Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Today is 'the special night' - Mahashivaratri

Yesterday, evening on my way back home, I found the bilva patras(bael leaf) being sold for the Mahashivaratri festival at my regular florist. I recalled about the significance of Bilva patra to Mahashivaratri and even related this to my friend who was with me. Not just the Bilva patra, the whole write up of Mahashivaratri in the journal on culture, IKA was so convincing, that I who never believed in festivals 20 years back today realize the significance of our ancient wisdom.

                                            The bilva leaf( pic courtesy: google)

According to Indian knowledge academy(IKA), the human body is susceptible to the changes in the cyclical motions of the moon and sun. Today’s scientists of organic and bio-farming have researched, observed and documented the changes of the impact of the waxing and waning of the moon on the cellular structures of plants including the germination. But our ancient mystics understood these seasonal and climatic changes and so devised methods for natural adaptations long ago. 

 Mahashivaratri is one such natural adaptation for the seasonal transition from the winter to spring. All the flora and fauna which underwent hibernation during winter, starts germinating during spring time. This transition is the most important one for all species including humans. Human body undergoes subtle cellular and molecular changes during this time giving way to lung and respiratory infections which are more dominant. To avoid them, certain rules are prescribed in the form of celebration like usage of the bilva patras and visiting the places where cosmic and geo magnetic energy are accumulated ( temples built according to agama principle). More on this in my old post "the science of Mahashivaratri".

Such write-ups make me appreciate the ancient native wisdom of our ancestors who have designed festivals based on the sciences of climate, astronomy, siddha/ayurveda and human physiology. All these festivals are then related to our wellness. Wellness has been weaved into our routine in the name of religion and festivals. Festivals like these makes me feel blessed to be in a country whose greatest contribution to the world is her spiritual and scientific wisdom apart from Astronomy, ayurveda, human physiology, history, surgery, stories/legends climatology,cuisine, tourism, textiles, jewellery, yoga and now even IT…..( add those that I have missed).

There are also many interesting legends related to Mahashivaratri One of them is the ‘Puttu’ story.( I will make that another post) Puttu is a steamed sweet dish made with riceflour and jaggery. This is offered to god as “neivedyam’.

The wise say, prayers offered during Mahashivaratri are amplified 10 milliontimes. So, if there is a time that one wants to purify their thoughts and activate the empowerment of their goals, today is the special night. Chant Hmmm Nama shivaya ( om is recited as Hmmm to send the right vibrations).

                  Gavi gangadeeshwara temple -  an ancient Shiva temple in Bangalore has                           immense Atronomical significance.( this too deserves a post)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Yo, people! Whatcha doin?

Have you ever come across teenagers speak? or Do you have any teens on your friends list? If yes, you will relate to the post, if No, then you will know why people of my generation"roll our eyes" and "scratch our heads" when we hear them speak.

"Kirrak" " whatcha doin?" "Yo" "thope" "requestion" "hayloo".and many more...
       Do the above words sound familiar to you?

Those are familiar words to me which I keep hearing often, sometimes in my society or on my social networking site where I am connected to many teenagers.

I once read aloud a comment by a teen on my FB page which read " Kirrak Picha" and my daughter chuckled and said "Mom, that's not the way you say" and corrected me with the right pronunciation. Even before i could gather what it means, another comment pops up"WUU2". There are many such instances like these where I am left rolling my eyes or SMH (shaking my head) when these teens speak or txtspk(text speak) missing their vowels.

A few years back, I would always respond to their " Hey mom/aunty, wassup?" and other teen talks with a confused look and go into a thought bubble " Have these Gen Z descended from another planet?". Their talks never made any sense to me.

But now, I hv jnd d kewl klub( i have joined the cool club), I do'nt want to be known as an "unkewl aunty" in my neighborhood, you see.

So now, when they "wazzup"? or "sup?" i cheerfully answer in good humor without showing my confusion " it's the sky" or " roof" or whatever is above me at that time.

Now, the teen vocab adds to a 'kinda' 'chillin' moments at home too, which we moms and pops of 'Gen Z' take with a chill pill.

It so happened on my latest train journey, I was sitting on the lower side berth and my son was above me in the upper berth. Out of the blue, my son darted across his berth with a cheeky smile "Hey mom!, sup?" and I as in practice was about to say" roof" or "sky", suddenly i realized his cheeky smile and changed it to " yo sonny, it's you who'z up".

At times they greet their dad with "Yo Pops",as in Hello dad and the husband too would answer with a drawling "Yo-oo-oo  ma-a-a n" or "Yo dude".

Now, "We the not so young" momz and popz easily figure the missing vowels, hanging apostrophes and comatose comma in "Yo! whag'wan ere?"and we don't think  English ka "condition serious hai" anymore.

We pretend to simply chillax, but,  Shhhhh....don't tell these Gen Z' that we are allergic to this teen and txtspk, okies? Lest they think we are unkewl.

This post exclusively written for condition serious hai in association with the cadbury 5 star facebook page.

The teen dictionary for this post
Kirrak - awesome
thope -flop
whatcha doin? -what are you doing?
picha - picture/photo
WUU2- what are you up to?
kinda- kind of
chillin - relaxing
chillax- chill+relax
chill pill- be cool as in 'don't get tensed'
kewl- cool
yo- hi
"Yo! wha'wan ere, mah"- Hi, what's going on here"
requestion- request+question

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The concept of unconventional careers

Eversince, I quit my regular "9 to 5" job which was ages back, my well-wishers have made me feel like a pitiable character from one of those TV soaps. There have been times when I sat at home like those characters and wonder whether I work at all. This despite the fact that I worked for me and my family.

I have been bombarded with questions like "You don't work?", "Oh ok! You, freelance but why don't you work?". "Don't you feel bored?", "Oh, you sacrificed your career for motherhood?"Your studies have gone waste." and so many more in the last many years. And not just that, I have examples thrown at me like "Oh you see, there is Ms. X, Ms Y and so many more like them who balance family and career. You should'nt have quit. Work is very important for self-respect" etc.

And to all these questions my reactions vacillated between anger and amusement. My throat has gone dry explaining to them "I have not sacrificed, I am fine, doing well and truly contented, balancing my loving family and the freelancing work I heart. of course, they  scoff, "Work?! what work?" Is freelancing a work?!

All these were then.  But even after all these years, things hav'nt changed.......

Tell me, does being employed or career mean one has to tote a laptop, work in a corporate office, and work at odd hours. And does working mean only outside home? Can't one work from home? Work does'nt mean a conventional 9 to 5 job any more. Does it?

Today, there is a wide range of options and the word career or "Work" has undergone a huge shift in the last few years. The crux of the argument should be one should know to balance work and personal life and one should do what one loves without cribbing and ranting which in turn should'nt affect personal relationships.

Infact, one need not get stuck in their field of study or work in a job where they are stagnating, unless ofcourse if there is any personal compulsion. There are many examples where people have followed their heart in the past as well as present. Just imagine, if Shankar Mahadevan had not resigned from Oracle corp, would we be shuffling his songs on our ipod. There are many more in my own circle, who have taken sabbaticals, re-invented and launched themselves. One of my friend gave up her medical practice to start an investment consultancy, another who studied in a vernacular medium quit her teaching job went on to become one of the leading manager of a cosmetic brand through network marketing. Many have turned into entrepreneurs, one runs a yoga studio, another runs a library, another runs a counselling center, another is a baker. And for some what mattered was making a difference to the society. All these women quit their job so that they could work and balance a family and career in their own comfortable way.

I know outsourcing parenting is an option for many, but we wanted to be hands on parents and choose to quit our jobs. We hav'nt sacrificed any thing, we willingly quit our job and enjoyed the initial moments of our parenthood.

But who's to make them understand that these situations and choices can't be judged. What is acceptable to them may not be acceptable to me and vice versa.And now that the concept of career has a paradigm shift and there is a wide spectrum of options which were considered unconventional before, still the questions remain the same " Are you working?".

The situation has only got worse recently. Many a times, i meet a concerned well-wisher, their question to me is "Now that the children are big, what next?" and I am like "I am a freelancing grader...and i work....." and their reply to me "why don't you take up a job" and again the circle continues......

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The making of my cosy little nest

Unlike today where working youngsters in their twenties easily get loans and buy a readily made house, we know it was difficult to build a home in olden days.  Infact,  there is a saying  in my mother tongue “ Veetai katti paar, kalyanam panni paar”.  It translates to “Build a house and see, conduct  a marriage and see”.  The amount of challenges one faces while conducting a wedding and building a house is what it  proverbially states.  

Long long ago, Salaried class people who had no easy access to bank loans and hiring building  contractors had to face lot of difficulties while building a house.  My husband’s grand parents house in Lalgudi  near Trichy was built with a few  such challenges.  They did’nt compromise on quality but they did save costs. To save costs,  it seems even grandma used to pitch in with the work along with laborers. Sometimes the laborers would fight with the contractor and refuse to work and then patti and thatha would try to play the mediators so that their house could be built on time.   The best wood(pillai marudhu)  for making doors was brought specially from across the border Kerala.  The members of the family would pitch in to paint the house. No branded paints those days. They used to buy the boiled seashell pieces  which was available in the shops. The boiled seashells when immersed in water would bubble up and become lime pulp. This would then be mixed with the “blue” used for whitening clothes and painted on the walls by the family members.  Limestones were also available but these seashells my mother-in-law says imparted a sheen to the walls. I have  spent my vacations in this beautiful house called “Madhurambika Ashram”. It had a huge frontyard where creepers of jasmine arched the entrance. There was a lemon tree which yielded golf ball size lemons in one corner, while the other corner had a parijatha(coral jasmine) tree.

The entrance to the home was through a grilled verandah. The grills were held by  plastered walls which were painted with lime and redclay alternatively like in temples. What would arrest one’s attention would be the shining walls of the home where sepia toned photos of the family lined on the walls.  The shine and the whiteness would ofcourse be the courtesy of those seashells.

The backyard with a well, washing stone slab,  grinding stones, tulsi brindavan, swaying coconut,mango, tangerine trees  and kitchen plants completed the picture.  A simple, warm home sans frills. But patti, would often say that the smiles, chatters,  and laughter (galagalappu) of her children and grandchildren are what made it a happy home.

That was patti-thatha's home(grandparents). Now read, the making of my present home. I don't want to miss any detail, so a very long post by my standards but i would appreciate if you read till the end.

I and my husband wanted to create  a happy home like patti.  An independent home with a beautiful ornamental garden in the front and a useful kitchen garden at the back. But, we were people who were on the move. Investing in an independent house  in a new city and then moving away would invite troubles like maintenance of the house, renting out etc., We already face one such situation in Bangalore. 
Around that time, most of my husband’s colleagues  decided to invest in an apartment complex. We too went with them but my husband was not happy with the construction. He wanted a home without common walls, a house that is spacious, airy and had lot of bright light. He did not want corridors which were similar to hospitals or hotels. In short,  he was not happy with the construction of flats too which were built with hollow blocks and not bricks. Independent villas in gated communities were not to our budget.

 Having lived in a township at Neyveli in a duplex house which were airy and naturally lit and had huge front and backyards, My husband found it difficult to think of such flats as home. Even for me although, I did not live in airy and spacious houses, I have lived in independent houses.  In Bangalore, most houses were built on BDA property which came in the dimension of 30x50 feet.
Apartments were not our liking and so we dropped the idea and lived in an independent rented home in an enclave built by employees of an international research institute which had a lovely play area. A very lovely enclave but not lively I must say, because most of our neighbours were retired employees of that institute and though we had company in other tenants, we were at the mercy of our landlords who did not like the children running and playing. They would scare the children saying there are snakes and would always hush the children or take away the ball.

Meanwhile another set of friends went to buy apartments. So another opportunity came our way and this time my husband liked the second phase of the same builder. We saw the plan and screened the  houses that were not booked.  My husband studied the plan to see which house was airy and bright. The way he was studying the plan and dismissing the flats  annoyed me.  What was acceptable for me was not acceptable for him and vice versa. Finally, we came to a consensus and  blocked the flat on the 5th floor which was still not built, but  in the air.  And, I must say, I am happy with his choice today. This is one of the premium flat of our complex, airy on all three sides  which are open to the space above the gazebo, amphitheatre and the main road. The 4th side is our neighboring flat which is a good 10 feet away with no common walls. No  common corridor, we walk from the lift to my home which has an independent feel. Today we are happy to have made apartment as choice, because in the past 8 years, there is a lot my children and we have learnt from this joint family called condominium.

Although this apartment was built by the builder,  To turn it into our home, it had our personal touch.  We were there from day one to supervise and inspect our house. Initially every 15 days, then every once a week, and finally it narrowed to almost daily when it got its finishing touches. We did make some design changes in the structure of the house which had the approval of the builder.

We were happy with the construction materials used for the house.  We were equally happy with the extra fittings, though I changed some of the fittings to add our personal style.  Wood work was left to our choice. Like our grand mom’s home we wanted the best and we were ready to cut the cost of the middle men by sourcing it ourself. We did a lot of study on this during the nights to find the right type of wood, the veneer, polish , hardware, the design etc., Finally, we entrusted the job to one of the   Rajasthan carpenters who were rustic but the best. It is already 8 years and I am yet to find a nail out of place, while our friends who went with MDF have had multilple repairs and refurnishes.  For tiles, although the builder provided good quality ones, I wanted  to have some signature spaces and so we traveled to Troop bazaar, sultan bazaar  and other places in old Hyderabad which is famous for tiles, awnings and bathroom fittings.

There was another thing that I did not change that is the painting. We were happy with the ivory color emulsion of Asian paints Home solutions  used for the interiors of the house.  I did’nt want textured walls simply because this is a dry city and dust would fill in the crevices and it would be tough to dust out.  The simple ivory color  makes the house elegant and rich.  We can always accentuate the walls with colors.  Even their buckets which holds the Asian paints are sturdy and stronger than the regular washroom buckets.

For knick knacks, we have mostly bought earthy artefacts from artisans which are warm fillers for the home. We invested on some lightings too which did not need periodical change. It is more than 8 years and I hav’nt changed the wood work, the fittings not even painted my home again. The Asian paints work is still the same after 8 years and the walls have never required a new coat. The buildup of minor grimes due to daily use and the chocolate finger prints of my son have been erased with a simple shampoo soaked sponge. Just an year back, to add some drama, I have used wall paper on one of the walls of the drawing room . The simple cotton blinds and sheers also often change adding color and variety to the home.

But do material things make up a home?

If ever I move out of this home, i will not remember those material things, but like patti said, the precious growing years of my children, the little spicy fights, the togetherness, smiles, chatter, the voices that echoed around the house when we had the family reunions with relatives, the warm conversations over a cup of chai with our friends in our drawing room, The painful partings when they leave. The corner that was alloted for the PC from where i blog,Not the sheer curtains that allows sunlight but the reflection of the dust rays, the gentle cool breeze from the lake behind , the  balcony from where i see the moon, birds flying in a pattern, that little birdie making its nest. I will remember the comfort, solace and serenity that this home gave me. All these are the heart and soul of a home and convert  a brick house into a cosy home. 

This kitchen where we cook our daily rice, rasam, daal, roti. the platform where we wash with sudsy water and the floor where we sit down to eat our brunch or our daily meal will go down us a memorable place one day.

The drawing room (forefront) which witnesses many reunions and partings. The beauty wall divides the space. At the back the dining hall which opens into our back balcony, to give me a view of the shining moon, watch the children play in the ground , the clean blue swimming pool, the amphitheatre, a glimpse of the lake which is named after the lake of Shiva's abode.  So many memories made and are in the making...........

The wardrobe designed by my children when they were just 9 and 7. They went through many manuals to narrow on this design. The precision wavy cuts done by our carpenter babulal and Kishan are all hand made. There is no machine cutting. This wardrobe too stores many of my children's treasures. In the top shelf is their childhood memories in the form of scrap books, report cards, selected old clothes.

Yet again, our children's choice of wall painting for which we sought professional help. A double decker bed which was designed by my husband and executed by the efficient carpenters. A space saver, the bed under has castor wheels. But more than all that,we are grateful,  the bedrooms gently put us to sleep each night and takes care of us as we sleep soundly.

The corner where we showcase some of India's artisans. The earthy and handmade  artefacts are warm fillers of my home against the backdrop of Asian paint emulsion.

The front balcony frames the historical Gunrock and the sunrise which I enjoy with a cup of chai and the birds flying out of the greenery around. 

My little ornamental  and herbal garden in the front, not as big as patti's home but gives me immense joy when a small bud flowers or a leaf sprouts from a plant which i give up as dead. It adds to the micro joys of our life. 

A multi colored rose which changes its shade from pink to yellow blooms in this little garden along with many little flowers which we offer to God. 

Again, not a big kitchen garden, but we have made niches like these in our back balcony, where we harvest potful of joy in the form of methi, coriander, curry leaf, haldi,mint etc.,

This post is written for "The beautiful home blogger contest"  @Women's Web in association with Asian paints and ripple links

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A family treasure that I discovered

During their infancy and their growing years, my children have been lulled to sleep with two beautiful songs. One is on Sri  Shirdi Sai and the other is on Sri Ramana Maharshi. It was easier to calm the crying infants and put  them to sleep when these songs were sung.

My paternal family is devoted to both the spiritual gurus while my maternal family was closely associated and related to the latter.  I am not going into the details of that, but  this post is about how a song search led me to a discovery.

"Discovery of what?!" 

You ask?

  I will let you in....

The song on Sri  Ramana Maharshi which lulled my children to sleep is "Arunan uditha arunagiridanil azhagiya ramanaray vaarum.......". (Sorry for non tamils, the above line could be a tongue twister).

 The lilting melody, the beautiful lyrics and the lovely voice of my mom would lull my children to sleep.  Even now, many times, my teens ask me to sing the song while they go to sleep. This beautiful song  is  the morning raaga on saturdays especially for Ramana devotees called saturday parayanam.

I have the cassette of this song and it is in a different tune which sounds more like a bhajan. Around last week , I  turned to Google to search for the melodious tune i wanted. The search took me to Sri Ramana Maharshi's official site and once there I lost focus on what i was searching and drifted into the various links. One link took me to the books section and while i was on it, i found so many authors with common indian names along with many  foreign authors. 

For those of you  who do not know about the Maharshi. He is a great magnet for all those spiritual seekers. He has a huge spiritual following world wide. Even in the early and mid 20th century, when globalization and long distance communication or networking was not easy, he had  followers from all over the world with out any promotion. His silence was the only answer to all who came in search of him.  He has left no lineage and  his ashram even today claims neither  fame or money.

 Foremost and first among  his foreign followers  was Paul Brunton. The British journalist later influenced his author friend Somerset Maugham. Inspired by the saint,  Maugham  wrote the famous classic 'The razor's edge'.

Coming back to the post, I saw many common indian names and was also reading the gist, one author's name struck me especially the initials N R.....
The intro of the author was given stating that he was one of the early disciples and stayed in the Ramana cottage.

 Now , i guessed it could be my Great grand pa  but was not too sure since the Indian names were common. But,  I knew he was one of the earliest follower who felt  the magnetic and mesmerizing presence of  Sri Ramana Maharshi. He  had made Ramanasramam( Ramanas ashram) his home, post retirement as post master general and lived in one of the cottages close to the mandir.

But, did he write a book? I did'nt  know.

I called up my mom to find out and she said he did write a book, the book was named the "The Technique of Maha Yoga". 

My mom said that the book was written in the early 60's. My great grandpa( kollu thatha) would dictate through the night his experiences with Ramana and my grand pa(thatha) would type it on a "Hermes baby" small typewriter.  The book was published with the help of Ashram President T.N.Venkatraman  in 1962 and released at  Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore in chennai. 

My younger mama also confirmed the same and said that his father during the release of the book said it was a "Red letter day" for him to release his father's book on his spiritual guru. My mama has the copy of the first book in his huge library. I will check this collector's copy on my next visit. I can't anyways borrow since his library has a huge  label " Not for lending, Please."

I have now ordered the book and announced it to the 4th generation of my family on our family network Geni. Many of my cousins  are not even aware of this book , while the western world is lapping it up and writing online blogposts about it.

This book is popular with spiritual seekers  and has had many reprints and editions. It is  available not just on the official site but also on Amazon and other international sites and is more widely read in the west. This is how Amazon describes the book

Book Description

19 August 2012
The slim book is indeed a gem,a boon for sadhakas of self-enquiry as taught by Bhagavan Ramana.Written in 1962 by a devotee who was for many years in the Presence of Ramana and earnestly practiced his teachings,this book a first-class sadhakas' manual,anticipates every question that is apt to arise in the mind of the practicant and answers them all in Bhagavan's own words,mostly culled from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Every sentence in this book,written in an utterly,simple,direct,clear,unpretentious language,comes out of the author's own sadhana and experience of Bhagavan's teaching.After reading this hard-to-put down down book..the reader is sure to be convinced that Atma Vidya,Self knowledge,as Ramana has assured us is easy indeed easy.However Ramana has stipulated ..One has to go Inward and investigate the source of I with a pure mind. This book tells us in Bhagavan's words how to purify and thus still our mind s the inevitable prelude to the dawn of Self Realization and how the obstacle of vasanas can surely be surmounted by sashaka's sincere,meticulous, sadhana which will earn him/her the Guru's Grace.

 During his very old age, this kollu thatha (GGPa)  left the ashram and  came back to  "Sri Ramana villa" ( my grand pa's house) to spend the last days of his life .  For us cousins, this villa was our vacation spot and so we visited every year for our annual vacation. On special days and ocassions,  it is a practiced norm in our household to fall at the  elders feet and seek their blessings. When it was time for us to return back home after the vacation, we would do namaskaram to the thatha and seek his blessings. Kollu Thatha would bless us with a crisp 2rs note. For us kids, 2Rs was such a huge amount those days, we would get kismi toffees at 5ps and cadbury five star at only 50ps.

 I was proud to know that my GGfather  had written a book on the world's most revered  spiritual guru. The mere mention of Sri Ramana Maharshi's  name sends an undercurrent of  his energy and calms my talking mind. His  ashram is a spiritual retreat for people like me, who are on a spiritual journey. More about  the rustic Ashram where peacocks and monkeys  walk with you  but that will be another post, some other time.