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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.