Oct 20, 2016

Movie Review - Puli Murugan

Are you a Malayali fan who has watched The Avengers movies or even Baahubali and wondered with a sigh, "When will such a movie come out in Malayalam?..." Even as you wondered, you probably knew that it was an impossibility because it would call for world-class animation technology and action expertise with a humongous budget which a small regional movie industry can ill afford. 

Well, for the first time in Malayalam, a truly tiger-hearted producer called Tomichan Mulakuppadam has taken up that very challenge. He shared the dream of director Vysakh and together they have brought forth:

Yep, we had heard the hype. Yep, we heard that there was not much of a story. But that didn't stop us from going to two theaters last weekend to book tickets, only to find they are unavailable. Next we tried online and luckily got four seats for a second show in a town 20 kilometers away. 

And was it worth it all? Yes, yes, YES! I don't know if it was the realistic setting as compared to The Avengers or Baahubali that are clearly fantasies, the action was really thrilling. While DH and Kunju sat coolly at either end of our row, Ani and I had clasped hands during the action scenes and we literally jumped off the seats during the twists and turns! And I don't know how many times DH and I were moved enough to clap like crazy Mohanlal fans.

When I saw Lalettan in action, I was reminded of a scene in Thattathin Marayathu, in which Nivin asks indignantly, "Keralathile anpillerkku enthinada six pack? (Why do Keralan boys need six packs)" Right, no six pack required at all to be an action hero, as Lalettan has proved with this one film. I cannot begin to imagine the effort he has put in to film the action scenes of the movie. He makes it look so effortless! Whether he was fighting dangerous beasts or even more dangerous humans, we were cheering for him all the way. 

The sylvan setting of Murugan's home is almost magical and very enticing on the big screen. The sheer menace the tiger brings is terrifying in the absolute stillness. The audience collectively held their breaths whenever the protagonists grew still trying to guess where the tiger was coming from. It was absolutely mesmerizing to say the least.

As for the rest. Story: nothing new. Humor: of the basest kind. Main villain: has a funny name and overacts. Heroine: perpetually frowns and lip syncs horribly. But they don't detract from the movie at all. Mohanlal, Lal, the real and virtual tigers and action choreographer Peter Hein take all the credit for riveting us to our seats. Cameos by Master Ajas as the young Murugan, Santhosh as his father and Romin (younger son of the producer, looks exactly like cricketer Ravindra Jadeja) as young Murugan's uncle are worth mentioning. Vinu Mohan, Bala, Nandu, Nobin, Suraj Venjarammoodu, Gopakumar, all handle their roles very well.

Verdict: A must-see on the big screen!!! Book your tickets now. But I have a hunch Puli Murugan will be hunting for quite some time!

Sep 30, 2016

Last quarter of 2016 coming up!!!

I am sitting here with a slightly shell-shocked countenance, staring at the beautiful, crescent-like shore of Minicoy - on the wall calendar, that is. It's the date that boggles my mind. Really, September 30? ALREADY???  But school just started yesterday....

I take a look at our 2016 photos folder and try to find out where the days went...

We celebrated Ani's birthday in July. One more non-exploding cake under my belt!

After 13 years of on-again, off-again trying with a shuttle, I finally mastered tatting with a needle in the same month thanks to my dear friend Elsa who brought me the needles and to a couple of hours in front of YouTube (Thank you all crafters out there who share their expertise on video! Love ya!!!)

Then it was time to go back to a place that is so dear to my heart, CMS college, where classmates from 21 years ago gathered to catch up and reminisce...

And before we knew it the Independence day weekend was upon us and we went to a favorite spot - Ponmudi and its foothills (click here to see my post on the same). 

And then it was time to bake another cake. And this time it exploded on me again. Fortunately I had enough ingredients left over to bake another one. But I had no butter leftover for buttercream frosting to write with. And the first thing DH said, "Is that cake for me? But it doesn't have my name on it!" I put only four candles to represent the decades, but I guess it could be counted as just years too considering the attitude!

It was followed up by a magical evening at the beach...

I took up crocheting once again and made something useful for a friend for a change. I got the best wool I could from the Pradhan Stores website and made this...
Ani modeled it for me before I packed it up!

And somehow we found ourselves in the midst of Onam. On Uthradam, we shared a sumptuous feast at my sister-in-law's house.

And we were back in town just in time to view the spectacle of the city's Onam celebrations...

And here we all are trekking around seeing the sights in the fond hope that all the Onappayasam we consumed would get burned up... sigh...

Before I know it, the kids and I are plunged into Summative Assessment 1 throes and today I wake up and look around! Gosh, October starts tomorrow!!!

Jul 12, 2016

Media control in our homes

Yesterday, I was reading an interview of Mary Rothschild by Richard Whittaker: Considering Media in the Light of Relationship and Attention. The interviewee speaks about the need to find a middle way between taking the attitudes of either extreme media fasting or being a complete slave to media. This is an issue close to my heart - as it must be for all parents who are conscientious about child-rearing.

I have found this a particularly hard balance to achieve: I do let the kiddos watch TV, goes without saying. But they are not allowed to watch it on school days. Neither are they allowed carte blanche on weekends or on vacation. I do not impose Animal Planet or "informative" programs on them either. Our 8-year-old is still enamored of cartoons. The elder is now addicted to sports or movies. The wars for the remote are quite frequent and ferocious, but subside quickly if I threaten them with no-TV-at-all. Then they make compromises for the greater good.

But one part of the media is all-pervasive and potentially destructive - advertisements. Till around two years ago, I was inundated with requests for specific products which were advertised very attractively on TV. Some were demanded because there were offers of free products with them. I soon grew tired of just saying "No" all the time. Over the past two years, I have shown both our sons time and time again how companies use these strategies to lure people into buying more. And how most of the "free things" were worthless pieces of low-quality plastic or tiny samples of one more product they were trying to popularize. 

Also I try to pass on how ads are designed to play on the viewers' insecurities. For example the ad of one hair oil shows a doctor saying, "In the matter of hair, I can't take a risk!" As though hair-fall is one of the greatest plagues on humankind! Only one other ad has the power to irritate me more which is that of a famous appliances company that also offers hair-styling tools. The ad shows a simpering actress who claims that if she styles her hair everyday, she gets gawks from males all around, which makes her boyfriend jealous,which in turn makes him give her treats and the clincher "that makes me feel special!!" It's wrong on sooooo many levels!!!! Gaah, the only reason that I don't break the TV while watching that ad is because I know that I won't be able to watch Masterchef Australia. Ahem.

So I turned to my children and asked them, "What is that aunty doing? Do you think she should feel special only if her boyfriend gives her treats?" I also asked them what a better message would be... and they astonished me by saying ... You can style your hair because you are special!!! I was so overjoyed. At least I have made them think a little beyond what they see. Also I tell them that there is absolutely no proof that the products can do all that they claim to do. Our younger one took it so much to heart that when he hears tall claims like those of health drinks, he turns to me and asks, "They are lying, aren't they, Amma? I still need to eat my veggies to become stronger and healthier, don't I?" Underlying his questions may be a slight hope of my saying that he need not eat his veggies, but still!!!!

My way of adopting the middle way is not to condemn all ads outright, but to make sure that the kids know that an ad is an art form that needs our critical appreciation - not blind allegiance or total disregard. There are ads that always touch our hearts, thrill our minds and earn our appreciation for content and direction. 

And yes, our kids know that when they see ads for club glasses, CDs and soda, they are actually watching ads for alcohol. What do you tell your children when they are watching ads?

And if you are interested in getting thought-provoking articles like the one at the top in your mail box, I have subscribed to dailygood.org.

Jun 21, 2016

Sisyphus! I feel ya bro!

Was it just yesterday that the whole of Kerala was broiling in the high 30s? It's 4 in the afternoon now and I feel I should snuggle beneath my blanket and burrow into my pillows to take a cozy nap! I haven't seen the sun in a couple of days. Karthi was hit by the seasonal cold and cough, just in time for school reopening. Our kids grumblingly went back to school and I did the victory dance at home at the beginning of the month! Yay, free, free at laaaast! 

After our Lakshadweep trip (Click on the numbers to see Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.), I devised a project for the kiddos and I to do this summer. Karthi's garden was sadly neglected, fully overgrown  and undernourished. So for a month, everyday for an hour before the sun got hot, we hoed and swept and pruned the areas around Karthi till it was all neat and clean. We even made slanted brick borders - that is, the kids carried the bricks for me while I made wonky, wavering lines with them. We got a load of cow manure and fed each and every plant in our yard. My hands got scratched by the bougainvillea that I tried to tame and  train over the wall so that next February the people who pass our road too can share the joy of the blossoms. 

And see what it looks like today!

See that brownish line going off into the distance? That is one of my beautiful (if I say so myself) brick borders that is currently being choked by the rampant weeds!!!  Does it even look like I was trying to hand-weed the whole as it was growing everyday in June???

So I had to break out the big guns again!

Yep, the rake and the hoe are back and fighting the good fight once again after a verrrrrry short break. Don't they look a bit shell-shocked?  "Oh no, not again!", they seem to be saying. Now my garden team and I know what Sisyphus felt like. But hey, you should feel my arm muscles! Nothing better to build strong arms than half an hour's hoeing each day!

Meanwhile a few blooms here and there smile at me while I work. 

And I almost burst with pride when I look at this guy...

Doesn't look like much? Well that is a Parijatam (we call it Pavizha Mulla too, a tribute to the flower's coral stem) that I have been trying to grow for several years now. My attachment to this plant is a little story. The first place in my peripatetic life that I really called home was my mother's home where my cousins and I played beneath one of these very trees. Every morning there would be a carpet of the distinctive orange-stemmed blossoms beneath it. I always collected them although they wilted pretty quickly, tired out after working to give off their fragrance the whole night. 

When my parents quit the Gulf and settled in Kerala, my mother got a bit off the old tree and planted it near their bedroom window. It prospered and I got to see the same carpet of flowers for years afterward. The years passed and they sold that home to settle near us. One of the things I asked them to bring from home was a cutting of this very tree. But it did not take hold. For four years afterward, I tried the same several times, but it just didn't take root.

I reasoned that the cuttings probably died on the journey from Kottayam to here. So in 2014, I asked my aunt to take a cutting of her Parijatam (which came from our old one, see, it's a family thing!) and grow it in a plastic bag. She planted several cuttings and one took root. When I went to Kottayam for Onam that year, I collected the bag and brought it here. It had a tiny, weak stem and four light green leaves at that time. For almost 6 months I kept it in the shade and took care of it as if it were a baby. I watered it, fertilized it, talked to it, in fact I did everything short of playing Beethoven to it till it grew stronger stems and put out the dark green leaves all over.

Last year, on my fortieth birthday I planted it near our bedroom window and have been taking good care of it since. This January, when Ma died and my aunt came, she found that it had flowered! There were one or two blossoms clinging to the tree precariously even in broad daylight. I think it must have been especially for Ma and my aunt because since then it has grown taller than me, but there have been no more blossoms...

So much for reminiscing. Back to work...

My gloves will tell you of my hard work. Oh, I have to introduce you to my new gloves. Ever since I wore out a pair of gardening gloves that a dear friend of mine brought me from the US, I had been looking out for new ones. All I could find were latex ones that tore at the least provocation. Then a few months ago, I saw these at Pothys! They are made of knit cotton and can stand up to hand weeding and touch-me-not prickles. They can handle roses too with a little care and if they couldn't prevent the bougainvillea from hurting me, it was not their fault. See, they cannot hop on to my hands by themselves, can they? Yeah, I am intrepid like that. I fight the bougainvillea with bare hands. Ouch!!!

The only problem is that the kids think these gloves are good for wicket-keeping and take off with them. So I now have several pairs. In fact, it seems I pick up a pair whenever I go to Pothys these days! At around 40 bucks a pair, they are quite affordable. They are made here in Thiruvananthapuram, so I get a boost out of supporting a local manufacturing business too when I buy them (gimme a reason, any reason!). I wash them under the garden tap to remove the grit and toss them with my daily wash. And I have extra pairs on hand for the next day because in this weather, they take a little long to dry. Happiness is truly in the small things!!! 

That's all for now. For all my griping, am enjoying the rains very much! As is this guy on our front porch!

Wanna meet him? That's another post!

Apr 25, 2016

Movie Review: Jacobinte Swargarajyam

A movie like this comes very rarely. A movie that elicits spontaneous applause after putting the audience through the wringer to come out cleansed and uplifted... that is my idea of a wonderful movie. Jacobinte Swargarajyam, Vineeth Sreenivasan's latest directorial venture is certainly a keeper. But the best part of the movie is that it is based on a true story. How heartening is it to find that there are people who really went through the experience?

Story in a nutshell: Jacob Zachariah (Renji Panicker) is a self-made businessman in Dubai. He is the loving patriarch of his family of wife Shirley and four children. The eldest, Jerry (Nivin Pauly) is at a crossroads in his life and his father encourages him to test his wings before he decides whether to join the family business. Jacob is respected and loved by his associates and acquaintances. He believes that his family, although not perfect in every way is his greatest asset in the whole world. He has implicit faith in his business associates as well.

Disaster strikes in 2008 with the global recession. Jacob is swindled by a long-time business associate right after he has made a huge investment with cash gathered from a lot of investors. In a bid to claw out of the huge hole he has fallen into, he travels to Liberia. But one of his investors files a case against him that virtually confines him to that country for fear of the Interpol. His family is left to the mercy of the creditors...

This is all I can tell you now. The rest you have to see!

The first thing that intrigued me was a snippet of an interview of the cast and crew in which Nivin Pauly said that even though Vineeth Sreenivasan had cast himself as Jerry, Nivin liked the role so much that he pestered his friend till Vineeth gave in thinking that he would also be able to wrap up the shoot faster if he didn't have to direct and act. Nivin is so known for his astute selection of roles, so that in itself was an incentive to watch the movie.

Renji Panicker plays Jacob Zachariah to perfection - he is the Dad everyone would like to have. Loving, playful, genial, masterful and liberal at the same time. No wonder his kids idolize him so much. Lakshmi Ramakrishnan excels as the gutsy "Achayathi" who is unfazed by the vagaries of a businessman's life and provides the faith, strength and stability that her family needs to confront the crisis. Sreenath Bhasi as Ebin, the second son has got the best role of his career to date. In fact everyone, down to the security guard of Jacob's apartment is perfectly cast and have done their respective jobs exceedingly well.

The twists and turns of the plot are so finely synchronized that the audience remain on tenterhooks all the time. There are subtle digs at the Malayali diaspora who consider it an achievement if they manage to celebrate Onam any time earlier than a month after Thiruvonam. But there is also immense pride and confidence in the Malayali ability to prosper wherever they are planted. The role that strong religious faith plays in keeping the flame of hope alive in the most hopeless of situations is emphasized throughout.

All in all, a lovely and inspiring movie. Do not forget to watch it!

Apr 22, 2016

Visiting Lakshadweep Part 4 - Minicoy/Maliku

Seasoned sailors that we had become, none of us barely even noticed the ship's movements after the eventful day in Kalpeni. Thus MV Kavaratti was able to sneak off the 208 km to Minicoy in the night. We had been warned the day before that all disembarkation for Minicoy would be over by 8 am. So we who never dawdle anyway were up super-early, ready for the last day's adventure and were down at the embarkation doors even before the first boat from Minicoy made its appearance. The sea was quite playful, but we all made it safely into the boat and set off at a spanking pace to the island clearly visible in the distance...

Soon the reason for the hurry was apparent. While the boat rides to the other islands took barely 10 minutes, we didn't reach Minicoy till a full 25 minutes had passed. The funny thing was the island was curved around us like a huge "C", whose middle we were aiming for, but it didn't seem to get any closer for a loooooong time!

But soon it was time to doff our life-vests and climb in to our choice of vehicles to the first point of our Maliku (by which name the islanders prefer to call it) visit...

As usual we were welcomed with tender coconut, but what had DH intrigued was the vehicle they used for the purpose! A bright red Willys, no less!!!

If he had his way, DH would have had it shipped back to mainland in our ship itself. With great reluctance he made his way to the beautiful white lighthouse built by the British way back in 1888...

Till the day I saw this lighthouse, I had this misconception that all lighthouses need to be painted in  regulation red and white stripes.Good to know they can come in other colors too! The ticket seller warned us to leave our bags outside as we would have to climb 200 steps to reach the top and the bags would prove an unnecessary burden. It is a testament to my exercise routine that I reached the top without any unseemly gasping/panting or cramps in my legs which I fully expected. I would love to boast that I didn't even break into a sweat, but that would be an impossibility in 30+ degree Celsius temperatures unless one has anhidrosis!

The interior of the lighthouse was decorated with tasteful pictures of the antique light system etc and had landings that had beautiful old-fashioned wooden shutters. These opened to beautiful increasingly higher vistas of verdure and brine...

The final ascent to the light room and balcony was by means of this intimidating ladder...

As the more cautious of us turned backwards and descended very carefully, I saw an elderly man from our group descend the steps as easily as he was going down a wide staircase!!! At the bottom, we gave a collective gasp and barely kept back the applause when he landed safely. At that moment I told myself, "That is what I wanna be like when I'm old." His hair might have turned all white, but he had the suppleness of a kid. 

As the batch of 10 that went up ahead of us descended from the balcony, we finally made it up there...

I usually don't see the point in panoramic photos since they distort things out of recognition, but this picture somewhat brings home an idea of the "hockey stick" shape of the island, the curved end being on the left of the picture where the ladies are and extending away to a point on the right.

A few more pictures from the top: 

I think we did a good job of hiding that unsightly white communications tower behind us. The tile-roofed building at the top right is the resort which we were going to next. Please don't look at the next picture if you have a fear of heights!!!

And there is MV Kavaratti, resting up from all the running around and patiently waiting for our return in the evening. You can see the color change and the waves stopping where the lagoon starts...

On the onward ride, I told myself that if I were asked to settle in Lakshadweep for good, I would certainly choose Minicoy. The majority of the vegetation on Kavaratti and Kalpeni consisted of coconut trees and little else. But Minicoy has a wide variety of vegetation, we saw plenty of farms and the roads and property along the roads are well-maintained. There is an air of orderliness and prosperity which were absent in the other two islands. 

We were led to the well-appointed resort grounds where we got up close with a hermit crab who probably wanted to say hello...

We all changed and got to the beach with alacrity, only to find that it was still low tide. The water barely covered our ankles!!!! But that didn't stop us from getting some kayaks out. Ani requested my company again, but our kayak was a no-go. With no weight to balance mine, the back of the kayak was stuck in the sand while the end with Ani stayed up in the air!!! I promised to give him a ride when the tide came in and went alone. It was kind of like paddling about in a huge bathtub, the water so shallow and clear and stroking was so easy!

And I think that is when I caught my sunburn! Be warned, one application of SPF-15 sunscreen lotion has no power to withstand the summer sun. Carry at least SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen and reapply every two hours. Wish I had read about that before I traveled!  Instead, I believed the worst I could get from the sun was a deep tan. Not so, definitely not so. Fortunately I didn't feel any burning, only got damaged shiny skin on my forearms that itched horribly with rashes two days after the exposure!

We left our life-vest clad kids to paddle about near the beach under the supervision of water sports staff while we took a boat to deeper waters for snorkeling. The staff had to push the boat for at least half a kilometer before the propeller could clear the sand! Our offers to join the pushing fell on deaf ears, so we enjoyed the novel sensation. Finally the engine was started and we made our way to the reef. The ride was enriched by the sighting of two stingrays.

Once we reached the reef, we donned life-vests and snorkels and got off the boat into chest-high water. But it soon deepened near the coral. Our guides held us by the hand as they guided us around a huge, truck-like coral structure and pointed out the marvels. Here too there was such a variety of fish that I will not bore you with enumerating. One thing I saw in abundance was huge clams staying upright among the corals. Some were more than two feet across! Till then I had seen clams only in cartoons. Once we were back in the boat, I was glad to confirm that what I had seen were actually clams!

Just as my guide and I were about to conclude our tour, we suddenly came across a 6-ft-tall purplish brain coral (yes, I found that they are actually called so) that had sprouted a peculiar growth on its top. There were two flat, blue rubbery things on it from which two brown columns with some sort of sparse black fur sprouted. My guide and I surfaced immediately to find that one of the tourists had planted his blue croc-clad feet on the coral and was standing arms akimbo surveying the scene as though he was lord and master of the lagoon!!!! Gosh! My guide shouted at him to get off quickly. As though the heating up of the water is not harming the coral enough, the guy who had refused to have anybody guide him was standing on the coral!

That is one thing that the SPORTS personnel do not stress enough. Although they take very good care of the safety of the tourists, no one instructs us about the importance of leaving the sea-life safe and untouched. In Kalpeni, one of the tourists plucked a "baby" coral clean off the sea-bed and held it above water. Fortunately another tourist who saw him told him to put it back as it was poisonous before I could let out an indignant, "What are you doing sir?" But who was I to censure when I had picked up a sea-cucumber thinking that it was a stone??? I guess they should have an informational video on MV Kavaratti showing the different species of marine life we were likely to encounter and the guidelines we should follow to leave nature's bounty unharmed.

Back at the beach, I fulfilled my promise to go kayaking with Ani. This time I had the sense to call out "left, right" according to which side I wanted him to paddle. The little arms soon tired but he still valiantly kept paddling till we got back. We finally made it out of the water by lunch time, dried off and lazed in the shade after a hearty lunch. 

The ride back to the jetty took a roundabout route through Minicoy. I saw a breadfruit grove that was very shady, inviting and full of fruit!!! Breadfruit stew and varutharacha thoran are my most favorite vegetarian dishes. We were led to a village-house, a sort of communtiy building for that particular village where they meet up to discuss important matters and hold weddings etc. A few ladies were busy near a stove and I was very taken by their costume and the huge "plates" they carried on their head which they use to carry heavy loads.

The Maliku people are similar to Maldivians in culture and language. The ladies who served us tea spoke a little Malayalam, but not enough to discuss the nuances of Maliku culture with me. And then I spied a bright spot of color on the verandah of the village house..

Ever seen such colorful coconut graters before??? Look at this one!

If I didn't have my trusty, older-than-me coconut grater back at Karthi, I certainly would have bought one of these!!!

Then it was time to say goodbye and get on the waiting boat. The sea was definitely choppy this time and  sitting at the prow of the boat, we were treated to a jet-ski like experience as the boat rose and fell. But that excitement too was soon over. We were handed on to the proud ship that had been part of the Operation Raahat of 2015. The Indian navy had helped to evacuate several Indian and foreign nationals fleeing from strife-torn Yemen. MV Kavaratti had sailed to their aid to Djibouti under the escort of naval ships and brought her quota of refugees safely back to Kochi. The crew are understandably proud of this operation as they told us on day one of our voyage.

The next morning saw us a bit relaxed, but we did go up to the top deck to watch the sunrise...

And we stayed on playing guessing games with the cloud shapes...

...until it was time for breakfast. We came out again after packing up to see our ship sail back into the Kochi harbor. But instead of going to the Mattanchery wharf from where we started, she berthed in the Ernakulam wharf on the opposite side of Willingdon Island. And guess who we met there?

No idea? Here, I will give you a clue...

Still no idea? Okay, here, come really close and see...

I guess she was stopping in Kochi on her one of her world-tour cruises. As we passed her, several passengers waved to us from the balconies and we enthusiastically waved back!

After a protracted disembarkation (we waited patiently in our cabin till the rush was over), we thanked the cabin and the ship for having sheltered us for five days and said goodbye to Kochi. A train ride later, we were back home, exhausted, but exhilarated too! 

News you can use: For more info on the Lakshadweep tour packages and booking, visit the SPORTS website . They are very prompt about communication and readily answer any doubt we may have regarding bookings and amenities. For anything too trivial to trouble them with, feel free to mail me! :D