Posted on Leave a comment

The Winter Winds from the West — Chapter 04

Thripundram, Thiruman, Tattoo and a fancy hand bag?

After paying a silent homage to the departed soul of the ‘King  of pop’, Michael Jackson, one of the most influential entertainers of all times, right before the house of his last stay in Hollywood,  we moved on to the Hollywood walk of Fame, a side walk along the Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. It serves as an entertainment museum, embedded with more than 2,000 five-pointed stars featuring the names of not only human celebrities but also fictional characters honored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for their contributions to the entertainment industry. Street- shows mimicking the popular artists, display of various physical skills. enchanting parades of fictional characters and showcasing the latest trend in the fashion industry are some of the attractions on the street. You can have a photograph with  dummies of your historic heroes or a warm hug with your favorite cine star- for a price, of course.

The concrete blocks set in the front of the  Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which bear the signatures, autographs, footprints, and hand-prints of nearly 200 popular motion picture celebrities from the 1920s to the present day, are another attraction.This theater is an important land mark, opened in 1927 with the premiere of Cecil B, DeMille’s film The king of Kings and a venue for some Oscar award ceremonies and several prestigious parties.

I am not aware of any place in India,, where foot prints of celebrities are preserved though there are several holy places like, Gaya, Badarinath and Rameswaram  where the Hindus worship imprints on rock etc, believed to be the foot prints of the Gods.

I see around a large number of women proudly projecting the tattoos on their body and that sight brings to my mind the three black dots on the chin of a village girl which added abnormal beauty to her well-chiseled face. There was a black dot on her Adam’s apple too and it was exactly below the dots on her chin giving an impression that it has just dropped, after a quarrel with the others in her chin.

“Kathukuthy thakkai pottu kuriparppen, ammea!
Kuriparppen ammea!
Kanthasami vandhu undhan kurai theerppan”

That is Rakkamma, a dark skinned damsel, sitting on the ‘thinnai or raised platform in front of my house, whom, as a child, I used to watch with admiration and  enjoy her melodious songs. A bundle of colors, wrapped in a red and yellow cotton sari, long hands adorned almost up to half the length with multicolor glass bangles, the humble and humorous villager used to visit us often, carrying a friendly though caged parakeet in her basket and a magic wand. She was many things- in -one. A palmist to alleviate the anxiety on any front, a mid -wife to help the pregnant women when they needed most the help of another woman and a baby sitter when the mothers have to go to the river for a bath and a money lender for my father when he falls short of cash to pay the wages of his employees.

I do observe keenly( from a safe distance of course),the mailanchi/marudani/hanna paste, applied artistically on the hands and feet of girls and young women  during wedding and other auspicious occasions and appreciate the intricate designs of the cosmetic coloring, but on many such occasions, the three  simple dark spots on the chin of Rakkamma, used to pop up in my mind.

Here in Hollywood as well as in several other cities, women, project  the elevation, depression or even level of their body, by painting, some delicately but others elaborately and by trimming their apparels at the required level at the required places so as to obtain the maximum effect of the art work. Even men project their well developed muscles with paintings of cobra,scorpion, wild animals, birds and several other designs, an effort to show-case their masculine power, I am told.Those with impoverished muscles like mine, paint their bald head or neck. My head (exterior!) is enriched; so I do not have that option too.

Tattooing has been an age old method used for various purposes, in several countries- For branding and identification, as a mark of status, rank,decoration for bravery, sexual lure and mark of fertility.Some believed that it helped to ward of ill effects and some had religious significance for that. Slaves and convicts and outcasts were identified by these marks and so were the cattle stock.

The art of tattooing is gaining importance as a powerful tool for attracting the opposite sex, in western countries.

Ammalu, however, dislikes  the extravagant display of designs on the body and call it  derogatory-‘maha avalam!’

Looking at the big, round red colour dot on her forehead, I ask her in a slow voice.

” Don’t I lavishly paint white lines on my forehead, chest, hands and some time on my big belly too? Don’t we anoint the idols of our Gods with sacred pastes vertically or horizontally.  Even the stamping of Sanku-chakra mudras on shoulders is tattooing. You are free to express your dislike but  don’t condemn  the artistic designs as ‘maha avalam”

“What a lovely piece!” She points her finger to a hand bag displayed on a show window, without answering me but looking at another direction.

“That is maha avalam”  I tell her and I have a reason for that. Buying a fancy hand bag from a shop in Hollywood! Am I crazy?

Jan 20, 2010

Posted on 1 Comment

The Winter Winds from the West — Chapter 03

The thin veil has vanished.
There has been continuous snowing since last night; glistening thin white pellets are still dropping. The sun, in the distant horizon,  is slowly raising his head , veiled by a thin layer of muslin cloth- like mist  , to watch the lavishly spread  luminous white marble chips spread all over on the earth’s surface and on the top of the slopping house tops.. As if to compensate the loss of colorful leaves during autumn, the nature has decorated the sad, silent and moaning dry trees with shining white snow petals in abundance which hang like pendants of pearl from the branches.
I am sitting close to the window in my study here, gazing at the unbelievably amazing extravaganza of nature, which will not be opened before you every day, even during the winter season here.
When nature gives, it gives in abundance.
P.K. comes in along with his wife, touch my feet as a mark of respect, while bidding farewell. I hate anyone  falling at my feet but accept the salutation of these youngsters, unwilling to offend their sentiments.
“ Thanks, mama, for those consoling words and that warm hug” said P.K. while I hugged him again close to my chest..He continued,” for a moment I thought it was my departed father who had followed me from the temple and accepted me on his hairy chest”
Sri.P.Krishnamoorthy, my son’s friend came to Baltimore yesterday  to perform his father’s  sraadham, annual ceremony for the departed souls, in the Greater Baltimore temple, not far from our house. Availing permission to be absent from his work, with much difficulty and driving over 100 miles, he comes twice an year to perform the annual ceremony of his parents and a spends a night here with my son recalling their school days.
P.K. came to America over ten years ago to earn his living, as he failed to get a suitable job matching his qualification in India and also wanted to study further. By sheer hard work, he prospered in this country and unlike many other youngsters, saved enough money to assure a comfortable life to his parents back home , educated  his siblings, performed  the wedding of his sisters and gave a fitting farewell to his parents who closed their eyes with the satisfaction  that the offspring left behind them in this world was an asset indeed.
The old couple’s only unrealized  wish was that they could not visit the country of settlement of their son  and smell the  soil in which their grand children were born.
“Call me there every year for the annual ceremony. I will cross the seas, flying over the clouds, happily”  His father, from his death bed, had told Kittu  with full hope that his beloved son would offer him sesame  seeds and water, after his departure from this world.
. “Nanum avar koode varenda, Kittu” –I too will come there along with him-His mother too said. Their last wish suited Kittu as well.  It will be practically impossible for him to visit India twice an year, to perform the annual ceremony of his parents, considering   his busy work  schedule,  wife ‘s job, children’s education and several other factors.
I accompanied him yesterday to the temple and the pandit , wearing crystal clear pancha and equally pleasant  smile, conducted  the ceremony strictly according to the vedic sanction. It was a solemn occasion with no intermittent cell phone sound or distracting talks or bargaining for the fees, though the priest’s  pronunciation of mantras  was slightly different from the vaadyars from the south. There was also some minor variations in the procedure, for example,   archana or floral tribute along with arkhyam ( offering of water) for the departed souls , devathas (divinities), Rishies (Saints)  and  great aacharyas (teachers) like  Bheeshma, Anjaneya etc  was performed with great dedication.
Kitto  and  his wife were completely satisfied and sincerely believed that his father’s soul would have crossed the  oceans and accepted the beloved son’s offering of fruits, vegetables and cereals, comfortably seated on  darbha grass neatly spread on the bamboo mat placed over an absolute clean floor surface.
Their happiness, unfortunately was short- lived. When we returned home for food , Kittu, unexpectedly saw the  print- out of  some of the posts from our forum’s website, which I had placed in a tray on the computer table for studying .  Those were related to the commentary on Bagavatham, a Hindu scripture, by a well  known vedic exponent.
One of the extracts said:
“Do not perform sraadha in foreign countries and call the pitrus there! When you do avahanam of the Pitrus in the kurcham, they actually come there”
(Explanation:  In the annual ceremony, the departed soul is invited to be seated on a spread of darbha grass and the belief is atman (soul or spirit) does respond to the call and accept the offer of clothes and food in the form of water, sesame seeds, fruits, vegetables etc. In a more elaborate form of annual worship, the offer is made through the tongues of the holy fire generated for the purpose,accompanied by appropriate mantras.
According to the exponent, the Bagavatham do not sanction the invitation of pitrus or departed souls to foreign countries.)
The second  one was the learned Veda exponent’s reaction to a query :
“Oru payyanukku, avan thayyarukku karmam pannarathei vida verey periyya velai enna irukku ?  Appadi leave kedakkaleinna, velayei vittu vittu varattum.  Intha velei pocchunna innoru velai kedeikkamala irukka  pokarathu ?”
(Explanation: For a son, what other activity can be more important then performing the ceremony of his mother? He should resign the job if permission to absent from the work is not granted. After all, he should be able to get another job)
Kittu went through the comments, remained silent for a while, lifted his head and with tears rolling down his cheek, asked me, “did I commit a sin by inviting my father to cross the sea and  come over here to accept my offerings?. Intha velai pona (if I lose this job ), won’t my family be in the street mama?” I patted his back to console him.
”Please answer my query, mama!” he pleaded again,” did I commit a sin by inviting my father to cross the sea and come over here to accept my offerings?”
“No my son” I consoled the youngster, hugging him close to my chest, “ Your father would have come even to the Sahara desert to respond your sincere invitation. The scriptural sanctions seize to act beyond the border of life. And remember, the sanction of your own conscious, clear and pure as the snow around here, supersedes any dictates, from the present or past, human or divine.”
I watched silently while that obedient and worthy son was moving along with his wife towards his Mercedes-Benz.
In the distant sky the sun shone  brighter. The thin veil  has vanished.
Love and regards,
Jan 08 2010

Posted on Leave a comment

The Winter Winds from the West — Chapter 02

My real problem.
The winter winds are seeping through my skin like silk worms crawling up on a dry branch. Like a thorthumundu (white bath towel) dipped in the Kalpathy river water and spread for drying on a rock on its bank, a silver cloud is hugging the huge palm tree in the back yard ; Like the tears of a hapless woman, droplets of water drip silently from it towards the earth.
I am awake lying on a soft cotton mattress surrounded by soft cotton pillows pushing my torso deep inside a velvety blanket, enjoying the lavishness of the lush green grass bed bordered by oaks and palm trees, seen through the adjoining window. There is absolute silence in and around and I can hear the beats of my heart.I am certain that I am awake but then how do I clearly see the slim silhouette of my Ratnam approaching from the grove of pines! Now she extends her slender hand through the window and prompts me to go out. But how do I get out of this mess of cables and books and dvds and decorative pieces spread all over my bed room ? I now realize that even if manage to exit, I have no wings and I well not be able to fly along with her.
“‘Shall I call Aparna?” She is vocal when she is silent and I can follow the words which
never comes out of her mouth.
‘No” I tell her . My words float in the air and echoes back into my room.”Let the poor thing enjoy her X mas holidays”
“‘But You longed me to call her name at least once, before.”
Yes, I did and this is what happened.
A couple of weeks after my daughter Aparna was born, her mother had to undergo a minor surgery to remove the puss formation on her chest. While recovering from the influence of the sedative, lying on a table in the hospital,she half-opened her eyes and muttered, ‘Aparna”. I was pained and jealous that this woman for whom I have given everything and am prepared to sacrifice even my life, remembers even in her sub conscious mind only the name of her daughter born just a few days ago and not mine!
Later, when I mentioned about this incident to her, she smiled and wiped her moist eyes.
Years rolled by. Aparna was admitted in a maternity home and I was waiting anxiously outside, pacing the long corridor, praying silently for her safe delivery . Unable to bear her cries calling her mother, I begged,prayed and pleaded to my wife to call her name once, just once ,so that my dear little one will forget her pain.
I begged, prayed and pleaded, but she did not call her daughter’s name,even once..
Or could it be that she did call but the gigantic clouds in between did not allow the call to pass through?
Despite their high position, they were perhaps, as jealous as I were in the recovery room of a surgery theater,long ago.
‘Sadyotham prapadhyami’ mantram accompanied by the metallic sound of the pooja bell gush through and I open my eyes and wonder how could I hear my own voice emanating from a land far, far away from Ocala, where I lie down on a silky mattress adjoining a window opening to a lush green lawn?
It takes some time for me to realise that sleep was a reality and my thoughts were unreal.
This has been always my problem- To distinguish the real from the unreal.
Love and regards,
Dec 21  2009

Posted on Leave a comment

The Winter Winds from the West — Chapter 01

The tail saved me.

When I came out of the JFK airport on 16th. morning, the weather was harsh but the warmth of the hugs by the tiny tots, Ananya and Nikhil, my grand children and son Sharath and Meghana,my DIL, who received me at the exit gate a few minutes earlier,sustained me for sometime. Enjoying the laddu which I placed in her mouth and dazzling with my birth day presentation of a black and white stone- studded necklace ,Meghu splashed an affectionate command to her hubby to take us to Sri.Mahavallabha Ganapathy temple, a 30 minutes drive from JFK airport, situated in Flushing , New York. My fourth visit to America,which might become my second home now on, thus commenced on an auspicious note.

Like many other temples I had visited earlier in US, this temple too is maintained absolutely clean and the idols are artistically decorated and poojas sincerely performed. A big Vinayaka idol, glittering with gold ornaments and multicolouor garments blesses you from the center stage and attracted by his golden tusks,one broken, I sang:

“Okka panti pottivada— -,Neekkune

vandhanmu cheseadahanura” .

Equally attractive are the other idols – the Shiva lingam,Vallidevasen a sametha Subrahmania Swamy, Venkiteswara Parvathy,Mahalakshm iand other devathas and Navagrahaas. This temple which was started in a small frame house over some 30 years ago, has now a wedding hall, auditorium, Ganesha patasala, canteen & staff quarters and above all a long corridor leading to the main temple, with granite statues on both sides, elegantly placed.The temple offers a wide range of services like Abhishekam, Annaprasanam, Ganapathi Homam, Namakaranam, Satyanarayana Pooja, Upanayanam, Vehicle Pooja, Weddings and so on. After enjoying the excellant south Inidan snacks from the temple canteen, we drove back to JFK airport and I flew to Tampa, to live with my daughter in Ocala, Florida,where the weather is more favourable.

Unlike New York, where the weather was harsh, the tolerably cool wind in Florida reminded me the ‘maram koctunnamanju’ climate in Kerala during peak winter some thirty, forty years ago.

The climate has always been Florida’s most important natural resources, which is reflected in its official nickname, the “Sunshine State, with pleasant warm winters with periodic invasion of cold air and humid summers .Many from other states migrate to this place for holiday and retirement.

There was instant moon rise on my grand daughter Divyaa’s face the moment she saw me and Raaghuv,elder to her hardly by an year, rushed inside to pick up an instant artificial tail for me and commanded to jump along with him form the sofa. Looking pathetically at my arthritic knee joints and at his little anxious face alternately, I recalled a few lines from my own poem which I composed for my grandson Nikhil’s first birthday in August 2008..

“Thatha falls when Nikhil pulls

Nikhil laughs when thatha falls

And thatha calls for nikhils’s hand

They roll and roll and laugh and laugh.

Fall is fun, for the little one;

And he bounces like a rubber ball;

Fall is fall for the older one.

He moans and naps and worries all”

That gave me the courage and ultimately when I took the plunge I did not fall flat or moan.

Because there was a long tail hanging from my back.!

Love and regards,


Ocala, Florida

Dec.19, 2009