A Glimpse of the Past- Dakshinachitra

Faint notes of ‘Saamajavaragamana’ struck me, when I stood at the reception of Dakshinachitra to buy an entry pass. This krithi in Hindolam is by Saint Sri Thyagaraja, who lived in the 18th century A.D. The fragrance of agarbaththis wafted through the air, bringing with it the scent of Arali (Nerium) flowers. All these eased me up for a laid-back walk inside Dakshinachitra.

Dakshinachitra is nothing like a conventional museum. The absence of glass-covered artefacts and long corridors can confuse anybody. Reconstructed traditional houses from the four south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh find their places here. Dakshinachitra is a walk through the memory lanes of our ancestors and the lives they lived.

Checking my pass in, I crossed over a small archway, to see the vast expanse of land. Huge canopies lined up along stony pathways. A tiny market made its presence felt, thanks to the bling that were up for sale.

All the old houses that are replicated in Dakshinachitra are bought from the contractors who are assigned to demolish them by their owners.  More often than not, the owners want a modern house in the places of these old houses and hence sell them off.

We do extensive research on the background of the house and its people and try our best to recreate it here,” says Sharath Nambiar, Deputy Director of Dakshinachitra.

My favourite was the Chuttillu House, which sadly is placed at the fag end of the trail. Found in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, the structure in Dakshinachitra was specifically from Yelamanchilli, Vishakapatnam district. These houses are made of mud and circular. They have thatched roof that extends until the ground, in order to drain off the water, from the incessant rains that the storms bring. These roofs are built at an angle of at least 45 degrees to drain the rainwater away. The round shape of the building is to combat the raging winds, which are usual in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

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The Chettiar house from Tamil Nadu was another memorable piece.

The term ‘Chettinad’ denotes the region Pudukottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Trade was their main occupation and it reflected in their lavish lifestyle. Polished wooden interiors, which kept the temperature inside the house in check and a collection of expensive articles that were given as gifts during their weddings vouched for the prosperity of the Chettiars.

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A typical Chettiar house has a long thinnai , which is the porch at the entrance of the house and an inner open-roof courtyard in the middle of the house. The thinnai is for the men and outsiders to meet and talk while the courtyard is for events that are more intimate. It is the sacred space and is designated only for family members.

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The Syrian Christian house is characterised by the woodwork, mostly with timber and jackfruit wood, the well in the kitchen and long verandahs. The polished, dark brown wooden walls were attractive and gave a rich texture.

IMG_20171026_114309These houses had huge granaries too, which were built immediately at the entrance. The Syrian Christians used to pray in front of their granaries and hence their houses were built to store huge quantities of food grains. Their settlements were concentrated in the districts of Kottayam, Kollam and Aluva, mainly in the valley of the river Pamba.

Karnataka is a state, whose history is rich. From the mountainous regions of Coorg and Talacauveri to the heritage of Hampi, it has it all. The exhibit of the Chikmagalur house told the story of its original inhabitant, a Muslim trader named M.A.Ismail. The house’s special feature was the patterns in the doorways and windows made of fine limestone. Houses in Chikmagalur are built with varying grades of limestone, found in abundance in Karnataka. The most coarse grade would go to building the base of the building while the finest will be made as floral patterns over doorways.

Chikmagalur was populated by Muslim traders, credited for bringing the art of perfume oil extraction from Arabia.

On my way out, I stop by Nambiar’s office to ask about the loud voices that sang the basic notes of Carnatic music all along.

“We work with a lot of folk performers and expose them to various other styles of dance and theatre,” he says.

Dakshinachitra is also planning to hold thematic exhibitions and environment awareness programs to school students who visit the place. I take a quick walk inside the craft shop and being broke, started on my way back home, with loads of memories and pages of heavy notes.

*Dakshinachitra is located on the East Coast Road (ECR), very close to MGM and is well connected by bus.

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When Statues tell Stories

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a walk along the statues in the Marina, as a part of an event. It was conducted by the Storytelling Institute on account of Madras Day. This is the advantage if you are a media student. You get to know a lot of events and somehow gather the energy to be present and see what happens there.

So the walk was planned along six statues, starting with the Kannagi statue and going up to the Avvaiyar statue. Here I shall try to document the background of each statue, with a mix of narrative from the walk and also a little from me.

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Kannagi Statue

Kannagi’s is a fascinating story. In those days, Tamil Nadu was ruled by different kingdoms and each kingdom had its own symbols of identification.

This piece of trivia was told to me by one of the Tamil teachers who taught me- Chola kingdom had anklets that had Rubies in them, while the Pandiyas down South had anklets with pearls in them. This was also an aspect of identity for the people back then it seems.

It was the time when Kovalan, Kannagi’s husband had come back to her. He was in an illicit affair with Madhavi earlier and he had realised his mistake. Once back with Kannagi, they sought to begin a new life and devoid of money, Kannagi gave him one of her anklets and told him to sell it. Kovalan set out with the jewel and was arrested by the soldiers of the Pandiya king, in Madurai. Their Queen’s anklet was missing and since Kannagi’s anklet looked very similar to the missing anklet, they arrested him and brought him to the king. The king, after taking a look at the anklet, confiscated it and ordered Kovalan to be killed as a punishment for theft. Thus Kovalan was killed. This news reached Kannagi and she was angry. She was sure that her husband was no thief and she set out to seek justice from the Pandiya king himself. She goes to his court and argued that the king had made a mistake in killing Kovalan. She said that her anklet had rubies in them, while the Queen’s anklets had pearls. She threw the anklet she had onto the floor and rubies scattered from it. She asked for her other anklet from the king and threw that open too, in front of the entire courtroom. It broke and rubies came out of them too, thus proving that the king had erred in executing Kovalan.

Distraught at the injustice meted out to her, with untied hair and eyes burning with fury, she cursed the then prosperous city of Madurai and reduced it to ashes. Worshipped as a deity in some parts of Tamil Nadu, she is the heroine of the Tamil epic- Silappathikaram, which means the tale of the anklet.

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Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Born in 1897 and raised in Calcutta,  his father was a famous lawyer.  He was sent to England to study.  In England, he passed the Indian Civil Services Exam. The Jallianwalabagh massacre made him quit Civil Services training in England and in 1921 he came back to India.

It was then that he met Mahatma Gandhi, and joined the Indian National Congress.  He was arrested and jailed by the British so many times.  And for what?  Only for saying that his people should be free.  Eventually, he fell apart from Gandhi altogether.  He could not accept Gandhi’s insistence on nonviolence.

Gandhi wanted to change human beings. Bose just wanted to free India.

In 1941, when Germany went to war with England, he went to Germany (by way of Afghanistan). He broadcasted anti-British radio programs from Berlin. He accepted support from both Germany and Japan for he believed that an ‘enemy of my enemy, can be his friend’.

In July 1943, he went to Singapore.  There he organised the Indian National Army.  In March 1944, they crossed the Burma border and stood on Indian soil.  However, when Japan and Germany eventually lost World War II, the Indian National Army had to retreat too.  Then, in 1945, it was reported that he was killed in an air crash over Taiwan.

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Tiruvalluvar

One of the most important literary figures of the world, his work, Tirukkural encompasses everything that is required for a balanced and good life on earth. The book, also known as the Ulaga Podhumarai, has 1330 couplets, with chapters on justice, relationships, conduct, and governance.

வள்ளுவன் தன்னை உலகினுக்கே – தந்து
வான்புகழ் கொண்ட தமிழ்நாடு

sang the legendary poet, Bharathiyar. (By giving the world, Valluvar, Tamilnadu attained eternal glory).

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G.U.Pope

He was born in 1820, on an island off the East coast of Canada. His family migrated to England when he was small. He traveled to South India in 1839, to spread the word of Jesus Christ.

G.U.Pope was a good student of languages, and in time became a scholar of Tamil, Sanskrit, and Telugu. He started a number of schools, and in these schools, he taught Latin, English, Hebrew, Mathematics, and Philosophy.

He decided to translate the Tirukkural, and completed the project in 1886.  Then, in 1900, he completed the translation of the Tiruvaasagam (“Sacred Utterance”).  This is a volume of hymns composed by the ninth century Shaivite Bhakti poet, Manikkavaasagar.  Tiruvaasagam is the eighth volume of the Tirumurai, the sacred anthology of Tamil Shaivite Siddhanta.

The main message of the Tiruvaasagam is that the body is temporary and we should not spend a lot of time and energy pursuing worldly comforts. Those are among the root causes of pain and sorrow.  Rather, one should pray to leave the body and attain liberation (moksha). The soul should have control over the body and not the other way round. It also said that the ultimate aim in one’s life is to reach Lord Shiva’s feet or, in Christian terms, to be in the presence of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Bharathidaasan

A rationalist poet, he adopted his name owing to his admiration of Bharathiyar. His poems are based on social issues and in a way contributed to the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu. His missions in life were to promote his mother-tongue, Thamizh, to change the idiosyncrasies arising from old traditions, and to use new formats to convey revolutionary ideas.

His poems reflect the society of his days and also echo a tune of morality and upright behaviour. He stressed the importance of being honest and also socially responsible. One of his poems that I still remember learning in my high school is this one:

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

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Avvaiyar

Avvaiyar lived in the ancient Sangam Age, over two thousand years ago.  She loved to write poetry. She wrote poems about nature, people, the universe etc. In those days, a woman writing poems was not encouraged. But she knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. She did not want to spend all her time taking care of children and a husband.  So she prayed,

“Please let me be bent, please let me be broken, please let me look in such a way so that no man would want to marry me.” 

The most important women poet of Tamil Nadu, she gave the world, Aathichoodi, which teaches moral lessons to children in a sentence. Each sentence is a story. Her friendship with Adhiyaman and her story about a Jamun tree are well known. Popular culture shows her as the one who sings songs in praise of Lord Muruga and Lord Ganesha.

*Some of the above content is hereby credited to Story Telling Institute and is used with their permission *

 

Zebra Crossing

We all know what a Zebra Crossing is, don’t we?

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Chennai is known for its signal junctions and busy roads. Everybody always seems to be in a hurry which is known by the incessant honking in signals, even before the lights turn green. The dilemma of how and when to cross the road has been there forever, especially when there is no signal for a long stretch of road and there are no traffic cops around to help you with it.

This post is a guide to help you accomplish the goal of crossing a busy road in the absence of traffic cops.

  1. First of all, take time out to observe the people around you. Take a note of their direction of movement. By now you should have noticed that people seem to slow down at one particular point on the side of the road. Go and stand there.
  2. Be patient till you have around 6-7 people on your side and also a similar number of people exactly opposite to you, looking to reach your side by crossing the road.
  3. Be alert to the traffic and at some point, you will feel taking the plunge.
  4. Stretch your hand, signalling the vehicles to slow down and start walking forward. Be rest assured that the others will follow suit from both the sides.

There you go, you just crossed the road without any hassles.

Standing endlessly at the Zebra crossing doesn’t work in Chennai. Join hands with your co-walkers and slay it I say!

 

YOLO- Chennai Saga

I am back with the “slango” language and I am taking the liberty of using YOLO, which means You Only Live Once. 

This is a pensive post, which in a way describes my life in Chennai since 2010. It is going to be a short narrative, which apparently has to be done. Also, I racked my brains for a while to get some topic for the letter ‘Y’ and fell flat on my face. Moving on…

Life in Chennai can be endearing and be intimidating at the same time. Newbies tend to get overwhelmed the moment they step onto the platform in Chennai Central. I do not blame them for one. It is nothing but fair to feel so. It so happens that most major metro cities have their railway and bus terminus crowded and noisy. Chennai is not an exception.

My life in Chennai has seen a lot of flavours. From being a rigid nerd to being a not-so-rigid nerd, I have seen a lot. A gentle word of warning though. What I have seen is only a teeny tiny portion of what Chennai has to offer.

It is said that staying in a big city, away from parents and relatives teaches a lot. Yes, it does. It transforms a person in many ways. But when that ‘Fish out of water’ feeling is accompanied by warm people around, the entire journey becomes easy.

Who knows where I shall live the rest of my life. Who knows what life has in store for me. Chennai shall be the best phase of my life, forever. It shall always occupy a special place in me.

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Xtra Silra

The blog prompt for this comes from my ever vibrant friend Buroos who lives and breathes Chennai.

Many cities have their own rules, which might even indicate borderline OCD and obsession. Chennai is no exception to that trait. From “Avoid Rajnikanth and Oh Bangalore so great” to ” CSK is supreme”, Chennai city has its own quirks that are too weird at times. One such quirky trait is the mandate of carrying coins in your wallet, when travelling by bus. MTC buses have this unwritten rule. Deboard if you don’t have exact change for the amount of ticket. I know you are gonna rip me apart asking what if one does not know the ticket fare. I counter it by saying “Always carry coins worth twenty rupees in your wallet”. 

coins-in-pile-1-DHDPeak hours, slow moving traffic and nasty passengers can make any conductor cranky and Chennai conductors super-cranky. Not to drag in the almost always “under maintenance roads”. So one just cannot help but feel sorry for them.

So to ease the situation for all of us who travel with you in the bus, carry some change with you and see the conductor be happy about it. In return, you might be blessed with some awesome, witty quips from the conductor which guarantees you wholesome entertainment for the duration of your journey.

 

We, The People of Chennai

This post is a memory. A very precious one, which would find place as a seperate chapter in my autobiography, if I ever write one that is.

I realised “We” for the first time, when my beloved city was being pounded by rains, in November- December 2015. It was a daunting time for all of us and what are the odds for a person to come and stay in Chennai from a safer place exactly two days before the fateful December 1, 2015. That was the day when Chennai had the final nail on its coffin. Or it did seem so.

Tales of despair came in from everywhere. Many parts of the city were submerged in the water that had overflown from the lakes and reservoirs. The city itself was cut off from the rest of the country, with relief materials pouring in from everywhere.

We really saw what nature could do, when pushed to its nasty extremes.

You know how it feels when the place you have lived and loved all through your life gets submerged in water? It is inexplicable.

I have never heard or been in such a situation in Chennai before this. It has been raining for the past 24+ hours non-stop and Chennai is completely isolated from other parts of the State. All the entry and exit points have been cut-off and the rail and air terminus have been shut down. Trains and flights have been cancelled and the only mode of transportation that is still plying is the bus. That is unreliable and dangerous too,given the circumstances.

We have the Indian Army deployed here for the relief work and the forecast for two more days from today looks grim. Houses in the ground and first floors are flooded and people have taken shelter in high rises.

The magical part of all these is that We are still alive and thriving.

Chennai twitter is abuzz with help pouring in,not from anywhere else, from the Chennaiites itself. More than 3000 people have opened up their homes, hotels,offices etc to provide shelter to those who are stranded. Many people have come forward to recharge the phones with a small amount so that they can get in touch with their families and loved ones and assure them about their safety. Scores of people have offered to cook a meal for the needy and services of picking those meals are underway. Several Star hotels have prepared food packets for the people and are looking for help to distribute it to those in need. Malls and cinema theatres have been magnanimous enough to offer to accomodate people for free.
So yes, we are alive and surviving.

It is a very tough situation in Chennai right now. This is the second spell of rains lashing the city in less than a month’s time and trust me we are struggling. But, we are also helping and reaching out to people in whatever small ways that we can. I have heard and seen pictures of common people giving packets of biscuits and other eatables to the Traffic cops and the Bus drivers who are working their asses off to ensure that the people are safe.

Sadly, we had to put in lots of efforts to inform our counterparts in the other parts of the country through media like Facebook and Twitter since, well, the National Media has other important things to cover and publicise, like the Sheena Bora Murder case and How Rahul Gandhi had the nerves to speak in The Parliament.

We have observed the spirit of Brother-hood from the Mumbaikars in similar situations and I am so proud to say that we are implementing that darn well too.

We are gonna survive this and come back stronger than ever. We are waiting for the rains to subside a little so that we could be back on track at the earliest.

Thanks Karthika Krishnakumar for the mention in your answer. That brought me to this question.

Thanks a lot OP, for the concern. I would suggest you to help in any small way you can, which would include sharing any post in any social media that asks for help or gives information about helpline numbers and other facilities. Your one small act could be a life saving ray of hope for someone here.

Thanks a lot again.

This was me, on December 2nd, doing whatever I can to help people connect.

More such experiences can be read in this Quora thread.

We feel proud that the barriers were broken.

Actors, Singers, Employees, Home-makers, Entrepreneurs etc came together as a family to throw open their homes to strangers in need. Malls and multiplexes did their part in accomodating people who had lost their homes to water. Chennai woke up, from its seemingly deep slumber.

A city, which might have come across as indifferent and a tad too selfish, broke its image and took to the streets. Thousands of food packets were made and packed, rehab work went on full swing and life slowly returned back to normal.

Man-made barriers were destroyed by nature, which made us destroy the barriers that we had constructed among ourselves. 

Image Source- Tehelka

Vanakkam Chennai!

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Imma Chennai City Gangsta!! 😛

Before you guys think I am crazy enough to say this, let me say I am. Chennai means that much to me. Besides having a bazillion memes that glorify Chennai and its people ( Chennai is a name, Madras is an emotion!!), this city is a pleasure to live in, except for Bangaloreans of course! *wink wink*

Now as a person who has lived in Chennai for about seven years now, let me give some tips for people who are looking to travel to the city and experience the emotion.

  • The best time to travel to Chennai would be October-November every year. We have our Decembers jinxed so far and hence I am not betting on that. However, you are welcome to join us in the mayhem and we assure you the best of our support in case you get stuck somewhere in the chaos.
  • It is wise to depend on cab services like Ola or Uber, in case you plan to use public transport extensively. For certain routes, I would also suggest Volvo city buses which are comfortable and good.
  • Do your research before you book hotels. We do have a big community who rent their places out to tourists seasonally.
  • Do not be apprehensive to try out local cuisine. There is no ‘Delhi Belly’ scare and you can go ahead and experiment all you want to.
  • Always carry water and towel with you. Its generally humid and hence you might need them to provide comfort.
  • Approach people when you feel uncomfortable. People are friendly and would definitely help you out. Do not be laid back in seeking help.
  • Enjoy the city in all its glory. The beaches, the temples, the jasmine flowers, the aromatic biryani and street food etc. Plan atleast 3-4 days so that you can get the best of all the above.

Chennai is a tourist friendly place and I swear you would not regret choosing to visit.

Ulaga Nayakan

When one can go and write about the style factor, one should also write about the talent factor. That is what fairplay teaches us. Who else can fit into the tag of ‘Ulaga Nayakan’ better than Padmashri Kamal Hassan?

Born in the southern town of Paramakudi, Kamal Hassan has been around, in the filmdom, since one can remember. The earliest memory of seeing Kamal Hassan in movies in like the one in the image below, probably a tad younger too.

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He has been acting for a very long while now and trust me when I say that he is one actor who would fit in to any role given to him with elan and do his homework meticulously. Also, he is one actor who doesn’t bother about his leading ladies much. Remember Kovai Sarala in Sathi Leelavathy?

Personally I have a few movies of him that are close to my heart. Sathi Leelavathy, Anbe Sivam, Panchathanthiram, Vasool Raja MBBS etc to name a few. These movies make my day, every time I watch them and are worth every minute I spend watching them.

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He is one actor who is unabashedly himself in real life and is multi talented. He can write poetry and screenplays, debate and sing with equal mastery, just as acting. Many of his movies have not been commercially successful when they were released, but went on to become cult movies later on.

While people fell for the Superstar for his charm and style, Ulaganayakan ensnared people with his sheer talent and superfine acting. He is probably the only actor now, who effortlessly can be called as an ‘actor’.

Do watch his movies to catch various faces of Ulaganayakan. 

 

Sowcarpettai

This post has been written by a good friend Kishor.  He is a story teller and a very talented person who has an inclination towards comedy and movies.  His posts can be read at Blind Man’s Bluff and you can check his videos out at “Moving Images” on YouTube. 

Sowcarpettai – First thing that comes to mind is “Saroja, samaan nikaalo”. But this place has a rich history and is a very distinct neighborhood. Sowcarpettai or Sowcarpet has a huge Marwari population. 

I moved from Chennai to Cuddalore during my high school days and one thing that Cuddalore has in common with Sowcarpet is the Marwari population. Cuddalore is home to many migrants from Rajasthan and Gujarat and they share links with the people from Sowcarpet. 
The street is a time capsule, as nothing drastic has changed in this area for decades now. We all know the wholesale and money lending shops that decorate Sowcarpet, but Sowcarpet also preserves one the oldest identity of “Madras” – Rickshaws. Once upon a time, these 3-wheeled wonders were the identity of Madras. With a rich history, rickshawalas were essential to everyday lives of Madras-vaasis as much as the milkmen and paperboys. So much so that they were portrayed by the one and only MGR in his movie. Losing their business to autos, the once hundreds in number rickshaws have dwindled down to about one hundred now and they all predominantly run in Sowcarpet. Thanks to the continued patronage of the Marwaris in Sowcarpet, the tell-tale three wheels still turn. 

Sowcarpet is close to Parrys Corner and the Central Station. Try the lassi while you are there and holi is the best time here to authentically drench in vivid colors.

If you are in the mood for a quick trip to the North of India, just catch any bus to Parrys Corner and you should reach your own personal Rajasthan.

Sowcarpet is also the best place to taste chaats and North Indian sweets.  You can also shop till you drop there and find amazing tailors nearby.  

The beautiful images found here are by a fellow blogger, Srivatsan, whose stories can be found here. 

Rajnikanth

This post is about the one and only thalaivar (leader) for the film crazy population down south, Rajnikanth.  

Born as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, thalaivar hails from humble backgrounds.  His rags-to-riches story is very similar to many of his onscreen avatars.  He brought in a distinct style into the Tamil filmdom, which till date is revered and adored by millions out there. 
Well known for his swag, Rajnikanth is said to be a very spiritual person.  His annual trip to the silent peaks and valleys of the Himalayas is a well known secret and he is unperturbed to stand by his religion.  

His movies tend to be a tad unrealistic given the ground reality, usually with big budgets and huge expectations.  His fan- following that would easily run to millions, go to crazy levels to show their adoration to their beloved superstar.  Every now and then people wait to know his political stance, which seems to be a well guarded secret.  

He rose to Superstardom by playing normal characters that one would meet in their daily lives.  His characters had such a connect with the masses that the people lifted him up to place on a pedestal and worship him as the one and only THALAIVAR.  

His fame can be understood by the fact that Bollywood had a song dedicated to him, he is synonymous with the word Madras, and well, Google throws out his pictures when I look up the term ‘Thalaivar’. 

Truly swag!!