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Abdul Kalam – A Life to be Celebrated

As I observe the outpouring of condolence and grief at the passing of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam I realize that his life is one to be celebrated. In life and in death, President Kalam stands out as a towering personality.

Apart from his poverty- to-Presidency story and his tenure as undeniably India’s most popular president, what is it that makes his life so special?

kalam3First of all I realize that a lot of my friends (and a lot of everyone’s friends) have either met President Kalam or know of someone who has met him. Yes, Abdul Kalam was a people person; he reached out everywhere.

I have had the honor of meeting him (and having my work performed in his presence) on three occasions; once in Lexington KY and then in Seattle WA where we had a private audience with him and then at a reception held in his honor at the residence of the Consular General of India in Houston.

He was dear to anyone that went in for higher education; he was an inspiration to all school children. He was and is viewed as a man that blazed forth the torch of inspiration – almost leading you to a guaranteed growth path – full of hope.

It didnt matter whether he offered namaaz or whether he read the Gita each day. All that matters is that there is probably not a single soul in India who would utter a word against him. Isnt that a rarity? Any celebrity has adversaries. Not President Kalam who was dear to one and all. There is thus no surprise that every other post on Facebook feed (or for that matter, anyone’s FB feed) is about him.

His love for Art Music (Karnatic Music in particular) was something that has been talked about in the media. Yes; in his speech in Lexington, when he talked proudly of Indian cultural heritage he did make a mention of the Vaggeyakaras of South India – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri(gal). Yes, in a characteristic Tamilian manner he referred to Sastri as Sastrigal (in a speech in English).

He quickly struck conversation in Tamil with my then 13 year daughter in Seattle when we presented him with a recording of the Indo Colonial Music of Dikshitar (Vismaya). “unakku Dikshitar pidikumma ma? enakku Tyagarajar taan ma pidikkum. ‘yandaro mahanubhavulu”. (Do you like Dikshitar? I like Tyagaraja the most”).

He stands out tall in his death. What an enviable way to leave one’s body behind? No prolonged hospitalization; no illness; no accident. No premature death; he had lived a full life. He was doing what he loved best until his last breath. He was teaching; imparting knowledge. It is an undeniable fact that the body ages – and the death bed images of most people are vastly different from portraits taken in their moments of greatness. President Kalam looked no different at the time of his death than he did during other great moments in life.

In fact, he was never ever past his prime.

Such a life is to be celebrated. His death in fact reminds  me of the last section of the movie ‘Dreams’ by Akiro Kurusawa where the death of a ripe old person is actually celebrated by the entire village.

Yes, we are all proud to have been acquainted with this well lived life in one way or the other.

Kanniks Kannikeswaran

July 27, 2015

July 27, 2015 at 8:28 pm 4 comments

Ode to a thepla

I was first introduced to the ‘thepla’ some 9 years ago, by a Tambrahm Mumbaikar cousin who was satisfying her pregnancy cravings with frequent doses of this yellow flat bread with specs of green and black. Its tantalizing smell each time it was heated on a pan prompted me to take a bite of this bread guarded so preciously by the visiting cousin.

Mmm. It was great; had a great texture; was hot, had a tinge of the fenugreek bitterness; it teased your tastebuds; the after taste was semi-sweet. Yes, I loved this dish and came to know that it was from Gujarat and was called the ‘thepla’.

For some reason, it occurred to me that it could be a great travel snack. It didn’t need refregiration; always tasted good when heated; tasted fine even when cold. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the thepla could be bought in an Indian store in Cincinnati; apparently there were suppliers who provided regular stocks of this dish.

Theplas gave us company during our trip to Bethlehem PA for the Shanti concert in 2006 – where the Cincinnati bought theplas were certified authentic by none other visitors from Gujarat!

My next encounter with theplas was at the Swami Narayan temple in Houston – where the canteen sold these thick theplas; I brought them back to Cincinnati and heated one of them and watched the oil ooze out. These theplas a different breed altogether; thick and loaded, each piece of thepla was a complete meal in itself and the house had the characteristic thepla aroma for a day, just after heating one up.

Theplas became my staple during waits in airports and as a backup snack during travels. ‘You must have been a gujjju in your previous birth’ said my friends the Derasaris and the Chokshis in Florida.

But the prize for the best tepla goes to one of our friends here in Cincinnati whose hot teplas and chai served to us prior to the Gundecha brothers concert this year can never be forgotten.

I sit in the wonderful lounge in Terminal E in Paris (CDG) waiting for my flight; the French pastries do not tempt me. The biscottis at Starbucks and the few days old snacks there are not even appealing. I have my thepla from Cinicnnati. And I write this ode to this wonderful piece of bread.

July 26, 2014 at 4:04 pm 1 comment

The Chennai Foodie Scene

Getting back to this blog after a long time. Much going on in Chennai on the foodie scene. Crowds throng restaurants and eateries at 9PM for the late dining hour.  A few places that  caught my attention and my palette this time were 

1. GRT grand  – a fabulous buffet for grand indulgence

2. Accord Cosmopolitan – for an impressive array of starters and a reasonable buffet – all vegetarian

3. Little Italy – for page after page of vegetarian Italian dishes – particularly great appetizers

4. l’amandier in RA Puram – I was impressed with their Ratatouille – it seemed to match the gastronomic expectation created in the irresistible pixar movie Ratatouille.

5. Kaidi Kitchen – A new restaurant near Woodosaidlands again, a vegetarian restaurant with 100s of dishes to choose from – and tremendous variety

6. Then you have Saravana Bhavan the McDonalds of Chennai – with its prices increasing every year – quality being consistent – although people say that the dosa circumference keeps coming down with time. The Mini lunch in A2B is pretty good too.

7. There is also an impressive array of ‘Sweet Shops’ which double up as restaurants. The masala poli at Krishna Sweets has stayed consistent over the years. 

8. There was no way you could get into Woodlands on a Friday night

What I learned in Chennai this time is that there is so much of centralization of operations in restaurant chains that the batter, chutnies, side dishes are all made centrally and shipped to various locations in order to maintain consistency in quality. Freezing, thawing, reheating is all common – in contrast to the days where fresh sambar boiled in front of your eyes. 


July 19, 2014 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

Song sample from Vismaya

May 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

The Tambura

Read my article on Chennaionline: The Tambura

August 6, 2009 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

Pike’s Place Market

It is fun walking through Pikes Place Market in Seattle. (more…)

May 2, 2009 at 7:10 am 1 comment

Eating out at Madras – Part IV

Multi colored chutneys and sambar in silver cups at Saravana Bhavan

Multi colored chutneys and sambar in silver cups at Saravana Bhavan

Silver plates come with a price. (more…)

March 10, 2009 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

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