Category Archives: Memory Lane

Song of the day – 2

Rob tagged me to this:

The rules are to post the lyrics of a favorite song five days in a row, explain what they mean to you (if you like) and add the video if available. 

I am also supposed to nominate two bloggers to carry on the meme, but I would like to leave that open.  Anyone who blogs, reads this post and wants to take it on, please do, and link back to this post so we can all read about your choices of songs. You may also leave your choice in the comment section here.


People born in TamBram (which is short for Tamil (language), Brahmin (caste)) households in South India during the last few decades of the past century, grew up listening to the honeyed voice of M.S. Subbulakshmi singing the Suprabatham, Sahasranamam, Bhaja Govindam etc.  Her perfect pitch, the way her voice blended with the background tambura (pitch setter), her accurate diction in any language, and that blissful face that comes to the mind’s eye the moment one hears her voice – for many of us, MSS’s voice flows through our veins, and triggers an automatic “coming home” reflex in the brain.  At least in me.

My favourite of MSS’s pieces is “Kurai onrum illai“.   “What regrets have I in this world , when the Lord gives me everything”, to me, is the essence of “Bhakthi yoga” – unquestioning devotion and faith. More recently, I read that the composer, Dr. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) , faced many adversities in life, and yet had it in him to sing that he had no regrets. I read that

As Rajaji lay dying in General Hospital, Madras, in December 1972, all his regrets must have crossed his mind, all his sorrows. But also, all his reconciliations of those emotions with his faith in the “rock”. The last words spoken by him from his death bed, when asked how he felt were simple: “I am happy”.

That upped my love for the song a bit further.  I reproduce below, the translation made by Gopal Gandhi and Gowri Ramnarayan. And of course, the immortal voice of MSS singing it.  The video is of a rather aged MSS singing it, I could not find a video of a younger MSS singing Kurai onrum Iillai.

No regrets have I
My lord,
Lord of the Written Word,
My light, my sight,
My very eyes
No regrets,
Though you stand
Where I behold you not
My light, my very eyes,
Protector of all earthlings
I know you sustain me
Lord of the Venkata Hill so pure
You meet my hunger, my thirst
My hope, my prayer
You keep me from harm,
Lord of the Sparkling Gems,
I need naught else
Father of the Seven Hills,
Naught else.

* * *

You stand — do you not? —
Veiled by a screen
Only the learned can part
For they are the learned
Which I am not
But no, no regrets have I.
Crowning this hill
You stand as rock
Giver of Boons
Immutable God
Father to these hills
No regrets have I
Govinda !

* * *

In this benighted Age of ours
Lord —
The worst of all the Four —
You have entered
The sanctum
A shaft of granite
Where though I see you not
No regrets have I.
Boulder of strength
With the Ocean,
Heaving on your breast,
Of the purest compassion —
My Mother,
My very own, who grants
Anything I ask of her
Can I possibly have regrets?
The two of you, I know,
Stand there for me
No regrets have I my Govinda
None, none whatsoever
Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!


Song of the day – 1

Rob tagged me to this:

The rules are to post the lyrics of a favorite song five days in a row, explain what they mean to you (if you like) and add the video if available. 

I am also supposed to nominate two bloggers to carry on the meme, but I would like to leave that open.  Anyone who blogs, reads this post and wants to take it on, please do, and link back to this post so we can all read about your choices of songs. You may also leave your choice in the comment section here.


I studied in a convent school.  Every morning before classes started, we had “assembly” in the grounds.  Until class five, the entire student body would chant “Our father in heaven, holy be thy name” prayer, and the music teacher would start a song that the rest of the  mob would join in on, in various pitches and tunes, followed by announcements that no one would pay attention to.  The “senior assembly” was in the adjacent ground.  Each class took up a week of assembly duties, design a thematic ten minute program that involved formulation of an appropriate prayer, leading the congregation in a related song and an orator from the specific class would “make a speech” about the topic before the formal announcements were made, to which no one paid any attention.

On the last week of my 12th class, our class took up the theme of “farewell”.  We pestered our music teacher (Mrs. Alice, who also was a math teacher)  to suggest five farewell songs.  The songs she suggested were :  “auld lang sine”, “good bye, farewell” (from The Sound of Music), “we thank our God for you”, “I believe” and a fifth song that I had completely forgotten.

Yesterday, stuck in traffic jam and station-hopping on my car radio, I stumbled upon a song that sounded vaguely familiar.  And then it struck me.  This was the fifth farewell song we had learned.  The last time I sang this was twenty five years ago, and I still remembered the lyrics.

The lyrics:

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we could do

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la…

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la…



Some memories that need out

This day, exactly a year ago, my grandmother was admitted in hospital for breathing difficulties.  I would never be able to forget the date because she was admitted on Bhogi (the first day of the 4-day festival of Pongal) and died on Kaanum pongal (the fourth day).  The last thing she tasted in life was the chakkarai pongal I had made in a hurry last Pongal day, before heading to the hospital.

I will write for the next four days about my paati.

Part 1: A Biography

My paati was the last of four surviving children to her parents and was born in Thiruvanaikkaval near the holy town of Srirangam in 1929. She was the last to survive as well. Her oldest sister was gone long before I was born, her next brother’s funeral, I remember attending as an eight year old. The third brother, who died a few years ago, was estranged because his children married into the film industry  (his two daughters were married to Y.G. Mahendran and “superstar” Rajini Kanth (a Tamilnadu equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, if you will,)- which makes the two stars my uncles, even if estranged), which was considered a taboo in the traditional tambram community.  My grandmother was heartbroken because this third brother was her favourite sibling.

Every time I read the phrase “peaches and cream”, I remember paati, because that is how she was.  A glowing, rosy complexion that she had inherited from her father, it seems, and naturally red lips.  Little wonder, she was addressed as “pattu” – silk, by her family; her real name being Padma.

My grandmother married my grandfather when she was 14 years old.  My grandfather was 21 and was working in Southern Railways under the British rule and was posted in Tiruchirappalli at the time of marriage.  But soon, his job took him all over the country, and the young paati, packed her bag and travelled with him wherever he went.  It would be five years before she had a daughter – my mother.  The travel continued after my mother was born, and they spent a few years in Calcutta, Simla and Bangalore before my grandfather got a permanent posting in Madras (now Chennai).

By now, my mom was ready for school, and my grandparents built the house (which is now mine), in the heart of T.Nagar and life was to continue with not much incident for the next fifteen years.  Somewhere along the way, my grandfather’s mother was incapacitated and came to live with my grandparents, and it is said that my grandmother served her with utmost devotion as long as she lived, playing nurse to the bedridden old lady.

When my grandfather was about 45, tragedy struck.  He lost his eye sight permanently, and could not work anymore.  But since he had served for a sufficient length of time, he could retire with a handsome pension, and enough savings to get my mother married to my father, who was the son of his colleague in the Railways, and settle down to a quiet life in the home they had built.  My grandmother, always a pillar of strength, never took this as a misfortune, and never bemoaned the blindness that struck her husband untimely, and carried on to the best of her abilities.

In due course, I transformed from intention to flesh, and became the apple of my grandmother’s eye. The earliest memory I have in life is my grandmother taking me to a park called “Somasundaram Park” and making me play on the rocking horse.  I may have been two or three at that time.

But life, as they say, is a mixed bag, and tragedy struck again.  My grandfather had a stroke and became bed ridden.  I was around 4 at that time, and my parents decided to move in with my grandparents in order to help my grandmother run the house and take care of grandfather.  Fortunately enough, I was admitted in a school close to my grandparents’ house and the move was made.  For the next decade, my parents and grandparents lived together in a large house, helping each other through thick and thin.   I grew, as they say, like a weed in the process.

The bag served a rotten fruit to my paati again.  Her only daughter was diagnosed with cancer whens she was forty, and succumbed to it within months, before my grandmother could even realise what was happening.

In the Ramayana, it is said that the worst punishment to any human being is to see the loss of his/her child.  I realised the truth of that the moment I had a child myself.  I don’t know how my grandmother could bear the loss of her only child, but she did with fortitude and strength and took it upon herself to bring me up for the next many years.  From the time my mother died, when I was 13, until last year, she was a surrogate mother to me, laughing at my joys, crying at my sorrows and being the pillar of strength that I cannot even imagine anyone being.

A couple of years after my mother died, my grandfather died as well.  Again, the woman, not to be perturbed, went about her duties with no expectations of returns, and not a single whimper about how unfairly life has treated her.  In fact, there has not been a single time when she has bemoaned the various losses she has faced in life.    She sent me abroad with a smile on her face, when I flew the nest for higher studies.  She took care of my widower father, like a mother and not a mother-in-law.  My father continued to stay in the same house to take care of the now ageing grandmother.  Their mutual respect is matter for another post and I will leave it for then.

When I got married, she accepted my better-half as a new grandson with so much grace.  And I am glad that I saw that joy in her face when my baby first peed on her.  She said “I’ve now seen everything, I am ready to go”.

She lived to see her great grandchild grow to a charming 12 year old.  Despite her growing dementia, she would brag to anyone who would care to listen, about how wonderful her great grandchild is. Her sole purpose of the week became to wait for the weekend for her great grandchild’s visit.

She weakened in due course.  Her lungs were not as strong as they had been.  Her heart broke down and she survived 4 years on a 14% functioning heart.

The floods of December 2015 turned out to be her undoing.  She picked up a lung infection after the floods, which worsened, and on January this date, last year, she had to be admitted into a hospital due to difficulties in breathing. Being always a fighter, she fought for her life for four days, but the call from her husband and daughter were perhaps too loud.

She slipped into eternal sleep four days later.

It is said that good souls would depart on the “uttarayanam” part of the year that starts with Pongal.  She died on the second day of uttarayanam – little wonder.

I don’t know and don’t even want to speculate about what happens after death.  All I know is that she lives on in my memory.

Whirlwind days

The bones aren’t as young as they used to be.  At least mine aren’t.  The college friend who was my house guest for 3.5 days,  continues to be the storehouse of all the energy of the world like she used to be, and while I held up well for three days with her, the last half day was exhausting.   The woman left, as energetic as she came, despite not having slept well in a new place, and socialising like there is no tomorrow.  I went to bed and slept like a log for three hours after she left.

It was lovely to be able to go back in time with her, and it helped that a whole bunch of our classmates had come down to our city from various parts of the world, to spend Christmas holidays.  In a mark of amazing coincidence, our juniors had their 20th year reunion in campus and we ran into them as well.  The fact that I now live in the same campus that we studied in (the husband being a prof there) was a big factor for meeting and our house was like an open house these past three days, with guys and girls dropping in and out all hours of the day and night.  I never knew I had it in me to manage a social life centred around my home, but I did well !

It was interesting to see the changes and the similarities of these people from old times.  I noticed the endearing quirks of people I had forgotten – like S, who would always announce “cross” before she crossed roads,  R and her highly Hindi-accented Tamil, J and her amazing memory -I wouldn’t be surprised if she remembered incidents from her previous birth, and G’s natural concern for the girls – “are your husbands treating you girls well?  If not, let me know I will bash them up”

I also remembered the irritating quirks of people – S’s attention span of a gnat, J’s propensity to talk all the time and not let a single word from others edgewise, R’s restless hand movements, G’s need to argue all the time…

“You have quietened” said a friend to me. I have indeed quietened a lot, I could make that out myself when I was with them.  But I feel glad about it.  I wanted to be what I am now, when I was at that age. So maybe I have aged gracefully after all.

Back to the grind now that she has left.  Stay tuned.


The prodigal woman

I have a good singing voice.  I don’t have range but have timbre.  I was trained in Carnatic music for years in my childhood and have performed for the Indian radio under youth category.  My teachers and family knew that I have a good voice and musical aptitude.

I disliked the fact that I had a good singing voice.  Especially in school.  When there were cultural and other events in school, I was, by default, in the choir, as a soprano. When my school staged musical plays (largely of Biblical themes), I was always singing in the background.  I wanted to be in the play as an actor.  I believed I could act well, but I wasn’t even given a chance because I was, by default ,in the choir.

There was a musical called “The Prodigal Son” that was staged by our school, when I was in  ninth class.  I loved the play.  I wanted to be the prodigal son.  A senior girl called Meera, who had a lovely albeit weak singing voice was made the prodigal son because she was charming and all the teachers liked her. I thought they were being very partial in assigning the role to her without testing other kids.  I would have made a good prodigal son, I was sure. I just didn’t have the charm that Meera did.  I was in the choir, as usual, and sang all the background pieces, while Meera (the prodigal son), Anisha (the prodigal son’s older, good brother who had my sympathy because he asked ‘of what use is being good if the prodigal son gets the fatted calf on the table while I don’t even get a pig?’ – he has a point there) and Anuradha (the father who welcomes the prodigal son with the fatted calf – partial father, just like my partial teachers who chose Meera and Anisha without an audition), sang the main pieces.

I memorised all the songs – the choir pieces as well as the main pieces and would sing them at home, in my room, pretending to be the main characters.  One of the songs went as follows – the prodigal son sings it:

There seem to be several people

Locked up inside of me

Fighting a constant battle

For my identity

Sometimes they keep me prisoner

Sometimes they set me free

Is one of them my true being?

Is one of them really me?

The long and short of this long post is that this song has been running in my head since morning, indicating how I feel about myself these days.

The past is not gone

I went out today for the first time in many days (thanks to the viral), to run errands – pay credit card bill, buy vegetables etc.  The festive look the city bears now gave me a jolt – Deepavali (Diwali) is a couple of days away and I have not even picked up the new clothes from the tailor yet.  A WhatsApp picture of padusha made by my very good (but annoyingly active) friend hinted that I should be thinking about making goodies too.  The murukku press that I brought from my parents’ house (my grandmother would not part with it as long as she lived, but now that she is gone, it is mine) a couple of weeks back, seductively beckons me.  The cells of the body, that didn’t get the memo yet that the virus has gone, however, rebel.

Still, to get out of inertia and to refresh the memory for recipes, I googled “manankombu” and what I do I get ?  A blog post that I wrote eight years ago, which had miraculously escaped my axe.  Actually, this is not the first time this old blog of mine has crossed my stream of consciousness.  My friend G (yeah, the one with the padusha) had stumbled into this blog a few days back and had sent me the link.  I let that pass by, but the blog swam into my ken again today – so it must be a message of sorts, although, I can’t for the life of me, figure it out.

Nevertheless, some posts I wrote when I was an innocent, nubile young thing are here.  I feel icky reading the posts now (except the ones about my kid, who was five then, which bring tears to my eyes), as I would be, reading this post eight years hence.  Nevertheless, just for the record…


The forgotten memory lane

I am not good with saving stuff for posterity.  Mostly because I am terrible at organising stuff.   In my old blog, I had written accounts and occasional pictures of events and occasions, but then, I deleted it without backup.  As I get older, I tend to gravitate more and more towards being in this moment and letting go of everything else.  Apart from the fact that it suits my non-organisational personality, it seems to free the mind from clutter.

Today I got a mail from google, in which I have an account to throw in all my subscriptions to places I know will spam me, asking me if I would like to “rediscover this day”.  Intrigued, I went there, and found some pictures I had on this day in 2010.  I don’t remember when,  why or how I saved these images.

To be honest, these pictures did not do anything to me, except photos of my then 6 year old daughter, which made me want to go into the screen and squish her.  However, for want of anything else to do with them, I am posting them below.  This is the golu from six years ago.  My kid and I made a “Tundra” scene. I vaguely remember spending hours making those little Eskimos and getting cotton all over the house !  We even labelled the various things – igloo, reindeer… cute or what !