Okay. If not anything else, it does sound pretty auspicious to kick start ‘blogging 2011’with a few words on this exotic place of history, art, beauty, wealth and of course, some fine, age-old spirituality, all plaited into a beautiful, small town called Thanjavur in native fondness or Tanjore in the modern sense. I would never have had to deal with this new wisp of mine that craves to revisit the place if I hadn’t had to stumble upon on a recent episode of ‘Off the Record’ on NDTV-Hindu where this book ‘Thanjavur – A Cultural history’ that looked magnificently crafted in details and pictures, was discussed.
But then, Thanjavur (I choose to spell it like this; that way I know authenticity does not always need change with time or succumb to an easier way of dealing with) is, after all, deeply luring in the way it is built. And I say ‘built’ in the pure sense of it. A thousand years of legendary living that has evolved in the town around the iconic Brihadeeswarar periyakovil, to me, is a thing to marvel at, an experience to experience not just visit, a story to read about, a place to relish in travelogues.
Till about, well, many years ago, my only tangible memory of Tanjuvur had been this simple but aesthetically done work of a clay doll. She was a dancer, or so was dressed, about 5 inches tall, adorned with copper colored jewels, smiling in eternal bliss like she had visited heaven and befriended God; and kept nodding –which I felt at that point was a little snoopy - like she meant, ‘I know what you are thinking’. She was pretty old but the glow on her face still gleamed, like it was preserved. So in stunning dancer-like body, she came out smiling, when excavated from under the old heap of bundles of jute bags that lay cast over the attic, for I’m sure about at least a decade, at Achi’s house. It was one of those psyched up summer days and God knows all the mass of antique smelling filth I was cowered in.
Anyways, the catch always smelled better, looked better. That noon, while I beamed in pride and drowned in fantasized images of kings and palaces and dancers and mughals that came to life thru’ Achi’s stories, an awful lot was told to my adolescent pair of ears, which by the ways – I mean the stories- have now and then come into diligent suspicions of forgery. But she was a brilliant story teller at the end of the day. I couldn’t dare question that.
So, a pretty long time after that summer, I got to visit Thanjavur, this time, in real. It was probably ten years ago in a summer that brings back vivid memories of a month-long, hot and a very summery road trip I made with mom and dad. I remember us driving a long way from Pondicherry and still fuddled by the French charm of it when we arrived in Thanjavur, pretty much by dusk, tired, relieved, intrigued…
The Thanjai periyakoil deserves at least one whole day of your time – to put it briefly - if you were in some mood to go after the brilliance carved, engraved and painted across those admirably tall walls. The humongous statue of Nandi that welcomes you as you enter, kind of sets the trailer of what you can expect. But I felt, everything simply got bigger and so wondrous from that point on, that I felt the whole ‘Big Temple’, (as it’s now called) is a great story teller in itself. And then you actually get to experience for yourself, the myths and the tales about the legendary Cholas (who were architectural by taste and were the ones who built the temple) that surmounts the entire tone of the temple. Later, of course, as the kingdom (Wow – Did I just use that word!?) changed hands through other rulers, the style of life, changed or, well, evolved, so to say.
And that’s one thing classic about Thanjavur – the styles of art that evolved over the years through various dynasties from the Cholas to the Marathas to later the Mughals, are clearly evident for you to see in any real Thanjavur product available in the market– I mean – you may not find it all around the town this day(but of course, right!?), but if you went to an original Thanjavur art gallery, the diversity in their range of instruments, books, tapestries, ornaments, décor is quite – I don’t know – ‘exquisite’ - for lack of a better word.
This temple we are talking about here is way more than a place for spirituality. She's pure art. She’s a part of the UNESCO World heritage site, she’s abode to the tallest temple tower in the world and she just celebrated her glorious thousandth birthday! I don’t even own a good piece of book that authentically brings out the beautiful old tales of so many mystic truths about this town. Now, isn’t that reason enough to do something about my sense of appreciation for art? Of course ! So I sign into Amazon, in hurried temptation and sweet reminiscence of good old summer trips, to order myself a copy of this famous book they were talking about on NDTV and holy cow! What did I find? A well reviewed, beautiful looking title priced at a MODEST $109.50 !! So I sigh, try and convince the 30 minute old art lover inside me that it’s probably not all that worth it and sign out, promising never to think about it again.
But seriously, a 109 dollars ??? That sets another record of having found the most expensive history book I ever wanted to buy- not that I am fond of collecting history books, but I'm just saying. Well, anyways, you know, I’m fine. Thank you very much!
Oh, and one more thing – there’s a great place just around to try out one of the most amazing Chicken Biriyanis. Ever.That, you know, however doesn’t really go with the sanctity of this post, so I’ll come back to it later.
The most beautiful things in life are inexplicably simple. They remain the most basic to human existence, which is why even in today’s times of celestial changeovers, love stories still work. In a pounding tone of a testament, arrived early this year, one such movie that will stay for a very long time to come in the hearts of movie lovers. By the middle of a snowing December, as I watched ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya’ again in remembrance of the best movie experiences of the year, I realized, I almost let the year pass by without making a memoir of the ones that were so heartily endearing this year.
2010, of course, saw some dynamic flashes of – as they say - contemporary cinema. From the gigantic Avatar to the simple and brave Udaan to the heart touchingly simple and real ‘Angaadi Theru’ to Toy Story to the most recent masterpiece, Social Network, 2010 undeniably did its share of filling our ever evolving quest to experience good cinema. I am sure there were other great ones that I missed. So I won’t rate them in any potential order, not even in order of my personal preference. They all belonged to different kinds. But I guess what I am trying to say here is that, of the entire lot, Vinnaithaandi varuvaaya, to me, seems the simplest, the oldest, the most impactful.
It’s amazing the kind of effect this outrageously clichéd subject of the Goddamned love can have, again and again and again and yet again on people. I mean, who else other than us, Indians would know better how many million times have they tried to show in million bizarre ways, what love was!? But, it still works. Amazingly. In a strange, illogical, beautiful way. I couldn’t help but smile in contented agreement, after watching this movie, that, even by the turn of the first decade of the 21st century, there’s nothing more that fills our heart than some good, old fashioned love. It’s probably corny but hell, it’s true.
This is in tribute to one such good work of cinema. In a way, it’s nice to wrap this year up on a note of love – it may not be the best movie of all time but it’s certainly going to be a beloved. The way the love happens in the movie, the way it does not after a point in time, the music and the perfect little ending where they let the love be what it was and move on to life is perhaps the story of every other someone you will find by the curb of the street.
Because we’ve all been in love or will be or are hoping to be and would still hate it and love it at the same time for a thousand beautiful reasons.
Today, while the evening is sinking under an outrageous temperature of -4 degree Celsius, and I have nothing but a dead old plate of lettuce to consider for dinner, I am dreaming about one of the most heartwarming feasts I have ever – I’m sure – had.
It was sometime by the wry end of an Indian summer when we were on a road trip by the lustrous looking, newly smartened up NH7. If you had been driving long over the same road during the pre-makeover days, you will know what I am talking about. The new NH7 is a driver’s perfect Indian dream. So, anyways, after what seemed like a glide of a ride from Nagercoil to Madurai, we hunted around – late in the night - utterly famished – but still unwaveringly unanimous (all of us and that was quite rare) - for this little, old place that – stories said – was a rare treasure to a food lover’s soul.
Hmm..so we did arrive at this dreadfully rusty looking, almost invisible (no boards, no flashing lights!) rugged building that stood on not more than 500 sq feet of ground in its entirety which included the family room, of course - the only one, about 5 * 5 (I’m serious), in size, which by a hair's breadth could seat about six hungry people.
We looked around and beamed in pride - We were at the unbelievably popular(for the what it looked like) ‘Konar Mess’.
With the infamous stories we had been religiously collecting about the restaurant, we were not surprised. Not even when we saw a string of dimly lit wagons along the whole street outside Konar Mess, in which, we later heard, the big wigs of the Madurai circle (dons/dhadhas included) dined. Uh –uh! I think we were far too starving for any surprises.
When the table was, at last filled with what we had been craving to see, in sheer glee, we let our tongues drop flat onto our plates. And then followed an evening of a south Indian delight of meat!
My favorite was the Kari dosai – a kind of ghee-roasted dosai with fried, spicy, minced mutton filling – the most popular pick of the menu. To soften the crispness, Kari dosais are traditionally accompanied by a small bowl of mutton gravy – simple and authentic. As we began nibbling those pieces of wonder down, we let a gush of pride roll over in honor of the experience.
So then I dived into what was considered yet another sin-not-to-have by the Konar-mess-lovers-club. So next appeared on the table, a plate of steamed idiyappam with the accompaniment of a bowl of Mutton Chukka (Mutton Chukka varuval to call it, in native fondness) that rather smelt like a tangible mesh of the best assortment of south Indian spices.
It looked dark, rough, kinda jagged but tender to touch. It was not the typical chukka I had believed I was a fan of. There was definitely a secret ingredient, I could just smell it.
I didn’t ask; didn’t feel up to it. But ever since, I almost gave up ordering chukka elsewhere.
Ohh! And - Of all the bites of intoxications we blissfully indulged in, that night, Mutton Kheema (I can’t precisely remember more details of what I ate this with) deserves a pat on the back too. It wasn’t my order and by the time I wanted to, they ran out of it.
That’s one grave misfortune Konar mess can mercilessly inflict upon you. You need to be quick enough to let the orders move in to your table. They vanish from the pantry at the blink of an eye and you do not want to go through the depression of watching the last plate land up on your neighbor’s table.
As a traveler that cannot just hop onto Madurai every other day, trust me, that, can be pretty heartbreaking!
It’s a cold Saturday night in November, a little past one. Some weekends, I don’t really like to sleep. Not quite early. So in a pretty romantic spirit, I wandered around my living room and slowly into rugged thoughts and eventually, when I was badly in need of some source of sound, I ended up rummaging thru’ the collection of music I fondly made this year. Not many. Just about three to four, thru’ the entire (well, almost the entire) year. The most beautiful of it was the cover of ‘Vinnaithaandi varuvaaya’ – such a pretty poster, it brings a smile of love to even the most unromantic. I played the newest in the list – the unplugged version of ‘Aaromale’ in the mesmerizingly classic voice of Shreya, released in the collector’s edition of the album, last weekend.
I had listened to it, maybe three times since it came out. But tonight, alone in the living room, with just a faded incandescent bulb in stunning silence, I could literally feel the song simply fill – and I really mean it when I say ‘fill’ - every ounce of air in the room. It runs about four minutes and a half, with a subtle violin and a few underplayed strokes of guitar in the backdrop. The first time, it felt different. The second, it felt completely different. It’s amazing how Rahman’s music transforms into totally new sounds of art during nocturnal hours. I played it a third time. And a fourth and maybe about ten more times.
When it finishes and leaves you at the hem of the silence again, it kind of rings - maybe resonates from the inside and the only thing you feel up to is going back to it and experience the strange, unearthly feeling all over again. It's, in a way, bizzare. Such a simple piece of tune, taking your entire, musically challenged mind all the way to a cosmic, perhaps, godly place.
Many a time, especially during such hushed nights, when I listen to Rahman’s tunes, I feel a strange - I don’t know if it’s right to say, but – sort of a connection. In what way, I have no clue. But I just feel it. It’s like reading your favorite author and you kind of know the words that would follow in the next line.
Perhaps, one could never explain what magic Rahman's music unfailingly carries. As a raw soul that practically grew up listening to Rahman, I think this is what it means, in a personal sense, to me -
Without music, we would have but been a mere ensemble of flesh and other anatomical parts.
Without Rahman, we would have but been mere victims of rusting commercialism of music, Indian and western.
In my list of 100 awesome things to do in life, I think this should show up somewhere in my top ten – the feeling you get out of the entire experience of destination-less driving during the time of the gorgeous fall. I mean - nothing but mindboggling colors all around. It’s like a dream, only absolutely real!
How do I describe this? Hmmm…Imagine how you might feel when you blend in softened sweet butter with cream and caramel to strawberries? Hmm..not a very fair equivalent, there.
But the leaves! My God! What the hell happens to them around this time? They wither so beautifully and blow around the town in - here's the magical part - yellow and burnt orange and deep red and purple and faded pink and ...
anyways, sometimes, when the feeling measures off to a strange, unexplainable place, I don't get any words in my throat. This, I guess, almost makes one such hell of a feeling. So I would rather stop and simply say -
They die so gracefully, I mean the leaves, that it melts your heart and makes you want to bottle them up !
This is perhaps the only question that makes me ponder for the longest period of time ! And I am on a journey towards discovering the answer.
I know I Love Life and I believe if you genuinely try to live life, you will always be able to see stuff, beyond the darkness, when you have your eyes closed.