Friday, 14 October 2016

Thoppikaran- the hat man of Tanjore temple

If you've visited Tanjore's famed Brihadeeswara temple and spent your sweet time looking at the murals and sculptures adorning the famed Rajagopuram, you can never miss him. He is to the Eastern side of the gopuram- with both his hands folded, a cheeky smile on his face, arches brows and a coat, probably adorned with a rose or a pin and to top it all, a hat. His features distinctly Caucasian, how did his stucco end up in the 1100 year old Tanjore temple?

All of our hypotheses point to one man- the Briton Colonel William Lambton, the man who was behind the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India that mapped the planes and was the pivotal point of all surveys undertaken in India. Granted permission to survey India in 1800s, Lambton successfully surveyed the distance from Fort St George to Mysore and from there proceeded to the plains of South India. His handwritten notes of the same are available in Asiatic Journal, with his calculations.

He found the plains of Cauvery delta difficult to map and hence used the temple tops for his measurements of geodesy. It was during July 1808, during the reign of Serfoji II of Tanjore that Lambton arrived at Tanjore to measure from the heights of Tanjore's Rajagopuram. After his signing a Treaty that made Tanjore part of Madras Presidency, British East India Company had adequate control of Tanjore.

Lambton used a giant theodolite made by William Cary to measure the altitudes and it was mounted on Tanjore temple's gopuram. The half a ton mammoth theodolite somehow lost balance and fell down from the gopuram, chipping off a portion of the gopuram. Lambton stayed back at Tanjore, himself repairing the theodolite, if on his own wish or under orders of Serfoji II, we never know.

Was it a wanton ploy by Lambton to chisel his own feature on the gopuram or was it by some cheeky sculptor who wanted to please his British Lord, or Serfoji himself permitted the new change, we find ourselves peering at the hat man in our gopuram. Alongside the murals and sculptures of danseuses and Gods 1100 years old, stands the lone Britishman in his hat, in all regal glory, a new 19th century addition. Excerpt from the Engineer journal published on July 1, 1870, that explains in detail about the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India mentions about the Tanjore incident, the fall of the theodolite from Tanjore temple's Gopuram and the resultant repair of the same at the place itself by Lambton.

Lambton died in 1823 at Hinganghat, Wardha, while still conducting his survey. There is a memorial for him at Wardha where he is buried and a stone plaque mentioning the GTS standard benchmark 1907 is still intact. Better than any memorial is this sculpture of Thoppikaran atop the Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore. It was Lambton who carved out the modern map of India, with all topographical features. A fitting tribute to him, would definitely be the place where he is today, with his cheeky smile and hat!

1. Tanjore Brihadeeswara Temple

2. Thoppikaran in Tanjore Gopuram

3. File picture of Col Lambton

4. Model of the theodolite used by Lambton

5. Article in The Engineer, July 1, 1870 about the GTS

6. The para mentioning the fall of theodolite from Tanjore Gopuram and Lambton's repairing it

7. Lambton memorial at Hinganghat, Wardha

8. Stone plaque of original GTS with inscription at Wardha

Credit: Karthik Lokhande's blog
The Engineer Journal

The life of John De Monte- spooky stories and a sad man

A life full of tragedy. Money so huge involved. Hundreds of acres of land in the heart of the city all willed to a church. Spooky roads. Welcome to the life and times of John De Monte. The biggest benefactor of the Mylapore Archdiocese. The man rumoured to still haunt the De Monte Colony. 

He smiles in the picture hanging at the church museum in Santhome. A sad smile not quite reaching his eyes. He was a celebrated Portuguese merchant when he entered Madras after his successful stint at Pondicherry. Married into the rich German Bilderbeck family. The Bilderbecks were pearl merchants in Madras who even had an indigo factory at Colachel, Travancore. Mary Bilderbeck De Monte gave birth to Christopher De Monte, the son who was to have carried forward the De Monte clan.

In 1810, at the age of 16, Christopher was sent to England for further studies where he was struck with intermittent malaria. Still, the French Revolution intrigued him and he set out a travel around the continent in 1815. He attended the Ball that Lady Richmond gave in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington on the eve of Battle of Waterloo. He was an amateur guitarist who struck an unusual friendship with Mauro Giuliani, the famed musician and composer who gifted him the guitar handed over to him by Empress Marie-Louise. The guitar and his handwritten letter to Christopher have been discovered recently.

In 1816, Christopher had an untimely death- probably in a duel just when he was about to leave for Madras. It was his bones that reached the grieving John De Monte. Mary De Monte went mentally deranged after the incident, roamed the streets of Madras, while John owned 500 acres of prime land and posh garden houses, including the Mowbray's Cupola that now houses the Madras Club. 

Mary had wandered off to Covelong and John is supposed to have tracked her down and built her a house there to pacify the poor woman. He also built the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in the same place, hoping it would cure his wife. Conflicting theories emerge if Mary was cured, but finally, John bequeathed all his property to the Archdiocese of Mylapore- Santhome to care for them and use the lease/rental proceeds for charities. 

The current De Monte Colony, Benz Gardens, Madras Club and its adjoining 105 acres, all belong to the De Monte Trust. The spooky stories around the De Monte colony started when the Trust tried to lease out afresh the colony. The rumours have failed to die down. Pet dogs and watchmen keep dying. People have vacated the colony in droves and its bare walls and houses with overgrown weeds now stand desolate testimony of a wretched life. John died in 1821 and his body remains buried in the Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong, along with his son's bones. No one knows what happened to the poor Mary De Monte. 

John De Monte's life just goes on to prove that money can't buy everything. History has taught us today that.
1. John De Monte's picture in Santhome Church

2. Bilderbeck family archives containing picture of De Monte

3. English translation of Giuliani's letter to Christopher De Monte

4&5. Original handwritten letter of Giuliani to Christopher

6. The guitar from Marie-Louise gifted by Guiliani to Christopher

7. Content of epitaph in the tomb of John De Monte

8. Tomb of De Monte in Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong

9. Song written in praise of De Monte sung in the Mt Carmel church.
10. Mowbray's Cupola- the week end retreat of John De Monte that is now the Madras Club

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Rice for Mengoubi

Dear Mengoubi,

Defiance breeds death!
Sixteen years of force-feeding,
Orifice violated,
You stand proud and tall.

A woman pushed, scorned...
Hunger can be a weapon,
So you have proved...
Point well-made, Mengoubi.

Year after year we've lived
Birthdays and candles,
Happiness and tears-
All that have eluded one woman.

Today as you break the fast,
I salute the undulated spirit,
The courage and the bravery,
All that is Irom Chanu Sharmila❤️

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Don't piss and tell!


How many times have we women just closed our faces, scorned at the stench and rushed past "water-loos" in public places? Ours is a strange, strange land where we worship snakes and cows, beating our women black and blue. We'd rather keep emptying our bladders at the nearest lamp post than enter the 'foul smelling' public urinals. 

Men of our land are a peculiar species by themselves. Their bladders are specially designed with noise sensors. The moment the noise rises a few decibels outside, they hunt for the place and open up on their own volition. Sala, haven't they heard about the word control? Ji Haan, our men know how to control everything- their doting mothers and bulldozing wives, but they just don't have an inkling of controlling the bladders. 

How I wish our Babas teach them 'bladder control' instead of controlling their desires and weaknesses of mind. Unleashing a desirous bladder in public glare gives an exhilaration incomparable to the 'exhibitionists'. The stop-me-if-you-can look that we've almost seen on every pissing face is just another gender role assertion. See, I get to whip out what I've got and relieve myself, I am quite a man! Don't you dare to do anything remote near that, you're a woman!

It so happens that while a few are really desperate to clear the bladders, some are equally desperate to flash at the hapless women who jump all over the wee puddles lining up the walls of every bus stand and station. The corporations can handle this- easy, easy! All they need are bamboo baskets filled with the "magic powder" straight out of Harry Potter's wand. We call it bleaching powder. The bleaching powder rangolis dotting the road side work as a charm, only for a few hours. 

One of the 'lose bladder' guys decides he'd like some fun in pointing at the rangoli's middle with his piddle, the game of "throwns" ensues. Take aim, shoot. Unsuspecting women who cross the area can only shut their eyes and run for their dignity, fervently praying for some Krishna to give her a cover. Toilets have been refurbished, crores have been spent and contracts have been awarded to maintain them in public places. Still, our stingy cows are wary of spending that proverbial 2 rupees needed to take a wee. Modesty is the luxury of rich people you see! 

Someone announced they found gold traces in cow urine. I sincerely wish he did some more research on those lines and 'discover' platinum in the piss of men. Heck yeah! That would make them piss in secret, lest someone steal their piss! Or we may invent "urinavoider" visor for women that sets on their skulls and snaps shut the moment they sense piss 100 meters away. Better still, we could line our public places with gun-trotting women police who are armed to the teeth to bobbit the exhibitionists. 

The next time you feel like emptying your bladder in an open public space, dear men of our country who'd love to piss in public than kiss in public, please spare that 2 rupees and get a room!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Decoding MS

She probably submitted her life to a man who promised her freedom from her birth. Freedom from the family of courtesans, catapulting her to national fame, managing her etiquette, her manners, her style, her life, her very being and gave us the doyen of music- MS Subbulakshmi. That MS is revered by one and all and that she is undoubtedly the Queen of Birugas, no doubt.

MS Subbulakshmi in her famed MS Blue saree
Freedom fighter turned firebrand press man T Sadasivam held the strings, married her as his second wife, controlled her in toto and held a vice like grip on her, alienating her from her family. MS was forbidden even from visiting her ailing mother.

 The picture where MS appears in her youth, posing with a cigarette has been doing the rounds in social media much to the uproar of the 'upper caste' patriarchy that still holds MS blue and besari as revered. Had she remained Madurai Shanmukavadivu, a courtesan and sung the same birugas, we'd have given the same respect to the humanity that overflowed in her.
The lady posing with the cigarette is said to be MS
What as a patriarchal society we failed to do is realise that she was a simpleton woman with dreams who was pushed to the limits by both Sadasivam and his confidante Kalki to perform the 'life of a Brahmanical high society lady'. Though we can draw comparisons with Eliza Doolittle of Pygmalion, what hits right on our face is very own RK Narayan's short story Selvi (published 1982) which is a blow by blow account on the life of none other than MS. 

Right from the name 's...i' to the life the leading artiste leads, her trials, her smooth submission to her agent Mohan (Sadasivam) and how the protagonist shuns all riches to reach her ailing mother ( in reality MS was forbidden to visit her dying mother), RK Narayan leaves no doubt in making us clear that he felt MS must have left her glass castle by then. 

Here is what Gowri Ramnarayan, the grand niece of MS has found and written- the pencil corrections of a small vignette of MS is found on the first page of the story Selvi. Proves beyond doubt he read into the soul of MS and had written about what she could have done, as usual we failed to take the cue.
Screenshot from dna india, article by Gowri Ramnarayan
 MS might have lived a satisfied life as a globe trotting, high- flying, society wife, singing her bhajans and collecting awards. Yet, there isn't the need to revere her, putting her in the high pedestal and treating her God! She is, by all means human, a real pitiable one at that and though I'm no big fan of Carnatic music, I sincerely doubt that if I would ever think cheap about her humble beginnings. What matters to us is, she isn't the typical TamBrahm domesticated singer. No sir. She has the right to hold the fag and drag it too!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

One More Mother's Day

*warning- lengthy post*

One more Mother's Day. Motherhood celebrated as diamonds, flowers and cards. Emotions flowing turbulent than a hundred rivers. "I worship her. I love my mom. My mom is the greatest". Ah! So far, so nice.

It was a hot day in April as we both staggered to the bus stand of our nearby town. She was bone weary, under treatment for her menopause and we both stood waiting for the bus in the sweltering heat. She was not her usual chirpy self. We had been running all over the hospital for more than half a day and the heat wasn't helping us either. I coaxed her to take a taxi back to our village and she refused vehemently. She can be at her stubborn worst some days.

As we clambered from the dusty bus that dropped us back home, she was silent. I too was engrossed in my thoughts, of how to get her back to normal. I was about 18 years then, awaiting my appointment in railways. The moment we entered the house, she threw up. Literally all over the hall. I held her, patted her back and took her to the bedroom, helped her to bed and came back to the messy hall.

I started cleaning and mopping the place and there she came back sitting on the wooden chair, her face full of remorse and eyes glistening with unshed tears. I scowled, made faces and tried to send her back to bed, but no, she wouldn't budge. "See, I made my daughter clean up this mess!", she was saying repeatedly. Those were the worst days and worser days followed. She could sing like a lark. She learnt Carnatic music. She was a fashionista. She spoke and wrote impeccable English. She was a great orator and a wonderful teacher.

I'd have rather wanted her to sing an album some day. She could have penned a book. She could have written a play. She could have been, but she wasn't. She never got beyond the walls of a home. A home that was built to confine her. To curb her. To chortle her dreams. Children who always looked up to her for advice, for guiding their lives and there was her husband who was totally dependent on her. The home, the family- they clipped her wings. Oh we loved her. Never doubt that. She loved us back with equal vigour. True that.

If a person's dreams are realised, understood and cherished, they just blossom. It is like fine polishing a rock and discovering the diamond underneath. Love does that. Scraps the finery. Sheds the ordinary and brings the lustre. We never do that. Do we? By the single word 'Mother' we smother her. We kill her creativity. We suck her time. She is pulled into our delectable web of family and love that she forgets her identity. She ceases to exist as an individual. She is 'someone's wife', 'someone's mom'. She is never 'her'. There is nothing about 'her'.

And when she eternally sleeps in the ornate grave, I remind myself that I shouldn't be her replica. I regret having never understood the diamond we had amidst us as a rock. Mothers aren't destined to give Horlicks and boost to the kids. We aren't destined to rot away in the kitchens. We aren't meant to do ninth standard home work and sixth standard charts. No one shall gather a rock, kiss it and polish it. It's the rock that has to withstand the weather. It has to prove its worth. It has to remember all along that it is a diamond. Cherishing your mother and giving her enough space to just be herself, discovering her path and treading on it- pledge that on Mother's Day. Bring out her hidden talent. Pat her back everytime she tries to please you. Acknowledge her. Help her bloom. Or it might be very late.

As for the vibrant and independent mothers out there- a shout out to you girls. Dream more. Hunt for your paths. Stop not till you find the real you! Don't be bound by 'duty'. It's your life, baby! Live it. Every day is our day👍😊

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Every time it happens
We keep moving, nevertheless,
Hanging our heads in shame.

She is someone
She was someone- a daughter
A sister, a friend may be.

As she walked alone,
Sat shut down,
Her heart must have bled.

What knives didn't pierce
Was the heart that beat
Crying for help, that no one heard.

With intestines pulled out,
Thirty stabs later and an iron rod
Inside of her- she must have wept.

Weep she did, wail she did,
Not in physical agony
But for us the people, who are dead.

It's not you who is dead-
It is us the silent ones...
Shame on us- we failed again.

Grave after grave is dug,
We walk past unfazed
It's someone's daughter- not mine!

Candle marches, silent vigils
Media circus and few days ahead
India's daughter- gets a new face.

Ban the documentaries, hang the dogmas
Release the juveniles, change the laws
That doesn't change is you and me.

p.s: 30 year old law student,  Jisha of Perumbavoor, Kerala was brutally murdered by un identified assailants. This poem in memory of Jisha and our overbearing silence on rapes and such brutal murders. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Alchemist in me

World Book Day❤️ 

The night of 7 January, 2016. It is almost midnight as I pick up the most coveted book from under my pillow. He has been smothered underneath for more than ten days and today, he sees the light. Rather I see the light. The Alchemist. Invariably I'm pulled into the world of Paulo Coelho. As he urges me to follow my dreams, I sit up. I read and reread the shepherd's journey through the desert, his quest to fulfil his dreams and his meeting with the alchemist. Mysticism, magic and dreams bind me with the pages.

It strikes two as I read- "when you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true". A strike of lightning hits me. What do I wish? To keep issuing tickets at a godforsaken place? Or to dream bigger? To wish for the moon and the stars? Every time I read the alchemist, I infer something different. Every time it is a different set of words that touch my heart and captures it. 

The clock keeps ticking. "The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times", Coelho chimes on. How many times have I fallen? I've lost count. How many times I've risen from the depths? Always. I have been the maker of my own destiny. Is this going to be my destiny? Can I rise above my fears and do the unthinkable? The unimaginable? I needed answers. More. 

"Remember that wherever your heart is, you'll find the treasure"...Where is my heart? It is at home. It has always been. However far away I've flown out of my nest, I've been longing to get back. But then, where else do I have it? In books. In words. In my writing. Sentence by sentence my heart pulls up. Picks up pace. Thunders. By 5 am, I am ready. To take the plunge. To fall into the depths and rise again. I start typing and retyping. Daddy comes in with a cup of tea and asks why I'm up so early. I smile. He need not know that I was awake the whole night. 

By 8 am, I'm ready with my resignation letter. A tough decision. But a happy one, nevertheless. My life has always been built on compromises and sacrifices. But whose isn't? This is one more sacrifice- but for myself. To save my rotting soul. To kindle the real me. "It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting"- his quote. My life has never been boring. Every day is an adventure. Every night an awakening. But that  night with The Alchemist, I overcame my fears. My inner demons lay slain, ripped apart. I've set my soul free. Not chained to the rails anymore. 

When someone asked me- "what are you planning to do next? Work in a big company?", I felt like laughing. No darling, I'd love to dream and live. Look for the alchemist. Hunt for the treasure. The soul knows...he knows. Coelho sleeps somewhere in the book box, unaware that he has kindled a fire. Set a soul free. I owe you one, the alchemist. Some day, we will together comb the desert sands for the treasure❤️

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Namma Chennai da!

The relentlessly hot sun that is 'sunnier' than Sunny and the heat that sizzles more than the spiciest sizzler. Welcome to Namma Chennai- the large sized oven. There seems to be no respite as day after day the sun becomes warmer and the neighbors smell like sweat tankers. Bathing four times a day, drinking gallons of water and eating tonnes of water melons- nothing helps. The jugs of juice shunted inside the system exit within minutes as sweat, that reminds us of henceforth unknown folds and crevices in the body.

The power outages- both announced and unannounced hit us with vehemence. The apt timing selected by TNEB for power cuts is exactly 11 pm. You slug it out in the kitchen, read the kids a story, smother them to sleep and by the time your head hits the pillow, the AC's hum that sounds Beethoven-ish stops with a boom. End of bliss. I am wondering if this 11 pm power cut is a deliberate measure by Electricity Board in connivance with Population Control to bring down the already dipping birth rates. 

The single cloak that Chennai's women sport- the proverbial 'nightie' which is an effective mosquito repellent during the monsoons now act as an umbrella shading the body from the heat. The larger the size, the airier it is. Buy 5XL size. Would form a shade all around you. 

As for the guys out there- the lungis are airy, but mind you, donning the lungis and sleeping atop terraces of apartments might land you in jail for indecency. The three-fourth shorts has suddenly found prominence. So are the hairy muscular legs on display. The best dress to beat the heat and remain safe would be the Raj Kiran special patta-patti trousers and brown veshtis that were white once upon a time, folded 3 inches above the knee. A few more inches up, you may give Sunny a run for her money;)
Ah! Coolest pic- Rajkiran with his Pattapatti ;)
Chennaiites have taken to the 'tanda tanda cool cool' powders so much that you can make out who has taken bath and who hasn't in the city bus. The ones who were lucky enough to wash themselves with ferrous sulphate and water solution will definitely spot the tell-tale white make up, as if dipped in the entire month's flour rations! Those who haven't, dare not venture near them. The 'sexy sexy' deodorants that they have gassed themselves with might have evaporated faster than the water bodies of Tamilnadu in peak summer. Still if you want to discover the hitherto unexplored 'fragrances', take the chance. Even sarin might spare you, not the underarm odor of the ambassadors of axe!

The easiest and reasonable dish to cook during summers is our all time favorite 'thayir sadam' (curd rice) paired with 'sutta vadu maangai' (stolen raw mango pickle). Having a stomach full of curd rice in the hot summer afternoon and crouching before the AC vent, all you can imagine as your eyes force shut down is the Swiss Alps where the Bolly Kollywood heroes and heroines run around singing, ekdum nanga! Envy!!!

If this is the plight of us humans, imagine the life of cows and trees. Thankfully the cows are chill, awaiting the name of Gurgaon to be changed to Go-gram. It gives them a high and I do wish Chennai isn't renamed Chen'go' going by our love towards cows and their urine. Birds- the occasional pigeons that practically live in our bedroom windows take shitty revenge on our closed windows by pooping their hearts(and stomach) fill on the motor. 

Despite the vagaries of the sun and soaring temperatures, we love 'theri' and the long wait at the malls for tickets. We have the penchant to fall for the two hundred rupees thrown at us for an election campaign meeting at 2 pm. We still love our nannari sarbats with a fag. Was this the Chennai that was flooded and sinking under the rains? I wonder. Rain or shine, we love it- with ferrous sulphate sweat dripping down our noses. NAMMA CHENNAI DA!

p.s.: Bitchy post- alright, its 3 pm and I am almost drained of all hydration
p.p.s.: I wish I could write more often, the writer's block is an imaginary situation created only by my laziness;)
p.p.p.s.: I am in love with Pankaja Munde and her selfies :P

Friday, 11 March 2016

Who is the mother?

The Trichy- Vridhdhachalam passenger was almost leaving as she ran with all her might. The chappatis will be soaked in the chutney, she thought with disdain. The Guard must have watched her running and he signaled her to run faster. I am not PT Usha, she mumbled to herself and clambered on to the last ladies coach. As usual, it was jam-packed. Rather air-tight. A heady smell of samosas, jasmine flowers, sweat and Ponds powder wafted along and she chose to sit on the floor, near the doorway.

She sat by the window, as trees and buildings whizzed by. Her stomach kept somersaulting as hunger gnawed her intestines. "I must have a tea atleast, to keep me alive", she thought to herself. The train kept on chugging. She kept staring at the blank space, wondering what her mother would be doing now. Could she have found her missing? Not with the steady stream of customers she kept entertaining with. She would feel her daughter gone only when she was hungry. A satisfactory smile spread across her face. Today, her mother will be hungry. Just like how she kept her daughter hungry for a long time.

By dinner time the bogie was almost empty with only three ladies snoring peacefully. This is time for dinner, she thought. The chutney oozing chappatis made her stomach flip. But she had to eat something. Or she cannot work the night, issuing tickets all night long, in a deserted station. A wry smile and few breaths later, she gulped down the chapatis, downing it with half a bottle water. Two more calls to the children, assigning them homework and clearing their doubts, she felt it the time for a shut-eye. 

The chapatis. She tried not to look at the plump woman looking haggard by the opposite side, two bays across. She was yelling over the phone, probably to her children, as the talk centered on homework. Why can't her life be like that? Carefree. Easy. She tried to remember when she was helped by her mother in her studies and went crazy. The woman didn't even know what her daughter had studied. She was too busy dealing with her drunkard father till he died and then making ends meet in their mundane existence.Her mother could also have been someone like this lady. Had she chosen her birth. A hot breath escaped her as she awaited her station.

"Madam, madam"...she heard the feeble voice calling to her. Where was she? She rubbed her eyes and sat bolt upright. The train was vacant and had halted. The reed thin girl was shaking her awake. "This is the last station, amma", the girl-woman blurted and she smiled at her. She must be somewhere about eighteen or nineteen years old. Thankfully, someone was in the bogie to wake her up. She collected her bag and jumped down on the platform, a brisk walk to the booking counter. The thin girl tried to keep pace with her and she felt mildly irritated. Why should she walk with me? She eyed her carefully now. The girl had a small overnight bag and looked disheveled.  She deliberately slowed down and asked her- "Do you want a tea?"

Her eyes almost watered at the kindness shown on her. She nodded her head urgently and was grateful when they both sat on the platform's bench for a hot cup of tea. They drank it in complete silence, each lost in their own thoughts. She looked flabbergasted when the lady asked her- "Where are you going?"

She had sensed her right. At the simple question where she was going, the woman looked like a deer caught by the headlights, ready to run. Whoa! Easy there, she said to herself. "There are no trains to Trichy now. The first train is by 8.30. I work in the counter here. Come, let me get you a ticket", she gently coaxed.  Without a word, the girl followed her as they walked silently under a moonless night to the booking counter. She barged inside the office, asked her colleague to issue a ticket to Trichy, paid money from her purse and took it out to the waiting girl.

She came back in few minutes with ticket in her hand. She was nervous by now as to what she would say. She instead handed her the ticket in silence and held her hand for a few seconds. "I do not know where you come from or where you plan to go. But I feel, home is where the heart is. As a mother and as a daughter I know your predicament. This world is not the nicest place for you, without your mother. Get back to her. One day, when the time is right, she will set you free." With those words, she turned back to leave. The girl called her once- "Amma" as she turned and smiled. "I am leaving and thank you", was all that she could say. Tears threatened to trickle as she walked away fast from her.

She stood on the platform watching her leave. She sent a silent prayer Upwards that the girl should reach home safe. As she walked back to the counter, she let out a sigh. It was going to be a very long night and her children would be sleeping alone, dreaming of a day when their mother would take them on a ride in a roller-coaster. 

Monday, 29 February 2016

Dreams of a bygone era- Urumbikkara

Relaxing by the lake at Mottakunnu- Vagamon
Surreal travel. Time spent in a colonial mansion, with clouds and mist floating by. Strange birds chirping all around. A feeling of being cocooned somewhere in a British Bungalow about a century old. Pack your bags and come with me to Urumbikkara. The term 'off roading' was relatively new to me, as we slithered in our sedan through the pristine Idukki district of Kerala. The moment I called up the resort from Mundakayam, we were asked to reach a junction at Yendhayar which we dutifully followed braving the dust and heat. The Kollam- Kottarakkara Highway that took us from Theni faded into the backdrop of the silent hills and dry rivers. 

January may not be the right season to visit Urumbikkara. Yet, the drive in the jeep from Yendhayar to Urumbi Hills Palace is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. The jeep jumps, bumps and winds it way through deserted rubber plantations, miles and miles of pineapple fields in the valleys and the road or the lack of it worsens further that what is left is a jungle trail. Urumbi hills plantation was once a thriving tea cluster, including a dilapidated tea factory which is eaten away by the jungle. Houses are very sparse. The sign Urumbi Hills Plantation Bungalow welcomes you after a rickety ride of about more than an hour. 
The red floored veranda for you!

The room where we stayed... by the man-made stream

The first sight of the red floored hall verandah was what bowled me over. Curious shaped dry wood pieces, red anthuriums that swayed in the breeze and a welcome drink of freshly squeezed lime awaited us. We had planned to do a 'locality check' that day, but the oppressive heat and the super cool stone walled rooms lulled us into beauty sleep. I woke up to the music of crickets welcoming the evening and briskly took a rain check around the resort. The children had located the large cemented ground beside the resort. One of them was cycling frantically around the ground, two engaged in a  game of shuttle cock and my dad, sitting on a stone bench and drinking in the beauty of a mountain sunset. 
Fire place in the dining room

Dining room
Veranda of the dining area

The beautiful sunset
The dinner was exceptional with kappa and fish curry, soft chappatis and chicken curry. The manager gave us a tour of the bungalow which was owned by an European tea estate owner who due to change of fortunes had to sell. The current owners have refurbished it, protecting the aesthetics. The hand made tiled floors, almirahs dating back to more than 50 years, wooden roofs, restroom fitted with bath tub and open to sky....The place is simply ethereal. 
Old floor tiles

The rooms
We sat down for a game of cards, chatted till late night about everything and slept like a log. The sunrise next morning was equally glorious as the sunset. Red, yellow, blue- I saw birds of all colors singing their song by the man made stream the resort boasts of. Devoid of running water now, the stagnated waterhole served its purpose for the birds though. After a swift breakfast, we left to Vagamon, some 38 kms away by another jeep. The drive started cool, among cardamom plantations and bumpy, but as we progressed through, we saw that the hills have eaten away everything on their way- including the panchayat road which is almost non-existent now. We stopped by a beautiful hillock to have a panoramic view of the valleys and a jungle stream with so many animal foot prints that I almost fainted listening to something bellow.
Hillocks near the plantation

The jungle stream
At some places we had to get down from the jeep and walk as it spider-walked using its four wheeled drive. The drive took almost 3 hours and sapped away our energy. After a hasty lunch of Kerala biryani, we visited the pine forest which was very crowded and beat a hasty retreat to the "motta kunnu" or the grass meadows. Tiny hillocks of grass jut around the landscape which hide a small lake. As we lie on the grass by the lake and look up at the clouds, cool breeze hugs us and so does sleep. The next stop is the orchidarium. Varieties of orchids and vandas smile at you, hanging from anything possible- bamboo poles, tree barks and even fences. The star attraction is the insect eating pitcher plant with its pink pitchers. As we walk around the cafe enjoying the evening tea, the setting sun and paragliders floating by give us such innate peace.
In the orchidarium
We return to the resort- again another rickety ride and stop by Madammakulam, said to be a waterfall, but now devoid of any water. With a content dinner of kappa and meen, we hit the sacks. Not before discovering a toad in the bath tub and yelling, awakening the entire sleeping resort. The next morning we take a plantation walk, visiting the plantation. Cardamom is the major money spinner for the plantation and it has replaced coffee and tea. After a peek at the cardamom factory where it is processed, we walk through the plantation, adoring the 'parijatham' flowers and sweet smelling coffee flowers. The only jarring note of the walk being the workers- almost all of them are from poverty stricken belts of Chattisgarh, being paid a measly Rupess hundred a day for the hard work in cardamom plantations with almost no human habitations nearby. 
The fragrant 'parijatham'
As we left the resort clicking a few more pictures, the care taker kindly requested us to pay a visit during season- July- October when the monsoon strikes this place with myriad colours and hues. I smile with glee...may be next time I will be lucky enough to dive into the man made pool and float, (if i can!) listening to the birds chirping and the mist floating by...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

I will be back!

I'm dissent, I'm woman
Brand me as you wish-
Maoist or informer
I'm there, I stand brave.

Withstanding the shocks,
Crushing the stones inside of me,
As I bleed and as I lie
Face burnt, I am still brave.

There went my man,
A lonely pyre burning
You denied me the last rites
I remain silent, yet brave.

Brand me anti national,
Judge me all you want,
Acids can never penetrate
The strength inside of me.

I'm passing news
The world forgets,
Wherever oppression rises
I will stand against.

The prisoner of conscience
The frail one with iron heart.
I will come back
For I am- Soni Sori.
Get well soon, Comrade!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Letter from an 'aunty'- national

a.s.: Not intended to hurt anybody's religious, national, nationalist, pesudo nationalist sentiments.

  I am an average Indian woman, a Catholic Christian who loves her country and religion equally. Why I use the word 'average' here is to say that I am not rebellious. I am what others would term me as "Sick"ular. I was born in this country and I take equal pride in that, like every Indian does. I take equal pride in my religion which I profess, within the confines of my conscience and my domicile. I do not gloat about my religion, nor do I stupidly shove it on anyone's face.

   This sadly was a free country, till the lotus started blooming. The Bhakts, Bhakras and the trousers DO NOT signify Hinduism. To me, the lovely Vembu akka and her husband Azhagiyanambi in whose house I crawled and I salivated are Gods. Sankari auntie and her Diwali sweets always have a special place in my memories and so is our neighborhood Bhai's biryani for Ramzan. I never had to differentiate between Maariammal who cared for my brother as a child or Maria amma who was our domestic help for ages. They all are fellow humans. Not a step above, not a step below. I have been taught to treat everyone as equal. Sadly, most households have failed on that.

   I have been to temples and I can recite Gayathri Mantra as any Hindu does. I celebrate all festivals, yes, I am 'sick'ular. I have read a few Suras and I can understand the journey of Abrahamic religions and no thanks, Mr Zakir Naik, I DO NOT need your help in understanding the Kuran. I find myself living in a nation whose collective conscience has hanged Afzal Guru. Please DO NOT jump the gun here. This word has been 'imbibed' in the judgement of Supreme Court in Afzal Guru case. Neither do I glorify terrorism nor do I promote anti-nationalism when I say Kashmiris should be given the right to decide on their nationality, I am only reminding us of Nehru's stand on the issue as he himself has promised the UN on Kashmir. 

   We hang on to the issue of Kashmir as if it is a lifeline, a bone of contention with two neighboring countries, only because of its strategic border location, unmindful of our army men subject to inhuman conditions- all for pride. The pride that the nation belongs to you and me and we would protect it at all costs, be it the lives of 800 men who have laid down their lives. If raising slogans is 'sedition' then how should we name those instigating the minorities and students raise them? I feel unsafe in a country where I was born and I am right in every way when I blame the RSS and ABVP. 

   Call me a traitor, call me a 'sick'ular. I am tolerant. I have been tolerating the pesudo-Hindus and their pseudo-Hindutva for a long long time. So I am 'sick'ular. When the free thinkers, social activists, students, writers and creative people are termed 'Chinese and Russian stooges', then we all are equally guilty of having 'free thinking'. If free thinking and questioning the establishment is 'anti-national' then I am sorry- I am 'aunty'-national! I am still proud of my country and my religion and I shall silently await the next elections to show my 'sick'ularism. 

- By 'aunty' national ;)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Dear hormones...

One more Valentine’s Day is round the corner. Roses and cards, gifts and chocolates abound in every mall. On the other side, the multi-various Senas  are scratching their tails thinking of plans to foil it. My perception of Valentine’s Day has undergone a ‘sea’ change from roses and candles to soiled diapers and exams. When you are all of 16 and sport a Lady Di cut with flared nostrils the size of a proboscis monkey, no one would dare mess up with you on a Valentine’s Day. Despite the ‘boyish’ charm, there was this guy who was persistent in his efforts to make my brain produce more estrogen. Alas, the guy failed miserably as I seriously lacked the grey matter. If you would ask me now, dear X, I would give you lessons on Fifty Shades of Grey!

Having never had the opportunity to put my foot in a college, I joined Railways when I was 18 years old. Life in a distant city, a ladies hostel brimming with trouble mongers and imagine a Valentine’s Day in their midst. The girls would buy special dresses for the occasion, even Kolhapuris to go with their cotton salwars as I would watch all starry-eyed and moon over their flowers and chocolates, slurping my parattas and licking my curd in the hostel dining room. Damn the hormones. They just missed me by a mile ;)

Few more years of hostelling and I started finding the V Day enlightening. If you sit along the hostel side walk and keep counting at the girls being dropped by the guys after a romantic dinner, you find it an infinite number. You attain Nirvana when even then, not a drop of oxytocin is secreted in your brain. Equally rejuvenating was the fact that I made better friendships (yes, you would say that to any relationship with guys twice my age:P) and grimaced at the itch generated by the ‘romance queens’.

I kept dreaming of a great Valentine’s Day once I got married. Married to a no nonsense man who treats romance very practically, cutting out the crap, the ‘honey moon sundae’ was lodged between my palate and throat. Every day was romantic, be it the sweet nothings we spoke for hours together or the fights we had breaking glass table tops. Life was anything but dull. As for the hormones, they went on an overdrive, I was bubbling with love and romance for the first year of wedded bliss. Pause.

That was only before the little devil number one came along.  He brought with him fragrance of soiled diapers and gooey vomit that I forgot the fragrance of roses or the taste of chocolates. But I fell in love with the chubby cheeks and softer skin, the miniature version of the husband looked far too attractive. We had dinner dates together, Junior spitting all the goo on me and pooping at the right moment when I looked besotted with him. Then came devil number two and I fell in love the instant I saw her. Cerelac and bonnisan dinners were paired with spray painting missions of the house, we both rocked the world, literally.

         The hormones were now confused and planning a strategy to get through my thick skull. Hit her at her weakest moment, they said to themselves. That moment never came. Every time Cupid aimed at me with his arrow, ding said the washing machine or the kids started a kick boxing match for which I had to be the referee. It was a burnt curry once or the submission dates for the husband, the next time. Cupid must have sensed that every moment is the opportune moment, then.

When love is in the air, each day is Valentine’s Day. Be it a crowded train or a busy road, our minds always stay connected. Be it thousands of miles apart or inches near, we always feel in love. L loves showering me with gifts- chocolates, phones, bags and perfumes. A doting husband does that every other day and Cupid realized we are too busy to check even the arrows that hit our foreheads bang on.

Love is not about candle lit dinners and roses. It is about raising the children together, growing old together and still paying the bills on time ;) It is about the ultimate sacrifice you make for the institution called family. So till then, if you ask what my gift is for this Valentine’s Day, I ordered myself a Nuapet Ikat saree online and received it just now. From me, to me :P Dear hormones, if you are still lurking there somewhere, bring that Cupid fellow to me. I must ask him if he has paid all his bills for this month on time and if he loves his baby’s potty time ;)

 p.s.: Loving Valentine's Day wishes to everyone!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Soldiers by fate

They're soldiers
Everyday they must have felt
The building above creaking.

They were clerks
Swallowing the little pride,
They must have worked.

They were laborers
Eating their own sweat and blood,
Waiting for that extra money.

They were humans
Someone's mother, someone's father,
As death came down crushing.

They were lives
Snuffed out by apathy
Bricks and mortar didn't murder.

They're killed everyday
By you and me who swallow
Pride and respect.

Their deaths hang at the doors
Of the high and mighty who sit
In half a lakh rupee executive chairs.

Their souls cry out
That never reaches those
Cloaked in authority.

To those in the High Castles-
Wait, your time will come someday
Mortar smothering your high walls
Bricks crushing your conscience.

They're soldiers unsung,
They're murdered in cold blood
As you and I sit silent, in a wilting grave.

Dedicated to the 5 people- 2 railway staff and 3 outsiders killed, as Hubli parcel office came tumbling down which was dilapidated and 'unfit' for human use.

Queen Of Diamonds- Part 1

The summer sun kept blazing as she squinted her eye and tried to look at it. It was a stifling hot day. She loved the temple, the cool haven that it was. She almost ran through the Chithirai Veedhi towards the temple gopuram (gateway tower). Her waist length hair flying behind her, the flowers on her hair, her ears, her head, her arms and legs suddenly coming alive. Not everyday is the Chithirai Thiruvizha. 

As she neared the gopuram, the crowd was swelling. How she had underestimated the crowd today? Meenakshi Pattabhishekam was no ordinary event with thousands of thousands of people thronging the Meenakshiamman Temple. She found it increasingly difficult to even walk now, the crowd pulling and pushing in all directions, rushing towards the Sanctum. She chose a quiet corner by the Meenakshi Nayakkar mandapam, sitting beside an intricately carved pillar and closed her eyes. She always wanted to see the Goddess Meenakshi. Today was the Goddess' special day, she would be bedecked in jewellery and flowers. Rubies, emeralds, pearls and diamonds would glitter all over Her body.
Aerial view of Madurai Meenakshiamman Temple
The thought of the deity and its beauty, with the precious stones and gold invoked a strong urge in her to see the Goddess. Some day, I should own a string of pearls like the Goddess, she thought lustfully. Though born in a royal Nayak family of Madurai, she lived a simple life. Her father being a plain courtier in the King's Court never helped her wishes. She loved jewellery. She loved grandeur. She wanted the life of a Princess. She even imagined she had an crown over her head as she roamed the streets of Madurai. 

With a sudden movement, someone closed her eyes from behind. She jumped immediately, ready to run, but was held tight by the slender arms around her. Her panic ebbed slowly as she felt bangles around the hand on her eyes and she blew out her relief. "Mangai...I know it is you!", she exclaimed. Mangai withdrew her hands in disappointment. "Meenakshi, you always find me out", she smiled. The two friends had planned to just while their time in a quiet corner of the temple, away from the humdrum of the day. The deity would pass by this mandapam after the noon prayers and they could have a fleeting glance of the same without being crushed by the crowd at the main hall.

"You look ravishing", Mangai eyed her friend with a tinge of jealousy. The simple flowers all around Meenakshi's slender body had a distinct fragrance. The friends started a game of kalachikkal with the pebbles Mangai had brought. 
( kalachikkal- a traditional game played with five pebbles, native to the Madurai and Tirunelveli areas of Nayak Kingdom)

They had forgot everything around them when sudden drumming and blaring of musical instruments brought them to their consciousness. Both sprang up and waited atop, with folded hands for the deity. A procession of musicians, dancers and then priests ensued and finally the Goddess appeared in all her glory, dancing in the palanquin held by four priests. The duo forgot to wink their eyes, spell bound and gaped open mouthed at the ravishing Goddess crossing them.
Pic Courtesy- Artist Maruthi

That was how he saw her. Her hands folded, long wild hair kissing her hips, luscious lips open apart in awe and eyes glistening. He noted she wore nothing- plain flowers all around her body, yet she looked so rich and bountiful. He like what he saw. He noted the eyes of his friend too roving all over her. He sent a pointed look to his friend and swiftly walked behind the deity. He had prayers to offer and he loved the lengthy chants and hymns recited by the Brahmin priests. Tomorrow...he promised to himself. I must know who she is.Unaware of the attention she had received, Meenakshi sat down with Mangai for another game of Kalachikkal. The pebbles scattered on the stone floor, the silent mandapam reverberating with the girls' laughter.

p.s.: This is pure work of fiction intertwined with few historic facts about Queen Regent Meenakshi- the last Nayak ruler of Madurai. This is not a research work. This is the last part of the Queens' trilogy that I have dreamed about, the earlier ones being The Queen Of Hearts and The Queen Of Spades. 
p.p.s.: All pictures courtesy- google search