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Graduate in Maths, Postgraduate in English literature. Worked as a medical transcriptionist, also as a teacher.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

A yearly round-up -2016

      I thought I would not be writing this one at the end of the year as I thought it is becoming repetitive. But this one has become another annual ritual just like events and festivals. Festivals are both joyful and tiresome for women. Joyful because it involves the family gatherings , but tiresome because the lady of the house has to stand long hours in kitchen, but anyway one ends up doing it to the fullest due to force of habit, failing which one feels something short or emptiness. This may have to do with writing also, I feel now.
                                                   When I write about the year that is about to leave us, the title will be same, but the contents are of course, different. Because the events that happen throughout the year are unique from the previous year. The two mammoth events that took place this year which are more relevant to Indians are demonetization and the surprise president elect Donald Trump as opposed to the popular belief that US will see the first woman president.  The 9/11 for Indians (9th November) and 11/9 for Americans and migrants to the land of hope. When the whole of American media predicted and favored Hillary, Trump, the controversial man, took everybody by storm. What went wrong with the prediction? They obviously failed to read the minds of middle class families who were suffering from high debts, job losses due to migration, terrorism. Trump, despite his hypocrisies, was able to flail with the voters with these strong points and that is where Hillary lost. The land of opportunities still offers hope to migrants from around the world, but to hope to see the 1st woman president, it can be the next election or eternity! And just when our channels were preparing for the full coverage of US elections, Mr. Modi struck the masterstroke at the stroke of midnight, with the announcement of withdrawal of 500 rupees and 100 rupee notes. This massive step is to fight against the black money and corruption as the Government claims. The effects were felt immediately and the life of the common man was thrown out of gear. Whether this demonetization is success or a failure in the long run is still to be seen. Though this the 3rd demonetization move, The first two hardly affected the general population, as the higher denomination notes of 500, 1000, 10000 were not available to the ordinary Indian. In spite of all the hardships that the public is going through even today, many of them do support this move as they believe it is for a good cause in the long run. My personal view is that it should have been implemented little more properly as to cause least hardship to all sections of the people. If 200 Rupee notes were introduced along with the 2000 Rupee notes, wouldn't it have reduced the pain?
                                        On the other fronts, the illness and the subsequent death of the TN Chief Minister J.Jayalalitha made big news. All through her hospital stay, the updates on her health condition were not let out much adding to the mystery even today. Is it not the right of the people to know about the health condition, when their incumbent chief minister is sick? Only when she suffered the irreversible cardiac arrest, the hospital released the full medical details and thus prepared for the worst. Whatever happened from September to November is yet to be known fully. On the close heels followed the death of Cho. Ramaswamy, who was an actor, political satirist, journalist, lawyer, writer, and also life-long friend of Jayalalitha. Their close demises made me think that death did not do them apart. The death of the doyen of Carnatic music, Shri. M Balamurali Krishna was another event. He was a child prodigy who had his first concert at the age of 8, and by the age of 15 he mastered all the 72 parent raagas of Carnatic music which is quite a feat. He proved his mastery in the instruments like viola, mridangam, morsing, and invented some new raagas which had just 3-4 swaras in Aarohana and Avarohana. He composed a new raaga 'Jayalalitha' and its a coincidence that both should pass away the same year. As I do not want to make this a long-winding annual newsletter, I may just touch on a few incidents, some of them which touched me and others. The other deaths which happened early this year was that of Shri ONV Kurup, the poet and the writer, and the female actress and comedian Smt Kalpana. Had Kalpana lived for some more years, we would have got to see many of her comedy roles. Her death is indeed a big loss to the Malayalam industry, and still touches me personally, when I watch her lively role in the film 'Bangalore Days.'
                                                      On the global front, the long term Communist leader or dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro died due to old age, but it was a life well lived and he brought in a lot of reforms to develop Cuba, though he was a sworn enemy of USA. He was lucky to escape the repeated assassination attempts. Then Brexit-Britain exiting from the European union and Rexit-exit of Governor of RBI, Raghuram Rajan happened the same time. One can make a guess as to why Raghuram Rajan did not want to be there for another term as the RBI Governor. The Nobel prize for literature which was awarded to the songwriter Bob Dylan caught attention as this is the first time it has been awarded to a singer and a songwriter. The decision proved to be somewhat controversial and to top it all, Bob Dylan did not personally come to receive the prize citing some reasons. In the Olympics front, it was women power all the way with PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Deepa Karmakar who proved their mantle. Otherwise, the performance of the 120-member team contingent was below expectations, though I laud each of our participants who reached the Olympic level the hard way. Of course, I read somewhere that its not the players who failed us, but we failed them. I do not want to go into detail as to why. Recently, a terrorist attack happened in the German Christmas market killing about 12 people, and isn't a wonder why our dear Facebook did not ask its users to change their profile photos to show the support to those departed??? !!! I would like to comment more on this, but I am afraid, it may be controversial.
                                          As I come to the closing lines, I would like to make a note that December month has been bad for Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu with the death of Jayalalitha and the cyclone Vardah which followed disrupting the power supply, net connections, from which the capital city is yet to recover fully. The cyclone Vardah in all its fury destroyed some green cover as lots of trees fell in many parts of the city. This will make hot Chennai even hotter. I am happy that I manage to keep this blog alive and I am completing 6 years of blogging and look forward to write more as I enter the coming year. Wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy new year. Happy holidays.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dileep-Kavya wedding-A real reel of Mollywood

         A wedding took place in a hotel in Kochi  on November 25th which shook the whole of Kerala and made the Malayalees (that includes me)! sit before the TV screens and the internet. It was between the famous on-screen pair, Dileep and Kavya Madhavan who 'officially' became the off-screen pair from Nov 25th, 2016. Dileep had earlier married the popular star Manju Warrier but got divorced sometime in 2015. They have a teenage daughter Meenakshi. It was second wedding for Kavya too, who had divorced a Dubai-based  banker. Dileep is a popular Malayalam star, though not a super star like Mamooty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, and hence is not known much outside Kerala. When he announced all of a sudden that he is going to tie the knot to Kavya on 25th morning, the whole of Kerala came to a virtual standstill that morning. All the Malayalam news channels were telecasting live their wedding. Everybody absorbed every moment of it like a sponge. The boons and banes of demonetization took a back seat that day.  Dileep made an announcement that they are getting married and that they need everybody's blessings and appealed to stop putting negative comments about them. It might look unusual  about that appeal to those who do not know the facts behind this wedding.
                             As everything is available on the google and many sites, I am making the long story short. Dileep married Manju Warrier in 1998 when Manju's career was at peak, and she being known as the lady superstar. She essayed strong characters on-screen with elan and the roles were tailor made for her. Most of the superstars acted as sidekicks in her films. Before the time of Manju Warrier, I do not know of any other heroine who has carried the whole film on her shoulders, except maybe Sarada in some films. Her abrupt end in films left a huge void which was not fully filled. The audiences felt the pain until her comeback in 2013 after her separation/divorce. Dileep was a struggling actor in 1998. It is believed that he did not allow her to act or give dance performances after their wedding. Then came in Kavya as heroine with Dileep in the film 'Chandran udikkunna dikkil' which became a runaway hit and henceforth they became favourite on-screen couple to act in over 20 films.  Dileep's popularity soared and there was no turning back. The long standing affair between this couple gave rise to lot of rumours, gossips and to feed it, Kavya got divorced from a Dubai banker after the marriage of 6 months. This was like final straw.
                                                 I was not following the state of their 'affairs', except that I was happy to see Manju Warrier making a comeback. So when I saw last week about the news of their wedding in FB, my interest was piqued. Just like every other Malayalee, I watched their live wedding in the channels. Dileep wed Kavya in presence of his daughter Meenakshi and film stars like Mamooty, Jayaram, Menaka, Kaviyoor Ponnamma etc. It was interesting and amusing to see the endless trolls, jokes which was also merged with demonitization. Though Dileep was addressed as 'people's favorite star', the reactions that poured in suggested anything but 'favourite star'. Every other person became a moralist condemning Dileep  and Kavya and the outpouring and endless words of support for Manju which was evident in their pages. While all of us were waiting for Manju's response, she was more conspicuous with her stoic silence and there was some eeriness about that. It was the first time that I was seeing this kind of emotions like anger, support, passion, displayed as if the event happened in their own backyards. Every short Youtube videos were had lakhs of viewership within 2 days. Every bit of gossip was absorbed. This is an example of truth being stranger than fiction and all the elements are there for a writer to write a script for a sensational movie. Manju Warrier's character can be essayed out as a good woman and a 'victim' of circumstances and Dileep and Kavya Madhavan on the bad side. I am sure a movie will soon follow on this.

                                 It is not the first time that movie stars get divorced and most of them remarry. It will not be the last time also. Major superstars in the Malayalam industry have managed to stay in their marriage and of course, most of them married who are not actresses. It might be a precaution not to fall into the inherent traps and tarnish their images. Dileep does not have the height or looks of a super star and the controversies that surrounded him made him unpopular. If Manju Warrier had to quit acting and dancing after her wedding, it was something which hurt many malayalees. And the affair with Kavya Madhavan only made the matters worse. Manju Warrier was elevated on pedestal after Dileep's 2nd marriage.  It has to be noticed that there are equal or less number of people who wished well for Dileep and Kavya. Though I followed all these with great curiosity and interest, I was not that crazy. Even the movie stars have life beyond the screen and if they do not affect our lives, it is better not to be over judgmental about them. After divorce, Manju is living life in her own terms and very much in the limelight. I am only happy for her. How Dileep and Kavya chart out their lives is their headache, at the end of the day. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Our trip to Thiruvannamalai

Hi friends,
                 As another year is seeing its sunset days and many of us waiting to have an annual break, I scrolled the list of articles I penned so far. They are a little less compared to previous years, with two of them being penned by my dad. As I have mentioned before, I always love to explore new places and whenever I go somewhere, I take care to make note of details and of course take a lot of snaps. I scrolled down my blog to see if we visited new places this year, and realized that Thiruvannamalai is our first trip and that too at the fag end of the year. Will we explore one more new place before the year ends? I would love to do so.
                                It is almost customary for us to go to my in-laws' place in Hyderabad every year for Diwali. But this year, it did not happen due to miscellaneous reasons. To ward off our disappointment, we decided we would visit a place which would not take more than 2 days. And off we drove to Thiruvannamalai.
                              This place is about 200 kms from Bangalore and can be reached within 4 hours. If you go on the Hosur road, after a 100 kms, there will be a diversion where you take right to go to the destination. After we took diversion, for some distance, the roads were bad and unpredictable and it is better to drive on this route during the daytime.With the help of Google maps we hit Ramana Ashram 1st, which is at the entrance of Thiruvannamalai. When it comes to Google maps, it helps you in finding way, but from our experience, we have to take the help of the locals to go forward, as at some crucial places, the billboard signs are absent. You can call it 'the Indian way'. The ashram is a sprawling area with prayer and meditation halls, library, Ramana saint's room where he attained samadhi, the dining area. There were a couple of peacocks which was an attraction and with which people were taking selfies. It is visited by foreigners from the Western countries who hope to find some peace and solace in their lives. Some cows are maintained for fresh milk and milk products. The place is a center of activity which caters meals to the homeless and poor people around on daily basis. Ramana Maharishi was unique in a way that he did not claim to have any spiritual powers to cure the sufferings of the common people and did not invent any new religion. He experienced sudden liberation and overcame fear from the death in his early years. He spent about 17 years in silence and solitude in the Virupaksha cave and Skanda ashram which can be reached by 1 hour trek and situated in the back of the ashram. In these places, there are dogs because the saint is said to have lived or co-existed along with animals and even talked to them. The trekking, which should be done during the daytime, is well worth as it got us in touch with nature and was rejuvenating. Virupaksha cave is the final point of trek where it is dark inside with the idol of Ramana Saint, and silence should be strictly observed as people come to meditate. There are some dogs roaming near the cave, but it should not be of much concern. It is still the proof of the Saint who lived among the animals. I felt some connection and experienced some calm when we visited the ashram the next day. It is noteworthy that one can be a saint or maharishi  without claiming to have spiritual powers like Shiridi/Satya Sai baba, Mata Amritaanandamai, Swami Nityananda, and still admit to have human limitations like Ramana. Still, lot of people came to him to pour their sufferings and hardships the life offered.  This ashram is more frequented by westerners who looked to have found something, where many Indians are yet to find.

                                           From the cave, there is an easy way to reach Arunachaleshwara temple, the temple of Shiva. It is vast and has 8 gopurams or towers which were under some renovation. The temple is only 1 km from Ramana ashram, and these two places attract tourists all over. It was not over crowded, though we had to stand in the queue to get the fleeting glance of Lord Shiva. We spent some time exploring the temple. For some strange reason, an elephant is kept and it attracted the visitors who fed the same. I am not the fan of temples keeping the animals and birds like peacock, as it is only torture for them. The temple prasadams or offerings can be bought inside the temple premises, and I tell you, they are very tasty. The temple becomes unapproachable during the month of November-December due to the upcoming Karthikai, the festival of lamps. During the day of Karthikai, which falls on the full moon day of Vrishchika month, the lamp is lit on the top of the hill, and the lamp is said to represent Lord Shiva or Arunachaleshwara, and this is on the concluding day of Karthigai Brahmotsavam which attracts crowds from various parts of India. It represents the Makara jyothi of Sabari Mala temple of Kerala. Devotees consider themselves blessed when they go to temple during this time. But for casual goers like us, it is best if we don't go to temple during the festival to avoid the stampede-like crowds.The city of Thiruvannamalai belongs to lower middle class people whose lively hood depends on the ashram and the temple, and one cannot escape many asking tips for simple services. There were very less cars and more bikes and scooters. We wanted to go on a 14-km trek around girivalam, but to our disappointment, it is banned by the Government, as the tourists are disturbing the animals/flora/fauna. We went to girivalam by road, and it took much less time.The road had some temples of various Shiva lingas. We stopped at a place which was just so beautiful and it turned out to be a lengthy garden and a bright, airy hall which had Shirdi Sai baba statue made out of marble. It was just quiet and peaceful.  We took a room in Aakash inn which was opposite to Ashram, and it was quite comfortable and provided free Wi-fi which has become 'an addiction?' for everybody just like having food. Food was good in the adjoining restaurant. I had a relaxed and a rejuvenating Ayurvedic body massage. The massage center is situated in the building of Ramana towers (which has service apartments). If you want a fully relaxed trip, then this massage is a must try. We had a pleasant drive back home, though we did not feel like leaving the place. Some photos of our trip, as an article on travel is incomplete without photos. So, here are some more photo collages....Couldn't control myself posting so many photos...When I finished this and made some collages, I had a feeling of revisiting the place!!! Enjoy..

Good luck!!!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On plastics menace

                                                            On plastics menace


S. Muthukrishna Iyer

  •  Hi folks, I am publishing yet another article written by my Dad, Shri. S Muthukrishna Iyer titled "On Plastics menace". My dad is a retired Engineer from VSSC, Trivandrum and has published 3 books  in his name of which 2 are in Malayalam and 1 in English. He is passionate about writing on current topics and and also some grave issues that might be a threat to the coming generations. He also gives talks in various seminars about some topics, mainly on energy availability for the future generations.     Here, I would like to put in some of my words. As somebody who has been living in Bangalore for more than 5 years, I could see the changes and the awareness created on the menace of plastics. BBMP has been doing a laudable job in making public aware on the dangers of using plastic items. As they say, the change begins at home and truly many societies make sure that the bio-degradable and non-degradable waste (like plastics) are segregated in each home for the easy management of waste. Many of the plastic items are recycled. BBMP has issued a ban on the usage of plastics in at least many of the shops and establishments and the usage of plastics has come down a bit, even though there is a long way to go. The days of carrying one's own bags to the shops and packing things in the old papers look to be making a come back. If each family cares about the environment that they/we live in like own home, controlling the use of plastic becomes much easier.               Deepa.

1.0 Introduction

Plastics in their innumerable forms invaded our lives only in the recent past. Their percolation into most areas has brought in conveniences in trading commodities of varied nature. At the same time, our immature/dismal approach to issues related to limiting their use only to essential areas and the collection/disposal of used ones, are posing serious challenges to environment. Collection and disposal of used plastic items has been a very serious issue of the present times, which provide sleepless nights to some of those looking after it.  This article looks at the related aspects.

2.0 Discussion

Q: What are the reasons for plastics sneaking into most areas of our day to day living?

A: The basic reason is that we manufacture them in large varieties and huge quantities and dump into market.  Moreover, we see conveniences in using them.

Q: When and how did we begin to use plastics?

A: Before plastics were available just a few decades ago, milk was sold in 500 ml and 250 ml glass bottles. When delivering to customers, it was mandatory that bottles of respective measures were exchanged. The revolutionary type of change in milk supply took place on availability of plastic sheets and packaging systems suitable for handling liquids in a fail safe manner. Milk being a commodity traded both in the mornings and afternoons of every day, milk supply area was immensely benefitted out of packaging in plastic covers. The changeover from thick glass bottles to plastic covers directly brought down its cost of transportation by around 200%.

At the same time, provisions in as harvested/their value added forms, oil and meat adopted ways and means of packaging and presenting them in shelves largely using plastics. Soon, most promoted self service culture, wherein, buyer picked pre – packed items and presented for billing. Gradually, plastics in one form or another sneaked in to most areas related to our day to day living.

Perhaps we are responsible for not limiting plastics to essential areas. Those avoidable include:

  • Providing thin plastic carry bags while selling a small quantity of even one item of vegetable/fruit/flower/others even without buyer asking for it. Previously, such items were sold in news paper/note book sheet wrappings or plantain/lotus/vatta and other types of leaves. My own personal experience of recent times is a pointer. When I was at a nearby bakery, I saw its owner and a small lad arguing on the need or otherwise of a plastic carry bag for an item sold. The lad was insisting that he needs a carry bag for a packet of ‘MILMA sambharam’ priced Rs 7. The owner was pleading that she cannot afford a free carry bag for it.
  • Super markets provide rolls of thin plastic covers for separating items for billing. Paper bags would have been an appropriate choice for packing some of these.
  • Restaurants changed the system of packing Tiffin items from leaves to plastic sheets/covers. They could have restricted it for liquids only.
  • Providing thin plastic liners to invitation cards/business catalogs made of paper for tear proofing, could have been avoided.
  • Discarding the system of serving drinking water in steel glass/paper cups for feasts, instead, serving in 200 ml plastic bottles, and thereafter, throwing them away after single use. The customer is billed for it, subsequently, the responsibility for disposing falls on the local self governing body.
  • Spreading thin plastic sheet on table for serving feast at gatherings and the same is discarded after single use. Until recently, paper rolls were used for the same.
  • Packing items using plastic covers, when paper/clothe covers might be adequate as is the case with most textile goods.

Q: What makes plastics the most sought after packing material?

A: Many qualities make plastics the ‘emperor of packing materials’. The first and foremost is that the same is water proof. Next, plastics are amenable for rolling down to as thin as ‘kannithol’; (very thin skin of jackfruit seed). Plastics are flexible/light weight/easy to manufacture/transport/ tear resistant/available at low price, also widely distributed.

Q: How did the usage of plastics turn into a menace?

A: The wide spread use of plastics became a threat to our environment, since, we who boast ourselves as educated, intelligent as well as modern, handled it in the same manner as depicted by the age old saying, “flower garland in the hands of a monkey”. The skin of jack fruit seed, ‘kannithol’; is so thin that it could choke our food pipe; also, a bunch of human hair can choke drains. The same is also the case with ultra thin plastic carry bag; it clogs drains. Non – degradability of most plastics makes disposal difficult. Having the waste disposal systems of Trivandrum city been dismantled few years ago, many bundle their waste in plastic covers thick/thin and throw them into way side/canals/open drains.

Q: There had been bans previously too. How about them?

A: We proposed ‘flex ban’ some time ago. Discussions took place for a month; in the end we backtracked. One prime reason was the extensiveness of flex industry which had grown exponentially in the recent past, loss of job, bank loans turning into bad debt, and others. There was ban on plastics too; however, the situation returned to original condition in few months.

3.0 Conclusions

Q: How can we address issues related to plastics menace?

A: (1) Move away from use of plastic wrappers/covers/bottles in non – essential areas.
(2)   Look at my own practice of keeping carry bags. Whenever, a vendor wraps items even using news paper sheets, I show him my bag. This one change, if implemented by many, could bring down the use of plastics substantially.
(3)   Use re - usable cloth bags. I would like to recall a practice of yesteryears wherein, generally, Brahmin males carried LG asafoetida bags on errant and thereby, they got branded too.   
(4)   Nowadays, I get freshly milked milk, cooking oils and certain others at my door step. Here, fluids are transferred from vendor’s carboys to our bottles. Since no packing is involved in such buys, no waste disposal related issues too. Extending the above door delivery concept to ‘provisions in general’ could enable us to get rid of packing them in transparent covers and display in shelves. NOWADAYS, WE HAVE NET MARKETING SYSTEMS, WHEREIN, ITEMS ORDERED ARE BROUGHT TO ONE’S DOOR STEP PRE– PACKED, MOSTLY USING PLASTICS. ON PRIOR INDICATION, IF LOCAL PROVISION STORE CAN BRING ITEMS TO DOOR STEP AND TRANSFER ITEMS DIRECTLY TO ONE’S OWN CONTAINERS, WE AVOID LARGE QUANTUM OF PLASTICS HERE TOO.
(5)   Avoid buying provisions pre– packed in plastic covers. Buy them in paper wrappings to the maximum extent possible.   
(6)   Have discipline to wash used plastics and dispose to vendors periodically. Do not throw them around on way side.
(7)   Ensuring the use bio degradable wrappings to the maximum extent possible need become part of our culture; and therefore, pay close attention to the same


                                                               -The End-

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The 'curious serious' case of a Chief Minister

"Oh, well, there is a difference between privacy and secrecy"  -  Laura Schlessinger

Hello everybody,
                    As the nine days of fasting, feasting of snacks (read as 'chundals'), pujas are on (Navarathri or Dussera), there is a chief minister who is fighting for her life from September 22. It is almost 3 weeks since J. Jayalalitha, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has been admitted in the Apollo hospital citing 'fever and dehydration' as reasons. But, as the days passed, the chief minister still remains in the hospital and the period is obviously too long for the simple 'fever and dehydration'. In this age of flashing news (also rumours) every other minute through all kinds of channels and social medias, it was looking strange and conspicuous that there were no updates on her health condition in the news channels and the leading English and Tamil  dailies of Tamil Nadu. Few words somewhere would mention that 'a team of doctors' are working on her condition.  For more than 2 weeks there was no picture on what she is suffering from and whether she will come out of it.
                                                Every person in this world has the right to privacy regarding his/her medical condition.  But when are those rights questionable? If he/she is responsible as a ruler of the whole state or a country. Amma, as she is known to the people of Tamil Nadu is revered or worshiped not just by the public, but also by her party members and the ministers in her cabinet always prostrate or bow in front of her, a sight which is not seen in other states. There are lot of schemes that were initiated by her for the benefit of the poor and underprivileged. Tamil Nadu is one of the more advanced states of India in terms of development, literacy rate, employment rate, less maternal mortality rate etc. But on the other side, there was always this kind of worship that existed with the actors turned chief ministers like MG Ramachandran, Jayalalitha. When MGR died, a lot of his die hard fans self immolated. Those were the days when the media penetration was less. But his health condition was not kept as a secret. If I remember right, he was flown to USA to be treated for cardiac problems. During the early 90s, Jayalalitha conducted the wedding of her foster son Sudhakar in ostentatious manner which was the reason for her subsequent defeat in the following elections. She was tried in the disproportionate assets income for which the Supreme Court acquitted her last year and she came back to being the Chief Minister with a good majority.
                                                      What kind of fear exists in a democratic country like ours which prevented/still prevented from releasing the details about her medical condition? It is no wonder that lot of rumors do spread when there is no clear information given to the public about their ruler. The Governor of  TN visited the hospital but could not see her directly and he was briefed by the doctors about her condition. The opposition party of Tamil Nadu demanded to release a picture of the Chief Minister to put the rumors and suspense to rest. Even the PIL was filed but to no avail. Why should the medical details be shrouded in secrecy when the people of the State get affected is a moot question. Slowly, some information started emerging that her 'condition' is improving and she may be discharged from the hospital shortly. But, the 'shortly' is only becoming longer, and a team of various specialists are said to be working to improve her condition. The doctors attending to her are not supposed to talk to the media persons unless and until they are told to do so. As I write today, she is kept under ventilator and has to continue like that for a long time and maybe she is suffering from Sepsis, a deadly autoimmune disease.  Is this true? Will she come out of it? Only time will tell.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar- Did she miss the medal or the medal refused to go near her?

              I don't know how many of you follow the Olympic games of 2016 going on at Rio in Brazil. But when I talked to some of my friends, they do ardently and passionately follow some events in Olympics and also sports where Indians are involved. This time, largest ever Indian contingent (about 120 people) went to Rio to represent the greatest sporting event on earth. So naturally, some more medals were expected this time. I wanted to write this article after I, rather the whole of India, witnessed Dipa Karmakar's stupendous performance in gymnastics.  But it got postponed to another 2 days, and now I am sitting and writing after Sakshi Malik became the first woman wrestler to win a medal in the Olympics and which came as a huge relief for the medal starved country.
                 I am sure my fellow Indians would not have heard of 'produnova' vault in gymnastics which is life threatening and the one executed by Dipa Karmakar to near perfection. Produnova is considered to be the toughest in women's artistic gymnastics and not even a handful had attempted for the fear of life. Dipa Karmakar may have lost a medal by a whisker, but succeeded in winning 1 billion Indian hearts. Everybody sat wide awake to watch her final performance. I thought she might crush under pressure. But she didn't. She could have as well won a bronze medal if it had been more straightforward events like swimming, track and field events like running, jumping, pole vault, marathon etc. But in gymnastics it is more arbitrary, as 5 to 6 judges write the scores which will be slightly variable. Though the Olympic games is supposed to be free and fair for all, the human mind is not all the time balanced and impartial. We are all predisposed or inclined to some attributes more than others. The skin color, height, ability, disability, slow, fast, rich and poor, preference to English language over our languages and like that towards certain countries like western countries which occupy predominantly white people. Also, they are more advanced in many fields especially sports compared to rest of the world due to better infrastructure, training, commitment. Gymnastics and Nadia Comaneci of ex-USSR was synonymous. Russia and other countries of ex-USSR, some western countries like France, Switzerland, and of course the sports giant USA have hogged the limelight in the gymnastics for a long time. India was never in the picture. Dipa Karmakar is the first ever Indian gymnast, not just to qualify, but also to be in the top 4. To miss a medal by a whisker might seem a bit unfair not just to me, but also for my fellow Indians. While we are not familiar with the scoring system and technicalities, by instinct, we can say that she/he performed well and deserved a better score. Were the women from Switzerland and Russia awarded more score than they deserved? Some of us including myself feel so. Had she belonged to USA or Switzerland or Russia, would she have been awarded more than 15 in the 1st round? These will remain unanswerable forever. She has shown that Indians also can enter gymnastics but the prevailing biases cannot be removed. Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award has been announced for her, but to hunt for a medal in Olympics, she has to struggle for the next four years and age will not be on her side. But for us Indians, she 'HAS WON THE GOLD'. Hope this golden girl is never forgotten even after the medals won by Sakshi Malik, PV Sindhu etc.

                                          As I finish writing this, the whole of India is in sense of euphoria celebrating the entry of badminton player PV Sindhu into finals which means an assured silver and a possible gold. The 1st bronze medal came from the most unexpected quarters. ie. from Sakshi Malik in wrestling. So far, in this Olympics, girls are carrying our country forward!!! Of course, not to forget the coaches and the families behind these girls!!


P.S. An afterthought .......In the heart of our hearts, hope the biases will be reduced when more and more Indian sports persons prove their talent in future Olympics!! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

My love for tea

              Now that summer months are over, and the rainy season is on in some parts of our country, it is the time of cold and other infections. As such our country lacks cleanliness and civic sense and it is not surprising that the infections and fever are common among children and also among poor. So it is again, as you sow, so you reap. The two incidents which recently happened in the North East are the death of the famous writer Mahasweta Devi and the ending of the 16-year-old fast by the Manipuri iron lady, Irom Sharmila. Smt Mahasweta Devi stood for the oppressed, mainly tribal population, and fought for that marginalized society against the powerful Government and corporates with pen as her weapon. She is the winner of many prestigious awards for her writing and social work. Irom Sharmila's fast was to protest the enforcement of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, giving Army special privilege to detain people in the name of law and order. She became the iconic lady of not just Manipur, but the whole of North East and her struggle is comparable to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar who was arrested for 15 years by the military power because she oppressed their rule. Hats off to both these ladies who are resilient in their spirit and toughness. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
                                      It's become a habit for me to write about some recent events before getting into the main topic. When it comes to tea, anything and everything can be written about it. I don't know when I developed fondness for this beverage, but I think it might be after my wedding when I started to make tea.
It's not that my mom makes bad tea, but I grew up drinking the so called energy drinks like Maltova, Cadbury's Drinking chocolate(which used to come in tins), Boost, Bournvita, Complan, another health drink which used to come and the name I am not getting now. Except for some 3 to 4 drinks, many of the brands are not seen in the shelves today. I don't know when I switched over to coffee, but I always enjoyed having these energy drinks and I still do! When we travel in trains, tea is always preferred over coffee because the former is more drinkable. We, tamil brahmins, are synonymous with filter coffee in which coffee is prepared everyday morning with fresh decoction. No instant coffee powder can match the taste of fresh decoction. But like others in our community, we are not addicted to having coffee everyday morning. My husband is fond of tea and so the fondness for tea permeated into me. Tea comparatively needs less milk. But for morning tea, I pour more milk which makes it heavy and wholesome. To add some spice, I sometimes put cardamom and ginger. A cup or tumbler of hot coffee or tea is synonymous with the fresh smell of newspaper. As the beverage gets cold, so does the news items in the newspapers. We do not feel like reading previous day's news which is same coffee/tea which has become cold. Only if I have morning tea, I can carry the rest of the work. Otherwise, my stomach starts grumbling. I look forward for weekends when I can read the news items and other articles in a more relaxed manner. Slowly sipping the hot tea and reading in a relaxed manner is a dream which women cannot afford to have all the time. I prepare tea by putting sugar and boil the water, then add tea powder and milk in the end. If any guest comes over and stays with us, we immediately switch over to filter coffee. So, adaptability is not a problem.
                                     As one travels north, the taste of tea gets better. The tea which I remember was served in a small disposable earthen pot in Kharagpur station while we were on our way to Kolkatta. It tasted heavenly. Roadside teas which are served in disposable cups and accompanied by some bites(vada, samosa, kachori etc) is heaven on earth. It will keep you filled for sometime. Over a period of time, with lots of travel, I got used to having black tea, black coffee, lemon tea, cold coffee with relative ease. I used to work in a school for learning disabilities which had few students and we used to make black tea/coffee/lemon tea ourselves during breaks. There are various kinds of tea like Darjeeling tea, Lhasa tea, Lamsa tea(this one I did not like much), Munnar tea, China tea and so on. I am familiar with limited varieties of tea, but I am ready to try new ones if the situation demands! Coffee/filter coffee is almost the monopoly of South India, especially Tamil Nadu, but tea belongs to whole of India. If we find tough to adapt to various kinds of food during travel, especially leisure travel, tea and some good snack will always come to our rescue. When one talks about tea, can he/she leave the tea bags? I am still not the fan of tea served by dipping tea bags in a cup of hot milk/water, but I still remember the song for the ad of Taj Tea bags which goes like this:
                                              "Dip, dip, dip
                                               and the sugar, and the milk, and its ready to sip!
                                                Do you want stronger,
                                                Dip a little longer,
                                                Dip, Dip, dip
                                                And its ready to sip!"
                        And the tagline , "Wah Ustaad wah"...."Arre Huzur Wah Taj boliye"!!

                                                             My tea mugs...
Enjoy the cold, windy weather and Happy tea-ing!!!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How we lived half a century ago

Hi folks,
                     I would like to present an article written by my dad, Shri S Muthukrishna Iyer, recollecting his childhood and formative years.


This article could help ‘seniors’ to recollect their childhood days. More importantly, it could give a glimpse to children on how their grand parents led their lives 
“Change is permanent” is an age old saying. Universe underwent significant changes over billions of years. Changes which took place on earth very long ago include continents formation, and formation of unbelievably vast deposits of coal and petroleum underneath earth’s crust as a result of millions of years of weathering on biological matter. The changes which took place on utilization of these fuels in a very large scale after 1900 A.D. are beyond description. The young are unfamiliar about the life of those who lived, say, until about half a century ago.

A glimpse on the younger days of seniors like me could provide some idea on how we lived then.

How we lived then

Pandalam is well known for Lord Ayyappa’s abode and the Pandalam Palace. The palace has two settlements, one is adjacent to the renowned Dharma Sastha koil on the banks of Achankoil River and other at Kaipuzha, on its opposite banks. Pandalam Valiakoikal Raja is considered to be father of the Lord.

Surrounded by jackfruit and mango trees, my maternal grandpa’s residence ‘Kochu Madom’, was adjacent to Kaipuzha palace. Post our mother’s demise in early 1950’s when I was just three,self and my two elder sisters were shifted from the Thiruvananthapuram to Pandalam. Being employed at All India Radio, father stayed back at Thiruvananthapuram. In Kochu madom, we lived in a joint family set up.  Members were self, sisters, grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt and their children. Uncle served the State Excise Dept. Grandpa led a team that prepared feasts for large gatherings. He also served the local Tamil Brahmin community as priest. We had our schooling in govt./aided institutions in Malayalam medium. On completion of my schooling in 1964, I joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

Life in those days could be understood from a glimpse at our daily chores. Our grandparents were very affectionate and this made our life enjoyable. I had my uncle’s son’s company as we both were of same age. Grandpa woke us up around 4.30 in the morning. After attending to nature’s call, we learnt lessons in the dim light of kerosene lamp. Thereafter, we bathed in cool waters of Achankoil River. During summer we could cross over and pray at Sastha temple.

The dim light of the kerosene lamp

Post bathing, we prayed and performed ‘namaskarams’ (prostrations) at Siva temple, following which we had darshan of diety at the adjacent Krishna temple. While waiting for ‘aarti’, we enjoyed ‘ashtapadis’ sung with the accompaniment of the melodious ‘idakka’, a percussion instrument similar to Damru. After returning home, we enjoyed a cup of hot coffee prepared using fresh milk.

Our occasional visits to Thazhathu Mahadevar temple were interesting too. During monsoons, we used to walk down a km by M.C. road and the balance portion of around 2.5 km by ‘kutcha road’. The journey was mostly in pitch darkness. We bathed, offered prayers and returned home. During other times, we crossed over the knee deep water of the river, walked through sugar cane fields and reached there. This regimentation helped us to grow disciplined.

Cooking was laborious in those days; both male and female members shared the burden. Fuel was firewood/coconut leaves. Splitting firewood and stacking was strenuous and male members did it. Drying paddy by spreading thinly on mats under sun and carrying to mill for de-husking was laborious too. At home, the pounding of paddy in ‘Ural’ (a tall stony structure with provision to hold paddy at its top side) using ‘Ulakka’ (a cylindrical wooden rod) enabled its de-husking. Dals were split using ‘Thiru kallu’ (a grinding stone which enabled their flouring/splitting) Grinding for the preparation of idli/dosa was carried out manually using ‘Aattu kallu’ (a traditional grinding stone used for making idli/dosa batter).

Firewood stacked at Aunt’s house at Pongavana madom, Kottayam
                            (Picture taken in April 2016)

  Payasam being prepared using firewood choola 

Breakfast was largely made of tubers, most used was fresh/dried tapioca. ‘Kanthari mulagu’(a variety of chillies) and salt ground using Ammi kallu, a traditional kitchen tool used to grind spices, augmented its taste. Horse gram and shredded coconut were common additives to mashed tapioca. We enjoyed various curries made out of jackfruit during its season. Occasionally, we had Dosa, Idli, Upma and steamed rice dumplings too. For meals we had rice, curries made out of leafy and other locally grown vegetables, butter milk and pickles.

The substantial differences in making dishes between then and now include the following.
  • In those days, womenfolk were mostly homemakers. Though on compulsions, most found enjoyment in meeting the dietary needs of their family members.
  • Being members of joint families, they had opportunities for preparing delicacies. This ensured the quality of food.
  • Dishes were made out of locally produced grains, vegetables and fruits cultivated using natural manure, also were made out of freshly ground corns. 
  • The use of ‘ammi kallu’ and ‘aattu kallu’, ensured squeezing out juice from ingredients like coconut scrapings, this helped to enhance the taste of curries.
  • The heat of fire of firewood choola matched with that of the present day LPG stove, this was a plus point.
  • It was a common practice to cook tubers, and ‘ethan pazham’ (a variety of banana which is amenable for making a variety of dishes by cooking) by inserting them in the fire of‘firewood choolas’. The taste of food cooked thus is beyond description, usually, the present day children do not get such items even to taste.

Walking to school by the black topped M. C. road was easy. Even in those days, KSRTC and private buses plied, though in much smaller numbers. However, during our stay for the twelve years at Pandalam, we did not make even one trip to school by bus as we used to walk distances barefoot. A few Ambassadors taxied the needy. Two wheelers other than pedaled cycles were rare. Naturally, ‘traffic jam’ was unknown. Goods were moved on bullock carts and cycles. Even during the years just after 1970 when I was in Thiruvananthapuram, provisions, vegetables, egg, meat and others were moved overnight from Nagarcoil to Thiruvananthapuram largely using bullock carts. 

Clocks and watches were rare. We judged the time for departing to school from position of shadow which fell on landmarks in the courtyard.

It is also appropriate to recall here the fact that our schooling during the period from 1952-63 was without issues like teacher shortage/flash strikes. The only procession I remember to have participated then was a protest against Chinese aggression; teachers too participated in the same.

Those were the times just after we became a republic on January 26, 1950. Our country was in her infant stage with respect to food production, electricity generation, industrialization, rail, road and air connectivity, health and the use of electric kitchen appliances. The then population of India was only around one third of the present. These aspects influenced our life too.

Up to 5th class we learned in mother tongue, and carried only slate, pencil and bare minimum texts to school. We learned English and Hindi only from middle school classes and wrote using ink pens with nibs. Ball point pens of inferior quality were available since early nineteen sixties; I used three of them for Pre University exam, still trouble free writing evaded me.

Post and telegraph department (P&T) was the most important one for us. Post cards and inlands, even though took days/weeks for reaching the addressee, were the only lifelines of communication. Telegrams conveyed emergent messages, telephones were rare. Money order from father ensured that school fees and other expenses are met.

In the absence of fans, living in a tiled house of yesteryear's in villages was less comfortable. Bed bugs and mosquitoes were aplenty; we lived in their midst. Looking back, I often wonder that we did not suffer from any mosquito bite related illness then. Snakes moving around were a common sight, many a times we spotted one inside rooms. However, unlike the present days, we were not worried about this seemingly dangerous environment in which we lived.

Festivities at temples were occasions of enjoyment, where in, Pancha vadyam, Kathakali, Ottan thullal, Vela kali, Chakyar koothu, Hari katha and music concerts were staged. It is worth mentioning here that the ten days of festival was the only occasion we enjoyed film songs which were broadcasted loud over the music systems of the times. Even radios were rare in villages.

Sickness was attended to by traditional Vaidyans. Those were the days when allopathic treatment involving the use of the present day diagnostic equipments and surgical procedures was unheard of; the same had its toll on most families then. My mother and her elder sister died young. High rate of infant mortality which prevailed then had its toll in many families including that of ours.

From the above description, it is presumed that the young of the present could have a glimpse on how we lived half a century ago, when we did not have smokeless kitchens, extensive transportation networks, electric home appliances, electronic gadgets, satellites, television, computer, information technology, data transfer using mobile phones and a large variety of sumptuousness in mass manufactured consumer goods. However, we enjoyed our life then, as much as we do now.

S. Muthukrishna Iyer.

-          The End   -

Friday, June 3, 2016

A woman chief minister in Kerala, A woman President in USA.

Hi all,
                 My previous article about my late maternal aunt is 3 months old! Yes, after that I have not posted anything though I keep visiting my space everyday to check on visitors. Forget about other visitors, even my visits here reduced as the vacation bug bit me. Though I planned to write something during the break, as they say, it never happened. Yeah, there were lots of distractions also. The rains, shopping, minor commitments, travel etc kept me away from this space. At the end of each day I just wanted to hit the bed and sleep tight. Due to pleasant weather in Trivandrum, my hometown, sleep was not a problem and everyday was relaxing and so I came back refreshed.
                                         During the month of May, this year, Assembly elections were held in 4 States and one union territory to decide who will hold the reins for the next 5 years. Those 5 places were Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Assam, West Bengal. While BJP (or NDA) in Assam had to be content by forming alliance with Asom Gano Parishad, DMK party was able to lead in Puducherry but had to form alliance with Congress to get majority. But the same DMK party headed by Karunanidhi and his son M K Stalin could not convince the public enough to defeat the incumbent Chief Minister J Jayalalitha. Kerala and West Bengal are the strongholds of communist parties in India. Though communism is still strong in Kerala, its grip has loosened in West Bengal after the death of Shri Jyothi Basu. The people seem to be letting go the principles of marxism and communism as they feel it is holding back the state from advancing forward. The TMC party wins again and Mamta Banerjee continues to be the Chief Minister for another term. In Kerala, it was not just anti-incumbency but charges of corruption, Solar scam against the UDF Government paved way for LDF party to come in with Shri Pinaray Vijayan taking over the reins. Thus, out of 4 states, we have 2 states (Tamil Nadu, West Bengal) where women Chief Ministers ruling for another term. This is truly remarkable and there may be many factors why these women, Amma and Didi (Jayalalitha and Mamta) could continue to be rulers for another term. In Tamil Nadu, there are very less alternatives other than AIADMK. Though they are women chief ministers, their cabinets have negligible percentage of women with portfolios. In India, women active in politics is nothing new, but they are far and few in between. We had one woman, prime minister, one woman president and few states have/had chief minister as a woman. The answers for why women represent a negligible percentage are also not hard to find. The Indian Parliament, of which majority are men, continue to oppose women's reservation bill.
                                         Kerala, which is one of the most advanced states in India, in terms of standards of living, literacy, human indices is yet to have a woman chief minister. This state, whose political ideologies tilted more to left, is more conservative and highly patriarchal. Centuries back, when this state (Malabar, Travancore, Cochin) was ruled by royal families, women rulers had more say in the affairs of the State and there were powerful women rulers in the royal families. It followed the matriarchal lineage where women own the properties and men work in the fields. All these changed over the period of time with the breakage of joint family set-up. Kerala is famous for the love of yellow metal and women are sent to husband's house with kilos of gold keeping the ugly dowry system alive. The patriarchal thinking in people prevents many women from entering politics and to rise to the higher echelons. The one notable political lady who could have become a Chief Minister during 1980s was K R Gowri Amma. She was a Law student who took part in many political activities. Her most notable achievement was Land Reforms Bill and Agrarian relations Bill promulgated for the benefit of long-time tenants and workers. She has been elected as a minister during various years from 1960 to 2001. She was expelled from CPI (Marxist) in 1994 due to anti-party activities and she went on to form an organization known as Janaathipatya Samrakshana Samiti (JSS). Her organization merged with UDF and she became Agricultural minister.  She is still alive and kicking and into the wrong side of 90s. All through her life she has associated herself with various social and political movements and truly worked for the welfare of the folks of Kerala. I need not repeat why she could not become the Chief Minister. As the LDF and UDF alliances keep changing in the State, the possibility of a woman becoming the Chief Minister seems to be nowhere in the sight.
                                                                           K.R Gowri Amma

                                       The trigger for me to write this article is the Presidential elections that will be held in USA this November. I used to think that USA is another place along with Kerala, both more advanced places, yet to see a woman president and a woman chief minister respectively. USA had presidents elected from the year 1789 and in the span of more than 230 years, it is yet to have one lady president. Kerala is a relatively young democratic State. Many less developed countries and states have already seen a woman holding the reins of power.
                                                            Hillary Clinton

                                               While I was wondering whether I would get to see a woman becoming the President of the world's first super power, here comes Hillary Clinton. When rest of the first ladies were content enough to be glamorous to accompany their husbands, Hillary Clinton is a politician and a personality in her own right. Her parents, though conservative, saw that she grew up to be independent and strong-willed. Being a political science graduate, she was quite active during her college days and more of a Republican. But afterwards her views changed to become more of a democrat. She co-founded organizations for the benefit of Arkansas' children, foster care and families. It can be argued she is known more because she was first lady of state of Arkansas and then USA. But the qualifications and the exposure that she has towards politics from her college days to this day can be matched by negligible number of her peers. Except for her support of the Military attack in Afghanisthan and that in Iraq to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein, the rest are all commendable. She became the first female senator of New York in the year 2000 before becoming the 67th US Secretary of State. She unsuccessfully contested in the primaries in the year 2008 in which Barrack Obama won. One point which is not to be missed is how her marriage with Bill Clinton survived after the Monica Lewinski scandal. It was known that privately she was shattered, but publicly, she defended her scandalous husband. Now, she is back even stronger and contesting in the primaries against her democratic colleague Bernie Sanders. As of today, her lead is only thin with Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump of Republican Party is more controversial with his rigid policies like making laws strict and against immigrants. He is not favoured even among his party circles. Numerous factors favor Hillary Clinton compared to other candidates and it has to be seen in the following months whether she will successfully garner the primaries. If so, sooner are the chances that we may see the first woman becoming the president of the most powerful country on the earth.
                                             I do not know when I will get see a woman becoming the Chief Minister of Kerala, but I see more chances of a woman reaching that coveted post in USA. I wish her all the best to win the primaries against Bernie Sanders. This time, Americans do not seem to have much choice other than Hillary Rodham Clinton!!! If Hillary Clinton does not win, there are not much chances of another woman becoming a president in the vicinity as like K. R Gowri Amma of Kerala. Two parallel, powerful  and well-qualified politicians whose only fault is that of gender!


P.S.  Await the next article very soon!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My maternal aunt Lakshmi of whom I couldn't see more..

Hi all,
               A relaxed and a fresh mind paves way for the words to flow from a writer. And what better time one can get to write a planned article other than Saturday night, if one has relaxed the whole day and look forward for a lazy Sunday ahead. If I write something unplanned and out of instinct, I do not need a Saturday night. With all the ugly events in the name of nationalism or anti-nationalism in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and that which took place in the name of caste in Hyderabad University (death of a Dalit student Rohit Venmula), it is natural to wonder where our country is headed. With the words like sedition, jingoism, caste, anti-nationalism looming over us like demons, it is understandable that if we want to voice our opinion, people like me will think twice before putting down in words out of fear that it might offend somebody who may read these lines. Among all these depressing events, one incident which brought me to tears is the death of a private employee Harish Nanjappa in Bengaluru. Last week, he was hit by a truck when he was riding his bike, and his body was cut into half under the monstrous wheels of the truck. Even in his dying moments, he requested his organs to be donated!! Can anyone of us imagine ourselves in that situation and thinking about organ donation? As his organs were badly damaged, only his eyes could be donated. I wish that any street, hospital or any organ donation institution to be named after him so that he is never forgotten. He was just 26!
                        Well, talking about the age of 26, I had a maternal aunt who passed away at that age. She was younger to my mom, and when she died, I was too young to even understand the concept of death! Naturally, I have few memories of her, though powerful ones. Because she keeps living in my mind even today, I feel the following words will flow out easily. Many of us will have some or other close family member who died early or disappeared and continue to remain a curiosity. I have not seen my paternal grand parents  because they were dead before I was born. We do not have a photo of my dad's mom and so I do not know how she looked like! Well, my aunt whose name was Lakshmi, was different in all ways compared to rest of my mom's siblings and parents. She was born in the year 1954 in Trichy (Tamil Nadu), while rest of the members were all born in the years ending in zero, ie. 1930, 1960, 1970 etc. She was already an odd 'woman' out in that way. From the time I remember, she was known to me as 'Lakshmi chithi-Delhi (chithi-mother's younger sister), as she was staying in Delhi. My grandpa is a strict disciplinarian and very protective about his daughters (that includes my mom and other maternal aunt), but he had more faith in this aunt and believed that she is bold enough to survive anywhere. 1970s-80s were years when women in India considered themselves great if they finished graduation, let alone going for a job. Yep, there were women who have started plunging into careers to carve a niche for themselves, but they were still far and few, and of course, marriage was the topmost priority. My mom and my two aunts were all graduates, and if my mom had tried a little more she would have got into a promising Bank job. Now, coming back to this Lakshmi aunt, she was described as intelligent, outgoing and a strong personality. When she was doing her graduation in Govt Women's College in Trivandrum, my grandpa, who was working in BSNL, got transferred to Chennai and so she had to move to hostel to stay back and complete her degree. I have not stayed in any hostel throughout my life and I do not know what it is like to stay in a hostel.

                                                                           Lakshmi aunt (Lakshmi chithi)
                                                               She had good proficiency in English language as her letters showed. Once she finished graduation, she applied and appeared for the Assistant grade exam conducted by Staff Selection Commission of UPSC. Assistant's grade exams are conducted for recruiting in the middle level cadre, and if he/she is selected, they are posted in various establishments and offices of Indian Government. She passed the exam and got selected as an assistant(Supervisory grade) in the Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service, New Delhi. To give the idea of what this position is, if anybody passed the clerical examination and got into the Central Government, it would have taken 10-15 years to reach my aunt's starting position. She had to stay in a YWCA hostel in New Delhi to go to office. She worked from the years 1975-80, until her illness got better of her. Because death approached her much early, we can only make lot of assumptions. Had she continued in her career, she would have risen and reached the post of Undersecretary before she retired. Undersecretary post in India is 5 levels below the Secretary of India. It is one of the topmost posts anybody dreams of getting into. Well, our family could not see her as a married woman, career woman.
                                                 According to my grandpa, she could not bear the extreme weather conditions of Delhi and that maybe the reason she was struck with meningitis or brain fever. When she was 3 years old, she was struck with the deadly small pox and managed to escape from that to survive for few more years. As the brain fever attacked her, she started blabbering and she was shown to a neurologist in Chennai who diagnosed the disease. The doctors advised that if brain operation was done, there were more chances of recovery. The operation was, of course, done but it did not save her life. She passed away in the hospital itself.
     My memories about my aunt are very less. Her appearance was different from my mom and my other aunt. I have vague memories of her feeding me snacks, and taking me out somewhere when I was in Chennai during the holidays. We all had gone to Gandhi Mandapa in Adyar, Chennai. She always enquired about myself and my sister through her letters. She had gifted us both with nice and cute pink dresses. I remember vividly those dresses that we wore and the moments captured in the camera. My sister was very small and looked very cute in the pink dress. Had Lakshmi chithi lived, she would have shown lot more affection and gifted us more things. My grandpa described some incidents about her when she was a child. He narrated to me one incident in which there was a drug addict in the YWCA hostel in Delhi who was staying with her and wore by mistake my aunt's dress and disappeared. The image of her which I can never forget is when she was lying in the hospital bed wearing a white shirt and a piece of cloth below. We travelled from Trivandrum to Chennai by train run by steam engines, and from the railway station, we straight away went to hospital to see her. When we got to see her, I remember that she was staring blankly at us. My grandma was standing beside the bed and pointing to my dad, she asked my bedridden aunt who that was. She did not answer anything for a longtime. At the end she told my dad was chithappa (younger dad), when actually my dad was brother-in-law to her. My grandma again asked her questions and she did not answer anything. That was the last time I remember seeing her. Those days, we did not own a phone and our grandpa used to make trunk call to our neighbor's house. That one day still etched in my memory. My dad went there to attend my grandpa's phone call and he gave us the bad news. I still remember my mom crying a lot with my sister and myself on her lap. I was too small to understand what was going on, but to this day, I remember those moments clearly. My mom tells me even today that after her death, my grandpa burnt all of my aunt's letters. Had she lived on, she would have either become a great career woman or a great mom or both. She would have been an inspiration for all of us. With her death, we lost one branch of our family. My mom still managed to preserve a couple of her letters written from Delhi. I have read those letters many times over. She has described beautifully the acting of Rekha and her appearance in two plaits in the Hindi film Khubsoorat. I would like to share with you a letter written by her.

                                                   The 1st 2 pages of the letter (expand and read).

                                                        Below is the 3rd page of the same letter.

                    My grandpa's letter (below) to my mom describing his helplessness and sleepless                     nights during that time.

Thanks to my parents and grandparents for the input and materials.


P.S-  I started this page on Saturday, hoped to complete that day itself but couldn't. So I am publishing this today.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Isle of Man

Hello everybody,
                              I am back soon as I promised. I have this so-called 'travel bug' in me, though I am not a frequent traveller. If I travel a lot, in the sense, leisure travel, this blog would have doubled up as a travel blog because I love putting down in words and pictures, the experience a new place gives me. So it is no wonder that somebody like me will always cherish the visit to the first place or a country abroad.
                                                   The very first foreign land on which I set my foot was many moons ago. The name of it is not San Fransisco, not London, not Sydney or Melbourne but Isle of Man which belongs to British group of Isles. This island looks like a drop from an aerial view and is perched in the Irish sea between UK and Ireland. It was hitherto unknown place until my husband had an assignment there for some months. My first-time-ever trip was arranged along with his colleague who was also travelling at that time. The journey and the route is still etched in my mind. From Mumbai International airport, my first international flight was in Lufthanza airlines. I kept on watching the route map that was flashed on the TV screens and I clearly remember that we flew over Istanbul of Turkey. Forget WiFi in flights, that was the time when cell phones were just getting common and so there was no way to communicate in flight or when I reached a particular airport. Wish I could land in the Frankfurt airport again to relive the experience of setting foot in the first airport abroad. To go to Isle of Man, the connecting flight was from Manchester airport. The aircraft was charter type and it flew low with some turbulence. As we were nearing the place, I used to peep from the window to have a glimpse of the land, but what I could get to see was the endless sea water with no trace of land anywhere near. As the plane lowered down, I still could not see the land and for a moment I thought 'are we going to sea-land or land on water?? Just when I thought our plane was going to descend in water only, I got the first glimpse of Ronaldsway airport. The airport itself is on the banks of the sea.
                                                      Image result for isle of man images
                                                  Image result for isle of man images
                                                           The above images borrowed from google....
                                                            The above top is the one I bought from a charity shop.

                                                              Yep, finally I am going to see a new land of which I had construed some images. It being December, I had a suitcase full of winter clothes to protect me from the frosty, biting cold. But I was totally unprepared for what I was going to experience. The moment I came out of the plane, I had to fight the strong gusts of winds which I had never experienced in my lifetime and which would have swept my feet away. I had to fight for my breath to brave those winds and extreme cold. My husband was given accommodation in an apart-hotel in Cherry Orchard group of hotels in Port Erin. For the first time in my life, I was seeing all empty roads with not a soul in the sight after coming from India. I was all alone in our room, scared and managing the jet lag. Another thing which scared me was the place became pitch dark after 4 o'clock in the evening and I could see the daylight after 8 o clock in the morning as it was winter and the days were much shorter. I thought how were people living in a place like this? Slowly I started liking the quietness, charm of the place. The accommodation we had was a 2BHK which was quite comfortable, bright and airy. It had a patio on which I could not step out and enjoy due to freezing cold.
                                                       I filled those short, winter days by taking strolls in the nearby streets, visiting those shops multiple times, some of them being charity shops. I found the discarded items in the charity shops more attractive and cheap than the ones in the normal shops. People who run those shops were friendly and talked about how they came from other places to settle there. The other major attraction was the supermarket 'Shoprite' where I regularly used to go to get food and other grocery items. After some days, I had the company of my husband's colleague's wife and we used to go to interior of the place by catching bus. As the population was sparse and the buses were much more comfortable, travelling by it was a luxurious experience. The island was very small and everywhere the sea was just a stone's throw away. Douglas, the capital of  Isle of Man, was the hub of all the activities. There was  a shopping street, casino, the one and only Indian restaurant (then) named 'Taj'. Weekends used to be fun filled with time spent in the casino and then going to the Indian restaurant. Peel was a place where we went to see the castle and enjoy the spectacular sunset.
                                     Tynwald is the open Parliament of Isle of Man which is supposed to be  the oldest parliamentary body in the world where lots of Governmental decisions are still made. Another major shopping area is in Ramsey where multitude of shops and markets are there. Another pass time during the weekends was visiting various glens and admiring the natural beauty and experiencing the sound of the water flowing in the glens. There is one giant wheel known as Laxey wheel which is a must visit. Cregneash is a remote village where there is a museum exhibiting lot of items and equipment used by early settlers showcasing the way of life. The Pebble beach is situated in Point of Ayre, which is at the northernmost tip of the island. In this beach, we can find a variety of pebbles instead of sand. Why so much pebbles are there is still a mystery. Port Erin is the southernmost tip of the island, and we could see another small island from its shore and it is known as 'Calf of Man'. I could get to see the mountains of Ireland arousing the curiosity of another country, though we did not visit there (Ireland... :(  ). I used to take lots of strolls on the beaches, though I never ventured into the water as it would be ice cold. The whole island as a place is charming in its own way, and the one I would like to visit again. As the days passed by, the duration of the days got longer and the days became brighter. By the time we were about to leave, I totally fell in love with the place, never wanting to say goodbye to it. The small, sweet, quiet, windy, frosty island has found a permanent place in my heart!!! The mountains, beaches, roads, buses,shops, charity shops, casino, glens, the countryside charm.......I feel that I am again in Isle of Man now that I am writing about it. When will I see you again, my dear???


P.S. Next article is about my maternal aunt whom I never got to see more of her..