Friday, April 27, 2007

commerce and communal harmony

Kallazhagar, the stone beauty, descends down in the Vaigai river during Chithirai festival. Azhagar, the incarnate of Lord Vishnu, is on his way to his sister Meenakshi's wedding with Lord Sundareswarar, incarnate of Lord Shiva.
Therefore, Madurai, the temple town, had Saivites and Vaishnavites. Basically, in conflict. Saivites should have come before. For Thiruvilayadal Puranam has scenes from this temple town during Sangam age (I am not sure of the history. Pity me and you for not knowing it).
Vaishnavites must have come later. I presume there was a bitter rivalry between these two major sects of Hinduism in those days itself.
If you dont know, Madurai and its surrounding areas have artistic as well as literary evidences of the massacre of the jain saints. Imaging piercing the jain priests straight on a spear of sword to kill them one by one. In Tamil, it is `kazhuvetram'. So, the fight between the two dominant communities must have been bitter.
When Thirumalai Nayakkar ruled the city, he desired the union of these two warring sects. A case study for communal harmony in the medieval history. He wanted to the commerce of the city to flourish. And conceived, the 51-day Chithirai festival. Celebrated till today.
Azhagar who was being worshipped in Cholavandan, 10 miles before Vaigai enters the city, was taken around to 353 mandapams to be brought to a specially constructed mandapam in Vandiyur, located at the tail end of the river in the city.
Madurai is still a large village, the market for produces from the south, west and east, comprising mainly of a well-oiled network of villages. During the 51 day celebration, at the end of harvesting, during the dry months, when farming will not be taken up, the villagers will gather in the city to bargain, barter and business.
How do you bring in communal harmony. The presiding deity Meenakshi's marriage was the only way. Azhagar was made her brother and was invited to come to her marriage. As he has to come down from the hill and cross the mighty Vaigai river, it takes a few days before which the marriage gets over. When he is half-way, crossing the river, he is told that the marriage is over.
Knowing not what to do, he loiters around and around the city. I am not sure where he goes back. May be back to the hill. There is nothing special to this whole thing. A brother is disappointed for not able to attend his sister's marriage. The speciality lies in bringing the two communities together.
It has to be mentioned that there is a *thulukka natchiar* (a muslim lady) and many other characters in the festival. I don't have the details now. I am sure there is still a lot we can learn from the past. From our great rulers.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

bombing a village?

It was the first ever show by Suryakiran jets in this temple city. I just walked down to the virahanur dam for the show to begin. A day before, I had watched the rehersal from the bridge parallel to the dam and knew that the dam site offered a closer look.
Few women came with children in an auto. They were quite excited to see the red and white painted Kiran Mark II jets performing aerobatics in the sky.
A middle aged woman said, ``You know what? Yesterday was the shock of the life. Three planes targeted our colony repeatedly. When we saw it first, we were happy. When the planes that climbed up came down straight towards us, we were terrified,'' she said, still in a state of shock.
About forty women in the colony had no clue as to why the planes were targeting them. ``We thought some enemy planes were coming to bomb the village,'' said another woman. ``As the planes came down at high speed, we ran away from our homes to the shades of trees outside. Even there, the planes would not leave us. We kept running between our houses and trees,'' says a woman wearing a green saree. Now smiling.
``No one told us that the planes were rehearsing. I watch Sun News also. They also did not say anything,'' she rues. Later, as the planes did not bomb, the women said they came to a conclusion that the government was spraying mosquitoe repellent from the air to prevent chikungunya. ``There was a lot of smoke from the planes that filled our houses,'' a woman recalls vividly.
``For hour an hour, we were so terrified,'' said the green saree with big eggy-eyes. ``I would have even died of heart attack. How could we know that they were practising?,'' she asks, in all her ignorance. ``We have been watching planes (the descent to the airport begins over their village). But these planes were really fast,'' she said, now fully smiling.
The next day, for half an hour, yesterday's terrified villagers, watched the show with their wards, amused and amazed. In fact, the Surya Kiran's aerial ballet thrilled the residents of this temple city, still considered to be a large village grounded in nativity.
For one day, Madurai, that also worships film stars, came to knew the real heroes of this nation.
This land, with a brave cultural past, thought the daring pilots to be super-humans.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I walked into my college again after a decade. As a visitor now. The entrance to the college itself has been changed. Now, the students have to enter through the sides. A banner reading `College Sports Day' warmed my heart after a long time.

As I walked in, I was looked as a stranger. The competitions had just been concluded and prize distributing ceremony was to begin a hour later. Boys and girls were talking to each other, freely. It was a common sight. During my college days, it was a rare sight. Most of the time, we used to speak only through the eyes and our smiles. Friendship flowered only in silence.

I just walked through the college. Went to my department and I remembered my first day in college. And the last day in the department. I could recognise some of the faculty but I did not want to talk to them or write about them now. None of them had inspired me in college.

Then I went around the swimming pool, our favourite jaunt, and went around the small campus and came back to the red-soiled smallish ground with two goal posts, with the principal's office and zoology department as the boundaries.

It was here my greatest moment in cricket happened a decade-and-half ago. Chemistry, captained by me and English, were to clash in the finals. In English, ten players, other than me, were in the college team. Four of them in the university! It was truly a match between Aussies and Irish (i like irish and scots, by the way).

We had a rookie paceman in a rameshwaram boy. With a fierce spell, he cleaned up the top order. I was fresh with the memories of the previous year, when a fine willow had despatched my offies to all the corners of the ground with disdain. This year, I was leading the team. I sized up the middle-order and we had a match on our hands.

When we batted, I dropped anchor as others cross-batted to the required run rate of six per over. My opening partner in college, keeping wickets, kept telling that I can be the hero of the day. The college, especially the girls, was there on the ground as cricket was popular even then. I was not fortunate to hit the winning runs.
I was bowled by my best friend with three runs to score in the last over.

The captain of the college, and the university, bowled the last over. Five dot balls. It was almost over. Then he made the mistake. He brought in the third man and bowled a bouncer. The dusky, lefty hooked it and the top edge flew to the third man boundary.

We had won. Not my team. That win gave Chemistry Department, the Championship for the first time in forty years of the college history. I had played my part by winning in tennis, badminton, table-tennis, hockey, soccer, high-jump, four into hundred relay. That rookie boy from rameshwaram and a muslim boy from arasaradi both bagged championships in athletics by winning golds in three events.

As a sportsman, that was the most memorable day in my life. On behalf of Chemistry, I received the trophy.

The first thing you will notice about me now is my paunchy beauty!

Not just women, also the men here most often fail to keep 'em fit.

A national shame.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

flower flagrant

When I travel, I miss my camera. Eye can capture. Only for me. Not for others. I am back in the soul town, to the essence of living. I was wondering, as I kept travelling in busses between towns in this hillock-filled valley, how much I missed *malli* (jasmine). The fragrant flower.
There were this bony, blackish women looking fresh with a bunch of *malli*. They have always fascinated me for the freshness in their faces inspite of the innumerable household and farming work they do from dawn to dusk. When they come out of the homes to the towns, they are all cleaned up bright faced, eager, filled with enthusiasm, with an infant clinging on, spreading the fragrance of feminity.
I have failed to notice *malligai* in the mechanical life of my conservative city. Back here in the backyards of modern civilisation, I am back to my senses. As I took the ``dangling'' bus to the Village of Gods from my wife's Good Blacky hamlet, there were two women in the front seat. One with four strands of *malli* and the other with few strands of *malli*, a strand of *kanakambaram* (the orangy flower sans fragrance) and a fresh pink *rosa*.
Back in madurai, the home of malligai, typing these lines, I, with a 100 percent block in left nose, and 90 percent block in the right, still smell the fragrance. For those not part of the soul town, think of having a honeymoon here. With a bed full of fragrance and for a full life thereafter.
PS: The picture is not indicative of the beauty of malligai.

Stories From The Soul Town

There lies a magical land. Surrounded by the green ghats to the west, gurgling great rivers on the east, the valley with the very blue sky. A temple town of the tamils. Sitting on the dancing rock on the highland overlooking the valley, the writer procreates the lives of the people of this lesser known south west. Full of strange yet simple souls.