Category Archives: chennai

A tale to tell when my city wakes

Its not often I get up early in Chennai for there is nothing much to do at that hour in a holiday. Nevertheless I did today. the city rises early and as a consequence, sleeps early. So at four in the morning you can very well hear the sounds of women splashing water across their veranda. By five thirty all of them have made the mandatory kolam outside and gone in to boil milk. The first strains of Suprabhatam starts and by six thirty people have already taken a bath and have settled with the morning paper. Many people will blame me for stereotyping when they read this post. But that’s how the city is , that’s its character and that’s its soul. So today morning when I got up, I heard all the familiar sounds and because I did not know what to do I started flipping through channels. Much of the channels were wrapping up their late night entertainment by five. And then at five thirty all the channels started streaming devotional songs or carols.I was at that point tempted to blare gal mithi mithi bol on my speakers but was distracted with the morning coffee. I let the idea pass for then. Chennai or Madras as I prefer to call it is primarily a fishing hamlet. It has retained that essence knowingly or unknowingly in many queer ways, getting to work much before the crack of dawn is one such example.
Many years ago when I was still in that little protected heaven called school , I remember during the month of Margazhi, we used to get up at five wear our pattupavadais (silk skirts) and skip around to Bharatkalachar to recite Vishnusahasranamam. I would most times do so half asleep on the stage but the auditorium would be full in anticipation of the Upanyasam by Shri Velukudikrishnan that would follow.It was a routine then but now when I look back,I am pleasantly surprised.I have not been to Bharatkalachar in years but I suspect it must still continue with each passing batch of students.


Of tragic classics and a bit of few nothings in Madras

The past few months I have been reading blissfully for a change. It has been years since i have read with so much vengeance but for most parts as always it has kept me in familiar territory. There’s something about reading, you know you are safe, you are doing the right things and that if you successfully read then that everything is normal. SO i decided to read a bit of European Classics. Partly because I can sound all intellectual and wave the hand, tilt the head back and with an odd sparkle in the eye look at the person sitting straight opposite and exclaim, “Europeans my my they were something.” To speak of Thoreau and Voltaire so as to spin a conversation and write a blog post like this were also part considerations. But above all much of these books make great read. So one fine clear day albeit a very hot one , after having listened to the strains of Venkatesha Suprabhatam in Chennai, I flipped the first page of that little devil of a book, Lolita by Nabokov in the most auspicious way possible. One of the most wonderful books I have ever read. The theme of the story gives you indigestion but the masterful narration cures that fine. Reading Lolita is like biting your finger hard and dipping it in ointment, a roller coaster ride but most likely the only one of a kind you will ever have.
My fetish for those boring Europeans didn’t stop there. So I started on Gustave’s Madame Bovary. Another scandalous book of its times but frankly a forgettable affair. Then came my favorite, Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. There’s one particular scene that’s so dramatic in its impact that you understand why Hollywood wants to recreate this work. Great Gatsby is stinging in its criticism of the rich and their overtly snobbish ways and mingles romance and tragedy into that theme in such a fine manner that it works like a well-aimed kick to your ass. A book that needs to be read – so rich in its dramatic narration and charmingly so, but as is often the case delusional American in its intentions. I cant wait to see the movie.
Finally I landed at the voluminous Anna Karenina. Huge parts of it is preachy where Tolstoy seems to have struggled in fleshing out clearly his own philosophies but the parts that aren’t are brilliantly dramatic. If Great Gatsby has drama in narration, then Karenina has drama in its characters.There are few books where you can distinctly visualize characters and breed with them a familiarity . This is one of those rare ones. It’s not without reason that its feted as the greatest novel of all times. Tolstoy himself considered War and Peace a better work but consented that Anna Karenina was his own true fictional story.
They hit like one strong wave after another the characters of Anna, Karenin, my favorite Oblonsky,Levin and finally the pitiable Vronsky.

Theres something about tragediennes and perhaps the best among them would always be that Anna Karenina!

How I keepeth my Dolls

Little Nappinai was running down the street ,she was getting late and darkness was already setting in. If she didn’t hurry up Amma would get worried and would send thatha to find her,who in turn will get all anxious and ordain that she should not go alone again.Not that she was afraid of that.She had always got her way and thatha was so patient and never got angry.She was stubborn and wasn’t she the only child? thatha’s pet?Thinking thus she adjusted her specs and smiled at the smell of sundal that Lalitha mami had made which still lingered in her fingers.The sundal had been good. Her favorite kadalai parrupu.While she was thinking thus she tripped on the wretched stone outside Nalini aunty’s home.Her saree which her mother had wrapped around her in a Gujrati style was slightly in disarray.Already the front had flecks of coconut flakes that had been used to garnish the sundal she had before.She hastily dusted them off. This was no ordinary saree.It was amma’s wedding reception pattu saree. Beautiful parrot green with pink border. This garment was not to be taken carelessly.Now .she had made a mess of it.She will quietly get out of the saree and change before her mother notices when she returns home. She knew amma would be busy with other guests.She would not tell her and feign ignorance.Perhaps she can dump it behind the almirah in thatha’s room.
Nappinai had been a good girl today. She had diligently visited all homes she was asked to that day.Now it was time to return home after Nalini aunty’s. Besides,her friends had said they would visit her home this evening.Also wasn’t she needed when the mangalam would be sung at the end of the evening? She always loved this time of the year when young girls like her were given all the importance.Each one was treated like a little princess.Pondering thus she had now reached the doorstep of Nalini aunty’s who was now yelling for her to come in. Vaa vaa ,amma anupinangala? Aamaam aunty she said feeling a little uncomfortable. She all of sudden felt uncomfortable in that saree for Nalini aunty’s eldest son was snickering at her saree and calling her a iyer maami.Stupid fellow she thought she was not even iyer, was an iyengar and then got angry at her mother.Why cant she skip around in frocks? why be dressed in a saree? Thank God it had been the Gujrati one today.The madisar was when she would get the maximum comments.She turned and glared at him through her round specs. By now Nalini aunty had sensed the reddening of the face and said,Avan chumma valayadraan ,seriousa eduthukadha in that quintessential Madras way of mixing english words with tamil.A colonial relic but also what made the language of the place famous and infamous.By now he held out a five star in truce. She ignored and turned to Nalini aunty who took it form her son and gave her. Now the chocolate had been given and that moron had been put in place she took out the kumkuma chimizhl and said to Nalini aunty,“engathla golu vechiruku vethla paaku eduthuka vaango.” With that she heaved a sigh and skipped out, her dolls were waiting for her she must hurry…

A delightful little rascal this one is -The White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga)

A White tiger is an animal that’s passionately hated or loved ,I mean the white thing with all the black stripes running across is sure to get noticed .The book by Mr Adiga is no different.theres nothing novel about the theme ,not an ounce of respect in it for anyone and boy, it churns the entrails of the upper middle class-rich Indian with its tales of darkness and spits it right out on your face.
Almost like Smack, spit and there, you take it types. Adiga for some queer reason rings in the memories of yet another wonderful book by an often moronic author-Salman Rushdie & his Midnight Children.
so why do people hate The White Tiger so much? some feel it takes India back by a good four decades and panders to the Western stereotypes its the whole Slumdog Millionaire argument again. Guys wake up ,I mean Adiga is not writing a document on India Shining and for heavens’ sake we are not China to construct images of our country in the minds of the westerners.Seriously theres not a single aspect in the book you can point your finger at and tell ,Oh that never happens here.Now as I liberally borrow from the author himself the solution lies in acknowledging and integrating the light and dark Indias. Many people think that’s a pacifist tale,like the agnostics, not strong enough to take a stance.but i believe India is not a debate to take sides and the bundle of contradictions that she’s exasperatingly and often wondrously turning out to be will have to be soon undone.
this book is brilliant not because of its scathing portrayal of India, far from it.I dont even agree with Adiga on a few occasions, Adiga’s book is not the suave gourmet with almost there spices and not enough to fill your stomach types, its more like the pani puri from the road side wallah that tastes wonderful and is most definitely going to make you fart bad and run an upset stomach.take with a pinch of salt but delight in its audacity of the pungent taste.The book is a delight for the way its written. Brilliantly cynical to the point of mocking everything-that innate Indian trait is seen here at its best. Its only at the end when he rants of on Balram Halwai’s attempt at reconciliation that he becomes boring but then that’s balram halwai mocks caste,creed,class,our Government,policies,past, why he mocks even our notion of the family and what a berating it is!
here are few particularly vicious ones:
1.Nonsense.The greatest thing to come out of this country in ten thousand years is the Rooster Coop.
2.there are three main diseases of this country typhoid,cholera and election fever. the last one is the worst;it makes people talk and talk about things that they have no say in.
3.(money embezzled) and transferred that money into a bank account in a small ,beautiful country in Europe full of white people and black money.
I could go on and on. This book is to be enjoyed for the style of writing,the savage wit,the caustic cynicism and the myriad images it churns out (who cares if all of which Adiga says is right or not ? when he’s so ruddy brilliant with his discerning remarks). So as Balram Halwai would tell you read it only if you can stomach the smell of the armpits, else stay away!

Do you know your Dr.Swamy?

the recent uproar in the 2 G spectrum allocation that led to the Supreme Court pulling up the PM,the parliament being stalled for days and the icing on the cake A.Raja’s resignation is not the result of the yes-men CBI’s for a change unbiased investigation or of some brilliant sting by a daring newspaper,it was not even due to the opposition,it was the result of an interest litigation filed by one man-Dr.Subramaniam Swamy.
Who is this Swamy ? once I remember after the BJP government fell due to no confidence motion,the Tamil weekly magazine by its editor Cho.Ramaswamy carried a cartoon that read ‘Subramaniam Swamy umai maranden’ a pun on a devotion song that roughly translates into oh Swamy(also means God)!,I forgot you(resulting in the downfall).I am not going to delve deep into his biography,you can read it from – I am going to be doing is highlight some of the most important achievements of Swamy.
There are two things you need to know about him 1)he is a Genius and I mean it in every sense of the word 2) he is a crusader,a fighter and the kind who wins his battles mostly.
he is a renowned economist and an alumnus cum professor cum visiting professor of Harvard.He is the student of Nobel laureates Kuznets and Samuelson. His paper on index number theory with the latter is considered seminal and path breaking.he is deemed an authority in India-China relationships & economy and the Chinese economy in particular. He is fluent in Mandarin.he was a vocal anti-emergency advocate and escaped the hawk like late Gandhi by a story that’s almost legendary now.Its believed that Mrs Gandhi,baying for his blood asked the then US president Regan to hand him over. However this drew such a huge outcry from the academic community in US that Swamy,who was then teaching at Harvard garnered significant support from his colleagues. A petition signed by nobel laureates and other professors of the Ivy League was sent strongly condemning the emergency in India and Mrs Gandhi. Needless to say,Gandhi never lay her hands on him.
the TANSI case that nailed Jayalalitha was also a result of the PIL filed by him.Its historical in the sense that Jayalalitha till then had escaped every corruption case filed against her .When the case was filed and she was still in power she was quizzed on Swamy and she relied in her characteristic vain arrogance-Swamy has met his Waterloo in me’ to which he is said to have replied,’I will send her to the loo without water in prison,’which he did !
It’s also the result of his PIL that stopped the Ram Sethu from being destroyed due to the drilling for Sethu Samudram. He is a vocal critic of the LTTE and has repeatedly called for its ban.It was also the result of Swamy’s letter to the then President of India ,Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on the issue of reciprocity that led to the complications in Sonia Gandhi from ascending the PM’s chair.
His critics have pointed out his vitriolic campaign against Sonia Gandhi.his claims remain unproven and largely far-fetched and often personally slanderous against Sonia.However she has chosen to maintain silence on this issue. He is also a supporter of right-wing Hindu politics.Despite these shortcomings his achievements remain remarkable and his PILs have been eye openers.
Swamy is like the sage Narad often, generally good comes from the mess he creates !

Image is sourced from :

Beloved Mr Adiga Gets it Grossly Wrong This Time

This post is in reference to a recent article by our very own Booker winner Mr.Arvind Adiga. He has passionately urged the kannadigas to take pride in and restore their language and culture. The article in itself though seemingly well intended is dangerous because in its face value it seems to be giving a Sena like clarion call. Just like the shiv sena he stresses most importantly on the language and goes on to advocate that every person in the state must learn it.
one thing that cannot be denied to the author is that the intention behind the article seems to be genuine and naive almost. in a country where regional loyalties run deep its unfitting for an author celebrated as a national icon to praise the state of Karnataka at the expense of its neighboring states.Surely a Booker prize winner could have been more creative in getting his message across?the author of course fails to realize that everyone takes pride in Krishnadevaraya and the Mysore grandeur irrespective of the person being Tamil or Malayali.The least he could have done is returned the courtesy.He not only unfairly compares but gets it wrong. Karnataka itself as he later says in his article is a complex state.Its perhaps the only state to have a flag in the south.Unlike its other southern counterparts the state suffers from a split identity.Hence the Tulu wants a Tulunad,the kodavas the kodagu land and the konkanis will correct you politely in their own way that they are konkani and not a kannadiga.
the problem of bangalore then again is something that you often hear especially from young Indians of the A1 & A2 classes in the city. they fear increasingly that like Hyderabad they will lose out to an alien language.But a brief flash back will tell us that Hyderabad was the Nizam’s and similarly Bangalore unlike Mysore was never a hard core kannadiga heartland.Its proximity to the sprawling Metro of Chennai and its historic connection as a summer retreat of the British has always ensured that.
if you were to ask a person from Chennai he may say he’s a tamil and a keralite a Malayali but the Bangy like the Mumbaikar will tell you proudly that he is a Bangalorean or Mumbaikar.
People across the country love the city of Bengalooru so dearly as they stay there it would kill the spirit of the city to compulsorily say learn kannada. The city is a microcosm of today’s globalized multi ethnic comumunity. Bengalooru alone could have never dreamed of reaching the kind of growth without the influx of talented people it attracted.the city’s strength lies in its diversity.Do not grudge it that.Corrupt politicians are there everywhere the solution to that is not to invoke or inflame dangerous and passionate sentiments.I am sorry to say I cant help but dis agree with this article well intended but dangerously worded.

Bangalore-too quick,too soon!

Bangalore is touted as one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia and second only to Shanghai. The city is young,vibrant,multi cultural and vibrant. Every one finds a home in Bangalore, its home to one of the greatest confluence of culture and customs across India and the world. Yet Bangalore’s status as numero uno among young metropolitan cities is severely threatened due to a crippling lack of infrastructure. A trip to Chennai will illustrate the point to perfection. The problem with Bangalore is that the expansion came too quick and unchecked,like that little kid who is pushed to attend JEE coaching in standard six just because he scored a centum in standard five.Bangalore is the hub of Karnataka’s source of revenue. if Bangalore falls the state will take a mighty hit and going by the grim lack of infrastructure the city is bound to slip. Bangalore,the erstwhile pensioner’s paradise is a small city by all means. It today squeaks under the fourth largest population tag in the country of over a 5 million,higher than Chennai.The city faces acute water shortage,power shutdowns,traffic jams,water logging and recently, soaring temperatures.If this continues in five years’ time it would be difficult to live in it.

Unless the city clamps down on felling of trees,concentrates on reducing emissions, restricting the construction of glass paned buildings, making rain water harvesting compulsory, developing a dedicated source of power supply and most importantly stressing on eco-friendly development Bangalore in 7-8 years’ time will not only lose out to Chennai but also to Mysore and Mangalore as a preferred destination for investment .