Wednesday, 14 October 2009

NAVARATHRI IN NEWPORT

It is Diwali this weekend - and nothing outside the home to show for it. But so it was for Navarathri.

I was missing all the Navarathri fun, I felt, and I did miss the seeing the kolus of Madras.

So I was pleasantly surprised when my nephew and his wife invited me over for kolu. We went expecting an artistic arrangement of mementoes and cute toys.


Imagine my delight when I saw a display on five steps (made with stuff bought from Home Depot - the famous do it yourself chain store) and lovely kolu bommai's on them in glorious bright colours. Shalini told me that they had brought the dolls over from Madras over various trips. I admired her - with a toddler and a five year old, and going to work, she had done a wonderful job - and asking people over too to visit the displays and feeding them ‘sundal’ and coffee! Shalini told me that some of her friends also had kolu displays.

This part of Jersey city where we live, called Newport, does have quite a few South Indians. There are many like us, parents who have come to be with their children and grandchildren for a while. And they have formed a kind of informal group who meet in the evenings regularly. Being a sedentary kind of character, I prefer to be at home and play with Samyukta.

Meanwhile I learnt from Jago,a lady who assists us with the cooking,that in another part of Jersey city there was a different kind of celebration on the Friday night of Navrathri.

We decided to check it out - and when we went there, I could not believe I was in the USA, and that this was not India. Such was the atmosphere that night. The main street had been closed to traffic by 9 pm, and there were police cars on either side to keep it blocked. We left home - Vandana’s parents and I,leaving a sleeping Samyukta with her father and grandfather. A stage had been constructed on the side of the road on which a lady and her group were singing popular dandiya numbers, to which everyone was dancing. There were young and old, men and women, some carrying babies in their arms,traditionally and colourfully dressed, all dancing away to the hypnotic rhythm.

(Click on collage for an enlarged view)

I watched open mouthed, amazed at this show of a part of India – I am told most of the Indian population in this area is from the North. Those present there on that day were mostly second and third generation immigrants, keeping the tradition of their country of origin alive. We watched for nearly an hour, the tempo never slowed nor the mood fade.

Funnily I have never seen a dandiya dance at home – Navarathri in Madras is mostly about kolu!

Let me see now what is in store for Diwali - the twinkling illuminations across the river are a part of every night. “Just wait till Thanksgiving and the Christmas season,” says Sriram.


For Diwali at home, we have planned on celebrating as usual – new clothes, sweets and the other trappings minus the fireworks.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

FLYING TO SAMYUKTA



It was like never before – we had reached a new high(?!) in leaving for the airport at night to catch the 1.40 am Lufthansa flight from Chennai to Newark via Frankfurt.

I have never enjoyed this travelling overseas business, the red tape unnerves me. Filling in forms is a nightmare, and at the other end I dread immigration and customs. And I always wonder why Scottie can’t be around, to beam me up.

We had to wait a bit to check in, but after that it wasn’t too bad, though of course I missed the comfort of my bed where I would rather have been at that hour. Only the thought of the great pleasure waiting for us at the end of the trip kept me going.

As usual I had asked for a window seat, and as usual all that I could see out of it was the wing of the plane. It never ceases to amaze me how I consistently get such window seats.

Our seats had blankets and pillows but no courtesy package of toothpaste toothbrush and bed socks normally provided by the airlines on these long hauls. My sister-in-law who was traveling with us asked the air hostess why there was no pouch and had got the reply that the airline was economising. Economising! I was glad we got some food and was relieved to see that I had my own private mini screen to watch movies on – the flight would not be so boring after all.

The journey was a comfy one though a bit squishy. Lean forward and you bumped into the headrest of the seat ahead of you, lean back and you bumped into the knees of the person sitting behind. Was Lufthansa economizing on space as well? How would we manage to open out the little tables fitted into the back of the seat ahead of us?

A long break of five hours at Frankfurt - it was quite uneventful - and we were on the next lap of our journey, which was shorter by two hours. And this time too there were no pouches with toothpaste and brushes, and worse still, no choice of movies or private screen for the Economy Class – economy had begun right here

We were in Newark after a peaceful flight, which is what one ultimately wants really, cleared immigration - time consuming because of the fingerprinting and having our mugshots taken, and answering questions like the why and wherefore of
our visit, and previous visits - got our passports stamped. Next was baggage collection and customs and we were finally out, and received by my son and daughter-in-law.

And soon we were winging our way home to meet the newest member of the family, granddaughter Samyukta.

That is her in her stroller on the waterfront in Jersey city, with New York across the Hudson.

Monday, 14 September 2009

SELFLESSNESS


On a global level people are protesting against the incarceration of Aung San Suu Kyi, icon for decmocracy and political freedom, and calling for her release.

While extending full support to the campaigns, I really cannot see myself doing anything that could possibly take it forward. And there are many like me, who give moral and vocal support, but do not know what else do. There are some others who take up issues which they can handle in some way, and try to make the world around them a better place for the less fortunate. The selflessness of such people is amazing. I recently came across one such person and his organisation. Read about Niswarth, and the person behind it here...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

MODHAKAMS, KOLU AND THE DIGITAL KIOSK


The festive season is rolling on colourfully. Sri Vinayaka Chathurthi, with its modhakams (the little sweet kozhakattais that Ganesa is so fond of - see picture) and week long concerts at temples went by and now there is a little gap before the next festival comes along - Navarathri. It is the big one, lasting nine days, and culminating in Saraswathi Pooja and Vidyaramabam.

There is a pantheon of Gods to worship all round the year, and nothing delights our hearts as much as the poojas and the celebrations associated with them. Navarathri means the ‘kolu’, the arrangement and display of multi-coloured dolls on steps. The pavements of North Mada Street in Mylapore are once again full of the lovely dolls. We are packing our bags to visit our new granddaughter next week, and I thought I might miss seeing the ‘kolu’ which begins only after we leave. But there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me when I went to Giri Trading Agency, a storehouse of stuff dealing with Indian culture and tradition, near Sri Kapali Temple. They had this lovely kolu right at the entrance with brand new dolls. And I was delighted to see it.

Click on the picture to enlarge
Inside, I was looking for a particular CD – Hindi film songs of Yesudas – and though there were many albums he had released, there were none there that day. Just my luck, I thought, and decided to make tracks to other places to hunt for them. Though I had no desire to trudge in the heat to various shops to look for what I wanted - September has been unusually hot this year, and we are sweltering.

An energetic and enthusiastic salesgirl asked me if I was willing to look at the kiosk. I looked at her blankly, and she explained how the kiosk was basically a library of all the songs (with copyright) and I could choose what I wanted and they would be recorded on a CD or on MP3 format. I was quite intrigued but was willing to try. I learnt that is it is called a digital recording kiosk, and has been around for a couple of years. Strangely, not having felt the need for any songs that were not on discs, I had not really bothered to check them out. The kiosk has a touch screen keyboard. She typed in the name Yesudas, and there was a list of his albums. I could now choose the songs I wanted. This was neat. The procedure did not take long at all, and I had with me the best of Yesudas’s Hindi songs. – and a new experience.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

DISTINGUISHED ALUMNA OF LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE, DELHI


All those years ago, when I was a student in Lady Shri Ram College (1964 to 66), I had no idea that one of my contemporaries was going to be an international figure, and dominate the world stage in a quiet way. Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I just saw from afar - one of the foreign students, is what my reaction must have been. She was my senior, and I was a Literature major, while she did Political Science, I think. There was nothing to show what the future held in store for her. I don't even remember noticing her specially, but the spark must have been there even then. One really has no idea of the strength of mind that is required to face such challenges as she has. God bless her, and protect her.

Today our college is showing support to this champion in various ways, and mounting a campaign to free her.
Read about it here

Friday, 14 August 2009

SRI KRISHNA JAYANTHI

Sri Krishna was born in prison at midnight while it rained and thundered, and streaks of lightning illuminated the sky. And so on 'Sri Krishna Jayanthi' or Janamashtami we worship him at midnight or as close to midnight as we can. And insist it will rain on that night. But yesterday it did not, and we are still sweltering in this unusual August heat.

Krishna is worshipped in his many forms, from that of an innocent baby to an adult who can preach the Gita. Children just love him as the mischievous child Krishna who with his friends ran around stealing butter and curds from the pots of the gopis, and teasing them. There are many songs that recount his mischievous deeds, and children made up as little Krishna dance to these songs.

South Indian homes decorate the front yards and floors of their homes with kolams for all festivals and celebrations. While powder is used for the ground outside, wet rice paste is used to draw the kolams inside. For Krishna Jayanthi it is customary to draw the little feet of Baby Krishna going from the front door to the place where the pooja is to be conducted. It looks beautiful and children love to place their feet on the drawn feet and pretend they are Krishna.

It was only recently I learnt why we draw the feet of little Krishna. Running away after breaking pots and stealing the butter and curds, Little Krishna used to leave these tiny tell tale foot prints, it is said. And we replicate them in our homes.

Monday, 10 August 2009

THE NUMBER

What is in a number?

There is always a fascination with numbers we are associated with, especially one’s birth date numbers. We look for ‘lucky’ numbers into our roll numbers in class, the number on the hall ticket, numbers on our addresses and telephones – (though today’s ten digit numbers leave me fatigued, with trying to memorise them in the right order).

Mathematicians find intriguing mysteries and even romance in all numbers. One of our friends is a Professor in Maths, and can do all sorts of sums and calculations in his head. He is totally engrossed in his subject. I once asked him what he did for relaxation. He said “I read books.” “Oh, what books, fiction, or non-fiction?” I asked. He answered, “Books on Maths”.

Car number plates are endlessly fascinating. When we travel by road, while the rest of the family looks at the make of the car and records the speed it is travelling at, I look at the number plates, and invariably end up adding the digits.

I am not alone in this interest in number plates. One of my favourite stories is that of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his mentor G. H. Hardy. Ramanujan, ill equipped to cope with the vagaries of the inclement British weather, fell ill in England. Hardy visited him in hospital, taking a ride in a taxicab. The number of the taxi was, according to Hardy, uninteresting – 1729. Ramanujan disagreed with him and said that it was on the other hand a very interesting number. “It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."

To most laymen (including me) this would be Greek and Latin, but to those number lovers it was sheer poetry. I can only imagine the following minutes when the two would have discussed and dissected the magic of the number.

"Every positive integer is one of Ramanujan's personal friends.", said J. E. Littlewood, Hardy’s collaborator, after hearing this incident.

This morning I received a mail from Indiblogger, saying that my blog was ranked 77th. The ranking did not affect me one way or the other, but the number did. I was tickled, because it was my roll number in college, and later my son’s rank in the Joint Entrance exam of the IIT.

You can see the widget here on the right side. However, I was happy to see Maiji outranked me - her blog is ranked 58th!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

V. MUTHUSAMY IYER, THAMIZH SCHOLAR

The following piece by writer Charukesi appeared in the Friday supplement of The Hindu, last week in the city edition, and this week in the other editions in Tamilnadu state.

The article is about Sri V. Muthusamy Iyer, my husband’s grandfather (maternal) who was a Thamizh scholar. It is remarkable that a scholar of this stature lived in a not so far past. We are proud to be a part of his family

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Gem among Tamil scholars

CHARUKESI

In appreciation of Muthusamy Iyer’s skill, Paramacharya conferred on him the title Gajaaranya Dravida Kavimani.

MUTHUSAMY IYER


It was 1924, when Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati visited the house of Muthusamy Iyer, a contemporary of Tamil scholar and orator Ki.Va. Jagannathan, at Aranganathapuram in Tirukattupalli, Thanjavur district. Swamigal accepted ‘biksha’ a t his residence and presented him with a Shanmuga rudraksham. “Earlier in 1920, when my grandfather recited Sankara Sadguru Aatrupadai” in Tamil, Mahaswamigal offered him a silk shawl, in appreciation of his poetic excellence,” said Prof. Muthukrishnan.

Again in 1943, when Mahaswamigal visited Muthusamy Iyer, the latter did padhuka puja with the recitation of ‘Padhukai108,’ which pleased Paramacharya, who, while camping in the next town, invited Muthusamy Iyer and conferred the title ‘Gajaaranya Dravida Kavimani’ on him. While conferring the title, Mahaswamigal said, “Many a time you have rendered Parameswara Stotram and Acharya Stotram in the form of Tamil poems and therefore, we confer upon you the title ‘Gajaaranya Dravida Kavimani.”
Gold mala

When Muthusamy Iyer turned 60, it was celebration time. Muthusamy Iyer composed ‘Arul Vendar Paa’ using all the sixty names of the Tamil years from Prabhava to Akshaya and recited in the presence of Mahaswamigal and he was blessed with a Rudraksha Mala strung in gold.

Muthusamy Iyer’s 125th birth anniversary is being observed by his family now and this writer happened to meet his grandson, the recently retired Professor Muthukrishnan of Anna University.

Muthusamy Iyer was born in 1884 in Tirukattupalli and served as the Senior Deputy Inspector of Schools, after obtaining his M.A. degree and qualified for teaching. At the Teachers’ College, Saidapet, his room-mate was none else than Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. Prof. Muthukrishnan said of his grandfather: “He was a pious man. Had even built a Perumal temple in Tirukattupalli and has given four acres of land for its maintenance. He had helped other temples in places nearby. He also built culverts and provided steps for the water tanks used by the public. He used to handover his entire salary to his mother, as he lost his father when he was barely six years. She would ensure that the money he earned was properly spent and earmarked a portion for saving.”

Dr. U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, who was Muthusamy Iyer’s teacher in the Presidency College, Madras, observed in his 60th birthday tribute that Muthusamy was well-versed in grammar and literature. He was adept at research work and was a master in writing about the research he had undertaken on a subject. A powerful orator he composed a large number of poems in Tamil.”

He was awarded the gold medal for obtaining first rank in Madurai Tamizh Sangam examinations and won another at the Presidency College. During his tenure as teacher in Vellore, he composed “Thani Paa Naarpathu” and when he took up the post of Tamil teacher in a school in Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh, his first work of fiction, “Padmini” was released. This was prescribed as a non-detailed text for the intermediate classes.

When Muthusamy was just 30, he did his research on Poruladhikaram in Tholkappiyam. His ‘Thani Paa Kovai’ was released in 1918. In 1932, he composed ‘Anbu Vidu Thoodhu’ on Mahaswamigal. His “Mayuranatha Anthathi” saw the light of the day only in 1942 although he had composed it as far back as 1920. ‘Tiruvallluvar Oruthurai Kovai’ was published in 1950.

The book brought out in 1944 during his 60th birthday celebrations, contains congratulatory messages of many Tamizh scholars, writers and poets, many of them in the form of poems, especially by Desikavinayagam Pillai, Suddhananda Bharathiar, Somasundara Bharathiar, advocate and novelist Ka.Si. Venkataramani, Thanigaimani Sengalvaraya Pillai, Srivatsa Somadeva Sarma, Tirupugazhmani Krishnaswami Iyer, Sir P.S. Sivasamy Iyer, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Raja of Ramnad Raja Rajeswara Sethupathi, A.K. Paranthamanar, popular writer SVV, P.N. Appusamy and nearly fifty teachers and engineers of eminence! What surprises one is the message of Sami Vedachalam (better known as ‘Maraimalai Adigal’). This is in English and not in his favourite Tamil! Thanjai Vetrivel Pathippagam, in deference to the wishes of Muthusamy Iyer’s sons and daughters, had published this book.

The Hindu carried the news of his 60th birthday celebrations in its November 5, 1944 issue under ‘Provincial News – Tirukattupalli’, while the Tamizh daily ‘Swadesamitran,’ carried it on the following day, 6th November, 1944.

Muthusamy Iyer’s octogenarian son Balakavi Mu. Kothandaraman, now lives in a suburb of Kozhikode, had acquired expertise in reading palm leaf manuscripts and has, like his father’s teacher U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, published many books. When he was serving in the U.V. Swaminatha Iyer Library, International Institute of Tamil Studies and the Institute of Asian Studies, he strove for the preservation and documentation of palm leaf manuscripts opening a department for the purpose. Among his several works in Tamil, the translation of Narayaneeyam in poetic form won him the G. Sankara Kurup ‘Odakkuzhal’ prize.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

BUT WHERE IS THE AUDIENCE!

To take a line out of Edward Lear - it was just as I feared. Not a soul to hear us sing at the Sri Gaudiya Math temple, (See last post) even though it was splashed on the noticeboard. Unless you counted the involuntary presence of the Swamijis, and the four bovine creatures belonging to the temple.

Even family members, who normally accompany us, were absent on account of the odd time slot – my husband hardly comes to hear us sing, and this time was no exception. Visitors to the temple usually come around 6 pm for the pooja. However Lalitha and Padmini’s father was there with his video camera, as were Vatsala’s mother and daughter, and Meenakshi’s cousins.


The hall where we sang is part of a building next to the actual temple housing the deity, all within a compound, and had painted depictions of Sri Krishna and Chaitnya Mahaprabhu not only along the interiors but on the ceilings as well.


The gleaming white tower of the temple, after the fashion of temples in North India, is not visible from the road, and I was thrilled at the unexpected view within the gates. The Math was built in 1932, thanks to the munificence of Maharaja Sri Vikrama Deo Bahadur of Jeyapore.( I wonder if the summer palace of the Maharaja of Jeyapore in Gopalapuram which is now called Ambience also belonged to him.)


The paucity of audience was compensated for by the mikes – we got six – and our own enthusiasm. We sang for 75 minutes - kirtanas on Lord Krishna and Sri Rama, accompanied by Jwala ( a post graduate student) on the violin and Sri Krishna on the mridangam. Sri Krishna is a high school student and a disciple of veteran Umayalpuram Sivaramakrishnan. Our guru Ganga, despite a fever, led us as competently as usual. We missed Geetha who has gone to spend time with her little granddaughter.

The audience swelled towards the close of our programme, when the members of the next group to sing came in!

A video clip of the concert is here.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

AADI, SRI KRISHNA JAYANTHI AND GANGAMRITHAM

Another big day for Gangamritham!

Our group is to sing today at the Sri Gaudiya Math temple of Sri Radha Krishna where the 'Janamshstami' celebrations of Lord Krihna’s birthday are on.

Two weeks of celebrations at the temple, and daily concerts are part of the agenda. Our concert is scheduled to be at 4 pm and to be honest, none of us has any hope of any audience at this unearthly hour – most of the families will be at school or at work!
Still we are going to give it the best we have got.

The month of aadi in the Thamizh calendar starts mid July , and ushers in a series of festivals, culminating in Diwali, some months later. Aadi is a holy month, dedicated to the Gods, and ceremonies like weddings and other festivities are not conducted in this month (maybe in order to not detract from its religious flavour?). The first of Aadi is considered a festive day, and is celebrated with a feast and a visit to the temple. It has a special significance for newlyweds, but I am not dwelling on it here.

This year the first religious festival in Aadi was Varalakshmi Pooja, a pooja for women. This pooja is special because it is performed only in families which have been observing it. To join this fraternity, women may take the pooja from someone already conducting it. Women perform it with great devotion and fervour, creating the image of the goddess out of a kalasam, decorating it, and placing her in a specially decorated mandapam created for the purpose.

Then there is the 'aadi perukku', or 'Pathinettam perukku', on the 18th of Aadi. This is the day when the river Kaveri is in fullest flow after the rains, and rolls merrily down. My mother-in-law, who belonged to the Thanjavur district, the lifeblood of which is the Kaveri, used to tell me that people in the area would go to the banks of the Kaveri to worship her and enjoy the day – a kind of picnic. A meal would be prepared, as offerings to the river goddess, mainly of mixed varieties of rice, - lemon rice, coconut rice, curd rice, and a sweet rice - quick to prepare and eliminating the need for a curry. We still follow the system of preparing the offerings, though there is no Kaveri here in Chennai, and enjoy the prasadam.

Next on the list is Sri Krishna Jayanthi, which falls this year on August 13, and the series of concerts are part of the two-week celebrations. At Sri Gaudiya Math where we are going to sing today, a series of sequences from Lord Krishna’s life are exhibited using practically life-size dolls with real (or what looks like real) hair. Here are some of the scenes.

Krishna born in prison

Baby Krishna felling Bhoothana, the terrible ogress


Krishna on the swing with Radha

Krishna holding aloft Mount Govardhan

Krishna and his gopikas

Geethopadesam to Arjuna


Dancing on Kaliya

Saturday, 1 August 2009

WELCOMING THE NEWEST

Do you remember the picture of the layette in this blog posted some time ago ?

The VIP who my mother knitted it for has made her appearance - my new granddaughter - first child to her parents and second grandchild to us. She is also the first grandchild to her mother’s parents.

Though we haven’t seen her yet, we hope to be with her in some weeks’ time. But here we are all excited, conveying the news and receiving good wishes from one and all. There really is something about the arrival of a baby that touches all – everyone wants to know who she looks like, what her name is, what did she weigh, does she cry much, how is the mother, and how does her cousin Nino feel about it!

We have seen pictures of her, and yes she looks beautiful, and her name is Samyukta.
And so, no, even if she had been born here, she would not have qualified for a gold ring from the Mayor of Chennai.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

BABIES AND GOLD RINGS

I knew it was too good to last – my wholehearted admiration for the Mayor of Chennai when he had distributed saplings at his son’s wedding.

I had read in the papers the announcement made by him much earlier that babies (born in Corporation hospitals only) who were given pure Thamizh names would be rewarded with gold rings. We had all laughed then. But the first set of rings was distributed last week.

I have nothing against Thamizh names – they are as good as any other.
But:
First, as Juliet famously asked, ‘What is in a name?’
Second, it is not the love of Thamizh that has motivated parents to give their children Thamizh names. Only the thought of a gold ring at the end of it - which, I am sure, will be hawked, pledged or sold to meet different expenses of the family, including the father’s visit to the local Tasmac (state sponsored wine) shop.
Lastly, the babies are now reduced to being equated with films – Thamizh films with Thamizh titles/names are exempted form entertainment tax.

Anyway why make this distinction among babies?

And why gold rings, which the babies can neither enjoy nor appreciate!

Why did not the Mayor give them all a special scholarship to see them through their school days. Education may be free, but children need books and uniforms. A fund for this would have been better.

Anyway we had better prepare ourselves for a generation of youngsters who may not even pronounce their names properly. The zha sound in ‘thamizh’is difficult for many to pronounce and is often pronounced as ‘l’, (which is why I suppose the British mutilated it to 'Tamil’).
We will have hosts of Thamilselvans and Thamilselvis, and not Thamizhselvans or Selvis.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

SAPLINGS AS THAMBOOLAM

The thamboolam is a mandatory take home at all Indian festivals and ceremonies, at weddings especially. The thamboolam bag (made of plastic, cloth or some polyester fibre, rarely of paper) contains a coconut or grapefruit, a couple of betel leaves, a packet of betel nuts – all auspicious tokens.

I don’t know what others do, but when I come home with the thamboolam, I put away the betel nut packet to be passed on, throw away the betel leaves which have started wilting, and use the coconut to cook. The bag if sturdy enough, will be reused as a carrier bag, that is if one doesn’t mind being the publicity person for the caterer. I have often felt that the fancy bags are a waste - especially when I see the grandeur of the bags – so much money spent on things no one really wants.



Long before the advent of plastic, the thamboolam was packed in ordinary paper bags on which the bride and groom’s names were printed. As plastic came into vogue, thin bags were used. Little by little the bags grew in size and show…….

So I was heartened when I read this news. Mayor of Chennai M. Subramaniam introduced an innovative concept at the wedding of his son recently, one that can be emulated by all. He gave away as thamboolam 3000 saplings to his guests to take away and plant. This delighted all environmentalists and eco-conscious citizens – zero pollution, plus greening.

The saplings are all avenue trees, and he had made arrangements with a nursery for the saplings to be readied by the time of the wedding.

I loved it, and I am sure GVK, fellow blogger, who has been pushing for distribution of saplings on all possible occasions will too. Many of us can follow this trend.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

KNITTING WITH MA

The fingers move deftly, and the clicking goes on rhythmically, while the ball of wool gets smaller, and beautiful creations drop from the needles.


This is my mother, who has been knitting for more than 60 years now. She loves it, and not even the heat of summer can keep her from handling the wool. She only had to hear of another great-grandchild on the way, than she arranged for wool to be sent from Delhi by my sister, and she started on a layette. And here it is.


My mother says that her first piece was for herself. As a new bride from Trivandrum in New Delhi, she was confident that she could face her first winter by knitting something for herself - she had after all learnt to knit in school. She says, “Babuji got me some wool in a budgie yellow shade, a pair of knitting needles, and a pattern in a magazine, and told me to start off. And that was my first knitted product – a blouse.” Though taken aback at first, she took it as a challenge and it turned out very well. The next one was for my father and after that – for me.

I must have been very young when she knitted sweaters for me first, for I spent my infancy and childhood in Delhi. And we all know what the winters there are like. I still remember the patterns of some of them. (That is me in 1949/50) My mother knitted for all three of us and for my father and herself.
After a few years spent in the south (read about it here), where we did not need any woollens at all, we came back to Delhi and then all of us needed sweaters. By then there were five of us. Maiji taught me also to knit, and we built up the basics for each of us. I could only do some plain knitting, but my skills also improved, and I could later on follow patterns from books. But with college and studies I could not do much. The collection of knitwear grew, and there was enough to keep us all warm.

Over the years, my youngest sister was the lucky beneficiary of my mother’s art. My mother made several items for her, so much so that Gowri became known as the daughter of the knitting lady among her friends’ mothers.

Apart from being a nimble knitter, my mother has evolved from being a pattern follower to a pattern creator – designer, if you will. I have really lost track of the number of sweaters, cardigans, layettes, scarves, shawls, ponchos (most of which are her own patterns) caps and mufflers, and even dresses (that is my niece wearing one of the pieces) she has designed and knitted. Fair Isle and cable patterns became child’s play to her. When I wore the poncho she knitted for me on my visit to my sons, the poncho was the in thing then, and I had inadvertently become ‘in’ too!


And here is my niece wearing a fair isle sweater created by Ma


Her creativity extends to an original too – the doll made totally with wool.

The doll is knitted and her clothes too. Scraps of wool make up the stuffing so that the doll is washable. Without exaggerating, I can say that she must have knitted at least a hundred of these for her grandchildren and great granddaughters, and as gifts to give to other little girls. Here the doll is resting on shawls knitted by my mother.


Maiji’s latest is making garlands of wool - some of them adorn the pictures of the deities in our pooja room. And I am certain she is already dreaming up something else.














P. S. Upon reading this good blog friend Brenda Bryant wrote this - it says everything about Maiji's kniting so beautifully! Do look at it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

THE SILK COTTON TREE


It is a sweet, touching story in Thamizh, albeit sad.

There was once a parrot which sat on a tree and watched its blossoms turn into shining green fruits. The parrot waited and waited for them to ripen to take its first bite from the fruits. Alas, the fruits never turned yellow or red, but dried into brown crisp pods, finally bursting and revealing inside – white inedible cotton.

This tree in the story is called the ‘ilavan’ tree and the cotton is called ‘ilavan panju’ – what I am told is the silk cotton. The unfruitful wait of the parrot gave rise to the phrase in Thamizh ‘ilavu katha kili’ – the parrot that waited in vain.

The tree is found abundantly in our neighbourhood – my brother-in-law next door has one in his compound. I had to cross one of these on the pavement, (no doubt planted at the same time as the one-day blooming tree outside our house) when I walked to work, and I watched it grow from a sapling to a young tree, though I did not realise then that it was the cotton tree. As it grew I noticed that its trunk and branches were green, and at first I imagined that someone might have painted them in that vivid shade. Later I realised as it grew higher that it is the natural colour of the tree.

Somehow I never saw the flowers – maybe I did not look carefully enough at the right time. The green pods are rather longish like bananas and shiny.


They dry on the tree, and fall off often bursting only upon falling.



Now is the time/season they start falling. People like this lady collect the pods, and remove the cotton. I asked her what she would do with it, and she said she was planning to stuff a pillow.

Sweet silk-cotton dreams.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

TASTE OF SUMMER

I recently read that instead of moaning about the heat of summer, we should watch out for its delights and pleasures.
Though one may question this apparent oxymoron, when we look around there certainly are pleasing sights. The shade giving trees on the streets of Chennai are blooming, and are a visual treat.
The golden acacia has bloomed and now its brown pods stand silhouetted against the sky. And countless other trees, like the laburnum, with mauve and lavender flowers have bloomed and subsided. The Mayflower, or the flame of the forest, (gul mohur), true to its name sent out its first buds in May.

But mangoes are the taste of summer.

We have a few trees in our compound, all of which grew from the seeds thrown out after the children ate the juicy flesh. Each tree bears a different type of mango, and over the years we have learnt to distinguish their tastes and their varying uses. One of the trees, the oldest, has fruits which are not at all sour when green, and so can be eaten like a salad vegetable. We thought the fruit may not taste very sweet when ripe. But it turned out to be as sweet as it is pretty with its rosy tinge as it ripened.


The parrots love them, and get to them before we do. The appearance of this fruit is really a visual pleasure - a text book pictorial representation of a mango.

This is one of the oldest. Another old tree bears fruit that is dreadfully sour when green, and so is used for pickling, as it is not at all tasty when it ripens.


A latecomer tree was a surprise. Its green fruit is very sour, but turned out to be very delicious when ripened. Folks in the know say that the more sour it is when it is green, the sweeter it is when it is ripe. We plucked the mangoes and ripened them, and shared them with friends. They don’t look as big or attractive as the big ones in the market, but were definitely as tasty and sweet.


The mango season is almost over, but one tree is confused, pushing forth new blooms , even while there are biggish mangoes on its branches. This is the tree, whose branch collapsed and down it fell with a whole lot of unripe mangoes, unfortunately too young to be ripened. Surely it was not due to the weight of the young mangoes! We salvaged what we could and distributed them.

The ripening fruits on the trees are pounced on by the squirrels and birds alike, and knock them down. Some of them fall on our neighbour’s asbestos sheet covered shed, with big plonks. We have now got used to this thwack/squelch sound. Our neighpour’s tree, in return, sheds its fruit into our compound, but without any sound effects. Unfortunately the fruits crack when they fall, and cannot really be used.


The markets are flooded by ripe mangoes. I saw them being transported on our busy road on a bullock cart, and and a fish cart.

I loved the woman hitching a ride while her husband called out!

Sociable