Thursday, December 22, 2011


 Last Sunday’s HINDU carried an article on Kazhukumalai, a small township in the district of Thoothukudi in South India. The name of the place, Kazhukumalai simply took me back to my childhood days.

A gramophone and (below) a plate. Pictures courtesy Internet.

Those were the days when people were unaware of things like electricity and running water at homes. No electricity means none of the modern conveniences one has today. The gramophone was the only luxury some homes could boast of, and ours was one of those. We had collected a large number of plates -- this was what records were referred to in those days. This gramophone was operated by hand, winding up the springs that make the record holder revolve, fixing the needle to the stylus (one had to change the needle after the first side was played, to play the other side) We children were not allowed anywhere near this. Not only that we, the youngsters had to beg and nag our elder brother to operate this for us whenever we felt like listening to our favourite songs.

My favourite list included one song which begins with the words, ‘Kazhuku malai  Kuruvi kulam’(Eagle Mountain  Sparrow Pond) - a song with two  stanzas. Even after so many years I felt happy when I found out I remembered the words. The song on the flip side of this record was very rustic, beginning , “Macha vandhidingo thirunalluku” (An invitation to the boy friend to attend a festival).These were not film songs  but common “Theru koothu” (street play) songs. As I write, so many of those songs come flooding into my memory. “Indru pole endrum namum Isan namam Pottuvome” (Let us ever sing the praise of  Isan the Lord); “Imayam muthal Kumari varai” (from the Himalayas to Kanya Kumari)  - this song gave a geographical description of India and also introduced Mahatma Gandhi as the great Indian leader. One Kuravar (gypsy) song I remember well is, “Koodai  Muram kattuvom” (Let us weave baskets)  Well I can add a few more songs to the list.   What I wonder is - could anybody of that era be able to remember these songs? Is there any collector of old  Thamizh  songs who have these in the collection?  I really wonder!!

These records were pushed back to the bottom shelf when songs of films like Chintamani,  ThyagaBhoomi  Seva Sadanam, Sakuntala,Balayogini  and Bhaktha Kuchela became very popular. We had a few Telugu and Hindi film song records also in our collection. I remember how people on the street would stop in front of our house to listen to the latest film songs played on the gramophone. My elder brother was an avid collector of all film songs because my mother really enjoyed listening to them in the evenings, for though they were film songs all most all of them were devotional ones.          

When the radio entered our home in the late 1930s the gramophone and the records were handed down to the youngsters and we felt very grown up when our nephews were at the requesting end, begging us to play their favourite songs

Now today only oldies like me think of these things and some days lose sleep also thinking about those “GOOD OLD DAYS.” My youngest daughter told me once that in everyone’s life there are those Good Old Days depending on their age and when life was smooth running for them easy going, without any care. Reading the write up on Kazhuku Malai gave me so much pleasure, it brought back all those old songs to the front of my mind.

How I wish I could sing them out loud and clear! But that is not possible because I can only sing out of tune which even ‘Bathroom singers’ will object to.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


A Diwali rangoli, created by my granddaughters Parvati and Swati
This year’s Diwali was Danielle-Kartik’s Thalai Diwali, the Diwali they celebrate as a couple for the first time. I sent them a mail from which I quote two or three sentences:
“In those days – I am talking about 75 years back -- newly-married couples used to wait eagerly for Diwali, the reason being they had to wait a year or so to start living together as man and wife.
“The boy with his parents used to go his in-laws’ place to celebrate Diwali.  If they (I mean the newly-married couple) were lucky they would get a few moments to themselves, to hold each other’s hands and for some daring boys to steal a kiss or two!!”

Kartik and Danielle
 Thanking me, Danielle wrote back saying she enjoyed reading my mail, bursting out laughing when she read “steal one or two kisses”.

My parents

Well, life was indeed very different then. My parents got married when my mother was eight years old and my father 14 -- that was in 1902. They were together for 70-odd years, till 1972, when my father passed away. Through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through sadness and happiness they were together bringing up their seven children and settling them in life. They did not understand the word LOVE, for there was no such word in their dictionary, but they cared so much for each other in their own way. Both of them had shared their fears and anguish for each other with me.

My third sister , me and my eldest sister
My three elder sisters were married off when they were 12, 13 and 14, respectively. I was not even born when my eldest sister got married. She was older to me by 13 years. So I have no idea how her Thalai Diwali was celebrated. I was 10 years old when my second sister got married and went to her in-laws’ place within two-three months and was with her husband and his family to celebrate their first Diwali. Since they were living in the same city the whole family was invited for lunch and my sister and Athimbar were presented with new clothes.

With my second sister
Though we are Tamilians, we are third-generation families who have settled in Thiruvananthapuram (capital city of erstwhile Travancore state). We have been more influenced by the culture of Travancore and developed our own style of celebrating Diwali including the Thalai Diwali of newly-married couples.
When my third sister got married and moved over to Trichy with her husband before their first Diwali, gifts were sent to them.  I was in Delhi with my husband a month after my marriage. We were sent money to buy whatever we wanted. I was 17-plus when I got married in 1945 and that was regarded as rather late for a girl to be married off. When my 23-year-old niece’s marriage was put off till 1960 because she wanted to finish her graduation, so many comments were passed.

So customs and rituals were being changed to suit each family’s convenience and the times they lived in. 

Nowadays there are hardly any set rules and laws. That is only right. With each family having its members spread all over the world it is very difficult to stick to old rules. I feel each family should be given the freedom to celebrate the festivals as they choose to, in their own way. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This evening I was watching an old Tamil movie (20 years old).  In one scene, the heroine was choosing earrings in a jewellery shop by holding each earring next to her ears, in front of the mirror. She was unable to decide which to go for. As she was looking in the mirror, trying the latest dangling ones, she was surprised to see another face in the mirror, that of a young man, signalling that this type looks good on her. When she tried another pair, the face in the mirror showed his disapproval. The face in the mirror was all smiles again when she tried the first one once more. That made the decision for her and she bought those earrings and on her way out thanked the youth.

Courtesy Internet
This scene in some way reminded me of what I experienced in a shoe shop in a mall in Chicago this June. I was there with my daughter-in-law Jaishree who was keen on getting me one or two pairs of footwear. Considering   my age she made me sit in the waiting alcove saying she would pick up a few samples and bring them over for approval. I took a seat and looking around found a young man occupying another chair.  Out of courtesy I said ‘Hello’ and he too responded with a smile and a ‘Hello’.

A young woman came over wearing the slippers she had chosen for the young man’s approval. He gave a thumbs down sign and she went back to choose another pair. She came back with another pair which suited her feet -- black with aqua blue/green design. I liked that colour combination and that must have showed on my face. The young man just looked at my face and gave the girl a ‘thumbs up’ sign.  The girl walked back and after a short time came back wearing another pair which did not suit her at all (my opinion). The young man also must have thought so and he shook his head in a negative manner.

This charade went on for about half an hour when Jaishree came with a few pairs of footwear in her arms, apologizing for the delay and asking me to follow her so that we could check the size and for me to choose the ones I liked. I got up saying “Best of luck” to the young man. He looked back at me with disappointment written all over his face and said “What! Are you are leaving? I thought you would help me in deciding which shoes will suit my wife”. I knew he was only joking.

I really enjoyed that half an hour waiting for Jaishree.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Continued from last post

It was in the summer of 2010 Kartik proposed to Danielle, and she accepted while they were holidaying in Rome. As soon as the wedding date was fixed by Danielle we were all informed. I felt very happy and thrilled and wondered whether I would be able to attend the wedding.  As things turned out, I had to make plans to attend another family wedding before I could turn my attention to travelling to the US in June 2011.
Rajesh's wedding at Trichur

In the midst of mentally planning as to who would be ready to escort me to Chicago, I received a wedding invitation from Chitra (the daughter of my husband’s brother Viswanathan) informing me her sons were getting married in April this year; the eldest son Rajesh, on the second at Trichur; and Kartik, the younger one on the 17th at Trivandrum. We were all happy to get this news. I felt really happy for Chitra, who went through a bad phase when she lost her husband in a road accident a few years back. Both Rajesh and Kartik then were in their teens, still students. She herself was seriously injured with innumerable fractures.

It took many months and many surgeries for her to come back to an almost normal and healthy life. In spite of all this she brought up her two sons, as well mannered citizens, giving them very good education. With the moral support of her husband’s family and her own parents and brother, she was able to do this, all the while continuing to work in a bank. What I admire in Chitra is that she has no self pity and she has come out of her ordeal as a very brave person.

A few days before I got the invitation, I had been told by Viswanathan that Rajesh’s marriage was more or less settled, the boy-meet-girl being over and only a few minor details to be finalized. But Kartik’s wedding taking place immediately afterwards surprised me.

 When I called Chitra to congratulate her I got to know why. Kartik’s was a love marriage. He had met Parvati when he was a final year student doing his Engineering course and she was a fresher. Maybe it was love at first sight. Once Kartik finished his studies and moved away from Trivandrum they had no chance of seeing each other. They kept in touch through letters and mobiles and decided to be together for life. Chitra gave full support to them on one condition - that they get married only after Rajesh got married. Kartik by this time had started working in San Francisco and settled there.  Now that Rajesh’s wedding was fixed, Chitra felt that there was no reason to make Parvati and Kartik wait any longer.

A wedding in the family and that too in Trichur, was carrot enough for me to decide to go there. So it was for Raji, Muthu and Raja. And we were off to Trichur; we had a grand time enjoying the ceremonies which lasted two days. Yes Rajesh’s wedding was a typical South Indian one with the vritham and the kappu kettal for the bride done side by side the morning before the day of the wedding, and the reception the same evening.

Till a few years back the trend was to hold the reception in the evening of the actual wedding day, after the thali kettal, and ammi mithikkal —the main and important rites of the wedding. Nowadays, to suit the conveniences of renting the wedding hall, the reception is held on the wedding eve itself!

Whatever that may be, the general opinion of this wedding was that   “Trichur has not witnessed this grand a wedding in the recent past”.  Without doubt it was one, with live nagaswaram and typical Kerala cuisine, with different menus for each meal for two days.  Not only that, the wedding hall -- a big one -- was packed to its full capacity. An indication of how popular Chitra is in her workplace was the fact that her colleagues at the bank in Ernakulam,  80km away, all turned up for the wedding, from the manager down to the security man.
At T. R. Rama Iyer's cloth shop
We four from Chennai had a good nostalgic time in Trichur, apart from the wedding, visiting old places and landmarks and of course praying at Vadakkunathan Temple and Thiruvambadi Temple. We also visited the cloth shop which still bears the name of my husband’s uncle’s ( T R Rama Iyer) and made some purchases.

Kartik's wedding at Trivandrum. Chitra is seen on the left - in the brown saree.
We were unable to attend Kartik’s wedding.  I was told that Kartik’s wedding was a one-day affair with the pudava koda   in the morning and the reception the same evening.  Yes, the Nair wedding is known as the pudava koda- (gifting a pudava by the bridegroom to the bride).  The wedding rites take only half an hour or so.

The bridegroom was received by the bride’s brother and seated at the dais where the bride joined him. After receiving the mundu nerithu from the bridegroom, they exchanged garlands and rings. There was no vritham no malaimattal no oonjal. I was told the wedding feast was a large spread with all the Kerala special prathamans and vegetable dishes.

Three weddings in the family of Trichur Ramakrishna Iyer, great-great grandfather to the three bridegrooms.  Each one was conducted differently, but thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.   


Monday, August 22, 2011


I have a faint recollection that a long time ago I read a serial in the Thamizh weekly 'Anantha Vikatan' --- a serial titled Washingtonil Thirumanam, penned by the famous Thamizh writer Saavi. I am sure many, particularly the members of that era, would remember the title I am referring to. It was a hilarious comedy describing how a South Indian Brahmin wedding was conducted in Washington at the request and funding of a top philanthropist of the US. With all the fanfare like a double Nadaswaram, and gaslights carried on the heads of the Korava (gypsy) for the Mapppillai Azhaippu. All the things needed for the wedding, including the Koravans and gaslights, were flown to Washington by special aircraft. Not only that, to make appalams expert Mamis, women who had the last word in the processing of high class appalams, were also brought to the capital so that they could be factory fresh!!

Expert, outstanding and famous cooks along with their big, big andas, cheena chattis and chatukam and karandhis (large enough to cook for a thousand guests) were also transported by air. Well, to make a long story short the wedding thus conducted was a great success, enjoyed by the whole population of the city. The Press, not to be left behind, gave a good coverage of the wedding!

The above story was published in the late 1960s, when US was out of reach to the common man. It was a dream come true for the first few Indians who were lucky enough to go to that country either as students for higher studies or officials sent on deputations and also for the diplomats getting posted there.

Now it is different. Every Indian household has at least one daughter or son settled there. Their children are no different from other children of other countries growing up there. Inter-marriages are common. Some prefer to come to their native place to get married, others get married in the cities where they grew up.

In June, there was such a wedding in Chicago. My grandson Kartik got married to Danielle, his friend of five years. It was a perfect wedding in every sense of the word, a pot-pourri of two cultures. There was no Mappilai Azhaipu, no vritham, no Kasiyathirai, no Mallai Mattal, no oonjal. There was a Sasthrigal (priest) who conducted the wedding in a very dignified manner with the bare essential rites such as the Vinayaka Poojai, the Kappukettal which the Sastrigal himself did both for the bride and the groom, the Kannika Daanam, recital of the Gothram and then the Mangalya Dharanyam or Thali kattu,( the ‘Mundru Mudichu) or Three Knots.

The first two knots were tied by Kartik, while the third knot was tied by Yamini, Kartik’s sister, as is the tradition. Yamini looked lovely dressed in a blue chiffon saree with a matching orange brocade blouse. The bride equally lovely and graceful was wearing a green chiffon sari and a pink brocade blouse, the groom in a tuxedo but no shoes. Next followed the other rites like the Saptha padi, Aseervadham and lastly the Aarathi.

The civil ceremony followed after a break for cocktails. While the guests were enjoying the drinks and meeting other friends, catching up with each other’s news, the bride and her bridesmaids absented themselves. Shortly, all the guests were seated at their respective tables – yes, there were about fifteen to twenty tables seating eight to ten people at each.

I really appreciated the way the guests were seated. Each table was labeled with the names of the guests, all members of each family in the same table. For example, my children and myself were at one table; the grandchildren were at another table; Jaishree’s mother and her brother, sister and niece with her family at another; known friends together likewise. Each one was made to feel at ease. The food, mainly north Indian, was served on individual plates.

Now, the bride in her really beautiful wedding dress walked down the stairs on her father’s arm followed by the two flower girls and bridesmaids, making a striking entry. From the other side Kartik and his Best Man walked in. It was a beautiful sight. The ceremony was conducted by a padre.

Both Danielle and Kartik took their vows, readily said the two words “I Do” without any hesitation, and exchanged rings. Most eyes (especially those of the parents) turned misty. The newly-married couple exchanged kisses and had the floor to themselves for the first dance as a couple. After this there were speeches, by Kartik thanking every one for their presence, and Jaishree saying a few words about Kartik, about how caring he is to everyone -- in Jaishree’s own words: “A caring son. a caring brother, a caring friend and now a caring husband to Danielle…”

It was then time for every one to get on to the dance floor. Not only youngsters but slightly older couples -- Raji and Muthu, Jaishree and Bala -- also joined them. I felt very happy to see them all enjoying themselves.
I was also thrilled to see three and little girls – seven-year-old Maya and Arundati, and two-year-old Samyukta (three f my great granddaughters) dancing and prancingo all over the place, sometimes by themselves or with any willing partners. Maya’s wish was granted when Kartik found time to dance with her.

Unlike the Washington wedding, for this Chicago wedding there was no need to get anything from India,. There are many outlets in Chicago where one gets all that is needed for any of our functions including the Kalasam and mango leaves!

Two days before the wedding there was a Mehendhi evening organized by Jaishree, in which many relations and friends including the bride’s relations and friends also took part. There were two professionals, girls from India, who did a great job of doing the designs on the hands and feet of children and ladies eager to have it done. Throughout the whole evening there was singing and dancing and merrymaking followed by a very tasty north Indian dinner.

On the wedding eve, Danielle and Kartik hosted a dinner for their relations and friends. This “Rehearsal dinner” (as it is called) for the relations and friends who have come to attend the wedding, was at an Italian place. After the dinner, speeches were made by Bala, Shaun -- one of Kartik’s friends -- and the young brother of Danielle. This was followed by Danielle and Kartik giving gifts to their parents. The bridesmaids too received gifts from the bride. An aunt of the bride was also very generous with her gifts to the parents of the bride and groom, and also to the bridesmaids

The evening and the dinner came to an end with the Ramakrishna clan singing “He’s getting married in the Morning”.

To be continued…..

Saturday, May 21, 2011


 I am happy to say that this is one of the prize-winning entries at the

Dove & Yahoo! Real Beauty Contest organised by Indiblogger.
Beauty means a lot things for me — an old woman who has lived for more than eight decades and has seen, admired and enjoyed so much beauty. Beautiful people,beautiful places, beautiful works of art, and most importantly, beautiful works of Mother Nature.
Beauty in anything is pleasant to the eyes, soothing to the mind and sometimes makes one’s head feel intoxicated . Such is the power of beauty, particularly if it is nature at work. A beautiful face untouched by artificial make-up ( which is very rare these days) is really a sight for tired eyes. A freshly-opened flower with dew drops shining on it makes one wonder about the power of nature! Sunrise and sunset with a few clouds here there reflecting the sunlight in various hues make me even at this age want to hold on to that beautiful scene for ever and enjoy it forever -- as Keats said, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder is another saying! How true!! A person who has no aesthetic sense will not be able to appreciate beauty in any form or in anything. On the other hand anyone who appreciates beauty will find it lurking somewhere, half -hidden half- submerged in everything around us. I feel that such a person is blessed.
A good- looking gentleman (whose wife was just the opposite) was once asked by a cousin of mine as to how he came to marry her and live with her! “Just look at her with my eyes” was his answer!
“Beauty is what beauty does”. I heard this for the first time when I was a young bride of three four months and that too from my husband’s uncle! By some quirk of fate this uncle had to give up his house and had no place to go. So he turned to us and stayed with us for some time. I really liked him and respected him from the moment I saw him. So his staying with us was no big problem for me. In fact I learned a lot from him to my advantage.
Whenever I put a tasty dish on the dining table he used to say “Beauty is what beauty does”. I had never been bracketed with beauty by anybody before and also I had no illusions about myself. But his saying this gave me so much confidence in myself and in my looks.
Mine was an arranged marriage, as was the custom of those days. The girl and the boy were given a chance to see each other and approve of their parents’ selection for the marriage to be finalised . But my husband and myself were given no such choice. We saw each other only after everything was finalised. Because I knew my limitation I used to tease him that he was not given any chance to say NO.
“Beauty is only skin deep” is very much wrong according to me. I put it as beauty is ‘bone deep ’and also “mind deep’. Bone structure plays a great part in making a face as well as the body look beautiful and attractive. I have come across some Adivasi workers in tea gardens in West Bengal whose facial bone structures and the formation of their skull bones make them very attractive; they have features which are much admired and longed for by the modern urban youngsters.
A beautiful face must go with a beautiful mind. If one’s mind is crowded with ugly thoughts these thoughts somehow show on the face and mar ones looks. Likewise, one should not be vain about one’s beautiful looks. This kind of vanity also reflects on one’s face and kills the beauty there. This is neither preaching nor words of wisdom. One gets to know these facts by experience and with age.
Or by reading the story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Vishukanni this year at my great-granddaughter Arundati's home in Seattle

 This year, April 15 was VISHU -- the harvest festival, celebrated all over Kerala. Not only just Kerala. All over the world, wherever there is a Keralite, he definitely celebrates Vishu.

Each house in Kerala puts up a Vishukanni the previous night so that members of the family will be able to see it first thing in the morning, as soon as they get up. In every household, this Vishukanni is arranged by the oldest member of the family, in the pooja room, after all the youngsters have gone to bed.      

Vishukanni means the first thing that one’s eyes see on Vishu day. It is all types of auspicious things, arranged, in front of an idol, or picture, of Sri Krishna.  Since this is a harvest festival whatever is grown in one’s garden is placed there as an offering, like, bunches of mangoes, coconuts and jackfruits.  Two brass lamps (nilavillakku) burn brightly on either side, adding to the lustre.

Vishukonnai - Courtesy

 Bunches of golden-yellow laburnum flowers decorate the display. April is the season when the laburnum blooms in south India. So profusely do they bloom, these trees hang down with their weight – it is a sight not easily forgotten.   And that’s why laburnum is known as Vishukonnai in Kerala.

Gold and silver coins are arranged in rows alongside all these.  Traditionally, these coins would be given to family members and all those who work for it – both in the household and outside. Nowadays, instead of gold and silver coins, cash is given and this is known as Vishu Kaineetam.

On Vishu morning this year, my thoughts went back to my childhood days and the Vishu of those times.  In my younger days, I never saw my mother put up the Vishukanni.  When we children were sent to bed there would be nothing to suggest that we would get a treat -- a  surprise -- the next morning. Yes, the Vishukanni really was a treat for us children. Why children, it was a treat for one and all!!

My first memory of Vishu in our home was when I was four years old. Our mother woke us -- we three sisters and my younger brothers -- early in the morning, even before dawn, and led us one by one with her hands covering our eyes, taking us to the pooja room and seating us.

My father, waiting for us there, poured a rudrani (a small silver spoon) full of water into our cupped palms. We were asked to apply the water to our eyes. Only then were we allowed to open our eyes and look straight into a mirror -- the centrepiece of the Vishukanni, and look at our faces in the reflection.

In our family the traditional Tamil New Year starts on Vishu day. The belief goes the year would be good or otherwise depending on the first face you see as you open your eyes on Vishu day. 

Next our father handed over a gold coin to each one of us, but not for us to keep. We were asked to touch our eyes with it and give it back to our mother.   

After that, each one of us got our Vishu Kaineetam -- one small silver coin called a Panam. Its value was one-seventh of a Rupee, or four Chakrams, for 28 Chakrams made a Rupee.  This was the erstwhile Travancore State’s monetary system and the rupee was called the Sarkar Rupai. (We also had the British Monetary system too, with rupees annas and paisas; this was known as the British Rupai.)  One Panam was just about 15 paisa of today! It was a huge amount for us and we felt very rich.

We did our Namaskarams to God first and then to our parents after which we were let free for the day, to do whatever we wanted.

In the evening, our Athimbar, Mama, as also my mother’s uncles came over to give us Vishu Kaineetam,  a Panam from each to each one of us.  So by the end of the day we felt very, very rich. The rest of the evening was spent thinking what all to buy for ourselves the next day.

In those days a Rupee could get you a lot of things. For instance, a sovereign (gold coin) and a bag of rice (nearly 100 kilos) cost the same, about 12 to 13 rupees.  A six-yard silk sari, woven with a lot of zari all over, cost 12 rupees, a six-yard cotton sari 3 rupees … no wonder we felt we were very rich with a Rupee  each on Vishu day. 

But, and it happened every Vishu, the next morning we felt no need to go and spend our money. So, before going to school, the money would be returned to our mother.

 We had everything we needed thanks to our parents, especially in our mother’s storeroom, which was ever-filled with jars of goodies like murrukku, cheedai, and banana and jackfruit chips, along with sweets made with jaggery (sweets with sugar were rarely made at home on ordinary days).

We children of those days were a happy lot … we were happy walking to our school and back and playing outdoors till darkness fell.  By then we would be ready to eat whatever was given for dinner and go straight to bed dog tired.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


An old  painitng of a tsunami wave by Katsushika Hokusai (circa 18th century).
Mount Fuji can be seen in the background

When natural calamities occur, like the earthquake and tsunami that the people of Japan faced last week, people take strength from one other and try to rescue survivors and hope for the best. No one can be blamed for such occurrences. But it sets  one thinking that this is God’s way of reminding us that there IS a power far beyond our reach, and in no way the humans could compete with Him.

When man-made accidents happen we definitely get angry with the persons who are responsible for such accidents, who take the lives of innocent people. Every morning you open the newspaper to find such headlines ‘Two die in a scooter accident’, ‘Four dead in a truck car collision’,  a train accident, and so on and on . It really makes me angry to read these news items. I think that people in a hurry to reach their destination, just forget to be careful about not only their safety but of others too.

What really made me write this post today is a news item I read in The Hindu two days back.
Four-year-old Saira Banu who  "was travelling home with her parents on a motorcycle suffered a grievous injury when a thread coated with ‘maanja' used to fly a kite slit her throat".

This is very sad, and my heart goes out to the young parents, who must have been full of dreams for the future of their little girl. The story goes on to say that two boys who were flying the kite were arrested along with the men who  sold the  maanja (thread coated with powdered glass) to them. Okay! That is how justice is carried out. Will these arrests bring back their child for the young couple!

This news item reminds me of another such incident that took place years back - a long time back. It happened in an Italian city. A man was going home from work riding his motorcycle. All of a sudden a kite flown by some boys fell down and the Italian equivalent of the maanja string that came down along with the kite found this man in its way! It is difficult to believe, but the string simply went on its way decapitating the motorcyclist

Without losing momentum the motorcycle proceeded on the road with the headless rider!! A man driving his car coming from the opposite direction, shocked to see the headless rider, lost control of his car and crashed into a pickup truck carrying iron rods. He died on the spot. Worse, the sudden impact of the crash dislodged the iron rods. Two of them went right through the windshield of the vehicle coming behind and caused the death of the two front-seat passengers!!

Though it is years back that I read this news, it is etched in my memory with indelible ink because of its frightening ferocity. One can find comfort taking things philosophically. “Oh what to do? It is all predestined.” But what about the survivors? Who will comfort them? Their loss is great for them. Nothing will bring back the dead!

Man-made disasters are more frightening than natural calamities!! This is what I feel. Maybe I am wrong.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


On February1 we got the news of an addition to the family - the birth of a baby girl in Seattle, to my grand-children Sankar and Jaisri, a sister to Nino. It was this wonderful news for which we in Chennai were waiting with bated breath. Thanks to the modern-day facilities we were getting an on-the-spot running commentary which made us feel we were also in the same frame. Not only that, within an hour of the baby’s arrival we got a picture of the newborn and we did not have to wait long to see the baby on the web cam. The baby was born in Seattle and it was Sankar who was with Jaisri throughout the ordeal, and the first person to see and handle the baby. 

Things were different and in many cases still are different in India so far as I know. Today’s children will not believe that Babuji (my husband) saw our first born when the baby was six months old. Twenty years later too it was not very different. Our eldest son-in-law also belonged to the same category. The reason was very simple. Amongst our people in South India expecting mothers were always taken to their parents’ place for the confinement period - that is the time of delivery and for some days of rest after childbirth. After three months the mother and child, went to her in-laws place for a month or so, after which only she joined her husband wherever he worked. 

In the early part of the twentieth century customs and rules were different from my time. In those days men did not venture out so far from their hometown in search of jobs. Traditions and religious rites made it easier for the father also to see and take the baby in his arms as early as the twelfth day itself: it was on the twelfth day the baby had the naming ceremony, which used to be celebrated with a pooja and some religious rites done by the father. Traditions and customs were made pliable to suit the modern life style, the naming ceremony and annaprasanam (feeding the baby solid food for the first time, a ceremony usually conducted when the baby is six months old) have become a part of the first birthday celebration.

In those days unlike today it was not even thinkable that a man could enter the delivery room leave alone be there to see the baby born. In most families, the delivery was at home with the help of a midwife. An elderly, much-experienced grandmother or an aunt would be there to act the part of the nurse, to comfort the to-be-mother and hold her hand and wipe her brows. No one else was to enter the delivery room, not only at the time of the delivery but for the next ten days -- maybe to protect the newborn baby and the mother from infection of any kind.

As lifestyle changes our ideas and notions also change. Our mindset is ready to accept new ideas as well as changing norms. Today, for a father-to-be, it is a matter of one’s own choice whether to be with his wife during childbirth.

Thirty years back when my son and daughter-in-law were expecting their first child neither of the mothers from India was in a position to go to Chicago to be of any help to them. It was my son who was with his wife to give her all the support and solace she needed during the delivery. Not only that, he managed to cook the meals, do the housework and take care of the baby, like giving the baby his daily oil bath (following our family tradition, prepare his food and changing nappies, since the mother was a little apprehensive to handle the small baby for the first few days. All this he managed to do while attending to his office work too. The plus point was he was running his own business.

In India too this system has caught on and many men of today are proud to take care of their newborn babies. I wish more and more men in India too start this habit of being with their wives during the birth of their children so that they could know what the womenfolk go through and not treat childbirth as a routine job!! 
Following the system in some other countries, the Japanese government has introduced paternity leave of two months. I remember having read in the papers that the Japanese prime minister was the first one to avail himself of this new rule!! 

I do admire such men.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A SCHOOL REUNION... and One That Did Not Happen

It was wonderful meeting some friends of Sankar (my grandson) whom I have not seen for a long time. Some others I was meeting for the first time - like Ramya and Sarada. All of them who came home were ever willing to sit by me and chat with me.  I was totally touched by their affection towards an old person. All these children (yes, they are children to me though they are in their early forties) had come from far and wide to Chennai in the last week of December ­­ with a special purpose -- they were the  batch of students who had passed out of Vidya Mandir in 1985 to have a reunion and make their bond with the school further stronger.

 This took me back to my schooldays and classmates — I have not seen any of them after I got married and went to Delhi in 1945. I wonder sometimes where they would be and whether they are alive or…

 I was the youngest in my class and because of that I had to produce a medical certificate so that I could sit for the public exam that year. I said I had not seen anyone of them,that is right. But I do remember their names and their faces and the good times, and sometimes the not so good times, I had with them. We were together for nine years and as I look back I feel it was a wonderful period of my life.
Susan Grace Varkey and Thresiamma were the most beautiful of them and I greatly admired Susan not only for her beauty but also for her kind and friendly nature. We worked together as president and secretary of the Hindi cultural society in the final year of our Plus Two years, known as Intermediate or F.A. (Faculty of Arts)and became close friends. Other names I recall are Parvati Ammal, Kamalambal, Karthiyanani, Saramma Varghese, Ruth Ommen. Mary Jacob, Madhavi, Anna Ipe, Mary M.George, Kanthimathi, Aruna, Ratna Amma, Lily, Kasturi, Daisy James who was very good in sports and  Swarnamma. I know for certain that she is no more.

Well, I can easily fill this page with all the names I remember. We were the last batch of students to pass out of The Maharaja’s School for girls in Palayam,  Thiruvananthapuram  in 1942. That school  building was annexed to the College of Science at the end of that academic year and that was the end of our school!!
We did our F.A. in the College for Women in Thycaud. I am putting all this down so that if anybody reading this remembers her school and college days will also remember me. I hope it is not a vain thought. My name in the school and College registers  was L. Lalithambal. May I make a request to the children/grandchildren of the above mentioned classmates of mine, who read this page to contact me so that I could gather some news about them. It is a fact that as one grows old, one’s thoughts do go back to one’s younger days

The generations that followed mine were smarter and luckier. They (including my own children) I am happy to say, are in touch with not only their school and college friends but also with their teachers in school as well as in college. The world has become smaller and closer with all the modern  amenities -- by pressing one button you reach anyone you want in any corner of the earth.

What made me so sad was something that happened in September. In the  second or third week of that month  there was an obituary notice in The Hindu about the death of one Dr Susan Mathews along with her photo, address and phone number, also saying she was originally from Thiruvananthapuram. That set a bell ringing somewhere in my memory. Could this be my old, old friend Susan?

 I was in two minds whether to call and talk to her people or not. After debating for a day with myself I dialled the number and talked to Meera who introduced herself as Susan’s daughter-in-law.  Talking with Meera confirmed what I was thinking, yes, this was the same Susan -- my one-time friend and classmate!! What a way to find out!

 Now what is the use? It is too late. What made me real sad was the fact that Susan was living  just a kilometre away from where I stay. If only I had known earlier it could have been a wonderful reunion of old timers!