A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors

The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what the mind and the camera recorded. :-)

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Retirement blues and a thank you!

Akkinimuthu Krishnan, the 8th child of his parents, was born in 1952 into a well-to-do, landed family in Panchalingapuram village of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu. From a very young age, he had a burning desire to study and nothing came in his way in fulfilling that desire—not the various back-breaking chores he had to do on his family farm, not the indifference to education his family showed, not the disheartening sight of his older siblings dropping out of school, one by one. Krishnan persevered in his goal to attain a college education.

The first graduate in his family, Krishnan studied in the Tamil medium in the village school, and then moved to study in the English medium in college where he read Economics at the Aringar Anna College in Kanyakumari. In fact, his was the first batch to pass out from that college. While studying in college, he also enrolled for shorthand and typing lessons as any good, self-respecting South Indian at that time did.

Krishnan wasn’t very sure as to where he wanted to work or what he wanted to do—all he was sure about was that he wanted to put his education to use and not be dependent on his family. He also did not want to manage his share of the family’s farmlands until he had a chance to work elsewhere. During this time, a friend of his asked him to come to Bombay (it was still Bombay then) and try his luck in the city of dreams.

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What’s in a name?

None of us have a say with what we are named as, do we?

It depends entirely on what our parents (or whoever else had a say in this matter) wanted to name us. But sometimes, even the parents (or whoever else had a say in this matter) do not have a choice in choosing their child(ren)’s name(s). For instance, the Tamil Brahmin (a.k.a. TamBrahm) Iyer community from Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, follows certain pre-ordained rules. You wouldn’t find these rules in any book or magazine, as it is part of the oral traditions of the community passed down from generation to generation.

I make an attempt (albeit a tongue-in-cheek one) here to codify these “scientific”, and quirky, rules on naming children born to the TamBrahms of Tirunelveli district. My qualifications for doing so are due to my being (i) a TamBrahm from Tirunelveli District, and (ii) a recipient of this oral tradition. :-)

Some common TamBrahm names. Designed with the help of Wordle

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A sepia-toned history of my family

Sometime back, I came across a fantastic blog titled The Indian Memory Project and instantly fell in love with the blog’s aim—to “trace the history of India, its people, professions, development, traditions, cultures, settlements and cities through pictures found in personal family albums and archives”. So, recently, when I came across some old family photographs, I thought, why not create my own family’s memory project and share them with you on this blog. So read on…

But first a little geographical background of my family to set the context—we are originally from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. My father’s side of the family is from Tharuvai, and my mother’s side of the family is from Narasinganallur—both villages in Tirunelveli district.

This family memory project begins with the story of my great-grandfather (my father’s paternal grandfather), T. Ganapati Sastri (1860–1926), a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Ganapati Sastri had very humble beginnings in Tharuvai—a place he left for Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in his 16th year for economic reasons.

Trivandrum, c. 1915: My great-grandfather, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. T. Ganapati Sastri

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