Going home on the wings of the breeze

How a friend imagined the Palakkad countryside

The wind carries many memories.
Here, stranded in a foreign land, away from friends and family; I am reminded of home as I sit in my room and listen to the wind outside.
It is the breeze from the mountains, cheeky and fresh. I feel like a grandpa trying to amuse my mischievous 12 year old grand daughter. She darts this way and that, pulling at your hair one moment, hiding behind the trees the next. Her presence and gaiety awaken a spirit in me that I thought I had lost long ago in the scramble of growing up.
The wind carries many memories.
As it touches my face, I am reminded of sleepy mornings at my father’s home in Palakkad. I spent many childhood summers in that ancient house. Going there used to be a ritual that our family went through every summer. Achan (meaning father in Malayalam) would take a couple of days’ leave from work and we would take a train to Palakkad Junction.
The trip to the country was an adventure for me and my older brother. Amma (mother) would dress me and my brother in our best clothes. We were visiting our old relatives who would judge my parents based on how well-behaved my brother and I were. Before leaving, Amma  would coach us on how to conduct ourselves. In the city, I was allowed to be a tomboy. But at Palakkad, I had to be a “girl”. “Don’t splay your legs out in front of you. Sit neatly. Always keep your hair neat. Don’t ask me stupid questions when we are there,” Amma would go on the day before we left. The plastic earrings Amma sent me to school in (for fear that I would lose the gold ones) were discarded. On the day of the journey, I was all decked up in gold and silver. My hair was oiled and neatly tied in a pony tail. I even had to wear kajal and a bindi. I was ready to take on the countryside and charm my way into my aunts’ good books.

The train journey was our favourite part of the trip. My brother and I would fight for the window seat. He usually won. I would have to wait until some passenger got up to claim my seat next to the window. We would eagerly wave goodbye to the familiar places of our city as we passed them. The rest of the journey was a visual treat for eyes that were used to the drab landscape of cities. Green paddy fields stretched on for acres and rivers calmly flowed by. Achan would point out the Chalakkudy River, the Kerala Kalamandalam, the Bharathapuzha and several other places on the way. We never got tired of these sights no matter how many times we travelled on that route. We munched on hot parippuvada and pazhampori brought by the pantry staff on the train. My parents would sip tea in paper cups with the strings of Taj Mahal teabags hanging from their rims.
Soon it was time to get off at the station. Achan insisted that we cross the railway lines carrying our luggage so that he could take his old shortcut home. On the way, he would stop to greet a white haired old man he had known as a child. He would smile at us and we would smile back although we didn’t know who he was. We didn’t understand what he said to my Achan because he had no teeth and this distorted his speech. After he walked past, we would ask my Achan who he was and he would struggle to explain the long chain of relations that connected us to that old man without teeth.
Our house was situated on an upward incline. The gate creaked as it opened and this would alert my aunt to our arrival. She came out and stood on the doorstep to greet us. We would lug our bags up the incline and deposit them by the door. We would stand there, panting, and survey our surroundings. The elders would comment on the reduction in the number of fruits borne by the mango tree by the front yard and the health of the coconut palms. Once this ritual was done we would go inside and freshen up. We would be given tea and then be left to our own devices.
My brother and I explored the house and the grounds. The house managed to look old no matter how many times my aunt got the walls painted. The clay tiles on the upper floor threatened to give away as we kids ran all over it. Despite its age, the house remained handsome and graceful; like my grandmother’s portrait hanging on the sitting room wall.
The only person who ever walked around the compound during those days was the girl who came to sweep the ground and keep it clear of weeds. Achan and his siblings had left the old house to live in their own cities. An old aunt looked after the house while we visited her during the summer vacations. The house came alive as my brother and I discovered its secrets.
Amma would wake me up the next morning and send me off to brush my teeth. She can go about her day’s work peacefully only once I’m bathed and fed.
The bathroom indoors is for the older people. The children brush their teeth standing by a low tap outside the kitchen. The cold water and the fresh breeze pried my sleepy eyes wide open. From where I stood, I could see the outline of the distant Thoni Mountains, hidden behind wisps of cloud. The wheel, to which the bucket for carrying water from the well was tied to, creaked as the wind pulled at the bucket’s rope. I could hear the sound of rodents scampering over the firewood dumped in the old cow-shed.
The cool mountain breeze was all around me as I stood there – a 10 year old girl – mesmerized. The memory was to be etched in my mind forever, taking me home when I was lonely and tired in the city.

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J.R.R. Tolkien – The man and the magic

Wolvercote Cemetery, located in a small village in Oxford, is a place of pilgrimage for many. People from various parts of the world flock here to visit the final resting place of J.R.R Tolkien, the author of books like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, that continue to hold sway over children and adults, even today.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, or Ronald as he was known to family and friends, was born on January 3rd 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Englishman Arthur Reuel Tolkien and his wife Mabel. He also had a younger brother named Hilary. When Ronald was three years old, his mother took him and his brother to England for what was planned as a short vacation. Unfortunately, his father, who was expected to join them in England later, died in South Africa due to an attack of rheumatic fever. The Tolkiens then stayed with Mabel’s parents in England. Their woes did not end there. At age twelve, Ronald lost his mother to diabetes, which was a fatal disease in those pre-insulin days. The boys were then assigned to the guardianship of Fr. Francis Morgan, who played an important role in their Catholic upbringing.

Tolkien was a keen student of languages from a very young age. He quickly gained competence in languages like Greek, Latin, Gothic and Finnish. As a child, he had even created new languages, purely for fun. It was this love for languages that allowed J.R.R. Tolkien – the writer – to take shape. In fact, Tolkien is perhaps the only writer studied so extensively as a fiction writer and a philologist. Even today, his craft and style are discussed in academic circles all over the globe. The volume of his writings is so vast that it has been able to sustain the interest of linguistic researchers for decades.

He further explored his affinity for languages during his student years at Oxford. Early German, especially Anglo-Saxon literature, poetry and mythology fascinated him. He was inspired by their language, style and subjects. Their influences can be seen in a lot of his writings. Throughout his student years, he kept an interest in the creation of new languages, attempting to invent a language for the Elves.

Tolkien found his soul mate in Edith Bratt, whom he married in 1916 after a long courtship. The same year, the United Kingdom was engaged in World War I and Tolkien joined the armed forces. In June 1916, he arrived in France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force. This was a difficult time for him and Edith. He later wrote, “Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then … it was like death.” It was a stressful time for a simple man like Tolkien. He was sent back home in November 1916 as he was suffering from trench fever, a disease common in the unsanitary conditions of the war. Tolkien lost much in WW I. He declared, in later years, “One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”

Stirred by his experiences in the war, he wrote The Book of Lost Tales (published posthumously) during his period of recovery. Most stories of the Silmarillion first appear in these pages. The book also featured the romantic tale of Luthien and Beren, the immortal Elf-maiden and mortal Man, which was inspired by Tolkien’s wife. It was from this point that the magical world of Middle-Earth took off on its flight.

Later, Tolkien took up a post as Reader in English Language at Leeds University. Here, he continued his work on The Lost Tales and the “Elvish” languages. Tolkien successfully applied for the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925. It was during his Professorship at Oxford that this man fully discovered the magical world of Middle-Earth. He was the professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-1945 and of English Language and Literature from 1945-1959. During his tenure, he met with several intellectual minds of his generation. C.S. Lewis, also an author of fantasies like The Chronicles of Narnia, had been a good friend of Tolkien’s. They were both members of “Inklings”, an informal literary discussion group in Oxford. Tolkien presented some of his early writings to this group. The two encouraged and supported each other. Unfortunately, they fell apart from each other later.

Meanwhile, a stroke of inspiration led the master writer to author The Hobbit. The now well-known story goes thus — while he was carrying out the tedious task of marking exam papers, he came across a paper in which the candidate had left a page blank. On a stroke of what could, perhaps, be called divine intervention, he was moved to write, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”, on the page. It is only appropriate that one of the greatest stories by the father of modern fantasy should have begun thus. The genius that he was, Tolkien then went on to write more about the Hobbit and his adventures, thus creating a classic fantasy. An incomplete manuscript of The Hobbit happened to fall into the hands Susan Dagnall, an employee of the publishing firm George Allen and Unwin, who encouraged Tolkien to write more. The Hobbit was published in 1937, and became an immediate success. This was followed by The Lord of the Rings (published in three volumes from 1954-1955). And the world of fantasy literature was transformed for ever. Several works of Tolkien’s were also published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien. Some of them are the Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin etc.

Tolkien was not the first writer of fantasy. There were several others like William Morris, George MacDonald and Andrew Lang who came before him, and from whom he drew inspiration. But Tolkien, in his works, put together an irresistible combination of a mind-blowing storyline, simple writing and subtle humour. W.H. Auden says, “I rarely remember a book about which I have had such violent arguments. Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it”. His works have invited quite a bit of criticism. Tolkien has frequently been accused of “escapism”. The only reply is that the Lord of the Rings is exactly that … escapist literature of the very highest quality! The Lord of the Rings and the other books like Silmarillion transport the reader into the magical realm of Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s descriptions are so vivid that one cannot help but “believe”. Only Tolkien, with his immense dedication and passion for his story, could produce such extensive material to bring to life a whole new world. Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts throw light on the depth of the history he created for Middle-Earth. As a philologist, he also created languages for each of the species described in his books, Quenya and Sindarin being the most well-developed of them.

The depth and clarity of Tolkien’s stories endeared him to his readers.  Tolkien, who revived the fantasy genre of writing, is called the Father of Modern Fantasy. The greatest tribute to the unparalleled genius of this man is the influence he has had on every writer of fantasy after him. Best selling authors, like W.H. Auden, Arthur. C. Clarke, Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffery and several others, bow before this mastermind. “Tolkien did what Dickens and Dostoyevsky did, create an entire universe with believable characters, depth and details. Very few people manage that,” says Michael White, author and biographer. Tolkien has received several awards and commendations in his lifetime. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1972. The users of Amazon.com voted the Lord of the Rings the “Book of the Millenium”. His books have acquired a cult following and have been made into movies and video games.

Despite the fame and popularity that he received, Tolkien still remained the same, simple man. He was against industrialization and disliked cars, often choosing to ride a bicycle. He preferred the peace and tranquility of his home and life with his family. When he rose to popularity, he chose to move to the quiet resort of Bournemouth with them.

J.R.R Tolkien passed away on the 2nd of September 1973 and was buried alongside his wife, Edith. The legend on the gravestone says:

Edith Mary Tolkien

Luthien

1889-1971

John Ronal Reuel Tolkien

Beren

1892-1973

Even in death, Tolkien remained true to his passion. “I wish life was not so short. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about.”, says one of Tolkien’s characters from the book The Lost Road. In his limited lifetime, J.R.R Tolkien brought to life a whole new world that will entertain people in the generations to come.

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Arterios – the art corridor

When you walk into an art gallery, you expect to see paintings hung on white walls, in rooms with strong lighting and polished marble floors. You will find none of these at Arterios gallery in North Chennai’s Shenoy Nagar. Here, the paintings are displayed on the walls of the third floor corridor in a residential apartment. Arterios is exactly what it claims to be – “A gallery with a difference.”

Apart from the unusual setting, the gallery displays only the works of young, upcoming artists. This “Corridor gallery” is the brain child of Lata Gopati, an artist herself. She graduated in Fine Arts from Stella Maris College in Chennai. However, she chose not to pursue a career as an artist. “Climbing up the art world is tough for a young artist and it is difficult to sustain a career in art, month after month.”, says Ms. Gopati. She worked in PR, Customer Service and Administration for about 20 years and is currently a corporate trainer in soft skills and personality development. It was one of her friends who noticed her paintings and first bought them from her. She hasn’t looked back since. Today, she is a name to reckon with in the Chennai art scene. Her paintings adorn the walls of individual collectors and multi-national companies. Arterios is her attempt at helping other artists find their space. The gallery provides an excellent platform for artists who cannot afford the high rent demanded by conventional art galleries. At Arterios, no rent is charged and artists pay only a nominal sum as registration fee. Rama Suresh, Sheela Maradi and Kaamar Thiya are a few of the artists who have benefited from this gallery. After their show at Arterios, they have been able to do solo exhibitions and receive the patronage of art collectors in India and abroad.

 There were several voices that discouraged Lata from starting this venture. Many said that the gallery, located away from South Chennai which is Chennai’s hub for art and artists, would not attract many visitors. But a year and a half later, Arterios is still going strong. Ms. Gopati says with a smile, “I have not lost my motivation.” Every exhibition they have held so far has been successful.

Arterios continues to be a haven for young artists and lovers of art. It promotes art for art’s sake in a world where art is increasingly becoming commercial. And what can be more creative than using the bare walls of an apartment corridor to display works of art!

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GOOGLE VS. CHINA

In a world where freedom of speech and expression continues to be under threat from various political forces, global Internet giant Google’s decision to stop censoring its Chinese search engine is an event that is to be celebrated. On March 22, 2010, Google stopped censoring its search in China. The company did this by delivering search results through its Hong Kong servers. Visitors to google.cn are now being redirected to google.hk.

Google’s decision to oppose the Chinese government was sparked off by a series of incidents that pointed to unethical activities taking place in Chinese cyberspace. China has been actively censoring internet usage within its borders for several years now. In 2003, the “Golden Shield Project” began its operation under the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The Project is also dubbed “The Great Firewall of China” as it mainly functions as a firewall that blocks certain content and websites from the Internet. Apart from this, all search engines in China have to comply with their Internet censorship laws. Searches relating to topics like the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and other issues which the Government would rather not have the public remember, either give error messages or pages heavily doctored by the Government to present a rosy picture of things. Until recently, all search engines, including Google, complied with these Orwellian regulations imposed on them. However, Google discovered that GMail accounts of certain Chinese human rights activists had been hacked and they traced the hackers to mainland China. It also came to light that several other companies, including Yahoo!, Symantec, and Adobe Systems, had been the targets of similar attacks. Google subsequently announced that it was unwilling to censor its services. This was followed by a dispute with the Government which ultimately resulted in Google’s move to Hong Kong. This event has brought the attention of world media onto the aggressive and restrictive practice of Internet censorship practiced by The People’s Republic of China.

The Internet is celebrated as a medium that encourages free speech. World over, people express their views on a variety of issues on their blogs and websites, thus taking their opinions to an audience of over a billion people. It is this ability of the Internet to hand the power of the media over to the common man that is its greatest strength. Websites like Wikipedia, Blogger and social networking sites all provide testimony to the might of the Internet. During times of war and crises, the Internet has been a medium for people to convey their views to the world at large. What China, and other countries like it, is trying to do is to curb this avenue for uninhibited articulation of thoughts. It tries to manipulate public opinion by doctoring the information that its people receive. And what’s more, all this is done in the name of protecting its citizens from Internet pornography, terrorism and to prevent Western cultural influences. While there can be no objection to these objectives, the fact is that the Government uses these rules to extensively censor any and all voices of dissent that rise against it. United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said in her speech on Internet freedom that the challenges of Internet porn and terrorism “must not become an excuse for governments to

systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes.” The China Government has been censoring public opinion on not just the Tiananmen Square protests, but also the Tibet and Uighur issues. Several activists who spoke out against the atrocities of the Government in these areas found their views blacked out. Quite a lot of them were even detained in prison. The activities of the Chinese Government strongly resemble the propaganda practices of the Nazis and the KGB. Obliterate the opposition by gagging their mouths – that seems to be their mantra. The sad fact is that such a situation exists in what we claim is a modern world. China is slated to be the next big global superpower. It apparently plans to get their by curtailing the most basic rights of its citizens. Yet another distressing detail – there are several companies that still play by the Government rules. Baidu, which is China’s biggest search engine, controls about 63% of the market share. It is also follows one of the most restrictive censorship policies in the cyber world. Other search engines like Yahoo! China and Microsoft’s search engine Bing also censor their results. Analysts say that they are unlikely to follow the Google way and risk the wrath of the Chinese Government. Google has not pulled out of China completely. It has only re-routed its search through the Hong Kong servers. However, if Google does back out, then the field is open to those willing to comply with Government regulations.

What the Google vs. China issue has done is to bring the restrictive practices of the Chinese Government under the global scanner. It has created an embarrassing situation for China, which is already under fire for Human Rights violations in Tibet and Urumqi. The United States has taken the first step by supporting Google and asking

China to put and end to its censorship practice. Others must also take up this issue as a free and fair China is in the best interests of all countries. An internet campaign to put and end to censorship would be a fitting answer to this breach of basic human rights.

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A day well spent

Hey folks! Spending a day working hard at something you enjoy is a pleasure that you dont get all that often. Specially, now that my college has reopened, days are spent doing nothing but classwork and assignments. So a day of hard, but different and interesting work, comes as a refreshing experience.

I spent all morning at the Civil Station at Kakkanad completing the procedures for getting a learner’s license. I did have to spend a lot of time waiting there. But finally getting the learner’s felt good. In about a months time i will also be taking a test to get my actual license sanctioned. And very soon i will have a 2-wheeler and 4-wheeler license. Then, i can go to college on my scooter and zip around the city.

I rushed home to have lunch and then left for college immediately. My best buddy Nandini was waiting for me there. Our friend Teena is celebrating her birthday on tuesday. We bought a nice jute bag for her. It will be fun on her birthday. We have also begun to write articles for the MetroPlus supplement published by The Hindu newspaper. We had decided to write an article on used books stores in the city. Today, we went around the city checking out used books stores and getting interviews from the storekeepers and customers. Boy, did we have fun! Firstly, we got to check out really cool books at all the stores. Then, we got to tell all the people at the store that we were about to write articles on them. It was nice to see all teh people blushing and rushing to give us more information. Specially the younger girls and guys at the stores were really excited at the prospect of seeing their names in print. It was a fun day altogether so far.

Now i’ve got to go and get the article underway. We will visit a few more stores tomorrow and meet more people. But for now, its work time.

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I’m 18!!!

Hi folks. Hey, I know i broke the promise made in the previous blog the very next day. But then I suppose I can be pardoned on the account that back then i was a minor. But now im 18. So i’ll have to keep my word.

I turned 18 yesterday(which is what i actually wanted to talk about). I live in Kerala where we have a calendar different from the one used worldwide. Of course, the Georgian calendar is used here too. But we also have another malayalam calendar. It is our old form of calendar and though it isn’t used officially, it still finds following all over Kerala, specially among the Hindus. It is following this calendar that we have all our various festivals. So, according to the Georgian calendar i was born on the 17th of February 1990. But according to the malayalam calendar i was born on the vishakham of the month kumbham in the year 1165.  It is very rarely that the malayalam birthday coincides with the Georgian one. So people usually celebrate either one of their birthdays.

But I being the youngest and the most pampered in the family, get to celebrate both these days. The Gregorian one is normally reserved for classmates and other friends. Thats when I celebrate at school, or now, in college. But the malayalam one is celebrated with family. On my Gregorian birthday I have cake and chocolates and stuff. Whereas on my malayalam one, I have traditional sadya with payasam and go to the temple.

Yesterday was my 18th birthday as per the malayalam calendar. I got up early in the morning and went to the devi temple with dad. There we did a pushpanjali(it is an offering of flowers to the deity) and got our neypayasam(which is something like pudding made of boiled rice, jaggery and ghee) offered to the deity. We then get to take it back home. Anything that is offered to the deity is called “prasadam”.  Later on, my mom was to prepare a grand sadya for lunch. A “sadya”  is a traditional malayalee feast with lots of ingredients. A full scale sadya has lots of dishes. However, we couldnt make all that at home. It would just go waste. You need lots of people to eat a huge sadya. The four of us at home couldn’t manage it on our own. But the sadya at home was quite huge considering the number of people who would eat it. Before the sadya begins, you light a lamp and lay a plantain leaf before it(sadyas are usually had on plantain leaves). This is also done as an offering to the gods. The wick of lamp and the leaf have to face the east direction. In a sadya there is a particular position for each dish and a particular combination as well. Yesterdays sadya had 11 dishes excluding the rice. I don’t think there is any need to mention that i could eat very little for supper last night.

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Study hols are here again!!!

Hello people. I’m back again after a long time. And guess why. Its study hols again 🙂 . Theres something about study hols that gets my creative juices flowing. It is during these days that I have most amount of free time. There are no classes. Everybody expects me to be studying and so don’t give me any extra work . But since studying is the last thing I do, I have all the time in the world. And doing creative stuff also soothes my guilty conscience. Because its something thats good and at the same time enjoyable as well.

So, this study hols……..i plan to write something or the other everyday. Except maybe on Sundays. So help me God with this endeavour. Give me the will power to keep to this task that i have given myself 🙂

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