Monday, August 27, 2007

The Fake Rakhi Brother

Rakhi, quite clearly, is a north Indian festival. Much like how nobody, up north, knows what the hell Karthigai is, there is less(er) awareness of Rakhi down south. Rakhi is actually a wonderful festival, which gives a lot of opportunity to express brother-sister affection. The biggest reason for me to like Rakhi was that it successfully kept out any notions of "Sisters Day" from creeping into our lives. Not having a full-fledged Rakhi did not mean that 'sisters' in south India never collected money from their brothers. The above-mentioned Karthigai and Pongal was vasool-time for sisters. So its not as if the land of 'Pasamalar' didn't have any time for bro-sis affection. It just wasn't celebrated with an explicit function. However, Rakhi had a very different context in Madras colleges, at least during my time. This post intends to uncover that dark seedy alternate version of Rakhi that I suspect may not be uncommon at all through out India. Before I set off, a disclaimer; This irreverence towards a honestly celebrated function means no disrespect to real blood brothers and sisters, who probably truly celebrate rakhi. This, as I said, is a commentary on the alternate rakhi.
I never had a sister. So I never had anybody (except a cousin who tied it 1 year) tie Rakhi for me. Frankly, I never missed it. I didn't like Pasamalar and wasn't a big fan of bro-sis relationship either. However, I always looked forward to Rakhi every year. That was because I was extremely amused by the nonsense that passed off in my college/surroundings in the name of Rakhi. Girls tied rakhi to boys who weren't really related to them. The said boy and girl didn't even look alike. Somehow this provided my cynical mind much mirth. Because the reasons for them becoming a fake rakhi sibling was always terribly funny. I was never a big fan of 'he is like my brother' or 'she is like my sister'. To me if you didn't have a sister, and I didnt have one, that was it. No point in trying to replace it with a robot, imaginary dream sister, cat, dog or some girl who turned you down.
Usually, though to be fair, not always, when the concerned man woman weren't related at all, the rakhi brother-sister relationship was an ikky one. Very shady to be precise. One of those vazha-vazha kozha-kozha things that made you wanna throw up. If somebody were working on the world's biggest loser thesis, they needn't go further than the fake Rakhi-brother. Such a relation usually meant the following things to me (a) the guy was interested in the ugly-rakhi-sister's friend so wilfully agreed to be part of this circus (b) the guy proposed to the girl, was turned down and the girl tied a rakhi on his hand to shut him out forever. The latter was most common. Infact a week before rakhi, the college would start gossiping if a particular girl would tie rakhi to her stalker or not. Some guys even went to the extent of bunking college just to escape the Rakhi love-gulliotine. Love is already a hard thing on the adolescent guy. The worst thing he wants to happen is have his chic end up as his rakhi sister. Typically a 'love' intent had several end states. It could be (a) he loves -> he proposes -> she accepts (b) he loves -> he proposes -> she rejects (c) he loves -> he proposes -> she rejects -> she suddenly accepts later (d) he loves -> he proposes -> he unfortunately become rakhi brother; and finally (e) he loves -> he proposes -> he-becomes-rakhi-brother -> -he-miraculously-becomes-lover-again -> she-accepts. Of the five possibilities option (d) is the worst because (e) is a non-zero possibility lingering like a carrot but very hard to achieve. Its hard to over-turn a rakhi-brother situation. At that time the girl definitely has an upper hand.
From a girl's point of view, it wasn't as if rakhi was an iron clad protector against the romeo. The guy is typically embarrassed, caught in an awkward situation. His friends are giving out sympathetic smiles and he isn't sure if he detected sarcasm in those smiles or not. He is pretty sure, his own rakhi-sister is secretly laughing her ass off, when she is with her friends telling them how she gave the proverbial nose-cut. Its not an enviable situation, to be honest. The loser who was unfortunate enough to get slapped with a Rakhi isn't going to just roll over and die. He hangs on because being a Rakhi brother is better than being an ex-communicated friend. I have actually seen loser-fake-rakhi brother trying to cool things off during this phase. They get to be this protective brother, pass advise to their loving sister on how they should be wary of these bad evil romeos. Sometimes the guy gets to play Mr. Bodyguard. He talks fondly and fake-affectionately about his rakhi sister, to his friends. He probably doesn't realize that his audience is secretly collecting information only to laugh (really loudly) behind his back. He does all this in the hope that she might, just might, revoke the rakhi sentence imposed on him. And it is true that some men have been successfull in overturning the most difficult love challenge of all. So there is hope for the loser after all.
I hope the youngters of today, the nasty rebel rascals, are continuing to uphold the glorious tradition of yesteryears.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ghee

Once upon a time, like many other moms in our country, my mom made ghee at home. Our milk was supplied by a milk man every morning at 5:00 AM, who claimed that the milk was 'drawn' from his cow that very morning at 3:00 AM. We started buying milk in plastic cover only after coming to Madras because the evil madras milk man poured water on top of an already poor Madras milk. Every time she'd pick up the milk packet in the morning, she'd say, "it is not even close to anything like Coimbatore/thirunelveli milk". The problem with milk in Madras was that the cows, well yes the ones you see blocking traffic in Doraisami subway, grazed on the great dustbins of Madras. The elders complained that a cow that grazed on banana leaves thrown out from marriage halls had output quality issues. This meant that it neither gave good milk nor good cow dung. This upset the elders as pure cow dung (I am reminded of the Crazy Mohan 'Satellite Saamiyar' joke - "Komiyam'e cow oda impure, ithula pure komiyam veriyaa") meant a lot to their agarbathis (incense sticks). If all the old mamas in madras took to the streets against the milkman, to protest, their slogans would be "grass, not paper". Incidentally, they would use the same slogan to appeal for legalization of dope.
Well before the days of packet milk, my mom loved making ghee at home. After the friendly neighborhood coimbatore/thirunelveli milkman delivered the milk, she followed the standard process of 'urai kuthi'fying the milk every night (need English word for the process of putting small quantities of yesterday's curd into today's milk, thereby starting the 'athibayankaramulu' scientific process of converting that milk to curd). While this gave out a vile smell when I got up in early in the morning, I looked forward to the ghee it would generate. The resulting curd had a top layer called "Yedu" (I still don't know the English word for this). This Yedu is crucial to the ghee manufacturing process. My mom diligently collected this 'yedu' every day and put it in a separate vessel. Once the 'yedu' quantity had reached sufficient threshold levels, my mom would kick start phase II of the process. She would put all the 'yedu' in a mixie (blender) and the blender would separate the butter milk and the butter from the 'Yedu'. The butter is then heated to make ghee. The butter -> ghee process takes about 1 hour of heating at various temperatures and is a big thing. Of course, this chemistry-experiment conversion had several side effects. It gives out a nasty smell, which my friend ColorKing hated. The smell is so strong that even if you shoved a bottle of Amrutanjan up your nose, you'd still smell the butter. Reminded, me of the acid or chemical in the chemistry lab (was it PbNO3?) that gave out a real mean smell. That chemical, metaphorically, smelled like the fart of an elephant, after it has eaten a 1-Ton truck load of garlic (Don't ask me, how I know it - its all poetic license). So, back to ghee, if I wanted to keep ColorKingaway from my house for considerable periods of time, it was time to ask my mom to make ghee.
Ghee, the most fattiest and the most dangerous of all food items, is my most favorite milk product ( yes! Thiraty Pal comes second). When you are a teenager and your face is buried in pimples, ghee is the last thing you should be eating. Like, onion, ghee in any food item takes that item to another dimension. Ghee in 'seru' (wet sand) form is my favorite. This is a stage in ghee's lifecycle where ghee resembles wet sand or wet cement. Its neither completely solid nor completely liquid. Its in a semi solid state, which some compare to the look of phlegm. Not exactly a motivation for a food item, but nevertheless I'll put it out there. I hated ghee bought directly from shop. Anything Amul was taboo for me. I couldn't bear the smell of it on my food. Especially the ghee made from those nasty yellow color Dalda dabbas.
Nowadays, my mom does not make ghee like that. She just buys butter from a shop and makes ghee out of it. Doesn't taste as well the home-made ghee.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: A Life of Genius Ramanujan: The Man who Knew Infinity - II

I did mention that Kanigel presents accurately the things he grasped. But the operative word is Kanigel grasps well, things he can grasp. He may not have a command of Ramanujan's mathematics as well as a math specialist might. He does not hide this fact either. Neither do I. However, when I am reading a book on Ramanujan and his math, I would have been happy to skim over mathematical details *myself*, rather than have the author do it for me. Whenever Kanigel decides to get his hands dirty with Math, he describes certain basic Math concepts and slowly increases depth. However, you are left with a feeling that he is skimming things over. I do not blame him. He has to bear in mind that his audience is Math unfriendly. But I was left with a feeling that Ramanujan's math is still left inaccessible because of a lack of a main stream book that incorporates it.

On several occasions, Kanigel tries hard to describe what Ramanujan is not. Kanigel has obviously spent considerable time in India, where the hype surrounding Ramanujan is tremendous, compared to America. People in India strongly believe Ramanujan couldn't put a foot wrong. Well Ramanujan was wrong, albeit only very few times. But he has made an error or two. So Kanigel tries to put in perspective the few instances in which Ramanujan was wrong. The case where Ramanujan claims to have found, a function, for the number of prime numbers less than x (for example if you supplied a value for 'x', say 32671, then the function would tell you how many prime numbers fall between 0 and 32671), is quoted in great detail. The only problem I had with this is that I was always cut off from Ramanujan's hype. So would most American readers. In an attempt to compensate, balance, and possibly moderate an invisible hype surrounding Ramanujan, Kanigel's presentation of 'both sides' comes out as rather negative. In fact upon reading the book, you don't immediately get why Ramanujan was called a genius. Kanigel uses a lot of subtlety in saying that. You have to pause and think before going - wow! I felt the positives could have been highlighted in more detail - even if it was done so with the aid of metaphors - so that a uninitiated reader can understand the reason behind Ramanujan's genius.

Another negative aspect that I found about Kanigel's presentation of Ramanujan's story was his filling up of gaps in Ramanujan's life. He knew about India's struggle for independence, and the first world war. Both happened when Ramanujan was reasonably close to ground zero. And Kanigel weaves a narration that implies that Ramanujan's life could not have been left untouched by such factors. I have my own doubts on this. However, on parts of the book that indulges in social commentary, Kanigel does not say his opinions in his own words. He carefully cherry picks and quotes other authors of Politicial, social books of that time to make his point. I thought this was an interesting way to narrate your point without being apolitical.

The topic of Ramanujan and Hardy's religious beliefs have not been left untouched by Kanigel. At first I was confused on the relevance of this to Ramanujan's mathematics. Since Ramanujan and Hardy were not known for the religious or philosophical treatises, an elaborate mention of these subjects left me confused. Then I understood that this is the story of Ramanujan - the person. Apparently, Hardy was an atheist and made no bones about it. Ramanujan's religious affiliations are murky. Some, including Hardy, claim that he started off as a religious person and then became disgusted with religion. Others clearly disagree. Kanigel disagrees too.
I remember seeing an old TV documentary about Ramanujan that had a scene where Ramanujan is saying his prayers in front of a shelf with miniature god idols. His thoughts distract/interrupt his prayers and he constantly takes his notebook does some math before resumes his prayer (apparently the ignorant documentary producer was showing Ramanujan doing Sandhyavandhanam in such a curious way). Kanigel claims that a person who regularly did Sandhi and argued on upanishads could not be an atheist. Well he is sort of correct if you factor in the fact that Ramanujan rebelled whenever he wanted to and would have rebelled if he didn't like religion. He didn't. I remember seeing an Einstein video where, while explaining Einstein's ultimately unsuccessful struggle to unify the disparate equations into a single equation, the narrator quotes Einstein claiming that he worked on science because he wanted to understand God and his creations. Ramanujan several times has said that his math is a result of the intuition powered by Goddess Namagiri and completely attributed his prowess to her. But this was an interesting sub-plot. Unnecessary, but very interesting.
To conclude, this book was a very interesting read. Exposed me to the growing number of Ramanujan's experts in America. Not many books have influenced me in a big way. This book has. Makes me wonder if non-management books have more real world wisdom in them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Jo's Baby: Update

Outside of Mega Serials, Thamizh women have had another major occupation for the past year or so. The obsession with Jyothika's pregnancy. This comes after Aishwarya Rajinikanths pregnancy saga and historians 5000 years from now will date it prior to Shalini's pregnancy story. Jo's 9-10 months was followed with utmost attention to detail. Wherever I went in India, almost every village I visited, I heard at least 1 conversation on Jyothika. Maamis, achis, Goundachis were all concerned if she would do her seemandham in xyz style or abc style. She was quoted several times as the perfect thamizh penn (he he) for having a baby before her first wedding day. Magazines were filled with reports on how many archanais, Sivakumar did for the baby and how 'emotionally touched' Jo became. And then a week before her actual delivery there was a fake sms that went screaming into every college kid's cell phone and told everybody that she actually had twins. This soon sent all the ladies into a technical discussion on whether her stomach looked big enough for two. This fake sms reminded me of the fake 'president/governor/PM died' news we got during board exams.
Finally she delivered a baby girl. Once the nagging issue of naming her baby is resolved, the world will be at peace again. The dosai will fall on the plates of Tamil Nadu men without a 30 minute lecture on Jo's morning sickness. This is until Shalini delivers a baby. Thamizh Naadu must be given an award for still managing to pump out maximum number of engineers/ year to India's work force despite all these wonderful distractions. I challenge Andhra to focus on Mahesh Babu's wife's pregnancy and still get the work done.
Edit: Although since she was born on Friday on 'Adi Puram', several people feel that she should have been named 'Rajalakshmi' or 'Kothai' or 'Aandal'. I am sure y'all agree that this is way more hep than 'Diya'.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Saranga

All this talk about Sarangapani Sannidhi Street, where Ramanujan worked his math, made me think of Ramanujan when I visited Sarangapani temple this time. I was in the middle of reading the book, when I visited Mr. Amudhan (name of central Deity of the temple) this time. This is a really huge temple and it was a genuine challenge to try and capture the really mammoth gopuram in the camera. Some time you wonder, how those people had the imagination to build such large temples. The interesting thing is; if you go inside the temple, the main 'sannidhi' of Saranga is constructed in such a way as if it rests on a Chariot. There are wheels made of stone that are built in the sides of the walls, which make it look as if the whole structure could be mobile if it wanted to. In my estimate this (roughly about 1.5 times that of Thirupathi) would be easily among the top 3 biggest temples in Kumbakonam, if not the biggest. It was certainly beautiful. Click on the picture to really get a perspective of the size of the gopuram and the "miniature" carvings in it.




Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Book Review: A Life of The Genius Ramanujan - The Man Who Knew Infinity

A lot of people are fascinated about Ramanujan. This fascination fascinated me. Why? Why the rush to know more about him? Is the layman qualified enough to know him? What sort of pleasure would I get in reading something, that I know fully well, I may not understand. Is there a human ego to contend here? Is there a primitive testosterone based urge to convince ourselves that we are indeed good enough to understand a work of a "genius"? Yes, many are seduced by the sexiness of his story. While many try to know more about the work that he has done, only very few actually get a grasp of its purported "magnificence". Robert Kanigel, the author of this book, puts in perspective the attempts of a common man to understand and possibly admire Ramanujan ; "because it lies on a cool ethereal plane beyond everyday passions of human life, and because it can fully be grasped only through a language in which most people are unschooled, Ramanujan's work grants direct pleasure to only a few - a few hundred mathematicians and physicists around the world, perhaps a few thousand. The rest of us must sit on the sidelines and, on the authority of the cognoscenti, cheer, or else rely on vague, metaphoric, and necessarily imprecise glimpses of his work"

A cousin of mine claimed to be a Ramanujan expert and kept doing square roots for arbitrary license plate numbers he saw. He even told me that Ramanujan wrote awesome theorems, which were burnt in a fire accident leaving us with only conclusions and no proof. Another old man told me that the white man stole Ramanujan's work, took credit and killed him through starvation. I understood all this to be untrue as I read this book. More importantly it convinced me that the closer you go to people, who are so called 'Ramanujan experts', the more you will get disappointed. As Kanigel puts it, many try and relate Ramanujan's work to the common man by comparing him with Bach, Beethoven, and Michelangelo. I have been listening to Beethoven for a decade, and I can't say I fully understand him either. So understanding and taking pleasure from Ramanujan's work through comparisons with art is "for a layman, to be sure, this is an ultimately unsatisfying way to confront Ramanujan's mathematics, for it keeps us at several removes from what he did, leaves us having to take others word for it, looking at his mathematical achievements through a blurry film of metaphor, poetry, and, yes, ignorance. True, the composition of a sonata maybe equally mysterious; but the result more intimately involves the five senses."

Robert Kanigel's book has been on my 'To Read' list for a really long time. Once as a guest to some body's house in Dallas, I got so bored with the proceedings of the evening dinner that I decided to take this book from a shelf and read it. I read about 70-80 pages. I was so fascinated by Kanigel's grasp of South Indian life that I decided to read the book in entirety later, which did not happen until recently. Remember, this book is meant for an American audience. To capture South Indian life, more precisely, Kumbakonam life, is not an easy task. Yet, Kanigel's preciseness is amazing. The details that he can grasp, he grasps well and presents it with a depth that very few foreign writers about Tamil Nadu have managed. You get none of the stereotyping, approximations and glossing over that other North Indian and foreign writers tend to do while writing about Tamil Nadu. For example, he casually mentions that a marriage is over only after the 'sapthapathi' is complete - which - not many South Indian Brahmin's know. He delves deep into aspects of Ramanujan's customs, rituals, more specifically his Brahmanism, vegetarianism. The analysis on Ramanujan's habit of eating with his hand and the precautions such people take in everyday life to keep that hand clean is simply amazing. Kanigel's attention to detail is outstanding and more often than not - on an un-American subject, he comes out with an accurate analysis - something which even authors from Tamil Nadu fail to do. And if you feel he got it wrong somewhere, think again.

Briefly Ramanujan's story had 3 aspects; 1) Mathematics; Ramanujan worked in an area called pure Mathematics. This is an area of mathematics that rarely, if ever, has any practical application. It will not help the world become better than what it already is. If it does, its purely accidental. Ramanujan's genius lay in his understanding of numbers and its properties. It was purely pure. Hardy was a mathematician who clearly disliked people's penchant for applied Mathematics. He detested it and believed in Math for Math's sake. So Ramanujan-Hardy was a near perfect marriage. Ramanujan schooled in Sarangapani Sannathi Street, Kumbakonam, was unexposed to progress of modern Mathematics in Europe, and so ended up reinventing theorems already invented by Euler or Jacobi. This does not diminish, in fact it adds to, Ramanujan's greatness. However, it significantly wasted his time. Carr's book of formulas, which was a pocket formulae book of sorts that contained only final conclusions/theorems and no proofs, greatly influenced Ramanujan in his formative years. Because of that book, Ramanujan truly believed that Math was done and dealt with in end results. Many can have this wrong assumption but to continue doing Math in such a style - you need to be Ramanujan. Either the book accelerated Ramanujan's horsepower or Ramanujan was already super-intelligent - Ramanujan's intuition powered him to directly provide a solution for many problems without going through a formal proof process (so much for my cousin's fire theory) . That he was able to see properties for numbers, which others hardly saw, made his art look like magic. But he wasn't a human calculator, which is a lower form of genius. He was a very intuitive person. Hardy's 'prove it' attitude greatly, but correctly, altered Ramanujan's working style. For his mathematics, Ramanujan was considered equivalent of Math gods such as Euler and Jacobi, which is pretty much the highest honor a mathematician can receive. If his life hadn't been terminated, Math would have been immensely richer.

2) Ramanujan/Hardy's Personal Life: Ramanujan was an orthodox Iyengar, who was subject to the customs of his time. He was fat, was mama's little obedient boy with little interest in sports. You could call him a Thayir Sadham (curd rice) and you would be partially correct. But only partially. Kanigel brings out Ramanujan's social ineptness very well. In contrast, Hardy was, well, gay. Which in orthodox 18/19th century England was blasphemous. Hardy was also a cricket fanatic and lawn tennis player apart from being a handsome man with excellent social skills. Both were rebels in their own form and style. Ramanujan was, though not wretchedly but, unbelievably poor. He couldn't afford education. Lost his scholarship, failed in exams, and ran away from home. He led a life, which in those days bordered on knife's edge. Nobody, not even him, knew how he would survive the next day. A life, which in today's world will be considered ridiculous. The only typical thing is his life was that; he married a girl almost a decade younger than him, his mother ill-treated that girl and kept them apart. However, unlike most daughter-in-laws, Ramanujan's wife ran away when he was in England and returned only when he came back. Not only did he have such probems burning background while he was busy being a genius, Ramanujan, himself, was an ultra-sensitive person, bordering on super-eccentric genius. He urinated/excreted on the math papers, when he found out that his 'original' work had already been invented by Euler. He ran away from his England home, when his guests did not appreciate his cooking. He tried to commit suicide because he wasn't as productive as he thought he would be(his sickness kept him away from math).

3) Ramanujan, a pioneer NRI: People forget that NRIs (Non Resident Indians) weren't common during Ramanujan's time (1914). Yes, Indians were slaves, workers, barristers and all that but we didn't belong to anything remotely upper class. The travel, the culture shock, the racism (India was British colony) that he might have faced while mingling with low-class British cannot be understated. But the religious connotations are also fascinating; "For an orthodox Hindu - and Ramanujan came from a very orthodox Hindu family - travelling to Europe or America represented a form of pollution. It was in the same category as publicly discarding the sacred thread, eating beef, or marrying a widow. And, traditionally, it had the same outcome - exclusion from caste. That meant your friends and relatives would not have you to their homes. You could find no bride or bridegroom for your child. Your married daughter couldn't visit you without herself risking ex-communication. Sometimes you couldn't go into temples. You couldn't even get the help of a fellow caste man for a funeral of a family member. Here was the grim, day-to-day meaning of the word out caste." Ramanujan was a rebel who not only defied such a disproportionate challenge but also adapted, mingled and mixed with the English to the point where visiting Indian students called him Socially 'good'.

It is the combination of the three incredible aspects of Ramanujan's life that makes it so interesting, romantic and sexy. Not his Math, which awesome as it might have been, is clearly beyond common man's grasp. What I understood was that - just being genius in mathematics was not enough for Ramanujan. He had to contend with family chaos, dislocation from his reality and the inherent mental imbalances that his math abilities had given him. This is the part that a common man usually grasps. This is what makes Ramanujan's story fascinating for the common man. The fact that these worldy aspects curtailed Ramanujan's career is as interesting as the fact that such a career was curtailed.

To Be Continued.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On Absent-mindedness

Bhagavathas inside Sathyanarayana temple became curious and mildly amused upon seeing person walk in, do pradakshanam and start praying to idols. Well, the guy forgot to remove his helmet. Either Hanuman, was also amused by a space-masked alien praying to him and decided to wake him up from his bhakti or the increased intensity of giggles and curious stares alerted his 6th sense - He realized the oddity and quickly pulled out the helmet. Then he looked around, sporting a sheepish grin, to check if others had noticed him. Unfortunately, for him, everybody had already erupted into laughter.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sometimes

.... you are like a successful poor quality masala movie that runs for a 100 days in India. You tour talkies from Himalayas to Kanyakumari. You visit a dozen states see many patti thottis along the way and speak/get dubbed in many languages. You are projected and seen in different shades, colors and contrasts. Old people, young people, children, ladies, psychos, celebrities, hot chics, underworld rowdies, police, nut cases, eccentrics, wise men and women see you. Sometimes you are a houseful show and sometimes you play for nobody. Some people are born when you are around. Some people die. Finally you run your heart out, you get mixed reviews as you are packed and sent on your way. After you leave they talk about you for a few seconds and then...

The show goes on.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Travelogue: Coimbatore to Guruvayur

The last 10 days were littered with trips to Bangalore, then slightly north of it to a waterfalls that River Kaveri creates, Coimbatore and Guruvayur. This time I visited (saw it from the outside as the temple was closed) a new temple en route to Guruvayur and it turned out to be a very scenic place .

Thiru-VithuvaKodu in Thamizh and Thiru-MithaKodu in Malayalam is a temple situated 2 Kms from Pattambi Railway station. It is one among the 13 Malai-Naadu (Kerala) Divya Kshethrams, part of the larger 108 kshethras. It is en route between Sheranur - Calicut and can also be reached on the Coimbatore - Guruvayur route if you skip Thrissur route and take the Pattambi route. You need to ask for directions once every kilometer. Its 10-14 kms from Guruvayur-Pattambi junction. This is a Krishna temple, similar to Guruvayur, but it also has sculptors of the Pandavas. What makes it really special is its location. It is situated milli-meters away from a river called Bhaarath-Puzha, which is probably half a kilometer wide and is filled with water to the brim. The temple seems to be perched on top of a hill'ish sort of mound jutting into the river. The temple is on the part of the mound above the river. Add to it several hundred trees that surround the place and you literally get heaven on earth. The slight drizzle and the clouded skies made the whole place look like a picture. The place looked extremely private and I was told a decent swim was also possible in the river. This temple is open between 6:30 AM to 10:30 AM and from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM (though many in coimbatore complained that they don't open until 6:00 PM). It is a government temple, part of Devasom.

Coimbatore is a fantastic place. Its a stinking rich place too.The number of filthy rich people per square foot would astound you. Apart from being close to the textile hot-spot 'Manchester of India' - Thiruppur, it is prime marketing test bed for luxury car manufacturers. With its cool temperatures it would make an excellent place for these software tech parks. Added to that Kovai thamizh is probably the sexiest thamizh around. Like pretty much everything else concerning Tamil Nadu it is poorly marketed. Whenever I visit Guruvayur, I usually prefer an overnight train from Madras to Coimbatore and a 3 hour drive (a fantastic scenic drive) to Guruvayur. Mainly because there is no good place( I mean a clean luxurious place with a clean restaurant) to stay in Guruvayur. That the drive is simply awesome and you get to buy fresh Nenthram Chips is an added reason. This time that drive was a let down. The road was damaged by rain and it took us over 4 hours to get to Guruvayur. The chickenguniya scare meant that I did not even venture into the dirty restaurants of Guruvayur - even by mistake. Nenthram chips was also out of question for the same reason.

On the subject of food while at Guruvayur; There is a fake Saravana Bhavan that, from memory, sux. Krishna Vilas is reputed to be a good restaurant that I haven't yet checked out. The Asbestos covered path to the temple starts in the middle of the road until the main entrance of the temple. There are a few restaurants in that path. I have eaten in all those restaurants bar one, and they are all bad. Especially the brahmin hotel that is at the start of the road. I haven't seen a more uncomfortable yucky restaurant in my life. As much as I think that Malayalam is the sexiest language in India, I do not think high of Kerala food. The size of the rice (which is compared with size of plucked-out eyes) is a big downer. The thickness of dosai should be 0.5 millimeter in the center and 0.7 millimeter on the side. Not 0.5 and 1 cm (or meters) which is really Uthappam specs (Karnataka, please note this point - and kaara chutney baeda, please).

Guruvayur is not crowded during weekdays and this is off-season. So the wait wasn't more than 20 minutes. I could in fact come out and do a second darshan. I guess everybody now knows that Guruvayur has started allowing women dressed in salwar into the temple. This is done to facilitate people from N. India. In case you didn't know before, you heard it here first:-). My father was clamoring for shirts-allowed rule, which in my opinion has slim to negligible chance of getting implemented. Usually my complaint (well lets say kurai) with Kerala temples is that the idols are extremely small. The 'saligrama' size idol is what one would find in Badrinath (which is also a Namboodhri based temple). The idol sizes (for most Vishnu temples) in Kerala is smaller than that. My estimate is that the average idol size is 30 cms tall and 15 cms wide. It might be slightly bigger but I guess you get my drift. It would be interesting to do some research on the reasons behind this variance among temples in South India. Temples located in areas that later became part of Tamil Nadu are seriously huge (for example Thirukarangkudi temple near Thirunelveli is really really huge - somewhere above 90th percentile in terms of hugeness with Thirupathi being around 60th percentile) - whereas temples that are just a few kilometers away from Naanguneri, now part of Kerala have miniscule idols. Another interesting thing about Kerala temples is the absolute silence. None of the 'govinda govinda' 'amma magamaayi' 'appane' 'jai radhe shaam' yells can be heard here. I remember my uncle walked into Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple, Thiru-anantha Puram chanting Vishnu Sahasranamam. He recalls the incident with a one liner; 'Since I was queitly chanting it, I was quietly asked to shut up'.

So anyway back to topic. I usually come out of Guruvayur thinking 'Krishna saw me' rather than the more active 'I saw Krishna'. The area surrounding the main idol is so dark and the idol itself is so small that you end up staring into - well - a poorly lit place. You can't really say for sure, if you really got the shape of the idol or not. For the past one week preceeding my visit to Guruvayur that was the subject of my complaint. The Guruvayur temple's idol is located a 20-25 feet away from the queue/viewing area. Its almost as if the idol is inside a dark cave. Given that you will hear the Jaragandi equalant - 'nadakkum' sound within 2 seconds you barely have time to figure out whats what, before you are whisked off. The ornate deepams that are found in Kerala are lit only at some points during the day. Given the way my probabilities work, they are never lit when I am around. This time luckily, they had a Kalinga Nartham get up for Lord Krishna. I learned that the idol is always in the same standing posture, but the Sandal carving and decoration in front of the idol changes. The lights were lit and I could see the cross-legged Kalinga posture. Since the crowd was minimal they let me stay for close to a minute before saying 'nadakkum'. The temple timings for Guruvayur is usually not well advertised. I know for sure that they close between 11:30 AM and 12:30 PM. I have done a Nethriya Darshan at 4:30AM. So they are certainly open between 4 AM and 1:00PM with a 1 hour shut-time in between. I have no clue about evening timings.

On the way back Annalakshmi is a pretty good restaurant to eat in Coimbatore. Anna poorna has a good set up in People's Park. This time, on the day I visited, the court decisions on the Coimbatore blast were given out and so there was some commotion. An enduring memory of Guruvayur always persists. There is a stage right outside the temple. Many many years ago my grandfather took me for a Kathakali performance of Ramayana enacted in that stage. It was a stunning performance. Their facial contortions and effects made me a fan but that wasn't all. In the end, Ravana runs into the crowd. He literally runs until the last row of the stage. Rama shoots an arrow into Ravana from the stage. It not only hits Ravana straight on his back but the arrow pierces into the costume and sticks. I have no clue what material the arrow and Ravanas clothes were made of. You need to have some talent to pull that off.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kabali Times: World Bathroom Day

PTI Reports via Kabali Times
On the backdrop of a stylishly tuned song by T.R, Suresh Raina, Visu, Arundhati Roy, Akhtar, and Barkha Dutt called 'All Fart and No Shit' - CIBA Pharma and Hallmark announced that World Bathroom Day will be celebrated starting this year. The exact date will not be announced. You will know it when you get a forwarded mail or a greeting card with a photo of a commode, a banana and a tablet specially prepared by CIBA. This day is meant to honor and recognize people who have severe constipation problems. On this day such people will 'burst out' their 'bottled up' 'feelings'. Mr. Adaisal, CEO while addressing the media said that Pharma companies, also, want to get into the *.day fun and start xyz_days that are medically uplifting.
The mode of personal greeting that is encouraged by the sponsors involve people walking up to their relatives/friends/parents with a constipated face and the moment they get near them they have to give a very relieved smile that ends with a sigh. Brothers are encouraged to buy yellow color sarees for their sisters on this day. Actor Ramarajan has kindly agreed to be the icon for this day. People will open their bathroom doors to outsiders, who are looking for a few moments of Peace and quiet. 'Manase Nee Relax Please' Book by Swami Sukhabodhananda will be provided in every bathroom.
'Vaada Vaada Veliye Vaada' Tamil Song and Shammi Kapoors 'Aa Aah Aa Jaa' Hindi song are theme songs for this day. Ideas on other regional language songs are invited by Mr. Adaisal. Negotiations are in progress to rope in Off Spring's song 'Come out and Play'.

Friday, August 03, 2007

On Theory of Relativity

A few years ago, I decided to write the CAT exam. So I enrolled in this IMS coaching class. During the class it felt like everybody around me were half my age. I neither could understand their jokes nor their language. I was constantly reminded of the dialog from the drama 'meesai aanalum manaivi' where Mr. 'I am Ramanujam' - 'I am Ramanujam' - says "anga irukaravanga ellam enna yei kezhava'ngara mathiri asingama paathanga" (People there looked at me derisively thinking I was an old man). I quietly kept my identity under wraps and incognito moved with 19-20 year olds. Made some friends too. They looked at me with awe because I was part of the work force. Plus I had developed a reputation for being good with synonyms for arbit words. Once in a while, the lecturer would ask a meaning for a particular word and when no one answered it, she would point to me and ask the meaning. I'd promptly say it and mock echoes of 'thalai' would greet me. At the time I didn't know that 'thalai' (head) had something to do with actor Ajith, I was thankful that they didn't call me 'perusu' (oldie).

Today, a combination of circumstances saw me walk into a lecture on Brahma Sutras. This was a convoluted, complicated subject and I felt the book wasn't enough and some supplemental verbal explanation was required. My grandma and her brother were attending a class on this and I decided to be a guest student. When I walked into the room, I felt that - if you divided the age of the youngest person in the room by 1 million, I would still be younger than that number by about 3 million years. The sharpest eye among them couldn't see beyond 2 Milli meters and they had to hold the book inside their eyelids. Some of them were born before dinosaurs lived on earth. Many had seen Ramayana live and were on a 'vaa da po da' basis with Rama. I looked like a superman among these people. As incredible as it sounds, in that group, I was faster than speed of light, I had 'laser' vision which could penetrate everything except lead. All those people looked at me with some curiosity. At the end of the lecture, the lecturer pointed to me and said "kutti paiyan vanthirukkan, unakku ithellam ethavthu puriyartha'pa kuzhanthai" (a small boy has come, do you understand any of this child). I safely said 'no'. Didn't want to even say 'sort of'. If he had asked me to repeat what I 'sort of' learned to the oldie crowd I have no clue what I would have done. Everybody laughed at my answer and said 'in time you will understand'.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Work Vs Vacations

Most times one ends up doing more work during vacation than on normal work schedule. I caught myself thinking "i'll relax when I go back".