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Melodies of Madurai

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It had just dawned. The slow train ran through the vast sunflower stretches of Koyilpatti in Tamil Nadu, India. Keeping aside my yawn, I wake up to the light sun-rays on my chin over at my side lower birth in the train. A vendor arrives with his crass cacophonous advertising, selling breakfast on a hand tray with portions steaming idlis, aromatic ghee pongals and meduvadai ( pulse battered with spices and fried into little rounds) on it, alongside a tumbler of chutney. He also carries a dispenser that keeps hot chai. I make a purchase for my tummy god in a jiffy, no thoughts there! Savoring the venpongal and steaming tea, I await as the train makes its way into Madurai station in no hurry.

The town of Madurai in the south of India is a 2500 year old heritage city that boasts of numerous temples, dotted with high rise churches, heritage mosques and a famous palace called the Naykkar Mahal. This town was an important center of education and pilgrimage from ancient times of the Pandya kings to this date that it has always been charming to visitors and patrons refuse to leave. The river of Vaigai flows through the lands and in the summertime, it dries up into a thin stream where women wash clothes and little children loosen the grip of heat on them.

From the small patch gardens and playgrounds to famous temples and eateries that dot Madurai town, on a balmy day, one could walk through the bylanes and streets that sell flowers, veshtis (dhotis) and pooja goodies.  As Carnatic music soars in its myriad ragas at heart-warming pitches, the beats of mridanga, move the dancers’ feet in rhythm. Topped with the smell of fresh filter kaapi (coffee) lingering in the air, amidst the divine aura of temples, churches and mosques, any day is made memorable.

On the day I arrived at Madurai, my first stop was Tiruparankundram’s famous 15th century Muruka temple atop a hill. It is situated 14 kilometers off Madurai. I hire the local jeep that plies from Madurai town to Tiruparankundram. The temple was constructed over a hilltop centuries ago and one has to climb all the way up 1000 steps in an act of cleansing his sins and pray to Muruka’s deity for peace within. It is a temple carved completely out of stone with exquisite art, paintings and sculptures etched onto. Tiruparankundram is also famous for its dargah of Hazrat Sultan, a couple of metres away. This part of Madurai can be called a perfect example of religious harmony and secularism- one amongst many attractions of this town.

Tiruparankundram's artistry

Tiruparankundram’s artistry

 

The work on a pillar from Tiruparankundram

The work on a pillar from Tiruparankundram

There are regular buses to Tiruparankundram and back from Madurai Bus stand as well. Hardly takes an amount of INR 30 (less than a dollar) for a to and fro travel. Groundnut sellers wait for devotees to snack on them coned, in the scorching sun, as Macaque monkeys wait in patience to grab a fistful of those crunchy nuts.

Madurai town’s evening see a lot of light and color. The gardens of in the heart of the temple town harbour an undisputed sense of calm and peace, as doves and parrots adorn the dark blue sky laden with streaks of orange from the setting sun.

For me, a journey is complete only if the city caters my senses both in the afternoon and evening as well; and Madurai does that, oh so well!

The afternoon after the Tiruparankundram temple visit, it was Madurai town’s time to charm me. This humble town is in the beginning of being gripped by buildings and offices, nevertheless, it loses no tradition of its own. The lanes of Madurai have great eateries, amazing snack shops and heavenly sweet shops. I needed to bite into a part of Madurai; that which it holds closest to its soul. And so, my aim was to hunt down the best Paniyarams (little steamed/ fried dumplings of rice and jaggery) and Jigarthanda ( a famous traditional mocktail made of milk, cream and boiled grains) I could ever find, as those were what Madurai’s taste scenario was famous for!

 

The shop wasn’t anything fancy, but on standing in front of the little eatery, the warm aroma of Paniyarams with liquid jaggery fills your entire lungs; literally leaving you breathless. The Paniyarams are of two kinds; the spicy one and the sweet one. I am greedy, I agree. Surrendering my taste buds to both kinds of those savoury dumplings was what my tummy wanted at that point. I did just that. Soft, warm and fluffy rice balls as big as a golf ball, might not captivate your sight in the first go. Dipping those little charms into a bowl of warm liquid jaggery and ghee (the sweet paniyaram) or a plate of spicy tomato chutney (for the spicy paniyaram) and biting into them would make you wish you had the capacity of an elephant in an instant! And there’s no stop for that feeling then on!

 

that's the way paniyarams are made

that’s the way paniyarams are made

 

and that's served

and that’s served

Burp was yet a glass away!  Off the Paniyaram eatery, I walk a short distance to reach a juice shop, tucked in a corner of the road, with oranges hung on the ceiling of it in patterns, all for my share of ‘Jigarthanda’. This drink is a fancy mocktail of milk, cream, boiled Sago and flavours of sweet colors. The combination might sound utter rubbish, but the taste is of a million dollars. This is the only drink in this world that could induce a burp despite being cold!

The ice-cold Jigathanda

The ice-cold Jigathanda

As time flew by, evening came, making its way through the balmy weather bringing in cool winds and a relaxed atmosphere. The Nayakkar palace, in the heart of the town of Madurai is a famous 16th century palace made of white sandstone in full, laden with glass-work and stucco art on its walls. That was my next destination that Madurai placed on my plate.

There is a light and sound show at the palace in the evenings, attracting the tourists to the events that those giant palace pillars have witnessed in time; from history to today. The show begins at 6:00 pm but I was loitering around half an hour before, clicking the chirpy birds playing in the garden in front of the palace, to bargaining for the prices of corn boiling, smeared in chilli paste and lemon, on pushcarts that also sold roasted groundnuts and sliced, spiced mangoes. Tossing them all into my mouth, I look around to see kids playing on the grass, a few uniformed security guards standing at doors chatting and large sculptures made of white sand, broken here and there, guarding the palace from time immemorial.

cut mangoes and corn!

cut mangoes and corn!

As the doors open of the palace and into its large corridors, the beauty of it, begins to unfold.  This site is also nowadays used for Indian movie productions and I for once recognize that in no time. The sculpture and carving work is unbelievably brilliant here and the sandstone shines its way into the hearts of the onlookers.

Pure white at Naykkar mahal

Pure white at Naykkar mahal

The light and sound show begins shortly, with myriad colored lights making imprints on the walls of the palace and its pillars, as the voiceover enacting portions of history are rendered along. Kings, wars, happiness, celebrations, anger and power; all emotions touch the cord of the onlookers. As the show winds up at around 8:00 at night, we are welcomed into a calmer and cooler Madurai town outside, mellowing down in the anticipation of the next day! At night, I move at a friend’s invitation for dinner and sleep, whose hospitality is a finest example of Madurai’s manners to her guests. Impressed much!

palace nights

The following day was the most anticipated of all. The glory I was about to bask in, being at Madurai Meenakshi temple, the most famous of all temples in India, and one of the oldest heritage sites in the world was just undeniably the best! The glorious architecture, the intricate craftsmanship and all devotion that stands the test of time, is an experience in itself.

One gopuram of the Meenakshi

One gopuram of the Meenakshi

The pillars of Meenakshi

The Madurai Meenakshi has four entrances/ temple gates facing all four directions. The temple boasts of paintings that trick one’s eyes, numerous sculpted pillars and centuries of unhinged charm. The streets outside are swarmed with flower sellers and pooja shops. The warm aroma of incense fills the air near the bylanes of the entrance. It begins and ends divine.

sculptor hands

sculptor hands

As I enter, I am stunned and a beautiful aura of spirituality that engulfs me. The stone structures built on huge pillars whisper a million stories through their deep eyes. With little lamps of brass and silver hung from the ceilings being lit, it was splendid to look at the majestic interiors. Chants of Mantras rose, and for a moment I seemed to be covered by millions of those. Everything around gleamed, chrome yellow. Lamps struggled to flame and flicker in their oil-less wicks. Old women crouched under huge pillars, closed their eyes and prayed teary eyed bringing their palms together. Gold on the Meenakshi amman statue shone. The warriors guarding the temple carved out in stone, gave away the cast of anger for a moment. Old folks gathered and sang praises. The temple bells imitated pendulums. They brought out the divine and I get goose bumps as I witness. People thicken up for prasads from the priest; as he stands on a podium to distribute a small mix of flowers, saffron and sandal paste. Devotees accept the prasad in utter humility and extended respect, closing their eyes and placing the flowers on their hair. Large lamps adorn the sides of every statue and pillar. Priceless.

 

sculptors that adorn the walls of Meenakshi

sculptors that adorn the walls of Meenakshi

 

As the sun coursed its rays down, the smooth sandstone paths of the temple, seemed to extend its help. Cold buttermilk were available near small corners as refreshments. A lovely elephant (the temple elephant) with its mahout, stood guarding a hallway, with its trunk swaying playfully, tail wagging and ears flapping. Laxmi, the elephant has been trained to accept donations and bless her fans with her trunk which she does, willfully. Sometimes when she’s a little miffed, she splashes drops of water (or possible spit) on onlookers. I was one such lucky to be bestowed by her grumpiness.

A miffed Laxmi

A miffed Laxmi

Leading off the pathway is the famous 1000 pillar hall. This hall is one of the prime attractions of this temple as the hall is famous for its 1000 pillars each of which on being struck, produces a different musical tone from inside. It’s a marvel that still makes curious eyes crowd. As light pours into from the windows into this hall, it looks majestic, close enough to be astound by the craftsmanship; not that one wouldn’t be! It indeed, makes us all wonder how we can never push the past that built its glory sans any technology.

 

The thousand pillar hallway

The thousand pillar hallway

Time had come to bid goodbye to this charming town of Madurai with a handful of yummy sweets including ghee laden halwa and savoury murukku, alongside camera filled with beautiful snaps swelling with snippets of memories. Only to be back soon, but this time, to soak into the soul of this humble town; and to never let go.

Madurai, take me back. Make me yours.

 

The panorama of Meenakshi

The panorama of Meenakshi

 

 

highly expressive, roaring appetite for books, food and design; have occasional bouts of flippancy to all things needed. Always hungry for Biryani. Nomad. Binger. Lover.

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Culture and Lifestyle

DIY Bathroom Repairs Everyone Should Know

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They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but if something is stuck or clogged, one should be on the know-how. Reaching almost a year since quarantine began, people have been spending longer than average locked inside their homes. With this, homes may have experienced more wear and tear than usual, especially bathrooms.

It can be frustrating to feel helpless when dealing with something as tedious as a leaky faucet, a broken toilet, or a clogged drain. Considering this, small do-it-yourself remedies may be resourceful. 

That began said, if challenges are too drastic, larger renovations may be in order. If that is the case, consider commercial bathroom renovations instead. 

For the meantime, these are some nice and easy-to-do remedies than can offer your bathroom a quick fix. 

Uncloging a Bathroom Drain

When taking a shower or washing your hands, having water rise from the drain is the least you would want. Slow bathroom drains are often caused by a build-up of soap-scum and hair. Many resort to using chemical drain cleansers to remedy this; however, these products carry toxic chemicals and can be ineffective at times. 

Instead, use a plastic hair snake. This product resembles a long zip-tie which can bend inside pipes to snag the accumulated gunk.

To begin, remove the drain stopper before inserting the wand. This will require unscrewing and disconnecting the stopper’s horizontal and vertical rods. After doing this, you may finally insert the snake. Once the cleaning process begins, beware: it’ll get gross. As a tip, try to girate or make sweeping motions with the snake in order to grab as much gunk as possible. 

Fixing a Broken Toilet

Dealing with a broken toilet can be a common issue. 

If the toilet won’t flush, check inside the it’s tank. To do so, remove the toilet’s rectangular lid; the lid can be found behind the toilet seat. Look for the chain which connects the flush lever to the plug at the bottom of the tank; the plug is also known as the flapper. If a toilet isn’t flushing, the likeliest answer is that the chain is disconnected from the lever. To resolve this, simply reattach the chain. 

Meanwhile, if water keeps on filling your toilet, it most likely means your toilet is flushing by itself. This isn’t good as it is wasteful. The likeliest reason would be that the toilet has a leaky flapper. To fix this, turn off the water valve from behind/ underneath your toilet. Flush your toilet until emptied. Check the flapper’s size and purchase another flapper. Brands do not matter as long as they match in size. Replace the old flapper with a new one, and voila! 

Replacing a Leaky Faucet

Fixing a leaky faucet often requires replacing the parts inside the handles. To do so, first turn off the hot and cold water valves. Doing this will help prevent any unwanted water geysers from jumping out of the faucet or handles. 

Once you’ve turned off the water valves, check if water is still trickling down. If so, rather than replacing the handles, this means your faucet is in need of a plumber. If it isn’t leaking, you may proceed. 

Pry off the handles and loosen the screws underneath. Once both items are removed, remove the top with an adjustable wrench and pull out all the parts. The best tip is to use needle nose pliers to do this. Head to a home improvement store and ask for help in searching for new replacements. To reassemble, repeat the steps in reverse and test the faucet.

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The 8 Best Christmas Movies to Watch with Your Family

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Movie with Friends

Christmas is the perfect time of year to get together with family and friends and spend as much time as possible with them, but it’s also a time to curl up on the couch and watch those Christmas movies we’ve seen a thousand times. Don’t know which one to choose, though? To inspire you over the next few days, we’ve created a top 8 Christmas movies list to watch with your loved ones during the incoming Christmas holidays. You can easily find them all online in platforms such as movie 4k, Netflix, Hulu or HBO.

Love Actually

One of the most romantic movies of recent times is also one of the most adorable Christmas films, so why not watch or the billionth time? In this movie, director Richard Curtis mixes 10 small love stories that at the beginning do not seem to have anywhing in common, but end up intertwined at the end. Apparently, as he didn’t have them all developed enough to make their own movies, he just left them as optimistic pills. They are very different stories -some euphoric, others tender, others surprising- but all of them to make you grab the handkerchief and want to wish Merry Christmas to the first person you come across.

Serendipity

Some may think that this is one of the most cheesy films in the history of cinema, but there is no denying that the chemistry between Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack is enormous. Serendipity’ is related to chance and the possibility of two people meeting over time and that’s what happens to Jonathan and Sara. The two meet in a department store while looking at a pair of wool gloves; they will connect in such a way that they are going to have a drink and skate to Central Park. When that ‘casual date’ is over, doubts will arise: to exchange the phone or not? To reveal their true identity or not? Destiny will play a key role in them.

Elf

The film follows the story of an abandoned baby who manages to slip into Santa’s sack and ends up at the North Pole. There, he will become one of the elves who help Santa make toys all year round. However, as soon as he learns that he is human, he will go to New York to look for his father. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s definitely hilarious.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

A classic among Christmas movies starring 90’s TV stars such as Connie Sellecca, Corbin Bersnen and Cole and Dylan Sprouse. The film shows how little Justin sees his mother kissing Santa Claus -and doesn’t recognize his father in the costume-, and he beleives that his mother’s affair is the prelude to their parents divorce, so he tries to keep Santa far away from the house with his bad behavior.

While you were sleeping

A classic romantic comedy that tells how Lucy, a subway ticket vendor, is in love with a man that she sees every morning catching a train. One day, he accidentlly falls on the track; she rescues him and, for some reason, she ends up pretending to be his girlfriend to his whole family. Everyone receives her with much affection except the brother of the victim, who did not buy her story.

Bridget Jones

A good dose of Bridget Jones never hurts anyone, not even at Christmas, and especially if you choose the first movie of the saga -since the second one wasn’t as good and the third and last wasn’t successful at all. Renée Zellwegger brings to life the most clumsy journalist in history who struggles between two men: Daniel Cleaver or Mark Darcy, an old friend of her family who seems a dull, boring guy, but also charming and caring.

Home Alone

Just in case you missed the huge cultural phenomenon that was John Hughes’ big Christmas movie, it needed to be on this list. Starring Macauly Culkin, it tells the story of a young boy who is forgotten at home when his family leaves to Paris to spend the holidays. While the parents try to come back for him, the boy ends up having to defend his home from thieves who are determined to celebrate their own Christmas party by robbing everything in the house.

It’s a wonderful life

Only a director as skilled as Frank Capra could turn a film about a suicidal man into a Christmas classic. Jimmy Stewart leads the cast as George Bailey, a guy who plans to end it all until an angel named Clarence shows him what his life (and that of all his neighbours in Bedford Falls) would be like without him. In a story taken directly from Dickens, it turns out that George has a much bigger impact than he thought.

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Try These Tips out to Simplify Your Everyday Life

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Everyday life naturally has a way of getting complicated, and spiralling out of control in one way or another.

Especially if you are an ambitious person and want to achieve the most you possibly can in your professional life, while also having a lively and uplifting personal life, it can be very difficult to avoid the experience of being drowned in excessive complexity from time to time.

The thing is, there are many downsides to excessive complexity in your everyday life, ranging from significantly increased stress levels, to a real difficulty with regards to being able to effectively juggle assorted projects and responsibilities.

Try these tips to simplify your everyday life.

Declutter your home and make sure everything has a place

A lot of excess complexity can sneak into your life via a cluttered home, where things just naturally feel overwhelming because of the fact that your mind and attention are constantly drawn to the chaotic nature of your living environment.

There are many different potential benefits to decluttering your home, but one of the key benefits that various home tidying gurus and productivity experts praise about the act of decluttering, is that it helps promote a state of mental tranquillity, focus, and an overall reduced sense of complexity.

So, do what you can to declutter your home and make sure that everything has a place. Contact e-waste recyclers, load bags of clothes to donate to charity shops, and do whatever else you need to do in order to begin simplifying your life and your mindset by simplifying your home environment.

Identify one or two big goals to work towards, and put the rest aside for later

Most of us have all sorts of different dreams, projects, and potential goals that we would hypothetically like to explore and devote our time and attention to, at some point or another over the course of our lives.

Unfortunately, however, trying to juggle too many goals at once is usually a recipe for stress and failure – not to mention a sense of overwhelming complexity, as we are constantly trying to figure out the best way to allocate our time and energy to the various projects we want to make headway on.

One of the best ways of simplifying your life and of focusing your energy, is to identify just one or two big goals to work towards at any given time, and put the rest aside for later.

Do your most important tasks at the start of each day

“Analysis paralysis” is a very real phenomenon, and it tends to occur when we have too many different options at our disposal, and have to try and figure out how best to juggle a variety of factors – such as where to fit in the different tasks and chores that we are committed to each day.

A great simplicity-boosting exercise here is to always do your most important task at the start of each day. That way, everything else is more or less a nice optional extra, and stress decreases dramatically.

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