Homecoming


The shrines at every street turning.
The fifty square feet kolams.
It looks beautiful.

The yelai sappaadu and the million varieties of everything.
The nongu and manga inji.
It tastes exotic.

The aroma of freshly ground coffee.
The incense and malligai.
It smells heavenly.

The taalams of the kutcheri audience.
The rustling of the Palm trees.
It sounds familiar.

The waves rushing towards me.
The sea breeze and the sand.
It feels like home.


coconut-eyes

“Do you like Delhi or Chennai?” My cousin’s grandfather asked me in a soft childlike voice.

“Both!” I replied.

“No, no, no. I won’t accept that. You have to choose!”

“That’s like asking a child to pick a parent!” I protested.

“Of course! And you must pick one” he replied with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“Well, I prefer Delhi. But Chennai comes a very very close second.”

He smiled. It was impossible to tell if he was happy with my answer or not.

No matter where you are, or¬†where you’re headed, wishing you a year in the company of friends and family.

As for us, we spent the New Year in both cities ūüôā


Glossary

yelai sappaadu/ilai sappadu: literally, food on a leaf. A traditional platter typically served on a plantain leaf. For a more humorous explanation, check out this video.

nongu: Asian palmyra palm, toddy palm, or sugar palm (in science: Borassus flabellifer)

manga inji: literally, mango ginger.  A variety of ginger that tastes like raw mango (in science: Curcuma amada)

malligai: Jasmine. Ladies adorn their hair with garlands made of Jasmine

taalam: beats of a musical composition

kutcheri: musical performance, typically used with reference to Carnatic classical music. Audiences across Tamil Nadu can often be seen tapping their hands to the rhythm of the musical piece.

WPC: Today Was a Good Day


A photo story…

Waking up to the smell of fresh filter kaapi

Filter Kaapi
Perhaps the best coffee I have tasted – in Vaideeswaran Koil, Tamil Nadu

The sight of beautiful flowers on my way to work

Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea growing wild

Getting hands-on experience at work

Independence Day Decor
Lending a hand for the office decoration

Attending productive meetings, seminars and conferences

Meeting Boats
A conference note-boat (how I wish I had thought of it!)

Coming home to see a dream come to life

Kolam T-Shirt
T-shirt with my mom’s kolam, printed by MyDreamStore

And to end a day on a sweet note, a cake — or two!

Two Cakes
Celebrating my dad’s birthday with a cake baked at home, and one from the bakery

To see what a good day means to other bloggers, visit the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge

Marketing with Love


A couple of weeks back, I ordered a bag from the online store Chumbak*

The bag was of very good quality, no doubt, but what I liked more were the little bits of detail in the product package — the bright pink tags on the bag; the caption that said ‘Designed with love in India’; and my favourite, the metallic baby elephant!

A symbol of my love for textured paper; a symbol of national pride; and a symbol of the joys of little surprises.

Kudos to the team at the store for putting their heart into the purchase experience!

A baby elephant, proudly saying 'designed with love in India'!
A baby elephant, proudly saying ‘designed with love in India’!

In other marketing news, here’s something I recently created — a t-shirt of my mother’s kolam!

T-shirt available now at mydreamstore.in
T-shirt available now at mydreamstore.in

This is the first of what I hope will become a series of tees – see, there’s a logo too! ūüėÄ
I’m still figuring out how to go about all this, and I need your help to make it successful. I’d really appreciate if you would share this with anyone who’d be interested in buying it ūüôā

If you’d like to purchase it, it is available here and here.


To see other symbols and their interpretations, be sure to check out the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge

Daily inspiration at the doorstep


As I prepare to step outside, I keep my phone camera handy.

Click!

I turn around and tell my mother how I interpret her drawing. In the 30 seconds it takes to get down the staircase, we have had a full conversation of the different ways in which we perceive the world around us.

Amma‘s drawings on the floor are my inspiration – a world of art that flows effortlessly through the stone powder – a new one, every single day.

Daily Inspiration
Sunrise at the doorstep

More about Amma’s kolams here.

And here are interpretations of the kolams in verses, written by my mother.

To see what a-muses bloggers around the world, head over to this week’s Photo Challenge at the Daily Post

The magic of Margazhi


Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple
Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple

While I was in Chennai last year, I received a message from a friend of mine:

‘So are you coming tomorrow?’
‘I’m in Chennai right now’, I replied.
‘Ooh Margazhi. Have fun!’

I didn’t understand what she meant by that. I had visited Chennai during the winter months a few times in the past, but apart from the pleasant weather, I couldn’t think of any other reason to enjoy. I soon found out.

The Tamil month of Margazhi* is considered highly auspicious. For those who are religiously inclined, Margazhi is a month of lots of pujas ‚ÄĒ temples open much earlier and devotees visit in large numbers for the¬†special pujas. But that was not what my friend, an ardent follower of performing arts, meant.

Margazhi is a cultural extravaganza, a haven for fans of the classical arts, with hundreds of Kutcheries ‚ÄĒ¬†music and dance concerts ‚ÄĒ organised¬†throughout the month. Margazhi is, in fact, now synonymous with the music festival.

Chennai takes its music seriously, and audiences don’t clap unless the performance is very good. I found that out on our last day in Chennai, when we spent close to six hours in one auditorium, listening to back-to-back musical performances (for free)!

Even those not interested in the arts — and there are probably few of those in Chennai — cannot escape the Margazhi season, for the art overflows on the streets. Take a walk in the interior parts of residential areas. The Kolams that are drawn at door-steps of every house are much bigger and colourful. The kolams at the temples, though, were my favourite. These are from the Chidambaram temple:

And if you are not interested in art, well then there’s always the sea. The cool sea breeze, on the cool sand is the perfect place to relax.

Yes, Margazhi is the time to visit Tamil Nadu.

*Margazhi begins in mid-December and ends in mid-January. The Corresponding Sanskrit name is MńĀrgaŠĻ£ńęrŠĻ£a. After the end of this month, the harvest festival of Pongal (which falls on Makar Sankranti) is celebrated. The festival marks beginning of Uttarayan – the beginning of the sun’s ascent, signifying the beginning of the end of winter.


The images in this post are my entries for this week’s Photo Challenge. To see more symmetrical images, check out the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.

Expressions of Faith


We were on our way to the Vaitheeswaran Temple, when we decided to take a short detour. The magnificent gopuram* of the ancient temple was visible from afar, and it was on an impulse, that we decided to visit the Chidambaram temple.

Kolam at the entrance
A part of the large kolam at the entrance of Chidambaram Temple

Opposite the entrance stood an intricately carved wooden structure, being prepared, perhaps, for the grand pooja which was to take place only two days after our visit. A long row of shops Рselling flowers, pooja items, idols of Gods, colourful kolam powders and filter coffee Рlined either side of the path leading up the entrance. We deposited our slippers with one of the shoe-caretakers (for lack of a better word), and stepped inside.

Beautiful kolams greeted us, followed by the grand gopuram which we had seen from afar. There were more gopurams inside the premises. Hundreds of devotees had come, mostly in crowded buses, from different parts of the country. We followed the crowd.

After a long walk from the entrance, we entered the main shrine. Devotees who were closer to the sanctum sanctorum, bent over the railings; those who were behind, stood on their toes; children sat on shoulders of their fathers, all of them waiting to get a glimpse of Nataraja, the lord of dance. As the curtain was pulled apart, temple bells and folded palms filled the shrine.

This ancient temple, spread over 40 acres, is one of the largest temples in the world (fourth largest, to be precise)**. Intricate sculptures of deities atop the gopurams, stone panels depicting dance postures, halls with high ceilings, all supported by massive pillars embellished with floral detailing. With several shrines and tanks, the temple priest told us, it would take one full day to properly visit the temple complex. An hour, was hardly going to be sufficient to soak in the magnificence and grandeur of the temple.

Every year Bharatanatyam dancers converge in this temple during the annual festival to worship, their offerings in the form of dance. I can only wonder what that atmosphere would be like. Hopefully I will visit the temple once again. And on that day, I will spend more than just an hour.

Chidambaram Temple
Devotees heading towards a shrine, Chidambaram Temple

More Expressions here: Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge : Express Yourself

* Gopuram is a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple, especially in Southern India. This forms a prominent feature of Koils, Hindu temples of the Dravidian style. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. (Source: Wikipedia)

** The three largest temples are, in order, Angkor Wat, Cambodia; The Srirangam Temple, Trichy, Tamil Nadu: Akshardham, Delhi, India (Source)

Further Information on the Chidambaram temple: Chidambaram Temple on Wikipedia

Happy Diwali


We mixed up the traditional white stone Kolam powder with colourful Rangoli powders to create a small message. A couple of shots of our little decoration for this year’s Diwali…

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous Deepavali!

Patterns On The Floor


As the sun prepares to visit this part of the world, a few of its rays have jumped ahead, trying to take a peak at our front entrance. While most of the city is either asleep, or busy getting ready to take on the day’s work, my mother opens the door and thoroughly cleans the floor with water. She then opens a small box and picks up a pinch of the white powder that it contains.

The Hrydayakamalam
The Hrydayakamalam

She rolls the powder between her thumb and index finger and makes a series of dots. They are perfectly arranged in a symmetrical pattern – drawn with pin-point accuracy. She picks up more powder and with a steady hand, draws several even lines – some connecting the dots, others, encircling them.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has performed this fascinating ritual, every single day, without fail.

Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair
Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair

Earlier, the only source of obtaining the kolam podi*, was relatives who visited us. Our trips to Chennai would be incomplete without buying the white stone powder, which she used for making the designs. Now the powder is available more readily.¬†Kolams are not common in Delhi. Here, elaborate ‘rangolis‘** are made with colourful powders and flowers, that too only on Diwali, or special occasions. Some other migrants like us make the kolams¬†with a more long lasting wet ‘paint’ made using rice flour. Others use ready-made stickers.

Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone color
Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone colour

Visitors often ignore the kolam at the entrance and sometimes step over them. Some mischief makers deliberately destroy them. And on several occasions, the sweeper sweeps them away. It infuriates my mother… “Kolams¬†are swept away only when the family is in mourning… Wiping it away is a sin”, she would shout. But nothing has ever deterred my mother from starting afresh the next morning.

In Chennai, though, kolams are found everywhere Рat the entrance of every house, temples, and even public buildings. Friday belongs to Devi, and so, the kolams are extra special on these days. On festive occasions, the red stone comes out of the shelf. The stone is dipped in a little water and the kolam is painted with a deep red colour.

A small temple in a hospital (Chennai)
Kolam in a hospital (Chennai)

Celebrations like marriages present a much larger canvas for the ladies. Rice flour kolams are prepared the night before the auspicious event, and, covering large areas, they are grander than what one can imagine. That they will be hidden beneath the holy flame, does not matter to the artists.

As the years have rolled by, my mother’s kolams have evolved. They are no longer limited to the strict geometrical patterns. Nor are the materials restricted to the traditional ones. The kolams are now more abstract, and created spontaneously. On special occasions, she adds more colour – something that she has adopted from the North Indian rangolis. There are times when she is unable to make it early in the morning, but even today, she does not allow anyone to step out of the house before the kolam¬†is drawn. And we don’t mind – the entire process takes just a few minutes – the years of practice have made it second nature to her.

The neighbour's kolam (Chennai)
The neighbour’s kolam (Chennai)

It is this art form, and my mother’s interpretations and designs, that inspired me to create something of my own. Based on the traditional paisley motif – the ¬†‘aam‘, or the ‘mangai‘***, it is a tribute to the millions of women who practice traditional art forms as part of their daily lives. It is a tribute to the art form that encourages everybody to become an artist.

But above all, it is a tribute to my mother – who expresses her creativity and skill through patterns on the floor every single day, only to sweep it away the next morning.

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* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango