Rambrahma’s Gandhi Jayanthi
Grandfather Ramabrahma , who famously lived by the clock, and loved to note the time he did anything, also wrote a diary. probably every day of his life.
We chanced up two, for the years 1964 and 1966. His children mostly remember him as a self-centred man-in a positive way, if such a thing is possible! And it is!
I mean, he writes of the comings and goings of his sons and daughters, and their spouses, the birth of his grandchildren, and their cradle ceremonies and birthdays , and the little
presents he gave. The letters he wrote and received, neighbors and siblings, and festivals , and how my mother, Thulasi celebrated his 80th birthday. He writes that he went to Harsha Stores to pick up the cake that was ordered, and that Thulasi had invited the family over for afternoon tea!
Basavanagudi, Kanakapura Road, Ratna Vilasa Road, Gandhi Bazar and MNK Park, were his little universe, as he lived his twilight years at Mahadev Vilas, and to us, it brings back the Bangalore that once was.
There is gossip, though he’d be surprised to hear his entry about his brother’s cook being ill, due which said brother Dr Subramanyam had to take his meals at our house, being termed gossip.
Somehow, the image springs to mind of Ms Marple of St. Mary Mead putting away this important factoid in a corner of her mind, while solving a murder mystery which nobody asked her to solve, any way!
Here are his entries on Gandhi Jayanthi in 1964 and 1966
Friday, Oct. 2, 1964
A national holiday ( Government, bank and postal holiday)
Went in the morning to Vimala’s place
Lakshmi came in the afternoon, and read the yoga niti ( I think) chapter in Gita Sandesha.
( note from me :these words are scribbled in Kannada and the niti bit is unclear)
Finally a very mundane note , which however, must have comforted him exceedingly, for his self-centeredness mostly involved following doctor’s orders faithfully—
The Bread man gave bread for today and tomorrow.
Sunday, Oct.2, 1966
He has wrongly entered on the page for Oct. 3, and making no mention of Gandhi Jayanthi, it goes like this-
Pandu ( Appa’s elder brother) and Leela , Girija and the baby, will leave this place by Madras Express at 7.20 (p.m?) they will have their food here today. Ashok will take his food here during their absence.
Went to the doctor at 9 am for,injection and dressing of foot.
Kutti came here at 1.45 pm and took Sheshagiri , Thulasi and the children for a film show.
There was a little rain at 3.30 pm went for a short stroll at 5.30 pm Went to Usha’s place too.
The baby who went to Madras with Pandu is cousin Anand who had just been born in Jan. that year. They were headed for ‘Calcutta’ and Jamshedpur , I’m guessing, to visit Leela Periamma’s sister.
The kids who went to watch a film is us. Subri, Bunty and lil me. And probably Manjula, and Ashok .
Now the mystery is which movie it was. Must ask Manjula. Will update on that soon.
“What was the color of Amma’s reception sari? ” I asked, wistful, and ruing the fact that I had never thought to put the question to Amma. Now she is gone, I am frantic in my efforts to retrieve every memory and make my story whole. The 11 black-and-white photographs of their wedding are peopled with more siblings and cousins than , I suspect, the Mahabharata, every face with its own history and sub-text.
Its easy to see that the sari has a solid gold zari border, and zari checks, and her toes coyly peep out, with a coat of nail polish( or is it mehendi- gorintaaku?) Just the minimum of jewellery, and no make up. But the color of the sari, I can only guess, or ask Appa, which i just did.
“It was blue, cobalt blue”, Appa said.
I have sent him back 60 years in time, I realize, and I jump in for a ride, reflecting for the umpteenth time, that its not fair that we don’t get to attend our parents’ wedding.
Sheshagiri(Appa) and his eldest sister Kokila, fondly known as Kutti, and cousin Ramachandra, were tasked with purchasing the trousseau to be given to the bride from the groom’s side. They picked Rukmini Hall, in Chickpet, Rukmini Hall History Here and went shopping a few days before the July 20 wedding in 1955. They were a party of very modest shoppers, and no more than three or four sarees were selected, and they left with their small booty. Our aunt Kutti being a doctor, a gynaecoligist who later retired as Superintendent of Bowring Hospital, was a familiar figure in these parts, and this ensured special treatment . OF course, those were days of languid leisure when life was lived in slow motion, and wedding saree-shopping was a pleasurable activity for all concerned, the shoppers and the shops.
Outside, they suddenly found they’d stepped into a , well, a film show , only it was very real, and all the denizens of Chickpet had gathered to gawk. Well, who wouldn’t want to stop and stare if they suddenly found, in their midst, legendary film star Ashok Kumar and the Andhra beauty, Suryakumari equally legendary Telugu actress/singer, whose rendition of Maa Telugu Thalliki in the film Deena Bandhu went on to become the official song of Andhra Pradesh
Appa says they were shooting together for a new film. I googled, but I found nothing about a film of them together. This scene they had stepped into was in the aftermath of Udan Khatola, in which she acted with Dilip Kumar. She did a few more films later, and went, as part of a delegation of Indian film industry to America , where among other things, she researched Indian stories for Alfred Hitchcock. She ultimately moved to England where she did significant work in theatre and the arts founding India Performing Arts, a project to train performers and mount productions. Annual performances by Surya herself, her students and fellow artists followed at the Purcell Room, in the South Bank Centre, for the next 40 years. The British press paid fond tributes on her death in 2005 Obit Here
The film was probably abandoned, but if Appa says a scene was shot in front of Rukmini Hall, it was. Of course, there’s a way of finding out. When the owner of Rukmini Hall learnt that stardust was at his door, he got into a fine tizzy, and shouted for a photographer, frantically tried to get the celebrities into his store. They might , just might have some pictures in their archives, beside the photos of Minugu Taare Kalpana shopping at their store. . A the picture which is the 1955 version of the selfie.
Appa , Kutti and Ramachandra oozed out of the scene, unnoticed and Wooster-like and went home.
Too much history in this post. I think. First, the shop. Rukmini Hall has been around since the 1930s. We have these wedding photos, with Thulasi (Amma) giving Suryakumari a run for her money, wearing the sarees bought at Rukmini Hall.
I need to hotfoot it to Rukmini Hall asap, and show them these pictures, and ask if they have any of that starry morning. 60 years ago.
My cousin Manjula, Kutti’s’ daughter, tells me she remembers the saree, which Amma wore at my ear-piercing ceremony when I turned one. I was taken to the goldsmith’s on Reservoir Street, Basavanagudi, and Manjula said I cried and drooled all over that cobalt blue saree. Well. Babies cry. They drool. Moms just take it on the pallu. Amma , I think wore her wedding sarees out, used them well, at other weddings, and when they were worn thin and threadbare, gave them away. Probably exchanged them for stainless steel vessels with the steel paatrakaran — which went into the steel trunk , which was marked for my “dowry” .
Once again I say, what a shame we can’t attend our parents weddings. If I had my way , I would keep the sarees, threadbare or not. But the paatrakaran was a chief source of entertainment in those days, when there was no TV, and all we had was a moody radio (Bush) that needed a lot of coaxing before it sang or spoke.
Now even that radio is gone. It’s criminal how we throw precious memories away. All the more reason to retrieve and cherish the ones we can. For in them, those who have gone, will never leave.
The year 1955, was the year named Manmatha, for the God of Love in our pantheon. Sixty years have passed, each with its own name, and now in 2015, we begin again, with The year named Manmatha.
It was a good year to be married in, and now it’s a good year to remember the person you married 60 years ago, and lived with, for 57 years.
As their wedding anniversary dawns on July 20, I asked Appa why his parents ( Ramabrahma Tatha and Venkamma Paati) are not to be seen in any of the 10 photographs . ” it was taken by Thambi Mama” he explained. That would be Amma’s eldest brother, M Venkatakrishnan, known as Thambi . I remember Thambi Mama, the bachelor uncle, chartered accountant who was well known in the Madras music and dance circle, for encouraging young artistes who needed an introduction into the Sabha circuit , and taking them under his wing.
Appa then said, ” may be you shouldn’t post the reception photo, don’t we look funny sitting far apart, almost hugging our corners of the two-seater”
Too late, I responded, we have already shared all the photos last year, and told the story of your wedding , of which I’m very proud.
All right then, make sure you highlight that we were married in Manmatha Samvatsara and it is Manmatha Samvatsara again this year, he said.
Yes, and also it was the year of the movie Mr and Mrs. 55, I promised.
Two people I know as Appa and Amma, have something between them ( other than the three kids) that only they can define – as love, as life. Mother was always talking – there was humor, annoyance , intolerance, gentle ribbing that actually hid a deeper anger at some imagined hurt or slight, devilish glee in harassing the spouse with small demands that were not really small. Father was the quiet one, who got his way with his silence, whose simplicity and seemingly undemanding nature were the bane of her existence. Don’t we know that last bit- he currently annoys the niece, his only grandchild, with his daily morning order for coffee- chooda irukakkanum, full-a irukakkanum . Hot, and full cup. When it’s cloudy with a chance of leftovers for dinner, he’ll quietly say ” I’ll have just one chapati” you feel guilty, and rustle up an onion-tomato dish-dash, and bingo, three chapatis disappear so fast, and I get a pat for making divine chapatis just like Amma made!
Now we recognize that Amma’s little outbursts were nothing but love’s little liberties, born of long years of sharing , well , everything.
Here follows the little piece written last year, about being how Amma and Appa were wed-
July 20, 1955:- the wedding of Thulasi and Sheshagiri was celebrated at the grand residence of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, at Nellore. This evening, the eve of their 59th anniversary, my father , who is a youthful 91, told me that on July 18, 1955, when the groom’s family had arrived, and the bride’s home was abuzz with wedding-related rituals, and the house was beginning to look like it was in Malgudi instead of Nellore, an elder know-all pointed out that the next day, the wedding eve when the groom is welcomed was going to be a day of Amavasya. No one had thought of this, and there was momentary consternation. But soon enough , someone (else?) suggested that the ritual could begin on 18th, and that’s exactly how it was done. Thanks to Amavasya, another day of wedding revelry came to be enjoyed by everyone!
Our mother, The bride of the day 59 years ago, is in Amma Heaven . Has been for two-and-a-half years. Here absence has become a presence, and she talks to us in everything we do. Appa and I have pored over these photographs, and he remembers little nuggets about the wedding . His cousin Baba travelled with him from Madras I remember him telling us when Amma died, about what Grandfather Ramabrahma had said of the bride chosen for Sheshagiri- he had got the most beautiful one of the seven daughters of Ramakrishnaiah.
How simple,and yet grand, a wedding could be in those days! It’s just not fair that we never get to be at our parents’ wedding. I notice my mother’s bare feet at the reception, and how e bride and groom are seated as far away from each other as the two-seater permits! No visits to the beauty parlor, no make-up!! A special blouse with with Jalebi Neck in pink, and a maroon Kanjeevaram with gold border is what she is wearing in the photograph clicked by GG Welling. They went again to Welling twenty odd years later to have another picture taken for Dad’s pension purposes.
I remember playing wedding games , with Amma looking indulgently, and telling me the bride must sit with left leg folded up, and the left arm around it, and that’s what, I thought it took to be a bride!
Amma often laughingly told me about how the daughters of Ramakrishnaiah learnt of their impending marriage – suddenly, the house would begin to buzz with activity. The head cook of a party of wedding cooks would make several visits, a priest who conducted weddings would go into a huddle with the grandparents. A set of. Imposing parents would arrive, and after they left, wedding preparations would begin. The oldest un married daughter would soon realize her turn had come to leave her parental home. The bride and groom would probably get to throw furtive, glances at each other .
Father it turns out, had seen his future wife much before their marriage was decided by the elders. At the wedding of his cousin in Madras, he was a dapper 21-year-old when he first saw her, a seven-year-old, running around in a little pavadai and blouse, with no idea whatsoever that she would wed this man 11 years later. She probably had no idea he was even there at that wedding, nor interested ! Glad to know she did marry him, for if not , this tale would never be written!
And so, Uranus, here we are at that golden shresht birthday hubb . I got there a few months earlier, but you knew I’d wait there at the corner till you caught up, didn’t you? I have with me every little gem that we made together, and I’m sure you do too. You started out all those years ago as the shorty sitting in the first row in the class photo, while I beamed sheepishly standing three rows behind. Niether of us noticed , when you grew those inches and when I stopped, what with my drawing a tray with two doodh pedhas and two tumblers of water on the margins of my rough notebook, pokerfaced, while you cracked up in Silvie’s class and ended up being asked to “get out of the class” for your troubles.
And how clever of you, to improvize, and inflict on Ms Jayashree the little essay in Hindi, about Deepavali ek shresht hubb hai. Kyonki hum nayi kapde pehente hai. And further, hum nayi kapde pehente hai kyonki Deepavali ek shresht hubb hai. Sigh, that must be the first of our gems, though I can scarcely remember when we got started.
Soon , though, we had everyone thinking we were twins, and we still do that even now, like when I walk into Arushi, looking at all the magic that you are making, and the nice lady draped in one of your designer sarees widens her eyes on seeing me, and asks, “your sister?”
Do you remember that time a year ago at Jeanne’s the girl giving you a pedicure asked us that question, and you , put on my poker face, and replied, “we’re twins”? And we are, too. Mostly I’m the quiet poet, and you are the charming friend magnet. Everyone wants you for a friend. And many must wonder why you have me for a friend.
But I wonder how we can be anything else. You and I, we both know there can be no better best friends than us. We have our gam-gala, and Iskanta and Ammallidoddi and a thousand things in-between to prove that. I have that mad urge to pause at the french door of that restaurant here in Herndon, and laugh like the grannies of Onida KY Thunder Series ad, rolling on the ground, thinking about a flag-march in a Jaipur Hotel that never happened.
I am sorry I have killed your love for “aye mere watan you ki logon” by saying Nehru wept because he wanted her to stop singing. But, as your best friend, your honorary twin, I knew it had to be done. Call it my revenge for shooting up and growing taller than me, if you like.
Can you think of anyone else you’d rather be with when the little Road Runner surpasses your expectations in her 12th standard results, and calm her down, soothe her,and tell her you’ll be along home immediately, hang up, and laugh, rather diabolically for a mother? Are we not the cool mother-aunt duo who do cool things and the cool things are cool because we do them?
Oh, I’ve loved our trips to Okalipuram, and can still laugh at the day when it rained on us, sitting in the back seat of the beat-up Fiat, while it respectfully bowed as it passed Basha from his window! And coming upon good old Ammallidoddi on our visit to Kabbalamma. Very naughty of you though to call out loudly to Raja and tell him, brightly, that I remembered your dad’s name for him. Kari Dore is not offended, I know, but still………….!
But it’s been a privilege to watch you grow from the lady who gave motifs and patti and talked to picky custombers politely, through clenched teeth, to the designer in demand that you are today. I have tormented you by playing it back to you after they left, but I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I haven’t yet actually heard anyone say “Nee daggara Arushi cheera leda?” but I know what I’ll say when I do.
Through school and college, you were the smart, cool lady I wanted to be. and then I saw how you were with little Jenu, the joy that you brought to being her mother, and the fierce love that drives you defend loyally everyone you hold dear, when you have to. That , I know includes me. and knowing that, I certainly don’t wish to on the other side, at the receiving end of the fireworks!
So, today, on this milestone huttid hubb, let me say, how grateful I am that we are in each other’s life, how rich I know myself to be.
Gulab jamuns shall be made today. Tale tale mein gol gol, you know, and eaten to mark the occasion, the next best thing to being there with you, and falling off the chair, laughing about nothing , and everything!
Today, I watched, for the umpteenth time, a bit of that adorable movie, Mayabazar, which has been, ever since I watched it for the first time in a tent , when I was about ten, the movie that has answers to every question that you would have asked your grandmother , if only you could. When the Laahiri Laahiri Laahiri Lo began playing, it struck me that this song from 57 years ago was telling me a thing or two about Valentine’s Day. Pointless and silly as the concept is.
Consider the scene in which Abhimanyu strolls up the garden path to stand under Shashireka’s balcony. The young lady has been grounded by her mother for daring to spurn the gifts sent by her mother-in-law to be, and she is moping, wondering how to get the word out to Abhimanyu, the love of her life.
An arrow suddenly lands at her feet, and within minutes, the son of Arjuna builds a “staircase of arrows” for Shashirekha to descend, and they make off for the riverside, where they are soon ensconced in a gondola, singing “Laahri laahiri laahiri lo, oho jagame oogenuga..” A palace guard chances upon them and gleefully runs to inform Shashirekha’s parents, the imperious Balarama and his domineering wife, Revathi.
However, when they arrive on the scene of crime, they see it is Krishna and Rukmini romancing each other, for the all-knowing Krishna has sensed that the young lovers need some avunclar rescuing, and drags wife Rukmini to an unscheduled gondola ride and some mutual serenading. Walking back, Krishna slyly suggests that the boat ride is a great way for couples to reconnect, and no one is too old for a bit of romance. Well, the boat was there, and love was in the air, and Balarama needed his wife to forget their rebellious, opinionated daughter for a wee bit,and so they went ahead and finished the song. And felt all the better for it. Although they didn’t see their way to relenting on their daughter who , they believed, was locked up in her room, her tantrums for company.
Silly and pointless, clearly, love’s little games are not. Krishna tells us so. He orchestrates the Raas Lila, and every girl comes away thinking Krishna is hers alone. The older Krishna then orchestrates another kind of love lila- be it uniting Arjuna and Subhadra, or as in Mayabazar, Abhimanyu and Shashirekha. The artful organizer of happy-endings has everyone thinking everything is going according their plan, until the end.
With Gatotkacha’s help, some magic and lots of good humor, he has Shashirekha transported to where Abhimanyu is hiding under Gatotkacha’sprotection, and the affable, adorable rakshasa son of Bhima returns , takes on the form of Shashirekha, and terrorizes Lakshmana , son of Duryodhana and the groom intended for Shashirekha. Once the wedding muhurtham passes, he reveals himself , and the wedding of Abhimanyu and Shashirekha is presented as fait accompli.
So it all boils down to this. There are those who see Valentine’s Day as evil, and will foil the plans of those who celebrate the day. There are others who wish to make it special, and some others who serendipitously, come upon a gondola ride down the river, and choose to take it.
I confess that I find Valentine’s Day a nonsensical idea, and the closest I came to marking the day was last year, when I got the spouse to take me out in the morning sun for a romp in the snow , where a snowman was already melting. It just happened to be Valentine’s Day , February 14, 2014. But my heart is in the right place, and I wish that today, Krishna has planned happy-endings for everyone who wants it.
Bye. I now need to urgently go back to Mayabazar. There is no such thing as too much Mayabazar.
When my cousin Neeraja invited me to a baby shower she was hosting last week, I immediately said yes. I did not know the mother-to-be, but Neeraja told me she is the grand-niece of D.K Pattamal, she of the Female Trinity of Carnatic Music. There were going to be other interesting women, and it would be an enjoyable evening. When you are a journalist, sans the cynicism, and listening to people, watching them, and talking to them is what you do for a living, you generally find that any gathering can become as interesting or as boring as you make it.
The real reason Neeraja didn’t have to persuade me was the fact that it was a baby shower. I never cease to wonder at the power that a baby exudes over adults. Even when it’s not born. The mere news of a baby’s imminent arrival, somewhere in our orbit, does strange things to the mind. Happy-strange things. Normally serious-faced people go about with goofy smiles, or act extra tender when they come within ten feet of the mother-to-be, and the father-to-be gets his shoulders thumped, and silly things are said by people who are not normally expected to be affected by such news.
At a baby shower, there are no inhibitions. Everyone is allowed, rather, expected to be goofy, and indulge in baby-talk freely, perhaps even try to outdo each other in talking baby, exclaiming over teddy bears, rompers, blankies, bassinets, crib, bib, lullabies, picture-frames and the like.
And why not.
At Neeraja’s on Sunday afternoon ( we couldn’t miss it, with all the balloons, and buntings that announced this was the place, and she had even drawn an auspicious kolam for the touch of the Tamilian home) all menfolk were banished. Gladly, I suppose. The husband had offered to drive me to Rockville, and hang about the nearest Barnes & Noble’s for the next couple of hours, chiefly because he loves me very much, and also, I suspect, due to the fact that a baby was involved!
Is it necessary to add that the day before, we had great fun picking out a present for Ishu, the mother-to-be, and even chose the most adorable card, with a rocking horse and some beautiful verse.
I think I was the last to arrive, and the fun and games were in progress. You’ll meet some really neat people, Neeraja had said. Of course, It turned out that I was one of those “neat people”–The moment Neeraja introduced me, everyone asked me how my writing was going on, and what was I writing about.
It didn’t feel at all like I was meeting everyone for the first time. It was truly “neat” to meet Chandra, Uma, Latha, and of course, Ishu, the hero of the evening, who it turned out was having twins! I just hoped the two little bundles of joy would learn to share the toy I had got them.
Though there were more than a dozen women, for about a quarter of an hour, there was quiet, barring some loud-thinking by someone trying to find the words in the game grid, and unscrambling the jumbled words- the games that Neeraja had set for us to play. I learnt a new word- onesies. It was the only word ( of 24) that I failed to get. This was a baby-themed puzzle, and everything else had been a breeze. This proved to be a toughie even for those who’ve had babies!
I was chuffed when Neeraja announced I’d won a prize. And the other prize was won by Raji.
When Ishu opened her presents, there were a couple of onesies! (an infant’s one-piece close-fitting lightweight garment, usually having sleeves but leaving the legs uncovered and fastening with snaps at the crotch, says the dictionary) most of them had known about the twins. Uma had crocheted and knitted two lovely blankies that I’m sure the two babies will never outgrow. There were bibs and booties, little day suits and stuffed animals, who I’m sure are going to come alive and have the most exciting adventures that a child ever imagined, in the coming years.
I had taken along a loaf of banana bread , and was pleased that it was pronouced “delicious”. I gorged on the lemon rice ( Chandra’s) and quinoa salad (Uma’s) and samosas. I brought back some strawberries, which Neeraja said, had been sliced by her husband.
Neeraja had meant this evening to be about women bonding, and a baby shower, is a great way to make it happen. A baby shower detoxes you of cynicism, and accords you the luxury of guilt-free enjoyment of the pure innocence that surrounds babies like an aura. Apart from the unadulterated joy that the presence of a baby brings into one’s life. Any baby, not necessarily your own.
That private world that little Chichu and I lived in for a few months, when each day, he’d wander into my apartment, and we’d go through the ritual of playing with my doll, Gita Paapa, rubbing her face with baby lotion, and admiring our handiwork, and holding her , standing before the mirror. That gasp of anticipation and the joy that lit up his face as he ran up the corridor asking to be carried. They chase the blues away.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through your hair once every day, Audrey Hepburn advises. Let a baby walk through your thoughts once a day, to feel beautiful all day, she might have said.
IT’s been a few days since the meaty lunchbox was banished from the precincts of The Hindu. Everybody has an opinion on the matter. There are people who would take up cudgels on behalf of the meat-eating employees who, they allege, are being forced to become vegetarian and “Brahmin in their thinking”.
People who have never entered the portals of The Hindu and by virtue of their tweets, , probably never will, suggested, ” The Hindu should rename itself “The Brahmin”, and urged the proprietors to display a signboard to say “Only Brahmins need apply”, and a third suggested wrapping chicken kebabs in the newspaper would be the Gandhian way to protest.
Now, I have been a The Hindu insider, and you don’t need to be one to know that all vegetarians are not Brahmins , employed at The Hindu or not. The second suggestion is absurd. The accent at the Hindu, in fact, is on diversity. As for the final suggestion, being kebab wrapper I’d say is an upgrade from the days a few decades ago, when grandma’s wisdom suggested yesterday’s newspaper made cheapest baby wipes.
I admit I am a vegetarian and until this advisory came up, I never really considered what might be going on in the mind of the non-vegetarian employee of The Hindu. Or what the vegetarian in The Hindu canteen might be thinking. Speaking for myself, the only thing that’s important to me is what’s on my plate. My best friends are non-vegetarians. When we eat out they order what they like, and I order what I like, and of course we all sit at the same table.
I am trying to recall what my colleagues at the Hindu did at the canteen. I don’t remember anyone opening their dabba of chicken biriyani, or anything non-vegetarian. In fact most of us did not carry a lunchbox from home at all most days, because it was more convenient to eat at the canteen. Our colleagues from other newspapers frequently asked if they could come over and lunch at our canteen.
In the newsroom, lunchboxes often got opened and passed around if someone got hungry, or brought something interesting, or Ramesh Vangipuram brought his sack of Krishna Janmashtami goodies, or someone had a birthday. or ordered pizza (vegetarian, I admit)
There might have been at some point someone who brought some non-vegetarian food. No one asked, or said anything. I’m guessing they’d have ordered non-vegetarian if it was available in the canteen, and were generally happy to eat whatever is available- viz. a decadent spread of saapad with sambhar, rasam, palya, appalam, pickle and curd. On the other hand, I’ve known many of them to order vegetarian at the Press Club, even though a non-vegetarian menu is served there. There was none of the offending or offense-taking that is being implied between colleagues.
What if anything has changed, after the advisory was issued? Very little, I’d say. The HR manager is not necessarily speaking for every vegetarian in the building, and he has doubtless verified facts before saying that non-vegetarians are in the minority. This minority knows what to expect, and abstinence while on the premises is not asking for the impossible– most non-vegetarians often abstain even when they are not at work, for personal, spiritual, and health reasons.. Besides, what are the chances of someone actually bringing a non-veg meal into the building, and that some vegetarian/non-vegetarian tattletale is going to spill the chicken on a meat-chomping colleague?
This is more akin to a case of telling non-smokers to refrain from smoking!
Meanwhile conversations on FB are meandering from The Hindu canteen into Hindu spaces. “The notice of the Hindu management is nothing but insulting the Dalit-bahujans and non-Brahmin castes and their food cultures” says someone on a group that I desist from naming here.
When will the day come when Dalit journalists conduct beef festivals in media houses in this great democracy! exclaims another, while someone else compares it to the ban on sale of eggs at Rishikesh-Hardwar.
When will the day come when Dalit journalists conduct beef festivals in media houses in this great democracy!exclaims another!
I think my takeaway from here is “beefing up the media house equals Dalit empowerment”
Some years ago, I was walking into the Conference Room in Vidhana Soudha to cover the press conference of the Chief Minister, H.D.Kumaraswamy, while speaking on the cell with a cousin. I spoke in Tamil, and after a few minutes I hung up, and found myself a chair. A journalist from another newspaper slid into the seat next to mine, said hello and asked, in Kannada, “Madam how come you are speaking the Konga bhasha? ” I replied that’s because I was a Konga. He had the grace to blush, and mumbled his apologies but he was also surprised to learn I am not Kannadiga.
I told him there was no need to apologize, as he had no way of knowing this , but couldn’t resist telling him that I was quite conversant in 75 per cent of South Indian languages. At home the lingua franca is Tamil, but it’s simply impossible not to pick up some Telugu when you have seven uncles and six aunts who were born and raised in Nellore, and argued ( they call it conversation) in the only language in which mythological movies must be watched. My second language at school was Kannada, and it was also generally the language in which I played, but there never was any occasion to learn even a smattering of Malayalam.
Now everyone knows, or has often lamented the penchant of many Kannadigas to deny their language, and reams have been written about the Kannadiga pride in displaying ignorance of their own language. When two Malayalis or two Andhraites meet, the happily lapse into their language, whereas the Kannadiga , so the common complaint goes, will lapse into English.
This was the theme of friend Sandhya Mendonca’s blog a couple of days ago- in which she pointed out that many Indians are bilingual, and can switch between the languages with great felicity. I have always been amused to see my father and his five siblings communicate – one pair of his sisters would speak to each other in Dharwad Kannada, my dad and his elder brother too spoke to each other in Dharwad Kannada, and the other two sisters spoke Tamil to each other. But if the pairs broke up, Tamil was the medium!
I enjoy my GP Rajaratnam and Kailasam in Kannada, I can identify a Bharatiyar gem or two in Tamil , and as for Telugu, there is no greater joy than to watch the movie Mayabazar and soak in the romance of Lahiri Lahiri or laugh till I get stitches in my sides at Vivaha Bhojanambu. I find Thyagaraja and Purandardasa equally epiphanic in their respective languages, and despite a limited understanding of literary Tamil, I enjoy the occasional Rajaji’s Korai Onrum Illai for the voice of MS, and take a guilty , childish pleasure in parodied renderings of K. B. Sundarambal’s Avvaiyar songs. And of course, knowing Kannada has been a great boon- I have taught myself to read my grandfather’s Telugu translation of Valmiki Ramayana, since the scripts are similar.
My life has changed in the last five years, and I now live in a place where knowing 75 per cent of South Indian languages has been of little help. The husband speaks Malayalam, the 25 per cent that I never learnt!
Which means, we are now a 100 per cent English speaking family. And I have begun to recognize that it takes a lot of effort to learn a new language, never mind the comforting “its very easy, just like Tamil,” etc. I was on the plane to visit cousin Meenakshi in Minnesota a few months back, and it turned out I was the only desi among the 30 odd passengers on the tiny plane. both onward and the return flight. It was any icy winter morning, on the return flight, and we were delayed an hour while the plane and the tarmac got a wash. I passed a good deal of the time thinking I could say things in four languages (including Hindi) to anyone on the plane, and no one would even know that they were getting gibberish of four kinds!
Which brings us to my present peeve. In order to speak lustily and for long in Kannada, Tamil, or even Telugu, I need to call friends and family back home in India, or here in the US. There are reasons why when I hear these three languages in this wonderful land that I currently call home , I turn away, move to another aisle, or pretend I am not there at all. Experience is a great teacher. I mostly blame the knol khol pyramid at the Korean store, Lotte’ Plaza where you can buy dosakai (Mangaluru Southekai) under a gantry sign that loudly declares “DOSAKAI).
There is a lot of Telugu to be encountered at say Lotte’ , COSTCO, or Walmart, and Tamil, and much Malayalam. Kannada, on the other hand, is rarely heard. So I could barely conceal my delight when I heard this urgently pregnant woman contemplating the knol khol in her hand, and wondering, loudly, “idu knol khol allva?”
Too excited to consider that it might be a bad idea, I cheerfully volunteered, “howdu, idu knol kholenay“, because I had asked myself the same question when I first visited this store. One can never be sure of our familiar veggies knol khol, seemebadnekai that goes by the exotic name of chayote, in this country . They tend to be giant sized, and most of the time, quite tasteless . I long for the pungent “aroma” of a radish simmering in the sambhar nearly as much as I pine for a chinwag in Kannada. With someone sitting by me, on the same couch. Not over telephone .
Well, the upshot of my interjection was that we were soon talking about Uma theatre, Bull Temple, Gandhi Bazar, and so on, and exchanged phone numbers. . A couple of weeks later, she called, and asked if i was interested in a project. I am mortified to say I failed to see through her jargon and was in denial when the husband said it sounded like an Amway scam. I asked for more details, and found out, indeed, that it was Amway. I told her I wasn’t interested, and forbade husband from every mentioning this episode again, if he wanted his parippu prathaman
So you see, I can’t be blamed for being wary of Kannada- speaking pregnant women on the loose in Herndon Halli, and turning to FB, youtube and my small library of Kannada books to my regular fix. The important thing is to know you may take me out of Kannada, but you cannot take Kannada out of me. On this cliche’d note, I end, yearning deeply for my Babelore!
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!
In A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson writes of Leerie the Lamplighter who went around, lighting the gas lamps in the streets of Edinburgh. Stevenson was a sickly child who spent a great deal of time indoors, and , looking out of the window waiting for the lamplighter to come by, must have been something he really looked forward to. In the poem, he wants to grow up to be a lamplighter, rather than a sailor, a driver like his siblings, , or a banker like his father.
A much-thumbed copy of the book remains an eternal favorite, but Leerie lumbered back into our lives from the distant past this week, much closer home! For some time now, Father has been urging me to write about those days , the 1930s ,when Belgaum had no electricity, and there was Leerie to light up the streets of the town at sundown each evening, and what happened in homes filled with children as they sat around a warm lantern and wondered about the creatures lurking in the dark regions beyond the circle of light.
It struck me that, 75 years ago, Father and his generation made a transition far more important than my own barely 25 years ago, when I witnessed the passage of the typewriter from the office room to the museum, as computers replaced the now archaic contraption that 20-year-olds don’t even know about. I’m quite certain there is no parent of 25-year-olds who would care to explain white ink, carbon paper, and a gadget that had no delete button. And kids no longer believe there were machines that didn’t run on electricity, or that there was no autocorrect or spellcheck. All we had was a much ticked off teacher brandishing a foot-ruler that she threatened to lay on our knuckles!
Electricity. It came to Belgaum in the 1930s. 1933, Father reckons. Everyone welcomed it, and embraced the power it gave them. They could go to the cinema, and stay out even after sunset. Standing around street corners, they could linger longer at the vegetable vendor’s cart, driving a hard bargain. The scent of jasmine would remind them to stop to buy a string for the lady at home.
But something was lost too. No more did the municipal employee, aka Leerie the Lamplighter, stride down the road, wielding his stick, lighting the street lamps that ran on coal gas. And no more would kids look out the window, in the mornings, as he came to clean the lamps. it would be pointless to fantasize about a career in lamplighting.
When we were in primary school, my fantasy was to be picked as the bell ringer -who got to say “Excuse me , Miss, but it’s time to ring the bell for the next period.” I’d set my watch 5 minutes faster in Hindi class, and we’d any way lose enough time in the beginning of Ms Jayashree’s class, by choosing to devoutly sing “Rise and shine and give God the glory glory…. .” for about 6 minutes.
As it happened, Viji got picked for the job , and Ms Jayashree had by then caught on. She forbade us from singing that song, and gave us just one minute to pray quietly, before start of the class- it wouldn’t do for word to reach the ear of the Headmistress, Sister Stanislaus, that she hadn’t allowed us to pray. Besides, when we actually made it to high school, no one really wanted to be bell-ringer,- the idea had palled, and we had moved on to more sophisticated methods of shrinking Ms Jayashree’s class- Mills & Boon hidden between the covers of the Hindi textbook, for one, and getting a few girls to ask , once more, if the table was feminine or masculine.
There doesn’t seem to be much that you can google up about lamplighters in India. However, I think it’s safe to assume that it was pretty much similar to what England boasted at the time. And I did find this most interesting blog by a passionate Victorianist– lamplighterlives! and it’s quite plain that the job description of lamplighters in Belgaum was similar to that of the Londoners.
They lit the lamps each evening, by means of a wick on a long pole. And at dawn, they returned to put them out, using a small hook on the same pole. The earliest streetlights were candles, and then the oils and in the latter part of the 19th century, of coal changed lighting forever, in turn evicted by electricity.
Lights were lit each evening, generally by means of a wick on a long pole. At dawn, they would return to put them out using a small hook on the same pole. Early street lights were generally candles, oil, and similar consumable liquid or solid lighting sources with wicks.Lamplighters had other jobs as well. They served as watchmen, as they went about the streets at night, which could have been regarded more as a sinecure , while they went about doing their day job! They had to clean the lamps, do regular maintenance that included changing oil or gas mantles.
Hardly glamorous, but to a child looking out of a window, nothing could be more magical than the circle of golden light around a lonesome pole as the evening shadows lengthened, and no one more heroic than the man who made that magic happen.
Before electricity vanquished darkness, it’s black, impenetrable presence hid a thousand fears, both real and imaginary. The phalanx of imagined enemies, spirits of the “neitherworld”, bhoota, devva, mohinis, rakshasas lurked in its folds waiting in that realm, waiting for victims. They screeched , wailed, and laughed raucously, made things fall, and frightened unsuspecting people to death. It was a time when no child needed to be told twice to pray-No grandma had to repeat her at once peremptory and cajoling instruction to the grandchildren to get inside and pray to Hanuman, Garuda and Bhima to keep watch over them, and keep the scary dreams at bay!
Birds still do that. As the sun goes down, they cease their wanderings and flitting about, and return to their nests. Every one is counted, and the treetops turn into a riotous orchestra of chirps and twitter. Only now we don’t notice them much, and if we do want any part of it, we’d have to go pretty far away from our own nests in search of them .
At home, today, we take electricity for granted. Power failure doesn’t bother us. We breezed through the eighties with the reality a of television without a remote ( not that we needed one in the eighties, when all we had was Doordarshan, and we watched everything from Krishidarshan and Samachar by Salma Sultan with the rose behind her ear, and everything in-between and put the TV to bed at 9 , or was it 10 pm? ) Since the nineties, a thousand channels and a remote have enslaved people who device many cunning ways to beat power failure so the TV doesn’t stop playing.We have the new genie called uninterrupted power supply.
Electricity has shrunk the night, and the monsters that scared and thrilled us are exposed, limp, lifeless, and not even comical. Imagination has abdicated to hypnosis of the idiot box. Breaking news has more TRP ratings than breaking dawn.
In Headmaster Ramabrahma’s Belgaum home 75 years ago, the lengthening shadows beckoned the boys playing outside home, and the night fell on empty streets, barring a few stragglers who hurried home, and the lamplighter, whose “day” was only just beginning.
Inside, it was time to light up the lamps. There were all kinds of lamps to choose from- kerosene lamps, paraffin lamps. There were petromax lanterns and chimney lamp. Duplex lamps had double wicks and chimneys that allowed the light to be dimmed or brightened with the turn of a screw. Not all rooms in the house were lit. The women finished up work in the kitchen as soon as they could in the daylight, and the family generally gathered in the living room, around a warm lamp. Sometimes the servants lingered, keeping a light in the study for the headmaster, who preferred to be among his books and papers, working and playing by the clock.
Even though he was Headmaster, Grandfather Ramambrahma had not come up with the idea of overburdening his students, including his two sons, Pandu and Sheshagiri aka Father, with too much homework. Evening hours, therefore, were a time for sitting around a comforting lamp, and listening to stories. Grandmother Venkamma regaled the children – with stories of Kuppa-Kuppi , mythology, some flavorful Tamil folktales, and sometimes it was their elder sisters, Kokila, Mangala and Sushila who chased the monsters of the dark away for Pandu, S and their baby sister , Vimala. The servants brought their own brand of stories, and games to the ring around the lamp. It was campfire night every night.
The oil lamps were quite messy- don’t we remember a childhood punctuated by these regularly irregular power failure/powercuts, in the evenings when the puja lamp had been lit, and the mumbled prayers of Grandmother seemed to wander from room to room, and children secretly thought their prayers had been answered, giving them an excuse for not being at their books “despite their ardent desire to be studious”, and the candles and oil lamps were brought out, coaxed and badgered to light up? The oil often splashed out of the reservoir where it was held, and the smell of hot oil pervaded the house, dust and dirt clogged the little air holes around the wick, and this needed cleaning out every day. The glass chimney also needed washing after every use otherwise the dirt would deplete the effectiveness of the light.
In more affluent homes, back in the 1930s, expensive lamps imported from Britain and Europe. These homes, regal if not royal, were sprawling residences of jagirdars, and landlords , where grand chandeliers, ornate lamps and crystalware using mostly candles and later paraffin and oil proclaimed the luxuries and wealth of their owners, not to mention their taste for the beautiful things.
It appears that the 19th century was a time of revival of styles in the history of lighting before the era of electricity. The French brought back roman lamps and turned them into chandeliers. Post Industrial Revolution, a burgeoning middle class demanded greater choices, and drove the revival of older, more decorative styles . Fashion trends were doing their cycles even in those times!
Rococo, Renaissance and Gothic design elements made a comeback, and filled French homes with lighting in those styles. Baccarat , which started making chandeliers in 1824, were the leaders in innovating new styles inspired by old design traditions. British chandelier companies, found, in India, a readymade market in the country colonized by them , and many of them opened branches in India to cater to the needs of rich Indians with taste, not to mention the British residents making their home here.
When gas lighting became more widely available in the late 19th century, gasoliers making use of this new form of illumination were often designed in Rococo styles. These gasoliers usually had candles available as backup just in case the gas didn’t work. Gas lights were also really bright, so glass shields became more common as a way to shield the glare. Gas-lit chandeliers do not appear to have been very popular in India, however.
Father mentioned prism lamps , and I can’t remember where I have seen them, probably on the desk of some very scientific people I’ve gone to meet in the study of dons at IISc, looking important and necessary to whatever science they are doing! I’m not sure if Grandfather had one on his desk, but here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the original purpose of deck prisms–
For centuries, sailing ships used deck prisms to provide a safe source of natural sunlight to illuminate areas below decks. Before electricity, light below a vessel’s deck was provided by candles, oil and kerosene lamps – all dangerous aboard a wooden ship. The deck prism was a clever solution: laid flush into the deck, the glass prism refracted and dispersed natural light into the space below from a small deck opening without weakening the planks or becoming a fire hazard. In normal usage, the prism hangs below the ceiling and disperses the light sideways; the top is flat and installed flush with the deck, becoming part of the deck. A plain flat glass would just form a single bright spot below– not very useful general illumination– hence the prismatic shape. On colliers (coal ships), prisms were also used to keep check on the cargo hold; light from a fire would be collected by the prism and be made visible on the deck even in daylight.
Though Father’s memories of the lamplighter have been quite enlightening, I was amused to hear that they hadn’t particularly excited him in those days. Rather like my brief flirtation with the idea of being bell-ringer which job, too, I’ll be bound is extinct, with an electronic gong having replaced it! . What really moved Father, it turns out, was the road-roller! That remarkable contraption used to metal the roads, which luckily can still be sighted around the city, pacing the road like a king lost in thought, tortured by thoughts of a coup against him. Father and friends made a jolly time of it, running behind the road-roller, of which there seems to be no reference in the Child’s Garden of Verses!
Two years already, since she moved on . I’ve been old enough for long enough to know you’re never too old to want your mother when you don’t feel good. But in these two years of not being able to pick up the phone and call her, demanding the recipe for Witches’ Brew, aka milagu kozhambu, I’ve learnt I’m never going to be too old to want my mother when I’m feeling good.
But she has taught me well. In the beginning they were 14, Seven brothers and seven sisters. Mother was the ninth child. And she always said 9 was her lucky number. She was born on a 9th. Exactly how this number worked for her is a mystery to all of us, but mostly it was enough that she thought so, and it was cited at all momentous occasions and one birthday, it did save the Big Brother from mother’s wrath for forgetting to send her a card .When he remembered, it was too late to go out and buy one, so he fashioned a greeting card out of KG cardboard (Why is it called KG cardboard?) yellow, drew a little cuboid and a big cuboid, and a sun , and called his work of art “Mother and Child In Sunshine, and inside wrote out this little mathematical formula- 1-9-1979
Therefore, it’s a lucky year (QED)
Mother walked on air for several days, and showed it everyone, and blamed the delay in its arrival on the Postal Department.
I digress. Mother told me stories about her 13 siblings , their spouses and the grandparents, and her cousins., of whom there were, well, dozens. Growing up in Nellore, in the big house, under the gimlet eye of the grandfather, who wasn’t really as fearsome as he looked. It must have been magical and wondrous, like Mayabazar, with Grandmother , the queen of the kitchen, where all the pots and pans were king-size, and the coffee-filter made of brass looked like it had been made for the Kaurava household! Grandfather’s clients and friends were brought home for lunch without notice, but Grandmother could never be caught off-guard. She always came through, and Mother and her sisters served the guests sumptuous meals and super coffee.
The grandparents were both devout. In the large puja room dominated by the ornate mandasanam (which now resides in A-5,) and the 24′ high idol of Hanuman standing with folded hands, I’m quite certain Rama came down in person to receive the puja and naivedhyam..Grandfather , who radiated awesome authority with his great height and commanding presence, could send his dozen offspring scurrying across the expanse of the hall and the inner courtyard by merely walking in through the front door. He was addicted to the Ramayana, giving lectures about it and explaining its wonders to friends and colleagues at the club where he played bridge, and every year the Ramanavami was celebrated grandly, over ten days. His daily pujas were no less elaborate. His addiction , ultimately led him to write the story down, in Telugu, and thanks to the book, I now have his wise counsel and humorous observations about the epic, and about life, in general, and I have a sense of what kind of man he had been.
Grandmother’s domain was the Thulasi kotai, which too was extra large size. Though I barely remember Grandfather, I have memories of Grandmother’s daily routine of readying the puja room for him, and then going into the backyard with her little brass basket , to pick flowers and wash the Thulasi (which happens to be my mother’s name) mukham – which too now resides in A-5, sprinkle water around the kotai, draw kolams, rub turmeric and kumkum along the corners, and do the puja , reciting various shlokas. I remember begging to be allowed to handle the basket, and pick flowers and be Grandmother’s little helper.
While I made my own memories. Mother added to the repertoire with many anecdotes, and titbits about life with 13 siblings, and the consequence was that by the time i was ten, I felt I knew all of them very well, though it wasn’t often that I met them.
I had this thing about not finding mother at home when I came from school. I always checked for her slippes, and if they were missing, I was quite put out. Of course, there were days when events at schools warranted the hope that they would not be there, but that’s beside the point.
Somedays, I would find a strange pair of shoes or more . That meant visitors. An uncle come from Madras on work . And once I knew who it was. I could guess what we were having for dinner. Kandipappu chintapandu pachadi , if it was AVN Chittappa. ( the husband of Rohini, my mom’s youngest sister) He’s a lawyer, and in the 70s used to take a great many cases in Bangalore, which meant he came down often. The aroma of minimula pachadi meant Bheemu Chittappa ( my aunt Janaki’s huband) had arrived/was coming over. When Kittu (her immediate elder brother) mixed hot rice, oil and avakkai, you wanted to grab the plate and wolf down the whole thing yourself! – something i have witnessed for myself.
Dasharathram Mama, (her second older brother, right after Thambi Mama) loved the masala dosa that Mother made, and never tired of telling everyone that he discovered bisi bele baath thanks to her. Lakshmi Periamma’s name was given to a koottu that she had learnt to make from her elder sister.
Not being a great fan of sweets, I mean, I can honestly say I never get a craving for sweets, although I relish a gulab jamun , and the occasional paal payasam provided it’s made by my mother– doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the divine kozhakattais (kharam and sweet) that she used to make.
I’ve been thinking lately about this I-want-my-mother thing. Now, what did she do when she had that moment? And how many of them were caused by me? I cringe with guilt about the time a few years ago, when I rejected the gulab jamuns she made for my birthday . I mean, who’d ever think Mother’s GJs could be anything but divine? Can an MS concert be a complete washout?
I told her exactly what i’d thought of the GJs, which didn’t smell quite right, and the sugar had not really reached the centre of the golden-brown orb of delight. they weren’t even golden brown orbs of delight. Thye were crumbly, misshapen. They were like I’d made them.
She took it quite lightly, I think. I made up for it later, by getting her a bottle of eau de cologne, something that she always loved to have around her, not that she ever used it.
Last year, I made kozhakattai for Ganesha Chaturthi. They came out perfectly, and I believe it was really her hand that did it. And when I make akki rotti, or adai, I make five little holes, one in the middle, and 4 around it, just like I remember her doing it. On the 9th, I made cluster beans pindimiryam, it smelled like Amma’s.
Oh! I finally made gulab jamuns. They were awesome. They were like Mother’s. Golden brown orbs of delight, sloshing about in the sugar syrup, smelling of rose essence and cardomom. Not crumbly or doughy. Of course, Mother was there. She’s always there, even when I’m feeling good. Next time I find those green brinjals at the Korean store, I’m getting abunch of them to make sambhar. Whenever she returned from a trip to Nellore, or Madras, she liked arrive home to a lunch of brinjal sambhar and rice. She’ll love that. She always did. And she never complained about it’s taste, or color, or consistency.