What’s Cooking: A yesteryear curiosity that I’m besieged by even today!

I remember the time when I was growing up and my mum was a homemaker; she took care of my brother and I through unbounded days, weeks and years unconditionally – right from our daily routine, to school, to homework, our meals, washing, and umpteen other tasks, aside from tending to the household chores. Through all these years, I believe the age along with the mind is quite ignorant, so much so that much of what mum did for us is taken for granted.

Amidst quite a few other admirable traits in her [which back then I may have been too shy to admit], one fact I’ve never denied is that my mum is a great cook, and continues to be. As a kid, one of the clear instances I recall are the times when I used to go into the kitchen only for a faint whiff or a peek-a-boo, in an attempt to find out what-are-you-making-mum. More often than not, mum had to confront an ineludible question that on some days I chanted thrice. Depending on the time I tiptoed into the kitchen, my question would be one amongst the three – what’s for breakfast?, what’s for lunch?, or what’s for dinner?. This habit was not consciously inculcated; rather, as I introspect now, it emerged as a result of the ‘curiosity’ factor, more so to reaffirm the point if the ‘Menu for the Course’ had gotten the better of me or surprised me even, for my own good. A typical conversation that was intermittently regular in our household, went something like this:

“Mum, what’s for lunch?”
“I’m making brinjal curry and flatbread. Why, what did you wanna eat?”
[With a shrunk face] “Oh okay. I thought we could make something gooood.”
“Define [intoning my expression] gooood.”
Silence.

OR

“Mum, what’s for dinner?”
“I’m planning on rice and gravy. Why, what do you wanna eat?”
[With a shrunk face] “Umm…I don’t know. But let’s make something gooood.”
“What do you mean by [intoning my expression] gooood?”
Silence.

Years passed and I grew up progressing from being a mere daughter to being happily married, and my brother travelled abroad to pursue his career. Naturally, mum’s responsibilities shrunk to that of just taking care of dad. Genes may have been one of the incentives, yet inevitably, cooking is something that came to me naturally. [In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t guess this earlier.] I also discovered that cooking served as one of my vent-outs. Not only do I like to cook for my partner, but also I like trying out varieties and cuisines from various sources. I find cooking to be an airway, in the sense that it helps me gain some ‘me-time’ while relaxing with doing something that I like.

A vicious circle of cooking three main meals in the day with barely an existence of concepts such as weekends or leaves, plausible that it was, boredom started settling in soon and there came a point when I became weary of cooking the same old, same old. As they say – what goes around, comes around. So now, I pass the baton of questions to who else, but my partner! The residence often haunts with either one of the three similar-sounding questions:

“Hey, what would you like for breakfast?”
Very unwaveringly, he’d give me options. “Let’s do bread.”
[With a shrunk face] “No, we did that just two days back.”
“Okay, let’s make khichri.”
“Noooo, that’s boring! Let’s make something gooood.”
“Okay. What do you mean by gooood?”
Silence.

Talk about changing circumstances – and how!

The Margazhi Maasam: An Experience to Retain or a Period going Commercial?

The Margazhi maasam ended last week bringing with it the festival of harvest – Pongal – and the beginning of yet another month. For the uninitiated, the Margazhi maasam, or the ‘month’ of Margazhi, is identified as the season of harvesting and also recognised for bringing about a cool [read: most-pleasant] climate across the city. The ninth month as per the Tamil calendar, Margazhi, when contrasted with the English calendar, is equivalent to the period between December 14 – January 14.

One of the notorious features of this month is the festival of music. Artistes of varying degrees of regards and talent perform across sabhas in India, conspicuously in the city of Chennai. Quintessentially seasoned in the fields of singing and dancing, the music performed in this month belongs to the Classical genre, particularly Carnatic, and indulges in solo, duet and group performances. Not only is it considered extremely auspicious for artistes to perform in the Margazhi maasam, what’s more, with the culture a city as Chennai imbibes in the local populace, the sabhas attract unimaginable mass of crowd during this one month – the numbers on weekends and weekdays all alike.

As I happened to be in the city during this period, added to it my interest in Carnatic music, I decided to give the experience a try. I chose to hop across sabhas for as many days as possible in this one month, in an attempt to listen to as many kacheris as I could. In fact, similar to the concepts of book hopping and pub hopping, this experience by a few is fondly referred to as sabha hopping. Twelve days, six sabhas and twenty-five plus concerts later, I could do no more; and well, that, in my eyes, was the end of my experience of the Margazhi maasam. No doubt, the experience is one of its kind, where you get to hop from one sabha to another, only to listen to one genre of music in widely flavoured styles and techniques. And the solitude one good kacheri can bring in can simply not be justified in words. Yet there were specific somethings in the name of nuances inducing me to raise my brows against certain practices, that seemed to dim the essence of Carnatic music.

Of the six sabhas I went to, one of the sojourns was this auditorium set in a theatre-style with a capacity to seat close to 1700 people. The programmes scheduled here were recorded about a week prior to be telecasted eventually on one of the most popular channels. This year, the schedule at this auditorium was packed to the neck for about a week, with performances starting at 9.00 in the morning and continuing until 9.30 late evening. Not that the performances that I witnessed here were a question mark, no doubt, they weren’t; in fact, each of the performances was either at or beyond par. However, long before the week came to an end, I was left in no doubt that the so-called ‘organisers’ had an apparent motive of becoming commercial.

To begin with, as soon as one entered the auditorium premises, it most likely left a mistaking impression of entering a food fest or an unsophisticated fair. Not only did the seemingly unending stalls display a variety of food items to choose from, but also there was the opportunity to taste pasta served from a live bar! The rates weren’t nominal either [surprise, surprise]. Once inside the auditorium, there was pandemonium over the seating – a self-created confusion by the ticket-providers. They chose to number select tickets while the other [read: majority] tickets were retained blank. Of course, this resulted in more than one screaming match, initiated by those whose tickets were stamped with a designated number already, to haggle their seats back. As ironical as it may sound, this was the condition in the VIP section.

Amidst all this chaos, there was so much more to grasp than the mere aura of the artiste and his/her performance that, at some point, one quite landed up forgetting the reason for being there. Irrespective of the number of performances lined up during the day, it barely took a second to dilute the momentary bliss awarded as an aftermath of a kacheri, what with the dispensable reinforcement of never-ending categories of sponsors’, on-spot prizes, be-the-lucky-one-to-click-a-selfie-with-the-artiste, and lucky-draw winners.

If the organisers felt that it was the prizes that retained the bulk of the listeners to stay back until the end of a kacheri, the essence of Margazhi may have been captured in a completely dissimilar spirit. If it isn’t the organisers but the listeners who came with a ‘motivational’ intention to stay back, then, to them – there may be a handful of other places apt enough to endlessly snack, munch or yap about the next-door-neighbour or what’s-for-dinner. Why purchase a ticket for it, when you may do the same thing at another place that may not only be a suitable choice, but also may come without any disturbance and that too, for free? In all this muddled dubiety, pray if I may ask, wherein comes the sanctity of Carnatic music? Or, are these just signs of shifting over to a money-making trade, subtly hinting at other sabhas to follow suite?

C.H.E.N.N.A.I. – An Experience

This post is published as a part of The CBC Tablog – 3, where CBC stands for the Chennai Bloggers Club, a group where bloggers from across age groups and genres discuss anything and everything including blogging. This blog tag will witness the participation of 20 odd bloggers from the group, who will write on the subject – Chennai: A Blend of the Traditional and Modern. So, here is my post on the theme, titled C.H.E.N.N.A.I. – An Experience. You may read the previous post by Vid Dev here.

It is the city that brought me to a job — the latter turning out to be the one I came to love in due course, given the amount of writing involved. It is the city that hit me with a culture-shock like no other has managed in the past almost twenty-five years. It is the city that saw me grow from brains to a bride. Sure, for the time that I have dwelled here, I have had the chance to explore a bit about Chennai, eventually identifying a nest that seemed to have been waiting to embrace me all this while.

As a kid, I was born, bred and raised across eastern, western and northern metros, and cities around those. Almost four years back, my rozi roti not only beckoned me to the southern metro, a city that I was to consider as my base for a while, but also, it did so at a time when I identified my first and second languages as Hindi and English respectively. Technically, my mother tongue is Tamil; for now, let’s just say I grew up with it quite selectively. I came from land(s) that followed a cosmopolitan culture and thought-process, had grown up consuming roti and sabzi, and rice was only occasional, was familiar with Bollywood and a little bit of Hollywood, and never had to haggle with an auto-wallah as metre was the only way to travel. Over these four years, my perception of Chennai (since the initial jolt) has only evolved, reflecting primarily on my attitude towards it. I have come to respect Chennai as the city that has served me my bread-n-butter, lent me a base to hop off to countless travel spots, helped me discover where my true interest lies, and the best of the best, found me a one-in-a-million-worth better half.

So, as a cosmopolitan character who managed to figure out and nestle her own set of likes and dislikes over the past many months, I may not have seen the so-admired-and-spoken-about Theosophical Society or Semmozhi Poonga, but I feel the artistic kolams adorning the threshold of the locals’ houses, and the long tresses of any colour and kind bedecked with layers of freshly scented flowers are no less admirable. The concept that I may have grown up with must have been Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, while the concept I had to learn here was Tiffin, Lunch and Tiffin. I may not have visited the artistic and much-renowned Dakshinachitra yet, but I am proud to have had countless ‘movie’ experiences at Sathyam Cinemas, and needless to mention, those endless visits to Nungambakkam High Road for lip-smacking food. Sure, one must have heard about the concepts of book hopping and club hopping, however, what I finally landed up doing the past month was sabha hopping. I may not have had the chance yet to express my opinion about the view one may get atop the Lighthouse at Marina Beach, though I can clearly reminisce out loud the feeling of being woken up early morning to a drifting waft of decoction brewing away in the filter, complemented by M.S. Subbulakshmi’s intoned suprabhatam in the background.

When I first came here, did I know back then it would take me almost two years to create my own social circle, given the cultural differences? Not really. Although today, if need be, I can not only survive the local language inside and outside of my circles, but also, can drive a bargain with an auto-wallah (well, almost). Last but not least, back in Bollywood, one may not find a craze or cult following in favour of a particular star. But today, I can safely be vertical of the stance where I will have nobody to blame but myself were I to raise my voice publicly against Rajni or Kamal!

As an administration to a closure, I recently happened to stumble across a co-blogger’s work on Chennapattnam to Madras to Chennai, where he mentions, anyone who wants to experience Chennai, all that they need to do is be open-minded. Well, Aravind, all I can say is I tried.

I pass the baton to Sriram Acharya who expresses his views through his Paradoxical Paradise. His blogs, known to be centred around Science and Metaphysical poetry, defaults the reader to rethink and examine ideas from a different perspective more often than not; but then, you do see the disclaimer right on top that reads – Beware: Contents may dilute your reality. Well, can’t blame him! Do drop by his blog and show some love.