May 12, 2006
We went to Madurai….
We reached the City Station with our waitlisted tickets, and got to the platform in pouring rain; it kept pelting down and the train, coming in from Mysore, was over an hour late, during which time all the passengers, huddled into the little dry space that was available on the platform, were treated to the sight of a middle-aged woman grinning all over her face in spite of being dripping wet. The middle-aged woman was thinking that she need not have bothered to dry out after her evening swim at all! Why are we such a poor nation that we still cannot have covered platforms, or at least, covered platforms that don't let the water through in large quanitities?
It took us nearly 3 hours to get our berths allocated (Mohan's gloomy prediction, that the TTC would 'separate us at berth' didn't come true!)and we awoke to see the just-outside Madurai scenery gliding past the windows. We got out and went to the hotel, had a shower and went to attend our neighbours' son's Poonal. Since this whole business being "twice-born" seems to be a farce for everyone-- the boy concerned does his Gayatri for maybe a week or two-- I really don't know why everyone goes through with it. Is is familial or peer pressure?
Anyway, we had a great time because we had a great Shaappaadu to tuck into, and then I got into a group of ladies who were all sitting and exchanging notes about songs. So I made them all sing loudly..and was really impressed with the quality of music that I heard. We all sat around, singing,for over an hour. What a wonderful way to spend the time! Several of the young men (nephews and sons of the ladies present) also joined in. It was truly heart-warming to realize that Carnatic music is alive and thriving! I sang a couple of my own compositions which were very much appreciated.
We then went to visit some friends of ours. Aruna is an amazing person...she is a post grad in Chemistry, can teach Sanskrit at the same level, has sold insurance in Bangkok, has lived in New York for a few years, can sing well...in fact, can do anything well. She has introduced me to many concepts and pursuits.
Another interesting (I always think about when I say this word) fact about her is that her daughter was on the 23rd floor of the 2nd WTC tower on 9/11. She and a few friends decided to ignore the announcements which asked everyone to sit calmly, and went asap down the stairs. When they were in the street, the second plane hit. For 4 days we had not news about her...and then, to our almighty relief, we knew that Sapna was safe.
We spent a nice afternoon with her and her husband, Visveswar, and then went over to browse around the Meenakshi Temple, which , considering the amount of revenue it has, is surely one of the worst-maintained temples in South India. The ecstacy that some of the sculptures arouses in me makes me weep...and so does the filth and the miserable state surrounding some of them. Change of trustees seems to have in no way benefited the temple. Meenakshi stands, dimunitive and holy, an oasis of sanctity and peace in a maelstrom of dirt, filth and greedy commerce.
Our return tickets were confirmed, so we ate at the Meenakshi Bhavan which is in the Station itself.
The old buildings of Madurai and the places where the old architectural idiom remains still look so beautiful....but the town is slipping into dirt and decay, I think.
Muthuswami Dikshitar, the great composer of Carnatic Music, wanted the song he composed on Meenakshi of Madurai to be sung repeatedly as his soul prepared to leave his body. The words he wanted to be sung repeatedly are:
Meena lochani paasha mOchani maalini kadamba vana vaasini
(One with eyes like a fish, one who releases from attachment, one who wears garlands, one who lives in the kadamba wood.)
Kadamba vana? Is there a single kadamba tree anywhere in the vicinity of the temple? Sigh.....