Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Australian Couple To Hold Fund-Raising Dinner In Queensland For Kerala Flood Victims



Photos:  Antonio (Tex) and Kellie Teixeira; (from left) Kellie, Meera, TS Sreeni and Tex

By Shevlin Sebastian

In May, this year, Australian restaurant owners Antonio (Tex) and Kellie Teixeira came to Kerala with their family to enjoy the Thrissur Pooram. They stayed at the Neelambari resort at Arattupuzha (15 kms from Thrissur). The resort owner TS Sreeni was much taken up by the fact that the couple had adopted three children.

The girl Mkhaya was from Ethiopia, the elder boy, Locklyn is of Philippines origin, while the younger boy Jun Yung is from Vietnam,” says Sreeni.  

Soon, a friendship developed between the Teixeiras and Sreeni and his wife Meera. Says Tex, “Sreeni and Meera cared for us so much.” So, it was no surprise that when they heard that the resort had gone under six feet of water, following the Kerala floods, the Teixeiras offered to send some financial assistance.

I replied that I could manage, but they could help many of the poor people whose houses had been washed away,” says Sreeni. But he did not hear from them for a while. Then on Thursday (October 11), he got a Whatsapp message from them.

Tex and Kellie are holding a fund-raising dinner on October 23 at their ‘Lemon and Thyme’ restaurant at Queensland for the villagers of Arattupuzha. It is titled, ‘From our village to yours charity dinner’. The meal is priced at 50 Australian dollars.

The menu is Indian. So, the entrée item consists of vegetable pakoras, beef and vegetable samosas, with spiced mango chutney. In the main meal, there is a choice of North Indian lamb and potato curry, butter chicken, and coconut pumpkin pie. All meals will be served with rice, chutney and naan.

As for the dessert, it will be banana fritters with sweet yoghurt, saffron and pistachios,” says Kellie.

She pauses and says, “We are expecting a very good response.”

Sreeni smiles and says, “Their heart is in the right place.” 

(The New Indian Express, Page 1, all Kerala editions)

Monday, October 15, 2018

“Emotional Recovery Will Take Time”



Says the UK-based psychiatrist Dr PJ Saju as he conducts a workshop for counsellors at Kochi to help them as they work with the survivors of the Kerala floods

By Shevlin Sebastian

The good news is that most people, despite going through a devastation like the recent floods in Kerala are highly resilient,” says Dr P. J. Saju, a Malayali psychiatrist based in Leeds, United Kingdom. He had come recently to Kochi to conduct a one-day workshop titled, ‘Overcoming trauma through courage and compassion -- creating better worlds’ which was organised by the NGO Bodhini. The participants included psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists and teachers who are working with the survivors.

They may appear helpless,” says Saju. “But it is very important that when you deal with them you should regard them not as a victim, but a survivor. Your task is to rekindle the strengths which have been affected by the trauma.”

Interestingly, more than the men, it is the women and children who feel the stress more. “The women usually suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because they are dealing with the family all the time. It also depends on the extent of the damage. What has been the loss? If they have lost their livelihood, jobs, house and property, they are under more stress.”

As for the children, most of the time, adults do not spare any time to listen to them. They may have lost a pet, a favourite study table or their story-books, and these are very dear and important to them. “The effect is far more than we can imagine,” says Saju. “Teachers can have a good impact by listening attentively. Their painful loss has to be acknowledged. If children are not given an opportunity to grieve, they will shut down. There has to be some activity where they can express their feelings of loss and grief.”

And Saju urged the counsellors to settle in for the long haul. “You have to work with the survivors from one to three years,” he says. “Especially for those who have lost their family members. They have to come to terms with their loss. Calm talk, calm actions and calm explanations will help.”

According to Saju, around 30 per cent of the affected people will have severe emotional problems that will prevent their return to normalcy. “Of that number, about 10 per cent may suffer from severe PTSD,” he says. “Some of them may feel suicidal. The remaining 20 per cent may suffer from depression. So they have to be helped with plenty of psycho-social assistance.”

But Kerala has a few in-built advantages. “Our extensive family network can be very helpful,” says Saju. “Survivors can talk it over with their relatives. For those who have strong religious beliefs, if they take part in rituals at a church, temple or mosque, that can have a healing effect. Having a talk with a priest, pujari or an imam is also helpful. This enables them to express their sorrow and get over it. Our social capital, as compared to Western countries is our greatest asset.”

Saju says that going through a trauma does not necessarily inflict a lifelong psychological scar. “It might bring out the best in people,” he says. “They might become better human beings and value life more. Some might discover hidden strengths. For example, people may try a new business which might be successful. In Western psychology, this is called a post-traumatic growth.”

Saju also told the participants that they could go through a difficult time even as they are helping the survivors. “That is because your compassion is awakened,” he says. “So, you will also be affected by all the stories you hear. Hence, you will have to find ways to shield yourself: go for regular exercises, spend time with the family, see a film, or an art exhibition, listen to music or do some reading, and visit a place of worship, all this can help.”

Personal life

Saju grew up in Kochi. He did his graduation from Sacred Heart College, Thevara then completed his MBBS from Calicut Medical College in 1990. Thereafter, Saju went to CMC College in Vellore where he got his MD in psychiatric training and worked there for six years. In 1997 he went to the UK.

Today, he runs a transgender clinic at Leeds city as well as a cognitive behavioural therapy clinic at a place called Wakefield.

Interestingly, he says, over the years, Britain has changed a lot. Earlier, they were known for their stiff upper lip but now the people are more revealing of their emotions. “The change occurred when Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997 and there was a public outpouring of grief,” says Saju. Also, multiculturalism is playing its role. As the Britons live with people from different cultures and nationalities, they are beginning to shed their reserve.

Meanwhile, as he grows older, Saju feels the need to get back to his roots. “I come at least twice a year to see my mother who lives in Kochi and also to meet up with my friends and relatives,” he says. “So I am very happy that on this trip I was able to pass on my knowledge to all those who are in the forefront of helping the survivors of the devastating floods.” 

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Whiff Of Paradise



The Kochi based travel entrepreneur Tharun Anto talks about his experiences driving in and around Bhutan

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Pics: Tharun Anto; phalluses on display 

The moment the Kochi-based travel entrepreneur Tharun Anto crossed from Jaigaon on the Indian border to Phuntsholing, the entry point to Bhutan, the difference was like night and day. “In Jaigaon, it was noisy, dusty, dirty and overcrowded,” he says. “But in Phuntsholing, it was spotlessly clean, sparsely populated, and there was very little dust.” His local guide, Ugyen Phuntsho hopped into Tharun's Renault Duster at the border town.

Tharun had decided to go to Bhutan because it is the only country which measures its prosperity by Gross National Happiness, whereas all the other countries measure it by Gross Domestic Product. “I wanted to find out whether the people were actually happy,” he says.

His initial impressions were positive. There were numerous trees lining the two-lane highway. And it is a country that abounds in nature. “In fact, in Bhutan, there is a constitutional law which states that 70 per cent of the country should always be under forest cover,” says Tharun. “However, this is not very difficult because it has a population of only eight lakh people.” (Incidentally, it has the same geographical area as Kerala, but the state has a population of 3.9 crore).  

Soon, Tharun was off to see one of the most popular tourist sites in Bhutan: the Tiger’s Nest at Paro (10,000 feet above sea level), which was built in 1692. This is a sacred site for the Buddhists.

According to historical records, in the eighth century, Guru Padmasambhava, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. There are thirteen taktsangs or ‘tiger lair’ caves in which he meditated. “To reach the top is a two-hour trek,” says Tharun. “But it is worth it because the view from the top is awesome.”

Another place to visit is the Dochula Pass, which is on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. These were made in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who died in a battle against Assamese insurgents in December, 2003. Apart from this, there is also a Royal Botanical Park.

It was while travelling around that Tharun noticed that the male phallus was painted in nearly all government and private buildings. “The phallus is regarded as a sign of prosperity,” says Tharun. “It is also a protection against evil. In one monastery where I went the monks blessed me by touching a large phallus against my head, the way Christian priests use the Crucifix.” There were many phallus souvenirs on sale for tourists.

He also liked the houses, many of which were made of stone, cement and wood. “I was told that wood absorbs a lot of heat,” he says. “So, it is good to stay in a wooden house in winter.”

In fact, Tharun did stay at a wooden home at Punakha, which belonged to a woman called Aum Dajozam. She had worked in the tourism industry at Thimpu (85 kms away) for four years and had to leave her job to look after some land she had inherited at Punakha. Her husband gave her the idea of allowing tourists to stay at their home.

Tharun stayed in a room of only 125 sq. ft., on the first floor. “The rooms are small because the Bhutanese are small people,” says Tharun. The average height is 5’4” for the men and 5’ for the women.

The room was pleasant,” says Tharun. “There was no need for a fan. The temperature was 24 degrees centigrade and there was little humidity.”

He also took the opportunity to partake of the local food. Ema datsi is the national dish. It is a cheese curry, which has large green chilli peppers and potatoes.

Mostly, the Bhutanese eat a lot of beef and pork, to feel warm. In a place called Bumthang, in central Bhutan Tharun ate bread using the local butter, which was far less salty than those found in India, along with honey. He also had an ara, which is a rice wine and has an alcohol content of 14 to 18 per cent. “You can get high very fast,” he says, with a smile.

Finally, when asked whether the Bhutanese people were happy, Tharun replied in the affirmative. “They are kind, helpful and serene,” he says. Asked the reason behind their happiness, Tharun says, “From childhood, they are trained to think of death at least five times a day. When you think of death so often, you learn to appreciate whatever you have.” 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvanathapuram and Kozhikode)

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Flavours To Melt Your Heart



Former IT professional Samir Joseph went to study gelato-making at the Carpigiani-Gelato University in Italy. Today, he runs Cream Craft in Kochi, which is steadily growing in popularity

Photos: Samir Joseph; Heavenly Hazelnut ice cream. Pics by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Samir Joseph stepped into a classroom at the Carpigiani-Gelato University at Bologna (375 km from Rome), in October, last year, the first thing he noticed was a large logo of Carpigiani in blue pasted across one wall. At the far end of the room, besides a white board, there were large images of gelato ice cream. Carpigiani is one of the largest companies in the world that manufactures gelato-making equipment, like batch freezers and pasteurisers.

As he sat on a chair with an attached desk, Samir immediately began to hear different accents. Later, he came to know that the 40 students came from countries as varied as the USA, Canada, Britain, Iceland, France, Australia, Sri Lanka, China and India.

During the morning hours, he studied subjects like what constitutes a gelato mix, the different type of ingredients and recipes, the design of a store and the cafe business models. After 3 p.m., it was practical classes supervised by an instructor and two assistants. Incidentally, Samir was accompanied by his cousin and business partner Josemon Mathew.

Among the crowd, Samir was one among a very few who came from the IT industry. Having worked in blue-chip companies like Wipro and Tech Mahindra, Samir was looking for a change in career. “I began to feel restless,” he says.

Asked why he decided to focus on ice-creams, he says, “Ice-cream is not so much about creativity but it is a science – of getting the right mix. And since I have an engineering background, [from Pune University], I felt that this would be suitable for me.”

Some of the other things he learnt at the university was that while regular ice cream is stored at -18 degrees centigrade, for gelato it is -14 degrees centigrade. “Texturally, gelato is very different,” he says. “It is smoother and creamier.”

Regarding the difference between icecreams and gelato, on the university website, with a touch of humour, it is stated, 'Gelato contains less fat than ice cream, has less incorporated air and is served at a higher temperature. Consequently, gelato provides a greater flavourful experience because there is less fat that coats the tongue, more flavour per spoonful, and the taste buds are more alive since the temperature is not so cold as to dull their sensitivity.”

It was only a week-long course, but Samir was confident enough to return and start his own gelato outlet called Cream Craft in Kochi a few weeks ago in a partnership with his entrepreneur cousins Shaju, Sunny, Shibu and Josemon. He has imported a batch and display freezer, as well as a pasteuriser from the Italian company.

And right from the beginning, Samir has been doing a lot of experimentation.
“I have made gelato using the spices of biriyani,” he says. He has also made flavours using popcorn, doughnut, rasmalai, and carrot halwa.

It has been well received. Says patron Nizzwa: “There are all kinds of flavours.. from laddu to blueberry cheesecake! Don't get attached to any flavour because they keep changing it every day.”

Adds another customer Joe Alex: “The flavours are all natural and unique.”

On a recent evening, as the 34-year-old Samir was helping out in the kitchen, making a gelato, a memory drifted into his mind. It was a Sunday afternoon in Kolkata more than two decades ago. Samir and his elder sister Sunita stood by the side of the dining table, as their father hand-mixed a cake batter. There were no beaters at that time. Their mother was adding the ingredients to the batter.

And the two children helped in their own little ways. “In those days, cakes were made in a pressure cooker because we did not have an oven,” says Samir. In the end, they made a sponge cake. “Sweets and desserts are a reminder of family love, and all of us doing something together,” he says. “Maybe, that's why I am making ice-creams now.”

Monday, October 08, 2018

A Wide Palette



More than 50 artistes took part in the third edition of the Cochin Art Show, which was held recently

Photos: The participating artists: Standing; Curator O Sundar; Babitha Rajeev and Basanth Peringode; Second row: KG Babu, Biji Bhaskar and Manikandan Punnakkal. Fronbt row: Bindhi Rajagopal and Anju Acharya. Photo by Albin Mathew. Work by Biji Bhaskar 

By Shevlin Sebastian


One morning, as dawn filtered through his bedroom window at his home in Muvattupuzha, Kerala, artist Biji Bhaskar awoke, but kept his eyes closed, as he stared at a scene in his imagination. It was a visual from his ancestral village of Pothanikad.

In those days life was simpler, there were no walls between houses, just hedges, and the people would interact with each other a lot,” he says. “Nowadays, people live in flats in cities and have no relationship with their neighbours.”

So when he got down to work, later in the morning, he decided to recreate the image. It is a post-wedding scene. So, at one side, a newly-married couple, holding garlands in their hands, stand surrounded by relatives and friends, while somebody holds up a black umbrella, to protect the duo from the sun. Just a few feet away, a photographer, a towel over his head, is peering into a camera placed on a tripod.

This is just beside a newly-tarred road, where there is an Ambassador which has ribbons placed diagonally across its bonnet, and a large Ashok Leyland bus which has brought the guests from far away. “It is a scene from the 1980s,” he says.

This work was featured in the third edition of the Cochin Art Fair, conceptualised and created by the Kochi-based artist O Sundar. 52 prominent and upcoming artists were taking part including Anil KV.

He has done canvases of 1 x 1 ½ feet that also shows idyllic scenes. A boy and a girl are flying a kite. Another pair of boys is catching a crab, near the backwaters. One boy is climbing a tree. A couple of schoolgirls in white tops and blue skirts, as well as a boy, is going to school. But behind them, there is an ammonia plant. In the others, in the background, there is an oil tanker, a plane and an aircraft carrier.

These scenes are from Willingdon Island,” says Anil. “I stayed there for the first 25 years of my life, as my father worked in the Cochin Port Trust. It is a dangerous place because there are ammonia factories, a sulphur factory, and 35 oil tanks. A Navy base is nearby. What I am trying to say is that at any moment there can be a major accident or fire on the island.”

In fact, a few months ago, an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the Southern Naval Command hit an empty tank in a bulk liquid fuel terminal on the island. “There were fuel-filled tanks nearby,” says Anil. “Thankfully, a major tragedy was averted.”

Moving around the exhibits is architect A Mayukh, who is an art lover. “The versatility is amazing,” he says. “What I liked is that youngsters as well as senior artistes are sharing the same space.”

Mayukh met the curator O Sundar who told the art enthusiast, “There are no themes. People could put up what they wanted.” And so the themes ranged from nationalism, to deforestation, childhood vignettes, the impact of the Kerala floods and the isolation of unmarried people from society.

Meanwhile, artist Shinoj Choran has done a watercolour of dozens of men standing in a straight line, in bare feet, wearing a similar uniform with a cloth bag covering their heads. At one side, almost like a bookend is the Ashoka Chakra, one of the enduring symbols of Indian democracy. Not surprisingly, Shinoj has titled his work, 'Under the shadow of democracy'.

There are many people who are getting arrested, be it Maoists, human rights activists and artists,” he says. “They are standing in a line or they could be lying down. Their heads are covered to give them the symbol of victims.”

Shinoj's works have turned political in the past couple of years. “We are steadily losing our freedom,” he says. “That is the message I want to convey.”

As for Narayanan Mohanan, he also has a message. In his striking work, done in yellow glitter, against a red background, called '(Re)Build', there is, in ascending order, a power switch, a broom, a tray for transporting a cement mix, usually carried by workers on their heads, the filter inside an air-conditioner and a strained water pot.

All these are related to the construction of buildings,” he says. “Even if we say we belong to God's Own Country, there is lip service when it comes to protecting the greenery. Instead, construction is going on relentlessly. Politicians and bureaucrats are not protecting the environment. This is my critique of the system. Following the massive destruction caused by the floods, we need to rebuild in a different way.”

Finally, there is Kochi Biennale Founder Bose Krishnamachari's work called 'Forgetting is not as the same as not remembering'. It is a look at Indian nationalism, from the 1940s to the present day. There are eight graphite pieces, 2' by 1', placed one under the other, with sub-headings like 'Nationalism', 'We The People', 'War and Peace', 'Indira is India', 'Who am I?', 'Things Fall Apart', 'Fear and Loathing' and 'Nationalism?'

Says Bose, “The nationalism in the 1940s was very different from the right-wing nationalism of today. Will it take India back towards the dark ages? ” 

A river of talent

There were also striking works by Shibhu Natesan, Babitha Rajeev, Anju Acharya, Babu Xavier, Bara Bhaskaran, Basanth Peringode, Bindhi Rajagopal, Tom Vattakuzhy, Appukuttan MB, Ashil Antony, Rimzon NN, Babu KG, Akhil Mohan, Dhanya MC and Aswathi Mohan. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The Post-Partition Of India



By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photo: Overcrowded trains going from India to Pakistan and vice versa 

One day, when Nawab Khan was standing outside his house in New Delhi, in August, 1947, he heard a shriek. He ran inside and saw that a Sikh man had slaughtered his mother with a sword. “I could see the intestines falling out and her whole body was drenched in blood,” says Nawab. He ran away and managed to survive.

Later, he came to know that a line on a map had divided India and Pakistan. And he was supposed to go to Pakistan. But he remained in Delhi.

The Partition created the biggest mass migration in history, with more than 20 lakh people leaving one country and going to the other, carrying nothing but a few clothes, some bits of money and fear in their hearts.

Because, on the way, Muslims were massacring Hindus and vice versa. Many trains at Delhi and Lahore were filled with dead bodies and blood-stained seats.

Says historian William Dalrymple: "People who a year before would have attended each other's wedding ceremonies were now murdering each other, and raping each other's daughters."

Author Nisid Hajari, in his book, 'Midnight’s Furies' wrote, “Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.”

But some were lucky. Lata Advani, who was 17 at that time was living with her parents in Lahore. Suddenly, the family heard that a Muslim mob was coming down their street. Her father informed her mother and her that they were setting houses on fire and assaulting the women.

Lata's father gave a bottle of petrol and a matchbox and told her mother to douse herself, and Lata in case, he could not defend the house. “Don't give up your honour,” he said. But thankfully, the attackers went past their house and the family were able to flee to Amritsar.

Tragically, around 1 lakh women were abducted or raped. Some even killed themselves. Sardar Mohinder Singh, who was a teenager during the Partition remembers a woman named Swaroopa who lived in his village in Pakistan's Punjab province. "She was a very beautiful woman, that was why the Muslims were chasing her.”

Swaroopa ran into the Sikh temple, paid respects to the Holy Book, then doused her body in petrol and lit her body.

One reason for the high casualties was because Britain was reluctant to use its troops to maintain law and order.

Today, India and Pakistan have gone to four wars over the status of Jammu and Kashmir and East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. Indian Muslims are frequently suspected of harbouring loyalties towards Pakistan. Many non-Muslims in Pakistan are vulnerable thanks to the so-called Islamisation of life there since the 1980s.

Said the great Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto: “Human beings in both countries were slaves, slaves of bigotry... slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity.”

However, many blame the British for what happened. Scholar Yasmin Khan, in her acclaimed history 'The Great Partition', said, “Partition stands testament to the follies of empire, which ruptures community evolution, distorts historical trajectories and forces violent state formation from societies that would otherwise have taken different and unknowable paths.”

One rupture was the change in demography. In 1941, Karachi was 47.6 per cent Hindu, while Delhi had 33 per cent Muslims. By 1951, almost all the Hindus of Karachi had fled, while two lakh Muslims had been forced out of Delhi. These changes remain seventy years later.

And the future looks grim. Says Hajiri: “The rivalry between India and Pakistan is getting more dangerous: the two countries’ nuclear arsenals are growing, militant groups are becoming more capable, and rabid media outlets on both sides are shrinking the scope for moderate voices.”

Hajiri concluded: “It is well past time that the heirs to Nehru and Jinnah finally put 1947’s furies to rest.” 

(Published in the special Gandhi supplement in The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Friday, October 05, 2018

The Assassination Of Mahatma Gandhi



By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photos: Mahatma Gandhi (centre) with Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Sardar Valabhbhai Patel; Nathuram Godse moments before he killed Mahatma Gandhi 

Mahatma Gandhi was having an intense conversation with Congress leader Sardar Valabhbhai Patel inside a room at Birla House, New Delhi. It was the evening of January 30, 1948. There were rumoured differences between Patel and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which Gandhi wanted to resolve. 


Gandhi suddenly looked up at a clock hanging on the wall. It was a few minutes past 5 p.m. Every evening, at 5 p.m., he held a multi-faith prayer meeting on the lawns of Birla House.

He told Sardar Patel, “I am late. I have to go.”

Patel nodded, as Gandhi stood up. He put his hands on his great-niece Manu Gandhi as well as Abha Chatterjee, a girl adopted by the Gandhis.

It was a cool evening. There were traces of fog in the air. A crowd had already gathered. Many wore the white caps of the Congress Party. There were the sounds of birds chirping in the nearby trees and the murmur of conversation as people awaited the Mahatma.

Gandhi walked down a narrow path, between flower pots, and arrived near the three steps that led to the prayer spot. Suddenly, a broad-shouldered man in a khaki shirt and trousers stood in front of Gandhi and impeded his path. He folded his hands, looked directly into Gandhi's eyes and said, “Namaste.”

Manu immediately said, "Bapu is already ten minutes late, please move.”

But Nathuram Godse pushed her to one side. Manu lost her balance. A rosary, a notebook and Gandhi's spittoon fell from her hand.

Godse took two steps back, pulled out a Beretta M 1934 semi-automatic pistol and fired three shots from point-blank range, at Gandhi's chest and stomach. The time: 5.17 p.m. Gandhi fell backwards and said, “Ram-Ram.”  

Herbert Reiner Jr., a young vice-consul at the new American embassy in Delhi, who was present immediately grabbed Godse. Soon, he was taken away by the police.

In the meantime, Gandhi was carried back to his room. There was no doctor around. And no ambulance, too. He had lost blood profusely. Calls to a nearby hospital went unanswered. It was a matter of time before Gandhi was declared dead.

And Godse entered the Indian history books, as the man who snuffed out the life of the apostle of non-violence through an act of brutal violence.

A member of the Hindu Mahasabha, he was angry with Gandhi for his 'appeasement' of Muslims and for not doing enough to prevent the partition of India. (Godse was put on trial at the Punjab High Court at Shimla. On November 8, 1949, he was sentenced to death. Consequently, he was hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949).

Meanwhile, Gandhi's death was announced to the entire world by PM Nehru who simply said, “The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere.” India went into mourning.

The next day, at 1.30 p.m., the funeral procession of Gandhi started from Birla House. A huge crowd was present along the route. Most were in tears. Many wailed. Some beat their chests in anger and despair. Several had shaved their heads. The procession winded through Janpath, the Income Tax Office and reached Rajghat at 4 pm. Though the route was short, the procession moved very slowly. At Rajghat, lakhs of people milled around. At 4.45 p.m., in the absence of Bapu's estranged eldest son Harilal, his two other sons, Ram Das and Devdas lit the pyre.

His body was reduced to ashes but thanks to his extraordinary contribution to the freedom struggle, Gandhi became one of the immortal sons of India, as well as the world. 

(Published in the special Gandhi supplement, The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

When Gandhi Said Do Or Die (Karo Ya Maro)



The Quit India Movement

Photos: Jawaharlal Nehru with Mahatma Gandhi in Mumbai; the poster of the movement

The crowds began to gather at Gowalia Maidan in Mumbai on August 8, 1942. In a panoramic view, it was a sea of white: the uniform of the Congress Party in those times. In a YouTube video, you can see the leaders making their way to the podium. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was seen chatting to a colleague. The future Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was clad in a white kurta and holding files in his arm walked through the crowds, followed by Dr Zakir Husain as they made their way to the podium.

Nehru waved to the crowd. The people shouted their appreciation. This was the start of the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee.

Gandhi was sitting on a low charpoy, bare-bodied, his legs turned to one side, while noted leaders of the time spoke softly in his ears. Gandhi listened attentively. Nehru sat on the floor, in front of Gandhi and had a far-away look in his eyes.

Time passed. Many people spoke. Soon, it was Gandhi's turn.

He stood in front of the microphone. The crowd fell silent. Then Gandhi started speaking:

Here are excerpts:

'Ours is not a drive for power, but purely a non-violent fight for India’s independence. In a violent struggle, a successful general has been often known to effect a military coup and to set up a dictatorship. But under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship.

'A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country. The Congress is unconcerned as to who will rule when freedom is attained. The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India, and it will be for them to decide to whom it placed in the entrusted.

'We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. Let that be your pledge.

'Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain that goal. Take a pledge, with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.'

Gandhi exhorted the people to 'Do or Die' (Karo Ya Maro). This, along with the words, 'Quit India', provided the galvanising force that swept through the land. The speech was frequently interrupted by cries of 'Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai'.

It was also at the Maidan that freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali proudly raised the Indian tricolour for the first time in the country. (Today, the Maidan has been renamed as August Kranti Maidan).

However, all these actions had its repercussions. The next day, August 9, Gandhi and many Congress leaders and members of the party were arrested. This led to mass demonstrations throughout India. In Mumbai, people demonstrated on the streets holding banners which said, 'Boycott British goods'. The British responded by using their batons along with the indiscriminate use of tear gas. Thousands were arrested.

Part of the reason for the Quit India movement was the failure of the Cripps Mission in March, 1942. Sir Stafford Cripps, the leader of the House of Commons had been asked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to get the understanding and cooperation of Indian leaders as World War 11 raged on. 

But when Cripps arrived he said the British were unwilling to allow the formation of a national government. And according to the preamble of the Draft Declaration, the aim was the creation of a new Indian Union. It would be associated with the United Kingdom but equal in every respect, and in no way subordinate in any aspects of its domestic and external affairs. But regarding the subject of defence, it would remain under the control of the British.

Cripps also said that if any province was not willing to accept this they would be given the same status as the Indian Union. All this was unacceptable to the Congress. Without much ado, the Congress Working Committee rejected the Declaration on April 7, 1942.

Four months later, the 'Quit India' movement was born. 

(This was published in the Gandhi special supplement, The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

“Thampi Had A Clarity Of Vision” – actor Jagadish



By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: 
Thampi Kannanthanam; Jagadish

When actor Jagadish came to hear of Mollywood director Thampi Kannanthanam's death, at age 64, at a hospital in Kochi, on October 2, his mind went back to the past

Along with Mohanlal, Jagadish had acted in Thampi's film, 'Bhoomiyile Rajakkanmar' (1987). In the film, there were some adverse remarks about democracy and one of the characters said that a rule by a king was a far better option.

“This created some problems with the Censor Board,” he says. “And the release got delayed. But Thampi was not discouraged at all. Instead, he appeared before the Board and was able to argue persuasively about the merits of the film. In the end, Thampi got the release certificate.”

For Jagadish, Thampi was a director who had a clear vision of what his film should be. In 'Maanthrikam' (1995) Mohanlal played a military officer who does some implausible actions, along with Jagadish, who plays a subedar.

“When Mohanlal expressed some doubts about whether it would work or not, Thampi argued that even [action hero] James Bond did some difficult-to-believe heroics,” says Jagadish. “To be honest, even I had some doubts. But Thampi had no worries. In the end, he turned out to be right because the movie became a big hit. Even today, this is a film that people can watch without getting bored.”

Jagadish also heard from the seniors in the industry that Thampi was one of the few associate directors who travelled in a car – a black Fiat – at the very beginning of his career. “Normally, in those days, associate directors would travel by bus or train,” says Jagadish. “But Thampi never experienced any poverty at all. He started working with director Sasikumar and in the second film itself, got a promotion and became an associate director.”

It was during those times that Thampi developed a clarity of vision. “It was his biggest strength,” says Jagadish. “And since he always made a film from the audience's point of view, he had many hits.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Memories Of Yore



It took the violinist Balabhaskar a few attempts before he was able to meet his idol, composer A R Rahman. He recounted his feelings in an earlier interview even as his wife Lakshmi remembered their love story

Photos by Manu R Mavelil 

Shevlin Sebastian

Whenever I went to Chennai for work, I would make sure I would go past [music composer] A.R. Rahman’s house,” said Balabhaskar at a meeting on Marine Drive, Kochi, a few years ago. “It was like visiting a temple. I would see the house and feel good inside.”

Bhaskar heard the soundtrack of ‘Roja’ when he was in Class nine and became a fan. His next attempt to see Rahman was when singer Chitra Iyer [who sang the Rahman hit, ‘Alle, Alle’ in the Tamil film, ‘Boys’] took him inside. But Rahman was sleeping. “I was heart-broken,” he said.

But fate finally smiled at him. For the audio release of director T.K. Rajeev Kumar’s film, ‘Seethakalyanam’, Rehman was invited to Thiruvananthapuram. Kumar asked Balabhaskar to play a tribute on the violin. “It was a great opportunity,” said Balabhaskar. “I was playing Rahman’s songs, like 'Tu He Re' from ‘Bombay’, and doing some improvisations. And I was thinking, ‘My God is sitting so close’. It was the greatest experience of my life.”

After the programme, Rahman invited the violinist to his hotel room. “One of the first things he said was, ‘Hey man, you seem to be popular,” said Balabhaskar. “What are you doing?’”

Balabhaskar told him about his band and Rahman responded by inviting him to visit his studio in Chennai. “He was so simple and humble,” said Balabhaskar, as he closed his eyes and a look of bliss appeared on his face. “When I left, I was shouting on the road. I was so thrilled.”

Wife Lakshmi remembers

The first time Lakshmi met Balabhaskar was at University College, Thiruvananthapuram in 2000. Soon, they began to meet regularly. After a while, Balabhaskar proposed marriage. “I felt he was joking,” said Lakshmi. “So I told him to get lost.” But Balabhaskar was not upset. He said, “Your answer does not change my feelings for you.” So, he kept on proposing. And Lakshmi kept on rejecting him. “But one day, I finally realised he was serious about me,” said Lakshmi.

Balabhaskar went and met Lakshmi's parents. “Like most parents, they were against the idea,” said Lakshmi. “They told me that both of us were so young. And Balabhaskar had no job.”

So, without informing their parents, they had a registered marriage, on December 20, 2001, at Thiruvananthapuram, in the presence of a few friends. Eventually, both sets of parents accepted their marriage.

Asked to list Bala's plus points, Lakshmi said, “He was committed to his music. Bala put in 100 per cent in whatever he was doing, whether it was a jingle or a song. And even though he was always busy, travelling from city to city, he would never say, 'I cannot do this for you because I am travelling or busy'. He was always there for me.”

And Lakshmi had got used to the fact that music was his greatest passion. “I did not have a problem with that,” she says. “Because music made my husband so happy. I could see it in his eyes when he was performing. He became a different person on stage. Bala loved to do shows, and got encouraged by the vibes of the audience. A performance was a kind of meditation for him.”

Tragically, Balabhaskar died on October 2, aged 40, following a car accident. His two-year-old daughter, who was in the car, passed away earlier. Lakshmi remains in hospital. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

The Dandi March


Let's go,” Gandhiji said, as he stepped out of the Sabarmati Ashram on the morning of March 12, 1930. The sun was high up in the sky. He had 78 followers who followed in his wake.

The bespectacled Gandhiji was bare-bodied but wore a white shawl across his chest and a folded dhoti. The others wore white caps or turbans, shirts and pyjamas.

Gandhiji held a long wooden walking stick, looked downwards and walked with a rhythm of a man who was used to walking long distances.

As he went along narrow, dusty roads, through many villages, many others joined in. These included people who played the drum, 'dhak dhak dhak' the sound went, and singers who sang songs of encouragement at the top of their voices.

As more and more people joined in, dust rose up in the air. Beads of perspiration began to appear on Gandhiji's forehead but he moved on, with a smile and a wave of his hand.

And Gandhiji was determined to travel as frugally as possible. At a village called Bhagtam, Gandhiji scolded the local people for getting milk from Surat in lorries for the marchers. At another time, he came across a man who was carrying a heavy Kitson burner so that the people could see when they were walking in the night. Gandhiji stopped using him because he felt it was a begar (forced labour).

Later, freedom fighter and poet Sarojini Naidu joined in, in a bright saree, and framed her head with the pallu, to get protection from the summer heat.

This was a walk of protest. The British government introduced a tax on salt, declared that the people’s salt reclamation activities illegal, and repeatedly used force to stop it. So Gandhiji was walking all the way to Dandi, a distance of 387 kms to break the salt laws and to make salt. He said, “I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might'.

Each day he walked 20 kms. “With no luggage, this is child’s play,” said the 61-year-old. In a YouTube video, he can be seen resting on the floor of a hut after the day's walk, looking relaxed and at home. In another scene, he is wiping his face with a towel.

Anyway, the walk continued. Finally, at 6.30 a.m. on April 6, Gandhiji had a bath in the sea at Dandi and picked up some salt. Gandhi took part in several public meetings before he was arrested on May 4.

Thereafter, the Congress Party planned to stage a satyagraha at the Dharasana Salt Works, 40 kms from  Dandi as well as the salt pans on May 21. It was near the Dharasana factory that the British troops attacked the participants.

Here is an excerpt from American journalist Webb Miller’s report, who was the only journalist present:

'Amazing scenes were witnessed yesterday when more than 2,500 Gandhi ‘volunteers’ advanced against the salt pans in defiance of police regulations. The official government version of the raid, issued today, stated that ‘from Congress sources, it is estimated 170 sustained injuries, but only three or four were seriously hurt.’

'About noon yesterday I visited the temporary hospital in the Congress camp and counted more than 200 injured lying in rows on the ground. I verified by personal observation that they were suffering injuries. Today even the British owned newspapers give the total number at 320 …

The scene at Dharasana during the raid was astonishing and baffling to the Western mind accustomed to seeing violence met by violence, to expect a blow to be returned and a fight result. During the morning I saw and heard hundreds of blows inflicted by the police, but saw not a single blow returned by the volunteers. 'So far as I could observe the volunteers implicitly obeyed Gandhi’s creed of non-violence. In no case did I see a volunteer even raise an arm to deflect the blows from lathis. There were no outcries from the beaten Swarajists, only groans after they had submitted to their beating.’

The British tried their best to prevent Miller's cables from going out but he managed to find a way through another channel. Despite attempts at professional neutrality, Miller’s story of brutality against unarmed and fearless demonstrators spoiled the image of the civilised Raj looking after poor, unsophisticated Indians.

The Dharasana story appeared in 1,350 newspapers served by the United Press throughout the world and make the concept of nonviolent resistance world famous.

Meanwhile, the protests against the salt tax lasted for a year. Over 60,000 Indians were jailed. It ended with Gandhiji's release from jail on January 26, 1931. In September, 1931, he held negotiations with Viceroy Lord Irwin at the Second Round Table Conference at London.

However, it failed to result in major concessions from the British, but it transformed international opinion towards India. Many countries felt that the desire for Independence was deep and widespread across the nation.

Another journalist who was able to turn international public opinion towards India was veteran correspondent J A Mills of the Associated Press. He wrote many in-depth features of Gandhiji, including the drama of the fight against the British which appeared in numerous newspapers in the US.

Mills also travelled with Gandhi by ship when the latter went to attend the Round Table Conference and developed a close working relationship with Gandhi. He was also the first to do an audiovisual interview with Gandhi.

In effect, the Dandi March let loose a chain of events which would culminate in India's freedom on August 15, 1947. 

(Published in The Gandhi Supplement, The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

When Gandhi Was Thrown Out Of A Train


By Shevlin Sebastian 

It was a cold night on June 7, 1893. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wore a suit, along with a tie. At the railway station at Durban, he bought a first-class ticket to travel to Pretoria, 625 kms away. As a lawyer, he was going to the capital to argue a case for a client in the court.

As he stepped into the carriage, with a leather suitcase, Gandhi could not help but admire the gleaming wood-panelled interiors and the plush seats. He took a window seat. Soon, the train left. And briefly, Gandhi looked out of the window and enjoyed watching the city lights of Durban at night. 

The train then went deeper into the South African countryside. Gandhi felt tranquil and calm as the train clattered on the tracks. But half an hour later, all hell broke loose. A white man objected to his presence, because it was a 'whites-only' compartment. The conductor came up and told Gandhi to move to a third-class compartment. Gandhi showed him his first-class ticket. The conductor still insisted. But Gandhi refused to move and said, “I have a valid ticket.” 

In the meantime, the train glided to a stop at Pietermaritzburg station. The conductor grabbed Gandhi and took him to the door and pushed him out. Gandhi fell on his arms and knees on the platform. As the train moved away, the conductor threw his suitcase out also.

Gandhi silently rubbed his hands and tapped his trousers to remove the dust. Then, cold and shivering, he picked up his suitcase and went to the deserted waiting room. The whole night he stayed awake, thinking about the injustice of it all, and of how racism had driven a stake through the heart of South African society.

He also felt deeply humiliated. After all, Gandhi came from an illustrious family. His grandfather, father, and uncle had served as prime ministers to the princes of Porbandar and other Indian states. In fact, Gandhi's father Karamchand later became the Diwan of Rajkot. 

Soon, the Pietermaritzburg incident galvanised him. Within a year, he set up the Indian Natal Congress which staged non-violent protests against the oppressive treatment by whites towards native Africans and Indians.

However, Gandhi proved that he had a generous heart. When the Boer War broke out in 1899, Gandhi organised the Indian Ambulance Corps, consisting of one thousand members, to work for the British. They included barristers, accountants, artisans and labourers. But the ethnic discrimination and torture against the Indians continued following the victory of the British.

In 1904, Gandhi set up the Phoenix Farm near Durban. At this farm, Gandhi spoke to his followers about non-violent Satyagraha. In September 1906, Gandhi organised the first satyagraha campaign to protest against the Transvaal Asiatic ordinance that was constituted against the Asians, which included the Indians and the Chinese. 

Under the Act, every male Asian had to register himself and produce on demand a thumb-printed certificate of identity. Those who were unregistered could be deported without a right of appeal or fined on the spot. Gandhi called it a 'black act'. Again in June 1907, Gandhi held a satyagraha against the act. 

He said, “I am, along with my countrymen, in a despised minority. If the Europeans of South Africa will forgive me, we are all coolies.” 

On November 6, 1913, he led a four-day march to Johannesburg. It included 2000 men, 127 women and 57 children. Gandhi was soon arrested. On December 11, South African Interior Minister Jan Smuts announced a Commission of Inquiry. Soon Gandhi was freed from jail and the bill was scrapped. Unfortunately, two years later, it was reinstated.  

In 1910, he set up the Tolstoy Farm, near Johannesburg, where Satyagraha was moulded into a weapon of protest. After a ceaseless fight for the rights of Indians, in which he won many battles, Gandhi left for India on July 18, 1914.

Gandhi's early life

At 7 a.m., on October 2, 1869, Putlibai was having stomach pains. The midwife was called. This was her fourth pregnancy. Earlier, she had given birth to two sons and a daughter. Putilibai rested on the bed in a windowless room at the family residence at Porbandar in Gujarat.

In the end, a son was born. He was named Mohandas. Little did Putlibai know as she held the crying baby in her hands that he would one day shake the foundations of the British Empire and force it to give up its crown jewel: India. But all that was decades into the future.

As a child, Gandhi burnt with energy. Or, as her sister Raliat said, “He was restless as mercury, either playing or roaming about.”

But Gandhi also liked to read books. And as a child, he was deeply influenced by the tales of Shravana and king Harishchandra. Later, Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, “I acted as King Harishchandra many times.”

Later historians said that Gandhi's adoption of truth as a supreme virtue stemmed from these stories that he read.


Gandhi is commemorated at Pietermaritzburg station 


Traveller Snottin from Singapore writes: 'The station building at Pietermaritzburg is stately, colonial, and was deserted when we visited it. There are no entrance fees. Spotlessly clean, we read the plaque commemorating Mahatma Gandhi and the station episode in the main foyer of the station. A lovely small museum on Satyagraha and the 20+ years that Gandhi spent in South Africa is in a room to the left.

'It is very informative and the panels/photos inside were a great read. This addition adds insights and perspective to the life of Gandhi and his actions. The station is an inspiring visit for those of Indian origin and for proponents of non-violence. About 10 minutes away from the station, in front of the courthouse, is a statue of Gandhi, in the centre of Pietermaritzburg town.'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the station in July, 2016. He was able to read the plaque at the station which reads: 'In the vicinity of this plaque MK Gandhi was evicted from a first-class compartment on the night of June 7, 1893. This incident changed the course of his life. He took up the fight against racial oppression. His active non-violence started from that date.'

Modi also inaugurated an exhibition titled 'The Birthplace of Satyagraha' at the waiting room where Gandhi had spent the night and also wrote in the visitor’s book.
He also visited the spot at the station where Gandhi was offloaded.

Said Modi: “This visit is like a pilgrimage to me as I am getting the opportunity to visit places that are significant to Indian history and Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The Pietermaritzburg railway station is the place where the seed was laid for Mohandas (Karamchand Gandhi) to start the journey of the Mahatma.” 

(Published in the special Mahatma Gandhi supplement of The New Indian Express)

Everything Tangy And Spicy



At the food festival in the Forte Kochi hotel, foreign and Indian patrons get a taste of the traditional cuisine which is served in the toddy shops of Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Executive Sous Chef Gejo Joseph; a jackfruit dish. Pics by Albin Mathew 

When the waiter brought the fried pearl spot in front of the fifty-year-old Lisa Raymond, during the Kallu Shap (Toddy Shop) Festival at the Forte Kochi hotel, held recently she licked her lips in anticipation. With a fork and knife, she began eating it, and a look of bliss spread across her face.

After a while, she told Harikrishnan Kaniyarakkal, F&B Manager, “Very tasty. But there is nothing I can do about this.” And she pointed at her teary eyes and red nose with a big smile.
Harikrishnan says, “Madam, we have put the minimum amount of spices.”

Lisa nodded and says, “We Americans have so little spices in our food, but I love this.”

Because the restaurant gets a wide variety of clientele – Europeans, Americans, Asians and North Indians – they decided to reduce the spices to suit everybody's palate.

Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the food is undeniable. It is mostly served in the toddy shops of Southern Kerala, especially in the areas around Kuttanad and Kottayam.

Interestingly, it was only around 2010 that the food began to get more attention, rather than the toddy, thanks to uploads on social media and articles in the mainstream media. Now, many families drop in to these shops to have a taste of the cuisine.

This consists of Pothu Curry (Beef Curry), Chemmeen Vattichathu (Dried Shrimp), Pork Varattiyathu (Pork Roast), Natholi Meen Peera (small fish fry), fried squid, beef fry, grilled seer fish, prawn roast, fried pork, scampi and crabs.

These dishes are usually paired with Kerala-style parathas, boiled tapioca, rice and kallappan (hoppers),” says Gejo Joseph, Executive Sous Chef.

Undoubtedly, the tastiest items are the ones which are cooked inside a banana leaf pouch. “We put the prawn, beef or pork inside the banana leaf, then close it at both ends, and have it cooked,” says Gejo. “The flavour of the leaf, as well as the spices mix with each other and a unique taste is formed.”

Agrees visitor Charishma T: “The Chemmeen Vazhayila Pidi Kizhi [Prawn in banana leaf pouch] was an absolute favourite, coming delicately wrapped in banana leaves. It was semi-dry, nice and spicy, with the prawns cooked well. The spicy flavours provided an immense pleasure to the taste buds. As for the Meen Manga Curry [Fish and Mango Curry], it came in a traditional earthen pot. Then there was the Tender Seer Fish, which was dunked in a thick gravy of coconut and raw mango pieces. It was amazing.'

Adds another patron Elina Elsa M: “My favourite was the pork dish. It had the right balance of pork, coconut nut slivers and shallots in an amazing masala. The beef vazhayila kizhi is a signature dish and once you try it, you realise why. The moment you take off that tie on the banana leaf the aroma spreads in the air which results in instant drooling.”

As for the spices, which are added, these include the Kashmiri chilly, tamarind, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cardamon.

One reason for the heightened spices in the traditional cuisine is because people consume the food after having a lot of toddy. “So, if they have to enjoy the food, while high, it needs a lot of spices,” says Gejo.

Asked how they got the idea to do this festival, hotel manager Sajeesh Nadakhakath says the restaurant used to get a lot of requests for local food. “So we decided to go for the most basic,” he says. 

But before that, they did a lot of research. They went to Kuttanad and sampled dishes made by several chefs. Then two of them were short-listed, and they came to the Forte Kochi kitchen and made the dishes.