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December Issue

Of Heartbreak and Snowy Nights: A Christmas Playlist

Sneha Mary Christall, II MA English.

I don’t quite know what it is about certain songs that they can transport me to a time gone by, places I have glimpsed and lives only ever imagined. Come December, my playlist inevitably includes Jim Reeves’ Christmas songs. I suspect it all began the day I discovered an old cassette of his Twelve Songs of Christmas. Somehow, the heartbreak over a lover’s old Christmas card, dancing the Christmas polka and snowflakes blowing in the wind had taken over my eleven-year-old imagination. At the time, the closest I had been to heartbreak was when I realised there would be no letter from Hogwarts in the post (not much has changed in this department). As for seeing snowflakes, do hailstones count?

Perhaps, it is this very nostalgic quality of his music, which endears him to so many. In Señor Santa Claus, he tells Santa in broken English, to come visit him and not just the kids in the neighbourhood. Quite simply, he makes you want to believe once again, in the magic of the Christmas season.  In An Old Christmas Card, he sings, “Guess I’m always sentimental ’round this time/ Pardon me if a tear falls among my Christmas cheer.” He shifts to a lighter beat again with The Merry Christmas Polka. In White Christmas, he sings of children listening to the sound of sleigh bells in the wind. Interestingly, the background beat sounds just like sleigh bells.

Reeves used the Nashville sound, which mixed country and popular musical elements. In 1967, he was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Like his contemporaries Elvis and Johnny Cash, he sang to a wide audience. Even today, it takes me by surprise to hear my otherwise composed father break into a Jim Reeves tune.

Follow this link to listen to Reeves’ entire album Twelve Songs of Christmas:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19gdSmrMNCU

[Photograph Source: The Internet]

The Once Evergreen Stella is not as Green Anymore

[Photo Credits: Daphne Madonna, III Year B. A. English]

Nirmala Rajah Cynthia, III Year B.A. English.

The Vardah cyclone that swept through Chennai at speeds of 110-120 kmph brought a huge wave of destruction in its wake. It subjected the city to blocked roads, deracinated trees and next to no means of communication. The public faced mass confusion and chaos and Stella Maris College was not spared the destruction caused by the cyclone.

Stella Maris College, once host to a blooming wealth of flora, lost a veritable mine of green treasures in the short span of half a day. The cornucopia of trees in the Stella Maris College that was once the main source of strength of the college rendered the place vulnerable to the attack of the cyclone.

The campus of Stella Maris College houses four hostels and a convent. Kavya Rayala, a student who stays in the St. Joseph Hostel said that the electricity in the hostels was cut for five days and that there were times when they did not even have water to wash the plates after they had eaten. She added that though the college had generators, it was “not easy to run the five buildings with three or four generators.”

The students of Stella Maris College agree that the devastation caused by Cyclone Vardah was extensive, considering that it lasted for a very short span of time.

Tasneem M. Kathawala, the secretary of the Enviro Club, observed that the trees that were most affected by the cyclone were the Rain tree, the Gulmohar tree and the Copperpot tree and that these trees were abound on campus. The trees are not endemic to India and Tasneem said that they are not well-suited to the coastal climate of Chennai, which was probably why they did not fare well during the cyclone. She also noted that the Palm tree, which is indigenous to India, suffered minimal damage during the cyclone.

Tasneem mused that the most notable tree in the campus that was felled by Cyclone Vardah was the Wild Jack tree, which was the only one of its kind in Chennai and that the rarity of the plant made its loss more lamentable.

Tree lovers in Stella Maris are comforted to know that the Cassia glauca tree (also called the heritage tree) situated behind the B Block, which is at least a hundred years old, was unaffected by the raging wrath of Cyclone Vardah. Tasneem said, “The wind had virtually no impact on this tree.”

Efforts were taken by the Stella Maris community to overcome the aftermath of the cyclone and resolved to plant saplings so that the college would have a future that is as green as its past was. The Students Union proposed a Changemaker initiative wherein students were encouraged to recycle the natural debris on the campus to create something new. The articles the students produced were displayed in the campus OAT on 21st December, 2016.

wood2
Structure made as a part of CHANGEMAKER initiative

[Photo Source: Stella Maris College Official Website]

Stella Maris displays talents at the Christmas Pantomime

The Little Theatre and The Dramatics Club work together in Star Wars: The Panto Menance

Rochana Mohan, III Year B.A. English.

Any Chennaite will tell you that the highlight of the Christmas season is The Little Theatre’s Christmas Pantomime. This year, as the 22nd production in The Little Theatre’s 25 years of operating, Star Wars: The Panto Menance was held at Egmore Museum Theatre on the 16th to the 21st of December to critical acclaim.

This year saw the Dramatics Club work in very close association with The Little Theatre to put up this production. With The Little Theatre having conducted several workshops with the club, many got an opportunity to not only assist the production, but also act in the Pantomime.

“I was a direction intern asked to assist KK [Krishnakumar],” says Gowri S. “I had to co-ordinate between the various departments in production. I was asked to sit in for practice and make changes to script if anything struck me.” Gowri worked very closely with the cast as well as the crew during the four-month process. This involved her going for practice almost every day for more than four hours to make sure that the production was as much of a success as it was. “It was an eye-opener for me. It was a great experience, no doubt about that. I learnt a lot.”

Vanya Vimal took centre stage as one of the Cursed Fairies. When asked on how it was to be on stage, she said, “It was an adrenaline-filled experience. It was amazing. And the people I worked with, I got to know them so well. We have a ‘hugging policy’ in The Little Theatre – at the end of every practice you have to hug everyone before you go, whether you like it or not. We were all so close, and the reason I could do it was because the cast was there for each other, we supported each other and told each other we could do it.” Her performance was electric and filled with energy, all while maintaining the unique humour characteristic of the Christmas Pantomime.

Damara Jessica, another member from The Dramatics Club, also got the opportunity to work with The Little Theatre in the costume and props departments. She also assisted in stage design, explaining the difficulties to ensure the stage design was durable enough to hold up through all eight shows. When asked about the importance of students taking part in such productions, she had to say, “It’s definitely very important, because we need the exposure and I’d recommend that our juniors learn some of the things we did at this production. It taught me about team work and staying calm during a crisis, because some new problem would happen every show and we would need to know how to handle it within the next ten seconds.”

The Christmas Pantomime follows a blueprint that almost never changes, yet still remains charming and interesting every single year, as proved by its continual success. The Little Theatre proves that come cyclones or high water, the show will always go on and lift the spirits of Chennai to bounce right back through tough times.

[Photo Source: http://www.thelittletheatreindia.com/%5D

Yellow Christmas

Mathangi N.M., II Year B.A. English.

Seven years old, pointing to a picture of a big man clad in red, sporting a white beard and a bag over his shoulder, is stark in my memory. “Who is he?” I had asked my mother from my position on the floor. She grunted something – “Suntapause.” And thus, I spent a good chunk of my life believing that the man who delivered presents to little kids, was Suntapause.

I saw him everywhere while I grew up: he was there when I flipped pages on Tinkles, especially during the December editions; he was painted on cardboards that were put up at school and outside churches in the neighbourhood. He was there even in Narnia, when he gave presents to the four Pevensies.

But no, that was Santa Claus.

Imagine my astonishment and horror when I finally realised why people shot me puzzled looks and sometimes even sniggered when I piped up, “Suntapause shall bring me presents.”

But Santa is just one of the few aspects of Christmas that I, a girl born in a Hindu family in India, gets excited about.

First, there is the never ending line of Hollywood movies that one grows up watching, where the characters are so excited that it is Christmas and hence, you are too. Right from Kevin’s scheming in the Home Alone movies to the ghosts that visit Scrooge, Christmas always reminded me of laughter and coziness and the colour yellow. And not to mention that one episode of Mr. Bean’s Christmas that got me started on my fascination of decorating a Christmas tree. Hanging shiny little orbs and lights on green ferns is one of the most enjoyable tasks I have ever heard of.

But the most exciting thing about Christmas for me was to see a single shining star being hung out on front porches or balconies of Christian households. The sight of the star serves as a reminder that there would be Christmas music every time I turned on the television, or when I passed a church and heard beautiful singing or that there would be excitement wreathed into the faces of my Christian comrades who would jump and squeal, “Christmas is coming!”

In a country that boasts of major festivals every few months, Christmas stands out like the colour yellow in an artist’s palette. It pulses brightly and seems like it is perched on the threshold, handing hope to people right before they pass through the door to a new beginning. Even to a girl who is ignorant of most Christmas rituals, the day brings all the joy and warmth and not to mention truckloads of cookies and cake one could ask for.

A Cauldron Full Of Hot, Strong, Butterbeer

Pooja Krishna H. A., II Year B.A. English.

I’ve got a cauldron full of hot, strong, Butterbeer,
And it’s bubbling for you
Say ‘Incendio’ but that spell’s not hot
As my special witch’s brew!

Don’t be afraid, come and take a sip
Of this steamy, tasty, treat
What’s in my cauldron of hot, strong, Butterbeer
Will make your life complete!

Hey there!
Are you cold? Are your teeth dancing a dance of their own? Are your eyes playing tricks on you? Are your feet freezing? Well, here’s something to keep you toasty warm even in the darkest of nights: Butterbeer!

Materials Required:

  • Pepper’s or any other soda
  • Vanilla essence
  • Whipped cream
  • Milkmaid (Nestle)
  • Water
  • Sugar (optional)

Cooking time:

  • 5 minutes

Brewing instructions:

  • Warm up the soda of your choice for not more than 30 seconds. It will turn into a kind of a sweet, thick, tea. Caution: Do not place the can of soda directly on the oven/stove. Place it in a bowl of hot water.
  • Dilute the Milkmaid with hot water, until it turns into the same consistency as the soda. Add sugar if the sweetness is not enough.
  • Add vanilla essence to the Milkmaid and stir well.
  • Mix the soda and the diluted Milkmaid while they are still hot. Stir well.
  • Pour the drink into glasses, and add a swirl of whipped cream on top.

Hot, strong, Butterbeer is ready!

[Photograph Source: The Internet]

Cooking With A Cynical Chef

Farasha Pharis, III Year B.A. Economics.

DISCLAIMER: This recipe is not for the faint-hearted. The sugar will give you diabetes, the butter a bout of cholesterol and the sarcasm might just kill you. The author and magazine will bear no brunt of your weakness.

Gingerbread Houses are an essential part of a ‘White Christmas’. Unfortunately we live in the tropics. Your icing will melt, your house will collapse and your maid will try to open the front door and break it. It does not end well and here’s a step by step explanation of why.

Step 1: Play Christmas music to get into the holiday spirit. Let’s start strong with ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, specifically, the Mean Girls version. Dance along, if you must, but try not to. You’re not that good at dancing.

Step 2: Find a recipe and ponder over the sheer quantity this recipe requires. Here’s is an ingredients list to make your life simpler. Aren’t I a darling?

Ingredients:

  • 250g unsalted butter (does the unsalted bit really matter? It’s a marketing gimmick I tell you.)
  • 200g dark muscovado sugar (musk- avocado? – Googles musk-avocado – gets DIY facemask ideas – enters muscovado sugar – Google suggests ‘muscovado sugar India’– takes relief that you’re not the only idiot – Wikipedia tells you it’s Hindi name – ponders over the overbearingness of Hindi in the country – can’t find the Tamil name so you decide that brown sugar is close enough – feel like giving up yet? I sure have)
  • 7 tbsp. golden syrup
  • 600g plain flour
  • 2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 200g bag flaked almonds
  • 2 egg whites (why do they always make us throw the yolks away?)
  • 500g icing sugar, plus extra to dust
  • 125g pack mini chocolate fingers
  • Generous selection sweets of your choice, choose your own colour theme (If I really knew the right choices to make in life would I be here now?)
  • 1 mini chocolate roll or a dipped chocolate flake
  • Few edible silver balls (Not necessary, sprinkles will do)

Step 3: Take a break to contemplate the need for a gingerbread house. Leave work that you may get graded on or paid for and choose to continue on this disastrous path, which is strikingly similar to your general decision making ability.

Step 4: Find about 60% of the actual ingredients listed and make up your own substitutes for 30%. Ignore 10% by deeming them unnecessary.

Step 5: Get to the actual cooking bit and realize this may be a bigger mistake than wanting to get a degree in philosophy but it’s too late to turn back now. Listed below is the method to make this disastrous dream a reality! Once again, aren’t I a darling?

  • Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 (take 20 minutes to figure out what type of oven you have). Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a tiny splash of water (define ‘splash’, is it a 200 kg man cannonballing into a pool or is it the unrealistic one that they show in face wash ads?).
  • Cut out the template. Put a sheet of baking paper on your work surface and roll about one quarter of the dough to the thickness of two £1 coins (Is that a ₹5 coin for us?). Cut out one of the sections, then slide the gingerbread, still on its baking paper, onto a baking sheet (read sentence 4 times and question your understanding of English as a language). Repeat with remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have two side walls, a front and back wall and two roof panels (even with the same template, they will never be equal, because of you incompetence. Stop crying you weakling.) Any leftover dough can be cut into Christmas trees, if you like (*Maami voice* I told you the quantity was too much, never listen, no?).
  • Pick out the most intact flaked almonds and gently poke them into the roof sections, pointy-end first, to look like roof tiles (people in the west have a lot of time since outsourcing their work to us). Bake all the sections for 12 minutes or until firm and just a little darker at the edges. Leave to cool for a few minutes to firm up, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges (you over-cut it didn’t you? There is no cure for stupidity, is there?). Leave to cool completely.
  • Put the egg whites in a large bowl, sift in the icing sugar, then stir to make a thick, smooth icing. Spoon the mix into a piping bag with a medium nozzle. Pipe generous snakes of icing along the wall edges, one by one, to join the walls together. Use a small bowl to support the walls from the inside, then allow to dry, ideally for a few hours (Why, oh why have I done this to myself? Nobody sane likes the taste of it either. As if I’d let anyone eat it after all this hard work).
  • Once dry, remove the supports and fix the roof panels on. The angle is steep so you may need to hold these on firmly for a few minutes (Ain’t nobody got time for that) until the icing starts to dry. Dry completely, ideally overnight. To decorate, pipe a little icing along the length of 20 mini chocolate fingers and stick these lengthways onto the side walls of the house. Use three, upright, for the door.
  • Using the icing, stick sweets around the door and on the front of the house. To make the icicles, start with the nozzle at a 90-degree angle to the roof and squeeze out a pea-sized blob of icing. Keeping the pressure on, pull the nozzle down and then off (What does this even mean? Was this recipe written by a five year old?) – The icing will pull away, leaving a pointy trail. Repeat all around the front of the house. Cut the chocolate mini roll or dipped Flake on an angle, then fix with icing to make a chimney (we don’t keep chimneys for Santa to climb down once a year and worry about burglars 364 days). Pipe a little icing around the top. If you’ve made gingerbread trees, decorate these now, too, topping each with a silver ball, if using. Dust the roof with icing sugar for a snowy effect (I will not use a snowy effect to show solidarity to the tropics and the southern hemisphere where it’s summer. It’s not always about you northern hemisphere). Lay a winding path of sweets, and fix gingerbread trees around and about using blobs of icing. Your gingerbread house will be edible for about a week but will last a lot longer.

*20 minutes later, it collapses before you could get a decent Instagram-able photo*

[Photo Credites: Pinterest]

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

A Christmas Treat for the Lovers of the Force

Dalia N, III Year B.A. English.

The trailer to ‘Rogue One’, the first of the anthology movies in the Star Wars franchise, was a tad incongruous with the effect rendered by the first six movies. Despite the initial cynicism, nervous excitement filled the heart as the movie began. The beauty of opening scene of all the Star Wars movies is the way they establish the situation upon which the plot is foregrounded. It excites the spectator because any beginning similar to “Once upon a time” gives us the thrills of reminiscence and for a story set in a galaxy far, far away we are more than just excited, we are filled with childlike wonder.

Rogue One started off-key without the opening crawl. The movie set off with the aim to fill the gap between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” So it is obvious that the plotline follows the growth of the Rebel Alliance’s resistance against the Empire. Here is the questionable part: where is the rebellion? Unless the shady meetings that discussed strategy and people running about here and there to board their X-wing fighters were considered as the spirit of resistance.

It has somehow become mandatory that a nobody, a supposed orphan or the child of the “bad man turned good” should save the day in the galaxy far, far away. Jyn Erso did her part, but it seemed like the creators deliberately tried to endorse their recognition of female prowess to play the lead. Her companion Cassian Andor is puzzling from the very beginning. The problem with the characterisation was that it lacked continuity; most of the characters were new and are not seen in the episodes that follow. The spectators were therefore flustered with the amount of exposition thrown at them.

CGI Tarkin did not fail to give us the chills but he did leave us wondering why the makers didn’t retain John William’s magic. Michael Giacchino managed to create a soundtrack that seemed to suit the film’s mood, but it was not good enough to follow the rapturous legacy John Williams had left. The movie has meticulously avoided the green laser beam to remind us that Anakin had almost annihilated the Jedi. Though it fills the gaps, it has started a new set of queries.

The plot is predictable as it has come after most of the enthusiastic audience have watched the previous movies several times. The movie becomes a bit irksome due to the forced humour, miserable slapstick and jarring errors. It however does not fail to capture Vader’s sinisterly essence. It perfectly shows Vader’s penultimate stage in his growth into a fearsome Sith Lord. By placing him in Mustafar it established that he unflinchingly drew his energy from the dark side.

Star Wars has had the most amazing droids. K-2S0 was not the adorable kind of droid we have seen, for he is very similar to General Grievous and a clear example of the failed screenplay. Imwe and Malbus stole hearts. The CGI made the theatre go wild as the audience lived for the moment when Leia turns to realise that Vader is on board.

Rogue One was not as disastrous as “The Force Awakens,” but it was disappointing. The unique thing about Star Wars is that it is like a feeling, you don’t get tired of the Death Stars, levitating aliens or force-chokes, yet you are simply too excited to just experience the space opera. Rogue One does not remain afloat for that reason alone for it is a hit that evokes that longing one had after the initial trilogy.

[Photo Source: The Internet]

Movie Review: Home Alone 3

Back to Beating the Bad Guys

Jerusha Jose, III Year B.V.A. Fine Arts.

When the whole world groaned, ‘Home Alone 3?’ the producers stuck to their guns and went on to produce the critically acclaimed third instalment in the Home Alone franchise. It was decided that the ”Home Alone” series didn’t require the towheaded, hooded-eyed screen presence of Macaulay Culkin to stay alive and kicking. As ”Home Alone 3” vigorously demonstrates, all the franchise really needs to keep going is a charismatic child (Alex D. Linz has replaced Culkin) with no great acting skills but loads of pseudo-innocent chubby-cheeked adorability.

Put sophisticated remote-control gadgetry at the boy’s fingertips, and get a director (the newcomer Raja Gosnell) with a feel for the kind of knockabout farce that makes grown-ups look like fools, and you have a refreshed formula that’s good for at least one more episode and maybe two. Providing crucial continuity is John Hughes, who masterminded the first two ”Home Alones” and is co-producer and writer for the third movie.

”Home Alone 3” is essentially a good-natured repeat of the blockbuster original with a generous serving of Christmas spirit on the side, but with a different all-American family (the Pruitts have replaced the McCallisters) in an upscale Chicago suburb. Its hero, 8-year-old Alex Pruitt (Linz), the youngest of the three Pruitt children, is a mechanical whiz of infinite resourcefulness and indefatigable self-confidence.

To my astonishment, I liked the third “Home Alone” movie better than the first two; I’m even going so far as to recommend it, although not to grownups unless they are in the mood for some mindless silly entertainment. This movie follows the exact formula of the first two, but is funnier and gentler, has a real charmer for a hero, and provides splendid wish fulfilment and escapism for us in, say, the lower grades.

There is even a better rationale for why the hero is left home alone. Alex gets the chicken pox. His dad is out of town on business, his mom has an emergency at the office, and his brother and sister are at school. So he’s left home alone, with a beeper number, a fax number, a cell phone number, the number of Mrs. Hess across the street and dialling 911 as a fallback position.

The subplot has already been set into motion. A spy ring has stolen a computer chip, and because of an exchange of identical bags at the San Francisco airport, the toy truck containing the chip has ended up at Mrs. Hess’ house. Four spies fly to Chicago on the same plane with Mrs. Hess and have four hours on board to search for the bag, but somehow they fail to find it and end up deciding to burglarize every house on little Alex’s block.

While his family is out of the house, Alex fortifies the place with so many potentially lethal booby traps that an intruder unlucky enough to force his way in will find himself plunged into a zany chamber of horrors. Even the family pets, a white mouse named Doris (whom Alex enjoys scaring by showing her a neighbour’s cat through his telescope) and a loud-mouthed parrot that can light matches, get into the act.

The difference between ”Home Alone 3” and its predecessors is largely a matter of tone. Where Culkin seemed to take a sadistic, poker-faced glee in the injuries he inflicted, Linz expresses the more innocent delight of a child caught up in an action-packed Saturday morning cartoon.

Behind the villains’ comic grimaces, there’s no real pain. And in making the villains (Olek Krupa, Rya Kihlstedt, Lenny Von Dohlen, and David Thornton) buffoonish caricatures of television spies, the movie deftly spoofs a technological mystique that Alex’s ingenious homemade defenses puncture again and again.

”Home Alone 3” is rated PG (parental guidance suggested). The punishments meted out to the villains are funny, but many of them are also rather cruel.

[Photo Source: The Internet]

Traditions without turkey?

Mercy Johny, II Year B.A. English.

Seeing the colours red, white and green everywhere? ‘Tis the season to be jolly as wreaths, Santa hats and paper stars line the streets throughout the month of December. Christmas is when everyone comes together to celebrate the festive season and forget their worries, especially the ones who now have an excuse to satisfy their cravings for a feast. Filling the air with sounds of laughter, happy chatter and the clinking of glasses, it’s evident that as the years pass, some traditions of Christmas have remained the same, while some differ as well.

In Goa, people gather together for the midnight mass in their Portuguese churches after which they spread the Christmas cheer with music, great food and parties with friends and family, and this procedure is deemed to be a necessity for nearly every household in the area. Most states in the north, although having a smaller population of Christians, still sees people of all religions to gather and make merry during this festival.

In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, however, the inclination is towards a peaceful, family-oriented affair. After the mass, they hurriedly return home to savour the delectable spread of food waiting back home because, after all, when would the occasion to feast on fried chicken, mutton biryani, rich plum cakes, turkey and kappa biryani arise again?

The gothic churches in Pondicherry are a great attraction, while Manali brings many tourists during this month as the only opportunity to witness snow in India is likely to happen on these ‘very rare’ occasions.

Several people go to different places, visit beaches, hit the stores and celebrate the festival by simply satisfying their wanderlust and entertain their cravings for clothes, gadgets and make the most of the seasonal offers. Malls are decked with props and decorated trees touching the ceiling while selfies are clicked against the background of white snowflakes and Christmas trees, all with the help of some thermocol, of course.

While Christmas is becoming a commercialised holiday with restaurants and stores offering discounts and menus consisting of the most delicious dishes and there are several people who still take delight in sending handmade cards, rich plum cakes soaked in rum and home made wine to their neighbours and friends.

After the first few weeks of decorations and festivity, everyone gets together on the 25th for a feast, and exchange gifts – their very own version of the infamous Chrismom-Chrischild game. And of course, the day is incomplete without Christmas carols and Santa’s visit on this day, adding to the enraptured faces of youngsters and adults alike. Charitable activities and donations are yet a few other commitments made on this day to bring the brightest smiles on the faces of those who are lesser privileged.

Needless to say, every person has their own way of celebrating Christmas – be it shopping, partying, or a peaceful day with close ones, but this day satisfies not only the ones eyeing the scrumptious food during their prayers, but those who wish to escape from their monotonous routines as well.  Regardless of the variations in cultures, and procedures, what stays the same, and will forever remain so throughout the ages, added to the millions of cakes that are eventually consumed by the people during this season, will always be a dash of happiness, lots of laughter and heaps of love.

[Photo Credits: Indian Express]

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