Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I am at Cochin for the festive season.

This year Christmas seems to be rather subdued. Some say it is in remembrance of the victims of 26/11. If true, that is something noble.

There is not much of color lighting. May be it is because of the bad power situation. Decorations and celebrations are also down. Last night, around midnight, I had a long drive across the city. There were hardly any carol groups on the streets.

I am told that liquor sales are also less. That is something unusual for Kerala. Are people being patriotic, or tightening the purse strings in view of financial the meltdown? Will this mean more mosquito menace after Christmas? To understand this question, you’ll have to read

Season’s Greetings to all of you

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Photos: Kerala chillies

Photos from Olavipe by me. Copyright reserved.
Click to enlarge.
Also see: Photos: Kerala fruits

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weddings, then and now

A joke heard in Cochin: If you have a son or daughter to be married, follow these steps in the given order - arrange a good caterer, book a hall, fix time with temple/church, and then, start looking for a bride/ bridegroom. During wedding seasons there is such a rush to book halls and caterers.

People often end up arranging places that they can ill-afford for the wedding reception. Sometimes it is the other way. Social snobs could feel that a venue is below their status. In such cases a whispered apology accompanies the invitation, ‘Sorry, we couldn’t get a better place’.

There was a time, not too far back, when holding a wedding reception in a hotel/ public hall was not the done thing. (I am talking about Kerala and more specifically, Syrian Christians.) The inference was that the host neither had a house good enough for the function nor the people to organize it. Even now, some prominent families hold marriage parties at their residence.

Inviting for the function was a time consuming process. The hosts had to visit the houses of relatives and important people and personally invite. There would be categorized guest lists: (1) those to be personally invited, (2) cards/letters to be sent by hand, (3) invitation to be mailed, and (4) those to be invited/instructed by supervisors to attend.

Personally inviting too had certain rules. Ladies would attend the function only if a lady was involved in inviting. No card or letter was to be given to close relatives. The invitation to them was actually a request to conduct the function.

And they would come, days ahead of the wedding. Those who were not from the same locality would stay with the host. Actually, each function was a family get together – wonderful days spent jointly in a clannish atmosphere.

It was the right of the ammayi (father’s sister) to bring the sweet to be given to the bridal couple after the marriage - that was known as ‘ayini’. Originally ayini was ‘churut’, a savoury made with coarse rice powder and palm syrup filled in a crisp, thin cone. Some used grated coconut with sugar instead. In course of time, most people switched over to cakes.

Along with ayini, Ammayi would bring many baskets of sweets and delicacies. The quantity would depend on her husband’s finances – own or borrowed.

This is running too long. I’ll cover just a couple of points more. In the old days there would be separate cookhouses for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. And exclusive eating pandals too, based on category and caste/class.

I must mention here about our chief manager, Narayana Kaimal. In all his 60 years of service with us, this member of an aristocratic Hindu family never consumed anything that was cooked in our house. Well, except tea or coffee. And bakery bread. He wouldn’t take even those, once large supplies of fish and meat for a major function began arriving.

Now conducting a wedding is so easy. Entrust the whole matter to an event manager. If you have that kind of money.

Also see:
Syrian Christians (Nazranis) of Kerala: Some interesting customs
Sadhya - a sumptuous Kerala meal

Friday, December 19, 2008

More on fighting terrorism

Here I am trying to answer some of the questions raised in the comments on Terrorism: A shocked nation awakens
1. By asking for more proof that the 26/11 plot was hatched in their country, the Pakistanis are probably trying to probe how much details India has in its possession. It is also an attempt to confuse the issue. Not revealing all the cards we hold may be a wise policy at this juncture.
2. India allowed the Americans and the British to interrogate the surviving terrorist. Pakistan possibly cannot follow this example because they have not made any meaningful arrests linked to 26/11. They are just trying to fool the world.
3. Mug shots of the dead terrorists, DNA etc., can link to the records archives of our agencies as well as those of friendly countries. Also, the items recovered from them do tell tales.
4. We should be grateful that at least one terrorist was caught alive. There could be still more information to be extracted from him. Bringing him to trial has many benefits. Firstly, we are committed to the rule of law and cannot resort to lynching culprits. Secondly the trial would help in sustaining public attention on the question of terrorism. Thirdly, the solid evidence that India claims to have would be subjected to judicial review and more credibly presented to the world.
5. Kandahar was an avoidable bad dream. But the politicians who were involved in that episode keep blabbering loud about fighting terrorism.
6. The handling of 26/11 by the officialdom, at least in the initial stages, was inefficient, to say the least. Proper analysis of the mistakes should help us to streamline our strategies, tactics and operational procedures for the future. The controversial media reporting of the tragedy has been taken note of and the News Broadcasters Association has issued guidelines for future coverage.
7. To take a pessimistic view of the prospects of India is self-defeating. As Happy Kitten has rightly pointed out, to feel that India is finished would amount to surrendering. Morale has to be kept high. Winston Churchill's famous 'We shall fight' speech on June 4, 1940 was one of the major factors that turned the WW II around. Britain was almost on the verge of collapse at that time. India is nowhere near that situation. What we require is not oratory but the courage of conviction and concerted action.
8. Surgical or pre-emptive strikes by India should be resorted to if they become essential but such operations require Entebbe-like planning and precision. That in turn needs quality intelligence. Hopefully, the proposed National Investigation Agency would provide the necessary input.
9. AR Antulay might have put his foot in his mouth, but on one point he is right. It is incredible that in a warlike situation three top police officials were caught together in one car. That was a fatal mistake. Some of you might recall the entire AC Milan champion football team perishing in an air crash some decades ago. In very prosaic terms – never put all your eggs in one basket.
10. It is possible that there might be more terror attacks on India causing further loss of men and materials. We should be prepared – it is an undeclared war on the country that may not end with one battle. We are a strong nation and we shall overcome.

(You can read Churchill’s famous speech at It is said that after the formal last sentence of the speech over the BBC, Churchill covered the mike with his hands and concluded with words to the effect – and if everything fails we shall hit them over the heads with empty beer bottles which is about all that we have got to fight with.)
Also see:
Mumbai: The Last Post and after

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kerala photos: Ponnozhukum Thodu

After reading From the Memory Box: Ponnozhukum Thodu – the stream where gold flows fellow blogger Nebu (Nebu’s reflections was kind enough to send me some photographs of Ponnozhukum Thodu. He was passing by the stream and took these pictures with his mobile phone camera. Thank you, Nebu. You don’t have to be apologetic about the quality of the photos. They are good enough.

Incidentally, Nebu is a regular contributor to the ‘Time Out’ feature of the New Indian Express.

According to Wikipedia, The Ponnozhukum thodu, ‘flows through Elikkulam, Mallikassery, Vilakkumadam, Edamattom regions and joins the Meenachil near the Shree Krishna Swamy temple, Bharananganam’. I have not found out where it originates.

The walkway to the stream. On the left are teak plants.

Another view of the walkway.

View downstream. The Thodu looks narrower than I remember.
Obviously the reason is the granite retaining walls
which were not there earlier.

View upstream.

This is what used to be the private bathing ghat.
The water still looks clear though rather stagnant.

For me Ponnozhukum Thodu is a stream of memories.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terrorism: A shocked nation awakens

The demons that planned and executed the 26/11 attack on Mumbai must have realized that their venture has turned out to be counterproductive despite the mayhem it created. Like never before a nation has awakened to the need to fight terrorism with all its might. The solidarity resolution by the Indian Parliament portrays that resolve more than anything else.

Initially, at least some sceptics might have wondered whether it was wise for India to take the matter to the UN Security Council. Happily, it has resulted in consolidating world opinion against Pakistan. That country stands exposed.

I had published earlier a post The Benazir tragedy: is Pakistan a failed State? Now the world is asking whether Pakistan is a rogue state or terrorist state. In the comity of nations Pakistan stands isolated.

That by itself does not solve our problem. We must realize that the countries which condemn terrorism have their own compulsions and may not walk the full distance with us. India has to fight her own battles.

Attack Pakistan? Certainly not. Any aggression by India at this stage would be playing into the hands of Pakistan as it would divert world attention from the terror factor. We should be ready for war if it becomes inevitable, but cannot afford to be trigger happy and vitiate the unprecedented support that we have from the other nations.

What do we do then? Irrespective of whether the world formally endorses it or not, let us, in our policymaking and actions, accept Pakistan for what it is – a rouge state with nuclear strike capability.

There is nothing Islamic or patriotic about that country’s strategies and convictions. Perpetual conflict with India is a necessity for some key personnel of Pakistan either to stay in power or for other reasons. Possibly, Pakistan has more uniformed millionaires than any other country. As a result, that country has become a haven for terrorists and criminals and remains backward. It is incredible why some Western countries pump money and materials into Pakistan for ‘fighting terrorism’ when it is evident how those funds are utilized.

India should have the toughness to call a spade a spade. Ever since its inception, Pakistan has been spreading untruths about India. What is the point in talking about ‘bhai-bhai’ relationship with such an entity? Let us not waste our time and energy on peace talks. It just does not make sense. If Pakistan has any meaningful peace proposals let them submit those for our consideration.

The biggest buffoonery is Pakistan’s suggestion to have a joint investigation into the 26/11 attack. It does not even deserve a response. Let us do it our way, and quickly too. Let us also not trust Pakistan’s claims about banning terrorist organizations and arresting their leaders. Sufficient time has been given to the culprits to transfer funds to other names.

The suggestion for a Federal Investigating Agency is intrinsically good. But it should not turn out to be another intelligence gathering outfit. We have so many of them, ready to play the blame game at the slightest provocation. Coordination and accountability should be the key words.
There should be clearly defined channels for passing on intelligence and for action taken reports.

Experience from the recent elections to the State Assemblies should deter the political parties from politicising the issue of terrorism. As long as we stand united, there will always be an India, bright and shining.

Also see:
Mumbai: The Last Post and after

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nostalgia: Two Yercaud photos

Yercaud is a lovely hill station (elevation about 5000 feet) in South India. It is famous for its two lakes, waterfalls, scenery and schools.
This was the Waterfalls Estate bungalow, Yercaud.
It was home to my wife Annie till our marriage in 1961.
My father-in-law, PC Abraham Pallivathukkal had bought the coffee plantation from an Englishman, HF Carey.
Annie and her siblings stayed there and had their schooling at Montfort and Sacred Heart’s (SHY). Two of our children too studied at SHY before I shifted them to Bangalore.
Seen in this old photo are our daughter Rosemary and her two children.
The building now houses a convent.

A view of the more than a century old Sacred Heart’s (SHY).
Photos by KO Isaac. Copyright reserved. Click on the photos to enlarge.
Also see:
Boxing: ‘Tiger’ Nat Terry – a champion and a gentl...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kerala photos: Chinese net, village pond, nadumuttam

Chinese net, a common scene along the Vembanad Lake

Our bathing pond at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe.

Nadumuttam (inner courtyard) at Olavipe. My grandchildren Adithya and Archana,
at play. Photo taken about 12 years ago.
Copyright reserved. Click on photos to enlarge.
More Kerala images at:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Incommunicado days

Once you are used to the internet facility it is awful to be without it, even temporarily.
Last week we relocated to a new house. My wife and I used our daughter’s place as transit camp for a few days while professional packers & movers handled the shifting. Everything was in place when we moved in on December 3.
Well, everything except the landlines.
The phones were supposed to have been connected within 24 hours at the new address but it took the service provider 12 days to do that. The connection finally came through only yesterday evening! No blog posts or emails for a week. Don’t know how many days it will take me to catch up with the backlog.
The good news is that on the 8th of December I had the bandage on my broken foot taken off. It is such a relief being mobile again though I have to be careful about the foot for a few more weeks.
The doctor gave me an advice as I was leaving the hospital after the bandage was removed – don’t repeat the episode. I have no intention to.
One good thing about the forced internet inactivity was, as in the case of
Life without computer, that I could spend more time on reading. Currently I am going through ‘How Green Was My Valley’ again after decades. Do you remember this timeless classic by Richard Llewellyn? It is so beautiful. I believe that at one time it was a bestseller second only to The Bible!
Settling down at a new place has an element of excitement – getting to know the surroundings, the people around, exploring the area which I am yet to do. But locating things within the house, however well-marked the packages are, takes time.
The biggest bother at the moment however is identifying the electric switches. It certainly will take some time for one to get used to a new place.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Life without electricity

Recently, during Life without computer my granddaughter (Annie Nayanika; we call her Nonee) asked me what toys I used and what kind of games I played during my childhood. That was an interesting question and my mind went back decades.

By and large the playthings were made from locally available materials. Country crafts and carts with wheels made from wood by native carpenters were the favorites. But only a few in the village could afford even those. Many used balls and other toys made from coconut fronds.

Balls were also made of dried latex strips from wild rubber trees which were common in the place. Sometimes the children played with dry odollum fruits, well aware that they were poisonous.

We were economically better off than the others in the village and used to get imported mechanical toys. UK made products was good. The Japanese ones were considered cheap imitations. This was before the Second World War.

Most of the games we used to play did not require any special equipment. Being in a rural area there were so many other means of passing time as well. Fishing for one. Or canoing n the ponds and canals. Chasing butterflies. Catching dragonflies, tying a string to their tails and making them lift stones. And so on.

Nonee was fascinated with all these. When I told her that we had no electricity or telephone till I was about 25 years old, she could not believe it. What shocked her most was that people could live without TV.

How we got power connection is an interesting story. Two top officials of the Electricity Department (this was before Electricity Board was constituted) came home with an uncle. The elder children were introduced to them - first me, then my directly younger brother Mathew.

Uncle told the officials that Mathew was leaving for the United States in a month’s time for higher studies. Going to America was not a common event those days.

One of the officials immediately stated that it would be a shame to the country if Mathew had to tell the Americans that he came from a village which had no electricity. To cut a long story short, power was switched on in our house the night before Mathew was to leave.

Nonee was impressed. Then I exposed myself to a child’s logic by saying that even before electricity came, we had a radio powered by a car battery. Her immediate question was why we did not use the same method to watch TV. I explained to her that TV came to India much later.

Frankly, I cannot imagine how we managed without electricity till the late 1950s.

Also see:

Cricket in remote areas

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai: The Last Post and after

The dead – heroes and the innocents – have been buried. The smoke from the funeral pyres have merged with the air. The haunting notes of the Last Post have faded away. A shell-shocked nation is slowly coming to terms with the Mumbai holocaust.

And, as the battle sounds subside and the smoke clears, what is the picture before the country and the world?

The father of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan refuses to meet the Kerala Chief Minister and Home Minister who come on a condolence visit. Snifter dogs had preceded the CM and party to sanitize the house of the brave soldier who had died fighting the terrorists.

The wife of Hemant Karkare, the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad Chief who was killed by the terrorists, refuses to accept financial assistance offered by the Gujarat Chief Minister. The CM’s party had been virulently attacking the outstanding officer for pursuing investigations that it found inconvenient.

The Opposition leader and his party president refuse to attend an all party meeting convened by the Prime Minister to discuss the aftermath of the Mumbai crisis. They have more important things to do.

The Maharashtra Chief Minister takes a jaunt of the devastated Taj with his actor son and a film maker. The producer claims he has no plans to make a movie based on the tragedy. The Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra goes one step ahead. He announces what happened in Mumbai last week was a small incident – the only man in the world who seems to think so. This person is the Home Minister as well.

Reports come in that the Central intelligence agencies had forewarned the Maharashtra government about terrorist strike, citing Taj and Oberoi as specific targets. Who received these communications? Were they passed down the pecking order? Gathering information is important; reaching it post haste to action centers is critical.

The National Security Guards (NSG) is blamed for delayed arrival at the distress sites. Possibly the deployment could have been much faster. There is criticism that the commandos rushed into action without sufficient intelligence backing and information. Another view is that since the terrorists had started shooting indiscriminately, immediate retaliation was necessary.

While the experts discuss the point, there is another question that needs to be addressed. While waiting for the NSG, did someone bother to collect floor plans of the buildings targeted and provide them to the commandos on arrival? That would have made the operation less risky and more efficient. The details would have been available at the Municipal Office or the headquarters of the companies owning the properties.

Analyzing the details of the recent terror episode and planning for the future certainly cannot be left to the various departments of the governments where action would be buried in red tape. The job has to be entrusted to duly empowered professionals.

Hopefully one silver lining seems to be emerging from the tragedy – the realization that Mumbai is geographically situated in Maharashtra state, but the great city belongs to India.