Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Voices that want to be heard
There are regular writers to the Letters to the Editor and the Timeout columns in The New Indian Express. A few of them talk about why they write, and the subjects that interest them
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo: (From left:) Dr. Titus Sankaramangalam, Thomas Matthew Parackel, and Nebu George
One day Dr. Titus Sankaramangalam was chatting with a friend, Joseph Antony (name changed) in Kochi. Joseph told him a story: his servant girl would disappear every now and then for a day or two. Investigations revealed that whenever a well-known faith healer would hold a meeting in Kochi she would go and become a member of the audience.
“When the faith-healer would announce a name and say that the person has been healed, she would step forward and say she is the one,” says Titus. “For this, she was given some money.”
When Titus returned home to Tiruvalla, he wrote a short article, which was published in the Timeout column of The New Indian Express. Titus has published several articles like this in Timeout, but he is known mostly as a letter writer. “I have published around 300 letters in the newspaper,” he says.
A doctor with the National Rural Health Mission, he gets up at 4.30 a.m. and starts reading newspapers on the net. But he also subscribes to four newspapers. When the newspapers arrive, in the early morning, he glances through all of them before he goes out to play a game of tennis.
When he returns, if he is in the mood, he writes a letter. “It takes about half an hour,” he says. “I write on anything that comes to my mind, but I try to take a different angle.”
He says that around 80 per cent of his letters are published in the Express. And he gets reactions from readers. “Some disagree, while others accept my viewpoint,” he says. He is happy that his mother is an ardent reader of his letters.
Thomas Matthew Parackel’s wife may also be an ardent reader, but she complains that he spends too much time reading and writing. Thomas, a retired teacher, who lives in Muvattupuzha, about 40 kms from Kochi, published his first letter in 1981.
“I wanted to express my opinions on certain topics,” he says. Initially, he wrote about the sporting exploits of tennis players like Ramanathan Krishnan and Naresh Kumar.
But nowadays his letters are on a variety of topics. “But my main focus is on Kerala politics,” he says. On an average he writes two letters a week.
Like Dr. Titus, Thomas began contributing ‘middles’ to the New Indian Express newspaper since 1987. When it metamorphosed into the Timeout column, he began writing for that also.
Among his 35 Timeout pieces, the one he enjoyed writing the most was about his memories of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
They studied together at Kirori Mal College in Delhi. “Amitabh was an excellent tennis player,” he says. “He was also very handsome, well-behaved and gentle.” Both Amitabh and Thomas were members of a group called ‘Smart Fellows’.
While Amitabh’s destiny took him to films, Thomas spent 20 years in Africa as a teacher in Ethiopia and Nigeria. He returned in the eighties and began his hobby of writing letters to the editor. Till now, he has published a few hundred. “I am a critic of Marxism,” he says.
Like Thomas, the Kottayam-based Nebu George is a Communist basher. “I have a visceral hatred towards the ideology,” he says. “In fact, I am a monarchist.”
Nebu published his first letter ten years ago and he has been at it steadily. Last month six of his letters were published. Some of the topics that he has written on include the Mullaperiyar Dam issue, the Chinese stance on Arunachal Pradesh, a comment on tennis player Serena William’s nude photo and Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Cowgate’ controversy.
“As I read the newspaper, suddenly, the urge to write comes,” he says. “I run to my computer at once.”
The first draft takes about 15 minutes, but Nebu spends quite a bit of time editing it, before he sends it off by e-mail. “I enjoy writing these letters, but the intention is not to change the world or be a crusader of social issues,” he says. “I just want my views to be heard.”
An estate owner, and regarded as charismatic by his friends, Nebu decided to get in touch with other letter writers. And last year, three of them, Titus, Thomas, and Nebu met at a hotel in Kottayam for dinner. A bottle of Chivas Regal provided the fuel for an intense two-hour conversation.
“It was destiny that got us together,” says Nebu. “The dinner cemented our friendship.”
So what tips can these close friends give to aspiring letter writers? “They should be frank and fearless,” says Thomas. Titus says, “Letters should be crisp and witty. There should not be any blah-blah.” And Nebu says, “Be precise in what you want to say.”
And so the next time you read the letters to the editor column, ponder sometime on the names of the writers that appear regularly and remember that for most of them this is a passionate hobby.
(Some names have been changed)
The man from the UAE
Dr. N. Harimohan is a doctor who works in the Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. In his spare time he writes letters to the editor in The New Indian Express. “Before coming to Abu Dhabi I lived in Kochi for many years and had been a regular letter-writer,” he says. In the past 15 years he has published numerous letters.
He would write a letter whenever a news item irked him. “I have written on corruption, extravagant spending, and the chicanery of some of our leaders,” he says. He has also written on the beauty of the monsoon in Kerala.
From Abu Dhabi he continues to write, although the volume has gone down. “The best thing about India is the freedom of the media and the chance for readers to air their views,” he says. “If we use this constructively it will do a lot of good for our country.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)