south India

Madurai Diaries. Crossing the bridge.The AV bridge!

It’s a bridge that I have crossed many times. It is the only bridge that runs across the Vaigai River. I mean, there are other bridges but this bridge is the only one that bridges my imagination and memory in a quaint sort of a way.

It’s called the Albert Victor Bridge

Hurried thanks must go the “Viceroy Earl of Dufferin on 8th December, 1886”, as the plaque there would say.  The man, some 125+ years ago commissioned the bridge. Little would he have imagined that it would stand for so long or that it would see vehicles of this kind and intensity as there are now. BTW the British said that bridge would stand for 100 years and it is already 25 years past its period of best use!

The bridge connects the parts of the city that the river Vaigai divides. There is a shameful trickle put to best use by dhobis and others, that juts out these days that gives the word ‘river’ a rather uncouth bad name. For no fault of the river!  Much water is used upstream, but in another sense, much water has flown under the bridge.  

When you are born in a city and spend your growing years there, you realise that as much as you think you have grown over the city and move on, the city has actually grown on you. It leaves an inescapably indelible mark on you. A mark that peeks through the cracks in the fort of memory resting between your ears. 

At least that’s the effect Madurai has had on me. 

The house that I type this in from is in a different city.  A very different one at that. With the corporate satchel strung around my shoulder work has taken me further and farther from Madurai. 

But the further and farther I go the greater is the longing to come back. It is no Venice or one of those modern cities (although, I remember reading that it carries a sobriquet of ‘Athens of the East’!). The Meenakshi Amman Temple, other temples, the Palace, the Museum, other temples continue to be the calling card!  

The city itself is a patch on the potential that resides amidst it.  Carrying much of the problems from the past and adding on news ones with élan. More of the change, more things seem to remain the same! Withering under political chicanery and pointless debate. 

Yet in its warp and in its weave, the city is home to simple loving people, a unique way of speaking the language, a boundary less desire to stay awake through the night and of course, playing the quintessential host to all those that come in.  

This time around I was there for a different reason. But I lugged the camera around just to change my view and see if there was a story to tell. Well, there was one too many a story to share with the world. Never mind if the world is interested in them or otherwise! 

A few posts and pictures follow.  Of course, would love your views. 

K for…

Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera. This moment was one such.

Kalarippayattu. That’s an ancient martial art form of the south. Kerala to be specific. It’s a fetching sight to see these fighters with bodies of gymnasts move with such agility and panache. With just a dash of imagination and a sprinkling of a story, any onlooker could well imagine how revered and soakingly absorbing a duel would have been just a few hundred years ago.

Oh, not to say a modern duel isn’t a sight to stop, hold your breath and stare in semi open mouthed awe, long enough for a few large mosquitoes to conduct a few sorties down the alimentary canal. More often than not, such goose bump causing art forms remain in the obscure confines of the past.

A trip to Kerala and a stay in a hotel at ‘attractive prices per night’ (which would be equivalent to what your father would have paid to buy the entire property, when he was your age), usually throw in a cultural performance or two.

Even better when the Company that pays your salary also pays for the trip and the room, in the name of a conference, harbouring extravagant hopes that such investments will pay off. In such cases, a hotel gladly throwing in ‘exposure to culture’ performances is de rigueur.

Kalari quite a popular performance. There are jumps. Fights with bare hands. Sticks. Fire. And several else. These are new techniques for the coporate types who are used to used to one martial art form called ‘Powerpoint’. Which ofcourse comes loaded with ‘bullet’ points! If the bullets don’t get you, boredom will.

In such Kalari performances though, young men spar on stage. Synchronised movement, overflowing with synergy. With swords, shields, some kind of a flexible sword, sticks, daggers and such else, with seamless movement. Like in the snap above, a fire bush at the end of the a rope fastened to the chest is used as weapon. Artfully swinging and moving about.

The corporate types usually look half in awe. Cheer in slightly inebriated delusion. Bite into the chicken with new found gusto and take a few more swigs of whatever drink their hands reach out to.

The really skilled photographers amongst them find the perfect spot to click. Additionaly, the morose ones aim their cameras from different corners snaps, click vapid snaps and write blogposts beginning ‘Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera..’

Ofcourse there is the mandatory crowd of American tourists. Their skin standing out amongst the crowd and their hair standing out on their skin. Staring. If I were them, I would wonder what all this fuss with Kalarippayattu and sparring with swords and building bodies and muscles was about. When all it took was a walk down the store and buy a .32 magnum and blow the brains off every living form in the locality.

Incase you are yet to look up Kalari, here is the link.

Incase you still haven’t, it is a martial art form that’s been around for ages.It was banned by the British. At one point in history, it was as common as ‘reading and writing’ and everybody in society was proficient in it.

Incase you are still wondering, what brings this post up now, I am back from another trip to a place that I have been in love with for ages : Kerala. Ofcourse, more posts & pictures follow.

But, boy, am I pleased with this snap!

Rameshwaram diaries

The sleepy town of Rameshwaram has many facets to it. That the old man Ram was there with his army and the supposed bridge that they built to Sri Lanka is perhaps its chief claim to fame. It being considered one of the holiest of cities quite obviously translates to hordes of pilgrims.

With the proximity to Sri Lanka and it attendant consequences, the arc lights never go off here. There is always a refugee boat that lands. Or an LTTE man that rose from the sea. Or the Sri Lankan navy shooting down a hapless fisherman ! Something or the other.

The splendour and architecture of the Ramanatha swamy temple is best masked by the simplicity of its gopuram. All in plain white. Standing straight and simple. Amongst the many facets that it conceals is the 1000 pillar corridor which screams a silent yet eloquent beauty with all interplay between light and darkness that blossoms into a collage of a splendid magnitude can arrest you. Forever.

The communist party showing the way to Lord Ram’s feet was an ultimate picture !

Some distance away is Ramar Patham. (Ram’s Feet). A smaller temple that plays host to an imprint of a feet. Purported to be those of lord Ram and rightly so. The story spices up the belief very well that there is a mile between you and the d in doubt. A pot bellied priest chants the virtues of worshipping those feet and also slips in a message to ‘help’ the priests themselves. Its but natural, you see ! Especially, when said in the same breath !

The other reason that Rameshwaram is frequented is to perform rituals for the dead. An assortment of rituals, which by itself can be an intricate lesson in permutation and combination and math of such order. The net result could be a huge subtraction in what was there in the wallet !

This is one money spinner that’s not going to fade away in a jiffy. For death is but natural and such beliefs stay on. The paraphernalia of all those articles that are supposedly required to please the dead person’s spirits, can well resemble an annual shopping list of a whole neighbourhood ! From the barber to the beguiled tourist : all contribute to the bee like buzz in the air !

Mention must be made of the Pamban bridge, now named after one of the Gandhis. This times it is Indira. (I think). Built on the sea, much before the Bandra-Worli sea link. Well used now, every single lamp post is still there. Of the lights that were supposed to be atop the lamp posts, well it’s a different story !

It’s a sleepy town. Down in the down south. But then, it keeps many awake. All through. Think about it. History. Mythology. Architecture. Strategic defense. Death. Life. Living. Gods. Tourism. The sea and the ocean. All in one place.

Very few places that can boast of that assortment !

Dhoti Pants !

‘The National Attire of the deep south’, said a friend from Obama land nonchalantly nestling a glass of beer, ‘is wraparounds’ !

Well. He couldn’t be faulted to the full distance. ‘Well, yes, sort of. But no. Don’t call it wrap around’ was a response that quite quite get past his left ear lobe. The pitchers of beer were at work.

Lets set the record straight.

The dhoti ( called ‘Veshti’ ) is the sort of thing that gives a certain impeccable identity to the average man on the South Indian street.

A pointed mention to all North Indian friends here ( and as an average tamil from the deep south will define, ‘north India’ means ‘north of Chennai’ ), the dhoti is principally a different garment from the ‘Lungi ‘

The ‘Lungi’ is akin to pajama wear. Dotted, coloured, checks, stripes etc. Worn to bed. Worn at home. Period.

Multitudes of authentic dhoti wearers have cringed as they enter weddings and such other social events in the ‘North’ only to be complimented with ‘thats a nice lungi’ ! Well, to give it some perspective, imagine going to a wedding in a Armani bespoke suit, to hear compliments : ‘thats a nice pajama’ !

The Dhoti is regal apparel. ( Except seeing ‘dhotis folded at the knee or thereabouts and bristling with striped knee length underwear as seen in tamil movies). Its supposed to give the average male some spirit in his step. Its airy, lose and fastened at the hip by ingenious folding of the garment.

Modern city bred males however require belts and such else as insurance against wardrobe malfunction.

Any visit down south, gives an opportunity to wear the dhoti, brave the heat and walk about with this sense of new found freedom ! At least the proverbial ‘pajama question’ that would reach the ear, when the same is done in any other part of the country, is absent.

It is another matter though, that the dhoti is not part of accepted corporate attire.

Quite obviously seeing this in a big city mall in Mumbai created some flutter in the heart. Like the flutter actors and actresses are shown to have when they find true love, or the brother that they were separated from in the village fair. A combination of a ‘Dhoti’ and a ‘pant’ seemed to be a super deal.

Only to find in a short while later that a ‘Dhoti Pant’ is women’s wear. Some thing that loosely balloons from the hit only to taper at the feet. And could make the wearer look like she is floating on a helium balloon across the road. To a casual bystander.

More authentic explanation is in this link here.

What particularly catches the eye is this statement from a fashion designer : “To get the funky look, a body hugging T-shirt and dhoti pants would make a great combo. To complete the look, illustrative danglers and funky belts would look great.”

Illustrative danglers and funky belts for ‘completion of look’ is an awesome amount of elastic stretch to the simple elegant dhoti !!

Whatsay ?

Maths. Gymnastics. Art.

If you walk by a traditional South Indian street early in the morning chances are high that you would spot a lady dotting the front yard with fine white flour, are high !

If you hang around there for a while and look with an ordinary eye, you will see dots emerge in sequence. Dots in proportion. Dots in synchrony and symmetry.

Of course, you can immediately sense that is maths in action. Yes. Math ! 8 dots. 16 dots. right angles. symmetry. Etc etc !

All while the lady, stands up and bends down ! Mega city lifestyles and modern day junk food and leisure lifestyles ensure that such postures befit a great cosmic yogi (at best) or a Russian Gymnast (at the least ). That another story for another time.

In some time, the fine white flour that went into making of the dot slips through the fingers to form simple, straight lines. Straight lines that would look like those drawn with a scale !

In a jiffy the lines become curves. The curves become U turns, with the dot in he middle ! Sharp curves that would get a F1 champ’s adrenalin going.

The lines and curves form a seamless symmetry of art on the floor. A dash here. A dash there. A curve now and then. Suddenly there is a piece of visual delight on the front yard !! Coming to think of it all, to get out of bed at 5.00 AM is something. To get to the courtyard is something else. And then, to alternate between gymnastics and mathematics with ease, is stuff that is beyond me. To do it everyday is super human.

It took me an effort to locate the camera and shoot ! My mom looked bemused and surprised. Initially at my interest, giving me ‘Ah, whats so great about it’ look !

A while later, the household help came in and added some of her own designs and a dash of colour !

I have stayed a mile away from maths. ( Or rather, maths has stayed a mile away from me). And two miles from gymnastics. I always thought so.

Seems i was pretty close ! My mom orchestrates them to do the ballet on the front yard
everyday !