Monday, June 13, 2011
By Shevlin Sebastian
Ace crime reporter J. Dey was allegedly shot dead by underworld assailants in Mumbai. It has sent tremors of shock, outrage, and fear through the media community.
Dey was an authority of the crime world in Mumbai. He knew everything there was to know about the gangs. Who betrayed whom? Who had become friends once again? What was Dawood Ibrahim's future plans? What was Chhotta Rajan doing? Was Arun Gawli finished? He knew the cops who were compromised. He knew the law enforcers who were honest. Any conversation with him was a scintillating one, as he had so many interesting stories to tell – the dirt under the glitter of most of the prominent people in the city.
Dey was over 6' tall. His height was the first thing that one noticed about him. He was working in the Hindustan Times, Mumbai.
The inaugural edition, on July 14, 2005, began with a bang, with the telephonic transcripts of actor Salman Khan raging against Aishwarya Rai, when their relationship was breaking up. Salman's voice was slurred, but menacing at the same time, while Aishwarya sounded scared and frantic. It was an exclusive scoop by Dey.
One day, he said, “I am writing a book on the underworld. Rupa Publishers have been after me to do one. I am finding it difficult to get the time.”
Of course, Dey would find it difficult to find the time. Because, like a dedicated reporter, he was always scouring for news. He was constantly meeting up with criminals, pimps, sidekicks, and law enforcement people.
He was always having tea and vada pav in some restaurant or the other, trying to glean the latest information. And nearly every day, there would be a by-lined article by him on some aspect of crime or the other. It was no wonder he was called the father of crime reporting in Mumbai. Later, he moved from The Hindustan Times and joined MidDay as their crime editor when he was killed.
Incidentally, the book on crime did get written. It was called, 'Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers' and is considered as a Bible on the underworld.
J. Dey, one of the great crime reporters. Rest in peace.
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)
(As told to Shevlin Sebastian)
In February, I met Mammooty and we decided to work together. We spoke about several possible story ideas and we decided on one. I started writing the screenplay on March 20. The film is called ‘Kobra’. It is the story of two friends who are as close as brothers. Kobra is a short form of Kottayam Brothers. It is a study of power and humour.
For one month, I worked hard to write the first draft. During this time, I fell sick once. This happened when I became stuck during the writing and was unable to move forward. I became restless. I would be sitting in the living room at my home in Kochi. Then I would suddenly get up and go outside to the garden. Then I went to the kitchen to talk to my wife. I could sense a fever rising up in me. My breath was hot. I felt tired.
I knew that only my unconscious would help me in this situation. So, just before I drifted off to sleep one night, I thought about some of the nagging problems in the script. When I awakened the next morning, the solutions had presented themselves. The ever-reliable subconscious mind had done the work for me.
When I read the screenplay by myself, I feel it was a great one. But the moment I read it aloud in front of others -- my associates, friends, and relatives -- I knew instinctively where the weak parts were. I could see it from the facial expressions and the body language of the people who were listening. But when I asked them whether they were bored or if the pace was flagging, they would reply immediately, “It is fine. It sounds good.” They thought that since I have directed so many hits, they should not judge my work at all. They felt I would know how to make a successful film.
The shooting will start in the first week of September. So I will have to finish the screenplay by August 31. I am sure I will be carrying on making changes till the last day.
As I work on the script, I am also organising the sound recordings, scouting for locations, thinking and planning about the costumes, having crew meetings, and getting the lyrics written.
Very soon, I will be meeting Mammooty to read out the screenplay to him. I am sure he will suggest some changes. Then we will decide on who will play the various roles.
There is always a fear of failure inside me. It is this fear that motivates me to work hard. We must never take the audience for granted. You must put in 120 per cent. Only then will the viewers appreciate the film.
(Lal, one of Kerala's most successful directors, had several hits like 'Ramji Rao Speaking', 'In Harihar Nagar', 'Godfather' and 'Vietnam Colony', when he teamed up with Sidique. On his own, he had hits like '2 Harihar Nagar' and 'In Ghost House Inn'. )
(The New Indian Express, Chennai, Delhi and Kerala)
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Says Nischal Chandra about his divorce from actress Kavya Madhavan
By Shevlin Sebastian
It was 5 p.m. on May 29 when Nischal Chandra emerged from the family court in Kochi after his marriage to actress Kavya Madhavan was annulled. Some people shook his hand and said, “Congratulations, we are really happy to know that you are a free man.” For Nischal it was a rare moment of happiness. “A few people have finally understood that there is another side to the story of what happened between me and Kavya,” he says.
Ever since Kavya returned from Kuwait, in June, 2009, after barely staying for three months with Nischal, citing spousal abuse, it has been a trial by media for Nischal. “All sorts of lies and distortions have been said,” he says. One example: repeatedly, it was stated that Nischal was uneducated.
“I was really surprised by this,” he says. In fact, Nischal has two master's degrees: one in telecommunication engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, and the other in management science from Stanford University, California.
Nischal has worked in top investment firms like Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan, and Merrill Lynch in New York. “For the last six years, I have been the Technology Adviser of a leading bank in Kuwait,” he says.
When this erroneous information was being published and broadcast, there were few journalists who were willing to listen to Nischal's version. “As far as I know, there were no clarifications,” he says. “Even today, people suspect that I am jobless and lack educational qualifications.”
He says the visual media has a stake in the entertainment industry, so it was tough for them to take a stance opposing Kavya. “Because I am a non-celebrity, they were not interested in me,” he says.
Nischal says he is unable to talk about why the marriage broke down because of a legal agreement with his former spouse. “But I can tell you about the impact of Section 498 A, the domestic violence act,” he says. Kavya had filed a case under this act, whereupon a husband can be arrested, without a warrant, and put into jail.
The law goes like this: 'Whoever, being the husband or the relative of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall be liable to a fine. The offence is cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.'
Nischal was ready for a long drawn-out court battle with Kavya, but his lawyer said that under Section 498A, the entire family could be charged, including his elderly parents, and would consume a lot of time. So he opted for a mutual compromise.
He admits that his family, which includes an elder brother, his wife and child, went through a harrowing time. “It was a nightmare,” he says. “Thank God it is over.” But there was a final sting.
A day after the divorce came through a vernacular newspaper reported that Nischal had refused to return gold jewellery worth Rs 97 lakh. Through his lawyer, Nischal had to issue yet another clarification stating that no dowry or gold jewellery had been taken from Kavya. Thankfully, the newspaper published a retraction.
As to the lesson he has learned from this bitter experience, Nischal says, “Family is the most important institution for a man. When members come together and support you at a most crucial time, you don't need anything more. This experience has made us stronger and more loving towards each other.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)
Monday, June 06, 2011
Anthony Manickam has been serving tea and coffee to customers in offices and shops in Kochi for the past 30 years. In the process, he has been able to build a house and give a good education to his daughters
By Shevlin Sebastian
Antony Manickam, 59, arrives at the Sub-Registrar's office at Edapally on a red M80 moped. In a smooth movement, he takes out a tray and places paper cups on it. Thereafter, through a tap in the steel container tied at the back, he fills the cups with milk and adds tea powder or coffee. Then he walks inside and places cups on different tables.
The employees smile at him, some with relief, because they were yearning for their first refreshment of the morning. Then Manickam steps outside and goes to some shops on the opposite side. This includes a tailoring shop, a photocopying centre and a workshop.
Thereafter, he goes to the Edapally branch of the HDFC bank near Changampuzha Park. Again, he goes through the same motions and serves coffee to the 15 employees inside. “They like my coffee because I use Bru Instant,” he says. Incidentally, he charges Rs 5 for both tea and coffee.
Every morning, Manickam provides the beverages in several offices, stationary, and ration shops, workshops, and markets. “I serve 250 cups a day,” he says. “When I was younger, I would make a thousand cups, but now I have slowed down.”
Manickam has been doing this job for the past 33 years and has regular customers. One of them is Georfin Pettah, the owner of several supermarkets under the name of 'Jose Pettah and sons'.
“Manickam has been serving tea to us for the past three decades,” says Georfin. “There are many reasons for his success. First of all, he is dressed very well. Secondly, he serves the tea on a tray and it is very hygienic. The tea and coffee are always fresh.”
There is a reason behind the good quality. “I don't make the tea or coffee beforehand because it will have a stale taste after one hour,” he says. Since there are some places where he reaches two hours after he sets out from his home, he ensures that he makes it fresh each time he has to serve a customer.
On weekends, Manickam gets orders to provide refreshments for functions, baptisms, weddings and funerals. "He is very reliable," says Georfin. "You just have to give the order and forget about it."
Manickam, who is originally from Coimbatore, came to this business through misfortune. He had been working in the Sealord hotel as a waiter. But a year-long strike in the hotel in 1978 forced him to leave. He started a wayside hotel but it failed. He was in a penurious condition.
“I was finding it difficult to pay the rent and to buy the milk for my two-year-old daughter,” he says. In desperation, he began selling tea at night on the streets. Thanks to Georfin's cousin, Jose, he got his first assignment to give tea to the students of the Teacher's Training Course at the Edapally government high school.
Thanks to his sincerity, he got a lot of customers. In 1982, he bought five cents of land in Edapally and built a house. “I got a loan of Rs 1 lakh from the Edapally branch of the State Bank of Travancore, and repaid it by giving tea,” he says. He bought the cement, the sand, and the other building materials in a similar manner.
“The only time I had to actually pay money was to the labourers,” he says. “Can you believe that I was also able to marry off my two daughters, Mary and Maggie, apart from giving them a good education just by selling tea and coffee?”
Asked how long he would continue, Manickham says, "As long as my health permits. I just love this job and enjoy the look of expectation that comes on people's faces when they see me."
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)
Friday, June 03, 2011
Thupten Yamphel talks about how he yearns to go to Tibet, a country he has never seen, and his experiences in Kerala
By Shevlin Sebastian
At 6.30 a.m., Thupten Yamphel opens his shop on Mullassery Canal Road in Kochi. His five employees have already arrived. They take out the merchandise from the boxes -- the imported leather shoes, sandals, and sneakers -- cleans them with feather dusters, and places them neatly on racks. The prices range from Rs 200 to Rs 1200. By 7 a.m., the first customer drifts in.
The unusual thing about Thupten, 31, dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, is that he is a Tibetan exile. Twenty-five years ago, his grandfather came to Kochi from the Tibetan enclave of Bylakuppe in Mysore and started the shop. Later, his father took over.
Meanwhile, Thupten studied till Class 5 in a Tibetan school in Bylakuppe and moved to the Breeks Memorial Anglo-Indian school in Ooty. During the summer vacations, he would come home to Kochi.
It was during these holidays that his grandfather, Tsering Thargyal, would talk about Tibet. “He said that it was so peaceful in Tibet,” says Thupten. “Nobody worried about tomorrow. They lived for today. They were very happy. He spoke about the beauty of Tibet: the mountains, the blue skies, and the cool weather. Sadly, I have only seen Tibet in videos.”
Thargyal found life in Kochi quite different. “My grandfather said that in Kochi everybody wants to make money,” says Thupten. “It is so competitive. Once that aim is fixed in the mind, many people do things which are not right.”
Unusually, his parents did not talk much about Tibet, but there was a reason for this. They left Lhasa for India when they were only three years old. “They have no memory of the place,” says Thupten. Here’s a brief recap of Tibet’s history: China annexed the country in 1951 and 2 lakh Tibetans have gone into exile ever since.
After he completed his Class 12, Thupten came to Kochi and did his B.Com from Sacred Heart College in Thevara. Thereafter, after a year's course in interior design, he went to Bangalore and joined a call centre.
It was there that he met Rievine, a Christian girl from the town of Senapati in Nagaland. After a courtship of two years, they got married on December 25, 2007, settled in Kochi, and now have a three-year-old son, Tenzin.
“I came back to Kochi because my father was unwell and I decided to look after the shop,” says Thupten. Subsequently, his father moved to Bylakuppe.
In Kochi, the people have been friendly and kind. “They respect ladies and children,” he says. “If I am traveling on a bus with my family, a man might get up and give his seat to my wife. In Mysore, they will make us stand and the conductor will double-check to see whether I have taken a full ticket for my son, even though he is an infant.”
However, there is one drawback about living in Kochi. “The weather is too humid,” he says. “So, I welcome the monsoon rains even though my business goes down.” The best time for the trade is during the festivals of Onam, Ramzan, and Christmas.
At his home, Thupten retains some links with Tibet. There are several photos of the Dalai Lama. “He is our God,” he says. “I pray to him every morning.” Sometimes, on weekends, Rievine cooks Tibetan dishes. So they have momos (dumplings), Thupka, a noodle soup, which is served with meat, and Tingmo, a steamed bread.
When son Tenzin grows older, Thupten plans to take him to Bylakuppe, so that he can be taught the Tibetan language, culture, and religious traditions. “It is very important that he knows who we are,” says Thupten.
And, despite his comfort in living in Kochi, the moment Tibet becomes free he will go back. “After all, everybody likes to stay in their own country,” says Thupten, with a smile.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)
Thursday, June 02, 2011
A Bus Day programme by Transport Minister V.S. Sivakumar and others highlight the need to travel in public transport to ease traffic congestion and pollution in Kochi
By Shevlin Sebastian
“I hope you had bought tickets,” says P. Rangadasa Prabhu, the president of the Ernakulam District Residents Association Apex Council, to a group of women councillors of the Cochin Corporation, as they step down from a private bus at Thoppumpady.
“Of course, we have,” says Councillor Soumini Jain, while her colleagues, Essy Joseph and Retnamma Raju, nod their heads. On the sidewalk, magician K.N. Kutty puts on a red bow-tie, a black waist-coast over a striped red and black shirt, and a top hat on his head. “I plan to show some tricks on the bus,” he says.
They had all gathered to take part in the 'Bus Day' programme, organised jointly by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Center for Public Policy Research, FM Red, and Uninor.
A few minutes later, at 8.15 a.m., State Transport Minister V.S. Sivakumar gets into a low-floor air-conditioned bus. Behind him, there is a huge crush of people, including policemen, legislators, councillors, mediamen and workers of political parties. A wag says, “This is the first time that a low-floor a/c bus is so crowded.”
The bus goes all the way to the Fort Kochi bus stand, but poor Kutty is unable to perform his magic in the crush. At the public function, P. Prathap Chandran, the president of the Indian Chamber, says, “About 70 per cent of those who use public transport take up 15 per cent of the public space. On the other hand, 15 per cent of private vehicles use up 70 per cent of the space. That is why we want more and more people to use public transport.”
As Sivakumar steps forward to speak, magician Kutty proffers a gas lighter. The minister proceeds to light the wick of a candle, which is turned, by magic, into a colourful hand fan by Kutty. So the magician finally gets his few seconds in the limelight.
Sivakumar smiles and says, “Every day, in a rapidly growing city like Kochi, more than 200 vehicles are being registered. This will lead to an enormous increase in traffic jams, apart from pollution levels. That is why we want to encourage bus travel.”
He acknowledges that bus journeys have to be made smooth and comfortable, in order to attract those who travel by cars. “Eight new Thiru Kochi buses will be introduced soon,” says the minister, to widespread applause.
MLA Dominic Presentation bemoans the fact that despite crores of rupees being spent, the Fort Kochi bus stand is not operational. “We need to make this work,” he says. Mayor Tony Chhamany promised that the stand would start functioning soon.
The others who spoke include former Transport Minister Jose Thettayil, who had come up with the 'bus day' concept during his tenure. And he practises what he preaches.
On the 'Safar' private bus from Fort Kochi to Aluva, following the function, Thettayil is a passenger, en route to his home in Angamaly.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)