Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Designing your own home

Preethy Sunil avoided interior designers and decided to do up her home in her own way. The effect is homely and cool

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Preethy Sunil’s flat at Vennala, one of the first things that you notice is how cleverly space has been utilised. In an alcove just opposite the door, she has fitted in a small aquarium, and just above it, there is an altar with an open Bible placed on a wooden rack, and a picture of Jesus Christ looming over it.

For the living room, on one wall, the paint is a mix of peach, yellow and orange, while on the opposite wall, she has put a cream colour, to create a contrast. “The living room should have colours that are warm, while at the same time, it should give an impression of being cool,” says Preethy.

In the bedroom, she has put in a shade of blue, with the chairs and a table also painted in blue. She used the colour blue, since it gives an impression of serenity. “Since my husband, Sunil, is a busy man, I thought blue and white colours would calm him down when he goes to sleep.”

Alongside one wall are cupboards with mirrors and she has managed to put a small steel almirah inside one. “I did it to save space,” she says.

For her children, Nikita, 10, and Namita, 5, the walls have been painted in pink. “Girls like the colour pink,” she says. Apart from the figure of Sleeping Beauty drawn on a wall, there are two bunk-like beds, one on top of the other, with a small wooden ladder attached at one end.

“Inevitably, the children end up sleeping together on one bunk,” says Preethy, with a smile. In the children’s bathroom, the tiles have designs of floating bubbles and Preethy has also added a shower stall to prevent the water from being splashed about.

Off the dining room, there is another alcove, which Preethy has cleverly converted into a bar, where bottles, glasses and an opener can be kept. Incidentally, one wall of the dining room is painted in a stunning metallic finish.

In the kitchen, the cabinets are in a bright red colour, with contrasting white panels. “I wanted the kitchen to give off a bright feeling since we housewives spend so many hours there,” she says.

Overall, the effect is neat, stylish and tranquil. It is clear that Preethy has made the maximum use of an area of 1400 sq. ft.

Says James Thomas, Chief Manager, DLF Home Developers Ltd.: “The colour combination in the children’s bedroom is very attractive. Preethy has a knack for interior design.”

Preethy’s good friend, Asha Surendran, says, “I like the way the master bedroom has been designed, with the cupboards on one side. And the TV mounted on the wall in the living room takes up very little space.”

The good news is that Preethy managed to do it without the help of an interior designer. “I just read up on a lot of books on design,” she says. “A lot of women can do the same thing.”

She says one of the main drawbacks of doing up your own house in style is the prohibitive cost. She herself spent Rs 6 lakh over six months. “But you can avoid adding to the cost by hiring an interior designer,” she says. “To design your apartment well, all you need to do is follow your instincts.”

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

Monday, April 28, 2008

Junior gets going

Vijay Yesudas, who recently won the Kerala State Award for the best playback singer, is tenaciously following in the footsteps of his legendary father, K.J. Yesudas

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, when Vijay Yesudas was seven years old, he was getting ready to go to school in Chennai when he noticed that his shoelaces had not been tied. So, he ran to the living room where his father, the singer, K.J. Yesudas, was conversing with a group of people. Vijay propped his feet up on his father’s lap and asked him to tie the laces. “The guests were people who looked at my father like he was a god and always touched his feet,” says Vijay, with a smile. “They looked stunned at the lack of respect shown by a son to a father. They did not know that he was just ‘Appa’ to me”

At the Hotel South Park in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijay, 29, a shade under 6’, looks smart and confident, dressed in a brown shirt and denim trousers, as he greets the receptionist and the waiters with a cheery smile and a ‘Hi’.

There is the glow of success on his face as he has just won the Kerala State Award for Best Male Playback singer for the song, Kolakuzhal Viliketto from the Malayalam film, Nivedyam.

“I was surprised at winning the award,” he says. “In fact, I never knew I was a contender. I feel I have not reached the level of getting a State award, but, as my colleagues jokingly said, ‘Just keep quiet and accept it.’”

So, he will accept the award, but it has not been easy to follow in the footsteps of a father who is a legend. So, at what age, did he realise that his father is a great singer? “It was only when I became a singer that I became aware of what a huge career he has had,” he says. “I felt intimidated and scared.”

What did not help were the comparisons that people drew with him and his father and how he was falling short. “I asked myself, ‘Am I good enough?’” he says. “It was a frustrating period.”

But Vijay steeled himself and embarked on his career in August, 1999 by singing for the film, Millennium Stars, along with his father and Hariharan. Today, this album is regarded as music director Vidyasagar’s best work in Malayalam. Thereafter, Vijay has sung in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Tulu, a total of 300 songs.

Asked which is his favourite language, he says, “I like to sing in Tamil because it is a sweet and rhythmic language, but in Malayalam, the songs are more melodious.”

In between all this, he got training in Carnatic music from Govindan Kutty, an alumni of the RLV Music Academy at Tripunithara and Hindustani Classical music from Ramamoorthy Rao, a disciple of Bhimsen Joshi. “It gave me a chance to expand my voice and I was able to take the high notes,” he says. “I sang for an hour and a half every day, but, to be honest, I am a little weak on daily training.”

He says he does not actually sit down and do a riyaaz. Instead, he sings to himself when he is driving or walking around the apartment in Chennai. “On the other hand, my Dad does a huge amount of training,” he says. “Singing is like breathing for him. I wish I could do that. It is amazing.”

Says music director M. Jayachandran: “My advice to Vijay would be to dedicate himself more to his singing. There is a fine timbre in his voice, which I like. In the middle octaves, he reminds me of his father.”

The father has had a powerful influence on the talented son. So, what tips did Vijay get from him? “Initially, he told me I should improve my diction and the feeling for a song,” says Vijay. “But he also told me that the feeling will come with age and from gaining experiences in life.”

Vijay says that what his father said was true. “In 2002, I met Darshana and had a four-year courtship before marrying her in 2007,” he says. “It was only after I experienced the feeling of being romantic that I could express it in a song.”

Vijay comes across as nice and easy going. Confirms his friend Krishna Mohan, 27: “He is a laid-back fun-loving person.” So, in the highly competitive field of playback singing, it might have been difficult for the relaxed Vijay to make a mark, if he had not been the son of Yesudas.

Vijay agrees and says, “It would have been tough to meet composers or music directors, even if you have talent. You need contacts to get the breakthrough.” He says things are easier now for new singers, because of the popularity of reality-based singing shows, where they are able to showcase their talents and draw the attention of directors.

But, despite the rising competition, Vijay says he is getting better as a singer and the indications are that he will uphold the Yesudas name for years to come!

Vijay’s Top Ten of Yesudas’ songs
Name of song Film Language
1) Kannae Kalaimaane Moonraam Pirai (Tamil)

2) Devanganagal Kayyozhinja tharakam —Njan Gandharvan (Malayalam)

3) Tendril Vandhu - Thendraley Ennai Thodu (Tamil)

4) Jab deep Jale Aana - Chitchor (Hindi)

5) Vellai Pura Onru– Pudhu Kavithai (Tamil)

6) Sagarame Shaanthamaaka Nee – Madanothsavam (Malayalam)

7) Poongaatru— Moonraam Pirai (Tamil)

8) Nenje Nenje – Ratchagan (Tamil)

9) Kya Karoon Sajini – Swami (Hindi)

10) Poove Sempoove -- Solla Thudikuthu Manasu (Tamil)

Following the parent

Like Vijay Yesudas, who is the son of a legend, K.J. Yesudas, there are other children of well-known artistes who are making their way in the footsteps of their parents. For instance, there is Shweta, the daughter of well-known singer Sujatha Menon. She has also bagged the Kerala State Award for best female playback singer for the song Kolakuzhal Viliketto from the Malayalam film, Nivedyam.

As a child, she was not interested in singing but when she took part in inter-school festivals, she felt her destiny lay in singing. Her turning point came when she sang for Deepak Dev’s Lion. Thereafter, the offers started pouring in.

Like Shweta, Vineeth Sreenivasan, the son of well-known Malayalam actor, Sreenivasan, was not interested in singing till he won a contest in Class eight in a schools’ youth festival. When the director Priyardarshan heard about this, he asked him to sing for his film, Kilichundan Mampazham.

Thereafter, director Roshann Andrews asked him to sing for his film, Udayana Tharam, in which his father was acting. The result: the song, Karale, karalinte, hit the top of the popularity charts and established Vineeth’s name. Thereafter, he has had several hits and his first movie, Cycle, in which Vineeth plays a hero, has also become a hit.

One of Kerala’s greatest lyricists was Vayalar Rama Varma. His son, Vayalar Saratchandra Varma did not have any writing ambitions. After college, he worked for 12 years in a distillery.

But the turning point came when he lost his job. He sat at home, read books and penned a poem, which he sent to K.J. Yesudas. This was set to music by Alleppey Ranganath and appeared in an album of Ayyappa songs.

His debut as a lyricist was in the film Ente Ponnuthampuran. Thereafter, he impressed with his lyrics for Mizhirandillum, Harbour, Achamakuttiyude Achayan, the super-hit, Chanthupottu, and many other films.

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

Monday, April 21, 2008

Darkness at noon, night and morning

In middle age, for the upper classes, the married relationship stagnates, the sex declines and the wife is frustrated, angry and bitter

By Shevlin Sebastian

“The first night was terrible for both of us,” says Prema Rajan, 46. “My husband and I were so disappointed. We were made to feel it would be the most exciting night of our lives, but nothing like that happened.”

The experience was physically painful for Prema and there was a lot of fumbling in the dark. “It took us some time to learn how to go about it and enjoy sex,” she says, with a laugh.

Twenty four years have passed. Three daughters were born. Prema is a teacher in an upscale school, while her husband is a CEO of a private firm. “My sex life petered out ten years ago, after my third child,” she says. “It was not because of any bitterness or incompatibility. Both of us began getting our orgasmic pleasures from other things.”

While her husband is intensely involved in his career, Prema has turned her mind towards things spiritual. “Middle age is the time when you overcome your indulgences,” she says. “It is also the time when I feel that if I don’t have something, I am okay with it.”

But not everybody has Prema’s sense of equanimity. Gayatri Raghavan, 49, says, “I am at the stage where I am battling the ‘empty nest syndrome’ (her son and daughter are studying abroad), as well as menopause.” She says this gives rise to unhappiness and the wife needs to be handled with oodles of tender loving care. “But my husband is indifferent or, perhaps, ignorant of my plight,” she says.

What is adding to Gayatri’s misery is her lack of a sex life. Married for 25 years to a successful businessman, she says, “Sex is history for us. It became very mechanical, lacklustre and then slowly petered out!”

She has company in Susan Thomas, 48. “In the last 15 years, I have had sex a few times a year,” she says. “And I am not exaggerating. I am sick and tired of my husband. The problem with my marriage is that there is no intimacy, no emotional bonding and no sex.”

So, why does sex go down as the years go by? “Partners tend to take each other for granted,” says Gayatri. “Spouses also don’t take pains to maintain themselves physically and this leads to a deadening of interest.”

Prema says one of the main reasons for the decline of sex in her social circle is a hectic lifestyle. “Both husband and wife have thriving careers,” she says. “They are so exhausted at the end of the day, they don’t have time for anything else.”

So, in these busy times, how do these women tackle sexual frustration? “I usually masturbate or have a sexual fantasy,” says Gayatri. “Both are very satisfying.” Susan, on the other hand, hates masturbation, but would not mind having a sexual fantasy. For both, affairs are a no-no.

“It is not that I am prudish or puritanical,” says Gayatri. “But I fear the censure of a conservative society.” Susan says that she has not met a man with whom she could fall in love with.

Prema, on the other hand, says that she did have an affair but it ran out of steam because she did not want to break up her marriage. She says she knows of friends who had affairs, out of sheer boredom, but none made the ultimate move of divorce. “Most women I know just did not have the energy to walk out,” says Prema.

Susan’s friends have also indulged in affairs but, “it is a dead-end. Only one had the courage to go for a divorce and marry a childhood sweetheart.” She feels that around 75 per cent of the marriages in the 45 to 55 age group are unhappy. “The women are suffering silently,” she says. “Eventually, they will fall sick, so that they can get a little attention. Most illnesses in this age group have psychosomatic origins.”

But not everybody has a gloomy story to tell. Snehalata Panicker is 50, but looks 40, what with her slim figure and unlined face, made more attractive by high cheekbones and kaajal-rimmed eyes. Married for 25 years, she has a reasonably satisfactory sexual life. “My husband and I indulge in it at least once a week,” she says.

Asked whether sex is more enjoyable now than when she was younger, she says it is better now. “When a woman is in her child-rearing period, it is difficult to think about sex,” she says. “Every day, you have to get up early, get the children ready, and go to work. Managing a house and career is a stressful responsibility.”

She says that now – her two sons are working abroad -- she is prone to experimentation. “I am in a very free period,” she says. “But we don’t use sexual toys yet, because my husband is a conventional person.”

So, what is Snehalata’s advice to those who are having a tough time? “Couples should talk about their needs to each other,” she says. “I have noticed that the communication aspect is poor in most marriages.”

(Names and identities have been changed)

How to revive your sexual life

By Dr. Prakash Kothari

For women, when there is a deficiency of estrogen, it leads to a dryness in the vagina, which results in painful intercourse. Hence, the estrogen levels should be high. Women should eat food that is rich is estrogen: soya beans and its products. In addition, a little bit of testosterone would be better. Have urad ka dal and garlic. Garlic dilates the blood vessels in the pelvic region.

Even after this, if lubrication is inadequate, you can use KY, a water-based jelly or synthetic estrogen, but under a doctor’s advise.

Middle-aged people should devote more time to foreplay. As you grow older, getting an erection in a man and lubrication in a woman is a slow process.

There is a misconception that menopause is the end of sex. This needs to be clarified: it is the end of the reproductive career, but not the sexual life.

Communication is the best solvent of sexual problems. The four-letter word at this stage is T A L K. Communicate to each other about your likes and dislikes, and about the erogenous zones.

Sometimes, only foreplay will revive passions. It will also allay performance anxiety for man and woman. Both partners should remember that, sometimes, the appetisers are better than the main course, that is, intercourse.

You can use fantasy or erotic literature. If there is still a problem of arousal, as Sage Vatsyanana wrote in the Kama Sutra, one can use apadravya (an artificial penis, dildo or a vibrator).

Please remember sex has no expiry date.

(The Mumbai-based Kothari is one of the leading sexologists in the country)

Talking the language of love

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a best-selling book, The Five Love Languages (How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate) about married relationships and why so many people are unhappy. He says that if spouses follow the five love languages, the chances of happiness are very high.

The Five Love Languages are:

Words of Affirmation
Mark Twain once said “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Verbal appreciation speaks powerfully to persons whose primary Love Language is “Words of Affirmation.”

Quality Time
Quality time is more than mere proximity. It’s about focusing all your energy on your mate. A husband watching sports while talking to his wife is NOT quality time.
Quality conversation is very important in a healthy relationship.

Receiving Gifts
Some mates respond well to visual symbols of love. If you speak this love language, you are more likely to treasure any gift as an expression of love and devotion.

Acts of Service
Sometimes, simple chores around the house can be an undeniable expression of love. Even simple things like laundry and taking out the trash.

Physical Touch
Many mates feel the most loved when they receive physical contact from their partner. For a mate who speaks this love language loudly, physical touch can make or break the relationship. Sexual intercourse makes many mates feel secure and loved in a marriage.


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

Auditory delights

Visually challenged musicians, brimming with talent and tenacity, work hard to create magic on a Kochi stage

By Shevlin Sebastian

In August, 2007, Kerala’s greatest singer, K.J. Yesudas was staying for a few days at the Hotel Le Meridien in Kochi. One day, as he was loitering around in the lobby, the piped instrumental music caught his attention. When he enquired, the staff told him it was played by three visually challenged musicians, who did a gig, every evening, at the hotel, between 8 and 10 p.m. Yesudas expressed an interest in meeting them and, thankfully, the musicians were living nearby.

“We went to his room one afternoon,” says flautist C.A. Muthu, 34. “Yesudas gave us plenty of tips. He told me that whenever there was a change in the octave, there was a jump. I could avoid that by studying the techniques of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia.”

Muthu says it was one of the best experiences in my life. “All my life I had thirsted to meet Yesudas and now here I was, in his presence and talking with him,” he says. “There was a dryness in my throat. I felt so nervous.”

Muthu sits on a red plastic chair in his house at Kundannoor Road. It is a bachelor’s pad, although he shares it with a married visually challenged tabla player, T.V. Jaimon, 45, whose family lives in Alleppey. There are boxes at one corner of a bed, newspapers at another, a speaker and CDs on a shelf.

At the age of four, Muthu lost his eyesight. “I don’t have any visual memory,” he says. He joined a blind school, and learnt vocal singing. But after college, he joined a professional music troupe as a flautist. “I learnt the flute on my own in Class 7,” he says. He played for several years before he became a member of the Heart2Heart orchestra run by the Society for the Rehabilitation for the Visually Challenged (SRVC) in 2006.

His colleagues Jaimon and guitarist, Frederick Joseph Ben (Benny), also discovered music, when they were young, played for several years in professional troupes, before they joined the Heart2Heart orchestra.

Last Sunday, they are joined by several other members for a two-and-a-half hour show held at the Fine Arts Hall for the Rotary Club of Cochin Metropolis. There is Josey on the keyboard, Ratheesh on the mridangam and congo drums, Jairaj on the rhythm composer and vocalists -- Sinimol, married couple Prashant and Manju, and Velayudhan.

There is also guest artist Vijaylakshmi, on the gayatri veena, an unusual one-stringed instrument, attached to an amplifier. To lend humour, there are mimicry artistes Jaleel and Anish. It is astonishing to see that every participant is visually challenged.

As Vijaylakshmi starts the first notes of Chand Sifarish from Fanaa, you can see the intense concentration with which the other band members are following the tune and always, without an error, coming in at the right time. “Unlike normal people, they cannot read notations,” says Sunil Mathew, secretary of the SRVC. “To get the coordination right, they have to do numerous rehearsals.”

Muthu says that since they live in different parts of Kerala, each person has to learn his part and arrive for the rehearsals a couple of days before a performance. Josey, the band leader, ensures that all the elements blend in perfectly. “We don’t look at the time when we do rehearsals,” says Muthu. “We only stop when we have perfected the song.”

The result is a pulsating, thrilling, rendering of Chand Sifarish.

During one particular section, when Vijaylaskhmi does not have to play, as the other instruments take over, she slaps her thigh in rhythm with the music and an ecstatic smile breaks out on her face. It is an unforgettable sight.

When singer Sinimol is led to the mike, she stands a little to the right. A volunteer, Amla Antony, gently comes up and straightens her, so that she is facing the audience. When the song is over, she stands still, waiting for Amla to lead her away.

Earlier, in the green room, just before the concert, Sinimol, wearing a sparkling white salwar kameez, says, “I feel so nervous. Always, before a concert, I feel edgy.”

So, when she sings, is Sinimol aware of the audience? “When I perform in villages, the reaction is more spontaneous: there are lots of shouting and clapping,” she says. “In cities like Kochi, the audience is polite and only claps.”

Guitarist Benny says that he can gauge the quality of the appreciation by the intensity of the claps. “Sometimes, when the people are not excited, the clapping is low-key.”

In the meantime, numerous Malayalam and Hindi film songs are sung and then the young Anish comes to the stage. He does an extraordinarily accurate mimicry, with his mouth, lips and fingers, of jungle noises, car and train sounds, the commentary of Ravi Shastri, and the voices of film star Mamooty and Donald Duck. Jaleel, on the other hand, is more into satire. The audience is in splits.

“Overall, it is a scintillating performance,” says Dr. G.N. Ramesh, president of Rotary Club of Cochin Metropolis. True, indeed, but for some in the audience, there is a painful realisation: they are the ones who are visually challenged. They are blind to their own potential, and talents, taking everything for granted, while the ones on the stage have understood the beauty and poignancy of life, even though they have been deprived of the greatest gift of all: sight.

Looking to help the visually challenged

The Society for the Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged (SRVC) was formed in 2002 to empower the visually challenged ( “We want to get jobs for our members,” says M.C. Roy, Head, Projects.

He says there is a software called Jaws (, that when you hit the computer keys, the words can be heard in the ears. It is called a screen reader and costs Rs. 36,000.

Roy says this software will enable visually challenged people to work in offices. He goes on to enumerate the qualities of the visually challenged: they are able to concentrate more on sound and speech, because they are not distracted by vision. Since they are unable to take notes, he says, they have developed a sharp memory, superior listening skills and retention power.

“They can do very well in data entry, telemarketing, call centre jobs, medical transcription, food, tea and wine tasting, counseling, physiotherapy and music,” he says

Roy says the SRVC started the Heart2Heart orchestra, in 2005, in order to bring awareness of the visually challenged to the masses.

Says Usha Uthup, one of the patrons: “What I like about the SRVC is that they are focusing on what the visually challenged can do, and not on what they cannot do.” She says that what these people need is encouragement and inclusion, not pity or sympathy. “Vision without eyesight is more powerful than eyesight without vision,” she says. “You are confused? Think about it.”

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

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rendered im-mobile

The polio-afflicted Chandrasekharan Nair has manned a telephone booth at North railway station for nearly three decades. But the future looks grim because of the mobile phone explosion

By Shevlin Sebastian

At Ernakulam Town (north) station, amidst the din of arriving and departing trains, and the cacophony of the public address system, passengers stare curiously at K.R. Chandrasekharan Nair. He is sitting, with his polio-stricken legs, hanging loosely from a chair, manning a STD phone booth, near the entrance.

The bespectacled Nair has become like an institution, having been at the station for close to three decades. And he has met all sorts of people.

“One day, I had finished my meal and through a window, I was washing my spoon when it slipped off and landed in some muck,” says Nair. A professor of Maharaja’s College, who had come to make a telephone call, saw this, and, without any hesitation, he went out, picked up the spoon and returned it to Nair.

“I cannot forget this incident,” he says, with a smile. “I have met many people who don’t lend a helping hand to physically challenged people. So, maybe, because of that, I still remember the professor.”

Nair got his big break when, August, 1981, he received a license from the Southern Railways to operate a telephone booth, on the basis of being physically challenged. “I felt very happy because I could work without having to move around much,” he says.

At that time, only local calls, which cost 50 paise, were permitted; Nair earned a 20 paise commission on each call. But the income was not much, he says, because, on an average, there would be about 30 calls a day. “At that time, people did not understand the benefits of using a phone booth,” he says.

Also, since a lesser number of trains stopped at the North station, there were fewer passengers. The turning point came in 1983 when the Southern Railways decided that the Parashuram Day Express would stop at North. “The present ticket counters were also set up in that year,” he says.

During that period, the majority of the calls were made by businessmen and medical representatives who had to stay in touch with their regional offices in Chennai. Asked to describe the customers who came, he says, “There were all sorts, rich, poor and the middle class, but 95 per cent behaved very well with me. They would make a call, pay the money and go away.” Sometimes, they would ask whether a particular train was on time. There were also daily travelers -- season ticket holders -- who always stopped and chatted with Nair.

But, as it could be expected, there were customers who were rude and would ask Nair why the calls were so expensive. “My attitude was simple,” he says. “If a customer did not make a call, I would have no income So, I ensured that I never behaved harshly, even to the people who were rude.”

On another day, while sitting on the steps of his house near the Seaport-Airport Road at Kakkanad, Nair talks about his early life. A son of a labourer, he was born at Chittethukara, a few kilometres away from where he is now staying. At the age of one and a half years, he was afflicted by polio, the unlucky one among seven brothers and sisters.

“My parents did not know of anti-polio injections,” he says. “Anyway, they were too poor.” Since there were no transport facilities, he was unable to go to school and picked up a rudimentary knowledge by reading the books of his elder siblings. For years, he stayed at home.

In 1971, when he was 19, Nair was apprenticed to a man who made beedis. Thereafter, for the next ten years, he earned a living by making beedis, before he got the license for the telephone booth.

As his life stabilised, he had a keen desire to marry. Many proposals fell through, before Vanaja Kumari, 46, who is physically normal, decided to marry him in 1982. “I came from a very poor family,” she says. “And I liked Chandrasekharan as a person. So, I agreed to the proposal, although some of my relatives were unhappy.”

Vanaja does not look unhappy at all; the couple has three children: Ramachandran, 24, Rajendran, 22, and Radhika, 18.

“It is remarkable how despite being physically challenged, Nair has been able to look after his family so well,” says an acquaintance, K.J. Varghese, 49, the Ernakulam district president of The Kerala Federation of the Blind. “He has faced problems with courage and is surely an inspiration for other physically challenged people.”

But this inspirational figure is facing a daunting future. “The mobile phone has ruined the booth business,” says Nair. “However, I don’t have anything against it.” Since fewer people use the booth, his income is down to Rs 100 a day. He has been trying to set up an alternative means of earning a living, but, so far, has drawn a blank. And, at 56, the years are also stacked up against him. But Nair has a never-say-die spirit and so, it won’t be long before he finds a way out of his predicament.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eyes that never sleep

Production controller Shaji John has to ensure that everything is in place on a film set, so that shooting can proceed smoothly

By Shevlin Sebastian

Production controller Shaji K. John, 42, had gone for the shooting for Yodha, which starred Mohan Lal and Madhoo, at the Pashupathinath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. “At 10.30 p.m., shooting was taking place for a song sequence,” says Shaji. “Suddenly, a fight broke out between our technicians and the locals, who turned out to be Maoists.”

Allegedly, one of the Malayali technicians had eve-teased a woman. “Everybody was hitting everybody else,” he says. “People were running helter-skelter. There was a power cut in the area and we could not see in the darkness.”

Led by Shaji, unit members rushed to the local police station, but the officers pleaded helplessness. Things were fast going out of control. “Through a high-level contact, we were able to get in touch with the police headquarters at Kathmandu, Nepal,” he says. “Soon, reinforcements were sent.”

But, by the time the police arrived, more than two hours had elapsed. “It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life,” he says. “We were in a new country and, unfortunately, someone had angered the Maoists. Thankfully, nobody died.”

On the top floor of Mohanlal’s recording studio, Vismaya, at Panampilly Nagar, Shaji gives a rueful grin, as editing goes on for the Suresh Gopi film, Bullet. “This is part and parcel of the daily life of a production controller.”

So what is the job all about? “You have to coordinate with artistes and technicians, fix their remuneration and get agreements signed,” he says. “You have to sit with the director and producer and work out a budget. Then, it is my duty to finish the film on budget and on schedule.”

To do that, Shaji is the one who deals with the outdoor unit: light assistants, electricians, sound technicians, the camera crew, the crane team which handles the camera, the production and mess assistants, and the members of the costume and make-up departments. “I am in overall charge, although I delegate responsibility,” he says.

This is a job that involves a high degree of stress. “Sometimes, on a set, everything is ready, but at the last minute, a costume is not found,” says Shaji. “The director will ask me what has happened. If a train is late, and there are some technicians travelling on it or some equipment is being brought from Chennai, the blame will also fall on me.”

He says it is a 24-hour job when shooting is going on. Plans can change at the last moment. For example, if an artiste is unable to come on time, then the director will want to shoot a different scene, in another location.

So, Shaji and his crew will have to work through the night to take the equipment and the props to the new place. “I have to ensure there is no delay in shooting,” he says. “It is a stressful job. People get angry with me, but I have learnt not to react.”

This has helped him to earn a good reputation. On the film, Bullet, in which Shaji is working as controller, producer Naseem Vellila, 36, says, “If I get a good production controller, then I am safe, in terms of expenses. It is a highly responsible job and the controller’s efficiency leads to time-saving during shooting. In this aspect, Shaji is very good.”

Director V.M. Vinu says that a controller has to coordinate with artistes, so that they arrive on the set on time. “You need to have a good relationship with them,” says Vinu. “Shaji has this knack.”

However, the unusual thing for technicians, like Shaji, is that, unlike other jobs, when the shooting is over, most of the crew move into months of idleness before they get another assignment. “There have been times when I have remained jobless for a year,” he says.

A movie takes a while to get started. Sometimes, he says, the artistes are unable to give confirmation dates. Or, if the artistes are ready, the set is not ready or the money is not available. So, everything is held up. Hence, there are many elements, which have to fall into place, before shooting can commence.

Still, it is a job he loves and has been doing it for the past 15 years, working on hit films like Devasuram, Mrigaya and Lal Salaam. Asked whether he can forecast whether a film will be a hit or a flop, Shaji laughs out aloud and says, “It is completely unpredictable. You will only know the fate of the film at the first show on Friday afternoon. It is a mystery to all of us how some films turn out to be hits, while others become flops.”

But for Shaji, it does not matter. Hits or flops, he continues to toil away…

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

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Man on the move

If you have a tyre puncture, call K.S. Jijeesh on his mobile and he will be next to your vehicle within minutes

By Shevlin Sebastian

The phone call comes at 7.30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Businessman Matthew Andrews says that a tyre of his car has suffered a puncture. K.S. Jijeesh, 28, says that he will come the next morning at 9.45 a.m.

Right on schedule, on Wednesday morning, Jijeesh arrives at Good Earth Harmony on Ayesha Road. Matthew owns a white Ford Fiesta and Jijeesh checks the front left-side tyre and, within seconds, spots the culprit: a nail embedded in the middle of the tyre.

He unscrews the tyre and rolls it out. With a foot air pump, he proceeds to fill the tyre. After that, he pulls out the nail with a pair of pliers. It is only ¼” in length. “Since it is a tubeless tyre, this nail might have gone in more than two weeks ago,” says Jijeesh.

“Possibly correct,” says Matthew. Jijeesh inserts a rubber stick into the hole and soon, the tyre is screwed back on to the car. “This mobile service is very helpful,” says Matthew. “Jijeesh has worked in a fast and efficient manner. I am impressed.” Jijeesh blushes, as he collects the fee of Rs 80. Then Matthew asks Jijeesh to give him some visiting cards so that he could distribute it to his friends.

Matthew came to know about Jijeesh by a board placed inside a petrol pump, Edathamara Petroleum Co., on the Kaloor Kadavanthra Road. He noted down the mobile number knowing that one day he might need Jijeesh’s services.

Jijeesh operates the only mobile tyre puncture repair service in the Kadavanthra area. He has set up his shop, actually, several tyres, one placed on top of the other, at the Vijaya Junction, near the Volga Tourist Home. Next to the tyres is parked a Kinetic scooter and an autorickshaw, both advertising the mobile number: 9249388176.

“Initially, the calls were few, but now I get about 8 to 10 calls a day,” says Jijeesh. E.G. Damodaran Namboothiri, 62, the manager of the Edathamara petrol pump, says he recommended Jijeesh’s name because of his mobile phone facility. “Several customers have expressed their satisfaction at his work,” he says.

Incidentally, Jijeesh has a limited operational area: a radius of 3 kms. Asked why he chose this particular spot in Kadavanthra, since he lives in Tripunithara, he says, “This is a business and commercial area. There are also a large number of car owners who live in areas like Gandhi Nagar, Jawahar Nagar, Giri Nagar, Panampilly Nagar and Kadavanthra. The possibility of getting a lot of customers is high.”

As he talks, he gets a call. It is a cloth shop owner from Kadavanthra who has suffered a bike puncture. Would Jijeesh come immediately? “Yes,” he says, as he starts his scooter. “Most of the calls I receive are for two-wheeler punctures.”

To repair a two-wheeler puncture, unlike a tubeless tyre repair job, takes time. You have to detach the tyre, take out the tube, put a patch on it, and then put it back again. “It takes a minimum of 20 minutes and I charge Rs 50,” he says.

As to what causes these numerous punctures, he says, “Either a nail has gone in, or the tube has a manufacturing defect.” Sometimes, rubber patches placed on earlier punctures tend to come off in the heat. “Several local companies make tubes, but it is usually of a sub-standard quality,” he says. “Hence, you can have a puncture at any time.”

Not surprisingly, most of the distress calls are from marketing professionals. “Since they are on the road all the time, there is a greater chance of a puncture,” he says. But Jijeesh also has some celebrity clients. One of them is film director Sibi Malayil, 50.

One day, Malayil was traveling in his Santro car when it suffered a puncture. “I remembered a friend of mine had given me Jijeesh’s number,” he says. “So, I called him up and he arrived immediately.”

Malayil says that a person like Jijeesh is very helpful because it is difficult to tow a car to a tyre shop and most of the time, “we are unable to change the tyre ourselves.” The director says he has saved Jijeesh’s number on his mobile phone, in case he needs helps again.

Jijeesh hit upon the idea of starting a mobile service by accident. Once, in 2003, he had gone to visit an ailing friend in a hospital. There, he noticed that a doctor’s car had a puncture. After a while, a man arrived on a bicycle and repaired the puncture.

“I thought it was a good idea,” he says. “Instead of the doctor pushing the car to the tyre repair shop, a man came to the car.” A couple of years later, while he was working in the wheel alignment section of JK Tyres at Vytilla, customers would persistently call him after work to repair two and four-wheeler punctures. “That was when I decided I would start a mobile service of my own,” he says. He embarked on his solo operation on June 10, 2007.

Today, he is smiling all the way to the bank, as he is earning far more than if he had been working for a firm.

Quick Facts

Name: K.S. Jijeesh

Job Profile: Repairs punctures of two and four-wheelers. Just call on his mobile and he will arrive.

Mobile number: 9249388176.

Area of operation: Kadavanthra, with a radius of 3 kms: till the National Highway 47 on the east; MG Road on the west, Kaloor Road on the north and the passport office at Panampilly Nagar on the south.

Rates for repairs: Rs 80 for tubeless car tyres, Rs 50 for two wheelers.

Working hours: 8.30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Off day: Sunday

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