Crafted with hands of love

cc37fa2a043e53edb316aa6da8cdc1e67433c194

 

In a day and age where technology has standardized human responses to situations and events , lies a world which believes in being one of a kind . With myriad thoughts and trepidation I stepped into the small nameless store in one of the by lanes of Tanjore.

Sitting by the side of a small stove , breathing life into gold was Arumuga Achari- a septuagenarian jeweler by family tradition. While I took in the sights and sounds of his home turned workshop, I stopped my gaze a little longer at the poonal(Sacred thread)on his shoulder. Capturing my gaze halting, he answered nonchalantly but with a twinge of pride ” We are one of the few Vaishya’s ( Traders) who can don this. It lends us that discipline and dedication at work.”

Acharis are traditional goldsmiths in the south of India who trace their origins to the Vishwakarma community. The community comprises of five sub groups of artisans and craftsmen- Carpenters, bronze smiths, goldsmiths,blacksmiths and stonemasons. They worship varying forms of the deity Vishwakarma and follow the Vedas for inspiration and discipline in their work and craftsmanship.

Their artistic skills commanded a higher social respect in the golden period of art and culture in India when their services defined an empire and dynasty. Stone masons and goldsmiths worked wonders in producing one of a kind creations for posterity. Living under the shadows of the magnificent Brihadeeshwara temple, Arumugam seemed to be transcending across two eras while still living in one.

As he referred notations from old palm fronds for the perfect cut, Arumugam Achari , explained how his profession has been eaten into by machine cut, precision based work, which neither displays the involvement or the unique characteristic of the artist.”The machine has swallowed imagination.” He surmised.

He recollected a story of an ancestor who had lost his right thumb to an accident. The maimed artisan had developed an exclusive design using only his left hand. The design even now stands as the signature piece of his family heirloom.

Handcrafted handicrafts were a flourishing art and trade form in pre British India. Fabrics, weaves, jewellery, architecture competed with each other in being one of a kind. Even flaws and mishaps were managed to render beauty and depth. To the seemingly civilized western world, the lack of standardization was a deep rooted  menace. One that stood in the way of creating trade able common wealth.

Industrialization in the west had made mass production a sought after economic welfare measure. In comparison , spending months on an exquisite piece of work seemed to be a case fit for resource mismanagement. Soon the craftsmen saw their skills moved to the fringes of the society where hands were relegated for collecting alms in the name of salary.

Arumugam’s eyes misted when he spoke of his sons who have left the trade for better pastures in the cities. “Selva has a very strong hand  and an excellent eye for detail. He however chose to join IT company and is now in Chennai. He works in the night and sleeps in the morning. For his wedding I cast jewellery for  my daughter in law , however she also wanted some from the famous shops in Trichy. “

” One day they will realize that the art in their hands cannot die. For that day I have safeguarded some tools in a box for them to start where I leave.”

Amidst conversations, the hot liquid gold was deftly pulled by his wrinkled yet skillful fingers and therein emerged a criss cross of intricate knots and crosses.Entwined they formed a pattern that would soon encircle a girl’s neck welcoming her journey to womanhood.

Handicrafts , a term now debated in parliaments on varying fronts, brings forth the humaneness in humanity. A piece of hand woven cloth expresses between its warps and wefts a million moments of aspirations and dreams hidden in the soul of one who we may never know. But as we glide around them flattered in their beauty an unknown face breaks into a known smile.

As my hands glided over the still warm piece of chain , there stood out equally entwined in the metal Arumugam’s earnest hope for his art to survive.

 

Life hacks to save a hacked life …

The latest trending hashtag on social media : Life hacks. Simple tricks to simplify what was never in my life. So I ended up following some of them. They range from using rubber bands to easily place ladles on casseroles to de seeding the strawberry. “How to mash blueberries without staining your hands” , caught my attention like never before.

Lo behold I stood at the exotic gourmet fresh produce market , my cart laden with blueberries,strawberries, very berries and straws to experiment. Its another story altogether on how much it cost the exchequer. I wanted to try these out desperately.

The berries deseeded, and mashed I went to on to see recipes where I could use them in a jiffy. Quick you tube videos simplified and demystified the vegetarian cheese cake, an Indian shepherd pie and what not. Hooked , I cooked. Soon my tables were weighed down with the weight of what could have ,may have been lunch in Australia.  Thin crusts, short breads, braided breads, beaded cup cakes the list was endless. My comfort foods were slowly starting to be marginalized. The more I baked, the more my digestive system ached.

When the tiers started to show through the dresses, more hacks came up on my page.On wonder diets, miracle morning drinks, freaky fruits and game plans. Gluten free, dairy free, food – free….. It was time. just about time .

I had not seen it coming -my own life being hacked into. Bit by bit , page by page it started to control my servers and some point in time took control of my right and left hemisphere. The only way to save yourself from a hacker is to shut  him out.

I signed out. Logged out. Closed accounts. Took a detox for 3 months . I did miss the addictive network initially , but also started to enjoy and relish the bliss. When I decided to come back , I also decided to put a few checks and controls. You may wish to follow the same for your life too ( Here take these as hacks to prevent hacks )

  • I think before I like anything. I ponder on whether I actually like it in the real world, will I like it tomorrow and day after ? By the time I am done pondering my infatuation laced ‘like’ has been tamed.
  • I stopped following random , sponsored, unidentified groups and pages.
  • I steer clear of reading about one topic through social media
  • If I see content , and feed only of one genre. I stop , check and restart. ( no one should decide what I should read, I read what I want to read)
  • I read content online. I also read counter content to that content
  • I take sermon posts with a pinch of salt( A big pinch of salt)
  • I like humor , that’s the biggest life hack I have ever come across.

Be online , but remember life and the world that supports it exists offline.

Of checks and balances

5-1024x544Its raining weddings and functions in Chennai. Being a permanent citizen of this hot and happening city, its indeed no wonder that our letterboxes are flooded with invitations. Ranging from the traditional pink , yellow and green ones to the designer scented gilted ones, we are not spared of any small occasion that calls for a celebration.

Life revolves around in a full circle is what one realizes, when one fails to suitably recycle the cards. The ones who got married two seasons ago are now inviting us for their baby shower, the ones blessed and showered are inviting us to the cake cutting. Upanayanams, betrothals, sangeet,weddings, reception,60 th , 80th …. the list is endless.

Armed with the very Indian decorative gift covers (suitably embellished with an odd number coin) , I swished in attempting to blend with Kanjeevaram clad aunties and starched dhoti clad mamas. The resident experts in guest list glide past the newbies who are probably attending their first wedding post  Hum aapke hain kaun. The selfie taking , pouting family is struggling to match their attire to ill fitting shoes and burgeoning stomach from delicacies had in a hurry.  In contrast stands the professional. Their eyes scan the venue in one sweeping grace. They skillfully take in the decor , while simultaneously searching for people to mark attendance to.

As the eyeballs touch base with those of the hosts, the host’s parents and the photographer it also continues to search for ,that elusive soul in checked shirt and spectacles, sitting ready with a notebook in hand.

As the muhurtham( appointed hour) nears, the man (yes mostly it is a male dominated job role)makes his way up the stage.A notebook , pen and an old bank fixed deposit bag in tow, he takes his seat behind the people in action. Not a drop of turbulence or a spot of excitement on his face. His calm ,almost cashier like presence signals the audience to queue up.He is not interested in bouquets and other floral decors that people gift. If the blessing is worth its life monetarily a few hours hence, it is safely entrusted to the best man so as to speak.

Every family has that one “trustworthy” member who is invited, called upon, entrusted, with the role , that interests not many. This member , ( as I earlier said, usually male) is also not interested in being in the melee and loves his role in documenting for history and posterity.

No amount is too small to record. No amount is too big to proclaim with an applause. Jewellery and other gifts are immediately packed and handed over for safe keeping. He serves as the rightful custodian to whom the guests must bow to pay their respects to. Some even proudly announce their names and whose side they are related to , so as to have accounts clearly marked.

The little notebook carries in it a ceremonial heirloom. One that exists in a family as testimony of respect and blessings earned. It is even referred to at times when the same is due from their side. For, what comes in and what goes out must balance ! Ain’t it ?

Recorded in neat beautiful figures tallying a grand sum of blessings from loved ones is something to be cherished for long. My father has in an old briefcase, notebooks ranging from 40 page ones, to soft bound calendars holding between them entire chapters on inflation and Indian economy.

As I leafed through varied hand writings on yellowing pages I could not help wonder whichever be the generation, whatever be the technology,somethings are better left unchanged. One that I earnestly wish to see in every celebration is the unassuming uncle sitting slightly to the left, diligently writing good tidings , numerically speaking though !

The gulabi gang …

As I trudged around the park, pushing the stroller

I wondered was my life getting any slower ?

I looked back at the years of careless spree

That I had spent on work,travel and home in glee.

I wasn’t getting any younger

Said the little grey into my inner ear.

Oh ! I wished I could let time fly

A little to the left and a lot behind.

I saw another on a similar trail

With a smile, of which now I could tell a tale.

We exchanged glances, and a little talk

Bade good byes with a promise to meet for a walk.

We walked , and laughed over how similar our paths were

Soon we found more who joined the tier.

Of lovely evenings where we grew younger

Under the bright sky a shade now a lil lighter.

The brood grew to go to school

We tottered along looking cool

Grand plans of that we plotted and planned

Of reclaiming lost identity !

Come again !What was that ?

We shared our experiences and gained some,

We laughed , giggled and had some girly fun.

Supporting each other in daily challenges

While building models for tomorrow’s grand palaces.

Friends from childhood, friends from college

We still do meet and relive good old days..

But the ones this phase of life brings in

What can I say….

They make my vibrant life a little more radiant.

A bunch of women friends is all we need

When the twenties and thirties blend and meet.

For life’s little big moments

Are a lot more riotous with a colorful gang to depend.

Say hurrah if you have some one you could read this with

For life s more beautiful when you have friends in every minute.

Inspired , and written in appreciation for a wonderful bunch of friends I have made through my life …. and to the beautiful women who weave so much into our daily lives !!

White with a tinge of grey …

bollywood-actors-who-played-villains-in-films-640x480

Growing up in conservative Madras, ( now Chennai), I always chose colors which were primary in nature. Red, blue, green. White always attracted me , but the fear of a small blemish on it left the white clothes hanging on the racks.

I loved a spotless personality too. As a teenager, I always viewed men with mustaches and beards with an extra pair of eyes. A teetotaler, a non smoker, a kind virgin gentleman and also immensely successful was what my dreams were made of.

Crashing into the twenties,I soon realised that a white washed sanitized world was no fun. We needed a few specs of black and many shades of grey in a personality to make it intriguing. What and how much of black construes grey is still subjective. The one who had an occasional drink, an occasional freaky streak to try out something once for the lifetime, the one who shouted out his inner most fears, the one who took on a challenge with a plan  to win … such ones held sway over the millennial world.

In the darkness of a theater, to the crunch of popcorn I was slowly being morphed into liking the new bad boy hero. Shahrukh,Aamir,Surya, Ajit, all moved away from being the perfect do good, mom’s son to the one who was not faultless.

Anger, self esteem, ego, self centeredness, the need to prove to the world, possessive. They were all human characteristics if not humane. They brought a celluloid demi-god closer. The leading lady trusted this man, because he was not super human , but one in flesh and blood she could live with. For it takes a human to live with another.

In recent times even a movie as gigantic as Bahubali , has equal number of women screaming for Ballal as for Bahu. Why is it that we have stopped idolizing heroes as ones of all virtues?  Why is it that we like Arvindswamy of Thani oruvan a little more? The hero of yesterday who would give up his love for friendship suddenly seems to be a laughable thought.

Is it a reflection of degradation of society or an increase in maturity wherein we are more accepting of people for what they are as a whole package ? I am still at crossroads. However , I do know that too perfect a person is someone to be wary of.   I d rather today trust the one with a beard and a mustache than the one one who dons the ash !

Disclaimer : ( No religious symbolism intended)

Let it go , Let it go…..

aa.jpg

After nearly three and half decades, I allowed myself to re-enter the folds of water . A silent promise to my son forced me to enroll for a swimming class.

For someone who fears water even while bathing , this was a small step equivalent of a giant leap in my lifetime. As I dangled my legs and carefully allowed the water to rise above my shoulders, I could sense the tightening of muscles in every inch of my body.

My coach, a middle aged soft spoken man, turned around and said, “Madam hold your breath and put your head underwater. ”

I was not prepared for this sudden immersion. What about gently breaking ice by sitting on the platform and staring at the blue clear tiles below ? wondered my mind.

Sensing my trepidation, he shouted across from the kids swimming area.

“You came to life only in water madam.Anyone can swim, just let go of yourself , the water will bring you up.”

Knotted through my body were a thousand thoughts about this and that . A last frontier on my list of things to do  began with swimming. I needed to conquer that first step of submerging my worries and letting go under the 4 feet of clear  blue liquid.

As I submitted myself to the water and the coach standing nearby, I could feel myself go lighter and coming above the ripples displaced.

Saranagathi, a term often ingrained by a colleague friend of mine, came to light. The secret of letting go is submitting yourself unconditionally to the higher power( here may be the coach, may be the force of water, may be god) .

Letting go is a concept most talked about, least practiced and most difficult to adopt. As we age, we are not able to submit our self , our responsibilities and us to the flow of time. We continue to tighten , to hold on , to control, to dream, to think, to (re)act and in the process break a momentum that comes naturally.

A quick trip to hospitals across the city paints a bleak picture of the old and suffering they undergo. Men and women , holding on to the last detail , unable to digest the reality that they face , trying to still control the flow of time that is well past them.

The 4 stages of life , our scriptures have defined, follow the meticulous rigor of being unfastened to fastening with knowledge( Balam to Brahmcharyam), graduating to tightening and testing with responsibilities( Brahmacharyam to Grusthashram) and then evaluating with the ultimate process of resigning to call of time( Vanaprastham).

Complete unconditional surrender allows us to float above the realms shackles life entwines us in and experience the joy of being weight less.

Call it moksha, call it jannat, call it renunciation, or redemption. Its all about letting go at the appropriate moment. Too early , we ll never feel the knots unravell, too late what would float would be lifeless.

A movie etched, in my memory is Zindagi na milegi …., A dialogue engraved forever is  ” Ek dubki mein zindagi ke saare rahasya khul gaye …. bus saans lethe raho”  – ( One dip, has unravelled the secret of life – just keep breathing) . Well mine turned out to be the moment when I held on to the one little breath I had taken , and let go of everything except the essence of life.

A long road to learning the art of swimming lies ahead, but the moment of truth has just passed by.

The Aftermath

As the first rays dawned on Kanagavalli illam , the trickle of people walking in started. Telephone calls and text messages had got the word around faster and people streamed in silent lines. Not a smile , not a word . Nods, tight clasps of hands and the unsaid was conveyed.

Kanaga sat quietly on the swing asking if coffee was served and inquiring on her son’s arrival. Shanmugam seemed to be sleeping on the cot for her. It was not until noon when the formalities began that the truth sunk in. 45 years of being his shadow , through his legal practice, through the journey of life, through their joys, through his illness had ended. Not abruptly as they would say but in a calmer , quieter manner.

Kanaga could not help but reflect back on the pompous funeral that was a custom in their villages. This was a more dignified one , suited to the tastes of their supreme court lawyer son , and architect daughter.

The crowds thinned down towards noon and picked up pace towards evening. It almost felt like the polling booth would be closing soon , and acquaintances poured in from work to mark their presence.

With the cortege , left most who came. The floor washed , the tables cleared Kanaga walked back into their room,her room.

Married at the age of 12 from one bustling household to another , she had rarely been alone. Even the monthly confinement sprang surprise company from the large joint family. Everyday life was one big affair with seniors always holding her hands in guidance.

Pregnancy,children, shopping, napping , travel , traditions, renditions were all chaperoned. She never really felt the  need to take on anything and no one asked her if she would like to. When Shanmugam moved his practice from Madurai to Madras, Appatha accompanied them with an entourage of domestic help. Kanaga felt at ease almost instantaneously  in their abode at Nungambakkam. Her routines pretty much remained the same in Madras too. Barring second Saturday nights , when she accompanied her husband to the prestigious Gymkhana club and patiently waited while he completed a game of bridge.

She made a few friends in Mrs.Bhagyam Sridhar , Mrs. Malar Selvam and Miss.Cynthia. But the discussions were formal as Shanmugam usually left a pair of his ears with her and replayed her conversation with spirited guffaws.

Saravanan and Meenakshi studied in the best convents in the city and were mostly busy with their tutions, tennis and swimming. Kanaga felt contended and was constantly reminded to feel blessed at such a perfect life.

As she laid out the bed that night , folding the day sheet , the first tear rolled out. The bed looked too big for her fragile frame . She sat on the easy chair and rocked herself to a numbing sleep.

“Amma should come back with me to Delhi. I have a huge house and she could comfortably stay with me. What would she do here anyway ? Sulekha also needs to understand Tamil culture. I am taking Amma with me.”

” I may have a smaller house in Mumbai but she will feel more at home with me.” Meenakshi countered her brother ,” plus being with my children will keep her mind away from unwanted thoughts.”

” You both are young. You lead your lives. She will feel bored with you all working throughout the day. As her brother , I am planning to take her back to Madurai. We all are retired and she can come back home and spend time with us just like years back.”

” Can I say something ?” a weak voice cut through the vast hallway.

” You all have been of great support the last one month.It has helped me grieve and also face the reality. Mama,… was all I knew all my life. Without him I sure will be rudderless, directionless …. What do they say almost helpless.

As of now I do look forward to a crutch to lean on , but I fear that I will never learn to walk if I take shelter yet again. ” Her voice choked and trailed out.

She slowly got up from the swing , and walked to the window.

” I don’t have plans, in fact I have never had plans. What I want to do is something that I want to think about.” She paused and added ” at least now.”

“May be I will begin by inviting Bhagya and Malar home for lunch sometime. I have been wanting to do that for many many years now.

May be I will watch the Sunday evening movie on TV fully this week.

May be I will start going to the bank.

May be ……”

The tears rolled down copiously. Meenakshi ran and hugged her mother from the back. Kanaga looked out through the open window. Clouded by tears, she saw the first blooms on the Vardah ravaged trees  in her garden. Kanaga straightened her shoulders up ,

“May be “, She paused nodding her head .

” I will stay here.”