Wah, Taj boliye!!!

When I visited Agra and the Taj Mahal last week, it was exactly after 10 years. That was in the midst of a hot summer in 2006. Much water has flown in the Yamuna since then and 10 years is a good time to see for oneself if the so called winds of change blowing across the hinterlands of India is for real. In these 10 years, the “Elephant” and the “Cycle” have got their opportunities alternatively to ride in Uttar Pradesh with the “Lotus” blooming or rather looming large at the centre!

We left Delhi pretty early (5.30 am to be precise) to beat the morning traffic till Noida. Close to Aerocity the new Airport hub replete with hotels and offices, even in the wee hours the roads were busy. One, with the slew of vehicles ferrying the staff from Call centres and BPOs of Gurugram after the night US shift and two, with the panoply of cars of all hue waiting in the roads for the call from their owners when they land at the airport. Now here’s the dichotomy. Folks who don’t bat their eyelids to write cheques for purchasing cars of the types of Audi, BMW,..  whine to pay the parking fees at the airport! So the drivers just hang around choking the roads leading up to the airports. (This by the way happens in almost all cities in India, I guess). After that initial congestion, the drive through the Lutyens’ Zone was nice. Lutyens’ Zone could be a credible advertisement for Swachh Bharat mission I thought. But then it’s always been that way.

Once we cross Noida, we quickly enter the new Yamuna Expressway which is supposed to make the Agra and the Taj trip more memorable. Earlier also folks from abroad always remembered the Taj Trip very well for the long travel from Delhi to Agra. The Expressway is international class so are the toll fees! But then if we need quality infrastructure and if private guys have to develop the same, you need to pay for it!  Along the Expressway one cannot miss the Buddh International Circuit built for bringing F1 to India. It’s sad that India doesn’t feature on the F1 calendar since 2013! The circuit now is reduced to hosting national races and being a promotional/testing venue for automobile manufacturers.  Blame it on the financial troubles of the promoter Jaypee group or the bureaucratic hurdles around hosting F1. One hopes F1 returns to India soon for the changes in brings in the landscape overall – partly which is even today visible. However just ahead, confirming the winds of change were the surprisingly neat and clean toilets at the 1st break at the food plaza!!!

The Expressway has a speed limit of 100 kmph for cars and 60 kmph for heavy vehicles. The driver of our luxury coach clearly believed that ours was a heavy vehicle and never for once allowed for himself the luxury of accelerating beyond 60 kmph. Never once. Now this discipline of following speed limits on highways must qualify as a big behavioral change!

As the Expressway ended and we entered the city limits of Agra, the dream drive ended. We were back to the early morning hustle bustle of a small town with buffaloes, dogs, hen and monkeys interspersed with a whole lot of people, handcarts, autos, crowded tempos,… on the roads. Busy road side eateries were rustling up morning snacks and the overall “dust bowl look” hardly can pose for Swachh Bharat. The road from where the Expressway ends leading to the Taj is surprisingly still narrow with chaotic traffic. The very impressive guide (impressive with his suave English and worldly knowledge) who joined us at Agra would tell me later that a highway straight from the Expressway to the Taj is ready and would be open to public soon. It was apparently waiting for the UP CM Akhilesh Yadav who has been busy with his parivar war these days!

The guide cautions us of all things prohibited inside the Taj. Well except for cameras, phones and wallets everything else is – looks like.  The 1st sight of the Taj as you enter from the main door is breathtaking and indeed the best sight!

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The guide no longer tells stories of why Taj was built as he knows very well that the tourists are all Google savvy these days. He focuses more on the intricacies of the construction and why it is a Wonder of the World. Talking of Taj being one of the Wonders of the World, at the Great Wall of China you can see an official certificate declaring it as one of the “New 7 wonders of the world”! Wonder why we can’t have a similar plaque at the Taj???

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The whiteness of the Taj has been fading thanks to the excess pollution over a period of time. So the authorities have undertaken a massive job of restoring the whiteness of the marble with surface treatment. We were told that they use what is known as Multani Mitti (mud from Multan). This process is underway and one could clearly see the difference in the 3 of the 4 minarets where the treatment is already over. The main dome will be up for treatment soon next year during which time it may be closed and will be a letdown for the tourists! Considering that Multani Mitti is from Pakistan – wondering if MNS will have a problem with that under the present Indo-Pak rough weather!

The Diana Bench which has now become the best photo-op place or rather selfie spot at the Taj– continues to reinforce what marketing and PR can do to a product. A spot where couples celebrate their love with that enduring pic is named after a person for whom love was elusive for most of her curtailed life!

Compared to the last time, the vicinity of the Taj is certainly neater, cleaner and devoid of general litter. Of course don’t expect us Indians to drop all the disposable shoes only in the bins kept for that purpose. Bins are provided and as is our habit we litter the shoes all over the place!

A good over 2 hours spent at the Taj and post lunch we visited the other monument – the Agra Fort. Agra fort is also impressive and brings a lot of high school history lessons back to memory! The emporium which the guide took us for shopping was expensive even for the foreign visitors in our group. But what was striking was the way they explained the process involved in the making of the marble handicrafts in understandable English. And didn’t do the pushing and shoving to buy! Talking of push and shove, the road side vendors hawking different “tourist targeted” stuff were polite and didn’t really hound us – a change from last time.

As we left Agra for Delhi, again a very pleasant but slow drive on the Yamuna Expressway was fantastic. In the backdrop of the setting sun, the smoke from burning of the agricultural fields create a hazy feel and of course add to the pollution of the capital. I read about this practice of burning the rice stubble by farmers once the harvest is over just few weeks ago in a “Swaminomics” column in the Sunday Times of India. Read here. As pointed out in that piece, it’s high time, they find an alternate to this polluting practice lest any “Odd-even” or other kind of idea is not going to help curb pollution levels in Delhi.

Once we crossed Noida, we couldn’t escape the now notorious evening peak traffic of Delhi. From Noida to the hotel took close to 2 hours! In India we now famously suffer from last mile connectivity! In almost everything. For example in roads, the highways like the Mumbai Pune Expressway or the Yamuna Expressway eases the travel between the borders of the respective cities but the journey from the end of the expressway to the heart of the city is still a nightmare wading through narrow roads and ever exploding traffic.

So to conclude, many positive changes are visible. Few legacy issues remain. As in many other areas, “the elephant” is on the move and we are getting there albeit slowly. Though visiting after 10 years, this is my 3rd visit to the Taj and somehow for the 1st time I really felt like “Wah, Taj boliye”!!!

Postscript: One of the enduring lines of the guide while explaining India’s high population – “In India, in the day time we believe in ‘Culture” and in the night – Agriculture😂😂😂

 

Shaadi?? – My Conditions apply!!!

Followers of South Indian Cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular would remember the hit film Manal Kayiru’ in which playwright and stage veteran Visu made his debut as a director. The film has the male protagonist played by comedian S.Ve.Shekhar laying out an elaborate list of 8 conditions which a girl must satisfy to become his wife. The director himself playing the role of a marriage broker in the pre – Shaadi.com/Bharatmatrimony.com,… era lines up a girl and cons the hero into accepting her by proving that all his conditions were met. In these times of sequels, if one thinks of making Manal Kayiru – 2, one important change is called for in the script. Or rather a role reversal. Today, it has to be the female protagonist who has to dish out the conditions to be met by her potential suitor. A survey conducted by a matrimonial site clearly pointed to the trend of more and more girls putting forth conditions before taking the final plunge.

I thought that this emerging change was wonderfully picked up by ‘Shaadi.com’ a leading match making portal when they started running a very interesting TV commercial which showed young liberated girls. They claimed in a montage of visuals that they will marry but in their own terms. You may see the ad here. The ad ends with a super with a very firm voice over – Shaadi.com – My conditions apply!!! I must say that the creators of the ad (JWT I think) have a very good sense of what is happening today and smartly weaved it into the commercial. This is today’s generation of girls who are extremely liberated and self-confident.

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It’s my premise that much of this change must be owed to the IT revolution which programmed India in the late 90’s. In one of my earlier pieces I had attributed the Ascent and Revenge of the Mamis to this same IT revolution. (You may read that piece here). Now I must say that the “Revenge of the Mamis to be” can also be ascribed to the growth of IT Industry in India and its hitherto successful run in empowering Middle Class Indians and the women folk. Traditionally a core Engineering/Mfg. Company would prefer to hire male engineers citing tough conditions at work. But with IT, that line just diffused.

Ergo, India’s IT rise has stopped the party the boys were having, on its tracks. For long in India the boys were a privileged lot and were used to listing a set of conditions and detailed specifications for their wives to be. Must know to cook, must be domesticated enough, must quit the job after children and if it’s Tambrahm community – must be trained in classical music, must be trained in Bharatnatyam (but must stop dancing after marriage) ,…,… were some of the wish list.  But today, it’s the girl who calls the shots. In the “getting to know each other date”, the girls come prepared with a clear set of questions and conditions while the boys just show up.

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  • A minimum 5 figure salary/month (preferably take home that is). To be proved with a copy of the last not one but 3 salary slips😊
  • Should have a house in his name (shared or an ancestral property is not enough😊)
  • Should be owning a four-wheeler
  • If its IT – should have opportunity for “on site”😊
  • Cannot be in ‘Joint family” post marriage
  • I will have to take care of my parents even after marriage. No questions to be asked”.
  • You have to treat my family as yours”
  • ,..
  • ,..

And making it abundantly clear what to expect and what not to expect after marriage. Like

  • “I can’t cook to save my life. Will try to learn as much as possible. But you should manage to cook”😊😊
  • “Will dress as my wont – modern, traditional, whatever”
  • “Will not give up my job under any circumstances”
  • “I will decide when and how many children to have”
  • “No joint family under any circumstances”
  • ‘Will retain my surname”
  • ,…
  • ,…

While most of the above still lie in the realm of reasonable expectations, there are some which border on the extremes. Sample this:

  • Like when a girl asked her potential suitor – “how many luggage you have???” – And she meant parents, sisters, brothers,..😁and particularly wanting to make sure there was no “unmarried sister”😄😄
    • When the shocked boy objected (sort of) to the use of the word luggage for family members, she quipped, “Relax, I just said “luggage” and not “Excess baggage”😄😄
  • Like when a girl candidly said – “I turn on the GPS as soon as I enter the house – so that I can locate the kitchen😜😜
  • Like for a change one girl gladly accepted to live in a joint family post marriage adding “Somebody has to handle the kitchen and take care of the child when we have one, no???”😜
  • Like when a girl scanned the boy’s complete FB profile/posts and ofcourse friend list (particularly the girls type) and asked, “Who is this _____?? You seem to like all her bakwas (If it’s another girl it has to be bakwas😜) posts and post elaborate comments!!!”

Particularly at a time when the gender ratio is skewed against the men in many communities, they are at the receiving end of this revenge onslaught. “So my dear younger generation “to be married” male doston, All the very best! And be prepared with “No conditions apply” from your side and for “Many conditions apply” from their side.”😄😄

Kyunki, Mera Desh, Mera desh badal raha hai, Aage badh raha hai!!!😁😁😁

Back to Roots and Canals!!!

It’s almost the last week of May and the much dreaded Agni Natchathiram (Star of Fire) – the phase which is supposed to be the hottest in parts of India just got over. In India this time of the year usually apart from temperatures, the so called summer holidays also are at its peak. A season when these days most upper middle class folks and above head for the cooler parts of the planet and tick off their bucket lists. When some set on a discovery trail of exotic places within Incredible India – like the North East or Jammu & Kashmir. And when others settle for shorter junkets or IPL watching (abki baar yeh bus hai yaar 😁). But amidst all this, if there is one group living outside who religiously and faithfully return every year to their own Native place during summer vacation and make their vacation incredible, it must be the “Mallus” aka “Keralites”. And as we all know, there are more Keralites living outside than within Kerala itself 😁😁

During my growing up years while in school, our Annual summer vacation of 2 months was invariably spent going to “Native place” which was Kottayam in Kerala. (For a Tambrahm usually suffering from an Identity crisis of Epic proportion, Native place or in more technical terms – State of Domicile is Kerala but the State of Origin is Tamil Nadu 😁😁😁.  Wait a minute – Explaining this will call for a post by itself. Will let that pass for now😁).  And it was similar story for many of our folks too. Annual vacations were time for family convergence in Kerala and spending time together in grandparents’ house in a grand manner at minimum expense to the parents. But what is surprising is the zeal which Keralites show even today to spend the vacation time in their own “Naadu” (place) year after year.

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Unlike others, among Mallus, the conversation about vacations is not about – “Where are you going for vacation this year??” It’s more likely or certainly – “Eppala Naatilottu pogunne??” (“When” are you leaving for our state??) So religiously folks living outside plan their vacation (which essentially means timing the logging into IRCTC site with alacrity😁or grabbing the low cost airfare tickets during airline promos) every year to spend atleast 1 full month in their “Naadu”. It really doesn’t matter for them at all that the vacations end up being repetitive visiting the same place every year.

Even otherwise for a Malayali at heart – his Naadu comes first. Probably one would argue that for all people their homelands come first. But if you have been with Keralites even for a short while you will know what I mean. For Mallus meeting each other for the first time outside Kerala which usually starts with – “Naattil evadaya??” (Where from in Kerala??) usually quickly veers around all happenings back home including LDF, UDF, Mammooty, Mohanlal, Mazha (Rain), Pooram, Gelf,…,…😁😁 It’s almost like their heart and soul are firmly rooted back in Kerala while they physically continue to “exist” in their cities of work. Hence I guess the unflinching urge escape to their Native place – come the vacation time!

Talking of Mallu vacations, I know of many who even today, change to the more comfortable and airy – Mundu (Dhoti or Lungi for the uninitiated) the moment they step into their tharavadu (Family house) from the train/flight😁. Its Bye Bye for trousers, Jeans, shorts and the like for the rest of the vacation. And since summer vacation time usually coincides with marriage season, the one month vacation schedule is planned in such a way that one gets to “hit” minimum 3 sadyas 😁😁(Traditional Kerala feast). And apart from catching up with Amma (mom) and Achan (Dad) usually the vacation package includes spending time “with” Aaru (River), Ambalam (Temple), Ayurveda (these days a “Pizhichil session is a must) and even one’s favourite Aana (elephant)😁😁😁!! A Keralite’s passion for the Elephant is unparalleled in the world in terms of Human-Animal relationships😁. Take my word for it. A true Mallu will identify the name of the Elephant by just looking at the tail that too from a distance😁😁! (My Mallu friend just corrected me – that even by looking at the Aanappindi (Elephant’s excreta) a Mallu can say which elephant passed by😁😁😁)

And these days for the parents it is also a matter of gloating time to show off to their Gen Next Kids stuff which have now made Kerala God’s Own Country – Back waters, Kettu Vallam (house boats), Kathakali performances, Kalaripayattu sessions,… And all these in the form of pictures and videos find their way to so many walls all over the world – Facebook walls I mean😝

Apart from subjecting oneself to this “Naturopathy Detox”, I suspect the annual vacation time for most Mallus is also a time for “Stock taking”. As most of them still own large tracts of land back home where some kind of agricultural cultivation is happening the supervision of which has been outsourced, vacation time is also the time to check what’s happening. Check prices of commodities and decide between going for Kurumilagu (Black Pepper) or Kumbalanga (Ash gourd) in their lands. And review other Buy/Sell/Retain decisions and probably execute.

Ergo, for the Mallus, visiting their home land during vacation every year is a matter of going back to their Roots. And catching up with the Canals (Thodu). Still having doubts – try booking tickets to Kerala during vacation time!!!

P.S: Keralites wear their hearts on their sleeves. Hence even a reference to Somalia in the context of Kerala was after all not a good idea at all!!!

Ki, Ka & Family!!!

Adman turned filmmaker Balki’s latest outing as his previous ones treads into unchartered territory in Bollywood. This post is not a review of the film but about its narrative. So, I’m not getting into rating of the film which anyway as per me was far better than his earlier work – Shamitabh. In this one, Balki through the male protagonist attempts to remove the differentiation of the “lings” in Hindi language namely स्त्रीलिंग (streeling) feminine and पुल्लिंग (pulling) masculine. I can pretty much understand as to where Balki is coming from. Like most of us from the South of Vindhyas probably Balki also found it difficult to figure out where to use Ka and Ki while conversing in Hindi😂. So getting rid of these “lings” would be a thing most of us will welcome!

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But the film is not about any reform in Hindi but about a new form of relationship between an urban couple.  For the benefit of those who gave this Ki and Ka a miss, here’s the premise of the storyline where the film attempts to break established gender stereotypes. (You may like to watch the trailer here which would sum up the premise better) The man sits at home as a house husband while the woman pursues her career ambitions and is the one “pulling” the strings of the purse that is. The man cooks, cleans, does the household chores and also satiates the sexual needs of the wife adequately while his wife is engaged in drawing up boardroom strategies to sell her company’s products as a marketing pro. All this voluntarily and not out of forced circumstances. Now this is a new hatke formulation for Indian society and a Bollywood film – one which instantly brings smiles on the faces of urban women. In one stroke, Balki has earned the fandom of millions of women by making “Ki” (lady) the actual “Ka”(Man)!

So far so good. However in reality, if ones looks at the timeline of relationships between couples atleast in urban India, there has been a gradual progression but one that has still not reached Balki’s make believe stage yet. The evolution in society has been like this. In our grandparents’ times, the role definitions were very clear. The man (husband) is supposed to be the bread winner and is the protector of the family. The lady (wife) did all the work at home as a house wife and was generally subdued. These were the unchallenged “Ka” times! As literacy and family income levels increased, women became slightly more empowered. The next was the generation where the role clarity became hazy. While the husband continued to earn and be the head of the family, the wife apart from taking care of the house, also did her bit in enhancing the family income. So this was the era of the “Super Woman” who was still subdued at home. Though the wife was equally involved in earning money, somehow at home she was still expected to handle everything right from the kitchen to children’ studies. Still the “Ka” era. The next generation – probably the current one is where I guess things are more balanced. Both the husband and wife are equally well educated, ambitious about their respective careers and at home they just simply outsource the work. Or the husband grudgingly or otherwise plays ball to share work. Actually the “Ki and Ka” times.  (I must hasten to add that some of the above situations referred to in historical context exist even today. I’ve just referred to the trend)

Now what Balki has shown in the film is his fantasy of a “Ki” Era. An era where the woman is completely emancipated. Now the question is – Is this the future? Will we be seeing more and more men preferring to be house husbands willingly and would women take it as their comeuppance?? One doesn’t know.

But if one analyses all the above formulations, it is abundantly clear that the dominant “Ka” era is on the wane. The dominant “Ki” era is still a fantasy and would be in all probability fraught with its own dangers.  It would seem that the one which can work is the “Ki and Ka” formulation. However I have another construct in mind. Which is the “Ki, Ka & family” formulation. Where the husband and wife take care of the earnings part, share the household work and at the same time teach the children to embrace household chores and do their bit willingly. The best process of coaching is always the demonstrative process. When a child sees his dad cleaning up a shelf on weekends, he tends to pick this as a habit when he grows up. Apart from being demonstrative, I believe it is equally important to let children do the work instead of being too protective. In my experience I’ve seen that behind most misogynistic men have been indulgent parents. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the Award winning #sharetheload commercial of Ariel. Watch it here. Where the old father rues the fact that he never helped his wife –in her household work and that his son in law who is seen ordering around would have also not witnessed his dad helping at home!! And commits himself to share the load henceforth in household work. Now there can be no better news than this for any woman for whom Newspaper, TV and now mobile phones are sworn enemies for life😃😃.

“Can you please stop typing away to glory and share the load here?  It’s the wife at home. “Yes, coming!!!” is my loud war cry. Followed by, “Beta, put off the TV and come to the kitchen. See what appa is doing”!!!😃😃

So for me it’s not “Ki” or “Ka” or even “Ki and Ka”. It has to be “Ki, Ka & family”👍👍👍

Writings on the Walls!!!

First a disclosure. The topic for this post is lifted from the ace columnist Shekhar Gupta’s columns – the ones he usually pens on his sojourns to the rural heartland of India during election times to gauge the mood of the electorate and to see for himself the changes sweeping the country. This piece is on similar lines. One which is based on my recent visit to Coimbatore where I spent the last few days of the 2015 and rang in the New Year. Coimbatore is the 2nd biggest town in Tamil Nadu and by no means can be categorized as a rural heartland. It has been an industrial hub with a higher than average per capita income in the state and the country. But for those living in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or ChennaiCoimbatore is an idyllic place with much cleaner air and purer minds. And as you move further away to the suburbs of this town like Vadavalli the “Writings on the walls” are clearer. Let me attempt to recap some of those which I found interesting:

  • First up, as you drive down into the city from the airport, through Avinashi Road a commercial nerve centre a new Audi showroom has sprung up! Atleast I saw it for the 1st time. Not surprising though for a city where the entrepreneurial class had always high exposure and aspiration as far as cars were concerned. But what surprised me certainly was a brand new showroom which was getting ready for Harley Davidson bikes down the lane.
  • In a lazy afternoon, as we hit upon the idea of watching a film, Bajirao Mastani won the battle over Pasanga-2 (a Tamil film). My own snotty idea that tickets for a Hindi film will be easily available in a place like Coimbatore got demolished the moment I checked for tickets online. It was indeed a year end and generally a holiday week, the film screened only in 3 multiplexes and just 2 shows compared to 5-6 shows of Tamil movies,…,.. But still for the whole period we stayed there Mastani proved elusive. Still griping with the thought that Madrasis are Hindi haters –Think again!
  • More proof of this would emerge when I saw boards hanging like this in gates of houses. Note that stress on “Hindi”

Board in C'tore,012014

  • Coimbatore has huge gas stations. Once as our cabbie got into an IOC gas station, I saw this billboard.

Fitness catching in Cat d towns,122014Written in Tamil, it was talking of a promo by which those filling up petrol were eligible for VLCC gift vouchers. Was interesting to see the aspirational connect. And as we drove further I would see many more billboards for VLCC beauty products (Like this one)

Signage in a Vill petrol pump on face cream,1,122014

  • Again further proof for the increasing thrust on looks showed up shortly as I and the wife were going around looking for a friend’s house. The landmarks wereK.R.Storesand “a beauty parlour”. I kept asking few people for K.R.Stores in vain. The wife then took charge and asked the next lady the directions for the beauty parlour. And lo she clearly directed us to the house we were searching in the scorching sun for the last 15 mins😁. I wanted to tell K.R Stores to change from selling wheat flour, rice flour to being a beauty parlour😁😁
  • When the daughter pestered for taking her out, we went to a household products Trade fair which was going on in the Codissia Trade fair complex near the airport. Frankly I was going to such a fair may be after 15 years. My images of these fairs were always of stalls selling products like Roti makers, Vegetable choppers,… which usually work wonderfully in demos at the stalls but fail miserably at home😞. And then you had the myriad handicraft stalls from different states. Stalls hawking bedsheets, pillow covers,… What I saw this time was revealing. There were no stalls pushing choppers and roti makers first up. But one could see stalls selling organic food products, home security solutions, food products made of millet and other exotic cereals, solar products, foreign holiday packages and few stalls peddling fitness solutions including Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali products😃😃!
  • The neighbourhood cabwala whom we usually engage was now an Ex Ola wala. He got into the Ola App bandwagon and got out of it within few months. In his own words –‘Ola customerukku nalla Appu. Aana engalukku nalla Aappu!!’ (It’s a good app for customers but for us cabbies it’s a bad deal.). Apart from driving a taxi, he runs a provision store. His son is not interested in this business and wants to be an Engineer. ‘Avan eppo paarthalum ethanayachum kodanjukitte irupaan’ (he’s all the time fiddling around with something or other)
  • A videographer in the vicinity now offered live streaming of events. He claims this is a must now as folks abroad need to watch marriages,… live when they cannot attend.
  • And If I dare to call so, Coimbatore is fast emerging as the Retirement capital for Tamilians the world over! What started more as a social concept of community based living option for elders (whose children are mostly out of the country) has now morphed into an aspirational option. Coimbatore is now dotted with Gated community spaces designed specifically keeping “living alone senior citizens managing NRO accounts” in mind.

Now all these (except the last one) may not be unique to Coimbatore only. If one travels to a small town in Maharashtra, UP or Orissa the “Writings” may be similar. What is commonly wringing in all these so called “Writings on the walls” is the aspect of “Aspiration”. Whether it is craving for better looks or learning Hindi or wanting to ride a Harley Davidson or seeking better health, the new Indian (even senior citizen if I may add) is not satisfied with what he/she can make do with. But aspires for the better and the best.

It is this idea that Narendra Modi tapped into in his prime ministerial campaign successfully and rode to power. And it is important that his government doesn’t forget this aspect and does everything to fuel economic growth which will give wings to these aspirations at all levels. Ignore these “Writings on the walls” and the writing on the 2019 wall will be clear.

Return of the Culture!!!

Pardon me for joining the “Return” bandwagon😉 But hang on! This piece is not on the “Return” which is in news in India these days! This is the time of the Navratri festival which is celebrated all over India with much gusto and gaiety though in different forms. In Mumbai where I live now being a melting pot of cultures it is, we get to see the Garba nights, Durga Pujo pandals of the Bengalis and ofcourse the South Indian way of celebrating Navratri in close quarters.

Before I landed in Mumbai in the early 90’s, I had not heard of Garba or Dandiya Raas,… During those college days, Disco Dandiya nights were popular among the youth who were getting drowned in the Remix wave. In Churchgate – cars with disco lights and blaring music used to be parked in the centre of the roads. Boys and Girls were seen crooning to the songs and rhythm of Garba all night long! I see less of them now. Today there are many Garba festivals almost in all suburbs featuring celebrities and wannabes where people let their hair down during the nine nights and have fun. Specialist singers and folk artists get imported from Gujarat for the same to belt out more traditional and original songs. (Doesn’t mean that there are no songs dripping with Honey Singh’s lewd lines and all that😁

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There are also a few like Phalguni Phatak who have become celebrities by just making people dance to their tunes during Navratri. There are different types of Garba steps and in Mumbai a month before the season, classes spring up to coach people on those! I have been personally witness to the enthusiastic crowd in one of the classes in Mulund a happening suburb for Gujjus!!! Not to forget the crowd in outlets selling traditional wear like Gagras and Cholis! And talking of attire, these days the vogue thing is to follow the Navratri colour codes for the 9 days (even to office) so much so couple of days back which was a Green day – a ladies coach in Mumbai local resembled a cricket stadium in Karachi😁😁

This year, Raj Thackeray’s MNS which has an ongoing axe to grind with the Gujjus in Mumbai – wants to give their own “Marathi” twist to Garba it seems. They see Garba as another conspiracy of the Gujarathi traders to take over Mumbai. So at MNS supported Pandals (yes where there is money there is politics) as per party diktat no Gujju song is to be played and Garba will make way for Bhondla a form of Marathi folk music!!!

My exposure to Bengalis and the Durga Pujo (not Puja) festival was only after I started visiting Kolkatta on work. Bengalis are extremely proud of their culture. As oxymoronic as it may sound they are “passionate liberals” when it comes to their culture. For Bengalis, Durga Pujo is more than a festival which I understood in early years of my career. Once when I called for an important review meeting in the midst of the Pujo festival, I got a call from the wife of one of my team members from Kolkatta to reschedule the dates!!! Politely but firmly she said that her husband will not attend the meeting because its Pujo time in Kolkatta. I realized that Pujo was bigger than Diwali in that part of the world. Amidst the feverish pandal hopping they indulge in, eating, shopping and even match making happen feverishly! I see the Pujo pandals increasing every year in Mumbai as well. I don’t miss visiting atleast one Durga Pujo Pandal every year. I like the one at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai which is elegantly decorated devoid of too many ugly sponsor’ billboards.

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Coming to my own backyard, I have fond memories of Navratri of my growing up days in Trichy. Every year we used to have our vacation to coincide exactly with Navratri after the Quarterly exams. Though it’s a festival which brings the ladies at home to the fore, at home we equally participated. The Kolu (tradition of arranging idols of Gods nicely in steps) at our place was popular among the neighbourhood. Apart from the Kolu steps we used to set up some theme based arrangement every year. Usually my dad threw the ideas and my brother did the execution with me and my sister pitching in with colouring and stuff. Those were not the days of Google or readymade clay, colours, models,.. Most of the stuff like a hill temple or an exhibition ground,.. were painstakingly constructed with waste material and made at home! Our mom was good at making different stuff made of beads which we used extensively in these theme based parks! We used to make some change every day which is what made our place👍

Nine days mean nine varieties of Sundal which is made and distributed to all who come as Prasad. If Bengalis do “Pandal hopping”, we Tamilians do “Sundal hopping”😁😁. Our decision to visit other house Kolus used to depend on the type of Prasad😜. Popular one being Puttu (Jaggery and coconut laced steamed rice flour). And generally houses which had paruppu masiyal (a very sticky paste like stuff made of dal) that day were given the cold shoulder😜😜. Navratri used to be the time those days when mamis feel much empowered sauntering in and out of the house wearing a different Kanjivaram every day and associated finery while mamas sit quietly in a corner reading newspaper😄 without getting much attention. One favourite question of the mamas to their wives was “Enna Innikku collection ellam aacha???😄” In those days of no WhatsApp, invitation to the Kolu needs to be done personally which is the job of us bachas. (Today a WA fwd does the job in a jiffy). As an interesting aside I vividly remember that in our one neighbourhood house in Thillainagar Trichy, during every Navratri there used to be a baby arrival!! This went on for 4 years in a row. Letting one naughty mama to comment – Koluvila dasavatharam bommaigalaa ivaa aathu pasangalaiye koodiya seekiram vechudalam pola irukke😁😁 (Soon we can keep 10 children of this house as Dasavatharam idols in the Kolu looks like)😁😁

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As we grew and we went in different directions in pursuit of careers, the Kolu at home tradition stopped in our place as in many households I knew. But in the last few years I see the “return” of the Kolu tradition with a vengeance. Particularly the NRIs are in the forefront of the revival. From Dunedin to Dublin. I don’t know if the infectious enthusiasm has been fueled by social media. But these days FB posts and WA shares mostly are of pics of the Kolus and Sundal of the day. Another reason for one Mark and his friend Modi to be happy! Women these days assiduously prepare for the event including rehearsing nice Durga songs, scheduling their days (for hosting and visiting others) diligently trying their best to be at most places.

“How to throw a Kolu party???” is a caption of a news item today in today’s Bombay Times (Anything to do with TOI has to end with party I think😜). Well, the tradition of calling ladies for Vetthalai paaku (Haldi kumkum) for Kolu during Navratri has been given a very contemporary twist! The same piece also talks of a “Green Kolu” where instead of idols the steps are replete with plants of different sizes and shapes!!!

Among all the commercialisation that comes along with increased market activity and purchasing power and the lament that we are missing the cultural connect I do sense a “Return” of the people including the youth to their roots and Culture. And Navratri is a shining example of the same. And this “Return” is one we must be proud of unequivocally👍👍👍

The “Revenge of the Mamis”!!!

Ever since I wrote a piece on the Mamas“My close encounters with Mamas” (read here) – their counterpart, the Mamis stopped being kind to me. “Ennada, engala pathi ellam ezhutha maatiyo??” (You will not write about us and all??) – was the usual refrain wherever and whenever I met them. Though my immediate reaction was – “Oh so these people are reading my blogs😃”- I thought to myself that I must soon set this imbalance right. Hence this attempt. Typically in Tamil Nadu, any married lady from the Brahmin community is referred to as Mami sometimes in reverence, sometimes with scorn and sometimes in jest. For the purpose of contextualization, Mamis being referred so in this piece are ones who are now in their 60’s and may be early 70’s. And there is a reason for this funneling which will reveal itself at the end.

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For decades, the Mamis were generally a subdued lot – sacrificing their interests, their choices,..,… for the sake of the family and single mindedly pursuing their husband’s and children’s interests selflessly. They took pride in the achievement of their kids and remained contended in whatever they were doing. But since the late 90’s the Mamis started taking a different avatar. It would be tempting to attribute this change to the overall rise of India and the Indian Middle class post liberalization. But I would ascribe this change to the rise of India as an IT behemoth and the subsequent changes it brought to the typical Tambram household. In a book titled “Indian Express” by Daniel Lak, the author quotes Kris Laxmikanth – a headhunter specializing in IT in Bengaluru saying that the ascent of India in the domain of IT can be owed to the “revenge of the Brahmins”. And may I say that the ascent of IT in India has led to the “Revenge of the Mamis” in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere😃😃. This revenge saga manifests in few ways:

  • Far from being limiting their sojourn to pakathu veedus (neighbourhood), Kovil (Temple) and Kacheri(Concert), today the Mamis travel around the globe and if need be alone.
    • If its 1 year in the Washington in the US to meet up with the elder son, then its Wellington in NZ the next year with the daughter!!! “Ennoda passportla pages romba seekram theernthu pogarathu😓” (The pages in my passport get over very quickly) is a lament you can hear if you overhear 2 Mamis conversing. And the other Mami quipping – “Naan oru Jumbo passporta vaangi vachundurikken” (I have taken a Jumbo passport)

     

    • Recently I went to a concert of Sanjay Subramanyam, where the hall was filled with Kanjivaram saris of different hue, one could overhear Mamas discussing Modi Vs Manmohan while the Mamis were comparing Sanjay’s rendition in Thyagaraja Aradhanas at Cleveland Vs Austin. “Kalyani la antha “Bajare Re Chitta” Clevelandla pona varsham paadinaar paarungo,. Romba nanna irunthathu. Austinla Kalyani paadala,..,…,..(In Raga Kalyani, the song he sang in Cleveland was very good. But in Austin he didn’t sing Kalyani)
    • Gone are the days when Mamis used to talk about going to Srirangam temple for Vaigunta Ekadasi and cross the ‘Swarga vaasal’. Now its “Pona Vaigunda Ekadasi annikku Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi kovil poyittu apparam we had a Potluck party. Naan puliyodarai pannindu ponen😆. (Last year on Vaigunta Ekadasi we went to Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi temple and then we had a Potluck party. I prepared Tamarind rice)
  • In my general observations, I have noticed that the Mamis have far better comprehension of Geography compared to their counterparts. When the Mamas struggle to figure out if SFO was West coast or the East, the Mamis have no such confusion. “LA state na Louisiana state pa, Los Angeles illa” (LA state means it is Louisiana state not Los Angeles) – I heard a Mami clarifying to one MS aspirant the other day! And added in some measure “intha loosu payyan Bobby Jindal irukkaane – he is from there only” 😆😆 (This nut Bobby Jindal is from there only)
  • The other thing where Mamis completely overwhelm their better halves is in the domain of health.
    • Mamis are invariably troves of medical knowledge. Finding answers on complex health questions real time with any Mamipedia is more accurate and faster than any other “pedia” in the worldwideweb 😆
    • I can confidently vouch that most of the Mamas have very little clue on their ailments, dosage of their medicines,.. and are completely dependent on their Mamis to guide them on these. “Intha tablet saapaatukku pinnala. Itha poi saapaatukku munnala pottu karele”?? (This tablet is supposed to be taken after meal. You are taking this before???) – is a dialogue one can hear often in Tambram households.
    • On a visit to the Doc for routine checkups, it is mostly the Mami who does most of the talking. Young Docs have confessed to me that they get tensed and their BP starts shooting up when they see a Mama walking in with the Mami beside for consultation. “Dr, last time his LDL was 200 and still you didn’t prescribe any Statin! You better prescribe one this time!” (Why are you coming to me is a question the Doc usually avoids under those trying circumstances😜)
  • For long the Mamas have been masters of the Queen’s language, the kadichu thuppara (bite & spit) accent notwithstanding😜. Now it’s the Mamis who apart from being good at English, have mastered the accents as well. If they give the TOEFL today, they will come out with flying colous! Oops colors nope colours😜😜
  • In the age of social media, it is usually the Mami @ home who is more savvy than the Mama. While the tryst of the Mama in SM is by and large restricted to checking updates, it’s the Mami who is proactively active :). From sharing recipes of now extinct items like Thavala vadai to pics of their trip to Batu caves in Malaysia for Thai poosam to colourful and exotic Kolams (put in front of their daughter’s condo in Singapore for Onam😜)Mamis are in the forefront of the social media evolution and their own evolution.

In the times of Bahubali, the “Revenge of the Mamis” is happening full on. After years of being submissive, it’s their time of reckoning. And they are clearly enjoying it. And the Mamas have accepted it gracefully. Was there a choice??? What is that medicine post dinner???? 😜😜😜

Postscript: I mentioned that this piece is about Mamis in the 60’s and above. What about the younger lot? Ladies in the 30’s/40’s and 50’s?? Well, do I need to stake my personal future, writing about them in a post that too in the context of revenge,…,…??? 😝

Escape,………………………………………………………………………… 😝😝😝

Disclaimer: Satirical piece – hence pardon the sweeping generalisations and stereotyping with no intention to harm anybody.🙏