Monday, February 28, 2011

The bliss that was Munnar

Sulochana Nalapat recounts the history of the tea plantations in the hill district and also focuses on the experiences of her life

Photos: Sulochana Nalapat; the cover of the book

By Shevlin Sebastian

One night, many years ago, after dinner with friends at a bungalow in a tea estate in Munnar, author Sulochana Nalapat and her husband Unni Krishnan Nair drove out with the fog lights on. “The mist lay heavy on the tea bushes and the road ahead,” she says, “All that could be seen was the yellow cone of the headlights in front of us.”

Suddenly, an elephant materialised in the darkness. The animal stood 10 feet away and was trying to assess whether the couple in the car was a threat or not. “I was terrified,” says Sulochana. “I closed my eyes and prayed to Lord Ganapathy.” The quick-thinking Unni quickly reversed the car and sped back to the bungalow.

This incident was recounted in the coffee-table book, ‘The Story of Munnar’, published by DC Books recently. It is a 144 page book which describes the history of the tea plantations in the last 130 years and it is also a personal memoir, where Sulochana relives her life as the wife of a plantation manager for 27 years in various estates in and around Munnar.

The trigger for the book was the razing of resorts and the destruction of tea bushes in May, 2007 by the state government, over charges of encroachment of land. It pained Sulochana when she read in the newspaper that Tata Tea, for whom she has worked for over a decade, had encroached on 50,000 acres.

“I cannot imagine that Tata Tea would do something like that,” she says. “It was a baseless charge.” And so Sulochana, the sister of author Kamala Das, decided to write about all that she knew about Munnar.

To get details about the history she was helped by diaries left behind by Britishers who had come to the Idukki district in the late 1880s. One was by a woman called Violet Martin, who arrived in Munnar in 1890, and described, on a daily basis, the transformation of the Kanan Devan hills.

Then there were the reminiscences of old Vadivu Muththassy who lived in Sevenmallay Estate. “Whenever I asked her age, she would say she is 100 years old,” says Sulochana, with a laugh. But Vadivu remembers being perched on her father’s shoulders when she was three years old, as the family trudged 80 kilometres from Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu, and finally settling down in Munnar.

Asked to describe the Munnar of those times, Sulochana says, “It was heaven. There was so much of greenery. Nature was so pure. But we were quite isolated. The nearest estate was four kilometers away.”

The weather was always cool and pleasant. “There were no fans in the bungalows,” says Sulochana. “When we went home to Calicut during the holidays my children would go around switching on the fans. It was such a novelty for them.”

Of course, thanks to global warming, there are fans in the bungalows now. “Munnar has become too commercialised,” she says. “It has become dirty and crowded. The life as I knew it is gone forever.”

But Sulochana is busy with the welfare activities in the area conducted by Tata Tea. “They have a unique concept called the welfare audit,” she says. “My job is to assess the welfare or the quality of life of the workers and their families.”

Out of 100 points, 55 points are given for measurable indices like birth and death rates, and the number of infant deaths. For the remaining 45 marks, Sulochana has to physically go and inspect hospitals and water sources.

“I have to see whether the water is being chlorinated properly, and whether the certificate of purity has been obtained from a lab in Kakkanad,” she says.

Interestingly, the annual bonuses of managers depend on whether they have met all the welfare parameters, apart from the usual performance review. “As a result, managers are always on their toes,” she says. “Tata Tea is the only company which has implemented this.”

Overall, this is a must-read book for lovers of the hill station. As publisher Ravi Deecee puts it, “Journal entries and historical facts are nimbly woven together with Sulochana’s memories and sharp observations. This curious yet charming blend remains etched in the reader’s mind.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On the fast lane

Accidents continue to happen in the newly renovated four-lane section of National Highway 47, from Vytilla to Aroor

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every morning, Dr. George Jacob sets out on National Highway 47, travelling from Vennalla to Nettoor, where the Lakeshore Hospital is located. He is the doctor-in-charge of the surgical Intensive Care Unit. “Unfortunately, nearly every day, there is an accident victim who is brought in,” he says.

Recently, a young man, in his early twenties, had a collision with another two-wheeler on the highway, and sustained head and abdominal injuries. “Major surgeries had to be done,” says George. The family went through emotional and financial stress because their son had to stay for a month in the hospital.

More than 80 per cent of the accident victims are two-wheeler riders, and they are all youngsters. “I blame them for the accidents,” says George. “They ride down the middle of the highway at high speed. The cars and the tipper lorries have to work their way around them.”

M.K. Murali, Sub-Inspector (Traffic), based at Tripunithara, says that most young people do rash driving. “They have these two-stroke bikes which have a tremendous acceleration,” he says. “Many of them drink and drive. As a result, they endanger their lives.”

Another problem with young riders is that they tend to overtake from the left, which increases the chance of an accident. George suggests a separate lane for two-wheelers. “Maybe, on one side of the road,” he says.

Of course, one reason for the over-speeding is because this particular section of the highway, 10 kms long, was recently repaired and converted into a four-lane road by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) at a cost of Rs 177 crore. At some sections, there are six lanes. “To ensure a smooth ride, there are five major bridges, four underpasses, and nine bus bays,” says C.T. Abraham, project director of NHAI. So, to drive fast comes easy.

But it can be dangerous at night. There are no street lights in many sections. “When it becomes dark, many motorists cannot see the pedestrians who run across the highway in a random and haphazard manner,” says Murali. “They are hit by speeding drivers. But this is much more on the Edapally-Vytilla stretch.”

Residents, who live by the side of the highway, have complained that the service roads are badly maintained. “The entrances to the highway have been done in an unscientific manner,” says Murali.

For example, when you try to enter the service road to go to Lakeshore Hospital, a bus stop has been placed there. “Many accidents have taken place because of the unsuitable location of the stop,” says George.

Meanwhile, Murali suggests some safety steps that youngsters should undertake, before they set out on the highway.

“They should obey the traffic rules,” he says. “Many times they do not use the signal indicators, when they are turning left or right. They should wear helmets at all times. Parents should instill discipline and caution among their children, because one mistake can destroy a young person’s life forever.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Bishop and the Actress

By Shevlin Sebastian

Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysosthum, one of the senior-most bishops of the Mar Thoma church and veteran Malayalam actress Aranmula Ponnamma studied together in the Maramon High School. “We were classmates from kindergarten to Class 3 and became friends,” he says.

Once, a boy cheated in an exam. The principal was about to penalise him when the teacher said, “Please punish me, since I did not spot the cheating.” So, the Principal hit the teacher. All the students cried when they saw this. “I remember the tears streaming down Ponnamma’s face,” says Mar Chrysosthum. “This incident brought the teachers and the students closer.”

Later, Ponnamma got married and Mar Chrysosthum went on for further studies. “We went our different ways,” he says. More than 20 years later, Mar Chrysosthum met up with Ponnamma once again. By then she had made her name as an actress. “She is an excellent performer,” says Mar Chrysosthum. “In fact, she became the character in the roles that she played. I have seen several films of hers, but now, owing to my age -- I am 93 now -- I cannot recall the names.”

Once Mar Chrysosthum told Ponnamma, “Cinema is not true. It is all make-believe. But you have a bigger impact than me. When I tell the truth, people go to sleep. But when you talk, the people remain wide awake.”

Ponnamma laughed out aloud.

The Bishop and the actress met on and off. A couple of years ago they had lunch, along with Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan at Ponnamma’s home in Thiruvananthapuram.

“There will never be another actress like Ponnamma,” says Mar Chrysosthum. The actress died on February 21, at the age of 96.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

The cataclysmic event in our history

C.P. Surendran talks about the impact of the 1947 Partition of India in his latest novel, 'Lost and Found'

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ten years ago, on August 15, at 1 a.m., a girl was raped on the last suburban train from Churchgate to Virar, at Mumbai. “There were three witnesses,” says novelist C.P. Surendran. “They did not do anything. They just watched silently. One of them, a journalist wrote about it on Page 1 of the Times of India. But the question I would ask him is, 'Why did you not stop it?'”

This incident triggered off the novel, 'Lost and Found', in which the main character, Lakshmi, a 35-year-old online porn writer, gets drunk at a Bollywood party and kidnaps the wrong person, a journalist called Placid Hari.

“Lakshmi suspects that Hari is the man who raped her 16 years ago on a train in Mumbai,” says Surendran. “What happens to these two people in the next 24 hours, against the backdrop of a terrorist siege of a city, is the story.”

The main motifs of the novel are the Shiva Sena, the cow-dominated Indian roads, media, and Bollywood. “In Hindi movies, especially the films by Raj Kapoor, there is a strong element of 'lost and found,'” says Surendran. “You have children separated at birth, fathers and mothers are physically separated, and then they come back together, by singing a song, like in the film, 'Yaadon Ki Bharat'. In no country or civilisation will you come across so many 'lost and found' themes.”

Surendran says that this is the impact of the Partition of India in 1947. At that time, 15 lakh people were displaced. “When the British casually drew a line through one's bedroom, the impact on people's lives was devastating,” he says. But, strangely, there is a tendency in India not to confront this event.

“We talk all the time about the persecution of the Jews, especially during World War II, but we don't speak about this great cataclysmic event in our own history – the Partition,” says Surendran.

One reason for this could be that Indians are escapists, by nature. “In Delhi, you can come across some ruins, and nobody knows what it is,” says Surendran. “A ruin is proof that history was made here, but we ignore it. We neglect history and revere myths, like the Ramayana and the Mahabaratha. We prefer fantasy to reality. All those elements are explored in the novel.”

Writing runs in Surendran’s family. He is the son of the late Pavanan (P.V. Narayanan Nair), the founder of literary criticism in Kerala. On a brief visit to Kochi, Surendran comes across as intense and serious. A senior journalist with The Times of India, in Delhi, he has written two novels and four collections of poems. “I have stopped writing poetry,” he says. “I discovered that nobody reads it. As a communication form, poetry is dead. People don't have the time for it.”

Surendran is also a well-known columnist. So how does he manage the roles of novelist, columnist and journalist? “There is no water-tight compartmentalisation,” he says. “They reflect various aspects of my creativity. I feel that at one level, good journalism is very close to good fiction and vice-versa.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

It’s all in the family

Family businesses have been a success both in India and abroad. A look at the reasons why

Photos: Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries; Dr. Najeeb Zackeria, the managing director of Abad Builders

By Shevlin Sebastian

Author Gurucharan Das recounts an incident in his book, 'India Unbound'. Mukesh Ambani, of Reliance Industries, had just completed his MBA exams from Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Following the exam, he is asked to come back,” writes Das. “Mukesh lands at Mumbai and is driven home. After his evening tea, his mother tells him that his father, Dhirubhai, is waiting in the office. He is immediately taken there. After a brief conversation, Dhirubhai says, ‘Tomorrow, you are going to the Nagothane plant (Raigad district, Maharashtra).’”

Mukesh says, “Can't I take a small vacation?”

Dhirubhai replies, “Nagothane is your vacation.”

For family-run businesses there is no time for rest or relaxation. “They are focused and committed,” says Dr. Francis Cherunilam, Professor, School of Management Studies, at the Cochin University of Science and Technology. He had presented a paper on the success of family businesses at a seminar organised by the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Vidya Bharathi Centre for Entrepreneurship Development at Kochi last week.

“In fact, Reliance Industries always worked very fast,” he says. “They might have secured their technology from abroad, but the speed with which they have executed their various projects, including the huge petrochemicals plant at Jamnagar, is remarkable. It reveals the mind-set of the Ambani family: focused, ambitious, hard-working, determined, and with a vision for the future.”

Family businesses are a global phenomenon. “If you look at the Fortune 500 list, you will see that most of the companies had their beginnings as family businesses,” says Francis. In a recent list, there are eight Indian companies, out of which two are private sector companies. “One is Reliance, which is a family business, while the other is Tata Industries, which began as a family enterprise,” he says.

Some of the large family businesses in India include the industries run by the Birlas, Singhanias, Jindals, Mittals, the Murugappa, and the TVS group. “Name any large company in India and it is usually family-owned,” says Francis.

Asked for the reasons behind their success, Francis says, “There is a commitment to the business, because the owners realise that if the company fails, the fortune of the family will be finished. They are always trying to expand their business and seize the emerging opportunities in the global economy.”

Francis cites the $29 billion Aditya Birla group. “Over 60 per cent of the company's income is from its overseas operations,” says Francis. The group has a presence in 27 countries, and has interests in cement, fertilisers, mobile telephones, textiles, life insurance, and retail.

In Kerala, some of the successful businesses are owned by families. The V-Guard, Eastern, Muthoot, Mannapuram Finance and Abad Group are family enterprises. “The Abad group is remarkable because the fourth generation is involved in running the company,” says Francis.

Dr. Najeeb Zackeria, the managing director of Abad Builders, says that there is a clear understanding about the role of each member of the family. “We also have a tolerance for divergent views, and imbibe the spirit of brotherhood,” he says.

The Abad Group is an exception. Usually, by the third generation, because of conflicting visions and aims, family members are unable to work together. “When this happens it is always better to split up,” says Francis. “In the long run a break-up is good. It increases efficiency, competitiveness, and the chances of growth. And you can avoid bitter battles with your relatives for control.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rejuvenation on a river bed

The Maramon Convention, which has been held for 116 years, on the sand bed of the River Pampa, is one of the most important spiritual meetings for Christians in Kerala

Photos: The Maramon Convention; the author with Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysosthum, 93, one of the senior-most bishops of the Mar Thoma church. Photo by Rajeev Prasad

By Shevlin Sebastian

Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft from Perth, Australia has an astonished look on his face. “This must be the only convention in the world where lakhs of people are willing to set aside one week for spiritual rejuvenation,” he says. “I am amazed that they are so patient and attentive. They are so focused on a renewal of their faith and their ties with family and friends.”

The Maramon Convention, where Archbishop Herft is one of the featured speakers, is one of the great annual events for Christians in Kerala (see box). Conducted by the Mar Thoma Evengelistic Association, the event was held from February 13-20.

The most unusual aspect of the convention is that it is held on the dry sand-strewn bed of the River Pampa in Pathanamthitta district.

“A few weeks ago, the entire area was under water, thanks to an abundant monsoon,” says P.P. Achankunju, a member of the organizing committee. “It is difficult to believe, since the waters have receded now.” But the river flows with considerable speed at one side. On the other side, there is the large canopy of a forest.

The meeting hall, spread over a large area, is set in the middle of the sand bed. It has a thatched roof which is just 10 feet high. If you jump, you can touch the ceiling. Through gaps in the leaves, the sunlight falls, in coin-like designs on the bodies of the faithful sitting on the ground. There is a breath-taking beauty about it. Thanks to an ample circulation of air, and a cool breeze from the river, it is wondrously cool. “All the coconut branches, to make the roof, have been provided by parishioners who live in adjoining areas,” says Achankunju.

Among the audience is HR consultant Jacob Mathews from Ahmedabad. “I want to gain some insights about the contemporary world,” he says. Jacob was happy with the talk he had just heard, by Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa. “Mar Philoxenos told us not to keep wealth for oneself, but to use it for the betterment of society,” says Jacob.

Walking across the sandy bank is Thomas Mathew, a manager in a stock-broking firm. “When I was younger, I never used to come,” he says. “But I am in my forties now and as life gets more complicated, there is a desire for a spiritual awakening within me. So I am happy to be here.”

But not everybody is a happy participant. Abraham George (name changed), a former Army officer, lives in Pittsburgh, USA. “My wife and I look after our grandchildren,” he says. “We are glorified nannies. My son and daughter-in-law lead very busy lives.” He gives a rueful smile, and says, “It is not right for me to complain while I am at Maramon.”

It is clear that many people with emotional aches and pains have come to the convention to get some spiritual balm. And perhaps that is the reason for its abiding popularity.

“The crowds are increasing every year,” says Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysosthum, 93, one of the senior-most bishops of the Mar Thoma church, and a revered leader. “This convention educates people on how to be a religious person. Our aim is also to help them meet the problems of life.”

Meanwhile, on the perimeter are numerous stalls, again made of thatched coconut leaves, selling books and CDs on the Christian faith. There are other stalls set up by various organizations looking for donations.

Young Aimy Johns, who is standing in a stall belonging to the St. Thomas Mission Hospital at Kattanam, says, with a winning smile, “If you donate Rs 1000, you will be able to fund surgeries for poor people.” Others looking for donations include the School for the Deaf in Kasargod and the Hoskote Medical Mission and Medical Centre, near Bangalore.

Near the centre of the sand bed is a church-like structure. This is the Mar Thoma Museum. There are photos of eminent Bishops and a hand-written copy of a Bible. “This is 150 years old,” says guide Thomas George, a theology student. “There are Bishop’s orders written on the bark of trees and rosary beads worn by Bishops.” There is a photo of Benjamin Bailey who published the first Bible in Malayalam in 1829.

In the afternoon, it is the turn of the tall, charismatic Swedish preacher Dr. Ulf Ekman to speak. Standing beside him is Rev. T. Sam Koshy, who will translate the speech into Malayalam. Ekman says, “We come from different backgrounds, but have the same faith. We believe in Jesus Christ. Turn to Him for help. He will always be there for you.”

Ekman says that his wife, Brigitta, was born in India. “So when I married her, I promised to love her as well as India,” he says. He pauses and then says, “I am happy to say that I have fulfilled both my promises.”

The audience is delighted. And, indeed, it was a delightful time for me also to spend a day at the unforgettable Maramon convention. It was spiritual rejuvenation of the most inspiring kind.

116 years old and going strong

In 1877, there were two factions in the Malankara church. One was known as the Methran Kakshi, while the other was Bava Kakshi. On September 5, 12 members of the Methran Kakshi faction formed the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association and started small prayer sessions among the faithful.

However, the first convention, which lasted 10 days, took place from March 8-17, 1895, at the present location: the sand-bed of the Pampa River at Maramon. The people of the local parishes made a large pandal and that practice continues to this day. Even in those days, there was an average attendance of 15,000. Because of poor roads, people travelled by boat and stayed in houses nearby.

And for 116 years, this convention has been going on, year in and year out. It is the oldest such event in India.

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The benefits of a carbon fast

'Lenten Thoughts – Reduce Carbon Footprints, Practice Carbon Fasting'

By Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostum and Roy P. Thomas

Published by Christava Sahitya Samithi.

Pages 112. Price Rs 90

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2009, Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostum, one of the senior-most bishops of the 10 lakh-strong Mar Thoma Church, came up with the idea of carbon fasting during the Lenten period -- the 40 days of prayer and fasting for Christians before Easter. He advised churchgoers on ways to cut down on carbon emissions. They included simple things like: Unplug your mobile charger. Only run your washing machine when you have a full load. Turn down the air conditioner when you go to bed or leave the house. Avoid plastic bags. Switch off lights. Have an ‘embrace-the-silence’ Sunday. Turn off everything: no TV, radio, or ring-tones. Stop using cars.

On January 22, a 112-page book was released by the Tiruvalla-based Christava Sahitya Samithi. Called 'Lenten Thoughts' – Reduce Carbon Footprints, Practice Carbon Fasting', it has been co-authored by Mar Chrysostum and Roy P. Thomas. The Kannur-based Thomas is a Deputy Conservator of Forests, who has co-authored the 'Manual of Forest Laws in Kerala'.

“This idea of carbon fasting was already prevalent in the West,” says Roy. “Following discussions with Mar Chrysostum, we decided to introduce this concept in India.”

In the book, on one page there are suggestions for the carbon fast, while on the next page is a quotation from the Bible, along with a commentary. “The tragedy is that those with the power to do something about carbon emissions are least affected, while those who are most affected are powerless to bring about change,” says Roy. “There is a moral imperative on our part to rein in our consumption.”

After reading the book, your attitude towards carbon consumption and global warming is changed forever.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Incoming and outgoing

P.I. Sheik Pareeth takes over as the District Collector of Ernakulam, while M. Beena leaves to become the Director of the Fisheries Department

Photo: P.I. Sheik Pareeth (extreme left)

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a brief function at the Collectorate, P.I. Sheik Pareeth takes charge as the 28th District Collector of Ernakulam. The earlier Collector, M. Beena, signs a few forms, which is counter-signed by Pareeth. Then she hands over the official mobile phone, and says, “I wish you all the best. Ernakulam is a very challenging district.”

Later, Beena introduces her aides to Pareeth, and says, “I am sorry to say this, but the entire team has been transferred. You would need to build a new one.” Pareeth nods and gives a smile.

He is a soft-spoken man, but looks eager to take on the responsibility. “Just like the Smart City, I want to make Kochi a smart city,” he says. “I will be concentrating on developing the infrastructure, solving the traffic snarls and water shortage, especially in the Vypeen Islands. There is also a need to develop a satellite city.”

Asked whether he feels nervous, Pareeth shakes his head. “I feel comfortable, because I have more than ten years of experience as an administrator,” he says.

Some of the earlier posts Pareeth held included the directorship of the Fisheries Department, as well as the chief engineer of the Harbour Engineering Department. He helped in the design and construction of the Munambam, Vihinjam, Neendakara, and Thankasseri ports.

Fifteen minutes before Pareeth arrives, Beena enters the Collector's office for the last time. She is wearing a golden-brown saree, and has an easy smile on her face.

“I am happy with all that I have achieved,” she says. Beena had been a Collector for a shade less than three years. Asked whether the tenure was short, she says, “We work at the pleasure of the government. When it is a short tenure, you feel you need more time. When it is a long tenure, you feel it should have been a little short.”

But the best thing about her new job, as Director of the Fisheries Department, is that she will have more time to spend with her children, daughter, Vishnupriya, and son, Kannan. “During my stint as Collector, on some days, I was so busy that I did not have the time to look at my children's study books,” she says. Incidentally, Beena continues to be the managing director of the Vytilla Mobility Hub project.

As she talks, a visitor comes in, and asks whether she could be the chief guest at a function that evening. “After 11 a.m., I am no longer the Collector,” she says. But the woman insists, and Beena says, “It would not be correct when there is a new collector.” After a short discussion, Beena comes up with a solution: Pareeth would preside at the function, while Beena would also be present.

As people in the administration assumed new posts and responsibilities, life on the road outside the Collectorate went on as usual.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A welcome transformation

The General Hospital in Kochi has won the coveted certificate for quality care from the National Accreditation Board For Hospital and Healthcare Providers. Now, there is a remarkable improvement in the quality of service provided by doctors and staff

Photo: New garbage bins at the General Hospital

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent Saturday morning, Dr. M.I. Junaid Rahman has a tired, but happy look on his face. On the previous night, the superintendent of the General Hospital at Kochi had flown in from Delhi. There, Rahman received the highly-prized certificate from the National Accreditation Board For Hospital and Healthcare Providers (NABH) for providing quality care and patient safety in the hospital.

“The announcer said, 'This is a miracle,'” says Rahman. “This is the first time in India that a large government hospital (783 beds) is getting the certificate.” It was not easy to get this certificate. Says Dr Girdhar J. Gyani, the CEO of NABH: “There were 64 parameters which the hospital had to achieve.”

Two years ago, when the Health Minister P.K. Sreemathy asked the hospital to try for the NABH accreditation, Rahman took it as a challenge.

On an initial inspection the NABH officials found that the wards were overcrowded. Rahman immediately took action. Thanks to a government grant of Rs 2 crore a second floor was built and 25,000 sq. ft. of additional space was secured.

Immediately, the wards became spacious. On the second floor, there is a male and female surgery ward, apart from an orthopaedics section, employee sick rooms, a conference room and a store room.

But the main task for the hospital authorities was to change the mind-set of the employees. “Initially, only a few people showed interest,” says Dr. V.P. Leena, Senior Consultant in the Paediatrics department. “Most felt that the hurdles were too high to surmount.”

But Rahman did not give up. Regular training sessions were conducted. Slowly, the attitudes began to change. The relationship between the doctor and the patient, which had been casual earlier, deepened, when doctors had to write a detailed summary for the first time. “As a result, doctors became more responsible,” says Rahman. “If there was a wrong diagnosis, it could be held against them.”

Other changes included fixed visiting hours and only one bystander per patient. “This reduced the crowd at the hospital,” says Rahman. But what was most impressive was the waste disposal system. In the surgery wards, there are coloured buckets for waste disposal. A green bucket is for waste products like plates and bottles. In a red bucket, catheters, urine and blood bags are collected, while in a yellow bucket, organs and placenta are stored.

The bio-medical waste is taken daily by Indian Medical Association Goes Eco-Friendly (IMAGE). “The waste food is recycled, through a bio-gas plant in the campus, as well as treatment in special garbage bins with chemicals,” says K. Marykutty, housekeeping supervisor, as she pointed out the bins. The 12 bins have been sponsored by the Cochin Shipyard at a cost of Rs 8 lakh.

All this has had an impact on patients. Businessman T.M. Gopi, 47, who had an operation to remove his piles, says, “There is a sea-change in attitude on the part of doctors and nurses. The service is excellent. This is my third stay at the hospital. I am very happy.”

The hospital authorities are also happy. The number of out-patients has gone up from 1100 to 1500 per day. Says P.K. Nafisa, Head Nurse, in charge of casualty: “We have a lot of positive energy now. But the challenge will be to maintain the high standards.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Riding on a Bullet

A European couple is travelling through Kochi and South India on a motorbike

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Convent Road, Kochi, one evening, a couple, on a Bullet Enfield motorbike, stopped under the awning of a deserted building. Then they opened a Lonely Planet guide book, searching for cheap hotels. Martin Coumans is from Belgium, while his companion, Lola Moliere, is from France.

In November, when Martin was in Panaji, Goa, he came across a European who wanted to get rid of his Bullet Enfield. “So I bought it for Rs 35,000,” he says. Since, on a previous trip, he had travelled all over North India, Martin embarked on a tour of South India.

“I went to Hampi, Mysore, Coonoor, and Ooty,” he says. There, he met Lola, who is a stone cutter by profession, and, casually, they became co-passengers. From Ooty the duo went to Coimbatore, on to Munnar and Kochi.

For Martin, 25, like most foreigners, he finds Indian women beautiful. “They have lovely skin and hair,” he says. “Their hair is clean and shiny and they are so well-dressed.”

But he is a bit disappointed that they are shy. “They rarely look at me,” says Martin. In contrast, in Europe, girls look openly and have no hesitation to seek a chat. But Martin shakes his head and says, “I am tired of European women.” Lola, 22, laughs, and says, “Really?”

Martin is a part-time labourer. He has harvested grapes in Côte d'Or in France, as well as helped a friend who was renovating an old farm in Luxembourg. “I have worked for five months, saved money, and now I am on a holiday in India for three months,” he says.

All this is thanks to the steep exchange rate. One Euro is worth Rs 62. “With the same money we can only travel for a week in Europe,” says Lola. “That is why we have come to India.”

Both are intrigued by the country. “I have not experienced such smells in Europe,” says Lola. “In Munnar, there was the beautiful smell of flowers and burnt wood.”

As for Martin, he has an ambivalent feeling. “When I am here, because of the heat, the noise, the pollution and the crowds I go crazy. I think. 'What am I doing here? Everything is so overwhelming'. When I go back to Europe, I think, 'India is so nice. I must go back.'”

It helps that, as foreigners, they are treated differently. Martin recalls a head-on accident he had with another bike rider in Coonoor. “Nobody was injured,” he says. “The guy with whom I had the accident with, immediately took me to a mechanic, who repaired my bike in one day so that I could continue my journey. This can never happen in Europe, where the people are so busy and selfish.”

Meanwhile, for both, the most unusual aspect of their sojourn in Kerala was to see a profusion of red Communist flags. “Communism is dead in Europe,” says Martin. “But it is alive in China,” counters Lola, with a smile.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Place of salvation

The Jan Kalyan society, comprising North Indians, are proud of their privately-run crematorium at Elamakkara

Photo: K.K. Sharma and L.N. Mittal of the Jan Kalyan Society

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ten years ago, when there would be a death in the North Indian community, the members would take the dead body all the way to a crematorium in Fort Kochi, which was run by the Gujarat Mahajan Sangh. “It was very time-consuming,” says K.K. Sharma, the then chairman of the society. “We had to pass two bridges and a railway crossing.”

So the society decided to set up a crematorium in Ernakulam. But it took 16 months of repeated pleas before the then Mayor K.K. Somasundara Panicker provided them with 10 cents of land, beside a crematorium run by the Cochin Corporation at Elamakkara.

With the help of donations from community members, a total of Rs 10 lakhs was collected. And the Moksha Dham (Place of salvation’) crematorium was set up in 1999.

However, S.S. Agarwal, the chairman of the society says that it took a year for it to be inaugurated. “That was because there were no deaths in our community,” he says. “When the first death occurred, the secretary L.N. Mittal called the other office-bearers and said, ‘There is good news. Finally, somebody has died.’”

On a recent sunny afternoon, the marble-tiled floor has been washed clean after a cremation. There is a 400 sq. ft. hall for the mourners to wait. “Since it rains so often in Kerala, we did not want the people to get drenched,” says Agarwal. The burning room has a 60 ft. high chimney. On the floor are four exhaust openings which pull in cold air from outside and enables the smoke to rise up towards the chimney.

“Two years ago, the chimney was renovated at a cost of Rs 2 lakh,” says Mittal. At the back there is a room where the wood and coconut shells are kept. “We replenish it immediately after a cremation,” he says.

Asked why they did not opt for an electric crematorium, Sharma says, “The people preferred the traditional style, of the body being burnt on logs of wood.”

The society is keen to clear a misconception. “The crematorium is open for the use of the public, and is not restricted to north Indians,” says Agarwal. “For poor people, there is no charge at all.”

Frequently, when a body is being cremated at the Corporation crematorium and if people come along with another body, the formalities are immediately done at the Moksha Dham crematorium.

Says a philosophical Sharma, “When we come to the crematorium, we realise that this is what happens to all of us. We end up as ash and bones.”

“However,” Agarwal says, “The moment we leave, we again behave as if there is no such thing as death.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Malayali in Tahrir Square

Jayalal P. Soman was one, among a handful of Malayalis, who was present when the Egyptian revolution broke out

By Shevlin Sebastian

Jayalal P. Soman, a software consultant, is just back from Cairo. He was able to witness first-hand all the events that unfolded in Tahrir Square for the past several days because he lived nearby. So far, 300 people have died, and most of them were teenagers.

But Jayalal is sure the killings were not done by the police. “They were only firing teargas shells and it fell at the far ends of the square where there were no crowds,” he says. “I saw many shells falling into the Nile river.”

The other weapon that was used was a machine gun which was mounted on a jeep. “But, again, the police were firing rubber bullets,” he says. “I collected some of the empty shells and bullets.” The suspicion was that supporters of President Hosni Mubarak caused the deaths.

Jayalal works for a Kozhikode-based firm which had been assigned to update the software of the National Bank of Egypt. In Cairo, he spoke to many demonstrators. “They told me that Egyptians no longer want Mubarak because he rigs elections all the time,” says Jayalal. “They want to choose their own leader. They want leaders to follow public opinion in terms of policies. They want a society where they can discuss their likes and dislikes in the open, without the fear of being arrested.”

The educated people feel ashamed that they are living in a dictatorship. “They feel this keenly when they interact with Westerners, who live in free societies,” says Jayalal. They say that the only way their children can have a bright future is if the regime is changed. “The widespread opinion is that Mubarak is incapable of creating educational facilities and job opportunities for the youth,” he says.

What worries people is the lack of industries. “Egypt imports everything, including food,” says Jayalal. He remembers a friend, Ahmed, telling him that he tried to start a farm, but the taxes were so high that it became unprofitable. “Unbelievably, there is a tax on the use of land for agriculture,” says Jayalal. “Ahmed gave up and took a job.”

Jayalal says that the most wonderful thing about Egypt is not the monuments or the history, but the people. “They are warm, kind, friendly and hospitable,” he says. “If you ask for help they will go out of the way to fulfill your needs.”

He remembers an office staffer who when he saw that Jayalal's adapter did not fit into the electric socket immediately went out and bought another one with his money and gave it to the Indian. “I experienced this large-heartedness everywhere,” he says. “I hope Egypt will get the democracy it deserves.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Kochi Assembly of dogs is in session!


By Shevlin Sebastian

News item (Kochi): The Ombudsman for Local Self Government has directed all the local bodies to stop illegal and inhuman killing of stray dogs

There was a mood of jubilation in the Kochi Assembly of dogs. “This is a great victory for dog rights,” shouted Chief Minister Anik Alsatian to other Alsatians, Dobermans, Pomeranians, Cocker Spaniels, Hounds and Daschunds sitting in tiers in front of him. “There will be no more random killing of dogs.”

“Anik Alsatian Zindabad!” shouted the dogs, as they raised their paws.

Anik spoke about how he met the Bombudsdog, who had the power to stop the killings, and pleaded with him. “So many families have lost their bread-winner because of this random slaying of stray dogs by local body workers,” Anik had said. “Why should dogs be killed just because they are walking on the streets? True, they sometimes fart and defecate and make love all over the place. What’s wrong with that?”

Pammi Pomeranian, a women’s representative, said, “We have always tried to be man’s best friend, but they have repeatedly called us strays, or dogs of loose character. To quote our late leader, Labram Lilcoln, ‘We should aspire for a government of the dogs, by the dogs, for the dogs’.”

Another member, said, “Yes, we want to live in a dog’s world.”

It was then that Top Dog, the superstar of dog movies and a MA (Member of the Assembly), threw up his sunglasses. It hit the roof of the Assembly and when it came down it fell perfectly on his nose. After the ensuing applause had died down, he said, “For our protection, I can ensure that members of my fan’s association can be trained to form a bulldog squad.”

A 110-year-old Doberman, wearing thick-lensed spectacles, immediately stood up, his legs and tail trembling, and said, “Every dog should have his day, but we should opt for peaceful means.”

Immediately, the North Indian immigrant, Kala Kutha (a member of the Black Dog Commandos, which protects the Chief Minister), said, “Once a man slapped me on the right cheek. In true non-violent tradition, I showed him my other cheek. Do you know what he did? He shoved a screwdriver up my nose.”

Chief Minister Anik said, “Kala Kutha, please don’t be provocative.”

Superstar Top Dog said, “No, we are being proactive. Otherwise, we will all lie like sleeping dogs. What we need is war, not peace. ”

Unnerved by the tone of the discussions, Anik nodded to the Speaker who quickly said, “This session is going to the dogs. The Assembly is adjourned.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

'Prayer is the most powerful medicine'


Dr. George Thayil, senior consultant cardiologist at Lourdes Hospital, asks his patients to pray when the situation is bad

By Shevlin Sebastian

A 65-year-old carpenter, Jose Antony (name changed) faced a grim prognosis. Doctors in three hospitals told him that unless he had a bypass surgery he would die within six months.

It was at this time that he came to Dr. George Thayil, a senior consultant cardiologist at Lourdes Hospital, Kochi. Jose said, “Doctor, I cannot afford a bypass. I have three daughters to marry off.” Jose had a small patch of land which he was planning to sell, to enable the marriages to take place.

When Thayil did the tests, he observed that Jose had a poor heart pumping function. “Because of this Jose could suffer from suffocation, shortness of breath, and would gradually come close to death,” he says.

But, unusually, he told Jose, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” When the carpenter nodded, Thayil said, “Pray to Him with all your might.”

Jose followed the suggestion. As he prayed, he also took the medicines prescribed by Thayil. “Instead of dying in six months, he is alive after ten years,” says Thayil. “Prayer is the most powerful medicine in the world. If you place Jesus Christ as the first person in the healing process, miracles will take place.”

On many occasions, when people have been near death, Thayil has prayed for guidance and help. “And suddenly, I will do correct actions that will save the patient,” he says. Thayil talks about these miraculous incidents in his weekly programme on Shalom TV, called, ‘Jesus the Divine Healer’.

God, he says, wants three things from us. “You should know there is a God, you should believe in Him, and you must communicate with Him,” says Thayil. “If you have these three components, God will always be there for you.”

When asked to prove that God exists, Thayil says, “When you want to kill somebody, an inhibition arises in you. That is God trying to stop you. It is very difficult for a person to kill a human being without any hesitation. For me, that is the best indication that God exists.”

Of course, he asserts, God has also given man free will. “He can choose between good and bad,” says Thayil. “So, a person can make the choice to be a killer.”

When the cardiologist closes his eyes to pray, he sees the image of Jesus Christ. “He has shoulder-length hair, a beard and brown eyes,” says Thayil. “But the look on his face is serious.”

Nevertheless, he has a great admiration. “Jesus was one of the great revolutionaries in history,” he says. “He stood for love and justice at a time when a lot of bad things were happening in the world. Because of this many people wanted to harm Him and he ended up giving up his life for the salvation of mankind.”

But Thayil is upset that nowadays many church organisations are putting Jesus in a corner. “He is only worshiped in church,” he says. “Otherwise He is forgotten. But Jesus is everywhere. He is with us even as we are talking to each other. We should never forget that.”

Even if God is present all the time, many people get angry with Him when bad things happen. “That is because we think that God is a person who should give us only good things,” says Thayil. “If you look at the life of Jesus Christ, most of the time he was insulted, people threw stones at him, and he had a tough existence. The maker of the world had been punished so much, so is it right on our part to expect 365 days of happiness?”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Oh what a paradise it is!

The Wayanad district in Kerala has many interesting sight-seeing spots. Despite minor irritations, Shevlin Sebastian feels refreshed and enthralled

Photo: The author at Pookot Lake

At Pookot Lake, at Vythiri, in Kerala’s Wayanad district, paddle boats are available. But Joshi, the man at the counter where boats can be hired, puts off visitors with his surly and unfriendly attitude.

It is strange how, with unfailing regularity, the district tourism promotion council puts staffers, who seem to have no people skills, to deal with tourists.

I take a walk along the edge of the lake. There is a large forest on both sides. The chirping sound of birds and the sweet smell of flowers pervade the atmosphere. Large coiled roots of trees can be seen. Some tourists swing from it. It reminds me of comic strip hero, Tarzan, swinging from branch to branch, shouting, ‘Kreegah Tarzan Bundolo (‘Beware, I kill’).”

At the Lake, what is a disappointment is the poorly-maintained aquarium section. All tanks have only pebbles. There are no plants at all. Some air filters are not working. There are no labels to identify the fishes. To top it all, the hall is poorly lit.

On the road to the Soochipara Waterfalls, there are tea estates on both sides. Women workers, with brown bags on their backs, filled with tea leaves, are walking towards the collection point. Tea, coffee, and rubber are the main sources of income in the district, apart from tourism.

At Soochipara, Rs 25 is charged extra if you have a camera. What is the logic of this, except to fleece tourists on a flimsy reason? But a deposit of Rs 20, if you are carrying a plastic bottle, makes sense, because tourists have a tendency to litter the place. But now most are compelled to bring the bottle back to reclaim the deposit.

The walk to the waterfalls is one long downward journey. In the first half, it is a broad cobblestone path. But then it narrows down to a series of steep steps, with no railings, and it is clearly risky, especially for elderly people.

At the fall, the water is gushing down from a height of 100 feet. But not everybody is impressed. “The Athirapally waterfalls [on the Chalukudy river] are much bigger,” says tourist Nina Kurian. But regular visitor, Abhilash, a manager in a nearby resort, says that during the monsoons, the water gushes down from several sides and it becomes a magnificent curtain of water. “In December, the flow is much less,” he says.

Children frolic in the chilly water. One eight-year-old girl, who has just stepped out, is immediately enveloped in a towel by her mother, but that does not prevent her teeth from chattering constantly. Incidentally, the habit of littering remains strong. In a rocky crevice, a soiled diaper can be seen.

Going up the steps, his body shaking and visibly panting is R.P. Jain, 70, a retired senior government servant from Delhi. “It is too difficult,” he says. “The tourist department should provide more amenities. Most of my friends are unable walk down these steep steps.”

Jain, along with his wife, is part of a large group of Jains, who are on a trip to see temples in south India. In nearby Kalpetta, the district headquarters, they prayed at the Sree Anantha Natha Swami temple, and met with the local Malayali Jains.
“There are 400 families in Kalpetta,” he says. “It was a nice experience.”

While passing through Kalpetta myself, I stop at the Mahatma Gandhi Museum and Library. This was set up to commemorate Gandhi’s historic visit to Wayanad in 1934. Supposed to open at 9 a.m., the watchman, Mani, arrives at 10 a.m. and, without expressing any apology, unlocks the door.

It is a simple and wonderful museum. A bust of Mahatma Gandhi at the centre dominates the hall. As the bhajan, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, plays on the sound system, the numerous photos from Gandhi’s life resonate with viewers.

Here he is picking up salt from the beach at Dandi. There is a photo of the infamous Pietermaritzburg station where Gandhi was thrown out of a first-class compartment. There is one of Gandhi with the great comedian Charlie Chaplin. An image shows him sitting on a verandah and speaking with Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Englishman C.F. Andrews. Another picture reveals a sombre-looking Gandhi walking through the riot-torn areas of Noakhali in 1946.

On another day I go to Kuruva Island. To reach the island you have to take a rowing boat or a bamboo raft (changadam), with a boatman standing on it and pulling at a rope above him. When I reach the island, on the other side, I see a yellow banner hanging from a tree. It is a notice by the Kerala forest department which states that bamboo rafts do not have fitness certificates. I wonder why this notice is put so far away from where the tourists are embarking on the bamboo raft.

Anyway, the island, with an area of 950 hectares, beside the Kabani river, has a wonderful ambience. There are so many large evergreen trees, towering bamboo groves, numerous shrubs, orchids and birds. It is cool, soothing and tranquil. Scrambling about on the various branches and making screeching sounds are numerous monkeys. They are a threat, especially if you are eating something. They swoop down at high speed, grab the morsel, and are gone within the blink of an eye.

At one side the river breaks into embedded rocks, causing miniature waterfalls. People step into the cold water. Some have a dip. It is pleasant and enjoyable. We feel so far away from the noise and pollution of our crowded cities.

The next stop is the Banasura Sagar Dam, which is the largest earth dam in India. Which means it is made of compacted mud. Surrounded by grassy hills, there is a refreshing wind blowing at all times. A Nature Park at one side is a popular stop for visitors. A swing has been attached to the trunk of two trees. I feel bad for the trees as the branches sway unnaturally under the weight of the person on the swing. It is unnecessary suffering inflicted on nature.

But at Lakkidi, where I stay, there is no suffering. The hotel is next to a mountain, and in the early mornings, when I open the window, strands of mist float into the room.

Oh what a paradise it is!

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I too am a woman

Sr. Jesme’s second book, after the best-selling autobiography, ‘Amen’, has just been released

By Shevlin Sebastian

“The actor Salim Kumar had asked for a copy of my autobiography, ‘Amen’,” says Sr. Jesme during a talk at the DC International Book fair at Kochi a few days ago. “I sent it by courier on November 24. Till December 24, Salim Kumar did not get it nor did I get it back. I kept on inquiring, but got no reply.”

On December 30, when Jesme enquired again, the man at the courier company said, "You can no longer enter this office again." Jesme said, "Then I am not going. I will stay here till I get my book. It is an injustice that an autographed copy goes to somebody else, other than Salim Kumar."

The man pushed Jesme into a corner and began kicking and beating her. The other employees fled when they saw this. Jesme recalls, with a twinkle in her eyes, “People make fun of my excess fat but it was my plumpness which saved me, because I did not get injured. I wondered whether the man’s leg was damaged after all the kicking.”

People gathered outside but nobody intervened. Finally the police arrived. When a policeman asked Jesme to press charges, she declined. He said, "Madam, if you don't file a FIR, how can we stop such incidents from taking place?"

Jesme tells the Kochi audience, “My fear was that if something happened to him at the police station, I would be blamed.” She says that nowadays even educated and well-known women have violent encounters with men. “So, you can imagine what is taking place with ordinary women,” she says. “Most of them are unable to talk about their harassment, and they suffer it in silence.”

Sometime ago, Jesme was travelling on a bus at night. A lady asked a man who was sitting in a woman's seat whether he could get up. The man said, "If I get up, will all these women who are standing get a seat?"

The lady remained silent. "I am going to remain here," he said.

Jesme who was sitting on a nearby seat, said, "What rule is this? If you get up, at least one woman can get a seat." It was only then that the man got up.

Jesme was recounting these incidents during the launch of her book ‘Njanum Oru Stree’ (I too am a woman). It is a compilation of the articles she has written in newspapers and magazines. There are also a few unpublished ones along with an interview and a one-act play based on Jesme’s best-selling autobiography ‘Amen’ by journalist P.C. Harish.

“I have written about my positive and negative experiences inside a convent which had not been written about in ‘Amen’,” she says. These include good moments like celebrating Easter and Onam.

She also has written about the emotion-less life of the nuns. “They are afraid to express their feelings,” she says. Jesme has also analysed the work of writers like M. Mukundan and the late Ponkunnam Varkey. Apart from this, she has delved into her experiences as a student.

Jesme would be hoping that this book will do as well as ‘Amen’, which has gone into 14 reprints so far. With the royalties, she has been able to buy 12 cents of land in Guruvayur and make a house called ‘Amen’. During her speech at Kochi she comes across as sincere and earnest but it takes some time to get used to this former nun wearing a salwar kameez, instead of a habit.

Thanks to her bold speeches and writings, Jesme is becoming a heroine for women in Kerala.

(A shorter version appeared in The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Nothing legal about this

For decades, in order for a film to be shown to the Censor Board, film-makers needed a title registration certificate from the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, as well as permission from the Kerala Film Producers Association. But a recent landmark High Court ruling has said that there is no legal basis for a title registration certificate. This will change the face of the Kerala film industry

Photos: Director Vinayan and a still of the film, 'Raghuvinte Swantham Rasiya'

By Shevlin Sebastian

When director Vinayan approached the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce for the registration of the title of his new film, 'Raghuvinte Swantham Rasiya', he was refused permission. Without the Title Registration, the film cannot be shown to the Censor Board.

“I immediately realised that they were doing this out of vindictiveness,” says Vijayan. “This organisation, as well as the Kerala Film Producers Association, which has to give the initial permission, has been under the remote-control of superstars like Mammooty and Mohanlal.” Vinayan had angered the duo when he went public with accusations that they held a Mafia-like grip on the industry and played favourites (See Zeitgeist, April 17, 2010).

A desperate Vinayan had no option but to file a writ petition in the Kerala High Court challenging the decision of the Chamber. On November 23, 2010, in a landmark ruling, judge Antony Dominic said there is no provision in the Cinematograph Act 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification Rules), 1983 that a producer needs to obtain a certificate or clearance from the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce and the Kerala Film Producers Association.

“It is a turning point,” says Vinayan. “For more than fifty years, so many producers and directors have been harassed by these two organisations. But it is clear that they had no legal basis to issue this certificate.”

Even for a small-budget film, a first-time producer has to take a mandatory life membership of the producers association which costs Rs 1 lakh. “That is fine but they would dictate terms like which technicians should be hired and who should act in the film,” says Vinayan.

“Not at all,” says Sabu Cheriyan, the president of the Film Producers Association. “Our job is to give permission, so that the Film Chamber can issue the certificate. We do not decide who is going to act in a film. We ask first-time producers to take a life membership, which costs Rs 50,000.”

But Vinayan says that this figure is not correct. “Apart from the Rs 50,000 fee, the association charges Rs 10,000 to check whether there is any video piracy, another Rs 15,000 is taken for a Building Fund and there are more collections under other sub-heads,” he says. “In total, a producer pays Rs 1.05 lakh” (Another director who confirms this is Dr. Biju. See box).

Sabu says that most producers have been happy with the functioning of the association. “There will always be one or two disgruntled people,” he says. “Vinayan is one of them.”

Vinayan says that most of the producers have made only one or two films, and are afraid to take on the might of the office-bearers. “They do not have the clout and influence and hence they remain silent,” he says.

Meanwhile, a worried Sabu says that the ruling could cause chaos in the industry. “When a producer comes to register a title, who will know whether there are other films with the same name?” he says. “The Film Chamber and the Producers Association were keeping track of all this.”

Interestingly, both associations have not appealed against the judgement. However, M.A. George, the general secretary of the Film Chamber says that the executive committee will decide in the coming month whether they would be contesting the verdict. But an upbeat Vinayan says, “They cannot go to the court, because they have no legal standing.”

There are moves to take the help of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at Delhi to implement an ordnance, giving the associations the authority once again. “But that will be immediately challenged in court,” says Vinayan. “I have received a lot of support from producers. They told me that they have finally become free of the clutches of the office-bearers and the superstars.”

One such producer is P.T. Abraham, a former treasurer of the Film Producers Association. On December 20, he wrote a letter to D.P. Reddy, a joint secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at the Centre where he spoke about the unsavoury activities of the association.

Abraham wrote: “It is a well known fact that Mr. Evershine Money, secretary of the Film Chamber in 2009, asked for Rs 5 lakh to issue a Publicity Clearance Certificate for a film. Several similar complaints have arisen from every nook and corner of the film industry in Kerala. The Association Secretary G. Suresh Kumar threatens the poor and helpless technicians and makes them work for a nominal remuneration. These days, efforts are being made to expel those who raise their voices against such nasty practices.”

One such nasty practice, Abraham alleged, was that the association would refuse certificates to people whom they did not like. “This infringed on the fundamental right of freedom and expression,” he says. “Because Vinayan has been on a confrontational mode with the superstars, the producers association opposed him. It was with great difficulty that he got the certificate for his 2010 film, 'Yakshiyum Njanum.'”

Meanwhile, Abraham says that since the High Court ruling has proved that the Film Producers Association had no legal standing, they should return the money they have taken from the producers over so many years. “Since I was the treasurer, I can tell you that the money has been used for drinking and other vices,” he says. “Sometimes, bribes were given to politicians to curry favour.”

Apparently, the Association earned Rs 1 crore in fees last year. Sabu scoffs at the figure. “This is just gossip,” he says. “Last year, 72 films were released. It is only first-time producers who have to pay Rs 50,000. Thereafter, for his second film, he has to pay only Rs 1000 for a title registration. In 2010, there may have been 40 first-time producers. We earned around Rs 28 lakh in fees.”

Vinayan counters this by saying that 130 films were registered. “Out of that, 72 were indeed released,” he says. “But the association did collect the fees of the 58 unmade films.” He alleges that there is misappropriation of funds. “A proper audit will confirm this,” he says. When Vinayan spoke about this publicly, he was expelled from the association in May, 2010.

In Thiruvanthapuram, T.P. Madhu Kumar, Additional Regional Officer at the Censor Board says that the Board has already implemented the High Court ruling. “Producers no longer need to get a title registration certificate from the film chamber in order to receive a censorship certificate,” he says.

Finally, Vinayan says, “The greatness of this ruling is that any talented youngster can now make a film, without getting the permission of a superstar or association. And that has given me the most happiness.”

Other voices

‘The state government should issue the certificate’

Dr. Biju, who directed Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The Way Home). This was adjudged the best Malayalam film at the International Film Festival, 2010, at Thiruvananthapuram

The High Court ruling is a major development. For too long, the Film Chamber and the Producers Association dictated the terms. For the registration of the title of a film, a first-time producer has to pay Rs 1 lakh. But before that they will insist that the technicians who are working in the film should have membership in various film trade organizations. If you are not a member you will not be allowed to work.

It is a form of blackmail. Because of their autocratic ways, there is a fear psychosis in the industry. People are scared of going against the associations. And that is harmful for the future.

The state government should take up the responsibility of issuing the certificate, with a nominal fee, like it is done in West Bengal.

Thanks to this judgement, more and more youngsters will get a chance. It is freedom for the newcomers. And that is great news! Now there is a possibility of a new creative wave in Malayalam films.

‘The dictatorship should end’

Actor Thilakan: The associations have been behaving like a dictatorship for a very long time. They have only given preference to the people who support them. All of them are pawns in the hands of the superstars, Mammooty and Mohanlal. Both are not interested in art. They just want to make crores of rupees. Too many people are scared and will not speak out. They fear that it will harm their careers.

This ruling will give the chance for youngsters to make a mark. For too long, they have been prevented from getting a foothold in the industry. But I am sure all this will change with this judgement.


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