Posted in History-Culture

The Hindu Gift To World Music: Classical Music Instruments

CARNATIC AND HINDUSTANI

Very few cultures in human race are gifted with rare acumen of producing, creating soulful music. Hindus are one such a gifted and unique species which is why India is home to not just one but two genres of Desi Classical Music: the Hindustani stream of the north and Carnatic classical of the south (apart from native classical dance forms from every other state that merit a separate write-up in their own right).

The aim of this post is to make a brief, if not complete, record of Hindu contribution to world music (by way of music instruments only). So this list is not exhaustive. There is scope for future additions.

India’s native classical instruments comprising the Stringed ones (like Sitar and Veena), Percussion (drums such as Mridangam and Tabla) and Wind (like the Bansuri) command a special place in global music stage, with Sitar and Tabla adapted by a wide range of western music followers. An array of other instruments vastly remain unpopular, although thriving in local scene, with the music tradition dying a slow death in some cases as in rural/folk country.

Hindus revere musical instruments which find a place in ritual worship by way of ‘puja’ (service), the highest respects, tributes, mankind can ever give these finest creations of God who gifted us the basic ‘Sapta Swaras’ (the seven notes of scale) that form the core of all sounds/tunes and beats (raags and taals) in universe. Simply everything is contained in ‘Sapta swaras.’ There is no sound or vibration that is out of scope of ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ne’ right?

musical instruments along with books and other tools find a venerable place in Hindu worship; this is Saraswathi Puja aka Ayudha Puja celebrated on the 9th day of Navrathri in the south.

We Hindus believe, Veena is the instrument of the very Goddess of learning/knowledge/wisdom Mother Saraswathi. If Saraswathi reigns supreme, Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth/fortunes and Shakthi, the Goddess of power/energy/strength cannot be far behind.

Lord Ganesha is revered as the master of drums.

India thus is this divine home where we view everything – including inanimate objects like music instruments, as life.

Our classical traditional instruments have less and less number of learners, teachers (gurus) and followers these days which is a big concern. This precarious situation endangers the transition of our native and pedigree music passed on over the millennia from our ancestors, to next generation. The music scene in Chennai, the gateway to Indian culture, is vibrant. Chennai is home to Carnatic  attracting thousands of classical music exponents and disciples from around the world during the famous December Music Season (Margazhi). But of late, even here we see vocal music gaining an overwhelming predominance over instrumental music which is kind of sad. Very few youngsters take to Indian instruments these days and interest is waning.

In Hindu culture, music translates to spirituality. Music is essentially a form of ‘bhakthi.’ Bhakthi and Music intertwine in search of the ultimate bliss: Nirvana.  That is why we have Meera Bhajans for instance or even the Thiruppavai-Thiruvembavai (in Tamil Nadu). The ‘Divine Being’ for Hindus revels in soulful music.’ Meera sang to her eternal love Krishna and her renditions are timeless.

Bansuri, the flute, is also the instrument of Lord Krishna, played in India for eons. The western flute version differs slightly from original desi version.  Called ‘Pullankuzhal’ in tamil, the south Indian flute is also a tad different from the northern Indian bansuri. Thus there is not a thing that Hindus did not discover or invent in an ancient civilization that pre-existed the current one.

The amazing north-south sync in the Indian classical music versions north & south of Tropic of Cancer is brilliant: The Sitar of north’s equivalent in the south is Veena. The Mridangam from down under finds a mate in Tabela (tabla) up north. The Nadaswaram (nagaswaram) played in south Indian weddings is substituted with Shehnai or Shenoy without which there is no north Indian wedding.

‘Yaazh’ (as proncounced in ‘Yaazhpaanam’ a Tamil city in Sri Lanka) is a unique ancient Thamizh stringed musical instrument. ‘Jalatharangam’ also specific to India played with bowls of varied sizes with different levels of water, gives a rare musical vibration.

 

Pranaams to Hindustani/Carnatic Classical and Folk Music traditions of Bharath (India)!

Computerized synchronization is killing traditional and native classical instruments of India in such an obscene fashion. Art is dying, artisans are dying because of electronic synthesis of our musical reverberations, even if it can be argued that this is one more step in evolution of music. Is it really possible to produce the ‘ghamaka’ of Veena cent percent with computers? No way! The finest nuances of Veena can be produced only in the instrument.

There are deliberate, steady and systematic designs and manipulations to trivialize, devalue, discredit and even disinherit (us of) and usurp anything and everything Hindu by gene, culture & heritage by some quarters, which is highly alarming. Aryabhatta was indeed the world’s first astronomer. Sushrutha was the world’s first plastic surgeon unquestioningly. Bhaskara did give the world Calculus and Trigonometry and Hindus did invent the Zero concept. Ayurveda to Yoga and Meditation, there is not a field ancient Hindus did not touch or pioneer in. Everything ground to a standstill by 7th century CE. Why. We Hindus never bother about patents either. Vasudeiva Kudumbakam, World is one family for us.

I have a request before I close: Dear Indian parents, PLEASE ENROLL YOUR KIDS FOR CLASSICAL INDIAN MUSIC INSTRUMENT TRAINING rather than aspire for Dance shows in television channels. You will be rendering yeoman service to Bharat Matha, Mother India.

Posted in Food Porn

Say ‘No’ To NonStick CookWare: Cooking In Cast Iron

 

Referring to the ‘Vaarpatta Kadai’ (Tamil) in this post as Cast Iron which is very brittle. Regular Iron Kadai which is ‘Irumbu Kadai’ is Wrought Iron which is not as brittle. Both are good but Vaarpatta kadai or Cast Iron kadai/wok/tawa is better with enhanced taste and less rusting quality as it is heavy and denser and involves slow cooking.

In this post, we deal with only Cast Iron and not Regular/Wrought Iron cookware.

*******************************************

Not only in Chennai, even in Doha I have moved over to Cast Iron kadais/woks/shallow-to-deep frying pans and Tawas from Teflon-coated Non-stick pans/woks/tawas.  Cast Iron is what my grandma used as I remember from very young years, and my friends in Kerala rebuked me for switching over to the chemical (Teflon) coated cooking pans/woks in last few years.   Could this be a reason for increasing incidences of cancer in India? Because Indian cuisine essentially requires direct cooking over fire to highest temperatures.  We cook for hours this way which may also include pressure cooking.  So in such a scenario, how reliable is even  two or three coats of teflon in the non-stick ware we use in our kitchen? Won’t the teflon melt or smoke?  The manufacturers say ‘no’ but I am a housewife, a full-time cook for my family and challenge me!  Teflon definitely smoulders in a minute of heating, giving out the nastiest chemical/pungent odour, and thinking of that going into our intestines spooks me completely.   Using stainless steel spoons is unavoidable in our cooking – because Indian culinary ways demand so.  Plastic spoons and ladles are not ideal to stir our steaming hotpots.  Usage of steel spoons may also erode the teflon coating in the nonstick pans exposing us to graver health risks.  Teflon nonstick ware now comes with an additional ceramic coating (!) as if enough is not enough. We in India are not the sauce and soup types.  Our cooking blends much of deep frying, shallow frying, wet grinding, dry grinding, roasting, sauteing, seasoning all at nearly 100 degree celsius, a plethora of green vegetables, fresh spices, foodgrains and pulses and meat. What do you think is the best and healthiest choice of kitchenware under the circumstances?

Never discarded cast-iron totally from routine life all these years, was only toying with teflon pans as they come with good finishing and are cook-and-serve line mostly.This is not so possible with cast-iron.  Using the non-stick pan every morning to make omelettes always stayed at the back of my mind and I wanted to put an immediate stop to that – and have almost. Got back to cast-iron so the texture (of cooked food, in this case omelette) is different and better.

Along with cast-iron, I also use regular Iron/Wrought Ironware in my kitchen. This is easily rusty and needs greater maintenance.

CAST IRON WARE – THE TASTE ENHANCER

As for dosas and rotis/chappathis, anyway I was using mostly cast-iron tawas because right from the start, I have had this strongest opinion that the taste changes in non-stick pan and the browning does not happen the way it does with cast-iron. Dosas come out dry in nonstick tawas.

Ofcourse a mild single coat of oil is required for use in cast-ironware from time-to-time which is minimal/negligible.  I use a fresh cut onion instead of tissue paper every time to swipe the cast iron pan/tawa with a tsp of oil which gives it a special aroma especially while making dosas.  (eco-friendly thus, cutting out on tissue use).

 

 

From making daily omelettes in my cute little tiny cast-iron wok to cooking chicken curries and gravies to vegetable stir-frying to bringing stews to a boil and toasting the dosas/chappathis/parathas and even the bakery bread, cast iron it is for us now completely.  Nonstick ware is mostly reserved for use when we have guests as it is quick and easy and user-friendly.  Naturally cast-iron takes time and also a bit of oil – healthy oil.  A minimum of 1-3 tsps of healthy coconut oil/mustard oil/gingely oil/peanut oil is good for our skin in my opinion. Leave out Olive oil which is good only for salads.

Nothing can roast to that adorable golden brown the way Cast Iron can!

WORLD’S MOST ECONOMIC COOKWARE

Cast Iron ware is brittle – in the sense, will break if dropped with purpose. But cast-iron is priced very economically and is available with some old stainless steel utensil sellers in Chennai.  But is limited in edition. A cast iron wok smallest size will not cost over 150-300 bucks and the biggest one, not over 350-850/- bucks depending on the seller.  Whereas one has to shell out 5-10 times these prices for the same size/volume Teflon nonstick ware.

Cast Iron also effectively uses energy even if it cooks slow. The heat spread is even and it is rare for food to get burnt in cast iron. 

I recommend everyone to think of cast-iron in place of teflon coated non-stick ware in order to have a truly healthy kitchen.  I am also using ‘matka’ (clay pots) wherever its possible like when cooking greens/paalak (spinach).  Most in the south do. Thinking of bringing down some copper utensils especially the tumblers from the loft.  I have inherited quite a good collection of brass/copper cookware, my family heirloom from mother’s side.  This includes a 5 box tiffin carrier (lunch box), plates, big pots and pans etc.  Antique, high value today and also healthy choice.  Want to include some of these in everyday cooking from now on.

MAINTENANCE AND USAGE OF CAST IRONWARE

Cast Iron is very heavy for handling.  Needs to be dried completely every time after usage and oiled after scouring clean.  Requires good/adequate space for storing and must not be stacked one over another (to avoid rusting).

When you buy cast iron, it will look mostly very rusty (browning red).  Wash it and scrub it thoroughly a number of times after immersing in water for 1-2 hours. Then wipe dry, coat it in oil and leave for a day.  Again scrub it mildly and wash it and dry it and oil it. Repeat the process for a week for the rust to wear off totally and for the black colour to set in.

Takes time to practice in cast iron.  At first it will be sticky entirely.

For first time use, heat the cast iron kadai/wok/tawa/pan, oil it generously and fry boiled rice to remove the remaining rust off the cast iron.  Repeat the process if necessary.  Cool the pan/tawa, wash it again and dry it. Store it on oiling.

Next, use oil generously and deep-fry papads/potato chips first to get the cast iron kadai into cooking mode once the rust is worn off completely.   Deep fry at least a couple of times. Scrub mild and coat with coat using a small piece of cotton cloth or an onion slice or tissue paper before storing.

Use the cast iron tawas to do chappathis or toast bread first before trying the dosas on.

These are the essential ‘conditioning’ steps to make fit the cast iron ware for our regular kitchen use.

By now, the cast iron kadai/tawa/pan is almost adapted for our regular use.

The final qualifying test is, when you can roast potato/aloo curry comfortably in your cast iron wok/kadai to golden brown without the curry sticking to the sides and coming away comfortably and /or when you make that first thick ‘kal dosa’ nicely without tearing/breaking with the watery rice-urad dal Idli-dosa batter in the cast iron tawa that comes out free with ease.  When your cast iron pan/wok/tawa passes this ultimate test, then both of you are winners and friends for life!!!

For the cast-iron woks/pan/tawas to get completely non-sticky in character except for a minimal use of cooking oil, it will take time.  Atleast a month of regular use for deep-frying and chappathi/roti making is recommended before this non-stick mode sets in.  Once it does, the cast ironware will put all No.1 quality teflon coated branded nonstick ware to shame.  Best Indian kitchenware in my opinion.  Traditionally followed for millenniums.  Why we Indians don’t bother with patenting beats me.

Cast Ironware must not be scrubbed everyday. If you have to, do it mildly.  Otherwise, a mere slapping and rinsing well with running water must be enough – once the cast ironware cools off to room temperature the natural way.  Never attempt cleaning/scrubbing it when it is hot/warm.  This will turn the cast iron to sticky mode once again so that the tedious re-conditioning has to be done with no option.  Always rub in a tsp of oil after use to keep off rust on both sides. Keep over newspaper sheets or other papers on storage shelves/cupboards.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Needless to be told, Cast Iron is an indirect source of iron.  Ancient Indians have included different metals in their eating habits chiefly for their health benefits: Copper for drinking water from, for instance. We source it the way we source vitamin D from direct sunlight.  Nowadays iodine is added to our cooking salt. Iron is likewise best consumed indirectly through our kitchenware for whatever shortfall we may find in our food intake.  Cast Iron is not a chemical like ‘teflon’ in nonstick ware.   We do not know the exact health risks from long term use of nonstick ware but any chemical that goes into our intestines can only harm and not help.  Cast Iron is a healthy choice that way. Prolonged use of Aluminium ware is reported to be responsible for Alzheimer’s.

Wrought Iron (regular iron) kadais/woks/tawas are also easily available in all parts of India along with Cast Iron ware.

Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Poorna (Hindi) and Talvar (Hindi)

 

Watched back to back two good Bollywood pictures in the 14 hour long flight from America. It is sad that good Hindi films never make it to the headlines and it is the scum (of Khans) that hogs the limelight. Both films seem to be the diagonally opposite: one was of the rural girl Poorna Malavath who made it big from small and miserable village life despite all odds; the other is the sad tale of the upper-middle class girl Aarushi Talwar whose young life was brutally snuffed out one unfortunate evening in Noida, suburban Delhi under mysterious circumstances. Rare for one to get to watch two contrasting stories like these one after another like I happened to, which made it possible for me to make a mental comparison between the two teenagers with hardly a couple of years’ age difference between them in actual life when they were catapulted into national news.  There was nothing common between them even if they’re both from India. Looks like they’re from two entirely different worlds. Each world had its own blessings and woes.

First one was, Poorna (Hindi) produced by Rahul Bose based on the real life story of Poorna Malavath from Nizamabad, Telengana who at the tender age of 13 years and 11 months became the youngest woman in the world to summit Mount Everest in the year 2014. Aditi Inamdar playing the lead as the naive village girl Poorna from Pakala, with Rahul Bose taking on the major supporting role as the Social Welfare Department official, the film is an inspiration in and out and is refreshingly original. Coming close on the heels of Aamir Khan’s Dangal (which probably was inspired by ‘Sala Khadoos”), the celluloid making of Poorna probably risked being labelled a stereotype, but the director-producer seems to have outguessed this, moving away the story line therefore from the predictable and beaten track to chart a different course altogether. Bureaucratic issues and red tape are part and parcel of Indian sports (like it is with any other arena). Untangling yourself from the muddle and raising your standard by itself is a feat, given the complexities that characterize Indian sport. Still, small town achievers have been outshining their urban counterparts in recent years led by none other than the ex skipper of Indian cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni who hailed from Jharkhand himself.

But rural India is mired with its own socio-economic problems. Reeling under poverty and mounting debts, options are limited for the illiterate peasants who cannot afford a decent square meal a day for their families most of the times. Women of rural India are the hardest hit. Poorna’s cousin and friend Priya has child marriage and the same fate awaits Poorna herself (who is in middle school) that she escapes with determination and half-hearted consent from her dirt poor parents, but largely with the help of a very considerate social welfare officer Praveen Kumar (played by Rahul Bose) who is bent on reforming the education scene in the state. Together with Anand Kumar, another teenager, Poorna overcomes the initial hurdles and bests her own physical limitations to conquer the Everest and set a new world record. What happens however to Priya, the teenage mother who carries twins beyond her physical means is tragic. Post delivery, the minor girl develops jaundice to which she succumbs. A bright young life is wasted. A sad reflection on the state of affairs of rural India, 70 years after our independence from the British. Reality can be harsh in Indian villages where everyday life is a struggle. This an other real life story from ‘Poorna’ is an offshoot that aches your heart.

Poorna Malavath is a beacon of hope to rural girls in India who may think all doors are closed on them. She shows how you can succeed yet in adverse conditions if you are strong willed. May be all is not well with India but India is still a place you can flourish if you know how to tap resources effectively. All you may need is a little push and a bit of external help to knock on the right doors or pull the correct levers that may make things work for you. The civil services administration of India need to work in tandem with rural districts to tap the immense potential that this country has to offer.  Devoted and diligent civil services officers who can rekindle the dying hope may be the answers to our prayers, like  civil servant Praveen Kumar has shown with the success of Poorna Malavath.

Aarushi Talwar’s murder shook the Indian nation in 2008. I followed up the story like the rest of my compatriots because, if Aarushi could be alive today, she would be about my son’s age. Her parents Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar were dentists and had a lucrative practice in Noida.

Both Poorna and Aarushi became recognizable names in India around the same age, for different reasons though.

Looks like Aarushi had everything going for her, given her background, unlike Poorna famished and impoverished hailing from one of India’s most backward districts. Aarushi attended the best school, had affluent parents, moved in a good social circle and was a popular and vibrant teenager unlike the shy Poorna. How could things have gone so wrong for her.

Media picked up Aarushi’s case and went for a toss for all the loopholes it presented. Over years, many theories were invented. On one hand, as a parent my heart went out to the Talwars who were demonized by the media. On the other hand, some found Nupur (Nutan played by Konkana Sen), the mother, very impassive to the camera as did seem her husband Rajesh. The grief was missing even if the distraught parents need not have to prove their love and affection for their only child to the world at large. So many pieces did not fit in the jigsaw puzzle as some questions raised about the Nepali men who were friends of the servant Hemraj remained unanswered. Why did the doctor couple have to have a male servant in their house when they had a single teenage daughter, however elderly the man could be. This was what I asked myself.

A friend who happened to read the book on Talwars was already a big champion for their cause. She argued, no parent could murder his/her own child however wayward the daughter/son might turn out to be. I couldn’t disagree with her.  In fact, the picture is based on the book. The best and logical step would be to disown the child. The Talwars did look rather composed given the nature of the tragedy that had befallen on their beloved angelic daughter. Still, honour killing is not for urban India. Probably the parents’ composure went with their profession and their elite social status. But their cool attitude also could have worked against them and turned the public conscience unfavourable. News hour debates were about the Talwars for weeks. The couple were indicted in the case a few years after the murder.

Finally in 2017, the parents of Aarushi, Rajesh and Nupur have been acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence. The picture ‘Talvar’ (sword) is a convenient pun where the Aarushi character goes by the name Shruti. Shruti Tandon. Daughter of Nutan and Ramesh Tandon. Talvar or sword, says the character of the outgoing CBI officer in the film, is held on the left hand of the blindfolded Lady Justice representing the Police department even as the right hand holds the scale of balance.  The investigation of a civil or criminal case therefore is as important in dispensation of justice as the neutrality of the legal counsels be it the prosecution or defense. In fact the tool of investigation (the cops) is vital and imperative to dispense accurate and impartial justice based on which even the legal counsels may build on their cases (in defense or against). So when the investigation is not thorough, it may lead to injustice or partial justice as the film Talvar powerfully and sequentially portrays.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the film is the real life story of Aarushi. Yes, it cannot be real life story of Aarushi because the story begins with her murder. The investigation takes its course in various angles played by Ashwin Kumar, a special officer on the case, played by Irfan Khan. Good research (by the scripted character) shows how sloppy the police department in India can be and how laggard we are when it comes to scientific theories and proofs. How carelessly the evidences are destroyed and how callous the public servants (cops in this case) could be that put the tragic parents even more into trauma. It doesn’t stop for the Talwars (Tandons) with finding their precious daughter bloody murdered. Not allowed to mourn their loss, they are dragged into relentless and cruel controversies by the media for TRP ratings and painted as vicious enough to kill their own daughter in cold blood.

The Aarushi case reminds one of the many John Grisham novels that dwell upon wrongful implications and unjust verdicts based on circumstantial evidences where the guilty go free and the guiltless get framed.

Hats off to the director for the convincing and scene-by-scene construction of the plot with strong and substantiated narratives. Grave slip by the cops. All it takes is common sense to see the truth. How easy it is to jump to conclusions carried away by jingoism and populism. The Talwars were accused only for the lack of evidence and any other angle. Honour Killing sounded sensational. The girl was not violated at least, thank god, but that heightened the mystery. The prime suspect Hemraj (Hempal in the picture) was also found murdered which complicated matters. Too many links were missing. The media never zeroed in on the other suspects in the case with the same gusto that they unleashed when it came to villainization of the Talwars.

All the time the character assassination of Aarushi as well as her parents was actively propagated by media cashing in on the sad episode. The nightmare the parents must have gone through. What right do the media have to pass judgement on a criminal case that was still in courts. How much prejudiced that may make out of the prosecutors, legal counsels and witnesses in the case. The harm done to Aarushi’s case by the media is awful. It preempted investigation into many potential and crucial leads that could have led to the murderer(s).

The film ‘Talvar’ was released in 2015 whereas the Talwars were cleared with acquittal only in 2017. The picture closed with the Talwars (Tandons) convicted. I hope the Talwars finally find peace. And I do hope the real killers of Aarushi are brought to justice (though of this I suppose there is least chance. Krishna (Kanhaiya in the film) must have fled India long ago).  Carelessness on part of responsible public servants can lead to gross miscarriage of justice. After what happened to their dear daughter Aarushi, it is a miracle that the Talwars are even sane. It is time to leave them alone finally to mourn their irreparable loss.  Still, thanks to the media, a section of Indians will continue to hold the Talwars guilty of murdering their daughter Aarushi. The damage the media does.

The pictures could be classic case studies on Indian girls/women from village and city since the turn of the century. The films offer a rare insight into rural India and urban India alternatively in different dimensions. One can’t help comparing even the poor peasant parents with the elites at the same time. One world is steeped in ignorance. Another brims with over-confidence. The unmistakable bold streak in the peasant woman contrasts quietly with masked naivety of the urban woman. After a long time, I had the satisfaction of watching meaningful Bollywood films that are brushed under the carpet by the big banner productions. It is sad, these good stories told are hardly commercially viable.