Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Age cannot Wither Her... Nalini Chandran

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety,"

 These words sit perfectly on the shoulders of Mrs. Nalini Chandran, a lady who is fondly known as 'Nalini Miss' by her students, their parents and by her many admirers. At the young age of seventy seven, she refuses to sit back and put her feet up! For all her life she has been racing ahead of time, creating magic in the profession of teaching. An exceptional educationist from a very early age, Nalini Chandran has lived a life most extraordinary, and still continues to do so, and she says that she owes all of it to her favourite deity, Hanuman, who has stood by her through thick and thin! Probably because she would have it no other way! Shirdi Sai Baba is another one to whom she turns whenever she needs a solution to a problem, and He never fails to rush to her aid either.

                                                                                    Her friend, guide and philosopher!

Thousands of students have passed through her loving arms and have gone on to create niches for themselves the world over. For them, Nalini Miss is the person who held their tiny hands and walked along with them through their school years, whispering words of hope, chiding them when they slackened. She gambolled with them, acting out nursery rhymes, as they mimicked her every move, the mentor who smiled encouragingly when they did brilliantly, but smiled even brighter when they did something humane. She insisted that they speak in English when in school, and built up their self confidence through various co-curricular activities which made them hold up their heads against a competitive world outside. Her catchphrase when she caught them being naughty was always, "Woe betide you!" - a phrase that was bandied around whenever she was mentioned, and continues to be so, even today! 

For every student she is Nalini Miss, the special teacher whom they treasured deep within their hearts. especially when they won laurels and collected bouquets, when they met friends and talked about the good old 'Hari Sri' days. She represented the mother, the guru, the mentor, and above all, the friend, who could create magic in their lives. Today there are students who have blossomed forth, thriving in their careers and others who have created families in perfect love and harmony - in each of their hearts there is one little corner in which Nalini Miss reigns!

                  'Amusedly' musing about her next step?

A young Army wife, Nalini stood out wherever she taught, as students sat, riveted to the way in which she made Shakespeare and History come alive through her dramatic skills. Her talents were numerous, as she directed English plays and choreographed exquisite dance items, having learnt Kathakali for seven years, when young. She was at her ease, whether it was doing an item for the School Annual function or a mass drill for The Annual Sports Day. And with every year that she spent teaching, she honed her skills, as she moved from school to school every time her husband was posted to a new place.

One of the incidents she loved relating was about when she once walked into a classroom as a new teacher. The senior girls were waiting to rag her, a feat that they were very good at. However, before their amazed eyes, she gave no one a chance to react, and launched into the opening scene of Macbeth, one of her favourite plays. As the girls sat in petrified silence she acted out the parts of the three witches, making the scene come alive before their very eyes, till the last menacing cackle which made their hair stand on end. They instantly turned into her most ardent fans. “That was the hardest piece of acting ever!” she later said.

                                 "You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart."                                                                                                                                             John Ford

When her husband decided to take premature retirement from the Indian Army, he persuaded her to start a school of her own - a school in the tiny town of Thrissur in Kerala, a school which he named Hari Sri, a name so meaningful in that it is the first two words a child is made to write when he or she writes for the first time. A name that was to prove fateful as, the very next year, her beloved husband passed away after a massive cardiac arrest, leaving her with three young daughters. This was the Hari Sri of a new life, and she was just 39 years old in a strange town that looked askance at young widows.

                                                                          The love of a lifetime!

This was when Nalini realized that her work could bring her solace and she went on with fortitude, moulding Hari Sri with patience, working relentlessly to make it the best in the city, pouring into it all the wonderful skills that she had picked up over the decades. Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi was soon a well known ICSE-ISC school, a power to be reckoned with across the country, winning medals and laurels with much ease. 
While Academics was given importance, students were encouraged to take part in Co-curricular activities and Sports, all of which were blended beautifully with the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play.

All religions were treated alike, and one inspiring slogan that was oft repeated was 'May the Peal of Harmony be the Appeal of all Religions.' "I want my students to be citizens of the world!" she often declared. Juggling academics and co curricular activities was what she did with elan, but even more important were the core values that she wanted ingrained in her students - respect to elders, honesty to the core, etiquette and an ability to stand out for all the right reasons, the so called soft skills that are all so vital today. Her amazing sense of humour and her outspokenness were also traits she shared with people, traits she loved to see in people around her.

                                                                      Talking straight from the heart!

                                                                          Reading - a loved hobby!

Among the numerous awards that have their pride of place on her mantelplace, including the Rangojwala and the Guruvar Awards for Excellence of Teaching, the Kerala Sangeet Nataka Akademi Award for 2013 was conferred upon her for Excellence in Choreography, in recognition of her artistic and dramatic abilities, that blended in seamlessly with her academic prowess to make her a truly enlightened educationist. The fact that around ten Principals around Thrissur have been trained by her only goes to show how generously she gives of herself and her talents to inspire others. 
One of her first major shows in the mid 80s was the Ramayana, a beautiful potpourri that combined dance, drama, music and dialogue. Her Sri Rama was only eight years old. The show was staged in different venues and was also aired on Doordarshan. Over the years many wonderful shows were put up, shows that showcased culture, religion, and the fine arts. Her latest show in January this year was a programme on Kerala history that had myriad tableaux from significant scenes from the history of Kerala - an extravaganza that brought the school, and the formidable lady at its helm much acclaim.

                                                                                                   The Kalari

                                                                          The famed artist, Raja Ravi Varma

However, Nalini feels that her greatest trophies are the visits of her students, the mails and phone calls she receives from them and the emotions they evoke within her heart through their outpourings of love and gratitude. "I have learnt so much from my students!" she loves to say. She enjoys Facebook where she can browse to her heart's content, looking with pride on the achievements of her young ones, and where she can post positive messages along with a healthy dose of the inimitable humour through which she views life.

The true beauty that we have seen in her is her zest for life that keeps her going. She can drop everything and traipse around the country with an equally crazy British friend, also a grandmother, and end up having adventures that would make a younger person quail. Her heart is so large that she can be taken in by sob stories, and she loosens her purse strings with ease. But as she put it, "I am aware that I am being taken for a ride! But I don't mind, if I can help someone!"

The dancer, whose eyes speak volumes!

Whatever the case, life is never dull when she is around, and maybe, that is exactly why her repertoire overflows with life experiences that could fill reams of paper. She has faced tragedy and travails with strength and stoicism, and on one occasion when she found herself totally defenceless, the citizens of Thrissur, most of whom included the parents of the children she had nurtured, along with many eminent personalities, stood firmly behind her, ensuring that she carried on shining like the star she is, a star unaware of her own lustre, a fact that endears her to many!

                                             Her favourite stress buster, her little Pugloose

Thus, Nalini Miss carries on doing what she loves - providing light and learning to young ones, teaching them not just English, Maths and Science, but how to sit, stand, eat and behave as well! It is wonderful to see their little faces light up at the sight of Nalini Valiamma, for that is what the younger lot call her, even as they look forward to a little pat from her or a positive comment on their notebooks! And her band of teachers work together with her very diligently, for they know how precious is the clay they have been given to work with! The ne'er say die spirit of the Principal goes a long way, and it is easy to see what Emerson meant when he said, "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." Or woman!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saved In Sri Lanka - Devika Fernando

Book Review - Deepti Menon


 How can you not fall in love with a heroine with the romantic name, Sepalika, a name that she shares with the night jasmine, a flower that is fragrant, magical and fascinating? Daniel Byrne cannot keep his eyes away from the exotic beauty, who also happens to be his tour guide, a job she loves because it “involved being in touch with people from all walks of life.” Initially he is “a silent brooding riddle of an Irishman” who stays at the sidelines, but once he realizes the amount of local knowledge Sepalika possesses, he finds himself looking forward to being with her all the time.
Sepalika has spent five years in London, thrilled because “her mind and heart belonged to countries where a woman had the right to say no, to be herself, and to live.”  She returns to Sri Lanka for private reasons, and hence, finds it difficult to take in the ugly side of the country – corruption, politics, deceit and crime. However, she has shackles tying her down to the place, and she wills herself to say, “But the past should stay in the past. I can’t and I won’t go back.”
Her father is suffering from a chronic kidney disease, and when his former boss’ son, Mahesh, takes a liking to Sepalika, his father agrees to pay for her father’s treatment. She is hustled into an engagement to a man with whom she has nothing in common. 
Daniel too has his share of bitterness to combat, but as they are thrown together in the beautiful sights of Sri Lanka, the two find themselves attracted to each other. She is like “a moth drawn to the light,” while he finds that he has lost his heart to a forbidden flower, Sepalika , with her perfect name.
Is this just a fling, a one night stand, she wonders. Is she only “another exotic memory, an experience he might connect to some historical fact or other?” Daniel is incensed when he realizes that she is engaged to Mahesh, and storms out of her life, leaving her bereft, for “he knew her mind and owned her heart.” Is that the end of their tender love story that showed such promise?
Devika Fernando is an outstanding writer of romance, as she creates a love tapestry with words, both tempestuous and gentle, with all its ups and downs. Her situations, and the emotions that run through them, are all too real. Daniel with his “polished cheekbones you could cut yourself on” comes across as “a mysterious, history-loving, introverted red-head from Ireland”, but over the pages he reveals his chivalrous, often mischievous side as well. It is no wonder that Sepalika loses her vulnerable heart to him, drawn towards him, until the moment when she realizes that she is fettered to her fate.
Devika could as well have been a chronicler of history as well, so beautifully does she describe the wonderful sights of her country. Her chapters are aptly named after the various cities the tour group travel across – the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala, the Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya with its Mirror Wall, the Golden Temple of Dambulla with its 100 feet tall Golden Buddha, the Yala National Park whose King is the leopard, the Kande Vihare Buddhist temple, which houses the tallest statue of Buddha in Sri Lanka and many such marvels. 

                              The Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala - Photo courtesy: Devika Fernando


                              The Golden Buddha of Dambulla  - Photo courtesy: Devika Fernando     

There are two spots of special interest to Indian readers – the Hagkala Botanical garden where it is believed that Ravana hid Sita away from prying eyes, and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree which was nurtured from the original tree at Bodh Gaya, a branch of which was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, Emperor Ashoka’s daughter in the 3rd century BC.
Thus, ‘Saved in Sri Lanka’ is a riveting read that captivates even as it informs. 

Verdict: A gentle read that leaves the heart in bliss! 

                                              The petite writer herself - Devika Fernando at Colombo 
                                                           Photo courtesy: Devika Fernando

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vanity, Thy Name is Woman!


 “Vanity, thy name is Woman”.  Shakespeare could well be misquoted to denote the vanity case that women tote around, filled with stuff that men wouldn’t be caught dead carrying! My Vanity [case] was unique as it carried various stages of my life within its folds!

The Blushing Bride: When I got engaged, the first thing I received from Mom was a green VIP suitcase for my brand new saris, along with a smart little matching vanity case, which excited me no end. Never having used any cosmetics earlier, I went ballistic, filling the case up with every cream, powder and foundation under the sun. Hubby-to-be waited for my transformation into a swan, but every day I would appear, either looking like a pale faced wraith or an unnaturally red faced apparition. Finally, the cosmetics made their way into the waste paper basket, but the ‘Vanity’ remained [pun intended]!

The Young Mum: My daughter’s arrival was an event in itself, and romance and flowers went out of the window only to be replaced by nappies and milk bottles. The Vanity now smelt heavenly, filled as it was with Johnson’s baby soap, powder and oil. Ear buds, cotton wool balls and bibs all vied for space with gripe water and exact doses of syrups – anything for a good night’s sleep!

Off to School: All too soon that stage was over, and my daughter began school, [that hallowed place that eats up pencils, erasers and sharpeners], a stuffed satchel on her back and rosy dreams of having a fun gang of her own. The Vanity took on itself the task of preserving hair clips and red ribbons, accompanied by clean white handkerchiefs, school ties and errant badges, rubber bands and tiny earrings. One could delve into its depths and come up with a felt pen, a note from a teacher, a pocket diary or even a soggy toffee or chocolate. All these kept company with my lone kajal stick and half a dozen lipsticks.

The Terrible Teens: Where the fairy clips and the colourful hair bands disappeared, I never did know. Our little Miss had grown up, and how! In came the torn jeans with stone washed shirts, cool sporty shoes and requests for a tattoo! No more frills and flounces, she declared, as she walked around in T Shirts in the most basic shades- blue, grey, black, cream and more blue! The jeans were washed once a month as she lived in them and the Vanity thrived on chunky black metal jewellery, tiny functional earrings that were hardly there and nail polishes in bizarre shades like black, blue and yellow!



Working Girl: The changeover was a shocker - from tomboy to responsible young lady. T shirts turned into nightwear, the jeans perked up and lost their rents, the clothes turned formal. Smart was the catchword – tailored pants, skirts, tops and blazers.  The Vanity kept watch over the pearl jewellery, vibrant scarves and stoles, the sheer stockings and the MAC make up... all very classy indeed!

 Wedding bells: Life has come round full circle now. Now my daughter has turned into a bride, and the Vanity sits now, well worn and overused, as matrimonial plans flow around it. The little compartments have been emptied out, the mirror wiped squeaky clean, as gold ornaments have been placed inside, different sets for different occasions. For the first time, it has been kept locked. Brand new cosmetics have replaced old ones, with shimmering bindis and hair ornaments meant for a new bride, yet there is still enough place for my lone kajal stick and half a dozen lipsticks.  


And I can say with conviction that when my little girl goes away as a bride, a brand new vanity case in her hand, I will sink down in exhaustion and by my side will be my old faithful Vanity – with a few extra scratches, ink blots, dabs of talcum powder and a bundle of precious memories! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

The "Oh Blimey!" Moment!


“Oh, blimey!” was what I uttered as I looked into the interiors of my cavernous refrigerator, only to be greeted by a number of tiny plastic containers, filled with a variety of food that we had had over the past couple of days. Why “Oh blimey?” Well, it seemed more exotic that ‘Ayyyo!” hand on head, and harked back to the times when we watched the iconic “Mind Your Language” series so avidly.
My husband believes that the refrigerator is the most dangerous invention of all times. “Remember those days when your mother would cook just enough for one meal, which would be delicious because there was just enough of it to nudge the taste buds?”
“No, I don’t!” I would shake my head at him, “When I was born, refrigerators were already in circulation!” After all, he was talking to a veteran planner, one who would cook in a giant cauldron so that she wouldn’t have to cook for the next few days, and more importantly, one who would pore over menus at restaurants, and refuse to go home without a doggy bag. The one embarrassing moment was when daughter dear, who was tiny but canny, said in ringing tones. “But Ma, we don’t have a dog!” a statement which I tried to cover up with a loud unmusical cough. However, the mocking gaze of the waiter kept haunting me for nights after, but didn’t cure me of the habit, much to the chagrin of my husband.
 And so I peered into my cavernous refrigerator, unable to recognize many of the little pots of gold within. What on earth would I cook, I wondered. And then came the “Oh, blimey!” moment, the Newton moment when the apple dropped, much akin to the penny dropping.
“How would you like to have gosai rice?” I asked my better half, who had his head stuck in his laptop.
“Hmmm, OK... fine!”came the mumble.
So I set to work with a vengeance! All the pots came out, with their little lids of blue, pink and yellow, looking as pretty as a set of poster colours. After all, wasn’t I an artist of sorts? (I did not say “out of sorts”, mind you!) It was a palette of culinary delights – mutter paneer, chicken curry, potato and sausage rounds, garlic curd and an assortment of Continental mixed vegetables. (Which continent? I have no idea!) In went cut onions and garlic, sautéed with ghee, till the aroma wafted out, and then went in everything I had, like little swimmers diving off the board, one after the other. They swam in perfect harmony, as I splashed the dry powders in, creating ripples of colours that swirled and bubbled over. Finally the rice was put in, a dollop of ghee dropped over and given a good stir, Now all I had to do was have a cup of my green mint tea and wait for the applause.
The applause was muted, but appreciative. My husband loved the gosai which looked exotic and tasted divine, even if I did say so myself. The satisfaction was in seeing all those tiny pots empty, and I patted myself on a good job done. There was a twinkle in my husband’s eye, but he refused to comment as he saw me putting in a huge vessel filled with the rice that contained all the little goodies that had been in the same pans that now sat on the counter! Whoever talked about reducing and reusing certainly knew what he/she was talking about!


That night as I sat watching my favourite serial, the “Oh blimey!” moment came back, albeit in a different form. My gosai had sparked off an idea deep within me. I thought of all those little dishes within tiny containers, each vibrant and delicious in its own way, yet so individual in itself. How could a mutter paneer be eaten with a continental vegetable dish, or a sausage round be savoured along with a garlic curd? The mind shuddered at the idea of certain combinations.
And yet, when they were all treated in the same manner and put in together to form one dish, didn’t they all work perfectly, adding their own flavour to enhance the end product?
It took me some time to sleep that night, Wasn’t this exactly how a democracy functioned – a vibrant nation which believed in unity in diversity? My last thought before sleep overpowered me was again “Oh blimey!”



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Catching the Departed - Kulpreet Yadav

 Book review – Deepti Menon

Andy Karan, the intrepid protagonist of ‘Catching the Departed’, published by Tara India Research Press, would probably be a dream detective in Bollywood! As the description goes, “Andy was always hungry for adventure”, informs the reader of why he becomes an investigative journalist, after a stint in the Indian Army. The action begins when Monica, his beautiful boss at the New Delhi Today magazine, sends him to Tilakpur to look into the murder of Ram Avtar, a drunk who knew too much about a terror plot.

There Andy meets Gulabo, Ram Avtar’s wife, who exudes “the pride which comes from living with bare minimum needs and surrounded by nature”. She admits that her husband has been killed.

The action speeds up as Andy is accosted in his hotel room and hit on the head by unknown assailants. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself in Safdarjung Hospital with concussion, along with the realization that he has stirred up a hornet's nest in the midst of a mystery that needs to be solved.

When he meets the elusive Mr. Kapoor, he senses that there are bigger elements at play, and a national emergency to boot. Much against Monica’s wishes, he goes back to Tilakpur, where he walks into Gulabo’s house and straight into a trap. Author Kulpreet Yadav keeps the tension alive, as Andy unravels the mystery, strand by strand, aware that his enemies are always one step ahead of him. He carries on relentlessly, for “where life and death become part of a plan, Andy Karan felt most comfortable.”

There are many questions that tantalize the reader. What is happening in the island fort of Marud Janjira? Who is the enemy that Andy has to face? Why is this a matter of life and death? What roles do Monica, and her influential boss, Krishna Bedi, have to play in the entire plot? Will Andy be able to cut through the brambles and act before it is too late?

There are many pawns in the game that play their parts and disappear. The action continues, unabated, as Andy goes through a gamut of feelings, from overweening confidence to the nadir of despair, when he compares himself to his unfortunate namesake from the Mahabharata. These moments make him intensely human, even though they are momentary.

The story hurtles towards a climax that is chilling. The style is racy, the narrative gripping. There is a sense of familiarity as the reader traverses through many landmarks in Delhi. This is a book that sticks to its genre of crime fiction faithfully, and pins its readers to the edge of their seats. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it was shortlisted for the Hachette-DNA ‘Hunt for the Next Bestseller’.

If there is one aspect that would have added on to the appeal of the book, it is the characterization of Monica. Maybe, the author could have fleshed her out a little more, and made her more authentic. One gets the feeling that she was more of a glamorous prop and less of a living and breathing person who made a difference to the narration. 

Apart from that one point, ‘Catching the Departed’ comes across as a true blue mystery. Andy Karan reveals enough charisma to charm his readers in the future as well!

Verdict: A racy, interesting read!


  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...