Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“He is an instant story-maker”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Parvathy talks about life with Jayaram, one of the most popular actors in Mollywood

By Shevlin Sebastian

When actor Jayaram saw Parvathy for the first time during the shooting of his first film, ‘Aparan’, at Udaya Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, in 1988, he stood up in respect. Parvathy was the senior artiste. She was accompanied by the veteran actress Sukumari.

Parvathy said, “It's okay, please sit down.” They began talking. Parvathy told Jayaram that she had already seen a mimicry cassette of his, brought out by the Kalabhavan. “I liked his acting but he was also handsome,” she says.

It was during the shooting of ‘Puthiya Karukkal’ in Thekkady in 1989, that things got serious. “We went to sing Christmas carols in the neighbouring houses for fun,” says Parvathy. “[Actress] Sithara and I wore the Christmas father's costume.”

An excited Jayaram jumped on top of the mobile van and started dancing. “I said if you fall I would have to look after you and I don't have the time for that,” says Parvathy. “However, soon, we expressed our feelings for each other.”

And despite an initial family opposition, they got married on September 7, 1992, at Guruvayur temple. So what sort of a husband is Jayaram?

“He is frank, transparent, and a family man,” says Parvathy. “For any trip, be it domestic or foreign, he will always want the family to come along. And if for some reason we are not able to go, he will cancel his trip.”

When Jayaram goes home, to Chennai, he will insist that the children – Kalidasan, 18, who is studying for a degree in visual communication at Loyola College, and daughter, Malavika, 15, who is in Class 10 at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan school -- take leave, so that he can spend time with them.

“I am against this, but I realize he comes home so rarely that I allow it,” she says. “He takes good care of the children and me.” This is evident from the fact that Jayaram calls Parvathy a minimum of 30 times a day. “Usually when husbands go to work, they rarely call their wives, but Jayaram is an exception,” says Parvathy. “Any decision he has to make, he always calls me, to get advice.”

As for his negative traits, Parvathy says, “Jayaram always finds it difficult to say no. At times, this does affect his career.”

Sometimes, during shoots, if something happens which disrupts the work, he can get irritated. “For example, if somebody is late for a shoot,” says Parvathy. “However, most of the time, he is a jovial and fun-loving person who cracks a lot of jokes. His co-actors say that they laugh so much because of his wit and charm. You will never get bored when you are with Jayaram. He will come up with new wisecracks all the time. He is an instant story-maker. At home, I am the butt of all his jokes.”

But Jayaram is rarely at home. Except for the month of May, which is when he takes his annual vacation, so that he can spend time with the children, he is constantly shooting for one film or the other. “Jayaram might come home for one or two days,” says Parvathy. “Sometimes, it is for ten days, if a shooting is cancelled, but that is rare.”

So Parvathy is used to spending a lot of time on her own. “I handle all the responsibilities, like running the house, raising the children, and looking after the finances,” she says. “When I was younger, I would feel a bit of pressure. But now I enjoy the superwoman role. When I solve problems, I feel a sense of fulfillment.”

Of course, after her marriage, Parvathy has stopped acting, but says she has no regrets. “One spouse has to sacrifice their career, otherwise, it will be difficult to bring up the children properly,” she says. “If there is a good salary earned by the husband why should the wife work?”

Meanwhile, the one quality that the family has learned from Jayaram is how to interact with strangers. “I am an introvert and tend to keep aloof from people,” says Parvathy. “But it is only after my marriage that I have learnt to interact more. And so do my children. Jayaram's love for people is his best quality.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Living under a cinematic giant

Dulquer Salmaan, the son of superstar Mammootty, talks about the impact of his father. His debut film, ‘Second Show’, premieres on February 3

By Shevlin Sebastian

Dulquer Salmaan always remembers the transition that used to come over his father, superstar Mammootty in public. “We could be going for a wedding reception,” he says. ‘In the car, our family [including mother Sulfath, and sister Surumi] are normal, regular people having a conversation.”

But once they reach the venue, something would come over Mammootty. “He would become this star radiating charisma,” says Dulquer. “You could not see the change. You would just feel it. From a very young age, I have noticed that whenever my father walks into a room, all eyes are on him.”

Dulquer says the charisma must have come from the stellar career of Mammootty, spread over 30 years. “You command that respect,” says Dulquer. “Here is someone who has found his passion and calling in life. Whereas, the rest of us are still trying to figure out who we are, and what we are good at.”

Yes, Dulquer was not sure whether he wanted to follow in his father’s formidable footsteps. So, he did a four-year course in business management from Purdue University in Indiana, USA. Then he worked in American companies, before moving to Dubai where he spent two years, doing a business in Information Technology.

But in 2009, the urge arose in him to be an actor. “There was a void within me,” he says. “When you are young, you want to make money, buy all the things you want, but at some point, you realise that having all these objects is not enough to make you happy.”

So, Dulquer stepped away from the business, and hired a CEO to look after it. In June, 2009, he went to Mumbai and did a three-month course with the Barry John Acting Studio. Dulquer returned, and selected ‘Second Show’, which has a debutant in the director Srinath Rajendran, as well as young crew members.

Both hero and director are tight-lipped about what the film is all about, except to repeat the tag line: 'Life has a second chance'. Interestingly, Mammootty has offered no tips on acting to Dulquer. But once when Dulquer was shooting a big scene in 'Second Show' that was worrying him, he called up Mammootty.

“My father told me, ‘Some are better than you, but you are better than most’,” says Dulquer. “‘Just tell yourself that. That will help you go through the scene. That is what I always tell myself.’ Thanks to this timely advice, I was able to act well in that particular scene.”

'Second Show', in which Dulquer is paired with newcomer Gautami Nair, is produced by AOPL Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., and premieres on February 3.

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

“Art is a passion for me”

Artiste Bindhi Rajagopal has started a gallery on her own and it has now established its reputation in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent Friday evening, the atmosphere at Bindhi Rajagopal's art gallery in Kochi is homely. There are youngsters running around in the garden. Two are Bindhi's own children, Sowparnika, 12, and Malavika, 10. After a while, her cousin, the actress Poornima drops in, with her two children. And while the two women are having an intense chit-chat, visitors make their way silently to the first-floor gallery to view 'Root', an exhibition by students – AR Anagha, Ashil Anthony, Ebby Eddasery, Mona S Mohan and P Ramesh - of the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts.

The space for the gallery had been willed to Bindhi by her late father, P.R. Chandran, while her mother, Shoba Rani, stays on the ground floor. Asked why she opened one, Bindhi says, “There is not enough space in Kochi for artistes to display their works. We have only four reputed galleries: Durbar Hall, Kashi, David Hall and Chaitanya, and they are always booked. Most of the time, the gallerists select artistes who have reached a certain standard. There are no opportunities for beginners. That is one of the main reasons why I decided to open a gallery.”

In fact, because of this pressure for space, Bindhi held her first solo exhibition in 2006, ten years after she graduated from RLV College. “That was how difficult it was for me,” she says. But when she initially proposed the idea, her parents and businessman-husband, K.R. Rajagopal, were not very supportive. “My father and mother wondered whether people would drop in, because the gallery is in a residential area,” she says. “My husband was worried about the expenses.”

So Bindhi decided to withdraw her entire provident fund – she works as an art teacher in the Gregorian school – and used it to set up the gallery. It was inaugurated on December 8, 2010. And in these 13 months, she has held 13 shows. If it is a curated show, she gets a 30 per cent commission if a painting is sold. Otherwise, she gives it out on a daily rent.

“I am just about breaking even,” she says. “The main problem is that society is not much aware of art. People are more interested in going for a flower show, handicrafts or cloth exhibitions, rather than come for an art show.”

Initially, Bindhi had a trying time to establish the gallery. “Many senior artistes were not keen to display their works,” she says. “They prefer a reputed gallery. When I put up my first group show, I did not get the works of senior artistes.”

But things changed when she began to get media coverage. “Society believes what the media says,” she says. “For art media is essential. Those who puts up shows in my gallery, they urge me to organize the press coverage. It is a strain for me, as I have to go and meet the journalists at their offices. When an article appears in the newspaper, the relatives read it and the artistes are happy about the recognition. They don’t want the paintings to be sold. They just want a stage to perform. And get appreciated. And nowadays, that is done through the media.”

But it is not that Bindhi gets praise all the time. “When you hold an exhibition of artistes of the same calibre, those who are left out feel angry,” she says. “I have had many bad experiences. Some artistes come up and say in an accusing tone, 'Why have you forgotten me?' There is nothing deliberate about the oversight, and I promise them a chance at the next exhibition. But this particular artiste is so angry he or she is not willing to take part again.”

Meanwhile, one of Kerala’s senior-most artistes, C.N. Karunakaran says that the gallery has every chance of continuing to do well. “It is her own space, so she does not have to pay rent,” he says. “Most galleries have to pay high rents and the returns are not that good. That is one reason why galleries had to close down in the past. Bindi is an artiste herself, so she is not focused only on making a profit. Plus, she has good contacts.”

Yes, with the help of her contacts, Bindhi is ploughing ahead. “Art is a passion for me,” she says. “The organisers of the Kochi Biennale have expressed an interest in holding exhibitions in my gallery. So I feel happy about that.”

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Myriad emotions on the street

Santhosh Rajendran’s ‘Streetalight’ photography exhibition highlights the extreme sights of poverty that is common on streets in India

Photo: An old man in Thiruvananthapuram

By Shevlin Sebastian

One of the most striking photos in Santhosh Rajendran's 'Streetalights' exhibition is that of an old man, with a straggly white beard, his forehead creased with deep wrinkles. But it is the eyes, staring into the distance, that grip the viewer. This man has seen the ups and downs, the good and bad, the searing and the ecstatic.

“He is a former hoodlum,” says Santhosh. The old man, who has no family, stays near the St Mary's Church in Thiruvananthapuram. “He had no money to buy food, nor did he have a place to stay, so the local people helped him set up a shop selling cigarettes,” says Santhosh. The photographer spotted him sitting outside and quickly took a snap on his Canon US 550 D.

The exhibition focuses on sights of poverty. There is a picture of two sleeping girls, their buttocks exposed and flies have settled all over their bodies. “We complain all the time that our mosquito coils are not working,” says Santhosh. “And here are these children who are sleeping oblivious to the flies.”

At Kanyakumari, Santhosh spotted a tiny man, with polio-affected legs, who was holding an iron rod, double his height, as a staff on a busy street. A tall sari-clad woman passer-by accentuated the man's shortness. But there is a look of determination on his face. He is clutching a black bag, with photos of Kanykumari sticking out of it.

“He is not blaming destiny for his handicap,” says Santhosh. “Instead, he is working hard, selling photos, to earn a living. In Kerala, if somebody has a disability they will not work. Instead, they will start begging.”

Near the police station at Kanyakumari, Santhosh spotted a mentally challenged woman, with limp legs. Her hair is matted with dust, and so are her clothes. A bearded man, in an equally dishevelled state, has held her up from behind, since she cannot stand on her own. And the begging bowl is prominently held out. “I don’t know whether he is the husband or just a companion,” he says. “But I know that this is love.”

One photo can make you squirm inwardly. It is of a sleeping man, who is lying on a mat, with one foot of his polio-stricken placed next to his head. There are several coins placed next to his body. “I had a feeling criminals were forcing him to do this, because of his freak disability,” says Santhosh.

The photo which tugs at the heart is a boy sitting on a mat and looking up with an air of expectancy. But the shot is only of the look on the boy’s face. “Actually, he is staring at a man who is putting his hand in his pocket to give some money,” says Santhosh.

Another photo shows two young girls begging in front of what seems to be the shutter of a shop, a motorcycle helmet placed incongruously between them. One girl, facing the camera, has a smooth face, but with a worried look in her eyes. “She could easily have been my sister and living in my home,” says Santhosh. “No one would say she is a beggar. They will say she is my sister. She is so beautiful.”

For Santhosh, the aim of these photographs is to sensitise the viewing public. “We share the same air and space but most people ignore these sights,” he says. “Photography is neither an art or a science. It is a medium for social awareness.”

One viewer who is overwhelmed is Angela Sriram, an American black artist, who was visiting Kochi to see her Malayali husband’s relatives. “I am getting goose-bumps looking at these photographs,” she says. “They are moving, intelligent, and textured. These pictures have been taken from the heart. Santhosh has an amazing talent.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting the script right

The second Script International Short Film Festival, organised by the Rotary Club of Cochin Metropolis, was a resounding success

Photos: Acclaimed film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan presenting the Best Film in the Students' Category to Reema Sengupta; the poster of 'Meals Ready'

By Shevlin Sebastian

“At a time when the entertainment industry is becoming irresponsible, it is nice to see socially responsible films,” says acclaimed film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. “In the film industry, we only think of profits. It is important to regain the lost values. We have to cultivate an audience for the short and experimental films, and documentaries.”

Gopalakrishnan was speaking at the prize-giving function of the Script International Short Film Festival, organised by the Rotary Club of Cochin Metropolis, which concluded on Saturday. Around 65 films in various categories – international, Indian, documentary, students and mini – were screened. It was viewed by a jury which comprised of Jose Dominic (CMD, CGH Earth Group), Vivek Mohan, National award-winning director, Sophy Sivaram (documentary expert) and actress Revathy.

“It has been a beautiful experience,” says Revathy. “There is a lot of sensitivity among the youth. They are looking beyond themselves. Some are making films from their head, while the others are doing it with their hearts.” Jose Dominic says, “I am amazed by the freshness of the ideas.”

In the Indian Filmmakers category, the winner was 'Meals Ready' by Nithuna Nevil Dinesh. It is about how a man stood in the torrid heat, holding a sign saying, 'Meals Ready', and trying to lure passers-by to come into the hotel. The owner is not bothered about how difficult the job is. Later, the scene shifts to the worker's home where he is sharing the meal that he has received from the hotel with his wife. “It showed how people can be happy over the simplest of pleasures,” says Vivek.

In the documentary category, the top prize went to 'Platform No 5' by C. Vanaja. This is about street-children working at the Secunderabad railway station and collecting plastic bottles and reselling them. “They have run away from their homes or been abandoned by their parents,” says the Hyderabad-based Vanaja. “Most of the children did not want to return home. However, the most riveting moment was when I told one boy that there had been a survey and it was discovered that most of the children were dead by the time they are 16 or 17. It could be through diseases, accidents or murders by the Mafia for their body organs.”

When the boy heard this, there was a look of shock and despondency. Vanaja was able to capture this mood, which had a searing impact on the viewer. Vanaja told the Kochi crowd that a few days after the film was shot, the boy returned to his family. And the audience burst into sustained applause. “Yes, it was one of the best moments for me,” she said.

What was also elevating to see was the poise and self-confidence displayed by young film-makers like Reema Sengupta who won in the students category: 'The Tigers – they are all dead'. “I was very worried when I read a survey that the tiger population was going down,” she says. “So I decided to take proactive action by making a film.” And Reema did it in the form of a satire, because “people don't like to be preached to.”

Other winners included 'I don't feel like dancing' by Evi Goldbrunner (Germany) in the international category, 'Don't lend a smoke' by Amit Singh in the Mini Film (maximum of two minutes) category, and Special Jury Awards to 'Inside Out' by Mumbai students Shilpi Gulati and Divya Cowasji and 'When I met Nikhil' by Ajitsinh Deepaksinh Mirdhe.

Earlier, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) awards were given. In the public sector, BPCL Cochin Refinery won the first prize. Others winners included Shobha Developers in the private sector (Above Rs 150 crore) and DP World (below Rs 150 crore) and a Jury Award for outstanding CSR work to Terumo Penpol.

Light moments were provided by Vivek Mohan. “Alfred Hitchcock [famed Hollywood director] said, 'In feature films the director is God, but in documentary films God is the director',” says Vivek. “However, this is not true in a Salman Khan film where he is both God as well as the director.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'I am happy to be with him'

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Gayatri talks about her marriage to the diminutive actor, Unda Pakru

By Shevlin Sebastian

Gayatri will never forget the incident after her marriage to Unda Pakru at the Kumaranalloor Devi Temple at Kottayam on March 8, 2006. The couple proceeded to the banks of the Meenachil River. Unda Pakru has a house at one side. The videographer suggested that the newly-married couple get on the boat, so that he can take a few images. The boat was pushed towards the centre, but suddenly the long rope holding it to a wooden barricade, on the bank, snapped.

The boat began to flow downstream. “I felt terrified,” says Gayatri. “It was the first time in my life that I had got on to a boat.” Her husband asked her whether she knew how to swim. Gayatri shook her head.

Pakru said, “Don't move. In case I cannot guide the boat to the other bank, it will float, and we will reach somewhere.”

So, while the 5'2” woman stayed immobile, the 2'6” Pakru took proactive action. He leaned over the side of the boat and began using his hands like a paddle.

Meanwhile, there were panicky shouts and screams among the family members, relatives, and guests. While all this commotion was going on, Pakru kept calm and guided the boat to the other bank. And they got off safely.

Earlier, when the marriage proposal first came, Gayatri agreed immediately. “I really don't know why I said yes,” she says. “But I liked him from the very beginning.” Not surprisingly, her parents and her younger sister were opposed. “They told me that there would be difficulties because of his lack of height,” says Gayatri. “I said I had no problems that Ajayan (Unda Pakru) was not tall.”

When Pakru came to see Gayatri, it did not take him long to win over his in-laws. “My parents and sister warmed to him immediately,” says Gayatri. “He has that quality about him. In fact, today, they like him more than me.”

So, after five and a half years of marriage, what does she like about the diminutive actor? “Ajayan has his own individuality,” says Gayatri. “Before he makes a decision, he thinks about it very hard. But once he decides, it is impossible to make him change his mind. He is very strong mentally. I admire that quality the most in him. He has come so far only because of his strong will.”

For those who don't know, Unda Pakru has acted in 50 films. In 'My Big Father', he was the hero, co-starring with Jayaram. Amazingly, he did all the stunts, like horse riding,
on his own. Pakru is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the 'shortest actor who played a full-length character role in a feature film'.

So, what about his negative traits? “Ajayan gets angry quickly, but immediately, he calms down,” says Gayatri. “With him, if you ask anything in anger, he will not agree to it. You have to ask in a nice way.”

Sometimes, when he is writing a script for a programme, there is a distant look on his face. “Whatever I say to him, he does not listen,” says Gayatri. “I realize that Ajayan is in a different world. So I stay away. This might last for a few hours and then he is back to normal.”

So, do the public react differently when they see them at a function? “People have behaved wonderfully with us,” says Gayatri. “They shower us with a lot of affection. They will never ask him or me about why we got married. They ask me about who is there to assist me in the house, and where do I stay? We live an ordinary life, just like any other couple.”

The couple have a three-year-old daughter, Deepthakeerthi. “She is too young to know that Ajayan is her father, although she does call him 'Accha',” says Gayatri. “She loves to play with him. Deepthakeerthi feels that when I discipline her, Ajayan is the only one who will support and protect her. He never scolds her, so she is very happy with him. Sometimes, she will call him the way I do: Ajayettan.”

Finally, when asked whether Pakru's height is an impediment, Gayatri says, “There are no difficulties just because he is short. He is as normal as everybody else. Ajayan does everything on his own, be it going to the cinema set or coming for lunch at the dining room table. I am happy to be with him.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Man in search of his soul

Four artistes concentrate on the negative side of life, and the turbulence of emotions

Photos: K.P. Pradeep Kumar standing next to his 'Transfigurations-3'; K.A. Benny's untitled acrylic on canvas

By Shevlin Sebastian

When you enter the David Hall in Kochi , for the exhibition, 'Paintings and Paperworks’, the first work that catches the eye is K.P. Pradeep Kumar's 'Transfigurations-3'. It is an oil on canvas, drawn in rich green colours, which shows a group of Kerala women, wearing white sarees, with umbrellas covering half their faces, standing in rows.

In the first line there are eight, then it becomes one less in the second, till there are only three on the last row. It looks like a Roman legion. But Pradeep Kumar says that the intention is to resemble the roof of the house.

On all sides are trees that lay uprooted, their roots exposed. Clearly, it is a message about nature getting despoiled and women acting as a symbol of regeneration. Pradeep Kumar has also done several charcoal and pastel drawings with a woman as the central character, on handmade rice paper, which he procured from the Gandhi Ashram in Sabarmati, Gujarat .

Meanwhile, artist NN Mohandas concentrates on simple subjects. In 'Park-2', an oil on canvas, he has drawn a young man, with shades of black around his eyes, sitting next to a middle-aged man, with wild, distraught eyes on a bench in a park. Right in front of them are flowering plants growing in red pots. It is drawn in light pastel shades and is an apt commentary on modern life.

“People are consumed by worry that they are unable to enjoy life,” says Mohandas. “Unlike the men, the plants are growing serenely, effortlessly, and at peace.”

'Beach' by Mohandas is also a microcosm of life. A man and a woman are sitting on a bench at the
beach. But the man sits, with his chin placed on his knuckles, in the manner of Auguste Rodin's ‘Thinker’, while the woman looks away. Clearly, this is a marriage in crisis. Blue waves are moving around forcefully – a metaphor for the emotional turbulence within the couple. “I have been inspired by Edvard Munch,” says Mohandas. The Norwegian Symbolist painter's stated goal was “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self.”

T.C. Joshy's acrylic on canvas shows a neat and simple drawing of the facade of a house with a tin roof. A chair is placed next to a barely-opened door. There is an empty bed with a blue counterpane on the verandah, apart from pieces of wood, a tube light on the wall, and a window which looks into darkness. From the outside, it looks like an empty house, yet, there is a feeling that life is pulsating within the four walls.

“This is the exterior of a fish shop in Kottayam,” says Joshy. “It was deserted on a Sunday morning. Although when I did the sketches, I did feel there was somebody inside.”

K.A. Benny's untitled acrylic on canvas, done in thick, bold strokes, shows a man walking on the parapet of what looks like a well, weighed down by a large cloth which trails behind him. At one end, there is a tense-looking cricket, as well as snails.

If you look into the crevice, you can see a band of sunlight, while all around it is water, with rock formations sticking out. Looking above, you can see a darkened farmhouse, with sloping roofs, rolling grasslands and thick, smothering black clouds. Two owls are perched on a tree trunk. There is a forbidding air about the picture, as if life is a series of hurdles to be surmounted, although there are moments when the sun shines through.

“Yes, there is a feeling of nostalgia and sadness,” says Benny. “I was recalling my life in Idukki, where I spent many years. I now stay in Wayanad and work for a bamboo co-operative. It is a delving into old memories. In Idukki, near the dam, there are many man-made constructions which are like huge holes. I used that image as the inspiration.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kissing The World

Entrepreneur and best-selling author Subroto Bagchi talks about what ails the country and the qualities required for success in life

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, on his way to work, in Bangalore, entrepreneur and best-selling author Subroto Bagchi had stopped at a red traffic light. Suddenly, he noticed that a cart had overturned and the tomatoes were strewn all across the road. Soon, the light turned green. Before the agonised eyes of the vendor, the tomatoes were squashed.

“Within seconds, his day's work was gone,” says Bagchi. “I immediately realised that he was a micro-credit guy. He had taken a micro loan, bought the tomatoes and after selling the produce, he would repay the loan, and make a tiny profit. Now, his inventory was gone. He cannot repay his principal amount. So what was his next step?”

Bagchi felt that the man would have to take a loan again and be back the next day on the streets. “Meanwhile, here were hundreds of people in their cars, who are worrying about their jobs, promotions, increments, about being laid off, the need to have one more car or house,” he says. “We are so anxious about our future, but here was a guy whose future is now.”

This incident, published in a column, in a leading newspaper, became his most-read article. And it is these pithy observations that have made him a best-selling author. Bagchi's most well-known book is 'Go Kiss The World – Life Lessons for the Young Professional', an autobiographical book about growing up in small towns in Orissa.

Asked to explain its success, he says, “The book resonated a lot with small-town people. India remains a small-town country. It is the story of an ordinary person who came from nowhere and made a mark.” Interestingly, the title of the book is the last sentence his blind mother spoke to Bagchi before she passed away.

Bagchi has written other best-selling books like, 'The High-Performance Entrepreneur' and 'The Professional'. And he is Vice-Chairman, and Gardener of the highly regarded MindTree, an IT company that he founded. “As Gardener I am personally responsible for the Top 100 people in the company, in terms of expanding their individual leadership abilities, apart from other responsibilities,” he says.

Bagchi had come to give a reading at the new Penguin Book store in Kochi. Eventually, it was his daughter, Niti, a Latin scholar at Columbia University, who did the reading. But Bagchi impressed with his lucid thoughts and his speaking skills.

“I felt very welcome,” he said, as he analysed the Kochi audience the next morning, while enjoying an early breakfast in the garden of the Vivanta By Taj. “But I also felt that there was an undercurrent of two generations. The older people were worried about what would happen to their children. There were questions like, 'Do you think that the value system would be intact? Do you think that our and the children's future is safe?' On the other hand, the youth were asking questions about integrity and the potential of business.”

Bagchi himself is worried about the state of the country. “We are a nation in decline,” he says. “When you look at what goes on in Parliament, you realise it is a huge lost opportunity. Because this life will go away. In another ten years, the people who are shouting and screaming, getting in and out of jail, they will all be dead or dying. Then they might ask, 'What did I do with my life?' It is the job of a generation to create a legacy. Instead, they are leaving behind greed, and a self-obsessed idea of power.”

Unlike the politicians, Bagchi has always embodied integrity and leadership qualities. Asked about the qualities needed for success, he says, “You require a vision which is larger than your own self-interests. I once asked the Dalai Lama about his idea of power, and he said, 'Your purpose determines your power.' When you have a great purpose, it will start pulling you and the power will come from the universe.”

Bagchi recalled the incident when Gandhi was thrown off the train on June 7, 1893 in in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, because he refused to move to the third class coach, since he had a first class ticket. “Now, at that moment, the purpose of Gandhi could be to sue the railway official who threw him out, since he was a lawyer,” says Bagchi. “Or he could have returned to India. But in that moment, his purpose was to fight apartheid, which was a grand vision on his part.”

But Bagchi says that the moment you have established a vision, there is a lot of hard work and commitment that is needed. “Many people are afraid of success,” he says. “It is about responsibility. It is about sustainability. When you are up there, in the spotlight, there is no crawling back to your mother's womb. You have to face the heat. The biggest challenge is to live up to your own expectations.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When love comes calling

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Saritha talks about how she spoke to popular actor Jayasurya through a phone-in programme, and ended up falling in love and getting married to him

By Shevlin Sebastian

During the shooting of the Tamil version of 'Oomappenninu Uriyadappayyan' in Ooty, in 2002, one day the work finished at 7 p.m. Usually, the next day's shooting began at 6.30 a.m. But actor Jayasurya was told by the production crew that it would start at 8.30 a.m. Immediately he set out in his Hyundai Accent all the way to Kochi. The reason: he wanted to meet his lady love, Saritha.

Throughout the hairpin bends that he took on that foggy night, he kept calling Saritha, asking her not to sleep, as he would be arriving at any moment. In the end, he came to Kochi at 2 a.m., and went directly to Saritha's apartment in Panampilly Nagar. She was waiting patiently, along with her sister, and their parents. After barely half an hour, Jayasurya set out, back to Ooty, to be in time for the morning shoot.

“That was during the peak of our love affair,” says Saritha. “I was moved by what he did.”

Jayasurya and Saritha met in an unusual way. The actor had a live phone-in programme on the ACV television channel, which soon became very popular. “My grandmother and sister were avid fans of his,” says Saritha. Once, when Saritha -- who was doing her degree in bio-technology at the Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering, Bangalore -- came to Kochi on a vacation, she also spoke to Jayasurya during one programme. “Soon we began speaking on the phone,” she says. A few months later, Saritha's family was going for a function at Tripunithara where Jayasurya stayed. A meeting was arranged and Saritha met Jayasurya for the first time.

“There were no sparks at that first meeting,” she says. “We exchanged a few words.” But they continued talking to each other. “I regarded him as a good friend, in whom I could confide everything,” she says.

But matters hotted up when Jayasurya rented a flat in the same building as Saritha. “Our families became very close,” she says. “We were constantly in and out of each other's apartments.”

But slowly, without them actually knowing, the duo fell in love. Both the families did not suspect anything. “There would be humourous discussions about what type of people we would like to marry,” says Saritha. “There was no hint given to anybody that we may be interested in each other.”

So, when the couple announced that they wanted to marry, both families were initially shocked. “But gradually, they accepted our decision,” says Saritha.

After Saritha completed her M Sc. in biotechnology, they got married on January 25, 2004.

And in these eight years, Saritha has a good understanding of her husband. “His biggest plus points is his simple and humble nature,” she says. “That is what I liked the most in him from the beginning. But I never imagined that I would marry somebody like him. I am a science student and he is into arts. But God willed otherwise.”

Saritha also likes Jayasurya's positive attitude. “Even when we are going through difficult moments, Jayasurya rarely gets negative-minded,” says Saritha. “Instead, he is busy trying to find solutions to problems.”

His one drawback is that he tends to rush through when he is doing something. “He can be impulsive at times,” says Saritha.

And does she enjoy being the wife of a celebrity? “Yes, I do,” she says. “Suppose I go to a function, people will ask me, “Aren’t you Jayasurya’s wife? And I realize that it has a lot to do with the fact that they hold my husband in high regard and affection. It makes me feel good.”

And unlike most celebrities, Saritha says that they try to lead as normal a life as possible. “We go to the halls to see films, we go to the parks with our son, Advaith,” she says. (Incidentally, just ten days ago, Saritha gave birth to a baby girl). “We are regulars at the Oberon Mall. I don’t think there is a loss of privacy. When people see us they react differently. Some rush towards us, and, usually, they want photographs to be taken. But many just look at us from a distance.”

Asked whether an acting career creates a lot of insecurity, because one is dependent on getting roles all the time, Saritha says, “My husband told me, 'Always give more than 100 per cent to your work. Then the profession will show loyalty to you also. And the roles will keep coming.'”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Impresario makes its mark in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: The winners of the Miss Kerala 2011 event; Ram Menon, executive director, Impresario

Three friends, Harish Babu, Hariharan and Ram Menon would meet up on weekends for a chitchat and fun. One day, the thought arose of starting an outfit of their own. which was different, creative, and exciting. The trio explored several options, but in the end settled for event marketing. Thus was born Impresario, Kerala's first event management company in October, 1995.

“The concept of event marketing was new to kerala,” says Ram. “To make our presence felt, we organized trade fairs.”

But their biggest impact happened when Impresario started the Miss Kerala competitions in 2000. At that time, an unknown unknown youngster Ranjini Haridas walked confidently down the ramp. During the question round, she answered with zip and panache. So, it was no surprises when she won the Miss Kerala crown. But she could never have imagined that the win would transform her life.

Ever since then, Ranjini has been part of the cultural landscape of Kerala, as the popular, long-standing anchor of the Idea Star Singer show and the master of ceremonies for numerous public events. She also appears often on advertisements on television, radio and the print media.

“The event struck a chord with the public, because there was no such programme before,” says Ram Menon, the executive director of 'Impresario'. “There were hardly any activities which gripped the youth. Secondly, since it was a competition, it held everybody's interest.”

It takes about six months of preparation for the successful holding of the event. “Initially, the impetus is to get the right sponsor,” says Ram. “The investment for a Miss Kerala is Rs 40 lakhs.”

Today, the Miss Kerala show has become an inescapable annual event, not to be missed at all costs, especially for young girls. Quite a few winners have ended up getting roles in films.

Reema Kallingal, who was the Miss Kerala Runner-Up in 2008, is a rising star. Indu Thampy, the 2010 winner, is a heroine in three Malayalam films, while Rohini Mariam Idicula, the 2007 winner, is a model in London.

Impresario organises another popular event in early December: the Navy Festival. This is the only time of the year when the public can enter the campus and have a look around. “There are amusement stalls, exhibitions, and entertainment programmes,” says Ram.

Apart from this, Impresario does product launches, promotions, musical nites like an A.R. Rahman show in Kozhikode, organizes one-day cricket matches, and what is increasingly an imitation of a north Indian trend: themed weddings.

“There is a demand for this,” says Ram. “So we do themes like Arabic, Mughul or Rajasthani.” For a Rajasthani themed wedding, there will be a puppet show, guests will get Rajasthani food to eat, and the waiters will be wearing the attire of the North Indian state, including the colourful headgear.

(An abridged version appeared in The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Friday, January 13, 2012

A wine-coloured night

A five-course dinner, along with suitable wines from Sula Vineyards, made it a night to remember at the Casino Hotel

Photos: Ajoy Shaw (standing) chief wine-maker and associate, Sula Vineyards, giving a talk; A bottle of Dia

By Shevlin Sebastian

The setting is romantic. Round tables covered by crisp white tablecloths, with gleaming glasses, steel knives, forks, and spoons. The lighting is muted. On every table, there is a lit candle. Twenty couples sit and speak softly. Instrumental music wafts in through the large speakers – old classics like 'The Love Theme' from the Godfather film and Lobo's ‘I'd love you to want me'. And standing right in the middle -- of the Durbar Hall of the Casino Hotel -- holding a mike in his hand, is a bespectacled man, with a tiny goatee. He is Ajoy Shaw, chief wine-maker and associate, Sula Vineyards. The aim: to have a five-course dinner allied with the best wines from Sula.

“Outside India, there is a good wine culture, where people drink wine with food,” says Ajoy. “This is missing right now in India. However, over the last few years, wine has taken centre-stage. From being one of the drinks in parties, it is one of the main beverages now. What we are starting will hopefully become a habit when people will have wine and food together.”

So, for the first course, garden fresh lettuce, pears, and Parmesian salad, it is best to have it with a sparkling white wine called Sula Brut. “The fruitiness of the pears matches the fruitiness in the wine,” says Ajoy. “The yeast, in the wine, which is fermented, goes well with the ingredients, like the lettuce and the vegetables. Basically, you are matching the intensity of the fruit flavour with the intensity of the acids and the flavours in the wine.”

It is important that the wine should not mask or overwhelm the food. “Wine should bring about a synergy and accentuate the aromas of the food,” says Erin Louis, the general manager of the Casino Hotel. “That is what food pairing is all about.”

Meanwhile, for the seafood soup, Ajoy suggests the Sauvignon Blanc. “It is a white wine which goes well with sea food, with its mix of herbs like basil and thyme,” he says. Next is the grilled fish, which is marinated in masala, along with garlic butter, and accompanied by spinach.

“Chenin Blanc is the best wine to have with this, because it has honeyed characteristics, and gives off a languid effect,” he says. “The wine also has a residual sweetness, which balances out the spiciness. Sometimes, it is good to have a contrast. When you have rich and oily food, you need an acid wine to cleanse your palate.”

For the chicken, with olives, what is best is a red wine, Cabernat-Shiraz, while for a dessert of bitter chocolate mousse, Dia is the best bet. “Dia, one of our most popular, is a light sweet sparkling wine,” says Ajoy. “It offers an effective contrast to the bitter chocolate.”

Since Sula Wines is unable to advertise because of Central government restrictions on alcoholic drinks, they do these intimate dinners to publicise their wines. And Ajoy is upbeat about the Kerala market where sales have been doubling every year.

“We have noticed that two groups of people all over India, including Kerala, are dedicated wine drinkers,” he says. “One is in the 25-30 year category, and they work mostly in the IT industry. They have chosen wine because it is in fashion now. Plus, they have been abroad and encountered a wine culture in restaurants. The other category are those who are fifty years and above, who have tired of drinking hard liquor for years.”

But among the general public, especially in Kerala, wine-drinking still means having a sweet home-made concoction during Christmas. “Wine-drinking is an upper-class activity,” says Erin. “However, sales are going up steadily. Ten years ago, there was only one company, Grover Wines, selling wine in Kerala. Now there are seven. I am sure the more sessions we hold like this, the more we will be able to create an awareness. In the end, wine has many health-benefits, as compared to other drinks.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

'It is fun to live with Shyam'

COLUMN: Spouse’s Turn

Sheeba talks about life with Shyamaprasad Rajagopal, the noted film director

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Sheeba saw Shyamaprasad for the first time in January, 1985, she fell in love with him. “He had an attractive personality,” she says. “Shyam dressed well also.” At that time, Sheeba was auditioning for an announcer's post in Doordarshan at Thiruvananthapuram, while Shyam was working as an assistant producer. Sheeba got selected and, soon, she began to look out for Shyam whenever she was in the office.

It was in April that Shyam came up to her to have a chat because Sheeba was also doubling up as a production assistant. “He asked me my name and where I stayed,” says Sheeba. “I asked the same questions. Then we started saying hello whenever we saw each other.”

One day, Shyam telephoned Sheeba at her home. “I got very excited,” she says. “I did not ask him how he got my telephone number. I felt that, maybe, he could be interested in me.”

In the meantime, Sheeba's friend, Radhika, told her that Shyam was keen about her. But Sheeba felt unsure. “I was finding it difficult to believe that, of all the beautiful girls at Doordarshan, Shyam wanted to marry me,” she says. “But later, a producer, John Samuel, came and told me the same thing. So I was finally convinced. It was one of the highlights of my life.”

Now, Sheeba had to break the news to her father. “I was scared whether my father would get angry,” she says. “One day, I took my dad to the terrace and told him that I am in love with somebody and wanted to marry him. But I said I would only accept if his parents agreed to the proposal.” Subsequently, Shyam's parents -- his father is the BJP leader, O. Rajagopal and his mother, Shanta -- paid a visit.

And on May 28, 1987, Shyam and Sheeba tied the knot. Sheeba sighs and says, “It is unbelievable, but in a few months we will be celebrating our silver jubilee,” she says. The couple has two children, Vishnu, 23, and Shivakami, 14.

So, what type of a husband is Shyam? “He rarely gets angry,” she says. “He is very loving. Whenever he goes away from home, he will always call me, even when he is in a foreign country.”

Sheeba admits that of the two, she has the hot temper. “Shyam is always calm, steady and laid-back,” she says.

In fact, he has been laid-back as a parent also. “In my childhood, when we light the lamp in the evening, we would immediately start studying,” says Sheeba. “But Shyam has not followed these rules. He was never strict with the children. Shyam would tell them, 'If you want to do well, you will have to study.' I feel that at times, you have to be firm. But when it comes to my son, it turned out to be the right decision. Vishnu is doing something that he likes. After completing a course in film studies, he is working in a firm in Mumbai which makes advertising films.”

As an award-winning director of films like 'Akale' and 'Ore Kadal', Shyam is noted for his creativity. So how difficult is it to live with such a person? “When he is making a film, he becomes a person whom I cannot recognise,” says Sheeba. “Shyam goes into a world of his own. His mental preparation before shooting begins is intense and concentrated. He rarely listens to us. Earlier, I would feel irritated. But now I have got used to it. I understand that this is the creative process before shooting begins.”

And there are many tense moments. Sometimes, there are problems with dates or finding the right locations. “It is a stressful time for him,” says Sheeba. “When he gets disturbed, I tend to keep away from him. In case I am around, I try to soothe him. After so many years of marriage, I know at which moments to intervene or stay away.”

But for Sheeba, the best time is when they go for a morning walk. “That is the time I have him to myself,” she says. “And he is such a good listener. I talk about my job [in the State Bank of Travancore], about our children and life in general. It is fun to live with Shyam.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, January 09, 2012

A confluence of dazzling international art

The Kochi Biennale is set to change the face of Indian art

Photos: Painter Bose Krishnamachari; the refurbished Durbar Hall gallery in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Painter Bose Krishnamachari, dressed casually in a blue T-shirt and jeans, looks serene even as work is going on at the gallery at the Durbar Hall in Kochi on a cloudy day. So workers are banging nails into planks, a photographer is taking shots, while harried assistants come to Bose to get solutions to last-minute hitches. The gallery was inaugurated by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy recently. He described it as 'Asia's best gallery'.

As the director of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, it has been Bose's desire to transform a 150-year-old gallery in the centre of Kochi to a world class one. “It has taken 14 months of work,” he says.

He wanders around the open spaces, points at the walls, and says, “These are fire-proof Hilux sheets, which have been pasted on to the old walls. On the ceiling, there are ERCO LED lights, which is the world's best lighting technology, and used for the first time in India.” There are four galleries, the ones on the ground floor at a height of 11 ft., while on the spacious first floor, there are 18 ft. high walls. What looks attractive is the polished wooden floor and and the high ceiling.

“We have ensured that the original structure has been kept intact,” says Bose. Well-known architect Radhika Desai, who has worked with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as Vikas Dilawari, who won an UNESCO award for his conservation work at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, provided valuable inputs.

“We had to be careful about the moist, and hot weather conditions in Kerala, particularly when working with the laterite stone which is like a sponge that sucks in the moisture in the atmosphere,” says Radhika.

To refurbish the gallery has cost Rs 3.5 crore and the funding has come from the State Government. “The Centre, as well as institutions, corporates and individuals have also chipped in,” says Bose.

The Mumbai-based painter has big plans. He wants to set up a Biennale -- an international art exhibition -- which will showcase the best works of Indian and international artists, and will be displayed all over Kochi, in cultural institutions, museums, academies, with the centre being the Durbar Hall gallery.

“If you look at the history of biennales the world over, it is the meeting place for creative exchanges between nations and cultures,” says Bose's fellow director Riyas Komu. “It is an important platform for critical artistic debate.”

The first biennale opened in Venice in 1895 AD. At present there are more than 150 biennales all over the world. The most noted are the ones in Venice, Sao Paulo, Liverpool, Lyon, Istanbul, Havana, Guangzhou, and Sydney. “Every other year there are new visions and developments in art,” says Riyas. “The host city is the only constant.”

The Kochi Bienalle is expected to kick off in a few months time. Meanwhile, the selection of the art works will be done through consultation with globally-reputed curators, artists, gallery-owners, museum directors, institutions, and cultural ambassadors. “We will be doing extensive research to get the best,” says Bose. “Whenever we talk about Kochi and the Indian biennale, it excites everyone in the art world!”

Interestingly, many Indian artistes have taken part in the Biennales in other countries. Recently, Subodh Gupta, Nalini Malani, Dayanita Singh, Anju Dodiya and Riyas have exhibited in the Venice Biennale. Says Bose: “It would be a moment of great pride to bring all these eminent artists together in a Biennale in our own country.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala and Delhi)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Living in Italy and writing in Malayalam

Legia Bonetti, who is married to an Italian, has just won a Malayalam short story competition

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Legia Bonetti was on a short visit to Kerala, from Italy, she saw an advertisement in the prestigious puzha.com web site, asking for entries for a short story competition. So, she sat and wrote a 2300 word story, titled ‘Avasanathe Uruppadi ’ (The Last Piece).

It is about a woman, in her mid-fifties, who lives in a posh house, but is all alone. The house is being put up for sale, while the daughter is keen that her mother goes and stays in the empty family tharavad. “It is a relevant theme,” says Legia. “Many elderly people in Kerala are being abandoned by their children.”

The web site received 150 entries. But what came as a shock to Legia was when she won the first prize. “I never dreamt it would happen,” she says. Recently, the award ceremony took place at a function in Changampuzha Park and the top 10 entries have been published in a book.

The judges included a former professor C.R. Omanakuttan and well-known novelists M.K. Chandrasekharan, editor of puzha.com, and K.L. Mohana Varma. “Legia wrote the story in a touching manner, yet, at the same time, she kept up the suspense,” says Mohana Varma. “She could become a new breed of a global writer, whose writings could have a readership abroad, provided she works very hard.”

Legia has had an unusual life. She grew up in Thoppumpady, but tied the knot with an Italian, Guido Bonetti, on June 13, 1983. It was an arranged marriage. Guido was a friend of Legia’s brother, who worked abroad, and he was very interested in Indian culture. During a visit,
Guido formally proposed, and, unusually, Legia’s parents agreed. Her late father, K.R. John, was a well-known Communist trade union leader in Mattancherry.

Thanks to Guido, a civil engineer, Legia has lived in Nigeria, Ghana, Djibouti, Brazil, Libya, Greece, Switzerland, and Guido’s ancestral village of Gromo, which has a population of only 1100 people. “There are mountains and skiing facilities,” says Legia. “It is very beautiful, but I like it more at my home in Thoppumpady.”

In a foreign country, despite being a wife of a local, Legia always felt that she did not belong. “Nobody has insulted me, because I am an Indian or a coloured person,” she says. “But they always look at me, like a foreigner. Even in a highly modern city like Milan, people
still discriminate. For them I will always remain an Indian, even though I speak Italian, mix with them, have lunches and dinners and go out shopping. All foreigners are treated like that. I am not saying that they are bad, but their attitude is always, ‘we and you’.”

She remembers an incident of a Sri Lankan, who was working as a cleaning man in the railways in Switzerland. One day, he was beaten up by a group of young men, who said, “You coloured people are stealing our jobs.” Petrol was sprinkled on the Sri Lankan, and he was about to be burnt, when the police arrived in the nick of time.

And during all these tense moments, Legia would be steadily writing her short stories in Malayalam, her heart and soul always in Kerala. Guido has been the force behind her creative endeavours, says Lejia, although he took some time to understand the Malayali culture. “If
there is a marriage ceremony and I go with my relatives to buy the gold and the jewellery, he will ask me why I should go. ‘That is none of your business,’ he will say. ‘You are interfering too much.’ Europeans will never intrude.”

And this lack of interference is evident in their married life. “Whenever I say, ‘Can I go out?’ he will reply, ‘Why are you asking silly questions like that? You have your freedom. You are an
independent person. There is no need to ask me.’ So I have learned to do that. Nowadays, I say, ‘I am going out, bye.’”

Meanwhile, boosted by the award, Legia is busy working on her first book of short stories, which she hopes to bring out within a year.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

In tune with him

COLUMN: Spouse’s Turn

Lekha Sreekumar talks about life with popular playback singer M.G. Sreekumar, for whom music is an abiding passion

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1988, Lekha Sreekumar had gone to the Sastha temple at Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram, with her sister, Sheela. Outside the temple Sheela pointed out a man to Lekha and said, “He is the one who has sung all the hit songs in ‘Chitram.’” At that time, the songs were the rage.

When Lekha looked at playback singer, M.G. Sreekumar, she realized he was an ordinary person. “He was wearing a khadi mundu, and a printed shirt, with red and white flowers,” she says. “I felt amazed. Was this the same person I saw on the cassette?”

A few years earlier, Lekha had seen a video cassette of Sreekumar singing in a concert at Dubai. The performance was in the evening, but the singer was wearing sunshades. “I thought, ‘What’s happened to this guy?’” she says. “He looked so funny.”

Of course, it would be years later that she would understand the reason why. Sreekumar had an allergy and his eyes had turned red. Hence, he was forced to wear sunshades.

Meanwhile, at the temple, they exchanged glances.

A few days later, Lekha attended a concert by Sreekumar. “I was attracted by his voice, which was different, as compared to the singers I admired in that time, like Dasettan [K.J. Yesudas] and Unni Menon,” she says. “Sreekumar had an original voice. He never imitates anybody. His silent message is this: ‘This is my style. It is up to you to like it or not’. Since I am a person who has my own individuality I appreciated this quality in him.”

Following the concert they were introduced and spoke for a while. One evening, Lekha went for a walk in Jawahar Nagar. On that same road, Sreekumar was driving his Ambassador car, which he just bought with the Rs 26,000 payment he got for singing in ‘Chithram’.

“We talked and exchanged phone numbers,” says Lekha. “Soon, we developed a good friendship and talked on a variety of topics. We spoke about music a lot: his programmes, career and composing. Slowly I fell in love.”

Then the couple did something which was unthinkable in conservative Kerala at that time. They began a live-in relationship which lasted for several years. “There was a lot of opposition from society,” says Lekha. “But I don’t blame people because they were not used to the flouting of social rules and regulations. Many people spoke ill about us. There were restrictions on Sreekumar from seeing me.”

So, the singer was forced to take some desperate measures. One night, he wore a red saree over his trousers and covered his head with a shawl and went to Lekha’s apartment. “The watchman thought he was a woman,” says Lekha, with a laugh. “Then the next morning, he left in the same way. And nobody recognized him.”

The couple eventually tied the knot on January 14, 2000 at the Moogambika Temple at Kollur.

So what are the plus points of Sreekumar? “He never interferes in my life,” says Lekha. “He will never say, ‘Don’t do this or that’. He gives me a lot of freedom. I can drive the car or go shopping whenever I want.”

Even in sartorial choices, there are no restrictions. “Sometimes, I wear pants, or shorts, or sleeveless blouses” she says. “He does not worry about it. Even though Sreekumar was born and brought up in Thiruvananthapuram, he is not a typical Malayali. I know of certain husbands who will put restrictions on the type of clothes their wives can wear. They will demand a cup of coffee when they return from work. My husband will never behave like that. He is a good-hearted and romantic person, who buys me gifts all the time.”

Nevertheless, it must be difficult to live next to an artist. “Yes, like any creative person, Sreekumar has up and down moods,” says Lekha. “When he is in a low mood, I don’t go and tell him about my problems.”

On the day of a concert, Sreekumar will not talk much. Instead, he will be listening to music the whole day. “I don’t bother him during this time,” she says. “He is completely focused. In our house, there are no other activities. From morning till night, it is music, music, and music. It is a passion for him.”

Lekha pauses and says, “The art always comes first, but I am a close second.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)