Patterns On The Floor


As the sun prepares to visit this part of the world, a few of its rays have jumped ahead, trying to take a peak at our front entrance. While most of the city is either asleep, or busy getting ready to take on the day’s work, my mother opens the door and thoroughly cleans the floor with water. She then opens a small box and picks up a pinch of the white powder that it contains.

The Hrydayakamalam
The Hrydayakamalam

She rolls the powder between her thumb and index finger and makes a series of dots. They are perfectly arranged in a symmetrical pattern – drawn with pin-point accuracy. She picks up more powder and with a steady hand, draws several even lines – some connecting the dots, others, encircling them.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has performed this fascinating ritual, every single day, without fail.

Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair
Traditional dots at the Surajkund crafts fair

Earlier, the only source of obtaining the kolam podi*, was relatives who visited us. Our trips to Chennai would be incomplete without buying the white stone powder, which she used for making the designs. Now the powder is available more readily. Kolams are not common in Delhi. Here, elaborate ‘rangolis‘** are made with colourful powders and flowers, that too only on Diwali, or special occasions. Some other migrants like us make the kolams with a more long lasting wet ‘paint’ made using rice flour. Others use ready-made stickers.

Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone color
Traditional Kolam made with lines and filled with red stone colour

Visitors often ignore the kolam at the entrance and sometimes step over them. Some mischief makers deliberately destroy them. And on several occasions, the sweeper sweeps them away. It infuriates my mother… “Kolams are swept away only when the family is in mourning… Wiping it away is a sin”, she would shout. But nothing has ever deterred my mother from starting afresh the next morning.

In Chennai, though, kolams are found everywhere – at the entrance of every house, temples, and even public buildings. Friday belongs to Devi, and so, the kolams are extra special on these days. On festive occasions, the red stone comes out of the shelf. The stone is dipped in a little water and the kolam is painted with a deep red colour.

A small temple in a hospital (Chennai)
Kolam in a hospital (Chennai)

Celebrations like marriages present a much larger canvas for the ladies. Rice flour kolams are prepared the night before the auspicious event, and, covering large areas, they are grander than what one can imagine. That they will be hidden beneath the holy flame, does not matter to the artists.

As the years have rolled by, my mother’s kolams have evolved. They are no longer limited to the strict geometrical patterns. Nor are the materials restricted to the traditional ones. The kolams are now more abstract, and created spontaneously. On special occasions, she adds more colour – something that she has adopted from the North Indian rangolis. There are times when she is unable to make it early in the morning, but even today, she does not allow anyone to step out of the house before the kolam is drawn. And we don’t mind – the entire process takes just a few minutes – the years of practice have made it second nature to her.

The neighbour's kolam (Chennai)
The neighbour’s kolam (Chennai)

It is this art form, and my mother’s interpretations and designs, that inspired me to create something of my own. Based on the traditional paisley motif – the  ‘aam‘, or the ‘mangai‘***, it is a tribute to the millions of women who practice traditional art forms as part of their daily lives. It is a tribute to the art form that encourages everybody to become an artist.

But above all, it is a tribute to my mother – who expresses her creativity and skill through patterns on the floor every single day, only to sweep it away the next morning.

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* Podi – powder
** Rangoli – Hindi term designs made on the floor.
*** aam – Hindi for mango
mangai – Tamil for unripe mango

Interview In A Dungeon


A few weeks back, I went for an interview conducted by a super secret unidentified company. Since I am still studying, and will probably want a job soon, I shall refrain from mentioning the name or location of the company.

The interview was short – just a few questions like why I would want to work there, and whether I knew what kind of work was being done. The rest of the day was spent in giving the ‘test’ – and it was really enjoyable. I was given a storyboard, character and background graphics and voice over. I had to string them together into an animated clip.

The office was located in an obscure location – locating it was an adventure by itself. And when I entered it, I took an instant dislike to it. Although it looked large from the outside, it seemed to lack space inside. The windows were covered with black paper and there were millions of lights on the roof. This got me thinking, why were the windows constructed at all, if they had to be covered up. And what’s the point of covering up natural light, and installing so many artificial lights?

But despite my initial dislike, I loved the work that they did. As I mentioned earlier, I actually enjoyed what was supposed to be a test!

I requested a lunch break, and was readily given one. There was a small grocery shop just next to the office and I enquired whether there was any place where I could get a decent meal. The lady said, well, if you have some packed lunch, you can eat with me… otherwise, there isn’t any such place around here. I accepted her offer of company and bought whatever she could offer by way of food. I casually enquired about the company and her opinion of the people who worked there. Satisfied with her response, and the ‘meal’ of juice and cake, I resumed my test.

My interviewer shared her concerns regarding the fact that I lived far off and the working hours were not fixed. But I had a much bigger concern.

Working for long hours in an environment that provides absolutely no natural light is disastrous. After personally experiencing consequences of working in such an environment for just three months, I can testify that the employees’ health will deteriorate without them even knowing about it.*

I understand that this is the case practically everywhere on the planet, and for some technical reasons, shutting out real light and living in an artificially created environment is justified. But an organisation should allow (or maybe force) employees to leave the office premises and enjoy some fresh air and good old sunshine.

If the lovely lady and gentleman who interviewed me are reading this, I hope you will still welcome me to your office, should I come begging for a job (I love the work!). But I also hope you will consider that the poor work environment is perhaps the reason why you have such a high turnover in the first place.

Healthy employees = Happy employees = Low turnover + Better Output

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* I will leave the explanation for another post!

The Constant Migrant


The city has embraced migrants for centuries, and become home to a huge variety of people. Not many can claim to belong to Delhi, yet, anyone who comes here, belongs to it. People who live here are known for their generosity. They welcome visitors with wide-open arms. This is perhaps the reason why the city has come to be known as ‘dill walon ka sheher‘*. It has embraced different cultures and has a long history – which is evident from the staggering number of monuments.

Over the recent past, its image has been that of an unsafe city. I believe this is because non-residents have taken the lovely people here for granted. But even so, it is a city that I call home. Despite its shortcomings, I love it. If I were told to move out of Delhi and live elsewhere, I would be devastated. And therein lies the problem.

For all my attachment to this city, deep down inside, a small part of me feels like I am a misfit. I need the typical South Indian cuisine, the tunes of Carnatic classical music, the sights and sounds of the intricately decorated temples. Perhaps its partly genetic, partly because its a novelty here, and partly because I do not know much about it. But mainly, because it forms a part of my own identity.

Even though I have grown up in Delhi, my childhood was dominated by stories about life in the villages. Anecdotes about hundreds of family members, whom I have never met, and probably will never know either. It used to be a small world. Everyone knew everyone else. There were so many traditions and customs that I struggled to explain to my north Indian peers. I hardly understood the local culture, and they refused to accept ours. Our native traditions and customs were more numerous and filled with elaborate explanations. I found those much more interesting than any of the local folklore. To be honest, I felt superior, and pitied my companions who did not understand.

But time and circumstances changed many things. The city of Delhi was evolving, and was beginning to accept people from all parts of the country. I began feeling alienated around family members. I felt like I didn’t belong there any more. I made Delhi my home.

The villages have nothing that belongs to us any more. The ancestral houses were either usurped or sold – I never set foot anywhere near them. We all have moved on to our own lives. But there are some traditions that we have held on to. The kolam** at the doorstep, the offering of food to deities, the keen interest in Classical music and art, the spirituality and sanctity maintained on festive occasions.

Indian philosophy demands that we move ahead – not get caught up in sentiments. And I believe I am one of the millions of migrants who belong to Delhi. But one day I hope to visit the ancestral village – to understand where my roots were – and perhaps quell the thirst for knowing myself.

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*dill walon ka sheher – loosely translates to ‘the city that belongs to large-hearted people’
** kolam –  form of painting that is drawn using rice / white stone powder (full wiki article)