Monday, October 01, 2018

Questions and Observations on Sabarimala

I took some time. And herewith I log my questions and observations on the recent, highly debated Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women into Sabarimala. 

I have done some reading basic reading in Anthropology, listened extensively to scholars and doyens and sthapathis on what Aagama Shastras are. I have thankfully, in real life and in my formative years, been in the company of wonderful men and women who have welcomed debate, welcomed questions and answered them with all their wisdom. 


1. There is a reference to Dharma Sastha and there is a reference to Lord Ayyappa. Elsewhere in India there are Ayyappa temples where he is shown with his wives Poorna and Pushkala. He is also said to have a son, Satyaka. In Sabarimala, Ayyappan is in the the Sanyasa stage, i.e. he has fulfilled his duties as a householder. Some articles that I read are unsure if Dharmasastha and Ayyappa are the same and other opine they are the same. Out of sheer interest, I would love to know. If you, the reader, can point me to material I can read, would love that :)

Here is another article I read which explains 8 different forms of Sastha.

"Dharma Sastha disseminates knowledge and peace. He is said to break the barrier of caste and creed and guides us towards righteousness and salvation. Saturn effect? He is believed to provide solace. Sri Dharma Sastha was a Brahmachari. However, in previous avatars, Sastha dwelt at Kantha Mala with two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. A distinct line therefore should be drawn between Sastha and Manikanta."

If a distinct line can be drawn between Sastha and Manikanta, then rules denying entry do not make sense to me. 

2. Sabarimala, named after Sabari, I suppose, is where she offered fruits to Rama after tasting them. After partaking the fruits, Rama sees a young Tapasvi and asks who he is. Sabari says he is Lord Dharmashasta. As Rama walks up to him to pay his respects, Lord Dharmashasta gets up, breaking his penance to greet Lord Rama. This day is celebrated as Makaravilakku day. The day Dharmasastha stops his Tapasya to bless his devotees. 
When Lord Sashta has Himself taken a break from his penance, how can a fertile woman disturb his penance?

3. Tat Tvam Asi - Thou Art That - "Is the principle philosophy that governs the temple (Sabarimala) and pilgrimage. As the pilgrimage is symbolic for the journey to self-realization that all living beings possess the essence of Brahman, pilgrims refer to each other as Swami, acknowledging their divinity" 
If this is the case, if the pilgrimage is symbolic to understand all living beings possess God in them, how are women not a part of that group of living beings?

4. When Lord Ayyappa gave the Pandala Maharaja the instruction to build them temple at a certain location, I doubt he would said "Build my temple, but stop the fertile women from entering my shrine because they will disturb my penance". 

I have always questioned humanizing Gods based on man's (not the gender - man - but human) own failings. Lord Ayyappa is God. Thus, he is above all basal emotional instincts. He is NOT a Rishi doing Tapasya that Indra can send his celestial dancers to break his penance by dancing in front of him, but the Son born of the Union of Hari and Hara - Shiva and Vishnu (in his female form of Mohini) 
However, if you were to believe he is Sastha, or teacher, he is automatically wiser than normal human failings. 
Which is why I have issues believing a punishing, angry God but this is another debate/post for another day. 

5. Is there anything more powerful than prayer and faith? My faith tells me that God resides in me. If Lord Ayyappa were disturbed by fertile women, technically women should have been barred from even praying or thinking of Him, No? 
(Don't ask me now - "If Lord Ayyappa resides in you when you pray to Him, why do you have to go to the temple?" That is my choice to make :) )


1. It was not as if girls in olden times were looked upon as children much. They were groomed for marriage from the time they are learnt to speak, taught to be responsible as children and many such children, if they attained menarche by 11 or so and have their own children. Which perhaps explained the number of deaths during childbirth. 
Girls were married off by 6 or 7 to boys in their teens or even to wayyyy older men. 
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa married the 5 year old Saradamani Mukhopadhyay when he was 23 years old just 180 years ago. Of course, such brides would be sent to their husband's home only when they attained maturity. But it is not as if girls weren't married off by the time they were 10. 

2. A lot of people have been extolling about the Aagama Shastras and the "rules" of a temple. Agama texts present a diverse range of philosophies and though I am no expert or a committed student of the texts, I really want to understand if there Agama Shastras that prevent women or any human being at all, from entering a place of worship. From my basic knowledge, there are 3 rules for a place of pilgrimage, the location, the idol and the temple tank. There are specific measurements, that need to go into making an idol. A sthapathi I know, whom I am still in touch with, told me about the various steps and Poojas and observations the Sthapathi (sculptor) has to undertake while making an idol for a temple. One of the beautiful rituals he told me was the one before the eyes of an idol for a temple are "opened". Fascinating and beautiful stories :)

3. "Kerala has women only festivals where men are not allowed." Kerala is a matrilineal society; something that women can only dream of elsewhere. Yes. Kerala also has the unifying Onam for all people belonging to the soil of Kerala. 
IMHO every region in India has had a way of going about ritualistic practices.
Ambubachi festival of Kamakhya temple, where the Goddess is supposed to be menstruating and people fall over each other to get a piece of the red cloth will see a lot of people sacrificing cattle in the premises of the temple. Animal sacrifice in the precincts of the temple would be unacceptable in Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Temple. I have seen Poojas in Kamakhya temple, wherein the priest partakes some alcohol, performs a Pooja, partakes alcohol and this cycle continues for about 30-45 minutes. I don't understand Assamese, I had no idea what was going on but the priest drank hard liquor within the sanctum sanctorum during the ritual. 

Temples were perhaps the original areas of congregation and community building. Every temple constructed then had huge halls, mandaps, where music and dance performances happened. Prospective brides and grooms were spotted in Temples, Alliances forged, major political decisions were also taken in Temples, after advice and ritualistic practices by chief priests, advisors and the King. Devadasis of yore, the Rudraganika or the Chief Dasi had a part to play in such matters. What exactly, I am unaware. I need to read. 

Festivals associated to temples was perhaps have been a community exercise, if I can hazard a guess, to bring people together, to give them a reason to celebrate, for small businesses and vendors to thrive and this was perhaps the only 'tourism' activity of those days; people traveling from villages and towns to the 'city' where the main temple was.

At some point, religion and politics got married and places of worship became seats of power as well.

4. I think rules with regard to Men ONLY or Women ONLY followed a need of that time and with Hinduism being dynamic as it is, change has always happened, through time. It is only natural for us to embrace it. 

5. The Thiruvanaikkaaval Temple has a midday ritual where the priest wears a Sari and does the Pooja. The belief is the priest becomes Parvati for that ritual alone. I wondered, when I saw the priest walk into the sanctum sanctorum in a sari, if at some point in history, a woman would have done that particular Pooja and if men found ways of elbowing women out of Temple duties.

6. "Trekking to Sabarimala is arduous and hence they asked Women to keep away" - It is equally arduous for men. If faith can move mountains for men, won't it do the same for women too?

I read Sri Maalan Narayanan's post on Facebook where he quotes the advisor of the erstwhile PM, Manmohan Singh, PKA Nair, who said his "Chorunnu" ceremony, when the first morsel of solid food after weaning from milk is introduced to a baby, took place on his mother's lap at Sabarimala. This signifies that 'fertile' women did visit Sabarimala. Around the 1950-s, a fire broke out in Sabarimala and there were rumours that it is because of women that the sanctity of the temple got ruined. Women stopped themselves from going and it became an unspoken "rule". The actual court order came only in 1991. 

7. "A menstruating woman would attract wild animals" - A lot of men routinely scratch or cut themselves on the path and enough men have bled along the way. 

8. "Why go someplace where you are not wanted?"; "Why do something which is not liked by others?" - This is exactly what perpetuates status quo that plays to the whims and fancies of the socially powerful. 

9. "Your going to the temple is against Aiteeham; it is against my belief system. It harms no one for you to respect my beliefs. Don't go the temple" - The word Aiteeham stems from Itihasa, or historical. History has been witness to a humanizing and dehumanizing practices. Change wrought about, not by request but by struggle. 

It was the belief system of people to spit on oppressed castes if they set sight on them. It was the belief system of people to ask oppressed castes to wear a broom around their neck while the walked the streets so that the broom swept over the path they walked in. It was the belief system to keep oppressed castes outside of the village. Lower caste women in Kerala weren't allowed to cover their breasts and this changed only when someone started defying.  It is *still* the belief system of people to deny oppressed castes from using water from wells in so called upper caste areas. 
It was the belief system of my mother-in-law's grandmother to bathe if she set sight on a menstruating woman. 

Some of this social practices based on "belief systems" have changed. Some haven't. 

When someone's belief system denies someone else the right to equality or dehumanises them in some manner, those belief systems can rightfully find a way out of human consciousness. 

10. "The deity is undergoing Penance. Hence must not be disturbed by Fertile women" - Vaishnodevi sits in penance in the Trikuta hills in Jammu, waiting to marry Lord Vishnu at the end of Kaliyuga. The trek of 16 kilometers is extremely arduous. I was fortunate to have visited the temple when I was 16-ish.
Thankfully no one told the men or the women that the Devi doesn't want to be disturbed while she is meditating in the Trikuta hills. 

As far as I am concerned, God did not create people unequally. People with power prevented the entry and participation of some segments of society to give themselves more power. That's all I think there is.

Lord Hanuman is said to have noticed Sita for the first time in Asoka Vana when she was performing the Sandhya Vandanam. This means women were invested with the sacred thread; Sita being a woman of the ruling class and not of the priestly class, was invested with the sacred thread. Somewhere along the way, things changed, the sacred thread became the bastion of some. Someone changed tradition and that became new "tradition"; to deny "education" that came along with the investment of the sacred thread from a Guru. The powerful became more powerful, sections of human beings were made to become weak, weaker.

Time and again have stories associated with temples told us about how the Gods have punished the priestly class for disallowing oppressed classes into the Temple. From the story of Vitthala bearing a swollen cheek, because his devotee, Chokha an untouchable was slapped by a priest or the Kanakana Kindi (Kanakadasa's Window) in Udipi where Krishna made sure his devotee Kanakadasa could have a darshan of Him as and when he wanted, there are multiple such examples. But nothing much changed in the Temples being open for all. Quoting Wikipedia from the Chokha Mela page, "In early 20th century, the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar attempted to visit the temple, but was stopped at the burial site of Chokhamela and denied entry beyond that point for being a Mahar."  The irony in this report makes me choke. 

My Faith tells me that God is everywhere. In elders telling me that there is a Sthala Purana and a Sthala Vruksha, a Vahana for the Gods that we revere, I learned that my faith teaches me to revere every living being. From the mighty Banyan tree, the beautiful peacock, the crow, the snake, the rooster, to the humble mouse, that gets all the Poojas and offerings to Lord Ganesha. To putting Kolam outside our homes with rice flour which teaches us that we start our day with feeding the smallest of the beings - the ants and other insects that can eat the rice flour. My faith tells me that Hari is in a Pillar and in a speck of dust. 

As our souls evolve, my faith teaches me to move beyond ritualistic practices, idol worship and find the path to enlightenment; to find release from the cycle of birth and death. Music being one of the paths to reach the Supreme being, I am proud to be born in this land, to have exposure to the musical and art forms, to plurality and to intellect. This land has historically celebrated intellect and encouraged debate.

To me there can't be better example of Divine Will than of M S Subbulakshmi ma's voice ringing out at Tirumala at dawn or Sri K J Yesudas' voice putting Lord Ayyappa to sleep.

P.S.: "Why don't you comment on Mosques and Islamic shrines barring entry to women?" - It is not my place to comment because I am not a practicing Muslim. There are various sects and belief systems within the Faith that I do not have knowledge of. It is not my place to tell someone else how to feel. It is up to the women and men of any belief system - religious, political, social or legal - to bring about change to empower all members in their community. Women in Saudi have recently fought their right to drive a car. What seems like baby steps to some is a giant leap for others. 

- Fin -

Additional Information: (These tweets are being contradicted by another Twitter handle that says Bhutanatha Gita says restriction existed. Nonetheless, I am someone who is interested in reading up and am happy to stand corrected any time)

Temples where women are not allowed, some of them are strangely, temples of Goddesses.

Friday, October 20, 2017


I didn't grow up on a dose of watching films. I didn't get the "vaazhapazham" joke. I didn't get most pop-culture-film-reference jokes because I just didn't watch as many films. I watched Baasha recently - about 2 years ago. Yes izz trooo.

I usually 'hung out' with scholars, older musicians, creators, vidwans while growing up simply because I went wherever my mother went. Conversations were always on some scholarly topic.

Hosting the first season of Super Singer was like going to college for me. I understood what people my age spoke like. The 'Petromax lamp' joke to many such joke-references I got only after someone sat and explained. I wouldn't laugh along simply because i didnt get it until then.

I have an even more interesting anecdote. I'd been to Rahman sir's studio once and was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch perhaps. And watched Kizhakku Cheemaiyile play on a channel. I heard "Thenkizhakku cheemaiyile" and asked Sami anna (who works there) "Anna indha padathukku music yaaru". "Namma annan dhaan maa!!" he said. I was that bad. I think this was before I was an RJ on Aahaa FM. I learned so much more of discography of musicians and singers while on the job.

During my first recording session for Kannathil Muthamittaal, Vairamuthu sir walked in, looking stately as usual in his white kurta churidar and white sandals and of all things in the world, my mother chose to ask me "Yaarunnu teriyardha???!" I was 15. Dumb and didnt know. I said "Teriyala ma". She knew I had no way of knowing. It is not as if she let me watch TV and she schooled me on who was who in the film industry. Thankfully Mani Ratnam sir came to my rescue and said "she is a child, let her be". Vairamuthu sir too was kind understood that I was as naive as they came. He later called me once the song released that "indha paadal miga periya paadalaaga amaiyum".

Somehow I constantly met and was in the company of people who were kind and large hearted. I just dont understand the humungous group of people out there now, whose egos are waiting to be 'hurted'. What happened to our hoary culture and society?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tiruvallikkeni - 2

was when I learned to cook the first pot of rice. After breaking the rice up thinking that was how I should clean it. I cleaned and broke long grained rice that it looked like rice crumbles. I wanted to impress my mother with my rice cleaning skills.

This was also the time my mom had to hide all the bars of soap from me. I took huge interest in dissolving it in water and making bubbles out of it. For a house that ran on a very tight budget it was tough. This was when Mirinda was introduced to the market and they gave a crate of 6 Mirinda bottles gratis to every house in that area. It was such a big deal that people were discussing it in school the next day. I don't think we got a crate as we had gone out. 

I got to know one of the people I loved the most in Ramana uncle. He was a friend of my mother's and lived in Germany. Whenever he visited us, with his long sleeveless shirts because he couldn't bear the heat and his really short temper, he'd instruct the auto fellow "beach vazhiyaaga po pa". No matter where he came from the auto guy would always have to take a route from the beach even if it made no sense to go to marina beach and come back. 

He told me about something called Tae-kwon-do, played with me and I would visit Srihari Kota and the Space central school with him once in a while. I loved him to bits. He was very proud of his children, Padma and Kiran who were in Germany. He'd married a German lady and would visit family in India often. 

Padma, when she was 12 or 13 had once found some 300 or 400 Deutsche Mark, the currency before the Euro and had given it to the police. It was such a big thing that she was written about in the newspapers in Germany. 

I probably saw Ramana uncle twice or thrice, I am not sure, but I remember that fateful day that they had kept the water sump open at the Murudi's hotel in Luz. He hadn't noticed it and he fell right into the sump. They took him out and he was admitted at Isabel's hospital. His brain hemorrhaged and he died. I saw a small bucket full of what looked like blood. He'd apparently vomited it. I was only later that I knew he had a drinking problem. 

I remember running back to hostel and crying away for days. 

Hostel and onwards

From Triplicane I think my mother and grandparents moved to Broadway and T Nagar.The areas we moved to, make no sense with regard to proximity. I have perhaps lived in about 35 houses or even more throughout my time in Chennai. Some houses I hear, we hardly lived in for a few months. 

Triplicane was when we had our first phone number. 845313. 6 digits. I was very proud of taking messages for other people. I think we got the phone number for mom's work on the documentary. She had less and less time to spend on me. And then one day she suggested I should stay in the hostel. I remember crying. But finally I said OK. Not that there was a choice. 

I checked into hostel. It was the most traumatic time for me. Some of the kids around me were bullies. I used to be beaten up all the time. I used to be terrified of this boy who would keep "kottifying" on people's heads, hard enough that I was afraid it would leave a dent. Those of us on the receiving end would be terrified of complaining. A lot of kids would be beat up. Sometimes stuff would be stolen. My classmate would stinking rich or really poor. 

The day I landed in the hostel I developed a fever and landed up in the sick room. I loved it there. It felt like a nicer atmosphere. And almost everyone in the hostel spoke Telugu. 

I learned to name my clothes to differentiate them - SCH 61 was how I'd learned to embroider the clothes I would send for laundry. Whatever mom brought would be kept in a locked Godrej Almirah the keys to which the 'Akka' or the matron would have. If you wanted anything from soap to toothbrush, it would be under her care. 

We would all have our own shelves, we even had a TV on which we watched films on Sundays. Sun TV-yin tamizh maalai and all that. Each morning we'd wake up, fold up our sheets and mats and arrange it on the top shelf, to be removed at night again. 

We all had equal duty to clean up the huge hall we all used. Sweep and mop and cleaning toilets and cleaning the corridor would be done by turns by all of us. In a way it was one of the best light lessons I had learned. We would wash our own tiffen boxes too. 

Like a lot of kids, I'd put pencil shavings in water to see if it would magically turn into a "lubber" (Eraser). I was very excited when other kids said it happened all the time. I planted a seed from the watermelon slice I'd eaten to see if it would grow. Nothing happened. 

I remember this one time while eating lunch in the school playground that I had spilled food from the lunchbox. I was terrified of being found out and the bullies came out, made me eat the food that I had spilled in the sand - sand and small stones and all. Added to that they complained I had spilled the food - carrot rice, to be exact and that I "threw food" because I didn't like it. I was scolded by every matron in the hostel that day. 

Sometimes the Principal would call me to spend time with her family in her quarters - they lived in the same compound as the school - they took me out to their family gatherings and took me to the school farm. 

Now, for me, it was a great escape. But to the other kids - I was the special kid they hated. I understand and empathise with the resentment in retrospect. But each time I went out and came back I would face hell from a certain set of kids. I'd be terrified. And would pray each day that I should get sick and go to the sick room.

Some days I would wait at the gate waiting for my mother to come. Somedays she wouldn't have been able to. And later I realized visiting me and leaving was one of the toughest things she had to do and she'd cry herself to sleep each time she visited me. She wasn't going through the greatest of experiences working on that documentary either. 

One time, God did hear me out and I fell really sick. The mercury read 104 and my mom was called. She stayed with me in the sick room. The principal would visit me each day and give me books to read or grammar books to finish which I promptly would. 

Sick room and Maragadham akka, who managed the sick room was my happy place. Ironic as it may be.

Madras - Tiruvallikkeni

We moved from Besant Nagar to Triplicane. The time I actually started to go to school by bus on my own. It was common practice then. A child as young as 7 or 8 could go by PTC bus to school once the parent tells the conductor and the driver in the route to drop them there. At 8 Am in the morning, the passengers would also be the same faces you see everyday. The sense of community existed. There was safety. You could entrust your child to strangers and rest assured your child will be safe. 

We lived in one of those row houses that shared common walls with the neighbours houses. It is still commonplace in Triplicane. Our owners had a huge joint family. The boys in the family, as young as 8 or 10 would wear huge naamams, decorate small pallakkus and the God's idol and take it around the streets. Seeing the Parthasarathy Perumal outside our house in his routine street tour was pretty common.

I took huge interest in covering half the street in Kolam. And took huge interest in pumping water from the street water pump. Of course my mom hated it. But for me it was fun. Across the street, my mother made me go learn to play the violin, just in case her experiments with my voice failed. I didn't last too long. I was afraid of Dwaram Mangathayaru or as we called her, Ammayi-akka. I used to go to her house whenever I could, collect the pavazhamalli flowers on the floor of their compound, string them and take them to the temple. It was a regular exercise. 

I would also wait eagerly for the Hindu Young World each Saturday. One day my curiosity got the better of me and I went to check neighbour's houses to see if everyone got the same paper or if each house got a different paper, so that I could have different puzzles to work on. I was disappointed to know everyone got the same. 

My street had a Hanuman temple near the main road. I would go there each day, religiously and have 3 stripes of vermilion, chandan and vibhooti on my forehead. My neighbours kids used to make fun of how I covered my already tiny forehead in these stripes.  

I made my first really good friends in Triplicane. Bhargavi and Vaishnavi. I remember their father who used to give me Threptin biscuits. He died subsequently. And they moved out of the area as well. 

Thursdays, we'd have Sai Bhajans in another neighbour's house and I'd go and sing. 

Triplicane was when our neighbour, Sundari aunty taught me how to work with mathematics. I used to be counting with my fingers and toes and whatever else I could find. She set me right and until my 4th standard I scored straight 100-s in Maths. In retrospect I think if I had found the right teachers going forward, Math would have been simple and not something to be scared of. 

My mom started IFPA - Indian Foundation for Performing Arts, documented the Life and Teachings of Lalgudi Jayaraman, worked with calligraphers who would painstakingly write page after page and published the book of his compositions which is very much in circulation today. 

And that was also the beginning of my life in a hostel for almost 2 years - 4th and 5th standard.

Madras - Besant Nagar and Jeeva

I remember being 'diagnosed' with Jaundice by the lady who worked as our house-help in Besant Nagar. Jeeva. She was the greatest support during pretty tough times. I remember there was some issue about water and Jeeva would bring pot after pot of water to our home. My mother had a terrible slip disc issue and if she lifted a small bucket without enough planning, she would be bed ridden for days. 

I remember eating flavourless food and ladies finger for the longest time. I learned the word "Pathyam". After that I hated oily food. I would dislike looking at anything oily. For years it would repel me. 

Jeeva was how I called her and I used to go to her house often and spend time with her and her grown up daughter. I played with the kids near her house. Disliked her husband because he reeked of alocohol and I saw him hit Jeeva sometimes. So I would tell him off on occasion. All when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I had enormous love for Jeeva. 

There was this one time Jeeva took me to the beach. I still remember her taking me to the temple by the beach and she bought me something from one of those stalls. A man in saffron robes came to her and asked for money saying he was hungry. 'Pasikkudhu ma. 4 naala saapadla'. Jeeva refused to give him any saying she didnt have. I started yelling in Hindi. And Jeeva brought me home kicking and screaming, I guess. 

I complained to amma that Jeeva lied and made Jeeva, my paatti and amma go in search of that "sadhu" that night to give him money. We didnt find him, but I kept telling Jeeva "Jhooth bolti hai". Years later when I visited Jeeva at her place again, she reminded me of that incident and had a hearty laugh. 

One thing I do remember, my mother didn't inculcate class differences in me. I ate and slept and could play with the kids near Jeeva's house. Her own children were perhaps in their late teens. I dont have sense of how much older they were. I could be in her care. I used to sleep in her house. I treated her as I would my  mother or my grandmother. Jeeva was a huge support during our time in Besant Nagar. She was a strong, outspoken woman who stood by us. I remember her shouting down someone and standing up to authority. 

I also perhaps remember playing with much older neighbours. I would be lifted over the compound wall to their house. Preethu and Ganesh. Ganesh was constantly teased me and I would cry. 

Our stay in Besant Nagar was also pretty short. 

I was put directly into 1st Standard in Children's Garden School, the only school that was suggested to my mother to enroll me in that offered Telugu. My mother was particular I learn Telugu in school. I hated it. I wanted Hindi. But here I was made to learn a language I didn't understand and almost failed in. I also didn't speak the language like the other kids. It took me some time to pick up Tamil. I was scared of my Telugu teacher and Pedda Baala Siksha - the definitive book to begin learning Telugu. 

I had Tibetan classmates. Karma Sherab. Tenzing. It was fascinating. Those kids prayed to the Dalai Lama. I spoke to them in Hindi thinking they would understand. Most didn't. I was scared of this Karma Sherab boy. And then there was this girl called Divya, everyone wanted to be friends with. She, in my opinion, was the most powerful. She decided who would be 'leader', who would be 'servant' etc etc. She had eyes that flashed. Everyone was scared of her. Or that's how I perceived it at 5 1/2. 

Then came Deepavali. I remember writing "Diwali is celebrated for 5 days" and was puzzled when the teacher corrected my notebook, struck across the 5 with her red pen and wrote '1', on top of it. During Deepavali I somehow managed to get the "zameen chakkar" on to my fingers and the skin on top of my fingers was gone. 

I remember being told by the lady I called Prema periamma, (whom we had visited for Deepavali) "Say Narayana Narayana kuttimmol, you wont feel the pain and you'll fall asleep". I couldn't write until my fingers healed; the teachers would instruct others to write in my notebook in class and I felt very special being fussed over :) 

Divya was still the girl to be scared of during lunch break. The girl who sat next to me wore a "clip" (dental retainers, a thing wire across the teeth as braces were rare then) and I shared my ice water that I carried in a cello flask with her.

I think this was also where I got chicken pox. Or it could have been in Saligramam. Laying on a bed of neem leaves and praying to Amman and my face was full of boils. My grandmother prayed we'd all do an angapradakshanam once I was well at the temple where I still go and do Angapradakshanams at. A practice that started when I was perhaps 5 or 6. Thatha would patiently caress me with neem leaves so that I dont scratch myself.

As much I remember I got every illness under the sun until I was in my 5th standard. 


The Railway station and asking amma when we'll go back home. I didn't speak the language. Our first residence was in Saligramam. When it was huge. Empty for most part. And I remember the temple elephant that would come on rounds. 

As soon as we came to Chennai, my mom saw something like a tiny lemon sized swelling on my lower abdomen, took me the hospital to realize I had to be operated for Hernia on both sides. 

Dr Prasad - my doctor and my surgeon. He belonged to the Ramanathapuram royal family. My grandfather was apparently friends with the Ramnad Raja and I guess our families are still very much in touch. Dr Prasad has seen me grow from then to now. He operated on me on my condition that I would get Gold spot and Vada Sambar. I think he charged us 4 rupees for the surgery. Just 4 rupees. This was 1989/1990. I remember I wasn't allowed to eat for a while before the surgery. And post surgery, I have a memory of being carried home by someone. We lived on the first floor of an independent house which had an open terrace. For the entire time I recuperated I had great joy in clapping my hands to beckon an adult. I couldn't talk, laugh or do anything without it hurting my stomach. Leave alone call out to get something. So I would clap and someone would come running. I think I remember thatha and paatti by my side for a long time. 

When you are a child your perception of time is very different. So is perception of space. What seemed like ages and what seemed huge then pales in comparison and you wonder what has changed. 

I guess from Saligramam, we shifted to Besant Nagar. Another house with an open terrace. It was a pretty common type of a construction those days. The house owners would live downstairs and the tenants on the upper floor. 


was home. The place that was "Ghar". When we moved to Chennai in 1989/1990 I am not too sure when, walking down the railway station, I remember asking my mother, "Hum Ghad jaayenge na mummy?". 

I was predominantly under my grandmother's care who spoke neither English nor Hindi. I spoke Marathi and no Tamil. I perhaps got my talent of picking up languages from my mother. She had already learnt Marathi to a certain extent and was particular I speak it. My grandmother continued to speak to me in Tamil, took me to school and brought me back, I still have no clue why and how she managed. But I understand in retrospect that woman was made of super strong reinforced steel. 

My grandmother had three children. A son and two daughters. By the late 80-s both daughters no longer had their husbands around. One was taken away by cancer; the other left of his own volition for reasons best known to him. The son was someone I have met twice in my life. Otherwise this uncle character was non-existent. 

I have so many scenes from when I was 4 or 5 that are fresh in my memory. My father had already left us to our own devices when we were in Bombay. I remember one particular Holi celebration thing in our building. I hadn't 'paid' to be a part of it and I ended up eating a sweet or something that I wasn't supposed to as I hadn't contributed to be a part of. A 3 or 4 year old having an extra sweet was such a big issue that I was shivering in my shoes that my mother is going to scold me. When the other kids complained to my mother, she made them understand I was a child and I had no concept of money and paying. And she gave them the money. Took me up to the terrace later and there were balloons filled with coloured water. 

Gumboots. Footwear that I got to wear only on the rain-drenched roads of Bombay. I never saw them again (until I went to the US) and neither did I ever have to use them in my lifetime in Chennai. 

Walking to the school with my grandmother. Getting slapped by a really young teacher in school because I finished a year's work in one day. And my mom coming the next day and providing more books that I continued to finish. I guess the teacher was stressed about how to handle a kid like me and didn't know what else to do. 

I was a neat kid. I kept my stuff in place. I folded my uniform. As my mother said herself I was a blessing of a child - well behaved & obedient, I grew up to give her 'trouble' she'd say. My mom ran a very, very tight ship. This story that my mom repeats a lot is of when we were shifting from Bombay to Chennai and my mom told me to sit in a corner. My mom and paatti eventually forgot about me in all the work of packing and shifting. I had curled up in the same corner and had gone off to sleep. It was only after my grandmom's guttaral "adiyayyyyyy kozhandhai enna di panradhu" or something like that, that they realised time had passed by too fast.

And I would cry if it was Saturday and there was no school. My mom and grandmom would dread telling me there was no school. "Aaj school nahi haiiiii" and wail. 

I used to correct people who said "Gavaaskar" and tell them it is "Gaa-vas-kar" not "Ga-vaas-kar". I was a pronunciation nazi even then. 

I used to go to sleep saying "Parda Baaandh" and wake up saying "Parda Khollll". I guess I knew early that all the world is a stage. :p

I had a peculiar behaviour as a child. I had an over active imagination, made up stories and would say that out aloud to people walking by on the road. Either the listeners were amused or what, I dont remember but the strangest thing, I would throw things that were in our pretty humble apartment, plates and tumblers and toys and clothes to whoever I believed was poor. Some days my mother would wonder whats happening and where the things were going. Neighbours would collect whatever they could and give it back to us. Some of the stuff would be gone for ever. 

I disliked my name as a child. When asked what my name was I would say either "Mahalakshmi" or "Mehr-un-nisa" in our commute in the local train. My mom used to say she'd have co-passengers assume she married into a Muslim family. 

My mother worked with IDPA in Mumbai and on one of the trips with her to office, I had learned to say "Gaadwa sala" from the peons and I for some reason went and said it to someone in my babysitter's family. Ajji, as I used to call her. I got slapped :p. And me being me, my cheek was red as a beet for a while. I still remember that staircase, parts of that house and a boy there who used to wash his eyes often. I dont even know why I remember these scenes, but I do. 

My mother used to volunteer to rescue girls who were trafficked into the flesh trade and her help was most required when they needed to communicate with girls trafficked from Coimbatore, Salem, Trichy and Madras, in Tamil. Those kids, my mom recalled much later, used to cry that they'd be anywhere other than the hell they were in and were willing to cook and clean in exchange for food. On one of these trips, my mother left me in the care of two kids.. I remember an area that was perhaps a chawl or a hut. I am not too sure. A stool fell on my toe and I was bleeding. I was in the care of two very young boys, who I still remember, carried me and ran to the nearest doctor and gave me a chocolate and gold spot. I know for sure they couldn't afford that chocolate or that cold drink. I am not sure if I cried or bawled. But I remember the goldspot. :) 

The boys were scared to tell my mother but she knew how to diffuse the tension in such situations, hugged those boys, thanked them and we left. My toe still carries the memory. The nail hasn't stuck to the bed since. 

I used to wail and bawl each time my mom picked up the Tanpura. To me it was my competitor as it found a place on my mother's lap. I wailed and bawled each time the cooker whistle went off. I remember my grandmother wrapping my thumb with something so that I would stop sucking my thumb. Of having a phobia and giving my mother a hard time each time she poured water on my head. Of having a phobia of looking into the drum filled with water. I still gasp and cant down at a water body, whose depth and extent and I cant fathom. 

I left Bombay and with it I slowly pushed my knowledge of Marathi deep in the recesses of my mind.  

I used to blog...

because it was cathartic. Because I felt I could record what I was feeling, observing, writing and perhaps someday I could see myself evolve. A view through my eyes. Comprehension through my brain. Based on my thoughts, feelings, prejudices even, because can any of us truly claim to be free of bias? Free of prejudice? Even the most evolved of us, the most broad minded among us has some opinion slightly washed by a shade of bias, unless of course we stop in our tracks. And decide to observe ourself and correct ourselves in the process. Few of us have the self awareness. 

I don't know why I stopped. I perhaps no longer found the impetus. Nor the inspiration. Or there was too much white noise. Or I wasn't using my laptop as much as I used my phone and I cannot imagine typing out long passages on my phone. 

Today, I felt the need to write of what I have felt, observed in my 32 years of existence. The people, the experiences, the way I felt and perhaps the way each of these experiences changed who I am to the person that I have become.. Of course I am still a piece of evolution. I want to be the best version of myself. Hopefully I ll get there, closer to that goal with each passing day.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Remember this post of mine from 2012?

It was my "famous" case where I lodged a case against continued trolling and arrests happened. 

In the recent past, I have been watching the brouhaha and the incidents that involved Mahesh Murthy's name so many times.

Mr Murthy is someone I questioned online regarding a particular article he had come up with based on an algorithm that he created. He took offense, called me an idiot and said I am not one of the "paid media" that I can pay and get articles written the way I want about me. He took on an extremely offensive tone for a question that I asked. 

That done when I lodged a case, out of nowhere, he came out saying I am a liar and I lodged a "false case" against those poor guys and that he would come to court and testify. Now Mr Murthy is someone who neither reads nor understands Tamil, as he agreed in one of his tweets and hence had no clue what the people who were harassing me were tweeting/blogging. 

Until then, those who knew about the trolls over the years - it lasted almost 3 years - and what I was going through felt I did OK. I mean, if I didn't take care of myself and my own safety, it ain't like the society which would only whip out a mobile phone to film a problem on the streets would help me if I came to physical harm. The others who were on the fence jumped on the hate mongering brigade. A now popular "reviewer" became famous because he decided to take Mahesh Murthy's word that I was a liar.

In so many ways, I am so glad that Mr Murthy was on the offensive with me from the start based on a question and a tweet, else he may have perhaps groped me as well, in return for offering "support". I am so glad someone spoke up and more got the courage to speak up against his harassment. 

They say Karma gives you front row tickets when you have done no wrong, to watch the negative go down. 

It did, in my case. Going by how things are transpiring in TN and the world in general, I have no idea if there is anything at all I can leave behind to my progeny except the "Poorva Punya" of the ancestors. Or as they say in Tamizh, appa amma panra paavam pasangalukku. I try hard to keep my karmic slate clean. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Indoctrination .....

I have wondered how it was possible for a group of human beings endowed with the same raw materials as anyone else; i.e. mental facilities, EQ, IQ et al could be brought up to completely, implicitly believe a certain thought process, without a sense of right and wrong. 

It is frightening how it is easy for a set of adults to wield power, especially over children and get them to implicitly follow a set of beliefs. Present them 'truths' and 'lies' the way they want to; under a light they beam. Add poverty to that mix and the power in the hands of the few 'benefactors' becomes absolute. Even in seemingly conflict-free societies we may be able to observe how one person that wields a sufficient amount of influence on a group can prod and channelize collective thinking on to a certain path. 

When and if at all the veil lifts, there is a sense of being cheated. The time invested in a belief system is brought to nought and leaves confusion and mistrust in its wake. 

What strange creatures we humans are. For so many this trip around the sun is only about power. About how many they can control and how much they can control. About keeping the insecurities in people alive and kicking so that it can be dipped into at the right time. Small wonder that both religion and politics choose to wield the same baton and we as the stupid herd, follow. The few that don't get beaten down.

As much as some try and do a lot to restore faith in humanity as a whole, most others do a stellar job in helping us lose that very same thing.  

Makes me even more afraid wondering how many children are at the mercy of megalomaniacs and psychopaths who walk about in the guise of mentors, teachers and caregivers. 

Safe to say, I am not sure how much I love this world, as of today. :)

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Attempting to buy happiness at 5/-

I am not sure if I have blogged about this pastry called the 'Eclair' that is available at the Adyar Bakery in Chennai. I write about it now not because it was the chef may win the Masterchef but because to me it holds a place of honour in my life. 

There were periods that were tumultuous while I was growing up; periods of intense financial stress as well and to me relief from such periods would be associated with this piece of confection from the Adyar Bakery. It was priced at about 5/- when I was in my teens and I used to buy it from this store called Venson's located on L B Road. 

I have since eaten the same pastry at various fine confectioneries and patisseries across the world but somehow, there is a bittersweet memory associated with this (now) Rs. 15/- pastry in Chennai. A feeling of odd satisfaction, a feeling like I could actually taste a memory from a capsule left behind in time. And I have always reached out for it when I go low on endorphins. 

At various points in our lives, some of us may develop an intense emotional attachment to something that could be banal or mediocre to most. Like the aaranji mittai for instance, an orange toffee my grandmother would ask for whenever we asked her what we could get her. To me the aaranji mittaai reminds me of that lady and her toothless smile I loved dearly... someone whom I (nor anyone in my family) couldn't even get to see for the last time, no thanks to the uncle.

The boiled masala peanuts from that one gentleman at the beach with chilli + salt mango slices to go at the Marina Beach.

And it is perhaps at times like these that life perhaps subtly reminds us that happiness is perhaps as simple and easily attainable as the aaranji mittaai.. or the Eclair.. or the peanuts.. Perhaps it isn't so elusive, na?

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Women's day, the Fortune Most Powerful Women's Summit and etc

Women’s Day. When everyone around feels the pressure to suddenly get a lot of women talking about their opinions, fresh data springs up close on the heels of 8th March. Everyone is on overdrive about “doing something for/on Women’s day”.

I attended and spoke at the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s Summit last week at Hong Kong and being what they term, a ‘mentee’ of the Fortune/US State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. This is a program started by Hillary Clinton 10 years ago in partnership with Fortune, where women from across the world identified as having an impact / influence are selected for a month long mentoring partnership, where the ‘mentee’ is paired with a high-level woman executive in a Fortune 500 company. Usually, the US consulate nominates women for this program after taking their consent. I sent in my details in 2011 and was chosen, becoming the first woman from Tamilnadu to attend this program. I attended the Fortune MPW in LA later that year and it was quite something to be speaking at an MPW 5 years down the line. 

During the mentoring program we got to meet Policy advisors to Michelle Obama at the White house, senior women in US politics at the US State Govt, interacted with women in CIA or organizations that volunteered in high-conflict areas across the world, or people in the media. It was quite an experience of meeting some of the most interesting people from diverse backgrounds, plus getting to shadow my mentors, both from the American Express Corporation for 3 weeks, watching how they maneuver situations in the board room and outside. More often than not, I noticed they were the only women on the board. I was the visitor. 

It wasn’t until then that I opened my ears to the gender inequality issues. I started following handles on Twitter that extensively covered and reported on issues that spoke related topics. 

Later in 2012 I filed a case for abuse on Twitter which is said to be India’s first arrests for abuse online. One of the men was a Professor at NIFT, Chennai. The other, a clerk at a collectorate. In retrospect, it is striking that a a man who is in a position as powerful as influencing young minds in an educational institution reeked of misogyny and slut-shaming opinionated women on social media.

I was usually the girl that was perceived as intimidating. Which was surprising for me, since until my early 20-s I was quite the introvert. I hardly spoke, made friends outside my realm of 2-3 people. My only close friend was one from school. It was post being a host on a reality show that I started becoming a little more, mm....friendly. Even then, I was repeatedly advised, by friends who meant only the best for me, to be more ‘girl-like’. More delicate. “You’ll never get married this way” would be a refrain I heard too many times. I thought I probably deserve to be married to a man who would want to be married to someone like me, without regrets.

Much later, as my followers grew on social media, I was asked, told, advised to keep my opinions to my self and not be so outspoken. More selfies, more photographs of food, make-up, the perfect day, rains, (no books ideally). To sum it up, as someone said “More fluff, less brain” if you need to be loved by peers and the general public on social media. This will get you work/shows/endorsements, what-have-you. 

I am not a selfie-queen. I usually think I look terrible and hence don't feel like taking photographs of myself. I love food but when I see it, urge is to eat it first and then in retrospect I ponder if I should have photographed it, like the absolutely decadent Mango Pavlova that danced a ballet on my tongue, that I had on Malaysian Airlines on my return from HK. Inflight, yes. Surprising, but yes. It was the best I had ever had.  I love fashion. But I am not fashionable myself. I love skincare and makeup - I blog about K-Beauty. I am an addict but that’s that. 

However what irks me is the misunderstanding people have of feminism. An outspoken woman, who has an opinion is called a feminist. It is not that simple really. Neither is a woman that files a false dowry harassment case on a man, a feminist. That is at worst, misuse of law. It is a lot like how all men aren’t misogynists. As simple as that. 

I sometimes giggle over the pity my husband, Rahul gets on Twitter (and he shrugs it off), since he is married to someone as outspoken as me and some tweet, wondering how he manages and some tweets have been rude to count down days to divorce. It is also interesting how I am perceived to be a man-hater (thanks to the harassment case and some of my tweets) and thus as a female performer, I am supposed to have shot my own foot by damaging my perception amongst what should be my biggest fan-base - the men. 

I am not yet a feminist, I don't believe I am as informed, astute or a trailblazer as a Gloria Steinem or her contemporaries, but I would like to be. Emma Watson is reported to be taking a year off to study feminism. Malala is a global icon. Closer home, a woman that talks about gender disparity is a man-hater. My poor husband. 

Coming back to where I started, cliches like "A woman is stronger than the man", "A woman is celebrated everyday" etc. are done to death. So are "Women can't park" jokes. One of the speakers at the Fortune MPW spoke about how difficult it is for a woman-led startup to be funded, while Microfinance companies hand out loans to women because they know that the money will be returned (and as a senior *male* exec in a Microfinance institution told me - "the men will drink it away"). Another top-line woman executive shared about how she didn't tell anyone when she had a daughter.  . Quite a strange situation. 

I look forward to the day Women's Day will not be celebrated. A day when one measly day per annum needn't be marked to celebrate womanhood. I'd rather see a world of equal opportunity, a world where there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, where 50% men could choose *and be allowed by the society* to be househusbands and be identified as primary caregivers of the family. (Because how many times is a man who contributes in the kitchen or with housework made fun of by other "alpha males" and women alike for being a sissy?) A world where it is perfectly normal for a man to sweep, mop, clean, cook (at home) and be there for his children as much as his wife. 

As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book stupendous book Lean In, We need more women at the table in the board room. We also need more men at the table - The kitchen table. 

P.S.: Here is the link to the Fortune MPW in Hong Kong that I attended