Sunday, December 30, 2012

Celebrities to croon for ‘One Love’

Budding music composer P V Unnikrishnan has come out with a novel  initiative, a music album ‘One Love’, which will be a celebrity treat with   actors Suresh Gopi, Ananya and Sharanya Mohan lending their voice.  

P V Unnikrishnan, who composed the music for the songs in the album, says  the concept of a celebrity album sprouted from a casual talk which happened between him and his friend Vijay Madhav.

“We have already started working for ‘One Love’. Six melodies have already been composed which were penned by my friends Rajeev Alunkal and

Sreenath V P. Since Vijay is a good friend of Suresh Gopi, he discussed   about the album to him. To our surprise, he was willing to sing for us.   That is how the idea of celebrity album popped up,” he says.

Unnikrishnan says that he then held talks with many actors who expressed  their inclination to work with them. “That is how Ananya and Sharanya Mohan came to the scene,” Unnikrishnan says.

Other prominent singers in the album are Vijay Madhav, Mridula Warriar and Sudeep Karat. Besides singing solo songs, Vijay Madhav has sung the main   lead male portions of other songs along with Sharanya Mohan and Ananya. Unnikrishnan says the professionalism showed by the stars were amazing.

“When it comes to Suresh Gopi, there were no starry airs. He showed real professionalism and always came to the studio after learning the song well”.

Unnikrishnan started his career as a music director at the age of 19. He did several works like title songs for famous TV Shows Vodafone Comedy Stars,  Ranankanam ,Star Utsav, Neelambari, theme song for Malayalam TV USA and has    worked with renowned director M P Sukumaran for his work ‘Smaraka Shilakal’ and ‘Nangyarkoothu’ and the much-discussed docu-fiction ‘Ekaroopam’.

Though this is the case, Unnikrishnan is not fully satisfied with the current scene of music.

He says the current trend is that musicians need the backing of films.

“Our music is mainly recognised with films. It is a long wait for the  musician to get recognised,” he says.

Besides, he adds that the musicians are in a dilemma regarding what people really seek in a song.  “Recently  I made a Malayalam cover to PSY’s world hit Gangnam Style - ANNA KINNAM STYLE’ with my friend Nithin. It has been a few weeks and now it has crossed 86,000 views. Unfortunately, the real and serious music is brushed aside,” he laments.

A dam song: To Tamil Nadu, with love

What if Mullaperiyar breaks? This question has left many people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu without sleep. The thought of awaiting disaster is bringing out the pessimists in the people. However, there are some trying to make people think otherwise. That’s how a Tamil song‘Pesi Tholeda’ (Speak Out!) was penned down by some Malayalis. “It was not pre-planned. We used to hang out in Chandrettan’s (Chandrasekharan R) studio, where we shot this song, and used to have lengthy discussions on this issue. This song was an offshoot of those discussions,” said Ajay Rahul, lyricist of the song. Ajay said that they wanted a different song with different feel to lure the attention of both Malayalis and Tamilians. “Songs and albums based on Mullaperiyar issues is quite common and we could not follow the same path trodden by other people. Moreover, we wanted to provide a shade of positivity through our song. Hence, we decided on a fast number,” Ajay added.

Ajay said, while preparing the song the language and the feel of the song were given top priority. “We decided to use Tamil as it would attribute our feelings quite clearly to them. Moreover, the language we used is simple,” he said.

Ajay believes that it is easy to write something on the cause one really believes in. “It just took five hours to write the lyrics and to give music. The process picked up the pace when Jayahari did not take much time in giving music to my lyrics ,” said an enthusiastic Ajay.

The significant feature of this song is that though it is speaking of Mullaperiyar issue, no where in the song have appeared terms like ‘Mullaperiyar’ and ‘Dam’. “It was a deliberate decision to keep these two words out of this song to avoid any kind of offensiveness. Making this song a medium, we need the Tamil authorities to give in to the demand of Kerala to build a new dam,” said Jayahari P S, who composed the music for the song.

When asked about the lyrics, zealous Jayahari hummed the song “Machi, entra pesame irukke ( Why do you keep mum?) Namukku vendum oreyoru vartha thaan ‘OK’ (We need just a single word from you - OK, a nod to build a new dam).” “It’s a matter of life and death. Speak out! Machi before it is too late. This is what we want to convey through our effort,” Jayahari said. “This venture became fruitful when Santhosh Kumar T V agreed to lend his voice and Riju B Sarajan agreed to finance it,” they added.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The beauty of stones

 picture courtesy : Mithun Vinod

The grinding stones, which was lying scattered at one side of Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi, reminds one of the famous quote by Michaelangelo, one of the world’s greatest sculptors. “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

But when it comes to artist Sheela Gowda from Bangalore who has accumulated these stones from three localities in Bangalore, the statement of Michaelangelo has to be changed a little.

For Sheela is not about to carve new statues out of the stones, but to show the public, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the art which is hidden inside.

Titled ‘Stopover’, these stones reveal the hidden history behind them. “They were once a part of every household in Karnataka,” she says. “You can see that they are not finely cut, except at one part, where there is a perfect square.”

In olden times, the stones were buried, except for the hole in which the spices would be crushed. Now the stones have been neglected as people have found other ways to grind spices.

“But I see an art hidden in it,” says Sheela.  “That is why I have decided to showcase the long-lost tradition through these abstract sculptures.”

Sheela, who has been accompanied by her colleague, Christopher Storz, says that they could procure the stones in an intact condition as the people, who had discarded it, did not break it.

“It might be because of the emotional connect,” says Sheela. “Hence, they just threw them away without causing any damage.”

She says that through their work they want to show how a piece of stone, which has become invisible in the locality, can become visible through an art form.

“The stones, which I have got, are negligible in number,” says Sheela. “I am sure there are several more. Hopefully, through our work, people will become aware of them.”

Sheela says that she decided  to showcase this work at Fort Kochi because it has such a rich history in spices.

“Such a history makes it a suitable environment to showcase this artwork,” says Sheela.

published in The New Indian Express

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Personal experience encourages Peter to feed the needy

K J Peter stands tall, both literally and figuratively as he has dedicated his life for the poor and the needy. Everyday, he reaches the isolation ward of the Ernakulam general hospital at the crack of the dawn to bathe the patients
and dress them up, and also distributes food to the patients. It has been eight years since he has commenced his mission of offering service to those in need.

 Interestingly, Peter says that for the past eight years his service has never encountered a single hurdle. However, there was a phase in Peter’s life when he was hardly aware of the melancholy
of life until he was struck by an illness which affected his mobility. He says that during those days, the patients could get free food only thrice a week.

The rest of the four days were a real nightmare without food. “My disability and the difficulties I encountered during my course of treatment made me think of an arrangement that could be of immense help to the people,” he says. Peter says, seven years back, taking up such a venture was not an easy task. “I knocked many doors for help but could not get favourable answers. Hence, I went and collected money from various sources which helped me to distribute food to the patients,” he said.

Currently, Peter distributes food for around 1,200 patients in five government hospitals in the district. The destitute patients of Taluk Hospital, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry Women and Children’s Hospital, Malipuram Health Centre and Fort Kochi Dharamshala gets his help. The Ernakulam District Collector has honoured him for his services in April and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has honoured him for his service.
The seven-year-long service has now enabled him to garner other arrangements to help the destitute patients.

His trust, Rosary of Divine Charitable Trust, now has two ambulances for emergency situations. The food for patients is prepared at his house at Oachanthuruthu. Peter says that he gets incessant help from his family and neighbours to prepare the required food. “About 110 kg of rice is prepared here and half of it is cooked in the kitchen entrusted
by the Ernakulam General Hospital at,” he says. Sadly, the number of destitute patients in the Ernakulam General Hospital is increasing day-by-day, but Peter’s presence proves to be true solace for all of them.

Published in the New Indian Express

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Teen going green with a passion

When boys his age prefer to be lost in technology, U Ramnath Shenoy is nurturing his passion- farming. All of sixteen, he has a full-fledged garden on his terrace where he grows a variety of vegetables. It all began when he attended a programme in school  about agriculture. “The session was so interesting that I could not imagine another hobby other than agriculture,” Ramanath says.

He attributes his successful vegetable garden to the sessions at school. “There were prizes given away for those who maintained their garden well. Every activity included in the programme at school ignited my interest,” he says

Ask him why he opted for terrace farming, and he says that since they do not have enough space in the compound, the rooftop was the only option left. Three years from then, Ramnath’s garden now abounds in various kinds of vegetables like egg plant, okra, spinach and various kinds of gourds. Ramnath’s garden has already become a rage. He also distributes vegetables from his garden to his relatives and neighbours.

To sustain the garden, Ramnath has shunned artificial fertilizers and pesticides. “I make the requisite manure in my home. A concoction of turmeric and garlic and a decoction of tobacco are a prerequisite in this regard.

Concoction of turmeric and garlic is easy to make. Though decoction of tobacco is available in the market, I prefer it home made,” he says. Apart from that, Ramnath also makes use of vermi compost.

He feels his dream would not have been possible if he not received support from his parents. Occasionally, his younger brother Sreevyas also lends a helping hand in maintaining the vegetable garden on his terrace.

Ramnath’s father Umesh Shenoy says that watering the plants during his exams is the only kind of help they give their son. “There are many concoctions and blends which has to be made. We still do not know how to make all those. It has been three years since he started taking care of his garden. We hardly interfere, and only give occasional help. But he has our moral support,” Umesh says.

U Ramnath Shenoy who is a student of Saraswati Vidya Niketan, Elamakkara lives with his parents Umesh Shenoy and Preetha Shenoy and younger brother Sreevyas Shenoy.

published in The New Indian Express

The Virtual Musical Sweep

The mantra that music has no barriers holds really true for Iftikar Ali, who is all set to bask in the success of his innovative and debut online album ‘Patchwork’. In what can be called the first of its kind album in Kerala,  that took two years to complete, it has brought together twenty nine artists and forty nine technicians from nine countries including Pakistan.

Not just that, Iftikar has also roped in ace musicians like Lucky Ali, Shruthi Hassan, Rahul Raj and the like. Iftikar has lent music to 17 songs in the album and most of the videos feature him.

One of the videos that has released on Youtube has been drawing rave reviews from all quarters. The album of course has every local and international flavour to satiate the hunger of music lovers. Iftikar Ali, who is obviously thrilled with the response says that the video has garnered 7000 views so far. “This is definitely a sign of encouragement,” he says.

The album also deserves special mention as it has given a smashing entry for Arabic rap in India. “Though an attempt in this regard has been made earlier, it could not be released. Thankfully, we got the golden opportunity to introduce it first time through this album,”  says a jubilant Iftikar. In the album, Arabic rap occurs in the theme song which also has Tamil and various other blended raps. Artists like Anaitha Nair (Chak De! India fame), Andrea Jeremiah (Vishwaroopan fame), Jyotsana Balakrishnan, Harish Sivaramakrishnan have lend their voices.

One of the highlights here is that Iftikar met almost all the artists and technicians who worked on the album online.

He developed an acquaintance with Moilim Yacoub, who has mixed most of the songs in the album, online. “Yacoub wished to do a song and was on the look out for a musician. Accidently, he came across my site.

He liked some of my music demos and invited me to do a song titled ‘Show me Love’ which is included in the album,” he says.

Tony Joseph Thomas, executive producer of Tune 4, which has produced the album, says that the videos were shot in 30 studios across the globe.Iftikar and Tony who have produced this album attribute its success to networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Orkut. “We too met online and since then the association has been going strong,” says a pleased Tony.

Though they have worked with twenty nine artists and forty nine technicians, they have met only three of them in real life.

“We are so happy that we could associate with people from US, Canada, Netherlands, Egypt, UAE, Bangladesh, Pakistan. ‘Teri Ankhen’, ‘Elements’,  ‘Serendipity’,  ‘Khwabon Mein’, ‘Freedom’ are some of the songs in the album. The album was released on World Music Day, June 22 by music composer Rahul Raj.

published in ' The New Indian Express'

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Champ who floored King Kong

It was in the 1960s that Kochi had its first tryst with the legendary wrestler Dara Singh aka Deedar Singh Randhawa. Nothing much was known about it other than the grappling competition held in the old ‘Barrack Maidan’ at Fort Kochi. But the second rendezvous still remains afresh in the memories of many Kochiites.

M M Salim, who was then a boy of seven, was awed at the way Dara Singh beat his contender who was double his size. “He lifted King Kong who was 200 kg and threw him away. I still remember the announcement that was made after his victory on King Kong. Dara Singh, 36 beat a much younger King Kong,” Salim said. Dara Singh took just 40 minutes to beat his opponent.“I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I tore down a piece of poster from the venue, Marine Drive,” says Salim. Though he was too ecstatic about those memories he was sad that he lost the poster which was one of his prized possession. “I live in a rented house. In the scurry to move from one place to another, I lost it. It bore a picture of him facing the audience with spread hands,” he says.  Salim says that it became one of the mammoth events in the erstwhile Cochin as it drew many spectators from every nook and cranny of the district. Salim, who is now a wrestling coach and the state secretary of Kerala State Indian Style Wrestling Association, said that Dara Singh had a huge fan following here.

He says that unlike today, Kochi once nurtured a passion for wrestling. “Young and the old alike were into it. After Mehmood’s songs, it was always ‘Gusti’ that we preferred then,” says Salim. Barrack Maidan, Modi Bath and Jew Ground were once the centres for grappling competitions.

Salim says that he was also lucky as he got opportunities to meet the legendary wrestler thrice. He was a keen follower of national competitions. "Though old age-related illness was having a heavy toll on his health, he never missed any such competitions. I could interact with him thrice."

Salim met Dara Singh two years ago, with his students at Ahmed Nagar, Maharashtra. “He asked us to try new techniques in Gusti. He knew that the role of South Indians in the history of Gusti is not as prominent as that of North Indians,” he says.

The Kerala State Indian Style Wrestling Association also held a commemorative meeting for the late Dara Singh on Thursday at Fort Kochi.

published in The New Indian Express

Bhandari's tips to ace the UPSC exams

Bhandari Swagat Ranveer Chand, IAS of 2010 batch, may be new to bureaucracy but that does not deter the assistant collector trainee from being a strict disciplinarian. Living her dream, she says, sheer will and determination helped her crack the UPSC examination, known to be one of the most challenging exams in the country. Bhandari secured the 69th rank. Geography and literature of Pali language were her subjects.

“I believe in the adage ‘will to succeed’. If you have it, you will not be left with any other go but to fight for what you believe in,” Bhandari says.

Her resoluteness is obvious from the very fact that she took only two attempts to clear the examination. “I could not get through the prelims in my first attempt. But I did not lose heart and decided that I would only give one more attempt. I believe that it was a good decision,” says the 25-year-old. She completed her higher secondary from Our Lady of Nazareth School, Mumbai, in 2004.

Though she had two lucrative jobs at hand even before she completed her engineering from Sardar Patel College of Engineering (2008), Bhandari says that she was a bit disillusioned about her future. “I got offers from two MNCs. Though the prospects seemed bright, I was not satisfied. I instantly knew that it was not my karma. Since I wanted to work for the society right from my childhood days, I decided to go for the Civil Services examination,” she says.

Bhandari believes that graduation is the ideal time to start preparing for competitive exams. Talking about the knack to crack the civil service, she says that there is no fixed strategy for it. “One has to prepare his or her strategy. But it always helps to have a timetable as the syllabus is vast,” she warns.

Her skill as a fast reader was helpful in picking up the right books for the subjects concerned. “After my first attempt, I had ample time for extensive reading and my reading skills enabled me to read a number of books on various subjects. But I would not advise this for everybody since judicial management of time is the key factor in coming out with flying colours in this exam. An aspirant has to decide for herself as to what suits her best,” she says.

Though there are many books in the market on various subjects, she says that an aspirant should be well aware of the topics which she/he has to cover. “Nowadays, the markets are overflowing with books on various subjects. Some are of immense help while others are not. You should know which book to devour and which one to eschew,” she cautions.

Bhandari says that reading newspapers will definitely help in tackling the exam. “Unlike books, newspapers provide substantially good editorials which should not be missed.” When asked about the role of coaching institutions, she says, “They are good in giving a clear picture about the exam, which you sometimes cannot garner by yourself.”

According to her, calmness is the key factor when it comes to handling the interview. “If you are not sure of the answer; admit it for it will do you good rather than beating around the bush.” Beaming with happiness, she says that her training period at Mussourie in June 2011 was something she cherishes the most.

“You get to interact with people from different parts of the country. Apart from the usual classes, we also had cycling, horse riding and swimming sessions. And to my surprise, I won prizes in horse riding, though I hardly rode a horse before,” Bhandari says with all smiles.

“Due to a conglomeration of people from different parts of the country, I could learn a lot from my senior officials as well as my peers,” she adds.

Amidst her busy schedule, she also finds time to nourish her hobbies — reading and swimming. Charles Dickens is his favourite author. “I love to read classics and I can’t pick and choose any one book as my favourite for I am a die-hard Dickens fan and all his works topmy list of favourites,” she says.

Bhandari signs off by saying that since she has just started her career, she has not charted out her future plans. “I have just commenced my innings and I really do not know what is in store for me. For the time being, bouquets or brickbats, I have decided to take it all in my stride.

published in The New Indian Express

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Film-maker highlights plight of Pakistani hindus

 KOCHI: When Rahul Riji Nair, a young business analyst decided to pursue his passion for film-making, little did he know that he was going to take up a huge cause as his debut venture. His first documentary film ‘The Human Boundaries - Born as a Human, Divided by Boundaries’ created ripples wherever it was screened. The 35-minute documentary forayed into the trials and tribulations of new age Hindu refugees who continue to come to India from Pakistan. The film will be screened at The Woods Manor on April 28 in Kochi.

“I knew it was a burning topic which needed to be retold. However, I had never known the gravity of the situation until I visited the camp where they were sheltered,” he says.

Talking about his documentary, Rahul says that about 151 Pakistani Hindus  with a the tourist visa valid for a month entered India in September 2011. Most of them were women and children. According to them, religious persecutions are rampant in Pakistan because of which they decided to stay back in India even after the expiry of their visas. However, following the rules, Indian Government insisted on deporting them. Their’s is a story of lives belonging to no country which needs to be highlighted,” he says. Rahul adds that he happened to read an article about Sri Sri Ravi Sankar visiting this camp called ‘Baba Dehradunni’ in Delhi. “It gave me the first cue and we paid a flying visit as we were told by the insiders that if we wanted to shoot then we should reach there as early as possible, fearing yet another police action. Nonetheless, our shoot inside the camp proved to be a herculean task,” he said. Also, out of Rahul’s team of three, only two got the permission to shoot. “We were allowed the least number of equipment for a span of three days due to which we had to shoot with a handy-cam,” Rahul said.
According to Rahul, the shoot was strenuous as they had to work with emotionally exhausted people. “They were reluctant to speak as they were not sure if they should consider us friends or enemies. Arjun Das, one of the refugees said that they are called ‘Kafirs’ in Pakistan. In Pakistan, they are not allowed to mingle with others. Kidnappings, especially that of girls for forcible conversions are a recurring phenomena. Besides, contrary to their religious rites, the dead were buried and not cremated. He also said that the fundamentalists in Pakistan are creating the trouble as others are generally aloof,” Rahul says.
He says that the documentary has been screened in various parts of the country and to their surprise, many organisations have come forward in lending a helping hand. “As of now, the Delhi High Court has stayed their deportation until a clear consensus is reached,” Rahul said. The documentary was screened at the International Human Rights Conference in New Delhi and in reputed film clubs across the country. The film has also bagged a distribution contract from a US Company called Commodity Films for worldwide distribution through online and offline media.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

No plans to diversify: Naukri chief

KOCHI: When Sanjeev Bhikhchandani founded, little did he know that he was giving a new dream for the posterity- the dream of becoming an entrepreneur that was a taboo several years back. His aspirations bore fruit when became the first Indian internet company to be listed . Today, it has a turnover of about `400 crore.

Sanjeev says that the best kept secret of an entrepreneur is very simple, perseverance and persistence. “There is no short cut but persisting on what you believe. You will incur losses at the outset but you have to keep at it,” he says.

Hailing from a family of government officials, Sanjeev says that it was not an easy dream to pursue.  “Pure middle class aspirations which were prevalent then was to make their son or daughter an engineer or doctor. My parents too nourished this dream. Besides, my father was a doctor and he was in the government service. There were no business people in my family. Middle class India never wanted their children to be entrepreneurs and I had to cut out a new path for me.”

Sanjeev began his successful journey by starting a company called Info Edge. “It is still the company and Naukri is the brand. Prior to it, there were two companies, one was for salary surveys and the other was a database of trademarks on which we were doing searches. It later on gave way to”

The idea of starting struck him in a rather curious way. “I used to find people reading the very last pages of ‘ Business India’ and wondered why people are longing to read the very last pages. It was full of job offers. This kindled a spark in me. I realised that both employers and employees are in dire need of each other. Employees needed jobs while employers needed sheer talents and that’s how was born,” he says.

Sanjeev admits that he never thought he would make it big in the industry. “I never thought my humble venture would be a path breaking attempt. But somehow I clicked. There is no dispute over the subject that I worked hard. But there was sheer luck too,” he said with a confident smile. This confidence also made him usher into other streams which also became a huge hit. Jeevan, are a few to list.
Though he had started Naukri gulf, he made it clear that currently there are no plans to diversify his venture to global markets. “The Indian market has ample potential. We want to work on it. We started gulf owing to the existence of Indian diaspora there,” he says.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Etching the fading heritage on canvas

KOCHI: Writer Joseph Joubert has said “Monuments are the grappling irons   that bind one generation to another.” The efforts by Dinesh R Shenoy, an ardent monochromatic painter from Mattanchery, clearly indicates that he is  rightly treading the aforementioned path. Shenoy believes that by compiling a memorabilia of 300 age-old buildings in  the state, he is building a bridge through which the posterity can have a  peep on their past.

Shenoy says his experimentation in monochromatic painting began 12 years  back. “I was watching the demolition of an old building and one of my friend casually remarked that old buildings have to be demolished to make way for new. This sparked of a new thought in me for I knew that age-old  building carries a bundle of memories and it should not be shoved off to the oblivion. This made me usher into a new arena of oil portraits in monochromatic sepia,” he says.

Imprinting heritage on a sheet of canvas is not an easy task, says Shenoy.   He says that he used to travel extensively across the state to find out such outstanding and antique buildings. “I undertake a direct study to do a  painting. It would never serve the purpose, if I paint it in the confines of four walls. Hence I directly go to the site to capture the structure into the canvas. It usually takes seven to eight days to complete such portraits,” he says.

Shenoy says the fact that Kerala has more than 1,000 such buildings which would soon go to the oblivion if not properly taken care of. “I found it rather surprising. I have charted out more than 1,000 such buildings with my  limited resources. I am sure and certain that there would be more,” he said.

As to why he chose this particular genre of painting, Shenoy says that this  particular genre of painting gives a guarantee of 500 years. “What more you need to preserve the cultural heritage,” he asks.

Moreover, he says this is also “an attempt to revive a genre of painting”.  “ This is an honest attempt to tell others that there exists a style or school which could teach a lot about painting. For me, this is definitely not lucrative. I do not sell these collections,” he says.
On his experience as a painter, he says he was shell-shocked when he found  one of his picture in Wikipedia. “They neither sought my permission to use my portraits nor gave a courtesy underneath my pictures,” he says.

published in The New Indian Express

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saikripa 'chained' to her key hobby.

KOCHI: The day of Saikripa starts with the mellifluous tinkling of her 4000-odd keychains which take the major space of her bedroom. The eleven-year-old has been attuned to them since she was three years old. Sai who was fond of her grandmother could not leave her.

Her parents, to change her attention, started to gift her with keychains which in course of time grew into a full-fledged hobby.Sai says that due to space constraints, she could not hang about one thousand keychains. “Though I have lost count of my keychains, I presume that there are about 3000 on the wall and the rest have been kept in a carton.”

To remember easily, She has also categorised her treasure trove into themes like gods, dolls, fruits, vegetables, insects, towns and tools. Amongst them, gods and dolls are her favourites. Ask her what makes them her favourite, her curt reply is, “People just love gods and there is no reason for it.  Gods and dolls are very cute with their attractive attires,” she says.

The best part is that, apart from having such a huge number of keychains, Sai can talk extensively about her collections and on what occasion it was gifted. For instance ask her about the ‘Eiffel Tower’ keychain, she can elaborate on the Eiffel Tower. According to her parents, they made it certain that Sai also learns something from her keychains.

She says,”Whenever father buys me a keychain, he would narrate its detail. It has indeed helped me to have a clear picture on various things like numbers, colours or any particular aspect of that keychain and thus improving my general knowledge too.”

Though she wants to add more keychains to her collection, she has stopped buying new ones for fear of duplication. “I have so many of them that there are chances of duplication. The key chains gifted by friends and relatives also result in duplication as they do not know about which all keychains I already have. It will defeat the purpose if there is a lot of duplication,” she says.

Saikripa’s hobbies do not end here. She collects coins, stamps and stickers too. Dancing and singing are her other interests.Besides, she has won laurels in various other competitions like designing ‘Kolams’ and chanting ‘Lakshmi Sahasranamam’. Saikripa lives with her parents S Sethuraman and Latha Sethuraman in Fort Kochi.

published in The New Indian Express

Thursday, March 22, 2012

KOCHI: ‘Ashwamedham,’ the all-women bus service is on a rickety road. Launched three years ago, this bus service is running on a no profit no loss mode. The bus service which was started with much fanfare was the first of its kind in the state. The women crew said that the meager salary they get from the bus service providers is not sufficient to meet their needs.

“We have been getting a nominal amount as salary which is not enough to meet the daily need” said Kavitha, the conductor of the bus. The bus is under the Community Development Society (CDS), Maradu. They said that they have been constantly asking the authorities to increase their daily wages but to no avail. When asked Sajitha Basheer, chairperson, CDS, said that they could not give a hike to the buss staff as the amount procured from this service is comparatively low. “We have asked a for a route change. Hopefully, we will get the sanction,” she said.

Three years ago, Maradu panchayat paved the way for the bus service which was to be run by an all-women crew. Thus, started the journey of ‘Ashwamedham’. The bus ply from Kakkanad to Nettoor. This was an initiative of by K A Devassy, the then-president of Maradu panchayat who decided to do something different and substantial. Now, Devassy laments that Maradu Municipality is showing scant interest in the activities of the bus.
“Maradu Municipality was then a panchayat and it took the initiative to buy the bus, but now is giving a cold shoulder to the issue,” he said.

published in the New Indian Express

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Uriyampetty- A tribal hamlet in dire straits

KOCHI: The 77 tribal families of Uriyampetty colony in Kuttampuzha panchayat are a disgruntled lot. Their dissatisfaction has grown to such an extent that they have decided to give away their native lands to the government seeking rehabilitation in turn.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the tribal people, which was convened on March 9 under their village head man.It was concluded that they would surrender 600 acres of their land to the government and in lieu of it, they would demand land outside the forest area.

Herald John, Tribal Extension Officer, Edamalayar, said that this is a positive development.“Usually, tribals like to dwell in the interiors of the forest and this made any reform activities for their benefit very difficult to carry out. Several attempts by the government to rehabilitate them were earlier vehemently opposed by them only because they were reluctant to leave their native dwellings. So, the decision has come as a big surprise,” he said.

“They need 608 acres of land in return. They have also demanded compensation for the loss of agricultural produce,” he added.The lack of even the most basic amenities has made life hard to the natives of the Uriyampetty Colony.

Added to this is the wrath of wild animals, which the tribal people have to encounter on a regular basis. “To reach the nearest primary health centre, located in Kuttampuzha panchayat area, we have to travel three hours, and the cost comes to about `3,000 per trip. How could we afford such a huge amount?” asked Ayyavu, a native of the colony.

He said that owing to the lack of medical care in nearby areas, casualties have become a recurring phenomena in the colony.In addition, the residents are deprived of their livelihood by wild elephants that wander into their fields and destroy crops.Herald John further said that the place was reeling under acute water shortage.

“There are no provisions to supply potable water to the interior areas. Education too is a distant dream for the inhabitants of the area, as evident from the increasing number of school dropouts,” he said. Though the community’s decision to move out has been welcomed, officials at the Scheduled Tribes Development Department have voiced apprehensions.

“Such a move is the second of its type. The tribes of Variyam Colony have already made such a move. But their rehabilitation still remains on paper,” an official  said.Acting on the decision by the dwellers of Uriyampetty colony, District Collector P I Sheik Pareeth has convened a meeting on March 27.

“The district administration officials have decided to visit the colony. We will compile a detailed report based on the issues after the visit,” Pareeth said.Minister for Welfare of Backward Communities P K Jayalakshmi has also assured that she would soon conduct a detailed study on the matter.

published in The New Indian Express

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

KOCHI: Missing ‘Heritage Arts’ at Mattanchery means missing the best antique collection in  South India. Nineteen years ago, when N B Majnoo started a small shop sprawled over an area of 300 sq feet in Mattanchery, little did he know that one day it would become one of the most sought after antique shops in South India.

 “I used to be a tourist guide then and would take tourists to historical destinations in Mattanchery. This kindled an interest in antique and that was how I ended up in this profession,” he said.

For him, this antique shop was just a source of livelihood which later turned into passion.What excites him most, is the status garnered by his antique shop in due course of time.

 “People do not see it as a shop but look at it as a museum. I am proud of the fact many guides here, introduce my shop to others as a museum,” he said. Tourists rarely miss this shop owing to it close proximity to the historical Dutch palace. Most of the antique date back to 200 to 300 years. A temple door (Gopura Vathil) procured from Tamil Nadu by Majnoo can tell a story of 350 years. The bronze horse rider which is about 250 years old, is yet another major attraction.

Though the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has put a strict tab on exports of antique outside the country, Majnoo said that the market is not severely affected. “Previously, it was exports which constituted 90 per cent of the antique market. However, now 50 per cent of the market has been taken over by the Indian presence,” he said.

Pune, Delhi and Mumbai are the three places in India where a growing demand for antique can be witnessed. “Pune outnumbers the other two,” he said.

In addition, the liking for small antique pieces has now given way for large pieces, he said. “About eight truck loads of antique were taken away to renovate the airport in Mumbai. Three of them were from my shop. Many  business tycoons had approached me for a 107-year-old snake boat. However, I did not sell it as it would have been a huge loss to Kochi tourism,” he said.

published in the New Indian Express

Sunday, March 11, 2012

'Sreekaram’ offers free treatment to the needy

 KOCHI: A charitable organisation at Fort Kochi ‘Sreekaram,’ was launched three years back to provide the services offered by a medical camp to the needy. Run by a group of sextagenarians, this organisation operates from the portico of a temple, where the patients, irrespective of religions, come for medical check ups.

About sixteen doctors render free services. “We used to have long discussions on conducting medical camps and other such services for the poor. Dr G P Bhat, one of the members of the team of doctors, told us about the futility of medical camps. Though, medicines and treatments are made available in such camps, failure in following up defeats the purpose. Such situations gave us the idea of conducting medical camp thrice a week,” says M G Pai, secretary, Sreekaram. Since then, there was no looking back and ‘Sreekaram’ has already become a peaceful asylum for a number of patients.

Last year, ‘Sreekaram’ was also able to amass money to buy an ambulance which gave wings to their dreams of launching a ‘mobile clinic.’ “Many people, especially the ones dwelling in the slums, are in dire need of medical aid. As their accessibility to such free medical helps are limited, we conceptualised a  mobile clinic comprising a doctor, nurse and medicines. The mobile clinic goes to remote areas and attends to their needs. It has been running successfully since last year,” says U N Ravi, treasurer, Sreekaram. This organisation thrives on the funds offered by the well wishers in the locality.

It has been giving away medicines worth `80,000 every month. Ravi said that giving free medicines was not difficult as the in-house doctors as well as other medical practitioners and hospitals have been offering sample medicines.“About 30 to 35 people turn up each day to consult the doctors. As many people have to wait for a long time, we started providing them lunch” he says. Now, the organisers of ‘Sreekaram’ are cherishing another project ‘Health Survey,’ through which they hope to offer an idea to the government," he says.

“We wanted to take a survey on the lifestyle of people and prepare a compact data on it, which would cater to all the sections of society. Based on this data, we can have a vivid picture of the  medical requirements and changes needed in the lifestyle of the people,” says R Prakash, president, Sreekaram. They hope that the data prepared can be further used by other entities including government.

published in The New Indian Express

Going steady in bus driver’s seat

 KOCHI: Siji Sunil sits confidently behind the wheel of ‘Ashwamedham’ bus, the first private bus service exclusively for women, in the state that was launched three years ago in the district. The ease with which she drives the vehicle is enough to prove the fact that contrary to the prevailing jokes and one-liners, women are better drivers than men.

When ‘City Express’ catches up with Siji during one of her trips, she is all smiles and speaks about her vocation. She says, “This profession is what I wanted all throughout my life. I am passionate about vehicles and it is my love towards them which brought me here.”

Siji clears that it was not the necessity to have a living out of driving which prompted her to take up this specific profession, but pure passion. “I was crazy about vehicles right from my childhood days. It reached its zenith when I started riding two-wheelers at the age of ten. Since then there was no looking back. I learned to drive all vehicles,” says Siji. When asked why there are fewer number of women bus drivers, she replies that it may be due to the misconception that heavy vehicles are difficult to handle for woman, which is not true.

“Those who know how to drive a car can easily manage heavy vehicles,” she adds.
Siji says, “Though I was interested in driving, it was sheer coincidence that took me to the helm of ‘Ashwamedham’.” The idea for a bus service exclusively for women was born, when K A Devassy, the then panchayat president of Maradu Panchayat decided to think out of the box and do something substantial which involves participation of women. “There were ten women, who invested money in this venture and I was one. Since I was interested in driving, I applied for the post of driver and I got it,” Siji says.

Siji who hails from Ponekkara is married to  Sunil, an auto driver by profession. The woman-driver is quite content with the good response that she is getting from all quarters. ‘Ashwamedham’ has every reason to smile as it has a clean record on the road.

published in The New Indian Express

Lending a helping hand

Kochi: Selin Joseph may not be a known name in the social service field, but her ardent fervour to lend a helping hand to the needy has been acknowledged by the state government in the year 2011. She received state award on July 14, 2011 for organizing 21 blood donation camps in various parts of the district. Selin says that the image of an extended hand beseeching help has always troubled her right from her childhood. It was that restlessness that made her devote her life to social service.

Selin's active services cannot be confined to one particular section alone. She says that she does not believe in working for a specific section but for everyone who needs help.“ Wherever you turn, you can find someone looking at you for help. I could never be blind to such faces and sleep without a prick of conscience. Hence I pursued this difficult but rewarding vocation. I am destined to do this and I am happy pursuing the call of my life,” Selin says with a glint in her eyes.

Apart from it, She has become a messiah of hope for the scheduled tribes living in Ponganchodu tribal colony. “ Most of them are addicted to booze,tobacco and drugs and it is not an easy task to make them aware of its ill effects. You can talk to them only once in a week. Half of the week they would be deep inside the forest working and the rest of the days they are lost in liquor and drugs. We have just one day to talk to them and to make them sit all through our seminars and medical camps, we organize there. We also provide food for them during such occasions and they would willingly comply with us,” she says.

But despite taking such strenuous efforts, Selin says that her works are impeded owing to the unavailability of vehicles.“ The area is too hilly which limits our accessibility to such places. But I hope that this issue will be resolved soon as I have brought this issue to the notice of P K Jayalakshmi,Minister for Welfare of Backward Communities “ She has asked me to give it in writing,” she says.

To add another feather to her cap, Selin has so far succeed in procuring 1200 identity cards from the Central government to artisans and handicrafts labourers. “ This identity card is of immense help to the workers of this particular section. Central government is providing suffice compensation for them which can come handy in the wake of any serious life hazards,” she says.

Apart from her individual accomplishments as a social activist, Sanjo Welfare Centre Elanthikkara run by her has won state award as the best NGO and her other institution, Deepin Charitable institute of women has won an award from Youth welfare board four years ago.

published in The New Indian Express


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The good old days are back again

 KOCHI:  When Gopalakrishnan started ‘Vayasans Club’ at Mulanthuruthi, it was with the understanding that only a person of his age could understand the pressure of his peers. Though an initiative for the old people, K Gopalakrishnan is emphatic about the fact that it is not an old-age home, but a temporary hub where elderly people can come and have fun in their own way.

“The primary aim of this club is to ward off the loneliness they feel at their own homes, when their children are away at work,” he said. The other objective is to provide  his ‘companions’ with timely medical aid. And, for this purpose, Gopalakrishnan has approached various hospitals for assistance, to which most of them have agreed. He says that many of the leading hospitals in the city, including Ayurveda and homeopathic clinics have offered full support to his venture. “They are even ready to offer medical check-ups once in every 15 days, free of cost,” he said.

Apart from it, Gopalakrishnan has also arranged for seminars and awareness classes to instil positivity in the elderly. “Old age is a treasure trove of knowledge and death is not the only thing they should be worrying about. I want them to realise this,” he says.

On the expenses of the club, Gopalakrishnan said that he was well-equipped to take care of the daily needs. Though he admits that he could not offer them sumptuous feasts everyday, he did his best to ensure good homely food. “We are not bringing in any outside help for this venture. My wife is taking care of it,” he said.

He said that his decision was not an off the cuff one. “I have been deliberating this for quite a long time because I know that the helplessness of an old man or a woman in today’s world is terrible,” he said.

To have a first-hand experience, he undertook long journeys  for it. “I would travel with just Rs 100 and an identity card. All these trips made me realise that it is not easy for an elderly person to survive with little money or help,” he adds.

Adding fun to this whole endeavour are the grandchildren of the elderly people who accompany them to the club. Gopalakrishnan has started a small play school adjacent to the Vayasans Club for the tiny tots. “I am certain that this a task every grandparent would do with pleasure. Hence I thought of starting a play school too.”

When asked about this venture, Tito Thomas, Secretary of Pakal Veedu, Kottayam, said that he was very happy to hear about as it has become the need of the hour.

He added that genuine concern should guide people like Gopalakrishnan in such commendable efforts.

published in The New Indian Express

Waves of History at Mattancherry

KOCHI: Punnamthottam, the 106-year-old Thiruvaranmula Palliyodam,   at  Mattanchery, has become the cynosure of tourist eyes from far and wide. The snake boat which once used to accompany the Thiruvonathoni of Aranmula Parthasarathi during its hey-days has become one of the proudest possessions  of N B Majnu, owner of Heritage Arts, an antique-shop at Mattanchery.

It is divine luck which preserved the palliyodam. Five years back, the   Aranmula Karayogam which owned the palliyodam decided to set it ablaze as per the tradition. It is believed that the palliyodams have life and have to be cremated once theycompletes their life span. “As the Karayogam was about to set it on fire, I came to know about it by sheer luck and quickly bought it,” Majnu says.

As the legend goes, this 106-ft-long snake boat played a predominant role by accompanying the boats which brought ‘Thiruvona sadya’ to Parthasarathi temple from Kattur Madom. It had to protect the boat carrying sumptuous Onam feast and various delicacies from bandits.

Majnu remembers that it was a Herculean task to transport the snake boat to Mattanchery. As many as 70 people were employed for the purpose. “It was  rowed from Aranmula via Thakazhi till Chengannur. Then, it was brought to Mattanchery using boats,” he said.

Majnu says this is a ‘small contribution’ from his part in preserving the  antiques in the country. “Our country is blessed with relics which have high antique value. These objects can proclaim our heritage,” he said.

Though the palliyodam is drawing tourists and many international media like  Fox History channel, Majnu laments that it is not getting wide recognition  among the locals. “Tourists are flocking to see the palliyodam, but it fails to lure people from Kerala. One of the main reasons is that people seem to be unaware of it,” he said. The palliyodam has been registered.

Nambiraj, an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) official, had inspected the palliyodam and asked the proprietor to preserve it.

“We came to know about it during our routine inspection. Since the  palliyodam is more than 100 years old, the ASI has asked the owner to take  necessary steps to preserve it and not to export it,” he said.

This is the only place in the country where a snake boat is preserved as an antique piece other than the one in the Bhopal Museum. It is also believed that the palliyodam was built by the Vishwakarma family of Ranni.

Published in The New Indian Express