31 December, 2013

Laguna Junior Christmas Choir - They rocked !!

(Image courtesy : scmp.com via Google)

This year too, like they did last year during Christmas, Santa’s little elves did their bit towards the community.  This year, the Laguna Junior Christmas Choir consisted of more than forty children.  They practiced Christmas carols in the evening, during those couple of hours that is normally very precious to them because it is usually their time to play with their friends in the park.  There were no questions asked, no complaints, as they got together as frequently as three to four times every week, to practice caroling. 

They had able teachers who guided them during their caroling sessions in Maria Fernandes, Anne Challu and Binnie Patcha, all of whom had to take time out from their own busy schedules too, for this good deed. 

On the 21st and 22nd of December, 2013, more than forty of Santa’s little elves in Laguna City, Lam Tin, went house to house, caroling and collecting donations for Operation Santa Claus.  The children truly exhibited "the spirit of giving"  by opting to collect donations for OSC, in lieu of the gifts they would otherwise have received from each household, after caroling.  Their enthusiasm knew no bounds and it reflected in the message of cheer and joy they were instrumental in spreading throughout Laguna City.  It was lovely to watch faces break out into wide grins at the sight of this enthusiastic bandwagon of carolers and the Christmas caroling this year was such a resounding success, that people are already looking forward to the event next year. 

As parents, we are often found telling our children that “sharing is caring”.  The spirit of sharing is especially exemplified during this season – the Christmas season and it is never too early to start teaching our kids to care for people who are less fortunate.  This event will also, hopefully, teach the kids to appreciate all the good things that they have in their lives and make them realize how fortunate they are.

Mother Teresa once said “It is not how much we give but how much love we put into giving”.   These little elves exemplified that spirit.  They are living proof that ordinary people, no matter how young they are, can make an extraordinary difference in the world of today by reaching out to the community, in their own way, by their own means.

Here’s to the little elves and here’s wishing all of you a festive season filled with an abundance of cheer, joy, good health, peace and love.

23 December, 2013

Honeymoon, Roses and Hell - A writing prompt

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It had been good but things had changed between them.  What had started out as a fling had become something much more to Susan.  “Women” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head incredulously.  She had been absolutely still, motionless when he had told her that they could not continue seeing each other again.  Then came the tears.  “I put on a pretty convincing act.  I managed, actually managed to look genuinely sorry” he thought to himself, smirking. 
He thought of the voluptuous Pam.  He was meeting her for lunch later.  He was more interested in what would follow, though.  The buzzing phone intercepted his carnal thought processes.  It was Pam.  “I can’t make it to lunch today, darling.  Something’s come up” said her cryptic message. 
Annoyed at having his plans cut short, he tried to focus on the file lying open in front of him.  His flitting thoughts were interrupted once again as the phone buzzed.  “Happy Anniversary” said the message from Susan.  He had not expected her to send him a message, given that he had broken up with her a week back.  “Free for lunch today ?” followed another message, a few seconds later.  “I have a gift for you” said Susan’s third message. 
“Sure, babe.  Let’s meet at Franco’s for lunch at 1.30 pm” he texted back.  “No, Mike.  Your gift before lunch” came the coy reply.  “Let’s meet one last time and part on good terms” beeped the fourth message.
“Sure thing” he grinned.  “She just can’t get enough of me, can she ?” he crowed to himself, silently.
“Hotel Paradise.  The Honeymoon Suite” beeped the phone again.
Whistling tunelessly to himself, Mike left the office and cabbed it to Hotel Paradise.  The receptionist handed him the passkey to the suite with an all-knowing look.
The Honeymoon Suite did look cosy and inviting.  Tealight candles placed strategically, crystal flutes next to a bottle of champagne resting in an ice bucket alongside a platter of absolutely delicious looking strawberries. 
“Trust Susan to think of every small detail” he thought grudgingly.
There was a note propped up for him by the dresser.  It was a birthday card.  He opened it and out floated Susan’s sultry voice “Wait for me, Mike, like you usually do.  Wait for me while I bring you your birthday gift.  Make yourself comfortable.  I’ll be there just as the clock on the dresser counts down to zero” said Susan’s voice, sensuous as silk. 
“My pleasure” muttered Mike, under his breath, with a grin wide enough to light up the whole suite. 
He waited, barely able to conceal his excitement and anticipation as the clock counted down. 
Just as the clock beeped, the message drifted across the huge, wall mounted plasma TV screen “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.
The Honeymoon Suite was flooded with light.  There they stood, in front of him – his wife and Pam, staring at him, as comprehension slowly dawned on them.
He stared at them in absolute horror, for, he had been waiting for Susan, like he usually did - without any clothes on.    
(This was in response to a writing prompt.  Weave a story around the words “honeymoon, roses and hell”.  They were an interesting medley of words for this prompt).

03 December, 2013

Feelings !! - a 281 word microfiction

(Image courtesy : counselingcures.com via Google)

“Oh God !  She’s ugly” screeched a voice, jarring Annie awake from her stupor.  “Hey Dude !  No one’s asking you to look at me.  I wonder if you have looked at yourself in a mirror lately” thought Annie, crossly.  This always irked her.  She knew she was no looker, but when she was called things like “horrible”, “revolting”, “disgusting” and such, it did hurt her feelings, much more than people ever imagined.
She sulked, waiting for the next round of insults to be heaped upon her callously, by the insensitive people all around her.  She pouted, brooded and grumbled to herself at the unfairness of it all.  She heard footsteps but in a fit of sheer rebellion, refused to turn around from the corner she had ensconced herself in.  “No one likes to be called names time and again.  Guess what – me too !!  Let them come and get me out if they want to” she thought mutinously.
“She’s beautiful” exclaimed a voice.  Annie looked around suspiciously and found herself looking up at a pair of large, warm eyes, which were twinkling with delight.  “Seriously ?  Me ?” she thought to herself, disbelievingly.  “After all these years, here’s someone who sees me for what I am on the inside” she thought incredulously. 
She moved closer to take a better look at the owner of the warm, twinkly eyes.  She had to squint because it was not exactly easy to focus on something with eight eyes.  The little human looked delighted, seemed absolutely overjoyed.
“This has been my best day in a very long time” thought Annie the Tarantula genially, as little peals of enthralled, enchanted laughter resounded through the Insect Zoo.

28 November, 2013

The TamBrahm Series Part 8 - Valaikaapu and Seemantham Part 2

(Image courtesy : suga-namasivayam.blogspot.com via Google)


We left Edition One open ended, balanced rather delicately, with a lady who is eight months pregnant, wrapped and trussed in a 9 yard sari, with probably more than a dozen bangles on each of her arms, desperately needing a visit to the washroom.
Trust me when I say that situation would qualify for shows like America’s Got Talent because that show looks for novelty, creativity and the element of danger.  The situation that was described in the paragraph above meets all three requirements and then some. 
Let’s just assume that the expectant mother managed a visit to the washroom and back without any tucks and knots on the madisaar coming loose or better still, coming off.   Given the fact that she cannot, for the life of her, look at or see her own feet, those visits to the washroom are no less taxing than that of Houdini performing one of his escape acts.  Houdini’s acts would have been a lot easier to execute, truth be told.
Anyways, let’s move on to the actual Seemantham bit.
The priests would have arrived and they would be making all the necessary noises to show or prove to people that they are really busy and that they mean business.  One person would be sent looking for a pot of ghee (clarified butter) for the homan (auspicious fire) and another person or persons would be sent looking for things that would not have been on the original list of things given by the priest .  This is an absolute must.  The last minute “making people run around for things” bit.   This would result in a mini or a huge confusion (depending on the things demanded) and is a given at virtually any TamBrahm function.  I remember one particular incident involving priests wherein they did not bring in the cowdung cakes (yes ! you heard me right ! – the said cakes are not meant for edible consumption though.  They are used to stoke the holy fire.  Don’t you go asking why.  Cowdung cakes (called varali in Tamil) have always been used for holy fires and the premise probably is that cowdung has always been considered as something that removes impurities or some such.  Now how on Earth that happens, is completely beyond me.  I mean, it is what it is.  So then, how does it become something that purifies stuff.  Also, going by the same premise, how is that privilege conferred only on cows ?  Earth is full of scores of animals but cows hold a position privileged enough to have their bodily excretions touted as the best thing that happened to mankind ? 
There, I digressed again …… coming back to the topic on hand …..
The expectant mother, in the meanwhile, would be having her ensemble completed.  Alongwith an armful of bangles, the 9 yards sari, her neck full of chains and necklaces, she would now be further decked with a whole load of flowers on her head and a huge garland around her neck.  The idea here is all round fitness, people. 
The expectant mother has to keep her muscles toned and it is better that she stays fit because it helps with labour.  Sitting down and getting up at that stage of pregnancy without the help of pulleys or cranes, are achievements in themselves.  Ladies, at that stage of pregnancy, usually forget what the word “walking” stands for.  I, for instance, used to waddle around, pretty much swaying from side to side (not like trees in a typhoon – don’t you exaggerate, people) in a desperate attempt to maintain a semblance of balance.  During my second pregnancy, Macadamia, who was around 3 ½ years old, used to refer to me as “the penguin”.  So there – I leave the rest to your fantastically fertile powers of imagination.
Hence, with all the aforesaid contraptions in place, the lady who, by now, would be unable to lift her head or turn her neck or move her arms freely or walk freely, would be helpfully asked to sit on the floor, next to her husband (of course !).  The minute she’s managed to sit on the floor, some or the other elderly relative would walk in for the function and the expectant parents would be asked to stand up and prostrate before them.  Speaking from personal experience, it would be good to have a crane (not the one that flies) handy during seemanthams – given the number of times the expectant mother needs to get up and sit down.  I’ve always believed that the whole seemantham thing is a traditional gym in disguise !  
The focus of the seemantham prayers again are said to be vibrations.  Now these vibrations are said to be directed towards a large copper pot which would be filled with water to the brim.  Some mango leaves would cover the mouth of the pot and a coconut would then be placed on the leaves.  This water is said to absorb all the goodness from the prayers and the chants during the function.
Now,  sometime during the prayers, the expectant mother would be asked,  rather helpfully, to change into an old cotton sari or some such.  Once she’s managed (ably assisted by half the world who would take it upon themselves to comment on the size or shape of her belly or some such helpful conversation points) , she would be asked to sit on a small wooden plank in the bathroom.  Don’t get ideas !!  This is because all that water in the copper pot which has absorbed all the strength from the prayers, are meant for the expectant mother.  No !  She is not expected to drink it !  The water is poured on her.  It is pretty much like bathing under a beautiful waterfall, with half the world watching you !!!
If the Seemantham is in winter, it is even better because this water would have been stored in the copper pot early in the morning.  It would be sitting in that copper pot, getting colder by the minute and by the time the whole thing is poured on the expectant mother, the water would be uncomfortably cold.  Rather helpfully, no warm water or hot water is added to that copper pot before the water is poured on the mother to be.  The premise here, it seems, is that the cold water makes the baby in the womb shake and jerk from the stimulation of cold water and that is supposed to be good and is assumed to prepare the infant for birth.  I distinctly remember how cold the water was, given that our Seemantham was in November and yes, I remember shaking and jolting but Macadamia stayed put – fast asleep, I guess.  Her sleep was important to her then too and I’d say that kid has her priorities right !!  Good on you, Macadamia !!  Thank the good lord they don’t call upon those electric zappo things they use in hospitals to revive heart rhythms, to jolt and shake the baby, in case cold water doesn’t do the trick !! 
Come to think of it, things must be much worse in places with water scarcity.  The water would be stored the previous night or something and would be extra cold.  Or, looking at the positive, the quantity of water would probably be less.  In extreme cases, there are always bottles of Bisleri to depend on ! 
Once the expectant mother is sufficiently doused in cold water, she then has to change back into her 9 yards sari with all the other contraptions that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  To add to her discomfort, her hair would be wet too, from all that water.   
Then begins the fairly long homam, offerings made to the God of Fire, chanting and recitation of more mantras and prayers for the well being of the mother to be and the unborn child.  In the midst of all these proceedings, there would come a time when the expectant mother is expected (sorry ! pun not intended) to control her reflexes and instincts.  A couple of little girls are called upon and asked to crush some special berries or some tender bit of a banana tree (I’m not too sure)  with a pestle and mortar.  Nowadays though, no one knows what is crushed – not the expectant parents and most definitely not the little girls doing the crushing.  The priest then adds something that looks suspiciously like milk (turns out it is !) and the expectant father (can’t we call him that ?) is asked to use the tip of a silk cloth (did I hear you ask “why silk”?  Answer to this one too is “I’ve no idea”), dip the silk cloth in that milk and then he is asked to squeeze droplets of milk into the expectant mother’s nostril.  Now comes the interesting part.  She is asked to inhale the droplets because those drops are supposed to make their way to her womb (how things – especially liquids – travel from the nostril to the womb is totally beyond me, truth be told.  Is there some secret passageway that no one knows about ?  Mysterious, nonetheless !) and cleanse impurities or some such theory.  As personal experience proved, human beings are ruled by reflexes and instincts and when someone tries to get liquid in through the nostrils, the age old instinct is to sneeze …. and I did !!  If all that cold water hadn’t roused Macadamia, that sneeze was sure to have jolted her awake.  Fortunately they did not try that circus act on me again.  I guess that one sneeze had jolted the priest’s pacemaker as well. 
Once all the chanting and prayers are done and over with, the expectant father is excused to sit around and relax while the expectant mother still has ceremonies to “undergo”.  Just to clarify something here – which one of them is pregnant – as in actually carrying a 3 ish kilo baby inside of themselves ? 
The next part of the function is for the ladies only, I’ve been told.  Men, especially the expectant father, are not allowed into the room when this function is on.  Don’t ask me why – that is turning into a question that does not seem to have answers.  Now, everybody knows that at 8 months of pregnancy, the tummy tends to be quite big.  What the other ladies in the family now do, is quite funny.  They tie (or rather, they try to tie) a normal size towel onto the expanded waistline of the mom to be.  I’m not talking about the large beach towels here.  I’m talking about those special versions that are used as bath towels in Kerala.  They are much thinner than beach towels and conveniently, smaller too.  While this works beautifully from an environment point of view, it fails miserably from an 8 month pregnant lady’s point of view. 
Since the said towel has to be new, there was a mini confusion during my seemandham as some elderly ladies had to go hunting for another new towel.  They somehow managed to get that contraption on and tied a knot at the back.  So there I was, clad in my madisaar, huge as a whale, head full of flowers and yellow rice, with two white towels around my abundant waist.  The mother in law then has to put in a whole lot of neiyappams (a sweet dumpling fried in clarified butter) and steamed sweet dumplings (kozhukattais) into those towels which would have been turned into a bag of sorts.  All the while, as she puts in a neiyappam, she has to say appam – time and again.  Same goes for the steamed dumpling – when she puts one in, she has to keep saying kozhukattai.  One would think people would know the difference between an appam and a kozhukattai !!  Apparently not !  The elders then proceed to tie the other two ends around the waist as well, so that the bag is effectively sealed. 
A little child is then called and asked to pick one from that “by now huge” towel bag and asked to pick one thing out.  I mean, when you have two things which are as different in texture as can be, even a child would know how exactly to pick out what they like to eat – the not so soft appams with their crisp edges or the silky softness of the kozhukattais.  Depending on what the child picks from “the bag”, all the mamis around “decipher” the sex of the unborn child, I was told.  I’ve always wondered why they don’t take it a step further.  I mean, they could also try and figure out how the baby would look and more importantly, who it would look like.  They could do jalebis and mysore paks to figure out who the eyes would look like.  Laddoos and Badushahs could be used to figure out the shape of the ears.  Creativity, people.  Creativity !!!
Now comes the best part.  While the expectant mother is standing there, feeling abundantly glorious, what with a huge towel full of appams and kozhukattais too tied around her middle, ladies in the family bring out coins.  There is a certain number to the coins and these are strategically placed on the head, on the shoulders, inside the folds of the madisaar, on the feet etc and the expectant mother has to stand still – so that none of these coins fall off. 
After all the coins have been placed and the expectant mother admired by all the ladies present there, she is asked to prostrate before the ladies and do a namaskaram.  You imagine that is difficult ?  Well, just about anything is difficult in that state J.  I personally found the whole situation rather haplessly hilarious during my Seemantham and I started laughing hilariously.  People seemed pretty sure I’d lost it.  Some ladies even shushed me and tutted impatiently, saying one is not supposed to laugh at times like these. 
Once the fallen coins are collected and once the mother to be has been tickled enough in the process of hands trying to extract coins from the folds of the madisaar, she is once again asked to sit down on the floor.  A banana leaf is spread in front of her and just as she expects food to be served (I mean, after all those body bending activities through the morning, she must undoubtedly be hungry, right ?), children from all corners of the building are brought in and asked to sit in front of her, around her and all the other prepositions that one can think of – except above, below and under !!  If that little stunt is supposed to put an element of fear in the expectant mother’s mind and enlighten her (in some weird way) to the fact that bringing a child up is no child’s play, it fails rather miserably in its quest, I must say.  For, all that she is looking for right then, is some food and a place to put her feet up and relax (in that order).  She is simply not in a mood, nor does she have the energy to figure out implied meanings – not right then !
During my seemandham, I remember staring in horror as a huge (I mean really huge) mound of rice was piled on to the banana leaf in front of me.  “They can’t possibly expect me to eat all this” I remember thinking to myself in growing disbelief.  That rice was equivalent to what I probably eat over three days.  I was still staring at the mound of rice, wide eyed and shell shocked when another mami walked in with a huge bucket of something – yes, it was a steel bucket.  She then proceeded to ladle out copious amounts of yellow dal onto that huge mountain of rice on the banana leaf which sat in front of me.  Another mami rushed in and started mixing the rice and the dal together. 
I stared in absolute mute horror and wondered if I was going to have to suffer the ignominy of being fed, as the mami in question started to roll up the rice/dal mixture into huge balls.  “These are the kind of balls used to feed elephants” I remember thinking to myself, with a growing sense of apprehension.  There appeared another mami like the proverbial genie, with a huge basket of fried pappaddams and right then, I almost wanted to cry.  I mean, having been through all the acrobatics the morning had thrown my way, I was going to be fed rice, dal and pappadams – that too, rice balls the size of cannonballs ??!! 
Turns out they were not for me, after all.  I was asked to hold one pappadam and one of the mamis placed a huge cannonball of rice/dal on the pappadam and I was asked to hand it to the kids sitting around me, one by one.  Truth be told, they did not look too enamoured at the prospect of eating that either.  When there is a whole feast in the offing, which kids in their right minds would want to eat rice/dal and pappadam ? 
Fortunately for me and the kids around me, that was about the last of the “rituals” that a Seemantham comprised of.  I was rather voraciously hungry and by then, sitting down on the floor seemed like a piece of cake (given the fact that I’d done that umpteen number of times that morning).  Once I sat down, banana leaves were spread in front of us and the delicacies that are a part of a traditional saddhi / feast started to arrive and be served on the banana leaf.  The aroma was doing wonders and just then, I realised the predicament I was in.  With my huge tummy, I simply could not reach all ends of the banana leaf !!!  I tried stretching myself like a rubber band.  Bad idea !!  While I stared at all that wholesome deliciousness, unable to reach them, the people serving lunch proved extremely empathetic.  They plopped a bowl at the far end of the banana leaf, for payasam to be served in.  If I could not reach the banana leaf itself, how on Earth was I going to reach a bowl that was beyond it ???!!!  I felt like one of those people that take part in apple bobbing competitions during Halloween.  Only difference being, those people are never as hungry as I was at that point of time, that day. 
A whole load of jingling bangles and all, I did (ably assisted by the expectant father) manage to gobble up all those delicacies on the banana leaf.  Sigh !  It somehow made all the acrobatics from the morning seem worthwhile.
On that note, ends the edition about Valaikaapu and Seemantham.  
Stay tuned for the next one …… customs and traditions when the expectant mother is escorted to her parents’ place, in preparation and anticipation of the delivery of the first child.

27 November, 2013

The TamBrahm Series - Part 7 - Valaikaapu and Seemantham Part 1

I had done a whole series of satirical posts on TamBrahm weddings and customs.  Here are the links to those :

(Image courtesy : suga-namasivayam.blogspot.com via Google)
Thought the TamBrahm saga had ended with just the wedding posts and the Shanti Muhurtham, did you ?  Well, we TamBrahms have a lot more in store.  I mean, trust a TamBrahm to make someone’s day, huh ? 
Well, moving on ….. like I’ve said in one of my earlier posts, the Shanti Muhurtham takes the “tired out of their minds” bride and groom to the flowered valleys of Kashmir and back.  I can just about imagine the extent to which the flower business depends on these Shanti Muhurthams.  Now, tired or not, the bride and the groom will be expected to work their magic and produce progeny to carry on the “family name”.  Fortunately, they are indeed given nine months to bring forth the said infant. 
Once the bride gets pregnant, she will have a whole horde of well-wishers, giving her rather helpful pointers on how to get through pregnancy, all happy and healthy.  There will be aunties who insist on giving the mother-to-be remedies for morning sickness even if the bride does not have the said symptoms.  There might have been times when, just to escape that look of incredulity and from having to explain a lack of morning sickness, many a mother-to-be has indeed thrown up from sheer frustration. 
During the 6th month, or better still, the 8th month, TamBrahms have two important functions – the Valai Kappu (where the mother-to-be’s arms are stacked with glass bangles) and the Seemantham (a mini wedding of sorts, where prayers are said and a homam done).  The prayers said during the Seemantham are said to create positive vibrations which the foetal brain is believed to absorb and record.  That is what the ancient shastras say.  Don’t know if this is true though.   I am yet to ask Macadamia if she remembers the positive vibrations from my seemantham !
The ValaiKappu (the bangle ceremony) is the only function amongst the TamBrahms where a black saree is bought.  I don’t mean to say that sarees for all the other TamBrahm functions are borrowed !  As per tradition, the colour black is avoided for any given function.  No – that does not mean all the women and men in the TamBrahm community dye their black hair, blonde or get highlights done every time there is a function in the offing.  Now that would be some sight.  Hair Salons would then virtually subsist on the TamBrahm community.  What I mean is that black clothes are supposed to be avoided for anything auspicious, traditionally speaking.  Personally though, I’ve never been able to understand this aversion towards black clothes or the avoidance of black clothes.  Questions raised during my childhood are yet to be met with a satisfactory answer.  So, there !
ValaiKaappu is essentially a ladies’ function.  One does find a few mamas around during the function like mustard seeds in a huge pot of sambar but essentially, ladies rule the roost.  When ladies rule the roost, things are bound to get rather raucous.  ValaiKaappu is no different.  The tradition here is that the mother-to-be has to have her arms stacked with glass bangles and all the elderly female relatives have to have a turn, stacking bangles on the mother to be’s arms.  Some expectant mothers' arms have been known to actually stretch, to accommodate the bangles that are heaped upon her.  Such is the power of TamBrahm mamis !
Now why the mother to be is asked to sit on the floor, is beyond me.  Probably is some sort of yoga posture, designed to alleviate the usual back aches and bloated feet problems that most ladies have, at that stage of their pregnancy.  How does it alleviate it ?  Simple !  Sitting on the floor is so uncomfortable then, that the mother to be simply forgets the rest of her physical problems for that short span of time.  She also, rather helpfully, has to get up multiple number of times and sit back down multiple number of times.  Sheer joy, that one !
Usually, the bangles bought would be a couple of sizes smaller than the poor mother-to-be's hands and the mamis would then bring out their magic wares in the form of a huge tub of soap water or a large tub of Vaseline.  Contrary to what you might be thinking with an increasing sense of horror, they do not make the expectant mothers drink the soap water.  The expectant mother is asked to dip her hands in that pot of soap water and the soap is supposed to help the bangles slide on.   Dream on ! During my ValaiKappu, soap water simply did not do the trick and the mamis in question could not find Vaseline.  Some bright soul decided to take things a step further and she came back with a large bottle of Vicks Vaporub (which is essentially Vaseline based).  There I was at the end of it all, bedecked in my gorgeous new black saree, arms laden with bangles that jingled if I as much as inhaled and exhaled, smelling like a vat of eucalyptus and menthol !   No wonder Macadamia hates Vicks and Mentholatum !!  She had her fill right then !!!
Now the tricky part begins once the bangles are on the mother-to-be’s arms (not wrists – nah – there are way more than that !).  She is not supposed to take these off until the time she goes into labour.  Now that is helpful !  Very helpful ! Ob-Gyn’s in India have two sets of staff attending to women in labour.  One, is the medical team which takes care of the medical needs and the other is the bangle team – whose sole purpose of existence is to take off all those glass bangles without breaking any of them, while the lady is in labour.  This process would rather helpfully be aided by the fact that the last month or so or pregnancy, usually results in a lot of water retention.  Bloated arms, small bangles and getting those bangles off the arms of a woman who is beginning to realize and redefine the very concept of pain, has to be an ethereal experience !  
Not to digress …. Once the ValaiKaapu function is done and over with, the Seemantham usually follows in a few hours time.  The ‘mother to be’ now faces a rather monumental challenge.   Remember the madisaar – the 9 yards sari that she wore at her wedding, then hoped and prayed fervently that the knots would not come off and bring the whole contraption down in the wedding hall ?  Well, she has to get her pregnant self into that very same 9 yards sari, pretty much the same way she did, when her stomach was all flat. 
If getting into a madisaar on a flat stomach was difficult, imagine getting into it 8 months pregnant.  For me, it simply wasn’t enough.  The length of the sari, I mean !! My tummy, during my first pregnancy, was huge.  When I say huge, trust me, it is an understatement.  Those 9 yards were simply not enough.  During my 8th month of pregnancy, had I gone swimming with a pod of whales, trust me, the whales would not have noticed anything different.  I would have been, unequivocally accepted as a part of their pod.  Such was my state and I had to be swathed in 9 yards of silk.  There I was, waiting to be trussed up like a chicken and the mamis were at their wits end.  No amount of geometry or physics was working and neither were their mathematical equations.  They had also not given any thought to how I was going to get into my blouse.  That blouse would have been a tight enough fit, as it was.  Arms laden with glass bangles did not make it any easier, trust me.  The situation was pretty much akin to having an oven large enough for a five pound turkey, with a ten pound turkey on hand, to fit it into.  Bad analogy, I know !  But it does fit the situation.
They somehow managed – don’t ask me how – because I did not know and at that point of time, I simply did not care.  Once the mother-to-be is somehow trussed into those 9 yards of silk and into a blouse which threatens to split at the seams from any given direction, it is a wonder that women do not end up giving birth to the baby then and there – given how “tight” the clothing situation is then !
If you are breathing easy by now, thinking the poor woman’s troubles are over, you are one of those extraordinary optimists that see rainbows everywhere on a stormy day.  Pregnant ladies usually need the washroom more number of times during the last trimester of pregnancy than they do at other times.  Now, trussed in the madisaar, a trip to the washroom is like an act from Cirque de Soleil, even on normal days.  When the situation reads - a lady in her eighth month of pregnancy, in a madisaar, needing to use the washroom – it turns into a display of acrobatics and contortionism at its very best, at a time when agility is probably at its lowest. 
These are a few of those times when the only song that runs through the head is Annie Lennox, looking woefully at the camera, asking “Whaaaaaaiiiiiiyyyyy ?  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?”
On that note,  we leave the mother-to-be, trying desperately to figure out how to use the washroom since she is all wrapped up in 9 yards of silk.  Now with all that noise, excitement, not to mention how tightly her madisaar is tied in multiple places, her joys would be further compounded  with the baby playing football with her bladder that threatens to overflow at any given second.  
On that rather delicately balanced situation ends Edition 1 of the ValaiKaapu and Seemantham. 
Edition 2 to follow soon ……

26 November, 2013

The Sniper - a guest post by Abhay Venkitaraman

(Image courtesy : depositphotos.com via Google)

Ten years later, things still looked the same.  Everything was going on as usual. If he succeeded today, he would make history. He was hungry for his kill. He took a deep breath, with a final look at his rifle he picked it up as nervously as a student going to school for the first time. He had been hunting for him for a decade, the man who had killed his family.

He loaded his rifle and waited as patiently as a tiger on a hunt. 

The tyrant waved to the crowd, as everyone cheered and clapped.  His thick hair ruffled in the breeze as his malevolent eyes gazed at the crowd.  The feeling of cheer in the crowd was like an impostor.  

He took aim.

He squeezed the trigger gently. The bullet whizzed through the air like a cheetah pouncing on a stag in the savannah. Not a single obstacle stopped the bullet’s determination as it looked slyly at the target. The bullet found its mark.

The target was gone.  The man who had finally got his revenge after years of hard work sighed with relief and slipped away silently. 


25 November, 2013

The Basement - a 223 word microfiction

(Image courtesy : mrmomsunite.blogspot.com via Google)


His hands were red.  The metallic, coppery smell still hung in the air.  It was messy but he still had a lot of time left, with her.  He grinned to himself as he headed towards the kitchen and helped himself to a cold beer.  A slow, wicked grin spread across his face as he imagined the kind of things he had in store for the woman in the basement, over the next few days. 

He was forced to keep her in the confines of the basement because that was the only place in the whole house which was soundproofed.  “The kind of things I imagine and then do to her, I need a soundproof room” he reflected, his face, a rictus.  He had left his collection of tools in the basement.  They were messy too – covered in splotches of red but they had satisfied him today.   He had had to use the drill on her too today, as the knives alone had not given him the usual high.  “Noisy but beautifully effective” he mused, grinning, as his thought fleetingly flitted to the woman, who lay in the basement, without some bits of her torso.

His phone buzzed.


“The museum has brought the deadline forward” the message from his agent said.  “They need the sculpture by the weekend”.

24 November, 2013

Tejpal, Shoma and a Loss of Credibility

(Pic courtesy : freerepublic.com via Google)


I had scoffed at Asaram Bapu’s statement when he said that a sure shot way to prevent rape is to call the would-be-rapist “bhaiyya”.   The Khap in Haryana added more flavour by coming out with statements that pointed towards Chinese food as the culprit behind rapes, not men.  Mohan Bhagwat went a step further by claiming western influences as the reason behind rapes and that rapes only happened in India, not Bharat.  

Tarun Tejpal has, in my honest opinion, beaten them all, hands down.  He has written the whole thing off as just “a lapse of judgment ”,“an awful misreading of the situation” and best of all, “an unfortunate incident”.  Shoma Chaudhary comes in a close second by shoving the entire matter underground and calling it an “internal matter”.  Shoma Chaudhary had gone to the extent of saying that had an email not been leaked by someone to the media, this whole matter would have been “settled internally”, within Tehelka.

If there’s one thing Tehelka is known for and feared for, it is investigative journalism.  There have been many an expose, to their credit.  This time around, when things cannot be clearer than they are, when facts have been laid bare and it is evident that a junior journalist was sexually assaulted by Tejpal, the very same Tehelka chose to do nothing and just swept the whole matter aside as an “internal affair”? 

Men assault women sexually based on two things – one, the power and second, a lack of necessity towards accountability for one’s actions.  Not surprisingly, this one reeks of both.  First, having tried to pass the whole thing off as an episode of “drunken banter”, when the heat started to increase, Tejpal chose to recuse himself from Tehelka for a period of six months.  That’s it ?  First he sexually assaults a girl who is old enough to be his daughter and then he goes on a sabbatical for six months.  That’s supposed to set the books right ?   Also, how does Tejpal get the right to decide on what he needs to do to "atone" ?  How do he and Shoma Chaudhary get to decide that a 6 month sabbatical is about just right and lacerating enough for Tejpal to atone for his "lapses in judgment" which led to the "unfortunate incident" ? 

What would Tehelka have done if it were someone else and not Tejpal ?  If someone else had sexually assaulted a junior staff member or even a member of the public and then attributed it to a “lapse of judgment” and gone off on a sabbatical for six months as atonement and a “punishment that lacerates”, would Tehelka have reacted in the same way as they are now ?  I guess not.  They too, would have been up in arms over the injustice of the whole situation and would probably have doubled the sales of their magazine by coming out all guns blazing, against the perpetrator.   Would they have been as passive if the perpetrator had simply rendered an “unconditional apology” to the victim and expected the victim to call it quits and put the whole incident behind her ? I guess not.   But when the perpetrator in question is their very own editor, Tehelka decides to play the pussy cat act and not that of a roaring tiger ?  Why the double standards ?  These were people who prided themselves and had carved a niche for themselves by taking a moral high ground on many situations.  Where did those very scruples disappear ?  Where did the moral high stand go ? 

Despite all this, Shoma Chaudhary actually has the cheek to stand up and say Tehelka does not have double standards ?  She has refused to cooperate with the police until and unless the journalist in question does not file an official police report.  When this attitude comes from the same Shoma Chaudhary who was pretty sure that this journalist would not file an official report, the whole situation starts to reek fishy - not smell, it reeks. 
Yet again, like it usually happens, among the first question people asked and people are still asking is “Why did the journalist not report the assault ?”.  I’ve said this before, I’m saying this again.  It is not her fault, so then why train the guns on her ?  While Tejpal enjoys a six month sabbatical (also to be read and construed as a “cooling down” period, by which time I’m sure he hopes the brouhaha in the public will die down), people are seen going after the girl who had to endure the ignominy of being sexually assaulted ?  When is society going to learn ?

Tejpal apparently tried to play the whole thing down as a “drunken banter”.  Going by the same questions that society asks of women who are assaulted or raped, since when has it become the norm for men to hide behind or use alcohol or inebriety as an excuse for their misdeeds ?  If a woman goes to a bar or a pub for a drink, society claims she is inviting sexual assault and rape but when a man does assault a woman or rapes her, he asks to “reap the benefits” of being in an inebriated state, thus pleading “not completely being in a sensible or functional state” ?

There are many a times when I’ve said before that a woman does, in many instances, prove to be a woman’s worst enemy.  Shoma Chaudhary, who wrote so eloquently when the whole country was up in arms after the Delhi gang rape is now sweeping the whole thing under the carpet ?  Well, she did try her best to !  She went to the extent of saying that all the journalist had asked for was an apology from Tejpal while he agreed to step down for six months.  Indeed very magnanimous – one should be moved to tears, I guess ! 

I sincerely wonder if this is the same Shoma Chaudhary, who said on Nov 13, on Twitter Ranjit Sinha should lose his job for his remark on enjoying rape. Is appalling that he can even think of defending such a remark.”  Now, this very same Ms.Chaudhary is hell bent on sweeping the whole thing away as an “internal matter”.  How is she seen defending a person who has sexually assaulted a junior journalist ?    

This is power play at its worst, at its ugliest and the hypocrisy that one has been seeing from Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhary is absolutely revolting and repulsive.

If Ms.Chaudhary really believes that this incident has nothing to do with Tehelka as a magazine, she is so far away from the truth, especially after the way she’s tried to cover up and sweep the whole thing under the carpet.  Tehelka could very well have stood apart and redeemed itself – not having to bear the cross for Tejpal’s misdeeds IF it had continued doing what it had originally been set up for – fearless, investigative journalism, exposing the truth for what it is.  Tehelka, ably led by Shoma Chaudhary, did exactly the opposite.  They, quite literally, went against the very ideals on which Tehelka had been founded and has been functioning. 


In the process, both Tehelka, Shoma and of course, the brazen Tejpal have lost values that are extremely valuable – trust, credibility and last but definitely not the least, integrity.

21 November, 2013

Perception

(Image courtesy : flickr.com via Google)

The creak of a door hinge registered in her subconscious mind.  It was cold, windy.  The wind shrieked and howled outside and she felt the cold seeping into her bones.  Wrapped in a warm blanket, hot chocolate in hand, she watched the news.   “Mob lynchpin breaks out of prison” flashed the headlines.  Thoughts flitted to the days at court when she had prosecuted and sent members of the mob to prison. 

“Handsome face” she mused, struck at the perversity of her thought, as her eyelids slowly gave in, yielded to the cozy warmth of the blanket.

The static buzz of the TV roused her.  As she reached for the remote, she shrieked as she saw the handsome face at her window – the handsome face from the news.  It disappeared just as quickly. 

She gingerly moved towards the secured and locked window, heart pounding with fear.  There was no one outside.  “I must have been dreaming” she thought, her nerves frayed.  Then she saw it again – the same handsome face and somehow, he now seemed closer than before.

She watched the handsome face break into a chilling smile, just as realization hit.  She opened her mouth in a silent scream.


She was looking at his reflection in the window.   

20 November, 2013

Speech - A Virtue ?


(Image courtesy : watalbury.org via Google)

“Speech is a virtue”, insisted Dan.  

“Opinions differ” countered Sarah.  

“If we could not speak, we would not have been here” said Dan.  

“Exactly” said Sarah “we would not have been where we are now” she said, rather wistfully. 

They had grown old together and it felt good – these little breaks that they had, time spent with each other, talking, reminiscing about their kids who they had not seen in a while. 

“Speech is a curse” said Sarah, vehemently.  “Let’s not argue anymore, Sarah” said Dan.  “Come on, dinner is served.  Let’s eat” he said.

Flapping their colourful wings, both the captive circus parrots swooped down towards the fat earthworm.

19 November, 2013

The Cliffhanger - a 150 word story





(Image courtesy : sitkatrails.org via Google)

The sun was rising, painting the landscape in shimmering hues.  “It has to be today” she thought, her heart heavy.  Parents protect their children from danger but she was not.  She was pushing her child into danger, perhaps the jaws of death even.  The "What Ifs" pounded her skull, pulsing with a sense of doom.  The familiar peaks now suddenly looked hostile, unsympathetic.  She was scared.   Very.  Yet, it had to be done.  She pushed with all her might.  Her child lost balance, careened, teetered on the edge, trying desperately to regain lost footing, but failed.  The terrified little one tumbled off the edge of the huge mountain, her screech flailing in the winds. 
“Yet people think life as a bird is easy” mused the Mother Eagle to herself, as she watched her little one spread her wings, take flight and soar into the vast expanse of the welcoming skies.

18 November, 2013

Rishta - The Bond of Love by Tharangini

(Image courtesy : tharanginihk.com)

Thaani Daani Thadhari Daani …… Dhim Tha Daana Dheerena …….
This is pretty much what’s been on my mind since Saturday night.  Try as I might (not that I’m trying at all, truth be told), I am not able to get this rhythmic, cadenced piece of music out of my mind.  It’s not just the fact that it is on my mind, it has been pulsing inside my head, it is recurrent, pretty much like a CD playing a single song on a loop. 
Saturday night saw Tharangini present Rishta – The Bond of Love, to its audience.  Tharangini teed off with the sublime Vaishnana Janato Tene Kahiye Je Peer Parayee Jaane Re (One who is a Vaishnav, a devotee of Vishnu, knows the pain of others), a bhajan composed by Narsinh Mehta in the 15th century.  By the time this number was done and over with, by the time Gandhiji had walked off the stage, I, for one, had goosebumps.  If I knew one thing for sure, it was this – we were in for a ride of a lifetime, that evening.
What followed can only be described as a musical roller coaster over the next two hours – some numbers had people smiling, yet others brought about a sense of wistfulness and one, in particular, sure would have made a lot of people think long and hard, if not accept the only certainty that life has to offer.  It was eclectic, varied, assorted and about as diverse as music could get.  There was an extensive mix of music, of beats, of instruments that conveyed one strong, underlying fact that has always been present but not openly acknowledged – the fact that music is an universal language, the fact that music transcends barriers in terms of nationalities and languages, the fact that music is unity in diversity. 
Saathi Chalo was a number that was so apt and pithy, in the context of what we see around us, just about everywhere in the world today.  Fights, strife, conflicts …. this number, with its very strong patriotic feel brought on distinct pangs of nostalgia, of wistfulness, one of longing for the erstwhile days when strife was not the language spoken so commonly and widely.  Yet, it its own way, the number had strong chords of hope, it was an entreaty, a petition for people to unite and find strength in unity.
Shyaamavaanil Edo was a number which, with its underlying music, theme and ambience transported me back to my home state of Kerala.  The graceful Mohiniattam that accompanied the chorus served to add to the beautiful tone and atmosphere set by the song.  The little Kaikottikali was the icing on top of the cake. 
The trio of compositions by Jairam – Zindagi, Rishta, Maut stood a class apart.  The musical scores and sound mixing were absolutely exemplary with the background scores complementing, supplementing the beautiful, soul-stirring lyrics in each of the numbers.  Each number had a distinctly different feel.  
Zindagi paid tribute to the colourful riot that is life and it could not have been better said – sometimes stationary, sometimes moving at breakneck speed – if there is one thing life is – it is unpredictable, it is irrepressible and most importantly – indomitable.  We are the ones that dance to the tunes of what we know as this journey of life, was the underlying message of this number.   One just had to love the brisk beat to this number that just served to enhance the depth of the already beautiful lyrics.
If Zindagi set the tempo, Rishta followed soon – mellow and calm, yet rich and melodious.  It was a number that wove a rather sensuous garland with words and tunes, one that explored the sentiments in relationships.  It was a beautiful composition that represented and personified the fact that bonds are what life is all about and bonds do not need long speeches, they do not need constant oratory.  All that is needed for two hearts to beat as one, all that is needed for love to blossom and sustain a relationship is at times just a fleeting glance, a sublime smile, an eternal companionship.
Maut brought the audience face to face with the only certainty that life has to offer – Death.  Mixed with haunting melody, it sure must have made people delve deeper and think about a concept that is often swept under the carpet.  If there is one thing no one wants to come face to face with, it is Death.  Yet, if there is one inevitability, if there is one thing that life presents to us with a certitude,   it is Death. 
Just as people were lulled into a eerie quiet, almost as if sensing a fat man on a buffalo lurking in the shadows, there was a sudden shift in the mood with the foot-tapping Taani Daani, a Tarana – yes, the very same number that is doing the rounds inside my head even when I am in the middle of lessons today.  Musical notes have been floating through my head when I least expected it, my feet would start to tap as though they have a mind of their own, in the middle of a phonics lesson J and I’m pretty sure I caught many an amused little face during my lessons today because they must have been wondering why today's lessons were making me a more happy person than they usually do. This should just be able to give one an idea of exactly how catchy that number was.  To sum it up in one word, it was absolutely brilliant.  Even more so given the fact that the entire number is set to Bharatnatyam Jatis and Tabla beats.  Awesome !  To add further hints of flavour to this marvellous number were dancers from Cosmic dance, with their dance beats in perfect rhythm to the jatis from Tharangini.  This one is not about to fade from my memory banks for a while, if at all it does !
Vara Veena brought back memories of music lessons that I used to take.  My Periamma used to ask me to sing this almost every single time, to begin the lesson with.  So yes, lots of fond memories there and the song, dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, is an absolute evergreen delight.  What took this to an entirely new level was the way in which this classic Carnatic song was fused with Mou Li Hua.  Also adding another dimension to this number was the fact that Vara Veena was set to Chinese musical instruments whilst Mou Li Hua had Indian Instrumental music.  The graceful dancers added yet another beautiful dimension to an already rich canvas, enhancing the panorama for the audience.  Music truly transcends language barriers and this was a rather beautiful way of proving that.
Tharangini could not have come up with a more fitting finale than the foot tapping Tharang anthem.  Set to a disco(ish) beat, it set scores of feet tapping and spirits soaring.  .  If there was one thing the show proved to the audience that evening, it was the fact that music is indeed a universal language – music rises above all the barriers that mankind has managed created amongst themselves. 
I can only imagine the kind of practice and preparation it must have taken, to put together something on this scale, not to mention the discipline and commitment that would have been required.  Among other things, the one thing that stood out was the fact that each and every member of Team Tharangini was enjoying themselves to the fullest.  To all of you who were involved in bringing forth an evening that is going to stay etched in our memories for a long long time – our heartfelt gratitude. 
Just as words are an expression of linguistic reason, music is an expression of feelings, of passion, of a revelation of the innermost.  Plato, the Greek philosopher, once said :
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
On Saturday, Tharangini gave the audience all that and much more.  
Kudos, Team Tharangini and here’s to many many more.
Thaani Daani Thadhari Daani …… Dhim Tha Daana Dheerena ……. J