Friday, February 29, 2008
The second image reminded me of an evening in the early 1990s at my lawyer friend K. Vijayakumar’s house in Cherthala, Kerala. He had one of the most brilliant legal brains that I have come across, internationally. He was also well informed on many subjects.
We got to talking about Vastu (the science related to buildings). Vijayakumar told me that a house could have a horoscope which would indicate births and deaths that take place there, periods when it would be vacant, how and when the building comes to its own end, and several other things.
There is logic to this. If horoscopes of human beings are drawn up based on planetary positions at the time of birth, why can’t it be done for houses though they are considered inanimate? After all, in the olden days, houses were constructed based on Vastu Shastra. Now there is a resurgence of Vastu.
Evolved during the Vedic times, Vastu is a combination of astronomy, astrology, art and architecture. It is meant to harness the positive energies from the elements and create the perfect ambiance for physical and mental health, and prosperity and happiness of those who stay in the house. Feng Shui, the system practiced in China and Japan, it is said, had its origin from Vastu.
There is a belief that if the design of a building is not in conformity with Vastu, calamities can befall the person who built it and those who live there. I know two cases which indicate this could be true.
A cousin of mine had the outhouse shifted to a new location within the compound to remodel his house. Soon his family ran into a series of major health problems. On the advice of Thomas George (“Shilpi” Babu), a senior Architect and Vastu expert of Cochin, the outhouse was brought back to the original location and the troubles vanished.
The second instance again involves a cousin, who built a beautiful new house. I drew a rough sketch of it and showed “Shilpi” Babu. He took one look and said, “The man who built this won’t live for long.” Actually, the cousin had died the same night the house was occupied.
How do you explain these? I didn’t have much faith in astrology but a few meetings with the famous astrologer Mithran Namboori made me think that there is substance to the system. (See: Three predictions.). I also wrote a short fiction piece (The story of a story.) with a strong astrology background.
If you have any information on horoscope for houses, can you share it with us?
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
It was my maiden trip by the much touted Shadabthi. Clean compartment. The wide seats, two abreast with fold back middle arm rest, were comfortable. The airconditioning was just right. The toilets were spotless. They had paper rolls and genuine undiluted liquid soap.
Shortly after we left Chennai Central at 5.30 p.m. high tea was laid out – sandwich, samosa, wafers in three different flavors, and so on. Most of the passengers stuffed the goodies into their bags.
Then it was dinner time. Again substantial quantities served by smartly attired bearers. Quite tasty too. All included in the fare. Read for sometime and presto we were in Bangalore Cantt. The distance of about 355kms was covered in approximately 4 ½ hours.
The return train yesterday was to start at 6 a.m. Reached the City Station at 5.30 only to be told that Shadabthi was cancelled. Informing passengers over phone about such changes is apparently not a part of the railway culture.
After a while I was told that three additional AC chair cars were being attached to the Lal Baugh Express leaving at 6.30. I got a seat in a 1992 vintage coach. One could buy breakfast from vendors (railway employees?) wearing clothes that required washing a week ago.
Half an hour out of Chennai Central it was announced that the train was being diverted to Egmore Terminus. The reason? Two bogies of another train had derailed at Central Station. But that had happened the previous night. The passengers could have been informed even before our train left Bangalore.
Since my driver has a mobile phone I could direct him to Egmore. Passengers who didn’t have that facility had to engage taxi or auto rickshaw from Egmore to Central for boarding their cars.
One must however acknowledge that the hefty difference between Shadabthi and the Lal Baugh Express fares was refunded within half hour of reaching Egmore at the end of the 6 ½ hours journey.
Now, the reason for the fare disparity between the Bangalore bound and return Shadabthi - on the outward journey high tea and dinner are served while only breakfast is provided when you come back.
The Shadabthi Express is good – when it runs!
Memories: Shoeless on suburban train.
Travel: Shendurney, the Royal Tree
Bangalore: Of a club, a park and a Chief Secretary couple
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Dhoni’s team should have won the previous game as well. But before dealing with that let me tell you about a thought provoking post Empowering umpires by E R Ramachandran and an equally important comment by Dinakar KR.
Umpiring blunders have been there all along. Now technology brings the bad decisions to the public glare. Among other important things E R Ramachandran says, “With increasing commercialization , wrong decisions during critical stage of a match can indeed take the game away which is neither good for the sides playing the game, nor for the game and finally not for the paying spectator.”
Dinakar KR. points out that too much involvement of technology would take away the thrills. What I would suggest is that technology should be available to the field umpires if they feel the need. If an umpire is not clear about an LBW or a tricky catch, he should have access to the Third Umpire like in the case of run outs and stumpings.
There is a risk of field umpires becoming over dependent on this facility. That could slow down the game and make it boring. The problem could be tackled by grading the umpires taking into account the number of times they call on the Third Umpire for decision making.
Back to the current Australian tour. Dhoni has the potential to develop into a good captain. But he has to modify certain traits. It is understandable if he feels some discomfort with having senior players on the side. The latest indication of this is the exclusion of Sehwag. Dhoni should learn to take counsel of experienced players if he feels the need.
I have said this earlier – a captain doesn’t have to talk except when necessary. Dhoni might not have realized it, but he sounded subjective and not objective when he said after the debacle against Australia on February 17. “… (Yuvraj) will play all the remaining games.” Is it advisable for a captain to disclose his plans well in advance?
Arguably we would have won that match but for the 4 overs costing 22 runs Yuvraj bowled. He can be effective if used astutely. But in this instance we had gone in with five specialist bowlers and among them four overs were left. And, as Ravi Shastri said, “Sending Irfan Pathan at number three was a huge mistake.”
Instinct and intuition get fine tuned with experience. Dhoni seems to be on the right track when he said about the Adelaide defeat that ‘it was a good learning lap’.
All said and done, Dhoni and his boys are capable of winning the CB series. Let us wish them luck.
Also see: Cricket in remote areas
Monday, February 18, 2008
You might wonder what the connection is. Well, it’s like this. A top Communist leader was trying to control his party workers who were creating a ruckus at the concluding session of the Kerala CPI (M) State convention at Kottayam last week. In the process he said words to the effect that it was not an Usha Uthup gamamela (musical performance) for the participants to behave in that manner.
From the 1960s I have attended several performances by Usha, the ‘Queen of Indian Pop’. At none of them the crowd behaved like the comrades did at Kottayam. Usha can move her listeners and they love her, respond to her. That has been going on for decades. Once, at a Bangalore performance which I attended, she asked the Governor who was present to clap along with the audience and he did. It was all very dignified. This famous singer has rendered songs in 14 Indian languages and several foreign languages.
Usha took exception to the Red leader’s statement. She said that for forty years she has been singing all over the world and her listeners have been always decent and well behaved. As one could expect, the politician came out with a rather stretched explanation.
The State meet of the CPI (M) was well organized and quite interesting. There was strong criticism of the performance of the Chief Minister and ministers. The Party found a solution to the problem too - entrust the same people with the same jobs. To be done in the same manner? Well, one has to wait and see. The Party is to issue guidelines on how to run the Government. At least the Budget presentation and governance, which were put on hold for the Party’s convention, would be reactivated now.
In spite of being active in India from the 1920s, the Communists rule only West Bengal and Tripura, and Kerala at alternate elections. Prakash Karat, General Secretary of CPI (M) said in an interview given to the Malayala Manorama (see issue dated February 7) that he would not be satisfied till his party becomes an All India Party.
Photos from Usha Uthup’s website http://www.ushauthup.com/
Also see: Un-ploughed lies my land
Friday, February 15, 2008
Kumaran of my village, Olavipe, is a Pulaya, a Scheduled Caste. Here the word is used as a statement of fact and not derogatorily. These are days when people can be prosecuted for calling jathi peru (caste name).
Kumaran’s father, Kuruppan, was a fairly tall, dark and affable person. He had a ready smile as well – sparkling white teeth (no toothpaste those days) on the black face. And he was a man of guts, a trait his son has inherited. Kuruppan was one of the few people who said ‘no’ to the priests from Cochin who came to Olavipe to convert the low castes to Christianity. (See History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview in Articles By Abraham Tharakan)
I think Kuruppan was quite radical in his outlook. He named his eldest, a girl, Meenakshi. That was something unusual among Pulayas in my area. The regular names were Chirutha, Kali, Neeli and so on. Even Kumaran was a deviation from traditional Pulaya names.
Kumaran had primary education which was not so common among Pulayas 70 years back. But he is the type to whom education necessarily doesn’t have to come from formal schooling. Highly intelligent and observant, he learned many things on his own. One among these was the capacity to judge people and situations right and act appropriately.
A good physique and personal courage makes him stand out. He has the capability to be equally at home in the paddy field or a factory. Once I sent him with a team to a factory which was facing security problems. The situation was handled well. He also worked for sometime as a foam rubber fabricator.
A general complaint against Kumaran is that he doesn’t do any hard work (except when the bosses are looking) but makes others toil. Well, that too is an ability. At the end of the day the work gets done.
I took this photo of Kumaran last month at Olavipe. Notice the thorth (thin towel) on his left forearm? That is a show of respect in the villages. Normally it would be worn on the head like a turban or kept on the shoulder.
Kumaran has taken care of his children well. The eldest is an officer with a major bank. Three are involved in smalltime business like shrimp farming on contract. And one is the elected representative to our Panchayat (the powerful Local Administration body)!
Kumaran is our Senior Pulaya now. That is an important position in the agricultural scenario. He is also our chief of security. He is not the type who would retire. He would go on till he fades away.
Tender coconuts: For class distinction to fighting hangovers
Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Also see: Churches on demolition line.
Also see: Cochini Jews – Dreams don’t die
Monday, February 11, 2008
Do you know who she is? Miss Universe contestant? Cinema star? She could become any of these if she wants. (She has reportedly turned down a few movie offers.) Right now, she is focused on squash racquets though. Not just another squash player, but one who could reach the top given the right support. She has won several international titles and is the current British Open (under17) champion.
She is Dipika Rebecca Pallikal from Chennai. Coming from a family of sportspersons in Kerala, this young lady is all of sixteen, going on seventeen (born: 21 September 1991). Among senior women players this kid is ranked No.2 in India and 62 by the Women's International Squash Professional Association (WISPA). That was a big jump from 91 in May 2007.
With all the time spent on squash, she still earned 70% marks in her school exams. One casualty though was classical dance, which she had to give up.
I have not met Dipika. But I am impressed by way she gratefully acknowledges on her website (http://www.dipikapallikal.com/) the contribution of her coaches and others in making her what she is today. That shows character.
Dipika Pallikal now has the famous Egyptian, Amir Wagh, as her coach. She was preparing for the Asian Squash Championships to be held in Kuwait this month from 14 to 21. With medal hopes, obviously.
Then came the bomb – Dipika Pallikal is not included in the Indian team for the tournament! Players ranked much below her are in.
The reason? Certainly not her form. She won the British Open only last month in spite of a back problem. It seems that Dipika did not meet the officials and personally seek permission to skip the selection trials at Chennai in January. Instead she sent them an email explaining that she was undergoing treatment for back pain at the time of the camp. Some other players were exempted from the trials and still selected.
The matter is now before the Delhi High Court. According to the media, Justice Gita Mittal who heard the case stated that only a team selected on merit should be sent to Kuwait. Notices have been issued to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and to the Squash Racquet Federation of India (SRFI). The case comes up again on February 12.
Dipika Pallikal is just sixteen years old! Will the trauma affect the kid’s career? I hope Indian sports will not lose this rising star.
Also see: Cricket: Rahul Dravid’s ‘colonel’ bogey
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Since I am about to start work on a book there would be fewer posts for some time. I plan to do three a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Hope to keep to this schedule to the extent possible.
Thank you once again.
Given below is a photo I took in Olavipe last month. It may be used free for non-commercial purposes giving due acknowledgement.
Also see: Photo: Pots on the wall
Friday, February 8, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The plant is single stem with spiral leaves at the top. It grows up to 10 meters height depending on the specie. The drawing below by Koeh depicts the details.
Strangely it shows a forked tree. That is rather rare at least in Kerala, India, where I come from. The ripe fruit is absolutely delicious. It is an anytime table fruit. The skin which is normally greenish to golden yellow and the seeds are removed and the flesh is cut into pieces. Another way to eat it is to cut the fruit into boats with the skin on, clear the seeds and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. This is a favorite breakfast food.
Green papaya is used for cooking in many countries particularly for salads, stews and curries. In Kerala there is papaya thoran (sautéed with grated coconut), curry with ground coconut or buttermilk, kofta curry in which grated papaya is shaped into small balls and cooked in spicy gravy. My mouth waters when I think of papaya halwa that my grandmother used to make. (See Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady )
One could write pages about the medicinal properties of papaya. Here is a sample list: aphrodisiac, excellent source of vitamin A & C, improves digestion, useful in high blood pressure management, good for heart health, effective in treating skin disorders and fungal infections. The list goes on. For details you can visit http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=47
Papaya, especially the skin of the raw fruit has latex which contains an enzyme known as papain. It is available in the shops for use as meat tenderizer and for helping digestion. It is also said to have contraceptive properties and to induce abortion. Pregnant ladies are, it seems, advised to keep off papaya.
The photo below from Olavipe shows a male papaya tree with flowers. The male tree also has fruits but they don’t grow big enough to be served ripe on table. The larger ones among them can be used for cooking.
Top – AK Kepler, believed to be public domain
Center – Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Bottom – Abraham Tharakan. Can be used freely for non-commercial purposes giving due credit.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
It is difficult to say where Leander Adrian Paes would stand if one tries to rank all the top Indian tennis players in history. But one thing is certain – Indian tennis never had an icon like him. He is the hero.
Paes was born on June 17, 1973 to Vece Paes an Indian Hockey Olympian and Jennifer who had represented the country in basketball. World took note of him when he won the Wimbledon Boys Singles in 1990 and went on to become the world number one among boys. Next year he bagged the US Open boy’s crown as well.
Mere statistics would indicate that Paes didn’t really achieve all that the nation had hoped of him in men’s singles though in men’s doubles and mixed doubles he continues to be one of the world’s top players. A podium performance at the Atlanta Olympics, just one singles title, a few brilliant victories like the one over Pete Sampras in the 1998 Pilot Pen International, career best ATP singles rank of 73. But he was always the man to beat, a fighter who would not give up till the last bullet is expended.
It is a different story in the Davis Cup in which Leander rose to great heights. On several occasions he beat players ranked much higher than him to bring India victory. He ranks fifth among the 4500 or so players who have participated in the Davis Cup since its inception in the win – loss ratio.
It is not just that. It is the manner in which Leander Paes performed. He gave each match everything that he had and often pulled back from seemingly impossible situations. He drove himself and went that extra mile. On 32 occasions in 40 Davis Cup ties Paes played two singles, and doubles. And 16 times he won all the three matches, carrying India to the next round virtually single handed.
It is amazing how this man with comparatively limited tennis capabilities has transformed himself into a real champion. The leadership expert Saurabh N. Saklani wrote an article about Paes in Businessworld captioned ‘Lessons from Leander Paes’ He says, ‘The Indian tennis ace is a great example of someone finding success within individual limitations’. You can read the full article at
Being presented as a business model does not mean that Paes is a money manic. At an age where most players would conserve their energies for the professional circuit and earn more, Leander’s first priority continues to be playing for India. He has been doing that for nearly 18 years now.
When India takes on Uzbekistan at Delhi on the 8th, Paes is not likely to play because of the injury sustained during the Australian Open. But he will be there, as captain, to lead and inspire his players.
Good luck Leander, good luck India.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons Public DomainAlso see: Ramanathan Krishnan: India’s Tennis Legend.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
A thatched roof shed supported by areca and bamboo poles, at Olavipe. The thatching material is coconut palm fronds. Floor of white sand. The canoe is real. It makes a good bar/food counter. Alongside it is a grill.
Day or night it’s good place to spend time. I love best to sit there during monsoon. The rainfall beats a tattoo on the roof and there is music in the air. Eat, drink, or just sit and watch. Read a book. Or listen to the sounds. Doze off sometimes.
I took these photos (copyright reserved) last month at Olavipe. Click on them for enlarged view.
God's own dream
Kerala Photos: Sun shines on Olavipe
Monday, February 4, 2008
The letter mentions that during a visit to the State the Governor of Madras was able to shoot a tusker. The blogger explains ‘In those Raj days, hunting was an essential pastime when the Viceroy or the Governor visited the princely states. These were done with much opulence and fanfare and detailed arrangements.’
The pre-Independence issues of The Illustrated Weekly of India invariably carried photographs like the one here. Usually the hunter would wait on a machan (a high platform on a tree) with a small animal tied below to entice tigers. Or a team of drummers would ‘beat the forest’ to drive the target animal towards the hunter.
Once, in 1968, I was with a group which became involved in a tiger shooting. We were at a large cardamom estate in Kerala’s Nelliampathy Hills. It belonged to the late Mr. Mathew Marattukalam who was the first Managing Director of Apollo Tyres Ltd. One of his friends in Delhi had sent a hunter, Nath (name changed), who had never been to the Kerala forests before.
Nath accompanied by the well known local hunter Kutty (name changed) and a guide left for the forest in the afternoon looking for wild buffalos. Around sunset we who remained in the estate bungalow heard a shot. A team of coolies left for the area from where the sound came to carry the trophy back. It would take them about three hours to reach the spot.
After a while there was another shot. That was not a good sign. We were worried but early next morning the hunters returned to tell the story. Nath had killed a buffalo. They waited in the darkness for the coolies to arrive, alert to the danger of prowling tigers attracted by the smell of the buffalo’s blood.
In the forest there are indications when a tiger approaches. Small animals start running away. Nesting birds fly off noisily. Then there are an experienced hunter’s intuition and instinct. On a sixth sense, Kutty switched on his headlamp and saw a tiger about thirty feet away ready to spring. He shot almost in a reflex action.
By about 8 o’clock in the morning the coolies brought the dead tiger and buffalo to the bungalow, accompanied by many tribal people. For them tiger meat is a delicacy. They skinned the tiger expertly, smeared the inside of the hide with turmeric and salt so that it wouldn’t spoil and carried away the stripped carcass.
Killing a tiger was a serious matter. Kutty could have got off without much problem if Nath had testified that the shooting was in self-defense. But he was not an eyewitness though present on the spot.
He had fainted the moment the tiger was sighted!
Public Domain photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click for enlarged view.
Also see: The last of the Travancore Maharajas
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Dhoni’s explained that he asked Sachin whether he wanted to play and the great batsman said he would rather rest. Some senior players could be offended by such questions. Obviously Sachin was included in the team for the one off encounter to play. In my opinion a Captain’s job includes making decisions on who should play instead of going around asking the players whether they like to play.
Dhoni was clueless from the beginning of the match to its miserable end for India. At least when early wickets fell he should have stepped in and taken charge. Instead he went in at No.6 and slipped into Test match opening mode scoring 9 runs off 27 balls!
This young man with potential has much to learn. It takes more maturity to carry victory (like the Twenty20 World crown) than to accept defeat. When things go wrong, a captain’s facial expressions, body language, decisions and actions should inspire his players.
Flippant statements do not add to stature. Drop senior players if you want but there is no need to say things like ‘his absence would not be felt’. Don’t talk when there is no need to. It is not mandatory for a Captain to answer all questions by the media.
A team that included Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble could have possibly done better. But then of course there is the ‘in theme’ – give the youngsters chance. Today’s senior players were young once. They got their opportunity, performed and keep performing even today.
Pick the team to win the match on hand. Deserving youngsters would automatically get their chance.
Also see: Cricket: Rahul Dravid’s ‘colonel’ bogey
Saturday, February 2, 2008
The pineapple farm owner whom I mentioned in the post had told me a story which relates to Sunita’s query. Two years back he had caught a python. During South-west monsoon in Kerala these reptiles float down with the water from the mountains to the lower elevations. They are harmless except for the pardonable crime of swallowing fowls. It is easy to catch them when they repose after food.
My friend knew that the correct drill was to inform the Forest Department and followed it. After a few days during which more fowls were fed to the unwelcome guest, the Forest Officer in charge of the area came with his assistants.
The official said that this was the first business call they had in a few years; the delay was because the department vehicle had to be repaired and the force mobilized. Anyway the team was efficient. The python was tied up in a canvas bag and taken to be released in the forest.
Before leaving, the Officer had a request – not to bother the Department with such minor matters but to use a stick to teach the intruder a lesson he won’t be able to remember.
Probably the official didn’t know – it seems that some Kerala toddy shops serve python fillet during season to important clientele. Fried, roast, curried? The customer’s choice.
Also see: Kerala food: Kappa (cassava or casava, yuca, manioc, Manihot esculenta)
Friday, February 1, 2008
One strange thing I noticed was long pieces of old fishing nets strewn on the ground at several places on the plantation. The owner of the farm explained to me that the nets were cheap and efficient snake traps. The reptiles get entangled in the mesh as they crawl along.
He went on to explain that the method offered effective protection against snakes. He has arrangements for collecting discarded nets from fishermen; they cost next to nothing. According to him often, in the mornings, snakes are found trapped in the net.
I think this line of defense against reptiles is a good idea. Perhaps it is already well known, but is new information to me
I have heard it said that snakes shy away from places where there are tulasi (basil) plants but could not find any authority to rely on. However, in the United States there is a product named Snake Away. It is a repellent which is claimed to keep reptiles away by its odor. The University of Florida has, reportedly, tested and certified it under the EPA Testing & Protocol. Perhaps basil has similar properties.
There is a useful FDA sponsored article on snakebites by John Henkel titled For Goodness Snakes. You can download it at:
Also see: Mushrooms, fungi: Useful information