May 26, 2011

It's that time of the year again!!!

You can guess from the picture - rolls of brown paper, stacks of books, sticker labels, sticky fingers.... Yep! It's back-to-school time once again! Our elder son is starting second grade next week and I'm having fun wrapping his books. Sadly, my supply of brown paper saved from last year has run out and I will need to visit the stationer's to refill. Yesterday night we had a huge thunderstorm with a little rain, so I'm guessing the monsoons will be arriving on time for the school reopening day. Which reminds me - I will have to dig out the kiddo's umbrella which I must have stashed away with last year's bag.
School reopening comes with a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand I wish I could have gone to school with the kiddo - with a whole new set of books, bag and uniform. As adults we seldom get that opportunity to go all new - the nearest we get are new year resolutions. Part of me dreads the parade of tests, term exams and assignments which I will have to track - not to leave out washing and ironing uniforms every week. Why do schools insist on white for uniforms is something I simply cannot understand. It's as though schools conspire to make moms' lives difficult. If I had the power, I would get each school's principal a week's load of my son's soiled uniforms to wash. I am sure they would banish white uniforms forever from their school.
In a way it will also be a relief because I won't have a 6-year-old tagging along all day asking, "Amma will you play Pictionary/Carroms/Tumblin Monkeys with me?" or asking to get neighbouring kids to come or to go to their places to play. And I won't have to stir up any more lemonades and Rasnas this year to slake humongous thirsts rising from hours of play in the summer heat.
Now I will have more time to devote to my creative pursuits - this month I finished two projects. One was an earring organizer for my sis. Then I finished this...

It's not a very good picture of my "mural". I painted it on our living room wall. I went ahead with it after reassuring my husband that it can be easily painted over as anyway our indoor walls have just been primed with a tinted primer. It took me four months to finish - of which I probably spent  slightly more than 24 hours working on it! The design comes from an art deco colouring book that I bought on a trip to Duluth, Minnesota. Looking at it brings back memories of the beautiful drives we took along the shore of Lake Superior in the fall.
So bye bye summer 2011!! Welcome monsoon season!!!

May 20, 2011

First Blogversary!!!

A year ago, I wrote up my first post and sent it out into cyberspace. The aim was (and still is!) to get over my innate perfectionist who has this way of belittling any creative effort that I make as "not good enough". For me, it was enough that I was defying that inner critic by sending out posts, but it has given me back so much more in this one year.

The best thing about blogging is my interaction with you, my readers. So many of you have taken time from your busy lives to comment on my efforts and that has been such an encouragement to me. Though I would have made efforts to write even if my readership was zero, it is much more pleasurable to think that my ramblings are reaching and being appreciated by people. Thank you very much!!!

Secondly, putting out my activities on the blog has helped me in my other creative pursuits - I'm spending much less time in front of the TV, watching horrible movies and vegging out. Gardening, sewing, crochet, craft or painting - I'm no expert at all these, but my efforts and their nonperfect results become more dear to me as I share them with you.

Most important of all, I've come to look at life itself differently. Since I have to drum up topics to blog  about, my life is under close scrutiny now. And I see beauty everywhere. I've gained a deeper appreciation for the little things in life - our daily routines, the pranks of our kids, just sitting on our front porch or even pulling up touch-me-nots by the roots. There are moments of peace even in the most hectic of days, when I stand back from what is going on and look at what is happening from the point of view of a blogger. In assessing whether things are blogworthy, I am inspired to make my life even more beautiful each day. The result - I am much more happy! I have always had this dissatisfaction track playing in the background of my head that always implied that I should be somewhere else, doing something grander. But now, I know that this is where I should be, and I enjoy each moment that comes to me.

Yes, my year as a blogger has been truly satisfying. So here is a lovely bouquet for you my readers...

Now I'm off to dance a jig to celebrate being able to stick to a creative endeavor for a year!! Hurrah!

May 11, 2011

Kallar and Meenmutty Waterfall

We go on a journey with a definite destination in mind - but life throws us something so utterly beautiful on the way that it beats the destination itself. How many times has this happened to you? Well, we had a similar experience quite literally...

This April, we got up unseasonably early on a Saturday for a day-trip to Ponmudi hill station. We had decided to test Google Maps' Indian directions - so I reminded myself to carry the directions that I had written down the previous day. Wonder of wonders, they work! I was a little mystified part of the way that I could not find the landmarks mentioned within almost each step of the directions, but then I started finding them on the opposite side! I don't know whether the glitch would be there for both ways, because I didn't write down reverse directions, confident that we'd be able to find our way back. (And we did!)

At around 7:30, we stopped at the tiny town of Vithura for some breakfast and continued till we reached Kallar and saw this:

On an impulse, we stopped in front of the gates and waited way past the 9:00 a.m. opening time mentioned on the gate - being natives, we are inured to the Indian Stretchable Time concept, of course. Once the guides started arriving, the gates were opened and we drove in. About half a kilometre in, the road - or atleast the pucca part of it ended and the guide asked us to go ahead and drive through a stone-paved culvert into the forest. "Okay... ahem, brother, this is a new car and a big one, will the drive be dangerous?" "Oh, it'll be certainly dangerous if you leave it at THIS spot because there'll be no one to keep an eye on it here and some visiting boys think it's fun to smash cars, especially new and shiny ones!"

Okeeee, so we drove on through the thick forest till we got to a slightly wide clearing that was the parking area. Our young guide Manu took us on the 1.5 km trek to the Meenmutty waterfalls. I later learned that we had got the easiest trek since it was peak summer. In the rainy season, the river swells up and the paths become so slippery that more circuitious routes with steeper climbs become necessary. While we easily skipped over the stones to ford the summer-starved river, in the rainy season thick ropes slung across the river provide the only support to navigate the slippery rocks and strong currents. But we made it to the waterfall without any mishaps. We had Meenmutty all to ourselves since we had been the first through the gates.

On the way, we saw these:

A natural swing that Tarzan would love to use

Space for more if need be!

Elements have worked their craft on this log that we have to pass under

Stepping stones - so convenient to cross the river

Finally, the waterfall. My camera and the strong sunlight don't do justice to this picture. In real life, it looked like there were diamonds skipping across the water. The chorus of crickets was louder than the waterfall and in the shade it was really cool. We could've sat there for ages and ages were it not for the fact that our early morning breakfast had been thoroughly vaporized by the trek and our stomachs threatened to out-rumble the waterfall itself.

On our return journey, we saw more tourists huffing and puffing their way up the steep slopes in the increasing heat and felt totally smug. I even reassured some that they didn't have much farther to go - exasperated laughs were the totally understandable response. No wonder someone changed the number on this board from 1.5 km to what's below. BTW, the "only for family" applies to the bathing cove at the starting point of the trek.

Our guide left us back at the car park and soon my family was in the stream to refresh themselves while I sat on a rock with both my feet in the water - even that was refreshing enough! Can you tell that our lil guy is enjoying himself?

The hike did not feel tiring at all, I guessed it was the thick forest that kept us sheltered and fresh. Even our two-old made it by himself all the way up and most of the way down. There really is a therapeutic effect in
being in our earliest home.

Ponmudi, on the other hand, was slightly disappointing in comparison, because there was not much to see or do and the mists that beautify every hill station were conspicuous by their absence. So if you are going to Ponmudi and are in reasonably good shape, do get down at Kallar and enjoy the hike through the forest - make sure you take a guide with you although it is not exactly necessary - they can tell you a lot about the residents of the forest - both moving and nonmoving ones. And after a dip in the cold stream, your appetite can be appeased in the sole hotel at Kallar - how does a steaming plate of "Kappappuzhukku" and spicy beef curry sound to you? As I told you, life is full of delightful surprises!!!

May 5, 2011

Plagiarism and its good side...

Please don't take me wrong, let me explain...

There have been quite a few comments in the media regarding music director Deepak Dev lifting the tune of his song "Aaro Nee Aaro" in Urumi from Loreena McKennit's "Caravanserai". I came to know about it from a mail forwarded by my DH and listened to clippings of both the songs. Deepak Dev himself clarified in an interview that he was inspired by "Celtic music" when he composed the song, but did not mention any artist in particular. He himself admitted that it was very easy to catch copying these days due to the presence of the internet.

Yes, the songs are really alike, the instruments used are slightly different, that's all.

Now comes the good side - in a bid to confirm the act of plagiarism, I personally have come to know a new musician. Yesterday, I visited Loreena McKennit's website and read through it while listening to a few of her songs on YouTube. For those who don't know, she is a Canadian singer who is deeply fascinated by Celtic music. And what I've heard has just whetted my appetite for more. I shall be visiting several CD shops to see if they have any of her albums - I sure hope at least one shop will have them. The melodies are simply haunting. Besides, I also got this from her site where she tells us about herself. These are the principles that she has set as her "compass points"

  • Be compassionate and never forget how to love.
  • Think inclusively.
  • Reclaim noble values such as truth, honesty, honour, courage.
  • Respect one's elders and look to what they have to teach you.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Look after the less fortunate in society.
  • Promote and protect diversity.
  • Respect the gifts of the natural world.
  • Set your goals high and take pride in what you do.
  • Cherish and look after your body, and, as the ancient Greeks believed, your mind will serve you better.
  • Put back into the community as there have been those before you have done the same and you are reaping what they sowed.
  • Participate in and protect democracy. It does not thrive as a spectator sport.
  • Undertake due diligence in everything.
  • Seek balance and space, and solitude.
  • Don't be afraid to feel passionate about something.
  • Learn to be an advocate and an ambassador for good.
  • Be mindful of your limitations.
  • Indulge and nurture your curiosity as it will keep you vital.
  • Take charge of your life and don't fall into the pit of entitlement.
  • Assume nothing and take nothing for granted.
  • Things are not necessarily what they seem.
I was totally bowled over by this wonderful, self-realized artiste. Thank you, Deepak Dev for bringing such a genius into my world!

May 4, 2011

Life is what happens...

...when you take breaths amidst planning for it! I don't know how a month of my son's summer vacation has passed. The last month was so hectic! Now we are just back from a week at Kottayam with the kids' paternal grandmother.

Now let me see what we did last month that's memorable...

We attended the temple festival in our little village. I had totally forgotten the whole atmosphere of a temple festival. For the past 15 years, a single darshan coupled with a half hour or so of some program associated with the festival was the maximum of my participation at any temple festival. So when the biennial festival came around during vacation time in our village, my DH (who also has fond childhood memories) and I decided that we would max it out this year. So in the second week of April, we walked down to the splendidly lighted premises of Maruppancode Devi temple most evenings and took part in the festivities. In our small community, the festival season is almost like a week-long wedding in the family! Everyone asks after everyone else, locals who have moved away spend the week at their ancestral homes, there is free lunch each day at the temple and people decide way ahead what programs they are going to watch and make prior appointments with each other. Although we haven't been in this area for even one year, everyone made us feel at home, explaining all the ceremonies and rites that are new to us and took us along for everything.

Among the various programs listed, I was keen to watch the Kathakali performance. I don't think I have watched a full-night Kathakali program since I left high school. Our universities always schedule exams during the peak festival season and I was never allowed to lose sleep at that time. So I was totally excited by this chance. Unfortunately my DH is not a Kathakali guy and bailed. So I went with the neighbors and my elder son for company. Wonder of wonders - there were chairs in the maidan! I was told that since Kathakali was watched mainly by the senior crowd who would have trouble sitting on the ground, chairs were provided exclusively on Kathakali night! And then I watched as the performers went through the ritualistic preliminaries of kelikottu, thiranottam and manjuthara before Nalacharitam second day started. I dutifully explained everything to my son who shared my enthusiasm in the beginning...

That is the best shot I got with my pitiful mobile phone camera. Soon my son was overwhelmed by sleep while I went into a kind of trance induced by the music - it was an eerie feeling.. I was aware of the song, the meaning of the accompanying gestures, etc., but at the same time I was taken some place else by the music. I am no connossieur of Kathakali, so I can't tell you about the level of performance - but I enjoyed it all. Especially the "manodharmam" when the actors elaborate the story with mime. When Nalan elaborated on his lovelorn feelings, my neighbor's teenage daughter and I were laughing out loud - I am sure some senior, staid eyebrows were cocked at our irreverent laughter - but we were totally tickled. I marvelled at the actor who played the hamsam and wondered how well he had absorbed the mannerisms of a bird. Yes, it is a slow way to see a story as my son would tell you, but then, you don't watch Kathakali to learn a story that you already know.

Watching Kathakali when I was a kid was fun - it meant my maternal grandfather's company, his explanations, the bite of ginger candy and the taste of hot banana fritters that he doled out at regular intervals to keep us awake. Thrills were when Dussassanan chased poor Panchali among the audience and we got to see the whorls of the humongous hay-stack like 'uduthukettu' of Dusssassanan from underneath his skirt as he passed by. The high point was getting there early and going backstage to watch the performers lying prone for the chuttikutthu. It also meant a refreshing walk back home at dawn while the whole world was still asleep. Yes, I miss all that a lot, and this April night brought some of it back, as well as heightened appreciation of the dance form that has come with age and understanding. Is there any similar pursuit that you enjoy?

Post laptopitis and a makeover project...

January 29th was an ordinary Monday in all other respects at Karthi. After the weekend merrymaking, I was as usual torn between selecting ...