Dec 31, 2005

Dec 30, 2005

Your world is NOT BLACK !

Bollywood ! - if you pick 10 movies in recent times, 5 are copied (they call it influenced/inspired) from hollywood, 3 are remade from kollywood (Tamil) and the origin of the remaining 2 will remain a mystery till the end. And this year bollywood surprised everybody with a movie out of the blue or rather 'Black' !!
One of my school friends talked about this movie so highly that i forced myself to watch it ...and I was not disappointed for taking the risk.
This was an unusual film for bollywood,even though inspired from "The Miracle Worker".
Superlative performance by Rani Mukherjee as Michelle, a girl who is blind, deaf and in a 'Black' world! Amitab Bachchan had reserved his best for this film. As Michelle's mentor who guides her fight for success against all odds, he excels beyond words.... Ravi Chandran's classy camera work is the most impressive , doing metaphorical justice to the title of the movie . (The only unimpressive aspect, though minor, was the re-recording by Michael Danna . I could'nt help thinking that the music for such a film should have been done by Ilayaraja or no one else.)

'Black' has been selected by Times magazine as one of the
10 best films of 2005. Well done Sanjay Leela Bhansali .

Dec 26, 2005

Who am I ?...

Today is the first aniversary of the 2004 Tsunami.
I landed in Kabul on the 25th December 2004. The first news I heard from back home the very next day was a catastrophe : The Tsunami ... I was shocked by the visuals that I saw on TV. Giant waves devouring the land sent chills down my spine and at the same time soared my imaginations. The vulnerability of the Indian Ocean plate is surely no myth. The “kadalkol” (sea devouring land) mentioned in ancient Tamil literature is very much a reality...

"The mind grieves when it thinks of Cape Kumari for it brings back memories of the seizure of southern Tamil Nadu by the ocean, and the consequent loss... Both creation and destruction are part of God's play," is a 1955 quote of C. Muthuvirasami that Sumathi Ramaswamy cites in her book, Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories. Her work weaves in poetry, nostalgia and laments, picked up on the trail of the lost land of Lemuria. But there are lines, such as those in the above quote, that seem meaningful in the aftermath of tsunami.

Sumathi cites K.P. Aravaanan's suggestion that 'Tamizh' has 'amizh' (meaning `to submerge')."In his reckoning, 'Tamilar ' are those people who survived submergence by the sea: they were named as such by their ancestors so that they might remember this original catastrophe''

The image that rocked me the most: Mass graves ...Something that was commonly seen in the aftermath of the Tsunami...Not a sight for the light hearted... Nature at times can be quite unforgiving...

Kumari kandam...
One of the subjects of great interest to me is the history of the Origin of Tamils. A quest to know where I came from? 'Who am I?'
My search led me to “kumari nadu” or kumari kandam (also called Lemuria and Gondwanaland) believed to be the original cradle of the Tamils (or Dravidians in general) by many scholars.. and according to ancient litrature, now lying submerged in the Indian Ocean due to repeated tsunamis (kadalkol). artists imagination of the landmass!

Some of the inputs about this land from ancient works are fascinating:
The kumari nadu mainly consisted of the Pandyan Kingdom. Two wild rivers - "Kumari aaru and Prahuli aaru" flowed through the land. The distance between the two rivers was 700 kavatham (about 1000 miles). And the land was divided into Thengu nadu, Madurai nadu, Munpalai nadu, Pinpalai nadu, Kunra nadu, Kunakkarai nadu, and Kurumparai nadu, and each containing seven smaller Nadus, hence 49 in all.
Ruby was mined from the mountain Mani Malai and gold from Meru malai. The kumari mountain range had forty-eight high peaks.
Something even more amazing I read was that the precious stones were mined by Chinese laborers! Iam still searching for more proof of this information.

According to Tamil litrature,the first deluge submerged Ten madurai situated by the kanni river, the seat of the first Tamil sangam and the Pandyan capital was shifted to Kabaadapuram. The Pandyan capital of kabaadapuram finds mention in the Ramayana and Chanakya's Arthasastra.A second deluge submerged Kabaadapuram , the seat of the second Tamil sangam .
Roman writer Pliny, in the second century B.C., refers to the transfer of the capital from Korkai to Madurai. The sea swallowed approximately 1,000 miles of the Pandyan territory known as "Yanainadu".

Despite so much being written about this sunken landmass, it’s a big disappointment that our Indian government has done no full fledged marine scientific research . We still depend on inputs from ancient Tamil, Roman and other scriptures to get an idea about this famed land. The Tsunami of last year is a cruel reminder that should catch the attention of marine archeologists , historians and scholars to our long lost past...I hope someday I will get a better answer to the question i put as the title today....

Also read : Tamil civilisation - is it the oldest?
Catastrophes of the past: poetic exaggeration or scientific facts?
Bridging the Myth and Science of the Flood

Dec 25, 2005

Merry Christmas !

Christmas party (25.12.2004)

Its Christmas again! It was exactly on Christmas day last year that I landed in Kabul...When I set my foot out of my plane on 25th December 2004, I had absolutely no idea of what was instore for me here. I was going to work outside India for the first time. I was going to work under someone for the first time...and more importantly, I was going to work in the infamous mullah land!
As a Christmas prayer, i thank God for keeping my pastures green and for leading me beside the still waters! Merry Christmas !

Dec 24, 2005

Only in Madurai...

Madurai the city that never sleeps!

Being born and brought up in Madurai, I never quite admired it for anything as long as I lived there. In fact I even hated it at times becoz of the dusty dirty streets, blaring loud speakers, stagnated rain puddles, platforms rendered unusable by temples , unruly traffic, lack of civic planning, etc, etc… But, now that Iam out of the country, I get more time to actually think about the finer sides of my city.
Madurai, though the second important city of Tamil Nadu after Chennai, is in real sense a ‘glorified village’. The people, the culture and the social life is more rural than urbane. It’s a strange mix of village attitude in a city outlook.
I never fully understood the city till the time I setup my architectural practice there. My profession gave me an opportunity to go to every nook and corner of the city and also a chance to interact with every kind of Maduraite.

What’s unique about Madurai is the night life. Its a city that never sleeps. You can get food at even 2 am. And that too hot! In my bachelor days, my night life was spicy with….idiappam & chukka at Konar, egg dosai & ieera meen kolambu at Kumar, parotta & moolai roast at Janakiram, kothu parotta at Mudaliyar ....... hmmm .

Anyway, here are some Glimpses of what makes Madurai!!!...

Colorful people..

foolhardy men...

a dry river!

Unbelievable Night-Life!

Ever-traditional gals !

apaathaas !

the omnipresent rickshaws!

the fanatical cinema craze!

utter disregard of hygiene!

Food! Food!& more Food!

animals in the middle of road!

the famed madurai Jasmine !

And of course the Love for Tamil !...

photos: courtesy Oochappan  - My most favorite photographer! Visit his site for the taste of real Madurai!

Ashokism Award 2004...Kathal...

Iam no Tamil film buff. Living in Kabul for most part of 2005 , I didn't even keep track of most of the movies released.…But out of the 2 Tamil films I saw  , one is worth mentioning –Kathal.(the other was 'chandramuki' that can be watched for Jothika's climax dance performance and Vadivelu's lighter moments ) Kathal- even though the same old love-story of a rich girl eloping with a poor boy, the screen play was a whiff of fresh air.
Balaji Sakthivel’s direction set against the picturesque locales of Madurai was refreshing. The realities of Madurai have not been better portrayed in any other movie I can recall. The typical Madurai lingo, the culture and the 'casteist' social life are beautifully captured

Dec 23, 2005

IDLI...the staple diet of Madurai !

Idli - the most famous south Indian breakfast /dinner/ snack.(Well for those who do not understand what an Idli is, check wikipedia .)
Madurai is the place to be if you are an idli fan! Breakfast is incomplete without idli,vadai & sambar for most people

Small Restaurants or eateries like Murugan idli kadai , Otha-panamarthu kadai, Mudaliar idli kadai, Gowri, etc have an 'idli- fan following' of their own.
Photo Courtesy : Occhappan
The way side 'idli kadai aayaas' sometimes surprisingly make softer and tastier idlis than the big restaurants...but you have to sacrifice a little bit of hygiene ! One such 'aayaa idli outlet' near my house, right on top of a drainage channel, is so famous and busy at night time that people wait even half an hour to buy a few idlis!
I fondly remember the "Paapa kadai idli" run by an old lady called Paapa (meaning Baby in Tamil) during my childhood days in West Ponnagaram 12th street at Madurai. I haven't seen better idils made after that...

Idli was one of the main menus in my engineering college hostel.I used to run as far as I could from our hostel mess."Sathak bomb" as we called it, was so hard and heavy that one could break a head with it! But some guys (like Chella) to my disbelief even relished that !

I simply can’t understand the craze that my people (Tamils) have for this white piece of rice cake.Honestly, Idli has never been my favorite snack. If not then why am I writing something about it? Well, If you are from Madurai, there are some things that you can hate but can never ignore or escape. Idli is one such! Longlive Idli!

Dec 21, 2005

Kabul City Center

Today, our generator was down.So I decided to go to the Kabul City Center in shar-e-nau (new city).Its one of the first posh malls in the capital and a costly one too.It was good to see a modern interior in kabul for a change.

The cost of goods , the crowd of punky youngsters and the general ambience reminded me of the Spencers.In my chennai days, i have done a lot of window shopping in Spencer Plaza just to escape form the sun and enjoy the cool AC inside. I found people doing exactly that here....but the reason was to escape from the cold outside .

I got exited and instinctively entered a music instruments shop. The price of acoustic guitars made me dizzy...500$ ! When I saw a Drum kit I could'nt resist the temptation...When I started playing, it attracted a crowd of smiling Afghans.
One young Afghan held my hand and said "You Indians, u are so good in music, We love u !" and made me blush! Some more came to shake my hands :)
I next ventured into an electronics shop and bought a digital camera that i was dreaming to buy all my life...(all these pics were taken from it)..Its a Sony 7.2 mega pixel, model DSC P200 and I already love it!

Dec 19, 2005

Afghan Democracy-D day!

Historical day here today ! Afghanistan took another toddler step in democracy - inaugurated its first parliament (after three decades of war) with an emotional ceremony

MPs put hands on copies of the holy Koran as they were sworn -in. In a house dominated by war lords, it was encouraging to see many women .In fact,women had 25 percent of seats reserved for them .Not a bad start for democracy!

"Let me tell the world that Afghanistan is rising from the ashes of invasion and will live forever," said President Hamid Karzai , his voice breaking with emotion, amidst applause and tears from the new MPs.

Dec 16, 2005

The Temple Elephant

When you hear the jingle of bells followed by the noise of children and barking of street dogs, you can be sure that the Koil-Yaanai (temple elephant) is on your street.

Hindus queue up for its blessings. If the giant raises its trunk in salute and touches your head, you are blessed! Some bring water in a sombu (small metal urn) and the beast sucks it up and blows it on them as a blessing. Yuck!
It’s an irony that such a huge wild beast is turned into a meek beggar, thrusting its trunk from shop to shop for alms. As a kid I watched in awe the huge trunk grasping so precisely the 25 paisa coin from the hands of the shopkeepers!
Some kids enjoy the jumbu ride whereas some terrified kids (like me) are pissed off. I was always over whelmed by this beast. I was 4 years old and brave enough to climb for a ride, but once I sat on the top..ooops!The elephants hairs pricked like needles. My scream would have made the elephant deaf. That was my first and last ride!

When the elephant shits on the street, people run to stamp on it with bare feet. They say it has medicinal values to cure the cracks in the foot. Its pee is also holy for some. People rush to collect it as though its a holy spring! Whatever!

The giant softy strolling lazily thro’ the city has become part of the Madurai streetscape.

Dec 15, 2005


It was disturbing to see the pics (on the net ) of destruction caused by the Nov-Dec cyclonic rains and flood in Tamil Nadu .However, this is one pic from Madurai really exited me. A rare sight indeed!River Vaigai in full fury!
The river that is the very reason for the evolution of Madurai comes alive. Suddenly the city is reminded that there runs a river right across them. When ever it happens , Maduraites are thrilled ......Stuff like “river is rising”, “ keelpalam is submerged today”, “2 cows washed away” , “some boys stranded in the mandapam” “helicopters coming for rescue” should have been the talk of the town for days..!
Maduraites are so much used to the dry river bed that a flood like this turns out to be a huge crowd puller…a lifetime event! Iam no exception.When it happened some years ago, I drove a little to the outskirts of the city, against the backdrop of coconut grooves, to really savor the beauty of this river. To see the trickling timid dirty river in which I had fished as a kid, turn wild and beautiful at the same time.. wow!A few minutes of staring at the flooding river had a hypnotizing effect on me...hmmm! I missed it this time!

The Theppakulam, Madurai

The Tank as it looks today!

Teppakulam tank taken by a photographer of the Archaeological Survey of India around 1899-1900

Painting by L.H. Rudder after the original drawing by Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Saltuikov , 1848.

Oil painting on paper depicting the tank at Madurai by Marianne North, dated 1877-79

Photograph , part of the Earl of Jersey Collection- 'India. Bombay to Madras', 1880s

Madurai is dominated by the Meenakshi Sundareshvarar Temple.The earth required for the construction of this temple complex left a huge pit,later converted into a tank. . .
The Mariamman Theppakulam.

Constructed by Tirumala Nayakar, it is situated at the eastern end of the city, about 5 kms from the Temple. It is a large rectangular tank with an island in the middle with a small temple and pavilions at each corner.This Theppakulam at Vandiyur is one of the biggest temple tanks in South India. It is filled with water from underground channels leading from the river Vaigai. The small temple on the square island in the centre houses an idol of Vigneshvara (the hindu elephant god). The tank has three flights of steps on each side.

Theppakulam looks particularly spectacular during the Float Festival every year when the statues of Meenakshi and her consort Sundareshvarar are floated on rafts decorated with lights on the water.

During British rule,the English people drove round and round it every evening and made that drive their chief gossiping spot.

One of the most beautiful landmarks of Madurai when full of water. But when dry, its a popular cricket ground for hundreds of kids at a time!
(photos, courtesy British library)

Tamukkam , Madurai 1784

Watercolour of Fort Defiance, Madurai by Colin MacKenzie, c. 1784.

Colin MacKenzie (1754-1821) joined the East India Company as an engineer at the age of 28 and spent the majority of his career in India. He used the salary he earned from his military career as a captain, major and finally a colonel to finance his research into the history and religion of Indian and Javan culture. This painting is of the Tumukkum, the country house erected by Tirumalai Nayakar in 1630 and earned its Fort Defiance moniker from its having been a defended outpost during the siege of Madurai in 1764.It later became the Madurai Collectrate.

Kudai Veedu (Umbrella Houses of Madurai)

Kudai veedu on south masi street

The 'Kudai veedus' (Umbrella Houses)
- Architectural landmarks of Madurai.
From 'The Hindu' Propery Plus Suppliment

The Kudai veedu at Ponnagaram 

The Umbrella

I wait ...

kabul, 2005
The moon consoles me
But in vain;
And memories give more pain;
With thoughts disdain
Under frozen rain,
I wander in solitary strain.

The gloom of winter
Should of must
Give way to spring!
How like a cuckoo
I wait to sing;
I’ am a coiled spring. . .

[ Written during the cold snowy winters of Kabul ]