By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos by Melton Antony
At 5 p.m., on most evenings, Iris Maju, 37, arrives at the Bal Bhavan in Panampilly Nagar, Kochi. In the large hall, she starts to stretch her arms and legs. Soon, under the guidance of Sivan Gurukal, of Sree Agasthya Kalari, she leaps up and kicks with her right leg. Owing to the high humidity, perspiration drips down her face. For the past three months, Iris has been training in kalaripayattu. And there is a specific reason for it.
For the Mrs. World competition, on March 12, at Dongguan, China, Iris is representing India, after she won the Mrs India competition, at Pune, in September, 2015 . “For the talent competition, I wanted to do something different,” she says. “Since kalarayapayittu is a martial art of Kerala, I want to take it to the international platform, with the message on how women can protect themselves.”
There is a myth that kalari is only about using weapons. In fact, you can use a dupatta, and with the right kalari technique, you can protect yourself from attack. “You can also use the umbrella, like a stick, poking and hitting the attacker,” says Iris. “The ladies bag is a weapon, too. Learning kalari is also beneficial for one's health. It relaxes the mind, strengthens the abdomen, as well as the lower parts of the body.”
During the day, Iris is practicing wearing the gown. This is of a metallic gold colour, with an intricate handwork on the sleeves and train. This has been sponsored by the Kochi-based designer Priya Varma. Iris will also be wearing a traditional hand-woven Kanjeevaram saree, which is being sponsored by Beena Kannan of Seemati. “It has peacock and mango symbols,” says Iris. “Peacock is the national bird, while mango is the national fruit.”
Iris will also highlight the fact that she is a green activist. “Cycling is my way of supporting a green environment,” says Iris, who cycles 15 kms a day. The wife of a Shillong-based Army colonel, Maju Joseph, Iris has done a lot of social service through the Army Wives' Welfare Association. “I have conducted English-speaking courses and taught bag-making to the wives of jawans,” she says.
And for Women's Day, Iris has a message. “Most women in Kerala give up too easily on their career options and do not take care of their health,” she says. “My message to them is simple: go out and pursue your dreams. There is nobody to stop you except yourself.”
(Page 1, New Indian Express, Kerala editions)