Dyes as body adornments

September 17, 2021

Dyeing parts of one’s body has been a way of adornment for human beings since time immemorial.

Tattoos are a permanent way to do this.

Tattoos are very popular these days, here is “Maa” (Mother) tattooed on a forest guard’s arm:


And “krishNA” (the god who wears peacock feathers):


Many tribes use tattoos on their faces too, and we still have many parts of our bodies tattooed, where the tattoo is visible only to us. Here is a lady of the Apatani tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, with her face tattoos (they might signify her tribe.)


However, for temporary adornment, we use other dyes on our skin. One of these is made by grinding the leaves of the Henna (mehendi in Hindi, maruthANi in Tamizh) plant (Lawsonia ermis) into a smooth paste and applying it to one’s hand’s and feet.


is the wiki entry about mehendi.

It’s almost mandatory now for Indian brides to have mehendi patterns on their hands and feet (extending to their arms and legs too, sometimes.) But other festive occasions, and sometimes, just for the fun of it, we have mehendi done:


Mehendi (Lawsonia ermis) leaves and flowers. The flowers are very fragrant and were used in weaving flower-garlands to be worn in the hair, too.

Gloria having mehendi applied

The drying mehendi on the back of Gloria’s hands

Heena’s mehendi

Sarika Gadikar’s mehendi

Mehendi done with a comb

An even more temporary dye is the “AltA”.

is the Wiki entry about AltA.

Aradhya’s alta-dyed feet

Alta on the foot of a sleeping woman

Both AltA and mehendi are now mixed with artificial dyes, some of which can be very allergenic. About mehendi, the Wiki entry says, “Likely due to the desire for a “tattoo-black” appearance, some people add the synthetic dye p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) to henna to give it a black colour. PPD may cause severe allergic reactions and was voted Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.”

Mehendi is often used as to dye the hair, too. Many of us live to dye!

Non-verbal communication

September 17, 2021

We have a lovely set of non-verbal expressions to convey our feelings in a conversation.

The most common, of course, is the “mm” that we use to say,a “yes, I am paying attention to what you say”. This could be drawn out into a “hmmm” to signify, “Yes, I agree with you, but what can be done about it?” Or it could be a question…”mmm…?” (“Oh, I’m sorry, what did you say?”)

But the most interesting sound, to me is “pstchp” (a poor phonetic rendering of that sound made with pursed lips).This often signifies two opposing things…agreement and disagreement! We often use this when we see something not being done right, prior to doing it properly ourselves and showing the other person; or, in the face of some unpalatable fact (eg. someone says, “She was a nice lady, I wish she’d lived longer”) the sound is made, expressing both regret and agreement.

We call it “tchooL kottarathu” in Tamizh…what is it called in other languages? I don’t find this sound being made in Western cultures…is it a purely Eastern thing?

Butterfly Blues

September 7, 2021

When I started looking
At lovely butterflies,
I felt that very soon
I’d be Lepidopterally wise…

From Albatross to Zebra Blue
I thought it was a cinch
But  the  butterfly alphabet
Is killing me, inch by inch.


First came the Blues, and blues were  what
These Lycaenids cast me into.
Even Grass Blues are  Lesser and Tiny…
Pale and Dark forms, too!


Another colour,  Yellow, this time,
Put my mind in further doubt.
Three-spotted, Spotless, Common, more….
I knew not what I was about.


The Rings put all my mathematics
And basic numbers to shame.
Alas, a Common Four-ring
And a Five-ring often look the same!


Brown was a colour I felt at ease with…
Until it was preceded by “Bush”.
Trying to find out which one it was
Reduced my brain to mush.


Then came the procession
Of the scientific names;
The dry and wet-season forms,
The gentlemen, and the dames.


Under all this  profusion
Of names and facts, I groan
The only butter fly I am sure of
Is when Amul or Vijaya is thrown!


Godaan, by Munshi Premchand

September 6, 2021

Just finished watching the last (12th) episode (each about 25 min) of Godaan, Munshi Premchand’s novel, televised, written and directed by Gulzar.

A touching tale of a farmer’s descent into poverty, but remaining a good man through all of the ordeals. So well produced and acted. How well Pankaj Kapur’s make up ages him through the episodes! None of the fake brand-new ethnic clothes of today’s “village” movies; the dirt, the dust, the cheating, the lying, the exploitation of the poor….and through it all, the genuine affection of the couple and their family….the cows that are part of their life…so beautifully depicted.
Doordarshan had such excellent serials, when did the quality of entertainment deteriorate so much?

If you would like to watch ( the Hindi is in the Bhojpuri dialect, but not hard to follow the story), here is the first episode (the link to the next episode appears at the right hand side.) https://www.youtube.com/embed/cRqX0ey6Cmc?wmode=opaque


is a very good account and synopsis of the novel itself.

The guava and the grandchildren: Singanayakanahalli, 040921

September 6, 2021

Ten of us met up for the bird/nature outing at Singanayakanahalli Lake in north Bangalore. Alas, the heavy rain meant that the ground (we had to walk over the bed of the lake) was very squishy and squelchy indeed, and our shoes became caked with mud. I got fed up of clumping along and trying to look for path through the water puddles and small water ponds, and decided to go back to the road, and cross it to see what I could find on the other side. There was a path leading down to the guava orchard, and I took it, to get to the open fields where I might find Munias and other small interesting plants and insects.

As I was walking in the guava orchard, heading towards the open fields, I saw a man plucking guavas. I went up to him and asked him if he would sell me some. He pointed to a pile and said, “aivathu” (fifty). I put some of the guavas into my camera bag and took out my fifty-rupee note…when suddenly another man came charging at the first one, who took to his heels!


The second man then looked at the money in my hand and asked what it was. I said I was about to buy the guavas. “What! I am the farmer who owns this orchard, that was a thief stealing the fruit!” he said. “You were going to buy the fruits from a thief!” Crestfallen, I turned away, when the farmer laughed and said, “Take as many as you like, you at least were not stealing!” I paid him the fifty and got fruits for all of the group which we enjoyed.


I also walked up to see the Hanuman temple that shows up on Google maps


and next to it was a shrine to the snake gods (nAga dEvathA).


As I stood there, an old (well, older than me!) came up and said, “If you pray to these gods with devotion, you will get children.”

I was about to tell him that I already had one of those, and was very satisfied, when he took another look at me, and corrected himself: “You will get grandchildren.” Laughing, I told him I had two of those too, and was satisfied.

You can see the Flickr album of the photographs I took that morning


Krishna Jayanti/JanmAsthami/gOkulAshtami, 290821

September 3, 2021

The birth of


is celebrated in Hindu households in different ways.

My daughter seemed to have forgotten that we generally do the puja at “gO dhooli lagnam” (the “hour of cowdust”, when cowherds drive the cattle home, raising dust in the village lanes), and thought we had to do it at midnight! I had to conduct a nature walk and had to go home (I leave by 5.30am), so there was a bit of a mismatch on the timings, but it worked out.

While we were waiting for A to come home, K1 made a very beautiful Krishna from play-doh. Here she is:


And here is the little Krishna, taking shape.

The baby doesn’t have any hair here…


Krishna now has hair, but His eyes are not yet done.


He’s close to being “done”now, but seems to be listing a bit!


Now He’s sitting in state in the centre of the pujA:


Here’s the entire pujA mantap or pavilion:


Here is the kOLam I made (with ground, thin rice paste) at the front door, you can see the feet of the little Krishna in the centre:


Krishna leaves his footprints in every room in the house, and K2, especially was quite thrilled to try and locate where they were in each room!

Here are the sweets and savouries we offered to Him:


I sang “kAttrinilE varum geetham”, https://www.youtube.com/embed/ikqFFjO_2cg?wmode=opaque

a song written by


and sung by

M S Subbulakshmi


the movie, Meera

After I had read the Sanskrit slOkAs and finished the pujA, the children played the violin to entertain Him. We discussed Krishna in our culture and mythology, and K2 entertained us with statements like “All those childbirth pains of Devaki, what a waste!” (Krishna was Devaki’s eighth child, but K2 said He was the 13th. When his grandad said, “Women don’t have pain during childbirth”, his rejoinder was, “Men don’t have pain when women give birth!”

Krishna was born in prison, where his uncle had incarcerated his parents so that he could immediately kill the children as they were born. (Why he couldn’t simply keep the parents apart, I cannot say.)

Divine intervention made the guards in the prison sleep, and the doors broke open, so that Vasudev could take his son across the river Yamuna and exchange Him for another child, who would fly up into the sky when Krishna’s evil uncle (mother’s brother, Kamsa) tried to murder the child (a prediction had told him that Devaki’s child would kill him one day for his evil deeds, so he decided to add one more to the list and kill the child!)

That is why K1 has made her Krishna sitting in a little basket, so that His father can now carry him across in the thunderstorm and save Him!

The festival is a fun time for all of us, and we are very happy that we have more than we need. More than enough is riches, indeed!

Children’s games…..Marbles, Durga Rock, 250821

August 25, 2021

I watched my brother (who was born this day in 1957) go through the seasons of boys’ games….gilli danda, kabaddi, cricket, kite-flying…and the marble-playing season. I never knew when one would wane and another would take over, but the boys seemed to know.

Marbles were very cheap to buy, and intricate games were played, with marbles of all colours, and boys’ pockets (I am sorry, this was not a girls’ pastime at all) would be bulging with them.

I was, therefore, delighted to find some boys playing marbles at Durga Rock today:


My friend Radhika went to photograph one little boy:


But I liked the fact that these little boys were playing a game that needed no electricity, no major expense for their parents…here is the short video I took:

(you can hear one of my friends saying, “we used to play this”…so I guess in some parts of the country, girls also played marbles!


is a link that describes how to play marbles (or kanche, or gOli, or gOti, as they are called in different parts of India)

Here is another video:

It took me back to the halcyon days when children did not depend upon electricity or technology to play their games!T

We worship our pandemics too

August 19, 2021

The Hindu culture has a long history of worshipping epidemics. We have the Muthumariamman and the Sheetala (Sithala) goddesses, whom those afflicted by smallpox, chicken pox, or even measles, pray to. The Wiki entry on Mariamman says, ” From a religious perspective that survived in Mediaeval Europe as the equally poetic ‘doctrine of signatures’, the pearls of rain may have been thought to heal the pearl-like boils that occur during chickenpox.”

I have seen temples dedicated to Sheetala in north India. In south India, the premier contagion goddess is Mariamman – from the word “Mari” meaning both pox and transformation. In the north of India, she is known as the goddess Sheetala, meaning “the cold one” – a nod to her ability to cool fevers. Sheetala carries a pot of healing water, a broom to sweep away dirt, a branch of the indigenous Neem tree – said to cure skin and breathing disorders – and a jar of ambrosia for eternal life. Mariamman, on the other hand, carries a scimitar with which to smite and decapitate the demons of virulence and illness.

In Bangalore, Mariamman transformed from a cholera goddess into the protector of drivers. Now known as “Traffic Circle Amman,” the goddess’s temple sees cars and trucks line up everyday for blessings, before drivers face the deadly maelstrom of city traffic.

However, I have been seeing a temple dedicated to “Sri Plegamma” on the Bannerghatta-Anekal Road, and realized that this is Plague-Amma.

Here is the temple:


On the faded name-board, you can now barely make out the words “Sri Plegamma” in Kannada:


The temple was closed early in the morning, but here is the presiding deity, represented at the entrance:


Here is one of the demons that guard the corners of the temple:


My friend Adnan told me about

<a href=”https://in.news.yahoo.com/bangalore-still-worships-goddess-plague-142909866.html“> this link </a>

Titled, “Bangalore Still Worships Goddess Of Plague: Plague Amma To Cure Themselves Of Diseases And COVID-19” the article talks about plague in 1898.

“It was brought into the city of Bangalore by a railway employee who landed first in the cantonment region (the area of the military) of Bangalore. It killed around 10% of the population at that time and 2.6% of the people of the Mysore Kingdom.

“It is at this time that the goddess Mariamma, who has different labels such as Muthu Mariamman and Thandu Mariamman, was soon appropriated into the Plague Mariamman! Many temples dedicated to the goddess were built around the Basavanagudi region.

“It is said that even today, people go to temples such as Seethala Matha and Renuka Devi to perform rituals and cure themselves of diseases.

“How Was The Plague Tackled?
The British government took drastic measures to contain the plague. Hospitals were built to accommodate patients, which also improved healthcare conditions for handling the Spanish flu that would come to India in 1918. Cities developed and improved, people were offered money for bringing dead rats and mass migrations were banned.

“While science did its job, people also resorted to rituals and worshipping to find some hope. Flower offerings and blood sacrifices were a common practice.

“After recovery, patients participated in self-flagellation and painful piercings. Devotees were also injected with a milder form of pus, which the goddess was believed to possess and cure. It’s like a ritualistic version of the vaccine!

“Upper caste people of the region condemned such a practice as they believed it belonged only to the lower caste.”


is another link describing the “goddesses of contagion”, which incorporates this video:

The goddesses act as “celestial epidemiologists” curing illness. But if angered they can also inflict disease such as poxes, plagues, sores, fevers, tuberculosis and malaria. They are both poison and cure, says the video.

The author says: One of the first images of a contagion goddess recorded is of the demon-turned-goddess Hariti, carved and worshipped during the deadly Justinian plague of Rome that came to India via trade routes, killing between 25 to 100 million people globally. In the late 19th century, my hometown of Bangalore suffered an epidemic of bubonic plague, which required the services of a contagion goddess. British colonial documents record the repeated waves of illness that stalked the city, and the desperate pleas to a goddess named “Plague Amma.”

While controversies over temples reopening dominates the news, a new deity, crafted from polystyrene and called “Corona Devi” has been installed in a temple dedicated to the pox goddess. Mr. Anilan, the priest and single devotee, says he will offer worship for “Corona Warriors” – health care workers, firefighters, and other front line personnel. Here science and faith are not seen as inimical to one another, but as working together, hand-in-glove.

I am still unable to get the history of this particular “Sri Plegamma” temple on the Bannerghatta-Anekal Road, but it must, no doubt, be similar to those of the other temples to the goddesses of contagion. And as the author remarks:

“COVID-19 has undoubtedly increased the goddesses’ workload. And with no known cure and no viable vaccine, the contagion goddesses may well have their hands full for some time.

Beauty that outlasts its purpose

August 19, 2021

When your purpose is served.
When you part from the place where you served that purpose.
When you lie, about to die…
And yet, you captivate seeing eyes with your beauty….

The difference between mounting a photography exhibition and posting a photograph on social media

August 11, 2021

Photography Exhibition:
Choosing from photographs, keeping an eye on audience appeal.
them printed (without the colours changing).
Framing the prints to one’s satisfaction.
Hiring a hall.
Inviting everybody that one knows, hoping that 10% of them will turn up.
Finding some BS (er, Big Shot) to inaugurate the exhibition.
Trying to get the press to cover the exhibition.
Dancing attendance on said BS at the inauguration.
Carting framed photos up and down.
Making sure they are hung properly, at the proper eye-level.
Being constantly on hand through all the days of the exhibition (the warmest admirers will appear when you have gone for lunch.)
Hoping that some photographs sell.
Carting the rest back home. Wondering where to store the frames.

Posting a lovely photo on WA or FB or Insta…..Insta-nt Admiration and no hassles!