Monday, October 31, 2011

The face behind the mask

'Masks and Mirrors', a one-minute film, was one of 25 films short-listed for the 'Filminute' international competition, which received more than 2000 entries from all over the world. The director was the Mumbai-based George Mangalath Thomas

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the one-minute film, ‘Masks and Mirrors’, the first scene is of a 12-year-old boy suddenly awakening in a Mumbai apartment. He opens the door and goes to the dining room. His father is sitting at the table, tears streaming down his face. He holds a glass of whisky, with ice cubes in it. A bottle, which is three-fourths empty, is nearby. There is a photo of a somber-looking woman on the table. The man toys with a gold wedding ring.

The boy fills a glass of water from the kitchen and is about to drink it when he has a change of mind, and brings it to the table and offers it to his father. The man looks at the boy silently, then takes the glass, stares at the photo of his wife, looks back at the boy, and says, with a smile, “Breakfast?” The boy nods, and gives a smile. (Link:

It seems that 'Masks and Mirrors' is about a man who is grieving over the break-up of his marriage. Director George Mangalath Thomas, a Mumbai-based advertising and documentary film-maker, laughs, and says, “It is an open-ended film. Viewers can bring in their own interpretations. If my film makes you think, wonder, speculate and discuss, it means it has worked.”

‘Masks and Mirrors' was one of 25 films that were short-listed for the highly competitive ‘Filminute’ international competition. There were more than 2000 entries from all over the world. Incidentally, George is one of only three film-makers who made it to the short-list three times. His earlier entry, 'Staircase', a multi-award winning film, is also stunning.

“It requires a lot of discipline to tell an effective story in 60 seconds,” he says. “Your planning of each shot should be immaculately conceived so that everything is crystal-clear in your head. That way, you know the answer to every question that the crew puts to you. Finally, the biggest challenge is to make the film on a zero budget!”

Asked why the name 'Masks and Mirrors', George says, “Everybody wears a mask, even with the people closest to them. But there are times when the mask slips and the person is exposed. It can be a naked feeling and might make you feel very uncomfortable. As far as mirrors go, every son feels that he will be forging his own path, but in the end he tends to follow in the footsteps of the father. He becomes a mirror image of the father.”

George has had a successful award-winning career in advertising, corporate and documentary films in India, USA, Europe, and UK for over 20 years. His notable achievement was the documentary, ‘Legacy of the Mahatma’, which was shot on three continents. It focused on the relevance of the teachings and beliefs of Mahatma Gandhi in the modern world. Made for the Aditya Birla Group, it had its premiere at a conference on nonviolence at Bethlehem, Palestine, in December, 2005.

Cinema buff Ramesh Menon, who has seen George's work, says, “He makes films from his heart and shows reality in its utter rawness. You can see the films again and again and you learn something new each time.”

George's turning point came when his brother, Subhash, aged 38, died of lung cancer in May, 2009. “After his death, I found it difficult to go back to full-time commercial work,” he says. “His passing-away helped me rediscover my soul.” George is now devoting a part of his career to making meaningful films. Or, as he says, “Sometimes I am paid to make films. At other times I pay others to help me make films that exist within me, their stories a living thing that beats against my chest, asking to be heard.”

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

The road of despair for the Kochi Jews

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Josephhai Sam Abraham next to the Star of David symbol at his home in Kochi

The Jews of Kochi are a worried lot. They have a one-acre cemetery, on the Kathrakadavu-Pullepady road. “However, the Cochin Corporation has plans to broaden the road,” says Josephhai Sam Abraham, the president of the Association of Kerala Jews.

According to Jewish religious law, once a person is buried, the grave cannot be disturbed ever again. So the Jews are anxious about whether the authorities will insist that they give up their cemetery. “Many tombs will be disturbed,” says Josephhai. “We are going to appeal to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to intervene in the matter.” The community is also taking the help of the Israeli consulate in Mumbai and the embassy in Delhi.

Meanwhile, Saumini Jain, the chairperson of the Works Standing Committee of the Cochin Corporation, says, “We respect the religious feelings of the Jewish community, but we also have to consider the needs of the wider public. The enlargement of the road is vital for a smooth traffic flow, and it will benefit the entire city of Kochi.”

Another source of anxiety for the Jews is the misconception that the community is down to nine people. “This is not true,” says a member, Babu Elias. “In fact, the nine people are the Mattancherry Jews. And they are all indeed in their seventies and eighties.” But there is also a small, thriving Jewish community of about 40 people who stay in Kochi, Aluva, and North Paravur.

“There are young couples who have small children,” says Babu. Most of the youngsters are computer engineers, doctors, marketing and IT professionals.

The state government has allotted one seat in medicine and engineering in every alternative year to the Jewish community. “This will be very helpful for us,” says Josephhai. “But since the perception is that we are only a handful, there is a danger of the quota being withdrawn. In reality, we have eight youngsters, all below twenty years of age.”

What is of pride for the community is that they have not asked for any other help from the state government. “By the grace of God, all of us are doing well,” says Josephhai, a businessman.

Meanwhile, the new generation has the option of staying or migrating to Israel. “This is an individual decision and we will never interfere with it,” says Josephhai. Incidentally, Josephhai lived for 14 years in Jerusalem, before he returned to Kochi in 1986. “I missed Kerala and India,” he says.

On the other hand, his son, Solomon, 29, has migrated to Israel with his wife, Susan, a Bene Israeli Jew from Mumbai one year ago. “I accepted their decision gracefully, and they are happy there, although I am sure they will miss India also,” says Josephhai.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Friday, October 28, 2011

The main character is Delhi

Mukundan's new novel expected to make an impact

By Shevlin Sebastian

One of Kerala’s leading writers, M. Mukundan’s 496-page magnum opus, ‘Delhi Gathakal’, will be released at a public function in Thiruvananthapuram on November 1. The novel, the 18th in the acclaimed author’s career, has, as its main protagonist, the city of Delhi.

Mukundan had traveled to Delhi in 1962, as a young man, in search of a job, and over the next four decades, while working in the French Embassy, he has observed how the city has been transformed from a small village, which had wheat and cauliflower fields, to a megapolis.

“Today, Delhi looks as beautiful as Paris or New York,” he says. “But the changes are cosmetic. Underneath, there are poverty and suffering.”

The novel begins with the Chinese aggression of India in 1962. “That war was a historical jolt for the Left movement in India,” he says. “The Left was counting so much on China and its Premier, Zhou-En-Lai. In fact, in the Kerala of those days, we talked more about Zhou, rather than Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.”

Mukundan also describes the impact of the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan on the people of Delhi. But the most important section is on the 1975 Emergency which was imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“I have written about the forced vasectomy of thousands of young men, and the impact of the Turkman Gate demolition [many people were killed by police firing when they protested against the demolition of their homes],” he says. Mukundan has also described in detail the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the subsequent anti-Sikh riots.

Asked whether he did a lot of research, Mukundan says, “Not much. I just had to check a few dates and facts about certain events. Otherwise, I had experienced many of the events first-hand.”

The novel’s hero is Sahadevan, who, like the author, went to Delhi as a young man and got a small job in a travel agency. Apart from Sahadevan, there is a Communist trade union worker, Sreedharan Unni. “In total, there are fifty characters,” says Mukundan.

Meanwhile, the publisher, DC Books, is betting heavily that the book will do well. So, instead of the usual print order of 2000, they have gone for a record 10,000 copies, priced at Rs 275 each. “It is an impressive novel,” says A.V. Sreekumar, Senior Associate Editor of DC Books. “We expect the book to have a similar or bigger impact than 'Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil'.”

Of course, it would help sales if the younger generation is interested. But Mukundan is optimistic. “Of late, I have visited several schools and talked to students of Class 10,” he says. “They told me they read fiction. I was surprised when many students asked questions about my novel, 'Kesavante Vilapangal', which is a complex work. So, I am optimistic that youngsters will buy and enjoy 'Delhi Gathakal'.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Modern man in search of his soul

Painter Sidharthan takes simple motifs from life to make a comment on society at large

Photos: 'Beyond the iron grill'; 'From us to me'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In mid-2008, Sidharthan attended a camp of painters at Gokarna, 450 kms from Bangalore. The environment was inspiring for the Kochi-based painter. “There were palm and coconut trees,” he says. “A constant sea breeze was blowing, because of the many beaches there. I was able to interact with artistes from all over India. It was very inspiring.”

When he returned, Sidharthan started work on a 4 x 4 ft. canvas. And he began with an image of those date palms which he placed on the edge of a mountain top. Behind them, there is a black iron railing, which is resting on a wall, which has small concrete chips embedded on it.

Straight ahead, there is a black sky, with tufts of white clouds. It is a forbidding sight. But as he worked, Sidharthan realised he needed a larger area. So, he placed two canvases side by side and the end result is a 7ft. x 5ft. painting, titled, 'Beyond the Iron Grill', which dominates one wall of the gallery.

“I wanted to dwell on the borders between people, cultures, and countries,” says Sidharthan. “The sky represents a whole new world beyond the borders, but we tend to misunderstand the people on the other side. This unwillingness to empathise is probably the reason why so many wars have taken place throughout history.” Not surprisingly, this work enabled Sidharthan to win the Lalitkala Akademi state award for best painting in 2008.

Sidharthan, like a true artist, is a reflective type. In a painting, 'From us to me', there is an empty bed, with a small pillow, set beside an open window. Outside the curtained window, birds, in white shapes, are flying about.

“This is a bed in my house where I lie down often and think about life,” he says. “All of us are self-absorbed. We think only about 'my wife, my children, and my family'. We seem unable to look at the wider world beyond the windows of our house.”

In another work, there is an Outside Broadcast (OB) van of a television company at one side, the circular satellite dish sticking out from the top of the van. In an unusual juxtaposition, there is a girl, wearing a salwar kameez, who is pushing a shopping trolley.

“The OB van indicates how prevalent television is in our lives,” he says. “The most intimate details of a person's life are being broadcast. There is no privacy anymore.”

As for the shopping girl, Sidharthan says, “Nowadays, there is a shopping craze. This is done mostly in malls now, unlike earlier generations, when people would go to the local shop in the village to buy essentials. There would be a familiar and friendly relationship between the shop-keeper and the customers. But now when you buy items in a mall, there is hardly any interaction with the employees. I wanted to show the effect of globalisation: a pervasive TV culture and non-stop consumerism.”

Sidharthan is unusual in that, apart from being an artist, he also teaches painting at the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts at Tripunithara.

“It is rare for teachers to be painters themselves,” he says. “But I gain new ideas and youthful energy from my interaction with the students. And as a painter, I keep up to date with the latest national and international art movements, and pass this on to my students.”

Sidharthan's fourth-year student, A.R. Anagha, says, “In the exhibition, Sir takes simple motifs and uses them effectively to reveal the problems in society.”

Every morning, Sidharthan gets up at 6 a.m., and works non-stop for three hours before he sets out to the college. In this solo exhibition, his seventh so far, he has produced 12 paintings, out of an output of around 50 over a four-year period.

“My life is my art,” he says. “And I am consumed by it.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A check-up in time saves lives

Self-examination, a mammogram or an ultrasound are the various methods that can be used to detect the signs of breast cancer. Many lives can be saved as a result. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month

By Shevlin Sebastian

There is a knock on Dr. Thomas Varughese’s room at Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, on a weekday evening. “Come in,” says the senior consultant oncologist surgeon. In walks Baby Abraham, a senior manager in a bank, accompanied by two daughters, who are working in the IT industry in Bangalore and Chennai. “Doctor, I want to say a big thanks,” says Baby.

Thomas nods, and says, “Last week, when I met you for the first time, all of you looked so worried.” The family smiles happily, as Baby says, “We were in hell then and now we are in heaven.”

Sometime ago, Baby’s wife, Geeta, 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was like a bombshell,” she tells me later. “Our family was stunned. We did not know what to do. We could not sleep the entire night.”

For months, she had pinpricks of pain but there were no lumps in her breast, so she ignored it. “I was busy in my job as a manager in a bank,” she says. “I had a suspicion it was cancer, but was terrified of losing my breast.”

It was only recently that she consulted a doctor in a leading private hospital. After the examination, the doctor said that mastectomy or breast removal would have to be done. However, somebody recommended the name of Dr. Thomas, who propagates the retaining of the breast in the early stages of cancer.

Says Thomas: “Studies have shown that whether you preserve or take out the breasts, the woman lives for the same number of years. So I prefer to do organ preservation, because a breast is a symbol of femininity. It is a symbol of womanhood, beauty, and self-esteem for a woman and should never be taken off.”

The surgery was done on a Tuesday, and by Thursday, Geeta had left the hospital. Thanks to his drainless surgical technique, which, Thomas says, will be patented soon, a patient is discharged within 24 hours. In the usual method, used by other surgeons, there are tubes and drains which stick out of the breast. It necessitates repeated aspirations of the armpit which lasts for weeks. “It is a cumbersome process, whereas my procedure takes only five days,” says Thomas.

Incidentally, more than 90% of the population is unaware that in the early stages, breasts can be preserved after the cancerous area is removed. “Because of the fear of losing their breasts, many women report the lumps too late,” he says.

There are a few tools available for early detection. Self examination is the cheapest and the best. “The right time to do one is during the mid-cycle of menstruation,” says Thomas. The woman has to stand in front of the mirror, hands on either side. When the hands are raised, the nipples should be at the same level. “If there is a slight difference, there could be a possibility of cancer,” says Thomas. “If there is swelling underneath, the level will be different.”

The other methods include the mammogram, and the ultra sound. A mammogram should be done after you turn 40. If you get the all-clear, you can do it once in three to four years. But an ultrasound should be done every year.

Today, breast cancer is the No. 1 killer disease among women. And, increasingly, it is younger women who are falling prey. They delay marriage, pregnancy and have fewer children. Thereafter, most women tend to avoid breast-feeding. “During breast-feeding, a hormone called prolactin is released,” says Thomas. “This protects the breasts. So, the more children you breast-feed, the more protection there is for the breasts.”

But since breast-feeding is decreasing in importance, Thomas recommends brisk walking every day. “A lot of positive hormones like adrenal, insulin, and thyroid-stimulating hormones are released during exercise,” he says. “Essentially, it stimulates the immune system.”

The right diet is also important. “The major part of our diet should be vegetables,” says Thomas. “For proteins, we think meat is good. However, the protein content of legumes and pulses are much superior to those found in meat. Meat, when it is cooked, undergoes denaturing. A lot of toxins are liberated. These are very harmful.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Thomas says, “I plead with women to consult a doctor as soon as they detect a lump in their breasts. Early detection will save breasts.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Friday, October 21, 2011

The agony and loneliness of old age

A seminar on ‘Elders rights and their entitlements’ highlighted the emotional and financial problems of the elderly

Photos: Speakers at the seminar: (from left): K. Mukundan, Roy Chacko, Dr. Martin Patric and Fr. Jaison Vadassery; The elderly people arriving to take part in the seminar

By Shevlin Sebastian

“The numbers of old people are increasing,” says K. Mukundan, District Social Welfare Officer, Ernakulam. “Around 11 per cent [35 lakh] of the population in Kerala is classified as aged. Nowadays, there is nobody to look after them.”

He was speaking at the symposium on ‘Elders rights and their entitlements,’ organized by the House of Providence and Helpage India at the Ernakulam Social Service Society hall at Kochi on October 18. The audience comprised students of Vidyaniketan and St. Teresa’s College and elderly people.

What has aggravated the situation is the rising numbers of women who are working. “They are barely able to look after their own children, let alone, the elders,” says Mukundan. “Having said that, I feel that the women are forgetting their responsibilities towards the aged. People are only thinking of themselves these days. I blame some of the problems on the breakdown of the joint-family system.”

Many old people feel physically isolated and emotionally abandoned. To counter that, the state government is planning to open day care centres where old people can congregate and be busy with activities. “One of them has been just been opened at Nedumbassery,” says Mukundan.

Dr. Martin Patric, retired Professor of Maharaja’s College, says that many populations in the world are ageing, like Japan and France. Kerala is also in the same category. He spoke about how, almost always, the women outlasted the men.

“When the husbands die, the women feel isolated,” says Martin. “Ageing is a gender issue. And as time goes on, there will be more and more old people. And since the birth rate is going down, the number of young people to look after them will be less.”

Martin spoke about the meagre pension that the state government is providing the elderly. “It is only Rs 400 a month, while Tamil Nadu has recently hiked the amount to Rs 1000,” he says. “We should also do the same. There has to be many more Old People’s Homes and the government should be setting up at least one in every district. Aged people also do not have any public spaces that are exclusively reserved for them.”

Roy Chacko, an advocate of the Kerala High Court, spoke about the various provisions in the 2007 Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen’s act. “The elderly have the right to get maintenance,” he says.

In case an elderly person is not getting it, he can give an application to the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO), who can arrange to get help from NGO’s who look after the aged, or from the children. “An RDO can get a maximum of Rs 10,000 from the children, depending on their economic status,” says Roy.

If there is a conflict between the children and the parents, this can be resolved with the help of Conciliation Officers. “These officers are supposed to solve the problem amicably,” says Roy.

At this moment, 8.33 per cent of India’s population is aged. “Every five years, this will increase,” he says. “Children should be taught about the necessity of looking after their parents.” The seminar was moderated by Fr. Jaison Vadassery, Director of the Kerala Labour Movement.

Following the seminar, there was a public function which was inaugurated by Dr. Francis Kallarakal, the Archbishop of Verapoly, and presided over by Biju Mathew, state head, Helpage India. The dignitaries included Mayor Tony Chammany, former MP Sebastian Paul, Cochin Corporation councillors KJ. Jacob and Lino Jacob, Monsignor John Bosco Panakal, parish priest of St. Francis Cathedral, Sr. Bartholomea Joseph, Nursing Superintendent, Lourdes Hospital, and Sr. Mary Paul, Superior, House of Providence.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Torn, ripped-off, or mutilated

Nihaal Faizal's exhibition is about political posters that are littered across the state of Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

Two years ago, Nihaal Faizal was walking beside the railway tracks, near the South bridge, at Kochi, a Canon EOS 550D camera slung on his shoulders, when he saw a torn poster on a wall and got an idea: why not take photographs of political posters that are littered on numerous walls across the state? More than a thousand photos later, he has short-listed 20 posters for an exhibition at the David Hall, Fort Kochi, called, ‘More Automobiles Than Are Parkable’.

“Politics has played a major part in the life of the people in Kerala, the first state in the world to elect a Communist Party to power,” says the Class 12 student at Choice School. And in these posters, what is intriguing is that most of them have been torn. Sometimes, the eyes cannot be seen or the chin, nose, ears, and the head.

“It is out of boredom that people tear the posters,” says Nihaal. “They are waiting for a bus and they see a poster on the wall and rip a part of it off. Maybe, they are feeling frustrated and angry because they are jobless. When the economy is down, it is possible that more posters might be torn.”

Psychiatrist Binu Balan gives another perspective: “Many people have grown up in an environment where they have seen their elders tear posters,” he says. “That is why the mutilation of posters has persisted for so many generations.”

Interestingly, the posters that are ripped off have grim, unsmiling expressions. “The eyes are glaring at us, like 'Big Brother' [in George Orwell's novel, '1984']. Some people might get irritated by that,” says Nihaal. “You don’t want to be stared at all the time. You want some moments of privacy.” On the other hand, the posters which have escaped unscathed have smiling faces on it.

One of the most unusual posters is that of Meherunnissa Kalluparambil, who stood for the Cochin Corporation elections. Her face has been carefully cut out, almost as if somebody has used a blade to do the job. What remains is the black burqa. “Now the person does not exist, only the community,” says Nihaal. Beneath the poster, he has put up a saying by Mahatma Gandhi: 'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind'.

Saumini Jain, the chairperson of the Works Standing Committee of the Cochin Corporation has barely survived on a poster. Right below her lips is another poster advertising the Spoken English classes run by the Anglo British Council at Ravipuram. Meanwhile, on the doors of a broken-down white Ambassador car, parked by the side of the road, two posters of Congress candidate A.R. Kannan have been pasted.

On another poster, a rope is seen hanging in front of a poster of a woman's face. Nihaal has titled it, using an African proverb: 'When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.'

“Elephants are politicians and the grass is the common people,” he says. “Their battles affect us. We see their faces everywhere. They are self-serving and self-centred. They don’t care about the people. They are doing things for their own benefit. The question uppermost in my mind in the past two years is this: 'where are the faces of the ordinary people?'”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A day of sunshine and games

The residents of the Old Age Home, run by the House of Providence, celebrated Senior Citizen's Day with gusto

Photo: P.D. Joseph marking a bindi, while Subal Paul looks on

By Shevlin Sebastian

The crowd of onlookers – old and middle-aged men and women, and children – cheered when a towel was wrapped across P.D. Joseph's eyes. He was given a chalk and led to a blackboard, where he had to mark a bindi on the face of a young woman, drawn in white chalk. There were giggles and shouts when Joseph placed the bindi near the chin, instead of the middle of the forehead.

The House of Providence sisters were celebrating Senior Citizen's Day on October 15, at their old age home on Providence Road in Kochi. The boarders include 22 men and 78 women. They range in age, from the forties, these are mostly infirm people, to the nineties.

“We decided to invite our neighbours, members of the local church, and the committee members which run the home,” says Superior Sr. Mary Paul. “The children have been specifically invited so that the inmates can enjoy their company and vice versa. We want to bring joy to our elderly group. We also want to increase the interaction between the inmates and the community around us.”

However, what is saddening is that no members from the inmates’ families have come. “They have all been abandoned,” says Sr. Theresa Joseph Cherukunnel. “That is why they have been living with us. Visits from relatives are rare.”

In some cases, the children and close relatives only arrive when they are informed the person is dead and they need to collect the dead body. At other times, they will come when they want a signature to be put on a property deal.

“Nowadays, children, as well as society, ignore the plight of elderly people,” says Subal Paul, an advocate practising in the Kerala High Court. He grew up near the home and would play in the grounds during his childhood. Subal’s job during the celebrations is to be a judge for all the competitions. “I am happy to see the inmates experience a little joy,” he says.

When outsiders come on a visit, they are able to get a better understanding of the plight of the old people. “Consequently, there are many who help with material gifts,” says Subal. “Some sent left-over food after functions to the home. The home survives on the donations of people and Helpage India. Government aid is meagre.”

The refreshments are sponsored by Bread World, thanks to the efforts of Lino Jacob, the local councilor for the Cochin Corporation.

Meanwhile, the passing of the parcel is taking place and Subal is busy playing the music on a tape recorder. Occasionally, he blows the whistle. People laugh and clap, including Mariamma John (name changed).

A childless widow, she has an adopted son, Soman, who is a drunkard and a wastrel. He stays alone in the family home. Two grandchildren, a girl, 15, and a boy, 13, live in an orphanage. “My daughter-in-law stays in a hostel,” says Mariamma. “Soman is angry with me, because I have willed the property to my grandchildren.”

Soon, she is in the midst of the passing the parcel game and her face lights up, as she quickly passes it to the next person.

Thanks to a wonderful programme organised by the nuns, for one day, the sound of laughter resounds in the home.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Monday, October 17, 2011

An American in Kakkanad

Jennifer Kumar, who is married to a Malayali, is slowly adjusting to life in Kochi

Photos: Jennifer wearing a salwar kameez; next to the Navaratri golu ((an exhibition of dolls placed on wooden tiers) that she made at her home

By Shevlin Sebastian

One night, in 1995, Jennifer Kumar had a dream. In it, she was wearing a blue saree and placing books in the stacks of a public library. There were a few people present in the reading room. She spoke to somebody in a foreign language. Later, she began dusting the books. “I woke up and felt shocked,” says the American. “I did not know what a saree was at that time. I was thinking: ‘What was I wearing?’”

There were more shocks. She repeated the words in the dream to her Indian friends and they told her it was Telugu. “I have never heard of the language before,” she says. “It was unnerving, to say the least.”

Her interest in India was sparked off and she began learning about the history and culture of the country. In 1999, she embarked on a two-year master’s programme in social work at Madras Christian College in Chennai. She returned and continued with her reading about India .

“I stayed near Rochester, in New York state, which had a lot of Indians,” she says. “I wanted to participate in Indian culture, so I would go to the Hindu temple.”

In June, 2003, at the temple, she met Krishna Kumar, a Malayali, who was working in the IT industry. They fell in love and got married in 2005. After several years in the USA, the couple have re-located to Kochi, in February, this year, where her husband works a manager in an American firm at Info Park, Kakkanad, while her in-laws, the Karthas, live in Mattancherry.

It has been a roller-coaster ride for Jennifer in the past few months. “The first thing that I had to adjust to was the climate,” she says. “ Kochi is not as hot as Chennai, but it takes a while to get used to the humidity.” As she also learned to adjust to the long rainy season, Jennifer discovered a fungus problem at home, if the house was not cleaned every day. “Where I lived, in the US, the climate is hot and rainy for a few times in a year,” she says. “Mostly, we have to deal with snow and ice.”

What has been a revelation for her is how knowledgeable Malayalis are. “Since many of their relatives live abroad, Malayalis are keenly aware of what is happening in foreign countries,” she says. “In America, the people are only bothered about their own lives and do not have much of an idea of what is happening in the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, she is busy learning how to cook new Malayali dishes. She already knows how to make sambhar, puttu kadala, dosa, idli, chutneys, and upuma. Since her husband grew up in Delhi, she makes North Indian dishes like masala puri, dal, roti, and Rajma.

Jennifer has so embraced the Indian culture that she has made a Navarathri golu (an exhibition of dolls placed on wooden tiers) at her Kakkanad home. On the floor, she has written 'Shub Navaratri' in Malayalam. Behind it, are small statues of the Dasavatar, the ten incarnations of Vishnu, as well as a book by motivational author Robin Sharma called, 'The leader who had no title'.

On the first tier, the theme is Africa. So, there are clay figures of the zebra, hippopotamus, crocodile, and an elephant. A couple of tribal men are looking with fixed eyes into the distance, holding spears in their hands.
On the second step, there are Barbie dolls from various countries like China, Ireland, Portugal, Holland, and Mexico. Right at the centre there is a doll of Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan.

“I wanted a doll from popular culture,” she says. “The golu is not just traditional, but has modern elements.”

On other steps, there are statues of Lord Buddha, Shiva, Krishna, Ganesh, and a blue-beaded Hanuman. There is Jesus Christ in a manger, surrounded by his parents, Joseph and Mary, as well as the shepherds, apart from a statue of Santa Claus from Hungary.

Jennifer’s family is originally from Hungary. Two dolls from Hungary, a boy and a girl, have only one eye. “As a couple you should see the world through one pair of eyes,” she says.

When she is not busy at home, Jennifer has a fledgling career as a cultural consultant. “I help people with the nuts and bolts of getting adjusted to the US or India,” she says. “I provide tips on job hunts, applying for college, setting up a home, conversational American-English, cross-cultural soft-skills, and how to handle relationships.”

And so, Jennifer, who knows how to wear a saree and a salwar kameez, is slowly getting adjusted to life in God's Own Country.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Friday, October 14, 2011

A winner all the way

Elizabeth Thadikaran, the reigning Navy Queen, also scooped up the Hairomax Miss Kerala crown, displaying poise and confidence. A bright future beckons

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the Hairomax Miss Kerala competition held at Kochi, recently, Bollywood director Roshan Abbas says, “In a world of lust and greed, what advantage do women have over men?” Elizabeth Thadikaran's reply was immediate: “Women are the epitome of peace and sensitivity as they are love and compassion personified. I believe that women have eyes that can penetrate. We can see deep inside a person and that is their edge over men.”

The moment she said that, Elizabeth felt an inner conviction that she would win. Her sister, Tanya, who was in the audience, concurs. “She spoke very well.”

And so, it was that Elizabeth Thadikaran, all of 19, a second-year student at M. S. Ramaiah Dental College at Bangalore, picked up the Miss Kerala crown. And it is the second big win for her in less than a year. In November, 2010, she had also been crowned the Navy Queen.

“I gained a lot of confidence after I won the Navy Queen title,” she says. “And that helped me in this competition.”

But for Elizabeth, the 10-day grooming sessions which was conducted by well-known pageant coach, Ritika Ramtri, was most helpful. “She taught us how to walk properly on heels and project our personality,” says Elizabeth. “She also suggested that we should look at the audience in the eye and connect with them, so that they would want you to be the winner.”

Ritika, who has trained several Femina Miss India winners, spotted Elizabeth's talent early on. “I knew she would be in the top five because Elizabeth was very good in the question-and-answer sessions,” says Ritika. “But it is always difficult to predict the winner. Usually, the one who has presence of mind during the final rounds will get the crown. Having said that, all the girls were good.”

So, was there a keen competition among them, some of whom came from Dubai, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, and Thiruvananthapuram? “Not at all,” says Elizabeth. “In fact, we felt like sisters and had a lot of fun together. If one girl felt depressed, because she felt that she would not be able to perform well, we would all go and console her.”

At heart, Elizabeth is a girl-woman. In her bedroom, at the family bungalow at Venalla, there are numerous teddy bears, poodles, muppets and cartoon characters. Her mother, Rani, lifts up a bear sleeping in a cradle and says, “This was her favourite when she was a child.”

On the wall, there is a board which contains numerous medals which she won in her school aquatics career. A school captain and award-winning speaker, Elizabeth studied in Choice school.
Meanwhile, she poses with practiced ease before the camera. Sometimes, she looks at the frames and gives her opinions to the photographer on what is good and bad.

Clearly, there has been a sea-change in her personality since last November. Back then, she was shy and hesitant. Now she has a direct gaze, gives an impression of tallness, at 5' 8”, and radiates positive energy.

“Yes, I feel very good now,” says Elizabeth. “I would encourage other girls to take part in beauty pageants, not so much to win the crown, but it does wonders to one’s self-confidence.”

Meanwhile, the win could prove to be a windfall. Ram Menon, executive director of Impresario, the producers of the Miss Kerala pageant, confirms that the modelling offers are coming in, as well as a few feelers for films. “We have to see what will be best for Elizabeth,” he says.

But a practical Elizabeth has already thought out her plan of action. “I will only take a film role if it is suitable,” she says. “I want to concentrate on doing ramp shows and print advertisements. My immediate priority is to take part in the upcoming Femina Miss South India, because I want to represent Kerala and, if I do well, the country, as well. My motto is simple: I want to reach for the stars.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Monday, October 10, 2011

French toast on the coast

Marc Delorme lives in a 150-year-old house in the Vypeen islands, near the city of Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Marc Delorme in his living room. Credit: Manu R. Mavelil

One day, a few years ago, Marc Delorme was riding around on a Bullet motorcycle in the Vypeen islands looking for a place to stay. “I was searching for an old house and a quiet environment,” he says. Accidentally, he saw a shuttered 150-year-old house with a tiled roof, set in a few acres of greenery.

“I looked through the windows and immediately wanted to live there,” says the burly Frenchman. He called the owner, M.A. Korath, who lived in the suburb of Tripunithara. Korath said he did not want to rent it out. Undaunted, Marc called him every day for a month before Korath acquiesced.

“The house, which had been shut for 18 years, was in good condition,” says Marc. “I just repainted the walls and brought in the furniture.”

The first room that one enters has an 18the century bench, spotted with shells, from Rajasthan. At one side, in an alcove, there are photos of Lord Krishna and Goddess Lakshmi. “Religion is the base of any culture,” he says. “So if you are living in India, you need to go inside the religion to understand the culture.”

On a low wooden table in the middle is a statue of St. Thomas, holding a Bible in one hand, and a stick in the other. On the wall, there are black masks, which Marc had secured from a visit to Nepal. A painting on another wall, done by a friend, contains Kerala scenes: unfurled umbrellas, elephants with upraised trunks, and several trees.

Another small room has been painted in a distinctive red. “The colours have been chosen in relation to the spices in Kerala food,” he says. “So red means chillies.” A yellow in the dining room resembles lime, while a bedroom has a saffron colour.

The most striking is the spacious living room. On a low wooden table in the middle, there is a large brass bowl, which contains marigold flowers and leaves floating in crystal-clear water. Just beside it is a small bust of a man with a goatee. Marc lifts it up and says, “This is my father Claude, a writer, who died last July at the age of 82,” he says. “It was made by my sculptor brother, Thierry.”

Other touches: ornate armchairs, an old grandfather clock, lamps on side tables, and silver candlesticks

On one side is a wooden bookcase containing French translations of 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck, Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, and German author Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’. “It was only after reading Siddhartha that I got interested in India,” says Marc, who has lived in Kerala for 18 years now and works as a freelance interior designer. Incidentally, Marc, a voracious reader, has a collection of more than 2,500 books.

Meanwhile, the kitchen is a traditional one, with a wooden stove at one side, and windows with slats on them. “This enables the smoke to get out,” he says. “I don't use liquefied gas for cooking. Food tastes so much better when you use firewood.”

The striking innovation is the conversion of the arra (in ancient times grain was stored here) into a place for guests to stay. On the ground floor, there is a massage room, with a bathroom just beside it, apart from a dressing room.

But what draws the breath is the bedroom on the first floor. The four-poster bed, with white drapes, is placed right in the middle. When you look up, you can see a sloping ceiling made of coir mats. Just behind the bed is a painting of Krishna and Radha. On the floor are mats. Coconut husks painted in red, blue and yellow are mounted on a wall. Muted lighting gives a very romantic feel.

“Good for honeymooners,” says Marc, with a laugh.

Yes, indeed, very true. Outside, Marc says, simply, “When people see my house, they will understand my heart. Both are intertwined.”

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Sowing the seeds of growth

The Kerala State Seed Farm, on an island, at Aluva, near Kochi, produces seeds, at subsidised cost, for farmers. Earlier, it had been a farmer’s school run by the Travancore Royal Family

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Aju John Mathai at the farm

Just behind the Palace of the Travancore Royal kings at Aluva town, 20 kms from Kochi, there are steps leading towards the Periyar river. Aju John Mathai, an Agriculture Officer, is waiting in a speedboat. The State Seed Farm is on an island 400 metres away. We set out, with the boat leaving large waves behind in its wake.

At the island, an employee, Prasad, is tying white plastic cups to the side of a long wooden stick. Inside are the eggs of micro wasps called tricho-cards. The sticks will be embedded in the mud in the paddy fields. “These eggs will hatch and the wasps will come out, and feed on paddy pests like leaf folder and stem borer,” says Aju. “We are trying to maintain an ecological balance. The pests are there, and we are ensuring that the natural control agents are also present.”

Aju then provides a large cowboy hat and we set out in the afternoon sun to inspect the paddy fields. There are several of them, spread across 14 acres. The farm grows breeder seeds, which are originally collected from the Kerala Agricultural University. After two rounds of cultivation, around 7000 kgs of seeds are sent to the Seed Authority. These are then sold to select farmers, who plant them in their fields. “In effect, 10 kgs of breeder seeds is multiplied till it becomes 50,000 kgs,” says Aju.

At one side, in an open shed, women workers are placing paddy on a threshing machine. The seeds are removed from the chaff efficiently. Karthiyani, one of the women workers, says something to the officer. Aju immediately moves to a bunch of hay piled up on one side, beside a paddy field, and lights it with a cigarette lighter. “The ash will be used as compost for the soil,” he says, as the flames swirl up, thanks to a steady breeze.

At one side there is a vermicompost area, which consists of bins, with wire-mesh tops. Straws, weeds, and banana stems are chopped and put into the bins. “We also sprinkle cow-dung,” says Aju. Lastly, earthworms are added, which will turn it into good manure or compost in 60 days. These are later put in the fields.

“In organic farming, you put back what you take from the field,” says Aju. “A rice plant grows by taking nutrients from the soil. But we only take the grains. The rest of the nutrients are still there in the plant. So I put it back into the soil. There is no need to use chemical fertilisers.”

On the perimeter of the island, vegetables like brinjal, ladies fingers, cowpee, pumpkins, bitter gourd, and fruits like mangos and bananas are grown in abundance. Aju plucks a few ripe bananas from a tree. They are tasty and sweet.

So, what is the importance of the farm? "We are selling the seeds at subsidised rates," says Aju. "Seeds are a multi-crore rupee industry. If you go to the open market, it is very expensive. Farmers prefer to buy from us because they know the seeds are cheap and of good quality. Whatever we produce is sold."

But there is a fear among the 22 workers and administrative staff. On the river banks, there are brand-new multi-storey buildings gleaming in the sunlight. “Yes, the farm faces the danger of extinction because this place is so beautiful, with the river on all sides and all this greenery,” says Aju. “The tourism industry will definitely try to lay their hands on this prime land.” To counter that, Aju has already submitted project plans, to develop farm tourism, worth Rs 2.75 crore, to the Ernakulam district panchayat.

"This place has a lot of history," he says. In 1919, Sri Moolam Thirunal Maharaja of the Travancore Royal Family started a 'Krishi Paadashaala' (Farmers’ school) on the island. This continued for a few decades before the land was taken over by the state government in 1957 and converted into a farm.

“The farm is an asset and should be treated like one,” says Aju.

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Tiger's gone but his pugmarks remain

When former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi died recently, fans reminisced about Sportsworld magazine, of which he was the editor
Photos: Tiger Pataudi, Ravi Nayar and Shailaja Prashanth

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Ravi Nayar heard the news about the death of former Indian cricket captain, Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, recently, he felt a pang of pain. In the early 1980s, when he was growing up in Kolkata, he had constantly read Sportsworld magazine, which belonged to the Ananda Bazar Group, and was edited by Pataudi.

Ravi enjoyed reading Pataudi’s editorials. “Tiger was frank, to the point, and got his message across in a lucid style,” says the general manager, customer service, with AVT McCormick in Kochi. “If he wanted to talk about something he did not approve, he was very open about it. He was also amusing at times.”

Ravi also admired the other writers on the magazine, which included David McMahon [a senior editor in Australia ], Derek O’Brien [a quizmaster, a Member of Parliament and a Vice President of the Trinamool Party] and Rohit Brijnath [a senior writer in The Strait Times, Singapore]. “The entire team wrote clear, concise, and interesting articles,” says Ravi. “It was a golden era of sports writing. Earlier to that, there were legends like Khalid Ansari, K.N. Prabhu, Rajan Bala, and Pradeep Vijaykar.” Sadly, Prabhu, Bala, and Vijaykar have all passed away in the last few years.

Ravi found Sportsworld different from other sports magazines. “The editorial content, the design, the high quality photographs: it made the get-up look very attractive,” he says.

But what was also a bonus was the way the magazine interacted with its readers. “There was a reader’s quiz, in which we could send questions and answers and it would get published,” says Ravi. “I remember that my quiz was selected once and I got a cheque payment for it.”

Shailaja Prashanth, on the other hand, had been reading the magazine since she was eight years old. “My mother, who loved cricket, would buy Sportsworld regularly,” says the Kochi-based senior copywriter. At that time, Shailaja was staying in Digboi in Assam, where her father worked for the Indian Oil Corporation.

In those days, there was no other form of entertainment, except reading. “As I grew older, I came to realise that the articles were really well-written,” she says. “It was not just plain reporting of facts. There was a lot of insight and charm. Each writer had his own style.”

And she gave an interesting explanation of why she preferred sports magazines to, say, a film glossy like 'Stardust'. “In sport, the drama and the events are real,” she says. “Whereas in a film magazine, you are not sure if the incidents being described actually took place, or it is just plain gossip.”

What also attracted her to Sportsworld was that the magazine covered all sorts of sports, and not just cricket. “My sister and I liked tennis a lot,” says Shailaja. “In fact, former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg was my idol.”

Apart from tennis, Shailaja also began reading about boxing, football, and Formula 1 car racing. “In the eighties, there were no live telecast of the car races, as it is done now,” she says. “But the feud between champion drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost came alive through the coverage in Sportsworld.”

Shailaja also enjoyed going through the magazine's most popular column. Called ‘Freewheeling’, it was usually written in the first person and featured on the last page. “There were satires, jokes, and sharp insights about sports personalities which you would not find in the newspapers,” says Shailaja. “It was fun to read.”

The magazine did leave a permanent impact on her. “Sportsworld writers showed that there is so much power in the written word,” she says. “I felt so inspired that I even toyed with the idea of becoming a sports writer myself, but eventually settled for copywriting.”

Shailaja read the weekly magazine non-stop from 1985 to 1996. “I sort of lost interest when Edberg retired,” says Shailaja.

But Ravi never lost interest. He read the magazine till it closed down in early 1999. “All good things have to come to an end,” he says. “I still miss Sportsworld and the writings of Tiger Pataudi.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A message for the people

Bindi Rajagopal’s exhibition focuses on present-day concerns like the Anna Hazare movement against corruption and the need for space in urban living

Photo: Bindi Rajagopal next to the Anna Hazare painting

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every night, at 10 p.m. Bindi Rajagopal sets up her easel at her home in Thevara. The children have gone to sleep, their class homework and dinner over, while her day's work as an art teacher in a private school has ended. Then she slowly begins to paint. “I need pin-drop silence to work,” she says.

In recent times, she had been much affected by the Anna Hazare phenomenon and the bomb blasts in Delhi. “I wanted to do some paintings that would say something to the people,” she says.

Not surprisingly, her latest exhibition is called, 'Of the people, by the people, for the people'. However, at the gallery, the first thing that catches the eye is a piece of installation art. On an aluminium ladder, there are paper figures of men trying to clamber up the steps.

At the top, sitting with one leg placed on top of another, and watching the others, with a smug expression, is a young politician who has won the big prize. “This resembles the ladder of power,” says Bindi. “Everybody is keen on grabbing political power these days. Film stars, celebrities, anybody who has a public profile, has an interest in politics. I wanted to show this mad scramble for power.”

Just beside it on the wall is an acrylic on canvas. On one side, there is the familiar white kurta-dhoti figure of Anna Hazare, wearing a white Gandhi cap, and with upraised hands, as if exhorting the crowds to join him in his anti-corruption fight. Behind him there are eager-looking faces, young and middle-aged, hoping for a corruption-free India, but feeling skeptical at the same time.

On the left is an elongated face, with thick open lips, painted a deep red. Television mikes in the middle are capturing all the sound bites. Just below is a Malayalam newspaper clipping which has been pasted on to the canvas.

“The media is the biggest influence in society now,” says Bindi. “Anna Hazare's message was spread far and wide thanks to the television channels, newspapers, and magazines.”

Besides the Hazare painting, there is another acrylic on canvas of a cow or a goat having a woman’s head in a forest. The face looks much like Bindi’s: thick, red lips, deep, black eyes and flowing shoulder-length hair. A calf is suckling away, at the nipples. It seems an unusual juxtaposition to the anti-corruption drawing, till Bindi says, “It is too late to change adults. But if mothers can breast-feed principles of fair play and honesty to children, we can hope to get a society with good people in the future.”

Other paintings include one on a forest, where there are trees, painted in black, with flowing leafless branches, on the top, that looks like the many arms of Goddess Durga, and all done in a serene blue. Interestingly, Bindi has spray painted it on a corrugated sheet. So, at the centre, there is a fold, as if the painting had been bent. “It might have got damaged during the transit to the gallery,” she says.

The aim of the painting is to tell people that they need to stop and think. “There are no silent areas in a city,” she says. “We have to go and find a place where there is space and quiet, so that we can spend time in contemplation. A lack of serenity creates many problems in society.”

Another painting is of Mahatma Gandhi, with his rimmed spectacles and long walking stick doing the famous march to Dandi in March, 1930, from Sabarmati Ashram, to protest the salt tax imposed by the British. There is an Indian flag in the background and Gandhi is being earnestly followed by patriotic men and women.

“This shows the link from Gandhiji to Anna Hazare,” says Bindi. “Both are fighting for truth. They are struggling on behalf of the people.”

On the floor, she has placed several small paintings of banana shoots, flowers, leaves and stems. “People are so disturbed and tense these days, they have no time to enjoy nature,” she says. “They walk past it without noticing anything. They don't know how to enjoy and appreciate life any more.”

One who viewed the exhibition was Sidharthan, a senior faculty at the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithara. “This exhibition reflects an artist’s reaction to political and social issues,” he says. “Bindi is having a steady growth because she is working continuously. I am sure she is going to get better in future.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Husbands at the receiving end

Thanks to Section 498A, of the Indian Penal Code, many women are alleging harassment, and putting their husbands behind bars. The Society for the Protection of Men are fighting for their rights

Photo: Jalal Pavaratti and Francis Pulikottil, officer-bearers of Purusha Avagasha Samrakshana Samithi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Umesh Nair works in a private company at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By hard work and self-sacrifice, he saved money and bought three cars in his wife Laxmi's name: a Scorpio and two Innovas. The plan was to use them as rental vehicles in Palakkad. A driver, Rajan, was hired. In the meantime, with the help of a friend, who supervised the construction work, Umesh was able to build a house. The property was also registered in his wife's name.

Unfortunately, Laxmi fell in love with Rajan and embarked on an affair. After a while, she began living with her paramour. Soon, she transferred the ownership of the vehicles and the house to Rajan. Using it as a collateral, Rajan took out a bank loan to start a business.

Meanwhile, scandalised relatives spread the word. Umesh came to hear about it in Riyadh . He returned to Kerala and confronted his wife. Immediately, Laxmi slapped a case under Section 498A.

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.'

Umesh was arrested and put in jail. It took him a fortnight to get bail. He is a shattered man, having lost all his hard-earned assets. In despair, he approached the Thrissur-based Purusha Avagasha Samrakshana Samithi (PASS) or the Society for the Protection of Men.

“We met the couple, individually and together, and are looking for an amicable solution,” says Francis Pulikottil, the state president. “Our aim is to unite the couples. There are many cases between husband and wife which last for 10 or 15 years in the courts. We want to speed up the process.”

Unfortunately, cases like Umesh are becoming all too common. “In 80 per cent of the couples, where the husband is working abroad, the wife inevitably takes on a secret lover,” says Jalal Pavaratti, vice president of PASS. “Women's attitudes have changed now. Owing to the rising consumerism in Kerala society, a wife wants to spend a lot of money, live lavishly, and have a good time. They are not bothered about how the husband is struggling in harsh desert conditions in the Middle East to earn the money. When the husband is unable to provide the cash, they put the blame on him and try to get out of the marriage.”

One of the easiest ways is to use Section 498A. “Most of the time, wives include the name of the husband's parents to cause social humiliation, and to pressure the spouse to settle the issue quickly,” says Francis. “Basically, the aim is to grab the property of their husbands.”

Unfortunately, the number of cases is increasing day by day. “So many doctors, engineers, businessmen, and professors are suffering silently,” says Jalal. “They are unable to speak out because of the fear of society's ridicule. PASS is a platform for these troubled people.”

The organization, which was set up in January, 2010, has more than 200 members all over Kerala. Both Francis and Jalal went through similar problems. Hence the idea came to start PASS.

When PASS receives a complaint, they will contact the wife's family. Once they receive permission, they will go and visit the family. “Sometimes, a wife will request us to bring along a woman companion,” says Jalal. “They feel comfortable talking to another woman, especially if the problem is sexual in nature, like if the husband is impotent.”

If there are children involved, PASS office-bearers will talk about the impact on them. “We tell the husband and a wife that they can have a divorce, but what about the children?” says Francis. “They cannot be divorced. I tell them they are losing the best years of their lives fighting against each other. Slowly, we make the couple realise that the way forward is through compromise, rather than confrontation.”

Meanwhile, finding Section 498A as a draconian law, PASS office-bearers have sent letters of complaint to the President and Prime Minister of India. However, owing to the creaking wheels of the bureaucracy, it will take decades before the law can be made more humane.

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

In the middle of a storm

Most young people these days are on a collision course with their parents, and find it difficult to choose a suitable career and the right partner for marriage

Photo: Clinical psychologist Loney Jacob

By Shevlin Sebastian

Neeta Pillai belongs to an affluent family in Kochi. For her masters in mass communication, she went to the University of California, Los Angeles. In a free and casual environment, Neeta indulged in sex and drugs. “I have to say that I enjoyed myself,” she tells counsellor Shirin Kutty. “In fact, for a while I got addicted.”

When she recently returned home, she was surprised to discover that her friends were into parties and taking hashish with boyfriends. “I don't think they are into sex, although I cannot say for sure,” she says. As her parents begin to look for a marriage alliance, Neeta is skeptical about finding a suitable man. “I am sure he is going to be narrow-minded and conservative,” she says.

The more Shirin meets young people, the more she insists on talking to their parents. “I am always advising the elders on finding the right person for their children,” she says. “When you give so much of freedom and good education to youngsters, parents have to listen to them when it comes to the choice of marriage partner.”

She says that children are keen to tell their parents about whom they like and don't. There should be an open dialogue. It is not that children are correct all the time. A parent can also be right. “But they need to bring their wisdom and listen to their children's views, and develop a mutual understanding,” says Shirin. “Parents should see whether two people are compatible for marriage and not two families.”

Most of the time, parents tend to ignore their children's wishes, put too much pressure, and force the youngsters to get married to the people they have selected. “There is a strong likelihood of the marriage failing,” Shirin says.

Apart from wrong marriage partners, clinical psychologist Loney Jacob says that most youngsters feel they have made an erroneous choice of profession. “They are forced to become engineers or doctors, and are unable to do what they have the passion for,” she says.

The insistence on the part of parents that children should have a good education is understandable, because India is not a rich country and there are not too many opportunities. “Parents tend to be practical,” says Loney. “Unfortunately, because of their inflexible attitude, there are a lot of young adults in their late twenties who are unsuited for their jobs as doctors, and chartered accountants. In fact, they feel like failures. They want to start off in another career, but it may be too late. They are already 26 or 28.”

By this time, parents start putting pressure on them to get married. “I counsel young people to look at the pros and cons,” she says. “I encourage them to introspect and find out what they would like to do.”

Interestingly, despite their anguish, children do not blame their parents at all. “They know that their fathers and mothers want the best for them,” says Loney. “In fact, most are worried because they know that their parents, who have spent lakhs of rupees on their education, will be shocked if they opt for another profession.”

Of course, it is another matter that Indians are passive by nature and unwilling to take risks. “That is why youngsters will undergo five years of torture during their professional courses, lacking the courage to opt out, and try something else,” says Loney.

What is adding to the torment of young people is the conservativeness of Kerala society. “There is no healthy interaction between boys and girls,” she says. “In most colleges, they are not allowed to talk to each other. If they do so, parents and college authorities immediately assume it could lead to sex or elopement or marriage. That is why it is so necessary to have freedom. You have to allow youngsters to understand what relationships are like. You have to allow them to experience life.”

Not surprisingly, most of the students who come to counselling to Loney after Class 12 have a tremendous urge to go outside the state to study. “They want to breathe the air of freedom,” she says. “I would urge parents to look at things from the youngster's perspective, instead of trying to ram down their views all the time.”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)