Posted in Interests

Whitewater Rafting In River Ayung, Bali

After River runner, I would like to sheepishly record here the one and only white water rafting experience of mine in Bali, Indonesia on my 50th year. River rafting is considered rather naive unlike kayaking, its boistrous and adrenaline pumping cousin. Once in a lifetime adventure, I think I bettered my long held records in all areas with rafting. I don’t think I shall ever be able to repeat the feat as I age. With my team leader denouncing me for lacking stamina and vigor on learning that I was vegetarian (information helpfully supplied by my spouse), I became ever more determined to do the whitewater rafting against all odds, even if I was deeply aware of the fact that I was the weakest link in the group who could let them down. I swore I wouldn’t do that to them. I had the responsibility in my shoulders and I knew I had to play the role that was expected of me.

My brother-in-law’s family toured Bali before us and they asked us never to miss river rafting because Bali rivers were tame unlike the Ganga in India, viable for amateurs like us. I mean, they were ideal length and width with just the right rapids safe enough to negotiate. Bountiful monsoons ensured you got a good paddling season. Weather after monsoons is favourable from Oct-Feb. However when my husband googled it, the top items to catch our attention were the casualty in almost every single river in Bali. There were harrowing accounts of victims’ kin who blamed poor planning, control and management and lack of timely medical help and logistics. There seemed to be no mechanism in place to handle emergencies. Yet the unregulated adventure sport was on and proved to be a huge draw mostly with younger people. There were a handful of rafting companies to choose from. I picked the Ayung river after a little research.

Our son called us from the US the morning we were planning river rafting. ‘Are you guys crazy?’ he asked shellshocked that his 50 year mom and 53 year old dad were planning to paddle across a throbbing equatorial river just after the monsoons. Then I heard my husband tell him, ‘or else i shall sit it out in the river bank and wait, let your mom go rafting!’ He quickly turned to me and said, at least one parent needed to stay alive for our son and it is better it is him because he was the earning member!!! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! But then I remembered, my man was scared of elephants as well. I had to literally drag him against his will shouting and screaming to touch and caress a tusker, let alone ride one! Also mentally we women are stronger I guess! All the male machismo is blown to smithereens when you ask your guy to do real man things such as river rafting! The elephantine problem also surfaces every time I would like to go for the giant wheel or for a swishing joyride in theme park. Succeeded in convincing my hubby to get into the float with me for the water ride in Dubai’s Wild Wadi but no such luck in Orlando, so enjoyed the virtual reality crazy ride zigzagging up and down with just my son. The level of excitement omg! It always amazes me how our so called brave men chicken out when it comes to trivial things.

And so I took the lead in our Bali hotel, calling up the tour operator and asking him to drive us to white river rafting in Ayung. My confidence was also partly due to the trek I managed downhill and upstream with my school friends just the previous year to the base of Athirappalli falls in Kerala. Not many brave that in our age and we girls took our time to go down to the bottom of the gorge where the glorious falls fell in. Once again it was right after monsoons and the waterfalls had swelled. The volume of water discharged from the top made us girls speechless. Mostly younger people had made it to the bottom of the falls apart from us. With a huge momentum, the falls fell down the gorge in such a splashing splendour. The climb down on foot was tricky as the steps were crudely shaped out of the rocky earth. At some points, there was handrail kind of support with twigs and barks and pieces of wood put in by fellow trekkers but not all along. Not for a minute could we avert our eyes from the footsteps carved out of the mountain slope taking us to the base of the falls. But finally it was all worth it. Uphill was daunting but not unexpected! Anyway we made it in our own sweet time, and that’s it!

up the sanddunes in Messaieed, Qatar a decade earlier towards the summit. the middle figure is me 😀 the view from the top is chanceless: the other side lies the Arabian sea and right in front spread the desert.

I can say the same of climbing atop a sand dune. No child’s play this is, not to be underestimated. You have to be real surefooted as the mounds of desert sands could prove to be as tricky as quicksand to say the least pulling you into a vortex, freeing oneself from which can sap all your energy. Soon you could find yourself buried knee high in the rising and falling mounds heaping like wave upon wave. Nature’s wonders! One foot forward up the sand dunes, you slide down two feet sinking yet again. It is like you are moving against gravity. And then you have the crisscrossing dune buggies racing past you as if on collision course as the young and the brash behind their wheels may have this devil-may-care attitude! You got to watch out for these daredevils most of who are addicted to such adventure sports in this part of the world!

Needs no reminder that with every passing year, we get older. Plus both of us husband and wife have a bit of lifestyle conditions (not contagious diseases) but manageable. We get along on low dose pills. So this was a situation. I also had to factor in my arthritic knees especially apart from other bones and joints! Quick calculation and I still voted YES! to rafting 😀

So off we went one morning to the white water rafting company on the shores of the Ayung river in Bali, supposedly their longest and best suited for paddling. It supposedly had 32 or so rapids among which a handful were deep jumps. Neither of us could swim. We were asked to fill forms stating our health parameters. Heart issues were a serious no-no. We were then debriefed on the sojourn. I could tell from the start that our tour guide who was like our team leader had problems with me. He foresaw that I was unfit in every possible way – with my age, food habits, poor stamina etc. He was worried that I wouldn’t paddle, would give up half way. He warned me that there was just NO TURNING BACK once we started. I looked at our crew. Our boss who was the rafting guide, my husband and me and three Malaysian chinese girls of 22 years or so who were taking a break from their term at an Australian university. The girls asked our age and gushed that we were same age almost as their parents and vouched that never would their parents attempt anything wild as river rafting like we did!

The idea of whitewater rafting in Bali was to give a tourist a wholesome feel of their rich geography and lifestyle. Indonesia is a rice growing country. We were to walk through picturesque countryside in the first segment of our rafting tour. We made our way through what we may call in Tamil ‘othai adi paadhai’ winding through paddy fields. Cultivated lands flanked us on either sides as we went in a file in our lifeguard gear and helmet, each carrying our paddle which by itself weighed a ton. At least I was outfitted right. When in water, I always go for waterproof clothing: i had pulled on a pair of waterproof knee length swimming shorts over a sports teeshirt. My shoes were Sketchers slip-ons but no way waterproof. I decided to carry a light handbag with change of clothes and no valuables.

We ate very light breakfast at our hotel Ramada Encore that morning. We went light on liquid intake as well. In the rafting company, we were asked to gear up on filling out obligatory forms. We were allotted a locker to safekeep our things. We left behind our digicam etc., having realized that we would be better off carrying ourselves light. Which meant, we left our cell phones behind as well. We were handed over a waterproof pouch to strap to our body wherein we could keep safe our wallets or phones just in case. My husband chose to wrap it around his torso. Most of our cash etc., we left behind in the lockers along with change of clothes, etc., but basic credit card and a single phone we decided to carry on our body. Our passports were in safe custody of our hotel lockers. We were dressed minimal as the occasion demanded. We spoke to our son before we embarked on the trip on foot following instructions from our tour guide who was a young Balinese guy fit as a fiddle. It was a routine for him and my confidence grew in leaps and bounds as I saw how energetic and focused he was. He piled us on to a waiting truck to be transported to the paddy fields wherefrom our rafting journey would begin.

I jumped out of the truck that had made its way through typical Indonesian rice fields. The views were breathtaking but alas, no phone to shoot pictures! It was better this way considering what lay ahead for us!

Next three kilometers or so, six of us fell in line walking on the farm lands that were in various stages of cultivation such as sowing, resting, harvesting etc. Square plots intersected in neat angles as rural Balinese men and women were seen bent over their agricultural activities sporting the typical south east Asian coned hat. By the end of the trek through the farm lands, I was already catching my breath that my husband and the guide were concerned about. We both were falling behind by a few steps. I was slowing down my husband as well.

Not over one or two minutes behind, we reached the top of the gorge from where we had to descend by foot to the river that flowed at a few hundred feet below. Any last chance for turning back ended here. The brisk walk through the agricultural lands had taken over an hour for all of us and we were perspiring already in pleasantly chill Bali weather. Downhill sounded like cake walk first but I wasn’t to be fooled after my Athirappalli experience. And Athirappali seemed like kg kid compared to post graduate Bali river rafting!

One glance at the route revealed that the downhill to the river level went winding through heavily forested woods where ancient trees grew. Home to a variety of flora and fauna, the equatorial jungles wore a canopy of treetops that saved us from the glare of the sun mercifully. The landscape was surreal, green and moist from monsoons that had drenched the soil for past many days. Everywhere around was green. So that made for slippery paved slopes. And once again, none of us carried a cam fearing an ounce of extra weight that could stall us. I looked in dismay at dozens of steep rocky carved steps that vanished into the oblivion. The roughly hewn mountain steps had no hand railings in the sides for grasp obviously and were almost a meter high. It meant we had to stay extra vigilant to avert a fall or breaking an ankle. On either sides lay the wild forests wherefrom butterflies danced from one exotic flowering creeper to another. Ferns were like a tapestry gracing every available space. A sweet mixed fragrance floated past us carried over from the fruits and flowers that bloomed all around us. The orchids were a riot of colours. Trees rose right upto the skies. Birds of every feather, nameless to us, sang from branch to branch. However our guide kept calling to us to not pause as he led from the forefront. It was not the straight way down. The three chinese girls followed after him. I and my husband brought up the rear, thanks to me! The steps wound around the hill slopes taking us far from the point where we started that I realized we were crisscrossing mountains and at the same time descending. I knew my husband could manage a pace as good as our young man steering us, even better than the girls. Over their shoulders the girls kept chatting us delighted to learn that we had a son of about their age studying in the US. They were even impressed to learn that we lived in their home country Malaysia for four years. We seemed to have closed the distance between us in one move and our guide was flabbergasted that we did just that! The girls from then on started looking at us as if we were their parents. They kept cheering us to do it. At one point our guide stayed back behind to lead us as the girls overtook him.

I have to give it to my reluctant husband who finally was enjoying the trek, supporting my every move extending a hand, leading me with confidence and egging me to give it my one hundred percent. Not a word of discouragement. He stayed completely by my side and took me in places by hand, warned me in advance about big leapy stony steps, alerted me to wild creatures around us that were coming alive by the minute. I didn’t know where to look: at our trail or at the beauty that surrounded us from all sides, so pristine. Nature was at her best element. Just then our guide fractured our dreamy spell stating that we hadn’t even descended hundred steps out of 1500!!! Not an easy task, we took a good two hours going down to the river level.

When we touched down on the river banks where the sloped steps ended, we saw the group hunched over a small rafting boat. It was an inflated red one bobbing in the jetty with not much room, that deflated my confidence in a minute. The guide beckoned to us just then impatiently. I asked the girls how much did we delay them. ‘Not more than 5 whole minutes’ parroted the bright youngsters but in that serene quiet atmosphere, each minute could drag like an hour. The group of us amateur rafters stood in circle around our guide who began teaching us basics of rafting without wasting another single moment. He taught us the hand signals as well as verbal commands that we had to strictly follow in the swirling waters. He said that our tasks were multipronged. We had to paddle according to his guiding and at the same time keep ourselves safe from slipping from the raft, with our eyes glued to the river. He showed us different motions that he urged us to have by heart. He shoved his paddle forward and showed us a hand signal for the same, jumping on to the raft. He then showed us how to stall, how to edge back the raft and how to remain still. He virtually demonstrated to us how to circumvent rock cleavages that sprouted out from nowhere in the midst of the river but those that were no rapids. He most importantly taught us how to maneuver our way through the gushing river whose level was raised to the season’s high thanks to very recent monsoon spells that had preceded our arrival. It meant, we had an interesting rafting ride ahead of us and at the same time a throbbing river at full force. It carried risks. He then gave me a worried look but I forgot to mention how the four of them clapped as I had made my way to the raft minutes after them not squandering their precious energies and time. Now my guide’s fresh predicament was whether I would paddle at all. I was a middleaged housewife. Did I have it in me to paddle for two hours thirty minutes downstream over two dozen rapids. Most of the sailing would be smooth, he assured us. Bali rivers were not Amazon and not even the Ganga. The width of the river Ayung itself came as a surprise to me. It would be manageable, I told myself. I had overcome one third of it already. I looked forward to the first and only ever river rafting experience of my life.

I noticed half a dozen water bottles in our raft as our guide weighed pairing us to balance the raft. In the front went one of the girls small size. I and my husband were paired in the next row. Behind us the other two girls took their places. The rear was brought up by our team leader himself. He quickly revised with us the basic rafting lessons he had taught us only moments before. Satisfied, he untethered the raft that was fully inflated to float comfortably. Frankly I took in the tarpaulin material and wondered how many punctures it could take! Just then the young man announced, we had to raft, look for his hand signals for the entire two and a half hours of rafting without missing a beat, and at the same time enjoy nature all at once! He then blew his whistle signaling the start of our expedition!

And thus began my incredulous whitewater rafting that I never thought until that moment, possible. Ayung was breathing life, so infused with fresh seasonal rains. Lush and green reflecting the enveloping environment, the river brought an instant peace to my mind in turmoil, with its steadiness and timelessness. Ayung that had stood witness to civilization for centuries, humbled me instantly. Greenery on either sides of the river bank emerged like fresh frescos retaining a little dampness. Mosses and lichens covered the rock faces and river beds as well as the overhanging cliffs and gorges and ledges and secretive alcoves wherever there was a gap in the line of scraggy bushes and towering trees with their gnarled roots webbing and clutching to whatever foothold was manageable in gradient slopes. The green carpeting shrouded the river and the banks, with the sky peeping out here and there from the foliage up above to allow mellow light for us to paddle on. Cool gentle breeze had set in by the mid morning. The banks were rising steep as our raft floated downstream paddled by six of us in unison in smooth strokes under the aegis of our rafting guru. First few minutes we had it easy as our leader tested us on the hand signals. All five of us passed his practical exams in flying colours. Slowly our raft wove its way around to the middle of the river where we were told the depth of the river was maximum. I had uttered a small prayer before setting foot on the raft earlier.

Our raft maintained a steady momentum as we tugged and heaved, steered partly by the mild wind. The weight of the lifejacket and the paddle were still making me sweat profusely. The air was thick at times like in Malaysia. It was after all equatorial country whose musty nature I was familiar with. My helmet was a nuisance but considered a must. In case I must slide down, my guide assured me that at least my head would not pop open like a melon! He could still jump out and save my life, so the helmet had to stay. In fact it was checked and rechecked by him for its tightness before we embarked on the river, so I understood our leader meant business. He had checked on all our gear as to whether we wore them tight, strapped tight. The raft was an open one and so I realized i had no hand support on the right but then my right hand was to hold the paddle. Mostly we had to use both our hands to paddle. There was a hold for my left hand to be secured if i wanted to steady myself that was shared with my husband who was my roving partner to my left. His fist closed over mine giving me quiet assurance that all would be well. Gradually our raft had moved out to mainstream river where it widened and the banks grew apart. I looked up to see that our descent point was no more visible and we had drifted over several more hundred feet by then.

The river rafting was proving to be exciting and experience like none other. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and I put all my doubts to rest to enjoy the moment for what it was. I was with a young and able group mostly and my husband was fit as any of them. I felt better. I began relaxing and savouring all that nature revealed to me right then. In the rocky banks I found Ramayana etched by Hindu Bali ancestors. It was an ethereal sight where reality and mirage hung suspended in one plane of time – or it so seemed to me. We jumped one or two rapids and our boss taught us then what to expect about the rapids and how to stay prepared spotting one. We had no time really as one after one the rapids kept coming in the course of our rafting journey. After a couple of rapids. our raft leveled into still calm waters for a change where the river was its broadest and in full flow. Depth here was safe for swimming said our guide and asked us to duck in if we wanted as we drew right below a waterfalls. Unbelievable omg! I can’t relate here those 10 minutes under the falls over the river clinging to the raft but resting my paddles. My hubby encouraged me to step out. Our guide said, I wouldn’t have to swim. He asked me to shower under the falls and I would dry out by the time I went back to their office. But courage failed me at this point. I had had so much, and I was satisfied. My husband was a little disappointed I knew but I didn’t want to stretch my luck as I saw the 3 girls have a whale of a time swimming under the falls stripped to their bikinis that they probably had worn in the insides. All the same I was wet thoroughly drenched by the falls.

We navigated our way out of the falls and next began our ride through literally testy waters. Forward paddling and back peddling alternated as we skirted some rock formations that raised their ugly heads out of river taking us by surprise. There were quite a few bends in the river and at some spots the turns came back to back like hairpin bends. In some points, the rapids and bends were together that we had to carefully maneuver through with skill and patience. More than a dozen times my heart was in my mouth as we wove our raft through some anxious moments. In jumping over rapids and negotiating river bends, I realized that the raft tilted to one side and I had to hang on for my dear life! In one particular spot that was like a whirlpool, our raft got stuck hitting a boulder that had sprung out in the midst of the river course. Our guide stepped out and manually steered the raft in a different direction. He had to carry out this exercise a couple of more times and the waters were frothing. He had even warned us about the raft capsizing in worst circumstances but asked us never to panic. Whatever the situation, we would not drown and our life jacket and helmet would see to that we lived. Thankfully, ours did not capsize that day but from the way he said it, and later admitted, I understood there had been quite a few incidents when the raft turned turtle.

We jumped over wide rapids, narrow rapids, back to back rapids, high rapids. low level rapids – dozens of them. I later looked up their gradings and discovered that some were riskiest. I knew we were doing some 30 plus rapids in total. Somewhere out of the jungle peeked a coffee point where a camera crew were conveniently poised to shoot our pictures that I have posted here. The four of them climbed out of the raft as we both opted to stay put. Our raft was tethered loosely to the jetty and I did worry about the knot getting undone and our raft drifting downstream. It was just a 5 to 10 minute break and we were on our way again on the Ayung river as our guide announced that we were past the halfway mark and would be turning back. He warned us of the trickiest rapid that awaited us yet before we paddled our raft to a different jetty where we had to alight. This rapid as we had been warned got us rocking side to side as I tightened my grip over my left hand hold in the raft as did my husband. I stilled my paddle and waited it out as we finally overcame the monstrous rapid and our guide declared that we had successfully rafted along the river without an incident. We cheered as after some 2.5 hours we disembarked from our raft with no heart to go back to the normal boring world!

But then came the next insurmountable task of climbing uphill. We had some 1000 earthen steps that were steep and half to one meter in height like it was in our descent, winding through the jungles again. The ascent and descent were two entirely different paths with no intersection. Two thirds of our white water rafting experience was over by now. We had started earlier that day on light stomach. Drive to the company was one hour in thick Bali traffic. One hour of waiting it out. 3 hours of walking through the farmlands and trekking downhill. 2.5 hours of rafting in gurgling river that was fresh and alive and kept coming at us. Now another 2 hours of ascent back to the company remained. Our guide did not wait for us this time, taking leave from us assuring us that we would find our way. He had after all the next batch of tourists waiting to raft.

The girls left after him saying their goodbyes. We the oldies took our good time climbing up, heaving and catching our breath wherever and whenever we felt like. Not a word of complaint from my hubby who bore with my slow pace. My knees were hurting from sitting crosslegged somewhat cramped in the raft. I had been traveling in the cab since arriving in Bali, for hours a day. I had had a long flight. He was aware that every bone and joint of my arthritic body literally shrieked. I had mild BP that was manageable, like his. He had mild diabetes as well but within bounds! Together we made some pair!

Finally when we climbed and walked back to the company office, we were greeted cheerfully by the staff and especially by our guide and the three chinese girls who were already planning their night out with our young guide and his male friends. I heard something like campfire in Ubut. We weren’t late by more than 10 minutes. The lunch was on the rafting company. We quickly thanked them and went to our lockers to retrieve our clothes and belongings. We took a hot shower and changed and walked to the open air restaurant to claim our promised Bali lunch. By this time, we had come to love Balinese food which was basically flavoured rice or noodles with dumplings of soya chunks, spinach etc. There was vegetarian fare waiting for me and meat for my husband. We shared a filling lunch seated in wooden benches overlooking paddy fields.

Our tour operator materialized out of nowhere and congratulated me in particular. He confessed he never thought I was capable of completing the rafting and was parked near the office, half expecting me to turn back from the jetty not wanting to go on. From that moment, the duo (the driver of our cab and our regular guide for 6 days) showed me more respect. Next stop was Tanah Loh, they announced. Did I have the energy for it. Do they even needed to ask!

With Tanah Loh hindu temples in the sea, we brought to a beautiful end a beautiful day. For the first time in my life, I went for Balinese massage as well, feather touch, butterfly kissy. I had booked for an earlier appointment. I told them, it was my first ever massage in my life and the girls seemed to be surprised that I hadn’t got one until my 50th year!

Totally relaxing my every single taut nerve and muscle that had been stretched to the maximum that longest day, the Bali girl did a wonderful job like a magic that washed away all my tired lines. I slid into a dreamless bottomless kind of sleep that late night having downed a fruity Balinese beer with our dinner by the poolside. I had preferred to don the Balinese dress for the dinner – a sarong over my t shirt. It was another first for me as I had merely knotted my skirt not buttoning up anywhere risking my honour! Thank god, no mishap once again. Or probably my sari sense saved me. Our Indian sari after all holds world record for serving us women as the longest unstitched garment from time immemorial! Whitewater rafting in Bali remains our best lifetime couple-experience as my husband admits.

What a beautiful dream is Bali. I would like every couple to go here and experience what we did: its magical and like a second or third or fourth or whatever honeymoon to all of us – not to be missed. Its not about just river rafting. Bali is easy on our purse. Its Hindu and so closest to our hearts… And then there is this gift of nature that is getting rarer by the day…

Whitewater rafting proved to me that nothing is impossible. That where there is will, there is a way. Of course, our son extracted from us a promise that we parents would never again subject ourselves to needless risk in future. I became aware how many insecure hours my poor darling had suffered until we messaged him back we were safe on rafting. Rafting may be sport for young men and women, but for middle-aged couples like us, this is still an adventure that can quicken our pulse. A one time life experience, unparalleled. A memory to cherish for the rest of our lives. Couple goal. Bucket list. Etc., etc!

Posted in Interests

Golden India

Indian medallists in Tokyo Olymipics 2021

  1. Mirabai Chanu Silver Medal in Weight Lifting (Women’s 49kg)
  2. Indian Hockey Team Bronze Medal in Men’s Hockey tournament
  3. PV Sindhu Bronze Medal in Women’s Single Badminton
  4. Lovlina Borgohain Bronze Medal in Women’s Welterweight Boxing
  5. Ravi Kumar Dahiya Silver Medal in Men’s 57 kg Wrestling
  6. Bajrang Punia Bronze Medal in Men’s Freestyle 65kg
  7. Neeraj Chopra Gold Medal in Men’s Javelin Throw: 87.58 (First Gold Medalist from India in Olympics 2021)

India has won a single gold, 2 silvers and 4 bronzes in Tokyo Olympics 2021. But only if you are born and raised in India will you ever realize what a Himalayan feet even this is. Our poor stamina by genetics is main reason thanks to our food habits, for our below par sporting capabilities. Our make is small! Just look at the Czechs who won the bronze and silver in the Javelin throw. Look at the gold medalist Neeraj Chopra from India. Look at our Hockey girls. When they lost the bronze, I could see their physique despite rigorous training and practice and most definitely improvised dietary plans compared to their opponents. I don’t suppose strategy alone can do wonders. You need physical inputs more in the sporting arena. Even a voracious meat eating Indian cannot match the stamina of the sportspeople from other parts of the world whose daily dietary food habit may include red meat. Indians do not eat red meat by culture right from birth. Coaches may introduce meat and high calorie food at a later stage during training still, the very basic nutritious food is denied for aspiring Indian sportsmen and women hailing from rural India from a very young age. This works to our disadvantage in the long run. Looking at our women’s hockey, I felt bad for them. But they have come this far. Next time, there won’t be any stopping them.

Secondly the poverty of the country is well known. Most Olympic aspirants in India do not even own a good pair of shoes. Nor do they get to eat two square meals a day. They lack family support hailing from rural backgrounds mostly with parents for daily wage earners. For training, they have to walk by foot miles. They don’t have access to technology or food supplement or decent sports gear or good coaching or physical training. Very poor funding. No logistics to support them for their travel needs. Other countries subsidize their teams but in India, this just is not possible. All commercial sponsors in India eye the cricket teams, never those who play for India in Olympics or Asian games.

Nations import or buy out athletes and sports persons and teams and sports clubs to add golds and trophies to their kitties. India does not. Every single Indian sports player is born and brought up in India under extraordinary circumstances. On the contrary, Indian hockey players have played for Malaysia in the past.

*Inspiring story of Rani Rampal, Capt Indian Women’s HockeyTeam👏*: “I wanted an escape from my life; from the electricity shortages, to the mosquitoes buzzing in our ear when we slept, from barely having two square meals to seeing our home getting flooded when it rained. My parents tried their best, but there was only so much they could do–Papa was a cart puller and Maa worked as a maid.There was a hockey academy near my home, so I’d spend hours watching players practice–I really wanted to play. Papa would earn Rs.80 a day and couldn’t afford to buy me a stick. Everyday, I’d ask the coach to teach me too. He’d reject me because I was malnourished. He’d say, ‘You aren’t strong enough to pull through a practice session.’ So, I found a broken hockey stick on the field and began practicing with that– I didn’t have training clothes, so I was running around in a salwar kameez. But I was determined to prove myself. I begged the coach for a chance– maine bahut mushkil se convince kiya unko finally!But when I told my family, they said, ‘Ladkiya ghar ka kaam hi karti hai,’ and ‘Hum tumhe skirt pehen kar khelne nahi denge.’ I’d plead with them saying, ‘Please mujhe jaane do. If I fail, I’ll do whatever you want.’ My family reluctantly gave in. Training would start early in the morning. We didn’t even have a clock, so mom would stay up and look at the sky to check if it was the right time to wake me. At the academy, it was mandatory for each player to bring 500 ml of milk. My family could only afford milk worth 200 ml; without telling anyone, I’d mix the milk with water and drink it because I wanted to play.My coach supported me through thick and thin; he’d buy me hockey kits and shoes. He even allowed me to live with his family and took care of my dietary needs. I’d train hard and wouldn’t miss a single day of practice. I remember earning my first salary; I won Rs.500 after winning a tournament and gave the money to Papa. He hadn’t ever held so much money in his hands before. I promised my family, ‘One day, we’re going to have our own home’; I did everything in my power to work towards that.After representing my state and playing in several championships, I finally got a national call up at the age of 15! Still, my relatives would only ask me when I was planning on getting married. But Papa told me, ‘Play until your heart’s content.’ With my family’s support, I focused on doing my best for India and eventually, I became captain of the Indian hockey team! Soon after, while I was at home, a friend papa used to work with visited us. He brought along his granddaughter and told me, ‘She’s inspired by you and wants to become a hockey player!’ I was so happy; I just started crying.And then in 2017, I finally fulfilled the promise I made to my family and bought them a home. We cried together and held each other tightly! And I’m not done yet; this year, I’m determined to repay them and Coach with something they’ve always dreamed of– a gold medal from Tokyo.”A story behind do many athletes…we often wonder why we don’t win medals in Olympics … I am proud that they made it to Olympics despite the adversity… this is today’s India… aspirational, confident and will to fight adversity and excel… hats off to them…hope they get the encouragement and support for the future too….🙏🏽

The rest of the stories are here:

Hearing the Indian national anthem play gives you goosebumps! Grateful for these medal winners from the Tokyo Olympics who have done the nation proud. Those who have no medal to show – it is still fine. You have had the honour of representing this 1.3 billion nation which is something. I did expect a gold from PV Sindhu but we have to remember that she is also ageing. Still fine Sindhu, I didn’t mean like complaining. Absolutely no regrets. Indebted to these ambassadors of peace from India who showed us, yes we still can. With all our misgivings and self-doubts and weaknesses and vulnerabilities and negatives and lacking any and every sophisticated sporting equipment/first class training/physical fitness/red meat on our plate, we Indians still can!

Jai Hind! Thank you brothers and sisters for instilling valuable self-confidence and slef-esteem in young Indians who need to believe in themselves first. Every barrier between you to victory is there to be broken.

Posted in Interests

Informal vs Formal Talks/Speeches

Excited to be back in the informal Tamil forum, one which is not ‘organised.’ For, the handful of us have no elected president or vp or secretary to run the show. A group of us were into such a down-to-earth setting of Tamil speech club if I may call so (for lack of any other term for description) that I left with my departure to India by the end of 2019. Initiative by Sri Lankan Tamils principally, the get-together used to be bi-monthly at a friend’s place who lent his spacious residence for us to enjoy pure literary Tamil company not corrupted by formality of tailormade speeches or awards/prizes/ certifications or even an enrollment/membership fee, or any such paraphernalia that normally went with formal speech fora. Each of us took a turn to treat everyone with a sumptuous typical Tamil breakfast of Idli, Dosa, Pongal, Vada, Sambar, Chutney with Filter coffee that we would order from a franchisee of Saravana Bhavan or Vasantha Bhavan or Aryas here in Middle East. Hearty exchange of ideas, sharing of thoughts, recitation of poems penned, singing our own lyrical compositions, sometimes some interesting games would keep us engaged for almost two hours. No dilution of quality. No laid down rules. No censorship because as adults we thought we were aware of what to talk in a public platform. Attired informal but for festive occasions, we dressed as per the season. The meetings always began with Thamizh Thai Vaazhthu and closed with a Mangalam. We would decide on the course of the meeting unanimously with inputs from everyone. We discussed the next meet’s agenda together. No hard and fast rules. No tab on speeches but we stuck to meticulous timing without a prompt. Every single one of us got to intereact with each and every other member making for truly an inclusive and totally transparent forum with representation from all quarters. Not more than 15-20 of us could make it in any case. We would disperse after a light banter at the end of the session to wait for the next meeting in a fortnight’s time.

After attending formal English speech clubs I am able to appreciate better the informal speech environment of the Tamil Koottam (simple name for the very earnest effort). Credit goes to the Sri Lankans for not allowing an inch of manouvre from the purpose of the meet, keeping the substance mattering all the time, yet managing the affair matter-of-factly without drawing undue attention to themselves or trying to boss over. The gesture needs emulation in every arena. Very mature handling.

I am not denying how much I have benefited from formal speech clubs. Toastmasters, to be more precise. In TM environment, I learned to LISTEN first! Then I noticed others’ mistakes that I thought I must avoid. And finally I grew out of my stagefear. Not that i am now totally not shy of the stage, but to a large extent, I was able to successfully quell it,reaching out to audience with direct eye contact. My takeaway from TM is my new found confidence over anything. I learnt to write briefest speeches, because I am notorious for my longwinding write-ups! I learnt how to wrap up quick, how to give a thunderous intro, build a convincing body and then make an impressive retreat that left the audience thinking. I don’t know how much I achieved really here, but I took my own sweet good time to reach level 10 or the final step to become a competent communicator that normally took others 6 months to one year only! I spaced out my projects because I also shared my time between India and here. With every level, I wanted to match my speech quality equally. Awards and certificates meant nothing to me.

But I am all for the high achievers who make some very good speakers in the TM world. I have listened to some greatest and moving speeches packed with a punch, delivered on the dot. Drawn from life experiences, there have been one or two that even moved me to tears. I think I may be the only housewife in my club hahaha! I wonder at their reaction if I am to tell them I am a granny now hahaha! The mix of the crowd is good in TM whereas in Tamil club, you know what to expect. I like TM for the different kind of experience that I cannot savour elsewhere.

The point is I have no desire to improve myself beyond a point in the formal TM atmosphere. I may continue as a member but I lack the initiative to take it upward from where I am. May be I am too spoilt by the informal Tamil gathering where my heart truly belongs!

We are all not TED material here hahaha! I like to keep things simple and stressfree!

Tried my hand at the Tamil TM as well. Quality of speeches was a sore disappointment there that made me quit half way.

We give our valuable time (!) to these activities because we want something from them, to add value to our lives. This is why we listen to music, we read books, play games etc. Anything that does not serve the purpose is a waste of time and effort. In fact, it is an affront to our learning spirit and pesonality!

My conclusion is that, the informal speech fora are the most democratic, with everyone on equal footing. But to convene such meetings, the members must hold extraordiary discipline and self-control. None is obliged to anyone and no one needs to be bothered with responsibilities. Partially this is true of TM whose office bearers too do a thankless job. TM has no profit motive either. It is self improvement with active enrollment and participation, each one paying for his/her through which is fair. For me personally, an informal gathering still keeps my mind free. We have met in parks as well, in winter times.

I hope to grow with both the speech clubs. Each serves me in a unique manner. From both I derive benefits that cannot be quantified. Not an articulate speaker, I most favour translating my thoughts into words here in my blog 😀

Posted in Interests


We regularly walk through the greeny green Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Park, but following up the trail in day light is a visual treat like none other. Walking over the periphery covering gardens with exotic shrubs can stretch your daily walk upto about a robust 5 km but you may also take a detour cutting corners to a shorter distance of 2 km (not bad) if you so wish . Only you will be missing sight of myriad mynahs and chasing cats of all hues and sizes in the event. There are sweeping smooth grassy lawns peppered with trees transplanted from as far as the Amazon for partying and picnicking, and delightful play pens for kids, besides the crisscrossing walking-biking tracks and even a place of worship for believers, that make the park ideal weekend destination for families. There is ample drinking water and restroom facilities and further a cafeteria for light snacks and drinks.

When mercury soars to 51 C in this time of the year, you may hardly look forward to any outdoor activity, but MIA Park is as inviting as ever with its rich and breezy vistas that you don’t want to miss it even for a day.

Winter sights of the park bordered by a shallow sea on the rear merit a secondary write-up! December to February can see temperature dipping to as low as 4 C which is heavenly season. Crisp weather of perfect sunshine with intermittent balmy skies and a pleasantly chill air. Late evening walks are under delicately placed lamp posts and hidden lighting all solar-powered, subtly illuminating your way for you minus a glare. The skyline of Doha in either scenario is a treat from the far shore of the Corniche : beautiful in setting sun and lit up dazzlingly after sunset.

Walking through the lush emerald lawns, you may opt to climb a gently sloping knoll and/or stroll about the cobble stoned walkway meandering along the lazily lapping backwaters where water scooters to tourist ferry are regular recreational sport. Rocky boulders in the rugged sea coast define the contours of the park but are a pretty sight.

You may choose a serene spot under a shady tree (and there are quite a few date palms as well) or in the cool lawns or in the stony steps leading up to the sea waters to just unwind, read a book or relapse into a relaxing catnap… just like the feline creature snoozing right next to you in this heavenly abode…. Or you may simply follow up the trail for the very pleasure of walking through this paradise for health and fitness which is all the more invigorating and rejuvenating that you feel a lightness come over you…

Om Shanti ! Peace !

I salute the tiny state of Qatar that puts not only their citizens’ welfare first and foremost over everything, but also that of other residents (expats) like us. The quality of our life is greatly  improved living for over 10 years now in this peninsular nation which is like a dot in the Persian Gulf .

My hometown is Chennai and once upon a time, we were touted to have the second most beautiful and longest sandy beach in the world. No more so, sadly. We in India are bestowed with natural gifts, but instead of appreciating our wealth, we depreciate it by misuse and mismanagement.

The kind of peace I feel walking around MIA park adjoining the sea in tandem with nature created with such a loving care in the midst of parched desert … is something I do not find in my own city/country. I cannot find a single uncluttered haven like this in Chennai where I can get lost. I cannot find a single secluded spot in my long seacoast to just stand over, gaze, ponder and laze about…. For such an absolute solitude and stillness and harmony with nature, I have to leave my city limits and travel over 60 km in ECR (East Coast Road).  The degeneration of India in general and Chennai in particular pains me immensely.

Here are some visuals from MIA Park I would like to share with: Can you believe this is entirely man-made in Reclaimed Land from the sea. Doha is far greener than my city Chennai, feast to our eyes. Patriotism must not be a mere rhetoric.  Nationalism must reflect in the way we nurture our nation and embrace nature, adding values – aesthetics and otherwise. Past lies in the past. Future lies right ahead. Today’s present will be our future history.





Posted in Interests

Textiles Of India


Everyone says Paris is the fashion capital of the world. Or perhaps Milan is. Rome is. But if you ask us Indian women, we will say, India is the FABRIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. WEAVE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. India may also be the ETHNIC HANDBLOCK PRINT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. AND EVEN THE HOSIERY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD IN SPITE OF CHINA. No other nation on earth boasts of such a stunning range of fabrics and weaves of silks, cottons and blends (natural yarn) and none has the kind of Ethnic handblock prints and handcraft work that India has – hundreds or perhaps thousands of them strewn together right across the length and breadth of the nation sewing up a beautiful enchanting and magic carpet of colourful dreams. Handlooms still occupy a place of pride over mechanized textiles like rayon and polyester, the synthetic fabrics from the west. Indian cotton and silk BREATHE and are natural fiber. I love India for Her myriad colours, earthy native fabrics, weaves, ethnic motifs and traditional handblock prints and handwork as much as I love Her for Her ancient culture and heritage. INDIAN TEXTILES REFLECT OUR ORIGINAL CHARACTER AND INDIVIDUALITY. An open challenge to anyone to prove me wrong: come up with an equivalent exquisite fabric/print/handwork collection. Understanding the fabric of India may help one understand the very phenomenon and enigma called India.

Around the world Indians are going places as CEOs of multinational corporations, astronauts, medicos, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, teachers, nurses, techies… but if you look at the way we lovingly weave and wear, you will know why we Indians are able to make it good anywhere. Where does the inspiration spring from? Here is a peek into India’s Soul.

Pictures courtesy (!): Google Images


I confess to bad taste in clothes, wrong accessorizing and mismatch of colours so I must be the last person to attempt something like this. Still I wanted to document the varied, diverse fabrics of India as much (as I could recall) with their unique local dyes/hues and ethnic motifs. The kind of fabrics we have here in India is matchless, the desi cotton is our trademark. To others, clothes are matter-of-fact. Not for us Indian women. Every suit or kurtha/kurthi or top or a sari or even a salwar or pant an Indian Nari dons has a background woven into its history, with specific intricate details. Even in foreign labels like Marks & Spencer etc. abroad, we find the fabric happens to be basically Indian with finishing (tailoring) done in UK. Same may be true of Italian clothes as well. Chinese cotton is smoother than Indian with a clean machine finish: something that Indian fabrics may lack but that is exactly our plus point. Chinese cotton to me is one more industrial product. Never applies to my senses. Our desi pure cottons and cotton blends are coarser. Bangladeshi (Bengali) cotton could be the closest match. I also love the Pakistani lawn (as they call cotton) but I am not for their crowded patterns/designs. The fabric is super fine and flowy. The Pakistanis do not simply have the stunning range of fabrics that India presents to the world. So these are the four countries that dominate the world cotton and fabric market today.

Here I set about exploring what little I know from the fabric world. State-wise if possible.




Let me start with Tamil Nadu, famous for its Kanjivaram silks (aka Kanchipuram or Kanchi), Arani silks (second grade), Chinnalapattu, Dharmavaram. These are just the silk varieties from my home base. Cottons include Chettinad and Coimbatore and Madurai. Wedding silk cannot be less than Kanjivaram silks for south Indian brides. Prices may range anywhere between 2,000 rupees to lakhs of rupees.

You have to be real rich if you want to stitch a suit in Kanjivaram silks. I do that once my silk sari ages. . For all special occasions and family weddings, silk is a must for us.

For paucity of space, I am leaving out the other silk varieties from Tamil Nad. Kanjivaram is most sought after through out the world. (In any case this is going to be one very long post). There are tourists who visit Chennai for the sole purpose of shopping for silk.


Silk and Cotton make an interesting blend in various ratios. That gives rise to hundreds of different cotton-silk tissues that are every woman’s delight. Jute Silk, Raw Silk, Silk Cotton are hot favourites.

So here I have merely covered the silk and silk-cotton blends from my home state sans any handwork like embroidery or mirror or bead work. Also leaving out dyeing works like tie-and-dye, Kalamkari like fabric paints, block prints etc that I shall try to cover under ‘Prints of India’ (part II). My first section to deal with only fabrics.


India (Tamil Nadu) may be the world suppliers of Jockey to Victoria’s Secret and other global brands when it comes to underwear. You may go for premium inners from Australia to America but remember all of them come from Tirupur textile units. Mostly. Only you end up paying 10 times more in the west for the under garments made in India.




Next Karnataka famous for its soft Mysore silk Crepe. As the name suggests, it is the only synthetic mix among the sea of pure silks and cottons otherwise you find in India.


Kerala bride has to marry only in Kasavu sari whatever be her economic status. In all special occasions/muhurats, women in Kerala dress up only in off-white.


Haven’t heard of anything such as Goan fabric. Rest of India fabrics get a new style in Goa to suit the tastes of visiting foreign tourists.


Maharashtra is famous for its Pune cotton. It is a very refined cotton compared to South Cotton.


Chanderi silk and cotton are from Madhya Pradesh. Very popular with Indian women. A unique fabric going with a matching local ethnic print.


Just as a south Indian bride may not marry in anything other than the coveted Kanjivaram, a north Indian bride may not marry in anything less than Benarasi.

Benarasi silks and cottons from Uttar Pradesh


Note: Tussar silk is also weaved in Bengal.

Bhagalpuri from Bihar, next. Tussar is another unbeatable Bihar’s specialty. I have to confess, of all silk weaves, Tussar is my No.1 favourite. Tussar silk with hand embroidery is my favourite.


Oriyan Sambalpuri is something I haven’t collected so far. Pending.


Jaipur kurthis are most affordable, very reasonably priced, with hand prints (like block prints). Very popular with Indian teenagers. Kota saris are most preferred cotton saris for working women.



In my working days I mostly draped a Bengal cotton sari at least once a fortnight to office. Favourite with working women. Bengal cotton suits, again a favourite. As I have covered Tussar under Bihar and Jute under silks of Tamil Nadu, I am giving them a miss here.







Dabu print Kurthis are very popular with women. Handblock bed linen from India equally popular in fashion houses around the world, priced exorbitant.




Kolhapuri Handmade Leather Jutis (Footwear) for Men & Women from Kohlapur, Maharashtra, one more Made-in-India produce that is world famous designer collection. Jodhurs from Rajastan originally need no introduction.





If Kanjivaram and Tussar are my silk favourites, Bandhini is my No.1 favourite hand print. I have Bandhani in everything: silk, cotton, georgette-crepe be it sari or kurti or stole.




Bagru is one more hand block print very popular with women.


This is another addiction of mine.



Many states in India weave Ikat in different local fabrics like silks and cotton. Ikat is very much in fashion everywhere. Some Ikat prints here.


NO other Ethnic work is as contemporary now as Kalamkari (and Ikat).




One more World standard from Madras, Chennai. Next time you wear a checkered shirt, remember, it is named after Madras from its famous ‘Lungi’ check designs. If Kanjivaram is for women, Madras checks are for men. GET INSPIRED. WEAR MADRAS ON YOUR SLEEVE WITH MADRAS CHECKS!


Sungudi is soft cotton from Tamil Nadu and Sungudi dying is unique and favourite especially among senior citizens. My granny always draped only a Sungudi cotton sari with sungudi dyed prints. Brings back loving memories of her. I do have sungudi kameezes, softest as they come.


Zardosi works in North Benarasis and Gold/Silver Zari borders in South Kanjivarams:





and on and on and on……..,

There is much more. Suggestions/Corrections/Improvements welcome. Would like to add to this collection of mine 😀

But before I stop, want to add this: Some cotton varieties from India may need regular starching. Some silks may need dry cleaning. Following the wash instructions is very important when it comes to fabrics/clothes from India with/without ethnic hand work. Not only the weaves, even the dyes could be delicate. Exercise caution for wash.

What a stunning range of fabrics and weaves we have in India: from feather weight muslins to class Kanjivaram pure silks to roughly hewn Khadi cottons. A staggering array of dyes mostly natural/vegetable. Put together the desi flavour of ethnic motifs of each district from every state: and work out the permutations and combinations. There you go! And I have not even covered a fraction of the ocean called Indian Textiles world. This is just the natural fabrics. There is the other world of synthetics like Georgette, Crepes, Polyester, Nylon, Rayon, (Denim) etc., etc., that I do not even want to attempt…

So that can give you an idea about India. It is not about mere fabrics. It is not about just dyes and ethnic prints and motifs. It is much more than all that. None can summarize India. I am trying my bit that’s all. May be I have managed some 0.001%.

I do not want to comment on others but I find Chinese materials very inferior and artificial and cold and classless and without a character. Plain. But very, very flexible. That I have to give to the chinese: for marketing themselves best and for catering to every taste and for being most flexible and economical. Well, Indians cannot afford to be like that. India is too complex if this post of mine is any indication.

As for Pakistan lawn, I like the fabric but I find it very plain and uninspiring. Designers and designs are similar and predictable. No individuality. Cotton on the other side of Punjab is surprisingly soft (or probably imported) compared to the cotton that grows on this side of the Atari border. Pak lawn makers mix at least 10% of synthetic yarn with their cotton. 100% virgin cotton is hard to come by.  No special weaves or patent-worthy content like we have in India.

I guess most Indian desi original pedigree fabrics/weaves/threads/textiles/handblock prints are now patent protected, with Geo-Patent. For instance Kanjivaram silk saris from Kanchipuram, near Chennai.

Even our clothes should have a character. At least that is what I believe in.

As for Europe and America, they import fabric from India and China (also Bangladesh, Pakistan) and do the finishing (tailoring), customizing them to their regional tastes. Just as India is the back office of the world when it comes to the IT industry, India is also behind the fashion scene of the world very much although you may never guess…

Posted in Interests

Era Of The Tamil Drama

Stage, they say, is the mother of modern cinema. There was a time in Tamil film industry when the road one took to the silverscreen was through live stage. Veteran actors Shivaji Ganesan to M G Ramachandran (MGR who later became the state’s chief minister preceding his disciple Jayalalitha Jayaram),  almost everyone most naturally followed this time-tested route to stardom. The galaxy of character artistes who made it big with a giant leap from stage-plays to tamil filmdom included those like Major Sundarrajan, M R Radha, Nagesh (the comedian), Srikkanth, Poornam Viswanathan etc besides leading ladies from the ’50s such as Banumathy and Manorama barring a lucky few who hit the jackpot straight away like MGR’s prodigy Jayalalitha herself (who also succeeded him incidentally as the state CM) and ‘Gemini Ganesan’  (father of bollywood heroine Rekha) (to name a couple of stalwarts).

Histrionics, dialogue delivery, screen presence and even singing abilities were considered to be the chief merits of those who ruled the stage as well as the cinemas from as early as the ’50s. P U Chinnappa and M K Thiagaraja Bhagavathar from 1940s were sort of cult heroes of their times with a huge, huge fan following.

Nearly sixty years later unfolds an interesting scene:

The once vibrant and healthy Tamil theatre has visibly (and perhaps audibly) gone silent for sometime now; it is not though entirely or exactly dormant but it has stopped  making waves since long. Or may be it is drawing its last breath… One or two like the ’70s dramatists like Kathadi Ramamurthy and Y G Mahendra seem to be persisting against all odds but for whom it is nearly dead, well almost. Sad, but inevitable reality? Satellite tv did to Tamil stage dramas what not even celluloid films could manage to do for a whopping 40-50 years, reasons for which can be attributed for a variety of causes. Mass media came home with the idiot box, not reserved for a selective, ‘appreciative’ audience as the stage plays seemed to command and cater to. Atleast it was fashionable for middle-class folks of the 1970s and 80s to hold ‘sabha’ memberships, and attending fortnightly plays was like kind of an unmissable ritual. The sabha appearance became a social status where one flaunted his/her friends and family. The odd films were here and there but the dramas were a huge draw and mainstay of quality family entertainment. Expensive, to start matters with or perhaps privileged to those who had ‘the aesthetic sense’ and ‘good company.’


Revival of Tamil Theatre: ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ by Kalki


The monochrome tv set was ignored for a while but things changed with the arrival of the colour tv concept. Coupled with scores of multilingual entertainment content and news packages with the new dish tv in the block round the clock all 24×7, curtains were beginning to fall for the ‘elite’ Tamil drama stage.  Elite, in the sense, the drama audience comprised mostly of urban middle-class society for whom a hot steaming ‘filter’ coffee with a plate of spicy oily onion ‘bajjis’ in the recess between the plays meant a heady social interaction nonetheless. This was nothing short of class act.  Something that was compromised and leveled even with the advent of colour television. TV truly is a game-changer that way. Paupers to the pompous, folks retired to the comfort of their own couches where class and taste had no role to play. Around this period began a series of half to one-hour concise plays that were telecast to tv viewers weekly twice catering to the drama-hooked patrons. The package was disappointing and perhaps around this time, interests started to wane. Over years, the plays simply got rarer and stopped one fine day unable to keep up with mega serials that became the staple diet of popular television viewing.

So much so that by the ’90s, there were hardly any sabhas regularly featuring tamil plays. A flourishing business was coming to a close but with the other door swinging open for artists left in the wake by way of endless family sagas of tv soaps, drama took any new avatar? The halls of the city from now on almost always were rather booked full for only the December music season ‘kutcheries’. For the few persisting drama companies, to expect a packed audience became like believing in a miracle.

Interest in live stage has since clearly diminished if not totally vanished…

The interest in stage plays was however rekindled recently in Tamil audience with the picture ‘Kavia Thalaivan’ (Epic Hero) starring Siddharth, Prithviraj and Nasser. It was a period film from the times of Sankardas Swamigal who is revered to be the father of Tamil Theatre.

The film brought out memories of late ’70s and ’80s synonymous with stage dramas for Tamils.

R.R. Sabha in Mylapore for instance was virtually a temple for avid drama-watchers. There was a time when people used to queue up outside the ‘sabha’ halls for tickets like they do in movie halls.

Mylapore Fine Arts, Karthik Fine Arts etc where routinely they screened Tamil plays were also some regular haunts for drama-enthusiasts.  Proximity to the sabhas/halls was the main reason many of us had access to a variety of performing arts in those days.

Many of us the ’80s teenagers did miss the era of stage plays of the K Balachander and Y G Parthasarathy generation. Our parents had literally soaked in the stage creations of the bygone era that were truly dramatic. KB made successfully to the pictures in ’50s and until today there is no match for him in entire India when it comes to dealing with dramatic-turned-realistic scripts. It was bold of him to touch upon taboo subjects, far advanced for those ages and adapt them later on successfully in the silverscreen. It was risk but one which payed off luckily.

Debuting in stage and progressing to mass media like cinema also came to be a well adopted ploy to some well known political figures of Tamil Nadu who used both the forms of theater as springboard to leap into political arena. The trend started with Anna Durai, Tamil Nadu’s first dravidian party CM, who was a scriptwriter for tamil plays. It continued with K. Karunanidhi and then M G Ramachandran, all of whom used the stage as a stepping stone into silverscreen and eventually politics apart from utilizing it as (DMK) party’s propaganda machinery. Stage plays and cinema became a good medium for ‘educating’ masses on certain ‘ideologies’ synonymous to state political machinery.

One more dramatist Cho Ramaswamy well known for the wizard and king-maker he has been (in Tamil Nadu), was also popular on stage for his political plays. He had his own select faithful followers. He was in many ways our first political satirist, a novelty in the ’60s and ’70s. His stage creations were like ‘fireworks.’

The latest entry into the world of politics following the historical route of stage play-cinema-party is S Ve Shekhar, a popular comedian-dramatist from the ’80s.  Shekhar remained a contemporary of Crazy Mohan from whose troupe he split after their most successful debut drama ‘Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam.’ The play infact was re-enacted in parts by many of us school kids of the ’80s for its humour content. It was a runaway hit.

Shekhar and Crazy Mohan also had the company of Mouli, a quiet humourist himself who modelled on ‘Kathadi Ramamurthy.’ The humourous brigade took aver Tamil stage after a serious rebel spell by those like Y G Parthasarathy, K Balachander and others who were their seniors.

There was also an other strain of dramas : of Jayakanthan’s genre, which are my all-time favourite. Those of us who missed his screenplays in stage caught up with them in celluloid form – as black & white magic, produced in late ’70s. ‘Oru Nadigai Nadagam Parkiraal’ (an actress watches a show) and ‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal’ (some men at times) both classics starring Lakshmi and Srikkanth with razor sharp dialogues and retorts and fine direction are a treat to our literary senses.

As for KB, his adaptations ranged from middle-class dramas to travails of rebellious women who were protagonists of a varied kind . ‘Bama Vijayam’ to ‘Arangetram’ KB’s transition was not only smooth but also was received well by audience. (Incidentally KB also debuted in tv soaps, only one of his calibre successfully making it to all three stages of mass entertainment viz., live stage, cinema and television. Kudos to the director!)

After the heavy-themed plays of the ’60s and ’70s whether the humour brigade adopted a slightly weakened script keeping with times – is something we keep our fingers crossed about. For a matter of fact it is now figured that many a big name on the stage made it to the larger theatre called cinema without much of hitch.  It couldn’t have been easy but at some stage, the crossing must have been inevitable as technology won over.The lighter side of the ’80s dramas could perhaps be attributed to changing pulse of Indian nation? While the ’60s and ’70s were unsettling phases in our political history with India engaged in multiple wars with her adversaries, the mood of the populace could have been sombre. Imposition of ‘Emergency’ in 1975 worsened matters. The ’80s saw a change in trend with a young prime minister (in Rajiv Gandhi) heralding a new era in Indian history while in the state, a popular MGR (ADMK) front took over the reins of governance. Did the combined effect, comfort factor play any indirect role in loosening up of the nerves of our script writers?

Because the idealism that we see etched in both theater and cinema of the late 1970s and early ’80s seems to be largely a missing factor from the late ’80s from when on the audience started relaxing. Late ’80s could have been undefined period where a shift could have commenced forth.

Some of us teenagers of the ’80s basked in the timeless humour of those like Crazy Mohan who also seamlessly made it to the celluloid medium scripting for pictures like ‘Avvai Shanmughi’ (Chachi 420 in Hindi starring Kamal Hassan). The ’90s saw exactly this kind of flowering of drama artists into mainstream theater personalities of the other kind.   Amitabh Bachchan (of Bollywood) could have been the ‘angry young man’ of his times but instead Tamil cinema has always had ‘angry young woman’ thanks to KB. The loosening up happened with the arrival of software boom as value systems changed. This is where the crazy-kind came into foray.

The entire bunch seems to have made it along including Visu, Mouli to name the others who took to low cost production of middle-class subjects which make for an interesting viewership even today from the 1980s. Humour mixed with society values was the new mantra. Of these, Visu carved for himself a niche with branding this kind of films that were most entertaining and literal adaptations of some of his most successful stage plays.

The post would go incomplete without the mention of R S Manohar, the roaring thunder of Tamil theatre.

R S Manohar exalted playing anti-hero to the hilt in his in-house productions that were mega-hits! From period costume drama to erecting grand sets, he set a benchmark in stage plays that kept packed auditoriums pinned to their seats in anticipation and thrill. Famous for his histrionics on stage, Manohar screened historical plays/epics like Ramayan, Mahabharat or mostly some select episodes/branch stories from them. His most popular play was ‘Ilangeswaran.’ (Lord of Lanka meaning Ravan) The anti-hero had a cult following playing the hideous villain laughing loud and shaking the stage with his over-acting.

The thunderous echo of dramatists like R S Manohar died away since long and what follows is steady silence in a still vacuum. There have been attempts in recent times to revive the Tamil stage, proven futile. Lack of sponsors and rigorous working climate (for aspiring artists to be cast in live stage) could be reasons for Tamil drama to linger over unveiling a bold and new era. Besides how lucrative the old business is, is a million dollar question. To hold an audience captive for hours can’t be more challenging than now, with attention span of today’s society dipping to new lows.

Stage  plays are NOT and must NOT be equated to tv plays because in the former, there are no re-takes and the act has to be performed in front of a live audience. The cast has to be super-alert and on toes as there will be no second chance. Dramas nurtured the performing arts scene when there were no professional institutes grooming would-be theater personalities and technicians. The plays provided an excellent platform to express individual views as well as social concerns bringing in an awareness on their part. Tamil stage has indeed played a constructive role in instilling ‘swadeshi’ spirit in patriots in pre-Independence India.

GenNext has no clue what stage play is about. Or does it all boil down to after all one more phase of evolution in entertainment industry?  It may be too much to expect a resurrection of Tamil Theater in this digital age, still for those of us bred on wholesome hearty family dramas, the loss is deeply felt.