Posts Tagged ‘chennai’

To live without love

February 9, 2017

Who will drop loving kisses
On the cheeks of motherless children?
Who will hug them, tease them, scold them,
Tickle them, cuddle them, laugh with them?
Children need food and sleep…
And so much more, to thrive.
I sing two little children to sleep.
Tears fall from my eyes as I think
Of every child without parents in this world.
The refugees, the orphans, the lost children….
Surely the greatest cruelty in our world
Is to let children live…. without love.

Chennai, 041216

Oral Communication…aka Gossip! Chennai, 260214

March 4, 2014

gossip 260214

Under the preceptors’ eyes….I found this scene intriguing on several levels. The Shankaracharyas look on at life today. The younger of the two men has the outward appearance of the traditional Tamil Brahmin…the “kudumi”, the sacred ash and sandalwood smeared on the forehead, the “anga vastram” on the chest…the older has his hair cut the modern way, and is wearing a shirt. But the age-old oral tradition goes on…the “karna parampara” of “you speak, I listen, and information is communicated”. It’s less charitably referred to as gossip! Chennai, 260214.

sadAbhishEkam: celebrating a man’s entering his 80th year

February 27, 2014

My childhood friends, Rajamani and Savithri, celebrated their sadabhishekam on the 26th of February, at the Sankara Matham, Chromepet.


Rajamani Anna (aNNA is “older brother”) was a cousin of the seven siblings who lived right opposite my parents’ home in Kolkata. He lived with them, and their parents, studying and then working, and the closeness has persisted through the decades. I have been quite close to his younger daughter, too, and jumped at the chance to attend the sadabhishekam.

The 60th and 80th birthdays are traditionally celebrated only when the husband attains those respective ages. Hopefully, we will start celebrating them for women, too, but as of now, the winds of change have not blown that strongly!

A beautiful “kOlam” welcomes everyone into the venue:


Agni, the god of fire, is invoked in the homam (called “vELvi” in Tamizh), by the priests:


This perforated plate is a new tradition (I’ve not seen it even 20 years ago), and gold ornaments are put in so that the purified water will pass over the gold, too:


The thirumanjanam going on.


Both of Rajamani’s daughters, Swarnamala and Bhavani, are holding the perforated plate.


The couple, after the abhishekam:


Friends and family gather:


The fruits and flowers, and other offerings at the “hOmam”. The “paruppu thEngAi” (those two cones) are made of some kind of sweet:



Rajamani’s sister applies the “nalangu” (turmeric paste) on Savithri’s feet, as decoration, and puts on the toe-rings:


I was tickled by the juxtaposition of the age-old traditions of “thAmboolam”, ritual worship…and the modern newspaper, with a contemporary headline:


The husband ties the sacred thread (mAngalyam) around his wife’s neck. The sadabhishekam is the third such occasion; the second is the shashti abdha poorthi, or “attaining 60 years”.


The couple then seek the blessings of the audience, which is provided in the form of “akshatha” or ritually sanctified rice:


(this kind of blessing-with-grain is probably the same in many cultures…I see many couples having confetti thrown over them!)

All hindu weddings have to be witnessed by Agni (fire), who is the ultimate purifier. Here, Agni has sunk into ash and embers:


Arattai sabhai (gossip sessions!) go on:


The lunch was delicious:



“panthi vijArikkarathu” (enquiring hospitably about whether the food is good, and if the guest has had enough of everything) is done by the “host” family:


Uncle and niece:


Photographic documentation is obligatory now!


I like this group photo because it also contains the family who are, today, like my family!


These are four of the five sisters (the young girl on the left is the daughter of the one sitting next to her) who raised me, as a child. The lady who is sitting second from right is my music guru; she taught me for over 15 years!


My guru, Meenakshi Rajagopal. How lucky I am, to have a sister-cum-guru!


Let me close with two short videos.

This thirumanjanam, or ritual bathing in sanctified water. The traditional “gowri kalyANam” is being sung:

mAngalya dhAraNam, or tying of the sacred thread (sorry, I had to take stills, so this is VERY short!)

I hope you enjoyed the sadAbhishEkam as much as I did!

A lovely song, well sung

November 5, 2013

Listen to my very talented nephew, Rakesh Raghunathan:

Apart from his great musical talent, he also runs a take-away wrap business, called Petawrap (mostly vegetarian, I think)in Chennai, with a chain of outlets, and runs a cookery show on one of the TV channels…all very successfully!

A versatile guy…and a very likeable person, too. Rakesh…your nickname is “Rock”…and you rock!

Blasts from the past…

July 10, 2013

KM’s cousin, Raju Srikumar, put up a lot of family photographs on FB, and I downloaded these….

Here’s KM and his family (I think the youngest brother wasn’t yet born!)..this must be circa 1960:

aapnk 1960 probably

Here I am, with AM (who’s definitely less than a year old, so this must be early 1979), in Santhome, in Chennai:

am dm santhome 1979

Here’s my father, holding AM, in Bompas Road, Kolkata, in September 1979:

ambu sntm 1977

The photo below is from October 1979; it was also taken in Santhome.

Here’s a pic where my brother seems to have joined all of us. As says, probably faking the “good boy” look before going out on the town! I was lucky to have a brother and brother in laws who were on excellent terms..and in my mind, there was no difference between them…my brothers in law, too, were extremely affectionate.

Memories suddenly surfaced today…they are both happy and painful. Life has always been a mixture of the good and the bad, but the good has always predominated, and I am fortunate, and grateful for that!

P N Krishnaswamy, 1917-2004

March 22, 2013

Recently, KP (that’s Kalyan Mohan Shaffer) seemed to look exactly, I said in an email, “like PiNK Mama”

To this, my sambandhi asked, “Who’s PiNK Mama?”…and that brought about this post…

PiNK “Mama” (uncle) is P N Krishnaswamy, Mohan’s dad, whose initial, K, contributes the K in K. Mohan 🙂

I first met my father-in-law to be when he came to “see” me at the Official Bride Inspection. Over the decades, I came to know and respect him a lot.

He’d been born in Tamil Nadu on August 10, 1917, in Pakkam, a tiny village close to Pondicherry. In the days when large families were the norm, he was an only child. The parents were very poor; the father, who himself was an adopted child, was working as a cook.

He was enrolled in a school in a village about 5 miles away..and the young boy had to walk to school every Monday, stay with a relative, and walk back home, the 5 miles on the highway, on Friday evenings. He finished his Matriculation; he showed imself to be a very good pupil, with a good bent for languages (Tamil and English) and excellent in Mathematics….but there was no money to educate him further.

Other details are rather sketchy, but I know that he was sent to the Mayilam temple to teach the young seer of the temple. This was after Amongst his duties, he was to teach the seer English, too. He seems to have shown, in this first job, the sincerity and diligence that always characterized him in all his work.

At this time (early 1930’s) ome recruiting started for the Post and Telegraphs Department. Since he was based in Pondicherry, which was French territory at the time, he had the choice of either applying to the French P&T Department, or the Indian one. He applied for the Indian Post & Telegraphs…but regretted it after he retired in 1976, because the pension for the employees of the French government was nearly ten times that of employees oHf the Indian Government! And because of his long life, he might have truly ended up with a huge pension…but more about that later.

He joined as a sorter in the Railway Mail Service (RMS). This meant being in the postal van of the train, taking “dak” or post, letters, and parcels from the various stations, and sorting the letters into various cubbyholes as we’ve all seen in the historic documentaries! He steadily rose though the ranks, and was an Accounts Officer at the end of his career.

Now that his career was “settled” (for poor people then, as now, a Government job meant great job and financial security) his parents wanted him to get married. He “saw” a few girls, and one anecdote which he related is green in my memory. He had a cycle, and on the way to meeting a prospective girl in her parental home, he fell off the cycle and sustained injuries, and never turned up there at all. But communications were so bad in those days, that he was able to go home and tell his parents that he did go, and that he didn’t like the girl! One of his colleagues, Mr K V Subramanian, had a younger sister of 13, and he agreed to the match. They were married, I think, in 1939, when he was 21, and she 14 . (They never remembered the date of the wedding, or bothered much about it!) The names Rukmani and Krishnaswamy were deemed to be a “divine” match.

I do not think it was a very happy marriage…but they respected many things about each other, and like most marriages of the day, it lasted until my mother-in-law passed away, in 1984. They had six children, but the only daughter died in infancy, and the sons were really widely-spaced in age…the eldest one being born in March 1941, when the mother was 16, and the father 23. The first two sons were born in Rukmani’s parental home in Chidambaram…the eldest was named Natarajan after the presiding deity.

At some point of time, he was posted to Villupuram, and then he received a posting to Jabalpur, which, in those days, was probably equivalent to someone going to the US forty years later. But my mother-in-law was a very intelligent, independent and hard-working woman, and she followed him to Jabalpur, a place of an unknown culture and an unknown language. They had two more sons there, in 1956 and 1958. They then moved to Shillong, where the youngest son was born in 1964…when the mother was 40, and the father a rather advanced (for those years) 47. There was 24 years between the eldest and youngest son…more than the 23-year gap between father and the first son! They later moved to Delhi, and my father-in-law retired when he was posted in Chennai, in 1975, when he turned 58.

Bringing up the children was a real challenge even in those days. But in spite of this, the brothers were admitted to the best schools possible. Mohan,the second son, used to say that there was often no money at the end of the month. The elder boys used to go and collect cowdung and pat it into dried cakes for the kitchen fire. My mother-in-law stitched the clothes for all the younger boys, and all the quilts. Amazingly, for those days, my father-in-law could also cook well and sew on the treadle machine;when my mother-in-law was admitted in the hospital and stayed there for more than a month, he used to cook the food for the family, and send it to the hospital through Mohan, who also took care of his younger siblings while his father was at work. The widowed mother lived with them for many years, until her death. There seems to have been no love lost between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law; but there simply was no other option but to live together.

We all loved him a lot, and loved his many quirks, too…chief amongst which was a pronounced hypochondria..which resulted in my having to take him not only to different doctors, but to practitioners of different branches of medicine…homeopathy, allopathy, unani (greek medicine), and ayurveda…none of which ever satisfied him. The funny thing was, when he finally had a real stroke, he just stopped complaining…it was as if he no longer needed to convince us that something was wrong, since it really was!

The sons, each of them, proved to be quite brilliant, academically. One passed out from the Indian Institute of Science, the second stood University first at the University of Shillong, got a B. Tech degree from IIT Madras, and went to IIM Ahmedabad. Brothers no. 4 and 5 studied at the prestigious Jawaharlal Institute of Medicine and Educational Reseach (JIPMER) in Pondicherry, and went to the UK to do their FRCS, which they completed, and then went on to do surgical residencies in the US, where they are now independent surgeons. The youngest studied at REC in Kurkshetra, and went to do his Masters in Canada, where his eldest brother had emigrated after he, too, worked for the P&T for a year or two.

This family was my by-example introduction to non-gender-based work in the family. My father in law,as I said, could cook very well…he sewed on the treadle machine….my mother in law put up a netting on a wooden frame as we had a fly problem in our first kitchen, because the flies were troublesome. They believed in doing things themselves, and did not delegate jobs to anyone else.

My father-in-law was one of the very few men I know, who completely took retirement in his stride. Not for him the angst of being without an occupation, or worrying about decreased pay. He was very pragmatic about his retirment, and spent his time pottering around the garden, or doing mechanical odd jobs around the house. He also tried to teach my youngest brother in law (who was 12 when I got married) but he seemed to have been much more successful in any education with his other sons. However, he instilled in all of them a very strong work ethic, which (along with the fact of there being no daughters to marry off, definitely) resulted in the economic advance of the family.

He used a cycle for a long time,and then bought himself one, and then two, scooters…and when they lived in Pondicherry, each of the medical students would take one of the scooters, and my father in law would take the cycle to do the vegetable and grocery shopping! He could, and did, walk for miles.

In the community where they lived in Pondicherry, my in-laws were very active. I know that my father-in-law came all the way to Chennai to intercede (successfully) for the admission of some young men to the University of Madras. They settled a lot of local disputes…when the local temple had a festival, they took care to distribute the prasad to the non-Hindu families first. My father-in-law was not interested in music, but was well-versed in Tamil literature, and could quote the Thirukkural fluently. He taught himself astrology, and was also an avid student of Homeopathy….and other schools of medicine.

Alas, whether this interest in medicine sparked off the interest in medical symptoms, or it was the other way around, I do not know, but certainly, he was a hypochondriac. This resulted in his seeing many physicians, of many schools of medicine. I still remember his visit to the general practitioner near our home in Bangalore, who was, if anything, a few years younger than he was. The doctor told him, “At our age, some ailments are to be expected!” and my father in law was utterly disgusted! On his prescribing X medicine for elevated blood pressure, he asked the doctor, “But doctor, all my friends are taking Y medication, can I also have that?” The doctor’s rejoinder was, “Do all your friends take the medication on their doctors’ advice, or because their friends are taking it?” That was the last time that particular physician was visited!

However, my father-in-law had his own sense of humour, too. When my mother-in-law once got up from the carrom board (that’s how we spent out leisure time before we bought a TV set!), saying, “I have put on the weight,” (meaning the weight of the pressure cooker in which the evening rice was being made) he twinkled, “Not too much, I don’t want you to become fat!” He would add, as he sprinkled talcum powder on the board for a smoother strike, “Shall I put some on your face, too, Rukku, and make you more beautiful?”

Most amazingly, he also changed some of his basic views. Though he’d wanted dowry when I got married, when it came to my brother-in-law’s wedding, I was able to tell him how the dowry gave most daughters-in-law (including myself) a very strong feeling of hostility; he completely desisted from asking for dowry thereafter, and in fact, when son no.4 got married, he was satisfied with the registration ceremony in London, and was not very particular about having a tradtional Hindu wedding at all. For someone of his generation to change his views like that was, indeed, most unusual and impressive.

Alas, he didn’t get along too well with his youngest son, who had to suffer comparisons to all his elder brothers. One of my father-in-law’s favourite and long-winded stories addressed to son no.5: “It’s twenty years from now. I first go to a huge Electronics company, and ask to meet the owners, and Natarajan and Mohan come out to see me. Then I decide to visit the famous clinic nearby, and ask to see the top doctors there, and Naryanan and Kumar come out to see me. After this, I feel hungry, and decide to have a dosa at the local eatery. I go there and ask to see the fellow who’s grinding the dosa batter, and YOU come along.” In spite of such comparisons, the youngest son grew up loving his elder brothers!

He never did like being poked fun at…but that never prevented all of us from doing so! But he was fond of our daughter (he didn’t have as much interaction with his other grand-daughters as he had with my daughter) and they shared a room in Bangalore when he was with us. I remember that she went for a summer course in magic in Bal Bhavan…she’d come back and refuse to teach me the trick, but would disappear into her room with “Appa-thatha” and tell him the trick at once!

He was excellent with figures, and kept meticulous accounts; he also kept house immaculately even after my mother-in-law passed away, and could lay his hands on anything at any time…something none of us ever learned from him. He was also extremely punctual….another thing that none of us picked up…but very meticulous in his work, and that’s something all his sons have, even today.

He kept excellent health (in spite of all his imaginings), and used to be quite independent even when living in the US…. but suffered a series of strokes, which made him quite immobile and quiscent in his last years, and he passed away on April 4, 2004. many stories and incidents crowd my mind…but this will have to do…”Appa”, or “PiNK Mama” as he was fondly called…here’s my loving salute to you! (Er, I was his favourite daughter-in-law, not because of any inherent goodness in me, but because I was at home, and willing to listen to lots of his anecdotes!)

1946 Wedding….88, Royapettah High Road…

September 26, 2012

Thanks to my cousin, Ganapathi Vibhu, I got this amazing treasure…the invitation to my parents’ wedding!

Both my mother, and her younger sister, were married on the same day…and the marriage was held at my grandparents’ home (I do wonder what Mylapore looked like in 1947!)

Here’s the English invitation:

ammappa's wding invite 260912

And here’s the Tamizh invitation:

2 mmappa's wding invite 260912

The invitation asks guests to “send their rations in advance”!

The invitation is also shaped this way, so it could be folded and mailed as it was, without another envelope:

3 mmappa's wding invite 260912

….but this is more about 88, Royapettah High Road now!

The house where my parents got married still stands, and is part of Vidya Mandir School today. From the first floor, one could see the gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar temple, and the frontage received the cool evening sea breeze in such profusion that one could actually sleep without a fan…and I don’t remember mosquitoes (isn’t that incredible, in hot, humid Chennai?)

The aunt who got married in this house, lived there with her husband for many, many years. It was a social hub, with relatives and friends visiting (it’ in Luz, in the heart of Mylapore)….there was a large garden, with mango trees that yielded delicious fruit…a style of life that’s gone for ever now. We, as children, used to play in the garden all afternoon, never minding the heat, and we’d be called inside to have “thayir shaatham”…we’d sit around in a circle, and whoever the female relative was in charge, would tell us a story and drop the curd rice into our hands, while banana leaves or banana flower “petals” held vegetables or sambar in front of each child..simple, filling food.

My mother’s elder sister (Ganapathi’s parents) moved from Mayilaaduthurai (Mayavaram) and also lived on the first floor for many years. Everyone was very accomplished at academics and music….Vibhu Periappa’s family produced many musicians.

There was a large pooja room, and a ‘dressing’ room…two rooms were sectioned off to give some privacy, but it was mostly communal sleeping arrangements…all of us would spread “paay” (rush mats) on the floor, or “jamakkaalam” (dhurries) and sleep.

The servants used to live with my aunt and uncle for over 40 years…Govindan, Annamma (his sister) and their families formed part of the group, too. A feudal system, which worked. My uncle’s office (Amar Dye Chem) driver was Krishnan, and he too was with them for decades.. driving the trusty Ambassador car that they had.

Foodgrains used to come in from the village of Nagaipattinam, to which my uncle belonged…it never occurred to me then that my uncle’s salary could not possibly provide enough for all the people who ate there!

My uncle’s family had a business, providing various articles to the Railways, but it was concluded after a while.

I remember the ancient, beautiful “easy chair” that my uncle would relax in…the green trees through the big windows…the stately beauty of the high-ceilinged house, where sparrow would make nests in the “cups” above the ceiling fans.

The telephone was in a nook under the stairs, and the wall was scribbled over with numbers. We could talk to relatives in other cities only by booking a “Trunk Call” (in three categories, Ordinary, Urgent and Lightning!) and it could take a few days for the call to come through!

Women having their periods were segregated to a little, ill-lit, ill-ventilated passage in the back of the house, and they had to use the rustic toilet at the bottom of the garden.They could have their meals only when the others had finished. I can’t say it was a very pleasant arrangement! I know a lot of hypocrisy went on, too, with some women concealing the fact that they were having their periods…or taking “Primolut-C” to delay it during their visit to the house…I wonder how many miscarriages could be attributed to taking estrogen pills indiscriminately.

Such random memories occur to me as I gaze at my parents’ wedding invitation…I never knew it was called “Madhava Vilas” (Residence of Krishna)..I remember the beautiful profusion of scarlet Bougainvillea over the front gate, as well as Oleander bushes.

Oh well, that was a short peek into the past…rare for me to indulge in nostalgia.

The Knife-sharpener

August 23, 2011

knife sharpener

Though the small streets and the lanes he goes,
His voice echoing around.
He calls aloud, this sharpener of knives:
They hear him, the mothers, the sisters, the wives:
Each busy housewife knows
That he’ll set the wheel on the ground:
The sparks will fly as he steps on the pedal:
Sharper and sharper gets the now-shiny metal:
He pockets the small sums that he’s paid,
Perhaps drinks a cup of tea that someone’s made…
Then he’s off again, with his clarion call,
Whoever needs his work…he goes to serve them all.

I heard his “clarion call” (in Chennai, what he calls is, “katthi shAAAAAAAANAAAAA!”) and rushed out on to the balcony to photograph his retreating form…

This post was made in LiveJournal on Dec 4, 2009:

A R Rahman

August 3, 2011

One of the most talented music directors to shine in the tamizh film industry’s firmament is the still-young


If you read that wiki entry, you’ll realize how apt the term “isai puyal” (storm of music) is…he’s truly taken the music and movie world by storm.

A’s friend Madhu sent a video of Rahman’s song being performed by the Oakland choir, which is what brought about this post….

Here’s the poet, Vaali, reciting a verse about Rahman at a fundraiser for the battle against cancer. It is a gem of the word-play that is a hallmark of tamizh oratory

Thank you, Madhu, for a wonderful start to my day, by sending that video!

Clouds and colours

July 29, 2011

As we flew from Chennai to Bangalore, we almost immediately hit the rain-bearing monsoon clouds….first they were fluffy cotton wool fleecy:

white cld 260711

Then they started turning dark, with ice at their tips:

chni blr 260711 cloud

Soon the frozen water made prismatic effects as the sun hit it:

rnbw effect 260711

There are some disadvantages to a window seat, particularly when you have to cross two people to get to the toilet…but equally, there are some major pluses to be in it, and watch the wonders of Nature and our Earth outside!