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Friday, October 9, 2009


All of us love to know what is ahead for us in the future. That is why every newspaper and magazine gives daily, weekly, monthly forecasts for your star sign. Of course there are many streams of foretelling the future—Indian and Western astrology, solar and lunar astrology, palmistry, reading the fall of shells that are thrown, reading coffee or tea dregs at the bottom of a cup, reading faces and the mystical crystal ball that is supposed to show the picture of the man you will marry.

The Tarot card has become the rage however in modern media. This method is based on the belief that the cards give and insight into the present and future. It is greatly dependant on psychology and is very close to the Prashnam that is part of Indian astrology.

Feng Shui is hugely popular along with Vaasthu shastra. Feng shui has popularly been reduced to the placing of objects, mainly of furniture and lucky or harmonising objects representing the elements of water, wind, fire and earth in one’s home or office to change and influence the environment. Feng shui is supposed to have an effect on health, wealth and personal relationships.

Human beings seek to know the future not only when they are facing problems. There is this atavistic pleasure that goads us to delve into the future. Sceptics and critics say that any prediction based on your date of birth and star sign cannot be applicable as every twelfth person on the globe belongs to one particular sign.

Have you read the forecasts for all the signs in a magazine or newspaper? The words and the predictions are generally the same—travel, good luck, change, work environment, stress, tension, family, entertainment, fun, illness, communications, foreign touch, hard work—these are some of the words and phrases that appear again and again. You may argue that these are the common considerations for most people. So it is easy to play around with these words and predict for people born under the signs ranging from Aries to Taurus.

How many times have we watched the astro-performers on TV predicting wins for cricketers, politicians, film personalities, warning about disasters etc. and then laughing at the results that are the opposite of such predictions? There used to be a time when the year’s forecast was given at the beginning of the calendar year and when the new panchangam was read in mid-April. Now ever so often there is some forecast based on Ugadhi, Chinese New Year, Baisakhi, Dussera, Diwali and any change in the political scene.

So who do we depend on to satisfy our thirst to know the future? Most people will say, “We have a family astrologer/guru/soothsayer. We will go only to him/her”. So are the forecasters in print media and TV just space fillers? I am happy when the forecast turns out good. I close my eyes if there are any negative predictions—don’t lose your temper, beware of arguments, watch your feet, beware of minor accidents etc. So when I argue with my husband or the house help, or the auto driver I can always blame it on my day’s reading. Anyway, these incidents keep happening whether they have been forecast or not.

The other day I got an SMS saying “think of a great guru and pass this message to eleven people; a miracle will surely take place”. This was the third time I got it and having ignored the previous two I thought to myself—third time should surely be lucky and patiently counted off the eleven on my fingers as I sent the messages. Lo behold! A miracle happened..a glass dish that was missing (I thought my daughter had taken it away) turned up at the back of a drawer hiding inside a stainless steel vessel!

I am happy at the outcome but have made up my mind not to forward any email or SMS’s that insists that if I send it to ‘N’ number of people I will get the fruits of peace, good luck, happiness, lottery—whatever—for my deed. The mobile company and broadband service provider is making money at my cost.

So, the final word on my future is as Rhett Butler said in ‘Gone With The Wind’, “Frankly darling, I don’t give a damn”!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

There was an article the other day about how three of the top heroines of Bollywood have not changed their hairstyle at all in the past many years. They continue to have ‘long’ hair and have only experimented with colouring and maybe layering.

After studying hairstyles of Bollywood actresses on his recent visit to India, Hollywood hairstylist Sam McKnight said “…they’re stuck in the ’80s, as they don’t experiment”. Aishwarya Rai, Karina Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Sonam, Preety etc. continue to sport long stresses that help them to keep their hands busy during interviews—flicking it back, to the side or side to side.
Well! The Indian nari is classically picturised with long tresses. One of the samudrika lakshanams is long, black, beautifully thick hair. In fact the traditional pativratas like Sita, Draupadi, Devaki (Krishna’s Mom) had long and beautiful hair. When the bad guys like Ravana, Duryodhana, Dushasana and Kamsa grabbed their ‘scented hair’ their final fate was sealed and it was the cue for Yama to mark them down for the next ticket to his lokam.

Indian women are reluctant to experiment with short hairstyles and the blame can be laid at the door of Indian men who are obsessed with long tresses. Remember, hair was also associated with ‘sumangali’ status and the lack of it denoted widowhood. Even today Indian women do not have hair styles to please themselves, but kowtow to family and society. In fact women with short hair are labeled ‘bold’.

Indian actresses are also part of this tradition and very few have short hair. Those who do are generally the femme fatales types like Urmila and Mandira Bedi. When the stars have to sport short hair they resort to wigs.

Hair dressing salons used to be for men. A few years ago only beauty parlours had hair dressers as part of their services. Today in urban areas specialized hair salons are coming into existence.
If it is a bad man on TV or films they all sport long hair and unkempt beards. Many urbane men are now growing their hair! So finally there may be a leveling of sexes—at least in the length of their hair!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Nobel Prize and South India

The seventh in an official list to win the Nobel Prize is Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, this laureate is the third such awardee from Tamil Nadu. The list starts with Rabindranath Tagore (1913 Literature) and is followed by C V Raman (Medicine 1930), Khorana (Medicine 1968), Mother Teresa (Peace Prize 1979), Subramanian Chandrashekar (nephew of C V Raman; Physics 1983), and Amartya Sen (Economics 1998). Two more names Naipaul (Literature 2001) a person of Indian origin and Ronald Ross (born in Almora, Medicine 1902) are associated closely with our country.

South India has been the cradle for a great deal of people associated with research, writing, medicine, sciences and mathematics. It has also seen a huge brain drain and has exported some of the best brains in every field to the rest of the world. The Brahmin and upper castes have had to necessarily leave their shores to establish themselves in more friendly and encouraging surroundings. This section of society was legitimately denied seats in universities and jobs based on merit and achievement as the bias was towards other communities.

Today, these NRI’s, from the Middle East and US and UK are sending money back home to set up their parents in better surroundings, to invest in real estate and to establish a home away from their current dwellings to come back to in case of need or after retirement. These NRI’s have got together and in fresh pastures have built temples, churches and other holy places, social organizations and associations that keeps alive and flourishing the values and traditions that they have left behind.

There was a joke that was popular: Hillary climbed the Everest with a lot of stress, adventures and great difficulties. He reached the top, turned around and said, “I am the first man to climb the highest mountain on earth” and let out a roar of exultation.
An echo came back, “Saar! What about a cup of hot tea?” A South Indian, some versions specify as Nair, had already set up shop!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunset for Usha,the original dawn of Indian athletics

PT Usha has been given the shabbiest of treatments by officials who have never even run up a flight of steps. They did not receive her at the station when she landed in Bhopal with her wards for the 49th National Open Athletics Championships. When she made her way to the venue she was shocked with the sub-standard accommodation offered to her. The 'Sprint Queen' broke down sobbing at the treatment given to her.
"I felt insulted," she sobbed and roundly criticized the Sports Authority of India officials for their apathy.
She then moved into a hotel and a red-faced state government claimed that they had shifted her to a posh hotel. The blame game between Sports Minister MS Gill and the organizers of the event, the state government is now on. Madhya Pradesh Sports Minister Tukoji Rao Pawar regretted the incident and placed the blame at SAI's door.
One channel asked a pertinent question: “If it was a cricketer of any vintage, would he have been given this treatment?”
This is the harsh reality of Indian sports. It is cricket that gets 99% of all the attention. You can jump a hurdle or run a mile, shoot a gun, play snooker and become world champion, you can manage a shuttle so beautifully or bash a squash ball all over the world and win awards and accolades. It is only when you hold a willow or throw a red cherry pitch perfect—never mind that you are only in some vague under something team—that you grab the headlines or get a hero’s welcome.
Commonwealth games or Olymics in India—it is just a pipe dream that materializes in a haze of empty bombast. Until we learn to place the achievers in any field above our politicians who are there because of us and not because of any great achievement on their part, we can count sports medals with the fingers of one hand!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Feeding Time

An authoritative study by British researchers reports that children of working mothers are less healthy than those mothers who stay at home. The study also cites data that children of full-time working mothers were driven to school by moms or dads, watched over two hours of TV per day, drank sweetened drinks in between meals and also eat less fruit and vegetables. This data was the same across all income groups.

The research also says that mothers who worked part time had kids who eat more fruit and vegetables. When it came to the level of exercise that children took, there was no difference between working mothers and non-working mothers.

Fussy eaters seem to be the most common complaint of Mums in every part of the world. One kid I know in Mumbai does not have this problem. I have never seen this kid’s mother as she is always accompanied by her manservant, Bahadur whose singsong statement perennially is ‘Hamara baccha, sab khaatha!’ And the other Moms in the building give him dirty, desperate looks as uniformly all their kids between ages 1 and 8 are fussy, difficult eaters.

I cannot but look back at my childhood and my children’s eating habits. My mother used to say that I was not a great eater and until 5, I was mostly brought up on milk and maybe a little dhal and rice, the paruppu saadam that all Tamil kids are fed. My mother was a great cook and made many pan-Indian dishes and my brothers and I grew up on a variety of cooking not limited to Tambram dishes. My father was a strict disciplinarian and we just had to eat what was served on our plates especially if we had our meals in his company. The downstairs tenant could always predict this state of affairs if various veggies came flying out of the windows and landed plonk on his doorstep. ‘Aha! The upstairs children are eating with their father’ was his knowledgeable nod.

My children grew up with a lot of interaction with neighbours and friends. Most often the meals were shared by all the kids, especially in the weekends and holidays. They eat many international cuisines—a gamut of Indian regional fare, local Creole food, Mauritian dishes, Chinese mein and French gratins and consommés. Later they polished up their plates in various parts of the world eating anything and everything. At home they had their favourite veggies and generally shunned local varieties like cluster and broad beans, padol and tooris. Now as an adult my son has to eat many of these veggies as he has to set a good example to his kids. Given a chance he would miss out on these varieties even today.

Today’s kids seem to have no problems eating noodles and pasta. South Indian kids have taken to roti in a big way and anything fried goes down like a dream. When it comes to the ordinary dhal chawal fare they develop blocks in their throat (needle gullets as my Mom used to say) and food tends to accumulate in their cheek and jaw cavities.

The blame for kids poor eating is automatically thrust on the shoulders of working Moms. Sometimes I think it is a conspiracy of men to lay on the guilt trip on women. Kids welfare is such a convenient a button to be pressed where women are concerned! Many men are taking on the responsibility of overseeing and catering to their kids mealtimes. Yet the majority do think it is the woman’s job to see that kids are fed wholesome and healthy food.

Meanwhile Mom’s run around desperately trying to see that their kids eat properly and most often it is a loosing battle. Even paediatricians, many of them male, say that meal times must be made interesting. Any sidetracking activity during feeding, like watching Barney or Dora or storytelling by grandparents is strictly frowned upon. Kids are smart—they know which buttons to press on the DVD, the computer or on their parents psyche!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Icons and Role Models--Stars in our Eyes

The other day I called my daughter to offer my condolences…her teenage icon Patrick Swayze was no more!

She too shared her grief with me as there was a time in her life when ‘Dirty Dancing’ was this huge feature of her life.

All of us have been through this teenage crush and adoration for a matinee idol or sportsmen. My idea of a super hero was George Peppard especially after reading and seeing him bring to life the main character (now that is forgotten!) in ‘Carpetbaggers’. For many of my friends it was Robert Redford. However, all of us thought that Clark Gable was truly romantic even though he was more my mother’s generation. ‘Gone With the Wind’ was a magnificent movie and everybody thought that Scarlet was a fool to idolize wimpy Ashley Wilkes when she had Rhett Butler eating out of her hand!

We were the ‘English’ film crazy generation. Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan pictures were seen without any idolization. Muthuraman did cause a few hearts to flutter. In Hindi films Dilip Kumar was always intense and serious while Shammi Kapoor rocked with his nautanki, song and dance routine. Biswajit acted in so many films but none in my circle really hero worshipped him. Dev Anand and Sashi Kapoor made a huge impact as Indian polished versions of Hollywood’s heroes. Today Dev is a caricature; Shammi has taken on the holyman mantle while the debonair Shashi has disappeared into a mass of flesh.

In the late sixties, when I was a teacher in a college in Mumbai, I saw mass adulation from teenagers and the focus of their worship was Rajesh Khanna. In fact I had a student who dressed, walked, talked and spoke like Khanna and was nicknamed RK! Soon Amitabh Bachhan appeared in his broody, comical, intense and flippant roles and just had every age group eating out of his hand. Even today he is an icon for many people because of the dignity with which he conducts himself. The Shah Rukh factor, the Aamir magnetism, the Hrithik Roshan phenomenon are ruling young minds. Newer celluloid heroes in India are being created a dime a dozen in all languages.

For the past month or so TV channels in Tamil Nadu have sickeningly gone on and on about Kamal Hassan that has left such a cloying taste in viewers minds. In the South the Rasigar Mandrams or fan clubs keep alive the phenomenon of Rajni and Kamal. Both are larger than life and their past and present private lives do not in any way dent or take away from their charisma. Second line heroes like Mohan and Karthik were chocolate box heroes and then a long line of stars have rapidly entered the fray. Today the young gen of girls are obsessed with Surya, Ajit and Chiyaan Vikram. Again many clones are trying like crabs to climb to the top.

The icons of cricket craze have been popularised and bolstered mainly by TV and print media. If they are not on the pitch they are to be seen in ads and their popularity goes way beyond the willow and ball. Sachin is the only role model who has sustained his allure with young children for many years. Dhoni and Co are there only as long as they perform just as Saurav, Rahul and Kumble have been retired into older has been icons.

Back to Hollywood there are so many heroes like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt rule the roost. Performers with music as their main USP like the Beatles, Sinatra, Reeves, actor-singers held their own as contemporary icons just as Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John and many other bands are more of modern icons than actors.

How many actors can you count as icons who have held sway for many years, capturing the imagination and adulation of different generations? I can think of only Amitabh Bachhan!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

SARVAM PLASTIC MAYAM--Plastic, plastic everywhere

“Plastic itself is a chemically inert substance, used world-wide for packaging and is not per-se hazardous to health and environment. Recycling of plastic, if carried out as per approved procedures and guidelines, may not be an environmental or health hazard,” Environment and Forest Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh said in Lok Sabha. (Business Line July 8, 2009)

This statement was in reply to paper bags being an alternative to plastic carry bags by the Minister. He felt that paper bags cannot be an alternative to plastic bags because paper comes from trees and more paper used is more trees felled.

Chandigarh was the first city in India to ban plastic bags. In the seaside town of Rameswaram and in the little village of Kovalam on the East Coast Road, on the outskirts of Chennai, plastic bags have been banned. Both these places are inhabited by fisherfolk for whom the sea provides their livelihood. The polluting bags are a major hazard to the ecological environment and these people, mostly uneducated and unlettered, have realized the evils of plastic which has prompted them to ban its use.

St.Thomas Mount area in Chennai had also banned the use of disposable plastic containers at weddings and celebrations to help control garbage and rubbish disposal. Recently the hill station of Ooty also spoke of banning plastic bags to stop the degradation of the lovely Nilgiris hills.

In Mumbai if you go to the bigger supermarkets each product you buy from the fruit and vegetable sections are packed in plastic bags. Alas! The rediwala or the bhajiwala finds it difficult to supply that grade and quality of plastic bags to his customers. He is therefore victimized by the police and cannot stock the flimsy plastic bags that are part of his value added service!

There was a time when the grocer would wrap the provisions in cones of newspaper tied up with string. Sweets, peppermints were wrapped in paper, peanuts sold in paper cones, food items from restaurants wrapped in banana leaves. Materials and garments were delivered in paper bags with printed brand names. This was excellent raw material that was eco-friendly and bio-degradable. Even gift wrapping was in lovely figured paper that could be disposed of easily. In those days, plastic shopping bags were a craze when somebody came from abroad and brought gifts.

The introduction of plastic bags changed the scenario. Thin filament, thick plastic, recycled plastic, laminated brown and present wrapping paper, cardboard cartons and paper plates made with plastic coating or out of plastic itself, throw-away food containers for solids and liquids replaced the traditional stuff. These items began to be mass produced and typically at weddings and the recently concluded Navaratri festival Tamboolam to water, sweets and savouries to payasam, ice creams to coffee, tea and sherbet are served in disposable plastic-ware. Political parties too began to make their flag buntings in thin plastic and kites and tatters of these symbols of power have become part of the skyline hanging from lamp posts, trees, hoardings and flyovers. Cinema posters and advertisement posters too are being made in plastic.

Mountains of non-biodegradable matter has built up in landfills, street corners, it blocks drains and water pipes. It has found its way into the stomachs of foraging domestic animals like cows, pigs and goats. Today the urban and rural landscape is a plastic coloured one. Piles of rubbish with ragged strands of plastic decorate and mar the countryside.

On and off the public wakes up in a frenzy and cries out ‘SAY NO TO PLASTIC’. Yet after some time it all trickles away into a plastic heap. The educated, knowledgeable section of society and school children who should be spearheading this awareness and avoidance campaign are some of the biggest transgressors.

A huge drive to use and dispose these plastic bags in a more ecologically sustainable manner has to be formulated. Some time ago plastic bags were used in an experimental way for surfacing roads in parts of Chennai. That road has withstood the ravages of rain and heavy traffic—other than where it has been dug up by telephone, water and cable laying vandals—better than its non-plastic surfaced roads. Just imagine with miles and miles of roads, including the ambitious quadrilateral road plan, how much plastic would be used up and thus increase the life of highways and arterial roads.

An alternative to plastic are newspapers, recycled paper bags that can be used to carry purchases. People should be encouraged, and perhaps even rewarded for bringing their shopping bags to supermarket and greengrocer stores as is being done in Europe and the USA. Eco-friendly disposables made from banana, palm and the traditional paraselai are now available. The use of these materials will also encourage the industry to make these items in cooperatives and small villages and towns.

Thoughtfully, preplanned, shopping expeditions or celebrations can help our world from becoming a landscape of "Sarvam Plastic Mayam".

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gandhigiri—a toothless idea in India today

My friend and sometimes boss Chitra Ravi asks on Facebook : 'Hey Ram' !- will kids today recognize this famous phrase of a Mahatma ? Or to them does it just translate to a 'Hey, a 8 GB RAM!'? She should know as she is in the business of taking IT education to schools and to empowering teachers to facilitate a child’s learning, not merely loading them up with facts and figures.

The other day I the listened quite closely to the song “Kassu mele kaasu vandu” (money keeps piling on). It has a line that Gandhi remains only a toothless face on a rupee note. The fact is that Gandhi comes up in the news mostly when somebody has something negative to say about him…and strangely enough so does Jinnah when an Indian has nothing but praise for him.

Gandhi is truly the past and any effort to revive his relevance is restricted to a couple of generations who saw, interacted and were motivated by him to do something for the country. The post Independence generations have only inherited the dregs of his vision and values passed on to them by a diluted leadership. The Congress party itself has changed so much—including living the five-star culture, validating alcohol consumption and riding the poshest of imported cars—that they freely confess that they have lost sight of the grass root Indian, the Dalit and the common man. The scion of the party, Rahul Gandhi, at forty is being hailed as the youth icon and being spotlighted for his efforts to get back to the party image of being there for the ‘aam aadmi’. More power to him.

However, in rural India, Gandhiji is still the messiah, the avatar who will reincarnate to establish a Ram Rajya where the common man, the farmer, the untouchable and the down trodden will find human dignity and at least a modest living.

What is interesting is the cliché trotted out by everybody that ‘The youth are the future’. How can that be when the youth will become older in the future? A better statement would be to say that the youth are the present especially when you think of the major percentage of this segment of society in Indian demographics today.

In any war, it is the youth that sacrifice life and living to fight for the country. They have no fear and not much to lose, for they have few current responsibilities and commitments. They have the courage in them to revolutionize society, to tackle its evils today, to fight and legislate against global warming issues and social injustice and inequities.

A loin clad, teetotaller Gandhiji is today a much abused commodity/brand, a face on a beer mug (sic), T shirt, or ridiculously high priced pen, and for things which he would have vigorously disapproved. He remains as a name on the streets of cities and as a witness overseeing the multitude that passes by, mutely standing as a statue with a powerless stick in his hand.

Good grief! His name has even been high jacked by a family!

Colour Yellow

When you think of the colour yellow in India, the yellow signifies the auspicious element of any festival.

Yellow is the colour that strikes the eye first in the spectrum of colours. It is a sign of auspiciousness in India and no function or festivity begins without turmeric. Just a blob of haldi paste is worshipped as Ganesha in all pujas. Wedding invitations are printed in South India in yellow and pink paper and smeared with haldi paste before being given personally or posted to invitees. The bride begins her wedding celebrations with a ‘haldi’ ceremony where the girl is liberally smeared with haldi and sandalwood paste by all the near and dear ones leaving her at the end of the ceremony in a yellow daze. The caterer draws up a list of all the provisions needed for festive meals beginning with haldi kumkum.

Women whose husbands are alive are honoured with haldi kumkum as the incarnation of Shakthi. Such women customarily smear turmeric on their faces after a bath and present a distinctly jaundiced look. It is also an important healing, anti-bacterial root with medicinal qualities that merits small print on tubs of off-the-shelf remedies for all possible illnesses. Gold too is popularly called as the yellow metal.

Traffic police in cities have liberally used their brush and yellow paint to decorate the middle of the roads with flourishes of yellow stripes that signal dangerous and accident-prone areas to the man or woman on wheels. For traffic on the roads, the colour yellow signals caution and has the best long distance visual impact. Though the middle light on traffic signals is traditionally amber, it is most often in this city just pure yellow—that is: when it works.

Yellow is also a priority sign and used as a switching light. School buses are yellow, signalling to other traffic to take care when approaching as such vehicles are normally loaded with screaming, undisciplined children. Life jackets, badminton and tennis balls are yellow as well. In many countries yellow and orange is used as colour for danger materials. Yellow-black stripes mark pedestrian or zebra crossings and it is also the badge of the blind. The "yellow card" is shown to football-players as a warning sign. A yellow flag on a ship means an epidemic disease on board. In the animal kingdom yellow—fire-salamander, hornet, wasps—as well as red means a warning and is a sign for poison.

Warm gold-yellow in its effect is quite different from the conflicting effect of shrill lemon yellow. The former symbolises light, cheerfulness and warmth and effects stimulation. In his theory of colours Goethe wrote "In its highest pureness it always brings the nature of the light with it and has a cheerful, merry, soft delightful quality…it is used for the shining things in painting”. Yellow was also the favourite colour of Vincent van Gogh. At the beginning he used yellow ochre and later added Cadmium yellow or Chrome yellow to his palette ("Sunflowers" of 1888). He converted the light of his landscapes into colour. For him light symbolised the sun of the South, cheerfulness, but friendship and love as well. In his paintings the yellow always appeared in accordance with his complimentary colour blue- the symbol of power and completeness of life.

Kandinsky describes shrill yellow in his book "About the spiritual in art" as inducing a disquieting effect. “If watched directly it disquiets you, upsets, excites and shows the character of the violence, ….an obtrusive effect on your mind. This quality of the yellow colour can be increased to a level, which the eye and the mind cannot stand….until it sounds like a very loud played trumpet."

As the colour yellow was easily "soiled" by other dyestuffs, it began to be associated with disgust, as the colour of pus and of leprosy. Yellow sputum is a signal of lung infection and yellowed eyes and urine signal jaundice. A yellow flag on a house showed that the plague was raging there. According to medieval medicine the cause for any imbalance in the human system was the gall bladder. A yellow coloured skin was a symbol for trouble, everlasting envy, jealousy and stinginess.

Jews, as a symbol of discrimination in the 12th century, had to wear a yellow hat. During the Nazi regime they were humiliated and forced to wear a yellow star badge on their sleeves. Western actors avoid the colour yellow—like the plague. Theatres never have yellow curtains, as this is said to cause misfortune.

The colour is also associated with prejudice and cowardice. A traitor or a lawbreaker in the villages of Tamil Nadu is dressed in a yellow loin cloth, seated back to front on donkeys, decorated with black and red spots and driven out of the village. On the other hand yellow clothes symbolised somebody observing a fast or undergoing a penance. The Muruga devotee bearing kavadis wears yellow and so do Tirupati Balaji’s pilgrims and mendicants. Lord Vishnu is traditionally dressed in Pitambaram, the lovely shade of yellow that contains the root word-umbre, which is common in Latin tongues as well

So wherever you see yellow remember it can mean anything ranging from warmth and cheerfulness, through warning and danger to disease and pestilence with associations of discrimination, cowardice, devotion and divinity as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I have now gone beyond feelings
Of nostalgia, longing, envy, even craving
I merrily accept my grounding
There is much from home to experience

All around me I see and hear
Everybody is off here or somewhere
Each in search of fun and pleasure
Going site seeing or just stir-crazy

The retired oldies are gladly bonding
With other fellow senior silver being
Going as pilgrims, mendicants searching
For Nirvana to temples and holy places

The adventurous holidaying middlings
Are taking off from stress extensively touring
Spring, Summer, monsoon or winters
Quickly ticking dots off on travel posters

Families are now on the annual go
Kids want to boast at school with gung-ho
They make trips to hill stations and ruins
To Humayun’s tomb and African safaris

In kindergarten too little kids
Regularly step out on excursions
To see deer, fish and seaside creatures
As part of their multidimensional lessons

Planes are busy in spite of strikes
Trains are full due to cheap tickets
Roads crowded, people on the move
Hotels, resorts, family homes are full

Here I sit happily in my couch watching
Places, people, all that is happening
Hearing reports of others outings
TV is my temple, plazas and destinations

The media is rich with travel
Tickets and hotels with days/nights offers
I see planes taking off, ships going cruising
Trailers and trains off to unknown destinations

No bags to pack, no travel cares
No dirty clothes or fragile souvenirs
No vaccinations or flu or upset bellies
I'm happy to be an armchair traveller

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daughter’s Day

It is Vijayadashami day---a time to start new projects. Well! I am going to renew my blogging that got sidelined for no reason at all. My brother Ramana politely asked me if I was going to write in my blogspot or if he could remove the bookmark from his computer! What more inspiration than the fear of being obliterated from somebody’s, that too my eldest brother who is also now loco parentis for all of us, computer.

This Sunday—28th was suddenly declared as daughter’s day. I am a daughter, I have a daughter and a daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. So that is a lot of reason to celebrate. Being a daughter in Indian society has always been perceived to be that of a second class human being in the family structure. There have been many daughters who have been favourites of parents that history records. There is also the horrific statistics about Female infanticide that reflect a sick society.

As a daughter I have been given the most love, respect and honour. In fact in Hindu rituals the daughter of the house and her husband are given the honours first in recognition of their importance in the family dynamics. How this got eroded and daughters became a symbol of burden is dictated to entirely by the horrors of dowry. Girls were honoured as the symbol of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. When the daughters had to be married and they took away the wealth to another family, gradually they began to be regarded as drains on the family well-being. On the other hand sons brought in wealth, pride and prestige through alliances with girls from well-to-do families.

It was another matter that many of the women who were backed by wealth managed to isolate their husbands from their own families and made to set up nuclear units. The scenario is changing in urban families where educated girls are also seen as bread earners. The extravagant spending at weddings is still not under control and very often a family’s savings can be completely blown up at a wedding.

The winds of change are blowing with many alliances being forged by the couple themselves. It will be interesting to watch whether there will be a time when the women will demand a dowry from the boy’s family. This is after all supposed to be a woman’s century, right?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Global financial crunch

(From the Net)

Financial Melt down has caused a great concern world over. Sometimes solutions may be easy, provided we understand the finance & financing. The following story from a small town explains it well.Read on …… Money!It is August. In a small town on the South Coast of France, holiday season is in full swing, but it is raining so there is not too much business happening. Everyone is heavily in debt. Luckily, a rich Russian tourist arrives in the foyer of the small local hotel. He asks for a room and puts a €100 note on the reception counter, takes a key and goes to inspect the room located up the stairs on the third floor. The hotel owner takes the € 100 banknote in hurry and rushes to his meat supplier to whom he owes €100. The butcher takes the money and races to his wholesale supplier to pay his debt. The wholesaler rushes to the farmer to pay €100 for pigs he purchased some time ago. The farmer triumphantly gives the €100 note to a local prostitute who gave him her services on credit. The prostitute goes quickly to the hotel, as she owed the hotel for her hourly room use to entertain clients. At that moment, the rich Russian is coming down to reception and informs the hotel owner that the proposed room is unsatisfactory and takes his €100 back and departs. There was no profit or income. But everyone no longer has any debt and the small town people look optimistically towards their future. COULD THIS BE THE SOLUTION TO THE Global Financial Crisis? Or, is there a catch here?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Moonlight Meals

The waning moon peeps in through my window. The sea breeze has set in. The curtains are opened out and yet the grill bars the clear view of tree tops. There is even a dog that is howling.

Halcyon days of childhood when the Nila saapadu would be planned rush into my thoughts. A trail of kids, siblings, cousins, neighbours, visiting friends, carrying things would snake up the steps to the terrace of our bungalow and spread mats and jamakkalams (rugs) and sprawl around. Jugs of water to drink, stainless steel glasses, a bucket of water and a mug, a torch were the equipment. Then Amma would labour up the steps carrying a huge vessel mixed with rice and gravy and another elder or maid would bring another vessel with curd rice and pickles.

We would all sit in a circle and the story would start—Vedalam, Ramayanam , Mahabharatham, with every dollop of food dropped by Amma into the centre of our outstretched palms, one by one, that would go plop into our hungry mouths. No complaints, no slow eating, no moans or groans, no likes or dislikes—the food would just disappear into our gullets. Suddenly after a round Amma would exclaim, “Oh I forgot the Appalam/vadam” and one of the older kids would be sent downstairs to fetch the sambadam in which the crunchy munchies would have been stored airtight. The curd rice followed with a tangy touch of tamaring gravy or tangy, freshly-made, baby mango—vadumanagai—pickle.

And then we were all presented with a whole mango each and the delight of slurping, sucking, chewing the pulp would shut us up for some time. It was summer and we would just curl up and go to sleep on the terrace, in the open, after chatting, fighting, crying, laughing and then yawning our way into a replete slumber.

This was our version of a picnic and slumber party thrown into one!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Maa Pyari Ma!

Today is the Thithi, or the death anniversary of my mother Anusuya according to the lunar Indian calendar. It is ten years since she passed away. The first mail that I get this morning is from my cyber friend Shyloo who forwarded this link.

Thank you Shyloo for timing it so right. God bless you.

Another coincidence was that an old friend, Sundari Mani, who uses a walker due to severe arthritis called yesterday and asked me to spread the message that she and a group of ladies are running a small social service organization called Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Women's Association. They have some wheelchairs and walkers for rent at a very nominal price for the needy. She can be contacted at 044-2811 0645

We siblings have donated both these equipment in memory of our mother in the past years and it was as if Amma called out to me and said give a few more. She had to use a walker when she had knee surgery and only used a wheelchair in hospitals which she was very fond of visiting--she has had some seven major surgeries apart from cataracts on both eyes:)) Her indomitable spirit lives in us for all of us are rickety in terms of joints and limbs. But you wont find us sitting around and we are on the go all the time.

My mother was so many things to us, the four siblings. She was also a great deal more to many other people. I am just sharing my thoughts with all of you and the lovely article in the NY Times that will find a resonance in all your minds.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Human birth is a rare privilege say the Hindu Shastras. It is the result of our punya karma, accumulated over several births. Human beings are also endowed with the unique capacity of “free will” that governs their actions. This makes them choose their path do things that benefit family and society or to do things contrary to the natural order.

Many Indians trace their birth to the lineage of a sage or gotra. This is a blood lineage that has lost its relevance with intra and inter-marriages. It is the patriarch or the matriarch of a family who establishes the values and traditions for all its members. This may include upholding dharma (interpreted as fairness and honesty in this case) following principles, love for learning and erudition, observance of tradition and culture, philanthropy, hospitality and conserving resources—monetary, interpersonal and intrapersonal.

The problem arises when the head of the family has an overpowering personality and dislikes losing power and omits to facilitate the transition smoothly. They do not plan a proper line of succession, not only monetarily but also to carry on the traditions and values. A modification in these values and traditions do take place in the changing generations. New and better ones may take their place or they could be eroded.

Many of the younger generation bask in the glory of their ancestors for all the wrong reasons and lead a shadow existence without building up on the base already established. They fail to develop their own identity and do not recognize that their birth in a family is Eswara prasada or a divine gift. In many families, with the break up of the joint family system the observance of traditions and upholding values is becoming more and more difficult. Migration, distances, lack of the proper infrastructure is leading to what is being called simplification in rituals and rites. On the other hand there are some people who go to a great extent to keep the home atmosphere alive in spite of physical difficulties. Festivals, rituals are observed and traditions passed on to a new generation.

However values may be difficult to observe and sustain in a particular environment. Take vegetarianism or abstaining from liquor. In modern times these traditions are losing their importance. Of course, when people become older, the call of roots and family traditions become stronger and these practices are dusted and resurrected.

Only when an individual lives and follows traditions and values with an open mind, does the family background become meaningful. Claims of birth merely establish monetary or situational superiority. When we understand and apply a particular ‘value’, it becomes easy to observe with all its merit in daily lives.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

End of exams celebrations--the environment

I was out shopping in the corner mini market. It was evening time and suddenly there was a hullabaloo outside and a bunch of strapping young men rushed into the shop smeared with Holi powder, a virulent pink at that. Holi had gone by some time back and I was wondering what the occasion was.

When I walked out of the shop about twenty boys were hanging around all in high spirits with the tell tale pink powder smeared on them. The front of the store and the neighbouring bakery was littered with the pink powder, smeared, heaped, scattered any which way. I deduced that +12 exams had just got over and the boys were in exuberant spirits.

However, I was angry at the way they had dirtied the neighbourhood and asked them in a raised tone, “Who has done this?” each one shrugged off responsibility, or shook their heads in denial though the evidence was patent. One showed me that he was the victim for his paper had gone off extremely well and he was the nerd who had to be congratulated/ penalised.

I continued “Is this not a public place? How can you, educated and knowledgeable boys, do this?” Again there was no reply and I was being looked on by all the passers by in a strange manner. The auto drivers too, who knew me well, looked on wondering, “What has happened to this Amma she is shrieking in rage?”

I went into the bakery and cooled down, did my purchases and walked out. The heap of electric pink powder on the pavement poked fun at me. The boys who were still hanging around turned away when they saw me. “Boys! I am sorry” I said. “I should not have yelled at you. I was upset that you youngsters who are so much more aware of environment have done this. Do you think that this was correct? Should not celebrations be done in a private space, within your homes? Who has the responsibility of cleaning this mess? Then your generation blames mine for spoiling the earth and environment…”

There was silence. One lanky boy came up bravely and said, “Sorry Aunty! I did not do it but I will clean up this mess”. He then rounded up a couple of his friends, got some paper and picked up most of the powder from the pavement. When I tried to help with my creaky knees, they kindly said, “No! We will do it”.

I walked back home with a good feeling. The original fault was mine for losing my temper. The lads were on the defensive and passed the buck. Yet when I apologised, the youngsters immediately responded positively and cleaned the mess up. However, the pavement, after nearly a week still brandishes the pink stains.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


We live in a world that is governed by advertisements—they are all over the place, in your face, attacking you through all your senses.

The first Seller of Dreams was the Serpent in Eden and the first Consumer—Eve. The product was a red apple.

And the men have been blaming women since then for everything that goes wrong! Yet it is men who have made it their life’s purpose to make money and success by selling these dreams since then! Since that time we are still trying to find our way back into paradise through the ideas sold by dream merchants.

Who are these Dream Merchants? They are mainly the promoters of Consumerism. They give the public an exposure to products, services etc. through ads. They promote a Utopian lifestyle that seemingly is within the reach of anyone. The sale of a product or service all boils down to creating awareness and then promoting the product through blitzkrieg media exposure.

Consumerism came into being with the discovery or invention of Desire. The Desire was then exploited by creating a product or service to satisfy it and resorting to promotional advertisements containing truths, half truths and plain lies about the new product to establish a market. Desire was blown into a Demand as opposed to a genuine need.

Next came the competitors to exploit the market in the name of consumer awareness and choice. Soon ad budgets occupied a large percentage of the product price. The consumer willingly fell into the trap and bought the dream. Soon he began to dream in technicolor and wanted and demanded upgradation and more. The vicious circle of demand – advertisement – purchase- consumption – discard-repurchase enveloped more and more people and has now assumed threatening proportions, destroying natural resources and raising the spectre of mankind itself being consumed.

Consumerism begins when you are born—in the choice of hospital, the doctor who delivers you, the paediatrician who checks you out first, the choice and usage of baby products and today even the choice of cord blood stem cell banking for possible need in the future.

Life takes you through a gamut of needs—education, career, marriage, family—that have to be satisfied and that never end. Even after you are dead consumerism goes on—wood or electric cremation, ashes to be immersed in the sea or in a river or the Ganga itself; burial services, choice of coffins, flowers, eulogies. And in all this the stretched hand that will give or receive, stays extended.

The Dream Merchants build castles in the air and we occupy them without checking out the solidity or the foundations of these illusions. All of us are perpetrators. All of us are victims.


We live in a world that is governed by advertisements—they are all over the place, in your face, attacking you through all your senses.

The first Seller of Dreams was the Serpent in Eden and the first Consumer—Eve. The product was a red apple.

And the men have been blaming women since then for everything that goes wrong! Yet it is men who have made it their life’s purpose to make money and success by selling these dreams since then! Since that time we are still trying to find our way back into paradise through the ideas sold by dream merchants.

Who are these Dream Merchants? They are mainly the promoters of Consumerism. They give the public an exposure to products, services etc. through ads. They promote a Utopian lifestyle that seemingly is within the reach of anyone. The sale of a product or service all boils down to creating awareness and then promoting the product through blitzkrieg media exposure.

Consumerism came into being with the discovery or invention of Desire. The Desire was then exploited by creating a product or service to satisfy it and resorting to promotional advertisements containing truths, half truths and plain lies about the new product to establish a market. Desire was blown into a Demand as opposed to a genuine need.

Next came the competitors to exploit the market in the name of consumer awareness and choice. Soon ad budgets occupied a large percentage of the product price. The consumer willingly fell into the trap and bought the dream. Soon he began to dream in technicolor and wanted and demanded upgradation and more. The vicious circle of demand – advertisement – purchase- consumption – discard-repurchase enveloped more and more people and has now assumed threatening proportions, destroying natural resources and raising the spectre of mankind itself being consumed.

Consumerism begins when you are born—in the choice of hospital, the doctor who delivers you, the paediatrician who checks you out first, the choice and usage of baby products and today even the choice of cord blood stem cell banking for possible need in the future.

Life takes you through a gamut of needs—education, career, marriage, family—that have to be satisfied and that never end. Even after you are dead consumerism goes on—wood or electric cremation, ashes to be immersed in the sea or in a river or the Ganga itself; burial services, choice of coffins, flowers, eulogies. And in all this the stretched hand that will give or receive, stays extended.

The Dream Merchants build castles in the air and we occupy them without checking out the solidity or the foundations of these illusions. All of us are perpetrators. All of us are victims.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Community interaction in Urban Life

The community in the villages used to be very close. If there was a function in a family, the whole street would come together and actively take part in every activity associated with the event. Each house provided food items from their sources: sacks of rice, dhals, gur, coconuts, bananas, vegetables and other fruits to be used in the cooking. People also gave their services and helped in the cooking, making the sweetmeats, erecting the pandals, shelters and tents with dried palms and even opened their homes to accommodate guests coming from other parts of the state. The special treatment of the guests—ubacharam—the hospitality and care showered on outsiders was all taken care of by neighbours.

However when the urban resettlement took place gradually each family isolated itself in compounds and behind gates. Only in cities like Mumbai or Delhi, when the Tamil community relocated, they continued to support each other.

I remember my Aunt’s house in Matunga. For the wedding of each of her three daughters, her group of friends would turn up a few days before the wedding and sit together to make the sweets and savouries that were given to the groom’s family as ‘seer’. There was no telephone and the gathering took place by word of mouth, fixed by the ladies in the vegetable market the previous evening.

They would come after their morning chores were done, including finishing their lunch. Two would take the responsibility of getting the rice powdered and one would sit in front of the wok and hot oil. The others would spread themselves in the two room flats and deftly make the murukku, laddu, adirasam etc. They would have coffee and maybe a snack and then after three or four in the afternoon, having finished the sweetmeat preparations, would go back home to the rest of the day’s work.

A few years ago, in the UK, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, street parties were thrown with each family contributing food and drink for the all night party. Neighbourhood shops too contributed their goods and services and that was a memorable community celebration.

Today with technology and a great deal of easing of labour, people prefer to buy stuff or order with a caterer. Kitty parties and birthday celebrations are held in hotels. Catering for a crowd, beyond the immediate family, has become tedious with women having to face many other pressures from their workplace and lifestyles. I see that even the pot luck parties are slowly dying.

The village has now been recreated to some extent in apartment blocks. As a result there is an effort to get the kids to perform dances and skits, for people to cook dishes and bring it to the event. Festivals and occasions are being celebrated with some community effort. This effort is not widely spread but now with the economic downtrend, maybe this sense of sharing and joint celebrations will become popular.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ARIGATO—Thank you

Today I had the unique experience of interacting with a group of Japanese women visiting Chennai.

There were four of them:

  • Akemi Yoshii, works with a Chennai software company as a Japanese translator and is also a freelance food writer who has completed her Master’s in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide, Australia) and writes about Indian cuisine for Japanese media.
  • Kurumi Arimoto, cook book author is the daughter of the most famous cookery author in Japan,Yoko Arimoto.
  • Maiko Shimizu, is a professional writer, editor and photographer and Radio presenter. She is running a web site “One doodle Land (” and planning to introduce Kurumi’s travel of Chennai through her web site.
  • Akemi Kimura who owns a boutique in Yamaguchi, Japan.
    They wanted to learn how to make South Indian dishes and my friend Viji Varadarajan, who has authored many cookbooks, arranged a session in her house. We were contacted through the internet and it was a very satisfying experience teaching them important dishes from the Chennai cuisine..

    The main item on the menu was Kozhakattai/modak that is made for Lord Ganesha. They were surprised that it was just like their wontons and they showed a remarkable dexterity in making the sweetmeat. It is not an easy dish to prepare for seasoned cooks but it was amazing that they could manipulate and shape the dough, (made of rice flour and water and cooked into a paste) with élan.

    I took Akemi Kimura to a French company, Vastralaya, that is custom making hand embroidered furnishings in Chennai for designers from Paris and Europe. She was completely taken aback at the quality of the embroidery and its intricacies. The workers are all men in this establishment and they truly do fantastic Ari, Zardozi and appliqué work apart from crewel and other Indian embroideries. It seems that the traditional expertise in hand embroidery in Europe is now practically extinct. The East is still maintaining its hold over traditional crafts but that too may disappear as the children of all these craftsmen are training and moving over to white collar jobs.

    A couple of months ago I had the chance of meeting a Saurashtrian family of silk weavers, Veerayya Silks, that can trace its roots in the same house that still stands to seven generations. They are making silk saris and have found out that direct marketing to a select clientele is more remunerative. They come to the client’s house with their saris. They have had no training in Avon/Oriflame marketing strategies; they don’t advertise but are able to successfully run their business by sheer word of mouth.

    The enterprising initiatives by entrepreneurs from different parts of the world is very interesting for a people watcher like me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Master Tailor

In India we have this wonderful service given by tailors and Istriwallas (Ironing man) at a fraction of the prices charged elsewhere in the world. Custom made garments are easily rustled up for men and women by the hoards of these guys sitting in little holes in the wall all over cities, towns, and villages. A R Rahman wore a bespoke suit, not an Armani, made by a Chennai Suit Maker—you can’t call them tailors can you—and made a fashion statement on the red carpet!

I have a varied experience with tailors in many cities—wherever I have lived. The first encounter was being measured up for uniforms by run-of-the-mill school tailors as my mother used to sew all my clothes.

A truly awesome and unforgettable experience was with a Master called Rozario, (who never put in a stitch into any of my garments). His establishment was a space under the staircase of a dingy old building in Bombay/ Mumbai. But boy! His address was equal to any Saville Row establishment, absolutely top notch for these parts—opposite the Gateway, right next to the Taj Mahal Hotel. He was my uncle’s tailor and was highly recommended to my father.

The process of getting a suit made was not simple. First the cloth was chosen and taken to Rozario for approval, then only paid for—something you could do in ‘those’ days. Then the design was debated and mulled over, chosen from old Burlington catalogues. Even the lining, the lapel, placement of pockets were seriously considered, shortlisted, rejected and with a sigh finally approved by the Master. “I need two trials, both times around four PM. After dark wont do Sir!” was the injunction and a date after three weeks was fixed in Master’s diary for the first trial.

The trial was not a simple case of trying out the suit in a half finished state with pins and threads and chalk marks all over the place. Rozario would ask my father to don the pieces—it was still not a suit or trousers and jacket—and looking like a scarecrow with bits of white lining hanging all over Rozario would undertake a survey. My Dad had to stand in various positions—on the stairs, pavement, getting out of the car, squatting stylishly on the worn wooden treads of the shop, sitting on top of the counter with a little leap and even occupying the wooden stool used by the Master...all this to check out the fall of the suit, the drape, the crease, pleats etc. This exercise would take close to an hour give the rest of us who accompanied Dad enough time to take a stroll on the cobbled pavement along the sea, have a snack of peanuts and chick peas, do a little shopping in the bylanes of Colaba and then come back in time to hear Rozario fix up the second trial a fortnight later.

The second trial saw the garment in a nearly-finished condition with tacks of thread in a contrasting colour running all over the lapel, pockets and other prominent spots on the suit. The same process of examining the garment in various positions was carried out; adjustments to the length of the trouser (Dad had to wear shoes and socks compulsorily for this stage of affairs) and the tightness of the jacket seriously debated, finalised and the final date of delivery mutually decided upon. This too would take about forty minutes to an hour.

A week later, the outfit was ready and Dad had to wear the suit for any final tweaking. The bill was settled and finally Rozario would open up about lighter matters of discussion like politics, cricket, poverty and slum life.

The important aspect about this whole enterprise was Rozario would accept only one suit commission at a time and my father, affectionately called Tiger by his sons and nephews, and not naturally known for his patience or forbearance, behaved with the utmost equanimity while he was in Rozario’s hands.

Years later I went in search for Rozario but the under-the-staircase space was occupied by a leather handbag shop. My husband as a banker in need of suits, settled for readymade stuff from a famous brand.

Monday, March 2, 2009

On a Clear Day You can see Forever…

When I was in College there used to be a song from a failed musical that could not find an audience. Barbara Streisand, my all time favourite, had sung 'On a Clear Day you can see Forever'. This blog is not about the song or movie.

Last week Chennai, known to have only three kinds of weather, Hot, Hotter and Hottest had unprecedented fog in the early hours of the morning and flights were delayed….absolutely strange for this city.

Fog was something that we associated with Delhi, London and San Francisco. In Chennai other than for a few days in December-January even mist was a strange phenomenon. Even on these days, people were up early in the morning to take part in the Nagara Sankeerthanam or Bhajan Procession around the neighbourhood. So they experienced a few wisps of mist floating around the city structures.

There used to be a time when I could see clearly all the way to the line of the horizon from the beach in Marina or Eliots. Today I can only see a murky blurring between the sea and the sky, grey, mauve and pepper and salt black.

There are no more clear days, however hot it is in Chennai, and you can’t see forever.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I have been doing some research on this subject....
It is not easy to first think leave alone achieve a sense of equanimity.

We grow up opinionated--frankly all of us have a strong view on every topic under the sun. Some of us are more articulate, some mildly expressive and others keep a piece of their mind to themselves. I am of the first kind, you may say. I love to hear the sound of my own voice!

This has led me into plenty of hot water, mainly to chronic laryngitis. I used to be on the stage where I found expression for this opinionatedness. I had to give that up--the stage I mean--as I was ending up on a merry-go-round of stage appearance-->throat infection--> strong medication and bed. So now I am being opinionated on this blogspot.

Will I achieve this equanimity--just writing and not bothering about anybody sharing my thoughts? Will somebody read all this....Oh well time will tell.