The underrated wonder that is Mahabalipuram

I first heard about Mahabalipuram in a chapter of my Class 8 or 9 Hindi textbook. While I don’t remember who the author of that piece was, I do remember that it was about the ruminations of a sculptor who wondered about the glorious temple ruins by the sea-shore and how they came to be.

Though the chapter didn’t mention Mahabalipuram as the place the sculptor was talking about, my Hindi teacher said that is where the story was based. He also elaborated a bit on the history of Mahabalipuram and that had me hooked. My young and impressionable teenaged mind found the description of a bygone era and the desolation of temple ruins by the sea-shore very romantic.

The visual stayed with me through school, college, university… till I actually visited Mahabalipuram in 1996. This was in the summer of that year and the heat and tourist hordes dispelled any romantic notion I had about Mahabalipuram. But the monuments left an impression on me — enough to make me want to re-visit it.

It took me almost 20 years visit Mahabalipuram again.

Mahabalipuram, Mamallapuram, Pallavas, Shore Temple, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tamil Nadu, Heritage

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Pathu thoon or the 10 pillars at Madurai

It is our last evening in Madurai and our group has just finished touring the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal. We have one more halt to make before dinner — a shop selling the local Sungudi sarees —  and then board the overnight train to Chennai.

Since I am not interested in buying sarees, I decide to wait outside the shop. A couple of others from the group join me as well and we get chatting about that and this. When Sriram, our group leader, comes up to us and asks if we would like to see something interesting a short walk away we are only too happy to say yes.

Sriram leads us down the street and then through a narrow alley or two before turning into another narrow lane. He stops, points at something (see photograph below) and says, “See this !”

Pathu Thoon, 10 Pillar, Rang Vilas, Thirumalai Nayak, Heritage, Travel, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

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Madurai, Heritage, Music, Hanumantharayar Street, Anumathnarayan Kovil Street, MS Subbulakshmi

Travel Shot: MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai

About a year back, I visited Madurai with Chennai Pastforward. Led by V. Sriram, the 3-day was filled with temples, music, culture, rock-cut caves, heritage, history and was fantastic (watch out for posts on Madurai coming up next week!).

On one of the evenings in Madurai, our group was walking back towards the bus when Sriram, who was leading, suddenly ducked into a narrow street. Actually, alley would be a better word for the street which had a sign that read Mela Anumantharayan Kovil Street.

We obediently followed him, walking in a single file as the alley wouldn’t allow for anything more. Lined with shops on both sides and double storeyed structures above them, the sky was visible as a dark blue ribbon floating above us. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but I had the feeling of being hemmed in.

Just when I was wondering Sriram was leading us to, he stopped and pointed at an open window, through which light was streaming out, and said: “This is it. This is the house of MS Subbulakshmi.

Madurai, Heritage, Music, Hanumantharayar Street, Anumathnarayan Kovil Street, MS Subbulakshmi Continue reading “Travel Shot: MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai”

#TSBCReads India, Book pile, Books from India and on India, To be Read Books

Book Review: One Part Woman

This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Tamil Nadu — in this literary journey across India.


One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan, e-book, Kindle edition, Banned BookPrior to the controversy over the Tamil novel, Madhorubagan, I hadn’t heard of either the novel or its author, Perumal Murugan. Or about the English translation of this book, One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.

I first heard of the controversy on Twitter. What started off as a few stray tweets in the morning, had turned into a full-blown outrage by the afternoon. Normally, I ignore twitter outrages as I find them tiresome, but this was different as it was about a book.

I followed the outrage that day on Twitter and then as Twitter predictably found something new to outrage about the next day, I moved to other sources of information. I also bought a Kindle version of the book with the intention of reading it at the earliest. Soon the controversy died down, the media moved to other stories, and the book remained unread.

Then #TSBCReadsIndia happened and I decided on Tamil Nadu as the first stop in my literary journey across India. That’s when I remembered One Part Woman, and realised that it was a book that fit all my criteria for the reading challenge — it was translated, it was recent, and the controversy surrounding the book was the bonus. 🙂

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A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors
The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what they camera recorded. 🙂

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Retirement blues and a thank you!

Akkinimuthu Krishnan, the 8th child of his parents, was born in 1952 into a well-to-do, landed family in Panchalingapuram village of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu. From a very young age, he had a burning desire to study and nothing came in his way in fulfilling that desire—not the various back-breaking chores he had to do on his family farm, not the indifference to education his family showed, not the disheartening sight of his older siblings dropping out of school, one by one. Krishnan persevered in his goal to attain a college education.

The first graduate in his family, Krishnan studied in the Tamil medium in the village school, and then moved to study in the English medium in college where he read Economics at the Aringar Anna College in Kanyakumari. In fact, his was the first batch to pass out from that college. While studying in college, he also enrolled for shorthand and typing lessons as any good, self-respecting South Indian at that time did.

Krishnan wasn’t very sure as to where he wanted to work or what he wanted to do—all he was sure about was that he wanted to put his education to use and not be dependent on his family. He also did not want to manage his share of the family’s farmlands until he had a chance to work elsewhere. During this time, a friend of his asked him to come to Bombay (it was still Bombay then) and try his luck in the city of dreams.

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