Archive for August, 2006

A musical instrument…

August 31, 2006


I decided to snap a couple of other things at the wedding we attended recently, on Aug 27th….will be posting them….


I would like my non-Indian friends to see the musical instrument that is always associated with south Indian weddings ( a similar instrument called the Shehnai is used in north Indian weddings, but the percussion instrument used there is the tabla–no, swatisani tells me it is the dhOlak.) It is a long, thin wind instrument, with a body made of “aacha” hardwood, and a flaring metal bell, with stop-holes along its length, and has a number of mouth-pieces that the players alternate. It requires tremendous lung power to play..the cheeks of the players puff out and you can see the effort….hence many nAgaswaram players are husky men! There ARE a couple of women players, but it’s not common…

The thavil is a two-sided percussion instrument, made of jackfruit wood, and leather stretched over both sides. It’s played with a stick on one hand,  and on the other side, the hand that plays has its fingers protected by special caps. The thavil has a typical staccato sound…the nAgaswaram and thavil are considered auspicious instruments and most large temples have a team of players attached to their administration. There are normally two nAgaswaram players and two thavil players, with a young learner playing the “sruthi box” or pitch drone instrument, and keeping the beat and count with his fingers.  (He is also generally the hey-you of the team!)

After they have played on all the requisite occasions at the weddings (at important junctures, the thavil players alone play hard and loud, which is called “getti mELam”…to draw the audience’s attention to the rite going on) they are honoured and paid by the (who else?) bride’s father, and feasted and sent on their way…to the next engagement! It is difficult for nAgaswaram players to make ends meet,even if they are attached to a temple.

IMG_0276 nAgaswaram and thavil

In this picture, the players put down their nAgaswaram thinking they were posing…I kept requesting them to play but they politely waited for me to finish clicking! One player has the nAgaswaram acoss his lap.  The young “katthukkutti” (the learner) who plays the pitch and keeps the beat is sitting on the chair behind the dais. One thavil player has gone somewhere; the caps on the other player’s fingers can be seen. Traditionally, the players would be wearing “veshtis” and just an upper body cloth…it is a recent trend to wear kurtas, shirts or khadi (homespun) tops. They normally wear rings on all their fingers so that the gold and stones can glitter as they play, and used to wear thick gold chains on their muscular chests. When someone wears too many rings, s/he is ridiculed, “why are you looking like a nAyanakkAran?” (nAyanam is a Tamizh synonym for nAgaswaram.) So, if a Tambram uncle complains of today’s pop idols with flashy jewellery…remind him about these players!

On the right hand side is a niche with a silver embossed icon of Ganesha, with a lamp lit near it. Chairs meant for seating the guests at the wedding are stacked on the left hand side.

Though Carnatic music is thought of as a preserve of the Brahmin caste, this is really not so…almost all nAgaswaram players belong to the “Pillai” community and in the villages, everyone flocks to hear their recitals.Recently, instruments like the clarinet or the saxophone have also been successfully used.

Students of Carnatic vocal music are traditonally told to listen to a lot of nAgaswaram music as it is the wind instrument closest to the human voice, and renditions on it can easily be emulated by the vocal student.

What a sight it is to see the nAgaswaram players swaying to their own music and walking along in front of a procession of a God from a temple! The sound of a nAgaswaram is an instant association with festivity….whether religious or social.

I enjoyed writing all that!

The writers of my childhood

August 30, 2006


After spending time reading non-fiction, I suddenly developed a yen to revisit the stories of my childhood…and I have been re-visiting them. And I find that some of them are evergreen and provide me just as much joy as they did then….

I have been reading Agatha Christie, and am struck by her genius for capturing ordinary, everyday conversation, which is a most difficult thing to do. She is also a pastmaster at hiding clues right in front of the readers’ noses! One of the best examples is “The Caribbean Mystery”, in which the clue to who the murderer is, is SO clearly given…but the reader only realizes it later..! And one book (at least) is actually written by the murderer…

Then there’s P G Wodehouse….”Plum” and Dame Agatha were mutual admirers and actually referred to each other in their stories! His light-as-air comedies are so easy to read and so difficult to write… I realized on my first trip to London, that he had used many of the station names in and around Kent and Surrey, as names for his characters.

Richmal Crompton…what a genius. This lady was one wonders what she drew on to delineate that precursor of Dennis the Menace or Calvin….William. Of course, some of the stories are peopled with conveniently short-sighted, deaf, or credulous characters…but in spite of it all, the stories are wonderful. And those illustrations by Thomas Henry..those are classic too…

Enid Blyton is another favourite, recently reviled, that I will be visiting… I didn’t do much Noddy or the Secret Seven, but the Famous Five, the Find-Outers, and the O’Sullivan twins, the Mallory Towers series, and the various mysteries…how I loved them as a child!

Biggles….don’t ask me what a young girl was doing, reading Biggles….by Capt W E Johns….I loved those books and swallowed them whole…I think, if I read them now, they will seem amazingly naive and archaic…

Isaac Asimov is another writer which one can read at any age…What a gigantic intellect, combined with a sense of fun…he must have been a wonderful person or a crusty codger, depending on one’s point of view! I remember a line from “Authorised Murder”, in which he put himself in as a character: “He was so secure in his own intelligence that he never bothered to show it.”…or something to that effect.

Single books that I have loved? “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee…”That Little Limb” by some unknown author which must have been the first book I ever read. Alice in Wonderland ( one of the books of which the animated movie by Disney is really WONDERFUL)…the Jungle Book and Just So Stories…oh my, this list isn’t going to end..I have not even touched on my favourite books in my mother tongue, or the other languages (I have known 4 languages fluently from my earliest remembrance.) will have to post again…Ponniyin Selvan, Thakurmar Jhuli, Yashodhara….

Learning Kannada…

August 30, 2006


I have been struggling to learn more than the rudimentary Kannada I know, but sadly, it is not needed at all in daily life, and my efforts are still mostly in vain. I made sure I learnt the alphabet as soon as I moved into this city.  I watch Kannada films or sometimes, TV serials, to enable my understanding of the spoken language. But I must say that Kannada (or other Indian languages) are not taught well, the way foreign languages like French and German are (I learnt German so well in this very city.)  An antiquated, didactic approach prevails. Foreign language classes are made great fun to attend. There is stress on hearing and speaking as well as reading and writing. Audio-visual material is shown regularly. I would love to have either a converstaional Kannada course in my locality or to attend a really well-designed Kannada basic course. I still go and watch Girish Karnad’s plays first in English and then in Kannada to understand a little of the original flavour. I go to attend Yakshagana or puppet performances.
Yes, indeed I too love my mother tongue, Tamizh ( that’s why I take the trouble to write the name’s not Tamil but, phonetically,Tamizh). I never learnt it in school though…because my mother asked me to take Bengali as my third language in school. She said she would teach me Tamizh at home. (She herself engaged a tuition master to learn Bengali (my childhood was spent in Kol, as you can see) and read the classics of Bengali literature.) This ensured that I learnt another language and to me, the knowledge of every extra language is like another treasure chest opening up. But I can see how, in South India, people say they are studying Sanskrit or Hindi at the advanced level…and can’t put two sentences together coherently when they speak. I did a basic course in Sanskrit and the whole class was ONLY interested in “passing the exam”…they would NOT speak in Sanskrit at all, and in fact, many of them would not use the Devanagari script , but the Kannada script (I don’t know its name.)
Since I grew up in a region far away from where I orginally hail from, I know the enrichment that comes from exposure to a different culture.
I would love it if learning Kannada were made easier…there must be many,many people like me who would like it too.The Karnataka govt should run well-designed, conversation- and everyday situation-oriented basic Kannada courses, and have them in all areas…if there is a course running in Rajaji Nagar, there is not much chance that I, from J P Nagar, will be able to attend regularly!

You want some beautiful abstracts taken during the Ganesha festival?

August 29, 2006


check out deepsan. He spots, unerringly, the geometry in the scenes around him (and takes some great “ordinary” photos too. A sample of his work…photos which he too shot at a market before the Ganesha Puja…

woot, as these youngsters would say…!

Thank you, deepsan!

have you met these people?

August 29, 2006


Inspired by something latelyontime said….

I love to meet the ladies and gentlemen who are “instant authorities” on other countries, which they have visited for a few days. When someone who has lived in a country for a few years comes along, they immediately give that person a lot of information about the geography, history, customs and practices of the place….ask if s/he has visited “A”, “B” or “C” town/ places of tourist interest; when the resident says, “No,” politely, the response is, “But you MUST go there! How can you live there and not have visited that place?” Not for them the idea that different people might have different agendas in another place; everyone must do, see and experience what they did in the two or so days that they spent there….and they seem to have been everywhere and done everything, in the 3 days that they spent there, probably 15 years ago….. They will talk with great knowledge about what the people there do and how they behave and what they think….

I find that it’s the people who have travelled the most and visited the most countries who generally keep perfectly quiet about their travels and their observations!

Closely allied to this IAT (instant authority tourist) is the IRR (instant relative recollector.) This person, on hearing of, say, someone’s living in Kalamazoo, Mi ( I actually DO know someone who lives there btw, right zweilinkefusse?) they say, “Oh, you are living in the US? My sister’s brother-in-law’s nephew also lives there, I think it’s some place like Oregon, maybe you have met him?” This breed, however, is vanishing these days…after the advent of IT, every second Subramaniam and Krishnamurthy’s son is in the US, so they are now more aware of the vastness of US geography, and less prone to this “If you are in Florida you must meet my relative in California” conversation!


August 29, 2006


Sometimes, even as I am writing something, I think of someone specific reading it and wonder what the reaction will be…for example when I post descriptions about my home and surroundings, I think of how asakiyume or suzan_s will react….but the amazing thing is that I never fail to be surprised at where reactions come from, and what they are. Who would imagine that siniak_castle would be interested the floriculture of Bangalore? That thaths would respond about Kannadasan? Or that wondernoon, who was a child when I was a young woman, would express much the same thoughts and feelings that I had when my child was the same age as hers is now?

I look forward eagerly to the comments, and often, they provide points of view and perspectives that really open up my thinking into new vistas…I like compliments and savour them, but disagreement, too, can be such a stimulus!

So..if you read my LJ..please feel free to comment…I find it a great way of interacting with so many minds! No newspaper publication ever brings me this kind of feedback which can lead to more interaction and more ideas…

Vinaayka Chathurthi (Gowri Ganesha Pooja), 27 Aug 2006…mainly flowers

August 28, 2006


Well…here are a few pics that I took at Gandhi Bazar, one of the large market areas in Bangalore, today. But first,my disclaimer….

Apparently the camera was set for indoor shots (we were going to attend a wedding) and since I decided on the spur of the minute that I would take pictures, KM had no time to re-adjust KMC (KM’s camera). And of course, I was in a rush and didn’t aim too well either. So please excuse the general technical terribleness of the shots and just see the scenes!

I took a lot of pictures of flowers this time, because Bangalore is known as a floriculture centre, and is known for the wide variety of flowers on sale here.


Here’s a shop selling different sizes and representations of Ganesha….

more pictures if you click on this

Family politics

August 27, 2006


How I wish there were no such thing as family politics….when there is an occasion,  relatives who should help don’t help, and on the contrary, sit around expecting to be waited on, and pass snide comments that MIGHT be heard by “accident”, belitting one’s efforts. When what should be a joyful occasion becomes, instead, a time of mental tension and annoyance that sometimes erupts into anger. Some families seem to really delight in this kind of thing, and it’s just awful to even see…I wonder how the families themselves can take it! Thank goodness my family is one where people are uncomplicated, communication is honest, expectations are realistic, formalities don’t exist, only courtesies, and affection, and its expression, are genuine! How do these other kind of families ever manage to lead happy lives? It would be like living in one of these Saas-Bahu serials, I think! (my NIF’s –Non Indian Friends– Saas/Bahu means mother in law/daughter in law in Hindi…. I am referring to the family soaps, full of family intrigues,  that are aired on TV.)

I think that Tambrams from the Kaveri delta area of Thanjaavur are particularly bad in this respect, and of them those from the town of KumbhakONam have this kind of politicking down to an art form…people from there are SO intelligent, and apparently the agrarian life didn’t provide enough of an outlet for all that brain power…on the plus side, they are excellent at academics and music, and on the minus, they really delight in sly, sharp conversations,  poking and prying into other’s affairs, and passing judgement on others…

I am sure many of us know people like this and each of us might think of a different community! And, of course, there are the exceptions that prove the rule..the really nice, kind-hearted, helpful and good-natured people who bloom like lotuses in the muddy ponds!

Learning many things at once… and met ….

August 27, 2006

Learning a lot of different things at once can be daunting sometimes…..

I didn’t realize, when falling in love with wildlife, that it would be so interlinked with photography, and that digital photography would be so inseparable from the computer and software…it seems to me that I am learning to swim in a pool which has several deep ends! Oh, well, one day I will get there (though I might be about 163 years old at that point.)

For example:

Getting sanathreddy‘s first picture on to Flickr, and then to  LJ,  proved a challenge for me as I didn’t realize that Nikon raw was in a different file format from Canon raw…one assumes standardization! So amoghavarsha came to our aid, in the middle of a VERY busy day!

Today, we were passing through Bangalore’s lovely Gandhi Bazaar at its festive best (today is  Ganesha Chathurthi, or fourth phase of the moon which is the festival of Ganesha) on our way to a wedding, and I felt I *had* to take some snaps (couldn’t get to 9th Block yesterday) ….and I  got off with KMC (KM’s Camera) while the poor spouse, muttering to himself, parked a little way ahead. I clicked some pictures…and the colours seemed not very bright. KM explained that he had set the camera for indoor shots and told me, “It’s a complicated camera.” As if he had to tell me that! Well, I will post those tomorrow, as we just came home to wish someone else a happy wedding anniversary, and are back to the friend’s wedding again…I will post some shots from the wedding, too….

KM won’t tell me where the camera manual is…that is one way I could learn more about it….

But one of the nice things about the wedding today was meeting usha123, who recognized me from my photos and came up to say hi! Wanted KM to take a snap of both of us, but in the rush of the wedding rituals and work to be done, it didn’t happen…usha123 travels all over the world on her work, must get her to post more often!

met and went to a set of plays…

August 26, 2006


Wanted to post this earlier…but things kept happening, particularly, getting sanathreddy on to LJ happened….and today was really busy.

Since kadambarid had come over to attend a conference, I thought she might like to see Ranga Shankara, so met her there. A bright, enquiring mind…I will enjoy spending time with her at any time!

The set of plays, called “Final Touches” at Ranga Shankara , by Yours Truly Theatre, turned out to be 4 one-act plays where the audience reaction would determine the ending. Each play was supposed to be in a different language. We watched the “Kannada” one ( inverted commas because there was a large smattering of English), “The Purple Rose”,  and then the “English” one, “ctrl/alt/del” (inverted commas because at one point of time we thought we were already into the Hindi one!)…the group acting this one was actually pretty good….they are beginning to get their comic timing right.

kshah was apparently acting in the last of the 4 plays; he couldn’t come out to meet me before the play as we had planned, as he got caught up with rehearsals backstage…and we couldn’t stay back till then end…see below…

Well-meant plays, but…and it was a pretty big but….the first two plays overran the time stated so very badly. I agree that it will take a little time for fresh theatre groups to work off their amateurishness…but they must estimate their time correctly, especially if audience responses are going to be there, too. At the end of 2 hours, only 2 plays had been done…we could not stay beyond 9.30pm as sanathreddy and I decided that it was important to put kadambarid into an auto and send her safely off to Malleswaram.. so we left.

Luckily, kadambarid‘s conference was just down the road from where I live, so she was able to come over again the next day, and we spent a little time together, discussing assorted subjects such as atheism, her family, and communism vs capitalism….Had to go for my swim while she was here ( if I postpone the time I often wind up not going at all, lazy bum!) but she didn’t seem to mind at all!