Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maggie..errr...Maheshwari. Maggie is spending three months in Madras as part of a self-concocted self-discovery program, an explore-my-roots-and-heritage effort that many of her college friends are currently involved in.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maggie..errr...Maheshwari. Maggie is spending three months in Madras as part of a self-concocted self-discovery program, an explore-my-roots-and-heritage effort that many of her college friends are currently involved in.
By day - and often also by night - they are mathematicians, doctors, scientists, researchers, engineers, bankers, students of an exhilarating array of disciplines that probe the vast arc of human interests and scholarship, from Sanskrit to creative writing to spinal cord regeneration to economic policy. And in the precious nooks and crannies, the cracks and crevices of their spare time, a whole other side blossoms into being: that of singers, dancers, writers, poets, actors and artists. They yearn for their yin to harmonize with their yang, for their right brain to achieve balance and symmetry with their left. They seek to synchronize their creative impulse with their logical and rational selves and send shoots and leaves and tendrils towards the heavens to capture the ethereal and elusive pleasures of sunshine and light while putting down roots that snuggle securely into the comfortable security of soil and earth.
I cannot say I wasn’t warned.
It wouldn’t be all fun and games, they said, there would be a lot of work involved. A big load of responsibility. A cramp on our lifestyle. As parents of grown children, we could finally have the freedom we had sometimes yearned for during those endless years of child-rearing. The flexibility and luxury to do things spontaneously, a dinner out, a quick jaunt to a fun destination. Family members suggested that this was probably some mid-life crisis, that I should calmly breathe my way out of it and then take a quick trip somewhere to show myself what I would be denying myself.
But here’s what they didn’t foresee:
That I would say that the greatest of the Chola kings was Roger-Roger Cholan. Or that I would sing about Sri Roger-Gopala. Or babble something about Roger-Rojeshwari. Or that I would twirl around to a rousing rendition of Roger! Rogerthi Roger! to the appalled horror of my family who thought they had seen the worst of what I could be.
They should have known, teetering as I was on the edges of err…dottiness… that I would not enter into this thing in a calm, level-headed manner as befitted a middle-aged lady of a certain vintage. That I would lose my heart and what precious little remained of my sanity so completely, so hopelessly.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I know your patience is wearing thin. Enough of this meaningless drivel.
It is after a lengthy break that I am back. I will not bore you with the many reasons for my absence, other than to assure you that many - most - of those reasons are irreproachable and would find a sympathetic ear with even the sternest of school teachers. Since I am far removed from the world of school teachers this fact is of no relevance whatsoever. What is of relevance, perhaps, is the blog post that follows. For those of you, if indeed you even exist, who greeted my return with euphoria, expecting to read one of my mad tales or music reviews or travelogues, I am afraid that I have to warn you to to be prepared to be hit on the head with a sledgehammer. What follows is a densely detailed account of the history and development of Tamil Literature.
No, I am not joking.
If you were wondering what the title of the post has to do with Tamil Literature, it is from a lovely poem from the Sangam-era work of poetry, the Kurontokai. Here is A.K. Ramanujan's exquisitely evocative transalation:
What could my mother be to yours?
What kin is my father to yours anyway?
And how did you and I meet ever?
But in love our hearts are as red earth and pouring rain:
mingled beyond parting.
Last evening, my husband and I were at the Asia Society in New York, to attend a reading and performance by William Dalrymple and Vidya Shah and her orchestra. This event was arranged in conjunction with the Society’s current exhibit on Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857. The evening was, for the most part, interesting and entertaining. Dalrymple’s narrative, drawn largely from his book, The Last Mughal, was studded with entertaining anecdotes that brought his characters to life. Vidya Shah complemented and supplemented his stories with songs and poetry from the great and little-known poets and songsters of that era.
Somewhere down the serpentine labyrinth that is the organization chart of the National Highways Authority of India is a little box that is an offshoot of the Department of Highway Safety. This box is the proud bearer of the title “Couplets and Proverbs Division (L&T K-W)”. It has a single employee, a long-haired, dreamy-eyed, thickly bespectacled youth, the nephew of the Chairman of the Department of Highway Safety (S-India). This young lad, who had been a gentle, sweet-natured child, the kind parents pointed out to their boisterous offspring as a shining example of what they ought to be like, created a major commotion in his family when he declared that he wanted to study Literature in college. He displayed a firmness and refusal to budge from his position that were in complete contrast to the gentle, pliant nature of his early years. His family, peopled thus far exclusively with engineers and doctors, were just recovering from the shock of the renegade’s announcement when he sent them reeling afresh with a further declaration that it was his intention to become a Poet. He would kill himself, he threatened, if anybody tried to prevent him from achieving his goal.
I visit Madras from New York several times a year, to meet family, to reclaim my Indianness, to realign an off-kilter inner compass. While some things take more adjusting to than others, driving a car is not among them. I slip seamlessly from driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left side, from diligently following road signs and signals to regarding them as mere helpful suggestions, from dodging a crazed Chinese food delivery bicyclist pedalling maniacally in the wrong direction against a stream of outraged New Yorkers driving maniacally in the other direction to squeezing past a wall of sputtering auto-rickshaws and rumbling buses and the assorted animals and birds who share the road with the craziest variety of vehicles I have seen.
Covering an area of over 130,000 square kilometers, India’s southern-most state has a variety of landscapes, terrains and habitats. There are beautiful, wave-lapped golden beaches and emerald green paddy fields; lush tropical forests and cool mountain ranges. There is a staggering variety of flowers, trees, birds, mammals, marine life, insects and reptiles, a nature-made counterpoint to the cultural and historical riches of the state. It is mineral-rich, with abundant reserves of lignite, quartz, feldspar, bauxite, limestone, graphite and granite.
For Kanchipuram, City of a Thousand Temples.
Flanked by its belt of defensive jungles is that city
Whose doors are never closed to those who seek the prize
Lovely like the pericarp of the many-petalled lotus
The navel of the dark-hued Lord.....
(From the Sangam poem Perumbanatruppadai, translated by N. Raghunathan)
Over the river and through the streets
To the Brooklyn Museum we went
Past buses and bikes and trucks and cars
For a mu-si-cal event.....
I do apologize - the heat and humidity do strange things to the brain. But let’s move on, shall we, to safer - and saner - territory?
‘Tis the witching hour of night,
Orbed is the moon and bright,
And the stars, they glisten, glisten, glisten,
Seeming with bright eyes to listen,
For what listen they?
John Keats, 1795-1821
Years can go by, but the habits of one’s growing-up years never really fade away. I came of age in staid Madras, in an era when the city was dead by 9 o’clock at night. Weekday or weekend, I was dutifully tucked into bed and fast asleep well before 10 o’clock, waking up at the crack of dawn to the raucous cacophony of chants, calls and cinema music from the neighborhood temple, mosque and teashop that each competed to drown the other out.
My life is a strange paradox. On the one hand, I am gloriously, happily busy, doing things that I love, but, on the other hand, my laziness and disorganization have reached record heights. Ideas for new posts are scribbled on bits of paper that vanish without a trace. What seemed like a brilliant idea while drifting off into dreamland feels tame and lame in the harsh light of day. An overflowing pile of unwashed clothes beckons, demanding action, as does an empty pantry. There is family to tend to, friends to catch up with. Spring - beguiling and fickle, garbed in bright, sun-splashed colors one day, in damp, sullen gray the next - is knocking at my window, urging me outdoors.
All this means that I have nothing new to share with you right now. But I am not above taking the easy way out. Digging through my hard drive, I found parts of my Croatia travelogue that I have not posted here. A gentle dusting off of virtual cobwebs, a little smoothing out of rough edges, a touch of spit and polish, and voila hey presto! A new-old (or old-new) post!
The state of Tamil Nadu rolls gently and smoothly south-westwards from Madras to Coimbatore. The terrain is mostly flat, save the occasional hills that rise and fall like soft sighs. The scenery is vintage South India: emerald green paddy fields, lush groves of banana and coconut, clumps of tall, dust-kissed trees. It is a landscape of timeless beauty, soothing and serene, and of all the beautiful places in the world, it is this that ignites a spark deep in my heart, that whispers to me, you are home.
At 9pm on most days I am likely to be eyeing the finish line of a long day - long, alas, usually in hours, not on things achieved. Make it 9pm on a frigid February weeknight in New York, and that likelihood turns into a certainty. And yet, there I was just yesterday, out in the West Village of Manhattan, my bedtime a distant prospect, bundled up against the arctic wind, trying to make sense of a crudely hand-drawn map.
Now the rich stream of Music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth and strong,
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour;
The rocks and nodding groves re-bellow to the roar.
Thomas Gray, The Progress of Poesy
It is a well known fact that humans have a tendency to view the past through rose-tinted lenses. It is also well known that we dislike most change and are convinced that anything new, anything that is a radical departure from a tried-and-tested way of doing things, has to be treated with suspicion and derision. This is no less the case with Carnatic music, where we have convinced ourselves that its history and evolution from the days of the Sama Veda was one long, glorious golden period of old-fashioned courtesy and graciousness in which its composers and practitioners had but the noblest of intents, were motivated by the highest spiritual values, cared for nothing but the purest musical ideals. Thoughts of money - that crass, degrading, immoral commodity- never entered their minds. And then, alas, this ideal state of affairs crumbled to an ignominious end with the winds of change that gathered force and struck at the dawn of the twentieth century.
Shankari Mani had been married for 31 years. Most of those years had been lived in an independent house on a tree-lined street that overlooked a park in Sivaganga Colony. At the time of her marriage, she was a qualified chartered accountant, an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, a decent club-level tennis player, a barely tolerable singer and a terrible cook.
On the last Tuesday of January 1913, on a clear, cold winter’s morning in Cambridge University in England, a 35 year old mathematician of rapidly growing fame and esteem opened a letter. The letter, thick and unwieldy, bore the grime and wear-and-tear of a long journey, and a ragged line of stamps, unfamiliar and exotic. It started with the words, “Dear Sir, I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum............”
When you have been involved with something for most of your life, you come to recognize this: the longer the relationship, the more things there are that you realize you do not know. And also: you can meet some people every day, for years on end, share laughter, tears and memories with them, live right next door to them, but there are aspects and areas of their lives that remain complete mysteries to you, lived behind doors that only a select few people have the keys to. Let me explain.
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen goodbye.....Only for several weeks, dear readers. I will be back in Croatia, to teach once more at the International Vocal Arts Workshop.
The last (and first) time I went there, two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I was filled with the excitement and anticipation that come before an adventure that is a glorious mystery, a journey into uncharted waters. I was nervous, and terrified that I would not live up to what was expected of me, that I would not enjoy myself, that I would spend my days wondering, "what am I doing here?"
Many moons ago, in a now nostalgically-remembered era when cell phones and iPods were a rarity, when people wrote and spoke in full sentences and looked each other in the eye, when food was merely food, when men and women could agree to disagree politely without shouting each other down and when human beings walked around being themselves and were not defined by a thicket of labels, in that long-ago time, I was a pawn in a corporate American arena.
For as long as I can remember, the walls abutting the streets of my beloved Madras have been a canvas, a battleground, for all manner of posters, paintings and graffiti. Depending on my inclination and mood for the moment, I viewed those walls as riotously colorful, madly imaginative,often hilarious representations of the city's political and entertainment landscape, or as messy, garish, tasteless eyesores that defaced every inch of blank wall space. One look at those walls, and you got an instant picture - literally - of who was in power, and who was vying for it, with political party members and supporters falling over themselves to outdo one another in their fawning, often ridiculous depictions of their political leaders. Come election time, the poster madness rose to a fever-pitched frenzy, and they were often the only means by which many of the city's residents were made aware of who the candidates were, and what party they represented. Movie stars, gods and goddesses, mythological demons and revered, long-dead heroes of yore, all made their appearance on the walls of Madras, taking these already larger-than-life candidates into the glorified realms of the divine, the super-hero and the noble, or the vile, despicable and beastly. In America, television is the primary medium for election campaigning. In Madras, it was the walls.
Here is the Ramayana on drugs. It is a far cry from the black and white world of the evil Ravana and the squeaky-clean Rama, the pious Sita and loyal Hanuman. A Ramayana where a lustful Ravana, burned out on angel dust, kidnaps Sita, his mind clouded over by passion and desire. Where Rama and Lakshmana, wandering, frustrated and helpless up and down India looking for Sita, dull their pain with endless joints and pipes. And then Hanuman enters the story, a "hardcore ex-con tattooed" Hanuman who rallies his drugged-out monkey army with a big, happy substance abuse recovery-house reunion. What follows is a war - of monkeys and junkies, everybody high, everybody in a fog, in a fuddle, on cocaine, on LSD, a tangled disarray of tarnished minds and bodies. A war of relapsed junkies, and only Hanuman has the cure: the Sanjeevani herb.
Straddling the equator in an azure expanse of ocean 3000 miles east of India, on the restless backbone of a volcanic belt, lie hundreds of islands. They form a land-bridge of sorts between India and Australia, emerald-green, beautiful, bewitching and fascinating, a region where a succession of dynasties and civilizations have left their impact. Aborigine, Hindu, Malay, Polynesian, Islamic, European. With names that conjure up such romance and mystery, enchantment and beauty: Java, Sumatra, Celebes, Borneo, Bali.
When I was twelve years old, I came home from school one day and got the shock of my life. While getting out of the car, I saw, sitting on the veranda next to my mother, a white-clad lady who was grinning at me. That grin stopped me in my tracks. It was the sort of grin that might haunt you in a nightmare, a wolfish leer, a flash of over-sized, protruding teeth, sinister and chilling. A shiver ran down my spine.And then, as I stepped closer and saw who it was, I relaxed, and both of us started laughing. We laughed till tears ran down our cheeks, as we clutched at our sides and gasped for air. She cocked an eyebrow in inquiry, and I shook my head emphatically, no.
This is an old story of mine, one of my earliest, dusted off and polished up for your re-reading pleasure. Thanks, Lekhni, for spurring me to do this!
He stood at the front gate, a short, tubby man, young but balding, his forehead liberally smeared with holy ash, a large red dot in the middle. He hesitated a little before sliding the bolt back and opening the gate. The barking of the resident dog sent him scampering outside, bolting the gate safely behind him.“Who is it? What do you want?”
Legions of giggling schoolchildren, high-spirited college students, trysting lovers, coy honeymooners, and tourists, both frivolous and serious, have traveled the 60 odd kilometers from Madras to Mamallapuram. I have made the trek, too, several times, in all these capacities, the first over four decades ago.
September blows in with cool winds and dazzling sunlight, the skies awhirl with lazily spinning leaves. A perfect day fades into a long, still night wracked by feverish coughs and disjointed dreams. Wild thoughts bubble up, puncturing the surface of sanity. A cool hand soothes a hot brow and in the twilight zone of delirious reflections and drifting reveries, one phrase repeats itself: plainly mad, plainly mad, plainly mad….
North and South, West and East, the cities of
The words are like a magic incantation: Dhalankuthakadhiku thaka thadhinginathom. Chanted to a rhythmic marching beat of one-two-three-four. The years fall away, and I am back in dance - Bharata Natyam - class. There is a pervasive memory of heat and humidity. In my reminiscence, it is always May, when schools and colleges are closed for the summer holidays.
Early every morning for a month last year, I
pushed open a stubbornly creaky gate and walked passed her home. My steps
slowed, stopped for a moment, and my eyes quickly scanned the verandah. Nothing
stirred. The only sounds were the raucous caws of squabbling crows high on their
treetops, and the muted hum of traffic from nearby Gandhi Mandapam Road
The 40th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing, by the crew of Apollo 11 in July 1969, is the inspiration for this post.
Through most of the second half of the twentieth century, the Cold War and the conflicts, tensions and competition between the United States and the USSR and their allies dominated world politics. Its icy tentacles froze thought and reason, destroyed lives and economies and drove a sharp wedge between the good guys and the bad. Who you regarded as the good guys or the bad ones depended, of course, on where you lived and what your government and newspapers led you to believe. Big Brother cast his dark shadow over the lands he surveyed. The scale of this war was enormous. It strained beyond its earthly boundaries, and exploded into outer space, resulting in the Space Race of the 1960s and 1970s (and on a much smaller, far less thrilling scale, the 1980s). The lunar landings were the most daring, audacious and electrifying of all, completely mind-boggling in how (almost) perfectly they were executed with the technology of the time that today seems simple, unsophisticated and even primitive.
This is dedicated, with tongue firmly in cheek, to my very own Ejamanar (note: Ejamanar, in colloquial Tamil, means Lord of the Household or something to that effect)
The Cast of Characters
Ejamanar: The Lord and Master of the Ejamanar household in New York, cut from the traditional lord and master mold. He takes his head of the household duties and responsibilities very seriously. Unfortunately, the rest of his family does not. Undeterred by this 21st century attitude to his 19th century ideals, Ejamanar never falters in his determination to keep his family, particularly his two children, firmly under his thumb and watchful eye. The children, however, under the strong influence of the Ejamanar genes (Ejamanar was notoriously rebellious and independent-thinking as an adolescent) pay scant heed to his remonstrations about the abundance of evil lurking in innocent corners. Ejamanar is an ardent exercise freak, profoundly scornful of “leftists” and a nightmarish driver who believes that any other vehicle on the street is superfluous and needs to come within an inch of being eliminated.
Mrs. Ejamanar: An independent thinker herself, at her most sullen and untalkative early in the morning, at the very time that her husband is at his most chipper and communicative. The current manifestation of her independent thinking is the fusion food she subjects her family to. Fearful of her unpredictable temper, they swallow her culinary concoctions in silence.
Thilakavathi: The Ejamanars’ oldest child. She has her father firmly wrapped around her little finger. She is 18 years old, a rabid rap music fan, and enjoys wandering around the city at all odd hours. (A clarification: Ejamanar considers any hour an odd hour; Thilakavathi feels all hours are created equal, and are fair game for her peregrinations.) Father and daughter have argued endlessly about this; neither has budged an inch from their respective positions. Of late, Ejamanar has taken to cunningly concealing his message and moral in long-winded anecdotes, which miss their target by a wide margin.
Chokkalingam: The Ejamanar Son and Heir. Fifteen years old, the abiding passion of his life is basketball, not academics, to his father’s never ending chagrin and anguish. Ejamanar’s repeated and enthusiastic efforts to switch his son’s passion to the wonders of the capitalist economic system have fallen on deaf ears.
Ravanan, Head Clerk of The Ejamanar Corporation.
Cheran, Chozhan and Pandian: Ejamanar’s best friends and fellow scorners of leftists.
Recently, I attended an event at the Asia Society in New York, to mark the U.S. release of Namita Devidayal’s
book The Music Room. This book – which I highly recommend – is a story of several
musical journeys and lives: the author’s, from being reluctantly pushed into it
by her mother, to the music becoming something that she could not live without,
a source of solace in times of melancholy or trouble, an escape to a zone of
serenity and beauty; that of her guru, the modest and reserved Dhondutai
Kulkarni, who dedicated herself wholly to her music and never married, blessed
with the voice of a nightingale, bearer of the keys to the magic, riches and
glory of the Jaipur gharana of Hindustani music, yet who struggled to make ends
meet, uncaressed by fame and fortune; of the flamboyant and theatrical Kesarbai
Kerkar, she of dazzling musical brilliance, beloved and worshipped by hordes of
admirers, male and female, inheritor of a precious musical legacy from the
hands of the great maestro Alladiya Khan, who brought this style to life; of
Alladiya Khan himself, and his gharana, distinguished by its lilting eloquence,
seamless melding of double ragas, serpentine taans of filigreed intricacy and
beauty, and variety of swara patterns.
The Call of the South: Part Three: Kanyakumari
It is impossible to write a simple and straightforward account of anything in India. Say you want to write about a place. You start gathering your information, your memories, your thoughts. And you find you have stepped into Looking Glass Land, a mare’s nest of goddesses, demons and kings, ancient travelers, age-old feuds and modern politicians. The strangest of bedfellows clamor for your attention, and you cannot afford to ignore or dismiss any of them. You have mythology rubbing shoulders with history. You have to consider politics, religion, culture, science and economics, each with its attendant brood of issues and points of contention. The past and the present are inseparably intertwined. You step back and view this lively patchwork, this teeming tapestry. And you say, wow.
National Highway 47 and Suchindram
The distance from Trivandrum to the temple town of Suchindram on the promisingly named National Highway 47 is barely 50 miles. This is the deep south of India. The land of gently swaying coconut palms and emerald green paddy fields, red earth and sea-misted air.
Part One: Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum
How quickly one goes from complaining about the cold to
complaining about the heat! It had been barely a few dozen hours earlier that
we had moaned about the New York
I know, this is my third post on Balamurali on this blog - the last two hot on each others' heels. (Here are the earlier ones.) But, after listening - repeatedly, obsessively - for an entire morning, to a sublime jugalbandi between Balamurali and Hariprasad Chaurasia, after concocting a fresh set of excuses for not writing something new, after I "discovered" this piece, languishing on my hard drive, I decided to put this up, with the promise (which, of course, comes with the usual caveat that promises are meant to be broken) that this will be my last post on Balamurali.
If you ask any connoisseur of Carnatic music about Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna, chances are that you will get one of two reactions: impassioned praise and declarations that he is the best singer of all time, a genius who is Lord Krishna reincarnate; or downright scorn, and assertions that he is a charlatan, a disgrace to the ancient, timeless traditions of Carnatic music. It is very unlikely that you will encounter a tepid or indifferent response. Such has been, and continues to be, his impact, on Carnatic music.
I am sure that most of us remember our adolescent years as some sort of a long-playing horror show. Mix together mood swings, temper tantrums, unreasonable parents, pimples, a body that sprouts strange things, sniggering siblings, and the whole wide evil world that seems intent on taking you by the scruff of your neck and rubbing your face into the muck, and whirl all of this at a blinding pace around a sullen, glowering teenager, and it seems a miracle that most of us somehow emerge unscathed.
Let me begin with a doff of the hat to the Math and Science Gene (MSG). He has marched tirelessly through countless generations of my family, far, far back into the cobwebbed recesses of ancestral lore and memory. He has worked hard, ceaselessly, relentlessly, without ever skipping a single progeny of my clan. To be sure, there were some dangerously close brushes with the Lunatic Gene (LG) (known in polite circles as the Quirky Gene), but the MSG always prevailed, always managed to nudge the LG, that over-ambitious and irreverent upstart, aside. In a daring attempt at a coup, the Slothful Gene once ventured to sabotage an entire sub-branch of my family, but the MSG pulled them out of that potential morass, that almost-blight on the family name, by sheer force of will.
Come with me, let us travel together on a magic carpet ride. It is a beautiful evening, all soft light and gentle breezes. All we need is some music to make it perfect.
Continued from here
I stared at Suji, shocked. I was too stunned to retort that Ponnammal was not going to a higher calling in London, she was not getting an education, she would merely be doing the same menial work, but in a strange place where she knew nobody, where there would be no one to help her deal with the new place, language, climate, customs, people….. But all I could do was stare back at Suji and then walk back silently to my flat. Once inside, I sat down, my head in my hands. Yes, there was a lot of truth in what Suji had said. Who was I to judge what was good or not good for Ponnammal? She could certainly do with a break from her husband. Who was I to grudge her this opportunity? She was resilient, had coped with so many horrors in her life with dignity and pride, perhaps she would do the same this time as well. She was resourceful, so maybe she would learn to navigate her way through London. Maybe she really craved some privacy, battered as she was now by the ceaseless demands from all around her. Maybe it would all turn out just fine. But I would talk to Ponnammal about it and make sure that Suji had not twisted her arm into agreeing to go, and that she was at least aware of some of the issues she would face in London.
Continued from here
In the meantime, Suji rattled on. Her son would offer her a Rs. 1,000 raise in salary, which would be deposited directly into a bank account he would open for her. People like Ponnammal could never dream of such an opportunity, just think of how much her life would improve with the extra income. She could fix the leaks in her roof, she could buy back all that jewelry that she had sold to the pawnshop, she could afford to eat better food….the words raced out of Suji’s mouth and it was as if she did not want any of her thoughts or doubts to overtake them. Finally she stopped, and looked at me with a faintly challenging air. Would I be small-minded enough to deny Ponnammal this once-in-a-lifetime chance?
Continued from here
After more than two years of working for me in prickly
hostility, Ponnammal permitted herself to relax, oh-so-imperceptibly. But the real turnaround came when my daughter,
Chitra, was born. From the moment she
set eyes on her, Ponnammal was completely bowled over. The complete change in
her demeanor astonished me and it took me a while to reconcile the new
Ponnammal with the old. But there was no going back – the new Ponnammal was
here to stay. Ponnammal would rush through her cleaning work (and I did not
have the heart to scold her about the unswept corners and the growing
accumulation of dust on everything) and cooking (here, though, there was a
marvelous transformation – an amazing variety of exotic dishes now started
appearing out of the kitchen) and then settle down to what she considered the
most important part of her day – playing with Chitra. It was such a joy to watch the two of them
together – Ponnammal, with not a trace of her former stiff, prickly self,
rolling on the floor and abandoning all dignity in her efforts to make Chitra
laugh, and Chitra, a look of pure adoration and joy in her eyes, chortling in
her high baby voice, begging for more, not allowing Ponnammal a second’s
respite. I could only shake my head and
Continued from here
I enjoyed spending the occasional afternoon with Suji when
all the chores were completed, and some sweet tea and a gossip session seemed
in order. Suji’s fund of information about
the building’s residents seemed to be inexhaustible. She had a real knack for
extracting life details from people. She
was a caring and careful listener, inserting a pertinent question or two to
keep the narrative going, her expression of perfectly blended concern and
interest in only what was being told to her, of nothing else mattering,
spurring her audience to confessions they would not have made to others.
I am a simple person.
My needs are few, my demands uncomplicated, my pleasures humble and
plain. I am happy to eat bland thayir
saadam day after day if I need to, I remain unruffled by the frequent power
cuts that plague our neighborhood, and I frankly don’t care if it is the DMK or
Congress which is in power, it’s all the same to me. There is, however, one
thing, or rather, one person, that I absolutely cannot do without. That is my maidservant, Ponnammal.
Croatia Chronicle: Part Five
Everyone is in high spirits after yesterday’s rollicking,
wildly successful Carnival and the party at Rok and Lea’s. The big event for
the day is our pianist Jose’s recital for us in the Kastel. He has a big
performance coming up in Spain
Croatia Chronicle: Part Four
Sunday, the last day of the Mayor’s Festa.
Groznjan: a happening place
The day dawns wet and cold, with a sharp wind and a
continuous, gossamer-light drizzle. A sagging, weary, silent group shows up for
practice in the studio. Even Olinda
Croatia Chronicle: Part Three
This is Day One of the Mayor’s Festa di san Vito, Modesta e Crescenzia Festival,
and nobody seems to know quite what’s going on. There is an Art Gallery