Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Wishes

Wishing You a Very Happy and Prosperous 

New Year

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mango trees flower

Usually, mango trees bloom in December. An indication that one of them is about to blossom is the light yellowish or pinkish tender leaves that come. They will soon turn dark green.

The flowers have an exotic smell that fills the air during season. A good portion of the blooms fall off particularly if there is rain clouds or rain.

Given below are photos that I took in Chennai and Olavipe. Click on them to enlarge. Copyright is reserved. 

Also please see:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dam Business

Dr.Rajan Gurukkal, Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi University recently stated that politics improves the intellectual level of a person. Well, after whipping up emotions and creating a near panic situation in the dispute with Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar Dam, the Kerala UDF leaders have called off their agitation. The Communists and BJP who have become practically their political partners are to continue the fight. The by-election to the Kerala Assembly from Piravom is around the corner and they are hoping to get a few more votes with this show. 

The Mullaperiyar Dam was built 116 years back at a height of about 3000 feet above sea level by the British in what is now the Idukki District of Kerala. The purpose was to supply water to the barren districts of Tamil Nadu adjoining the Western Ghats. This is done through watershed cutting and tunnels and pipes. Subsequently, power generation from the diverted water was also taken up.

Actually it was one man’s dedication that made the dam a reality – Major John Pennycuick whom the Madras Presidency Governor had put in charge of the project. But after two coffer dam failures the government withdrew financial support to the plan.

Pennycuick did not give up though. It is said that he sold his estate in England and his wife’s jewellery to fund the construction of the dam. One product that flowed without water then was the local hooch, arrack, which the workers consumed to keep away malaria. In spite of that hundreds of them died of the disease.

When completed, the dam was considered to be one of the great engineering feats performed by man. A large area of Tamil Nadu – Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts - started receiving ample supply of water. That changed the lives of the people of those places and Pennycuick became a god to them.

By Jayeshj. Published under

By Captain. Published under

At least one temple was dedicated to the Englishman. Pongal is celebrated for him in some areas. His portrait is revered in many homes and shops. Children are named after him. There is also a place called Pennycuick Peravai. The government put up Pennycuick’s statue in Madurai. When this engineer’s great grandson visited the area in 2002, thousands gathered to welcome and honour him. The people of Tamil Nadu have a deep attachment to Mullaperiyar Dam and Pennycuick. One has to be sensitive to that affection.

In 1886 the Travancore Sate and the British signed a 999 year lease agreement for giving the latter 8000 acres of land for the reservoir and 100 acres for the dam for rent of Rs.40000 per year. This contract became void when India attained independence. After years of negotiation, a new agreement was signed between Kerala and Tamil Nadu in 1970. In that the lease rates were increased to Rs.1 million. Kerala now wants this agreement to be modified.

Kerala’s concern is that the old dam made using stone rubble masonry has weakened mainly because of age and the earthquakes in the area and might burst. If that happens there would be colossal loss of human lives and existing development in Kerala. The movie Dam 999 (which is banned in TN) I believe (haven’t seen it) shows the havoc a dam burst can cause. We know that during World War II the British developed a special type of bomb to demolish two German dams so that the industries downstream would be washed away. The famous 1955 British movie, The Dam Busters shows the details.

Fears about the safety of Mullaperiyar Dam arose in Kerala in 1979 when Macchu – 2 Dam near Morvi town in Gujarat burst due to incessant rains. It is estimated that about 15000 to 25000 people died in that tragedy. From 1990 there have been several earthquakes in Idukki District which could have affected the strength of the dam. Kerala says there have been twenty two earthquakes. According to TN, there have been only four. But the Central Government states that there have been sixteen tremors and the dam is in earthquake prone area.

What Kerala wants is to construct a new dam downstream and till that is completed to reduce the storage level at Mullaperiyar to 120 feet from the present 136 feet. Kerala also promises to provide TN as much water as they are getting now, from the new dam. But what the price of water would be and how the new structure is to be financed and managed is not clear. The present dam, though it is in Kerala is operated and maintained by TN.

Kerala Government is absolutely justified in its concern for the safety of its people. But the way the present government has gone about it is counter productive. The antics and one-upmanship by the Kerala parties over the issue have provoked the Tamilians. Keralites are at the losing end and further problems could arise for people living in Kerala and those Keralites in TN. Going into details would make this a long essay. As the Supreme Court said, “Both parties, instead of dousing the fire, are adding fuel to it.”

This sort of matters should have been discussed quietly and a reasonable agreement reached before publicising it. Perhaps negotiations should have started in 1990. What is the solution now? The Supreme Court? The Prime Minister or the President?

Somebody should put across to TN one basic point. A dam burst would be a one time tragedy for Kerala. But all the areas in TN which have prospered with water from Mullaperiyar would become barren again.
Click on the photos to enlarge.
All pictures from Wikimedia Commons. 

Also please see Remembering grandfather. There may be a connection..

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Putting FDI in retail on hold – sense or nonsense?

What prompted me to write this was reading Yaswant Sinha’s statements about FDI in retail field in an interview published recently in the Deccan Chronicle.

About fifteen or twenty years back when supermarkets came to Cochin there was considerable fear among the small retailers that their business would be affected. The magnitude of this concern spread to more areas when the big shops started selling meat, fish and vegetables too.

What really happened? One chain of supermarkets closed down, obviously due to mismanagement. Unfortunately they did not know Yaswant Sinha’s miracle therapy – send your people outside to learn best management practices in retail. (It would be useful if he can publish a list of places where such training is available to Indian retailers.) Another well-known chain also pulled down its shutters. Some others are doing well of course. Even Reliance and More have entered the scene in a big way. But it has not affected the small retailers.

Take the area where I live in Cochin. Seven years back when we moved to Chennai the place had three or four vegetable shops and a few retail outlets for other goods. We shifted back three months ago. The situation is interesting. Within a radius of less than 1km, there is a Reliance Fresh (with a notice on the front door that they need personnel), around ten vegetable shops and a number of retailers dealing in every imaginable goods from pencils to electronics. All of them seem to be doing well.

We go to Reliance occasionally. The main reason is that there is a good fish stall and a medical shop near Reliance. It also helps us to learn what the new goods on the market are. But it is the corner shop near the house that we depend on mostly. It has almost all the stuff we need for the house. That shop too has grown. Incidentally, women still bring fish home. The cold storages apparently have not affected their business

If Walmart or Morrison’s or Carrefour opens a super shop in the heart of the town not many people are likely to drive in the traffic congestion to do regular shopping there. It is true that the malls which have come up in Cochin seem to be doing well. But mostly, people stick to their local shops where they are known. The habit of buying in large quantities and stocking for a month or so is not common.

Yaswant Sinha says that foreign involvement in retail would mean cultural invasion. Well, the middleman culture would be under threat. That should benefit the farmers and the consumers. As a matter of fact, reading through the whole interview gives one the feeling that FDI is something that Sinha is not really against, though his intention was to justify his party’s stand to oppose it.

If the major international retail chains come to India, they would require people to man the new facilities. It is unlikely that they would grab staff from the existing small outlets. They would recruit according to their set standards and train the personnel. This should certainly create many new job opportunities.

Would the customers have any benefits? Let me give my wife’s and my example. After a recent cataract operation, I had to use different types of eye drops. They are cheaper in the hospital pharmacy by about 20% compared to the medical shops. The same is true about my wife’s diabetic medicines and equipments for taking sugar readings. The reason is that these hospitals buy in volumes and regularly.

Efficient and quantitative buying certainly reduces the cost for the outlet. You might have noticed ads in the media and otherwise by big shops offering commonly used goods cheaper than market prices and MRPs.  

Now, on the political angle. In fact the BJP was for FDI in retail when they were ruling. But that proposal was not pushed through for some reason. Now they are objecting to it because the UPA is trying to implement it. Purely political reason.  

BJP must realize that the party is very important to India. They would be/should be either running the government or sitting the opposition in a responsible manner. Seeing the BJP lining up with the left parties too often these days makes one worried. The Communists have opposed everything good for the country from Quit India to computers. That is why they are where they are today.

Inactivating the Parliament for political reasons – sometimes silly ones – for days at a stretch and wasting the taxpayer’s money is not right. Stay in the Parliament and bring a no confidence motion if the government is really doing something seriously wrong.

That is the true democratic process.

Also please see

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A tree of sorrow and its flowers that are teardrops

Once upon a time in a kingdom in India was a princess. Her name was  Parijathika. She fell in love with the Sun. After years of waiting and pleading, she realized that her wishes were in vain. She committed suicide. From her ashes arose a plant. It grew fast, and started flowering. The plant and its flowers were named parijatham, after the princess. The fragrant blossoms opened only at night so that they won’t have to see the Sun. They fall off in the morning. They are the teardrops of Parijathika.

Parijatham thirumizhi thurannu…. (parijatham flower has opened its royal eyes….) is a famous song that the Malayalis (Mallus) have loved for decades. Though it is a native of Southeast Asia (Pakistan to Thailand) not many people are familiar with parijatham. Actually I don’t even remember seeing one. We have a plant with beautiful white flowers which is locally called parijatham. But it is a day-flowering one. I have given its photo in the post Can you help identify these flowers form Olavipe?

Then, last week I met Prof. Joy Joseph at a luncheon party at the Cochin Suburban Club. He had been the Secretary of Ernakulam District Agri-Horti Society for nine years and has organized several flower shows. I asked him about parijatham. He got me its botanical name Nyctanthes arbor-tristis and said that in English it is called night flowering jasmine. Later on I found that it is also referred to as coral jasmine and tree of sorrow. I believe that arbor-tristis literally means sad tree. It belongs to the Oleaceae family. Parijatham is the Malayalam name. Some of the names in other languages are given in the ‘Labels’ section below.

Well, parijatham is not really a tree. It grows to a height of only a few meters. More like a shrub. The 1-2 inch flowers are beautiful and highly fragrant. Though they fall off in the morning, the aroma lingers in the air for hours. Parijatham is a divine flower and is used for worship by the Hindus and Buddhists. I believe that they are not to be plucked from the shrub. Only the fallen ones are taken.

Apart from the story of the princess falling in love with the Sun, there are two other stories that I came across about its origin. One is that, according to the Puranas, parijatham was found during the Palazhi Madhanam (Churning of the Sea of Milk)

Another episode states that Sri Krishna stole a branch of the parijatham tree from the heavenly garden of Indra. His wives Satyabhama and Rukmini were staying in adjoining houses. Each wanted parijatham to be planted in her garden. Sri Krishna placed the plant in a slanting manner in one garden so that when it grew up the flowering would be over the other garden.     

It is claimed that all parts of parijatham except perhaps its roots have great medicinal value. It is used for gout, piles, dry cough, skin problems, ring worm, intestinal worms, certain gynecological troubles, chronic fever and as purgative. Hair tonic is also made from parijatham.

Parijatham is not to be confused with ‘nishagandhi (Queen of the night or night-blooming Cerus plant). Incidentally, in the post Visit of a queen I have given sequential photographs of a nishagandhi flower opening. Please do have a look at it.

West Bengal State, India and Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand have parijatham as the official State flower.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The ancient painting of Sri Krishna uprooting or planting parijatha is in the public domain and is taken from Wikimedia Commons.

The photos are by  J.M.Garg of Calcutta. 
They are reproduced here from Wikimedia Commons under