Thursday, February 03, 2011

Theatre - Art or Craft?

Theatre is an amalgamation of artistic creativity and skilled craftsmanship. There is a fine line of differentiation between art and craft. Art is the expression of creative skill through a visual medium. Craft is an activity involving skill in making things. These are the technical descriptions of the two words, given in the Oxford dictionary.

While the word ‘theatre’ brings to mind elements like script, direction and action, there is another integral facet called stagecraft including but not limited to the light and sound effects, the costume design, the property and the stage setting.

Theatre direction is the art of orchestration of all the entities of theatre, envisaging a concept – an interpretation of reality or imagination – with creativity. How this interpretation which maybe something banal or fantastic, presents itself as a meaningful array of thoughts for a viewer depends on how it is depicted on the stage. Acting is the art of storytelling by an actor through the portrayal of a character, while sometimes disassociating oneself from it, ensuring that the original interpretation is impervious to personal prejudices.

Not all actors or directors can create works of art. Good craftsmanship is what constitutes an art form. An actor portraying a character succeeds if the impact of the illusion he crafted blows the audience away. When they start to believe that the actor is the character, it becomes a work of art. In modern times, stagecraft has become an essential element to add to the aesthetic aspect of the production. The magic woven by the artists on stage is accentuated by the effects and the surrounding, mesmerizing the audience.

The director becomes Michelangelo and the stage becomes the Sistine Chapel. The perfect coordination of artistic creativity and skilled craftsmanship is delightfully transformed into the myriad forms of Theatre, where art transcends craft and a masterpiece is created.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

5 random things about me...

This was an interesting tag from The Gemini Mind. I am finally back in the blogging world after quite a long hibernation and I would like to think I am here to stay! So, for starters, here goes...

1. If you ask people what I remind them of, probably the only thing they will tell you about is "FOOD", with a capital F! It will be food or some word associated with food - like 'restaurants' or 'pani-puri' or 'potato' whatever (though I suggest it's better to double check what they mean if they say 'potato' :) ). I cannot really remember from when I got the privilege of this association or what started it. For the last 2 years, my favourite past-time has been to explore restaurants and eat-outs, from chaat house to Vino house, trying out everything from the street-side bajji shops, self-service kiosks, sugarcane juice and what-not! IF you meet me, you will sure see how :-D Food makes me happy. Period. It's more a passion (sometimes I would even go to the extent of saying obsession) than just something I do to keep myself alive.(And I secretly confess that I am scared one day I will be killed for committing the sin of GLUTTONY!!)

2. And much as I love to eat, I love to cook. Cooking is a major de-stresser for me. If I am angry, I would cook (no, I won't show it on the food though). If I feel like crying my eyes off, I would get up and make myself some food even if it were just Maggi noodles. I dream of writing a cook book someday after doing sufficient research and experimentation in my labs :-)

3. I HATE to cry. Yes, especially in front of someone. I just hate it. Well, I don't mind if someone cries to me, but it would take a real lot to see me crying in front of people or even to a close friend. I completely detest it as it makes me feel very weak and vulnerable. I value this because it took me a lot to get here, I wasn't born this way obviously.

4. Well...I fantasize myself driving a Volvo bus. This is one thing in my bucket list. And I hope that with the coming year I will achieve this as one of the many targets I have set myself. Hehe, but the road to it doesn't seem too bright :) Damn, it is such a society with a chauvinistic outlook that surrounds me...

5. Sports! A sportsman is an absolute turn-on. To the extent that I wouldn't like to choose a man who is not good in sports as my husband. And that doesn't mean the likes of Michael Phelps or Brian Lara. Someone who has grown up playing street-cricket would do :-) I am really bad at sports...Maybe because it was never encouraged where I come from. I used to play some badminton in high school but for unfathomable reasons, I was asked not to continue. So, I consider myself pathetic at sports. And technically, my husband should complement me, right? He better be good at sports to begin with!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Looking back...

I miss the tickling of Amma’s fingers on my feet every morning...
Threatening me N times that she is making one last(usually futile) attempt
To wake me up before complaining about it to my stern father!
I miss the typical freshly brewed Iyer Kaapi which she handed to me
While I jumped on to the cold stone platform expecting a loving cuddle,
And ended up hearing her chide me for the sacrilegious coffee
That she was forced to prepare to suit my stupid(!) tastes...
I miss the cantillated ringing of the Suprabatham,
That Appa so religiously plays every morning
With the help of which I figured out what day of the week it is!
And the sound of Paati’s soft feet trudging up the stairs
With a bowl of the most delicious, piping hot Arisi Upma
And my Thatha’s sniggering face peeping up
To catch a glimpse of my expression of delight on seeing her.
I miss the sadistic pleasure that I derived from pinching my brother hard,
To see him bolt from his slumber and also the steady stream of cusses that followed
And the sound of my father’s fists pounding on my bathroom door,
Like an alarm horrifying me back to the world from my day dreams...
The panicked process of getting dressed for school – wearing my belt, tie and all!
The yellow mug of steaming porridge just brought to the table
Made with full cream milk and honey, just the way I like!
I miss the repeated honking of the bright blue school van at my gate,
While I tried hard to disentangle my worn out shoe laces,
Amidst the irritated grunt from my dad and the glowering face of my mom
And my brother’s annoying smirk getting back at me for having woken him up,
All of which changed to one big sweet smile when I waved a goodbye, making my day!

The journey to school with adorable little Cynthia, Sneha and Prathuna
And the ‘grown-up’ Divya, Shweta and Nanditha, filling up on all the gossips
And scribbling the unfinished homework, while the van speeded down the streets!
Oh! I miss those lovely school days, when we waited eagerly
For free periods when I could bring out the ‘M&B’s, or play book-cricket...
The short intervals so that we could rush out and occupy the corridors
Ahead of the boys to continue our ‘Hand tennis’ tournaments
And the lunch breaks meant for devouring the remains of the half empty tiffinboxes
I miss getting caught in class for the giggle-riots,
For passing comments about Mrs. XYZ
Or stuffing the Principal’s kid with goodies to get into Her good books!
Oh! Will I ever see those carefree days again?
Those anxious exam moments, praying for that ‘just 1 more minute’ to finish writing
And the scramble for extra marks after the distribution of answer papers...
Hanging out in the canteen where the samosa was far from hygenic but yeah, delicious
and the P.T. periods when I scraped my knees trying to run with my flat feet!!
And trading stamps, stickers and those silly WWF trump-cards and fighting over them...
The Annual Day preps - vying for the smartest partner while rehearsing for the dance,
Or trying to prove my worth for a chunky role in the English play!
And the puppy-loves that kept changing everytime there were new admissions...
I really miss the pure joy of being a totally free spirit!!

Now, when I wake up...I just think ‘God! Again in this lonely city!
No family to complain or no friends to fight with...just new acquaintances everywhere!’
And move on...All the while, I am filled with a monotonous ringing,
Frustrated about the long journeys on the traffic filled roads and the fast pace of life,
Thinking of old school days full of activity yet without a tiny trace of lassitude
And helplessly watching the vigour of my youth rapidly slipping away...
But then...I have a decent job that many just dream of
And have enough to exist, sometimes even with a slight measure of luxury.
Yes! I have to live in a big bad world, but I am thankful nevertheless,
For having bestowed me, with a family worth missing and friends worth feeling for
And happy old days to look back on, when I feel blue deep down...
I feel like the luckiest being in the world!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Laughter Therapy

I have suddenly become very health conscious :) So, I have begun swimming lessons and also do some rigorous walking. Now, there is this park opposite to my home where I take my morning walk.

This park is where one can find a lot of activity going on at any time of the day. There is a nice music system which plays tunes according to the mood of the day. Every morning I can remotely hear some devotional songs and night times are meant for old kishore kumar songs :) When I walk in to the park, there is this girl in one corner, sitting in one of those make-shift wooden benches, hard at work preparing for some competitive exam. And there are 3 housewives who sit diagonally opposite to her, catching up on their daily gossip. And I also see a young man, doing Pranayama inside an enclosure in the park.

Now, the centre of attraction is this group of old retired men and a bunch of plump old women. They form a circle in the centre of the park and practice laughter therapy (or whatever it is technically known as). They are members of 'The Laughing Club'.

I have been doing daily rounds for about a fortnight now. And from day 1, I couldn't help observing their routine, to the extent that it has become imbibed hard in my mind! The first thing they do before every laughing exercise, is like a warm up to it. It goes like this "Oh Oh Ha Ha Ha" (x 4) followed by a count of 1,2,3 and 4 after which they laugh loudly. There is a leader of the pack standing in the centre (and whose laughter is the loudest of all!) who instructs (mumbles rather!) them as to which exercise they should do (read laugh). And there is one elusive old woman whose laughter just rings at a very high frequency, sometimes drilling into my head - I still haven't found the source! Here are some names I hear from the leader - 'Silent Laughter', 'Laughing at oneself' and the more interesting 'Chinese Laughter'and 'Japanese Laughter' etc..The group also takes small breaks inbetween their exercises to go for a stroll. But of what use will a laughter therapy be, if the laughter is not natural, from the bottom of the heart and instead, induced out of force, I wonder!

The bottomline is this - whether the exercises benefit the old people who stand there everday practicing it, or not, it sure gives me enough laughter therapy to last through the day :)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Travelogue - New Delhi, Agra and Mathura

I undertook this holiday during September last year as it was supposedly one of the pleasantest times of the year for a visit to the northern parts of the country. I have been waiting to write a travelogue ever since.

Well, time just flies...I landed in New Delhi around 9.40 pm on a cold, rainy night. The weather had been for the worse and the flight was delayed for about an hour as a result. It was a very turbulent journey. And what more! When we were nearing Delhi, the captain couldn't get a landing clearance! So, the plane circled Delhi for about half an hour! It was a lovely sight, to watch all those tiny sodium vapour lamps flickering and brightening up the air around. Delhi is probably the most wide-spread city I have ever seen aerially. The plane flew pretty low and I could see many old fort-like structures and also huge well-lit domes which I later realized (and was surprised to know) were old Hindu temples.

Finally the eagle landed and I rushed out to the lounge collecting my (overflowing) baggage to be greeted by a very enthusiastic uncle! It was especially nice since I was meeting him after quite a few years and we humoured eachother on the changes in our appearances. Then we began the long drive home. Uncle's house is situated in Faridabad, Haryana. It is about 2 hours drive from the New Delhi Domestic Airport (considering decent traffic flow, not too heavy and not too sparse either) and on the way, I could glimpse through some metropolitan Delhi, areas like AlakNanda (a very posh locality - where almost every other house you see has a Ford Phantom or a Porsche!), Greater Kailash II, Nehru Place (a famous commercial area - you can get any kind of electronic equipment here) and then when we rounded a bend, the beautiful Tughlaqabad fort came into view; this magnificent structure is mostly in ruins, but around half the circumference of the outer fort is still intact. And it has been provided with beautiful night-lighting! Somehow, I have always loved this style of lighting from below (the light faces upwards and is inclined at a particular angle from the ground). It gives the structure a whole new dimension! We reached Badarpur, where the traffic was surprisingly dense even at around 11 pm, I was told that it was the border between Haryana and Delhi, so, many heavy vehicles cross the area especially at night. I soon reached my uncle’s “humble quarters” (as he worded it!) and after a sumptuous welcome dinner of hot rajma masala (with that irresistible blob of half molten butter) and sukha rotis, snuggled up to bed dreaming about forts and palaces that I built and ruled and reigned supreme ;)

The day dawned bright and clear and I woke up to the smell of melting ghee used to fry pyas(onion) parantas! After breakfast accompanied by a draught of hot masala chai, my aunt and I sat down to chalk out the day’s plans. We had planned to visit most of Old Delhi – the Lal Quila and Chandni Chowk especially. Considering the distance, we decided to spent all day outdoors and return home for dinner. And in the light of the day, I peeked out of the balcony to see the landscape outside the house. The balcony was overlooking a lush green park, dotted with see-saws and swings. The houses were all mostly 2 storied and huddled together. In those parts, it is a rule that the adjacent houses share atleast one of the 4 walls, meaning, most houses are sort of “stuck” together atleast on one side (to explain further, it was very remotely resembling an Agraharam – but a little too posh for one, most houses had metal gates tinted with black and gold!). After my little exploration, it was action time for our plan! But just as we were about to venture out, came a huge gale, making the windows and doors bang furiously, followed by a raging downpour ruining the already slushy red-mud roads. There went our plans, in a puff of smoke! So, we were forced to remain indoors the whole morning and I was trying to reconcile with the fact that one possibly eventful day was wasted away helplessly. My aunt nevertheless, quickly conjured up (she was so fast!) a typical Punjabi meal, plain parantas, aloo jeera and the left-over rajma masala (upon my vehement insistence – she didn’t want to serve the day-old food!) followed up with unlimited lassi :)! So, I was satiated physically and lulled to sleep after the heavy fare. Evening came, bringing with it fresh showers, making the lanes impossible to tread on. And to add fuel, ‘BANG!’ went the transformer in the next lane, taking away my only means of respite, the idiot box. I could almost hear the impish sniggering of the bad pixies mocking my spate of sorrow! Dinner comprised of simple South Indian fare of adai and mango pickle followed by a big blob of butterscotch ice-cream (my uncle and I share our love for this flavour! And I especially love the candied bits of cashew that dot a slice of it).

Day 2 dawned clear again but this time, we didn’t make any elaborate plans, to reserve the disappointment! We paid a visit to my aunt’s old parents, who lived a few yards away. The rainy spell continued the next day and the next :( That morning was totally uneventful and I just lolled away watching some silly Hindi movie that turned out to be worse than the worst soap opera. Afternoon came bringing with it tides of good news! The weather seemed to be getting better and after a quick lunch of plain rotis and dhal fry, we set off to the bus terminus to board one bound for Janpath which is about an hour’s journey.

En route to Janpath, the bus passed through the circular Parliament Building (with its huge strong pillars – a very pretty sight) and cut across the Rajpath, the road that leads to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, the residence of the Indian Head of State. I also got the opportunity of seeing (up-close) the India Gate, our very own ‘Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel’! This tall, stately arch stood in the centre of sprawling lawns, on the other end of the Rajpath. We also passed through the various ministry head quarters of the Indian Government and the houses of former Prime ministers and Cabinet ministers. They were all posh and had enormous grounds!

Janpath is in the heart of Central Delhi. This area is like the Times Square of New Delhi. It buzzes with activity throughout the day. ‘Janpath’ literally translates to ‘a street (path) full of people (jan)’. I was greeted by a very pretty sight of bright colours everywhere…all kinds of cheap jewelry – silver coloured chains and bracelets, having a blackish tinge at the edges to give them the ‘antique’ look, intricately designed pendants, stone studded bangles, huge dangling earrings and trinkets of all shapes, sizes and colours, crushed skirts that wrung about from the asbestos sheets that acted as the ceiling to those quaint little shops, jute sacks on which were piled all kinds of beautiful wooden pieces, ragged looking shoulder bags that hung from rusted metal hooks, juthis (slippers) embroidered with thousands of tiny beads, ill-fitting jeans, wrought-iron lanterns fitted with coloured glass and all kinds of knick-knacks. The street was really filled with all kinds of people – from street vendors selling everything from hair-clips, brushes and bands to tibetian momos and gol-goppas (Delhi’s version of pani-puri) to women taking a break from work to buy baubles for their kids and yes, Indian tourists such as me and phirangs - phirangs who were trying to feign Indian-ism by wearing baggy ethnic Indian kurtis over their fluorescent coloured leggings, complete with rudraksh beads about their necks and ridiculously huge wooden bracelets that they just purchased (bargaining unsuccessfully) at the bazaar. My heart jumped for joy at these sights and I set off on an indulgence spree :) After all it is not always that one gets to see so much of colourful stuff in so many varieties! But yes, one thing is, if you do not know Hindi, you are done for! You have to bargain with the shop-wallahs and bring down the rate to almost half the quoted price. It is that exorbitant! I must mention the piping hot white momos with their tantalizing red coloured super-spicy dip and I think they were most heavenly to have, considering the weather and those people-filled streets!

Next stop was Palika Bazaar, a one-of-its-kind shopping centre. This one is diagonally opposite to Janpath. And the weird part is – it is an air-conditioned underground labyrinth!! This place is again packed with hoi polloi; I told you before that it is akin to Times Square. But Palika Bazaar is not a 24X7 shoppers’ paradise. It is open only till 6 pm everyday. If you are looking for cheap but unreliable jeans-wear, backpacks (made of authentic leather (!) as the shopkeepers tactfully lure you!!!), slippers/shoes, mobile covers, key-chains, t-shirts, Chinese goods etc., this is a must-visit place for you! But watch out for your pockets at these crowded places! Also, don’t miss to try the hot, crisp and freshly fried jalebis, paneer pakoras (huge chunks of home-made cottage cheese dipped in batter and fried) and samosas with green chutney, which will make a health food freak guilty for life!!

Well, we were almost done for the day and it was beginning to drizzle again. So, we rushed off to the bus stand and left for home. One thing I noticed is how bus drivers care tuppence about people. They just stop where they like and don’t even wait till all the waiting people board the bus. They are plain rude, ruthless and totally rash when it comes to driving. So, if you are one of those posh kinds, not used to the hustle and bustle of city-life, then you had better reconsider your decision to take the bus! And secondly, autos are the best means of exploiting innocent people in Delhi. So, I prefer to use the bus anyday! It was late evening by the time we reached the house. The condition of the roads was still pathetic, dirty water stagnated everywhere and it was impossible to walk our way to the house. So, we took a rickshaw. Believe me, the rickshaw-wallahs are one of the physically strongest people I have ever noticed. They don’t look macho, but they are all capable of pulling 2 considerably sized humans, sometimes even 3 of them single-handedly! And you won’t believe the speed at which they can ride. It was the first time I ever took a rickshaw and it was very funny and scary too at times, because, all you could see was muddy water (where there should have been roads) and it made me feel that even a small stone, the size of a marble, could topple the rickshaw any minute! Well, on returning home, I found my uncle grinning gleefully and soon enough I came to know why! He had bought 3 plates of the popular chaat speciality raj kachori from Haldiram’s (a famous sweet shop based in Nagpur, but having a nice big fast-food joint in Delhi). It was delectable! That was followed by several creamy scoops of the remaining butterscotch ice-cream!

The following 3 days were spent paying courtesy visits to relatives and meeting friends. I must mention one particular area that I had been to, near the New Delhi Domestic Aerodrome. To reach this place, we would be driving through a fly-over (or skyway) which is probably the longest in the country (it stretches for as long as 6Kms!!). The place is called Dwarka and I was told that this is Asia’s biggest housing locality. When I passed the huge apartment complexes, I really felt as though I was in Manhattan!!

On day 6, we geared up for a trip to Agra and Mathura. Aunt and I packed a picnic lunch and set off. We left Faridabad by bus, around 8 am. Agra was 3 hours away. The bus just breezed through the well-laid highway. We passed the town of Vrindavan and Mathura and several villages too. Soon, Agra came into sight (but it wasn’t time for the Taj to show itself yet :)). We passed the Akbar-ka-Sikandara on our way to the Agra fort. The sun was up, bright and enthusiastic! It was late afternoon and finally, I could experience clear weather after a week of heavy showers. Soon, we were outside the huge and beautiful Agra Fort. This is a red-sandstone building and most of the prime attractions of this fort have been destroyed or closed for Public viewing – like the Sheesh Mahal (made entirely of Glass) and Moti Masjid (pearl-shaped Mosque). The entrance to the fort is marked by a huge archway where there is a counter to buy entry tickets. Tourist guides throng the place, to explain the vast and magnificent history of the fort, which was once the stronghold of the Mughals. The entrance leads to a corridor lined with very huge stone walls and laid with coarse marble flooring which is as strong as the walls. The guide explains that this corridor was where the Mughal troops on elephants once trampled thousands of enemy warriors. My knees began to shake at the thought of how each stone holds a testimony for the bravery of the warriors who fought for their kingdom with their lives. Past this corridor, to the right is the fort complex, where there are a number of inter-linked rooms and the courtyard. In the centre of this courtyard bordered by lovely arched corridors, is a huge patch of lush well groomed lawn. The major attraction about this fort is the view of the Taj Mahal in all its grandeur, standing magnificently, on the banks of the winding Yamuna, from one of the arched marble balconies. It is a feast to any amateur photographer! This fort also houses the Diwan-i-Aam (the hall of Public Audience) and the Diwan-i-Khas (the hall of Private Audience) built by Shahjahan. I bought several postcards of this picturesque place and left for the bus, eager to see the ‘Crowning Glory of India’.

From the Agra fort, our bus passed through dingy, old and badly laid lanes, apparently boring the brunt of the recent rains. We crossed a quaint old railway bridge built over the dirty polluted Yamuna. It was very shocking to think that so many national and international dignitaries have passed through the same lanes en route to the Taj. I really hope the Indian Government cares to set them straight very soon so that the approach to the Taj is atleast half as beautiful as the monument itself. It is a stark contrast in reality – the Taj Mahal is bedecked with gold and precious stones and is the epitome of being rich in every sense of the word, while downtown Agra is generally so pathetic, with ditches overflowing everywhere, walls of houses riddled with pan juice and donkeys and stray cattle sitting pretty in the middle of the streets!

The gates to the Taj Mahal are about a kilometer away from the main entrance archway. There are umpteen battery operated vehicles which will ferry you to the ticket centre. From here, you will have to leave your electronic belongings (like Mobile Phones, PDAs etc) and shoes at the counter and it is pretty safe in my experience. There is a small archway-gate where security checks are done, entering which, to your left, you can see a beautiful huge red sandstone and marble archway, the Taj Mahal’s main gateway. It is a beautiful domed structure with a lot of Persian carvings and filigree work. Once you pass through, you come to the grounds of the monument. The pathway to the Taj has very well maintained gardens on either side of it and little fountains with small pot-like bases, in the centre. There on a platform, you can see the famed white marble seat, where Heads of State from all parts of the world and Royalty of every kind, have posed for a permanent record of their visit to this supposed ‘Monument of Love’. All one can hear when you step on the platform, is the furious clicking of the cameras around. I think there is nothing new I can state about the Taj Mahal. The 3 dimensional filigree work bearing inscriptions from the Holy Quran, the 4 towering minarets around the main mausoleum and the insides of the tomb bedecked with precious stones are awe-inspiring. However, what we are allowed to see, the so-called tombs of Shahjahan and Mumtaz are in reality not the actual vaults. The original vaults, beneath which they are buried, are in the sanctum sanctorum in the basement of the building. We clicked some pictures and it was time to get back to the bus. After one last longing look at the monument and at the blackish river that snakes its way behind, I walked back to the battery operated vehicles and subsequently to the bus. There was a long wait for some co-passengers, a bunch of college students who were still reveling in the beauty of the monument and it was pretty annoying. After some verbal roughing-up, we all settled ourselves. We were then whisked to some restaurant which the driver claimed to be Haldiram’s. Actually, it was just a franchisee of Haldiram’s savouries and not a fast-food joint run by the group itself, but the huge board carrying the name, is completely deceiving! We had anyway carried along our picnic lunch of ghee parantas and capsicum stuffed with aloo (those anardhana seeds in the stuffing gave it a lovely tangy taste!). We also sampled and bought varieties of the famous Agra-ka-Petha (candied and crystallized white pumpkin pieces) and Dalmoth (a form of namkeen or ‘mixture’, as South Indians call it). Post lunch schedule was originally to travel to Fatehpur Sikri, the domain of Akbar the Great, but due to the huge delay at the Taj, we had to give it up. So, we traveled to Mathura instead.

Mathura, is a town famous for 2 reasons – Krishna Janma Bhoomi and the oil refinery. The temple of Mathura is believed to house the birth place of the Hindu God Krishna. The approach to the temple was no different from that to the Taj! The temple is not huge and is not any kind of architectural marvel, it is just a simple place where there is small enclosure which is supposedly where Krishna was born. The place, I felt was full of positive vibrations (yeah, I may probably be biased!). And after paying our respects, we left to do some way-side window shopping. We bought Mathura Peda (made of highly condensed milk, it is a must-have!) and began our 3 hour journey back to Faridabad. We stopped at a road side dhaba for dinner which served delicious makki-ki-rotis!

Back in Delhi, I spent another few days doing a lot of shopping in Sarojini Nagar market (another road-side market, pretty huge one though, but not as colourful as Janpath! But yeah, check out the footwear!) and Ansal’s plaza (this is a typical mall, for high end shopping). And that brought me to the end of my Delhi sojourn. I would on the whole suggest that, to visit Delhi alone, one would need atleast 10 solid days. The places that I really missed were Chandni Chowk, the Red Fort, both in Old Delhi area, Birla Mandir, Jantar Mantar, the Qutub Minar and Dilli Haat (now, am sure you would think my trip was useless without so much as a glimpse of these places!). Sometimes, I even feel I saw more of Delhi from the airplane than on the road:( Anyway, there’s always next time ;)

Looking back, I feel Delhi is the right mix of Indian tradition and modernity. It has adapted itself with time, but has still not lost its old world charm. The people of Delhi are generally non-interfering and cordial and surprisingly conservative, considering it is the capital and the largest metropolis of India. In a nutshell, Delhi life is pretty fast, breakfast is usually had in cars while waiting at junctions for the green light, traversing from one place to another takes a very long time, lassi and kulfi falooda are still loved more than cola and pizza and girls wearing spaghetti strapped tops are still stared upon! This city is a gourmand’s dream (Mughlai cuisine is at its tastiest best! And besides, my aunt and uncle fed me like a sacrificial goat!) and a shopper’s paradise (especially for girls who love costume jewelry and ethnic clothes – here is where trends are set)! Delhi is one city of which I am sure I will never get tired of, visiting and writing about! Until next time, namashkar!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Blessed One

I had been to Coimbatore for the weekend and my mother came up with this idea of all my cousins and me visiting Thatha. And the reason for this visit was that Thatha was to celebrate his 100th birthday on 3rd June and I wouldn't be there to be a part of the celebration as I had to get back to work :(

So,we all geared up for the visit and bought a box of sweets (it is a mark of respect that we don't go empty handed when we visit elders, we usually give them sweets or fruits). Thatha's daughter Prema Mami, lives pretty close-by and thats where you can find him on most days of the year.

Now...Thatha is the oldest man I have ever had the opportunity to talk to. And I am really blessed to have that chance! I don't know where to begin, when I think and want to write about Thatha. I can just feel a rush of emotions that pay tribute to a life so well living(I can't use the word lived here) and going steady still...

Thatha is the patriarch of a typical Iyengar family that lived next-door (before we moved out to our new home). Talking about our relationship with them, they are more like my own family. My brother and I spent most of our childhood with Prema Mami and her beans kaai ;) Thatha has a brilliant pale complexion and a wizened old face with a huge yellow and white Naamam, the very sight of which gives you knowledge of his experience in life, it reminds me of the great 'Gandalf the White' in Two Towers(The Lord of the Rings, Part II), the wizard with unfaltering courage, who endures so much, to help Frodo, the hero, with the ring.

I really don't know what Thatha's actual name is, because we all affectionately call him Thatha (Grandpa). I feel proud to address him simply that way, though I am not from his bloodline.

I first remember meeting Thatha when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. I had been on one of our routine visits to Prema Mami's and there he was, crouching in an old cane armchair and watching an India-Pakistan cricket match with avid enthusiasm...I can even remember seeing him cheer loudly and clap his hands in joy when some unfortunate Pak wicket fell!!! And though I was interested in cricket, I wasn't familiar enough to identify players while they walked or bowled and so, I just sat beside Thatha, constantly nagging him to tell me who was bowling or who was facing the ball! I still wonder how he could do that!! He was probably in his early nineties then. We also watched a lot of Wimbledon Live together on TV. And soon enough Thatha and I developed this friendship :) And he took a keen interest in my academic progress and when I stood first in school in my board exams, Thatha was one of the first persons whose blessings I sought.

Thatha, Prema Mami, Mama and the author ;)

Thatha is a very pious man who has a regular routine everyday. He never fails to do his pooja with his 'parimalam'(it is a sacred mix of elakkai(cardamom),kalpooram(edible camphor),tulasi(basil leaves) and many such ingredients in a fixed proportion) and ofcourse that's my favourite part - to get a spoonful of this theertham, everytime I go to their place :) It tastes awesome and is one of the few things that I won't ask for a second helping - because somethings are best tasted in small quantity and while you do that, you let it stay in your tongue and swirl it so that the taste just lingers on! So, I will never fail to get my rightful spoonful ;)

Thatha had this habit of WALKING to the Ramar Kovil(Temple) every morning, taking slow and short but steady strides, crossing some roads that were buzzing with office-going traffic, with his walking stick in hand. And each morning, my school van used to pick up some girls from that area near the temple and en route, I used to see thatha walking across. I called out to him once, least expecting him to hear me and recognize my far-off face peeping from the van window and lo! there he was laughing loudly and waving his free hand, keeping himself steady with his stick on the other!! And still, I wasn't convinced that he had recognized me, but on my next visit, there he was asking me about the school van and its route and why I hadn't waved on Friday last, whether I had bunked school - absolutely incredible! And from that first day, it became a mundane activity for me, to wave out to Thatha every morning - and on rare occasions, if I didn't see him, my van driver began to show concern!! Unforgettable schoolday memories :)

And I have to say this - Thatha is one of the very few persons I have met, who have a simply colossal memory. I don't know how they are able to remember events and people, beats me! When I told him of my job placement, he asked me if I knew the history of Wipro and how it all began one fine day when a man started door-to-door dalda sales. adjectives to describe this...I could talk to Thatha about anything under the sun and there he was, digging his memory and narrating an incident that happened half a century ago (even my dad would probably have been only a zygote then!!). And he asked my father once, whether the new house was comfortable...The younger man was not unsure what that meant and seeing the uncertainty, Thatha said, "Don't you remember I had been to the Grihapravesham (house-warming ceremony) of your new first-floor house a few years back, I climbed all those steps to see the house", which left my dad spell-bound! And I should also admit to having a natural admiration for old people who speak good English, evidently due to holding high offices and needless to say, Thatha is no exception, he is the quintessential gentleman! Most of our conversations have been in English. Thatha's style is simple, precise and elegant!

And when I met him last weekend, he was at his exhuberant best, talking of Wipro and his distant relative's grandson who worked in the company in Bangalore and who incidentally had been his grand daughter's first proposal for a groom - he seemed to remember every detail with an uncanny accuracy. And to my brother, he asked about his sophomore year and how it was going (when someone asks me what my brother does, it takes a couple of seconds for my miniscule memory to process the fact that my brother is into his second year currently. Man, I feel very small). And to my cousin and his wife, who are newly weds, he asked what their 'plan' was, about starting a family..."Haha..Five year planning eh?! Like Jawaharlal Nehru!", he remarked with a guffaw, the corner of his eyes twinkling with mischief!! Kurumbu-kaara Thatha indeed ;)

When my mother called me on the phone, I was really overjoyed to hear that Thatha had achieved this huge milestone - his 100th birthday, it is inspiring! And am gladder still to have been able to pay my obeisance to him and get his blessings and ofcourse, a spoonful of his theertham :) On his birthday, 100 different kinds of sweets were prepared complete with the love and affection of all his dear and near ones, family friends and well-wishers. I could not attend the celebration but well, I could really picturize him, in the centre of them all, welling with pride, radiating joy and infecting everyone with his effervescent and good natured humour! It really humbles me.

Cheers to you dearest Thatha, I love you so much!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rotis, Restaurants and Me

I am so obsessed with food :) And I find that my metabolism rates are at an all-time low...How else can I explain the sudden fat accumulation? Okay, I know I am digressing...We'll keep the association between food and me for another post. Yes, coming back, I had been to one of these so called 'hippie' restaurants with striking ambience, posh settees and couches, haute couture-d bearers, where you can see etiquette-conscious elite men and women speaking English with the tip of their tongues, dining in finesse, on one hand and lots of young blood with their phirang-clients(most of whom have this uncanny habit of laughing out real loud!) and PMs and TMs (read old men, institutionalized in the company they work for), having a whale of a time (obviously at the company's expense:)), on the other. And we ordered for some Shorba(this is a multi-cuisine restaurant, specializing in Moghlai cuisine but I must say, it offers food on AWESOME cutlery). We were offered complementary roast and rolled papads with tangy pudina chutney and we were left munching that for about half an hour by the end of which we were really scratching the base of the papad basket groping about for pieces, all the while engrossed in conversation (sounds awful I know, but I hate to wait long when I am really hungry!). And then, when it came to the main course, it was Romali Roti, which is precisely (going to be) the object of discussion of this post.

Now, Romali Roti is an Indian (if I am right, Kashmiri) speciality - soft and bright white(now, other Indian rotis are all shades of brown) with a distinct maida flavour. Now, the characteristic feature that gives it the name, is its thickness - or thinness rather. It is akin to a 'rumal' (handkerchief in Hindi) in that. And it also has a very dry but smooth nevertheless, melts-in-the-mouth texture. In short, just imagine munching an ultrasoft muslin-cloth that just tastes delicious! And the best thing about this roti, is the way in which it is prepared before it is cooked. Now, there is this bright yellowish dough, which is rich in maida, and it is set into medium sized balls and covered with a wet muslin cloth. The chef takes one of these balls and rolls it roughly in to a thin white flat sheet. Then he takes the rolled roti and just tosses it into the air high. It is here that one can see the elasticity of the dough in all its splendour! And this tossing and rolling is done twice apiece by which time the roti becomes as thin as a veil. And its, cooking time! The chef just lays the roti on a special tava which is in the shape of an inverted wok/round-bottomed dekchi/chatti.And in a few seconds, you can see brownish blisters/bubbles appearing all over the roti and there, it is done. This's what India brings to you, in the form of Romali Roti.

I have tried this in several places(read intersection of 'wherever I go' and 'wherever it is available') and it really surprized me that this posh restaurant served this roti that was of a 'hang-out' kind of standard. In the first place, it wasn't in its thinnest self and the corners were uncooked! And why do these places boast of authentic cuisine? When you say authentic, you mean that specialized food is served there in the truest and best possible form. And wouldja believe it if I say that of all the places in the North/South of India that I have tasted the Romali Roti, the best place is in my very own Coimbatore ?!!! Seriously! There is this Hotel(or should I say 'was', now that it has been taken over by the Taj Group) where once upon a time, my erstwhile friend Ravi was the roti-chef! I was a very small girl then and this Romali-roti used to be prepared in a glass windowed enclosure by Ravi, for all to see. Ravi was deaf and dumb and so, his style of communicating with me was using the maida meant for dousing the wet dough! He used to just strew the maida on the black granite and write his words and I used to answer back the same way. And all our conversations ofcourse, were followed by a small treat that Ravi could afford (not everyone used to acknowledge him for his talent, so he felt that it was a like a treat from me, mind you I was very generous!), a big piece of what he called 'Romali Papad', which is the result of slightly over-cooking the roti. He had a very admirable style of tossing the roti which is deeply etched in my memory and till date, his romali rotis are the best and the finest ever, in my dining experience. He left the hotel after sometime and I have never heard about him since. Though now-a-days the fact that The Residency, Coimbatore, also offers great romali rotis, makes me think Ravi works there :) Though no-longer in a see-through cubicle entertaining children and first-time guests alike! I remember I was so smitten by his style that I never used to fulfill the purpose of a family night-out together, and used to run over to him as soon as we entered the lawns of the restaurant, so much that my parents even threatened to stop bringing me there!

Wow! Now, I feel like having a soft bite out of a good Romali-roti :( And its lunch time here and I can hear someone grumbling inside!! I am off to the sodex-ho cafe we have here, to resume my quest for India's tastiest Romali roti :)