Thursday, August 30, 2007

The dark side of the moon

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

Child sex abuse is the silent scourge in Indian and Kerala society

Shevlin Sebastian

One recent Sunday evening, IT professional Suresh Rao, 27, * is
conversing with his younger sister, Lata, 23, at their Panampilly
Nagar apartment about their childhood, when Lata suddenly says, "Did
you know that Ravi molested me many times?"

Suresh is stunned.

Their cousin, Ravi, lived in Trichur and on summer holidays or
Onam vacations he would come and spend a few days with the Raos.

"Why did you not tell Daddy and Mummy?" says Suresh.

"I was scared," Lata says. "I was not sure whether they would believe me."

'Why did you not tell me?' Suresh thinks silently. The other likely refuge:
their elder sister, Hema, 11 years older to Lata, was away, doing college studies
in New Delhi.

And so, whenever the parents went out and Suresh went roaming around
with his friends, Ravi would molest Lata.

Now Suresh moves to confessional mode with Lata: Ravi had also tried to
molest him. He remembers the incident as if it has happened yesterday.

It is late at night. Suresh and Ravi are sleeping on two separate beds.
Suddenly, Ravi gets in beside Suresh, under the sheet, pulls down his shorts and
starts masturbating him. It happens very quickly.

Suresh is ten years old at that time and he can remember the struggle that took place within him: the pleasure colliding against the shame. Thankfully, it is the shame that asserts itself. He sits up and hisses, "Stop it," and the vehemence frightens the 12-year-old Ravi away.

Ravi does not try anything with Suresh again, but, unfortunately, Lata
has become a victim.

"Maybe, it is time to expose Ravi in front of the family," says Lata.

"Maybe," Suresh replies, but both of them look unsure.

There is a silence for a few moments.

Then Lata says, "What is the point? The damage has been done."

"You are right," says Suresh.

It is this wishy-washy attitude that is a prime reason why child sex abusers get away with their crimes.

According to a first-ever national survey (12,447 children in 13 states) by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in April, 2007, 53 percent have suffered from Child Sex Abuse (CSA).

However, this figure does not tally with a CSA study done by the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences and funded by the University Grants Commission. In a study of a thousand children in 12 public and private schools in the Ernakulam district, only 21.6 per cent suffered from CSA. Project Fellow, Sapna Anu Jacob, who conducted the study, under Dr. Mary Joseph, says the percentage could have been a little higher, because a few children later told her they did not want to admit they had suffered abuse. Incidentally, boys suffered more than girls in the national survey while it was vice versa in the Rajagiri study.

The figures may differ but there is no escaping the fact that CSA is a silent scourge in Indian and Kerala society.

So who are the abusers? "The perpetrators are usually closely related
to the children," says Jacob. "They are neighbours, uncles, cousins or maids."

In our society, parents never trust strangers, but, somehow, when it comes to close relatives, they relax their vigilance. "That is the mistake they make," says Dr. Varghese Pudussery, Director, Santhwana Institute of Counselling and Psychotherapy. "These cousins and uncles indulge in sexual abuse not because they had planned to, but because of certain situations.

"Like, for example, the girl is left alone with an uncle and the parents go out. The uncle might hug the girl and things could move on from there. When the uncle makes a move, the child cannot say no, because he is an authority figure."

When CSA occurs, the shock is so great that children are unable to speak about it, sometimes, for years.

"Children usually keep it a secret," says Pudussery (in the national survey,
71 per cent did not report the assault). "Then when they are 13 or 14, they have psychological problems. The guilt has festered inside them for years. It affects their confidence and their studies."

Indeed, a sudden drop in performance in school is a reliable sign that a child
may be suffering from CSA. "The other signs are bruises and marks on
private parts, or stained undergarments," says Jacob. "A talkative
child will suddenly become an introvert and there is a lowering of self-esteem."

It is imperative that when parents uncover CSA, that they deal with it carefully.
“Usually, the first reaction of a parent is that of outright denial,” says Dr. Mary Joseph. “Later, this gives way to anger, which they direct at themselves and the offender. But such overpowering feelings have to be controlled. Only a composed parent can help an abused child.”

Adds Jacob: “Even if the offender is a trusted family friend, a neighbour or a relative, parents should not disbelieve a child’s narration of the event. Any doubts expressed will shake the very foundation of the child’s sense of right and wrong. Family support, love and understanding are crucial and will help in the recovery of the individual.”

The individual may recover, but the key question is: how to prevent CSA from happening in the first place?

"Parents should always keep an eye on their children," says Pudussery.
"They should never allow them to be alone in the company of older boys
or relatives."

Adds Jacob: "Children should be taught to distinguish from good and
bad touches. If there is unwanted behaviour, children should be able to
stand up and say no."

The no at the right place and the right time can avoid trauma that can
blight lives for years.

(* Names and location have been changed).

Do’s and Don’ts for Parents

Keep calm: You should not be angry at the child, but at what happened.
Believe the child: In most circumstances, children do not lie about sexual abuse.

Give positive messages: "I know you could not help it," or "I am proud of you for telling."

Explain to the child that he or she is not to blame for what happened.

Answer the child's questions honestly.

Respect the child's privacy: Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of other people.

Get help. Get competent professional counseling, even if it is only for a short time.


Don’t panic or overreact when the child talks about the experience. Children need help and support to make it through this difficult time.

Don’t pressurise the child to talk or avoid talking about the abuse. Allow the child to talk at her or his own pace. Forcing information can be harmful. Silencing the child will not help her or him to forget.

Confront the offender or inform the police.


Of dropped sentences and missing topics

The encounter of a journalist with his subject may result in mixed feelings for both

Shevlin Sebastian

When Ernakulam Collector A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish read an article on him a few days ago in the City Express, he had a mixed reaction. He was happy when people called and congratulated him. Yet, at the same time, there was a feeling of disappointment. There were so many things he had told the journalist which had not been published: his childhood, his early career, his mentor and anecdotes about his father, A.P.M. Makey.

Makey, who passed away on August 22, 2005, had been a municipal commissioner and spent the majority of the career in Corporation work. Hanish said he could not have imagined that, one day he would also be involved with the Corporation. "My father," he said, with eyes bulging out in pride, "would have been very proud of the job I have done [of clearing the city of piled-up garbage]."

The journalist had his reasons about why he did not use the topics that Hanish felt so intensely about. In a newspaper, there is not much of a space and, therefore, he had to make a selection. So, with regret, he had to drop a few subjects.

But what Hanish experienced is a common feeling about interviewees when they read articles about themselves. Sometimes, the sentences are twisted and altered in such a way that they cannot believe that this is what they had said. Sometimes, a sentence is taken completely out of context and the meaning is the exact opposite of what is intended. The interviewee can then vent his anger by yelling at the reporter, writing a letter to an editor or filing a defamation suit.

Ironically, journalists also go through the same experience. Sometimes, their pieces are cut by the desk, because of the ubiquitous ‘pressure of space’. Again, like in the case of Hanish, they might experience a sense of regret and dismay. If it happens too many times, they might lose their cool and go up to the desk and vent their anger. Sometimes, they might even go up to the editor.

Outsiders can be puzzled by this sort of behaviour. After all, it is only sentences: black letters strung together on a white background. But for those who earn a living by writing, sentences are their closest companions, in good times and bad, in sadness and happiness.

Meanwhile, the more passionate and intense among the journalists will carry on thinking about the cut sentences. What an impact it would have made, he thinks, if those sentences had been published, although this is usually an illusion. People read less and carelessly these days.
However, in the journalists’ defence, sometimes, they do hit a rich vein of inspiration. Then, the sentences do penetrate the rough exterior of the body and lodges itself in the reader's soul, but it is a rare occurrence.

What about the feelings of these cut sentences? Can an orphanage be set up for sentences which are unable to find a home in print? Probably, there is no need. As writers will attest, most of them are content remaining as bytes in computer files, or in actual paper files, no complaints, but yearning, like the struggling writer, to find fulfillment in print.

So, Mr. Hanish, what you have experienced is something that occurs across the board: happens with interviewee, and interviewer, writers and poets, and sentences also!

Nevertheless, sorry and all the best!

Funky Fusion

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from the New Indian Express

Balabhaskar and The Big Indian Band rocks Kochi at a show during the Suvarna Varsham exhibition

By Shevlin Sebastian

“Whenever I went to Chennai for work, I would make sure I would go past A.R. Rahman’s house,” says Balabhaskar, 29, violinist and front man of the popular The Big Indian Band. “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 the house. But Rahman was sleeping. “I was heart-broken,” he says.

But fate finally smiled on 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,” he says. “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 room at the Muthoot Plaza. “One of the first things he said was, ‘Hey maan, you seem to be popular here. What are you doing?’”

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

Balabhaskar was recently in Kochi for a performance at Suvarna Varsham, the exhibition to showcase the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Kerala Police. The entry is free and the venue slowly fills up, before the show’s scheduled start at 7.30 p.m.

Asked whether he feels tense, the musician, who is sitting on the Marine Drive promenade, says, “Not at all. I meditate and try to get positive energy to flow through me.”

The band starts the gig by playing a fusion song called Surya, with the violin dominating but there is a pulsing beat, some sweet guitar riffs, ripples of sound from the ghatam and the tabla. The music is clear, loud, and filled with passion and soul.

It is only in the third song, ‘Funky Priya’, which has elements from the raag, Shanmughapriya, that the band begins to have an impact on the audience. In the middle of the song, there is a kind of competition or ‘conversation’, as Balabhaskar says, between the ghatam (played by Sudhir) and the tabla played by Mahesh Mani, one playing Carnatic and the other, Hindustani music. Balabhaskar exhorts them by saying, “Come on, come on.” This jugalbandi is what gets the crowd going: they clap and shout and sway to the music.

Earlier, drummer Nirmal Xavier, 35, described the instrumental music they play as “rock and funk based on Carnatic roots”.

Balabhaskar defines it as global music. “Take the song, ‘My heart will go on’ by Celine Dion in the film, ‘Titanic’. Whether you are an Indian or an American or a Japanese, you are affected by the song. You can feel the romance. It is sung with deep feeling. This is what we want to do: play with feeling and passion.”

In another song, the band begins with the classic ‘Where do I begin,’ from ‘Love Story’, and moves into a Tamil song, then to Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi (Aandhi). In between, it is clear that there is a lot of inventiveness going on. Confirms Xavier, “Though we have an overall structure, we do improvise. So, in between, things are spontaneous.”

The effect is magical and the audience is steadily falling under the spell of the band. In this ocean of sound, a wife tells her husband, “I am sure I saw the shirt that Balabhaskar is wearing at Fab India today” (The violinist is wearing an open-necked striped red and black kurta).

The husband says sardonically, “I thought you had come to listen to the music.”

Later, a laughing Lakshmi, 27, who married Balabhaskar in 2000, confirms that the shirt is, indeed, from Fab India. They had met in University College in Thiruvananthapuram and fell in love. “I love Balabhaskar the person more than the musician. He is good at heart, frank, loving and caring, and, above all, he is my best friend.”

Lakshmi might like the person more but his musical talent cannot be ignored. He learned the violin at the age of four from his uncle, the well-known violinist B. Sashikumar. Music runs in the family. Balabhaskar’s grandfather was a musician and his mother was a singer on All India Radio.

Balabhaskar made a mark in school and university youth festivals and, at the age of 17, composed the music for the film, ‘Mangalyappallakku’. Later, he scored for ‘Kannadikkadavathu’ and ‘Moksham’. He has also brought out music albums, ‘Ninakkayi’ and ‘Aadyamayi’. Performing all over India, in the Middle East and Europe, he has notched up over 500 performances.

In Kochi, at 11 p.m., long after the show is over, Balabhaskar says, “It was not a hi-fi crowd, but I was happy with the reaction. Of course, it is always a tremendous high when you get a good response. But for that to happen, you have to forget the ego and let the music flow through you.”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The ‘Innocent’ face of Maveli

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

By Shevlin Sebastian

He is fat and round and has played hundreds of roles in a career spanning more than twenty years. His dialogue delivery, witty mannerisms and expressive face has made him one of the most popular comedians in Malayalam cinema. Yet, come Onam, if you ask any Malayali who is the modern representative of King Mahabali, the answer comes
without a moment's hesitation? Innocent!

No surprises then that his voice and face graces cassettes and posters of Maveli this Onam. So the question is: Why Innocent, and not Jagathy or mimicry artistes like Kottayam Nazir or Saju Kodian?

"His tummy and stout figure gives an impression of a rich Maharaja," says Dr. S.D. Singh, the psychiatrist of the Cochin Mental Health Centre. "If you make a thin man represent Mahabali, it will not be a right representation."

But why is Innocent preferred over the equally talented Jagathy, for example?

"Different people have different facial expressions in different jobs," says Singh. "For example, we know the expression of a chief justice or a doctor or a teacher. Somehow, the facial expression of Innocent tallies with the Malayali's impression of how Mahabali looks like."

Well known mimicry artist, K.S. Prasad, says, "Can you imagine any other person as Mahabali? Do you think Kala Bhavan Mani, Salim Kumar or Harisree Ashokan is the correct representation of Maveli?"

"No, no, no," continues Prasad on the phone. "It is only Innocent who is the right person. He is innocence personified, a wonderful human being and a great comedian."
Not everybody agrees. Saju Kodian says the association of Innocent with Maveli was a sheer accident.

"In the hit series, 'Dey Maveli Kombathu', it was Innocent's voice that was used for King Mahabali. That is why, for the Malayali, when you mention the word, Maveli, Innocent's face comes to mind. It could have been Jagathy or anybody else."

Another one who agrees is S.S. Anzu, an engineering student from Bangalore. "Since this series became a hit, everybody associates Maveli with Innocent," he says. "And come on, nobody takes this seriously, do they?"

Maybe not. But it is clear if you want to be a Maveli who resonates with Malayalis, you have to be fat, round, innocent, have a face that can mirror a thousand expressions (in other words, possess an incandescent talent) and last, but not the least, have a nice little tummy.

A tall order indeed!

Better to let Innocent be King Mahabali!

A memorable King Mahabali

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

Gopi makes an impact at the Homemakers 2007 fair

By Shevlin Sebastian

The make-up man puts a last dab of colour on the face and suddenly, K. Gopi, 40, is ready. He has flowing black hair, his face is a deep pink, there is a slash of red on his forehead, black kaajal around his eyes, a gold necklace around his neck, gold arm bands, and, on his feet, he wears the traditional slippers with just one knob. Yes, Gopi looks every bit a maveli, holding his umbrella and wearing a bright orange dhoti. “The costume has been provided by Wipro,” he says.

He is standing next to the company’s stall at the ‘Homemakers 2007’ fair, organised by the Pandhal Trade Fair Associates at the Shiva temple grounds. There are around 150 stalls selling various types of consumer, electronic and home appliance items. The crowd on a week-day is so-so, but nearly everybody stops and stares at Gopi. He is, indeed, a striking figure.

Says engineering student Mohammed Nawaz, 23, from Tellicherry: “When I saw King Mahabali, I felt that Onam has already arrived. He really looks like a king. I am happy to see him.” Adds bespectacled Priya Joseph, 13, who stays in Abu Dhabi: “He looks good, but his face has too much pink colour.”

When K. A. Pappachen, 63, a medicine shop owner from Kalady, sees the maveli, he gives him a thump on the back. But he is not happy with the get-up. “The umbrella is too small,” he says. “It should be longer. The maveli looks okay, although he has a paunch. Mavelis usually don’t have a paunch. But I don’t think it is possible to get a modern-day maveli without a paunch?”

Pappachen bursts out laughing, while Gopi grimaces at the remark.

A building painter by profession, Gopi knows somebody in Wipro and that is how he ends up becoming a maveli. “I get paid Rs 500 per day,” says this native of Tripunithara. “But I only have to work from 4 to 7.30 p.m., as the crowd is the largest during this period. I am earning more money than as a painter and the hours are less. This 12-day fair will end on August 25.”

Asked how people treat him, he says, “Everybody admires my costume and treats me with respect, including my family.” His wife, Sobha, and sons Jithu, 19, and Kiran, 17, did come to see him a few days ago, and, he says, his sons enjoyed seeing him in his costume.

So, did Gopi’s presence make a difference in sales? A smiling Sabina Satya Nath, who is in charge of the Wipro stall, which sells Santoor and Chandrika soaps and Sidha herbal shampoo, among other things, says, “People tend to stop to look at the maveli and they end up purchasing something. So, the sales have increased.”

Gopi smiles when he hears this and says, “I am willing to be King Mahabali next year also.”

The cops show why are tops

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Expresss

At the ‘Suvarna Varsham’ exhibition, the Kerala Police display the latest equipment and a committed mind-set

By Shevlin Sebastian

"At a political meeting, a misunderstanding arose between the police and the crowd and things turned violent," says Jayadev Kumar, a police photographer from Kasaragod. When the mob saw that Kumar was taking a video, they pelted him with stones.

"See this scar going down my face," he says, pointing with his finger. "This was because of the stone throwing. My face was bloodied and I had to spend a month in hospital. The crowd wanted to destroy my video camera and they succeeded."

Not many people know that the Kerala Police has a Photographic Bureau. "Our job is to take photographs and video shots at the
scene of a crime," says Kumar. "This will help in the investigation and
will also be presented as evidence in court."

In Kochi, Kumar is manning the photography stall at the 'Suvarna Varsham' exhibition on Marine Drive, which is a celebration of 50 years of the Kerala Police.

In the stall, there are old cameras like the Hasselblad 120 and the latest Nikon and Pentax cameras. "We use a Nikon D200, which costs Rs 1.5 lakh each," says Kumar.

The next stall is the fingerprints bureau, which has a telling poster, ‘Faces can lie, fingerprints never’. And near that is the Hi-Tech Cyber crime cell.

At the entrance, there are a row of mannequins wearing the uniforms of the Kerala Police. It begins with a Travancore era policeman, with his red shirt which ends in a frilly hem just below the waist, and red trousers with golden bands and black shoes. Around 20 of the 29 uniforms are in khaki, the colour of law enforcement in the British Raj.

When asked how these uniforms were sourced, Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham says, “They belong to my personal collection. I have been collecting over the years. We took photographs of policemen of earlier times and got the uniforms stitched.”

In another stall, the equipment displayed is what is used during riots. For example, there are three types of lathis: wood, cane and polycarbon. "When we use a polycarbon lathi, there is less chance of breaking bones, but there is more pain," says C.C. Laiju, head constable, Armed Reserve Camp, Kochi. "However, we use all three nowadays."

Besides the lathis, there are a series of grenades. One of them is the Stinger grenade. "This consists of bolts and pellets," says Laiju. "When the grenade bursts, apart from shedding tears, you will receive small cuts all over the body. This will prevent you from becoming aggressive." Then there is a dye marker grenade. When this bursts, the dye powder falls on people and the culprits can be identified later.

On the right, there are sten guns, machine carbines, revolvers, and, of course, the most popular gun in the world, the AK-47. "The AK-47 has a magazine that holds around 30 bullets," says U.S. Babu, an Assistant Sub Inspector. "The big advantage this gun has over the others is that it has an automatic lever. When you press it, the magazine will fire by itself till all the bullets have been used."

When one lifts the AK-47, it seems lighter than the other guns, at 3.5
kgs. "It is a user-friendly gun," says Babu, with a smile.

In the telecommunications stall, you can see the ubiquitous walkie talkie that most traffic policemen seem to be carrying around these days. "The walkie talkies we use are either made by Motorola or Kenwood," says A. Sali, ASI, Police telecommunications Unit, Aluva. "It costs about Rs 30,000 and in Kochi, there are about 200 walkie talkies being used."

For internal secret communication, the Morse code is used. "When we transmit something, it is received by a repeater which re-transmits it," says Sali. "Unlike mobile phone companies, which need a tower every ten kilometres, we just have five towers in the entire state."

In the next stall, these towers are shown on an impressive wall diagram. The towers are located at Kasaragod, Wyanad, Palakkad, Idukki and Ponmudi. It is manned 24 hours a day and, because of security reasons, the towers are located deep in the forest or at a very high elevation.

At the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) stall, there are underwater mine sweepers, electronic stethoscopes, and night vision goggles. "With the help of these goggles, we can see at a distance of 300m," says Saji Kumar, ASI, Special Branch, BDDS, Thiruvananthapuram. "This has been imported from Russia and costs about Rs 1 lakh. Each bomb squad has about five of them and every district has one."

In the Traffic Police, Kochi City stall, apart from breathanalysers for drunken driving and reflector jackets, the most interesting equipment is the oxygen parlour. You can inhale pure oxygen from it. "When a policeman works for six hours at a stretch at a busy traffic junction, because of pollution, he gets very tired," says Harris K. Farid. "To help alleviate this, he can get a dose of pure oxygen at the police station near the high court."

So what has been the reaction of the public? E.J. Shijoy, 24, says, "My view of the police is what I have seen in movies: the way they use their lathis and tackle criminals. But by meeting them face to face, I have got a far better understanding of how they work."

S.S. Shrijith, 25, a sales manager in a Kochi firm, says, "The exhibition might succeed in changing the people's negative attitude towards the police, to a certain extent. However, when we meet them outside, they might again behave rudely with us."

The policemen, however, are very happy. Says Sali, "We are trying to show that the police is not an enemy, but a friend of the people. And we are succeeding in this."

Adds R.L. Rajesh, of the Police Training College: "There has been a good response. The public is getting an idea of how we work." That could be true, because you get a far better impression of the Kerala Police after viewing the exhibition.

What has not been mentioned so far is the Navy’s formidable participation: you can see and touch air to surface missiles like the Sea Eagle and surface to surface missiles. There are numerous government departments taking part, the Kerala Builder's Forum has a few stalls, and, in total, there are 280 stalls.

The exhibition ends on August 26.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shamal ka Kamaal

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi

Reiki Master, Shamal Durve, claims to have healed the ozone layer

By Shevlin Sebastian

“From 1991, I have been working on healing the ozone layer,” says Shamal Durve, 49, the founder of the Mumbai-based Reiki India Research Centre (RIRC). She is in town to give courses in reiki.

“This has been a big project for us,” she continues. “Most of the holes in the ozone layer have been patched up. We have certain processes and mantras to achieve this. We have been working and working, without informing anybody. And now I have read articles that have confirmed that the ozone layer is healing. This is the most amazing story in my life.”

Skepticism immediately rises up, like black monsoon clouds, in the mind of the listener, but Durve is palpably sincere and the elderly adherents of RIRC, who sit cross-legged near her on a floor in a house near Mermaid Hotel, nod in unison.

Durve is plump, clad in a purple salwar kameez, with dark shadows under her eyes. Her most attractive quality is her bubbly laughter, which erupts often, in between stretches of impassioned talking about reiki.

So what is reiki?

It is a Japanese word consisting of two words, Rei and Ki. Rei means spiritual while Ki means energy. “It is the Universal Life Energy which is found all around us,” says Durve. “When you are initiated and become receptive, you receive the right amount of energy.”

Sitting next to Durve is Augustine A. Thomas, 57, a former principal of Maharaja’s College. Thomas read about reiki ten years ago in a magazine while traveling on a train. Thereafter, he got in touch with the RIRC and took his first level course. Today, he is a reiki master and the head of the Kerala chapter.

“According to reiki, there are two bodies,” he says. “There is the physical body and around this body, there is an energy body, which is invisible and is called the aura. It has seven chakras, which are connected to the physical body.”

The purpose of the chakras, he says, is to absorb the universal energy 24 hours a day. For most people, the chakras are not working properly. “But once you learn to get the flow right, your life changes,” he says. “Pre-reiki, I was struggling with life, but post-reiki, I am flowing with it.”

Durve smiles, nods at Augustine and says, “After initiation, you get attuned with Nature.”

Durve, who lives in Mumbai, was a professor of Hindi in KC College and took a doctorate on the Hindi writer Mohan Rakesh. One day, in 1989, along with her husband Pradeep, she attended a course by a reiki master, Karl Everding from Germany. “Something happened to me during that course,” she says. “When Everding said, ‘You can heal the universe,’ I said to myself, ‘Yes, this is what I can and want to do.’ I had found my life’s purpose.”

In less than a year she had set up the RIRC. Within two years, she healed 162 people.
So what exactly does she do? “In reiki, when we touch a person, in the 27 points in the body, he or she draws the energy from the universe through us. So, we are the go-between. Sometimes, I feel something warm go through me. Sometimes, I feel a vibration.”

In Kochi, Durve is giving a refresher course for 12 Reiki masters. One of them is Dr. Jeesha C. Haran, professor of community medicine, CSI Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram. “I have been practising reiki since 1999,” he says. “Reiki enables you to become stable. You don’t get agitated at all.” When he has to say goodbye to Durve, the professor lies prostrate on the floor, and the reiki master taps him gently on the back.

Another participant is builder Shaji Ayyappan, 38. “When you practice reiki, your listen more to your intuition, instead of depending on the advice of other people,” he says. “In business, decisions are very important. Because of reiki, my judgement has become better and I have taken correct steps. In five years, I have done eight projects.”

So, is reiki a viable project to take up? Sceptics will always be there but, perhaps, attending a course might help sweep away the clouds of doubt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

‘We are in a rat race, it is only money, money, money’

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

Interview/Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil

By Shevlin Sebastian

“I remember a poor fisherwoman, Kiluki, who used to come to my home every day from Sankhummugham beach in Trivandrum, carrying a basket of fish on her head for nearly five kilometres. My mother, after some bargaining, would buy the fish. After that, both of them would sit down and say the rosary together. This is something I have never forgotten,” says Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, who completed 60 years in the religious life on August 2. “I learnt from my mother how to love poor people and to treat them as my equal.”
The Cardinal, clad in a cream cassock, with red buttons, is sitting in a large spacious room at the Major Archbishop’s House. His eyes are pools of sadness and his voice sounds weary in the pin-drop silence.
“The surprising thing for me is how quickly 80 years have gone past,” he says, with a shake of his head. “It seems like yesterday to me.”

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Despite all human weaknesses and shortcomings, I feel I have been loyal to Jesus Christ. What gives peace in the religious life is when you obey your superiors. I have never asked for any job. I have never said no to any job that was given to me. I worked as best as I could in every assignment. That is real happiness.

Everybody talks about social justice and the need to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. It is mostly words and no action. Whichever government comes to power, all this talk about social justice is only talk. Governments have failed because of huge corruption and because officials accept donations from moneybags. As a result, they are unable to implement a socialist policy.
Of course, there were great men like EMS Namboodiripad who made courageous legislation: everybody had to give ten cents of land to the poor. But that kind of greatness has not been seen in subsequent governments, be it the UDF or LDF.

Can you tell us the status of the fracas with the LDF government over education?
The feeling I get is that the government has realised it has made a mistake. It will not like to upset a vote bank. So, the chances of a reconciliation are high.


People are reluctant to make any sacrifices. In public and private life, selfishness has grown. The husband is concerned about his career and the wife has her own interests. This results in a lack of love between them. That is why there are so many divorces these days. We are in a rat race. It is only money, money, money.
There is also a lack of empathy for the less fortunate…
Yes. The idea that a suffering person is my neighbour is not there among
people. You throw a few coins at a poor man, but that is not sharing. He is also a child of God, a precious person, but born poor and probably
subjected to oppression for centuries. Whatever the reason, we must
strive to create a more egalitarian society.


Why is there an erosion of faith among the faithful?
Sufficient care has not been taken to communicate the Christian faith to the succeeding generations. This is why so many young people have no strong convictions about their faith. Added to this, there is the negative influence of the media and new worldly attractions.
There are all kinds of pleasures, going for travels abroad, good jobs and big incomes. The opportunities are many. With material progress, the world has become enticing. It draws you away from faith.

In such a world, should priests continue to be celibate?
Celibacy is all the more needed in a world like ours where the challenges to the faith are greater. Celibacy helps a priest to devote himself totally to the work of God.

I have been thinking about retirement because I am 80. My mental and physical powers are diminishing. So I felt that it would be better to give this office to a younger and more energetic person. However, I had to think about the consequences.

What does that mean?
Many people have told me that my presence is needed to preserve the unity of the church. Otherwise, I would have retired a long time ago.

Children of a nowhere God

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express

Women, who have illegitimate children, abandon them at Saandvanam. The orphanage struggles to play father and mother to these troubled children

By Shevlin Sebastian

When two-year-old Prateeksha sees me, she starts to cry. "She thinks
you are a doctor," says a smiling Radha Menon, 40, chairman of the Edapally-based Saandvanam, an orphanage of the Bharatheya Charitable Trust. "She is afraid of doctors."

Prateeksha is the child of a home nurse, who abandoned her the day she
was born. "We have no idea where the mother is," says Menon. "Most of the mothers give us false addresses and telephone numbers."

Sitting next to Prateeksha on the bed is doe-eyed Chikki. She is also two years
of age, abandoned by the mother, who suffers from a mental disturbance. "She cannot afford to look after the baby, because her husband is jobless," says Menon.

In the next room, there are a few boys and girls. A teacher, Jessie, is
teaching them a song. When they see me, the boys swarm around. One boy, Shakti, plump and with a goofy smile, shakes my hand. Jasu pulls at
my belt, curiosity write large on his face, while Amal presses the mobile
phone protruding from my trouser pocket.

Later, Menon would say, "They know that because there is something different about them, people come to see them, but they don't know what it is. They tell me, 'Amma, we are not ugly, we go to school, so why do people come to see us?’"

But the older children know they are not living with their parents. "When a family comes visiting, they will ask me whether these people are their parents. 'Are our mother or father among them’ is a question they ask all the time.’

And so, in a four-roomed, 950 sq. ft. house, in narrow Anjanappilli Parambu Lane, live 39 children, ranging in age from a few months to 14 years. Each has a tragic tale to tell.

Take the case of Ganesh. He is from Mumbai. He was staying in a colony near a railway station. His elder brother put him on a train and asked him to beg. That particular train was coming to Kerala.

"He got down at Ernakulam and was planning to return on the same train, when the police caught him," says Menon. "They brought him here. He is seven years old and has no idea of his name and where he stays in Mumbai. He has been with us for four years and is studying in Class 2.”

Incidentally, none of the children have birth certificates. So, Menon fixes the birth dates. Some of the dates that she chooses are January 1, January 26, August 15, the dates of Onam and November 14, Children’s Day. In the absence of parents, she is mother and father to them. They call her Amma. But who are the actual mothers?

"They are usually sex workers, wives of murderers and mental patients," says Shanta, Menon’s sister, who helps her in the orphanage. "But you will be surprised to know that the majority of unwanted pregnancies occur among home nurses."

The woman goes to work in a house, the man of the household finds her
attractive, plies her with gifts, seduces her and has unprotected sex. "She gets pregnant," says Shanta. "And then they don't know what to do. The man will not bother to help. Eventually, they give the babies to us."

Do mothers ever suffer from guilt after they have given up their children?
"I don't think so," says Menon. "Not a single mother has come back and
taken her child. They have no idea that by abandoning their child, they are inflicting lifelong psychological damage on the children. There are times when they cry for their parents. A child misses the mother more than the father. Sometimes, the older ones get angry and take it out on us."

Menon began this orphanage by accident. She met a Brahmin priest in Parur who
had five mentally challenged children. Out of the five, three died. And
for the two, they wanted to place them in a home, but could not find a
suitable one. That was when Menon decided to start a home near Bharat Mata
College in Thrikkakara in 2000. Within a matter of time, she had fifteen mentally challenged children. Later, she moved to Edapally.

Now, she has divided the children into two groups. The normal children stay at Edapally, while the mentally challenged group, around 22 members, stay in a home at Tripunithara.

At this moment, the major problem for Menon is funds. "I need Rs 70,000
a month to manage the expenses of the two homes," she says, without a trace of anxiety on her face. "I depend on my own family (her lawyer-husband works in Mumbai), my three sisters and relatives and from donations from the public."

In the Saadvanam office, as we speak, two HDFC Bank employees, Indu and Roy, are waiting patiently to have a discussion. Menon wants to take a Rs 50 lakh loan, so that she can buy a larger place to house all the children comfortably. The discussion will be on what collateral Menon can offer.

So, why is Menon so committed to these children? "My mother, who has been
the biggest influence in my life, when I was growing up in Guruvayoor, always used to help people," she says. "I saw the happiness that poor people felt when they received gifts, money or food. That is why I am doing this."

Then, this mother of a 22-year old son, Nirmal, becomes silent and looks at the ground. After a while, she looks up and with a voice thick with emotion, says, "I will be with these children for the rest of my life."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Barcelona, here I come!

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)

Budding footballer Evans Thomas is all excited about taking part in a week-long training programme with F.C. Barcelona, one of the world's top clubs

Shevlin Sebastian

The video, shot by Evans Thomas himself, opens on the Choice School football field. Thomas dribbles past three defenders, the ball firmly in control and heads towards goal. Then the camera moves inside a room and focuses on his bare feet as he lobs the ball up and down.
Then it cuts back to the action on the football field, where he is still dribbling. Then to the marble floor of his dining room in his house in Edapally: he is passing the ball from the left to the right feet and back again (all this is accompanied by the throbbing music of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’).
Now he is outside, in front of the garage, juggling the ball, then back again in the dining room and then suddenly it cuts to a shot on the field. Thomas takes a shot and the ball hits the roof of the net like a missile. Even to the untrained eye, it is obvious that this 16-year-old lad has oodles of natural talent.
It is this one-minute video, now uploaded on You Tube, under the title, 'Evans Thomas', that won Thomas selection for the Nike-sponsored 'Where's The Next' contest, to unearth footballing
talent in Asia.
Ten boys were selected from all over India based on these videos and were brought to Delhi. They were divided into two teams, and the match was watched by former Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia.
"I showed what I normally do: I did some good dribbling and gave a lot of passes and through balls," says Thomas. "I helped a lot of my teammates score goals. At the end, Bhutia called us and said I was selected. However, he said, 'The match was played for only half an hour. It is too little time to judge a player.'"
Nevertheless, Thomas was elated. "In fact, I am dazed," he says. "The whole thing is slowly sinking in."
He is the only Indian in a 16-member team which comprises players from countries like South Korea, China and Japan. At the end of this month, they will go for a week’s training with the coaches at F.C. Barcelona, one of the top clubs in the world.
Says elder brother Rajpaul: "Evans will train with the B team. Both the English and Spanish clubs have A, B and C teams. If the club is impressed with his performance, he will be recruited to the B team. This is a search for talent: Who is going to be the next Ronaldinho?"

Thomas is the second son of affluent businessman P.E. Thomas. There are some sporting genes in the family: His mother, Jolly, was the captain of the college basketball team. Rajpaul, who studied in Montfort in Yercaud, has played for the Tamil Nadu state football team in the junior, as well as the senior team. Now, he has given up on the game and is concentrating on his mechanical engineering course at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Dubai.
But Thomas wants to pursue a career in football. "My parents may agree after this Barcelona trip," he says.
His mother, Jolly, says, "Till this selection happened, we were dead against him playing football, because of the Board exams in six months time [Thomas is in Class 12]."
But a supportive Molly Cyril, the principal of Choice School, says: "Thomas has maintained a good level in his academics. He is not only talented in football but is also a good guitarist."
When Thomas hears this, he smiles and says, “I want to concentrate on football now.” On weekends, he plays with a local outfit, G.C. Kaloor, at the St. Albert’s College grounds, near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
So what is it about the game that has made him play it from the age of seven?
"If you feel down and you play, you feel good,” he says. “Football is like life. If there is an obstacle in front, you try to work your way around it. And then you try to achieve your goal.
“Another lesson that I have learned is that you cannot make it through life on your own. To achieve your goals, you need teammates and other people."
The ‘other people’, in this instance, is Nike.
So what is the company’s reasoning behind ‘Where’s the Next’?
“Nike wants to give an impetus to the grassroots of the game in India,” says Sanjay Gangopadhyay, Marketing Director, Nike India. “F.C. Barcelona is one of the most popular clubs in Asia. So, we see this as an opportunity to feed the passion for football and to provide a premium experience for some of the most talented teens in the country.”
So, thanks to the global footwear giant, one Kochi talent has a chance to blossom.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Man on the move

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)

Ernakulam District Collector Mohammed Hanish is basking in the adulation and gratitude of the people for solving the garbage crisis

By Shevlin Sebastian

As Ernakulam District Collector A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish was about to sit on his chair at the camp office near Durbar Hall Ground on a Thursday morning, he received a call. It was from T.M. Abu, a former mayor of the Cochin Corporation and a well-respected politician. Abu bemoaned the state of the city at present and compared it to the time several decades before. Hanish, 37, listened patiently and with respect. Abu did not know that about 40 people, men and women of varying ages, were waiting to meet the Collector.

After the conversation, Hanish swung into action. As petitions were put in front of him, he dealt with each one swiftly, speed reading the letter, marking the action to be taken with a pen and passing it on to his assistants. Amazingly, within 45 minutes, he had cleared out the room.

Later, in the air-conditioned Ambassador car, on the way to the collectorate in Kakkanad, Hanish said, “The experience of meeting the public in the morning has been an ennobling one. The entire spectrum of human emotion, the pain and anguish, the trials and tribulations and the joy are on display.”

The problems, he said, were usually related to property disputes and physical threats but the most common and distressing was the need for financial assistance. “They believe that the collector can get everything done, so they come to me. I have set up an informal system where wealthy individuals and NGOs can lend a helping hand.”

Outside, a traffic constable at the Palarivattom bypass crossing, saluted the Collector, who is basking in the kudos and gratitude of a city for solving the garbage crisis.

“Would you believe it,” he said, his eyes enlarged in amazement, “that in just four days, we cleared 5000 tonnes of garbage. Now, the backlog has been cleared, and we are back to daily collection. Actually, you just need 60 lorries and the garbage can be cleared within two hours.”

So what was his most interesting experience during the crisis?

“The extraordinary build-up of tension on Saturday morning (July 28) when I passed the order to take over 50 acres of Central land, belonging to FACT, towards the state government for public purpose,” he said. “The people refused to accept it.”

The tension began to build up. As district magistrate, he declared prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “By about 9 p.m., everybody expected a physical clash,” said Hanish. “But by 10 p.m., the huge crowd melted away and just 37 persons allowed themselves to be arrested.”

So what happened? “I made two conclusions from this,” he said. “One, I have this deep faith in the law-abiding nature of the people. Secondly, if there is political will and administrative efficiency, anything can be achieved.”

At the collectorate, Hanish was having a discussion with politicians (K. Babu, Prof K.V. Thomas, among others) and panchayat presidents about the state’s plans for Onam celebrations later this month. Outside, in the corridor, Sabu Varghese, the personal security guard of Hanish, said, “Sir works twenty hours a day. He has lunch at 5 p.m. When he returns to the camp office, he has visitors till 10.30 p.m. Then he takes the files into the house and works till 1 a.m., has dinner, goes to sleep at 2 a.m. and gets up at 7.30 a.m.”

Later, Hanish confirmed these timings and it was obvious that this was taking a toll on his family: wife Amina and five-year-old daughter Ayesha.

Agreed Hanish: “Yes, the greatest sufferers have been my family, but they are putting up with it bravely. Since my wife is the daughter of a well-known politician, (M.I. Shah Niwas), she knows what life is like in the public eye.”

On the phone, Amina acknowledged that it had been very difficult in the beginning to adjust to the long absences. “But now my daughter and I have got used to it,” she said, with a laugh. Incidentally, Hanish became collector in July, 2004.

So what has motivated him to keep to this punishing schedule? “The fact that my actions can create a great difference in the lives and living conditions of people, and the warm responses from hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction when, at 2 a.m., I have set to rest every pending file in the district.”