Thursday, January 31, 2008
Technical perfection alone can sometimes be boring. But when knowledge of music is combined with the personality of a singer like MS Subbalakshmi (popularly known as ‘MS’), lyrics take wings, compositions become sublime and listeners are carried to ecstasy.
Here the word ‘personality’ is used in its wider meaning. It involves devotion, voice, clarity of pronunciation, capacity to carry pitches which lesser mortals falter at, application, and beauty. MS had all these and more.
There was hard work as well. Born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, on September 16, 1916, MS grew up near the Meenakshi Temple to the sound of music. By the time she finished the basics, her guru, Madurai Srinivasa Iyengar passed away, but the sad event did not deter her. She went on to learn, under different teachers, Hindustani classical, Rabindra Sangeeth, bhajans and other areas of music.
Since the time she cut her first record at the age of ten, MS did not look back. Hers was a life devoted to music, except for a short stint in cinema that she combined with her singing. Her ‘Meera’, released in Tamil and Hindi, was a runaway success.
MS gave concerts before distinguished audiences in different parts of the world. She sang not only in Kannada which was her mother tongue but also in Tamil, Telungu, Malayalam, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and Sanskrit. She was bestowed with many honors. These included Bharat Ratna. MS was the first musician to receive that distinction. Pandit Nehru is reported to have said about her “Who am I, a mere prime minister, before the Queen of Song?”
MS Subbalakshmi, the nightingale, died at the age of 88. For downloading her songs, visit Downloads of M.S.Subbalakshmi's songs
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Also see: Dances for the gods.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Photos by Abraham Tharakan. Copyright reserved.
Click on images for enlarged view.
Photographs: Ixora Coccinea flowers
Photos: Lilies that grow in Kerala
Karthiki captures some Olavipe flowers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Take the rather baffling case of the song Lili Marlene (English version: Lilly Marlene). It has been hailed as the most popular war song of all time. But is Lili Marlene really a war song? It is a love song, a romantic, sentimental piece that was, rather strangely, set to a marching tune. Lili Marlene was written during a war and attained the pinnacle of popularity during another war.
A German soldier, Hans Liep penned the lyrics on which Lili Marlene is based, in 1915 during World War I. After gathering dust for twenty two years it was discovered in 1937, when Nobert Schultze set it to music. The original recording of Lili Marlene by Lale Andersen in 1939 did not create any waves. Joseph Gobbles, Propaganda Secretary of Nazi Socialist Party, is said to have hated the song.
But Field Marshal Erwin Rommel intuitively identified the potential of Lili Marlene and it was broadcast daily over Radio Belgrade for his Afrika Korps. The effect was stunning.
From underneath the lantern Lili of the lamplight reached out to the soldiers on the desert. The song had pathos, romance, and intensity of feeling. It talked of love and longing and loneliness. It captured the hearts and the souls of the fighting men. Imagine the effect the following words (by Tommie Connor in the English version of Lili Marlene) would have on lonesome soldiers far away from home:
Resting in our billets, just behind the lines
Even tho' we're parted, your lips are close to mine
You wait where that lantern softly gleams,
Your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams
My Lilly of the Lamplight, my own Lilly Marlene
In what could possibly be termed a faux pas, Rommel apparently had not considered that sentiments transcend national boundaries. Soon the Allied soldiers too picked up the song. According to one story, when a senior officer berated a British soldier for singing Lili Marlene in German, the victim answered with a counter question, “Sir, do we have an English version?” A translation was made quickly and BBC started airing it. Thus came about a strange situation where the same song Lili Marlene, became the favorite with both sides in the war.
The Marlene Dietrich rendering of Lili Marlene was perhaps the pick among the many recordings of the song. Even after World War II, Lili Marlene continued to be popular with versions by Vera Lynn and others. It has been translated to nearly fifty languages. When asked about the reason for the popularity of the song, Lale Andersen, the German singer who first recorded it, is reported to have stated, "Can the wind explain why it became a storm?"
The storm might have abated but even 60 years after the World War II, the passion for Lili Marlene lives on. On several web sites you can listen to the song and download it.
Lili Marlene waits eternally “Underneath the lantern, By the barrack gate”.
Note: Photos from Wikipedia Top - Rommel, Bottom - Marlene Dietrich. A similar post was published in Articles By Abraham Tharakan on April 7, 2007.
World War II: MAN WHO ARRESTED ROMMEL.
Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Did you know that
Globally, human trafficking is the third largest criminal business after arms and drugs. It is estimated that annually this activity generates an income of 7 to 12 billion US Dollars. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the operators pocket an additional 32 billion USD when the victims are delivered at the destination.
I happened to look into this matter, on reading an article that is included in the January issue of Inside the
On cross-checking I found other sources endorsing the estimate. This involves men, women and children for work and sexual exploitation. 90% of
However, Girija Vyas, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, is reported to have said, "All figures are rough estimates. But it's believed to run in hundreds of thousands."
Inside the Vatican says, “Trafficking thrives where poverty, economic disparity and lack of employment opportunities exist. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor and bear the heaviest burden.”
How to tackle the problem effectively? The INTERPOL wants improvement and increase in international collaboration and law enforcement. In
Sr. Eugenia Bonetti, M.C. has inspired USMI, a coalition of 627 women’s congregations. It runs several shelters where the victims of trafficking are offered safety and help to rebuild their lives. Sr. Eugenia has also taken the leadership in launching an international anti-trafficking network, which is the first of its kind.
This good sister is on the list of Inside the
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Click on images for enlarged view. Photos by Abraham Tharakan. Copyright reserved.
Friday, January 25, 2008
on the eve of the Republic Day.
[These Public Domain photos are from Wikimedia Commons.
Click on them for enlarged view.]
India - national symbols
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Remember the old song ‘mi casa, su casa ... welcome to my hacienda’? That’s what the male weaver birds do. They build beautiful nests to attract the females during the mating season. The youngsters are not so adept at it but develop the skills as they become older. Logically this means that the more mature ones get better mates!
The nests are intricately woven. That is the accepted word for these avian homes though a great deal of stitching too is involved. The building materials come from locally available vegetation – grass, leaf fibers, and sometimes fine twigs. The shapes and designs differ. Some may be single accommodation (the male sits out on a branch in such cases), others, double.
In the following photos taken by me at Olavipe, the one at the top is single and the other duplex:
These nests of weaver birds are built with many safeguards against predators and the elements. They are always suspended, usually on branches or trees that overhang water bodies. In my place in coastal Kerala weaver bird colonies (they like to flock together) are normally found on fronds of coconut palms. The entrance to the nest is at the bottom.
There are over a hundred species of weaver birds, mainly in Africa, Asia and
The weaver birds are related to finches
The photo of the bird on top right hand corner is Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the others for enlarged view.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Click on images for enlarged view.
Notice the berries in the last picture. They look almost like coffee beans!
These photos were taken by me at Olavipe during 1st week of January 2008. They may be freely used with due acknowledgement.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I took this photograph at Olavipe about two weeks back. The mango trees in that area had flowered early this year but because of mist at night and clouds, most of the blooms dropped off. Normally there would be another round of flowering. I hope it happens and that we would have a good supply of the ‘king of fruits’.
How did the name ‘mango’ originate? One story is that it stems from the Tamil word mangkay. The Portuguese called it manga. That is the Malayalam name as well. According to Wikipedia, the Vedas refer to it as ‘food of the gods’.
The fruit is considered to be very healthy. Mangoes are fiber rich and are known to be a good source for Vitamins A and C, beta carotene and potassium. The calories, sodium and fat content are low. It is said to increase sexual potency and to have medicinal properties too.
Mangoes have an important place in several Indian cuisines. Traditionally many people in
The mango tree is considered as a symbol of love. In many parts of
Even as I write this my mind is on the tender mangoes that are growing to maturity back home. Of course one can buy the fruit anywhere, but for me there is nothing like the mangoes of Olavipe. I plan to be there when they ripen.
A Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons showing details of mango is reproduced below:Ends.
Monday, January 21, 2008
The alternative was a punkah. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines it as “a fan used especially in
Operating the fan was done by servants known as punka wallahs taking turns. The cord would be passed through a pulley on a door or wall. Drawing on the line moved the fan to and fro, creating air circulation.
Originally the punkahs were made of bamboo or light wood frames and
Not only the palaces and the bungalows but also churches in
How many generations of punkah wallahs have passed on after spending their lives tugging the ropes of the punkahs? What thoughts went through their minds while sitting outside an office chamber during the day, or bedroom at nights, silently carrying on the monotonous chore hour after hour?
Most of them were men of honor. Many secrets, heard, seen, while keeping their masters comfortable, went along with them as they vanished into history.
[The photographs (copyright reserved) are from the ancestral home of the Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans at Olavipe, Kerala. Click on them for enlarged view.]
Sunday, January 20, 2008
It was an honorable win for
It was a combined effort, no doubt. But some individual performances do deserve mention. Dravid’s fighting return to form was heartening, and his catching superb. Sehwag seems to be getting back on the track. Tendulkar and Laxman were indomitable.
Coming to the bowlers – I was impressed by Ishant Sharma. How old is he? 19? He keeps the seam of the ball straight till it reaches the destination. Apart from him, only Sreesanth seems to have this quality among
It was good to see Pathan bowling beautifully. He seems to have learned his lesson. When he hit a bad patch, well-wishers including Imran Khan had suggested some corrective measures. Pathan spurned them saying that there was nothing wrong with his bowling action. Now he knows better and that is good for him and
Where was Kumble all this while? Of course he was always there as a great bowler, fielder, and occasional batsman. But what I meant is, as Captain. He is a leader all right. Bringing in Sehwag to bowl in the Australian 2nd innings was an inspired move.
Good show, Kumble, Team
Friday, January 18, 2008
This happened in 1968, when I was associated with Ruby Rubber Works Ltd., Changanacherry, Kerala. I was on my way, driving a Jeep in heavy drizzle, to pick up a friend, Mathukutty Ettukettil. We were to attend an afternoon function.
The narrow mud road ran along the edge of the cutting to the railway tracks. After a drop of about ten feet there was a flat ledge and again a sheer wall for another twenty feet or so. On the other side of the road was a colony of potters.
Suddenly the Jeep skidded off the road and went over the edge. I hit the ground first and saw the vehicle falling over me.
As it settled, fortunately my entire body except the neck and head was within the front seat space. I grabbed the metal bar of the roof that tapered to the front with both hands and pushed hard against it in an attempt to prevent it from crushing my neck. I knew that I couldn’t continue that for more than a minute.
I could hear people running and shouting. A woman in the potter’s colony had seen the accident and had raised alarm. In no time the Jeep was lifted and I was pulled out. They carried me to one of the huts and laid me on a mat.
I was badly shaken but knew that there was no damage. Within minutes Mathukutty arrived. People from Ruby Rubber followed. They rushed me to the famous Dr. Thomas Varghese (Aniyan) of
But for the potters I would have died of a broken neck at the age of 34. And they wouldn’t even take gift from me!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Last Sunday I happened to watch parts of the 2003 Malayalam movie ‘Gramophone’ by Director Kamal on TV. I had seen it, a good one, earlier. The story takes place in
One is the desire of the Jews to return to the Promised Land. The other is that of love which does not differentiate between Jews and Gentiles. The dreams remain, whether the characters achieve them or not.
The once flourishing
It is not clear when the Jewish contact with Kerala began. Many nationalities had trade connections with the
St. Thomas the Apostle journeyed to Kerala in 52 A.D. for spreading the Word among the sons of
All through known history the Jews had a prominent position in Kerala. Unlike other parts of the world, the Malabar Jews were not persecuted. Rather the local king even granted them a principality. They blended well with the local milieu while maintaining their distinctive traditions, and spoke Malayalam fluently.
According to Wikipedia, Judeo-Malayalam songs of the Cochin Jews are made available on CD by Jewish Music Research Center at Hebrew University. There is also a distinctive Kerala Jewish cuisine. In 1968 the Government of India commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the Cochin Synagogue, one of the oldest outside
To conclude, I am taking the liberty of quoting below what Professor Daniel J. Elazar mentioned in the Foreword to The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish Identity in Hindu India:
“Another chapter in the history of the Jewish people is about to be closed, but this one, unlike so many others, has a happy ending -- the return to
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
There were two Taliat brothers, Joseph and Jacob at Trivandrum those days. The elder, Joseph, was the Chief Justice. Jacob became the Surgeon General of the State around 1947. I think that he was also the Surgeon General of the integrated Travancore-Cochin State after Independence.
Jacob’s son George emulated his father by becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was a well-known specialist in pediatric surgery and was with the Trivandrum Medical College. He died rather young.
Joseph Taliat’s daughter Lucy was a doctor too. She was with St. Martha’s Hospital, Bangalore and, if I remember right, was also associated with the St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore during its formative years.
Taliat is an ancient Syrian Christian family from the present Ernakulam District. During the time of the maharajas too, citizens could reach top positions irrespective of their religion.
Another interesting detail – the Maharajas of Cochin had the title ‘Protector of Christians’.
Also see: The last of the Travancore Maharajas
Saturday, January 12, 2008
One July morning in 1938. A young man, eighteen years old, comes out of the
A few hours later he is involved in a car accident. By about 4o’clock in the afternoon someone takes him to the
Two eminent surgeons of
Next morning when the patient recovered consciousness he tells Dr. Taliat his name (Narayanan) and about enrolling for B’Sc. The doctor immediately calls Dr. Modgil, the Principal of Science College and a personal friend. The Principal (who was a Punjabi), checks the registration papers and finds that the boy had passed the Intermediate Examination of the
Months pass. One day Narayanan asks Dr. Modgil whether he would be able to write the 1st B’Sc examination that year. He had not attended a single class yet. Pointing to Taliat, Modgil replies: But for this doctor you would have lost your life. Now you are worrying about losing one year.
A minimum attendance was required to write the examination. Only the Vice Chancellor of the newly formed
On Dr. Modgil’s recommendation, Sir CP (as the Dewan was generally known) looks into Narayanan’s previous records and allows him to write the examination. In 1940 the boy graduates in the First Class with rank. Parry & Company immediately grabs him as Research Assistant. The brilliant young chemist was keen on continuing with his studies in agriculture chemistry and Dr. Modgil wanted to offer him a Fellowship.
There was a problem though. Parry & Co was paying Narayanan Rs.200 a month. The University could offer only a stipend of Rs.50. Dr. Modgil goes to Sir CP who immediately increases the stipend fourfold.
And thus emerged Dr.CKN Nair who was to become internationally famous in his field. But not before Sir CP intervenes once more on his behalf. In 1946 the State bureaucracy tries to prevent Dr. Nair from proceeding to the
I am amazed by what Dr. Jacob Taliat, Dr. Kesaan Nair, Dr. Modgil and Sir CP did for a total stranger. Their kindness and generosity help one to reaffirm the faith in humanity.
[This is based on an autobiographical article by Dr. CKN Nair in the Mathrubhumi Weekly of July 21-27, 1998. I came across it in the archives at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe]
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Came over from Chennai to Kerala on the 5th to attend a series of weddings. This is one of the traditional three seasons for marriages. One is in Chingam (August-September), the first month of the Malayalam calendar. The second month Kanni and the last month Karkidakam are taboo for weddings.
Usually functions are avoided during the two monsoon seasons because of the inconvenience caused by the rains. Christians normally do not hold festivities during Advent and Lent.
Participating in marriage parties is interesting. Really speaking the first one or two. You meet old friends and relatives; make new acquaintances and so on. Then it becomes repetitive and tiresome. But social obligations have to be fulfilled. So one goes on.
Luckily I am based at Thekkanattu Parayil, our ancestral home in Olavipe. And that is great. Many of the old tenants and employees are still there. Chatting with them and updating the local news is nice.
The weather is beautiful. The latest issue of the Lonely Planet, while including our house in the Editor’s Choice says that the only thing new in the building is the fan. Really speaking, in this season fans are not required. In the olden days we used to have pankahs for summer. I plan to write about them shortly.
One wakes up in the mist-shrouded morning. The scenery is ethereal. The veil vanishes slowly and the scenery emerges – coconut and areca palms, mango and jack fruit and other trees, plants and flowers of the garden, birds.
Go on a bicycle ride along the village paths. Or walk to the Olavipe Lake. Lean on a coconut palm and watch the gentle waves. Or take a spin on country canoe. Or stretch out on a hammock with a book. That is one time I don’t like anybody to disturb me.
Lazy afternoons. Sunset over the lake is usually colorful. Evenings can extend as long as you want. Then retire. Lie quietly listening to the silence. It is occasionally punctured by the call of a nigh bird. Slowly, sleep overtakes.
Come morning and the cycle starts again. One wishes that it would go on interminably. Forget the weddings and the parties.
I love Olavipe.
Friday, January 4, 2008
There is, in all probability jasmine plants in the vicinity.
The jasmine buds start the slow process of opening during the last quarter of the night. That is when they are plucked. These flowers which are usually white (there are a few yellow varieties also) are rushed to many destinations, sometimes airlifted, for use in temple rituals, marriage functions, for decorative purposes, and for women to wear on their hair.
It is big business.
There are about 200 species in this shrub/vine. It is believed be a native of
It is said that in certain herbal practice, the jasmine flowers are considered effective in calming the nerves and as antidote for snakebites. The leaves could be, it is claimed, used to treat some eye problems.
Jasmine is a money earner. It is easy to cultivate and is relatively trouble free to maintain. Usually stem cuttings are used. Depending on the type it can be planted in pots or on the ground. They grow well in ordinary soil. Sunlight is a must. It can also be inter-planted with other crops.
Again depending on the species the plant can grow from a couple feet height to about 8 feet tall shrub. The larger ones can also be used for hedges. The vines may grow up to 15 feet.
Also see: Kerala Flowers?
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Can you guess the volume of Christmas and New Year cake sales in
In the current season a Kerala hotel, Uday Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel, Kovalam, has broken the world record for the tallest cake ever made. The height of this 2500 kg marvel is 29.1 feet. The giant cake is to be cut into 22,000 portions and distributed among the poor children of
Cake has a centuries old history. The word is believed to have its origin from Old Norse kaka of the Vikings. The European tradition of cakes was carried to different parts of the world, particularly by the British. Initially the expatriates in different parts of the Empire imported cakes from the home country.
The Tellicherry baker took up the challenge. He analyzed the ingredients used in the sample by, I suppose, smell and taste, had a local blacksmith make the mold, and produced a cake for Brown. This was the beginning of the Indian cake industry according to the information that I have been able to gather. Will viewers who have more details on this subject please share them with the others?
It seems that Mampally Bakers of Tellicherry exported their products to several countries and perhaps for the troops as well, during the First World War! Even today the bakery is popular and is a must visit place for travelers to the historic
I feel that this institution was responsible for the ‘cake’ part of Tellicherry being described as the place of ‘cakes, cricket and circus’.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
In response to my post Contempt of Court - express your views a viewer has sent the following comments by email. Since the matter is of importance to the nation I am responding to the comment in the open forum.
“In my opinion, the law of contempt of court should be disbanded from our Judicial system with immediate effect, as long as we have weak system to punish a Judge. It has been noticed in many cases that, the wrong judgment of a lower court being dismissed or being awarded with higher punishment to the accused by the upper courts. None of the cases the lower court Judges never being accused or punished for his wrong judgement by the upper court Judges. Now a days Judiciary is frequently encroaching the domain of the executive and legislature and creating an uneasy situation, like the ruling against the unanimasouly passed bill by the Assembly to control the self financing collages in Kerala. It would be better to notice that, SFI publicly denounced against a Judge and who later himself refused to hear the case. The same thing happened to another judge who was hearing the Pamoline importing case. Our CM had shown the guts to denounce him publicly. Our Judiciary is currupted and the National Judicial commission bill must be implemented imediately. Corrupted judges should be punished and dismissed from service.”
The law is not about contempt of judges but about contempt of court. A citizen may have contempt for an individual judge but to express it publicly in a manner that would belittle the judiciary is a different matter. The courts are bestowed with sanctity by the People of India through the Constitution. No political party or citizen should be allowed to tamper with it.
Sometimes the judges do err in the verdicts they pronounce. That is not an 'offence' and does not attract punishment. The very system of appeals is meant to protect against such instances. The judges give decisions based on the evidence and arguments presented before them in the court; extra-judicial information or influences should have no role in that process. The judge who was ‘accused’ by SFI was right in declining to hear that particular case.
Whether a bill is enacted by the legislature unanimously is of no particular consequence. It is the Constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act that matters. As for the Kerala Act on self-financing colleges, the objectives could have been possibly achieved with proper planning and handling instead of going on the threat mode.
The remarks against judges by the student leader and the State CM were unfortunate. The same CM, while talking to the media on Sabarimala development a couple of days back said that a time bound program would be implemented after taking required permission from the ‘Honorable Court’. That is the right approach.
The same laws that apply to individual citizens are applicable to the judges as well. Corrupt judges should be certainly punished. The same procedure should apply to corrupt officials and to corrupt and incompetent ministers.