The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

A Version of this article appeared in India Currents Mar 2017 issue titled ‘Muse, Tweens & Teens’

The husband may not be able to carry a tune to get the car parked, but you can’t fault him with lyrics. In fact, he once won a singing competition.  The judges pleaded with him to not sing, but to simply recite the beautiful words in the song, and their team sailed home with the cup (or whatever it is these college competitions have the budget to give).  He won it solely on the strength of his lyrics. For being able to appreciate the beauty of the poetry in the lyrics. The husband’s Antakshiri prize is rather like Bertie Wooster’s Scripture prize, and is much bandied about in our home.

It is also the husband who stops a song from lilting and mesmerizing and repeats the words – his eyes shining with the hidden meaning in the rhythmic poetic delights of the verse. I must admit some of the songs have such a beautiful lyrical quality about them, that had he not stopped and replayed them, I would have been completely lost in the melody of the piece. When your breath produces a rainbow or the mists clear to reveal your innermost thoughts or whatever it is, it makes you smile a little at the metaphor. Things you would not ordinarily stop to think and appreciate.

முன் அந்திச் சாரல் நீ
முன் ஜென்மத் தேடல் நீ
நான் தூங்கும் நேரத்தில்
தொலைதூரத்தில் வரும் பாடல் நீ
பூ பூத்த சாலை நீ
புலராத காலை நீ
விடிந்தாலும் தூக்கத்தில்
விழி ஓரத்தில்
வரும் கனவு நீ..

Incidentally, the guy who waxes lyrical at hidden meanings in poetic songs is also the guy who listens to ‘Why this kolaveri kolaveri dee?’ and introduced me to what is known as ‘Gaana’ songs. Viz. stuff that makes you want to sit down and pull out each strand of hair one at a time.

One day the daughter set out to make me listen to some of the songs that their generation listens to. You know the cool stuff?  So, we did, and I was wondering when the husband who usually listens with her, will stop the song to appreciate and discern inner meanings and things, but he did not find the need to:

Won’t you have a cup of coffee with me? We used to drink coffee together, but don’t anymore. I miss you when I drink coffee these days.

There was no hidden meaning – could the coffee refer to life? But still there was no building on the coffee theme. Hardly the kind of stuff that needs the brain cells to stir.

“Are there any other songs that we can listen to – you know where it is not a guy yearning for a girl, or vice-versa”, I asked. “Or with those wonderful hidden meanings like in poems?”

The daughter shook the head. “Well, teenagers mostly listen to stuff about love”, she said rolling her eyes. “Especially famous songs ma – it is like you are just talking with a guitar strumming in the background.”, said the daughter scornfully.


I am not a teenager anymore, so I can’t say whether the teens today are happy with the fare laid out in front of them, but I would have liked some variety. Sure, it is the time for the stirrings of the teenage hormones and what-not, but that is not the only awakening one finds in the teenage body and mind is it?

It is also the time for confusion about life and career choices, the time when it truly feels like you can tap into your reserves and see how well you can perform in that game, or how competitive you can get on that track. It is the time the mind is grappling trigonometry and unraveling the beautiful complexity of organic chemistry, the time you are surprised at the lucidity with which artists can tap into their inner stamina and creativity and unleash things on canvas or on stage. It is the time for broadening of our intellectual horizons, and the time to goof off and make questionable choices with friends. It is the time you freak out after lighting candles on the Ouija board.

It is the time you read Dostoevsky and ponder upon life. It is the time you make fun of soppy love stories, but secretly hope for your own Prince Charming one day. It is a time of intense moral learnings and the time when crushes are a part of life.

You know how we see these caricatures in cartoons, with an abnormal potato sized head tottering on pea sized bodies? It seems the song industry is like that when it comes to love. Sure love is a potent force, but is all love of the sexual kind? Surely not. Why not write a beautiful song about friendship, why not write about abrasive teachers and the camaraderie that goes on with the children while dealing with it? Or a funny song about goofing off PE.

Teenage angst is a whole package, it does not just mean broken hearts and tears when people fall apart. If song lyrics are stuck in teen brains all day long, why not give it some work and smile inwardly when you get that hard metaphor?

Here is a call to all you smart teenagers, pre-teens out there. Dazzle us with your breadth and depth of your making sense of the world. For as adults, we still don’t know, but most of us have given in to the familiarity of routine and the rigmarole of paying bills. What we need is the thirst and energy of youth, and that you can gift to us with your poetic lyrics, your songs and your view of the troubled world.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
 How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
 How do you find a word that means Maria?
 A flibbertigibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
 Many a thing she ought to understand
 But how do you make her stay
 And listen to all you say
 How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

The Smartphone Challenge

I had volunteered to help out for the variety show at the daughter’s school and part of the rigmarole was to just keep an eye on some kids for some time. All very vague and intriguing thus far. I stepped smartly into the room, confidence oozing at every step till I drank the scene in front of me. It is surprising the number of ways in which children can affect you. These children had sass and verve, not to mention talent and energy. They were there for a talent show after all. One look into those eyes convinced me that they thought nothing of smashing up the egg crate and making omelets on your head or bundling up stray cats in twin sized bedsheets, but will not do. It did not help that they were dressed up for the occasion. Fairy queens, station thugs , band majors and kung fu masters swam before my eyes.

I bleated out a tentative “Hi” to the children and told them to make themselves comfortable.

Lesson #! : Do not tell children to make themselves comfortable in a room where they are not supposed to touch the walls with greasy hands, touch the books on the shelves, play with the water faucet in the corner, switch on the computer or do anything related to art projects.

As I said this, another volunteer (AV from now on) came up to me and whispered that the room was not to be disturbed from its current state and the children were to remain in the room for a span of three hours. I felt my legs buckle beneath me. Three hours? What were they supposed to do? Could they play, I asked anxiously. The volunteer gave me a sad look and pointed out to the manhole sized circular carpet in the middle of the room and said, they may play there. 45 children on that carpet? As I was thinking of what to do, one child switched on the computer. I walked over to plead with the software engineer to hold off on Computer Science for the evening. He was dressed like a balloon for an unfathomable reason and glared at me. “But I am hungry!” he said.

“Well, switching on the computer is not going to get you wafers, do you have a snack? “ I asked.

“Yeah! Wafers! Do you have wafers?” said the ballooner filling out in anticipation. I gave up.

I used a voice that has not been used for a while now and boomed to the class to ask if they had snacks. They did. I just told them they could eat whenever they were hungry. This AV came up and whispered in my ear that they weren’t allowed to eat inside the class. I shot her a belligerent look. Really!  I think I might have alarmed her a bit for she sizzled up to me and said, “Maybe they can go out and eat and come back. Just keep an eye on them from here. Tell them they are not to move beyond that tree.”

Lesson #@: Do not assume children want to eat during snack breaks.

“Yes! We can all go out and eat!” said a voice and the ballooner floated door ward with a bunch of kids in tow. The situation was quickly spiraling out of control. How was I to know how many children were there, how many were out eating snacks and which of the children I was in charge of? I have always suspected children of being more spiritual than they let on, and it was confirmed now. Most of those headed out were apparently going to snack on air for they had nothing to eat in their carefree hands. I called out to them, but  retreating backs from a dull classroom to a glorious spring evening elicited no responses and I was left there looking defeated and helpless. The AV came up to whisper something in my ear again. Apparently, the children were looking gleefully at the playground beyond the tree and this was not to be allowed. I shook her away. This, I felt was a bit much. Come on! Go tell them yourself, I said a tad severely.

“But they don’t listen to me!” she said in response, looking at a girl sitting in the corner of the class playing on her cellphone. She was the only one not interested in legging it outside. “Maybe I should have asked them all to borrow their parents smartphones. What will we do?” continued the AV.  I could only shake my head at this reliance on smartphones.

It came as no surprise, therefore, for me to read this news item:

It is also a no-brainer to draw upon its corollary, viz, that children who spend an inordinate amount of time on the cellphones have less patience with things less stimulating. We may have forgotten that smart phones are a convenience and no more.

It happens in every battle I suppose. The turning point. I know Yudhisthira felt it in the Kurukshetra when Drona was tricked into believing his son was dead. It was what turned the battle in the favor of the Pandavas again. This was that moment for me. I refused to be bogged down by not having technology. I summoned the brave teacher nestled deep in me and raised the conch to my lips, “Please come in children! For an evening of fun and frolic. Let’s play some games!” I boomed.

The AV was shocked. “What games? They are not supposed to touch anything.”

I calmed her down saying they were children and I believe in their ability to open their minds and try out something new.  I set about figuring out some games. I saw the eager eyes march back into the classroom. True, that our real estate was limited, so running and catching, hide-n-seek etc were out. But there was a game that was great fun when we were kids. Land and Sea. This sophisticated game was easy to play. When I said “Sea”, you jumped into the carpet and when I said “Land” you jumped out. I used varying speeds to play the land-sea game and it was a roaring success. Half the children were out in time, but I kept daring them to go again and again. The game lasted a good 45 minutes.

Land or Sea?

With the help of the older children, we played a variety of games: pass the parcel, whisper nonsense messages and pass them down to see how it gets garbled along the way and such. Several children beamed and laughed happily saying this was the best evening indoors they’d had.

Before we knew it, three hours of fun had passed and the older children who had helped me out received a beaming thanks from me. Only one child was too engrossed in her world to join in on the fun. She was still using the phone. “Games?” I asked her as she left the classroom. “Yeah…pretty good. Can’t stop!” she shrugged. Her friends tried to pull her in several times, but she was too far in her phone-world to stop.

When I read about this person who took down his top grossing app because it was being too addictive, I had nothing but admiration and respect for him. He saw what his creation was doing to people and chose to forgo his excellent fortunes and pull out.

Every generation faces its own challenge. Ours, it seems, is the smart phone.

A Condensed Version Please!

I would hereby like to thank James Band and the Nadaswaram party for the sore throat they have gifted me with – One that reminds me of the thumping music at the wedding every waking moment. Any attempts at ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ sound like ‘Bray Bray Black ..’ almost a month after the proceedings.

The wedding hall was filled with people – small talk filled the halls, and James Band and the nadaswaram were playing at full pitch whenever they got the opportunity to perform. People had to shout to make themselves heard to the person sitting right next to them. One would have thought that the effort would have kept people quiet. But it takes sterner stuff to get South Indians to keep quiet. As the sound of the talk increased, the nadaswaram crew made the band sound louder. Apparently, the duty of the band was to drown out the cacophony or any unceremonious sound.

Fact: The band itself may be construed for cacophony was evidently not thought about when the tradition was “made”.

I have already mentioned about how the south indian wedding is high on the ritual factor – read, boring. Essentially, the average guest is left with the option of staring open mouthed at the wedding proceedings in Sanskrit, while the sastrigal & groom pound at the rituals. The groom mostly looks ready to flee given the slightest chance, while the priest is holding him back with an almost sadistic pleasure and gloats over the power he exercises over the couple.
It goes like this:

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Wash your fingers*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

For 6 hours.
Not to mention the fierce fire we have going, in front of which the bride and groom sit. No fans are allowed for obvious reasons near the fire. Probably, that is the reason the groom sits with his chest bared and his transparent dhoti. But it beats me why the bride is seated near the same fire with the stuffiest of silks. These traditions had no mean point I tell you – either it was a bare-all or a wrap-all.

Malai Maatral
Description:The groom and bride, in those early days, were barely teenagers when they got married. The couple were carried by the maternal uncles to exchange garlands at one point. This was a chance for people to know who the maternal uncles were and the children probably enjoyed the break by throwing garlands at each other perched on their uncles shoulders.
Fact: This should probably be done away with, considering the couple is now in the prime of their youth, with glowing muscles and a couple of hours each day at the gym/dining table as the case may be, and the uncles are complaining more often about arthritis and moaning muscles themselves.

Description:The laddoo throwing is another part of the proceeedings that could be done away with. The purpose was originally intended to introduce the important lady-folk of the family. With 20 directly-related aunts and 35 indirectly-related aunts and 45 indirectly-direct-related aunts and 55 directly-indirect-related aunts, it was important to show who was who.
Fact: Now, this is no more than a laddoo squishing, bad bowling experience, not to mention the mess created by stamping one of the infernal things and spreading the joy.

Bullock-cart symbolism:
Sometime in the 6 hours on stage, one encounters a point when something like a stick is placed over the groom’s head and the bride’s head. What this symbolizes is this: just like a bullock cart can only be pulled when both the animals contribute equally, so too is marriage. Both the groom and the bride must shoulder their reponsibilities to carry on a smooth life.

The point being this: There are so many rituals, and non-stop chanting, that the symbolic ones, or the ones that bear meaning are either missed or glossed over. The “getti melam” could be used to identify the significant ones, if they didn’t keep asking for a getti melam every 2 minutes.

Kattu Saadam:
Those days, restaurants were rare and almost non-existent between villages, and carrying food for the journey was important.
Fact: No offense to the food really – but this tradition is an absolute must to be done away with. Who wants to eat dried up idlis when you can stop at Saravana Bhavan for a steaming meal instead?! Why can’t we wrap up the proceedings the previous day and get back to our lives?
Interesting aside:
We stopped for eating at a restaurant (since we needed to drink coffee and use the restrooms anyway!), and the younger generation was absolutely thrilled to find that in the melee of leaving, we had left the idlis & the rice behind – yippee! The fathers were privately happy too, but refrained from saying anything inappropriate, lest the mothers construed it as an offense to their own cooking! The looks thrown by the mothers to the children was clearly not one to mess with.

“What is wrong with idlis?” they demanded.
We chuckled saying – “Nothing, just glad they aren’t here!”

We tucked into naan, paneer curry and 8 different types of Dosas at a suave restaurant, and left quite happily.

After so many weddings, there wasn’t one person who was able to cogently explain the symbolism and meaning behind all the rituals. The ones who did attempt invariably love their voices too much and refuse to stop explaining! Soon, one’s curiosity to understand the proceedings is fast overtaken by an urge to strangle the person “explaining”. Finally, my mother told me to look it up on the Internet – which I did, and found a whole world of satirical writings on the South Indian Wedding. (But this link gave a brief explanation)

Since, each tradition has morphed into a status symbol, the unnecessary expenditure has increased manifold. If we were to tabulate the necessary vs unnecessary expenditure, the unnecessary far outweighs the necessary. 3 day weddings are the norm – even though it is not a village where the families use this as a chance to make merry for a week.

By the way, what do we say to the colleague who asked: “So, you guys exchange vows is it?!”

Happy New Year!

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