Saturday, March 18, 2017

Want to Get Married in this Kerala Church? First Prove You Are Not Impotent!

by Shalet Jimmy
Published in the New Indian Express, Kerala

If you are a parishioner of the Santa Cruz Basilica, Fort Kochi, and wants to get married in the church, you have to prove you are not impotent. The vicar of the church has already issued a circular stating that this is a canonical requirement and has published it on the notice board.
However, the Church leadership rejected the claim that producing the potency certificate was a canonical requirement for marriage.

Kerala Catholic Bishops Council deputy secretary-general Fr Stephen Alathara said though such a suggestion had come up earlier, it was turned down.

“For the smooth functioning of marriages, there was a suggestion to collect such details before one enters into wedlock. But the Church has not cleared it,” he said.

And medical experts have said potency tests aren’t always reliable. Said noted psychiatrist Dr C J John: “Since such clinical tests are being conducted under artificially stimulated circumstances, chances are high that one clearing the potency test is likely to be impotent in an actual situation and vice versa. Some can’t stimulate themselves under artificial circumstances. Hence it would be wrong to label them as impotent. That could destroy their lives. Besides, psychological factors also play a pivotal role in defining one’s sexuality.”

A parishioner, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused the local vicar of “creating a mess” by coming up with such strange rules under the pretext of implementing canonical law. “My plea to renew my ancestor’s grave was rejected several times. The church has become a company. Only those priests who can garner more funds are able to climb up the hierarchy,” he said.
Another parishioner complained that the church had laid down a rule that only married women who had given birth could be a godmother at baptism.

Vicar Fr Francis Fernandez wasn’t available for comment despite repeated attempts to contact him.
Asked to comment on the issue, Cochin Bishop Joseph Kariyil said he wasn’t aware of the new rule. “I will soon look into it,” he said.

Francis Kallarakal, Archbishop of the Verapoly diocese, said the church had taken certain decisions based on consensus during emergencies. “But such a clause — to produce a potency certificate — hasn’t figured in any of our talks,” he added.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Words from a budding writer - Harsha Mohan

She was in love with Hindi and music once upon a time. Seated in a corner in her classroom, little Harsha Mohan Sajin waited for an opportunity to hum the Hindi poems in books to the tune of latest Bollywood numbers. Even her classmates at the convent school could not help lending their ears to it.

Never did she miss any light music competitions or any other singing contest. Her mellifluous voice bore the stamp of a singer in the making. Years flew by. But much to the surprise of many, her craze for music was short-lived, for her interest turned to writing.

Soon she came out with ‘Oru Manjukala Kavarcha’. Acknowledgments poured in from all quarters and her joy knew no bounds when the work was selected for the Basheer Memorial Award 2013 for the best short story by a new comer.

Before the joy of recognition could sink in Harsha won the US Malayali International short story award 2014 for her short story ‘UAEyile Aanjanmangal’. Surprisingly, Harsha never wrote a single word till the day she went to Doha to join her engineer husband four years ago. “It would not be wrong to say that hectic life in Doha spurred her to write.

Though she started writing late, the seeds were sown much earlier. “Life in Doha was of course a driving force. But I think I was attracted to words even when I was a little girl. But I didn’t know it then. My love for words grew under the  tutelage of my Malayalam teacher - Bhanumati.   I would not have become a writer, had it not been for her,” Harsha says. Perhaps, this must be the reason why she dedicated her blog to her late teacher.

 Ask her if she does any research for her work, and she says, “Definitely. I don’t have much experience to develop ideas into a story, so I do a lot of research on the subject. But one of my works, ‘Muyalcheviyanmar’ is purely based on emotion.”

Harsha’s ‘Agnes Dimitriyude Thiruseshippukal’ for which she bagged the second prize under Qatar Samskrithi Cheru Katha Puraskaram 2013 was applauded by the judges for its new style of narration. “I had to do a little bit of research to get the geography of Italy, right.” The work is about the relationship between Agnes Dmitri Monero an Italian writer and Draupathi Dutta, an Indian writer.

The story ends with the death of Agnes, a strong personality and a known feminist, who wanted her unpublished stories on love, passion and emotions to be published in Draupadi’s name so that, her feminist image would be intact. Harsha says that the story did not develop from the thread but from the  name-Agnes. “I came across the name accidentally and I wanted to give the name a character. I started thinking about it. What she should be doing and of her personality which eventually gave way to a story,” she says.

Her blog  ‘Mazhakkadukal’ (Rainforest) is replete with almost all of her works.

published in The New Indian Express

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Garden that heals - Meet Venugopal, a self - taught medicinal plant grower from Kochi, Kerala

Self -taught medicinal plant grower T K Venugopal has a garden that is visited by those looking for cures and botany enthusiasts alike

A higher official from Kochi corporation met his long-time acquaintance, T K Venugopal. The former was then suffering from severe knee pain. Venugopal soon handed over his ‘ Methiyadi’ (wooden sandals) and asked him to use it for a few days. Next time, when the official met Venugopal, the former was completely cured of his knee pain. “Methiyadi is made of wood and when one walks wearing it, it would tap the heels of the leg, frequently which increases the blood circulation. That’s how he was cured of his knee pain,” explains Venugopal.

Perhaps, it was to make us realise its importance that he was waiting for us, wearing it. And it hardly came as a surprise when he said that he had a garden full of medicinal plants.

The compound and terrace of this self-taught medicinal plat grower, who formerly served in the logistics department of the Navy, are full of medicinal plants - right from ‘Vayambu’, ‘Koovalam’, ‘Shatavari’ to ‘Nithyakalyani’. The ‘Amritu’ tree was tall and its long extended string-like roots are tangled in a knot. The garden would surely remind of a time when houses had plants and flowers which could be used as a single medicine therapy, in their backyards. In the garden, there is swing hanging from a tree.The number and varieties never seemed to confuse him for he could narrate the properties of each one.

Venugopal planted most of these medicinal plants in 2000. His experience with them are so plenty that he does not mind prescribing an ‘Ottamooli’ or single medicine therapy, occasionally.

While walking through the garden, we came across a plant which has small yellow flowers.   “It is called ‘Akrov’ in Malayalam and it is a good remedy for tooth ache.” But when we seemed a bit skeptical about it, he asked us to chew it. Surprisingly, after doing so, our mouth went numb.

He also told us the trick to identify the gender of certain trees. “There are trees like nutmeg which bear fruit only when male and female trees are planted together. In such cases, you have to hold a gold chain just above one of its leaves. But its tip should slightly touch the leaf. Then lift it a bit. There should only be a small gap between the chain and the leaf. If the tip of the chain oscillates back and forth, then it is a male and if it the motion is circular, then it is female. I usually give this tip to Botany students who often come here in groups to learn about plants,” he says.

Venugopal, then pointed to some leaves which were purple in colour. “These leaves are called ‘Murikootti’. This is usually found in Wayanad. Its juice can cure wounds or burns,” he explains. There is also a story behind it, he continues. “Lord Hanuman was returning with the ‘Maruthwamala’ from the Himalayas. But on his way, a part of the mountain fell to the ground. It contained many medicinal herbs and one among them was ‘ Murikkootti’”.

Asked to suggest some ‘Ottamoolies’, he says - “A mix of grounded ‘Moringa’ leaves and garlic is good to cure swelling. To get a good sleep, you can store water in a clay pot, put ‘Ramacham’ in it and drink two glasses of this water before sleep. A sound sleep will kiss on your brow,” assures Venugopal with a smile.

He lives with his wife Valsala Kumari at Elamakkara. Many people come to him, seeking medicinal plants and he is always happy to give them away. “Clay is also a good cure for many ailments,” he says. He has a stock of it which he gives to those in need. Venugopal has never charged a penny from anyone. “I grow these trees and plants out of sheer passion,” he says.

published in the New Indian Express

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Usha Nangiar- The Living Legend of Koodiyattom

It was noon when we reached the Sree Sankaracharya University at Kalady. On the bustling campus, some students were seen trying to get their Mudras perfect while a few young budding actors were seen brooding over something which only they knew about, a perfect set up for a conversation on art.

Usha Nangiar, who teaches ancient theatre, was waiting for us. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we soon got into our tete-tete.Within seconds, it was evident that the person sitting in front of us was not easy to fathom. 

‘Trance’ could well be her synonym.Not only she goes into a state of trance while speaking about her passion but also lures the listener along with her. And, it is this attribute of hers that has left many of her listeners to ponder over the characters she performed.

After one of her performance, an admirer commented: “Enthina Kanna Poothanaye Konne?” (Why did you kill Poothana, Kanna). None other than noted writer K B Sreedevi confided in her that her heart aches for Poothana’. Ask her how she does that, Usha, winner of ‘Kalashree’ Award for Koodiyattom by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, says:

“Perhaps, I can sense the ‘I’ in every person. And, I do not want to hurt them”. 

Perhaps, Usha Nagiar strongly felt that ‘I’ in Ahalya when she performed ‘Ahalyamoksham Nangiarkoothu’ for the first time during the last Kochi- Muziris Biennale. It drew a large audience. Immersed in deep thought, Usha says there is a life inside that rock. 

“Ahalya could sense her world around. But, could do nothing. I thought about her travails while being trapped in a rock.”

When Usha decided to delve deep into her passion, she first sought the answer for how Koodiyattom, described by UNESCO as the masterpiece of the intangible heritage of humanity could be retained for the posterity?

“There are hurdles as this is an art form dating back to more than 1500 years. This will be my sole focus. For the time being, I am shoving off yet another pertinent question on why this art form was pushed to the oblivion for many years. I thought I would research into it when I am old.”

This great connoisseur who never wants to budge from the set format of Koodiyattom has never been against any change but there are conditions.

“There are experiments in every field. It has started knocking on the doors of Koodiyattom too. I am not against it provided it retains the classical character and the set rules of Koodiyattom. otherwise, it would just be another contemporary dance and will have a transient life,” she clarifies. At the same time, she does not forget to point out the fact that there should be a change in accordance with the times. “If not, it would push the audience to monotony,” she says.

Her life as a Koodiyattom artist was natural. She was the daughter of noted Mizhavu artist Chathakudam Krishnan Nambiar. To be ordained as a Chakiar or Nangiar, arangetam had to be performed. She too did the same. And, in 1980, she joined Ammannoor Gurukulam.

“I was the first girl student and there was no competition. I did get a lot of stages to perform,” she reminiscences. On her favourite performance, she says: “The story of ‘Lalitha’ gave immense scope’. Besides, I am also thinking something differently about Draupadi.

Her story gives little scope to experiment. But, I was thinking of her emotions when it comes to her marriage with her five husbands.”

Usha Nangiar is married to eminent Mizhavu artist V K K Hariharan. When asked about honours and recognitions she says: “I have never bothered about it. But, I  always felt that if anybody needs a reference on Koodiyattom, put Ushan Nangiar on one side, that would weigh more than the other side. I don't know whether people call it as my audacity, but for me, that's  my strong faith.” 

Usha Nangiar recently, won the ‘Kalashree’ Award for Koodiyattom.

published in The New Indian Express

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mr Change of Heart - Dr Jose Chacko Periyappuram

As he wielded the scalpel, cardiac surgeon Jose Chacko Periappuram closed his eyes and said a prayer—let this patient not be among those unlucky souls whose heart hesitated to beat again. The prayer was intense this time, for Periappuram was going to perform the first heart re-transplant.

On March 6, 2014, Periappuram became the first cardiac surgeon to conduct the first successful heart re-transplant in the country.

 Periappuram calls it a miracle. Gireesh, a 39-year-old software professional from Palakkad in Kochi was suffering from a rare heart ailment called dilated cardiomayopathy. His heart was not pumping blood efficiently. The first heart transplant was done on June 4, 2013, but soon he developed fever which led to an infection in one of his valves.

On February 27, 2014, he had a cardiac arrest after being resuscitated. On March 2, he was put on a ventilator as his condition worsened. On March 5, he suffered a second cardiac arrest. There were only two options—either remove the transplanted heart or the infected valve. Re-transplant is usually done when an already transplanted heart fails. But it accelerates risk as another surgery on a patient who had undergone cardiac surgery is not advisable. For every transplant, the heart should start beating again within four hours after being moved from the donor to the recipients’ body. The operation was a success.

“However hard we try, a 10 per cent mortality rate cannot be ruled out,” he says. “Hence, it is not always in the doctor’s hands to save a life.” Periappuram is the only cardiac surgeon in Kerala who has undertaken nine successful heart transplants so far. He was the first in Kerala to conduct a heart transplant in 2003.

Ask him what goes through his mind when he is about to operate on a patient, Periappuram says, “Absolutely nothing. I am detached and indifferent. Hardly any emotion clutters my mind. I am a doctor who has nothing else to think, but saves the patient in front of me.” He had a strange reply when asked why he chose to be a surgeon. “I was always fascinated by the beauty of a beating heart,” he says.

Call it a coincidence, but the doctor always had brave patients who made his task much easier, whether it be Gireesh or Abraham on whom he had conducted the first heart transplantation surgery. “Abraham was young. When I told him that I have never done a transplant before, he clasped my hands and said, ‘I believe in you and you can do it,” says the 55-year-old surgeon. It was more or less the same with Gireesh. He says the re-transplant surgery would not have been successful if Gireesh had not shown tremendous will and determination.

Periappuram, who is the chief cardiac surgeon and head of the department, cardio-thoracic department, Lisie Hospital, has many other ‘firsts’. He initiated a beating heart surgery programme in Kerala. He is also credited with the first successful TAR (Total Arterial Revascularization) and first awake bypass surgery in Kerala. Recognising his achievements, the government of India conferred on him the Padma Shri in 2011.

Periappuram now dreams of giving artificial hearts to those who cannot undergo transplants for various reasons. “Some might not get a suitable heart at the right time and for others, they cannot undergo heart transplants owing to the failure of other organs. Western countries are big on artificial hearts. Now my effort will be to make low price artificial hearts,” he says.

He also runs the Heart Care Foundation which provides heart surgeries to poor people by helping them financially.

On the Top

■ First doctor to successfully conduct a heart transplant in Kerala

■ Sole cardiac surgeon in Kerala who has undertaken nine successful heart transplants

■ Awarded Padma Shri in 2011

■ Periapurram is also credited with the first successful TAR (Total Arterial Revascularization) and first awake bypass surgery in Kerala

published in the Sunday Standard, The New Indian Express

Monday, November 7, 2016

Lost Childhood -What Happened When 6 Year Olds Appu and Bhagat Went Missing, And Were Then found!

by Shalet Jimmy
Published in ( Rise for India )

We talk about child rights often. But, have we ever made an attempt to delve into the psyche of abandoned children – The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’.

It was a Monday morning.  A train had just arrived at the Majestic railway station, Bangalore from Mysore.

Six year old Appu and his nine year old brother got down from the train. Anxiety was written all over their face. They arrived unaccompanied and do not know where to go. Luckily, before the brokers who were lurking in the nook and cranny of railway station could lure them to child labour, the Railway CHILDLINE staff of BOSCO identified them.

Then, they were taken to the BOSCO’s child care centre. It seemed finally, they could relax. But after a few minutes, Appu burst out crying when the counselors in the child care centre started inquiring about their parents and whereabouts. The elder brother seemed very cautious while answering their questions. It was evident that they did not want to go back.

The counselors gathered that they were living with their mother, uncle and his family. Their father had left them. As it became a strenuous task for them to earn their daily bread, the uncle decided to admit them in a hostel. It was from there, they fled.

But this story may or may not be true. We get only 30 percent of truth from them, says Mary Triza, counselor, BOSCO. “It’s not their fault. The life has given them many scars. Though we talk about a lot of child rights violations, nobody has bothered to delve into the psyche of children who endures a lot in such a tender age,” she says.

Every day, BOSCO rescues an average of 20 runaway/unaccompanied children who arrive at the railway stations, bus stands and other city areas. But the number of children reaching the streets are many more. And the organization has got just 24 hours to identify the parents of children so that they could send them back. If their whereabouts could not be identified, they would be presented before the child welfare committee (CWC) to take further decision especially to decide about the shelter home where the child could be admitted for rehabilitation.

Whether they are send back or admitted in any homes, their disturbed psyche is completely ignored.

Some children open up fast and some don’t, explain Mary Triza. “We can handle those children who ran away from their home owing to reasons such as poverty, peer influence, migration of parents due to work etc. But it is not that easy with children who have backgrounds such as death/suicide of any of the parent, separated parents etc. They will not open up readily. For such children, the healing has to come from inside. But how many of them get such a chance?” She asks.

Om, a 14 year old boy arrived at the child centre just a day ago. He is from Belgaum. Tears welled up in his eyes when asked why he chose to leave his house. He says “I used to work from 9 am till 9 pm for a daily wage of Rs 300. But my parents are forcing to work for additional money.” The boy burst out crying when he said “There were times when I was not given anything to eat.”  Om had to load and unload goods from a truck. But was it the whole truth, maybe not. For he also said, his parents used to pressurize him to study.

Six year old Bhagat arrived at the BMTC bus stand, unaccompanied. He was wearing his school uniform and kept on insisting that he came to meet his elder brother and that he took permission both from his parents and teachers. He could have been easily believed if he were not in his uniform. The counselors later learnt that he is a single child living with his mother.

Explaining further, Mary Triza says “How much love and care, I shower upon them; I am not their real mother. Take the case of Appu and his brother. They are too little to be taken away from their mother and to put in a hostel. It has definitely left a scar in their mind.” She also recollects a 12 year old boy who was brought to the child centre. “He had lost both his parents and was living with his maternal grandmother uncle and aunt. He did not want to go back for he knew his aunt would create problems for his grandmother if goes back. The little one is hurt to the core and the trauma remains.”

Language is yet another major hurdle, says M D Shake Shafi, another counselor. “We speak around six languages. But it becomes difficult when children from Orissa, Bengal, Jharkhand etc arrives. We don’t know the language,” he says. Besides, we have a very little time to understand the children and their problems as they have to send them back to their parents in 24 hours, he adds.

originally published in

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Child trafficking, an alarming issue in Bengaluru

by Shalet Jimmy
published in the International Business Times (India)

It was 10.30 a.m. on Monday at the BMTC bus stand in Bengaluru, when the field staff of BOSCO's Child Assistance Centre at Majestic bus stand came across a seven-year-old boy in school uniform. He said he came to meet his elder brother and that he had taken permission from his teachers and parents before leaving the school.

But that did not seem to be the truth as he was wearing his school uniform. The field staff decided to take him to the child care centre. Just then another six-year-old child was found loitering at the bus stand. We had a hard time exacting information from him, as he seemed mentally challenged. As we moved to the Bangalore City Railway Station nearby, we found another seven-year-old boy sleeping at the 8th platform. His clothes were soiled, and he started crying after being woken up. He was initially reluctant to go with the Railway CHILDLINE Coordinator and kept saying that he wanted to go to Mandya.

Eventually, when all of them were taken to the BOSCO's Child Assistance Booth at the 4th platform, there were three more children waiting, including a 14-year-old girl. It certainly gave us more than enough reasons to panic as all the incidents happened in a matter of a few minutes – six children were rescued in half an hour. According to BOSCO, an average of 20 run-away/unaccompanied children are rescued from railway stations, bus stands and other city areas every day. But the number of children reaching the streets would be many more.

BOSCO, an organisation run by the Salesians of Don BOSCO, is a registered NGO that has been offering services to the young at risk, including children living on the streets, child labourers, abandoned/ orphaned children, victims of drug abuse and child abuse, beggers, rag pickers, etc. since 1980. "We are doing our level best to rescue children and rehabilitate them. Though we rescue and rehabilitate over 7,000 boys and girls a year, the actual number of children reaching the streets would be many more. Where do the rest reach?," asks Fr Mathew Thomas, the Executive Director of Bengaluru Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO).

Chances are high for those children to end up in the wrong hands, he adds. Brokers frequent the areas around the railway station and bus stand to trap such children away from the family. "Most of them will be in a state of bewilderment, thereby exposing their vulnerability. Hence, it becomes easy for the brokers/traffickers to approach them with offers for job, food and shelter and the children easily fall prey to them," says Thomas Paul, programme manager, BOSCO.

The brokers are approached by hotel owners, who want to employ children. This arrangement, which involves commissions for the brokers, happens in broad daylight near the Majestic railway station. While some children are taken to factories, sweets makers, eateries/hotels, automobile workshops and construction sites, others end up with marriage caterers and are employed to cut vegetables and wash plates. Some are used for begging and pick-pocketing. 

The runaway children come from almost all the states in the country, mostly from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal.Thomas reveals they are able to rescue children because the in-fights among brokers sometimes results in one group tipping them off against the rival group.

Ramaswamy, the Co-coordinator at BOSCO Railway CHILDLINE, says rescuing children from the railway station is becoming a strenuous task as most children don't even reach the main railway stations now. "To avoid us, the brokers/traffickers make them get down at the adjacent railway stations. From there, they take them away by autorickshaw or taxi," he says.

Besides, many are brought from other states in the name of education to get them enrolled in religious institutions, or under the name of some orphanages. "In such cases our intervention gets difficult as they would produce everything, including an identity card and other necessary forms. We could only intervene in those cases when we get a cue that the children are not aware of the contractors who have brought them here," he points out, adding that in many cases they are not able to register cases against the traffickers as it is difficult to identify the trafficker. If at all cases are registered it stops with the lodging of the FIR.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Female foeticide thriving business for radiologists, astrologers in Salem, Tamil Nadu

y Shalet Jimmy
published in the International Business Times (India)

It wasn't an easy decision for Meena, nor was it voluntary. It all began after an astrologer told her that it would be a girl. Coming under severe pressure from her family and society, the 28-year- old had taken abortion pills.

Just three days after taking the pill, she started feeling ill; and soon her condition got worse. She could not even stand straight. Still she didn't take rest. Writhing in pain, she went to work in the fields to provide for her children. In the middle of the work, the pain aggravated and she looked for an isolated corner across the field. That's where Meena underwent the much-painful abortion, unattended and solo. Soon she dug up a pit and put an end to that little being.
Why advertise with us?

    SC rebukes Google, Microsoft and Yahoo for displaying advertisements promoting sex determination tests
    India's largest seminary fights female foeticide

Meena's is a clear case of forced female foeticide, a rampant phenomenon in Salem. Meena had undergone nine deliveries, including three abortions, until she turned 28.

She was so anaemic that one wondered how she could have endured the painful abortion procedure and also her deliveries. She took abortion pills during the sixth month of her pregnancy.

"The pain is as similar as labour pain," she said. Even such terrible pain could not stop her from having two more abortions.

Though many national dailies report on the issue, female foeticide continues to exist in a rampant form. The issue is, of course, not confined to Salem alone. It's happening in most parts of the country and is yet to show a downward trend.

To make matters more worse, illegal scanning centres and astrologers thrive in Salem. Many, like Meena, are ready to kill their foetus in the womb when an astrologer says it would be a girl.

Geetha, 24 is all tears when she spoke about her two abortions. "People would speak ill of me if I don't deliver a baby boy. That's why I was forced to do it." She had four deliveries and two abortions.

Ultrasound centres and astrologers practise unscrupulous methods to determine gender. For instance, if the first and the second children are female then they say that the third child is also likely to be a girl child. Then they push the mother/elders to commit foeticide.

There also exists another crude form of foeticide – inserting the sap of Arka flowers or Calotropis gigantea into the genitals of the expectant mother.

The scariest thing is that most of these abortions are conducted sans any scientific medical intervention. There are no instructions from doctors. Besides, most of them do not even know the name of the abortion pill.

"It's a small pill but I don't know the name. It costs Rs 500-600," says Selvi.

Ask them how they came to know about the pill, and they say "We got the name from other patients who were there in the scanning centres."

The sex ratio of the district is 929 against the state ratio of 972. The child sex ratio is 918 in the district against the state ratio of 946. The low child sex ratio is a clear indicator that the number of cases of female foeticide is huge in the district.

While the numbers are left as mere statistics in government records, the one question that needs to be constantly asked is, "Is public aware of this reality?"

(Names have been changed in the story to protect the identity of the sources.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Child Rights - The Real struggle, The Real Stories

I met little Meena during my project visit to a village called Kuppannoor at Salem. Female foeticide, bonded labour, child labour, child marriage, untouchability- you name it, the village has everything.
I do not remember when Meena started holding my hand. I stayed in that village with my team for about 5 hours and she did not leave my hand even for a minute. My hands were profusely sweating and the little girl was wiping it with her soiled dress, then clutching to it as if she never wanted to leave it.

When she was convinced that I would not leave her soon, she asked me in Tamil “ Nan ungale akkannnu koopidalama” (“Can I call you Akka?” Akka is sister in Tamil). Overwhelmed with emotion, I told her “Yes, dear”.

She was one among those many underprivileged children in the village who were denied education. Belonging to a bonded labour family, there is a huge chance that either she might end up being a child labour or could be a child bride. But on that day, she was not aware of what is in store for her. I cannot ever forget her smile and those big eyes with hope.

Meena, you will always be in my prayers.

The dalits of this village belongs to the Arundhatiyar community, considered as the most inferior group among dalits. Majority of them are under bonded labour for a meagre monthly salary of Rs 300 for many years. For outside world, they were untouchables, but I assure you, they make the best tea and will serve it you with lots of love.

Mohanapriya was all happy when she met us. I became dead cautious while answering her questions for she had started to look upon us. It was a moment of realization that I amidst them with a huge responsibility. She is the first girl in the Arundhatiyar community to pass 10th standard. I could see dreams in her eyes. She wanted to be an IAS officer.

She said “ Akka, the officers do not want to hear our story. We are always pushed around when we try to meet them. But if somebody from our community becomes an officer, it would be helpful for the community to place our needs.

There is another bright young girl whose name just slipped from my memory. She had no parents and lives with her grandmother and a younger sister who is a speech and hearing - impaired child. Tears welled up in my eyes when I saw her grandmother. She is so old and walks with a stoop.
I met some grandmothers also. To my utter dismay, they were in their late 20’s. Besides, many had been forced to undergo female foeticide.

The children at Ponmalai nagar village again amazed me. Sans any facilities, they were a bundle of talent. If given facilities, they could challenge any privileged child.

My note would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Jayam who have started bringing real change into this downtrodden community. She was a child labourer, child bride, a mother who was forced to undergo female foetcide. If Jayam did not raise her voice, the community would never experience a change.

I believe people like Jayam are the real leaders. She get death threats often but those are not enough to bog her down.

And I salute Jayam – the REAL LEADER

All pictures are copyrighted  PS

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Justice V R Krishna Iyer - Bhishmacharya of Indian Judiciary

This was Justice V R Krishna Iyer's Last interview and I am privileged. I could not ask much. He was tired and 100.

On June 12, 1975 Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of Allahabad High Court held the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi guilty of rigging the Lok Sabha election of 1971. The judge held her election to parliament null and void. He also barred her from contesting elections for six years. Indira Gandhi’s lawyers filed an appeal in the Supreme Court believing that the highest court in the country will pull her out of the quagmire she was in. But her hopes were dashed when the then Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer barred Indira Gandhi from participating in debates or voting in Parliament.  He then referred the matter to a larger bench of the court. Justice Krishna Iyer’s stand on the issue prompted Indira to act fast and declare ‘Emergency’, the darkest chapter ever in the history of India. However, his undaunted spirit led to the rise of new school of thought and a new era of ‘Judicial Activism’ was born. Ironically, it was Indira Gandhi who appointed V R Krishna Iyer as a Supreme court judge.On November 13, ‘Krishna Iyer Swamy’ as he is fondly called celebrated his 100th

birthday.He looked tired but the energy had not diminished one bit. “You know, I am 100. I am tired. I have terrible knee pain. You are young and have a lot to travel before you reach my age,” he had said with a friendly smile. Though he often complained of not being able to hear and see, the way he promptly replied to every question that was put to him made one wonder whether he really was able to do so or not.

“You will have to come close to my ear and speak,” he had said.Ask the man who always stood for every noble causes, is there any regrets in life? He replied promptly,”eradication of poverty and the upliftment of the underprivileged. Those days are yet to come when everyone gets justice from the judiciary.”

This intention was the main force that led Iyer to support a campaign to introduce Islamic banking and finance in India in 2010. Iyer said, “I welcome Islamic finance in India for it has proven successful in poverty alleviation and promoting sustainable growth in many countries, including the United States, and it is very relevant in our country where 20 million people are starving.”

Speaking about the judiciary he said, “I am not at all satisfied with the way it is going ahead. Cases drag on and pile up. Certain judge retires without pronouncing verdict on cases being heard by him. Hence, before appointing any judges, they should be put on posted on the post for six months on a temporary basis. If their work is found to be satisfactory, their appointment can be confirmed,” he said.He has never ever taken a break from reading and especially, writing until yesterday. “I used to write. But I stopped doing so from yesterday.”

His PA Ramanathan said that though the newspapers are dictated to him, he goes through the headlines with magnifying glasses.

Dr Mani- Lal- Bhoumik - The Man who saves eye sight

In 1943, three million people died of starvation and malnutrition during the Bengal famine. There was extreme penury all around. But even amid these difficulties, there was a 12-year-old boy who used to dream big every night. He often thought he could easily touch the stars.

“Those days were full of blind faith, superstition and primitive practices,” said Dr Mani Lal Bhaumik. Superstitions had Dr Bhaumik’s mother remain standing after her delivery, because the umbilical cord was being cut by people of lower caste.

Son of a school teacher, Dr Bhaumik walked four miles on his bare foot to reach school.

Little did he know that despite his poverty, one day, he would grow up to become a renowned name. Dr Bhaumik is the co-inventor of the Laser surgery for the eyes (LASIK).

Speaking about his invention, he says, “Earlier, when laser made a hole, it would burn. But when the experiment was going on, the laser rays accidentally fell on somebody’s hand, and it did not burn. The discovery paved the way for corrective eye surgery.” Dr Bhaumik says that his team took 10 years to study the pros and cons of the surgery.
When it was pointed out that patients are still reluctant to undergo the surgery, out of fear, he says, “It might be because of lack of  awareness. To me, it is as safe as scratching your skin. Around 30 million people worldwide have undergone it. As far as I know, there has not been a single complaint. The success of the surgery depends on the skill of the surgeon. But, undoubtedly, the surgery is a bit expensive.”

  It was Dr Bhaumik’s association with the renowned Indian physicist, Satyendranath Bose, which changed his life. “He was my mentor, who had an independent and brilliant mind,” said Dr Bhaumik. “My professor was his student and he introduced me to Bose.” And then there was no looking back.

  Dr Bhaumik also recollects his one-week stay with Mahatma Gandhi in his ashram. “He did not speak much,” says Dr. Bhaumik. “But whenever he spoke, it was a gem. He was highly disciplined. We had to get up at the crack of dawn. By this time, the hymn, ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja ram’, would be reverberating everywhere.”

  Dr Bhaumik was at Kochi recently to deliver a talk at the Photonics Department of CUSAT. And despite having lived for 55 years in the United States, he is an Indian in every sense. “The West has achieved a lot, but whenever they feel a vacuum, they turn to India,” says Dr Bhaumik. “A blend of East and West can do wonders for you.”

  Nevertheless, he reiterates the bond that binds everyone in this world. “The particles with which the universe is made up of is from a single source and interconnected,” he says. “If the world knows this fact, there would not be any religious wars.”

  Dr Bhaumik has won many awards including the Padma Shri, in 2011, for his achievements in the field of science and engineering. He has also set up the Mani Bhaumik Educational Foundation, Kolkata, which  funds the university education of several underprivileged but meritorious students from rural Bengal. And, recently, the man, who was born in poverty, donated $150 million to the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, his alma mater. His book, ‘Code Name God: The Spiritual Odyssey of a Man of Science’, which became a best-seller has been translated into 100 languages.

published in the New Indian Express

Dr Robert Gallo - interview

As the country frets over how to contain Ebola in the event of an outbreak, eminent American virologist Dr Robert Gallo, who had substantially attributed AIDS to HIV, reassures that vaccines are available for Ebola, and that the public administration has to play a prominent role in making their benefits available to patients.   “Experiments are currently on to develop around 12 vaccines for Ebola. Of which, three have turned out to be successful,” he said.

Dr Gallo was in Kochi on Sunday in connection with the International Conclave on Cancer Care, hosted by Aster Medcity.

“Though the fear of Ebola is gripping the whole world, with the recent outbreak termed as the worst in the history, the real villain is HIV that is capable of literally squeezing life out of man. Unlike HIV, Ebola will not leave its gene in human beings. It is a fleeting phenomenon,” Gallo pointed out.
“Millions of people have died of AIDS, and some people are not aware of the fact that they are infected with HIV. Some of the infected persons do not get proper medication, while some fail to find competent doctors,” he said. When asked about curing AIDS, Dr Gallo said, “a biological cure for AIDS still remains a distant reality.”

When asked about the controversy surrounding the vaccine being administered on patients suffering from cervical cancer, Dr Gallo, who is impressed with the healthcare scenario in Kerala, dismissed it saying that the whole issue was purely political.

According to experts in the field, there are effective vaccines available for cervical cancer, which should be administered to boys and girls before they become sexually active.

Dr Gallo further pointed out that there were different types of cancers caused by viruses.

“Twenty per cent of the cancers are caused by viruses, and there are eight types of viruses, including Hepatitis B, C, and the Herpes virus. Of all the viruses, HIV is the worst because of the high mortality rate among patients. HIV does not cause cancer directly, but affects the patient’s immune system, "he added.

Me with Dr Gallo

published in The New Indian Express

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dr George John - World renowned Sports Surgeon

Photo courtesy : Melton Antony
published in The New Indian Express on May 13, 2014

I can show you 100 better players than Roger Federer. But it might not be easy for them to beat him. Because he plays with his mind, says Dr George John.

 Dr George John can talk at length not only about Federer, but also on many other top-seeded stars like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Diego Maradona. Years have gone by since this sports surgeon has been attending to their bruises and sprains. In a span of few years, this Orthopedic and sports surgeon, hailing from Punalur, became one of the most sought after surgeons by world renowned sports persons across the world.

A keen observer of sports, Dr George John is certainly not happy with the way sports are developing in the country. “Why are we missing out on several Sachins and Dhonis in tennis and badminton? Why is a boy who loves to play rugby or badminton taken so lightly?” he asks.

George John sadly points out that even now many sports organisations feel that it is unnecessary to hire a sports medicine expert as they already have physiotherapists.

Hence in an attempt to bring about a change in this scenario, George John is all set to share the experience he gained in the field of sports medicine. And as a first attempt on these lines he will soon start a full-fledged centre for Minimal Invasive Surgery in Kochi, which will be the first-of-its-kind in the country.

“It will become a reality in a matter of three years,” he adds. But to bring a whole new culture to the land, he is not ready to beseech the help of the government or any other sports organisations for that matter. “I have acquired a lot and it is now my turn to give it back to my motherland which I will do with my own resources,” he says. 

George John says that even the psyche of the people towards sports is blatantly disillusioning. “In our country, it is just the performance of a sports person that really matters. But in Western countries they go for both the individuals and the performance. The sportsmen have real values to impart,” he says.

Besides, the kind of promotions sports stars get here is definitely in the wrong direction. “It is all about money and brand they talk about. Where are those potent values that a sportsperson can offer,” he asks.

Ask him how he managed those sports persons who were faced with career threatening injuries, he says,“We normally do not slap it on their faces that they could not go on any further. Instead we take our own time and break the news gently. That’s why before donning the garb of a doctor for them, it always helps if you could understand their emotions,” he points out.

Thus he went on to narrate an experience he had with Federer.  “There was a time when Roger Federer lost his game to Novak Djokovic. He came to my room and I knew that he did not need my counselling but an outlet to vent out his emotions. I left the room. Sometime later when I came back, almost everything in my room was destroyed. He was just getting it out of his system. Understanding the players’ emotions at a particular moment as this and reacting accordingly is pivotal,” points out the surgeon who had associated with Federer for eight years.

Apart from sports, he is also into film industry. He is the executive producer of the film Kamasutra 3D.