Saturday, December 3, 2016

I present..English mariyumma

When I wind up for the day, and my feet  up, I reflect on the hours that has bid good bye forever. Was it eventful, was it beautiful, did it brighten any lives..or did anybody brighten mine? Some days you feel you could have done much more, and I chide myself to be more aware of precious time. You fit in everything in the space of time, and if you so desire, with more awareness, it could turn out to be beautiful memories.

Turn of events meander through people and places and chance encounters towards incidents that matter. That is how I met ninety year old Maliyekkal Mariyumma or popularly known as 'English Mariyumma'.  Here goes the turn of events.  My husband introduces me to his new manger..Meet Onassis..Onassis? Despite knowing that hubby wouldn’t approve..I blurted, "How did you get your name?". he told me that he came from "The Maliyekkal family" of Tellicherry and his father was a good reader, avid movie goer and a man of the world..hence given the name after the Greek tycoon..Onassis. 

We were discussing the idea of having a Malabar snack fest, as he said that his wife was an expert in traditional Muslim snacks. So it happened that they came over with a truckload of snacks..only to swoon when they knew that we were veggies. Then we were invited there to a delicious spread of veg snacks..and more.. warmer stories and melodies. An aged and sick aunt who had no children were living with them..though of poor health..she sang us old songs which they compose to be sung on special occasions, like the welcoming of the groom, a song when the radio revolution appeared..etc. A casual mention of their aunt, English Mariyumma..sparked a fire in me..I liked what I heard, and the very next day took off to Tellicherry again to spend a day of stories, with simple people who had nothing but love in their hearts..blessed me!

 The Maliyekkal house...

The Maliyekkal House stood tall and proud, and beside it lived English Mariyumma.  We rang the bell and there she is..English Mariyumma..opened the lock of the grilled veranda and invited me in..Old furniture whispered sweet nothings, and medals and mementos occupied a showcase. Photographs which are history..which made a distinct mark, where all over the walls. I was floored by her innocence, her beauty, her warmth..Her love for people strikes you as soon as you meet her, her love of narration warms you to her.. her pot was brimming with stories .. she began…how  her father was a man ahead of his times and made her and her sisters join an English Convent Sacred Hearts Girls High school. A conservative society threw stones..but the new school and her class mates totally mesmerized her..she went in a covered cycle rickshaw and she was the only Muslim girl at shool, and the only girl who knew no English. She told her dad that she stood out like a sore thumb..English tuition followed and she soon mastered the language.  She used to go to her aunt’s house for lunch, but had to discontinue as miscreants threw stones at her lunch was sent to school, and the teachers arranged a special room for her to do her prayers and have lunch.
Grand mother of English mariyumma
Her grand mother, who had started the “Muslim MaHila Samajam” for girls irrespective of caste and creed  was her inspiration .Tailoring classes were conducted and so many were given  a means of livelihood. Many eminent personalities visited the Samaj, and annual days were conducted with gusto.

She recalls the times where she was invited to speak,and her speeches in English won her standing ovations, and motivated girls to continue their studies. I aked her to pose for a pic and asked about the chain she wore in the photos I saw..Immediately she fished out two beautifully crafted gold chains and her daughter helped her clasp it. Then she asked for the album , and out came reels and reels of memories. Pictures with Indira Gandhi..she told me she still favors the Congress..
with Smt Indira Gandhi

There was a picture with Lakshmi Nair (the Cookery queen of the Malayalam Television), who  had come to cook with her, hearing of her culinary prowess..she taught Lakshmi Nair her famous “Panjaara paata”  and lace rotis, and nura pathal.  As we leafed through the album, her lean finger pointed to the people in it..all etched in her memory, and her enthusiasm and innocence touched my heart. It was not a business she was was a charity project.. each picture had a story behind and we laughed over so many little trivials. I could sit there for ages, shall come back again..if I had to touch the tip of the iceberg that she is..Have to come back another day and visit the ancient “Maliyekkal House”. 

Now,  my feet is up on the bed, I snuggled in happily recalling a special day..a day that I wished was longer..any way it will linger for ever..reach..

With the bishop

Here she comes adorned with her colorful jewelry

with her husband


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Touching the Capital city..Delhi

 Paris was a place among the stars, and also like the proverbial story of the little child crying for the moon. travel was not among my hubby's priorities, hence the travel bug loses out and is never persuasive. Until one day I received a wedding invitation from my cousin in Paris..
on our way..

A beautiful card, glanced at it, marveled at the romantic image of the couple and left it at that. Time flew and a casual encounter with the bride's aunt at a store sculpted my trip...Chandini.."aren't you coming for the wedding? We are going and can't wait go see the castle wedding" .honestly...had not even bothered to look up the venue of the wedding...and the word castle opened up a million memories. ?my Enid Blyton days...and the adventures in the castle and the pictures of them had always fascinated speared and chiseled the rest of the way..Thibery Castle came into view and I asked myself "Am I gonna miss this? Next was putting it up before the Council....My Husband. He was in no way intrigued by the castles I usually spin in the air, and Castles were not among his favorite subjects, he would rather dream of another business project, but he saw my point....Life is a network of experiences.and this would be a platter of events which he knew money alone cannot buy. Though the mundane is his comfort zone..he yielded and murmured a Yes...Sarang, my elder son said that he was going to Greece to attend his friend's wedding and so he opted out. so it was decided that  my younger son, Sanyanth three of us wd go..Switzerland..the snow clad mountains beckoned..the gondolas of Venice..a dream..the gladiators of Rome. The bull fights in Spain, Athens and Greece..where the beautiful Cleopatra reigned and the Trojan War was fought... the ceramic and tiled walls of Morocco. Wanted to roam the streets of Amsterdam..I wanted to see them sent hours browsing nd haggling on the places to go..and zeroed in on the Swiss Mountains, Rome and Italy..but a business opportunity appeared and Santhosh opted out. He needed to be in Dubai.. so even thought of cancelling the trip..but thank my stars, or stripes..I had the good sense to opt going with my son..Hurraayy..

  When we were small, my great uncle (the grandfather of the bride), had presented me and my brother a toy television, which would show us all the sights of Paris, and those sights are going to be live before me... Days flew by, and I was on the flight to Delhi, and I was delighted to see the airport of the capital city...A good three hours to browse through the stores...  Massive Yoga Mudras which adorned the walls put up a spectacular sight, thereby,  the great culture and the essence of ancient Indian culture which dictates a healthy lifestyle  and which the world has embraced...greets you when you enter the country..felt waves of patriotism surge up and felt proud to be an Indian..though I was always a proud Indian, I had never felt the pangs of patriotism except on Independence day.. Slogans of Swacch 'Bharath was everywhere..hope slowly at least, the dream of a clean India blossoms into a reality, than stay on slogans and posters.. Indian art and culture displayed beautifully by the various stores..The Ishaana store by the Isha foundation was spectacular...books and cds, teachings OF THE VARIOUS Gurus... we sure should be a peace loving country..a waterbody which said the water was energized, a doctor to prescribe a massage that suits your health and fits your budget,, ethnic jewelry, health foods and ayurvedic cosmetics, a palm reader, which made me involuntarily pull my hand back.. a coffee shop, and exquisite figurines which will chase you in your dreams. Soft therapeutic music in the background,  subtle and soft lighting..a stage was set for music and dance.  Bells tinkle and chime.. Bharath in a a glittering capsule to take back home..what it stands for and how it guides you to a healthy and holistic lifestyle, Pashmina shawls worth a fortune, spices for which we had to pay a heavy price..Just think of it…if it was not for the spices, would the foreign powers sail in? The British would have left us alone…

note the mudras

ivory elephant studded with gems

color and more color

energised water... a cafe behind

chimes and charms

The  visual appeal is given much thought.. note the intricate bangle stand

The figurinessteal your heart

Indian tea
Add caption

the departure lounge

In Paris soil..

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Garrison Cemetry

  A private abode for the dead...                  Bumping into somebody, sometimes charts a different course to your day ..your priorities change and you catch up on good old stories and giggle, you unexpected series of events on a monotonous day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A pilgrimage to remember

                                          Pilgrimages for some  are done as a routine, or on special festivals or when people come visit their native shores for vacations. For some it is a rejuvenation,  for others,  it becomes a part of the holiday season when the family can spend precious time together.  For us… it has to be decreed…It was never ever taken on our own will and vision..To drag Santhosh to the nearest temple is a mammoth task, and a losing battle, and now find it easier to go and converse and bask in the Lord’s glory alone..  So this time the decreed  destination was Pillayar petti.. a drive of around fifteen hours, and he couldn’t wait to be there and asked me to put aside a close wedding…I was adamant that we go for the wedding, and the next day we set off.. For Santhosh, the wheel is his pal and soulmate..he shares the most intimate conversations and bares his heart out and also schemes and plots and plans with the wheel in his hand, and for me as soon as the seat belt is fastened, sleep drifts in and blissful slumber..

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mysore with Roopu

Three days spent in gay abandon….and a lot of aches and pains… laughter and ghost stories to ease it off. Roopu, alias Sai Roopa  is Santosh  first cousin, who is married to Ravi, a Maharashtrian and lives in Nasik.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Music from the Royal Kuthiramalika Palace

The Kuthiramalika Palace

The invitation  for the Swathi Sangeethotsav 2015  from Prince Rama Varma stared at me from my laptop,  and I tried brushing it off like I do with all the normal invites which needs me to stroll off the beaten track. But a voice quipped.. "Don’t you want to go?" … again I brushed it away.. Trivandrum by train me it meant rats, running over me, roaches scurrying, and smelly toilets..well not my cuppatea  It persisted.. "I bet you do".. No I don’t..The voice taunted me..Oh well I would love to go, but the reunion round the corner,(I was the team leader for the school reunion which was scheduled  the very next week) my team would not hear of it. It would sound insane.. When I used to see the travelogue..”Ten things to do before you die”.. I would tell myself..what would it be? Well prioritizing is a hard task, but one thing I wanted to do was..attend Prince Varma’s concert in the 200 year old Kuthiramalika palace..But now with the invite staring at me from my laptop in Kannur, I was not sure... Then I found a personal note from the Prince himself.. “Watch me on home turf.”

 I put the case up with my hubby,.one more of my idiosyncrasies, he had better things to deal with or so he thinks..well, no help there. I picked up the phone and rung Dr Geetha, who spares two days  a year for the Swathi Festival., and another two days for the Navarathri fest. I asked her to book the tickets for me, a day later, . She came home to hand over the ticket to me. When asked about the fest she said that once you go, nothing can pull you back from attending it the next year. She and Dr. Kumudham, who is the Prince’s aunt, would go the previous day so that they could hear  Sanjay Subrahmanyam, a popular Carnatic vocalist who always kick starts the fest.

That done, I felt the ethereal world of Mahraj Swathithirunal and his beautiful compositions  revolving around me..I felt as if I was in the middle of the Milky way..  the  twinkling stars being his compositions.  In my mind’s eye, the oil lamps flickered in the Kuthiramalika palace and the old bearded man was  refilling the lamps with a air of accustomed familiarity.. The school reunion and it’s demands were dealt with, with a spring in my step and of course Aliveni( one of my top fav Swathi compositions) on my lips. Would he(Rama Varma) sing Aliveni? should I send him a request? Nope… shall wait and see.
A brief sketch on the fest.  The Swathithirunal Sangeethotsav  is a music fest being conducted by the  Travancore Trust, in the courtyard of the Kuthiramalika palace, known as Mansion of Horses,  built by Swathithirunal himself. The name Kuthiramalika stems from the  one hundred and twenty two carved horses which serve as brackets supporting the roof.  The fest is not
ticketed. The scion of the Travancore Royal family, Prince Rama Varma, a musician himself, is on the helm now, and he makes sure that rare compositions are unearthed and sung. It starts on the first week of January, an auspicious start for a new  year.
Now ,about the Maharaj himself…...Long Long ago, that is, two hundred and two yrs back,  he was born to Queen Gowri  Lakshmi   and Raj Raja Varma of Changanasseri  Palace.  He was born  when the star sign swathi was ruling.. hence Swathi Thirunal..His coronation happened, when   he was already reigning supreme, in his mother’s womb. Hence was endowed with  the title Garbha Sreeman.  The famous lullaby,” omana thingal kidavoo” was composed for the newborn  by Iriyamman thampi who was a close relative.
 He reigned under the regency of first his mother and then his aunt Gowri Parvathy Bayi. When he turned sixteen , he  ruled with full powers till his death in 1846..a short span of thirty three years. But much water did gush under the bridge during his rule, as it was an eventful  thirty six years.  I felt I should write a bit about his musical prowess, but then what scrolled before me swept me off my feet..
Two hundred years back,  events were chronicled with diligence by the British, so a clear picture of the life of Maharaj is left  on a platter. Even then, some claim that the Maharaj never existed!!  He was born into a turbulent scenario, the British leaving no stone unturned  to find ways and means to annexe the state.

 "A brilliant lad" what historians make of him..and his family took keen interest in his studies which he lapped up with  ease..  He had an affinity for languages and that can be seen in his  multi lingual compositions. Col Welsh, on a visit to the palace, was dumbfounded when he came face to face with the brilliant prowess this lad had.  The intricacies of geometry was found in our Vedas..he informed Col Welsh and stated that the word Geometry came from the Sanskrit word Jyamithi, along with hexagon,  heptagon, etc. Col Welsh stated that this boy would be one of the best sovereigns of the finest state in India.
Wiki states that he had a well defined code of laws,  introduced English education,  installed the first Govt Printing Press,  the first manuscript library, and his keen interest in the stars and the sun and it’s ways made him start the first observatory.
Recently, I had read a post about Mulakkaram or breast tax. A tax exhorted  by the Travancore Rulers, from Dalit  ladies who chose to cover their breasts. I wondered if Swathi thirunal  had done anything about it, and  gingerly  googled… ahhh….relieved…yes,  he had.  A  reformist , Ayya Vaikundar,  had put forth pleas and agitations, for equal rights.( and it is believed that  later, Maharaj himself became his follower),  he had  to repeal the  act and several others which were forced upon the Dalits.
His keen passion in the arts has left us a treasure chest of compositions for every Malayali to flaunt..but how many of us know him?.  Just a glance at the other great musicians , be it Carnatic or Hindustani,  stick to their chosen genre, language, and  chosen deity on whom their compositions revolve.  I am tempted to draw columns , as in school, and write down  a comparitive study between the composers of yore.  The compositions of olden time musicians are propagated  through  their disciples or shishya parampara.  But Swathi thirunnal Maharaj was a ruling King, and so we can very well imagine  the oppressive time he would have had, as Prince Varma, his worthy descendant puts it,” he was born at a wrong time and place”.  Being a ruling King, he  was able to import musicians from all over India…. Not only did he listen to them, he himself composed music in Sanskrit, Telugu, Malayalam, Mani pravalam,braj bhasha and Kannada.   He composed Swarajathis, Jathiswarams, Varnams, Thana varnams, Keerthanams, Ragamalikas, Thillanas, Padams, and Javalis in the Carnatic style, and,  Dhrupads, Khayals, thumris, Bhajans,  Horis, Tappas, and Taranas in Hindustani style.
Cannot help pondering on how talents are bestowed on mankind, how is t doled out and what would be the criteria? Previous karma?  

Have strayed from music, but you have to know the man… 
So in the present..8.30 p.m and I boarded  the train..a three tier compartment,  the count down had started. Immediately, the girl next to me wanted to go to sleep, that means I have to lie down too..I thought of the  unfortunate ones who are stuck in bed for various reasons, and stopped cribbing to myself….. the train chugged me to sleep.  Nights  are not still in trains… snores of varied tones and  decibels and durations rent the air. Mobile ring tones pierced the  snores and grunts.. hungry babies cried for the breast, and old ladies were assisted to the loo… cockroaches heard my prayers and hid themselves for a night…no two nights.. rats were not to be seen, guess they needed  a lil bit of peace and quiet .
It was Monday, so chances of me going for a tour of the palace did not materialize as it was closed on Mondays.

 So at the venue by six and the first three rows were all taken..I couldn't believe I was there.  The evening sun had mellowed and the golden rays  splashed benevolently on the  majestic  laterite structure.  The lamps were being lit and my favorite character, the old man with the beard, moved slowly from one lamp to the other. The coconut  leaf streamers were  dancing in the slight breeze..mandha maruthann ( lazy breeze) as Swathitirunal  Mharaj  puts it. the wide corridors reminded me of Nagaavalli in the movie Manichitrathazhu..the likes of her must have danced their way through these very corridors. 
I watched the crowd, an eclectic blend of  The East and the West, the North and the South. Most of them were happily clicking pictures. Some were busy catching up on the year gone by, some makiing new acquaintances, some waiting with an air of always have been here look, some scanning  for the people who were missing this year, maybe..  I asked somebody whether it was alright to take pictures..pat came the reply.”with Varmaji, anything is okay, no restrictions” in this age of cut throat  copyright issues, and rules and norms, Prince Varma’s music and his lessons and discourses all come right through to the  river..Oh no!! look at the Cauvery issue..I think it is like mandha maruthan ( soft breeze) again..not bargained..and  not curtailed..

An air of apprehension and impatience hung in the air..There he is, Ashwathi Thirunal Rama Varma,  a direct descendant of The Maharaja.. a worthy descendant or  is  he the Maharaja himself..reborn? to spread the work he had started and left midway? Simple and unassuming he greets us with folded hands and we relaxed and then it was magic….. His devoted student Amrutha Venkatesh, follows his footsteps and gave the Prince and his accompanists a befitting introduction, with splashes of humor strewn throughout.. He started with a pada varnam in Kamas..Enchantment.  a delight , a play of swaraksharas, where the note and the syllable in the sahithya  coincides. There he is…a bit about the song.. A beautiful metaphor of the chakora bird lamenting for the moon, and leaves the question..what good does a  mere reflection of the moon in a bejewelled mirror do for the bird?    Poets from the renowned Kalidasa  to the contemporary poets use this  to depict someone yearning for something which cannot be attained.

The melodious strains offering us a journey to heaven…a free a golden chariot..soaring high..away from the big bad world..the chains of responsibilities let go off me for a song..with conditions apply, like Cinderella…
The team on stage.. all great artists in their own right.. brilliant and vibrant.. giving, taking and sharing..The rapport the Prince shares with his accompanists on stage,you cannot see elsewhere.
There comes Aliveni.


All good things must come to an end..and my train is waiting… a pic with the Prince and off to the station. I bid a mental goodbye to the old man who was nowhere to be seen..  There was time to grab dinner from the railway refreshment stall..oily vadas, fried hours earlier, soggy and soaked in oil, and dosas which resembled a cosy quilt were our only options. I settled for tea and a rustic cake which I dipped in the hot tea. Was certainly not in a mood to complain..with my heart intoxicated and dull from the mandha maruthan… hunger pangs lost its persuasiveness and knew it did not stand a chance to win today. The station literally stank.. Swachh Bharath campaigns has not made the necessary impact.  The capital city ..where tourists .would step down  from the train to God’s own country..would have to step into the city with  their noses covered and breath held tight. The pilgrims to the sacred Shabarimala Shrine were  sleeping on the bare platform, waiting for the connecting trains, and we groped our way through them, careful not to step on them. The train arrived and our seat was near the end ..means near the stink.. How was I to bear this?.. A voice quipped in…” Switch tracks”… Lo and behold.. Aliveni..endhu cheyvu.. andharyanini maanini… no stink, no snores, no grunts.. Bliss.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The knife grinder's visit

The knife  grinder stood at the gate, checking that the dog was secure in its cage.  my maid informed me that all the knives has to be sharpened so please let him come he cycled in. 
He asked for my mother in law and was shocked to hear that she was no more. It has been more than two years since he came this way.