Comfort Zone

Always at the back of my mind was the fact that there was a bookstore near wherever I lived that I could pop into and get a few books. I am a serial reader…I have a few books in various stages of completion, some new books that need to be read, some that I have abandoned and maybe will go back to when I am older and wiser or a couple that I have totally outgrown.

bookshelf

A visit to a bookshop used to be a great idea of an outing…to browse, to smell the tonnes of books emanating inviting smells, streaking rainbow hues around the walls and aisles of shelves. I used to feel like a kid let loose in a candy store and this was my comfort zone. The comfort quotient was enhanced when sofas and stools were added by the managements to let me sit and read bits and pieces that would help me choose the book to buy. I would flip through magazines and quickly update the gossip about stars, styles and sundry trivia. Cookbooks would delight all the senses and I would take in the smorgasbord of dishes and culinary delights and a few tips as well.

After many months, I walked into a bookshop about a month ago and again yesterday…both in a mall. The comfort levels were gone, the desire to buy a book was gone, the longing to browse and select one or two printed material amongst a basketful of hopefuls was absent. The prices were high, the books dark and gloomy and the same old authors and titles all done with.

Now I have to look for a new comfort zone to visit, I have to choose a new destination for periodic outings! Bookshops are now a hodgepodge of merchandise, with very few books!

The seven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Ashok, gaelikaa, Maxi, Rummuser, Shackman and The Old Fossil. We have a new blogger Lin at Dun-Na-Sead to the LBC.

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Love’s Labour Lost

Something that I had to read up as part of my curriculum eons ago…it was one of the early plays written by Shakespeare.

The play bristles with verbal wit and his usual complicated storyline. The King of Navarre and his three companions attempt to foreswear the company of women for three years that are to be spent in study and fasting. However, the King gets infatuated with the Princess of Aquitaine and his companion with her ladies in waiting. In an unusul ending for a comedy, the play closes with the death of the Princess’s father. So, all weddings are delayed for a year. The play talks a great deal about masculine love and desire, reckoning and rationalization, and reality versus fantasy.

What does the phrase actually mean? Is it a positive statement or does it reflect the fleeting emotion of ‘love’? Superficially it could imply that the person who is in love with someone has been let down by that person. So all the effort they had put into the relationship is now wasted.

Unrequited love has always inspired writers as it beautifully lends itself to the idea of angst, complicated scenarios and convoluted plots and denouements. Let us leave this aside.

Love’s Labour Lost has changed in its implication for me in the years flown by. I see so many people investing their thoughts, emotions, aspirations and dreams on one person. Rarely are these fulfilled as human behaviour is volatile.

Parents put in a lot of effort…love’s labour…into a child. When the child grows up, s/he moves on with their own life and parents very often are sidelines. Influences of peers and partners take precedence over that of parents! In the modern world we see many kids abandoning parents and interacting with them rarely, not taking them into confidence about personal milestones. I am not being judgemental and saying that this is wrong or right…that is the way society works.

More and more, I see marriages flounder in my world after 20 to 30 years of married life. This includes arranged marriages and what we call ‘luv’ marriages in India. Women seem to feel that their labour in this relationship has been rewardless or unfulfilling. Men too seem to want out of difficult partnerships where their wives have been over demanding or critical..of course trophy husbands and wives attributed to mid life crisis seems to totally discount all the effort put into a relationship for decades. Partners are discarded in what may seem to be a whim…but what happens inside a relationship the partners only know. The gel that stuck together this relationship—mostly kids or finances…seems to melt away once kids are grown up!

Friendships are supposed to last..but many are actually like ‘train friendships’! You get on and off the train at different stations…we promise to keep in touch, but in the course of daily routines, people are left behind in the wayside. So the effort that goes into getting to know somebody, investing in that friendship and then the momentum getting reduced or lost is very common. Few friends stay on in life.

Take this consortium…..it took time and people to build up into a vibrant forum to exchange ideas….today there but a handful that believe that ‘Love’s Labour is not Lost’. So like the prodigal I come back into the fold hoping for some fatted lettuce and pasta (I am a veggie, you know)!

The seven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Ashok, gaelikaa, Maxi, Rummuser, Shackman and The Old Fossil. We have a new blogger Lin at Dun-Na-Sead joining us this week and I extend her a warm welcome to the LBC.

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Dhanteras… the first day of Diwali!

dhanteras_004

Hindu festivals are mostly grounded in mythology. So is Deepavali. Diwali or Divali. Diwali is celebrated in the north over five days.

The first day of Diwali is called Dhanteras or Dhantryaodashi, (dhan- wealth and theras-thrayodashi-13). It is the thirteenth day of the waning lunar cycle in the month of Ashwin or Aippasi (Tamizh month). This day is important for businesses, traders and merchants in North India, Maharashtra and Gujerat.

The Story behind the festival

The legend associated with Dhanteras is about the sixteen-year-old son of King Hima who according to his horoscope, was doomed to die on the fourth day after his marriage by snakebite. On that day, his anxious young bride lit many lamps all over the place and did not allow her husband to sleep. She took out all her gold and precious  ornaments studded with precious gems, gold and silver coins and piled them in a heap at the entrance of her husband’s room. She told stories and sang songs throughout the night.

When Yama-the god of death, arrived as a serpent, the bright dazzle of the brilliant lights blinded his eyes and he could not enter the prince’s chamber. He climbed on to the heap of ornaments and coins and sat there the whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he went away quietly and thus the intelligent wife had saved her husband from Yama’s noose. So Dhanteras is also known as ‘Yamadeepdaan’ day and lamps are left burning throughout the night as a form of reverence to Yama. It is also the night when people light lamps and float them down a river in

memory of their ancestors.

According to another legend, when the Gods and demons churned the milky ocean for Amrita or nectar that would give them immortality, Dhanvantari, the physician of the Gods and an

incarnation of Lord Vishnu emerged from the ocean carrying a kalash or pot of Amrith on the day of Dhanteras. Dhanvantarai is always depicted with the amrith kalash in his hand.

Getting ready

The day is celebrated by renovating and decorating houses and business premises. Entrances and doorways are decorated with colourful designs of Rangoli/kolams to welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Wellbeing, Wealth and Prosperity. To help her find her way into the premises and to show how eagerly the family is awaiting her arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder. Lamps are kept burning all through the night.

Traditions

Prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi on Dhanteras in her form as an owl to provide prosperity

and well being. According to custom, precious metals like gold and silver are bought on this day.

In modern times many people buy a new cooking vessel as well for Annam (food) is also Lakshmi

representing well-being. The metals are an augury of good luck.

Diwali purchases are often done only on this day. The first lamps are lit and paper lanterns with festoons are strung up to announce the arrival of Diwali. All family members arrive at ancestral homes.

Celebrations

Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening. Tiny earthen diyas are lit to drive away shadows of evil spirits. Bhajans/devotional songs in praise of Goddess Lakshmi are sung in chorus to welcome her.

Naivedya of traditional sweets like kheer/payasam, laddus, jalebis and pedas are offered to the Goddess.

In Maharashtra, dry coriander seeds are lightly pounded and mixed with jaggery and offered to Lakshmi.

In villages, cattle is adorned and worshiped by farmers, their main source of income. In south India, cows, considered to be an incarnation of Lakshmi, are decorated and offered special prasadam. In Brahmin families, the son-in-law is invited for a special feast of onion sambhar and potato roast!

Crackers, candles, diyas, clay figures of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi, earthenware katoris and kulris (cups and tumblers), toys and other objects needed to celebrate Diwali are purchased on Dhanteras.

Business people buy and keep ready new account books for the Lakshmi puja that will be performed on Diwali, their New Year’s day. A girl child born on Dhanteras day is considered to be the arrival of Goddess Lakshmi into the home and considered very lucky in North India.

Dhanteras is not only about praying for material wealth and prosperity. It is a time to develop spiritual equanimity and family bonding.

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Diwali-Deepavali stories!!

A line of lamps

 

Diwali or Deepavali means a line of lamps. Throughout our history, many stories have become associoated with this greatest festival of the Hindu diaspora.

Most of us celebrate Diwali, but how many of us know the real reasons behind celebrating this festive time of year? It’s not only about having fun but there are mythical and historical reasons behind celebrating Diwali. Let us celebrate Diwali with a new understanding of wealth and prosperity.

Here is the line of events associated with the festival!

  1. Goddess Lakshmi’s Birthday: The Goddess of Wealth and wellbeing, Lakshmi incarnated on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month during the churning of the ocean (samudra-manthan). Hence the association of Diwali with Lakshmi.
  1. Vishnu Rescued Lakshmi: On this very day (Diwali day), Lord Vishnu in his fifth incarnation as Vaman-avtaara rescued Lakshmi from the prison of King Bali. So, this is another reason for worshipping Ma Larkshmi on Diwali.
  1. Krishna Killed Narakaasur: On the day preceding Diwali, Lord Krishna killed the demon king Narakaasur and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity. The celebration of this freedom went on for two days including the Diwali day as a victory festival.
  1. The Return of the Pandavas: According to the great epic ‘Mahabharata’ , it was ‘Kartik Amavashya’ when the Pandavas came back from their 12 years of banishment that was a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice (gambling). The subjects who loved the Pandavas celebrated the day by lighting the earthen lamps.
  1. The Victory of Rama: According to the epic ‘Ramayana’, it was the new moon day of Kartik when Lord Ram, Ma Sita and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana and conquering Lanka. The citizens of Ayodhya decorated the entire city with the earthen lamps and illuminated it like never before.
  1. Coronation of Vikramaditya: One of the greatest Hindu kings, Vikramaditya had his coronation on the Diwali day. This makes Diwali an important historical event as well.
  1. Special Day for Arya Samaj: It was the new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) when Maharshi Dayananda, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism and the founder of Arya Samaj attained his nirvana.
  1. Special Day for the Jains: Mahavir Tirthankar, considered to be the founder of modern Jainism also attained his nirvana on Diwali day.
  1. Special Day for the Sikhs: The third Sikh Guru Amar Das institutionalized Diwali as a Red-Letter Day when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus blessings. In 1577, the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid on Diwali. In 1619, the sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind, who was held by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, was released from the Gwalior fort along with 52 kings.
  2. The Pope’s Diwali Speech: In 1999, Pope John Paul II performed a special Eucharist in an Indian church where the altar was decorated with Diwali lamps. The Pope had a ’tilak’ marked on his forehead and his speech was full of references to the festival of light.
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Coming into Chennai

The heart stopping feeling of coming into Chennai by road, train or by air is a fantastic sensation. As adults it was a thanksgiving for coming home, a celebration of belonging and an expectation of great events that would happen in the next few days—weddings, birthdays and bonding with family and the city. As kids it was playing, eating, movies and the Marina Beach.

 

 

Chennai Central (1)Whenever we travelled by train from Mumbai to Madras, as it was then called, we would eagerly look out of the window from Arakkonam onwards and identify all the stations one by one. This was the signal that we were one step closer to the Central Station where family would be waiting for us. Inevitably the train would grind to a halt just before Basin Bridge waiting for a signal and that was the most frustrating moment.Basin Bridge before the towers were destroyed

Many people would drag their innumerable pieces of luggage and bedding to the door convenient enough to get off first. This would create a huge corridor block as it were, and prevent any human being from budging out and also cause a lot of arguments and fights. Later on, when vestibule trains came into use, people with lighter pieces of luggage would go through the various coaches and reach the one next to the engine so that they would get out of the train closest to the exit of the platform. Once the whistle blew and the train began to move, we would eagerly look out for the platform and compete to be the first one to spot a familiar head of somebody who had come to receive us.

We were a family that got into a car and went off either to Pondicherry, Bangalore or deep south. Driving through the tunnel formed by tamarind trees was always a great pleasure. Sunguvarchatram, Eri kaatha Ramar, Chengelpet, Thirunindraoor were all plces that we looked forward to as it meant that we were soon going to be home. Today Sriperambadur is the spot where your nerves take over and you grit your teeth to navigate Porur! The never ending line of shops and more shops on the roads signal the fact that you have reached Chennai.

I have had the same feeling travelling on plane too. TouchdownFrom the gradually descending plane, first comes the comforting thud of the wheels getting ready for landing and then you can spot Poonamalle and Porur lake. If the plane is coming from Anna Nagar side, other famous landmarks like the Cathedral and Raj Bhavan complex appear. I always crane my neck to catch a glimpse of my apartment complex, but it is not easy as all buildings look the same unless they are the huge glass ones. The city looks lovely especially at night with the blazing lights, huge posters and travelling traffic. When you come in from the sea, that is a great experience..a kind of false feeling that you are coming back to my city from alien places. The final landmark to be spotted is St Thomas Mount and then it is the runway. The touch down is accompanied with a flip of the stomach (not caused by the food) saying, ‘Home’

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Chiming Chennai

bells

The soft chant of the Suprabatham in the beautiful voice of MS Subbalakshmi awakens the city. In some neighbourhoods the peal of church bells and the call of the Muezzin wafts through the air.

Religion is a living breathing, integral part of this city. When there is a festival from Pongal to Varusha Pirappu, Thai Poosam and Adi Fridays, Krishna Janmashtami, Navaratri and the cold mornings of Margazhi, music too is a vital part of all these festivals.

DabaraChennai’s chimes begin with the clink of the dabbara tumbler–the two receptaclesin which coffee is served. The scraping sound of the long iron ladle on a deep iron wok placed on a iron stove and carted around in a push cart as the vendor roasts peanuts is a distinctive sound.

 

 
peanut seller

 

 

 

 

Another ting, ting, ting announces the presence of the Son papdi seller on his cart and cycle who plays a tune on the big glass jar in which he stores the precious white sweet sugar candy.son papdi seller

 

Music is a great integrating factor. Chennai is also the arena where the best performers—Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, popular numbers, folk arts, Western ensembles and quartets—all congregate from November to February.cutcheri A performance in one of the leading sabhas is the stamp of excellence on any performer. The sabhas and auditoriums, resound to the various notes, beats and rhythms of classical music.

English, French and German plays are staged regularly. The Tamizh drama scene is dominated by comedy. Serious drama in Tamizh is restricted to a handful of performers. The stalwarts of drama have all migrated to cinema and Kodambakkam-Vadapalani is the background for the most number of cinemas to be produced in India. Animation is a fledgling industry and along with IT is a great means of expressing creativity.

Chennai is the home of Bharathnatyam with Kalakshetra and many other excellent teachers with their schools imparting dance education and qualifying world class dancers. dancersA you walk on the streets of Mylapore or Gopalapuran, T Nagar or Adyar, you can hear the beat of the dance teachers stick as she does the Nattuvangam and the dancing bells of students going thaiyya thai! Dance is in the very graceful sway of the women of Chennai. Most of the girls from students, to vegetable sellers, housewives to IT pros wear the silver anklets on their feet and the tinkle of these bells add a great deal of life and colour to the streets of the city.

Religious discourses, study of Vedas and Sanskrit flourishes in this city giving it the spiritual ambience.taalam The sound of the cymbals accompanying the bhajan groups are an important part of the early morning scene in December. The drum beats accompany any procession be it political, weddings, ritual temple events and funerals.

The many radio, FM and TV channels reiterates how important the visual medium is in this city. There is a record number of newspapers and magazines in the regional and English language in the country.

Culture in this capital Chennai, is the very raison d’ etre of every citizen. The pulse of the people keeps perfect beat to the rhythm of life, of music, of tradition and modernity. Heritage is a respected word and even the cadences of the spoken language flow with a basic musical note.

The sound of reversing vehicles adds to the chimes of the city as do the double horns of taxi drivers and the pom pom of the klaxon by auto drivers. auto hornHorns can be deceptive for a deep bass sounding horn or a raucous blast can be from a teeny weeny two wheeler while the peep of a sophisticated horn could be a BMW! The sirens of ambulances punctuate the atmosphere day and night especially if you are in and around hospitals!

This is Chennai the city that chimes with different sounds!

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Tutuma and the Hamsam/Swan

ramanafatherwifeself-300 (2)Urmila my sister-in-love, or Tutuma as we all learned to call her, married our eldest brother and came home one morning. The marriage was a fait accompli and we soon got to know her and to love her.

She was a very warm person and had a special soft corner for me. I stayed with her for fairly long periods as she created a home or maike (maternal home) for me. She was an artist and introduced me to the concept of enjoying objets d’ art. My lifelong interest in collecting beautiful things was inspired by her.

She travelled with my brother to some interesting pockets in rural India. Her delight was enhanced when she discovered Karaikudi and the little shops that sold things discarded by the Chettiar community from their huge collections…this was the time when the community was moving away from the old ‘bangalas’ (bungalows) and cleared out their homes. Many interesting things found their way to these shops that had still not been discovered by city boutiques.

Tutuma picked up wonderful stuff. She brought back to Bombay a handful of gold foiled glass paintings that we mistook for Tanjore paintings. She gave me the choicest of he pieces and I still have four or five. Only later did I find out that they were painted back to front on glass and then framed.

Glass paintings

Tanjore painting is a classical South Indian painting style. It takes its name from the name of the town of Thanjavur (anglicized as Tanjore). The art form spread across the Tamil country and is said to go back to 1600 CE when the Nayakars of Thanjavur under the suzerainty of the Vijayanagara Rayas encouraged art—chiefly, classical dance and music—as well as literature, both in Telugu and Tamil and painting particularly in temples.

The style of Tanjore painting originated in the Maratha court of Thanjavur (1676 – 1855). Tanjore paintings are panel paintings done on wooden planks that gave the art form its Tamil name—‘palagai padam’ (palagai = wooden plank; padam = picture). The paintings are painted in rich and vivid colours and the subject matter is usually images of deities and other heavenly creatures with human beings also represented. What makes it unique is the use of glittering gold foil overlaid on gesso work, a white mixture of chalk, gypsum and pigment bound together with gum. The images are embellished with glass beads and precious and semi-precious gems.

Painting

Mysore paintings are a similar art form. Both Tanjore and Mysore originate from from the same style of Vijayanagara paintings. The same artists, Chitragars and Naidus migrated to various places including Thanjavur and Mysore. You can see the degree of similarity between the two styles while many differences make it two distinct styles.

The glass paintings are an improvisation of the traditional Tanjore Painting. These paintings are done on the back side of glass.

Glass painting

In Karaikudi Tutuma also picked up some beautiful wooden carvings. Knowing my penchant for Ganesha, she got me a beautiful one. Amongst her own collection was a magnificent Hamsam..the traditional and mythological bird associated with Goddess Saraswathi. The hamsa is depicted as the ‘vehicle’ or vahana of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. A white swan is often shown sitting at her feet. The sounds of the air that we inhale is called ‘ham’; the air that is breathed out is called ‘sah’. So Goddess Saraswati is supposed symbolically to ride the very essence of being: our breath.

Hamsam

The Hamsa is a familiar leitmotif in Indian art, literature, sculpture and textiles. It is an aquatic bird that resembles a goose or a swan. It is reputed to eat pearls and to be able to separate milk from water and drink only pure milk. The Hamsa represents the perfect harmony between spirituality and life. The Hamsa is seen as a symbol of purity, detachment, divine knowledge, cosmic breath (prana) and the highest spiritual accomplishment. It is supposed to transcend the limitations of creation for it can walk on the earth, fly in the sky and swim in the water.

I fell in love with this depiction of the bird and Tutuma promised me that she would get me one on her next visit. Sadly she could not find another oe nor did I when I visited the town Karaikudi and its shops a few years later. I had been on the lookout for one but never found a piece that said “take me home”.

Seven years ago, Tutuma passed away and left a great big void in our lives. Last year my brother Ramana decided to downsize his establishment and as giving away stuff that had accumulated in his home. I sent in my application for the hamsa and he immediately packed it and sent it with other stuff to my nephew’s place.

The tale does not end there as my nephew relocated to another city in a hurry and did not pen the parcel from Pune. It took another year before he came back to his apartment in Chennai and opened the parcel. I was away in Bangalore and he delivered it to my husband and finally, I opened the parcel and unpacked the exquisite carved wooden hamsam.

Today, it sits next to my chair where I chant my prayers, where I read and spend my time. It reminds me of the Goddess Saraswathi who has blessed me with many of her gifts and grace. It reminds me of the Tutuma, of her love and affection for me that anchored my being. It reminds me of my brother Ramana who brought Tutuma into our family and who shared this lovely piece of art work generously with me……and I share it with you all!

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