Sunday, July 24, 2011

‘The plus and minus points of Kerala’

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: (From left) Gigo Joseph, CEO, Infopark, Industrialist SS Agarwal, writer K.L. Mohana Varma, and T Damu, VP-Corporate Affairs, Indian Hotels

The Wednesday Club, which helps its members to develop leadership and communication skills, held a round-table discussion recently. The topic: 'Is Kerala a happening place?'

Among the speakers was T. Damu, VP, Corporate Affairs, Indian Hotels, who said, “Kerala is a happening place, positively and negatively. When somebody does good, there are others to oppose him. This is a trait of Malayalis.” He bemoaned the fact that the infrastructure in the state is not well-developed. “It is a must if tourism has to flourish,” he said. “In terms of visitors, we are only 11th in India. The growth is mostly in the IT and technology sectors.”

Noted writer K.L Mohana Varma saw a signboard which announced a training programme on ‘Ethical Hacking’. He called the advertiser who confirmed it was ethical. “Keralites can be innovative if they want,” he said, with a smile. Mohana Varma praised the tolerant nature of Malayalis. “We are the only community in the world to invite Jews to settle down in our state,” he said. “We also elected the first Communist government anywhere in the world. And Kerala is the only place in India where Muslims have political power.” But Kerala's drawback has been that it has lacked universally accepted leaders, like in north India, which is necessary for a society to develop.

When Gigo Joseph, the CEO of Infopark, went to Bangalore to invite investment, the company heads were more interested to hear about the infrastructure and entertainment opportunities available in Kochi. “From people to people, the word, 'happening' has different meanings,” he said. “Kerala is a balanced state. There is not much of a difference between the rich and the poor, and the urban and rural areas. However, the media should focus on the positive things that are taking place in society.”

Industralist SS Agarwal spoke about the difficulties of setting up a flour mill in Kochi in the late-eighties. “In Mangalore I set up the same mill in 10 months, while in Kochi it took two-and-a-half years,” he said. “Nevertheless, Kerala is a happening place. Around 3 per cent of the population consumes 15 per cent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).” He said that Kerala should concentrate on micro and small enterprises, as well as the service sector, since there is very little land available for industry. The meeting was presided over by club president Kurian Abraham.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dealing with a dreaded disease

Dr. Thomas Varughese of Lakeshore hospital deals with cancer victims every day. He talks about the impact of the disease and the precautions that need to be taken

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, seven years ago, Rahul George (name changed), 48, was brought to the Lakeshore hospital at Kochi by relatives. Bizarrely, he was carrying a letter from a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram stating that he was suffering from lung cancer and had a week to live. Hence, he was being released.

“Rahul's chest was full of blood,” says Dr. Thomas Varughese, the senior consultant oncologist surgeon. Immediately, a surgery, lasting several hours, was done. One half of the lung was removed. After rest and recuperation Rahul returned to Alleppey where he has just retired as a physiotherapist in a government college. “This is one of my most memorable cases,” says Thomas. “I saved a man from the brink of death.”

Unfortunately, the incidence of cancer is rising alarmingly these days. “Earlier, those who had cancer would be in their fifties or sixties,” says Thomas. “Now, people in their twenties and thirties are afflicted.” For women, the most common is breast, followed by lung cancer. For men, it is lung and head and neck cancer.

One of the major causes is the type of food we are eating. “Milk products are very risky,” he says. “It contains an insulin like growth factor, which is a stimulant of cancer. Milk is a carcinogenic product” (Carcinogenic means anything which can initiate a cancer process within the body).

As for meat, the red content is called haem. “Haem is a carcinogenic,” says Thomas. “When haem is within the meat, it is fine. That is why meat-eating animals don't get cancer. But when meat is cooked, haem gets out. It enters the intestine and causes damage. Cooked meat also contains plenty of nitrous amines. These are also carcinogens, with easy access to the intestine and the bloodstream.”

A meat-heavy diet is one reason why in Europe and the USA, the incidence of colon cancer is very high. Too much oily food is also unhealthy, because it contains saturated fats, which are carcinogenic. Thomas suggests a rich vegetable diet, with a lot of bran. “Bran contains omega 3 fatty acid, which protects against heart attacks and cancer,” he says. “Bran is a soluble fibre. We need fibre in our food, because it acts as a scavenger. It takes away all the waste material from the body.”

Apart from faulty diets, the environment can have an impact. A constant exposure to sunlight can produce skin cancer. In a particular village near Haripad, at least one member of the family has got cancer. “This is because of the radiation from the sand,” says Thomas.

Other reasons for the increased rate of cancer are the widespread habits of drinking alcohol and smoking.

Thomas suggests two precautions: the right diet, and regular exercise. “Exercise burns calories,” says Thomas. “Along with that, protective hormones get activated. These are anabolic hormones, which protect the body.”

During an operating day, Thomas ends up doing all kinds of surgeries: head and neck, throat, breast and abdominal surgeries. In a video that he shows on his computer, he cuts with practiced ease.

“The most difficult part is to inform the patients that they have cancer,” says Thomas. “Whatever way you say it, with a smile, or in a light-hearted manner, the word has the impact of a bombshell.”

The surgeon tries to talk in a calm manner. “I will never get angry with my patients even if they are upset or angry with me,” says Thomas, who is forceful by nature. “The important thing is to inculcate a fighting spirit within them.”

Thanks to recent advances, if a cancer is detected early, there is a strong possibility of a cure. “The PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan is a wonderful new addition,” says Thomas. A PET scan will show whether the disease is localised or spread all over the body and is far more effective than a CT scan.

Thomas, who has done advanced training in Memorial Sloan Kettering Centre in New York, MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Texas, John Hopkins University in Baltimore, apart from hospitals in Japan and Australia, has done about 3000 surgeries in the past 24 years. Today, he is optimistic about a cure for cancer. “As the technology improves, especially in diagnosis, radiation and surgery, I am sure there will come a day when people will no longer feel terrified when they are told they have cancer,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The discredited ideology of Marxism

Author K.P. Joseph, in his book, 'The Dark Side of Marxism', details the devastating impact of the ideology in Kerala and the rest of the world

By Shevlin Sebastian

“The CPI(M) is a Rs 4000 crore conglomerate which runs television channels and newspapers and other businesses,” says K.P. Joseph, the author of 'The Dark Side of Marxism'. “Just as a corporate entity sells its products through advertising, the party uses ideology for the same reasons.”

And for years their propaganda has been working successfully, because the people continue to vote for them. “The party has cultivated a group of intellectuals who were brought up on Marxism, who keep propagating its benefits,” he says.

But there are no benefits. In fact, the CPI(M) has pushed Kerala's economic development behind by several decades because the party persistently opposed the innovations of science and technology. “When tractors were first introduced it was resisted,” says Joseph. “My friend’s uncle was murdered in Panangad in the 1970s because he dared to use a tractor. Computers were regarded as a threat. They were against the use of auto-rickshaws. Any kind of technology which would empower people, they opposed it.”

If people become prosperous, they will yearn for personal and spiritual development. “As a result, they will not need the party,” says Joseph. “So the leaders wanted the populace to remain poor, so that they can control them.”

And even though Marxism-Leninism has been discredited in Russia, China, and all over the world, the CPI(M) in Kerala is unable to disown it. “If they did that, the foundation on which they have constructed the party and the privileges enjoyed by the leaders will come to an end,” says Joseph.

Nevertheless, Joseph has positive things to say about former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, of the CPI (M). “He was born in a poor family, a member of the Ezhava caste, and had little education, as compared to former chief minister EMS Namboodiripad, and party general secretary, Prakash Karat,” says Joseph. “And he rose to become Chief Minister. But Achuthanandan's rule had a limited impact, because of his lack of education and vision. But he is a good and honest man. Marxism provided him with an escape from oppression.”

But that is not usually the case, because Marxism goes against human nature. “Marxism denies freedom to the individual,” says Joseph. “The party is in supreme control over society. Sometimes, the party is controlled by one person, like Hitler and Stalin. So, in effect, it is a dictatorship.”

Stalin promised a paradise on earth. But the people were imprisoned in vast numbers in the Gulag Archipelago. “The infrastructure of the Soviet Union was built by slave labour,” says Joseph.

What is stunning to know is how the genocide conducted in the name of the Communist ideology in North Korea, Russia, China, Cambodia, the Communist states of Eastern Europe and in Latin America resulted in the deaths of 125 million people. It was the maximum in China, where 70 million people perished during the reign of Mao Zedong.

The 'Dark Side' is a compilation of articles that Joseph has written over the years. It is divided into two parts. In Part 1, there are 15 essays which analyses the impact of the CPI(M) in Kerala, while in the second half, he looks at the global impact of the Communist ideology.

So what is the ideology that Joseph would suggest, now that Communism is considered derelict? “Those who make wealth should have the responsibility to look after the poorest of the poor,” says Joseph. “But for that to happen, entrepreneurs should be given sufficient freedom to produce wealth. So, I would suggest a mix of capitalism and socialism.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bedazzled by the Moon

The Thodupuzha-born Augustine Zacharias is a follower of the Unification Church. Today, he lives in Tokyo, with a Japanese wife, selected by the church's founder Rev. Moon, and has two children

Photo: Augustine Zacharias with his Japanese wife and sons

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1984, Augustine Zacharias came across an article in the Readers' Digest called, 'A journey through the mind of a cult'. It focused on the Unification Church founded by the Korean-born Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The story detailed the brainwashing that took place, as well as the financial scams of Rev. Moon.

Zacharias, who grew up in Thodupuzha, became curious and began reading the Divine Principles written by Rev. Moon. It seemed to have the answers to the many queries he had. One question which tormented Zacharias was why good people suffered in life.

Rev Moon said, “Suffering occurs because of the actions done by a human being. Sometimes when we think we are doing is the correct action may not be 100 per cent right. For example: killing a man is bad. But if there is a war, and if a soldier kills an enemy, it is considered as a good act. Everyone should have a clear understanding of what is right and wrong.”

Zacharias, born a Catholic, had been disappointed by Christianity. “It does not have the answers especially when you read the Old Testament,” he says. “Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did Noah curse his second son? Why did Tamara have a baby from her father-in-law? There are no clear explanations. In Divine Principles, there are logical answers to all the questions.”

In 1988, Zacharias became a volunteer in the Delhi office of the Unification church. Some years later, he sent his photo to Rev. Moon, who selected a bride for him. She turned out to be a Japanese woman, by the name of Michiko Nozawa. On August 25, 1992, there was a mass marriage of 30,000 couples in the Olympic Stadium at Seoul. “All the pairs were chosen by Rev. Moon,” says Zacharias. Soon, they began their married life in Delhi.

And Zacharias admits the marriage was not easy. “We come from different cultures,” he says. “We have a different mind-set and I had to work hard to make it work.” Interestingly, quite a few couples who took part in the mass marriage broke up within a few years.

Meanwhile, on November 29, 1996, his first child, a son, was born. He was named Bharat. The second son, born two years later, was called Kenta. In 1998, they went to Tokyo and settled down there. Zacharias started a business, selling Indian handicrafts and silks. Later, he set up an Indian restaurant, and, finally, he began exporting excavators and other machineries to India and other countries.

During this time, Zacharias continued to be a volunteer for the Unification church. “I would work on holidays and weekends, and whenever there were any public events,” he says. There are a million adherents in Japan. Worldwide, there are 43 million followers.
Most of the disciples are from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and America. ““People come and go, sometimes, they return,” says Zacharias. “My children are members. Bharat is a student leader in the church.”

Unfortunately, Zacharia’s actions have caused repercussions at home. “I was ex-communicated from the Catholic church,” says Zacharias, while on a recent visit to Kochi. “The priest said my wife should become a Catholic. I told him I could not force her, since she is a Buddhist. Then he said I could not stay in the church.”

Meanwhile, his mother was deeply upset. She begged him to return to the Catholic church insisting that he belonged to a cult, but he refused. His four brothers and a sister and their families have constantly faced the ire of society. But for Zacharias, there was no turning back.

“Rev. Moon is the saviour of mankind,” he says. “I believe he is the second coming of Christ. If I don't follow him, I will be making a big mistake. During Jesus's life, people never regarded him as a saviour. So is the case with Moon. I don't want to make the same error. So, even though I face difficulties in my family and society, I will always remain faithful to Rev. Moon.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

An outsider's perspective

A British teacher learns about teaching methods and the abilities of students at Rajagiri Public school, and compares them with his students

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a presentation by a group of Class nine students of Rajagiri Public school, Kochi, Eugene Collins, a teacher of Stanmore College in London was taken aback by how articulate the students were. “It was remarkable,” he says. The students spoke about the recent Arab uprising, and the situation in Burma. “I was impressed by the level of research that they had undertaken,” he says. “The presentation style was very effective.”

Collins wants his students in London to have the same interest in international issues. “They find it difficult to think about life outside of London,” he says. “One of my aims is to expand their understanding of the world.”

Collins is in Kochi as part of the Global School Partnerships programme, funded by the UK Aid from the Department for International Development. The project enables teachers and students in the United Kingdom to learn about global issues, in partnership with schools in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

In India, the Rajagiri Public School has been selected. But it is an exploratory trip for Collins, who is working closely with English teachers, Ruby Antony and Parimal Paul, on how to set up a viable programme.

“The initial aim is to develop an international ethos among the students in London and Kochi,” says Ruby. “We felt that human rights can be a common subject.”

The students in London will be working with refugees who come to Britain. They include people from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. “The youngsters will befriend a refugee who is of a similar age and help them to access educational facilities and social welfare,” says Collins.

In Kochi, Ruby will enable her students to focus on gender issues, poverty, and the caste system. “Later, a student exchange programme will take place,” she says. “The aim is to break down the misconceptions among the Indians and the British.”

Some of the misconceptions are on expected lines. “My students, a mix of Indians, West Indians and whites, know about Bollywood,” says Collins. “They have seen the film, 'Slumdog Millionaire'. Not surprisingly, their impression of India is that it is a poor and backward country. I want to make them understand that India is a growing economic power and progressing very rapidly.”

Meanwhile, students in Rajagiri think that London is a big and developed city with shiny buildings. “The reality is that there is terrible poverty in London,” says Collins. “Our city is not just about the royal family or the Buckingham Palace. The economy is in bad shape, so life is tough. Recently, the teachers went on strike nation-wide because of changes in the pension shame. So, there are misconceptions on both sides.”

Meanwhile, as Collins wandered around the Rajagiri campus, interacting with teachers and students, he noticed that the teaching styles were different. “In India the relationship between the student and the teacher is very formal,” he says. “The teacher talks and the students listen. In my school, it is much more interactive. The students learn, by doing, rather than memorising. The students here treat their teachers with a lot of deference, and it is very lovely to see this. In London, students call the teacher by the first name. They don't wear uniforms. But, I guess, each country has its own way.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

The Golden Marwaris

Many Marwaris from North India have settled in Kochi and have become millionaire businessman. A look at the reasons behind their success. Plus, have the second generation paid a social or emotional price?

Photo: S.S. Agarwal in front of the steel cables that he makes

By Shevlin Sebastian

C.P. Jain parks his black Hyundai Sonata car on MG Road, Kochi 's main thoroughfare on a quiet Tuesday in May. A hartal had been called by transport unions to protest the recent hike in petrol prices. “I was worried that somebody would throw stones,” says Jain, as he steps out of the vehicle, and gives a relieved smile.

Jain is a trim man, with silver-black hair and gold spectacles. On his feet he wears white Puma shoes. He bounds up the stairs to his second floor office. Jain has a large trading business dealing with all types of paper. And this is his 29th year in Kochi.

When he was a young man, Jain was practising as a lawyer in the Rajasthan High Court. His father, who had a business in cutting and polishing diamonds, asked him to join the family firm. Jain was not very keen. “I wanted to do something of my own,” he says. He set out for Bangalore where a school classmate of his was doing business. From there he went to Kerala. But he drew a blank on what trade to do.

However, on the Kerala Express, on which he was returning to Jaipur, he met Bala Vijayakumar (name changed), the general manager of the Nagpur-based Empress Paper Mills, which was owned by the Tatas. “Paper is a growing business in Kerala,” said Vijayakumar. “You could supply Kraft paper for the corrugated industry.”

An excited Jain went to Mumbai, met a senior Tata executive, who appointed Jain as an agent.

In February, 1982, Jain went to Kochi, much against the wishes of his family. His father said, “You will have a lot of problems. You don't know anybody there. Do you think you will be able to establish a business?”

But Jain felt inwardly confident. However, when he asked for financial help, his father refused. “I had saved about Rs 1 lakh,” he says. And his mother turned out to be silent supporter. She gave him Rs 50,000.

And right from the beginning, Jain tasted success. “The Malayala Manorama gave me good business and there were other firms also,” he says. “I was able to sell 100 tons of paper every month from the early days.” Today, Jain has become a wealthy man.

At S.S. Agarwal's bungalow, in posh Panampilly Nagar, he is walking about on bare feet. But the floor is made of spotless white marble. In the living room, there is a Ravi Varma painting, while on a mantelpiece, there is a silver idol of Radha and Krishna, apart from photos of his family. Muted lighting and wooden furniture gives the impression of tranquility.

His elegant wife, Durga, with small diamond studs in her ears, serves tea and samosas, along with jalebis. “I love Kochi for its greenery, the cleanliness, and for the peace and quiet,” says Durga, who grow up in noisy Kolkata. “We have assimilated easily into the liberal Kerala culture and have many Malayali friends. They are kind and friendly.”

As she talks, her husband’s Blackberry buzzes every now and then. Agarwal smiles easily and has the look of a happy man.

He came to Kochi in 1987. “I grew up in Salem, a dry place,” he says. “So Kerala was like a heaven for me.” Despite many warnings, he set up a flour mill in Kochi, went through teething labour problems, which almost closed down his unit, but managed to survive and prosper. Later, he built a steel factory and is now a prosperous businessman.

Incidentally, there are 2500 Marwaris in Kochi. “Around 90 per cent of the bread-winners are doing trading,” says N.L. Mittal, the secretary of the Jan Kalyan Society, which comprises Marwaris.

Asked to explain the reasons behind their success, Mittal says, “A Marwari never fears anything in business. We are a very mobile community. We can move into the deepest jungle, if we have to, if there is any scope of economic gain. Basically, we are risk-takers. We have a saying: 'Jaha ne jaye belgadi, waha jaye Marwari' – where a bullock cart cannot go, a Marwari will go.”

He says that the community members ensure that they win over the local population. “This is because we are far away from our home state of Rajasthan,” he says. “We have to be careful, and cannot afford to make enemies.”

Asked whether he would encourage a Marwari youngster from outside to do business in Kochi, businessman D.N. Singhal, says, “I will. The profit margins are better, as compared to other cities because the competition is less.”

Meanwhile, the impact on the second generation seems to be minimal. Sitting in his air-conditioned stock-broking firm in Kochi, Akshay Agarwal speaks softly into his mobile phone. It is a little incongruous that this tall North Indian, with wavy black hair, is talking in fluent Malayalam.

Akshay came to Kochi when his father became the head of a transport company. “I was only one year old,” he says. “I feel completely rooted in Kochi.” So, at his home he eats North as well as south Indian food. “In fact, my breakfast is either idli or masala dosa,” he says.

Unusually, Akshay feels out of place when he travels to North India. “It takes some time to get used to the aggressiveness of the people,” he says. “But I admire their 'can-do' attitude. There is a lot of energy and vitality in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. And there are a lot more opportunities. In contrast, people in the south are laid-back.”

But in the end, it is a trade-off. “I have a much higher standard of living in Kochi, than if I were in Delhi,” he says. “So I am happy to be here. Also, Kochi is changing. There is a flourishing business climate now.”

(The New Indian Express, south India and Delhi)

Getting closer to God

The first Jain temple has come up in Kochi. It took four years to build and is expected to be a tourist attraction

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Manu R. Mavelil

On May 8, at 11.43 a.m., this year, during the auspicious prana pratishtha puja, members of the Jain community in Kochi got a jolt of surprise. Just 15 ft above the dome of the temple, a helicopter suddenly appeared, its rotor blades making a staccato sound, and at a particular point, it dipped, and a shower of petals – rose, marigold, lotus, and jasmine -- rained down.

“The timing was perfect,” says C.P. Jain, one of Kochi's leading businessmen. “It was an auspicious moment for us.”

All this happened during the inauguration of the first Jain temple in Kochi. Incidentally, the Jains have been living in this city for the past 150 years.

The 2000 sq. ft. temple, on Srinivasa Mallan Road, near Padma theatre, took four years to build. It is made of spotless white marble brought especially from Rajasthan. “If there was a slab with a single black spot, we would return it,” says C.P. Jain, a trustee of the Sree Swetambar Murtipujak Jain Sangh, which built the structure. “More than 40 truck loads were used.”

Skilled artisans from Rajasthan were hired to do the designs on the pillars and the walls. “Ours is a close replica of the Dilwara Jain temple on Mount Abu in Rajasthan,” says Mohanlal Jain, one of the seniors in the community.

Indeed, there are sharp carvings of a wealthy lady sitting on a chair placed on the back of a caparisoned elephant, as well as three Mangal Murtis, or statues of the gods placed in alcoves in the outer walls of the temple

Inside the Sanctum sanctorum, there are three Tirthankaras placed side by side. The main God is Shri Vasupujya Swami, who is the 12th Tirthankara. The statue is made of milky white marble. The god is sitting cross-legged, with a gold necklace and garlands around his neck and red roses on his feet.

“The Jain muni (monk), Panyas Ravisekhar Vijayaji Maharaj Saheb, studied the horoscope and the stars, and said that for the prosperity of Kochi and Kerala, the 12th Thirthankara would be the ideal one,” says Mohanlal.

Sitting on either side of Shri Vasupujya Swami is the 7th Tirthankara, Shri Pashvanath, and the 20th, Shri Munisuvrat Swami. Behind them, on the wall, are etchings of creepers and of devotees, done in a mix of gold and silver. It looks wonderful and awe-inspiring.

At one side, on the wall, there are numerous palm prints in red. “During the inauguration, people placed their palms in wet kumkum powder and pressed it on the wall,” says Jeevraj Jain, a community member.

The doors have silver etchings. On one, there are illustrations of the 14 dreams that Queen Trishala saw, before giving birth to Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara.

They include an elephant, a bull, a lion, Goddess Laxmi, a beautiful garland, the full moon, a bright sun, a large flag on a golden stick, a golden vase filled with water, a lake full of lotuses, the ocean, the celestial plane, a heap of jewels, and a smokeless fire.

Build at a cost of Rs 1.5 crore and based on the donations of the community over 21 years, the members are thrilled at their achievement.

“It was one of the happiest moments of my life when the prana pratishtha puja took place,” says Pravin Togani, a businessman. “Every morning we can now go to a temple and pray to God, instead of doing it in our house, as we did for so many years.”

(The New Indian Express, south India and Delhi)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Parting with a precious organ

M.C. Roy is a voluntary living kidney donor. One and a half years later, the donor and the recipient are in blooming health

By Shevlin Sebastian

In August, 2008, M.C. Roy, an entrepreneur, met up with classmates at a school re-union of the Rajagiri Public School at Kochi. “We were meeting each other after 30 years,” he says. One of the classmates Roy met was Dr. S. Krishnan, a nephrologist, who works in Australia. “The conversation veered towards kidney donations,” says Roy. “I learnt that there is a huge gap between demand and supply.” Roy asked whether anybody could be a donor, and Krishnan said, “Yes, provided the person clears a few medical tests and assessments.”

The seed was planted in Roy's mind. He did extensive research on the Internet about the pros and cons of donating a kidney. His conclusion: there was no risk at all. “A mother who donated to her child was in perfect health, even four decades after the surgery,” says Roy. “There were many testimonies like this.”

In June, 2009, Roy came to know that a family friend in Muscat, Drs. Simon and Mary, had a 23-year-old daughter, Anna, who was suffering from twin kidney failure. “Anna would go for dialysis thrice a week, returning often after midnight, since she was also working,” says Dr. Simon. “This went on for a year.” The parents were unable to find a donor and were going through a harrowing time.

So, one day, Roy sent an e-mail to Dr Simon, in which he said, “I am very clear about what I am saying. I would like to donate my kidney.” Not surprisingly, Simon could not believe it. He called Roy and said, “We really appreciate this. But I want the concurrence of every member of your family.”

This included Roy's three brothers and two sisters, his father, wife, and two children. Even though, legally, Roy only needed the permission of his wife. Nevertheless, with a zeal that also surprised him, Roy went about persuading his siblings that there was no danger in donating a kidney. Eventually, his family agreed.

The operation took place on November, 11, 2009, at Kochi’s Lakeshore Hospital. Roy and Anna were in adjoining operation theatres. While Roy had to undergo a laparoscopy, Anna had an open surgery.

The operation lasted for three hours. Roy stayed in the hospital for four days, while Anna had to spend 10 days. Thereafter, she had to carry on staying near the hospital for a month, so that she could be under observation.

The life of a kidney, depending on its quality, lasts about 15 years. Then you have to get a replacement. “Since it is a foreign body, the body will keep resisting it,” says Dr. Simon. “So, to suppress the immune system, immunosuppresant drugs have to be taken. Since one becomes prone to infections, because of this, the only precaution Anna has to take is to avoid contact with people who have infectious diseases.”

One and a half years later, Anna is having a thriving career as a HR manager in a well-known firm in Chennai. “She is living life to the fullest,” says Dr. Simon. “She looks so pretty now. We are immensely grateful to Roy.”

As for Roy, who looks in fine fettle, as he sips a glass of juice at a restaurant in Panampilly Nagar, many people meet him now and ask him, “Are you keeping in good health?” Roy says, “It is a misconception that one’s health gets affected. In fact, I have forgotten about the operation.” But there is a constant physical reminder of what he has done: a four inch-long perpendicular scar under the navel.

(Some names have been changed)

Be a donor

Many people are afraid of becoming living donors. But there is an alternative. You can become a cadaveric organ donor. That means, if you are brain dead, the kidney can be taken away from you. “The organ has to be alive if you have to harvest it,” says M C Roy, a voluntary donor. “Seven to nine lives can be saved from a healthy body which is brain dead.”

Everybody does not die of brain death. But those who do so, their organs can be used. “Why do you want to lose this wonderful opportunity to give life to other people?” says Roy. For those who are interested, there are organisations like the Society for Organ Retrieval and Transplantation and the Kidney Federation of India.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Travelling with a MLA and his coterie

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: K. Achuthan

Chittur MLA K. Achuthan, a Congress leader, lies sprawled on a lower bunk of the three-tier air-conditioned bogie of the Chennai Mail, when the train arrives at Kottayam on a Monday evening. But he has the decency to sit up when a passenger comes to claim a reserved seat.

Like the typical politician, he is clad in the all-white shirt and mundu, and is accompanied by three party colleagues, one of whom is a Zilla Vice President in Palakkad, Rajan (name changed), while the other is a panchayat president.

Achuthan was returning to Palakkad from Thiruvananthapuram where he deposed before the Vakkom Purushothaman panel, which is enquiring into the reasons behind the Congress Party’s poor performance in the Assembly elections. Achuthan said, “In my Assembly segment, DCC Secretary P. Balachandran and the son of a former MLA, K.A. Chandran, worked against me, even though I won eventually.”

Meanwhile, as the train picks up speed, reporters of several media organizations call Achuthan up on the mobile phone. He speaks politely to each one of them.

Once during a lull between calls, Achuthan says, “The problem with the press is that they listen to me very carefully and write the opposite.” His colleagues nod their heads.

Meanwhile, Rajan is in a reflective mood. He says, “I have tried 14 professions and did not make much headway. Being a politician is my 15th profession and I hope to make it a success.” The group laughs.

At this moment, Achuthan, who is holding a paper cup of coffee in his hand, inexplicably drops the liquid on his hands, shirt, and the seat. Rajan springs up, as if he has received an electric shock. He begs the MLA to give him the shirt so that he can wash it in the toilet. Achuthan says no.

Then Rajan rushes to his suitcase, takes out a towel and wipes the MLA’s hands and the seat. Then he speed-walks to the wash basin, wets the towel, and comes back. He tries to rub the stains away on the shirt.

Achuthan waves him away. Rajan tries again. “No, no,” says Achuthan. “I am going home. There is no need.” Rajan looks disappointed. Finally, another colleague says, “Don’t worry, Rajan. If it was tea stains, it would not have gone, but coffee will go easily.” And this finally satisfies Rajan who sits down, exhaling loudly.

Of course, in all this commotion, it has never occurred to anybody that, maybe, Achuthan could have gone to the toilet and cleaned the shirt himself.

The moral of the tale is this: power and sycophancy are in a tight embrace in Kerala politics.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Loosening the vice-like grip

Reformed alcoholics talk about their experiences and say that to stay sober is a constant battle

Photo: E.V. Jose

By Shevlin Sebastian

E.V. Jose started drinking when he was 14 years old. His style was simple: he would drink till he became unconscious. The years went past. He graduated from toddy to brandy, to whisky, to rum. His wife took him to numerous hospitals and nursing homes in a bid to get him cured. But to no avail. They fought often. Heated words were exchanged.

One day, her patience snapped. She walked out of the house with their son. Later, she filed for divorce. The boy stayed with the mother. Soon, she re-married. Through it all, Jose continued drinking.

“I would drink two bottles a day,” says Jose. He usually began in the morning itself. When Jose got drunk, he would get violent and get into brawls with people, usually at bars.

During this time Jose tried his hand at some businesses, but they all failed. His mother died, and his despairing father went to live with his brothers. Jose's two sisters were married off. So, Jose remained alone in his house at Kalamaserry and kept drinking.

“I would wear the same shirt for days together,” he says. “I rarely had a bath. There was no electricity in the house because I had not paid the bills. So, I could not switch on the water pump. There was nobody to wash my clothes. I began to let off a bad smell. Neighbours and relatives stayed away from me.”

To get money for drinking, he sold the furniture, bed, fuses, bulbs, tiles and window frames. It was at this low point that a neighbour, Devassey, told him to attend a one-week retreat at the Thampallakadu ashram. This is run by the Emmanuel Love Community, which belonged to the Catholic archdiocese of Kanjirapally.

“I agreed to go because I would be guaranteed meals for a week,” he says. Jose went to meet the state coordinator at Vazhakala. It turned out to be Varghese Kandathil, a former classmate of his, and a recovering alcoholic.

Later, Jose went for the seven-day retreat. It was a programme of lectures, testimonials and prayers. And it changed his life. When Jose told the director, Fr. Sebastian Vechookarottu, that since he would be going back to the old environment, how could he become a new person? “Believe in God, and He will be there for you,” said the priest. So, every morning, Jose lights a candle, and kneels in front of an image of Jesus Christ, and prays, “God, please keep me away from alcohol for 24 hours.”

Five and a half years have gone past. Throughout this period, Jose has abstained from alcohol. He has a flourishing business and owns property. But he has no plans to get married again. Instead, he is trying to reconnect with his 14-year-old son. “But this is what I have learned from my life,” he says. “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. You have to fight your urge to drink every single day, to prevent a relapse.”

K.V. Ashokan, 54, began drinking from the age of 20. But he was always in control. “I never lost my temper or behaved badly in public,” he says. But at home there were frequent quarrels with his wife. The three sons were silent observers. A few years ago, he took voluntary retirement from a private company. Feeling bored, his drinking increased. Desperate, his wife took him to the Emmanuel Love Community. Ashokan's cousin, an alcoholic, had been cured by going there. So, Ashokan attended the retreat in December, 2008.

Interestingly, he did not find it irksome that it was a Christian set-up. “I am a believer in Shree Narayana Guru, who said that we should respect all religions and creeds,” he says. Two and a half years have passed and he also has also kept away from alcohol. “But it has been a struggle,” says Ashokan.

In June, 2009, he had gone with the dead body of his uncle to the crematorium. As they waited, some relatives started drinking in a car. Ashokan begged for a peg, but his friend, Parameshswaran, said, “No, no more. You have stopped.” At that moment Ashokan became very angry with Parameshwaran, but now he is grateful to his friend for showing firmness.

There are many stories like this. “Out of 100 people who attend, 35 will go back to drinking,” says Varghese. “Drinking alcohol has become a fashion at all social events. Those who don’t serve drinks are treated like outcastes. However, very few people realize how addictive drinking can be. Today, unfortunately, too many families have been destroyed, because of alcoholism.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)