Jul 2, 2015

Mind Over Matter

I developed a dust allergy when I was a teenager. If I entered a room that had been swept in the past half hour, I started sneezing. If I came within 2 feet of a cobweb, I started sneezing. If I forgot to wind a kerchief around my face while cleaning my room, I started sneezing, which soon turned into a wheezing and watering of eyes and a whistle every time I breathed out. I was quite fond of that whistling, actually. An allergic reaction always set off a cold that would soon develop into bronchitis and THAT meant chore-amnesty for at least 2 weeks!

Once, when a vacuum cleaner salesman arrived for the first time in our little rural pocket and asked whether there were any members of the family with dust allergy, I was furtively banished to the upper floor. My parents had no plans of buying an unnecessary contraption. It turned out to be an ineffective maneuver, after all. Because as soon as the guy demonstrated the blower function, my Dad started sneezing! Yet, after all these years I am the one blamed for having been the cause for the purchase of our first vacuum cleaner. Life is so unfair…

Back to my own condition.  It got so bad that every morning I announced the fact of my waking up with a series of “HAAA……CHEE”s that shook the house at 6 am.  Well, I was at home, and I didn’t need to muffle my sneezes in a square of cloth, and I wasn’t’ infectious anyway.  My parents worried about asthma. But I think my Dad took more exception to the breaking of his slumbers in this fashion. So he took me to a Homeo practitioner.

I sat in the dark room filled with rows and rows of tiny bottles and ancient books on the shelves covering three walls as the doctor patiently questioned me about my daily habits. He soon found the problem – I spent too much time indoors with my nose in a book. (Little did he know that it was to be a lifelong affliction of mine). I was ordered to sit outside somewhere for an hour in the evening every day and take deep breaths of fresh air. Nope, deep breaths during my half-hour commute to and from college didn’t count. As I left, I looked at the wizened and pale doctor in the dark and claustrophobic room and wondered whether he shouldn’t be taking a little bit of his own prescription.

So every day after tea, I walked down to the edge of our property that faced an expanse of paddy fields and sat there, filling my lungs with fresh, fresh air. Since I wasn’t allowed to read, I took my sketch book with me to draw. But I found that I hunched up over the book so much that I forgot to breathe, which pretty much defeated the purpose of the exercise. Soon I stopped taking anything with me and learned to sit, dream and just be in the moment. A good thing I hadn’t learned crochet at that point in life! The result of these peaceful hours was that my Dad could once more wake up to melodious sounds...

A few years later, I did the Art of Living Course. I practiced the breathing exercises regularly for a year and got over the worst reactions of my allergies. My lungs didn’t whistle any more unless I had a severe chest infection. The frequency of colds lessened and even if I caught a cold, it rarely developed a secondary infection.

Nowadays cobwebs and dust on the floor hold no fear for me.  But I do cover my face while tackling heavy duty dusting.  One evening, I cleaned the bedroom fan. But I forgot to switch it on while going out of the room to let any dust left on the blades fly away. That night as we all settled down to sleep, I felt my chest seizing up in the old fashion and immediately remembered the dust on the fan.  Soon the seizing turned to breathless coughs and I had to sit up. I decided to take my coughing self to the living room to prevent disturbing my family.

I got up, picked a book from the window seat and turned to go. Then I stopped. I looked at my sleeping family and wondered how they could sleep without any problem; how their lungs ACCEPTED the dust in the air and let them sleep without harm. While one part of my brain told me that I was reading too much Louise Hay, I just sat down cross-legged on the bed and closed my eyes. 

This is what I told myself:

“Dust is always in the air, I breathe it in all the time.”

“Dust is a part of creation that holds no threat for me.”

“I ACCEPT dust as it is and welcome it.”

I suited my actions to my words and took deep breaths, visualizing the tiny, harmless dust motes finding peaceful homes in my alveoli.  Within five minutes, I was fast asleep.

Now, I wonder how I can bring myself to accept a rapacious cold virus in the same way! Rowrrr!!

Jun 8, 2015

Movie Review: Premam

If ever a movie could hold us spellbound to our seats right from the time the "writing on the wall" appears to the cry of a newborn long after the screen has darkened after the rolling credits, it is this, it is this, it is this...

This movie first caught my attention with the wonderful piece of Malayalam calligraphy that is its name. And when the screen equivalent landed on to the stigma of a hibiscus flower and sat there gently fluttering its wings, DH burst into spontaneous applause. Right from that moment, the movie had us entranced. 

The story in a nutshell: George Davidson (Nivin Pauly) is an ordinary young man with a couple of staunch friends who support him through his chequered love life.

Wait, is THAT the story - is that all? Yep it is! Nothing to tax your imagination or make you stretch the organ of believing, nothing that will make you exercise your deductive faculties....

Gosh, but what a rollicking ride it is! Right from the moment we watch the hero pen his first love letter in which misspellings and inappropriate similes abound,  there is not a boring moment in the whole movie. Is there anything new in the story? No. But the treatment is a whole different cup of tea. Add about 7 musical tracks that blend into the story so well that they make an organic whole, you have a winner all the way through.

I have to mention the performances of the three newcomers who make their mark on the movie - they play the characters of bubbly and cute Mary (Anupama Parameswaran),  heartbreakingly lovely Malar (Sai Pallavi) and mischievous but mature Celine (Madonna Sebastian). Although all three are good, I must say Malar really stole my heart with her chameleon-like changes and laughter-filled eyes. 

I could go on and on about this movie - from the lovely song-lyrics (all penned by Shabareesh Varma who also is a major character in the movie AND sings a couple of songs too - talk about multi-talented), the plethora of new acting talent who all made us remain in our seats just to know their names, the never-ending humor that makes the most soppy of love scenes hilarious, the screamingly funny and not-funny cameo of the director....

We reached home after the unusually long movie (at least for a Malayalam one) at 10:30 pm and stayed discussing the movie, going over all the points that we enjoyed and speculated about Nivin Pauly's career etc. till 2 am! If there is anything I could find fault with, it would be the frequent boozing and smoking scenes as well as some indistinct dialogue that made me yearn for subtitles once in a while. But that would be nitpicking...

I still haven't touched all the points that I liked - like that shot of a fire-ant who peeks over a moss-covered stone wall as eager for a glimpse of Mary as all her suitors... well the list will go on. 

So if you don't mind being entertained by a well-made movie that will have you rolling in your seats as well as tug at your heartstrings, you can do no better than to get a ticket for Premam (bit tough to get - online is the only sure bet). If nothing else, it will help you get over the condition over hedonistic adaptation - you know, getting so used to one's good fortune that one forgets to appreciate it... (Thanks to The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky)!

Final verdict: Rush!!!

Jun 3, 2015

Blessed Peace....

Hush, wait for it... Can you hear it now? Ignore the swish of the fan and the muted buzz of the washing machine... there, can you hear it? The absolute silence, the all-pervading peace that envelopes Karthi. Aaaah, it does me so much good that for the past 2 days I have been reveling in it kind of like a kitten that throws itself on its back on a sunny patch and wriggles in glee.

No more tramping of dirty feet that cross the living room floor into the kitchen in search of water and snacks at all times of the day (at one time I counted a round dozen boys in our home - friends, neighbors, city cousins of neighbors, ) ...

No more thwacks of the cricket ball against the front windows which invariably found its way there despite my edict that it was a wicket if the ball ever found its way into the front porch...

No more suddenly coming upon kids on the terrace and balcony trying to coax the ball from the coconut tree (which had hidden its prize within one of the innumerable pockets expressly designed to be ball catchers) and almost falling off themselves...

No more feet trampling my front border of plants, for if the ball went over to the next yard, all team members must gape over the wall and call instructions out to the retrievers (3 little jasmines were martyred in these noble attempts)...

No more being called to settle disputes about toys or arbitrate on the laws of chess at all times of the day...

No more just sitting down to some creative endeavor only to have to get up again to scold, console, patch up or feed...

No more having to deny multiple requests of, "We are done playing, may we watch TV?" sprang upon one at the most inopportune or distracted moments - I wonder what a 24x7 state of constant high alert does to one?

No more guilt-tripping for acceding to the above request out of sheer desperation occasionally...

No more going about the day's chores with one ear attuned to any lull in the noise that could presage anything from a sulking playmate to a medical emergency...

No more worrying about how to contain 6 or more balls of energy inside the house when it's raining.

No more having to posture with hands on hip and yelling at youngsters to come in from the rain and saying, "No, baseball caps are not adequate rain protection."

At least, no more ... till next March!!!

Written in the peace and serenity that only a stay-at-home-mum of two boys can know at the beginning of a school year...

So... how was your summer?

Apr 7, 2015

Movie Reviews: Ennum Eppozhum, Oru Vadakkan Selfie and 200th post!

Numbers can be so paralyzing, can't they? Ever since I put up the last post and it came up as the 199th one, I'd been in a quandary... What should I write for my 200th? It's a big number, a milestone, so I should write something worthy of it! So I kept torturing myself with several options until the weeks passed by... And then I realized, my old perfection demon is at it AGAIN! Way back in 2010, I started this blog (click here if you would like to jump to my first post ) just to be able to fight it!!! Hie thee demon!

So here goes!

We started off celebrating the kids' summer break with Oru Vadakkan Selfie - Vineeth Sreenivasan is a blatant promoter of his home region Thalasseri and surroundings! If we weren't sure of where it is, he even uses online maps to point it out in the movie! :) 

Story in a nutshell: Umesh (Nivin) and his cronies are seriously aimless guys looking for the easiest ways to make it big. Finding his father's pressure to join the family business (the proverbial palacharakku peedika which every self-respecting Malayali boy hates!), he runs off to Chennai to make his mark in movies and lasts exactly for a loooooong SIX....days. He gets back home only to find that he is in a huge scrape!

The good: The first half is funny - to all non-parents. I often forgot to laugh to turn and look at my boys to agonize - gosh, please don't let my boys turn out like that!!! Did I detect a certain tension in DH's arm and eyes as he laughed too? Not sure! The song "Enne thallendammava" has become an anthem of sorts around Karthi now. It's not unfamiliar, since it used to be one of my Dad's favorite sayings to rebuke me whenever I refused to toe the line in my childhood :). I would like to hear the intro song once again - because I was so engrossed in all of Umesh's antics at college that I couldn't catch the song properly. The movie, ultimately has a good message - which I will leave you to discover. The anticlimactic climax was also a novelty to audiences who have been fed to the gills with twists at the end of the tale.

The bad: Nothing much really - except those nightmare visions of how boys could go bad! :)

Verdict: Worth watching. Also can be used as a spring board to launch lectures on ideal behavior to kids :)! Paisa vasool!!!

Ennum Eppozhum had been on the Karthi viewing wishlist since it was announced last year. Sathyan Anthikkad's latest makes for a good view initially. 

The nothing-given-away story in a nutshell:  Vineeth N. Pillai (Lalettan) is a senior correspondent of a leading women's magazine who is bored by routine. His seemingly unconscious slips of the pen make life mildly hazardous for him. The new management in his firm is intent on throwing him out, when he gets a lifeline. An opportunity to interview a lady lawyer Deepa (Manju Warrier) who has been making headlines as a gutsy lady.

The best: The song "Malarvaaka kombathu.." I practically swooned in my seat - the golden voice, the music and the lyrics... wow! Huge appreciation to Jayachandran, Rafeeque Ahmed and Vidyasagar!!! It's a great treat!

The good: The lead performances and as usual, the heartwarming good relationships of the "little people" who populate the Anthikkad world. In this movie it is Kariachan (Innocent) and his wife who fit that bill. 

The bad: Manju Warrier should really try to break from the mold of the suffering partner in dysfunctional marriages and go do something else. Also I didn't' like the way the movie showed her to be a super mom - A single busy lawyer finding time to clean a two-storeyed house to perfection, cook smiley-faced chapatis, work late into the night and then getting up at 4 am to practice classical dance! Really, what are the moviemakers trying to say? And Vineeth remaining single because he is blatantly trying to replace his dead mother with another just like her? Disturbing, to say the least. And to make it all worse, busy lawyer finds it easy to keep house, whereas the senior correspondent has to browbeat his freeloading roomie to do all the housekeeping jobs! Gender stereotyping at its worst.

It may be just me, but I found this blatant sexist agenda a huge turnoff. So what if the knight-in-a-white-Nano charges in and rescues the damsel in distress with panache? Yuck, another cliche!!!

Final word: Good in patches, don't take your critical mind along if you want to enjoy the movie!

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!