For a short while, it appeared as if there there was nobody on this platform of North Greenwich tube station (Jubilee Line), except for this woman and me. Her blue jeans and red jacket mirrored the blue and red colour scheme of the station. Her slumped posture and her back to the camera, seemed to me to be the perfect setting for Edward Hopper, one of my favourite painters.
When a Tamil Iyer girl gets married, she is given brass and silver lamps, or vilakku as they are known in Tamil, to aid her in the many rituals and ceremonies associated with her being an Iyer wife, an Iyer daughter-in-law, etc. It is a tradition that is followed even today by many Iyer families, the community that I belong to.
When my paternal grandmother Meenakshi N (1910–1989) got married in 1922, she too was given her own brass and silver vilakku. Among the 6–7 vilakku given to her, is the one featured here in this blog post. Nearly 3 feet tall, this bronze vilakku was not bought off the racks in a store, but was specially commissioned and made at her house. That is, the lamp-maker came to Meenakshi N’s father’s house with his implements and made it as per the specifications given to him.
My mind still boggles at how this must have been done and the preparation that would have gone into making the vilakku. To begin with, an auspicious day and time would have been set after consulting the panchangam or the almanac. A coconut would have been broken before the start of the lamp-making process, prayers offered… As for the lamp-making process itself, I wouldn’t even know where to start imagining!
Sometime back, I came across a fantastic blog titled The Indian Memory Project and instantly fell in love with the blog’s aim—to “trace the history of India, its people, professions, development, traditions, cultures, settlements and cities through pictures found in personal family albums and archives”. So, recently, when I came across some old family photographs, I thought, why not create my own family’s memory project and share them with you on this blog. So read on…
But first a little geographical background of my family to set the context—we are originally from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. My father’s side of the family is from Tharuvai, and my mother’s side of the family is from Narasinganallur—both villages in Tirunelveli district.
This family memory project begins with the story of my great-grandfather (my father’s paternal grandfather), T. Ganapati Sastri (1860–1926), a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Ganapati Sastri had very humble beginnings in Tharuvai—a place he left for Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in his 16th year for economic reasons.
It is not often that one gets to hear or see one’s favourite singers singing together or sharing space in a single frame. But then I came across this version of Vande Mataram rendered by four of my favourite singers—Sanjay Subrahmanyan, S Soumya, P Unnikrishnan and Bombay Jayashri. And what better occasion than India’s Independence Day on 15th August, to share it with you.
I reached Howrah Station on a crisp and clear December morning from Mumbai, en route to Bolpur. Since my train for Bolpur did not leave for another 3 hours, I had time to freshen up at the Ladies Waiting Room on the first floor of the Station.
But a balcony in the Waiting Room beckoned first, and here I had my first glimpse of the famous Howrah Bridge. It loomed in the background, and yet I felt I could reach out and touch it. Silvery and pulsating with life, the bridge contrasted so beautifully with the red of the Howrah Station and the bright yellow of the Ambassador taxis parked outside.
I spent nearly an hour taking in this beautiful sight, before I remembered why I had come to the Ladies Waiting Room in the first place!
When I was an undergraduate student in the late eighties (was it really that long ago?), it was de rigueur to have read Linda Goodman’s book on sun signs. If you hadn’t read the book, or worse hadn’t even heard about it (like me), you were… um… for want of a better word, khallas in the college. You might as well have landed from another world!
I quickly set out to remedy this. Though I never managed to read the full book, I did acquaint myself with the characteristics of my own sun sign, Aries. It was enough to be accepted by my peers. 😉
I found out that, as an Arian, I was optimistic, accident-prone, impulsive, had leadership abilities, courageous, sometimes combative, pioneering and entrepreneurial, selfish, blah, blah, blah…
Though I could not identify with most of the characteristics, I have convinced myself over the years or had other people convince me, that I had these traits. For instance, when I was appointed as the Head of my department, it was because of some leadership ability that I must have displayed. Wasn’t it? Or take the time when I tore the ligaments in both my knees—first in my left knee and then in my right knee within a gap of 4 months after slipping and falling on the road both times. If that isn’t being accident-prone, then what is?
Till recently, I was quite comfortable with my identity as an Arian. I was born one, and I assumed that I would die an Arian.