Thursday, May 31, 2007

Douglas DC 3, The Dakota

The photo above is of Lord Linlithgow, the then Viceroy of India and Lady Linlithgow alighting from a Douglas DC-3 plane at the Wellingdon Island airport, Cochin, circa 1940. On seeing this in the Lotus Club Platinum Jubilee Souvenir (Some Clubs of India), I was reminded of the old Dakota days. Till the Fokker Friendships were introduced in the early 1960s, Dakotas (the name given by the British to this American plane) served Cochin.

Those days we had the Great South Indian Milk Run, if one could call it that – a hopping flight, MadrasMaduraiTrivandrumCochinCoimbatoreBangaloreMadras. That is perhaps the maximum take-offs and landings a pilot was permitted to do at one stretch of duty.

Then there was the Bombay flight. After one and a half hours of flying from Cochin – cruising speed about 170 mph – it would land at Mangalore. Half an hour there and then on to Belgaum which had a camp-shed terminal - another one and half hours flight. Stop over of half hour again. Then the final lap to Bombay – one and a half hours more!

Later on, with Fokker and then Avro, the journey used to take three hours twenty minutes, perhaps the longest non-stop flight in India.

The Bombay flights on the Dakota during the Monsoon seasons were sometimes gut-racking. The aircraft would get thrown around all over the place. Because the cabins of these planes were not pressurized, the cruising altitude for passenger operation, I think, was 7000-9000 feet (against the service ceiling of 24,000 feet). And that appeared to be the favorite level for turbulence.

But the pilots were not worried. They used to claim that the Dakotas were so reliable and dependable. No wonder these planes, which first took to the skies in 1935, are still flying seventy years later.

They call the Dakotas ‘the plane that changed the world’. Quite rightly too. It is a flying machine that combines economy with efficiency and safety.

I left out one detail – for the five and a half hour trip from Cochin to Bombay, the ticket cost was Rs.150 (in 1958). Bombay-New York fare then by Super Constellation was Rs.4000.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A unique police constable

Malayala Manorama has the largest circulation among all vernacular newspapers in India – a whopping 1.5 million daily! This is not surprising – the paper invariably comes out with items of news value, human interest and popular appeal. An example is the feature it carried in its Sunday supplement of 27, May, about a woman police constable.

Now, women constables are nothing new. There are over 2500 of them in Kerala. But this lady who is attached to the Vattiyurkavu police station in the State capital Trivandrum is different. She is P.C. 2367, Dr. S. Anitha Nair – the only constable with a doctorate in the 42,000 strong State Police force! She is also a post graduate in Malayalam and a Bachelor of Education! Her doctoral thesis was ‘reviews of novels in the Malayalam magazines from 1960 to 1970’ – a tough one all right.

An academic as a police woman? Square peg in a round hole? Not at all. Dr. Nair was in need of employment and the police job was the first one that came her way. She has been discharging her police duties efficiently for the five years that she has been with the force and at the same time keeps pursuing her academic interests.

It is said that she is even changing the style of police language in First Information Reports and other submissions to the courts. She has been married for three yeas and has a one year old baby girl.

Dr. Nair won’t be with the police for long, though. Not that she doesn’t like the job. But she favors teaching better. She has been offered a college lecturer post and is waiting for the formal order.

Best of luck, Dr. Anitha Nair.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


©Thekkanattu Parayil

Chakram has several meanings in Malayalam language. Basically it means a wheel. A man from south Kerala who is aged 60+ might think of Chakram which was a monetary unit in the erstwhile Travancore State (Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.). A native of Kuttanad is likely to associate the word with chakram like the one in the photograph, which was part and parcel of life in that rice bowl of Kerala. It was extensively used in the paddy fields to control water level.

Now, a brief note about Kuttanad. It is a practically waterlogged stretch of approximately 110 sq. kilometers. A good portion of this is 60 centimeters to 220 centimeters below sea level. An area known as R Block is called Holland Scheme because water of the Vembanad Lake is held back by wide dykes and rice is actually grown much below sea level.

Chakrams were indispensable to the cultivation before the big pumps came. They are still used sometimes. The one in the photo is possibly the smallest in size. It has only 8 leaves and can be operated by one man using his feet, sitting on the edge of a platform. There were much bigger ones, some with even 48 leaves, if I remember correctly.

The large chakrams were operated by gangs of people. A structure would be erected over the wheel usually with areca trees or bamboos. This would have cross pieces at regular levels for men to sit and move the leaves of the chakram by pressing down with their feet. The gangs took turns to work the wheel.

It was a tough job. The men used to sing at work, to mitigate the burden. To borrow my own words: “They used to have songs for every step of paddy cultivation – for sowing, for harvesting, for threshing, for winnowing and so on. There was a rhythm in the growth of a plant and a tune to the counting of the measures of grain. Those were simpler times when people lived in harmony with nature.” (Morning After the Storm - Part 1.)


Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Irish father of Indian cardamom, rubber and pepper planting

The old man, past eighty, was ailing when the letter came from a friend to whom he had expressed a desire to buy a new sophisticated wireless set. The friend had written to say that only one such equipment was available.

From what was considered to be his death bed, the old bachelor replied, “Thank you for your letter. I suppose that at my age and in my condition I should be ordering a harp, not a wireless set.” He would have been reasonably certain about his place in heaven because he was a staunch Catholic and Pope Pius XI had, in 1927, conferred on him the Papal honor Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice for the services he had rendered to the Catholic Church and for his philanthropy.

But the man had great resilience. On this occasion he came back from the jaws of death, so to speak, and immediately sent a telegram to his friend: “cancel harp send wireless.” That was the kind of indomitable spirit he had.

Who was he? An Irishman named J. J. Murphy (1872-1957).

He was born in Dublin into a family of Shippers and Bankers, a seventh month baby who was rather delicate and asthmatic. After private education with Marist Brothers, a Catholic Educational Brotherhood in Europe, and Trinity College, Dublin, J.J. (as he was popularly known) set out to the East. He joined a tea plantation company in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but shifted to South India to join another. In spite of his independent nature, he survived on that job for a few years before being sacked.

That, in a way, set Murphy free, at the age of 29.

And there was the whole wide, wild world before him. How he faced it is a saga, which, unfortunately, has not found its rightful place in history. It would be a worthwhile thesis material for a serious researcher.

The first niche Murphy formed was at Pambadampara in the Cardamom Hills. It was virgin forest. There he did something that no body else before him had tried. Till then cardamom was obtained from wild growth in the forests, or from small peasants. The Irishman cultivated cardamom at Pambadampara on an organized plantation basis. It was the first such estate in India and perhaps the world. An interesting aspect was that since cardamom requires heavy shade, it was not necessary to cut down the trees.

Murphy’s interest turned to rubber. Since 1872 the India Office in London had been trying to introduce hevea rubber plants in India without any success. But Murphy, along with three associates, established the first rubber plantation in the country at a place called Alwaye. Then, in 1904, the man went for his own private rubber plantation at Yendayar, the place that was to be his home till death. When I last visited Yendayar Estate, a couple of decades back, a few of the rubber trees planted by Murphy were still standing.

Murphy’s success attracted major Sterling companies to the field. They closed down, at least temporarily, during the depression years. But with uncanny foresight Murphy held on and replanted the old rubber area with high yielding Malaysian clones. When the demand for the strategically important natural rubber spurted during the World War II, the Irishman was right up there on top.

At Yendayar Murphy planted tea as well, and scored another first by organizing pepper cultivation on plantation pattern. Till then, like cardamom, pepper too was procured from wild growth and small farmers.

Murphy was an enlightened employer. He once told the Planters Association of which he was the Chairman, "So long as we pay fair rates and look after our coolies well, we need not worry much..."

At one time I used to visit the Mundakayam Club, which Murphy established, rather frequently. I heard the following story there.

When the First World War began, Murphy went to Madras (now Chennai) to enlist. The officer concerned pointed out that the age limit for recruitment was 40. The Irishman was around 42 then. He was upset, but there was nothing any one could do about His Majesty’s regulations. Murphy told the officer, “Very well, but don’t blame me if you lose the bloody war”, and walked out.

J. J. Murphy died on May 9, 1957. He was buried at Yendayar.


Note: For details I have depended on an article “J. J. Murphy 1872 – 1957”, which the late K. L. Kershaw, an eminent planter himself, wrote for the Planters’ Chronicle. This collector's item was sent to me by my maternal uncle, Michael A. Kallivayalil, who, among other things, owns the Yendayar Estate.

Cross posted to Articles By Abraham Tharakan.

Also see:

Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

Kerala plantations: The bed tea ceremony that was

Oru Desathinte Amma.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Karthiki captures some Olavipe flowers

Click on photos to enlarge.

Unfortunately I don't know the names of these pretty flowers. This sort of things often happen. Many things about the place one grows up are taken for granted and one doesn't go into the details.

Also see:
Water hyacinth

Friday, May 25, 2007

Story time.

It is a month since I published a short story. Here is a new one,

The Bulldozer.

at Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cochin Demolitions

This is a special post for the benefit of several people who have visited this blog searching for details of the demolition of the encroachments along Cochin’s (India) commercial hub, MG Road. The position as I understand from the Malayala Manorama of date is:
  1. The merchants had petitioned the State government that they were not given reasonable time to vacate the encroachments. The Cabinet which met yesterday decided to grant one week period to the offenders to clear out. Consequently, the District Collector issued a notification to this effect.
  2. So far the area from Madhava Pharmacy at the north end of MG Road to the Shenoy Junction has been cleared using machines. These include the space used by Jayalakshmi Silks for parking, and the ticket counter and western compound wall of Shenoys Theatre. The eastern compound wall of Hotel Abad Plaza has also been demolished.
  3. Seventy-seven establishments from Shenoys Junction to Thevara Junction have been issued notices to clear within a week.
  4. The joint action councils of the local chambers of commerce and the various associations of traders have called for a hartal in Cochin today.

For more details, please refer to Malayala Manorama Online.


Some Clubs of India

Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.

When did you last see a kingfisher?

Kingfishers are beautiful birds. They are found all around the world. But how often do people living in big cities get to see one?

I decided to do this post while reading an interesting article titled ‘Why do I do the things I do?’ last night on Jacob's Blog. It mentions that Japan designed the front portion of the super fast trains like the beak of a kingfisher to avoid sonic boom. Jacob points out that the bird’s specially formed beak helps it to traverse from air to water and back smoothly.

Immediately I searched my Olavipe pictures file and came across some kingfisher photos. Thinking that you might like to see a few of them, I am reproducing three below:

Click on photos for enlarged view.

© Thekkanattu Parayil.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Water hyacinth

Click on image to enlarge.

This image of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) in Olavipe Lake is from a photo by our local photographer Chackochen. It looks so beautiful. The flowers of water hyacinth are very delicate and, therefore, cannot be used for decorative purposes unless the whole plant is placed in a bowl of water. Once cut, the bloom withers fast. The oval shaped leaves are thick and sturdy.

Water hyacinth is basically a freshwater plant. In the Olavipe Lake they slowly die out when saline intrusion from the Arabian Sea begins by the end of November. The seeds fall to the bottom of the lake to sprout again when the monsoons that start in July neutralize the salinity.

Initially I wanted to title this post ‘A bouquet for the gods’ but changed my mind after looking up the plant on the Internet. In many places where it grows, water hyacinth is considered to be nuisance plant. If uncontrolled, it chokes up waterways, provide a growing field for mosquitoes and screens off sunlight that is required by underwater plants. Fishes are affected as well.

But water hyacinth could still be nature's gift to man. It has good water filtering capability, which could be advantageously used in sewage treatment. Good quality cattle feed can be produced from water hyacinth. Dried plant is used for packaging. It is good compost material and could also be a source for renewable energy. New research is bringing out many more benefits of water hyacinth.

In my area, and in some other places in Kerala, there is an exciting new development regarding water hyacinth – handicraft that can provide meaningful employment, particularly for women. Dried water hyacinth plant is woven into mats, bags and boxes that are visually attractive and durable. These are ideal for packaging high value products like jewelry, perfumes and gift articles.

Water hyacinth is certainly a plant with great potential.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Some Clubs of India

Last week I received a copy of the Platinum Jubilee Souvenir of the prestigious Lotus Club, Cochin. The Committee that brought it out deserves high compliments for the excellent production, which is not only about Lotus but also a good reference book on the history of Cochin.

Though a member of this club for decades, I didn’t know that W. Somerset Maugham was one among the several illustrious visitors to the club including the Maharajas of Cochin and Mysore, and Lord Linlithgow when he was the Viceroy of India.

Linlithgow actually played tennis at Lotus during a visit to Cochin during the early 1940s. Tennis always had a prominent place in the activities of this family club, which used to conduct an All India ranking tournament. By 1990s the interest in tennis waned, but it has been revived recently with the laying of a synthetic court. Last week I was happy to see a group of young children being coached by an expert.

Bridge is another favorite at Lotus. Prof. Robins Jacob, Honorary Secretary of the Kerala Bridge Association writes, “Lotus Club is credited with the unique distinction of hosting the oldest uninterruptedly conducted Duplicate Tournament in India, perhaps in the whole world.”

The souvenir contains an interesting article titled ‘The Club Culture in India’ by David T. Mookken who has the rare distinction of having been President of Cochin Club and Lotus Club. David traces the origin of clubs in India and the transition of the club culture from British times to post-Independence days.

The first club outside Britain was perhaps Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (1792). A year later Calcutta Racket Club was established. Cochin Club was formed in 1821. Some of the other old clubs in South India are Madras Club (1832), Bangalore Club (1868), Coimbatore Club (1873), Secunderabad Club (1878), Coonoor Club (1885), and Kodaikanal Club (1887).

These were known as ‘English Clubs’. No Indian was allowed entry to them. This exclusiveness led to the formation of the Lotus Club by Lady Gertrude Bristow. Her husband, Sir Robert was a representative of the British Government who was entrusted with the task of developing a modern port at Cochin, a job which he completed admirably. But the Bristows were denied admission to Cochin Club because Lady Gertrude was not English born!

The lady was not disheartened, though. With the cooperation of some prominent families of Cochin, she had a suitable piece of land assigned by the Maharaja of Cochin and started the Lotus Club! The Maharaja himself attended the first Club Night of Lotus on September 9, 1932 as Chief Guest.

Lady Gertrude Bristow was the Founder President of the Club, and remained in that position from 1931 to 1941.


Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.

Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

Monday, May 21, 2007

Butterfly and bamboos

Two nice pictures of a butterfly on a bamboo cluster at Thekkanattu Parayil, by Karthiki.
Click on photos for enlarged view.

Also see Tranquility.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lions that guard Thekkanattu Parayil

A pair each of baked-clay lions guards the eastern and western entrances to the house. They have been keeping vigil for a century and more. See them below:

Photos: Karthiki

No child has grown up at Thekkanattu Parayil without climbing on the back of these lions. And sitting there, a child’s imagination soars. You are the lord of all that you survey – the expanse of the white sand of the court yard, the garden, the mango and jackfruit trees, swaying coconut palms, the rice fields in the distance.

Then the spoilsports – adults - come along. You can hear the order before it is actually delivered: “Get down, you’ll fall.” (I don’t think that anyone has ever fallen off the lions.) Immediately a servant would appear near the lion and try to hold you but you resist. No child likes such restraints.

After the elder is gone you shout at the servant. He takes off his hands but stands by, alert. The ride goes on, till you notice a pair of mynahs, or a pigeon or kingfisher and jump off the lion to chase it, the servant in tow. Or you just get bored and play something else.

In each pair of these ‘dwarapalakas’, (door sentries) one is different from the other. Can you notice it from the photographs?

One lion has his eyes closed while the other is wide awake. Sometimes the question ‘why’ is asked. That happened last week as well. The usual answer is that the lions take turns at duty. But that leads to another question.

When will the sleeping lion wake up to take over the vigil?

No answers yet.


The House That Grandfather Built.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

An example from Kolkata

Kolkata has set an example to the bulldozer-happy Christian priests of Kerala. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) in collaboration with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is set to revive the facade of the St. John’s Church in Kolkata (built in 1787) at an estimated coat of Rs.3.8 millions.

Others involved in the project are Action Research in Conservation of Heritage (ARCH) and the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal. A report in The Hindu of May 11 states that this is being done “so that it serves as a catalyst for similar rejuvenation projects in the future.

But obviously the message doesn’t get through to Ramapuram, Kerala, where the Vicar and his people are planning to proceed with the demolition of the historic twin churches (see Churches on demolition line.) against the laws of the land and the reported opposition of the Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Church, Cardinal Vithayathil.

To overcome the Kerala Government’s directive not to alter the structure of the twin churches, the Vicar is playing the religious card. He is reportedly circulating a letter to the parishioners stating that if the Government declares the buildings as protected monuments, they would not be able to conduct prayers and religious activities there.

“It is a blatant lie”, cries The New Indian Express of May 3. The report goes on to say, “It has been well-clarified in the law that the department [of Archeology] does not interfere in the activities which are held at a structure which has been declared a protected monument. Its concern is only in the upkeep of the structure.”

I had said pretty much the same thing in my post Back to the twin churches.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Autobiography of a School

When I reached Olavipe on the morning of May 13, I was presented with a hot-from-the-press copy of ‘Padavarambu’ -- an autobiography of the local government lower primary school, ghostwritten in Malayalam by some of the alumni.

The next day The Hindu, one of India’s leading national newspapers, carried a feature by Dennis Marcus Mathew on the book. “Autobiographies,” it said, “are nothing new. But one by a school… is something unusual. (It is) said to be the first by a school in Kerala, probably in the country.”

‘Padavarambu’ is a fascinating little book. It is well produced and illustrated. The language is simple, almost poetic. I am proud that my village has people who can write like this. The authors used what they termed ‘memory boxes’ to collect data. Each old student available was asked to jot down his/her experiences relating to the school. From that collection evolved this poignant piece.

The book covers a short span of time, a period during which Olavipe saw great socio-economic changes, the transition from feudalism to an increasingly egalitarian society and the opening of the passage to knowledge and wisdom through the gates of the school. Forays into the past offer glimpses of the history of the land.

The most interesting parts of ’Padavarambu’ are the school’s reminiscences about her children. The epigram reads, “Some children know how to fly kites very well. Some do not know how to fly kites. There are others who themselves are kites.”

Here are some of the scenes: An old lady near the school regularly collects fallen mangoes and distributes them to the boys and girls. Another, stick in hand, chases off children who try to pluck mangoes from her tree. Then there are the innumerable little things – friendships and fights, a little girl crying because her skirt fell off.

One incident is about a boy who was asked to stand up on the bench in punishment. He bolted from the classroom, ran to the Olavipe Lake and jumped in. The teachers and the locals ran after him, pulled him out of water and brought him back to school, wet clothes and all.

Slowly, the situation changed. As the family planning campaign took effect, birth rate in the village dropped. Parents started sending their children to better schools outside Olavipe. This too was progress.

The autobiography concludes with these words: “Through the same paths that I reached the village, English School buses came. As I watch, they drive away with the children. What can I tell those kids, except ‘ta ta’?” One can almost feel the deep sigh.

This Mater is still young – only forty-six years old. She is dying though, facing closure for want of sufficient number of students. Only around fifty are left.

Some people like the publishers of the book (Group of Friends. Office: Shade of the Mango Tree, School Compound, Olavipe, India – 688 526) still hope that the lady would revive. But progress, which she herself helped to set in motion in my village, is a blind bulldozer. It rolls on, regardless.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Is today Sunday?

Photo made available by Narayan Thampi, Cochin.
Can you locate the country?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Yad Vashem Controversy

Articles by Abraham Tharakan carries a post on the recent controversy involving Israel and Vatican. Click on the title to read.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

On the Banks of River Mahe

My earlier post Mahe - Petite France in Kerala. brought some enquiries whether M. Mukundan’s famous Malayalam novel Mayyazhi Puzhayude Theeranghalil is available in English or French. I contacted the author through Sunil K. Poolani, Publisher and Managing Editor of Frog Books, Mumbai (,

M. Mukundan has confirmed that the book has been translated into French and English. The French version is brought out by the famous publishing house, Actes Sud. The English translation is published by East-West (Manas), Chennai, India

Now, a brief note on the author and his books. Mukundan is, undoubtedly, one of the most reputed writers in India today and his books make great reading. Wikipedia points out ‘Mukundan's magnum opus Mayyazhi Puzhayude Theeranghalil (On the Banks of River Mahe) fetched him the award for the best novel published in the last 25 years…’

Mukundan was born in Mahe, the former French Colony, in 1942. Starting from 1961, he has been a prolific writer. Thirty-two books by him and two about him are in Library of Congress collection. Three novels by Mukundan were made into movies. He wrote the script for one of them and won the award for the Best Screenplay! A number of his works have been translated into English.

Mukundan is the recipient of many honors including three Kendra Sahithya Academy Awards (National). Mayyazhi Puzhayude Theeranghalil also won the Crossword Award. In 1998 the French Government conferred on Mukundan the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.

Mukundan’s language is simple and expressive. There are innumerable compliments paid to this great writer by publishers, critics, editors, the media and readers. I would like to quote one by Prof. KN Panikkar in ‘Interrogating Colonialism: Novel as Imagined History, ‘Mukundan's novels provide a reading of the history of colonialism unavailable in a historian's oeuvre.'

Mukundan lives in Mahe. He is currently the Chairman of the Kerala Sahithya Academy.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007


More Olavipe scenes. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Photo: Chris & Hazel.

Photo: Patrik.

Photo: K.O. Isaac.

Monday, May 7, 2007

A power-pack for breakfast.

This is a banana based breakfast recipe that is flexible, simple to make, considered to be very healthy, and tasty.

I won’t write much about the benefits and nutritional value of bananas because that would cover several pages. Generally, these wonder fruits are supposed to build immunity, help in blood purification, provide energy and assist digestion. They combine vitamins (A, B6, C, E), minerals, and fiber along with several other beneficial nutrients and medicinal properties. A medium sized banana is supposed to have only 86 calories.

For this recipe what is required is the Kerala banana (most of it comes from Tamil Nadu), which is locally called Nendran/Nenthran or Ethakkai. The famous Malabar (Kerala) chips are made from these before they ripen. The fruit is usually about 7 to 9 inches long. There are several Kerala recipes using this type of banana when it is ripe or unripe. The ripe ones (boiled) are also served as a stand alone breakfast food.

Outside South India, these fruits should be available in ethnic shops.

Now the recipe for power-pack breakfast for one:

Ingredients: 1 fully ripe Kerala banana, 1 chicken egg, 2 slices of whole wheat bread.

  1. Cut off about half inch from both ends of the banana
  2. Steam it with skin on till fully done. If the fruit is too big, it can be cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  3. When done, remove the skin and the strings on the outside of the flesh. (Removing strings is optional.)
  4. Cut the banana lengthwise and open it out fully to form a base sheet.
  5. Remove the strings of tiny seeds in the middle of the banana (optional)
  6. Top with freshly fried (to individual preference) egg
  7. Serve with 2 slices of whole wheat bread.

I have this breakfast sometimes. My choice is lightly fried egg because the yolk would spread on the boiled banana.

(Acknowledgement: My wife, Annie.)

Also see
Ammachi's Health Recipe - may lower cholesterol, blood sugar.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Back to the twin churches.

[Related Posts:
Churches on demolition line.
Response to post on church demolition.
Twin Churches - An Update.]

I have never been to the twin churches at Ramapuram in spite of having lived in Kerala for seven decades. But something about these churches haunts me. May be the sheer beauty of the structures evident from the photographs. May be the history behind these buildings. And of course, there is a frustration with the bulldozing policy of the Syro-Malabar Church to destroy historic church buildings and replace them with structures that lack sensitivity, ethnicity and aesthetics.

If the Church authorities want to build a new place of worship at Ramapuram it is their business. But if they want to destroy heritage structures, it is the nation’s business. The hierarchy would put forward the argument, as they usually do, that a new, larger church is required to accommodate the increasing number of devotees and they cannot afford to maintain the old ones as well.

This should not be a problem, though. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) restores and maintains monuments and heritage buildings. This has been done in several cases. ASI would not interfere in any manner with the management of the churches or the holding of rituals.

But the ASI has to be approached to undertake the task. Will the Church authorities or the people who are concerned do that? The official email of the Director General of the ASI is

However, Church bosses are, I understand, trying to get around government objection and go ahead with the demolition.

See below what they plan to destroy:

(Please click on the photos for enlarged view.)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Bangalore Quiz - Answers.

I have published the answers on the original post. Please click on the title to view it.
No one claimed all correct answers.

Poetry, for a change.

In 2005 I tried my hand at poetry. I sent the piece to a competition with some apprehension. The judges decided that my creation was, indeed, a poem and awarded me the third prize. It was published in an anthology, Winners Volume - 2 (British Council - Unisun. 2006).

The editors made the the following comment in the Foreword to the book: "Abraham Tharakan's minimalist poem captures the poignant reality of the transition from life to death". Well, here it is:


Scorching sun above
We, on earth

Sweat dripping down
To burning sand

Into the unknown
We vanish too,

Friday, May 4, 2007

Across the black waters

Last month a cousin of mine asked me to advise his daughter about international travel. She was proceeding to the United States for the first time on a study cum training assignment.

I told the girl three things. One: never panic under any circumstance; keep cool and situations can be managed. Two: there might be jetlag after a long haul. Three: initially there could be problem with the American accent and difficulty in understanding what they say.

My first trip to US was in 1970. That was one week after a visit to Russia to assess that country’s tire industry. At that time I was the General Manager of the automobile tire project of Ruby Rubber Works Ltd and was shopping around for technical collaboration. Mr. KPU Menon, the then Production Manager of Premier Tyres accompanied me.

The Moscow tire factory was impressive. It had two parts. One was an old Ford tire facility that was dismantled and shipped out to Russia in 1942 to augment the war effort. The other was a modern automated plant with one million tires a year capacity, which was operated by about 350 workers. Most of them were women.

We were looked after well by the Russian government departments concerned. But all along there was a sense of insecurity. On landing at Moscow, our passports and the money we carried were taken away. In lieu of US dollars we were issued Intourist Coupons! Imagine being in a foreign country sans proof of identity and money, and without knowing the language.

A week after returning from Russia was the trip to Akron, Ohio, to the HQ of General Tires, which at that time was one of the tire majors in America. Our delegation was led by Mr. Mathew Marattukalam, MD of Ruby Rubber.

At the first meeting a General Tire executive made a presentation about his company. We didn’t understand much of what was said. After some hesitation I asked, “Can you have what you said translated into English?” There was brief silence and then the host’s Sr. Vice President laughed out. From that point on it was smooth sailing and later on we signed the technical collaboration agreement for Apollo Tyres, the company, which Mr. Mathew Marattukalam had promoted to implement the automobile tire project.

George Patton, the swashbuckling American general of WW II had a point when he once said that United States and Great Brittan were two great nations separated by a common language! Of course, ours was Indian English.

For me personally there was another happy outcome from the tie-up with General Tires – a great friendship with John Porosky, their VP for Indian operations.


Note: ‘Across the Black Waters’ by Mulk Raj Anand is an outstanding novel about World War I in which over 65,000 Indian soldiers died. This work was translated into eleven European languages and is still in demand.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dances for the gods.

Wherever a dancer stands ready, that spot is holy ground. - Martha Graham

Last Sunday (April 29) I was at the RK Swami auditorium near the Mylapore Temple, Chennai to watch the ‘Varshik Natyotsav’ presented by selected students of Raga Rasalaya. I attended because my granddaughter Susan Ann Isaac (12) was among the performers. It turned out to be a delightful evening.

Raga Rasalaya is a private school of dancing where a limited number of students is admitted and taught personally by the guru, Mrs. Radha Srinivasan who is a well-known exponent of the Pandanallur style of Bharathanatyam.

The program started on time with Pushpanjali and Mallari, saluting the God of dance, Guru and Mother Earth. This was followed by a prayer to Lord Ganesha and another invocation, Alarippu. Then there was a Muthuswamy Dikshithar song on Swaraswati, Goddess of Learning.

The main item of the evening was a Ragamalika, Bhavayami Raghuramam, the famous creation by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal of Travancore on Ramayana. Radha Srinivasan had choreographed it into a dance drama presenting the great epic in a nut-shell. I must say that Susan Ann performed creditably along with three senior artistes. Her role was Lakshman.

But the best part of the evening was an impromptu depiction of ‘Krishna nee begane baru’ just before the Tillana, by Radha Srinivasan. Her class was evident.

After the satiated audience left there was Drishti Puja to ward off any evil eye on the performers. This was something that I had not known about. I believe that it is a ritual carried out privately after the spectators have gone.

The image of the postal stamp and the Martha Graham quote given at the beginning of this post, are from India outside my window It is an interesting blog.


Also see: M.S. Subbalakshni – The Queen of Song

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Bangalore that was, 60 years ago!

These photographs of Bangalore were taken in 1946. Can you identify the buildings /locations? Try. Ask your friends as well.

Add these questions to the quiz:
60 years back,
What was the name of MG Road? South Parade.
Bangalore was part of which State? Mysore State.
Bangalore had how many cars? Not less than 656 cars.
A couple of clues are in the pictures.

I'll come back with the answers after three days.

Town Hall area

MG Road. Higginbothams on the left

Brigade Road.

Mayo Hall

This is where the IT hub is - Hosur Road!

Oriental Building (LIC)
View from MG Road towards St. Marks Road.

The car number is BAN 656.

(Photos provided by Narayan Thampi, Cochin.)

Today, May 5, 2008, I received the following email

perhaps you did not know but you have on
your blog copies of my pictures taken by me in 1946
they are
brigade road
mayo hall
oriental building
car ban 656
surely the gentlemanly thing to do is to give me credit
for them as Ronnie has done on his Bangalore web site.
He is the only one I gave an OK to although I have no
problem with you posting them if suitable credit is given
All the best to you . Its great to see how Bangalore
has prospered
Antony Loach
Vancouver BC"

My failure to give proper credit is highly regretted.
Abraham Tharakan.

Also see:

Bangalore Memories: Cricket, hockey and the traged...

Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past

Hockey days in Bangalore

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Church demolition - addenda.

Three pertinent questions are raised by ‘anonymous’ about my post Churches on demolition line.

1) Is there any chance whether the Cardinal in Cochin will be able to prevent the demolition?

2)Who is funding these activities?

3)Can these funds be used for more appropriate purposes like teaching the priests the value of cultural heritage?

The Cardinal who is the Major Archbishop and Head of the Syro-Malabar Church can certainly prevent demolitions of old church buildings. Being a learned priest, he certainly would be aware of the importance of preserving the heritage landmarks.

But does he have the will or the capability? The Ernakulam Archdiocese, the seat of the Cardinal, is already involved in court cases regarding attempts to demolish two Parayil built churches - the family’s private oratory (1869 - see A Kerala Tharavad.) and the beautiful St. Rafael’s Church (1859) at Ezhupunna. There could be more such litigation relating to other churches.

Once the Cardinal came out with a strong statement deploring the construction of chapels and other structures flush by roads and disruption of traffic by church processions. An admirable stand. But nothing really happened.

Now, about the funds. Some of the churches like Ramapuram, are rich because of large number of offerings by devotees/pilgrims. Many Non Resident Indians also contribute generously. For them it is a payback to their home church, which of course is noble. But unfortunately, instead of restoration of old churches, the concept of building anew came up. Can the priests escape the responsibility for this? Can anyone conceive of old temples being replaced by modern structures?

The money can certainly be used for much more worthwhile purposes. When incompetent people play architect, cost of construction escalates and concrete monstrosities result. It is a pity that the Syro-Malabar Church (as far as I know) does not have design parameters for its churches. A classic example of the approach of the Church authorities is described in Laurie Baker - A Tribute.

A place of worship, like liturgy, should reflect the hopes, aspirations, ethos and history of the people who are to use it.


Also see:

Amazing Grace.