Oct 30, 2015

Thamarasseri Churam - yethu!

All our Kochi friends always have this complaint about our capital city - Thiruvananthapuram doesn't have many signature restaurants... and then they go on to enumerate their hometown's signature restaurants like Kayees, Dhe Puttu etc., leaving us all with enough water in the mouth among us to float an armada if need be. Of course you can get decent meals at many restaurants and there is a veritable smorgasbord (pun intended!) of all-you-can-eat buffets all over the city, but very few places where eating is actually fun and you can remember a few dishes as your favorites.

Well, I for one think that this scenario is changing, slowly but surely - perhaps due to the influx of North Malayalis in great numbers who all must be complaining about the same. No doubt stodgy Thiruvananthapuram people are also reveling in this welcome change.

In the months of April and May this year, our regular FM stations were airing the ads of a very curiously named restaurant serving Malabari dishes. "Thamarassery Churam". This, as any Malayalam movie buff knows, is the phrase immortalized by the road-roller mechanic played by Pappu in Vellanakalude Naadu. Would that pique the interest of the denizens of Karthi? You bet!!

So we drove there one day in time for lunch, with my vegetarian DH who doesn't take well to biriyani either griping all the way about whether he would get a decent veggie meal. (You should know that this is the guy who went to visit several cities in the US - ONLY after checking and marking the nearest Indian restaurants in the area. As a family, we are very gastronomically handicapped!) Whether the food would be good or not, we were sure of some entertainment as soon as we saw this sign above the restaurant door...

And then came the menu...

I won't include the whole menu here, why endanger your keyboard with floods? And while we were waiting for our orders to arrive, we had this to look at...

No, not the couple... the wall behind them! We had a lot of fun guessing and arguing about the movies the quotes came from. And of course, DH got every one of them right as usual - and I really hoped the fun we were having would put him in a good mood when the food arrived! I will not put the whole wall pic here because you would like to try your hand at guessing them if you ever go there.

Soon our food arrived and the dark color itself was enticing to say the least...

At Karthi, we like our food really hot and spicy... so when we see pale curries, half the fun goes away. Ani who complains a lot when I make a spicy veggie dish was asking for more lamb curry even as he was gasping from its fiery taste. And - this happens very rarely - DH gave his seal of approval for the vegetarian meal! Yaay, that's all ticks in our book!

And if we got bored with the quote selection on the wall, there were cryptic puzzles elsewhere, like this...

And when it was time to pay...

As I understand, the spiciness factor can be varied according to taste. The service was prompt and courteous and the restaurant was spick n' span. All in all, we had fun. We've already marked down what dishes we would like to try the next time. And the kids go, "When are we going back to Thamarasseri Churam?" Such demand for a non-fast food place? We are happy!

For those who would like to try this restaurant for themselves, click on  the directions.

Disclaimer: This review is not sponsored by the restaurant and is based on just one lunch with a limited number of dishes... so please don't hold me responsible for something you don't like there! :D

Oct 16, 2015

Movie Review: Ennu Ninte Moitheen

'Tis the year for romantic movies... Premam is still making itself felt in good ways and bad. Malar/ Sai Pallavi has lost her freshness after being over-exposed on the media. Malayali campuses (both school and college) have had a surfeit of black shirts and white mundus. And when a jeepful of Premam-uniformed people struck down a student and killed her, at least some people blamed the movie for lionizing the bad student who boozes and swaggers away his formative years. Coming from a culture that exhorts its students to follow the crow, the crane and the dog in the matters of deep study, concentration and sleep respectively as well as to be moderate in food and stay away from the comforts of the home, this reaction was not surprising.

Anyway, all has given way to Moitheen and Kanchanamaala. Although all love is beautiful, Ennu Ninte Moitheen has to be the antithesis of Premam. By now all Malayalis must be familiar with the real story that happened in Mukkom, a tiny, river-bound village in Kozhikode and the still-living  heroine of the tragic story, Kanchanamaala. I certainly wish that I had seen the original documentary Jalam Kondu Murivettaval (click on name to view the movie) before watching the mainstream version.

Why do I think so? Because after watching the movie version, in which a lot of the actual story has been edited out, the real beauty and tragedy do not come through... Either a movie is riveting or it is not. May be it is a subjective experience, may be I had not been in the right frame of mind to really absorb it. But all through the movie my mind was going, "Wow! great cinematography" "Did the actors catch colds after being drenched almost all through the movie?" "Was it never summer in Mukkom?" "Great song, ordinary picturisation" "Uh oh, not again, Prithvi forgot his colored contact lenses in this scene too..." Only, only at the end, when Kanchana (Parvathy's best role - she is above all reproach) stands on the threshold of Moitheen's home, preparing to live as his unwed widow did I feel any emotional response to the movie. 

So I feel, that if you want to really get the flavor of the movie that all the cast and crew fell in love with and worked so hard for, do watch  Jalam Kondu Murivettaval before going to watch Ennu Ninte Moitheen. Only then can you find the real heart of the movie and feel the strength of a love that bore 25 years of separation, twenty-five years of house arrest and being treated worse than a  mangy dog (Kanchana's own words in a television interview) and the ruining of two bright lives come through. I strongly feel that the movie should not have ended where it did, but should have continued to the present age - only by knowing and showing that Kanchana keeps that flame of love alight even to this day can people appreciate the strength of their love and sacrifice. A moviegoer who is ignorant of the real story  might scoff: "Hah, another variation of Romeo and Juliet - only this time Romeo died aged 44 and Juliet didn't do away with herself." Yes, Mukkom Bhasi does mention the rest of the story at the end, but it was not enough...

Revelation: Tovino. This actor gets noticed in spurned lover's roles, but he is a treat to watch. Hope he gets better roles as he goes along. Karamana Sudheer really stole the show in drag! Sai and Lena are wonderful as Moitheen's parents.I love what Prithvi has done in the movie, but I really wish Nivin had had the title role. If you watch the documentary, you can see for yourself that he bears an uncanny resemblance to B.P. Moitheen - ah well! 

Another thing that I loved about the movie was how flawlessly it took us back into Kerala of the 1960s - the jewelry designs, the costumes, the way everyone unscrewed the top off an ink pen when they had anything to write (which I still enjoy doing), the funny-shaped bus... Ok, I was not around at that time, but I can imagine can't I? 

Songs: Love, love, love the songs. DH has banned any rendition of "Kannondu chollanu" at Karthi till further notice because he is sick and tired of all his family members warbling the same all the time at home. "Ente qithabile penne" seems set to be the second "Malare..." Bet it is going to be all the rage in campus autograph books this year.

Verdict: Do go and watch a wonderfully made movie, but bear in mind that the real thing is much more magnificent and mind-blowing than its celluloid copy...

Oct 14, 2015


You don't have to leave this world to be in limbo...which is where I've been for the past few months. Life goes on, yes seasons change, festivals come and go.. But when there is something tugging at the heart all the time, everything loses color and the joys are all the more transient and ephemeral...

My mother's cancer is back. She has been in poor health since the beginning of May. She had been so diligent about post surgical checkups and taking medication for the past two years that when she started having one health problem after another, we never connected it to cancer. But five months into the ordeal with one hospitalization after the other, we were at the end of our tether. Then we were advised to take these problems to the cancer hospital. The verdict came quickly. The dreaded disease is back and since it had already been in Stage IV when detected first, it's far worse this time.

Meanwhile within the space of a mere 6 days this last fortnight, Ma heard the wings of the angel of death pass by her twice. Once it was due to extreme hypoglycemia from which we managed to revive her. The next was an hour after a chest tube was inserted to drain the malignant pleural effusion that was cutting off her air supply. She went into convulsions and stopped breathing. Somehow the doctors brought her around and she had to spend three days on a ventilator thereafter. 

The cancer hospital has deemed Ma too weak for any further aggressive treatments. Hence we are about to start homeopathic treatment, hoping that the umpteen discomforts she is feeling will be soothed. 

Trying to keep a level head in this turmoil has been hard. I've observed denial, confusion, resigned acceptance, anger and pain in our family at different stages and intensities during this sorry saga which is by no means over. Our relatives, friends and neighbors continue to give us their valuable support. They are the silver lining in this story... they, and the fact that Ma is still indomitable and not given to despair. Even in all this, she continues to domineer over us when she can and always has a smile to share whenever she is normal. The disease, the hospitalizations and the near-death experiences may have played havoc with her mind and body, but she is still here. She needs our help and she needs our laughter.

So, it's time to come out of limbo!

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!