I'm shocked that the first decade of the new millennium is over. I still remember my sister and I were watching Titanic as 2000 dawned. And close to midnight, we ran to the balcony and counted the seconds to 2000 on her watch. I was a gawky 14-year-old, and she, a college student. She's now a mother! God, I feel so old!

I've been reading so much about the Margazhi season recently, that I am longing to go to Chennai so badly. I'm fiercely jealous of anyone in Chennai right now, and anything that people have to say about the city and the December kutcheries, etc., are capable of causing a spiral into nostalgia. As a kid and as a teenager I used to hate attending a lot of these kutcheries, but thinking back on them now, I figure I rather enjoyed them once I was there. Visions of accompanying paati (all gleaming in her silk saree) to a TM Krishna kutchery in Music Academy, and with amma to TTD for a Nithyashree kutchery seem like glimpses of someone else's life. Not to forget good ol' Krishna Gana Sabha that we used to go to thadukki vizhunda, simply for the sheer proximity of the Sabha to our house. And as years moved on and kutchery outings became rarer, the TV - especially the Margazhi Mahotsavam on Jaya TV - slowly became the window to the world of December season kutcheries.

The other day I asked my mother if Salem had any such thing. Her response indicated Salem didn't even feature in any musician's plans. Obviously, I thought. What wouldn't I give to go back to my life in T.Nagar - to five years back - when life, home, friends and everything outside of Singapore centered on Chennai!

When I think back on 2010, I feel it was a strange 'non-happening' year - despite everything that happened - an escalation of responsibilities at work, carrying the DSLR pretty much everywhere, and opting to have fun by watching movies, eating out and simply yapping away. I think I used up most of 2010 making plans for 2011.

Of course, Spark was among the biggest things that happened in 2010. My writing habit has been whipped back into shape, I have been having great fun editing people's works, reading the brilliant things a lot of them have to say. My awe for anyone who can write poems has increased manifold.

New Year in Chennai meant a trip to Muppathamma Kovil beating its crazy crowds. I haven't been home for New Year's in three years. Midnight would have made no difference at home because I'd be fast asleep :) Tonight, I'm determined to catch the fireworks in Singapore and take some photos of them - fingers crossed!

I know 2011 is going to be a big year. I see it coming. I feel strangely optimistic and confident, and yet my brains are telling me to stay calm and be practical. Keeping in line with my usual levels of resolutions, here's what I plan to do in 2011:

- take Spark to new levels
- more photography. Joining a beginners' class soon!
- travel. Greece is happening next year. I still can't believe it :)
- ice cream at least once a week, but reduce the number of chocolates.
- a return to those long walks I used to take in NTU.
- chart out a proper plan to volunteer/give back - no sporadic money donations,  something bigger.

That's enough, already. Cheers to the New Year! Hope 2011 has more happiness, no disasters or war, amazing health and fun!
Yesterday should have been a historical day in the life of the Chennai girl.

At 8.30 pm last evening, I was seized by a sudden urge to cook dinner. But what? The obvious starting point was vendekkai, okra, ladyfinger. That was enough; I grabbed my bag and walked to the supermarket.

It's not a good idea to go to the supermarket when you are hungry. You end up buying the most random things - simply everything looks appealing. After getting my shopping basket heavy with a bag of oats, kiwi, butter, Nuttella and such unnecessary stuff, I finally walked to the vegetables section. Potatoes looked good. Did we have onions? I don't know, why don't I throw them in anyway. Tomatoes, ah, yes.

The basket was too heavy to handle by now, so I decided to skip the cauliflower and capsicum. Struggling with three bags, I came home, turned the music on extremely loud so I can hear it in the kitchen all the way from my room. I had no idea what I was doing, but was elated for some reason. Turns out I did have onions, by the way. Never mind, chop them up. Blanch the tomatoes to make puree. Boil the potatoes in a microwave. And chop the baby okra.

I threw them into the cooking pot one by one, adding in spices as I wished. Pepper. Cumin. Coriander. Chilli. A generous helping of salt. Added some water. Dumped the potatoes and okra in, and closed the pot. My own recipe. And when I removed the lid to check it after five minutes, darn it, it smelled good. Quite good.

I was shocked. Really. This was the most I'd done in my life outside of those cook-vegetables-add-salt-chill-powder-and-coconut, and minor variations of the same recipe, the most I've deviated from this being for dal. Remember, I'm talking about cooking by myself here.

I gingerly opened the lid to the pot again. It still smelled good.

I did a little jig in joy. I can cook! And it's nothing, my mind reasoned in happiness. Cooking is totally overrated. If you have the interest, it's a cakewalk. I was immensely pleased. I was already thinking of what I could tell my mom on the phone later that evening. 'Yup, it was my invention!' I'd proudly say. And I knew that mum would be heaving a sigh of relief and laugh at my excitement.

I switched it off just when the okra was starting to turn squishy. Yup, just fine. Excited beyond words, I dunked a spoon in and tasted it. The thing was friggin' hot, obviously, and I couldn't taste a thing. Ah, it can't be bad - and so it went on a plate.

My first reaction upon eating was that it was, erm... missing something. It wasn't salt, I'd learnt to identify that some three years back. The spices were ok. Not that it tasted bad, but something was off. I was disappointed. I thought long and hard for five minutes, and finally decided it had to be the bloody tomatoes. Those awful orange tomato-thingies you get in Singapore. They were the cause for my rasam tasting like boiled water, and now they had ruined my precious dish. The more I ate my preparation, the more convinced I was that it was the tomatoes - yes, that weird, tangy taste from pulikkara tomatoes. Bummer.

I was disappointed only for five minutes. Mum called soon after and I excitedly told her about the dish. 'Vendekkai and potatoes?!' she asked. 'Uh-huh. And it doesn't taste bad, except the tomatoes ruined the taste a bit,' I said. 'Err... ok!' she concluded, and went on to discuss how the pulikaachal she'd given me was doing. As long as it's not Maggi, mum is happy with whatever I cook. I guess she's just happy I'm getting my fingers burnt. The daughter who used to run away from the kitchen if the mixer was on or if mom was spluttering mustard seeds, has grown up.

And so you realize why yesterday should have been a historic day, and yet didn't quite turn out to be one. But of course, as with anything else, I move on.The biggest take-away from yesterday's incident was that it reaffirmed my delayed realization that cooking isn't that difficult at all. A little interest and involvement, and you're there already. Now, it's time to build that interest and involvement. For right now, any interest only stems from not wanting to eat anything else that's already out there (no Subway, no MOS, no Sticky Rice - ok, let me cook!)

P.S.: How do you like the new template? I spent over an hour going blind searching for the perfect one (not girly, not Manga, not grunge-rock, nothing too artsy, nothing too simple - I know, I'm a nightmare), only to choose the first one I'd seen and bookmarked. I realized with horror that my basic HTML skills have gone down the drain, and stared at the 60 pages (on Word) of code before giving up trying to edit it.
1. The flight I came in had no row number 13. 12 and then straight to 14.

2. Half an hour into the flight, I look out and I see a beautiful sky - a brilliant blue that gradually fades away into white only to merge with soft, puffy clouds. The clouds look so beautifully white, like snow - I feel like I'm flying low over the Arctic or something. The sun shines brilliantly on my back. We're at an altitude of 38,000 feet, and we're crossing the seas comfortably. I don't think I'll ever be able to get over the fact that man invented planes.

3. The old man sitting next to me - I'm sure he was in his 60s - started off with gin, then had two glasses of wine and two glasses of orange juice.

4. It's amazing how within 45 minutes of seeing blue, clouds which were fluffy white soon got tainted with a tinge of setting-sun pink.

5. On my way home in the taxi, I saw a SQ flight taking off (or landing) on a bridge a few meters above the road on which we were going. It was brilliant, and I was shamelessly staring open-mouthed.

6. Trips to India can just make you feel totally disoriented. I was up till 2 in the morning trying to fall asleep, went to the office in a daze, ate at 2 pm (this from the person who wants lunch at 11.30 am), was starving at 5 pm, and was craving for noodles with a dash of Amma's pulikaachal.

And I know that by tomorrow evening, home, rasam, nephew and Salem's setting sun will feel ever so distant.

I’m officially allergic to Salem. This is the third time I am visiting this city and been sneezing unstoppably. People try to convince me that it’s because I’m getting too used to the ‘pure air in Singapore’. Rubbish. This has never happened when I used to go home to Chennai. Never. All the same, it is highly annoying to be doing one of the following all the time: a) sneezing; b) trying to avoid sneezing; c) going through the painful moment when you have to sneeze but it’s not happening.

Sunsets in Salem are beautiful. The hills just provide the perfect background, and it’s amazing to watch the red ball of fire go down every day, painting brilliant streaks of orange throughout the sky.

Mom tries to interest me in cooking – again. She asks with complete incredulity: ‘Why can’t you make proper rasam?’ (she’s been trying to teach me for the last five years) Having been subject to my brilliant doubts such as why ulutham paruppu is labeled ulundhu (she was shocked when I said ‘Ohhh! You mean ulutham paruppu and ulundhu are the same?!’), she should know better than to expect more from me. My bad luck, I screwed up while cooking something as simple as oats, eliciting the oft-heard ‘Yevan unkitta vandhu maataporaano…’

There's just something incredibly exciting about the last few pages of a book. Any book, good, bad, random - it doesn't matter. A story is coming to an end, the episode of life of the humans in the book that it's all about, is coming to an end. You are about to read something that a writer thought was beautiful enough to leave you with. It's just magical.

I have just put down Murakami's Norwegian Wood. I was reading it munching on a pizza slice, and after Chapter 10, had decided to read the rest later. But I made the mistake of reading the first few lines of the next chapter on the facing page, and wham! I had to get back to it. I was done with my food, and went to get myself a drink. And my music player switched to The Battle of Evermore. I hurriedly put the song on a loop, and went back to the book.

I was reading a work of genius, surrounded by mandolin in a song that is sheer brilliance. An insane Tuesday couldn't be coming to a close in a better way.

It’s been nearly six years since I started this blog. When it came about, I was fresh from Chennai, barely months into university in Singapore, and longing for anything to do with Chennai. The first thing that came to mind when I had to describe myself, thanks probably to the ‘orientation’ sessions in college, was ‘I’m from Chennai’. And it became the obvious name for my blog.

For years I bandied the name about, proudly flaunting Chennai-ness: yes, we’re from the best city, truly the cultural capital of India, what with its eclectic mix of everything: where you have jazz and kutcheries, boutiques and Pothys, Sathyam cinemas and Jayanthy theater, fusion cuisine and kaiyendhi bhavan, jeans and dhavani – you get the drift. Chennai was simply the best; warm, open, all embracing. Beaches, molaga bajjis, candy floss and kites. Kapali kovil and Mahabalipuram. Pallavan buses and flying trains. And most of all, Chennai was where home was.

Over the years, my definition of Chennai became vaguer and vaguer. Parents moved from Chennai to Ahmedabad to Chennai and now to (sigh!) Salem. Chennai became a pit-stop during my trips to India where all I got to see was the bit during the travel from the airport to my relatives’ at night, and from my relatives’ to the airport/train station in the morning to get to where my folks lived. During these rides, I’d take in everything ranging from the radio stations or the cell phone service providers (there seemed to be one new each time I was there), to the new Katthipara junction (‘They finally built it!’), to the BMW showroom. At those rare times I got to meet friends, we’d go to (or I’d hear them talk about) the latest hang out joints (Dosa Corner/Mocha) and how there’s even some place to do shisha (sheesh!). Slowly, thanks to staying away and being stuck with the same idea of Chennai that I had when I left, I felt like I didn’t know anything about my city. With home being away, Chennai felt even more different. There was no amma’s rasam to think of when I remembered Chennai, no friends from school left to meet and reminisce with, no songs on FM that I knew, and RJs and VJs and actors I had no clue about. My friends used tamil words I had no clue about. The Chennai that I knew, that is imprinted in my mind – of Lloyds Road-Sapphire bus stop-17M-North Usman Road-Hot Chips-Jayanthy Theater-MTR ice cream-lime soda salt-goli soda-Ranganathan Street-Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama-British Council-Kutcheri Road-Ambattur– is actually becoming a blur.

And I started wondering if there was any meaning in calling this blog Musings of the ‘Chennai gal’ anymore.

But I didn’t want to change it. In the weirdest of ways, it’s what keeps me connected. It helps me realize that come what may, Chennai is in many ways the same as it was six years ago. The chaos on North Usman Road, the koovum, the Adyar Bridge, the Karpagambal mess, Spencers Plaza, the Kapali kovil sannidhis, the Amman songs blasted on loudspeakers, the soan papdi man – these will always be there. Water will still taste salty, and roads will still always be dug up. The flying train will still be empty, bus conductors will still shout and swear, and auto drivers will still try their luck asking you to pay ridiculous amounts to take you two streets away. Church Park girls and New College boys will remain the same. There will still be a ‘jakkamma’ lady on the platform, and sundal boys in the beach. Autos will be loaded with school kids, and they will attend tuition classes. All girls will try a hand at Carnatic music and dance, and the hi-fi ones will go to Swingers. Energetic old uncles will go for morning walks. Colourful umbrellas will abound in September for Vinayaka, cheedai will be made for Krishna Jayanti, and parks with mustard seed plants will be made for Navaratri golus.

When so much of Chennai will stay the same, why should I reconsider my identity? And so I decided that I will remain the Chennai girl forever.


I have finally turned 24. I say finally, because I have long considered myself to have turned 24 - don't ask me why.

This is probably the first birthday I haven't greeted with bursting enthusiasm, with plans for the next year, and a constant grin on my face. Perhaps a sign of wisdom finally creeping in? Oh well, time will tell - for all I know, tomorrow I will get to work and swear reasonably loudly whenever I see an email that annoys me, or laugh like a fool at the lamest of jokes.

As listed to my wonderful colleagues who graciously agreed to do a vegetarian lunch in honour of yours truly today, these are my priorities for the 25th year in life:

- Travel more
- Take more photographs
- Be even more chilled in life. Boss interjects saying I'm quite there already, but I think it can be much better - I've decided I should up the ante a little bit there.

And I decided to shamelessly check what I put out on Oct 4, 2009 and evaluate myself:
- put even less tension: CHECK!
- write more: CHECK! Thanks to Spark, that is!
- sing more: CHECK! If all goes well, I shall continue to strain my throat and perform early next year.
- read more: CHECK, going on as usual. The library is being massively built!
- put the blessed d5000 to good, frequent use: CHECK! Nearly a thousand photos in one day, most of which I can daresay look pretty good.

Given my reasonably low goal-setting habit, I have done well and am immensely pleased. Now as 25 begins, and I enter it a little hesitant as I'm painfully aware of the possible changes it heralds, all I can say is hope it's all for the best!
... is one I'm incredibly proud of.

Anita Nair, Devdutt Patnaik and many others have contributed such brilliant views - ranging from Indian literature to mythology to politics to sports to movies, to society. We also have a moving piece from Tenzin Pema, a Tibetan journalist, on what India means to many a Tibetan. And a quirky piece on traveling in India, written by a Singaporean traveler Eugenia Koh. Brilliant photographs of the many facets of India by Mahesh and Jai Chabria. And an amazing epic of a piece from PR Viswanathan that you just shouldn't miss!

Read it here http://sparkthemag.wordpress.com and tell me what you think of it!
It's 12.30am and I really should be going to bed soon if I want to wake up on time tomorrow, but I just had the sudden urge to type, to write... and in a way, chronicle the thoughts running in my head at this hour. Given their disconnectedness, I should perhaps number them!

1. I've been spending hours trying to praise myself and it's not easy. I've never found it difficult to describe myself.. give me a couple of minutes and I can write a page of what I perceive myself to be. Despite this modest declaration, this exercise has been challenging, exciting and taxing. I wonder if this exercise will eventually have a successful outcome! (There, could I be any more vague?!)

2. There is so much happening in life. I'm struggling to divide my time between work, Spark, photography, books (The Count of Monte Cristo currently), my singing, friends, swimming and myself! Weekends - those magical days that I used to relish for their nothingness - have now become packed with attention to the abovementioned. It's amazing to feel that your days have more meaning than just what work affords, though!

3. It's been two years since I started working. Can you believe it?! It's shocking (and great!) how the mind still feels like it belongs to the gawky, enthusiastic, I-am-going-to-save-the-world 21-year-old.

4. Inception was brilliant. I can't wait to watch it again! And for the record, I really enjoyed Raavanan too. Yup, alright, it's not a usual Mani Ratnam, but is it so difficult for us to appreciate when a storyteller strays off his usual way?

And dreaming of the trip to Phuket that's coming up, I shall stop this ridiculous chronicling and sign off.
Wow, it feels strange to even be writing on the blog - it's been THAT long! I've really missed blogging... ever since the birth of Spark, things have been incredibly busy. And for some reason, I feel that every spare minute I have is being used up for something, and for the longest time, I've felt like I've been leaving no time for myself. But I guess it's good to be busy too!

After what seems like ages, I finally had the whole of today's afternoon free... all to myself! I completely enjoyed it - reading, watching videos, napping at odd hours... ah, such bliss! It just makes you so much more energised about going to work the next day! (I'm sure that is in large part because this Friday I'm going home to India!)

For a strange reason, started listening to Carnatic songs, and needless, got swept away by a wave of nostalgia. I have trained in Carnatic music for almost nine years, and quit when I was 15 - in large part, it was due to teenage angst, I guess - not wanting to be forced to do anything, hating the teacher for only criticising me and never encouraging me, pressure from the family, and so on. My mother's words still echo in me - she used to keep saying that I'd regret it some day.

Thinking back on those years, I guess I don't regret it so much now - I do regret the fact that I stopped practicing, which led to my pitch sinking as low as maybe DK Pattammal's. As I struggle to touch the high chords when singing for a concert I'm taking part in, I feel angry - my voice has never been suited for high pitches, but somehow, this felt very disappointing.

Browsing around for songs, I chanced upon Santhanam - a very popular singer, a chubby, old man, long gone, with an arresting voice. I will always remember Santhanam for the songs of Oothukaadu Venkata Subbaiyer songs. Having first heard those songs as a 4-year-old, they were probably the very first Carnatic songs I listened to. They used to play so often that I learnt nearly all of the songs simply by listening to them. He was perhaps the most popular singer of those kritis.

A vivid memory to do with Santhanam is from when I was probably five. My sister and I had just returned from school and were untying our shoes sitting on the sofa, when my mother came rushing in, looking anxious. 'Santhanam died,' she said, 'in a car accident this morning.' She was very upset, while my sister and I were simply puzzled. We both looked at each other and shrugged, unable to understand why that mattered so much to my mother.

Listening to these songs - Paal Vadiyum Mugam, Alaipayuthey, Thaaye Yashoda, Kuzhaloodi Manamellam - have simply brought so much joy! My mother will probably have a 'I-told-you-so' face if she ever happens to read this. I just want to tell her this is also so much fun; I know she'd much rather I'd continued to learn, practised, but having dipped a toe into the wide world of Carnatic music, the ability to enjoy parts of it, are sheer fun too.

What a random post! Totally loved rambling :D
And here we go with another issue! This time around, it's a trip down the memory lane!
Read it and let us know what you think!


On a side note - this is probably the first time I've missed a blog birthday. My blog is now 5! I'm quite upset that I've not been able to spend much time here now, but at least my writings have gone on to another level and I hope anyone who's been kind enough to still look at my blog for updates goes on to read Spark!
... is here!

Visit http://sparkthemag.wordpress.com/ to read the issue and let me know what you think!

Spark was started by my sister Anupama and me and with the help of a bunch of friends and writers, we have put out two issues to date.

So read it, and if you like it, pass the link on to your friends!
What's happening on 5 Jan? Watch the video for the pleasant surprise we have in store for you!

Visit http://sparkthemag.wordpress.com to subscribe and ensure that you don't miss it!!