Saturday, March 31, 2007

Interior of a heritage home.

Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe.
Hosts Antony & Jacob on the front veranda. Photo: Medhekar.


Drawing room.


A bedroom


A writing desk.


Mango Memories



Yesterday when I saw a mango vendor on a Chennai street my mind went back to childhood days in Olavipe and I decided to do this post.

Before starting to write today, out of curiosity I looked up the Web about mangoes and of course came across Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Climbing The Mango Trees – A Memoir Of A Childhood In India’. Then there was ‘Once Upon A Mango’, a nice article by Lavina Melwani in today’s Little India, which begins, “It was a love affair long before we knew what love was. They were golden, dripping with a heavenly juice, fleshy and aromatic.” That was on the banks of the Ganges. My love affair with mangoes started in Olavipe, my home in Kerala.

Basically, we had two types of mango trees – ‘nattu mavu’ (native mango tree) and ‘ottu mavu’ (budded or grafted mango tree). Nattu mavu came up spontaneously all over the place. My grandfather planted several verities of ottu mavu including Alfonso, Salem, Malgoba, Gudadad and Neelam. (Remember the saga ‘The House of Blue Mangoes’ by David Davidar? Read it if you haven’t done so yet.) Incidentally, Madhur Jafrey has dedicated her book mentioned above to ‘grandparents’.

Ottu manga was a table fruit, but that rule didn’t bind the children. For them any time was mango time. And there was no patience to wait for the fruit to be cut and served – just rip off the skin and go for the flesh.

“Almost every child growing up in India remembers climbing mango trees…” says Lavina Melvani in her article. Most of our ottu mavus were sprawling type and had low branches. It was on them that all the climbing and monkeying took place.

By contrast, nattu mavu were generally big, tall trees even though their mangoes were small in size. They were classified for different end uses. Fruits from certain trees were used exclusively for curries and chutneys. Some of the dishes made with mango, were delicious. Shrimp and mango curry, gravy fish with mango, and jackfruit nuts and mango curry were some of them. Another variety of nattu manga was for preserves like ‘salt mango’. The sweet, juicy type was mainly for making a sun-dried delicacy called ‘thera’, a kind of mango mat, which would stay till the next mango season provided they were kept well-hidden from the children.

The ottu mavus of grandfather are all gone. What we have today are the ones planted by the subsequent generations. Of these, the pride of place goes to a Prior mango tree planted by Appan (father). Today I found a Blog, ‘Underneath the Mango trees’ that rates Prior mango ‘the best of the best’!

Possibly, there is a connection between Prior and my family, Parayil. This view by some historians is based on a letter dated October 18, 1870 written to the sisters of a convent by Blessed Elias Chavara when he was the prior of a monastery. It reads (translated by me from Malayalam) “This mango was sent to me by Parayi. Out of the two types, the red ones are the best in India… Having known its taste, I am sending it for germination.” Perhaps, later, one of these two types of mangoes came to be called ‘Prior’.

It would appear that these wonderful fruits have only plus points. New research reportedly indicates that mangoes may be good for diabetes and cholesterol control and in resisting cancer.

Ends.

Also see:

Mango trees: 'ottu mavu' and 'nattu mavu'








Thursday, March 29, 2007

Insomnia.


Recent media reports say that a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 27% of the people suffer from sleep disorders or insomnia. That is one person in four. Another estimate claims that over 100 million people in the United States have this problem.

What is insomnia? Dr. Manvir Bhatia, senior neurologist of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital defines it as, “difficulty to initiate or maintain sleep, or both” (Deccan Chronicle, March 26, 2007). Insomnia causes irritability, low mood, reduced energy and efficiency, loss of memory and alertness, and inability to focus, among other things.

The DC report goes on to say, “Studies reveal that those with insomnia have 3.5 to 4.5 times more accidents in general with 1.5 times more work-related accidents and 2.5 times with motor vehicle accidents.” There is more bad news. There could be a link between insomnia and diabetes. A study by Boston University School of Medicine has reportedly found that compared to people who sleep 7-8 hours a day, the incidence of diabetes is more among those who sleep either less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours.

Doctors admit that insomnia is a major public health problem. What causes it? The reasons of insomnia are usually any one or a combination of stress resulting from personal tragedies, emotional tension or physical ailment, sense of insecurity, external factors like excessive noise or light or temperature, and changes in sleep schedules. In some cases it may be due to a disease. It is said that iron deficiency may cause insomnia in some women.

How do people tackle it? Many go on self- treatment. Most commonly used methods are swallowing pills without medical advice, drinking heavily to induce sleep, and in some cases, turning to drugs. Such avenues may have damaging side effects and are costly as well. The sensible thing to do is to visit your doctor. He would check whether any disease factor is involved, and suggest an effective therapy for insomnia.

There are self-help methods that are found to be effective for many persons who have insomnia. Some of them are mentioned here. Regular exercise well before bed time is essential. Avoid daytime naps, heavy drinking, intake of caffeine, and smoking. Have dinner a couple of hours before retiring. A warm bath and a glass of warm milk before going to bed, and reading in bed or listening to relaxing music could help. Follow a regular sleep schedule.

Always remember that not only the muscles but also the mind have to relax for proper sleep.

And, never worry about getting enough sleep. That would be counter-productive.

Ends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

DEAD MEN IN TOWN - Concluding part.


Concluding part of the story appears in Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan. Click on title to read.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jewish names among Syrian Christians.

Why is it that Jewish or Biblical names common among Kerala's Syrian Christians? For the answer, see Articles By Abraham Tharakan.
http://abrahamtharakanblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/jewish-names-among-syrian-christians.html

Sunday, March 25, 2007

DEAD MEN IN TOWN - Part 2.

Click on the title to read part 2 of the story in Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When strong men cried...


Yesterday, the dreams of a nation collapsed unbelievably at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad. The eleven men in blue could not score 255 runs against Sri Lanka whom they had beaten at home recently and they are almost out of the latest version of cricket World Cup without even reaching the Super 8 league.

The Indians were chasing a very obtainable total. At 4/112 the position looked reasonably good. Then Yuvraj Singh took off for a suicide run. Will he ever outlive that nightmare? Dhoni would have normally handled the situation in his dashing manner, but what was going through his mind during his 3-ball stint at the crease? Fear of berserk fans again attacking his house under construction if he failed?

India still had a chance when the ‘great Indian (all-rounder) hope’ Agarker walked into the middle. His un-choreographed dance with the bat was not amusing at all. After pegging at it for ten years, Agarker still remains a ‘hope’, a distant one at that! The captain stood bravely on the burning deck. After unleashing an explosive firepower that is not normally seen from him he too left, limping back to the pavilion. The achievement of scoring his 78th ODI half century made no difference to the outcome of the match. It was not clear from the TV shots whether there were tears in his eyes.

A great many others would have cried too. And we may, by tomorrow, get reports of protest marches, burning of effigies, self-immolation and all the rest of the madness. There might even be political fall-outs!

To say ‘Go easy, it’s only a game’ would not be correct. Cricket is big business. The Economic Times (March 19, 2007) reports that over Rs.2000 crores that include TV ads, sponsorship and so on would be in jeopardy if India were to be knocked out early from the World Cup.

Hope springs eternally in the human heart. Perhaps prayers and offerings are being made for Bermuda to beat Bangladesh tomorrow at the same venue.

Friday, March 23, 2007

DEAD MEN IN TOWN - Part 1.


Was he really a dead man? Read the story and find out. Click on the title.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Red Sails in the Sunset


After shifting from Kerala to Chennai, whenever possible, in the evenings I stroll down to the beach, which is about a hundred meters from the house. After walking for half an hour or so on the road parallel to the sea, I sit on the curb, watching the scene around.

It’s almost the same every day – the Bay of Bengal stretching out to the horizon, an occasional fishing boat, ships waiting at the outer for their turn to berth, their lights switched on at dusk, the grim, colorless sky, strong breeze blowing in over the waves with the smell of salt. It’s depressing. There is some thing missing.

Occasionally I wonder whether Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Nat ‘King’ Cole and all those other great singers who have recorded the beautiful piece ‘Red sails in the sunset, way out on the sea’ could have rendered the song with the same involvement if they were looking at a gloomy scene like this one when they sang.

Today I realized what was wrong. There is no sun dipping into the ‘kala pani’ (black waters). People from the West Coast are used to that sight. Take out the fireball from the following frame of sunset over Olavipe Lake and what do you have?



Watching dusk fall on the East Coast can be unnerving. Try sunrise for a change? Well, I get up too late for that. It's not the same anyway.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wall Document.

This document appears on a wall in the ‘nalukettu’ at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe, India. It became exposed while scraping the lairs of old wash on the wall for repainting. Mr. Medhekar has taken this splendid photo of it.

On the left is the image of a large China jar, like the one in the drawing room of the house (see picture below).


The drawing on the right resembles the walking stick of my great-grandfather, Mathoo Tharakan (see image above).

This wall document, which is nearly a hundred years old, was, most likely, done by Appan (father) when he was a child. His name appears vertically in the center. It is interesting to note the name in this image is spelt ‘Cochupappu’ instead of the normal ‘Kochupappu’. In the early part of the last century, it was common to use capital ‘C’ instead of ‘K’ in proper nouns.

What the other sketches and scribbling stand for, is not known.




Monday, March 19, 2007

An antique washing machine.


The caption to this excellent photo by its creator, Mr. Medhekar, reads, “I saw this quaint hand-driven washing machine abandoned on the premises of the Parayil Tharakan's ancestral home at Olavipe. It has provision for lighting a coal fire (presumably for hot water) and a handle to turn the drum.”

We don’t know when and where it was made and when it came to the house. My memory of it goes back sixty five or so years. I think it was a present from Mariamma, the elder among Appan’s two sisters. She was married to Dr. Jacob Taliat who retired as Surgeon General of Travancore (a Maharaja’s state in what is now Kerala). They stayed mostly at Trivandrum, the state capital, where the latest and the best imported things were available.

The clothes for washing were to be kept in the drum, which has several holes. Water was to be boiled in a tray below it. The steam would pass into the chamber through the holes and excess would escape through the funnel. The handles would be rotated to tumble the wash.

I think those would have been the operating instructions. I’ve never seen it working and I don’t think any body else has, at Olavipe.

In a house teeming with servants, a mechanical contraption to wash clothes was not required, really!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Friendship has no color...


My good friend Jacob Matthan who lives in Oulu, Finland, reports in his Jacob’s Blog that they are organizing an Anti – Racism Week in Oulu with the support of CHAFF, Amnesty International, Finnish Red Cross, United Nations, International School of Oulu and Setlementi, from 19 to 25 March, 2007. (This site is linked to Jacob’s Blog where you can read the full report.)

I am shocked to learn that Finland has xenophobia problems. I would request the people of that country to remember – Friendship has no color.
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For beautiful pictures, beautiful quotes like the one above, visit
www.words4ever. com

DISATSTERS OF CLIMATE CHANGE SOONER THAN EXPECTED.


Click on the title to read the shocking report.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I billion people affected by neurological disorders!

Dr. VS Mehta, President of the Neurological Society of India and Madhuri Behari, head of Department of Neurology, AIIMS recently announced a series of awareness programs focused on neurological diseases, which afflict one-sixth of humanity. It is estimated that about one billion people suffer from such disorders that include migraines, epilepsy and dementia. Neurological ailments account for about 12.8 million deaths every year. This is expected to escalate with the increase in population.

Dr. Mehta suggests, “A person should see a neurosurgeon if he experiences speech disturbance, numbness on one side of the body, memory loss, weakness, vomiting and behavior abnormality.” Many do not know or understand this. The awareness programs are expected to create more alertness among the people.

The highlights of the awareness programs are observance of:

APRIL 11 - PARKINSON’S DAY

JUNE 24 - STROKE DAY.

SEPT. 21 - ALZHEIMER’S DAY

OCT. 16 - TRAUMA DAY

NOV. 17 - EPILEPSY DAY

(Acknowledgement: The New Indian Express.)

BE INFORMED, INFORM OTHERS!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

THE DEAD AND THE LIVING DEAD.

Read the touching story about a general and his daughter in Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan.

Click on the title.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dowsing


Some people claim that they can identify not only water sources under the ground but also predict the quantum and quality of the available water. Dowsing or water divining does not seem to be a science. Probably the dowsers have some paranormal capabilities. My experience narrated below, may be relevant to those who are interested in the subject.

I was Project Administrator and per pro of Apollo Tyres Ltd when we acquired land for the company’s first plant, at Perambra, Trichur District, India. The Kerala State government had assured that a captive pipeline would be laid from the intake well on Chalakudy River for uninterrupted water supply to the plant. Nevertheless, we wanted to assess the groundwater potential at the 100 acre land. This assignment was given to a reputed dowser from Ahmedabad. The year was 1974 or 1975. As required by the dowser, a plan of the site was provided to him when he checked into a hotel at Cochin.

Next morning out of curiosity I went to the site to watch the dowser in operation. He showed me the site map on which he had made several markings. They were, he explained, coordinates – the point from which he would start the search, the likely areas where water would be available and so on.

I told him that it was incredible that a dowser could locate water sources on a map, sitting in his hotel room. The dowser explained that hopefully at some future date the practice of water divining would reach a stage when dowsers may not have to visit a site to locate its groundwater availability. I don’t know whether this has happened yet.

The dowser started from the spot he had marked on the plan the previous night, holding a pendant on a chain in his outstretched right hand. As he neared the place marked 1 on the map, the pendant started moving in a circle (not sideways) and it was whirling quite fast when the spot was reached. This was repeated at seven locations. I was quite sure that the dowser was not manipulating the pendulum.

At one spot where the equipment was rotating at high speed, the dowser asked me to hold it. The moment I took the chain from him, it stopped spinning. When I put my left hand under the dowser’s armpit and gripped as directed by the man, the pendant began moving again almost as fast as before. Apparently, there was some conductivity through the dowser’s body that passed on to me.

Out of the seven locations the dowser had identified, if I remember correctly, five proved reasonably successful.

Ends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

OLAVIPE: Heritage Home of Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans.

The house at dawn. Photo: Shobhanaj


View of the house during day. Photo: Medhekar.


View with the lights on: Photo: The Hindu.


Gate house at night. Photo: Shobhanaj.


This is my ancestral home, (one among the five Parayil Family Heritage Homes) where twelve of us siblings grew up. There were three more, who died young. (See 'Oru Desathinte Amma' and, 'Appan':

http://parayilat.blogspot.com/2007/01/oru-desathinte-amma.html
http://parayilat.blogspot.com/2007/01/appan.html

The house used to be full of noise and laughter and fights among children. And crawling with servants. Then, starting with my elder sister Mariamma, one by one we went off to boarding schools and on to the university. Later the girls were married into other families and the boys took up careers. I was the first one from the Parayil Family to accept a job.

The house stood silent witness to these events and the slow transition from feudalism to democracy. We and the house survived the dramatic and sometimes traumatic changes during the almost seven decades of my memory. A great deal of our lands was lost because of the agrarian reforms policy of successive governments. But, fortunately, the bond between our people who stood with us all along and us remain strong.

Each one of us reached positions of importance and authority in the respective fields that we chose. Today, except the youngest three, the rest are all 60+. It is said that the new models are always an improvement on the earlier ones. By God's grace, our next generation seems to be surpassing us. We strongly believe that the intercession of St. Antony, the Parayil Family's Patron Saint will be with each one of us, as it has been with the family for the last three hundred years or so.

Sometimes, the house lay vacant for long stretches. With all the beauty of Olavipe, it is not always easy for us to stay there continuously because even today the local set up is such that we can only sit with relatives or visitors of equal status and have a drink. Couple of year’s back we opened six bedrooms (maximum permitted by the government for home stay) to selected guests. We love their company. Olavipe is now an internationally famous destination.

I hope to write in this Blog more about Olavipe and its people, and about the vast socio - political and cultural changes that have taken place in my memory.

Ends.
Also see:

Kerala Architecture: Exterior of a heritage home

Lions that guard Thekkanattu Parayil



Monday, March 12, 2007

Read new short story

A crow was driving him nuts. Find out what happens. Read 'A Crow in the Bonnet' at:

http://abrahamtharakansblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/crow-in-bonnet.html

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Indian 'King of France'.

Did you read my post 'Indian who could have been King of France?' If you haven’t, see it at
http://parayilat.blogspot.com/2007/03/indian-who-could-have-been-king-of.html
This is a follow up of that story based on a report in The New Indian Express of March 6, 2007.

The 48 year old Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon who lives in the old quarter of Bhopal, India, is a lawyer and a part-time farmer. It was his father who started the effort to establish the connection between his family and the Bourbon kings of France by writing to the royal houses of Europe.

Balthazar has plans to visit his ‘kingdom’ for the first time. But he says, “I am waiting for an amicable atmosphere there. I understand that a lot of people have not taken kindly to me.” He has to undergo a DNA test either in France or in India. After that he would make a claim for the title.

However the would be king asserts, “… I will continue to live here in India as an Indian citizen. I do not want to relocate to France or obtain French citizenship.”

All the best, Balthazar.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

OLAVIPE: Gift of the waves to Kerala, God's Own Country.






Views of Olavipe Lake from Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans' Estate.










Gate house of a heritage home, Olavipe, India.

The eastern gate house of the Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans' heritage home.



Dawn
Photo: Musafir.

The exterior view.
Photo: The Hindu.

Below:
Daytime view from the gatehouse.
Photo: Medhekar.







Friday, March 9, 2007

A vexatious litigant.


Some people are habitual litigators. One step ahead of them is the vexatious litigants. It is a kind of mental condition. The all time world record holder in the field could very well have been Luka Chettan (name changed to protect identity) of a village near mine. I remember the man clearly.

Luka Chettan inherited a good house and sufficient land to live comfortably. When he was married, the bride came with a fair sum as dowry and a reasonable quantity of gold ornaments. In due course they had a daughter, but were not blessed with any more children.

Luka Chettan had only one weakness – litigation. For some reason he found great thrill in it. He liked court cases and loved to hear arguments by lawyers. Along the way he picked up some knowledge of law and a bit of expertise in conducting cases. Then, he himself became a litigant and started filing court cases with or without valid reasons. He might have won a few of them but lost many, along with a good portion of his wealth. Well wishers advised him to stop the costly pastime. The man paid no heed and carried on like a lottery addict, hoping that he would win the next one.

In the mean time, his daughter was married to a well-to-do college lecturer who demanded no dowry. Now Luka Chettan continued to pursue his hobby without any restraint. As the number of lost cases increased, his assets decreased. Finally he was left with the house and one and a half acres of land around it.

Luka Chettan slowed down. One day he went to the local document writer and wanted to register a deed gifting his remaining properties to his daughter and son-in-law. The document writer explained that after Luka Chettan’s time, his daughter would inherit the properties anyway, and therefore spending money on the procedure would be a waste. But Luka Chettan had an answer to that. If the land and house continued to be in his name, he might be tempted to sell them and spend more money on litigation. This convinced the document writer and the registration was done. Everybody in the locality was happy.

While executing a gift deed, the beneficiaries don’t have to be informed. Luka Chettan’s daughter and her husband probably came to know about the gift only when they received a lawyer notice on a case filed by Luka Chettan against them. The allegation was that they got him drunk and made him sign the document when he was in an inebriated condition.

Before the case progressed further, Luka Chettan passed on to the world where there are no cases and arguments, but only judgments.

Ends.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Indian who could have been the King of France?

Ever heard of Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon? Not likely. This Lawyer-farmer is hardly known outside his circle in Bhopal, India. But suddenly he has become the buzzword among the royalty of Europe.

The reason?

Well, if the French throne still existed, Balthazar who has never set foot in France would be the next one to sit on it. It would appear that his ancestor who came to India in 16c was perhaps a nephew of the first Bourbon king of France. If this were true, the Indian would be related to many royals including the present King of Spain.

Balthazar has nothing to with the claim though the front door of his house in Bhopal sports a brass plaque with the crest of the French monarchy and the inscription ‘House of Bourbon’. It is Prince Michael of Greece who has presented the theory. Angelique Chrisafis has written a must read story on it for Guardian Newspapers Ltd. The Hindu carried it on 4 March 2007 under the title ‘The Lost Bourbon, in India’. You can access the original article Found in India: the last king of France at Guardian Unlimited.

Ends.

The hotter it gets...



Read what global warming is leading us to. See EARTH SAVE - ABRAHAM THARAKAN'S BLOG at:

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Armenian Catholicos in India.

The Armenian Church at Parry's Corner, Chennai, India. The original church was built in 1712. It was replaced by the present one in 1772.
Photo by Nancy Gandhi.
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On reading the coverage in The New Indian Express dated March 3, 2007 about the visit of His Holiness Karekin II Nersissian, 132nd Catholicos of All Armenians, to Chennai (Madras), my mind went back fifty years, to the days I was undergoing management training in Mumbai (Bombay). Those days Mumbai had a number of restaurants owned by Armenians, which served good food at reasonable prices. An Armenian lady owned the guesthouse on Woodhouse Road where I was staying. They were all nice people.

The report also prompted me to look up the details of the relationship between Armenia and India. Well, it is pretty old – could be even more than two millennia! The Armenians were great traders. Emperors and kings welcomed them. Quite a number of them settled down at different places in India. Several were merchant princes. Some held important positions during the Mughal period and the British Raj.

Coming down to local details as stated in The New Indian Express, the throne of the Catholicos at The Holy Etchmiadzia, the headquarters of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and some of the curtains there, were made in Chennai. An Armenian, Kojah Petrus Woskan, built the famous Saidapet Bridge. The Technical Director of the present Tamil Nadu Rugby Team is an Armenian named Emil Vartazarian. Some students from that country are studying in the city’s educational institutions.

But, the last of the descendants of Chennai’s Armenian settlers died in September 2006. In fact, the population of the Armenian community in India has dwindled down to 275!

His Holiness Karekin II, visited the Armenian Church at Parry’s Corner, Chennai. This church is in disrepair. Talks are on with Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for restoration work with the support of the Armenian Church in Calcutta.

In the cemetery of Calcutta’s Armenian Church is a beautiful monument in memory of the one million Armenians who perished in the First World War. His Holiness is also visiting Calcutta and Mumbai during his present unofficial tour of India.

Ends.



Saturday, March 3, 2007

Statements with a twist.


My friend Narayan Thampi of Cochin, India, recently sent me the interesting collection reproduced below:

Sadly, we have lost the art of the well-crafted insult. Here are some examples of classy insults from a time gone by:

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
-- Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
-- Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."
-- Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
-- William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
-- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
-- Moses Hadas

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
-- Abraham Lincoln

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
-- Groucho Marx

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
-- Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."
-- Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... If you have one."
-- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... If there is one."
-- Winston Churchill, in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
-- Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
-- John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."
-- Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others."
-- Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up."
-- Paul Keating

"He had delusions of adequacy."
-- Walter Kerr

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."
-- Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt."
-- Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
-- Thomas Brackett Reed

"He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them."
-- James Reston (about Richard Nixon)

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."
-- Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
-- Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
-- Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
-- Oscar Wilde

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
-- Billy Wilder

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... For support rather than illumination."
-- Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Flash Fiction: THE ROYAL TREE.


I knew the famous oncologist personally and had an appointment to meet him. But there was a tension filled one-hour wait before being summoned. “Some of the reports,” the smartly dressed young nurse who came to call me said, “reached only a little while back.”

The doctor did not look up from the papers he was studying but gestured me to sit down. I was on tender-hooks as minutes passed. Finally the specialist placed the medical reports on the table, looked me straight in the eye and said bluntly, “Just as I suspected, Mr. Varma. Your father has malignant pleural mesothelioma. Terminal stage. Contact with asbestos is considered to be the cause of this cancer.”

I briefly thought about our ancestral house. Three decades back father had the front veranda roofing changed from tiles to asbestos to prevent leaks during monsoon.

“Can anything be done?” I asked.

The doctor shook his head negatively.

“Suppose I take him to the U.S. or – “

“Every year I spend three months in the States. I’m abreast of the latest developments. Sorry. Your father has six months to live at the most.”

After we came back home and father had settled on his favourite chair on the veranda, my ninety-one year old aunt called me aside and asked for the details. She refused to accept the doctor’s pronouncement. “There are many things,” she told me, “that allopathy doctors and apothecaries don’t know. You meet Brahmadathan Thirumeni.”

Thirumeni, the doyen of a Kerala Brahmin family, was an authority on Ayurveda. The response of the oncologist when I checked with him about referring to Thirumeni, impressed me. “Why not?” he asked. “If Ayurveda can offer an effective line of management, it will help a lot of people.”

Next morning Thirumrni listened carefully to the case history, and commented, “It doesn’t sound good.”

He called his highly qualified doctor son who ran a free clinic in the next compound and sought his opinion on the medical documentation. After listening to the doctor’s view he said, “I’m sorry. There is nothing more to be done at this stage.”

I was about to leave when Thirumeni added, “But a remote possibility does exist. An experiment, actually. Don’t pin any hopes on it.”

An ember of hope flared within me.

“In some old texts,” the elderly physician continued, “it is said that sleeping regularly on a cot made of shendurney wood helps to resist seven major diseases. It increases potency as well. Rather late but try it anyway if you can.”

“Of course, we’ll try.”

“The problem is,” Thirumeni went on, “to get shendurney wood.”

I went straight to the largest timber depot in the area. The owner said that he had heard of the wood but thought the tree was extinct.

“Shendurney is still very much there,” the District Forrest Officer whom I met next said authoritatively. “It’s locally known as ‘chenkurinji’. Botanical name is Gluta Travancorica. It’s supposed to have several medicinal properties. The tree grows in the Rockwood area of the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in Quilon District.”

He went on to say that the tree was classified as endemic and endangered specie and that the government had implemented a special project to protect and propagate it.

When he finished, I explained my dilemma. “All I need,” I pleaded, “is enough wood to make just one cot.”

“Impossible,” the D.F.O. scuttled my hopes with one word. “Shendurney is a royal tree. Formerly, only the maharajas of Travancore could have them felled. Now nobody has the authority.”

“What about the Forest Minister or the Cabinet?”

“Not unless they change the law, as far as I know.”

I was wondering about possible alternate avenues for obtaining the material when the officer added, “Shendurney won’t be found at any timber auction or depot. The punishment for cutting one is mandatory imprisonment and a mammoth fine.”

By the time I returned home disappointed, father had retired. I went in quietly and sat on the balcony staring into the darkness outside.

A few minutes later, aunt came there. She stood near me and started stroking my hair. “Be brave, my son,” she whispered. “It’s God’s will. We have to accept.”

It was the first time that I had seen her in a pessimistic mood. “Why do you say that, ammai?” I asked.

“When Thirumeni gives up,” she explained, “the patient is as good as finished.”

“But,” I protested, “he didn’t give up.”

“Oh, my God,” she exclaimed. “When you went in silently I thought – “

“The question is,” I said, “whether we would be able to give the suggested treatment.”

“What do you mean?” aunt asked aggressively. “We must follow the vaidyan’s instructions no matter what it takes.”

I narrated the details to her. The moment shendurney cot was mentioned, aunt responded, “But we have one here. It must be in the attic.”

She described how the rare piece happened to be in our house. Many decades ago there was only one female member in the family, which used to follow the matrilineal system. She did not have children even twelve years after her marriage. A member of the royal family who was aware of the problem consulted the palace vaidyan and sent across a shendurney cot. After the couple used it for three years, a daughter was born to them.

Immediately I climbed to the attic and there it was, an old piece of carved furniture. When the servant who accompanied me finished dusting it, I noticed that the wood had a strange red-crimson colour.

Next morning I told father about Thirumeni’s suggestion and the shendurney cot. There was a glimmer in his eyes. “Let me try it,” he said. “After all, it kept the family lineage unbroken.”

From that afternoon’s siesta, father started using the cot regularly. In fact he was lying on it most of the time. A week later, the improvement in his condition was perceptible. Within a month, it was difficult to believe that father had been pronounced a terminal cancer patient.

Both the cancer specialist and Brahmadathan Thirumeni were kept posted of the details. Thirumeni’s doctor son came after two months and checked the patient.

The oncologist also came, twice – shortly after the doctor Thirumeni’s visit and again three months later. According to him the progress was amazing. He asked many questions about Brahmadathan Thirumeni and shendurney and took notes.

Father lived eleven months and nine days after returning from the hospital. Since his death, there have been a couple of developments. I received a notice from the DFO asking me to show cause why I should not be prosecuted for unauthorized possession of a shendurney cot. The second was a brief news item stating that an American company had filed a patent application involving shendurney with the US Patent & Trademark Office!

Ends.