Raising a citizen!

Ten year old daughter discussing her Geography with mother.

“Amma, what is AP?”

“Andhra Pradesh”

“What is UP?”

“Uttar Pradesh, MP is Madhya Pradesh”

“What is Telengana?”

“Oh that……You see dear, the state of Andhra Pradesh was divided into two states. The new state formed is Telengana.”

“Why did they split AP? Doesn’t India already have too many states? Don’t they all still speak the same language?”

“Yes, they speak same language of Telugu. But the dialects maybe different and also the state was split due to infighting for territory and thereby wealth.”

“But the Government has to agree, right?”

“Yes, it was done with the approval of the Government.”

“Really? Why would the Government agree to do this? Don’t they know that more states is more difficult to manage?”

Mother paused, stopped folding the laundry and started thinking about how to answer the question.

“You know what amma –  We need a good Government. That’s what we really need.”

Mother happy about the citizen with awareness that is growing up in front of her eyes and also of course that she didn’t have to answer many more such questions!!!!!




Random Indian thoughts – I

I have been away from my home country for around ten years now and I have gone back for visits almost eight times in this period of time. The tickets are expensive – you work hard year round just to make enough money to cover the tickets and other spending during the stay. When you are back to work, you start over from scratch again. But I have not regretted any of the trips we made so far.

When you look at it from a North American perspective, you save all your vacation days and use them for your India trip. Your North American friends are jealous that you get one month of Vacation to the exotic land of India! Many of my Indian friends feel that they are stressed when they are in India and it is not actually a vacation. I do agree to this thought and it is true for most of the times I visited home. When my friends come back from one of these trips they swear that they are not going back for say, another 5 years.

Most of the time, average IT Indian families plan their trips around some event that is happening back home – like brother’s wedding, dad’s Birthday, sister having a baby. On some unlucky situations, they go back home because one of the family members is seriously ill or someone passed away. When you combine these events with visits to relatives houses etc. you do not have much room to build in your own agenda of a trip to your favorite hill resort. How can you consider this a vacation if your agenda is dictated like this?

There is a lot of complaining after coming back – oh, we didnt get to do all the things that we wanted to, it was too hot, the relatives were whiny and bad to me, India has changed so much, it is too crowded, all the shops do not take credit cards…..it goes on. What I have found out in all these years is that, even though you do not get to plan your time off, and there are a million other things that you do not enjoy there, there is an undeniably STRONG relationship between you and your homeland. It just cannot be explained in words. You go back so that you can be YOURSELF.

The feeling of belonging and being ones own self is something we forget very easily and conveniently. The last time I went, I had a very stressful trip owing to the fact that it was my children’s first visit and they got sick way too often. But that does not stop me from thinking about my next trip and I am already looking forward to my next one in August. Again, this time it is my Dad’s 60th birthday event that is dictating the dates and places, but hey, I would still take it.

Do let me know how your visits to your home land are like, when is your next visit and what you are looking forward to do in that trip, your thoughts on  my musings………..

Oh, by the way it is not like I never complained anything about my trips and vacations to India. I did do that when I was younger, naive and did not have the big perspective on life and dwelled on immediate pleasures and rewards of life. I have learnt to think of the big picture of life through my own experiences as well as from others.

Yoga, Spirituality Series – Part II Addendum

Addendum to Kolam  

I came across this interesting piece of information when I was browsing the net for some related information. Thanks Karthik, for sharing this Sudoku-like kolam for prosperity in your website.

My mom draws this floor painting called Kubera Kolam everyday in the pooja altar. She Kubera Kolam IKubera Kolam Idraws a 3X3 square, writes some numbers on it, keeps one rupee coins on the number, puts vermilion on the coins and finally some flowers on them.

Kubera Kolam I    Kubera Kolam II   Kubera Kolam III

When I asked her about the significance of it, she told me it’s called Kubera Kolam and believes that the house will never be short of money. I am not interested in her belief but now more interested in the numbers. The numbers are from 20-28. When we sum the numbers across the rows and columns they always end up in 72, which again boils down to 9 which is considered a divine number.

There is a variation to this called “The Lo Shu Square”, originated from china. This is also a 3X3 matrix that has numbers from 1 to 9. The sum of numbers across the rows and columns is always 15. If you add 19 to every number in the Lo Shu Square you get Kubera Kolam. There is also a big story to it. You can read it here.

Global Road Safety Week


We are all aware that India is working hard to become a Global leader alongside USA and Canada. Trade between India and other global countries are booming and many companies are either starting up units in India or are thinking about it. It is ironical that the automobile industry has seen a great shift to the Indian scene with more and more automobile giants like Ford establishing manufacturing untis in India. The Indian diplomats are very busy these days with visiting delegations and working on trade relations with countries around the world. While this is exciting, it is now time to think about some of the challenges that exist in India.

It is Global Road safety week and the infrastructure supported by India is in a bad condition. A report released by UN shows that India ranks second in death by raod fatalities only next to China. Around billion people die every year from road accidents and a million of them died in Indian roads. There are far less vehicles that traverse the Indian roads than the US, bu the fatalities are totally out of proportion. You can read more about the UN report here .

India does not have a great ambulance system that gets the victims to the hospitals in time to save the lives. The demand is higher than the supply owing to the population. The raods are too treacherous and very few drivers follow the safety rules. The police are not viewed as a friendly force like other countries and thus people are scared to come forward, take responsibility and offer help to victims. Private hospitals are not enthusiastic to offer care for accident victims since the involvement of police and courts will directly hit their ratings.

By not thinking about road safety, India is losing one of its biggest assets on which it is building its dreams – its resources. There is no one solution to the situation, but it is a good time to think about following the safety rules and driving sensibly to avoid accidents. A single step taken by a single individual will go a long way in the right direction. Creating awareness about road safety is one of the solutions that can also help to improve the situation.

The first UN Global Raod Safety week is being celebrated from April 23-29, 2007. The theme for this year is young road users. Many youngsters from around the world will participate in a Youth Assembly and discuss how they think the roads can be made safer. More details about how UN is organising the activities for the Global Road Safety week can be read here.

Love that ringtone!!

Old lady on the mobileMan on mobileKids talking on mobile

 I was in India recently and was amazed to see how people used and relied on their mobile phones in their daily lives. Each person in every household had at least one instrument to take with them. The instruments themselves were very compact, attractive, had accessories and versatile. Nobody bothered about the land lines and depended on their mobile much more. One of my cousins cooked up a festive dish without a recipe and all the time on the phone with her aunt giving instructions. Even the ingredients to the recipe were bought from the stores with live assistance from aunt on the phone.

One could set different ring tones for their contacts which can be movie songs, spiritual songs, pop or rock. The instrument makes it is so easy to download the latest ring tones. Popular songs are available as ring tones soon after they are released. When you dial a friend, you can hear your friend’s ring tone. Here is something that is even neater than that – you hear a friend’s ring tone, you like it – you catch it in your phone – it’s that easy.

The television shows these days are very interactive with the viewers. In fact most of the shows are driven by the mobile phone service providers. Viewers send their reactions or send answers to the quizzes by SMS to the TV show. One can send their reactions as many times they want and what better way to promote the service! My cousins send SMS to their friends, relatives, teachers and neighbours at any time of the day. One can even prepare messages and set a date and time in the future for it to be sent out – do it while you remember!

The cost of the instrument and the service charges are very friendly that even the lowest strata of the society are able to afford it. The trend now is to have mobile phones only and discard the land line and its service. During my stay, I was able to hire auto rickshaw for my transportation with the help of the driver’s mobile. It would take me hours otherwise to get anywhere given the location of my house.

The service providers also do a great job of making sure their service is available in most of the remote places. Another great service I really enjoyed was, the instrument displayed the nearest tower to which your service is connected to. It also gave me a sense of location when I was travelling in unknown parts of the state. SIM card is another great feature if you have an instrument that uses it.

Games, camera, contact book and all the other standard features are also available in almost all the phones. All these features of the mobile make the use of it in India an enjoyable experience. Communication is a key factor to the coherence of the society and today the mobile phones play a great role.

The mobile services provided by companies in India have effectively extended it to many countries of the
Middle East like UAE and Bahrain. The instruments from these mid east countries also are very compatible with the services in India. The fancy and cheaper instruments available in the mid east make the mobile phones even more lucrative to India.

In North America, I find that people are connected more through computers and online messengers. Mobile phones and their services are not attractive enough. Many of the service providers do not offer ring tone downloads or they are expensive. Phone to phone text messaging is available with a few providers, but again it is expensive.

USA and Canada being part of North America lead the world in global economy and are always eager to adapt to the ever changing technologies. I wonder why the mobile phone service industry is still not attractive and expensive. Could it be that the development of this technology and services is being withheld by the big brothers for their own political reasons? Could it be that people find computers more practical than the phones?

Maybe someone reading this blog have answers and can help me understand why it is the way it is. I am looking forward to the day I can pick up my mobile and dial a friend without thinking about my long distance charges during weekday daytime and the free minutes left in my plan and of course hear one of my favourite tunes………………..

What’s next in the mobile phone industry in India? It is ‘cellivision’. That’s right; Mobile TV is on the cards right now and is expected to be launched in May. Next time I go to India, I can take my TV everywhere I go.

For more details – http://ia.rediff.com/money/2007/mar/22tv.htm

Curry – Dish or blend of spices?

Whenever I talk to my North American friends about Indian food, they ask me whether I make curry. Of course, not only I make curry but I cook a variety of curries. Curry is not just one dish that Indians make which seems to be the general notion. Curry is a blend of spices which we add to our dishes to make it tasty.

Curry is known as Garam Masala in India. Garam means ‘hot’ and Masala means ‘mixture’. A variety of spices are ground and blended depending on the dish to which it will be added. Generally, garam masalas have cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, coriander, cumin, black peppercorn and bay leaf in them. Turmeric, cumin, asafoetida, cardamom are some of the unheard and rare spices that are used in the Indian recipes. These spices are used for their color, fragrance and taste.

Turmeric is the root of the plant and it belongs to the ginger family. It grows in lush tropical regions. It is said to have many medicinal values including uses as antiseptic. Many researches are being conducted to find other medicinal properties of this spice. The root is dried and ground to be stored as turmeric powder. It is yellow in color and very fragrant. Women of India apply turmeric paste to their body to enhance the beauty of the skin. Turmeric is also considered very sacred in Hindu culture. It is extensively used in Indian dishes.

CardamomCardamom is another rare spice that is used extensively in India. Anyone who has had Indian Chai from an Indian restaurant has had it. It is one of the major components of the spiced tea. Cardamom is considered the Queen of spices due to its exotic nature. It is the fruit of a perennial tree that grows in humid climates. The special cultivation techniques make this spice unique in aroma, flavour, size and color. The dried fruit is pale green color and has to be peeled to get at the seeds. The peels are also very aromatic and can be added to your tea canister to lend the flavour to your tea bags. The black seeds can be ground easily and can be added where the recipe calls for it. This spice is mostly used in Indian sweets like the Gulab jamun, drinks like Kheer, other desserts like custard. When cardamom is added, it sure gives the dish a festive feel to it.

Cumin is dried seeds from the cumin plant. Cumin seeds are small and shaped like long grain rice. They are always confused with fennel seeds and coriander seeds. They are very fragrant and are darker in color than the fennel seeds. These seeds are extensively used in Indian, Mexican and Thai dishes. Cumin is believed to provide relief from gastro-intestinal problems of your body. In India, cumin seeds are added to boiling water which lends a pale yellow color and taste to the water. Cumin seeds are either used as such in dishes or dry roasted and powdered form in other dishes.

Asafoetida also known as Devils dung is the resin or gum extracted from the sap of a perennial tree. It has an aroma which some people classify as disgusting and others as fragrant. Either way, its aroma and flavour are very strong. If your recipe calls for it, add the ingredient sparingly. It is available in stores as a block or in cans in its powdered form. The block when ground fresh will have stronger flavour than the powder. Due to its nature it should be stored in air tight containers. When cooked the flavour becomes mild and adds to the taste of your dish. It is known by the name ‘Hing’ in India and mostly it is used in the recipes of Hindus and Jains. Hing is added in mild quantities to the dishes owing to the digestive properties of the spice.

Spice ContainerThe spice jars used to store the spices is as interesting as the spices itself. It is a round box with inner jars. They come in a variety of sizes and may or may not come with individual lids for the smaller jars. There is a small plate above the jars which is used to store red chillies and there is a lid to the base container.

Happy Cooking!

Vani Viswanathan

All you wanted to know about the Sari

Sari is the traditional garment of Indian women. The women of India have been wearing this for hundreds of years. It is an unstitched piece of cloth and its length varies from five yards to nine yards. Sari is draped around the body and it can be worn in many different styles. Generally, the sari is draped around the waist with some pleats and the other end is draped around one of the shoulders. The part that is worn around shoulders usually will have elaborate artwork. It is called the pallu of the sari. The length of the sari will have borders on one side or both sides. The main body of the sari which is draped around the waist will have some print work or embroidery to enhance the looks.

Red SariIt is quite an art to drape the sari in such a fashion so that the main feature of the garment is highlighted. Moving around gracefully wearing a sari can be quite challenging without the pleats falling off from your waist and the pallu sliding off of your blouse revealing the contours. Think about how women perform dances wearing these! It is no secret that the ladies of today’s world use quite a number of accessories to hold up their saris. Safety pins are a girl’s best friend who is going to wear a sari to school for the first time. Sari is considered to be one of the most graceful dresses of the world.

In the olden days, the sari is draped around and nothing else was worn – the women bare their upper body. Blouses were introduced to make the garment a more modest one. The blouse that is worn is from shoulder to midriff baring the belly button. An underskirt is worn to hold the pleats in place and also give the garment a fluffiness. Usually, the blouse matches or contrasts the shade of the sari and can be stitched in a variety of patterns. In modern days, women have revolutionized the blouse with making it sleeveless, open back, windows and ties in the front and back.

Indian women wear saris during festivals and for all traditional occasions. The type of sari worn will vary widely and will also be based on the gathering. Expensive saris made with golden thread artworks (known as zari) are worn for weddings. Daily wear saris can be simple and elegant and easy to drape and maintain.

Saris are made with a variety of fabrics all over the world. Saris can come in a variety of patterns including vegetable dyed, block printed, embroidered, embedded with metals, pearls or expensive stones. The various fabrics used can be cotton, silk, polyester, nylon or rayon. Some of the expensive saris need high maintenance, while the cotton saris may need starching to bring out their beauty.

Sari is also worn in many other countries of Asia including Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Westernised dresses are fast replacing the sari shelves of the youngsters. Today’s generation will prefer wearing jeans and a shirt for more convenience any given day. But when they think about the wedding costume, they prefer wearing the traditional sari. 

Whichever style you wear, inexpensive or expensive, pure hand woven silk or polyester women clad in saris are a delight to watch!

Vani Viswanathan

Music of India

Indian music is one of the oldest traditions of the world. The music industry of India is vibrant and multi-faceted. The style, language and presentation vary as one travels from east to west or north to south. In general, music of India can be classified into Carnatic classical, Hindustani classical, folk music,film music, and pop music. Any piece of Indian music you hear can be largely accommodated into one of these cultures.

Pandit RavishankarCarnatic classical is the traditional music followed by South Indian music associates whereas Hindustani is the classical style adapted in Northern parts of India. Hindustani music has gained international popularity whereas Carnatic music is still heard only in large North American cities where there is a good sized Indian population. Pandit Ravishankar who plays the Sitar and Zakir hussain who plays the Tabla follow the Hindustani traditions. The basics remaining the same in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles, musicians have been able to perform fusion music rendering in their own styles and improvising onstage. Carnatic music compositions are mostly made in the languages of Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada whereas Hindustani compositions are either Hindi or Urdu.

Folk music is highly region based and is slowly fading into the past. Folk songs were largely a part of daily routine in the early days and hence they carry the rhythm of life with it. It could either be sung by the workers in the fields during harvest when they were working their way in the scorching sun or the calming lullabies sung by mothers at night when they were rocking their babies with the cool breeze. There have been some movements to revive this genre of music and it probably will gain more popularity in the coming years.

Film music in India is a huge industry with revenues in millions. Songs are a big part of the movies of Bollywood and any given movie could have one to five songs in it. In the movie, the actors and actresses synchronize their lip movement with the song. Professional playback singers lend their voice to the tunes. The music is set to fit the storyline of the movie, the character and the situation of the scenes. Occasionally, actors sing the songs themselves too to the horror of the audience. Ilayaraja, a prominent South Indian music composer has scored music for more than 4000 songs and has performed many Symphonies within short time spans. He is the first Asian whose symphony was performed by RPO (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). Film music has the most ardent followers and admirers among the Indian population.

The movie industry in India follows many traditional protocols and rarely steps out of winning formulas to give opportunities to new comers. This opened the way for the youngsters to look for other avenues to present their talent. Pop music albums were easy to produce and there were lesser financial risks. The young talent turned to this area and came up with many creative albums. Most of the Indian pop albums revolve around the subjects of romance, patriotism, spirituality and festivals. Pop albums are looking up to the western music industry and more modern themes are being used lately.

T N Krishnan and RajamIndian music has integrated many musical features from other cultures. Violin which was originally a western instrument is the main accompaniment to a Carnatic music concert. Carnatic vocalists perform sitting down cross-legged and hence the violinist also has to sit down and balance the violin between his shoulders and feet. Many musicians have recorded fusion music integrating Indian music with Western artists. George Harrison of Beatles fame has played the Sitar in one of his songs which he learned from Pandit Ravishankar.