Wednesday, September 22, 2010

That's me

Chennai was a huge learning experience for me. When i arrived here with a 4 month baby and all on my own i remember feeling lost. Back home there was so much of support and too much fuss about this baby and the mother that i was feeling extreme loss. i did not know the language and just like a thunderbolt the entire operation of managing the family of three fell on my head. i remember just how i would prop up my son on my waist and just stand in the small balcony which overlooked an untidy area where construction was going on and kept pitying myself. In between out of sheer helplessness i would cry for don't remember how long while
my son gurgled with delight to see the animals that would be seen...buffalows, cows and even goats. He in his Godly self was oblivious of his mom's pain. But THANK heavens he was.

Now it's time for me to leave this place and i am crying again. But it's funny if anyone sees me right now. i will cry a bit and also smile at the same time. Right now i feel i cry at all the fulfillment i got...all the learning that happened when i was on my own...all the experiences mostly lovely that i had. That joy gets me emotional perhaps, so the tears.

During the day all the aspects that was endearing to me about Chennai keeps reverberating in my mind and these encompass both physical and spiritual. Yes that small step towards the spiritual and i don't even know if that is being spiritual but whatever started here in Chennai. It came naturally as i watched people around me following the traditions and some of the traditional and cultural part also trickled down on me.

Yes i try to emulate and it gives me a sense of calm to my restless self. That part of my self which always wanted, had many desires of materials. Looking back i realise that i was such a demanding character some years back. i won't say i am not now but the severity of that has now settled to an easy level that disturbs neither my mate nor me.

Now as i go about my routines folks around here have started calling me spiritual. In fact some see me and after a brief greeting ask me, "So Shivani how far have you progressed in your spirituality?" One particular gentleman just asked me this a few days ago. i am like... stumped. Didn't know what to tell him. i mean i did not even understand what he meant.
If going to temples, places of pilgrimage, reading Holy scriptures...mind you just reading them , and following traditions like doing the specific Poojas on their assigned days, if that is being spiritual then maybe i am.
But the fact of the matter is i don't consider that being spiritual.
i still don't know what being spiritual means.
In fact i think i am still reeling hopelessly in this materialistic world just trying to get hold of my senses which makes me want so many things and yet people look at me as spiritual.
Here i am making a list of all those endearing things about Chennai...starting from
                                    Malli poo

Tanjore Paintings



Kamakshi Villakka

                                                                                                     M S Subhalakshmi and her Suprabhatam

Venkatgiri, Mangalgiri, Sungadi, Coimbatore Cotton, Kodambakkam Cotton, Kanchi Cotton, Madurai Cotton, Devendra...of course the shimmering Kanchipuram silks.

                                                   Vaitha Kozhambu

                     All Chettinad Non Veg items

The fact of the matter being that i am still reeling in the beauty and elegance, taste and aroma of all these and not satiated as yet. Have just visited a few temples, participated in a still very limited number of discourses...have yet not memorized the Suprabhatam even. And the closest i have been to about all the cultures and traditions is that i enjoy the scents in the atmosphere, indulge in the paraphernalia on the streets during festivals...delight in decorating the exteriors with palm leaf thoranams and flowers...try to emulate the poojas performed...have just got a hang of some of the basics.Some facts here and there be it about how a Kolam is done with the help of dots when intricate twirling patterns are first layered out in dots. Then the pattern is worked over and around them.
Or about the Kamakshi Villakka. i was first confused about how to place them but the helpful and timely guidance from my friends here dispelled my doubts about the placement as to whether you should be facing the Goddess depicted in the deepam or that the Goddess should be facing the auspicious East.
 i learnt that this particular deepam will have one wick and it is to be lit with the wick facing the North. It does not matter how you place it but lighting the lamp facing North is considered to bring wealth as North is the direction of Kuber-the lord of wealth.

i always feel that ladies here really have a knack about how to drape the saree correctly. The borders follow neatly the contours of the waist as it should and the number of pleats of the pallu just sit elegantly over the body flowing neatly behind. Have yet to master the art of this and also of the various cuisines. i  keep trying.
Maybe my fervour at all this trying is giving people some vague sense of me being spiritual.

There is something about the pace of the city and the surroundings that it showers some of it's essence on you
perfuming you in the aroma of Sambrani and Malli poo. Making your kitchens aromatic with Kalpasi and curry leaves.

i am glad i learnt about the mystery herb Kalpasi and understood fully well what my biryanis were lacking. Or if i wanted that mouth watering Chicken Chettinad then apart from Star anise and Fennel i got to use a dash of Kalpasi.


Now all my bags of gift items to be taken back home includes many packets of Kalpasi requested by my family members especially those who have visited me here and got to taste my biryani which is not as cumbersome and demanding as the Dum  Pukht or the Hyderabadi biryani but still a very fulfilling and aromatic one. Thanks to this mystery spice which some tell me is a dried rare flower and some even (mis) informed me about it being some rare lichen found inside a particular kind of well in a particular region somewhere in Madurai.
i know who i have to ask to get the correct answer but i am just waiting for an opportune moment when i can meet the naturalist in person and have a tete a tete about Kalpasi and others that i am still clueless about.

In between all these i have just managed to discipline myself to visit a few renowned temples in and around the city. Once inside i feel like a small speck in the vast ocean of devouts and am dumbstruck by their commitments towards the Holy One. i try to close my eyes and connect in a way that i see no more, hear no more but all i can hear is my own mutterings of ,''Hey Bhagwaan!! Hey Bhagwaan!!". i try to rant off all the chants i know which thanks to my good upbringing i know quite a few and come out of the temple campus still feeling so small. Still doubtful if i am any better person than i was so many years ago when i used to fret and fume over materialistic desires. To own this and that. i question and question and the answers i get is far from what a spiritual person should get. i  guess...

Looking at myself i have a lot i want to win my battles against. Craving for non vegetarian for instance being one of them apart of owning a bit of this and that of Chennai. Just lighting the Kamakshi Deepam correctly is not sufficient. i am still waiting for that Light to shine upon me which gets rid of these desires and directs me towards a still more enriching and fulfilling path.
That journey which once taken should lead me to my own sense of richness where i feel small no more.

Right now i feel like i am still groping.
And i wish people should stop seeing me for what i am not.
They should stop their unsolicited advice on what all i should do...the so many self realisation programmes i should join and just let me be.
Just let me read...let me visit...let me follow the whiff...for it shall lead me...
"What you WANT is irrelevant what you've CHOSEN is at hand"... Spock (Star Trek)
For being on my own in Chennai when i had arrived i found the fulfillment of being a wife...a mother...learning through trials and errors and finally looking back now with no regrets whatsoever.

Sometimes though i wonder if all this would've happened the way it happened if i was not in Chennai but somewhere else.
A blogdost of mine recently blogged about something similar...about the place you are in...whether you like it or dislike it.
i feel that every place has it's own temperament and it's suitability depends a lot upon your own prejudices.The goings may get tough or easy but it depends upon how well you are able to assimilate the positives and ignore what is not conducive to your own enrichment.
i smile now with that warmth of how wonderfully i was groomed in Chennai to be the person i am today.
Now i look forward to my new destination with added hope that it should guide me towards a newer and still richer journey.
 "In the final analysis the hope of every person is simply peace of mind"...Dalai Lama

Although all my lessons intact from Chennai i will remain a staunch Chennaite.

Image Courtesy:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

She Got It All

Whatever i do these days takes me back in time. i am during the course of the day indulging in memories and seem to enjoy this solitude when my husband is away. Some times i feel guilty that i don't even miss him because actually i am so relaxed and so much at peace doing all that i love doing that there is no time to miss him.
Reading non-stop is one such indulgence but it requires certain pre-requisites. One you should be free from other responsibilities and commitments and second but most importantly the book should have the capacity to keep you obsessed.

Long ago there was one such book which did that to me. My very first bestseller and that book actually had a profound romantic influence in a way that when other girls my age were dreaming about Amitabh Bacchan i was day dreaming about PRIESTS. Some tall priest with a black cassock over his pristine white trousers and that slight white collar at the neck which proclaimed his priesthood. And the priests' name should be Ralph.
Yeah the book i am talking about is "Thorn Birds' by Colleen McCollough.
Also then i was head over heels about Australia and was a regular listener of Radio Australia.To listen to that oh so husky voice of Suzaane Darling radio jockeying the Top 20 of the week... in between the sounds of the kookaburrra, the laughing jackass that kept me enthralled although my friend who later lived there for a nice 4 years said that the kookaburra sounded haunting and creepy to her.

Thorn birds  was the first real book which also made me cry. Many times throughout the book. In fact right from that page which gave this,

"Ralph de Bricassart (to child Meggie): There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the price of great pain... or so says the legend..."
i had that book with me like a nun carries her Bible/Rosary with her. Except that i did one mistake. i lend that book to one of my friends and God alone knows where my book is because it never came back to me.
That book of MINE which was quite expensive for my pocket at that time, which i had saved my pocket money to buy and own still exists i know some where in the International Circulating Library. i can say it with confidence because such books never leave owners even though the owner is a borrowed one.
Now i went back in time about Thorn Birds because yet another book found me and it has had the same effect on me. Not romantically though but an effect of the kind that is searching in my dreams Devanna.
i want to be a character who seeks out Devanna and shower all my love to him...sooth away the pains he suffered...maybe even ask him to accept me not as a lover but as a dear friend who loves him intensely as he loved that girl Devi.
This is when ever i think of the suffering of Devanna that brilliant boy who was gifted so far as brains is concerned...a gentle and caring boy whose love for plants and animals is so rare...a boy who wouldn't say boo to a goose and yet suffered right from the beginning when he became motherless.
i want to be a character in the book a sakhi to Devi and chide her for being so stubborn.For making her understand that Devanna never had wanted to hurt her...his love for her was Divine only that he defaulted because he was in so much of pain...
i want to remind Devi about her biased love for a particular child... for being so indulgent in her love for her lover's child instead of her own show her the damage she is causing...
i want to be that aunt who could reprimand Appu...reprimand him not to take things for granted and warn him about corruption, lust and deceit...
i want to be that aunt who could shower all her affections on Nanju and his father Devanna...
oh God i cry and cry and want to do all this...
This book has had such an impact on me that it does not feel like a feels REAL
'Tiger Hills' by Sarita Mandanna.
i can only talk about how her descriptions has swept me away. More so because i have been to Coorg and many scenes i could vividly picturise not only through her brilliant words but it helped because in my mind's eye i was going down the coffee plantations...seeing Sampige' (Chanpak flowers)...following the arrow like confliguration of the herons...over the sun drenched fields...
i could have an easy picture of the misty Bhagmandala mountains and the Tala Kaveri...
i could even savour the ottis, coorg chicken, mutton pepper fry and home made wine thanks to my Homestay owners Deena and Sujay of Raksh Cottage who not only were as elegant and dignified as the book says about Coorgs but also great hosts too in all matters including food .
The descriptions in the book amazes, and also is mystic i feel in it's nature. Emotions grip you and while reading, there were many places i felt those lumps in the throat which again provoked by words make you cry real tears.
Not only do you feel the emotion but like i said because it had some mysticism about it that perhaps has made me an ardent fan of Sarita Mandanna. i could quote from many places where she has through folk songs and poetry given the essence about life and it's trials and tribulations. Just like how through one or two liners Abdul Kalam has given in his 'Wings Of Fire". Something like ...when you are at the anvil bear but when you are the hammer strike.
So is Tiger Hills amidst the narrative interspersed with native wisdom and even Latin , P B Shelley, Dante and many others that i do identify but can't really recall. i shall be googling though to know the origins of those in my second read.
"You shall leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first."
This by Dante reminded me what one our most celebrated poets had said in 'Yashodhara' (by Shri Maithili Sharan Gupt). Somewhere in the book in beautiful words through the thoughts of Buddha he has portrayed something similar.
Exile actually starts from the one you love the most. i wish i could remember the words to quote it in it's prophetic poetry verse.
It is really hard for me to read books on self improvement but if the book is like Tiger Hills i find the lessons easier. i wish i could quote all but i would love to pick up that part that i read (i don't remember the count)   many times.
This comes actually at the terminating phase of the book which also sounds prophetic. Something like no matter what your life has been, in the end everything gets evened out, everything becomes okay and fine.
She writes,"Hurt accumulates. Unless consciously cast aside, it accumulates, building on itself. Hardening, thickening, gouging our hearts apart. We try at first to pick at the scabs, to render ourselves as untainted and innocent as we once were. Over time, though, it becomes too difficult. This forced unbandaging, this revisiting of painful memory. Easier to lock it away, unseen, unspoken. To haul it about like an invisible stone about our necks. We leave our wounds alone. Layer by layer our scars thicken, until one day we awaken and find ourselves irrevocably hardened. Rooted in a keloidal past while the world has passed on by.''
Isn't this so beautifully said. Once again i find that lump catching my throat. But Sarita has said it so aptly through her story.That is why i found it so real. Maybe i am not as prolific and brilliant as she is and am incapacitated to express more but this book now will remain with me forever.
i am dying for my son to be back narrate the read out passages like i did when he was a child. Because i know of all the people in this whole wide world he will listen and will let me cry and not call me a 'sentimental fool'. Of course i will tell him all those single words in the book that i loved ...kunyi, Monae for starters.
Definitely i will remind him about what i always tell him about the signals that nature gives us. This book is replete with all those signals...Herons first and then your own intuitions .
'' Hundred of miles away, a woman woke with a start, her heart contracting with nameless dread.''
i will tell him that though the times have changed and we dismiss what we do not know but there are certain pure souls who do get some sense of foreboding. Some people who are able to see the future. Like our ancient rishis and munis who achieved that status through intense penance and purity of soul. The tainted gurus of today have spoilt everything for the youngsters to have faith in. But deep in the forests where people worship nature the oracles do exist who are able to sense and have made true predictions. Not everything can be explained by science alone. Maybe not today but perhaps one day it could be proved through equations or who knows by brain mapping...
Oh i have to tell him so many things now.
And never again will i do that mistake of lending Tiger Hills to anyone because i would not want to lose this book to the International Circulating Library.
Before i quit i must confess though that after finishing the book...seeing how she looks like...knowing her credentials i just said to myself, "There are people who do have it all."
Sarita Mandanna i wish i knew you personally to have told you, Hats off !  Salute !, and also that i respect you ...will wait for your next now...that is if you...which methinks you should because you got yet another gift.
Sarita this book made me cry even when the book ended with a positive overtone because i wanted it to go on. i want to know what happened to Appu and Baby...will Nanju get married now to someone who would tide him over Baby? Will Appu realise eventually the futility of his wild ways???
i also have another secret prayer now...i hope you, S M are able to hear what i am saying...Amen Image courtesy:

Friday, September 17, 2010

He Said That...

''Aunty ! this looks like a medieval torture machine!", Venky exclaimed looking at my new prized possession.
His slight American accent sounds adorable but this one was so funny that i started laughing.
Had anyone else uttered the same thing i would've really sulked but instead it was son's batchmate and a dear friend who made our empty nest so full of life when he was in Chennai interning for a multi-national bank.
''Oh really hahaha !" i was amazed at the boy's sharp observation  because it never struck me earlier that afternoon when it was delivered to me that it did. Actually it looked like some kind of an instrument that psychopaths might find useful.
i mean just look at it right now...either a torture machine or some machine that doesn't give the faintest hint about it's real function.
At best if you are not a horror movie buff you might say that it looks like a pressing machine of some sort.Or probably something to crack a coconut???
Now this prized possession of mine for the first time in my life was handpicked with enthusiasm by my own dear husband who judging from how he refuses to buy anything seemed to be suffering with gadget phobia.Not untill  now when he bought this... that too out of his own free will.
Life indeed is so full of surprises.

Venky was serious and requested clarification as to why it was in the kitchen in the first place.
"Oh just a second let me put the other important part and then maybe then you will know what it is", hiding my wee bit of embarrassment i said.
So i dipped my hand into the long colourful box which had housed the apparatus and quickly assembled the complete structure by adding yet 2 more removable parts to it.

He was still clueless and now my embarrassment was getting a bit deeper.
So i started explaining about the earlier to why i discarded that and settled for this one. All that blah blah about cleaning being cumbersome and painstaking.Also that some initial manual labour was still required in the earlier one and felt this was absolutely hassle free even though it lacked in it's looks.

His look said it all... that he was not convinced so i thought that nothing less than a demonstration of the apparatus will prove my point.i had to...after all i was an aunty...had to prove that not all aunties are dumb.
Here was a youngster, a budding technocrat who had to be convinced that we were not as primitive as he would have assumed us to be and that our choice for this particular apparatus is thoroughly justified.
Trust these youngsters to forever seek sleekness in everything.
i was feeling challenged by now and just like the guy at the Chennai Trade Center i mimicked the entire demonstration.

Venky! look there is just no need to peel the fruit

Just roll the lever slowly and there it is... fresh juice in a jiffy.

Feel like a cocktail...err...mixed you go...
sorry don't have any more fruits now but you can just add a slice of un -peeled pineapple and roll the lever slowly...your fresh mixed fruit juice is ready.
OK OK just wait have not yet finished...

Trust anyone to show you a juicer that can do a better job than this! !.

And cleaning is the best part.Just sooo simple and cool...all you gotta do is just lift the 2 removable parts and place them below a tap of running water.No brushing required.

i can bet if you can guide me to another which gets any easier and any quicker than this!!.

It was now Venky's turn to just give me a wide grin and just nod in agreement.Poor boy should've known better than to have first made a statement and then be polite enough to wait for an explanation.

Actually unlike most youngsters of today i was touched by his patience at such a boring subject.That too when he had just made a passing remark.
He actually tried his hand at rolling the lever just to feel if the job required a certain amount of strength.But once done he just said,"You are right aunty...this looks cool."
i almost felt like hugging him then but had to control myself.Oh! he was just so cute in his accent which adds to his already very becoming looks.

My husband stood behind me bloating badly with self glorification as i was smiling rather laughing happily within myself when extracting a glass of fresh juice.
This time i did not contradict him or chide him on all that bugging self praise but told him instead what Venky had addressed the extractor to be.
And we both just laughed while starting our day with a fresh glass of juice and warm thoughts of Venky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thank You Sister Bhojeya

Before i begin yapping about my latest that kept me obsessed and just so busy all these days i must mention that i get inspiration from the most unusual places.Or maybe it's my wandering eyes which silently watches and captures what fancies the hungry heart the most.Whatever...

 While travelling in the train last time i got inspired to do something just by watching the lady who was occupying the opposite berth. A lady who i thought was an epitome of sophistication as i watched her silently. Right from her luggage to her shoes to the deodorant/perfume she was wearing.She even talked very less like most sophisticated ladies do... who nod and listen more and when they utter something in their best eloquent self you wished they could be more talkative.Only thing that a little bit of that sophistication trickled down on me and i thought it best not to disturb her with my inquisitive questions about her as she immersed herself in Gabriel Garcia Marquez and just watched carefully so as not to appear to be a rude staring rustic.i watched her neat movements when she got to eat and when she needed to freshen up.When she took out her kit that contained her organised belongings to freshen up i was awed at all that style.What most caught my attention apart from the kit which was beautifully embroidered from the outside were her towels.She had a compact custom made kit which also contained 2 custom made towels of two different sizes.The towels and the kit bag was a synchronised object d' art i should say. Judging from their sizes and how she used them i ascertained their functions to be different.The larger of the two towels was used to wipe the moisture off her face when she washed them and the delicately embroidered and French- laced spotless white beauty was her hand towel.
i would never even dream of soiling such a pristine beauty but then where is the question of any speck even to appear on it when you are just dabbing a little moisture off your hands or at the corner of your lips.
i looked at my own disposable tissues in shame and thought about the trees/bamboo that have to be felled for making these tissues.But my sense of shame was soon replaced by inspiration.

So i got inspired by those towels towards my next big project.Which was to start making many number of pristine white hand towels with my own signature embroidery...for which i am so lovingly admired by my friends. Of course these would be for my friends who would be saying their goodbyes to me as i leave my favourite city after 21 years.

Once again in my heart i thanked Sister Bhojeya for teaching us all those delicate stitches in convent during the needle work period.Of course then we would giggle behind her back when she loudly said in a not so feminine voice which sounded more some international language maybe German than English,"Girls putt de wurk on de beigg taibel I hav leette wurk to doo."(Girls put the work on the big table I have little work to do).This when we approached her with all our homework to get graded of course at the start of each class.

Pity they have no needle work for girls in school anymore.We had fun in these classes.For one thing we were off boring subjects at least for one whole period where we would be easy and could talk to each other instead of the so painful PIN DROP SILENCE which was an essential pre-requisite for the other classes.

But this post is actually not about what inspires me rather what intrigues me.i was brought up thinking that everyone should use their own towels but having different towels for different functions i get to see only in movies, mostly Hollywood or else the glossy interior exterior magazines which has breathtaking transparencies of bathrooms where all different sizes of towels are stacked neatly. i have often wondered about these towels.
Different sizes hung on the same rod next to the wash basin.i am yet to know their specific functions because all i could see  in 'Sleeping With The Enemy' was a symbolic perfect arrangement in which they were to be hung.
In the kitchen i understand having different towels but in the bathroom having different sizes next to the wash basin is over me.i always thought one fresh towel is enough.
Maybe sophistication is a lot more than having specific towels for specific purpose and to me it sounds onerous and just too tiresome.Imagine the number of towels multiplied by the number of members in the family...nothing but an added addition to the laundry.

Of course it is being sophisticated to have your whites spotless and it is a hard task like i have already said but if you want to gift a memory of yours to be treasured forever i think it is worth it's while to gift them in white.
Chances are that these would be treasured and handled with care.Maybe that's mean on my part but for a change i would love to see my friends travel with some sophistication AND with a wee bit of warm memory of me.

The items displayed in this blog of mine are definitely not my creations but were handmade by poor women of the Christian Missions Charitable Trust, Chennai, South India.