Sunday, September 18, 2011

An 'ode' to a special friend...

She likes to swim with the dolphins, hold a tiger cub in her arms and be a horse whisperer… whatever that means. She advertises herself as a crackpot, a mad-hatter… it’s not very difficult for me to comprehend, because I’m an unorthodox person myself although I’d prefer to hold a pup in my arms rather than a cub… Well, it’s been a meeting of minds – this young woman and I. And from out of the blue she had appeared...

However, what has bound us together in a sense is our common upbringing - she grew up in Jamshedpur, I in Calcutta, she was an ace swimmer and state badminton player, I was a school footballer, she is an animal lover and so am I, she’s had connections with Anglo-Indians and so have I, she seems to bear nostalgia for the old and so do I… the list could probably go on…

Common interests apart, our lives seem to have a followed a particular pattern as well. Her father retired in the mid-1980s and the family moved south. My dad retired in 1978 and we hung on in Calcutta till 1983 when my mother, whose decision was law, decided to move south. A year after her mother arrived in Kerala, she died, possibly find God’s Own Country not really the place she wanted to be. My dad passed away less than a year after he arrived in Madras; it was clear the city was not where he belonged and he found the uprooting too difficult to take.

Thrown into his state of disarray was my state of unemployment, but by the time I got the job of my life in a Brooke Bond tea estate in the Niligiris it was too late – he had decided to leave. For her, it was a double whammy – her father died less than a year of her mother passing away – four days to her first anniversary. So, perhaps you understand what it means when you say your world can turn topsy-turvy in the space of a year.

While she has, after a lot of hardship, got used to living life in Bangalore and loves the place. I wouldn’t still, after 25 years and more call Chennai home. I love Bangalore though – there is still an old world charm to the city, especially in the Cantonment area, that is hard to miss. And then, there’s the weather that Calcutta doesn’t have (save in the winter), weather that is a balm for weak spirits and jagged nerves.

At this stage, relocating to Kolkata is simply not on, although my sister is there and almost a thoroughbred Bengali at that. But visiting the City of Joy, whenever I want to, is certainly on the calendar. After all, there’s absolutely no match for steaming hot Bangla masala chai in a hand-crafted bhand and inhaling sweet cigarette smoke whether you are standing at Gariahat more or Ballygunge Phandi or Camac Street or even outside the Metro Theatre that once was.

There’s no moral of a story here… no finales… no ending as such… Life goes on… but it’s wonderful, and sometimes even mysterious, when you find you’ve hit a chord with someone you hardly knew. That’s why life can be so fascinating, so inexplicable, so much so that you wonder whether is it possible at all!

Well, on a Sunday evening when the earthquake in Sikkim has carved a territory encompassing several states, and when a ‘drowsy numbness pains my sense as if of Hemlock I had drunk’, here’s cheers to good old times, to people of the same stock, and of course to nostalgia and healthy friendship!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Madras Week: Hotel Green Park scores yet again

Whether Madras Week celebrations received overwhelming or muted response this year, activities at Hotel Green Park, Vadapalani, went on an even keel and the response, like in previous years, was quite overwhelming and encouraging. There were quite a few who had travelled long distances to reach the venue and it was only after the clock struck eight that some began to slowly wend their way back home.

As usual it was the programme for children that set the tone for the evening. When Binita and Shrimati of Spring into Reading set about the task a few years ago, organising events for children during Madras Week, little would they have imagined the kind of response the events would generate. When Gargi of Zoom Kids joined this year, the three, under the Spring and Zoom (an activity centre for children) banner, made the most of an afternoon, welcoming children to experiment and create products using the potter’s wheel and palm leaves. Supported by resource persons from DakshinaChitra, ‘Madras – experience your cultural heritage’ was open to children five years and above.

Later, there was a peppy demonstration by the students, of ‘Madras: Then and now’, complete with song, dance and theatre, touching upon aspects such as traditional games and how children spend their time today compared to those in the past.

For Chithra Madhavan, Hotel Green Park is almost home. She has lectured here on two previous occasions. This year, she chose to make a presentation on ‘Lesser known temples of Chennai – some more’. As usual, hers was a thoroughly researched presentation, pleasing to the ear and easy on the eye. It’s indeed a shame that many of our old temples remain neglected with inscriptions scraped away and gaudy paint plastered over. Chithra points this out time and again, which only shows that it must be the same story in many temples and how it has impacted a lover of heritage like her.

Incidentally, Chithra completed her M.A. and M. Phil. from the Department of Indian History, University of Madras and her Ph.D. from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore. She has published five books - History and Culture of Tamil Nadu (in two volumes) and Vishnu Temples of South India (in three volumes). She has also co-edited a book South India Heritage which contains 500 articles on various aspects of South India’s heritage and culture.

Pradeep Chakravarthy made quite an interesting presentation, on how ‘Kodambakkam (Puliyur) was the centre of Madras’. He took a look at how Madras was organised geographically in the 9th-12th centuries, what some troublesome local governance issues were and how they were resolved. There is very little about Puliyur in the public domain and based on what Pradeep explained, there is a whole world out there that needs to be researched. It only shows how little we know about our own local history. Pradeep’s attempt I thought was remarkable simply because there is so little material to base a presentation like his on. I would urge him to conduct research himself, if he can. That might form the background to an interesting book.

Pradeep has two books to his credit – on Thanjavur and the Vahanas. A student of KFI and a graduate from Madras Christian College, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the London School of Economics, he is an executive coach for senior leaders in Infosys Technologies. His articles appear frequently in The Hindu and Business Line.

Pictures show some children waiting expectantly as a little girl gets her fingers thoroughly soiled on the potter’s wheel; a resource person from DakshinaChitra showing a boy how he can be creative with palm leaves; children from the local Corporation school show off their exhibits; a father and daughter look for something interesting to read as Malavika from Book and Borrow looks on; and a packed hall at Green Park.