Monday, 20 December 2010

A trip to Thiruvarur- Day 3

  Day three was the day of my presentation. Two of my friends presented on the same day, and all of us were nervous- even if not much, just a little tense. I was scheduled to present last, and all the other papers were just making it worse- the tension, that is. Most of the papers were amazing, and the feedback was constructive, and I was looking forward to the criticism on my paper.

  The day waned, and by noon, I was standing in front of everyone, presenting my paper on oikopoetics. This term is coined by Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, who I was fortunate to have as my professor back in MCC. He adapted a Tamil concept called 'tinai' into a modern system and way of life. I am not too sure of the roots of the word, but it represents not only a system, but a way of life. In the Tamil context, there are five tinaigal- mullai, kurinci, paalai, marutam and neytal. Each refers to a particular region within which people live, their means of survival (hunter, farmer, fisherman etc..), the time of day and the part of the year that is most significant for them and so on. This is a complex system that requires a detailed study of ancient Tamil texts, which he has undertaken. Parallel to this, he speaks of an oikos. 'Oikos' is a Greek word which means 'house'. The word oikopoetics does what the tinai does in Tamil literature: it connects literature to the landscape (if not to the way of life as well). So, I was looking at this aspect of ecocriticism. Anyway, I presented my paper, and I was standing there eagerly awaiting a response only to be greeted by absolute silence.

  That aside, we had a great lunch and then there was a round of prize-distributions for students who had previously participated in a competition held by CUTN. They got a set of books as prizes (most of them did, at least). The people there even gave the six of us a participatory certificate and commended us on our brilliant performance (in their words, we rocked the show). One of my classmates was asked to speak a few words toward the end of the conference. He did not fail to mention the good food! Overall, it was a great experience.

  But that was only the conference. After that, my classmates and I hung around with a few of the people from CUTN, some of whom I knew before hand (this included Nirmal sir). We went on a walk around Thiruvarur. It is a beautiful township, especially after the rains (as I am sure I have mentioned earlier). It was more than an hour-long walk, but it was so much fun. I had so much catching up to do (Susan, I'm sure you are following this). So, what with the Beatles, and identical feet twins, and MCC, our day went by really fast. We left CUTN by six thirty, got to the room, ate and did the calculations and money divisions (the math, basically).

  We were at the bus stop about an hour earlier. Not knowing what to do, we were walking slowly, when a herd of cows randomly apparated in front of us. So, we tried to dodge them, and a bus came charging ahead of us. Tensed, and herded in, we tried to move aside, knowing that there were cows behind us. But somehow, magically, a couple more cows came down from the front, and yet we failed to notice them (probably because of the looming bus). So, I got very lightly brushed by the horns of a cow (definitely a first), and a couple of my friends freaked out, and we decided to get out of that crazy place. We went back to our hotel, sat outside, and then four of us left, leaving behind two of our classmates.

  I assumed that the bus journey back was going to be a dream. I never slept on that ride. I was up till four thirty chatting with my friend! It was an amazing experience. There was a slight nauseating feeling that was countered by the very very interesting insights that I gained from him. So, it was dawn, and we had barely slept. There was a 1.00 a.m. break, which we made use of to get refreshing coffee. Finally, we landed in Chennai once again: home territory!

  And thus, the three-day conference ended. It was a brilliant experience. One of a life time. Something I cannot forget. Good fun, and serious too, to a certain extent. Okay then.... I shall stop ranting any further. Goodbye, for now.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Maggie B

"Written by Maggie B
Bought by me:
A present to Maggie B
Sent by me:
But who can Maggie be?
Answered by me:
“She is she.” "

- Lewis Caroll, Aug. 13, 1891 (To Maggie Bowman)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A trip to Thiruvarur- Day 2

The second day of our trip, which was the 6th of December, began at 6.30 in the morning. After insignificant nothings, and a lovely breakfast at the street corner, we got into the bus that CUTN had arranged for us. The seminar started out in full swing with a small presentation by chief guest, David Storey, and an introductory note by Dr. Nirmal Selvamony (whom I am still not getting used to calling 'doctor', but rather 'sir'). Finally, we got down to the paper presentations. Three of my classmates presented. It was a tedious but fun day, what with the amazing food, and the lovely campus, and the great, cheer with which CUTN invited us.


After the presentations, our little group went to the nearby temple of Lord Thyagaraja and walked about the whole temple. This temple is one of the five Siva temples of the south, which represent the five elements of earth, fire, air, water and space, and it portrays the earth element. There are a multitude of stories that are built around the solidity of the cool-stoned temple walls. The temple itself was constructed over a period of many years during (if I am not mistaken) the Chozha rule. This is the only temple where nandhi or the sacred cow remains standing in front of Lord Siva. The story goes that nandhi dozed off while she was supposed to be guarding her master, and he got up and walked away. When she gets up, she realises that she has failed in protecting her master, and she remains standing in self-punishment.


Walking from the central mandapam, one notices the multitude of Siva lingams around the whole temple. There is one point where one can stand on a single slab of stone and look at all the seven gopurams of the temple- the four at the four entrances to the temple, the central once, and two more within the temple. After this, you see the sacred tree, where Pillayar was supposed to have gone to, and the shrines of various Siva bhaktargal (saints/followers for lack of a better word). 


We went to the shrine of Amman (Parvathi). The story goes that while Siva was serving food to every living creature in the world, Parvathi playfully hides a little ant in a matchbox, and asks her husband if he has indeed finished serving all creatures. When he replies to the affirmative, she points to the box, and he gets infuriated when he realises that she has played a prank on him, and has (to a certain degree) told him a lie. As a result of this, he banishes his own wife to the depths of pathala loka, or the underworld. Vinayaka, also called Pillayar, refuses to let his mother traverse such dangerous territory without physical support, and therefore goes down with her. Thus, there is a shrine of the Goddess's son strangling a demon's neck. The Goddess herself is situated in a cave-like enclosure, painted (either during the time or later) with white walls. She is not surrounded by any of the minor gods usually seen around central/important gods.


Next, my friend and I went to the temple lake. It is the lake of the Thyagaraja temple that is supposed to be one of its best features. It is considered to be as huge as (or at least, almost as huge as) the temple itself. I cannot describe the vastness of this kollam (கோளம்). It was dark, since it had become about 7.30 or maybe even 8.00 by then. So, while we crossed the road to look at the lake, all we could see was water, and the distant lights. It was difficult to spot the other end of the lake. Usually, a temple lake is only meant for the sadhus to take a 'holy bath' in. Thus, it is usually small. However, the Thyagaraja temple pond is amazingly large. It has a small temple at its centre (I am not too sure how one accesses that) and water all around it. The kings did indeed ensure that they would never run out of water. That too, this season, when we visited the temple, it had been flooded with the heavy rains, causing even the main temple to be filled with water. The lake, then, was brimming with green, lustrous water, twinkling in the street-lights.


Finally, we left the temple at about eight in the night. We had the puliodarai which they were selling within the temple compound, and then had vadais and eventually had dinner at the hotel itself. Then we had to get some rest before the next day dawned- which was the day I was doing my presentation.

Friday, 10 December 2010

A trip to Thiruvarur- Day 1

Thiruvarur is a small township located towards the south of Tamizh Nadu, and I recently had the good fortune of visiting it when it was lush green owing to a bout of heavy rains over there. I and five of my friends armed ourselves, prepared (or at least almost prepared) to present our papers on 'The Name and Nature of Ecocriticism' at the Central University of Tamizh Nadu (CUTN). We were bent on having our share of the fun come rain or shine (shine, as it turned out to be).
What was initially supposed to be a group journey from Chennai to Thiruvarur ended up in just two out of the five of us travelling, since the people who were supposed to arrive from Hyderabad missed the train. [Their story is an amazing one, and I would love to recount it, but I suppose we must ask them to do the narration. It is hilarious I assure you. But, back to the story...] So two of us set off from Chennai Egmore, not knowing how to pass about seven hours in a train. We started out by taking pictures, but batteries failed us, and eventually, we had to satisfy ourselves by just chatting, and chatting, and chatting! The journey was interspersed with ardent followers of ISKON, and interesting conversations with the old man sitting next to us. He was a really kind man, asking us to see the various water bodies that flowed by, and we too enjoyed watching the risen levels of water after the heavy rains. However, most of the journey went off in blissful slumber, and even the coffee and samosas that we bought didn't wake us up- especially me! I was literally sleeping like a log!
We soon got down at Thanjaoor- far earlier than we expected (we thought we would reach at five, but we reached by three or so). Giving a little time to charge our phones so as to be able to take pictures, and contact our friends when they reached, we left the station and decided to go to the temple. It was drizzling by then, and a single 'thaathaa kodai' was supposed to protect both of us. We got a two rupee ticket to the temple, and we walked in the slush to the entrance. After a lot of contemplation as to whether we ought to enter the main temple or not, we dumped our bags at the entrance (there was a man who kept them safe at the counter), and we headed inside. It was about 4:45 pm when we went in. We walked around the entire temple. It was empty, probably owing to the rains.
This was my second visit to the temple. I had once gone to Thanjaoor about four years ago, and I had seen the same sights with a different friend. This experience was different. I was doing the guiding this time (though I did not know much). We saw the main temple, with lord Siva, and the huge Nandhi seated in front of him. We saw the many Siva lingams and the paintings on the wall. We learnt that the temple was constructed by Raja raja Chozha during 1003 AD or so and the paintings were elaborate. We realised that the stones had two styles of writing- one similar to tamizh and one to sanskrit, but neither was the actual language. We figured that it was probably some ancient form of the languages. After about an hour of looking at the statues, and taking a few pictures, we left. We had to catch the bus from Thanjaoor to Thiruvarur. We did not know how long that would take, but we figured that it would not be much. We paid twenty rupees each in the bus, so we assumed we would reach within twenty minutes to half an hour. The bus journey lasted an hour and a half, toward the end of which both of us were feeling physically and psychologically ill.
There was a really nice lady sitting next to me on the journey to Thiruvarur. Her name was Anbarasi. She was heading to Velankani to pray for her family. In Tamizh, it is called a venduthal. She had two children- a daughter and a son- both in their kinder garden, and her husband was in Saudi Arabia. She was excited, and we spoke about a multitude of things, including which actor we liked (common: Surya), and actress (Jyotika, though she still doesn't act), and other mundane things.
We reached Thiruvarur at eight. We walked the short distance from the bus stop to the hotel we were staying in- Hotel Selvie's- and met up with our friends. We got dinner at a restaurant in the hotel itself, and we all headed of to catch a good night's sleep before facing a tough day the next morning.