Thursday, May 29, 2008

Death of a nurse

I am back at my native village, Olavipe. The news that greeted me on arrival on the 23rd of this month was a sad one. Nurse Elizabeth of the nearby Community Health Center had died at the age of 52. She had been in good health apparently, but suddenly developed some discomfort and breathed her last in a hospital the next day.

Everybody here has only nice things to say about Elizabeth. Many households in the village had benefited from the healing touch of this kindhearted lady. She was available to provide medical aid to the needy any time of the night or day. And she never took money for the humane service she rendered.

When Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) was sick, in 1995, Elizabeth was of much assistance. We gratefully remember her help.

She will be greatly missed by the entire village. The general expectation is that Elizabeth’s daughter who would be completing her nursing studies in a few months would step into her mother’s shoes.

A good nurse, I should think, is as much a product of formal studies as aptitude. She would have an inherent inner quality from which comes compassion and dedication.

A great nurse, Mother Teresa, used to distribute to her visitors an yellow slip printed with the following words:

“The fruit of Silence is Prayer

The fruit of Prayer is Faith

The fruit of Faith is Love

The fruit of Love is Service

The fruit of Service is Peace.”

May Elizabeth’s soul rest in peace.


Note: The source of the anecdote about Mother Teresa is FAITH AND COMPASSION, The Life and Work of Mother Teresa. Raghu Rai & Navin Chawla. Element Books, Shaftsbury, Dorset. 1996.

Also see: Old man of the fields

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tackling the oil crisis

Where is the continuing escalation of oil prices taking us? Are the politicians, government and the people doing enough to tackle the crisis?

Let us take a look at the reality. India imports 70% of its oil requirements. The crude price at $135 per barrel today is more than double what it was a year ago. The prediction is that the prices may further increase to $150-200 during the current year. Last year the combined loss of oil companies because of crude price increase was over Rs.77000 crores. This year the revenue loss may touch a whopping Rs.200000 crores.

Without increasing the price of petroleum products, the oil companies may not be able to survive. At the same time a hike in prices would escalate inflation rate. No doubt that India is caught in a quagmire.

What is to be done?

The first step is to stop politicizing the oil issue. Whenever there is a price increase for petroleum products, whichever party is in the opposition switch to protest mode. But in the states ruled by them, the sales tax is not moderated when the gas bill goes up. This results in a windfall to the states – unbudgeted income! Reportedly, in 2006-07 the combined earnings of the states on petroleum products were Rs.62000 crores. It is necessary to evolve a basis for rationalizing sales tax, excise, and import duties.

Another urgent step the Central and state governments, and the oil companies should undertake is an effective awareness program. Apart from passing protests against price hikes, how many citizens take the oil situation seriously and economize the use of petroleum products?

What are the ways by which we can reduce oil consumption? The oft-repeated suggestions of avoiding unnecessary travel, and organizing car pools are definitely effective. But there is more that can be done:

  1. Stop or reduce the use of air-conditioning on vehicles. The citizens should be willing to forgo some small comforts in the interest of the nation
  2. Improved driving techniques can save fuel. Two simple examples – (a) cold starting a vehicle in reverse consumes more fuel. Park the car front forward at night, and (b) maintaining a steady pace on highways instead of ‘speed and brake’ pattern saves fuel. There is much more.
  3. Traffic jams result in idling waste. Switch off the engine if you have to stop for more than a couple of minutes. Also, the concerned authorities should give more attention to streamlining the traffic.
  4. Good road surface increases fuel efficiency. Single lane roads, unscientific speed breakers and potholes result in vehicles guzzling up gas.
  5. At home, reduce the use of cooking gas. On each cylinder, the oil firms are absorbing Rs.306.
  6. Reduce petroleum based power production.

Can you add some more suggestions?


Also see:

Indo-US nuclear agreement

123 Go - BY THE BOOK

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gardening: Hibiscus, the Queen of Shrubs

Hibiscus is among the most stunning flowers in the world. Originally a native of Asia, it has spread to many countries. There are numerous varieties of hibiscus, with flowers of many hues, and petal arrangements like single, double and curlers which do not open fully. The size of the blooms can be anywhere from 2” to 10” in diameter.

The plant can be propagated from cuttings or seeds. Depending on the type, they grow from one foot height to shrubs and even trees. They are planted in gardens, as hedges, and for landscaping. A planned grove of hibiscus with flowers of different colors is an enchanting sight.

Almost all parts of hibiscus are useful. They have several medicinal properties. The famous karkade or hibiscus tea is considered invigorating. Excellent jams and squashes can be made from the flowers. Dried hibiscus flowers are delicacies in some countries. A shampoo made by wet grinding the flowers is considered to be very good for the hair

and cooling the head. The blooms can also be used for polishing shoes; perhaps that is the reason for the name ‘shoe flower’.

Some of the grass skirts the Polynesian ladies wear are made of the fibers obtained from the bark of the hibiscus plants. Hibiscus roots too have medicinal properties and are believed to cure different ailments.

Wouldn’t you like to grow these beauties? It is simple. Hibiscus grows best in easy draining soil with plenty of sunlight. Once the plant catches on hardly any care is required. Seasonal pruning can increase the number of flowers.


Also see: Health, Gardening: Periwinkle, a wonder plant

Monday, May 19, 2008

VP Ramachandran (VPR) – the ‘uneducated’ doyen of Indian journalists

How does one become a media person? A good university degree preferably in Literature, and a post graduate course in mass communication from a reputed school? Well, for VP Ramachandran (VPR), the eminent journalist, the story was different. The first course in journalism he attended was the one he taught as Director of Kerala Press Academy! He scaled great heights in India’s English language press with only high school as basic qualification. The rest he learned by himself.

Starting out as a typist with Associated Press of India (API), a subsidiary of Reuters, VPR became an editorial assistant in 1947 and later, sub-editor. By then API had become Press Trust of India (PTI). 1954 saw VPR covering elections in Punjab and then the Parliament.

A major break for him came in 1956. At the age of 32 he was posted as foreign correspondent to Lahore. After five years there he was sent to cover the India – China Border War in 1962.

The next assignment was as special correspondent with accreditation to the government, a beat that included the PMO, Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries. He traveled with the President and Prime Minister to various countries, covered Pre-Summit Meetings of Foreign Ministers, and many international conferences including Non-Aligned Summit.

Around this time VPR was considered to be close to Indira Gandhi. Many were jealous of his power and position. In 1976 a rumor was floated that he was against the emergency. Indira Gandhi ordered United News of India (UNI), to which VPR had shifted in 1964, to bundle him out of Delhi. UNI sent him to remote Ranchi as Industrial Correspondent.

That was the greatest test of the man’s journalistic capabilities. He found news where none was expected to exist. The stories he filed, particularly about the steel mills and coal fields, were eagerly picked up by national newspapers and All India Radio. After the emergency he was back in Delhi.

During his years in the capital, VPR was also Secretary of Delhi Union of Journalists, Member of the Central Accreditation Committee for Journalists, General Secretary of the Press Club of India twice, and President of Delhi Malayalee Association.

Then it was back home to Kerala. In VPR’s own words, ‘I did not like the political atmosphere in Delhi. Political parties functioned in clicks and groups and even journalists became part of one group or another. There was no scope for honest reporting.’

After a short stint as Editor, Mathrubhumi, the State Government appointed him Director of Kerala Press Academy’s Institute of Communication. Later he was made Chairman of the Academy for two terms, the maximum permitted by the rules. Even now he takes a couple of classes every month.

Last month we celebrated VPR’s 84th birthday at the Suburban Club, Cochin. He has been evading the oft repeated request to write his memoirs. The reason – he feels that it might hurt some people.

VPR is a man who commands respect and love.


Also see: Communication: Interesting jokes

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kerala Photos: Reflections on water 2

Photo from Olavipe. (Copyright AT)
Click on image for enlarged view.

Also see:

Kerala photos: Reflections on water

Friday, May 16, 2008

How do paths get formed?

Babu George has given the following comment on my post Kerala photos: Village paths ‘One of my research interests ever has been the question of how 'paths' get formed. Who was that 'innovator' that treaded this path first? Given that paths are rarely straight lines even when there is a plain land between two places, what are the complex creative human urges behind the formation of a particular path? How does a vague and tentative path marked out by the first mover go through the approvals and disapprovals of the rest of the society and get its final shape?’

I consider this an interesting question. A man walks over a piece of land from one point to another. Some others follow the same route. Why? The first few who pass that way could not possibly leave a discernible track. But more footprints fall on the same route and a trail emerges.

Why do all those people take the same path? A few years ago there was, if I remember right, a relevant decision by the Kerala High Court in an easement right case. The ruling was that people tend to take the shortest route while walking on open land and that by itself does not vest any particular right on the users. This could mean that paths are formed at the convenience of the commuters.

Sometimes even on vacant ground one finds bends in a path. See the photograph (Copyright TP) below

You can see the path curving in the foreground. The reason is obvious. The way has to thread through the two coconut palms. Perhaps it was a straight line before the trees were planted. If the palms die out or are removed, will the curve still remain? It would, I think; people have a tendency to follow a set pattern.

On undulated surface how would a walkway emerge? Here also, would the convenience aspect prevail? Avoid the boulders and the steep climbs wherever possible? Compromise between the effort of climbing and the time factor would perhaps decide the trail.

According to me, the subject is fascinating. I hope that Babu George goes ahead with his research and in course of time we would have definitive answers.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A tribute to the great singer, Neyyattinkara Vasudevan

Photo acknowledgment::

One evening in 1988 I was sitting on the terrace when my wife Annie called me and said, ‘There is someone singing on the TV. He’s even better than (she gave the name of a famous singer)’

I rushed to the TV and learned that the performer was Neyyattinkara Vasudevan. I had not heard that name before obviously because of my limited contact with Carnatic music. But from that day onwards I never missed an opportunity to listen to the divinely gifted singer.

There were a couple of movies with the story line of a singer from a backward community scaling great heights in Carnatic music and the problems he had to face. Perhaps it was Neyyatinkara Vasudevan that the script writers had in mind.

Vasudevan was born in 1940 at Neyyatinkara, Trivandrum District. His father was a daily wage worker, but had an immense love for music which the son inherited. After the boy finished school he was sent to the Swathi Thirunal Music College in Trivandrum. He was fortunate to have a set of eminent teachers headed by the great Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer.

After passing Ganabhushanam and Sangeetha Vidwan, Vasudevan had training under Ramnad Krishnan in Chennai. Then the student became guru. He joined the teaching staff of RLV College of Music in Tripunithura. Many of his disciples are famous musicians today.

Vasudevan was with Akashvani for twenty-five years. He gave many performances in different parts of the world. Several honors were bestowed upon him. These included Padmasree (2004).

But I would consider Neyyattinkara Vasudevan becoming the first non-Brahmin to give a concert at the Navarathri Mandapam in Trivandrum is of special significance.

Neyyattinkara Vasudevan will not sing again. At the age of 68, he passed away yesterday afternoon at Trivandrum. His immortal music will of course live on.


For more details on Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, please see the website of Sreevalsan J. Menon, one of his eminent disciples:

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another strange flower

I took the following photograph (copyright reserved) at Peermade, Kerala, earlier this month.

The plant which belongs to the banana (musa) family is locally known as malavazha, kalluvazha and kattuvazha. Common names also include Sabbajaya, Wild plantain and Indian bead. From what I have learned from an internet search, the botanical name is Ensete superba (Roxb) Cheesman. (Musa superba Roxb) The plant which grows to a height of about four meters is a native of the Western Ghats. In Ayurveda it is considered to have several medicinal properties.


Also see: Amorphophallus, a medicinal plant with unique flower

Monday, May 12, 2008

Photos: Olavipe blooms

Photos (copyright reserved) by me .
Click on them for enlarged view.
Also see:

Flowers: Olavipe blooms

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Malayalam Cinema: Manjil Virinja Pookkal and melody maker Jerry Amaldev

Remember the 1980 hit movie Manjil Virinja Pookkal (Flowers that bloomed in the snow)? It was on TV on Friday and I sat down with great anticipation to watch it once more.

Frankly, it was a disappointment. The dated dress and hairstyle seemed out of place. Then there was the hero Shankar going around polluting the pristine locale with dark emission from a diesel Jeep and littering the place with wrappers of toffees to which the character he portrayed seemed addicted for no particular reason. But to be fair, the standards were different three decades back. The redeeming features of the movie on the revisit were the impact of Poornima Jayaram and the enchanting melodies.

The producer, Navodaya Appachan took the bold and historic step of introducing four new faces in Manjil Virinja Pookkal – Shankar, Poornima Jayaram, Mohanlal as the villain and Jerry Amaldev as music director. Shankar fizzled out. Poornima Jayaram left the scene after her marriage. Mohanlal of course became a mega star.

But Jerry Amaldev was the first among them to take off. In his debut year he won the State Award for the best music director. That was followed by a series of movies in which almost every song was a hit. People loved them, looked forward eagerly for more.

Jerry had arrived on the cinema scene eminently qualified. He had a Bachelors in Music, and Masters in Composition from Cornell University. He taught music in Queens College, New York, Stella Maris College and American International School in Chennai. And he had done five years of work under the maestro Naushad.

The great creations of this music genius include Mizhiyoram, Manjani kompil, Ayiram kannumai, Alorungi arangorungi, Kannodu kannoram nee kani malar alle. There are many more. Even as his melodies were making the waves Jerry Amaldev suddenly fell from grace. The reason? I believe that an innocent comment by him about a great singer was misunderstood. It is all so sad.

Now Jerry is the music master at Choice School, Cochin. He also composes Christian devotional songs. He was once in a seminary studying for priesthood before realizing that music was his call.

Let us hope that Jerry would make a comeback to cinema music.


Also see:

Malayalam songs: Lyrics

Malayalam cinema: Random thoughts

A Malayalam cinema and its lyrics.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Caste Wall Story

Have you been following the ‘caste wall’ case in Uthapuram village near Madurai, Tamil Nadu? According to the media this is what happened: On May 6, the government authorities opened a passage through the wall that separated the Dalit and Pillaimar (higher to Dalits on the caste scale) sections of the village.

In protest the 500 odd Pillaimar families left their homes and moved to live in the open on the nearby hills. They claim that they had built the wall on their patta land for protection after a clash in 1989 which resulted in the death of six people and torching of several houses. They refuse to come back to the village unless the government establishes a full fledged police station there, grants compensation for the houses destroyed in the 1989 clashes and allots them a plot of land to build a temple.

There are several legal, moral and political angles to this stand off. The Pillaimars blame the Marxists for inciting the Dalits. The leftists on the other hand claim that the wall was one of shame that perpetuated untouchability. CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat rushed to the spot to rally the Dalits. The non-Dalit Hindus were quick to support the Pillaimars.

Which group has more votes? Would that be the basis on which the problem is finally sorted out?

Now, a shift of scene from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. My village has never known a caste or religious conflict. The population consists mainly of Hindus (high caste, backward class and scheduled caste) and Christians (high caste and scheduled caste). There are three temples and three churches (all Syrian Christian) within a mile radius of my home.

The first temple belonged to upper caste Hindus of course. With the Temple Entry Proclamation by the Maharaja of Travancore in 1936, lower castes could also enter the temple, but always had to be contented with backseats. The Ezhavas (Backward Class) built a place of worship of their own, in which the Scheduled Caste Pulayas hardly had any role. Well, ten years back the Pulayas built their own temple.

The Catholic Church played it smart. It consecrated the newest church to St. Martin de Porres who is the patron of backward people and announced that it was mainly meant for the Pulaya converts. Well, a couple of them are on the Parish Council. No Latin church, since that community doesn’t have a presence in the area.

Each community now has its own place of worship and thing to do. No need for inter caste clashes. That the Marxists have infiltrated into all these religious places is another matter.

Is this the answer to what seems to the never ending communal/caste conflicts in India? ‘Unity in diversity’?

What do you think?


Also see:

Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

Kumaran, son of Kuruppan

Cross posted to Articles By Abraham Tharakan

Friday, May 9, 2008

Photos: Flowers from Peermade

In Travel: Mist covers the mountain tops I had mentioned about the beautiful flowers of Peermade. Here are some pictures I took at Glenrock, Mr. Michael Kallivayalil's residence.

Copyright reserved. Click on images for enlarged view.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Travel: Mist covers the mountain tops

Last week I was at Peermade again. This quite little hill station along National Highway 220 in Kerala was once the summer retreat of the Travancore Royal Family. It is famous for its pleasant climate all through the year, beautiful scenery and flowers.

Peermade is also a place of many childhood memories for me – the grass covered hills against the backdrop of the mountains, clusters of guava trees that grew wild, trucks of the Motor Transport Company carrying supplies to the plantations scattered over the area, trekking paths, waterfalls ands lakes. It has not changed much over the decades.

At 1000ms above sea level, Peermade is still an ideal holiday destination. Go for long walks in the tea estates and mountain tracks, picnics, climb the mist covered Amritamedu the second highest peak in South India. Take a dip in 'Madamma (White Lady) Kulam' ( (pond) north of the peak; that was a favorite pastime with the wives of British planters. There is a story that sometimes Amrit, the elixir of life, floats down to the pool with the waterfall that fills it.

Golf if you like, at the Peermade Club. Visit the 18c church that stands proudly amidst cypress trees at Pallikunnu; history lies buried in the graveyard that is the final resting place of several Englishmen. Pay respects at the tomb of the Sufi saint, Peer Mohammed from whom the place has derived its name.

One can drive to Panchalimedu where, according to legend, the Pandavas lived for a while during their exile. Today the area has a monastery and a few convents. The view from there is stunning. The famous Christian Ashram at Wagamon is one hour drive in another direction. Next to it, the British architect Laurie Baker who did commendable work in low cost housing had established a hospital for hill tribes five decades back. (See: Laurie Baker - A Tribute.) The Perriyar Wildlife Sanctuary is 45kms away.

What I love to do best at Peermade is to sit quietly and watch the shifting mist. The thin woolly veil drifts in with the breeze, lingers for a while covering the superb view, and floats away gently, unraveling again the mountains and the valleys and the stream far below.

Peermade is not a bustling tourist spot. It is a quiet get away place where you can be with nature. The climate is never too hot, never too cold. Hotel and resort accommodation is available. But there is a new experience. Several of the plantation bungalows have been converted to homestays. Live like the sahibs did a century back, but with adjustments to suit modern times.


(Photos (copyright reserved) taken by me from the erstwhile palace of the late Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bhai. It is now the residence of the leading planter and philanthropist Michael A. Kallivayalil.)

Also see: Kerala plantations: The bed tea ceremony that was

Monday, May 5, 2008

Amorphophallus, a medicinal plant with unique flower

Fellow blogger Nebu has correctly identified the photo in my previous post (Have you seen this flower?) as that of amorphophallus flower. The common names of amorphophallus ssp (botanical name) is ‘elephant foot yam’ or ‘elephant yam’.

The local names include Zaminkund, Anto, Balukund, Chena, Daga, Ilis-ilis, Kand godda, Karak-kavanai, Karnai kilangu, Oroy, Poong, Puung, Sooweg, Mo-yu, Suron, Teve, Tamari, Waloor, Arsaghna, Konjac, Konniaku, Konnyaku, Koe, Tigi, Ol kuchu, Kidaran, and Ol.

Elephant yam is considered to have several medicinal properties and effective in the treatment of amenorrhea, anorexia, arthritis, cough, dysmenorrhea, general debility, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, inflammation, sexual weakness, and vomiting. The corms are used in different cuisines.

Though elephant yam is common in many tropical countries, its flower is rarely seen. It comes out from the center of some of the yams that are kept aside as seeds for planting. A few photos of the flower are given below:

Photos by Rose Petrov, AT (Copyright reserved).
Click on them to enlarge.

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

Health, Gardening: Periwinkle, a wonder plant

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Have you seen this flower?

Photo: Rose Petrov (Copyright reserved).
Click on it to enlarge.

We came across this flower at Olavipe last night. Can you identify it?
It is about 1.5 ft tall.
Shall get back with more pictures and details.

Also see:

Amorphophallus, a medicinal plant with unique flower

Kerala Flowers?