My Odd Habit.

self with vibhuti

Some of my readers who have not met me but have spoken to me on Skype would have seen this avatar of me on the screen and perhaps would have also asked me about the talcum powder kind of application on my forehead and got replied with the same information that I will give below.

Irrespective of how many times I take a shower in a day, and now in the summer it could be as high as four or five times, I will come out of my bathroom into my bed room with an altar where I will apply vibhuti on my forehead and say my set of prayers before I dress up.  This is something that I have been doing for decades and most of the time, I simply am not even aware later that I have got vibhuti on my forehead.  I will simply go off outside on chores or visits to the theaters or parties or whatever.

That application is Vibhuti. Quite what it is and why people apply it on their foreheads can be found out in the Wikipedia post that I have linked here. This post is to explain why it is an odd habit.

Let me explain a peculiar Indian urban phenomenon called Westernisation before I proceed further.  This is something that English speaking pseudo intellectuals admire and practice. Apart from wearing jeans and t-shirts or their equivalents, their idea of secularism, another pseudo idea is, for the majority Indians, read Hindus, to overtly display anything related to their religious affiliation is being communal, whereas it is perfectly alright for the minorities to display those symbols like ankle length trousers, skull caps, beards, burkhas, hijabs etc for Muslims and the symbol of the cross worn around the neck and / or stickers on vehicles reading “Jesus Saves” for the Christians.

Recently, these elites have acquired a sobriquet which is The Intellectual Mafia. The problem with this gang is their inability to accept that someone as modern as I am, mark my choice of the word modern rather than Westernised, who is perhaps more fluent than they are in English can be seen in public with vibhuti on his forehead.  Till they hear me speak they simply ignore me thinking that I am a bumpkin,  because I am usually found wearing the native dress of Kurta and Pajama or lungi.  The minute I speak they go into paroxysms of indignity.  It is so unexpected that if they have the courage, they will ask me why I have got that mark or if they do not, they will snicker and go away to criticise me behind my back.

Truth be told,  I don’t think that it is My Odd  Habit. I am who I am.  It is what is perceived by the intellectual mafia to be My Odd Habit.

I hope that you enjoyed reading my take on this subject which was chosen by Delirious who no longer posts for the LBC but keeps in touch with our blogs through comments for the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where five of us write on the same topic. The four other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order;  Ashok,  gaelikaa,  Maxi,  and Shackman.  Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too! Ashok too is having prohlems with his blog being down and may or not participate this week.

Two States.


The uber efficient Geeta kept badgering her fellow alumni to join her and Koushik to see Two States, an Indian movie based on a campus romance between a Punjabi lad and a Tamilian lass which took place in the Institute Of Management from where all of us had graduated. It was pointed out to us by her that a number of scenes in the movie were shot in the Institute and it would be nice to see the movie in a group.

So, I took her invitation seriously and went to see the film yesterday afternoon.  The day incidentally was the hottest day this summer clocking 40.3 d C.  It was nice to have lunch before the movie in air-conditioned comfort at a restaurant that I had never been to before at Dorabjee’s in what we call the Camp here in Pune with Mitali who agreed to join me and my fellow alumni for the movie and also the movie and post movie coffee at the food court in the mall where we had seen the movie also in air-conditioned comfort.

The film is a worth-going-to one with some excellent acting, direction and photography depicting two vastly different cultures quite crisply and showing the various emotions on display with delicate touches of direction and acting.  The humour which is part of the plot comes through in subtle metaphors and since our crowd was quite eclectic we were able to catch the nuances and enjoy them. Since Shekhar had had a roaring campus romance during his stay there, he was in raturues! The scenes at the institute took us back on nostalgia trips and that was  a nice feeling too.

The story incidentally is based on a highly popular novel written by a graduate from the institute and is supposed to  be autobiographical.  If that is true, the conflicts in the story line have been handled with great delicacy and I particularly could identify with the strained relationship between the hero and his father.  It was also quite fascinating for me to revisit Delhi and Chennai where I have lived.

As I have experienced before too in this particular theater, the sound was too loud and that was the only jarring part of the experience.  I will remember to take some cotton to plug my ears the next time I go there to see a movie.

Thank you Geeta for getting me out of my comfort zone in the heat to go through a thoroughly enjoyable outing.  Thanks  Shekhar, Shilpa, Mukund, Koushik and Mitali for the post movie coffee session which was enjoyed more than us by the visitors in the neighbouring tables.

Apart from all those expressions of gratitude, a special one again for Geeta for the unexpected treat that she gave me.  And another special one for Mitali who has decided that I am an alley cat.

My rating for the movie?[rating=5]

Dakshina Dvaraka. What An Evening!

“Information isn’t what’s scarce; it’s the willingness to do something with it.”
~ Tyler Cowen

It was a heady mixture of culture, history, music, dance, sculpture, religion, and mythology. It was a presentation that was originally scheduled to last two hours and fifteen minutes but because of audience pressure got extended to three hours but still left the audience wanting more.

My friends Geeta and Koushik are deeply involved in matters cultural in Pune with a particular orientation towards Tamil Nadu. They are part of a new initiative called Dakshina Dvaraka meaning Doorway To The South, and had invited me to a programme yesterday. Despite receiving this electronic flier I was not quite sure how the evening will turn out to be but since I trust Geeta’s and Koushik’s judgement in these matters, decided to go. You can click on the image to get a larger image.
dakshina dvaraka

Manjiree and Ranjan too got intrigued enough to offer to accompany me and the three of us had a most interesting and enlightening evening out. Dr. Chithra Madhavan‘s presentation with the help of photographs on six of Tamil Nadu’s many famous temples, the myths attached to them and the history behind them was fascinating to say the least.

Sushruti Santhanam’s explanations about the songs that she sang with reference to the composer/poet/saints behind them was also fascinating and the surprise Bharat Natyam by Dr. Anjali Raju was icing on the cake. Sushruti’s comments about the Maratha influence on Carnatic music zapped audience, sitting as we all were in the heartland of the old Maratha empire.

We left the auditorium with amazement that there was so much that we need to learn about our own culture. Manjiree and Ranjan have decided to go on an extensive motorcycle trip to Tamil Nadu at the earliest and I envy them.

Thank you Geeta and Koushik for having given us this opportunity to learn invaluable things about our heritage. Vignesh, it is a pity that you missed it!

13th Day Ceremony.

In a clear sign of advancing senility, I clean forgot about some photographs that I had taken on the 20th of last month when I had gone to attend the 13th day ceremonies following the death of my cousin at Thane.

The practice in my community is that we mourn for 12 days and finally bid the soul goodbye on the 13th day with a homam performed at home. A Homam is a ritual where offerings are made into a sacred fire. The root word of the Homam is ‘ha’ which means ‘offering’ or ‘sacrifice’ in Sanskrit. In northern regions of India it is called havan and in southern India it is called homam, but the meaning and the procedure is same everywhere. Homam is performed in almost every significant event or ceremony of a Hindu household life. It is an important religious and spiritual practice among Hindus. There are different kinds of homam depending on the purpose and the presiding deity of the homam.

Agnidev or Fire God is the deity in this particular ceremony. Herbs, twigs, fruits, grains and ghee are offered into fire chanting appropriate mantras. The smoke that comes out of the fire is spread far and wide. This purifies the atmosphere. At the end everyone circumambulates the fire and offer obeisance. The dust of burnt ashes is applied on the forehead.

My nephew Jaisundar and niece Meena were great caregivers for their mother Devi during her last days and they sent her off from her mortal coils also with great care and attention to detail. My cousin, that is the brother of the departed Devi and his wife Vijaya had come from Chennai and the occasion gave me the opportunity to catch up with them too. There were five Shastrigals (Tamil Brahmin Priests trained in all Hindu rituals and the Vedas) who performed the rituals very well. At the end of the ceremony, one very erudite priest explained the significance of the ceremony in English to us modern Tambrams who did not have a clue.
Feast 2

The homam was followed by a fantastic traditional Tambram meal served on plantain leaves and it was with great reluctance that I left Thane to return to Pune.

Two photographs are shown below.
with agni

sundar and meena

The top one is rather hazy because of the smoke that is sine qua non for this ceremony. The lower one shows Sundar and Meena participating in the rites. My regular readers will remember Meena the Lion Lady.

Expectations In Matrimony II.

To continue from where I left off, I now come to the thrust of the post.

man-cookingOn Monday, The Times Of India carried an article which was quite interesting.

I was chuckling to myself relating this story to that of the young lady whose prospective husband wanted a servant and not a wife, when a friend from Tamil Nadu, also from my community came to visit me. He is a traditional farmer from a very conservative background. He visits Pune twice a year to visit his two sons who work and have settled here. Since I am from the same community and the same district in Tamil Nadu, we have become friends. When I told him about the newspaper article and the story about the lady and her telephone call, he shared some information with me that stumped me.

Before I proceed further, some background information. I have not lived on a permanent basis in Tamil Nadu since the early sixties of the last century. Many of the changes that have taken place to that state and our community there are at best vague bits of information that I gather from my family and friends when I visit Chennai occasionally. And as my readers would have gathered, my family and I are not typical specimens of our community having been exposed to many cultures other than our own traditional ones. My visitor on the other hand lives in the middle of our community’s roots though he too is now exposed to Pune because of his two sons having migrated to it.

My friend’s take is that there are plenty of young men from our community wanting to get married to women from it. They are all well educated and earning well either within India or overseas and by any standard, good matches for girls looking for stable life partners. And unlike some other communities in the Northern parts of our country, the gender ratios have not got skewed in favour of males either. Many women of marriageable age from our community however do not want to get married to these men. The women seem to prefer to marry outside our community and this is puzzling to parents of the bachelors in our community. Parents of such women are told in no uncertain terms that the women will find their own spouses and that the parents need not take the trouble to find mates for them.

I am as mystified about this phenomenon as my friend is and decided to post this blog and seek answers to this puzzle from my readers in Tamil Nadu more clued in to what is happening to our community there. I intend sending links to this post to some of them by mail soliciting their views. Some of them may choose to respond to me by mail and I may well come back with another post on this subject in due course.

For my Western readers, this may seem to be an unimportant matter, when there is more homogeneity in their own societies, but for us in India, with so many different communities, castes, languages and religions, this is a sociological development that needs to be understood by the older people within my community.  And considering the survey’s results, I wonder if girls of our community have concluded that men from it cannot come up to their expectations and if this is so, why.

In the meanwhile, I hope all bachelors who read my blog, like Pravin understand that “The husband may feel he works 12 hours a day but the wife will say she works 14 doing household chores,” Fortunately, modern men do treat women as equals and are not averse to learning how to cook.

Expectations In Matrimony.

Synchronicity has been very active in my life since last Sunday when I had to visit a friend, who belongs to the same linguistic, religious and caste background as mine. His wife, meeting me for the first time, started the ball rolling. She explained that her own marriage was an arranged one, despite my friend’s siblings, six of them, all elder to him getting married to spouses that they choose and not one of them chose from within our community. My friend, being the youngest left the matter to his parents, which is more common than you would think, and duly got married to a girl chosen by them and the wife married the man chosen for her by her parents.

From all appearances, the marriage is a highly successful one with two delightful teen age children to add to the family and both husband and wife in successful careers. Many such arranged marriages do succeed but I was stumped when the lady wanted to know about my marriage and how I came to meet my late wife etc. She explained that she was too shy to ask her in laws about their so called love marriages but felt more comfortable with me considering the fact that I was her husband’s fellow alumnus. She was just curious as to how someone from our community could gather the gumption necessary to approach a girl in the first place. Her idea of typical men from her community was someone like her husband and it was only after she married him that she came to know about the very colourful background of his siblings.

For my Western readers, this may sound bizarre, but I assure you that even today, despite all exposure to modern media and Western norms, India in many ways is still traditional and people like me who break the traditions appear to be rather strange and interesting. Even highly educated women, like my friend’s wife is, do not easily mix with the opposite sex and rarely give some one any indication for any intimacy. Work place and School/College encounters are kept to the bare minimum and only to facilitate the task at hand, either the work or the education. The following instance may also seem bizarre, but I assure you that millions of Indian girls go through such experiences regularly till they are married.

That meeting was closely followed by another young lady from our community who came to discuss her problem. Her parents too had arranged for a match from a town in Tamil Nadu about 1300 Kms from here. This young man rang her up and wanted to tell her about himself and his expectations and would not let the lady have a word in edgewise till the end when he asked if she could cook our type of food and whether she had any experience looking after elderly people as his parents were both ill and he was expecting his wife to be to help in looking after them. The lady played for time and said that she would call him back after giving some thought and came directly to me to take advise from me as to how to handle the situation. She told me that it was obvious that he did not want a wife in the romantic sense of the relationship and was looking for more of a servant type of a relationship and I agreed. She was petrified that her parents may insist on the marriage going through and I advised her as to how to handle it so that she can get out of the situation without hurting anyone.

Another story of an arranged marriage before I come to the thrust of this post. My god daughter in Bangalore to had a peculiar problem. Her husband was chosen for her by her parents and his family are from a part of South India which is very orthodox and also quite old fashioned in many ways. Her husband was chosen because he had studied to become an Engineer and had got himself a job in Bangalore where my gd was also employed. My gd had been born and brought up in Bangalore and her circle of friends were compared to her husband, more urbane and modern. The problem, as crazy as it may sound to my Western readers was that the husband would come home from work and be bare bodied from waist up which is the way rural Tamil men are in their habitat. Gd was embarrassed as her neighbours and friends were teasing her about this phenomenon. She had tried to tell him to wear a t-shirt but he would not. She finally told him that she too will go topless at home if he would not change. She got beaten black and blue for the effort. It became a messy affair over all and that marriage ended up in a messy divorce after which the girl moved to Chennai to get as far away from her ex as possible. Clearly a mismatch between rural and urban expectations which with some forethought could have prevented both from going through that messy experience.

The 1,200 to 1,500 items that appear every week end across 3 or 4 pages of the biggest Indian newspapers, like The Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran, are categorized by caste, religion. language and profession and lately by the quality of being “cosmopolitan.” The newspapers charge by the space used (say, 3,200 rupees for 25 words). All smaller newspapers in English and Regional languages also have such classified ads every week end and parents spend a great deal of time going through these and corresponding with prospective in laws and often alliances are made to everyone’s satisfaction.
Here is a picture of a typical page of such ads. You can click on the image to enlarge.
matrimony-adsOn the other hand, the other model of boy meets girl and they get married also is on the rise, particularly in our major cities where opportunities for that to happen exist.

Apart from the newspaper classified ads, the internet provides many matrimonial portals and apparently they too seem to produce good results in arranging marriages. You can get an idea of how popular and how many they are here.

To be continued tomorrow.