Posted in Economic

Where there is no level playfield

Sometime back I read a post on difference between CBSE education and State board education.

I have these to say.

I and my friends attended only LS, the famous girls’ school in Mylapore. I still remember my 6th standard school fees. It was a total of twenty six rupees for one academic year, that’s all. It was paid by my mother in cash. In my 7th standard, we paid Rs.33/- for one whole academic year.

Finally in standard XII I guess I paid Rs.150/- as per prevailing cost of living conditions then, being annual fees. Apart from this, I guess we paid exam fees to the board of perhaps 5/-rupees nothing more, to my memory.

Look at what we paid for schooling and what the privileged kids paid for theirs. In what way today we are inferior to the CBSE school products.

My school/classmates have gone on to become medicos, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc in every corner of the world. My mother too was an alumnus of my school.

Dr. Shantha of the Cancer Institute of Adyar passed away today. She was a renowned alumnus of ours. Playback singer Vani Jayaram and actor Lakshmi are our proud alumna.

My education was heavily subsidized. Max fees I paid was for my math undergrad degree in private college – which came to 750 rs per annum which was deemed very expensive in those days. My PG fees was Rs.500/- pa being Univ of Madras govt dept. Through out school, I received my father’s office scholarship as he worked for central govt undertaking which came to Rs.600/- pa much more than what we paid as fees. For class 11 & 12, I received cheque for Rs. 900/- pa from my father’s office because I scored over 90% in all classes. The scholarships were awarded for scoring 90% marks in previous annual exams by the children of the employees.

My husband and his brothers attended Tamil medium schools in villages as my FIL was posted in rural Tamil Nadu. Only for class 6 they came to Madras. The boys went on to still become school toppers in English stream in state board schools and also in their respective colleges and are leading professionals in their chosen fields ever since. Until now their grammar may not be perfect but my hubby claims, he and his bros have what we call ‘technical brain’ which can understand maths and physics and chemistry effortlessly that comes by birth. The other brain is what we call the artistic brain that can enable some of us in becoming artists-artisans in creative fields such as literature, art, costume designing, performing arts such as theatre, music etc.

Until today this is the greatest plus for the brothers as I can see the same trait even in my son. To them equations and numbers and formula are too very simple and not at all confusing or complicated. But for my husband anything literary is very complex. Writing an essay or even 3-4 lines at one go is … not really a problem but never appealing if I can put it that way. Anything artistic is too out of the way so I wonder how he is reasonably a good amateur artist still. Perhaps that is why my son is a mix of both literary and math brains. Rarely we see such a combo.

I gave homeschooling to my son from 3 years to 6 years in Malaysia. I took the text books with me. Here in good old Madras, he had just started school and was starting to write alphabets.

In standard 3 at the age of 7 years he was turned down for admission by every single school in Chennai as he did not have record of formal education. Indian school system sucks!

Finally a matric school in Anna Nagar dared to give him admission as I was nearing the end of my wits running from pillar to post frantically trying to secure admit for him in any school. The correspondent of the school simply opened the school diary and asked my son to read the national pledge. My son read it fluently and comfortably. He was given spot admission. Two years later I switched school for him when the correspondent got irked. In these 2 years, I received many notifications from the school that was pulled up by state govt authorities that sought records for my son’s formal education upto class 2. We had not a single paper and I was forced to get a signed declaration from a retired teacher in Malaysia claiming that she taught him at home. Only then he was allotted an admission number. It never mattered to the board or any authority that my son was already topping the school almost having had no formal schooling at all until his 7th year.

So I wonder what is wrong with our education.

In Malaysia, our PC was my son’s blackboard and I taught him upto class 2 at home at our own leisure. I had educational CDs from ‘Pasar malams’ the famous nightmarkets of Malaysia that played a vital role in his education. We did playfully and joyfully the numbers and rhymes and even short stories. My son also did attend a play school with Malay and Chinese kids for an year but regular schooling for kids started in the south east Asian country only by 7 years. When we were back in Chennai, my son could comfortably read the latest Harry Potter over other kids who had had regular schooling right here in the city. So I guess it is merely a matter of how much your ward can absorb irrespective of what or how much you can impart. Or that is how I see it. Kids brains are like sponges. Of various levels of absorption. Some drink in more whereas some imbibe moderate. Learning can be from outside world exposure as in my son’s case.

CBSE syllabus is undoubtedly good I am not denying that, but state board kids pay far less for education compared to the central school kids. For what we paid at least in my generation, what we received in return was immense. In my opinion which stream you study is hardly important. State board kids are far more street smart. Finally it’s a question of affordability in India, which school you attend and which university you graduate from. It is very cruel to compare the better-off kids attending CBSE schools with the rural state run school attendees who have to walk miles to go to school.

Contrary to what I read from the post on CBSE vs State schools by this friend, when my son joined engineering stream, most failures in his class were from CBSE who were overconfident. As the state board kids were learning engineering physics, chem, maths, engg drawing for the first time, they worked diligently and secured a pass.

But CBSE students definitely have the best edge in national level entrances especially when it comes to IIT, II of maths, physics, science etc. Aspirants for these streams need to take up only CBSE syllabus and nothing less.

One has to remember here that Sundar Pichchai still attended Jawahar Vidyalaya only and not PSBB even if later he went on to graduate from IIT-IIM. The other stalwart CEO of Microsoft from India, Satya Nadella, isn’t even from a pricey engineering university reportedly. Not an IITian.

Finally it is all upto the individual. How well you capitalize what resources are available to you. How well you hone your skills. How you apply your knowledge and skills acquired in 2 dimensions to a practical 3 dimension. As we say in Tamil, ‘yettu suraikkai karikku udhavaadhu.’

My husband says, whenever they secure mammoth industrial project contracts, as project head he thinks ahead by years – in 3 D – from raw material and manpower procurement and execution phase to complete profit projection. Most importantly cannot allow idling of resources which will be billed on the project. He can visualize the entire concept and finalize the designs (steel design structures) in his mind and order of phases of execution. For instance, in the case of even basic demolition, one has to start from roof top not from rock bottom. That’s how you go about things. He says for this logical thinking you have to be street smart with hands on experience. Text book knowledge is insufficient. Translating your book knowledge to field acumen is the secret. That is how filmy directors work. That is how director Shankar made his Robot starring Rajnikanth. What kind of schooling can teach you this kind of critical thinking, planning and execution.

My simple state board school had National Geographic stacked in our library and that is how I got to know of the journal in my middle-school. We were obviously subscribing to such world class editions at a time before we had satellite tvs that beamed in these foreign channels right into our living room.

My school taught me to respect elders, to be responsible, to be polite, to be humble…. and more than all I mixed with middle-class girls which is what makes me what I am today … for better or for worse. As not much came from text books, we girls learnt a lot from other outside sources, from life experiences etc.

I don’t know how good state board schools are faring presently. For the first time I believe a christian lady is HM in my girls school now which is nothing sort of a revolution. Such a Hindu school which is the main reason I was enrolled in this school. Obviously the world has come a long, long way.

It is heartless to criticize the state board kids or syllabus because they are not there by choice. They are in state board only because that’s what their families could afford.

The lapse is on part of the Indian state. Such a disparity in education. I think I have blogged on this in the past. A kid’s destiny is decided right at the time of his/her KG admission. There simply cannot be comparison between a corporation/panchayat school kid who learns in local language (Tamil) and a urban upper middle class kid attending creamy school in the metro with access to (global) English (language) text books to study materials. In which other country in the world is education so divided and unequally distributed as in India.

In Malaysia, there was only one board. You attended school that was closest to you. Admission denied in any school over 2 km range. I was stunned to see the uniformity of education there all those years back. Which is why Malaysian Indian (Tamils) community mostly as well as the Chinese community were doing so good. Admissions to universities had quota system favouring the Malays. Down at school level, everyone was on equal footing with equal opportunities available to all. Those who are questioning reservation in India today are precisely from the creamiest section ironically. Yes, you can do that provided you have the guts and honesty to enroll your kid in corporation school. Let all of us start life on equal footing. Then we will earn the moral rights to phrase and question the formulated practices of justice in the nation.

Now that brings us back to the question of NEET. This is why NEET is NOT justified in rural India where poorest rural children grow up right from the start at a disadvantage. Center expects them to compete with CBSE kids with sound economic and academic background. Whereas these creamy kids will go on to work with only Fortis and Apollo, the rural kids on quota basis who attend medical schools will go back to their native villages to work for the poorest and tribal communities. What they may lack by book knowledge, they learn with valuable hands-on experience handling hundreds of OP as well as in-patient cases every single day in their public health centers/govt hospitals. It needs no mention that the swanky city hospitals today have book-thumping medicos with not great experience. The effects of our current NEET entrance will be known after a generation or two when the present serving physicians as we know them in health care industry will take retirement. Then we will pay for the mistakes of willfully neglecting the aspirations of poor malnourished rural kids who dreamt of one day going back to their native villages to serve their local communities. After all, how many Tamil films have had this single plot for storyline ?! In their place we will have super sophisticated English speaking medical professionals over-dependent on machinations and lab test results without instinctive diagnosis skills that can come with experience alone.

Posted in Political

India rolls out Covid 19 Vaccine to Public today.

Despite the opposition scheming and despite the media junkies criticizing the govt and spreading false information, India is rolling out the local manufacture Moderna vaccine today for Covid 19 all across the nation. The frontline warriors in health sector and those serving the community such as the police service will be receiving the first batch of shots. Later on, the vaccination will be available to public on demand. I don’t need media guys telling me what to do and when to do. These are the least fit na-layaks to certify anything good and/or worthwhile. My friend who is a experienced medico practising in the US took two shots of Pfizer vaccine and developed (expected) symptoms after the second doze administered after a 28 day gap. She is asking me to go for both dozes that are modified for both the strains of covid-19, and I need no other prescription than this to go for the vaccination. Will do it as and when time permits. Whether we have co-morbid health conditions or not, once you cross 45 or 50 years, I feel we are in a vulnerable age already. Some of us attract infections easily. Women especially have a weaker immune in my thinking. I may or may not be right. I am taking Kabasura kudineer on weekly basis, lemon-ginger-tulsi-garlic-amla concoctions everything which I have been taking all my life, not just because of corona scare. Only now all this is suddenly projected so much as immunity builder to us Indian families. We are doing it for ages. Turmeric, cinnamon, cloves – can’t imagine life without these.

Hopefully we leave 2020 psych totally behind with the vaccine and start fresh life once again. Heartening to read our Vice President Shri Venkaiah Naidu’s address to the nation on the launch of the vaccine to Indian public. I will do a copy-paste job.

“COVID Vaccination DriveToday is a red-letter day for the people of the country. India has scripted history by touching a new milestone in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic with the Prime Minister, Shri Narendrabhai Modi launching the world’s largest vaccination drive. Two Indian manufactured vaccines, cleared for emergency use, will inoculate an estimated 3,00,000 healthcare workers with the first dose today. This is a proud moment for every Indian and I would like to convey my deepest appreciation to all the scientists for the remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed in a record time. It is pertinent to point out here that it takes several years before a vaccine rolls out to reach people at large, after the successful completion of all trials at all the stages.In recent memory, there was no other medicine or vaccine for which the entire world waited with such anxiety and restlessness as it did for the vaccines for Sars-Cov2, which are being rolled out in some countries.I am happy that the Union Government and all the States are coordinating this immunization programme in a truly ‘Team India’ spirit as more than 1.65 crore doses of #Covishield and #Covaxin have been allocated to the States and Union Territories in accordance with their requirements. The Centre and the States worked in a mission mode to complete the dry runs and take care of the logistics and the required infrastructure.The Centre and States deserve our compliments and appreciation for this synergy and for working in sync to ensure smooth completion of this mammoth task. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, India like the rest of the world had faced massive disruption to the economy and the livelihoods of people, even as the novel coronavirus claimed thousands of lives and stretched healthcare systems of the most developed countries, as also ours, to their limits. Hopefully, the days of uncertainty and anxiety will end soon. Motivated by the ‘Atma Nirbhar’ Bharat call given by the Prime Minister, our scientists have risen to the occasion. Their efforts were ably complemented by our frontline COVID warriors- healthcare workers, sanitation workers, police and others who never gave up and walked the extra mile to protect all of us. Today, their patience and hard work have paid off. The country, as a whole, will soon reap the benefits of the efforts of these patriotic men and women. Around 3 crore health and other frontline workers will be covered in this phase—they include doctors, nurses, paramedics and other support staff. Apart from them, police personnel and paramilitary personnel, Home Guards, Disaster Management volunteers, municipal workers, Revenue Officials and other Jawans involved in the containment of the virus will be vaccinated. The same vaccine will be given as the second dose after 28 days. In the second phase, people above the age of 50 and those with co-morbidities will be vaccinated. Apart from them, people living in areas with high infection rates will be vaccinated in this phase. While the launch of the immunization drive is a big morale booster, I would like to appeal to the people, including those vaccinated, to not lower the guard in the fight against COVID-19. Everyone must continue with the ‘social vaccine’- of wearing masks, washing hands regularly, and maintaining a safe distance from others.I would also like to urge all the officials involved in the administration of the vaccine to strictly follow the comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to avoid any untoward incident. The instructions include specifications regarding dosage, cold chain storage requirements, contra-indications and minor AEFIs (Adverse event following immunisation). As mentioned earlier, vaccine development entails a prolonged scientific process as it has to pass through all the stages of clinical and human trials involving thousands of volunteers. It is truly a feat worthy of our appreciation that the government acted with remarkable speed in completing various aspects like prioritizing the target groups, conducting dry runs, preparing the database of healthcare workers, training the vaccinators, delivering the vaccinations to the final administering sites safely, storing the vaccines in cold storages, and evaluating and monitoring the situation on a real-time basis through the Co-WIN network and central helpline. Undoubtedly, tireless efforts have gone into ensuring smooth operations till the last mile. My heartfelt regards to the field workers, health professionals, scientists, volunteers and the officials for their indefatigable efforts in fast-tracking the entire process and bringing to fruition the two Indian manufactured vaccines.India has developed a reputation as a world leader when it comes to immunization. The latest experience in developing a vaccine in record time only adds to that legacy. We have already done a fantastic job in the export of medical equipment to fight COVID-19- from PPE kits, N-95 masks and ventilators to other countries. It is not just the developing world, but the developed world too which looks up to us now as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’.We must build on this momentum and become the vaccinators for the world too in the true Indian spirit of treating the entire world as one family—‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. We have already offered support to our neighbouring countries with COVID-19 vaccine. Soon, as the domestic demand is met and with ramping up of production, we can match and deliver to the global demand too. I am sure that today’s drive will serve as a successful template for immunization of the larger population in the coming months. My best wishes to all the people involved in the drive today.”

I trust the Indian physicians/scientists/health workers/community service workers one hundred percent completely. They are by far the best.

Posted in Women & Family

Why can’t some of us sew or crochet ???

Really I envy the sewing women, crocheting ones, embroidering girls, etc., etc., because this kind of creativity I cannot even dream of. No PATIENCE or focus first of all and my hands are not made for crafts. Same with stringing flowers (poo thodukkaradhu) or drawing big kolams/rangolis (i can do decent ones but no inclination). No interest in learning Tanjore painting or Madhubani work either. No such thing as a hobby. Gardening miserable. No appetite for pets although I would like to pet friends.’ Kitchen is only for cooking the most essential, nutritious fare never for coming out with tantalizing exciting gourmet recipes. Bare minimum. For mithais and regional/exotic cuisines, there are always the restaurants! At least some knowledge or interest in music, dance, fine arts? Noooo. Leagues away from all these areas. Books/reading habit, only elementary and basic. Fitness regimen – only as much as my body permits and my body tires easily! So what to do after 50 with menopause staring at your face, with the empty nest beckoning us middle-aged women day after day. Physically we are tired as our hormones go for a swing. Emotionally we are drained. Housewives for a long, long time. Can we take up a job after this age. Can we even survive a part-time job let alone a 9 to 5 one. Once upon a time before I married, I gave tuition in Maths to many high school kids and first and second year graduate students. Even mathematics beyond Pythagoras theorem is something I can’t recall in this age. Trying to figure out where we are headed in life from this stage. To those of us who have kids still in universities there is still more time at hands. Those of us whose kids have to find love yet/marry have some breathing time as well. Looks like late marriage and late parenthood can turn out to be blessings later on in life!!! But absolutely no regrets. There are many, many women I know who would just love to trade places with some of us others for whom life gallops stage after stage at express speed. As MS amma gives life to Rajaji’s words, ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’ honestly. Life has bestowed some of us with the best we could have ever hoped for. Starting trouble for some of us like me, but Mother Goddess more than compensated. From now on health of our life partners, career success and happiness of kids become newest priorities. Comfortably settled with our ambitious other halves having attained their goals, from this point on, nobody will miss us if we leave. This is soothing thought as well as hurting sentiment at the same time! Over all, we are over the bend. The future we look forward to is lot less to what distance we have already covered so far… A sense of gratitude washes over you… While at this, the soul craves for peace. The heart still is tender and can hold more. Solitude is the best medium to find that elusive contentment we women are seeking.

I hope I got my priorities right in life… Is this what we call middle-age crisis?

Posted in Environment

The sweet smell of the rain…

As the North East monsoons are on the last leg of this year’s cycle, I must say India is still fortunate to have had bountiful monsoons both South West and North East. One of few things still blessed about 2020 the awful year we left behind.

The south west spell (may to sep) normally brings minimum to moderate rainfall in Chennai/Tamil Nadu as this mostly benefits rest of India. Last year however, from mid July we’re having wet season in Chennai. But we were still skeptical. Groundwater was draining sucked out by powerful motor pumps bored street to street, as the monsoons were less than normal in last 2 years. The metro houses over 10 crore and that is a huge huge chunk of human population whose water needs have to be met on day-to-day basis. The best about the south west monsoons was that, it kept raining almost every other day right from August as rest of India was sinking. The rainfall was not heavy but it kept the sun off and the soil wet as the parched soil started retaining water after soaking dry for ever an year or two. It is this retained surplus rain water that is beneficial as it goes on to recharge the underwater table.

The north east monsoons took over right where the south west left, by october. Now it has been one long wet spell for almost half an year in Chennai on and off. It used to like this years, years back -may be last we had it was in the ’80s. Then the south west monsoons started bypassing us even if we in east coromandel coast stand to gain only 10% of our annual rainfall with cauvery delta to benefit largely, being the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. The north east monsoons are also now erratic that seasonal rains are now almost a past memory, and these days only cyclonic depressions in the bay bring us any rainfall. However, 2020 witnessed the seasonal monsoons without cyclonic storms as well after many, many years, like how we used to talk about ‘kaar kaalam’ once upon a time.

Our bathroom fittings all have gathered salt and our tiles have been bleached white in last one year with ground water with high saline content. I was using a water purifier without RO but last year I was forced to switch over to RO as the regular water purifier no more makes it to the market as it has no use these days. With high salinity in ground water, we are left with no other choice than RO.

With good monsoons, the lakes and reservoirs in the state/country are brimming. Non saline water has returned in our taps and finally our bathrooms are returning back to their original shape and colour albeit slooooowly. What a pleasure it is to taste the water here supplied by the water board which is not salty even as you brush your teeth early in the morning. Such a sweet rainwater taste in spite of the chlorine content. I almost forgot this rainwater taste in last many months. Corporation water we call it.

How quick it takes for the corporation water to dissolve and erase the deposited salt from your sinks, baths, pots and pans and vitrified tiles and plumbed fittings. Everyday I am watching my bathroom floor with nonskid tiles lose its salt deposit bit and bit and return to original colour howsoever gradually… There is a hissing sound from water heater that I serviced only a month back. Probably the accumulated salt is dissolving within the heater body as well. Only this season I switched on water heater in Chennai because of sustaining rains/mild chill. Otherwise I switch on water heater only in Doha winters never, never in India. Water heaters in Chennai are only for vanity, never used really. Practically everything at home be it washing machine or whatever has this scaling that needs a good scraping. Descaling is taking time but working with arrival of fresh water from monsoons.

Rinsing my face in the sweet rainwater flowing through the sink tap, I can see that even my skin is showing an improved tone even if by marginal degree. Lathers soooo much like it never did in last one year…. Rings of salt lines in the bucket are already fading… Everything is sparkling… the miracle called Monsoons!

There is not a day I don’t pray to Lord Varuna for good rains for the entire country.

If only we can manage our water resources well….. The current storage, if well managed and skillfully distributed, can last us upto 2 years easily. Or at least 1.5 years. We will be comfortable and ready to receive next year’s quota of monsoons.

Kapali temple tank in Mylapore is still running dry with any rainwater making its way to the tank getting quickly absorbed. There are also a number of deep wells in the tank that drain water. It still saddens me to see the temple tank without a drop of water even after almost 6 months of monsoons on and off. The smaller temple tanks in the city have filled up fast.

For the first time in 2 years, no more water tankers in the city roads. No more motor running sound in my house all 24 hours. Now the sump is full overnight.

Monsoons must be like this. Abundant but distributed over months, never pouring down in entirely in a day or two. The parched soil from the previous year needs to be drenched first from deep within. Rain water must be retained on top. We can have standing water only when there is gentle moderate rain for at least 20 days for entire nights with groundwater table improving bit by bit on slow recharging. By this time of the year, temperature starts falling and evaporation slows down even if by only a degree or two. This helps in water catchment on recharge. I guess finally this happened in 2020 after many years.

Nature’s gift. What a beautiful combination – Margazhi and Monsoons. Magical.

Posted in Books

Sebastian & Sons – TM Krishna

First of all before I go into review let me caution:

I am not at all musical, music though brings me peace in whichever form: carnatic vocal or instrumental, bhajan or even filmy songs. Partial to latino foot-tapping beats hahaha! So I am hardly fit to review this masterpiece of TMK but as I have loads of time in my hands and I really want to review this book, I am doing just that here.

Anyway I keep playing music all 24 hours that when my hubby returns home from work, the moment I open the door when he presses the calling bell he tells me, ‘down the shutters of your Nair tea kadai please!’ so that’s how my playing music the whole day is viewed by my workaholic worst half who relaxes with Ilayaraja music. I think keeping open the Nair tea kadai is qualification enough for me to review this gem of a book (although prescisely it is this caste prejudice TMK is resisting)!

Lots of emotion and personal perspectives mixed in any review of mine.


A woman/housewife/mother, many view me as sort of rebel but I found the best in the town in TMK. So very grounded, oozing with knowledge in and out, expert in his chosen vocation (vocal carnatic), his compassion for fellow humans and anguish at the apathy of the society for the inhuman ways some of us are treated initially took me by surprise (given his birth privilege). I haven’t identified empathy as one of the chief characteristic traits of most of my countrymen. I guess Hindu gene is defunct of this DNA. Not that I am unaware of the author’s past history. In such an young age, he has carved a niche for himself not only in the carnatic music world but also in social work (and media). I came across his posts in Twitter years back when I was there to read interesting tweets. Then I closed my account and lost touch.

But TMK, there is no need to self-deprecate yourself as you have done in the book. You are good enough. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Turning into a meat eater, denying this sense of repulsion in abattoir and confessing to not being moved by the death of a maker of Mrdangam, were not necessary. Unscientific? Says who? You surprise me with your forced meat option that I find frivolous. It is perfectly okay to feel squeamish in the literally bloody environ. You don’t have to become one of your subjects to talk or write about them. You can stay who you are, what you are without a compromise. Or do you think, only by embracing meat eating habits will you sound convincing.

I believe, the tormented atma of the killed cattle/goat still gets trapped in their skins that we use in leatherware. Same holds true of silk. A Jain friend told me. Then what is the use of being a vegetarian from birth. Given your background, I can’t believe you didn’t bat an eyelid when the animal went under the butcher’s knife in the abattoir. This is my only peeve against you. But in a way you seem to agree, with the atma staying residual in the leather skin. You wonder whether the animal comes to life through the vibrations/beats from the mridangam in a musical way.

Your talk of keratin and collagen really got me though! Makes me kind of sad. This lingo I am familiar with from my salon visits. To associate the terminology with butchered animal is shocking. The javvu you are talking about must be gelatin under the skin.

I am neither a voracious writer or reader, I am mostly into fictions even then. Rarely go for non-fictions. But I guess this time I picked gold. Local authors are always a delight. Their proficiency makes me proud that a son/daughter of the soil is coming up with something so very substantial. In case of your book, I guess this is one of a kind. That’s what made me go for it. With my layman acumen, I can still certify that this material could be thesis subject for PhD. What an in-depth on-field research and analysis, hands-on approach and complete know-how. I particularly loved your prose. Such a simple styling with effective use of language. No effort to glamorize your text with superlatives or hollow jingoism. Where is the need for such a window-dressing. Nothing cliched. Stark naked reality. So neat and precise and honest and profound from heart. Honesty. This kind of intellectual honesty is rare even in seasoned authors (in my half-baked knowledge).

I learned quite about Mrdangam, my favourite native percussion instrument. I have been like a blank sheet until now. Tabla and Tavil come close second. To mention that the book is informative is such an understatement. It is an encyclopedia not only on Mrdangam making but also on the makers of the most sacred percussion instrument of Hindus. Valandhalai, Toppi, Varu, Ul Sattai, Veli Sattai, Pinnal, Sadam, Kottu hahaha … various Thattu…. Never imagined so much complexities went into making this divine instrument that finds pride of place in Hindu temples and festivities. The skin part is common knowledge but the kind of expertise and manual work that goes into creation of the instrument really came like a bolt out of the blue. Never prepared for this bit of info. The wooden body of the Mridangam is a craft as well. The semi-mechanised process of turning out the shell is well illustrated. I did lose my way though through the maze of pull-heave-tug part of bringing the toppi and valandhalai together with the Kattai. When I emerged out, I felt dizzy but could appreciate what a fine work of art Mrdangam indeed is. The search for Kittankallu seems like an adventure. Your sense of humour comes through when you say the sadam part resembles idli with its concavity! Dig at the nightie being south Indian leissure wear is another point scored! Reference to C V Raman was punctuated with the erasure of the creator of the experimental mrdangam from the scene. This is what I would term ‘vaazhai pazhathla oosi etharadhu’ in your language.

I have a point to add here. The lingo lapses to chaste Tamil when it comes to Mrdangam terminology naturally. Is there a way this can be made adaptable to international readers. This can be a dampener to even other state readers. I am reading you on Kindle. I went through the glossary in the end. This list will not do. The book will go places and may be contending for serious national and international awards. While the local vocab may make it sound very realistic, too much of its usage without apt/spot translations can dispirit interested readers. But I have to give it to the author for making the work standout with this kind of vernacular approach, not trying to anglicize the book for wider audience. The tamil terms seem to reaffirm the solid and indisputable authenticity and nativity of the very instrument Mrdangam. My recommendation: go for a 100% Tamil edition. It will benefit even the makers on whose behalf you have taken up the cudgels. The reach will be up to grassroots level.

Neither have I given thought to the resonance of Mrdangam. I never knew the toppi part was reserved only for bass effect but after reading about it, it all rushes back to me from various concerts I have watched over years. Music to me is sweet pastime nothing more. More like an addiction. I have loved Drums Sivamani hahaha in the past! Hereafter NOOOOO !!! (Fine-tuning of the percussion instrument is no cakewalk as I get it now. Once again a thorough learning process when it comes to the nuances of the bass-beat-stroke emanating from the traditional percussion instrument that has evolved over decades to its present form. The finesse of a master’s stroke is the outcome of dozens of variables and components, permutations and combinations as you have shown.

There is a little confusion over how the author goes back and forth with the Thanjavur family tree names and the Madras Muttu makers. Establishing characters in mind and relating to them exactly is proving difficult. Then I spaced out reading the book so that I would remember everyone. Finally still I resigned to the fact of losing track and settled for mere identification with Thanjavur family by names. Parlandu and Selvaraj and Melgies and Antony and Soosainathan are like Rajni and Kamal to me now 😀 However, I don’t find such an instant kinship when it comes to the shell makers such as Somu Asari. The skin workers are the ones who move me. To me they seem to be doing the actual work.

You could have added one more index detailing Mrdangam parts for the benefit of those who have no inkling on the subject. The local Tamils who are on familiar terrain may get along. However, non Tamil/international readers can do with a good illustration of Mridangam with parts neatly earmarked. I didn’t find one such in the Kindle edition. Let me recheck.

Having been born and brought up in Mylapore, I was shocked to learn there are still avenues that I never knew existed! Appar samy kovil street for one. It is in the northern end of Mylapore so I may have missed much about it (i have known it), coming from southern Mylapore closer to Mandaveli. Plus I was put off by your spelling for my fave deity of Mylapore. She is Mundagakanni Amma, please correct it in your next edition.

Neither have I given thought to those living in the fringes. May be being on the spot gives you access to something not visible to most of the general janata. Still, unless you have a big, big heart and sheer will to go about it, you just can’t be doing it. What it takes to think the way you did, pour down your heartfelt thoughts into words and bind everything into this volume – i feel difficult to imagine. I am lost for words. Caste buried the dignity of labour sadly. Its one of the cruelest offences that can be committed by humanity – this denial of dignity and respect to fellow humans. No apologies can mend it in a 1000 years.

Kudos to the author for bringing to light the extensive and backbreaking backend work that is never known to the outside world. Commendable. Where credit is due, it has to be accorded. We cannot snatch others’ glory just like that trivializing their contribution to anything majestic as mrdangam. Such a shame! This story needs to be told, no doubt. Someone has to do it, and it is puzzling why none took the initiative until now. The human aspect of the any good work needs to be not only recorded to posterity but also be retold and appreciated. The glaring insensitivity in some of us is deplorable.

But the reason for such a work not making it to public sphere so far is guessable. This is greasy work. Not many have appetite for what the author has managed to pile forth. Standing ovation for the meticulous research and untiring efforts and zeal and enthusiasm to tell the story in the first place. How did such an idea even germinate ??? What an inspiring read! At times, your simple but profound words that pack truth brought tears to my eyes. Like how you relate the makers shrugging off mistreatment, taking disrespect in their stride. When dignity is stamped over for generations with such a brutality and souls get tired and bruised, this has to happen right? Passive aggression. This can be killing.

The gender bias is covered nicely with the Kappi and Kuchchi distinction. News to me again but no surprise. Mridangam has held forte in entire south. The Vizhianagaram, Bangalore and Peruvemba angles open fresh vistas that might otherwise have remained unknown to most of us. The snide gender remarks are there from bank jobs to stage kutcheries. Kerala work being neat is on expected lines as well. Same holds for enterprising Keralite women.

But TMK must have ruffled the feathers of some stalwart mrdangists who may or may not be around. Naming and shaming somehow I am never comfortable with. I agree there is no shaming but naming is damaging enough. I concede there is no other way out. Still, one has to be real brave to mention names. The book might not be going down well with everyone connected to Carnatic. You threw caution to the winds TMK! I am proud of you yet concerned at what you have done to yourself. You are already an outcast. No bother I know. Still.

But you did go on to highlight the geniuses of the mrdangam artists if that can count as any solace for them. Hope Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramanya Pillai are not turning in their graves! You have brought to life Parlandu in such a vivid manner that I want to go see him and shake his hands!

It is interesting to read anyway about generations of musicians of Tamil Nadu. How the music culture was cultivated and bred. No surprises about Thanjavur being the epicenter of classical carnatic. Spellbound by the intricate details and versatility of the carnatic music. I wish there had been no collateral damage when it came to Carnatic achieving this supreme greatness in world music arena though. After viewing You tube uploads of the author, I can understand why he is up in arms against classical status conferred to carnatic. To him social justice about EVERYTHING matters. Street art is equally worthy and appreciable which I can’t deny. I loved TMK’s Narayanaguru renditions and the Ashoka inscriptions being brought to life with carnatic. A contribution to society like none other. One of a kind. Road less traveled. TMK seems to back up his genius authoring with real life music.

Was there so much casteism in Mylapore. I am not sure on this. I agree the middle level non brahminical communities were the worst perpetrators and practitioners of divisiveness among us. Even in present times, who is committing honour killings in Tamil Nadu. In friends’ circle they call me ‘lady kamalahasan (actually I don’t see eye to eye with Kamal at all in many issues) so I have toned down a lot of my usual rhetoric. One reason for leaving Twitter is that. As a woman, i found that it is easy to be threatened. (Now I think I have a new ‘naam ke vaaste’ kind of twitter account).

To hold your pen and author such a heart-tugging tale, you have to be blessed and gifted … is all I can say. At the end of the day I am just a housewife with too much free time in my hands, what else. My words may mean nothing to you. Never has someone left such an impact on the way I think. I guess I have been somewhat right all along when it comes to certain social issues.

I look forward to reading more of this author.

Salvation truly lies in this. How many will agree with me. This book is true Nirvana with its sincere attempt to restore dignity to those who are denied that, and respect and credit to truly where this may be overdue.


PS: Where is that villa in Goa 😀

Posted in food as therapy...

7 Thaan Koottu (Aarudhra Special)

The 7 vegetable spicy south Indian stew with coconut and lentils

Aarudhra is the day Lord Shiva is in His dancing best. Very special occasion every Margazhi month during which time anyway along with Perumal temples, Shiva Stalas too open by morning 4 am. I used to hear the bell toll before dawn in Mylapore home right from Kapali temple as once upon a time, me too used to draw ‘kolams’ in the street in front of our house.

Aarudhra special neivedyam for puja at home is this 7 thaan koottu (a stew with 7 native vegetables – or more like 9, 11) along with Jaggery Kali. My patti used to make mouthwatering kali and koottu omg! I don’t know whether I can ever match her but i give it my best shot.

I saw some You tube videos on the koottu but i got disappointed because, many of them were using carrots, cabbage, cauli flower etc in preparation. Nothing wrong. But the significance of the recipe lies in using only native vegetables. We in our family with roots in Arni also repeat this recipe for Maattu Pongal (a day after Pongal/Sankranthi which is the harvest festival of India). In certain things I stick with traditional recipes, in some I add variations. However the 7 thaan koottu is something I never would alter from original recipe.


Native vegetables – 7 (I used Raw banana 1, Ash guard, yellow Pumpkin, broad Beans, Mochai (fresh peeled) (this is totally native to India/Tamil Nadu that there is no English equivalent name I guess), Yam and Tapioca (valli kizhangu) and Brinjal (actually ended up using 8)! Total weight of the vegetables was over 1 kg. Variations that can be used are: Drumstick, Colacasia, Mango etc that are also native.

Tomato 3 or 4 big size

Shallots (peeled) (I skipped onion on the day of Thiruvadhirai/Aarudhra but otherwise generally add)

Curry leaves and coriander leaves for seasoning

Tuar dhaal – 1 cup

Tamarind – lemon size (or little less if you want the koottu to be little less tangy)

For spice mix: Dhania seeds 2 tbsp, channa dal 2 tbsp, red chili 6 to 8, cumin seeds – 2 tsp, fenugreek 1/2 tbsp, coconut shelled 2 tbsp, (kopra was in use in place of coconut. we never used fresh coconuts in kootu/kozhambu/curry in my granny’s days. only the dried kopra. the fresh coconut usage is a recent phenomenon. we do get dry kopra scrapes in Pazha Mudhir Nilayam in the nuts section. this dry kopra can also be used for payasams).

For tempering: mustard seeds 1 tsp, cumin seeds 1 tsp, fenugreek seeds 1/4 tsp

Gingely oil 2 tbsp

Turmeric poweder 1/2 tsp





As you peel, wash, cube and boil the 7 vegetables in water in a thick bottomed pan with lid closed, pressure cook tuar dal separately to smooth mashy consistency. Remember to add the peeled fresh green Mochai along with the dal. Add turmeric powder to the dal.

Soak tamarind in warm water before you start so that when you have to squeeze the tamarind you get good tamarind juice. Do not throw the boiled water in which the vegetables are cooked. Do not overcook vegetables to too soft.

Dice the tomatoes.

Roast the spice mix ingredients lightly and grind to smooth paste.

Heat the gingely oil in a thick bottom cast iron kadai and when it starts smoking, temper with mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds. When these splutter add tomatoes that are cubed and rinsed curry leaves. In case you have shallots peeled, first add shallots to the oil and fry to golden brown and then add the tomatoes. When the tomatoes are mushy, add the cooked vegetables along with the water. Squeeze the soaked tamarind and add the juice to the kadai now and stir well. After thorough mixing add the spice blend to the Koottu that is cooking. Add salt. Finally add the cooked dal and season with asafoetida and washed coriander leaves. Do not over cook. I let the Koottu to be in Sambhar consistency. If you want, let it thicken more to actual Koottu padham BEFORE you add the dal.

We have the 7 Thaan Koottu ready, hot and steaming. Best with Arudhra Kali first, but also very good with rice, ven pongal, roti or anything. One of the most yummiest traditional original native recipes. No onion/garlic/ginger but I would love to have the shallots in it. Perhaps, next time on a less auspicious occasion.

Very filling and nutritious vegan/vegetarian stew – the Ezhu Thaan Aarudhra Kootu. My fave since when I was a little girl.

Seriously don’t bother about calorie count or cooking time. So long as food is healthy and hearty, it is good enough for me and family.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

New Year From Another Age

Navasakthi Vinayaka temple in Luz is very special to me. Because it seems, my mother conceived me after praying here fervently after losing her first stillborn son in delivery. The temple then was very new. After school, she used to alight from her bus in Luz and go to this temple and then from there would walk the distance home. One of the founders of this temple was also my closest relative who I do not want to name. He is no more of course. He ran a flourishing business in Luz, Mylapore and was locally popular when he was around. Even now some business people in Luz remember him if I bring up his name.

So our relative families always gave the first abhishegam at this temple every new year day by morning 4 am. For years therefore for me, New Year day meant rising by 2 am, getting ready and walking in misty musical Margazhi morning with my family to the early morning darshan in Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Used to starve, but everything would be over by 7 to 8 am. Then a hearty breakfast in Shanthi Vihar with entire family would follow. Even my grandparents and extended family partook in the puja and festivities on that one occasion.

I think for one particular Indo-Pak cricket match, I even prayed for India win alongwith my childhood friend Rupa. We circumambulated this temple 108 times i guess when India won!!!

We broke with this custom of New year starting with Navasakthi Vinayaka temple after my mother’s demise. My grandfather always also used to get poorna kumbha maryadha at Kandha Kottam in Mint and also at Kandaswami temple in Saidapet where also our abhisheghams would be the first at 4 am concurrently. Because of my mother, he would force himself to attend the Navasakthi Vinayaka temple new year puja not wanting to disappoint his first born daughter.

After my mother, my grandfather refused to go to Navasakthi Vinayaka. My grandma stopped praying to God totally. We switched over to Kandaswamy temple for January 1st giving Navasakthi Vinayaka a pass. By 7 to 8 am I and my sis would be given cane baskets of laddoo to distribute as prasad with our own hands in the temple. Breakfast would be at a distant relative’s place in Saidapet.

Today’s kids including mine associate New Year with fun and frolic, wine and dine. However in our families, we always started even the Gregorian new year on auspicious note only. No need to mention about how we celebrated Tamil New year.

After decades of mental block, I am now revisiting Navasakthi Vinayaka temple. Didn’t set my foot in for years and years except for a few very rare occasions. In our relatives houses, the entrance always had a big framed Navasakthi Vinayaka in black & white hanging over the front door. The temple still invokes very painful memories. I these days force myself to stop at this temple for a few minutes everytime I touch Mylapore. I want to connect back. There is some residual stubborn resistance that holds me back by a minute percentage. I am unable to give my 100% to Navasakthi Pillaiyar. This after decades. This is the power of a mother over a daughter.

Share a similar emotional bonding with Valleeshwara temple in Mylapore Market and also Shirdi Sai Baba shrine in Mylapore. Even the Kesava Perumal temple and Srinivasa Perumal temple in Chitrakulam were my regulars. As also Kola Vizhi Amma temple and Madhava Perumal temple. As for Mundagakanni Amma, I was placed in Her lap the first time my parents carried me out as a newborn I believe. Similarly I placed my son on Her lap the first time I took him out anywhere after hospital discharge on delivery. Even now I make jaggery pongal for my Amma twice an year – waiting for Thai month to go back and see Her.

In my childhood and teens, these temples used to be deserted and very ill-kempt. In Kapali temple, even in Karpagambal sannidhi, sometimes I would be alone by myself or with a friend, with not even the archaka around (about 9 to 11 am during summer hols etc). Then one day a devotee warned me that it was dangerous to be alone even within temple like that in that age. I never imagined this present kind of crowds in these temples back then. Now I feel kind of jealous that so many thousands are claiming stakes to my temples that I thought were only mine!

Sometimes I wish those days to return (wrt prevailing peace of the time only) …. Walking around Karpagamba, reading the Abhirami Andhadhi printed on Her walls loud and alone by myself or with a couple of friends with none hanging around… Those were the times… Such a stillness all around you, the way a temple must truly be…

Remember sitting with my parents and our neighbours in Kapali temple’s tank steps. In those days the tank was open to public to access and not fenced. Water level used to be decent.

In my teens, my friends and me who are very close even today would start with Valleeshwara temple, then go to Kapaleeshwara temple by back door and then walk to Sai Baba temple. One friend was in Santhome, another in RK Nagar. Me in the middle, Mylapore. We did all this on foot. Only during finishing school I and one more friend got ourselves a bicycle. Even then the cycle was mostly used by my sis. For me only Nataraja service everywhere.

The only holidays my parents took us to were Tirupathi (annually), Guruvayur, Rameshwaram, Tiruchendur, Kanyakumari. Of course on temple tour. Kodaikanal and Ooty were possible only because of my husband!

Now I have visited most temples in Chennai many multiple times – at least the most popular ones. Kaligambal was my father’s favourite as he worked in Parrys corner. I will cover the city temples later.

My thatha was also the only sort of person in those days to distribute idli packets to those seeking alms in front of Sai Baba temple as long as he lived. Now we have hundreds of good samaritans doing this service. But when he fed the poor, none else did that besides him. When he passed away, I remember going to Sai Baba temple to distribute idlis for one last time and telling the alms seekers, that the old man was no more. Some 20 of them in rags wailed out in anguish. Now food is in abundance everywhere, prasads are overflowing. I am talking about some 30-40 year back happening.

Another regular haunt was Ramakrishna Mutt in Mylapore where also my thatha was a well known person. He donated a lot for the mutt as well as the Ramakrishna mission orphanage opp Vivekananda college. Biggest chunk went to these two out of his trust. The free library was my favourite place.

Mylaporean days are like a dream now. I can’t think of children today growing up like we did in those days. What keeps some of us going is the way we were raised then. Sometimes I wonder what stopped us from raising our kids the way our parents did with us.