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.