Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pretty Cool

This is a computer generated image by my 8 years old granddaughter Annie Tharakan.
I'm impressed by it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two matters

Technical Problem.
Due to a technical problem, my post yesterday came under the dateline 27th. Consequently, some readers might have missed it. It is a good one. Please read it by clicking on the link below:

Boxing: ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry – a champion and a gentl...

It is written by Nat Terry's daughter Sheila Abraham.

Photos: A village in a valley

Photos: Copyright KO Isaac. Click on them for enlarged view.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tamil Cinema: Sathyaraj on the march

I seem to have got on to a cinema mode. What prompted this post is a piece by Arun Kaimal in the (Chennai) Metro Manorama of yesterday about Sathyaraj, one of the leading Tamil actors, handling the roles of father and son in a new picture. It has an interesting name ‘Nine Rupee Note’. This is being made by Thankar Bachan based on his own short story with the same title.

We have seen both Mammootty and Mohanlal doing such dual roles in Malayalam. The one that comes to mind readily is Mohanlal’s ‘Ravana Prabhu’ the sequel to ‘Devasuram’. But it seems that acting as elderly characters is nothing new to Sathyaraj.

I first saw him in a Tamil movie called ‘Kadalora Kavithakal’ may be twenty years back. He impressed me with his performance in that one. Subsequently I have seen some of his other pictures but can’t recall the names.

If I remember right, the girl who acted as ‘teacheramma’, the heroine in ‘Kadalora Kavithakal’, was Rekha from Kerala. I think her first Malayalam picture was ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’. A competent artiste. I haven’t seen her in cinema for sometime.

From Arun’s article I learned that Sathyaraj, 54, son of Dr. Subbiah, is from an affluent family of Coimbatore. When the family objected to him joining the film industry, he just ran away to Chennai. And once he was involved in the movies, it was a procession of success after success. The one who ran away from wealth making good – theme for a cinema?

Playing heroine in ‘Nine Rupee Note’ is Archana. Remember this darkish actress? Didn’t she play the lead role in ‘Veedu’? I think it was for her performance in this picture that she won the National Best Actress Award. Very good actress. She als acted in Shaji N. Karun’s internationally acclaimed Malayalam movie ‘Piravi’ with Premji. Hope I am not mixing up in assuming that it is the same Archana Arun Kaimal has mentioned.

Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing ‘Nine Rupee Note’.


Also see:

Malayalam cinema: Random thoughts

A Malayalam cinema and its lyrics.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Boxing: ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry – a champion and a gentleman

Sheila Abraham, Nat Terry’s only child wrote this touching memoir. She was junior to my wife Annie (Tharakan nee Abraham) in Sacred Heart’s, Yercaud (SHY). Annie & I once called on Mr. Terry when our children were at SHY. It was a pleasure meeting the legendary man.

Sheila and her husband Ramsay Abraham stay at Fathima Villa, the house that Nat built. They have two children, Ramsay Jr., and Marise and three grandchildren, Shayna, Joshua and Nathaniel. I am grateful to Sheila for writing this at my request. - A.T.


Nathaniel (Nat) Simon Terry was born on 3rd July 1913 in the small town of Champion Reefs, Kolar Gold Fields, India. With his great sense of humor Nat used to say he was 16th born to his parents but 17th in number; there was a pair of twins among the siblings. His father, Andrew Terry hailed from Kingston Town, Jamaica. He joined a ship and landed in India and married Angelina Jones. She was also of West Indian origin but born in India.

When Nat was only eight, his father passed away. Angelina then shifted to Madras (Chennai) with her children. Nat joined St. Patrick’s School. He participated in several boxing tournaments under the name ‘Kid Joe Berg’. He didn’t win any, but kept on improving with every bout. Later he changed his name to ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry.

After studies Nat joined Richardson & Cruddas as a trainee structural engineer. But he shifted his line and enrolled in the Madras Guards A.F. in 1938. He was posted at Fort St. George. Nat married Beryl Eliza Meyer of St. Thomas Mount on the 29th of March 1939. They were blessed with a daughter, Sheila Josephine in 1944. When discharged from MGAF in June, 1946 Nat was Warrant Officer and a qualified Boxing & Physical Instructor as well.

Major Willie Rahm who was Nat’s Commanding Officer at MGAF recommended him to Br. Eleazor (Tich), the then Principal of Montfort Anglo Indian Boys’ High School, Yercaud. He was appointed as the Boxing & Physical Instructor and Study Master of Montfort in 1946. When the school started an NCC Wing, Nat was made its First Officer also.

Beryl too joined the school staff as Matron. She and Nat made their home at Yercaud. First it was Cottage Constantina (Marley's Cottage) where they celebrated their only child Sheila’s third birthday. Then Glen Brook. Finally, in 1950, Nat built his own home, Fatima Villa, on Convent Road.

While he was at Montfort, Nat’s boxing career rose to great heights. There was a string of victories over well-known opponents like the Suares brothers, ’Dusty’ Miller, ‘Kithery’ Muthu and Murugesan. Then he scored a historic victory against the ‘unbeatable’ Gunboat Jack. Shortly after that he won the title 'South Indian Boxing Champion' in 1949 - a crown which had not been wrested from him.

However, it was at this match that Nat, to some extent lost his zest for boxing as the other contender for the title, Mr. Arunachalam, lost his life in the ring. Nat always recalled this tournament with much regret. While defending his title for the next few years, he did not try to further his boxing career at the All India level

While all these were happening Nat never wavered in his efforts to meticulously coach his trainees at Montfort. He ensured that the young boxers did the school proud. To name a few of them - Brian Chapman, Paul Wilson, Renee Pears, Blair Williams, George Edwards, David Sundaram, the Tong brothers and P. Joseph Abraham.

Beryl passed away at the age of 56. That was in 1972, the same year that Nat retired from Montfort. Though lonely after his dear wife’s demise, he was blessed with a number of visitors who would call on him and this made up for his loss. Nat was simple in nature but had a strong personality, which wooed many people, young and old, who would spend hours listening to his boxing experiences and his life as a whole.

Nat loved people and he had friends in all walks of life. Music and dancing were his passion. He was a great Tap Dancer and the life of any party or get-together, as he loved to sing and entertain the gathering. He was affectionately known to all as ‘Papa’.

On the 23rd of January 1998 Papa passed away very peacefully at the age of 84 at his beloved Fathima Villa. May the souls of Nat and Beryl rest in peace.


Photos: Copyright Sheila.Abraham. Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see: Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past

Cool stones

This is one of the best nooks in our ancestral home at Olavipe. The bench-like structures are called kuliru kallu which literally means cool stone. And they are really cool. Sit there with a book and a mug of beer perhaps. Or just look out and enjoy the breeze on the trees around and the birds (not so many these days). Or have a mat spread on it and take a nap. Never a mattress. The mat would be made of grass (pullu paya) or methapaya made from the leaves of Kaitha (Pandanus fascicularis).

I love the cool stones in the cooler weather, meaning, while it rains. May be change from beer to something stronger. Put away the book and watch the rainfall. Listen to the sound of raindrops on the tile roof, on the leaves. Or on the courtyard where the white sand suddenly turns darker as it gets wet. The initial raindrops are absorbed quickly.

Then pools start forming on the courtyard. They indicate uneven spread of the sand, which is to be rectified later. If too much water collects close to the house a worker comes out in the rain and makes small channels for runoff. One feels like going out and getting wet. But that would be considered undignified.

One cannot always do what one likes to, so sit back and think of the childhood days. No dignity to worry about. Just rush into the rain and get thoroughly drenched. That used to be great. Then the call comes – That’s enough, you’ll get sick, come inside immediately. Well, all good things must come to an end. So, in you go. Tried a couple of times going to the far end of the courtyard so that there would be a genuine excuse of not having heard the call. But that didn’t work. A servant would come with the message.

The cool stone has a functional advantage as well. Sitting there one can deal with all sorts of visitors, wanted or unwanted. The close ones of course would come and sit with you. Those who deserve a seat would be provided a chair. Then there are others who would stand, perhaps leaning against a pillar. The leaning part is not really liked; sometimes straighten the man with a question like ‘is something wrong with your back?’ No offence meant or taken. The workers would normally stand outside on the courtyard.

All these can be done even if one is sitting on the veranda on a chair. But there is a difference when one is on the cool stone. The prayer is always that no one should come to disturb the bliss. But wishes often don’t come true.


Photos: AT. Click to enlarge.

Also see: Memories: Shoeless on suburban train.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past

In an article ‘POETIC LICENCE: Of Gunboat Jack and Princess Amina’, Kaleem Omar had mentioned that Gunboat Jack had, in his later years, worked at a boys boarding school at Madras (Chennai) as head of watch and ward and that the US Embassy shipped him back to the United States. Somehow I had missed this earlier. Apparently, Kaleem Omar and me are talking about the same Gunboat Jack. I had expressed some doubt about this in my original post.

This is further confirmed by a mail to me from Sheila Abraham, the daughter of ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry, the famous boxer and a contemporary of Gunboat Jack. Read below what Sheila wrote:

“My father and Gunboat Jack were good friends. Whenever we visited Bangalore, he would it a point to visit him at that hotel, take him for a meal and buy him cigars. We learnt later, while my father was still alive that the U.S. Government sent for him and he went back to the United States, as his health had deteriorated considerably. He apparently must have passed on even before my father, but we have had no news since he left.”

So Gunboat Jack finally went back home after many decades in India.

Sheila has also revealed that ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry scored a historic win over Gunboat Jack. Thank you Sheila for all the input.

Also see: Boxing: ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry – a champion and a gentl...

Savage Kerala

Today’s news paper carried more news about Malathi, the woman who was beaten up at Edapal, Kerala, on October 7. It seems that the Human Rights Commission had taken up the matter on a petition filed by two human rights activists.

The Commission has ordered that the five accused in the case who were arrested by the police, pay Rs.15, 000 each. The amount is to be kept in a nationalized bank. The interest from the deposit is to be utilized for the treatment of the women and the child.

This is an interim order. The Commission decided that there is no need to take evidence from the victims. The case will be finally disposed of after hearing the concerned doctor.

Good news, I must say.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Malayalam cinema: Random thoughts

The mention of Dasaratham by Maddy of Maddy's Ramblings in his comment on my post Reproductive tourism & other matters triggered a chain of thoughts on Malayalam cinema in my mind. Dasaratham was a good picture in which Sibi Malayil competently dealt with the daring theme of surrogate mothers. Initially I mixed it up with Devasuram a movie that I liked very much. In my opinion, it was IV Sasi’s finest directorial venture.

But apart from that, what made Devasuram such success? For one, the screenplay by Ranjit. I believe he modeled Mangalasserry Neelakantan on a real life character. Then of course, Mohanlal’s towering performance. Revathi living the part of Bhanumathi with characteristic ease. Innocent in a totally different role – versatile, I must say. The net result was a box office hit.

I am amazed by artistes like Revathi and Suhasini. Their strength is not glamour but great histrionic talent. The fluidity of the face, smile that spreads sunshine, eyes that reflect expressions of life, body movements that are so natural – all these and more put them on a different pedestal. A comparison could be Sharada of the previous generation. Also Smita Patil, Shabna Azmi, Jaya Bachan.

I am not really in touch with the current movies. Two good actresses, Manju Warrier and Samyukta Varma, I believe, are out of action now. Then there is Kavya Madhavan who grew up with the movies. Also a pack of talented young girls of glamour. But the outstanding one, I think, is Meera Jasmine.

Let me deal briefly on the sensitive and difficult to answer question – who is a better actor, Mammootty or Mohanlal. Both have great stage presence and done many superb roles effortlessly. If my memory serves me right, Mohanlal once said words to the effect that Mammootty wanted to be an actor and tried hard to be one, but he (Mohanlal) happened to become an actor by chance. Mammootty seems to have more professionalism. I wonder if either of them could have emulated the performance of PJ Antony in Nirmalyam. Not that such comparison has any meaning.

Normally I don’t read film reviews. For serious viewing I select movies based on three factors – director, script writer and the lead actors. In that order. This criterion has not let me down so far. I have come across some Malayalam movies that are very good.


Also see: A Malayalam cinema and its lyrics.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Savage Kerala continued

Last evening’s Malayalam news on TV chanels and today’s Malayalam papers prominently (front page four column) carried reports about the woman who was beaten up by a mob at Edapal on the 7th of this month (see Savage Kerala).Her name is Malathi. She had disappeared from the hospital where she had been admitted after the assault.

On a tip off, the police picked her up yesterday along with a child near Kottakkal from the bus in which she was traveling to Calicut. Malathi was questioned and then taken to a hospital for a pregnancy test. A lady doctor had a scan and urine test done on her and pronounced that she was not pregnant. The doctor went on to explain that the bulging of the woman’s abdomen was because of a fatty tumor in her stomach. Now the world knows the medical condition of the woman who was savagely attacked. Malathi and the child were sent to a Rescue Home reportedly after informing the Women’s Commission.

I find all these shocking. There is no pending case or evidence against Malathi. She is the aggrieved person and a witness, not the accused. The police can pick up any person any where on pretexts that can range from terrorism to what not. But what was the need for the pregnancy tests? And under what provisions of law were the woman’s personal details made public? Obviously the police and the doctor did not follow the law and ethics.

Malathi, it is said, belongs to a poor nomadic group. However she claims that she was staying at a colony near the West Hill Railway Station in Calicut. All that is secondary. Her privacy is inviolable under law. Her personal details cannot be placed in the public domain by any one. Her rights, like that of any other citizen, have to be protected.

I hope that the Human Rights Commission or the High Court would also take cognizance of the matter.

Also see:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

123 Nuclear Agreement – should the PM resign?

To answer this question we must analyze who is against the 123 Nuclear Agreement between India and the US. Not the Congress, of course. It is fine with the other UPA constituents provided they don’t have to face an election right now. BJP mooted the idea first and want to renegotiate the agreement. This, in political lexicon, means changing a couple of words here, a few punctuations there. Their allies also are more or less toeing the same line.

Then who is against? The left parties. Their strength? About sixty MPs. Their reason for opposing the 123 Nuclear Agreement? It involves the imperialist, capitalist, colonialist, reactionary United States; every patriotic Indian should uphold the integrity and sovereignty of the nation. In other words, about 10% of the representatives of the people object to the pact altogether. That is enough to kill the 123 Nuclear Agreement because India is not a ‘People’s Democratic Republic’ but only an ordinary democracy.

How did the Left get into this position of strength? The Communists have been struggling for eighty years since the formation of the party in India for gaining a national presence. They have been organizing demonstrations and agitations to further the ‘people’s causes’ which of course didn’t include Quit India Movement and protests against China when that country attacked India. What did they achieve during the last eight decades? Three pockets in the country. Out of these, the party’s legislative representation from Kerala goes up and down with alternate elections. But through shrewd maneuvers and electoral alignments they have established the capability to dictate terms to the vast majority of the elected representatives of the people.

There is something much more important than the 123 Nuclear Agreement. No party, big or small, can be allowed to hold a democratically elected government to ransom. That is what the Left parties are doing right now. If they succeed, we can expect the same sort of interference in all major spheres.

Dr. Manmohan Singh is a gentleman, an honorable man and one of the best Prime Ministers India ever had. Would he like to continue in office as a puppet of a small group which is yet to learn from history?


Also see:

Indo-US nuclear agreement

123 Go - BY THE BOOK

Monday, October 22, 2007

Kerala architecture: More on nalukettu

My post Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu keeps on attracting so many visitors that I thought more information on the subject would be appropriate. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the term, nalukettu means an open inner courtyard (nadumuttam) with built up area all around. The literal translation of nalukettu is ‘buildings on all four sides’.

The photo above is that of our nalukettu at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe taken from an upstairs window. It gives a fairly good idea of the layout. The traditional nalukettus were either rectangular or square. I have not come across nalukettu of any other shape in old houses.

What is the purpose of a nalukettu? I can only comment based on my experience. The functional parts of it are the verandas on the western and eastern sides. Because of the excellent cross ventilation these always remain cool. Another reason for this low temperature effect could be that the hot air keeps escaping through the open roofless space in the middle.

There is an old neem tree opposite to the western door across the outer courtyard and the breeze that blows in from the Olavipe Lake carries the faint smell from its leaves. That is supposed to be healthy. Normally there would be a medicinal tulasi (basil) plant in the inner courtyard. We don’t have tulasi in the nadumuttam because it is there in the front of the house.

The nadumuttam is an excellent place for little children to play safely, say, like a large pen. It is also used to keep vessels like cauldrons which are not in regular use. Those which are in constant usage would be at the places where they are required, and those which are rarely needed, would be in the attic. The nadumuttam also provides good lighting to the built up space around it.

But above all, nalukettu is the living area, traditionally for the ladies and children. Now of course men also use the comfortable verandas. I am giving below two photos to indicate the use of nalukettu as the living room.

My wife Annie and brother Joe

That's me relaxing

Photos: Top - AT, last two - KO Isaac
Click on photos for enlarged view.


Also see:
Kerala architecture – ‘Ara’ in heritage homes

Kerala Architecture: Exterior of a heritage home

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Niraparayum Nilavilakkum

Every Mallu should be able to relate to this scene of Niraparayum Nilavilakkum
before the Arappura vathil.
Photo by KO Isaac.
Click on it for enlarged view.

Also see:

Photos: Deepam (Light)

Pastoral Olavipe

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reproductive tourism & other matters

I have heard of all kinds of tourism but learned a new phrase today when I stumbled upon Doctor hails 'reproductive tourism' as Indians make outsourced babies ... in Middle East Times. The dateline of the AFP story by Paul Peachey is March 29, 2006, ANAND, India. It is all about professional surrogate mothers and makes interesting reading.

Nostalgia: A clock of time

Responding to a query from me, an expert, Mr. Thomas has been kind enough to send me a clarification. His website is quite interesting and I recommend a visit. The relevant portion of his message reads,

“You have a nice clock. But it is not made in Great Britain, it is made
in USA by Waterbury Clock Co., in Connecticut, between 1857-1944 when
this factory was active.”

Well, our clock has been with us at least from the 1910s. My grandfather died in 1919.

Kerosene fans

Reader Anup has left the following comment on the ‘clock’ post

“Kerosene operated fans? That's something I had not heard of, maybe you could explain that to interested people like me, would be nice to now about such technology that existed those days. I remember seeing old clocks such as the one that you mention, in my grand father's house back in the seventies. I am not sure what happened to it because years later, no one is clear about where it went. I love these old clocks, even if they work erratically.”

I am not competent to explain the technology except to say that kerosene is a fuel that produces energy and energy runs motors. In remote places, some who could afford, had kerosene operated fans and refrigerators. I have seen those even from my young days. These products, I believe, are still being manufactured.


Also see:

An antique washing machine

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hockey days in Bangalore

My friend Sushil (Jacob Matthan) of Oulu, Finland said in a recent post Two faces of sport in India on his Blog Seventh Heaven ‘My interest in hockey, especially to be a hockey goalkeeper started in 1952-53 when I was a 10 year old living in Bangalore. I used to live opposite the St, Joseph College Hostel and sports grounds.I had many friends studying in the college. One was a guy called Abe Tharakan. He was the hockey goalkeeper for the college. I used to watch the team train and watched all their games. Abe inspired me to take up the game and the position of goalkeeper after I moved toBombay in 1954.’

Sushil played hockey for Cathedral School, Bombay and St. Stephan’s, Delhi where Arun Shourie was his captain, and also in England. On his mention of St. Joseph’s playing fields, a whole lot of memories came flooding back to my mind. I have played hockey on many grounds in India but this one is special in several ways. May be Sushil did learn something from me. But he had as his school (Bishop Cotton’s) coach RJ Allen who kept goal for India in three successive Olympics – 1928, 1932, 1936.

I am also reminded of many a player of the 1950s. Some were internationals, and others, though good, were confined to the local circuit. My first captain at St. Joseph’s, Ponnappa was a bundle of hockey wisdom, a top class left half, and a good leader. Unnikrishnan of HAL was perhaps the best centre half who never played for India. McBride, again of HAL, was a solid back. He later coached the St. Joseph’s School team and my two sons, Joseph and Abraham were among the beneficiaries.

Two very good goalkeepers in Bangalore were Olympian Deshmuthu, and Dicky Armstrong. Deshmuthu stuck on with HAL. He had occasional lapse of concentration and Laxman was preferred for India’s playing eleven. Those were the days when hockey goalkeepers had no protection except for pads and abdomen guards. During 1957 Bombay Nationals when I was holding the citadel for Kerala against the mighty Punjab, Laxman come to the goal post and gave me a pair of gloves. That was a gesture which I can never forget. Probably that helped me to give a performance which the great Dyanchand reportedly called the finest he had seen.

Armstrong shifted to Bombay where also he excelled. His brother Billy was a planter, and a regular at Mundakayam Club. We used to meet for years, whenever I went to that club. Billy too was a fine man.

Among the teams, HAL which had all the stars and glamour, and the Army team, Madras Engineering Group (MEG) a well oiled hockey machine, were the top ones. St. Joseph’s were almost there with them. We had a St. Joseph’s Sports Club which included some old students also. Chari was the moving spirit behind that venture. I have never come across a person who loved hockey so much; it was his life. He was a good player as well. He is fondly remembered.

I invite you to read Captain of the St. John's Team

at Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan.

Olympic champions, Berlin - 1936
Photo: Public domain - Wikimedia Commons.
Also see:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nostalgia: A clock of time

How many generations has the old clock on the wall of the drawing room (photo on the left) of Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe seen? Six for sure; seven if it was bought when my great-grandfather Mathoo Tharakan (A judgment.) was still alive.

The clock had always been in the same room in my memory, but at different locations. Originally it was just below the large painting of Mathoo Tharakan. Then it was shifted to the eastern wall. That was its position when my father died of a heart attack in 1959, sitting almost directly below it.

My grandfather PM Avira Tharakan must have purchased the clock from P. Orr & Sons, Madras (Alligator Tails/Tales/Tiles.). Most of his expensive curios and gadgets, which included a kerosene operated KDK fan, came from that source.

Everybody was interested in winding the clock but only two or three people had the clearance to do that. It was a delicate job; overdoing could break the spring. Also, if the upright position of the clock shifted even fractionally, it wouldn’t work correctly. There was a marking on the wall and the pointed lower part of the clock had to be precisely on that line.

After decades of faithful operation, the clock started malfunctioning occasionally. Then the problems became more frequent – the time shown would be incorrect, the chiming would be wrong and so on. There was only one person, Swamy of Broadway, Cochin who knew how to set it right. Soon the clock was at Swamy’s shop for longer periods than it was at home.

It was always brought back, and bravely struggled on. A couple of weeks back when I was at Olavipe, it was not working. Swamy is no more and therefore my brother Jacob is sending the clock to Kothamangalam where, he was told, an expert named George repairs old clocks as a hobby.

The clock was made by Waterbury Clock Company. I think it is British. Below is a photo of our beloved clock.

Photos: Copyright TP. Click on them for enlarged view


Also see: OLAVIPE: Heritage Home of Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tender coconuts: For class distinction to fighting hangovers

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But it is true, at least in my part of the world. I don’t know whether such a system exists in other areas of Kerala.

When coconut plucking is on, if a passer by asks for a karikku (tender coconut) he usually means a mature coconut. Only a poor man would make such a request. A whole nut without de-husking is always given to him unless there is some compelling reason to refuse. That is the convention. The supervisors in charge write it off in the ‘charity’ column of the concerned register.

But if a karikku is to be given to a person of a slightly higher class, the husk on the top of the tender coconut would be chopped off. For the higher class, more of the husk would be removed. That makes the karikku lighter and easier to hold.

But for the ‘House’ (meaning the land owner’s abode) the entire husk is removed. It is more convenient to handle, but can be a bit sticky on the outside unless one waits for it to dry completely.

Given below is a photo by PJ Antony Tharakan showing the three different types of presentation of karikku. Read from right to left: Regular, Deluxe, Super Deluxe.

Click on photo for enlarged view.
Photos: Copyright TP.

Only the containers differ in appearance. The content is the same, the finest natural health drink in the world. You can take it from a glass as well, nullifying the ‘class’ effect. But then, some like the tender coconut water dripping down the chin on to the clothes.

Whichever way it is consumed, tender coconut water is good for you, particularly so to get rid of a hangover.


Also see: Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Travel: Shendurney, the Royal Tree

“In some old texts,” the elderly physician continued, “it is said that sleeping regularly on a cot made of shendurney wood helps to resist seven major diseases. It increases potency as well.” (Flash Fiction: THE ROYAL TREE.)

There is no proven scientific basis to the statement quoted above but the belief is that Shendurney (also spelt Shendurni; local name Chenkurinji, botanical name gluta travancorica), a tall hardwood tree, has several medicinal properties. Research is going on regarding this. I know personally that a piece of shendurney wood (it has a crimson-red color) kept in a container of water would almost chill the water!

Shendurney is also called ‘Royal Tree’. There could be two reasons for this. Firstly, this highly endangered species is found almost exclusively in the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in the erstwhile princely State of Travancore. Secondly, only the Maharajas of Travancore had the power to order cutting down a shendurney tree or its branches. Violating this rule could result in imprisonment and a huge fine.

The 171sq.kms Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary which is situated in the Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve of Quilon District, Kerala, seems to be the only wildlife sanctuary in the world named after a tree. There is of course the Redwood National Park in California, USA, but it is not strictly a wildlife sanctuary. Incidentally, the precise area where shendurney grows is called Rockwood. The government of Kerala is doing a commendable job in conserving and propagating shendurney which is endemic to the locality.

The wildlife sanctuary spread on either side of Shendurney River (which also apparently got the name from the tree) is part of the Thenmala (Honey Hill) Ecotourism Project, the first of its kind in India. It is reportedly a highly successful venture.

This is not surprising. The area, with an altitude between 100-600 m above MSL, is world famous for its biodiversity. Thenmala Dam has formed a beautiful lake through which also one can reach the sanctuary. Then there is Palaruvi (River of milk) with its 300ft waterfall which is considered to be the most picturesque one in Kerala. It is believed that the water of this beautiful river also has many medicinal values. The Travancore Royal Family used to have a retreat palace in the area.

With all the natural beauty of the place which is about 90kms from Trivandrum airport, the greatest attraction is still the royal tree, shendurney.

For travel information, visit or contact

Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala
Park View, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India - 695 033
Phone: +91-471-2321132 Fax: +91-471-2322279
Tourist Information toll free No:1-800-425-4747


Monday, October 15, 2007

Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past

Many who were in Bangalore during the 1940s and 1950s are likely to have seen Gunboat Jack, or at least heard of him. He had several roles in life: boxer, circus performer, speedster, bar fighter, street brawler, bouncer, tap dancer, perhaps even smuggler. During his sunset years he had two more parts, which I shall come to later.

We know for sure that Gunboat Jack was a tall American Black, and apparently a good boxer. I have heard it mentioned that he was once a sparring partner to Jersey Joe Walcott who became the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion after the legendary Joe Louis. He is said to have been an American sailor who jumped ship at Madras (Chennai) and thus the name ‘Gunboat’. But this story may not be true. According to one version ‘Jack’ was not his Christian name but came about because he had penchant for settling street fights with a car jack.Whatever his background was, Gunboat Jack sparkled in Bangalore in the 1940s, both in the ring and outside of it. In his own words to J.T. Seamands, an American who studied in Baldwins, Bangalore and did missionary work in India, “I’m a fighter. A boxer. I’m a middle-weight, but I fight good." And again, “I like three things too much. I like drinkin,’ I like women, and I like music.” (These quotes are from Forensics & Faith, a Blog by the best selling author Brandilyn Collins nee Seamands.See TN Murari made Gunboat Jack a major character in his novel, Field of Honour, of which Graham Greene said, 'I was very much impressed by Field of Honour’. The famous Madras historian S. Muthiah has written about this boxer.

It is not clear when Gunboat Jack reached Bangalore. In an article ‘Of Gunboat Jack and Princess Amina’ ( Kaleem Omar writes that the man landed in Bombay at the outbreak of World War II and was perhaps involved in smuggling. He used to visit Karachi during weekends and in 1941 sired a girl by an Anglo Indian teacher. The girl was a good athlete, but later became a well-known belly dancer.

But I don’t think we are talking about the same Gunboat Jack because the timeframe doesn’t seem to fit. J.T. Seamands, the American missionary is quoted saying that he used to read about our Gunboat Jack during his Baldwin School days. That was in the 1930s. They met for the first time in 1943 on a train to Madras. By then the boxer was already on the decline. For some time he stayed at Park Town in Madras (Chennai) and married an Anglo Indian lady. He used to fight at Madras and Bangalore.

Fighting, wine and women took their toll and age caught up too. For sometime Gunboat Jack worked as a bouncer at Bosco’s on Brigade Road. I used to see him in the early 1950s with a hat in hand, moving up and down Brigade Road. It was such a sad sight.

But JT Seamands met him again in 1958, quite by chance. Those days Gunboat Jack used to sit at a street corner on a chair, Bible in hand, and preach. The Seamands took him to their residence for Thanksgiving Dinner at which the American community in Bangalore was present. I cannot find any further trace of the boxer.

Gunboat Jack was a star in the boxing arena; perhaps unbeaten in India. But he lost out in the ring of life. His story reminds me the title of a good novel I read long ago (forget the author’s name), The Bigger They Come the Harder They Fall.



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Sunday, October 14, 2007

When the Communists came marching in...

Olavipe. A Sunday morning in October 1950. My elder sister Mariamma was expecting her first child by November. The baby would be the first of the fifth generation at Thekkanattu Parayil. Those days women didn’t go to hospital for delivery. They depended on the local midwife and the elders. In this case, the doctor at Thycattussarry Government Hospital was also on the alert.

On the previous evening secret information came that the Communists planned a demonstration march by Comrades brought from other places, through the path in front of our eastern gatehouse. It was something that was unthinkable those days. Four years earlier there had been Communist led uprisings in two places, Vayalar and Punnappura, south of Olavipe. They were put down by the Maharaja’s army (see Morning After the Storm - concluding part.) and the Party was banned.

Then came India’s Independence and the Communists were back in action.

The Party had planned the timing of the march with great care. On Sunday mornings all of us would go to the family church across the lake and only the servants would be at home. In Appan’s absence it was unlikely that any one would dare to prevent the Communist procession. If Appan. had stayed back that by itself would have been considered a success for the Party. Well, Appan, Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) along with the other children went to church as usual but asked me to stay back in the house.

I was just 17 then, doing my first year of college. I was tense. The servants were huddled together in groups and whispering among them. But Mariamma seemed unconcerned. After a while I went to the eastern gatehouse and to my surprise, found the entire area full of men. Some were sitting on the pentagonal steps of the gatehouse, and others were leaning against coconut trees, or lying on the sand.

They were the people of Olavipe.

I went back inside because a senior supervisor told me that my presence there might make them uncomfortable. After a while the slogan shouting could be heard, faintly at first and louder as the jatha approached. The rest of the events were told to me later.

Instead of reaching the house by the usual route from the north, the Comrades took a detour and came from the south. Just three men, a Christian supervisor, an Ezhava and a Pulaya stopped the demonstrators on a causeway some distance from the house and asked them to go back. They increased the tempo of the slogan shouting but returned the way they came.

When a supervisor came to give me the good news, I told him to organize tender coconuts for our people. But there was no need. By the time I went to the gatehouse, they had left. That was one of the most touching moments of my life.

Francis (Alapatt) the baby boy Mariamma gave birth to is a grandfather today!

It was near the electric post that the march was stopped.
Photo: Copyright TP.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Photos: Doors & Windows

All images from Switzerland. Copyright: KO Isaac
Click on photos for enlarged view.
Also see:

Photos: Beauty on walls.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kerala Food: Breakfast range

Kerala has one of the largest choices for breakfast in the world. Till a few decades back, many Kerala households had kanji (rice broth) with chutneys and papadam and a couple of dry curries for the first meal of the day. The more westernized families used to have porridge, fried eggs and toast. These two types of breakfast with the exception of eggs and bread are practically extinct now.

The present scenario consists of mainly native items. Iddly, dosa, upmavu, poori and uthappam are common all over South India. If you are a non-veg, try uthappam and fish curry with cocum. Sounds weird? It tastes good though. Another suggestion – cheese dosa. It is simple to make. Cut a sandwich cheese slice into two, place them on the dosa when almost done, and fold over. Wheat flour dosa with an egg flipped in is a quick fix.

Then there are appam and idiyappam. These are found in many areas of South East Asia which had strong Dutch presence in the past. In Kerala these are usually eaten with meat or vegetable stew, but they also go well with egg roast, meat, fish and other curries, as in the case of poori. Well, you can even have an egg fried on the appam when it is almost done. Incidentally, I came across an idiyappam-chicken biriyani at Chennai. That was good.

There is another type of appam, which we call kallappam. It is made by mixing ground coconut, garlic, jeera, and onion paste with rice flour and required quantity of water. Coconut toddy or yeast is added and the dough is left overnight for rising. The kallappams are small, about uthappam thickness and goes best with fish curry.

Then we have puttu, kerala’s own versatile breakfast item. See Something different about puttu, the versatile Kerala food. It has several variations. All of them are good and can be eaten with almost anything. The same goes for roti (oroti). It is made with rice powder mixed with grated coconut. A variation of this is to add chammanthipodi and/or chopped up spinach to the mix.

See A power-pack for breakfast. about boiled bananas. Boiled chena (yam) sliced and eaten with crushed green chili-onion-coconut oil chutney is excellent. So is boiled breadfruit. Kappa can be served in different ways. Details are given in Kerala food: Kappa (cassava or casava, yuca, manioc, Manihot esculenta). Boiled and sauteed raw jackfruit is another good breakfast food.

Obviously an import, a pancake which is almost a crepe suzette without alcohol, is also good for breakfast. The non-sweet ones are to be eaten with honey or preserves or curries. Another method is to stuff the pancake with grated coconut and sugar.

Have I missed out something? May be I would come back with an addenda.


(Note: Acknowledgements to my wife Annie.)

Also see:

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady

Kerala Cuisine: Manga thera (mango mat) recipe

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Kerala Flowers?

Any one who grew up in Kerala or has spent some time in the many splendored God’s Own Country is likely to have seen these flowers. Do they bring back memories?

Well, these public domain photos were all taken on the Pacific Islands by Angela Kepler during the 40 years of her travel in that area. You can see more at


Also see: Karthiki captures some Olavipe flowers

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Trees are vital

Many of us think of trees as providers of wood for buildings and furniture, burning fuel and raw material for paper. Actually they are vital to life.

Trees are protectors of world climate. They absorb carbon dioxide and purify the air. They provide food such as fruits, medicines, and many other necessities. Trees control runoff water by absorbing it and prevent soil erosion. They mitigate the impact of floods. A great many vital organisms are sustained by trees. Apart from building materials for people trees also offer shelter to animals and birds. And they are of such great visual beauty.

Can you imagine life on Planet Earth without trees?

Trees are vital to the world. Conserve the existing ones and plant more.

Here are some nice photos of trees:

Photos Copyright KO Isaac. Click on them for enlarged view.