Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nagesh

One of the greatest actors one can ever get to see. So great that at one point, K. Balachander apparently mentioned to Kamal Haasan during a shoot that - "had this scene been done by Nagesh instead of you - picchu udhariruppan". Most of my memories of thamizh cinema - from Kathalikka Nermillai to MMKR - revolve around him. Among the rather less-mentioned movies of Nagesh, one certainly has to mentioned Soap Seepu Kannadi & Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi. They were the kind of movies that brought cheer to even the darkest of moods.
Probably no other actor-director combination has worked as well as Nagesh-Balachander combination. And K.B has done many movies with Kamal haasan. His numerous movies with MGR. His immortal line - "maadhu vandirukken". Everything about the song "muthu kulikka vaariyhalaa". His questions in Thiruvilayaadal. His quick comical cracks even when he played a villain in Aboorva Sagodharargal. His lines in MMKR - 'kaameshwara, kaameshwara - ippadiyum iruppiyo". An extremely versatile actor. One can go on and on about his movies for years. Let me stop here.
One of the saddest stories I've heard about Nagesh is about him and his mother. Apparently, he ran away from home as a boy, vowing never to return unless he made it big in life. After establishing himself in the movie industry - he drove to his hometown in his own car with some cash as gift for his mother. Only to reach there and find his family doing the last rites for his mother.

Friday, January 30, 2009

That Intuition

While walking in a crowded street, if you hear someone clap and yell 'hello' do you instinctively know that someone is calling you? I have no statistics to back this up but I have a feeling that invariably the person being called turns around.

Let us say you walk into a shop, find no shopkeeper inside and so you walk away. Now if you hear someone yelling a loud "hello saar" from behind, you turn around. Even if you have context-switched into a different thought stream - you do turn around instinctively. Maybe something has programmed your brain that you might be the stimulus for that call. This instinct to turn back, though quite amazing in itself, is at least acceptable. Imagine this, you are walking in a crowded street and your friend happens to see you and claps his hand. You instinctively turn back. Here there is no obvious stimulus that has programmed your brain. Furthermore - not many among the general public who hear the call turn around. In fact sometimes as a casual observer one can see only the intended recipient turn back and respond to that clap. Yes, this theory is certainly not perfect - but in the instances where it is true - it is quite fascinating.

I have heard theories floated around that in a crowded place if you want to grab the attention of someone seated at a distance - all you have to do is stare at the person intensely. Apparently, something stirs within that person and causes them to look around for potential stare'ers. Women often claim to have this magical skill of being able to know if someone is ogling at them. There is a good chance that this might be true. Many men will readily agree to an experience of having a girl turn back and give them a quick look if you have been surreptitiously sight adichufying them. I don't know what causes this so called 'sixth sense'. What stirs us from our reverie and causes us to look around? Since we now are researching everything under the sun and developing theories on them, I am sure there must be research behind this.

Having developed this "sure shot" theory, I was mildly surprised when a relative of mine complained about my responsiveness yesterday. They had seen me walking on the road and called my name. Several times. Apparently I hadn't responded. I guess no theory is perfect.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Environ'mentals'

Almost all people can traditionally be bucketed as pursuers of one or more of the 3 Gs. Gold, Glory and God. Once upon a time pursuing God and thereby religion helped kings, chieftains and US Presidents, who were fundamentally Gold or Glory pursuers, project a noble face to the public. It reduced their worries about having to die without doing something 'good' - an essential karma for a fantastic after-life disposition. For them, pursuing God was guilt-neutraliser. Surprisingly, this pursuit became synonymous with integrity, trustworthiness, concern for humanity, and profoundness. Today, the deteriorating brand value of God is causing considerable discomfort to Gold/Glory pursuers. They would like to possess a dimension that is regarded as noble and one that would bring out cool stuff like integrity, trustworthiness, humane'ness, and profoundness. Environment is the new God. Man is back to worshipping the elements and the trees. Since both the environmental God and the now out-of-fashion religion-based God promise tremendous after-your-lifetime benefits - the former can easily slip into the latter's shoes.
The sleeveless-salwar and jeans wearing social activist type chics, who party hard at night and work for the country during day, are a welcome fake-sanyasis of this new religion. They make it easy for guys who want to woo them. One just has to to say the right things and pretend to be sensitive to 'ecchi vecha' plastic water bottles and its garbage inmates. However, the only draw back for this otherwise fine religion is that it renders the exploitation of poor by the rich slightly more obvious. The poor man commutes in public buses, trains and cycles that run on dynamo power. This poor man who worships an amman based on the forest trees is slightly confused by the new-fangled campaigns created by English-newspaper chics. Apparently the rich who built industries that pump tons of poison into the air, who kill animals for leather and trees for furniture, who have joined the burgeoning upper middle-class in buying billions of fridges and cars that poke holes in the atmosphere - want to put a noble face.
Much like its predecessors which encourages exploitation as long as it is for jihad, this religion offers "parikaaram". The rich can create 99.99% of the pollution in the world but they are excused if they "do their might" for their god by stopping the poor man from creating the other 0.01%. So the poor man who bursts firecrackers once a year during deepavali and burns old stuff once a year during bhogi is now to blame for all evil. Campaigns are created by people who own cars, awareness is spread by chain smokers, newspaper columns are written on dead trees. So the rich, the presidents who take oaths, senators who take oaths, Hollywood type people, book writers, CEOs and MBA types can read about this. Their heart warms up with satisfaction, moksha appears like a guarantee and backs are patted. Their guilt and the country's poor are effectively neutralized.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mind Your Language

Must suppress laughter when someone says, "Obama inniki Oath'u eduthuttan". Then someone says "ithuvaraikkum 44 presidents Oath'u eduthathula Obama Oath'u eduthathu dhaan bestu".
But after a point one breaks down when this someone says "illa.. illa.. avan wife bible'a kai'la pidichittu irukarchela Supereme Court Chief Justice oda dhaan Oath'u eduthaan".
"Chief Justice oath'u solla solla ivan sonnan. Mudhalla he stuttered apporam correcta Oath'u sollittan"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oonjal


It is morning, I see you standing on the ceiling,
And those who can't, are happy to sit on you.
Yet we sit far below from where you stand,
We wonder, are we shorter or taller than you?





In the mid-afternoon solitude,
The calm silence is broken, while on you I sway,
O' is it the distant sound of brinjal weeping, as the aruvamanai
Cuts it? Or is that the pain in your legs as you swing away?





Evening wind swooshes the newspaper by my side,
I wake up from my dreams still swinging on you.
I have nothing else to do but fear the world that seats my couch
Maybe I'll drink that coffee and prolong the joy of swinging on you.





Night has fallen, yet you still spurn the floor,
Like an ancient village dweller, I thank thee O' simple pleasure of my life,
Am I cradled in a womb, I wonder in comfort
Is the earth swinging from the sky or is that just you?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sugarcane

It has been said that when a Pharaoh walks into a pyramid looking to spend his last days and beyond, he would take with him, gigantic quantities of food, women, and clothes. While he can be excused for not talking in a gigantic Namitha instead of gigantic quantities of Egyptian women, one cannot forgive him for not having Sugarcane on the list. I have a "Pharaoh list". These are list of my favorite items, I would take with me into the Pyramid. Sugarcane will certainly be on that list.
Spending this Pongal in Madras comes as a boon. It is not as great as Pongal down south, say Thanjavur or Thirunelveli. But it delivers. As sugarcane after sugarcane gets polished off, one is compelled to pay obeisance to mother nature for this wonderful product. The ancient Thamizhan must have been a wise man. If Pongal is Thamizh land's biggest festival and Sugarcane is the jewel in the "Pongal Paanai" (The Pongal boiling Pot) - then one has to concede that the greatness of sugarcane has been duly recognized. Reminds me of a pongal in a village called Ariyoor where I duly recognized 8 full-sized sugarcanes in 3 days. The subsequent temporary loss of speech (tongue damage), incredible pain in various body parts is but a minor footnote.
There are several tricks to eating the sugar cane. Most of it obvious but needs stating for posterity sake.
  1. Peeling it off - How? They key to eating sugarcanes in rapid succession is to shave of the entire stick prior to eating it. Some people struggle with this decision. The incredible allure of the cane forces one to immediately start eating it and peel the thick cover while eating it. This is a painful and ultimately inefficient process. Several tongue scars and and lip scars occur as a result of this unproductive activity.
  2. Chop the extremities: Although, it hurts to waste good sugarcane just because there happens to be mud in it - one does the sane thing.
  3. Post-Processing: Remember seeing the crushed sugarcane coming out of the sugarcane juice thingie-bobbie. Where does it fall? Into a big bin. Now what would happen if that thingie-bobbie was in your house and you were that thingie-bobbie? Where would the crushed, squeezed remnants fall? Spread newspapers on the balcony/terrace floor and sit in the middle of it. Sit at the center of it and start spitting furiously.
  4. Apply ghee liberally on the tongue. It helps heal the wounds.
  5. Watch the boundaries: A sugarcane's anatomy is essentially a bunch of 7.5 inch scale-ruler long cylinders of tasty sugar section joined by a hard rock like joints. The key to a good sugar cane is the length of the sugar cane between the joints. The longer the better. Joints are uneatable teeth jammers.
  6. Watch Out For the spoilt ones: Believe it or not some sugar canes have shady sections to them. The key is spot them before biting them. Otherwise a good looking white 'karumbu' segment might taste like ginger.
  7. The Roots: Some Sugarcanes have root like things growing at the bottom. If you cannot avoid buying them, be careful of those sections while eating them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vechaa Kudumi

It is interesting to note the "extreme"ness when people process information and interpret anything that is told to them. Among the things that I struggle while communicating with people - positioning 'degrees of something' or 'magnitude/proportion of something' has been one of the hardest. I have come to believe that people can assign only binary values to most things and it is almost impossible to convince them that there lies a spectrum of continuous values. For example; attributes like confidence, courage, honesty, credibility, unpredictability/randomness cause the most discomfort among other things.
Recently, I remarked that a person was more honest but also more unpredictable in his behaviour. And it was considered by some to be contradictory and by some to be impossible. A person is either totally honest or completely dishonest - they told me. Nowadays arguments have become 'arachai maavu' and so tiresome. So I didn't bother responding. However, I do think this trend is more dangerous. Many years ago, when I was interviewing college students when my IT company visited their campus, we caught a boy lying about his "extra curricular activities". I argued that the lie necessarily did not mean that his entire resume was a lie. That the people who didn't get caught were simply more lucky and not necessarily more honest. But these so-called high-moral people used an absurd logic of "oru paanai soru" (one apple is indicative of the entire set) on his resume and called his entire resume a bluff.
This so called "modern generation" has started to see a spectrum in things like "marriage" and "virginity" (as in 'she is more of a virgin than you') and I thought they would get the point when I argued that this 'extra curricular lie" could be an acceptable level of honesty. For example - it could be that the dishonesty that other Indian IT companies are now practising is more acceptable than what Satyam practiced.
Unfortunately, this generation of people have also grown up on useless pazhamozhis and proverbs that are more absurd than helpful. Stupid things like "if you can't do something 100% perfect.." seem to dominate the modern thought process and produce idiot columnists and nonsensical opinions. So absurd that if you mention that "person x is slightly more confident during interviews among the people I've seen" people assume that he is a stud-man rock star and totally capable of wow'ing everybody. They come back and tell me "he didn't get the job so you must be wrong and he must impotent" (when it is completely possible that his confidence may not have had much to do with his job result). "Somewhat" is always inferred as "100%". There is no moderation or middle ground. Everything is rounded off to its extremeties. Satyam's recent news items and a spate of opinions from people who have no clue as to what happened is also a case in point. Times of India had a headline fancily called "a-Satyam, Satyam a 1000 crore lie, etc". It could very well be possible that Satyam is 99% honest and 1% lie and so more honest than another IT company, which hasn't been found out yet.
Which brings us to a point on how people depend so much on "results" and "ends" to pass judgement on anybody. What does a scandal appearing in the media or a CEO confessing to fraud have anything to do with whether a company is operating outside the law or not? By virtue of the way this information has been given to us - it is almost as if we get this information when it is the most useless to us. Sounds simple when written in a blog but whether your or I can actually use rational thought process in the real world is the more interesting question.
Note: I use Satyam as an example only because it is recent and fresh. I don't know anything about the specifics of what happened/is happening. This post is about how people react to such type of information.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Margazhi Recommendations

The month of Maargazhi seems to be a primitive call to the musical, cultural and poetic senses. For the past few years, I am beginning to relish the flavor of this month. The small subtle changes that I notice in temples during this month makes it all the more enjoyable. So I thought I'll use this month's theme to make recommendations on CDs that I have been purchasing during the last decade.
Suprabatham:
Suprabatham is on leave this month. One of the interesting little changes this month is that P.B. Annan packs his 'suprabatham' kit and takes rest until day after Pongal. He makes way for Andal and her mesmerizing Thirupaavai (which is recited way early in the morning - at least 1 hour before tradtional suprabhatham time). All 'perumal' temples including Srirangam and Thirupathi switch to thirupaavai sessions during mornings all this month. M.S is what people associate with Suprabhatham in the morning. I have moved away from M.S for the past few years and have tried out various other people.
1. TTD Ghoshti: Nowadays, this is what I play everyday. I got this from Venkatnarayana road's TTD office. It was impressive (except for that Telugu guy's queer introduction in English). It has become part of my morning environment ever since. Infact I like this version better than the M.S one. This ghoshti also has a "Pancha Sooktham' CD which I highly recommend.
2. U. Ve. Ananthasayanam & Party: Until 2004 I was listening to him. He had a Suprabhatham & Sahasranaamam combo, which was pretty impressive.
Sahasranaamam:
1. Malolan Kannan: Thiruvahindhai Malola Kannan's CD is the best recitation of Sahasranaamam I have heard so far (in the tape/CD space). He does a 42 minute Sahsranaamam recitation with a 'Pancha Ayutha Sthothram' in the end. Highly recommended for a 'sing along' because he slowly recites every word with clear diction and pronounciation. I picked up his CD by fluke in Sriperambadur and have been his fan since then. He is my ekalavya-drona type Sahasranaamam teacher. Malola Kanna is the son of Vedavidwan Sri.U.Ve. KrishnaDesikachariar of Tiruvahindrapuram.
2. TTD Ghoshti: They give the ghoshti chant feel, do the 'jha', 'kha', 'bha' sounds correctly but are incredibly fast.
Thirupaavai:
1. MLV: Nobody can replace or beat MLV. I have listened to 'Bombay' Jayashree trying this. Not so impressive.
2. Malolan Kannan: I prefer to hear Thirupaavai (or for that matter all Prabhandams) in ghoshti fashion (all due respect to MLV - ghoshti is way better). Prabhandam has its own style of recitation. Each stanza is divided into the upper half and lower half. A person does not recite both halves. A ghoshti is a group of people divided into two sub-groups. One group recites the upper half and the other group recites the lower half. It is done in very quick alternation (sometimes the lower half starts while the last word of uper half is being recited). The faster the alternation, the better it is to hear it. Malolan Kannan & Ranganathan are the people singing the different halves here. This thirupaavai is available as part of their 'Nithya Anusandhanam' CD which also contains the prabhandams sung in the morning - Thiru Pallandu, Thiru Palli Ezhuchi, Poochodal, Kaapidal, Senniyongu, Amalanadhipiran, Kanninun Siruthambu. Note: Since maargazhi is special - the only prabhandam people recite at home during this month is Thirupaavai. Everything else is done in a temple.
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:
Prof. R. Thiagarajan, H.O.D Sanskrit departent Madras University - is doing a fabulous job along with Mr. Manickavinayagam (Music Director) in coordinating a Brhadaranyaka Upanishad recital (in Sukla Yajurveda kanva Swaras) by Ganapaati Brahmasri Parasurama Sastri, Srinivasa Sarma and K.S Manjunathan. He has released a series of 4 CDs (called "Rare Vedic Chanting") on this Upanishad that can only be described as an 'awesome' job. These CDs contain Madhu Khanda, Yajnavalka Khanda and Khila Khanda. The upanishad as a whole deals with thoery of creation and means of knowing both the self & the brahman. Yagnavalka Khanda has the "master dialectician" Yajnavalka defeating his philosophical opponents in King Janaka's assembly. This CD also contains twenty stanzas of Isavasya Upanishad.
Note: They have released many CDs including what has been mentioned below. One other notable CD is "Aswamedha Parkarna" (released under CD of name "Sacred Vedic Chants of India"), which is considered a very very important Vedic segment (people listen to this on Dvadesi/Ekadasi days).
Rig Vedam
1. Prof R. Thiagarajan & Co: This team has 2 CD set of the 'Paavamana Sooktham' section of the RigVeda.
2. Kamisetty Srinivasulu: He has released 2 CDs on Rig Vedam. The first one is "Achidra Sooktham" (which people traditionally hear on Ekadasi days) and the second one is Veda Vahini, which is a collection of 12 Sookthams (Devi, Narayana, Sri, Sarpa, Dhrishti, Medha, Saraswathi, Swasthi, Bhagya, Moksha Dayika, Bhagavannamai, Aiykamatya).
3. TTD Veda Parayanars ( K. Sanjeevi Achar & P. Bhavani Sankara Upadhyaya): This team is also a popular Vedic chanting team. they have a CD on 'Paavamana Sootham'. They also have a CD each on Krishna Yajur Vedam, Atharvana Vedam and Sama Vedam.
Yajur Vedam
This vedam is divided into Sukla Yajur Vedam & Krishna Yajur Vedam. Both have been recited by independent people.
1. Prof. Thiagarajan & Team: They have a CD on Sukla Yajur Vedam.
2. TTD Veda Parayanars ( K. Sanjeevi Achar & P. Bhavani Sankara Upadhyaya): These folks have a CD on Krishna Yajur vedam.
Taittarya Upanishad:
This is my favorite upanishad, the one that I know the most and it is the upanishad recited during Perumal Kovil "Thirumanjanam" sessions. It has 3 sections Sikshavalli (pronounciation), Briguvalli and Anandavalli. It is part of Krishna Yajur Vedam. Listen to Velukudi's "Upanishadin Kathaigal" for the background on this really fascinating Upanishad.
1. TTD Ghoshti: This anonymous ghoshti's tape is available in Parthasarathy temple and pretty much every music shop (only tape). This is the best recitation of this Upanishad. While at Parthaarathy temple, do buy the Rs 25 book that has the 'text' of this upanishad (in Sanskrit & Thamizh) for sing-along purposes. It is a difficult pronounciation task. But the meter of its recitation makes the journey really enjoyable.
2. Malola Kannan: He has 2 CDs. One on Tattarya Upanishad and another one on Mahanarayana Upanidshad. the book that you buy covers both these CDs.
4000 Divya Prabhandam:
1. Malola Kannan & N.S. Ranganathan: They have released a 4 CD pack reciting the entire Prabhandam set. I highly recommend this CD. Also buy the "Natteri" book (available for Rs 100) that contains all the prabhandams in text for 'sing along' purposes. Malola Kannan also has a separate 2CD set on 108-Sthala Paasurams that contains only the Azhwar hymns which callout and identify the 108 Divya Desams. The other artist in this CD, Navalpakkam Sri.Ranganathachariar is the son of Sri.U.Ve. Navalpakkam Rajamani Swamin, Archakar of Sri Vedanta Desikan & Srinivasa perumal Sannidhi, Mylapore. Note: Today this CD pack comes with the book.
2. U. Ve. Sevilmedu Srinivasachariar & party: I am not sure if these CDs are available anymore. Prior to the advent of CDs, they used to sell this recitation as tapes.
Udaka Shanthi:
Malolan Kannan: This would probably be Malolan Kannan's best recitation. Udaka Shanthi contains the Pancha Sookthams, Rudram, Chamakam etc. He does a fantastic job reciting this with remarkable speed. There is an iTrans document floating in the net that contains the text of this.
Narayaneeyam:
Melpatur Narayana Bhatadri's "Narayaneeyam" (composed in 10th century) is a devotional hymn for "Guruvayurappan". This is a fantastic set of hymns. Very soft, soothing and enchanting. Narayana Bhatadri, while suffering from rheumatism, composed over thousand slokas and sang them in front of Guruvayur deity. The slokas communicate the theme of Srimad Bhaagavadam.
1. Leela: Everybody who owns Narayaneeyam has Leela's version. Her voice is the voice of Narayaneeyam as much as M.S is the voice of Suprabhatham.
2. Prema Rangarajan: What a voice? my god. If I were Guruvayurappan - I would wait for her to sing before me everyday. Prema's voice is comparable to the great MLV. I highly recommend this CD.
Note: Most CDs mentioned in this post are available in Landmark, MusicIndia type stores too.