Monday, March 31, 2008

Kerala: Left with empty granaries

Why are the thousands of granaries in Kerala lying empty? An explosive crisis has now developed in Kuttanad, one of the two major rice growing areas of Kerala (the other is Palakkad). I explained some of the reasons for this in my post, Un-ploughed lies my land.

The immediate problem is that thousands of hectares of paddy in Kuttanad cannot be harvested in time because of shortage of labor and lack of machines. The heavy summer rains have added to the predicament.

Kerala has been facing difficulty regarding rice, its staple food, for some time now. There is an acute shortage and the prices keep rising. Imports of paddy from states like Andhra Pradesh are tapering off due to various reasons.

Local farmers who valiantly try to cultivate either their own or leased land, are in a miserable situation. Reportedly, this season at least two farmers of Kuttanad have committed suicide because they had invested heavily but could not harvest the crop in time.

Why doesn’t Kerala have essential machinery for successful agriculture? The unions (these are the people who fought against mechanization of coir industry and use of computers in offices!) wouldn’t allow them claiming that they would render agricultural labor jobless. Of course, resourceful farmers could obtain permission to use tractors and harvesting machines by properly petitioning the unions!

The ‘loss of jobs’ argument must be a joke today. According to reports, unions claimed there were 15,000 agricultural workers in the area, but only 300 have so far registered in the Collector’s list of persons available for harvesting.

Now frantic efforts are on to get about 250 harvesting machines! Most Keralites would happily drive a tractor but wouldn’t like to get their feet dirtied in the slime of the paddy fields. So they look elsewhere for jobs.

In the 1950s Lambert Mascarenhas published a lovely novel about Goa‘Sorrowing Lies My Land’. That title seems appropriate to today’s Kerala. Tobias, the protagonist in the book, says. “Husbands and sons must roam the world over in search of work so that they can send money home to keep their families alive.”

Even as I write this, unharvested paddy is sprouting to waste in the Kuttanad fields.


The photo (copyright reserved) of the granary (ara)in our tharavad is by me. Click on it for larger view.

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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The romance of railways

I find this public domain picture of manpowered railway inspection trolley from Wikimedia Commons fascinating. It was taken in the North West Frontier Province circa 1903. Even today, a century later, you can see the same scene except for the Western clothes, all over India. What intrigued me was why this simple vehicle has not been mechanized even in the 21st century.

Last night at a dinner party I met an old friend who retired as General Manager of Southern Railway. He gave me the answer. They do have motorized inspection trolleys. But those are classified as ‘trains’. To use them on the tracks other scheduled trains have to be stopped and that is a complicated business. Push trolleys do not have this problem. They are light and can be taken off the tracks to allow trains to pass.

The former GM did not say this, but I think that another reason could be to retain the labor strength. The worker’s unions are not likely to agree to any manpower reduction. Lalu’s management miracle is filling the railway coffers so why cut corners?

There is a romance about trains, like ships, which is something that the airplanes lack, for whatever reason. This is particularly so in the case of the Indian Railways. So much has been written about this massive organization, its historic trains and the committed people who man them.

Given below are two links related to the subject. You are likely to find the articles interesting.


Also see: Travel: A round trip by train

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Health: Eye care, conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is an eye problem that usually surfaces with the onset of summer. It is also called ‘sore eye’, ‘red eye’ and ‘pink eye’. The condition is an inflammation of the tissue known as conjunctiva that lines the inside of the eyelid. The common cause is viral or bacterial infection. The offending organism travels though the air and spreads by body contact.

The usual symptoms include redness of the eye, watering from the eye, blurring of vision, discharge from the eye and increase in sensitivity to light. Some of these indications and irritation could be caused also by allergic conditions and by contact with irritants like chemicals.

Conjunctivitis normally lasts about a week. It is highly contagious and affected persons are advised to stay at home till the problem subsides. Wearing dark glasses during an attack of conjunctivitis is recommended because it would reduce the glare and make the patient feel more comfortable. However there is hardly any chance of catching the disease by looking at the eyes of a person who has conjunctivitis.

Hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of conjunctivitis. A person with conjunctivitis should avoid touching his eyes and always keep his hands clean. Do not shake hands. Avoid body contacts. Do not share towels, soap, dresses, cosmetics etc.

If a person contacts conjunctivitis, other members of the family should use preventive eye drops suggested by a competent doctor to protect themselves from the infection.

And most important – (1) do not try self medication or wait out seven days for conjunctivitis to run its course, (2) do not depend on medication suggested by the local chemist, and, (3) always consult a doctor and follow his instruction.

Please understand that this is only a layman’s understanding of conjunctivitis. It is posted as a reminder that the season for conjunctivitis is on so that you would be alert to the problem.

Also see:
Health: Slipped Disc (Prolapsed Disc)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kerala Architechture: Thekkanattu Parayil Heritage Home

Two more pictures of a Kerala Heritage Home.
Photos: TP (Copyright reserved).
Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see:

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Christians all over the world celebrate Easter with great festivities. When is Easter? I think it is the only Christian festival that is based on the stars. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This can happen on any date from March 22 to April 25

Aren’t these Easter eggs beautiful? I think that historically these delicacies were not part of Malabar (Kerala) Christian culture. We had never heard of Easter eggs during my childhood. But slowly they made the scene and today Easter celebrations are not complete without them. Well, if Valentine’s Day can be marketed in India, why not Easter eggs.
Easter signifies the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It was the fulfillment of His mission to earth. “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”
What is the significance of Easter eggs? It seems that in many ancient communities egg was a symbol of new life and immortality. So it became an icon of the eternal life offered through resurrection.
I don’t think the Easter bunny has any religious significance.
Happy Easter.

Also see: Memories: Passion Week, half a century back

Public Domain images from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 21, 2008

Memories: Passion Week, half a century back

Try to get up as late as possible to face the Good Friday of stringent fasting. Everyone who has received First Holy Communion has to observe it, till the age of 60. Just one meal, lunch, on the day. No meat or fish for the whole of Lent.

One saving factor was the INRI Appam from the previous night. Now, this Appam is made from a special recipe, only on Maundy Thursday, for the solemn dinner. The head of the house would cut the Appam after prayers and hand over a piece to each member of the family, symbolic of the Last Supper.

The INRI Appam is light brown bread made from roasted rice flour and urad dal and served with a sweet sauce made from coconut milk and jagerry, thick and brown. In Western Christianity Holy Cross Buns are used in its place.

Several of these Appams would be made. Those to be served on the table, distributed to the nearby Christian families, and given to the church would have crosses on them. These were made with strips from the coconut leaves blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. (Incidentally, every adult male member of the Parayil Family was given a full tender coconut frond, almost similar to the one for the priest, while the others had to be satisfied with one or two individual leaves.)

On Good Friday morning one was permitted to have ‘limited’ quantities of Appam and sauce. The limit was flexible, but nowhere near full breakfast. Strangely, one invariably felt hungrier on Good Friday than on other mornings. The leftover Appams were cut into thin square pieces, crisp fried and stored. That was a favorite and the containers emptied fast.

No mass on Good Fridays. Long sessions of Bible reading, till lunch. There used to be one curry everyone looked forward to. The main ingredient was tender cashew kernels. The servants were experts at removing the kernels unbroken from the soft green nuts. The recipe also included drumsticks and other vegetables. Delicious!

Then came the most tedious part of the day – the long church service in the afternoon. The ritual included swallowing ‘bitter juice’, a concoction made from some leaves. Nothing could be more bitter. That is symbolic of what the soldiers gave Jesus to quench His thirst. But then nothing lasts forever. Back home, an early dinner of ‘limited’ quantity of Appam and sauce, and off to bed.

Holy Saturday was normally quiet, uneventful, except for us, in 1959. Appan. died that evening. The priests wore colorful vestments instead of the traditional black for the funeral, because it was held on Easter Sunday.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Coconut photos: From sprouts to saplings to yielding trees

The plant on the left seems to be of ball nut tree.

Click on photos for enlarged view.
Photo credits
1, 2 & 5 by AK Kepler, from the Polynesian Islands.
Believed to be in the Public Domain.
3 & 4 by Karthiki, taken at Olavipe. Copyright reserved.

Also see:

Kerala: More on coconuts

Kerala: Of monkeys and nuts

Tender coconuts: For class distinction to fighting hangovers

World Coconut Day: Photo of piggyback coconut sapling

Monday, March 17, 2008

Vedas, Syrian Christians – Comments on a comment

I don’t know how many people would be interested in reading this potentially controversial post. Initially I thought of ignoring the only comment on my post Vedas, Syrian Christians but finally decided to respond, for the matter of record.

The visitor begins his lengthy comment thus: “For a start, Wikipedia is not a serious reference. We academics discourage it as a source as the information about any topic is not refereed for authenticity.”

This reminded me of a story about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Once, on reaching Paris, he took a cab to his hotel. The driver told him that it was an honor to have the creator of Sherlock Holmes as his passenger. Sir Arthur was impressed and started thinking of the process of deduction by which the driver had found his identity. Then he asked the driver and the man replied, “The name is written on your box.”

Wikipedia itself mentions its status as reference source. See But the encyclopedia can be used effectively sometimes to quickly locate and verify genuine sources. Anyway, my Blog posts are not dissertations for Masters but I do take care not to include wrong information.

Was the man who made the comment piqued by my statement that the Vedas existed for long in oral tradition before being reduced to writing? He says that the same was the case with the Bible. Wonder if he has come across this piece: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. That is a Christian reading. What is important is the ‘word’ – written or spoken.

It is good to know that the visitor, his father and several others known to him or he read about, faced no problems in learning English. That information is directly linked to the subject. But were there restrictions on Pundits learning English elsewhere?

Appan.’s first cousin PV Mathew Tharakan was scholarly in Sanskrit and Malayalam, good at English, and a patron of Carnatic music. (Obviously, the writ of the Church didn’t run in certain quarters.) He spent the last 15 years of his life in creating a new translation of Shakuntalam but being a perfectionist, couldn’t cover much ground.

A tail piece. Today’s Deccan Chronicle carries a report that according to a senior scientist, Gajiwala Kalpesh, Sanskrit can be an effective tool for evaluating speech disorders. This is because of the orderly and scientific arrangement of alphabets in the language.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sports scan

[Blog activity had to be suspended temporarily due to a bad cold. Chennai weather – hot and cold, rain and sunshine – is to be blamed I suppose. A doctor joke – if you don’t treat a cold it will take 7 days to go away. But if you consult a doctor and get proper treatment it will disappear in just 1 week!]

The euphoria of the two great cricket victories – under 19 World Cup and CB Series in Australia – vanished with the news that India failed to qualify for Olympic hockey. Well, it has been on the cards for some time, because of the way the game was being managed. Nevertheless, failing to make the grade has come as a shock.

Why doesn’t KPS Gill resign as President of the Indian Hockey Federation? Is he taking a clue from Musharraf from across the border? The latter once said ‘Pakistan needs me’. Gill seems convinced that India hockey requires his services to rebuild and regain the lost glory.

Well, so much for ‘officers and gentlemen’.

After India lost the Olympic Hockey Gold in 1960 I wrote an article about a plan for restructuring Indian hockey. Sport & Pastime (a great magazine which just stopped publishing) carried it prominently. Wonder if The Hindu archives would have a copy so that I can see what I wrote nearly 50 years back and how relevant it is today.

Clouds are over the tennis courts too. But don’t blame the officials. The Bangalore open went off successfully. I don’t think anyone missed Sania Mirza. She lost without even playing. Whoever advised her pull out of the tournament did a disservice to her and the country.

The Davis Cup mess is unpardonable. There is no point sulking because Paes has been doing a great job for India. What right has a player who once opted out of the Indian team to revolt against the captain. He has set a bad example to the junior players.

Indian approach to sports seems to be highly subjective. The reaction of a former Indian Davis Cup player and non playing captain to Prakash Amritraj being ticked off by the captain for late night outing was something like this – the boy is the son of the great Vijay.

Of course India is proud of Vijay who is one of the greatest tennis players the country has produced. But that doesn’t mean his son should not conform to team discipline.


Also see: Ramanathan Krishnan: India’s Tennis Legend.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nostalgia: Bangalore again

(1924 map of Bangalore)

Cities don’t grow old. They change, sometimes subtly, often drastically. When such transformation affects the character of a place, something is lost forever. For better or for worse.

Has that happened to Bangalore? In my opinion, not yet. My last few trips to this place that I love, were rush in, rush out affairs. But this time (Feb. 21-25) I went with just one agenda – look for the old Bangalore in the metropolis that is bursting at the seams today.

Most of my time was lost in traffic snarls and half my plans went awry. Occasionally the landmarks that I was looking for were missed. They were either obliterated, or masked by new structures around.

I would have passed by the old St. Joseph’s College Hostel building without noticing it if the driver hadn’t pointed out from flyover connecting KR Road to Lal Baugh Road. I couldn’t locate my friend Sushil’s house near that. The Cash Pharmacy has been demolished and a new construction is on at that site. Does anyone remember the kind hearted Dr. Madhavan?

Opera House is still there, though I heard that it is marked for demolition. Many parts of the city have trees and gardens and flowers even now. The Cubbon Park has lost some area but the bulk of it remains. Unfortunately it is not well maintained. Wonder if the golf greens are still there; forgot to check. Didn’t get time to visit the Lal Baugh Gardens.

During my college days there was a man at the South Parade (MG Road) – Brigade Road corner selling old books and comics. Some years back I found a younger man, I think the son, carrying on the business. Wonder if it is there now. Wanted to visit Rakhra’s, the sports goods people on Commercial Street but couldn’t make it. Mr. Rakhra used to get hockey goalkeeper kit specially made for me according to my design.

One place which has maintained the ambiance is Taj West End. This hotel set in about 20 acres of gardens is one of the finest I have come across. My association with it started in 1951. My maternal uncle Jose Kallivayalil used to stay there on his frequent visits to Bangalore. I never missed an opportunity to stuff myself at the West End on his account. Those days Spencers were running the hotel. I think Taj took over in the 1980s.

Later on, during my career, I have been a guest there several times. This time too I went there. Spent a couple of hours in the bandstand style Blue Bar savoring the atmosphere and the lovely weather. Thank you Taj, for maintaining the character of the West End.

I plan to go back to Bangalore for another visit next month, or in May.

(Old photo of Lady Curzon Hospital)

Images from Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain. Click on map for enlarged view.
Also see:
Bangalore memories
Hockey days in Bangalore
Bangalore Memories: Cricket, hockey and the tragedy of Len Dial
Bangalore: Of a club, a park and a Chief Secretary couple

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Vedas, Syrian Christians

I had started writing this about eight months back, but somehow missed completing it and publishing. What prompted me to take up the subject was a report in the New Indian Express of June 22, 2007, which contained a statement that Vedic Pundits were not permitted to learn English

Many of you, I am sure, know more about the Vedas than I do. Nevertheless, a brief note on the basics. The four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda - are the primary Sacred texts of Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are also greatly influenced by these scriptures.

There is a difference though. Hinduism considers that the Vedas (which means knowledge) are not human compositions but Wisdom that was ‘struti’ (heard). In other words they are Revealed Wisdom. The other religions mentioned above do not seem to concede the divine origin of the Vedas.

Different views are seen about the period when the Vedas came into existence. Wikipedia quotes Radhakrishnan and Moore: “The Vedic Period is dimmed by obscurity, but it may be placed between 2500 and 600 B.C.” It seems to be generally accepted that the Vedas were present in oral tradition long before they were reduced to writing.

The Vedic chants were always in Sanskrit. Therefore, the Pundits had no need to learn English. Whether there was a specific ban on them studying the foreign language/s is not very clear.

The Syrian Christians (Catholic denomination) of Kerala were discouraged or banned in the 19c from learning English because it was, at that time, considered by the Church hierarchy to be the language of the Protestants. Another restriction for this community during the same period related to Carnatic music because it invoked Hindu gods!

But historically, the theology and philosophy of the Syrian Christian community of Kerala had a strong root that could be traced to the Vedas. There was no conflict, That was not surprising. According to the great scholar, Father Bede Griffiths of Kurisumala fame, the Vedanthas are the greatest source of natural theology.

Also see:
History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

Public Domain image of Rigveda from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Can Tantric power kill humans?

I missed the live coverage of the strange event on TV on Monday, but saw a report in the print media. It was, according to the news item, a rather unique performance – one man was trying to kill another who willingly offered himself as the potential victim. All in full media glare.

The unusual episode started when a former Chief Minister of a North Indian State claimed that someone was trying to kill her through tantric powers. In a TV Chanel discussion on the matter, a tantri asserted that a person could be killed in that manner. The Chairman of Rationalist International who was also present challenged the tantri to prove his contention. The tantri made a five minutes trial on the stage. That didn’t succeed.

More elaborate rituals were arranged. The procedure started at 10.45 in the night. Lights and cameras on. The rationalist was made to sit in front of the ‘homakunda’ and the trantri along with his support cast went to work.

The most fearsome procedures were used. I supposed it would have been like one of those horror movies. This went on for one and a half hours. The rationalist was still unharmed. The tantri finally accepted defeat.

What was all this about? A publicity stunt? It is generally accepted that Adharva can be effectively used for good or for bad. What did the tantri prove here? Either he didn’t know the appropriate mantras and tantras, or tantric power cannot kill a man.

But what I find intriguing is whether the laws of the country allow such demonstrations. Here was an attempt to kill on the one hand and a suicidal submission to the process on the other.

What would have happened if the tantri had succeeded?

Also see:
Three predictions.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nostalgia: A 58 years old table tennis table

This table tennis table at Olavipe was made in early 1950. It could be possibly one of the earliest at a private residence in Kerala and one of the oldest still in use. Now the fourth generation is beginning to play on it.

In Death of a Priest Turned Layman. I had described about the TT table at our family’s Private Oratory (exclusive church - see A Kerala Tharavad.). That was where my two directly younger brothers, Mathew and Joe, and I learned the game.

Then we got our own table. After the wedding of our elder sister Mariamma (Mrs. Mathew Alapatt) in November 1949, the many wooden planks used for temporary tables were stashed away in the ‘thadi pura’ (timber shed). One of us thought of using a few of them for a TT table and Appan. agreed.

Enter Paramu, one of our regular carpenters. This short, fair and talkative chap was bored with run of the mill work. He loved a challenge, new ideas that he could transform into near perfect creations in wood. He took the measurements of the table at the church (I don’t remember from where that one was acquired) and went to work.

A couple of months later, after listening for hours to Paramu stories, we had the table. From then on, every available minute was spent playing TT. Mathew and Joe were very good and did well in State level tournaments. Later they became recognized players at Loyola College, Madras (Chennai).

Mathew had an attacking game and could hit effectively on both flanks. That pushed me into a defensive mode. Joe played an all-round game. We were inspired by the Indian tour of Victor Barna (five times World Champion) and Richard Bergmann (four times World Champion).

I think that was prior to the 1952 World Championships which was held for the first time in Asia, at Bombay. Appropriately, Hiroji Satoh of Japan won the men’s singles at that tournament ending the years of European (read Hungarian) domination of the game.

'Pings’ and ‘pongs’ were part of the sounds of our home for years. Incidentally, when the game was invented in the late 19c by the British, it was known as table tennis. Later, for a while, the label Ping Pong was used. It reverted to the original name when the Table Tennis Association was formed in England in 1926.

Now serious games on our table are rare. That is why it is kept in an outside shed with sand floor. But our grandchildren are growing up and whenever they visit Olavipe the pings and pongs would be back again.


Photos: Table by me; it may be freely used by anyone provided that the caption ‘Table Tennis (or TT) table at Olavipe’ is given. Image of stamp is from Wikimedia Commons; it is in the Public Domain.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu for modern times

Site specific nalukettu houses for modern living can be certainly designed by a competent architect. Nalukettu, in its original concept, was not meant as stand alone living quarters. It was usually part of a large house and meant for the day use of women and children.

Old ‘tharavads’ were large structures with several rooms. Each family unit (in the case of joint families) had its own quarters (usually a room or two) which were not self contained. The ladies had to necessarily come to the nalukettu for access to the kitchen and other connected facilities. This led to better interaction between the members of the larger family group.

A bit of nostalgia here. In my childhood, when Appan. was in the house the evening prayers were in the prayer room. Otherwise Ammachi (see Oru Desathinte Amma.) and the children said them in the nalukettu.

Shortly after that was dinner. Sometimes Ammachi gave the small children food in the nalukettu. She would roll rice and curries into small balls and mouth feed each one. Food never tasted better and we ended up eating more than we would have on the dining table. Often Ammachi would tell us stories, or sing.

One advantage of nalukettu was that the ladies could keep an eye on what was happening in the‘puras’ (outhouses, each for a specific purpose, like ‘urappura’ for pounding rice) and the kitchen. They could also see the gatehouses and visitors coming in.

Today’s needs are different of course. I suppose a good architect would, before starting work on a house design, study the living habits and requirements of the family concerned. Mr. Laurie Baker, the famous architect (see Laurie Baker - A Tribute.) once told me that his professor used to accept about six assignments a year for designing homes. He would spend considerable time at the clients' residence to study their lifestyle.

I assume that the per square foot construction cost of nalukettu would not be any more than that of other types of houses. But the land value of the ‘nadumuttam’ (inner courtyard) also has to be taken into account while estimating the total outlay.

I am putting off other observations on nalukettu to another post which I plan to do with a rough layman’s design (I am no architect); otherwise this post would become too long. I started writing this as a response to comments on my writings on Kerala architecture. Some of them are listed below:
Kerala architecture: Verandas, corridors of a nalukettu house

Kerala architecture: Mansion of the Marquises

Kerala architecture – ‘Ara’ in heritage homes

Kerala architecture: More on nalukettu
Kerala Architecture: Interiors
Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu
Kerala Architecture: Prayer room of a heritage home
Kerala heritage home: grill-work
Kerala Architecture - Olavipe Heritage Home
Lions that guard Thekkanattu Parayil
The House That Grandfather Built.
Interior of a heritage home.
OLAVIPE: Heritage Home of Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans.

Kerala Architecture: Another Parayil heritage home