Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dr Sun Siyu, one of Asia’s leading gastro endocrinologists from China



by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
August 26, 2013
photo courtesy : Mithun Vinod

With no scar and considerably less complications, Gastrointestinal endoscopic surgery can be used to treat intestinal cancer. Here the diagnosis and surgery are done simultaneously. But the method is yet to gain momentum in the country.

Dr Sun Siyu, one of Asia’s leading gastro endocrinologists, from China said that his country has woken up to the advantages of the surgery,but in India it is yet to pick up due to lack of awareness. He was in Kochi to participate in the two day workshop conducted by the Gastroenterology department of the Medical Trust Hospital.

The anomaly should be detected at an early stage for the surgery to be successful. “It is of scant help in advanced stages. To put it simply, an instrument with a camera is inserted through natural orifices (openings) of the body. If a growth is diagnosed in the intestinal tract, it is removed at once. It leaves no scar”, he said.

“Some of  complications that can arise from the surgery are bleeding, stenosis - stricture of Gastro Intestinal (GI) tract - and perforation. But these can be treated as soon as they arise”, he says. One of the reasons why the surgery is yet to catch up here is the absence of experts. “Since it deals with the inner walls of the body, meticulous study of the technique is necessary.”

Dr Siyu said that since the technology is only eight years old, government intervention is pertinent in luring the public to undertake screenings. “Cancer rate is high in India and China. Early stage detection happens in China as the government allots funds for screening of cancer. But in India, owing to less awareness and no government support, detection happens at an advanced stage”, he says. Besides, in China, information regarding the updates in the health sector is available on the government’s website.

Dr Siyu pointed out that tremendous effort has to be put in to make this enterprise successful. “I conduct 50,000 screenings a year, 5000 EUS (Endoscopic Ultrasound), more than 1000 Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and many more. I work five days a week with 14 hours a day. I travel all through China and across the globe on Saturday and Sunday to give training programmes on this new system. I never had a vacation in many years. This is the kind of work we have to put in to make this method a huge success”, he concluded.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Padmabhushan Dr Girinath - Chief Cardiovascular surgeon of Apollo Hospital, Chennai



by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
September 30, 2013
photo courtesy : P K Jeevan Jose

His scalpel has handled more than 25,000 surgeries and he has won awards and accolades, including Padmabhushan for his contributions to his field. But Chief Cardiovascular surgeon of Apollo Hospital, Chennai, Dr Girinath, also one of the  pioneers of heart transplants in the country, is unperturbed by the buzz created by these recognitions. However, he is happy with the way the country has woken up to heart transplants but concerned about the social problems arising from it.

“Recently, I did a heart transplant on a 25-year-old man from Kolkata. He is recuperating. But now his parents want to marry him off. They approached me for suggestions. What am I supposed to tell them? You can’t guarantee anything,” he says.

Dr Girinath was in Kochi to receive the Life-time Achievement Award instituted by the Heart Care Foundation. He points out that the technicalities involved in the surgery are simple but things can go awry in the post-operational period. “Lungs can get infected any time. The normal heart is not used to the diseased lungs and is directly exposed to the atmosphere. The anti-rejection medicines can help or encumber the progress of recovery. If you increase the anti-rejection medicines, it will automatically reduce the immunity of the patient. If you decrease it, you may be exposing the patients to risk. The patients have to be isolated and barrier nursing is required to avoid any infective complications. Strict monitoring of the patient is a prerequisite. Moreover, meticulous care has to be given while taking care of a heart transplant patient. No one can conveniently gloss over these facts and complications involved in it,” he points out.

To put it honestly, it is kind of replacing one disease with another. “But definitely it would give a qualitative life to the patient,” he said. Recollecting an incident, he said that India is on the process of surpassing many other countries in giving qualitative treatment. “I had a patient from Jordan. He was living with an artificial heart. But after two years, it started giving him nightmares. After browsing thorough the Net, he zeroed in on us. His heart was transplanted successfully and is now recuperating in the hospital,” he said. He lauded the doctors who are committed enough to undertake heart transplants. “It is time-consuming and needs single-minded devotion. Besides, heart transplants can be efficiently undertaken by senior surgeons who have an active unit. Dr. Jose Chacko Periyapuram deserves special mention in this regard,” he said.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Jesuit Theologian - Samuel Rayan

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
May 2013
Photo Courtesy : P K Jeevan Jose


A spiritual discourse - Fr. Samuel Rayan

Fr Samuel Rayan was gazing intensely at a book that bore the image of Sree Narayana Guru. After a while he says “Kumaranasan was a dedicated disciple of Sree Narayana Guru and I am an ardent admirer of Asan and his poems. With that, he began reciting his favourite poem from Asan’s ‘Veenapoovu’ ‘Ha! pushpame, adhikathungapadathilethra  Shobhichirunnithoru ranjikanakkye nee Sree bhuvilasthira -- innu ninte yabhuthiyengu, punarengu kidappithorthal and he went on reciting the full 40 slokas of the poem.

Fr Samuel Rayan, fondly called as ‘Rayanachan’ is a Jesuit theologian who has written more than 300 articles. He was at Kochi a few days ago to release his book ‘’ Naleyilekkoru Neelkazhcha’, a collection of his articles organised by OLAM. Though his memory was sharp while narrating his child hood days, it played hide and seek when asked about the contemporary times. After giving much stress to his memory, he says. “It is about future I have talked about in most of these articles in the book.”

‘Fr Samuel Rayan’ was a name which reverberated among the Christian radical humanists during 1960’s and 70’s. His articles in Christian theology were often discussed in national seminars organised to compile opinions on what changes should be brought into the church in the wake of second Vatican council. When the voice of liberation theology started spreading its wings to other continents from its birth place, Latin America, Fr Rayan’s  voice was the strongest from India. As the definition goes,  Liberation theology, an interpretation of Christian faith through poors suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor, Fr Rayan gave a human Indian face to liberation theology in the country.

Fr Rayan’s apathy towards the rigidities of Catholic church was evident in his writings. He vehemently protested against the hollowness of rituals. He wrote in his book “Rituals should always stand for humanity. Jesus always indulged in discussions and arguments concerning the rituals offered in the Church. He discussed about Sabbat, sacrifice. But every time it was his intention to break the myth and redefine it. For instance, observing Sabbat should be for the goodness of humanity and not to put shackles on them. It is not the sacrifice, offering or rituals that ‘lord’ prefers but compassion and justice.”

In another section of his book, he narrates a story told by Masao Takenaka, a Japanese Theologian. In Seoul, one of the biggest garment factory owner sacked four women for they urged to improve the working conditions and also asked not to make going to church compulsory. The garment factory owner was one of the elder in the church. The factory has appointed a chaplain to counsel the workers.

 It blatantly denied freedom of religion and advised complete surrendering and patience. The four girls raised their voice against it and submitted a memorandum with the church and the latter did not even bother to inquire the veracity of things. They were keen on listening to Billy Graham, an American Christian evangelist.

Fr Rayan asks in his book, in such a situation who will salvage the poor? If their rights were not listened to, who will pay heed to the cries of poor people, asks he.
He says, “Rice is for sharing, bread must be broken and given. Every bowl, every belly shall have its fill, to leave a single bowl unfilled is to rob history of its meaning; to grab many a bowl for myself is to empty history of God.”

Kuchipudi dancer - Anupama Mohan

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
July 2013
Photo Courtesy : Mithun Vinod

In Memory of her loving Guru



Little Anupama walked with her parents through a coconut grove. At the far end of it, she saw a large hall with hundreds of footwears at its entrance.

Around the hall, there were small huts reminding of the ancient gurukul system. A large sculpture of Nataraja mesmerised her when she entered the hall. There she saw a lean and tall man but with a charismatic face. He asked her in his usual hoarse voice to perform. Without any inhibition, eight-year-old Anupama danced before him without knowing that, she was pleasantly flaunting her passion before the legendary Kuchipudi exponent Vempati Chinna Satyam, who is no more.

Thus started her journey as a dancer under his tutelage.

Several years later, renowned Kuchipudi dancer Anupama Mohan reminisces about her guru, whose first death anniversary fell on July 29 and the days she spent with him performing across the globe. Anupama has organised Guru Smarananjali, Nrithya Samarpana Dance Festival - 2013 at Changampuzha Park, Cultural Centre, Edappally, from July 27 to 30, the first festival organised in the country in memory of the veteran.

“It was in the late 60’s and I still remember his address - No 5, Prakasam Road, T Nagar. I came to Chennai with my parents to see the great maestro. After my performance before him, guru told my father that I was cut out for dancing and that I should take the residential course to learn the great art form. But as girls were hardly allowed to move into such an arena, my parents took six months before enrolling me into the gurukul system of the guru. Later, convinced of my destiny, my parents decided to shift me to Chennai and my mother and two younger sisters accompanied me,” she says.

Anupama fondly remembers that she was totally unaware of the aura of the great man when she met him for the first time. “Hence I learnt and performed under him without any restraints. But as time flew, respect grew immensely. I was in awe for him for everything,” she remembers.

Anupama started performing with her guru right from the age of 10 and says that guru was very particular about lots of things.

“He was very adamant about returning once the performance was over. Lingering around was not allowed. He was of the opinion that the client would lose interest in one party once their performance was over. In order to avoid such a situation, he insisted on returning by the next train. If we did not get a train, he used to take us sight seeing. If there were no accommodation arranged to spend the night in the railway station, we would place all our bags in a circle and every girl would sleep inside it. The orchestra and other males who accompanied us would stay awake giving us protection when we had to spend a night in the railway station,”she remembers her master with gratitude.

Anupama says that her guru never ever chided his students for making mistakes. “If he gets  angry, the only thing he would ask us to do was to keep away from the line of dancers. For us students, it was like severing our head. He had never ever once beat his students,”she says.

Anupama was perhaps the first Kuchipudi dancer in Kerala who always reiterated the fact that Kuchipudi is all about dancing rhythmically in the brass plate. “The art form has never exerted any pressure on the performer to show any kind of acrobatics on the stage especially by putting a brass pot on the head. The fact is that it needs a balance of body and mind to dance on the edges of the brass plate. It is tough too. My guru and his guru late Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastri never favoured any sort of unwanted strain on the performer,” she says.

Anupama says with a satisfaction that after much effort, the artists are waking up to this reality. “For the past two years, things have changed dramatically,” she says.

Anupama has also organised an All India Classical Dance Festival- 2013 titled ‘Naatya Kousthubh Nrityotsav’ in Thrissur. It was organised to by her academy Sathyaanjali Academy of Kuchipudi Dance to give a platform to the art lovers across the country to popularise their respective dance forms.  Besides, the festival also gives an opportunity for the budding artists to share the stage with prominent artists of the time. Anupama says that in memory of her master, a life time achievement award has been constituted which will be conferred to art promoter Soorya Krishnamoorthy.

Singer Jayaram Ranjith

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
July 2013
Photo Courtesy : Mithun Vinod


From Jingles to Playback singing

About 10 years ago, when Jayaram Ranjith sang ‘Manasinte mayathalangalil engo’ for a light music competition and topped in it, he never imagined in his wildest dreams that it would become a turning point in his career. Within no time, he was ushered into the world of music industry.

Though an ardent fan of Bijibal, little did he know that it was the national award winner’s composition that earned him the award for the contest. Impressed with his rendition, Bijibal rang him up to congratulate him. Since then, there was no turning back for the budding singer.

“That’s how I happened to commence my singing career under my mentor,” he says. As his namesake was already a known name in the music industry Bijibal took the liberty to tweak his name into Jayaram Ranjith. Earlier, Jayaram was known for his jingles. “I have sung for Bhima Jewellery with Rahul Raj’s music.

After singing a solo, ‘Ethanee kattu,’, in the film ‘Thank You’, the singer was in seventh heaven. “With so many singers competing in this field, solos give a budding singer an opportunity to expose his voice. Though I have sung many duets, I was happy with the rendition of the solo,” he says.

Jayaram Ranjith has sung in films such as ‘Da Thadiya’ and ‘Sevens’. His song for the character Thadiyan did not offer him enough space for relishing it. “It happened all of a sudden. One fine morning, I was asked to sing the song and I did not get enough time to do the necessary preparatory work. But Thank You’ was an altogether different experience and brought with it satisfaction,” he says with a smile.

The singer has sung for Telugu and Kannada films too. Jayaram reminisces of music composer Jassie Gift who had the confidence to give him a melody. “That was a great recognition. He offered me a song as he heard me singing in a studio. He offered me a melody and that was a great experience,” he says.

Before success started knocking at his door, he had sung for many a less known film such as ‘Perumal’ and ‘Black Stallion’. He has also sung ‘Manasa maine’ for Shyamaprasad’s ‘Off Season’ in ‘Kerala Cafe’. ‘Ginger’, ‘Crispy Chicken’ and ‘Charso Bees’ are some of my other works.”

Ranjith believes that ‘acquaintanceship’ and ‘camaraderie’ are a must when things have to work out in the industry. “One tends to recommend someone whom they really know rather than pointing out to a total stranger. However, talent matters the most,” he says.

Jayaram Ranjith is script writer Rajesh Jayaram’s younger brother but he says that he never used his brother’s name as a ticket to the industry. “I believe in my own merit. By God’s grace I have never run out of songs since I began my career,” he says.

A native of Ernakulam, Jayaram Ranjith lives with his father Jayaram and mother Ratnavalli.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Writer K Harikumar


High suspense and entertainment - K Harikumar

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
June 2013
photo courtesy: T P Sooraj


‘Everyone in the coupe was fast asleep. Some men were dreaming lustily about the amusing middle-aged woman in the next coupe while others were simply asleep. All lights were switched off inside the compartment, the only source of illumination was the passing track lights outside.’

Three years ago while travelling in a train, little did Harikumar know that such a situation would offer him food for thought to pen down the above mentioned opening lines in his debut book, When Strangers Meet.

In 2010, Harikumar met a stranger while travelling on the Delhi Metro. To his surprise, the man began to talk at length about his past and dreams. Keenly observing him, Harikumar felt he looked happy, but morbid inside. “This incident struck a chord within me,” he says. “And, eventually, the book was born and hence the tag line - ‘Sometimes all it takes is a stranger’s tale to bring your life back on track’.”

Initially, he wrote it in the form of a screenplay, My name is Iyer. But when he fell ill and took a break from his college, the screenplay became a novel of 216 pages.

The story revolves around three men, Iyer, Pathan and Jai and their tryst with each other’s destiny. It also talks about the father-son relationship from the viewpoint of three strangers.

Harikumar says he has come up with a cinematic trailer for his book. “Perhaps, mine would be the first of its kind in India,” he says. “Unlike countries like the United States, people here do not invest much for trailers which can actually help garner more readers.”

In India, it was  Amish Tripathi, the author of The immortals of Meluha who introduced trailers. But mostly they are of computer graphics. “Hence, I decided to do a trailer with people on live locations,” says Harikumar. “I shot the trailer in Kochi and Delhi.”

Harikumar also says that he has played the role of ‘Pathan’ in the trailer. It was his passion for suspense, horror and Gothic fiction which led him to write a suspense thriller.

Apart from writing, K Harikumar is an ardent photographer. He has been a finalist in the Prestigious Nobel Memorial Photo competition held by the Foreign Ministry of Sweden in 2010 and 2012.

Harikumar says that though the book has garnered good reviews in Delhi, Gurgaon, Bengaluru and Kolkata, it is picking up slowly in Kerala. “I am aware of the reading sensibility of Keralites,” he says. “They always go for substantial stuff. I do not have anything serious to offer, but I can ensure you that my ‘stranger’ will not let you down in terms of suspense and entertainment.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Blogger and Writer Braja Sorensen

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The Sunday Magazine of The New Indian Express
May 2013

Where nothing is taboo - Braja Sorensen




In 1993, Braja Sorensen, a native of Australia, came to India. What prompted her to do so was her deep reading of the Bhagawad Gita. Braja was attracted by the philosophical, spiritual and cultural aspects of “exotic” India.

“I was living here for so many years and I wanted to say something about this country as seen by a person who lived here, and not be someone who visited and thought they understood something, and blurted out all sorts of pseudo-wisdom,” says Braja.

She has toured almost all of North India. She lived in Jaipur in the late 1990s and has also spent time in Delhi, Vrindavan, Agra, Mussoorie, Dehradun and Mumbai so far.
“But my favourite place is West Bengal. I have spent 12 years there,” she says.

And all these years she was unknowingly accumulating the ingredients needed to write a book on India. Thus was born her debut book, Lost and Found in India, published by Hay House India.

The book lays bare the daily lives of the people. As author and playwright Farrukh Dhondy says, “The book does not analyse India, it suffers and enjoys it. It is breezy, light and descriptive, with funny meditations by a voluntary citizen of India.”

It was her daily posts in her blog that eventually got compiled into the book. “I started blogging in 2008,” says Braja. “As I had been living in India for some years and also wanted to write a book, I thought a blog would give me an impetus to write daily. Besides, it was a daily push to write, knowing I had to post something. Obviously, it was going to be about India. I was tired of all the books written by westerners about India.”

Ask Braja about her favourite writers, she says, “I love William Dalrymple’s work. It is so understanding of all aspects of India. And he has inspired me a lot.” Braja feels that one has to love something ardently to write about it authentically.

“You have to love India, to be able to write about it properly. Many think they love it, so they come and live here, and then leave a couple of years later with their romantic ideals shattered by the reality that is India. And that is the thing about India: it is so real. Too real for most.”
In the book, Braja has also written about the recent rape cases which have traumatised the nation. “It happens everywhere in the world, though. The thing about India is that its heart is an open, realistic, and honest one: it does not hide anything. Death isn’t a taboo subject like it is in the West. In India, nothing is taboo. India shows its face no matter what, and I think the publicity and the public reaction to the recent rape incidents is just another facet of this honesty and openness, a fresh approach that the West just does not do. So, I don’t think it is necessarily worse here than anywhere else. It is just that India is not embarrassed to put it out there. The same is the case about the poverty and untidiness. Everything is public.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jesuit theologian Fr. Samuel Rayan

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
May 2013
Photo Courtesy : P K Jeevan Jose

A spiritual discourse - Fr. Samuel Rayan

Fr Samuel Rayan was gazing intensely at a book that bore the image of Sree Narayana Guru. After a while he says “Kumaranasan was a dedicated disciple of Sree Narayana Guru and I am an ardent admirer of Asan and his poems. With that, he began reciting his favourite poem from Asan’s ‘Veenapoovu’ ‘Ha! pushpame, adhikathungapadathilethra  Shobhichirunnithoru ranjikanakkye nee Sree bhuvilasthira -- innu ninte yabhuthiyengu, punarengu kidappithorthal and he went on reciting the full 40 slokas of the poem.

Fr Samuel Rayan, fondly called as ‘Rayanachan’ is a Jesuit theologian who has written more than 300 articles. He was at Kochi a few days ago to release his book ‘’ Naleyilekkoru Neelkazhcha’, a collection of his articles organised by OLAM. Though his memory was sharp while narrating his child hood days, it played hide and seek when asked about the contemporary times. After giving much stress to his memory, he says. “It is about future I have talked about in most of these articles in the book.”

‘Fr Samuel Rayan’ was a name which reverberated among the Christian radical humanists during 1960’s and 70’s. His articles in Christian theology were often discussed in national seminars organised to compile opinions on what changes should be brought into the church in the wake of second Vatican council. When the voice of liberation theology started spreading its wings to other continents from its birth place, Latin America, Fr Rayan’s  voice was the strongest from India. As the definition goes,  Liberation theology, an interpretation of Christian faith through poors suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor, Fr Rayan gave a human Indian face to liberation theology in the country.

Fr Rayan’s apathy towards the rigidities of Catholic church was evident in his writings. He vehemently protested against the hollowness of rituals. He wrote in his book “Rituals should always stand for humanity. Jesus always indulged in discussions and arguments concerning the rituals offered in the Church. He discussed about Sabbat, sacrifice. But every time it was his intention to break the myth and redefine it. For instance, observing Sabbat should be for the goodness of humanity and not to put shackles on them. It is not the sacrifice, offering or rituals that ‘lord’ prefers but compassion and justice.”

In another section of his book, he narrates a story told by Masao Takenaka, a Japanese Theologian. In Seoul, one of the biggest garment factory owner sacked four women for they urged to improve the working conditions and also asked not to make going to church compulsory. The garment factory owner was one of the elder in the church. The factory has appointed a chaplain to counsel the workers.

 It blatantly denied freedom of religion and advised complete surrendering and patience. The four girls raised their voice against it and submitted a memorandum with the church and the latter did not even bother to inquire the veracity of things. They were keen on listening to Billy Graham, an American Christian evangelist.

Fr Rayan asks in his book, in such a situation who will salvage the poor? If their rights were not listened to, who will pay heed to the cries of poor people, asks he.
He says, “Rice is for sharing, bread must be broken and given. Every bowl, every belly shall have its fill, to leave a single bowl unfilled is to rob history of its meaning; to grab many a bowl for myself is to empty history of God.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

published in The Hindu

As life ebbed away:  We do not know who they are. This heart-wrenching scene of togetherness as their life snuffed out emerged when rescue workers in Dhaka were clearing the rubble of an eight-storey building that collapsed on April 24. Over 900 lives were lost when Rana Plaza, that housed five garment factories employing nearly 4,000 workers, came down. This picture shot by Bangladesh photographer Taslima Akhter perhaps captures an entire nation’s grief in a single image.

The confessor back with cold feet - Meenakshy Reddy Madhavan



The picture of a seven year old girl, hiding a small notebook when she goes to her class room, just to jot down whatever comes to her mind was like stating the obvious. No other vocation would interest her but writing. Besides, by bequeathing a strong legacy of writing, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan could not be anything else but a woman of letters.

But surprisingly whenever she wrote she did not hesitate to take a detour from her parents’ style. Unlike her father, the veteran writer, N S Madhavan who loved to fathom the depths of literary fiction and mother Sheela Reddy who always delved into non-literary fiction, Meenakshy loved to ferret out the possibilities of commercial fiction. Ask her why, she says “I realised that no writer talks about a woman like me, a metro and urbane woman whose heart is global but has not lost the link with the tradition. I wanted to explore the pull between these two extremes,” she says. And because of that, there are no clashes as the family has three different genres of writing, she adds with a mischievous smile.

With her third book Cold Feet hitting the markets, Meenakshi was all excited and was in Kochi as part of its promotional tour conducted by Penguin books. The book is all about the lives of five women who live in the metropolis - Mumbai and an account of their daily lives. But primarily it takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. “I have also talked about a character who is a lesbian,” she says.

The author appeared extremely happy when I told her that I came to know about the promotional event of her book from her blog Compulsive Confessions.

“I should update it more often,” she says with a grin.

Incidentally, her father N S Madhavan who carved a niche in the perceptions of the Malayali readers with his renowned work Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal, translated as Litanies of the Dutch Battery, was born and brought up in Kochi. Meenakshi says that she is all excited to be here for her father always said it has one of the prettiest bookstores. “It’s right on the sea front with a huge glass window and you can watch the ships sailing through,” she says. I have been to Kochi several times and I love Fort Kochi the most, she adds.

With more than twenty lakh visitors for her blog, she says that she never expected such a huge response and is happy that she could maintain it for the past ten years. “I started the blog with a pseudonym eM as I was a bit bothered about how people would react to the kind of stuff I was going to write. But in no time, the readers identified and I had to come out of the cocoon. But I am so happy that I could maintain it for such a long period,” she says.

About her parents' reaction to her blog, she says, “They were ‘super supportive’. They like my writing.  Hey, I am their daughter, they will definitely not discourage me!” she says.

Asked why is she often referred as the Bridget Jones of India, she says “Honestly, I have no idea. Since you are the one who put this question, I have to seriously think about it.”

Most of her stories were centered in the two metropolitan cities - Mumbai and Delhi. As the author lives shuttling between these two cities, she says that most of her writing contains the pulse of them. “Both cities have different feelings. When you land in the Delhi airport, the waves of tension starts hitting you, unlike Mumbai. When Mumbai is crowded, Delhi gives you privacy. But you just can’t take auto in the middle of the night relaxingly in Delhi as you do in Mumbai. You know the kind of stories we are getting now-a-days from Delhi,” she says. She also cautions to stay safe when I said that I usually leave office very late.

Apart from writing Meenakshi is the editor of Brown Paper Bag.

by Shalet Jimmy
published in The New Indian Express
April 2013

There was a time when Sreelatha used to begin and end her days with versification. The scribblings went on till she had a collection of poems. It was then that she decided to use it as a thread for writing a fiction. Thus was born her debut book,’An Eternal Romantic’.
Set in three places, Kolkata, Kerala and London, the book delves deep into the undulating emotion ‘love’. The story revolves around the ebbs and flows of the protagonist Indira’s life. She becomes a schizophrenic due to her first heart break. The story speaks about her delusional state of mind and its thoughts. But the woman dares to fall in love again. “The language is poetic. Since I have centred my story entirely on my poems, you can read both poem and prose through this work,” she says.
Ask her one of her favourite lines,
she recites
“...tell me, my love
when the grey hair shines
and the weak spine groans
all the beauty of the outside
has faded, tattered and torn
till the day I die
will you keep the romance alive ?”
Though there are autobiographical elements in her work, she says that the characters are purely fictitious. “It abound with my experiences. The protagonist is a doctor and poet like me. I have included my experiences, observations and inherent knowledge. But the characters are born out of my imagination,” she says. Sreelatha says that her debut work is absolutely different from the second book which is progressing. “ The second book is a usual prose but ‘in an eternal romantic, poetry dictates the prose,” she says with a smile.
Dr Sreelatha Chakravarthy’s creative expression was confined to a single poem she wrote during her college days. Much to her discontent, her passion had to be shoved off to the back burner as her later course of life also did not give her suffice time to think of her passion. She became a busy medical practitioner in Mumbai. But the much-anticipated break came when she had to leave her job in Mumbai and accompany her husband to Ghana, Africa.” The break was kind of a boon. In Ghana too,I was attending patients, but the schedule was not as hectic as in Mumbai. With sufficient time, I plunged into my passion, writing,” she says.
Now, Sreelatha has become a full-fledged writer. She lives in Thripunithura with her husband Krishanu Chakravarthy and children Kshitij Chakravarthy and Trishna Chakravarthy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

befitting memorial to Chavittunatakam exponent




He has been sweating profusely under the scorching sun for the past three months in Gothuruthu to see his dream come true. Anto George, an artist from Thrissur is busy sculpting the statue of ‘Chinnathampi Annavi, the proponent of Chavittunatakam in Kerala.

 He has taken up a huge responsibility as it is for the first time that a face is being given to the legend. “It can be regarded as a historical monument. A 11-foot-tall statue of an exponent of Chavittunatakam is being built for the first time. My responsibility is to give him a face,” he says. It was his association with the organisers of Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation that gave him the golden opportunity to pursue his dream.

 Chinnathampi Annavi is being depicted in his glittering robes holding a cross with a curve and ivy spiraling around it. The statue stands on a pedestal.

“It is based on the medieval Christian myth which says that the zeal of Chinnathampi Annavi was so intense that the cross started embracing him while he was performing the art. I am designing the statue as if the cross were to embrace him. The climbing ivy suggests the entanglement of good and evil,” Anto says. Regarding the face of Chinnathampi Annavi, he says that the statue will bear the face of Charlemagne, the Roman Emperor whose story, the proponent propagated.

 “Historically speaking I did not have enough materials to support me in this direction. It is still a matter of dispute whether he belonged to Kerala or Tamil Nadu. Some are of the opinion that he is a Portuguese who came here and became a hermit and later took up the proselytising activities through a newly created art form ‘Chavittunatakam’. Apart from that as the legend is always associated with ‘Karalmanscharitham’ (story of Charlemagne), I decided to give him his face,” he says.

 Anto is being assisted by Sunil Kumar, Rajeev Basheer and Shibi. “My attempt is to make a contemporary statue, a  sharp deviation from the conventional,” he says.

  Chavittunatakam experienced a lull for a prolonged period. Of late, it is slowly treading the path of revival. With the country’s first Biennale, the cosmopolitan character of Kochi is also resurrecting. “ At this juncture, it would be incomplete if the name of Chinnathampi Annavi is omitted,” says the artist. Anto hopes to complete the statue before monsoon. “The work is moving at a slow pace. We could have presented it before the Biennale ended but  we want it to be as perfect as possible,” he says.

published in The New Indian Express

Picturing vintage architecture



It was a bright afternoon. Sitting alongside a street at Mattanchery, 10-year-old Achuthan was immersed in painting one of his favourite pictures. Soon the crowd swelled. Undaunted by the overwhelming presence of people around him, he completed his picture. It was then he realised that his painting session had created a minor traffic block. Ask if he was aghast by the incident, he says mischievously “I was just concentrating on my painting. I did not realise until my father told me about it.” 

Unlike other young artists of his age, Achuthan Shenoy loves to paint old buildings in monochromatic sepia. It was a skill that he imbibed from his father. He has also taken the huge responsibility of imprinting the heritage through his painting, like his father. “The age-old buildings are mercilessly demolished. We can learn a lot about our past through these buildings. Hence my attempt is to absorb our heritage on a canvas,” says Achuthan.

He explains that most of the artists paint with the combination of many colours to create a sepia tone. But that cannot be called monochromatic sepia but just sepia. “My father creates the sepia tone with just one colour and hence the name. I too follow that.”

The young artist was ardently following his passion for the past one year.  Achuthan assisted his father in 15 sites before attempting himself in this forte. “Since I am small, my father paints the outer sketch and I give light and shade to it,” he says.

So far, Achuthan has drawn about 15 paintings of old buildings of Mattanchery and Fort Kochi. Though he was giving colours to age-old buildings which can of course be considered as  monuments, he is not a bit scared that it would go wrong. “I know the techniques to rectify the mistakes,” he says.

The young artist says that he also paints every angles of a building. “It will help a person who is new to the city identify the building from any angle,” he says. Besides painting old buildings, he would also like to draw sky, his another favourite subject. Among his 15 pictures, his all time favourite is the 300 year old Portuguese building which is now converted into a home stay.

Ask him why he wanted to become a painter he says, “I want to be famous.”  The dream to become a painter kindled in him, once Achuthan saw his father being interviewed. “If I become famous I will be interviewed like my father,” he says. But Achutan did not have to wait too long, as he was interviewed by BBC crew who reached Fort Kochi to document Kochi - Muziris Biennale. The documentary will have shots of Achuthan painting in the street.

Though Achuthan is indisputably a painter in the making, he has not participated in any competitions. “I do not want to participate in competitions. I just want to draw without any inhibition,” he says.

Apart from monochromatic painting, his another passion is music. Achutha Shenoy is the son of Dinesh R Shenoy and Asha Shenoy.

published in The New Indian Express

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A forum for established and budding writers



This is the link of the journal http://issuu.com/lijla/docs/feb2013

Blogs and electronic journals have come to the aid of writers who want to write their heart out and widen their horizons. But what if you get a platform to showcase your writing, alongside renowned writers from all parts of the globe. This is exactly what the writing forum of Sacred Heart College, Thevara, Kochi has come up with. Their online journal, ‘Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts’, launched in the first week of February, has contributions by acclaimed writers like K Satchidanandan, Sudip Sen, Haneef Qureshi, and Meena Alexander, apart from the writings of students.

Jose Varghese, Chief Editor, and a faculty with the Department of English, said that the idea to start such a journal came from the blog which the college already has: ‘Heart - Bytes’ (www.heart-bytes.blogspot.in).

“The blog was started a year ago with the intention to develop the writing skills of students,” says Varghese. “There are many students who are serious about writing. We believe that the journal would give an impetus to their skills.”

According to Varghese, though they started the blog little did they know that it would soon gain international participation. However, it was the writing contest on the blog which led to the creation of the online journal. “Our blog has hosted many creative writing contests and, surprisingly, we started getting many international submissions,” he said. “Hence we thought of getting the contributions of well-known writers.”

One of the salient highlights of the journal is that the student writers are getting an good opportunity to interact with the prominent writers directly “which is a positive sign,” said Varghese.

The journal features the 12 best works by students. “So far, the works have been assessed by the faculty of the English Department,” said Varghese. “But now we are planning to send these works to prominent writers for assessing it. We are hoping to get a positive response. Some of our students are even sending their works for review.”

Student Editor Mariam Henna, whose two works, ‘Caged Dreams’ and ‘True Abode’, were published in the journal said that it helped garner reviews from authors. “The support given by writers Prathap Kammath and Alan Summers, a Haiku writer, were of immense help,” she said. The writing forum of Sacred Heart’s College, Thevara is also planning to start an online course in creative writing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reliving the saga of Ahalya Devi - Usha Nangiar

For Usha Nangiar, controversies always take a back seat when it comes to art. The front line exponent of Nangiar Koothu has performed in the Kochi- Muziris biennale twice and with other two performances remaining, Usha says that she has a memorable experience performing in the biennale. Primarily for the reason that her performance could attract a lot of people irrespective of the technical intricacies involved in the particular art form and secondly, she performed for the first time, the known but less explored character of Ramayana, ‘Ahalya Devi’.

Speaking about the controversies surrounding the biennale, she says, “I was aware of it but my thoughts hardly linger on it. And I think this is the first time a biennale has ever incorporated traditional art forms under its ambit which should be appreciated.”


For biennale, she first performed in Mathilakam and later at Changampuzha park where she says that a packed audience saw her performance.“In Mathilakam, people are not much aware of Nangiarkoothu, but yet they enjoyed throughout the performance. It might be because of the myth associated with the place. There is a reference that Ilankovadikal wrote Chilappathikaram there. But in Changampuzha park, I felt altogether a different experience  while performing ‘Ahalyamokshma Nangiarkoothu’. It is much more personal. The tempo of my emotions at that point of time was at its zenith. I felt as though lady-luck was constantly smiling at me on that day,” says a jubilant Usha.

She says that she is greatly thankful for whoever who have actually suggested this particular theme.  Though there were initial apprehensions about it, later it was proved that all anxieties were for naught.
“It opened an arena which I have never explored before. Since I did not have sufficient reference material to know more about the character, I relied completely on Ramayana.

Immersed in deep thought, Usha Nangiar says that Ahalya, the wife of celibate sage Gauthama was living the life of an obedient wife until the amorous eyes of Indra fell on her.Her life turns topsy- turvy when Indra deceives her by approaching her in the guise of her husband. Discovering the truth, sage Gauthama not only curse her but also turns her into a stone. “I want to portray the emotions and angst of a woman who is trapped in a stone,” she says.

Usha says that though inside a stone, Ahalya is aware of the world around her. Seasons change, hunger, thirst, scorching sun, parching cold engulfs her. But she could not do anything to help herself. Her travails slowly become a silent but strong prayer of utter faith.“Her redeemer Rama feels the divinity of the place when he reaches where Ahalya lies as a stone. When he knows the truth, the great lord bows before her and says she is redeemed. Till that portion, she is addressed as Ahalya but then as ‘Ahalya Devi’ which says that she commands respect,” says Usha. 



She points out that throughout the whole performance, there are four special points which presents the mental-scape of Ahalya. I believe that I could portray the mental angst of Ahalya Devi and above all, it was a day when everything fell into places,” she says.

Usha Nangiar says that the character of Ahalya Devi assumes significance as hers is a life that has overcome all the hurdles with her sheer perseverance and sacrifice.“Now-a-days, we believe in extremes. If we can’t take anymore, we cull out that portion from our life mercilessly or else we suffer tremendously. But we tend to forget that there lies a midway. Hence the life of Ahalya Devi is of paramount significance in this scenario,” she says with a satisfied smile.


Friday, March 15, 2013

OFF record with Kumar Sahani, world acclaimed film maker

 Till this day, I was just  uploading those articles which were published in the New Indian Express where I work. And I think that a personal touch would be lacking if I merely upload it. Hence I thought of writing those special experiences I had while writing those articles. I would like to start with Kumar Sahani, whom I interviewed at the start of my career. If you haven't read my article on him, you can read it herehttp://ajournotalks.blogspot.in/2011/11/interview-with-kumar-sahani-renowned.html



Of course, I have heard about him - World famous film maker,  friend of legend late M F Hussain. I met him when I started off my journalism career. He came to Kochi ( where I live ) to inaugurate a seminar in a university. For a budding journalist like me, it was an opportunity which seldom knocked - interviewing the renowned film maker. So when my boss mentioned his name,  I jumped to have a one to one conversation with him.

I still remember, it was noon when the organisors came to fetch us, reporters to interview him. Apart from me, there were other two, one from a regional news paper and other from another English newspaper.

Clad in white Kurta and off white pants, the great film maker showed no starry tantrums. He was a simple and an elegant man. He inquired the names of our organisations and he was to quick to recognize when I said I was from Indian Express which put me at ease.

To interview somebody you should have a back ground knowledge.Though I did my home work, it was not too easy. His films were not easily accessible. I also googled for more information but his movies were beyond my comprehension.

As I was an electronic journalism student, I had seen Ritwik Ghatak's movie ' Meghataktara' who was Shahani's contemporary. That knowledge came handy. Because of it, I could feel the pulse of that era.

With scant information and full of respect for such a legendary figure, I decided I would rather keep myself away from delving deep into his work but ask about his personal experiences about life. That worked. We had a wonderful conversation and I could feel the rapport he felt for me than my other companions. It was confirmed when he said to some of the organisors  of the event that he was quite impressed with the girl who came from Indian Express.

But I still doubt whether I could write everything I felt while I was interviewing him. I hope you might have read the blog post. Hope you would give me ample suggestions about my writing.

On a mission to preserve integrity of RTI Act- Shailesh Gandhi



When Shailesh Gandhi, the only Right to Information (RTI) activist to have served as the Central Information Commissioner, assumed office, it definitely looked like a long row to hoe. But in no time he made a headway with his RTI activism.

Though he has retired from service, after four years with the Central Information Commission, his voice is as intense as before. Gandhi was here to inaugurate a seminar titled ‘Challenges of RTI’ held on Monday.Gandhi feels that many political and judicial decisions are diluting the purpose of the RTI.

The Supreme Court had judged that the Information Commissions must function as a two-person bench, with one judicial member, with a strong legal background, required to be part of the bench. Gandhi feels that the judgment made by the apex court is incorrect, as the requirement puts the hearings on hold for many days. “Out of all the RTI applications that we receive, less than two per cent need legal explanations. Therefore, a judicial representative is not a necessity,” he said. Gandhi said that he had filed a review petition against the judgment made by Justice Swatanter Kumar.

“Lawyer Prashant Bhooshan appeared for me in the apex court. Any move which could kill the purpose of the RTI should not be encouraged.”  Gandhi told Express that he has launched a crusade against the forces that try to dilute the RTI. “The Supreme Court and the High Courts are issuing stays on many of the orders made by the Information Commission without even considering the details. This trend should be discouraged. I appreciate every opportunity to spread awareness on RTI.”

An IITian, Gandhi’s focus shifted to the RTI when he was in his fifties. “The political scenario was much better then. But it was changing for the worse and I wanted to do something substantial for the society. I felt that the RTI is a remedy,” he said. Gandhi thinks that the RTI faces challenges from three domains - the government, state information commissions and judiciary. “Information is power. It can change the equations of power. So these challenges should be dealt with. I am ready to fight for the sanctity of the act,” Gandhi said.
When Paramita Satpathy explains her poem ‘A sari’, it is indeed the resonance of the contemporary traumatic world. The poem says, “Though we keep on talking about a woman’s morality, her respectability is ruthlessly quelled in this unjust world. The five- yard sari is considered a symbol of respectability. But when I felt it more of a suffocation, I shred it into pieces. I gave the torn pieces to a rag picker, a rape victim, a dowry harassment victim who is struggling for her life in a hospital and a slumpy bar maid.” The renowned Odiya poet, author and social activist was in the city to inaugurate the G Smaraka Jnanapeeda Puraskara Prabhashana Parambara, held at Maharaja’s College.

The poet feels that the situation is such that women could no longer tolerate the hard cruelty meted out to them. “That’s why India witnessed such a huge commotion and protest of massive scale post the Delhi rape incident,” she says. Satpathy says that though the world has progressed, the erosion of humanitarian values has always put a spoke in our country’s wheel.

When Satpathy began her conversation, there was no airs of a high level bureaucrat. Besides being an influential voice in the Odiya literary fraternity, she is currently working in Bhubaneswar as the Commissioner of Income Tax. Though she has not encountered any challenging experience in her profession, she still feels that unlike her male counterparts, the path for women is hardly ever rosy whatever be the profession.

“There are times when you really have to push the envelope to get things done.” But Satpathy adds that as a writer she had to confront many hurdles. “Criticism was showered upon me when I wrote about the relation existed between Draupathy and Sree Krishna. Every relationship cannot be defined. But I took the criticism in my stride,” she says.

Expressing elation over the celebrity status given to writers in Kerala, Satpathy says that the writers of Odisha are not such a privileged lot. “Unlike Kerala, the writers of my state are not in an influential position in society. Besides, writing is also not as much rewarding as it is here. But we are taking painstaking efforts to raise an intense voice,” says she.

Till date, to her credit, there are seven collections of short stories and one novel in Odiya. ‘Door Ke Pahad’, a collection in Hindi and ‘Intimate Pretence’, a collection in English are widely discussed and brought her much acclaim. Most of her stories had addressed the recurring problems of the middle class of Odisha. The poet is known for her sensitive portrayal of the plights of modern woman with utmost perfection. Paramita Satpathy has received the Odisha Sahitya Academy Award and has re-presented Odiya literature at Bejing International Book Fair as a member of the Sahitya Akademi delegation in 2010.

me with the writer




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Art as a vehicle of change

 ( Courtesy : P K Jeevan Jose)

“Every new venture in the world has always got a lot of flak before finding success. I believe the Kochi Muziris biennale also had to bear the brunt of that initial hubbub,” said Hoor al Qasimi, director of the Sharjah Biennial and President of Sharjah Art Foundation. She was in Fort Kochi recently to attend a talk series organised as part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

She says that though Kochi-Muziris Biennale is steeped in controversies, she was pleasantly surprised to see that the event could project its actual purpose.     “The elementary objective of the biennale is to portray the local culture of the city or the place where it is being conducted. This biennale could achieve it successfully,” she says. She adds that the biennale could very well exhort the old charm of this city.

Hoor al Qasimi is a practicing artist who took her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree from Slade School of Fine Art, London, Diploma in Painting from the Royal Academy of Arts, MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London.

The curator recollects that she too faced stiff resistance when she wanted to bring forth a change in the character of the Sharjah biennale when she assumed charge as director of the event. “I literally grew up with biennale. After learning much about what is going on in other parts of the world in the art fraternity, I realised that the Sharjah biennial is static. It has not even took a step forward from where it began. Hence I decided to bring forth a substantial change in the character of the event. That’s when the opposition crept in,” she says.

Hoor al Qasimi says that in earlier times biennale was all about representing art from all over the world. “Artists from different countries would come and represent their work of art. A sense of unity was completely absent. Unlike other biennales that happen in different parts of the world Sharjah biennale lacked a common theme. To make it more worse, there were many embassies which sent the works of their ambassadors’ wives. So the scenario as a whole was seeking a change for the better. That’s how the call for improvement came about. But though the change is inevitable, I had to face a lot of disapproval. But that is the only way it can work,” she says. She says that unlike Kerala, Sharjah biennale is not associated with tourism so far. “I do not want people to frequent the biennale just because they came to the country as tourists. I want people to come for the biennale first which in turn help will tourism," Qasimi says.

( me with Hoor al Qasimi)

















published in The New Indian Express

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In search of oneself



From time immemorial, great minds were often stirred by the question of ‘Who am I’. But over the years, this search for finding oneself lost its significance as man became more materialistic.

However, reviving the same question’s long lost charm is artist Rajendran through his canvas ‘Who am I’. Through his work, the artist is on a mission to bring back the sense of oneness in man.

“As kids, we were more spirited and energetic. But as we grew up, we lost that ardor and started searching for that spark from around.

Unfortunately this search for happiness in life exerted more pain and pressure on man. At this juncture, the question of survival crops up and through my work, I want to say that there is every chance for survival,” says Rajendran.

Rajendran’s paintings are on display at ‘Sradha’ auditorium near Durbar Hall Art Gallery. He says that his works can not be purely classified into a painting exhibition as his works focus on a message.

“I used painting as a medium as I knew it. If I was acquainted with any other art form, I would have opted that to convey my message,” he says.

Rajendran has painted 21 portraits which will be systematically arrayed based on its priority to make audience aware of this concept. “It starts with a portrait titled ‘Birth’ and ends with ‘Unconditional Love’. The world has become too callous that the most pure process in life ‘birth’ is not given its due importance.


Sadly, detachment has crept up in the process,” he says. Rajendran says that the painting will help the viewer to get out of his cocoon of faith and face the reality. Rajendran says that, unlike other exhibitions, his works will stand apart with its different arrangement style.

“The music playing in the backdrop will also help the viewers to get a clearer picture of the work,” he adds. Apart from paintings, the artist has also done installations which speak about the ‘golden age’ that is yet to arrive.

published in The New Indian Express

The Strongest beard on the planet

 
In his red shirt, with a braided beard, and painting the town red, is Anthony Kontrimas from Lithuania.When you ask him about his braided beard, you will be surprised to know that he has the strongest beard on the planet. Kontrimas garnered the attention of the world when he pulled an aeroplane with his beard for 20 metres. He also pulled a jeep laden with soldiers. 


Kontrimas is also adept at lifting people using his beard. Through sheer determination and will, Kontrimas is the proud owner of eleven Guinness Book World Records.Kontrimas reached Kochi on January 1 with his wife and fellow tourists as part of a trip undertaken to celebrate the New Year. He came to hear about Kerala from Jyoti Amge, who is a Guinness World Record holder for being the world’s shortest woman. 

He had met Jyoti at an event associated with the Guinness World Records. “It was she who gave me the idea of visiting India,” he says. “When a group of us decided to go on a tour which included India, I grabbed the opportunity.”   Initially, he went to North India. “I have been to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur before I reached Kerala,” he says. Little did he know he would fall in love with God’s Own Country the instant he put his foot here.”It is a completely different atmosphere here,” he says. 

“I am awed by the hospitality shown by the people. They are warm and cordial.” Kontrimas says that he has been mesmerised by the charm of the old buildings of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. “I am wonderstruck by  monuments like the Jewish Synagogue, St. Francis Church, Dutch Palace and, of course, the Chinese fishing nets,” he says, with a glint in his eyes. On Thursday, Anthony and his friends left for Alleppy and will shortly reach Thiruvananthapuram.Incidentally, Kontrimas, who turned 50 last month, celeberated his birthday in Jaipur.

published in The New Indian Express