Saturday, July 29, 2017

Kicking Off Her Heels


Prayaga Martin talks about her experiences in the films, ‘Kattappanayile Hrithik Roshan’, ‘Viswasapoorvam Mansoor’ and 'Fukri'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Kattappanayile Hrithik Roshan (2016), Prayaga Martin is standing on a stage and doing an audition. For that, she has to mouth the dialogues of Revathi, wh plays a Bharatnatyam dancer in 'Devasuram'. Sitting behind a table are the three judges. After she concludes her dialogues, Prayaga is supposed to accidentally kick her platform heels at the middle judge played by an actor called Suraj.

The first time I kicked off my heels, it went and hit the false ceiling,” says Prayaga. “As a result, some of the thermocol broke off.” So the shooting had to be stopped for a while. Then the second time, the heel went and hit a very sensitive part of an associate director standing nearby. Prayaga had to apologise profusely. Then finally, after a few retakes, it hit the judge, who spilled a cup of tea on to his clothes. “I felt the need to apologise to the judge even though it was part of the story, and one of the funniest scenes in the film,” says Prayaga.

In Viswasapoorvam Mansoor (2017), Prayaga enjoyed other humorous moments. There was a night schedule at Tellicherry. Asha Sharath was getting ready inside her room. Zarina Wahab and Prayaga were waiting outside. After a while Zarina knocked on the door.

Coming,” said Asha.

Suddenly a gruff male voice said, “Hey Asha open the door.”

Prayaga got shocked. “I was thinking, 'Where is this voice coming from?'” she says.

Asha got scared. She said, “Who is this?”

The voice again said, “Hey, open the door, Asha.”

Prayaga turned to the right and got another shock. It was Zarina who was impersonating a man's voice. “We all had a big laugh later on,” says Prayaga.

Zarina continued with her pranks. Once, when Prayaga and Zarina had a shooting schedule in Hyderabad, she asked for the number of Roshan Mathew who has a role in the film. He was in Mumbai at that time. So, Prayaga gave it to her.
Zarina called Roshan, and said, “Hey I am a big fan of yours. My name is Pooja. I am a student from Mumbai. Are you single? I really want to marry you.”

Roshan said, “Who are you?”

Zarina said, “I want to marry you. I want to marry you.”

Roshan got a little scared. “He thought that Pooja was a mad fan, so he agreed to marry, and then cut off the line,” says Prayaga.

In the film, 'Fukri', it was the time of Prayaga to have fun. Somehow, word got around that she is a good mimic. So, the crew asked her to mimic Jayasurya, who has a role in the film. So, she did it in front of Jayasurya, who was impressed. And he told director Siddique. When he heard that she could mimic him, Siddique asked her to do so in front of the entire crew at a bungalow in Pala.

Whenever I would see Sidique Sir on the set, I would bend my head and say, 'Hi Sir, good evening',” says Prayaga. “He talked in a soft but hoarse voice and always asked me, 'Where is your father and mother?'”

So Prayaga mimicked that. And everybody, including Siddique, burst out laughing. Emboldened, she continued with a skit between Jayasurya and Siddique.

I imitated a conversation between Jaya Chettan where he is giving an idea to Siddique Sir, who says, 'No, we don't want that here',” says Prayaga. “'We can try it later. At this moment, can you do what I have told you?'” 

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Back To Its Glorious Best

The members of the Maliyil-Pulikathra family reflect on their recently-renovated snakeboat, 'JaiShot', and their plans for the future

Photos by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 4.30 a.m., on June 30, it is pitch black on the banks of the Muvattupuzha river at Chempu (27 kms from Kochi). The only sound is of the crickets chirping and, surprisingly, an occasional cawing of a crow. A bare-bodied priest, in a white dhoti, who has come from the nearby Nadakavu Temple, sits cross-legged in front of a fire. The Ganapathy Homam Puja is taking place. Lord Ganesha is known to remove all obstacles. As the chants begin, offerings of coconut, honey, banana, ghee, and puffed rice are made.

The puja concludes before sun-rise. Then, in the true traditions of a syncretic Kerala, at 7.30 a.m., a priest from the local St. Thomas Jacobite Syrian church arrives. He also chants prayers.

All this is being done beside the just-renovated 'JaiShot' snakeboat. At 10 a.m., the boat is finallypushed into the water, by several people, amidst shouts of 'Come on' and 'Jai Ho'.

And the one person who looks the most pleased is Minoo Verghese, of the Maliyil Pulikathra family, which owns the 'JaiShot'. For the past few years, the boat had remained idle. But there was a reason for this: for the snakeboat races, the boats now seat 60 people, while the 'JaiShot' had only 48 oars.

There were several discussions among the family members,” says Minoo. “And we decided that, instead of selling it, we would increase the number of seats.” The 'we' includes Minoo's wife Resina Sarah, aunt Molly John, and first cousins Sam C Maliyil and Dr. Abraham Oomman.

The renovation, at a cost of Rs 20 lakh, was done by a fourth-generation master boat builder Uma Maheshwaran, along with his brother, sons and nephews. Today, the boat has a length of 85 feet, a width of four feet and a depth of one-and-a-half feet. “The wood is top-quality wild jack, which we got from a large tree in our property,” says Minoo, a businessman. The rims are made of teak, the rivets, of copper, while the planks have been joined together using pine resin and silk cotton grounded together.

It took eight-and-a-half months. “There were many difficult moments,” says Resina. “But we are happy we did it, because we have kept up our family tradition.”

This began in 1926, when their grandfather MC George bought a boat from the skilled boat-builders of Varapuzha and named it the 'Pulikathra Vallom'. A Director of the State Agricultural Department, George was also a rice farmer. “The boat was used to transport men and materials,” says Sam. “And since it was fast, it could speed through dacoit-infested marshes and rivers.”

In later years, the boat also participated in snakeboat races. And it reached its apogee of fame in 1952. At that time, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the chief guest. He was accompanied by his 35-year-old daughter Indira. When Indira saw the speed of the Vallom, which won the race, she said, “Look, look, it goes like a [bullet] shot!” This was repeated by the radio announcer as well as on the public address system. “So, everybody came to know about it,” says the elderly Molly.

Immediately, the boat was re-named as the 'Shot'. And in the 1970s, the 'Shot' entered racing folklore when it won the trophy three years in a row. “That was a proud moment for all of us,” says Molly. Incidentally, following a renovation in 2001, the 'Shot' was re-named as 'JaiShot' by the next generation. “'Jai' is a short form of Jai Hind,” says Minoo.

Meanwhile, as the family members are conversing, and downing glasses of fresh palm toddy, at their spacious bungalow, beside the river, a group of muscular men arrive. They are the members of the Kumarakom Town Boat Club, who had come to take the boat. The family have allowed them to use it for upcoming races. “We look forward to many victories,” says a smiling Minoo, as he raises a glass.


The Men On The Boat

Traditionally the boat is controlled by a Kaarnavan or a village leader. There are three main rowers (Amarakaran) at the back who control the movement using 9-foot long oars. The rowers sit two to a row, and follow the rhythm set to the vanchipattu (boatman's song, see box below). This rhythm is set by the drummer in the middle who beats the 'odithatta' (firing platform) with a staff.

The boat song

The song was composed by the poet Ramapurathu Warrier (1703-53), who belonged to the court of King Marthanda Varma. During a boat journey from the Vaikom Mahadeva temple to Thiruvananthapuram, Warrier sang the 'Kuchela Vrittam Vanchippattu' and used the hypnotic refrain, 'thi thi tha thi thei tho'. This poem tells the story of Lord Krishna meeting up with his poverty-stricken friend, Kuchela. Warrier was also indirectly hinting at his own situation. The king got the message and rewarded him amply.

The history of the races

During the 13th-century there were many feudal kingdoms in Kerala. Now and then they would go to war with each other. During one such war, between the kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Chembakassery, the latter suffered a defeat. A frustrated King Devanarayana asked a noted carpenter in his realm to make an efficient war boat. He made one and it was called the Chundam Vallam (Snake Boat). Later, races took place on these boats during the harvest festival of Onam.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Looking For The Blood Vessel

Medtra Innovative Technologies, a start-up, has made the Veineux, a product that can detect veins through infrared rays. So, injections can be done easily

By Shevlin Sebastian

In September, 2011, Saj Sulaiman was looking at his seven-day-old son Adan through a glass panel in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital in Kottayam. Because of a cold, the infant was in distress. After a while a nurse came to give an injection. But somehow, she could not find a vein. It took several attempts before she could finally inject the medicine. “It was a worrying time for me as a parent,” he says. “I never forgot that moment.”

This is a common problem in most hospitals. “Identifying a vein is not easy,” says Saj. “30 per cent is visible. For the remaining 70 per cent, you need to prick at least three times, before the nurse or doctor can locate the vein.”

Usually, this problem is seen in new-born babies. Since mothers eat well these days, the babies are on the heavier side, at 3 kgs. So, it is difficult to find a vein. This is also the case with patients who undergo chemotherapy. Many veins became damaged owing to over-use. In cardiology cases, to insert the balloon, you need to find the right vein. Another vein which is difficult to find is the jugular. This is needed during neurosurgery and critical cases.

A couple of years ago, Saj, through his Riyadh-based Medtra Limited Company, began marketing a US product. This palm-sized machine locates the vein easily through an infrared ray. But he found that there were few takers in the huge Indian market, because the American item was priced at Rs 6 lakh.

He was wondering what to do, when he came on a visit to Kochi two years ago, and met up with his friend Sujith Surendran. They were classmates at the Government Polytechnic at Vechoochira in Pathanamthitta district. The pair got talking. Soon, they decided to start a company, Medtra Innovative Technologies, and decided to make an Indian version. “We did not infringe on the patent at all,” says Sujith. “The US company had only patented some particular processes.”

After several trial and error attempts, the company has come up with the Veineux (the French word for a 'vein'). And it is being priced at less than Rs 1 lakh. A large number of Chinese players have also entered the market, but their products are priced at Rs 3.5 lakh. “So, we can easily compete with them,” says Saj. “We hope many hospitals and clinics will buy our product.”

Essentially, a button is pressed and an infrared ray is pointed at the skin. The penetration factor of the ray is 1.5 mm, while the vein usually lies 1 mm below the skin's surface. “Whereever there is haemoglobin in the veins, the absorption of the rays is higher,” says Sujith. “It is seen as a black smudge. That is where the vein is located. Thereafter, you can insert a needle and do the injection.”

This is becoming a vital machine to have. “When a person with haemorrhage is admitted into a hospital, unless a senior nurse comes, it is difficult to find a vein,” says Sujith. “You could lose precious minutes. Recently, at a hospital in Kochi, an elderly patient came and it took 16 nurses to find the vein.”

Before introducing it into the market, in a few weeks, a trial run has been conducted at Kochi's AsterMed City Hospital. “This is very promising product,” says Dr. Jose Paul, senior consultant in neonatology. “When we tested on a baby, the veins looked very prominent. So, it is easy to do the injection. Very likely, we will be buying it.” 

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

An Illuminating Talk

Musician TM Krishna provides new insights to age-old concepts

Photo by Madhu Krishnan 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Moments before Carnatic musician TM Krishna began his talk, ‘The Artist As Citizen and The Citizen as Artist’, at the Dr. TK Ramachandran Memorial Lecture 2017 at Kochi, the rains came down.  Krishna looked out of the fifth-floor windows and said, “For a person who is coming from Chennai, these rains are unbelievably beautiful.”

It was a jam-packed hall comprising intellectuals, cultural and social figures, educationists, artists, scholars, students, as well as journalists.   

Very soon into the talk, you realise that Krishna has an unusual thought process.  “All the people coming into this space know how to come here,” he says. “They already know they are insiders. It is like all Left party members holding a meeting. There is no point. They talk to each other and feel very happy about themselves. But nothing is achieved by it.”

This is also the case when you go to a Carnatic music concert. “But what are we doing?” says Krishna. “We are basically saying, ‘We are wonderful people’. We are saying that, ‘People outside really don’t know anything, they are not good enough to come in. But if they want to come in there are certain rules and regulations which they have to understand before they can come in’.”  

It was a talk that made people aware of their thought processes. And Krishna was asking the audience to test their conclusions. And maybe adopt some changes. 

He gave an example: Some years ago, Krishna changed the way the musicians sat in a Carnatic concert. “I moved to one side and we sat in a C,” he said. “As soon as I did it, my control diminished. The sheer moving from the centre to the right changed the way I dealt with my own body. It almost felt that I was not that important any more. It changed the way I listened to the violinist. And it changed the way he listened to me.”

And it had an impact on the audience. They began listening to all the musicians differently. “Suddenly you saw two people who are in a hierarchy having an equal conversation: the ghatam and the mridangam,” he said. “There was a content disruption which is taking place. And it turned out to be so wonderful.”

These are just a few examples of the numerous insights, thought-processes and ideas which Krishna provided in his speech. For those who were interested in the subject, his lecture was nothing short of fascinating. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Riding On The Beach

Actor Aparna Balamurali talks about her experiences in the films, 'Sunday Holiday', 'Thrissivaperoor Kliptham', and 'Maheshinte Prathikaaram'
By Shevlin Sebastian
Aparna Balamurali looked worried as she stood on the Muzhappilangad beach in Thalasserry. Director Jis Jose, of 'Sunday Holiday', had told her she would have sit to behind hero Asif Ali on a Yamaha RX 100 bike and ride through the waves. “I had never ridden on a bike before, let alone, through the waves,” she says. This was for the song, 'Mazha Paadum', which was sung by Aparna herself and Arvind Venugopal.
What increased her nervousness was when Asif told her it was risky. “We should be careful,” said a sombre-looking Asif. Anyway, Aparna got behind Asif and the latter began slowly. “But then Asif suddenly turned up the accelerator and I started screaming.” says Aparna. “I was so scared that I would fall off.”
Asif increased the scare quotient when he suddenly stood up, at high speed, and began laughing. “It was absolutely crazy,” says the 21-year-old. “But after a few minutes, I got over my fears and began to enjoy the thrill of it.”
On days when she did not have any shooting, Aparna would assist cinematographer Alex J Pulickal, by holding up an umbrella or the thermocole shades. In the film, Shruti Ramachandran also has a role.
Asif would say, “Shruti, be careful, Aparna is trying to make you look dark.
Tell the truth, Aparna, you want to make Shruti look less beautiful, is it not?”
Both Shruthi and Aparna would laugh out aloud. “Shruthi and I are very good friends,” says Aparna.
During the shoot, Asif came to know that Aparna was a foodie. “Soon, if there was paratha and curry for breakfast, he would say, 'It is all right if you don't give me, but please ensure that Aparna gets her fill'.”
Nevertheless, Asif would ply her with all types of food. “Because of Asif, I ate mutton ghee roast and neer dosa for the first time,” says Aparna. “At the end of the shoot I had put on a lot of weight.”
However, for the shoot of the upcoming film, 'Thrissivaperoor Kliptham', Aparna lost weight because she had to do a lot of running. In the film, Pradeep, a bus conductor, harassed a neighbour of Aparna. So, one day, Aparna took a hockey stick and gave chase.
The scene was being shot in a bus terminus at Thirssur. Soon, Pradeep ran into the gent’s toilet. Aparna followed. Inside, Pradeep accidentally pushed against a washbasin and lost his balance. The basin fell and landed on the edge of Aparna's feet. She started bleeding. The shoot was stopped. Her feet was bandaged.
Soon, the shooting resumed. When it was over, Aparna was taken to the hospital. “It was a deep wound,” says Aparna. “The doctor said I needed stitches. I got a shock.” Today, there is a small scar on the second toe of Aparna's right feet. “This is a film which has left a permanent mark on me,” she says, with a smile. “I hope it does for my career, too.”
But Aparna had already made her mark with her debut, 'Maheshinte Prathikaaram'.  But her initial shots caused nervous moments for her.
The cinematographer Shyju Khalid had placed a hen along a path to create an ambience. Aparna was supposed to jump from a height onto the road and land next to the hen.
In the first take, it was not clear there was a hen in the shot,” says Aparna. “In the next shot, when I jumped, the hen got scared and jumped towards me. I got really scared. So the shot had to be taken again. Thereafter, the hen did not move in the next few shots. So we took it with an unmoving hen. It was a bit disappointing.” 

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Big Town Author

Anees Salim's fifth novel, 'The Small-Town Sea', hits the mark with its intense descriptions and authentic emotions 

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, at his third-floor apartment, at Kochi, author Anees Salim woke up feeling disturbed. He had just seen a dream of his son Omar being stranded at Anees' home-town of Varkala. “He was standing on the edge of a cliff and looked all alone,” says Anees. “I felt scared.”

The image remained in his mind. As he sipped a cup of tea, a thought cropped up, 'Maybe, I should write a novel. I could work my way backwards from this image'.

It was not an easy decision to make. Because he had already started work on a novel about a historical ruler. But the image of the boy proved to be compelling. Thus, he embarked on this story.

The end result is his fifth work of fiction called 'The Small Town Sea'. The 283-page work has just been published by Penguin Random House India.

The story is of a 13-year old boy, whose name is not revealed, who lives in a city, very similar to Kochi. But when his father, known as Vappa, is diagnosed with cancer, he takes the family back to the small town where he has a house on a cliff, so that he can die in peace. There, the boy becomes friends with an orphan Bilal and they explore the beach and the town together, even as Vappa edges closer to death.

Anees is an intense writer. The descriptions are so precise and accurate, that he ends up creating vivid images in the minds of the readers.

Here is an extract:

'Vappa had a chair dragged to the bathroom and placed it by a washbasin. Umma waited in a passage, thumbing through a magazine, while a tap ran in the bathroom, at first with a sharp metallic beat as the water hit the bottom of the empty aluminium bucket, then it smoothened out as the bucket filled up, and finally fell silent when the bucket started to brim over.'

With these type of descriptions, it is difficult to read the book quickly. The pace is slow but steady. But whether he can get a mass audience and be a popular best-selling writer are open to question.

Which is why he is called a writer's writer. But Anees is unfazed by all these descriptions. “I don't think of the audience when I write,” he says. “I write for myself. The reward of writing is writing itself. I don't need anything else.”

Nevertheless, his books have gone down very well with critics and discerning readers. So, it is no surprise that in 2013 he won the The Hindu Literary Prize for 'Vanity Bagh' as well as the Crossword Book Award for Indian Fiction (2015) for the 'Blind Lady's Descendants'. His other novels include 'The Vicks Mango Tree' and 'Tales from a Vending Machine'.

This is a growing and impressive oeuvre. “Without sounding pompous, I am proud of the work I have done so far,” says Anees. “When one book is finished, unlike most writers, I don't feel relieved. Instead, my immediate concern is what is going to be my next work. That's because I want to write all the time.” 

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Golden Sunset

P S John, one of the oldest athletes in Kerala, at 87, looks back at his career and talks about his future plans

Illustration by Amit Bandre

By Shevlin Sebastian

P S John strides confidently onto the track at the World Masters Athletic championships at Lyon, France. He is wearing a green singlet and shorts. The word, ‘India’ is emblazoned on the front and the back. Astonishingly, there is only one other competitor in the 80m hurdles. He is a bespectacled Japanese, who is wearing a white cap.

They stand on the starting line. The starter fires the pistol. John is off immediately. Soon, he secures an easy lead. While the Japanese is trotting, John is running, striding over the eight hurdles and then sprinting to the finish.

The crowd claps as John raises his hands in triumph. He embraces his rival. Both are clearly out of breath, as they stand together posing for the photographers. Later, John raises the Indian flag, a happy smile on his face.

Thereafter, John wins a gold in the 200m hurdles and a bronze in the long jump. Owing to his spectacular performance, John is adjudged the ‘Best Master Athlete 2015’ by the Asia Masters Athletics organisation.

What is astonishing about his achievements is that John was 85 years old then. And he has been winning medals consistently over the decades at national and international competitions. His total haul is 138 medals (91 gold, 33 silver and 14 bronze).

At his home in Kanjirapally, John, 87, breaks into a smile as he remembers his achievements. “It is hard work and dedication that enabled me to win,” he says.

On most days, he can be seen at the athletics track of the St. Dominic's College, Kanjirapally. “The facilities are good,” says John. “The youngsters help me set up the hurdles.”

He trains for a couple of hours. “When you do training, you feel joyful,” says John. “No matter how difficult life is, on the track I forget everything.”

Asked how he got interested in athletics, John says that it was his joining the National Cadet Corps (first batch of the Travancore Battalion) in 1948 that made all the difference. At Thiruvananthapuram, he saw a group of Army men doing the hurdles. “I was immediately attracted to the sport,” he says. “Slowly, I began training with them. They taught me the right techniques. I began to practise regularly. Soon, I began winning medals.”

Asked why Indians don't do well in international athletic competitions, John says, “Youngsters don't practice enough. Most sportsmen start training a few months before an international meet. That will not yield results. You have to practise throughout the year, over many years, before you can do well.”

In his daily life, John is a farmer. He grows rubber, cocoa, bananas, jackfruit and organic vegetables. “I get pure milk straight from the cow,” says John. “There is a peaceful feeling when you work in Nature. Walking around enables me to keep fit. My aim is not to be bedridden for a single day.”

Before farming, John had a 33-year-long career as a teacher of Malayalam at the Gracey Memorial High School in Parathode, Kottayam. “I actually studied Sanskrit, but ended up teaching Malayalam,” says this father of two. While son Roy, an electronics engineer, runs his own business in Kochi, daughter Sindhu is a French teacher at Salem.

Meanwhile, when asked about his future plans, John says, “My aim is to take part in the 90-year category at an international event. Such a category does not exist. But if God allows me to reach that age, in good health, I will be the first to compete in this category.” 

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

When An Elephant Went Crazy


Actor Zarina Wahab talks about her experiences in the films, ‘Punnaram Cholli Cholli’,'Agar', 'Naayattu', 'Navarathinam' and 'Toofan'

By Shevlin Sebastian

The shoot of the ‘Areyarayo Kinginiyo’ song in ‘Punnaram Cholli Cholli’ (1985) was in front of a temple. Zarina Wahab was paired with Rahman. There were ten caparisoned elephants standing in the courtyard. The dance was being done in front of them.

The shoot was going along fine when suddenly, one man on the set irritated an elephant. The animal roared and began chasing the man, who fled, at high speed. The elephant then rushed to a nearby coconut grove and began ripping off the trees one by one. “Everybody was shocked,” says Zarina. “The cameraman, the director and all the actors moved away and watched the destruction from afar.” It took a mahout a long time to bring the elephant under control. Not surprisingly, the shoot was cancelled for the day.

Zarina had another encounter with an animal. In 'Agar', (1977), director Ismail Shroff told Zarina she had to ride a horse because she, along with the hero, played by Amal Palekar, were on their honeymoon in Kashmir. “I was very scared of horses,” says Zarina. “Ismail wanted the horse to go fast, so I put my foot down. Ismail was deeply upset.”

In the end, the scene was shot of the two horses ambling side by side. “When I saw it on the screen, I realized that the movement of the horses did not match the mood,” says Zarina. “I felt bad.”

But Zarina felt good on the sets of 'Naayattu' (1980), a remake of the Hindi film, 'Zanjeer', where she acted opposite Prem Nazir. “He was such a big star, but what impressed me was how warm, kind and down-to-earth he was,” says Zarina. “I would always sit behind him. Whenever the shot was ready he would go and act, without any fuss.”

Another great artist whom Zarina met was MG Ramachandran (MGR). This was for the 1977 film, 'Navarathinam' (Nine Gems). At that time, Zarina had a friend Vijaya who belonged to her hometown of Vishakapatnam. Vijaya had shifted to Chennai and was doing small roles.

One day Zarina introduced her friend to MGR at Gemini Studios in Chennai.

She said, “Sir, this is my friend Vijaya. If there are any roles, can you give her a chance?”

MGR remained silent and just stared at Zarina.

After a few moments, Zarina said, “Sorry Sir, did I say anything wrong?”

MGR shook his head and said, “In my entire career, I have worked with so many heroines. But you are the first woman who is suggesting another female for a role.”

On the sets of ‘Toofan’ (1989), it was Zarina’s turn to show appreciation. The main role was being played by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

The shoot was in a jungle at Mysore. So, there were no make-up rooms. Instead, the crew made a small hut where everyone would do their make-up and change their clothes. One morning, at 7 a.m., Zarina went inside the hut and did her make-up. Since nobody called her, she remained inside for the next three hours.

But when she came out she got a shock: Amitabh was sitting under a tree and getting his make-up done. “I rushed up and said, ‘I am so sorry Sir, I did not know you were here. You should have sent someone to tell me. I would have come out’,” says Zarina.

Amitabh remained calm and said, “It's all right. Ladies need the make-up room more than gents.”

A smiling Zarina says, “Amitabh was a superstar, but he did not suffer from a superiority complex. In fact, he is a very nice man.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Turning The Tables On Bad Backs

Thanks to the Allen Table, spinal surgeries at a hospital in Kerala have become so much more easier

Photos:  Dr. C. Anu Thomas, senior consultant neuro-surgeon (extreme left) with his team; the Allen Advance Table 

By Shevlin Sebastian

K. Balan lies on a table in the operating theatre of the Indo-American Hospital at Chemmanakary (25 kms from Kochi). Dr. C. Anu Thomas, senior consultant neuro-surgeon, prepares to release a compressed nerve in the fifth vertebrae. For several weeks, the 38-year-old Balan had been bed-ridden, because of the pain. He had tried Allopathy as well as Ayurveda treatment, before he came to the hospital, in a state of desperation.

“This is a routine minimally invasive surgery,” says Thomas. But there is one difference. Balan is lying on the Allen Advance Table. This table has been imported from the USA at a cost of over Rs 1 crore.

The advantage of this table is that, at the press of a button, it can turn 360 degrees, with the patient strapped in. “Before we got this table, when we had to do a back surgery, six people had to physically lift the patient, move him to another bed, and turn him over,” says Thomas. “When a person has a fracture of the spine, any minor movement can be harmful. So, you have to be very careful. But, on the Allen Table, this problem does not arise at all. Patient safety is 100 per cent.”

There are other advantages, too. Since the equipment is made of carbon, when an image of the spine is taken, with the C-Arm, a radiological tool, only the image of the spine can be seen. “In the case of an ordinary table, because it is made of steel and other materials, it will appear as markings on the image,” says Dr. Jain George P, the chief of neurosurgery. “So the visuals lack clarity. Without clear visuals, it is difficult to operate accurately.”

Interestingly, the time taken for a surgery has been reduced. “In complex surgical cases, we save between 30 minutes and an hour, because we don't need to move the patient,” says Dr. Jaser Mohammed Iqbal, consultant anaesthesiologist. “Most surgeries take anywhere between three to nine hours.” These include operations for disc hernia, tumours, spinal deformity, and bone fractures on the spinal column – cranio-cervical, thoracic and lumbosacral.

Interestingly, the cost for patients have not been increased. “That is because most of our clientele come from middle and lower-middle class families,” says Dr. Thomas. “So we do not want to place an undue burden on them.”

Asked why the Allen Table is not yet being used in India, by other hospitals, Jain says that the prohibitive cost is the major deterrent. “Also, there is a lack of awareness about it among medical professionals,” he says. “I came to know about it only when I went to do fellowships in Detroit and Tampa, USA. Maybe, the company could do some aggressive marketing in India.”

Meanwhile, Balan, a truck driver, is recuperating steadily, following the surgery. “I don't feel any pain at all,” he says. But he has ensured that he takes the tablets daily, as prescribed by the doctor. For a long time, Balan had been extremely worried, because he is the sole bread-winner for his family, which consists of his wife, two children and parents. “In the end, everything has worked out well,” he says, with a smile. 

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