The Kathakali Experience

Disclaimer: I am not a dancer. 

But dance and drama makes a huge part of what I am. 

My father was a very religious person and would spend a lot of time
visiting temples. I think I have got my artistic trait from him. I have watched
him silently being drawn towards characters during temple performances and
stage dramas. Sunday afternoons were spent listening to old Malayalam songs. He
was very fond of dramatic dances of Kerala like Thayyam, Kathakali etc. And if
there would be such a performance in the Krishna temple near our house, he
would not miss it. As a child, I was not that keen to watch them. To say the
least, I found it boring. But as I grew and began to write, listen to varied
music, dance/drama was something that began to touch my soul. One of the many
reasons I have loved Indian dance forms is because of the intricate make up and
costume. Of all the dances, Kathakali stands out in terms of the drama,
costume, eye movements, leg stands, and ofcourse make up. It had always fancied
and made me curious about how exactly is such a heavy costume worn. I could
finally quench my thirst when I went to Thekaddy. We grabbed the opportunity to
visit the Mudra Kathakali Centre. 
The precursor to the actual performance was watching the make up and
wearing of costume. We were the first ones to enter the stage where the artist
was decking up. Costumes are very large and heavy. I took the opportunity to
speak to the dancer too. I specifically asked him whether he felt comfortable.
The artist very sweetly said, “Yes, now I am. Young children get intimidated
by the richness and heaviness of the costumes, but by the time multiple
performances are done, they get used to it. Moreover we undergo full body
abhyangams every year to increase and maintain stamina and power.”
Yes, Kathakali is not for the faint- hearted or bodied.

There are several kinds of costumes. These are: Sathwika (the hero),
Kathi (the villain), Minukku (females), and Thatti. This is exactly why
Kathakali is so dramatic. If you ask me, the characters of Kathi and Minukku is
what catches my eye every time.  Of all the Navarasa, the positives ones
are relatively easier to understand and relate. But the feelings of lust,
jealousy, anger, disgust can be quite a upheaval task. 
Just before the actual performance, Kalamandalam Vishu Das
displayed the basic eye movements, facial expressions to project the

Narakasuravadham is a very famous dance piece that is shown in Kathakali
performances. Maharaja Karthika Tirunal (1724-1798) of erstwhile Travancore is
in the forefront of Kathakali play-wrights who brought majestic ‘kathi’
(depicting shades of negative traits) characters, with all their magnificence
to the centre stage. His ‘Narakasuravadham’ (The slaying of the demon
Naraka), co-authored, as per general belief, by his famous nephew Aswati
Tirunal (1756 -1794), handles one of the episodes of Lord Krishna’s great
victories. Traditionally, this performance is 6 – 7 hours long and
takes place in temples. But as a stage performance, many a times portions of
this entire dance drama is performed. One of such acclaimed portions is where
Nakrathundi is mutilated by Jayanta.  
The basic story being: Naraka grew up to be the unrivalled ruler of
the demon kingdom. His maid servant Nakratundi captures damsels to gift them to
the king. On her way home, she beholds Jayanta, the handsome son of Indra. She
approaches him in the guise of Lalitha and tries to woo him in vain.
The disappointed Nakratundi assumes her real form and character and in
the ensuing battle, she is mutilated by Jayanta. 

Kalamandalam Vishu Das
played the character of Nakrathundi. 

This is the only word I can come up with. The best part of the entire
experience was my kids being absolutely engrossed in the performance. I don’t
think they had ever seen anything something so spectacular. 

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kuruvanthody 

Einstein, yeh kya kar daala?

While browsing through Facebook. .. I came across a man staring at me with a huge smile on his no- nonsense kinda face. He said: My son has improved dramatically in Science and Math. I am relieved. It obviously is an advertisement for online tuitions.
But what caught me is Math and Science.

In my teaching career, I have come across enough number of parents who openly say to me, “This is English, all this is okay. Ma’am, show me Math and Science marks.” (PS: I am an English teacher)
I share this with many, and they ask me how I react. Well, I do not. Because each of these parents or children at some point of their lives will need something more than Math and Science.

I thought the 90’s was over. But frankly I feel it will never get over for Indians. Well.. we are the global leaders who are running board meetings now.  The new face of the global market. Are we?

This post is in no way saying that these subjects are detrimental. Oh my… how can I say such a thing?I am an Indian parent! But may I please take the liberty of saying they are err… over-hyped.

I was in for a pleasant surprise on my recent trip to Thekaddy. There was an in house shop run by a Kashmiri, and I happened to like quite a few things in his shop. While making the payment, he asked me about our family. There was a casual Hmmmm when I told him that M was in the IT field. He smiled and said, “Everyone is into IT nowadays. What about you ma’am?” I said, “I teach English”, and handed over my card for billing. He stopped packing and looked at me. “You are a teacher? An English teacher?” I nodded with a smile. He didn’t say anything for a few seconds. After a while, he kept his hands on his heart and spoke. “Oh my God. Aap teacher hain. Woh bhi English ki. Mein kya bolu?” I was a little surprised. “Have you even been to Kashmir, madam?” He asked. I said, “No.”
He lowered his eyes and said, “It is a beautiful place. I am also a student. I study Political Science. But because of the conditions there, I am unable to write my exams. I want to become a teacher. I have chosen political science to understand how our country is run. Only we can bring a change. IT field main tho sab log jaate hain. But I did not choose it because I want to study something ‘more’. I will become a teacher like you. But of political Science.”

I was humbled that moment. Before leaving, he sad, “I am very lucky to have met an English teacher.” All I could manage was smile.

The next day when we visited a tea estate en route Alleppey, the lady who walked us around impressed me with her smartness. Even though she was an Oriya, she had learnt decent Malayalam to communicate with her staff. (Malayalam is one of the toughest languages to learn). She asked my husband what we did in Bangalore. He told about himself and then about me. As soon as she heard that I am a teacher, she asked me what I teach. “English”, I said. “Oh really! You teach English?” Before leaving I said to her, “You are quite smart. I really liked you.” She quipped,”No, It’s been my pleasure to meet an English teacher. Language touches heart.” I said, “Yes, absolutely it does.”

Sitting in the car, I couldn’t stop wondering about these two individuals. For me, they had glamoured a subject other than Math and Science.

A few of my friends tell me that because my kids are still young, I talk like this. When they reach Grade 8 or 9, I would also be quite keen that they take up Math and Science. I don’t have an answer to this. I will cross this bridge when I reach there. But I also remind myself that I am a 90’s product of a family where no one had studied anything else other than Science and Math, (barring my aunt) and guess what? I DID NOT take up Science or Math after my 10th grade even after scoring above 95% in both the subjects in my 10th board exams. I do not know whether you can imagine the hell I went through and made my family go through too, having to convince them that I do not like either of the subjects. So I still have a hope that I would do just fine if my kids take up something beyond these subjects.

Someday I will blog about that day when it actually happens. 🙂

October 2016 – Munnar, Thekkady and Backwaters.

I am a Delhi bred Keralite and my father made sure that I visit each of our relatives based there during every summer holidays. But in the first 24 years of my life, I visited no other place in Kerala, other than the cultural capital of Kerala: Thrissur. (It happens to be my home town) My parents were not travelers, so well, I never traveled.

Have I felt bad about it? YES (In bold, italics and upper case). I think many non mallus have seen Kerala better than me. I decided to fix it for my kids and me. This month we decided to visit Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarakom and Alleppey. This blog is all about my visit. 
WHEN: 2nd October – 6th October ( 4 nights and 5 days)
WHO: Manoj, A (10 years old), N (6 years old) and me. 
FROM: Bangalore
TRAVEL PLANNING: I pretty much knew what we wanted to do, but I mostly let our travel planners arrange everything. This time we chose VENTURE OUT, run by Ramshai Prakash. 
1st October night: We took the Kanyakumari Express from KR Puram and got down at Ernakulam Town. Venture Out had arranged for a driver and an AC SWIFT. The driver’s name was Mr. Mohan Babu. If there is one word that I can use for him, I would say: Perfect. A perfect driver, a jolly good fellow who loves to drive, has loads to information for info-thirsty beings like me and knows when to be quiet at the right time. 
2nd October: We reached Ernakulam at 8 am. Mohan was waiting for us at the station. We had our breakfast at a nearby restaurant and started our journey to Munnar around 9 – 9:30. Enroute, there are a few waterfalls. I am skipping writing about them because it didn’t really fascinate me. But yes, what I would like to add here is that all these places sell corncobs, pineapples, raw mangoes which I would eat anytime. I would like to add here that this was one trip in which we skipped all packaged snacks and relied completely on natural food stalls/local food. 
The route to Munnar is quite scenic and a photographer’s delight.

We stopped at SN Restaurant for lunch. A must visit on the way to Munnar. A small local restaurant which served fresh fish and meals. A meal in Kerala means almost a complete aunthentic Keralite dishes (mostly veg) with a non veg curry and fish fry. It was lip smacking and absolutely easy on the pocket. 
Our resort was 22 kms away from the Munnar town, in Chinnakanal. We reached around 2 pm. I would suggest staying in this area as the view is beyond words. 
THE RESORT: Mountain Club, Munnar. 
RATING: 5/5 
WHY: The cottage was perfect for our family. Spacious yet cozy, Beautiful interiors. Good food. I got over my inhibitions and got an Abhyanga with Kizhi done from their ayurvedic spa. Yippee! 
Munnar is really not a place to roam around. You check in a nice resort in the middle of the mountains and enjoy pure nature. 

3rd October: We visited the Mattupetty Dam. Horse rides, fresh local produce, a little ahead was the Echo point, boating, a little local shopping. Came back to the resort and remaining evening just chilled out. 
4th October: Check out. Drive to Thekkady. We started around 8:30 am and reached Thekkady by 11:30 am. 
THE RESORT: Spice Grove 
RATING: 3/5 
WHY: The room was just okay. The TV wasn’t working properly. The technician came and fixed it though. 2 tea cups for 4 guests. The intercom had a lot of disturbance. I understand that Thekkady is the land of spices, but it still is not reason enough to load every damn dish under the sky with spices. Not happening 🙁 
The 3/5 is solely to the guest management team. They were very courteous. Another positive point for the inhouse Kashmiri shop from where I picked up some pretty German Silver jewellery.   
After checking in, we went for the Periyar sanctuary river safari. The KTDC restaurant inside the Periyar sanctuary is easily avoidable. I would suggest packing food or eating elsewhere. 

About the river cruise: the sanctuary was disappointing. One of my friends later on told me that we should have done this visit in the morning to have a better sightings. The Bannerghatta safari was way better. You can read about my experience here
The highest point of Thekkady was the visit to Mudra Kathakali Centre. This is a must visit. There is no way, anyone should miss this place. If there is one takeaway from my Kerala Trip, it is this. There is a lot I want to write about the Kathakali performance, and I would be blogging about it in another post. You can read about it here
5th October: We checked out in the morning after breakfast and drove down to Kumarakom. 
Enroute, we stopped at the tea estate of Harrisons Malayalam. I have been to other tea estates too, but this one takes the prize. Well managed and resourceful. Most importantly, it changed the way we look at tea, especially green tea. 

FYI, Alleppey and Kumarakom are the 2 ends of the backwaters. While Alleppey is more of a town, Kumarakom is laid back interiors. 
THE RESORT: World Backwaters
RATING: 3.5/5 
WHY: The resort is beautiful. We could have access to the backwaters from the backside of the resort. The food could have been a lot more local and good, keeping in mind we were in Kerala backwaters. I also did not much approve of the fact that the resort was completely Non-Keralite driven. By that I mean, the staff members were completely non Keralites. The food missed the Keralite factor completely. It was disappointing in that sense. 

6h October: We checked out in the morning and drove to the house boat in Alleppey. Reached by 9:30 am. 
The Backwaters was a real treat. We are a family of water lovers. The backwaters gave us all that we were missing upon. The sea food, water (water water everywhere) and scenes of the local life. I was pleasantly surprised to see the expanse of the backwaters. I never knew that the backwaters was so vast, I actually thought we were in the sea. We had asked for lunch to be served in the houseboat. A young man cooked for us, using basic Kerala spices and fresh sea catch. It was truly delicious! FYI, we opted for a 3 hour cruise in the house boat instead of a night stay. Overnight stay can be expensive and really unnecessary because at night the houseboats are parked ashore. Moreover kids can get bored after a while. 

The overall rating I would give to this trip would be 4/5. Being a Keralite, I think I have been exposed to our intricate and beautiful culture a lot already. The extraordinary locales is something I get to enjoy even during my visit to meet our family and relatives here. My husband’s ancestral house has a pond and a beautiful carpet of lush green paddy fields and hills around it. The local drives from his home town to mine itself is a beauty in itself. But I am glad I took this trip (off my bucket list). My kids got to see places other than their homes in Kerala. 
A lot of commercialization has eaten up the sanctity of many of these places. From the economy’s point of view, it is definitely good. But from the point of view of culture and purity, I am not sure whether this is the right direction. Nevertheless, every travel experience teaches us something more about not just the place, but also about ourselves.