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A Page from Chennai And its Mega Stores

A Page from Chennai And its Mega Stores

It sure does take a great deal of research to make a movie with a realistic story. I recently watched one such Tamil movie called Angadi Theru (Eng: Market Street). This heart wrenching movie revolves around life in a mega-sized store on one of Chennai’s busiest streets-one which is literally home to countless men, women, shops, and businesses.

Life on Ranganathan Street

If you have ever been to Chennai’s Ranganathan Street and shopped at the all famous Saravana Stores, you would understand exactly what I am talking about. Not only in Chennai, but cities across the state of Tamil Nadu are home to some mega-sized stores that sell practically everything under the sun. Apparels for all ages and gender, jewelry, household articles, home appliances, footwear, bed and bath products, cosmetics- just about anything you could dream of.

Way different from the plush retails in malls, these stores cater to all income clientele.

When I first visited one in Chennai, I was left speechless. Products piled one on top of another, with not an inch spared. The ceilings in the home section, hung steel utensils that shimmered in the light around. The 20,000 square feet store employed over a hundred odd staff. Dressed in neat uniforms, they stood at every junction, across counters, ready to help with a smile. Most of them seemed to be in the age bracket between of 20-30(some even younger). Their job involved being at the store from dawn to almost midnight, attending to varied customers and some of their tantrums, running odd errands for the store manager, counting stock, tallying cash and serving tea.

To me, they seemed to be running the show, in some way

As I sifted through the pile of saris, I struck conversation with the young sales girl in front me. She was twenty she said, and had left her village in Thirunelveli district (Naranammalpuram, a village with hardly 800 houses), as there weren’t colleges to pursue higher education, nor were there opportunities to earn an income. The store provided her accommodation and meals, which otherwise would be expensive on her pocket in a metro such as Chennai. With the income she earned, she was able to save a few rupees and also send money to her family back in the village. I asked her if she was happy this way. She just smiled and said, “This is my work, and there’s dignity in it”.

It was noon by then, and the wilting look on each of their faces spoke an untold story. Some seemed desperate to leave the store for the half an hour lunch break. There was a quick swap at the counter to ensure that I was attended to. I looked up to see another smiling boy in front of me. “You would look good in green. Shall I show you some more prints in that colour?” he politely asked me. I quickly made my choice from what lay in front of me, and proceeded to the billing counter.

Somewhere deep down, I had begun to empathize with these young girls and boys.

They were away from home and home sick, with long working hours, and having to stand all day. I made a mental note, that the next time I visited the store; I must look up from my shopping and give them a smile, acknowledging their presence. That’s the least I could do.

Featured Image: A glimpse of Ranganathan Street- Courtesy
Kabali Mania Grips the Nation

Kabali Mania Grips the Nation

July 22, 2016- For many, this date would be a “self” declared national holiday. ‘Cause it’s the day when their very own Super Star, from the south of the Vindhyas, has a movie release- Kabali

If you think you have experienced fanaticism, wait until you have seen a “First Day First Show” of a Rajini movie. Not long ago, in a popular theatre in Egmore in Chennai, I experienced this unique fanaticism. As early as 4.00 am in the morning fans gathered around the life sized cut out of the actor to perform “paal abhisekam” (a holy bath with milk). It is a tradition that has been there for years now, for every new movie of Rajini Kanth. As fans hooted inside the movie hall in a feverish pitch, I noticed the currency notes and coins that were flung into the air- a few landing on me. The frenzied fans danced, clapped and shed tears as their “Thaliava” rendered punch lines after punch lines on the big screen in front of them. He was their living god! In a country obsessed with films, no other actor enjoys this kind of fan following. His appeal reaches far and wide, touching both the masses and the elite.

But what makes Rajini Kanth the phenomena that he is?


When a humble Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, took to acting way back in the seventies little did he (or the world) know that he would become one of the biggest stars of South Indian Cinema. Having worked in over 150 films under the stage name of Rajini Kanth, his commercial stardom has been unmatched. His style, idiosyncrasies on screen, and punch line dialogues gripped the psyche of the people. His movies carried tailor made dialogues, with a message for every common man. No wonder, despite a couple of commercial setbacks, even at the age of 65 years, Rajini Kanth movies still garner enthusiasm, making him a phenomenon of sorts.

In his latest movie Kabali, set to release this Friday, Rajinikanth plays the role of an ageing don based in Malaysia. His fans understandably are excited to see what the film brings.

And cashing in on this Kabali Mania, are Big Brands, groups and corporates with Kabali merchandise and special screenings. From key chains, coffee mugs and phone covers; to silver coins and credit cards embossed with the image of the actor, the merchandise are flying off the shelves. Recently a fan in Malaysia took his Lamborghini Gallardo that sported Kabali posters, for a spin.

On a bigger scale, the official airline partner for Kabali, Air Asia unveiled an aircraft with images of the star and the movie. The airline has also planned a special flight from Bengaluru to Chennai for fans to watch the first-day-first-show of the movie.

For many of Rajini’s fans, it is a sort of obligation, to watch his movie first day first show. And this is the sort of magic Rajini weaves for his viewers.

*Featured Image Source: Air Asia

Pickles- They Sure Do Tickle!!

Pickles- They Sure Do Tickle!!

It was a sweltering hot afternoon when I reached my mom’s home in Chennai. I was exhausted, my throat parched and my clothes soaking in sweat. In the dead of summer, my appetite almost always seems to diminish. But well you know how moms seldom agree to this. “You’ve got to eat something otherwise you would fall sick”, she said. “At least eat some curd rice. I have made fresh lemon pickle”. Ah! The South Indian in me came out totally.

I was already drooling over the tanginess of the pickle. I agreed to eat curd rice, just for the yellow lemon pickle!


Aren’t we a pickle nation? I mean just look at the variance in the pickles across the country. Some sour, some sweet, some dry and some others a bit gooey! Yet without this pickle on our table, a meal sure does seem incomplete. I have been fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling across the length and breadth of India. And despite a few commonalities in the ingredients, each and every region carries a uniqueness in its taste. Take for instance the all-time favourite mango pickle. The finely cut “mangai curry” from the Palaghat region of Kerala carries a distinct flavor of roasted fenugreek seeds and til oil. On the other hand is the Haryanvi mango pickle cut in a larger size, a lot drier, with carom seeds and mustard oil. And both are finger licking good!!!!!

The process of pickle making may seem to be a bit tedious and time consuming. But trust me, be patient here and what you get would be simply delicious, lasting for the next couple of seasons. Summer though is the best time to make pickles. It is a sort of ritual in many households. From picking the perfect fruit or vegetable, to sun drying them and then letting it soak in the oil and spices. They are then transferred to air tight jars and stacked away in dark corners of the home. Over the years, this grand ritual seems to have disappeared, with plenty of commercially made pickles available in stores. Pickles are available online too with portals such as “Place of Origin.

As I sat down on the couch post lunch, I asked my mom for her lemon pickle recipe. She grinned- it indicated she was happy that I had intentions of making it, rather than picking up a bottle from the store. The store bought ones surely lack the rustic flavors and characteristics of home-made pickles. She quickly rummaged through an old brown box, and came back with a diary dating back to the year 1974. It had faded pages with curled edges and the ink smudged at places. Yet it held the greatest treasures of life. My grandmother’s recipes passed on by mouth to my mother, who meticulously noted down every bit of it. My mom reminisced her childhood days when her mom would make these tangy pickles and stack them away in dark corners of the kitchen. That is why I love these “vintage” recipes. Tucked away in little scrolls of papers, in old diaries, they are a reminder of the love our ancestors have passed on generation after generation.

So next time that pickle tickles your palette, give it a thought. Whose love lies hidden in that jar?

She Cracked the UPSC Exam Not Once But Twice!

She Cracked the UPSC Exam Not Once But Twice!

In 2013, Dr. Ruveda Salam, from the remote Farkin village in the border district of Kupwara, made history by becoming the first woman from the Kashmir valley to crack the UPSC exams. After serving as the Assistant Commissioner of Police in Chennai for a year, in 2015 she yet again cracked the UPSC exam to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming an IAS officer.

Living in the Kashmir valley poses its own set of challenges. Political disturbances, strikes, curfews and local stone pelting episodes are many and frequent. Twenty seven year old Ruveda Salam had to face these challenges on a day to day basis. Despite lack of professional coaching classes, limited access to newspapers and study material, Ruveda strived hard and has successfully cleared the UPSC exams, not once, but twice, paving her way to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming an IAS officer.


It was Ruveda’s father who inspired her, giving the confidence to work towards becoming an IAS officer.  Her mother on the other hand fended of all suggestions of an early marriage, letting Ruveda focus on fulfilling her childhood dream. She has come a long way since.

Ruveda began her career in 2009 when she got a medical degree from the Government Medical College in Srinagar. At the time of internship, she applied for the J&K Public Service Commission examination. There were 398 posts advertised and Ruveda with her state rank of 25 secured a post. She quit medicine and joined the state civil services, working for two years.

In 2013, she sat for the UPSC exams. She cracked this coveted exam to become the first women from the Kashmir valley to do so. Her initial posting was in the Indian Police Services. She trained at Hyderabad and on completion served as the Assistant Commissioner of Police in Chennai.

But this wasn’t the real success she sought. She still had to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming an IAS officer. Yet again, in 2015, she cleared the UPSC exam for the second time, and this time with a higher rank which enabled her to join the IAS.

Apart from these career successes, Ruveda works towards inspiring many youngsters, particularly girls. She has given motivational speeches on many platforms, where she discusses matters such as IPS training, her love for her work and preparation for the Civil Services examinations. She wishes to see more girls from Kashmir scale new heights of success, and encourages them to come forward to appear for these exams.

“Being a Kashmiri when you venture outside your state, some people feel we are anti-India. We can change that perception with our attitude. Others feel that we cannot compete; we can change that by proving our mettle. As a Kashmiri girl it is more difficult as people think we don’t venture out. With the right attitude this can also be overcome.”

What can we say! We wish more such inspiring people would come ahead to change the outlook in our society that forms many prejudices against women. For Ruveda, it was the dream instilled in her mind since childhood. She made it possible through sheer hard work and perseverance.

This post was featured in “The Better India”. A day after the #UPSC results are out, this story holds a lot of relevance. It had to be retold. You could also read it here Meet The First Woman IAS Officer From Kashmir. She Cracked the UPSC Exams Twice!

Jakamma & Your Fortunes! #AToZChallenge

Jakamma & Your Fortunes! #AToZChallenge

jJosiyam paakkareengala (want your fortune told?)”, she asked me. As I sat with my legs stretched out in the cool sand of Marina Beach in Chennai, I was approached by a 40-something lady. She was clad in a simple cotton sari, a wire basket in one hand and a black staff in another. Her hair was well-oiled, confined in a bun.

I have never really been inclined to any sort of astrology or fortune reading in my life. Never really found any logic in them and always stayed away from them. But that evening on Marina beach, seeing the plight of the poor women, I agreed to listen to her. Extremely persistent she was and, for a sum of Rs. 50, she volunteered to read my fortune (or is it misfortune), my family’s and my children’s future family. Whoa! Now that was some sort of a deal.

“Extend your palm and tell me your name,” she said. She placed a photo of a Goddess in front and on a plastic mat dropped 12 cowrie shells.  Stroking my palm with her black wand and with closed eyes she said, “Jakamma nalla vaaku sollu.” (Jakamma tell the right things. She spoke Tamil). “Who is Jakkamma?” I asked her.  Jakamma is our Goddess in the temple in Ettayapuram (a village in Tirunelveli District). We astrologers believe that our powers to predict are all by her grace. So before we make any predictions we must always begin with her name.

“You are a smart and clever woman…” she began, “…and have a very kind heart”. Hmm now this sounded nice. Who wouldn’t like hearing a bit of good stuff about oneself? She continued, “Though a very generous person, you are a spendthrift too. Money would flow out of your hand like water…” Ah!! So she was getting at some not so nice things too. I did a quick introspection in my mind. Was I a spendthrift? Well maybe, I just blew up Rs. 50 getting my fortune read, in which I absolutely had no faith.

For the next 20 minutes she rambled some predictions in a singsong manner, which I could make no sense of. Anyways, I sat amused. Despite my lack of faith in her predictions, I noticed the sincerity and conviction with which she rendered them. I liked the faith she held in “Jakkamma” and the belief that it is her power that helps her guide others. I paid her the promised amount and waving her magic wand she went in search of her next customer.

Visit any beach in Chennai and on the shores you could spot astrologers of sorts. Palm readers, Kuri Josiyum (the one I encountered with cowrie shells)) and Killi Josiyum (parrot astrology in Tamil) all promising to predict your future. Most astrologers belong to a community called “Kambalathu Naicker”. They worship the Goddess Jakkamma, and are inducted to the profession of fortune reading at a young age. It’s a custom that has been followed by the community for years. And despite their lack of education, these astrologers have in-depth knowledge on knowledge on stars, constellations and planetary positions.

As dusk falls over the sea in Chennai, it’s time to call it a day. The wand and cowrie shells go back into their wired baskets until the next day.

Have you ever encountered fortune reading? What was your experience?

This is a part of my journey exploring 26 lesser known shades of a country called India, with the #AtoZChallenge 2016!!!

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Beaches and Taste Buds #AtoZChallenge

Beaches and Taste Buds #AtoZChallenge


Beaches in India are famous for the yummy snacks that are sold on the shores. Apart from building sand castles, paddling in the waves and just soaking in the setting sun at the horizon, a visit to any beach must include savoring the local snack that is sold there. So whether it is the “Pav Bhaji” (A spicy vegetable curry that is served with a soft bread roll called Pav) of Chowpatty beach in Mumbai, or the Jhal Muri (puffed rice with spices, vegetables and raw mustard oil) from Puri beach in Orissa, the flavors are so very distinct.

One such snack I shall always savor is the humble “Sundal” on the beach.  Sundal is a preparation made with dried white peas, topped with oodles of tangy raw mango and sliced coconut.

It is a specialty of Marina Beach in Chennai and is popularly called Thenga Manga Pattani Sundal (Mixture of Coconut, Mango, and Dry Peas).

Visit any beach in Chennai and you could spot vendors walking on the sand selling Sundal. They carry their prepared Sundal in iconic grey aluminum tins and serve them to you in pieces of paper that have been shaped into a cone, to hold a ladle full of Sundal. For the price of Rs. 10/- one such cone could be yours. And trust me it will leave you asking for more.

For those who are health conscious, this is a perfect snack. It doesn’t pile on that extra bit of flab nor do they add on to your bad cholesterol. The dried peas are a great source of protein. The finely chopped green chillies and the combination of the tanginess is a sure delight to those taste buds. Even on a hot day in Chennai, Sundal on the beach would not leave you feeling dehydrated..

All you need to do is let the cool breeze of the sea hit you, lap up the frothy waves around your feet and savor a cone of Sundal. The feeling is purely blissful.

So which one is your favorite snack on the beach?

This is a part of my journey exploring 26 lesser known shades of a country called India, with the #AtoZChallenge 2016!!!

Click and Forget

Click and Forget

I was recently on a short vacation to Chennai visiting my maternal grandmother. As I sat rummaging through an old brown box lying in the attic of her home, I came across an old monochrome photograph. Despite the fading and the curled edges, I could distinctly make out the picture. It had a little girl, not more than 10 years old, dressed in the traditional attire, with layers of jewels. What struck me was the deep frown on her beautiful little face. It seemed to have been clicked in an open field. A wooden bench seated the girl in the backdrop of a majestic house.

“Who is this paati?” I asked my 85 something granny.  Squinting her eye, she gave just one look. “That is me in our Chengalpet home. What a day it was. I still remember it. It was Mazhgazhi maasam (the Tamil month which falls mid Dec to mid Jan), and there was a cool breeze at most times of the day. There was a swing my Appa had made behind the house, tied to the Jackfruit tree. I loved spending time there, playing. That day Appa had called the photographer so that the entire family could be clicked. And the day seemed to be a mini festival for the family. I remember all the ladies getting dressed up in their best saris, powdered faces, and braided hair with fresh Jasmine flowers. Ram Anna (Anna is elder brother in Tamil) wore his newly tailored black coat and dhoti. But how I hated being dressed up. Those were the days, we were scared of Appa. Not like you youngsters. We could never say a no”. She paused for a while. Hmmm I thought, so that explains the frown on the face.

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But what surprised me was despite granny’s fading memory; she remembered such minute details about the photograph. A photo not so clear in its truest sense bought back memories crystal clear in her mind. I insisted on clicking her photograph again on that day with my brand new Nokia 1520 with its 20 megapixel camera.  I showed the saved snap to her. She didn’t react much but just told me to give her a printed copy to preserve it in her brown box. “Now that’s not difficult granny, I will soon take a print out and give it to you”, I promised her. During the course of my vacation, I clicked oodles of snaps on my smart phone, every possible angle with cousins, selfies and other random shots.

A week passed by and I was back in Delhi, and back to office with the usual rut of life. Having set up an auto back up option, my photos were transferred to my computer. It lay within a folder tucked away in the hard disk of my computer. And that was it. The print out I had promised granny never happened.

In our world of smart gadgets, with all things happening in a jiffy, are we somewhere forgetting a human element? May be that emotional and personal touch?

Granny had no retakes in her times. The essence and mood of the moment was captured. She had just one copy, stacked away neatly in a brown box. But it stayed alive in her memory for years. In today’s times, when retakes are taken for granted, we click away, till we capture the mood we want. We also have a problem of too many. With multiple clicks, sometimes on multiple gadgets, we fail to live the moment, and fail to preserve the moment in its truest sense. Our clicks are limitless.

For granny, a single click in her life was valued for a lifetime. For us, there are numerous clicks…. but how many do we actually value? I wonder.

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