Saturday, November 27, 2010


'Karthigai' is the festival of South Indians when girls / ladies light lamps and offer puja for the welfare of their brothers. It falls on Karthik Purnima between 15 November and 15 December - usually on Guru Nanak Jayanti / Datta Jayanti. It is the Madrasi equivalent of the Maharashtrian 'Bhau Beej' or the North Indian 'Bhaiyya Dooj' or 'Raksha Bandhan'.

Festivals in South Indian homes too mean fast/puja for the elderly, specific delicacies for the children and an extra ton of work for the home-maker. This 'ton' includes preparation - for 'naivedhyam' (offerings for the deity) and puja - and it starts one day before - like grinding / powdering rice, procuring puja items like betel leaves, flowers, tulsi leaves, mango leaves, fruits.., making a nice big 'ma kolam' (rangoli with ground rice) at the entrance of the house.

Getting back to 'Kaarthigai', the delicacies for the day are 'appam', 'pori' and 'adai'. In non-Metro cities, in non-Madrasi-infested areas, we have to procure 'malar pori' ('laaya' / puffed rice / nel pori) during 'Diwali' when it makes its special appearance in the shops and spend some 20 minutes cleaning it - separating the husk - including the ones still sticking to it like a leech. As for the other variety - 'aval pori', you have to just clean off the dust. Other preparations include bringing out the brass and earthen lamps of all sizes and shapes, and cleaning them to a sparkle. And then dry them and put oil and wick in them the next day.

After all the preparations of the previous day, you'll have your hands full on the D day. Grinding rice and jaggery together for appam, grinding rice and lentils coarsely for adai. Grinding a handful of rice for 'kolam'. Preparing jaggery syrup to the right thick consistency and adding one variety of 'pori' to it along with coconut pieces. Since this is an annual delicacy, you may not hit the right consistency for the syrup. But definitely the second variety of 'pori' that you make will be a better accomplishment. Don't worry, the family will finish it all up in no time! The morning will be consumed by all these activities. A tip to make the morning less action-packed - make the 'pori' varieties one day earlier.

Reserve the afternoon for 'kolam' - it's the best time because that is when movement in and out of the house is at a minimum - so the 'kolam' gets to dry without getting stepped on unawares and marred. Then another flurry of activities - making the 'appams' and 'adais' for the 'naivedhyam' and setting them in front of the deity along with the 'pori' varieties, betel leaves, fruits, water, flowers - all in readiness for the puja at sunset. When the kids get back from school, they'll come sniffing their way to the delicacies threatening to eat them even as you try to shoo them away explaining they are for 'naivedhyam'. I remember my sons issuing me an ultimatum that pujas be performed by 5.30 pm - that was when they'd return from school - so they'd not be put on the patience-testing 'waiting mode'! You can distract the kids and enlist their help by asking them to help you in arranging the lamps around the 'kolam' at the entrance and all along the railing in the terrace.

Next you have to slip into a 9 yards sari - I wish it were as easy as that - I mean 'slipping' into it! I have to admit I'm still a novice at it and walk like a 'penguin' (that's my sons' comment) and so I skip that ritual. But my younger sister Hema drapes herself in a 9 yards sari before you can bat an eyelid - see how comfy she is (see the pic above). (I heard Chennai Silks and its ilk have come up with a ready-made 9-yards-sari for the hard-pressed-for-time, modern lady.) By now it would be dusk. Light the lamps along with your kids, taking care not to get too close to the flame. Offer puja, pray for the well-being of your brothers (read siblings) - for all the brothers in this world (specially for those who don't have sisters). As you sit back with your family relishing the delicacies of the day and watching the sparkling lamps and thinking of your siblings, you enjoy an indescribable sense of joy and fulfillment.

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


I love to go shopping when I'm in the US - just love to do window-shopping or have a general 'dekho' and browse around with an eye for deals. I would always willingly tag on to my children to any shop any time! Kohl's and JC Penney are my favorites. I would make a beeline to the 'clearance counter' and scan it to pick up a couple of tempting red-tag items. My inexplicable thrill would be heightened by my savings for the day as mentioned in the bill.

Once my daughter-in-law and I went on a shopping spree at a sale. The aisles screamed '90% off', '80% off', '60% off' and vied for my attention! I too decided to splurge on myself and add on to my modest wardrobe of western apparels which I patronize mostly when I am out there. I picked up some half a dozen tops from different aisles, then one 40$ jeans at 90% discount. And another one from another aisle for 10$. Armed with the pile of clothes, I marched to the trial rooms. There I met an Indian lady. We exchanged pleasantries - you know the affinity for fellow countrymen becomes greater when we are on foreign shores. I understood that she hailed from Karnataka; she was working there. I gave her a smile of approval and a word of appreciation. Then I got into the trial room and she focused on her job of folding and sorting out the pile of clothes abandoned by customers.

I selected three tops. Surprisingly both the jeans fitted me to a T - that put me in a quandary about which one to choose. My daughter-in-law wanted me to take both - "It's not always that you get clothes your fit - especially if you are petite-size - that too at a good discount". True but I felt I was going overboard - I didn't need two jeans (I already had three pants) and the second one was not dirt cheap at 10$. So I decided to put that away and trundled towards the trial rooms - jeans in hand, mind still debating on whether 'to take or not to take' it. I left it at the table there, gave one more longing look, shrug my shoulders and returned to the billing counter. Cheap it was but then you don't pick up stuff you don't need just for that reason. A minute later I saw my latest acquaintance running towards me with the jeans - "Ma'm, don't you want this jeans? The price is just 3.20$!" My eyes popped out in disbelief - I didn't know there was a further discount on the price tag. Of course you should pick up stuff at throw-away price even if you don't need it - you can always find use for it! So I literally grabbed it from her, "Really? I'll take it. Thank you!"

How very nice of her! Hundreds of apparels are tried and discarded every day during sales. This nice lady had kept track of my reject and even rightly guessed my (desi) mental make-up and obliged me with an endearing gesture. I may never see her again, I may not recognize her even if I do but with this little gesture she has carved a niche for herself in my heart! Thank you, ma'm!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Monday, November 15, 2010

KBC Kings & Queens


As Amitabh Bachchan visits my living room and welcomes me to KBC (TV show 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' - Indian version of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire'), I sit up on my favourite couch with a teenager's enthu matched only by his - be it the earlier season or this! Getting selected is like squaring the circle, so I've given up trying. But once you are there, the chances of making it to the hot seat has increased from 10% to about 50% this season!

I enjoy playing along from home - starting from the Fastest Finger First - you'll be surprised that there have been occasions when I would have made it to the hot seat (that's what my timer says) - had I been there. You may tell me it's different as I am not seated at the mouth of the volatile volcano ready to erupt - I agree. But I must say that some contstants do get set ablaze at the hot seat and get nervous to the core making a dash for a lifeline even for the easiest of questions! I've evolved a set of useful tips for contestants to come - in case they didn't know it already.

Firstly, keep panic at arms length. Cool the hot seat with confidence and level-headedness and sail through the first five questions refraining from using a lifeline, if posible. But if you must, go for 'audience poll' - it's the best time to use it. Remember don't give away your guess about the option - the audience will go like a sniffer dog towards it & misguide you!

The recent 'Crorepati' Prashant episode is a good lesson-provider. With a confident, logical and studied steadiness, our Mr. Cool collects accolades from everyone as he cruises to the 50 lac question with all his lifelines intact! Good! He clears that too with a lifeline. Very good!! Next the 'one crore' question - expectedly a tough one. The best option is for expert opinion but it has already been availed. Still Prashant is at an advantage as he seems to be oscillating between two options. "Best time to use 'double dip', silly!" I scream in a bid to reach his ears. He goes for audience poll - with no luck! He phones a friend but the latter lets the timer overtake him! May be Prashant feels guilty about using two lifelines for one question, so he decides to depend on his logic - zooms in on Afghanistan head's name. But when our amiable host asks for a customary reiteration before locking the option, he does a somersault and opts for Nepal PM! Before we can bat an eyelid or wonder at the 12th hour change, there is jubilation - right answer - ONE CRORE for Prashant! I expected Amtji to ask for a clarification but he doesn't. Does a trace of doubt creep in my mind (in spite of my adulation for Amitji ) - is there a trace of 'give-away-tone' as he repeats the options - some stress here or pause there? How else does one expect such a rash move by cool dude Prashant? By the way, other contestants too have been seen harping on one option but deciding on another - a last minute change - and a successful one at that!

All's well that ends well but that is a close shave! Now from the frying pan into the fire - the 5 crore question - "Who was the 1st person to be born in the continent of Antarctica in 1978?" I would have taken my bow with "Not me, Sir!" Others would have done the same too. Not this guy. Does he know the answer? "No", he says. Big B gives his statuatory warning on 'double dip' and gives his usual cue - "Quit if you are not sure...". Prashant dashes forward with double dip lifeline - first answer is wrong. As Amitji repeats the options, I scrutinise his intonation - na - no clues at all ! (How mean of me to suspect! Sorry Amitji - blame it on 'Slumdog Millionaire'!)

Second option - wrong again! Prashant crashlands and has to be content with Rs.3, 20,000. No pity for him. Once lucky, forever lucky? Having won Ganesha's favour for an earlier question, he hopes for another - that too so soon! God helps those who help themselves - and He has - already! But Prashant becomes overconfident and reckless and like a fool rushes in where angels fear to tread. As Big B sums up this is a game of knowledge and not of guesses. Yes, if I were in his shoes I would have used 'double dip' for the one crore question to be safe and walked off with a convincing win of one crore.

After him comes the down-to-earth Jyoti who plays well for a neat sum of 12, 50,000. Then comes Ms. 'Smartysuit' - cool, confident, self-reliant Sapna who marches ahead with all lifelines intact. But her overconfidence blinds her inadequacy and she also crashlands - to win 3,20,000. What's the use of having the key when the thief has made good with your jewel box?

So learn from the contestants. Use lifelines wisely. Audience poll for easy questions - but without voicing your guess. The tougher ones should be posed to the expert or the chosen friend whoever is well-versed in the field. Double dip is to be used only when you have eliminated two options. Of course your luck plays a BIG role too! And the 'HOT' seat is sure to burn out the coolest of heads!! Good luck, contestants!!

P.S. This season - I mean 2012 - the pattern of performance remains the same. Most of the KBC Kings and Queens are from the masses, yes. But we all know who is the EMPEROR - the svelte, savvy, seventy-plus, debonair, dashing, and never-looked better (as all the contestants vouch and make him 'blush') BIG B! Thank you Sir! Keep going Sir!!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Obamas Visit India

US President Barack Obama's visit to India kindled a great thrill in me akin to a brother's visit to my house! Having had the privilege of watching his election campaign on American TV two years ago and participating in the jubilation of his historic win from the living room of my son's home, I have been a huge Obama fan and his slogan, "Yes, we can."

I tell you, as expected, it made me proud to see the Obamas rise to the occasion once again during their three day 'high volatile trip' to India - in Mumbai and Delhi. They checked into the Taj Mahal Hotel, paid homage to the victims of 26/11 and met the relatives of victims - a gesture to prove the bond we share - tragedies of terrorism of 26/11 and 9/11 - pointers to 'global oneness'. Obama admired the 'incredible energy and drive and entrepreneurial spirit' at the entrepreneurs' meet. After the video conference with farmers from Rajastan, he acknowledged with all humility that India is a 'model for agricultural development' and wanted her to 'share her expertise in farming'! He also appreciated the wide-ranging questions put to him by our youth during their interaction with him at St. Xavier's College and answered them at length.

The US First Lady perhaps did even a shade better than the Prez while bonding socially with various segments of society - she emerged as 'the aunty next door'. She allowed humane emotions flow freely as she interacted with smiles, handshakes and hugs with kids - as she picked up the Indian 'hop' game from our girls - may be to pass on to her Sasha and Mallya. She also endeared herself to one and all as she look a leg with elan to Koli music at a school ; she even inspired her husband to join her. Michelle scored again with her down-to-earth speech to the youth where she sounded like us middle class folks - thus proving that human values are universal! She went on a shopping spree in Delhi alright but her shopping bag was full of modestly priced items - with the exception of a Rs. 20,000/ - Pashmina shawl and a couple of bedcovers ranging from Rs. 2500- 3500/- all other collectibles including leather wallets and Ganesh idols cost a few hundreds each. Still she is learnt to have said at one point that she was 'afraid she might have exhausted all her money in the shopping spree!'

My admiration for Barack Obama reached sky-high when he acknowledged Gandhiji's influence and inspiration without which he "might not be standing before you today as President of the United States". I also felt elated when he showered epithets on our country - 'model of development', creator of 'the largest middle class', 'indispensable for American vision'. It made my day to hear him say India 'has emerged as a rising global power' and welcome "India as it prepares for a permanent seat in UN SC". While the news channels are having a field day debating on the speech as they read between the lines, I am happy to take it at face value - simply because it makes me feel good!

Common people like me went into raptures when we heard Obama interspersing his speech with 'bahut dhanyavaad', 'Jai Hind', 'Panchatantra', 'e-Panchayat'. It is for our leaders to analyze the implications of the visit; for commoners like me, it was a morale-boosting matter!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.