Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'Meera' by Ellis Dungan

"Katrinilie Varum Geetham... Kangal Panithida Pongum Geetham..."

For most tamils, these lines would invoke memories of a young and beautiful M.S. singing the song as Mirabai. The song is from the film 'Meera' - released in 1945 and one of the classics in the Tamil film history. The song will be more familiar and will invoke greater emotions to our earlier generations - of our parents & grandparents. I have not seen the movie, but have heard/seen the song a few times - A really nice melodious song.

Now, why did this suddenly come up? Yesterday(28-Oct-08), Wikipedia sported a small snippet on this movie in its front-page. I followed the links and was really surprised to learn the movie was directed by an American director 'Ellis R. Dungan'.

Ellis is a native of Ohio, USA. He came to India after completing his studies in the 'cinema department' and directed tamil films from 1936 - 1950. He directed many hit films such as 'Sathy Leelavathi', 'Meera', 'Sakunthalai', 'Manthira Kumari' etc. 'Meera' and 'Sakunthalai' (both starring M.S.) are considered all time classics. Many of his films were based on historical settings and required shooting inside temples. At such times, he would disguise himself as a Kashmiri Pundit. He apparently introduced many new and modern filming techniques to Indian cinema and Tamil cinema in particular.

Personally, I feel that it is great to be able to direct such 'Classic' films in some language that he does not know, reflecting a culture that he's not very familiar with. In those days, most of the films were almost poetic and contained so many songs. The dialogues are so pure and poetic, that many young Tamils of today do not understand them. Even though he would've had so many to help him, I feel that it requires a real skill for a non-native to effectively direct such a film, bring out all the emotions and reach the audience as powerfully as these films did.

Some links on Dungan:

For those who would like to hear the song that I've specified at the beginning:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Chennai forums

Almost all of us have an affectionate corner in our hearts for our hometown. Wherever we are, we carry with us, fond memories of times in our hometown. I now live in a city that calls itself, "The greatest city on earth". However great this place might be, my first love is my hometown - Chennai.

Ever since I moved out of my hometown, I've always been on lookout for any news or any event related to Chennai. I surf around the net trying to read up news items and articles on the city, describing the new developments, constructions etc. It is one such trips around the net, that I stumbled on to this forum called ''. This is a forum where people get together and discuss about the various cities of the world, infrastructural and architectural developments, new projects, people initiatives etc.

This forum has a separate section for different countries, cities, transport networks etc. There is a huge section on Chennai that has different sub-forums for general discussions, flyover updates, IT corridors, Road development projects such as ORR, city buildings, malls, MRTS, Metro etc. I'm happy that I've been a member of this forum for more than a year now. There are members from different walks of life and from different places around the world. Members regularly post updates on the city, photos of various city landmarks, under-construction structures etc. We also discussion on the pros and cons of various projects announced by the govt. and some members even draw up their own plans for subways, flyovers etc. There are some who are in the engineering / architecture fields who give us great ideas. Some of the members have taken these ideas to the concerned departments / IAS officers and some of them have actually been implemented.

So, we get to know lots of updates about the city, that even those currently in the city do not know. As a result, I really knew what to expect of the city when I visited the place lmost after 2 years. Though I've not given any great plans or ideas, I do post a few small ideas every now and then or post my views as the common pedestrian who has walked the streets of the city for a long time.

Today, Times of India has run an article about the forum that talks about how the forum brings together many city-lovers from across the world.
Talk of the Town - times of India

Here's a link to the main page of the Chennai section of Skyscrapercity:

Kara Kuzhambu

I was feeling quite bored with the usual cooking of mine - consisting of the same old sambhar or Vathal Kuzhambu or the tomato rasam. So, I decided to try a slightly different one - Kara kuzhambu. This would be a very very common dish in many households. But this is quite unusual in our households as we don't usually add tomatoes, garlic etc in our sambhar-like dishes. I thought it came out quite well. So, here's the recipe that I followed:

The quantities specified here will be sufficient for around 3-4 people.

For masala
Channa Dal (Kadalai Paruppu) - 2 tsp
Corriander seeds (Kothamalli verai) - 3 tsp
Fenugreek (Vendhayam) - 1 tsp
Red Chillies - 8
Chopped Onion (medium size) - 1/2
Chopped tomato (medium size) - 1
Garlic - 7 pods ( i used 2 tsp of ginger garlic paste)
Cumin seeds (jeeragam) - 1 tsp
Saunf (Sombu) - 1 tsp
Grated coconut - 1 handful (app)

Other ingredients
Tamarind paste - 1 tsp (I guess, this is equivalent to a tamarind piece that is slightly smaller than a lime)
Chopped Onion (medium size) - 1/2
Any chopped vegetable like Drumsticks, Brinjal, Capsicum etc - 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida (Perungayam) - a small pinch
Salt - as per taste (I used slightly 3/4 tsp)
Cooking oil - 3-4 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - few leaves for taste

  1. Pour around 2 tsp of oil in a frying pan and fry the Channa Dal, corriander seeds, fenugreek, Cumin seeds, Saunf and red chillies till they are red.
  2. Add the chopped onion (1/2) and the garlic pods to this and let it saute for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes to this and cook till it is slightly soft.
  4. Grind this mixture along with the grated coconut and make it into a fine paste.
  5. Now, pour 2 tsp of cooking oil in a vessel and add a tsp of Channa Dal to it. When it starts becoming red, add the mustard seeds, asafoetida powder and the curry leaves to it.
  6. As the mixture starts spluttering, add the remaining chopped onions and saute it till the onion becomes translucent.
  7. Now any other vegetables that you have chopped. After a couple of minutes, add 1 cup of water with the tamarind dissolved in it.
  8. Add the turmeric powder and salt and allow the mixture to boil until the smell of raw turmeric and tamarind are suppressed.
  9. Now add the masala paste to the boiling mixture. Add some water if it becomes too thick. Let the mixture boil for some time till you get cooked aroma of the kuzhambu.
That's it. The kuzhambu is ready to served. :)

Quick points:
  1. Instead of frying and grinding Channa Dal, corriander seeds, fenugreek and red chillies, you can just use Sambhar powder.
  2. If you cannot grind anything, then chop the tomatoes and garlic as finely as possible, saute them and add to the kuzhambu. Then add the grated coconut and sambhar powder. Once the tomato is cooked well, it will make the sambhar nice and thick and give a ground paste effect.
  3. Things like saunf, cumin, Curry leaves, turmeric, asafoetida etc. add flavour to the kuzhambu. They can be skipped if you don't have them.
  4. Garlic is also strictly optional. If you do not like garlic, you can just leave it out of the picture.
People reading this - If you know any simpler or better or more creative ways to cook this dish, please let me know.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

'Dhonnai' - reinvented

On one of the usual lazy evenings, I was browsing through, when I stumbled on to this article titled 'The Dish on Green Disposables' and contained the following opening paragraph -
"Americans trash an estimated trillion disposable plates and utensils every year; a single-use plate's useful life averages only about five minutes. For Verterra, a hyper-green New York City start-up, the solution is simple: fallen leaves and steam. That's all it takes to make the new plates and bowls Verterra hopes will soon change how Americans serve food at parties and picnics."

On went the article talking about how a person has created a biodegradable 'green' plates based on what he saw in India. And yes, as you would've by now guessed it, he has re-created our very own 'Dhonnai'. These are small disposable cups made of leaves that have been an integral part of prasadam in temples. He has created this Dhonnai out of palm leaves and has treated it with UV rays and has come out with a product that is microwave, dishwasher and freezer safe . Plus it also degrades in just 6 weeks.
Photo of the 'Dhonnai' from the product's website :

While it is very good to see the world re-discovering our products and put them to better use, it is also painful to see how much we are moving away from them. Things like the Dhonnai are being ruthlessly replaced by plastics. People have started using disposable plastic cups for prasadams in temples. We even have plastic banana leaves, which according to me, completely robs the pleasure of eating on a banana leaf. The leaf itself adds additional taste to the food. Enter a big shop like Saravana stores and you'll see mountains of cheap Chinese made plastic wares on sale - more and more of these items are single-use items such as disposable plates, cups, spoons, plastic bags etc. If you walk on Ranganathan street after 10:00 pm, you can see huge 10 foot high mounds of waste plastic bags piled up in front of each shop. Now, this is not a problem only in India. Here in US, every shop gives plastic bags even for the smallest items bought. And most shops place one plastic bag inside another in order to 'reinforce' the bag, so that it can hold heavier stuff. One visit to the local grocery shop and we'll be stuck with around 10 plastic bags.

I'm not against plastics. Life cannot go on without them. But the amount of single-time disposable plastics is increasing at an astronomical rate. We should try to re-use them as much as possible or substitute these single-use 'useless' items with something more durable.