Feb 27, 2015

Two months gone? Already??? with a movie review at the end!

Gosh, it feels like we celebrated New Year only yesterday! I opened my diary yesterday and found only two more pages for the month!

At Karthi, February came in like the usual lamb. How could it not, after all, whose birthday does it start with? Didn't get the hint??? Take a look at the pic below and don't forget to look at the birthday candles!!!


Things went well till DH decided to give me a cake cream facial - couldn't waste all that chocolatey, creamy goodness, could I? 


One of my best birthdays ever... I think this pic says it all!


The first half of the month went by in following the results of the 35th National Games. Way to go Kerala - ending up in second place behind Services! In fact if Services was split up statewise, we would have got at least 50% of their medals too because there were a lot of Malayali athletes in the Services team. 

Then the boys decided to make a Sabarimala pilgrimage. The rush to Kottayam, then to Sabarimala and back took their toll on DH who contracted a severe sinus infection which he is yet to recover from. Ani too missed a few days of class. Now I'm pumping the whole family with Ayurveda remedies and preventives enough to keep them healthy through the exams that start next week! Talk of the month going out like a lion!!!

Meanwhile there's nary a cloud on the horizon and there is an uncharacteristically harsh heat wave going around. I guess all the moisture went around the globe to make snow storms in the US. My whole garden droops in the heat, but I am stern and water the plants only once in two days. I upbraid them for being brats spoiled by the heavy monsoons of the year and adjure them to send roots deep into the soil to find what they can. 

My ongoing feud with the tree across the road is finally over - at least for this year.  Each morning this month, I woke up to find a ton of its leaves littering my yard - so spiteful of it to hurl all those leaves across the road into my driveway!!! Now I look up at it and laugh triumphantly because it has no more leaves to torment me! "I'll see you next Feb!" murmurs the sulky tree as it towers disdainfully over puny moi.

Just as the National Games ended, what should start but the ICC World Cup! We watched the Indian innings of the Ind vs. Pak match down to the last ball in my MIL's home at Kottayam before having to leave for the railway station. On the train, we were at the mercy of two networks on DH's phone and mine as we followed the ball-by-ball updates on Cricinfo and had to watch the frustrating  rotating circle most of the time. 

Finally my phone showed the winning ball and forgetting that we were on the train, Kunjunni and I let out a cheer, only to be shushed by DH into embarrassed silence. If cricket is India's religion, I guess we were the only believers in a whole compartment of atheists that day! 

My Kala Chaarutha workshop is littered with the remains of a lot of projects and experiments in new techniques which will soon make their way to the FB page.

The movie of the month was Picket 43 which we all loved. This one from Major Ravi is a short, sweet film with a good message and wonderful performances by Prithviraj, Javed Jaffrey and Renji Panicker. My only problem with it was that the scenes shot in Kerala were unnecessary and cliched. But without that, the movie would have been even shorter. A little stretching of the imagination too was required, but the message is good and it was moving. Definitely a good watch.

Bidding a fond farewell to a wonderful month and gearing up for a scorching March! See y'all next month!

Feb 6, 2015

National Games, here among us!!!

I have to admit that I am strictly a sports aficionado who refuses to stir from the sofa. Tennis was my first spectator sport. But once the likes of Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini left the court, I too lost interest. I have stuck to (of course, only watching) cricket for the rest of my life. 

The fact remains that I have yet to see a live cricket match. The closest I have got to a live one is when I called one of my relatives who had got the tickets to a match in Kochi ( he didn't even breathe a word to me till he was well-ensconced in the stadium!) and I called him while the match was going on hoping to absorb at least the crowd noise live through the phone. Of course I always held that "It's better to watch a match on TV - you get a better view and none of the hassles". No, please, don't say a word about the round green/dark purple fruit that grows aplenty in bunches on vines!!!

With all of this, DH did have to persuade me a LOT to go to the newly inaugurated (and yet unfinished) Greenfield Stadium that has risen in our neck of the woods to see the Opening Ceremony of the National Games 2015. He tried his best to get passes, but couldn't find any. But then the government announced that all those who made it to the stadium before seats were filled would be allowed to get in from 2pm onwards on the 31st of Jan.

So we swallowed a hasty lunch and left home at 1pm on DH's antiquarian motorbike. We adjured the kids and MIL to keep their eyes glued to the TV once the program started at 5pm. The old and trusted bike took us right up to the venue (so easy to park!!!). I was expecting long queues in the hot sun and was not sure of the refreshment opportunities. So in a tote I was carrying: 2 bottles of water = 4 liters, 1 kids' lunchbox full of masala peanuts (DH's speciality) and two caps. The lady policewoman at the checking area opened the peanut box and grinned up at me before waving us in!


There is DH in front of the stadium. To our delight, we were shown in to the lower bowl of the stadium itself. I went back to the security guy to check and make sure that we were not being shown into any of the reservation seats. After his repeated assurances, we chose our seats for the day and settled down. I loved the bright primary colors all around me...


The stands were mostly empty at the time since there was more than 3 hours to go before the scheduled program, but we didn't feel bored at all! There was a lot to see. We especially had these fellas to look at - they were in place even before we took our seats..



We took turns to explore the stadium. In the meanwhile as the stadium slowly filled, there appeared a guy right behind us, who was all prepared to get on national television. We caught him doing this:


Besides balancing skills, he also had a poster with him which he waved madly from time to time, but suffice to say, it was just not his day! Poor guy!

But soon enough, dusk fell fast, the lights of the stadium blinked on and the program started!!!Just take a look at those stands now??!!!


We were too far away to capture the salient events of the evening on film. But once Sachin, the brand ambassador of this edition of the Games appeared on the giant screens, we heartily joined the crowd in cheering him. The navy band played popular tunes in the time it took to get the formal programs going. Soon it was time for the Games torch to take a run around the stadium. As the giant lamp was ignited, a deafening roar went up from the crowd - and I belatedly realized that I was on my feet roaring as lustily as anybody else! 

As the teams march past came to an end, there was a slight lull as the evening switched gears into what they called "the arts protocol". A fantastic traditional solo percussion performance got the beat going followed by all the traditional orchestra performance of Kerala: the Thayambaka, the Panchavadyam etc. - I am not proficient enough to distinguish each. But I can tell you that it was completely mesmerizing. 

After percussion, came a theme play "War Cry" with the story of the triumph of Kunjali Marakkar over the Portuguese colonial force with the narration by Mohanlal on the big screens and the dance parts performed on the centre stage held the crowd's attention. But we didn't know that it was more a filler in preparation for something else as we were absorbed in the play.

When the stadium was lighted up again after the play, we were amazed to find the arena lined with torches and ceremonial umbrellas and a huge array of performing artistes representing almost all the known traditional performing art forms in Kerala...


That was the moment I really wished we had brought the kids along so that I could point out the art forms to them. I sincerely hoped they were watching it on TV.  In the midst of all this, we were treated to several bouts of fireworks that had us all going ooh and aah as the colors exploded above our heads and thundered in our hearts...


In all the hullaballoo, I found some quiet time of my own to try and capture the wonderful, shimmering haze that the crisscrossing beams of light were creating in the dark sky above us ...


I guess it's as near to the Northern Lights that I can get at this time! :)

Soon it was the turn of Mohanlal to make his mark on the night with the debut of his band Lalisom. But by then it was more than 9 hours since we had been in the stadium. So after tapping our heels to the third song that was an old favorite, "Meri Sapnon Ki Rani", DH and I called it a night, found our bike parked at the perimeter wall of the stadium and made it back home, bone tired, but thoroughly happy. 

So how was my first live stadium experience? In spite of the noise-induced headache, in spite of all the grit that scratched my face while I tried to wipe the sweat off, in spite of a throat excoriated by all the cheering and in spite of arms that ached for hours afterwards because of all that clapping ... I LOVED IT!!! So here's my recommendation to my readers: do not try to put off whoever invites you to a live program in a huge stadium. Go for it!!!

Jan 23, 2015

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014: Part Two

Last week I left you with a Chinese painting, this week I shall start by throwing you into a vortex!


This was Anish Kapoor's Descension - a huge whirling mass of water that threatens to pull us in at any moment. The effect was quite mesmerizing and I kept my body tilted backwards and got a good grip on my camera before taking this pic!!!

Muhanned (sic) Cader's Galle Fort:: Fort Kochi was refreshing in that it took scenery pictures out from the usual rectangular boundaries they are usually confined to. Eg:


Doesn't the outline below remind you of the cartoon "Phineas and Ferb"


Then there was a series on the ever-familiar and inimitable Namboodiri's black and white drawings! Here is just one for you!


His drawings look deceptively simple and always lead me into delusions that I can be an artist too!! Alas!

Mithu Sen's video installation I have only one language; it's not mine is a disturbing video, mainly shot in a rehabilitation home for abused women and children in Kochi. By means of some editing process or filter that is beyond me, the artist has turned the video into red and white sketchy outlines. It just captures one and the unconnected, mumbled dialogue makes it even more surreal.

Hans Op de Beeck's black and white watercolor paintings are wonderful in their use of light and in the beautiful detail. A couple of examples:


a Kathakali scene:


Tell me what can you make out from this picture?


Someone scratched up the wall? Look a bit closer:


Manish Nai's untitled work is done on a specially prepared grey surface with the use of white and black "pixels". Although the final result is no great shakes, the technique is wonderful.

Biju Jose's Swastik Pocket Knife is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of our country's extremist tendencies. Have a look:


Punaloor Rajan's photos enshrined a veritable who's who of Kerala's literary and cultural scene. It definitely deserved a better exhibition stall than the poky shelves it was housed in. Just a glimpse of a young Madhavikkutty. Looks gorgeous, doesn't she?


Having finished the exhibits in the Aspinwall compound, we took an auto to the Pepper House. Here we saw Gigi Scaria's Chronicle of the Shores Foretold (remember Marquez's novel of a similar name?). It was in the form of a fountain spouting from a giant bell...


Then we encountered the elaborate and breathtaking work of art by Sumakshi Singh aptly named Between the Pages. We were puzzled by the instructions to leave our footwear outside.  Here are a few glimpses. Tell me if you can make out anything:






Completely confounded, aren'tya??? Ok, to put you out of your misery, I will show you the first screen we saw on entry:


These were the viewers who preceded us. See how the panels are so staggered and designed to make the viewers a part of the whole? There are also animated figures projected on to the panels: birds flying, etc, which adds even more layers of experience to the work. And here we are, "Between the Pages" ourselves!!!


Of course I have left out several artists and pictures in this post too. I hope you will be encouraged to see these works for yourself and see if you like any others even better! By the way, there is enough material left for a third post on the Biennale!  So see you next week!

Jan 16, 2015

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014: Part One


What a way to begin a year! Last Sunday I made my pilgrimage to the altar of art that is the Kochi- Muziris Biennale 2014, the second edition of art extravaganza that is bigger and better than the last one. As usual, since our spouses are totally averse to the idea of tramping around looking at art and since kids would only be a distraction, it was another girls' day out for my dear friend Tessa and me. This time I worked my camera to bits: a whopping 400+ photos as opposed to the 100+ last time. This was because when I came back home last time and started to blog, I found that I could not remember the names of even half a dozen creators of the works that I loved the best. So this time, I took pictures of all the artist names and descriptions regardless of whether their work impressed me or not. At least I have a better record now!

The tickets to the Biennale are available at the second entrance of the Aspinwall venue. For adults it is Rs100/person. The first exhibit this time around was a video installation by Charles and Ray Eames (of the Eames chair fame). It was a short film called Powers of Ten and for all that it was made in 1977, it was no less wonderful an experience. Let me just say that it puts us humans in place! Really timeless as true art should be.

The next thing that really caught my attention was a series of 90 charcoal drawings of Madhusudanan, called the Logic of Disappearance. Here is just one of them:


Lenin, Stalin, Marx and a pig are recurring motifs in the drawings and they are disturbing and breathtaking in their artistry at the same time.


Yang Zhenzhong's video installation 922 Rice Corns reminded me of the old Sesame Street videos that teaches numbers to preschoolers. It shows two or three chickens pecking up grains of rice while someone counts the rice corns in the background in Chinese and the a few running counters show the number already pecked. Although the blurb said that it was a way to show the relentless and mindless consumption tendencies of humans, I just felt that it was a good way to learn to count to 922 in Chinese. But may be I do not have the artistic temperament!

I loved Santhamani Muddayya's Backbone that dominated the courtyard of Aspinwall House. Don't you?


It's raw and primordial and still playful, somehow. These are the feelings it evoked in me and I took pleasure in passing between the "bones".

Parvathi Nayar's drawings on wooden panels were also very good. An example:


Mark Formanek's Standard Time was a video installation that was every bit thrilling as a real movie. 


It shows a group of workers changing some numbers (another throwback to Sesame Street?), but then you realize: the numbers are a time display, it is the same time on your watch, the workers are hurrying to change the time within each minute!!! And then you feel anxious about whether they will accomplish the necessary changes within the minute and spend an agonizing time watching (in my case) the second hand of your watch! Really what better a way to show the tyranny of time??? I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I came out of that room, I can tell you!

Lavanya Mani's Traveller's Tales was another of my favorites:


Actually the architects of Aspinwall House should be mentioned among the artists. Who cannot but admire this?


Here I will skip over quite a few artists to get to my next favorite installation, a roomful of towering black, seemingly dripping outlines on white by Hew Locke called Sea Power:




It was only as I went up closer that I found out how it was done!


Yes, they are made with thick cord and strings of bead, attached with a glue gun to the walls. A man after my own heart, is Hew Locke!!!

Sahej Rahai had a huge hall full of sculptures made from clay and found objects, most of them were from the school of the macabre:



But the one not to miss is the video installation  at one end of this hall - that of an old sculpture that looks quite still and innocent until you see small furtive movements. The stone chest moves in an attempt to breathe, then it tries to stretch its back! By the time its damaged face moved as though desperately trying to speak, I fled!!! Brrr!!!

The one piece that truly surprised and confounded me was Xu Bing's Background Story: Endless Xishan Mountain Scenery. The placement of this artwork aids this confusion. Tessa who had already seen this piece hung back on purpose to let me have my first glance:


What do you see?  A frame of fluorescent tubes, a lot of torn paper, some dried vegetation, a few twigs, huh? I shook my head derisively at who ever had thought of this as "art" and went around where I stood and gaaaaaaaped.....


Tessa quite enjoyed my open-mouthed expression. All the junk at the back is artfully arranged so that the shadow is projected on to the canvas to create this wonderful painting. To look at a little detail... this is the view from behind...


and this is what it looks like from the front:


The original of this huge piece of art is displayed in a glass case nearby:


It was tough getting the huge piece in one shot:


So on that note of wonder, let me put an end to this episode of the Biennale. The exhibition goes on to the end of March (the last date is the 29th, I believe). If you can, do go and see these wonders for yourself! Enjoy!

Jan 9, 2015

Chalo Gavi!

Gavi... the magic name that shot to fame after the movie Ordinary came out two years ago. After the "Gavi girl" enumerated the attractions of her home town, everyone wanted to go there. But little did everyone know that the Gavi in the movie is not the real Gavi. The name of the town was chosen for its catchy quality and only one shot was filmed in Gavi!!!

Although we did know this, we still wanted to visit. So where is the real Gavi? It is in the heart of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is spread across 305sq.km. of Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. At one end of this reserve is the famous tourist spot Thekkady. Gavi lies in the interior part of the reserve, in Pathanamthitta district.

How to get there: On the Vandiperiyar-Kumily route, take a right just before the Connemara tea factory and proceed straight to the check post at Vallakkadavu.


There are three ways to travel through the reserve forest:

1. Catch a KSRTC bus that goes this way to Pathanamthitta. This is the most economical way to see the forest - but do note that you are not allowed to alight anywhere except at the bus stop near Gavi unless you plan to travel through to Pathanamthitta. If you plan to get back to Vallakkadavu, you will have to wait till the return trip passes through Gavi again.

2. At Vandiperiyar, get passes to take your own vehicle or a hired jeep into the forest. The cost is Rs. 1000 per head + jeep fare+ vehicle admission fees.Only a limited number is allowed each day, so one has to be bright and early to get this permission. Please note that although you can stop to take pictures of wildlife on the way, you are not supposed to get down from the vehicle. This is called a "package trip" and those who chose this way of sightseeing can use the tourist facilities at Gavi - more about that coming up.

3. The third way, the one we took, is the Forest Department's Jungle Safari bus. You get tickets (275 per person) + an entry fee of Rs.33 per person. The trips are at 6:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 pm. (Rates and times are subject to change!)


We didn't know about options one and two, so we prepared to go the third route. Accordingly we rose
early on a really brisk morning and left our comfy bed and breakfast in Kuttikkaanam before sunrise. The fog played hide and seek with us, making the sinuous turns a bit difficult to negotiate, but we were in no hurry as we had made a dry run the previous day and were sure about the route and the time we would take (when going in the daytime, allow some extra time for snarly traffic in Vandiperiyar). 

We reached with an hour to spare and warmed ourselves with scalding tea from the shop near the check post. The tickets are given out at 6 am. The trip will start only if there are a minimum of at least 8 passengers. The driver and guide were both forest officers.

At 6:30, we started on our journey through the Periyar Tiger Reserve. We wound our way through the forest at a leisurely pace, our guides keeping a sharp lookout for any wildlife that they could show us.  As we plunged into the interior, the forest resolved itself into grasslands on one side and steep ravines and tall trees on the other. Wildlife sighting was a lottery. Although the preserve contains tigers, elephants etc. they are not always to be seen. We were lucky enough to catch some small fry like some forest fowl, some simians, a wild buffalo and a family of squirrels 


At some places the forest resembled a well-cared for estate rather than a forest: the fire line being cleared by laborers, the various points at which forest offices could be found and the smooth road probably contributed to that illusion. There were a lot of eucalyptus trees to be found as well. Then the forest officers explained that the area was under the ownership of a paper company before being declared a part of reserve forest and they had been responsible for the destruction of indigenous trees to plant eucalyptus for their industry. Once it was declared to be a forest, no trees could be cut, so the eucalyptus stayed.

But there were also areas of thick, impenetrable vegetation with the elephants' favorite bamboo varieties in abundance. And sure enough, we came across signs that an elephant herd had passed across the road at several points because they had strewn the paths with bits of bamboo and dung. To tell you the truth, I was actually happier that we saw only the signs and not the herd itself - I hate being terrorized on an empty stomach (especially after this incident). Besides, we'd had our fill of the pachyderm family at Konni the previous day - more on that in another post!

The road wound gently up hill till all of a sudden, the vegetation changed and we saw just grass-covered hills all around. We stopped here and our guides informed us that this was the spot where the "accident" scene of Ordinary - the only scene in actual Gavi - was shot:


And then the verdant hills around: 


Soon we came to the center of Gavi, which has a small dam, a tiny park with paddle boats and  a few resort cottages.  The park and restaurant are only for the "package" customers. A few glimpses:



The park:


Gavi has a little piece of interesting history behind it. During the 1970s, a large group of Srilankan Tamil refugees were given land in Gavi and they started cultivating cardamom. But with the inclusion of Gavi in the Reserve forest, they could no longer use pesticides or chemical fertilizers - as a result of which the farming became unprofitable. They worked out a plan with the government to allow most of their farmland to be turned back into forest while they got exclusive rights to provide tourist facilities in Gavi - so the park, cottages and restaurant are their main source of revenue now. 

We were dropped at the dam to walk around and take pictures. Since we were not "package" customers, we walked past the park and restaurant and climbed aboard our bus once again to travel a few hundred meters to our last point...


That is the Gavi post office and a Kudumbashree restaurant. Despite the modest appearance, we had some lovely soft idlis for breakfast and got back into our bus for the return trip.

I must mention this, the forest guards who came with us on the trip -  Vijeesh and Aby - were both very well-informed and helpful. DH and I pestered them constantly with our questions, but they never once lost patience and answered our questions in detail. They are not loquacious like tourist guides, but we could plainly see that they love their job and take it seriously. During the trip, they were also keeping an eye on the trippers who came with their own vehicles, alerting other officers on the way if the tourists were showing signs of lingering, getting out or planning to stop and have a liquor party. 

Here they are with our kiddos (Vijeesh on the left and Aby on the right) after we got back at 9:30.


We lingered a while longer to use the restrooms and to see the tiny museum in the check post vicinity. 


All in all, it was a very refreshing trip and we got to fill our senses with the wonders of the forest and our minds with some choice bits of information. Our guides did say that more sightings of the wild denizens of the jungle were to be had after a dry spell, when they would congregate at their watering holes near the road. This rainy season having been plentiful and extensive, the animals had plenty of water sources in the interiors and didn't need to come down to where the humans hurtle by in smelly, roaring contraptions. We also saw a few members of one of the three tribes of the forest: the Malampandarams - a nomadic tribe that makes their living by collecting honey and other forest products.

It was really worth sacrificing a couple of hours of vacation sleep on a cold December morning to visit Gavi. Hope you get a chance to go too! And keep a lookout for the tigers that could sometimes cross your path!!!