Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photos of Olavipe Lake

Olavipe Kayal (Lake) is a branch of Kerala’s largest water body, the Vembanad Lake. During the time of the Portuguese and the Dutch, small ships used to sail in from Cochin Port to Thycattussarry about a mile from Olavipe to load pepper and spices. (See A unique prayer.)

Subsequently, till National Highway 47 became operational, large country boats carried the bulk of cargo movement between Cochin, Cherthala and Alleppey. Rows of those vessels laden with merchandise passing by Olavipe, their sails ballooned with wind, used to be a beautiful sight. Now the trucks have taken over.

Rejo, younger brother of Reji (A village artist) took these lovely pictures. Click on them for enlarged view. Copyright reserved.


Also see: God's own dream

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kerala: Kudallur Mana and ‘Nazrani Thampuran’

Kerala has always welcomed people from different parts of the world. They came from the East and the West – traders, travelers, Apostle St. Thomas, St. Francis Xavier and other missionaries, displaced communities and so on. The array of religions included Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. All were received warmly and a healthy symbiosis developed. Kerala was a land of communal harmony.

It is against this background that one has to view the story of Kudallur Mana situated in Naglasserry Panchayat, Palakkad District, Kerala. Mana means the home of Nampoothiris (Kerala Brahmins). Kudallur was a center of culture and learning. The Family gave great importance to learning and teaching. People who were interested in Sanskrit were welcome to free stay and tutorials at the Mana.

At the same time, the Nampoothiris were not able to obtain modern education without compromising their age-old traditions and beliefs. Kudallur Kunchunny Nampoothiripad was aware of this problem and approached the Government of Cochin in the 1870s to start a special school for the community. This move fructified with the establishment of Nampoothiri Vidyaalayam at Edakkunni near Thrissur almost five decades later.

The ancient Kudallur Mana was fabulously rich and powerful. But even during the height of feudalism, the enlightened and magnanimous members of the family were progressive in their outlook. The tenants were always treated fairly. People who needed help were never turned away empty-handed.

In spite of all these, the Communists once organized a struggle against the Mana with their stock slogans about capitalism, uplifting the downtrodden, imperialism, religious domination and the like. EMS Nampoothiripad, the undisputed leader of the Kerala Communists, himself ordered that the agitation be called off!

A piece from recent history – the last Karanavar (head of the family) of Kudallur Mana, Dr. K Narayanan Nampoothiripad, went to England for higher studies. He came back a Christian and continued as the chief of the family. No one tried to protest, or to ostracize him. Along with Vedic texts, readings from the Bible also resounded within the walls of the Mana.

When the doctor who came to be known as Nazrani Thampuran (Lord) died in 1995, he was buried in the western yard of the Mana. His tomb has a cross and a quotation from the Bible inscribed on it.

Right now Kudallur Mana is again in the limelight. The controversial social studies textbook for 7th Standard introduced by Kerala’s Left Government this year reportedly gives demeaning hints about this historic institution. The Communists seem to have forgotten the advice of EMS Napoothiripad.


[Note: This piece is inspired by an article on Kudallur Mana by Vasudevan Nampoothiripad in the Sunday Supplement of the Malayala Manorama dated July 27, 2008.]

Also see:

Kerala Brahmins – moving with the times

Vedas, Syrian Christians

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nightmare on a train

[Due to certain problems I could not post for a week. Hope to restart regular postings. I thank the readers for being patient.]

Last Saturday (19th) I boarded the Chennai-Trivandrum Mail, for Cochin. This is a fast train (they call it ‘super fast’) by Indian standards. Leaving Chennai at 8p.m., it normally reaches Cochin at 6.45a.m. Each time I travel by this train, there seems to be some improvement in the quality of the rake and standards of cleanliness particularly of the toilets.

I had an early dinner and went to sleep. At about 2 a.m. I woke up, disturbed by the sound of people moving around. The train had stopped. A lady official and a policeman were next to my berth. They asked me to identify my baggage. On asking what was the problem, I was told that an important bag was misplaced and they were looking for it.

I expected the train to restart soon, but the wait continued and I could not get back to sleep. After a couple of hours I went outside and found that the train was parked on a sideline at Podannur Station near Coimbatore. Some people who were standing around in groups told me that there was a bomb scare and expert squads were checking the train.

My first thought was that the officials should have, as a precautionary step, asked the passengers to vacate the train. That of course would have created panic at a time when the passengers were deep asleep. And without any trained person around to guide them, there would have been chaos and people could have got hurt.

Whoever was in charge of the operation took a difficult decision to carry out the search with least disturbance to the travelers. When the train finally resumed the journey after a three-hour stoppage, some people were criticizing the inefficiency of the Railways. Most of them would have realized the reason for the delay only when they read about the bomb scare in the next day’s newspapers.

We certainly have to congratulate and thank the personnel of the bomb squads all over the world. These brave men and women put their lives on line almost every day to save the lives of others.


Also see: The romance of railways

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Back to bicycles

Bike rentals, a fashion in Paris. His suggestion is to try out in Bangalore what is fashionable in Paris. It is easy to imagine the benefits if more people take to bikes instead of automated transport - exercise, cheaper transport, easing traffic congestion, saving fuel and above all, reduction of pollution. I hope that the business community and the citizens would give this a serious thought.

Once upon a time Bangalore was a town of bicycles. With the increase in the number of cars and buses and the eagerness of people to reduce transit time, the humble pedal vehicles were pushed to the background. But now we have come a full circle and often the bicycles can get you to your destination faster than an automobile.

Bicycle rentals were quite common in Bangalore fifty years or so back. In the early 1950s we had one next to St. Joseph’s College Hostel. It was owned by an Anglo-Indian couple. I forget their name now. The bikes were available any time on nominal rent. It was a great facility for the hostel boys because very few of them owned vehicles.

During a class on the importance of punctuation, the English professor at St. Joseph’s asked us a question. The owner of a bicycle rental had a new name board made for his shop. It included the caption ’Bicycles for gentlemen and ladies for hire’.

The painter put a comma at the wrong place on the board and that changed the entire meaning. I am sure that you can guess after which word the comma was inserted.

That was a lesson well learned.

Coming back to bicycles, I remember that in Kerala too, bike rentals were quite common in villages and small towns. At least in our area this service is making a comeback. Why wait for a bus or auto rickshaw? Take a two wheeler and pedal away.


Also see: Bangalore memories

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Nuclear Deal: An ideal opportunity to study Indian politics and politicians

How many of the elected representatives of the people of India are really interested in the nuclear deal or the country for that matter? I feel the present political circus should be recorded in detail and preserved for the posterity. It could even be a textbook for political studies. A suggested title: ‘Who is for India?’

Or should it be ‘The value of Indian MPs?

The purpose of this short post is to draw the attention of those who want to evaluate the deal to the comments on my post Nuclear Deal: The Left, and the right. They are rather lengthy but worth reading.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Garden photos: Lantanas of Olavipe

The British never invaded India. But, in a manner of speaking, the lantanas which they introduced at the beginning of the 19c as a garden plant did. It is considered to be among the most invasive weeds in the world.

Nevertheless, the lantana flowers are beautiful. They come in a number of colors. As they mature, the lantana blooms change color and you can see two or three hues on the same bunch of flowers. The invasive character of lantana can be controlled if proper attention is paid right from the time it is planted.

One interesting point I have noticed is that the butterflies are attracted more by the lantanas than the other flowers around them. So much so, one patch of our garden where a group of lantanas grow has come to be called ‘butterfly corner’.

It is said that lantana finds a place in folk medicine as an antiseptic and also for various health problems like itches and scabies, eczema, swellings, tumors, high blood pressure, infections, tetanus etc. It is also used as firewood in many areas.

The local names of lantana include Raimuniya, Samballei, Thirei, Nongballei, Tantani, Unnichedi, Konginipoo, Aripoo, and Ghaner.

Given below are some of the photographs I took of the lantanas at Olavipe. (I have a doubt whether the plant in the last picture is really a lantana.)


Copyright reserved. Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see:

Photos: Flowers from Peermade

Kerala Flowers?

Monday, July 14, 2008

A tree of death?

The photograph above is that of one of the oldest trees in Olavipe. It is a huge mango tree on our estate which I had featured in MANGO TREE Vs. COCONUT TREE - Elbowing in the sky.

One of the details which is not clear in the picture is that the tree has no low branches. It used to have once upon a time, but not any longer. Therein lies a story. Long after the tree stopped yielding it still served a noble purpose.

The practice in Olavipe till recently was that we provided pyre wood for cremating the bodies of our Hindu employees when they die. This is one of the trees earmarked for that use.

Looking at the stubs of the branches that have been cut off, some of the elders can recall for whose cremation the wood was utilized. That brings back memories of the people who have passed on.

What would happen to the tree now? The remaining branches are too high and that makes cutting them down difficult. The wood of mango trees is not considered good for house construction or for making furniture though some people do use them. This tree is unlikely to get uprooted for decades to come because of its buttress roots. See the photo below:

But at sometime a tree has to go, vacating the space it had occupied to permit new growth. That is the way of life. In Kerala there is the legend of Perumthachan, the master craftsman and builder who would prayerfully seek permission from an old tree before cutting it down. Japan has the story of Orosu, a touching narration of the love affair between a girl and a tree. You can read it at:

This mango tree too has to go. But in death it would still serve a purpose. The idea is to fell it and donate the suitable parts to a storage facility from where people can draw hard to get pyre wood for cremation.


Photos by me. Copyright reserved. Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see:

Cremation woes

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gulmohar: A beauty from Chennai

The fern-like leaves. Weird looking branches. Pods which were once green and tender but now dark brown and opened. The flamboyant flowers. I took this photo of a gulmohar tree from my balcony in Chennai. And I like it. Rather proud of the image.

Gulmohar belongs to the Fabaceae family. This tropical tree which is endemic to Madagascar is now grown in many parts of the world. It has several names which include - Royal Poinciana, Delonix Regia, Peacock Flower, Flamboyant Tree, Flame of the Forest, and Krishnachura. It is also sometimes called Flame Tree though that name is not exclusive to it.

The ornamental gulmohar is usually planted as a shade tree. It does not grow very tall. Normally the height is about 7m but some of them grow to 12m. The tree branches out and spreads nicely providing good shade. An avenue lined with gulmohar in full bloom is a beautiful sight. We have several of them in Indian cities and towns.

Propagation can be through cuttings and seeds. The cuttings are difficult to root. Even germinating the seeds is not easy because they have a thick coating. Tissue culture saplings are available. A gulmohar plant takes about 5 to 10 years to mature and start flowering.

According to recent reports, scientists of the Regional Research Laboratory in Bhubaneshwar, India, have found a method of producing environment friendly natural dyes from different parts of gulmohar flowers. These can be used in coloring silk and cotton. This is indeed good news in a country that produces 64000 tons of synthetic dyes every year.

Did you know that gulmohar is considered to be one of the most beautiful trees in the world?


[Photos: Top two by me. Copyright reserved. Bottom one from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. Click on images for enlarged view.]

Also see:

Jasmine (Jasminum): Flowers for beauty and for money

Kerala Flowers?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Malayalam songs: Lyrics

I get a number of visitors interested in Malayalam lyrics. This traffic is apparently generated by the some of my blog posts dealing with Malayalam cinema and songs. But my posts only touch the fringes and do not provide the readers with the lyrics or the means to locate them.

This morning, quite by accident, I came across the site

and its subsections

These provide comprehensive details of thousands of songs, including complete lyrics.

The site is promoted by Aju Thomas Panicker. It has subcategories covering albums, Christian devotional, classic songs, film songs, Hindu devotional, and Mappila pattukal.

The first song I tumbled upon was the fascinating one ‘Vakapoo maram choodum…’ from the movie ‘Anubhavam’. In such simple words Bichu Thirumala describes the transient love of northern wind and a flower. Music is by AT Ummer. The mesmeric piece was sung by Yesudas.

I feel grateful to Aju Thomas Panicker for this venture and thought I would share my find with other music lovers like me.


Also see:

Malayalam Cinema: Manjil Virinja Pookkal and melody maker Jerry Amaldev

B and a Malayalam song

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pristine village: Olavipe photos

Photo credits: Top, TP. Others AT. Copyright reserved.
Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see:

Kerala photos: Village paths

Niraparayum Nilavilakkum

Monday, July 7, 2008

Projecting the right image of India abroad

Justice Syriac Joseph, a Catholic from Kerala, who was till recently the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, is being sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of India today. This elevation has come as no surprise to those who know the eminent judge. Also, it is another proof that in India, a citizen can go right to the top irrespective of his caste or creed. That is the greatness of this country of ours.

Do some Indians in other countries forget this? I am reminded of an interview published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel some time back. It was given by a professionally, financially and politically successful doctor of Indian origin. The man reportedly said that minorities in India live under a glass roof and that the Christians, Muslims and Jews of that country go nowhere. The doctor is the son of a Protestant missionary [from India] according to a note accompanying the interview.

I don’t know who this man is. But I felt very bad at what he had said. He is apparently an important person in his community and his words would have caused a wrong impression about India among the readers of the newspaper which carried the interview.

Several members of the communities the Indian American doctor mentioned have held very important positions in India. These include RAW Chief, Commanders of the Defense Forces, Chief Ministers, Central Ministers, Political leaders, Governors, and Presidents. And they were/are from different parts of the country. I wonder whether there is any other country which can claim such tolerance.

Incidentally, the same Sun-Sentinel, on May 12, 2008, wrote in detail about a person fitting the description of the doctor in this story being charged with insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. I came across this information today while checking before starting to write this. Of course, it is only a charge, and will be fought out in the courts of law.

The point is, in my opinion, People of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Indians traveling abroad should always try to project the right image of India.


Also see:

Great soldiers never die…

Syrian Christians (Nazranis) of Kerala: Some interesting customs

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Kerala cuisine: Kudampuli for good taste, better health

Is kokum (cocum) and kudampuli the same?

Many people seem to think so. But they are different though belonging to the same family. The former is used in Marathi and Konkani cuisine. The scientific name for kokum is Gracinia indica. Some of the other names are amsul, katambi, panarpuli and mangosteen. Photo on the left shows two kokum fruits

Kudampuli (kudam = pot + puli = sourness) is an essential ingredient in many Kerala fish and seafood recipes, and is also used in some vegetable preparations. It is Garcinia cambogia but commonly referred to as Fish Tamarind, Malabar Tamarind or Kerala Tamarind. Other names include Gambooge, Brindal Berry, and Gorikapuli.

The kudampuli tree can grow to a height of 50 feet but starts yielding when they are much smaller. The green fruits turn golden yellow as they ripen. They look almost like a tiny pumpkin. The fully ripe ones fall down, usually at night, and are picked up in the morning. Or one can shake the branches to get them. I have not seen anyone climbing a kudampuli tree to pluck the fruits.

The collected fruits are washed and opened. The seeds inside are coated with creamy flesh. They are edible but too sour for normal palate. It looks almost like the inside of mangostein fruit. I am not sure whether butter, like in the case of kokum, can be made with it.

The thick rind is sun dried and also smoked. When the process is completed, the end product looks almost black. (If the essence is extracted, the remainder would appear brown or less intense in color.) It is then rubbed with a little salt and oil and stored in jars. The shelf life is long. A number of sites on the Internet provide recipes using kudampuli.

The kudampuli pieces in a dish are not eaten. Their function is to blend the flavors and to act as a preservative. A curry known as ‘meen pattichathu’ made with kodampuli would last for a few days without refrigeration. In fact the full bloom of taste is reached only by the third day. Kudampuli imparts its medicinal values to the food while cooking and in storage.

What are the medicinal properties of kudampuli? An effective ingredient in kudampuli is hydroxycitric acid (HCA). In Ayurveda kudampuli is used for treating stomach ulcers, arthritis, some uterine problems, to promote digestion and as carminative and antiseptic.

There are claims that kudampuli may reduce cholesterol levels. It is also widely accepted as a weight reducing agent; several anti-obesity formulations containing dried and ground kudampuli rind are available in the market. New research indicates that kudampuli may be useful in diabetes management as well.


Kudampuli is yet another of nature’s gifts to man.

(Photos from Olavipe by me. Copyright reserved. Click on images for enlarged view.)


Also see:

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Photos: Kerala fruits

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kerala: It’s different

About five million trucks are off the roads in India. The indefinite strike is in response to a call by the All India Motor Transport Congress to protest the rise in diesel cost, prices, taxes and what not. In a country where 70% of goods traffic is by road, its impact on the economy is enormous.

But truckers of one state are not taking part in this agitation. Can you guess which that state is?

Well it is Kerala, God’s own country. The reason? The obvious answer would be that the Keralites have high literacy rate, are intelligent, and therefore are quick to understand the adverse effects of such a strike. May be.

Then again maybe people require an occasional holiday from even hartals. In the month of June, Kerala had 25 hartals (bandhs, shut downs) either across the state or in some localities. Or so says the media. In addition, the month had five Sundays.

In a way, hartals have some plus points. Which country gives its people so many paid holidays? And, in Kerala, it is a tourist attraction as well. The hartals and the allied activities like slogan shouting processions, stone throwing and grappling with the police do carry some amount of interest to foreigners in spite of the inconvenience.

That reminds me of a story that goes around in the hospitality trade. A few years back an enterprising tour operator organized a Moscow group’s visit to Kerala to see public display of pictures of Stalin. Icons sometimes migrate to safer locations.

But, as far as tourists are concerned, the Keralite does not forget his civic sense even during traffic-stopping hartals. If there is a white skin in a vehicle on the road, all that the driver has to say is ‘Tourist’ and the car would be waved on.

The month of July is not likely to be different. This morning when I called Cochin, my grandson had not gone to school because of hartal. Credit for it goes to the BJP. At issue is a controversial land allocation in Kashmir. Perhaps that will induce the students to learn more about Kashmir. Nothing is as bad as it appears to be initially.

Keralites who read this, don’t be worried. The state, in its own way, will carry on despite all these thamashas.


Also see:

Kerala: Of monkeys and nuts

Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Senior citizens

Read the article 'Elders: Sunshine in sunset years' at

Giving it a shot