Ode To Abu

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Filter Kaapi Pit Stop!

Only Coffee - Essentially, a coffee shop on the way to Trichy. It serves traditional Kumbakonam degree coffee. Or filter 'kaapi' as it is popularly referred to in 
South India! :)

The owner has given it a Kerala style ambience. The entrance is dotted with potted plants, giving the whole place a green, pleasant and breezy vibe to chill out in.

With terracotta artefacts, a Ganesha idol and brass overhanging bells, the varieties of coffee powder are prominently displayed at the entrance on a platform covered in a traditional 'mundu'* style! Simple yet elegant!

This little display of a crow throwing pebbles into a pot to bring the water up to the surface took me back to my childhood days where burrowing my nose in a book on Aesop's fables or an Amar Chitra Katha was the norm. 

Harmonious music mellifluously hums in the background. The open air style of the coffee shop ensures a lovely cross ventilation of fresh air. 

An entire section is devoted to books - for children & adults. Folk takes and philosophy essentially, in Tamil & English. 

I actually found a book here that I've been looking for, for over two years!! It is never in stock at bookstores nor online as it a very old publication and reprints are rare to find, though it was a bestseller. The original book was here!! Imagine discovering it in a remote coffee stall on a highway on the way to a small town in South India! The music CDs are mostly of the classical and devotional variety.

And now on to the main purpose of this establishment! 

The coffee is prepared in front of you, on a very clean platform with a stove and other utensils, at the live coffee station, a nook at the side of the entrance. 

An ancient coffee grinder occupies pride of place here. Fresh coffee grounds are displayed in pans to showcase the different coffee blends available.

The coffee, needless to add, is delicious!! Served in brass-plated davaras, the halt here during a road trip on a hot day makes you feel refreshed and energised. 

The staff is courteous and serve you with a smile. A shelf stocks readymade mixes of 'podis'** and pickles and savouries.

The restrooms are spotlessly clean and well maintained. There is a little play area for kids.

The entire ambience has been carefully created and celebrates (and reminds you of) the simple pleasures of life - to stop and enjoy sipping a hot, tasty beverage while appreciating the open air, Indian culture, good music and good books to occupy one's mind and heart, amidst a peaceful, serene setting - while traversing the sometimes convoluted journey called life!!

Kudos to the owner for creating (and maintaining - always the hardest part) a li'l oasis in the middle of nowhere for the weary traveller!

*mundu - traditional garment worn by people in Kerala.
**podis - podi is a ready mix of Indian spice powders that can be eaten as an accompaniment to rice, idly, dosa and so on.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Original Earth-Changing 9/11 Episode

I use this as a post today because of a recent moving experience at Vivekanandar Illam, Chennai, formerly known as Ice House. There was an event held there on account of Madras Day celebrations in the city. Will blog about that in the next post. 

For now, do take the time out to read a speech that once shook the world. An Indian monk received a standing ovation in the World Parliament in America in 1893, over a century ago. 

This great personality was celebrated all through 2013 on account of it being the 150th year of Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary. Yet, ironically, how many of his fellow Indians even remember him or his powerful words, I wonder? Have always been fascinated by him and it is the perfect time to revive my lulled-to-sleep blog again, with this truly earth-changing historical event. 



Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

— Swami Vivekananda.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Mylapore Festival Day 3 Morning at the Park

Stopped by at the park to catch the children's competitions. While parents waited patiently, the kids were in deep concentration in their chess games and art and craft workshops. 

Here's a shot of two young huns in full attention. The fella in the red pants employed a style while swishing his opponent's pieces off the board! A volunteer keeps an eye on the game. Some over enthusiastic volunteers were telling the kids what moves to make, and kids being kids, responded with 'Uncle, I will decide what to do next!'

Sundaram Finance's team say they love working in the open air for a change. Here are some young ladies busy filling out the certificates with the names of children who participated in the events.

A close up of the certificates. The MF logo changes every year. 

Colourful festival banners dot the park.

Mini chess champs in action. Nice wooden board. 

A paper quilling workshop is in action mode. The festival is getting more registrations than it can handle so batch sizes per workshop is limited. The teacher is patient and handles each child's query with simple instructions.

A sample of what the kids are to eventually make. A card signifying the harvest festival of Pongal.

Saw these cute turtles painted on tiles. These were from the art workshop and were being zealously guarded by the parents of kids who moved on to the quilling workshop or were running about playing in the open air. A rare sight these days!

I quite liked this red one of the lot and smilingly enquired about it to the lady sitting next to it. Hemantha Prasad of Chinmaya Vidyalaya school's rather dour-faced mother seemed a tad grumpy in the morning!

Painted tiles being laid out to dry on the park benches while children kept themselves busy with the latest craft to catch everyone's fancy - paper quilling.

The volunteers wear this cap so they are easy to spot. On Day 1, a lady was yelling at the top of her voice at the Sannidhi square at a little girl. On enquiring what was the matter, she said the girl was wearing a Mylapore Festival Tshirt (design of a peacock) and yet  did not help her out. I politely suggested she could wear a Tshirt too if she liked and she shouted 'Why are you defending her!!' It was all rather amusing. I explained that the little girl might have bought the Tshirt as a souvenir and was very much entitled to wear one and the volunteers were the ones with the MF logo and cap. She went on to scream for no rhyme or reason. A college student volunteer came by and asked why she was being so loud. The lady then turned on to a fresh target! The volunteer replied that she was not deaf. The lady began screaming some more insisting that volunteers were useless and no one had come up to her to enquire what she wanted! So next year's set of volunteers should consider enrolling into a mind-reading course starting this year to be fully armed! ;-)

If only she had saved all her energy and come out with her enquiry in the 1st place. It was about the photo exhibition on 100 years of cinema and she wanted to know the venue. I gave her a pamphlet and mentioned the location but she would have none of it and walked off screaming all the way!

This cloth bag initiative by the organisers is a bid to promote an environmentally conscious lifestyle by encouraging carriers of plastic bags to dispense with them and switch to cloth or natural fibre bags. They come in different colours for each day of the fest. I got a blue one. Ironically, I almost never carry plastic bags, but I was given one by the MF team when I bought the brass davara set! I had to accept because I could not carry all my purchases. The cloth bag mafia caught me and made me exchange it! :-D

That's Vaishnavi Srinivasan, an enthusiastic young lady from the corporate communications team of Sundaram Finance. She shied away from photos but impressed with her confidence and explanations of the festival's objectives.

The quillers on the last leg of their workshop. 

Soaking in the ambience of a walk in the park on a beautiful morning. Peaceful and serene.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Mylapore Festival Day 2

Day 2 for me was short and sweet. Attended a Muslim wedding and reception and reached the venue right in time for the late show - another wedding. Lord Shiva-Goddess Parvati's 'kalyanam'. Boy, was it grand!

Around 40 dancers from guru Sheela Unnikrishnan's troupe left the audience in awe of their talent. The packed crowd was spellbound and applauded many times through the show, which was edited from its original lengthier duration of over an hour. Special applause was reserved for the dance between Parvathi and her son Arumugan (lord of six faces), and of Her bestowing upon him His 'vel'. It was a truly touching piece between mother and child. The young student who depicted Parvathi was extremely graceful. And the six li'l Murugas were adorable!

The 'kalyanam' and 'nritya' of Shiva and Parvathi was noteworthy and so too the combo of Shiva and his son Muruga. 

However, the show stopper would have to be the dance by the Asuras. They did an absolutely fabulous job with the perfect expressions, costumes and make up, and the background sound effects matched the mood and the lyrics perfectly. In this day and age when the 'Joker' is cool while being evil, these dancers truly made the Asuras look pretty awesome! :-D They rocked! Bad is good! :-D

 All these fabulous photos are courtesy the Mylapore Festival and Chennai Weekend Artists. There are so many bloggers and photographers thronging the venues, and most of them post their work on FB and Flicker. Some of the images are really stunning. 

The dance drama production was rivetting to say the least and I am thankful to R. Saravanan, photographer at Mylapore Times (and the man behind the lens for photos on the Festival's website, blogs and FB pages), for prompting me to attend this show. Might have given it a miss since it was a long day with other events thrown in. This production got me all alert and the tiredness flew away with the cool evening breeze. 

Most kids are in ear muffs to brave the waning nip in the Chennai air. Surprised to see the mothers of the kids in thick sweaters though! 

The food stalls by the ladies near the 'ther' or temple chariot was busier than ever and selling out fast. They seem to have it in them to take up professional catering services with their efficient service and tasty snacks. 

Managed to book my spot for the 'Elai Sapad' or traditional lunch at a typical Mylaporean home. Also picked up the brass davara set :o)

More pics here.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Mylapore Festival 2014 Day 1

Day 1 got off to a musical beginning with a live group concert singing at Nageswara Rao Park. Listening to a live rendition with melodious vocals, instruments and lilting melodies in the wafting early morning breeze is a different experience altogether.

In case you missed out, there's always YouTube!! ;) Look up Parivadini.

The women's bazaar was my first stop. The stalls are lined up behind Sri Kapali temple in the lane adjacent to the temple tank. The beautiful light evening breeze coupled with the reflections of the moon in the water made for a lovely ambience to amble through the streets. Enthusiastic ladies belonging to SHG's (self help groups) are displaying and selling brassware, bamboo baskets, paper and beaded jewellery, even Tupperware!

The stall by young students selling plants and promoting organic crops is very interesting. I asked them for a card/brochure and they said they don't use paper. :-)

An elderly lady is selling steaming hot idlis, chutney and sambhar as well as kozhukattais and other 'tiffin' items while sitting right outside her house on Kumara Gurunathan street! A makeshift table has been set up, with giant hot cases filled with idlis, vadas and the like. A young lady brings them out straight from the kitchen inside the house and puts them in the hot cases and serves them up on plastic plates lined with butter paper. There is a cute Labrador dog sitting at the entrance of the house. His name is Selva :-)

My purchases from the fest - a jute tote bag with Kalamkari patch work and a box made from palm leaf,  by a non-profit group called Aarde Foundation.

Hope to lay my hands on this exclusive limited edition - the brass coffee davara set ! Very few pieces available, and being grabbed like sooda filter kaapi !

The evening programs were wonderful. Group renditions by sishyas and gurus and cultural dances by a Kerala troupe. The troupe performed a dance that friends of a Mopla/Malabari bride render during Malayali Muslim weddings. Such dances are rarely witnessed outside the community and it was a pleasure to watch them gracefully showcase the song and dance routine with colourful, bright costumes. A traditional Kerala style 'diya' dance with the girls dressed in simple and elegant off-white and gold Kerala 'mundus' or saris was also a delight.

Short films were also screened - one showcasing the Margazhi season in Mylapore. It showed bhajan groups walking through Mylapore streets on chilly early December mornings, besides the traditional routine of prayer and 'pooja' that most Mylaporeans follow to this day.

The other documentary film was about Paramasivan, who makes Marrapachi 'bommais' (painted wooden dolls). A humble elderly gent who says his work is indeed his worship. He does not see them as dolls but as 'devis' or gods and goddesses and believes that is why he is successful. He undertakes repairs of broken or old dolls as well, that many families own and store and buy during Navaratri for 'golu' displays every year. 

Enjoyed the clarity of the sound recordings of both films as well as the sound quality of the open air music and dance programs. Live and in the open air is a completely different experience and beats YouTube anyday!!

Reached the food street (yes, one entire stretch of Sundareswarar Street) very late at 10 p.m. and all of the caterers were packing up for the day. Prices are low at Rs. 10 onwards and a variety of South and North Indian 'tiffin' items, snacks, main courses and desserts are up for grabs. Most of the stalls offer napkins and dustbins are set up throughout the area. Do take care not to litter.

Speaking of being environmentally conscious, anyone carrying a plastic bag will be politely requested to exchange it for a cloth bag with the words 'Say NO to plastic' on it. 

All Mylapore Festival volunteers are spunky young school and college students, as well as young adults and some senior citizens. They wear a MF cap and are easy to spot and address all queries of help and for directions with a smile. 

Yet to check out the arts and crafts and photography zones properly, as well as the dance & music performances inside Sri Kapali temple. 

Here's a pic of the displays by Chennai Weekend Artists (CWA), an FB group of people who draw, paint and sketch on weekends. Their artworks are nominally priced and they might just sketch you live and on the spot! Do encourage them by stopping to admire their work and maybe even picking some up. 

Phew! This was a lot for Day 1 and I still feel like I missed most of it! Looking forward to Days 2, 3 and 4. The weekend will have events throughout the day with special focus on children's programmes. Art and craft workshops for kids and painting competitions will be held. The 'kolam' contests are on the weekend.  So too the Heritage Walk and Food Walk. And how can I forget the special Elai Saapad (traditional South Indian meal on a plaintain meal) - this is being hosted by families and have limited space/seating. One has to register to join.

Do pick up fliers that list out the itinerary of events on all days of the Fest. A map outlining the streets is also in the flier. 

Rushing off to catch Day 2 performances at Sannidhi Square!

Catch the buzz at Mylapore Festival FB page

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Mylapore Festival 2014 beckons one and all !

The grand Mylapore Festival is back with a bigger bang for its buck in January 2014. This year's fest has a beautiful idea conceptualised out of the backbone of this area and based on our national bird, the peacock, and the reason the area got its name, Mylai.  

Called the Mylapore Mosaic, it is an ode to this gorgeous creature that once ruled the roost of this vast historical area of Chennai city. The Mylapore Mosaic is a community-driven concept featuring designs on fabric representing the peacock. The cloth tiles could be handwork made out of crochet, painting, craft or any creative mode on a tile size piece of fabric. These have been stitched together to showcase the talent of  women and children interested in arts and crafts, mostly proud Mylaporeans.

Here's a short clip showcasing the early entries:

Below is a pic shared by a friend and ex-neighbour who is participating and displaying her creativity. She is an interior designer and dabbles in art and craft. Looking forward to seeing her entry added to the grand Mosaic piece. 

It will be interesting to see how the Mosaic is draped and displayed. Will it hang down from the top floor of the RASI boutique building? Be there to find out!

Music, dance, theatre, contests, games, food, shopping and so much more, it's got something for everyone. There's so much to see and do, one is hard pressed to decide where to go and which event to check out first! 

Ready to do the peacock dance? Don't miss this grand cultural extravaganza bursting with local fervour!

From January 9-12, on the streets around Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple.

In the heart of the city, and showcasing the city's heart!

Heritage walks and food walks are also scheduled. Details here - Heritage Walk and Food Walk.

All details of the Festival on the website, blog and FB page.

Mylapore Festival Website