Friday, October 30, 2009

Indian heritage homes: More photos of Thekkanattu Parayil

Photos by Dr. Sanjay Parva. All rights reserved

Click to enlarge.

Some related posts:

Kerala Architechture: Thekkanattu Parayil Heritage Home


Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu for modern times

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pazhassi Raja, the Lion of Kerala

By and large, the history books have bypassed Kerala Simham (Lion) Veera (Brave) Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, the ruler of Kottayam in North Kerala towards the end of the 18c CE and beginning of 19c. This valiant warrior prince took up arms against the taxation policy of the British East India Company. The war between the two, which began in 1790s, lasted till 1805.

A Malayalam movie based on him was released on October 16 and that has made history. It is crafted by MT Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan with Mammootty in the lead role and is produced by Gokulam Gopalan. With a budget of Rs.27 crores, it is the costliest film ever made in Malayalam.

I have not seen the cinema, but heard Hariharan claim on the TV that full justice has been done to historical details. One can be reasonably certain that with careful handling by this expert team, the movie would be good.

I hope this picture which is made in five languages would spread awareness about the legendary fight by Pazhassi Raja against the mighty Company (which, by then, had assumed the role of a government) among the people of India. The hero’s greatest strength was that he was able command absolute loyalty of his upper caste subjects and the hill tribes at the same time. The manner in which they stood by him in life and in death was something remarkable.

It was Thomas Harvey Babar, a young Company officer who was sub collector of Tellicherry who led the final assault against Pazhassi Raja in 1805. And he came to admire his adversary. He is reported to have said about the raja ‘great man and a great warrior’.

Nick Balmer, the great great grandnephew of Thomas Henry Babar maintains a blog, Malabar Days, which gives some authentic accounts about Pazhassi Raja. The link is Thomas Baber's account of the death of the Pazhassi Rajah, from the study reports by Nick Balmer It is interesting reading.

While talking about the newly released Pazhassi Raja movie, let us not forget the earlier one. In the 1960s, there was a cinema by the same name with Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in the lead role.

What made that version famous were the songs, written by Vayalar and rendered by Yesudass. Guess who was the Music Director? A R Rahman.’s father, R. K. Shekhar.

Do you remember “Chotta muthal chudala vare…” It is one of the best patriotic songs in Malayalam cinema.

There is also a novel about Pazhassi Raja – Kerala Simham by Sardar KM Panikker.

Related post:

Malayalam Cinema: Going, going, gone?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Memories: A lakeside Travellers’ Bungalow

Vaikom is a small town, but one of the oldest in South India. It is situated on the eastern bank of the Vembanad Lake in Kerala. The Siva Temple there is considered to be the Southern Kashi and the ‘Vaikom Ashatami’ is a very famous festival.

The place is also prominent in history for the Vaikom Satyagraha (1924-25) led personally by Mahatma Gandhi. The objective of the agitation was to secure the right of passage for all sections of people along the roads around the temple. At that time the lower castes were not permitted on those paths.

For me personally, the importance of Vaikom was the old travelers’ bungalow by the lakeside. It had two large bedrooms with attached dressing rooms and bathrooms and a veranda with a porch in front. The building, set among some rain trees, had a high, tiled roof.

Decades back there were hardly any hotels except in major towns. But a string of Government-run travellers’ bungalows (TBs) provided people with clean and safe places to rest during journeys. Though the rates were very cheap, only upper class folks used the facility in those days.

Before a road was laid to my place, Olavipe, our journeys were mostly by scheduled boat service. Boats plying between Cochin and Alleppey stopped at Poochakkal, the boat jetty near us. To go to my mother’s house (Kerala Architecture: The house where I was born) near Palai, Kottayam, and the High Ranges where my uncles were living, we had to cross the lake to Vaikom by the boats going from Cochin to Alleppey, and proceed from there by road.

I mentioned scheduled boat services, but the vessels did not keep to the prescribed timings. Arrivals and departures were subject to tide and wind (though the crafts were motorized) and other factors. But for us, onward journeys did not pose a problem except for some waiting at Poochakkal.

While coming back it was different. After reaching Vaikom sometimes one had to wait for hours for the boat from Alleppey to arrive. And the place to while away the time was the TB. The front porch had one or two planter’s easy chairs and other seats. Lean back and relax. Enjoy the lovely breeze that blew in from the lake and the beautiful scenery.

Very rarely have I come across other travelers at the TB. Not many people used that route. Every now and then the ‘watcher’ (that was what the TB keepers were always called) would come around to see if the guest needed anything.

The view from the TB was something like this:

Click to enlarge.

Photo by Rahuldb. Wikimedia Commons, under

GNU Free Documentation License

The lake used to have many types of valloms (country crafts) and motor boats in those days, more than what is seen in the photograph. Some of them are not very much in use in the area now. For instance, privately-owned passenger valloms with cabins. Those were once status symbols, owned by the rich. With the opening up of roads in almost every village, the picture has changed.

Two fascinating sights in the lake during thr bygone days were fully-laden oil tankers carrying petroleum products from Cochin Port to towns in the interior and large cargo barges stringed together and pulled by powerful tugs. Now this traffic is entirely road bound.

One could also see the boat station and the single pier which were about a hundred yards away from the TB. It was interesting to watch the activities there, particularly when a liner going in the opposite direction berthed. People rushed to board even though the boat would spend ample time before departing. Probably the hurry was to occupy vantage seats, if any were left.

Every half hour or so one looked southward to see if the boat from Alleppey was coming. It was very difficult to make out. Initially it would be a speck far away and that came nearer with agonizing slowness. At the appropriate time the watcher would make his appearance to announce that the boat would berth soon. He shouldn’t be forgotten, of course.

As one started for the pier, the watcher’s smile seemed to say, ‘Till the next trip, then.”

Related post: Memories: The boatmen of Olavipe Lake

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Capt. Lakshmi: From stethoscope to Sten gun

The name of this remarkable lady is Lakshmi Sahgal, nee Swaminathan. She is popularly known as Capt. Lakshmi though her official rank in the Indian National Army (INA) was Lt. Colonel. She commanded the Rani of Jhansi Regiment under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. That was no ceremonial unit but one which fought on the Burma front for India’s freedom.

Lakshmi was born as the daughter of a leading Chennai lawyer, S. Swaminathan and AV Ammukutty (Ammu Swaminathan) a leading freedom fighter and social worker. Ammu belonged to the well-known Anakkara Vadakkath family in Palghat District, Kerala.

Lakshmi joined the Madras Medical College and obtained her MBBS Degree in 1938. After that she specialized in gynecology and obstetrics. Then she moved to Singapore in 1940 and soon became one of the leading practitioners there in her specialty. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942 Lakshmi concentrated on providing medical attention to the prisoners of war who included several Indians.

Netaji’s arrival at Singapore in 1943 was a turning point for Lakshmi. She joined him and was made the head of the women’s regiment which was given rigorous training before being sent to the front. She was also made the Minister in charge of women’s organization in the Azad Hind Government.

After some initial victories the INA was defeated along with the Japanese by the British forces. Capt. Lakshmi was captured. But when the British brought her to India, the public support for her was so strong that they had to release her.

Later Capt. Lakshmi married Colonel Prem Kumar Sahgal, also of the INA. They settled down in Kanpur. The former commander of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment started medical practice again for the aid of the displaced and the disabled during the Partition and the Bangladesh war. The President of India awarded her Padma Vibhushan in 1998.

Capt. Lakshmi entered politics and aligned with the Leftists. She was a Member of the Rajya Sabha. She contested for the post of President of India against Dr. Abdul Kalaam as a Left wing candidate but lost.

Lakshmi Sahgal reportedly still runs her clinic for the poor and the destitute. And today (Oct. 24) she turns 95.


An unreleased stamp of the

Azad Hind Government.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Capt. Lakshmi from the Web.

Related post:

Azad Hind

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some interesting photos

After reading my post Hey, rickshaw fellow blogger Nebu has kindly sent me these interesting photos. They are from the collection at Corpus Christy School (now Pallikoodam) at Kottayam, Kerala.

In the foreground is a small canoe, the type that is popular in Kuttanad area. In the background is an old hand pulled rickshaw. To its left is a pushcart and far left is a waterwheel (Chakram: The wheel that turned agricultural fortunes)

Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Photos: Leaves, cream & green

Also see:

Photos: Flowers from Peermade

Photos: Kerala fruits

Photos by me. Click to enlarge.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hey, rickshaw

Hand pulled rickshaw in Calcutta

Have you ever taken a ride in a hand pulled version of the rickshaw? Or even seen one? Well, may be in Kolkotta. That is the last bastion of the original two wheeled rickshaw. The Government tried to ban this mode of transport which turns men into beasts of burden, but the rickshaw pullers would not agree.

In this type of rickshaw, the puller stands between the protruding handles of the vehicle, lifts them and once the passenger is seated, and starts running towards the destination, near or far. He watches the traffic ahead and adjusts the speed accordingly. Some rickshaws would have a bicycle bell at the end of one of the handles to warn the pedestrians.

It is not clear who invented the rickshaw or when. Anyway, it was gaining popularity in Japan by the late 1860s. Chinese traders introduced the new vehicles to Calcutta from where it spread to other parts of the country.

In my younger days one had to depend on hand pulled rickshaws in Cochin for moving around the town. (See: Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.) We used to land at Cochin by motor boat. There would be a number of rickshaws parked at the boat jetty and places like the railway station. You bargain about the fare and once that is settled, board the vehicle.

The hood made of canvass is usually pushed back unless it was sunny or raining. The rickshaw puller too preferred folded hood to avoid wind resistance. One felt like a lord, sitting at a level that was above the pedestrians and moving faster than them, and the gentle breeze on the face.

The rickshaw, those days, was a well-to-do man’s conveyance. There were only a handful of automobiles. Judges, government officers, and important people used the rickshaw. Some owned a rickshaw and employed a puller, like car and driver today.

Bicycle rickshaw

I don’t remember when the changeover to bicycle rickshaw (pedi-cab) happened in Cochin. I believe that in Delhi the technologically superior bicycle rickshaw was introduced in the 1940s. These eco-friendly vehicles became popular quite fast. It was also a boon to the bicycle tire industry because the rickshaws required strong, load bearing pneumatic tires. That was the origin of ‘rickshaw tires’.

According to one estimate, there are over 8 million rickshaw-pullers and perhaps as many bicycle rickshaws in India. At about Rs.3500 for a new bicycle rickshaw, it is quite a huge investment in this sector. But only about 5% of the pullers own vehicles. The rest take the rickshaws on hire from owners who have made it a business.

After paying the rent, repairs, and bribing policemen, the rickshaw puller would be lucky to have Rs.100 left with him at the end of the day. On the average he has five dependents according to one study. 46% of the rickshaw pullers are illiterate, and live below poverty line.

Efforts are on to establish Rickshaw Banks from where the pullers can avail of loans to buy new vehicles. If efficiently implemented, the scheme should definitely improve the lot of this vulnerable group of people.

Auto rickshaw.

Auto rickshaw, or ‘auto’ as it is popularly called, is found in numbers in big cities, small towns and even rural areas. This automated three-wheeler can be said to be the vehicle of the lower-middle class. It costs about half the fare of a taxi, is reasonably fast, and has the maneuverability to negotiate narrow spaces. The driver sits in front. Up to three passengers are allowed in the cabin at the back.

Something new is hopefully around the corner. The Ministry of Science is conducting trials on a new model of rickshaw named ‘Soleckshaw’ with a motor powered by solar charged battery. This is expected to be in regular use by the time of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Will that make the life of the rickshaw man any better? Not unless he can own the vehicle.

Photos: Click to enlarge. Top: Wikimedia Commons.

The other two by me. Copyright reserved.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Greetings, photos


Arrangement in a nadumuttam (inner courtyard)

Can someone please give the name of this plant?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The soldier farm

'Thambys' of the Madras Regiment on the march.
(Click to enlarge.)

"Press we to the field ungrieving,
In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just.

Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away."

Thomas Hardy.

The story is about a village in Tamil Nadu. Written by Padmini Sivarajah, it was carried on page 6 of The Times of India, Chennai Edition on October 12 under the title “A village where every home has an armyman”.

The hamlet is Perumalthevanpatti in Virudhunagar District. It has about 750 houses. What is amazing is that each of these houses has at least one soldier. The population of the village includes 375 people in active service and 522 retired servicemen.

The dream of every young man of this place is to join the army. This attraction to soldiery started 57 years back when one Perumal joined the army and rose to the rank of Major. He became the hero of the village and others followed his steps. To day, his son, P. Thirumal is a serving Major.

The reporter quotes one B. Gokulkannan of the village, “It’s not that we don’t want to become scholars, doctors and engineers, but the thought that we should serve the nation from the front is engraved in our minds and that is what we want to do.”

And the boys start work out on the village playground to develop their bodies to the army standard. There are enough ex-servicemen around to guide them along.

The girls of the village consider men who have joined the armed forces as the most eligible.

I salute you, men and women of Perumalthevanpatti.

(You should be able to get the full article by Padmini Sivarajah on the Internet.)

France: The sound of Indian military boots again

Great soldiers never die

Photo: Wikimedia Commons under license:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cashew, the nutty nut

In the 16thc CE when the Portuguese found the tree with twisted and bent trunks and branches and a strange kind of fruit in Brazil, they called it caju. That became ‘cashew’ in English and cashew became one of the most favourite edible nuts in the world. The official name of the tree which grows to a height of around 30ft, is Anacardium occidentale.

The Portuguese planted the cashew tree in Africa as well and from there it spread to different parts of the tropics. To day India controls a major portion of the cashew nut trade, but the bulk of the raw material supply is imported from Africa. The process of cracking the shell of the nut and extracting the kernel without breakage is mostly done manually and requires certain expertise in which the women of Kerala, India excel.

The nut of this tree is a bit of a nutty business. What is called ‘cashew apple’ (and is commonly believed to be the fruit of the tree) is actually a false fruit. It is a developed part of the receptacle of the flower of a cashew tree. The real fruit is the kidney shaped drupe that is found on the bottom end of the cashew apple. It is the kernel inside it that is the most valuable part of the cashew tree, ‘the cashew nut’.

Cashew nut is world famous as a cocktails and any time snack. It is also popular in confectionary and baking and in different cuisines. It is supposed to be a health food. Cashew nuts are usually available in salted and roasted packing. Those who wish to avoid salt can buy un-roasted nuts and roast them without salt if so desired.

Roasted cashew nuts.

Un-roasted cashew nuts

In cooking the nuts are some times used whole, sometimes broken and in certain cases, ground. One point to note here – the grading, and therefore pricing, of cashew nuts are based on size and colour. Except when whole nut is a must, cheaper broken nuts which are available in the market would suffice for culinary purposes.

Incidentally, among the Christians of Kerala there is a tender cashew nut curry which is made only on Good Friday. I have written about it in my post Memories: Passion Week, half a century back . Also suitable for the Indian palate is tender cashew nuts sautéed with onions and spices. The nut is taken when it is a little above this age:

The cashew apple (marañón) though it looks very attractive, has a strange taste which some people do not like. Still squashes and wines are made from it in different countries. The best use is to make a potent alcoholic drink called ‘Feni’ with it as the Goans do. When you get a chance, ask a Goan about Feni.

A liquid which contains anacardic acids is extracted from the shell of the cashew nuts – cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL). This is effective against gram-positive bacteria. Some parts of the cashew tree are also used in tribal medicine.

Cashew cultivation can be profitable with the new hybrid varieties .

Photos: Top left and second last from Wikimedia Commons. The rest TP/AT.

Click on photos to enlarge.