Monday, September 18, 2017

Some Eye-Opening Insights


Ulrich Pfisterer, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation, gives his insights about Indian football players, following a coaching camp in Kochi

Photo of Ulrich Pfisterer by Albin Mathew; Ulrich giving coaching at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a grassy field in Kochi, the 6' tall Ulrich Pfisterer, in a blue T-shirt and track pants stares at the footballers in bright yellow jerseys standing at one side of the ground. Then Ulrich, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation, says, “Okay run.”

The footballers run from one side to the other. The winner is not the one who is first, but the person who can stop the closest to the sideboard. After a while, they began to get a good feel of how far they can go.

This is Ulrich's first visit to Kerala as well as India. He has come at the invitation of Sunil Mathew, the Director of the Indian Blind Football Federation. In the past few days, Ulrich has developed an understanding of the psyche of the players, who have come from different parts of India to take part in workshop and training sessions.

Many of the players are not used to moving around independently,” says Ulrich, who is also the head coach of the German team. “Maybe, it is because of the type of training they have received in their childhood and at school. Indian players stay close together and are not confident about moving into open spaces.”

One reason could be that Indian society, apart from the coaches and other trainers tends to be overprotective of blind people. “But that should change,” says Ulrich. “The attitude should be: you are a football player who just happens to be blind.”

The players are also not used to tough physical contact during a game. “You need to have an attitude of being tough and strong,” says Ulrich. “Top teams like Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Germany play very aggressively. You need a similar sort of aggression if you want to compete on the international stage.”

They also need to develop their footballing skills. “Ideally, they should have a ball at home,” says Ulrich. “They can practice, for example, when they go from the bedroom to the toilet, controlling the ball. The aim is to play with the ball all the time so that you can develop kinesthetic awareness. The ball becomes a part of you, like it is with Lionel Messi [one of the all-time great footballers] whenever he plays.”

Interestingly, each country has its own way of playing. “The Germans have a clinical style. They always have a linear focus towards scoring goals and play a hard physical game. On the other hand, the Chinese are very skilful, but they forget that there is a goal. Sometimes, during a match, they enjoy as much as 70 per cent possession. But when they come against the strong English and German defenders, they are unable to move forward,” says Ulrich.

Meanwhile, Ulrich took the opportunity to tell the wards about the new trends in blind football. “If you try to stop the ball, by stretching your feet, it might go between your legs,” he says. “So, you have to get the body behind the ball and catch it with both your feet.”
For dribbling, you cannot afford to push the ball and run after it. So, you have to use both your feet to caress the ball.

As for short passes, you can put your sole over the ball and push it forward. “It always goes in a straight line,” says Ulrich. “Finally, the most powerful shot in front of the goal is the poke with your toe. It is so fast, on many occasions, the goalkeeper is easily beaten.” 

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


Friday, September 15, 2017

Dubai-based Malayali Golfer Equals World Record

Rayhan Thomas, whose family is from Kottayam, has just equalled a world record at the Dubai Creek Open. The 17-year-old hit a stunning nine birdies in a row (a birdie is one stroke less than the designated number to complete a hole). The record was first set by American Mark Calcavecchia at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.

When I hit the first two birdies, I felt this was going to be my day,” said Rayhan. “I'm very happy with my performance.”

And this has been one of many. In the highly-competitive US Amateur matchplay championships at Kansas in July, Rayhan came third after losing to eventual winner Noah Goodwin.

In the process, Rayhan became the first Indian to reach the semi-finals. Previous winners include Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, both former world No. 1. Last year, Rayhan also became the first amateur to win on the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) tour.

His father John is the Chief Operating Officer of an oil, gas and marine company based in the United Arab Emirates, while his mother Neena is a homemaker.

It's a great achievement, at this age,” said John. “I believe he's got what it takes to reach the top.” Incidentally, Rayhan is No. 50 in the world amateur golf rankings and No. 1 in India in the category.

Adds Darren Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion, who witnessed the record, “Rayhan is a huge talent. He played beautifully, hit the ball very well and putted nicely."
In Dubai, Rayhan trains daily at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, named after Woods' former coach. “I love golf and want to become a champion,” said Rayhan. 

(Page 1, The New Indian Express, Kerala Editions)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When Words Have Power














Manoj Vasudevan, the first Malayali to become the World Champion of Public Speaking talks about his experiences 

Photo by Manu Mavelil 

By Shevlin Sebastian

The Singapore-based Manoj Vasudevan walked with a confident stride towards the stage at a hall in Vancouver, Canada. Then he said, “When I was 24 years old, I was living in India. I was waiting for Cupid to shoot his arrow and find me the perfect partner. Guess what? It seems Cupid does not live in India. Soon, I went to another angel who had all the answers: my mama. 'Mama I can’t find good girls? How will I ever marry?' She said, ‘No problem. We can fix it.’ My Mama offered to introduce me to some good girls.”

And Manoj described how he met, fell in love with Sindu and got married. And then he described the ensuing relationship troubles that affect all couples.

This speech, titled 'Pull Less and Bend More' resonated with the 2500-strong audience, as well as the judges. Manoj was adjudged the Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, which is regarded as the Olympics of Public Speaking. More than 35,000 participants from 142 countries took part, over six months of eliminations, before ten people made it to the final, held on August 26. Incidentally, Manoj is the first Malayali to win it.

Asked the reasons behind his victory, Manoj says, “My message was universal. Everybody has faced problems in their relationships, so they could relate to it.”

He felt overwhelmed when a 40-year-old black American woman, Miss Cooper came up to him, and said, “Your speech pulled at my heart strings. I am divorced now but will be getting married again. But I will remember all that you said for the rest of my life.”

Another reason for his win was because he approached the event with a different attitude. “I realised that I should give a speech, not to win the trophy, but to go beyond that, and say something meaningful. I looked at it as an opportunity to speak to the world for seven minutes. So what is the one thing I wanted to say​? I realised that everybody is fighting and arguing with each other. In the US, the Republicans are fighting with the Democrats, and [US President] Donald Trump with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. So I wanted to say that if we try, we can all get along with each other.”

Early Life

Manoj grew up in Thiruvananthapuram, the son of a senior administrative officer at the directorate of health services. After graduating from the College of Engineering, he worked in Mumbai and the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram before he left for Singapore in 1998, where he worked for numerous companies. But, today, he runs his own consultancy firm, 'Thought Expressions', which teaches aspirants on how to be effective leaders. Manoj is also a stand-up comedian, and has written a best-selling self-help book called, ‘Mastering Leadership The Mousetrap Way’.

Meanwhile, when asked about the most difficult aspect of public speaking, Manoj says, “It is the pause within a speech. For example, when you are talking about your friend, the audience is seeing their friend. If I say something about a classroom, they are thinking about their classroom. They are listening to you, and forming images in their mind. Sometimes, you need to give time to the audience to visualise and assimilate those images. If you talk so fast, you are erasing the scene and so they cannot enjoy the speech.”

The pause is important when you ask questions. “Also, when you say something profound,” says Manoj. “The audience needs the time to think. [Former US President] Barack Obama pauses a lot in his speeches. And that is why his speeches are so powerful. The pause expands Obama’s presence and that is why the audience thinks, ‘This guy is awesome’.” 

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Officer And A Gentleman


Adil Hussain talks about his experiences in the Malayalam film, 'Naval Enna Jewel', as well as Hollywood and Bollywood

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the sets of the Malayalam film, 'Naval Enna Jewel', at Muscat, Oman, Adil Hussain met American/Iranian actor Reem Kadem for the first time. “She began speaking rapidly, and I could not understand a word,” says Adil. “I said, 'What are you talking about? Are you from America or what?'”

Reem burst out laughing and said, “I am speaking Malayalam.” Now it was Adil's turn to laugh. “Reem had memorised all the dialogues by heart,” says Adil, while on a recent visit to Kochi. “In the end, she delivered a knock-out performance as Naval.”

And so has Adil, who plays an Iranian government official, who can sometimes speak in Malayalam. “This was one of the reasons I accepted the role,” he says. “The character is not Malayali, and has an accent. So I was able to dub for it. Half the acting is in the voice, the sound which comes out of my being. I also felt that it was an important story, which dealt with the way women are exploited in countries like Iran and Iraq.”

Adil hit the international spotlight when he played the role of Santhosh Patel, the father of the boy-hero Pi Patel in the award-winning 'Life of Pi', directed by Ang Lee. And it is no surprise that Adil is a fan of Ang. “He is the humblest director I have ever met,” says Adil. “Ang allowed me to do what I wanted and then said, 'Just put 10 per cent affection to your sternness'.”

Adil has also acted in 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', and in French, Norwegian, Bengali, Hindi, Assamese, Tamil and Marathi films. In 2017, he won the National 'Special Jury Award' for his role in the Hindi film, 'Mukti Bhawan'.

Nevertheless, it is Hollywood that impresses Adil with its brilliant planning and commitment. “I got the script of 'Life of Pi' six months before the shoot,” he says. “The itinerary was given to me two months in advance, along with the mobile number of the chauffeur. And it all went according to plan. In Bollywood and other regional industries, there is a 'chalta hai' attitude and a lack of ambition to be excellent.”

This ambition could be kindled if there are more opportunities for the young. “For a population of 1.3 billion, there is only one Film and Television Institute of India and one National School of Drama, with 26 seats,” says Adil, an alumnus of the NSD. “There should be at least 20 drama schools.”

Meanwhile, on asked whether he will act in another Malayalam film, Adil says, “If the opportunity arises and if I am given enough time to learn the dialogues.”

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

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Miracle Inside A Church



COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY

Actor Anjali talks about her experiences in the films, ‘Marupadi’, ‘White Boys’, ‘Ben’, and ‘Role Models’

Photos: Anjali; the wax figure that formed on her palm

By Shevlin Sebastian

A scene inside a church at Mepadi in Wayanad was taking place in VM Vinu's film, ‘Marupadi’ (2016). As Anjali, who played a nun, was about to enter the church, senior actor Devan told her that there is a belief that if you take eight drops of wax from a candle burning near the altar and pour it on the palm, a miracle will take place.

“I got very excited,” says Anjali. So, when she reached the altar, Anjali selected a candle and turned it sideways, to pour a drop of wax. But, instead, a large amount fell on her palm. Even though it was hot, Anjali ignored it and waited to pour the eight drops.

Devan came up and confessed that he had played a prank on her. But Anjali focused on getting the eight drops. In the meanwhile, the wax had solidified on her palm. Devan carefully extracted it.

A design had been formed. It had become like Mother Mary, holding a small child, on top of a hill. “Everybody was shocked,” says Anjali.

One week later, the parish priest invited Anjali to be a guest at a function in the church. So Anjali went and told the audience about what had happened. Thereafter, the wax image was projected onto a LED screen. “Then the priest showed me a photo,” says Anjali. “It was of a famous statue of Mother Mary atop a mountain with a child, somewhere in Europe. And it looked exactly like the wax design. It was, indeed, a miracle.”

Meanwhile, during the shoot of ‘White Boys’, Anjali had an entirely different experience. She plays the mother to child actor Gaurav Menon. In one scene, actor Elias is coming to save Anjali and Gaurav from some villains led by actor Kaushik.

Elias was supposed to just point a pistol at Kaushik.

But when Elias took aim, there was a loud bang and suddenly Anjali saw blood on Kaushik's face and shirt. “I was not told that there would be a sound and small balloons filled with red water, had been put under Kaushik’s shirt,” says Anjali. "I began screaming thinking that Kaushik had actually been shot. It took me a few minutes to realise that nothing serious had happened, because everybody was laughing. After that, for the rest of the shoot, I was teased non-stop by the crew.”

Anjali was also emotionally overcome during the shoot of ‘Ben’ (2015). Again, she played a mother, Asha Justin, who intensely loved her son, Ben, played by Gaurav. But Ben rebels against his mother.

“So, there are many scenes where I harass Gaurav,” says Anjali. “I hit him on the head, push dirty clothes into his mouth, and drag him around. Then one day, while the shoot was going on, I suddenly burst into tears over all what I had done. I felt so bad for Gaurav.”

Anjali told the director Vipin Atley that she could not carry on. “Those scenes were so difficult,” says Anjali. But Vipin consoled her and it took a while before Anjali calmed down and the shoot could resume.

Anjali, who usually plays mother roles, became a feminist, who gets sexually assaulted, in ‘Role Models’ (2017). The shoot was near a bridge in Goa. “There was an overpowering smell of urine,” says Anjali. “It was unbearable.” Anjali found it very difficult to shoot the scene. “Nevertheless, after it was over, [director] Rafi jokingly promised that the next time there was a shoot, with me, he would ensure that there was no smell of urine nearby,” says Anjali.

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Customising The News


Carlos Fernandes has invented the 'Blaze', an application, where consumers can get the news they like to read or see. Thereafter, the user can editorialise it to their liking

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, Carlos Fernandes, the CEO of the Singapore-based Blaze Company read an article which talked about Comedy Central as being one of the most trusted sources of news. “I was surprised to read it because the anchors are actually giving their version of the news,” says Carlos.

That was when Carlos got an idea. And now, he has come up with a bot called Blaze. A bot is a cloud-based application that automates the tasks that you do.

This is how it works. Blaze gets to know what users like and then it will scan the web for content that the user would like to read or see. You can access it on Facebook Messenger.

“After that, a user can editorialise it,” says Carlos. “In other words, you can add filters, image, text or video and make the news story your own.”

He gives an example. During the Vijay Mallya extradition saga from the UK to India by the Indian government, there was a photo of the Indian tycoon with a caption which stated that he is fighting extradition. “Someone quickly added a crown on his head, to signify 'the king of good times', and added a tag line which said, 'I am too sexy for the Indian jail',” says Carlos.

The excited entrepreneur says, “It's just four or five words, but it tells you so much about the story, and about the world that we are living in. So, imagine a scenario where people will start reading your take on the news that comes from different sources.”

This is one of the many achievements of Carlos. In 2006, he patented the world’s first Internet-based Digital Video Recorder called Record TV. Following its success, Carlos brought out the InstantTV app, which soon became a top-selling service in Singapore. It basically offers a slew of TV channels on your iOS and Android devices.

Apart from that, the Mumbai-born Carlos Fernandes has been identified as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Geneva, and was in Businessweek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs in Asia. He has also served as an adviser to many governments on youth development, technology and entrepreneurship. Apart from that, he is a member of numerous international organisations.

Meanwhile, when asked about life in Singapore, Carlos says, “Singapore is an easy place to live. You don't have to focus on things like traffic jams, slow Internet speed and poor infrastructure like I had to when I was growing up in Mumbai.”

When he would go to college, Carlos would spend a minimum of four hours travelling to and fro on buses. “But at the end of the day, you become resilient and capable of surmounting difficulties,” he says.

However, the disadvantage of living in Singapore is that you tend to become soft. “Sometimes, you hear people say, 'I don't want to work in this job because it is too far from my house',” he says. “But in Singapore, wherever you want to go, you will reach it in less than an hour and that too, you are travelling in an air conditioned train.”

Carlos is also worried about the impact of this smooth life on his children [daughter Chamoni, 7 ½ and son Leon, 5]. “I am not sure how they will face it when problems arise,” says Carlos. “It is easy to move from a problem-city to a no-problem city. But it is very hard to move from a no-problem one to a problem city.”

Carlos pauses and then says, “But then, that is life. There are pros and cons to everything.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Colossus Of Tamil Nadu


Author R Kannan traces the life of MG Ramachandran as artist, politician and human being

By Shevlin Sebastian

The brothers [MG Ramachandran and Chakrapani] met Sathi Leelavati's producer Marudachalam Chettiar and Kandasamy Mudalier at a hotel on Wall Tax Road. When Marudachalam Chettiar held out a 100-rupee note as advance, the brothers were overwhelmed. It was their first 100 rupees.

As they walked home, MGR asked his brother if the note was authentic, to which Chakrapani said he had never seen one before. Back home, [mother] Sathyabala held the note against the light, and declared it contained a watermark. After this, she placed it before her husband's picture, lit camphor, then applied sacred ash on her sons' foreheads. MGR could not sleep that night. It felt that the house was filled with silver coins and there was no place to put their feet.

At that time, if somebody had told MGR that, one day, he would become an extremely wealthy man, a superstar of Tamil cinema, a man much loved by the masses, become the founder of his own political party, a three-term Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and have an affair with a protege Jayalalitha, who would become a Chief Minister herself, he would have said, “Don't be daft.” But that was exactly what had happened.

And this is explored in lucid and absorbing detail in the well-researched biography, 'MGR: A Life' by R. Kannan, who heads the Basra office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. Apart from MGR's life, the book also focuses on the sixty years of the Dravidian movement and how it became a potent force in Tamil Nadu.

But what fascinates is MGR's life. How a Class three dropout made his way in the world; his complicated relationship with Prime Ministers Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi; and his friendship and later antagonism of Chief Minister K. Karunanidhi.

Asked about their relationship, Kannan says, “They had reached a point where they had no option, but to oppose each other. But MGR had a huge amount of respect for Karunanidhi. The 25-year-long association, when they were colleagues in the film world, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, could not be set aside. So, whenever they met, in the State Assembly and outside, there was a good deal of cordiality between the two.”

What is also interesting to read is MGR's relationship with Jayalalitha, who was 30 years younger when she met the matinee idol.

She sort of stunned him, with her fair-skinned beauty, English language skills and phenomenal memory,” says Kannan. “The fact that initially she was indifferent because she did not know how big MGR was, dazzled him."

Afterward, when MGR realised that she was very ambitious, he became confused about her. The relationship became ambivalent. "He clipped her wings and left her high and dry on occasion," says Kannan. "However, when he was about to throw her out of the party [the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam], his fondness for her prevented that.”

No matter the difficulties, Jayalalitha remained with this charismatic man. “MGR did things by instinct,” says Kannan. “He was superstitious. Yet the man had the confidence to have bright people around him although he was a school drop-out. He was a large-hearted man, who believed in giving. He was quirky at times. And wanted to know about what was happening with others. So his intelligence set-up was very active.”

In the end, this is a worthwhile book. And it already has some celebrity admirers. Says legendary actor Kamal Haasan: “I know most of the story, but I was aghast to learn some truths. This is an interesting read and told in a voice similar to MGR's – not given to hyperbole or icon bashing.” 

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Kaleidoscope Of Images




Experienced as well as new artists have showcased their works at the Cochin Art Fair 

Photos: Work by Anandaraman; NN Rimzon's charcoal drawing and Narayanan Mohanan's 'The Other 99 Percent'. Pics by Melton Antony 
 
By Shevlin Sebastian
 
When you step into the hall at the MN Nayar Foundation to view the Cochin Art Fair, the first painting that catches the eye is a 6' x 6' oil painting by Anandakrishnan.
 
Right in the middle is a horse, wearing the war armour of olden times, straddling two pieces of land. Beneath the animal is a drawing of the human heart, its arteries touching both pieces.
 
The horse is crossing a fractured nation,” he says. “And even though the land has been partitioned, the heart beats the same for both places. I am not hinting at the India-Pakistan partition of 1947. I am talking about how nations come into being and the existence of borders everywhere. We also create borders within our minds.”

At the right side, there are several flying birds like eagles, pigeons, crows and sparrows. “There are two types of nations: ethnic and civic,” says Anandaraman. “In ethnic nations, there is one ethnicity, like in Japan or China. But in countries like India, there are all types of ethnicities that comprise a single nation. That is what I wanted to represent through the different types of birds.”
 
A little further down is NN Rimzon's simple charcoal drawing of two tiled roof houses next to each other, with an overhanging tree. It seems like any ordinary house, till Rimzon says it is the house of one of Kerala's greatest poets N Kumara Asan (1873-1924). “The house has been preserved at Thonnakkal (near Thiruvananthapuram),” he says. “It was the place where Asan used to write his poems. His vision and social commitment are qualities to be admired.”
 
Another work which can be admired is Babu KG's 6' x 5' oil on canvas. It shows a young girl standing in thick foliage, and staring with unblinking intensity at a butterfly which is peering into a flower. He got the inspiration for this work when, one day, while walking in Wayanad, with members of the Adivasi community, he saw a girl looking at a butterfly.
 
Babu was struck by her innocence. “I have noticed that people who live in the forests and have close contact with Nature have a heightened sense of innocence as well as divinity,” he says. “In the cities, the people become mechanical and hard-hearted. So, I wanted to show the innocence of the girl and the rich biodiversity of the forests.”
 
Meanwhile, right at the centre of the hall, on the floor, is a 3' high black bell, made of foam, with a hook on top. There are several black, white and brown rats which are running away from the bell. This work, by Narayanan Mohanan, is called, 'The Other 99 Percent'. It has been inspired by the Aesop's Fable of 'Who will bell the cat?'
 
I wanted to relate it to the present where politicians, religious authorities, and corporate leaders, who comprise 1 per cent of the population, control society,” says Mohanan. “Everybody wants a revolution, but who will bell the cat? Instead, they are all running away from the task.”
 
Meanwhile, after handling the huge task of setting up and running the Kochi Biennale, Founder Bose Krishnamachari has now done a work called 'Stretched Bodies'. “Since the medium used was acrylic, it dries off very fast, so I had to create a work with rigour and energy, pleasure and passion, freshness and warmth,” says Bose. “The aim is to reflect optimism. So, it is full of colours, and psychedelic textures.”
 
A total of 43 artists, including Aji Kumar, Ameen Khaleel, Bindhi Rajagopal, Baiju CL, Tom Vattakkuzhy, OC Martin, Hochimin and Bara Bhaskaran are taking part.
 
The show was curated by O Sundar, who, along with a group of fellow artists and art lovers, set up the Cochin Artcube last year. “There are artists who were finding it difficult to showcase their works, so we wanted to give opportunities to them,” he says. “That's how we set up this event.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Bike Crash


COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY

Actor Honey Rose talks about her experiences in the films, 'Boyy Friennd', 'Chunkzz', and 'Pithavinum Puthranum'

By Shevlin Sebastian

During a shoot, at Irinjalakuda, for Honey Rose's first film, 'Boyy Friennd' by Vinayan (2005), there was a scene in a house. A group of students were going to meet Rameshan (played by Manikuttan) because he had not come to college for a while. So, Honey was supposed to sit behind North Indian actor Madhumitha on a bike. “In fact, Madhumita said she knew how to ride a bike,” says Honey.

So, they set out. But as they approached the house, Madhumita lost control, the bike hit a wall and both of them fell down. “I was in a daze,” says Honey. “It happened so quickly.” Honey's father, Varghese, rushed up, with an anxious look on his face. Thankfully, the injuries were minor: bruises on the knees and arms. “My father immediately told me not to sit behind Madhumita,” says Honey. But after a few tries, Madhumita got the hang of driving and they did the scene without any problems.

Unfortunately, Honey suffered another injury during a shoot of the just-released 'Chunkzz'. On the last day of the shoot, for the Kochi segment, during a free period, Honey had gone to a beach at Kochi with her cousin Merlyn. However, while walking, Honey hit a small rock buried under the sand and twisted her right ankle. “Suddenly, it started swelling,” says Honey. “And for one week, I had to put it in crepe bandage, and place it on a pillow while lying on the bed. I had to take pain killers, too.”

Thereafter, for the next schedule, Honey arrived in Goa. But her leg had not healed completely. “I felt a bit tense because there was a lot of running around to do, as well as ride a cycle,” she says.

In fact, if you look closely, especially during the sequences of the song, 'Hey Kili Penne', you can see Honey wobbling a bit.

And when she was asked to ride a cycle, she asked for somebody to hold it from behind. The crew agreed. A member stepped up. Soon, Honey started pedalling.

I gained in confidence, and began to move well,” says Honey. “But after a while, when I looked back I got a shock. Nobody was holding the cycle. Immediately, I got scared and lost my balance.”

Honey had a completely different experience during the shoot of 'Pithavinum Puthranum' (2012), which has not yet been released, because of problems with the Censor Board over the subject. In the film, Honey acted as a nun, who has a relationship with a few priests.

In one scene, the nun has a dream where she, like Jesus, is being crucified on the cross. So, at the shoot, at Motta Kunnu, Vagamon, Honey began to drag a cross up the hill. Thereafter, she lay down on it. Her hands and legs were tied. Then the cross was raised. “After a while, I found it too painful,” says Honey. “The body weight was being felt on my wrists. There was a small piece of wood beneath my feet, but it was not enough.”

It all got a bit too much. Honey fainted suddenly. So, the crew rushed to lower the cross on to the ground. Water was splashed on her face. And Honey slowly regained consciousness. “It was an unforgettable experience,” says Honey. “I went through all types of emotions, and pain. I got an understanding of what Jesus went through. In those days, they would hammer nails in the hands and the legs. You can imagine how painful it was.” 

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Seeing Things Which The Eye Cannot See


French psychic Uzuhi Reiki Douna talks about her experiences, as she gives a workshop in Kochi

Illustration by Amit Bandre; photo by Melton Antony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the Kochi-based psychologist Dr. Meera Sudhir heard that the French psychic Uzuhi Reiki Douna was holding a three-day workshop on intuition, at Kochi, she decided to take part.

It turned out to be a good experience,” says Meera. “Douna showed us how intuition should be an integral part of our-decision making process. Unfortunately, many of us do not realise that we have this power. Because we only want to believe what we see. However, there is an illogical aspect in the world. Telepathy, intuition, clairvoyance and extra-sensory perception come under this category. But people call them pseudo sciences and ask, 'How can you prove it?'”

But Meera did not need any proof. “Most women, by nature, are very intuitive, especially after they become mothers,” she says.

As for Douna, she was born with this highly-developed psychic gift. At age seven, she was about to leave her Paris home, for a student's camp near Mont Blanc. Suddenly, she saw a vision of her searching for something, and a girl trying to help her out. “At the camp, I lost my sock and began looking for it,” she says. “I took the help of a girl and she turned out to be the same girl that I had seen in my vision. She was in charge of helping the children at the camp.”

Douna gives another example. One day, when she was ten years old, she was playing in a garden. A lady came and began talking to her mother about her son, who was having behavioural problems. 

Douna overhead the conversation and suddenly gave the lady a description of her house. “I saw the interiors, even though I have never been there,” she says. “Thereafter, I gave some advice, so that the son would behave in a better manner.”

Douna pauses and says, “What I am doing is nothing exceptional. Everybody has the capacity to understand things through intuition, or telepathy. But, since our daily life is no longer a life-and-death struggle, like our hunter-ancestors, we have lost all these skills. So, you have to develop it again.”

But it should not be very tough because everybody has experienced moments of intuition. For example, when a person goes inside a stranger's apartment, he suddenly feels weak and uncomfortable. “That is their intuition working,” says Douna. “Maybe, there is something wrong with the energy inside. Through training, you can get this information regularly.”

She suggests an exercise. Take a photo of a friend you know. Concentrate on the image. After a while, you will begin to get new information. You can later check with the friend whether the conclusions you came to, are correct.

As she conversed, a man came in for a reading. She asked for his birth date and year. Then she looked intently at him and says, “For you, your family is very important. The women in your life, like your mother, wife, and daughter, are also important. You have a career in three parts. In the first, you travelled a lot. In the second, it has stopped. But the third part is coming up. You will move to another level and again travel a lot, doing something you love. Things are already moving in that direction, but you cannot see it yet.” The man looked happy and satisfied.

Amazingly, Douna says she has two spiritual guides, but it is a diffuse form of energy that she can see and call at will. “I always consult them before I make any decision,” she says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Man On The Right Track


Elias George, the managing director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited, talks about his experiences

Photos by K. Shijith 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent Thursday morning, Elias George stepped into a Kochi metro train that was travelling from Palarivattom to Aluva. However, it did not take long before a man approached him. “Aren't you Elias George?” he said, extending his hand. “I am Fr. John (name changed). I want to congratulate you on a job well done.”

Thank you,” said the Managing Director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). The priest then introduced his son and daughter-in-law. “They live in Kuwait, so before they returned, I wanted them to have a ride on the Metro,” says Fr. John. The couple and Elias exchanged smiles.

It was a gratifying moment for the senior bureaucrat. When Elias took over four years ago, he was apprehensive. “There were so many hindrances in doing a mega project in Kerala,” he says. “Firstly, everybody has a different political and social view. Secondly, we had to acquire 600 parcels of land through the district administration. I was worried about whether we could pull it through. On top of that, there were was a tussle between the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) and KMRL. We are the client and they are the country's leading metro agency.”

A calm and laid-back person, Elias strove to iron out the glitches. And looking back, he has a good idea of how things worked out. “In Kerala, for a project to succeed, you have to make people believe your purpose is genuine,” says the 60-year-old. “The public always think that any person who is involved in such a massive project has a hidden agenda. Once they were convinced about our sincerity, the whole of Kochi offered full support.”

He gives an example. One day, a trader, Mohammed, met Elias in his office and said he had ten cents of land at Aluva. It was the third time the government was acquiring his land. First, the National Highway acquired some, followed by the Public Works Department. “Now the Metro wants my last ten cents,” said Mohammed. “But take it, Sir. My children will have a better tomorrow. The Metro will provide many economic opportunities.”

Another major plus was the presence of E. Sreedharan, the principal adviser to the DMRC (Sreedharan, a Padma Vibhushan winner set up the Delhi Metro as well as the Konkan Railway project, among many other undertakings).

Sreedharan has got tremendous project implementation experience and skills,” says Elias. “He knows how to manage different types of contractors. More than anything else, because of his reputation and stature, nobody, especially the labour unions, would come and harass us. He is like a banyan tree, providing shade and security to all of us.”

The 'us' included thousands of migrant labourers from the states of Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam. In fact, they comprised more than 90 per cent of the work force.

Asked why there were so few Malayalis, Elias says, “They are highly-skilled, educated, and adaptable but, increasingly, they are reluctant to work with their hands. And the Metro work entails hard physical labour. Today, Kerala is a high-wage economy. So, Malayalis are getting jobs elsewhere.”

Throughout his stint, Elias kept getting insights. And one perception was about the work culture in the country. “One of the problems with Indian organisations is ageism,” he says. “The managing director is in his late fifties, the director, fifty, and the general manager is forty. But all the creative energies and ideas come from below. Unfortunately, Indian organisations don't tap that. The lowest fellow cannot talk to the director.”

Realising that he was in the same boat, he decided to destroy the hierarchy. “We became like a start-up,” says Elias. “The average age is 32. In the KMRL you are valued for your contributions and not for your seniority or designation. When I retire this is something that I will propagate, apart from how we were able to set up the fastest first-phase metro project in the country.”

Away from the family

For the past five years, Elias George has been staying alone at Kochi. That is because his wife, Aruna Sundarajan, is Secretary, Telecom, Government of India. While his son Alok works with a private equity firm in Dubai, daughter Priya is a lawyer in Delhi. “Once a month, some meeting comes up in Delhi, so I get a chance to meet the family,” says Elias.

Stress busters

On weekends, at dawn, Elias George goes kayaking in the backwaters of Kochi. “If you want to see the beauty of Kerala, this is the best time and place to be,” says Elias. “I also do a lot of cycling and walking. Sometimes, I go trekking in the forests of Idukki.” And he also likes reading. The last book he read was ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy. “She is an extraordinary talent, but this novel has a structural weakness,” says Elias.

New ideas

The Kochi Metro is the first to put literature up on the walls. They have also set up areas where herbs are grown. They are the first to hire transgenders and use the women of the Kudumbasree (community action group of the government of Kerala).  

Getting going

The Kochi Metro was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 17

Cost: Over Rs 5000 crores.

Length: 25 kms

No of stations: 22

Shortest time taken for first phase: 45 months.

Mumbai took 75 months, while Chennai was ready in 72 months.

Water metro: will connect the 10 islands near Kochi to the Metro at a cost of Rs 800 crore. 

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Need For Psychological Healing


Drama therapist Dr. Ravindra Ranasinha, of Sri Lanka, talks about his efforts to provide healing for the traumatised Tamil population, while on a recent visit to Kochi

Illustration by Amit Bandre; photo by Melton Antony 
 
By Shevlin Sebastian
 
For a few days, Vasantha Raman (name changed) sat silently and listened to the stories told by the people at a community hall in Kilinochchi (northern Sri Lanka). Then the thirty-five-year stood on the stage and said, “For fifteen years, every day I would stand at the gate of my house and wait for my husband,” she says. “But he never came. So I would spend the day mowing the garden.”
 
Vasantha has no children and lived with her parents. “Now I know that he will not return,” she said. “I have wasted my life waiting for him.”
 
This anecdote was recounted by Dr. Ravindra Ranasinha, a Sri Lankan drama therapist, who had come to Kochi to give a talk, titled, 'Post conflict reconciliation action as a social worker' at St. Albert's College.
 
Most of the Tamils are in a daze,” says Ravindra. “They cannot understand the trauma they had undergone during the civil war [between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, from 1983-2009]. They are the innocent farmers, fishermen and villagers who were caught in the crossfire. All the affluent and educated people escaped to Colombo.”
 
So, they sit silently and stare at the walls of their house. “The husband, wife and children do not talk,” says Ravindra. “Some children don't even go to school. Suddenly, there is violence between husband and wife because of the unbearable pain that they are carrying. Since they are unable to communicate verbally, they resort to physical violence, in frustration.”
 
These are the symptoms of severe trauma. “They cannot lead a normal life,” says Ravindra. “So, even if you provide instruments for a livelihood, like buckets or spades, or a place to stay, it will be of no help. What they need is psychological assistance to enable them to come out of the trauma.”
 
That was when Ravindra started drama therapy. “I encouraged the people to tell their stories and enact them,” says Ravindra. This proved to be beneficial. As they heard numerous stories of their fellow villagers and told their own, many became reconciled with their suffering.
 
Sadly, all this is coming a bit late in the day. During the rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-15), there were obstructions to do this sort of counselling. “The regime did not want people to get healed,” says Ravindra. “They were scared that once they returned to normal, the people might tell the world about their experiences. But, now, thankfully, some sort of healing has begun.”
 
The civil war, which ended eight years ago, claimed more than one lakh lives, both among the Tamils and the Sinhalas. Asked the mind-set of the Sinhalas today, Ravindra, a Sinhala himself, says, “The Sinhala people feel calm, because the conflict is over, and they are in the majority. However, there are extremists trying to create dissension between the communities. But the government [headed by President Maithripala Sirisena] is not supporting them, therefore, the possibility of another war is limited.”
 
Meanwhile, the Tamils, still frantic and fearful, are yearning for justice. “They have lost so many of their dear ones – husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, relatives, apart from property. They want the perpetrators to be caught, so that justice can be meted out.”
 
But, so far, the government has proved to be a disappointment. “There are several mechanisms in place, but it is a very slow process,” says Ravindra. “It is imperative to build trust between the communities. It would be nice if Sri Lanka had something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Then a true healing will take place in society.” 

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Devi Vs The Demons


S.V. Sujatha's 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' is a gripping read

By Shevlin Sebastian

Devi turned the trident so its prongs faced downward, and then she stretched out her other hand. Her veins stood out prominently. She took aim at the three dark scars that still remained from the last sacrifice and she plunged the trident into herself in one swift motion—blood spurted out. She placed her open flesh over the mouth of the altar, pouring her blood into the sacrificial pyre, watching impassively as it dribbled onto the blazing wood. The chanting ceased.

I offer unto the stomach of our gods, of Agni, the fierce God of fire, my blood, my life force,” Devi cried. “And I ask in return for strength to protect my people from evil. To cure them from disease. To save them from demons.”

This is an extract from 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' by debutant novelist S.V. Sujatha.

And as the title indicates, the Devi is the one whose job is to slay the demons. And while she does the job with ease, soon, there comes the news of a dangerous demon who would be more than a match for the Devi. The story then shows the various twists and turns in the battle between the two, along with a back story.

For the Tamilian Sujatha, who lived in Chennai for many years, a novel set in a temple in Kerala happened by accident. During a low point in her life, someone suggested that she could visit the Devi at Chottanikkara (16 kms from Kochi), because the goddess is extremely powerful. And so, eight years ago, Sujatha did go and spend three days at the temple. And it was an exorcism which she witnessed at the temple that had a profound impact on her.

A lot of people, who were possessed and had mental afflictions, sat in groups,” said Sujatha. “A strand of hair taken from the pilgrims was nailed to the trunk of a tree. The whole tree was covered with pieces of hair. The priest was chanting around them. A few were ranting and raving, while others were screaming. ”

But after a while, Sujatha noticed that the chants were working. People began calming down. “But at that age [21], it was frightening for me,” said Sujatha. “It stayed with me. When I wanted to write about folklore and Indian mythology, somehow, this temple came to my mind. I wanted to write about the Devi.”

Sujatha did a bit of research, by reading books and looking for material online, but mostly relied on her imagination. “I have personified the Devi,” said Sujatha. “She is an orphan child who is raised by a foster father called Kanappa, a reformed bandit. He has already lost his daughter, so he raises Devi as his own.”

The writing is assured, confident and gripping, thanks to Sujatha's natural story-telling gifts. These skills could have been developed at the one-year Writing Programme that Sujatha attended at Warwick University, UK, in 2010.

No course can teach you how to write,” said Sujatha. “But I learnt how to shape characters and tell a story. It was more about the craft of writing. The teachers pointed out what I was doing wrong, and the ways to use fewer words to say more.”

Meanwhile, Sujatha is busy looking for her next subject at her home in Seattle, USA, which she shares with her husband, an IT professional.

The writing bug has bit me,” she said and laughed, during a recent visit to India. 

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