Dec 26, 2013

Movie Review: Drisyam

What a way to spend a Christmas day! After a disastrous attempt to watch Drisyam that ended up in it staying "Adrisyam" last Sunday - I couldn't even find the end of the ladies' queue - we tried online booking to find no more reservable seats. So after drinking some extra-strong tea yesterday evening, we reached the theater by 5 pm for the 630 show. I took the first place in queue in front of the box office and waited till 645 to get the coveted tickets. Canny soul that I am, I did carry a book in my bag that helped me bear the looong wait. Poor DH had the tougher assignment of getting our car into the theater parking lot - which he barely accomplished just before the ads came on. I haven't seen such crowds at a movie theater bar a few opening days - and those we religiously avoid.

Was it worth the wait? YES, YES, YES! I won't give away even a teeny bit of the story line here, because this is a must-watch movie. Suffice to say, you won't need but the seat's edge to sit on in the second half of the movie. Oh yes, the film takes a long time to describe the protagonist's background, but once done with that, it's a really engrossing tight-rope act that has you holding on for dear life! 

Mohanlal and Meena handle their roles beautifully in the middle of quite a few superb secondary characters. The only disappointment is Asha Sarath who fails miserably in balancing her role - her over-emoting is especially glaring when set against such a smooth and subtle performer like Siddique. How I wish Shobhana had been given that role! But the plum role has fallen to the lot of Kalabhavan Shajon. After a long spate of nameless / minor characters as comic or villainous sidekicks, Shajon has proved his mettle with a tough role - you have to see it to believe it!

So there it is, an "old-generation" family thriller that has no need to resort to obscene language or crude sentiments to draw in people by the hundreds - I don't know how many were turned away without tickets before each show. It just needs a good story, fantastic director and a supportive cast. Do go and watch Drisyam in the theaters!!!

Dec 15, 2013

Movie Review: Neelaakaasam, Pachakkadal, Chuvanna Bhoomi

I seldom write reviews about movies that have already come out on DVD, but I had to write about this one. We got the DVD of Neelaakaasam, Pachakkadal, Chuvanna Bhoomi last week, but didn't get a chance to watch it. Mid-week, I put it on for my mother-in-law who was here. She barely sat through it and said finally that she didn't like it. So I for one was not looking forward to it. DH voiced his wonder why his Mom thought so when it had garnered a few good reviews when it was in theaters.

We put our reluctance and wondering aside yesterday and put the movie to the test. I was engrossed in cooking dinner, then serving it and finally settling down to decorating our Xmas tree (finally!) while the movie was going on. I had one eye and one ear on the movie, but was drawn in inexorably towards the middle and then I couldn't take my eyes off the screen...

Sameer Thahir's third directorial  venture is definitely a must-watch. Kasim (Dulquer Salman) and Suni (Sunny Wayne) set off on a couple of bullets to nowhere in particular - at least that is what Kasim professes. But along the way he inadvertently has such varied adventures that change the tone and direction of his trip. Each part of his adventure invokes specific parts of his backstory that finally puts us the viewers on the same page as he is for the climax. 

I can't praise the cast enough for their contribution to the movie - I don't know the names of most of them, especially the female half. Joy Thomas, Vanitha, Baby Anika besides Dulquer and Sunny were the ones that I could recognize. Of course I Googled the rest of the cast and saw that Bala Hijam is a Manipuri actress and she does very well as Assi. 

There are teeny tiny moments in the movie that show the sure touch of a good director - moments like the sudden swaying of a Nano car driven by Fatima, the innocently wide-eyed question "Cool drinks unda?" by Wafa and the question of a not-so-goodlooking woman who speculates that the babies of Dulquer are likely to look like his beautiful, but unmistakeably Northeast Indian sweetheart as though that would be a very undesirable thing!! Those and a lot of others are what I would go back to watch again (well, I've already watched those moments twice thanks to DH and his forefinger that presses the rewind button at the slightest provocation!)

Neelaakaasam... is a perfect road movie and the episodic adventures are well strung out - wry, comic or tragic - some simply scary. It is one of the best kinds of road movie there is. I had already been dreaming about biking around in India after reading this blogNeelaakasam... just intensified it about a thousand times - how could I help it with those visuals of wide roads, beautiful mountain vistas and the wind that seemingly gusts out from the screen to tease our own hair...

So what are you waiting for? Go out and get the DVD and perhaps you would also like to pick up 5 Sundarikal while you're at it... Among the five short movies of  5 Sundarikal, give "Gauri" a miss and you can't go wrong - all the others are perfect. After watching Sethulakshmi in it you can rest easy that Malayalis won't have to hunt for talent outside Kerala once Baby Anika grows up. She is simply superb!

Now my only regret is that we didn't get a chance to watch Neelaakaasam on the big screen... :( Now I consider having had to watch Geetaanjali as just punishment for having missed watching a movie like this onscreen :)

Dec 13, 2013

Movie Review: Geetaanjali

Finally! We made it to a movie last weekend! Our first movie since we went for the stupendous Gravity in November. We had a tremendous choice laid out in front of us in the form of Philips and the Monkey Pen, Thira, Punyalan Agarbathis etc. that looked promising and were showing nearby. But no, we had to pick a movie that had been playing for three weeks and that too in a theater 25 kilometers away! But then, we had to after this encounter!

Priyadarshan's Gitaanjali (sic) had a lot of hype attached to it, especially that of a Priyan-Lal movie after a loooooong time, "Dr. Sunny" coming again and the debut of Keerthi, Menaka's daughter. One's natural inclination is to compare it with that magnum opus Manichitrathazhu. Yes, Gitaanjali comes a very poor second there. So let us drop such a comparison and look at it as a standalone horror movie.

The plot: A young techie couple decide to tie the knot, but just before the engagement, the bride's mother has a fall and is paralyzed. The couple stay at the girl's home which is said to be haunted by the girl's dead twin sister who committed suicide. The girl pooh poohs the idea of the haunting, only to have a rude awakening....

If you enjoy the kind of horror movie in which drowned girls with dripping hair and decayed faces jump out at you at regular intervals, this is YOUR movie! Unfortunately I happen to hate them! Right after the first scare in which Ani shrieked and I barely suppressed my scream, we both spent the rest of the movie in one seat, keeping our eyes firmly closed whenever the specters threatened to appear and peeking out only in the "safe" scenes. At one particularly grisly part, when the theater was relatively quiet, Ani asked loudly, "Amma, should I cover my eyes or my ears?" Well, I had to then cover his ears for him too.   

There were a lot of flashbacks to Manichitrathazhu - it seems Dr. Sunny's patients always manage to study in schools conducted by nuns; there were echoes of Thilakan's character in Nazzer's (why would De. Sunny still need a mentor-like figure?) and of course Innocent was there to provide the laughs - which are very few and far between. As a "whodunit", there are no surprises as I had guessed the truth in the first half hour. The climax scene was good - even I forgot to close my eyes, decayed specters notwithstanding.

Nishaan and Keerthi have done well in their roles - Keerthi shows promise in her debut and looks so much like her mother in some shots that one is hit with a sense of deja vu at various points in the story. Dr. Sunny - alas! Mohanlal does not have much to do here.

I always imagine that the best pieces of real estate must be available only in movies. Where else would a piece of property in Kerala have winding roads through a rubber plantation in the front and a picturesque beach behind it? It was too funny for words. Although Manichitrathazhu was shot in two different palaces that are as different as chalk from cheese, there was a cohesiveness that made the transition smooth. Yesterday there was a rerun on TV and I realized that at times the location changed back and forth 3 or 4 times during a period of 10 minutes - must have been a continuity headache to shoot! But the results!!!

Ah well, it seems as much as I would have liked to avoid comparing the movies, that is EXACTLY what I have done! Hee hee....

So final verdict: Nyaaah... judge for yourself!

Dec 4, 2013


It's so easy to get out of a good habit. I can blame my non-writing hiatus on the rush I've been in. But I know that it is just an excuse. It was not a dearth of writing inspiration or subjects that prevented me either. It just felt so overwhelming ... the thought of having to keep tapping at the keys for a long time and think about the apt word to use in a particular context...

So this post is just a placeholder. To convince me once again that I can write and needn't be exhausted from tapping the black keys or revolving thoughts in my mind...

As to what we have been up to at Karthi - with the exception of the first weekend in November, we have been traveling every weekend since our Madurai jaunt. The trips were good, we had a lot of fun and cozy times with family. In the midst of all this traveling we also managed to squeeze in the enrolment of our younger one in his brother's school (took us two days) and managed to celebrate the elder's birthday.

But there was the inevitable fallout due to the frequent changes in weather, water and surroundings. The kiddos and I got through with sniffles and coughs. But poor DH wasn't going to stop there. He went ahead and had an eight-syllabled malaise, ending up in hospital for eight days. It guess it was his body enforcing rest after he worked hard during the week and traveled long distances in the weekends. Thankfully that is all behind us. DH is back home and at work. I have stopped running between home and hospital. To be on the safe side, we have decided to go not farther than 25 km from Karthi in any given direction for at least a couple of months. So feel free to drop in!

Nov 7, 2013

Our New Niece... and Some Thoughts on Being a Mom

Last weekend we drove down to Kottayam to visit our new niece who hasn't been named yet. She is two weeks old now and sooooo tiny. Here she is with her doting uncle and adoring cousin...

She fits into the crook of one arm and her tiny fist fits on to the end of her uncle's little finger

It was great to have an infant sleeping in the crook of my arm once again. I think one appreciates a newborn better when it's someone else's baby! For one, I was not sore and hurting all over. And then, I just had to hand her over when she needed to be changed or fed!!

Jokes apart, I must admit that motherhood has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my life so far. A lot of women commented recently after watching the Blessy movie Kalimannu that they would love to conceive once again just for the sake of enjoying the pregnancy and infant care like Shwetha does in the movie. I have no such regrets because I thoroughly enjoyed both my pregnancies - even with all the discomforts and scares - it is a very special feeling to be able to nurture another being within and feel all their movements. I used to talk to both my babies, rubbing my tummy wherever I felt them move. Ahh, sweet memories.

There is nothing like motherhood to build character too. I hate getting injections. Even today when I go for a blood test, I look away and tense up when the needle comes near. But when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in my first pregnancy, I pricked my fingertips four times to check my blood sugar and gave myself three insulin shots EACH DAY for three months. Nothing but the concern for the well-being of my child could have made me do that!

Each pregnancy and each baby is unique. You learn things as you go along. Here are some things that I learned along my journey of pregnancy and motherhood...

  1. Knowledge is power: Read up on pregnancy and newborn care. Dr. Spock's classic book and What to Expect When You are Expecting are great. My only problem with the latter is that they also a outline all that can go wrong in each month of pregnancy in gory detail. So I just looked at the first part of each chapter at the beginning of that month.
  2. It is okay to be scared: Starting with fears of losing the baby during pregnancy, I graduated to checking my firstborn's breath with a trembling forefinger each time he slept quietly for more than half an hour at a stretch. I still remember those long periods when I used to stare at his sleeping form and wonder how in the world I was going to bring up this morsel of humanity as a sound and upright citizen of the world when I myself was so far from perfect. The answer is: Have faith and take one day at a time.You will be more confident with your second child!
  3. The best child-soothing method: The 5S method of Dr. Harvey Karp - swaddling, side, shushing, swinging and sucking. I think his DVD should be part of a new-parent kit everywhere. We were failing dismally at trying to soothe our firstborn when we heard of this DVD. It was like getting a magic wand. Some things that astonished us - newborns don't like absolute silence! They WANT to be closely confined in a receiving blanket! They should be cuddled and carried close till they are three months old!
  4. Adapt to the baby's schedule: I took on too much with our first baby. I did my chores in the daytime when he was sleeping and was kept awake at night when he didn't want to sleep. Result: by the end of one month, I was almost ready to be straitjacketed with lack of sleep. Lesson learned. Sleep during the day time when the baby sleeps. Do your chores when he is awake at night. That way you'll save yourself from insanity.
  5. You CAN take care of a newborn by yourself: I've seen that Indian women have been tutored to think that new mothers are incapable of looking after a baby by themselves. Wrong. I bathed, changed and took care of both my babies all along. Three months after the birth of the first one and one month after that of the second, I was back to handling everything at home on my own. It's great to have these duties taken off one's hands if there are people around, but it is by no means impossible to do it all by oneself.
  6. Each child is on a unique schedule: From the moment a baby is born, people start asking, "Has the baby turned over on his tummy yet?" "Has he started crawling/teething/walking?" There is no fixed age for all this. My firstborn teethed at 7 months, my younger one still had no teeth on his first birthday! My cousin's son didn't wait to crawl - he just started walking at 5 months! So please don't compare your baby's milestones to that of others and worry about it. Only the outer time limits set for each milestone should be used as a guide.
  7. All parenting styles are valid: Some parents go about with boiled water and sterilized cups for their babies and children. Others use tap water. Some allow their kids to eat street food, others don't. Some let their kids mingle with neighbor's kids, others don't. Some put their children in a crib in a separate nursery once they are home, others put two double beds together and get the whole family to sleep together till the kids go off to college or get married. You make your own rules for your family or follow the rules that you inherited. They are all valid!!!
Here are some pregnancy and child care myths that I busted :) :
  • New mother has to rest on her back as much as possible for the first three months: Naah!
  • New mother should not read because it will spoil her eyes: Naaaaaaah!!! But then I was already severely myopic! :)
  • Holding babies for a long time even while sleeping will make them reluctant to be put down later: Naah! In fact, they need that cuddling for the first three months to complete their brain development according to Dr. Harvey Karp.
  • New mother should have her stomach bound tightly to get tummy back in shape: It is better to do exercises that strengthen the abs and remember to straighten your back by holding in the tummy muscles.
Above all, enjoy your children's childhood along with them. Enjoy holding tight on to those tiny fingers and listening to their tall stories. Cuddle down with them whenever you can. Tickle them like anything, do any amount of clowning to hear that laughter. Watch them while they are sleeping and feel your heart ready to burst with love. Their childhood is a God-gifted chance for you to become a child again. Enjoy it while it lasts!!!

Oct 28, 2013

Rameswaram and Dhanushkoti

It's no fun typing without all 10 of one's fingers. I am an old-fashioned touch-typist. When two fingers are out of commission with huge burn-blisters bulging at their ends, typing becomes very painful. So after two attempts in which I tried to remember to use other digits for the letters frequented by the left middle and ring fingers and succeeded in only hurting myself more, I gave up trying to post this last week. Much better now, thank you!

I left off our journey at the river-mouth of the Vaiga. Well, we passed on to that man-made marvel which held the record for the longest sea-bridge in India for a long time - the Pamban bridge, along with the railway bridge that connects Rameswaram to the mainland. It stretched and stretched ahead of us...

The bridge is now under renovation and fortunately we were allowed to stop and take pictures. Here is the drawbridge part of the railway bridge...

Boats dotting the bay and lined up against the island shoreline...


And here's all of us on the windy bridge...

As we drove on, our brother-in-law called to check if we were in any trouble with Phailin, but we replied that she had spared the whole of Tamil Nadu for the time being. On being told that we were heading into Rameswaram, he told us to go straight to Dhanushkoti first since that trip was time consuming and they did not allow tours after 5 pm. It was already one in the afternoon, so we decided to postpone lunch, snacked to keep up our energy and drove through Rameswaram on to the straight road to Dhanushkoti.

DH wondered if we were on an airstrip rather than a road. Later we came to know that this road was actually built over the railway line that had extended up to Dhanushkoti before that fateful cyclone in 1964. 

Soon, we reached a stretch of the road that was bound on both sides by long walls and found sand encroaching on the road. Finally there were only a few sand dunes and kaccha huts around us - mostly stalls selling soft drinks and snacks on both sides. There is a paid parking site near the Navy Observation Post. From there, we were packed into one of these with 20 other people!

Gee, I didn't know that tempos could be used for off-roading, but that is what they were doing. We bumped and swayed over the dunes and rocks (good thing we'd skipped lunch), our driver  jumping off several times either to check whether his vehicle was still in one piece or to help out other drivers who had some trouble with their ramshackle vehicles. There were times when we seriously doubted whether we could make it back to the parking lot that day itself...

And then there we were - just a stone's throw away from Sri Lanka (if one can throw a stone for about 18 km!!). The sun on the sand and the frothy waves was blinding and the sea was all shades of blue. Large wading pools dotted the beach and little fish swam in all of them. It was totally unlike any other beach I've seen. Sand for far as the eye can see and tidal pools glinting everywhere. 

But one can't afford to stand and stare or take lots of photographs standing, sitting and lying down when one has to look after two active boys. So most of my time on the beach was spent shouting at them to come away and anxiously scanning the waves for friends of the jelly fish we saw in the Vaiga.

I allowed them to wade in only the shallowest of the tidal pools where I could see the bottom clearly.  But I did take a chance to wade in one murky pool which was knee deep for me! 

Then our tempo driver herded us back into our camel-safari (the same swaying and same pace) and jiggled us all up to the ghost town of Dhanushkoti. Trying to negotiate my way to the ruins through the sand, I did wish I were a camel!  These are all that remain of a once-busy railway station where passengers to and from Sri Lanka used to throng...

The last train to reach this station was thrown off its rails and all passengers were drowned in the huge tidal waves that came in from the Gulf of Mannar.  And no one knew about it till the communication lines were opened up a couple of days later. This church...

and a few other broken buildings...

are all that is left of a once-bustling port and seaside village. Now all one can see are coconut-thatched stalls of vendors selling seashell items.

Why did the walls of the church look as though they had been under the sea for a long time?

All too soon, the return journey was over. In comparison with the splendid and tragic desolation of Dhanushkoti, the town of Rameswaram appeared squalid and constricted except for a huge square near the temple. We had a pretty tough time finding a hotel room, but were fortunate to secure a good room in a hotel that had a very clean restaurant too. We set out in time for the evening darshan of Lord Siva at whose feet Lord Sree Rama had worshipped before setting off across the sea to fight Ravana.

I have no idea why the temple authorities in India choose to plaster the facades with huge notices that block all the wonderful architectural details. Can you make out the entrance there?

The first thing one notices on entering the temple premises is the all-pervading wetness. There are 22 wells (theerthams) in the temple. Devotees are supposed to first take a ticket for the whole round of theerthams. The theerthams are all numbered and there are helpful boards in the temple to show you the way to the next set of wells as soon as you are done with one. At each well, they draw bucketfuls of water and pour it over your head (you can also go the route of sprinkling the theertham over your head as I did, just make sure that the temple staff know in advance before they splash water all over you). There are changing rooms at the end of the circuit where one can change into dry clothes and then go inside for darshan.

Travellers' tip:  The outer parikrama path is extremely slippery at places. Be sure to walk very carefully over the stretches where there is no plastic matting. My advice would be to stop using a pumice stone on your heels for one month before planning to visit. Let the scales roughen on your soles and cracks bloom on your heels, as you will need every bit of traction :).

The last and 23rd theertham is the Agni theertham which is the sea itself. As the dusk deepened, we made our way down to the sea. The kids had enjoyed the theertham route and spent some time relaxing on the sea wall, hair all tussled from the vigorous towel-drying by their scaredy cat mom...

The next day, we set off back to Thiruvananthapuram, following the coastal high way almost down to Thoothukkudi, then cutting across to Tirunelveli. There was nothing to look at but scrub-land and huge tilled fields waiting and praying for the rains. But then I saw a curious contraption being pushed along by several ladies and took a closer look...

It's a cart to hold exactly six large pots of water! Gone are the days when those poor women had to carry two pots on their head and one in each hand. Bless the persons who thought up this extremely labor-saving push-cart to lighten those women's loads! They made a very colorful sight all along that way with brightly colored plastic pots of all hues...

As we approached Tirunelveli, the only really green patch of land appeared near the Thambarani river, which to our delight had water in it and was surrounded by fields of light-green paddy seedlings!

We decided to break our journey in Tirunelveli for a while and since our Gmaps pointed out the way correctly, one-way et al., we decided to "stretch our legs" in Chennai Silks. When we got out from there, DH proposed stretching our legs again in RMKV that was just across the road. But since I had sensed his credit card groaning and grinding its teeth in Chennai Silks, we decided to have lunch and then leave RMKV for the next time.  Soon enough we were back on the NH 7, enjoying its world-class quality and fortunately no jay-walkers or traffic offenders this time.

On the way, I kept trying to take pics of this little hill that played hide and seek with the highway..

That is when our little kiddo asked me this, "Amma, how are hills and mountains made?" I toyed with the idea of throwing the plate tectonics theory at the five-year-old, then confessed, "I have no idea, baby..."

"Oh, I know how they are made!"

"Indeed? How?"

"First you take a hill egg, put it on the ground and cover it with soil. Then pour some water over it and the hill will grow up."

"Uh, okay, probably", I said as DH and I exchanged sly, all-knowing smiles over this cute theory. And that is exactly when our kid gave us this facer...

"Really? I was just pulling your leg. I KNOW that is NOT how hills are made."

Oh well, I guess he's growing up! Boo hoo!

Phew, isn't that a long post! No way I could've done it with just 8 fingers working! No siree!

Oct 18, 2013

Puja Weekend Long Trip - Madurai Rameswaram

Talk about a hasty travel plan! Last Wednesday we were looking for options to travel during the Diwali weekend, found the complete absence of bookable train/bus tickets and opted for a long drive. But since we are expecting the arrival of a new niece/nephew in the last week of October, (DH keeps wondering aloud whether he'll be an aunt or uncle this time over and I tell him that is a very stale PJ!) we decided to keep that weekend for baby visiting and settled for the Puja hols. We didn't make any reservations whatsoever and just plunged ahead on Saturday morning.

On Saturday, the sun came up on us entering Kaliyakkavilai via Poovar and Uchakkada. The road that had been silky smooth till then but suddenly gave way to huge pits that seemed to have been left by some Decepticons who had preceded us to go to Kanniyakumari! It was with relief that we reached Arulvaimozhi and joined the fabled NH7 - wow, what a road!!!

She enticed DH so much with her buttery complexion and sinuous curves that I had to keep a strict watch on the speedometer to prevent any indiscretions - men and good roads - absolutely explosive combination!!!! But I had no need to worry. After all we are still in India and there are natural speed breakers ...

Yep, intrepid jaywalkers all over the place taking leisurely strolls across the tollway not even noticing the honking hunks of metal hurtling towards them. After all what is the price of a few human souls including those of the ones in the vehicles??? Around Tirunelveli, we even saw a pickup coming towards us calmly in the onward lane. I was so indignant that I forgot to take a picture. 

Anyway after no losses other than those incurred at the 4 or 5 toll booths, we reached Madurai around noon. Fortunately Gmaps guided us straight to the Madurai Jn railway station which is just a stone's throw away from the Meenakshi temple and opposite which hotels are lined up in orderly fashion. It was just a matter of choosing an acceptable room and ensconcing ourselves in it. We turned on the TV for the progress of Phailin and were relieved that she would make landfall only in AP and Odisha, so we could visit Rameswaram in peace.

Contrary to my belief that the Meenakshi Amman temple would be visible from a distance, we could find the gopurams only when we were directly in front of them. I really wished there were zoning laws preventing the building of tall structures around such landmarks. But that gem of Indian architecture was all that I had imagined it to be. Our younger one kept asking if it was as big as Padmanabha Swamy temple and I told him that probably 4 Padmanabha Swamy temples could fit inside that huge complex. Once we were inside, I wished I had several eyes to take in everything. It was difficult to concentrate on chanting when there were so many divine sculptures around. After worshipping Sundaresar and Meenakshi Amman, we also took in the Aayiramkaal mandapam. 

Our little one was very much taken by the hundreds of Nataraja idols he saw in the temple...

The mudras are totally wrong, but you get the idea....!

We finally came out of the temple near dusk and just in time to catch the first light and sound show at the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace nearby. 

As we sat in the open courtyard of the king's dream palace and listened to the stories of bravery and treachery, DH wondered aloud whether the king had ever dreamed that his dream palace would once be open to visitors who paid for the privilege. Well, he couldn't have imagined that his own grandson would demolish part of the palace to take away fabulous wood carvings in preparation to build a palace for himself, so what was the point of thinking 5 centuries ahead???

The next morning, we set out to find the Kochi-Dhanushkodi highway. Here Gmaps tripped us up, because of the changing one-way laws. So we sought the help of traffic policemen who gave us the correct directions. At the edge of the city we sought the famous Theppankulam - the 16-acre manmade lake where the famous Theppa Thiruvizha takes place. What we saw was this...

I guess the rainy season has to come before this becomes a lake again. We had heard that the pavilion in the middle of the Kulam was fabulous and was the favorite retreat of Raja Thirumalai. Since we had a long way to drive and didn't dare walking through several cricket pitches, we decided to give it a miss.

On Gmaps I found that the Kochi-Dhanushkodi ran parallel to the famous Vaiga river and eagerly looked forward to seeing her when she curved to come near us on the road. But the river bed broke my heart..

Yep, that area between the two ridges is the river bed - dry and dusty. But the saving grace was the greenery of the land around her, unlike the arid stretches on the sides of the NH7, this highway was lined with tall trees, the gift of the Vaiga. Some other day perhaps, I can see her in full spate...

It was also heartening to see the clearing work going on in the canals - which signified preparation for the north-eastern monsoons. On the way out from Madurai, we saw several educational institutions and familiar place names. As we passed the verdant Manamadurai, I searched in vain for the Pachaikkili so that I could reassure her that her eyes and wings are indeed very beautiful :) Got the song????

After we passed a busy Ramanathapuram, the land on both sides began to narrow down. At first when I saw a blue glimmer on my left, I thought we were seeing the Bay of Bengal, but when I checked my map, I saw it was the Vaiga. DH stopped near a maidan and we jumped out wondering how a river could have water now if she had been dry all along the way.

A cloudy white shape in the water close to the shore gave me the first clue and I warned the kids not to go near the water. A tasting later I knew it. It was a jelly fish in the water and the water was just the sea backing up the bay in high tide. So we continued our journey to Rameswaram.

I think that's enough for the day - the Pamban bridge, Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi are begging for a post by themselves.

Oct 9, 2013

Eyes bigger than tummy...

For years, DH has had this habit. He peeks over my shoulder while I am cooking and I can anticipate his question well in advance, "Is that going to be enough?" Never mind if I was cooking for just the two of us in our younger days, or for a party of ten or daily meals for the four of us now - it has been  always the same question, "Is that going to be enough?" The ONE single time there hadn't been enough was when I had slightly underestimated the amount of rice required for an Onam meal in Minneapolis way back in 2006 and that was soon remedied by a second pressure cookerful which was ready by the time we needed it. Nevertheless, the question has continued down the years and never fails to elicit an eye-roll reaction from me and this comment:

"Your eyes are way bigger than your tummy!"

Well, things have a way of coming back at one. Last Wednesday, we went to the DC Books International Book Festival here (I got a personal invitation over the phone on account of my being a VIP member! :)). It also happened to be the day we took my MIL for a cardiac checkup for which we had to wait about half a day. So the book fair was a treat for us. That is, until we got to the venue, found it extremely crowded on account of the Gandhi Jayanti holiday and our younger son threw a tantrum after he was woken up from his nap in the car. Suffice to say, I just grabbed a few books from here and there, spent more time pushing through the crowds than browsing and came out with my purchases in record time.

Yes, I got my long-awaited Completed Works of Bashir! Those two tomes are enough to build serious muscles! :) But the aftertaste of an unsatisfactory book fair attendance lingered on... So, on the way back I decided that I would make a trip to the fair on a working day morning, all alone and have my fill of books. Until I started putting away my purchases in their appropriate shelves that night...

What was this?  Markus Zusak's The Book Thief? Did I finish this? Then I saw a dog-eared copy of The Story of My Experiments with Truth (how appropriate for the day!). I opened it to find that it had been purchased back when I was 14 years of age. When had I last read this? What did I remember of it? Just two or three episodes probably - the beef tea episode, the toilet-cleaning episode or did I remember them more from the movie Gandhi? Hmm...

Then I went over my favorite reading spots around the house and found five half-finished books and brought them back to my den. I threw open my bookshelf doors and took a detailed survey of the books there...

Three years ago when I was putting my book collection in those shelves, I had promised myself that I would keep only those books that I enjoyed reading several times over (I either donate or sell the others at used book stalls) and I would try to keep my collection within that bookshelf. What I forgot to do is to keep track of my reading. So I opened up a notebook and started writing down the titles of those books that I had not read, not finished or did not remember the contents of and then counted...


Sixty nine books that are still strangers to me! Residing in my own bookshelf. Oh, how could I? Gaah! NOW look whose eyes are bigger than their tummy!!! 

So now I'm going on a book diet. No more new books till I finish the ones in my shelf and get rid of those unwanted. That also means no treating myself to a solitary second visit to the book fair this year :(.  Oh why, oh why did I have to count????

Come to think of it, it's been a while since DH has made that "Is that enough?" comment on food - not since his annual PSC test last year (no not Public Service Commission; Pressure, Sugar & Cholesterol, of course). And come to think of it, I think I'm missing it a teeny little bit. Yep, I am!

Oct 5, 2013

It doesn't pay...

... to be a too cocky novice microwave baker, or one might end up with this... boo hoo

Why, why, why after I had used the same recipe to make two perfect cakes before should this happen? Any answers? And that too when I was expecting guests?!?!?! 

Oh well, after a long clean-up session, the kids had fun eating up the chewy, brownie-like portion left in the dish. Sigh... when we should have been eating moist, melting chocolate cake - oh well. There has to be something once in  a while to justify the name of my blog, right?  :)

Sep 23, 2013

Movie Review: North 24 Kaatham

After a hectic Onam riddled with hearty sadyas, a lot of payasam and running around to meet family and friends, we settled down to the first post-holiday peaceful, normal weekend. Which in our case means again more traveling around in the name of errands! And we had to watch a new movie for evening entertainment.

So there we were, settled down in our cushy seats, about to watch the laser show when a sudden panic seized me and I turned to DH and asked, "Oh God! This is a Fahad movie, was it safe to have brought the kids???" For a moment I saw my panic reflected in DH's eyes, but then he calmly replied, "I didn't see anything like that in the reviews..." So we decided to make the best of it and hoped that even if the kids asked us any awkward questions, they would do it pianissimo.

Thankfully, our fears were groundless for once. There was only one instance of a word that should have been bleeped IMHO. Otherwise, North 24 Kaatham is an eminently watchable movie. Harikrishnan (Fahad) is a brilliant software engineer who is the mainstay of his fledgling company. But the only one who likes and values him is his boss Sam, because Hari has OCD and is extremely anti-social. His family itself is barely tolerant of him. Hari's coworkers conspire to make him appear an utter failure in front of the company's clients and they make his boss send him on his own (Hari hates to travel and is scared of flying) from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram. 

On the train to Thiruvananthapuram, two strangers almost fall upon him. Gopalettan (Nedumudi Venu), an octogenarian comrade from Kozhikode and Nani (Swati Reddy), a social welfare trainee from Shornur. Bizarre circumstances tie them together and they undertake a journey to Kozhikode before next dawn - which happens to be a hartal day in Kerala. The movie is then a series of adventures that befall the trio as they make their way back north.

Yes, there are some elements of improbability. Yes, the end is highly predictable. Even then, we were riveted to the screen wondering what adventures were in store for the three at the next turn of the road. As all kinds of vehicles and the brisk use of their lower limbs bring Hari, Nani and Gopalettan to their destination, we too sigh with a sense of relief and homecoming tinged with the expected sadness. 

The movie thereafter becomes much more lighthearted, if in fact a little anticlimactic. But of course, it could not have ended with the hartal day's end. I think Malayalam should have a new movie genre from now on - it will certainly be unique - Hartal Movies. Yep, and North 24 Kaatham will be one of the better ones in it.

Verdict: Watchable.

Sep 13, 2013

Wish You All a Happy (Soggy) Onam!

All my flower-gardening efforts were mainly geared towards one purpose: starting an Onam pookkalam tradition at Karthi. For that sole reason I gathered and planted my old, native favorites,  Chemparathi, Chethi, Nanthyarvattam, Banthi, Vaadamulla, Kolambi etc. For two years the soil and weeds resisted my efforts strenuosly, but I prevailed with the help of heaps of cow manure and biogas waste water. This year, all my efforts literally bore flowers. I happily looked forward to the dawn of Atham....

And it rained... on Atham, Chithira, Chothi and has gone on raining since then!!! Here was our puny, soggy attempt for Atham in defiance to the climate...

It's no fun pulling soggy flowers off the plants, so I went for minimal damage. Well, we'll do it next year for sure!!! Meanwhile I'll find more old favorites and concentrate on growing them in this exceptionally rainy year! 

And this grainy old picture took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane...

That's me in the middle with my cousins on either side. Now do you wonder why I want to revive this tradition? 

Meanwhile someone has come visiting at Karthi. The first thing she did was to scare me out of my wits when I opened our back door at dusk two days ago. The next morning she turned up again at my back doorstep and continually complained while I hung up the day's washing (a very optimistic endeavor in this climate - hanging up washing, that is!). I had to take pity and offer something. 

She was wary and waited till I was quite out of the way before touching the bowl of milk that I put out. Looking closely, I could see why. Her right eye and surrounding area was swollen as though she had been beaten and her long fur concealed a bag of bones. 

Well, I think she has adopted us. She came to the front porch yesterday afternoon and shamelessly asked for more food. She lapped it all up and then professed her thanks by rubbing herself against my legs. I forbade further intimacies although the kids were ready to tango with her. I wanted to make sure that she had no infectious diseases and was scared that we may further hurt her bad eye.

Anyway, the cat is a fixture on our front porch now. I give her food in our back shed, but she comes back to the front porch, sits cozily on the front mat and even knocked twice on the door in an attempt to get in. Clearly she is accustomed to domestic comforts. Since I had warned the kiddos of fleas etc., the first time she tried to leap on to Anikkuttan's lap, Ani ran away screaming. I laughed my head off. When I invited her into my lap, she willingly came in and cuddled up, purring and butting her head against me. I checked her fur and skin for fleas or bites and found that she is nothing but a half-grown kitten. When I let her out, she made friends with Ani...

He chatted with her, asked whether she would prefer to be named after any of the girls in his class and generally took good care not to hurt her eye (which looks much better today). May be it's time we have a pet? 

It's considered good luck here when a cat chooses one's house as its home. Well then, we are blessed this Onam, even if we couldn't make pookkalams.

So here's a bunch of wishes for a Happy Onam and hoping you all had better luck with your pookkalams!!!

Sep 4, 2013

Anything to tilt the balance?

My day started off with gratitude meditation (on day 247 currently), a cold bath and some confusion regarding there being classes or not for the kids due to the statewide protest against fuel-price hikes. Having fed everyone and sent off DH to work, I sat down to breakfast and the newspaper. Nowadays, I usually skip the disaster news to avoid useless worrying. But I couldn't help noticing two items of news almost side by side in the inner pages: 

The one on the right side is about a murder. A visiting aunt strangled her  10-year-old nephew who had been asleep with his grandmother. She says it was so that her brother could finally divorce his estranged wife and start a new life since he was averse to losing his son through divorce. The murderer is said to be on some medication according to her family and is suspected of being unbalanced to have committed such a crime.

Please wait before feeling horrible and start cursing the whole of  the human race for depravity and self-seeking. Take a look at the news item on the left. The girl Anjali, who is being lifted was a brilliant student, dancer and singer who fell prey to muscular dystrophy while in the sixth grade. With advancing years, her dancing feet were stilled, but she still sang and earned good marks. Her father who should have been her mainstay was struck down by paralysis. Although Anjali got admission for a BBA course, she couldn't attend for one whole year because there was no one to take her to college.

Here is where her friend Linimol comes in. She had gained admission for a fashion designing course which would have secured her future careerwise. But when she saw her brilliant friend sitting at home helplessly, she quit her course, joined Anjali's college for BA and is now transporting her to college and back. Since Lini's parents are working in the Gulf, she will be staying with Anjali too. 

This is why I still have faith in humanity. This is why no one's predictions of  mankind going astray do not touch me. This is why I remain buoyantly optimistic - to some it may seem that I am excessively so. It is also because I know that while Lini's sacrifice has made the news because of its unique nature, there are millions more like her whose good acts do not make the news.

So, make no mistake, mankind IS moving forward to being better. There are still some souls who are in not-so-evolved states, but even they are moving forward. Swami Vivekananda said this ages ago, it didn't make much sense to me when I read him at the age of 17, but now I understand.

Isn't it good to know and believe this?

Aug 30, 2013

Another craft project out of the way! Yippee yay yay!

Take a look at the following picture:

It's a page from the Jan 2006 issue of Crochet magazine. I ripped it and the accompanying instructions out when I came back from Minneapolis in Dec, 2006 (Luggage space was at a premium, so I couldn't bring the whole mag!)

And today, I give you this:

This is the first doily I've ever tried and you can see it's a bit lopsided because my blocking skills are not that good. It had some tricky stitches in it - a horror called fpdtr (front post double treble stitch) that started at one place and ended somewhere totally crazy. I had to keep glancing at the picture to see if my fpdtr's was going the way it was intended to, and I think they were!

When I completed round 6, I found that these spaces in the middle were not aligned properly and had to unravel all till round 2 and make it all over again. That's one of the things I LOVE about crochet - it's so forgiving, we can always go back to where we made a mistake (provided we find it before everything is cut and knotted up!) and correct it!

The things I like the best about this doily is (a) the three-dimensional fans atop the 'columns' of gaps, (b) those bits of red peeking under the cream in the first contrasting edging and (c) all those complicated fpdtr's making a solid web effect.

So there it lies on our coffee table along with my home decor crochet project from last year. It took me only about SEVEN years and seven months to start this project!

Aug 19, 2013

Movie Review: Memories

Okay, the verdict is out - Prithviraj the actor trumps Prithviraj the producer this festival season! Last week we watched Kadal Kadannoru Mathukkutty which would have been better named Kadalil Mungippoya Mathukkutty. This weekend, the Association of Whodunit Fans at Karthi made a beeline for Attingal where Memories is playing. Another weird thing - we searched high and low for movie listings online since our daily did not carry the listings on Saturday (no paper on Friday because of Independence Day holiday). Know what? They simply were not available! Do let me know if there are any reliable online show listings for theaters in and around Tvm. We relied on Thursday's paper and kept our fingers crossed till we reached the theater and saw the movie hadn't changed on Friday.

Memories is the story of a cop Sam (Prithvi, of course) who has been trying hard to drown his sorrows in alcohol since the tragic abduction and murder of his wife and daughter. When a series of murders leave the police clueless, one of his former mentors (Vijayaraghavan) seeks Sam ostensibly for help and hoping that the challenge will kick him out of his apathy. Despite himself, Sam becomes involved in the case, but finds that he is mentally and physically incapable of being effective due to his drinking habit. The rest is really worth a watch...

Now, I take my whodunits seriously - for me to really like a detective movie, I need a watertight script (But then I also swallow anything romantic with my eyes shut!). My DH on the other hand just needs the movie to be "engaging" by which he means that with a little suspension of disbelief, and with the plot tension kept steady, he finds the movie good. This leads to some heated debates in Karthi. DH accuses me of poking holes in the tightest of scripts Eg., after watching Mumbai Police, {I had guessed the motive for murder in the first half}, I was wondering how the murderer had a hi-tech murder weapon lying around on hand to do a spontaneous murder, why he had got it in the first place and how seemingly absurdly outdated the motive was. The motive and the technology couldn't exist together even in the same decade. Also, how did amnesia cloud his "ahem" amorous sensibilities? So, I liked the movie for its terse action, wonderful dialogue and superb performances, but couldn't write a good review because the plot points bothered me. 

Memories also has a couple of such absurd plot points, but they are much more tolerable. And I have another way of measuring the quality of a movie - my kids bother me less for snacks and more for explanation of plot points!!! During Mathukkutty both of them kept pestering me for snacks ALL THE TIME while for Memories our older one was silent and on the edge of his seat throughout and the younger was asking doubts and holding one of my hands for reassurance! :-)

Prithvi delivers another good performance although he has nowhere near enough to do as he had in Mumbai Police. I feel the frequent glugging closeups were a bit overdone. One doesn't need to see the constant glugging to reinforce the fact that hero is a pathetic alcoholic - a little more subtlety would have been better.  The supporting cast also does its job well. The villain is also good  (won't reveal his name so that suspense is not spoiled). Rahul Madhav adds the right touch of estranged brother. Vanitha, Nedumudi etc. fit the bill. 

All in all, a good movie, enjoyable. Jeethu Joseph has got his basics and twists right.   

Aug 13, 2013

Remembering four ideal brothers...

Another Karkkidakam is drawing to an end... Ravana has been finished off, Sita has just passed her "fire-test" and Lord Rama is getting ready to take his family and army to Ayodhya (at least that's where I am in my annual reading of the Adhyatma Ramayana). As the monsoon rains slowly slacked off, hopefully to bring a sunny beginning to the new Kollavarsham, we left Karthi for the weekend for a jaunt to our hometown. 

This time, we had a definite pilgrimage plan on our agenda. Karkkidakam is the best time for the "Naalambalam" (four-temple) worship. The little town of Ramapuram ( north of Pala, Kottayam) has 4 temples dedicated to each of the Ayodhyan princes. (A similar foursome are the famous temples of Thriprayar, Koodalmanikyam, Moozhikkulam and Payammal in Thrissur and Ernakulam). A complete circuit of all the temples starts at the Ramapuram Sree Rama temple, proceeds to Lakshmana Swamy temple at Koodappulam, the Bharata Swamy temple at Amanakara and the Methiri Shatrughna Swamy temple, finally coming back to the Sree Rama temple once again. 

Our relatives who had gone for the Naalambalam darsan warned us of long queues that twisted and turned in the temple premises and then extended out into the long approach road and on to the main road at the temples. So we decided to start early. (Starting early is the usual way of things at Karthi. Although I am the only morning person in the family, when it comes to travelling, even our kiddos just have to be informed the previous day. They jump up all ready to go even at 2 am. They've been intensely trained since birth to do so, please don't envy us!!!) 

Thus last Saturday morning we were all bathed and dressed and ready at 4 am. From DH's home, it's just an hour's drive to Ramapuram: the roads are wonderfully smooth with a few "natural" speed breakers aka pot holes here and there. We had our first darsan at the Rama Swamy temple at 5:15 am. Bus loads of people were already arriving at the time, but we were in and out without hustle or hassle. 

The entrance to the temple was awash in lighting at the pre-dawn moment

We had a look at the "map" I have put at the top and wondered whether it would be enough to guide us. But thankfully, there are plenty of signs that point out the way to the next destination on the Naalambalam route.

Thus we easily reached the Kudappulam Lakshmana Swamy temple as dawn was breaking...

A steep flight of steps led us to the Lakshmana Swamy temple. I have never seen such a variety of flowering plants in one place as there is in the vicinity of this temple. It is a real feast for the eyes.

From Koodappulam, we headed towards Amanakara to the third temple in the quartet, the Bharata Swamy temple. The approach road to the temple is very narrow and not in good condition, so it is better to park at the side of the main road and walk down. The first thing we see is the temple tank as we approach this temple...

Meenoottu (feeding the fish) is an offering in this temple. We all enjoyed doing the same. 

Finally, we went to the Shatrughnaswamy temple at Methiri. This time - and the only time - the road was very rough and we proceeded very slowly and carefully. Thankfully, the verdant hills rolled out in endless vistas all around us to compensate for the road. If you are thinking of doing the Naalambalam route, you might want to avoid the route from Amanakara to Methiri and instead drive down to Ramapuram and then proceed to Methiri and return the same way as the Ramapuram-Methiri road is not one-way. 

Unfortunately I have no pictures of the Shatrughna Swamy temple as it was swathed completely in pandals and I couldn't take a discernible picture. Having completed our worship there, we proceeded back to Ramapuram to complete the circle. Fortunately, the second time over, we were directed to go in through the northern entrance to the Rama Swamy temple which is reserved for those coming back after darsan in all the four temples. We could see that the crowds had swollen considerably by then and it was just 8:45 in the morning. In the course of the morning, I caught Malayalam inflections of all sorts including the distinctive Ernakulam and Thrissur dialects. No wonder the queues were reputed to be really long by mid-morning.

On the way back, the part of my mind that was not agonizing over the umpteen twists and turns of the road was thinking about the special bond that the four brothers shared. In a world in which siblings fight over anything from a child's toy to their share of ancestral property, those brothers really set a high standard. One was willing to give up his birthright to his younger brother, one was ready to volunteer to live in the forest than let his brother go alone, the third didn't want the power that was thrust upon him and did all the work of governing a country by staying in exactly the same ascetic style his brother was following in the forest. The youngest one also followed suit. No wonder they are considered divine - just look at the models of "brotherhoods" we have around us in popular fiction, legends and scriptures. These four are really unique and rare in that they are of one mind always. Whatever happened around them, they always stayed together. 

It's a good thing to remember... at least once a year.

Spring/Summer Projects

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