer adorned by the shining diamonds that once rested there- (I hold preciously one of her nose pins that she gifted me in anticipation of my marriage when I was a barely four years old!) But she had startlingly pink lips that had somehow survived the ravages of time.

In those days, my mother tried (rather unsuccessfully, I might add) to teach me propriety but despite her glares I would excitedly look for 'the bag' and touching it ask excitedly, "Paati, what have you brought for me?"

The red bag was always the focal point of paati's visits as it held a virtual treasure trove of goodies- grandma had different gifts packaged neatly in old newspaper like candy, groundnuts, peanut candy and many other tidbits and she would release them at different points during the course of her visit.

I recall vividly one such visit and my unabashed question to her -"Paati what have you brought for me?" I remember her smiling excitedly at me and moving to 'the bag' with a spring in her step- my heart skipped a beat and my impatience was heightened by grandma's things that came out one by one from her bag- her neatly rolled bedding, neatly folded sets of clothing, her toiletries which she kept in a string bag that she had stitched herself. The wait seemed impossibly long but before I could cry petulantly - "What is it paati?" I heard the tiny clang of metal and my grandma unwrapped a set of tiny shining kitchen utensils made of brass. I let out a big scream as this was a windfall compared to the clay utensils that my mother bought me during the car festival at Mylpore, that promptly broke before the week was out! To my delight, I even found a traditional kitchen knife fixed to a wooden plank and other miniature versions of pots and pans and a stove.

I ignored my mother's entreaties to change from my school uniform to my 'home clothes.' I wanted to start play right away. My grandma with her winning ways narrated stories and coaxed me to do everything that was an improbability on ex-grandma days!

The next week was the rapidest one as she could never be persuaded to stay beyond a week at her daughter's house. That one precious week was filled with endless stories narrated till I fell asleep, next to her caressing her soft hands. She knew my taste in fiction and mealtimes were no longer a nightmare for my relieved mother.

Paati, I gathered later, was born into a rich landowner's family. She was married at the tender age of seven to my grandfather when he was still in school. Though she had attended school for a very short period, grandma was proud that she could write her name in English, and once, very slowly, she wrote it out when I appeared not to believe her. N. Subbalakshmi she wrote, with her eyes and concentration completely riveted on the slate, and her hand shook slightly as she tightly gripped the tiny piece of chalk. It is of course another matter that my knowledge of English at that point didn't exactly equip me to read such a long name, but I pretended to read nevertheless not wanting to disappoint her. But perhaps this pride or should I say signature happy tendency, sadly made her sign away all the wealth that grandfather had laboured to earn (and which she inherited due to his early demise) unwittingly to greedy relatives.

My innocent paati, had been cheated out of her wealth by avaricious family members, and the last years of her life were lived in great hardship. I remember the last time I saw my grandmother. She lay in a small bed in the corner of the living room in my uncle's house. She looked frailer than ever and I noticed how she had switched to wearing a six yards saree in white. I tried unsuccessfully to make her talk, but except for a brief look of recognition in her eyes, she lay there motionless. As I gazed at her, I heard my weeping mother complain that she had stopped eating for more than a week. I touched the almost cold hand that lay limp, outstretched. It registered no response. I returned to my home in a different city and the inevitable happened within a week's time. The only grandparent I had ever known, the only being who had given me so much of her love and attention unconditionally, the confidante and play mate of my childhood, was finally gone! I felt as if a part of me had gone with her and every thought of grandma makes my eyes brim with tears and I miss her today as much as I have done over all these years.

I still have the brass utensils, that have a pride of place in my curios display. Every time I polish them, I go into a reverie. I long to have her once more with me, and tell her what an angel she had been and how her visits had brightened my rather drab childhood, and how I regret not having the opportunity to express my gratitude. I want to make up for the disappointments she had faced for being childlike and want her to know how she had featured prominently in my thoughts in all the years of my youth though she had only touched me in the limbo of early childhood.

And I treasure those tiny vessels to pass on to my yet to be born grandchildren, and with them the selfless, benevolent love that survives and abides in my heart today.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

[Blog] The Perfect Man

A thought can indeed come from the strangest of places. Well mine came predictably from the face book- Everyday I tell myself to reduce my visitations to this site but truth be told it’s the one addiction I find most hard to resist!

Anyway some of my friends regularly share these very colourful eye catching posters with pearls of wisdom in them. But as I belong to that vast majority that believes in giving wisdom rather than taking it from other sources- I tend to ignore these - but one did catch my eye recently –
It was a black and white poster and had the picture of middle aged woman and her grownup son – the son asks his mother – how can I find the perfect woman
And the mother replies- forget about finding the perfect woman –you try to become the perfect man…

This appealed instantaneously to the woman in me I saw it as a sensible piece of advice to the 50% of humanity out there! - I wanted to hit the like button and post a comment like wow or way to go …
But then I held myself back – as I found a wave of questions rising in my head –
Who is a perfect man?
What are his attributes?
And is it possible or is it stressful being one

I thought I would explore these questions with you my readers. Now the first question- who is the perfect man?
Is he someone like the person in the Raymond’s advertisement for the complete man?
The man in a suit who looks comfortable wearing it outdoors in Indian weather - who acts perfectly in every situation- the grown up man who remembers and honours his school teacher, who is a perfect husband, a perfect son and a perfect father. Since I do have a father, husband and son in my life and I have had male students in the past and when I run a comparative scan on both these images nothing really matches up so I dismissed the Raymond’s advertisement as a beautiful figment of some one else’s imagination created for the purpose of entertainment only!

Then I wondered is he something like James Bond? Who again is cool, debonair and unperturbed in any scenario… who can ride a bike drive a car at break neck speed… fly aeroplanes deftly maneuver ships in impossible situations? Has things and gizmos handy at all times… someone who perfectly anticipates and addresses all of his opponents moves. But after all, James Bond is the product of the collective imagination and effort of hundreds even thousands of people – experts working behind the scenes to make the film.
Now I move on to the second question what are the attributes of a perfect man? I thought I would look for these attributes among in well known people.

Would his attributes be something like what Mahtama Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or even Abdul Kalam’s have, of selfless service to the nation– is it good looks that we see in our film stars sports icons like Rithik Roshan or Leander Paes ? Is it the valor that we witness in our jawans and army officers who fight fearlessly to guard our nation? Is it brilliance found in people like Sreenivasan Ramanujan or Rabindranath Tagore? Is it one of these qualities or all of these qualities or is it something entirely different from what I have spelt out here?

That brings me to the third question- Can we at all have one common perception of perfection? Or does it vary according to our own likes and dislikes and our own personalities?

As the experts say – perfection is indeed a very difficult thing – its a conditioning imposed upon us by society that forces us to act against our will in most situations. – Its this conditioning that forces you to open doors for women, makes you give way to women in queues. Makes you get up very early or stay up very late, miss a meal or two, drive half way across the town -- all for someone else’s sake!

Life it seems is one long journey where we let ourselves be constantly conditioned to conform more and more to society’s norms.

You might very well ask why I haven’t talked about the perfect woman well the same things apply to her as well as she too is the product of similar social conditioning.
Finally I leave you with this thought who according to you is the perfect man? And is perfection at all possible?

Monday 25 February 2013

[Translation] Bharathiyaar: Vellai Thamarai Poovil Iruppal

This song has for long been my favourite composition as Bharathiyaar in this song veers away from traditional presentations of divinity. This song is a tribute to the muse in Indian mythology- the goddess Saraswathi. Interestingly, the poet doesn't mention her by name but chooses instead to showcase her presence through a discussion of human talent and creativity.

Vellai tamarai puvil iruppal vinai seiyum oliyil iruppal
Kollai inbam kulavu kavidai kurum pavalar ullathilruppal

Ulladam porul tediyunarde odum vedattin ulnintr olirval
Kallamatra munivargal kurum karunai vasagathut porulaval

Madar tingural paatil iruppal makkal pesum mazhalaiyil ullal
Gidam padum kuyilin kuralai kiliyin navaiel iruppidum kondal

Kodanganra tozhiludaitagi kulavu cittiram gopuram koyil
Idanaittin ezhilidaiyutral inbame vadivagida petral.

The one who sits on a white lotus lives in the sound of the veena,
The poem that brims with a million pleasures- she dwells in the hearts of its creators.

In my quest for finding meaning, (of life) I realized,
That she reveals herself to ardent seekers through Vedic chants.

She lives in the utterances of guiless sages and forms the quintessence of their kind words.
She resides in the sweet song of women and in the chatter of very young children,
She has her abode in the song of the nightingale and the parrot-
And in selfless acts performed as a labour of love,
like a painting, a tower or a temple.
She is the beauty in all things beauteous and exists as the very personification of joy!

Friday 22 February 2013

[Translation] Vairamuthu's Nenjukule from the film "Kadal"

Its not usual for me to spend my energies on translating film songs but I have made an exception for this one out of sheer respect for ARR's music, Vairamuthu's lyricism and my addiction to this song.

So here is my translation of this song and I have stayed as close as possible to the original.

Nenjukulley Omma Mudunjirukaen
Inga Ethisayil En Pozhapu Vidinjiruko?
Vella Paarva Veesiviteer Munadi
Intha Thangatha Manasu Thanni Patta Kanadi

Vanna Maniyaram Valathukai Gediyaram
Aana Puliyellam Adukkum Athigaram
Neer Pona Pinnum Nizhal Mattum Pogalayae Pogalayae
Nenju Kuzhiyil Nizhal Vanthu Vizhunthiruchu
Appa Nimunthavathan Apuramma Guniyalayae Guniyalayae
Kodakambi Pola Manam Kuthi Nikkuthae

Patchi Urangirichu Paal Thayiraa Thoongirichu
Ichi Marathu Maela Elai Kooda Thoongiruchi
Kaasa Noigarigalum Kanurangum Vaelayila
Aasa Noi Vanthu Maga Ara Nimisam Thoongalayae

Oh Oru Vaai Irangalayae Ulnakku Nenaiyalayae
Aezhu Èttu Naala Èchil Muzhungalaye
Aezha Ilanchirukki Aethum Šølla Mudiyalayae
Rubber Valavikkellam Šathamida Vaiyillayae

I have tied you up in the strings of my heart
I wonder though what direction my life would take!
By throwing an innocent glance in my direction
you have turned my fragile heart into a water stained mirror
Your only adornment the watch on your right wrist
But your demeanour is enough to halt a tiger
Though you have gone - your shadow it stays on it stays on
and it has fallen in the hollow of my heart
Carrying (the weight of) your form in my heart I haven't bent down, I haven't bent down
My heart remains erect like the poles of an opened umbrella.

The birds are asleep and the milk has curdled
The leaves of the 'ichi' tree are asleep
Even those afflicted with tuberculosis have finally fallen asleep
But I, who have been afflicted in the heart can't have a moment's shut eye

Haven't eaten even a mouthful or drank a drop of water
Haven't swallowed anything for over seven eight days
I am but a poor young girl who can't express herself
Rubber bangles don't have the luxury of making a noise!( unlike glass bangles)

Tuesday 29 January 2013

[Blog] The Charm of the Charminar

What do you sell O ye merchants?

Richly your wares are displayed.

Turbans of crimson and silver,

Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,

Daggers with handles of jade.

These words written almost a century ago, by the nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu are as true today as it was in her times. In those early years of my stay in Hyderabad, my relatives would often visit me just to experience the novelty of coming into contact with a new culture, a new language and a new cuisine. And I would take them as promised to my favourite haunts in the old city – the Salar Jung museum and the Charminar. Though both these places are very close to each other one needs to devote an entire day to each of these places.

Visiting the Charminar, not only gives one a sense of he history of the place but its the whole package of history, life and experience of a bygone era at first hand.Even before one approaches the monument there are darwajas or doorways on all four sides to signal one's approach to this magnificent edifice.

The minute one crosses the doorway one almost steps into history as it were.All around you can see quaint buildings with a blend of Persian and Mughal architecture. There are tiny shops everywhere. There are pearl shops that have been in the trade for hundreds of years having made pearl ornaments for the king and the nobility. You can see samples of the jewelry from these times on display and you can order replicas if you so wish.

There are shops that sell colourful sarees and dress materials with gold embroidery. There is the chudi and Lad bazaar where, in shop after shop there is a display of multihued glass bangles and the multi coloured broad stone studded lac bangles that are a specialty here. The array of coloured bangles all together is a breathtaking sight.

If you are hungry any time there is nothing as rejuvenating as a cup of Iranian tea served in street cafes. As far as I know the Iranian tea is unique to Hyderabad –its an orange tinted thick tea with a cloying taste served often in chipped or cracked cups –– but who even looks at the chinaware when the contents are so heavenly!

As you walk along heavily crowded road there are street vendors every where selling fruit and flowers vying for space with the ever moving crowd - the dull grey and dun colours of the buildings all around are in stark contrast to the bright orange, of the marigolds, the pure white of the jasmines and the deep purple of the jambul fruit and the bright pink of the ghaneras. It is said that in its heyday the shopping district had about 14,000 shops.

And there is shop that is easily 25 metres long right in the middle of the road that sells china and glassware- the traffic weaves around this spot and the products are on display on either side.I have spent hours here and if one is patient one can easily walk away with the occasional treasure that is so inexpensive and yet would make an impressive gift or an impressive adornment in your living room.

Suddenly, in front of you looms the majestic Charminar with its four towers. It’s a four storied structure- an elegant and romantic edifice. The galleries in the upper storeys overlook the four major thoroughfares, which once were royal roads and provide a panoramic view of the city.

Many theories abound about why it was built but the most commonly held one is that the sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth Sultan of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty, prayed for the city to be rid of the plague and built it as a thanksgiving on the very spot that he prayed- and that the Charminar was to be the at the heart of the new city that he planned to build.

As the twilight dims and night falls like a dark blanket on the skyline I stay on despite my aching feet to watch the dull luminescence of the illuminated Charminar.– Night lends a magical touch to the atmosphere and I share with my relatives the other legend about the Chraminar – which is - that it is the very spot, where a prince was bewitched by a beauty - and as I close my eyes I can almost hear the horses hoofs and see the prince coming face to face with his future queen Bagmati later named Hyder Mahal from whom the city is named.

But I unwillingly shake off the nostalgic reverie and remember that my role as hostess means that I must treat my guests to the famed Hyderbadi biryani served with the accompaniments of mirchi ka salan and raitha available at restaurants a few kilometers away. And the shahi thukda –a sweet fit for a king is indeed a good wrap up to a glorious day.

[Translation] ஆண்டாளின் நாச்சியார் திருமொழி - கற்பூரம் நாறுமோ

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