Thursday, December 31, 2009

Madras by 11H

Last Saturday (26 December) dawned with me agreeing to my bossy sister, Jayashree’s suggestion that I make a trip to Paris Corner for her jewellery material purchase. I am not so confident about my expertise in checking out stuff, so I agreed quite reluctantly as it was an urgent requirement. 9.45 am saw me getting dropped by Ranga at Teynampet bus stop, wondering which bus I should take to reach the place fast. An 11H express service came in two minutes. Little did I know that I would be blogging about this trip! The bus was fairly crowded and I could not get a seat initially. As I crossed VTI, I recalled that it is such a nice place to spend time with lovely antiques to look at. Then came Spencer’s Plaza, a great place to hang out with friends. By this time I got a seat and the LIC Building appeared on the other side. How many times we have looked at this building in awe as this used to be the only high storey building in our Madras for a long time! The bus winded further through Mount Road, crossing Higgin Bothams, Tarapore Towers, touching the new assembly complex under construction as it curved into Wallajah Road. Many important buildings passed by and the bus turned into Kamarajar Salai (Beach Road). The imposing University Building was a great sight to behold right at the turning. By this time the bus was quite empty and I turned to the other side and what a sight it was!

The beautiful Marina Beach was looking so calm in the morning Sun with very little crowd. Out of the blue, I started praying to Goddess Mahalakshmi for the safety of my Madras city as this was the day Tsunami struck here five years earlier.

My eyes did not leave the beach until the bus reached Island Grounds. I was so tempted to give up my trip to Paris Corner and get down there. The replica of the Museum Art Gallery looks so majestic!  

However, the bus crossed this and went further down. Why have I never been to Fort St. George? I felt fierce pride for my city seeing the Fort. However the politicians are, they should feel honoured to have been elected by the public to be seated there, in that building. I had a glimpse of the Fort Museum and the huge walls of the Fort with a few cannons that are on displaly. Once again I felt the rush of pride seeing the imposing building of Reserve Bank of India! Even before the bus turned into NSC Bose Road, I was thrilled to see the wall of the High Court, recalling my Thatha’s pleasure in talking about his experiences there! The bus then crossed Kuralagam and entered into the Broadway bus stand, which happened to be the bus stop I had to get down and also the last stop for the bus.

I love my Madras!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TV programme

Morning on Jaya TV, for Marghazi they telecast Sri Vittaldas Maharaj’s upanyasam for about 10-15 min everyday. This morning’s (29.12.2009) episode was beautiful.

Mahavishnu is sitting on Adhiseshan with Mahalakshmi nearby. The Maharishis come for darshan and start crying on seeing the Lord. Mahalakshmi wonders why they cry, all these days they have been craving for darshan and now on receiving it, shouldn’t they be happy? She wonders why they are crying instead.

The explanation given by Sri Vittaldas: Mahalakshmi does not know how it is to be away from the Lord, because she is always in his heart. On the day she came out of the Paarkadal, she landed in his heart and has been there all the time. Even during Vamana Avathaaram when the Lord took the form of a Brahmin boy, she was there and he hid her with his melvasthiram (something similar to a dupatta worn by men). The Lord had promised Indra that he will give Mahabali’s kingdom and wealth to him. If he had not hidden Mahalakshmi with his melvasthiram, Mahabali would have had her blessings and the Lord couldn’t have kept his promise to Indra.   

An example: A mother leaves the child in the care of the grandparents and goes to work. The child gets up; notices that the mother is not there and cries for some time. Once distracted by toys, the child stops crying and is okay. In the evening, as soon as the mother comes home, the child cries again seeing her. It may be a strange sight, but the child has missed the mother so much, that it cries on seeing her. That is how the Maharishis cry on the Lord’s darshan.

Parents’ blessings: Nowadays, it has become the duty of grandparents to take care of their grandchildren as both the parents go out for work. Instead of being a pleasure, it has been forced on the old people now. The best way to remove the pressure is for the couple to fall at the feet of their parents every morning before going out so that they are blessed. Also involve the old people in day-to-day activities at home and important decision-making so that they don’t think of taking care of the children as a duty but as a joy.

You can catch this programme all days of Marghazi at 610 am on Jaya TV. His Bhakta Vijayam discourse is being telecast on all Sundays at 6 am. Here is a short bhajan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Six months in Bombay – Part I

I was sitting at home between jobs when my sister Sundari called from Bombay to say that she had had a fall and fractured her ankle. She had to undergo an operation and needed help. We all decided that I should go and I took the next available train to Bombay. That was the first time I travelled alone by train and the journey was pleasant. My cousin, Rajesh, came to the station to pick me up and took me to Sion where Sundari lives. The main reason I was called for help was because Sundari’s kids (Vinitha and Vignesh) were quite young then (8 and 4 years old).

The operation was planned the next day and we all shifted to the hospital in Vashi the same evening. It was quite a big hospital and the kids and I stayed there along with Sundari. My brother-in-law Venkat was with us during day time and went back home at night. It was a major operation and the doctor put a steel plate, seven screws and a steel wire in her ankle. I heard that the doctor had jokingly asked Venkat if he beaten her with a hockey stick as the bones were broken into such small pieces. But the fact was that she had slipped in the bathroom which has a tiny step between the threshold and the floor and her ankle had turned at that point. The sad part was that she had forgotten that she had put soap there and slipped over it. I don’t remember how she got back home after the operation not being able to walk. (Their flat is on the first floor and there is no lift)

After the stitches were removed, and she was allowed to move around, she was asked to use crutches for 2 1/2 months. When I think back, it sounds scary, but then we all took it in our stride. Not even the kids were worried to see their mother in crutches.

We settled down to a routine. I was not very familiar with cooking and for each and every stage, I had to take Sundari’s guidance. The first few days she instructed me from bed and after that, she used to sit in the kitchen with me. As the days went by, it was a major holiday for Sundari and me! We had such a great time together. The kids had Diwali holidays and everyday, Sundari taught me a new recipe and we tried out exotic North Indian dishes. Also a couple of friends and neighbours used to come often with more food items.

At Sundari’s father-in-law’s insistence, I practised serving food with my right hand, as earlier, being a left hander, I had the habit of serving food only with my left hand. I have to thank Mani Mama as this practice helped me when I got married!

I took the kids to Indira Market in Sion to buy new clothes for Diwali. It was good fun to bargain at the shops there with my broken Hindi. Not only Diwali shopping, I had a great time roaming around in Sion, buying various things from vegetables to clothes. Slowly I fell in love with Bombay especially Sion!

Our favourite past time was to call the cable TV guy and ask him to telecast the movies we liked. Vinitha used to make a list of all the Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan films and we used to watch all of them.

Both Vinitha and Vignesh were crazy about SRK (they are still crazy about him) and I remember that first time I bought a poster of SRK for them to be put on their cupboard. Having a movie actor’s photo or poster was unheard of in our household!

During this stay, I had the chance of going to Deolali, Shirdi and Surat. Details of these trips to be continued in more parts to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Great Ancestors - Part IV

Raja Thatha

This is about Raja Thatha – my paternal grandfather.

I did not have the opportunity to know my maternal grandfather as he passed away many years before I was born. So the only Thatha I know is my father’s father! He is the oldest living member of our family – all of 96. He was born in Manakkal on 2nd February 1913 to Nayana and Rajalakshmi Paati. With great love, they named him ‘Raja’ and to this day he lives up to his name – he gets royal treatment wherever he goes!

Thatha’s love for his grandchildren cannot be described in words. Whenever he eats food made by me, he will immediately say “you are the Number One cook out of all my grand daughters”. He will say the same thing when he eats the food made by any of my sisters. In his eyes, his grandchildren cannot do anything wrong. Such is his love for us! If any of his clients enquire about any of us, he proudly declares that “all my six grand daughters are graduates with first class!”

I am his youngest grand child and was showered with great love and affection by him when I was a kid. He still loves me the same way! The first thing I recall is that when I was a kid everyday morning as soon as Thatha woke up, I remember him carrying me on his shoulder. If I needed anything, it was very easy to route it through Thatha as he never denied me anything. I used to be fascinated by the spinning top (bambaram) and Thatha bought it for me despite Paati’s objection that I should not play with a top as I was not a boy! During Diwali, usually Appa made a list and bought all the crackers, but I remember Thatha buying a rocket shaped toy for the dot caps (guns and roll caps became popular only later). My sister Sabitha and I had a great time inserting the caps one by one in the rocket, standing on the Nayana room cot and dropping the rocket! Many years I have forced him to buy the damaaram for Bhogi! Amma and Paati used to get very irritated when Sabitha and I played the damaaram early in the morning on Bhogi day.

For a long time Thatha used to call me by the pet name “Dull dill”. Even my sisters used to tease me “dull adikara dill”. But I have to admit I was quite jealous when he transferred this name to my niece Divya, when she was a kid!

I cannot forget about the box he bought me. When I was in about third or fourth standard, I saw some of my classmates using aluminium boxes to carry books. I immediately asked Thatha for one. Others at home had not seen the box and I could not explain how it looked. With great enthusiasm which he shows in everything, Thatha bought me one bright orange plastic box. I refused to take the box to the school, insisting that it was not the one that I had asked for. Finally, the elders at home did not have a choice but to buy aluminium boxes, not just for me, but for Sabitha and Jayashree too. To differentiate and not to get mixed up in school also, our names were etched on the boxes. These boxes were in our home for a long time. The first bought plastic box also was there for sometime. Much later in life, I realised that the plastic box actually was very nice compared to the aluminium boxes!

Most of the days, when he came back from High Court, Thatha used to buy badam halwa or angoor boondhi. Angoor boondhi became my favourite and I in fact made this sweet for Diwali a few years ago. Whenever he went out of town, Thatha always bought eatables for his grand children. I have seen red guava only when Thatha bought it from Andhra. He also introduced all of us to the Pulla Reddy sweets oozing with ghee! I also remember he used to buy pattani kadalai almost every day on the way back from his cards playing session at T.Nagar. He also used to get us baskets full of mangoes during the season every year through his clients in Andhra Pradesh. It was a pleasure to watch Thatha peeling saathukudi, just making vertical marks on the skin with a knife and then peeling it with great ease. I still have not got this knack! I have also seen him cut keerai at home. He is a keerai lover and likes to have it everyday. Thayir pachadi is also a must for him. Of course without the mention of his vethalai paaku, this blog is incomplete. Everyday he used to have at least 8-10 sessions of chewing the vethalai paaku with sunnambu and also tobacco. He stopped using tobacco a few years back, but continues to chew vethalai paaku.

When we were young, he used to eat from a big oval silver plate. Though I don’t remember, I have heard Amma saying that all his grandchildren used to sit around him and he used to feed us all from his plate.

Amma says that you become an expert in serving food, if you are able to successfully serve food to Thatha. He used to eat at such a great speed. Despite the speed, he used to taste, relish and comment on all the items. One can consider herself a good cook, if she gets a good comment from Thatha as he is a connoisseur of food!

The speed is not just in eating, but in talking also! His command over the English language and the way he presents his case is too good. I have heard many people say that it is a great sight to watch him argue in the court. I seem to have missed the opportunity to witness such a scene! To this day, I panic when Thatha wants to dictate any letter because after the dictation, he will correct it at least four times to improve it. The first dictated version would have been definitely good enough, but he prefers to keep improving on it.

His clients say that once he enters the High Court building there is a spring in his step and after that even young people cannot keep up to his speed when he climbs the stairs. He treats his profession with so much of reverence to this day and I am sure only that gives him the energy!

Thatha taught me and all my sisters to play cards. He is an expert in cards. He used to have sessions of card playing many nights with his friends Nattu Mama and Stalin Mama who used to stay overnight at our home. Until recent years, Amma and Thatha used to play cards regularly in the evening writing down points religiously in a note book. My sisters, I and even my husband used to join whenever possible.

Thatha is an expert in astrology. He is good at studying and matching horoscopes for marriages. Many of his predictions have come true. I have also learnt a little bit of astrology from Thatha.

Thatha is a great Muruga Bhakta and has set tune to the Panchamirtha Vannam written by Pamban Swamigal. He has given many lectures and demonstrations on the works of Pamban Swamigal in many places including the Music Academy, Naradha Gana Sabha, Thamizh Isai Sangam and the Samadhi of Pamban Swamigal.

Thatha is a multi-faceted personality and can talk about anything under the Sun. He is a great lawyer, expert in Trade Marks, a devoted Muruga Bhakta, fine cards player, keen horse-race goer, good astrologer, ardent follower of cricket and tennis. He does not seem to have left any field. He even acted in a movie – Srimathi Parinayam. Though we have not seen the movie, we do have some still photographs from the film at home.

He played the role of Manmatha in the movie. He does look very handsome like Manmatha and my Chittappa says that to this day, Thatha has the best photogenic face in the whole family.

Even at this age he is very keen to understand the new technology of mobiles, laptops and the internet. I am very happy to have had the opportunity of showing him the website on his favourite Pamban Swamigal with the lyrics of Panchamirtha Vannam, Trade marks registry with its online journals and some online Carnatic music. He enjoyed all these with the same zest he shows about everything in life!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Soorasamharam at Vadapalani Temple

Immediately after our trip to Mylai Karpagambal Koil for the Golu, my sister Jayashree decided that she will take me to Vadapalani Koil for Soorasamharam during Kanda Sashti. I readily agreed to this as Murugan is my all time favourite God!

Last Friday, being the sixth and last day of Kanda Sashti, we checked with Vadapalani temple and found that Soorasamharam will start by 7 pm. We left our respective offices by 5.30 pm and met at the bus stop near the temple. Jayashree’s friend, Lakshmi also accompanied us. We entered the road leading to the temple and found several policemen controlling the crowd behind the rope barricades. As it was only about 6.15 pm then, we decided to go into the temple for darshan and then come back and find a place to stand.

As expected the temple was quite crowded. First we had a good darshan of Vinayakar followed by Sokkanadhar, looking very majestic with velli kavasam and suriyan and chandran on either side on the top of the Lingam. We could just have a quick look at the Valli Devasena samedha Subramaniyar as there was a big crowd at this sannidhi. Murugan was looking very handsome with vibudhi kaapu. The huge mandapam near this sannidhi was very crowded and we could not see what was happening inside. We understood that Murugan Ambalidam vel vaangum katchi (before the battle) was happening there. In the front part of the mandapam was the Urchavamurthy on Mayil vaahanam. The Lord was in regal alangaram. We gave the panneer bottle we had bought there and had archanai done for all of us. We took the prasadam and went to Sevvai sannidhi and had a good darshan there. Next was Meenakshi Ammai’s sannidhi. Ambal was looking beautiful in manjal kaapu in a grand pink nine yards sari. We spent quite a few minutes there taking in the beauty of the Goddess. Next was the kannaadi mandapam with Arumugar. I noticed that this mandapam has been made into a smaller one since before. During my earlier visits, I have noticed that the mandapam was big enough for one to do pradakshinam inside whereas now they have made it smaller that one can do pradakshinam only outside the mandapam. We could not see the tail of the queue to the Moolavar - வடபழனி ஆண்டவர் sannidhi as it was extremely long. We just took a chance and jumped onto the high platform and had a quick glimpse of Murugan in Raja alangaram. By the time we went near the Dwajasthambam to do namaskaram, there was a sudden rush and we realised that a smaller idol of Lord Murugan was being taken round the temple.

We immediately rushed out of the temple so that we can find a good place for main event for which we had come – Soorasamharam. As soon as we came out, we noticed that the crowd had doubled and there was no way we could get a place to stand near the temple. We were pushed into a street on the left side of the temple and were allowed to stand there outside the rope barricades.

When we had entered the temple, the loudspeakers were playing devotional songs, but now, we could hear the story of Kandapuranam being narrated with a commentary in between on when the Soorasamharam will begin. As the time neared, there was a frenzy in the crowd and a tiff between the police and the public with the police warning us to take precautions as during the procession, there was a chance of chain snatching, pickpocket etc. People inside the rope barricade objected to our standing in front of them and we were pushed further inside the road.

We started wondering whether we will get at least a glimpse of Soorasamharam from our position and lo and behold, Soorapadman came right in front of us and Murugan fought with him in front of us and beheaded him. Sooran came with Aatu thalai and was beheaded again. Maatu thalai, Puli thalai, Yaali thalai and Yaanai thalai followed and all the battles took place very near us. Each time the Sooran came near us, we were pushed towards the wall by the crowd and as soon as he was beheaded and taken to the centre, the crowd again moved to the centre and so on!

As it was Bala Murugan who defeated the Sooran, the idol of Murugan was quite small compared to that of Sooran. Despite the small stature, the Lord appeared quite royal. After beheading the different forms of Sooran, the Sooran reappeared with his original face and Murugan did the Samharam. The narrator explained that though actually the Sooran took the form of a Maamaram (mango tree) and Murugan cut it vertically and it transformed into Seval and Mayil, it was not possible to show this in this event and hence the Samharam is shown with Sooran’s original face itself. After the Samharam, the procession went to the centre in front of the temple and the crowd started moving. We had a darshan of the huge Urchavamurthy of Murugan decked with many flower garlands and grand alangaram and moved out of the place without getting caught in the crowd.

Thank you, Jayu, for the wonderful experience of Soorasamharam.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Golu in Mylai Karpagambal Koil

In spite of being a Chennaite, my visit to Mylai Karpagambal temple has been very rare, may be once or twice in a year.

From childhood, all of us in the family tried to avoid temple visits on festival days because of the crowd. My sister Jayashree is an exception. She has been making it a point to visit temples on festival days so that she can experience the festivities and enjoy the grandeur! During this Navarathri from day four, she has been suggesting that I go with her to Karpagambal temple on Vijayadasami. To tempt me, she mailed me a few photographs of the Golu in the temple taken by her friend.
Yesterday being a holiday for Vijayadasami, we started for the temple around 630 pm. The auto driver refused to enter the maada veedhi as it was so crowded. We got down at the beginning of the road and started walking down. With great difficulty we kept looking forward and continued walking, avoiding the temptation of the many dolls on sale either side of the road. We decided to have a look at the doll shops only after visiting the temple. As we entered the temple, we were taken aback by the queue standing for general darshan. Luckily, tickets were being given for special darshan and we could enter the sanctum in two minutes. Ambal was looking beautiful! As we had special darshan tickets, we were asked to go round the sannidhi and stand in the special queue. After about 10-12 minutes we reached the sannidhi again and were allowed to sit in front of the deity. I thanked Jayashree then and there! Such was the darshan! We could see the Goddess so close and sit for about 3-4 minutes in front of her. Very satisfied and happy, we proceeded to Kapaleeswarar sannidhi. Again the ticket helped and we were able to sit in front of the Lingam and have a good darshan. I realised that the size of the Lingam in this temple had never registered during my earlier visits. The alangaram was simple but very impressive! We came out and our eyes went in the direction of the Golu there but we forced ourselves to complete the pradhakshinam before going near the Golu. We visited the Annamalayar and Unnamulaiamman sannidhi, Ganapathi sannidhi, Sthala vriksham (punnai maram) with the sannidhi of Ambal in the form of mayil doing puja to Siva lingam, Navagraha sannidhi and Singara Velar sannidhi. Again at Singara Velar sannidhi, we could sit in front of the Lord and have a relaxed darshan.
We then had the darshan of Urchavamurthy of Lord Shiva and Ambal decked with thousands of flowers of different colours. There were about six mirrors in front of the Urchavamurthy in six different pillars that people can see the reflections over and over. On the four sides of each of the pillars were dolls of different Gods and Goddesses.

Now we went in the direction of the Golu. What a sight it was! This year’s speciality is Ashtadik Golu.  The idols were kept in eight directions. There was a long queue in front of the Golu and we joined it. We did not know which side to look! Hope to briefly describe the idols in each dhikku:

1. Rajarajeswari, followed by different forms of Ambal - Meenakshi, Kamakshi, Visalakshi and what not!

2. Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi followed by Vadivudai amman, Kodi idai amman and Thiruvudai amman. On ground level, a beautifully decorated ratham with seer varisai

3. Saraswathi in the top step followed by Lord Shiva in meditation, Natarajar, two idols of Adhi sankarar, Mahavishnu with Lakshmi, Kolkata Kali.

4. This step had beautiful idols depicting the story of Gnanappaal given to Thirugnanasambandar with idols of Shiva, Parvathi feeding milk to Gnanasambandar with Nandhi nearby. On the lower level was Dattathreyar and Mahalakshmi followed by Thiruvannamalai set.

5. Lord Shiva with his family on top step, followed by many idols of the Lord on many Vahanas and then Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with their consorts. Lower level was Lord Shiva in different forms. On the last step were Chettiar Chettichi with a variety of vegetables on one side and their north Indian counterpart with choppu on the other side.

6. Next was the side with my favourite God – Murugan. On top was Arumugan with pannirukaikal (with a mirror behind so that one can see all the six faces), followed by six idols of Murugan as he gives darshan in his Aru padai veedugal. Next step had Murugan with Valli, Deivanai on thogai viritha mayil. Next was Bala Murugan with crown and vel. He was looking so adorable that I felt like lifting and hugging him! On one side Soorapadman transformed into a tree, seval and mayil and a set with pilgrims climbing the hill with the gopuram on the hill and the other side Avvai and Murugan in Suttapazham/Sudathapazham story and Saravana poigai kaatchi. Below the Bala murugan, there was a ratham set with pilgrims

7. Medium sized idols of Annamalayar in full alangaram with Unnamulaiamman in nine yards sari. I kept on looking at the beauty of Amman for 2-3 minutes. This side had Ashtalakshmi, Dakshinamurthy and sets depicting Lord Shiva’s thiruvilayadal, Kanakadhara set etc.

8. A huge Ganapathy surrounded by different forms of the same God. Next step was Viswaroopadarshanam of Mahavishnu with Arjuna at his feet. Such a detailed sculpture! Around the Viswaroopam was Dasavatharam with a ratham and another Ganapathy in the centre.

With great reluctance we came out and started to have a look at the doll shops. Such lovely dolls! Prices were exorbitant and we could not bargain much. We just satisfied ourselves with window shopping and went back home!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Adventure in Hong Kong

When we won Air India tickets to Hong Kong, I was ecstatic but never had an idea that it was going to be so adventurous. The first three days went off well with good local sightseeing, trip to China and a day in Disneyland. On Day Four, we went on a trip to Ocean Park. The bus had tourists not only from our hotel but from other hotels as well and on our way to Ocean Park, our guide spoke non-stop. His talking was a lullaby for us as at 800 am HK time, we were feeling quite sleepy! Finally I heard him saying that if we do not wait in the place shown by him in the evening, he will come and pick us up the next day. We also smiled at this joke of his like everyone else and got down from the bus to enter the park.

Only after entering, we understood how massive it was. We checked the map and noticed that the famous Dolphin Show was at regular intervals of two hours. We planned to watch the show at 3 pm as it was on the ground level close to the entrance we had come through.

We then proceeded to different levels via the escalators which ran up to 3-4 levels very high from the ground and had a great time going on the rides, having a look at the various aquatic animals like sharks, sea-lions, whales and many other kinds of fish in their natural surroundings. There were not only aquatic animals but a couple of Pandas and many birds too, all in their natural habitats. Some rides were very nice but some were really scary. I refused to get into the mine train, but Ranga was very keen to go and had good fun. I enjoyed the ride on the Ocean Park tower which revolved from a lower level to the higher level at a medium speed giving us a full view of the Ocean Park. I also loved the cable car ride by which we came back to the entrance to go to the Dolphin Show.

Sharp at 2.30 pm we proceeded to the show with a huge coke in hand and found good seats. The show was great and the dolphins looked so cute. They did all the antics the trainer made them do and it was a pleasure to watch them. The show was for about 30 minutes and when it ended we came straight to the entrance praising ourselves for being prompt as we were the first ones to come and wait for the bus. Little did we realise that we will be the only ones to wait there! 4.10 pm saw us checking with the may I help you counter? about the bus. The people there were very helpful as they allowed us to make a call to the agency. Only after the call we understood that we were supposed to wait at the other end of the park. Even if we were allowed to enter the park (only we had already used the ticket to enter once) it would take a minimum of 30 minutes to cross the distance and reach the other end. We considered taking a taxi and reaching the other side by road, but it was already 4.30 pm and we remembered what the guide had said and panicked.

As we were wondering how to reach the hotel as taxis were too expensive to travel such a long distance, the Help Counter came to our rescue once again. They suggested that we take a bus to Hong Kong city and then take the ferry from there to the hotel. This gave us some confidence as by walking on the first two days from the hotel to the ferry, we were a bit familiar with Kowloon area. We got a bus within 10 minutes and were seated comfortably. As soon as we sat, I opened the detailed map of the city which we were given at the hotel and thanked God. I also mentally acknowledged my friend Anil thanks to whom, I had got into the habit of studying maps in detail. I followed the bus route on the map. We reached the city and enquiring once or twice, reached the ferry. After that it was quite simple to find our hotel. Though I felt that it was quite adventurous to find our own way in a strange city, Ranga breathed easy only after we saw the familiar sight of Kimberley Hotel.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Waterbodies of India I

Being a Chennaite, I love our Marina Beach. In fact when we were young, visit to the Beach was our favourite outing. Amma and Paati used to take us all to the Beach from our house in Nungambakkam and Appa would join us there straight from office. The standard meeting place was at the Kannagi statue. At first I was very scared by the huge sheets of waves. I remember my eldest sister Sujatha used to lift me and every time a wave came, she used to bend down and dip my feet in the water. She is 10 years elder to me and must have been about 14-15 years when she did that. I am not sure if I would have had the courage to do such a thing at her age. Thank you Sujatha for introducing me to the beach! Slowly I came to know water was fun and fell in love with it.

My first river bath was in the Thungabhadra. I may have had the chance to have a dip in Cauvery earlier than that, but I do not remember it. About Thungabhadra, we had been to Adoni to my mother’s uncle’s (Kittappa Chittappa) place for summer holidays and went to Mantralayam from there. I actually do not remember the temple now, but I do remember bathing in the river very well. I was about six years old. My parents just made me stand in chest deep water. Appa joked that he could feel a few fishes biting him. I started jumping in the water and wanted to get out immediately as though the small fishes were going to eat me whole!

In 1985, we all went to Patna for my uncle’s (SV Prasad) wedding. Ganga flowing in Patna is called Akanda Ganga as she runs in a very wide path there. It was very nice and pleasant to have a bath here and I realised that I liked river bathing too. After the wedding, our family alone proceeded to Allahabad. Here again we bathed in the Triveni Sangamam. Here, we could very clearly see the colour difference where the Ganga and Yamuna met. River Saraswathi is supposed to come from underneath and invisible. This trip was really enjoyable and I would like to make a separate blog on this North India trip. Our next stop was at Varanasi where we bathed in the Ganga on 2-3 days. In spite of so much of junk being thrown in, the river remains pure!

After Varanasi, Appa took us all to Rameswaram. On the way to Rameswaram, we went to Thiruchendur. What a sea it was! We went in for a dip but many of us fell into the water as the sea was very rough, but it was great fun.

At Rameswaram, the sea is very calm, almost like backwaters and only during high tide, it is a little wavy. So it was almost like bathing in a river. We all enjoyed it so much! I am very happy to have visited Rameswaram four times so far. The last trip was with my husband, mother-in-law, brothers-in-law and their families and was real fun. Twice we went to the sea for bathing and both the times it was at high tide and very wavy.

Dhanushkodi – what a beautiful place! Out of the four visits to Rameswaram so far, I have been to Dhanushkodi thrice. Each time this place looked different. My second visit was after the tsunami and I could see that the sea had come way inside eating into the shore. At Dhanushkodi we could see the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean joining at a point. During the latest trip, we performed some pujas there and had the opportunity to stay for a longer period. While the men were busy with the puja, I was very happily walking on the beach collecting shells. The kids and I were very keen to go as much as possible into the sea and at one point we all just sat inside the sea and enjoyed the waves crashing on us. As it was morning, the weather was mildly sunny and the water was quite cool. I really love the sea here and would like to visit again.

On my third trip to Rameswaram which was a package trip with about 100 odd people, we all went to Devipattinam. I have heard about this place first in Kalki’s Alaiosai and then from my sister Sujatha. The Navagraham here is said to have been worshipped by Lord Rama on his way to Lanka. The uniqueness of this Navagraham is that during high tide, they are completely submerged in the water and only during low tide, can we do puja or pradakshinam. After having bath in the sea here, we did the perambulations around the Navagraham in waist-deep water.

Though Kumbakonam is my hometown, I have bathed in the Cauvery only once during my visit to Nallur with Appa.

Hope to have a bath in Cauvery once again and also visit the other Holy Rivers of India!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Miss U Chintu


For a long time, I did not realise the love I had for animals. None of us at home had any aversion towards animals, but with a huge family, there was no question of a pet at home at all!

My eldest sister, Sujatha, has a few dogs at home. These are quite huge and though they are quite friendly, I get a bit scared by their size.

When my third sister Jayashree took in a stray dog, I realised that I liked Princy very much. In fact, I have become so close to Princy, that nowadays when she sees me, she wags her tail so much that Jayashree keeps saying that with so much of wagging, the tail may fall off! As soon as I go nearby, she jumps on me and licks my hand.

For a short while, my second sister, Sundari, had a cat in their house in Bombay and it was a friendly one.

My eldest sister-in-law, Saraswathi Manni feeds a cat which comes home 4-5 times to her door and calls for attention. Manni does not allow the cat inside the house and the cat also understands her terms and conditions perfectly. Only I try to go near her and touch her, but she shies away.

A couple of months back, my second brother-in-law, Nagaraj Anna brought a 45-day-old Labrador from his friend’s house. I went to see the puppy only two days after he came. He was such a lovable baby! I was there for more than an hour and half the time he was asleep. I put him on my lap and he went to sleep there. He was so small and cuddly. Even my husband, who does not have a great love for animals, was fascinated by him. He had such lovely grey eyes. Anna and family named him Chintu.

The following weeks saw us making frequent visits to Anna’s house to see Chintu. Each time we could make out that he had grown up a little more and had become more and more adorable. He was growing rapidly and became too heavy to lift after 3-4 weeks. His eyes also changed to such a lovely shade of honey brown.

He loves people so much. He is crazy about any visitor and ready to jump, lick and also mildly bite them. He barks so sweetly. When my sister-in-law, Indra Manni, scolds him for biting people, it is great to see him objecting (by barking) to her scolding. Anna says that there is a constant fight between Manni and Chintu and he is the peacemaker between them. Though Chintu loves both Karthik and Krishna (Anna’s sons), Krishna is his favourite and he listens to whatever he says. Krishna also allows him to do all the jumping, licking, biting and playing that he wants. He is allowed to roam around the house freely except the kitchen and he has a great time playing around. He hates to be alone and loves having many people paying constant attention to him. It is a lovely sight to see him waiting to greet you when you enter the house.

Yesterday Anna gave us the sad news that he had to give away Chintu to his friend as the people living in the neighbouring flat were objecting to having a dog in the building. Others in the family were too upset to even talk to us. Can’t blame them, my husband and I also got so upset!

Good bye Chintu, hope you have a great life in your new family!

Monday, August 17, 2009

My visit to Temples - Part V

Kailasanathar Kovil, Kanchipuram

I had the chance to visit this temple only on my fourth trip to Kanchipuram.

This trip was with my mother in law, sister in law (Saraswathi Manni) and niece (Shwetha). Manni and Shwetha were planning the trip and I got a chance to join them.

First we went to Kamakshi Amman temple, Ekambareswarar temple and then to Kailasanathar temple. In my earlier visits I had been to Kamakshi temple, Ekambareswar temple and a few other temples, but this was my first visit to Kailasanathar temple.

It seemed to be away from the buzz of the town and looked more like a tourist spot minus the crowd. There were a few shops selling assorted stuff on the left and on the right side was the temple. The first impression I had of the temple was – oh, this reminds me of Mammallapuram (another favourite place) The temple had Pallava stamp all over. There was a board mentioning that it is maintained by the archaeological survey of India as a monument, and what a monument it is! The architecture is GRAND. All structures are made out of limestone and typical Pallava style of work. So many statues, pillars and intricate carving! It was built by Rajasimha Pallava (Narasimha Pallava II)

I would have liked to spend more time there but we were on a half a day trip to the town and on a tight schedule.

We went inside the sanctum and there was lone Shivalingam. It is a huge Lingam with stripes on it. Instead of the usual path for pradakshinam, there was a small entrance on either side of the Lingam. Manni told me that one has to bend and crawl inside the entrance on the left and then the path becomes large enough for one to walk around and again at the exit on the right side, a crawl. This signifies the birth and death cycle – if you go inside and come out, you are in a new janam and your earlier sins are washed away! Only a few people ventured the crawl, I definitely wanted to try but was a little scared because of my size. The kurukkal in the temple encouraged me by saying that size does not matter, even small made people may find it difficult to go in, just pray to God and get in. I managed it, went in and walked around the path. Crawling out was easier than crawling in. I really loved the experience and have been ever since describing it to sisters and friends about it.

Thank you Manni and Shwetha for taking me there!

Next trip to Kanchipuram, I hope to spend more time in the town and especially this temple to study the architecture in detail.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Visit to Temples - Part IV


This is a temple that I want to visit very often, but so far have had the opportunity to visit just the once. Nallur is a Sivan temple near Kumbakonam. When I was young, I was not aware of the existence of this temple. In 1974, an astrologer reminded my Pattu Paati of this temple and a yearly pooja our family was supposed to perform to the Kaali here.

My father gathered information about the temple and the yearly rituals to be performed. I had the chance of visiting this temple only in the year 1989 with my father for that year’s mandakapadi (மண்டகபடி) which is usually on the third Monday of the Tamil Karthigai month. It was raining heavily when we reached Kumbakonam. We had a bath in the Cauvery River and proceeded to the temple. When I saw the Shiva lingam, I fell in love with the Lord! Appa had earlier told me how the colour changes every 2 ½ hours but his description had not prepared me for what I saw with my own eyes!

The Goddess at the temple is Girisundari Ambal and I prayed to her for a good career. I had just finished my graduation that year and had been wondering about what to do. The Goddess blessed me with a good job.

This temple is a Maada Kovil. Kochengan Chola built many such Shiva temples. In a Maada Kovil one has to climb 10-15 steps to reach the sanctum. It is said that he built such temples to ensure the elephants do not reach the sanctum.

Lord Shiva is called Kalyanasundareswarar here. When Shiva married Parvathi, the whole world went to Himalayas to witness the wedding. With the result, North was pulled down by the weight and South went up. To level this, Shiva sent Sage Agastya down south, assuring him that he will be able to see the wedding (கல்யாண காட்சி) in Nallur. Behind the Lingam, one can see huge structures of Shiva and Parvathi in Kalyana kolam.
Another name of this Lord is Panchavarneswarar – meaning Lord of five colours. Nobody knows out of what material the Lingam is made, but the Lingam changes colour every nazhigai (2 ½ hours). I had the chance of seeing the colour change from a reddish shade to a golden colour. கண் கொள்ளா காட்சி! The Lingam also has hole-like marks (வண்டு குடைந்த லிங்கம்). The story behind this is once Bhrigu Maharishi said that he will pray only to the Lord and not Goddess Parvathi. When Parvathi said that it is not possible as they were Ardhanareeswara, Bhrigu Maharishi took the form of a vandu (bee) and went through the Lingam to pray only to the Lord.
This is the only Shiva temple were Shadaari (சடாரி) is offered. Usually Shadaari is part of Vishnu temples. It is said that Appar (திருநாவுக்கரசர்) had Lord Shiva’s Paadha darisanam here and that is why devotees are offered Shadaari on the premises.
It is said that when Kunti was in this region, she was advised to have a bath each in the seven seas to cleanse the sin of having had a child before marriage (Karnan). As she wondered how to manage this humungous task, all the seven seas came into the temple Pushkarani (pond). The Pushkarani here is called Sapta Saagaram. The conch (சங்கு) that is kept at the Lord’s feet came out of this Pushkarani. It is said that bathing in this Pushkarani cures all diseases.

Girisundari Ambal is a small but very beautiful Goddess. As I have mentioned earlier, my career took off only due to her blessings!
The Kaali here is very powerful and to this day in my parents’ house for any wish to be fulfilled, we pray to this Kaali and put some coins in a knot and keep it. Once the wish is fulfilled, the knot is opened and the coins are offered to the Goddess.
Every year my father makes it a point to collect money from all his cousins and their children’s families for the yearly mandakapadi and ensures the money reaches on time. He also goes to the temple for this occasion whenever he can.
So far I had the chance of going to this temple only once. I strongly believe that you can visit any temple only if the God is ready to give you darshan. Within a year, I tried visiting this temple twice, once was during the last year’s ritual when the trip was cancelled due to heavy rains and now during the recent trip to Kumbakonam, we decided to go to the temple, but in the last minute we were informed that it is too out of the way from the other temples and difficult to cover. Hope Girisundari grants me a darshan soon!

My Great Ancestors - III

Lakshmi Paati

Lakshmi Paati – called as Bombay Paati (because she spent many years in Bombay) by all in the family is the eldest in our family (born in 1911). She is my mother-in-law’s mother. Though she is bed ridden now, she was a very active person until the last 3-4 years. I remember Paati and me taking a bus back from Adyar to K K Nagar in 1995 when she was 84 years old! Nowadays though she is a bit confused at times, most of the time she responds to our questions. These days the favourite question and answer session between Paati and me is:

I : பாட்டி, நா யார் சொல்லுங்கோ
Paati : ஜெயமா? ஜானகியா? And a few other names will also follow.
I : இல்ல, நா லக்ஷ்மி
Paati : என் பெயரும் லக்ஷ்மிதான் (with a guffaw)

If I ask her what she ate, she does not remember. But once any slokam is played on the tape/TV, she will start whispering the slokams along and her feet will be tapping to the tune.

Nobody would have suffered like Paati, losing her brother, husband early in life, son, daughter-in-law in their prime, daughter, sons-in-law in her old age. But for her attitude towards life, she would not have survived so many losses! She just follows the motto “do your duty and leave the rest to God!”

I met her 15 years back when I got married and from that time, I have never seen her worry or cry over something. Always a cheerful attitude and ready to do any help that she can to her children!

When she used to come and stay with us in our K K Nagar house, many times I have teasingly asked her “பாட்டி, Singapore போலாமா ”, USA போலாமா", she never said “எனக்கு எதுக்கு அதெல்லாம்” always used to say “okay, போலாமே” எப்ப flight பிடிக்கலாம்?".

I got to hear this funny story from Paati. Once, my father-in-law and Paati came by bus from Perambur to K K Nagar. My father-in-law went in the front near the driver seat to chat with the him leaving Paati in a seat in the back. As soon as she saw the K K Nagar Pillayar Temple, Paati thought they have reached home and worried that son-in- law will leave her and get down, hurriedly got down from the bus! Our house in K K Nagar is two bus stops ahead of Pillayar temple. Only after the bus left, did she realise that my father-in-law had not got down and the bus stop was not right. While my parents-in-law were worried about her, Paati hurriedly walked all the distance and reached home. In her panic, she did not even think of taking an auto! It was great to hear her laughingly narrate the story.

My husband says that Paati is more modern in her outlook than any of her daughters.
Once when he was in school, Paati was taking care of him and his brothers at home when my mother-in-law was out of town. My husband and his brother wanted to make omelette at home which was a taboo. Paati indulged her grandchildren’s wish and allowed them to do it! This is only a sample of her modern outlook!

Her will power is also worth a mention; she had a fall in 1996, broke her thigh bone and had an operation. She travelled back to Madras with her daughter (Hema Chitti) from Coimbatore by train in December 1996.

Even when she is bed ridden today, all her body parameters are perfect; she does not have BP, Sugar or any other ailment. It is just plain old age and system is slowing down to a snail’s pace.

I am very happy to have had the chance to know this Paati and have some good times with her.

Love you Lakshmi Paati!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Great Ancestors - II

Saraswathy Paati and her beloved grandson Duraju

Saraswathy Paati is my grandmother, Pattu Paati’s mother. As Pattu was the eldest child of Saraswathy Paati, she got married at an early age to my grandfather, Raja Thatha and my father Durairajan was born to them on September 28, 1933. Though Appa was born in Madras (In my family only Appa and I were born in dear Madras, all my sisters and my mother were born in our hometown Kumbakonam), he spent his early years in Kumbakonam with his dear Paati Saraswathy.

I do not remember this Paati alive as I was just about three years when she passed away (1900-1972) . I can only recall seeing her body in their house in Mint Street, Madras.

Paati was an embodiment of love and affection, she showered so much of love on her eldest grandson (my father) when he grew up there. He was given preferential treatment over her own sons, a couple of them being the same age group as my father.

To this day my father talks about his Paati’s cooking and the variety of food she used to feed him. When any dish made by any of us comes out very tasty, he says “Saraswathy Paati, Saraswathy Paati” meaning, it is as good as what Paati used to make! That is a great compliment in our household because even my Raja Thatha who is a connoisseur of food admits that his mother-in-law was one of the best cooks!

One interesting story my father tells us often is that when he was a kid, Paati gave him a few annas and a vessel (சொம்பு) and asked him to buy oil from a shop two streets away. Appa being a kid spread his hands and ran like an aero plane, bought the oil, ran back home in a flying posture, spilling all the oil. Paati, with all her love for her grandson, did not scold him. Today, I am able to understand the difficulty she would have faced with that loss of money and oil as those were very tough days

When she became old, she used to come and stay in our house for short periods. Our household followed the rule of women eating only after the men and my Thatha used to have his bath, pooja and lunch quite late. Saraswathy Paati used to get hungry by then but had always been too scared that son in law will be angry if she eats before him. My mother used to force her to eat when she was hungry and not wait for my Thatha to have his lunch. Of course, this was followed in our house as a general practice and not because the men will get angry. My Thatha never checked who ate before or after him, he used to go about his activities busily.

Recently a few details my Rajamani Chittappa gave me about the tough time Saraswathy Paati had with her husband (TPK Thatha) made me appreciate her value even more. Hats off to her tolerance!

I wish she had lived for some more years, so that I would have had the chance to meet this great person!

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Great Ancestors

Affectionately referred to as ‘Nayana’ my great grandfather was a remarkable man. His children had begun calling him Nayana (Nayana meaning Father in Telugu) when he had been working in Andhra Pradesh and the name just got stuck and even we, his great grand children and others who knew him refer to him as Nayana. His real name was Kandaswamy. I was about 7 years old when he passed away but I do remember him very well.

In fact the first room where he used to have a cot for himself when he used to come and stay with us in Madras was referred by us as Nayana Room. Nayana had nine children who he called his ‘Nine Gems’. He was justified in calling them Gems as each of his children has come up so well in life. All credit, of course, goes to Nayana who single-handedly brought up his children after he lost his wife when his ninth child (Durai Thatha) was less than two years old. He ensured all his sons were at least a Graduate with some of them being double graduates. He got both his daughters married into good families.

I have heard many stories about Nayana from my parents and grand parents.

He had a twin brother named Venkatraman and a sister Valambal. If fact, the story of how the twins were born, is quite interesting. Nayana’s parents (Vaidyanathan and Lakshmi) got Valambal Athai married very young and she became a child widow (virgin widow). As she was also widowed early in life, Valambal Athai prayed to God that her father’s lineage should continue and because of her prayers her parents had twin sons! The twins were born with a gap of about 24 hours, don’t know how Lakshmi Paati bore the pain for 24 hours! They named their sons Venkatraman (after our Kula Deivam – Thirupathi Venkatramana Swami) and Kandaswamy (after our Ishta Deivam – Thirutani Murugan).

At one stage in life, as they had financial difficulties, I heard that one of the brothers used to go for work and help the other study and then the other way round.

When Nayana sought Rajalakshmi Paati’s hand for marriage, her father asked Nayana, “How will you take care of my daughter?” and Nayana raised both is hands up in the air and answered with pride, “With my two hands.” His father-in-law was impressed as his daughter’s would-be was determined to work hard and take care of his wife. And Nayana did just that. This particular story I have heard from the horse’s mouth. Nayana used to gaze at Rajalakshmi Paati’s photo that we have at home and tell us all that the jewels she was wearing were all bought by him.

Nayana lived up to the ripe age of 92 (1885 – 1976) and I do remember that even during his last trip to Madras for one of his grandsons’ wedding, he was quite strong and used to walk regularly up and down our long balcony. That trip, he was very clear it was his last trip to Madras and even when my mother suggested that he stay back for some more time, he insisted that he will go back to Bombay. He was staying with one of his sons (Pattapa Thatha) in Peddar Road, Bombay. After he passed away, we came to know that he had got his time of death predicted by one of his friends long ago and was ready to move on when the time came!

He was very independent and used to have his money, medicines, soaps and powders separately and in fact used to offer others balms for headaches. Of course, he never forgot to take things back from them after use!

He was strong enough to bear the loss of two of his sons and daughters-in-law in their prime.

The main characteristic he inculcated in his children was honesty in their profession, which all his children followed and still follow! In fact this trait of honesty and hard work has carried down to the next generation, our generation and the next one too!