Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rape & Punishment



This, I am sure, is going to be a controversial post. The language is rather rough too. But please understand that I am only thinking aloud and some of the points mentioned here may be worth considering.

The recent gang rape in Delhi is shocking. But it is not surprising. In Kerala, Asianet News TV Channel is currently presenting a news series titled “Makalanu, marakkaruthu” (It is daughter, don’t forget). Almost everyday, there are reports of minor girls being sexually used. The culprits include father, brother, grandfather, uncles and so on. Some of the instances are with the mother’s consent. The victims include even four year old. Sadly, this disgusting situation has not received National attention.

You can blame the police, blame the government, and politicize the issue. But basically, this is a failure of the society. The matter deserves serious thought. Has the hypocritical Puritanism in this country of Kajuraho and sambandham (in Kerala the Nampoothiris used to have a wife at home and relations with Nair women in the area) made things worse?. Have our strong censorship policies led to a sort of sexual frustration in some men?

Let us take the story about a movie which had a scene of a pond near a railway track. A woman is undressing for bathing. At the critical moment a train streams past cutting off the view. The response of a man watching the movie repeatedly was that one day the train would be late. This of course is a joke but there might be a point in it to think about.

In several countries XXX rated films are openly shown in theatres and on TV. One might find “The Bible” and “Deep Throat” running in adjoining cinema houses. Senior Citizens get a 50% discount on tickets for the erotic cinema. In India such movies are watched secretly. At least we have progressed from the days when the actresses had to wear body hoses which actually added vulgarity to certain scenes.

Till a few decades back, sanitary napkins were hush-hush matter. Today the ads about them are all over the place. Probably the openness about such matters started with propagation of birth control measures. Nirodh and the loop became well-known. Then the ads about brassieres and men’s underclothes started. Now women’s panties are displayed with provocative pictures. Have these done any harm? Nobody seems to care or make an issue of it.

There are sexual stimuli all around. It is something that we cannot stop. On a beach in the West, hardly anyone really bothers about the scantily clad women around. But in India people cram to watch a foreign lady in a swim suit. A modest Indian woman might take a dip in the sea fully dressed in her churidar and come out with her wet clothes revealing much more than what a bikini would. Of course people ogle.

It is said that the women of Mumbai are safer because of Kamathripura, the city’s Red Light District. May be true. Are licensed sex workers the answer? At least such arrangement could retard the spread of VD and HIV.

There is a great deal of talk going on about the punishment for rape. Capital punishment is one demand. Some suggest life sentence. The government is committed to increase the quantum of punishment. Is it to be the same punishment for raping a grown up and a minor? In Kerala, a father has been recently sentenced to life imprisonment for forcing minor daughter to sex activities.

Perhaps another line of punishment should be thought of, say, medical interference. Castrate the culprit, make his equipment sexually useless. Medieval justice? Lynching or hanging till death is also primitive. If lobotomy or prefrontal leucotomy (a surgical intervention on the brain in mental patients) is legal, handling a rape offender in this manner can be justified.

Needless to say, the ladies should take a great deal of care to avoid danger. I suppose that every girl instinctively knows the difference in a touch or a look when a man is sexually interested. The mothers also would be giving the daughters appropriate advice on safeguarding themselves. Learning some self defense techniques and carrying pepper spray in the hand bag could be of help.

Of course there is not much that a woman can do in a gang rape attack. But in the Delhi incident the unfortunate girl and her relative boarded the bus thinking that it was a White Line public service. If they had realized that it was a school vehicle the tragedy could have been avoided. Alertness is essential.

Everyone feels very deeply for the tragic victim and prays that such incidents do not happen again. The government and the public have the responsibility of preventing these crimes.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Biennale: Kochi-Muziris 2012


On December 12, the Chief Minister of Kerala would formally inaugurate the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012 at the historic Parade Grounds at Fort Cochin. This would be India’s first Biennale. There was a Triennale at Delhi in 1968, but that was a one shot affair. The Kochi-Muziris 2012 would open the world of art and culture to tens of thousands of people from many countries.

Biennale technically means an art exhibition held every two years. The concept originated in Venice in 1895. The words Thierry Raspail used about the 11th Biennale at de Lyon fits Kochi-Muziris 2012 (Kochi is likely to be better known to people outside Kerala as Cochin) as well - “a kind of gigantic show window for all the best art at the moment.” Additionally, it reflects the history of at least three millennia.

Apart from art, there is also the cultural and historic aspect. The event would include the presentation of a number of traditional performing art forms, literary gatherings and an International Book Fair too. It is not surprising that Kochi-Muziris 2012 has been listed by The New York Times and British Airways Journal as one of the major global events of the year.

The label Kochi-Muziris has great significance. Muziris, in recent years known as Kodumgalloor in Malayalam and Craganore in English, died in the process of Kochi being born.  That was in 1341. Till then Muziris, about 30kms north of Kochi, was one of the most important harbours of the world. People from the East and the West came there for trading.

There are claims that teak wood for King Solomon’s palace went from Muziris. (Whether Solomon really existed is another matter.) Spices from the Malabar Coast were indispensable in the cuisine of the upper class, particularly in the West. The Semites probably had the advantage in the westward trade. They might have known of the direct trade wind across the Arabian Sea before others became aware of it as Hippalus Wind in 45-47 CE.

 
PHGCOM India-Rome trade route map.

Several foreigners who came for commerce settled in and around Muziris. It is generally believed that St. Thomas the Apostle landed in Muziris in 52 CE to spread the Word of Jesus Christ. This date appears to have been before Gentiles were admitted to Christianity. Even the word Christian had not been coined then. Some historians mention that the Apostle preached at the synagogues in Malabar.

Apparently there was a sizable Jewish population in Kerala at the beginning of the Christian era. Those converted by St. Thomas and their descendants came to be called Nazranees. There was another large scale migration of Jews to the Malabar Coast during Titan’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Many Arabs too had families in Kerala.

This flourishing port of Muziris became defunct in 1341 CE. There are different theories about this. One is that natural silting over the years closed the shipping channels. The other is that heavy floods in River Periyar deposited huge quantities of sand and debris making the port unusable. A third and probably the more likely possibility is that some geophysical occurrence in the sea closed Muziris and opened the connection to the Vembanad Lake at Kochi, making it a safe natural harbour.

King of Cochin in procession.

Envisioning the possibilities of the new port, an alert Perumpadappu Swaroopam (Cochin Royal Family) shifted the capital to near Kochi in 1405. The area started growing into an important international trade centre. A community of Jews moved in. (See: One more Cochini Jew Bids Adieu ) Then came the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. The Arabs were mostly concentrated at Calicut in the north of Kerala. But people from other parts of India like the Gujaratis too settled in Kochi. (See: Kerala: Sand from the lakes)

The Dutch capturing the Cochin Port from the Portuguese in 1663.

A view of Cochin in early 19th c.

English sailing ship MALABAR

The view of paddy fields and coconut palms

A backwater scene

An old drawing of a Chinese net for which Cochin is famous.

It was against this historical background that the Biennale was named Kochi-Muziris 2012. Originally, the idea of the show was given active support by MA Baby who was the Minister for Culture in the earlier Left-led Kerala Government. He was successful in forming a lead team of government officials, artists and other prominent persons. The Kerala Government also sanctioned funding of Rs.5 crores.

But in Kerala, the land of Raja Ravi Varma, nothing is beyond dispute. Some of the local artists are miffed because they were not included in organizing the Biennale. The media appears to have played it up without studying the details. All that led to the stoppage of government funding.

The Foundation that is managing the Biennale is feeling financial tightness. But there is personal funding to some extent. Private benefactors and galleries are also helping. It is only fair that the government conducts a proper enquiry quickly, publicizes the findings, and resumes financial assistance.

Perhaps it is not too late for the local artists who feel ignored to get involved in this great effort. KC Joseph, the Minister for Culture who has said that the present Government is all set to make the event a success, and Tony Chammani, the Mayor of Cochin can play a major part in bringing everyone together.

This is what Dr. Manmohan Sigh, the Prime Minister said about Kochi-Muziris 2012, “The jewel in the crown of Kerala will now earn prominence thanks to this event, which is aimed at promoting art from across the globe.”

The publicity for the project could have been possibly done more effectively, but there is no doubt that the Biennale would be a great success. It will have a major commercial impact as well in the area. The important venues of the event are Aspinwall House, Pepper House, David Hall and Durbar Hall, all historic locations of Kochi.

Kelly Crow, Art Reporter of Wall Street Journal tweeted, “FINALLY! India will debut its own contemporary-art biennial called the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on Dec.12 in Kochi, Kerala area.”

The show will be on till 13-03-2013.

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Note: All images are from Wikimedia Commons. Some have been edited. CLICK to enlarge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

High Heels & a Shotgun


It is quite a distance from  Dances for the gods. to Rock Music. The girl in this photo seems to have traversed it pretty well. She is Susan Ann Isaac. It was her Bharathanatyam performance five years back that prompted me to write the post mentioned above.

For years Susan had been studying Bharathanatyam and Carnatic Music under Radha Srinivas, the well-known expert in Chennai. She learned Western music at the Unwind Centre, also at Chennai.

A couple of years back I started hearing talk about her forming a rock band along with some of her friends. I think that was after she bagged the ‘Best Fresh Talent’ Award in the Nxg Rock Star Competition organized by The Hindu.  

Then I learned that the band had become a reality with five girls, Susan (lead vocalist), Samriddhi, Sehr, Aditi, Gayatri and one boy, Nihal, as drummer. And it had a name, coined by Susan’s brother Thomas Isaac. Samriddhi who is also a fashion designer created the logo for the band. Here it is:
 


Their first public performance was Concert for Japan in 2011 at Chennai. It was part of the relief efforts for that country after it had suffered the devastating earthquake and Tsunami. Sandhya Ramachandran, writing in The Score Magazine says, “ever since, there’s been no turning back” for them.


Susan at the mike. Photo from the Web.

I started taking the matter seriously when someone told me recently that The Hindu had interviewed Susan. My Internet search for High Heels and a Shotgun gave pages of results including several video clippings. The Hindu interview by HARIN CHANDRA published on October 3, 2012 was also there. Its title is ‘They rock!’.

I am the proud maternal grandfather of this talented girl. She is having two problems. One is that she has just joined a professional college after completing school. She is now in Bangalore and the band is in Chennai. She goes there for performances. The last one was in October. But they are thinking of disbanding the group. Incidentally, Susan is teaching music on Saturdays at a Bangalore establishment. She got her first paycheque recently.

The other problem Susan is facing is that she is not old enough to get an ATM card. She has to wait!


A related post:


Friday, November 23, 2012

Kerala Bishops on abortion



The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) has come out with a press release about the stand of the Church regarding abortions. I feel that it is only fair to mention it here in relation to my post The Savita case, a tragedy in Ireland

The statement, which I read in a Malayalam newspaper, says that life is the gift of God. It has to be protected. Destroying a live foetus amounts to murder. But if, in a genuine attempt to save the life of a pregnant woman something adverse happens to the foetus, it does not amount to killing. According to the KCBC’s understanding, the law in Ireland is more or less the same.

This means that in the Galway hospital the doctors should have tried to save the mother. If, in that process, the foetus in her womb is hurt the doctors cannot be blamed. But why then didn’t they try to save the mother?

The press release gives an answer to this. Details regarding the ailment of a patient and the treatment are to be kept secret. That is why the doctors have not come out with any statement explaining the death of Savita. They can only present the details to a duly constituted authority.

The KCBC also says that the media reporting on the tragedy is based on hearsay. The reporters could not have obtained any details from the hospital. The Health Minister of Ireland has ordered an official enquiry.

In the meantime Savita’s husband has demanded a public enquiry. Such things are common in India, but not elsewhere.

I wonder why something that happened on October 28(?) suddenly obtained wide publicity only a few days back. One retired Catholic bishop in Kerala said in an article that British business interests are behind the move. It doesn’t sound tenable. That country makes quite a bit of money from the abortion sector. A good portion of the clients is from Ireland.

 

 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Savita case, a tragedy in Ireland



A man takes his wife and their young son boating. The boat capsizes in deep waters. The man is a good swimmer but his wife and son can’t swim. The husband can save only one of them. The question here is who should be given the preference. If a decision is delayed, both would drown.

Was it something like this that happened in Ireland last month?

Did the 31 years old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar die because the doctors at the hospital in Galway, Ireland could not decide about aborting her 17 week pregnancy?

Media reports do not indicate so. The doctors specifically decided not to interfere and save the mother because there was foetal heartbeat. Their justification was that Ireland is a Catholic country and the laws do not permit abortion.

Ireland is not a Catholic country. It is a republic. And, 20 years back that country’s Supreme Court had asked the government to make suitable changes in the abortion law. That has not been done yet.

What would have happened if the doctors had gone ahead with medical termination of the pregnancy and saved Savita? Technically, they could have been prosecuted. Many Irish women go to England for abortion because of this problem in their own country. Why bother about the theology of when the soul enters a foetus or whether a 17 week old foetus can be baptised?  

The sad truth is that Irish law relating to abortion is archaic. In Britain the relevant portion of the Penal Code was amended in 1967. In India too abortion was proscribed. Women who wanted to terminate pregnancy had to approach unethical doctors or quacks. Countless cases ended up with severe complications and even the woman’s death.

India shook itself awake and enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act which came into effect on April 1, 1972. Instead of abortion being defined as purposely causing miscarriage it became medical termination of pregnancy. Bravo, India.

What was result? Of course there was the good side to the legislation that was essential. Though the Act which was amended once, in 1975, provides specific conditions, many foetuses which would have been born girls, were aborted. Who wants a girl child?

In cases like Savita’s, a good doctor should interfere and save the mother, in any country, any religion. Will the Church frown if the man whose boat capsized saves his wife though she happens to be beyond childbearing?

Savita is a martyr. Her tragedy, sad, depressing as it is, has brought world attention to the question. It is likely to induce Ireland and other such countries to revise antiquated laws. Hopefully. Ireland has not given any commitment yet.

Heartfelt condolences to Savita’s family.

 

Please also see

 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Photos: A Thravad Decorated



These photos are outside views of my Tharavad (ancestral home) Thekkanattu Parayil, decorated for a daughter’s betrothal recently. Click on them to enlarge. The cream coloured streamers are tender coconut leaves. The lamp in the last picture is made of banana plant trunk and coconut frond. Half a coconut is kept on top with oil inside and the wick.










My brothers Jacob and Antony run the internationally highly rated Olavipe Home Stay there now.
(Photographs are by Chackochan. Copyright Reserved.)

Addenda: (on 20/11) I missed mentioning that the decorations were done under the supervision of Reji, (A village artist). Five generations of his family have been with us. Also see 


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One more Cochini Jew Bids Adieu



Johnny Hallegua of Jew Town, Cochin, India died on October 25th at the age of 90. He was ailing for sometime after breaking a leg. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery near the ancient synagogue. The one to die before him was his relative Samuel Hallegua, two years back. Sam was the Warden of the Cochin Synagogue, and a scholar. Incidentally, he was a club mate of mine.

The Jewish contact with Kerala seems to have started much before Christ. Perhaps large scale Jewish settlements came into existence in Kerala State, India with the exodus during the siege of Jerusalem by the army of the Roman Emperor Titus. That was the First Jewish-Roman War. A painting of the siege by David Roberts (1796–1864) is reproduced below from the Wikipedia:



The year of the war was 70 CE. Thousands of people escaped from the battle devastated area. According to one estimate ten thousand of them migrated to Kerala, India - the Malabar Coast, as many historians call it. At that time there was no Cochin. That area, it is said, came into existence only in 1341 CE due to some geophysical phenomena in Arabian Sea. It started developing into a trading centre soon. Some historians claim that the Cochini Jews are of Sephardim origin from Holland and Spain.

The Jew Town in Cochin was built in 1567 on land granted to the community by the Raja of Cochin. A year later the famous Mattancherry or Cochin Synagogue was constructed. It is next to the Maharaja’s Palace and the Palace Temple. The clock tower (see photo) was added in 1760. 



There is a claim that a synagogue existed in a place called Kochangadi, Cochin in 1344. Perhaps it was on the inland and not at the location of the present synagogue. Kochangadi is a common locality name in Kerala. From ancient times there were synagogues in different regions of Malabar.  

During the Portuguese-Dutch War for control of the area, the building was damaged in 1662. Two years later repairs were done with the help of the Raja of Cochin and the Dutch who had driven off the Portuguese. It is believed to be one of the oldest synagogues outside Israel. This is its 444th anniversary.  
 The 4th centennial of the synagogue was a landmark in the history of Kerala. Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was the then Prime Minister of India came down to attend the ceremony. The Government of India also brought out a postage stamp (see photo) to commemorate the event.



The pictures of the synagogue and the stamp are by Ruth Johnson . They are reproduced with permission from her blog post Cochin Synagogue and Sarah Cohen (http://www.mydoramac.com/wordpress/?p=5137). Do have a look at it for more pictures of Cochin’s Jew Town and additional information on Cochini Jews.

In Cochini Jews – Dreams don’t die I had written that the Jewish era in Cochin is coming to an end. With Johonny Hallegua gone, there are just eight Jews left in Cochin – two men and six women. Most of them are seventy plus years old. There is not enough quorum of ten adults to conduct a miyan (a communal religious service of the Jews).

For those who remain, the dreams are confined to Cochin and visits of dear ones who are away.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Are You Weeping, Mother India?



The usage ‘Mango people’ by Robert Vadra had me confused for a while. I didn’t know its meaning. Only after a quite a bit of Internet search I realized that the phrase is a sort of translation from Hindi meaning ‘common man’.

Vadra is accused of making a lot of money in what appears to be insider trading. If, in the process, he has broken any law, he should of course be punished according to the country’s judicial system. The same goes for Nitin Gadkari and others who are facing major accusations.

Bal Thackeray has a faster solution – throw Vadra and family out of the country. In banana republics such things are possible, I suppose. There was no mention of the bigger fishes that are/might get caught in the net. But he did say that India is a nation of cheats. (Both statements at Shiv Sena’s annual Dusserah rally at Mumbai on October 25.) Well, the man is 86 years old.

Now about another old man – Anna Hazare. Not many people seem to refer to him as Gandhian anymore. He makes a re-entry into the limelight with Gen. VK Singh. This retired COAS who failed in the Court and elsewhere to get one more year as Army Chief demanded that the Parliament be dissolved.

This reflects badly on Hazare as well. What Singh did was improper. He is still the Colonel of his regiment and not just an ordinary civilian. Young officers and jawans look up to senior officers. I was hoping that the former Chief would say something about the Rs.100 crores that the Defence Audit recently found was overspent by the Army during the last two years.

Now, about Narendra Modi, the person who could try to be the next Prime Minister of India. His comment about Mrs. Sashi Tharoor was not cricket. There is no point in saying more. The Minister’s response to that had class. After all, he is from an aristocratic family in Kerala.

BJP’s spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi says that Tharoor is an ‘international love guru’. He also suggests that the Centre should have a Romance Ministry!

During the 1950s, there was a nice novel, Sorrowing lies my land by Lambert Mascarenhas. It was about Goa under the Portuguese. Today the whole country lies sorrowing.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Short Story: DANIEL OF THE MANMALAI CLUB

         A reason why the Manmalai Club was different from the other planters’ clubs in the High Ranges of the Southwest corner of India was Daniel. When the Club opened in 1921he was asked to serve drinks. The man continued doing that for a little over five decades. He was lean and of medium height. His left shoulder was, at least when I started going to the Club, noticeably lower than the right. He attributed that abnormality to years of pouring drinks from bottles into peg measures.


Daniel had many stories to tell, but never on a Saturday. That was   the day on which the planters, from top brass to ‘creepers’ (trainees) gathered at the Club to relax. The rubber estates at lower altitudes and tea plantations in the higher areas were extensive. The nearest neighbour with whom one could have a drink stayed probably five miles away. The evenings were long and lonely especially for the bachelors. They looked forward to the Club Nights on Saturdays.
To reach the Club one turned off the main road through Murugan Gate, drove up the steep road, took a U-turn named Dexter’s Folly and climbed further. Behind the tile-roofed club house was a sparkling stream with an eight feet waterfall. But no one seemed to even notice it.
Once I remarked casually to Daniel, “The Club should have been facing the brook.”
After some hesitation he responded, “Pearson sahib himself drew the plan. Spent nights.”
“I wasn’t blaming him.”
“I know, sir. Sahib was going home on four-month furlough. Wanted building completed before he came back. He gave instructions to the contractor and also offered a fifty rupee bonus.”
“I suppose it wasn’t ready on time.”
Daniel smiled and said, “On return, sahib went straight to the site. The building was finished. He asked the contractor to collect the balance due plus the bonus, and added, ‘Get the hell out of here. I don’t want to see your face again.’ ”
“But why?”
“In sahib’s own words, ‘Dumb idiot, you got it back to front.’ ”
I laughed and asked, “Wasn’t he blacklisted?” If that were done, no estate would give the man any work.
“Sahib considered that,” Daniel answered. “But he told us later that perhaps he hadn’t explained clearly enough to the contractor and made sure that the man had understood.”
Looking back I can see that the Daniel yarns offered a kind of orientation course. They gave the newcomers, mostly British, an insight into the history, ethos and élan of the planning community.
On Sundays too Daniel was busy till about 3 O’clock in the afternoon. That was the day Mark Hearth, an owner-planter (most were company employees), had lunch at the Club. Earlier, when his wife was alive, they used to have the meal together there. Even after the lady died he continued the practice.
The ritual started precisely at 11 O’clock when Daniel served the first gin and tonic after Hearth settled down on his favourite chair in the front hall. No one else used that piece of furniture while he was in the Club. The old man would leaf through copies of Illustrated London News, Punch and the Illustrated Weekly of India. He did not mind company till he moved to the dining room. There he would sit alone at the same table on the same chair that he had used for thirty-five years and more. He would top off the lunch with a large crème de menthe and walk steadily to his Bentley.
Once, as Hearth was leaving, the international chief of Indo-South Asia Petroleum Company and wife dropped in. They were on a private visit en route to the Periyar Game Sanctuary. Hearth instructed Daniel to attend to them, and before boarding the car said, “Your tankers don’t come on time.”
Two Sundays later, the Managing Director of the petroleum company’s Indian subsidiary and a colleague were at the Club to meet Hearth.
“Sir”, the visiting MD opened the conversation, “about your complaint to our world chief. We have checked our tanker movements here for one year. Last month supply was delayed twice, but that was due to landslips along the road.”
“I beg your pardon. What are you talking about?”
“When our Chairman came here two weeks back you mentioned to him that our tankers don’t come on time.”
“I don’t remember meeting your Chairman or making any complaint to him.”
Daniel cleared his throat.
“Yes Daniel,” Hearth asked. “What is it?”
“Sahib, it happened.”
Hearth thought for a moment. “I’m sorry gentlemen,” he apologised. “Must have been absolutely drunk.”
For the first time after his wife died, Hearth had guests for lunch at the Club. According to Daniel, the planter and the oil company chaps got on famously. After that, Hearth started attending Saturday Club Nights again.
A popular Daniel story was about a Swedish lady.
“This memsahib was wearing white dress. Very beautiful.”
Pause.
“She was the guest of a sahib from Madras. He was very angry later. And the other memsahibs wouldn’t talk to her.”
“Why? What happened?”
“She climbed on the bar counter and moved from one end to the other and back. All the sahibs jammed into the bar.”
“What did she do?” I asked. “Sing or tap dance or what?”
“No sir, nothing of the sort. She actually walked on her hands.”
One visualised the scene and laughed. But not Daniel. He was the type who would watch your face anxiously as you took the first sip of the drink he had served and wait for your nod. Once that came, he would break into a grin.
An academic type of creeper from U.K. who had befriended me from the first time we met, asked Daniel while we were having beer, “Isn’t Murugan a Hindu god?”
“Yes, sahib.”
“Then why is our gate named after him?”
“The locals,” Daniel replied, “gave that name because of Amelia memsahib.”
“Why? Did she become a Hindu?”
“No sahib, this Murugan was driver. Memsahib was very upset after that.  Then Pritchard sahib got a job in Assam and took her away.”  
There was a pause before the rest of the story unveiled. Pritchard had bought a dual control car to teach his wife driving. One day they were going up the steep incline by the gate on the main road. Murugan who was coming down with his lorry lost control at the sight of two people driving the same car. His vehicle crashed into the granite wall of the gate. He was badly injured and died later in the hospital. The owner of an arrack shop a mile up said afterwards that Murugan had drank heavily.
One tale led to another. “What about Dexter’s Folly?” my friend asked.
Daniel laughed, covering his mouth with his right hand and narrated the story. After a stag party on a misty night, Tom Dexter, General Manager of Manmalai Plantations started back for his bungalow. His deputy, Harry Barton was right behind. In the poor visibility, Dexter steered his Vauxhall just a little before reaching the hairpin bend. The car went into the six feet deep cutting. Following his tail lights, Barton landed his Morris on top of his GM’s car. Because of the retaining walls of the road, the vehicles were hemmed in. Daniel told us that later the DGM narrated what happened immediately after the accident.
Dexter shouted out, “Is that you, Harry?”
“Yes, Tom.”
“Don’t have to knock that hard. You’re always welcome.”
The coolies rushing for muster early next morning found their big sahibs sound asleep in their respective cars.
The story didn’t end there. Though personal hosting of Club Nights was uncommon, the next one was on Dexter. When the party was in full swing he addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to listen to a limerick I wrote.” There were groans all around, but Dexter went ahead anyway.
At that point Daniel said “Excuse me”, went inside and returned with a framed paper. It had been hanging in the bar but I hadn’t bothered to read. Now I did, aloud:
‘Driving down from club
Loaded, on wintry night
Dexter took the turn
Ahead of the curve.’
“After the applause died down,” Daniel went on, “Dexter sahib said that he would like to have the U-turn named Dexter’s Folly”.
“I suppose,” my companion said, “the proposal was carried unanimously.”
“No sahib,” Daniel answered. “Barton sahib protested saying ‘Tom that’s not fair. I was there as well’. Dexter sahib answered, ‘Harry, DGMs do all the hard work. GMs take the credit.’ ”
Many yarns went around about a character named Croft but Daniel avoided them. There were two versions on how that man got the nickname ‘Cross’. One said it was because he always carried a crossword puzzle and pencil. The other view was that he was real cross for the others to bear. He had, according to rumour, the dubious distinction of being the only white man blacklisted by Paru and Devu, two beautiful sisters who were available to interested sahibs.
A pencil sketch of Daniel adorns the bar along with various trophies. It was done by a Richmond who was the South India manager of Imperial Fertilizer Company. He was a well-liked man who made a business trip to the area once a year.
Daniel was very proud of the picture. He would say, “Sahib wanted me to stand with my hands on the bar counter. But I said, ‘Sahib, then it won’t be me.’ He scratched his head for a moment and said, ‘Oh, yes, the trademark – your shoulders.’ “ After a pause Daniel would add, “Fine gentleman. Once somebody asked him why his fertilizer prices were higher than that of the competition. Richmond sahib tapped his chest and answered, ‘my salary’. But almost all planters bought from him.”
By the early 1950s the Communist-led labour unions were becoming increasingly militant. Some of the British started selling their estates. A chap who bought one of them found the going tough. On his request the leading Indian planting family in the district sent him a protection group of four men. They were from Palai, an area in the foothills were youngsters grew up with six-inch knives tucked in at the waist and the belief that if the weapon were drawn in a fight, the enemy should fall dead from the blade.
They became the targets of the workers. Some trade union activists managed to kill one of them. The body was hung upside down from a large jungle-jack tree. The workers and their families sat around it in groups, lighting bonfires by nightfall. The dead man’s colleagues had vanished.
It was a matter of honour for the family which sent the watchmen and the planters in general to recover the body. Most of them gathered at the club. The District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police joined in the front hall where drinks and snacks were kept on a table in a corner for self service. The officials explained that recovering the body was not a problem but intelligence reports indicated that the union was planning a confrontation forcing the police to open fire. What the Communists wanted were martyrs.
As the discussions dragged on I moved to the bar where Daniel was alone. After a while Manichan, an owner planter, came and stood near me. “It’s a waste of time,” he said. “They’ll keep on talking through the night.”
He asked Daniel fro a glass of water. That was surprising because he could polish off a bottle of Scotch on a long evening. He finished drinking, placed the glass on the counter and turned to go.
“Manichan sir,” Daniel who had been watching him keenly said in a tone of concern, “I hope you are not going there alone.”
“I am.”
Watching him go, Daniel tried to remove the empty glass from the bar counter. It rolled down and broke. That was an unusual slip for him and he apologised. I wondered whether it was a bad omen.
But Manichan returned about two hours later. His clothes were slightly stained. He told me, “Boy, go tell them to discuss about the funeral.”
I looked at him questioningly.
“The body is at the back of my Jeep. The arms have to be broken to fit it in a box. Rigor mortis.”
By then Daniel had placed a large whiskey before Manichan.
“But how did you manage?” I asked, rather stunned.
“Rather simple. Drove to the spot, climbed on the bonnet and cut the rope.”
“Didn’t they try to stop you?”
He shook his head and answered, “Taken by surprise. And they know me. May be they guessed that the police wouldn’t interfere immediately, and wanted to end the stand off somehow. What does it matter?”
Later that night Daniel told me that it would not be the end. True enough, the two murderers of the guard were found dead within a week. Everybody knew who did it but officially the police could not find any proof. The three missing watchmen returned and the area remained quiet for a long while.
 After that incident some planters had taken to carrying firearms. One evening two Asst. Managers were practicing billiards for the Inter-Club Meet at Cochin the next week. Suddenly there was a gunshot just outside.
They rushed to the front hall. A young man was standing at the entrance with a pistol. A carcass lay in a pool of blood at the other end.
“You killed Charlie,” the older among the two said in shock.
“That one?” the young man asked. “My book says when a jackal rushes at you shoot him. There may be a pack following.”
The animal had adopted the club a year earlier. He found a niche for himself in a hole on the side of the building. Soon he became a pet of some of the younger members who named him Charlie and fed him whenever they went to the club. The others did not mind because the jackal never bothered them.
“Charlie was,” the other billiards player who had a squeaky voice said, “part of the club. Who the hell are you anyway?”
 “I’m a member. Jacob Philipose. Hill View Estate. Was away in England for a few years completing my studies. I didn’t know that in the meantime we started admitting jackals.”
“That’s bloody well adding insult to injury.” Words flew and finally it was decided to have a fistfight to settle the score.
“Daniel,” the senior Asst. Manager ordered, “arrange the furniture on dance night mode.” That meant that everything should be pushed to the sides leaving the wood-floored hall open.
“Yes, sir,” Daniel responded promptly and went inside.
Minutes later he returned with an unopened bottle of Dimple Scotch and the usual accompaniments. “While I rearrange the furniture,” he said, “the gentlemen may like to drink. Pearson sahib has entrusted me with some bottles to be served on the house at special occasions.”
“Good,” Philipose said. “I’m thirsty.” He sat down.
Daniel poured three large drinks. The Indian took a glass, said “Cheers” and had a sip. The others joined after some hesitation. A club boy came and screened off Charlie’s body.
Daniel disappeared again. It was quite some time before he came back with cocktail sausages and bully beef tossed with onions and spices according to the Club’s special recipe. He poured the second drink for the three members and started rearranging the furniture. The pace was slow.
He was called again. Then, after pouring the third round of drinks he said, “With your permission, may I suggest that I remove Charlie and have the place cleaned up?”
“Yes, go ahead,” the senior Asst. Manager said. “He must be given a decent burial.”
“He was dear to us,” the other one added.
“I’ll also help,” Philipose said. “I recall some of the Syriac liturgy.” To demonstrate his knowledge he started reciting the original Aramaic version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Abun da bashmaya…”
“Who wants Syriac,” the elder planter said. “It shall be Anglican service.”
At this point Daniel intervened saying, “Charlie was not a Christian. To the respected members he was a pet. To me he was a friend and companion. I have no family. I looked after him from the day he came to the club. Please allow me to bury him.”
The senior Asst. Manager said, “Right Daniel, we leave him to you.”
“Thank you sahibs.”
“Sorry, Daniel,” Philipose said. “I didn’t know he was your friend.” After a pause he added, “Anyway, get us some more whiskey.”
The second bottle was only half full. When it was nearly finished, Daniel told the members, “The chambers are ready.” Finally the men moved to the bedrooms arms on each others shoulders and singing, “Show me the way to go home.” Early morning Daniel woke up the Asst. Managers so that they could reach back in time for muster.
The send off party for Walter-Smith, a highly respected planter, was a memorable event. He gave a speech in his soft-spoken manner mainly about the forty years he had spent in the High Ranges. Before concluding he mentioned, “Some of you may know that during the War, I was Honorary Livestock Protection Officer for this division. Quite a few of the cows were dying. The blood sample of each dead animal had to be tested for anthrax and certified by the government veterinary doctor. Every report stated that there were no traces of any disease. I became suspicious. But one certificate was different. I would like to present it to the club.”
There was polite applause.
Walter-Smith continued, “I’ll read it out. Quote. This blood sample appears to be that of a senile old baboon of a species, which hither to was believed to be extinct. Unquote. I have added a signed Post Script that the blood sample was mine. I wanted to check the vet.” He raised his voice to be heard over the laughter and added, “The moral of the story is that there are no secrets in estate bungalows.”
Only once did Daniel get into trouble.
During the Second World War the club bought a Murphy radio that operated on car battery and installed it in the bar. Even on weekdays members went over to listen to BBC, and sometimes, Lili Marlene. One day during a break in the news, while ‘Cross’ Croft sat at a table with his crossword and others were discussing the War, someone asked, “Daniel, who do you think will win?”
The reply was prompt. “The King Emperor.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because Indian soldiers are fighting for His Majesty.”
Everybody laughed.
Croft walked over to the bar counter and asked Daniel, “What did you say?”
“Sahib, I said,” Daniel replied with some apprehension, “that King Emperor will win the war because Indian soldiers are fighting for him.”
Croft nodded and went back.
Next Saturday the members had a meeting at the club at 5 p.m. in response to an urgent notice from the Hon. Secretary. Pearson, the man who built the club, started the proceedings with the statement, “I wasn’t given a chance to see action in the First World War. But now I’m about to be involved with Second.”
There was suppressed laughter. Most of the members had heard about his attempt to enlist in 1914. The recruiting officer at Madras politely pointed out that the upper age limit for joining the army was forty years. Pearson who was forty-one then stared angrily at the man, said, “Don’t blame me if you lose the bloody War”, and walked out.
“Obviously,” Pearson went on, “some of you have heard the story. “Let me delve on it briefly because it is relevant in the present context. I felt miserable about the rejection. Then I realized that they also serve who stay back and keep the supplies flowing. Rubber, tea, whatever.”
The members cheered.
“Now,” Pearson continued, “let’s come to the matter on hand. We have received a written complaint from Mr. Croft against Daniel.”
There were surprised looks and murmurs among the members.
“There is,” Pearson went on, “a procedural problem however. Daniel is the son of my former butler. I gave him the job here. His address in the club records is still ‘c/o R.J. Pearson’. Therefore it may not be proper for me to chair this meeting.”
A senior member stood up and said, “You are the President of the club for life. There is no impropriety. Let’s get on with it.”
The crowd clapped in approval.
“Mr. Croft,” Pearson asked, “is that agreeable to you?”
The complainant replied with a slight hesitation, “I’m not objecting.”
After the petition was read out, Pearson said, “Let’s take the last of the accusations first. Mr. Croft, why do you say that Daniel’s loyalty is with Gandhi and company?”
“Because he always wears a Gandhi cap.”
“If that’s an offence, the blame is with the club management for permitting it. But when I placed him in the bar he donned the same type of attire that is wearing today. Mr. Gandhi has nothing to do with it. Shall we drop it?”
The complainant nodded in the affirmative.
“The next point is that Daniel is unpatriotic. Why do you say that?”
“Most Indians are.”
“That,” Pearson responded, “is a generalization. The word patriotism has several meanings. Loyalty, devotion, nationalism and so on. Talking about the Indians, many believe that we won the First World Was because of them. It was not all quiet for them on the Western Front. An estimate is that 65,000 sepoys died there.”
Many of the members gasped.
“I’m not,” Croft said, “belittling whatever contribution the natives made. But they can’t insult the white soldiers.”
“But why do you say white soldiers? There are colored men from many parts of the Empire fighting for us. Even our Americans allies have Negro soldiers.”
The witnesses, altogether five, were called. All of them testified that they had felt no offense at what Daniel had said. Then it was the turn of the accused. His statement was brief: “I meant no disrespect to soldiers of any country. May be I should have said, ‘Because my son is fighting under Montgomery sahib in Africa.’ “
The members were taken aback. Most of them did not know about it.
“4th Indian Division,” Pearson explained.
After a short discussion with the Hon. Secretary he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the verdict. Daniel shall open the bar at 6 O’clock as usual.” He looked at his pocket watch and added, “That’s precisely ten minutes from now.”
The members stood up and clapped as Daniel walked towards the bar with tears running down his cheeks.
His son died on February 17, 1944 in Italy during the bitter fighting for control of the Benedictine monastery near Monte Cassino. Nobody in the Club except Pearson knew about it. I heard it years later when he told my father over drinks at our bungalow.
Next morning I was the first one at the club. After Daniel finished pouring the beer I asked, “Your son was a hero. Why did you keep it a secret?”
He gave me a surprised look and answered, “Why make my patrons also sad with my personal tragedy?” He turned to the rack behind him, ostensibly to arrange the bottles and added with a slight quiver in his voice, “He was just twenty-two.”
I quietly got up with my beer mug and moved out to the front hall. I was twenty-two then.
These days I hardly go to the club. An era has ended and it is no longer the place it used to be. But every December 6th, the few of us old-timers still remaining gather there and go to the All Saints Church cemetery a mile away to spend some time where Daniel rests in peace.
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