Monday, January 26, 2009

Murder most foul

A doctoral thesis asserts that most crimes are committed between the ages of 18 and 35. A look at the reasons why

By Shevlin Sebastian

Rony decided to kill his father when he was having dinner at their home in Kochi. So he bought a knife and informed his mother about it. His elder brother and sister were doing professional courses in Coimbatore.

“When my father sat down at the dining table, I approached him from behind and hacked his back,” says Rony, 18. “My father immediately said, ‘My son, why are you doing this to me?’ I did not reply. Instead, I struck again and cut off his hand.”

At this moment Rony took out a sheet of paper from his pocket: it contained several charges against his father. Each time he would read out an accusation, he would swing the knife.

As his father neared his end, he said, “My son, please give me a little water.” A frenzied Rony filled a can with kerosene and poured it into his father’s mouth. As his father spat it out, Rony’s mother took the weapon and slashed her husband a few times.

Both mother and son did not run away after the murder. Subsequently, they were arrested and jailed for life. Three years later counsellor Dr Jose Karekatt met the young man.

Rony told Karekatt that his father, Jacob, and mother, Prema, quarreled often when they lived together as a family in Kannur. Then Jacob left for Jeddah for a job. Prema soon started having affairs. Sometimes she brought the men home.

When Jacob came to know, he returned, and took his family to Kochi where he opened a stationary shop. Rony assisted his father in the shop. But Jacob and Prema continued to fight. Once in a fit of anger, both burned the other’s clothes.

As the youngest Rony fell under the influence of his mother who repeatedly told him, “When you grow up if you kill father I will confess to the crime and spend time in prison.’”

So Rony decided to fulfill his mother’s wishes. “I felt there would be peace in the family if my father died,” he says. “The chances for my sister to get married would improve if he was not around.”

When Rony finished telling his story Karekatt told him that Jacob was a good man. “Your father did not want to break up the family,” he told Rony. “If he wanted he could have easily divorced your mother. Instead he gave up his job and moved away from Kannur to preserve the family. And I think he also loved you.”

When Rony heard this, surprisingly, he agreed that his father had shown affection towards him. “I was brainwashed by my mother,” he said. “She always spoke against my father to me.” At this moment he started crying and said, “I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake.”

Suresh also felt he had made a terrible mistake. His father died when his mother was pregnant with him. His step-father, Sreedharan, was a drunkard and often beat his mother.

“From my childhood, I have only seen violence and fights in my family,” he says. “I have never received a father’s love. I had a tremendous anger and hatred towards my step-father.”

One day after yet another fight in the family, Suresh, then 19, took a knife and killed Sreedharan. “A father, to me, is a frightening person, a person to be hated, but I should have never committed murder,” he says.

Apart from Rony and Suresh, Karekatt has met numerous criminals over the course of a 16 year long counselling work in various prisons in Kerala. A Catholic priest, he is the state director of the Snehasramam Society which works for the rehabilitation of prisoners.

So what are the reasons behind a young person taking to crime?

“The lack of a proper relationship at home,” says Karekatt. “The relationship with parents is the primary force in a person’s life. A father is a role model, while the mother is the tender, affectionate and loving presence. If that goes wrong the person lacks something very important.”

Karekatt says that around 70 per cent of crimes are committed by men with traumatic and abused childhoods. The other reasons are a depressed socio-economic background and falling into the wrong company.

But what Karekatt discovered was that nearly all the crimes were done by men between the ages of 18 and 35. This became his thesis which he presented successfully at Salesian University, Rome, for his doctorate in theology.

“Between these ages men are moved less by reasoning and more by impulses,” he says. “A person at this age is adventurous and ready to take risks. Look at the ages of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai. They are all in this age group.”

Once they reach 35, they lack the courage and the physical strength to indulge in crimes and are consumed by remorse over what they have done. So they look forward to a peaceful life. The many years in prison have also had a profound impact on them.

Emotionally weak, they sink further when they are imprisoned. “The initial reaction is to feel desperate and sad,” says Karekatt. Says John, a murderer: “Outside we have the freedom to walk around. But the situation is different inside. You need an order to come, an order to go: nothing can be done without permission.”

Says Prof. Vicki E. Bowman of Northwestern State University, USA: “The life skills and attitudes necessary to succeed in the outside community -- decision-making, assertiveness, self-reliance, autonomy and self-esteem -- are subjugated to authority.”

Karekatt says another psychologically damaging effect is the rejection by the family.

The family suffers from anger, shame and sadness, and usually cuts off all ties with the criminal, he says.

The result: the prisoners have no one talk to. “When one prisoner looks at the other, he sees a murderer who has no family relations, and does not lead a normal life,” says John. “I see the same dejected and frustrated faces. How can I talk to them? How can I trust them? I suffer from an intense loneliness.”

Because of this isolation, the criminal craves for some sort of a contact. Keshav, who is serving a life term for murder, says that whenever parents and relatives come for a visit, it brings joy and consolation. Unfortunately, like the prisoners, most parents become deeply troubled because society looks down upon the criminal and the family.

“The attitude of society is completely negative,” says Karekatt. “When a person is sent to prison the tendency is to forget him forever. But we should follow what Mahatma Gandhi said. ‘Prison should be like a hospital where a person is treated. The sickness is of their thinking, attitude and mind.’”

But, as of now, the stigma remains as intense as ever. Karekatt remembers meeting Meenakshi, an affluent woman whose two sons had been jailed for murder. She said, “However well I dress, whatever gold ornaments I wear, whenever I go out, people point at me and say, ‘There goes the mother of two murderers.’”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Accidental encounters


A paralysis of the arm was traumatic, while a meeting with director Kamal helped Lal Jose to find his destiny as a filmmaker

By Shevlin Sebastian

When film director Lal Jose was in Class four he noticed a lump on his right arm. His parents took him to a doctor at the Calicut Medical College. Without bothering to take an X-ray the doctor said, “This is a growth on the muscle and it can be removed by surgery.”

However, when the arm was cut open, the doctor discovered, to his shock, that the lump was on the radial nerve. (This nerve supplies movement to the triceps, the wrist and hand.)

“To take off a growth from the radial nerve is a dangerous procedure,” says Jose. One day after the surgery, his right arm became paralysed.

“My father and mother were shattered,” says Jose. “I am their eldest son.” For the next six months, his parents, both of them teachers at Ottappalam, took him from doctor to doctor, but with no tangible result. Finally, they met the distinguished neurosurgeon, the late Dr. Jacob Chandy, at Kottayam Medical College.

“He said the only way is to take a nerve from another part of the body, graft it over the damaged radial nerve and hope it will connect with the other nerves,” says Jose.

The operation was done by Dr. John, an associate of Dr. Chandy, who said the chance of success was only 1 per cent. So Jose walked around, his arm in plaster, his hand placed on a sling. “Since I could not play with my classmates I became an avid reader and an observer of people,” he says. “This helped me later in my career.”

One morning, one and a half years later, Jose got ready for the First Holy Communion Mass at the LSN Convent at Ottappalam. “My mother, Lilly, said that if you ask for three things from God it would be granted,” he says. As expected, for the boy, all the three wishes were for his arm to get healed.

After the ceremony was over, Lilly said, “See if your hand is healed.”

Jose straightened his arm and moved his fingers for the first time. “It was a miracle wrought by prayer,” he says.

And so life went on. After his graduation in economics from NSS College in Ottappalam, he received a job offer in a photography studio in Dubai. But Jose needed to learn colour processing.

So he went to Chennai in 1988 and joined Das Colour Labs. Unfortunately, instead of colour processing, he was told to work in the reception.

At that time Jose was staying at Saligram, which is the hub of the Tamil cinema industry. During a weekend gathering he met cameraman Shree Shankar, who asked whether he was interested in joining films. “It is better than being a receptionist,” said Shankar.

Jose agreed and through music director Rajamani they met director Kamal who was in Chennai at that time.

Kamal told Jose he already had a permanent staff but he could work as an apprentice in his next film, ‘Pradeshika Vaarthakal’. “You will have to bear your expenses,” said Kamal.

When Jose arrived at the set in Kozhikode a few months later he saw that there were two assistant directors and an associate director to help Kamal.

“Whatever jobs were given to me I did it sincerely, but I felt I did not belong,” he says. So he ate his meals outside, which turned out to be a lucky decision.

On the 13th day of the shoot, the unit was laid low by food poisoning. All the three assistants had high fever and diarrhoea and were unable to work. Even Kamal fell sick, but since he was the director he had no option but to come to the location.

“In one day I became the associate director,” he says. “I handled the clapboard, recorded the dialogues, provided the script to the artistes and gave the medicines at the right time to Kamal Sir.”

When the shooting was over an impressed Kamal asked Jose to join his unit permanently. Thereafter, Jose worked with the noted director in 16 films. Sometimes he freelanced also.

In 1994 he was working in ‘Vadhu Doctoranu’, directed by K.K. Haridas, in which Sreenivasan had a role. “I knew Sreenivasan well because he had acted in a few films of Kamal,” says Jose. During the shoot, producer Alexander Mathew Pooyappally asked Jose whether he would direct their company’s next film.

Jose was reluctant to take any career risks, since he had just got married. To discourage Alexander, he said, “If somebody like Sreenivasan penned the script I would be willing.” At that time, well-established directors were desperately waiting for a script by Sreenivasan. So Jose knew he stood no chance.

Alexander, a close friend of Sreenivasan, asked whether he would write a script. The actor agreed, and said, “Who will be the director?”

Alexander pointed at Jose. Sreenivasan stared at the young man for a while and said, “Okay.”

For Jose this was a turning point. “If an accomplished writer like Sreenivasan felt I could be a good director I knew I had to take the plunge,” he says.

Jose’s first film, ‘Oru Maravathoor Kanavu’, starring Mammooty, Sreenivasan and Biju Menon was a huge hit. Thereafter, Jose had several successes like ‘Meesa Madhavan’, ‘Classmates’, ‘Chanthupottu’ and ‘Arabikatha’.

Asked to explain the twists and turns of his life, he says, “One’s destiny is pre-ordained. But I know there is a force guiding me.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preserving history

In Edapally, where there are buildings all around, a family has maintained a small pond that belonged to the Edapally Rajas, to teach swimming

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Suchitra was nine years she went to spend her summer holidays with her grandparents in Thrissur. One day she began playing in a nearby pond and nearly drowned.

“She experienced a tremendous fear,” says K. P. Bhaskara Menon of the Life Yoga Centre at Edapally, near Changampuzha Park. “When she returned to her home nearby, she began showing signs of abnormality.”

One day, Suchitra’s father confided his problem to Bhaskara. And the latter said, “The fear of the water can only be got rid of in the water itself.”

In the backyard of Bhaskara Menon’s house is a small pond. For three days Suchitra sat on the steps, too fearful to get into the water.

“Finally, she mustered the courage and stepped in, and I was able to teach her swimming,” says Bhaskara, 70. “Soon, her fears disappeared and she developed an amazing self-confidence. Today, she works in an office in Kochi.”

This incident occurred in 1992 and, thereafter, the pond has been used as a swimming pool for children and college students. The centre gets its members through word of mouth. Most of them come from the nearby buildings, but for the past several years, NCC cadets from Maharaja’s and Bharat Mata College have come for training before their annual camp.

On a sunny Wednesday evening several kids are swimming. There are eleven-year olds Arjun S. Kumar, Abhishek P. Gopal, Arjun Subramaniam, Sallap Sabu, 10, and eight year-old twins, Akshay and Aditya. Standing on the edge and looking on attentively is the twins’ mother, Priya Praveen.

“This natural pond is a rarity in the city,” she says. “There are banana and coconut trees and plants all around. I prefer that my children swim here than in the artificial environment in swimming pools where the chlorine content is very high.”

Thomson Johnson, 27, one of the regulars at the pond, says the only advantage of swimming in a pool is that you can see the depths clearly. “In a pond you have no idea how deep it is,” he says. “But that does not matter if you know swimming.”

The centre teaches swimming, says Bhaskara’s son Suresh, 32, but the primary objective is to impart survival skills, rather than technical perfection. “That means if somebody falls into the water he should be able to save himself,” he says.

With this aim in mind, only three methods are taught: freestyle, backstroke and treading the water or vertical floating. “Freestyle is a fast and powerful stroke,” says Suresh. “But if you need to swim for a long time to reach safety, it is better to alternate it with the backstroke, because with less effort you are able to move forward.”

But since both these strokes are of no use if one were to fall into a wall, vertical floating is also taught. “If you know these three styles you can save yourself if you fall into any kind of water, be it the sea, a river, pond or a well.”

There was some good news recently. A boy, Mahesh, who had learnt the basics at the pond, had gone for a picnic at the Athirampally waterfalls. There he saw a college student slip and fall into the water, and the mother, who did not know swimming, jumped in to save her.

“It was Mahesh who rescued them both,” says Bhaskara.

Suresh has an ardent plea to all school managements. “Learning swimming should be made compulsory for all students,” he says. “In life you will never know when you may be in a situation where you might be in danger of drowning.”

The centre, which also has a yoga and weightlifting section, is surrounded by buildings. So it comes as a surprise to discover a pond in this concrete environment.

Suresh recounts the history: “Apparently, hundreds of years ago, this was a 1.75 acre pond which belonged to the Edapally Rajas. In that period the Raja, the Queen and the members of the royal family would come to the pond to take a bath. It was closed to outsiders.”

Later, when the Rajas faded away, ordinary people began using it. Then it became the place where elephants were given a bath.

But, in modern times, as urbanisation crept in, the pond fell into disuse. Soon it was filled up and the only remnant of this large pond is in the Menon property. The pond measures 25 metres by 10 metres and has a depth of 7 feet, which reaches to 12 feet during the monsoons.

Since there is a natural spring at the bottom the water is replenished daily. “So, every day, we pump out the water into the roadside drain,” says Bhaskara. “Once or twice a week lime is put. It has an effect similar to chlorine.”

However, the water is of a brownish-yellow colour. “You cannot compare it to the clear waters of a swimming pool,” says Bhaskara. “We need to shore up the sides because when the waves hit it, the mud disintegrates and the water gets discoloured.”

Following the conclusion of the evening session, the children leave and the water becomes still. But at one side there is some movement and tiny waves are being formed. A closer look reveals a baby tortoise out on an evening swim.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

The 'emptiness' of George Bush!

News item: The United States will take its first shot at an out-of-control spy satellite trying to knock it into the sea before it crashes to earth, reports CNN. By Shevlin Sebastian

This is what happened: because the spy satellite had a few loose screws, the controls had gone haywire. Instead of spying on Russia, as was the gameplan, the spy satellite had begun looking inside American President George Bush's head. When the satellite images were sent back to the Pentagon, it sparked a sense of alarm among the officials.

"There is nothing inside the head, Sir," said officer Bob Marsh.

"What do you mean?" said Richard Smith, his boss.

"It is a vast and empty cavern. Apparently, no light can penetrate it. The place is extremely cold, and, instead of oxygen, there is poisonous carbon monoxide."

"How does he survive?" asked Smith.

"Apparently, our scientists said, only Bushes, and that too of the George variety, can survive in this environment, not human beings," said Marsh.

"What about the left or right hemispheres?" Smith said.

"There are no hemispheres, Sir, neither right nor left," said Marsh.

"What about the cortex, temporal lobe, hypothalamus or the amygdala," said a desperate Smith.

"These are just empty words for President Bush," said Marsh. "It means nothing to him."

"What about intelligence, logic, reasoning and intuition?"

"Aren't you asking for too much, Sir?" said Marsh. "We are talking about the President of the United States, not an ordinary man on the street."

"There must be something inside his head!" shouted Smith.

"Yes, there is," conceded Marsh. "If you look through a microscope, at one corner of the cavern, you can detect a small drop of brain, the size of a button."

"What is it?" said Smith.

"It's his vocabulary and it consists of two words," said Marsh.

"Tell me the words!"

"One is Iraq and the other word looked the same initially… I had to really enlarge the scans before I could figure it out. It was IRAN. Or, as Bush pronounces it: I RAN, like as if the whole country is jogging."

"Oh my God, are we going to war with Iran?" said Smith.

"To know that, for sure, you will have to take a scan of Vice President Dick Cheney's head," said Marsh. "Apparently, Bush's original brain, which was with him when he was born, started residing in Cheney's head when he became the president. Meanwhile, I suggest, we shoot down the satellite."

"Why on earth for?" asked Smith.

"The satellite is going through an emotional meltdown," said Marsh. "In all its years of spying on people, it has never seen an empty head like Bush's."

"I agree," said Smith, and burst into song:
"The ruler of the free world has no brain,
For the people, he is a pain.
Hey man, I feel pooped,
Thinking about this nincompoop!"

"My sentiments exactly," said Marsh. "But Sir, there is a light at the end of this dark cavern."

"What is that?" said Smith.

"We can send the scans to Osama Bin Laden," said Marsh. "When he sees it, he might laugh so much, he could fall off the mountain where he is hiding, in Afghanistan and become a dead weight. The world will be a safer place after that."

"Good idea," shouted Smith. "Shoot down the satellite and send the scans to Osama!"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Freedom song

As more and more women in Kochi gain economic independence, marriages are the first casualty. Men are unwilling to accept the new confident, bold and aggressive woman. Instead, they yearn for the old doormat

By Shevlin Sebastian

Reena Jacob, 31, was drunk. At a New Year’s Eve party for her advertising firm on Cherai Beach, near Kochi, she had taken sips from everybody’s glass. Wearing skin-tight jeans and a red top, and black stiletto heels she began dancing frenziedly to the thumping techno beats arranged by a young DJ.

“On a whim, I wanted to listen to ‘You Are My Sonia’ from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’,” she says. So she told the DJ and waited for a while but he did not play it. She again requested the DJ but he ignored her.

Suddenly, Reena stormed into the DJ’s booth. Looking at the expression on her face, the 23-year-old DJ cowered at one corner, raising his hands to protect his face.

“I don’t know what my face looked like, but he shouted for help,” says a laughing Reena. Her colleagues, Rajan and Sunita rushed in and pulled her outside.

Reena, married to a chartered accountant, is a regular tippler at parties, social dos and at home. But Reena drinks for an unusual reason.

“It makes me horny,” she says. “Drinking makes me lose my inhibitions and, inevitably, I have a rocking session with my husband.”

The fuel for her sessions is vodka, mixed with orange juice or Sprite. “Vodka has a smooth taste in the mouth but when it goes down there is a fiery reaction,” she says. “I get a nice high.”

Surprisingly, Reena’s husband does not mind her drinking. “He is always thinking of the bonanza after that,” she says.

Reena’s friend, Prema scoffs at her comment. “I don’t need a drink to feel horny,” she says. “I am horny all the time.”

Both the women laugh.

Reena and Prema belong to a circle of upper middle-class women, whose husbands are businessmen or professionals. All of them are regular drinkers, with nearly all of them favouring vodka.

“Initially, my husband said, ‘If you like it go ahead. If not, just leave it,’” says Prema. “Gradually I learned to enjoy drinking. I like the kick and the feeling of being free.”

But feeling free has its side-effects. Reena complains that when she drinks at a local discotheque, “men think I am drunk and try to press their bodies against me. It’s disgusting.”

Meanwhile, after a hectic day at the office, journalist Liza Miriam, 35, heads for Loungevity, the lounge bar on Mahatma Gandhi Road, with colleagues. “It’s a nice way to unwind at the end of the day,” she says. Since Liza has a car she does not need to ask her husband to take her. “There is such a sense of freedom when you have your own vehicle,” she says. “I can stay out as long as I like.”

So, are women in Kochi changing? “They are,” says Liza. “Most of them are working and earning their own money. They feel confident and independent. For example, I don’t have to ask my husband for money if I want to buy something.”

But Reena argues that there is still exists a strong conservative base. She says she knows of women who ardently believe in the caste system. “If somebody tells me his name I will not be able to figure out what caste he is,” she says. “But these women will not only know the caste, but the sub-caste.”

Reena says the women who belong to the affluent class and have traveled abroad are broad-minded, confident, and liberal. “But that is only a small slice of society,” she says.

Another slice of society that has changed a lot is young women. “They go for weekend jaunts with their boyfriends, experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol,” says Prema. “They are going out of control.”

Prema’s friend, Usha, runs a coffee shop. “As soon as the cafe opens at 9 a.m. college students come in,” says Prema. “Usha says she is scared to look at them because they kiss and cuddle in front of the waiters and the other customers. They don’t care a damn about who is watching.”

Reena says she has seen a young woman giving oral sex to her boyfriend at a restaurant. “That is how bold they have become in Kochi,” she says. “Essentially, nobody is preserving their virginity for their husbands any more.”

She pauses and says, “The only Virgin around is Virgin Airlines.”

Indeed, women are sacrificing their virginity at the altar of consumerism that is sweeping across the country. “These women want the most expensive gadgets,” says Prema. “They are willing to sleep around to get the money and don’t have any moral qualms. They say, ‘It is only a weekend fling, so why not?’”

Ironically, these ‘holier than thou’ thirty-somethings are also into flings themselves. “Our friend Shalini is married to an Army officer stationed in Kashmir,” says Reena. “Whenever we meet her she has love bites around her neck or ears.”

Says Prema, “Each time we point this out to her she says some insect or the other has bitten her… there are some busy insects in Kochi.”

The women burst out into loud giggles.

And what about Meenakshi, asks Prema. “This mother of two, an IT consultant, is a member of a fitness centre and all she does when she goes there is to talk to her boyfriend on the cell phone and fix up assignations,” she says.

Expectedly, this heady cocktail of an independent income, the collapse of traditional social mores and moral values, pompous and indifferent husbands and easy temptations have led inevitably to a significant side-effect: the rise in divorce rates.

Have hubby, will divorce

Lilly James, who works in a high-ceilinged office, beside the Ernakulam Town railway station, is one of the leading divorce lawyers in the city.

“If you compare the trends over the past twenty years many more women are now initiating divorce,” she says. “Undoubtedly, economic independence is allowing them to take this extreme step.”

The increasing confidence of women is also a threat to the men. In places like Kochi, daughters receive as much exposure as sons, especially in nuclear families. By the time she is 24 and ready for marriage, a young woman has a pronounced individuality.

“But when she gets married she suddenly loses this freedom,” says Lilly. “This surrender is very difficult to adjust to. This is one of the major reasons in the breakdown of the marriages of young educated women. They want a 50-50 sharing of the work at home which the husbands are unwilling to do.”

Lawyer Joseph Vadakel says that most working women spent 16 hours a day finishing all the tasks at work and home, but receive no help from their spouses. He says that husbands are still living in the past.

“They want to keep their wives under their thumb, but the women are unwilling to accept this second-class status,” he says. “Hence, they resort to divorce.”

However, the emancipation of women is not the only cause for the breakdown of marriages. Lilly says that in 70 per cent of the cases that she handles, the husband is an alcoholic.

“This can wreak havoc in a marriage,” she says. There are increasing instances of fraud. “Before the marriage, the men conceal the fact that they are suffering from a mental illness or life-threatening diseases like cancer. Some provide the wrong educational qualifications and lie about their jobs.”

Many nurses, who have married men in the Middle East or in America discover, to their horror, that their husbands are unemployed.

And the stress and strain of modern life is also taking its toll. “Most of the time husbands suffer from psychological problems and career pressures,” she says. “Because of this a lot of them are impotent and are unable to satisfy their wives. Surprisingly, these include highly educated people like engineers and doctors.”

On the flip side, men, who are keenly interested in sex, are addicted to unnatural acts and perversions. “Nowadays men want to do anal and oral sex,” she says. “The common complaint among women is the pressure put on them by husbands to perform oral sex. Ninety-nine percent of my clients are not interested in it, but they are forced to do it.”

Eventually they get tired and opt for divorce. (In a Kerala high court judgement in 1997, Justice K.A. Abdul Ghafoor held that the ‘insistence of unnatural sex, continued compulsions for oral sex, sex through anus, causing pain and physical injury, and to make the wife concede to such unnatural sex, amounts to cruelty under Section 10 of the Divorce Act’)

Lily points out another cause that is a source of suffering for the women: in the office she is smart, clever, responsible and powerful. “But when this same woman returns home she has to suppress her personality and become submissive in front of her in-laws and husband,” says Lily. “These contrasting roles take a toll on the woman. Most of the time the woman ignores her frustrations but, eventually, she has psychological problems. Or it leads to a marital breakdown.”

As more and more women enter the job market and as social values and structures collapse in an increasingly frenzied world the road ahead for marriage will be rocky and strife-torn.

Happiness will be as elusive as sunshine in the North Pole.

(Some names have been changed)

‘Young women are demanding more’
Says counselor Dr. Prakash Chandran A.

How have women in Kochi changed?
Most women are working these days and they are demanding more from their husbands. They don’t want a secondary status in the marriage. Many of them, in the 22 to 30 age group, come to see me within one month of their marriage.

There are misunderstandings between husband and wife and the in-laws tend to interfere a lot. They try to curb a woman’s independence. But I feel that both husband and wife are emotionally immature and not ready for marriage. There is something wrong with the upbringing.

What is that?
Because of nuclear families parents tend to overprotect their children and shield them from reality. That can cause a problem when they get married and have to tackle things on their own.

Is sexual inadequacy a big issue in marriages?

It is one of the major problems. There is a lack of knowledge of the right sexual techniques, to ensure that the partner is satisfied.

What is the recurring complaint in a marriage?
Husband and wife suspect each other of having an extra-marital affair. There are complaints that the spouse does not care. Other problems include obsession with career, financial tensions and conflicts on how to deal with children who have access to the Internet and mobile phones.

Do wives eventually go in for divorce?
After counseling they will make an attempt to solve their problems. But, eventually, around 40 per cent will go in for a divorce.

What advice would you give these women?
I try to encourage rational thinking. Misunderstandings arise because of a lack of communication between the spouses.

From the kitchen to the front yard

For centuries the Nairs in Kerala followed the matrilineal system. This is one of the few systems where women had the right to property and it passed from mother to daughter. They enjoyed respect and power similar to the women of ancient Egypt. Lineage is traced through the mother, and the children belong to the mother's family.

However, in the 19th century, the British reordered this system. The patriarch of the household became the source of all power. Suddenly the women were pushed to the sidelines. The control of property came into the hands of the man. That process accelerated in the late 19th and early 20th century when the Nair tharvad began to go through financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, male domination was already there in the Muslim, Christian, Namboothiri and the Ezhavas communities; they followed the patrilineal system.

Women have lost out but they fought back by taking advantage of educational opportunities. In the 1930s the Census Commissioner noted that highly educated women among the Nairs and the Syrian Christians preferred careers to marriage.

“If this trend continued, there is going to be a serious fall in birth rates and decline in population,” he said. But it never persisted and by the forties, marriage became the norm.

Some women highlighted the troubles they were going through. Lalithambika Antherjanam’s novel, 'Agnisakshi' described the frustrations, fears, and degradation of the Namboodiri women.

V. T. Bhattathiripad a well-known social critic and dramatist, encouraged widow marriage among Brahmins. He tried to change the conservative practices of the Namboodiri community and conducted the first mixed-race marriage.

Justice Anna Chandy became the first woman judge of India, while Kerala women excelled in international athletics: P.T. Usha, Shiny Wilson, M.D. Valsamma and Anju Bobby George, among others.

Throughout the decades of the 20th century, women were able to access higher education, enjoyed good health, a favourable sex ratio but their status remained much below that of the man. The unemployment rate among women was 28 per cent as compared to 15 per cent for the men.

A research survey did provide disquieting news. Around 52 per cent of the women needed permission to go to the market, while 74 per cent secured a yes from family or spouse to visit friends or relatives.

In the 21st century, the dominance of the male continues. Today, only a certain section of the educated upper middle and affluent classes are freer to do as they want, thanks to successful careers in IT, PR, designing and the media. They have no qualms about going to bars like Loungevity for a drink and discotheques like Tandav and spend their own money at the numerous shops on Mahatma Gandhi Road.

But, sadly, they are a minority.

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hitting the right notes


A harmonium was the spark for a music career for director MeCartin, but meeting a young German woman shifted the passion to films

By Shevlin Sebastian

"When I was four years old my father bought a harmonium so that my older brothers, George and Mathew could learn to play," says film director MeCartin. "I was instantly attracted to the instrument."

One day, guru Lonappan Bhagavardhar was teaching Mohanam Raga to his brothers. "I listened silently," he says. "The next day I reproduced the same notes. My brothers were astounded. They found it difficult to remember the ragas the way I could."

Unlike his brothers, who lost interest quickly, MeCartin began practicing the harmonium regularly.

When he was in Class 7 a chance incident took place. Early one Sunday morning he was playing the harmonium at his house in Eloor, which was near the St Antony's church.

The parish priest, Fr. Firmose Kachappilly, was on a morning walk and heard the notes. Curious, he went in and said, "MeCartin, I did not know you played the harmonium. Why don't you join the church choir?"

So, MeCartin joined the choir and became a keyboard player. Within a year he was composing music for new hymns.

Soon, a club, Sangeetha Bhawan, asked him to play the keyboard for their orchestra. "When word went around that I was good at composing, stage directors called me," he says. "I composed the music for several plays."

The highlight of this period was when noted writer K.S. Nampoothiri asked MeCartin to compose the music for his play, 'Samavarthana'. "I prepared diligently and when Nampoothiri Sir heard it, he said 'Excellent' and shook my hand," says MeCartin. "It was a thrilling moment for me."

Meanwhile, unknown to MeCartin, destiny was preparing him for some life-changing encounters. One day he was invited to play at a function organised by the Parallel College Students' Union.

"Because of the delay in the arrival of a minister, there was a one-hour gap," says MeCartin. "So, Sabu, one of the organisers asked me to do some mimicry items, to keep the crowd occupied. I said I had never performed in public. He replied, ‘The situation is grim’ and pushed me on to the stage. Somehow, I did well."

In the audience was Babu, who had a troupe called Rosary. He had just received an assignment to present an Onam function for the Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation at Rajendra Maidan.

"But he did not have enough people to mount the items necessary for a two-hour function," says MeCartin. "So he had come for the show, in search of new talent. He liked my performance and called me."

When MeCartin went to see Babu on the terrace of his house at Kaloor, he saw there were ten people present. Among them the most striking was Kala Bhavan Haneef, who had a mop of black hair above his forehead. Standing next to him was a thin boy: Rafi. Little did MeCartin know that later they would be making hit films together for 20 years. MeCartin, Rafi and Haneef became close friends.

At this moment, in 1989, another turning point took place in MeCartin's life. He had gone to attend a religious retreat next to his house. There he met blue-eyed Karen, a young German woman. A victim of a failed love affair, she had come to India looking for inner peace.

"Karen had brought a Hitachi VHS video recorder and did not know how to use it," says MeCartin. "She asked me to take some films of her and promised that if I did a good job she would give the camera to me."

Evidently Karen was happy with what MeCartin did because when she departed she gave him the recorder, a stand, a charger and a few empty cassettes. "I never saw her after that," he says.

Because he had a video recorder, MeCartin and Rafi decided to write a screenplay. But to do that, he read up on several screenplays, but felt disappointed.

"There were a lot of instructions about where an actor should stand and the positioning of the camera," he says. "I never knew screenplays would be so boring to read."

At this juncture a book exhibition was being held at the Town Hall. MeCartin went to see it and chanced upon P. Padmarajan's ‘Thirakkadha’, which contained screenplays of the noted director.

"Padmarajan wrote scripts in the same way that you would see the film in a cinema hall," he says. "There were no instructions at all. It was an invaluable lesson."

Rafi and MeCartin wrote their first script: 'Mr. and Mrs'. Then they took it to the famed directing duo of Sidique-Lal. Incidentally, Sidique is an uncle of Rafi’s.

"That meeting at the Mayura Park hotel in Kacheripady changed our lives," says MeCartin. "They gave us a good class in direction, told us the defects in the screenplay, explained why the dialogues needed to be changed, where to place the camera, and so on and so forth."

'Mr and Mrs' was soon made into a movie and did reasonably well at the box office. Thereafter, the duo made numerous films, including bumper hits like 'Punjabi House', 'Thenkasipattanam' and 'Hello'. Looking back, it is difficult to believe that MeCartin’s successful career was built on accidental encounters.

But an unsurprised MeCartin, in a relaxed mood in his house at Manjumal, says, "Paulo Coelho wrote in 'The Alchemist' that it is chance meetings that turn the course of a life."

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Swimming lessons for India

India has one of the highest fatalities from drowning in the world. The members of Swim India, an NGO based in Arizona, came to Kochi recently to sensitise students to the dangers of drowning

By Shevlin Sebastian

“When we went to Cherai beach we were amazed to see that there was not a single lifeguard present,” says Matthew George, 22, an American. “There were so many people around. A lifeguard would have minimised the chances of a drowning. On the beaches in the US, there is a lifeguard tower every 20 feet.”

Mathew is the vice-president of Swim India, an NGO based in Tucson, Arizona. The founder, Benjamin Schaub, 27, while researching on the Internet, came across the astonishing statistics that in India alone, there are nearly 70,000 fatalities every year through drowning.

In contrast, in the US there are only 3,800 casualties. Interestingly, more people drown in south India, with Mangalore having the highest rate of 13.55 -- this is twice the national average.

Last year, Benjamin came to India with a group of volunteers to raise awareness about the issue. They spent several days in Goa training lifeguards.

For Swim India’s first-ever visit to Kochi, last week, the team consisted of Matthew, Jenna Curtis, 21, Shawn Berry, 27, Erin Cox, 21, and Nicole Manuel, 21. All of them work as lifeguards in pools at Tucson.

“We collected the funds for the trip by holding car washes, private swim lessons and fundraisers,” says Matthew. An article on the group in the ‘Arizona Daily Star’ garnered more money. The total collection was more than $20,000.

In Kochi the group held classes for students of several Rajagiri institutions including its public schools and colleges of social sciences, management and engineering.

“We taught skills like how to stay afloat, if you don’t know swimming, by using the clothes you are wearing,” says Shawn. “You pull the shirt up to your nose and blow hard. It balloons up and acts like a buoy.”

There were tips on how to tackle currents. “If you are drowning in the ocean you should move sideways, parallel to the shore,” says Jenna. “When you get out of the rip tide, which is usually about 30 to 100 ft wide, you can head towards the shore. If you swim against the current you get exhausted. If you go along with the current you are taken far away from the shore.”

In the rivers, she says, one should always move feet first with the current. And then when the water becomes calm, a person can find his way to the shore.

The Americans also taught the students the right method to do Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). “Two breaths into the mouth and 30 chest compressions will restart the heart,” says Shawn.

The students reacted with heartfelt enthusiasm. “They memorised everything,” says Nicole. “They showed us how to do CPR afterwards. We thought they were not following what we were saying because of our accents but they recited everything back.”

Milan Mathai Thomas, 21, a student of the Rajagiri School of Management, says, “One of the valuable tips I got was that the next time I went to a river or a lake I should be accompanied by somebody. And both of us should not enter the water at the same time. The course made us aware of the dangers of drowning. We had never paid any attention to this before.”

For fellow student Lincy Mary Thomas, 21, the classes were interactive and informative. “It was also pertinent since 80 per cent of us do not know how to swim,” she says. “I learnt the various methods to save a life. We realised we needed to know some basic swimming skills.”

Erin says that these include learning to stay afloat. “You must know how to kick effectively with your feet,” she says. “Treading water, which means, standing in one place and swimming, is also very important.”

Meanwhile, during a weekend break, the group rushed off to the beach at the Vypeen Islands. And Shawn got busy making a sand castle. “In the US when you are on the beach everybody makes a sand castle,” he says. “But I don’t think this concept is prevalent here.”

An onlooker watched open-mouthed. Soon, there were two, then three, and finally there were about 20 people observing Shawn. “I designed the castle like a scorpion,” he says. “The people looked puzzled. But when they finally figured out what I was doing, they laughed, shook my hand and took photographs with me. It was cool.”

The team was much taken up by the warmth and friendliness shown to them. “I have been to Delhi, Agra and Chennai,” says Matthew. “But compared to the people there, Kochiites are laid-back and happy. And the city is so green and beautiful.”

Says Shawn: “We are keen to come back next year.”

Stages of drowning

In this stage, the victim recognizes danger and assumes a near-vertical position in the water, with little or no leg movement. They rarely make any sound because they are struggling just to breath.

Involuntary Breath Holding
The victim has now dropped below the water line and the body, in an attempt to protect itself, initiates involuntary breath holding. This occurs because water has entered the mouth and causes the epiglottis to close over the airway. Without oxygen, the victim will lose consciousness.

In this stage, the victim will be motionless. There is no chest movement or breathing sounds. At this point, the victim sinks to the bottom. The victim will remain unconscious (and die) unless breathing is reestablished.

Hypoxic Convulsions
Due to the lack of oxygen, the victim will have hypoxic convulsions. The victim's skin turns blue, especially the lips and fingernails, and the body becomes rigid.

Clinical Death
Clinical death occurs when breathing and circulation stop. The victim is in cardiac arrest. After four minutes without oxygen, brain cells begin to die, and irreversible brain damage occurs. This is called biological death.

Too many deaths
In South Asia, 80,000 people drown every year. In India alone, one person drowns every 8 minutes!

Total Annual Drowning DeathsWorldwide 381,640

Country Rate
USA: 3,812
India: 68,914
Nepal: 1,767
Bangladesh: 8,319
Bhutan: 16,135
Sri Lanka: 72, 892

It only takes the inhalation of 150 mls of sea water to drown.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, January 09, 2009

My parents, my universe

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Parents Joseph and Ritty Sebastian

One day, in January, several years ago, my father took me to kindergarten class at St. Xavier's Primary School at Kolkata. As he left suddenly, I started crying, finding myself in a room full of strange children. But my father never looked back.
In 2004, when I took my son to the Greenpark play school at Kochi, I did the same thing to my son, Subin.

However, later, the principal, Indu Madam, told my wife, "We were not sure who felt more sad: the father or the son." So, when my father left me behind that wintry January morning he must have felt sad, but he did not show it. He knew he had to do it: I had to study and grow up and become a man.

And so life went on. I cannot remember my father ever hitting me. I can remember my mother hit me a couple of times, with a cane, but that was all. I cannot remember my parents ever arguing. Years later, when I got married, and had children, my mother said, "Never fight in front of the children. That is what my mother told me." And so, she followed that rule, and I have also done the same.

Here's another memory: when I was seven years old, I attended Sunday mass, with my parents, at the St. Ignatius church at Kolkata. Feeling restless, I ran up and down the aisle. Later, in the car, my father said, "You must not do that!" I took this rebuke very seriously: I have never behaved badly in public. However, years later, when my son ran down the aisle of a church, a few times, I did not scold him.
I was afraid it would remain in his memory for years.

Once, when my mother had given me a bath in our house on Diamond Harbour Road and was taking me to the bedroom, she slipped, and I fell from her hands and glided across the floor. When I came to a stop, I realised I was not injured. I looked back and saw tears in my mother's eyes. I wanted to tell her I was not hurt, but I was tongue-tied in the face of such sadness.

I enjoyed sitting next to my father when he drove the grey Ambassador car. He drove beautifully, with smooth arm and leg movements, and an easy concentration. In the early mornings, he would come to the bedroom, where I slept, with my brother and sister, and pull back the curtains. The sunlight would stream in. I would think to myself, 'It's a glorious day! Good morning and get up'.

Even now, whenever I pull the curtains, in the early mornings, either in my bedroom or my children's, and if the sunlight streams in, I have the same feeling: 'It's a glorious day! Good morning and get up'.

I remember how quickly and efficiently my father would fold the sheets and put the counterpane on it. Within minutes, the bed looked neat and clean. Today, as soon as I get up, I also do the same thing. Then I go to the children's room and do it there also. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I do this. I know now why I am doing this: I am honouring my father.

I remember the orange ball which my parents had gifted to me because I had done well in my exams. One evening, while playing in the garden of my neighbour, Rony, the ball fell on some thorns of the bougainvillae plant and burst. It broke my heart, but my mother consoled me. She taught me my first lesson in how to get over a deep disappointment.

My parents, both Malayalis, brought up three children in the city of Kolkata, 2000 kms from Kerala, managing the temporary crises, which afflicts any family, on their own, and, sometimes, with the help of friends and relatives. Now, I have grown up, got married and have children of my own, repeating the role of father and mother which I saw when I was a child.

Father and mother: These two words contain a universe within it. All our lifelong lessons are learned first from them. All our lifelong attitudes are taught by them. We are what they have made us.

And, recently, my parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Fifty years of togetherness at a time when marriages are breaking up within three to four years, when there is more lust than love, more selfishness than companionship, more narrow-mindedness than compassion.

What can I, as a son, say now, except bow my head, and thank God for giving me such wonderful parents!

(Article published in the book, 'Congrats: 50 not out! The Golden Wedding Anniversary of Joseph and Ritty Sebastian)