Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kerala: Of monkeys and nuts

Yesterday's Indian Express, Cochin Edition carried an article on Joseph Alapatt. I know this gentleman for four decades and more. As far as I am aware of, he has done more for the coconut farmers of Kerala than anyone else, both personally and as Chairman of the Indian Coconut Council and in several other official capacities.

Alapatt's love affair with coconuts started at an young age though he began his career as a Director of the Catholic Syrian Bank, Trichur, a major financial institution of Kerala. His ancestral properties include a large area of coconuts.

The coconut farming sector in Kerala is in doldrums.This is not a sudden development. The diminishing returns scenario began years ago. One of the major reasons for this decline is the labor situation.

The yield from coconut trees is steadily decreasing. From over 40 nuts per tree per year a few years ago, I believe that the production has drooped to below 25 nuts. Two reasons for this are (1) the planting materials are often sub-standard because of unhealthy nursery practices, and (2) due to high cost and nonavailability of labor, the seasonal attention that is required is not given.

The price of coconuts in Kerala remains uneconomic. The support price is unrealistic. There is no meaningful government backing. JosephAlapat says that in the Philippines, the coconut portfolio comes under the President and in Sri Lanka there is a separate Minister for coconuts. He also says that the prices are kept low in Kerala by the copra mafia.

Before the coconuts can be made into copra, they have to be plucked from the trees. This is a process that has to be done 7 to 8 times in an year. A particular community attends to this job. There are not enough of them to meet the demand and those available ask for exorbitant wages.

Once, during his frequent trips to coconut growing countries, Joseph Alapatt found that in Indonesia monkeys are trained to pluck coconuts. He requested the Minister concerned to send a squad of monkeys to Kerala on a trial basis. According to the article, the Minister replied "The labor leaders in Kerala would kill the monkeys as soon as the animals reached that state"!

That is Kerala.

Ends

Also see:

Un-ploughed lies my land

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ram Sethu: Where is the conflict?

A closer look at Ram Sethu issue leads to a quagmire. I can’t see any real conflict. An objective analysis does not indicate any need for controversies, unless somebody really wants to create one. Perhaps that is what we are witnessing now.

It is the belief of millions of people that Ram Sethu was built by the forces of Lord Rama. There is also a belief that the events in Ramayana refer to a war between Aryans and Dravidians. These are all traditions that originated some time in the distant past and survived through thousands of years. As Henry James (1843-1916) said, “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” In this light, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) affidavit before the Supreme Court on Ram Sethu, though subsequently withdrawn, was unfortunate.

There is another side to it, however. For instance, I am a Syrian Christian who firmly believes that St. Thomas founded our Church. That is the tradition among the people. But if I were asked to submit an affidavit on it in a court of law, I would have to say that there is no historic evidence about the Apostle ever landing in Kerala. Several historians have and still do, say this, but I have not heard of any Syrian Christian getting emotional about such statements.

The objective of building Ram Sethu would have been a limited one – to send armies to Lanka and rescue Sita. Therefore, the requirement was not a solid structure to survive millennia but a functional temporary causeway sufficient for the immediate purpose on hand. Leaving the bridge usable after the target was achieved would not have been wise militarily either. In any case, there was no reason at that time to have a permanent land route to Lanka.

Where would such a bridge have been built? Naturally at the shallowest, easiest and fastest to construct alignment. The location of Ram Sethu confirms this. Logic brings one to the conclusion that a temporary causeway was built using the existing shoals as base. The Adam’s Bridge, according to what I have read, is much older than Ramayna. The causeway which was raised on it had served its purpose and would have been washed away during the centuries that have rolled by with the waves. Perhaps some parts of it still remain. The name Ramaar Paalam or Ram Sethu merely signifies an event in the traditions.

Is there something sacrosanct about Ram Sethu? If there is, would the BJP led government have, according to reports, reactivated the 1860 scheme of Alfred D. Taylor to cut a shipping channel through it to connect Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar? The obvious answer is no. And, if the project can help mankind, would Lord Rama like it being shelved again? (One website mentioned that a couple of dredgers engaged at the site broke down because Rama is angry. If that is the case, there is nothing to worry. Divine intervention will protect Ram Sethu.)

Now, will the project help the people? One view expressed is that it will only benefit the shipping companies and the politicians. I don’t know about the latter, but reducing the turnaround time of any carrier makes sound economic sense. The benefits are bound to percolate down to the people as well.

Another apprehension is that this project is meant to expedite the growth of the Tuticorin Port in Tamil Nadu and sabotage the development of the Vizhinjam Harbor project in Kerala. The question here is whether the BJP which has at least some base in Kerala, would have agreed to an arrangement favorable to Tamil Nadu where it does not seem to have any significant following.

The real concern, I feel, should be the environmental implications of Ram Sethu project. The Techno-Economic Feasibility study for the scheme was reportedly done by the Tuticorin Port Trust. Was it an independent work by competent people, free of political interference? There was one indication that the World Monuments Fund had suggested that divers should be asked to collect samples from the seabed near Ram Sethu for analysis. I can’t trace any further information on this.

Those who are for the shipping canal project repeatedly assert that ecological hazards have been carefully assessed and addressed. One claim is that dredging process has been chosen for the scheme since blasting the seabed would cause environmental damage. According to them five different alignments were considered by two different governments. Some media reports say that the present route through Ram Sethu was accepted by both the earlier BJP led government and the present UPA one after studying all aspects.

In the name of a project that may or may not be implemented, enough damage has been already done by the politicians and the fanatics. Is this what Rama Rajyam envisages?

Ends.

Also see:

Ram Sethu controversy

Adam's Bridge & Adam's Peak

Cross posted to

Articles By Abraham Tharakan

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tax savings & doing good

A new Blog SaveOurCity is Mumbai specific but most of the points that it presents are relevant universally. The latest post says “Whether it is for Tax benefits, or for building Karma, doing good actually makes sound practical sense.” Read it at Invest in Your Soul


***
A note: Some time back I made a post, Education: Schools without students. Today’s Deccan Chronicle carries an article in ‘Learning Curve’ by Prof. JS Rajput a former Chairman of NCTE and former Director of NCERT. Among other things, it says:

40,000 schools (in India) have no buildings.

90,000 schools have no blackboards.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Ends.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Adam's Bridge & Adam's Peak

I used to think that Adam’s Bridge in South India and Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka were named after some Englishman, from the Raj days. But while researching for Ram Sethu controversy, yesterday’s post on my blog, I came to understand that the name is from the original Adam of Eden.

According to some Islamic texts, Adam, after being banished from Eden, walked down to South India, crossed over to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by the causeway between Palk Straits and Gulf of Mannar and climbed the 2,243 meters mountain in the south of that country. It is claimed that the 'first man' stood atop the peak on one leg, a penance that lasted for 1000 years. As a result, his foot mark became imprinted on the rock on which he stood. Adam would have been a giant of a man because the footprint measures 5 feet 7 inches by 2 feet 6 inches! The legend also indicates that Sri Lanka was the nearest thing to Paradise on earth.

The mountain, Adam’s Peak, is popularly known as ‘Sri Pada’ (sacred footprint). It is a holy place to Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and to lesser extent, to the Jews. That is something unique. The Buddhists believe that the footprint is that of Buddha, made during his final visit to Lanka. The Hindus consider it as Shivan’s Adi Padam, caused by his thandavam (dance) atop the peak.

When the Portuguese reached the island in the 16c, they didn’t want to be left out of the script and claimed that the sacred footprint was that of St. Thomas who brought Christianity to Lanka. There is a similar assertion about the impression on a rock at the famous St. Thomas pilgrimage centre at Malayattoor in Kerala. But that I believe is more man-sized. I don’t think that any mention of St. Thomas having had feet of giant proportions exists in any text. Whatever the claims may be, the Adam’s Peak is beautiful as you can see in the picture below:

Photo from Wikimedia Commons under GNUFDL.

Ends.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ram Sethu controversy

The controversy about the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) is most unfortunate. The scheme is to create a shipping channel to connect Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar. Once this is done, the ships going to the Arabian Sea from India’s east coast ports can save about 400kms (say, about 30 hours of sailing) by avoiding the detour around Sri Lanka.

The protests against the project started when NASA released satellite photos showing the Adam’s Bridge which many millions believe was built by Lord Rama’s forces to cross over to Sri Lanka and rescue Sita from Ravana. The fuse was lit when the Archeological Survey of India submitted an affidavit in the Suprme Court claiming that there is no historic evidence to the events in Ramayana. The way it was worded apparently offended certain groups and the Government of India promptly withdrew the affidavit. But the damage was already done.

What I can’t understand is, if the BJP and their allies genuinely believed in the sanctity of the bridge, why didn’t they, when they were in power, declare the area as a heritage site and change the name Adam’s Bridge officially to ‘Ramaar Paalam’ or ‘Ram Sethu’? The obvious answer is that at that time they failed to see the color of votes, if at all it is there, in this far away (from Delhi) destination.

Now it would seem that BJP went trigger happy without referring to the back files. A Times of India report that I saw on the Internet yesterday says that the SSCP was revived (the idea had been mooted during British days) by the then BJP-led government. Different alignments were considered and the BJP government gave the in principle approval to the project in January 2003. Quoting sources the report says that the present alignment which cuts through the Ram Sethu was approved by the NDA government led by BJP. Therefore it would appear that the Manmohan Singh government is only carrying on with what the BJP had approved.

If this position is confirmed conclusively, the BJP would have difficulty in explaining the agitation against the project.

Two images of Adam’s Bridge from Wikipedia are reproduced below:


UN map, considered to be in public domain.

Released to public domain by the Federal Government of United States.

Ends.

Also see:

History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

Sunday, September 23, 2007

E-learning industry

E-learning (also spelt e-Learning) is a computer based method of teaching (and learning) that substitutes or augments traditional classroom education. This system can involve virtual environments, animation, video, audio and text. It is an anywhere, anytime education/training process that is cost effective and more efficient than a crowded class room. It is only natural that more and more corporations, institutions and other customers are shifting to E-learning.

These buyers are constantly looking for cheaper and more efficient systems. This naturally puts a great deal of pressure on the providers who have to work with reduced margins and the reality of new products cannibalizing the earlier ones. It is a constant struggle in which some fold up and many get absorbed by the bigger operators. The suppliers have to be alert and target their products to specific sectors to successfully cater to the vast demand for E-learning materials.

Basically, E-learning contains three parts – content, services and technology. It could be said that content is the most important among these. Even with the best of technology and services, there would be no takers if the message conveyed is sub-standard.

This has a similarity to a conventional classroom – even the most interesting subject can be made boring by an incompetent teacher. The same goes for poorly presented E-learning material

After four years of recession, the E-learning industry in US is back on the upward curve. The turnover of these products and services was over $10 billions in 2006. The expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is 30.8% during the period 2006-2011.

But the projected growth of E-learning industry in the US will not be in the same pattern that had prevailed till now. There is an expansion in the customer base, which used to mainly consist of government agencies and corporations. That mode is transforming rapidly.

A major report, The US Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2006-2011 Forecast and Analysis segregates the present E-learning market into eight segments: consumer, corporations and businesses, federal government, state and local government, PreK-12 academic, higher education, non-profits and associations, and healthcare. Each section has its own specialized needs. This presents a continuing challenge to the suppliers.

In the changing scenario, the success of the suppliers of E-learning products depends on anticipating or understanding the requirements of the new customers and catering to them efficiently and economically.

Ends.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Photo: Pots on the wall

KUZA – NAMA (Book of Pots) is a part of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from stanza 59 which begins

Listen again. One Evening at the Close Of Ramazan’. 
Read Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat at 
http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm

A beautiful photo of pots is given below:


Photo copyright KO Isaac. Click on it for enlarged view.

Also see:

Birds: Photos & Poetry

Friday, September 21, 2007

DakshinaChitra: South India in 10 acres.

Would you like to take a cultural tour of South India in a day? Go to DakshinaChitra at Muttukadu off Chennai on the East Coast Road (ECR). The first time I went there was two years ago for a corporate dinner (see: Jaltarang). Recently my daughter Rosemary Isaac who is associated with DakshinaChitra took me took me there again.

The first thing that struck me when I saw the buildings and layout of the undulated ten acre site was the similarity to Laurie Baker’s famous architectural masterpiece, the Centre for Development Studies at Trivandrum. Not surprising. I believe that Laurie Baker (see: Laurie Baker - A Tribute.) conceived the layout of DakshinaChitra. It was detailed and transformed into reality by his former student Benny Kuriakose (engineer& conservation architect) and his team.

And the result is amazing. The organizers call DakshinaChitra ‘a continuous cultural journey’. It started in 1984 when Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan and her associates formed the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The Tamil Nadu Government gave the land at Muttukadu in 1991. DakshinaChitra was opened to the public in 1996. Today it is a famous heritage centre of international standard and keeps growing with the financial and other support of friends and well-wishers.

What DakshnaChitra offers is a cultural feast to the casual visitor and the more serious ones. It is a showcase of South Indian culture - architecture, music, arts and crafts, folk performances and much more. The place has support facilities like seminar hall, exhibition gallery, activity halls, guesthouse, canteen, library, boutique, craft bazaar, mandapam, artisan quarters and amphitheater. It has also become an in-place for corporate functions and weddings.

But the most impressive aspect of DakshinaChitra is the collection of South Indian houses. Not models, but real ones transplanted brick by brick from the four South Indian States – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Not just one building from each region but dwellings of different communities. One can walk into a Tamil Nadu merchant’s house, come out at the back and cross the street to an agraharam. Or turn right to a farmer’s house. If you go in the other direction it is a Syrian Christian house from Kerala, and so on. They are all authentic.

Within the ten acres of DakshinaChitra campus, one can make a study of South Indian culture. The place has quite a number of visitors, which include families that come on picnic cum sightseeing. But I didn’t find many foreigners at DakshinaChitra. Increased publicity would attract more of them; actually that would be a service to the tourists who may miss the essence of South Indian culture even with an extended tour.

Dr. Debora Thiagarajan and her associates deserve kudos for creating DakshinaChitra. Public support is required for the success of their continuing efforts to improve and expand the remarkable venture. Please do visit the website

http://www.dakshinachitra.net/index.htm

for more information. Or you can email mcfdak@md3.vsnl.net.in

Ends.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Un-ploughed lies my land

Want to fill in your paddy fields in Kerala, or leave them uncultivated? You can. Only problem is that you may be put behind the bars for 1-3 years and slapped with a fine of Rs.50,000 to Rs.100,000. That is what a new law on the anvil provides for, according to the newspaper reports. The idea is to prevent the increasing tendency in the State to reclaim rice growing areas for other purposes or leave them unutilized.

No ‘Capitalist’ worth his name would leave an asset non-operative if he can make money out of it. Even nationalized banks (a hang up from ‘socialistic pattern of society’ days) are trying to reduce their non-performing assets (NPA). Why should the Kerala muthalalis (landowning or business magnates) ignore their lands? One reason is sheer capitalistic outlook – there is no money in it. But there is a more valid ground to which the politicians turn a Nelson’s eye.

Even if a fool of a muthalai decides to cultivate his fields incurring loss, out of patriotism or whatever, he still has a problem. There is an acute shortage of workmen. Offering exorbitant wages do not attract labor anymore; very few like to work on land, particularly the rice fields. In major paddy growing areas of Kerala, like Kuttanad and Palakkad, workers and agricultural machinery (for years the left parties fought the introduction of tractors) are imported from neighboring Tamil Nadu. That is likely to stop too because the wages in that State have gone up recently.

By law, a muthalali, or anyone for that matter, can hold only 12 acres of paddy/coconut lands in Kerala – a great comedown from 1000+ acres. Weeds grow in the rice fields which were once the pride of a muthalali. Coconut cultivation is almost on its death bed because of low productivity and uneconomic prices.

After staying a couple days at my cousin, John Tharakan’s home stay (http://www.ayanathouse.com/), Peter Wonacott wrote about the problems of coconut growers in Kerala in The Wall Street Journal
(March 10, 2007; Page P5). The title of the article is ‘India's Nuttiest Destination’- meaning coconuts of course!

In the last picture what you see in the foreground is tall grass not rice plants.

Ends.

All photos copyright Karthiki, TP. Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Malayalam cinema and its lyrics.

Yesterday I saw a Malayalam movie, a rather dated one, on TV. It impressed me. Before going into the other aspects of that cinema, I would like to talk about the lyrics in it.

The movie has only one song. The lyrics by Rameshan Nair, particularly the second line which contains only three words, reiterated my conviction that Malayalam songs are so descriptive with the minimum use of words. One can almost visualize the scenes without the help of a camera.

A literal translation of the words in question into English would read ‘inner courtyard besmeared with moonlight’. Doesn’t sound all that poetic. One can improve it by changing it to ‘moon-washed (or moon-bathed) inner courtyard’. Still not good enough. In Malayalam, the lyrics are ‘chandrika mezhukiya manimuttam’. And that is poetry.

What do these words bring to mind? It could mean different things to different people. Here is one scenario. A quite moonlit night. An old nalukettu tucked away in some remote village. The manimuttam (inner courtyard) with its tulasithara (a basil vase). Someone sits on the mezhukiya (cow dung coated) floor, staring at the moon-washed white sands of the courtyard, thinking of – what? It could be so many things; imagination has no limits.

The song also reminded me of one from yester years. Unfortunately I can remember only the first line now: Nalukettin thirumutta thilaveyi lettunilkum Krishna thulasi poove… Does anyone know the rest of it?

Coming to the movie – it is by the one man movie machine (a borrowed usage), Balchandra Menon. I never used to take his creations seriously till I saw ‘Achuettante veedu’ yesterday.

The story is basically simple, a tale that we see in many families and places. The characters are fantastic though. They are not unusual; we often find them in real life. But how minutely Balachandra Menon observed them and transferred them so realistically on to the celluloid is truly amazing. He has woven the story tightly and smoothly without even one obtrusive knot. The deft manner in which Menon handles the suicide attempt is excellent. The dialogues are crisp, to the point, and carry the story forward.

The artistes merely live their parts. I wonder whether the movie would have had the same quality if there was one character more, or one less. The only comment about casting is that Sukumaran was overqualified for the role; it didn’t offer any challenge to the great histrionic talent the actor had.

The subtly symbolic end where the heroine walks to her new job against the backdrop of a serpentine political jatha in front of the Government Secretariat is a master stroke. Life goes on in spite of snakes and ladders.

Achuvinte veedu is not a great movie. But it is a good one. If you haven’t seen it yet, get hold of a print.

Ends.

Also see:

Malayalam cinema: Random thoughts

Malayalam songs: Lyrics





Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

The latest post on Maddy's Ramblings is a thought provoking article Vivekanada's Lunatic Kerala, which prompted me to write this post. About 100 years back Dr. Palpu, an Ezhava (considered to be low caste) brought to the notice of Swami Vivekananda the severity of the caste system in Kerala and the travails the lower classes had to endure because of it. Vivekananda visited Kerala to study the situation and reacted to what he saw. He felt that he had wandered into a lunatic asylum.

Presented below is an image of the caste system that existed, all over India, at that time. I couldn’t get the comments on it translated, but, really, words are not required. The picture tells the story. The author, Deyvid Aleksandr Raffo Setti calls it ‘Structure of the Indian society by castes’. I would have liked to give the caption ‘Indian Social System: Head to foot and below'.

A century has passed since Swami Vivekananda’s visit. Is Kerala still a madhouse? Difficult question to answer. The labels ST/SC (Scheduled Tribe/Scheduled Caste) and OBC (Other Backward Classes) are now worn like medals. None of them would like to be upgraded to the ‘higher caste’ grouping because of the advantage of reservations, other benefits and the bargaining power the present status gives them.

At the same time, one reads reports about cases being filed for addressing a person from the lower class by caste name; it is considered an insult. And, social integration is still far away. The upper castes tolerate the ST/SC and OBC only because there is no alternative.

Has the present system of reservation for the ST/SC, OBC group been truly beneficial in uplifting the downtrodden? That is another story.

Ends.

The images can be enlarged by clicking on them.
Picture of Swami Vivekananda is by Reji Navasree (rejinavasree@yahoo.com) on thermocol, a technique he has developed himself. See A village artist. The image of caste system is from Wikimedia Commons. It is Public Domain.

Also see: History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

The Caste Wall Story



Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cricket: Board games and bucks – Rahul Dravid out!

Rahul Dravid would have seen it coming. Others too, who were alert enough (I was not one of those). In the retrospect it would seem that the indications of a move for Dravid’s ouster started when the pack of pundits opened up after the third Test against England at the Oval.

For the first time in the history of Indian cricket we saw a captain being criticized for the margin of victory on winning a Test series in England after a couple of decades. It sounded so absurd to me who has often seen the headlines ‘India goes down fighting’ (in almost all sports). Instead of congratulating the winning captain along with his team, a group of armchair critics went for Rahul Dravid’s jugular veins – he should have made England follow on, the wise men said.

What was the captain’s objective? To win the series or take even a remote risk of the series ending on an even note? If England following on managed to get even a small lead (they scored 369/6 in 110 overs in the 2nd innings) and the Indian batsmen buckled on the fifth day pitch, what would the critics have said? In the second innings the Indians were 11/3 at one stage.

The verbal diarrhea continued on to the ODI series. The pundits quoted all kinds of reasons why Dravid should have elected to bat first in the 1st match. The fact that in the none too distant past India had successfully chased targets 16 consecutive times was quietly overlooked. And no body asked how Dravid could have foreseen three of his batsmen getting themselves run out in the chase.

Do all these mean that there was a concerted effort to put pressure on Dravid? With the BCCI politics, Zonal equations and the money involved, anything is possible. It is not really performance that counts in Indian cricket. Take a look at the results achieved by three successive captains:

ODIs success rate: Dravid 56%, Ganguly 53.9%, Tendulkar 35.1%

Tests Win-loss ratio: Dravid W 8 –L 6, Ganguly W 21 – L 13, Tendulkar W 4 - L 9.

Dravid’s batting:

ODI: as Captain, AVG 42.19, as player 39.38, overall 40.05. Tests: as Captain 44.51, as player 60.12, overall 56.50.

Well, the figures speak better than words. But none of these matter in the murky world of Indian cricket. We have lost a decent and dignified captain with an astute cricketing mind. For the time being there is at least one consolation. I would like to quote a message that appeared on the famous Mumbai Marine Drive hoarding when JRD Tata stepped down as Air India Chairman, “TATA does not always mean goodbye”.

Dravid would continue to be available to play for India if the powers be deign to select him.

Ends.

Indebted to Deccan Chronicle for the statistics.

Also see:

When strong men cried...

Cricket in remote areas

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pagodas of Arunachal Pradesh.

Tucked away in the north-western corner of India, Arunachal Pradesh has borders with Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar. The name means ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. It has great scenic beauty with snow clad mountains, streams and rivers, forests of different types, terraced cultivation, herds of yak and mountain sheep.

About 40% of the 1.1 million population (2001 census) are Buddhists. The ‘Tibetan’ Buddhists belong to the Mahayana sect which follows lamaistic traditions. Those living in the eastern part of the state, believed to have originally migrated from Myanmar and Thailand belong to the Hinayana sect.

The pagodas and Buddhist monasteries of Arunachal are great tourist attractions. Pagodas locally called ‘Gompas’ are places of veneration, or temples. The basic style of the pagodas comes from Indian stupas (like the ones shown in the photograph on the left of Rajiv Gandhi Memorial at Sriperambadur, TN, India). But the design has been adapted to suit different geographical locations and cultures.

They are truly beautiful structures. Some photographs of pagodas in Arunachal Pradesh are given below.






Photos: Copyright KO Isaac. Click on them for enlarged view.

Ends.

Also see: Tibetan Prayer Flags

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Madras Matters

For 30 months now, I have been living more or less continuously in Chennai (formerly Madras). This is the first time I stayed outside Kerala for so long since my college days. People often ask me how I find the change. Well, not too bad.

First of all the rain gods have been kind. The weather has been quite tolerable, in fact pleasant I would say, except for a month or two in summer. Since we stay about hundred meters or so from the sea, there is always a lovely breeze. The problem though is that our area doesn’t have a proper drainage system. In certain parts of the otherwise well-maintained avenue, the rainwater forms pools that sometimes remain for a couple of days.

Almost everything is home-delivered except liquor. In fact, buying the potion is quite an adventure. There are two wine shops nearby. Unlike Kerala, there is no system of queuing here. In the jostling and wriggling, strong men get the bottles. The meek wait eternally. I tried a few times to buy drinks personally and gave up – not on the liquor, but getting involved in the melee. Now I depend on the driver for buying bottles.

Otherwise, one can get almost everything within a two-hundred meter radius; including ATMs (see ATM Service). What is amazing is that on the 300 meter long street with no high-rise buildings, there are three ironing booths and two tailors, all on the roadside. They pick up the clothes and deliver them back. They seem to be busy all the time.

The road slopes to the sea. An ‘L’ turn takes one to a broad, straight stretch that that has a dead-end. It is parallel to the beach and is a beautiful place to walk – not crowded, hardly any traffic. In fact children play football at the dead-end, and that is great. And, apart from walkers and joggers, one comes across several good quality breeds of dogs. It is sometimes like a Kennel Club parade.

Talking about clubs – that is one thing I miss in Chennai. Occasionally I do go to the Gymkhana or the Presidency. That’s no fun because I hardly know any one there. And I don’t have the knack of introducing myself and getting into a conversation. One’s own club and group of friends – there is nothing like it.

The area is quiet and trouble free. All houses have watchmen. Several of them are on the wrong side of sixty, possibly with impaired vision and hearing. The reason for hiring them, someone explained to me, is the theory that old men require less sleep. That’s fine but if a thief happens to land right in front, the watchman may not know what to do with him!

Ends.

Also see: No Red Sails in the Sunset

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

Three matters:

Blogging: why not teenagers too?

Lakshmi Bharadwaj is a committed blogger. Reading the posts by this young (16 years) lady is always a pleasure. Responding to Mr. GV Krishnan’s article on blogging by senior citizens and my post Believe it or not - blogging at 107, Lakshmi has published a piece, Why do Teenagers Blog?, which is thought provoking. Here is a sample: ‘If you observe the ‘teenage’ blogs, you can see we usually write about ourselves. We are those struggling souls, caught between childhood and adulthood, struggling on a path of self-discovery. That’s why we need a blog. We need to voice ourselves, it gives immense relief.’

I suggest that you read Lakshmi at An Amateur's contribution

Improving the world we live in

My post reproducing Teresa’s Quick ways to make a difference has drawn the following email comment from an internationally well-known Professor Emeritus in Europe:

I am very happy to read the posting on Teresa's blog which you had copied in yours… But to see that she is trying to channel good intentions into concrete actions is really wonderful. Her suggestions bring up a few possible actions which we had not thought of. And we are happy about that. Please convey our warm regards and congratulations to her.


Ixora

Please see my post
Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) - flowers that gods and...
I found this photo of the white flower. It is beautiful.


The photo is from Wikimedia Commons under GNUFDL. Click to enlarge.

Ends.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

123 Go - BY THE BOOK

Where is the 123 (India-US Nuclear) Agreement, or rather the politicians’ handling of it, taking us? I am a reasonably well-educated citizen, read a few newspapers daily and watch TV, but still the drama is confusing.

I understand that the present opposition mooted the idea of the nuclear treaty when they were in power. Now the agreement is anathema to them for whatever reason. They wanted a discussion in the Parliament, then a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and again, a debate in the House followed by voting. The Speaker had already ruled that such procedure would be against precedent.

The Left has its own reasons for opposing the agreement. The old ‘imperialism, colonialism and capitalism’ jargon is still there, but added to it are ‘integrity, sovereignty and security’ of the country. The protest follows a well-trodden path – the Left has a history of campaigns against tractors, computers, mechanization in industry, and so on.

Currently the Left is also busy leading jathas from Chennai and Kolkota to ward off any danger from the foreign warships that are temporarily in the Bay of Bengal for a combined exercise with the Indian Navy. The vessels of Pakistan and China, the only two countries to have attacked India are not involved in the war games.

The scientists seem divided on the deal. Whether they have assessed the agreement in its totality or merely looked at some technical point or the other is not clear. And some wizards have suddenly realized that energy produced under the deal would be costlier than power generated through other methods.

The media too is split on the deal. One saw the sad instance of an esteemed Chennai-based daily doing a flip-flop on the issue and then coming out with an unconvincing explanation for its volte face. That paper also claimed (others too did) that the majority of MPs were against the 123 deal.

The Government appears to be adamant on proceeding with the nuclear agreement. What should be done in the given situation? Repeatedly stating that the Government has been reduced to a minority on this issue is not enough. The Constitution of India was written by wise men. It has the provision for handling such situations.

If the NDA and the Left genuinely believe that the 123 Agreement compromises India’s interests, I feel that they are duty bound to bring a no confidence motion against the Government.

Why is the hesitation to test the strength on the floor of the House? Is it fear of failure or the possibility of losing some seats should there be a fresh General Election?

For now, they are merely messing up the functioning of the Parliament with a lot of sound and fury.

Ends.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain. Shows the Preamble to the Constitution of India.

Click on it for enlarged view.

Also see: Indo-US nuclear agreement

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Quick ways to make a difference

[I came across this post in my daughter Teresa’s Blog,(under construction) ‘SaveOurCity’ http://mumbaisos.blogspot.com/ Though the Blog is Mumbai specific, some of the points are universal. It is reproduced with Teresa’s permission. There are so many ways in which one can help the underprivileged.You are welcome to add your suggestions to these.]

Buy

1. Go on a retail therapy spree, but buy products made by the disabled/underprivileged at http://www.shopthecause.com/
2. Sign up for a New Magic Bus ICICI affinity credit card and indirectly help sponsor a child
3. Buy things at http://pages.ebay.in/charity/

Donate

1. Donate old mobile phones to the deaf (SMS messages and the vibrator mode make this a very effective method of communication esp for the working deaf)
2. Donate old computers to balwadis/municipal schools
3. Give old toys to Toy Foundation or to the Toy Bank (call Sunisha on 9820856315 or Swati on 9821352836), old bed sheets to Old Age homes, old clothes to orphanages.
4. Donate old magazines to old age homes; books to libraries at jails and remand homes; children’s textbooks, bulk paper from corporates to a leprosy home, story books to orphanages and schools for less privileged children
5. Have a ‘Donation Day’ every quarter year, in companies, housing associations, or schools
6. Donate your computer’s idle time to Google Compute, to help carry out calculations for scientific research
7. Carry biscuits or other foodstuff (preferably packaged food or fruit/veggies) to give street kids at traffic signals
8. Gift a donation to a cause of your choice on behalf of a special person, through http://www.giveindia.org/give/common/HomePageAction.do#
9. Answer a hospitalized child’s wish at http://www.mawindia.com/files/pending-wish.asp

Do

1. Read stories into a cassette for blind kids (or record your voice while you read to your children), and give it to a nearby blind school; text books can also be read aloud into a cassette.
2. Separate your rubbish into biodegradable, non-biodegradable, reusable; organize your society/neighborhood to do the same with the help of Agnimumbai.org.
3. Teach your maid/her children to read and write, Maths, English, etc

Hire
1. Employ a disabled person (Special Employment Exchange for Physically Handicapped)


Friday, September 7, 2007

Photos: pristine mountain streams







What happens after this point?

Pollution?

Ends.

Photos: Copyright KO Isaac.

Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see:

Colors - beautiful photos

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Believe it or not - blogging at 107

In my post Senior Citizens, blogging is a passport to good health I mentioned about the 95 year old Spanish great-grandmother Maria Amelia Lopez who is a big hit in the blogosphere. Well, yesterday GV Krishnan has come out with an interesting article World’s eldest YouTuber? According to it an Australian great-great grandmother, Olive Riley at 107, is likely to be the world’s oldest blogger and You Tuber.

I visited Olive’s site. It’s delightful. How would you like to read about a horse who was a regular visitor to the local pub? Or the poignant piece about a girl running into a boy from her school days decades later in a ‘what could have been but was not to be’ story?

I’m giving below the Links relating to Olive, which Eric Shackle, 88, who is on a mission to convert elders to the computer, has been kind enough to provide:
Olive’s blog http://www.allaboutolive.com.au/
Olive’sYouTube http://www.allaboutolive.com.au/
Mike Rubbo, film maker (Olive’s helper) http://www.mikerubbo.com/
World’s favourite grandma ftp://ftp.bdb.co.za/olive_riley.pdf

And read Eric’s ‘Life Begins at 80’ at http://bdb.co.za/shackle

Coming to India, MYSORE BLOG PARK carries a post by a Mumbai based 75 year old lady, Anandi, who took up blogging just a month back. I’ve marked it to read later.

But one of the few blogs that I have bookmarked is Memories and Musings
http://memories-and-musings.blogspot.com/ by Maiji, a Chennai based great-grandmother, 79, (may be 80 now) who has been blogging since May, 2006. It is a site where the scenes shift from Trivandrum to Delhi to Chennai - people, places, events, so much of history.

Please read the comments on Senior Citizens, blogging is a passport to good health carefully. They are interesting and illuminating. The case of my good friend Jacob Matthan is inspiring. He is only about 65. The recovery of parts of his brain, which had been affected by excessive alcohol consumption, was helped considerably by his blogging through which he was able to establish contact with his old friends and slowly rebuild his links with the past. He has been a teetotaler for 25 years now.

I am quoting here a part of the comment by Ronni Bennetty, ‘As we get older, our social circles shrink. After retirement, we don't have the daily camaraderie of work colleagues. Families may live far away. Old friends die. And perhaps in time, it is not so easy to get out and about as we once did.

’Real friendships form among bloggers, as strong over time as in-person friendships. And with blogging, one's new friends might be anywhere in the world.’ There is more.

Start blogging, it’s good for you.

Ends.

Also see: Senior Citizens, blogging is a passport to good health

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) - flowers that gods and men love

Like some gods and goddesses, the flower shown in the photo has several names - Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae), jungle flame, burning love, jungle geranium, flame of the woods, flame of the forest, scarlet jungle flame, faja lobi, rugmini, vedchi , rangan, chethi. Select any you like. I would opt for chethi because it always reminds me, like most Malayalees, of the perennial favorite song ‘Chethi, mandaram, tulasi…” But I’ll stick to the botanical name, Ixora for this post.

In some countries Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) is associated with valor. It is said that ancient Tamil literature mentions about soldiers wearing the flowers and leaves of this plant around their necks while going into battle. Ixora flowers are also a symbol of increased sexuality and passion. There is a religious angle as well to this plant. It is often a part of the prasadam (remnants of the offering to God) the temple priests give the devotees after a requested pooja (prayer ritual) to indicate that the deity is satisfied.

The 400 odd species of Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) grow mainly in India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and Africa. It belongs to the coffee family. The leaves and flowers differ in size from one variety to another. The plant blooms throughout the year and most of the types are easy to grow. Propagation of Ixora is done mostly through cuttings. They are good as garden plants, for hedges and the small type as potted indoor plants. Ixora is said to be good for bonsai too.

Ixora flowers come in several colors and shades. Red ones are commonly found. Then there are different shades of pink, flame orange and so on. The yellow flowers are equally beautiful. White ones are supposed to be a good kani (first sight in the morning). But unlike the other varieties of Ixora the white one appear to be more difficult to grow. At home we have different shades, but not white.

Ancient systems of medicine like Siddha claim that almost all parts of Ixora have curative and/or prophylactic properties. Some of the modern research seems to confirm this. But I don’t know whether any approved medicines based on Ixora are available in the market.

If you have a garden, add this plant. Or try the indoor version, or bonsai.

Ends.

Also see:

Photos: Electric blue flowers

Photographs: Ixora Coccinea flowers


Photos: AK Kepler. Copyright free.
Click on photos for enlarged view.




Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Senior Citizens, blogging is a passport to good health

After reading You're never too old to blog. by GV Krishnan last month, I decided to write about my blogging experience. Actually it was a suggestion by GVK. I am going on 74 and have been actively blogging for seven months. That I thought was sufficient credential. I made the notes for the post, but put off the writing. Now I am preempted by The Hindu (September 2) which carried a Guardian Newspapers article ‘Senior blogger is a hit’.

The blogger is a Spaniard, Maria Amelia Lopez. Can you guess her age? Ninety-five! In the eight months that she has been blogging, her site has had over 340,000 hits from all over the world. This is something that only very few among the 93 million or so bloggers can hope for. Ms. Lopez, a great-grandmother, is an international celebrity today.

In his article GVK also referred to a piece by Hariharan Balakrishnan published by The Hindu. It is about a younger man, Eric Shackle who is only 88, who exhorts elders to shed the fear of the computer. He has published a web-book, Life Begins at 80.

Duly humbled by these inspiring stories let me narrate mine in all humility. I started using a computer as a glorified typewriter about seven years back, when I was 67. Initially the basics were explained to me. Along the way I picked up the more complicated operations on my own. It is an ongoing process of learning. Yesterday someone demonstrated the several uses of the computer ‘brush’. Just throw computer phobia out of the window. Once you start using a computer, you would love it.

Now about blogging. My inspiration was Jacob's Blog a successful one by Jacob Matthan a good friend from Bangalore days. I made a mistake though – registered four blogs! Can’t do justice to all of them. By God’s grace, this one has been reasonably successful.

Now, the reasons why senior citizens should start blogging. Keeping the mind and body active is your passport to good health. Blogging is a great mental exercise that is likely to help prevent/delay Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Another point is that elders would have so much of experience and memories that would be useful and interesting to others. Unless recorded, they would be lost forever. Blogging also enhances one’s self-esteem.

One can almost hear the protest, ‘But I can’t write’. You can, if you want. As you go along, the writing would improve. Use simple words, short, uncomplicated sentences, and go about it in a conversational manner. Write about anything that you wish.

Creating a blog is very simple and free – click on ‘Create Blog’ label on the top right hand corner of this page. Just follow the instructions.

Come on, get on to the bandwagon.

Ends.

Also see:

Old age care

Old age care contd.