Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No Ordinary Love Story

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Saritha talks about life with the film director Sugeeth

By Shevlin Sebastian

Saritha Nair was happy. Her engagement to a Dubai-based boy had taken place on May 3, 2003. But the wedding was scheduled to take place a year later when the boy would come on his annual leave. It was at that this moment that her neighbour and childhood friend, P.S. Sugeeth told Saritha that he loved her. “I was shocked,” she says. “I always looked at Sugeeth as a friend.”

Soon Saritha told her mother, Girija. And immediately Girija felt tense, and said, “There is no way your father will agree to this.” The reasons were simple: firstly, Saritha was already engaged. Secondly, Sugeeth belonged to the Ezhava caste, while Sarita is a Nair. “My father would never agree to an inter-caste marriage,” says Saritha.

So, on December 6, 2003, Girija and Saritha went across to Sugeeth’s house in North Paravur to explain to the director why the marriage cannot take place. Sugeeth started crying. Sugeeth’s friend, the director Aashique Abu, was also present. When Saritha saw Sugeeth’s face, something happened to her heart. She said, “Now that the secret is out, I am not going back home.”

It was nearing lunchtime. At any moment, her father, R. Mohan, who ran a travel agency, would be coming home. So Girija went home. After a while, Sugeeth’s mother, Geeta, went across and told Mohan about the situation. He listened silently. Then he looked at the watch, and said, “It is 1.45 p.m. If Saritha does not come home by 2 p.m., she is no longer my daughter.”

But Saritha did not go home.

Aashique asked Sugeeth, “Do you want to marry her?”

Sugeeth said, “I do.”

Ashique said, “Then there is no point crying and fretting about the situation. You should get married today.”

But the few temples they went to, the priests were unwilling to marry the couple at such short notice. But they got lucky at a temple at Thevara, Kochi, because that was the place where Geeta would give an annual talk on Sree Narayana Guru. So, finally, at 7.45 p.m. the couple tied the knot. 

For their honeymoon, they went to Munnar. “But we felt tense because we heard that a police case had been filed by my uncle at the North Paravur station alleging that Sugeeth had kidnapped me,” says Saritha. When they returned, they presented themselves at the station. Saritha then testified that she had got married on her own free will. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, her father refused to talk or meet with Saritha, but her mother began speaking to her within two weeks.   

Today, after ten years of marriage, Saritha and Sugeeth are as close as ever. “We are more like friends rather than husband and wife,” she says. “I still call him ‘Eda’ and ‘Poda’. He still calls my mother, ‘Girija Aunty’.”

And Sugeeth is very attached to Saritha. “Wherever he goes he wants me to come with him,” she says. “I am a regular visitor to the sets also.”

The last time was for the shooting of the film, ‘Three Dots’, at the Gold Souk mall, Kochi. “The one thing that I noticed about Sugeeth on location was that he has a lot of patience,” says Saritha. “In his own life, he becomes nervous, sentimental, and gets tense very quickly. He is also careless when it comes to house-related matters. In fact, he is dependent on me for everything. So, I have to pay the bills, look after the education of the children [daughter Sivani, 8, and son Devanarayan, 2 ½] and ensure the smooth running of the house.”

Nevertheless, Saritha likes to spend time with Sugeeth because both are movie buffs. “I remember, one day, we went to Cinemax, at the Oberon Mall, and saw four films one after the other,” she says, with a smile.

Of course, like any human being, Sugeeth has drawbacks. “He gets angry very quickly,” says Saritha. “But I have learnt to keep quiet. When he cools down I will tell my point of view. He also has a tendency to avoid responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, tragedy struck Saritha when her father was hit by a speeding bike just outside their home on January 28, 2012. He fell and hit his head on the ground. Mohan was rushed to the Medical Trust hospital where an emergency surgery on the brain was done. But he never regained consciousness.

It was during this time that the editing and post-production work on 'Ordinary' was being done. “On the one side, my father’s life was ebbing away,” says Saritha. “On the other hand, our film, 'Ordinary’ was coming to life.”

The film was released in March, 2012, and became a super-duper hit. “A few days later when people told us the film was a hit we found it difficult to believe,” says Saritha. “It seemed like a dream.” It was a dream debut for Sugeeth. However, their joy was short-lived. In June, Mohan passed away at the age of 63. “Sugeeth has an enduring regret that his father-in-law could not see 'Ordinary',” says Saritha. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Seeing Movies in his Mind

Blind music composer Afzal Yusuf is steadily establishing his reputation in Mollywood

Photo by TP Sooraj 

By Shevlin Sebastian  

On April 5, Afzal Yusuf sat in a darkened hall in Kochi. It was the first day-first-show of Lal Jose's 'Immanuel', in which the superstar Mammooty played the hero. While the audience looked intently at the action on the screen, Afzal concentrated on the sounds made by the audience.

People clapped many times,” he says. “There was a pin-drop silence during the emotionally-charged scenes. And there were sighs of happiness when my songs were played.” 

Of course, nobody knew that the music composer was sitting in the crowd. Nobody also knew that he could not see. That he had been born without sight.
My optic nerves were dead from birth,” says Afzal, matter-of-factly. As a child he had always been interested in music, and would listen to songs all the time. When he was in Class five his parents gifted him a harmonium. “I would play it often,” says Afzal.

By the time he reached Class 10, he had become a skilled keyboard artist and began playing with local professional bands. Thereafter, Afzal became a keyboard programmer. But his turning point came when he composed the music for a song for the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged.

This song was played for a fund-raising programme, which was directed by Lal Jose, and aired on a private television channel. “When I first saw Afzal play, I was struck by his passion, apart from his in-born talent,” says Lal Jose. “I felt that he could be a good composer.”

In the audience there was a producer called Jolly Joseph. He was impressed and invited Afzal to do the music for his film, ‘Chandranilekkulla Vazhi’, in 2008.

Afzal got another golden opportunity when he composed the music for the Mammooty film, '1993 Bombay, March 12'. In it, the well-known Bollywood singer, Sonu Nigam sang his first-ever Malayalam song, 'Chakkaramavin Kombath'. For that to happen, Afzal had to fly down to Sonu's studio in Mumbai to do the recording.

Sonu was very co-operative,” says Afzal. “I told him the situation in the song and the meaning of the lyrics.” Within two hours, the song was done. Another Bollywood singer, Shreya Ghoshal, also sang for Afzal in the film, 'Ithu Pathiramanal'.

Afzal also composed a song, 'Gandharajan', for the 2009 film, ‘Calendar’, which was sung by the legendary KJ Yesudas. “The greatest moment of my life occurred when Yesudas selected 'Gandharajan' in his top 50 favourite songs of all time,” says Afzal in an emotional voice.

It is not easy for him to record a song. For 'Immanuel', two months before the shoot began, he sat with Lal Jose and scriptwriter A.C. Vijeesh and heard the entire script. Later, when there were changes, they would inform him immediately.  

When Afzal has to do the background score, he hears the dialogues on the soundtrack. He also has to keep track of the duration of the scene, so that he can time the music accordingly. His keyboard programmer Sabu Francis provides visual inputs all the time.

Being sight-impaired can have its advantages. “I have intense concentration, since there are no visual distractions,” he says. “But I have to be careful, since I am working with images which I cannot see.”

Meanwhile, at Afzal's home in Kochi, his children, Hena Fathima, 7, Fidha Fathima, 5, and Abdul Rahman, 2, stand at the door of the living room and stare wide-eyed at their father. Soon, a call comes on Afzal’s mobile. Deftly, he moves his fingers, over the screen, to activate it, while a voice software informs him of the caller’s identity.

It is clear that, for Afzal, blindness has never been a handicap. Instead, it is his strength. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Helping Hand in Kochi's Chaotic Traffic

Traffic Warden Sajitha Zainuden talks about her experiences 

Photo by TP Sooraj 
By Shevlin Sebastian 

On a Monday morning, Mukesh Nair was in a hurry. The train had arrived late from Kozhikode. So, he walked swiftly from the Ernakulam Town station towards the bus stop near the Reserve Bank of India in Kochi. His office was in Palarivattom. Suddenly, Mukesh felt dizzy. The 27-year-old fell and his head hit the ground. Mukesh was having an epileptic fit.

From his mouth, blood and water began to drip out. Kochi City Traffic Warden, Sajitha P Zainuden rushed towards the man. “Nobody had stepped forward to help,” she says. Sajitha placed her watch in his hand. The presence of metal helps to control a fit. But by then Mukesh had become unconscious.

Sajitha then hailed an auto-rickshaw, and, with the help of two bystanders, placed Mukesh on the seat. Then she stepped in and the driver sped to Lisie Hospital. At the hospital, Sajitha took away Mukesh’s mobile, as he was being wheeled into the casualty section. 

“I called the first number,” she says. “It belonged to a friend of Mukesh.” Soon, a group of acquaintances arrived. But Sajitha told them that she would deposit Mukesh’s belongings, which included a laptop, at the Traffic West police station, near the High Court.

A few days later, after Mukesh recovered, he collected his stuff, and, along with a family friend, met Sajitha and gave a gift. “Mukesh told me that the biggest blessing for him was that he did not lose his belongings, which contained some important papers,” says Sajitha. It was, of course, a memorable moment for Sajitha.

Another person who has been impressed by Sajitha is regular bus traveller, Tom Rogers, whose office is in Kaloor. “I stay in Fort Kochi and sometimes when I get down at the bus stop at the Reserve Bank, I stand and observe Sajitha,” he says. “She is a very helpful person.”

Sajitha says that because of the heavy traffic, she holds the hands of the sick, and the elderly, as well as youngsters when they are crossing the street. She does get irritated now and then by women. “I stop the traffic for them and they are busy talking on their mobile phones,” says Sajitha. “They will not listen to me, and try to cross the road, by running across, between the vehicles, which is quite risky.”

Thanks to her pro-active nature, she has become a familiar figure at Kaloor. “All the bus and auto-drivers, local shop owners, residents and employees of the Reserve Bank know me,” she says. “I have been working here for the past two-and-a-half years.”

The traffic warden says that the busiest time of the year is during the Onam season. “There are so many people on the road and so much traffic,” she says. “It is not easy to keep control.”

All this daily activity begins early for Sajitha. Her initial shift is from 7.30 am to 8.30 am in front of the Al Ameen public school at Edapally. Thereafter, she stands near the Reserve Bank and works till 12 noon. After a break for lunch, she works again from 3 pm to 6 pm, sometimes on Broadway, or in front of the Chennai Silks showroom on MG Road.

So, do people obey her? “Yes, they do,” says Sajitha, who, at 5’ 10”, has an imposing personality. “If you talk properly, they will listen. But if you try to behave as if you are a boss, nobody will care.” But perhaps the one drawback is that Sajitha cannot penalise erring drivers. However, she will take down the number and inform the police at the Traffic West station. A message will be sent on the wireless, and the offender is usually caught at the next traffic junction. In case that does not happen, a letter is sent to the residence and the fine has to be paid by the person.

The unusual aspect about Sajitha is that she is a Muslim. “There may be only two or three women like me, in Kochi, who are doing this job,” she says. But her community has been supportive. “In the area where I live, the people are happy,” she says. “They give me a lot of respect. My family, including my husband and 14-year-old son, are proud of me.”

Meanwhile, throughout the month of Ramzan, Sajitha, a devoted Muslim, had fasted, during the day, despite the enormous thirst that arises because she is out in the sun all the time. 

Interestingly, Sajitha says that females do a better job in controlling the traffic than males. “Men tend to get angry quickly,” she says. “But women always speak in a soft and polite voice to the people, especially the traffic offenders.” 

A senior police officer, who is handling these women traffic wardens, but does not wish to be identified, says that their primary job is to help the traffic policemen, who are woefully short in number. “As for Sajitha, she is doing a good job,” he says. “She has to ensure that when the Governor or senior officers of the Reserve Bank arrive, they should have a smooth entry. Sajitha also has to make sure that the buses, which are going to Aluva and Kakkanad, stop at the bus stop and not at any place the driver likes.”

And, by the looks of it, Sajitha has been doing all the tasks assigned to her with commendable dedication and panache. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"My Husband is a Cool Person”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Aishwarya talks about life with director Arun Kumar Aravind

By Shevlin Sebastian

On February 17, 2004, friends of Aishwarya Nair suggested that they go for a film. So they went to see ‘4 The People’ at the Sreekumar theatre at Thiruvananthapuram. After the show, in the lobby, Aishwarya met a friend who introduced her to Arun Kumar Aravind. “My first impression was that he was a nice guy,” she says. After a few days they began talking on the phone. Later, they began going out on dates. “In 2004, there were not as many hangouts as it is there now,” says Aishwarya. “But I gradually got to like him.” 

After a year, one day, Arun called up and proposed to Aishwarya. “I was half-expecting it and said yes,” she says.

But Aishwarya’s parents, Bhaskaran Nair, an engineer, and Indira, a home-maker, were not that enthusiastic. They wanted somebody with a regular job, rather than a member of the film industry. At that time, Arun was working as a film editor. So Arun went and met them. “After that, my parents were okay with the idea,” says Aishwarya.   

Arun and Aishwarya got married at the Kazhakootam temple on August 25, 2005. But there was no time for a honeymoon, as Arun had to go to Chennai, where he was working on Priyadarshan’s film, ‘Garam Masala’. Nevertheless, when they were free, they would go for walks along Marina Beach, have lunches and dinners outside, and enjoy themselves. “It was a carefree time,” says Aishwarya.  

However, a year later, she got pregnant. In 2008, Arun also returned to Thiruvananthapuram, where he began editing work on the Tamil film, ‘Kanchivaram’. “At that time, Arun told me he wanted to be a director,” says Aishwarya. “I knew he was ambitious, but I never dreamt that he would become one.” Soon, Arun began work on his first film, ‘Cocktail’. When the movie did well, Arun’s directing career began to gather speed.

When asked abut his qualities, Aishwarya says, “I have not seen a person who is so patient. He is a good listener, and supportive too.”

Aishwarya remembers how her relatives and friends pressured her to start working, so that the family would have a steady income. But Aishwarya was not keen to do a 9 to 5 job. “Arun told everybody that it was my decision and if I did not want to work, he was fine with it,” she says.

However, today, Aishwarya is looking after 'Karmayug Movies', which Arun had set up. She is executive producer for the film, 'Vedivazhipadu', directed by Shambu Purushothaman, which stars Murali Gopy and Indrajith. “I am managing all the production work, as well as the finances,” says Aishwarya. “It is only now I can understand the pressure under which Arun works. It is a 24-hour job. An immense amount of work goes into the making of a film.”

And thanks to her job, she discovered another facet of Arun: his non-interference in her work. “I know of friends, whose husbands always ask them what they are doing,” says Aishwarya. “If somebody calls, they will say, 'To whom are you talking?' My husband has never done that. Arun is a broad-minded person.”

But he can get angry. When Arun loses his patience, he will not listen any more. “He just cuts you off,” says Aishwarya.

Another drawback is that ever since 'Cocktail', (2010), Arun has not taken a break. The other films which have come out in succession include 'Ee Adutha Kaalathu' and 'Left Right Left'. And right now, he is busy directing 'One By Two'. “When Arun is at home, he is either doing pre-production work, working on a script, researching on the Internet or having discussions,” says Aishwarya.

The one who wants his company the most is their six-year-old daughter Arsha. “She is always saying, 'When will papa come home?'” says Aishwarya. “When I was not working, Arsha was very happy. But once I started to work, she began saying, 'I am missing both Mama and Papa'. This is something I am coping with.”

When Arsha is free, Aishwarya takes her along to the office. But when there are long discussions, Arsha gets bored. “My in-laws are there, but a child always wants to be with her parents,” says Aishwarya. When Arun has free time, they take Arsha out for dinner or outings, to places like the Napier Museum, where they went sometime ago.

However, things did not turn out the way the family wanted. “The moment we entered, people came up and said, 'Aren’t you Arun Kumar?'” says Aishwarya. “Then they had a long chat with him. In the end, Arun could not spend much time with us. But I know that fans are very important. Nowadays, Arsha and I go to the sets to spend time with Arun.”

Meanwhile, when asked for tips on marriage, Aishwarya says, “Today, most marriages are love-cum-arranged. During dating it is a tension-free life, so the couple thinks that marriage is like that. But once they get married the relationship changes. It is not roses all the time. And they are unable to tackle the situation. That is why there are problems.”

Another reason is the domination of one spouse over the other. “Both should be equal,” she says. “You should also be able to trust each other.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking Control of their Lives

Author Rashmi Bansal's latest book, 'Follow Your Rainbow', focuses on 25 women entrepreneurs who started their business from scratch and made it a success
By Shevlin Sebastian

I was most impressed by the story of Manju Bhatia,” says Rashmi Bansal, the author of ‘Follow Your Rainbow’, (Westland Publishers), a book about women entrepreneurs. “Manju began working at 16 in a pharmaceutical company. At 26, she became the Joint Managing Director of Vasuli Recoveries, a pan-India loan recovery company which handles cases worth Rs 500 crore and employs 250 people, all of whom are women.”  
Contrary to people’s perceptions, it is easier for a woman to recover a loan than a man. “Most of the time, the defaulter, who is usually a man, becomes embarrassed and pays up,” says Rashmi. There was a case of a minister in Madhya Pradesh who was not even aware that he had defaulted. When Manju spoke to him, he immediately paid up.
There are other success stories. Paru Jaykrishna’s family was in trouble. Their textile business had collapsed. Undaunted, Paru started a pigment company called Asahi Songwom, Now, with the help of her two sons, who got degrees in finance and marketing from American universities, the group is now worth Rs 300 crore.
Rajni Bector, who was married into a wealthy family in Ludhiana , enjoyed making ice creams and cakes. One day, with an initial investment of Rs 300, she started an ice-cream making unit in her kitchen. Today, her firm, Cremica, is a Rs 500 crore company. They make bread, buns, biscuits, sauces, syrups and snacks, among many other items.    
Meena Bindra had traveled all over the country as the wife of a Navy officer. One day, in 1982, aged 39, she took a bank loan of Rs 8000, and began designing and selling ethnic wear. Today, ‘Biba’ has become a national brand, worth Rs 300 crore.

And there are women who are also shining in unusual ventures. Binapani Talukdar exports Assamese handicrafts; Nirmala Kandalgaonkar is in the business of vermicomposting; Leela Bordia deals in traditional blue pottery; Deepa Soman runs a market research company; Nina Lekhi sells canvas bags through her Rs 34 crore company, Baggit; In Pondicherry, A. Ameena, clad in a burqa, is running a sawdust factory, PJP Industries.   
Asked the difference between male and female entrepreneurs, Rashmi says, “Usually, a male businessman can devote 100 per cent of his time to his work, because there is somebody at home to look after everything else. I don’t think women have that freedom. Even as they are running their companies, they also have to play the role of daughter, wife and mother. As a result, their firms grow over a longer period of time.”

Usually, a woman comes into her own only when she is in her forties. By then the children have grown up and she is free of many responsibilities. “It is only then that they can concentrate on the business and make it grow,” says Rashmi.  
But this growth is based on moral values. “Women are not driven so much by money alone,” says Rashmi. “They will not go for high growth for the sake of growth. They are more ethical and focused on building a sustainable and long-term business. They want to provide high-value products and services. Whatever they do should be meaningful. They don’t look for power and status. They are not driven by the same things as men. They want to create something beautiful.”  
Women also have a social attitude. “They want to make a contribution to society,” says Rashmi. “If something is detrimental or harmful to people, I don’t think women will get into that business. Some of them have told me that the quality of what they are producing is very important.”
Unfortunately, most men do not have this mind-set. “Several times, men will cut corners, in the pursuit of growth,” says Rashmi. “That is why we have a society which abounds in masculine values like aggression, fierce competition and dubious methods.” 
Incidentally, Rashmi had come to Kochi to give a talk to The Indus Entrepreneurs group. And she had some interesting experiences in Kerala. “A young man came up and said that after reading my books he was able to leave his IT company and start a business,” says Rashmi, who has written four other books on entrepreneurship, which have sold over 7.5 lakh copies. “Many people read my books like a story, but for a few people it has made a difference in their lives. That makes me happy.”
But Rashmi is not happy about the status of women these days. “The good news is that women are getting a lot more exposure and education,” she says. “Unfortunately, the family expects them to be modern as well as traditional at the same time. In Kerala I met a woman who said that most of her friends were already married, and this girl was only 22. I was surprised. I thought that in a state where so many people are educated, women would have a better chance of going into careers.”
At the College of Engineering, in Chengannur, Rashmi urged the girls to ask their parents to help them achieve their dreams. “Can’t we make our own decisions in life?” Rashmi said. “After all, boys get five to six years, before they get married. Why can’t girls get the same amount, to build a career?”

Clearly, the pace of change is slow. “It will take another 30 years to see the impact,” she says. “Those who are lucky to get married into a broad-minded family, will get support, while the others may lose out. I am hoping my book will inspire a few women to take the bold step to take control of their lives.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hitting the Right Notes

Bollywood actor Makarand Deshpande has made a mark, by playing a musician, in the blockbuster Malayalam hit, 'Amen'

By Shevlin Sebastian

The drunk music band leader Pothachen (Makarand Deshpande) makes his entrance in the Malayalam film, 'Amen', by jumping fully-dressed – in a multi-coloured jacket and white cap – into the river. Then he swims to the shore, climbs out, and enters a bar, where he has a confrontation with another band leader, Louis Pappen (Kalabhavan Mani). They had been rivals for years.

Makarand breaks a glass, picks up a piece, chews and swallows it. Thereafter, he takes a patch of blood from his bloodied mouth and wipes it on the edge of the clarinet, all the time looking, with narrowed eyes, at Louis Pappen. The scene is riveting, to say the least.

When I read the script, I got very excited by Pothachan's entrance,” says Makarand, a notable actor in Bollywood. “Pothachan takes part in inter-church competitions and is determined to win each time. He is ambitious as well as arrogant.”

It is a movie that is steeped in a Christian ethos, and set in the village of Kumarangeri in Kuttanad, south Kerala. So, did he have a problem understanding the mind-set? “Not at all,” says Makarand. “I grew up in Bandra in Mumbai, where I had a lot of Catholic friends. And with them I would attend midnight mass during Christmas, and, sometimes, on Sunday mornings.”

Makarand is not surprised that 'Amen' has become a blockbuster hit and completed 100 days. “There was an energy on the set which was wonderful,” he says. “It was similar to what I felt when I was shooting for 'Satya' [Director Ram Gopal Varma's big hit, in 1998, on the Mumbai underworld]. Back then, all of us knew that we were making something special even as the shoot was going on. I felt the same in 'Amen'.

On the set, what gladdened Makarand was the way the locals took him to heart. “The people clapped whenever I did a shot,” he says. “Perhaps it was because I was doing over-the-top acting.” The Bollywood actor also looked outlandish, with his wildly growing brown hair and thick moustache and beard.

Director Lijo Jose Pellissery says that the people had not seen an actor like Makarand before. “So they felt entertained by his performance,” he says.

Makarand's most moving moment occurred when the last day's shoot was completed at 2 a.m. He was standing on a stage and there were 200 junior artistes milling around, because the climax was a competition between two bands outside a church in front of a large crowd.

Lijo got up on the stage and said, “We admire and respect Makarand's professionalism and his co-operation throughout the shoot.” The producer, Fareed Khan, then gave a gift to Makarand. Later, when the Bollywood actor opened it, he got a shock. It was his favourite Tissot watch. “I could not believe it,” he says. “I was so happy that I was in tears.”

Makarand is also happy about the present direction of Mollywood. “Earlier, film-makers in Kerala were obsessed only about the content,” he says. “Now they have become tech-savvy. They are using the latest equipment, just like in Bollywood.”

And there are similarities which he noticed. “There is a passion in both industries to make good films,” says Makarand. “The good news is that Mollywood is getting producers for off-beat films. I am glad that an off-beat film like 'Amen' has found such a large audience.”

And thanks to the film, Makarand has also gained a large audience in Kerala. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Do not Fill your Stomach, just Kill your Hunger

Dr. Grinto Davy, of the Smart Escaso Club, guarantees weight loss, if food is eaten at two-hour intervals. Treatments, for film stars like Kavya Madhavan and Bhavna, include using products from the Dead Sea

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

Dr. John Augustine, a Kochi-based orthopaedic surgeon, was in despair. For three years he had starved himself and had not lost even half a kilo. At 133 kgs, and at nearly 6 feet tall, he looked massive. However, he would frequently suffer from back pains, because of this excessive weight. 

“After a four-hour operation, I would feel very tired,” he says. It was at this moment of desperation that he came to the Smart Escaso [Spanish word for slim] Club run by Dr. Grinto Davy.

An affable and fluent speaker, Davy had a simple formula for John. “When you eat, you should aim to not fill your stomach, but to kill your hunger,” he says.

So, every morning, at 8.30 am, John had his breakfast, which consisted, sometimes, of idlis or uppuma. At 10.30 am, he had three cashew nuts. Then lunch at 12.30 pm, which was the usual meal of rice, sambhar and vegetables. But at 2.30 pm he was asked to eat a few cashew nuts or almonds. “The aim was to keep the energy levels up,” says Davy. At 5.30 pm, another small snack, followed by dinner at 7.30 pm. 

“There should be a three-hour interval before you go to sleep,” says Davy. “The problem of having rice or chicken late at night is that it does not get digested, and ends up getting stored around the stomach.”

In three months, John lost 25 kgs. And, after a further two months, his weight had gone down to 101 kgs. “In John's case, since the muscle weight is high, being 100 kgs is fine,” says Davy. Today John has a lot of energy even in the evenings, his back pain is gone, and so has the occasional migraine headache.

This is a scientific method,” says John, who has also tried the General Motors, as well as the Atkins High Protein Diet. “In the Escaso method, you can have different varieties of food. There is no dieting at all.  Many Hollywood actresses, after giving birth, have used the same plan. The best part is that there are no pills to swallow.”

Meanwhile, when patients are too heavy, they suffer from joint pains, and are unable to do any exercise. So Davy gives them a neuro-muscular stimulation. “When we exercise two things happen: muscle contraction and relaxation,” says Davy. “If you place an electrode on the muscle, and give an electrical stimulation, the same thing can be replicated.” This stimulation is done on the tummy, waist and hip areas, where there are large muscle groups. “Research has confirmed that this improves the functional capacity,” says Davy.

Many film stars, like Bhavna and Kavya Madhavan have come to the club. “For two years, I avoided rice and ate only oats, to lose weight, but nothing happened,” says Kavya. “But two months after I began on the Escaso method, I had lost 8 kilos. So this diet has worked really well for me.”

But Davy says that the stars, as well as his clients from the 19 to 35 year age group come for treatment, more, with the desire to look good, rather than for health reasons.

So Davy has got some unusual treatments like the Dead Sea mineral treatment. “I use the products from this river [located on the border between Israel and Jordan ],” says Davy. “It is a body pampering treatment. The Dead Sea minerals are very good for the skin.”

Sometimes, the mud from the sea is rubbed all over the body. You have to remain still for 40 minutes. Later, the dead cells on the skin are removed by using a good scrub. Then there is a steam bath. Thereafter, there is a massage with butter. The benefit is that the skin becomes soft and has a glow. Dead Sea minerals can also be used for those who also suffer from dry or allergic skin. “If you have itching and allergies, this treatment has a very good impact,” says Davy.

The doctor's most gratifying experience was when a 26-year-old girl, Sudha, weighing 91 kilos, came to the clinic. “She suffered from poor self-esteem because she had been teased a lot,” says Davy. “When I met her, she did not even look at me. Instead, she stood at one corner of the room.” Thanks to the treatment, Sudha went down to 56 kgs and is about to get married. “In fact, the other day, Sudha had come to invite me for her wedding,” says a smiling Davy. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

All that Jazz

Pianist Xavier Fernandes is regarded as a jazz icon. At 81, he is still going strong
By Shevlin Sebastian
The Mumbai-based jazz pianist Xavier Fernandes was enjoying the view from a private guest house in Kochi. “The city is beautiful and has a lot of greenery,” he says. Just then Xavier got a call on his mobile. It was from one of his students wishing him on Guru Purnima day. “It is a day when teachers get blessings from their students,” he says.
Today, Xavier is regarded as one of India 's jazz’s icons. He has been playing non-stop for the past six decades.
Xavier, who plays keyboard and vocals, had come with his band, 'Chicken Feathers', to play, at the JT Pac, in Kochi, for the first time. The other members included Benny Soans on drums, Shyam Raj on saxophone and Loy Henriques on bass.  
Aware that the Kochi audience is not very well-versed in jazz, Xavier decided to add some old-time pop favourites, like ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong and ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. “It was a polite audience,” says Xavier, who had once played with jazz great Duke Ellington and his band when they came to Delhi. But the members of the audience did like the show. Says teacher Tina Kurien: “They played the purest form of jazz. The music was peaceful and uncomplicated.”
Unfortunately, modern jazz has become complicated. “Nowadays, even the musicians cannot understand the innovations that are taking place in jazz,” says Xavier. “Brilliant players like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock are incredibly fast, and rhythmic, but remain too technical. When these guys play, you don't know where the beginning, the middle or the end is. The general public does not understand a thing. If you cannot remember two bars of a song ten minutes after you heard it, then it does not work.”
So, what makes Xavier continue to play jazz? “In jazz you have the freedom to improvise,” he says. “For example, you can take a melody and make ten other melodies out of it. On the other hand, when you play classical music, like Beethoven or Bach, you have to follow what they have written. In other words, you have to do an interpretation.”
It is this desire for freedom that has also made Xavier avoid the lucrative field of playing music for Bollywood songs. He has spent his life doing concerts, playing at functions and at hotels.
And there have been some poignant moments, too. Once, while playing at the Le Meridien in Mumbai, a young man came up and asked to play a particular song, which happened to be his dad's favourite. “He was kneeling down next to my piano and watched me play,” says Xavier. “After a while tears came to his eyes, because his father had passed away recently.”
Then there were two women from Australia who were listening to the music from the coffee shop, and, thus, could not see Xavier. When they were leaving, one of them came up to Xavier, and said, “We thought you were a 25-year-old, when we were listening to your playing and singing.” A smiling Xavier says, “That made me feel good. I was 70 at that time. Now I am a musical dinosaur at 81 years of age, but I feel young at heart. I play with guys who are 17 or 18.”
Not surprisingly, music runs in the family. His father, Sebastian Fernandes, played violin with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and then went into Hindi films. “My dad used to work with filmmakers like Sorab Modi and music directors C. Ramachandra and Laxmikant Pyarelal.”
Xavier trained for seven years under a classical pianist by the name of Joseph D'Lima. “The interesting part is that I have not done a single exam,” says Xavier. “I am a musical illiterate.”
When Xavier was studying at St. Xavier's College, he joined a band called 'Chic Chocolate and His Music Makers'. He played in several places with the band. However, in order to make ends meet, he began to give piano tutorials in 1965 and is still doing it to this day.

As a result, many in the music industry in Mumbai got their initial lessons from Xavier. His two Australia-based sons are also musicians: Brubeck is a keyboard player, while Shadwell, is a guitarist. “I remember my dad would tell my wife, Carmen, that when the boys are practising, she should never call them for lunch or dinner,” says Xavier. “They will know when to come. When I am sitting at the piano, hunger or time does not matter. That is the kind of passion our family has for music.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Ruling the Roost

Vinnya has an unusual pet: a rooster named Paapi. For the family, he is an unforgettable member

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

Nearly two years ago, when C.S. Vinnya, 23, had gone to the local market in Fort Kochi to do some shopping, she saw a man selling chicks. They looked cute. So, she bought one for Rs 10.

This chick has grown to become a full-blooded rooster, whom she has named Paapi. “I liked the sound of the name,” says Vinnya. And like a mother, Vinnya has looked after Paapi, sometimes mollycoddling it, sometimes giving it a whack on the legs when it misbehaves.

The bond between Vinnya and Paapi is clear to see. She puts the rooster on her lap and kisses it. Paapi has a look of bliss. When Vinnya strokes him under the chin, within moments the rooster has closed his eyes. “This is the way I make him go to sleep,” she says. 

But this nap with Vinnya takes place only on Sunday afternoons or on holidays. Otherwise, every night, Paapi sleeps outside, on the steps of the house. Amazingly, Vinnya has taught the rooster to sleep like a human being, on its back, its legs upraised.

While inside, Paapi likes the fan to be switched on,” says Vinnya. “If he goes to sleep, he does so for one-and-a-half hours at a stretch.”

Vinnya’s father, Sreevalsan, a businessman, interjects, and says, “But if he does not sleep, Paapi gets very irritated to see us having a nap. So it will fly to the bed and gently peck us.”

Pecking is Paapi’s weapon. If a stranger comes to the house, it will charge towards him and sent him scurrying away with sharp pecks on the leg. Sometimes, he draws blood. “Paapi gets very angry when children throw stones at him,” says Vinnya.

However, it is not easy to have a rooster in the house. It starts crowing from 3 a.m. and does so numerous times till 6 a.m. But Sreevalsan and his family are so used to the sound that they sleep through it. And every morning, when Vinnya opens the door, one of the first things she does is to give Paapi uncooked rice grains to eat.

When the family has breakfast, Paapi will also come in. There is a plate especially for him placed on the floor. “We give him what we eat,” says Vinnya. This includes dosa, idli and bananas.

But the rooster can be finicky about food. Paapi hates beetroots. If he does not like the taste of some items, he will walk away.

But there are blissful moments for Paapi also. That is when Vinnya gives the rooster his once-a-month bath. She uses Johnson’s baby soap, and shampoo. Vinnya cleans the feathers, so that it becomes a sparkling white.  

Incidentally, Paapi is also weather-conscious. “He enjoys the summer,” says Vinnya. “Paapi dislikes the rainy season because his feathers are always wet.”
Sometimes, the rooster becomes unwell. Then it becomes listless and lies on the ground. “The emotion is visible in the eyes,” says Vinnya. “When it becomes sick or angry or depressed, it will walk away from us. Usually, a week’s tablets given by the veterinarian is enough to heal it. Then it becomes lively once again.”  

Vinnya always gets a sparkling welcome when she returns home after work as a documentation assistant in a shipping firm. Paapi will be waiting atop the low boundary wall.

And when Vinnya appears, there is a joyful reunion, with hugs and kisses by Vinnya.

Paapi also has a soft corner for Sreevalsan, and waits for him to return from the office on his bike. But there are days when Sreevalsan feels so stressed out that he does not notice Paapi on the wall. Immediately the rooster will fly down from the wall and peck Sreevalsan’s legs. So, the businessman has no option but to pick up the rooster and kiss him. “If you show him love, Paapi melts immediately,” says Sreevalsan. 

Incidentally, before she sets out to work, Vinnya ties Paapi’s legs, but with a very long rope, so that the rooster can move around easily. “I don’t want it to get lost,” she says. Inside the house, Paapi walks awkwardly on the smooth tiled-floor, unable to get a proper grip with its claws, while it is a smooth walk on the mud in the garden.

Meanwhile, the family, which consists of Sreevalsan, Vinya, his son, wife and mother has been thinking about Paapi’s future. So a neighbourhood hen was brought in. But Paapi had an unexpected reaction. He ran and hid under the bed. The hen waited patiently at the door, but Paapi refused to come out. “We brought the hen to meet Paapi four times,” says Vinnya. “Each time, he ran away. It seems Paapi does not know what to do.”

So, Paapi lives, more like a human and less like a rooster, having a close and uncanny bond with a young girl and her family. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Captain Of Her Heart

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Premila on her husband, the actor Captain Raju

Photo by TP Sooraj 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Jacob Varghese went to see a friend of his in Mumbai. There, he met a strapping young man, Raju, who had come to Mumbai to join the Army. They spoke for a while.

A few months later, by coincidence, when Jacob was returning from Kerala to Mumbai, Raju was also on the same train. They began talking and this time they became friendly. When Jacob was thinking about getting a husband for his daughter, Premila, he approached Raju. Raju met and liked Premila. It was the same for the young girl. “He was tall, slim, and handsome,” says Premila. “He spoke well. I found him attractive.”

And that was how Premila ended up marrying Captain Raju, one of the stars of the Malayalam film industry, on November 26, 1976, at the Mar Thoma church at Santacruz, Mumbai. “I never imagined that my husband would be a star one day,” says Premila. The actor had entered the film industry at the age of 31.

Today, the couple lives in a first floor apartment at Padivattom, Kochi. And both husband and wife are friendly and hospitable. So there is halwa, a Gujarati dish, chips, pickle, and cups of coffee on the table. “First eat and then you can do the interview,” says Captain Raju.

Later, Premila sits outside, in the large spacious balcony, with overhanging trees, which has several chirping sparrows on its branches. Thanks to a cloudy sky, there is a nice breeze blowing. And Premila talks in a quiet voice about her husband’s plus points. “Raju has always given me the freedom to go anywhere,” she says. “He is an understanding person and straight-forward also. If I have done something wrong, he will tell me, and will not keep it within himself.”

One example is if the food is not made properly, Captain Raju will immediately tell her. Since the actor’s weakness is good food, Premila ensures that she makes all sorts of dishes, including Gujarati and Maharashtrian food, apart from Kerala dishes, which he likes the best. “The Kerala fish curry is his favourite,” says Premila.

About his negative traits, Premila says that Captain Raju is short-tempered. “He also wants me, as his wife, to respect him,” says Premila. “In Kerala, women are supposed to be submissive. I did not find this a problem. So, I got adjusted to it.”

Interestingly, even though Captain Raju has acted in more than 500 films -- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam -- Premila has not seen all of them. In fact, the other night she saw the Malayalam film, Kabuliwala (1993), for the first time, on TV, sitting besides her husband. “I gave a running commentary,” says Premila. “Raju was dancing well, but the facial expressions looked a bit funny.”

But there was nothing funny about what took place on October 12, 2003. Captain Raju was travelling in a car, at night, with a driver and an assistant, from Thiruvananthapuram to Salem to take part in the shooting of Vinayan’s ‘War and Love’. Just after Thrissur, the car hit a culvert, went over the wall, and fell 40 feet. “There was no tree in sight to stop the vehicle,” says Premila. “The car had another fall of 100 feet.”

Raju had multiple fractures on his legs, damaged his ribs, and had a head injury. “It was a most painful moment,” says Premila. “I had to pick up courage and stay strong for our son.” Incidentally, their only child, Raviraj, works in Bangalore. A few months later, Captain Raju suffered a stroke which numbed the left side of his body. It was only after months of physiotherapy that he recovered, to Premila’s great relief. “I felt happy that God looked after my husband,” she says.

Premila is also happy about the public response to Captain Raju. “The moment people see him, they come up and say, 'We are so glad to meet you,'” says Premila. “Initially, he used to play negative roles, so the fans were hesitant to come and talk to him, thinking that he might be a tough person. But once they start talking to him, most of them are impressed.”

And, inevitably, the fans will ask to take photos with the 6' 2” actor. In between, they will give Premila a glance. “That is when Raju says, 'She is my only wife,'” says Premila, with a smile. “Most people have never seen me.”

Interestingly, the wives of most of the stars of Mollywood rarely go for public functions. “They are always in the background,” says Premila. “This is in contrast to Chennai where all the wives mingle with each other and are seen in public.”

Meanwhile, when asked for tips for a happy marriage, Premila says, “If a woman is working, both spouses should adjust and help each other. A girl cannot say, 'I am more powerful'. In Indian culture, women are supposed to be submissive. Both spouses should sacrifice for the happiness of the marriage. If a husband and wife split up, the impact is felt on the children. So, spouses should always think about the children’s happiness and make the necessary adjustments.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Setting the Stage On Fire

Three stand-up comedians – Sahil Shah, Azeem Banatwalla and Sourabh Pant – entertain with their wide-ranging satirical quips about Indian society 

Photo: Sahil Shah 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the ‘Pant On Fire’ show at the JT Pac, Kochi, comedian Sahil Shah takes a dig at powerful people. The first is the venerable President of India. “Pranab Mukherjee is so old his original voting constituency was Mohenjo Daro,” he says. “He is so old that every day the Indian flag flies at half-mast just in case…”

And then Sahil takes on the family of the mighty industrialist Mukesh Ambani. “In Mumbai, there are slums where there are 50 people staying in three rooms and there is no place to move,” says Sahil. “On the other hand, there is Mukesh Ambani’s house where there are three people and no place to move. I am not saying that Akash Ambani is fat, guys, but if he was here for the show tonight, it would have been house full.”

Sahil, a Gujarati, also takes a dig at the stinginess of his own community. “Mahatma Gandhi is a true Gujarati,” says Sahil. “When his wife told him salt is available for free, he trekked to another part of the country to get it.” No surprises that the audience was in splits and this continued when Azeem Banatwalla, perhaps the only Muslim stand-up comedian in the country, appeared on stage.   

He also settles into the same vein, as Sahil. “When Iran sent a rocket into space, they also sent a monkey along with it,” says Azeem. “As Indians we would never do that. We know that a flying monkey is only useful if your wife is stuck in Sri Lanka.”

Here’s another one. “In the festival of Id, the most important aspect is that you get to see a Salman Khan film,” he says. “Last year's Id special was Ek Tha Tiger, which is soon to be followed by Do Tha Blackbuck followed by Gaadi Ka Neeche.” These are intelligent digs at the blackbuck shooting case in which Salman is charged, apart from a hit and run event in which the actor ran over and killed a few footpath dwellers while driving a car late at night.

Interestingly, Azeem has an interest in sporting matters, including Kerala’s very own Sreesanth.

Sreesanth had to give 14 runs in one over,” says Azeem. “And this was so difficult for him. Because he is used to giving away 16 runs. He was the first guy who had to raise his game in order to fix a match. It was frustrating for the bookie.”

The bookie said, “Hi Sreesanth, I need to fix up a match. You need to give away 10 runs.”

Sreesanth says, “What!

Bookie: “I am not messing with you. How much can you give away?”

16,” says Sreesanth.

The bookie asks his colleague, “Do we have Munaf's no?”

The colleague says, “Munaf [Patel] does not have a phone.”

Azeem then talks about an actual Indian football player who, astonishingly, has a name called Climax Lawrence. “He goes to a pub and tells a woman, ‘Hi, Climax,’”

And the woman says, “Already.”

No, my name is Climax, and this is my younger brother Foreplay.”

Azeem also pulls a fast one on the ‘72 virgins belief’ that all suicide bombers are told they will meet, when they die. “There are so many questions,” says Azeem. “Like where do they come from? What were they upto before? Are virgins usually virgins because nobody wants to have sex with them? Like female police constables and Air India hostesses, or mummies. What happens when God pulls back the curtain and there are 72 Kiran Bedis. Or 72 Mayawatis, of which 66 are statues. And you are thinking, ‘What the hell, I did not blow myself for this?!’”

Azeem is also not blown away by the big brands who have invaded India. “When I go to these shops, they have the summer and winter collections,” he says. “I want to tell them, ‘Boss I am in Bombay. Summer and winter are the same. Winter is just summer featuring Jesus.’”

Soon, it is Azeem’s turn to introduce the next comedian, Sourabh Pant. “'He is the No. 1 comedian in the bedroom,' says his wife,” says Azeem. But Sourabh does not take it lying down. “Azeem Banatwala is a Muslim with a sense of humour,” says Sourabh. “That's an oxymoron. It's like a Congress person who says cheque payments.”

Then, to the delight of the audience, Sourabh says, “I love Kochi.” He pauses and then utters the punch line, “You guys are like Pondicherry without the alcohol. I love Mallus but what are you doing here? Didn't you get a visa for Dubai ?”

Sourabh also takes a dig at men’s fetish to see pornography. “When you ask a man what he is doing and he will say, ‘I am watching TV’ which is a code word for seeing dirty pictures on the Internet,” says Sourabh. “If you don't believe it, log on to your man's laptop, find a folder which has an innocuous name like ‘Systems’. Inside that, there will be a sub folder called 192.269 or some rubbish. Inside that, there will be another folder titled, ‘Virus, please do not enter’. And in there will be [porn star] Sunny Leone's entire autobiography.”

All three comedians displayed a manic energy, with non-stop jokes, funny facial expressions, and dynamic movements. They never seem to falter at any time, the monologue just flowing out in a ceaseless flow. However, their ideal target group should have been a young hip crowd, who would understand all the allusions they made. For the Kochi audience, a mix of young, middle-aged and the old, the youngsters liked them a lot, while a member of the older generation said, “I would give them 6 out of 10.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)