Friday, April 29, 2011

Thud, thud, thud, go the drumbeats

Japanese performers played on ancient drums, known as the taiko, for the first time in India, and mesmerised an audience in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

The drums catch the eye. One is big and round, like a truck wheel. The others are of smaller shape. They are placed on wooden holders. The performers, both men and women, are wearing black and red kimono tops and black trousers, along with headbands. They stand poised in front of the drums, their legs apart, their drumsticks held firmly in their hands.

Then the leader, Shinko Sibasaki, mutters something in Japanese. Immediately, they attack the drums with swift movements of their arms. The sound reaches a crescendo, and then there is a pause. The drummers remain immovable. Then after a few moments, they hit the drums, but in a slower tempo.

Shinko, 66, who will complete sixty years of public performance next year, hits the edges and the sides of the drum.

“This is the first time we have seen that you can hit all the sides of a drum, and the sound remains impressive,” says Balan M Nair, the president of the Alumni Society of the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship, (AOTS) Kerala, which arranged this programme. The AOTS is affiliated to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan.

Kazuo Shibasaki, a petite young woman, brings out a cymbal and uses a long metallic stick to hit it in a rhythmic manner. Meanwhile, the other players switch from drum to drum. Two of them stand on either side of the big drum and hit it with a hypnotic co-ordination even though they cannot see each other.

The sound reverberates through the hall of the Lotus Club in Kochi. It is like hearing a louder version of your heartbeat. “This is a traditional Japanese sound,” says P.K. Nagma, the Kozhikode-based interpreter, who is accompanying the drummers on their Kerala tour.

This drum recital, known as Taiko, has its origins hundreds of years ago. Incidentally, 'taiko' means drums in Japanese. The first group was established during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Shinko belongs to the Miyabi Daiko troupe, which has 1.2 lakh members in Japan. “We have performed in 89 countries,” he says.

During the show, Yasuko Tomisava, a female drummer, goes to the side and dons a lion's mask with a long, red mane. Then she steps down from the stage and dances along the aisle.

“If the lion tries to bite your head off, that means, you will have a lot of intelligence,” says Yasuko. “If it tries to bite your hands, and if there is any problem with the hand, it will be healed. The same is the case with the leg. The lion brings luck and prosperity.”

And so the audience watches with a mix of awe and caution as Yasuko approaches them. Some laugh when she touches them. Others touch her back. As she moves around, her colleagues continue to play.

Essentially, each item starts slowly, builds up in tempo and reaches a crescendo. It is physically tiring, because when members of the audience are invited to hit the drums, during a riveting segment, it does not take long for them to feel breathless. At the end of the performance, all the drummers are also perspiring profusely.

When asked how the audience in Kerala differed from those in other countries, Shinko says, “The people have a great affinity to festivals. That is why there was such a strong encouragement and support during our performance. An added bonus was the homely atmosphere.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Statements about life

Bangalore-based artist, Rajesh S. Mani, through his etchings and paintings, focuses on the demise of nature in cities and the puzzle of daily life

Photos: Etching of a coin; artist Rajesh S Mani

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Rajesh S. Mani was travelling on a plane from Bangalore to Colombo a few years ago he was struck by the sight of the Premadasa cricket stadium from the air. It was a large circular structure. So when he wanted to do an etching, he made it look like a coin.

“I also incorporated a sword to indicate the battles that takes place between two teams,” says Rajesh, whose etchings and paintings are on display at the Bindhi Art Gallery, Kochi.

In another etching there is an orange-red sun juxtaposed against the dome of a building. This image happened by accident. When Rajesh visited the St. Francis church at Colombo in the evening, he captured the scene with a quickly-taken photograph and reproduced it.

In another drawing, there is an image of a dog, standing on its hind legs, wearing shorts, its tongue sticking out. There is a resemblance to the 'Snoopy' dog of Peanuts fame. “It is a self-portrait,” says Rajesh. Some time ago, he went through drawings he did as a child and came across similar illustrations. “So even though I am 26 now, I decided to replicate it,” he says.

Rajesh's etchings are all of an abstract style: lots of straight and crossed lines, circles and rectangles, with layered textures. In some, there is a two-dimensional effect. But, sometimes, it is difficult to understand what he is trying to say.

“Daily life is a puzzle,” says Rajesh, by way of explanation. “There are many things we cannot understand. It is hard to know what is going to happen in future. That is what I am trying to express with my drawings.”

Incidentally, these etchings are done on a zinc plate. Wax is rubbed on to it. Then, with a needle, a drawing is down. Later, acid is poured onto the wax and it settles into the grooves made by the needle. Soon, the drawing emerges. Rajesh has displayed twenty etchings on various subjects.

His paintings are also on display. “It is acrylic on canvas done in a water colour style,” says Bindhi Rajagopal, the gallery owner. “There is a predominance of nature in the paintings.” Yes, indeed, there are butterflies and birds flying about. There are forests which are deforested in some places.

“The birds and the butterflies are disappearing from my city,” says the Bangalore-based Rajesh. “Gardens are being cut up. New buildings are coming up all the time.” Not surprisingly, there is a painting of a bird which is flying over the mountain, going out of the city to some place else.

Rajesh is the son of well-known painter J.M.S. Mani. Asked what advice his father has given him, he says, “He told me to keep on working. That is the only way I can get better.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Monday, April 25, 2011

A quick, premature end

As dating becomes prevalent, one side-effect is unwanted pregnancies. Gynaecologists talk about their experiences

By Shevlin Sebastian

It is a familiar sight for Dr. Anna Kurien (name changed), senior consultant gynaecologist at a private hospital in Kochi. The girl is in her early twenties and is accompanied by her parents.

“She is usually three or four months pregnant,” says Anna. “It is only then that she realises that she is pregnant and comes for a MTP (medical termination of pregnancy).”

Some come up with bizarre explanations on how they got pregnant. “One girl told me, 'I have no idea how the 'contact' took place. I was sleeping and it happened.” Another said, “I did not know I was doing sex with the boy.” One straight-talking woman said, “I did not love the boy, but I wanted to have some fun.” Most of the time, the girls will insist that they had sex only once, before getting pregnant.

For the parents, who look worried and tense, they pray that there are no complications during the MTP, and the operation is successful. “They are scared that society will come to know,” says Anna. “If it becomes a scandal it will spoil their daughter's chance to get married.”

So, their immediate priority, following the abortion, is to find a boy and secure an arranged marriage.

Most of the girls come from middle-class families and hold jobs as receptionists, clerks and desktop operators. They stay in hostels in and around Kochi, while their parents and siblings stay in places like Kottayam and Kozhikode.

“They are tasting freedom for the first time,” says Anna. “So, they tend to lose control. Things happen in the heat of the moment.”

Anna, who has been doing abortions for 15 years says that she no longer gets teenagers or college students as patients. “They are more aware now,” she says. “They know about contraceptive pills and condoms and have learned to take the necessary precautions.”

Meanwhile, Dr. V. Girija, consultant gynaecologist at the General Hospital, always checks whether she is following the law.

“I can only do a MTP, if the pregnancy is within 20 weeks,” she says. Like Anna, Girija is taken aback by some of the excuses given by the girls.

“Most say they have no idea how they got pregnant,” she says. “Some insist they are married and are accompanied by the 'husband'. I don't try to probe too much. Over the years, I have discovered that the patients rarely give the correct information about what took place.”

Before the operation, the girls have differing reactions. “Some look tense or fearful, while a few look calm,” says Girija. “Earlier, teenagers would come but now I don't see them any more. It may be probably because of sex education classes they have become knowledgeable, and take the necessary safety measures.”

There are many advertisements on television for condoms and contraceptive pills. Copper-T, an intrauterine device, is also popular. “However, most of the time, girls rarely come to public hospitals for an MTP, because there is always the risk that they would be spotted by somebody,” says Girija. “So they go to small nursing homes.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Possibilities of varying kinds

In a painting cum ceramics exhibition, 'Apposite Possibilities', at Kochi, artistes Parul Shah and Sushma Anand display eye-catching works

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Parul Shah with the 'Lady with a Sunflower'; Sushma Anand

The Mumbai-based artist Parul Shah has a friend, Megha (name changed). She is a housewife, who spends her time looking after her family, which includes her son, husband, and in-laws. “Megha has talent in singing and art, but is unable to develop her potential because of social restrictions,” says Parul.

The painter was struck by her friend's predicament and drew her in a state of contemplation. “My friend is not beautiful like Aishwarya Rai, but she has a delicate grace,” says Parul. In fact, Megha's face is shining, and she has nice, thick, sensual lips. Her low-cut nightie displays her upper body to good effect: healthy and sexy.

Megha seems to be thinking, 'What am I doing with my life?' as she stares at the sunflower in her hand. “I deliberately placed the sunflower because I wanted to pass a message to all the women in the world,” says Parul. “You can flower as a person, provided you believe in yourself.” This painting, titled, 'The Lady with a Sunflower,' has its effect on the viewer. So, it is no surprise that it won the best portrait award of the Bombay Art Society for 2010.

In 'Expressions', a nearly nude woman is lying on the bed, her legs encased in a white sheet, her face resting on the back of her elbow, as she seems to be contemplating something. “There is a beauty in being nude,” says Parul. “The woman is a bit plump, but she has an innate loveliness.”

Clearly, women are the theme in all of Parul's paintings. “I want to capture women in different moods,” she says. “Men have flat expressions. On the other hand, women have such wonderful moods, they have a beauty and a softness in their features. That is why I use dry pastels, because it is a very delicate medium.”

Meanwhile, as she speaks, her husband, businessman Hitesh Shah is taking photographs of her. “I want my wife to become famous, so that I can be known as Parul Shah's husband,” he says. “She is my best friend and I want her to be independent and think on her own.”

Incidentally, this is Parul's first exhibition outside Mumbai. Her work is part of an exhibition called, 'Apposite Possibilities', held at the Vernissage Art Gallery , Kochi , where she shares space with ceramics painter Sushma Anand.

The effervescent Sushma, with the ready smile, went to Kodaikanal last year to spend time at the studio of her guru, Ray Meeker. “The aim was to do a lot of pottery,” she says. But Sushma was taken aback by the beauty of Kodaikanal and turned to ceramics.

“I have taken actual leaves that I saw there and impressed them on the clay,” she says. “Then I burnt it in a kiln and added colours.” Her series is all about nature. There are flowers, weeds, ferns, moths, and a pear tree.

A striking work is an enlarged leaf of the pear tree. “I was there in the month of October and the leaves were falling,” says Sushma. “I painted the upper half in orange. However, the leaves turn completely red when it falls on the floor.”

To make an impact, she made it larger than life, and, clearly, it would look fantastic on any house wall.

Another good work is called 'Frog Mural'. One day Sushma was sitting outside and saw a frog in the garden. So she did a quick sketch, and suddenly it leaped off. “So I placed both these actions in the mural,” she says.

For Sushma, Nature is her biggest inspiration. “I see forms and designs talking to me all the time,” she says. And right from a very young age, Sushma loved to work with clay. “The smell when you put water into the clay is intoxicating,” she says. “It is the same smell that you get when rain falls on mud for the first time.”

Her favoured medium is stoneware. This is formed by mixing five to six types of clay, like chinaclay in Kerala and ballclay in Bikaner. The end result: eye-catching works.

The exhibition is on till April 30 at Vernissage, behind Avenue Centre, Panampilly Nagar, Kochi. Phone: 4000903.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where the mind is without fear

Psychologist Vipin Roldant says that it is difficult for players to become a success in the Indian Premier League without mental training

By Shevlin Sebastian

When you look at the support staff list of the Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, there is a head coach, an assistant coach, bowling, batting and fielding coaches, a team physiotherapist, a masseur and a team coordinator. “But there is no mental coach,” says Vipin Roldant, HOD of the Department of Psychology, Counselling and Coaching at the Sunrise Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. “Teams are not addressing the mental aspect. And that is a big mistake. The mind plays such a crucial role in success in cricket.”

Suppose four wickets are down for 50 runs and the batsmen are sitting in the players’ area awaiting their chance to bat. “The player's mind will be filled with negative thoughts and performance anxiety,” says Roldant. “It is during this critical moment that if a mental coach is present, he can emotionally support the player.”

First he will tell the cricketer that the present situation is an opportunity, rather than a stressful situation. It is a chance to make a mark. “Slowly, the coach will be able to infuse the player with mental toughness and energy,” says Roldant. “The cricketer begins to relax and feel confident. Then when he goes out to bat, the chance of doing well is high.” But this is not what usually happens. When the TV camera pans towards where the players are sitting, the coach as well as the support staff and the players have a tense look on their faces.

In the IPL, there is a competition between players of proven merit. “In fact, most of the players, especially the international recruits, whether they are from India, Australia, Sri Lanka or South Africa, are equally skilled,” says Roldant. “The difference is only of mental strength.”

In the course of a match -- forty overs -- these players face heart-stopping stress and pressure all the time. “Those who have a good control of their mind, moods, and emotions, and a high level of concentration will be able to play well and emerge victorious,” says Roldant.

The psychologist says that one of the major reasons for India's triumph in the recent World Cup campaign was the presence of mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton.

“It was he who changed the mind-set of Yuvraj Singh from failure to success,” he says. In fact, from the quarter-final onwards, the team was highly motivated to win.

“It could be because of the common goal of enabling Sachin Tendulkar to fulfill his dream of winning the World Cup,” says Roldant. “Paddy would have played a very important role in setting and re-affirming this goal.”

It also helped that the captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was cool under pressure. “Dhoni looked tough and confident all the time,” says Roldant. “It showed that he had a balanced mind. On the other hand, when Sourav Ganguly was captain, he would often bite his nails and exhibit other signs indicating that he is under duress.”

Tenseness rarely translates to success in international sport, or any other profession. However, one sure-fire method for victory is the practice of visualisation.

When the Wright brothers flew a plane for the first time, where did the flight take place initially? “It took place in the imagination first, and was followed by reality,” says Roldant. “If we continually visualise the things that we want and believe in it, it will actually happen. Cricket is a mind game. It is the power of the mind that makes one team triumph over the other.”

Incidentally, there are three levels of thinking: negative, positive, and faith thinking. “The last is a fierce belief in one's ability, accompanied by will power and a deep faith in God to achieve one's goals,” says Roldant. “If Kochi Tuskers practices 'faith thinking', they will be able to win a lot of matches.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An immortal saga

Amish Tripathi's novel, 'The Immortals of Meluha', was rejected by over 20 publishers. Today, it is a nation-wide best-selling novel

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, Amish Tripathi was watching a TV programme when he came to know that in Persia, angels were known as Ahuras and demons as Daivas. “This was the exact opposite of the Indian belief that evil beings were called Asuras and gods Devas,” he says. “It struck me that the two civilisations could call each other evil.” Everything, he realised, is based on perceptions.

While pondering over this programme, Amish, an avid reader of history for more than 25 years, had a moment of epiphany. “What if Lord Shiva is not a mythological, but an actual historical figure who lived in 1900 BC?” he says. “It is based on the theory that there is a true story behind all our myths.”

So Amish decided to write a book. According to him Shiva is an immigrant from Tibet, who came down to the Indus Valley civilisation in 1900 BC. “The locals called it the Indus Valley, while I have named it Meluha,” he says. “It means the Land of Pure Life.”

But when Amish began writing, very soon he hit writer's block and did not know how to proceed. He is, after all, not a writer by profession. In fact, Amish is the National Head for marketing and product management for IDBI-Federal Life Insurance. During this impasse, his wife, Preeti, gave him a valuable tip.

“Don't think of yourself as a creator,” she said. “These characters already exist in another universe. You have just been given the privilege of entering that world. So, don't try to control your characters. Instead, just observe what they do and record it.”

And that was how, over five-and-a-half years, by writing on weekends, and while commuting to and from work in Mumbai, he was able to complete the 'The Immortals of Meluha'. “The novel is part history, part fiction, and part interpretation of myths,” he says.

The story goes like this: The people of Meluha are oppressed by a tribe called the Chandravanshis, who have allied themselves with a sinister race of deformed humans called the Nagas. “But the Meluhans keep faith in a legend which says that a foreigner, who has a blue throat, will come to their land and become their saviour,” says Amish. They called it the legend of the blue throat or neel kanth. When Shiva, who has a blue throat, comes to Meluha, the people start believing he is their messiah.

“I write of how this simple, tribal boy rose to become a great leader and warrior,” he says. “Shiva is the dude of all Gods. He smokes marijuana, dances brilliantly, and chases a woman he loves. He is charismatic and has a heart of gold. Lord Shiva enables the Meluhans to triumph over evil.”

After the book was finished, Amish began the onerous task of finding a publisher. He sent the manuscript out to more than 20 publishers and all of them sent rejection slips. “The told me it would not sell,” says Amish. “One publisher said no one will read a religious book. Some editors said the story is nice but how do we position it? What genre is it? Is it history, fiction, an adventure-thriller, or philosophy? They did not know how to classify it.” Finally, it was his agent Anuj Bahri who decided to publish the book himself.

Meanwhile, Amish, the marketing whiz kid came up with some innovative ways to bring attention to the book. “We made a live action trailer film on the book,” he says. “Preeti suggested that we put up the first chapter as a free download. Then we printed the first chapter and placed it in leading bookstores all over the country. It got me unprecedented publicity.”

People who read the first chapter came back asking for the book. The stores felt confident and ordered copies. “The net result was that we ran out of the first print within a week,” says Amish. Today, the ‘Immortals of Meluha’ has sold 55,000 copies, and the sales graph is climbing steadily. Meanwhile, Amish is busy writing Part 2 of a planned trilogy. So is Amish becoming an immortal himself?

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going bust in the IT industry

Many marriages are ending in divorce, because of high salaries and a no-holds barred lifestyle

By Shevlin Sebastian

Govindan and Reshma had an arranged marriage. He is 28, while she is 24. Both of them worked in the IT park at Kakkanad. Within the first few months after the marriage, Govindan developed a contempt for his wife. He said, “You are far below my mental level.” Reshma is a homely girl, while Govindan is focused on his career and keeps reading books to stay abreast of the latest developments in Information Technology.

Two years have gone past and they have a daughter. But, recently, Govindan began an affair with a Bangalore-based divorcee, whom he met through Facebook, the popular social media website. They have gone for holidays to Dubai.

“He is not bothered about whether his wife knows about the affair,” says Prof. V.J. Antony, a counsellor in Kochi for the past 32 years. “Reshma is shattered. She asks me, 'What should I do?'”

Sudhi and Mani fell in love when they were in Class 8. They were studying in the same co-educational school in Kochi. When they grew up, they became classmates during an engineering course in Chennai. Soon, they secured high-paying jobs in the IT industry, and got married. Within months, she got pregnant.

Sudhi resigned from her job and went back to her parents’ home in Kochi. She gave birth to twins: two girls. Mani came to see the children. They spent two blissful weeks. Then Mani returned to Chennai.

Thereafter, for the next seven months, Mani did not take a single call from Sudhi. “I have sent more than 500 SMS,” she says. When their daughters' first birthday came up, she sent a SMS inviting him to the celebrations. He replied, “What is the proof they are my children? Anyway, I have fallen in love with somebody else.”

Sudhi is shattered. She cannot believe that a man whom she had known for ten years would abandon her so callously.

Like many marriages in the IT industry, this is also heading for a divorce. The divorce rates in Kerala are going up. In 2009-10, the number of divorce cases numbered 11,600, with the majority being from the IT industry.

"The situation is disturbing," says Rajiv Menon (name changed), a senior legal practitioner, who works at the Family Court, Kochi. "Most couples, who work in the IT industry, break up within two to three years of marriage."

Rajiv puts it down to the odd working hours, usually at night, the high stress of the job, and an egoistic attitude. "The spouses adopt an attitude of superiority to each other," he says. "There is also a lack of communication, which causes many mis-understandings."

Meanwhile, Antony gives other reasons. "When they first join the industry, youngsters get swayed by the high incomes,” says Antony. “Many of them take to drink, drugs, late night parties, and watching porn on the Internet.”

Inevitably, the youngsters lose their equilibrium. “There is a widespread prevalence of pre-marital sex,” says Antony. “They have been influenced by the serials on TV which glorify pre- and extra-marital sex, in order to garner good ratings.”

But once they get married the problems begin. “Premarital sex has a powerful impact on a girl,” says Antony. “Many of them suffer from a guilt feeling and feel compelled to tell their spouses about their escapades. When they do so, the husbands are devastated and refuse to accept them.”

The man, on the other hand, tends to compare the love-making. “During pre-marital sex, a couple will indulge in a lot of passionate experimentation,” says Antony. “But in marriage, usually, this does not happen.” So, the man becomes disappointed with the wife. He feels that she is docile, passive, and unadventurous.” The seeds of divorce are sown in these initial days.

So what advice would the counsellor give to youngsters? “They should avoid drinks, drugs, watching blue films, and pre-marital sex,” he says. “They should be careful of sites, like Facebook, where there are a lot of dangerous people who are trying to trap youngsters, especially girls.”

(Case names have also been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The stirrings of a hazy new dawn

Fundamentalists in Kerala hacked off Prof. T. J. Joseph's hand for using the name of Mohammad in a question paper. Nine months later, as he struggles with financial woes, the professor underwent surgery on his hand

Photo of Prof. Joseph by P.K. Jeevan Jose

By Shevlin Sebastian

On March 23, Prof. T.J. Joseph had a surgery on his hand at the Specialists’ Hospital at Kochi. Says Dr. R Jeyakumar, the head of the department of plastic, microvascular, and cosmetic surgery: “Since he had multiple fractures on his hand, it had to be immobilised longer than usual. Hence, the joint at the knuckles became stiff. So, an operation was done to relax the stiffness of the knuckles.”

Joseph also had to undergo ‘neurolysis’ – the release of the nerves under microscope. This had to be done as the nerves had been cut in multiple places. “He is progressing well,” says Jeyakumar.

Joseph has returned to the same situation nine months ago of being unable to use his hands. This happened when fundamentalists had hacked off his right hand and damaged the left, because he named a lunatic as Mohammad in a Malayalam question paper in Newman College, Thodupuzha. Since he can no longer use his hands, his wife, Salomi, and his sister, the nun, Stella, are helping Joseph to eat his food and change his clothes.

Meanwhile, before the operation, for the physiotherapy sessions, at the Specialists' Hospital unit at Palarivattom, Kochi, amazingly, he drove the car all the way from Muvattupuzha. “I used the two fingers of my left hand, to change the gears,” he says. “Since my right leg is okay, I could use the clutch and the accelerator. But I was unable to use my right arm. So I let it rest on the steering wheel.” Joseph says he can no longer afford the Rs 1000 it will cost him to come by taxi. The professor has financial problems.

On September 1, last year, Newman College had sacked him for “hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community.” Joseph appealed to the management, but it was unmoved. The case is going on in the Appellate Tribunal of the Mahatma Gandhi University “I am living on the donations I have received so far,” he says.

This support has buoyed his spirits. “I get many letters from Hindus, Muslims, and Christians,” he says. “They offer their encouragement and say that they are with me always. Where ever I have gone, the people are happy to see me. They say that they have been praying for me. They are glad to see that I am alive and well.”

Sr. Stella, who has lived abroad for more than twenty years, says, “The secular spirit is very strong in our country. The ordinary people show love and respect to the members of all religions. It is this generosity of heart that makes India such a great country.”

Since he is an avid reader, Joseph has been gifted plenty of books by well-wishers. “More than seventy so far,” he says, with a smile. “It is a mix of fiction and non-fiction.”

Interestingly, in all these months, Joseph did not go through any nightmares or depressing moments. “All of us – my wife, son, daughter, and sister – keep talking about the event,” he says. “That has proved to be a healing experience.” The family has treated the event as a God-sent warning. “It is because of this act that the people of Kerala have realised the dangers of terrorism,” he says. “Civil society has to stand together to fight this problem.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Living a life of their own

Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with tech-savvy children, with independent minds and attitudes

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Anupama Menon told her mother, Suma, that she liked a boy in her class, her heart skipped a beat. But Suma said, “What do you like about him?” Anupama stared hard at her mother, a bit taken aback by her reaction. Then she said. “He is sweet and friendly and nice.”

Suma nodded, smiled, and said, “Bring him home one of these days.” So, Anupama brought Mohan home and was introduced to Suma. This became a regular occurrence. Sometimes, Anupama went over to Mohan's house.

One day, Anupama told Suma, “I feel like kissing Mohan and holding hands.”

Again, Suma's heart stopped beating for a nanosecond, but she said, “It is a natural tendency at your age, but what would people say if they come to know. We have a value system. You need to know where to draw the line. It is important to respect your body. Then only will you gain respect from others.”

And so Suma is having to do this tightrope walk, as she tackles her 17-year-old daughter, who is exposed to so much knowledge, information and visual stimulation, thanks to newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

“It is better to give a long rope to the children so that they can understand what is right and wrong,” she says. “Parents will lose if they insist that their daughters should not hang around with boys or vice versa. Even if we say no, they will just go ahead and do what they want.”

Radhika Nair has an eighteen-year-old daughter, Maya. Like Anupama, Maya is also friendly with a boy. When asked whether there is a possibility of it becoming a sexual relationship, Radhika says, “I know that there are strong sexual urges at that age and the need to experiment a bit. But in case it does happen and I come to know, instead of criticising my daughter or getting angry, I will ask Maya gently why she said yes. I would question her sense of values. I would put it across in such a way that the child should feel, 'Yeah, I should not have done it.'”

Rekha says it is a difficult time for parents. “We have to keep an open mind,” she says. “I have told Maya that what is most important is to study well and get a good job. She needs to support herself. Only after that should she think about a marriage. Maya is mature enough to understand this.”

But both Suma and Radhika say that they are in a minority. “Most of the parents I know put down their foot and say to their children, 'No girlfriends or boyfriends'. As a result most of these children become secretive, tell a lot of lies, and continue to meet their friends outside, like in a mall or in a cinema hall,” says Suma.

One reason for the parents’ intransigence is that they feel very nervous when their children have a relationship. “Most parents don't trust their children,” says Radhika. “Once the children realise that their parents are not in sync with them, they will stop confiding. It is very important that a parent be a listener, rather than be a loudspeaker.”

Meanwhile, schools also have to do a fine balancing act. Lakshmi Ramachandran, the dean of the co-educational Global Public School says that when she sees a boy and a girl become infatuated, “we do not directly intervene at the outset, because it is usually a passing phase. But having a boyfriend or a girlfriend is like a status symbol nowadays. If you don't have one, you are regarded as a nerd.”

She is worried about their excessive access to technology. “It is 'too much too young',” she says. “They are not ready to handle it.” She fears that children are no longer safe, even within the confines of their homes, thanks to Facebook, and other social media sites. “It is imperative for parents to have a line of communication open with the children at all times.”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Myriad views of reality

A painting exhibition at David Hall, Fort Kochi, titled 'Space Untitled', displays the fulsome talent of 21 senior and upcoming artistes

Photos: 'Cross-section' by Sebastian Varghese; 'Secret Dialogue' by C. Bhagyanath

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the noonday heat, painter Sebastian Varghese is perspiring. It is, indeed, a humid day at the David Hall gallery at Fort Kochi where the 'Space Untitled' exhibition is taking place. In Sebastian's painting, 'Cross-section', an acrylic on canvas, on the surface of a lake, there are numerous water hyacinths.

Underneath, you can see pipes, the skeleton of fishes, an old clock, a toothbrush and all sorts of refuse. It seems like a metaphor for society: a bright outer surface masking an inner rot.

“I just wanted to represent the chaos of the city,” says Sebastian, who has exhibited in Texas, California, and Seattle. “The inner landscape of man is in disharmony. This is reflected in the outward decay.”

Another striking painting is 'The Sixth Floor' by O.C. Martin. It is painted with a three-dimensional effect. There is a smooth blue-tiled corridor with drops of blood at the centre. There is a balcony at one end, and corridors on the left and the right.

On the left wall, the letters, 'CCU' can be seen. On the right, it is 'ICU'. There is a palpable sense of apprehension as you imagine yourself walking down the corridor. The blue seems to accentuate the gloom. The balcony is back-lit with fire, indicating the difficulties of life.

“For the past couple of years, I have been in and out of hospital for various reasons,” says Martin. “This painting is part of a series. I want to show that man is suffering from a pervading sense of anxiety. We are all fearful of what is going to happen to us tomorrow.”

About 21 artistes, in varying stages of skill and maturity have displayed their paintings in this exhibition. “This is the first time so many major artistes are exhibiting in one hall,” says Padmini Jai Krishnan, the curator of David Hall. Bejoy Velekkat, a Fort-Kochi based painter, who conceptualised the show, says, “It took me about six months to select, and organise all the artistes.” The exhibition has been arranged by the Thrissur-based Gallery SBM.

And there is a veritable feast for art lovers. One of them is C. Bhagyanath's, 'Secret Dialogue'. A drawing done in charcoal, he has shown two deers copulating inside a man, who is sitting on his haunches. “All human beings have an animal nature within them,” says Bhagyanath. “I was inspired after reading Desmond Morris' book, 'The Human Zoo'.”

Rising talent C.N. Sanam has done a watercolor on the impact of industrialisation in the Vypeen Islands. So he shows how the bridges have connected all the islands, including the Vembanad bridge, the longest railway structure in India. He has drawn new factories and buildings, which have come up, in some parts, while, at the same time, he depicts old structures like a church and trees.

Among the three women painters, T. Rathidevi has done an unusual acrylic painting on canvas. Barack Obama is taking the Presidential oath, his hand on the Bible, but his face is covered by a cloth, like the way the accused in India are, while being taken from jail to the court.

At the bottom of the painting are the following words from the Bible: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'.

"I just wanted to point a finger at Americans, who rarely love their neighbours,” says Rathidevi. “On the other hand, they target Muslims as terrorists, and have bombed places like Iraq and Afghanistan.” Other works that caught the eye include K. Regunandan’s ‘Three Strangers’, a life-like sculpture, and Rajan M. Krishnan’s acrylic painting, ‘Nest’.

Last, but not the least, is senior artiste Bara Bhaskaran's 'Chronicles', done in pencil. It is a view of Alleppey, lying spread out, seen through the railings of a fort. A man, with straggly hair, appears to be falling from the top of the fort. “He represents Vastu Purusha,” says Bhaskaran. “This is part of a pictorial diary of Kerala, which I have been doing for a Malayalam literary magazine for the past few years.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Come to where the flavours are

Das Sreedharan’s Rasa group of restaurants has been a hit in London. He talks about the reasons behind the success

By Shevlin Sebastian

Das Sreedharan is sitting on a bench made of strips of wood. Above him is a thatched coconut roof. In the distance is a smooth-flowing river, water slipping over rocks and making a soothing, gurgling sound. Insects buzz about. A bee comes perilously close. On all sides there are plants and large trees. This is Rasa Gurukul, a 25-acre organic farm in Chalakudy, 60 kms from Kochi.

“I grow all types of vegetables here,” says Das, waving his hands around. “There are pumpkins, ginger, turmeric, spices, nutmeg, chillies, black pepper, tamarind, jackfruit, and tapioca. Then we have lots of banana trees.” An assistant brings green coconuts, with white straws sticking out of them. It is soothing juice in the clammy March heat.

This, of course, is a far cry from Das’s life in London where he runs the highly regarded Rasa group of restaurants, 10 of them, in different parts of London. They range in style from Kerala vegetarian food, seafood, meat and lamb, and fast food, which includes rice, chappatis, a curry, vegetables, and a sweet dish placed in a lunch box and sold at 4 pounds each.

“I started my first restaurant at Stoke Newington in 1994,” he says. Within a year, he received rave reviews in newspapers like ‘The New York Times’ and the ‘Sunday Times’ of London, and loads of satisfied customers. As the popularity grew, regulars began putting pressure on him to start new branches.

As Das says, “Suppose you are coming from New York to London. Then you have to travel 45 minutes to reach my restaurant. So, you will tell me, ‘Das, this is too far. Why don't you open something more central?’”

And so, that is how Das started to expand. The name’ Rasa’ means 'taste' in Sanskrit, and every restaurant is painted in a distinctive pink colour. “Pink is associated with love and friendliness,” he says. “It shows the magnanimity and affection of the giver. We want customers to feel our warmth and vibrancy.”

After Das opened the third restaurant he realised that there was a shortage of chefs back home. “Nobody is learning traditional cooking in Kerala,” he says, with a shake of his head. “Cooking for Kerala chefs means Continental, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican dishes.”

That is why he set up a training school where his mother, the definitive influence of his life, till she died in March, last year, taught the youngsters about what good cooking was all about.

Das has an unusual philosophy about cooking. “It is not about how you cook the food, or the right kind of recipes,” he says. “It is about making food with love and care. It is like eating at home. Our mothers make the food with so much of love. To do good cooking, you need to have a spiritual attitude. Then you apply the right techniques. This combination produces magical food.”

One of the most popular dishes is the fish curry with tapioca in it. “However, my signature dish is the mango-banana curry,” says Das. “It is a new discovery of mine: the combination of sweet mangoes and green bananas. It has the cleanest of flavours, and is one of the most beautiful and vibrant of curries.” Of course, all these items have to be eaten along with rice.

Meanwhile, the Rasa restaurants are a magnet for celebrities. Actress Aishwarya Rai has dropped in for a meal. “She looks as beautiful in real life as she is on the screen,” he says. Then there is music maestro, A.R. Rahman and the Indian cricket team.

“Anil Kumble is a close friend,” says Das. “One of the happiest moments in my life was when I had dinner with Anil and the very next day he scored his maiden century.” This was at The Oval, during the third Test against England in 2007. When reporters asked his wife Chetana what was the meal he had eaten the previous night, she said, “Das Sreedharan’s food.”

Das has also received peer admiration. One of London's most well-known chefs, Jamie Oliver, says, “He is a genius. The food is fantastic and inspiring.” In London, Das lives in the same apartment complex where cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has a home. This is a magical leap for a person who spent his childhood in the small farming village of Thrikkariyoor, near the town of Kothamangalam.

Asked for tips for success to youngsters, Das says, simply, “Find your passion and devote your life to it.”

(The New Indian Express, Delhi and South India)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

'Munnar demolition was aimless'

Mid-career professionals discuss the performance of the LDF government, as well as their hopes and aspirations

Photo: (From left) P. Anil Kumar, Mini Anil Kumar, Anitha P. Emmanuel and Vinoo Devasia

By Shevlin Sebastian

Anitha P. Emmanuel, a senior manager in a private bank, was taken aback by the demolition of buildings and tourist resorts in Munnar by the government in 2007 because of an alleged encroachment of land. “It was an aimless destruction of so much wealth and capital. As a banker, it affected us because many had taken loans to build these resorts and could not pay it back.”

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government tried to pay back an impatient public when they recently signed a deal with the Dubai-based Tecom Investments to set up the Smart City project at Kochi. “It is an election gimmick,” says Anitha’s husband, Vinoo Devasia, a businessman. “It took the government four years and 10 months to make a decision.”

Vinoo says that it is not about the buildings coming up or that 30,000 people will gain employment. “There are so many ancillary benefits,” he says. “You need hospitals, shopping complexes, hotels, schools, restaurants, and transport agencies. These developments would have been phenomenal. And it would have benefited so many Malayalis. Why did they not make this decision five years ago?”

The businessman shakes his head and says, “V.S. Achuthanandan was not an effective chief minister. He hardly did anything for the industrial development in the state.”

Meanwhile, Mini Anil Kumar, an assistant divisional manager in the Life Insurance Corporation of India has something positive to say about the government. “The Kudumbasree movement has become a success,” she says. “It is women's empowerment at the grassroots level. This happened, because of the support offered by the LDF government.”

Anitha counters this by saying that the Kudumbasree movement began during an earlier era. “The LDF just carried it forward,” she says. “I don't think it is right for them to take credit.”

Mini's husband, P. Anil Kumar, a seafood exporter says that when it came to the preservation of the forests, the government has an exemplary record. “I have friends who have plots inside forests,” he says. “Forest Minister Benoy Viswam would not give permission to build roads, or spoil the environment. He was very strict about this.”

But the government was clearly not strict about maintaining good roads. “We have suffered a lot because of this,” says Mini. “As a citizen, I want smooth roads, a mosquito-free Kochi city, and good infrastructure.” Vinoo wants industrial development, while Anitha aspires for a corruption-free government. Anil wants less politically-motivated projects.

Asked who will win the upcoming Assembly elections they all agree it will be the United Democratic Front (UDF), but Anil says, “Their image has been dented because of the sex scandal concerning P.K. Kunhalikutty, [Muslim League leader], the jailing of Balakrishna Pillai [Kerala Congress (B) leader], and the many scams that the Congress government at the Centre is embroiled in.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The legend of O.V. Vijayan

The great writer's cartoons were on display at an exhibition recently, apart from contributions about Vijayan by other artistes

Photos: Cartoon by O.V. Vijayan and depition of Vijayan by a member of the Kerala Cartoon Academy

By Shevlin Sebastian

In an O.V. Vijayan cartoon, hanging on the wall of the Nannappa Art Gallery in Kochi, there is a map of India. Standing near the southern tip is a boyish-looking Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The blurb says, 'Looking for a toy to play with, child? But I am 700 million people and centuries of history.'

In another cartoon, the Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev is standing atop a tank. Behind him, embedded on the mud are placards with the names of 'Afghanistan' and 'Pakistan'. Brezhnev, with arms raised, says, “We are the Soviet East India Company, lady. Looking for an overland route.” The stern-looking lady, is, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi also features in another cartoon. She is standing on an Indian tank, looking supremely confident, while a morose-looking Badshah Khan, also known as the Frontier Gandhi, is standing next to her. Indira says, “The more we think about the Frontier, the less we think about Gandhi.” She is alluding to the wars against Pakistan.

All these cartoons, around 30 of them, were on display at an exhibition to commemorate the death anniversary of the great writer and cartoonist, who
died on March 30, 2005. It was jointly organised by the Kerala Cartoon Academy (KCA) and the Orthic Creative Group.

“The cartoons reflect the evolution of Vijayan over the years,” says T. Kaladharan, painter and director of the Orthic Group. When Vijayan began working at Shankar's Weekly in New Delhi in 1958, he was influenced by Shankar, who is regarded as the father of political cartooning in India. “But by the time the 1970s came, Vijayan had evolved his own style, with strong lines and stark drawings,” says Kaladharan. The Delhi-based Vijayan did some of his best work for ‘The Statesman’ newspaper in Kolkata.

Asked to describe the attractiveness of Vijayan's cartoons, Sajjive Balakrishnan, the secretary of the KCA, says, “Vijayan used dark humour, sarcasm, and gave prominence to the dialogue. It had a powerful effect. There is a surfeit of cartoon and animation films these days. So, this spare style is very attractive to see.”

Apart from Vijayan's works, there are cartoons of Vijayan by members of the KCA. “These cartoons show the various aspects of Vijayan the man and his books,” says Sajjive. The overall impression that one gets is that he is a solitary person, with a bent towards spirituality. And, of course, everyone has captured him with his familiar black spectacles, straggly beard, shoulder-length hair, and reflective eyes.

Some artists like Pramod Korampala and C.R. Manmadhan have depicted scenes from Vijayan's masterpiece, ‘Khasakkinte Itihasam’, while a few others have painted incidents from a short story, 'Kadaltheeram'. At the exhibition, two documentaries by K.M. Madhusoodan and Jyotiprakash, on Khasakkinte Itihasam’ were shown.

Of course, the people who visited the exhibition were those who knew Vijayan or were admirers of his work. “We do not have a culture of viewing cartoons,” says Sajjive. “But the KCA is trying to promote this sensibility. More exhibitions like this will be held in future.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Scenes from a yatra


As the election fever reaches fever pitch in Kerala, a look back at the Mochana Yatra held by Opposition leader Oommen Chandy

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Kanjirapally town the sun beats down hard on a Thursday morning. The road is festooned with banners of the leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy announcing his Kerala Mojana Yatra.

At one side of the road, a Toyota Innova car is parked. On the bonnet books and CDs about the life of Oommen Chandy are on sale. P.S. Manu, a Zilla secretary of the Kerala Students Union in Thirvananthapuram, is overseeing the temporary stall. “Sales have been brisk,” he says. “However, most of the buyers are party members.”

Suddenly, groups of party workers arrive on motorbikes, holding Congress flags followed by a team of drummers and lady members. Finally, there is the ever-smiling Oommen Chandy accompanied by K.M. Mani and other leaders in an open van waving to the crowds. Party workers shout slogans. There is a sustained burst of fireworks. The drumbeats reach a crescendo.

Soon, Chandy steps on to the stage, near a row of shops, where UDF leaders like T.M. Jacob, P.P. Thankachan and M.M. Hassan have been waiting patiently. Chandy says, “The people are against the government. The LDF has done nothing. We have to provide employment for lakhs of young people and change Kerala.”

The crowd claps and, one by one, the leaders, from the panchayat, zilla, and the state level, step forward with garlands. Somebody places a shawl over Oommen Chandy’s head. Another person gives a bouquet. A lady garlands him with ten rupee notes. The adulation is astonishing to see.

Finally, Chandy gets into a maroon coloured Toyota Innova car. Inside, he points at the back of his palm. It is bleeding. Somebody's nail has pierced his skin while Chandy was being garlanded. Chandy’s son immediately dips Dettol onto a piece of cotton and dabs it on the wound. Then a plaster is pasted. The posse of cars heads for Erattupetta.

But a couple of kilometres out of Kanjirapally, the car is stopped by a few people. A woman in a blue nightgown rushes up holding a green coconut with a white straw sticking out of it. The former chief minister takes it and passes it on to K.C. Joseph, MLA, who is in the back seat. “Very nice to see you,” says the woman.

Everywhere when the people see him, they wave and give bright smiles. In the village of Pinnakkanadu a large bunch of schoolchildren, in blue uniforms, shout and whoop with joy, as they throw orange flower petals at him. A nun presents Chandy with a bouquet along with a brown envelope. It is a petition asking for financial help for the school.

At Erattupetta, the reception is rapturous. Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani, splotches of red on his face, thanks to the afternoon heat, still has the energy to shout, “Oommen Chandy is going to change the face of Kerala.” A visibly tiring Chandy speaks for a short while and then it is time to go.

The car heads towards Congress worker V.M. Nizar's house for lunch. It is a simple meal which had been specifically asked for by the leader: Kanji (rice gruel), payar (long beans), a dab of lime pickle and a pappadam. It is quiet now after the bustle and the noise of the streets. Chandy eats silently, as Nizar hovers around, a gracious host. Later, Chandy retires to a bedroom for a short nap.

R.K. Balakrishnan, Chandy's additional private secretary, says, “Sir is running a fever and has a cold. He is very weak, but how can we stop the yatra?”

At 3 p.m., Chandy sets out once again, this time to Ramapuram. In the car, he says, “The reception has been fantastic all over Kerala. I was very happy by the welcome I got in Kannur. It is clear people want a change.” (For an exclusive interview, see box).

The cavalcade moves on to Ramapuram, Pampady, Karukachal, Changanacherry, and it ends with a big meeting at Kottayam, Chandy's backyard, where the reaction is strong and positive.

The UDF, with its most popular mascot, Oommen Chandy, is off and running to seize power in the upcoming Assembly elections. Is it the end of the road for the Marxists?


Kerala needs a lot of investment, says Oommen Chandy

The UDF wants to create an environment where there are plenty of investment opportunities. Today, people have money, and they are willing to invest if the state provides the right environment. The UDF has realized that.

Nokkukooli has to be stamped out

The UDF will never encourage nokkukooli (workers being paid to look at non-union workers doing work). One of the main reasons why investment has not come to Kerala is because of labour problems. But I have to say that the labour is changing its attitude. It is a highly competitive environment that we are living in. Industries have to be efficient to survive. That means, the productivity has to improve. Definitely the workers should also get good salaries and proper working conditions.

In this situation, we will not tolerate nokkukooli. All trade unions and political parties are against it. However, I know that it is taking place in different parts of the state and we need to stamp it out. The UDF will display the political will for that.

Marxists have out-dated ideologies

The problem with the Marxists is that they are clinging on to an ideology which is impractical and out-dated in today’s world. They always have a negative attitude towards changes. They were against computers and tractors when it was first introduced. That same attitude persists. The Marxists will resist all moves to improve the investment climate when they are in the opposition, and when they come to power, they will not do anything at all. Overall, it is a total loss for the state.

We should have been No. 1 in IT
If you look at the talent and educational qualities of Malayalis our state should have been No. 1 in the IT industry. Instead, Karnataka has an IT industry worth Rs 76,000 crore, Tamil Nadu has Rs 40,000, and Andhra Pradesh has Rs 30,000, while in Kerala it is only Rs 2,360 crore. In all these states so many Malayalis are working in the IT industry. The UDF will ensure that this migration of talent outside the state stops.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Here an oyster, there an oyster

Oyster farms, in Satara Island, near Kochi, are becoming a financially-viable alternative for the local people. It helps that there is an abundance of oysters in the area

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the Munambam river there are several bamboos, tied in a crisscross manner, and embedded in the soil. When you approach it on an inflatable rubber dingy, you see many polythene strings tied around the poles and submerged in the water. T.R. Rakesh lifts up one string. There are several oysters clinging to each other.

“On each string, there are 40 oysters,” says Rakesh, a senior research fellow of the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP), a World Bank-aided scheme, implemented by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). “In this oyster farm, there are 1500 oysters in various stages of growth.”

Sometimes, oysters are grown singly, so that there is a good cup shape to it. “Hotels like these type of oysters,” says Rakesh. He takes a knife and opens a shell. Then he presses the meat and says, “It has not reached full maturity.”

Alongside the banks of Satara Island, 42 kms from Kochi, there are numerous such farms. “Earlier, the people would just pick up the oysters from under the rocks, near their homes, and sell it locally,” says Dr. K. Sunil Mohamed, a Principal Scientist of the CMFRI. “The quality was not as good, as those grown on the farms.”

It was in 2003 that the CMFRI first set up a demonstration farm on the island. “The first harvest was bountiful and the people were convinced,” says Mohamed. Now there are more than 40 farms growing oysters.

One such farmer is Jayashree Sanadanan. She says that ever since the awareness of eating oysters has spread, thanks to the CMFRI, they are getting a good price. “Nowadays, I sell a kilo for Rs 350,” she says. Jayashree's output is about 50 kgs per season, which lasts from December to May. But it is not easy to work with oysters. “They have sharp edges, so our hands get cut often,” she says. “I use gloves to minimise the injuries.”

Jenny Sharma, a Technical Officer of the Molluscan Fisheries Division of the CMFRI, says that five-star hotels like the Casino Group are buying 150 oysters a week at Rs 5 per piece. “The Taj Malabar is also buying oysters regularly,” she says. “There is a growing acceptance of oysters as a dish.”

To ensure that the oysters are not harmful to eat, there is a regular testing of the waters by the CMFRI. “We follow European Union guidelines,” says Mohamed. “However, because the Arabian Sea is less than one kilometre away, the salinity of the water is high, which is suitable for the breeding of oysters.”

Nevertheless, precautions are being taken. There is a Value Added Product unit on the island. After the oysters are taken out of the water, jets of water are aimed at them, to remove the mud sticking to the shells. Then it is put into a depuration tank, where sterilised sea-water enables the oysters to be cleansed of all dirt and other impurities. “Later, it is put in hot water for two minutes,” says P.S. Alloycious, a technical assistant of CMFRI. “Immediately, the shells open out and the meat is taken out.

The nectar is also collected and is used to make a soup. “With the meat, you can make pickles and curries,” says Alloycious. These products are developed by the CMFRI in collaboration with the National Institute of Fisheries Post Harvest Technology and Training and sold under the brand name of 'Muziris' oysters.

As word spreads that the farmers are getting a good price for oysters, more and more people are opting to start farms. “This will enable many families to have a good income,” says Mohamed.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Monday, April 04, 2011

MLAs waste time in attending functions

By Kochuouseph Chittilappilly, Industrialist

As told to Shevlin Sebastian

What does the average MLA in Kerala do when he is elected? He attends weddings, baptisms, religious functions, funerals, cultural events, and inaugurations. Should this be the duty of the MLA? It is a waste of energy and focus. Instead, he should be using his time to develop the state.

When you travel to Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore or Ahmedabad, a lot of development is taking place. New overbridges, flyovers, and highways are coming up at tremendous speed. There is an economic boom in the country, but there is no sign of it in Kerala.

For example, take the Smart City (IT Park). It took so many years to get it signed. Still, at this moment, not a brick has been put up. It was not sanctioned earlier. Suddenly, it has been given the go-ahead. Why did the government say 'no' earlier and 'yes' now?

To foster development, you need a co-operative labour force. But we have to deal with the menace of nookukooli (trade union workers being paid to watch others work). The contractors’ association has an agreement with the unions. When a tipper lorry comes to unload cement or sand, automatically, some money is paid to the unions. This is a hidden and accepted evil. The contractors will pass the expense to the builders and costs go up.

When I discussed this with the leaders of the BMS (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh) and the INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress), they said that if the CITU (Centre for Indian Trade Unions) stops the nookukulli, they are ready. A BMS leader told me that if he banned his members from taking nookukulli, they will resign and join the CITU. So, to stop nookukulli, you need political will.

None of our senior politicians have a political will or a vision. Most suffer from a lack of knowledge. Nowadays, knowledge is power, thanks to the rise of new technologies and social media.

Many leaders are also stuck in an out-dated Communist mind-set, which has been abandoned by Russia and China. Leaders in both these countries have realised that expansion can come only through private investment. Our leaders in Kerala should also realise this.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Simple, smiling, and humble

A reminiscence of the late Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, who died on April 1

By Shevlin Sebastian

On September, 2009, Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil was a guest of honour at an annual meet of the Vithayathils. His brothers and sisters, along with their children were present. The function was held at the family house next to the Pastoral Orientation Centre in Palarivattom, Kochi.

Wearing a cream coloured cassock with the red sash tied around the waist, the Cardinal looked happy and relaxed. In a brief speech, he spoke about the first-ever meet of the Indian Mission Congress at Mumbai in October. In the afternoon, the Cardinal took a nap. This was his only concession to his advanced age of 82. When he emerged from his room, he gave an interview.

And what was most striking was his precise way of talking. He was keenly aware that what he said was going to appear in print. So he chose his words with care and accuracy.

As he spoke I recalled the many meetings with the Cardinal in different places: In Kolkata where he had come for a visit. In Bangalore, at the Redemptorist Seminary House on Davis Road. In Puthenpally, his ancestral place, a few years ago. At Archbishop’s House, Ernakulam, sitting behind his large desk. And, astonishingly, his face had remained the same: simple, smiling, unassuming, and humble.

Once, on being asked how he had managed to remain unaffected, despite his supreme position, he said, with a dismissive wave of his hands, “These are all earthly honours and designations.”

And so, remarkably, Cardinal Vithayathil remained the same person, even as his life took stupendous turns. When he was 68, his father predicted he would be an archbishop and he had replied, “It is impossible.” But God did not think so.

Not only did he become an archbishop, he became a Cardinal also, one among a handful in India’s church history after Independence. Sadly, his father -- Justice Joseph Vithayathil -- passed away long before these events took place.

A few months ago, during an interaction, the Cardinal said, with an amazed look on his face, “I have no idea how 80 years have gone past so fast.”

Today, at his passing away, those who have interacted with him will have unforgettable memories. But, most importantly, through the example of his life, Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil has given an invaluable lesson to all of us on how to be a good human being.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, April 01, 2011

‘A lot of talk and election gimmicks’

Say first-time voters who are students of St. Teresa’s College, Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: (From left) Anie Theresa Joy, Stephe Alex, Shwetha Vipin, and Lini Jolly

Anie Theresa Joy, Stephe Alex, Shwetha Vipin, and Lini Jolly are gathered in a classroom of St Teresa's College, Kochi. Like youngsters everywhere they radiate optimism and excitement. One reason for their happiness is that, at eighteen, they will be first-time voters in the upcoming Assembly elections. But all of them have clear-eyed perceptions about politics, government, and the tardy pace of development.

Anie says, “The government could have set up the Smart City at Kochi much earlier, instead of near the end of their five-year term. It is an election gimmick. They are trying to tell the voters that if they are voted back to power, they will do more projects like this. But I don't believe them. In any case, it is too late.”

Stephe is taken aback by the hypocritical face of the party. “The Communist party opposes capitalism,” she says. “But, surprisingly, most of the leaders have become millionaires through capitalism -- business deals and the like. They are making money for themselves. They don't care for the people. The leaders give a lot of speeches about the need to help the poor, but nothing happens. It is just talk.”

The students are also angry about the rising number of incidents of sexual harassment, molestation, and rape. “I remember when V.S. Achuthanandan was sworn in as chief minister, he promised that he would punish sexual offenders, but nothing of the sort happened,” says Shwetha. “In fact, statistics reveal that attacks against women have increased over the past few years.”

While attacks have increased, there has also been a lack of progress in many areas. “Even now, so many years after Independence, there are many areas in the state where people do not have electricity in their homes or access to drinking water,” says Lini. “People are dying, because of a lack of proper health care, while government doctors don't come to work on time. The administration is not doing anything about it.”

And for a subject that is close to their hearts – education -- they are upset by the policy of the government. “For state syllabus students teachers have been instructed to give pass marks to all those who appear for the examinations, irrespective of their performance,” says Shwetha. “It lowers the overall standard. And because these students obtain higher marks, they get admission to colleges easily. As CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) students, we suffer because of this.”

Says Lini: “Just because the government wants to show that Kerala is 100 per cent literate, all the students are being allowed to pass. This is literacy without any meaning. Many of these students cannot write or read properly.”

But it seems that Anie and her friends have a clear reading of the electorate. Asked about who will win the upcoming elections, they say in unison, “The UDF (United Democratic Front).” And Stephe explains why: “If you take the history of Kerala politics, no party has been elected for two consecutive terms. Within five years, people get tired of the government. They want to give a chance to others.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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