2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,600 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

My blog: 2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 4 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 25 posts. There were 12 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 567kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 12th with 92 views. The most popular post that day was THE LEGEND OF THE TREE DWELLING COBRA.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were mail.yahoo.com, mail.live.com, forums.bharat-rakshak.com, facebook.com, and mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for king cobra, prakash padukone, kathakali, k madhavan asianet, and venu balakrishnan.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

THE LEGEND OF THE TREE DWELLING COBRA August 2008
7 comments

2

Asianet Kerala’s Broadcasting Embarrassment May 2009
13 comments

3

THE NOSTALGIA MERCHANTS FROM KERALA February 2009
1 comment

4

AKSHARAM AYYAPPAN, A TRIBUTE October 2010
1 comment

5

Reserve Bank of India and NRI Remittances December 2009
1 comment

THE BIG FISHERMAN

THE BIG FISHERMAN

A man among ordinary mortals

I have been plonking my way through the key board to put in a few words about a lovely person I read about last week. His name is Panankoodan Poulose Joemon, P P Joemon in short. He has two Post Graduate Degrees in literature, one each in English and Malayalam. Knowing a bit about education in Kerala, India, I would say that this man spent over twenty in school and college.

The Big Fisherman, P P Joemon

The Big Fisherman, P P Joemon

Joemon hails from a poor family in Companypadi, Alwaye and came through a childhood of severe poverty. After basic schooling, Joemon started selling fish to fund his college education. Later, even after his multiple university degrees, he could not find a steady job. He does teach at a tutorial college (usually an underpaid, privately owned tuition home) and also at an English language coaching institute, but neither are steady long term prospects. So he chose to continue his career as a retail fish salesman. Joemon goes to the fish auctioning centres early in the morning and gets his daily sales stock of the damp, smelly stuff. Loading his day’s merchandise on his pushbike he pedals around his town giving out the local fisherman’s loud cry, ‘poohoooy’. He finishes the rounds before his teaching hours and reaches his classroom washed and tidy, on time.

Despite his credentials as a teacher, if anyone asks him what he does for a living, Joemon says with all humility that he is a fish vendor. I love that. In a country where a rich businessman’s or politician’s idiot son becomes a practicing doctor by virtue of his dad’s money power, (does not matter that he did his medical degree in nine years rather than the regular four, or how much he contributes to the local undertaker’s business in the near future) this gem of a man pedals along with his load of fish through the streets of a state neck deep in hypocrisy.

People not half as qualified as Joemon are sitting in the Government Secretariat and other public offices deciding when an old man would get his pension or why a cripple should not get his wheel chair, taking their own sweet time about it. They go on to become government secretaries and accounts managers and many wade their way through corruption for a comfortable living.

Bachelor boy Joemon’s only regret is also noted. No girl wants a fish vendor as her husband. Sadly, the girls are missing a pot of gold on THIS end of the rainbow. Those who reject him will probably end up in bed with a crooked, under educated idiot who got his ‘respectable’ job by bribing his way through and hopes to keep his home fire burning by accepting bribes himself. If I were a tycoon owning a multinational or something similar, I would have offered Joemon a top job in my PR or HR team. Well done, Joemon, this country needs more genuine people like you. Cheers.

I have chosen the name of Lloyd C Douglas’ novel as the caption of this post on purpose. It is a big sea out there and we need Big Fishermen like Joemon. We require men like him to be the rock on which we can build a real nation. Bless you, Joemon.

Not beside the point

Joemon is also an aspiring poet. His friends are currently trying to publish a collection of his work. If you ask him why he chose the life of a fish vendor, he will recite a poem, his own, let me say. I will do my best to translate it.

DESTINY

The sun, glorious sun

rises each morning

his charity spills

on every dark slum.

I know now

that we have not

the sun’s honour,

have chosen instead

to stroll down

stairways of self-deceit.

Citadels of hypocrisy

crumble, even as

streams of sweat,

toil, spill through.

I’ve left behind

silver lined shams

and have come to know

dark, beautiful truths..

I leave alone

naive destiny,

unjust it is

to blame providence.

Trivia: I have the greatest respect for Christianity, as it originally appeared in the world and, just a few decades later, in India. I mention ‘in India’ here because, in the last two thousand years or so, a bunch of resilient Christian missionaries have done far more for the poor, oppressed, low castes and uneducated in India than all the multi billions of eyewash thrown down the drains by democratic India and its corrupt politicians, since 1947. The indirect reference to St Peter is acknowledged.

Picture Courtesy: Mathrubhumi Daily

AKSHARAM AYYAPPAN, A TRIBUTE

AKSHARAM AYYAPPAN, A TRIBUTE

A Ayyappan, picture courtesy, Mathrubhoomi

A Ayyappan, picture courtesy, Mathrubhoomi

Once there was

a little girl,

of an unknown father

an unseen mother.

Someone grasped

her little hand

and took her

to a street.

That street

is today called

The Red Street.

– A Ayyappan, from his book ‘People the Colour of Coal’, published by D C Books. Free translation by blogger.

FRIEND OF ALL I SURVEY

The morning was very cold, depressing and I was in front of my old laptop, prepared to spend a lazy Saturday reading online newspapers over a cup of black tea. When the PDF edition of Mathrubhoomi downloaded it showed a rather pleasant colour picture of poet A Ayyappan on the front page. My heart sank when I read the sub caption. Ayyappan was not with us anymore.

It was during the mid seventies that I first met Ayyappan. Trivandrum’s University Library was next to University College and right across the road was the magnificent Victoria Jubilee Town Hall. I was doing my final year B Sc in Geology and the Library was a favourite haunt. There was a cheap students’ canteen and a primitive gym behind the library. The library, in those days had a clean, well maintained garden. Its lawn after sunset was our favourite meeting place.

The regulars on the library lawn were Prabha, Salim, Jinan, Sreekumar, Laurens and a few more that drifted in and out of the company. Most of them were a bit elder to me and it was a matter of pride that I was accepted when I used to drop in two or three times a week. Aksharam Ayyappan was senior to all of us, but then, he did not belong to any age group in particular. In his late twenties, Ayyappan was a slightly built, pleasant man and already a well known modern poet. He had none of the affectations that came with the young and famous and did not have much money to spare, like the rest of us.

Except for me, the Library friends had already finished their graduation and were looking for jobs. Prabha, who was a couple of years senior to me in the Geology Department had joined for LLb. Laurens had walked out of the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum declaring that they had nothing to teach him. If I remember correctly, Ayyappan had closed down the literary magazine ‘Aksharam’ that he was editing and publishing. The rest were job hunters and perhaps in no hurry to find one.

Ayyappan almost always wore a long kurta with deep pockets and a white dhoti. Kerala had not banned arrack and 180 ml packets were sold in clear polyethylene sachets for two rupees. On good days, Ayyappan would have a few of these sachets in his kurta’s deep pockets. Arrack, Charminar cigarettes and Dinesh beedis fuelled all discussions, which would last into the wee hours of the next morning. I had a blue BSA bicycle which was very much in demand for getting ‘supplies’ and for dropping the needy home. Thankfully, there were no mobile phones and nothing could intrude our moonlit nights. The old campus watcher was our friend and had a good nap if we were around.

If he was in the mood, Ayyappan would sing in a rustic but haunting voice and we would listen, half present, half lost in many worlds. Cannabis, though frowned upon, was not considered a major evil. Most of us could take the string off a beedi, unfurl it without breaking the brittle wrapping leaf, throw out the tobacco and refill it with the sacred herb and re-roll to perfection in pitch darkness. A fifty paise packet of ‘shiva mooli’ could make half a dozen beedi joints. Harder drugs never found their way into our evenings and most probably it was the reason why we went on to live our lives later.

The gathering would discuss anything under the sun, from cult movies and modern literature to the menu in famous toddy shops. Most of us were familiar with Ayyappan’s poetry. We never had to buy his books; he would always give us a free copy from somewhere. If one had a rupee, the University canteen could sell us a masal dosa and a cup of strong tea. Life had very little needs.

During late seventies Narendra Prasad held rehearsals of his cult dramas in Chalai High School. It was Ayyappan who took us there for the first time one late evening. These crudely lit rehearsals were attended by great stage and film actors like Nedumudi Venu and Leela Panicker. Once, the great John Abraham himself turned up. We would watch silently from the verandas of adjoining buildings, as if it was a solemn duty. I remember Ayyappan telling us that true art could exist without any glitter. We were all served parippu vada and black tea during the breaks. No one asked who we were. We were all Ayyappan’s friends. There was something universal about it. Anyone could be Ayyappan’s friend.

A couple of years went by. In ‘79, I returned to Trivandrum after a brief stint in Calicut. I had found a small job in a bank and had a few tenners to spare during the first half of the month. There was the famous Xavier’s Restaurant near the Great Post Office and its Annexe near the YMCA. Having a job meant that one could have a drink or a meal on credit till the next pay day. A barman becomes something of your best friend, more reliable than your bank manager. There was Ananthan and Mani in Magnet Hotel, Narayanan in Pankaj, Bhaskaran in Xavier’s, Baby in Devas and Jose in May Fair. Many of us are deeply indebted to all of them for holding up our respectability in places where men meet and are ‘judged’. When a barman accepts your creditworthiness, you are a pillar in a ‘floating’ society. I continued to see Ayyappan off and on and perhaps am responsible for a tiny bit of damage done to his frail frame. However, I have never refused Ayyappan a drink at these watering holes.

Then one day, I had the shock of my life. I was living with my parents and was in my room. It was early in the morning and my father knocked on my door. He was a well known lawyer and wanted me to come to his downstairs office and meet a dear friend. It was Ayyappan and he had come home to borrow some money for an urgent journey. Ayyappan did not bat the proverbial eyelid when I was introduced. Honestly, I never knew that Ayyappan was my father’s friend. Probably he never even knew we were son and father before that morning. It was a coincidence that my old friend Prabha, after his LLb, was then working as my father’s junior. I bet Ayyappan did not know that either. Ayyappan never asked anything personal questions about anyone and accepted people as they were. He was the frailest gypsy that ever roamed.

Many of us knew him simply as Aksharam Ayyappan, after the magazine he once edited and published. His real name was A Ayyappan and many think that the ‘A’ stood for Aksharam. He was not known to correct anyone, but the ‘A’ was for Arumughom, his father, a goldsmith who died when Ayyappan was a child.

Later, when my own life made living difficult for me, I have refused  Ayyappan money. Several times, in fact. He never took it to heart. The next time we met he would smile guilelessly ask again, as if he had never done it before. I have always felt a pang when I refused Ayyappan money. It was a little more severe than the guilt I felt when I gave him cash for a drink, knowing that this delicate man with the large heart was drinking himself to death. Before I had a job, Ayyappan had stood me a drink several times. He would happily part with a plastic cover of arrack if he could spare one.

Mathews, the Manager at Current Books at Statue Junction was a personal financier that often helped Ayyappan when he had a very dry throat. He would go in and ask, “Mathews, my books are not all sold out, are they?”

Mathews would smile and say, “No way, we have plenty in stock”.

Ayyappan would then wink at me and tell Mathews, “Then you have plenty of security. Give us twenty rupees”. I loved the way he said ‘us’. His books needed to be sold for ‘us’.

Once I found him scribbling something on a piece of paper beneath the famous mango tree inside University College. I sat near him and lit a beedi, not wanting to disturb him. When he had finished, he looked up and asked me if I cared for a drink. I told him that I could use one, but had no money. Ayyappan giggled and said that he did not have any either. He wanted me to give him a lift on my bicycle. I sat him on my crossbar and pedalled in the hot sun to Kerala Kaumudi office in Pettah. Leaving me outside, he went in and returned ten minutes later with the grand sum of fifty rupees. He had just sold the poem he had scribbled half an hour ago. Those days, a full bottle of Hercules rum cost less than twenty rupees. I asked him about the poem he had written. He said he did not have an opinion about it yet and asked me to look for it in the next issue of the weekly. “Let it be anything, but it has bought this evening for us”.

Ayyappan had thousands of friends and they will have many stories to tell, some true, some false, some exaggerated. Many of his friends do not know each other. If Ayyappan had suddenly won a million rupees in a lottery, no one would have gone to him and asked him to settle an old debt. It was the world that we live in that continues to owe him, for refusing to take his rightful share from life.

Ayyappan must have written hundreds of poems, all of which have bought joy to him and others. Now that he is gone, they will continue to do so, like an old cask of wine that refuses to stop bubbling.

Stop Press:

“Homer alive

begged through

the streets of Greece.

Homer dead

is buried

in seven cities.”

Note: One bad news follows another. I have been trying to reach my friend Prabha, Trivandrum, on his mobile phone since yesterday. I wanted to know if he was attending Ayyappan’s funeral. No one answered. Today, Prabha’s son Vivek called me back enquiring about the missed calls. I was speechless to learn that Prabha had passed away in June following a heart attack. Prabha retired from the Sales Tax Department as Joint Commissioner and was practicing as a tax consultant and lawyer. One more friend is gone.

OF CORPORALS, CAPTAINS AND GENERALS

OLD HOMETOWN NEWSPAPERS

 During my boyhood in Trivandrum in the sixties, Kerala Kaumudi was the most circulated and widely read newspaper in the capital. The Calicut based Mathrubhoomy, thanks to the formidably highbrow stuff published in its Weekly, was considered a bit too posh. Kottayam’s Malayala Manorama was yet another product from Madras Rubber Factory, a flavour it manages to carry, to this date. In those days of manual typesetting and composing, Kerala Kaumudi had the distinct advantage of having its press and other facilities in the city. Trivandrum, though the capital of Kerala, was not considered a major market by the newspapers from the north. Commercial newspapers need an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and fund backed adventurism in the local markets to thrive. For the Fourth Estate, unfortunately Trivandrum in those pre political-mafia days was very small-time. In simple language, there was little advertisement revenue in the city of ‘Sarkari Babus’*.

One of my clearest Trivandrum memories is that of our King. Every morning, His Highness Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was chauffeur driven in his Studebaker Commander from his palace at Kowdiar to pray before the family deity at the Padmanabha Swamy temple. I distinctly remember that the registration number of the old straight-six car was KLT 1. Despite the car being American, it was a right hand drive model and His Highness used to sit on the kerbside of the back seat. Though he was a king without a kingdom, he was deeply loved and respected for his humility, austerity and simplicity. His hands were locked together in an eternal and honest Namaste to his Lord and his People, a gesture never sincerely copied by any politician since.

The freshly poisoned communist recruits were the only lot that turned their noses up at the harmless King. As champions of the poor, they masqueraded as the brave warriors who had ousted the King from power. Now, having ruled for about three decades collectively, the Communists have turned his once lovely kingdom into a showpiece of chaos, nepotism and corruption. The top leftist leaders are seriously involved in building an opulent Communist Empire and wear invisible crowns. They even maintain court jesters and courtesans in their proletarian Barnum and Bailey show.

In the 1960s and early 70s, Trivandrum was mostly a city of pompous but very middle class officials, government clerks and a few well grounded socialist intellectuals. The original well-to-do natives were conservative to the extent of being stuffy and aloof.  Those who visited the city briefly and the deeply sarcastic settlers from north Kerala were seldom admitted into the circles of Trivandrum’s upper middleclass and aristocracy. So the only Trivandrumites they ever met were the likes of domestic servants, fisherwomen and market vendors. They had every reason to believe that all Trivandrum folk spoke like Suraj Venjaramood.

Sorry for going off at a tangent, after I started with newspapers. Yes. Those days Kerala Kaumudi was still a free newspaper and was not remote controlled by communal undertones. The style or personality of a newspaper slowly grows on you. Even in the seventies and eighties, when Kerala Kaumudi was widely criticised as the mouthpiece of a particular community, my dad continued loyally with his old paper. Perhaps it had something to do with his deep friendship with K Balakrishnan, the editor of Kaumudi Weekly, which though a namesake, was a different entity. Today, Kerala Kaumudi probably holds the third spot in Trivandrum’s circulation charts. From the remoteness of my small Sussex town, it is still a favoured paper for me since it is the only Malayalam Daily that makes available its full edition as a PDF file online, totally free of cost. Recently it has also made its old editions available online in the archives section. I usually save the pages with interesting articles for a later leisurely read.

 AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

 

Captain Raju Daniel

Today, with a little spare time on hand, I was going through a saved page dated 15/01/2010. It carries a piece written by Kovalam Sathishkumar about a chat he had with senior Malayalam screen actor, Captain Raju. Raju was indeed a Captain in the Indian Army before he joined the movie scene. Though he usually appears in negative roles, he is known to be one of the few gentlemen in the industry. Many years ago I have had the opportunity to work with his younger brother and I conclude that uprightness runs in the family. Lalu Alex is another known good soul and curiously, he too is a villain.

In the narrative, the Captain speaks about his experience of serving at the lines of conflict along the northern borders. He modestly discloses quite a few ground realities of army life, motivation and patriotism. He also has the wisdom and maturity to acknowledge that the enemies across the border are nothing but ordinary men like us.

What brings me to write this post is a comment which appears towards the end of the article. Here, there is a remark that if he had not left the army to act in the movies, he would have been a Lieutenant General by now. I am not sure if this comment came from the interviewer or from the Captain himself. Whatever be the source, I would like to dispute this little claim, without casting a slur on the good Captain’s name.

Commissioned officers in the Indian army come from two sources. The first lot are officers who join on a Permanent Commission after graduating from the army’s own colleges. The others are graduates who come from the main stream. The latter group is offered a short service commission of about five years or so. Based on their demonstrated capabilities, the army may offer them a permanent commission at the end of their contracted period. A friend of mine, a Colonel with the Artillery, tells me that less than twenty percent of Short Service chaps make it to a permanent commission. Also, the direct Commissioned Officers hold a few advantages over the Short Service chaps. They are usually a bit younger when they get the Commission and are considered more blue eyed, by virtue of their longer association and training with the army.

Most Short Service Commission officers are happy to leave the force at the end of the contracted period. There are many lucrative opportunities for them in the public and private sectors. They are very much in demand as well trained and disciplined recruitment material for top security and administrative jobs. Most of them make more money in their later civilian careers than they would have ever made in the army.

As for the Short Service officers that stay on, very few of them make it to Brigadier level. Usually, the upward climb ends at Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. It is a known fact in the Indian Army that if you do not make it to full Colonel in your early forties, the real top brass posts are out of reach. In this context, I assume that Captain Raju was allowed to leave after five years of service because he was on a Short Service Commission.

History tells us of a vertically challenged Corporal who went on to become a formidable General and an Emperor. A handful of officers from Short Service cadre have indeed become Lieutenant Generals under exceptional conditions. I have no doubt that Captain Raju was an exceptional officer and always, a perfect gentleman. Cheers.

Notes:

1. ‘Sarkari Babu’ – Hindi for Government Clerk 2. Captain Raju’s picture- courtesy Kerala Kaumudi

ATTUKAL PONGALA, PALM LANDS AND JOHN MARY

Pongala in progress

A sea of women returning from Pongala

ALL IN GOOD FAITH

I first met John Mary in the mid nineties, when he was the Chief News Editor at New Indian Express,Trivandrum. I remember him as a bearded, cheerful and peaceful man living with his children and charming Brahmin wife, not far away from his office near Sasthamangalam. Indeed, he and his wife have gracefully played hosts on many weekends to our motley bunch of friends. The food was generous and the ambience lovely. We shared a potpourri of friends including writers, journalists, movie technicians, doctors, builders, photographers, pensioners, assorted adventurers and career drinkers.

Those days, other than the now extinct Country Club, our favourite hunting ground was a quaint, crumbling old place called Palm Lands, a stone’s throw away from the Government Secretariat. There were about twenty five private rooms with attached baths, all occupied by individuals on the way up, stagnant or washed out, as one may see it. There were also some refugees, as in all cities, who needed a temporary camp before launching their next pursuits. Whole families of toddy cats lived above the wooden ceilings, coming out to play in the trees on full moon nights. Yes, Palm Lands had its Sharks, Sheikhs and Good Samaritans.

Palm Lands comprised of a group of century old, single storied tiled buildings. There were long verandas and big windows with folding wooden shutters, typical of colonial Kerala architecture. The grounds were large, with parking area, palm trees, an ancient mango tree and a particularly large almond tree. The courtyard was almost always littered with fallen leaves and twigs broken off by the wind. Dusty cars and bikes were parked carelessly. An old woman of dubious past came from the notorious nearby slum and swept the courtyard and verandas when it suited her. She would also buy us cigarettes and bottled soda for small considerations. Palm Lands was indeed prime nostalgia material. During its heydays Palm Lands was the residence of people’s representatives belonging to Sree Moolam Praja Sabha, an ineffective flatterers’ assembly put together by the King of Travancore.

Coming back to John Mary, my friend with whom I have never had a cross word, he used to visit Palm Lands most Sundays, when the gang gathered to discuss anything from movies and literature to legalisation of prostitution and accepting gay people into mainstream life. We had a couple of retired army officers in our fold and the window sills would be lined with rum bottles. Brand names like Hercules, Contessa, Buccaneer, Old Monk, Christian Brothers, Old Port, Negro, Black Panther and Celebration mixed freely with water, soda and on special occasions, tender coconut water. (Believe me, there is no greater soothing mixer in the world than the last mentioned, lending palatability and respectability to the harshest paint remover ever imbibed by man).

John was a very soft spoken person and was very up to date with happenings around the world. Driving up in his new Maruti Suzuki, which few of us could dream of owning, he usually came with a container of delicious home cooked food and a bottle of ‘good something’ that the rest of us wouldn’t waste our money on. When we ran out of essential supplies, he would be the first volunteer to jump behind my dated, noisy Enfield and venture out for replenishments. It was a great pleasure to be with him, because he was not your standard paparazzi, freeloading and fouling up everything in range.

As one gets older, the bush that you beat around becomes more elaborate and denser. Right now, mine is as big as a medium sized tiger sanctuary, and of course, as is the general rule, without any tigers. This miserably wet, cold English morning, I am brought to remember John again after more than a decade. My good friend Najeeb Arcadia has forwarded me a link on Attukal Pongaala. The article dated 02/03/2010 is published on the BBC News site and is authored by a certain John Mary. Coming from Trivandrum, it can not be anyone other than my long lost friend. I also assume that there is no other John Mary in south India whose article will be accepted by BBC.

The BBC Article

Being an original native of Trivandrum, I can claim that I have more than a rough idea of the Attukal Pongala festival. Going through John Mary’s article, I wish to elaborate on the following points.

The Hindu deities and schools of worship can be more or less classified as Vaishnavite, Shaivite and Shaktheya, being respectively based on Vishnu, Shiva and Shakthi. The last mentioned, is feminine and is the material representation of all universal power. Shakthi in several different forms is symbolized in all Hindu schools of faith, whether Vaishnavite or Shivaite. She is Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Parvathi, Maha Kaali, Ganga and Kannaki of the Tamil legend (in her later spiritual form). ‘Bhagavan’ and ‘Bhagavathi’ broadly represents male and female forms of Hindu divinity. In short, any male deity can be addressed as Bhagavan and any female deity can be Bhagavathi. The deity at Attukal temple is widely believed to be a manifestation of Kannaki. Tantrik rites practiced at a particular temple determine the particular manifestation (or form or ‘bhava’) of the Bhagavathi enshrined therein. The statement in the article that Attukal Bhagavathi is an incarnation of Saraswathy and Kali needs to be examined. These two forms stand farthest apart in the manifestations of Shakthi. Shakthi in plain translation comes out as power. (Here I am not ignoring the Bengali concept of Kali also being the God of Knowledge, the story of Kalidasa etc. But Attukal is nearer to Adi Shankara and too far south. The rites of worship at Attukal, as far as I know, are of a ‘satwika bhava’, suitable for a calmer deity).

The article states that the women devotees ‘howl shrilly’ at the culmination of this religious event. I find the same an unfortunate choice of words. One howls in pain and anger. Howling is also associated with dogs and wolves. The peculiar sound made by women devotees is a form of yodelling. In south Indian Hindu tradition, it is an auspicious vocalisation associated with temples, weddings, births of babies and the crowning of kings. It is definitely not howling. In vernacular, this rather high pitched call is known as ‘kurava’ and can be heard a long distance away, which may well be the purpose.

Pongala is not a meal. It best describes the moment when the cooked rice and jaggery boil over the brim of the cooking pot. The offering may also include other sweet concoctions and rice cakes.

As John Mary mentions, Pongala was indeed not as elaborate thirty ago. It was mostly the domain of the working class women of old. (Read labour class. Fifty years ago not even 1% of educated women from middle and upper class families worked). But today, one will find the rich and poor, young and old, natives and pilgrims from far away at Attukal. You will need them all to make up three million women on a single day in a single town at the same temple. The Guinness Book of Records vouches for the fact.

In the past, most paddy farming communities had their harvest deities. These deities were briefly enshrined and worshipped in temporary temples called ‘Mudippuras’. When not worshipped, for the rest of the year, the deities were kept safely in the landlords’ matriarchal houses. It is judged that long ago, Attukal deity too was a Mudippura goddess. When the growing cities swallowed up all the paddy fields, the harvest festivals came to an end. Some affluent households made permanent temples for these family deities as a mark of respect and to preserve the traditions. The Mudippura temple at Jagathy, Trivandrum is another classic example.

Notes:

In this little write up here, I am not attempting to correct a respected and senior journalist like John Mary. All I want is to add a couple of notes of my own. One may read John’s  original material at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8544038.stm

I haven’t seen or heard from John in twelve years or so and would love to hear from him. I hope he is doing well at what he does best.

My maternal grand father’s elder brother, a certain Mr Sthanu Pillai, from a small township called Neyyattinkara in the outskirts of Trivandrum was the House Manager at Palm Lands during its glory days as the residence of the King’s ‘sycophant parliamentarians’.

All the last occupants were thrown out and Palm Lands was demolished about seven or eight years ago. I can not blame the real owners of the property for doing so, because it was a pot of gold from the point of view of real estate developers. But while it lasted it was one of the last bastions of free thinkers and loving friends in an otherwise uncaring city. Today, it is truly prime nostalgia material for a few dozens like me.

The official website of Attukal Temple is http://www.attukal.org/

I have heard some weird pronunciations for Attukal Pongala. It is best read as ‘Aattukaal Ponkaala’.

Picture courtesy, www.keralakaumudi.com

Any suggestions for additions or corrections to this post are welcome. Cheers.

Reserve Bank of India and NRI Remittances

AN OPEN MESSAGE TO RESERVE BANK OF INDIA

 

Till a few years ago, Indian banks gave special treatment to NRIs. Inward remittances were given instant credit on ‘at par’ conditions. Foreign currency instruments sent from abroad were credited in India based fairly on RBI’s daily rates. Bank Managers strived to keep a cordial relationship with good NRI customers and knew most of them by name.

Things have changed much of late. The need to make the bottom line look rosy has sidelined commitment to NRIs. Banks have been given more freedom by the Finance Ministry and they have begun to take an unfair cut from NRI remittances. Not only are the banks claiming discount / collection charges, but also dilute the day’s exchange rate for a sneaky profit. There is also some sort of a new government levy on discounted banking instruments. Another trick is to hold on to your money for a few days and exchange the transferred amount for the worst rate in three days. I personally had such an experience from an online money transfer agency called ‘Quickremit’, the link to which can be found on the very website of HDFC Bank among others.

Quickremit offers on line what is called the ‘Day’s Notional Rate’ and this has got nothing to do with the money you get ultimately. Any complaints you send are answered by a headless virtual monster that takes you around in circles and talks gibberish.

It is high time RBI took a careful look at this scenario. Most NRIs are not businessmen laying a pipeline to India, but just plain working folks, and quite helpless. Soon NRIs might choose not to send an extra Pound or Dollar to their accounts in India. They might choose to transfer only the exact amount to cover a loan repayment or another commitment. Curiously, there is a thriving, perfectly legal, parallel banking market in India that offers an exchange rate which is a good 70 paise to the Pound more than my nationalised bank. And if I do not want a receipt, it would be about almost a Rupee more. (Here, I am not talking about some smuggler’s agent in Varkala or Valiathura).

Mind you, even an average Indian city has quite a few of such licensed exchange agents on its main streets. Now, someone at RBI should advise an NRI whether he should send a few hundreds every month to his bank or whether he should bring along a few thousands in cash and visit the exchange centres.

I am a moderately patriotic man and would be glad if my modest remittances would help my nation’s economy and foreign reserves. But also, I hate to stand by and watch the sly bankers take away my hard earned cash under my very nose.

It would be very constructive if RBI would step in and insist that the bankers offer an exact exchange rate each day as stipulated by RBI and minimum handling charges and commission, if at all the same are necessary. Also, there can be an online banking portal for RBI, something that works through the new fangled core banking, which takes the money directly from NRIs and forwards it to the respective accounts AFTER a fair exchange. Banks like HDFC, Bank of Baroda etc are already using such privately owned online agents, one of them the aforesaid ‘Quickremit’.

I hope the RBI does something positive. Or one of these days, the privately owned Exchange Companies in India might take over RBI’s Foreign Reserves. God forbid.

Notes:

  • Looks like the good days of the NRIs are coming to an end. There was a time when Ministers lauded their efforts openly. Under the excuse of ensuring NRI welfare, they still make several foreign trips each year, mainly to shop for their wives or for a discreet glass of bubbly and other associated entertainment. Often the guests of barely legal recruiting agents and assorted spin artists, they seldom look into the real issues.
  • The day’s RBI exchange rates can be found at www.rbi.org.in/home.aspx under ‘Current Rates’. This significantly varies from the ones actually offered by the banks each day.
  • I did try to leave a letter highlighting the above issues at the RBI feedback page. But it was rejected with the comment ‘Enter Valid Query’, a standard evasiveness expected more from a corporate house.