Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Onam: Revisiting Memories of Onam Celebrations


Everyone’s watch is set to a different time and the earth revolves slowly or fast depending on the state of one’s heart. – Anjum Hassan (Difficult Pleasures)

The scent of Onam brings with it the secrecy of pain and the tumultuous, roller coaster sense of gradually heightening excitement. Looking back, memories flood back into my mind. Like firecrackers that light up the sky in a brilliant display and burn itself out into a shimmering incandescence, these memories stored safely in my mind turn alight. The memories push through the shadowy boundaries of nostalgia and make my heart flip over with a strange, inexplicable sliver of joy and pain.


So many Onams spring to life. Onam with my parents – where my mother would be busy in the kitchen preparing all the items for the sadhya without any one’s help in the kitchen. When she used to fry the banana chips, I would sneak in to steal some from the hot plate because I didn’t have the patience to wait till it cooled. I’d take some to my father who would be busy putting all the traditional decorations that are a part of the Onam celebrations. My sister would also be there and we would squabble every few minutes and get scolded by my mother for creating a racket. Those memories swivel around me now, lingering along with the scent of freshly cut flowers that have been used to decorate the puja room.

Onam in the presence of my beloved Uncle Dathanvalichan still brings tears to my eyes. Without Dathanvalichan, Onam itself lost meaning for me. For many years, I could not bring myself to celebrate Onam without remembering the loss of this one man who was such a hero-like figure to me.  If only He had lived longer, if only I could have expressed my love and adoration back then. No one can take Dathanvalichan’s place in my heart even now.

Then there is Onam in the presence of my beloved ‘Ammukutty,’ my maternal grandmother – who was my pillar of strength and she used to be my best friend through all times, lovingly supporting, advising and guiding me on the path of goodness.

Ammukutty was the one emotional anchor that I had failed to recognize while she lived, and long after she was gone, I realized that my life without her could never be the same again. She had been a light that lit my heart from within, but I never recognized it then. She used to say to me so often, “You are the only proof that a woman called Ammukutty had ever lived on earth because you are her splitting image, even more than her children. Through you, I will live forever.” It made no sense to me then but as the years pass, I have begun to understand what she meant back then. She is, in her own way, living her dreams through me now. 

This Onam and every Onam I miss her and wish so badly that I could see her, lie on her lap like I used to and feel the soft pressure of Ammukutty’s fingers pulling through and gently sorting out the wild tresses that she would so patiently and lovingly tame with oil. Happy Onam, Ammukutty! I love you, truly. But keep watching over me.

Last but never the least, my Bhagawan, my very beloved Baba – how many Onams I spent basking in His electrifying physical presence and divine love! How many times I had the opportunity to have Prasad blessed by Him on Onam or to be there to see a glimpse of His beautiful form as part of the Onam darshan.

Onam spells a magical inner journey comprising of those unforgettable moments we once disclaimed or wanted to escape from at one point of time. But as the years pass by, we return to them with increasing nostalgia and fondness. During Onam, year after year, we revisit our stock of memories and throw light upon their sepia tinted layers. Perhaps we know that the truth of these memories cannot be marveled at in the presence of so many others around us on any other occasion but that of Onam. We see ourselves turn delightfully childlike and enticed by the spell of Onam through each passing year only to return to the repetitive mundane routine that makes sense to us while we are engrossed in living and promoting ourselves socially further and further, not really understanding how far we go are traveling from within ourselves and what truly matters.

Loving Onam wishes to you, my dearest friends. ഹൃദയംനിറഞ്ഞ തിരുവോണാശംസകള്‍...........

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saree Wear Memories: The First Time and the Second Occasion

When I rewind and go back to take a walk down the saree wear memory lane, it takes me through some interesting and memorable moments. The first time I wore a saree was for a school function where I was to sing with two or three other students. We had to sing an important shloka from the Gita and we all had to wear plain color sarees. 

Saree Wear: The First Time 
Those were the days when I would rush to my cousin and best friend Bindhu for everything. After a lot of saree wear searching, we finally chose a peacock blue raw silk saree. The day I wore it,  no one actually noticed it. My dad was working abroad. My mom is the one who dressed me in it and her worry was about how I would walk on stage without falling over. My sister had already gone to school. Bindhu stayed a little farther from where I stayed and therefore, I don't think I was able to show her the saree wear that day. In school, it may sound funny but it really wasn't. The girls could be exceptionally insensitive and cruel to each other while complimenting each other on their saree wear. So, that's my first saree wear memory and I can't stop smiling when I recall it because at that time, I felt deeply hurt and ridiculous that except for my mother, the world around had barely noticed.

Saree Wear: The Second Time
The second saree wear memory is unforgettable and it happened unplanned several years later in Puttaparthi. For Onam, all our family members had gone to Puttaparthi. The Onam celebrations in Puttaparthi are always grand and beautiful. That Onam, I decided to wear a saree. 
.
There is a beautiful sandalwood color cotton silk saree that my mother used to wear. She had bought the saree in 1993 from Parthas, Ernakulam. What makes this saree stand out as striking is that it has a deep red brocade on the pallu and on the sides but the rest of it is a beautiful shade of sandalwood. My mother persuaded me to wear it and when I wore it, I got a lot of warm compliments from everyone in the family. 

But for me what was even more special was that it was on Onam day and that too in Puttaparthi and most importantly, Baba saw me in it and He smiled in my direction. Later, He went inside to give darshan to His students and He came out after a long time. By then many devotees had left to eat the Onam sadhya but I was still sitting there waiting. By then, I was sitting in the first or second row. He smiled again in our direction, lifted his hand in blessing in my direction and then He gestured with hands as though asking, "Didn't you eat?" And the devotees laughed. I felt as though I was glowing like a star. Nothing mattered other than basking in his presence. 

When I look back, I feel the joy of this all round love and memory even now. I feel that Baba - my all knowing, ever loving divine parent and guru - had made this second saree wear occasion truly memorable and special for me. After all, he is the One to whom I always crib and confide in. So He would have known how hurt I was about the first occasion. He made the second occasion truly memorable. 

I still treasure that sandalwood color cotton silk saree. It has a very special place in my heart. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Indian Saris: Saree Wear & its meaning for Indian Girls

Saree wear is a real dilemma. How to wear Kerala sarees is another dilemma we tend to have. The typical Kerala saree wear was in the two piece format - the set and the mundu but thankfully, we also have the full length kerala saree as an alternative now. Wondering why I am unsually talking about saree wear on my blog? Here's a guy's version of how men dress  traditionally for Onam, do read it. 

Well, the festive occasion of Onam is just around the corner. For Keralites across the world, it is an emotionally high 'home-coming' occasion. You could be in New York or in Dallas or in London or Paris or Johnannesberg or New Delhi or Chennai or Calcutta, but you are not going to sit back and eat doughnuts or pizzas on Onam day. You also won't want to slip into casual T-shirt and jeans on Onam. 

Maybe it is a psychological thing but I have seen that worldwide, Malayalils revisit their memories, their longstanding love and nostalgia for Kerala and their own cultural roots during the season of Onam in particular.

Saree Wear and its meaning for Indians
Saree wear is an important part of a girl's transition into womanhood. It is not merely the donning of a dress. It is the blossoming and celebration of womanhood. For the same reason, an Indian girl is unlikely to forget the first time she wore a saree. Years later, she would still remember the exact moment, the exact colors and textures of the fabric that celebrated and honored her beauty in a very special way. 

Typically, the day an Indian girl first wears her saree is almost a celebrated moment in her family. Culturally, saree wear also marked a subtle invitation to other families that yes, the girl of this house is blossoming into a woman and yes, you can come forward with marriage proposals, we may consider it. From then on, a girl may find reasons to wear sarees. It could be a wedding in the family, a temple festival or even a formal school farewell where you sign off from that period that you associated with your growing years.

Indian Designer Sarees remind me of pulp fiction
Indian designer sarees are a big rage and yes, they are probably spun by some of the best and most talented designers in the fashion industry. You can just walk into any fine saree shop and you will be confused by the rich range of Indian designer sarees that you can choose from. There's just so much to choose from. Hats off to these designers who have given Indian saree wear a new lease of life and lots of incredibly creative options to choose from. I respect that. However, it doesn't work for me because I am old fashioned and narrow minded in my thinking about saree wear.

Personally, I love to wear Kancheevaram sarees and sorry, I am too old fashioned to ever consider wearing an Indian designer saree. I have a decent collection of Kancheevaram sarees and I can never resist them. The flip side is that most of them are very heavy and therefore, it is difficult to wear them with grace and poise. Most of my friends admire Kancheevaram sarees but when it comes to wearing them, they don't want to carry so much 'weight' on their frames so they opt for the Indian designer sarees. Till date, the Indian designer sarees have neither caught my interest nor my curiosity. Unfortunately, I see them in the same light that I see pulp fiction.

Classic Kancheevaram Sarees are like poetry in silk
The classic Kancheevarams win my heart totally. A Kancheevaram saree makes me go dizzy in the head because I can never resist the sheer richness of the timeless, beautifully crafted Kancheevaram. When I see a Kancheevaram, I can just close my eyes and get into the heart and soul of its weaver because you can experience the weaver's pain and joy in the design of the Kancheevaram saree. I believe that every thread of the Kancheevaram saree is crafted with an artist's dream of accomplishing something remarkable for another human being and it represents the artist's passion for exquisite details. It's like being able to wear a poem, not merely a spun garment.  



When you wear a Kancheevaram, you feel like you have stepped out of a painting because the colors are so rich and deep and best of all, the colors define your personality so well. It's not about how you look but it's more about how a Kancheevaram saree makes you look and feel about your own self. It makes you feel like royalty and when you wear a Kancheevaram saree, you cannot be any less. 

So, what type of saree wear do you like? Remember the first saree you wore or that you bought? What was it like? 

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Being mean


Sometimes I wonder if “being mean” is a kind of power that makes individuals who exercise it believe that it gives them some kind of a moral or intellectual superiority over others. Why do people say or do mean things to anyone? Why would they do so among friends?

Not having a mean streak sometimes feels like you don’t have an essential quality that could help you not merely to survive but even equip you with that extra edge to threaten the happy state and survival of others around you, including your own friends.


To love God is to see everything as His and that’s why it’s difficult to be equally mean.  But I do really wish I knew how to be mean. For me, that is as difficult as discovering life on the moon.

So, who knows? The moon may be a better place for people like me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sufi Story: How hot is Hell? It’s your fire, your choice



This is a beautiful story from none other than the greatest travel writers of our times - William Dalrymple. From his best selling book titled “Nine Lives,” I bring you this Sufi story from the Chapter titled ‘The Red Fairy.’ Ready?

This story is narrated by a Sufi follower about Lal Shahbaz Qalander. One day, Lal Shahbaz Qalander was wandering in the desert with his friend Sheikh Baha ud- Din Zakariya. It was winter and evening time, so they began to build a fire to keep warm. They found some wood but they realized they had no fire. So Baha ud- Din suggested that Lal Shahbaz turn himself into a falcon and get fire from hell.

Off he flew, but an hour later, he came back empty handed. “There is no fire in hell,” he reported. “Every one who goes there brings their own fire and their own pain from this world.”

In life and in death, it is we who create our own fire and our own pain. The choice has and is always ours to make.

Now you decide. Go ahead. Choose how hot and painful you want your Hell to be.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can Indian men find happiness in being house husbands? Answer is Yes

Househusband? Indian wives would probably give each other 'knowing' looks rather than admit it as something to feel proud about. But you know what, that is changing. It's not a bad thing, is it? Especially if you look at it from a woman's perspective. Will this trend find more takers? I don't know but I think it will gather momentum. 

Chetan Bhagat as House Husband
The August 2012 issue of Child magazine presented the parenting views of Chetan Bhagat, best selling Indian author. Pleasantly surprised, I wanted to share some of the statements that caught my interest because I feel that it is bold for any Indian male to make these statements with such honesty and conviction.  

For example, Chetan Bhagat states boldly, "I am a house husband. My wife loves to work. That does not make her any less a mother or a wife. She is true to herself, the kids and to me."

I can't think of many successful Indian men saying this with such intense passion. These views differ from person to person but the statement also springs a trend that is now taking root gradually in many parts of India.

Chetan Bhagat on Lavish Birthday Parties
Chetan Bhagat states that he always explains the ground realities esto kids. When they complain about how lavish their friends' birthday parties are, he tells them clearly that birthday parties are not weddings. It is a rule in his home that birthday parties are celebrated at home. If the kids continue complaining and comparing with friends, he tells them to go and live with their friends instead. He says it is important for kids to value money and have a sound sensible value system to live by.

I agree with this Birthday Party theory one hundred per cent. What about you? I'd love to know.

♥♥  I thank you with all my heart for reading my post. I dedicate this post with love and gratitude to all those who want to bring positive change in the Indian society. REQUEST: Please SHARE this article on your favorite social networks. Every share, like or tweet makes me reach out to more people who love and support the growth of better society and a happier world. I am grateful and I appreciate you for doing so. ♥♥

A Book Review: Custody by Manju Kapur


Manju Kapur's fifth novel – following her highly acclaimed works such as Difficult Daughters (1998) and The Immigrant (2009) – explores the tumultous relationships once again set in the thriving, upper-middle-class colonies of Delhi in the mid-90s. The story thrives against the backdrop of the initial surge of foreign investment in India. The very first chapter of the book begins to enthrall a reader with the couple's love making scene. 

The only glitch is this: it is a married woman having a romantic adventure with her husband's boss. Cheesy as it may seem, the book sets itself apart by diving straight into the troubled waters yet without taking any sides, revealing once again the mark of a true family writer.



Extramarital affair breaks a solid marriage
Shagun, the green-eyed beautiful wife of Raman, falls in love with his charismatic, handsome boss Ashok Khanna, who has never been in love before and is determined to possess the woman he now loves. It does not matter to him how but he goes about conquering Shagun's mind, body and soul like a seasoned, persuasive marketer. He represents everything that a woman of today would find difficult to resist. 

The pace of the story gains momentum as their affair begins to become more fiery, daring and passionate. Shagun has no regrets about lying to her husband or to her own mother. The extent of her selfishness and ability to be cruel is visible in the choices she makes. For example, she leaves her kids with her mother to go off for weekend trysts with her new found lover. Yet she convinces herself all the time that she is a devoted mother to  her children. In fact, she goes to all lengths to brainwash her children against their own father, knowing that this would be of use to her to negotiate her terms of divorce when it is finally time. 

Although the book never tips into preaching morals, it’s precisely at such critical, emotion-packed moments that the story skirts closest to the society's traditional norms and conventions. Manju Kapur demonstrates her intrinsic level of detailing with tiny social observations such as how Shagun's mother does her best to coax her to remain faithful to her husband and in retaliation, Shagun threatens to completely stop confiding in her mother if this is how she is going to take sides. 

Meanwhile, Raman, who is a sincere, hard working man and a thoroughly devoted husband, struggles to understand what is going wrong in his relationship with Shagun. He adores her but he is puzzled when nothing he says or does seems to please his beautiful wife. But finally when he discovers the truth, the devastation he experiences is just a tip of a massive legal iceberg. 

Indian Law and Tangled Lives
Their lives are catapulted and crushed by the ever slow, grinding wheels of the rigid legal system in India. This is when the quiet, reliable cousin Nandan steps in to help Raman who is totally clueless about how the legal system works in India. Worst of all, he begins to realize that marriage to Shagun whom he had loved blindly had been a big mistake, one for which his children too would pay a heavy price. Who will get custody of the kids - that becomes the question for Raman and Shagun? Their legal battle turns inevitably ugly.

While the parents are embroiled in a legal battle for custody of the children, they do everything they can to make the children feel worse. Their son is a replica of Shagun - selfish, cruel and indifferent to anything but his own satisfaction and their daughter is a miniature of Raman, who is very loving, understanding and generous. The children find their own ways to tackle the crisis because they are confused and feel divided loyalties swarm around them, throwing them into tough, emotionally disturbing situations with their parents. And for any child, having to choose between parents is the toughest and most emotionally devastating thing to contend with.   

How In-laws in India treat a woman who cannot conceive
As a parallel story, the plot swerves to capture the troubles of Ishita, who is the daughter of Raman's mother's dear friend and neighbor. Reflecting the dismal marriage scenario that prevails in most middle class Indian families, Ishita's problems begin when she is unable to conceive. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law who doted on her and acted as though they were all dear friends changed overnight when they realize that Ishita is medically pronounced as unable to have children. 

Without being judgmental or preachy, Manju Kapur conveys the typical middle class mentality of Indian families, particularly in tackling situations like this. The well-knit story reveals the layers of dirt that are hidden behind the 'happy family' syndrome among middle class families. An example: Ishita's mother-in-law holds detailed discussions with the doctor to dig deep into understanding the medical cause of this condition. Everyone's curiosity is satiated when the doctor clarifies that it is Ishita's fault and that this happened because she had contracted an illness in childhood that had damaged her system. 

In Ishita's story, there is nothing shocking but what is clearly absent is her in laws lack of sympathy or understanding to the girl who could have been seen as their daughter instead of their daughter-in-law. And thus, Ishita's husband who had proclaimed never ending love to her becomes the obedient son to his parents. The coldness, the cruel indifference and finally the rejection of a wife solely because she cannot bear a child is portrayed in a heart rending way. 

Perhaps the author conveys with these instances that even domestic pets are treated better than a daughter in law in some Indian families. A divorced, socially isolated Ishita finds the courage to volunteer and teach underprivileged children. She loves children and they love her back. Gradually, she finds hope and in the process, her own lost sense of individuality. But her parents, particularly her mother, is actively back in a match making mode. That is when her mother and Raman's mother decide to do everything they can to bring their divorced offspring to notice each other as suitable prospects for marriage.

'Custody' redefines the changing parenting scenario in middle class Indian homes

The novel’s portrayal of Ishita is refreshingly free of the cliches that are associated with the 'wicked stepmother' syndrome. Despite Manju Kapur's careful neutral tone, what stands out as stark reality is the loneliness and sheer emptiness that Raman, Shagun and Ishita undergo. 

Do they represent an emerging group of young, successful, educated Indians who can choose the direction of their destiny so easily no matter what the underlying moral implications are like? Or is it reaching a point where expecting morality and fidelity in a marriage is like chasing an illusion?

Manju Kapur's 'Custody' demands a sensitive reading and it offers readers with many important aspects of understanding how marital life in India is fast disintegrating and being shaped by extra marital affairs, materialistic pursuits, and so on. It also offers valuable insights into the vulnerability of children of broken marriages and new 'happily divorced and remarried' statuses of Indian couples. 

This is not merely a story. It is a battlefield of sorts that tears your heart and soul apart because of it's masterful narrative and honesty. Read it but be ready to cry.



♥♥  I thank you with all my heart for reading my post. I dedicate this post with love and gratitude to all book lovers across the world. REQUEST: Please SHARE this article on your favorite social networks. Every share, like or tweet makes me reach out to more book lovers and avid book readers. I am grateful and I appreciate you for doing so. ♥♥

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