Biriyani again! – a 120 years old Biriyani shack

When I heard — Dhadi Biriyani, I really didn’t know what to think. But once again, Pollachi’s local treat, comes with a story and great taste.

Click the link to read the story.



Trees: A reading

I was looking up for some reading based on trees to take to my middle school children at school. I stumbled upon this beautiful piece of writing.

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
― Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

The little visitor

He should be close to three years old. His name is Mouli. He cannot keep still at a place. He is not scared of strangers. He has indefinite energy!

He ran across the intercity train compartment defying the mother who kept screaming his name trying to hold him back. He chose his favourite passenger and climbed into their lap like it is his own throne and he is entitled to it. He watched the scenes on their screens, ate the biscuits they had if he liked them, spoke gibberish and ran away when he pleased.

He became favourite to many in the coach including me, his name resounding from his mother every five minutes. The poor female had another wailing little girl on her lap. Her worry for the child was of concern. But she gave all of us a big ‘little’ reason to smile.


The Train Pantry Supplier

Some people can hold you off guard with their potential. Some with their smile. The train supplier did both. A supplier from the southern railways pantry was on his best, selling one eatable after another from the time the train cranked up its engine for yet another journey. The train shuttles endlessly from Coimbatore to Chennai with little rest and so does this brother on the train.

We got a samosa and cutlet first because sometimes our appetite can be insatiable on a boring long chair car journey. We then bought biscuits, bread omelet and tomato soup (I drank two; I can never resist tomato soup). We walked four coaches to get to the pantry for Tomato soup and had a tedious journey back, dodging people and spilling food; thinking how swiftly these pantry suppliers walk across the giant caterpillar. I remember calling caterpillars as “train poochi” as a small child. Most of us knew them by that name! By the way, poochi is the Tamil word for insect.

This man, came on his…. (I don’t want to fathom counting his rounds with the delicacies on his shoulder). “Masal Dhosai, Soodana Masal Dhosai,” he announced tempting our south Indian taste buds. Seeing us look at each other’s face, he came over. I said I will take it later as I have dumped too much into my stomach already.

“What did you eat that much? A samosa, a cutlet, some Choco Fill biscuits; and I saw you carrying soup from the pantry. That’s not much. Eat. Young girls must eat well,” he said smiling into my super astonished face. He would have sold so much to so many people, how did he remember what he gave me? I didn’t notice that I bought them all from him or in his presence!

He let out a small laugh at my widened eyes and moved forward, “Masal Dhosai, Hot-ah Masal Dhosai.”

Writing essays and speeches for my little cousin!

When she was born I was 10 years old I guess, or may be less. She was one beautiful little princess. She was born under my star, my sun-sign resembling my mother (her aunt). I remember staging clown dances to make her eat, singing songs when she was to sleep and teething her alphabets and words out of her charts. She was a very bright kid who loved poppy flowers for their name. When we went to Kodaikanal (a hill station in south India) she would point at every flower bud asking if it was poppy. Funny bright kid she is.

I always was there around her helping her with school. She wouldn’t let go of any opportunity to be on the stage.

It was like an exercise for me, to write essays, speeches and collect information for her projects and such like. We used to sit together and make drama scripts laughing endlessly to ourselves. Whatever may be my schedule there has not been a single time when I haven’t enjoyed helping her out and in turn grooming her. Every time she wins a competition (which she almost always does) she makes a call to tell me of her achievement. That is proud moment for me. I would tease her asking for half the certificate to be in my possession. “Akka….” she’d cry.

I know she would grow into a promising young women someday. Now she is 13 and all bubbling in the whims and fancies of teenage.

I just thought I shall post one such speech I made for her declamation competition lately.

Topic: The nation is sleeping 

The nation is sleeping

When I sat thinking what to write about under the topic given – The nation is sleeping, I was lost in thought all along. I did not know where to rest my finger on. Should I talk about the youngsters who are lost in lazy slumber? Should I talk about the women who fail to stand up to their potential? Should I talk about politicians? Well, they aren’t asleep after all! They are just working arduously on the other end of the thread, building blocks to strengthen their own pockets. Or should I talk about the atrocities committed in the name of caste, honour, pride and superstition? What will I talk about? Are we really united in diversity? Or are we too diversified in our heart to be united?

I feel bad. I feel very bad to stand before you pointing out the blotches on my beautiful mother’s face. My mother India. She has lost her face behind all the scars we make on her.

I am young. I am as young as 13. Should I feel so disheartened? I think I should. Because, we can’t waste time sleeping any longer. We have to wake up in the mother’s womb itself. We have to know that we are responsible, socially.

Cha cha Nehru said we are in a tryst with destiny. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom,” he said and he asked us to “take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.” His words echo in my heart! future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.” What suffering they would have endured in the freedom struggle? And what vision they would have had when the clock struck 12 and we raised the Indian flag marking our sovereignty? I wonder if our leaders slept at all? If Cha Cha Nehru had slept, if the Mahatma had slept, where would we be today? These questions haunt me. Do they not haunt you? He believed that India was awake to the fullest that night. “The appointed day has come – the day appointed by destiny – and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent,” were his very own words of faith.

But today we are indeed back in deep slumber and struggle. We struggle in our own slumber.

I would like to state a few incidents from my own life. A few incidents that woke me up and gave me a purpose to stand here on this stage…

We have the elections round the corner. Yet another five years of rule in the state has rolled over. When my father went to vote last time, I asked him if everyone must vote. He asked me to accompany him to the polling booth. I was 11 years old. The long queues to polling appalled me. I asked to go home. ‘How does our one vote matter? Let the others do it’, I said. He turned to face me and said, “because every little drop of water is part of making the big ocean Madhu. You remove the droplets one by one, and the ocean will become a mere pond.” Barely 60% of Indians vote. They have indeed made the Ocean like India a mere pond in its own degree. My dad and I had long conversations about democracy, citizen rights, the responsibility to know what is happening around us, making right choices and more. My father woke me up to my responsibility as a citizen, to my voting right as the daughter of India. I am not 18 yet. But when I become, I know I will vote.  I came to understand what the word democracy meant. How beautiful a concept it is and how it still remains only a concept in the country. It is because we have slept over our own rights and privileges. We stopped demanding and we stopped performing what we owe our mother land. We are good fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to our family, but not to our country. I know you and I can see what is happening around us. But we shut our eyes. We are not sleeping. We act like we are sleeping !

Cha Cha’s words bellow. “We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be.

We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”

Wow. Who could have made a better speech that day? Who could have told us better of whom we are and what we hold? We had great leaders. Their sacrifices are not lullabies. We cannot sleep.

At the airport one day, There was one woman, stout and grumpy, probably back from a vacation abroad. The scent of home seemed to crook her nose. The displeased face scorned unpleasantly as she exclaimed aloud, “what a dirty, littered country! How clean the roads were abroad! This country has gone for dogs.” The irony is that while she said so, she cut her luggage check in tag and threw it right on the floor, approximately 2 feet away from the dust bin. My sister went directly to her, picked up the tag, threw it in the dust-bin that proudly gleamed ‘USE ME’ and told her on her face, “go check on the mirror for one of those dogs” and walked back. Well, no one who saw the scene can possibly forget the look that the woman wore on her face that day.

This is what India is made of. Or I would rather say, that this is the ugly make-up, the people of India have chosen to wear. We know to accuse. We know to find faults. But we don’t know to “be the change we want to see”. Yes, our leaders have said all that we need to hear. We have had the greatest of scholars and the greatest of everything to be proud about. But we still sleep. We refuse to open our eyes and our hearts.

Again, the same voice. The same question. The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour?

Ask the right questions

Dasara Greetings to all!

We celebrated Ayudha pooja and Vijaya Dasami during the past two days. Celebrating Ayudha Pooja has always reminded me that some traditions are good to be kept as they reiterate some very important values in human life. Of course, like any other festival this too has mythical references – Goddess Shakthi executing Mahisasura and Ayudha pooja was the day when her weapons were laid for worship. Many many version to the stories exist.  Myths apart,  our festivals have a purpose.

Ayudha pooja – means worship of tools. Tools that help our profession, books that enrich our knowledge are kept at par with God and worshiped on this auspicious day. They are cleaned, decorated and worshiped. Even vehicles are washed and decorated with flowers.

Traditions such as these have reminded us to love and respect the things that help us grow. We attach divine values to non-living tools. Such values can take a man higher.

Every festival in India, immaterial of which religion it represents holds hidden values in stories told or ceremonies performed. Some have explicit social values. Like, how much ever far we go into change and modernity, on festive occasions we wear clothes of our region, chant mantras and eat food that belongs to our soil. We identify ourselves with history and ancestry. Also, all festivals bring together the family. They open the gates to quality time and relaxation from the fast-paced daily routine.

At the same time, I have personally taken to condemn certain traditions, such as the ceremonies done to a girl who has just attained puberty. Who can see sense in announcing a girl’s coming of age to the public. I have felt that I shall never allow such traditions to pass on in my family.

Sometimes, if we study with care, we can notice that some tradition existed for many other reasons and they are definitely not the reasons we perceive them to happen for.  We do not know to ask the right questions, but we often know to infer wrong answers!

I must cite Anita Desai here! She has given a beautiful introduction write-up to Attia Hosain’s ‘Sunlight on a broken Column’ novel.  She says that in India the past lingers on and never disappears. One form of it is traditions and customs that are followed without a question. We don’t know why we do it, but we do it.

Killing the tradition is no nobility. Living with customs that kill rational reasoning is no virtue. Let’s learn to question. Let’s learn to infer the answers right!

Introduction to Attia Hosain’s ‘Sunlight on a broken Column’ novel by ANITA DESAI… First few lines ..

In India, the past never disappears. It does not even become transformed into a ghost. Concrete, physical, palpable – it is present everywhere. Ruins, monuments, litter the streets, hold up the traffic, create strange islands in the modernity of the cities. No one fears or avoids them – goats and cows graze around them, the poor string up ropes and rags and turn them into dwellings, election campaigners and cinema distributors plaster them with pamphlets – and so they remain a part of the here and now, of today.

In other ways, too, the past clings. As sticky as glue, or syrup. Traditions. Customs. “Why do you paint a tika on your baby’s forehead?” “Why do you fall at your father’s feet and touch your forehead to the ground?” “Why does a woman fast on this particular day?” “Why bathe in the river during an eclipse?” “Why does the bridegroom arrive on a horse, bearing a sword?” It is the custom, the tradition. No further explanation is required than this – it has always been so, it must continue to be so.

If there is a break in that tradition, then – “what will happen?” Things too terrible to be named. The downfall of the family, the society, of religion, of the motherland, India herself.

So a woman will paint a tika on her baby’s forehead, a young man touch an elder’s feet, a marriage need to be approved not only by parents but an astrologer as well… and so life is lived according to its rules, rules prescribed by time, centuries of time.

Of course time moves in other directions as well – TV and radio sets invade homes, the sari is given up for jeans, the old astrologer laughed at and the priest avoided, the past scorned. But it remains. Like the colour of one’s skin, and eyes, it remains. It does not leave.

Attia Hosain’s novel and collection of short stories are monuments to that past: the history of north India, before Partition. …..

These shots are just some random clicks that I took yesterday at my house pooja room.

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Scenes from Pooja at home!


Offering to God on Ayudhapooja


Anna Lakshmi sits on rice with Komaadha (Cow god) behind – Scenes from Pooja hall


Lakshmi from a Kerala traditional brass lamp


Baby Lord Krishna