Monday, July 30, 2007

Personal Banking: Non-service without a smile

I lost my ATM card on July 13, reported the loss the same day to the bank and was assured that a new card would be delivered within ten days. On July 16 there was an SMS from the bank saying that the new card had been dispatched to Chennai Branch by courier for onward transmission.

After waiting till 27th I went to the bank around noon. A grim looking clerk listened to me and turned to his computer. After a while I reminded him that he hadn’t responded to me. He rudely told me that he was busy and there was a help counter from where I should take a coupon and await my turn. When I asked him why he hadn’t said that in the first place, his answer was, ‘I’m telling you now.’

I went to the manager who was sitting at a small table outside his cabin just ten feet way. He said he had seen what happened. He took the details from me and turned to his computer. After several minutes passed I told him that it was difficult for me [nearing 74] to stand [there was no chair for the customer]. He answered that his computer was too slow and I should wait in the lobby till I was called.

Strangely at that time a worker replaced the number sign on the last counter [next to the manager’s seat] with a ‘Senior Citizens’ board. The counter was not manned.

After some time I returned to the manager and said that I would go [since it was my lunch time] and he could give me ring. He agreed but no call came.

On 28th morning I phoned. The girl who attended said pleasantly that the manager would call back. He did, in the afternoon with an incredible story – he couldn’t follow up the matter because the power failed and my data on his computer was lost! Imagine a bank computer without back up power or auto-save! He took the details again. So far he hasn’t come back. And here I am – an old man literally without any money.

You might think that this happened with a nationalized bank. No, it is one of India’s top new-gen banks!

What should I do? Blow the whistle?


Also see:

Slow down on fast track

Sunday, July 29, 2007

BIG ONE and 'BELT' CHACKO - concluding part

Please read the concluding part of the story at Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan
Can access by clicking on the title of this post.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two points

Last of the Travancore Maharajas.

To read an interesting article on Sri Chithira Thirunal Maharaja by a man who knew His Highness personally, visit:

Big One and ‘Belt’ Chacko - 3

Read on at:

or click on the title of this post

Friday, July 27, 2007

Coconut wood sculpture: Stump to sheep

When an old, slanting coconut palm outside our eastern gate house was felled, the ugly stump, like the one in the picture, remained. Before the workers started removing it, my brother Jacob called Reji (A village artist) and asked whether he had any artistic ideas. This young man of 28 had been creating images on all kinds of medium. But coconut wood is a tough material to carve on. Even professional carpenters prefer not to work on it.

Reji looked at the stump for a minute and said, ‘There is a sheep inside it. If I take out the excess material, it will show.’ Jacob told him to go ahead. He worked for four days with borrowed tools and came out with what must surely be one of the finest and largest sculptures in coconut wood. See a photo of it by KO Isaac below:

The background screen is plaited fresh coconut fronds. Isn’t that too beautiful?

If you like this work, please do send an email to Reji. It would be a good encouragement to this young artist.

Artist Reji,

Navasree, Olavaippu, Kerala, India – 688 526

Phone 91 478 252 4152.


Also see:

A village artist

BIG ONE and 'BELT' Chacko - 2

Click on the title to read part two of the story at Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


This is from the special collection of short stories that I have written, but not published yet. The critics, editors and other writers who have read the piece have rated it high. Some have suggested that it is excellent material for a good movie but I have not pursued that angle.

Any way, I thought of sharing it with my readers. Hope you like it.

To access it at Short Stories by Abraham Tharakan please click on the title above.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A village artist

This 28 year old young man, Artist Navasree Reji, is a pride of my village, Olavipe. He studied up to school final and dropped out. He couldn’t concentrate on the curriculum because his mind is full of beautiful images and he has been transferring them on all kinds of vegetables, Thermocol (Styrofoam) (an exclusive technique that he developed), ice and other medium.

Recently he has turned to more difficult materials like coconut tree wood which is hard and difficult to carve.

Some of Reji's creations are presented below:

A young boy tests the cucumber teeth of a
bitter gourd crocodile

Gandhiji on soap bar

Reji at work

Major hotels, film producers and others come often to meet Reji. So does the media. He has been widely covered by both English and Malayalam newspapers and Television.

Reji's contact address is:

Artist Reji, Navasree, Olavaippu, Kerala, India - 688 526
Telephone: 91 478 2524152


Photos provided by Navasree.

Also see:

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kerala photos: Reflections on water

(Note: the brown patches are water hyacinth decaying because of
seasonal increase in salinity.)

Photos by Karthiki. Click for enlarged view.
Location: Olavipe.
Also see:

Karthiki captures some Olavipe flowers

Water hyacinth

Monday, July 23, 2007

The last of the Travancore Maharajas

Sixteen years have passed since Avasanathe Ezhunnullathu (the last royal procession). His Highness Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma III (b. 1912), the former Maharaja of Travancore died on July 19, 1991 at his Kawadiar Palace, Trivandrum.

The 900 years rule by the Kulasekhara dynasty to which he belonged, had ended earlier when Travancore joined the Indian Union after Independence.

Technically Chithira Thirunal was an ordinary citizen when he passed away. But to his erstwhile subjects he was still the Maharaja. They were out there in numbers to pay their last respects. And the Madras Regiment, of which he was Colonel (he was also a Hon. Major General of the British Army), was there too, taking charge of the arrangements for the funeral. The officialdom was present, and the politicians.

The details of the events from the time of the Maharaja’s death (the official usage in Malayalam is nadu neengal, which literally means ‘leaving the land’) to the last post at ‘Panchavadi’ on the palace grounds are described so touchingly by Malayankeezhu Gopalakrishnan in his book Avasanathe Ezhunnullathu. I strongly recommend this work, which covers a great deal of history as well, to all those who read Malayalam.

Sri Chithira Thirunal is right at the top of the long list of enlightened Maharajas of Travancore. He was still a minor when his predecessor, Moolam Thirunal, died and the State was ruled by a Regent (his own aunt) till he became major. Mahatma Gandhi visited Kawdiar Palace in 1925 and during conversation asked the boy king whether he would abolish untouchability and permit low castes to enter temples when he formally assumed power. The answer was ‘Yes’.

True to his word, the Maharaja made the famous Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936. That was the highlight of his reign, and outshone his many other farsighted and progressive policies.

A story which I read in the newspapers long ago, illustrates the person’s character. After Sri Chithira Thirunal ceased to be the Maharaja his car broke down one morning while he was proceeding to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple for the daily darshan of the family deity. Unperturbed, the man who had ruled the land for decades flagged down an auto-rickshaw.

The flabbergasted driver took his royal passenger to the temple in time for the prayers. But there was a problem. The former Maharaja thanked the driver and then apologized because he had no money on hand to pay the fare!

My memories of Sri Chithira Thirunal are from the high school days in Trivandrum – standing by the roadside to watch with reverence the Maharaja en route to Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple behind a red pilot car, the aarat (a ceremonial dip in the Arabian Sea) procession, and the Maharaja’s birth star celebrations.

Also indelible in my mind is the impressive image of the Elaya Rajah Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, now the head of the Travancore Royal Family, on his horse rides at dawn.

I salute the Maharaja.
The Travancore Flag.

Also see:

A Queen Visits Her Lord.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Would you believe that bamboos belong to the grass family? Well, they do. There are nearly 1000 varieties of them, from shrubs that are 10’ high to types with pole like stems (aerial clums) which grow to 100’. And they grow fast – around 3’ per day in some types! Though they are mostly native to the tropics, there are species that grow in colder climates.

Natural propagation of bamboo is through underground stems known as rhizomes. The rhizomes spread far. Unless these are properly managed, the result would be impenetrable clusters over a large area. The shoots that come to the surface can be planted. Even cuttings from the aerial stems would take root.

Bamboos have great economic and ecologic importance. They are used in many forms in several parts of the world. These include building material, paper making, water pipes, furniture, storage bins, stakes, and so on. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy. The stems are used as cooking utensils as well. Certain food items like rice dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves; one can buy dried and packaged bamboo leaves in Asian stores. For some dishes, the cooking pans are lined with bamboo leaves.

In my village, there are several applications for bamboo, like scaffolding, stakes for plants, pillars for temporary sheds, and as barrier to prevent floating weds like water hyacinth from entering the rice fields. But the major use is as punt for country crafts like in the photo by Karthiki here.

The small branches that grow from the nodes of the bamboo stem make excellent fishing rods. They are strong and pliable. All one has to do is tie the line to the narrow end, fix the bait (earthworm or tiny shrimp) and cast into the lake or one of the canals. Lean against a slanting coconut palm if you like.

The death of a bamboo is both beautiful and sad. After decades of useful life, a cluster of bamboo flowers. It is a beautiful sight which I have seen once. Then the whole lot dies. I believe that the scientists are yet to figure out this phenomenon.


Photos of bamboo by K. O. Isaac.

Also see:

Mango trees: 'ottu mavu' and 'nattu mavu'

Water lilies: here is a picture of nature's perfection, imperfection

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Colors - beautiful photos

Ceremonial umbrella

Chinese lantern

Tinted glass widow

Bottles on the wall

Traditional Kerala lamp

Photos: Second from top by Kartiki, others by KO Isaac

Also see:

Photos: Leaves by Isaac

Friday, July 20, 2007

Delannoy: Dutch sea captain, Maharaja’s army chief, people’s Valia Kappithan.

The interesting story of a remarkable man lies buried in the obscure pages of Kerala history. In available data, there is confusion about his name, nationality and designation. I understand that my brother Professor Emeritus PKM Tharakan in Brussels has an ongoing research project on this subject. That, when completed, should provide clarity.

I have chosen the name Delannoy from the versions of it given by different writers. Delannoy was part of, or commanded an assault fleet of the Dutch East India Company in early 1740s to Colachal (Kolachal). The objective was to capture the port in the south western corner of India and the hinterland that was rich in pepper and therefore important to the Dutch commercial interests. Their adversary was the king of Venad who later became famous in history as Marthanda Varma Maharaja of Travancore.

The Dutch marines stormed the beach and advanced almost to the outskirts of the Venad palace. Then a surprise counter attack by the king’s Nair soldiers from the flank routed the Dutch. It is said that this was the first occasion when an Indian ruler defeated a western naval force. Delannoy and some of his men were captured alive.

The force that vanquished the Dutch had been raised in 1703 as bodyguards of the Venad raja. Today it is the 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment, perhaps the oldest unit in the Indian Army, with uninterrupted service for over 300 years.

In spite of Delannoy’s defeat, Marthanda Varma was quick to appreciate the man’s military acumen. He offered Delannoy and his men freedom in exchange of training the Travancore soldiers in modern weaponry and warfare. Thus started Delannoy’s association of nearly 37 years with Travancore. Delannoy transformed the local army into an elite fighting force well-trained in the use of muskets. This contributed immeasurably to Marthanda Varma’s success in the several wars that he waged.

One of Delannoy’s great achievements was the designing and building of Nedumkottai, a 48 km long fort to defend attacks from the north. This bulwark was to play a crucial role when the Mysore forces attacked Travancore during the second half of the 18c.

There is no clarity about the Delannoy’s official designation in Travancore. Several writers refer to him as Captain. He was perhaps a naval captain at the time of Colachal War. He was made the chief of the state’s armed forces, whatever the designation was. With affectionate respect the people called him ‘Valia Kappithan’ which means big captain or admiral or great naval chief.

Delannoy’s status seems to have been that of a Nair Lord (madambi) or slightly above that. He stayed at the old Udayagiri Fort, which Marthanda Varma had renovated, till his death in 1777. It came to be known as ‘Dillanai kota’ (Delannoy’s fort).

Delannoy sleeps eternally in a chapel at Udayagiri. His wife and son were also buried there, on either side of his tomb.

Photos of Udayagiri Chapel and the Delannoy tombs are reproduced under GNU Free Documentation License. Click for enlarged view .


Also see: Indian who could have been the King of France?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

This article takes a brief look into the history of conversions to Christianity in Kerala. The Christians of the State can be broadly categorized into three: Syrian Christians who are believed to have been converted from the upper castes (whether such distinction existed at that time is not clear) by Apostle St. Thomas in 1c, Latin Christians who were converted mostly from lower classes by St. Francis Xavier in the 16c and Dalit Christians who were converted in the 19c by the Anglicans and in the 20c by the Catholic denomination of the Syrians. The labels Syrian and Latin came about because of the respective languages that were used in liturgy. (See: Jewish names among Syrian Christians.)

The Syrian Christian community is referred to by historians as Malabar Church and St. Thomas Christians. This congregation was, till the intrusion by the Western Christianity with the arrival of the Portuguese, a distinctive Eastern Church with the Pope of Rome as a hazy father figure at the far end of a thin long line.

Being a Syrian Christian is a matter of birth and inherited religious convictions. Therefore, conversion to that community is an anomaly. In all its known history till the 20c, the Malabar Church never undertook any missionary work. The theology of the community was that every human being achieved salvation through his own religion; a conclusion that modern Christian theology is increasingly accepting. Spreading the Word of Christ and induced or forced conversions to Christianity are two totally different things. As a result, the Syrian Christians remained an exclusive community to which outsiders had no entry.

Two questions arise here: why then did St. Thomas carry out conversions and, why did he convert only the so called upper classes? The Apostle would have, if one accepts oral tradition, received into the Christian fold only those who came forward willingly and out of conviction. On the question of the claimed class distinction in the conversions by the Apostle, it is necessary to understand the background of his mission. His arrival in Kerala (52A.D.) was before the gentiles were accepted into Christianity. Even the word ‘Christian’ did not exist at that time; it was coined in Antioch around 65 A.D. Till then the followers of Christ were known as Nazranis, a name that continues to be used in Kerala.

It is possible that St. Thomas initially targeted the Jews who were already in Kerala. (Several historians claim that the Jews were trading with Kerala even at the time of King Solomon.) Some of the upper crust local people too, presumably, joined the new faith. Here ‘upper crust’ would mean the educated or enlightened who, according to oral tradition, engaged the Apostle in debates.

The Malabar Church enjoyed an organic growth for fifteen centuries, blending with the social structure and being part of it, conforming to the customs and traditions of the land, maintaining upper class stature, receiving support and recognition from the rulers.

The Portuguese arrived in Kerala at the end of the 15c. They initiated a campaign to convert the local Christians (who followed Syriac liturgy) to the Latin Rite. This met with incessant resistance. The net result in the long run was that the Malabar Church was truncated and split into different denominations. Of these, the Catholic faction was subjugated by the Western Latin Church for three centuries.

The arrival of St. Francis Xavier in the middle of the 16c saw a flourish in missionary activity. This great saint of the Catholic Church converted many people of the lower castes to Christianity. He had the patronage of the Portuguese and the maharajas of Travancore and Cochin. In fact, the Maharaja of Cochin had the title ‘Protector of Christians’.

But there were protests against these conversions from the upper classes not on religious grounds but for social and economic reasons. Accepting Christianity released the converts from their obligations under the fine tuned caste system. This led to several problems. To give an example: the coconut pickers who became Christians were no longer under any compulsion to carry out their traditional duty.

This new congregation came to be known as Latin Christians. Whereas the Syrian Christians always enjoyed upper class status, the Latin Christians were treated as lower caste and there were hardly any social interaction between the two. After Independence, the Latin Christians were officially included in the backward class category.

The next round of conversions to Christianity in Kerala was in the 19c by the Anglicans, now known as Church of South India (CSI), who came to Kerala in the wake of the British in the first quarter of the 19c. This episode covered both Syrian Christians and members of some lower castes. The Anglicans championed major causes of the Dalits, like the right of Channar women to cover their breasts in public, and the abolition of slavery. This attracted lower castes to the new edition of Christianity in Kerala.

Then, in the early 1930s, the Syrian Catholic Church suddenly went on a conversion spree against all traditions of the St. Thomas Christians, focusing specifically on the Pulayas who were among the untouchables. They were bonded labor attached to landlords, both Hindu and Christian. Anizham Thirunal Maharaja abolished slavery in Travancore in the mid -19c, but the practice continued in one form or the other till the World War II. The Pulayas were totally at the mercy of their lords. The prospect of joining Christianity appealed to many of them.

Whether all these conversions were genuine, arising out of conviction is debatable. The details about the activities of St. Thomas in Kerala are shrouded in the foggy past. But by no stretch of imagination could he have had the political, financial or military clout to indulge in coercion. The subsequent conversions are unlikely to pass the test because there was an element of quid pro quo involved, in one way or another.

The present scenario in Kerala is that the label ‘Christians’ covers diverse groups without meaningful homogeneity or integration.


Also see:

Vedas, Syrian Christians

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Kerala Architecture: Prayer room of a heritage home

Prayer rooms (pooja muri) are common in the old Kerala homes. Photos of this one at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe, are by K.O. Isaac.

Click on images to enlarge.
Also see:
Kerala Architecture - Olavipe Heritage Home

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

God's own dream

The phrase ‘God’s own country’ was originally used for the United States of America. Today, at least in the tourism field, it means Kerala, one of the top destinations in the world.

But have you heard of ‘God’s own dream’? The words in the image on left read ‘Olavipe, God’s own dream,’. It is an advertisement on the outer back cover of the book “Padavarambu’ (see: Autobiography of a School). Recently, my brother Jacob (the incumbent at Thekkanattu Parayil) who coined the phrase, and I had a discussion about it.

The dialogue went something like this. God did not directly create Olavipe; the name means ‘made by the waves’. While taking rest on the seventh day of creation, God reviewed his handiwork and was satisfied. But there was a nagging feeling that something was amiss. Suddenly he realized that Adam had been given the best place on Planet Earth, and with his inner eye foresaw that it would be Paradise Lost. There was no destination if he wanted a short break from all the singing and harping and adulation in heaven. He had to have a place.

And he dreamt of one – Olavipe.

But he was in no mood to get back to creation. He assigned the job to nature. The sun worked on the Arabian Sea and there was wind, which generated waves. They rolled in incessantly carrying sand and silt and seashells and Olavipe began taking shape. It was a slow process. So God gave it a push by triggering off a geological phenomenon in 1341 A.D. that closed the ancient Muzuris port which handled commerce from many parts of the world, opened up Cochin harbor and accelerated the formation of Olavipe.

It was then a barren, sandy stretch of land. A few coconuts floated in with the tides and took root. So did ball-nuts. The birds carried the seeds of jackfruit, mangoes and other trees and dropped them on the soil and they germinated. The Olavipe Lake teemed with aqua life – pearl spots, marals, shrimps, scampi, clams, crabs and others. There were still unfilled places on the land - ponds, and canals and low lying areas. But God liked it that way. He told nature to leave the rest to man.

And the humans came. We don’t know from where. They cultivated paddy, and plants that provided edible produce. They were rather lazy as well in the laid back atmosphere. But God was indulgent about that.

When the trees grew the wind was on them and the leaves hummed. And the wind was on the rice fields too, and there was music in the air. Song of the waves of Olavipe Lake was set to that tune.

It took me nearly five-hundred words to say: if God were to dream of a place just for himself it could very well be Olavipe!


Photo: ©Thekkanattu Parayil. Click to enlarge.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Running anticlockwise - Can you answer this?

Kurian Pooppally of Singapore (actually he is from a prominent Syrian Christian family of Kerala) has emailed me a question to which I have not been able to come up with a conclusive answer. Perhaps you can.

The message is quoted below:

“I want to ask you about something that the people who answered me made me more confused. Maybe your fellow bloggers may have something on this.

The question is why the runners in stadiums always run anticlockwise? Why not clockwise? I have heard people say it has something to do with the rotation of the earth.

I surfed the net and this is what I found...

They run the same way in Australia, where any effect of the Earth's rotation should have the opposite effect. So this could be down to inherited tradition.

Most people are right-handed and thus right-footed. When running around a curve, there is the centrifugal force which has to be compensated. Running anti-clockwise makes this possible with the right foot.

People usually tend to the right when entering bounded spaces; thus when they enter the park and turn right, they move anti-clockwise.

In ancient stadia the races went anticlockwise, as the first races were for chariots. The right hand, which usually keeps the sword, had to be on the outside for ease of movement (similar to spiral stairs in castles). This is supposedly why races are still run anti-clockwise.

Anti-clockwise joggers will eventually succumb to an extremely painful condition known as 'Widder Shins'

And this one caught my eye..:

The obvious benefit to running is keeping fit or staying young. Maybe it echoes the notion of turning back the clock. We know that running everyday does add ten years to one's life - but those 10 years are spent running!”

Please do respond. You can either post your answer in ‘comments’ or email me at .


Also see:

Slow down on fast track

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kerala food: Kappa (cassava or casava, yuca, manioc, Manihot esculenta)

A banner of Kerala - kappa, shrimps, kallu
Image provided by Narayanan Thampi, Cochin

In Kerala, kappa is a favorite of the people. This root is a secondary staple food that is consumed at breakfast, lunch, dinner or as snack. It is a native of South America. There is a story behind its arrival in Kerala from where it has spread to other parts of India.

Vishakham Thirunal Rama Varma Maharaja (1880-85) of Travancore heard about the properties of this woody shrub and realized its potential. He wanted to popularize it among his people and imported some planting material from Brazil. They were planted in a fenced area. A royal proclamation was made stating that the root of the plant had great qualities and was only for palace use, and any one interfering with the plants would be severely punished. According to the story, all the plants were stolen overnight. Thus the Maharaja achieved his objective of spreading the cultivation of kappa.

But for a long time the carbohydrate-rich kappa remained a poor man’s food. One popular method of cooking it is to cut it into drum shaped (chenda murian) pieces, boiling with salt. It is delicious with chutney made of crushed small red onions, green chili mixed with coconut oil.

Then there is kappa and meen (fish) preferably sardine, curry. This excellent carbohydrate-protein mix became extremely popular and found its way into the homes of the rich as well. It goes well with toddy that is tapped from coconut trees and fermented. Kappa also goes well with meat and shrimps.

The food items made with kappa include biriyani, puzhukku, puttu, pakoda, bondas, chips and puddings. Sago is also produced from it.


Also see:

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Star Fish (Sea star, Asteroidea)

Star fish are among the beauties of the sea. They are only distantly related fish and are, therefore, sometimes called ‘sea star’. They come in different colors and sizes. According to one estimate there are over 3000 types of star fish. They are found in all the oceans but the tropical Indo-Pacific area has the greatest variety.

The star fish is a pretty but unusual creature. It has no front or back, but can navigate to any side without turning. The hundreds of legs of a star fish are moved not with muscles but by an intricate hydraulic system. The star fish can position its arms appropriately to slide into tiny nooks.

Star fish are marine invertebrates. Most of them are carnivores and eat different types of marine life like mussels, clams, oysters and fish. Some feed on planktons, sponges and coral polyps.

Star fish grow up to ten inches in size depending on the species. They are normally found at depths of 1’ to 25/30’. Generally the life span of a star fish is three to five years, but some live longer.

The photos (© KO Isaac) of top and bottom views of star fish shown above were taken on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, India.


Click on photos for enlarged view.

Also see: Travel: Beaches off the beaten track

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Prayer is man’s communication with God usually in the form of a petition or thanksgiving or simply glorifying the Almighty. It could be in word or in thought, written down and read, or formulated in the mind. It could be personal or communal. The rendering could be formal or conversational. One can pray at any time, at any place, in any manner though there are often set conventions like kneeling at prayer.

The Tibetan Buddhists have an unusual system of praying. They have what is known as Prayer Flags on which invocations, petitions, auspicious symbols and mantras are inscribed. This is commonly done by printing on thin cotton cloth with wooden blocks using non-toxic ink. The colors of these flags are traditionally yellow, green, red, white and blue. They symbolize earth, water, fire, clouds, and sky.

The Prayer Flags are either strung together and hung horizontally, or tied to poles and planted vertically. The picture above is taken by KO Isaac on a tour of the North-East. It shows upright Prayer Flags. Unfortunately I don’t have any images of horizontal flags, but one can find many photos of them on the Internet.

These flags can be placed inside buildings to augment the spiritual atmosphere, but the common procedure is to fix them in open, windy places. The belief is that the ‘Wind Horse’ would carry the prayers to all corners of the world and to the deities. Normally the flags are planted on windy, sunny mornings.

The conviction is that the prayers broadcast through the flags would bring health, happiness, peace and other benefits not only to those who display them but also to their families, neighbors, and all peoples of the world including enemies. Some believe that if a Prayer Flag is placed on an inauspicious day, it may bring negative results.

The Prayer Flags are now specially manufactured and made available to the Tibetan Diaspora around the globe and, I suppose to others who are interested, by some organizations. The flags are to be handled with due respect. They should never be placed on the ground or used as part of clothing. And if a flag is to be destroyed, it should be burned at a clean place.

Whether this system of prayer is accepted or not by others, one thing is certain. The very sight of the Prayer Flags fluttering in the wind on a hill slope gives a soothing, peaceful feeling.


Click on the image to enlarge.

Also see: A unique prayer.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cricket in remote areas

Recently, while talking on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of India’s entry into Test cricket, Sachin Tendulkar said that the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) should concentrate on taking the game to the remote areas of the country. He is right of course. There would be so much of undiscovered talent in the vast Indian countryside.

My village, Olavipe was an extremely remote area till a road link was established in 1970. And cricket came to the place in 1941; that is, sixty six years back, just nine years after India’s Test debut! The man behind it was OC George, Ollattikulam, the husband of my younger aunt Annamma (Kunjammai). We used call him Achhan. He and his brothers were well-known sportsmen of the erstwhile Cochin State.

For my First Holy Communion, which was celebrated on a fairly large scale, Achan gave me three presents – a football, a ball badminton set for four, and a cricket kit. Among the people present, only three knew how to play cricket – Achan who had been captain of the St. Thomas College (Trichur) cricket team in his student days, and three cousins of Appan. They explained the details about the game to us children and also gave a demonstration.

From then on cricket was regular for us. For some time we used real cricket balls but later shifted to tennis balls. That was more fun. And old tennis balls were available from the two tennis courts the family had. Almost all of us got into the cricket teams of our respective colleges. Later we had a family team consisting of cousins only (something like the Princes’ team of Thripunithura). Our team performed well in club matches and tournaments at Cochin and Alleppey.

But in all these 66 years, no one from Olavipe went beyond the inter-collegiate/inter-club level. This might appear to negate Tendulkar’s views. Not so, really. The only exposure the local youngsters got to the game was watching us play and carrying the kitbags.

During the last two decades, things have changed though. Now dozens of boys all over the village play cricket with a passion that was created mainly by watching games on TV. There is even an annual tournament in which several outstation teams also participate. We of course give all the encouragement we can.


Also see: When strong men cried...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Travel: Beaches off the beaten track

These photos by KO Isaac are of beaches near Tiruchandur in southern Tamil Nadu, India.

Also see Raindrops by Isaac

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Kerala plantations: The bed tea ceremony that was

In my childhood Kerala’s High Ranges where full of sahibs, almost all of them connected with plantations – tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom, pepper. I remember that in the Planters’ Clubs that I used to visit with my maternal uncles during summer holidays, they far outnumbered the Indians.

With India’s Independence, the situation changed. By the 1950s, the plantation sector in Kerala was in turmoil. Mainly labor trouble. The sahibs, most of them British, started selling out to Indians and leaving the country. After my youngest uncle Michael A. Kallivayalil bought JJ Murphy’s Yendayar Estate and my brother Joe (PKJ Tharakan) was posted as manager there, staying in the Irishman’s bungalow, I went there to spend a weekend, I think in December, 1959. Murphy’s staff was still there and the place was run on the old routine.

Those days the plantations had no public power supply. The estates with tea or crepe rubber factories had their own generators. But they were run only during the day when the factories worked. As a result there was no power in the bungalows during nights.

Before we retired after dinner, the butler, a pleasant chap named Muthu who had spent years with Murphy had checked when I wanted bed tea to be served.

At the appointed time there was a knock at the door. A ceremonial parade was on. In front of the line was a bearer carrying a Petro Max lamp; it was still quite dark and cold. The second person had a small light table, I suppose in case I preferred to have tea in bed. They were followed by Muthu in full livery, turban and all, holding the tray in his right hand in level with his shoulder. All very proper.

After the ‘good mornings’ Muthu gave me an enquiring look and I pointed to table in front of the sofa set. He placed the tray on it and waited. I told him thank you, I’ll pour myself. The trio withdrew, but in reversed order – Muthu first and then the other two.

On the tray were tea pot, milk jug in case a guest wanted to be sacrilegious enough to add cream to unblended estate tea, cup and saucer and one ripe yellow banana. That was the standard menu.

All that is gone. Now it is more down to earth bed tea, or coffee.


Also see: Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pebbles and pavement

Pavements are usually made with stones that are shaped by humans and attractively arranged. But pebbles are formed by nature and they are just beautiful. Have you ever thought how long it takes these pebbles to attain their shapes? Centuries? More?

Photos: ©KO Isaac

Also see:

Photos: Raindrops by Isaac

Ripples on water

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Kerala food: Achappam

Achappam is a crisp savory. It is round, golden brown in color and with an intricate design that resembles a flower. A mold heated in oil is used to make it; ‘achu’ in Malayalam means mold.

I used to think that achappam is a South Indian delicacy till reading recent posts (June 21, 22) in my good friend Jacob Matthan’s Jacob's Blog (an interesting site, I must say). He and his wife Annikki stay in Oulu, Finland. They go to a Thai restaurant in Oulu and guess what they find? Achappam!

This image is from Jacob's Blog, which has a few good pictures of the savory. Jacob immediately writes about it in his blog. He follows it up by providing the recipe for this delicacy. And the recipe is by none other than late Mrs. K.M. Mathew, the famous culinary expert. Jacob is her nephew.

Go to Jacob's Blog and read all about it.


Also see:

Kerala Cuisine: Manga thera (mango mat) recipe

Monday, July 2, 2007

Mango trees: 'ottu mavu' and 'nattu mavu'

Today I got a reference about ‘nattu (native) mavu (mango tree)’. The mangoes from these are small. There are two types of them. The sour variety is generally used for curries and pickles but there are sweeter types for juice and making a delicacy called ‘thera’. See my post Mango Memories.Add Image

‘Ottu (grafted or budded) mavu’ is not native to the land. Their mangoes are table fruit. Another difference between the two types of trees is that ‘ottu mavu’ is intentionally planted whereas ‘nattu mavu’ grows at random, from discarded nuts.

The photo below is that of an ‘ottu mavu’ in a corner of our front yard. It is an Alfonso. I bought the sapling from the government nursery at Cochin and planted it about fifteen years back. It was a sickly looking tiny plant with one of the two branches already dead. That was the only one available. I had my doubts whether it would survive, but it caught on well probably because of the sandy soil. The brownish leaves on the tree are tender ones. You can see supports to prevent the low branches from touching the ground. Children have a great time climbing the tree. The mangoes are excellent.

Here we have the picture of a ‘nattu mavu’ just outside our gatehouse:

I have no idea how old the tree is. Over a hundred years? That would mean that it has seen six generations in our family – my great-grandfather during his sunset years to my grandson who is just seven. The tree has been like this from the time I can remember except that some of the lower branches were cut off so that they wouldn’t block the road. Look carefully and you can see the stumps. The tree stopped yielding about ten years back, but still seems healthy.

I hope that this grand old lady lives on to witness at least one more generation.


Photos: ©KO Isaac

Click on the images to enlarge.

Also see:

Mango Memories