Sunday, August 11, 2013

Vardaraajan weds Sripriya: power of the curd rice with maavadu

From a very young age, I've had this fascination for tam brahm marriages. mainly for the rituals and their meaning. we may not have the band baaja baarat style festivities. no mehndi, no sangeet and no baraat dancing with lots of distilled ethanol in the system. what the festivities entail is a score of 'maamis' in their madisaars, their body covered with jewelry whose collective worth would be more than the GDP of Mozambique and most importantly marriage rituals which looks like an enactment of a mythological story.

The Vardhan tale (protaganist of my previous post) was more of a glance in my previous post. thanks to the substantial few blog hits to this post, I thought of sticking to vardhan for my next literary adventure.  This post describes our very own Vardhan embarking on the  journey of holy matrimony. please pardon my ignorance on the exact technicalities of  a Tambrahm wedding, I've tried my best to stay as close to the exact technicalities as possible. 

With Vardhan reaching the echelons of academic success in his field with a bunch of fortune 500 companies vying for his attention, the Ramasubus' next assignment was to get Vardhan married. Mrs Ramasubu had quiet tactfully convinced Vardhan to talk to their distant relative Sripriya. Like a dutiful son, Vardhan agreed and as a first step gave Sripriya a call. after battling through almost 15 mins of awkwardness on the phone, both Vardhan and Sripriya opened up to talk more about themselves, likes dislikes and everything in between. As Vardhan gained confidence in the conversation he mustered the guts to ask her out for a coffee. so, the date was fixed at the Coffee Bean in San Jose. Vardhan was nervous and excited. After all it was his first date ever. He reached 15 mins early to get the best seats in the cafe. Sripriya looked more pretty than in the photograph. she wore a normal white top and jeans. Vardhan quickly put a mental tick under all his physical appearance check boxes for his bride to be . A three hour coffee date was all that both the to be groom and bride required to give the thumbs up for the marriage.

the date was planned for the end of the year. In the preceding months to the wedding Sripriya and Vardhan spent a lot of time together. dinners, movies, drives and lot of those couple activities that probably both of them had never done in their life. For the December 28th wedding, both the groom and bride decided to fly together on the 8th of December. On the other hand in The Ramasubu household, bustling wedding preparations were underway. Mrs Ramasubu was the captain of the ship overseeing all of the work. Vardhan was going back to India after 3 long years and this time it was to get married. When the Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco landed in Chennai, a hoard of people were present to welcome the new couple. Vardhan was over awed by the situation. His maamis and chithis and athais were all there along with his to be In laws and their family. after an hour long meet and greet at the airport, both the families retired to their respective homes. For the next two days Vardhan just slept for long hours firstly to beat the jetlag and secondly to avoid having to work and run around helping with the wedding preps. 

three days later though he couldn't escape being trapped into the work. the maamis in the family (for the uninitiated the term 'Maamis' means  a quintessential Tam Brahm lady for whom not observing  "Patth" is more of a crime than murder and who are ardent followers of the Brahmin book of rituals, festivals, food habits and everything in between) decided to take Vardhan on a field trip. Little did poor Vardhan know what he was getting into.  It was the place where men take their wives to shop and by the time the women come out, the men have grown a beard. This holy place is the SAREE STORE. my dear friends selection of a kancheevaram saree for a tamizh maami is categorized as  probably the most important decision she will ever make. As vardhan walked in to the store with 5 other maamis from his family, the gatekeeper of the store gave him a sorry look almost to say that " buddy, you don't know what you've got yourself into". As Vardhan went through the grueling 6 hour wait for the ladies to finish their saree shopping, he felt exhausted even though he hadn't done anything but wait. the only good thing about the day was that he got to meet Sripriya and see her try on different sarees.

As the home stretch to the wedding began, things went from peaceful to busy to chaotic at the Ramasubbus. relatives started pouring in and Vardhan tried to recollect his grandfather explaining the family tree which created such a tangled mess in Vardhan's brain. the festivities were kicked off with Vardhan being forced to visit a beauty salon. As Vardhan sat there on the salon chair with his face being painted upon, he remembered his Phd days where he probably shaved once in 3 weeks and bathed once a week. slowly but surely he was realizing what he was walking into. " marriage is going to be much more difficult than solving Navier-stokes Energy equations and third order differential equations" he thought as the two pieces of cucumber finally came off his eyes.

In the evening, Vardhan got ready for the first of two days of marriage celebrations. the first event was the Janavasam/"Maapillai Azhaippu. Vardhan walked out of his house in his new suit which he had gotten stitched after multiple sizing and measurement visits. Vardhan sat in a red convertible. from its appearance it looked like a car used by aristocrats in the 60's. the 5 Km route that the car took had multiple stops as the car ambled along. Vardhan felt as if he was being showed off to the world before he gets slaughtered. Vardhan stepped out of the car on reaching the banquet hall to a traditional Aarthi. all through the journey and at the banquet Hall there were a couple of guys, one with a video camera and the other holding a flashlight continuously following Vardhan with complete focus on him. he felt odd about all this paparazzi attention. Being the Scientist that he was, Vardhan questioned every ritual and wanted an explanation for everything. His Athai (aunt) the in-house vedic scholar was assigned this duty. Vardhan got on the podium and  a few prayer exchanges later, he was handed a new suit to wear from the brides side. looking surprised, Vardhan asked his aunt " why am I getting another pair of clothes. I am aleady wearing a new pair that I got specially stitched. and why did you have to get me in an open top car to give me a new pair of clothes:. Aunt Lakshmi smiled and in reply explained that this ceremony is called Janu Vasam. Janu meaning kneee and vasam meaning cloth. Technically the groom is a Brahmachari after his Upanayanam (Brahmin Baptization). He is supposed to lead a life of minimal needs. no shaving or hair cut, wear a pice of cloth around his waist upto his knees. hence the trip to the brides' place where he is given new clothes and brought out of the Brahmachari phase. the open top car ride was an enactment of the olden days where the whole village is introduced to the Groom.

After all the festivities of the evening, Vardhan was tired and ready to retire for the day. he had to get up next morning at 4 am for the most important day in his life. he was nervous, excited, over awed as he went to bed in one of the banquet hall rooms. Next morning He got dressed into his traditional Iyer ensemble. As he walked to the podium, he saw a healthy crowd already present. the podium set up with all the necessary decorations and all eyes on him. Vardhan went by each of the rituals one by one including the dramatized version of him walking away to Benaras and being stopped by Sripriyas Dad and then made to sit on a swing with his newly wed by his side. Finally after several hours of tiring yet fascinating rituals, there came the moment that made the brides parents cry. the moment Vardhan was officially married. As part of the post wedding activites, Vardhan was made to play a lot of the customary post marriage "games" which he miserably lost. Vardhan's aunt explained the meaning of each of the rituals. starting from why he enacted the going away to Benaras, to why elders washed his feet. Apparently,  the groom walks away not in anger but in humility saying that " I am not as big a vedic scholar to be worthy of your daughter, I have to go and learn more". the Bride's  father then convinces the groom against this. Also, the post marriage games are a way for the bride and groom to loose their inhibitions owing to the fact that back in the day, the groom and bride were very young when they got married and it was an arranged affair. they never got to spend time with each other or meet before the wedding.

A week worth of hectic travel and temple visits later, Vardhan was all set to take his newly wed bride back to the U.S and start his new life. Just before leaving for the airport, Vardhan requested to have  his magical culinary delight. the CURD RICE. the only difference this time was that he was served curd rice by his newly wed wife with an addition, the mango pickle or more fondly called among the tambrahm brethren as Maavadu.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The chronicles of the TAM BRAHM: the power of the curd rice

* all pictures in this post are from the blog

Ever so often I sit and wonder about all the cultural influences that have shaped the person I am today. I have one half of dilli blood with some spice from Andhra and another half of some good old Tam brahm iyer blood. all wrapped into a real Mumbaiya package. Now I live in the u.s where the opportunities  to flaunt any of these cultural influences are few and far between. A major part of my lineage is the typical curd rice loving, engineering preaching, kaapi crazy iyers from the heart of Tamilnadu.  Although I havent experienced much of the iyer influences in my upbringing, this particular piece is a bit   of an over the top, tongue and cheek tribute to my iyer brethren 

when Varadarajan Ramasubramaniam was born in a hospital in the suburbs of chennai, his first cry was enough for his father Mr Ramsubramaniam to plan his son's life and career. In his mind he had already decided the future steps for his son vardhan, 
1. PSBB school chennai 
2. IIT coaching from 8th grade 
3. computer science at IIT Madras  
4. M.S-->Phd at stanford or Berkley
5. job at google, microsoft or apple
little baby Vardhan was in for a tough life ahead. his first birthday was held with much fanfare with all the "Maamis", athais, athimbers present in their full gusto, after all baby vardhan was to go on to become a patent holder and change the world of technology in the years to come. as per plan, first pit stop was PSBB Chennai.

Vardhan getting into PSBB was celebrated with the customary "paal payasam". vardhan went to school like any other disciplined boy with slick oiled well groomed hair. glasses that he had to put on pretty early in his years and the holy vibudhi which magically stayed untouched on his forehead for the whole day. Vardhan studied hard, aced his classes consistently and was particularly good with Math and science. right according to the script, except for that one year when  the cricket bug had caught Vardhan and his post report card conversation with his dad was something like this

Vardhan detested the yearly summer breaks although it was a bit of repite from studying. these breaks included trips to the millions of temples in the south and hours of standing in the darshan line under the scorching heat  (or more famously called "Agni Nakshatram")

at the ripe age of 9, vardhan had his iyer version of Baptization, his 'Upanayanam'. the summer festivities at the ramasubbus was a sight to behold. kancheevaram saaris everywhere, diamond "mukkuthis", filter coffee aroma everywhere and a lot of loud iyer folks giggling, talking and enjoying this momentous occassion. Vardhan was over awed by the occasion. he pulled his grandfather aside to clarify how he was related to the people who had come down for his poonal and this is the answer he got

Vardhan made his way as planned into the IIT Madras for his Btech in Computer Science. the "Paal Payasam" was back as a mark of celebration. IIT proved to be a cultural shock for him. he met lot of people from the "north". He was shy in his intital days but as days and years went by, vardhan blended well with the folks . the alcohol consumption started and the daily "sandhi" count went down. he developed a special affinity towards egg maggi. one thing he didn't change was the academic prowess. Vardhan continued to excel. his weekend trips back to his home in Naganallur were filled with ammas special pampering. he devoured some special delicacies which included Moru kozhambu, vethai kozhambu and avial.

next pit stop in the Vardhan journey was getting to the U.S.A. A fully sponsored M.S +Phd gig at Stanford awaited Vardhan on his way to conquer the silicon valley. extensive research was  done in the Ramasubbu household with phone calls, panchagams and expert astrological calculations just to find the exact date of departure to the u.s. His amma had some important tips for him. she had packed uraghai, had given him special training on sambhar making, rice keeping, 2 min rasam and many such gastronomical delights. Vardhan found all this more stressful than IIT. his appa had given him a copy of pictured depiction of sandhyavandhanam and about 50 phone nos and email ids of relatives in the U.S. A sobbing Mrs Ramasubramaniam bid goodbye to her son. on the flight, Vardhan had decided that this was his time to be independent and live life as he wants, enjoy the freedom and have a blast.

what turned over the next 6 years was even more hard work than before. days and nights spent in the lab. the sambhar rice was replaced by peperoni pizza and moru by corona. the daily bath, vibhudi, sandhyavandhanam and idlis were replaced by once a week bath, no sandhyavandhanam and an omlette for breakfast. on his trips back to india, vardhan brought back loads of gifts for his mom and relatives, but was often faced with this response

for Vardhan's graduation, the Ramasubbus took their first journey across the seas to see their son be anointed as Dr Varadharajan Ramasubramaniam. on seing their son at the airport, the first thing that Mr Ramasubbu asked was, "Dei are you wearing your poonal?". (Vardhan was smart enough to wear a new poonal right before coming to the airport). Vardhan planned a special "temple less" tour to show his parents around the U.S. Mrs Ramasubbu wore her best Kancheevaram saaris for the Vegas leg of the tour. at the end of the tour, Vardhan's mom popped the question ," kanna, vitchu maamas sister in-laws's cousin's daughter Sripriya has completed her M.S and is moving to the silicon valley for a job, we know the family very well. do you want to meet this girl?".

6 months and a theortical horoscope matching process later, vardhan was in chennai getting married. sitting on the marriage podium topless in front of a raging fire, vardhan was sweating proffusely. standing behing him, Mr Ramasubramaniam was a proud man, the dream that he had 28 years ago was reaching completion.

Vardhan went back with his newly wed wife back to the silicon valley and went from strength to strength conquering the highest echelons of the computer science world. he was blessed with a son and when he himself was trying to be the strict father like his own father was, the tide had changed

Vardhan had lived a very academically successful life, he had good money, great education and a great family. his constant yet powerful companion throughout his life journey was the good old  curd rice. he consumed it every day without fail. be it U.S, india, IIT or his multiple world tours, the curd rice stood by him and was at many times his sole gastronomical delight.

my dear friends, the curd rice is the single most important delicacy in the Tam Brahm household. it is all curing, digestion helping, ultra energy providing and above all the most simplest of foods one can have. there is a popular folklore down in the tam brahm households that the titanic sunk because they didn't serve curd rice aboard that fateful night.

P.S: this article is not intended at anybody and I am in no way trying to malign the Tam brahms. I am one of them and have just taken the liberty to have some fun

Friday, February 1, 2013

If you cry over spilled milk, It will curdle !!

September 18th, 2060

As the first rays of the U.V enriched (the ozone layer had been completely destroyed some 20 years ago) sun fell on my bright bald head, I knew it was morning. It was going to be a busy morning for me, I had to get my space craft license renewed,  also get my new space craft registered. I was really proud of buying the new 'milky way 007'. It was the flagship model of the Apple I-SPACE series of space crafts. They had gotten into the spacecraft business after Iphone-25 sold like 1 billion pieces. They had also just won a lawsuit against Samsung claiming that they were the first ones to build an aircraft that can reach the Pluto. Anyways, I had a lot to do today, so I put on my glasses which were by my 'airbed'- (a bed which floats 5 feet in the air). I turned on my glasses and there were a bunch of news  headlines and as I scrolled down, I saw a big splash of color, a cake with some E-candles,. It said "Happy 71st birthday Rushil". I had completely forgotten about the day (my growing age wasn't helping my memory either). all my friends from the moon, Mars and earth were there to wish me through their video screens. After all that celebration, i decided to freshen up and read the news.

sitting in my living room, I turned on the projector in my eyeglasses and started to read the daily news. the news screen had a bunch of headlines and here is an excerpt of some of the stories I read. 

1. India sets up three countries with Black Money

India today became the only country in the world to set up three new countries with all the black money its citizens have procured over the past 100 years. these three countries called 'ROKDA', 'DHAN' and 'HAVALA'   have been created of reclaimed land from the Indian ocean. they would be decked up with all the latest infrastructure. The constitution for the countries has been laid out. article 420 of this constitution states that ' a person can claim to be a citizen of the above mentioned countries only if he or she has looted the citizens of India. the minimum value of black money accrued by the person must be in the excess of  1 billion rupees. The newly appointed presidents of these countries who are incidently the grandsons of the chief perpetrators of the Common wealth games, the 2G spectrum and the coal mine scams have said that citizens of India who have a lot of black money would be allowed to invest this money in fake companies in the names of their Mother-in-laws. 

2. The world would finally be out of Recession says IMF chief

the chief of the international monetary fund today claimed that the world would finally be coming coming out of recession by year 2065 thereby ending an almost 60 year long global economic meltdown which saw Somalia, Mali and Fiji become economic super powers. On hearing this news, the President of Somalia decided that they have decided to hand independence to some of the countries under its rule. 
Another aspect that was fueling the growth of the global economy was the discovery of an alternative fuel source, Orange Juice. this after water was used as fuel for about 40 years post the oil drought. On hearing this, political leaders in countries like India have started purchasing orange orchards forcefully from farmers.

3. Earth is about 50 million people away from reaching its limit

The U.N expressed serious concerns this past week about the explosion in global population. The U.N chief warned that earth was just 50 million people away from reaching its limit of 10 billion citizens. A mass evacuation plan has been laid for people to be transported to the moon and mars over the next 15 years. In response to this news, The Indian Government tabled a bill in the parliament that stated that a family could have a maximum of just 10 kids. The proposal for this bill produced mass protests throughout the country. video screens were thrown in parliament during the video conference parliament session. The opposition had a massive logout from the session and has said that it is against Indian culture to stop people from having as many kids as they want.


Ms X from Lajpat Nagar, Delhi has won the 10th season of the chart busting reality show 'Rape Escape'. she goes home with a cash kitty of 100 million rupees (inflation has increased so much that even 100 million is an OK amount), a free visit to Asaram Bapu's ashram session on how to avoid rape and bragging rights.  the finale proved to be quite a tough affair. the competition was neck and neck between Ms X and Ms Y. the final task was for both the girls to walk for 10 mins on a pretty prominent street in the heart of Delhi. Ms Y tried real hard, she even used up her two 'izzat' cards as they are called. Izzat cards meaning that she could be covered in clothes from top to bottom. and the second card is that she gets to call a guy who is about to molest her 'BHAIYYA'. Even that didn't work and she was about to get molested when the production crew had to stop. Ms X on the other hand miraculously escaped and was hence awarded the winner.
In an interview after winning, Ms X claims that when she was heading back after winning the show, she was molested on the road by a bunch of guys. she has filed a complain and expects the case to be resolved in a fast track court by the year 2075.

I switched off my eyeglasses and closed my eyes. I was frustrated at the thought that I was reading news about things i thought would improve some 30 years ago. corruption in India, rapes, recession, global warming, population. stuff which were a problem back in the day and the human race believed that all this would be eradicated in the coming future. things had just gotten worse. after a while I opened my eyes and like what has happened in the history of the human race, I stopped crying over spilled milk and just hoped for a better tomorrow. if not in my lifetime then probably in the lifetime of my grand kids.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I thought about writing this post about 15 days back. the thing that probably stopped me was people rambling down my throat saying, "why are you bothered. you stay in the U.S. you are a sellout. why should whatever happens in india matter to you". A casual coffee pot conversation at work the other day led to my colleague very innocuously asking me a sort of rhetorical question.  "hey, I heard about what happened in Delhi, really bad man !!!. are these guys even human.? why were these guys left naked on the street for so long? couldn't they call 911 ?" what would I have answered. Should I have told them that we have probably the worst cop to citizens ratio in the world or that people didn't help the victims because normal people dont want to get dragged into a police investigation in India. I just  expressed my grief with them, filled up my mug of coffee and came back to my desk. sipping on my coffee, realization struck me. I cared about what was happening in India. although I was millions of miles away, it pained to see someone being treated like that. 

I know this post wont change the world, it wont make me any less of a sellout or for that matter reduce crimes against women in India. it is just my thoughts about this whole incident expressed in the cyber world. I did a lot of reading on this particular incident. pieces from international and national journalists, public outrage, and watched some panel discussions too. In this particular piece, I won't talk about what happened that night, that has been well played out by various media entities. what I want to talk about is the attitude of people in our country towards this inhuman act called RAPE or in hindi more convincingly called BALAATKAAR. the biggest irony in our country is that we worship women, have hundreds of goddesses who are revered, talk about women being the ones that take care of our homes, bring up our children with the right values, yet start discriminating based on gender right from the foetus. In a country with just 930 women for  every 1000 men, the girl child is still considered a burden for most of our country. we talk of reaching double digit growth, being the 10th largest economy in the world and the world's largest democracy. I think its a case of misplaced priorities and its time we started addressing other domestic numbers apart from the GDP. 

In the weeks following the tragic incident at Delhi, the nation finally stood up and it wasn't just rubbished off as just one more of the thousands of rapes in the country. If you ask my personal opinion, the country stood up and wanted change but this wasn't reflected throughout the nation. people in the metros seemed more angry and reflected the want for change. what about the majority of people of our country who reside in the B and C towns and the villages.  their voice is suppressed. they fear to raise their voice mostly because raising your voice would make you a social pariah in the village. A certain leader of our country made a ridiculous statement on this incident saying that 'rape and other crimes against women happens only in INDIA (i.e cities) and not in Bharat (i.e the vllages). the cities have adopted the west and have lost their 'Bharatiye Sanskriti'. The rapes, domestic violence, female foeticide which happen in the so called 'bharat' never comes out. the women who are subject to such inhuman acts never find the voice to speak out. they suffer all their life with just hope that someday their life would be better. Mr Leader all I have to say is that the same Bharat you speak about, treats women who have 'dared' to love and have inter caste marriages by parading them naked in the village. when did that become 'Bharatiye Sanskriti' or tradition that you talk about ? Another 'Bharat' card wielding leader very proudly said, that they have implemented some strict laws in the village. girls wouldn't be allowed to carry mobile phones as they would get involved with boys and women wouldn't be allowed to dance at Baraats and in public. my blood boils on the fact that after so many cases of rapes and crime against women, it is still the Indian women who has to be subject to such austerity measures. nobody thinks of addressing the perverse minds of the man.

A senior leader (I quiver each time I call them leader) of a prominent political party made this statement in Hindi that 'Koi apni Maryada ka ulanghan karega aur lakshman rekha paar karega toh samne raavan baitha hai... sita haran karke le jayega' meaning that if you cross a line or limit, you are bound to face Raavan or evil.  Such statements reflect the attitude of a sizable chunk of people in our country who think its the mistake of the woman.  A certain spiritual guru or should I say self styled demi god made probably the most ridiculous statement of them all. He said that the girl in delhi should have begged in front of those men and made them their brother to avoid being raped. this statement brought a lot of anger throughout the country. it is scary to know that this man has millions of followers both within india and internationally and that he was accused of molestation and murder in his ashram just about a year ago. these people are  almost  saying that men will act this way, its the women who should take care. Isn't that sad considering the fact that we call India as 'Bharat Mata'  meaning ' Mother land'.

the attitude towards heinous crimes like rape are reflected by the way we describe it in our country. rape is more commonly termed as 'Izzat Lootna'  which literally means to rob someone of their honor or respect. I beg to differ here. the girl hasn't done anything wrong for her to have lost her honor or respect. I would respect the girl the same if not more. in fact the men or rather animals are the ones with no honor or respect in any ones eyes.