The Lotus Sutra

18Apr08

The Lotus Sutra is the penultimate teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. It was the very purpose of his advent as the Buddha. In this teaching, the Buddha revealed two great truths in life: that every human being is both potential and fruition at the same time, and that much in the same way as He, the Buddha, realized this truth, the capacity to realize the very same truth lies well within the grasp of every man and woman. It is a teaching of limitless self-respect that spurs every practitioner to fulfill his or her own dreams. For only a fulfilled happy individual can create a fulfilled happy family and thereon, a fulfilled, happy society. A fundamental question in the practice of the Lotus Sutra is this: What am I doing today towards my happiness and how am I contributing to the happiness of others? The simplest way to answer this question is to adopt the method of the 13th century Japanese monk, Nichiren Daishonin, the foremost practitioner of The Lotus Sutra in this age. Nichiren simply praised the absoluteness of this teaching by constantly repeating the words “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo” or “I bow to the eternal Mystic Law of Cause and Effect”. A practice that followers of the Lotus Sutra continue to this day. From this simple mantra come the answers to Life’s purpose and our own place in the scheme of things. Contemplation of this fact can indeed redefine happiness for every person. And once we understand what really makes us happy, all we need to do is ensure we keep doing more of the same actions. The key of course being our definition of happiness. So as the song goes, “Don’t worry, be happy … and chant Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo!”


Whatzyourname

17Apr08

My mother can never remember my name. Or either of my sisters’. She usually starts with S_______, K_________, C___________, (her younger sisters’ names). When she sees me looking irritated, she jogs her memory and recalls that her offspring have other names. So she then starts with M_______, L________ (my sisters’ names). At this point I usually give her a cold blank stare which then elicits A_______ (my name finally!) That I’ve managed to keep my identity is a wonder – to me even.


The Nanny

16Apr08

Doesn’t the title of this post sound like a Hollywood horror movie? Maybe a sequel to “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” or may be a bio-pic of Louise Woodward, the au-pair from UK who was acquitted in a US infant death. Well, no, the nanny I am referring to is one from my mother’s family. In fact she wasn’t a nanny, she was what was referred to as a governess in those days. This lady entered my maternal grandfather’s household to teach the children and soon moved up the ladder in both the family home and the family business with aplomb. Whether my mother and her siblings were privy to all this and the effect it had on their mother while they were growing up is not known. They always remained cordial with the lady. I for one always thought she was a relative of my grandmother till one of my siblings gleefully enlightened me many years later. After my grandfather’s death and the collapse of the business, the lady moved out. However, she was always invited to every family function and event. To give her credit, she always made it a point to attend, despite her advancing age. This often put family members in a quandry especially at a wedding when introductions have to be made. In fact explaining her presence to a new spouse in the family has always been a bit of an exercise in diplomacy. Here, I must make special mention of the way my cousin handled introductions at his sister’s wedding, which I thought took the cake! Presenting the lady to his new brother-in-law, he said “Meet my father’s nanny!” Another cousin and I who were within earshot of this introduction were soon staring at each other in disbelief, while clutching our stomachs with laughter. This cousin was never going to live that one down – it would go on into family lore to be recounted at every get-together thereafter. It was the best possible introduction we had heard of our grandfather’s mistress!


What is it about the humble mologootal that turns on every other Palghat guy? Just mention the word to your average Ambi, Mani or Kondai and you will behold misty eyes and a wistful smile as if the said Ambi, Mani or Kondai (or say Ramani, Srini or Balu) were reminiscing about mother’s milk and not a simple stew that originated in Palghat. I remember my Dad’s favourite version was the true-blue chakka-kottai mologootal (roughly translates to jackfruit seed mologootal). Many years ago, my brother, who has never so much as spent a single night in Palghat district suddenly affirmed his roots when he demanded his Punjabi wife learn how to make mologootal. So sacred is the mologootal that my aunt ruffled many a feather when she in a jocular attempt to demonstrate the ubiquitousness of this dish posted a recipe for fish mologootal (my sincere apologies to any fellow Palghat Iyer reading this post) on a family site! One of my earliest memories is being force-fed keerai mologootal (made with spinach and greens) by my Mom. While in Bangalore, Mom was pretty creative when it came to dishing up variations. If we found ourselves running short of veggies on a Sunday morning, she would simply saunter into the backyard, casually pluck a raw papaya and dish up a savoury mologootal with it. My grandfather, Dad and brother heartily approved, of course! When I married a Sourashtra guy from Chennai, I secretly gloated over my escape from Sunday morning mologootal … till my husband discovered the dish. Needless to say I now dish up this mainstay of Palghat cooking in Fremont, California, much like my grandmother must have in Melarcode, Palghat some eighty years ago. I have since surrendered to the might of mologootal – it, as they say, has the power – to turn the normally self-effacing and sometimes mousy Palakattan into a man with a purpose – a man who has discovered the joys of a mouthful of rice, doused generously with mologootal and laced with the spicy, piquancy of an accompanying thuvayal (a traditional chutney accompaniment). It makes him close his eyes and think of Ammai back home in Perinkolam or Puducode or Oththapaalam.


Well, here I am – an H4 visa holder in the US, which basically means I have had to give up my job in Chennai and any hopes of resuming my career here in the near future. I have been a housewife for the past four months – a situation which has added to my homesickness.

I miss the traffic, the chaos, the blaring loudspeakers, and the colours and scents of home.

I miss wayside temples and nonchalant cows on the road.

I miss the familiar faces at my neighbourhood auto stand.

I miss my cheerful maid.

I miss my friendly istri-wallah.

I miss my family doctor, a lady whose conversational skills match her diagnostic ability.

I miss Gangotree, Murugan Idly Shop, Surya Greens, Adyar Sangeetha and Grand Sweets. 

I miss Eloor Library.

I miss Fruit Shop on Greams Road.

I miss Odyssey and Landmark.

I miss my fabulous office with its gorgeous view of the Bay of Bengal from the 10th Floor.

I miss my team at work.

I miss tea-breaks and gossipy chats.

I miss my huge extended family and the impromptu get-togethers we always had.

I miss my mom and her overprotective fussing.

I miss bonding with my nieces.

I miss long conversations with my sister at Cake Walk and Jelly Belly, and walks on Elliots Beach.

Sigh.