Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cool, comfortable and cosy

The Bumpadum cloth diapers for babies can be reused between 100 and 150 times. It has many takers in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian 

When the Kochi-based working mom Aarohi Sharma opened the Aviva Organic Cotton Diaper, her eyes bulged in pleasure. On the back of the pink diaper, there were drawings of a preening goat, a cactus plant, snails, leaves, tiny hearts, and a sunflower. Another diaper had red buttons all over it, a tree with leafy branches, an upside-down teacup, a house, a fish and small leaves. “It was so beautiful to look at,” she says.  

These diapers have been brought out by the Bumpadum company, which is based in Bengaluru. A friend told Aarohi about it. And she is a very satisfied customer. “The diapers are super-trim,” she says. “I have a 13-month son. With boys, you have to make them wear shorts or trousers. Unlike disposable diapers, since Aviva is slim, I can use it beneath my son’s shorts.” 

Aarohi is also happy with the absorption. “When I use it at night, my son sleeps right through,” she says. “Since organic cotton is used, again, unlike disposable diapers, my son has never suffered a rash.” 

Bumpadum founder Anuradha Rao smiles when she hears this. The company will complete three years on July 30. She said she got interested in cloth diapers when she was using disposable diapers for her daughter Meera who was born five years ago. “I learnt that when diapers reach a landfill it will not decompose for 500 years,” she says. Anuradha also discovered that she was using between 8 to 10 diapers a day. These cost anywhere between Rs 10 to Rs 15 per piece. “Over a three-year period parents end up spending Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 on diapers only,” she says. 

So, she decided to make a re-usable cloth diaper. “It is not a new concept,” she says. “For generations parents had been using cloth diapers. But they were not waterproof and did not keep the baby dry. So I wanted to marry the convenience of a disposable diaper with that of a diaper that is available in cloth. Hence, it can be washed and reused.”

Bumpadum is using a fabric called hemp which is the most absorbent natural fabric anywhere in the world. “We import it just to make these diapers,” says Anuradha. “It has great absorbency without making it too bulky. The outer layer is laminated with a 20-micron layer of polyurethane. That provides the water-proofing. It is a breathable fabric which allows air to pass through. But it does not allow water to pass through. That way, the baby will not feel hot and sweaty.”

There is also a special fabric on top called microfleece and it becomes dry soon after it becomes wet. “After the baby passes urine, if you touch the fabric after six to seven seconds you will not feel any wetness,” says Anuradha.  

As for the price, it ranges from Rs 699 to Rs 899, depending on the size and the features. “The diapers can be reused between 100 and 150 times,” says Anuradha. “So, if you buy 15 diapers, it will last three years and you only spend Rs 20,000. The initial investment is high but once parents make it, they don’t have to worry about buying diapers again.” 

Business is booming. They sell through retail outlets in Bengaluru. And Bumpadum is selling its products online. “In Kochi itself, we have about 250 customers,” says Anuradha.

As mothers bought the diapers and felt happy with it, they kept asking Anuradha whether she could make similar menstrual pads. “That’s how the idea for Bhoomi came up,” she says. 

The normal disposal sanitary napkins that you get is not breathable and very sweaty, and made of plastic. “Our pads are made of cloth,” says Anuradha. “They are water-proof and extremely comfortable to wear.”  

The price ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 300 per pad depending on size. “This can be reused 60 to 70 times at the very least,” says Anuradha. “Again, our customers told us that they are very happy with this product.” 

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Talking to the unconscious mind

Hypnotists Freddy and Anthony Jacquin talk about ways to cure ailments and mental blocks through the use of hypnosis, while on a recent visit to Kochi 
By Shevlin Sebastian
When the 50-year-old Deborah Plumb sat down in the consulting room of the London-based hypnotist Freddy Jacquin, she grimaced in pain. Deborah told Freddy that she suffered from a disease called fibromyalgia. “It means your body becomes incredibly sensitive and painful,” says Freddy, while on a recent visit to Kochi, with his son Anthony. “You can't move. It's agony. Everything is pain. Deborah had this disease for 14 years. Her doctor told her that she wouldn't die from the disease, but she would die with this disease. In other words, she would have it forever.”
To counter the pain Deborah was having 28 painkillers a day. 
Freddy said, “Do want to be free of the pain?” 
Deborah said, “Of course I do, but the doctor told me I am going to die with it.” 
Freddy nodded and said, “I am going to make you free.” 
He then hypnotised Deborah and then spoke directly to the subconscious mind, asking it to cure the disease. Amazingly, when Deborah got up from her spell, she found that she was pain-free. And remains so three years later. 

Asked the logic of Deborah’s transformation, Freddy says, “All patterns of behaviour are learned, but they end up running automatically. So hypnosis is a way of bypassing the conscious mind and instructing the subconscious. It's not a logical process. You make changes at the subconscious mind. When that happens, the change is often natural.” 
Anthony gives an example of what he tells the subconscious mind of smokers. “I will tell it you will no longer experience thoughts or cravings about it. I tell the subconscious to change its beliefs,” he says. “I have cured smoking in just one 90-minute session several times.” 
Anthony and Freddy together have seen over 35,000 clients, who have approached them with a varying range of problems. “These include drug addiction, alcoholism, biting nails, scratching the body, pulling hair, and irrational fears,” says Anthony. “Sometimes the fear is a general anxiety, sometimes it's a panic attack. Like Deborah, there are many people who want to overcome chronic pain.” 
And there are clients who want to achieve something, “So, they want to change their mental beliefs, get in touch with their inner resources, and also learn how to use these tools themselves,” says Anthony. “In other words, they want to do self-hypnosis.” 
To help these people, Anthony has published a book called ‘Reality is Plastic: The Art of Impromptu Hypnosis’ while Freddy has written ‘Hypnotherapy: Methods, Techniques & Philosophies’, both of which are available on Amazon.  

As for the difference between the conscious and unconscious mind, Freddy says, “We feel we are running the show, with our conscious mind. But that’s not the case. For example, while your conscious mind is thinking of what clothes to wear, the unconscious mind is taking care of your blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, blood flow, heartbeat, and making sure your survival is running automatically. You are not aware of every activity that's going on in your system. The conscious mind is a very small part of who you are.” 
As to the question, ‘Who am I’, whether a person is the conscious mind only, Anthony smiles and says, “This is a question that philosophers have been trying to answer for thousands of years, including the Indian philosopher Adi Shankara, whose birthplace I saw in Kalady a few days ago. My guess is we each have an observer which can view the conscious and subconscious mind, but not all can arrive at this higher state. This can be achieved through meditation and other similar methods. Mostly, people are closely aligned with the conscious mind and think that this is the ‘I’.”   
Meanwhile, at Kochi, for his show, ‘Insomnia Extended’, along with mentalist Aathi, in front of a sell-out audience at the JT Pac, Anthony tried past-life regression, for the first time, with a group of participants from the audience. One young man, Jaison George (name changed), after being hypnotised, tells Anthony, “I am inside a pyramid.” 
How long ago is this?” says Anthony. 
3000 years,” Jaison says. “I am carrying a case which the Queen has told me to put into another room.” 
Jaison pauses, as he seems to look deep into his imagination. 
And?” says Anthony. 
And the Queen is unhappy with me,” says Jaison. “She does not trust me.” 
After another pause, Jaison says, “She says I will be put to death.” 
The audience gasps in shock and amazement, while Freddy, who is sitting in the second row, claps in appreciation. Anthony makes the participants sing and dance, laugh hysterically and even cry. It was an amazing show, put up by a thorough professional. Says MC Roy, director of JT Pac, “This was one of the best shows ever staged at our centre.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Alluring, mysterious and beautiful

The Thiruvananthapuram-based entrepreneur Naufar Jaleel went on a 19,000 km journey through several states in India on a modified auto-rickshaw 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

On the Chhattisgarh border, Naufar Jaleel’s heart was palpitating. People had told him that there was militant activity very near the border. He looked at his watch. It was 6 p.m. He knew the sun would set by 7 p.m. That left him with one hour to reach a town. The national highway stretched in front of him in a straight line. But the road was untarred; instead, it had a brown surface with lots of gravel on it. 

So he got into his ‘Qalifa’, the name of his modified auto-rickshaw, a TVS King 4S, which had an LPG cylinder at the back. 

Soon, Naufar was going a steady pace of 50 kms/hour. He felt good. Soon, he entered a forest. The weather cooled. And then the unexpected happened. The road dipped suddenly and came to an end. Naufar fell into a large pit and his steering jerked to one side. Somehow, he managed to restart and moved forward slowly. He couldn’t believe this was a national highway. The forest gave way to a large open area. Thereafter, he came across a checkpoint manned by the Central Reserve Railway Force, just next to their camp.    

He showed his Aaadhar card and other documents. They smiled and realised he was a genuine traveller. Naufar then asked whether he could stop for the night in the open area. 

No problems,” said one of the men. “But, sometimes, there is shooting from the other side and we shoot back. So, if you don’t mind being caught in the crossfire, you are welcome to stay here.” 

Naufar took the hint and moved on…

Naufar had set out from Thiruvananthapuram on September 11, 2018 (“Yes, the famous 9/11 date,” he says, about the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre in New York) for an all-India trip on his auto-rickshaw. It was fully enclosed and inside he had a seat which could be converted into a vertical bed, with his head almost resting on the steering wheel.  

And as he journeyed from the South, through familiar places like Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata, he began to move into the North-East. Soon, he began to get hypnotised. “The North-East is an amazing place,” he says. “The culture, landscape, people, and food are so different.” 

In fact, he tried different types of food: dogmeat, beetles, silkworms and leeches. “I can’t say I am a fan,” he says, with a smile. 

In a bit of a surprise, he observed that Malayalis are respected a lot. “That’s because most of the senior government employees are from Kerala,” says Naufar. “They were all part of a migration to the North-East during the 1970s and 80s. And many locals studied under Malayali teachers whom they loved and cherished.” 

The sights were interesting too: living root bridges in Nongriat, Meghalaya, Emma Keithel (a women’s only market) in Imphal and Aizawl, the beautiful capital of Mizoram. “I also attended the Papum Poma river festival in Arunachal Pradesh and the Hornbill festival in Nagaland,” says the 29-year-old.  

Thereafter, Naufar went all over North India: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. “Each state is like a country,” he says. “Sometimes, in each state, there are different cultures. In UP, Varanasi is so different from Allahabad and Lucknow.” 

This is not the first tourist trip that Naufar was doing. During his three-year stint at a company in Sydney, he had backpacked across Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. “And I can tell you categorically that India is one of the safest places to travel in,” he says. “The people are kind, friendly and helpful.”   

Many people invited him to their homes, to have food and rest for the night. “There is something about an autorickshaw,” he says. “Most have travelled in one. So they felt an affinity towards the vehicle, and for me, too.” He also ended up staying in temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras and schools.  

Sometimes when Naufar would go past picturesque rivers and waterfalls, he would stop and have a bath. “I would wash my clothes and put it on a rock,” he says. “It would dry within an hour, as the rock retains heat for a long time.” 

Not surprisingly, Naufar experienced a wide range of weather. In Himachal and Sikkim, it was -2 or 3 degrees Celsius. He wore thermal clothes and used thermal sleeping bags. “Despite that, on New Year’s Eve, in Shillong, I was shivering,” he says.   

Then in Madhya Pradesh, the temperature hit 45 degrees Celsius. At a petrol bunk, the attendants asked Naufar whether he had any cold water. “All their water had heated up,” he says. “When water is inside a plastic bottle, the plastic melts, so the water tastes bad.” Naufar got the message. He quickly bought a mud pot and placed it inside his vehicle.  

Throughout his journey, Naufar received free servicing and maintenance from TVS service centres all over the country. And, as a member of the Rotary Club of Kazhakootam, he also visited many clubs to raise funds for the victims of the Kerala floods of 2018. 

On April 28, Naufar returned home, after a journey of 19,000 kms, which lasted 232 days. “I have been infected by wanderlust,” he says, with a smile. “So, after a few months, I will set off again.” But this time, he will be accompanied by his partner Azzu, 22, whom he will be marrying soon. 

(An edited version was published in The Sunday Magazine, New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Killing an ant and other such moments

By Shevlin Sebastian 

The other day I killed an ant which was hovering near a bottle of honey in the kitchen at my home in Kochi. As I stared at the dead insect, an unexpected series of thoughts arose in me. ‘Some ant must be waiting for him to come back. Could be his ‘queen’ mate. And the children, too. They would be worried as the hours passed. Did any other ant see what I did? And rush to inform the ant colony. How did the colony mourn when the body was not there.’ Unceremoniously, I had blown the ant towards the washbasin and turned on the tap. It went to a watery grave. 

This particular colony must have cursed me, even as they shed tears. Death can be so random for ants, especially when they are wandering inside houses. On that morning, his queen mate could have told him, “I am not feeling good that you are going hunting for food in houses. Why not a garden or a park?” 

He would have consoled her, and said, “Don’t worry, I will be careful.” But unfortunately, he ran out of luck. 

There was a cockroach who would always stay inside a drawer which contained glasses and plates. But it was always cautious. Whenever I pulled opened the drawer, he would not be seen anywhere. But, one day, by accident, its guard was down and it came out in the open when I was there. I took a duster and hit hard. It looked shocked as it lay on its back, its legs punching away, like as if it was riding a bicycle, as the life force ebbed away. However, I could not escape a feeling of guilt and sorrow.

Once when I was travelling from the coastal town of Mararikulam to Kochi, in a cab, a cockroach was roaming behind the front seat of the driver. A woman colleague, who was with me, let out a scream, shook her hands, as if saying, ‘go away’, and raised her legs on to the seat. The shaken driver stopped the car immediately, came to the back and managed to flick the cockroach outside, without killing it. 

Now imagine the mental state of this cockroach. Thrown out on a busy highway, without any GPS, far away from home, what was he going to do now? Would he able to locate a colony of cockroaches nearby? Or was he going to wander around, feeling helpless and fearful? The terrain was new and strange. Dangers could lurk anywhere. 

I believe now, for peace of mind, we should follow the Jainism tenet of ahimsa: ‘Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.’ 

(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Spreading the love

International faculty Prasanth S Nair, a Trustee of the Art of Living Foundation, talks about his experiences with devotees abroad

Pics: Prasanth S Nair; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with the ruler of Fujairah, Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi. Prasanth is on the right, second row 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

On a cold and wintry day in January, a few years ago, Art of Living teacher Prasanth S Nair watched as the plane taxied to a halt at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. He looked out of the window and shivered a bit. The entire airport was blanketed with snow. There was hardly anybody around except for several Aeroflot planes which had a sprinkling of snow on the roofs.  

The first impression I got was that this was similar to the [science fiction] comics of ‘Flash Gordon’ when he and his compatriots would go on a space journey,” says Prasanth. “The cold also seemed to add to the familiar stereotype that Russians could be cold in terms of their emotions.”  

But that belief lasted only for a few minutes. When Prasanth entered the hall, he was greeted by several smiling Russians. “I was blown away by their warmth,” he says. 

Prasanth was in a white kurta and dhoti but wore a thermal vest underneath. “But when they saw the way I was dressed, they were shocked,” he says. “You can’t blame them for being worried. The temperature was -19 degrees Celsius.” 

On the third day, they secretly took a measurement of his sandals and bought ankle-length boots. “Because they hid my sandals, I had to wear the boots,” he says. “Thank God for that. They also insisted that I should wear gloves, especially when we went for walks.” 

Asked how Muscovites came to know about Art of Living, Prasanth says, “Through word of mouth. Also, Gurudev (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) has travelled to Russia and so many other places many times in the past. Later, senior teachers from India went to Russia in the early 1990s. Today,  there are more than 1300 teachers, mostly local, in Russia.”
Prasanth has also spent time in Indonesia, which is an Islamic nation. “Nevertheless, we were welcomed warmly,” he says. “And in Bali, we had many centres.” 

Bali has a strong Hindu influence, so the people could relate easily to the teachings of Sri Sri. “Again the devotees were a mix of locals, and people from America, Australia, New Zealand and India, too. The devotees increase manyfold whenever Gurudev 
conducts his annual meditation retreats and discourses on the Vignan Bhairav (the science of consciousness).” 

Many have been transformed after attending the programme. In Jakarta, Prasanth met a 6’ 1” tall South African named Robert Brown. He told Prasanth, “I used to drink like a fish and pick up fights regularly. But now, thanks to regular meditation, my mind is at peace and I can walk away from fights. I have also stopped drinking altogether.” 

Prasanth also met a young Arab woman from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who told him that she had a dream in which she saw a person, dressed in white, who had a black beard and long hair. “She didn’t give much attention to it but was astonished when she saw the same face while she was participating in an Art of Living happiness programme and realised that it was Gurudev,” says Prasanth.  

As for Prasanth’s high point in his travels in West Asia, the Far East, and Europe, it was when he accompanied Sri Sri on the latter’s first-ever visit to the UAE on November 14, 2018. The spiritual leader had been specially invited by the ruler of Fujairah, Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi. The next day, there was a programme at the Fujairah Football Club Stadium, where thousands were in attendance. The Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, in his welcome address, said, “We gather today on this wonderful occasion of tolerance blessed by our master of love.” 

In response, Sri Sri said, “We are all members of one global family.” 

Soon, there was a mass meditation led by Sri Sri, and many members of the royal family took part. 

For Prasanth it was a wonderful experience. “The respectful way Gurudev was received, the warmth that was shown, and their ready acceptance is something I will never forget,” he says. “The UAE has a Ministry of Tolerance, as well as a Ministry of Happiness. This idea should be adopted by all governments in the world.”       

Asked what is common among the devotees in different countries, Prasanth says, “People are looking for happiness, a calm and peaceful mind, good health, a sense of fulfilment, an inner yearning for wisdom, and to attain something great, in terms of their spirituality. These are the aspirations across all communities and people, including myself.” 

The Pala-born Prasanth, an MBA graduate, was in the corporate world before he met Sri Sri, and became a full-time teacher. The former-director of the Sri Sri Ayurveda College Prasanth was instrumental in setting up the world-class facility of Sri Sri Panchakarma, both of which are in Bengaluru. He has served as secretary to Sri Sri. Today, his wife Meera is the international secretary to Sri Sri. 

As for his future plans, Prasanth says, “Through the teachings of Gurudev, I want to make a difference in the lives of people.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Law Breakers

US-based academician Dr Amy Ritterbusch, who was in Kochi recently, says the worst forms of oppression in any society are meted out by the police

Photos: Dr Amy Ritterbusch; transgenders in Colombia

By Shevlin Sebastian  

It is night in Bogota, Colombia. Marianna is standing on a sidewalk looking at the drivers of the cars as they drive past. She is dressed in a short mini skirt and high heels with mascara on her cheeks and red lipstick. Marianna is a trans sex worker. As she stands with a few others, a police van comes up silently. She is quickly bundled in, along with the others. They sit silently, as the van drives away, fear creating a firestorm in their hearts. 

At the outskirts of the city, the transgenders are told to get down. At the point of a gun, all their clothes are removed, despite their resistance. “Then they are told to run into a dark forest,” says Dr Amy Ritterbusch, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles. “Soon, the police start shooting at the girls. And these transgenders have to run for their lives, falling and hurting themselves and hoping they are not killed.” 

Later, they had to find their way back, towards the city, using leaves and branches to cover their bodies. “So that's one example of police brutality,” says Amy, who is of Colombian origin. “There are homeless individuals, children and adolescents who use drugs and drug users in general, who are just murdered by the police and their bodies dumped far away. Another way to describe this is ‘state-sanctioned social cleansing’. They are getting rid of individuals who are ‘unwanted’ with the help of unofficial death squads.” 

Amy had come to Kochi, at the invitation of the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences to interact with students and to give a talk on police violence at the International Summer University in Social Work. At the campus when you look out of the window, you can see green lawns and blue skies, and students milling about, talking in a peaceful and animated manner. 

And Amy also likes what she sees. “Kochi is serene,” she says. “The people are so generous and hospitable and the food is delicious. There is a beautiful peace here. In Colombia, because I am working on so many difficult issues I feel sad and full of rage.” 

Soon, she continues her grim tale. At a particular area in Bogota, there was a police raid and they arrested several drug addicts. They were later thrown into a large canal nearby. The canal was located below a public transportation system. So when the system closed for the night, and there were no witnesses, the police came and shot at the men. A few addicts drowned.   

I was there personally and documented it and spoke to the survivors,” she says. 
Amy has also been doing something similar in Kampala, Uganda. 

With a sad shake of her head, she says, “Police brutality is the same all over the world. The state becomes a perpetrator. So, there is a need to condemn official violence. It is necessary to find mechanisms to fight against this. In Colombia, just in the last one year, hundreds of social leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated.” 

But when Amy sent reports to international organisations about what had happened, her team began to be persecuted by the Colombian and Ugandan governments. “Sadly, the Colombian media took the side of the government,” she says. “The media discounted the interviews we did by saying, ‘It's not enough evidence, we need more’. But my attitude is: any human life that is lost, needs to be denounced, and remembered. And our aim was to highlight the deaths.” 

Asked how policemen resort to violence so easily, Amy says, “There is a culture of masculinity in police forces in general. Violence-mongering is part of the training. They are taught to regard as criminal those who belong to certain ethnic or racial groups. Even in the United States, police officers are racist and violence-prone. They will kill brown or black people on the flimsiest of reasons.”
And, Amy says, growing up as a Latina woman and moving around in white spaces, was particularly violent. “I've experienced it in my own life,” she says. “Overall, the worst forms of oppression in any society are meted out by the police.” 

And she is worried even more now for Columbia because there is a right-wing President Iván Duque Márquez, who is in power. “He is militarising and investing a lot in the National Police,” she says. “Marquez is setting up a security state that criminalises poverty. That means if you're poor, there is a strong likelihood you will be shot dead. The poor have no rights anywhere in the world. Their lives are always precarious.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A fragrant passion

Ria Ivan who owns the boutique, 'Soap and Hope', brings an artistic touch to soap-making  

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian  

When her aunt Mary walked into Ria Ivan’s ninth-floor flat, at Kochi, and glanced at the dining room table, she said, “Mole (Daughter), you have made such beautiful halva.” 

Ria laughed when she heard that. She said, “Aunty, it’s not halva, but soaps.” 

Mary did a double-take and came close and held one in her hand. Then she said, “Unbelievable, Ria. I have not seen a soap like this.” 

Indeed, not many people have. Because Ria has designed them in the form of mermaids, pastries, flowers, angels, and candles. 

Asked how she got the idea, Ria says, “All soaps look normal and ordinary in the markets in India. So I thought why not make some which are attractive to people? So I decided to mix art and soap. That's how it started.”  

Ria has made two types: body range as well as souvenir soaps. “The souvenir soaps will not get spoiled unless water falls on it,” she says. “It can stay intact for a long time.” 

Recently, she got an order for the birthday party of her friend Shobha’s child. “Shobha called up and said her son wanted an Avenger-theme soap,” says Ria. “So I made Thor and Captain America and embedded the models in the soap. The boy was very happy when he received it. It was as if his favourite characters had suddenly come alive.”  

The Avenger soaps can be used as a handwash till the toy comes out or it can be used as a showpiece. “Most people prefer to use it to get a feel of its organic nature,” says Ria. 

Another friend Tincy is going to have a Noah's Ark themed party. “So they wanted animals,” says Ria, who is planning to make hippos, lions, and bears.

Asked how she gets the design, Ria says there are moulds for that. There is also something called soap dough. “The advantage of this dough is that we can mould it into any shape we want,” she says.   

For each soap, there is a distinctive fragrance. These include rose, lavender, water lily, . mango, blueberry, cherry, sandalwood, cedarwood, coffee, and aloe vera. 

As for her usable soaps, she says they are sulphate and paraben-free. One has an organic loofah embedded in it. “It is very good for the exfoliation of our skin,” says Ria. In other soaps, there are oats, cloves, cinnamon, honey and clay. There is also a massage soap made of moringa leaves. “There is a moringa tree in my parents’ garden in Pala,” says Ria. “I dried and powdered the leaves. It also has a lot of skin benefits so I thought why not incorporate it in a soap?” 

What is unusual about Ria is that she has an M Tech in nutritional biotechnology from SRM University, Chennai. A university topper, she was working as a researcher in the Kuwait Institute For Scientific Research. “I didn't find any joy in the lab,” says Ria, who grew up in Kuwait. “Cooking, arts, counselling and motivational speaking are what makes me happy.”  

But she has no regrets about her education. “Information and knowledge are always useful,” she says. 

Her boutique is called ‘Soap and Hope’ and she is all excited to develop her new passion. 

Or as she says, “I really enjoy making soaps and I put my soul into it and it's made with a lot of love and happiness.”  

And she also has another aim. “I also hope that, through my example, other women will follow their passion and create self-employment opportunities for themselves.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, July 15, 2019

The women’s time has come

At an exhibition match, at Bengaluru, blind women footballers played an impressive game. Now the Indian Blind Football Federation is moving full steam ahead to set up women’s teams all over the country as well as conduct tournaments

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Denita Lyngdoh stepped onto the pitch at the Bull Ring Football and Sports Arena, at Bengaluru, she felt a rising excitement within her. She was part of the five-member Bengaluru Red blind women’s football team. On the front of her red T-shirt can be seen the words, ‘Healing Lives’, while at the back there is the logo of the Tata Trusts. Her eyes are covered by a red mask. On her feet are red boots.  

Her team is playing a demonstration match against Bengaluru Blue. This took place during the men’s national football championships in April. Soon, she gets a pass from her colleague Mohini. The ball has ball bearings inside it. When it moves, there is a ringing sound, so Denita can get an idea of where it is. She runs forward with the ball. The opposing defenders have to shout ‘Voy Voy’ so that Denita does not crash into them.

She swerves past one defender, then the next. As she approaches the goal, a guide from behind the goalpost gives instructions to Denita on where the goalkeeper is standing as well as the distance between the two posts. Denita takes a shot. But she does not know whether the ball has gone in. Till the announcer says, on the public address system, “No 6 Denita has scored.”

Then she runs back, raising her arms skyward. “I don’t know how I did it,” she says, on a cloudy evening at a coffee shop in a mall at Bengaluru. “But I felt so happy when the ball went in.” As the match continues, Denita manages to score another goal...

Denita has always loved football. When she was growing up in the village of Marshillong in Meghalaya, she would play football with her brothers and sisters. But when she broke her spectacles a couple of times, while playing, her parents advised her to stop playing. She had been suffering from glaucoma from age four onwards. Now after decades, she had got another chance.

And so has her friend Namita Haloi, who is originally from Guwahati, but both are now based in Bengaluru now. “When I first played football, I loved the experience,” she says. “I was always interested in sports and took part in athletic competitions in school.”

Meanwhile, the Kochi-based Sunil J Mathew, the Sporting Director of the Indian Blind Football Federation (IBBF) as well as the head coach of the national team, says there are plans to put together women’s teams in Delhi, Bengaluru and the North East. “We are hoping to hold a six-team women’s tournament by the end of the year,” he says. “Efforts are on to train women coaches and trainers too. We will be conducting mini camps, along with awareness tours all over India.”  

Sunil has another goal: to put together a national team so that they can participate in the first World Championships in February, 2020 at Nigeria, which will be conducted by the International Blind Sports Federation. “Of course, we will have to get sponsors,” he says. “If we manage to put up a team, we will be the second, in Asia, after Japan.”

But the girls in Bengaluru are not waiting for developments. On most weekends, Denita, Namita, Mohini, who is from Uttam Pradesh, and locals like Nagaratnam and Jyoti go to a ground in Yeshwantpur and play for an hour under the guidance of their friend Dominic Nido, a 23-year-old visually challenged graduate, who is from Arunachal Pradesh. An avid footballer, he is now studying computer training.

Dominic gained a lot when Sunil invited him to Kochi to attend a coaching camp conducted by Ulrich Pfisterer, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation in September, 2017. “Ulrich taught us how to dribble, and to cut in from the side to the centre, how to score from a penalty kick and take corner kicks,” says Dominic. “I am passing this knowledge to the girls. They are all very enthusiastic and want to play a lot. I think football gives them a chance to express their personalities. Hopefully, Sunil Sir will be able to put up teams and hold tournaments soon.”  


Rules for blind football

In five-a-side blind football four players should be B1 (fully blind), while the goalkeeper can be B3, which means he can have partial sight, or be fully sighted.

The area of play is 40 x 20 metres. There are cushioned boards placed on all sides so that the ball does not go out. It also prevents players from hurting themselves. “Before the match, the referee places eye patches on the players to create total darkness, as some may have a slight perception of light,” says Sunil J Mathew, the coach of the Indian team. “A protective blindfold ensures that the players are protected from head injuries.” A game lasts 50 minutes, with a break of 10 minutes. During a match, players can be substituted any number of times.

(An edited version was published in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Pinning his hopes on the future

The Tokyo-based Tiby Kuruvilla who has started an IT office at Kochi talks about his hopes as well as the hardships faced by NRI entrepreneurs in the state 

Pics: Tiby Kuruvila; PT Thomas, MLA, inaugurating the office   

By Shevlin Sebastian 

In Tokyo, last month, when Malayali entrepreneur Tiby Kuruvila read about the suicide of Sajan Parayil, 49, an NRI who invested Rs 16 crore in a state-of-the-art auditorium, which did not get the clearance certificate from the Anthoor Municipality in Kannur, he felt a bit queasy. 

He remembered how once when he went to get a certificate from a government office in Kochi, the officer said, “If I want, I can delay the certificate by 15 days.”

The problem, says Tiby, is that they will ask to rectify one issue. “But when we do that, they will immediately bring up another issue,” he says. “And it goes on.”  

Somehow, he says, there is a negative attitude towards NRIs. “I always got the feeling that I am not welcome,” says Tiby, a Kothamangalam native who has lived in Tokyo for 20 years.

Nevertheless, Tiby has decided to plough ahead in Kerala. On July 8, on the 19th floor of TransAsia Cyber Park in Info Park Phase 2 in Kochi, PT Thomas, MLA, inaugurated a 10,000 st. ft office. This was for Tiby’s firm Pinmicro, where he is the CEO, and a sister firm, Innovature Labs. Around 150 people have been employed. “I felt confident about starting a firm in Kochi because I was dealing with the Park authority,” says Tiby. “They are very keen that people come.” 

In Japan, the company is doing well. “We have customers in Japan, and in some hospitals in India,” he says.  

Asked about their USP, he says, “There are many Japanese factories that have been set up in China, Taiwan and Indonesia. Earlier, the information they got was that an employee worked 160 hours a week or the time he came into work and the time he left. But with our RF (Radio Frequency) cameras and algorithms, the company can find out when he clocked in, where is he working, who are his co-workers, and how long was he in a particular area. “It helps to increase productivity,” he says.  

Meanwhile, when asked whether the Japanese face similar problems from the bureaucracy as well as political parties, Tiby says, “In Japan if there are any issues, the officials are very transparent and will help you solve the problem. If you follow the rules, the licence will be issued.” And except at the very highest level, there is no link between political parties and businessmen.  

But the Japanese are developing a link with South India and Kerala, too. “They like the state a lot and say it is completely different from North India,” he says. “Some told me that it is like Hawaii, because of the coconut trees. They say it is much cleaner than North India. And above all, they love the houseboat experience. They called it unbelievable.”  

And Tiby adds that when they go back, they enthusiastically urge all their friends and relatives to visit Kerala. “We can expect many more Japanese to come to our state in the years to come,” he says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

103 and loving every minute of it

On his birthday, the Mulanthuruthy-born Kattumanghat Lazar George looks back on his life

Pics: Kattumanghat Lazar George; with daughter Anly  

By Shevlin Sebastian 

When Kattumanghat Lazar George woke up on the morning of July 4, at his home in Chennai, he saw an image in his mind. It was of a slim boy with black hair who had an easy smile. That was Philip Oommen, his classmate at UC College, Aluva, many decades ago. The image dissolved and he saw another one: this time Philip was wearing a black headgear and a pink cassock. He had white hair and beard and twinkling eyes. 

George smiles and says, “Philip Oommen is now better known as Philipose Mar Chrysostom.” He is the emeritus Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church and received the Padma Shri Award in 2018. At age 103, he is one of the legendary icons of the community.

George says, “I wish I could meet him but alas we are both too frail to travel to each other.” 

George was in a nostalgic mood because it was his 103rd birthday too. He was wrapped in a white shawl and wore a dhoti. His daughter Anly and grandson Anish flew in from Kochi to spend the day with him. A chocolate cake, with the words, ‘Happy Birthday Daddy’ in white icing was placed in front of him at the dining room. There were three candles. He blew them out with a smile while Anly helped him to cut the cake. 

One person was missing. This was George’s wife Lily, who died on January 15, this year, at the age of 92. They had been married for 74 years.  

Asked how he met Lily, George says, “At the time in Kerala (1945), the only way to meet a girl was through the arranged marriage route. My family received a proposal from the girl’s family.” 

And when George saw Lily for the first time, he was taken aback by her beauty. “I also noticed that she wore a saree that had a design of black dots,” he says. “I thought by wearing black she was subtly indicating to me that she wasn’t happy with the proposal. But she told me later that she liked the colour black. We had a wonderful marriage with the normal ups-and-downs. I miss her every day.” 

George misses other people, too. Although he was the fifth-youngest of seven children -- one sister and six brothers -- all of them have passed away.  

But their loss has been compensated by his own family. He has four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “My children are settled in different parts of South India while the grandkids are in different parts of the world,” he says.

George himself spent his life in India, mostly in Mumbai and Chennai. But he grew up in Mulanthuruthy, the son of a gazetted officer in the state engineering department, and studied in the Government High School until Class 10. “School was a very happy time,” he says. “In those days teachers were treated as Gods.” But sometimes they had to step down from their pedestals. Once when George didn’t study his lessons, the teacher twisted his ear so hard that it started to bleed. “He had to write an apology letter to my parents,” says George. 

He graduated with a BSc from Maharaja’s College,  Ernakulam. Thereafter, he became a teacher at the Arakunam School in Mulanthuruthy. After a few years, to improve his prospects, he decided to leave. “I remember all the students crying when I announced that I was moving to Mumbai,” says George. 

In Mumbai, George got a job at the Supply Department of the Government of India. They were recruiting heavily because of the Second World War. “I didn’t even have to take a test,” he says. “They seemed to have an ‘All trespassers will be recruited’ mindset.”

George received a monthly salary of Rs 50. “It felt like so much money, I had no idea how to spend it so I ended up saving a lot,” he says. “It was at this job that I saw money being exchanged for a contract to supply hammocks. This was my first sight of bribery.” 

Later, he moved to Kerala and joined pharmaceutical company Cipla as a medical representative. His salary jumped tenfold to Rs 500. “At the time medical reps had the highest-paid jobs,” he says. Later, he joined Bengal Chemicals. And in Chennai, he bought land in Nungambakkam and constructed a house.

The years have gone past steadily. Asked to compare India of the past to that of today, George says, “The country felt more peaceful earlier. I could trust the food I bought from the market knowing that it wasn't artificially processed. People were very cooperative. Everything wasn’t a competition. Over the years I’ve noticed how spaces in homes, roads, playgrounds and car parks has become a big topic of discussion. It wasn’t even a consideration at that time, because there was a lot of land available for us children to play and for people to construct homes.” 

But there are some things that he likes about the India of today. “I am envious of the ease of travel to foreign countries and exposure to other cultures,” he says. “Whenever I meet young people I always ask them where have they travelled. If I had this opportunity I would have seen every country in the world. But nevertheless, no regrets, God has given me a very good life.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

In praise of Lord Vitthobha

Tangamani Suresh is the only woman teacher of abhangs (Marathi holy songs) in Kochi. She is preparing singers who are participating in the annual Akhand Saptaham (July 6-13) at the Shri Vitthoba Devasthan in Mattancherry

Pics: Tangamani Suresh; the black granite idol of Lord Vitthobha; founder Ambu Baliga

By Shevlin Sebastian 

At 4 p.m. on a recent Saturday, at entrepreneur Mahesh Joshi’s house at Mattancherry, his wife Sonal and daughter-in-law Sandhya are laying out a multi-coloured sheet over the carpet. Then Sonal brings in two idols of Lord Vitthobha and his consort Rukmini, which had been specifically bought from Pandharpur in Maharashtra 15 years ago, and places it on a low table. On the wall above it, there is already a large framed photograph of Vitthobha. 

Soon, Tangamani Suresh, 73, comes in. She is the veteran singer/teacher of abhangs (holy songs sung in praise of Lord Vitthobha (who is Krishna in Marathi). Thereafter, several women -- Shyla Bhatt, Maya Giriraya, Geeta S Pai, and Vasumati Iyer, among others -- come in. They are all Konkanis and Tamilians except for Sonal who is a Gujarati. Some sit on the floor while the elderly sit on the sofa. 

At precisely 4.30 p.m., Tangamani starts playing the harmonium. Soon, the women start singing: “Shree Rama Krishna Hari/Ek Tatva Naam/Dradha Dhari Mana/Hari Si Karuna Yeila Tuji (Hold on with single pointed devotion to the chanting of the name of the Lord, which is the easiest and sure way to be the recipient of divine blessings and grace).

Apart from the harmonium, cymbals are also used. Soon, the singing is loud-throated and powerful. Not many know that Tangamani is the only woman teacher of abhangs in Kochi. She has been doing it for the past 50 years. And has trained generations of women. 

Tangamani herself learnt it from her grandmother at an early age. “I feel happiest when I am singing,” she says. 

The group meets at Sonal’s house twice a week. They are training to give a performance at the nearby Shri Vitthoba Devasthan. The annual Akhand Saptaham is taking place. “At 7.30 a.m., on July 6, the diya was lit,” says Sonal’s husband Mahesh. “It will remain lit till 7.30 a.m. on Saturday, July 13.” 

And abhangs will be sung non-stop throughout the day and the night, till Saturday. Groups of singers called mandalis will come and sing for one hour. Then another group will come and take their place. They are coming from different places. On Monday, groups came from North Parur, Kodungaloor, Kovai, Kalady, Vazhapuzha and Tripunithara, apart from local groups. “Every year, so many people are disappointed that they did not get a chance to sing,” says Naresh V Pai, who is a trustee of the Devasthan. 

Sonal’s group, coached by Tangamani, will be singing on Tuesday. As the training session continues, at the temple, at the same time, a group is singing the abhang in Kannada. Inside, there are numerous marigold garlands hanging on wires just below the ceiling. 

The black granite idol of Lord Vitthobha, about two feet high, has numerous garlands, as well as necklaces and a crown. He holds a conch in his left hand and a chipady, a musical instrument on the right hand. There are anklets on both feet. 

The idol was brought to Kochi from Pandharpur in 1909 (see next story). 

At the back of the temple, there is a canteen. After a performance, singers sit and enjoy dosa, idli or upma along with hot cups of tea. “This event has been going on for 68 years now, thanks to the cooperation of all the devotees,” says Mahesh.  

The miracle of the granite idol 

In 1909, there was a big businessman in Kerala called Ambu Baliga. He was an ardent Krishna devotee. Ambu had a companion called Laxmibhai. She was an ardent devotee of Vitthobha. She used to sing abhangs. But the businessman was not interested. But one day, at her insistence, they went to the main temple of Vitthobha at Pandharpur, Maharashtra. 

While there, one night Ambu had a dream. In it, there was a shilpi (craftsman) who said, “At 9 a.m., near the main door of the temple, you come to me and I will hand over an idol to you. Which you have to carry to your hometown.” 

But when Ambu got up he thought it was just a dream and did not give it any importance. But when he mentioned this to Laxmibhai, she told him she had the same dream. 

But by then, the time had passed. The next morning, Ambu had another dream where the same man said, “Why you did not come? I waited for you.” 

Now he took it seriously. At the right time, on the third day, both Ambu and Laxmibhai went to the gate where a man stood holding an idol. He handed it over. 

The moment they took the idol and turned, the man vanished. “They understood that God himself had handed over the idol,” says Mahesh Joshi, a trustee of the Shri Vithoba Devasthan.   

At Mattancherry, Ambu built a small temple and installed the idol. Since the Pandharpur temple allowed all castes and creeds to enter the premises, Ambu did the same thing in Mattancherry, even allowing non-Hindus. But there was an immediate repercussion.  

The orthodox Brahmins took offence. The pujari left the temple. “So Ambu did the puja himself but all the Brahmins stopped coming to the temple and ostracised him,” says Mahesh. “People started avoiding him. He got mentally disturbed. The  Brahmins immediately told the Travancore Maharajah if this practice spreads to other temples, there would be chaos.” 

The king agreed. One day a jeep came and Ambu was taken away on the pretext that he was a lunatic. “Nobody knew what happened to him after that,” says Mahesh. 

For many years the temple remained closed. There was no owner. Grass grew. Snakes were crawling everywhere. One day, in 1952, the neighbours, a few Gujaratis and Konkanis, felt that they should do something and reopened the temple. They performed an Akhand Bhajan Saptaham for the first time. “And the temple has been functioning ever since,” says Prem Kumar Bhatt, the present president of the Sree Rama Bhajana Mandali. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)