Posted in Food For Soul

going vegan… from vegan silk to vegan leather…

Many of us raised vegetarian from birth still have no qualms about leather or silk in our everyday life. We try to rationalize our guilt trip justifying, our belt or purse is ethical leather. We can’t be without dairy either which is far more horrific than even leather industry or meat processing where the cattle/sheep die a single death.

Is it time to move away from our phony vegetarian values and adopt a sustainable, humanitarian lifestyle.

Try as I may, I am unable to grow out of my obsession with silk living so close to Kanjivaram (Kanchipuram) geographically. Traditionally too, ours is a silk weaving community, mostly hailing from Kanchi and Arni, although our folks have almost completely weaned themselves out of our native occupation in recent times. I do still have a few relatives left out who have installed ‘thari’ or handlooms in their ‘thazhvarams’ and ‘mithams’ (front yard, courtyard, backyard etc., in traditional tiled ‘ottu’ veedu or house typical of Tamil Nadu that are fast disappearing even from our villages – that are big and airy and impressive) and keep weaving as family: daughter-in-law to mother-in-law to son and daughter – as they did their chores like cooking, cleaning etc., side by side. One lady told me they wove this way one or two handspun Kanchi silks watching our tv soaps in the evenings as dinner was served! The men tended to the marketing/business part.

In fact, our family tree grew along this silk road to success! Arni is my father-in-law’s hometown. Even now there stands his ancestral home with 4 grand entrances in 4 streets, with a family temple close to one gate (where outsiders were not allowed up until very recently), a second one dedicated to business deeds with big enormous ‘thinnais’ that served like modern day showrooms in the bygone era…, one entrance reserved for women alone and one for servants. Erected in late 1800s, the colossal palatial edifice stands today as a testimony to the family heirloom and wealth that was spun out of Kanchi/Arni silk business by our forefathers. Silk is therefore much more than a simple attire to us. Silk meant food and livelihood for centuries.

Senguntha Mudaliars built their fortunes with silk industry which was patronized by the royals, the British and the temples all at the same time. Very conservative and pious community, they diversified soon to become successful doctors and engineers by the turn of the century. Now very few families stick to the traditional profession. Astonishingly, the business has been taken over by Naidus and Reddys of Chennai! Sengunthas started owning huge estates with money made from silk business and donated heavily to upkeep of Hindu temples around world war times. I know because my grandfather gave away dozens of houses within Chennai city limits to various temples as my family signed on the dotted line without asking a single question. My in laws families too gave up. We are blessed not to have an iota of regret for what we have given up. All the silk money is gone and with it we lost our native occupation as well to new ventures that are doing extremely well. Times change. Life changes. A 2000 year old familial knowledge and heritage and customary practice is now not in our hands.

Markandeya is believed to be the sage who gifted the art of weaving to Sengunthas as we believe, hence mostly Markandeya gotra. Pazhaiyana azhidhalum, pudhiyana pugalum. Absolutely no regrets about the modern day transformation.

My mom who taught until the last day of her life deaf and dumb middle school girls, had a severe aversion for silk. All her life, she wore silk only on 2 occasions: on her wedding day and for our house grihapravesham. A true vegetarian.

However, I have never been able to resist the temptation of silk, any silk for that matter. Give me anything be it Benaras or Tussar or Mysore or Maheshwari or Assamese or Chanderi or Patola or Bandhni or Uppada or Gadwal or Jamdani or Kota or Kashmiri … hahaha I will take it without a second thought!!! Of course, my reigning queen in Kanchi Silk !!! Not only because we have an emotional familial bond with Kanchi silk that bred my ancestors, but also because, from experience of traveling and shopping (even if not much) a little bit I can tell you, Kanchi is No.1 silk in the world that women and designers and fashionistas outside India are dying to lay their hands on! Undisputable No.1. To think that my forefathers perfected this Kanchi silk weaving art and robed the Gods and Goddesses and Kings and Queens, makes me proud kind of.

So Vegan silk always raises for me these uncomfortable questions. Profound shaivites who thronged temples, Sengunthas still wove silk out of the silkworms drowning cocoons in boiling steaming water. Every single traditional vegetarian family in south still draped this sinful silk most importantly on auspicious occasions like family weddings and pujas and other celebrations, and to temples. Why this self-contradiction.

I have heard of Ahimsa silk which I believe is only partially less evil. In regular silk, the silk worms in cocoons are boiled in a cauldron. For Ahimsa silk, the silk worm is let out and the cocoon is separated for silk yarn. Tragedy is, prematurely ejected from the cocoon, the silkworms die a torturous death after a few hours of miserable life on earth, before being brushed enmasse onto garbage. In what way is Ahimsa silk better than regular silk.

Talking to someone who shunned silks and leather entirely in last few years, I was disturbed to learn how the tearful vibes of the millions of silkworms that sacrifice their lives in most crushing cruelest manner get spun into the silk robe you drape. Same holds true for leather. Every leather accessory we may use still may moan quietly with the tragic vibes of the animal (cow or sheep or goat or buffalo) whose life was violently snuffed out by skinner-butcher. At least a fraction of such a bad vibe can get transformed into our soul and influence our own aura. This can have a lasting effect on our spirituality and even perception of things, life. There is therefore a compulsive need to grow out of silk and leather. It asks for greater mental strength to rise about these materialistic temptations, but I guess I could be ready.

Vegan silk I believe is a great alternative because it is mostly made from plant cellulose. In specific cases, microfibers may be woven into the vegan fabric/textile upon request or as situation/design demanded. For the first time ever, I am going for Vegan silk that is completely animal abuse-free. I can have a clear conscience donning the silk. I am trying to stop silk shopping completely now and switch over 100% to vegan silks. Because vegan or whatever, my fascination for silk continues! At the same time at the back of my mind I recall that this Kanchi silk is what fed my ancestors for generations and generations. I am here because of Kanchi silk to say NO to Kanchi silk! What an irony. But this is something that has to be done without sentiment or prejudice. Sooner or later….

Vegan leather too similarly is mostly made from plant cellulose that is bio-degradable. Great alternative to leather. Leather industry with its toxic chemical dyes for effluents also is a great pollutant of our rivers and other water sources. All the more a good reason to say a big NO to leather, ethical or whatever. By the way, what is ethical leather. The hides and skins used by ethical leather units reportedly are procured from meat industry through regular channels. Does that make leather ethical by any means?

I also have always owned leather purses, handbags, belts etc up until now. Somewhere we must make a beginning. Stopping forthwith, leather shopping.

What is very testy is, giving up dairy. I gave up coffee for 10 months but it was torturous. Then I decided that no Mother Goddess wanted me to give up coffee!!! So saying ‘excuse me, i am starting coffee Ma 😀 ‘ to Her one fine morning, I restarted my coffee routine! Similarly living without milk or panneer or curd or buttermilk seems next to impossible! As a vegetarian I find dairy to be my greatest comfort food! Can’t just do with Almond milk or Soya milk – which I have tried in futility in Doha.

As for eggs and meat, many are switching over to organic eggs and organic poultry as well. The poultry industry breeds caged broiler chicken that are pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones. Something our younger generation must keep away from, because this can be very damaging. And to think about what the poultry birds have to go through! Meat consumption has gone up in India only in recent years. Earlier when I was a kid, meat was a luxury reserved to very rich few. Others saw meat once or twice an year only. Biriyani is the greatest health hazard to our youngsters. Unhealthy with spicy content that can cause heartburn and bathed in oil, this foreign food needs regulation. I am that rare vegetarian who can turn out the best mutton and chicken biriyani from my kitchen (as certified by guests) without ever knowing how it tastes, but I only use organic meat. Seafood is better than river fish as river fish swallows a lot of toxins.

Size of fish in Doha and size of fish in India raise another important question. My husband favours Shankara (red snapper) fish which is of 6 inch plate size end to end by length in Middle East, caught from the Arabian Gulf seas. In India the same fish is much, much smaller in size almost only half in size, which indicates we are overfishing. Very soon our oceans could be running dry of fish. Scary.

So back to basics, finally…

I will post updates on this one, as to how well I am doing with my Vegan silk and Vegan leather. As for my existing silk and leather, I am keeping them because I have invested heavily in them over years. But no more fresh buy where it concerns silk and leather. I would like to spread the message.

Let us think of a Vegan silk India and Vegan leather India. My only request to vegan businesses is that, please don’t go easy on polyurethane or other such micro fibers in vegan leather or silk, in which case original silk and leather will look like top-of-the-line always. We are all for eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle but we will not give up silk and leather for microfibers and plastics instead. Make sure, the vegan leather and silk are one hundred percent plant based. Reforest/afforest the deforested ranges that your industry derives raw material from. This is a very important angle we have to look into.

Always after silk, cotton is my immediate next choice. Sustainable, bio-degradable and suiting Indian climatic conditions, and 100% desi, Indian cotton is one more No.1 in the world. Absolute class when it comes to the yarns and weaves we have from different states of India. In foreign residence, climate may require me to go for manmade fibres but given a choice, my vote is always for pure silk/cotton. However from now on, it will be Vegan silk and Vegan leather. Let’s see.

Posted in Food For Soul

2019 was an exceptional year for me…

2019 was unlike any other.

In this one year,

I visited 38 ancient temples in Kumbakonam-Mayavaram belt with my school friends gang after some meticulous planning. In fact for Chitra Pournami that fell on a friday in April that year, I was sitting teary eyed in front of my ishta devta Mother Lalithambika in Thirumeeyachur for over 5 hrs reciting Lalitha Sahasranama at least for 3 times and then singing in chorus many bhajans along with my friends and other devotees. The temple was very crowded. We got our Mother Her favourite silver anklets. There is no way I can put into words the range of emotions that washed over me in those 5 hours. At that moment, I was ready to take leave of everyone and everything at the lotus feet of my Mother. From Brahadeshwara temple in Tanjore to Airawateshwara in Kumbakonam and rest, we covered vast grounds in mere 5 days in very hot April starting our days by 4 am and retiring to bed by 11 pm. All of us are middle aged women – friends from school days. We all have our health woes. Then what gave us the strength and will power to go on. I wonder whether I can ever repeat this feat in future.

Before embarking on Kumbakonam Mayavaram tour, I had already paid a visit to the temples of Kanchipuram. Of course, as Kanchi is stone’s throw away it is not a surprise still periodical darshan of Kamakshi and Ekambareshwara and Varadaraja temples is like tonic to me. This was with my Zumba gang.

Earlier with my school friends I had also visited the Chengleput temples – Eri Katha Ramar temple, Bhagavathy temple at Mel Malayanoor and Selva Lalithambika temple, which is not on tourist map.

Before it was time to leave for Doha, a short stop at Madurai on way to Kodai couldn’t be missed for a million dollars. Mother Meenakshi beckoned.

Of course, not before visiting our Kula Deivam in Arni, a must for us. We don’t do anything without getting Her approval.

A friend from Hyderabad flew down to Kerala and four of us friends were scouting the Athirapalli forests going up on the mountains until Valparai where we doubled down to get back to Thrissur the day after we had a hearty darshan of none other than Shri Guruvayurappan at Guruvayur and of course the unmissable Vadakkunathan (Shiva) and Bhagawati before I exited India this time from Kochi.

Guess I flew in and out of India at least half a dozen times. There was still time to go on a short holiday to Azerbaijan with my hubby and then later on to Turkey. Both were different kind that I enjoyed maximum, unaware that Turkey could be our last vacation in a long time to come.

Before Turkey, my zumba gang booked me into Tirumala Tirupathi tour. I was still in Doha when arrangements were made. Within a couple of days on landing, it was time to leave for Balaji darshan on the last day of Purattasi. Believe me or not, it took us not more than 1.5 hours in queue for a glorious darshan of Venkateshwara, the lord of the seven hills. As I neared the sanctum, all prayers were forgotten; with eyes watering for no reason, all that my heart was filled of was Balaji. None else. You called me without my asking, why. I kept asking. Nothing else mattered. I was there.

Before the end of the year, it was time for a Karnataka round trip covering the Mangalore coastal belt with my Doha wives gang. My second visit to Mookambika temple in Kollur, first to Sharadamba temple in Sringeri among others.

With Mookambika, this is my life experience. From 2001 I am doing this Kuthuvilakku Puja assuming Mother resides in jyothi swarup in the flame reciting Lalitha Sahasranama (which I am reciting since 1993). First I was using my mother’s tall brass diya Pancha muka one, now i have moved over to small and compact silver diya. I never believed I would be visiting these holy shrines at all shuttling between Qatar and India. My hubby wanted to just stay home whenever he visited. My friends and I weren’t bold enough to go on temple tours on our own. This we are doing in last 5-6 years only. But I always told Mother Goddess, even if i couldn’t visit Her, She was there in my thoughts and prayers always. Never made a conscious effort therefore for visiting Kollur but the train tickets were booked by a Doha friend of ours without even my knowledge for his wedding in Udipi. And that’s how I ended up at Mookambika unasked for.

During my first visit to Mookambika temple in 2010 i think along with my hubby, it was not very crowded. I stood with my eyes closed in front of my Mother. A priest walked to me and said, ‘hold this diya (a small size kuthuvilakku) and show the aarthi to Mother right from where you are.’ I couldn’t believe it. My hubby who stood with me understood in a moment what was happening to me, and the significance of the entire development. I lost sensation of my entire body right then and felt like floating. Felt extremely light like a feather, as the priest handed over to me a same 5 wick (pancha thiri) mini kuthuvilakku like I used in my Puja, encouraging me to do the aarthi. Mother was caressing me as I performed the aarthi in total stillness. I stood pretty close to Devi as much as it was allowed. At that moment I knew, my Mother heard me every single day, every single time. She honoured me the way unimaginable to human mind. I never once asked to visit Mookambika. She summoned me out of the blue to Her abode. I could be the smallest ant worthy of squashing, but She still got down to my level even if I could not lift myself up to Her level. I felt connected and only my husband knew and believed the same way I did. I related this to my closest friends who were stunned to hear this story.

This second time in Nov 2019, just as my foot touched on crossing over into the Mookambika temple doors in Kollur, I felt a shocking vibration course through my body. Like if you get a mild shock on touching a power point. Barely lasted for 30 seconds. I was here with my different gang of friends again. I wasn’t prepared for this welcome, but I knew at heart my Mother was waiting for my return. We had late night and morning darshans, double bonanza. Blessed to have a darshan of my Devi in Her golden chariot. Blessed to see Her in her golden lehenga. Just staying the night over very close to the temple was enough for me.

I kept asking Mother, why Ma. Kamakshi, Meenkashi, Lalithambika, Mookambika, Sharadhamba, Durga (Kateel and Patteeswaram), Abhirami, Garbarakshambika just to name a few avatars of Hers apart from Balaji darshan. Left out was Athivaradha and Arunachaleshwara temple at Thiruvannamalai (finished in fag end of 2018) and Chamundeshwari in Mysore (covered in January 2020). Why such an avalanche of blessed darshans.

So much has happened since. I flew back to India on Dec 1st, 2019. Never did I imagine that our life course was set to change forever and my return to Doha would become a big question mark. Not that I regret. I started 2020 too with a visit to my street Shiva temple for midnight zero hour darshan. Visit to Kapaleeshwara temple and Mundagakanni Amma temple very regular. Even Navashakthi Vinayaka temple in Luz. My favourite is Devastana Balaji temple run by TTD in T. Nagar.

A complete roller coaster of emotions since December end but all is well that ends well. I now understand the significance of the events of 2019. Life has since given me back to back promotions 😀

Sometimes when I pray only tears stream down my eyes. There is no way I can explain this to others. I just know that my Mother Raja Rajeshwari is hanging on to every single word of mine. All the more it is important for me now to be more responsible and cut down on the negative things. But then we are human. To err is human.

During this Navratri I only wish to record that, Mother listens to every heart. There are subtle ways She lets us know that She is listening. I got married as an orphan. Today if i am at least in this station in life, it is not without Her guidance and blessings. Before my wedding, everyday I would be before the Durga in Valleeshwara temple, Mylapore and Karpagambal in Mylapore. Mundagakanni Amma. Not to leave out our street Renuka Parameshwari. Making jaggery pongal for Mundagakanni for years, decades now. Used to make within the temple precincts but age has caught up with me now. My energy level is low so I now make it at home and take Her the offering. Also for the local Devi temples here that are Kaval deivam for this locality.

In january, I don’t know why I rushed a visit to our Kuladeivam and then to make pongal for Mundagakkanni amma and our Kaval deivams. Normally I do it in Aadi and if i am there in Thai month, if time permits I do it. Yearly once, a ritual. But this year, I finished my annual ritual well in advance in Jan. After corona, there is hardly scope for the ritual now.

She is the Mother for the motherless. Just surrender. Without questioning. More accepting Her direction in total faith. That’s what I do.

Used to attend Varahi homams once upon a time for over 2 years every Amavasya. From then on, I tell myself, ‘Vaa endru azhaithaal vaaradhiruppalo Varahi.’ I take Her everywhere with me. She is my courage. She is my strength. I pray with Her to kill my self pity even after all these years. I am on my way to become a grandma. Mother has more than compensated me over years. I acknowledge Her direct hand in my life, yet as a lowly human form, all I can think of is about myself. My world is very small. How I wish I could break this jinx and become less self centered.

Navratri to me is awakening of these powerful emotions. I have a different kind of relationship with my Mother Goddess. I have arguments, I call Her ‘vadi podi’ – I don’t know if anyone will understand this equation between us.

To my Mother I pray for the gentlest heart that can understand others and bring happiness to everyone. To recite the Lalitha Sahasranama in every birth of mine and be able to visit Thirumeeyachur and Kapali temple in Mylapore in every janam of mine. I don’t think i will break the birth cycle in another 1000 years 😀 To have the same family every birth.

I think I prayed very much for same things in my previous janam. Just an intuition. In every single Devi temple I stepped into in 2019, i managed to recite Lalitha Sahasranama. I wish I could die with Mother’s name on my lips even as I chant Her nama.

Mother exists for those who believe in Her. Sometimes all I long for is to keep my head in Her lap and go to sleep forever and never wake up, in content and peace.

Posted in Food For Soul

Count Your Blessings

It is a blessing

To love more, hate less

To be always the sunshine of someone’s life

To be the sunshine of your family and friends

Never the party pooper

Never the naysayer

Never the heart breaker

Its a blessing

To be able to laugh aloud and shrug off situations

To have a short term memory of unpleasant days

To be bestowed with the gift of the ability to erase and rewrite

To learn and unlearn smart

To be able to simply move on

To not be able to carry grudges

To not be able to carry the burden of prolonged anger and resentment

To not overtly hate

To not breed lovelessness

To not make others lives miserable

To not alienate from ties easily

To not dig for a reason to pick trouble

To not become the prime reason for frictions

To not initiate unpleasantness

To not propagate animosity, enmity

To not find a scapegoap for our misgivings

To not find excuses for lapses

To not want to spoil things

But to be the healer,

The harbinger of better times

The usherer of happy tides,

To be able to build relationships and cordiality

Not break nests, break chains,

To be able to forgive and forget

To not be vengeful and brooding…

To focus on what really matters

To restore and maintain the precious precarious balance,

To ignore and consign garbage to where it belongs…

It is a blessing

To be able to see the black as well as the white

To be able to see the grains between black and white

To be able to see the pluses as also the minuses

To weigh both the good and bad

To be able to look at our mirror image and find horror there

To have the ability to laugh at ourselves,

To spread infectious laughter,

To come to terms with reality

To live in reality

To owe only good times and happy memories to all

To never be associated with ugly arguments and spats

To be never connected to bad vibes

To not court controversies,

To not be feared,

To be approachable,

To instill confidence in others,

To ooze with spirited confidence,

To build lives,

To do something wonderful to someone that cannot be repaid in cash or kind,

To be able to trust readily

To lead with actions

To be cheerful and in charge of situations

To strive to make your world happy

To make your circle smile than fret

To be that solid pillar of strength,

To be the support system to the vulnerable and weak

To become the agony aunt with handy solutions

To be the problem solver not the mischief maker

To become the shock absorber

To not shift responsibility

To not lie

To be reliable and trustworthy

To be the giver always, not the taker

To not play the victim card at drop of hat

To be free of apathy

To not blow things out of proportions,

To minimize damages/damage control,

To save relationships,

To owe up to one’s responsibilities and slips,

To be willing to rectify, correct

To not be just politically correct, on paper,

To be imperfect,

To make mistakes

To go back and redo,

To apologize

To love more than hurt

To give more than seek

To grin and bear pain

To not transfer our pain and sufferings to others knowingly or unknowingly

To not bring down everyone with our gloom and mood swing

To have this uncanny sense of justice

To have strong intuitions,

To be impulsive,

Still to know the right from wrong,

To reason and dig for truth

To not tarnish images

To not character assassinate

To not want to punish and revenge

To not want to teach a lesson

To not seek remedy to every situation

To resist playing the moral highground

To be aware of sensitivities

To put ourselves in others’ shoes

To respect sensitivities

To respect minor dominions and opinions

To include than divide

To put forth your point without hurting a soul

To have no hidden agenda,

To have real relationships not fake

To live by principle of trust and honesty

To underplay tensions and overplay joyfulness

To infuse the world with loads of positivity

To rise over pettiness

To be broadminded and generous

To not be calculative about every penny, every action

To not prioritize our self interest

To not give in to vanity of the mind,

To resist displaying the ‘holier than thou’ attitude

To talk less, do more

To prove by actions not words,

To not seek for approval in others,

To owe up to our deeds and actions,

To owe up to failures,

To take rejections in our stride,

To accept and agree and accede,

To not slow poison relationships

To not make your environment toxic

To not plunge your world into despair

To not be the reason for anyone’s unhappiness,

To not dull the otherwise cheerful world,

To be grateful and sincere

To instill hope and cheer,

To not overthink and overplay things

To not agonize over with jealousy and envy

To not magnify petty things for fault finding

To not be accusatory

To live and let live,

To want to step back and allow others take lead

To reciprocate affection and love and respect in equal measure

To value and respect the dignity of every living soul.

It is a blessing

To stay impartial, unbiased

To keep an open mind,

To be willing to change,

To be reasonable, logical

To be compassionate, helpful

To give without anticipating anything in return

To be not in haste to jump to conclusions and harsh judgments

To factor in the odd and the negligible

To be tolerant and nourish lives

To become the haven or sanctuary for the trusted

To be warm and receptive

To hold the gift of a soft heart

To be moved easily to tears

To not self portray oneself as Mother Theresa

To harbour self-doubts

To acknowledge we are the very devil incarnations

To think the best of others and worst of ourselves

To believe that to err is human,

To reflect, self introspect,

To ask for forgivance

To repent

To feel remorseful, regretful

To feel the shame and be killed with shame

To be strong and unflinching in character

To have that strength of character

To have the virtue of noble deeds

To be bold and beautiful in heart and mind,

To wear your integrity on sleeve

Yet to be flexible and adaptable wthout a compromise of virtues

To not be weak and petty

To lack the strength to say a big ‘no’ in face

To be naive and gullible at the same time,

To have a childlike innocence

To be taken for a ride

To never take anyone for a ride

To never be the smartalec primed on one-man-up-ship

To be free of crooked thinking

Not to have a manipulative mind

To not want to win every argument

To not want to prove anything to anyone

To resist to prove and disprove

To resist to construct and deconstruct

To extricate oneself from peoples and situations

To liberate oneself from narrow constrictions

To feel the power of goodness in everything you rub

The feel the grace of everything beautiful and profound

To remain neutral and calm

To remain subjective over objective

To be empathetic over sympathetic

To be spiritual over religious….

Posted in Food For Soul

Signature

Why did these geniuses want to leave their signatures everywhere?

Some time ago, Kanda Shashti Kavasam sung for Lord Muruga aka Subrahmanya, Lord Shiva’s second son was eye of a controversy. Every Tamil child grows up singing this ‘Kavasam’ and in fact, there is a scientific opinion on the popular Thamizh prayer that, the nuanced pronunciations in the lyrics can keep off Alzheimer’s, for the tongue twisters they are. The same is also said to be true of Sanskrit slokas and mantras such as Vishnu Sahasranama, Lalitha Sahasranama for instance, that are ages ancient. Repeated chanting of these can do wonders to your memory and delay aging process of the mind.

What caught my attention about the Kavasam uproar was that, how Bala Deva Raya signed the Kavasam composed by him at Thiruchendur, one of the six of the ‘Aru Padai Veedu’ – the shrines devoted to Lord Muruga throughout Tamil Nadu. ‘Bala deva rayan pagarndhadhai’ is the verse with which the devout signs off the Kavasam in his name that he first recited in the seaside Murugan temple famous for its Skanda Shashti celebrations during which time Lord Muruga rains arrows at Padmasura, the asura (demon) king, and the enactment continues to this day in the beach adjoining the temple drawing tens of thousands of Muruga bhakts throughout India for the annual occasion.

Hanuman Chalisa is similarly signed off by Tulsi Das.

Every keertan by Thyagaraja, one of the ‘trimurthis’ of Carnatic classical is signed by composer Thyagaraja with invariably the closing verse ‘thyagarajanutha.’

Which made me think, how nicely and intelligently these great men have copyrighted their renderings in bygone eras!

Let me add more names that come to my mind as I listen to devotional music.

I have not observed this trademark practice in Thevaram, Thiruvasagam, Thirupugazh, Thiruppavai etc. Nor have I picked up anything of this kind in Meera bhajans etc. To my knowledge, few doyens who reigned supreme in the classical music arena have patented their compositions as did some from northern India with their Samskrit compositions – in their own unique way! Clever!

Just found this curious! None seems capable of resisting the lure of vanity! Not all of us want to go down into the oblivion without making sure that we will be remembered forever! I find this signature similar to an artist leaving his/her initials in the masterpiece he/she creates that may survive to eternity. Great kings etched their names into stone masonry on temple granite walls. Some emperors got engraved their vain glory to posterity on their marble tombs. Some in history did not have a chance to leave a signature, yet they remain in our psyche, not having been banished to obscurity. Time has always done justice to these heroes be them scientists or architects or medicos or mathematicians or literary geniuses. Or even noble princes. That is how we have Vedas, Upanishads to Yogas in our midst until today. We remember Sushrutha to Bhaskara. Valmiki to Agasthya. Some signs have been erased by invaders and marauders, some signs did not exist at all, and some survived the onslaughts to reveal to us the history as it unfolded through centuries.

Recently, a time capsule was buried under earth during the ground breaking ceremony for Ram temple at Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi in Ayodhya. That got me thinking and that is how i tied Kanda Shashti and other things to each other. Just connected the dots and found it all absolutely amazing. I shall keep looking for more signatures in whatever literary composition or sanskrit sloka or mantra i may come across for a telltale sign left by the author.

Finally I have this confession to make: i am good at nothing. A mere passerby. And I may be completely wrong.

Posted in Food For Soul

Unfair & Lovely

Lever is dropping the word ‘fair’ from its fastest moving fairness cream brand in the Indian market, ‘Fair & lovely.’ And I have a confession to make: it is something i can’t do without either. My tube of Fair & lovely is really like my foundation/moisturizer that I wear whenever I go out (MRP < Rs.100/-) That is my make-up maximum. Otherwise at home, I use natural Ayurvedic moisturizers or skin nourishing lotions. The foreign brands that I have experimented with are Body Shop and Loreal (not in India) but i have slowly come out of these. None of these are fairness creams. Meant only for skin maintenance/repairs. Basic minimum. Why I use Fair & lovely is that, it is non-greasy and gives a smooth finishing comparable to or even better than any expensive foreign brand foundation that one may use (which may cost over 1 k or 2k). Mine is cheap and best and non-allergic. I hate Lever company but I like this product of theirs. Vanity is not healthy but wanting to look crisp must be okay. I appreciate Kangana’s stand and adore her uprightness and non-materialistic attitude. Nandita is another classic black beauty. Tamil cinema has had dusky women like Saritha, Suhasini, Sujatha for leading ladies. The fairest ones from Madras like Vaijayanthimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Jaya Prada and Sri Devi went to Bollywood rejected by Tamil filmdom (except for Sri Devi and Vaiji)! That must tell you something…

Never owned a mascara or foundation in my life, never will. It is good to know I have like minded friends from school who share similar values. Have never owned a make-up set. May be lipsticks and eye pencils in the loose and face compacts. That completes beauty routine (for parties only) for some of us.

Many of us go for facials. In my case, I started with visiting beauty salons very late in my life – after my 36th year. I go for mostly gold facials once or twice an year that are turmeric based. In India, we get herbal/Ayurvedic facials which is our greatest advantage. These can bring a glow to our face without making us appear fairer. The de-tan is natural. I don’t think removing the tan is by itself bad. It’s like removing the top soil grime, nothing more. It can’t make you permanently fairer. Maximum a shade lighter, that is all. But I learn, there are now expensive toxic methods to completely change/replace your skin, if you so wish. Yes, you can buy somewhat permanent fairness these days (that may last upto years). I can name a few Bollywood heroines and Tamil Nadu women politicians who have supposedly gone for such skin treatments. This is the reason some salons have cosmetic dermatologists in their payroll.

While condemning the clamour for fairness, we have to know the difference: it is nothing wrong in wanting to look good and presentable. Neat and nice. Most of us middle-class and middle-age women are for like reparation and skin maintenance only. Our age demands it.

Even for hair, so far I have not resorted to chemical dyes. Only the natural henna. Most of my friends are like me. India again has the home turf advantage here. We have shampoos that are non-soap based. Completely natural. (I am limiting myself to skin colour in this post).

More than that, any accentuation to fairness is vain and distasteful. I don’t even attempt it because I believe in myself first. I don’t want to look paper white like South East Asians or Arabs or Europeans or Americans because I am not them. I am Indian, and I am a Madarasi, a Tamil, and I am proudly dusky. Someone married me for what I was, what I am. And that someone is a responsible man, not just any tom-dick-harry. Like in my case, for most girls, skin colour plays no significant role in our life as far as India is concerned. I graduated, got a decent job, married – all in my chocolaty brown skin. Briefly for a while, my skin colour was refered to as ‘wheatish’ in my Kundali (horoscope) around the time of my marriage. Never before or after that.

So that is why I was pretty much offended that the Fair & Lovely commercials showed as if we women got anything and everything done capitalizing on our looks and gender. Which is so much untrue. It is an insult to our very womanhood, this downplaying of our hardly won battles and success stories. Such a belittling way to portray women. The ads need a tweak first. Their grand lies do more harm than flatter.

what a damaging ad.

The south is pretty comfortable in dusky tone. Let north Indians stop calling us Kalia. The north easterners are called ‘chinkis’ by north Indians as well (for their resemblance to chinese).

But fair or dusky, I do have the habit of rubbing a lemon slice in my face regularly to de-tan naturally. We use haldi (turmeric meant for grooming purpose; this haldi is bit different from the haldi we use in our kitchen) and chandan (sandal paste) and coconut oil for skin toning and improvement down south.

I believe strongly that we all have to look and feel beautiful inside out. Insides first. Physical workouts are the best way to beautiful self. That by itself takes care of all our beauty concerns. Physical stamina and fitness will automatically radiate to our skin and face. Similarly if we are happy than brooding, that reflects in our face as well. This kind of radiance one can spot readily in newly married women, pregnant ladies etc., for instance.

Next comes our food habits. Vegetarian food habits delay the ageing process. Infuse lots of fresh greens, vegetables and fruits and wholegrains, pulses and nuts in your everyday diet and see the difference. While this may have nothing to do with your skin colour, you can notice a telltale welcome change in your skin tone. After all that, there is the gene factor.

When the foundation deep inside is firmly rooted, the superstructure will be good, in my opinion.

I am always for a healthy sheen and skin. I can’t believe some women spend obscene sums on chemical beauty and make-up products. Mostly these are other Asian women from Middle East and Far East Asia who indulge so much in frivolous superficial beauty. You can never catch an Indian woman spending such indecent sums on vanity – except for in some rare cases of north Indian women. Kerala women like it best to appear with coconut oil dripping from their faces hahaha! Tamil Nadu slightly better than that! But I love and respect the fact that they couldn’t care less!

I guess Indian women invest more in precious gems, gold, diamonds and in silks when it comes to clothes. And real branded accessories that are worthy of the price. I have seen such an elitist shopping interest in our NRI women abroad. Our tastes are eclectic.

Times may be changing even for us Indian women but certain things ingrained in us by our grandmas hardly leave us so easily. We are still a very traditional community adhering to our own set customs and values.

As someone who never used a chemical soap for the first ten to twelve years of her life (besan for skin and shikakhai for hair), I can vouch for the healthy effects of our natural beautifying ingredients right from our kitchen shelves. These are tips passed over generations. I still follow the ritual of soaking in coconut oil head to foot twice or thrice a week, at least for an hour before shower. Rain or shine. I believe this is the best natural anti-ageing treatment that we can give ourselves within the four walls of our home. And it costs very minimum. Only the pure cold pressed unbranded coconut oil from our nearby farms (in India).

Ayurveda has natural nourishing beauty products that can improve skin tone and de-tan us without the harmful side-effects of imported chemical brands. To my knowledge, many Indian women and beauty salons in India make good use of these.

I figure that, women spend more on vanity when they lack the sense of security and self-confidence. Also when they may have forgotten their roots and tradition and are westernized. Indian women are well placed generally and may still be culturally oriented. Well accomplished careerwise, well qualified and settled early in life. My view is that, therefore our women don’t need to look to hooking men or retaining men or even dating men! By 25-26 we are mothers already, taken. We start our lives pretty soon. Delayed marriages are happening of late in India, even so our women are extremely smart. Very few accord extraordinary importance to grooming, at least down south. When there is solid substance, why do you need any other crutch. In south India, being coffee brown is natural. No big deal. I come from the land that gave the world the Sundar Pitchai of Google, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Indira Nooyi of World Pepsico. What role our Indian skin colour played in the global success of our sons and daughters?

India ladies: beauty with brains. Both Mars Mission rocket scientists as well as successive Miss World/Miss Universe title winners. With the brown skin.

Prejudices exist everywhere. In Arab countries, we cannot even pronounce our Hindu Gods’ names in public. Cannot openly pray/worship. Is n’t this far worse than racism. What ethical rights Islamic nations have in even condemning racism in any part of the world. Pot calling the kettle black.

Before talking so much about ‘Black lives matter’ – let every nation on earth turn secular and democratic first. Black Lives Matter or Islamophobia merit discussion in some societies only when they reciprocate 100% equally and justly whatever freedom they expect to enjoy in open secular democratic countries.

Within India, as I said, the distinction is there between the north and south. In fact, i have faced racism more in my own country whenever I have come across north Indians, over foreigners abroad. Of course, this kind of racist remarks have been mostly harmless. Either that, or we down south are thick-skinned.

Having said that, I like to feel beautiful inside out and have always considered myself beautiful! I don’t need certification from anyone on that! Beauty also lies in the eyes of the beholder. To groom well effortlessly is my mantra. I mean, to groom decent. In India, i feel no need to use even perfumes that block our sweat glands! India is airy lol! Even when it comes to clothing, i prefer desi yarns and weaves and natural vegetable dyes. Ethnic motifs, ethnics clothes. A sari is the most beautiful and sexiest fashion statement in the world! If women are gifts, then the sari is the best gift wrap indeed! I feel most beautiful when I drape my sari.

BE ORIGINAL, BE BEAUTIFUL, WEAR YOUR ATTITUDE IN YOUR SLEEVE. BE JUST YOU. Most importantly , do not become cheap imitation of the west. Music or clothes or food or culture, uphold your native heritage. Stand out. Let your individuality do the talking. You just don’t become ‘them.’

Feminism is oversold and so-much cliched. I am NOT a feminist. I am me. I don’t consider it wrong to want to look good. As I said, any obsession with this beauty concept is though unhealthy. Fixation on these distractions will waylay us on our journey to reach our true goals in life.

I remember my granny saying, ‘Karuppe azhagu, kandhale ruchi’ which translates into ‘black is the most beautiful and the (browned) crust (in the pan) is always the tastiest (in food).’

Hahaha!

Actually, i don’t even feel the need to justify or defend my brown skin that I am too very comfy in.

proudly dusky! black is beautiful!

Posted in Food For Soul

Positivity Vs Negativity.

Positivity Overload reminds me of the Emperor’s new clothes. Excuse me.

Positivity is overplayed a lot of late. Negativity bashed ever since Corona virus became the topic of our conversations. One group flushing with positivity felt that any corona news was more toxic than the virus itself. The sanest way to stay alive was by shying away from mass or main stream media as well as social media. It is true to some extent, that fake news are doing rounds. We are all adults who can filter news as to what is real and what is fake. If it is indeed fake, we are free to dismiss it and move on. If it is real, we can still deal with it given our resources. We can learn from experiences or we can simply mute/block/delete data. As simple as that.

What is positivity to these faint-hearted. It is banishing reality, living in denial. Life is not an odyssey of good times alone. Positivity 100% is as much toxic as 100% negative outlook. In fact, it is the polar opposite. Staying optimistic acknowledging reality is a different scenario though.

In most cases, the negatively portrayed people are talking from their experiences. Theirs is cautious optimism, carefully cultivated in the face of adverse reality. To those who have been shock absorbers for a life time, it is natural to indulge in risk analysis before taking a step forward. In fact, the skepticism gets so ingrained in you that building of trust takes it own sweet time. But once the confidence is gained, the trust so built can be unshakable.

Negative portrayers are responsible people who weigh pros and cons. Their negative outlook is reserved to their closest circle, not for all and sundry. This is one tightly-wrung highly stressed bunch.

Overt positivity on the other hand is a privilege some are born with. Mostly the positivity proclaimers never are in the driver seat. These people delegate responsibility. Responsibility thus diluted, shirked or passed on to next level risk takers such as mostly spouse/family, the supposedly positive outlook ones can afford to stay upbeat retaining their composure. Stress level is negligible.

The same positive group also sometimes may miss out the everyday negativity they may be subjecting their friends and family to, with their (un)solicited

  • opinion on superficialities such as clothes, etc
  • opinion on others choices
  • opinion on others faith and beliefs
  • forcing their way/opinion on things/issues
  • hijacking conversations, deciding conversations, steering conversations
  • never self-doubting, projecting and oozing 100% confidence
  • wanting to have the last word in every conversation
  • believing the best in themselves and the worst in others

Negative outlook group at the best or at the worst, are sincere and ultra cautioners. . If you notice closely, the caution is for saving someone from something ugly and therefore never intentionally cruel. Theirs may be constructive criticism. Negative people still may not single out anyone for scathing attacks. The negatively projected are risk takers who are willing to try untested waters before anyone decides to take the plunge. The negative minded know their limitations and are super-conscious of reality checks. Lacking a safety cushion unlike the privileged, the dooms day prophets are aware of consequences and therefore plan ahead. They are listeners first. They seek clarifications for doubts. They don’t assume things and never take things for granted. Limiting damages becomes their utmost priority as they count in the risk factor. If it can help, they share their stories to trusted circle. Well intended, these cautiously optimistic unfortunately get labeled in return as ‘sinks.’

You may never catch a negatively portrayed friend talking you out of your party dress for wrong colours or whatever. The negative group has in all probability walked the difficult path. They have their priorities right. They know what matters and what is frivolous. For all their supposed negativity therefore, the negatively portrayed friends know what to vote up and what to vote down. Their negativity is all about prudence, never a judgment.

You may be a positive person totally if

  • you have not stood in a PDS queue an entire afternoon
  • you have not stood for hours for school admission or university admission for your kids in hot sun
  • you have not taken a driving test in India
  • you have not commuted regularly by city bus
  • you have not tended to your inlaws or cooked for your inlaws or have had your inlaws at home with you
  • you do not entertain/feed friends and family at home
  • you do not look after others kids/babysit
  • you do not cook/clean/iron on your own
  • you have not lived life without a maid/driver/cook
  • you have always had someone to run these aforesaid errands for you
  • you are of the opinion that you can pay/substitute for humanitarian/physical works/services with monetary compensation
  • you have never worked for a single day in your life (in the case of housewives) reporting for duty to someone hierarchically your superior, waiting with bated breath every month end for your salary to get posted.
  • you downplay humanitarian/physical services
  • you have not missed trains/flights and have been holed up in railway stations/airports for hours/days
  • you do not share equal responsibilities with your spouse economic/familial or whatever
  • you are kept in the dark on your exact family status
  • you are not a decision maker in your family finances/businesses
  • your spouse asks you to mind your own business
  • you have not mingled with Indian crowds
  • you have never been a part of the general janata living the average life of a fellow Indian citizen
  • or in general YOU HAVE NOT STEPPED OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE ever in life…

Such a wonderfully positive feeling group is always 100% politically correct. On the record. To the dot. Very diplomatic. High up in their ivory towers, the cautiously optimistic people to them will always seem the sinks.

Well, the negative ones hardly bother. Otherwise, we won’t belong where we do today. For every step forward, we turn to look back two steps if we have trodden the right path, taken the right step. We value suggestions and welcome wise counseling. We have dealt with disappointments and failures. Most of all we do not live a life of mirage for others. We live a life for ourselves. Since we have had no pressure to impress anyone in the first place, and we dare with our negative approach, we are real and brutally honest.

There is hidden negativity in most of those who think they are positive people. What the heck, that is hardly my agenda.

The negatively stereotyped refuse to count the chicks before they are hatched. They wait to see the colours at the end of the rainbow. They do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. That is the final word.

Posted in Food For Soul

Little Women.

my little women were women of character and substance.

Today is Mother’s day. We have never celebrated or observed anything like this in India until say some last 5 to 10 years when this has become fashionable!

So I wished my aunt and my MIL – and I am writing up this only because I have ample time on my hands !!!

But I do want to put in one point here.

You don’t have to biologically have kids. Your parents need not have to be biologically yours. I say this because, to me my Chithi and Chithappa meant everything. More over my biological parents. My chithappa is no more. My chithi is 75. Even now my biological mother holds a power over me that I don’t deny. The moment I think of her, my eyes water. I can’t go about her school in the heart of the city without breaking down even in public. She died in 1982. She had a host of health issues. She worked until the last day of her life. She was teaching deaf and dumb middle school girls. There are bits and pieces of her memories. From the tapes left behind by her (TDK cassettes recorded with bollywood and tamil songs and bhajans) that i managed to save until 1990s…. and from what others told me about her, i have been forever reconstructing my mom in my memory.  I have one of her tattered saris and I have her handwritten ‘Notes of lessons’ that she prepared for her teaching class. These are like gold and diamond to me. I am almost 52 now. I still amazingly remember my mother’s fragrance – that of Vicco turmeric. I have lost her voice though. Or perhaps i vaguely remember the voice. I don’t have a single photograph taken with my mom. Or may be it is there in some relatives’ albums….

My chithi and chithappa who were childless for many years were like my very own parents even when my mother was around.

Together with my Paatti (granny – maternal grandma), the three women – mother and two daughters still fill my mind’s eye with their beautiful and unforgettable images.

I remember coming home from school in those sunshine days before my world fell through.

My patti (granny) would be keeping evening tiffin ready with coffee. Home brewed after grinding fresh coffee beans at home. From puris to uppurndai to adai and masala dosa, bajji, bonda, my granny’s evening tiffins were very popular that sometimes even my mom’s and chithi’s friends came home for her food! Her famous delicacies were our Diwali sweets: laddoo and jaangri to wheat halwa and kaju katli.

My mom and my chithi would return home with their school bags around 3.45 or 4. My chithi also worked as a teacher. The sisters commuted to their schools by bus.

I and my sister would come home from our schools.

My little cousins – one son and one daughter who were my chithis kids were looked after by my patti. They were not of school going age still.

My chithi would be getting cakes and biscuits for me and my sis from a bakery.My mom would rush in to take her niece and nephew in her lap to pet and spoil them.

We all would sit around and share the day’s stories nibbling the evening snacks.

Few more hours left in the evening for the menfolk to return home. My chithi’s family lived in the next street. My patti cooked everything for the family and packed tiffin boxes. My chithi left with the kids always by 6 pm.

Happiest days of my life.

All the three women I used to call ‘Amma.’ Or simply ‘Ma.’

My chithi and chithappa gave me away in ‘Kanyadhan’ in my wedding in the place of my parents. I married as an orphan.

As a woman with a son almost in marriageable age, I realize now how generous my mother-in-law must have been all those years back.

Too many good people made my present life possible. I will never forget that.

On Mother’s day, the unselfish, unconditional love of these ladies is what I remember most.

I think I have written something more about my biological mom in some other posts – i will tell here of a couple of incidents that define for me my mother even at this age. (May be a repeat).

My mother worked for a catholic institutions that had hostels for the deaf, dumb and blind girls upto SSLC. My mom taught 6th to 8th standard deaf and dumb girls. For Diwali, almost all girls went home picked up by parents. My mom used to take special permission from Mother Superior to get home the girls left behind in the hostel. Most of our Diwalis were celebrated invariably with these deaf and dumb girls at home (sorry that is how we used to call them then. i want to stick with the old lingo). My mom used to gift them bangles, new clothes etc and went back with them to school after Diwali.

My first 12 to 13 years were spent going to the convent for quarterly, half yearly and annual hols and then for their sports day, school day etc., along with my sister and playing with these girls (as equals always). I have this memory of watching sack race for the blind girls every year. I remember the class rooms vividly. Not more than a dozen girls in each class. If a teacher could be 5 min late, the girls had to stand in hot sun for 1 hour as punishment, so my mother was always punctual to work.

I learned of the seriousness of my mother’s health conditions belatedly after her demise. We never thought she could die for that. My parents saved and invested well in the short time of their lives and left us handsome income for even today that we daughters enjoy. They lived a very simple but satisfied life. Not at all ambitious. I remember my mother planting 7 coconut trees Ceylon variety, 1 mango tree, 1 neem tree, 1 drumstick tree, rose and jasmine plants etc, all around our new home that my parents built. She had a terrace garden brimming with flowering plants that she watered everyday immediately after returning from school. The rose plant lived for years after her, blooming with a dozen roses any single day. I remember the big gardening scissors my mother held in her hands. Strangely my mom trained me in cooking and cleaning in those young years. I didn’t know that God was preparing me then for taking over her role shortly.

A second incident is that, a christian girl by name Rosy who had passed SSLC and engaged to marry someone, came home one day with my mother from their school. She had no home to stay having been evicted from hostel. She was an orphan. She stayed with us in our house for 1-2 months until she got married. I remember an argument my mother had with her fiancee. He was like, Rosy was lucky to have found him. My mother roared up like mother hen and made it clear to the boy that Rosy was inferior in no way. My mother threw back the sympathy at the groom’s face and was very proud of Rosy, her ward.

A third one, our house maid was Kanniamma, a teenage girl. My mom got her married getting her all her household needs and saris and footing her marriage expenses. Kanniamma married an autowala. My parents attended her wedding. I tagged along too! On my mother’s demise, Kanniamma’s husband printed my mother’s name in their auto ‘Susheela.’ They named their first born daughter ‘Susheela’ too – my mom passed away soon after their wedding.

My mother touched many lives. I wish she had lived longer enough for us daughters to have known her better. My Thatha (grandfather) always called her ‘his son.’ My mother was a working woman by 1965. Far ahead of her peers in many ways. Very religious, spiritual. Never missed a puja. If my Thatha could be late from his meditation in Ramakrishna Mission mutt, my mother would rush there and get him back. Father driving the scooter with daughter (my mother) as the pillion rider would make our neighbours smile good heartedly! My mom was overtly attached to her parents. More attached to them than with us really.

My chithi in contrast is quietness personified. If my mother was hurricane, my chithi is like a cool gentle soothing breeze. My mother looked after her sister like a daughter. In my mother’s time, i never heard my chithi talk aloud.

Memories of my loving family bring tears to my eyes. Our happy world crashed that fateful day in July 1982 and our lives were never the same again. Broken.

I lost a dozen closest relatives between 1982 to 1993.  Including both my parents and my dear grand parents. Uncles and aunts from father’s side who were our support system. That eleven year period was sheer hell.

That hell was made a lot bearable by my school friends who are proud moms themselves now.

I have to thank my friends moms who all lavished their motherly love on me when I lost my mother. Even my school teachers.

My mom and I went to same school. My mom was popular in my school too that the school management sent 2 teachers including my class teacher to garland her on behalf of the school when she passed away.

I don’t know how I crossed the ’80s alive and in one single piece. My chithi and chithappa took over my parents’ role.

My chithi and chithappa taught me a new meaning to love and kindness and generosity and magnanimity. My MIL taught me how to stay strong and be that pillar of support for everyone.

My chithi chithappa’s advice to me always has been like, ‘be patient, tolerant, flexible, keep your faith in god, your day will come.’ Never did they encourage me once to badmouth my in laws or husband. I now realize what a gift it is to have such a wise set of (foster) parents. I am seeing mothers spoiling daughters lives as well on another side.

I have written little of many precious memories of my mom that I still hold on to. If this is one page, then I can fill up a 100 or 1000 pages about my chithi. I am what I am because of her.

These women are truly the Devis of my life. Mother Goddess Shakthi lives in each and every one of them. I see my Goddess in all these women. COMPASSION, EMPATHY. This is what maketh a mother out of a woman. This is what I can say. The innate sense to understand a third person’s hunger and pain and trauma. Feeding someone anticipating their hunger in advance. This is what it takes to be a mother. Only a mother keeps asking always, ‘have you eaten?’ My hubby and son keep complaining that I always ask first and foremost whether they have eaten! That eating to me by my family is most important! I can’t eat if they don’t eat. That’s what i guess makes me a mother.

The Little Women of my life, saw beyond the exteriors. They’re the kind of women who looked deep into one’s soul. Nothing superficial moved them or moulded them. They were/are REAL women of substance. Women with kindred heart. Women who charted beautiful paths of life filled with love, hope, faith and respect for family and friends.

My patti – not to mention the least… Watching her daughter die before her eyes… My patti, the true mother, never recovered from the shock. How many lunch packs she used to keep ready? Lunch for my amma, appa, chithi, chithappa, myself, my sister. Cooked 24 hours a day. Summers were ‘vathal’ times when she pick;ed mangoes etc., and dried fryums in hot sun. I haven’t come across a better cook than my granny in all these years. Some of her dishes I remember them astonishingly with their unique taste.

Sometimes out of nowhere I long to meet these woman again and bring back the magic of those days….

My chithi has had double mastectomy. She is a cancer survivor for last 25 years. She was teaching board 10 kids even as she went for chemotherapy and radiation in 1996 after which she would go direct to her school as she was teaching board exam batch. She has also since had double knee replacement surgery, neck surgery. Yet I have not heard her complain of anything – she took care of my grandparents and her own in-laws in their death beds. My chithi and chithappa cremated both sets of their parents taking care of them in their old age through death and disease. Physical service they rendered!

My chithi chithappa’s house was always a sanctuary for everyone. Food service to guests 24 hours. Nobody left our house without getting their belly full first. Even postman may expect to be served with a coffee or tea! Such a hospitality is now becoming rare. Not rich people at all. But they paid fees for many poor students and served home made butter milk in liters in front of temples. Extremely pious and god fearing.

I don’t think I will see anyone like this generation again in this materialistic, ungrateful, selfish world.

They’re my own Little Women. My patti, amma, chithi. Most generous. Kindest. Most sensible at the same time. My granny used to read both Dina Thanthi (tamil) and the Hindu (english) newspapers with equal flourish even in those years! She was a 5th standard drop-out. One of the chitchats between the women i remember is : discussing the Warren Report on reading it. My mom owned a copy. I don’t know where it went. Another was a tamil novel: Washingtonnil thirumanam. Based on a tamil hindu wedding in Washington in the 1970s. My mom bound together into thick volumes, great tamil novels that were published in tamil weeklies in those days. After her, the books were borrowed one by one by neighbours never to be returned. Kalki and Jayakanthan and Lakshmi were some of the authors she read.

One snippet: no iron box in our house. My patti used to fold the starched cotton saris of my amma and chithi and keep under bed. So neat would they be! Other memories: baskets of mangoes held by my patti, ghee rice with family, beach with family, card games, carrom board … tv had no role in our lives.

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

PS: Are our moms our guardian angels ?

I don’t know about that. I used to dream of my mom until 1993 when I got married. Then she abruptly stopped appearing in my dreams.

In 2003, I visited my sis in Mumbai with family. My sis by now had 2 sons. My mom appeared in my dreams with her school bag neatly draped in her regular voile sari. The sari and the school bag i distinctly remember. She told me, she must leave. This she says looking at me and my son, and my sister and her sons. It’s like someone is waiting for her impatiently to take her somewhere. She said a proper goodbye and left, never to appear in my dreams ever since. After 1993, she visited me only once in 2003 in that early morning dream in Mumbai. May be for others this may sound fictional or hallucinationatory, only those of us who believe in miracles will believe what I believe in. I am sure, my mother would not have had a punar janma (rebirth). She must be a shining star now in the sky up above me.

 

Posted in Food For Soul

Why Me?

Do we ever ask God, ‘why me’ when She showers on us Her choicest blessings.

Why ask ‘why me’ when it is time for a little test of our patience, faith and mettle.

For Vishu/Tamil New Year, we have the custom of offering for Puja and spreading a family feast of sweet, sour and bitter dishes. Veppam kozhundhu – the bitter neem finds a place alongside sweet jaggery and sour mango in our festive menu. It is not without a reason. It is symbolic of one’s life cycle. Upswings and downswings, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, happiness and heart break are phases of life. When we never question ‘why me’ in moments of sheer bliss, why complain when it is time for self-introspection.

This too shall pass. After peaking highs, new lows are the laws of nature. Accepting God’s will and submitting at and surrendering to Her Lotus Feet one hundred percent may mark a milestone in one’s spiritual journey.

May Mother Goddess give us the strength and willpower to sail through challenging winds of time. Short-cuts to evade one’s Karma can only rejig the balance sheet. The shortfall will have to be met with and made good somehow, somewhere. If not today, then tomorrow. How many ever janams it might take. One can reschedule and postpone Karma not outwit it totally.

Posted in Food For Soul

Decoding Dharma – 3: Why Dharma.

Why Sanathana Dharma (Hindu Dharma).

Because none other seeks the light of knowledge for salvation, awakening of higher consciousness and liberation of the soul from the birth-death-rebirth cycle as Dharma does. No Abrahamic way is anywhere close to the truth. There is no heaven or hell. Only this. You attain supreme conscience or opt to be reborn up until you are ready to merge with the creation and become part of it all on attaining the state of  ‘Mukthi’ or ‘Moksha’ (‘Nirvana’ – enlightenment). How easily said than done. Ant and the boot story as I have mentioned many a time in my blog posts. I can never reach up to higher level than this. I am stranded. I am all admiration for those Maha Avatars who have managed to transcend through time and space into the Infinity, with immense mind control. This is after all the land of Gautama Buddha and Mahavira and Vivekananda and Ramana Maharishi. Of great Sadhus (sages), Rishis and Yogis. Just listening to their life stories suffices for me. I may take a 1000 janams (births) or probably much, much more to reach there, but who cares. I am aware of my own limitations. Unable to rise above this ground level of the pyramid of spirituality. Materialistic aspirations have dulled not just me. The damaging impact is all across the world and the purpose is lost. The one Adi Yogi who always resides in my heart is Lord Shiva.

Other folds have fielded their self-proclaimed prophets and saints and supposed sons of Gods as if we are running a race – and how wrongfully they succeed in weaning away masses from the one right path. It is not even apt to talk about them here when I think of the Maha Yogis who have walked the length and breadth of not just my country India, but the universe. India has had many of them, India is ancient. Cradle of civilizations. Only Hindus believe we are re-evolving after we devolved. It is next to impossible to make an Abrahamic understand this ingrained belief in every Hindu. This is why Dharma has to survive. The one true path. The one visible only to the seeker. Seeker of higher intelligence and truth. The only way you can bust your physical body to enter the realm of supreme existence. Other than on embracing death that is. Our Karma decides where we belong. Whether we must be recycled.

The way I look at our timeless temples, our Gurus, our ancestors, our Gods, our saints and even our mountains …. all this has changed vastly in recent years. I am now a staunch advocate for Hindu Dharma for this reason. I may never unravel the truth in my limited capacity and confinement, but let the seekers who have it in them go after the truth…

Sometimes this moves me to tears. The inability to go beyond my level. Sheer greed I know. The physical, mental limitations. The insignificance of my being. The pointlessness of material life.

The significance of our brain size proportionate to our body mass – i never paid more attention to this like I do now.

My prayer these days is : I can never reach up to you Oh My Mother and Father, but you can reach down to me. Elevate me a little.

Meditation is not easy. But a wise path to tread. Focus sharpens for the starters. Long winding road ahead… Yoga and meditation are good tools to work with in this direction.

The more you become aware of the bonding chains, of your level of intelligence that really matters, the less is the pain of suffering. More acceptance. More Peace. Om Shanthi!

At the end of the day, I am still the materialistic average human. Self-serving and taking refuge in small pleasures. The whole life becomes a summary of such trivialities. But how to get rid of mortal attachments. If I have to wait a lifetime every time, I shall. In this assignment that i have willingly taken in (I believe), let me score my best.

In this birth, in this defined role of mortal life wherein familial duties get duly prioritized, here and whenever possible I gaze at Thee in wonder. Who I cannot reach in a zillion ages. But I am happy to SEE, Thou are incomprehensible. My brains may burst to dust defining Thy dimensions. Thy Immensity. I am fulfilled right now. No aspirations. Ground level view is good and satisfying. Self realization can be at multi-level. I am at the entry stage. To realize that I can’t realize ever is my greatest achievement in this janam!

Pranaams to the greatest Mahans of Bharat! I cannot feel their presence, but I believe they are all around us. The vibes I sense on setting foot in our temples are a proof that I do not expect others to understand. Why great souls are not born these days. Materialistic vision clouds mind. Rituals drown or dissolve the essence. Meaningless pursuits lead us astray from the one goal: Mukthi. Liberation.

Posted in Food For Soul

Till Death Does Us Apart.

While on our way to weekend grocery shopping last evening, my hubby at the wheels asked me if I had come across even a single death procession in the Middle East in all these years. I said, ‘No.’ For that matter, I told him neither had we witnessed a death procession in Malaysia that was our place of residence for four years. How come I never thought of it for so long!

Death is a big matter in India. Processions for the dead are very common that may block traffic. It is a very macabre thing to write about I know, but I thought I have to write it down. Today happens to be Mahalaya Amavasya, which is special for Hindu ancestors. Millions around the country take a dip in our holy rivers and offer ‘tharpana’ in memory of their forefathers.

I was raised in a very shielded secure world until my mother passed away when I was still in school. Until then, I had only heard about death and had seen a few processions on my way back from school that would totally scare me. My mother would tell me, they were taking ‘kanmoodi swamy’  in procession. Means, God with closed eyes. To us Hindus, the dead immediately transform into God. We forget what kind of humans they were in their lifetimes. Once a person passes away, we celebrate the dead as God. We forgive their misdoings. Only the good things about them are to be highlighted and remembered. We also have annual rituals commemorating the dead in our families. Failing to honour the dead with appropriate religious rites may incur their wrath and we could get cursed with ‘pitru dosham.’  That is why we feed the crows everyday in our terraces, believing they are our ancestors waiting for our food!

Until the ’80s, the dead used to be carried on shoulders by minimum four men (relatives) for cremation. Whatever the distance (may be 3-4 km). Hindus do not have casket. Hindus lay their dead on coconut palm mat that is spun between two bamboo poles that the pallbearers have to carry. One can see this in Bollywood films. Even in modern times, this one ritual has not changed. The open procession could be a shocker to little children in those days.

Now no more it is so. Things changed by late ’80s. By then the black van had arrived on the scene. Plus the freezer facility. For even cremation now, we have only electric crematorium. No more wood burning.

The black vans get replaced by even more grander carriers in Chennai these days. With seating arrangement etc. Playing up to the gallery. Quite a show. Death is no more so raw as in my mother’s times. To a significant degree, the effect stands muted today.

Big send off to the dead. Ceremonial. Obstructing traffic. Drawing unnecessary public attention.

What irritates me most is how these processions hinder traffic in the metro. Many times when I would be on my way somewhere, the mourners also happened to throw rose petals etc., into the auto (rickshaw) i had hired. It is such a disturbance to our peace of mind. Mood spoiler. Especially if you are on way to temple, etc. There are some processions with even band !!! Can’t get gross than this!

I wonder why are we Indians like this. Why can’t we do anything quiet. The black vans and other death vans are prominent in the city roads almost every single day. Chennai’s population is 10 million approximately. You have to book for cremation immediately when death occurs, if you want it in time! And don’t forget to take the Aadhar card of the deceased to the crematorium!!! Nothing less is admissible!

There are many things we can learn from others. Out of which, we have to learn first how to behave at death. How to quietly mourn the passing away of a dear one. How to give some dignity to the dead. How to conduct ourselves with dignity.

In lower middle class Indian homes (labour class), the men take to the bottle after cremation . To relieve their pain. What about the ladies. Men can pee wherever they want, men can booze to relieve their stress, however women have to be that strong pillar to take in everything and remain standing, upholding the family tree and customs and traditions is it!

A 10 to 16 day ritual then follows in Hindu homes after someone’s passing. Highly religious. Then a monthly observance as per Hindu calendar. And then finally an annual remembrance – with all the spiritual significance.

I am told, our ancestors live in us. Right. My gene may be millennia old but I am essentially of the same stock that my ancestor was a 1000, 2000 years ago. I owe them that much. And especially if you are a follower of Dharma, it means your bloodline is pedigree and not corrupted for centuries, millennia. Conversion to Hindu Dharma is happening only since the last 100 years or so. Hindus are thoroughbred carefully for eons, generations which makes us unique and special. We have our ancestors to thank for such a thoughtful cultivation and preservation of the Hindu gene. Kula Deivam (family deity) for most Hindu families also may be some long lost ancestors. This is where remembering our forefathers has its relevance.

There are friends and relatives who have donated cows in memory of the dead to ensure heaven to their dear departed family members. I could only think of the calf the cow was separated from. There are those who went to Varanasi (Kashi) in the north and Rameshwaram in south Tamil Nadu to immerse the ashes in river Ganga and in the Indian Ocean. How much the dead were showered with love and respect in their own lifetimes is a million dollar question.

We Hindus also mourn for an year someone’s passing. We do not celebrate Diwali or observe any ‘vrath’ until the first year Devasham or Sraartham (annual religious commemoration). It is a must for us. We are not supposed to even wear new clothes in this one year period, but it is no more so for last many years. In digital age, a lot has changed in our society. Still, there is something that still needs a thinking-over.

Why is death so much observable in Indian roads. Why is that we have never seen death in other countries of our residence. And why do we Hindus have to appease our ancestors after they leave us, when we so much displease them when they are alive and kicking in our midst.

Don’t others have families too. Don’t they miss or mourn their beloveds. Are we Indians the only ones with emotions. Why are we overdoing even such a thing as close and intimate and personal and private like death in the family. How can we even make this a public affair by obstructing traffic. Why should others even know about our grief. Why should others suffer for our loss. Others totally unconnected to us.

I am proud of my Hindu roots, but there is  a lot we Hindus can learn from others about life and death. Why can’t we just GO quietly.  In peace. Om Shanthi!

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Daughters may be denied the last rites as sons, but daughters can still fulfill their longings by giving their beloved parents and forefathers the respects they deserve at Kashi and Rameshwaram and Gaya. These are the only shrines/holy places in India that allow Hindu women to belatedly offer ‘tharpanam’ to their ancestors with/without an intermediary. These places are in my bucket list. There is also the  Shraddha Perumal temple at Nenmeli, near Chennai that serves the same purpose.