Thursday, December 24, 2009

Empty musical afternoons

It is the December music season at Chennai and all of us rasikas are in our Kangaroo avatar hopping from one sabha to next. But what saddens me is that there is a Friday-evening-Satyam-theatre kind of rush for certain concerts while certain afternoon concerts have as much crowd as the bus stop opposite Theosophical Society at Besant Avenue. Nobody knows it is there and nobody stops there, not even the buses.

The afternoon slots are usually reserved for junior and sub-junior musicians and possibly the audience are too hoity-toity to appear in their best silks at a “junior” concert. The poor afternoon musicians sing to empty chairs with such gusto that if I were a chair, I would lift my two arms and applaud them heartily. However, some smart parents of certain afternoon musicians had ensured a decent crowd by pressing relatives and friends into attending the concert. As you enter the hall, you feel you are intruding a family get together like a seemandham or punyajanam. “Where is Kappu living now? Was Kalli’s delivery normal?” and such talk abound. Two people (presumably father and uncle) go around welcoming and thanking people. You almost expect them to tell you, “kandippa saptutu daan ponum” (please have food before leaving). During the concert, one lady leaned forward and I thought she was going to ask “who on the stage are you related to?” like they ask in weddings “which side do you belong? Girl or boy?” Thankfully she only wanted to know the raga. Yet not all relatives and friends are as obliging and something has to be done about these performances which have more people on the stage than in the seats.
I am not going to make any serious suggestion here like switch the senior musicians’ concerts to the afternoon slots because they get their audience anyway and/or don’t spread so many concerts across so many sabhas, it only thins the attendance etc. These suggestions have been made by many to deaf ears and therefore I shall not waste further time. Instead I have a new set of suggestions.
Just as certain sitcoms have a laughter track running behind, the sabha people can switch on an applause track at appropriate moments to create a feeling of audience. But usually the organizers themselves are not present. So they may have to train the mike man to do it, only that the mike man, in the event of being tone deaf may switch on the applause track at inappropriate moments like when the vocalist is sipping milk or when he has lost a beat stupidly or when he is glaring at the violinist for a goof up. Still, some sound of applause is better than none.
Secondly the backs of the chair can be painted on to resemble human beings in seated posture. From the stage it would look like the chairs are people. And if the arms of the chairs can be robotically programmed to lift and applaud at the end of every song on cue, it would even be better.
Thirdly those rare few who enter the hall should be given ping pong balls cut in halves with the orbs of the eye painted on it. You see, most people fall asleep insensitively sitting in the very first row. These people can press the ping pong orbs onto their eyes and go to sleep while the performers sing rest assured that they have an audience who are listening “wide eyed” with surprise at their incredible talent.
Once I invited my friend at Royapuram for a book reading of mine and he said he would come if I gave him, “noor rooba, kaila kuska” (Rs.100 and a packet of Kuska in hand, which is apparently what politicians give to bribe voters). I think afternoon slot musicians should contact my friend at Royapuram.

The above article was published in my "Loony Life" column two weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Enough Kohl to put Johnny Depp to shame

By far, the Chennai December music season this time has been a case of “I went, I saw, I ran away” kind of experience for me. I began writing a stiff ‘Carnatic music and consumerism — Making the audience buy’ type of article. But considering my sworn readers who cannot brook one grave sentence from my pen, I have here a series of (loony) snapshots on the music season.

  • I thought I had wandered into a South Indian wedding when I entered a concert hall this December season. Rustling silk saris, fragrant jasmine strings, deep namaskarams, aroma of filter coffee and idli-sambar, snatches of gossip…eh? If I had anticipated such heavy dressing, I would have at least remembered to comb. But what the hell? I came to listen to music, not be seen. The violinist on stage had enough kohl in her eyes to put Johnny Depp to shame, while the vocalists glittered like Christmas trees. So much so, I was tempted to carry one back home and hang some gifts for my kids. My vote any day is for Sanjay Subrahmanyan, who prefers to throw his flamboyance into his music rather than his clothes. If musicians felt glittering jibbas and flashy saris added weight to their music, then why wear just one? Why not wear four? Or maybe I belong to that dwindling population which expects only a good concert and not a ‘good-looking’ concert.
  • There was just so much fanfare on stage and off stage in every concert I went to that I wanted to shout, “Will the real performers please stand up?” Where were those good old mamas and mamis hugging yellow cloth bags, taking the 23As and 12Cs to arrive at Sastri Hall and Music Academy? These good souls, who could outcry any geko with their appreciative tch-tch-tches, were completely lost in the overdressed crowd.
  • For those unacquainted with Carnatic musicians, people who sing in pairs give themselves creative names like Mambalam sisters, Hyderabad brothers and Carnatica brothers. Given the burgeoning talent base, there will come a crowded day when we will see Thambiah Reddy street sisters, 4th main road (next to Pizza hut) brothers etc. Tomorrow perchance my daughter and niece begin to perform as duo I plan to call them Vatsalya sisters after the playschool they go to.
  • Coming to music reviews in a popular daily, one can never make out if the concert soared or sucked from what they write. Consider this convoluted writing — “Mutual enrichment of the musical fare was facilitated by the individual merit of each expert member”. Translated it simply means, the musicians did a good job or at least that’s what I think. And then there is this insufferable alliteration critics get into. “Mellifluous Madhyamavati, kindling Kalyani, meandering Mohanam, roaring Ranjani” ad nauseum. As such Carnatic music is inaccessible. For God’s sake, should we employ ‘twilight language’ while speaking about this art form?
  • Carnatic musicians have really smartened up. They act in movies, endorse products, appear in reality shows, write books, email their concert schedules religiously, have perky music profiles, perfect PR, well- updated blogs and websites. It is a good sign that one can indeed make a living out of Carnatic music. I am saying all this so that, that segment of population, which still drools over Carnatic musicians as if they were messengers of God, should wake up and understand that they’re all in this field as professionals, just as any doctor or engineer is in his.
  • Visaka Hari(ji) is one performer who has spoilt every Tambrahm married woman’s chances with her mother-in-law. She is the dream daughter-in-law of every mamiyar, what with her madisar/straight hair parting/diamond earrings and absorption in all things politically correct. She makes all the mamis wonder why it didn’t occur to them to make a career out of the bedtime stories they knew and wear their madisars with more pride. For foot-in-mouthed, jeans-wearing failure of a character like me, Visaka Hari is a Kafkaish nightmare (my mother-in-law loves her). The way the older generation spring into action to ‘catch’ seats for her programme — well, you have to see it to believe it. She makes them forget their rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Amidst kanjeevarams and namaskarams in the concert hall, I also spotted some straight skirts and hugging and kissing on both cheeks. Wasn’t this behaviour usually displayed by the audience of Alliance Francaise programmes? Good! So Carnatic music is also turning ‘happening’! And may it happen minus the trappings!

    This article was published in my Loony Life column

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

G.Madhavan Vocal. Dec '09 Carnatic music concerts for season

Monday, December 07, 2009
2:45 pm to 4:15 pm
Nungambakkam Cultural Academy
Ramarao Kala Mantap, Habibullah road, T.Nagar
Sudha Iyer on violin, Vijay Natesan on Mridangam

Friday, December 11, 2009
12:15 pm to 1:30 pm
Karthik Fine Arts
Naradha Gana Sabha Mini Hall

Saturday, December 12, 2009
5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
All India Radio - FM Gold

Saturday, December 12, 2009
6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Papanasam Sivan Sangeetha Sabha, Madipakkam
Kalyani Shankar on violin, Mannarkoil J.Balaji on Mridangam

Sunday, December 13, 2009
5:00 pm to 6:15 pm
Chennai Fine Arts (RTP Concert)
Gokhale Hall, Mylapore
Dr. R.Hemalatha on violin, K.S.Ramana on Mridangam

Monday, December 14, 2009
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Krishna Gana Sabha
Gana vihar, Maharajapuram Santhanam Road, T.Nagar
Usha Rajagopal violin, T.R.Sundaresan Mridangam

Saturday, December 19, 2009
10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Nadha Inbam
Ragasudha hall, Mylapore
Usha Rajagopal violin, Sherthalai Ananthakrishnan Mridangam

Saturday, December 19, 2009
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Sankaran Temple, Kuppiah street, West Mambalam
Usha Rajagopal, Sherthalai Ananthakrishnan

Friday, December 25, 2009
9:00 am to 10:30 am
Valayapatti sabha
Anantha Padmanabha swami temple, Adyar
Kalyani Shankar, Madurai Shanmugam, Mayavaram Somu Pillai

Friday, December 25, 2009
2:30 am to 4:00 pm
Brahma Gana Sabha
Sivagami Pethachi auditorium, Luz church road, Mylapore
Kandadevi Vijayaraghavan, T.R.Sundaresan

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ganesha never fails

Somebody was having fever. High fever. High exam fever. It was none other than Lord Ganesha, who lived in the small temple under the arasa tree at the street corner. In the last one week, dozens of boys and girls had assailed him, begging to be promoted to the next class. To help them get through in maths, history, geography, civics. Ooh! How much could a god remember?
Lord Ganesha’s brow began to feel hot and clammy. He felt very feverish. Exam feverish. Something had to be done about this. Fast!
Gangadharan went and wrote VI Std for the third time on the small Pillaiyar temple wall. He did this without his mother Sitamma’s knowledge.
“You cannot pass by writing your class on the temple wall or by promising coconuts to god. You have to study,” Sitamma would yell if she got to know.
Gangadharan or Ganga didn’t care much about being scolded. All he wanted was to pass and go to class seven after all, how could he be separated from his best friends? Wouldn’t he be left behind if he failed? And who wanted to be friends with Nattu and Rangan of class five chee! They still played hand cricket and even did underarm bowling. Shameful!
“Pillaiyar appa, you have been the scribe for Veda Vyasa and written the Mahabharata and all. What is a mere Class VI exam for you? Please make me get 35 on 100. I am not at all greedy I just want to pass. Are you listening?” Ganga asked eagerly, opening one eye to look slyly at the trunk god to see if any of his flattery had had an effect. He was dismayed to find eight other small figures writing I, V, VI, IV and other such class numbers on the wall.
“Dai ! What are you all doing?” Ganga demanded.
“Mmm? Same thing as you were! In fact we got the idea from you, anna,” said the youngest kid in the group.
Ganga had nothing to say to this and so quietly went home to spend the rest of his study holidays wondering how to pass.

“Will you start studying now at least?” asked Sitamma. Since morning Ganga had done nothing but sit at the study table and stare blankly into space.

“Yes, amma. First, I’ll arrange my bookshelf and then I’ll start,” Ganga said. For a full one hour he arranged his books to kill time. When Sitamma was not looking, he played book-cricket and admired his large collection of stickers which he had traded, won and earned by chewing innumerable bubble gums.
An hour later, Sitamma checked on him again to see if he had started his lessons at all. Sure enough, Ganga was still arranging his books.
“Enough of that Ganga, open your book now,” commanded Sitamma.
“Oh! I just remembered that Chakkarai has my maths notebook. I’ll just run across to his house and get it,” said Ganga and scooted before his mother could say anything. By the time Ganga returned, it was time for lunch. After lunch (which consisted of his favourite koottu and thuvayal), Ganga felt so full and satisfied that his eyes started to close slowly and he began to nod. The bed looked cosy and inviting.
“Why does everything seem more pleasurable before the exams? Almost everything seems better than this wretched study table,” he said to himself. He was about to doze off when Sitamma barged into the room angrily.
“Ganga! You have not read a single page since morning. Just what do you think of yourself?” she thundered. Just then, the skies outside rumbled and broke into a sudden summer shower. Ganga jumped up, grabbed an umbrella and ran out. He ran in the direction of the Pillaiyar temple.
“If the VI Std I wrote has not been erased in the rain, then I will surely pass; if not aiyo! No it can’t be erased,” hoped Ganga. Before he got there, eight small figures were already standing with umbrellas outstretched to protect their handwriting on the wall. When they saw Ganga, they all smiled impishly, some a little foolishly.
“Have you all studied anything?”asked Ganga.
“Yes I did,” said Paramasivam of Class V.
“What?” asked Ganga.
“I studied the school pledge and the national anthem. I thought maybe there will be a surprise oral test on that,” Paramu said innocently while the rest of the group laughed.
“What about you da?” Ganga asked Vichchu.
“I don’t have to study, I think I am going to get fever. My head is already spinning,”
said Vichchu very seriously.
“I too am going to get fever and vomit,” said Krishnaswamy of Class I.
“What do you think I can get?” asked Ganga hopefully.
“You are going to get three hard raps on your head,” said a voice from behind, hard as thunder.
The terrified gang of boys turned to see a figure dripping with water from head to toe, with hair scattered all over the face.
“Mother!” Ganga was the first to react.
“Why have you come without an umbrella?”
“Mmmm? Your father has taken one umbrella and you have brought the other. I just
had to find out what you were up to. So all of you are planning to get fever and vomit,
is it?” asked Sitamma angrily.
“So what have you promised to the god?” she asked, looking at Rangan.
“Hundred sit-ups,” he said timidly.
“And you?”
“Three coconuts,” said Kishmu.
“All of you just march behind me. I have something for you,” Sitamma commanded angrily. Everyone obeyed.
Once they reached Ganga’s house, Sitamma made the boys sit in a row and went inside. When she came out, two girls were with her. Both looked like they were in college and they looked alike. Looking at the boys’ wonder, the girls said in unison.
“We are twins. We belong to Padippaal Uyarvu Sangam (progress through education).We are going to help you with your studies and make you all pass with good marks.”
The boys looked at each other skeptically but were glad that help was at hand. They all ran home to fetch their books. Soon everyone began to assemble in Sitamma’s verandah every morning to learn their lessons from the twin sisters.
The sisters placed a huge Ganesha idol in the centre of the group and said, “Look at our Lord Ganesha. He is the embodiment of learning. His ears are so large. It means He listens better and understands better. He is the world’s first scribe. He knows how to write very well mainly because he never writes anything which he does not understand. Look at his trunk which looks like an ink pen, it is full of knowledge. If you know your lessons well, your pen will automatically seem to write better and flow faster. And last but not the least, look at his broken tusk it means you must learn more and munch less!”
Day after day, the sisters drilled and coached the entire group of boys. In fact they did it so well that the boys were actually looking forward to writing their exams. On the day of the examination, the boys did ten sit-ups before Lord Ganesha, wished each other luck and left for the hall accompanied by the sisters. (Vicchu actually had fever (really!), yet he went to take the exam.) When the results came, the boys were exultant. They had all passed with distinctions. There was great jubilation in the air. They bought lots of sweets and went to the Padippaal Uyarvu Sangam to thank the twin sisters. At the Sangam, they asked to see the twin sisters.
“There are no twins working for us. What did you say their names were?” asked the officer.
“Siddhi and Buddhi,” said the boys.
“How strange! There are no twins by those names here!” exclaimed the officer.
The surprised boys went home and told Sitamma about what had happened. Sitamma was totally nonplussed. She looked at the Ganesha in the centre of the hall and then at the boys.
“Boys, did you know that Lord Ganesha’s wives are called Siddhi and Buddhi? Siddhi means successful completion and Buddhi means intelligence. It seems like the trunk god himself sent them to help you with your exams. I am sure they will visit us to find out about your results,” said Sitamma.
The boys were surprised too. But soon their happiness surpassed their surprise and they all ran out to play with sweets in hand. Only Sitamma kept sitting in front of the Ganesha idol not knowing what to make of the entire thing. Was this a mere coincidence or were the twin girls a real godsend?
Can the Chatterbox readers guess?

Ganesha never fails was published in Chatterbox magazine. Incidentally this is my first story ever published for children.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ghost on call

Kurali–Gnyamali had to be summoned. The brouhaha (make that brouhaha…hahaha) kicked up by Ganga, Kishmu and their entourage had wreaked havoc on Sitamma’s
“Kurali-Gnyamali, come immediately!” Sitamma screamed. There was instant
silence. Those were the days when instant coffee had not arrived in the small township where Sitamma lived. But instant silence was very much available—especially when the name of Kurali-Gnyamali, the instant silencer, was conjured up.

The gang huddled into a corner, looking subdued. “Stay this way,” ordered Sitamma and hurried into the kitchen to giggle in peace. The gang squeezed itself into the corner. Legs, hands and heads merged to look like a single respiring, perspiring organism. Like a king spider with tentacles swaying up and down and up and down and up and down. Armed with multiple heads and innumerable legs, it looked like it had descended on this world to preserve and protect the spider species. The king spider started to move slowly, hoping that Kurali- Gnyamali would not make an appearance. Until Kishmu, who was scared of anything with more than two legs, spotted a real spider bungee jumping in his direction from the ceiling.
“Aiyyo!” he screamed loudly. Instantly the king spider disintegrated into human beings of various shapes and sizes. Everybody except Kishmu thought that Kurali-Gnyamali had actually arrived. There were shrieks, yelps, screams, cries, screeches, bawls, shouts, barks, yells and howls which resulted in a strange mishmash of sounds.
“Kurali-Gnyamali!” Sitamma screamed again from inside the kitchen, unable to bear the hullabaloo. Immediately the entire bunch fled the house, from raw fear.
“Who is Kurali-Gnyamali?” Amirthavalli asked when the gang reassembled under their favourite tamarind tree.
“Kurali-Gnyamali…you don’t know Kurali-Gnyamali?” asked Kishmu.
“No, we don’t,” said Rangan a little angrily.
“Mmmm…” (Kishmu was doing some fast thinking. He had never thought about it at all, except that whenever Sitamma mentioned the name Kurali- Gnyamali, he and his brother Ganga froze with fear.) “Are you going to tell us or not?” demanded a voice from somewhere in
the group.
“They are Sitamma’s ghost friends,” Kishmu said quickly. “They can appear anywhere. They recite Kurals, which is why the name Kurali. They tell stories and even find lost things.”
“Yes-yes! They are very good at finding lost things,” chipped in Ganga who couldn’t forget the time when Kurali-Gnyamali had retrieved his Tamil classwork notebook from god knows where. What had happened on that eventful day was this. It was the day the school was reopening after the Dusshera holidays. Ganga was packing his bag for the day and just couldn’t find his Tamil classwork book. Now Ilango vaaddiyaar, a die-hard Tamil pundit and a terror among the boys, was well-known for the choicest Tamil phrases he used to scold students who forgot their
notebooks at home. Even hard raps from his cane were easier to bear than listening to confounding abuses like Kodari kambe, Eena puzhuve, Brahmahathi and Tamil drohi . Not knowing what to do, Ganga resorted to the only solution he knew, which was running to Sitamma and begging for her help.
“How many times have I asked you to check your timetable at night and pack your bag?” emanded Sitamma.
“This is not the first time something like this is happening. I always seem to be the one finding your geometry box, your school badge, your diary and also getting your father’s signature on the test papers.”
“Amma, please…one last time. I have looked everywhere but can’t find it,” pleaded Ganga.
“ Oho! If you have really looked everywhere then I’ll have to ask Kurali-Gnyamali,” said Sitamma.
Ganga had no time to ask who this Kurali-Gnyamali was. He was in a tearing hurry to reach school on time, failing which the headmaster would cane him in front of the entire assembly.
“Okay, please ask this Kurali to find my notebook,” Ganga begged.
“That is not so easy. You have to pay Kurali-Gnyamali a dakshinai, a fee to find your notebook,” said Sitamma.
“How much? I have only saved ten paise since last year,” said Ganga.
“No need for hard cash,” retorted Sitamma dryly. “All you have to do is run around the house thrice and clap your hands over your head saying, ‘Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook, Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook, Kurali-Gnaymali find my notebook.’ Only then will you get your notebook,” concluded Sitamma.
Ganga was dumbstruck, but not enough to give up the only chance he had of finding his notebook. It was sheer luck that his younger brother Kishmu had already left for school. Otherwise he would have become the laughing stock of the entire neighbourhood. It was either the disgraceful exercise of running around the house clapping his hands over his head or being admonished in front of the assembly on the very first day of the new school term.
“Let all disgrace happen within the compound of one’s own house,” Ganga muttered to himself and stepped out. He started running around the house mumbling, “Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook, Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook, Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook.”
“Louder,” yelled Sitamma from inside.
So Ganga raised his voice a bit during his second round. He was finding it quite difficult to chant these stupid lines and clap at the same time. “Still louder,” persisted Sitamma mercilessly until Ganga was literally screaming. “Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook, Kurali-Gnyamali find my
notebook, Kurali-Gnyamali find my notebook.” Meanwhile, and unfortunately for Ganga, next-door Kuzhali was drying her tresses on the terrace when she heard Ganga’s voice. Now Kuzhali had a soft corner for Ganga, though he was younger than her and despite Ganga’s obvious dislike for her. Whenever she crossed his path, Ganga used to cover his nose so as to not breathe the same air as she did. Despite his rude behaviour, Kuzhali still liked him. When she heard Ganga chanting what sounded like her name, she interrupted him. “Are you calling out for me?” she asked coyly.
“Shut up and po di ulla,” hissed Ganga.
“Why should I go inside? This is my terrace and I will do what I want here,” retorted Kuzhali.
Ganga was close to tears now. He decided to face Sitamma’s wrath rather than let Kuzhali the ogress know what he was doing. He ran inside. And what do you think he saw there?
His Tamil notebook on the swing! Ganga grabbed the book and rushed to school.
Conveniently forgetting the embarrassment he had gone through, Ganga started to wax eloquent about how Kurali-Gnyamali could retrieve lost things, recover things fallen into
the well and find hidden treasures. The gang listened to him with rapt attention.
“Can it find the doll I lost last year?” asked Pankajam.
“Er…it can, but it won’t because it is a family ghost. It is our family’s ghost and it will help only us,” said Ganga convincingly. “And know what? I have never lost anything after Kurali- Gnyamali came into my life,” he continued, sounding triumphant.
Now it was Kishmu’s turn to feel that he too had to contribute something towards promoting the family ghost. If Ganga knew so much, then he should know a few stories as well. After all it was their family ghost.
“Kurali-Gnyamali can narrate such interesting stories, that too in the form of couplets—just like the Tirukkural,” started Kishmu.
“Narrate one,” challenged Varadan.
“Yes! Yes! Why not?” spluttered Kishmu quite at a loss for words. He had no clue what a couplet was. So he decided to try his hand at rhyming. He cleared his throat and began,
“In times very hoary Lived a lion called Hari,
Who befriended the fox Pari-Nari
Despite his sore psori.
But ungrateful Pari-Nari
Gave his sore psori to Hari
Who felt very sorry
And that is the end of the story.”
The entire group was silent. Very silent. “You call this a story?” said Neelakandan sounding very bugged. “Why not?” countered Kishmu.
“Stories are supposed to have morals,” pitched in Rangan.
“Even this has a moral. Never make friends with people who have sores!”
“Stories are never this short. They are long…much longer than this,” said Pankajam.
“Well, if both the lion and the fox have sores and are busy scratching, how can any story happen? Just take this moral and keep quiet,” said Kishmu authoritatively.
By now it was time for lunch and the gang dispersed after deciding to meet under the tamarind tree an hour later. But before going home, Ganga and Kishmu extracted a promise from each one of their friends that they wouldn’t tell anyone about their family ghost. There were lots of uestions in the post-lunch session. It was obvious that the entire group had been thinking of Kurali-Gnyamali and the family ghost’s contribution towards the overall welfare of the Ganga-
Kishmu family. More obviously, none of them had kept their promise about not discussing Kurali-Gnyamali.
“My mother says there are no such things as family ghosts,” said Nattu boldly.
“What do you know?” countered Pankajam. “My mother said a Malayali ghost had possessed her cousin and that she had to be nailed to a tree for forty-five days before the ghost left her. Then the same ghost entered her aunt who had to be nailed to the very same tree. The ghost then left the aunt and possessed her youngest you vomit blood. There was a man in my father’s village who was slapped by the kaatteri while he was crossing a bridge. He became dumb after that and the only thing he wanted to do was to marry the kaatteri,” added Rangan.
“If that man wanted to marry only the kaatteri, then it could not have been a raththa kaatteri. It must have been a mohini pisaasu, a female spirit which bewitched him with her beauty and then struck him dumb. My grandmother always says that one should never comb their hair or dress
up or look into the mirror at night. It attracts the mohini to you,” said Amirthavalli knowingly.
“Actually, ghosts are supposed to live on drumstick and tamarind trees. They mostly hang upside down and grab anyone who passes under the tree at the stroke of midnight. Then they invite their friends to share the victim,” said Kishmu.
“Since ghosts have no legs they can conveniently wrap themselves around a branch,” said Ganga looking up at the tamarind tree they were standing under. “Aiyyo! We are all standing under a tamarind tree and tempting the ghosts by talking about them,” he shouted and started running. The gang followed closely on his heels. The terrorized gang spent a sleepless night. Any small sound made them jump. Everyone kept looking for ghosts which might be lurking around
to grab them. Some closed the windows tightly to prevent spirits from seeping in. A few chanted the kanda shashti kavacham to ward off evil banshees. Amirthavalli tossed her anklets into the well because her own footsteps scared her. Nandanaar applied lots of sacred ash on his forehead and chanted ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ before going to bed. Ganga and Kishmu however had lots of
things to sort out with Sitamma. They had concocted wild stories in front of their friends. But now they had to match the tales with their mother’s version of Kurali-Gnyamali. The question of utmost importance being if Kurali-Gnyamali was one ghost or two.
That afternoon, Ganga and Kishmu had spluttered like fools when they were confronted with this question. “Is Kurali-Gnyamali one ghost or are uncle. At any given point of time one person or the other from the family was nailed to the tree. Soon it got to be a very mundane affair. By the end of it all, the entire family had learnt Malayalam from the ghost! It even taught my great aunt how to make chakka pradaman,” she ended, feeling rather important.
“I have not heard about family ghosts, but I do know of Raththa Kaatteris, vampires who slap you till they two ghosts?” Pankajam had asked curiously.
Kishmu had said “one” and Ganga had said “two” simultaneously and had ended up looking like “filtered fools”—Sitamma’s favourite term of abuse. Her explanation for this analogy went something like this. To make original aromatic filter coffee, one filled the brass filter with freshly roasted, coarse coffee powder and poured boiling-hot water into it. Since the powder was grainy, the water took long to seep in. Hence first decoctions were akin to people who had thick, grainy heads that prevented penetration of any kind of knowledge and advice. Second decoctions were slightly better, the third even better and so on and so forth. But as far as Sitamma was concerned, she preferred first decoctions not only for her coffee but also for her friends and acquaintances. “Makes life easy,” she would say.
Coming back to Pankajam’s question on the number of ghosts, the gang had been relentless with Ganga- Kishmu on this issue.
“One or two?” they had demanded.
“One,” Kishmu had said with an air of finality.
“Then why is it called Kurali-Gnyamali? It can just be Kurali, no?” Rangan had asked.
“Why? I am called Amirthavalli, which is Amirtha + Valli. One person, two names. Likewise Kurali-Gnyamali,” Amirthavalli had explained. Not convinced with this explanation, the gang had persisted mercilessly. Luckily for Ganga-Kishmu dusk had fallen heavily on the surroundings, setting off an eerie glow. Spontaneously, the brothers had broken into a run shouting, “Kurali- Gnyamali!” And that was all that was needed to scatter the ghostbusters in
twenty different directions.
Back home, the brothers waited for an opportunity to check with Sitamma about the family ghost’s history. The opportune moment presented itself after they had eaten dinner.
“Amma, that Kurali-Gnyamali…” Kishmu started hesitatingly.
“Yes, what about it?” asked Sitamma who seemed to be busy searching for something.
“Are they one ghost or two ghosts?” asked Ganga, scared even to utter the name.
“Mmmm?” Sitamma asked, still preoccupied with her searching. “Are they one ghost or two ghosts?” Ganga said a little loudly.
This time Sitamma turned around immediately and looked long and hard at her sons. She knew very well that the boys and their gang had been thinking of nothing but spooky things all day. Then she quietly said, almost in a whisper, “Dusk has fallen. I have lit the lamp. I cannot utter the name or talk about ‘it’ now. But let me show you something.” She led them to the
door which opened into the backyard and showed them two flickering images, two moving shadows on the ground. “There…” she said and turned away. The boys stood transfixed. They ventured to look at the shadows bravely, thinking that Sitamma was standing right behind them. In the faint moonlight, the shadows looked eerie. They appeared and disappeared in quick succession…All at once, the two images merged into one and then disappeared. The boys were bewildered and pretty scared. All they could now see were banana trees swaying mysteriously in the evening breeze.
“Amma, we saw two…then one,” Ganga whispered.
“Yes, amma,” said Kishmu and turned to see an empty space behind them.
That did it! The boys ran into their mother’s room yelling, “Why did you leave us alone?” Quickly they smeared sacred ash on their foreheads, recited the kanda shashti kavacham and closed all the windows and doors. It was only then that they noticed Sitamma frantically searching for something. “What are you searching for?” asked Ganga-Kishmu simultaneously.
“My gold ring,” replied Sitamma.
“Why don’t you ask —— (remember, the ghost’s name was not be uttered after dusk) to look for the ring?” asked Ganga. Then he went close to Sitamma and whispered into her ear, “Why don’t you try that clapping-your- hands-above-your-head exercise?”
“U-huh?” said Sitamma distractedly. “Why can’t _______ look for it, amma?” repeated Kishmu.
“ Oh! It’s vacation time and ‘it’ has gone on a holiday,” said Sitamma absent-mindedly.
“But just now…we saw ‘it’ in the backyard, no?”
“No, no. What I mean is ‘it’ left on its vacation just a few minutes ago…” said Sitamma quickly.
“So that means ‘it’ won’t be here tomorrow?” asked Kishmu excitedly.
“Umm…err…well…no, Kurali- Gnyamali…have gone on a holiday. I guess I have to find the ring myself because Kurali-Gnyamali won’t be back for a while,” replied Sitamma, realizing what she had done. Sitamma’s reply was received with a big whoop of joy. The boys immediately opened all the doors and windows. They ran across to their friends’ houses to inform them about the ghost’s departure…There would be no Kurali-Gnyamali any more. least till Kurali-Gnyamali were on a holiday. Sitamma was cursing herself silently in the kitchen. The brouhaha in the hall had already begun with renewed gusto.

1. Kurals: They are didactic poems in the form of
couplets written by the Tamil saint-poet
2.Dusshera: A festival in October celebrating the
victory of Rama over Ravana (or of good over
3.Vaadiyaar: Teacher in Tamil.
4. Po di ulla: Go inside! in Tamil.
5. Tirukkural: A book of didactic poems written
by Tamil saint-poet, Tiruvalluvar.
6. Chakka pradaman: A Kerala delicacy made
out of jackfruit.
7. Kanda shashti kavacham: A hymn composed
for Lord Kartikeya, believed to ward off evil.

Ghost on Call was published in Chatterbox Children’s magazine in September, 2001.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

When the neem tree spoke

In the front yard of our neighbour’s house was a lush neem tree, wearing a green, which was almost fluorescent. The tree trunk was of an unnatural girth, like the rounded body of a pregnant woman. Dark and curvaceous, the neem tree rose to the sky in a winding, vertical path. Rooted exactly opposite the front door of the house, the solitary neem tree was a formidable dwarapalaka standing guard over the house.
Our neighbour and we belonged to two parallel streets. Their backyard and ours used to meet over a fence which was anything but a fence. “Good fences make good neighbours” didn’t stand good as an advice for Sitamma or our friendly neighbour. The barbed wire, which had seen better days, was torn down in places. Children of both houses used to skip across the fence gaily, feeling equally free in both houses. There was good traffic coming and going between the two houses by the adults too.
The neem tree’s shade was an important hang out for us children. The shade stretched to around 15-20 meters on all sides. The farther we played from the trunk, the greater the chance of us being left in peace, for the main trunk was considered sacred. Every Tuesday and Friday, the neem tree enjoyed special attention. The trunk was reverently splashed with water and milk. Sitamma then anointed the tree’s mainframe with sandal, turmeric and kumkum. Some flowers, agarbathis and a lamp were also placed beneath the tree. Some even circumambulated and prostrated themselves before the neem tree. We children were encouraged to do the same, but we usually stood at the shade’s periphery and watched. Our only interest was the jaggery and puffed rice that would come at the end of the ritual.
“Mahamayi is housed in this tree,” Sitamma used to whisper.
“Can I see her?” I asked.
“Ssh. Come away. When night falls, don’t go near the tree,” she used to murmur.
Sure enough the tree seemed to whoosh with a frenzied intensity during nights, verily like the possessed, dancing hysterically, their hair flying this way and that. Once a visitor planted a coir cot beneath the tree and fell asleep. Well past midnight, he shrieked for help. He tumbled out of the cot, ran into the house and gasped that some invisible thing had pressed him on the chest, choking him.
“Oh! Come on now, it must have been the heavy volume of oxygen exhaled by the tree,” said an elder.
But Sitamma felt differently. “Mahamayi is a protective deity. She does her rounds after all her children fall asleep. She does not like intrusion into her space during nights. We must keep away from the tree after dusk falls. Did I not tell you?” she asked. The visitor was finally cajoled to sleep on the floor between two of his cousins (he wouldn’t dream of sleeping on a cot again, even under a fan!)
“Pick one,” Sitamma used to say softly. It meant she was in a dilemma. Not for her, a rational weighing of pros and cons or arriving at a solution using her objectivity. She always operated between extremes of “yes” or “no” for any given predicament. Writing yes/no, on two chits of paper, she rolled them at the neem’s tree’s feet. Calling any child within earshot, she used to ask the child to “pick one”. If the answer was unfavourable, she would sigh, ever so briefly, but recover almost immediately. It was infinitely more important to obey Mahamayi’s dictum. Her desires could wait or be quelled. However if a “yes” was drawn, she would smile her bright toothless smile, lighting up the entire vicinity. The point here is, the neem tree was not a tree which had to be watered, fenced and tended for, instead, She was the protector, the guide and of course God herself.
Then came a day when our neighbours bought their own tiny flat and decided to move out. Much tears and hugs were exchanged. One of our sons and one of their daughters fell in love and got married. It was a happy ending for the two families. But not for the neem tree. When the original owner came with plans for expanding the house, he felt the neem tree had to go. The roots were digging deep into the ground, too close to the foundation, too close for comfort. Lorries of gravel, sand and stone arrived. First things first, a good sturdy fence was erected between the two houses.
When the first stroke of the axe struck on the neem tree, Sitamma couldn’t contain herself. She walked up to the new neighbour and pleaded. “Sir this is not an ordinary tree. She has been standing guard over your house. We have been worshipping Her for years. Can’t you see the nests she holds?” I think she began to cry. The embarrassed gentleman was polite but seemed helpless.
That night Sitamma had a dream. An old lady, white haired, deeply beautiful wearing a simple cotton sari like the way they wear in interior Tamil Nadu appeared. Quite stoically she spoke, “It is better I do not leave.” That was all.
But who can stop houses being expanded, that too for the sake of a tree?
The tree went. None of us opened our back door for days. We did not want to hear the sound of the axe falling, or see that Amazon of a woman being carted away.
Shortly thereafter, there were some tragic incidents which touched the new owner’s life. Till date, Sitamma believes it is because the Neem tree was cut down.
“She was protecting the house from all ills, he would not listen,” she cried.
The tree is long gone. But I have never forgotten her, the coolness of her shade, the puffed rice and jaggery she yielded every Tuesday and Friday and the numerous games she allowed us to play under her watchful eye.

When the neem tree spoke was published in The Hindu on Sunday April 20th 2003.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sitamma's Kitchen

Sitamma's kitchen is a special place. As a child, I loved huddling in a corner, near the rice sack and watch her cook. This part of the house was warmer than the rest, what with two stoves going, but in the wee morning hours, the warmth was cosy and comfy.
Pouring the boiling hot porridge made of ten different protein ingredients into a large pan, she would let it cool, meantime asking me if my morning hunger was bearable or if she should just give me some plain milk. I would not answer instead I would look at the cooling porridge, then at the stew on the stove, the frothing lentils and the cut vegetables on the board on the floor. Waking from near my mother’s bosom and moving onto that warm kitchen corner was an everyday ritual, which readied and strengthened me for the less protective, less loving schema of my day. I find it difficult now to reproduce in retrospect and to articulate that particular feeling of security Sitamma’s kitchen gave me.
The vessels would be lined up in height order in neat, unchangeable positions. Rice, tamarind, red chilli had a separate corner and were stored in sacks. If it was found that a rat had made its way into the kitchen, then the sacks were immediately downed into huge vessels, which could be tightly sealed with lids. But that was very rare. The sacks were available for me to lean on every morning. the fragrance of her kitchen is something I am unable to replicate in my own. I store the same ingredients, yet that earthy, fertile, sumptuous smell of Sitamma’s kitchen is missing.
Unlike the monotonous, uni-colored, uni-metal kitchen vessels I possess, Sitamma’s pots and pans were cast in a variety of vessels. That curious mixture of hues and colors her vessels offered are inimitable. “Ever-silver” (stainless steel) vessels were not many in number. Each dish was cooked in a specific vessel made of a specific metal/material.
Rice was made in a Vengala panai-bronze pot. When the glub-glub-glub sound of rice nearing its boil reached Sitamma’s ear, she would pick out just one grain of rice from the pot and check its softness. “One rice grain’s consistency can speak for the entire pot of rice,” she would say and add, “what I mean is, just one utterance from you can throw light on what kind of person you are.” Of course, I understood nothing much less understand how one could touch boiling hot rice right off the stove.
Kozhambu was made in an Indoleum (aluminium) vessel or in Kall chetti i.e vessel cast in Ma Kal, a particular type of soft stone with which one could write on the floor, make kolams too. When Sitamma poured out the reddish brew from the black stone pot, I would say, “Paatti, doesn’t it look like Goddess Kali’s red tongue flowing out of her black mouth?” only to have my ears tweaked.
Oh! But I must tell you about Soin rasam. Rasam was made in Iya chombu, a tiny vessel made of lead. Iya chombu rasam is a brew fit for the gods. Laced with hand pounded cumin and pepper, garnished with curry leaves and coriander, the Rasam’s aroma would rouse your appetite strongly enough to devour a horse. When orange bubbles frothed near the vessel’s rim, Sitamma would heat a large tablespoonful of ghee in an iron ladle. When the ghee simmered, she would throw in some mustard. Tossing lightly she would immerse the red hot iron ladle with spluttering mustard seeds right into the bubbling rasam A huge ‘sssoooooooooin” sound emanated while the hot iron ladle tempered down with a hiss earning it the name. This soin rasam was very popular, what with its ghee and the taste of lead.
However it was the ku-chuk-chuk dosas which were my all-time favourite. What I thought was a ploy to make me eat dosas by naming them ku-chuk-chuk dosas turned out to be a valid nomenclature. Sitamma called the flat pan she used make dosais “Thandavalam” literally meaning railway tracks. Apparently the poor helped themselves to the discarded parts of the railway track, which were flat, smooth and excellent conductors of heat to make their dosas. Sitamma had a thandavalam in her village. “They hold heat for long. I can make upto four dosas even after the fire goes out. They never break.” So all dosas made on the tracks were called ku-chuk-chuk-dosas.
There are a lot more things I wish to dish out about that special place. Indeed lot many things other than just Kozhambu, rasam and curry got made in Sitamma’s kitchen. I think my recipe for life was written in Sitamma’s kitchen. The riotous variety of vessels combined with Sitamma as the chef added flavour, not just to meals but to my appreciation of life. What more could anyone ask for?

Sitamma's Kitchen was published in The Hindu on February 16, 2003.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Between the Barber and the Barbarians

“Shear and shear alike,” Thathaji instructed Varadan. “Saar, is it a Sanskrit sloka?” asked Varadan innocently.
“Illa da! It means give everyone the same haircut,” said Thathaji as he prepared to oversee the hair-raising—no, hair-shedding event!
* * *
Varadan was a much-dreaded figure in my grandfather’s household. Every other Sunday he would promptly appear at six in the morning and sneak into the backyard and wait patiently until grandfather sauntered out. Nobody announced his presence. Everyone just assumed that Varadan would materialise on alternate weekends ‘to shear and shear alike’ the thriving locks of ten restless youngsters—an event that Thathaji directed with great precision.
Armed with a much-used comb, which was a mild orange in colour, a small stainless steel cup, some soap—a green and awful-smelling neem preparation—scissors and blade, Varadan would
arrive on his cycle bearing the entire luggage in a tiny yellow cotton bag advertising the famous ‘Swarna Coffee’ of yore. Unlike these days when you can just walk into a saloon on any day,
get your hair cut, pay and walk away, one had a strict set of dos and don’ts then. No haircutting on festival days. Or Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Which meant that the haircutting
exercise could be undertaken only on Sundays. (Moreover, it was impossible to assemble the ten uncontainable brats, except on a holiday.) The barbered lot were not allowed to step inside the
house until they had washed at the well, from which water could be drawn only by an un-barbered person. The ‘hair shirts’ had to be washed and dried on a separate clothesline on the terrace…
Haircutting then was surely a tough regimen to follow!
* * *

“Varadan, won’t you ever fall ill or something?” asked Lacchu, one of the Raman-Lakshman twins.
Varadan smiled impishly and said, “Ambi, switch on the radio, let’s hear some sangeetham.” Once strains of thodi came wafting in, Varadan began to hum slowly along with it. Not to be
outdone, Seenu also began to whine along.
“Adada! Ambi, thodi has periya nee, but you are touching bhairavi nee,” said Varadan earnestly, not understanding that Seenu was actually trying to rag him. Varadan was a nagaswaram vidwan, whose side-profession was barbering.
However, he was careful not to display his talent in front of Thathaji. Varadan went about preparing for the ‘event’, while the boys stood around waiting for the inevitable. Suddenly a
scuffle broke out about who has to give his head first. Screams of “you go first, not me you fool, you go first!”resounded in the air as the boys wrestled each other, ending up in the mud near the coconut tree. Varadan stood watching as he sharpened his instruments on a whetstone almost
All this persisted only until Thathaji emerged from inside and commanded one of the ten to fetch him a stool. The boys stood up, dusting themselves. “You, Lalli’s son, go first!” ordered
Thathaji. Soon, all the grandchildren were made to stand in a line for ‘treatment’ from Varadan.
Without much ado, Varadan got to work on Lalli’s son.
“Why is there so much sand in your hair?” he asked loudly, snipping away at the back of his head.
Of course, this resulted in a huge peroration from the grandsire (on the evils of getting sand in the hair, which could lead to worms breeding inside one’s stomach because of eating with
hands unwashed from scratching one’s sandy hair and so on…) that ended with a dig at Lalli’s son, “Is the kaliman inside your head coming out?”
Kinda, who was next in line, was a little braver than the rest and mustered enough courage to complain loudly, “What is the use of having an oil-bath yesterday if you are going to get a
haircut today?”
That somehow seemed to make sense to Thathaji. “The boys have their oil-baths every Saturday and their haircuts happen on alternate Sundays. Why bother pouring ladles of expensive gingelly oil on these thugs’ hair just to cut them off the very next day?” said
thrifty Thathaji. Kinda became the hero of the day when Thathaji declared that
henceforth oil-baths shall happen only on alternate Saturdays—one week ahead of Varadan’s arrival.
Thathaji seemed lost in thought for a while. “Varadan, how much do you charge for a haircut?” he asked suddenly.
Varadan looked puzzled. “25 paise per person saar, but why this question after so many years?” he asked humbly.
Thathaji grinned and continued, “If you were summoned to cut Ravanan’s hair, how much would you charge?”
Varadan scratched his head and said, “25 paise for each head saar.”
“What! You dare to speak untruth. Just now you said it is 25 paise per person and now you say it’s 25 paise per head,” Thathaji boomed. “Now tell me, how much would you charge Ravanan?” he persisted mercilessly.
"Er...25 paise sir," agreed Varadan.
"If your fee for Ravanan who has ten heads is 25 paise, then you should charge me also only 25 paise for the ten heads you are attending to today," ordered Thathaji.
By now, the ten hooligans were doubling up with laughter. “Saar, shall I cut your hair also, then
the count will be 11 and this confusion would also end,” pleaded Varadan pathetically.
Convulsing with laughter, Thathaji concluded, settling for a royal haircut on that
luxurious Sunday, “Ade Varada, sharpen your wits along with that blade of yours!”
The boys were besides themselves with devilish glee. It was a treat to see Varadan squirm like
semiya in hot milk. Lifting one leg over another, Seenu, tongue sticking out, struck a Nataraja pose to show his happiness. Rama-Lacchu did synchronised swimming in the air. Kinda folded his
hands and kept bowing his head like an automated toy that said “Jai Hanuman”. Varadan took it all silently. Quietly observing the boys’ black humour, he plotted his revenge. Thathaji’s haircut
was almost over. With other customers, Varadan would have stopped with the haircut for 25 paise. But for Thathaji he always threw in an oil massage for free. The old man was a tough customer. He always made sure he got his money’s worth and more. If this grandsire had
one weakness, it was money, and he never spent it unnecessarily.
Varadan poured some oil onto his palm and got to work. Moving his fingers soothingly over Thathaji’s scalp, Varadan began, "SaarI am planning to go to my village to meet my mother. I will be away for nearly a month.”
“Very good,” said Thathaji.
“I will ask Subbu, my barber-friend, to come to your house while I am away.”
“Very good,” said Thathaji.
“But he will charge you 30 paise per head saar,” said Varadan cautiously.
“Why is that? I will not pay so much. I’ll wait for you to come back,” retorted
“Saar, at your age, hair will not grow back so fast. But what about these poor
boys? They will grow enough hair to make into a plait by the time I come
back. Summer is approaching fast. In fact, just yesterday I gave the opposite house
Dikshitar’s children a good headshave. They feel so cool and light now. I can do it for you at no extra cost, saar,”said Varadan, and stopped for the message to sink in along with the oil.
Just then Kappu came up to the well to draw water for the boys’ bath, when Thathaji stopped her quite suddenly. “Kappu, go inside and get some sandalwood paste. The boys are going
to get their head shaved!” Thathaji ordered, immensely interested in Varadan’s proposal because of the prospect of saving a month’s barbering costs. Kappu ran in giggling, yelling the
news to the others.
The boys stood transfixed. Seenu’s cosmic dance stopped. The twins’ froze and Kinda fell to the ground in shock. The other six boys, less brave than the others, were already sitting in a row
waiting for the blade to fall!
Varadan was too clever to laugh in Thathaji’s presence. But he talked about Tirupathi, the delicious laddoos one gets there and the medicinal properties of the sandalwood paste
used while tonsuring heads. No amount of rebellion deterred Thathaji from his thrifty decision.
“Keep quiet, you rascals. Going around with mud and lice in your hair. I’ll give you a shave every month if you don’t keep quiet now,” Thathaji said and shut them up once and for all.
In 20 minutes flat, there were ten gleaming heads, shining with sandalwood paste...ten faces yellow with anger! Seenu was almost foaming at the mouth with anger. Kinda was ready to pick up the nearest stone. But what could one do with Thathaji around? Having successfully finished
his task, Varadan bowed low to Thathaji and said, “Bless me saar, I’ll come back next month from my village. In fact, I decided to go there only after coming here. That too only when I was cutting your hair saar,” he said humbly, all the while throwing a sly smile at the ten
yellow heads.
The barber walked few steps. Then, as an afterthought, he called the youngest of the boys and handed him a rupee. “Buy laddoos for yourselves with this and say govinda-govinda before eating it, okay?” he said and sped off on his cycle before Kinda’s stone could hit

1.Illa da : No, man
2.Sangeetham : Music
3.Thodi : A well-known raaga in
Carnatic music
4.Periya nee : A high-pitched
musical note
5.Bhairavi nee : A musical note
from the Bhairavi raaga
6.Nagaswaram vidwan : A
person proficient in playing the
nagaswaram, a windinstrument
famous in South
7.Kaliman : Clay
8.Semiya : Vermicelli

*Between the barber and the barbarians was published in Chatterbox Children's magazine. Since I carried a Sitamma story last week, my family requested me for a "Thathaji" story this week. The story is in memory of my late grandfather whose birthday falls this month :) Hey cousins- enjoy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Coffee, Kaapi or me?

"Morning Kaapi (coffee) must be as fresh as that day's newspaper," according to Thathaji.
The grand sire likes to have coffee while the tang of toothpaste is still on his tongue. Reclining on his cane chair with newspaper eagle spread in his hands, he will wait for the coffee to arrive. Though the aroma would have hit him right from the kitchen onwards, it is customary that Sitamma coffee-in-hand waits for him to relinquish his paper. Thathaji would groan and grunt at certain news, check the obituary and glance through the sports section. When the newspaper curtains finally came down, he expected the next performance to begin.
Sitamma, hot "Kaapi" with aromatic mists hovering over the stainless steel tumbler and the vatta- all three stood expectantly.
"Why didn't you say you were waiting?" Thathaji would ask lamely.
But he would not lower his newspapers one instant before he wanted to and the petite lady knew it.
"Sitamma you look like one of those torch-bearing fisher folk heroines, standing by the sea waiting for their spouses to return," I tease when I see her waiting for Thathaji to put down the daily.
"Sure it is I am still at sea with him anyway. Thathaji wouldn't leave his paper even if his child were falling into the well. He will notice it only if it is mentioned in the newspaper. I wish they relayed news instantly on the paper too, like they do on the TV."
That was not all, for all the waiting, Thathaji never received the coffee cup from Sitamma. He would silently motion saying, "leave it here on the stool." But then if she left the coffee on the stool without his silent approval, all hell would break loose.
"Can't you wait for one kshanam for me to finish the paper? Which country of yours is getting ransacked for you to rush back so soon?" and so forth the peroration would continue.
"Only in this household will coffee making taking so long. I would have prepared an aviyal and a usili in this time," grumbled Sitamma.
But secretly, she loved this morning of ritual of serving her old man his Kaapi. And what a ritual! For that original, vintage-classic brew, Sitamma would choose light greenish coffee seeds and roast them. At a particular temperature, aromatic fumes would rise to fill the kitchen first, then the outer rooms. Gradually the coffee seeds' roasting would perfume the entire house. While the seeds cooled, Sitamma prepared that antique coffee grinding machine and other coffee-making gadgets including a clean piece of muslin, a smallish steel pot and some water on the stove. While the water heated, she ground the coffee seeds. By the time the water came to boil, the small quantity of coffee was powdered and ready for that morning's brew. The milk would be put to boil while the coffee diffused through the muslin cloth, like a brown lotus spreading its petals, turning the pond of water in the steel pot into a dark brownish fluid. Noticing Thathaji passing by the kitchen door after brushing his teeth, Sitamma would immediately start mixing the fresh-fresh decoction with the boiling milk from the stove. She never boiled milk and the coffee together. It was always boiling milk poured on the dark brew’s “head”. The amount of sugar added was important. It was that delicate amount of sugar- neither too much, nor too little. The coffee’s bitterness was intact, yet it was a refined kind of bitterness. Finally entire concoction would be mixed, not with a spoon (that is so unmagical) but by swishing and swooshing the fluid to and fro between the tumbler and the vatta. A thick thread of coffee flew between the two containers without one precious drop spilt and finally a frothy cloud stood the top of the coffee tumbler. This ritual for every coffee made in the household, morning, afternoon and evening. That too to be performed by Sitamma only, none else. If Sitamma were to ask Thathaji, “Coffee, Kaapi or me?” in all likelihood Thathaji would say, “Kaapi and also you because of your Kaapi.”
After coffee was served, Thathaji, his nose hitting the bubbly froth would draw in the heady concoction with a huge slurping noise, which is music to Sitamma’s ears. For the next 15 minutes, Thathaji would give his undivided attention to the freshly brewed nectar. Masticating on the news from the daily and mentally arranging his tasks for the day, Thathaji reminisced on his sepia memories while sipping on the brownish brew.
“If you want to marry someone, then treat him to Sitamma’s coffee and say that you made it,” suggested Thathaji.
“Which moron would agree to marry a woman just because she makes good coffee?” I demand.
“Well, this moron would and did,” accepted Thathaji sheepishly. Apparently, Thathaji fell for both the coffee and the golden hands, which made it. This during the usual dekho session arranged by the families before the wedding.
“Sitamma looked almost as good as the Kaapi she offered. Why, she even sang Kaapi ragam that day, what a coincidence! Intha soukya manine, how well she sang,” Thathaji went on gleefully.
“Day starts with coffee, life started with coffee….what more?” I ask.
“Someday when I drink coffee from your hands, my life will also end with coffee,” Thathaji said and laughed devilishly.
“Haven’t you heard of filters and coffee makers, Sitamma?” I ask.
“Things haven’t percolated down to that yet,” she replied dryly.
“What your filters and percolators make is coffee, what Sitamma makes is Kaapi,” concluded Thathaji categorically.
I can see that the art of coffee or rather Kaapi making can be so tricky and as demanding as the pursuit of performing arts. Particularly for Sitamma, when you have a coffee connoisseur breathing down your neck, the mere chore of making coffee becomes a performance of sorts. On stage no two performances can ever be alike. But Sitamma has managed to master the nuances of giving out coffee which tastes just the same each time- with the same thickness, flavour and temperature. One can patent it, I feel.
But how she manages a first decoction, second decoction, all this roasting, grinding, filtering through muslin cloth drama day after day, I really don’t know. It is nothing short of a lifetime commitment to serve her coffee connoisseur husband the best of coffees.
“I wish you were my wife, Sitamma,” I say taking in her painstaking efforts.
“I wish I were my husband too!” she replies with a sigh.

"Coffee, Kaapi or me?" was published in The Hindu November 17, 2002

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Never Tease Gandhi- preamble to notes on Vasti treatment

Imagine my mirth when I learnt that the last wish of my great grandfather was for an enema, which his wife had refused bluntly. He died soon after, his bottom most desire unfulfilled. For long his wife was plagued by grief that she had refused a dying man a simple last wish!
“You know, just as emperor Krishnadevaraya gifted golden mangoes to the priests and Tenali Rama offered branding with hot iron rods on his mother’s death anniversary, we must also offer enemas to guests who arrive for Thatha’s shrardam. Only then will his soul be assuaged,” I said most seriously to my great grandmother. The lady was not amused. She merely said- “My husband was a Gandhian. Like them, may you also know the pleasures of an enema.”

This story predictably generated high decibel belly laughter among my friends. Few smutty jokes made the rounds. One talked about Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel and his portrayal of Gandhi in it as Bhisma obsessed with colon cleansing. Another friend cited Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-candy man and Gandhiji’s views in it on bowel irrigation. Ideas abounded on how to placate the soul of my great grandfather who died wistfully dreaming of a warm enema. All of us laughed more than warranted. Then it happened. My stomach began “gesticulating”. Oh! How to describe it! It was as if my intestines wanted to step out to say hi to my friends and play dumb charades or something. I miraculously reached the bathroom on time.

While I was in there worrying that my intestines were descending so far down that they could say hello to the denizens of hell, I received an sms from my host (wise guy) from the other side of the door, “8 a kilo and shat 4? Bad Math. Worse aftermath.”
As my physical condition left me indisposed to retaliate in full strength, I merely stopped with not flushing his loo.

After that day I religiously began carrying the status message- “Never tease Gandhi” on my messengers to spread the news that one could attract painful stomach ailments if one teased the clean habits of the Father of the nation. But even this did not placate the forefathers for shortly after I developed a mysterious illness, which mysteriously enough had no apparent cure in “English” medicine. I was admitted into an Ayurvedic clinic- not the fancy green and ochre, oil dripping, back water facing thatch roofed kind you see in Kerala tourism brochures- but a real one which Shushruta would have been proud of- the kind which still uses leeches to drain bad blood and sets broken bones without anesthesia.

I was ushered into my room, where two shiny brass telescopes above the bedstead briefly distracted me from my grief.
I put one to my eye and peered out of the window. The telescopes smelt strange.
“Nice showpiece, eh? What happened to the glass lenses in them?” I asked the nurse.
“Who wants to see through them?!! They are the instruments for giving enema,” she giggled. Word spread about my faux pas. I was called Galileo by the doctors.
“How did you contract the illness, Galileo?” The Chief Doctor asked cheerfully.
“I teased Gandhi,” I said smartly and narrated the story of my Thathaji and Gandhiji with full histrionics and laughter.
“Heat the oil a tad more,” shouted the Doctor sternly and exited while the trembling nurses told me that their Chief was a sworn Gandhian!!
Oh! The old men were my nemesis. The next twenty days saw Galileo’s intestines being gargled with warm medicated oil and hot herbal concoctions through the telescopes. The nights in lieu of star gazing were spent tossing in fright after visitations from the two grand souls with toothless smiles. Not a day passed without me remembering the grand old lady who had cursed me to know the pleasures of enema.
A month later, as I left the clinic completely detoxified in mind and body, I swore to myself that a) I would spread the moral of the story - “Never tease Gandhi” far and wide and b) if ever I was to have a dying wish to be fulfilled by my descendents, I would die wishing for a full blown orgy on a barge - Cleopatra style.

"Never tease Gandhi" was published in Loony life column.

Days 12-16

Now we come to the grand conclusion of the long, hard, tummy turning treatment. After completing Ama pachanam (the cooking of 'amam' or toxins) through medicine, followed by Sneha Panam (internal oleation of body), Abhyanga and Swedana (massage and sweating) to move toxins of the body into the eliminatory system, we come to that final and crucial part of Panchakarma called Vasti which involves the elimination of the toxins dislodged from various parts of the body and made to accumulate in the eliminatory tract. Vasti involves giving enemas to the patient. Over a period of five days oil and herbal enemas (Sneha Vasti and Kashaya vasti) were administered and the bowels entirely irrigated. I feel extremely light, sprightly and "clean" after the treatment. My health has improved considerably. And I am keeping my fingers crossed for a complete cure. With this the "Purging of Jaya Madhavan" comes to a conclusion and I am going home to recuperate. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Abhyanga and Swedana

Day 9-11
Abhyanga and Swedana may sound like two apsaras descended from Indra's court to seduce Viswamitra but to bring you back to terra firma the two words roughly mean massage and sweating. Note on the two terms follows, but my story goes first.

Elements of Abhyanga scene- Two swarthy (female) masseurs. Hard wooden bed. A bucket of warm oil. A loin cloth. And me. Just arrange these elements in your mind and I will come back to it for I am going to digress a bit now.
There used to be a huge mortar and pestle in my grandmother's house. Washing the mortar and pestle by itself used to be a separate chore and women of the house used to vie for it. Not without reason. It needed two to clean that mortar and pestle and that pair who were in most urgent need of exchanging gossip used to tumble out to clean those mammoth instruments. Standing close to each other the women would bzzbzzbzzbzz softly and if someone were to pass by they would restore their voices to normal decibel. High and low, high and low they would whisper, giggle, gossip and pour out the contents of their heart even while the mortar and pestle got cleaned automatically and expertly, without demanding too much attention from the bzzzbzzing women.

Cut back to the clinic with me on the wooden bed, flanked by the two masseurs. Up, down, up down their hands move briskly and deftly. Tup-tip-toop, they turn me front to back, front to back effortlessly, all the while gossiping in high and low tones, completely oblivious to me, as if I were a mere pestle :(
Masseur 1: "And then my husband came home drunk and flung her to the ground. I turned off the TV and waited for his next move."
Masseur 2: "But that's what happened last week also after she came home in that particular way."
Masseur 1: "Yesterday was different. She was wearing flowers and an alien fragrance wafted from her."
Masseur 2: "What does your husband care?"
Masseur 1: "No, no she is.....what can I say? She is....."
Masseur 2: "Okay forget it; tell me what he did to her?"
Me: "Er...excuse me, but who is this "she" you are talking about?"

No sooner did I ask the question than the two sheepishly shut up and looked to finishing the massage swiftly. My head was exploding with curiosity. It was obvious they were continuing the conversation from the previous patient's massage bed and the previous patient must have known more about the "She". "Er....who was your previous patient?" I wanted to ask so that the story may conclude in my head. No such luck, for the treatment of the day finished and for the next two days I had two other sets of masseurs who nevertheless gave me a peek into their worlds with their gossip.

After the massage, a tube pouring smoke at its mouth was brought to me. It smelt of pungent herbs. Hot vapour was coursed down my body from the tube and I began to sweat as if I had run 6 miles. "This is Swedana," said the masseur answering my unspoken question. Shortly after, unable to contain their tongues the women returned to their idle gossiping.
I was worried that Swedana might be a Vedana (pain), but it is turning out exceedingly interesting what with the number of stories that float around like the thick fog above my bed.

Abhyanga and Swedana

Abhyanga is a gentle but firm warm oil massage done by two masseurs. Oils for the massage are chosen according to the ailment or constitution (prakruti) of the patient's body. The prefix “Abhi” means “into or towards” and “ang” has a root meaning of “movement’. So “Abhyanga” is the process by which bodily energy is reactivated even while moving the "amam" or toxins towards the body’s eliminatory systems. Abhyanga I find is an extremely comforting and rejuvenating part of the treatment. My skin is glowing from all that oil I was dunked in. My body feels lighter and many of my aches have subsided. I am liking it :) The stories of the masseurs are of course a bonus.

Swedana is yet another process of detoxification where steam from herbal concoction is blown on your body to stimulate sweating. As you "cook" beneath the steam, the body will begin to release its accumulated toxins through its pores. Together, Abhyanga and Swedana help in balancing the doshas and restoring health to your body.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day 8. End of Sneha Panam. Also end of me.

Today I had the largest dosage of ghee staggered through the day as two doses. The first glass of ghee was given at 6 in the morning and just when that "ghee burping" stopped and I heaved a sigh of relief, the doctor and his man servant appeared with the second glass.
"Dr.Sudheer you expect me to be friends with you even after this?" I asked as he blindfolded me and plugged my nostrils.
"mutu mutus?" I hollered at Nandakumar the manservant.
"Eh?" he asked.
I removed the nose plugs and repeated, "You too Brutus?"
"Eh?" he asked again.
"Your Shakespeare is wasted on him. Come on be a good girl and drink it up," Sudheer egged.
"GHEE is a four letter word," I said as the unctuous fluid coursed down my throat.
I really had it that day. I began purging the undigested ghee and god! my grandmother would have wept to see so much ghee go down the drain (literally). It reminded me of a childhood story filled with scatalogical references about a fox which stole into a wedding feast and drank up all the ghee and served the guests pus from its wound insteaad......YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH and such yucky stories my mind threw up. The mind is such a devious beast. On one side my stomach was bidding goodbye to me and begging to find a replacement, on the other my mind was chewing on useless old stories and frying my dizzy head in such slimy stories. I got a clear idea of a purgatory that day. Man! If I am writing so badly today, it is because of the ghee (heh-I found an excuse finally). Tomorrow Swedana begins. If you thought Snehana and Swedana are two attractive twins like the models Tapur and Tupur, heh- so sorry. Swedana is the next phase of the treatment. More after I digest this medicated ghee.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 6-7

Today I got admitted into the hospital for the Snehana or pretreatment to Panchakarma. What you read till now was the pre-pretreatment which I carried out as an outpatient.
I chose a common room in order to have some company. As luck would have it, the only lady who was here moved into a separate room after spending a day with me. We laughed too loudly, we spoke too much, we displayed too much exuberant behaviour and such complaints rose within the hospital and hence she quietly moved out of the room after briefly crying over my shoulder. I knew it was that Nandakumar who spread these vicious words. His job is to ensure that we do not fall asleep during the day (as it aggravates pitta), make us sit erect in our chairs during and after meals and prompt us to have our baths before 6.30 am etc. He must have been a Puritan in his previous birth, always worried that “someone somewhere might be happy.”
The hospital is a fairly pleasant place, neat and simple, bright and quiet. All this at the first glance. Heh- as you begin your stay here, the harshness of the place unfolds. In my room, three fans hang above three beds uselessly. In this tropical heat, we are not to use fans. Three beds wait vacantly, but I cannot lie or sleep until the sun has set. I have this urge like Goldilocks to try all three beds…in vain.
My laptop beckons but I am not to work until it is dark. No talking, no sleeping, no serious working during the day. Only staying awake and being still. Try it and see if it does not drive you crazy.
There are other interesting patients here- one has hands that turn numb without notice, other has a tummy that cannot accept any kind of food without breaking into bleeding rashes, yet another has a growth in his brain and then there is me with this unglamorous mysterious illness and so on. Yet we cannot speak to each other to offer comfort or exchange notes.
“Conserve your energy. You can heal only by not doing routine things like talking, phoning, browsing, working, eating unfriendly food, sleeping at odd times and bad posture,” my good doctor instructs. Suddenly it makes immense sense to me. I got ill in the first place because of faulty habits. I must give my body a chance to heal. I immediately became a good girl and even read Skanda Shasti Kavacham. But in some two hours time, I tired of being good. Luckily it was bedtime. I was asked to be ready by 6.30 am the following day. I was told that I would be given “Sneha Panam” (literally ‘friendly drink’) first thing in the morning. Ha! A welcome drink at a hospital! What next? Would ill clad girls dance to me and pour wine from tall urns into my waiting glass? Mmmmmmm. I hit the sack with great expectations.

As I eagerly awaited the drink the following mornign, a lady came in bearing a steel tumbler, a longish piece of cloth and two cotton buds dunked in some unguent.
“I have to blindfold you,” she said and my imagination simply exploded. Wheee! Long live Charaka and Sushruta. Long live ancient Indians and the age that facilitated the writing of a treatise like Kama Sutra. So on and so forth I exulted as I permitted myself to be blindfolded. No sooner were my eyes bound than two oily cotton plugs were unexpectedly thrust into my nostrils. A smell that could make a skunk wither pervaded my entire being. As I swooned in shock a glass was pressed to my lips. I perked up immediately, knowing that it was that promised welcome drink and eagerly opened my mouth when of all things ghee flowed into my mouth! Can you believe I was made to drink an entire glass of ghee?!!
“You call this Sneha Panam?” I shouted.
“Sneham means oily. This is towards internal oleation of your body. This will help the toxins to dislodge from various sites in your body and move towards the alimentary tract,” they explained in Shudhh Sanskrit.
Shuddh ghee over Shudhh Sanskrit. I could not decide which was worse.
“Tomorrow we shall give you a larger glass of ghee, okay?” said the lady. I could only weep.


Snehana is the pretreatment to Panchakarma. It literally means oleation. In Snehana medicated ghee (according to your illness) is administered internally over three to maximum seven days in increasing dosages, till your body reaches a saturation point. Sneha Panam or medicated ghee is given first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and no food is offered until the ghee has been entirely digested. Only hot water laced with dried ginger is permitted during the day. When the body reaches a saturation point, the patient begins to purge to empty the excess ghee out of the system. At that point, Snehana is stopped and the next phase of treatment begins. Just as we dip clothes in detergent for easy cleaning of clothes, Snehana is vital for the easy “laundering” of the body failing which the body will suffer like a dry stick under pressure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 4-5

No point mulling over this Ama Pachanam period. I decided to take my mind off coffee and food. I made this crucial decision after experiencing some severe “blade emotions” over something equally blade. I was going someplace with my son. It was pretty early in the morning so I liberally pressed on the accelerator. At one turning I made an intelligent manoeuvre and a car on the opposite side had to break roughly. I scrolled down ( rolled down I mean) the car window and said sorry to which the very young driver said a very bad word.
“Hello!” I said, blood rushing to my head. The kid was ‘young enough to be my son’ as the saying goes. I don’t think he was a bad kid, just a bad mannered kid.
He began to move away without an apology and I (as such without coffee) was highly fragile in my temper. A hot chase ensued. He sped away and I sped after him honking and waving him to stop and give me an apology. My poor car was no match for his swanky car. Yet, I pumped the accelerator. I tried to fly over his car and drop in front of him like Rajnikanth and compel him to stop with screech and/or his tyres bursting into flames. No matter how hard I pulled the steering wheel up as they do in films, my car still remained on terra firma. I decided then and there to take my car to a drive-in theatre, where she can also watch some films and pick a few fly-yourself techniques.
At one crucial turning, the boy cleverly gave me the slip leaving me to face a red signal. I said a brief “you-you-you” and turned back home. Despite the obvious defeat, I still felt triumphant after the chase. I had got my adrenalin rush for the day without coffee. “You are Ben Hur, I say,” I congratulated myself.
“Stupid-stupid-stupid,” my husband shouted. “Want to get yourself killed? Who do you think you are Ben Hur? I would rather you stopped this treatment and got back to your coffee and start behaving,” he ranted. My son and I exchanged glances and giggled. “Papa don’t preach,” we whispered lest it triggered another lecture.

Over all I decided the lack of coffee was making me jumpy and very blade-emotional. I decided to “like” the treatment for a change and see how my body was benefiting. As I begin to take stock of my body, I do feel that the Shaddaranam is doing its job. My body is feeling lighter. I almost don’t feel my stomach’s presence. It in fact it looks flatter. Sorry that was an exaggeration, it looks a little flat- that is all, not flatter (as though it was already flat.) Huh.
More about Shaddaranam will follow.

Day 2-3

Ama or Amam is the flo(a)tsam and jetsam of the body. Undigested material and toxins which float around the body have to be coaxed to descend into the alimentary tract from where they can be eliminated. Ama Pachanam literally means “cooking of Amam”. The Shaddaranam which I wrote about earlier does the cooking and (near) elimination of the Amam. Those which do not get evacuated during the Ama Pachanam will be expelled during Vasti (enema) process.
I was on a strict fat-free diet. I was not permitted to take milk/curd (tell a South Indian to not take curds)/butter/any diary product, oil or vegetable other than snake gourd. My diet consisted of plain idlis for breakfast (no chutney or milagapodi), rice and ungarnished plain dal for lunch and phulka and un-garnished watery dal for dinner for seven days before getting admitted. Even the food was bearable but the lack of coffee tried me to the hilt. This treatment, I decided is a test for both- my physical and mental endurance.
If you thought maintaining a bland diet is easy, I challenge you to try it. By the third day you will be flying off your handle. I was continuously hungry and irritable. Food turned to dust in my mouth. Every little pile of work seemed mountainous to me. I was simply losing it. But in my mother’s words I was being perfectly myself even during the bland-diet days.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 1

Breakup of treatment into three phases

Pre-treatment, primary treatment and post treatment. Before I wax eloquent about the three phases, let me sob over the pre-pretreatment phase.

I am now undergoing what is called the Ama Pachanam, the pre-pretreatment phase where I have to go on a fat-free diet. No milk, no oil, no spice.
And above all no COFFEE. Can you imagine, no coffee? Tell a true blue south Indian to stay away from coffee and she will commit hara-kiri. Lucky for me I do not understand Japanese and hence did not commit the whatever.
But it has not been easy, I tell you.
I just have to hear the syllable Ka and my eyes dilate with tears. I feel intense viraha for the brown fluid. For the first time in my life I understand why most alcoholics trade every last ounce of their credibility for the sake of the bottle. What would I not give for now one cup of coffee?
Adding fuel to the fire is a magazine which has asked me to write on….guess what? ….Coffee! Life is a four-lettered word I say. By day 1 evening I was bawling over the phone to my doctor.
“What at all may I drink? I am craving a hot beverage. What can I drink?” I wept.
“Drink HOOOT water,” she said kindly.

I cannot have coffee, what I can have instead is Shaddaranam, this absolutely delightful bitter powder that can make a bittergourd seem like laddoo. Have Shad-daranam and all you can think of is the pot. If “Pot” gives you transcendental thoughts, Shad-daranam gives you thoughts of the pot.

To digress a bit, there is this medicine called Triphala (made from equal parts of Amalaki, bibhitaki and Haritaki) a super laxative that can churn your stomach in seconds and make it expel even ten days fixed deposit in your intestines in 2 mins. Now if Triphala is the mother of laxatives then Shad-daranam seems to be the Pitamaha of Triphala. I will get back to you on the ingredients of this bitter medicine which is working like a Super-Bat-Spider-Shakti-man of a laxative on me. My intestines, I fear are going to descend and drop into the pot shortly.
I should have one tsp of this "pot-thoughts" inducing medicine every morning and evening (instead of coffee). No need to explain where I sit rest of the day. Thank god for wireless and the peerless (pan) I continue to work from where I am.

A note to my gentle readers. There is an Amazon of a woman here who pops in every two minutes, asking me to shut down the "TV". No amount of explaining convinces her that what I have here is a laptop. According to her, "If it sings and shows video, it is TV". Hence my posts may come a little late. But hang in there. I will post something everyday for you people. Also try and leave a comment, good or bad. I love hearing from my readers (especially the coffee drinking ones) and especially during this unhealthy time of being away from civilization. SWAT, sorry that was a mosquito. Bye and hang in there.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Purging of Jaya Madhavan

Welcome and namaste to all my dear readers who have arrived to read about the purging of Jaya Madhavan easily one of the pleasantest topics to read just before brunch, lunch or dinner.
I am undergoing the Panchakarma (Ayurvedic) treatment and do not be misled by anyone who says it is one of the most ex-otic, ex-quisite and ex-hilarating treatments to undergo. If at all it is any “ex”, it is ex-asperating and ex-pensive.
Just to give you the context- I have been suffering an insufferable ailment the past four years- a way too unglamorous illness that does not suit my writer-image as much as a lymphosarcoma or a brain tumour would. After a long round in allopathic hospitals where doctors were about as helpful as BSNL employees, I zeroed in on an Ayurvedic doctor who in no simple terms told me that what I have is a Vatta disorder and my apana vayu (downwardly mobile bodily gas) is all screwed and angry and causing me the illness. The Sanskrit sloka she quoted to substantiate her diagnosis sounded something like “Vatta-shutta-butta-pitta-kutta-mutta-swaha!”
Just as I was fleeing both the Sanskrit and the diagnosis, a helpful Dubashi in the clinic told me kindly that, according to Ayurveda all diseases are a manifestation of the imbalances in the three doshas of Vatta, Pitta and Kafa (roughly gas, bile and phlegm) and once these three Musketeers are evened out, the disease should also automatically vanish. And a sure shot side effect of this treatment, he said would be weight loss upto 7 kilos in 22 days. Now that got me hooked and here I am, undergoing the Panchakarma treatment- the ultimate laundering of your body.

Note on Panchakarma

Panchakarma (literally meaning "five actions") is directed at cleansing your body by removing toxins through nasal therapy (Nasya), Vomiting (Vamana), Purging (Virechana) and two kinds of therapeutic enemas (Sneha Vasti and Kashaya Vasti with herbal oils and herbal decoctions respectively). To put the above jargon in simpler words, the toxins in my body are going to be moved to the alimentary tract through massage, fomentation and medication, from where they would be removed through enemas. My intestines are going to be gargled with exotic fluids. And I think by the time I am through with this treatment I would have been folded into five (hence the name five fold therapy eh?)

More to come

There are three phases to this treatment. Come back tomorrow to know more about the first phase of this five-fold therapy (human-origami, I call it). You are welcome to leave any comment, but without mentioning the word coffee/kapi. Please.