Aug 30, 2011

Enjoying the rain...

Phew! I thought the rain gods had deserted our district this monsoon. After the first week it was a repeat of the "almost-rain" scene in Lagaan. Thick, thunderous clouds would roll up over us then a strong wind would blow them all up north and drench all the districts north from Kollam with bounteous rain. I had had grand plans for my garden this planting season, but all came to naught - I even had to untie and bring down my trusty watering can which I had hung up in the first week of June! The only rains we had were the sneaky ones that came at midnight and left just a telltale freshness in the morning. It took the birth of Chingom to bring the rains finally to our place. Today the heavens are positively shrouded in grey and it's my favorite color for this season! I've had enough of sunshine, let me enjoy some rain!!!!

Aug 17, 2011

Happy New Kollavarsham!

Yesterday, I managed to complete my Adhyatma Ramayana Paarayanam just in time for the new year. This is the 13th or 14th year since I started the practice and I've missed it only once, I think. Every year my handsome, red-bound copy comes out of its year-long hibernation to be dissected into 15-page portions that I set at the beginning of Karkkidakam. I can never stick to that portion because with all my diligence and care, something or the other will happen and I miss reading some days and then have to read huge portions at a stretch, almost destroying my throat in the process.

I love reading the Adhyatma Ramayana, not just as a spiritual practice, but for the opportunity it gives me to enunciate all the beautiful consonants of Malayalam in all possible permutations and combinations. Our day-to-day conversation is limited in its use of the very hard (athikharam) and resonant (ghosham) consonants. Even if they intrude in our daily speech, we soften them so that our speech flows smoothly. In fact, if someone were to enunciate properly while speaking, we would definitely consider him  an oddball or a "language fundamentalist". But I go all out in Karkkidakam and let the ghoshams and athikharams roll off my tongue in all their glory. I can feel them down in my diaphragm when I enunciate and it's a pretty heady feeling!

Obviously, my recital is not musical a la Kaavalam or so slow, because I have to finish reading it all by myself. I concentrate more on getting the pronunciation right and getting the meaning. I have been known to laugh at the funny parts, resulting in people asking me what's so funny in the Ramayana. I have again and again marveled at the knowledge of our sages who have described the growth of a fetus in vitro, down to what development occurs each month it spends in the womb. I marvel at Kumbhakarna's sagacity when he says, "We know that certain things are bad for us, but go ahead and do it anyway. It's because of Karma accrued in previous births" - explains a lot of things like alcoholism and obesity through gluttony, right?

I hate it when the "heroic" monkey warriors have to drag poor Mandodari in to finally interrupt Ravana's meditation. People think that Sita was insulted when Ravan abducted her? They've so got it wrong. Look how well he treated her! He didn't even put pressure on her to stay in his palace, but gave her female guards and put her in the open garden where everyone could see that she was not molested. He only used words of persuasion or threat with her, he made no physical contact whatsoever. And what about Mandodari? 

There is a whole subtext here of offering Sita as bait to initiate genocide with the Aryans on one side and Dravidians on the other, but we will not go into that. Suffice to say, I enjoy reading the poetic rendition of the immortal story so much that I eagerly look forward to reading it every year. I especially enjoy the Sundara Kaandam because the vruththam is so tough that it is a Herculean task to separate the words that are inextricably wound into each other. I absolutely revel in being able to make words out of that aviyal! And the rhythm is so catchy that it is a lot of help in extricating the words too. I always vow that the next time I read the Ramayana, I will have a copy of the Sabdathaaravali by my side to help me with unknown words. Well, I've been saying that for 14 years now, may be this year I shall buy a copy of my own??? Procrastination rules!!!!

Happy New Year!!!!!

Aug 14, 2011

For all Malayali foodies out there

I have just been blog-trawling on this quiet Sunday morning before the rest of the pack was up. Blog trawling is one of my favorite activities - I go to my favorite blogs and then trawl through THEIR favorite blog lists opening several windows and tabs in the process. Before my comp was reformatted, I had thus collected more than two hundred blogs, classified and categorized neatly and carefully. Before giving my comp for repairs, I took the opportunity to declutter the list and only wrote down the names of a select few that are my regulars.

Today I found a site that I felt I must share with in the spirit of the Salt n' Pepper. It is Kothiyavunnu.com . As the name suggests, it is mainly a compendium of  Malayali dishes, with added titbits. I was especially taken with the pictures on the home page. I don't have the time to check out individual recipes right now, because if I don't have dosas on the table within the next half hour, only inedible parts of me might be left by the time my family finishes with me. I would certainly not want to deprive y'all of your favorite blog author now, would I? :-)

Wishing you all a happy Sunday! Check out the site and let me know!

Aug 11, 2011

Thru another pair of eyes...

Two weeks ago, the a big news item was the income tax department's raid in our two megastars' homes. Has anyone heard about it afterwards? Did they find proofs of tax evasion? Have they been penalized? Who knows or cares?

The reason I brought this up is because of my cleaning lady whom I shall call Chechi. She likes discussing current hot topics with me and I indulge her with salacious titbits of the day when she comes three afternoons a week. Some background info: She is a single mother of three abandoned soon after the third child was born and has been raising her kids alone since then. She started out as a day-laborer and now has several houses now on her roster and spends the whole day going from one house/business to another as cleaning/cooking help.

So, there was Chechi wielding her broom while I was ironing clothes. I told her about the raid and mentioned that a couple of elephant tusks (it doesn't become ivory till it's made into something, right? ) had been found at one place. She did not reply for a while and then she asked, what is wrong in finding those? I explained that it's a contraband item. The next question was, what is it used for? To make curios, of course. Chechi quietly swept the floor for a couple of minutes and then vehemently burst out, "Some people have so much money that they don't  know what to spend it on. Elephant tusks! And here one has to run from one house to another just to make a living."

That gave me a lot of food for thought...

What must she be thinking about my ever-growing book collection???

Aug 10, 2011

Movie Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

I would like to stand up and mark the passing of a great phenomenon in the publishing and movie industry - viz.,  Harry Potter. HP will continue to live in books and DVDs, but we've been lucky enough to witness the phenomenon live. I was 24 when I borrowed the first two books from the Kottayam Public Library. Unfortunately, I started with the Chamber of Secrets because my sis grabbed the Philosopher's Stone before I could. After returning the library books, I went ahead and bought the two as well as the Prisoner of Azkaban that was already on the stands by the then. Since then I never missed another book. I caught the Goblet of Fire too from Kottayam. I remember getting the Amazon-shipped Order of the Phoenix from the apartment office in Houston - my only American HP! We were back in Mangalore and still staying in a hotel when we went to a bookstore and bought the Half-blood Prince - the store manager had just unpacked it and I was the first one to buy it! That is the first HP I tried to read in installments - I managed to finish it in a day. The Deathly Hallows came to me when we had just come to Thiruvananthapuram and were staying in a rented home, with just a couple of mattresses as furniture. I was totally sick with undiagnosed bronchitis in a viral fever epidemic at the time. That time too I promised myself that I would savor the last HP one chapter a day. But when one is sick, there is little to do - so I finished it in 4 hours. When I then surveyed the HP-less wasteland that was stretching ahead of me, I consoled myself with the movie versions yet to come...

So it was with a beating heart and high expectations that I sat down to see the final movie in the Harry Potter series. On my right I had 4 British youngsters who seemed pretty tickled to be watching the movie at a fraction of the cost they would've had to shell out in their own country. When the screen started glowing, I was in deep mortification for 15 minutes because all the jewellery stores in the area had their ads coming in one after the other. On other occasions, it might just have been a slight nuisance, but I was then watching the rigmarole through foreign eyes!

I think my expectations were too high for this movie. It was a visual treat, but the movie did not convey the pathos, the tragedy and the final sacrifice of Harry giving up the elder wand. But I don't blame the filmmakers for that, the cinematic medium can only hold this much. I also cannot imagine how Hermione and Ron would've allowed Harry to set out to be killed by Voldemort - the book has him stealing away under the Invisibility Cloak and just asking Neville to slay the snake. Fred's death as well as the Lupins' don't touch us the way they did in the book. Dumbledore - the real hero as far as I'm concerned - does not get his final scene as the one in the portrait. All these omissions just marred the movie for me so that it was with a feeling of dissatisfaction that I came out after the screen darkened.

Enough said - I can always read the books!

Aug 8, 2011

From My Bookshelf - 6

Whoo! First my computer goes down with a "flu" and gets fully reformatted. Then one by one, starting from the youngest, my family members succumb to a bout of stomach flu - the least said the better! Now, except for the excoriated throat of our elder son, we are okay! And to free to start blogging once again!

Magic - somehow after Harry Potter (movie review later!) - the kind that we see on a stage has lost its attraction and wonder for me. I think the movie The Prestige had a lot to do with it too(Hugh Jackman in a grey role!! :-( ). To think that all the tricks that make us ooh and aah are the feats of just a clever engineer and some very good distraction tactics somehow makes it all tawdry. The last magic show that I enjoyed was two years ago. It was a corporate event for kids and the magician was speech-impaired. I really marveled at his performance because a magician's best tool after his sleight of hand is his verbal skill and this magician really did well in spite of not being able to talk.

As far as magicians go, Malayalis are proud to have a world-class magician amongst us, our very own Gopinath Muthukad - he of the splendid fire escapes and disappearing things. He is a magician with a mission, a very well-spoken and passionate human being, very easy on the eyes and occasionally goofs up in public (remember the Thiruvananthapuram Mayor and the big bang?) which only makes him appear more human. We've seen him judge musical prodigies in a music reality show. He is the ultimate showman. What I did not know was that he has a talent for writing - till I picked up this...


Memoirs at so young an age? (He's just 47.) This is a question Prof. ONV Kurup poses in the poetic introduction to the book. But as he says, a magician's story is certain to pique one's curiosity. But it is the nostalgic language that describes rural Kerala life in the 70s that really makes this book dear to my heart. The story of a budding magician is interesting in itself, but I doubt it would have been so beautiful if the setting had been anywhere but verdant Kavalamukkatta, a tiny village near Nilambur in Malappuram. His memories of the route he took to school and back are enough to take us back to the time when there was no TV, let alone HD channels. 

After reading the book, I marvel at how privileged I have been to have had a childhood that spanned both the worlds - there was the materially rich apartment life in Saudi Arabia with lots of chocolate, cartoons and Sesame Street. There were also carefree vacations and life after moving back to Kerala in the late 80s. I too have had lots of friends and cousins to play with, swimming contests in flooded fields, quiet reading sessions atop a favorite guava tree and lots of fresh fruit year round to share with friends and relatives. Lots and lots of time to just moon around and leisure to see the sun setting beyond the paddy fields adjoining our backyard. Those days seem so precious now.

To get back to the book - Muthukad as a boy was as passionate about magic as he always has been - except for the time he did so well in classical and folk dance that he might have made his mark in that field! The pranks and sacrifices that he got up to get other magicians divulge their tricks to him and the disillusionment that often came with these experiences are all described with a disarming candor. His neighbors and various local people make entertaining appearances in the book, but it is his family, especially his parents who stand out. His mother who fought back cancer and his father who appreciated his talent for magic, but wanted him to earn his bread as a lawyer are clearly the lynchpin of his life. His relationship with them and the values he imbibed or were made to imbibe from them have formed the magician we all know and love. His parents seem to have been pretty progressive and understanding for their time. Muthukad also remembers everyone who helped form the man and the magician with endearing gratitude. 

All in all, a very good read, especially for a rainy Karkkidakam afternoon. Do go out and get a copy of Ormakalude Manthrika Sparsham for yourself.

How to bring back the green...

Back in 2007, when we bought the land for Karthi, it looked like this... There were coconut trees that looked tired, a few jack fr...