Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest – what I saw and heard on Days 1 and 3

Day 1

Like last year I was in two minds about attending the Bangalore Lit Fest because the venue Crowne Plaza @ Velankani Park is way too far from my home and the road to Electronic City is always congested in spite of the elevated express highway. While I was lucky enough to get a drop to the venue last year, this year I had to travel by bus. Thankfully this year, the organizers had put up a list of bus routes on the festival website. I boarded a G3 bus from Brigade Road around quarter past eight in the morning. This is only the second time I am travelling by a G-series bus and I must say these buses are a very economic and a convenient mode of travel. Unlike other buses they don’t seem to get crowded.

The drive to Crowne Plaza from Brigade Road by bus takes around 1 and a half to 2 or more hours depending on the traffic. I reached the venue around 9.45 am.  I could only spot the organizers and a whole lot of young volunteers running around here and there to give finishing touches to the arrangements. The sound engineers were going crazy trying to fix the mikes. Very few people had arrived.  I guess most of them were held up because of heavy traffic.

Though the inauguration was scheduled to start at 10am it was only after a good 30 minutes that attendees started trickling in giving me ample time to find myself a comfortable seat and fix my camera settings.

The fest started on a vibrant and colourful note with a Kamsale performance. Kamsale is quite unique because part of the performers only sing and the remaining others sing and also dance. There is one main dancer who is attired differently. A highlight of this dance form is that the dancers also form a high pyramid even as they sing and clash the kamsale (a kind of cymbals). Now that looked quite amazing! The dancers who perform Kamsale are all devotees of Lord Shiva.

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The Kamsale performance was followed by the lighting of the lamp. On the dais were the who’s who of the Indian literary scene all of them elegantly dressed for the occasion. Famous litterateur and actor Girish Karnad made his debut at the Bangalore Lit Fest. He had not taken part in the last two editions. Others on the stage were Shobhaa De, Dr Chandrashekhara Kambhara, Chetan Bhagat, Binalakshmi Nepram and of course Festival Director Vikram Sampath. While each of them had nice words to say about the fest and their participation, surprisingly Girish Karnad chose not to say anything because he hadn’t experienced the fest as yet. Shobhaa De expressed her happiness about the complete absence of sponsors (the fest is community funded by the friends of Bangalore Literature Festival). Chetan Bhagat tickled everyone’s funny bone when he said that he had his own apprehensions about such a fest being held in Bangalore as he like many thought that the city is full of nerds and an Android festival or a Java weekend would have sounded more appropriate here. Binalakshmi Nepram said that Chetan Bhagat is wrong and was bitter about the city hosting arms-making firms during the air-shows in the wake of insurgency in the north-eastern states. She spoke about how unsafe the Eight Sisters of India had become and that people live in fear because of the shoot-at-sight orders. Vikram Sampath among other things mentioned about the year being a sad one for the arts scene with so many deaths – Khushwant Singh, Prof. U. Ananthamurthy, Mandolin Srinivas, and Maya Rao passed away recently. While this year’s fest was dedicated to noted Kannada writer and poet Prof. U. Ananthamurthy (the three stages at the fest were named after his works – Samskara, Suragi and Bharathipura) , the festival also focussed on the Eight Sisters (north-eastern states) of India. A couple of years back, people from the North-eastern states residing in the city had a trying time and many of them went back home in the face of rumours and threats to their lives.

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The event also saw the launch of the festival edition of Beantown, BLF’s magazine.

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After the launch, the programme ‘Shraddhanjali’ featured a documentary on Prof. UA. In a panel discussion that followed, Girish Karnad called the documentary as rubbish ( :-O ) and that it showed only one side of Prof. UA. Girish Karnad said that we should also look at the darker side of a person only then can we understand the complexity of his or her personality. He also opined that the portrayal of Hinduism in Prof. UA’s novel ‘Samskara’ is wrong and baseless. (Ironically, Girish Karnad enacted the role of the story’s key character Praneshcharya in ‘Samskara’.) Incidentally, AK Ramanujan’s English translation of ‘Samskara’ greatly influenced many an American’s idea of India. In fact, Girish Karnad mentioned how much of an influence ‘Samskara’ was on his life. Among other things, Girish Karnad also said that after ‘Samskara’, Prof. UA hasn’t written anything significant. He felt that Prof. UA was more of a short story writer than a novelist and that his writing should be gauged from his collection of short stories. All his stories were influenced by life in his village.

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On a lighter vein, Girish Karnad mentioned how badly Prof. UA wanted a Rajya Sabha seat but never managed to get it. Calling UA a great friend, Girish Karnad said that he misses him. Prof. UA never hesitated taking a stand on many causes and was a staunch fighter for rights. He created a tradition that writers shouldn’t confine themselves to a corner. Girish Karnad went on to add that Prof. UA was a great teacher and created an intellectual atmosphere around him. He always accepted his mistakes. His joie de vivre was amazing even when he was very ill. He was however not a great thinker and his ideas were borrowed. Artist SG Vasudev who was the art director of ‘Samskara’ recalled how Prof. UA threw the saligrama into the river and cut his sacred thread because he had married a Christian.

The bookstore at the fest had an endless array of books by Indian authors and an exhibition of rare photos of Prof. U. Ananthamurthy.

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“From full wives to Half-Girlfriend – The Women in Chetan Bhagat’s novels” which featured the author in conversation with Shinie Anthony turned out be a laugh riot. The techie turned author was humility personified when he confessed that though he is not the best of authors he definitely is a best-selling one. He attributes this to his marketing skills. When asked if he was a ladies’ man he said he wasn’t. He went on to add that every successful man has hordes of female admirers especially in India because of the sexist attitude that prevails and the same was the case with him. And yeah he believes his good looks have a lot to do with his popularity. He also admitted to having girlfriends and half-girlfriends (LOL) before marriage but they didn’t think of themselves as his girlfriend. He has always been turned on by smart, successful, and driven women and it was these very characteristics that attracted him to his wife Anusha and also the fact that she cleared CAT in the first attempt. He then went on to humor the crowd with anecdotes aplenty on how he shocked his conservative Tamil Brahmin in-laws with his marriage proposal and Punjabi lifestyle and disposition. He was full of praise for his wife and the way the Tamil Brahmin in her managed their kids and didn’t let his popularity affect them. He then went on to add that no women in his novels were props and that they were all women of substance. The female character in the movie ‘Kai Po Che!’ is incidentally named after Vidya Balan as a token of appreciation to her for helping make a movie of his book ‘3 Idiots’. When asked if he was a Bollywood groupie (a couple of selfies of him with Alia Bhatt and Jacqueline Fernandes were shown on the giant screen) he replied he wasn’t and if at all he was in any way attracted to Bollywood actresses it was because of the scarcity of women in engineering college during his student days. And so what if his IIT and IIM classmates were making big bucks; he could always show them his selfie with Alia Bhatt and ask them “Ab Bholo”. Though he has a lot fans, many in the literary circles have criticized his writing with some even asking if he knows English. Even before it was published ‘Half-Girlfriend’ had drawn a lot of flak with a slew of hate Tweets doing the rounds. Chetan Bhagat said that he reacts to criticism in the same manner as he reacts to praises; he takes them both in his stride.

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The ensuing session featuring actress ‘Queen of Hearts’ Rani Mukerji in conversation with Bhavana Somaya in the wake of the release of her film ‘Mardaani’ where she enacts the role of a tough cop turned out to be the most popular session of the day drawing the biggest crowd. The actress was barely recognisable in her girl-next-door avatar (jeans and a pink top teamed with a white stole around her shoulders). Bhavana Somaya later commented that Rani sported spectacles to wear an intellectual look ( 😎 ). -Among other things, the actress spoke about the importance of martial art training for young girls and the necessity for women to maintain a tough exterior when mingling with men. The Q&A session provided a couple of fans with opportunities that they till then had just dreamt about. One guy got to shake hands with her and another gifted the recently married actress a wedding present. Rani Mukerji just rocked!

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Thanks to heavy traffic and jams galore the journey back home was a nightmare. The bus ride to Brigade Road alone took two and a half hours and (phew!) I was drained. I decided to skip Day 2 and instead attended Day 3.

Day 3

Day 3 being a Sunday, it took me barely an hour and a half to reach the venue. And I reached a good half an hour before the first sessions started. I chose to attend the session ‘With Malice towards One and All: Celebrating Khushwant Singh’ which had author Humra Qureshi and actress Tisca Chopra in conversation about the celebrated writer who passed away recently. While Humra has worked closed with Khuswant Singh, Tisca Chopra is his grand-niece. Tisca looked elegant in a lovely ethnic printed gown and accessorised it with chunky oxidised jewellery. She sported a hairdo that went perfectly with the outfit.  Both Humra and Tisca had anecdotes aplenty to relate about his life and their personal interactions. Tisca spoke at length about how Khushwant Singh was regarded by many of his relatives as a dirty old man and girls were asked to stay away from him. He was however her inspiration to write. On the contrary, Humra Qureshi had only sweet things to say about him. She said that there was an unmistakable innocence about him. Khushwant Singh revered Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa and was struck by the strength of their character. Tisca narrated a humorous incident when she and her husband (who had then just begun to write) went to meet Khushwant Singh. He offered them a drink but from his body language he seemed to be very protective about his single-malt whiskey. For Khushwant Singh, drinking was a daily ritual.

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After this lively session on Khushwant Singh at the Bharatipura stage, I proceeded to the Samskara stage which had Arun Shourie in conversation with Madhu Trehan and I must confess that I just couldn’t get a hang of what was happening. Everything went over my head! The launch of Natwar Singh’s book Ek Hi Zindagi Kaafi Nahi was cancelled owing to the author’s ill-health. In place of that there was a conversation between Arun Shourie and Shekhar Gupta which again was something I couldn’t comprehend. Politics is just not my cup of tea! I left the session to have a cup of coffee. The serpentine queue at the food counter prompted me to have my lunch too.

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I next attended the session ‘Ocean to Ocean’ which had Sathya Saran in conversation with Sushmit Sen, former member of the music band ‘Indian Ocean’. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion which had Sushmit describe his experience with Indian Ocean especially an anecdote where after recording their first number with HMV, they travelled by train and composed another number late in the night when all the other passengers on the train were fast asleep. In the midst of all this there was a knock on the door and it turned out to be the TT. Far from reprimanding the musicians, the TT who was a music aficionado actually soaked in the musical reverie and bought them tea and coffee when the train stopped at the other stations. The duo also discussed Saran’s book ‘Sun Mere Bandhu Re’ on noted music director SD Burman who in spite of his musical prowess was known to pick up a fight at the drop of a hat. He was the godfather to a lot of Bollywood and music personalities – Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle to name a few. The session ended on an enthralling note with Sushmit Sen strumming his guitar much to the delight of the audience.

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The following session ‘My Life, My Work’ had Girish Karnad in conversation with Arshia Sattar  had the audience spellbound. The discussion had Girish Karnad reminisce about his life’s journey especially the making of Yayati and Tughlaq and his dreams of winning the Nobel Prize.  Arshia Sattar was simply fabulous as the moderator. Girish Karnad had the audience in splits when he spoke about the songs in his play ‘Hayavadana’ all of which were composed by him. He remarked that the songs were all written by him when he was in love. Not wanting to waste them he decided to feature them all in ‘Hayavadana’.  When talking about his other notable play ‘Tughlaq’, Karnad was all praise for Mohammad bin Tughlaq who he said had a very broadminded outlook. It was from noted poet AK Ramanujan that he had come to know that Tipu Sultan used to keep a dream diary. Karnad’s play ‘Tippuvina Kanasugalu’ is based on the diary.

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The penultimate session at the Samskara stage featured former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court Leila Seth in conversation with popular journo and emcee Vasanthi Hariprakash. Leila Seth touched a chord with the audience when she said that she is scared of rats and bats and would climb her cot at the sight of a rat and scream out to the servants. She was all praise for her husband Premo who inspired her to take up law and transformed her from a shy and timid Indian girl to a smart and successful woman. She admitted that she and husband went through a trying phase when they found out that their son Vikram (Vikram Seth of ‘The Suitable Boy’ fame) is bisexual. There was a time when the family was a butt of jokes and gossip. This was because while Leila and Premo had 9 to 5 jobs, all their 3 well-educated children would always be at home. While Vikram appeared to be scribbling on paper all the time, her second son Shantum who embraced Buddhism stayed in a mud hut adjacent to the house and daughter Aradhana, a Bollywood film-maker, would always be on the phone. All these anecdotes and more can be found in her memoirs titled ‘On Balance’. She has also authored a book, ‘We, The Children of India’ for very young children. I wanted to buy a copy of one of the books and get it signed by her unfortunately the copies were sold out.

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I had to skip the last session of the day ‘A Country Gagged & Bound’ as it was getting too late and also there was a possibility of a downpour. Luckily, thanks to less traffic the journey back home was smooth and quick and (yay!) I reached before the downpour.

Book Review: A Twist in the Tale

A twist in the tale

A Twist in the Tale is Jeffrey Archer’s fantastic story-telling prowess brought to you in 12 absorbing stories. There’s never a dull moment in any of the tales. And at the end of each you will be flummoxed because the ending will not be what you imagined it to be.

Have you ever been at the wrong place and at the wrong time? Well, you’d better not be. You’ll know why after you read ‘The Perfect Murder’.

Is opening an account in a Swiss bank in your bucket list? Yes? You could take cues from ‘Clean Sweep Ignatius’.

You must have heard that marriages are made in heaven. Well, I think careers are made in heaven too! Read ‘A La Carte’ and you will agree with me.

You never know how helping someone can change your world. ‘Colonel Bullfrog’ will drive you to tears.

A Rabbi has been reading his son’s letters every day for the last 10 years but why? ‘Christina Rosenthal’ is what true love is all about.

‘Just Good Friends’ is so funny that I don’t even want to get started on it! And I don’t even want to get started on the other six stories. Grab a copy of the book and enjoy a journey of surprises!

Soaking in vintage chic

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It is always a pleasure walking along the roads of Basavanagudi dotted as they are with charming houses, temples and a lot trees. I have been to quite a few walks and a couple of treasure hunts in this part of the city and have never returned disappointed. A visit to Basavanagudi takes you to a Bangalore  far removed from most parts of the city. A lot of heritage bungalows which once defined Bangalore’s cityscape can still be found here, some of them in mint condition and some others in a sad state. There are still traces of old world charm here and you often get to interact with senior citizens who don’t mind going any length to tell stories of the glorious past they have seen. Not surprisingly, tour and walk organizer Unhurried’s first ever Basavanagudi Heritage Homes Walk on Saturday evening (6 September) drew a lot of participants. Like me, I’m sure most of them wanted to soak in the vintage charms of this beautiful locality. Among the motley group of walkers were architects (including the walk leader), a doctor, techies, a teacher, homemakers and businessmen.

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August being a particularly wet month in the city, I was a little skeptical about the weather on Saturday. And a bus commute to Basavanagudi would take me at least two hours. In spite of that my enthusiasm got the better of me and I decided to go. My worst fears came true when it started raining cats and dogs even before I reached half the way. I had already changed two buses and decided not to take the third. Instead I decided to take a rickshaw. The driver seemed to be well-versed with Basavanagudi and I was confident I would reach the venue on time. How wrong I was! What would have been a 30-minute commute took way too long. I in fact I lost my way and irritated the walk lead with several calls before finally joining the walkers much after the walk had started.

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The cream-washed bungalow with brick pillars

Inside the bungalow:

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I joined the group in a cream-washed bungalow with red accents and brick pillars. Mercifully, the heavy downpour had by then abated to a drizzle. The participants were all ears to Rohit whose great-grandfather once owned the sprawling property. The now uninhabited colonial building which was constructed in 1956 had seen far better days. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stayed here during one of her visits to the city. Back then the property cost Rs. 46,000 (undoubtedly a lofty sum in those days). It was with a tinge of sadness that we moved from room to room. The interiors of the once-beautiful house were crying for attention. Complementing the bungalow is a large courtyard with trees on the sides. If renovated I am sure this once-prized possession will turn into a stunner.

As we gathered to move out I ran into Vandana my classmate at school. I hadn’t seen her for years. In fact we were meeting for the first time since we left school. During the rest of the walk we had a lot to talk about – school, classmates and blah blah 🙂 🙂 . For both of us this added to the vintage element of the walk.

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Presto’s ThinDi Katte

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Inside Nittoor’s bungalow:

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The main gate of Nittoor Srinivasa Rao’s bungalow. Notice the details on the name plate.

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The bungalow of Nittoor Srinivasa Rao’s cousin

Our next stop was at the Presto Restaurant on Kariyappa Road, which actually is a portion of the home of late  Nittoor Srinivasa Rao, former Chief Justice of the Mysore High Court. One of the most famous personalities who lived in Basavanagudi, Nittoor Srinivasa Rao lived up to the ripe old age of 100 and passed away in 2004 just short of his 101st birthday. Nittoor’s lovely house is a perfect example of sustainable heritage and a complete contrast to the bungalow which we last saw. Nittoor’s relatives stay in the portion of the house behind Presto’s. Adjacent to the house is another heritage bungalow which belongs to Nittoor’s cousin. After a cup of piping hot coffee at Presto restaurant’s ThinDi Katte it was time to move on.

Mr Ugrappa's house

Mr Ugrappa’s house

We were next shown the 97-year-old house of Mr. Ugrappa. We admired the bungalow from outside the gate and moved on to another old dwelling called ‘Om Bhagya Bhavan’. This one was a towering one and its beautiful façade covered with a blanket of greenery. It looked like a house straight from a fairy tale.

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The backside of the bungalow Rajeshwari

The front side of Rajeshwari

The front side of Rajeshwari

Our next halt was the backside of an imposing vintage building. This one was again crying for attention. Estimated to be over 80 years old, the house named Rajeshwari belonged to HL Narasinga Rao. On moving to the front of the house we were greeted by the yelps of an oh-so-cute boxer who just couldn’t contain her excitement on seeing so many of us.

Dr Balu's house

Dr Balu’s house

Inside Dr Balu’s house:

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After bidding goodbye to the adorable boxer we next visited Gitalaya, the house of late collage artist Dr V Balu. The pretty house with an equally pretty garden and courtyard has a very inviting look. While the ground floor and the staircase which leads to the first floor are adorned with a lot of artifacts, the first floor houses the studio of the late artist. The walls are enlivened with colourful artworks of his. A balcony gives a panoramic view of the greenery that surrounds the house. The floors of the house are covered with ornate tiles and adding to the colour are the stained glass windows. This was a very much a house that breathed art from every corner!

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Dr Seshachalam’s house

Another period bungalow

Another period bungalow

We could only admire the façade of the house of Dr Seshachalam, former Surgeon General of Victoria Hospital, from the outside and that too through the pillars of an apartment. However, we had a good view of the right side of the house. A bystander here tells us that the house will soon be razed and make way for an apartment. What! It looks too good to be razed down. Can’t we preserve beautiful heritage houses like these for posterity?

The sepia-toned family photo of Mr Mahadevan adorns the reception of Basava Ambara

A sepia-toned family photo of Mr Mahadevan adorns the reception of Basava Ambara

Mr Madhavan's house now the residence of his youngest son Devendran and his wife Sushila

Mr Mahadevan’s house now the residence of his youngest son Devendran and his wife Sushila

The greenery around the Madhavans' house

The greenery around the Mahadevan home

The outhouse of the Madhavans' home now houses Basava Ambara

The outhouse of the Mahadevan home now houses Basava Ambara

Inside Basava Ambara:

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As we walked by we pictured another pretty vintage architectural gem before halting at Basava Ambara, an outhouse-turned-boutique at the home of Mr. M. Mahadevan. Like Nittor Srinivasa Rao’s house, this colossal bungalow, which was built around 1900, is another example of sustainable heritage. The outhouse is now home to Basava Ambara, a boutique that besides apparel and other things, exhibits and sells antiques most of which have been collected from heritage houses in and around Basavanagudi. The courtyard also houses a restaurant adorned here and there with antiques which have been very creatively arranged. A large black and white photograph of Mr Mahadevan and his family which included seven children adorns the reception. The text below the photograph mentions that the area beyond South End Circle was once upon a time a forest and peacocks could even be seen at Aramugam Circle!

Diwan Krishna Rao's house

Diwan Sir MN Krishna Rao’s house

A tree surrounded by an ornate parapet

A tree surrounded by an ornate parapet

The right side of the bungalow

The right side of the bungalow

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The wooden gates at Diwan Sir MN Krishna Rao’s home

Inside Diwan Sir MN Krishna Rao’s house:

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Our final stop for the day was at the residence of Late Diwan Bahadur Sir MN Krishna Rao, another famous personality who resided at Basavanagudi. His is the only bungalow in Basavanagudi with wooden gates. We were greeted at the gate by his great grandson Mr Narendra, a renowned Kannada and English writer who has authored many books. Late Diwan Sir MN Krishna Rao is the father-in-law and uncle of Nittoor Srinivasa Rao and, as many Bangaloreans know, a park in Basavanagudi is named after him. The walls in the house are adorned by photos of the famous man and also a whole lot of sepia-toned photographs of other family members. Also occupying a pride of place on one of the walls is the certificate of Knighthood conferred on Diwan Krishna Rao by the British queen. Particularly eye-catching here were a large swing in the central hall of the ground floor and a huge vintage Scott radio encased in a wooden box on the first floor. My eyes also caught sight of an ornate straw sieve hung on the wall. A map of the future world by Gordon-Michael Scallion evinced a lot of interest among some of the walkers. One of the walkers who had read Mr. Narendra’s book ‘Pralaya’ was delighted at unexpectedly meeting the author. After a few conversations at the garden of the large bungalow it was time to move on.

Bread roast masala dosa

Bread roast masala dosa

Most of us ended our evening with a cup of coffee and a snack at Presto’s ThinDi Katte. I chose to have a Bread Roast Masala Dosa because the name sounded interesting and I love trying out new dishes. It turned out to be a cracker of a choice! Crisp, lip-smacking with just the right proportion of spices the dosa tasted out of the world!

On my way back to the bus-stop I enjoyed some night views of Basavanagudi. Truly, this was one helluva Saturday evening! If only we could preserve all the lovely bungalows for posterity!

An unforgettable trip to Madurai

The street outside the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai

The street outside the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai

I had been to Madurai years back and save for the famous Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple I didn’t quite take to the town. For one, I had to stay in a dark and dingy lodge with fluorescent green and yellow walls that had no windows at all. The surroundings of the hotel were anything but green. Houses and other buildings were constructed with no gap between each other and there were hardly any trees. I abhor concrete jungles.

The East Tower of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple

The East Tower of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple

When my family decided to make a road trip to Madurai on the long weekend last week I decided to go only because of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. My earlier visit to the temple town was a fleeting one and I didn’t get to see the entire temple. A most notable miss was the fabulous kalyani (temple pond).

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We started early morning on Ganesh Chaturthi day which was a Friday. Our trip was along NH7 which I must say is a very green highway. The SUV was moving fast thanks to the fantastic condition of the road which made it difficult for me to take pictures. Mountains could be seen at a distance on both sides of the road. Surprisingly, in spite of it being a festive day, I hardly noticed any festive fervour. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha stared from hoardings at many points during the drive. A lot of lush green fields skirted the highway. It felt nice looking at the luscious green expanses.

The lunch thali at Aarti Hotel, Vedasandur

The lunch thali at Aarti Hotel, Vedasandur

We stopped at a place called Vedasandur for lunch. Aarti Hotel where we lunched is a very simple joint and the interiors are very quaint. Furniture is the 70s’ kind and the staff a mixture of old and young. The lunch thali was a simple Tamil Nadu spread of a bowl of rice with sambar, rasam, vatta kuzhambu, papad, butter milk, cabbage curry and Ivy gourd curry as accompaniments. I loved the vatta kuzhambu. I just couldn’t have enough of the tangy preparation so I asked for a second serving along with more rice.

An auto plies on a Madurai road

An auto plies on a Madurai road

The dining area at The Gateway Hotel, Pasumalai

The dining area at The Gateway Hotel, Pasumalai

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A sago palm

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Aerial view of Madurai as seen from above Pasumalai Hill

Aerial view of Madurai as seen from above Pasumalai Hill

Peacocks on the lawn

Peacocks on the lawn

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So near yet so far

So near yet so far

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Post-lunch was another green drive. We arrived at Madurai at 5pm. Our place of stay, The Gateway Hotel, atop the Pasumalai Hill has a green driveway. The sprawling 65 acre property which houses heritage buildings said to be owned by the Madura Coats group was once the residence of a British official. Painted in white and red, the beautiful colonial buildings perfectly complement the verdant greens they are surrounded by. Some of the trees on the property are labelled. I spotted a variety of trees of the Ficus family. Neem trees, sago palms, tamarind trees, frangipani trees, coconut trees, cork trees and many more varieties add to the tree wealth on the beautiful campus. There a lot of peacocks and peahens on the estate hopping around merrily. After a welcome drink we were ushered into our living space. The dim-lit interiors of the room had an old world charm and the period furniture glowed in the filtered light from the lampshades. There was a door which led to the backyard at the centre of which was a wrought-iron dining table and chairs painted in spotless white.

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Just as we were having a recce of the room, we heard a peacock call from a distance. My niece nudged me to move outdoors and off we went in search of the bird. It wasn’t long before we spotted the fella near the swimming pool. I have never had such a close view of our National bird. Wow! He looked so magnificent that I found it difficult to take my eyes off him. A staff member was feeding him bajra and she invited us to join in. We stretched our bajra-covered palms out to the peacock and fed him. When he was picking the grains it felt like he was plucking our fingers. We loved the experience! In a while more peacocks joined in and a couple of squirrels too and I must say we had a party 🙂 🙂 . We were lucky we reached the spot at the feeding time because later we realized the peacocks don’t respond to calls unless there is a staff member with you.

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An ornate wrought iron bench painted in white that overlooked granite mountains proved to be the perfect place for us to stretch our legs and relax even as we took in the beautiful panoramic views of the green surroundings.

Later in the evening, my niece played around in the swimming pool and I reclined on one of the deck chairs with a PG Wodehouse. As the evening wore on and night fell we had to move back to our room. The buffet dinner that night was a sumptuous multi-cuisine spread. I just loved it!

The next day

I woke up next morning around 5.30 to a peacock call. I opened the door to the backyard and spotted him perched on a tamarind tree. And there were Seven Sisters too [also called ‘Saath Bhai’ in Hindi, the jungle babblers usually move around in groups of seven].

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungle_babbler

Whoa! So many birds and the scent of mountain air made me feel I was in paradise. There was a slight drizzle and I could see a bright rainbow in the sky. Sadly my camera battery was drained so I couldn’t take a picture of the rainbow and the peacock who struck some fantastic poses (sigh!). He even danced! (sob sob why did my battery have to get drained 😦 😦 )

Like the dinner spread the last night, the breakfast spread had a lot of items. I particularly loved the Paal Kozhukattai [rice balls dipped in sweetened milk]. They tasted so much like Rosogullas. If it hadn’t been for the label on the container, I would have thought I had eaten Rosogullas (yum yum yum).

We hired a taxi to take us first to the Thiruparankundram Muruga Temple and then to the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. We had to make it fast because the temples close doors at noon.

Entrance of the Thiruparankundram Temple

Entrance of the Thiruparankundram Temple

The 1200-year-old Thiruparankundram Temple is a rock-cut temple. The deities are carved in stone and inside a cave. The gopuras of the temple are colourful and majestic but sadly I couldn’t take a picture because of time crunch. Constructed by the Pandya dynasty in the 8th century AD, the spot is believed to be one of the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Legend has it that it was at the spot where the temple stands that he was married to Devyani, the daughter of Indra, the King of Gods. The mandapas which lead to the temple were constructed by the Nayaka dynasty during the 17 and 18th century AD. After paying our obeisance to the deities we moved on. There is another shrine atop the granite hill and to reach that we would have to climb 600 steps. We decided not to go again because of time crunch.

http://indica.co.in/thiruparankundram#.VAgnRVfvz1A
http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/As/India/TamilNadu/ThiruparankundramMurug.htm

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Our next stop was the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. The 12 gopuras of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple are majestic and adorned with stucco work depicting deities, mythical animals and demons. Every 12 years, the gopuras undergo a makeover followed by a ceremony. As the name suggests, this ancient temple is dedicated to Meenakshi (fish-eyed avatar of Goddess Parvathi) and Sundareshvara (another name of Shiva which translates to ‘the handsome God’ in Tamil). Meenakshi is however the key deity of the temple. Our guide tells us that during the 7the century AD the spot where the temple stands was a field. Farmers discovered a Shiva Linga in the field and informed the ruling Pandya kings who in turn decided to construct a temple and dedicate it to Shiva. Local lore has it that Meenakshi was the daughter born to an issue-less Pandya king after he performed a yagna. When the princess who was fish-eyed was of marriageable age a swayamvar was organized by her father. She chose Shiva as her husband. The two have since ruled Madurai as deities of the temple.

Subsequent dynasties like the Nayakas added to the original structure. The gopura at the eastern side of the temple is the main entrance. The sculptures that adorn the temple are simply fascinating. It is only here that Nataraja (the dancing avatar of Shiva)  is seen performing the Tandava Nritya with his right leg raised. Our guide also pointed towards a painting of a Linga on the ceiling which turns towards a person as he or she turns. This was simply amazing! A work of a versatile artist!

The kalyani (or temple pond) is another attraction here. Also called the Potramarai Kulam (or Golden Lotus Tank), it is surrounded by pillared corridors.

At the temple, you can’t miss the Thousand Pillared Hall. It has 985 ornate pillars and doubles up as a museum.

After leaving the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple we headed to a handloom shop. Madurai is also famous for its handlooms. Our lunch stop was at Sree Sabareesh, a popular restaurant in this part of Madurai. Lunch done we headed towards our hotel.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent wooing peacocks. Try as I did I couldn’t get the pictures that I wanted. The peacocks refused to give me a good pose. In the evening, I headed to the wonderful seat overlooking the hills and continued reading the PG Wodehouse book. As dusk fell and I was retreating towards the room I noticed a pair of oh-so-cute curious owls. I just loved their expressions 🙂

Late in the night, I spent a good one hour trying my hand at table tennis and realized that I can hold a TT racquet and strike a ping pong ball. Yay!!

Dinner was another mouth-watering fare. Kudos to the chefs of The Gateway Hotel! The Bundhelkandi Masala Rice was my favourite and I helped myself to another serving.

The last day

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Day 2 started wonderfully well with the call of peacocks. My niece managed to feed a peacock and was on cloud nine. A couple of squirrels too joined the peacock. After a hearty breakfast it was time to leave. It was rather painful bidding goodbye to such a beautiful place.

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I spent the journey back home dreaming about the paradise that we left and the lovely peacocks. For once, I forgot about the existence of my camera. It was even sadder to think that the next day I would have to wake up to an alarm and not the call of a peacock.

And I no longer think Madurai is a concrete jungle. The temple town has a lot of green patches too.