Category Archives: Present Imperfect

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.

THE BEAR, THE PANDA AND THE TIGER TALK BULL

Sergei Lavrov, S.M. Krishna and Yang Jiechi (left to right)

The RIC Triumvirate

On Tuesday the 27th of October 2009, S.M. Krishna, Yang Jiechi and Sergei Lavrov had a tripartite meeting at Bangalore, India. The gentlemen mentioned are Foreign Affairs ministers, respectively of India, China and Russia. The meeting itself was given the fancy name ‘RIC’ for Russia, India and China. ‘RIC’ represents 20% of our earth’s land mass and 39% of global population. (If you remove Russia from that group, it might be something like 10% of land mass and 35% of global population. Would have sounded more impressive, eh?)
 
Soon after the meeting, not satisfied with all the constructive and positive matters they had agreed on, an elaborate press conference was called. This exercise was to illuminate the nobility of their joint exercise to the dumb voting masses in India and their counterparts in Russia and China. Here, with a great measure of certainty, please let it be added that my Sino and Russian brothers haven’t had a good look at the ballot box in an awfully long time. 

The key points agreed upon at the meeting were-

  • A joint effort to act firmly against international terrorism, adhering  to UN protocol
  • Cooperation in the fields of chemicals, energy, pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, curbing of global warming and international trade
  • Evaluating recent international developments
  • Holding further talks on catastrophe management, agriculture and health
  • Welcoming the outcome of the G20 Nations’ at Pittsburgh
  • Expressing a desire to hold future G20 meetings alternatively in developed and developing nations
  • Ensuring an equal partnership for developed and developing nations while voting for international banking affairs
  • Deciding to hold the next ‘RIC’ meeting in China and so on 

Phew! These three gentlemen, between them, have sorted out every burning issue that plagues the world today. I hope they got each other right, because Krishna speaks Hindi, Yang speaks Chinese (Cantonese, Manchurian or another?) and Sergie speaks Russian. English should have been the ideal common language and I am sure Krishna speaks its Delhi version, thanks to the free educational system in India. Russia and China have considered English to be a corruptive element that poisons its youth and have for decades banned it from schools and colleges. So the army of translators must have had a tough time and most probably may not have been on good terms with each other after the summit. 

Coming back to the meeting itself, the triumvirate has collectively discussed eight major topics, as listed above, may be more. Let us leave out the last seven and take a good look at the first issue, “collectively rooting out terrorism”. Here are a few points for your consideration. 

  • China has accepted a tract of Pak occupied Kashmir as a gift for supplying arms and allowing free thoroughfare to Pak Jihadis along the disputed borders.
  • China covertly funds and arms Maoist militants in Assam, Nepal, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Misoram, Nepal, Burma etc. The Chinese politburo continues to have dreams of Universal Communism and mass suppression.
  • China continues to covertly support totalitarian regimes in North Korea and Burma. Poor Nepal is being worked on.
  • Chinese military and secret police are indulging in acts of absolute Terrorism when it comes to democracy in Tibet and the inside the Chinese Republic itself. Remember Tiananmen Square on 4th June 1989?
  • China would be greatly pleased if some Maoist or Jihadi would assassinate the great Dalai Lama in India. They might already have handed out contracts.
  • China has traditionally used Islamic and Maoist terrorists to gather intelligence in India, Pakistan and the Middle East.
  • Russia still considers democracy as forbidden and as an act of terrorism within its borders. Remember the Russian bear mauling Georgia in 2008? Also Russia can not forget its bitter experence with Islamic fundamentalists from Uzbekistan during salad days of the Communist ‘Empire’. Most of these hardcore, heavily armed Jihadis are now in North West Pakistan.
  • Though both are Communist countries, Russia has always mistrusted China and its brand of revolution. Russia’s friendship with India greatly stems from having a strategic partner on the southern Chinese border.
  • Along with Israel, India is the first country to recognise and tackle Islamic terrorism right from 1948. But despite all its military might and infrastructure, India continues to shuffle its feet for fear of antagonising its 19% Muslim voters. 

With so many conflicting interests RIC members can not cooperate on fighting terrorism. Thus, dear reader, what happened in Bangalore is a first class sham. The Bear, the Panda and the Tiger do not and can not order their fare from the same menu. In the process, they ended up serving us all a lot of bull. Most probably the only worrying issue they might have discussed could have been the Pak army going on war against their first cousins, viz. Al Qaeda, Taliban and Lashkar-E-Taiba. The terrorists, suddenly facing the prospects of turning homeless, are having a go at everything in range. The icing on the cake was the explosion and murders in Iran itself, considered to be the modern spiritual homeland of Islamic fundamentalism. Consequently, the triumvirate in Bangalore would have deeply considered a spill over of fleeing terrorists from Afghanistan, Waziristan and Pakistan in general. All parties at RIC do have common borders with this terrorist belt. Of course, none of it would have been mentioned at the press conference, again for fear of rubbing India’s Moslem voters the wrong way. 

Coming back to Pakistan, they had it coming anyway. It is just an example for a riffraff pack of specially bred, illiterate extra vicious, home grown maniacs turning against their own masters. 

It would be nice to know what the Russian and Chinese media have to say about this ‘RIC’ garden party. They may not even be obliged to say anything at all to their long suffering public. The two Communist representatives themselves need not have been provided with a full picture by Moscow and Peking. Too busy to comment, Comrade Vladimir Putin is busy controlling the Russian Mafia and the Kremlin even as he leads the life of a semi retired prime minister cum macho man, fishing, hunting and generally having a great time, exactly as Chairman Mao did during his last years. Chinese politburo is known to even have supplied teenage virgins to the senile, toothless Chairman, three a day. 

If Democracy does indeed come to China one day, non-violent Buddhism will indeed play a pivotal role; all the more reason for Peking’s official terrorists to see off the magnificent Dalai Lama. 

It is all too much of a morbid joke.  I can’t stop crying and my keyboard is swamped.

Crowning Glory: If you look at the picture given above, it can be seen that the two Communists are crowned with toupees made of gold zari, clear symbols of erstwhile Indian aristocracy and feudalism. Clearly S M Krishna must have refused one for himself, because it may not fit his outrageous wig. Cheers.

Picture Credit: Kerala Kaumudi Daily, Online Edition

Asianet Kerala’s Broadcasting Embarrassment

In full cry

In full cry

Non-resident Keralites, at least in UK, do not have much of a choice when watching Malayalam TV channels. They are usually at the mercy of local dish TV operators that do their own scheduling and editing, showing scant respect for the subscribers. They even truncate serious interviews and documentaries to show old Prem Nazir-Jayabharathi film songs. It seems that the channel bosses back home have little control over their agents here. Asianet and Asianet News are two locally available Malayalam channels and subscription for both together costs about £160 a year. It was the insensitive local editing and programme scheduling that prompted me to look up Asianet.

Asianet is reputed to be the biggest Malayalam TV broadcasting house, which airs multiple channels. Yet, if you Google for Asianet, the results can be quite confusing. A search for Asianet landed me Asianet Communications, Asianet Global, Asianet Satellite Communications, Asianet Data Line and Asianet Digital TV among other things. Finally I had to call my journalist friend back in Trivandrum to solve the mystery.

I am told that, now Asianet is more than one company. A big chunk of the original firm has been acquired by none other than media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The remaining three of its channels, Asianet, Asianet News and Asianet Plus, are controlled by Rajiv Chandrasekhar, technocrat and former CEO of BPL Mobile. He holds majority shares, through Jupiter Entertainment Ventures, his Bangalore based company. Other prominent share holders are Reji Menon, the original promoter of Asianet, T V Madhavan and K Madhavan, the current Asianet MD. Two brothers of Reji Menon and K P Mohanan, the current Chief News Editor also hold a few shares.

Besides owning FM Radio ‘Indigo’, Rajiv Chandrasekhar’s future media ambitions include Asianet channels and FM Radio channels in Kannada, Tamil and Telungu, the other three major south Indian languages. He is also a Rajya Sabha MP representing Bangalore. The sitting Director of Karnataka Power Corporation and also a former advisor to Government of India on Information Technology, Chandra Sekhar indeed is an admirably smart cookie with many more colourful feathers in his cap. Currently Asianet is reputed to have a 35% share in the 250 Crore Kerala advertisement market.

The write-up about Chandrasekhar was just to impress upon the reader that Asianet is controlled by a very capable chap. Now let us come to the real subject of this little piece here.

Every Saturday, K P Mohanan, the News Editor of Asianet, presents a programme called ‘Kanvettom’, in which he is the star-in-chief. He usually analyses and comments on political or social issues that are of recent media interest. The Asianet website claims that ‘Kanvettom’ is a very unique editorial programme, ‘the first of its kind in the history of Indian news television’. Being the news editor, it seems that Mohanan has created his own war medals and is wearing them in public like some quaint general from a banana republic. The site also introduces Mr Mohanan as a veteran journalist and editor, who has worked with major media organizations in different parts of the world and also as a permanent member of the World Press Institute, Minneapolis, USA. He also claims to have interviewed a dozen Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Carter.

Now, about World Press Institute, any journalist can apply for a membership if they have the following.

1) At least five years of full-time news experience 2) Fluency in all aspects of English 3) Several written essays 4) Three letters of recommendation 5) At least three work samples.

There must be at least a thousand south Indian journalists who meet those requirements. WPI seems to be some sort of a charity school that instils American values of journalism in budding journalists from third world countries. They also arrange tours across America and hold interviews with available celebrities and politicians. Most probably, Mr Mohan must have interviewed his celebrities as part of his internship at the said World Press Institute. To know more, please do visit: http://www.worldpressinstitute.org

It is common knowledge that being a print media journalist and an electronic media man are poles apart. The traditional journalist most probably did his work the previous night in his pyjamas with a bottle of rum as witness. Whatever one came across the next morning was an erudite one man show, with no supporting crew. The electronic media man, unless someone else scripts his show, needs all that a bit more. He requires an unobtrusive presence that sets aside the centre stage for the subject that he discusses or the person he interviews.

Here, I am not belittling the unseen print media professional. I have personally known some of the greatest, like K Balakrishanan and P C Sukumaran Nair. (Strangely, both of them would have made fantastic electronic media personalities, just because they knew what they were writing about and never deviated from their subjects). Two modern equivalents (almost) would be Gouridasan Nair and T N Gopakumar, who by virtue of being alive in the present times have the good fortune to prove themselves more than adequate in both the versions.

Now let me come back to the news editor at Asianet. First of all, Mr Mohan dresses up and grooms himself too much for the part. (Do we have a male Oprah Winfrey doing a soliloquy?) Secondly, in every episode, HE IS THE SUBJECT. His voice modulation, emphasis, gestures, facial expression and everything else is a NO-NO lesson for any aspiring TV/Radio journalist. Finally whatever he says comes out as a biased personal opinion and a not as an impartial evaluation. The rather disturbing on-screen presence of the News Editor goes on to highlight the brilliance of other very professional Asianet newscasters and anchors like T N Gopakumar, Prasanth Raghuvamsom, Manjush Gopal and a dozen others. All of them set a great example for Kerla’s electronic media journalism, prudently stepping aside to leave the centre stage solely for the subject at hand.

Here I have a couple of questions for the brilliant Rajiv Chandrasekhar. Despite you being a very smart businessman, why is the news editor at Asianet allowed to blatantly project himself, hogging the centre stage and paying scant respect to journalistic sensibilities? Has anyone bothered to rate ‘Kanvettom’ for its journalistic values? Why is Mr Mohan let loose, throwing to wind the concepts of a sane and sober media presence? Why do we, the paying viewers deserve him? I am sure that the issue of minor shareholding has nothing to do with it. Rajivji, it is time for some quick cut and paste at your desk.

However, Kanvettom is the not the most tasteless programme we have seen on Asianet. That trophy goes to supporting actor Jagadeesh, who with his appalling English and brassy costumes, talent searched future comedians and mimicry artists. When he cold-heartedly murdered those haunting Mukesh melodies, the spirit of the great man was seen restlessly pacing the Royal Albert Hall, where he did one of his greatest performances.

As always, at all times, may better sense prevail.

NOTES: (1) The visual used in this article is courtesy, Asianet website. (2) If there are any errors, please do correct me. (3) This piece is authored by my right as a paying Asianet subscriber. (4) It is not the blogger’s aim to personally offend or insult anyone.

THE NOSTALGIA MERCHANTS FROM KERALA

KNOW THE KERALITES

Kathakali Artist

Kathakali Artist

 

Keralites, the Malayalam speaking natives of Kerala, India, are unique as expatriates go. You can find one almost anywhere in the world where skilled or unskilled manpower is hired. Coming from the best educated state in India, Malayalis, as known to their countrymen, are trained to work as doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, teachers, bankers, clerks, cooks, plumbers, electricians; the list is virtually endless. Kerala being a very secular state, a Mallu, as he is known to netizens, can be a Hindu, Christian or Moslem. Christianity and Islam reached Kerala and were well rooted long before they became prevalent in many current strongholds.

 

One will find thousands of Keralites working as doctors or nurses in UK, Ireland, US, Australia or Canada. If all of them, from any imaginable trade, went home one fine morning from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman or any states in the UAE, these countries would grind to an administrative and functional standstill. You find Malayalis sailing the seven seas as captains, engineers, first mates and able bodied seamen. Third or fourth generation Keralites can be found well established in Malaysia and Singapore. The top scientists who recently landed India’s unmanned vehicle on Moon were almost entirely from Kerala.

 

Unlike the regular immigrant or the transplanted asylum seeker, a Keralite never really loses his roots. He sticks on to his language and customs many generations down the line. His heart is ever close to his festivals, harvests and monsoons back home. Seldom cutting his ties with old pals and relatives, if possible, he will always retain a small home somewhere in his homeland and visit often.

 

To have an idea of the expatriate Keralite’s contribution to his state’s economy, do note that 1.85 million non-resident Keralites sent home remittances to the tune of over 6150 million US dollars during 2007.

 

ENTERTAINING THE EXPATRIATE KERALITE

 

While he is living and working away from home, a Keralite yearns for his home, food, songs, dances and festivals. So if there are half a dozen Keralite families living abroad within fifty square miles, there is sure to be a Malayali Association with its get-togethers and cultural functions.

 

When quicker travel and information technology made the world smaller, the tour companies and the entertainment industry in India saw the opportunities in catering to the great Malayali nostalgia, by taking the Keralite culture abroad. It began with reputed artists and organisers staging high quality events at decent venues. Almost always these programmes were held to keen audiences, thanks to the Malayali’s homesickness.

 

I have personally known some honest, genuine organisers of Keralite cultural events. Whenever a purely aesthetic evening is held, with classical dancers and musicians, they just about break even or run at a loss. These losses are often covered at a later stage by subscriptions from generous members. The high cost of venues, payments for top artists, stage equipments, transport, food and boarding leave little towards profits.

 

Now comes the entertainment circus that makes a neat pile of money. The worst case scenario involves shipping a hastily assembled assortment of available singers, dancers, comedians and out of work movie stars to a stage in Dubai, California, Melbourne, Vancouver or any of the dozens of similar venues. A programme chief, (back home, he may be a third assistant to a B grade movie director) will knock together about three hours of skits, stand-up comedy, mimicry, light music and the modern obscenity called cinematic dance. Impressive venues will be booked and high priced tickets will be sold well in advance. The programmes presented subsequently on stage would have had no more than a couple of quick rehearsals to back them. The skits and jokes would be stale. The same out of work actresses will feature in classical dance, burlesque and folkdance. To add to the misery, these ‘Grand Gala Events’ are digitally recorded to be shown later on TV channels as fillers and to be sold cheap to the lower end market back home.

 

A large entourage of hangers-on usually accompany such teams. Many will have little to do with the show itself. Political henchmen, wheeler-dealers and movie extras attach themselves to these monkey troops. You can expect to find specialists for fixing export-import licences, arranging education abroad, visa trading and discreet prostitution. Hustle is the name of the game. Most clips of the Paris Hilton variety featuring both budding and washed out female Malloo artists that are currently doing their rounds on the internet owe their origins to these freak shows. The exploits of these camp following hookers have earned hard working and respectable Kerala girls a bad name abroad, giving out the idea that Malayali women are ‘easy’.

 

On the plus side, if you were ever trapped into sitting through one such show, you have seen them all. On the minus side, the Great Malayali Nostalgia ensures that these charlatans will put up their tents year after year around the world, degrading true Keralite culture and traditions. The average expatriate Malayali will pay a week’s wages to have anything that even vaguely resembles home, however unfortunate the results may be.

 

FOR A CLUE

 

If it is features the likes of K J Yesudas, K S Chithra and a troupe from Kerala Kalamandalam with Mohiniyattom, Kathakali and Panchavadyam it would be a memorable evening. Stay clear, if it is a mimicry team from Kochi with half a dozen slapstick comedians, cinematic dancers and B Grade movie artists ready for ‘anything’.

 

Notes: (1) I apologise to the genuine organisations and artists from Kerala who sometimes succeed in staging an authentic cultural event abroad without the help of the barely legal hustlers. None of the comments here concern the dedicated artists. (2) A Keralite and a Malayali are one and the same. Kerala is the name of the small, green, south Indian state and Malayalam is the region’s spoken language. There is a new trend set by non-Indian writers and tourists to term a Malayali or anything from Kerala as ‘Keralan’, which is resented by the native. It would be as improper and offensive as calling an Englishman ‘Englandian’ or an Italian ‘Italish’. I hope you get the point. (3) Kathakali Artist- Picture courtesy rediff.com

WHITE POWDERY STUFF BEATS BRITAIN

 

STUMPED BY A MERE 10 INCHES OF SNOW!

STUMPED BY A MERE 10 INCHES OF SNOW!

During the last week of January, the media extensively covered the newly built British Destroyer HMS Daring as it docked in at Portsmouth, its home port. Set to join active service later this year, the Royal Navy’s Type 45 vessel was hailed as the most advanced battleship ever and British Glory was flying at high mast again. With the latest radar, missiles, air defence system, propulsion plant and ultra modern shape, HMS Daring would be extremely fast, accelerating quicker and turning faster. Revolutionary naval architecture ensures that on enemy radar, it would appear no bigger than a modest fishing boat. It was indeed a very proud moment for entire Britain.

Yet just four days later, on the morning of February the second, a mere ten inches of snow in the southwest forced Britain to grind to a standstill. Such is the power of nature, which constantly puts human pride at its humble lowest, appearing out of nowhere, as a puff of wind, a plume of fire or a sheet of water. For a Canadian, Austrian or Siberian* citizen, ten inches of snow would be no more formidable that the layer of butter on his toast. For nature, surprise is the x-factor, like dropping a cube of ice down a Bedouin’s collar in the middle of the Sahara.

Though the weather stations had sounded the warning well in advance, no one took the forecast seriously, foolishly judging it to be no more than a possible minor irritant to everyday life. The nation was indeed caught short and experienced chaos of Titanic proportions. To be fair, though the snow was only ten inches deep, it was the heaviest fall in eighteen years. Airports, roads and hospitals were forced to close. Flights, train and bus services were cancelled. The old Croydon tram service did not run. Eurostar, the cross channel train service from St Pancras International to Europe was disrupted. There were delays and suspensions on the London underground.

About 4500 schools were closed by authorities in Wales, Birmingham, Hampshire, Essex, Leicester, Rutland, East Sussex, West Sussex, Somerset, East Staffordshire, Dudley and Kent. Drivers in southern England had a tough time as snow turned to ice later in the day. Severe shortage of resources meant that gritting was done only on the major roads.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has since admitted that the city could not deal with the situation on hand. “This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in London in decades. We don’t have the snow-ploughs that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free,” he said. However, experts are of the opinion that an investment in snow-ploughs and other road clearing equipment is not justified since snowfalls of such magnitudes happen only once in two decades or so.

Side roads had thick snow that trapped parked cars, ensuring that owners could not drive to work. Families did not have snow shovels to clear driveways or to dig the cars free. Many were seen using bin covers or pieces of cardboard to scoop away the snow. Almost all city buses were cancelled and the same had not happened even during the blitzkrieg. Major airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton were closed. Military rescue helicopters were called in to assist ambulance services.

The Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao who was visiting UK would have been amused to see a solitary man shovelling snow in front of Number 10 Downing Street, his counterpart’s official residence.

For this single day of disruption, business losses were calculated at £1.2 billion. An estimated 6.5 million people were kept away from work. Forced to run on a skeleton crew, many restaurants and takeaways had scaled their menus down to basics. Even the ever-faithful Black cabs stayed away in most areas.

Finally, to end on a merry note, children set free from schools made snowmen on pavements and stray snowballs slammed into shop windows and trapped cars. The only regret seemed to be that it did not happen on Christmas Eve. Thanks to global warming and an errant weather, we may still have a White Easter. Cheers.

Notes:

1. 36 hours later, while I am posting this, things have not improved much.

*2. Siberia is not a free state yet. But the way Communism is ‘progressing’ we should soon have Siberian and Tibetan citizens. I also propose the name of Aung San Suu Kyi as the next Prime Minister of Myanmar.

3. The photograph that appears above is clicked outside my flat.

-Your special correspondent, reporting from The George, George Street, Croydon, Surrey ;p

PADUKONES- OF FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS

Prakash Padukone

Prakash Padukone

I have mentioned somewhere in this blog that the Metro Newspaper, distributed free every morning in London and other major cities, is a firm favourite of mine. Belonging to the Daily Mail group, it is well laid out and professionally edited. Though printed only on weekdays, the paper’s area of interest is fairly wide and covers international news reasonably. The sickening puns seen on captions, used widely by popular working man’s dailies, are conspicuously absent, making it a pleasant and no nonsense read. For its substance and neat looks, I generously overlook the odd page or so dedicated to the Hiltons, Allens, Winehouses and other social curiosities.

 

The cover of Metro dated 13/01/09 carried a picture of Deepika Padukone, the Indian actress, pin-up girl and model, not necessarily in that order. Along with Akshay Kumar, the Indian actor, martial arts expert and self confessed Punjabi cook, the lady had graced Leicester Square to promote the Hollywood-Bollywood production ‘Chandni Chowk to China’.

 

 

 

Deepika Padukone

Deepika Padukone

What was missed in the accompanying report was that Deepika is the daughter of Prakash Padukone, the charming and handsome badminton player who won the All England Championship in 1980. He defeated Liem Swie King of Indonesia in that memorable final game. Born in 1955, Prakash was the Indian national champion for seven consecutive years from 1972. At the age of 16, in 1971, he won both the Indian juniors’ and the seniors’ titles. His other wins include London Master’s Open, the Danish Open, a Commonwealth Games Gold in 1978 and the Swedish Open. By his own admission, Prakash learnt his game in a wedding hall, which afforded little light to see the shuttle properly. A dignified gentleman, he has never lobbied for awards or solicited fame. His favourite pastime is listening to music and his favourite sports hero is Bjorn Borg.

 

I do not know if the catwalk queen daughter forgot to mention her father, an all-time hero, to the media. May be, the newspapers, Metro and others, decided that a sweat and blood man had no glamour value on a front page feature. In Sanskrit, Prakash means light, radiance, luminosity etc. Deepika, in turn means ‘that which is of light ’. The father indeed had vision when he named his daughter. I hope she lives up to it. Till she does, Prakash continues to be my hero.