Friday, 16 March 2018

Vijaya Stores and periods

The title should make you laugh out loud but here is fodder to your rational thoughts.

This particular store in the centre of Mylapore is very famous for a variety of items that concern with festivals and rituals. Function at home? Drive to Vijaya stores, they will have the ingredients to any ritual/ceremony. From sandal powder to offer to God, to idols of God Himself (any God for that matter, yours, mine) you name it you get it in their three storey building.

The shop is usually flooded with middle aged women from all over the city. The sales record reaches it peak during the Navaratri festival, for every middle-aged woman and every happily-married-or-not summangali in the town rushes to this place to get their hands on the best gift article introduced for the season. There are just way too many articles there that sometimes you pick an item and ask the sales person what it is (and then put it in your shopping cart because the other lady just bought it). Vijaya Stores totally takes advantage of these innocent victims who are blind to the newly painted old items that are recycled inside the sales department. But hey! If everyone is happy, why bother?

We were hosting a grand ceremony to mark the occasion of my father-in-law's (FIL's) 60th birthday. This was almost as grand an occasion as a wedding so we had a lot to prep for. Obviously the shopping for this had to be done in the shrine that is Vijaya Stores. We got a list of items to be purchased needed for the ceremony, some needed before and some after. But Vijaya Stores has the answer to all. It is a one-stop destination to cater to all vadhiyar mamas' (Hindi: Pandit; closest English word is 'priest') needs. You would think we just take the list, go there and pick up the stuffs but no. It doesn't work that way. Nothing is simple under God's nose. My mother-in-law picked the right date and time to go through the list given to us. And she picked the right date and time to go the store. This "auspicious" day to purchase passes a battery of tests like ammavasai (No moon day), rahukalam, Emagandam, Tuesdays, Saturdays etc. No one should have periods on the day we discuss to go to the shop. No one should have periods on the day we go to the shop. No one should have periods on the day of the function. If you have periods, you are out. If your friend has periods you are out. If your friend's sister has periods you are out. You see where I am going with this.

So on a fine day, or as they would call it, an auspicious day, we went to the store. The fragrance of incense sticks and camphor greeted us. The store was light up so bright and the devotional songs playing somewhere in the background almost got to my spiritual side. But then I remembered I didn't have one, yet. The shop was packed with women and sales girls. A young boy came up to us and offered to pack all the items in the list. He was adept and moved around the shop efficiently, bringing all that he could gather. He took out a pen from his pocket and starting checking off the items in the  list. I noticed that it was a black pen. I was battling whether to tell my MIL or to politely tell him, but the guy shouted to someone in the store, "Hey bring me a blue pen." He didn't look like he had a lot of experience being a sales person but he must have had his moments there.

He put the items in a shopping basket and guided us to go to second and third floor to get the rest of the items. Apparently, his jurisdiction was only up to floor one. The second floor was deserted and there was one lone girl standing in the corner in the store uniform. We helped ourselves. While we were asking the girl about something in the list, my MIL's phone rang. She went outside to take it. I had time to kill so I started up a conversation with the sales girl.

"I have never seen you here. How long have you been working here?"
"About four months." She shifted her weight from one leg to another.
"Is the store crowded during week days too?"
"Yes, it is." She balanced on her right leg this time.
"Why don't you sit when there are no customers? Your legs must hurt standing all day."
"No, my boss doesn't like it if we sit."
"So you stand all day?"
"Not while we have our lunch." She smiled. I smiled back. "We take turns to go to the back of the store and sit there if there are no customers for a long time. But during festival, we don't get a chance."
I looked at her. She was definitely younger than me by a year or two.
"What do you do when you are on your periods? You can't touch anything here. Do you have to stand then too? Or do you take leave?" I couldn't imagine standing the whole day when I am on my periods.
"We can't take leave three days a month. We work here. We can touch things."
"But these are offered to God. You are not supposed to touch them, are you?"
"We don't get paid to not touch anything. We do regular sales everyday, periods or not. We just don't touch Hanuman and Ayyappan stuffs." I figured that much.

I let the irony sink in. I looked at my MIL who was still on call. I was sure she would have weighed these possibilities. This is probably why there are so many mantras before the rituals, to make everything pure. Or whatever. We bagged everything, paid the bill, thanked the sales girl and pushed our way out of the store.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Midnight in Paris: Painting

Rating: 4.5/5

Imagine a blank palette. No wait! Imagine a beautiful painting, of anything for that matter. Now forget that. Imagine a blank palette. Visualize the artist mixing a range of colours on this palette. Now he paints the blank canvas with strokes of colours that turns into a very beautiful picture beyond words. You look at this picture and you realize this is larger than life. That this painting could have been just mediocre but it wasn't. It could be just another painting in the gallery, but it isn't. It would be outcast by many more to come, only it won't. That is how one would feel watching the movie 'Midnight in Paris'. The director's cut is shown in the two minutes of the movie. It speaks volumes of his expertise that he took advantage of, to express his love for the city. I wouldn't call myself a Woody Allen fan, but I was bowled over by this movie. If I knew any better and I had watched many more of his movies, I'd call this his masterpiece.

I want to say the first two minutes are the best part of the movie, at least that is what I felt when I started watching the movie. I was too apprehensive about watching a Woody Allen movie that I didn't really care for the rest of the movie at the beginning. First two mins into the movie and I was too overwhelmed by the beauty of Paris thrown at my face. As the movie progressed, it unveiled the charm of the city in the backdrop.

The city seems to allure the lead character and engulf him in its past. The golden age, as idealized by everyone, is usually a surreal period where nostalgia meets our knowledge of great people in the noteworthy past. The director's touch was felt when nostalgia merged with the modern charm not in a flashback but through inexplicable magic. The director lets us travel to the past and peek into the famous 20's lives of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso and other notable artists of the time. As the calendar dates further into the past, the director makes us feel that the 'golden age' for a person will always be anything in the past unless he embraces the present with enthusiasm. The actors did quite a job by acting out the parts lightly with no overdo. The music score, the cinematography and the screenplay added feathers to his cap.

By the end of the movie, Woody Allen made me wish that I had watched it before I visited the city of love, myself.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Padmaavat: Beauty and the Beast

Rating: 3/5

Sanjay Leela Bansali, against all odds, released this movie but I am starting to believe that it was not necessary to go through all the trouble to release this one. It wasn't all that epic or beautiful when compared to his other movies. But I empathize with the protesters because Ranvir Singh with his charismatic evil eyes and perfect body dominated the Rajput's courage in the movie in spite of Shahid Kapoor having done a great job. After Haider, it has been a long time since Shahid took up serious roles with any scope for acting and he did a very good job in carrying forward the Rajput's pride and honor throughout the movie and beyond. As for Deepika Padukone, I was greatly disappointed by Bansali here, as he usually shows all his heroines more than just beautiful. She is a poor replacement for his usual pick, Aishwarya Rai, in terms of beauty and acting. Not that she is any less beautiful or a bad actor, it is just that neither her beauty nor her acting was utilized in the story. In my opinion, she had been more beautiful and acted better in many other movies rather than being a walking Tanishq jewelry mannequin. As a beautiful and brave Queen Padmaavati, she seemed to be smitten more by King Ratan Sing than he was, by her. Her glycerin coated eyes took away any focus from her elegance. She welled up in unrelated and unwanted scenes(which was every scene that she appeared in) more than the lead actors in the movie taking off their shirts unwarranted. Ranvir brought back Alauddin Khilji alive with his heinous villainous character.

Coming to the story, after facing a lot of controversies and the Bharath bandh, I expected a lot more from the flaw filled screenplay and the flawless director. The authenticity of the period is tainted by the modern influence. For instance the intimate scenes between Padmaavati and Ratan Singh and even the rearrangement of her wedding bangles in the very next scene after her marriage with Ratan Singh would have been unfathomable at the time. Alauddin's cringe-worthy lust after Padmaavati perfectly enacted by Ranvir and Ratan Singh's unabated pride for his country are the only things that kept me in my seat. Ranvir kicked it up a notch and it was much needed for the story and the screenplay. Climax was whirling at two different paces, Alauddin running as fast as Flash and Padmaavati cat walking in slow motion. Towards the end, the story teller is making the audience root for her suicide to protect her honor as there wasn't enough coverage on her swordsmanship.  

All in all, Deepika shouldn't be celebrating the release of this movie in a Rajasthani Dhabha because this shouldn't be considered success at all in her books or in the director's.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Thala Deepavali

I noticed a slight difference between regular Deepavali (Diwali) and thala Deepavali (First Diwali in your marriage). On a regular Diwali, you get up at 4 AM. On thala Diwali you get up at 3 AM. If it is regular diwali, you make 10 varieties of sweets and snacks, for a thala Diwali you make a hundred varieties. Normally you'd get a new dress from your parents but after marriage you get two sets, one from your parents and one from your in-laws. While this part of Diwali sounds promising, in every other aspect the graph of regular Diwali Vs Thala Diwali goes down steeply.

But this was mine to celebrate. My only chance at the most awaited Thala Diwali. Apparently we get this only once a life time so I was planning to make the most of it. With my husband abroad, I was all set to celebrate a lonely thala Diwali this year. That got me depressed enough to watch an English movie alone the day before Diwali. If that wasn't pathetic enough, I learnt that my mother was not going to prepare my favorite snack (thengozhal or murukku if you would) that she makes every year because someone told her that it is not auspicious to make it for a thala Diwali. Relatives eh? I am going to have to see that rule book soon. Anyway, my mother made a variety of sweets and snacks and brought it to my home. It goes without saying that the variety touched all the cuisines of India, from Kashmiri Halwa to Kerala Rava Laddu. The menu included my husband's favorite Gulab Jamun. I have to appreciate my mother's sincerity towards her absent son-in-law. My mother-in-law (from here on will be referred to as MIL) had also prepared a whole new variety of sweets including Gulab jamun but for her son-in-law as it was my sister-in-law's thala deepavli as well. A back up business plan popped in my head. After the exchange of gulab jamuns and everything, my parents took me home to celebrate my thala Diwali.

I'd be lying if I say I usually get up around 8 in the morning because in my mother's house I wake up to lunch. I had no intention of waking up in the middle of the night to celebrate my Thala Diwali without my husband. I was totally planning on getting up around 8-ish but that invited a long lecture from my mother on culture, tradition, heritage, respect, my school, Sidney Sheldon, AR Rahman, the auntie downstairs, my late grandfather, the Indian Army and what not. So I negotiated with my mother and we settled for 6 AM. I woke up, had a small nalangu (those of you who don't know what big nalangu is, you are better off not knowing what a small one is) as on any Diwali but only this time it was supposed to be for two.After nalangu I showered in Ganges waters. I know it is hard to believe that we get water at all in Chennai but Ganges? Let me explain. Sachets of pristine water from the Holy river was poured in a bucket containing adequate water that we paid for. Another great plan for business. I wore the new dress that my parents-in law got me. My mother-in-law is so cool she got me a pair of Levis jeans for my thala Diwali and I still have it. Oops! My thala Diwali was last year but I am too lazy to write in past perfect tense. After the customary bursting of crackers and the same old argument between my parents and me about noise and air pollution, my brother and I sat down for a gourmet meal.Oh I didn't light any of the crackers, I am against it. What am I against? Um.. Noise pollution? No wait. Child labour. Anyway, another business plan - NGO. NGOs are non-profitable so scratch that.

We left to my house to exchange another round of sweet and snacks with my sister-in-law. Gulab Jamuns were exchanged in big boxes like in the underworld or a Mafia gang. After that we went to the beach to enjoy the skyline of crackers. My father-in-law being a professional photographer was eagerly clicking shots left and right and even lying down on the sand. But he was left unsatisfied as he couldn't get the money shot.

From the beach
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the beach
P.C Ravi Raghunathan


My parents-in-law and I got back home to get the dinner ready. My FIL was looking at the photos with a long face so I suggested that we go to the terrace. He brought his tripod and other stuffs along and was more than delighted by the scene. The entire sky was a canopy of bright colorful lights. The horizon was marked with firecrackers. It was so overwhelming that we didn't know where to look. I went to the top of the water tank and sat on it to get the best view. As I was pondering whether to enjoy this beautiful night or be sad about being alone, my FIL had a very good time with his camera. 

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

From the terrace
P.C Ravi Raghunathan

The noise was deafening but never paused so we kind of got used to it and tuned it out by then. After a while, my MIL stepped into the terrace, looked up and waved to me before she approached my FIL. She knew that was my usual spot and thala Diwali wasn't going to change that. She went near the parapet wall where my FIL was standing and absorbed the scene. I couldn't say if she was drawing in as much of this spectacle as possible or the smoke that was filling the air. The level of smoke blinded us beyond the neighbouring building. But the bower of fire works compensated for the lack of fresh air. She stood there, looking at his talent for a second. I watched this from above. Their silhouette against the fireworks filling the sky, the nightfall, the birds trying to flee, and the smell of chemicals around. They couldn't have asked for a more romantic setting. She went close to him and said, "Why don't you come down for dinner?" I sighed and climbed down to the last hours of my lonely unromantic thala Diwali.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Imaginary friend

Tall for his age, Arjun was coffee bean coloured with eyes the colour of night sky. He was as enthusiastic as any other four year old. He was adored by his neighbours and relatives. He said to his friend, "Can you make a building taller than mine?"
"Yes Arjun. Of course I can."
"I bet you can't."
Arjun was busy playing with his blocks and talking to his friend when his mother entered his room.
"Arjun! Whom are you talking to?" she shouted.
"My friend here mom."
"There is nobody in this room except you and me. You are imagining a friend."
"No mom, look! Here he is.. Sitting on my rocking chair," Arjun pointed to his chair near him.
But there was no one there.
"There is no one there. I have told you several times there is no friend in your room. I do not want to see this continue. You will not talk to yourself when you are alone," said his mother sternly.
"But mom, I am not talking to myself. I am talking to Jojo." Arjun informed her with a proud smile.
His mother could not argue with him anymore. She tried to make him understand that there was no Jojo and that he was his imagination. But Arjun relentlessly continued talking to Jojo. He would share bed time stories with Jojo every night, he would share his food and he would tell him how his day went. Jojo spoke to him, shared his feelings too. This had been going on for a year. Arjun's parents tried everything to stop him from going crazy. It is very common for kids to have imaginary friends to share their joy and toy with. After a point of time, they grow out of it. But Arjun's parents couldn't take it even if it was common. The stigma attached to mental illness and disorders is a lot to take in this society.

They consulted a psychiatrist. They were sure that their son was a schizophrenic. The doctor advised the parents not to make a big deal of it but his parents were not convinced. They put him through a series of sessions to get over the imaginary friend. His parents did not give up. They tried every outlet and opportunity to stop him from this madness. They even resorted to get help from other religious establishments. Their neighbours suggested that he be brought to a mosque for a ritual healing. After a lengthy incantation and an exhausting ritual, Arjun still continued to talk to his indestructible friend. 

As a last resort, he was brought to a Goddess Amman temple close to his home. It is known for the aggressive rituals and divine powers. Arjun’s mother cried her heart out to the priest. The priest assured that it is a common occurring and that he would do anything to destroy the demon that has possessed her child. The priest in the temple sat Arjun down and tied an amulet around his neck. He asked Arjun, “What is your problem son?”
“I don’t have any problem.”
“Does your imaginary friend talk to you every day?”
“He is real”, said Arjun defensively.
The priest applied kumkum on his forehead, closed his eyes and chanted some mantras. He rubbed neem leaves on the little kid and continued the show for some more time. He seemed to have a direct connection with the Gods above. 
“Son, tell all your problems to Goddess Amman”, said the priest pointing to the deity in the temple.
Arjun looked around and said innocently, “Who? I don’t see anybody here.”
"There. That is the Goddess", his mother said.
Arjun looked at the statue and asked, "Oh! Is she your imaginary friend mom?"
Arjun’s mother and the priest were visibly embarrassed.

Who is schizophrenic now?