Navratri Greetings to all my readers who celebrate.
How I miss the kolu. There is something supremely satisfying about setting up the arrangement of dolls which invokes the Goddess in her many forms as the manifestation of wealth, courage, and wisdom. The large kolam at the threshold, the golden radiance of the lamps with five wicks, the smells of fresh jasmine flowers, sandalwood incense and camphor, and the chimes of silver bells that accompany the sacred chants which vibrate through the house. The kolu visits and the visitors, the songs praising the goddesses. I miss it all, feeling not so much homesick as timesick for my school days in the nineties when every festival appeared to be so much more brighter.
This year I celebrate the festival as I used to do as an undergraduate in the college hostel, with a simple sankalpa puja, offering a prasad of organic chocolates.
And this is perhaps the loveliest rendering of this chant on the goddess that I have heard, reminiscent of this quote from Salinger,“Their voices were melodious and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation.” (For Esmé — with Love and Squalor)
There are controversies on celebrating 22 Aug as Madras day, as it is associated with colonialism. But people who belong to the city are aware of its history, which goes far beyond the three hundred plus years that mark this anniversary. The day is just an occasion to reaffirm love for the city which so many of us, irrespective of where we happen to live, will always call home.
Here is a short excerpt from The Reengineers, which begins with a love letter to the city.
“Aside, which called itself ‘The Magazine of Madras’, is now as much a memory as the city’s old name. Yet, the vibes of my city remain unchanged. The vibes that you get from the old Leo coffee ad in which a woman serves filter coffee in a steel davara-tumbler to a man against the backdrop of a butter-Krishna Tanjore painting, suggesting a typical Madras home where kolams of rice flour bloomed in the courtyard at dawn and the warm morning air carried the strains of the Venkatesa Suprabhatam.
The feeling of home still pervades my city, despite the impersonal flyovers that now criss-cross above the old familiar roads, the acres of shining skyscrapers that buzz with the sounds of the software cities teeming within them, and the gleaming malls that may soon outnumber the tiny Ganesha shrines on each street, all of which make the Chennai of today such a different world from the Madras of 1991, where this story first begins, and then begins anew.”
The Reengineers, p.3-4
Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan
This is the old Leo coffee ad mentioned in the paragraph. I was a child when this ad used to be aired on television. But every time I watch it, it makes me timesick for the sweetness and simplicity of Madras of the nineties.
“The Madras summer begins in March. I remember reading in the Aside magazine that the season of hell begins in this month, the other three seasons of the city being, of course, hot, hotter and hottest. It was my favourite time of year, for the end of March meant the beginning of the long vacations. The idea of dying at the age of fifteen in the beloved summer month had seemed morbidly romantic, and I had almost looked forward to it. However, later that summer, I truly rejoiced in the heat, for the years of ice within me had finally thawed.”
I was especially delighted that The Reengineers was published in March. For in spite of Elmore Leonard’s much quoted rule of never starting a book with the weather, I chose to begin the novel describing a summer day in Madras.
A summer day in Madras in 1991, which is so far away in space and time that looking back, it feels almost like a different country. It was the age of the last few years before the advent of the internet. When time flowed so gently that a vacation felt like a lifetime, a weekend was an age and an evening passed like an eternity.
Fifteen year old Chinmay lived in this charming epoch of time and was planning to die there, but something happened on that day which changed his life. The Reengineers narrates this story.
I am giving away two copies of The Reengineers in exchange for reviews, and two more copies as part of a Goodreads giveaway. Both giveaways are open until 22 April 2015.
Please do enter the Goodreads give away or contact me for review copies of the book (the give aways are currently open only to readers in India), if you wish to know what happened to Chinmay on that summer day, the stories that he came across during his surreal adventure and why he chose to live at the end of it.