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