Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Photography: The Photographic Society of Madras, capturing images for 150 years

I was traveling and missed the photography extravaganza, All India Salon of Photography – 2008. The event was held at the Lalit Kala Academy, Chennai, from September 17 to 21 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Photographic Society of Madras (PSM). About 2500 photographs by 1500 cameramen including renowned professionals and promising amateurs were on display.

What is a photograph? It is a moment in time, an event in life, captured forever. When this is done with imagination, the resulting image rises above a mundane record to a work of art. Padma Shri Raghu Rai, the doyen of Indian photographers who was the Chief Guest at the valedictory function of the Salon said that the preserved photographic treasures enrich viewers on how photography has grown as an art form.

The PSM was started in 1857 by Dr. Alexander Hunter and the Honorable Walter Elliot. It survived the vicissitudes of time and is a premier organization that promotes photography in the country. During its one and a half centuries of existence the PSM developed affiliations with photographic communities all over the world. These include the Royal Photographic Society, London and the Photographic Society of America.

Says KO Isaac, President of the PSM, “As part of our commemorative programs celebrating 150 years of our Society's contributions to photography and fellowship, we have once again brought together hundreds of photographers together from across the length and breadth of our country, showcasing exemplary talent, unique perspectives and proving that an art such as photography unites people irrespective of caste, creed or religion; everyone coming together in celebration of their passion of photography.”

The PSM holds over thirty programs every year. These include discussions, guest lectures, expositions, travel, workshops, family fellowships and training sessions. There are special schemes for students. For details about the PSM, please visit http://www.photomadras.org/index.html

Incidentally, KO Isaac, the President of PSM, is an excellent photographer. Many of his creations have appeared on this blog. Some of them are reproduced here. Click on them for enlarged view. The copyright is reserved.

Also see:

Photos: African Tulip

Photos: Flowers from Peermade

Photographs: Patterns in the sky - concludes

Photographs: Patterns in the sky - I

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fruits and Vegetables: A picture of health

There is hardly any input by me in this post. The picture (click for enlarged view) is from Wikimedia Commons and the text material is mostly based on the website of the Harvard School of Public Health, which publishes articles to provide ‘timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public.’

Eating sufficient quantities of vegetables and fruits every day can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also provide protection against cancer and promote gastrointestinal health and better vision. The relevant article can be accessed at:


A widely prevalent myth is that health food is bland and tasteless. This is blown in the article ‘Recipes The Bottom Line’. It starts with the statement ‘Healthy eating can be as delicious as it is nutritious—a feast for the senses as well as good for the body’.

You can read it at:


Another write up titled ‘Knowledge for Healthy Eating’ provides tips for healthy eating. It can be accessed at:


There is much more useful information on related sites of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Healthy eating, happy living.

Also see:

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Personal Banking: Inefficient ATMs, vanishing ATMs

Last week the Deccan Chronicle carried a letter to the Editor about Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). The writer was pointing out that many of the ATMs in Chennai were either malfunctioning or were often out of cash. One can easily imagine the inconvenience such situations cause the customers.

On the 18th of this month I went to an ATM belonging to a major new gen bank in Adayar. The purpose was to draw cash for a trip to Cochin. After I keyed in the details, a message flashed across the screen saying that my request could not be processed. I repeated the procedure to make sure and got the same result.

I had to search around for another ATM and found one belonging to the same bank in Beseant Nagar. Fortunately that one worked and I was able to collect cash. But there were avoidable tension and waste of time.

What happened to me earlier in the month is incredible. I was to leave for Bangalore by the early morning Shadapthi Express, and on the previous evening went to our ‘friendly’ neighborhood ATM to withdraw money. I had a real shock.

The ATM had vanished!

A shop man next to the erstwhile booth told me that the ATM had been closed down a few days earlier. Since the bank involved (the same as in the incident narrated earlier) is a leading one, I could not call it a fly by night operation.

I am a client of the said bank, but had no intimation of the closure of the ATM. May be they published a notice in the newspapers but I had not seen it.

Do the banks treat ATMs as a necessary evil and therefore do not pay sufficient attention to maintaining the machines and stocking them with enough money. They should be able to gather effective intelligence on the withdrawal pattern at the different outlets since they are computer operated. That should help them to keep adequate fund levels at each booth. In any case, there cannot be any excuse for the poor maintenance of the machines. The logical conclusion is that the banks do not pay adequate attention to this branch of their business.

Every client has the right to withdraw money from the available balance in his account during banking hours. Preventing an account holder from doing so can, I am sure, attract legal action against the bank concerned.

An ATM is a cash withdrawal facility that is meant to be available on 24x7 on basis.

Irrespective of what the small print says, the banks cannot escape the responsibility to keep the ATMs functional around the clock.

Also see: ATM Service

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kerala photos: Butterflies of Olavipe

It is fascinating to watch butterflies. These insects of the order Lepidoptera are mostly day fliers. Their graceful but erratic flight and the brightly colored wings of different patterns attract immediate attention. They go from flower to flower, pollinating them. One could spend hours observing the butterflies.

But trying to photograph them is a different matter. It requires a great deal of patience and running around. You try to focus the camera on a butterfly which is about to settle on a flower. Suddenly it changes course and moves elsewhere and you chase it. The process could be repetitive and finally one gets tired and gives up.

Some of the photos I managed to take at Olavipe, are given here.

I read somewhere long ago that butterfly was originally called ‘flutter by’. Quite an appropriate name, I must say.

Also see:

Garden photos: Lantanas of Olavipe

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Religion, terrorism, and politics

Recently I had a discussion with an eminent CPI (M) think tank. He seemed confident that in the next general elections the Left parties would emerge stronger than they are now. His rationale is simple.

The Muslims are against the US. By pushing the 123 Nuclear Agreement with America, the Congress has alienated the Muslims. Since BJP too is anathema, this minority community is likely to vote for the Left. Combined with this would be the Dalit factor. Generally speaking, the low castes are not happy with the Congress or the high caste dominated BJP. We will have to wait and see how correct this assessment is.

The BJP and the UPA need to rise above petty politics and stand together on issues that affect national security, both internal and external. Any number of stringent laws can be enacted but the important thing is to use the available tools effectively.

The atrocities against minorities by extremists, with or without the support of the politicians, are as bad as the terrorist activities of the fundamentalists. Both the Central and State Governments have failed to tackle the menace.

There are enough provisions in our laws to prevent forced conversions. Attacking churches and eminent educational institutions at random is not the civilized way to handle alleged complaints. They should be reported to the appropriate authorities so that the law can take its course.

It is the duty of the government to ensure that no individual or organization, whether Christian or not, receives foreign funds for illegal activities. It is also the responsibility of the authorities to prevent individuals or organizations from taking the law into their own hands by attacking citizens and disrupting the peace within the country.

The Christianity I know does not tolerate forced conversions. If any missionary does that, he is not only breaking the law of the land but that of the Church as well.

One problem in India is the mushrooming of neo churches, ashrams and god men without any sanctity. They do not, often, conform to accepted or acceptable practices. In many cases, making money seems to be the major objective. This too has to be controlled by the government. There should be effective registration procedures.

The established Churches have clear organizational pattern and strict operational guidelines. Their priests are taught and trained for almost a decade in several relevant fields including philosophy and theology. There may be erring priests like in any society, but by and large they are competent and committed to serving others.

Many people do not seem to realize that Christianity is not a Western religion. And, it has been in India for two thousand years, coexisting smoothly with Hinduism. Monarchs and men much wiser than the troublemakers of today had accepted that symbiosis which proved beneficial for the country.

A great service the Church provides is in uplifting the poor and the underprivileged that have been, in many cases, neglected by society and the elected authorities. It would be a great step forward if the energy and money spent on mobilizing movements against minorities are utilized for the benefit of the underprivileged. Surely, the more fortunate citizens of our society owe that much to the lesser entities who have suffered by the misuse of the caste system for a very, very long time.

We must understand that a country is as strong as its weakest social link.


Also see:

History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

Kerala: Kudallur Mana and ‘Nazrani Thampuran’

Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kerala food: The humble ‘ambazhanga’

This small tropical fruit grows on trees that may grow up to 25m height. In Kerala it symbolizes insignificance, as the saying goes ‘aana vayil ambazhanga’. The translation is ‘an ambazhanga in an elephant’s mouth’.

Most of these fruits which resembles tender mango seem to go waste as there is not much demand. That is unfortunate. The fruit has an exotic taste. It can be eaten fresh while tender or pickled. The pickling should be ideally done before the nut starts forming. Once the ambazhanga matures, only the skin and the little layer of flesh attached to it are of use. It can be peeled and pickled.

Ambazhanga is used in some Kerala recipes. Prawns and fish curried with ambazhanga can be very tasty. Chutneys and chammanthies made with the fruit are also good. There are many similarities in the uses of ambazhanga in brine and uppumanga (salt mango).

Uppumanga (salt mango) bottom and ambazhanga in brine.

But for me, ambazhanga has another application which is not known to most people. Tender ambazhanga in brine is an excellent snack with cocktails, like olives.

Raw ambazhanga

What are the botanical and local names of ambazhanga? I am not sure. It belongs to the Anacardiaceae Family, Genus: Spondias L.. There are different species in this group. It is often referred to as ‘hog plum’ or ‘hog apple’. I have a doubt that these names mean ‘noni’ (see Medicinal Plants: Noni (Morinda citrifolia) planting for profit?)

I think what is called ambada in Mangalore is of the same specie. Other local names seem to be 'ambarella' in Dutch and Sinhalese, ‘June plum’ (Jamaica) and 'kedondong' (Indonesia).

Branded ambazhanga pickles are available in the market.

Photos: Top two by me. Copyright reserved. Last one from Wikimedia commons.

Also see:
Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bangalore: Of a club, a park and a Chief Secretary couple

Last weekend I stayed at the Century Club, Bangalore. The attraction of this place is its location on the fringes of the beautiful Cubbon Park. I strolled down from the club’s front gate to the back gate through the park and took these photographs (click to enlarge):

Views of the Public Library

A road junction in Cubbon Park

A fruit vendor.

An old tree outside the exit gate of Century Club.

I commit the pictures to the public domain for free use by anyone who wants to promote Bangalore, provided due acknowledgment is given.

I had always wondered how the Century Club acquired the rather strange name. Was it in commemoration of 100 years of some event or person? I had the answer when I dropped in for lunch at the residence of Mr.& Mrs. BK Bhattacharya on Sunday the 14th.

Bipul (BK Bhattacharya) is a Bengali and his wife Teresa a Malayalee. Both were in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). When Bipul retired as Chief Secretary, Karnataka, it was his wife Teresa who was appointed to the post. That was a rare instance of a wife taking over as Chief Secretary from her husband.

But recently the roles were reversed and it was the husband who followed the wife. Teresa had a heart bypass surgery three months back. It was Bipul’s turn last month. By God’s Grace, in both cases, the surgeries were successful.

Bipul told me the story he heard about how Century Club got its name. Bangalore United Services Club (BUS Club), now known as Bangalore Club, was started in 1868 for the British service officers stationed at the Bangalore Cantonment. The Bowring Institute was also founded in the same year as a literary and academic institution, but in course of time came to be branded as an Anglo-Indian club.

There was no such facility for the Indians. Dr. M. Visveswaraiah, the father of modern Mysore State (now Karnataka) asked 100 government officials to come together and form a club for them. The Maharaja of Mysore made a grant of the land required. The establishment that was started by a century of men became ‘Century Club’ and was opened in 1917.

As I mentioned earlier, the club is at one end of the Cubbon Park, the gorgeous garden, which probably was a reason why Bangalore was labeled ‘Garden City’. It was laid by Sir Richard Sankey, Chief Engineer of Mysore, in the year 1864 and was named after Sir Mark Cubbon, the longest serving Commissioner of Bangalore. Originally it was spread over 334 acres. Reportedly the area has shrunk to 250 acres or less today.

The Century Club was probably the first encroachment on the Cubbon Park. I believe that recently the Karnataka High Court has prohibited any further violations on this lovely garden.

Also see:

Nostalgia: Bangalore again

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kerala photos: Leaves from Olavipe

Photos by me. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Photos: Leaves by Isaac

Photos: Trees without leaves

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Onam: A king who made the gods jealous

A simple but elegant pookkalam in water.

Onam is the most important festival of Kerala. It is the remembrance of an era when the state was truly God’s Own Country. Strangely, not much of what it symbolizes can be found in the Kerala of today.

Once upon a time Kerala, it is believed, was ruled by King Mahabali, the grandson of Prahalada. (Maveli is a mutation of the name.) He was the embodiment of all the virtues that a monarch should have. His reign was the golden era of Kerala.

A beautiful Malayalam song ‘Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam’ (When Maveli ruled the land) that is on the lips of every Malayalee (Keralite) during Onam, describes the paradise that Kerala was. During his period, everyone was equal. It was a time of plenty. People lived in harmony and joy. They had no difficulties or fear or sickness. There were no lies or false speech, or deceit or cheating. The weights and measures were precise. No one wronged his neighbor. It was a casteless, homogenous society.

King Mahabali became so popular and powerful, that the Devas (gods) became jealous and afraid of him. According to another legend, the ruler was very egoistic and proud and that led to his downfall.

The gods appealed to Maha Vishnu to remove the great king. Maha Vishnu appeared before Mahabali in the disguise of a dwarf Brahmin, Vamana, and requested a grant of three paces of land. When the benevolent ruler granted the wish, the dwarf suddenly grew into a gigantic figure and started measuring the land with immense strides.

Maha Vishnu covered the earth and the sky with two steps. Since there was no place for the third step, the king offered his own head so that his word would be honored.

But before stamping him down to Patala (the depths of the earth) Maha Vishnu, impressed by the king’s nobility, granted him a wish – he could visit his kingdom once a year. It is believed that Mahabali does this during Onam. The people celebrate their former king’s visit with great pomp and pageantry.

Poor Mahabali, if he were not obliged by the tradition, would probably prefer to discontinue the yearly chore. He is likely be tormented by the present state of his once glorious kingdom.

But the people celebrate, have a good time. Possibly trying to drown harsh realities in the liquor that virtually flows. Eat, drink and make merry. Tomorrow is another day.

One touching story that I watched on Asianet Television today: There is one man who fasts on Onam day. That is head of an ancient family of Aranmula, the place of the famous metal mirrors.

This family used to distribute alms and food for Onam. One year it was raining heavily that day. Nobody noticed an old lady who stood away from the crowd. After a long wait she collapsed and died. This happened centuries ago.

From that year onwards, the eldest member of the family, known by the title Akkeeravan Muthathu, fasts on every Onam Day in atonement.

That is something King Mahabali would certainly appreciate.

Happy Onam!

Kerala snakeboat model.

Also see:

Kerala: Onam goes up in spirit

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

Onam: Pookalams in water

Olakkuda – Palmyra leaf umbrella

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

At 22, can Sania Mirza make a comeback?

Sania Mirza was the heartthrob of millions. Good looks combined with tennis skills made her a heroine, a poster girl. The whole nation looked up to her to bring home more and more laurels and proudly followed her career.

At the age of 22, Sania is the 91st ranked women tennis player in the latest (September 8) WTA list. That sounds good. An Indian girl in the top 100. But what is bothersome is the route map to her present grade.

Sania Mirza started 2005 with a rank of 134. From there onwards, it was a steady climb. By the end of August 2005 she had brilliantly fought her way to the 42nd place. In August 2007 she reached her best ever rating, 27th in the world. That was incredible. Many expected her to break into the top 20 this year. But instead it was a downward slide from then on.

What went wrong? A lack of focus and commitment? Nonchalance? Immaturity? I suppose a bit of all these plus fitness problems and a penchant for getting into controversies. Some of the issues she had to face were ridiculous. They were not of her making but brought severe pressures on her.

However, Sania Mirza cannot shirk the responsibility for appearing at the Beijing Olympics march past in training clothes. The explanation that she had to come straight from practice was childish. All those thousands of athletes who took part also had to practice.

Sania Mirza could have taken a cue from Leander Paes (once ranked 73 in men’s singles) for commitment and fitness. Or she could draw inspiration from the other three Indian girls who are doing brilliantly in their chosen sports.

Saina Nehwal is just 18. She reached the quarterfinals in badminton at Beijing Olympics with a great performance. The girl is now ranked 14 in the world. The other two are in squash racquets. Joshna Chinnappa, 22, the National Women’s Champion, is 39th in the world (slipped two places recently). There is an interesting aside about Joshna. When someone mentioned that she was the Sania Mirza of badminton, her repartee was, ‘No, Sania is the Joshna Chinnappa of tennis’.

Then there is Dipika Pallikkal, the beauty who will be turning 17 this month. (A rising hope squashed?) This brilliant squash player is the world’s 57th ranked women. She slipped three places in the latest ranking. She certainly has a bright future if she does not follow Sania Mirza’s pattern.

There are great comeback stories in sports. Let us hope that Sania Mirza returns with all glory. But that would take a lot of character and hard work. Among the current top ten women tennis players, four are her age or younger. On the other hand is the example of Lindsay Davenport. Even at the age of 32, she is ranked 21.

Sania can still do it. She should ignore everything else and concentrate on her game and fitness.


Also see:

Tennis: Leander Paes, the Indian Hero

Ramanathan Krishnan: India’s Tennis Legend.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dragonflies, Onathumpi

Do you remember chasing dragonflies as a child? Catching one and tying a string to its tail? Making it lift small stones and splinters? It is a fascinating childhood pastime.

There are so many interesting tales about the dragonfly from several parts of the world. In some areas it is considered sinister. Possibly because of the stone lifting capability, a Swedish folklore says that dragonflies are used by the devil to weigh the souls of people. In Kerala, India, there is a story that these insects belonging to the order of Odonata serve as a transit abode to the souls of the dead.

Can you imagine a connection or similarity between a dragonfly and a horse? Well, according to a Romanian legend, dragonfly was originally a horse which became possessed by the devil. There are similar Maltese tales as well. In some parts of the world it is believed that dragonflies follow snakes around with the objective of repairing any hurt the reptiles might sustain.

In Japan the dragonflies have a different status. They are considered as the mark of strength, courage and happiness. The Japanese and Chinese use them in traditional medicine also. It is said that the insect is a culinary delicacy in Indonesia.

Among some of the Native Americans too, dragonflies symbolize hope and revival. The Navajo Nation considers them as an icon of pure water.

But stories apart, the dragonflies render a great service to humanity. They are predators who thrive on mosquitoes, flies and other harmful

small insects, thereby controlling such pests.

Since this is the time of Onam in Kerala, I must make a mention of the connection between dragonflies and the great festival before concluding. ‘Onathumpi’ a specie of Odonata that appears around this time is an integral part of the lore linked to the festivities.

I wonder if any other language has so many songs about dragonflies (Onathumpi) as there is in Malayalam, the vernacular of Kerala. Here is the first stanza of one by Sreekumaran Thampi:

‘Poovili poovili


Nee varu nee varu


Photos: Top two from Wikimedia Commons. Last three from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala photos: Flowers for Onam

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

Flowers for Onam