The little red post box….

” Oor anna “- literally translated as the brother from downtown , was indeed young for all. The title , given to him by his sisters in the early 1900s, stuck on . Such was the unexplainable beauty in the complexities of a large joint family.

Going by size or grandeur the single storeyed bungalow built in 1940s Madras suburb did not stand apart from other houses in its neighbourhood. But the warmth exuded by over 50 members of the household, made ‘Sri Prahlad’ a towering landmark in the lives of many who grew up there.

The doors to the house remained open all day long. The laughter of children playing hide and seek ,and in the many years that followed of their children doing the same, always rang loud and clear. Over umpteen tumblers of hot coffee and steaming tiffin the house welcomed daughters, sons, neighbours and friends with equal splendour.

Oor anna , and Oor amma  presided over their guest’s hospitality , often rubbing the backs of the youngest with maternal warmth. Post brunch,the grand old man, would recline on his chair or  swing . Often an erroneous six would land a ball on his lap.  The seeker would cautiously approach Thatha for getting the ball back. That was not to be so easy.

“How many paisa are there in 2 rupees?” he would quiz the boy/girl who stood trembling in front of his walking stick.

As the young child gently folded his hands behind his back to count on the tiny palm prints …

” Hands in  the front ” a stern voice would say eyes closed.

Pavam vidungo, vilayadattum .” The indulgent grandmother would always come to the rescue. Afternoon game sessions were broken by her serving curd rice for the all those who assembled. The dirty hands washed clean , she would place a handful of gleaming white curd rice in the cupped palms. A quick deft work of the thumb created a well for a serving of  the almost red kuzhambu(gravy). A choice of pickles from mavadu to spicy manga was served on small leaves. The hungry army would slurp and rejoice the quick meal to return to the grounds. At times , including children from neighbourhood there were 30 mouths to feed. But Oor amma ensured  no one went away wanting more.

During summer the children would scamper around the house playing away in the nooks and corners known only to them. They however in unison carefully avoided Thatha ,for they knew being caught would entail a long letter writing session.

Meena athai , Oor Anna’s youngest daughter,was away in Bombay . Thatha would religiously dictate detailed letters to be written and posted to her.

Aei , Lalli inga va … …..” meant a bombshell to those whose game was interrupted.

Thatha had a stock of blue inland letters on which the young ones had to write in perfect handwriting what he would dictate.

Venum aashirwadam , Swami Lakshmipathy Maha Ganapathi thunai.” began the dictation. Not a comma was to be missed or a word rephrased. No news was beyond the knowledge of the children , but they being them almost never registered the depth of family gossip they were party to.  Once written , the writer also had to read it out .

What a photographic memory he had, he would pounce on the subtle lapses of full stops, hyphens that escaped the young and restless. The long accurate address dictated ended with Bombay being written in Tamil script as Bumbai.

Sealed and stuck – the job of taking the letter to the post office was entrusted to the trustworthy ,perfect grandson- Raman.  Raman’s job was not complete until he came and reported the time mentioned on the post box for mail clearance.Satisfied, Thatha rested his back and waited for the letter to travel to Bumbai.

Months sped by , and the eldest grand son was engaged to be married to the daughter of a postal services employee.  Thatha was delighted. He called for the to be bride’s father to come and see him. Laden with fruits and sweets the anxious parents of the girl came home on a Sunday afternoon. Over excited din and revelry, thatha asked the bride’s father to come and sit with him.With a twinkle in his eye , and yearning in his voice, thatha asked if sambandhi mama could install a postbox within the compound .

A wave of relief and laughter followed by ” Besha ! Adhukku enna ,pannitta pochu! ” .  Over the next few days a gleaming red and black post box was fitted on to the gate of Sri Prahlad. Thatha inaugurated the box by posting the first letter and the wedding invitation with his own hands amidst roars of claps from children and grandchildren alike.

It was but just another day in the life of those who resided at No 5 Visweshapuram – a house that grew to become a bond called Sri Prahlad.

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The awesome foursome …..

Having grown up on brunch-tiffin-dinner routine , I craved for a change when I  moved out on my own. Quickly lapping up scrumptious breakfasts, 5 course lunches and 7 course dinners, I was living the life of a chef’s diner.

Salads and accompaniments ,forked- knifed, slithered down my palette with ease. Every known oatmeal and muesli fought for larder space with the berries ,dry fruits and more. The US returned brother s introduction of preserves, ragus and such saw a few inches more being added. Every restaurant was tried out, every nook and corner of the cities I lived in was scanned for food-joints.

It was not until last month that the forgotten tastes from growing up years nudged my memory. The magical age of approaching 40s does spins one off into a nostalgic mode . So it was on that Sunday morning as I sat in a quiet corner of my balcony sipping coffee that it all came flooding back.

The simple hot brunches served on Sunday not so long ago. At the stroke of 10:00 am, we all sat down around a bunch of four utensils of steaming food.The smell of sesame oil lathered down with soap nut powder scrub wafted about the house.

The clank of lids being opened unveiled beneath them in almost royal like splendour a mixture of coconut sprinkled veggies- cooked al-dente. A crispy roast of colocasia to be apportioned equally amongst us four , spicy shallot sambhar, think cumin-pepper rasam bubbling with a foamy yellow top garnished with specks of green coriander.Accompaniments sometimes varied between a cool cucumber curd raita to a crunchy roasted applam .The king of the meal – hot fluffy rice arrived on our plates to be generously slathered with melted clarified butter which was always served and never taken.

I don’t what about the meal memory brought tears to my eyes now- the warm food or the warmth of an entire family sitting around a meal, the spicy condiments or the relaxed simple sunday routine. We never chatted much , but the vessels swept clean and a day to unwind under the same roof are definitely memories no mall visits can match upto.

The appearance of grey is no doubt a reminder of the passing years, but taking frequent trips on a nostalgic memory lane are definitely signs of hitting the middle ages. Such memories though are ones that I would love to bring back to the present. May be as a present to the ones currently under my roof !

To more hearty meals , to food that defines our very soul ! To those small big moments which liven up every boring routine. To a glorious Sunday lunch this weekend.

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Free as fearless should be ….

The many times that I loosened a shirt that was wee too tight,

The umpteen times that I turned around to check the upper clothing’s height.

Of guarded gazes at every male who walked straight across

Of creating niche spaces to avoid the squeezes so crass.

 

Of stalkers I could sense without turning my head,

For even a fleeting glance would be misinterpreted

The solitude space I miss being with my inner me

For my journeys are always in groups of over three.

 

The scrolling through of the reservation chart

To also check who will sit or sleep across

Mentally preparing for a journey so long

Of shawls, pins that would cover me all along.

 

I read somewhere we were meant to be equal

But is the fear in me , in you as well ?

Free is what I wish to feel , not from bondage or being incarcerated

Free is what I wish to feel, from this fear of being violated.

‘Every human is to be doubted until trust is won’

Is this the mind you wanted me to have for one ?

 

I don’t ask to walk on the roads bedecked

Mid day or when the night is its darkest

I ask of you for just one little journey

Where I can be the true me ……

 

Crafted with hands of love

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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 !!