Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: Meru (documentary)

Watched yet another fascinating trekking documentary close on heels of 14 peaks: Meru. Meru for a change lies outside the Tibet-Nepal-Pakistan triangle. Meru is the sacred Himalayan peak of India, considered the dwelling abode of our Mother Goddess Parvathi. In fact, the peak is believed to be the very embodiment of Shakthi. Unconquerable over even Mt Everest or K2 given its steep granite wall ascent. Some of us have ‘Meru’ (scale model) in our Puja. Meru with Sri Chakra are two symbols associated with Devi worship. So that must explain what Meru is to Hindus. But the climbing crew from the US seem to have respect for the Hindu sentiments as they revere our holy relics and pay their obeisance prior to the ascent. Not only is the mount Meru impressive; so is also the indomitable spirit of the climbers Jimmy Chin and Renan lead by their mentor Conrad who has been on successful expeditions to Mt Everest. It takes more than a couple of attempts for Conrad for his luck to work out when it comes to Meru. A seasoned climber, he’s climbed with the best crews. Climbing Meru is different because, unlike Nepal India has no Sherpas to act as guides and/or porters, bred into the mountaineering profession by tradition. The climbers needed to carry kilos of their own gear or equipment plus food and oxygen. From observing expeditions to Mt Everest, it is impossible to miss how in every step a mountaineer is aided by the sherpas be it with load carrying or roping tight knots or pitching tents. Easiest ascent routes are picked and the queues could be longest to the summit! Mt Everest is that very crowded! No helping hand out there in Meru. I loved the cool hanging tent pitched midway to ascent, off the sheer granite cliff that offered no foothold for the final 3000 foot. The crew were holed up here hundreds of meters suspended in midair during their first climb for days. After the failed attempt, on return to America, Chin and Renon meet with debilitating skiing accidents. Renan is immobilized and chained to hospital bed for months. He makes a terrific comeback with his recovery and workout even as Chin survives an accident himself! With Chin, Renan goes for the summit yet again and it is admirable that team leader Conrad pins complete faith on their sincere and combined efforts. Charming to see the wandering cows and monkeys in Indian Himalaya alongside rivers (Bhagirathi?) and Chai shops and blaring horns. Its one exhilarating feeling as the trio scale the summit the second time – even for the viewers. They are the first in history to scale Mount Meru. What a treat to watch. It does ache my heart when someone lays a foot on Meru – me being ardent Shakthi worshiper. Who says Gods are all from Middle east. Our Hindu Gods descended down the Himalayas. I am sure Conrad, Jimmy Chin and Renan will agree.

Posted in Political

Love him or hate him, there is none like my prime minister Narendra Modi.

One moment he is in Manipur, one of the seven sister eastern states of India bordering Burma and Bangladesh. Shortly he surfaces in the western state of Punjab where the safety protocol for the nation’s most important man is brazenly breached. He is made a sitting duck with his convoy, jammed from every side in the highway with traffic freezing all around for over crucial and dangerous 30 min. Security lapse of highest order, perhaps pre-planned? The next morning Shri Modi ji is inaugurating almost a dozen medical colleges in the lines of AIIMS in the south virtually, alongside a classical language university. He is opening expressways and tunnels simultaneously in Jammu, the northernmost country and cutting ribbons for industrial complexes in the hinter heartland of India. Takes a break to hit Varanasi for a temple visit and rounds off the day addressing the business community/entrepreneurial sessions online. Diplomatic affairs are handled with equal finesse in the sidelines. Not to forget that the country lost our valuable COAS only very recently, that must be weighing heavily on his mind. A million issues crave for his attention. He is tugged here and there: but he goes with it all giving everyone and everything his hundred percent. That is my prime minister Shri Narendra Modi ji. I have not had a prime minster like him in my memory. My country India is the seventh largest and most diverse nation in the world. We are also the world’s largest democracy with a population of an estimated 1.3 billion. This is our busybee PM Modi ji, at70+, who hardly sleeps for four hours a day even in this pandemic, which is the reason we Indians are going to sleep in sheer bliss: we are in safe hands, that of our prime minister. He will see to that we have our peace and security as he stands guard over our nation even as we the citizens raise such a hue and cry ever since the Covid invaded our spaces in the year 2019. Through the intervening period, the man led the nation on an unparalleled campaign of administering over a billion corona vaccine doses, indigenously produced or made in India, all the same exporting the lifesaving vaccines to dozens of world nations. He just turned the country into missile exporting elite. He wouldn’t miss the awards ceremonies in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan honouring the unsung heroes of Bharat from all walks of life: from the noblest teaching profession in village to the native tree sapling planter. He neither forgets our sportsmen nor our army men, leave alone the artistes and artisans through the length and breadth of the country. From tribals to the enterprising youth and agrarian/pastural rural population, he engages with them all at every stage. Through all his busy schedule, our prime minister still finds time to address the children of the nation with his ‘Man ki bhath.’ He is an avid Yoga practitioner and a vegetarian. He is dynamism and hyperactivity rolled into one for his age! I am yet to come across a single young man as hardworking and driven as my prime minister is in his seventies. Touchwood. He is in my everyday prayer. After all, Shri Modi ji is in his retirement age already. He could have opted for the safer, easier way out. Modi ji is clearly the man on a mission.’ A follow-up of his You tube channel can let you know how this man born and bred for India, leading a frugal life, is easily one of the finest leaders India has ever had. It is easiest to criticize or point fingers. To achieve what he has, one has to have monumental mental strength and grand vision. My country is mammoth and chaotic. In all the chaos and confusion, India still has her character. To head my nation and propel us towards prosperity, encountering adversity at every step is no cakewalk even for elected parliamentarians. We are surrounded by China and Pakistan – our hostile neighbours. Border skirmishes bleeding us day in and day out are our routine. There are betrayers within our boundaries who would like to see us blown to smithereens. The stewardship of my colossal nation is therefore a Himalayan task literally. Anyone who does it bravely and surefooted like my prime minister Shri Narendra Modi ji and that too with his kind of elan, deserves a standing ovation. Clearly he is head and shoulders above most world leaders. It is unfortunate that the corona pandemic has to be dealt with in his golden period. Or perhaps it is a blessing for us Indians that we have dynamic leadership at this point of time. This is also the time for us to let him know how much he means to us Indians. As the delta variant and omicron are raging around us everywhere, let us take a moment to let our prime minister know how dearly he is loved and respected. May you be blessed with a hundred years Shri Narendra Modi ji! Take care, the nation is with you.

Posted in Lateral Thinking

தமிழ் பாடம்

தமிழில் எழுத முடியாததென்பது இல்லை. ஆனால் இன்னொரு ராஜேஷ் குமராக, புஷ்ப தங்கதுரையாக, பட்டுக்கோட்டை பிரபாகராக அவதரிக்க எனக்கு விருப்பம் இல்லை அவ்வளவு தான்! ஆங்கிலத்தில் எவ்வளவோ படிக்கிறோம் பகிர்கிறோம். ஆனால் விரசம் கலந்த தமிழ் பக்கங்களை என்னால் படிக்க இயலுவதில்லை. அது தாய் மொழி மீது நான் வைத்த மரியாதையா என்று எனக்கு தெரியாது. தமிழில் சிறிதளவும் கொச்சையாக பட்டால் என்னால் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ள முடிவதில்லை. ஆங்கிலம் பரவாயில்லை. சங்க நூலகளில் பள்ளி நாட்களில் படித்திருக்கிறோம் ஆனால் அந்த தமிழே வேறு. வெறும் சென்சேஷனலிசத்திற்காகவே தமிழில் சிலர் சில வாறு எழுதிகிறார்களோ என்று இப்போது தோன்றிகிறது. ஆனால் அதை திட்டமாக சொல்ல நானும் தமிழில் அதிகம் படித்ததில்லை. அரைத்த மாவையே எதுக்கு அரைக்க. வித்யாசமான, சமூக சூழ்நிலையை ஆராயும் தமிழ் நூல் பிடிக்கும் இன்னமும். யதார்த்தம் நிறைந்த சுஜாதா மற்றும் பாலகுமாரன் கூட நான் படித்ததில்லை. ஒரே காரணம், பள்ளி வயதிலேயே நினைப்பேன், இது வெளிதாக்கம் என்று. அப்போ நம்ம ஒரிஜினலையே படித்து விடலாமே என்று தான் தோன்றும். தமிழ் மீது பெரிய பற்று என்றுமே கிடையாது. என் வாழ்க்கையை தமிழ்நாட்டுக்கு வெளியே நான் ஐம்பது சதவீதம் வாழ்துள்ளதாலோ என்னவோ, ஒரே குட்டைல ஊறுகிற மட்டையாக விருப்பமில்லை. ஹிந்தியிலும் பெரிய மேதை கிடையாது. ஆனால் சின்ன தோஹே அல்லது சினிமா பாடல் வரியை கேட்டாலும் அந்த மென்மை என்னை வருடும். எந்த பாஷாயுமே உசத்தி இல்லை தாழ்த்தி இல்லை. உருது கலந்த ஹிந்தி வரிகள் மிக்க இஷ்டம். எனக்கு தெரிந்த மட்டில் காதலை அதைவிட அனுபவித்து வார்த்தையில் எழுத வேறு சிறந்த மொழி இல்லை. Spiritually கூட Sufi யை ஆழ்ந்து ரசிப்பேன். தமிழில் கூட கடவுளை அவ்வளவு கண்டதில்லைன்னு சொல்லலாம். நானும் தேவாரம் திருவாசகம் கேட்பவள் தான். மொழியின் உருக்கம் அப்படி. மலையாளம் நாவில் புரள்வது சுலபம், சரளமாக விளையாடும். எனக்கு மிக பிடித்த மொழி. மலாய் மொழி மிக மிருதுவானது. அரபி கூட. எந்த மொழி தான் அழகில்லை. கேட்க கேட்க தான் தெரியும் அந்த உண்மை. தமிழை அதனால் உதறி தள்ள வில்லை. ஆனால் தமிழில் ஏன் consonants and phonetics பல இல்லை. bha, dha, gha இல்லாதது மட்டுமல்ல sha, sa, ha வும் வடக்கில் இருந்து தருவிக்க பட்டதே. 247 எழுத்துக்களை வைத்து எல்லா consonants and phonetics களையும் எப்படி இந்த மொழியால் உருவாக்க முடியாமல் போனது. இருபத்தியாரே எழுத்துக்களில் கிழித்து விட்டானே வெள்ளைக்காரன். சமஸ்க்ரிதமும் ஹிந்தியும் கூட எவ்வளவோ மேல். எல்லாவற்றையும் objective ஆகா பார்க்காமல் subjective ஆகா பார்த்தால் இந்த உண்மை புரியும். ..இந்த மொழியின் பலவீனம் நம் தமிழர் எல்லோரிடமும் உள்ளதே. ஆங்கிலேயரின் மூளையே மூளை. தங்க கம்பி என்று எடுத்து கண்ணில் குத்திக்கொள்ள முடியாது. உண்மை உரைக்க வேண்டும். இருந்தாலும் தமிழ் எனக்கும் உயிர் தான் மறுப்பதற்கில்லை. அதன் குறை நிறையோடு தமிழின் மீது நான் வைத்திருப்பது அன்கண்டிஷனல் லவ். தாய்மொழி அல்லவா. தமிழின் நெளிவு சுளிவுகளை புரிந்தவள் தான். ஆழத்தையும் விரிவையும் தொன்மையையும் அறிந்தவள் தான். By default நான் தமிழச்சி. தமிழ் நாட்டுக்கு வெளியே எப்பொழுதும் நான் அதை மறப்பதற்கில்லை.

Posted in food as therapy...

Biriyani Vs Thayir Saadham

Biriyani is soul food for connoisseurs of food not only in India but throughout the world. Touted the ’emotional food’ of the masses. Purportedly food popularized by the Moguls who invented it accidentally adding Indian spices to Kashmiri Basmati rice cooked with juicy mutton/meat marinated in herbs, Biriyani catered to rich man’s platter for centuries. It is only in last few years that the biriyani reserved normally for feasts, has come within common man’s reach with outlets selling it street to street with all possible variations one can imagine. Finally the dreamfood of meat lovers is affordable with the arrival of the broiler chicken. Loaded with ghee and spices and dripping with greasy oil, heavy meal meant for hard stomachs, biriyani is not exactly your health food on the menu. Overdoing biriyani is harmful to one’s health and there can be no two opinions on the same.

Thayir saadham (curd rice) on the other hand is the polar opposite. Cool on your tummy. Bland. Probiotic that aids in digestion and absorption of minerals and other nutrients, no south Indian meal is complete without thayir saadham. Although a particular community has branded it as theirs, the fact is that there is not a south Indian who does away with thayir saadham when he/she has not consumed meat with the meal. Curd does not sit well with meat, and curd with fish for instance can lead to food poision. This is the reason meat eaters prefer buttermilk to thayir saadham. Supposed to be the super brain food, I cannot though figure out how those who claim exclusive properties to thayir saadham have not still produced the Korean or Japanese or Chinese range of intelligence so far! Apparently the centipede and millipede and snake eaters win hands down when it comes to IQ! Some brainfood here!

So, it is not merely biriyani, even thayir saadham is overrated. If the ‘Rajas guna’ of the biriyani is indeed the reason for physical violence, then the ‘Sattva’ curd rice is only too capable of passive aggression that has been the characteristic trait of some Hindus for centuries. You don’t have to weild the sword like the moghuls and draw blood every time. The very opinionating nature in some is disturbing.

Men who work in tougher conditions involving physical labour need their quota of protein that can come best only from meat. Those who work indoors with not much of physical activity can forego meat for their own sake. Geographic conditions too dictate our food habits. High fat food is a must for those living in cooler climes. Availability of food used to be a primary factor in determining our dietary customs until very recently. Camel meat and milk were staple food for nomadic tribes of Africa and Arabia. Where agriculture flourished, vegetarian food habits developed with the harvest of food grains. Where maize cultivation was suitable like in Africa, corn became staple food. Islands had fish eaters. As we all know, the universally recommended diet is Mediterranean with its rich olive and cheese blocks and a fair share of fruit, nut, fish and meat. The Japanese formula is Sushi and the Mexicans spice it up with their herbs. The Chinese wash down the fat in the food with their herbal teas.

Personally I prefer saatvik food for health reasons. Easy to palate for a homemaker like me. Insufficient for a hardworking man like my spouse. Meat is a must in his daily portions. So that does make a man more aggressive or less intelligent. Each of us is bred with a different metabolism that may determine our energy levels. In my opinion, we must never disturb that equilibrium but must do with what works for us. Moderate meat consumption complemented with fruit bowls and sprouts/cereals may make for ideal balanced diet.

There are gentlest meat eaters I have come across in my life and violent vegetarians. One thing I can observe is that, the meat eaters have undoubtedly better stamina and libido compared to vegetarians. The nonvegetarian platter is more balanced than a vegan’s or a vegetarian’s. The nutrition content in vegetarian menu is skewed and most of us vegetarians including me lose out on essential proteins and omega fatty acids from fish. Plant substitutes hardly prove to be sufficient. Good number of kidney patients and liver cirrhosis and intestinal cancer patients are vegetarians surprisingly and not alcoholics or voracious meat eaters. So that must have a point for us. On the otherhand when we consume light food and our metabolism is evolved differently with less fat in our blood stream, our memory cells could work sharper. This is merely scientific evidence. Excess fat can make one lethargic.

A north based friend would say, biriyani or any meat diet carried the soul of the culled animal with it. So do leather boots and bags and belts. But the irony is that the friend’s family is into money lending business that is ruthless and preys on the poverty and helplessness of the borrowers. So this is what I call passive aggression which is worse than physical violence.

Biriyani today faces the flak because it is now identified with a community that is considered anti-Hindu. I am not biriyani lover either even if I can cook up a sumptuous and droolworthy biriyani adhering to health standards even if I am vegetarian by birth. Biriyani tops as the numero uno favourite food of my family. Whoever is against it has not yet savoured its flavours including me.

Neither am I for mushrooming of the biriyani joints in nook and corner of our country. Biriyani is on its way to become the national food or staple food of India and it is ringing alarm bells naturally. The health of our younger generation is at stake. Frozen meat pumped with chemical preservatives is used in tons to turn out huge mounds of biriyani to cater to the tastebuds of crores of our population. It was never this way until a few years ago when biriyani meant only ‘bhai veetu kalyanam’ or ‘ramzan.’ In those celebrations/festivals, no frozen chicken or mutton was used for biriyani. The meat cut was fresh with mostly animals sacrificed for the occasion. The proliferation of meat habits points to explosive growth of poultry industry, nothing more.

Thayir saadham is gentle on our stomach. For summers, every single day I have only the ‘baghalabath’ with grated cucumber and carrots and coriander in it. It is our family’s favourite too, as much as biriyani is. It is always our family lunch box food.

On meat eating days, my family have plenty of buttermilk to offset the spice consumption. In winters, I forsake curd rice and settle for stews and have buttermilk in the place of curd rice because I do not want to miss out on the spice in the chill weather. If it is not curd, it is always buttermilk for us. To my knowledge, this is how meat eaters consume curd/buttermilk. Who says they do away with curd totally. What is ‘raitha’ then. Having a divided family on many matters helps me in contemplating different perspectives.

Even north Indians round off their roti subzi meal with a little ‘dahi chawal’ after ‘dal chawal.’ The arabs buy curds (labaan) (both thick sour curds and the bottled buttermilk) in buckets literally and consume it alongside meat including that of camel. Compared to arabs, thayir or curd consumption in India especially among south Indian Tamils is dismal actually! So much for thayir saadham! Only difference is, the arabs consume tubs of yoghurt (unsalted/plain) straight away without having it with rice like we Indians do. Yoghurt both plain and fruity are popular throughout the world including in south east Asia and America and Europe. But nobody spun a tale on curd rice the way we south Indians do. Research departments in American universities picked it up because the research students there and the faculty are Indians and more specifically south Indians/Tamils!

Well there is an intermediary food called KAAAAARA KUZHAMBU !! I am slave to that! Call it Vatha kozhambu or Kara kozhambu, my vote is always for that and my signature foods that I am good at include this kara kozhambu made with tamarind extracts and red chili powder. Hot and steaming, nothing like our kaara kozhambu with dollops of gingely oil floating on top! Spicy and alluring! Sambhar too belongs in this middle range along with other vegetarian stews like Koottu. Most underrated are these day-to-day cuisines of ours. Much as my biriyani is popular with family and friends, my bisibela bath and baghala bhath too are equally rated! Not that i am a gourmet chef or foodie. Just a regular housewife who does nothing out of the ordinary.

I can agree with discussions of biriyani so far as it is limited to our health aspects. Once you bring in the religious philosophy alleging characteristics and properties to it, you violate a Dharma in the process. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Whoever said, ‘kondral paavam thinnal pochu’ in Tamil. World operates on this conundrum.

Why do some of us feel the compulsion to judge everything and everyone. Why can’t we let anything be.

I do not know how far it is true that Biriyani existed as Mans-oden in Nala’s cookbook ‘Paka Darpanam’ but we all want to perfect our recipes like ‘Nalabhagam’ don’t we. Fellow hindus are now onto to ‘Jhatka’ in the lines of ‘Halal.’ Some ambition here.

I love my vegetarian Lebanese, Egyptian, Turkish, Arab, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Malay food as much as I love my vegetarian Indian platter. I am keeping my options open and I am willing to experiment and grow, not limiting myself to hypocritic notions and boundaries. Pleasantly surprised to discover vegetarian Georgian cuisine in the shadows of the Ural. My meat eating husband loathed the honey and chocolate dipped meat and turned vegetarian during our tours abroad. There can be no single way of defining food or labeling food. Ingredients like spices and meat and vegetables can be treated in entirely different methods of preparation. Even the cooking ways are different from baking and boiling to tandoor/grilling to deepfrying. Variations even by slightest degrees produce entirely different dishes as we know. Food too is innovative in every step. First of all let’s stop sermonizing and learn to imbibe the best from others.

So why is biriyani the emotional experience and thayir saadham, not? Because once you try to attach the puritanical strings to it and try to own it, it loses it lustre. You make it communal. Food is first about sharing and caring. Biriyani excites a man’s all five senses: visual, aural, nasal and spiritual not stopping with tingling one’s taste buds. Friends and family have confessed to mood upliftment with Biryani. If there is not something matching biriyani in desi cuisine, invent it! Because the biriyani addict-crowd swells by the minute! You just can’t be sitting there in the high stool of your kitchen counter judging without sampling.

Posted in Socio-Political

An Appeal to my PM Modi: Extend MNREGA to Marginal Artistes

No, this is not my idea. Happened to read of the suggestion put forth by a social activist vocalist. I second the opinion. If you take even the case of just Tamil Nadu, the state temples that are mid to considerable area size and those ancient and heritage sites, employ nagaswaram and thavil vidwans to play in their precincts. I am not sure whether these artistes count as govt staff in the temples that come under the ambit of Tamil Nadu Religious & Charitable Endowments dept. Generally those serving as office bearers in the temples managing the day-to-day affairs of our holy places are drawing govt salaries running into thousands of rupees every month, surpassing those of the archakas (priests) who may be most instrumental in the running of the temples. It can’t be a problem to bring under staff role the marginal or part time artistes working for the temples under govt admin. After all, our state govt is syphoning off all our temple funds and using our fundings for their own agendas. This is also an issue that the tamil nadu state govt must look into.

I understand that the marginal artistes who play mostly in temples and hindu weddings have been hit hard during the pandemic. With them those who take the beating include the street performers, etc. While the pandemic saw many artistes switch over to online media to continue with their profession, the marginal ones who have no access to information technology and/or those who are not tech savvy have been left behind to fend for themselves. There are NGOs who are pitching in to help their causes but this hardly suffices. Simply there are too many, many of them, and pan India, the figures could be mindboggling. These may include folk musicians and dancers, street performers, tribal artistes, village troupes etc. Without govt support and aid, the arts that these artistes sustain may perish with them. We are at a critical juncture presently. We never expected the pandemic to be running such a vicious course spanning years. This has taken a heavy toll on our economy. The worst hit are from marginal quarters. The marginal artistes have been out of job for months now. I like the suggestion that something similar to MNREGA must be in place to support the marginal performers/artistes. Of course this is not the first time, I am hearing of this idea. I find this cause very merited. I learn from media how Modi govt has been aiding economically in installments eliminating various levels of dispensing, directly reaching out to the marginal farmers. Dear Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji, my humble request to you is to look into the case of our marginal artistes similarly. You are doing a lot I am aware, you will be doing yeoman service for the survival of our rural and classical art forms that need to be passed on to the future generations by the struggling artiste communities if you can help them in anyway at this point of time. The state aid could cover marginal artistes such as musicians/stage performers and also visual artistes. A while ago I was watching the folk music of third gender artistes from Karnataka and also those from the Rajastani deserts playing sarod on the sand mounds of the barren landscape. Should their artforms die because of covid.

There is one more group of artistes that comes to my mind. This may include those like the light boys, makeup artistes etc., who could be employed in entertainment industry. There are also many who take up small roles – the small artistes, who have been out of job since covid struck for the first time. This third group is equally devastated by the corona surge.

Should we allow this to happen. A lot of critical issues could be vying for your attention Ji, yet I plead with you to give the dying marginal artistes a mere five minutes of your thinking. The marginal artistes of India deserve your timely aid. I am aware, the concerned states have their share of responsibility in the matter. Still please do something in your capacity for the marginal artistes. Something like MNREGA for marginal performing and visual artistes is not a bad idea. Please rescue from their hopeless situations. Thank you!

I got inspired to write this post from a carnatic vocalist turned social activist. I am listing a couple of art forms/marginal artistes who I came to know of from following him, just to show you how diverse India is and how vibrant our arts are. Dear Prime Minister, are you listening. These marginal artistes need your attention and help by way of financial aid in the lines of MNREGA- the minimal employment guarantee scheme of hundred days.

  • Thoorpu Bhagavatham (Andhra) – this theatre form is about to die completely for lack of patrons and aid support
  • Folk music artistes from Barmer, Rajastan including sarod and dholak players, etc.,
  • Jogappas from Karnataka (transgender folk musicians

And these are just a handful I am talking about who have been deprived of decent living because of the pandemic.