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Showing posts from May, 2008

De Nobili-The Roman Brahmin

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Madurai – The last time we passed Madurai was on 31st Oct 1984, the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Beant Singh and we were en-route Kodaicanal for our honeymoon, bussing through the trouble prone and riot hit streets of Calicut & Madurai. But that was a stray incident; in general, as you hear the name of tranquil city called Madurai, you picture correctly a vast temple city of Tamil Nadu, an ancient one with towering temples, and a center of many historic traditions. An important cultural and commercial center since 250AD, the capital of the Pandya kings, Madurai hosts the very famous Madura Meenakshi temple. The story I will now tell takes you to the 17th century, when Madurai was ruled by the popular Telugu speaking Nayak Emperors.

The Portuguese had arrived in India in 1498 and were busy since then in taking over the roaring spice trade by hook or crook, and force, fighting battles with the Zamorin and his troops. They were also busy in enforcing Christianity where they c…

Mysteries of a 'chellapetti'

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The thoughts of this decadent object and the peculiar habit of betel leaf chewing in India entered my mind when I saw these two ‘ambis’ in conversation. They were Kamal Hassan and Delhi Ganesh (from the movie MMKR). Watch this clip if you want a quick introduction to the Palakkad ambi’s peculiar Malayali Tamil accent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyStENLKrTc

Both are Palghat Brahmins or ambis. You can see a chellapetti in Delhi Ganesh’s hands. Ganesh’s chella petti gets stolen repeatedly by an old woman, a kleptomaniac. Her granddaughter Urvashi who has a crush on Kamal returns it, only for it to get stolen again.

Some call it Murukan petti or vettila chellam - the box that contained a lot of stuff to ensure optimal production of the betel package. A few one or half rupee coins (not to be chewed though!), the small brass duppi of chunnambu, a few tender betel leaves or thalir vettila - the choice home grown Malabar variety (not Salem or Benaras), chopped squares of adakka or arecanut, …

Hillary, Pandey, Sean and me…

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Now this sort of rhymes like in the movie Me, Myself & Irene, right? Well, there is something common in all the above names. The first three were mountaineers. Two, the first and the third climbed Everest. The second named taught me the rudiments of mountaineering and the fourth, i.e. me…met and talked to the second and the third. Having got all that mystery out of the way, let me tell you some more…

Hillary was the person who ignited the mountaineering fervor in me. When we were learning the story of Col Hunt and the mission to Mt Everest in school, I would picture the tall mountain and the still silhouettes of the formidable North face in my mind. I would think, the thin, gangly and short guy that I was then, how nice it would be, if I could climb that mountain…

Mr Pandey, our Hindi teacher was also an avid mountaineer. He used to take us all out trekking to nearby hills and sometimes for ‘chimney rock climbing’ on the hills neighboring Neyyar Dam near Trivandrum. Chimney rocks ar…

Whistlers in Istanbul

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When my friend, who now spends time designing microchips in the arid deserts of Arizona, told me this story, in his own peculiar way, I laughed so much that my stomach hurt for the rest of the day. You can easily make out from the account that he was a good story teller. Whether I will do justice to that story in text, I am not sure, but I will try. The persons mentioned and yours truly were all living in Istanbul – Turkey, during those years.

Istanbul had always been a mysterious and colorful place, from historic times to this day. I have so many fond & interesting memories, starting from meeting the president KR Narayanan to meeting varied personalities like Hon Najma Heptulla who complained of unseen mosquitoes which could bite her, when the windows of their new house were ceremoniously opened by the Consul General to get in the breeze from the famed Bosporus straits, into their living room. We had a small group of Indians living there in those times, all of 40 if I remember rig…

Da Vinci to the rescue - after 500 years

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As we all agree, Leanardo Da Vinci was a rare genius and an enigma. Not only was he a great artist and painter, painting masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, the last Supper and the anatomical wonder ‘Virtuvian Man’, but also an inventor par excellence. Whenever I leaf through the copy of the book ‘Ancient inventions’ and one that I have checked out over many years, I still marvel at the various things Da Vinci invented…

Of his not so successful experiments, his attempts at flight have prominent mention, though he even took upon himself the task of designing the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn of Istanbul, in 1500, which would become the longest bridge in the world of that period if constructed. However, the ambitious design did not meet with the Sultan's approval. But one of his less talked about expertise was his understanding of the human anatomy. He wrote a book on the subject after extensive research, studies and dissection of many a human body at hospitals in Florence, Mila…