Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Count your blessings

It was one such beautiful night that makes you think even a power cut is a blessing. Unable to bear the sultriness inside the house, I went outside and was awed by the golden half moon lighting the entire neighbourhood, making me wonder how much we miss this inexpensive everyday wonder. Strikingly there was not any star in the part of the sky I was looking at. The golden crescent was ruling unassumingly amidst high rising coconut trees and teakwood trees. Part of the branches and leaves were silhouetted and part fully visible. One has to see to believe the beauty. I don't have words to describe it.

This made me think of the ordeals people living in Tamilnadu, other than those blessed souls in 'Singara Chennai', are facing every day due to more than 10-12 hours of power cut daily. For Chennaiites its only two hours a day. And for us blessed souls living in God's own country it is a mere half an hour a day.

I happened to visit a relative in Tamilnadu recently. It was a Sunday afternoon. Everyone was at their lazybones's best. All the family members started having a friendly chat with me as I was there after quite some time. About an hour passed by. Suddenly all the members disbursed without saying a word. Though I was taken aback a little, I soon gathered myself and watched them one by one. The lady of the house went to the kitchen and started cooking using the induction stove. The gas cylinder was empty as they had already exhausted that year's qouta of six. The man started washing clothes in the washing machine. The teen aged daughter was busy grilling something in the micro wave oven. And her brother started fixing the vacuum cleaner. Even the grandma did her bit by grinding something in the mixer. It was as if someone had switched on a remote control to infuse life into the house and the people living there. An hour went by and all the activities ceased automatically again as if controlled by a remote control. Yes, you have guessed it right. They were fully utilising the quality time when the electricity board is kind enough to supply power to them.

As can be expected a heated discussion followed centered around the erratic power supply.
No other place on earth would have such long durations of power cut. I simply don't know why we have to pay power tariffs at all.”

But you have inverter which is being charged with the power supplied by the Board.”

We hardly get power for six hours a day and no inverter can supply power with that charge for eighteen hours.”

You should count your blessings. See how much work can be organised in a short time with proper planning. We saw that right now.”

The entire collective energy of the family is utilised for such planning and execution alone. What about the children's studies? What will they do in families who can't afford inverters?”
I don't think any house in Tamilnadu can afford to do without an inverter these days. Besides we have the legacy of great men and women excelled even by studying under street lights.”
Those were days when you required power only for lighting. Todays children are loaded with projects and homework using Internet. They come up with easy excuses for not scoring well in the class.”
"What about festival days and auspicious functions? Don't people take it as bad omen if lights go off halfway?"
"Not any more. Since that has become a routine now."
"Then that is a good sign too. People are coming out of their superstitions."

Even the farmers are affected as they don't get the power required to irrigate their fields.”
And think of the small shop keepers. Their sales are dwindling in spite of the festival season as people don't venture to go out in the dark. What will these retailers do to earn their living?”
May be they are having a taste of how their plight would be when the big names in retail trade grab their share of business with the entry of FDI in retail.”

Perhaps this is a part of the lobbying that is being talked about.”

Oh, no. This is only temporary. Things would improve once the Koodankulam plant starts commisioning.”

Then, is it lobbying for the plant?”

No further discussions on this line. Lest we might be booked under 66A.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

பசுமை நிறைந்த நினைவுகள் Pasumai nirainda ninaivugal

Yesterday was a very special day for me. I found a very special friend through Facebook. Thank you Facebook. From the very day I opened an account in Facebook I have been trying unsuccessfully to find my friends and a favourite college teacher. As usual my sweet sons nagged me saying all my friends would be as computer illiterate as me and I can't expect to find any of them in the Facebook. Undeterred I kept trying. Today it suddenly flashed through my thought that I was doing it the wrong way using their maiden names I'm familiar with. After all most women change their surnames after marriage whereas I was trying with their maiden names. With renewed hope I tried for the one person I most wanted to find with her marital name. Lo and behold I got her in my very first attempt. I could not believe my eyes for some time when I saw her photo in which she looks exactly as she was when I last saw her some forty years ago. Then I sent a friend request and was delighted to get it confirmed soon.
It is as if  time has stood still for me as far as college days are concerned. Pasumai nirainda ninaivugal. பசுமை நிறைந்த நினைவுகள்
She had a very short but most memorable stint in our college as our Maths teacher. And teaching Maths she did in an exceptionally good way. She is only about five years older than us. So we could relate to her as if she was our friend. Those were days when a group of us girls followed her wherever she went -- to the library, to the staff room, to the auditorium all in the guise of getting some doubts cleared in our most favourite subject-- Maths. But we won't stop with Maths. Our college rules were very strict that we should talk, even outside the classrooms,  with each other leave alone with teachers, in English only. But flouting the rules had its own charms.
Other teachers would pass by throwing  angry and jealous looks. The librarian would send a note stating that 'your voices can be heard inside the library and disturb others who are doing serious reading for which the library is meant-read better get out of here'. We would carry on undeterred.
Once there was a bus strike and we were left with no option but to walk the 3 or 4 km to our homes. She also offered to join us upto her place. We still remember the padayatra across the Vaigai River bridge from Fatima college to Arasaradi. Yes we started calling it a padayatra and started longing for more such bus strikes. And our wishes were fulfilled more than once.The distance would fly by in no time. (As we used to sing in the college during Christmas time-- It's a long road to freedom, a winding steep and high; But when you walk in love with the wind on your wings and cover the earth with the songs you sing the miles fly by.)
I can hear my sons saying 'amma you are repeating it for the hundredth time.'
When she got married and left the college to join her husband who was employed in Bangalore we bade farewell with heavy hearts. One of our classmates went to Bangalore during vacation to visit her relatives there. She naturally visited our teacher there. We didn't have phones at home, let alone a mobile and were forced to wait till the college reopening date. And then we made her recall the entire conversation verbatim that took place at the teacher's house in Bangalore with 'once more' requests at some points.
Whenever I made any presentation at the classroom or took classes for juniors on the occasions of Teachers' Days my friends used to tease me saying that my style was similar to that of this teacher. I would take it as a compliment.
All this and more scenes both involving this teacher and other instances started pouring into my mind within no time as if it was only yesterday that they happened.
Thanks once again to Facebook that enabled me to establish contact, after forty years, with my beloved teacher.
Now my sons have to take back their comments at least partially on our generation's tech-savviness.
I shall be happy if I could contact any of my friends I have mentioned above so that I can renew friendship boast of newly established contacts with our beloved teacher.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


This is another attempt at translating a story that I liked very much with the hope that you too would love it. It was written by T.Janakiraman, one of the best Tamil writters of the 20th century, known for thinking far ahead of the times he lived and putting it in a subtle manner without attempting to pass any judgement or preach any one. I was awestruck at my very first reading itself., but  got the finer meanings as I was discussing it with my son Arun and keep finding more and more as I read again and again while translating it. Hope you will agree too provided the translation is any where near the original.
SILIRPU(Published first in Nov 1953)
I was aboard a passsenger train about to leave Tiruchi junction. It was a shuttle between Tiruchi and Mayavaram. The platform and the coaches looked deserted. If only it was an express train, the entire station would be active and busy. May be even trains have class difference.
My six year old son was enjoying his afternoon siesta. An orange was lying near him. .He had gone to Bangalore for summer vacation. His aunt had taken him with her when she came to attend a wedding in Mayavaram. I was bringing him back. His uncle had come to the Bangalore station to see us off. When the vendors selling oranges came near our coach my son asked for it. His uncle standing in the platform pretended he didn't hear that. That was his nature. My look was enough to keep my son's mouth shut. Not for long. When the train started moving he started,
"yes, my son"'
"Pichu uncle earns Rs.900/ a month", he was showing with both his hands wide apart.
"so waht?"
"He heard me ask for oranges, but didn't get them."
"He wouldn't have heard it."
"No. I was loud enough."
"then why didn't buy them?"
"While in Bangaalore I asked for a tricycle. He kept saying yes, but never bought me one."
"Why did you ask him? I will buy you one."
"how can you. You earn only Rs.100/ a month."
"Who told you so?"
"Umm.. Pichu mama"
"To you?"
"No . To aunty. When you had sent a letter from Madras when you went there for a celebration. That you were wasting even your meagre income by making such unnecessary trips."
"O.K. Go to sleep now."
"will you get me a toy car?"
"yes. I will."
"And oranges?"
"Yes. When we reach Tiruchi.
"Oh no.."
"But how can I get them when the train is moving?"
"Then tell me a story."
Soon after I started he fell asleep. I was wondering about Pichu's meanness. Why should they take the child in the first place. What would the child's feelings. Especially when the parents were not around? I had a sleepless night.
When we reached Tiruchi I bought oranges for him. He said he would have them on reaching home.
"Amma would peel it and remove the seeds."
"As you please."
'oh.. how much he would be missing her.'
I came back to the present in the passenger shuttle to Mayavaram.
A middle aged woman and a girl of eight or nine years boarded the train and sat opposite to us.
"When will the train leave?" she asked as if to start a conversation.
"In about half an hour"
"You are going upto Mayavaram?"
"Ah. Yes."
"Is it your son"
"He is fast asleep."
"We are coming all the way from Bangalore. He is tired due to the long journey."
"You wish to lie down too?" she asked the girl.
"No mami. I don't feel like"
"Better have some rest. You have a long journey ahead."
"thanks mami, but I will after some time."
The ornaments and the attire showed that the woman was from a well to do family. She was fair complexioned and on the fatter side.
The girl looked pale. She was thin with a tired look. She was very simply attired. She wore bangles and ear studs made of plastic. She had with her a small open bag apparently containing an inexpensive set of dress similar to the one she was wearing.
I kept wondering what would their relationship be but resisted my temptation to ask her.
I bought some bananas from a vendor who came by and gave one to the girl. She hesitated but took it when the woman gave her consent with a nod.
"She is going to Calcutta", the woman volunteered the information I was seeking.
"That far?"
"She is going to one of our neighbours living there. A friend is leaving for calcutta from Mayavaram tomorrow. She will join them."
"What is your name?" I asked the girl.
"Kamakshi alias Kunju"
"Are you wondering how such a fragile figure bears two names?"
I smiled.
"No. no.. I have a sister with the same name. She was married off to a nice guy. But he got his fingers burnt because of a bank guarantee he had given to a friend. They suffered for a long time and struggled hard to come out of the financial burden that followed. And another sister named Kunju. A cousin of ours was bed ridden for quite a long time and she made my parents to give Kunju in wedding to her husband. She too suffered a lot."
"It is not fair to marry her off to that man when the first wife was alive."
"It was her fate. This girl bears the names of both my sisters."
But the girl remained unperturbed.
"What is your father?"
"He is a school teacher."
"And your siblings?"
"Four elder sisters, two elder brothers. One younger sister and a younger brother."
"Elder sisters are married off?"
"Three of them got married. The second one was widowed and has come back to us."
"elder brothers have any jobs?"
"Elder one is working in a hotel on daily wages. The second one is studying in tenth."
"You have not gone to school?"
"Appa can't afford to educate his daughters also."
"So you work?"
"There is no other way out."
"What kind of work?"
"I can wash dishes. Make coffee and tea and also sambar and rasam. Grind rice in the chakki. Baby sit. Wash clothes and clean the house."
"Where did you learn all these?"
"I was working for a Judge's family for three years and learnt it."
" So you have work experience. Umm.. How old are you?"
"I am nine years and six months old."
"So you started when you were six? And how much do you earn?"
" They don't pay in cash. I get two square meals a day, which I can't get at home. Then they would buy me new dress for diwali."
"And this inexpensive dress that you are wearing is all that you get for the endless list of things that you do?"
"Couldn't you ask for something better?"
"You say you were having two square meals a day. But you seem to be very much under nourished."
The train entered Thanjavur station. Asking the woman to take care of my seat and luggage, I prepared to get down with my son for lunch and asked the girl,
"What did you have for breakfast?"
"They gave me some left over food."
"She is leaving them for good, about to begin a long journey after serving them for three years. Can't they offer her some good food?"
"Come with me. Let us have lunch in the railway canteen."
"No thanks."
But she was too hungry to resist when the woman also insisted.
Looking at them in the restaurant table, I felt they missed their mother's touch while having food. But one of them will join his mother in a couple of hours, whereas the other one is moving away from her mother.
She spontaneously helped him with his food and offerd water when he needed. And also helped him clean the hands after the meal was over. My son who was normally very fussy while taking food seemed to enjoy her help.
"Do you know the people in Calcutta where you are going?"
"No uncle. They are very rich people with Rs. 3000/ per month as salary and need me for baby sitting."
I couldn't help thinking that one child is on her way to look after another child.
"She is a smart little girl," I told the woman when I got back to the train.
"Smartness comes out of necessity. She easily adapts to the situation. She didn't utter a word until we offered her lunch. If only she was not going to Calcutta, I would have had her with me. May God bless her."
My son's attention turned to his orange once more.
"Shall I help you peel it?" the woman offered.
"No thanks. My mom would peel it when I reach home."
"I'm a mom too."
He didn't relent.
"How old are you?" he turned to the girl and asked.
"I'm ten years."
"Then you must be studying in fifth class" he started counting with his fingers.
"Look appa. I'm six years and in first class. Six plus four is ten. She is ten. Must be studying in fifth" he couldn't lift his eyes from his fingers.
"She is not going to school, my son."
"Then are you studying from home?"
"She is not studying because she is going to Calcutta."
"What for?"
"To work there."
"Don't kid me appa."... "Are you going to work?"
Still unable to believe what he heard, he asked "can you go cycling?"
She gave a hearty laugh for the first time since we met.
"How can I? I don't know to cycle."
" How will you go to your work place then?"
"I shall walk."
He simply couldn't come to terms with it. His father went to work by a bicycle. How can anyone do otherwise.
Soon the attention of both the children turned to the trees and paddy fields slipping speedily outside the train.
"How can one be sure that she will be safe in the place where she is going?" I was surprised to hear me ask that question to the woman.
"They are related to the Judge she was working with. Having a monthly income of Rs.3000/. They would prabably have a soft corner for a girl from their home town. Might be offering her good food and clothing. But they would treat her as a paid servant only. She is capable of feeling at one with any family. But she can't feel at home. Can anyone substitute one's parents?" she too had more questions than answers.
I started feeling uneasy as if I am myself going to a strange place where I had no contacts.
"May be her parents believe that almighty will take care of her."
"What else is there to hope for? We are left with no other option than to think that way. The family had been driven to such a state of affairs. But then I can't help thinking that if only that almighty had better plans for the members of that hapless family, this child would not have had to find herself in this predicament.."
"Who will look after Judges' children then?"
"That is right."
Perhaps the Giver had paucity of ideas as the teacher had paucity of funds.
Other passengers in the coach had a glimpse of the story. That they found it difficult to swallow was writ large in their faces turned away from the girl.
The train was nearing our place. I gave a rupee to the girl before starting to leave.
"Why should you?" the woman resisted.
"I feel obliged as you do. She is not your child either, but you are offering help. But I can't afford to do more than this."
"May God bless you. Take that from the uncle, my child."
"Shall I give her this orange, appa" my son asked me.
"It's good. Why do you ask me at all?"
"No my boy. You wanted to get it peeled by your mom" the woman said.
"Ask her to take it appa" my son called me to his help.
The girl took it when I too insisted.
"You are blessed with a wonderful kid." The woman kissed my son and bade farewell.
I could hardly control my emotions. Turning my face away from the passengers to hide my emotions, I got down with my son. I lifted him up.Can't he walk? But I didn't want to allow him to.
I embraced him with all my strength and love. I simply can not describe the feelings I had. It was ecstacy as if I was embracing Affection, no, no, God Himself personified.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Twin weddings

It is a wonderful feeling you get after a wedding in the family. If it is two weddings happiness manifolds. You get to meet cousins, aunts,uncles, nieces, nephews all in one place. Some of them you anyway meet often. Some after a long gap. If you keep your eyes and ears open you can enjoy a lot. It is amazing to see how a prolonged quarrel that went on for decades melts with just a phone call inviting the other to attend the wedding. Just a smile and you renew a long forgotten relationship and start taking advices on subjects varying from stock trading to real estate dealing to even finding a life partner for your beloved offspring, totally forgetting that till only yesterday you thought it was impossible to have even a word beyond a forced smile with that person.

A nephew from wife's side would come from USA with spouse and kids all the way to attend a wedding. A niece from husband's side from Kolkatta might have taken a longer travel time. All with intentions to visit as many relatives as possible but end up satisfying a few and making the rest grumble for not getting their fair due. In such situations if they are lucky enough to get invited to one or two common weddings it would be an ideal situation. At one go they could meet as many of them as is possible.

Thus your battery gets easily recharged before you start to realise it.
There is atleast one negative side effect. Atleast  to the weighty ones. It takes months for one to get rid of an extra two kgs of weight, what with strict self-denying dietary schedule and unrelenting work-out schedule in rain or shine. But it takes only a wedding or two in the family and one ends up gaining atleast five kgs.
But then that is an entirely different story.
I am reminded of a wedding that took place some forty years ago. It was a wonderful reunion for many. As is usual on such situations one girl lost a screw of her golden ear ring and every one started looking for it and in vain. After reaching their places people shared their happiness derived in the get together by sending letters to each other. It was a no net world in those times and even phones were a luxury and people net worked with letters sent by posts. One friend asked the brother of the girl who lost her ear ring screw whether she got it back.
காணமல் போன காதணி கிடைத்ததா?
Just a letter changed unwittingly or wittingly perhaps,
 காணாமல் போன காதலி கிடைத்ததா ?
changed the meaning to 'girl friend' instead of 'ear ring'. you can imagine the mayhem that followed in that conservative family.
The joke is enjoyed even today after forty years by all concerned and the letter is kept safe as a treasure.
While talking on the positive side effects of weddings let me recall one more rather two more incidents that took place some time ago.

One of my relatives, a young man just married went to collect a parcel containing home made instant food mixes sent by his mother through a friend staying near his place. He had met the friend or the family earlier and on reaching their home asked for the friend. A teenaged girl who opened the door on hearing the calling bell called inside, "amma, one uncle has come to meet you." Actually it is the custom of youngsters in many families to call a married man uncle 'and' a married woman 'aunty'. So no offence was intended.
But then my relative got a shock of his life. Though past teenage, he never in his wildest dreams imagined to be addressed as 'uncle' by a teenager. Till date he is keeping the parcel untouched.
This man came to attend the twin weddings I mentioned earlier. On the wedding eve some friends of the bride spent time with the bride blissfully unaware that time was passing by. Soon it was 10 in the night. A taxi was called.  The girls hesitated to go by themselves and face their parents' wrath at such a late hour asked if someone could escort. This man and his friend were standing nearby and I asked if one of them or both could oblige and they happily consented. But alas, the girls would not have them. They could not be seen returning close to midnight with young men. "Can you please send some 'uncle-types'?" one of them asked and got her request conceded.

I turned to my young friend apologetically but was surprised at the happiness in his face. It turned out that the humiliation he suffered when a teenager called him 'uncle' was wiped out now that a young girl refused to take him for an 'uncle'.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Aangor ezhaikku

ன்ன சத்திரம் ஆயிரம் வைத்தல்
ஆலயம் பதினாயிரம் நாட்டல்
அன்ன யாவினும் புண்ணியம் கோடி
ஆங்கோர் ஏழைக்கு  எழுத்தறிவித்தல்

   Anna chathiram aayirm vaithal
Aalayam pathinayiram naattal
Anna yaavinum punniyam kodi
Aangor ezhaikku ehutharivithal

Bharathi said this which means:
Building a thousand choultries and offering free meals to all those who come; Building ten thousand temples; These are good deeds indeed. But it is far far better and useful if you help a poor student's education.
I wish to narrate one or two incidents I know personally which prompted me to initiate a proposal that follows.
Case I
A tribal girl from a remote village near Tirunelveli was studious and completed her degree in Maths with a first class, having been first in the district among tribal students. With the help of well wishers she managed to get a seat for MCA in a reputed institute. The banks in her locality refused even to hand out a loan application to her. But again with the help of some well wishers she was able to get a loan. But alas the institute had included only the amounts required to be payable to them and she simply applied for that amount. When she was required to purchase a laptop which was so essential for the course the bank refused because it was not included in the loan application and it was not possible to alter the sanction terms. Her parents who were very innocent and poor said if it was so essential and they can't afford it, better she discontinue the studies. But determined as she was, she again found some well wishers to fund the laptop.
Case II
A studious boy from a village near Trivandum, studying in a private engineering college, having managed to pay the fees for the first two years with the help of relatives found himself at the end of the road while entering the third year. He approached a nearby bank who said since his father had availed a loan under a government scheme and was a defaulter his loan cannot be sanctioned. Somehow with the help of some well intentioned people the old loan was settled under compromise and his education loan was sanctioned and he completed the course. But he was not fortunate to grab a placement in the campus selection. It was tougher in the open market. He was forced to do some further computer courses to equip himself better in the job market. Who will fund it?
Case III
A visually challenged boy doing a course in computers required a meagre rs.6000/ to undergo a surgery which will improve his vision and enable him to get a better job. But his family cannot afford it.

I am having in mind such persons for whom even a little help, if offered at the right time, will make a lot of difference.

One more academic year is about to begin. It has always been my passion to offer a helping hand to the deserving and needy students. This time I have a desire to strengthen my hands with those of my friends in order to expand the same. I am sure you will come forward to make me formulate a decent strategy. I list down broadly what I have in mind.
  1. Any of the contributors to the pool can refer a student. The student should be genuinely needy. One who refers the student should be personally convinced of this. And it should be verifiable. Amount will be released subject to availability of funds in the pool.
  2. He/She should be continuing the studies.
  3. Should have a decent (not necessarily exemplary) academic record.
  4. Even if he/she has obtained an education loan but requires finance for any reasonable study related expenses not covered by the loan may be considered.
  5. Maximum amount may be fixed at say Rs. 20000/ for one person for one year to start with.
  6. He/She should make a commitment to contribute to the pool after getting an employment, atleast an amount equal to the help received.

With this in mind I intend to start a pool with the help of all my near and dear ones with a committed contribution (whatever the amount is).
And the pool is to be formed by:
1. Anyone can send a contribution either in a lump sum or by monthly remittances to an a/c used exclusively for this purpose. Remittances will be accepted only from friends and relatives and persons well known to them. Identity of the sender is a must.
2. Monthly remittances may be to the tune of say Rs. 1000/ per month for one year. No upper limit.
The account can be scrutinised by any of the contributors at regular intervals.
We can think of auditing it when the amount grows.
I sincerely seek your suggestions to improve any of the above.
I also seek your liberal contributions.
யாம் பெற்ற இன்பம் பெறுக  இவ்வையகம்
May others derive the benefits that we got out of education.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Why this kolaveri da

Yes. But this is about some real kolaveri(killer rage). I was really disturbed at reading the sad end of a three month old girl child Afreen. She was killed by her own father for no fault of hers but because he wanted only a boy. How can a man after seeing his own baby (be it boy or girl) in flesh and blood commit such an act? This is cruelty with no justification.
But this incident made me ponder over the reasons for prejudice against female child in this country.
I could only think of three major reasons for this:
  1. Dowry menace prevalent in the society.
  2. Lack of safety for a girl or woman of any age to move about freely.
  3. The belief that only a boy can perform the last rites to his parents and only then their soul will attain the right to rest in peace.
We shall consider the first one alone for now.
The dowry system might have come into vogue since there was no inheritance right to women. But then the system is prevalent in Kerala too where a section of the society is supposed to follow matrilineal succession system.
Added to the dowry evil the grand gala Indian wedding expenses make the life of a girl's father quite tough, no doubt. There is a saying in Tamil that if he had five daughters even a king will become pauper(Anju pennai petral arasanum aandiyavan). But today even one daughter's wedding makes a middle class family immersed in debt, if not insolvent.
Yes the dowry system is bad. But the condition stated above is not only because of the dowry system. Consider the expenses incurred in the grand Indian shows called wedding. Everyone wants to outdo the neighbours and friends and end up spending their life's savings for the one day affair.
My dear girls and boys, you show all the courage and confidence to stand up before your parents –right from choosing the dress you like to the course you like and in many cases the life partner of your choice too. (No- I'm not against your choosing your life partners, but show a little prudence. O.K—that is for a different story).
But when it comes to the wedding function you become all too obedient and hide under the cover of parental pressure. You have no stinch of shame in imitating or outdoing some one who has made an ugly display of their wealth, rather their ability to borrow. Your friend or neighbour wants to outdo when their turn comes and the circle becomes vicious. No, I am not against having fun with a lot of guests. In fact it is an occasion to renew forgotten relationships. But creating scenes as in movies and using film cameras to shoot them, isn't it too much? Yes, platforms on which the couple are standing are suddenly raised to some height leaving the guests standing nearby awe struck. Fortunately things have not gone to this height in the south. But Keralites' weddings which used to be a simple and short affair until a decade back are no more simple these days. I have actually seen a wedding using a camera with a trolley used for shooting films. And this extravaganza is taking place in a country where the planning commission is lowering the poverty limit from Rs.32/ to 28/ and is pleased that the population below poverty line has reduced. Again this in a country where we the middle class don't bother to read about female foeticide unless reminded by a celbrity in a TV serial (after getting a hefty pay packet for himself). And that too to click Like button in the facebook. There are many youngsters with social awareness, no doubt. But the majority are not even aware of the harm caused by the show offs. If the younger generation wake up and decide to eradicate female foeticide there will be no more Afreens.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

katradu kaimmannalavu

I was fortunate to lay my hands on a collection of short stories and essays by a number of great Tamil writers. One of the pieces was written by Namakkal V Ramalingam Pillai, a great Tamil scholar, poet and freedom fighter. It was written in 1949.He describes in it how he practically realised the fact “Katradu Kaimmannalavu”. (The saying “Katradu Kaimmannalavu; kalladadu ulagalavu” means what one has learnt is comparable to only a handful of sand whereas what he has yet to learn is the whole of earth. That when such a great scholar like Mr. Pillai should say this, what are we the illiterates in comparison should do is altogether a different matter).
He used to make discourses on the great Kamba Ramayanam(Don't move away my dear non believer friends. The book has immense literary value and our discussion here is not about Ram either).
Pillai recalls a particular verse in which Kaikeyi replies to Mandara(Kooni), when the latter tells her friend to insist for her son Bharath's Pattabhishekam. Kaikeyi gets furious at Mandara. This is Surya kulam—descendant's of Sun god and Manu. The kings born in this kulam will never do anything that is not proper. They follow the rules strictly like the peacock(Mayil murai kulathurimai). Why do you want to bring down their fame by asking them to crown Bharat instead of the eldest son Ram. You are too bad.
Pillai is not able to get the correct meaning of the line regarding rules of the peacock. He refers so many books and discusses with many learned persons. But he doesn't get a convincing reply. After about a dacade he happened to read an issue of the magazine Scientific American. It is an authentic science magazine publishing research papers on various subjects. It contained an article on birds. It was an outcome of an elaborate research done scientifically. Pillai read the part regarding peacocks. It was written that all the peacock siblings move from place to place in one group along with the mother peahen. When the time for displaying the plumage comes it is invariably the eldest peacock who starts the dance and then only the rest follow suit. This was found out by tieying different colour rings to the siblings and observing them for a long time,it was written. Pillai is elated.He shares his joy with his Kamba Ramayanam guru.
Thereafter during Kamba Ramayanam discourses and discussions with other scholars, he would explain this with great pride as if it was he who did the research and found the truth. Even many renowned scholars were not aware of the fact until he told them.
After quite some time Pillai happened to hear that some old man was making a very interesting discourse on Kamba Ramayanam in a nearby temple. When Pillai went to the temple, he was describing Vibishana's surrender quite interestingly. But Pillai felt sure that he won't know the meaning of Mayil murai kulathurimai and wanted to show off before him. While having a private talk with him he asks about it. Pat comes the reply. He describes in detail the facts as stated in the magazine. Pillai was awe struck. Pillai decides that someone who has read the Scientific American must have informed him. But the old man says that it is written in an old Tamil puranam and quotes the line which describes the Peacock Rule. Pillai feels humbled by the depth of his knowledge and notes down the line and the name of the Puranam in a piece of paper and memorises the line. He started quoting the line while making Kamba Ramayanam discourse thereafter. He would add that Tamilians have found out long back the facts regarding the peacock rule much before tha Ameriacn scientists.(Kambar lived in 12th century)
But he loses the paper in which he wrote down the name of the book and the author and is unable to recall that. After some time he was asked to inagurate a college library for which books were donated by a great Tamil scholar. He tells the audience about the peacock episode and his inabilty to find the name of the book. A few days after that he receives a letter from one of the college students who listened to his speech that the said line appears in Thanikai Puanam (written much before Kambar's period)as 244th verse. Pillai feels humbled again. He could not get the clear facts from great scholars for the past 35 years and here a student comes out with the details. Alas. Katradu kaimmann alavu; kalladadu ulagalavu indeed, he muses.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

An attempt at translation

 I have made an attempt to translate the great Thirukkural, a collection of two line verses by Thiruvalluvar on more than hundred different topics. 133 to be specific.It is divided into three parts broadly. ARATHUPPAAL—regarding the duties of human beings. PORUTPAAL---related to economics and money aspects. KAAMATHUPPAAL----regarding a person's relationship with the opposite sex.
Here is a random selection of the verses. No specific order has been followed. Nor do I claim it to be any where near an authentic translation. Simply for the purpose of Yaam petra inbam peruga ivvaiyagam.
Here is the first set.

Idanai idanal ivanmudippan enraindu
adanai avankann vidal
--Find out with a good reasoning who can do a particular job well and
entrust the work to that person.
--Perhaps the best possible management dictum.

Thumminen vazhuthinalaga thiruthi azhuthal
Yarulli thummineer enru
--(There is a prevalent custom that when someone sneezes one who is nearby would utter a blessing word. There is also a prevalent custom that someone sneezes when another person who is far away thinks of this person). Here a man sneezes and his friend utters a blessing word by habit. But immediately she corrects herself and asks when I am here who is thinking of you to make you sneeze.
--(Arguably a good portrait of a possessive woman's nature.)

Iniya ulavaga innada kooral kaniyiruppa
kaai kavarn dattru
When there are pleasant words available, to utter unpleasnt words is like plucking raw, unripe fruits when there are ripe and sweet fruits available in the same tree.

Ellarkum nanram panithal avarullum
selvarke selvam thakaithu
Humility is good for all. It is all the more required for the rich to retain their richness. (Here richness has a wider meaning-- richness of not only wealth, but that of all virtues.)

Thanthai makarkatrum udavi avayathu
Munthi yiruppa cheyal
Parents' duty to children is to help them be among the firsts in any forum.

Makan thanthaikkatrum nanri ivan thanthai
ennotran kol enum sol
Children should reciprocate by making others wonder how fortunate his/her parents are.
(One might have noticed that I have used the neutral gender- parent, children in place of father, son in the original. Well I earnestly believe that would have been Thiruvalluvar's intention too. Atleast let me have some solace that way.)

Anyway here is one exclusively for mothers.

Eandra pozhudil periduvarkum than makanai(makalai?)
chandron ena ketta thaai

A mother would be happier when she hears her ward's achievements praised by others than when she gave birth to him/her

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My experiments with a passport

It all started when my son helped his wife to apply for a passport. They were both employed in Ahmedabad then and were living in a house rented in his name. Her id proofs showed her home address in Patna. She hadn’t changed her maiden name after marriage. She being an employee of a new generation bank had little time to spend in the passport office. Hence they decided to apply online. In spite of the hitches she didn’t have to spend much time in the passport office while submitting the required documents in person and lo and behold she got the passport document delivered to her within three weeks. She was not present at home even when the police made enquiries with the neighbours. Awed by the smoothness of the entire experience my son asked me to apply for a passport online and get it without difficulties. There is a saying in Tamil “Aannaikku arram enral kudiraikku kurram illai”, meaning “It may be arram for aanai(elephant) in Urdu. But it doesn’t follow that it is kurram for kudirai(horse). I was only to realise it in the coming days.

I was a branch manager and asking for leave for going abroad was more than a nightmare, especially since my sons have no intention of taking up permanent jobs abroad. So applying for a passport did not find a place even in the end of the list of my priorities. But as usual my son won over me and made me say yes. My daughter in law joined him in luring me saying we could plan a trip to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand etc. I had just retired voluntarily from a nationalised bank. My second son was employed in Bangalore and my husband was in inspection department, touring north India. So I had no reason to be in Trivandrum where our home is. I went there to produce the original certificates at the passport issuing office in person on the appointed date obtained through the net. My son had assured that as in his wife’s case there won’t be many who have applied on line and therefore there would be a separate queue for such privileged people and I shouldn’t be foolish enough to stand in the general queue. Undeterred by seeing atleast two hundred people standing in front of the passport office in the scotching sun with no roof above their heads I coolly went near the closed shutter with the hope of getting inside as soon as it opened. The security staff standing there told me to stand in the queue. I was not moved. I said I had applied on line and so didn’t need to stand in the general queue. But he pointed at the notice board which stated that passport applications are accepted only through the on line mode from a specific date some six months earlier. It dawned on me that  in God’s own country that is Kerala,  which is far ahead of the rest of the states with 100% literacy and zealous gulf aspirants combined with IT professionals, the passport applications must be much more in number than in other states to warrant that requirement. I was left with no option but to go back to the end of the queue which had become much longer by now. Atleast forty persons were wiser than I to stand in the queue soon after arriving at the office after me.
Well, that was only the beginning of the ordeal not the end. After standing for about an hour in that queue and obtaining the token the real wait started.  I was expecting some guests at home for lunch and the hopes of going home in time for the lunch leave alone preparing it I made alternate arrangements to receive the guests. As for my lunch we were thrown out of the office premises when the staff took their sweet time to have their lunch and I had to do with whatever was available in the nearby petty shop.  Atlast my token number was called at 4 p.m and the climax unveiled.  After scrutinising the documents presented by me the officer asked me to produce of the marriage certificate. I said it took place more than thirty years ago and the practice of registering a marriage was not in vogue then and during these thirty years no one not even my employer had questioned me or refused to accept the fact as stated by me. The officer looked at me as if I was a person from the stone age but said politely, “Nothing doing. If you want me to accept your application either produce the certificate or an affidavit duly notarised.” Mind you, it  was 4 p.m and the document had to be presented by 4.30 to merit the officer’s scrutiny on that day. Otherwise I had to go back to square one and repeat the entire waiting on another day.  Left with no easy option, I somehow managed to get a joint foto of myself with my husband and paste it in an affidavit duly notarised. Well ,I was able to meet the deadline just in time with only a few seconds to go. Thank God they accepted my application and gave me a receipt atlast. All is well that ends well(not ends in a well as my father used to tease us whenever we used this phrase) you might be tempted to say. No, my dear only the first phase was over.
The guests,pleased with my hospitality(?) left and I was left alone at home. My husband was busy touring the wesrern pats of the country in connection with his official duty asking me to join either of my sons in Ahmedabad or Bangalore as soon as I received the passport. Easier said than done. My elder son said the police verification would follow soon so don’t leave Trivandrum till that is over. The official website states that the passport will be issued within three to four weeks so don’t leave home now, my net savvy son advised. I had from the beginning decided not to grease any pals nor approach any influential contacts for the purpose and it only follows that the entire procedure moved in snail,s pace. It took a month for the police to arrive for verification and another three weeks for the police report to reach the passport office. (Thanks to my Net savvy son who kept tracking the file movement through the net and updated me on a daily basis.) All this time I hardly slept well in the nights as I was not used to staying alone. Atlast the passport was issued and despatched according to the passport office. But the postal authorities denied having received any cover containing the journal number mentioned by the passport office.(This again was being tracked by my son with the help of the net). It turned out that the passport authorities under an arrangement with the postal department generated the said journal number at their own office and their duty ends there. To lift the covers physically is theduty of the post office and it took them five sweet days. Thanks to the time of the year—it was the hallticket season for the numerous entrance exams conducted in the country and the post office men took their own share of time and I received the cover posted in the city by speed post after seven days. Thus I practically experienced all the slips there can be between a cup and the lip. Thank God all these slips didn’t break the cup and I finally received the passport document in tact, thanks to my Net savvy son and my never ending patience. Looking back, obtaining such an important document  within three months of applying is not bad after all. Thank you passport officers.

I shall come back with my experiences of visa if I ever apply for one and if it turns out to be atleast this interesting. Bye for now.