Woods and Forests

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

~~~ From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Trees and woods make me nostalgic. They take me back home where there are so many trees around, with a captivating orchestra of birdsong, especially at dawn. The first blush of the early morn gives their leafy crowns a golden hue as the slivers of liquid gold fall on them. Another memory is that of a trip with Aathira and Praveen to the Arippa Reserve Forest in Kerala.

Every morning as I go for my morning walk, I feel an exhilarating joy pervading my being as I walk along the tree-lined avenues. It’s a pond park with a rubberized walking track.


The rubberized walking track 

And now the Neem trees are in bloom. In the quiet and silence of the morning, all one can hear is bird songs and calls, though in Dubai there aren’t very many birds that I can see and hear, like back at home. I do see bulbuls, mynas, parakeets, crows, sparrows, lots of pigeons and doves, and rarely migratory birds. I love to start my day with these simple joys – one reason to love summers is that the sun rises by 5:30 a.m.

Of late, I realize, trees have captured my imagination in a deep sort of way. The scented blooms of neem trees fill the morning air with a delightful fragrance that gives my spirits an instant high. I tend to be very mindful of these subtleties as I walk. I love sniffing the air that’s very high in oxygen content early in the morning. And the park is also not teeming with people at dawn – in fact there are just a few. Being connected and close to Nature is such a delightful and soothing experience.


That takes me to some of the articles that I have been reading about trees in general and forests in particular. One said that scientists and researchers have discovered that connecting with forests bring in amazing benefits. I can believe that. The Japanese even have a specific term for it: Shinrin Yoku*. It is said to be a practice in which people immerse themselves in the forest or literally ‘forest bathing‘. This has been found to be a wonderful way to cleanse oneself of stresses and negativity. Cleansing the mind thus rejuvenates the body and invigorates the spirit,  aids to improve immunity and strengthens healing power of the body.

It is also said that forests as well as other natural, green landscapes can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing their activity as well as the number of natural killer cells that can even destroy cancer cells.

Do watch this amazing video on YouTube that so beautifully captures the magical healing power of forests. http://youtu.be/y-wHq6yY2CI

So, from the enchantment I seem to have developed for trees, woods and forests, it looks like am growing into being a Nemophilist. 😊 The word is derived from Greek  language: ‘Nemos’ meaning ‘grove’ and ‘philos’ meaning ‘affection’. So, nemophilist, a rarely used word, means ‘one who loves groves or woods’. Charles Augustus Keeler has used it in his Sequoia Sonnets, a collection of 113 lovely poems. The lines from the 6th sonnet titled ‘Heart’s Ease’ goes like this:
“The groves invite thee, dear nemophilist,
to care-free revel in their vernal bowers… “

* http://wp.me/p7hH7A-c4


Onam Ramblings -2

Onam Ramblings -2

Onam is at a time when Nature is bountiful and beautiful, in the Malayalam month of Chingam (it is in August-September). The festivities begin before 10 days – on the day of Attham star. On the ninth day is the first day of Onam – Uthradom star, 10th day is Thiruvonam (the second day of Onam, by far the most important day), the 11th day is the third Onam (Avittam star) and the 12th day is the fourth day of Onam (Chathayam star). Floral carpets are made in the front courtyard of homes. Back in my home district of Palakkad, some even start laying floral carpets a month earlier, from the 1st of Karkadakom, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Onam.

Traditionally, cow dung is spread and the petals of flowers are laid on it. Many beautiful designs are artistically created with flowers of various hues. I remember that when we had cattle at home, it was easy to get cow dung. Besides, those days our cows were fed with natural food including hay and plenty of grass. Cow dung was vital and auspicious for all kind of festivities – it was used to plaster mud surfaces. The dung evidently was hailed to have a lot of anti-bacterial properties and even considered to be a natural disinfectant. Now, we don’t have cows at home. And the ones who have cows feed it with artificial feeds and very less hay and grass, which are its natural food. Hence, the cow dung procured is of poor quality and it really stinks. Hence we don’t spread cow dung as a base anymore. The morning ritual of plucking flowers for the floral carpet had its share of enthusiasm and fun. Here is a floral carpet that we made.


Vadamalli (Globe Amaranth), Marigold and Hibiscus floral carpet

We stop making flower carpets from the ninth day – the day of 1st Onam. In Palakkad district we make clay models of Mahabali, called Madevar, and keep it in front of our courtyard. In the past, we used to make the models ourselves on the previous day of the first Onam. All of us, Mummy and all the daughters, join happily in the process. The clay, which is cleared from stones and other impurities, is mixed with the right amount of water. Beating it on stones, and keeping it broad at the base, it is given a tapering shape. The central Madevar is  bigger and the other two, one on each side is of the same size. The threesome are then laid on a wooden seat. The base is decorated with three steps. Then the steps are decorated with mostly Vadamalli or Globe Amaranth (the purple flower in the picture above) or yellow coloured marigolds. Once the steps are done, coconut leaf splinters or Eerkali is pierced onto the top and sides of the wet Madevar. This is done so that it is easy to decorate the Madevar with flowers – by next morning it would dry up and fixing it would be difficult. Besides this set of three, there are 4 smaller Madevars also that are prepared.

The next day, after taking bath, we decorate the sides where Hibiscus and other bigger flowers are fixed on to the splinters. Daddy would get lotus flowers from our pond and these amazing flowers will find a pride of place on the centre of the Madevar. Once this is ready it is time to keep the Madevar in front of our home. Mummy prepares the rangoli dough with rice early in the morning. She grinds it to a fine paste and makes it into such a consistency that she can draw the designs. It is a painstaking affair, but Mummy does it with such remarkable ease and élan. Once the design is done, Mummy reverentially keeps the Madevar in the middle of the design. Then puja is done. On a plantain leaf, banana, flattened rice and jaggery is served. The lamp is lit. Flowers are offered. Coconut is broken. Agarbathis and camphor are lit. This officially marks the beginning of Onam. Food is served to the deity before we eat our lunch and dinner. Mummy still does this very religiously. Salute her spirit and creativity! Our Mom rocks! 🙂


Mummy creating the rice flour design to house the Madevar

On the Second day is Thiruvonam and we make another set of threesome Madevars and eight smaller ones. This time, Mummy makes a bigger design for this one. Plus we have to move the previous day’s Madevar ahead of the second days’s one. On the third day we make one big clay Madevar with four small ones. It is kept at the gate of our home. Probably three sets refer to the story of 3 steps taken by Vamana. Onam is such a festival that all living beings partake of the feast. Crows and birds to eat the offerings we leave in front of the Madevar. Even ants have their fair share nibbling at the rice dough designs. Every night after Puja, the Madevars are brought inside home. Next day all the old flowers are removed and new ones hoisted on them, before they are taken outside amid the design Mummy makes. Now, we find it difficult to get clay and hence the changing times have forced us to get the ready-made Madevars available in the market. We even got one made in wood by a carpenter. The work is easy but am sure all of us miss the joint effort of making Madevars at home. Sometimes it rains during Onam and then we rush to take in the Madevars. If it’s heavy, it washes away all the designs too.


Madevars and the decorations

Onam is the time for sumptuous feasts. We have a wide variety of dishes and side dishes that we prepare to celebrate Onam. Plain rice is the main course. There are wet and dry dishes – Sambhar, Avial, Koottu Curry, Kalan, Olan, Inji Puli, Pachadi and Thorans (yummy and fingerlicious… I can only drool at Mom’s very tasty fare) form part of our lunch. It is interesting to note that all the dishes use plenty of scraped coconuts, a staple for us Keralites. It is also noteworthy that at home we never use onions, garlic and garam masalas for our Onam feast. Payasam is the sweet dish that is prepared. We make different kinds of payasams – the all time favourites being Palada Prathaman, Chakka (Jack fruit) Prathaman, Semiya Payasam, Paal (Milk) Payasam to mention a few. (Drool…) Another feature is that non-vegetarian dishes are a strict no-no. Even otherwise, non-vegetarian dishes are once in a blue moon affair at home. 🙂 Ona Sadya is always served in banana leaves. Salted banana chips called Kaaya Varuthath and sweetened (with jaggery) banana chips, papad, pickle and banana also are served in the banana leaf. Well, there is a fixed spot in the banana leaf too, where each dish should be served! Rich or poor, the sadya is such a key aspect of Onam that there is a saying “Kaanam vittum Onam unnanam” which roughly translates to “if you have to sell your property, so be it, but we must have an Ona sadya.”


A traditional Ona Sadya – and that’s me, drooling! 😀

Onam times are get-together times too. Now all of us are in different parts of the country and me in Dubai, it is not always possible for all of us to congregate at home for Onam. Nevertheless, all most of my siblings reach home and spend the time with our Dad and Mom. We get new dresses called Onakodi. Women, wear either Kerala Saris or the two piece dress called Mundu and Veshti and men wear shirts and dhotis. It is relevant to note that the colour of these dresses is ivory or off white, probably in stark contrast to the verdant landscape around. We exchange greetings with extended families. Many people visit temples. However, we don’t go to temples on Onam days. All temples are throng with devotees and we hate going to crowded places.

In other parts of Kerala, there are lots of other games and celebrations like Vallam Kali or boat races, Kaikotti Kali, Ona Pattu, vadam vali (tug of war) etc. Boat races reign supreme with lots of foreigners and tourists teeming the backwaters of Kerala to witness the battle of oars and their rhythmic Vallam Kali Pattu or boat race songs. In central Kerala, especially Thrissur it is the Puli Kali that is the cynosure of all eyes. In North Kerala, Onapottan, the symbolic representation of Mahabali, in colourful mask and headgear visits homes, blessing households with prosperity and abundance. Palakkad has its share too in the form of Kummatti Kali and Onathallu. In our nearby village of Pallassena, there is this competition among Nair men. It probably owes its roots to the prowess of Nairs who were warriors in armies of Kolathiris. Onathallu enacts war-like scenes, with men engaging in physical combat. There are strict do and don’ts – so it involves a certain structured form of confrontation and is done under the watchful eyes of elders.

On the 3rd Onam Day, after the Puja, all the Madevars are brought back home. Nowadays, we wash, clean and dry them and keep it safe for the next year. The post-Onam Ayilyam-Makam, described as the Onam of tenants and labourers, is celebrated in Palakkad. this is 16 -17 days after the fourth Onam. This Madevar used to be a fat one called the Maksthadiyan. Along with this we used to make 16 small ones. We also used to make clay shapes of snakes, grinding stone and grandfather and grandmother too. In the rangoli that Mummy makes this time, she would write all our names and draw pictures of a conch, drum, wheel (Vishnu’s chakra), mace (Gada), lotus etc.

Onam is a harvest festival. I remember, when we had paddy fields, harvest times used to be just after or even coincide with Onam. The previous month (Karkidakom – mostly July), sees Kerala at its rainiest. I remember in my childhood, it used to rain and rain. Azure skies were never seen in this month – instead was dark and sombre, wet and damp. People were forced to stay indoors. Naturally money was so scarce for all, that they called the month “Kalla Karkidakom” i.e. cursed month of Karkidakom. There was hunger,  illness and starvation. Once the rains stopped, people eagerly waited Nature to shower bounties, and to celebrate . With harvests, money came in and so did Onam.

Now, we have moved away from being a predominantly agrarian economy. Instead, we have started selling Karkidakom as a month to do Ayurvedic treatments (and, it sells big time!), have converted it into a spiritually important month, with people reading Ramayana and visiting temples and shrines. We have even packaged our Monsoons as tourism packages. However, with global warming, even the pattern of the monsoon rains have changed. This year for example, we got much less rain than what we normally would – at least in Palakkad

Onam as a festival  is completely multi-sensory in experience. It’s a veritable feast for the senses, the panchendriyas. No doubt, we the people of Kerala, are quite proud of this secular festival, when all over the nation there is a veiled threat to its fabric. If you want to visit Kerala, let this be the time to do so. May the vibrant colours of the Pookalam, the rhythm of Puli Kali and the spirit of Vallam Kali bring you all a Happy and Prosperous Onam!

Onam Ramblings – 1

You can’t feel anything but blue, for Onam is just two days away. Thanks to Eid break, I do have holidays too. Airlines to India have an uncanny knack of doubling, trebling or as of now, quadrupling air fares during summer, holiday and festive seasons. Though the governments, state and centre, eagerly welcome remittances (the more, the merrier – much valued foreign currency!) everyone including the national airlines milk expats high and dry, with mercurial rise in airfares. So love as much as I would, I don’t think I will go home despite holidays. So, what will I do for Onam? Reminisce, I suppose is in order. And nostalgia is going to be the predominant mood.

If there is a festival that cuts across barriers of caste, creed, community, religion and gender, that is Onam. While most festivals in various states of India, based on the lunar calendar, are celebrated in different names mostly on same days, Onam is one that is entirely different. For example, Vishu in Kerala is the new year celebration which is known in other states in varied names – Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Bihu,  Baisakhi and so on. To my knowledge, (I could be wrong – if there is, do let me know) there’s no other festival similar to Onam. It is nonpareil! 🙂

Onam is the festival that celebrates the annual return of the Asura King, Mahabali. Myths celebrate the rule of Mahabali (Maveli) as one of absolute bliss and prosperity. A particular song that describes the times translates to:

During times that Maveli ruled
Equal were all people treated
Times were of happiness
No one had to face travails
Sorrows, diseases weren’t there
Children’s deaths were unheard
No baddies were ever spotted
The land only had the good
No thefts and deceptions
Nor did any speak lies
All (measuring) weights and scales were right
And there was no chicanery.

If this is not an Utopia, what is? Probably, Mahabali was the first socialist leader! He was benevolent, wise, judicious as well as extremely generous. So much so that the Gods felt quite envious and insecure about his popularity. The mother of Gods, Aditi, approached Lord Vishnu (the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity and whom Mahabali was an ardent devotee of) and sought His assistance. Being of very charitable disposition, Mahabali was approached by Lord Vishnu in the guise of a brahmin dwarf or Vamana. The Vamana requested for some land. Mahabali gladly gave what was asked. The King’s preceptor, Shukracharya, sensed the identity of the visitor and warned Mahabali. But his word was sacred to Mahabali. Vamana grew in size and with his first step measured Heaven. With the second, he apportioned the Netherworld. The third step would be the earth and knowing that this would destroy the Earth, Mahabali offered his head as the last step. Pleased by the King’s humility and integrity, the Vamana granted him a boon. Mahabali is said to requested that he be permitted to visit his subjects every year in the lunar month of Chingam (falls in August – September). Onam marks the visit of Mahabali’s homecoming.


Onappookkal – Onam flowers (from top left clockwise): Mukkutti (Sikerpud), Hanuman Kireedom (Red Pagoda Plant0, Thumba Poo (Slitwort)

No wonder then that the Onam continues to be a festival celebrated by all alike, irrespective of faiths! While there are concerted efforts at celebrating Vamana’s birthday (Jayanthi) in place of Mahabali’s visit, from some quarters, I strongly believe that it will always be a celebration about Mahabali, than Vamana. Sometimes even in losing, you win! That’s what happened to the genial Mahabali. He lost his Kingdom and got relegated to the Netherworld, yet, he gained eternity. The rains are over. Nature beckons. The blue skies, the lush greenery, the enchanting landscapes and the smiling flowers all seem to be decked for the festive time. And the eager populace (Keralites) to this day await his visit with much joy and celebration!:)

P.S: My next post will be about how Onam is celebrated at home… How I miss being home!! 😦 

Memories of Karkadakam

Today is the 1st day of Karkadakam, the last month according to the traditional Malayalam calendar. The Malayalam calendar is called Kollavarsham (Kollam Era) and accordingly we are in year 1188. Though Medom is the first month according to the astronomical calendar, the 1st of Chingam (the next month after Karkadakam) is considered as the beginning of the New Year after Kollavarsham was adopted as the regional calendar.

My childhood memories of Karkadakam are that of non-stop rains. It rained, and rained and rained. I remember, while travelling by public transport to school, the roads used to be covered with water along  with the  paddy fields on both sides. There would only be sheets of water and it was hard to distinguish what what was road and what was not! By the time we reached school, we would be dripping wet. And we remained so for the whole day. School timings were from 10.00 am – 4.00 pm and a change into real dry clothes would be possible only after reaching home by about 5.00 pm! Probably it is those tough experiences that has made us take life head on.

Karakadakom is known as Kalla Karkadakom, meaning a black month – an inauspicious one. No auspicious event would be held – the weather was never conducive for that. The month also brought in its trail copious rains, troubles and travails to the peasants who just depended on farming and agricultural produce. The incessant rains rendered them with no work. And that meant no money. The damp weather forced people to be indoors. This was also the time when people fell ill. So, Karkadakom brought in its wake poverty, illness, and hardships. It is to beat this negativity in the air that temples and homes reverberated with the chant of Ramayana. Prayers were recited to clear the cobwebs in the mind and bring clarity and serenity to the soul. Karkadakom thus also got the name, Ramayana month. It is also believed that Maharshi Valmiki completed penning that immortal epic in this month.

Another memory is that of a massive operation clean at home. This happens on the eve prior to the first day of Karkadakam. All families were into agriculture in our small village of Pallavur in Palakkad. We were no different. The cleaning operation was a tradition. Our home, including the granary, would be cleaned meticulously. This was symbolic of  removing Chetta, (Jheshta Bhagavathy) who was considered to be the presiding deity of all that is dirty and decadent. We would then put it all in bamboo winnowers called Murams. There was no trace of plastic those days! Everything from grocers came covered in newspaper. Throwing away these biodegradable materials to the uninhabited parts of the huge compounds or outside it was accompanied by chants, “Chetta go, Shibothi come” (Chetta po, Shibothi vaa). Shibothi seems to be the the truncated version for Sree Bhagavathy, a semantic change that was necessitated by the excessive length of the word. And Sree Bhagavathy was worshipped as the harbinger of everything that is good and prosperous – especially in the wake of the new year being round the corner – in Chingam, which also brings the wonderful egalitarian festival of Onam. The entire month of Karkadakam sees the worshipping of Sree Bhagavthy, the Goddess of Prosperity. Lamps are lit in the morning and evening in the Machu (household shrine).

Palm 2
A view of the fields behind our home

Then gradually rains became scant. This year of course has been an exception. Paddy fields are all being filled in and converted into house plots. We have sold our paddy field too as it has become very difficult to manage – with practically no labour available to do farming chores. And today as I sit here in the date-palm fringed land, I cannot but long for these renewing practices we had in the past, in my home town which is fringed with palms of a different kind – the Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm.

Palm tree 1                                          The Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm

Today, things are very different. I really don’t know if all homes in Palakkad engage in removing Chetta and inviting Shibothi. My mom meticulously does it. I am so grateful she does it – at least our children are familiar with all the traditions we have had and she has never let it slide into a mere ritual. And it is my resolve to continue to engage in them in years to come too so that these nurturing practices don’t die a gradual death.

The Nostalgia of yet another Vishu

Today was Vishu, a very auspicious day for a Keralite. A festival that is the harbinger of prosperity, plenty and joy. A lot of very special images fleet across my mind’s canvas…
Even Nature is ready for the festivities. The Labernum is laden with flowers. Mangoes and Jackfruits green and ripe are aplenty. The Sun is bright and is almost above the line of the equator.
The eve of Vishu montages:
Mummy & all of us arranging the Kani, the special arrangement of everything auspicious and yellow, so that we can view it first thing in the morning…
The array of yellow coloured fruits and vegetables like mangoes, jackfruit, golden cucumber or the Kani Vellari, lemon, home grown bananas…
The mirror adorned with gold chains and stringed jasmine flowers/ tulasi petals, the idol/photo of Krishna, the Kasavu Veshti, the Bhagavad Gita and everything else from raw rice to halved coconuts…
The dazzling Labernum blooms aka Kanikonna… A host of other flowers to decorate the Lord from the ordinary hibiscus to the sacred Tulasi leaves and to the beautiful and enchanting Lotus flowers the Daddy will get from our Lotus Pond…
The lighted lamps, the wafting fragrance of agarbathis and camphor…

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

Arranged so that this sight is what one sees first in the morning

The morning of Vishu memories:
Mummy waking us up one by one, covering our eyes with her hand, getting us to wash our faces without opening our eyes and then making us sit in front of the necklace adorned mirror…
Lo! You open your eyes and see your reflection in the mirror decked of course in gold and flowers…
As children the best thing to remember was the Vishu Kaineettam… (No pocket money those days. All you will get during the entire year would be a few rupees as Kaineetam, that the elders would give you!)
Then the very interesting part for children – the bursting of crackers & fireworks… (Gradually this became a much toned down affair, thanks to the awareness that child labour was rampant in the firework factories in Sivakasi and of the chemical pollution it releases into the air !)
When we had our cattle, Mummy used to take the Kani into the cattle shed for the cows to see…
All reminders of times when we lived close to nature… and treated every living being with respect and love…
Then the rush of local people – kids, young and old, to collect their share of Kaineettam from Daddy…
Sumptuous feasts…
Times when all would come home for Vishu… the joy, the merriment, the bonding and the camaraderie…

Today am at Sharjah. Far away from my loved ones, physically at least. Virtually I was even able to see some of the vishu kanis… The eve of Vishu gave me actually the blues… (which I tried rather unsuccessfully to beat by watching the Malayalam movie Amen in the nearest theatre!)  How I missed being at home during this festive time! Made a decent feast for myself with sambhar, rice and koottu curry – yet my mind, like a disobedient child, ran back to the courtyards of Sreyas (our home is named that); in the midst of Dad and Mom…

How true the age old adage is: East or West, Home is truly the best! Only one has to leave the shores of our land to realize this!!

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Flowers of the Indian Labernum or the Kani Konna

Happy Vishu to all… May this Vishu bring you joy, peace, health and prosperity!!!

Homage to the Maestro

I write this post after seeing the breaking news on television just now – “Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair passes away”. An enchanting and amazing Kathakali performer, it goes without saying that he was one of his own kind. Kathakali is the finest traditional and finely stylized dance-drama form of Kerala. It has lively sopanam style music accompanied to the rhythmical beats of percussion, vibrant and colourful costumes that goes with the nature of the character personified, the elaborate make up, the graceful dance with eloquent gestures or mudras and the brilliantly executed navarasa expressions. I have had opportunities of seeing this amazing artist who breathed life into the very many roles he had enacted on stage.

I am reminded of the 70s and 80s when I was growing up in my rustic home village of Pallavur. As a youngster I was fascinated by the temple arts that were showcased every year at our Thripallavur temple festivals. There would be Ottamthullal, Chakyaar Koothu, Koodiyattam and night long Kathakali shows during festive times. And my favourite was of course the Kathakali which was performed on two nights. I remember going to watch the performance and coming back home at dawn. I had to attend school and later college after the show but that did not dampen my spirits. Looking back I am really amazed at myself – how I enjoyed and sat completely engrossed during those Kathakali performances. I remember seeing Nala Charitham Aatta Katha, Daksha Yagam, Keechaka Vadhom, Panchali Shapadham, Kalyana Sougandhikam, Santhana Gopalam, Bali Vijayam, Poothana Moksham and the rarely performed Manikanda Vijayam on the story of Lord Ayyappa at our temple precincts.

That was how I got introduced to the grace of Kalamandalam Raman Kutty Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi. I was spell bound by Raman Kutty Nair’s brilliant portrayal of Hanuman in the Ramayana stories of Kathakali – the Vella Thadi character and the adorable romantic hero – virtuous hero roles perfected by Kalamandalam Gopi – like the characters of Nala, Arjuna and Karna. It remains clear in my mind even today, decades later, replete with the antics of the monkey (he was playing Hanuman) that made us go in splits. Even more thrilling was when he would walk right into the midst of the audience with a branch of a tree, acting every bit a primate! I never knew the intricacies of the art form but delightfully enjoyed them each time I sat through them.

hanuman 2

Sri Raman Kutty Nair was the doyen of the “Kathi” veshams in Kathakali. All the “Kathi” characters are anti-hero ones like Duryodhana, Keechaka and Ravana. He had also enacted with élan the “Pazhuppu” veshams – the characters of of Parasurama, the Brahmana of Sandhana Gopalam and Kuchela in Kuchela Vritham. Equally memorable was his “Kattaalan” vesham in Nala Charitham second day. Scores of awards and Padma Bhushan later, he occupies the pride of place in the minds of art connoisseurs.

One more maestro departs from the stage of Life. However, though his legacy will live on, there will never be one more of his kind ever! May his soul rest in eternal peace. Kathakali lovers all over the world will bid adieu to this maestro with tears in their eyes.

Source for the picture: http://creative.sulekha.com/splendor-of-the-spectacle_86854_blog

Roots and Wings!

Everyday is a special day for it opens for you a storehouse of opportunities. It is up to us whether we look for the opened or opening windows or pine and sigh for the closed ones. Given that, I still say today is a special day to me. The day I became a mother in 1985. I still remember the teeny weeny little one curled up in my arms, holding my finger tightly and instinctively with her tiny fingers! It was as if she knew even then that she could hold my hand, through thick and thin.

This day, way back in 1985, was a special day for us in Kerala, for it was Thiruvaathira day. Falling on a full moon day, the festival is related to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva & Thiruvaathira are much more important to me as I grew up in a rustic village called Pallavur. Pallavur boasts of a beautiful Shiva temple (not so beautiful anymore as some “bright sparks” decided to lop off all trees in precincts of the temple and making the soothing green haven one of stark brown earth, crushed and paved stones!).


In Kerala, the festival is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Shiva. ‘Thiruvathira’ is the nakshatra or star of Lord Shiva as per the Malayalam calendar . And Thiruvathira happens to be one of the important festivals of our temple. “Thirivathira means sacred big wave using which this universe was created by Lord Shiva about 132 trillion years ago. Before the Big Wave there was nothing. Modern scientists confirm much of these theories outlined by ancient Rishis (Indian Sage scientists): their claim is it all started with a “Big Bang” and that the elemental forces are wavelike. The discrepancy is in one minor detail: the age of the universe per modern scientists is 13.8billion as against the 132-trillion-claim of ancient Indian Scientists.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallavur)

So, it was on such a festive occasion that my daughter was born. She was named Aathira as she was born on Thiruvathira day. Well, it would never be a hyperbole if I say that she made our lives too festival-like! Full of vitality, verve and enthusiasm. Today, when she is a self reliant young professional, I thank our Lord Tripallavurappan for all His infinite mercies showered upon us. We have traversed arduous journeys together and have been there for each other all the time – though physical space had actually separated us.  It is said that the best things we can give our children are wings to fly and roots to grow. I honestly hope I have given her both. Let me wind up this post with a lovely poem titled “Roots and Wings” I found in this link: http://www.vanier.com/roots.wings.shtm

If I could give you many things,
I’d give you gold and silver rings
Of knowledge that I’ve gained with years
The gift of smiling through the tears
Confidence, courage, determination,
Laughter and spirit and love of creation,
Wrapped up in a box with a bow,
I’d give To you these gifts to keep for as long as you live.

If I could give you just two things,
One would be Roots, the other, Wings.
Roots, not to tie you to the ground,
But to guide you to where your fulfillment is found
The nourishing start, the firm foundation,
The source of your inner determination.
Wings to soar over obstacles, wings to fly free,
Wings to glide to the heights of the best you can be.
And when obstacles loom, from your Roots grows a hand
Providing a strong, sturdy, safe place to land.
I’d choose these two things for the gifts that are best,
For with Roots and with Wings, you’ll find all the rest!

25 03 2009 011

P.S: to Aathira: Wish you a happy birthday my little girl; being mom to you has been the ‘bestest’ ever that has happened to me! Smile Smile Smile

December Memories

December to me is the most happiest month of the year. After growing up in a lushly green yet sleepy village where time almost stood still in the rice-rich Palakkad, the month simply evokes in my mind myriad images.
The sight of very many pilgrims clad in black, blue and of late orange, all readying to go to Sabarimala for pilgrimage… The mornings & evenings were greeted by Ayyappa devotional songs….
I love the December weather. Mornings are chill and the evenings are cool. Throughout the day there is the strong eastern winds blowing along the Palakkad Pass. This has come to be known as the “Palakkadan Kaattu” (meaning Palakkad’s wind). You feel the wind against you the moment you enter the district from either via Walayar or Kuthiran hills – sometimes caressing, at times a little too strong…
The strong breeze bringing in dry leaves especially of teak and its dry flowers and fruit laden branches, which will fill the courtyards…
The emerald green rice fields swaying to the rhythm of winds making gentle waves. What a spectacle is this from the nearby hillock called Karivottu Mala!
The full Malampuzha Canal, the waters of which are released to help the farmers water the paddy fields for the second crop…
Trees laden with drumsticks and gooseberries…
Beds of Koorka Kizhangu or Chinese potatoes. The taste of Mummy’s fry made of these tubers still lingers in my palate…
The hyacinth bean or Avarakka with its purple flowers and green bean pods climbing on to the trellis. Sambhar made of this kind of broad beans and the bean fry are just delicious…
Arrow root, the powder of which is used to make a sweet porridge for one of the most important of festivals – Thiruvathira, which falls on the full moon day…
Walking along with my siblings and my grandmother on Thiruvathira day to the Thripallavurappan temple with a tray full of goodies for the Lord – tender coconut, bananas, betel leaves, agarbathis, camphor and the like…
The dry reeds in the hillocks around that reflect & glow golden yellow at dawn and dusk… There is pure magic in the December air!

December is also the month when the world celebrates Christmas. Houses and shops are all decked. One very clear memory is that of lot of big balloons with ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ imprinted on them along with the pictures of Santa! Christmas star is even to this day an integral part of our household, though we are Hindus. The last five years have seen us setting up the Christmas tree replete with decorations and coloured lights. It gladdens me to see how secular we have grown to be. We used to send out so many cards  for Christmas & New Year by snail mail. When my daughter Aathira moved into the middle school, she developed a keen interest in making her own greeting cards using water colours on chart paper cards. Now all that has become part of the bygone era. Today it is just e-cards, tweets, status updates – all sent through the click of a button or the swipe of a touch screen.

And one of the best Decembers in my memory is of 2000 – when we, my daughter and I, spent almost all of December in Munnar as my daughter was preparing for her class 10 examinations. Though we had a month of winter holidays, we decided to stay on at Munnar and go home briefly around Christmas time to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday with her grandparents. The crystal clear night skies  decked with thousands of twinkling stars… The joy of finding an occasional shooting star… We used to switch off all the lights and sit on the step gazing wondrously at the enchanting spectacle of the sky… The very cold mornings which did not deter us from taking our morning walks…  The morning teas which had to be literally gulped down to savour it hot… Simple joys and pleasures galore!

One of the finest books on Christmas that I have read is the Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it even more when I taught it for my class 10 students. It was a great opportunity to acquaint impressionable minds with timeless values. The story of Scrooge, a miser who becomes a different man when he is presented with visions of past, present and future by the ghost of Marley makes it such an endearing read. Christmas celebrations at school … and listening to some of the most beautifully rendered Christmas songs by Jim Reeves… Plum cakes… Cakes with icing…

Finally the best thing about December is that I became the mother of a lovely girl in this charming month. She was born on 27th December; on the full moon day on which we, Hindus, celebrate the festival of Thiruvathira. Rightly she is named Aathira.

So, those are my very own December memories. What are yours?
Am signing off with wishes to each one of you for a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!


Letters, now in Fetters?

Did you know that today, December 7, is Letter Writing Day? I did not and a tweet informed me about this day of the year!

As a child though I don’t remember about posts and letters while at Valparai, I do clearly remember them when we moved to a tiny scenic village in Kerala called Pallavur. Though Pallavur had a Post Office, our home was quite away from it. Therefore the letters that came by post used to be brought by a “runner” who carried a mail bag to the next village (Koodalur)  which did not have a Post Office. He would ring the bicycle bell continuously to alert us – one of us would run to the gate to collect the letter. Those days, letters meant a world to all of us for Dad used to be in different locations of Tamil Nadu being a government employee. It was a pleasure to read Dad’s letters. Though the letters were all addressed to Mom, we had no qualms of reading them – in fact it was like it was our right to read them! Looking back, I don’t think we ever gave Dad and Mom their privacy!

Another vivid memory is that of my grandfather writing letters to his sons and daughters in Blue Inland letters. Sometimes when we received inland letters, we would open the wrong end and the letter would actually be in pieces, by the time the tearing was done! Yellow post cards were very commonly used. It had no cover and whatever was written on it could be read by anyone! Today’s privacy freaks would die a hundred deaths if they received one of that kind.

As I grew up, I remember writing letters to my siblings, Dad & Mom and to the extended family. Some how I came to believe that I must do full justice to the postage I am spending for the letter; therefore I wrote in a smaller hand and never ever ‘wasted’ any available space in inland letters. Opening my inland letter was truly an art for I would spare only that stretch where I should use the gum to stick it!

After a while, I graduated from inland letters to envelopes – those ivory coloured ones. Now our  letters ran into pages – this was true of my siblings too. In an era when there was no mobile phones or even telephones, we felt that we could lay bare our day-to-day experiences through these epistles notwithstanding the fact that the reply might come only in a month or so. Life was never in the fast lane, those days! It is this constant flow of information via letters that also drew me into embracing stamp collection as my hobby.

When I moved to the UAE in 2003, I missed my family very much. Though emails were already eating into the share of hand written letters, I still clung to my habit. I remember writing long letters, running to even 8 -10 full scape pages and sending them via airmail. My family too wrote long letters back and it was such a joy reading them. I kept all of them safely and in chronological order. On days, when I felt really low, I would keep reading them, one by one. They really had the power to lift me up!

Gradually life became fast paced; hand written letters and snail mail paved way to the lightning swift yet impersonal email. And nowadays, even email is a rarity. Phones are a  dime a dozen and if we need to exchange views it is at the click of a button or the swipe of a touch screen. Pins, tweets, posts, status updates and the like rule the roost. Many a time there is a word limit like of 140 characters for a Tweet or of 420 characters for a status update in Facebook. We write lesser and lesser. No wonder we need a Letter Writing Day!

When did I last write a hand written letter? I take solace in the fact that it was not far away into the past – in October 2012. For many, it would have been years before? This peep into the past, into the art and science of letter writing is almost creating an urge in me to write hand written letters. Why not make it a New Year Resolution? Find time and energy to write letters to my near and dear ones. I am sure I will never regret it! Nor will my recipients!!  😀