My grandmother was a vivacious character for her time and age. The mother of nine children, each with their own character like the Navagraha gods – it must have been a humongous task holding the family together. Add to the mix, my grand-father, and you have a gripping sitcom that could run for decades.

My grand-parents lived in the village with their brood. It fell on my grand-mother’s shoulders to procure provisions, feed the family, feed anybody who comes begging and feed the constant barrage of visitors (my grandfather was known for his generosity, and many a mendicant has eaten my grandma’s cooking). Monthly once, she and her friends would undertake the journey to the city and buy provisions for the month ahead. Inventory management and reorder levels were second nature to these maami’s.

Meenakshi Maami, Visalam Maami (my grandmother) and some other maami. (My father regales these stories to us, and I forgot the name of the third maami.) It can’t be too difficult to guess – we South Indians like to think complexity stems from length and scoff at variety and modernity. So, you can pick Lakshmi maami or Jayam maami – both are equally probable. Let’s pick Jayam Maami for the purpose of this story.

These maamis had zest and fervour. But, they carefully concealed it behind 9 yards of saree each.

Which other mother of nine would hurriedly finish her monthly purchases in a blurry hour or so, and go charging towards the Sona-Mina-Tina theatre complex for a back-to-back 3 movie marathon movie-watching adventure?! (Note: No movie was considered worth the money if it was shorter than 3 hours and 15 minutes!)
Ayyo, Visalam, puli vaanganum” (We must buy tamarind)

Parava illai Jayam – ennutta irukku, naan tharaen. Padam aarambichuduvan” (Oh come on Jayam, I’ll give you some, the movie is going to start!)

Once in the theatre, they would watch a movie per theatre. An MGR movie in Sona followed by a Gemini movie in Mina and a Jaishankar movie in Tina.

The trio would then trump home with all the purchases where the kids would be waiting with their hearts a-flutter! You see, they would get to hear the stories from the three adventurous dames, who escaped into their fantasy world for all of a day! After lunch, the kids from Meenakshi Maami, Visalam Maami & Jayam Maami would gather around their mothers. I would like to imagine a setting like a village school sans desks and chairs. All the children looking up eagerly to hear the story.

Apparently, my grand-mother’s brood being the largest, she got the honour of primary narrative lead. In loose translation, it would go like this:
Visalam: blah..blah..MGR came and he was just rescuing Saroja Devi, when that nasty fellow came!

Meenakshi: Oh .. that fellow! One day, I would like to capture him – what a rowdy element he is!

*The kids knew the choice adjectives must all refer to the most preferred villain of Tamil Cinema at the time – M.N.Nambiar*

Visalam: And then, MGR ran with his sword just before that horrible fellow touched Saroja Devi and started fighting him. He pushed him to the floor and …

Jayam: Ayyo Visalam – he runs with the sword in the Gemini movie with K.R.Vijaya tied to the tree illayo? In this one, they fight over the upturned drums right?

Visalam, after a moment’s contemplation, may or may not agree with Jayam maami’s point, and proceed. Nambiar must have been the villain in all the three movies, and it must have been rather hard remembering the one in which he fought fist-to-fist, and the one where he put up a valiant sword-fight.

The resulting story essentially had all three movies tied haphazardly with various elements of drama and villainy suffused to form a murky liquid! Any director would have killed for the script – an entirely new movie would have arisen from the effort.

Yet, it was M.N.Nambiar who tied all these narrations together. The quintessential villain in over 1000 Tamil movies – he must have had a thousand curses directed at him every time he stepped onto the screen. It was hard imagining this man, who was the object of every maami’s source of apprehension in those movies, was the pious Aiyappa devotee that all the Maami’s approved off in real life.

A tribute to M.N.Nambiar – Tamilians would hardly have savoured the movie experience the same way without this personality!

The Tale of Three Fabrics

** To be read in the context of Indian reverence of the Silk (Pattu) **

Cotton looked decidedly dull in his lumpy lack-lustre attire. He yearned for his moments of fame. In one of Cotton’s more thwarted moments, he had defined fame as being photo-worthy at South Indian weddings for himself.

Cotton had learned from the moment he had sprouted that his life was to be plain. Cotton tried to take on vibrant colours and shocking patterns while weaving. Time passed- things changed and fashion trends favoured Cotton – cotton was fashionable! However, the more people wanted to wear Cotton in the hot plains of India, the more Cotton’s obsession grew – he wanted to be accepted as wedding attire in South Indian Tamilian weddings.

Cotton cursed Silk and swore at it, to no avail.

He tried various angles of argument:

“I come from crop”

“I look brilliant”

“I make you as comfortable as it is possible to be when you are sitting in front of a huge fire in the 90 degree heat!” he wailed. But, he was dragged out – left to lament and comfort himself in the 90 degree heat.

Wool, meanwhile was definitely more revered in the colder regions, but could not match up to Silk either. “Very useful”, everybody conceded, even the freshly fleeced sheep shiveringly acknowledged that wool was a fine material. T’was the age of the dawning cinema – Tinsel town had started shooting all the garish songs in the colder reaches of the mountainside. Suddenly, film crews floated to the coldest regions to shoot for songs featuring men and women dancing around trees. Wool looked on with yearning – his moment was fame was just there, he thought. The Bollywood film stars flocked to the cold wrapped in the best woollen with a hot cuppa tea in their hands. Every single strand in the sweaters of Hema Malini and Sharmila Tagore preened themselves when the camera cried – “One two & three!”.

What should happen?! Oh the cruelty – the disdain of being discarded just before prancing in front of the camera in silk was too much for the woollen to bear.

“I am not going to keep you warm when you come running back and put me on again”, thought the sweaters grumpily. A representation is what is needed wool decided. The Wool Positive Publicity Committee was set up and spent years trying to get people to see the sense behind seeing film stars dancing in front of mounds of snow with nothing but a thin silk saree. Things changed – soon, actresses did start appearing with warmer clothes, but they cut straight through wool, and went to trendy leather jackets.

And so, you can still hear wool whimpering about unfair treatment when you pass by. Wool’s hidden desire was to attain fame through the camera. But its wishes were sadly ignored. Another grumpy fabric.

Silk meanwhile apparently had everything going for him. He had roads built for his comfort and transport. Royalty flocked to him. Not a single function – big or small went by without silk it seemed. Yet, silk was the unhappiest of all. All he yearned for, ever, was to be left alone.
There were those who had few silk clothes and brandished them for every function. The old silks would lie wanting nothing more to be left alone – right next to the crisp enthusiastic cotton or the woollen waiting for a glimpse of the outer world. But no, the humans would unfailingly parade the same silks around everytime. It mattered not that every memory of themselves would be in one of the same silks – it was silk and that was all. One could practically see the silk fibre yawning in the photographs.

So, it was that Silk remained unhappy too.

One day, the three unhappy fabrics opened up and talked in the almirah – a mix may change the mindset they said.

And that is the story behind the Cotton Silks & Cotton wool and the Silk wools! Every fabric had a little bit of their urge satisfied. People ventured to appear in Photographs with fabric other than silk for once.

John McCain won!

It was a well fought race – both players had positives and negatives that were objectively weighed by the voter turn-out and the decision was clear. In the hot presidential election between John McCain Vs Obama, John Mc Cain won!

I don’t know what the headlines are telling you these days – but this is the verdict.

Pink post-it notes belonged to Obama and yellow post-it notes belonged to McCain. The electoral base were the 3-4 year olds in my daughter’s classroom (where else?!) They were being taught the process of voting and it served as an exercise in counting too. I asked my daughter who she voted for – she launched into a recap of the decisions behind her friends’ choice of colours. They had evidently not taught them about ballot secrecy!

My daughter’s friend chose pink because she was wearing a pink jacket. Most of the boys shied away from pink because they thought it was a girl’s colour (Poor Obama – he might have been prepared to take on the tax laws and the health care system, but he didn’t know that was coming!)

Finally, they all got to count and decide the winner. Fourteen had chosen yellow and ten had chosen pink. So, it was decided that John Mc Cain won the presidential race.

Looking forward to a good tenure under Obama’s leadership,

Yours truly.

A tribute to Michael Crichton

I feel saddened by the death of Michael Crichton. Is it the selfish thought that I would not see another well-researched book intertwined with his fine imagination again? (well, after the one scheduled for release in May 09). It may well be the case.

Nevertheless, here is my tribute to a fertile mind – thank you for all those hours you transported me to another world – a high-paced, adventure filled world in which I would never belong , but one to which I can escape in the confines of my mind.

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