Sunday, December 30, 2007


Photo: Creative Commons (PD)

Kerala economy: The NRI money pile

This post is inspired by an article on NRI remittances to Kerala in the Malayala Manorama of December 27. The thought provoking piece is written by C Sarathchandran who is Advisor to the World Bank – Indian Operations. You could possibly access it on Manorama Online.

The writer points out that 1.8 million Keralite NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) who work in other countries without the pressures of the political ideologies that plague their home state remitted Rs.64,400 crores in 2006. How much is that in US money? $16.1 billion? The estimated income in the current Kerala budget is only Rs.21,000 crores!

What happens to this colossal amount? Only a fraction of it is used in the state and the rest goes to other parts of India. The explanation for this is the dearth of bankable projects in Kerala. Why is it so? One reason is that Keralites generally lack entrepreneurship. They are still oriented towards land and in building fabulous houses with their hard earned money.

The second reason is that most Keralites do not feel secure about investing in industrial ventures in their State. The major contributing factor for this apprehension seems to be the State’s history of industrial unrest. Since Apollo Tyres in the late 1970s, has another private sector project of that magnitude come up in Kerala?

The successful implementation of the Apollo Tyres project was made possible, apart from other factors, because of the total cooperation by the State Government led by C Achutha Menon and the people of the State. In the equity base of Rs7.5 crores, the State Government invested Rs.50 lacs and individuals Rs.50 lacs more, under the Promoters’ Quota.

The approximately 100 acres of land identified for the project at Perambra, Trichur District belonged to forty-two people. A Special Thahasildar was appointed for land acquisition. The owners were magnanimous in giving us advance possession of their properties. Construction started even before the land acquisition process was completed.

In an era when ‘Single Window Clearance’ was unheard of, TV Thomas, the then Industries Minister convened a meeting of all Department heads, with the full support of the Cabinet. He instructed that Apollo Tyres files should be given top priority. Not a single hitch came up during the project implementation.

There was a time like that in Kerala – just three decades back, when so much money was not floating around.

What about today?


Also see:

Quo Vadis, Kerala?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Money matters

Sometimes I get worried about the money power that is so visible in India today. In the times of changing values money has become the king. Make the moolah no matter how and one has steamrolling power. The clout is used in many ways.

Businessmen grease palms with money and get things done which ordinary citizens find impossible, and politicians use money to buy or liquidate their opponents. No political party can survive without funds of different hues. And so on.

‘Quotation Raj’ (paying a price to beat up or kill a man or torch his house or kidnap someone) rules the day. The goon world is used even by the major banks to twist the arms of, say, a poor citizen who defaults a Rs.10,000 installment on a house loan.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently brought in regulations to control such criminal methods used by financial institutions, but how effective they would be remains to be seen. This might sound pessimistic but the banks could even offer ‘bill collection service’ to its customers at low charges. After all, they already have the infrastructure.

It is good to have money. Like these anonymous lines say,

‘Money is honey, my little sonny,

And a rich man’s joke is always funny.’

But what prompted me to write this piece was another poem. Though it mentions England, it has universal implication:

Wealth, howsoever got, in England makes
Lords of mechanics, gentlemen of rakes;
Antiquity and birth are needless here;
‘Tis impudence and money makes a peer.

This was written three hundred years ago by Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731).


Also see: Tax savings & doing good

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Benazir tragedy: is Pakistan a failed State?

Benazir Bhutto, 52, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan was shockingly assassinated yesterday at the same venue where that country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead in 1951. During the 56-year span between the two tragic incidents, what has happened to Pakistan? Has it stood still or gone backwards?

India too had its share of assassinations and terrorists attacks. But so far the country has managed to absorb shocks and tragedies and carry on. In spite of the looming threats and vicissitudes, India has stuck with democracy. The divisive forces that are becoming increasingly active have not yet succeeded in severely disrupting that yet.

What went wrong with Pakistan? It followed the wrong path of India-centric hate, allowed the army to hold sway, and nurtured the ground for dictators who claimed to know what is good for their country better than anyone else. Well, that is the hallmark of a dictator. History is full of them. Some change from uniform to civilian suits or vice versa, but that is usually just cosmetic.

Pakistan too has elections. But how much conviction do they, like the present one, carry? The duly appointed Chief Justice is under house arrest, judges are changed at will, the Constitution is amended by executive orders, opposition candidates who could be inconvenient are disqualified, and so on.

Are only the Pakistanis to be blamed for this sad state of affairs? What about that country’s staunchest supporter, the United States? Since the Second World War that country seems to have been backing the wrong horses.

The Americans pour money and material on Pakistan to fight terrorism, which is undoubtedly the biggest threat to the world today. But does Pakistan have the right credentials to be a bulwark against the menace? Perhaps the Americans are convinced that their ally is fighting terrorism on its Western border. At the same time Pakistan seems to unleash terror across its Eastern border. Hate India appears to be the only policy that country follows consistently.

Will Benazir’s martyrdom open the eyes of the lotus eaters?


Also see: Obituary: Common Sense

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas spirit in Kerala

In certain matters Kerala is definitely is on the march. Liquor consumption for instance. The sale of branded spirits during last Onam recorded a 28% increase over the previous year.

For Christmas, from December 20th to 25, Kerala with an adult population of about 2.2 crores (22 million) spent Rs.85.48 crores (USD 21.37m) on liquor sold through official channels! The preference was, as usual, for rum (65%) followed by brandy, whiskey and vodka. This is an increase of 22% from last year. New Year sales are expected to surpass this.

As I said in the post Kerala: Onam goes up in spiritnever before has so much been done by so few (Apology, Winston Churchill)’.

Kerala: A Minister’s magic solution to food shortage (sequel)

The new menu suggested by the Kerala Food Minister – milk, eggs and chicken - is running into problems. Even if someone wants to out of patriotism or whatever, follow the Minister’s instructions, it is not easy. On top of the shortage for rice, Kerala is now facing a scarcity of milk. The government seems to have overlooked that fact that the State has to depend on Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka for rice, milk, chicken, eggs, beef and vegetables.


Also see: Un-ploughed lies my land

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Obituary: Common Sense

[Narayanan Thmapi, a friend from Cochin sent me this. Thought I would share it with you.]

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, life isn't always fair, and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.

Reports of a six-year- old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job they themselves failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer Panadol, sun lotion or a Band Aid to a student - but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar can sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

He is survived by three stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else is to Blame, and I'm A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.


Also see: skip to maiskip to sidebarStatements with a twist.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Christmas at Olavipe
Posted by Picasa

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Of a mother and her daughter

Everybody knows what a sunset is. The ball of fire rises every morning in the East and disappears over the Western horizon in the evening. The Navajo Nation calls the sun Morning Boy. They even have a song about it. If I recall rightly, it narrates the Morning Boy waking up bright and shining at dawn and, tired after working hard through the day providing energy to the world, going to sleep at dusk.

Most people take sunset for granted. But there are a few who sit down and watch the evening sky with fascination. Some of them are poets no matter whether they write in the poetic form or in prose. They see the beauty around them, their minds wander to obscure corners of imagination which only they are aware of. They feel things about sunset that the others don’t. And out of their inner vision, sometimes, emerge pieces like Reflections of an Evening in Gowri Mohanakrishnan’s blog Seventh Chords.

Here are two examples from the post: "The light would fade slowly and grandly out of the sky, lingering until the clouds and trees were dark silhouettes….I sit alone now and the children who played in this garden when they were little have left home." Actually a fellow blogger, RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN, has highlighted these in her comments on the post. Wish I could write with such ease and flow and meaning.

Now, who is Gowri Mohanakrishnan? All I know is that she is the daughter of Maiji, the 80-year-old blogger and a great-grandmother from Chennai, India. I mentioned her in my post Believe it or not - blogging at 107. Do visit her site Memories and Musings too. It is one of the very few blogs that I have bookmarked.

Thank you, mother and daughter, for providing us good reading material.


Also see: No Red Sails in the Sunset

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Photographs: Patterns in the sky - I

The sky is fascinating. If you look out of your window at any part of the sky at different times of the day, the patterns, the colors, the light keep changing. It often presents beautiful scenes.

I am privileged to present these beautiful photos by KO Isaac for you.

Copyright reserved.

Click on photos for enlarged view.

Also see:

Kerala photos: Village paths

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ecology: Vanishing Hills

Much has been said about the need to conserve our forests (see: Trees are vital). The campaign to keep the earth green seems to be getting the message across to millions of people. But there is another vital area of ecology that is, unfortunately, not receiving the attention that it deserves.

I am talking about the hills. All over India, hills are being flattened for for building construction, cutting stones, for obtaining earth for filling low or water logged areas and so on. Laws to prevent this may or may not exist but the indiscriminate mining carries on nevertheless. Nobody seems to bother except some activists.

What is the damage if the hills are flattened? Water covers about 70% of the Earth. I saw an estimate that water level would rise by more than 8000 feet (about 2500m) if the earth surface were evened out. That means there would not be any land-sea ratio. The planet would be a mass covered by water. That of course is an unlikely eventuality.

But there are several other adverse impacts of leveling the hills. The surface area of the earth decreases when a hill is flattened. The trees and plants (some of them medicinal) and life forms that thrived there disappear. I think all the major rivers of the world originate from and are sustained by the mountains. The hills attract rains. They provide water to more than half the world’s population. Terrains like laterite formations retain water. If we do not protect the hills, the result would be acute water problems.

There could be an argument that habitats are among the basic requirements of humanity and that construction activities provide employment to many people. True. But can’t we build without flattening the hills? Contour architecture, I think, is the answer. Two examples of this I can immediately recall are the residential area of the HMT complex near Cochin, and the Kovalam Resort near Trivandrum.

Certainly, our architects are capable of coming out with eco-friendly designs.


Also see: Komana Kadu.

Cross posted to:

Articles By Abraham Tharakan

EARTH SAVE - Abraham Tharakan's Blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

Acts of kindness

When I saw the BlogCatalog email requesting Bloggers to post on December 17 an act of kindness by them, I thought it was an easy one. But I could not think of any good deed by me. We have been taught from childhood that helping the needy was our duty. Therefore such instances do not strictly qualify as acts of kindness.

Then I remembered one incident thirteen years back. The shortest route from Cochin to my home at Olavipe is to turn off at Aroor on NH 47 and cross over a branch of the Vembanad Lake. A bridge was still under construction in 1994. Vehicles had to be ferried across by a jankar (a platform on two country crafts pulled by a boat). That service was available till 8.30 PM only. Those who were traveling by public transport crossed by canoes and took another bus.

One evening when I reached the ferry at about 7 o’clock there was a group of people around a man who was lying on the roadside. My driver K. Sasi found out that the person had a heart attack and someone had gone to fetch a taxi to reach him to the hospital. I got down and told Sasi to rush the patient to the hospital in Cochin. He was also instructed to wait at the hospital till the doctors attended to the man.

I crossed over by a canoe and boarded a packed bus. A few people got up and offered me their seats. I was grateful for that. On reaching home I told Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) and my wife what happened. They were happy about what I did and started praying (Kerala Architecture: Prayer room of a heritage home) for the man’s recovery.

Sasi came back rather late to report that the patient had stabilized. The ferrymen had waited for the car to come back and Sasi didn’t have to drive the long way around (one hour extra). A week later the sick man’s brother came home to tell us that he had recovered and to thank me for the help.

What I did was a good thing. Then I realized that three other acts of kindness were involved – the people who offered me their seats in the bus, the boatmen who waited far beyond their duty time to ferry the car back, and the man who came to tell us that his brother was out of danger.

There is so much good in people.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sethusamudram: A new angle?

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, a development economist, has announced that a Marine Economic Zone (MEZ) can bring more prosperity and social development to the southern districts of Tamil Nadu than the controversial Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) and the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) attached to the Tuticorin Port. On the face of it the suggestion demands serious consideration.

Dr. Kalyanaraman was an executive of the Asian Development Bank for 17 years till 1995, handling a portfolio of 60m US D. After graduating from Annamalai University in economics and statistics he joined the Indian Railway Accounts Service. Later he obtained his doctorate from the University of Philippines. His thesis was on the development administration in six Asian countries.

According to Dr. Kalyanakrishnan, the MEZ would benefit two million traditional fishermen in the districts of Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Thuthukudi and Kanyakumari. This area now accounts for over 25% of India’s marine products exports.

Dr. Kalyanaraman points out that the proposed SEZ would result in the displacement of people and converting fertile agricultural lands to industrial complexes. If this is true, it would mean replacing one successful economic operation with another at the cost of the trauma and problems of dislodgement of sizable chunk of the population.

The Gulf of Mannar – Palk Straits area is considered to be one of the richest in the world for marine biodiversity. It is home to some of the endangered species like dolphins, dugongs and sea cucumbers and also famous for its algae, sea grass and coral reefs. It was declared as a Marine National Park in 1986 and, in 1989, as a Biosphere Reserve. The Government of India contends that the Sethusamudram shipping channel project would not cause any damage to the ecology.

The Tuticorin Port Trust’s SEZ project is a different matter. If, as Dr. Kalyanaraman says, a Marine Economic Zone is more beneficial to the people of the area and to the nation than a Special Economic Zone, it should be given due contemplation. Whether SSCP and MEZ can coexist is also a moot point.


Also see:

Ram Sethu controversy

Ram Sethu: Where is the conflict?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ramanathan Krishnan: India’s Tennis Legend.

Today’s newspapers carry a report from Kula Lumpur stating that the renowned Indian tennis player Ramanathan Krishnan was awarded Lifetime Achievement Award by the Asian Sports Press Union. On reading it, my mind went back to a print media report on the Wimbledon Championships in 1956 – 51 years back.

Centre Court. First round match. The1954 champion, J. Drobny seeded 5 and the crowd’s idol was playing a 19 year old from India, R. Krishnan. The youngster had won the Wimbledon boys crown two years earlier, but nobody gave him a chance against the Czechoslovak-born veteran left-hander who was making his 13th appearance at the All England Championships.

Krishnan took the first set 6-1. Drobny the next at 6-4 to equalize but there was nothing more he could do. The Indian won the next two at 6-1, 6-4. It was the greatest moment in Indian tennis since Independence notwithstanding Dilip Bose’s Asian Championship triumph in 1949 and subsequent seeding (15) at Wimbledon.

In the pre-Independence era, India had done well in tennis. The 1920s saw a string of victories by the Indians, particularly in the Davis Cup. The top players at that time were M. Saleem, AH Fayzee and AA Fayzee (brothers), Cotah Ramaswamy and Krishna Prasad. They triumphed over players from France, Romania, Holland, Belgium. Spain, and Greece. M. Saleem also reached the singles semi-finals in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Then there was Ghouse Mohammed who reached the last eight at Wimbledon in 1939.

But Krishnan surpassed them all. He reached Wimbledon semi-finals in two successive years, was 4th seeded there once, and was ranked No.3 in the world. He spearheaded India’s entry into the Davis Cup finals in 1966; we lost 4-1. The match that we won was doubles in which Krishnan and J Mukerjea beat Newcombe and Tony Roche the previous year’s Wimbledon Doubles Champions. Krishnan’s Davis Cup record is outstanding, winning 50 out of 69 matches in singles and 19 out of 29 in doubles.

A grateful nation honored the tennis ace with the Arjuna Award, Padma Shree, and Padma Bhusan. Salaam, Krishnan!


Also see:

Tennis: Leander Paes, the Indian Hero

Hockey days in Bangalore

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Photos: Chameleons, crocodiles

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

Birds: Photos & Poetry

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Health: Osteoporosis

Two years back while walking briskly I tripped and fell on the road, breaking the little finger of the right hand and a rib. I was 72 then. The orthopedist warned me about osteoporosis and how to take preventive care. It appears that no conclusively effective treatment is available to cure this disease.

What is osteoporosis? As far as I can understand, it is a condition where the bones turn brittle or fragile and may break easily. The fractures are usually in the spine, hips and wrists. Osteoporosis could also lead to stooping

What causes osteoporosis? Generally, calcium and Vitamin D deficiency leading to thinning of bones. A bone density test could give an indication of the risk factors. Other causes of the problem include genetic factors, some medicines, lifestyle, certain surgeries and medical conditions.

What are the symptoms? Often, osteoporosis shows no early symptoms and is diagnosed only when a bone is broken. In later stages there could be back pain, stooping (Dowager’s hump), and loss in height.

Who are susceptible? Older people are more likely to have osteoporosis than younger ones. Females, particularly post-menopausal women, seem to have increased susceptibility. This could be partially due to decrease in the body’s oestrogen content.

What can be done? Bone density tests can indicate some therapy, supplements and exercises to fortify the bones. Consult an expert. But there is one action that anyone can take – change in lifestyle.

What changes? Well, it is more or less the same as the recommendations for better health. Don’t smoke; smokers have increased risk of loss of bone density than non- smokers. Moderate drinking is fine but heavy consumption of alcohol retards bone growth and also increases the risk of falling. Exercises like walking and climbing stairs are good (if you have cardiac condition, check with your doctor). Have a balanced diet. Avoid cola based aerated drinks.

And, take care to avoid falls and giving undue pressure on bones.

Please note that these are only a layman’s understanding. Check with your doctor for authoritative directions.


Monday, December 10, 2007

An Indian village remembers its Irish ‘father’.

John Joseph Murphy
Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice
(1872 - 1957)

The year 2007 was special for Yendayar, a small township tucked away in the HighRanges of Kerala, India. The citizens organized several functions to remember the Irishman, JJ Murphy, who had died half a century back and to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the JJ Murphy Memorial High School.

The celebrations started earlier in the year with a public meeting presided over by AT Devasia, the former Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi University.

Murphy had come 103 years ago to the place which was a thick forest and had no name or people then. He had traveled a long way to reach there. He left Dublin at the age of 21, was trained in tea planting in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and then joined a British estate in South India. At the age of 29 he started out on his own and became one of the most successful individual British planters in India. He was sometimes referred to as ‘the king of planters’.

According to local tradition, Murphy named the place that was to be his home till death in 1957, after his mother and the local river. Yendayar is a combination of ‘yen’ (my) ‘thai’ (mother) and ‘ar’ (river). There he established India’s first successful rubber plantation. He brought workers from near and far – Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

And he looked after them like no other planter had ever done before. He paid them high and provided amenities that were unheard of those days. It is said that a good portion of his fortune went to them. And they loved him. For several generations of the local population, he has been and continues to be their ‘Murphy Sayippu’ (Malayalam for sahib).

When Michael Kallivayalil, the present owner of Yendayar Estate decided to build a school in Murphy’s name, the local people wholeheartedly joined him in the endeavor. The school was opened in 1982, the 25th Death Anniversary of Murphy.

Padmabhshan Justice KT Thomas, retired judge of the Supreme Court of India who presided over the valedictory function was touched by the respect and affection of the people for the Irishman. It was unusual he said, that those who had fought for freedom from British, showed such reverence to Murphy (known as JJ to his friends and Murphy Sayippu to the people).

Earlier in the year the local population had held a remembrance march from Murphy’s tomb at a lovely location in the estate (a spot which he himself had selected) to his bungalow and to the school.

About seventy of those who had worked for Murphy are still alive. The oldest among them is Bhayalakshmi, 97 (see photo below). Later there was a meeting of the former employees of Murphy at Yendayar Estate. Michael and his wife Mary (see photos above) hosted a party for them. It was a poignant get-together brimming with nostalgia.

In 2002 the then Irish Ambassador to India, Philip McDonagh had called on Michael and together with him, had visited JJ Murphy Memorial High School and the Irishman’s tomb to pay homage.

Murphy Sayippu lives on, in the hearts of those who knew him, and their posterity.

Mrs. Bhagyalakshmi lighting the traditional lamp
at the School's Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Others in the photo, Left to Right:
Michael A. Kallivayalil, Manager, Chandran, PTA President
and Joseph M. Kallivayalil.


Photos copyright reserved. Credits: Top – Claire Hill. Others: Glenrock Office

Click on photos for enlarged view.

Click on the links to read the following articles on Murphy:

Irish father of Indian cardamom, rubber and pepper planting

Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Follow up

The Chicken & Egg Story

The Minister who made the now famous ‘eggs and chicken’ statement (See: Kerala: A Minister’s magic solution to food shortage) has come out with a clarification. He said some newspapers (I suppose he meant papers not owned by the Left Front) misquoted him. Unfortunately for him his Party’s General Secretary also condemned the statement. But that again could be based on ‘wrong reports’.

The ‘media mafia’ which is always for the bourgeois against the poor proletariat seem to be specializing in wrong reporting.

Now I am wondering whether there is something wrong with my eyes, ears and brain. I watched the clips of the Minister’s speech on different TV news bulletins. Did I see right, hear right and think right? Who knows?


Police woman bashing

A quo warranto writ was filed in the Kerala High Court stating that the two ministers who went to the Police Station allegedly to release the woman accused of slapping a lady constable in public (See Quo Vadis, Kerala?) have flouted the Oath of Office.. The petition has been rejected. The reported reason? The Police Department filed an affidavit stating that the ministers did not put any pressure on the police to release the accused; they went there only to meet their Party Secretary.

There certainly cannot be a law against someone meeting his boss at a Police Station or wherever. Why the boss was there is a different matter.

Also see: Savage Kerala


Globalization hits the courts too?

A Kerala Minister who is famous for announcing daily dozes of wisdom to his people has reportedly said yesterday the courts did not do justice to the State’s Education Policy because globalization is influencing the judiciary as well. He quickly added that his respect for the courts is101%.

No complaints from me because I have only 100% respect for the judiciary.

Also see: Contempt of Court - express your views


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Kerala: A Minister’s magic solution to food shortage

Kerala is facing a shortage of rice. The price of this staple food has gone up by 50%. Many reasons can be found for this unfortunate situation but the immediate provocation is that the Centre cut down the rice allocation to Kerala because the State has been lifting only a small portion of what was set apart for it in the recent years.

The State Government was aware of this reduction in the quota, but kept silent. There was a hollow confidence that they could manage without help from New Delhi. But feeding the people of a State requires planning. The market forces are beyond the control of the State. Then there are the logistics, lead time, storage, distribution.

Historically, Kerala has depended on import of rice from the neighboring States to supplement home production. Apparently, the bureaucrats are not bending over backwards to help the people’s representatives who have been insulting them. And so the mess.

But a Minister of the Kerala Government has a wonder solution to the problem. Nothing so complicated as eating more tapioca or wheat: that’s old fashioned. Forget rice, switch over to eggs and chicken meat(which are mostly imported from Tamil Nadu), says the man. Add a glass of milk for good measure. His argument has logic. Poultry is healthier than rice. Almost every household in Kerala has chickens that lay eggs; some have cows too. So there it is – food at your door steps!

Perhaps the Minister is so insulated from the people that he forgot Kerala housewives rear chickens for extra income that does not go directly to the liquor shops. In his preoccupation with matters of State he may not have thought where the eggs would come if the hen is killed and eaten. Fortunately he did not suggest slaughtering the cows also.

Don’t bother the Minister with inconvenient questions. If you do, the answer may be on the lines of Robert Blenchley. When the U-boat menace to Allied shipping became acute during World War II, the famous American comedian called a press conference stating that he had an easy solution to the problem.

The foolproof method he suggested was: heat the Atlantic Ocean to boiling point which would force the U-boats to surface. Shoot them when they come above the water level. One reporter asked how the ocean was to be boiled. The prompt answer was: those are minor details for the technicians to take care.

So don’t forget the menu – two eggs made to choice (pepper is okay with it but go easy on salt), chicken curry (check recipe books), and a glass of hot or cold milk with or without sugar depending whether you are diabetic or not.

I am sure that the Minister meant it all as a joke. I laughed anyway.


Also see: Kerala: Of monkeys and nuts

Friday, December 7, 2007

Photos: Snow clad mountains

Photos by KO Isaac. Copyright reserved.
Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see:
Photos: pristine mountain streams

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Shortchanged by ATM? Here’s what to do.

An automatic teller machine is a man made contraption. It can malfunction sometimes. The first rule in such situations is – Don’t panic.

I had a bad experience at the friendly neighborhood ATM three weeks back. Around 7 PM I punched in the amount to be withdrawn and a request for a printout. Promptly the printout came showing debit for the amount to my account, but no money. Momentarily I was a bit confused about what to do. The worry was whether I would loose the money.

Then I called the guard who was outside ad explained to him what happened. Using the telephone inside the booth he tried to contact whoever was to be contacted in such an eventuality. But – I’m sure you guessed it – the telephone didn’t work. The guard was apologetic. He suggested that I go to the branch under which the ATM came and report the matter.

I did that. Fortunately the manager (a new one and not the same official mentioned in Personal Banking: Non-service without a smile) was still there and was very cooperative, with a warm smile on his face. He told me not to worry and that the debit would be corrected. He had an assist call the customer care department and explain the problem to them. Then ‘Complaints’ asked me to answer one verification question (in this instance, my birth date). I was given a complaint number and assured that the rectification would be done within seven days.

Yesterday I found that debit entry was reversed, but on the 9th day. Good enough. At least I didn’t lose the money. I dropped in at the bank and thanked the manager. He was all smiles and said, “Any time, sir.”

I am sure that he didn’t mean another problem at the ATM.

Thank you Manager, and keep smiling. That makes a great difference to the customers.


Also see: ATM Service

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Photos: Lilies that grow in Kerala

Spider lily. Photo: AK Kepler. Public Domain

Creeping lily (Gloriosa)
Photo: AK Kepler. Public Domain

What lily is this? Looks like Easter lily, which is white.
Photo: KO Isaac. Copyright Reserved

Water lilly buds. Photo KO Isaac. Copyright Reserved.

Lotus bud. Photo: KO Isaac. Copyright Reserved.
Click on photos for enlarged view.

The photos by Kepler are actually from the Polynesian Islands. But
they grow in Kerala as well.
There are several other types of lily also in Kerala. Unfortunately
I do not have pictures of them.

Also see:

Kerala Flowers?

Karthiki captures some Olavipe flowers

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Rubaiyat: Omar Khayyam revisited

Millions of words have been written about Omar Khayyam, the great Persian poet. So, what is new? Nothing, except that I came across an interesting review of the book Omar Khayyam: Poet, Rebel, Astronomer by Hazhir Teimourian (Sutton, £20, pp.384). The review by Justin Marozzi was originally published in the Spectator and reproduced in the Deccan Chronicle.

Marozzi starts with a statement that what most people know about Omar Khayyam could be summed up in two words – the Rubaiyat. This is true in my case. My love affair with the Rubaiyat started in the early 1950s during college days in Bangalore. Someone presented me a clothbound book containing the famous translation of the Rubaiyat by Edward Fitzgerald and a Kasida (qasida).

Rubaiyat means a pentameter quatrain. Kasida is a poetic form which has pre-Islamic origin. It has been nurtured over the centuries and is still popular. Many have been translated beautifully into English.

Kasida also means a kind of Arab needlework imported into India in the 9thc AD and practiced by the women of Bengal and Bihar. I think there is a breed of Arab horses too with that name.

I loved the collection that was presented to me and read it many times over. But I never bothered to find out more about Omar Khayyam. Now, from the book review I understand that Khayyam, born at Nishapur in the north-eastern Iran in 1032, learned music, cosmology, astronomy, and logic, among other things. He created a calendar which was more accurate than Gregorian calendar.

Justin Marozzi also says that Fitzgerald’s translations of the Rubaiyat have enriched the English language with more phrases than the Bible and Shakespeare together. The review has kindled my interest in the poet and his life. I must get hold of the book by Hazhir Teimourian.

One quote from the Rubaiyat given in the review is:

Today I will shed my robe of restraint;

Let trails of red wine my white beard taint.

No more piety; I am seventy

If not dance now, when might it then be?

Well, I am seventy-four. But it is difficult to follow Khayyam’s advice about wine. Though India exports sparkling white to France and produces fairly good wines for foreign and home markets (top makes: Grover Wineyard in association with Michel Rolland of Bordeaux, Indage, Sula), for some reason the Chennai shops do not seem to stock them.

Returning to the Rubaiyat, one of my favorite stanzas is:

Oh, Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin

Beset the road I was to wander in,

Thou wilt not with Predestination round

Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

TAMAM SHUD (It is completed.)

Also see: Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Monday, December 3, 2007

Medicinal Plants: Noni (Morinda citrifolia) planting for profit?

Have you heard of Noni or Indian Mulberry that is US$3 billion business? Common names of this plant include great morinda, beach mulberry, nono, nonu, mengkudu and ach.

The plant which belongs to the Rubiaceae family is a native to India and South East Asia. It spread to Polynesian islands centuries back.

The health claims about noni are amazing. It is supposed to be good in preventing/managing diabetes, cardio-vascular problems, skin blemishes, arthritis, asthma, bone ailments, BP, migraines, AIDS, viruses and infections, impotency, malignancies, pain and hair loss. Several nations have been using noni medically for centuries.

But none of the claims have been proved scientifically so far. One reason for this could be that only in the early 1990s the West became aware of the ‘miracle’ plant. Marketing noni pulp powder in capsule form started in 1992. This was followed by noni juice which is fast gaining popularity in USA and Europe. It appears that certain herbal products do not require Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) clearance in the US. The European Union has approved noni juice as a ‘novel food’ in 2002 without endorsing the health claims.

While the US manufactures most of noni products the major portion of the raw materials come from Polynesia. Now other countries including India are also taking up noni cultivation.

Noni is a shrub that can grow to 20 feet height. Stem cutting is the normal method of propagation though seed germination is also possible. The planting distance is 10-15 feet, say, about 300 plants per acre. Grows well in sunny moist/dry sandy soil and tolerates salinity (hence perhaps the name beach mulberry), and drought. It thrives even in secondary soil.

Noni starts fruiting in 18 months and has a productive life span of 30 to 40 years. The average output is 4 to 8 kg of fruit per month per plant. Other parts of the plant are also useful. But the cultivation is mainly for the potato-sized fruits. The shrub is also effective in protecting beaches and as windbreakers. Noni farming is reportedly a highly profitable venture.

The case of noni in India presents a paradox. The natural growth has been widely destroyed because of the foul smell while the fruits ripen, and for other cultivation. So much so it is on the endangered list now. I have seen this plant in Kerala; nobody bothers about it. Now there is a concentrated effort to popularize noni planting in the country.

I believe that there are agencies that furnish free project reports and offer buy back arrangement. More details about noni planting can be obtained from:

Indian Noni Research Foundation
Research Centre
19 & 20 Bharath Nagar Annex, Medavakkam Road
Sholinganallur, Chennai - 600 119 India
e-mail : Visit :

Or you can visit the website of the World Noni Research Foundation :


Also see:

Noni the medicinal plant, a thriving business

Emu farming in India

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Photos: Bananas

Polynasian banana
Photo: AK Kepler. (Public domain)

Spider on a banana.
Photo: KO Isaac. Copyright reserved

This one grows upward. (I don't think it is edible.)
Photo: KO Isaac. Copyright reserved.

A bunch from Olavipe
Photo: Karthiki. Copyright reserved.

Also see:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Communication: Interesting jokes

We used spend holidays at mother’s house during student days. The place is on the foothills of Kerala’s High Ranges. Almost everyone in that area was into farming. Very few were educated.

Once during the Sunday sermon in the church there, the priest said that reaching heaven was like going to Kashmir. One has to struggle up a difficult path full of sharp thorns and stones and arrive at the top. Then one sees the most beautiful valley and descend, to live there. Forever.

I was bemused and a little irritated. Back home I told Appan. He smiled and said that the priest did right by presenting the point in a manner that even the least educated in the congregation could understand the concept. That was a lesson to me.

A boy on the ground in a remote African forest saw Air India’s inaugural Bombay-Lagos flight, decades back. He asked his mother what it was. The woman, who was brought up in the best cannibalistic tradition explained, ‘Son, it’s something like a lobster. You throw away the skin and eat what is inside.’ The child understood that it carried people.

Here is another illustration. In the 1960s, the ambassador of European country to a newly independent African nation was much admired and envied by the locals for his wisdom and expertise in many fields. They wished their leaders could be like the diplomat.

At a meeting of the tribal chiefs an idea was mooted that they catch hold of the ambassador and eat his brains so that they would also become wise like him. This was agreed to and promptly done.

The European country was shocked when the news reached. A cable (this was before the advent of the Internet) was immediately sent to the African nation expressing shock and threatening retaliation.

The chiefs met again. Realizing the seriousness of the situation they sent a reply cable presenting their apology and proposing ‘we suggest that if you wish to retliate, you may kindly take the brain of our ambassador to your esteemed country and eat it.’

Communication is a two way street. The listener too has a responsibility to pay careful attention to what is said and clarify doubts. Here is one about that. A journalist was filling gas on a long distance drive when he noticed an elderly Red Indian sitting in a corner. He was told that the man had incredible memory, and powers of the mind.

The journalist went to him and asked, ‘What did I have for breakfast on December 1, 1948?’ The prompt reply was, ‘Eggs’. The reporter scorned saying ‘everybody has eggs for breakfast’ and drove away.

Ten years later the journalist was passing that way again and saw the same Indian. He stopped, walked over and greeted, ‘How!’ The response came immediately, ‘Scrambled’.

The story about the sermon is true. I read the jokes somewhere, long ago.


Also see: A Tyreseller.