Pooh from Niagara

And there are somethings that money can't buy and for everything else we had the plastic! Our vacation so far has been a roller-coaster of fun! Things that matter the most, Family, Friends and Fun were all a part of our trip. As I type this post watching the mist rise from the Niagara falls, sipping chai, KA taking a bath, V's mom and granny talking.. hmm can life get any better? We had our share of the busy New Yorker life before reaching Niagara and the change in pace has been amazing and yes we are taking the last few days easy.
Yes! we have taken tons of pictures and got lots to write about! Till then am off to enjoy my vacation!

Its the time to travel

We are off for a week! Will try to write something sometime! Till then take care!

Heights of fashion or is it beauty?

Outrageous is the only word I can think of. I am not sure how others feel about the whole thing. Let me assure you, I am not a big beauty with a purpose advocate or something. Just happened to see these pictures in some website.

I am really not sure what the idea behind the national costume round is, but I guess it is about how the contestants showcase their respective countries and are able to carry themselves in their national attire. Ofcourse it is a big event for the designers as they want to showcase their skills. But what is the national costume of a country? Talking about India, some people consider saree to be the national costume, others the lehanga and others might even say it is the salwar kameez. So what decides that an attire qualifies as a national costume? Something passed down over the year and the inevitable modifications and transitions to announce the changing generations and something which somewhere someone still wears!

Check out the costumes below,

Miss Dominican Republic

Miss Uruguay

Miss Aruba

Miss Brazil

and ofcourse Miss India

Photos source : Miss Universe website

Happy Anniversary!

Wishing R's parents a wonderful anniversary and many more years of happiness!

Summer Fruits

There are certain things in life, which we conveniently forget, and all it needs is a sudden jolt to bring back memories. Simple things that were a part of the growing up ages suddenly disappear and we try to act more grown-up forgetting simple pleasures of life. Remember the days when climbing trees and picking out the best mangoes and guavas brought a smile to you face? How many times have you said that fruits tasted the best off the tree without worries about washing them and cutting them? How many times have you felt that the fruits off you neighbors tree were the best and tried sneaking in? And how long has it been since you remembered these stuff?

As time passes we conveniently forget things and today we live in other world miles apart and think more about buying organic and fat-free foods and forget that there were times when we cared the least about washing fruits and eating them. Summer brought with it fruits of the season, the trees loaded with mangoes, custard apples and guavas in V’s home back in Trichy. There was countless hot, humid summer days spent languishing on the branches of the mango and guava tree, plucking fruit after fruit, fighting for them, eating them and just enjoying them.

And instead of heading to the produce department at my local grocery store to stock up on the berries of the season (strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.. don’t I love summer for its fresh berries?) we headed out to Kings Orchard to pick some. And it is an experience of a lifetime. The next time you see a fruit picking sign, just forget your plans for the day and stop by, it is a free fun day for people of all ages.
Kings Orchard is located some 45 miles away from Houston, close to Lake Conroe. We picked a wonderful day to go there – a lazy Saturday morning, with a wonderful wind cooling the hot Texas summer. Armed with sunscreen, hats and bottles of water we headed out with our baskets. Our first stop was the ripening blackberry vines, after a few sour ones we learnt to pick the sweet berries and enjoy the flavor. The next stop was the strawberry patch. The last crop of the season was ready and the fruits big, red, ripe and juicy. We filled the baskets to our heart content and ate and ate. It was like a mini treasure hunt for grownups. Spotting the biggest fruit and popping it into you mouth and let the flavors explode, the juice dripping! With juice stained fingers and heavy hearts we moved to the blueberry patch. The first fruits of the season were just ripe and yes we are going there again soon to pick them.

We also picked some fresh, sweet cherry tomatoes and tender white corn. In all the experience is amazing and learning. It is also a time for bonding with nature and your family. It is family fun! Get your hats out and head out for fruit picking this weekend.

Happy Birthday !

Happy Birthday Dad!

Outdoor Opera in Houston

The past few days have been a frenzy of activities as we showed of the sights of H-town to V’s mom and granny. The common complaint from most visitors to Houston is the lack of things-to-do here. After the pre-requisite trip to NASA, Kemah and might be a visit to the Chinatown, Hindu temples H-town’s only other entertainment are its malls. But there are other things to do in Houston and the next few posts will be on what to do if you are visiting Houston.

The Miller Theatre:

In the middle of Houston, within seconds of the world’s largest and renowned medical centre complex, a mere minutes away from downtown there the lush, green Hermann park. It feels like a mirage for the concrete jungle weary Houstonian. The park has the usual trails, golf courses, toy train and ofcourse the Miller Outdoor Theatre. The theatre is located on an area of about 8 acres with a 64 x 41 foot stage and the usual requisite theatrical lighting, orchestra pits, greenrooms etc. There is limited (about 1500) seating and a sloping lawn that accommodates about 5000 more people. The Miller Theatre offers the most diverse season of professional entertainment of any Houston performance venue. Classical music, jazz, ethnic music and dance (including Indian dances, V has performed there once), ballet, Shakespeare, musical theatre, classic films, and everything you can dream of. The best part of the Miller Theatre is that all its events are free to the public. And we were there last Friday.

Scheduled on Friday was the Houston Grand Opera’s performance of Humperdinck’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Growing up the fairy tale was a part of our lives, and we were looking for the opera’s renderation of the much-loved fable. The Houston Grand Opera is one of the nationally renowned ones (so says the website, we are no regulars at the Opera).

The Opera had three acts and went on for around a couple of hours including a 30 minute intermission. We arrived early at the theatre and were lucky enough to find a great parking spot close by. Spread out the blanket and got out our picnic foods, home-made masala pori(puffed rice), V’s favorite Sushward mixture, kadalai mitai (Indian peanut brittle) and some fruits. The open-seating at Miller theatre is a far-cry from the stiff theatre scene and is very relaxed. It makes an ideal family outing. And ofcourse sharing the space with canine friends can be intimidating for few.

My personal impression of the Hansel and Gretel was that it was a good one but not upto my expectations. I loved the forests and the lighting. They were awesome and so life-like. The orchestra was magnificent. I am music-illiterate but still felt the meaning it was meant to convey and that is music to me. The puppetry was amazing and so well-coordinated. It is difficult to choose my favorite, was it the angels or the dancing cat or the raven? But I was quite disappointed by the ginger-bread house of the witch, might be because I was looking forward for the story book image replica. The house was pretty and well-detailed but lacked the magnificence and opulence and grandeur I was looking forward to. Another disappointment was the witch (Liam Bonner), the witch was made to look tall and huge but somehow I never felt the scared. I have seen better witches at the Halloween parties. Might be I have just grown up and am no longer scared of witches. Loved the dad character (Ryan Mckinny) with his jolly-good-fellow attitude and the la-la-la la-la-la’s (R does a great imitation!) but never felt it was a starving family. Ofcourse Hansel (Fiona Murphy) and Gretel (Rebekah Camm) were great!

Source: Miller Theatre website

Overall I would say it was a good one to watch at the Miller Theatre - free, fun and a wonderful way to spend the Friday evening with loved ones. And if you are in Houston, forget the Friday party scene and head out to the Miller Outdoor theatre this summer. Enjoy the balmy summer evenings of Houston and the performances. The schedule of performances is here.

Pack a picnic with your favorite foods, or stop by Ruggles Cafe Bakery in the Village and pick up some of their amazing sandwiches and desserts and make the evening special.

Summer of 2007 in Houston

I know it has been a while since I wrote here. The past few days have been picture-perfect and idyllic (touch wood!). Three generations of women, doing justice to the credit card and me and R enjoying the pleasures of hot home-cooked meals 5 times a day! Warm (okie! I admit most people complain it is hot) summer days! Need I say more?

It is indeed fun to watch V, her mom and her grandmom walk around stores sipping frappuccinos and bubble teas converting dollars to Indian Rupees and commenting about every thing. And Houston being another typical US city has offered them more than enough stores to roam around.

Feasting on wonderful Indian treats that now are luxuries and choosing to be temporarily forget the fact that these wonderful treats are loaded with ghee and butter! Hmm the sweet pooran polis, the crisp butter dosais, the spicy panner masala! Life is good as long as I convince myself that these delicacies are fat-free! Three hot meals a day, variety of dishes.. am already worried about returning back to the old life when everyone returns back to India!

And the added bonus, the wonderful summer days the way I like them. Time to get out the crisp cottons, the sun glasses and the hats! For some reason, summer days bring out a happy me! The cool morning air, the promise of a humid afternoon, the wonderful colors on the tree, the fresh summer berries!

Life is good and we are enjoying it!

For KA - the bestest bro!

This one is for bro dearest! KA

KA is now living a bachelor life (so he says! You are still single and V gets the first dibs in choosing/approving your partner!) alone in Trichy trying to study for his exams while the rest of the family is away vacationing. His other pass-time is trying to clear out the termites infesting his cupboard! Feeding on his books and growing fat (in his own words, kolo kolonu irrukudu) Well I just say they have an attraction towards maramandais! They know a maramandai when they see one.

Ofcourse his major decision making is debating whether to eat Azeez biryani at Bidass canteen or hit the college canteen or go to Sea Kings for noodles! Poor poor you! And ofcourse in your own words “God Punishes” this for all those days you teased your lovely, adorable, bestest sis V calling her “gundu”! You had it coming bro!

And here’s to the bestest bro! Good luck for your exams and we are really proud of you! We hope you get all the best things in life just the way you dream (and you’ll get it as long as you shower your sis with compliments and love and let me add chocolates and gifts!) The bestest sis, bro-in-law are looking forward for your visit and fun times together!

Family times

To all who inquired about V’s mom’s and grandma’s trip, thanks! They arrived safely in Houston with all 4 bulging suitcases and just one opened baggage tag! That is quite an achievement. They had their share adventure and are glad to be home. They love our home and Houston! The weather has been absolutely marvelous yesterday and today. I know most people are complaining about the heat but somehow I am more at home only as the mercury rises above 75.

It was time for long lost friends and relatives to pick up the phone and call V’s mom and granny to pay their respects. Yes! It was quite fun seeing them catch up. Some of the conversations I enjoy are the ones where the sibling/cousin rivalry sets in. No, there are no big fights, just a small round of boasting about their achievements, the success stories of their kids! Ha! Amazing… yes it is truth exaggerated and ofcourse there is a lot of fishing for gossip going on.

Hmm now I know what was missing in our new home! It was sounds, laughter and good old gossip! Now there are people to sit around the table and talk and talk and every house needs those sounds to officially make it a home! I just can’t wait for V’s dad and bro to join us. It is going to be a great occasion.

Inspite of their jetlag, V’s mom and granny did want to go to Michaels and Jo Ann’s to check out their craft items and other stuff. Between converting dollars to rupees and efforts to keep their eyes open they did enjoy their trip.

V’s mom has officially taken over the kitchen and is cooking up delicacies. V and R are busy hatching plans on how to tell NO! and yeah the running away with the plate option does not seem to work! (Hints hints!! Mom are you reading this???)

And what do I say about all the wonderful snacks? Puran polis, masal pori, mixture, rava ladoo, dry jamuns, cashew murku, ribbon pakoda all home made by V’s grandmom!! Yummy and I dream that they are fat-free!

It is just the beginning and we hope we have more fun-filled days!

International travel woes!

We try to travel as much as possible by Lufthansa and Star Alliance partners. Oh yeah we collect miles like millions of others. Our flights to India and back are always via Frankfurt. The last time we were in India, early September 2006, we did the same thing. We were surprised to see the Chennai airport crowded like a chatram I guess! There were a minimum of 8 flights leaving in a 3 hour window around midnight to Europe, Gulf countries and Singapore. And as expected the airport was packed and here comes the fun part, the immigration counter was staffed by just 2 people. The lines long and the wait was atleast 2 hours testing everyone’s patience. It was horrible. And due to the lines the flights were delayed and our flight out of Chennai was delayed by 2 hours. And guess what happens because of that? We have to make a mad dash for our connecting flight to Houston (the layover is around 2 hours). Last time we ran all the way across and just made it. We were the last ones to get in! Well we made it atleast. Today, V’s mom and granny were’nt so lucky. Their first trip to the US and they are being inconvenienced to the maximum. Flight delayed out of Chennai (as expected) and they missed their connecting flight at Frankfurt. They are then given connections via Washington DC. Well something is better than nothing. They were expected to be in Houston by 7.30pm and then at 6.00pm V gets a call from Washington. Their flight was further delayed and they missed their Houston connection. They can take a couple of flights and reach Houston at 11.30pm minus their luggage or stay over night at Washington and take the first flight out to Houston.

So there we go, another day till we meet them. I have already missed 1 day off their short trip to US. I am mighty disappointed and so is V. Yes the lunch she prepared, became dinner and now does she want to serve the same stuff as tomorrow’s lunch?

Why cannot something somewhere be done? Like staff the airline counters and immigration counters better in India, flights to Singapore, Malaysia and other places can be scheduled at an earlier or later time, an earlier flight from Chennai to Frankfurt, or have 2 flights from Houston to Frankfurt like BA or Air France have?

Well now that is my rant! I really am too pissed off to write anything more… Waiting for morrow!

Grand Canyon

It is impossible in a few pages to do justice, in the smallest degree, to the great gorge itself - "that sublimest thing on earth" - or to the perils and adventures of our journey through it. What then shall we write?" Stanton, Robert B. 1909

We spent last Saturday at the Grand Canyon with Mrs & Mr G. Thanks guys for hosting us and it was fun. As I had mentioned before SG was V’s great friend during their undergrad days and now that the G’s are in Phoenix, we made our trip there. Catching up and just taking things as it comes. We ofcourse went to the Grand Canyon and the weather was not the best. Snow flurries and near freezing temperatures, but it was still amazing. It is something that can never be described. R has clicked some great photos and yes it will be loaded soon in his blog.

"But look again! Those terrifying walls are moving, are changing! A new light is not only creeping over them, but is coming out from their very shadows. See those flattened slopes above the dark sandstone on top of granite; even at this very moment they are being colored in gorgeous stripes of horizontal layers of yellow, brown, white, green, purple. What means this wondrous change? Wherein lies this secret of the great canyon? Stanton, Robert B. 1909

Red Carpet Welcome

The red carpet is being rolled out at our home! V's mom and grandma will be here with us in Houston and as expected there are 101 things happening around at home. We hope V's mom and grandma have a safe flight and a wonderful time in H-town. V's bro and dad join us in a couple of weeks. The next few weeks are going to busy for us and so the updates in this blog might be a little slow!

Voting time!

I had been out of town and could'nt get the Earth Day Competition polling going on! Here are the entries. Please read them and leave your top two preferences in the comment box asap. Thanks


Dance and V -2

If you have not read Dance and V – 1, please read it first

V writes,

Continuing my dance and me series,

To me learning dance is a continuous process, there is never an end and there is always something I can improve upon. It is my eternal quest for perfection. Today I have learnt for more than 10 years, on and off and I still feel I want to learn more. Might be I am obsessed with dance, might be I just am passionate about dance but whatever it is, I enjoy learning Bharatnatyam. And in that way I was lucky to get two teachers who nurtured my love for dance. As a young girl, I had the guidance from a teacher who installed in me a love for the dance form more than anything else and now I have a teacher who motivates me to keep going. Yes I have been really lucky with my teachers and that matters a lot. I have heard teachers give the cold shoulder to 10 year olds and you wonder why the child hates dance. Well let’s leave that side of dance for now. It is an ugly side I have heard about.

I was talking about my dance classes, in my classes I learn not just the art of moving my limbs and emoting, I also learn about the history of the land and dance which I find very fascinating. Most of the dance postures and poses are derived from the sculptures in the temples. There is so much history our land has and we are so ignorant. I feel bad for the days when I grumbled when my mother used to drag me to the temples. I wish I had paid a lil more attention in the sleepy history classes at school. I try to make up for that today. Whatever item I learn, I try to read a bit about is history, its composer and other facts.

Dance can be represented and interpreted in different ways by different people and it sure is something I love. It is sort of like understanding human psychology. As a performer, I need to get the audience attention on me and then retain it till I get off stage. For that it is just not my precise steps and movements, there is something more, might be the charisma, and might be the act of story-telling, the connection you make with the numerous unknown people looking at you. I am not sure if I am making sense here. It is something to be felt and not explained. It is like watching a movie, you see numerous actors come and go but finally the accolades go to few, few who were able to capture your attention. That is infact what a dancer tries to do.

No dance is the effort of one person. It is a team effort. Even when I am doing solo on stage, I still need to interact with the orchestra that provides music. These interactions are subtle, sort of like chemistry. A perfect mix gives an explosive performance. Team effort is much greater when we dance as a group which is often my case. Doing a group item involves not just learning and perfection on stage; it involves a good understanding between the performers. It also involves quick thinking and the ability to improvise at unexpected situations. There will be chances someone forgets some steps and any innumerable happenings. A comfort level with all the participants is essential for a good on stage show. Not just on stage you need to be comfortable with the group you practice with. If there are some rotten apples in your sack, that’s the end of it! And as you probably know, put a group of women together and you’ll see some big time ego clashes and issues. Overcoming them is indeed an effort!

Thinking about it, dance itself is a complex relationship between math, music, science, history, psychology and whatever you want to add in between.

And then there is the being on stage part of a dancer. When I went back to dance, I didn’t want to be on stage because I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I am neither a accomplished dancer nor am I a teenager looking for recognization and certificates. I have had my share of spot-lights and makeup and I did not look forward to being on stage. But I went on stage and the first time I performed (it was Jan 1st 2006) it was a disaster. Well I did my steps right, but I lacked the elation and joy I used to enjoy while on stage when I was kid. As I grew up, somewhere along the line, I started expecting perfection from myself. And then there is this process of spending hours getting ready. When I was young, mom and granny where around co-coordinating everything, ironing my dance dress, selecting the jewelry and the worst braiding my hair and here I am now grown-up enough to get ready myself. I hate it. And at times wonder why I go on stage yet again. The answer is simple, because every time I have a performance ahead; I challenge myself to the extreme. I give 110% when there is a deadline, typical human I am! And then there is the being-on-stage feeling, I forget everything and am blind to the audience, I dance because I love it. My hands move on their own accord, the legs keep the rhythm, my face captures various emotions, well if not to the 100% perfection mark but atleast to the maximum I can do. Being on stage changes something and I have not been able to find what it is! It is just a feeling. And ofcourse there is the adrenaline rush after the performance. The applause ringing in my ears I sit back to think what next? When I was younger, after the performance were times when I screamed with joy but today after the performance I am subdued. I have learnt to look at what went wrong. The audience applause is really not my gauge mark; I know what I could have done. Might be I too harsh on myself but it is way I want to be.

Learning and growing towards the elusive perfection. And that is what I hope to keep doing. This ends my series on dance, I am not sure if you were able to make sense of this but if you have any questions I would be glad to answer them.

Festive times and childhood memories

This recent post by Kavi, sent R on a nostalgic dive to those days, growing up in Madurai as a kid. Its been 10 yrs since his last Chithirai thiruvizha, but he can still remember those memories like it was yesterday!

Update: Thanks to R's mom for this link. It has pictures and details of this year's festival. Take a look.

R says,

I have gone many places and seen a lot of things, but absolutely nothing compares to the great festivities, devotion and excitement of the Chithirai thiruvizha.

The festival is basically a celebration of the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) to Lord Sundareshwarar (Shiva). The thiruvizha begins with the procession of the deities along the four Masi streets, around the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. We were in the thick of action as we lived on West Masi street.

Every evening during the festival the doorstep would be washed clean in the evening and an intricate pattern (kolam) would be drawn using rice flour. Then we would wait excitedly for the sound of the drums, signalling that the procession has begun. The musicians were followed by elephants or camels (it was different every day!) and we kids were always at the front door to watch the animals go by. I guess it was the animals and the carnival feel that got us most excited. It was like watching a live circus at your doorstep. By this time a good crowd would have started lining the streets and the excitement increased proportionally to the size of the crowd. Ofcourse smart bussinessmen cashed in on such occasions. A roadside ballon-man, a sundal seller and others would move 1 step ahead of the procession and sell their wares.
Ofcourse the traditional pooja for the deities were also a part of the celebration. My mom and grandmother would be ready with the pooja items and offerings to the Gods. Then we would hear it, faintly at first and growing louder. More musicians and devotees chanting as the Gods came in procession, seated on a different vahana each day. Led by devotees carrying lanterns, the deities would stop in front of each home that had an offering. The priest would conduct a quick pooja, and the Gods, blessing us would move on to the next household.

This would go on daily for about 10 days, with the special day being the poo pallakku (Chariot of flowers). On this day, the vahana would be replaced by a "chariot" filled with roses! The crowd was always extra-large for this procession.

And if this was'nt fascinating enough, the next day brings the giant chariots, "Thaeru". These gigantic raths were pulled by thousands of devotees as they capriciously makes their way around the Masi streets. You should see the streets at that time. Absolutely jampacked with no room at all. Thankfully, we had an ideal vantage point at the terrace of our home. Imagine sitting on the terrace of a three-story home (used to be one of the tallest in the street then) and being dwarfed by the huge rath. It was indeed a humbling sight. Siting in the raths would be a young boy and a girl playing the roles of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwarar as they are wed.

The story goes that, Lord Kallazhagar (Vishnu), Goddess Meenakshi's brother is delayed getting to the wedding, and finding out he is a day too late, goes back angry and crosses the Vaigai River.

As a part of the Chithirai festivites there is also the Chithirai Poruthkatchi (exhibition). It is usually held at the Tamukkam fields. There were numerous stalls displaying everything under the sun, the latest housewares, to clothes to footwear. You name it, it was there. Half the things sold were junk, but it still was a big hangout in the otherwise entertainment-scarce Madurai. The exhibition atmosphere used to be electric, flashing lights, loud music, the big ferris wheels, the merry-go-arounds and try-your-luck stalls were a treat for us kids. And how can I leave out the exhibition food? It is always strange that the food made there tastes so much better than some of the food I have eaten. The puffy pink panjumithai (cotton candy or candy floss), the big Delhi appalams (they were easily 20 inches dia with a sprinkling of spices), the hot millagai bhaji (hot peppers dipped in batter and deep fried). Yum!

The Houston rodeo is the closest thing to the Chithirai thiruvizha I have been to. If you ever get a chance to visit Madurai during the Chithirai thiruvizha, I would advice you not to miss it for the world! Every year my mother talks about that year's festival and I vow I'll be there following year. But never get to do it. Might be next year! V was in India last year during the Chithirai thiruvizha and thought she did'nt find the time to stay for all the 10 days, she did see the procession a couple of days!

I donot have any pictures of the festivities and it is always been a dream to shoot a series of photos during the thiruvila and till then I'll have to make do with this photo of the gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman kovil!

Update: Thanks to R's mom for this link. It has pictures and details of this year's festival. Take a look.

Dance and V -1

Lavs wanted to know about V’s dance classes. So here we go.

Ladies and gentlemen, the next post is “dance and V” presented by V, set to her own ragam and thalam.

Where do I start? Dance has been a part of my life forever. My first formal dance classes were at the Trichy, a huge hall with its asbestos roofing, divided into sections. I was 5 years old when I first started learning Bharatnatyam. I knew nothing about the dance but it was just taking and learning one step at a time. I learnt for nearly 9 years with Mrs.Shanti Rammohan in Trichy and during this period, I danced at school and other occasions around town and ofcourse at my uncle’s wedding. I did do my share of filmi dances as they are called, jatkas and all. Slowly other priorities started creeping up and dance took a step back and stopped dance classes. To be truthful, I really don’t remember much from those days, I remember few steps, the kurathi item I performed so often.

Ten years later, I wanted to learn again and now it was not for being on stage or for fun but it was for knowing the technique and how the dance evolved. This is the older and wiser chapter in my Bharatnatyam learning book. For those of you, who have not lived in a US city filled with Indians like Houston, let me tell a few words about the Indian cultural scene here. There are numerous schools and teachers each competing with the next. They want to have the maximum number of students and it is always about the quantity than the quality. And ofcourse they perform religiously and regularly for every Indian event in town that is like 2 performances every weekend. Most dances are fusion of Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, Odissi, Kathak and folk dances mixed with liberal amounts of Bollywood style jatkas and presented under a single name called ‘Bharatnatyam’ (I guess it is because many people have heard of the word Bharatnatyam and ofcourse they are either unaware of what Bharatnatyam actually is or that they like to add masala to traditional dances) Coming back to the teachers, if you live in a decent sized city, you must ofcourse have an ex-film star run dance school, an established 25+ year old dance school, the new H4 wife’s classes at home and so on. Parents dream of their daughter being the Padma Subramanium of US in addition to being the American Idol, the Math whiz, the SAT topper, the spelling bee winner, the opera pianist and the list is endless so you can imagine the kind of students that end up in most of these dance classes. And the students there are some who learn to love dance and stick to it and then there are others who come to class crying coz they have been forced to. Parents tend to think that the best colored costume and wonderful jewelry will transform their daughter into the best dancer on stage. They fight to see whose daughter is better, who is in the center stage and for how long. It is like watching a soap opera, dancers in the background with exquisite costumes of all colors dancing or rather moving their hands and legs with no sense of nritta or abinaya and mothers and fathers in the foreground battling.

This is the scene in virtually any city in US and definitely in Houston. It was at this stage I started hunting for a dance teacher who would teach me Bharatnatyam as it is, without masala and also teach me more about the history, the past, the present and the future of this dance. And I found my teacher in Ms.Sunanda Nair and no I am not writing about my teacher here. I am writing about my experiences with dance.

Well I started learning again in late 2005, little more than a year ago. And today I took a minute to ponder why I have really not written about my dance classes and the answer is not just one. There were number of reasons and here they are. Firstly, I feel quite inadequate to write about my experiences in the class. What I learn is not just movement of feet and hands but something more sublime and more spiritual and something I really cannot explain and I am not even going to try doing it. And then there are times when my whole body feels like it is on fire, exhausting, tiring and makes me question why on earth do I go through this ritual of self-torture? And the worst is the time when I feel positively ancient and old-maidish when I dance with the 15-16 year olds who are quick, nimble and graceful. And there you go I said it! With all my secrets out let me go ahead.

My typical dance classes range anywhere from one hour to three hours. I usually meet with a bunch of other gals for classes on Sundays. We are the so-called senior class, mostly because of our age and our previous exposure to Bharatnatyam in some form or the other in some corner of the world. We warm up, get our old joints cracking and start with the basics. We always spend around an hour doing simple but basic adavus and believe me till date I get a big list of corrections for whatever adavu I do! It is during this time, I learn a lot about the technique, the way the same step is done in other dance forms like Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi etc. I also learn when and how to fit in the step I do into a complex set of steps called jathi.

There is a big connection between classical carnatic music and dance and unfortunately I cannot differentiate one raga from the other. Well I do listen to lot of songs but without having formally studied music, my sense of raga, thala and laya are totally off. To choreograph a jathi in Bharatnatyam, above all one should be able add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers with ease! Dance and Music is all mathematics. How do you fit in 3 steps into a count of 8 in different speeds? It is mathematics, a sense of dance and music is all you need. It is fascinating and involves a lot of study and I am no expert. I barely know the basics. It is something I learn and want to learn more.

Bharatnatyam itself is a lot of math especially the nritta – the leg movements. But Bharatnatyam also involves a lot of geometry – angles, line and arcs. If you look at the picture of a good Bharatnatyam dancer, you’ll be able to notice the symmetry, hands and legs in perfect sharp angles. Every moment of a Bharatnatyam dancer is also meant to be crisp, precise and geometrical. This is not true about other Indian dance forms and they ofcourse have their own specialties. This is what I am working towards improving, my posture, crispness and sharpness of movement. And as always this is a learning process.

This post is getting quite long and there is so much more I can talk about dance. I hate leaving it abruptly but I will now wrap this up and do a part 2 soon. And thanks to Lavs for setting me think and write about what I feel about dance.

Old Friends...

Years ago, during those days when life revolved around books, classes, projects, mess food and gossip there were two friends. They spent hours talking, about what I remember not. But I guess their talks were on classes, guys, other gals, family, dreams, hopes, movies, dresses and in short everything under the sun. And yes they fought and got back together, celebrated birthdays together and moved away.
Time flew away, days rolled into months, priorities changed, distances became bigger, emails sporadic, phone calls occasionally and that is life. But today circumstances change yet again and call it karma or whatever; they are just separated by just a little more than 1000 miles. And how is this meet going to be?
V and her friend from her undergrad days SG are going to get together this weekend.We are off to Phoenix to meet Mr. and Mrs. G. I bet they have lots to catch up. Looking forward for the visit!

The air I breathe....

It is official! Confirming the facts I always knew, Houston is ranked as the 6th most ozone polluted city!

Source: American Lung Association 2006 report