Food, Exotic Sweets.

For those of you who do not know, I am an Indian with roots in Tamil Nadu. Yesterday was Tamil New Year Day. Rather than go through the hassles of making a traditional sweet to bring in the new year, I decided to get something that my daughter in love would not have ever had before. Since my late wife had her roots in Andhra Pradesh, I decided to get something that she had liked very much and had ordered for it well in time.  The goodies came from a village called Atreyapuram and are called Putharekulu.
The rolls that you see inside are not tissue paper but, look like it.  They are sheets made out of rice and this video will show how it is done.

The version that I procured contains different types of sweet stuffing and one of them exclusively dry fruits.

Incidentally, as I write this, it is Bengali New Year. My daughter in love is half Bengali and half Maharashtrian. The Bengali half, her mother, is with us to celebrate both the new years. She in turn has made a traditional milk / vermicelli sweet dish called Payesh for the occasion.

These are the most satisfying treats that I am having after a very long time. Brings back many memories including one of actually seeing and helping in making putharekulu being made at my late wife’s maternal home. And the Payesh is the icing on the cake too! Total bliss.

Synchronicity Again.

This story has its beginning a few weeks ago. I had asked my cousin who now lives in Tamil Nadu, the length of a South Indian dhoti to compare it with what we get here in Maharashtra where I live.

Instead of answering, he simply ordered me to accept two dhoties as gifts from him and that he will arrange to procure them and send to me. Naturally, I was delighted and gratefully accepted his gift which duly arrived.

During the same conversation, he asked me if I had an image of our Kuladeivam  (family deity) in my puja alcove. I responded with a no. He did not mention anything further but, I felt that now being the head of my rather dispersed family, I should have the same in my puja alcove and found a studio in Tamil Nadu who was capable of making one to my liking.

I ordered four of them to be sent to me, another cousin now resident of Maharashtra, my sister in Bengaluru and for the cousin who had asked me the question which led me to this activity. On being advised about this, the last on the list regretted that he would not be able to accept the gift as he already had one and had limited space in his retirement home. I therefore got left with one extra to my need.

Yesterday, I was in one of my periodic streamlining exercises and decided to part with a rare PDF spiral bound printed version of a very popular prayer. I offered it to a Vedanta classmate of mine who can read Tamil and she promptly accepted it. While I was getting it ready it occurred to me to ask her if she would like the spare deity too and she was overwhelmed. It turned out that we shared the same family deity and she too did not have the image in her puja alcove.

I sent both the PDF and the image to her earlier this morning and she is simply ecstatic.

I have been left wondering about the sequence of events that led to this development and can only come back to my favourite explanation “synchronicity”.

Rice Harvest.

This photograph is that of a very close family friend who is among the very few still farming in my native district and close to the farm house where my father had lived post his retirement. Most of his contemporaries as well as mine, have moved out to cities in pursuit of other more remunerative and less strenuous / risky occupations. But this intrepid man has literally ploughed on and has been quite successful.

The machine at the back is a Paddy Harvester. I have never seen one before. What I remember of harvesting of paddy is of women manually harvesting in many parts of our country.
Yes, mostly handled by women and I in fact don’t remember seeing men harvesting ever.

My friend is wearing what we call a Veshti in Tamil Nadu. My readers will be more familiar with dhoti.

The advantage of wearing veshti is that it can be folded up and tied around the waist to provide the ease comparable to wearing shorts over trousers. This method is called wearing it half-mast in jest!

He and his supervisor are wearing turbans on their heads.  These are actually towels cast over their shoulders when indoors but used as turbans when out in the sun.  It is a multipurpose piece of apparel that comes very handy in hot climates.

There are times that I wish I could be like my friend in our rural parts.  Those times however are very rare now that I am at the twilight of my life and can not be as active as one needs to be in those parts to just survive!

Story 4. Panneer Selvam.

Some stories are true that never happened. -Elie Wiesel

Those are aspergils. The Indian versions are these.

The Indian version is called Panneer Selvam.  Panneer, not to be confused with Paneer which is cottage cheese, refers to rose water in Tamil.  Selvam means container. They are made of silver as well as brass.

On special occasions, like weddings, guests are welcomed by sprinkling rose water using these containers.  Panneer Selvam  is also used in local churches to sprinkle holy water during asperges. The name is given to men from both the Hindu and Tamil Christian communities to indicate that the individual is blessed and pleasant.

I chose the name Panneer Selvam to introduce my readers to the Indian version of the aspergil and the non liturgical use that it is put to.

This story is absolutely true but the names and cities/towns have been camouflaged to protect the hero’s privacy.  I have the hero’s permission to publish this story.

I do however have friends called Panneer Selvam.  All of them are grand characters and at least one of them will write to me and complain that he did not get three opportunities like the hero of this tale did.  Selvam, if you like, I shall write your story one of these days and camouflage your name and town.

My friend Panner Selvam is from the Tamil Catholic Christian community but a third generation resident of Madhya Pradesh.  His grand father, one Ebenezer went to Jabalpur to work in the government of the then Central Provinces government and put down roots there.  Like other Tamil speaking people, he and his family and descendents, kept in touch with Tamil Nadu and spoke Tamil at home.  I first met Selvam  as I shall call him henceforth, in 1970.  I had gone to meet his father Dharma Ebenezer, who was working in the Electricity Board’s Regional Office in Jabalpur.  I had been given his reference by a mutual friend in Bombay where I was posted then.  Dharma and I became good friends as I used to visit Jabalpur often as I had two major customers there.  On a few occasions, Dharma had stayed with us in Bombay and Bangalore.

Dharma and his gracious wife Ruby alas are no more, but Selvam has kept in touch with me from the days when he had just passed out of school when I first met him.  He was a strapping young lad, very handsome and his parents adored their only child. This is his story.

Ruby was a talented singer of Carnatic music and an alumnus of the Kalakshetra in Madras.  She had passed on her genes to Selvam who was, even during his school days, an accomplished Veena player.

Selvam wanted to get into a medical college but could not succeed and was heart broken.  A well wisher however advised him to collect himself and try to get into the Veterinary College and he succeeded in getting admission there.  If not a doctor for humans, he decided to become a doctor for animals and birds.

During the third year of his studies, an American Professor visited his college on a Ford Foundation program, and took to Selvam and made him his protege.  When Selvam passed out successfully, the Professor arranged for him to go to the USA for further studies.

Fast forward to the USA where our young Selvam flourished and was popular in the music lover circles where the good Professor’s daughter Mary, a flautist, had proudly involved him.  To cut a long story short, Selvam and Mary fell in love with each other and got married in the USA.

Selvam started to teach in the USA and the young couple led an idyllic life in a university atmosphere.  The marriage lasted for all of two years and broke down irreparably for reasons that are not important for this narration.  Selvam got over the debacle and stayed on in the USA to pursue his career in academics.

On one of his occasional visits to Jabalpur, he met a distant cousin Sarah from Madras also visiting Jabaplpur and the two exchanged addresses and began a long distance pen pal relationship.  It eventually blossomed into wanting to upgrade and Selvam came to India and got married to Sarah in Madras.  After completing all other formalities, Sarah moved to the USA and that marriage lasted for a little over three years.  From Selvam I gathered subsequently that Sarah simply used him as a conduit to emigrate to the USA and discarded him once she established herself there.

Selvam took to religion in a big way and had serious plans of becoming a priest and was in discussion with some church dignitaries when Dharma suddenly died in Jabalpur.  Ruby was devastated but moved to the USA to be with Selvam but could not tolerate the extreme weather conditions there.

Our hero decided to move back to India and quit his job in the USA to see if he can go into private practice in India and settle down here.  They did this in due course and the story of his struggles in India for the first few years is itself worth a novelette.  Suffice it to say that it was hard but providence came to their rescue when a builder offered to demolish their old home to build a block of flats on the land with one flat for them and a lot of cash on top.

Ruby in the meanwhile was constantly after a very reluctant Selvam to get married again and suggested that he gets married to a local Catholic girl that they both knew.  Mary was a qualified medical practitioner working in a government hospital and both families agreed for the match and they got married.  I attended this marriage and was very glad to see Ruby and Selvam again after so many years.  I teased Selvam that he will be lucky the third time around and he too agreed that he hoped so.

Six months into the marriage, Mary lost her life in an automobile accident just about a hundred meters away from their home.  Selvam went into deep depression and Ruby just could not see him like that and died soon after.

Enough for this post.  I will continue with the concluding part with a post soon.

The Salt Of The Earth.

This is Shanmugham, my friend from the park. He is from Tamil Nadu and wears the traditional dress of that state; white dhoti and half sleeve shirt. He speaks the same language as my mother tongue and that is the factor that brought the two of us together.

He is a retired farmer from the Kaveri delta. He comes from a village very close to my ancestral village. One of his sons now manages his agricultural interests. He has another one running a very profitable fly ash brick making industry, close to his farm lands. One of his sons is a Manager in a Five Star hotel in Quatar and another is the Executive Chef in a Five Star hotel in Pune. He has come to Pune to spend time with the last.

Where I sit in the park after my walk, to my left all my English/Hindi speaking friends sit and to my right, Shanmugham and another Tamil speaking friend Ganesan sits, and occasionally, another Tamil friend Ramanathan joins too. An important friend, Rangachari has just gone off on a three month tour of South India and the Far East Asia. All these gentlemen live with their sons as do I. The difference being that they keep visiting their many sons, while I stay put with my one and only child Ranjan. All of them keep visiting their daughters too.

Whenvever any of these friends come home, my father is over joyed as he can speak to them in Tamil and he particularly likes to chat with Shanmugham with whom he shares the agricultural background.

My English/Hindi speaking friends wonder how I can survive in the stereophonic cacaphony every evening and are convinced that I am a freak. I agree.

Shanmugham is my current link to my roots and some common sense solutions to life’s problems. He is totally guileless and entirely fits this definition of the phrase of this blog post: “Those of great worth and reliability.” All his children, the four sons and two married daughters as well as a brood of grand children adore him as I can make out from the telephone calls that he keeps getting from around the globe as well as from the way he is treated by his local family.

He neither speaks nor understands any language other than Tamil. He has studied up to the fourth standard in a Tamil medium school, and while is literate, not very well read. He is wise and his IQ must be over 140. He had to stop schooling to help his father run the farm and so lost out on formal education. For all that, he has ensured that all his children studied and the results are there for all to see.

His background, one foot in the village and the other in other towns and cities of India as well as overseas, is repeated all over India and is a factor behind some good and some bad developments. His story however is full of the good developments. With this particular story as a backdrop, this NYT article shows how complex and enigmatic India is.

I am privileged to have him as my friend and I am flattered that he considers me as a good friend too.

Changing India.

This is a guest post from my brother Arvind who resides at Chennai.

“Power will go to rascals, rogues, freebooters. . . .
All leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. . .
They’ll have sweet tongues & silly hearts. . .
They will fight amongst themselves for power & the two countries will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water will be taxed.”
-Sir Winston Churchill. On why he was against granting indedpendence to India and Pakistan.

Barring a very few notable exceptions among our leaders, everything has come true.

He also said “India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator.” Here though India has proven him wrong. It is certainly a very diverse country but united nevertheless. There are contradictions but a common thread of hope running through it.

There are two stories in this guest post. One is the changing face of rapidly industrializing parts of India, the other is the badly managed parts of India from where people emigrate to the former. Bihar is one of the badly managed states, which has opted for better governance the last five years and has reelected a government that brought about change. It is too early for Bihar yet, but you will find hard working Biharis spread throughout India. Bihar’s economy is run mostly by remittances, but it is changing.

The story is told in typical Arvind fashion bringing a bit of humour to it. To understand the humour, you will need to learn about Lalu Prasad Yadav. Please read as much as you can about him from the link given here. He is the type of leader that Churchill talked about.

“I paid dearly with my hair for the economic growth of India.

Tamil Nadu and especially Chennai has been witnessing a steady growth of Bihari immigrants.

With so many automobile, and other industries mushrooming, in and around Chennai. the local unskilled and semi skilled workers are paid fancy wages. The garment and cell phone industries have gobbled up the women workers.

Nokia and Motorolla are employing their fleet of buses to ferry girls from as far away as Kancheepuram and Polur. to work in their factories. these girls were originally helping their family in weaving silk and cotton textiles.

So, to augment the unskilled and semi skilled work force requirements, companies are employing workers from out of Tamilnadu, or in other words, Biharis.

The boom in construction activities is totally Bihari oriented. The old Mahabalipuram Road on a Sunday evening is chockablock with Bihari youths. Hundreds of engineering, medical and other colleges, are engaging agents to get students from Bihar. This has even led to a few murders among the agents.

Even in a small scale industry like Sharana Industries, the unskilled workers are Biharis.
(Sharana Industries is owned by our cousins.)

I have been watching this influx with benign bemusement so far. After all, it is as much their country as it is mine. They have every right to migrate to any part of the country.

This morning, I went for a hair cut for me and my grandson.

Needless to say, Biharis have replaced the local barbers too!

And the only hair style the Bihari barbers know is the Lallu Prasad style.
And that’s what my grand son and I got!!!.

And I paid Rs.75/- for each of us.”