Sunday, July 29, 2012


The luscious fruit!

All of us have tasted and enjoyed the sweet delicious LITCHI fruits at one time or another. Those who have never tasted that fruit can’t imagine what they have missed. Those who have enjoyed that taste can never forget it. The pleasure of eating a freshly-plucked Litchi and sucking the juice out of it is simply heavenly -- more so if it is from one’s own front garden. I had the joy of this pleasure just two months back, at my daughter’s place, in north Bengal.

The fruit laden tree
The litchi tree stands majestically in the front garden, way back from all the flower beds, and holds sway over all it surveys. Just three-four feet up from the ground, it has branched off all round resembling an open umbrella, calling on children to climb on it and play hide and seek among its branches. With no child of tree-climbing age in the house, the tree stands alone housing various kinds of birds and insects.

This tree held a kind of fascination for me, with its fruits hanging so low that one could pluck them without an effort. I really loved watching it from the veranda while having my first cup of tea in the mornings. I am not ashamed to say that I used to get the urge to reach out and sit on the lowest branch – just three feet above the ground.  It always reminded me of my schooldays in Lakshmi Nivas, my childhood home in Thiruvananthapuram, where we had all kind of trees and various plants. Among these, I had my own tree, with very low branches; one of these was my usual place whenever I wanted to be on my own, far away from everyone else.

The tree after the fruits were gone
There are many types of trees in Gowri’s garden.  The VILVAM tree is the oldest one. The trunk of this tree is so big no two human arms could hold it – it needs at least two pairs of arms to grasp it. The Vilvam tree has special religious significance; it is used in Siva temples for archanai. Its leaves – it is a compound leaf with three leaves in one stem – are said to represent the three eyes of Lord Siva.

Then there are are palm trees, peepul trees and a large rain tree. Two of the palm trees have money plants creeping over their trunks, with leaves as big as elephants ears. Tall the palm trees may be, but because of this, they look dwarfed  when compared to other trees.

In addition, there are various fruit and flowering trees – such as lemon, starfruit, guava, a small mango tree, with a single fruit dangling among its branches, and an ARAINELLIKAI one. The last one belongs to the Gooseberry family, the fruits smaller in size with a sweet tangy taste.

The fruit laden branches
Among all these trees the Litchi tree was the one that really fascinated me, especially as I watched the flowers turn to fruit. The pity was I could not reach out and pluck an unripe litchi and eat it as I might have done with a green mango. I had to wait for Nature to ripen it.

Gathering the harvest
When these fruits started changing colour from a coppery greenish tinge to a full red coppery shade, this tree started attracting monkeys in the daytime and bats at nights. The skin and the seeds strewn on the ground all round the tree were proof to this Two boys were employed just to drive away the monkeys from the tree but I observed these boys were never seen when the monkeys appeared.  Were the boys neglecting their job or were the monkeys too clever for them? I don’t know.

In spite of these monkeys and bats, when the time came to harvest the ripe Litchi there was plenty, enough for the family, enough for the domestic servants and plenty more for the neighbours.        

Friday, March 9, 2012


A month back Raja and myself were proceeding to Pradeep’s Khet for a lunch gathering. His farm is located in Haryana, beyond Gurgaon, near the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and as we approached it, Raja pointed out to a red-tiled roof in the distance and said, “Look Ma, there is the Meda”.

The Meda is Pradeep’s brainchild. It is a two-storeyed building, the ground floor in brick and mortar, the top floor all wood, as in any old house in Kerala., In fact, it was an old house from Kerala. Raja told me it belonged to some friends of his, who were selling it. On a whim, Pradeep decided to buy it and transport it to Delhi.

Panel by panel -- including the wooden floor, the doors, the veranda railings -- as also the rafters of the ceiling and the red tiles of the roof, were dismantled, packed and trucked to the Khet, where it was then reassembled.  It took a team of six Asaris  (carpenters), their leader a veteran traditional temple builder, more than two months to do the reassembly, two months when Pradeep looked after them with loving care, even getting one of their wives to come over and cook “special Kerala” food for them

Very proudly, Pradeep took me inside and showed me around just like parents show off their new-born babies.And he has every reason to be proud. The Meda is a heritage building from the outside, on the inside it glimmers with every modern convenience, even in the bathrooms.

And then there was this wrought iron spiral staircase which led to the first floor. On our way to the Khet, Raja told me that I might have to be satisfied with seeing the Meda from the outside as I might not be able climb this staircase.  But with Pradeep pulling me from the front and Raja prodding me from behind, I managed to do it. 

And how beautiful the upstairs was: the wooden floors, the cosy bedrooms, the long verandas on either side with their round wooden pillars. It made me feel as if I was back in a Kerala Tharavad.

With Pradeep on the balcony

It took me back to my childhood days and to my grandparents’ home in Karamanai—a cluster of Brahmin Agraharams with row-houses.  In those houses the outer walls were brick and mortar but the floors, the staircase and the partitions that divided the upper storey into two or three rooms were all constructed of wood. We children were always cautioned to play there without making any noise like jumping around or running about. And for us it was a treat to be allowed to go upstairs and hunt around among the hundred and odd things like old newspapers, utensils and other things stored there, with the thought that some day they would come handy.

 Among the many odd things that kindled our interest, were some wooden dolls –Marappachis of various sizes the tallest about ten to twelve inches in height and smallest not even two inches high. These dolls were our attractions there. They were whittled out of some dark brown wood and unbreakable. We used to have so much fun dressing up them in odd bits of rags and making chains for their necks with some Pasimani. Nowadays these Marappachis are seen only in the Bommai-Kolu during Navarathri.

As I am writing this one incident comes to my mind -- how I got the nickname Chothi. Even today I am unable to figure out the meaning of that word. This happened when I was three or four years old, on a visit to my grandparents’ home. I was warned against going up the stairs but ignoring the words of elders, I followed them up.  Having climbed three steps I tripped or lost my footing and fell down on my back with my right arm and elbow caught under my back! How I was taken to a bone setter and had my right arm in a sling for six eight weeks is another story. Well, my elder brother it was who started calling me Chothi because of my broken arm and that nickname stuck with me for a few years!

I have allowed my memory to wander away from the main point. I am afraid I have a box full of memories in my brain and like Pandora’s Box once opened, it is difficult to close it. Thank God: unlike Pandora’s Box my memory box is only full of harmless stories. 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Plain sevai. Picture courtesy

Today we had SEVAI for dinner. I had made Mor Kuttan with Chenai and Elavan which prompted Raja to prepare Sevai -- the instant ready-made type, which one has to immerse in boiling water for a few seconds and take out. And all you have to do is soak the Sevai in the Mor Kuttan and enjoy.

 Sevai and Mor Kuttan -- what a combination! It brings back memories from childhood. Not the instant, packed, ready-to-cook sevai — but freshly prepared, right from scratch, starting with grinding the rice. Making Sevai at home in those days without any electric gadgets was hard work. We children never thought how much time and energy was spent in preparing it, we were more interested in enjoying the end product.

My mother and my elder sister were very adept in preparing this dish. They used to make an occasion of this by inviting all the local family members to join us to savour the Sevai, with Mor Kuttan, Rasam, Appalam and Vattal -- all the side dishes that go well with the main dish. They were helped by my mother’s Mami to do all the hard work, who was always ready to give my mother or my elder sister, a helping hand.  

Mami was very good at preparing tasty dishes. The very memory of the ‘Karavadai’, she used to make makes my mouth water even after so many years. Kunjami as we used to call her was my mother’s youngest mami. As was common in those days her husband had a second (unofficial) wife with two children. So Mami, with her two children, was finding it a tough job to make both ends meet. By helping others in the kitchen, whenever wanted, she was able to take care of her two children with the extra income she earned. Mami was big built and real fat but that did not deter her from hard work like grinding in the Aatukkal.

In those days, most houses had an Aatukkal and Ammi fixed to the floor, either in the kitchen itself or in the work area next to it.  In most houses, there was also, in one of the walls, a hole two inches in diameter, three inches deep, and inlaid with an iron lining. We kids used to wonder about this hole in the wall and each one of us had our own explanation.   When asked, my mother  would respond with ‘wait and see’. And we had to wait till it was Sevai day to discover what it was for.

On Sevai day, Mami would enter the kitchen and take complete charge of things. Grinding the rice and all the work at the fireside was done by her. As my mother used to say someone should be in the kitchen to do all the walking and fetching things for her.  Mami’s first need was to get a good lota of coffee after which she made herself comfortable at the grinding stone to grind the well-soaked parboiled rice to a smooth paste.

Dough rolled into balls
The next step was to place the dough in a thick-bottomed pan over a low flame, allowing all the water content to evaporate. Mami would stir the dough in the pan continuously, while making herself comfortable sitting on the floor by the fireside. After that was done, she would use one and all in the kitchen to help her make the thickened dough into fist-sized balls. These dough balls were then either steamed or cooked in boiling water.

Now it was time to bring out the SEVA NAZHI, the Sevai-making apparatus. It was made of bell metal or brass and consisted two U-shaped parts, the top one sliding tightly into the lower one. The bottom of the lower one was full of small holes, like a sieve.  For the Sevai making operations to begin, the Seva Nazhi was fitted into a special wooden stool about two feet high one foot wide which a hole in the centre.

By now Mami would be in full form. She would ask for a big banana leaf which she would clean and spread on the floor in front of the hole in the wall. She would place the stool with the Seva Nazhi on the leaf. Placing the steamed dough balls one at a time in the lower part of the Nazhi, Mami, with all her power, would press down on the dough ball with the upper part. We children would shout with joy as thin strands of the Sevai would start falling on the green banana leaf.

A present-day sevai nazhi
Sometimes more pressure would be needed to press the dough balls down the Nazhi. For that a wooden pestle, about three feet long and with both ends capped with iron, was needed … and also the hole-in-the-wall. One end of this pestle was fitted in to the hole in such a way that its middle portion rested on the Nazhi. Strong hands would then press down the other end, squeezing the upper part of the Nazhi into the lower part, and thus forcing the Sevai out of the sieved bottom. A few times I had seen my elder brother giving a hand to press the pestle.

My mother by this time would have prepared all the other required side dishes.  We youngsters were now required -- only to relish the Sevai with them

   A lot of the Sevai would be left over after everyone had had their fill. Half of this would be soaked in  the leftover Mor Kuttan, the other half in the leftover Rasam. To have this for breakfast the next morning was a great treat for us -- the taste simply heavenly.

Who has the time and energy to prepare all this nowadays?  Isn’t it wonderful that we have the instant variety now: it helps old persons like me remember and savour delicious things of the past!

All pictures  - courtesy

Thursday, December 22, 2011


 Last Sunday’s HINDU carried an article on Kazhukumalai, a small township in the district of Thoothukudi in South India. The name of the place, Kazhukumalai simply took me back to my childhood days.

A gramophone and (below) a plate. Pictures courtesy Internet.

Those were the days when people were unaware of things like electricity and running water at homes. No electricity means none of the modern conveniences one has today. The gramophone was the only luxury some homes could boast of, and ours was one of those. We had collected a large number of plates -- this was what records were referred to in those days. This gramophone was operated by hand, winding up the springs that make the record holder revolve, fixing the needle to the stylus (one had to change the needle after the first side was played, to play the other side) We children were not allowed anywhere near this. Not only that we, the youngsters had to beg and nag our elder brother to operate this for us whenever we felt like listening to our favourite songs.

My favourite list included one song which begins with the words, ‘Kazhuku malai  Kuruvi kulam’(Eagle Mountain  Sparrow Pond) - a song with two  stanzas. Even after so many years I felt happy when I found out I remembered the words. The song on the flip side of this record was very rustic, beginning , “Macha vandhidingo thirunalluku” (An invitation to the boy friend to attend a festival).These were not film songs  but common “Theru koothu” (street play) songs. As I write, so many of those songs come flooding into my memory. “Indru pole endrum namum Isan namam Pottuvome” (Let us ever sing the praise of  Isan the Lord); “Imayam muthal Kumari varai” (from the Himalayas to Kanya Kumari)  - this song gave a geographical description of India and also introduced Mahatma Gandhi as the great Indian leader. One Kuravar (gypsy) song I remember well is, “Koodai  Muram kattuvom” (Let us weave baskets)  Well I can add a few more songs to the list.   What I wonder is - could anybody of that era be able to remember these songs? Is there any collector of old  Thamizh  songs who have these in the collection?  I really wonder!!

These records were pushed back to the bottom shelf when songs of films like Chintamani,  ThyagaBhoomi  Seva Sadanam, Sakuntala,Balayogini  and Bhaktha Kuchela became very popular. We had a few Telugu and Hindi film song records also in our collection. I remember how people on the street would stop in front of our house to listen to the latest film songs played on the gramophone. My elder brother was an avid collector of all film songs because my mother really enjoyed listening to them in the evenings, for though they were film songs all most all of them were devotional ones.          

When the radio entered our home in the late 1930s the gramophone and the records were handed down to the youngsters and we felt very grown up when our nephews were at the requesting end, begging us to play their favourite songs

Now today only oldies like me think of these things and some days lose sleep also thinking about those “GOOD OLD DAYS.” My youngest daughter told me once that in everyone’s life there are those Good Old Days depending on their age and when life was smooth running for them easy going, without any care. Reading the write up on Kazhuku Malai gave me so much pleasure, it brought back all those old songs to the front of my mind.

How I wish I could sing them out loud and clear! But that is not possible because I can only sing out of tune which even ‘Bathroom singers’ will object to.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


A Diwali rangoli, created by my granddaughters Parvati and Swati
This year’s Diwali was Danielle-Kartik’s Thalai Diwali, the Diwali they celebrate as a couple for the first time. I sent them a mail from which I quote two or three sentences:
“In those days – I am talking about 75 years back -- newly-married couples used to wait eagerly for Diwali, the reason being they had to wait a year or so to start living together as man and wife.
“The boy with his parents used to go his in-laws’ place to celebrate Diwali.  If they (I mean the newly-married couple) were lucky they would get a few moments to themselves, to hold each other’s hands and for some daring boys to steal a kiss or two!!”

Kartik and Danielle
 Thanking me, Danielle wrote back saying she enjoyed reading my mail, bursting out laughing when she read “steal one or two kisses”.

My parents

Well, life was indeed very different then. My parents got married when my mother was eight years old and my father 14 -- that was in 1902. They were together for 70-odd years, till 1972, when my father passed away. Through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through sadness and happiness they were together bringing up their seven children and settling them in life. They did not understand the word LOVE, for there was no such word in their dictionary, but they cared so much for each other in their own way. Both of them had shared their fears and anguish for each other with me.

My third sister , me and my eldest sister
My three elder sisters were married off when they were 12, 13 and 14, respectively. I was not even born when my eldest sister got married. She was older to me by 13 years. So I have no idea how her Thalai Diwali was celebrated. I was 10 years old when my second sister got married and went to her in-laws’ place within two-three months and was with her husband and his family to celebrate their first Diwali. Since they were living in the same city the whole family was invited for lunch and my sister and Athimbar were presented with new clothes.

With my second sister
Though we are Tamilians, we are third-generation families who have settled in Thiruvananthapuram (capital city of erstwhile Travancore state). We have been more influenced by the culture of Travancore and developed our own style of celebrating Diwali including the Thalai Diwali of newly-married couples.
When my third sister got married and moved over to Trichy with her husband before their first Diwali, gifts were sent to them.  I was in Delhi with my husband a month after my marriage. We were sent money to buy whatever we wanted. I was 17-plus when I got married in 1945 and that was regarded as rather late for a girl to be married off. When my 23-year-old niece’s marriage was put off till 1960 because she wanted to finish her graduation, so many comments were passed.

So customs and rituals were being changed to suit each family’s convenience and the times they lived in. 

Nowadays there are hardly any set rules and laws. That is only right. With each family having its members spread all over the world it is very difficult to stick to old rules. I feel each family should be given the freedom to celebrate the festivals as they choose to, in their own way. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This evening I was watching an old Tamil movie (20 years old).  In one scene, the heroine was choosing earrings in a jewellery shop by holding each earring next to her ears, in front of the mirror. She was unable to decide which to go for. As she was looking in the mirror, trying the latest dangling ones, she was surprised to see another face in the mirror, that of a young man, signalling that this type looks good on her. When she tried another pair, the face in the mirror showed his disapproval. The face in the mirror was all smiles again when she tried the first one once more. That made the decision for her and she bought those earrings and on her way out thanked the youth.

Courtesy Internet
This scene in some way reminded me of what I experienced in a shoe shop in a mall in Chicago this June. I was there with my daughter-in-law Jaishree who was keen on getting me one or two pairs of footwear. Considering   my age she made me sit in the waiting alcove saying she would pick up a few samples and bring them over for approval. I took a seat and looking around found a young man occupying another chair.  Out of courtesy I said ‘Hello’ and he too responded with a smile and a ‘Hello’.

A young woman came over wearing the slippers she had chosen for the young man’s approval. He gave a thumbs down sign and she went back to choose another pair. She came back with another pair which suited her feet -- black with aqua blue/green design. I liked that colour combination and that must have showed on my face. The young man just looked at my face and gave the girl a ‘thumbs up’ sign.  The girl walked back and after a short time came back wearing another pair which did not suit her at all (my opinion). The young man also must have thought so and he shook his head in a negative manner.

This charade went on for about half an hour when Jaishree came with a few pairs of footwear in her arms, apologizing for the delay and asking me to follow her so that we could check the size and for me to choose the ones I liked. I got up saying “Best of luck” to the young man. He looked back at me with disappointment written all over his face and said “What! Are you are leaving? I thought you would help me in deciding which shoes will suit my wife”. I knew he was only joking.

I really enjoyed that half an hour waiting for Jaishree.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Continued from last post

It was in the summer of 2010 Kartik proposed to Danielle, and she accepted while they were holidaying in Rome. As soon as the wedding date was fixed by Danielle we were all informed. I felt very happy and thrilled and wondered whether I would be able to attend the wedding.  As things turned out, I had to make plans to attend another family wedding before I could turn my attention to travelling to the US in June 2011.
Rajesh's wedding at Trichur

In the midst of mentally planning as to who would be ready to escort me to Chicago, I received a wedding invitation from Chitra (the daughter of my husband’s brother Viswanathan) informing me her sons were getting married in April this year; the eldest son Rajesh, on the second at Trichur; and Kartik, the younger one on the 17th at Trivandrum. We were all happy to get this news. I felt really happy for Chitra, who went through a bad phase when she lost her husband in a road accident a few years back. Both Rajesh and Kartik then were in their teens, still students. She herself was seriously injured with innumerable fractures.

It took many months and many surgeries for her to come back to an almost normal and healthy life. In spite of all this she brought up her two sons, as well mannered citizens, giving them very good education. With the moral support of her husband’s family and her own parents and brother, she was able to do this, all the while continuing to work in a bank. What I admire in Chitra is that she has no self pity and she has come out of her ordeal as a very brave person.

A few days before I got the invitation, I had been told by Viswanathan that Rajesh’s marriage was more or less settled, the boy-meet-girl being over and only a few minor details to be finalized. But Kartik’s wedding taking place immediately afterwards surprised me.

 When I called Chitra to congratulate her I got to know why. Kartik’s was a love marriage. He had met Parvati when he was a final year student doing his Engineering course and she was a fresher. Maybe it was love at first sight. Once Kartik finished his studies and moved away from Trivandrum they had no chance of seeing each other. They kept in touch through letters and mobiles and decided to be together for life. Chitra gave full support to them on one condition - that they get married only after Rajesh got married. Kartik by this time had started working in San Francisco and settled there.  Now that Rajesh’s wedding was fixed, Chitra felt that there was no reason to make Parvati and Kartik wait any longer.

A wedding in the family and that too in Trichur, was carrot enough for me to decide to go there. So it was for Raji, Muthu and Raja. And we were off to Trichur; we had a grand time enjoying the ceremonies which lasted two days. Yes Rajesh’s wedding was a typical South Indian one with the vritham and the kappu kettal for the bride done side by side the morning before the day of the wedding, and the reception the same evening.

Till a few years back the trend was to hold the reception in the evening of the actual wedding day, after the thali kettal, and ammi mithikkal —the main and important rites of the wedding. Nowadays, to suit the conveniences of renting the wedding hall, the reception is held on the wedding eve itself!

Whatever that may be, the general opinion of this wedding was that   “Trichur has not witnessed this grand a wedding in the recent past”.  Without doubt it was one, with live nagaswaram and typical Kerala cuisine, with different menus for each meal for two days.  Not only that, the wedding hall -- a big one -- was packed to its full capacity. An indication of how popular Chitra is in her workplace was the fact that her colleagues at the bank in Ernakulam,  80km away, all turned up for the wedding, from the manager down to the security man.
At T. R. Rama Iyer's cloth shop
We four from Chennai had a good nostalgic time in Trichur, apart from the wedding, visiting old places and landmarks and of course praying at Vadakkunathan Temple and Thiruvambadi Temple. We also visited the cloth shop which still bears the name of my husband’s uncle’s ( T R Rama Iyer) and made some purchases.

Kartik's wedding at Trivandrum. Chitra is seen on the left - in the brown saree.
We were unable to attend Kartik’s wedding.  I was told that Kartik’s wedding was a one-day affair with the pudava koda   in the morning and the reception the same evening.  Yes, the Nair wedding is known as the pudava koda- (gifting a pudava by the bridegroom to the bride).  The wedding rites take only half an hour or so.

The bridegroom was received by the bride’s brother and seated at the dais where the bride joined him. After receiving the mundu nerithu from the bridegroom, they exchanged garlands and rings. There was no vritham no malaimattal no oonjal. I was told the wedding feast was a large spread with all the Kerala special prathamans and vegetable dishes.

Three weddings in the family of Trichur Ramakrishna Iyer, great-great grandfather to the three bridegrooms.  Each one was conducted differently, but thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.