Frustration mounts as the channel surfing becomes frenetic. “Isn’t there one decent program to watch on the home grown channels?” I think to myself rather dejectedly. It makes me sit up and wonder as to where all the creative talent has gone?? Are they all holidaying at some exotic spot? Have they been abducted or are they yet to recover from the current onslaught of unbearable soap operas and irksome game/reality/music shows?

I was happy and excited when I learnt that I have access to Sony TV, Zee TV, Star Plus and Sun TV in Oriental Singapore, but I am beginning to believe that I am probably better off without these precious few channels.

With all due respect to Ekta Kapoor, the K serials have transformed TV content and programming. For worse. I must admit that the saas-bahu saga was interesting initially and the ‘Kasautis’, ‘Kahanis’, ‘Kyunkis’ ruled roost over my cognitive and affectual abilities. But not for long. It doesn’t take too long to wake up and smell the coffee.

The Indian soaps have lent themselves to being stereotypical. A large joint family is the norm. The protagonist is always good and possesses God like qualities. Bahus will put even angels to shame with their kindness and good virtues. Vamps give competition to Kathakali performers, with eyebrows shooting up in every possible direction, wicked smiles that stretch facial muscles to the hilt and not so subtle mannerisms and special words and phrases that punctuate every sentence. Characters are draped in silks, elaborately embellished saris, and royal jewelry. Bindis have become larger and more intricate, blouses have become a fashion statement and the “Sindoor” – a generous application fiery red kumkum is hard to miss.

Themes always revolve around conflict where women are pitted against one another. All they ever do is plot and connive. Life is one ongoing conflict resolution and celebration of festivals with singing and dancing in ostentatious houses. There is an overdose of sweeteners and the following adages are usually thrown in our faces. Good wins over evil, the truth will always outdo everything else, if you are slapped on one cheek show him your other, forgiveness is next to Godliness and human beings are immortal (after all how else can Ba live until eternity).

Where have serials that revolve around simplicity, subtle emotions, and human relationships gone??

I can recall some interesting work – Ravi Rai’s ‘Sparsh’, ‘Sailaab’, ‘Kashish’, ‘ Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hain’. The former three names all dealt with extra marital relationships but in a humane and realistic manner. Renuka Shane, Mahesh Thakur, Sachin Khedekar rendered some memorable performances. Characters appeared real, dressed in everyday clothes that we the junta are familiar with and dialogues were a killer, often providing food for thought. I never missed a single episode of Ravi Rai’s serials and nor did I miss Neena Gupta’s legendary ‘Saans’, ‘Siski’ and ‘Pal Chinn’. Surprisingly even DD dished out some interesting fare. Udan and Jeevan Rekha were a breath of fresh air. Dekh Bhai Dekh, Zaban Sambhal Ke, Mr Yogi (a comedy based on Yogesh Ishwarlal Patel, an NRI who returns to Bombay in search of a suitable bride) offered something to smile about. As for the portrayal of women – they were shown as progressive and capable of making informed decisions, independent and willing to fight the odds. These serials were a league of their own and stand apart from the bandwagon of today’s modern day paradoxically retro serials.

As for Sun TV, I only look forward to Vivek’s comedy scenes telecast over the weekend. That’s about it. K. Balachander’s ‘Kai Alavu Manasu’, ‘Premi’, ‘Chinna Thirai’ were something to laud about but gone are those days of meaningful drama.

It’s high time The ‘K PEOPLE’ did a reality check. I would be happy to highlight a few pointers. For starters, we no longer live in large joint families. We dress simply with minimal jewelry and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a young Indian woman with a “sindur bhari maang’. We try and maintain a work life balance and deal with juggling work, family and baby and yes we do receive help from our husbands. That reminds me, today’s man is independent and doesn’t need his wife to take care of every little need of his. Relationships with in laws are productive and please we have plenty of meaningful things to do other than plot and gossip.

And spare me the funda of ‘this is what the audience wants.’ I have finally solved the “chicken-egg riddle’. The question of audience interest driving content or vice versa does not hold good. We have no choice but to put up with the crummy content served up to us. I think Indian audiences have been grossly under estimated. We are an intelligent people and it is insulting that our sensibilities be assaulted in such a brazen manner.

To wrap this up – It takes a rather special sort of person to follow soaps. You have to be highly intelligent (to understand them) and as thick as a brick (to want to).Alan Coren


My masala dabba

A wry smile escapes my lips, as I see Chef Floyd throwing in some “garam masala” (strictly pronounced as ga-ram (ram rhyming with bam) mus-saa-la. It almost seems like garam masala is the secret ingredient to lip smacking Indian “curries”. So is it or isn’t it? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

It is at this moment that I would like to proudly present to you my ‘masala dabba’ or ‘spice box’ if you wish a literal English translation. This indispensable utensil to any Indian, who dares to venture into a kitchen, was carefully and firmly slipped into my trousseau amongst bridal finery, linen et al. I echo my mother’s words when I say, the masala dabba is crucial (yes crucial) to everyday casual Gujarati cuisine. The steel circular dabba opens to seven different masalas. Almost every gujju shaak (vegetable dish) and gujju dal (lentils) owes its taste and aroma to these intriguing powders. The right measure of each of these masalas is half the work done in presenting a lip smacking meal to your near and dear. Tiny black mustard seeds (rai) sit next to the thin long fragrant cumin seeds (jeeru). Turmeric (haldi) is used in small measure to render just the right colour to any dish. Cumin and Coriander powder (dhaana jeeru) is used generously like a base and gives taste a fair volume. Red chili powder (lal marcha) which is used slightly more than turmeric powder and slightly less than cumin-coriander powder in quantity, contributes to the spice factor. And of course the deeply fragrant generic spice powder (garam masala) completes the dish. Not quite. Salt for some reason does not feature in the masala dabba but is nevertheless the most important ingredient that can cause the dish to be labeled as insipid or palatable. So does this complete the dish? Not quite.

If you’ve noticed I have covered six masalas but there is one more container in the dabba that appears empty. And that container is in the centre. This extra special ingredient that appears invisible is but in reality a healthy sprinkling of love. And when this feeling/emotion is mixed in with all the spices it seals the dish. To all the cynics out there – I personally have scoffed at the idea when this secret tip was passed onto me by my mother, as I was beginning to cook my first meal. But over time I have realized that cooking with love and filling that central compartment in my masala dabba with it, has enhanced my dishes with an intangible and rich flavor.

God is in the Art

If you are a Hindu, just look around your house. I can bet that you have at least one painting (or had at least) or figurine of one of the deities apart from the ones seated with all their benevolence in your pooja (prayer) room. The elephant headed Lord Ganesha, the playful and romantic cow herd Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva in his Cosmic Dancer form win the popularity vote as far as artifacts and canvasses are concerned. But in recent times, the monkey God – Lord Hanuman and Lord Vishnu in all his ten forms have been included in the camp.Indian art is so inextricably linked with Indian religion and philosophy, so much so that, the sculptures of Ajanta – Ellora, Khajurahu and the many ancient temples of India soon entered Hindu homes. Stone, bronze, terracotta, glass and even papier mache figurines of Indian Divinities depicting the sensual, virile, powerful qualities adorn every architectural space in India.

Consider for instance, the lobby of a plush five star hotel with its polished marble floor, high ceiling, spectacular chandelier, richly upholstered sofas and

a beautiful bronze idol of Ganesha seated on a wooden console, its radiance and luster enhanced by a focus light placed strategically above the piece.

Waxed wooden floors, Elvis memorabilia, suffused dim lighting, an all American menu, a rock shop, a live band that “rock n rolls”, autographed guitars and rare photographs from the days of rock. Just as these are the hallmark of any Hard Rock Café (be it Bengaluru, The Gold Coast, Bali, Warsaw, New York, Seoul and the list goes on) so is the proverbial image of lord Ganesh which finds a comfortable place in each of these exotic locations to enjoy the endless nights of rock n roll, all while he bestows his blessings on patrons.

Stylish, chic, modern apartments with accent rugs, contemporary furniture, walls painted in natural tones, plenty of throw pillows with embellishments. Perhaps a cozy nook with a corner table for coffee books, a lamp shade and small curios, a modern rendition of Lord Ganesh perhaps or a more traditional idol of Lord Krishna playing his flute or embracing his beloved Radha. A small hand crafted or stone carved Ganesh, a brass or wooden Hanuman may be a few amongst the bric-a-brac interspersed with books on the bookshelf.

Paintings and images of the Divine in a myriad hues, textures, shapes, and sizes can dress up many a white washed wall. Tranquil blues, fiery reds, refreshing greens, earthy browns can be combined to create a modern, abstract or traditional image of benevolent deities on paper, canvas, cloth, wood

and glass.

Even a modest, simple, humble abode will bear some objet d’art – a sandalwood murti (idol) of the Divine, an inexpensive terracotta piece or even a simplistic greeting card framed and mounted.

Indian art to me is but a manifestation of the Divine.

Art in India has always been considered a path of realization of the Ultimate Reality. It is spiritual in outlook, idealistic in expression and sublime in interpretation.- Ananda K. Coomraswamy.


Child’s Play

Coloring books, dolls, chopu, monopoly, carom, lock and key, four corners, Enid Blytons, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew vs. kinder golf, X Box, Play Station, Harry Potter. Times have changed and with it so have the games children play.

I fondly remember my childhood and often recount my favorite childhood pastime – coloring. I still remember my “Jumbo Coloring Book” – a big fat sunny yellow book with over 500 pictures within its pages, just waiting to be brought to life by the color I choose to fill in. I used to gleefully open my book, place it on the mattress of my bed and kneel on the floor and color away with my camel color pencils or camel crayons. The steadler felt pen set from an Aunt visiting from abroad was taken out on occasions just to outline the picture. Each day I would add color to several pictures, a mother duck with her three ducklings behind her, an elephant playing with a ball, a clown with a bunch of balloons, a girl frolicking about. If it were pencils on Monday then it would be crayons on Tuesday and paints on Wednesday. Care was taken to color strictly within the lines.

Besides “coloring” I loved to read. Enid Blyton scored some brownie points as she entertained me with “The Naughtiest Girl in School”, “Amelia Jane Does it Again”, “Mr. Meddles Muddles”, “The Enchanted Woods”, “The Faraway Tree” and oh the list is endless. When I look back at these books today, I am bemused that these amazingly simple stories had once upon time caught my fancy. I have passed on my treasure trove of books to my lil niece and I wonder if those very same pages that I leafed through time and again, now yellowed and spotted, will catch her fancy as well? Or will the Harry Potters of today’s world take precedence? I guess time will tell.

Tiny wooden utensils made for little fingers to play with, colored in turmeric and vermillion, green and purple, lil kodams (Tamil term for utensils meant to fetch water) to fetch some water in, a chakki (Hindi term for a household device meant to grind wheat manually) to grind wheat into flour, tub shaped vessels to hold imaginary food and real grains of rice – my chopu (Tamil term for miniature kitchen set) set – now becoming a thing of the past. There was a time when the famous chopu set, neatly encapsulated in a palm leaf box was readily available outside temples and was part of every little South Indian girl’s toys, but today we had to literally hunt high and low to get one for my niece. I’m so glad I have an odd piece or two in my “house house” assortment, all filled in a tin box sitting somewhere in the attic. The house-house (literal translation of the Hindi equivalent ghar-ghar) game was universal among little girls and I personally loved spending hours, preparing tea and pouring them in steel cup and saucers and carrying it carefully to mom in the afternoons or preparing an elaborate lunch and packing it in my brass Tiffin carrier. I even had a steel idly plate to make steaming hot idlys. Today I do see versions of the ghar ghar set, but the idly plate has given way to a plastic bulls eye and pink colored fork and knives – all packed in a transparent plastic bag hanging from the roof of a fancy store.

Outdoor games constituted the simple Lock & Key, Four Corners, Hide and Seek, Dark Room, Races, Badminton with the gate of the house serving at the net and I guess that’s about it. But today my eyes widened when I heard and saw about “Kinder golf”. Kinder Golf is a unique preschooler golf instructional environment specially designed to groom the next generation of very good golfers- boasts its website. I hadn’t heard about golf until my teens let alone kinder golf! Another eye opener was a TV show called “Baby Ballroom Championship” where children aged between six and eleven, competed for the title of Baby Ballroom Champion. Here were children dressed and behaving and dancing like grown ups – not just any dancing but the waltz, cha cha cha, samba and what not.

Not having touched a single video game in my life I can’t talk much on the subject but I have noticed that most kids on the train tout their PSP games, nimble fingers jabbing at buttons, eyes riveted on the screen, oblivious to the world. When a friend of mine asked me get an X Box for her son, I had to run a search on the internet to find out what the “X Box” was all about!

And who knows, just as how I am blogging about divergent childhood games/interests between generation X and igeneration, 30 years down the line this very same igeneration may be lamenting about the differences between their playthings viz. the x box, psps et al and playthings of generation 2038.

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