പഴങ്കഞ്ഞി (Pazhankanji)

ഉപ്പുമാങ്ങ ഭരണി  (Uppumanga Bharani)

Pazhankanji – fermented previous day’s cooked rice soaked in plain water – was served every morning at our home while we were growing up. It was mostly accompanied by a pickle or ഉപ്പുമാങ്ങ  (Uppumanga) chutney.  Uppumanga is pickled tender mangoes in  brine.  After harvesting the tender mangos, generally in March-April, they are washed clean, dried and put into a large china-clay pitcher called a ഭരണി  (Bharani) with  brine and lot of fresh green chillies.  The mangos are now left to pickle up and is used to make chutney, with or without coconut, during the monsoons (June till September).  At that time availability of vegetables from our farmland around the house depleted as new saplings were planted with the commencement of monsoons. During the monsoons, they would be growing up to yield their produce.

തവി (Thavi)

Amma used to make chutney with the Uppumanga and the accompanying chillies by grinding it with the small red button onions and grated coconut.  She also used it to prepare prawn curry.  I relished the brine from the Bharani which had the flavour of both the mango and the chili.  My brothers too loved it and obviously it was a strict ‘no-no’ for us to dip our hands into the Bharani as it might spoil the Uppumanga  Amma treasured.  Our hands could be dirty or wet and she did not want the mangoes to be infected with fungus.  She had a special തവി (Thavi), a large ladle made of  half shell of a coconut with a long handle made from coconut wood, to take out the mangoes.

Amma cooked every morning prior to leaving to the school where she taught and in the evening on return.  The rice for the dinner was cooked in the evening and I observed that she always cooked an extra cup of rice.  On inquiry, she said it is for the guests who might come calling on in the evening.  In those days the last trip of the bus to Kottayam town was at 7 PM and all relatives who came over had to spend the night at our home.  Our home was about 20 km from our ancestral village as our father moved there next to Amma’s school so that she could spend more time at home and with us children.

Any rice left over after dinner was placed in an earthen pot soaked in water and left to ferment overnight at room temperature.  We did not have a fridge by then and hence this was the only way to store the leftover rice.  Next morning it was served as Pazhankanji. It tasted a lot better when one had it using a spoon made out of a Jack-Fruit leaf as shown in the image above.  In case poor and hungry people came calling, were served this.   If any of it was still left, it was put in the feed for the cows we reared.

As per Ayurveda and common popular belief,  consuming Pazhankanji has the  following advantages:-

  • Rich in B6 and B12 Vitamins.
  • Easy to digest and hence the body feels less tired and one feels fresh throughout the day.
  • Beneficial bacteria get produced in abundance for the body.
  • Excessive heat retained in the body overnight is relieved .
  • Reduces constipation as this is very fibrous..
  • It is said to lower blood pressure and hypertension subsides appreciably.
  • This removes allergy induced problems and also skin-related ailments.
  • It removes all types of ulcers in the body.
  • It helps in maintaining youthful and radiant look.
  • Consuming this is believed to reduce craving for tea or coffee.

From where does the rice, known as കുത്തരി  (Kuththari), to make this divine Pazhankanji come from?

തഴപ്പായ് (Thazhappay)

Rice from our paddy field after harvesting is stocked in പത്താഴം (Pathazham), a large wooden box.  About 50 kg of this raw harvested rice it is taken out and boiled in the evening in a large copper vessel  until the husk break open a little.  This is left overnight and next morning it is drained and sun dried on a തഴപ്പായ് (Thazhappay) – a mat of 12 feet by 30 feet made from the leaves of screw pine.  We children had to be sentries for the rice being dried in the sun to ensure that the brood of fowls we reared did not feast on the rice and also to shoo away the crows.  Another task was to turn the rice over using our hands and feet to ensure exposing of the entire rice to the sun to facilitate even drying.  In case one spotted a rain bearing cloud, one had to alert every member of the household to come out to pack up the rice and the mat.  In case they got wet, fungus infection was a sure shot thing in humid Kerala.  The only other task one was permitted during this sentry duty was to read a book.

After about two to three such rounds of sun drying was complete, the rice used to be packed in gunny bags and had to be transported to the rice mill for de-husking operation.  Our eldest brother was the mission commander and he used to hire a hand cart and we siblings used to load it up and push the cart to the mill with our eldest brother manning the controls of the hand cart in front.  At the rice mill, the semi-polished rice emerged out through a chute, the outer husk through another and the edible Bran – തവിട് (Thavidu) through another.  We had to collect these in different gunny bags and load them up in the hand cart.  After paying up the mill owner was the return journey home.  The inedible husk was used as fuel to be burned with firewood to boil the next lot of raw rice and the bran found its way to the cows’ feed.

A part of the rice husk was burned and the residue was sieved and to the fine powder.  Salt, powdered pepper and cloves were added to this to form ഉമ്മിക്കരി (Umikkari). This was used as tooth powder by all of us.  I was least surprised by the advertisements of modern toothpaste manufacturers claiming that they have all the ingredients that made up our Ummikkari in their product.

In the earlier days, when I was a little child, prior to the establishment of the rice mill, Amma hired women folk to do the de-husking operation in an ഉരൽ (Ural).  Ural is a stone cylinder about two feet tall and two feet in diameter.  On the top surface, a hole, six inch in diameter and depth is chiseled out to hold rice.  There is a five feet tall baton made of hardwood, with a metallic cover at the base, which is lifted up and pounded on the material inside the hole.  Perfecting the art of not spilling the contents while pounding is developed over time – to start with for any learner, the speed of pounding is a bit slow, but with practice, the speed really picks up.  In my younger days I have seen two ladies doing this in tandem.  Real precision timing and coordination is required for each pounding, else it could spell disaster.

With the advent of modern household appliances like grinders, fridges. mixies, etc and availability of pre-prepared, sorted  and cleaned rice and various other products have surely reduced the workload, but the taste of the natural rice still lingers on my taste buds.  The fridges for sure have made Pazhankanji a history, even in our home.

All Creatures Great and Small

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.               Cecil F. Alexander

This was a hymn we sang at the morning assembly at our school.  During my vacation in Kerala in April 2017, these lines came back to my mind as I took a stroll through the farmland behind our home.  Three small but great creatures caught my attention.  They are not great because the Lord God made them all, but because they were my companions as I grew up as a child.

The very first is the Antlion.  It  is surely neither an ant nor a lion, else a little three year old kid could not have played with them.  The Antlion is called so because it feeds on ants and hence is like a ‘lion’ for the ants. In Malayalam it is called കുഴിയാന – Kuzhiyana – meaning an elephant in a pit.  It is surely not an elephant, but its hump looks like that of an elephant and it did live in a conical pit.  In North America, Antlions are called ‘doodlebugs’, because of the doodles they leave on the sand while looking for a suitable spot to dig its pit.  It is in fact the larval form of a dragonfly.

A fully developed Antlion is about a centimeter long, with a larval  life cycle similar to that of a caterpillar.  At the end of the larva stage, it spins a cocoon and after a few days an adult a dragonfly emerges.

Antlions like to set their pits in places where it is dry and where the soil particles are loose and small. They dig a circular, funnel-shaped pit and hide at the bottom of it. When an unsuspecting ant  falls into the pit, the Antlion grabs it with its jaws. The prey cannot escape the pit because the wall is crumbly.  As the prey tries to climb up, the grainy wall crumbles down.

Antlion with its bean-shaped body and ant like head appear to  move rearwards.  As a child, I used to locate Antlions’  pits and blow the sand away with my mouth.  As the sand blew away, exposing the Antlion, it would further dig deep down to escape until I caught it.  The Antlions caught would be stored in an empty matchbox.  After a few of these creatures were caught, I used to line them up like elephants paraded during Thrissur Pooram.  The Thrissur Pooram is held in the city of Thrissur in central Kerala (India) and is a cultural highlight that is unique in its pageantry, magnitude and participation. 30  elephants are paraded on this occasion, attired  with the traditional Nettipattam (golden headdress), decorative bells and ornaments, decorated umbrellas, palm leaves and peacock feathers, and beautifully-crafted kolam (paintings).

The Antlions grow into dragonflies and would flutter around in search of insects, their staple food.  As a kid, I chased and caught a few of them and tied a small thread to their tails so as to control them and make them take short flights.  Then I would prompt the dragonfly to pick up small pebbles and increased the size of the stones until the dragonfly could lift no more.  This sadistic game ended with the death of the dragonfly, when it severed its head from its torso.

The next creature is the dangerous  നീർ – Neer – The Red Weaver Ants .  They are found in the tropical forests of Africa, Australia and the Solomon Islands. In India I have found them only in Kerala.  All animals, insects, birds and humans are scared of them because of the painful bite they inflict.  They are very aggressive territorial ants and tend to be very aggressive and responsive to disturbance.  They have a vice like grip and tremendous strength while inflicting a painful slicing bite.  With the bite they spray formic acid into the resulting wounds.

They are seen in almost all fruit trees in our farmland, mainly the  mango and  jackfruit trees.  They are natural insect killers as they feast on the fruit flies that hover around these trees.  It takes a few minutes for a fruit fly to find a suitable spot on the mango and inject her eggs under the skin of the fruit and make the fruit rot.  The weaver ants on these trees chase them away or capture them. When other insects, squirrels or birds detect the scent of weaver ants, they prefer to stay away.

The only catch is that when one needs to climb these trees to get the fruits down.  Then one has to apply a strong insect repellent – usually kerosene – and carry a bag full of ash.  As one climbs up the tree, ash is spread all around to keep these weaver ants at bay.

These weaver ants are famous for the elaborate treetop nests they build. They are champions of cooperation when it comes to building a nest.   They build nests by stitching five to ten leaves together using larval silk.  They first find a suitable location on a treetop and then bend down the leaves and place them in a tent like shape.  Holding down such leaves demand the force of a thousand ants, each drawing down with all his might and the others fasten the joints to build a spacious nest that protects their colony from impending danger of predators.

Using precise coordination, the weaver ants create very strong ant chains by linking legs to pull and bend leaves into desired tent like positions. Then they  glue them with silk.  The silk comes from their own larvae.  The adults carry larvae in their jaws and squeeze them gently so that the larvae secrete a drop of silk on one end of the leaf edges. The ants then carry the larvae along the entire length of the leaf edges, squeezing as they go, using the larvae like living bottles of glue, until the edges of the leaves are stuck together from end to end.

Weaver ants live in a highly organized, co-operative society, where every individual has a role to play in the survival of the entire colony. Their jobs are based on their physique and they execute the tasks with utmost sincerity and discipline. Those in charge of food bring anything edible back to their colony to feed other ants.  They also have a workers army who construct the nests and repair them and very aggressively protect the nests filled with ants and their eggs.

As a child, I used to stand next to the mango tree and observe these ants at work.  I used to talk to them, reporting what all happened at home.  This time I did watch them curiously, but had nothing to talk to them.

Photographs Courtesy Sherrin Koduvath 

A Note that Dissonates, Once Again


Our friend Suresh Nellikode invited me to watch Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Malayalam movie ‘Pinneyum‘ on September 13, 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  I grew up watching classics of Adoor- Swayamvaram, Kodiyettam, Elipathayam and Mathilukal – which remain in my memory.  In all these movies I was impressed with the use of natural sounds with minimum background score, unlike many Indian movies.

In his latest venture ‘Pinneyum’ (Once Again), he has captured the natural sounds and used it to convey the time and the environment to the viewer.  Was it that effective like his earlier attempts?  Has Adoor done justice to the natural sounds which obviously changed with the times in Kerala’s rural background spanning a timeline of over 17 years?

The first time I left Kerala was to join Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Thamizh Nadu in 1971 at the age of nine.  Every year I came home for the summer vacations.  During this homecoming, I could not make out any changes to the ambient sounds of nature.  The wind created music, caressing the paddy fields downhill through the tapioca and pineapple cultivation uphill to our home.  A few notes changed with the swaying of the coconut trees and the tropical fruit trees – tamarind, bread fruit, jack fruit – that grew abundantly in our homestead.  The air had the aroma of the flowers in bloom or the fruits that had ripened. The road in front of our home had scant traffic with a few cars and the hourly bus service, only connection to Kottayam town.

Only one or two homes in the village, of those who could afford,  had a telephone and a car.  Obviously we could not afford either.  Even a wall clock and radio were rarities.  We had a wall clock, a mechanical pendulum one, which struck once every half hour and the number of hours at the hour.  This striking sound was a break from the sounds of nature – from the birds’ chirping and calls and the shrill cries of the crickets and the flying lizards – an evolutionary link between lizards and birds – which flew from one palm tree to another in search of insects.  Every household in the village reared cows, goats, chicken and ducks.  Their moos, bleats, rooster’s crowing and hens’ songs – filled the air all through the day.

The evenings marked prayer time and as one strolled along the road, one heard readings from the Bible, hymns and devotional songs – both from the Hindu and Christian homes.  The nocturnal music of the nature was very much different with the owls, insects and dogs pitching in with their parts.

The artificial sounds that one heard once in a while was from the Chenda (drums) of the announcer who came along the road to announce the release of a new movie in the village talkies – a thatched theater.  The temples and churches hired the Mike Set (Public Address system) and the Chenda Melam (ensemble of drums ) only on the annual festival days.  A Gramophone was a vital element of the mike set.  Luckily in those days the songs lasted only three minutes as one side of the gramophone record could only hold as much.

The early eighties brought prosperity to our village due to the increased salary of government employees, higher prices for the cash crops and spices the village produced and many seeking employment in foreign lands, mainly in the Gulf countries.  Our eldest brother moved to Sultanate of Oman.

The natural music I was used to during my annual vacations started to be corrupted by the artificial ones.  With every passing year, the changes were audible.

That was when the first Television came into our home beaming the national channel Doordarshan.  On Saturdays they telecasted a Malayalam movie and all the neighbours congregated at our home.  Our eldest brother brought in a digital electronic clock which chimed its musical notes every fifteen minutes.  Now the old mechanical clock got pushed away on to the wall of the side room and its Japanese cousin took its place of pride in the family room.  We also got a telephone connection and the metallic ringing sound of the rotor dial telephone also added to the milieu.

Exorbitant labour costs, pests and  crop diseases turned the village to rubber plantations.  Most tropical fruit trees were cut, tapioca and pineapple cultivation discarded – all to make way for the rubber trees.  The herbal plants which grew abundantly became extinct.  Many species of birds and the flying lizards disappeared as they could neither nest among the rubber trees nor could find any food.  Rice cultivation disappeared too being uneconomical.  Thus Kerala turned into a consumer state.

The traffic on the roads kept increasing manifold with new varieties of automobiles – from motorbikes to large trucks.  The Churches and Temples procured their own Mike Sets and the competition to please their Gods with highest possible decibel levels all through day and night commenced.  Thus the natural sounds now gave way for more synthetic tones.  The noise of the wind passing through the rubber trees was no more music to the ears.  Why, even the aroma in the air had disappeared.

The nineties marked the opening of the Indian economy and with it came telephones and televisions in every homes in the village.  The rotor dial telephone made way for their electronic avatars.  Cable Television came in without any government controls or regulations and in the absence of any red-tape, each and every home joined the cable yugam in a matter of few weeks.  This resulted in the many channels reaching the homes and families getting closeted indoors glued to the television.

With the turn of the century, cows, goats and fowls disappeared from the cow-sheds and pens.  Every house had a car parked in the porch.  The era of Bible reading and hymn singing evenings ended as everyone got fixated to the tear jerking serials various channels beamed with vengeance to each other and to humanity.

This aspect of changing sounds was missing in Adoors ‘Pinneyum’ with the story-line spanning about 17 years.  He, well known as a perfectionist in the art of movie making, has captured even the minutest sounds like the coconut leaf dangling in the temple rubbing the shoulders of the actors.  It is a puzzle as to how Adoor failed to capture the changing sounds to depict the timeline in his movie.

When Kerala Saw Red

Kerala state in India was carved out of the Madras State in 1956 as a result of reorganisation of states based on linguistic lines.  Until then, it was called Madras State – a name that was derived from Madras Presidency of British India.  The then state of Madras was reorganised into four: Madras, Mysore, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala based on the linguistic majority of Thamizh, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam respectively. Incidentally ‘Malayalam’ is the only language in the world which forms a Palindrome- when spelt in English would read the same both right to left and in Arabic style left to right.  A person whose mother tongue is Malayalam is called a Malayalee.  In recent times the nextgen has stylised this to ‘Mallu’.    

Madras State was renamed Thamizh Nadu in 1969 and their Kannada speaking brethren renamed Mysore to ‘Karnataka’ in 1973.  Andhra Pradesh was further subdivided to form Telangan State in 2014.  The city of Madras changed its name to Chennai in 1996.  The only vestige of the erstwhile Madras Presidency in the Indian Army  is the Madras Regiment – a group of Infantry Battalions and Madras Engineering Group (MEG) manned by soldiers from the erstwhile Madras Presidency states and in the civil front, the Madras Cricket Club (MCC).  Even though the Madras Presidency became history and the Madras city changed its name to Chennai, the North Indians, until recently continued to refer to the people by the demonym ‘Madrasi’, perhaps in a wee bit derogatory sense and therefore deemed an ethnic slur.

There is also a French connection to this ethnic, linguistic and colonial chaos.  The French in the Seventeenth Century established trading posts in South India at Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanaon on the East Coast in the Thamizh speaking area and Mahe on the West Coast in the Malayalam speaking region.  Post Indian independence in 1947, the French continued to hold these areas until 1954.  A general election involving 178 people in Pondicherry Municipal and Commune Panchayat was held in 1954 and 170 people voted in favour of independence from France and eight people voted against.  Thus on 01 November 1954, Pondicherry became part of the Indian Union.  In order to maintain their French identity, these areas came directly under the rule of the federal government and was known as the Union Territory of Pondicherry.  They also underwent a name change and became Puduchery in 2006. 

After formation of Kerala State, the first elections to the state legislature was held in 1957 and the world was in for a surprise.  The Communist Party of India won the elections by a slim majority, forming the first democratically elected communist government in the world. It also became the first ‘non-Congress’ ruled state in India. The Communist victory raised hackles in USA, especially at the height of the Cold War.  There were concerns within India too, particularly in the federal capital  of New Delhi, but Prime Minister Nehru, true to the spirit of federalism was willing to work with the then Communist Chief Minister, EMS Namboothirippad.

 A notable feature of the first EMS Government was the calibre of distinguished personalities who occupied Cabinet positions.  They initiated thoughtful changes in state government policies, mainly oriented on enabling the poor and the downtrodden.  Their actions were, in my view, mainly responsible for the current state of affairs in Kerala, with 100% literacy, good healthcare, zero population growth, eradication of poverty, very low child mortality and so on, all typical indicators of a developed country in the world.  The state’s development has been so well studied that the ‘Kerala Model‘ is frequently referred to by economists, anthropologists, and policy-makers alike.  The United Nations’ annual Human Development Index (HDI) reports, rank Kerala along with developed countries of the world.

Through the Land Reforms Act the EMS government sought to confer ownership rights on tenant cultivators, grant permanent ownership of land for the agricultural labourers, by putting a ceiling on the individual land holdings,  so as to distribute the surplus land among the landless.  The landowning communities in Kerala, from all sections of society had serious issues with this bill.

Introduction of the Education Bill added fuel to fire.  The Education Bill claimed to regulate appointments and working conditions of the teachers in the government-aided private schools.  It also mandated to takeover any government-aided private educational institution, if they fail to meet the conditions set by the newly promulgated bill.

Within hours of the passing of the Bill, ‘Vimochana Samaram‘ (liberation struggle) was called to bring down the Communist government, mainly lead by the Churches, the upper caste Hindus and Muslim clergy, all whom had a stake in the ‘education pie’. The efforts  of these vested interests along with the manoeuvres of the political front led by the Indian National Congress Party, resulted in the dismissal of the  state Government by the Central Government,  using the notorious Article 356 of the Indian Constitution in 1959. Be that as it may, the leftist lean continues in Kerala till date and the left ideology had taken deep roots.

CIA’s role in Kerala did not surface until Daniel Patrick Moynihan , Ambassador to India in the early 1970s admitted this in his 1978 book ‘A Dangerous Place’.  In an interview of Moynihan with Ellsworth Bunker, the then US Ambassador to India (1956 to 1961), admitted to the US involvement.  He contended that the CIA had provided financial assistance to the Congress Party because the embassy had hard evidence that the Soviets were funding local communists.  He opined that “as they have done everywhere in the world, but as we have done elsewhere in the world, we have come to the assistance of our friends when we knew and had evidence about what the Communists were doing financially and otherwise (sic).”

That was the left side of Kerala state and until I was selected to join the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1978. I was in no way influenced by a left leaning Kerala. When a successful candidate from a state other than Kerala, had to fill in only a few forms for police clearance, I had to fill in a dozen more.  All because I hailed from a Leftist Kerala State.  Now I needed a special verification from various intelligence bureaus of the state police and the central police.  I was well advised by my father never to disclose any connection of our family to the Communist Party – my uncle M Thomas was a Communist member of the Legislature from Kottayam (1971-1977).  The police clearance procedure resulted in many policemen, from different departments making frequent visits to our home and my father had no option but to grease their palms, else his son may be denied entry into NDA.  Luckily, now days, this practice seems to have ended. 


Thankachan – Our Fish Vendor

In our young days the fish vendors would come cycling down the street early morning, howling at the top of the voice മത്തിയേ മത്തി… രൂപയ്ക്കു ആറ് mathiye  mathi… roopakku aaru  (Sardines, Sardines – six for a rupee). One of the women from the household went to the street on hearing his calling and the vendor dismounted. Putting the cycle laden with the heavy fish-basket on the rear carrier gingerly on its stand commenced the procedure. It began with ascertaining the freshness of the fish, the type of fish and the price. The lady most often complained that the fish he sold last time was not all that fresh as the vendor had claimed. After exchanging a few bargaining words, the price was settled and the vendor counted out fish as demanded. Sometimes the men also went out to the road to purchase the fish.

After our eldest brother turned a teen, it became his duty every alternate morning to buy the fish. As we all grew up, everyone took turns. During my vacations from boarding school, I was entrusted the duty for the two months. Whenever I bought the fish, Amma always complimented me for the deal I clinched from the fish vendor. Our eldest brother became suspicious of my deal and one day he asked me the secret behind it. I told him that I told Amma not the actual price I paid, but half a rupee or a quarter less. He then wanted to know as to how I managed the balance change and I told him that the few coins I saved up from my pocket money at school was used for this. If I could gather a few brownie points over my brothers and above all if I could make Amma feel pleased, it was worth it, I thought.

We generally bought fish every alternate day as we all liked a day old fish curry.  It was only with the a day of ageing that the kodampuli, (Garcinia gummi-gutta) or Pot Tamarind, a specific type of tamarind from the Malabar region in Kerala, soaked into the soft flaky flesh of the fish from the backwaters of the Arabian coast… and that is also when all the spices let out their combined aromas. The day after, the fish curry with steaming hot fresh boiled rice, tastes truly like it was made for God, in his own country, none the less!

After our father’s retirement, he rose early, clear the fallen leaves in the courtyard and await the fish vendor. We never had any particular vendor, but bought fish from the one who arrived first. One day Thankachan came with the fish and our father bought some from him. After two days it was Thankachan who sold fish to our father.

Promptly, Thankachan appeared on our doorsteps the next day requesting our father to buy fish. Our father explained to him that we bought fish only on alternate days. Now Thankachan narrated his story.

Thankachan had been into the fish vending business for the past two years and not even one day he could sell off all his fish. At the end of the day he sold all the remaining fish in the basket to the Toddy Shop at half price and this always ate into his earnings. Our father was his very first customer for the two days and on both the days his basket was empty by noon. That was why he did not sell any fish to anyone on his way from the market to our home and wanted our father as his first customer, being a good omen.

From that day we bought fish every morning and Thankachan gave us a good deal, but always made sure that he received the payment only from our father. This customer relationship continued for the next ten years until Thankachan called it a day from his business of door-to-door fish vending.

Many vendors in India still feel that the business for the day depends on the first sale they execute and the day will go well only in case the first customer is a lucky person for the vendor. The vendors hate when the first customer wants credit and some even refuse such customers or in case it is unavoidable, requested them to come after an hour. With the advent of credit cards and online payments, I am unaware of the protocols followed by the merchants.

With the changing times, development and prosperity setting in Kerala, where in all the strata of the society prospered together, the fish vendors discarded their bicycles for motor-bikes. Now they do not howl at the top of their voices, but texted preferred customers the details of the type of fish and the price and the interested customers confirmed by a return text message. Once they got confirmation for their entire stock, then only they set out on their bikes from the market.

The days of the haggling fish vendor has now been confined to history.

Where to Find God

A very pertinent question being asked in today’s world, filled with evangelists from all religions and sects, standing on rooftops and on TV, shouting at the top of their voices.  Everyone it appears want to prove to the world that the Gods they sell are the best, accompanied  by miracles in various forms.  Most of these evangelists, exploiting the greed of humanity, have amassed wealth that even their Gods cannot fathom.

The city of Kottayam in Kerala, which boasts of near cent percent literacy, is better known as the city of three Ls – Latex , Letters and Liquor.  It is the trading centre of natural rubber in India and the Indian Rubber Board is also located here.  The city boasts of many educational institutions with their glorious past and also is the home for most publishing houses in Kerala with Malayala Manorama and its allied publications leading the pack.  It also set many records in liquor consumption, but of late, other smaller towns have leaped miles ahead of Kottayam.  The city boasts of many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches that dot the townscape.  It is the headquarters of most factions of the Syrian Christians.   

Panhandling has been banned in Kottayam since my childhood, but one can always spot a few beggars in and around the town, especially adjacent to religious places of worship.  On the  days of various festivals in these religious places, an army of beggars, mostly immigrants from the other Indian states congregate here.  It appears to be an organised racket and the way they are moved from one place to another and the methodology employed in locating them at vantage points will put any army to shame.

On a Friday morning, a  beggar, desperate to get a few bucks as he was really hungry, located himself in front of a mosque in Kottayam.  In the afternoon, everyone came for the prayers (Jummah).  (The schools in Kerala have a long recess on Fridays, extending till 2:30 PM to facilitate Muslim students to offer Jummah.).  On culmination of the prayers, everyone folded their caps, dusted and rolled their prayer mats and went home.  No one even bothered to give a glance at the hungry beggar.

On Saturday morning the beggar placed himself at the vantage point of Shiva Temple of Kottayam.    Devotees came in droves (Second Saturday of a month is a holiday for all offices and schools of Kerala) and offered Poojas, Nivedyams and Abhishekams and left and no one gave any offering to the hungry beggar.

On Sunday morning the beggar placed himself in front of the Cathedral.  He reached there well before the priest and the church manager could even open the doors.  During the Holy Mass, Gospel reading was from the Gospel According to Saint Mathews – Chapter 25 – Verses 35 to 40.  Verse 35 says  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  At end of the mass, priest in his sermon reminded all true followers of Christ that they must feed the hungry as it would be equivalent to any offering to God. 

The beggar was full of hope that he would surely get something, especially after the priest’s sermon.  The Clergy and the Laymen all assembled after the Holy Mass for the meeting and elected  committee for the coming year and dispersed.  No one gave anything to the beggar.

On Monday morning, by about 10′ o clock, the beggar perched in a shady corner, next to the outlet of Beverages Corporation of Kerala (liquor vent).  A queue of about 30 people had already formed, without any jostling or pushing, awaiting the auspicious time of 10 AM for the sale window to open.   The salesman at dot 10 AM opened the window and brisk sales proceeded and more people joined the queue.

By about 11 AM, the beggar found his pan full of money and overjoyed with it, he prayed to God Almighty.  He wanted God to answer his query as to why He gave him His wrong address.  God appeared in front of the beggar and explained to him His reasons.

“Look! These are the real devotees.  Everyone has formed a proper and well disciplined queue which you will never find in front of any other places you had been till now.  There is no difference between rich and poor; literate and illiterate.  There is no segregation  along caste, creed or religious lines.    They stand in a queue in most descent manner, braving storms, rains or hot sun.  They respect each others privacy and ensure that they do not even touch the one in front. Now they maintain social distance norms.”

“These devotees are only asking for what they want and never for their parents, children, relatives or friends.  They never request that others should not be given what they want.  They ask what they want in minimum words, in a language everyone understands.  They neither sing praises about their brand of liquor  nor do they sermonise about evils and goodness of liquor.  Here there are no VIPs and one does not have to pay upfront at various counters and obtain a receipt for services rendered.  There are neither  any commission agents nor are there any long forms to be filled.  There is no need for any written application on a white sheet of paper.  They never try to bribe Me with their offerings in cash or in kind, without realising that if offered to the needy would be of immense help and if offered to Me would never be of any use to anyone.”

“Hence isn’t this the best place in Kottayam for the God to be?”.

On hearing the reasons given by the God, the beggar asked “Then why did You make me beg around for the past three days?”

The God replied “That is to show you beggars as to where to find God.

My First Sex Education

During our childhood my brother, the youngest in the family, then aged four, came up with an unusual request. He wanted someone younger to him. It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid, a goat’s kid, a female one.  That was how goat rearing commenced at our home.

In the evenings, after school, we used to take the goat out into our farmland for grazing.  We had to be on the lookout to ensure that the goat did not forage on the Tapioca (Kasava) cultivation, mainly to save the cultivation and also to save the goat from food poisoning. Little did I then know that the toxicity of the tapioca foliage was due to the presence Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN).    During the Monsoon rains, we had to cut the necessary forage from the trees which acted as support for the black pepper wines.

The kid grew real fast with all the attention and forage that we children heaped on her.  In a year she matured into a beautiful doe and was ready for a mate.  A Doe would come to heat by the end of summer and it lasts for two or three days and the cycle is repeated every three weeks.

In Kerala, the schools reopen after the summer vacations on 01 June but my Alma Mater, Sainik School Amravathinagar, reopens only by 15 June.  During my Grade 7 summer vacation, after the schools reopened for my brothers, our doe bleated one entire night.  In the morning Amma said that the doe is on heat and it is time to mate her.  That day our farm-hand did not turn up as he had pneumonia due to drenching in the monsoon showers the previous day.  I was the only one now free to take the doe for mating.

The village had a tea-shop run by a man named Kuttappai.  The tea-shop served as the meeting place for all village elders and doubled up as a reading room.  All dailies and magazines published from Kottayam found their way there.  It also served as the village ‘parliament’.  It was indeed a house of knowledge, and doubled up as a cultural-political-social-entertainment institution, where anything and everything under the sun – from international relations to state and village politics; science to the Bible; communism to capitalism – were discussed.  Gossips too found their way in, obviously as spicy as the narrator could make it.

Kuttappai reared a flock of goats housed in a thatched shed to the rear of the tea-shop.  He used the milk from the goats to make tea and obviously the village folk relished his special tea.  The flock was led by a majestic buck.  The buck also served as the village stud and Kuttappai charged Rs 10 for every mating.

At about 11 o’ clock, I walked our doe to Kuttappai’s tea shop, as per Amma’s advise because that was the time  when the tea-shop would be empty of customers as people would have returned home after fiery debates and discussions.  Obviously that was the only time Kuttappai would be free to facilitate the mating.

On reaching the tea-shop, Kuttappai instructed me to tie our doe closely on to a coconut tree adjacent to the goat shed.  The smell and sight of the doe in heat made the buck tied in the shed restless and his snorting and kicking increased, at times reaching a violent stage as if he would bring the entire shed down.

After 15 minutes, Kuttappai emerged from his tea-shop.  The buck was tied with a long rope and Kuttappai released him so as to make him reach the doe.  The buck went around the doe, smelled and licked her vulva and when he was about to mount her, Kuttappai pulled him back into the shed and tied him up.  That was a staged foreplay for the buck.

Now the buck had turned real violent as the frequency of his kicking multiplied and the volume of his snorts became louder.  After 10 minutes Kuttappai again released the buck and he came charging in and mounted the doe and the entire mating was completed in a few seconds.  Kuttappai now pulled the buck back into the shed and like a conqueror, the buck stood with his head high, but the tone of his snorts had changed as if to announce his accomplishment.

A doe generally gets into heat in the later part of summer and in Kerala it coincides with the onset of Monsoons (June to September).  There are certain indications the doe gives out when in heat.  Her vulva swells and become red, and she may have some vaginal discharge.    She tends to eat less and become restless because the hormones associated with fertility kick in.  A milk producing doe may decrease her milk production due to the hormonal changes.  Her frequency of tail-wagging suddenly increases and her bleats become longer, especially at night.

During the monsoons when the doe goes into heat, the buck goes into rut.  During rut the buck urinates into his mouth and on his chest, face, and beard, turning them yellow.  The scent glands near his horns become overactive.  These lead to an unbearable stink – in reality the stink is to attract a doe in heat towards him.  During rut a buck would snort, grunt and kick its hind legs.  It tends to give a terrorising look with its upper lip curled up.

In the evening when Amma returned from school I dutifully reported to her the events of the day and posed some uncomfortable questions about the procedure and the need for it.  The School teacher in Amma responded with poise and she summarised the entire event as an act of depositing the sperm by the buck in the doe’s womb where it would fertilise an egg and would result in the formation of an embryo.  She also explained that the rooster and the hens also did the same and so did humans. Thus began my introduction to sex education.

Hen’s Egg Song

Every morning in our childhood, we were woken up by our rooster’s crowing.  The rooster crows to announce his supremacy in the territory and in the brood.  During the day, one often heard the hens crying loud “bak bak ba ko” after laying an egg. This is often referred to as the hen’s ‘egg song.’

Our house had a barn about 50 meters away from the main building.  It housed the cows and had a room to store hay, the main fodder for the cows.   The hens utilised the hay area to beat the afternoon heat or to save themselves from the heavy monsoon downpours.  The brooding hens stayed there most of the day, hardly ever going out.  Most of the hens laid their eggs too over the hay stacks.  Some would find their way into the house and lay their eggs in the store room where Amma stored the grains and other yields from the farm.  They would also use the area where old newspapers and magazines were stored to lay their eggs.

Hens often resort to ritual singing after she has laid an egg.  The hen’s song generally lasts for a minute or two and at times extend up to five minutes.  Many a times, it turned very irritable and one wished they would stop their endless singing the earliest.  It appeared that the hens wanted to broadcast to the world that they had achieved something great.  It is surely a great event in the hen’s day to have laid an egg. 

But why do they do it?  Why does a hen feel the need to broadcast to the world that she has laid an egg? Would it not be sensible for them to be silent so as to protect their egg from predators and humans?

One possible explanation is that the hen is feeling proud of the achievement for laying an egg. So, in fact she must be ‘crowing with pride’ about her accomplishment.  It may also be that she is feeling relieved to have it plop out.   Another possibility is that having gone off to lay her egg in private somewhere, she is calling to the rest of the flock to rejoin them.  It could also be that she is protecting her egg by moving away from it and distracting predators from the nest itself and focusing their attention to her instead to keep her egg safe.

The song could also be an invitation to the rooster for mating.  At the end of the song, the rooster often approached the hen with a dipped wing, waving his colourful tail feathers and dance around her in a circular pattern. It often culminated with a successful mating.  One mating can leave enough sperms to fertilize each egg for up to a week, hence it may not be a daily ritual.

The hens are not only vocal when they lay their eggs, they also make sounds of purring, growling, predator warnings, squawking and calling chicks to food. Certain breeds are more talkative than others and some chicken are louder or quieter depending on their breed and genetic constitution.

We also had a few ducks.  The ducks quacked all through the day and one could never fathom the reason for the ruckus they created.  There was hardly any pattern to it.  They normally laid their eggs at night and remained quite after their accomplishment.  Sometimes they laid their eggs early in the morning while being taken to the water filled paddy fields.  Mostly these eggs were lost.  Once the water was drained out from the fields to sow rice, we collected many eggs from there.

The duck’s egg is surely much bigger than hen’s.  Some claim that the duck eggs have twice the nutritional value of a hen’s egg and stay fresh for a longer period as compared a hen’s egg due to their thicker shell.    Duck’s eggs are rich with albumen, making cakes and pastries fluffier and richer, as compared to hen’s eggs.  Duck’s eggs have more Omega3 fatty acids. Omega 3 apparently prevents irregular heartbeat, reduce fatty plaques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease inflammation.  That may the reason why the Chinese preserve duck eggs by soaking them in brine, or packing each egg in damp, salted charcoal. It is said to be a delicacy and have been known to remain edible for years.

The hens announce their accomplishment of laying an egg to the entire world around, but the duck, even though does a better job, keeps quiet after the accomplishment.  We as kids used to get into the hay stacks to look for an egg before the crows snatch it away on hearing the hen’s song.  A few times it turned out to be hoax, as some hens may sing without laying an egg.

The ducks do not brood and do not sit idle in one place, hence poor hatchers.  At our home, a brooding hen hatched the duck eggs.  The hen took care of the ducklings like her chicks.  After a week or two, the ducklings jumped into the water in the paddy fields and swam.  The poor mother-hen  ran  around crying, unable to get into water and swim and unable to get near ‘her chicks’ and protect them.  This event marked the end of the mother-chick relationship and the ducklings now went their way in a flock.

Perhaps, there is a human parallel to this comparison.  A few people execute difficult tasks and accomplish great deeds, but keep quite after all their hard work.  They do not announce it to the world and often their works are recognised many years after their death.    Galileo Galilei – a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer; Vincent van Gogh – Dutch Post-Impressionist painter; Johann Sebastian Bach –  a composer; Gregor Johann Mendel – who discovered the basic principles of genetics; and the list is endless.

Some people do announce to the world all their accomplishments and many make much noise about small feats.  Some fake it too; no job but only noise.

May be it’s better to be a hen than a duck in the present days of social media dominated world, where even the silliest activity is broadcast as a great accomplishment.

So, are you a ‘duck type’ or a ‘hen type’?

Kunjappan Chettan – Our Village Trader


Mr Pothen (Peter in Malayalam) lived opposite our home across the street and everyone called him Kunjappan suffixed with ‘Chettan’ meaning an elderly man. Kunjappan Chettan was the village trader who ran his business from his home. He traded mainly in pepper, nutmeg, natural rubber, eggs and dried tapioca (cassava), which the villagers produced.

I have seen him from childhood always wearing a spotless white dhoti with a white towel which always hung from his right shoulder.  He visited the nearby village markets too to collect the merchandise he traded in. He never wore a shirt on his business trips, but used to wear a white shirt while going to the church on Sundays, visiting his relatives or going to Kottayam town.

Kunjappan Chettan was very popular with the women folk as he used to buy all the eggs their hens laid – the free range ones. The ladies would use the money to buy fish the next day or meat on the weekends. The entire households in the village produced their own vegetables in those days and the only purchases were limited to onions and tomatoes. Nowadays the situation in our village is that hardly anyone produces any vegetables, mainly due to non availability of labour and with the advent of rubber cultivation.

The women folk liked him for not that he provided the best price for their eggs, but that he would accept cracked eggs too, unless they were leaking. The secret behind it was that he was supplying his eggs to Mr Rozario, an Anglo-Indan who ran the best bakery in Kottayam town. Mr Razario would accept all the cracked eggs as he had to crack them anyway. Mr Rozario’s pick-up van would visit Kunjappan Chettan every Fridays to pick-up the eggs he had collected the entire week.

All the spices and the rubber procured by Kunjappan Chettan  had to be transported to Kottayam market, 12 km away, to be sold to wholesale traders. Pappchan with his bullock cart provided the transportation services. Pappachan had a bullock cart, pulled by two hefty bullocks, and he always addressed them as his sons. He would never hit them and would always be seen talking to them. Whether the bullocks understood anything what Pappachan said, they would silently stand in front of Kunjappan Chettan’s home until the cart was fully loaded on Monday evenings. After the loading was completed, Pappachan would tell his sons to proceed. Pappachan would go off to sleep and the bullocks would pull the cart and by early morning reach the market gate. Pappachan would hand over all the merchandise to the wholesale dealer and during the day pickup stuff for the village store and any other materials anyone else would have ordered. He would commence his return journey by evening and the bullocks would find their way to Kunjappan Chettan’s home and reach early morning Wednesday and all the while Pappachan would be sleeping. The modern trucks have driven these bullock-carts to extinction.

Kunjappan Chettan’s family and our family had a healthy relationship. All the children went to school together, played in the evenings together and we always formed part of any celebrations in either home. This relationship has carried over to the next two generations.

In those days Mr Chackochan (Jacob in Malayalam) was the only one who owned a car in our village. The magnanimity of Chackochan ensured that his car always doubled-up as an ambulance in emergencies for the entire village. Now every household has at least one.

Chackochan belonged to the richest family of our village. He ran a coconut oil mill. The mill had a telephone and it became a village property and always carried urgent messages for the village folks. The workers in the mill doubled up as messengers who ran to the home of the recipient of the message to convey it. With the introduction of cell phones, anyone and everyone now owns a cell phone.

Kunjappan Chettan’s grandson used to be asthmatic during his childhood and used to get severe attacks and he had to be rushed to the hospital about 5 km away. Chackochan would always come with his car to provide the ambulance service, even at midnight. While I was on summer vacation from Sainik (Military) School, the boy suffered a severe attack at midnight and I was asked to run (being the fittest) to Chackochan’s home to fetch the car.

On reaching Chackochan’s house, I opened the gate and went to the front door and rang the bell. Chackochan came out and asked me as to whether the dogs attacked me. That was when I looked behind and I saw two German Shepherds staring at me. No one ever told me that there were two German Shepherds guarding the house and one had to use the bell at the main gate to call Chackochan. The dogs must have got really confused on seeing me confidently and fearlessly opening the main gate and running up to the front door.

With the arrival of modern transportation systems, the village trader’s role diminished as the villagers could sell their produce directly to wholesalers at Kottayam and also buy and transport goods from there.  Mr Rozario became old and closed down his bakery resulting in lack of demand for eggs.  Thus Kunjappan Chettan retired, closing down his business.

Nostalgia Induced by Free Range Eggs

Driving through the Canadian rural area, we landed at a farm selling ‘farm fresh’ eggs.  They were also selling ‘Free Range‘ eggs, costing over double the price of normal eggs.  These eggs they claimed were laid by hens raised free of cages and other types of confinement housing and provided with access to the outdoors, weather permitting.


The labels on egg cartons in Canada are confusing to any shopper and are misleading.  Only a handful are certified by a third-party agency like ‘SPCA Certified,‘ meaning the product comes from a farm following prescribed standards of animal welfare, assessed annually by a trained inspector or ‘Certified Organic,‘ where in the birds are raised on organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics. I am told that mature broiler chicken raised on growth hormones are in such terrible state of pain due to the inability of their legs to withstand the body weight, that we are actually doing them a favour when we slaughter them!

Now we get many uncertified, but somewhat accepted labels, more as a fashion statement.  They cover Free Range and ‘Free-Run‘ denoting that hens could move around in open concept barns, but they do not necessarily have access to the great outdoors.  The ‘Cage-Free‘ and ‘Pasture Raised‘ can also be found.

Labels such as ‘Animal Friendly‘, ‘Country Fresh‘, ‘Naturally Raised’, ‘Non-Medicated’, ‘Raised Without Antibiotics’, ‘Raised Without Hormones’ or ‘Vegetable-Fed’ or ‘Grain-Fed’ do not mean anything, misleading.

In case there are no labels, or the label states ‘Classic‘, ‘Conventional‘, ‘Regular‘, ‘Farm-Fresh‘ or ‘Natural‘, it means that the hens who laid these eggs were kept in cages for almost their entire lives. The cages are about the size of a file cabinet drawer and can hold up to seven hens.  It is reported that an estimated 95% of eggs produced in Canada come from hens confined to cages where their movement is severely restricted and they are denied their most fundamental behavioural needs such as wing-flapping, foraging, perching and nesting.

The space provided for each hen varies across farms but may be as little as 432 sq cm (67square inches) per bird, which is less than a standard-sized piece of notebook paper. Generally, 4-6 birds are housed in each cage and cages are stacked vertically (hence the term ‘battery’”) to allow thousands of hens to be housed in one barn.


In Canada the law specifies that: –

  • Birds must be able to stand fully in an upright position within the enclosure.
  • Flooring must be designed, constructed, and maintained in a manner that supports the birds’ feet and does not contribute to trapping, injuries, or deformities to the birds’ legs, feet, and/or toes.
  • All birds must have access to at least 2 waterers in case one breaks down.
  • Automated feeding systems must be designed to minimise the likelihood of chicks getting caught in them.
  • Tiers must be arranged to prevent droppings from falling directly on tiers below, excluding perches, terraces and ramps/ladders.
  • The number of tiers must not exceed four where the ground level is considered to be one tier.

In my childhood, I was always fascinated by the brood my mother reared.  The most dominant cock assumed the position of a rooster, leading the brood.  There were many duels to establish supremacy and the defeated cocks submitted to the rooster.  The rooster always pushed ahead of the females to have first pickings of the food while the hens stood back.


In the evenings the brood returned and never entered the coop but perched on the tamarind tree behind it.  The rooster perched on the top with the hens and other cocks below him; hence the idiom ‘ruling the roost‘.  The rooster was always on the lookout for intruders and predators and warned the brood about them.  He also attacked and threw away the intruders.  The rooster crowed at the break of dawn, announcing to the world his presence and dominance in the brood.  It also served as an alarm for our father.  He woke us all up and commenced with the morning prayers.

The rooster also crowed in response to a potential rival.  When being fed in the morning, the crowing acted as a way to assert that it is his food.  It also served as a warning to other roosters in the neighbourhood, not to trespass his territory.

Our neighbour’s rooster was bigger and always ‘bullied‘ our rooster.  In one such fight, I, then aged about four, barged between the two roosters in an attempt to protect ours.  The neighbour’s rooster literally flew into a rage and pecked on my forehead and left me bleeding and presented me with a scar which became my identification mark. A mark of recognition! How would I be identified without the help of the neighbour’s rooster? A philosophical poser.

The rooster mates with the hens during the day, like all birds.  The mating ritual will typically begin with a rooster exhibiting a type of dance meant to attract his mate. He would dip one wing, wave his colourful tail feathers and dance around the hen in a circular pattern. If the hen is receptive, she will crouch down and allow the rooster to mount her, else he would force himself upon her.  For balance, he would peck on to her comb atop her head.  The entire mating would last a few seconds.

Rooster Naughty Bits Explained – Bitchin' Chickens

Both male and female chickens have one exterior sexual opening called a cloaca. When a rooster mounts a hen, he tucks his tail under the hen’s in a ‘cloacal kiss‘, passing sperms to fertilize the egg.   The sperms travel up the oviduct, where an egg is released every day.  One mating can leave enough sperms to fertilize each egg for up to a week.

The hens usually met their end dying of old age, disease or falling prey to intruders like foxes, dogs or cats.  Some got run over by the vehicles plying on the road in front of the house.  The rooster’s or cock’s end is another story.  Amma ordered us sons to butcher one to be the entrée for the dinner when an uncle came calling on.  The cocks also met similar fates to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Lord – Christmas and Easter.  She indicated the cock to be butchered by its colour and at night, one had to climb the tamarind tree with the skill of a leopard, locate the cock and catch it.  It was indeed a ‘Surgical Strike.’  The operation was impossible during the day as the cock always run away.

We then had to butcher it and dip it in boiling water to de-feather them.  Unlike the factory reared chicken of today, these fowls, being Free Range do not carry any fat between their skin and muscles, hence, skinning them was impossible.  The meat took longer to cook and was harder to bite into, but always tasted much better.  Similarly, the eggs from the Free Range hens tasted much better to my palate than the factory produced eggs served at the Cadets’ Mess or the Officers’ Mess.  It could be because these hens foraged on the leaves, especially of the herbal plants that grew abundantly all around our house then.


Every other year, Amma hatched chicks to recoup the dwindling strength of her brood.  She selected a healthy hen who had just moved into her ‘broody‘ state and prepared a safe area in the storeroom, away from other hens and cats.  A hen in a broody state does not lay eggs, eats hardly, remains in her nest, is very irritable and assumes that she is incubating eggs to hatch, though there is nothing under her.

She then picked out a dozen eggs from the recent pile.  She was a bit superstitious when it came to placing the eggs under the hen for incubation.  She always believed that anything she touched turned male – that is why we do not have a sister.  I was presumed to be the ‘lucky’ one because whenever I placed the eggs under the brooding hen, it mostly resulted in about eight females and four male chicks.

After I left home to join Sainik School, the job for once was given to my younger brother.  It turned out that barring two, rest of the chicks were all males.  That possibly explains why he has two sons today!


After 21 days of incubation under the broody hen, the chicks hatch.  The mother hen led the chicks out, teach them to eat and drink and walk through the farm.  In case of any attack from predators like cats, hawks or crows, the mother hen tucked the chicks under her wings. She also attacked the intruder with her beak.  The rooster immediately came to her rescue and also join the fight to repel the intruder.  As children, we used to artificially color the chicks to red, orange or pink, to scare away the predator birds.

The offering at the annual feast of our ancestral church with St George as the patron saint, was fowl.  Many ladies in the area conditionally promised St George that they would offer Him a fowl in case at least 10 of the dozen chicks survived through.  Now the responsibility to take care of the chicks rested with St George and in case he failed, he lost a fowl during the annual feast!

After about six weeks of rearing the chicks, the mother hen either avoided them or pecked them away as they have now become capable enough to take care of themselves.  They now grow as ‘Free Range’ to produce eggs or to end up as entrée at the family dinner.

With rubber plantations replacing the pineapple and tapioca cultivation in our farmland, forage for the fowls reduced.  Spurt in vehicular traffic on the road in front of our house made it unsafe for the birds.  Easy availability of eggs and chicken meat at affordable prices without hassles made rearing of fowls uneconomical.  All these factors, along with the age of my mother contributed to the sad end of fowl rearing at our home, as also in much of rural Kerala. At the very thought of those childhood days with the ‘Free Range’ brood around, I am flooded with a wave of nostalgia.

PS – Thanks to Veteran Colonel Baby Mathews – the idea for this article emanated from a telephonic conversation with him.

Caring for the Old and Differently-Abled


Our  son attended a training capsule regarding social service, especially dealing with the old and infirm. He showed me a pamphlet and it described how the old and the infirm need to be looked after and it concludes by saying that its more important to serve a person than looking for their disabilities. This is a lesson to be taught to the coming generations.

Amir Khan through his TV Programme ‘Sathyameva Jayathe‘ tried his best to portray the struggles of the differently-abled in India. Did you observe that the stage from where he was preaching all these was not wheel-chair accessible? There was no ramp! I am sure it would not have cost them much compared to the money the programme generated. Another TV presentation of a retirement home shown on a Malayalm channel, it was observed that the houses in the retirement home neither had a ramp nor were wheel-chair accessible. An old lady was shown climbing the steps with the support of a walker assisted by a girl.

Many buildings in India are not wheel-chair accessible; why even that; many of the Indian homes with old people are not differently-abled-friendly. Our own ancestral home; where my 82 year old mother lives, does not have a ramp for entry from the courtyard into the house. She suffers from arthritis and finds it extremely difficult to step in and out of the house.

During trip home in 2013, I had to take my mother to the Government Treasury, Kottayam, the City of Letters, to muster her pension roll. There were two options – one to drop her by car at the lower level and make her climb 14 steps, the other, to drop her by car at the upper level and make her walk 200 meter. After consulting my mother, I opted for the first option. The powers that be at Kottayam are well aware that most of the pensioners are old and infirm and to make the place for mustering be made easily accessible to them would is not a very difficult.

Public transport buses in many countries are the least differently-abled-friendly. One in the best of health needs some effort to board these buses. Many a times, the conductor/ cleaner would push the old and differently-abled into the bus; could be the next bus is close at his heels and does not want to get delayed.

Seniors in these countries are restricted to their homes –  we respect them too much to be send out for a haircut, for manicure or pedicure, for drinking coffee from the nearby coffee shop, buying vegetables, haggling with the vendors etc. We claim that the children are there to do these for them.

Wait a minute, they also have their feelings too and would love to feel the tomatoes they buy, haggle with vendors to save a few rupees, exchange a few gossip, look pretty and smart.

In most homes, the seniors are confined to a corner of a house and have limited movement or accessibility. To say the least, many are swept under the carpet/ bed. Now days a home nurse is provided to take care of them. Some of our friends here in Canada want to admit their old parents to the available old-age homes. This involves paying a hefty amount as admission fees and monthly payments, which will surprise many. Even though one is ready to pay these, many fear for the social and family stigma that the son has pushed the old parents into an old-age home and is enjoying in Canada/America. All these critics will never do anything to mitigate the problem of the seniors, but will be the first ones to raise shackles of family and social values.

During the three week vacation in India, I realised that there is no one at home on weekdays as the adults go to work and children to schools. Spending time was the most difficult as there is none to talk to. Only way to pass time was to see those TV serials or listen to music. There is no worthwhile bookstall in Kottayam which sells English novels – most available were old – which I had read before. Then I realised the plight of my mother and I saw that she had read the day’s newspaper from first to last page and had seen four serials by the time her grandchildren were back from school. There are no activities available for the seniors to indulge in and the infrastructure does not permit them to travel around.


I generally do my chores like groceries, go for a haircut, go to bank etc on weekday mornings – less busy in the Canadian Malls at this time. One sees old couples, dressed in their best, enjoying a cup of tea/coffee, window shopping, talking to other seniors, etc. Some of these seniors are wheel-chair bound. Most of the wheel-chairs are battery powered so that they can move around freely through the Malls.

In case you go for a haircut on a weekday morning, you will find only seniors, waiting for a haircut, a new hair-makeover, pedicure, manicure etc. They would be non-stop chatting with their hair-dresser /beautician about their last outing for a movie, holiday, their dog, their children, grandchildren, and the list goes on. The hair-dresser would be listening, nodding, at times replying to all those small talk. May be the seniors did spend some time, may be his/ her day was spend very fruitfully. At the end of it, the hairdresser/ beautician gets a decent tip for putting up with all the small talk the seniors did. In India if a senior lady goes to a hair dresser or a spa, she is surely bound to invite comments that the lady is now trying to become a beauty queen. The irony is that many a times these comments originate from their own children and grandchildren.


We live in Mississauga, a city adjacent to Toronto. We had Mayor Hazel McCallion until 2014 and she was  was over 92 years old then.  To read more about her, Please Click Here.  A real charismatic lady, who ran the city with an iron hand, drove around in her car etc. Mississauga is the only city in Canada to have a surplus budget and the city boasts of a very high standard of amenities, social life and infrastructure.  Obviously, the real-estate prices are pretty high in comparison to the neighbouring cities.  She spoke at our daughter’s High School Graduation in 2010; what a powerful speaker she is. I wish we also had such powerful seniors back home too.

The public transit in Canada, the public buildings, the malls – all got to be wheelchair accessible by law. Further the Senior Citizens get a good discount on many City Transit systems. Many cannot drive or their licenses have been revoked by the Transport Department due to their medical conditions. These seniors travel on their own without any assistance and do most chores on their own.


The schools reopen for the new session in Kerala after the summer vacation in June every year.  The school opening is marked by the commencement of the monsoon rains and in the low-lying areas of Kottayam, there would invariably be floods and the schools are often closed at least for a fortnight thereafter.

Our father was the headmaster of a school in this area near Kumarakom and once I asked him “Why can’t you have an extended school session till April end and have summer vacation in May and June?”

“This idea was tried out unsuccessfully as the combination of extremely hot summer days and scarcity of drinking water posed major difficulties and hence the proposal was shelved,” he replied.


The low-lying areas of Kottayam are a part of the North Kuttanad, known as the rice bowl of Kerala. This is perhaps the only region in the world where rice farming is done at about 2.5 meter below sea level.  The paddy fields are reclaimed land from the backwaters.  In case one embarks on a boat ride through the backwaters, one can observe that the paddy fields are at a much lower level than the water level of the backwaters.  If you carefully observe the images above or below, you can differentiate the two levels.


Kuttanad meaning ‘low lying lands’ is one of the most fertile regions of Kerala, spread over the districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam, crisscrossed by rivers, canals and waterways.  The region contains the low-lying lands measuring about 25 kilometers East-West and 60 kilometers North-South on the West coast of Kerala. A major portion of this area lies 1 to 2.5 meters below the sea level.  Kuttanad has 1,10,000 hectare area, of which 50 % is reclaimed and 88 % is under agriculture.  The area is characterised by Dyke building in deep waters, land reclamation and maintenance and Rice-Fish rotation farming.


The dykes (bund) construction and maintenance are intricate tasks, for which an array of long and stout coconut poles are hammered deep enough into the lakebed in two rows, about two meters in width enveloping the entire area. It is then fenced with bamboo mats on either side.  The channels of the bund are now filled to the desired height, first with sand, followed by twigs, interspersed with high quality clay dug from the bottom of the lake.  Then water is pumped out and the land is prepared for rice cultivation.

The dykes are now mostly permanent ones built with granites and concrete.  Only a few gaps are left to facilitate flowing in of water after the harvest.  The gaps are filled prior to cultivation as mentioned above.  In the earlier days, water was pushed out from the low lying areas manually using a waterwheel.  Nowadays, the manual labour has been replaced by electric pumps.


During heavy monsoons, the flood waters may breach the bunds and inundate the paddy fields, causing heavy losses to the farmers.

The freshwater environment close to rice fields and the canals provide abundance of Pearl spots (Karimeen for which Kerala is well known for), fresh water giant prawns (Attukonju) and freshwater catfish.

So much for the geography of Kuttanad and its peculiarities.

Let me now relate to a monsoon related necessity. It was customary for our father to gift all four of us with an umbrella, with our name inscribed on it, at the beginning of every school year.  One either lost them or damaged them as the school year passed by. In the autumn of his life, he resumed the old habit and continued with the same gift to all his grandchildren.

In China, gifting your friend an umbrella means you want to end the relationship because umbrella sounds like San in Chinese, which means to separate. Giving a married couple an umbrella as a gift should be avoided in all cases, at least in China. The Chinese believe that if it is raining and you are worried, he or she will get wet, it’s better for both of you to huddle under one umbrella until you reach your partner’s destination.

That brings me to a personal anecdote related to the gifting of umbrellas. A few weeks after assuming command of the unit in the operational area in Rajasthan, our Second-in-Command (2IC) Late Col Suresh Babu approached me and said “There are about 100 umbrellas lying unsold in the Regimental Canteen at Devlali, Maharashtra.  I propose a 50% reduction sale for them.”  

I realised with the unit in the operational area, it may not be feasible to execute the sale.

After analysing the loss being incurred by the canteen and the overall cost of the umbrellas, and taking a cue from my father, I said “Let the Regiment buy all the umbrellas from the Regimental fund and let them be gifted to all children of the unit at the beginning of the academic session.”

As in Kerala, in Devlali too, the monsoons pour down heavily coinciding with the school opening, but luckily there are no floods.  The gift must have impressed all the families and children, back in Devlali as they had not yet met the new Commanding Officer.

In 2009, five years after handing over command, I received a call from Subedar Ravinder Singh.  His son came online and said “Sir, the umbrella you gifted to me at the time of taking over command of the unit has been preserved by me and was always a sign of encouragement for me.  Thank you very much Sir and also for training all the children of our unit on computers.  The introductory training to technology I received at that early age made me explore the world further and it has helped me immensely in my career. Thank you, Sir.

Most of your deeds and actions may not matter much to you, but it matters to the one who is in the receiving end.  The resultant effect will always be as to how the receiver perceives it. And, if the recipient perceives it well, he or she will replicate it in later life, in one form or the other.

Good deeds generally have a chain reaction as do bad deeds. But in case of good deeds the chain is generally much longer than in the case of bad deeds.

Nikhil’s Kerala Trip

In December 2012 our son Nikhil wanted to accompany me on my trip to Kerala as he had two weeks of Christmas vacation.  I asked him the reason behind such a decision and he said that it was to spend a few days with his grandmother, uncles and cousins.  He also wanted to visit all the old temples and churches in Kottayam and what interested him the most was Sree Padmanabha Temple at Trivandrum as he had read a lot about the billions worth of treasure the temple had.


Accordingly we landed early morning in Trivandrum and checked into the Taj Hotel.  He was really astounded by the top quality service rendered by the Darwan (Person guarding the main entrance and receives the guests), the bell boy and the room service, the likes of which he had never experienced in all our travel across North America.  After visiting the temple we headed to Kottayam and stayed with my eldest brother, with whom my mother lived.

During every Kerala visit, I make a trip to Kochi to meet my Sainik (Military) School classmates, Veteran Commander Reginald and Mr Roy John (Collector, Customs) and this time too Reginald was gracious enough to arrange an evening at the Naval Institute.  Nikhil was again surprised that once he was about to empty his Coke glass, it was refilled by the waiter, a privilege he had never enjoyed.

Nikhil interacted with his cousins and became closer to them than before.  They saw a Hollywood movie on DVD.  At the end of the movie, one of the cousins commented that it was for the first time he enjoyed and understood a Hollywood movie.  Nikhil all through the movie paused the DVD, explained to them the context  of the scene with respect to the events in North America and its culture; replayed the scene.  Until then they said they never understood the inner meanings of many scenes and obviously never the subtle humour associated with them.  I told them that my plight is still the same and I do not get the essence of many scenes in the movies as I am not as well versed with the North American society as our children – they go to school in Canada.

Interacting with my elder brother who at that time was the Public Prosecutor and a Communist supporter, helped to enhance Nikhil’s knowledge about the legal system in India.  It also gave him an insight into the growth of Communism in India, especially Kerala, resulting in the first democratically elected communist regime under Mr. EMS Namboodirippadu in 1957.  They held many discussions about the relevance of Communism in the world today and how it played a great role in bringing social changes in Kerala.

They discussed as to how the term ‘Kerala Model’ of development was termed and how Kerala achieved improvements in material living conditions reflected in indicators of social development comparable to those of many developed countries, even though the  per capita income is low.  Achievements such as low levels of infant mortality and population growth, high levels of literacy and life expectancy, along with other factors responsible for such achievements were also discussed.  There was a discourse about contribution of various Communists governments in achieving such development when the rest of India lagged very much behind  (obviously not because of the ‘Gulf Money’ as many from North India think as consolation for their lack of progress).

On our way back to Canada, we came through Chennai as we had planned to spend an evening with Major General PK Ramachandran, who was our Commanding Officer and at that time serving with the Area Headquarters at Chennai.  On reaching his residence, the sight of the guards, the way the lawn was manicured and the fabulous garden, the way he was looked after by the General and his wife and all the services he received from the staff at the General’s home seem to have touched a nerve or two in the teenager.  When we went to bed, Nikhil asked me as to why did I leave all these luxuries behind and quit the army and whether I missed these.  To this I said that I really miss all these, but had to make a choice between the family and the army and hence I migrated to Canada to join the family.  Had I continued in the army, they would have visited me during their vacations for few weeks and I would have visited them for two or the most three months (including furlough) in a year.  I was touched by his reply “That is a real sacrifice for our sake”.

One day at Kottayam, we decided to set off on foot to visit the old temples and churches around my elder brother’s home.  Nikhil was finding it difficult to keep up with me and I asked him whether he was feeling good to walk or should we hire an auto-rickshaw.  He said that he had a heavy breakfast as his grandmother wanted him to put on a few kilos and hence piled up his plate.  He was upset that the granny did not realise that his body structure and metabolism did ensure that he remained thin and it was not that he did not eat enough and he added that granny being a school teacher, who is well read and well-traveled should realise these facts.  “You could have always refused her and could have left the meal half eaten”, I said.  “Your mother is too powerful and I can never say ‘no’ to her.  Look at your eldest brother who is four years elder to you and your elder brother, the city’s public prosecutor, they never said ‘no’ to her and instantly obeyed all what she said.  When she was in Canada with us, you never said ‘no’ to her.  How do you expect a little boy like me stand up to her and ever say a word,” said Nikhil.

 I then realised that this trip was worth more than a thousand times its cost. The value of knowing one’s roots is often incalculable.

A Shainamol


The image above is of A Shainamol, District Collector of Kollam District, Kerala, holding in arms the infant of Martyr Lance Naik B Sudheesh, who hailed from Kollam.  Martyr Lance Naik Sudheesh made the ultimate sacrifice in Siachen on 03 February 2016.  (Please Click Here to Read More).  From the way Shainamol is dressed, her expression, her body language and the way she is carrying the infant, it is evident that it was not for a photo op. 

My gratitude to Veteran Commander MS Vinod Kumar of Indian Navy for prompting me to write an article on Shainamol.  


The fireworks accident at Puttingal temple in Kollam District on 10 April 2016 was the deadliest in the state’s history, but surely will not be the last. Fireworks and accidents are associated not only with the Hindu Temple festivals, but also Christian Churches, who are not lagging behind; in some places, they would out do the Temples. 

The first major fireworks accident reported was way back in 1952 at Sabarimala in which 68 people died and many were maimed. Rough estimates show that in the last 50 plus years, there have been more than 400 such accidents and they have claimed at least 500 lives.  The famous Trissur Pooram in Central Kerala, sponsored by the State run Kerala Tourism, is known for its multiple rounds of competitive firework displays, has been hit thrice with high casualties and injuries.

In 1987, 27 people who were watching a fireworks display at the Jagannatha Temple at Thalassery got run over by a train.  As the fireworks proceeded, the crowd kept retreating until they reached the nearby railway track.  Due to the high decibel levels, they suffered from a temporary Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) and did not hear the approaching train, even though the engine driver of the train had sounded the siren. 

The next malady is parading elephants during these festivals, ending in accidents, resulting in causalities.  The elephants get disoriented with the high decibel sound from the fireworks and the crowds cheering and jeering.  These elephants run amuck, killing or injuring people and damaging property. In some cases causalities have been caused by stampedes. 

Whom are these devotees trying to please?  Which God wants animals to face hardships?  Even the Gods would tremble at the high decibel levels and fire?  Why do all places of worship, irrespective of religion, blare their prayers and hymns at high volume? Else the Gods may not hear! – The Gods possibly suffer from NIHL by now!

The same story gets repeated over the years.  Neither the religious authorities, nor the political leadership want to take any step to curb the practice.   In Indian democracy who would like to antagonise the Gods, taking into account the imperative needs of the vote bank politics.  The only way out is for the Judiciary to step in. 

The judiciary did step in.  The Kerala High Court on 12 April 2016, banned the display of sound-emitting firecrackers in all places of worship in the state after sunset.  It, however, allowed the use firecrackers, not more than 140 decibel, during daytime.  The very same High Court, on 14 April 2016, ruled permitting fireworks display for Trissur Pooram provided there was no unauthorised chemicals used and the sound level not to exceed 125 decibels.  The reason cited for the ruling was that the Pooram celebrations was part of the social and cultural fabric of Trissur.

The irony is that the High Court is well aware that neither the administration nor the police is equipped with any equipment or instruments to monitor the clauses of high decibel or unauthorised chemicals.  In case of any disaster, the Kerala Police is untrained to deal with it, the Fire Department is ill equipped and the Emergency Ambulance services  inadequate.  To compound the problem further, the exit routes would invariably be clogged by various vendors or vehicles parked illegally.

Here too the Judiciary lost and the Gods won.

The developed world too have fireworks display, at a much grander scale, but they employ advanced pyro-techniques.  They have strict regulations on the decibel levels and the chemicals being used.  The regulators are well equipped and ensure applications of the rules.   The Emergency services – Police, Fire and Ambulance – are all stand-by mode in more than adequate numbers.   The area is cleared of any bottlenecks for exit and entry of people.

It is obvious that any social evil cannot be stopped by rules and regulations, but only by self-restraint.   Kerala state boasts of near 100% literacy, but has failed to make its people aware of the disasters awaiting them.  To add fuel to the fire, the emergence of the ‘Hindutva’ Brigade, duly supported by the political party in power at the centre has set their own propaganda machinery.  These propagandists claim that the rules to curtail the celebration of Hindu festivals are the deliberate works of the political leadership and administration, to belittle the majority population!

In the case of the fireworks accident at Puttingal temple, the state was ruled by a Christian Chief Minister; local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) is a state minister and also a Christian; District Collector is a Muslim, so also  the Additional District Magistrate.

With the state going to the polls in the following month, can anyone stop the social evil of the fireworks display at a Hindu Temple?

Shainamol, the District Collector and Shanavas, the Additional District Magistrate had denied permission for the fireworks at Puttingal temple.  They were reportedly bullied and threatened by local politicians and Hindu groups, with communal motives attributed to their actions.  The temple authorities managed to get the support of political parties and coerced the Police and went ahead with the fireworks, despite the ban from the collector.  Since it was election time, the temple authorities were confident that no one would stop them.  It left over 100 devotees dead and over 300 injured. 

Kerala Police was quick to transfer the blame for the accident on to the District Administration.  Shainamol courageously stood her ground and went public through the media, explaining her position.  The political masters did not digest this act and the State Cabinet censured Shainamol for airing her views in public.  She did not relent and did not budge from her position.


Shainamol comes from a devout Muslim family in Kerala.   Her father S Abu and mother PK Sulekha are proud parent today, as three of their children qualified the civil services exams.  Her elder sister A Shaila is the Mumbai District Collector and her elder brother A Akbar is the Superintendent in Kerala Police Crime Branch.

Her father Abu, a retired school teacher, is all praise for his three children, crediting their determination, hard work and constant prayers for their success. He is ever thankful to Allah for letting his children reap the benefit of their hard work.  Abu’s advice to parents is that the children should be given ample opportunity for studies, a congenial atmosphere at home, time and basic amenities.

The Muslim community of Kerala are now realising that advancement in social and economic fields can come through education.  Shainamol believes that the future belongs to young people and therefore there is an urgent need for the Muslim community to get rid of its backwardness. She opines that there is a need for an attitudinal change with more emphasis on education and employment generation programmes.

Let us all stand together and support Shainamol in all her future endeavours. 


The Metallurgist

Across the street from our house lived Shankara Panikkan, the village blacksmith.  He had a foundry adjacent to his home.  The foundry flooring was covered with fine sand, black in colour over years of heating and cooling and the charcoal powder from the furnace mixing with it.  The furnace had a leather airbag at one end, which was compressed and released to force air to the burning charcoal.   The compression was done by way of pulling a rod about six feet long projecting over the Panikkan’s head, when he was seated in front of it.  The other end of the rod was connected to the bottom of the leather airbag with an iron rope as shown in the image.  On the right of the furnace was a small water tank, to quench the heated metal and to the left was a small anvil.


Everyone in the village used to come to the Panicken to get their kitchen knives and farm tools sharpened and he used to charge a rupee per item.  At the age of three (1965), I was attending the village Anganvadi (Kindergarten) and the classes used to end by afternoon.  In the evening I used go to the Panicken’s foundry and watch him at work or play with his youngest son Krishnan, who attended the Anganvadi with me.

Watching Panicken at work was quiet entertaining for me as I enjoyed the sound the forced air from the foundry’s air bag made while it hit the burning charcoal.  I used to observe Panicken heating the edge of an implement to be sharpened until it became bright red or yellow, then move it to the anvil and bang it a few times with his hammer and again heat it on the furnace.  At times he would put the heated metal in the sand and wait for it to cool.  The final action was the one I enjoyed the most.  Panicken would heat the piece and then would immerse it in water.  The enjoyable part was the hissing sound it made when the hot metal touched water.  The entire operation was executed with  Panicken sitting in the same position in front of the furnace and he never moved until he quenched the metal in the water tank.  At that age I never understood why the Panicken did all these, just to sharpen a small sickle or an axe, that too for a rupee.

The main source of income for Panicken was not from sharpening tools, but from his lathe, housed in a shed between his house and the foundry.  To turn the lathe there was a wheel of a bullock cart attached at one end, which had to be rotated manually at a particular speed.  Panicken’s elder son Thankan, was an expert at the task.

Villages around our area grew sugarcane as a major crop (rubber plantations now).  The customers at the lathe were the sugarcane crusher owners.  In those days the crusher had two vertical steel rollers, rotated by a bull going around it in circles.  The metallurgy was not that well developed and the rollers used to get worn out, especially in the middle, due to the extensive pressure the passing sugarcane exerted.  As the rollers lost their cylindrical shape, their effectiveness reduced drastically and had to be turned on the lathe, especially at the two ends to make them cylindrical.  Panicken used to charge 20 rupees per roller he turned on his lathe, but this bonanza came to Panicken on a few days, that too only during the crushing season.

The day Panicken got the bonanza, the evenings would be more entertaining, especially for the neighbourhood (no one had a radio then).  Panicken that evening would visit the ‘Kallu Shop (Toddy bar)’.  (Toddy is an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees by fermentation).  He would return home drunk by nightfall and would sing folk songs and Hindu devotional songs.  The way he used to sing would put any of today’s professional singers to shame.  His favourite songs were the one he sang in praise of Lord Aiyyappa of Sabarimala.  Panicken never undertook the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, but I remember Thankan and Krishnan undergoing the ritual.

In 1971, I joined Sainik (Military) School in Thamizh Nadu and my evenings at the Panicken’s foundry came to an end.  After four years, Panicken passed away and the foundry became silent.  His elder son Thankan now runs a metal fabrication unit with modern welding and cutting machines in the very same place the foundry stood.  The younger son Krishnan runs an auto repair garage in the town.

In 1996, while attending the Technical Staff Course at Pune, we had metallurgy as a subject and was taught by the head of the department Dr Kulkarni.  That was when I learnt that steel is a solid solution of carbon in iron and it is impossible to produce 100% iron like we cannot get 100% alcohol (Chemistry students would understand).  The closest to 100% iron the humanity has ever made stands in the form of the Ashoka Pillar located next to Qutab Minar in Delhi.  100% iron would never rust as there is no carbon in it, but the technology of making it has been lost as neither it was passed down the generations nor documented.  In case the technology was available today, iron would have neither rusted nor corroded and the paint industry would have not survived.  The ship’s hull would have remained intact and would not have suffered corrosion from the saline sea water and hence the ship-breaking industry would not have flourished.  Bridges and buildings would have had longer life as steel used in them would not degrade.

Dr Kulkarni taught us about various types of steels like ferrite, austenite, cementite, pearlite, etc, all based on their molecular structure and carbon content.  Then he came on to the applications of these types of steel and the first one discussed was making of a sword.  He explained that to get a sharp, strong and fine edge, one got to heat it to certain degree (over 500 degrees Celsius) and then cool it under certain pressure and the heat it to a certain degree and then cool it in the absence of oxygen, then heat it and cool it under a certain pressure, then heat it and quench it in water.  Dr Kulakarni went into details of each action describing the temperature to be attained in degrees Celsius and the pressure to be exerted in kilo Pascal, the tools to be used and so on.

At the end of the class, my question to Dr Kulkarni was that how come Shankara Panicken could execute all these tasks, sitting in one position, without using any of the gauges or pressure hammers, but achieve the very same results.  Dr Kulkarni explained that Panicken had done everything exactly as what he had taught.  His eyes could recognise the temperature of the metal with the shades of red and yellow glow the hot iron emitted.  His pressure hammer was his hand as he exactly knew how much pressure should be exerted on to the hot metal.  He would cool a metal in the absence of oxygen by pushing it down into the sand on the foundry floor.  Then Dr Kulkarni asked me whether Panicken’s sons know the technique, I said “no”.  Then Dr Kulkarni said that the mistake of the Panicken was that he never documented what he knew.

Ayyappan Kovil

(Suspension Bridge in August with the catchment area filled after monsoons)

During my Kerala visit in December 2015, along with my elder brother and sister-in-law, we visited our cousin Raju at Kattappana in Idukki District. He cultivates cardamom and pepper, the main cash crops of the region. Kattappana, the largest town of Idukki District, is the main trading centre for cardamom and pepper. The Spices Board of India has its office here and also a Spices Park. There are many tea-estates too in the area.


The drive from Kottayam (3m above sea level) to Kattappana (1100m above sea level), is about 100 km and the road winds its way through the Western Ghats, revealing an uncanny mystic beauty of the countryside side all around. At the lower levels of the hills is mostly rubber plantations and as you gain altitude, the cultivation turn into pepper, ginger, cardamom, coffee and tea. The natural beauty that the drive offers will surely mesmerise and captivate the beholder and the only colour one gets to see is Green.

During our Sainik School days in the 70s we often trekked to Munnar, Thekkady and Idukki. In those days, the area in and around Kattappana had only jeepable dirt track connecting a few villages and homes were not electrified. The scenario has changed a great deal today with all homes electrified and most villages connected with black-top roads.

At lunch, Raju said that we must see the suspension bridge at Ayyappan Kovil (Temple of Lord Ayyappa) on our way back. After lunch, Raju took on to the wheels and we drove to Thoppippala, a village along the Kottayam-Kattappana road. In the 80s, Raju ran a jeep taxi service in the area with a rickety jeep. The jeep used to carry about two dozen people with the stuff they bought from Kattappana Market to their homes in the remote villages, connected through the dirt tracks. I was once a passenger in his jeep and the way he negotiated the hair-pin bends and near 60 degrees slopes still lingers in my memory.


The car veered off from Thoppippala, to a stone-topped dirt track through the reserve forest, home to teak and rose wood trees. Only the local jeep drivers can drive through such a road and with the expertise of Raju, the ride was very smooth. After driving about 5 km, we reached the suspension bridge, the longest one in Kerala State. The bridge about 200 m in length and about a meter wide, facilitates the locals to cross the Vellilamkandam River which flows under it.

(Suspension Bridge in December when the waters recede)

The need for the suspension bridge arose as the catchment area of the Idukki Dam, constructed in the 70’s with Canadian aid, covered Ayyappan Kovil Village. The area was home to about 500 families then, who were relocated as the entire area got submerged during the next monsoons (June to October).

(View from the Suspension Bridge – North East Side with a bridge on the old road)

The old alignment of the Kottayam-Kattappana road traversed through this submerged area and the old road with a bridge is visible when the waters recede. The suspension bridge provides a stunning view of the mountains of the Western Ghats with its forests and plantations. The beauty of the surrounding region is exquisite and any visitor would be drowned in its pristine glory. I couldn’t help feeling that the tagline for Kerala Tourism, “Gods Own Country” must have been coined by someone who visited this area.

(View from the Suspension Bridge – North West Side)

(View from the Suspension Bridge – South Side)

The area does not attract many tourists, possibly due to its limited accessibility and hence not disturbed and littered. Some locals run a raft boat made of bamboo for tourists, but has not yet been commercialised. The suspension bridge is undoubtedly an attraction that should be visited before it becomes popular amongst tourists. The area surrounding the suspension bridge is undoubtedly a paradise for the romantics, an adventure terrain for the outdoor enthusiasts and a serene land for a nature lover. The best way to reach here would be to hire a jeep at Kanchiyar on the Kottayam-Kattappana road and drive to the suspension bridge through the forest track.


About 5 km from the suspension bridge is located Kovilmala (Temple Hill), the only area in Kerala to be ruled by a ‘King’. The current King, Raja Raman Mannan ascended the throne in 2012. He is an economics graduate from Maharaja’s College, Kochi and worked in the Forest Department before he ascended the throne. The area attracts a lot of visitors, especially with the recent media coverage about the King and the tribe. Mammootty, Malayalam movie star visited the King and the tribe in 2012. The King discussed the current situation of his community with the superstar and sought his support for higher education of the children of his tribe. Mammootty promised that he would do his best to help the tribe.

The Mannan Tribe is a peace loving community which has joined the mainstream. When they were with Travancore Kingdom (pre-independence), they had the sole right over harvesting wild cardamom and other spices and hill produces, which were the key sources of income. Today, the tribe has lost its special rights over cardamom and spices and is generally dependent on collecting forest produce for their livelihood. Some of them have taken to other jobs and agriculture.

The tribe, currently around 50,000 and dwindling, has a rich legacy. Goddess Meenakshi, principal deity of Madurai Meenakshi temple, is their deity. There are many folklores about their association with the Pandya kings who ruled from Madurai during 13th century. Later they are believed to have enjoyed the patronage of Poonjar and later Venad Kingdoms. Annexation of Venad by Travancore brought the Mannans under their control. Travancore kings gave Mannan Kings special titles and the right to wear bangles and carry a cane as mark of their position. As per the Kerala State Government’s policy of allowing the tribe to preserve its customs, the position of king is accepted on certain matters. The Kerala government had built a house for the former Mannan King Ariyan at Kovilmala. The funeral of former king was held with state honours.

The King is respected in public society as the leader of the tribe. He is believed to be the protector, administrator and spiritual leader of the tribe. The King commands a lot of respect and also settles disputes among members.   He has power to ostracise members of the community who fail to obey orders. The king is assisted by nine ministers who help him arrive at decisions and implement them. When it comes to criminal and civil disputes, they follow the Indian laws.

Despite claims of government officials of spending huge amounts of money for the upliftment of the Mannan tribe, locals say a majority of Mannans still continue to lead a primitive life. Large sections of the community are addicted to liquor and there are reports that Ariyan, the king who recently died, had developed liver complications from heavy drinking.

In case you plan for holidays in Munnar or Thekkady, you must take a detour and visit Kattappana and Kovilmala. There are many resorts that have sprung up in the area to cater for tourists. These resorts are pretty comfortable and mostly located adjacent to rivulets or streams. The area, having temperate climate, can be visited all through the year. The monsoons (June to October) brings in a lot of rains and in case you do not enjoy the showers, these months may be avoided.

Stone Age Days of My Life

When our son had accompanied me  on our trip to India in 2012, we stayed at our ancestral home, inherited by my younger brother (a Syrian Orthodox Christian tradition, also followed by most Christian households in Kerala), wherein the youngest son inherits the ancestral home and along with it the responsibility to look after the aging parents.  This could be because he is the one most likely to outlive the parents as in the olden days marriages were consummated at an early age and the prevalence of deadly diseases with poor healthcare, in some cases the parents outlived their children.

We spent a few days there and our son, prowling around the backyard, was trying to place the tamarind trees, jack-fruit trees, breadfruit tree, chicken pen, cow shed etc (almost all of them have disappeared now), based on all the stories I had narrated to him about our growing up days.  He suddenly found a stone, looking more like a ‘Shiva Ling‘ as per his perception and knowledge of Hindu mythology.  He imagined that the earlier owners of the property could have been Hindus and they must have left the stone and our family might have stowed it away safely in the backyard.

He called me out and sought my explanation about the origin of this stone.  I explained to him that it was the ‘Aattu Kallu’, a circular base stone with a hole, six inch in diameter and depth, chiselled out to make space to put in soaked rice and lentils to be ground for making batter for Dosa and Idli.  The cylindrical stone applies pressure while being manually churned around in the hole on to the rice and lentils, thus crushing it into a smooth paste.

The kid could not grasp the entire operation as I could make out from his expressions.  The only way to make him understand was to hold a demonstration (experiences in conducting lecture-demonstrations while in the army came handy).  I requested my sister-in-law to soak some rice and lentils overnight for the demonstration scheduled next morning.

Seeing his curiosity, I decided to introduce  a few more items of interest.  Outside the kitchen in the work area, there was the ‘Ammi Kallu’. I took him there to explain as to how the wet-grinding of shredded coconut and spices was done on a two feet by a foot rectangular stone platform with the help of stone cylinder of about six inches diameter and a foot in length.  It is an art to move the stone cylinder over the platform without rotating it.  Rotating the stone cylinder meant less pressure on the material to be ground and hence additional time spent.  My sister-in-law was gracious enough to conduct a demonstration of its utilisation (after she kept aside the Sumeet Mixie), and I conducted the accompanying lecture.


There is also an interesting cultural association.  The Thamizh Brahmin groom inserts the toe ring (Metti) on the bride’s toes when the bride places her foot on the Ammi Kallu.  It is believed that as per the Indian myths that the Ammi Kallu is a magical stone, and the coconut and spices ground on its surface is believed to be healthier than the ones done in an electric grinder.


In the corner of the work area was the ‘Ural‘, unused for many years, given way again for the more efficient modern electric mixer grinder.  Ural is again a stone cylinder about two feet tall and two feet in diameter.  On the top surface, similar to the Attu Kallu, a hole, six inch in diameter and depth, chiselled out to hold rice, or coffee beans.  De-husking of raw or boiled and sun-dried rice was done in the Ural.  Powdering of rice or the coffee beans or spices was also executed here.  It was strictly meant for dry grinding only.  There is a five feet tall baton made of hardwood, with a metallic cover at the base, which is lifted up and pounded on the material inside the hole.  Perfecting the art of not spilling the contents while pounding is developed over time – to start with for any learner, the speed of pounding is a bit slow, but with practice, the speed really picks up.  In my younger days I have seen two ladies doing this in tandem.  Real precision timing and coordination is required for each pounding, else it could spell disaster.  With a small quantity of rice, I did a demonstration, but the contents did spill out.


According to the Hindu mythology, one day Yashoda,   lost her motherly patience after a few pranks by little Lord Krishna.   To keep him quiet, she tied him to an Ural and went into the kitchen to attend to her chores.  Now alone, Krishna dragged the Ural and passed between two large trees. The Ural got stuck between the trees and with one yank, he succeeded in freeing himself and also in bringing down the trees. The trees were in fact two Gandharvas (male spirits with superb musical skills, husbands of the Apsaras [beautiful, supernatural female beings]), who were transformed into trees by a curse by the sage Narada, with a condition that they would be reincarnated by the touch of Krishna.

Next morning, we did the wet grinding practice; I demonstrated the activity and our son followed it up.  Here again coordination is required to rotate the stone cylinder with one hand and push the material into the hole with the other.  We used to take turns, in teams of two, one doing the cylinder rotation and the other pushing the material.  I explained to our son that the secret behind the well toned arm muscles of his dad and the three uncles were courtesy these stone implements.

A Martyr’s Funeral


It was an emotional farewell for Lieutenant Colonel Elambulassery Kalarikkal Niranjan, who laid down his life in the terrorist attack at the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot. He was laid to rest with full military honours at his ancestral home at Elambulasserry village in the Palakkad district of Kerala state.

The Kerala Government was represented at the cremation by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. The Kerala Government give a solatium of Rs 50 lakh to the family of the martyr. The State Government also decided to give a government job to the martyr’s wife and to take care of the educational expenses of their daughter.

The State Government decided to name the Industrial Training Institute at Elambilassery, the martyr’s village, after him. The stadium being built on the Palakkad Medical College campus will also be named in his honour.

The State Government also directed that at 11 AM, the time of the funeral, all the schools in the state to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the martyr. Surely, the teachers at the schools would have explained as to why a minute’s silence is being observed. It was indeed a great step to create awareness among children about the sacrifices of Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan and other soldiers defending the country. These children would indeed grow up as patriotic citizens of the nation, with respect for the soldiers in their minds.

These steps by the Kerala state need to be commended. There was hardly any mention of the event in the national print and electronic media. One hopes that other states too would take a cue from this.

As seen during all the martyrs’ funerals, the public had turned up in large numbers here too. The last rites were delayed as there was a heavy rush of people to pay their respects to the martyr. Serpentine queues were visible outside the School where the body was placed before family members conducted the final rites.

It is felt that the Central and State Governments should have ordered flying the national flag at half-mast in honour of all the martyrs of the Pathankot terror attack. Some may opine that there is no need to go into mourning every time for a fallen soldier. Please remember what French Nobel laureate Albert Camus said “Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood: never”. The least we can all do is to pay our respect to the fallen soldier and what better way than flying the national flag at half-mast. It does not cost anything, but will surely enhance our national esteem and pride.


The image above showing flags flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for the fallen soldier, was taken in front of the McDonald’s outlet across the street from our home on 23 October 2014. Both the Canadian national flag and the McDonald’s flags are at half-mast. This was done to honour Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who fell to the bullets of a terrorist, at the National War Memorial. This brings out the real national character of the Canadians and exemplifies their regard for their soldiers.

The veterans need to be better organised, have to be present in large numbers and facilitate smooth conduct of the funeral proceedings. They were hardly visible during the live telecasts, or in case were present, they were not wearing their medals and cap and were not in any group or formation to be noticed. The only veteran I could make out was Major AK Ravindran of NSG (Sivarasan hunt fame and movie director).

The Malayalam print and electronic media gave ample coverage of the funeral with almost all the channels telecasting it live. Many a time, the camera crew were jostling for space to get the best angle. There is an immediate need for the Information Ministry to coordinate the efforts for such occasions. The national broadcaster is best equipped for the job and also have better commentators on their rolls, compared to the vernacular media. A single feed can be provided to all the channels, thereby ensuring better quality transmission across the globe.

After the funeral, Kerala Police arrested Anwar Sadhik, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, for his Facebook post, seen as promoting enmity among people, insulting a martyr and undermining the Indian democracy. Claiming to be a journalist, Sadhik had posted derogatory comments about Lt Col Niranjan on Facebook. His post in Malayalam translated as “Good- there goes one more trouble. Now his wife will be given a job and financial aid. Ordinary folks get nothing. Stinking democracy!”

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code stipulates that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

In the light of the above, one needs to consider the editorial by the Indian Newspaper Telegraph, raising a question whether Martyr Niranjan’s last rites deserved state honours and thousands paying their respects to him. The writer dares to ask, “does he deserve to be honoured?” He even says “An officer like Niranjan should be taken to task even after his death, so that an example is set for others not to break discipline and risk lives.”

Now, shouldn’t the Government of India invoke Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code against The Telegraph?

When will the Government of India issue a policy guideline to the journalists, newspapers and media houses about their roles in similar situations?

Will the Government of India issue a policy regarding flying of the national flags at half-mast in honour of a fallen soldier as existing in most countries?

Will the Veteran community organise and turn up in strength to grace similar occasions in future?


Thali, Minnu, Mangalsutra and the Military

Mangalsutra is considered as the symbol of marriage in India. The word Mangalsutra is derived from Sankrit word ‘Mangal’ which meaning holy and ‘Sutra’ meaning thread. The tradition of tying Mangalsutra is followed among almost all the Indian communities. It is a chain or a thread with a pendant tied by the groom around the bride’s neck on the marriage day. There are a wide variety of Mangalsutra used by various communities, castes and sub castes. Nowadays there are trendy Mangalsutras in the market with expensive stones like diamonds and ruby. The days of a Digital Mangalsutra too appears imminent.

How can you leave the soldier and his spouse behind?

Here is my version of a Military Mangasutra! Has any jewellery designer beaten me on this account and has come out with it in the market already? Else I hereby reserve the patent!!!
This design is based on the Identity Discs worn by soldiers around the globe. Please Click Here to read more about it.
In Canada and USA, some military spouses and fiancés wear their partner’s Identity Discs as a symbol of love towards their partner deployed in a far away land. Some Veterans post retirement continue to wear their Discs.
Regarding the history of this photograph, please Click Here to read my blog Fire-Fire-Fire.

Pennu Kettu‘ is the colloquial Malayalam equivalent of wedding, which literally means tying of the bride. The Mangalsutras used in Kerala, the Hindus use ‘Thaali’ and the Christians ‘Minnu’. The Muslims in North Kerala (Malabar), traditionally do not have a Thaali. However, nowadays, on the wedding day, the groom does put a gold chain around the bride’s neck, which some brides preserve like the Thaali. The Muslims brides from South Kerala (Travancore) do wear the Thaali.

In the Nair community, women had a special status as they followed a matriarchal system of inheritance of wealth and property. Many Nair families follow this tradition even today though some have moved on to some form of patriarchal system. The Nair males had no role in succession and had no control over the property and were mere managers of the property.

Until 1930s, a Nair lady could enter into cohabitation (live-in relationship) with men of higher castes or even among Nairs and this co-habitation was called as Sambandam. The male gave a white mundu (dhothi) to the lady. The acceptance of mundu was considered as permission to enter into the lady’s bedroom. This mundu given at the Sambandam came to be known as the ManthrakodiManthra meaning blessed and Kodi meaning new. When a lady wanted to terminate a relationship with the man, the mundu could be returned or a thread could be taken out of mundu and broken into two pieces, symbolising end of relationship.

The mother held absolute right over the children and the children never took the name or lineage of their father. Today the practise of Sambandam has been replaced by the institutionalised marriage. Like the Nairs, all other Hindus of Kerala solemnise their wedding by the groom giving the Manthrakodi to the bride. The Thaali is sometimes referred to as Ela-Thaali translated as Leaf-Thaali, because of its peculiar shape like a banyan leaf. It is said that the shape of the Thaali resembles a banyan leaf because a banyan tree itself is a symbol for support, shelter, and care.

Malabar Marriage Act of 1896 was the first legislation to legitimise Sambandham among Nairs.   The act did not achieve the desired results. It was followed by Travancore Nair Act of 1912, 1925 and the Cochin Nair Act of 1920 which made Sambandham illegal and broke the matriarchal system of inheritance among Nairs. Mannath Padmanabhan, a social reformist, exhorted Nair males to find jobs, earn income and take responsibility of their wives and children. EMS Namboothiripad, the first elected Communist Chief Minister of India, exhorted all men to take up the role of producer and provider for their families.

Most Namboothiris – the Brahmins of Kerala – have a patriarchal family system, barring a few with matriarchal system. The marriage ceremony is called ‘Veli‘ and is a four day affair. The specialty is that the Thali Kettu (tying of the Thaali) is done by the bride’s father. Out of the eight different marriage styles for Indian Brahmans, the only style which needs the bride’s father to do Thaali Kettu was opted by Namboothiris and is called Kantthasoothram. The common practice among Indian Brahmans is that the groom does the Thaali Kettu and is called Mangalyasoothram. Namboothiris consider Kantthasoothram better as it enables their ladies to perform Bali and Sraadham (rituals conducted post-funeral to enable the spirits to reach heaven) of her parents.

The Thaali Kettu, originally a Namboothiri ritual, was later on adopted by most Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The Christians called it the ‘Minnu‘. Christians of Kerala are believed to have been converted to Christianity by St Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Christ in the first century.  The Minnu is a pendant with a cross, the symbol of Christianity, on a gold medallion shaped like a heart. The heart symbolises the concept of love, and the cross reflects that the relationship between a husband and wife must follow the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church. The Minnu is put on seven strands of thread from the Manthrakodi. Seven represents the bride, the groom, the couple’s parents and the Church.

The brother-in-law of the groom prepares the thread the evening before the wedding. The knot to be tied is the Aan-Kettu, meaning the male knot, which in fact is the reef knot.   The brother-in-law being experienced with his wedding, acts as a coach to the groom and make the groom practise the knot until achieving perfection. Many grooms tremble while tying the knot as all the eyes and cameras in the church are trained on to the knot being tied. Placing the Manthrakodi upon the bride’s head symbolises the groom accepting the responsibility to protect and cherish his bride. This is a tradition adapted from the Nairs. A woman from the groom’s family, usually the sister or a cousin of the groom, stands behind the bride once the Thaali is tied, signifying the reception into the household of her husband. In some Christian communities, the Minnu remains on the thread for one week until the groom’s mother cuts the thread, and the Minnu is moved onto a chain.

The Muslim wedding in Kerala is an amalgamation of Kerala Nair and Islamic traditions. In India, Islam first came to Kerala through the spice trade with the Arabs who took the spices of Kerala to Europe. It is believed that the first mosque of India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, was built in 629 (during the life of Prophet Muhammad) in Kerala.

Oppana - the entertainment dance popular in Malabar | Explore Malabar | Kerala Tourism, India
Traditionally, Oppana, a folk dance form specific to the Muslim community of North Kerala, is performed the day before the wedding day. The dance is generally presented by young female relatives of the bride, who sing and dance around the bride clapping their hands. The aim is to entertain the bride who sits in the centre, dressed in all finery, covered with gold ornaments. Today, Oppana in some form or the other is practised amongst Muslims all over Kerala. On the wedding day the Nikkah ceremony is conducted – the official marriage contract – either at the mosque or at the bride’s home. The Nikkah ceremony is mostly all male affair. After the Nikkah ceremony, the Muslims is Southern Kerala have a ceremony for tying the Thaali in the presence of all the relatives and friends.

Marathi Mangalsutra is a combination of black and gold beads in a double layer which symbolises Shiva and Shakti along with a pendant. The black beads chain with diamond pendant is usually used by the Marwaris, Gujaratis etc but it is becoming a widely used trend.

In Telugu communities the Mangalsutra contains coral beads, gold coins etc along with the main pendant and a gold chain.

In Thamizh Brahmans the Thali or Thirumangalyam is a pendent which is worn on a thread dipped in turmeric water.

The Kashmiri Brahmins have a very different way of wearing Mangalsutra called Dejhoor, which goes through the ears.

The tradition of tying Mangalsutra is the symbol of holy matrimony in India. In today’s India people prefer less jewellery and because of this trend people wear Mangalsutra only to family functions, weddings etc. India is famous for its rich and varied traditions and all Indians must be proud of such traditions. It is the duty of the generations to come to preserve such unique customs and traditions.

First, Middle and Last Name

My name at school and in the Indian Army read Koduvath Reji as our family is known by the name Koduvath. (Please click here to read more about Koduvath family).


Syrian Christians of Kerala generally have three parts in their names. First comes the family name, followed by the father’s name and then the christen name. In my case it was only the family name and my christen name. As a teenager, I asked my father as to how we all siblings had only two names and a very short christen name. Being a Headmaster, I got a typical reply from him that the most common question one gets in primary language classes is “What is your name?” He did not want his children to get confused in answering the very first question and hence to make our lives a bit easier, gave us all easy to write names. Think of my plight had my name been a typical Syrian Christian name like ‘Kuruvilla‘, ‘Philipose‘, ‘Punnoose‘ or ‘Zachariah‘.

In Malayala Manorama newspaper in Kerala, one often finds a few change of name advertisements in the classified columns; mainly for women changing their surnames to match their husband’s. In some cases it is to put the surname after the christen name and a few for astrological and numerological reasons.

Other than the above, there may be a variety of interesting reasons for a name change. Sometimes someone did not take a liking to the name their parents gave; in some cases the couple would go for a ‘double-barrel’ name, hyphenating the surnames of both the partners. Some do it to Anglicise their names as in a few cases the way their names are pronounced in North America may end up as an unpleasant word in their language or else to make it easier for the folks to pronounce one’s name. At times some feel that their name is a liability while seeking a job and at times it is to beat an identity theft.

Our mother, Pallathettu Kurian Sosamma married our father Koduvath Varkey George in 1956. They both were teachers and neither changed their names. Our father believed that everyone must maintain their individuality and identity and marriage is not a sacrificial altar, which demands one to surrender one’s name. Further, the expenses and hassles involved as per him were also not worth the trouble. Hence, none of his daughters-in-law, including my wife, changed their names after marriage. My wife remained Marina Mani, the surname she got from her father’s name.

Many officers in the Indian Army change their wife’s name after marriage at their own will. They had their documentations (Part II Orders) of their marriage done and replaced the surname of their wife with the husband’s surname. It was surprising to many when I insisted that my wife will maintain her maiden name in all her documentations. I realised most officers were unaware of the procedure for a change of name and that a marriage under any law does not authorise a change of name. The soldiers too followed the simple methodology of a marriage Part II Order to change their spouse’s name and the uninformed officers did sign them off!

After marriage Marina was addressed as Mrs Reji as everyone in the army quite reasonably presumed Reji to be my surname. Marina despised it, but settled down to accepting it as time passed. I named our daughter Nidhi and Marina was arguably unhappy as a disyllabic ‘single’ name appeared dreadfully incomplete. I insisted that she would neither take on my first name nor surname with the reasoning that it obviates a ‘change of name’ problem after marriage.

My wife then named her Nidhi Susan, as my mother’s first name ‘Sosamma’ is the vernacularised form of ‘Susan’.  Now she is Nidhi Parkinson-Watson with a hyphenated last name. When our son was born, Marina took on the responsibility of naming him and he ended up with a very complete name ‘Nikhil George Koduvath.

When we had to apply for the emigration process to Canada, the first requirement was to obtain a passport. I conveniently swapped my first and the last names to become Reji Koduvath from Koduvath Reji. Thus I ended up with two identities, one Indian and the other Canadian. The last name did pose a bit of an issue for our daughter in Canada. Whenever she went for any documentation and when she gave her last name as Susan, they would reconfirm it as Susan is a common first name in Canada.

On assuming command of the Regiment, I insisted on correct and complete documentation for all soldiers of the unit. There I realised that numerous gaps existed in their documentation, particularly those related to marriage and child birth. In the next Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to soldiers,) I decided to educate everyone about the procedure and need for correct documentation, especially as most soldiers’ families were nuclear and many had moved away from the traditional joint family system.

How to change your name legally in Punjab? - Procedure, Affidavit  Submission, Newspaper Publication, Gazette Notification, Charges,  Application Forms

I explained to them the correct legal procedure for a change of name as applicable in India (as also in many developed countries.) First step is to make an affidavit for the change of name and submit it to a District Court or a Magistrate. The next step is to publish advertisements announcing the name change in two local newspapers. The last step is to get the same published as a notification in the Official Gazette of one’s state.

At the end of it, one soldier from Rajasthan raised an issue that in their area, the second name of every girl was ‘Kumari’ and when they got married, it changed to ‘Devi’. He gave an example that Ritu Kumari after marriage will automatically become Ritu Devi as per their customs. I replied that until change of name is done legally, she would remain Kumari (virgin) for life! I instructed all officers and soldiers who did change their spouse’s name to complete all legal proceedings for change of name.

In Canada, when you visit the family physician or the pharmacy, the search key-field that they use is the last name. I always request them to search with our home telephone number as Nikhil and I have a common last name, Nidhi and Marina have different last names.

Once at our Pharmacy, the technician searched with the home telephone number as the key-field and five names came up. She commented that all the three males of the family have a common last name and both the females have different last names. You must be wondering who the third male member of our family is. It is Maximus Koduvath, our dog, who also gets his medication from the same pharmacy based on the veterinarian’s prescription. Maximus is a Canadian and he has to have a last name.


Police & Media


It is a common practise for the Police in India to ‘show off’ their catch and also have the names of all the police personnel who participated in the investigation published in the print media. Luckily, the Indian Army does not follow this practice and one would rarely hear the name of the army unit or the persons involved in any such incidents.

Often the police parade the persons arrested, at times with their faces covered and the media goes full blast to carry out their ‘trial’ and declare the verdict. No one ever cares to issue any clarifications or do any sort of damage control in case the media trial is proved wrong. The way the media trial affected the Arushi murder case was well brought out in the Hindi movie made on the subject.

In case of the Sheena Bora murder case too, the media competed with each other to hype up the case and create a frenzy. There were always some ‘un-named police source’ that was quoted to give authenticity for all their saucy news stories, all in the name of Television Rating Points (TRPs). The media has not only put pressure on the investigating police agencies, but have also been successful in creating an opinion in the public’s mind that a woman, who could pass off her daughter as her sibling, ought to have murdered her.

After the police filed the charge sheets in the TP Chandrasekharan murder case in Kerala, a leading Malayalam Newspaper published an article on 14 August, 2012, with details of all the police officers involved in investigation and charge-sheeting of the persons involved. The details included the names, appointment, location and seniority. To top it all, the article was published with photograph of these Police Officers.

Why are they naming these police officers and compromising their identity and safety? Have you ever seen Canadian or American press ever doing this? When will these ‘James Bond’ journalists ever learn? Why is a reputed Malayalam newspaper publishing such articles? Is this the journalistic Dharma these journalists are supposed to uphold? Is it a deliberate leak by the Police to score some brownie points or for publicity sake?

These were a few questions which came to my mind on reading this journalistic blast. The way the media helped the attackers of Mumbai carnage (26/11) is fresh in our minds. If so, it is high time the Police across the country do a rethinking about their media relations.

The relationship between journalists and the police is a delicate one — a dance in which each party moves gingerly, trying to avoid stepping on the other’s toes. It is a symbiotic relationship in that the police and journalists need each other. But each has a clearly defined role guided by in-house policies, ethical considerations and time-tested practices.

The police disseminate information to further investigations, warn citizens of sudden dangers and educate the public about how to stay safe. In the Internet age, there are now more ways than ever for law-enforcement agencies to accomplish these goals. But police still depend on the media to quickly reach a large segment of the public.

Journalists are citizens, too. So they have an interest in informing the public and giving people the information they need and be responsible members of the community.

In Canada, the police take special care about their press releases and it is handled by a specialised Media Relations Team. This team advises on matters relating to media, community, public and government relations. They also develop, implement and monitor corporate policy, objectives and standards for corporate communication.   The role of the Media Relations Team is to provide information to the various media outlets and facilitate the dissemination of information to the citizens that they serve.

Special care is taken by the Media Relations Team to ensure that the identity of their Police Officers is not compromised. In most cases we do not hear the names of Police Officers responsible for the investigations, let alone seeing their photographs. In many cases the information about those charged or arrested is not disclosed until the media relations team clears it. In case of minors, the identity is hardly ever disclosed.

In cases, especially those involving death or serious injuries, the identity of the victims are not disclosed until cleared by their family members. They uphold and respect the privacy of the citizens. In case of a very important case, a very senior police officer briefs the media about the developments.

In Paul Muthoot murder case in Kerala, India, the press briefing by a Deputy Inspector General of Kerala Police was so disastrous that it adversely affected the police investigations and the prosecution of the case.

Most press conferences in Canada is done with the speaker standing up including the Prime Minister. They follow a script and do not exceed the brief as given by their Media Relations team. In case of a Police briefing on any undergoing investigations, the brief ends with a thank you note and the speaker does not usually take on any questions. (Please read my earlier Blog : Stand Up While You Work).

In India, the speaker briefing the media is often seen sitting down and mostly without a script. There is hardly any specialised media management team. They end up adding spice and fat to the story and often add their ‘personal touches’. The speaker takes on questions and in answering them, often put their foot in their mouth. At the end of it all they come out with their clichéd excuses like “I was quoted out of context”, “the media twisted the facts” and so on.

One must study the operation to hunt Sivarasan and gang, killers of Rajiv Gandhi. Veteran Major AK Raveendran was the one who headed the commando team to capture Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. He has brought out all aspects of the operations in his Malayalam movie “Mission 90 Days.”  The movie ends with a statement that the commandos would have captured all the killers alive had it not been for the delay imposed by former CBI director DR Karthikeyan, who headed the Special Investigation Team. Major Raveendran claimed that the delay was due to the chief’s media appetite to show up at Bangalore where the operations were in progress and earn publicity.

Let us pray to God Almighty that sense dawns upon Police forces of India in these modern day criminal environment and the press play a constructive role is safeguarding the citizens and the police. There is an urgent need to codify the Media Relations aspects for the Central and State Police Forces and also for the Army.


Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ)


Walking down the isle of a Chinese vegetable store in Mississauga, Canada, after  immigration in 2004, I was surprisingly greeted by the Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ) placed on a rack. On Closer examination, the tag read ‘Kasava – Product of Guatemala’. Any Malayalee (Mallu) will always and forever relish Tapioca cooked with spices and grated coconut and fish curry marinated with special tamarind (Kudam Puli (കുടംപുളി) scientifically known as Garcinia Cambogia). The concoction served in Toddy (alcoholic extract from coconut trees) shops all over Kerala (Indian Province where Malayalam is the native language and the residents are called Malayalees – now Mallus), is something one can never get in any homes.

Tapioca is not a native of Kerala. Then how come it reached the shores of Kerala?.

Tapioca is said to have originated in Brazil. Portuguese distributed the crop from Brazil to countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Kerala in India in the 17th Century. Some believe that Vysakham Thirunal, the Travancore King (1880-1885 AD), who was also a botanist, introduced this laborer’s food in Travancore (South Kerala). By beginning of 19th Century, people from central Travancore migrated to the Malabar region (North Kerala) and they introduced tapioca to the locals.

Tapioca was promoted extensively during World War II in Kerala by Chithira Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore and his Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Then rice was the staple food of the people of Kerala and was being imported from Burma and Indonesia. With Japanese Navy enforcing a blockade in the Malaccan Strait, the ships carrying rice to India were either destroyed or captured. This caused an acute shortage of rice.

A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich Tapioca as a substitute to costly rice. Thus Tapioca came to be known as ‘staple food of the poor.’ Hotels refused to include Tapioca in their menu due to its working class image.

The only place that served Tapioca were the toddy shops, where the labourers turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work. Today tapioca is a rarity in Kerala and so is a delicacy and hence all hotels including the five-star ones have tapioca with fish curry in all their menus.

During my childhood, we used to cultivate Tapioca on our land. Tapioca is a tropical crop, tolerant to drought, but cannot withstand frost. It is best grown in lower altitudes with warm humid climate with well distributed rainfall. Our land is terraced on the hill slope into 20 x 20 feet sections. Each section is held together with stone masonry retaining wall to avoid soil erosion. On top of these walls pineapple was grown to give additional strength to the retaining wall. On some of these walls a fast growing grass was planted as fodder for cows.

In the month of August, the labourers till the land and make mounds of about a foot after spreading a compost mixture of cow-dung and ash. These mounds are made about three feet apart. Tapioca is planted in June with the onset of the South-West monsoon. Stakes taken from plants of the previous year is now cut into pieces of about a foot and is planted on these mounds. After a month, all the unhealthy or weak sprouts are pinched off leaving only two sprouts to grow into stakes.

As the plants mature, underground stems called tubers enlarge with starch. This is the time when the plant is most susceptible to rodent attacks, mainly from rats. As the tubers matured, a plant was uprooted almost every evening and tubers either were boiled and eaten with chutney or cooked with grated coconut and spices and eaten with fish curry. During weekends our mother had off being a school teacher and she made thin slices of fresh tapioca tubers and fried them in coconut oil.

After about ten months, in April, tapioca is harvested. Firstly the stakes are cut off and the healthy ones are stored for cutting for next planting. Underground tubers are now pulled out manually, pulling at the base of the stakes. The tubers are cut off from their bases and carried to the peeling site.

At the peeling site, the women folk of the village sit on mats and peel the outer skin of the tubers and slice the white starch part into thin slices. The women folk were generally paid in kind at the scale of one for every ten basket of tubers sliced by them. The sliced tubers are now collected in baskets and carried by the men folk to the boiling site. Here the slices are boiled in water until semi-cooked. The slices are now drained and put on the ground to dry under the sun. Once dried, these are collected in gunny bags. Some of the dried tapioca was retained for our consumption and the remainder were sold off to Kunjappan Chettan, the trader who lived across our home. Please refer to my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/kunjappan-chettan-the-trader/

In the 1980s, labour in Kerala became very expensive and  rodent attacks on tapioca crops became severe. Most tapioca plants were infected with Gemini virus causing ‘Mosaic’ disease curling the leaves and thus reduced yield.  In this period, the price of natural rubber skyrocketed. This turned tapioca farmers to rubber cultivation. With the incoming of rubber, out went the cows first as there was not enough grass to feed them. Further, the skins of the tapioca tubers and leaves from the uprooted stakes, which were the staple diet of the cows for four months, were now unavailable.

Mr AD George, our botany teacher at school had mentioned that the Gemini virus intruded into Kerala through a sample brought in by a professor, who while on a visit to a foreign country where tapioca was cultivated, saw a plant infected by the virus. He collected a leaf to show it to his students and brought it home to Kerala. After demonstrating the specimen to his students, the professor discarded the specimen. This virus then is believed to have spread across Kerala.

The land lost all its herbal healing powers with the advent of rubber cultivation. Herbal plants like Kurumtotti (Sida Rhombifolia), Kizhukanelli (Phyllanthus Amarus), Paanal (Glycosmis Arboraea), etc, all very abundant until we cultivated tapioca, became nearly extinct. The undergrowth shown in the image above is mostly of these herbal plants. Further, the present generation is totally unaware of the existence of these herbs in our own land and uses of these herbs. The cows used to eat these herbs along with the grass they chewed off the land and hence their milk also should have had some herbal effect.

In 2002 I visited Colonel TM Natarajan, my class mate from Sainik School and he spoke about the Sago (Sabudhana[साबूदाना ] or Chavvari [ചവ്വരി/ சவ்வரிசி]) factory his family had. That was when I realised that Sago was not a seed and it was factory manufactured and tapioca is the main ingredient. As Thamizh Nadu had many Sago factories and in order to feed them with tapioca, tapioca cultivation now moved from Kerala to Thamizh Nadu. The only hitch is that it needs extensive irrigation to grow as Thamizh Nadu does not enjoy as much rainfall as Kerala is blessed with.

Why Do Soldiers Break Step On A Suspension Bridge?


Our son Nikhil and I had a discussion about the phenomenon of resonance about which he had a class that day. My mind wandered back to Mr PT Cherian’s high school physics classes. Mr Cherian had a knack of explaining basic principles of physics by citing real life examples which were simple and easy to assimilate. For more about Mr Cherian, please refer my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/guru-dakshina/.

Mr Cherian explained resonance by using a simple experiment.

He had three pendulums of different lengths and two of the same length (B & D) tied to a rubber hose. He swung one of the two pendulums of equal lengths and after a few minutes, all the other pendulums begun to swing with the other pendulum of equal length swinging as much as the other. This he explained was as a result of resonance and the frequency of the two pendulums with equal lengths were same and hence they resonated.

Bridges and buildings have a natural frequency of vibration within them. A force applied to an object at the same frequency as the object’s natural frequency will amplify the vibration of the object due to mechanical resonance. Mr Cherian explained that while on a swing, one can go higher with a jerk of a bend knee or a swing of the legs and a car wobbles at a particular speed; are all examples mechanical resonance. The shattering of glass by singers with their voice is also by the same principle.

Mr Cherian then narrated an incidence which took place in 1831 when a brigade of soldiers marched in step across England’s Broughton Suspension Bridge. The marching steps of the soldiers happened to resonate with the natural frequency and the bridge broke apart, throwing dozens of men into the water. After this, the British Army issued orders that soldiers while crossing a suspension bridge must ‘break step‘ and not march in unison.

If soldiers march in unison across a,suspension bridge, they apply a force at the frequency of their step. If their frequency is closely matched to the bridge’s frequency, soldiers’ rhythmic marching will amplify the natural frequency of the bridge. If the mechanical resonance is strong enough, the bridge can vibrate until it collapses due to the movement.

A similar tragedy was averted in June 2000 when a large crowd assembled at the opening of London’s Millennium Bridge. As crowds packed the bridge, their footfalls made the bridge vibrate slightly. Many in the crowd fell spontaneously into step with the bridge’s vibrations, inadvertently amplifying them. The police swung into action to clear the crowd off the bridge. Though engineers insist the Millennium Bridge was never in danger of collapse, the bridge was closed for about a year while construction crews installed energy-dissipating dampers to minimise the vibration caused by pedestrians.

Another example of mechanical resonance was the destruction of Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington in 1940. Even though the bridge was designed to withstand winds of up to 200 kmph, on that fateful day the wind speed recorded was mere 60 kmph. A mechanical resonance resulted due to the wind at that particular speed hitting the bridge perpendicularly.   Continued winds increased the vibrations until the waves grew so large and violent that they broke the bridge apart.

In May 1999, two girls were drowned and 15 others injured when a suspension bridge across a river collapsed in Panathur, Kasargod in Kerala State of India. The incident occurred when a group of people taking part in a funeral procession entered the suspension bridge  The bridge tilted and collapsed, again due to mechanical resonance.

In a similar incident in February 2014, eight people died and more than 30 injured when a suspension bridge collapsed over a dry stream in the North-Western province of Lai Chau in Vietnam. The accident happened as a group of local residents walked across the bridge to bring the coffin of a local official to a graveyard. The group had walked 15 meters on the bridge when it suddenly collapsed.

What could have triggered off the mechanical resonance in the above two cases? The villagers participating in the two funerals were surely never drilled down by any Sergeant Majors.

It is felt that anyone while on a funeral procession walks slowly and is often accompanied by the drums or hymns being sung at a melancholic pace. The funeral participants tend to bunch together, mainly due to their sadness. These factors could have forced the funeral participants to march in step, without their knowledge. Another reason of marching in step could be that one does not want to step on another’s foot and the best way to avoid is to walk in step with the person in the front. In both the cases, the coffin was carried by the coffin bearers with their hands. This needed the coffin bearers to walk in unison.

In all probability, the frequency of walking of the mourners in the funeral procession could have resonated with the natural frequency of the bridge, causing the bridge to swing violently. The pandemonium that could have set out must have caused panic, resulting in the mourners rushing to get off the bridge causing a stampede.

Hence in future the rule must be that not only the soldiers need to break steps on a suspension bridge, but also a funeral procession.

Malabar and Tellicherry Pepper


Grocery stores in Canada carry Malabar and Tellichery black pepper. Malabar, one can easily associate with pepper, but how come a small town Tellicherry in Kerala, India, has been associated with this spice.

Tellicherry is the name given by the British to Thalassery. The name originates from the Malayalam word Thala (Head) and Kacheri (Office), thus Thalassery or ‘head of offices’. The Europeans nicknamed the town Paris of Kerala, as it was in close proximity to the sole French military base in Kerala in that era. Later the French abandoned Thalassery and shifted their base to Mahé.

Thalassery had a unique geographical advantage as a trading center being the nearest point from the coast to the spice growing area of Wayanad. The trading center developed mainly after the 16th century when the British got permission to set up a factory in Thalassery from the local ruler. Various conflicts with the local chieftains prompted the British to build a fort in Thalassery. The local king gave the fort and adjoining land to the British in 1708. The fort was later modified and extended by the British East India Company. The king also gave permission to the British to trade pepper in Thalassery without paying duty. After the construction of the fort, Thalassery grew into a prominent trading center and a port in British Malabar. The British won absolute administrative authority over Malabar region after annexation of the entire Malabar region from Tipu Sultan in the Battle of Sree Rangapatnam. Thalassery thus became the capital of British North Malabar.

In 1797 The British East India Company established a spice plantation in Anjarakandy near Thalassery. In 1799 it was handed over to Lord Murdoch Brown with a 99-year lease. Coffee, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg were cultivated there. Anjarakandy cinnamon plantation was the world’s largest at that time. Construction of the Tellicherry Lighthouse in 1835 evidences the importance the British attached to the area.  The British East India Company built a new spice warehouse in 1863 and also established the first registrar office in South India at Anjarakandy in 1865, only to register the cinnamon plantation of Murdoch Brown.

Thalassery municipality was formed on 1 November 1866 according to the Madras Act of 1865 of the British Indian Empire, making it the second oldest municipality in the state. At that time the municipality was known as Thalassery Commission.

The Arab traders had monopolised pepper trade from the Malabar region from about 1500 BC. They sailed in boats through the Arabian Sea, hugging the coastline and reached Malabar and Travancore regions. From there they used the backwaters and the rivers to move inland. The Arabs sold the pepper procured from these regions in Egypt and Europe. Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BC.


In order to dissuade the Europeans from sailing into the Malabar coast, the Arabs successfully spun many a stories and myths about black pepper. The most common story was that large many-headed serpents guarded the forests where pepper grew and the local people would set the forest on fire once the pepper ripened. The fire would drive away the serpents and people would gather the peppercorns before the serpents could return. The black colour of the pepper was due to burning.


Trade interactions between the Arabs and the local Hindus from Malabar resulted in many marital alliances. Some Arab traders settled in the Malabar region and Islam flourished there as a result. Today the region is dominated by Muslims. In Kottayam, south of Malabar, spice trade was based on the backwaters and rivers with Thazhathangady (Lower Market) and Puthenangady (New Market) as trading posts established by the Arab traders. Wherever the Arabs established trading posts, Islam also flourished there.

The Cheramaan Juma Masjid at Methala,  near Kodungallur, Thrissur District of Kerala is said to have been built in 629 AD, which makes it the oldest mosque in the Indian subcontinent which is still in use.


The Christians in the region believe that they were converted to Christianity from Hindus by St Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples in the first century, who might have traveled in one such ship.

Many Christians and Jews persecuted in Persia fled to Kerala in the Arab ships and settled along the coast. They were welcomed by the local Hindus with open arms. Fort Kochi area was known for its Jewish settlement and these Jews were called Malabar Jews and are the oldest group of Jews in India and settled there by the 12th century.  


They built synagogues in the 12th century and are known to have developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam language.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam came to Kerala through trade. but these religions elsewhere in India mostly through the sword.

Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as ‘black gold‘ in Europe and used as a form of commodity money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term ‘peppercorn rent‘ as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given. Pepper was so valuable that it was often used as collateral or even currency. In the Dutch language, ‘pepper expensive‘ is an expression for something very expensive.

Its exorbitant price during the Middle Ages was one of the inducements which led the Portuguese to seek a sea route to India. In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail to India by circumventing Africa. Gama returned in greater numbers soon after and Portuguese by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas gained exclusive rights to trade in black pepper in Malabar.

Pepper’s popularity quickly spread through world cuisines once more trade routes were established. At one time it accounted for a whopping 70 percent of the international spice trade. As it became more readily available, the prices dropped, and ordinary people were able to enjoy it. Regional cuisines began incorporating pepper into their foods alongside native spices and herbs.

Whatever may be the history of black pepper. it is still sold as Malabar or Tellichery pepper even though currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s requirements.


During childhood days, our village in Kerala had a public library, housed on the upper floor of the Post Office building. The library had a good collection of books, periodicals and newspapers. The library used to be bustling with activity in the evening. Students and youth came there to borrow books, many came to read newspapers and periodicals and above all, it had a radio connected to a public address system which beamed the news from All India Radio. Those were the days when most households did not own a radio and Television had not become a reality. Our village with its literate masses needed something to read as a source of information and entertainment and the library provided it. My brothers used to borrow the books from library and our grandmother who lived with us then used to read them after everyone went to school.  Now my mother, a grandma, watches the tear-jerking serials on the TV after everyone leaves the home to school or to work.

During my recent trip home, I found the library totally deserted. The reading habit seems to have died down. How can you expect children overloaded with assignments, tuition and above all entrance coaching to find time to read? Various tear-jerking serials have occupied the free time of housewives and senior citizens, which in those days was spend reading.

Sainik School Amaravathinagar, our school, also had a well stocked library. I started using the library only from my Grade 8 onward as I was not all that proficient in English till then. At that time Mr Stephen, our librarian had taken over. Untill then the librarian was a clerk or an administrative staff member who hardly had any clue about the real duties of a librarian.

Mr Stephen with an ever smiling pleasing personality was a graduate in Library Sciences. He was the first person to encourage many of us to use the facility of the library and also explain to us the wealth of information available there. He always used to remind us as to how lucky we were to have such a library which he said many colleges and universities in India did not have.

Other than being the librarian, Mr Stephen used to actively participate in all extra-curricular activities. One could always see him in the gymnasium helping students, playing all games with the students and also participating in adventure activities like trekking and rock-climbing. This helped him develop a special rapport with the students. I spend some of my free time in the library and also whenever I was made an ‘outstanding’ student in the classes, I straight away moved into the library.  Mr Stephen exactly knew what would have happened in the class, but never asked me a question and let me into the library.

On migration to Canada, we settled down in the city of Mississauga. The City runs  Mississauga Library System. It is one of the largest public library systems in Canada with over 300,000 registered users. There are 18 locations, including a multi-floor Central Library with material allocated by subject areas. Anyone who lives, works, attends school, or owns property in Mississauga can obtain a Library Card required to borrow materials.

All the library branches I visited were always full of customers, especially students and seniors. The library system has a large collection of books, DVDs, video tapes etc in 22 languages including Hindi, Thamizh and Punjabi. The excellent catalogue system followed by the library can be accessed online from the home. One can place a hold on a material through the online system. The moment the material arrives the customer is intimated by email or over the phone. In case a desired items not in the Library’s catalogue, it may be obtained through inter-library loan.

In case the library branch one visited does not have a desired material, but is available in another branch, the same is transferred to the library if you request for a hold. All materials borrowed from any branch of the library can be returned at any branch. The catalogue system caters for it.

The Library offers access to downloadable eBooks and audio books. One can download these to a computer or a mobile device.  One can also sign up to receive sample chapters from new books and newsletters about new books and authors.

Library staff are always available to help the customer to find information and choose materials. The Library offers extensive information on occupations, educational planning, career planning, training and job search strategies.

An extensive collection of fine, old and rare materials, dealing with the history of Mississauga City is available for in-library use at the Mississauga Central Library and includes scrapbooks, local archives, and a large collection of photographs. Genealogical materials are available through Ancestry at all Library locations. The Historic Images Gallery brings together the image collections of multiple institutions providing centralized access and is searchable online.

eResources provide access to reference eBooks, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly journals, book reviews and more. Search over 30 eResources covering a wide variety of topics including health, business, world news, literature, sports, arts, and entertainment. With a valid Mississauga Library card, you can do your research from home, school or office.

Children’s Dial-A-Story can be called as often as you want, any time of the day to listen to a new preschool story each week in the comfort of your home.

Public access to the Internet and Microsoft Office is available at all Library locations. One can book a session to use a Library computer with a valid Library card. Photocopiers are available at all Library locations at a minimal payment. Copying is subject to copyright laws.

Large Print Books are available from all library locations and rotate from library to library. In partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Braille Books are provided via mail.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”   – Sidney Sheldon
Post Script :- My book ‘Suit, Boot and Tie‘ now finds a place with Mississauga Library System.
Search Results for suit boot (sirsidynix.net)