Thursday, August 10, 2017

I will be your tail…always.

“Where is your tail today, Aunty?” asked the shop keeper to the lady in her early 50s.

Behind her, holding the end of her saree stood a little girl of 6. The little girl peeped out and gave a toothless smile to the shopkeeper. The tail… would always be right behind.

The lady and the little girl had to cross a dry drain. The little girl was scared to jump across. The lady said, “Come, I will hold you. With a bag of vegetables in one hand, grocery in the other and a dangling scared little girl attached to her waist, hey ho! She jumped. No one knows how it happened, but the next moment the little girl, the lady and all the bags were strewn in the drain. What followed were giggles and peals of laughter. But not before the lady double checked every body part of the little girl.

“I think something is stuck in her food pipe. Doctor, please check properly.” The doctor smiled yet again at the lady. This was not the first time she had complained about her granddaughter’s erratic eating habits. “She is fine Aunty. She is just a picky eater.”
“The doctor is not good.” She said later in the evening to everyone. “I will only take care of it…my way.”

From the next day, she started the tedious practice of mashing the food with pestle and mortar. Straining the mushy semi-solid further, just so that the food could easily pass through the little girl’s food pipe, she watched with pleasure as her granddaughter swallowed her lunch.

“You and I have come to a restaurant. I am a foreigner. You are from India. I will ask you questions about India. I will eat with a fork and a knife. You eat with hands.” chirped the little girl. Today she had decided this is the only way she will eat. The lady happily obliged. All she wanted was to see the girl eat.

Many years later when the girl, now in her 20s, came back from the hostel and asked for a 2nd serving during lunch, the lady who was now older couldn’t stop staring at her with fondness. “I can’t believe you just asked for a 2nd serving. Eat…eat.”

Further few years down the line, she massaged the heavily pregnant belly of the girl who was going to become a mother soon. “Will it pain badly?” asked the girl. “No, not much. And even if it does, you will be thankful because you will have a child in your arms.”
And the next day, she held a baby boy in her arms. Her great grandchild. She had skipped her dinner and breakfast. How could she eat while her granddaughter was in pain?
Another few years down the line, she sat on the sofa putting a little baby girl to sleep in her arms. Her great grand daughter this time. “She looks just like you.” She said to her granddaughter.

The years passed by and the granddaughter watched her grandmother grow older, have difficulty walking but not an iota of her fervor and love for life had dropped. She was upto date with whatsapp, video chats, using her mobile phone and loved eating tangy golgappas and spicy barbecue.

“Apply cream on your hands and legs. And apply Evion cream on your face.” She said with an unpleasant look on her face, as she watched her granddaughter. “It is not soft enough. You must take care of yourself. Take time out for all this. You must not have cracked heels and chapped lips.” A big lesson for her granddaughter.

“Come play Uno with us.” Pestered her great grandchildren. She mastered the new game in fair 5 minutes and started to win the game. “I play better than you.” She said with mischief in her eyes.

“I am thinking of taking a break from work.” The granddaughter said one day over the phone. “No, don’t. Continue working. Not for money but for yourself. I know you.” A valuable advice which the granddaughter would always remember.

“You are bringing up your children well. You are a good mother.” She said to her granddaughter after a short stay with her great grandchildren. The granddaughter couldn’t be happier.

All these are memories today. Happy happy memories because all she gave me was happiness and joy. My Ammumma. Saying that she has been a mentor to me would be a major understatement. Of all her lessons, one will stay green forever.

The relationship between age and love for oneself should be direct. Keep adding sugar from your side to the lemons given by life and don’t shy away from taking shots.

The day she passed away, being distraught, I thought the pillars are breaking around me. Then like a spark, another thought came up. ‘We’ are becoming the new pillars for our next generation. A huge task undoubtedly. 

But like always…I will walk up the path you showed me. I will be your tail…always.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Kathakali Experience

Disclaimer: I am not a dancer. 

But dance and drama makes a huge part of what I am. 

My father was a very religious person and would spend a lot of time visiting temples. I think I have got my artistic trait from him. I have watched him silently being drawn towards characters during temple performances and stage dramas. Sunday afternoons were spent listening to old Malayalam songs. He was very fond of dramatic dances of Kerala like Thayyam, Kathakali etc. And if there would be such a performance in the Krishna temple near our house, he would not miss it. As a child, I was not that keen to watch them. To say the least, I found it boring. But as I grew and began to write, listen to varied music, dance/drama was something that began to touch my soul. One of the many reasons I have loved Indian dance forms is because of the intricate make up and costume. Of all the dances, Kathakali stands out in terms of the drama, costume, eye movements, leg stands, and ofcourse make up. It had always fancied and made me curious about how exactly is such a heavy costume worn. I could finally quench my thirst when I went to Thekaddy. We grabbed the opportunity to visit the Mudra Kathakali Centre. 

The precursor to the actual performance was watching the make up and wearing of costume. We were the first ones to enter the stage where the artist was decking up. Costumes are very large and heavy. I took the opportunity to speak to the dancer too. I specifically asked him whether he felt comfortable. The artist very sweetly said, "Yes, now I am. Young children get intimidated by the richness and heaviness of the costumes, but by the time multiple performances are done, they get used to it. Moreover we undergo full body abhyangams every year to increase and maintain stamina and power."

Yes, Kathakali is not for the faint- hearted or bodied.

There are several kinds of costumes. These are: Sathwika (the hero), Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), and Thatti. This is exactly why Kathakali is so dramatic. If you ask me, the characters of Kathi and Minukku is what catches my eye every time.  Of all the Navarasa, the positives ones are relatively easier to understand and relate. But the feelings of lust, jealousy, anger, disgust can be quite a upheaval task. 

Just before the actual performance, Kalamandalam Vishu Das displayed the basic eye movements, facial expressions to project the Navarasas. 

Narakasuravadham is a very famous dance piece that is shown in Kathakali performances. Maharaja Karthika Tirunal (1724-1798) of erstwhile Travancore is in the forefront of Kathakali play-wrights who brought majestic ‘kathi’ (depicting shades of negative traits) characters, with all their magnificence to the centre stage. His ‘Narakasuravadham’ (The slaying of the demon Naraka), co-authored, as per general belief, by his famous nephew Aswati Tirunal (1756 -1794), handles one of the episodes of Lord Krishna’s great victories. Traditionally, this performance is 6 - 7 hours long and takes place in temples. But as a stage performance, many a times portions of this entire dance drama is performed. One of such acclaimed portions is where Nakrathundi is mutilated by Jayanta.  

The basic story being: Naraka grew up to be the unrivalled ruler of the demon kingdom. His maid servant Nakratundi captures damsels to gift them to the king. On her way home, she beholds Jayanta, the handsome son of Indra. She approaches him in the guise of Lalitha and tries to woo him in vain.
The disappointed Nakratundi assumes her real form and character and in the ensuing battle, she is mutilated by Jayanta. 

Kalamandalam Vishu Das played the character of Nakrathundi. 


This is the only word I can come up with. The best part of the entire experience was my kids being absolutely engrossed in the performance. I don't think they had ever seen anything something so spectacular. 

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kuruvanthody 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Einstein, yeh kya kar daala?

While browsing through Facebook. .. I came across a man staring at me with a huge smile on his no- nonsense kinda face. He said: My son has improved dramatically in Science and Math. I am relieved. It obviously is an advertisement for online tuitions.
But what caught me is Math and Science.

In my teaching career, I have come across enough number of parents who openly say to me, "This is English, all this is okay. Ma'am, show me Math and Science marks." (PS: I am an English teacher)
I share this with many, and they ask me how I react. Well, I do not. Because each of these parents or children at some point of their lives will need something more than Math and Science.

I thought the 90's was over. But frankly I feel it will never get over for Indians. Well.. we are the global leaders who are running board meetings now.  The new face of the global market. Are we?

This post is in no way saying that these subjects are detrimental. Oh my... how can I say such a thing?I am an Indian parent! But may I please take the liberty of saying they are err... over-hyped.

I was in for a pleasant surprise on my recent trip to Thekaddy. There was an in house shop run by a Kashmiri, and I happened to like quite a few things in his shop. While making the payment, he asked me about our family. There was a casual Hmmmm when I told him that M was in the IT field. He smiled and said, "Everyone is into IT nowadays. What about you ma'am?" I said, "I teach English", and handed over my card for billing. He stopped packing and looked at me. "You are a teacher? An English teacher?" I nodded with a smile. He didn't say anything for a few seconds. After a while, he kept his hands on his heart and spoke. "Oh my God. Aap teacher hain. Woh bhi English ki. Mein kya bolu?" I was a little surprised. "Have you even been to Kashmir, madam?" He asked. I said, "No."
He lowered his eyes and said, "It is a beautiful place. I am also a student. I study Political Science. But because of the conditions there, I am unable to write my exams. I want to become a teacher. I have chosen political science to understand how our country is run. Only we can bring a change. IT field main tho sab log jaate hain. But I did not choose it because I want to study something 'more'. I will become a teacher like you. But of political Science."

I was humbled that moment. Before leaving, he sad, "I am very lucky to have met an English teacher." All I could manage was smile.

The next day when we visited a tea estate en route Alleppey, the lady who walked us around impressed me with her smartness. Even though she was an Oriya, she had learnt decent Malayalam to communicate with her staff. (Malayalam is one of the toughest languages to learn). She asked my husband what we did in Bangalore. He told about himself and then about me. As soon as she heard that I am a teacher, she asked me what I teach. "English", I said. "Oh really! You teach English?" Before leaving I said to her, "You are quite smart. I really liked you." She quipped,"No, It's been my pleasure to meet an English teacher. Language touches heart." I said, "Yes, absolutely it does."

Sitting in the car, I couldn't stop wondering about these two individuals. For me, they had glamoured a subject other than Math and Science.

A few of my friends tell me that because my kids are still young, I talk like this. When they reach Grade 8 or 9, I would also be quite keen that they take up Math and Science. I don't have an answer to this. I will cross this bridge when I reach there. But I also remind myself that I am a 90's product of a family where no one had studied anything else other than Science and Math, (barring my aunt) and guess what? I DID NOT take up Science or Math after my 10th grade even after scoring above 95% in both the subjects in my 10th board exams. I do not know whether you can imagine the hell I went through and made my family go through too, having to convince them that I do not like either of the subjects. So I still have a hope that I would do just fine if my kids take up something beyond these subjects.

Someday I will blog about that day when it actually happens. :)

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