Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sound Track

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Ashley talks about life with the singer Sayanora

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, at the City Centre gym, Kannur, the singer Sayanora Philip approached the trainer Ashley D'Cruze, and said, “My parents are looking for a boy that I could get married to. I like you as a person. Would you be interested?”

For a moment, Ashley was taken aback. Then he said, “Let's see.”

Ashley was already impressed by Sayanora. She was the only woman in his batch of 18 students. “I admired her self-confidence,” he says.

On the next Sunday, after Mass, Sayanora and her parents dropped into the D'Cruze household, which was less than 100 metres from the church. Sayanora introduced Ashley to her parents as her trainer. Later, when things became clear, to both sets of parents, they agreed to the marriage. But the date was fixed eight months hence. The reason: Sayanora was going on a world tour with AR Rahman and his troupe.

It was while she was on this tour that Ashley began to learn new words. “Sayanora would call me up and talk about tracks, recordings, and stage shows,” says Ashley. “She recounted to me all her experiences. It was a new world for me. Most of the time, I was just listening.”

Eventually, Sayanora came back. The wedding took place at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Burnacherry, on May 18, 2009.

It was supposed to start at 4 p.m. But there was an unscheduled power cut.
It was a tense moment for me,” says Ashley. “So many people had come. And it was quite hot.” In the end, the ceremony began at 4.30 p.m.

After the Mass, when the couple were waiting for the car to take them to the reception hall, they got a shock. A vintage Baby Austin came up, covered with red balloons. “When the car had to be started, the driver went in front and turned a large handle,” says Ashley. “It was a novel experience for us.” The car was arranged by Sayanora's brother, Swarag Philip, and sister Sruthi. The guests at the reception included Vineeth Srinivasan, Rimi Tomy, Afsal, George Peters, and music director Alphons.

For their honeymoon, they flew to London because Sayanora was performing in a few shows for actor Jayaram and his troupe, which included stars like Kottayam Nazeer, Samvrutha Sunil, Meera Nandan, Bala Bhaskar and Stephen Devassey.

And it was at Birmingham that Ashley and Sayanora got a big surprise. At a farmhouse the troupe organised a party for the newly-wedded couple.

There was singing and dancing,” says Ashley. “Jayaram toasted us and said, 'May you live forever and be happy, like now'. My eyes filled with tears. I will never forget it ever.”

Asked to list the plus points of Sayanora, Ashley says, “She cannot keep a grudge with anybody. Five minutes later, she will forget and hug the person. She loves pets. I am so happy about that. For me, my dog, a Labrador called Rambo, is like a family member.”

Sayanora is also generous. “When we go out for dinner, after it is over, Sayanora will ensure that she takes two to three packets of food from the restaurant. Then she makes me give it to the homeless near the Kannur railway station.”

Birthdays are also celebrated with the same feeling of generosity. The second birthday party of their daughter, Zena, was held at the Santhwana Bhavan orphanage at Echoor, Kannur. “Sayanora took the measurement of all the 38 girls and bought dresses for everybody,” says Ashley. “A birthday cake, made in the form of Zena's favourite animation character, Dora, was cut, and lunch was served for all. We ate with them.”

Meanwhile, when asked to list his wife's negative traits, Ashley says, “Sayanora becomes angry very fast. But she also cools down quickly. Sometimes, I do get upset by this. But she makes up by being such a sweet mother to Zena. When she goes for shows, she misses her daughter very much. There have been times when Sayanora has cried on the phone.”

And so life goes on for the Kannur-based couple. Ashley tries to be with Sayanora as much as possible. Six months ago, he flew with her to London where she had a performance. And he was much impressed by her.

On stage, Sayanora is like a lioness,” says Ashley. “She is a powerful and dominating singer. Sayanora sings western songs so well, as if she has been born and brought up outside. But she also has a knack to sing in any language perfectly. I never get bored listening to Sayanora.”

Once Kottayam Nazeer told Sayanora, “You singers are lucky. You can sing a song for an entire lifetime. People never get tired of listening to good songs. On the other hand, I have to come up with new skits all the time.”

Finally, regarding tips for a successful marriage, Ashley says, “There should be a transparency with each other. Be open and honest. I have also never hindered Sayanora's freedom. She can go anywhere she wants. I have never asked her to change her personality. I want her to remain just the way she was, before her marriage. I think this has made her happy. She always tells me, 'I don't feel that I am married at all'.”

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, April 20, 2015

All people should be Free and Equal

Lawyer K.K. Saratchandra Bose has served a mandatory notice to the Centre to ban the caste system. He has been on an all-India yatra talking about the ills of casteism

Photo of Bose by Pattabi Raman

By Shevlin Sebastian

In February, 2001, the Dubai-based lawyer K.K. Saratchandra Bose went to Gujarat following the massive earthquake. “I was a one-man NRI commission who had gone to investigate what had happened and how we could help,” says Bose. While there, Bose observed that the relief distribution was based on caste and religious lines.

A group of Dalits told Bose, “Sir, dogs and cats can enter the house, but not us. We are untouchables. For earthquake relief, there are two queues: one for upper castes and a separate line for us. The upper castes have been getting all the help and support from the local people, as well as the state government.”

In 2008, Bose went to Satna in Madhya Pradesh, as a member of a group that belonged to the World Hunger Project. There were people from Australia, Canada, Singapore, Sri Lanka and other countries. Bose was the only Indian representative.

At a village, the locals asked the foreigners, “Is there untouchability in your countries? We have a well in the village which we cannot use. It belongs to the upper castes. We have to walk five kilometres to get access to drinking water. When we don’t have drinking water, how can we have a bath? We have been sidelined from society.”

The people said that members of the upper castes would go to the houses of the lower castes in a jeep, grab the girls and rape them. The foreigners could not believe this. They looked at Bose, who said, “This wretched system exists only in my country and nowhere else in the world.”

Later, Bose organised a borewell to be dug, so that the Dalits could have access to water. Then he began to do extensive research on the caste system.

Bose's conclusion: the caste system was originally based on colour. "Those who were fair and white were called Brahmins,” says Bose. “The hot-blooded warriors were identified by the colour red, the Vaishyas were yellow or brown, while the Sudras were black. In the end, the Aryans and the Dravidians got together to get rid of the Adivasis, who were the original landlords in Kerala, and grabbed their lands.”

Based on his research, Bose wrote a 208-page book called 'Caste Away! India, Hinduism & Untouchability'.

On November 30, 2013, Bose served a mandatory legal notice to the Union Government asking the Centre to ban the caste system within 13 months. He also sent the notice to all the MLAs, MPs and Supreme Court judges. It was also sent to member countries of the United Nations.

I have two demands,” says Bose. “The Centre should amend the constitution and remove the categories of scheduled caste, untouchables and Dalits. There should be no caste-based reservations. Instead, it should be based on economic considerations. All people should be
treated as equal.”

On these demands, Bose received support from an unexpected quarter. On February 4, 2014, senior Congress leader Janardhan Dwivedi said that caste-based reservations should be stopped. “This has never happened before in the Congress,” says Bose. However, the next day Congress President Sonia Gandhi refuted Dwivedi by saying, “The empowerment of the scheduled castes has been an article of faith of the Congress.”

Meanwhile, when the government did not respond to Bose's notice, in June, 2014, he embarked on an all-India Bharat Yatra from Thiruvananthapuram. Accompanied by 34 volunteers, Bose held several meetings all over the country, where he spoke about the ills of casteism. “Not one person spoke in favour of the caste system,” says Bose. “Even the Brahmins are fed up with the system.”

In Tripura, Bose spoke at a Buddhist Sangha. “After listening to me, they told me that they were with me,” says Bose. “They also want a casteless society.”

Finally, after a journey of 18,000 kms, Bose reached Delhi in end-July.

Many people do not know that the use of the term ‘caste’ goes against the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” says Bose.

In fact, in February, this year, Pope Francis, at a meeting with newly-appointed Cardinals in Rome, asked them to shed their 'caste' mentality.

Bose is now going to embark on a second Bharat Yatra from Padoli in Kannur district on May 9. This time, he has a specific agenda: anybody who wants to wear the sacred thread, according to pre-Vedic rites, will be able to do, in the presence of a five-headed idol of
Lord Brahma, which is 9 feet tall, and weighs 500 kg.

Bose is being accompanied by a team of priests who will perform the rites.  “I will not give up till the caste system is eradicated from our society,” says Bose, 63, who belongs to Mezhuveli in Pathanamthitta district. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Eating cooked raw jackfruit reduces insulin dependency

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Jackfruit being sold in Kerala; a traditional raw jackfruit meal; James Joseph 

One day, at Koothattukulam, Fr. Thomas Brahmanavelil had invited a fellow priest for dinner. The dinner consisted of cooked unripe jackfruit. It was after one hour, after his friend left, that the diabetic priest took his insulin injection.

Within minutes he collapsed to the floor. Fr. Thomas had become hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar). He somehow managed to reach a sugar sachet lying on a bedside table and had it. After two hours, he regained some strength. When Fr. Thomas checked his sugar level it was 50 mg/dl (milligrams per decilite). The normal is 82 to 110 mg/dl.

Fr. Thomas was puzzled. He did not know why this had happened to him. At this time he met businessman James Joseph, who runs the company Jackfruit365, which sells freeze-dried jackfruit. “I got worried by what happened to Fr. Thomas,” says James. “Because I am selling raw jackfruit. Will it be a health problem for a diabetic patient? I had once read that jackfruit can regulate sugar levels.”

James got in touch with the Delhi-based scientist Dr. Vivek Garg, who is an expert on diabetes. The doctor, confirmed through a paper, which appeared in the Ceylon Medical Journal, that after taking a raw jackfruit meal, the sugar levels drop shortly, as compared to a standard meal.

So then what happened to Fr. Thomas? “When you take a normal meal, the sugar will go up, and gradually it tapers down,” says James. “But when you take the jackfruit meal, it goes up and drops suddenly within 30 minutes. Fr. Thomas took his insulin one hour later which means his sugar was already on a downward spiral. At that moment, if you inject insulin, it will further accelerate the decline of the sugar levels.”

Incidentally, raw jackfruit has only one-fifth of the sugar of the ripe jackfruit. “For dried raw jackfruit the sugar is 10.2 mg/dl for 100 grams, while for the ripe ones it is 57.6mg/dl,” says
James, who confirmed this result through a lab test at Kochi.

The conclusion: When you eat the high-fibre raw jackfruit, it transfers less sugar to the body, as compared to a meal with rice or wheat. So you need less insulin.

The father of Dr. Johny J. Kannampilly, Consulant Diabetologist of Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, would use 38 units of insulin at night, after his chappati or rice meal, to get the sugar at 120mg/dl. “When he began having raw jackfruit, his insulin dose was reduced to 18 units,” says Dr. Johny.

The evidence seems to suggest that if you are a person with a low insulin dosage, you can avoid taking it on the days that you have raw jackfruit for dinner. Which is what Fr. Thomas is doing. “In the past two months, he has skipped insulin 20 times,” says James.

Says Dr. Johny, “There is a benefit when you have a raw jackfruit meal. But this needs further research and study. However, since diabetes cases are increasing in large numbers, we need to encourage food which has high-fibre and low sugar.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions) 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Best Friends Forever

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Prerna Sharma talks about life with the artist Gigi Scaria

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photos by Ravi Choudhary

One day, in May, 1995, Prerna Sharma was standing near the Art Faculty section of the MS University in Baroda. She had come to give the entrance examinations for the arts course.

Gigi Scaria, whom Prerna had met the day before, with a group of Trivandrum College of Art students, saw her. He invited Prerna to have lunch with him. She accepted. They went to a small Malayali hotel inside the campus. Communication was difficult between the two, since Gigi did not know Hindi, while Prerna did not know Malayalam. They used a few English words.

It was the first time I saw somebody eat so much of rice and curry,” says Peerna. “In Chandigarh, where I grew up, we ate chappatis.” But during the meal, Prerna had a strange feeling. “I noticed that we felt happy together,” she says. “Gigi was intelligent and charming.”

In the end, Prerna did not get admission at Baroda. So, she tried her luck at the Jamia Millia Islamia at New Delhi and got through. Gigi and Prerna went out of touch. When Gigi also did not secure admission, at Baroda, he came to Delhi, with his artist friend, PS Josh, and got admission in Jamia, a year later, in 1996.

One day, both of them came to see me,” says Prerna. “Gigi had brought a cake, and a bottle of mango pickle which his mother had made. Thereafter, we would meet often at the Lalitkala Akademi at Mandi house. We would talk for hours together at the library. I enjoyed the friendship so much. It was so natural.”

But marriage was not going to be easy. While Prerna is a Punjabi Hindu, Gigi is a Malayali Christian. But this was how they worked it out: Gigi took Prerna's parents to Kerala, where they stayed at his parents' house at Kothanalloor for ten days. After a fortnight, Gigi's parents went to Chandigarh and stayed with the Sharmas for five days. “Both families liked each other,” says Prerna. “So, in the end, it became a love-cum-arranged marriage.”

There were two marriages. The first one, on April 26, 1999, took place at the Sanatan Dharam Mandir at Chandigarh. The next evening, a Christian wedding took place at the St. Francis De Sales church in New Delhi.

I will never forget how I got ready for the church wedding in Gigi's house,” says Prerna. “It may be the first time a bride and groom got ready in the same house.”

Unfortunately, the couple did not have any money to go for a honeymoon. Instead, they went to an aided school at Bhiwadi in Haryana. Both Gigi and Prerna held a fortnight-long workshop for art students, at the invitation of the principal, Vijay Bhandari, who was known to Prerna. “We taught during the day and in the evenings we would wander about,” says Prerna. “I remember we talked a lot about art.”

When they were leaving, to show their appreciation, Gigi made a Shiva statue for the servant who cooked for them, and a bust of Buddha for Vijay.

Asked about his plus points, Prerna says, “Gigi is always laughing. He makes the atmosphere charged and happy. He is very helpful. If a relative wants to construct a roof or a toilet, Gigi will provide the money. All the workers, our neighbours, family members and relatives love him. He is the most marvellous person I have met.”

Like all creative people, art is his first and permanent love. Not all women can adjust to that. “I don't have a problem with that,” says Prerna. “For me, it is his creativity that comes first. I married him because I admired his talent. I wanted a man like that. The moment an idea comes to Gigi he will immediately tell me. I always feel that I am participating in his creations.”

Before making the stainless steel bell, Gigi's popular work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, he kept telling Prerna, “What to make, what to make? I want to make something very big.”

Then one day, it suddenly clicked: what about a bell? “I said it is a superb idea,” says Prerna. “Then he started doing the drawings. Then we did research together on the Net.”

Watching all this was their 13-year-old son Aviral. “As a father Gigi is really close to Aviral,” says Prerna. “They crack jokes and laugh all the time. Both are foodies. It is a great relationship. We are like three friends who are living together, all positive-minded.”

But Gigi has an unusual negative attribute. “The moment he comes home, from the studio, he will switch on the TV,” says Prerna. “Gigi watches Malayalam movies for hours together. Even when my son's exams are going on, he is unwilling to switch off the TV. That is the only time I get angry with him. The reason is that he has a passion to make films. I am sure he will become a director one day.”

Finally, when asked to give tips for a successful marriage, Prerna says, “You should always be friends with each other. It is the friendship that keeps the spouses together. You should also give space to your husband. Lastly, you must know your spouse's aspirations and offer full support for that.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Touching on all Aspects of Life

The Malayalam superstar's posts have been collected in the book, 'Mohanlal – An Actor's Blog Book'

By Shevlin Sebastian

On March 15, 2010, Mohanlal went to Mumbai, along with Mollywood film director, Major Ravi, to meet Amitabh Bachchan. As soon as the Bollywood legend saw Mohanlal, he said, “You are a Padma Shri, a Lieutenant Colonel and now a D.Litt as well. What else do you wish?”

Mohanlal did have a simple wish. He wanted Bachchan to act in a Malayalam film, 'Kandahar', which he was producing. After hearing the script, Bachchan agreed. When Mohanlal took out a cheque to give to Bachchan, the latter said, “Mohanlal, I am acting in this film for you, and not for any money. I like the actor in you so much.”

This is part of a post from the blog, 'Complete Actor', which Mohanlal has been writing for the past four years. Several of these posts were collected and brought out in a Malayalam book, 'Hridayathinte Kayyoppu' (The Heart's Signature) in June, 2012. Not surprisingly, it became a best-seller.

Now, an English version, 'Mohanlal – An Actor's Blog Book', with an introduction by writer Anita Nair, has been brought out by Mathrubhumi Books. The 104-page book, which is translated by Dr. KP Premkumar, has 38 posts, written between 2009 and 2012.

Most of the posts are only two to three pages long. However, the subjects are varied: God, the Indian Army, theatre, the Malayali psyche, mobile phones, the trauma of old age, death, road safety, denuded forests, blood donation, schooldays, friendship, terrorism, and the loss of privacy.

The lack of privacy is something the superstar endures all the time. During a trip to north Kerala, Mohanlal estimates that more than a thousand photos of his were taken, mostly on cell phone cameras. “Each and every moment is being recorded,” writes Mohanlal. “That too, unmindful of all courtesies. Some guys dash towards us, put their arms around our shoulders, click their own cameras, with the left hand, check the preview, and dash out.”

This is a rare post that reveals Mohanlal's irritation. Most of the time, like a true artiste, he writes with a mix of sensitivity and toughness. Here is an example: “We emerge when our father merges with our mother. We toddle within the halo of their love and care. By the time we grow up, as high as the skies, they are exhausted and dream of relaxing in our shade. But what do we do? We shove them into lonely old-age homes. What else is crueller than this?”

The posts make clear that Mohanlal has a rich inner life. And this is a remarkable feat, considering that he has been lionised by Malayalis for three decades now. He could have easily become arrogant and pompous, and lost his equilibrium.

After reading this book, we could try to live life the way Mohanlal does: “I too have a mind that reaches out and relates with the world around me. Like a piece of blotting paper, it absorbs and keeps abreast of every pleasing scene, every marvellous move. In a language with no sounds, I talk with rivers, flowers, fluttering winds, rippling waters, surging seas, setting suns....it renews and rejuvenates me; turns me creative. It keeps me never far from love.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Going Nuts over Nuts

Rajani BT talks about her experiences as a coconut tree climber

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

As Rajani BT takes her tree-climbing contraption and approaches a coconut tree, in a wooded area at Kochi, she says, “Just listen to the crows.” And, indeed, they are cawing incessantly. “They know that I am about to climb a tree,” she says. “They are scared that when I reach the top I will remove their nest.”

In fact, she says, at the top there are also nests made by pigeons and rats. “The landlord will tell me to destroy them,” says Rajani. “But I never do that. I don't want to get the curses of these creatures. I live in a rented house. So I know the feeling of being uprooted.”

Ranjani adjusts the contraption, and places it on the trunk. But because she is a woman, she attracts a lot of curious onlookers. They include men, women and children. One man says, “Are you scared?” Rajani shakes her head, as she adjusts her work uniform of a shirt and blue track pants.

Soon Rajani gets going. Her movement is similar to that of a physically challenged man who is using leg braces to walk. The only difference is that Rajani is going upwards. “If the trunk is straight, then I will take two minutes to reach the top,” says Rajani. “But if it is bent, then I have to stop, adjust the settings on the contraption, and then move on.”

When Rajani gets to the top, the first thing she does is to look around. At a single glance, she can say whether there is a good crop or not. And if it is not, she speaks to the tree. “I say, 'Why are you behaving like this? The people in the area will talk badly about you. Isn't it shameful? If there are fewer coconuts, the house-owner will want to cut you. So please produce a lot',” says Rajani.

Her admonition usually works. Because the next time Rajani comes, after an interval of 45 days, there is a healthy crop. “I know it is difficult to believe this, but trees respond to what we humans say,” she says. “Like us, they also crave love and affection. If the coconuts have not been plucked for three to four months, the tree feels sad.

Apart from cutting the coconuts, Rajani removes old branches, diseased fibres, and unhealthy coconuts. “If there is one bad coconut, it will affect the health of the others,” she says. “That is why it is important to take it out.”

On a good day, Rajani climbs anywhere between 12 to 20 trees. There are some trees which reach a height of 30 feet. “From the top of one tree [in the Kadavanthra suburb], I could see the High Court, which is 4 kms away,” says Rajani.

During the monsoon season, when winds and rains lash the state, the tree sways from side to side. Once it swayed so much, Rajani inadvertently peeped into a bedroom of a nearby building where a woman was brushing her hair. “Thankfully, she did not see me,” says Rajani. “All this is part of my daily work.”

But the work is physically demanding. “You need courage and plenty of energy,” says this mother-of-two. “I lost 10 kgs over the past two years. It is healthy, too. I don't suffer from sugar, cholesterol or high blood pressure. I always thank God that I have this job.”

Rajani's life changed when she saw an advertisement in a vernacular newspaper: the Coconut Development Board (CDB) was offering a seven-day training programme, called 'Friends of Coconut Trees', at Thrissur.

The aim was to address the acute shortage of tree climbers,” says Mini Mathew, Publicity Officer of CDB. “Owing to the hardship and the risk involved, the younger generation has been reluctant to do this traditional job. However, in four years, we have been able to train 42,385 people. We need a lot of climbers, because the annual production of coconuts is several million.”

Thanks to the training, Rajani is earning well. “I hope other women will feel inspired to follow me,” she says. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The charms of God's Own Country

The Kerala Blog Express consists of 30 bloggers from 21 countries. After their recent tour across the state, arranged by the State Tourism Department, they talk about their experiences, the power of the social media and their work

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: The entire group before the tour bus; a smaller group relaxing at Kochi; Andras Jokuti from Hungary 

At the Spices Village at Thekkady, Andras Jokuti from Hungary was keen to taste everything. So, he had the cloves, pepper and cardamom seeeds. Then he saw the Bird's Eye Chillie. The guide told Andras it was better to avoid it. But Andras was in the mood to experiment. So he bit into one. Soon, he started crying and perspiring, and became red in the face. “Then I got a hiccup which lasted for a long time,” he says, with a laugh.

The chillies might have not been suitable for him, but he loved the red fish curry with coccum in it. “I enjoyed all the food in Kerala,” he says. “The amazing combination of flavours and spices are unique. In Europe, they use similar spices to make a dish. But in India they use opposing spices. Hence, there are interesting sensations in the mouth.”

Andras was part of the Kerala Blog Express, which was organised by Kerala Tourism. Around 30 bloggers and photographers from 21 countries were taken on a two-week tour of the state. The aim was to highlight the state through blogs, videos, You Tube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Asked about the impact of blogs, the Malaysia-based Zuzanna Chmielewska, who blogs atzuzachmielewska.wix.com, says, “Blogs are influential. If people see passion in your blog posts and a genuine interest in a place, then they will follow.”

In Prague, Andras highlighted a little-known restaurant called Laci Konhya in his blog, vilagevo.blog.hu. Soon, there was a long queue outside the restaurant every day. “Now I am told that it has received a Michelin Highly Recommended Award,” he says.

Alexandra Kovacova from Slovakia has a blog in English called crazysexyfuntraveler. com. Alexandra, who has travelled to 46 countries, gets an average of 50,000 visitors and 2.5 lakh page views on her blog every month. “I write about adventure, sports, luxury travelling, spa treatments and a healthy lifestyle,” says Alexandra.

And all of them are busy highlighting the varied aspects of God's Own Country. The London-based Pedro Richardson (travelwithpedro.com) says, “Kerala is the best place for beginners to India. It is not chaotic. In fact, it is an easy-going place.”

Zuzanna has been to North India thrice. And this is her first visit to the South. “I am amazed at the way the tourists are treated here,” she says. “People are made to feel welcome. As a white, blonde solo traveller, in the north, I would get a lot of unwanted attention. While here, I can walk anywhere. I can talk to anybody. This is a big plus. I will come back again and again.”

The Delhi-based Preeti Hoon, one of only two Indians in the team, says, “This is my first visit. The place is fascinating and mind-blowing. There is no state like Kerala in India.” 

Unlike Preeti, Deepti Asthana from Mumbai has come to Kerala multiple times. “Kerala has beaches, backwaters, and hills,” she says. “There are different type of landscapes. And that is its biggest attraction.”

The Amsterdam-based blogger Arnaud Wiehe heard about Kerala only when he was invited to be part of the Blog express. “However, through my videos I have been able to show my readers my experiences in Kerala in a very tangible way,” he says. “My audience is in Holland, South Africa, UK and USA. They have not heard of Kerala. But through me, they are able to see and experience it. This can create a brand awareness.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the improvements that need to be done, Zuzanna says, “There should be cleanliness on the beaches of Fort Kochi. People throw garbage. And there is too much of plastic. In such a beautiful place, it looks bad.” And then, with tongue-in-cheek, she says, “If possible, it would be nice if you can get rid of the mosquitoes.” Says Andras: “There can be improvements in the infrastructure and the roads.”

And as the days goes by, the coverage of Kerala continues. Blogger Adriana Vassilkova has recounted her experiences on Bulgarian National TV, BNT-2. Then another participant, Maria Kofou from Greece, spoke about her preparations for her Kerala trip on Skai TV, a Greek channel.

What we have noticed is that first-person accounts has far more impact than placing advertisements in the international media,” says Anupama TV, Additional Director (General), Kerala Tourism. “Thanks to the bloggers, our reach has increased. They have put up a lot of posts, photographs and videos on social media and blogs. It feels great to learn that they enjoyed every moment spent in Kerala.”

And Kerala Tourism is also planning to use this material for their own promotion. “We brought out a book and a calendar with the work done by the first Kerala Blog Express participants,” says Anupama. “We may do the same with this group also.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Post-dated Cheques make artistes unhappy

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Nangiarkoothu exponent Usha Nangiar

On March 26, Nangiarkoothu exponent, Usha Nangiar, and her husband Kalamandalam Hariharan felt happy when they received a cash gift from the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi at an award ceremony at Thiruvananthapuram. More than 50 artistes were presented with cheques of Rs 15,000 each. Since Hariharan and Usha were a partner-couple, they received Rs 7500 each.

The next day, when Hariharan presented the cheque in the bank, the clerk refused to accept it. He said that it was a post-dated cheque. When Hariharan checked this, he noticed that the cheque was dated May 26. “We felt humiliated,” says Hariharan. “Is this the way to treat artistes? To give a cheque that is two months hence.”

Another artiste KY Sreeja said that the Akademi office-bearers had told her to put the cheque a few days after the event. “Somehow, I forgot to do it,” she says. But when she checked the date, following this reporter's call, she got a shock. “My God, it is dated May 26,” she says. “It's good I noticed it now.”

Meanwhile, Dr. PV Krishnan Nair, the secretary of the Akademi, confirmed that they had given post-dated cheques. “It was the end of the financial year,” he says. “There was a cash crunch. I do not deny it. That is why we gave cheques with a May dateline, because we would have got our annual grant in the new financial year. I don't know why artistes are upset when we specifically told them the reason why.” Incidentally, the annual budget for the Akademi is Rs 4.05 crore.

A peeved Hariharan said, “When we went to the Assam Akademi recently we were treated with so much of respect. The top leaders of our Akademi should also treat us with dignity.” 

Eyewitnesses said that the function at Thiruvananthapuram took place in a small hall at Thycaud. As a result, many artistes had to remain standing.

The Akademi has been in a controversy in recent times. In December, 2014, it gave the Kalasree Award to film star Manju Warrier for Kuchupudi and the Pravasi Kalasree Award for chenda melam to actor Jayaram. “Why were these stars given awards, when several senior professional artists are yet to be honoured,” said an artist who preferred anonymity. 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kerala page) 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Should The Gun Salute Be Stopped?

At most funerals, with state honours, in Kerala, there is always a gun salute. Some eminent citizens feel the booming sounds disturb the solemnity of the event and should be done away with

Photos: A gun salute in Kerala; A Japanese hearse; Dr. KPP Nambiar; Paul Zacharia 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Many years ago when retired senior technocrat cum bureaucrat Dr. KPP Nambiar worked in Tokyo, he would occasionally see a special vehicle moving around. It was shaped like a Buddhist temple. “We could not see its windows,” says Nambiar. “Since it was gorgeously decorated and painted, I assumed that it must be a vehicle for the emperor, who was regarded as a God, till the end of the second world war.”

But later, a Japanese friend of Nambiar told him that it was the hearse that took the dead bodies for the funeral. “That was how the Japanese showed respect to the dead,” says Nambiar.

But when Nambiar returned to Kerala, after several years of service abroad, he was taken aback to see what took place at the funerals of prominent people. “It all began with the funeral of the novelist OV Vijayan in 2005,” says Nambiar. “At this state funeral, there were nine policemen who were shooting into the air.” The gun salute also took place during the funeral of the film director Lohithadas as well as noted writer, Kamala Das, who was buried at Thiruvananthapuram, as well as many other notables. 

I thought this shooting was the most ridiculous thing to do, especially, for a writer, like Kamala Das,” says Nambiar. “It was being held in a calm and serene atmosphere, with trees all around.”

Says K. Kunhikrishnan, the former deputy director-general of Doordarshan: “I remember during the gun salute for Kamala Das' funeral, the birds in the trees got so frightened that they flew away in a panic.”

Nambiar wrote an article on this in 'Samakalika Malayalam'. And there was a swift response from several readers, including the late Justice VR Krishna Iyer who wrote: 'Funeral ceremonies should be conducted in a calm and serene atmosphere. Firing guns in the name of an 'official funeral' must come to an end.' Subsequently, the writer Paul Zacharia and others wrote articles in support of Nambiar’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, despite Krishna Iyer's opposition, during his funeral, in December, 2014, he was also given a nine-gun salute.

Kunhikrishnan had suggested the use of bugles, because it is more suitable during such a solemn and sad event.

Eventually, the LDF government of Kerala decided to stop this practice of gun salutes. “Instead of shooting, they begun using bugles, as suggested by Kunhikrishnan,” says Nambiar. “Unfortunately, under the current UDF rule, the practice of shooting has begun again. This was seen during the recent funeral ceremony of a prominent leader.”

A student of history, Nambiar did research to find out the reasons behind this activity. “My studies revealed that this practice took place during prehistoric times when tribal people used bows and arrows,” he says. “Arrows were sent upwards to allow the enemy enough time to remove the dead bodies.”

This practice was also prevalent among warrior groups and armies. “When people died fighting for a cause, respect was shown with a gun salute,” says Nambiar. "But why is it necessary to do this in the case of artistes or politicians?”

However, not all are averse to the gun salute. One eminent leader told Kunhikrishnan, “'We have not got one when we are alive, so why not get one when we are dead. We can leave with a bang.'”

Kunhikrishnan says, “This is just to stoke their vanity. I am sure the ordinary person would prefer that the gun salute is done away with.” 

Says Zacharia: “The police is an oppressive force, especially in India. They are against the democratic forces.The gun salute is a political show. The aim is to increase the importance of the deceased person and to reinforce power.” 

No writer or an artiste should ask for this. “Nor should the people in a democracy accept this,” says Zacharia. 

But now that the gun salute is back in vogue, people are feeling demoralised. “It is disheartening, to say the least,” says Kunhikrishnan. Incidentally, the decision to accord a state funeral, along with a gun salute, is made by the Chief Minister based on the proposal sent by the protocol department of the government of Kerala. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Double Volley

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Janet talks about life with the volleyball player Tom Joseph

By Shevlin Sebastian 

One day, Janet and her friends, all pre-degree students, were on the way to classes in the town of Thottilpalam in Kozhikode district. Suddenly, they saw a group of volleyball players. “All of them were tall,” says Janet. “But the tallest [at 6’3”] was Tom Joseph. I recognised him because I had seen his photo in the newspapers.” Tom was wearing a bright red T-shirt over a blue Adidas track pant.

Two years later, there was a marriage proposal for Janet. It was from Tom’s family. She agreed to meet him. So he came, in July, 2003.

Tom asked me about my studies,” says Janet. “At that time, I was doing my degree at the Government College in Mokeri. He told me that if I wanted to study further, he would support me. As for me, I did not ask any questions since I did not have any idea of volleyball. I had never seen a match.” Nevertheless, they both liked each other.

The marriage took place more than a year later, on October 23, 2004. The wait was partly because Janet had to finish her degree exams, while Tom took part in the South Asian Games at Islamabad.

As for the wedding day, Janet remembers two things. One was the presence of champion long jumper Anju Bobby George and her husband Bobby. “The other memory that remains vivid for me was that I was feeling so hungry,” says Janet. “I had my breakfast at 6.30 a.m., and the lunch at 3.30 p.m. There were so many introductions and photos to be taken, thanks to the presence of fans, well-wishers, relatives and friends. So we could not take a break for food.”

Following the marriage, they went to Dubai for a honeymoon. For Janet it was her first visit abroad. She was taken aback by the sight of the desert and the food habits of the Arabs. In the end, she told Tom that there is no place more beautiful than Kerala. But when Tom took her to Salalah in Oman, she had to admit that it was similar to Kerala.

Meanwhile, after 11 years of marriage, Janet is a fan of Tom. “He is simple and humble,” she says. “Tom behaves in the same way with everybody. He has friends who are labourers, rubber tappers and unemployed youths. Tom has never forgotten his roots. He has a deep love for our native place.”

Tom is also a family man. “No matter how busy he is, Tom has always shown the same love and dedication which he has for volleyball towards me and the family,” says Janet.
The family includes eight-year-old Riya, and Stuart, who is three. “The third one is on the way,” says Janet, with a smile.

Meanwhile, when asked about his drawbacks, Janet says, “If I tell a serious matter to him, he always reacts in a cool manner. He will say, ‘Don’t worry. Things will work out’. I feel that not everything should be taken in a relaxed way. Sometimes, urgent action is required.”  

Another drawback is his reticence. “I keep talking a lot, but Tom says little,” says Janet. “This is the case when he is with his friends also. He is a very good listener.”

But on the court Tom is very expressive. “He is always encouraging his teammates,” says Janet. “Tom can be aggressive. His smashes are very good. I get surprised when I watch him play, because he is a different person on the court.”  

But Janet is not surprised that it has not been an easy life. Since Tom is away most of the time playing or in training, at Coimbatore, she has to run the house on her own. “Sometimes, I feel stressed,” she says. “My children miss Tom a lot. Riya says that because her father is not at home, they cannot go out and play in the park. Or go for an outing or see a film. So when Tom comes home, we go out often.” 

Meanwhile, when asked about her happiest moment, Janet says, “The day [August 13, 2014] when it was announced that Tom had won the Arjuna Award, after a ten-year wait.”

But through all these years, Tom was not at all disheartened. “When I have a setback, it remains in my mind for months together and I feel depressed,” says Janet. “But for Tom it is different. As soon as he goes to sleep, he awakens the next morning feeling completely refreshed and positive-minded. He is like a new person. So, the denial of the award to him did not affect him too much.”  

Janet says that the support shown by the media was the big difference. “If the media had not highlighted the issue, Tom may have never won the award,” she says.

Finally, when asked for tips for a successful marriage, Janet says, “You must understand each other well. Accept the plus, as well as the minus points of the spouse. There should be love for each other. Pray to God for guidance. Without God’s help, it is difficult to have a successful marriage.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)