ONAM – NOSTALGIA

Today is the Onam festival day in Kerala and my nostalgia takes me back seven decades to my childhood days spent at Mavelikara – a town in Central Travancore [ now Kerala state ]. The Onam back then was a festival time for two weeks with holidays for everyone . We got new dresses stitched and took part in many games like ‘ Thalapandu kali ‘ a native form and a mix of hand ball and football using a soft leather ball

Pulikkali

“ pulikkali “ [ leopard dance ] with a modified format where we introduced a hunter with a toy gun who try to shoot the leopard and the leopard dodging him ,with accompaniments of improvised drums ! . The girls and ladies laid ‘pookkalam “ [ floral displays ] on the front courtyard of the house for 10 days in the morning preceding the “Thiruvonam “ [ the main onam day ] . We , the boys went around the fields nearby fetching assorted native flowers for this purpose. On the ninth day , a “mathevar “ [ replica of King Mahabali ] is added to the “pookkalam “ and invoked ,anticipating his visit!

Onasadya

We had “sadya” – special feast for lunch for at least four days , the main feast on the Thiruvonam day. Many vegetarian items were cooked for this feast. During those days, Onam was celebrated mainly by the Hindu community. My father, a lawyer, used to invite his non – hindu colleagues and friends for lunch and we all used to serve them an elaborate “sadya“. After lunch, they stayed back for a game of cards for a few hours. In the evening, we went for a newly released Malayalam movie at the local cinema. On the fourth day, following the Onam Sadya, snake boat races used to be held at many places, the main one being on the Pamba river adjacent to the Aranmula temple. We made it a point to witness this spectacle!

Onam is a harvest festival for Kerala . But there is a legend widely believed about this day ! In the ancient times , a powerful king named Mahabali ruled this region , his kingdom extending to most of present South India . He became very powerful and challenged even the “ Suras “ , the divine clan at the influence of “ asuras “ of the nether world . The “ Suras “ or Devas approached Lord Vishnu for a remedy . As Mahabali obtained “ Amrit “ the nectar for eternal life by trickery , he could not be killed in a normal way . Lord Vishnu refused to enter into a confrontation with his devotee Mahabali and instead used a tactical ruse by taking the incarnation of a dwarf Brahmin avatar named Vamana . Vamana approached Mahabali who was performing an Aswamedha  Yaga to celebrate his victory over the three worlds . Vamana requested Mahabali for three steps of land – a modest one for a king which he obliged . Vamana [ Lord Vishnu ] metamorphosed into the giant Trivikrama form , took all of heaven in one step and all of earth in the second step . Mahabali recognized Lord Vishnu and offered his head for the third step . He is believed to have been  banished to the nether world with permission to visit his constituency and people once every year ! Another version says the king got “ Moksha “ [ Liberation] on that day! Onam is believed to be the day when King Mahabali visits his people and everyone puts up a show of prosperity to their beloved king who relives his times by looking around his constituency. 

Mahabali is claimed  by many regions in  India – Mahabaleswar in Maharashtra , Mamallapuram in Tamilnadu , Sutala in Gujarat and Bharuch in Utar Pradesh .However , it is believed that the incident where Vamana tricked him to banishment occurred at my home town Mavelikara which is a simplified form for the name ‘ Mahabalikkara “ – Maveli is a term even today to describe King Mahabali .

Vallam Kali

Onam is now a major regional festival officially celebrated by the state government ., cutting across all religions . Malayalis wherever they are celebrate this festival with pomp and grandeur . Community feasts , cultural programs , boat races , sports and games events  are all part of this mega cultural event . We have done so whether I was serving in a remote high altitude area in Ladakh or in many of the Army Cantonments where we lived.  In Malayalam there is a saying “ kanam vittalum ,  onam unnanam”  which literally means one must celebrate Onam even if one has to part with his land holdings ! . No one wants to let down their beloved king Mahabali when he visits his people once a year !

pookkalam-1-1

Mark Wiens – The famous food Vlogger on Onam Lunch

My Encounters with Pet Dogs

” A dog is the only living being on the earth that LOVES you more than you LOVE yourself ! “

My trigger for writing this blog post is my close friend Susanta who lost his pet dog Buddy recently. His memoirs with photos on the painful separation of his beloved Buddy made me reflect over my own encounters with pet dogs over the last seven decades . Let me state here that we do not keep a pet dog now after we lost our two pets one after the other way back in the nineties but any reference to pet dogs and many videos [ Example “Paw Tok ” in Facebook ] in the social media bring up our finer self in us with nostalgia . This post is an attempt to record some of them .

In my early childhood , our neighbors had a white pet dog , a half Pomeranian , named Kaiser . We children were very fond of him and he lived and played with us during most of his waking time. Kaiser got badly injured when a car drove over him while chasing the vehicle barking [ his favorite pastime] and got his waist paralyzed . No vet could help him and it was a pathetic scene to watch him struggle thereafter . The owners decided to go for mercy killing and got a municipal shooter to do the job . A pit was dug in the backyard and Kaiser was positioned next to it . We watched the act and it still makes me uncomfortable after may be more than 70 years to think about it . I still remember Kaiser’s look when the shooter took his aim.

When I was may be in my teens , I got very friendly with another male dog D’cruz who belonged to another immediate neighbor . He was brown in color and a native mix breed . Our houses had only a low partition wall and D’ cruz spent most of his time with us . My father and mother used to feed him often . His favorite food was Dosa . At night , when my father – a lawyer – used to work late , he used to keep the front door open as a habit and D’cruz used to be on guard duty in front in the courtyard . On one such night , while we were all asleep and my father was still working , we heard a loud and continuous barking by D’cruz as if he has smelled danger ! When we looked , we found my father lying in the courtyard in front of the steps unable to get up himself . He had bronchitis and when he went out coughed incessantly and fell down from the steps ! I think D’ cruz saved him from any further complications by being alert and doing his job faithfully . I parted ways with old D’cruz when I moved to college .

Fast forward – I did my engineering degree and joined the Indian Army in 1965 in the technical branch . Got married in 1972 . My wife Malathi was a dog lover but we postponed our plan to have our own pet dog in the house . An opportunity presented itself to her when she opted to stay with her elder sister at Hyderabad with my 6 year old daughter Jaya , as I was posted to a field area in Sikkim in 1979 . Her sister had two pet dogs namely Lisa , a brown Lhasa Apso and Leo a white Spitz. Unlike my earlier pets like Kaiser and D’cruz who were not permitted inside a house and lived in the courtyard , Lisa and Leo were part of the family and shared all comforts of a house . During my leave from duty every year , I had a chance to play with them and pet them. Lisa was moody and growled occasionally . She liked me because I used to feed her with ‘tie biscuits ‘ and ‘cake rusk ‘ her favorite snacks . She did not like Malathi feeding her eggs and protested . Leo was a dope but liked petting. My sister in law’s maid servant had a local male dog which lived with them in the servant’s quarters . I gave him a suitable name – Gajapati Rao . I don’t think the name registered with him. Both Lisa and Leo barked loudly when they spotted Gajapathi Rao outside ! . Taking the dogs out for a walk was a favorite pastime . Back in Sikkim , I used to watch with amusement little Lhasa Apso dogs lined up for sale at Thegu on the approach road to Nathula Pass in the Chinese border leading to Tibet . I somehow resisted my temptation to buy one of them.

Finally we got our pet dog in 1985 , when I was posted to Bangalore . My daughter was 12 and her younger brother Raghu was 3 . Young Lucy , an infant Lhasa Apso was gifted to us by a relative in Kerala and we brought her with a lot of care in a bamboo basket in the train . Life with little Lucy was great fun for all of us . She lived with us and shared our bed always. Her staple food was meat and rice . As I was in a command appointment , there were some perks and Lucy was a darling of the support staff . My sahayak [ helper ] Karan Singh took good care of Lucy . In due course when Lucy was two years old , Karan Singh tried to introduce Lucy to many suitable grooms in the Army Colony where we lived but with no success . Finally , Lucy found her mate [ of questionable pedigree ] in our play ground nearby and duly delivered a quadruple . Malathi was a midwife to her and helped her out at night . But in spite of Lucy ‘s best efforts , one of the puppy was still born . Her three living children were duly named Suzy , Whisky and Brownie . We gifted Suzy to the person who gave us Lucy , Brownie to one of my daughter’s friend and kept Whisky with us . Whisky was a mix of black and brown and hardly had any features of Lucy . He was taller also . Whisky was very alert and always reacted to the horn of my approaching car when I came home for lunch or return in the evening from work. Lhasa Apso dogs by nature are delicate and very sensitive to weather. After her first litter , Lucy got very ill one night . We took her first to the Cantonment Veterinary facility but it was closed at night . We then decided to trouble our relative Colonel { Retd} PNP Nair , who was the Director of the Veterinary Corps . The old man did not mind it and examined Lucy and said it is probably a stomach infection and gave her some medicine . Luckily Lucy got cured by morning .

When we went to Palghat where my in laws lived , during leave , the dogs traveled with us in my car and spent two months with us at Estate Mansion. Lucy almost came under a car on the way when we halted to take the dogs out for their routine !. Against all previous taboo [ permitting dogs inside the house ] , my father in law let Lucy and Whisky live inside as both of them endeared greatly to all the members of the household . Though all of them were vegetarians , special dispensation was given to cook meat at home for the dogs. I remember one incident here . My father in law used to watch the Ramayan serial on every Sunday morning in the national TV Channel ‘Door Darshan ‘ It was amazing to watch Whisky reacting to the opening title song and ran to draw the attention of my father in law and others if we are not already seated to watch the show. Whisky also joined us as an attentive audience !

I got promoted to a Colonel and was soon nominated to attend the Higher Command course [ duration 10 months ] at the College of Combat ,Mhow near Indore . We sent our baggage by truck and traveled by air via Bombay . Lucy and Whisky enjoyed the luxury and behaved during the journey . Karan Singh also moved with us to Mhow. At the new place , we had a good married accommodation with all facilities with enough open space for the dogs to move around . There were many pet dogs around the colony . My training was quite intense and both my canine friends gave me good relaxation in the evening and during week ends . After the course , I was retained as a faculty with the college for another two years . During this time , I met with a vehicle accident resulting in multiple fracture on my left hand . I got evacuated to Lucknow hospital and stayed there for almost 7 months including my post operative care . It was a very stressful period for Malathi to manage the house and children . Lucy and Whisky gave them some relief with their pure love and companionship . Jaya moved to Baroda for her college education soon . Towards the end of my tenure at Mhow , in one afternoon , in an unguarded moment , Whisky mated with Lucy in our courtyard . My wife saw this and we immediately took her to a vet and got her aborted . This made Lucy weak later on .

Soon , I got posted in a staff appointment at the Army HQ in New Delhi in Dec 91. As Raghu was in school and the academic sessions finished in April , I moved alone leaving my family behind at Mhow . Subsequently , I took them by an overnight train in June 92 with the dogs after sending our baggage by road . We had a very difficult time at Delhi initially as we had to wait for almost two weeks to get a house . I had a room with a balcony in the Army Officers Mess and my family moved in there . The rooms were carpeted and there was only a fan . The summer was very hot and humid and we kept the dogs in the balcony . Another onerous task was to get cooked rice and meat from the nearby road side outlets , wash the meat to get the condiments out and feed the dogs . Anyway , we moved to an independent house at NOIDA across the Yamuna soon and both the family and the dogs were quite relieved . Reddy replaced Karan Singh at Delhi and life became peaceful once again. Raghu had to travel a long distance to New Delhi in his school bus and I commuted in an officers bus for work . By the time we reached home late in the evening, we were exhausted . Both Lucy and Whisky gave Malathi company when we were away and entertained us later with their pranks .

After two years in the Capital , I got promoted to Brigadier and posted to Allahabad as Commandant and MD of an Army Base Workshop . This occasion , both Lucy and Whisky traveled with Reddy in the baggage truck overnight , a day in advance. We followed by train . The workshop was located inside the old Mughal Fort , remodeled subsequently by the British Army . I had a very large appointment house built on the the ramparts of the fort facing river Yamuna . DK Singh replaced Reddy and he soon got accustomed with the dogs and took good care of them. Strangely enough , the dogs refused to enter some rooms in the house smelling something amiss there . When we checked around , we were told that there were stories about part of the house being haunted ! . Anyway , we did not have any supernatural episodes during our stay for two years. Jaya visited us from Pune on vacation – she had moved there from Baroda to pursue her post graduate course in Fashion Technology . The dogs enjoyed her visit immensely .

After a year at Allahabad , we went to Kerala on a two months leave , leaving the dogs in the care of D K Singh . Everything went off well till about a week before our return . We were told Lucy became very sick . It looked like she was hanging on somehow for us to come back. On arrival , we found her at the door steps , struggling , not eating her food and partially blind. We immediately got a Vet from the city and he established a make shift clinic at home . Her condition was going bad and early in the morning , she breathed her last !. All of us including the doctor who really struggled to keep her alive , wept that day ! I got her buried in our Vehicle park , not very far from the holy Sangam , the confluence of the rivers Ganga ,Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati . We missed her badly during our remaining stay at Allahabad . Whisky was a loner thereafter .

In Jan 95 , I got posted to Military College of EME at Secunderabad as a Dean . We sent our baggage separately by road and moved to Jhansi by a taxi and boarded the train there at night to Secunderabad . We traveled by AC First Class . The compartment was mostly empty and I remember Raghu and Whisky moving in and out of different cabins and enjoying the overnight Journey . At MCEME , we had to wait for a couple of weeks for a married accommodation and stayed in a double room in the officers mess. Both DK Singh who came over with our baggage and Whisky did not like this drop in stature here , little realizing that the perks back at Allahabad came along with my role and not my rank . Once we moved to a first floor apartment , life became peaceful again . Jaya joined us here and took up a job locally with a fashion designer . She soon moved to Bangalore where she found a better job .

I retired from service in Nov 96 and soon joined a civil organisation . We moved to Sainikpuri in Secunderabad to a hired house . DK Singh got posted out . The new environment was good for all and Whisky . He used to chase squirrels and birds in our courtyard to while away his waking hours . He continued to be a loner . One day while chasing a squirrel , he jumped high and fell down badly . Soon he became sick – our Vet doctor suspected a weak heart . One night Whisky became restless and started running around with me all over unable to relieve himself . Malathi kept on petting him throughout the night . When we realized that his condition is becoming worse and he could not even sit up , we rushed him to the doctor few miles away . Malathi kept him in her lap and continuously prayed . Whisky became unconscious on the way . At the hospital , the doctor tried to give him a cardiac shock but Whisky breathed his last in his table ! Another big loss for us in two years ! The grief was uncontrollable . I got him buried at a lake side nearby . We decided not to go for any pet dogs then .

Both Lucy and Whisky shared their unconditional love and companionship with us for ten years or more . Whisky was 12 years when he died. Pet dogs depend on us totally and we generally took good care of them with proper medical examinations , preventive injections and grooming . They both played a very significant part in lifting our moods in difficult times and especially gave Malathi company during our absence from home . Their memories are sacred for us .

In due course Jaya got married in Nov 2000 and moved to New Jersey in the US with her husband Sanjay . Raghu graduated and after a brief stint with a small IT Company at Hyderabad , got selected by Google . He moved to San Francisco in 2012 . We used to visit them once in two years . What amazed us there was the care and upkeep of the pet dogs with dog friendly neighborhood parks , good pet clinics etc. I found in Google they even permit pet dogs in the work place ! Myself and Malathi spent hours together at the Duboce Park near Raghu’s apartment just watching the dogs play with their owners , children and other dogs . A different world altogether and a new experience for us.

” Did you know that there are over 300 words for Love in Canine ? – Gabriel Levin.

Raghu with Lucy
Jaya with Lisa
Leo with Jaya ,Preetam and Bunty
Lucy and Whisky with Jaya ,Raghu and Benoy , Raghu’s friend
LUCY shows off!

THE MOVIE BUFF

Many of my close friends and family members call me a movie buff . It is rather interesting that I thought of writing about it at this time when I am in the late 70’s . Yes , I like to watch movies even now but only on an “on line ” format like Netflix, , Hot Star , Prime etc . I am not fond of watching movies on TV Channels because of the number of commercial breaks in between. . Why they call me a movie buff is because of my obsession with everything connected with movies, whether it is the theme, acting , direction, music or viewing records. In my young days at the college or later in the Army days , I was a moving encyclopedia of movies and its many facets. Many of my friends still do not know how this craze came around or where and when the seeding was done.

THE EARLY TRIGGERS My father , a lawyer , had a close friend named Joseph who ran a movie hall called Joy Theater in our home town Mavelikara in the erstwhile Travancore State [ now Kerala ] during the period 1948-52 . Joseph had a small recreation room next to his cinema hall where he and his friends used to play cards in the evening hours. My father was a regular member of this group and he joined them after his evening walk. He took me along[ not even a teenager then] many times and I used to watch a movie when the group was playing cards. It did not matter to me as to when I start watching a show or when I came out as it depended solely on the time when my father decided to join / go home. Many a times, I had watched the same movie a number of times and when I got bored , I strayed into the projection room to watch the movie through the opening in the wall or collect film strips , movie notices or posters from their office. Those days , they used to issue a booklet with songs also. These were my proud possessions back then. Most of the movies were in Tamil with a few Malayalam , Hindi and English movies screened occasionally . Malayalam movie industry was in its infancy then .

HOME THEATER By repeat viewing and due to my interest in the medium I remembered the dialogue , songs etc by heart and once launched a ‘ home theater ” at home. It was a small thatched roof made of bamboo and freshly cut plantain sheets with a hall for about six people and a ticketing window outside , in our courtyard. The audience was mainly my two younger sisters and our friends in the neighborhood. I made movie characters out of sticks and attired them suitably . I rattled off the entire movie dialogue , songs and action scenes , may be an abridged version to the delight of the captive audience. Mostly, it was a simultaneous release with the movie running in Joy Theater with bill boards picked up from there ! .This innocent hobby was short lived when my elder brother in a foul mood one day demolished the whole structure to the dismay and grief of all of us.

THE BUSINESS SIDE I continued this trend even as a teenager even though my father stopped taking me out . By this time , a second theater came up nearer to my home -The Sri Krishna Theater . As both the owners were my father’s clients , I had a free entry for shows any time . I also learned the commercial aspects of movie making, distribution and exhibition at this time from the owners , managers , resident representatives of the distributors staying at the theater and of course from my father who advised the theater owners. Producers borrowed money at high interest rates and took advance from distributors . Distributors took advance from movie hall owners who in turn again borrowed money from friends and relatives. One day I learnt that Mr Joseph has gone on arrears with one regular distributor called Seetha Films and Mr Swamy , its partner approached my father to help him recover the amount . They set up a ‘ Receiver ” arrangement by a court order , thereby curtailing the liberty of Mr Joseph considerably. Mr Joseph could take only a fixed amount from his collections for personal needs. . I heard from his son Joy -the cinema hall had his name – who was my class mate that his father , a very proud person , was a worried man and did not like this arrangement which could not be helped . Very soon , a tragedy struck the family when Mr Joseph went missing . He committed suicide by hanging by a rope in a garden property 30 miles away leaving a note for his wife. This incident left a very indelible impression in my mind. I started maintaining a diary recording my movie shows with dates and place which I discontinued sometime in the college days . I still have the diary with about 5000 entries in alphabetic order.

COLLEGE DAYS I was surprised my self when I came first in my district in the Matriculation examination, in spite of my time consuming hobby with distractions. I think , my father had a major role to play here as he curtailed my freedom to a great extent during the three years preceding the matriculation year. When I moved to a hostel in a different town for the next two years for my college education , I started watching movies again with friends and went to other towns to watch new releases. I must confess that this affected my class performance to some extent and I missed selection for engineering in the initial go . I made it in the following year and moved to Palakkad in far away Malabar in 1960 . As it was a new college with limited hostel facilities, some of us who met for the first time at the college on the opening day , decided to rent a house with a cook near the college. We had complete freedom there and spent most of the weekends visiting movie halls . It was an expensive hobby and we all had limited finances at our disposal. I remember me and my class mate Soju [ who later joined the Army after me] used to go for late night shows and buy the cheapest tickets for bench class to watch the shows. We occasionally went to Coimbatore 30 miles away to watch new releases like ” Jis Desh mein Ganga Behti Hai ‘ , Psycho , The Absent Minded Professor , North by Northwest etc. During these days , we also went to the nearby Malampuzha Gardens to watch movie shooting , many times cutting classes . I remember watching Sivaji Ganesan , Sunil Dutt , Vyjayanti Mala , Helen etc there. I also used to subscribe for periodicals like Screen ,Cine Blitz to remain updated on movie releases etc. I remember during our college study tours , I saw many film personalities like Shammi Kapoor , Mahmood, Sadhana , Dev Anand , Nutan , Saira Banu at the Metro Cinema at Bombay during a night show. . Even though I got a Central Government Scholarship based on my Pre-Engineering class results [ came in the first 12] , I narrowly missed a first class in my Engineering degree.

EARLY ARMY DAYS On Commissioning after a grueling 10 months training in IMA Dehra Dun , I reported for the Young Technical Officers course at EME School [ South] – now MCEME , in July 1967 for another 11 months training. The Twin Cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad had many attractions for bachelors like us , the 50 odd movie halls – one of them , suited my temperament better . While I participated in all games , I was not very passionate like some of my worthy course mates in this activity . I did play football in schools and colleges though. I hold two very important records at Secunderabad during this time – Watched at least one movie in all the 54 movie halls in the twin cities and 5 shows on a Sunday – the 8 AM Malayalam morning show at Minerva , 11.30 noon show – Hindi movie at Paradise , the 2.30 PM , 6.30 PM and 9.30 PM English movies at Plaza, Tivoli and Dreamland all located within a one KM radius. Took a night bus [Route 4 ] at 12.30 AM after a late dinner at the Garden Restaurant [ they have demolished most of it now to make way for the metro rail] and reached my room by 1 AM and be on parade at 6.30 AM on a Monday morning ! After 29 years , when I retired as a Brigadier from MCEME , the Commandant – Gen Kochhar spoke about my achievements in the Corps and Army in general during my farewell dinner from our Corps Mess. In my reply speech , I told the participants which included spouses , about my two other records , not widely known , concerning my movie viewing in the twin cities back in 1966-67! . Now , Hyderabad boasts about a world class Ramoji Film City and a very vibrant Telugu Movie Industry and animation studios.

LATER YEARS IN SERVICE My craze for movies weaned off quite a lot in the later years . But I remember an adventure when I skipped a training day on a Saturday while doing an advanced course in Armaments at Baroda to go for a morning show in the city [ I was still a bachelor] . The movie was ‘ Who is afraid of Virginia wolf ? ” starring LIz Taylor and Richard Burton – a master piece in Social drinking excesses and gross misbehavior story line with brilliant acting by the lead players! After my marriage in 1972 , though Malathi enjoyed good movies with me , she never had an obsession like me. I remember our field area days where we watched select movies at mobile cinemas and also a Malayalam film festival at Vignan Bhavan while posted at Delhi in 1973. During 1976 to 78 , when I was working as DAA&QMG in a forward area brigade at Bhimber Gali , one of my job was to arrange movie shows for the troops occasionally . My predecessor was not very enthusiastic about this . My Commander Brig Bali was a good Gazal singer and a movie buff like me. He asked me to revive the movie shows for the brigade . We had two 35 mm projectors lying in disuse. I got them repaired at Jammu and mounted in a one ton truck . Soon , I arranged cinema shows at Battalion bases widely distributed over an 80 KM stretch near the LC [Line of Control] .We also had a movie hall in bad shape at the Brigade HQ. I got it done up and made it fit for matinee shows also.

I arranged movies from Jalandhar through an agent at Jammu . The print used to come by bus to our TCP and used to get circulated further to other brigades. We were permitted to keep families for two months in a year and it was festival time for all officers. We made our own reserve movie with cuttings [ mostly songs] from the movie prints .The agent never caught on to this as the print used to reach Jalandhar back after almost a month from J&K sector.

MOVIES AND ARTISTS I am not a fan of film personalities and therefore find the fan clubs and crazy fan following they get rather strange . This trend originated in Tamil Nadu and Bombay first and spread to other cities. Kerala which never had such fads have also changed now . My all time favorite actors are Anthony Quinn,Audry Hepburn and Clint Eastwood from Hollywood, Sanjeev Kumar , Om Puri , Madhubala , Madhuri Dixit and later on Alia Bhat and Tapasee Pannu from Bollywood and Satyan , Mohan Lal and Shobhana from Malayalam . I consider Sivaji Ganesan from South as an all time great and vesatile actor . My favorite movie directors in India are Satyajit Roy , Guru Dutt , and Mani Ratnam. The top ten movies I liked are Gone with the wind, The Longest Day , Wait until Dark , Schindlers List , and Doctor Zhivago in English , The Apu Trilogy in Bengali , Pyasa , Jane bhi do yaro and Mera Naam Joker in Hindi and Manichitra Thazhu in Malayalam .. My favorite singers are Kishore Kumar ,Geeta Dutt , KS Chitra and Yesudas and recently Shreya Ghoshal and Arjeet Singh. The music directors I like are Khayyam , Jaidev, S D Burman and A R Rehman.

SUMMING UP The advent of TV and later color TV , VCR’s and now satellite TV and on line Apps made the movie viewing quite different now a days. The Multi Plex giants like PVR are still holding sway but the trend has definitely shifted to watching movies or TV Serials at your own time , place and pace. The technology has made cassettes and DVD’s antic pieces [ I collected more than 500 of them ] . Some of my favorite TV Serials in English are The Wire , House of Cards , Breaking Bad and the Grey’s Anatomy .

In our life time , movies and TV entertainment have gone through quantum changes from Bioscope of Dada Saheb Phadke to the present day 3 D cinemas ,satellite screening and OTT platforms . Drone Cameras and Computerisation , VR and other imaging techniques have expanded the user experience . We are privileged to be part of this great journey.

VANCHI BHOOMI

Through a landmark judgement , the Supreme Court of India yesterday restored the “Shebaitship” [ rights to manage the financial affairs ] of the richest temple in the world – Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple at Thiruvananthapuram to the Royal family of erstwhile Travancore State. After the demise of the last Maharaja His Highness Bala Rama Varma in 1991, there was an attempt by the Kerala Govt to take over the assets of the temple especially after the sensational findings of the hidden riches of the temple. The younger brother of the Maharaja , Marthanda Varma III had filed a case in the Supreme Court to prevent such a take over and after his demise in 2013 , the judgement has now come out vindicating his stand based on ancient tradition prevailing for centuries. The erstwhile King of Travancore , Marthanda Varma I who ruled the kingdom during the 18th century had pledged the temple with all its riches to the deity to invoke the Lord’s blessings and ruled the kingdom as ” Padmanabha dasa ” – servant of the God. This tradition continued till date and the Royal Family never touched any of the wealth of the temple ! A few rationalists today argue if the temple’s vast treasures valued at around 90,000 Crores [USD 22 billion] should be kept in tact with the titular monarchy in safe custody or utilized for the development of the Kerala state .

I was born in 1942 at a place named Mavelikara in central Travancore and our primary school had the tradition of singing the state’s song every morning during the assembly. The Song beginning with the line “Vanchi Bhoomi pathe chiram ” was basically invoking the king’s name and wishing him and the kingdom long life and prosperity . Vanchi Bhoomi was another name of Travancore . After Independence in 1947, the king became the ” Raja Pramukh ” and the tradition continued till 1950 when India became a Republic. We used to get a holiday for the Maharaja’s birthday also. Cochin princely state joined Travancore in 1949 and remained as a joint entity called Travancore-Cochin state till 1st Nov 1956 when Kerala state was born after the State Re-organisation scheme based on a study by Sardar K M Panicker .

Mavelikara had a direct connection with the Travancore Royal family . When there was a crisis of succession to the throne , two young girls namely Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and Sethu Parvathi Bayi from Mavelikara Palace were adopted by the ruling King to his royal family . They were the grand daughters of world famous artist Raja Ravi Varma. Raja Ravi Varma’s son Rama Varma was also a renowned artist in his own right and lived at Mavelikara in our neighborhood. We as children used to visit his studio often. He started the Ravi Varma Painting school adjacent to his palace. Many well known artists in Kerala today were trained in this school. I remember meeting Malayalam movie director Hariharan there often during my school days.This school , I learn, has now grown to a national stature with various allied disciplines added to its offerings. My uncle’s elder brother Mr K P Padmanabhan Thampi from Trivandrum was a well known Art Critic at that time and he had a fabulous collection of paintings from all over the world in his house . He had a few Ravi Varma paintings and I also recollect a famous painting by Nicholas Roerich , a Russian Artist depicting a Peacock. He also worked as a Curator at the Government’s Art Museum at Trivandrum and used to visit Artist Rama Varma frequently . I used to accompany him to the studio. I also remember a very senior Ayurvedic Physician Sri Rama Varma Thampuran at the Mavelikara palace where he ran his clinic. We used to go to him for consultation and medicines. He was the uncle of the Maharaja of Travancore and made occasional visits to Trivandrum .

Sethu Lashmi Bayi later ruled Travancore as Regent from 1924 to 1931 to bridge the gap between the demise of Maharaja Sri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma and the adulthood of the young prince Bala Rama Varma who was only 12 when the Maharaja passed away. Many books and other notes on her life and time are available in print and on line . Two notable books either for their contents or some controversial views are ” The Ivory Throne ” by Manu S Pillai , hailing from Mavelikara and ” At the Turn of the Tide ” penned by the Regent Queen’s grand daughter Laksmi Raghunandan Raghunandan incidentally is from Cochin Royal family and also my class mate at the Engineering College.Palakkad..

The Travancore monarchs after Marthanda Varma led a very austere life and devoted their tenure to the development of the state . Most of the major infrastructure projects you see in Kerala even today bear their stamp . It was only after the Gulf boom that Kerala started various new initiatives . The temple entry proclamation by the Maharaja in 1936 was very revolutionary and abolished the ban on the so called “low cast people ” from entering Hindu temples in the princely state of Travancore.. The annual “Arattu” [ritual bath of the deity in the Arabian sea 6 km away] processionfrom the Padmanabha temple passes cutting the international airport runway near the sea and even today ,the airport is closed for 5 to 6 hours in the afternoon on that day to facilitate this !. This gesture amply illustrate the love and affection of the people for the monarchy and the reverence to the temple rituals.

Vidyarambham – The Initiation to Literacy – A great Tradition in Kerala , my home State

Today , is auspicious to begin anything , as per a tradition and belief from ancient times , especially  to initiate a child to literacy . As we are all children in many forms and life long learners, my parents taught me to do a ritual on every Vijaya Dashami day with the blessings of Saraswati , the Vidya Devi . I still follow this tradition at home and my wife Malathi also do the same . After the morning bath and Puja [prayer] , we write the following –

Aum , Hari Sree ,Ganapataye Namah , Avighnamastu , Sriguruve Namah [ It means in English – Aum , O Lords , Hari, Sri and Ganapathi , We bow to you , Please remove all the obstacles in our life , We bow to our Guru[s] . Thereafter , we open a sacred text like Ramayana or Gita and read a few lines .

In spite of all the varied experiences and cultural transitions in our life , we have been able to do this ritual every year and also initiated our children and grand children to this during a ” Vidyarambham –  Initiation to Literacy ” ceremony

While my father initiated me to this when I was may be two and a half years old , I went through the rest of the learning process with many Teachers , Mentors and Gurus in my life span of 75 years with a work life spanning 52 years . In the beginning , my first teacher Sanku Asan , taught me Malayalam alphabets writing on sand . Later , we used what is called ‘Thaliyola ” in Malayalam which means palm leaves using a ” Narayam ” – metal pin to engrave letters and words . By the time ,I went to school at the age of 5 , we had note books and printed text books  supplemented by charts to teach Science and Geography .

We never had electronic aids during our times. Most of the learning was  through repetitive memorizing and retrieval during tests . Mechanical instruments , Log tables ,Laboratory equipment  and slide rules were used during my Engineering Classes. I started using electronic calculators , main frame computers etc during the 80’s and Laptops during the 90’s . Mobile devices came to my help only during the late 90’s when I was working with the IT Industry.

I used e-learning extensively to supplement my class room teachings during the later years and became reasonably literate in those areas also.Besides, during my long Army Service spanning 31 years ,I have used battle field simulation both during training and later during teaching.  But , notwithstanding all these stages of learning , I never forgot my roots and the first initiation process of “Vidyarambham ” . An image of what me and my wife wrote on a piece of paper today is given below.


Blue Monday – 15 Jan 2018

I read an interesting article in the Times of India – Times Life pages yesterday . It talks about the Blue Monday on 15th Jan ,this year ,or for that matter , every year , when you are at your melancholic best ! –  when you realize that most of your New Year resolutions have gone for a six ,out of your window.

According to Dr Cliff Arnall , a psychologist , the third Monday of January is typically ” the most depressing day of the year ” . His formula uses factors in weather conditions,debt level ,time since Christmas , time since failing our New Year’s resolutions , low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action, which all eventually add to stress levels and push us towards the ” Panic Button ” .

The depressed mood is often exacerbated by perceiving a gap between how someone wants things to be and how they actually are. This real vs ideal discrepancies highlights in January because the ‘low’ followed by the festival season ‘high’ affects everyone and the stark contrast makes us feel inadequate. [ Prof Ed Watkins from the Mood Disorders Centre -MDC ] .

We all face this ‘January Jitters ‘ – in different levels and severity . Take my case. I retired from active work life after 52 years as on 30 June 2017. I traveled to the US with my wife to spend quality time with our children from July to November and afterwards spent a month in Kerala visiting our relations. We came back by end December and resolved to take many actions which will regulate our new-found and well-earned ” freedom ”  beginning 1st January 2018 ! . One of my promise was to write a post every day and the other to go for a 40 mins walk twice a day [ it was once a day last year] . We also decided to check our income – expenditure status going forward and look for new avenues for savings/investments.

I wrote three blog posts during the first three days but could not sustain the momentum afterwards till today. Missed many of the walks due to many reasons , the other plans are still a ‘work in progress ” . The list goes on —. Is this a case of over confidence ? ambitious plans ? or failure to do a “Reality Check” side by side ” ? May be all of it . Because of these, I liked the idea given out in the box of the article under reference, which I reproduce below –

  1. Let there be light – Go outdoors in the sunshine.
  2. A choice of physical posture at work – it energizes and mentally stimulates you.
  3. Find a quiet zone – seek your quiet zone at work ,focus on your thoughts to increase your well-being.
  4. Use colour to set the tone- Choose colours wisely -Blue stimulates clarity,Yellow boosts creativity and lifts spirits  and Green creates a sense of calming balance.
  5. Bring a bit of nature – into your workplace and home.

While most of the above are ” Stress Busters” for the work place, I believe we can applied intelligently for a retired life as well and for housewives . Above all , remember that there are 12 months in a year and you do not have to meet everything by 15 January !!! Let us have action plans with milestones throughout the year and alerts regularly to warn you against any attempt to Procrastinate.

Wish you all a very Happy , Stress Free , Healthy and above all Productive and Fulfilling 2018 !

[ Inspired by the article ‘Don’t be a January Monster ” by Nona.Walla@timesgroup.com dated 14 January 2018 ]

Blockchain 2.0 – The Technology of 2018 for a new economic and social infrastructure.

When Stuart Haber and Scott Stornetta initiated work in 1991 on a secured digital chain of blocks , they would not have envisaged the wider usage of this technology across industries and services . Their research found wider expression ,when in 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto , leading an anonymous group propounded the technology behind decentralized and distributed digital ledgers . Unfortunately , this technology found its use with Bitcoins , the crypto  currency to begin with and this guilt by association delayed its acceptance by others until 2016 . Till then,it remained controversial because of its ability to run on the blind side of the regulatory framework .

Today as we usher in 2018 , Blockchain has become the ‘hot ‘  technology of the year and has permeated the financial , petroleum and government business in a significant way . The huge potential of this technology is yet to be assessed and everyone across industries and services are analyzing its impact through seminars,workshops and pilot projects . Dubai has announced that it will aim to be world’s first Blockchain Powered Government. The Indian enterprises have started testing the technology in a variety of applications and the government and Niti Aayog is aware of its advantage to create a secured and seamless digital business framework and government operations. Niti Aayog is already talking about a possible ”  IndiaChain ” ,India’s own Blockchain network , with linkage to the existing Aadhaar framework to cut fraud, and to increase transparency and enforcement .  Continue reading ‘Blockchain 2.0 – The Technology of 2018 for a new economic and social infrastructure.’

A New Train Station at North Brunswick , New Jersey ,USA – A Case Study in Decentralized Execution

The US Railroads are in the firing line ! – The recent Amtrak train accident brought to focus the crying need for modernization of the aging rail system . In the US , railroads were never a priority in comparison to the vast road network which is always the preferred mode of transport both for people and freight.

My daughter used to live at North Brunswick till last year and during my visit to them in 2011 , I learned about the new rail station coming up at North Brunswick  off US Route 1 , near my daughter’s residence. We were happy as instead of going by road to New Brunswick to board a train to New York on the NJT [ New Jersey Transit] , we could walk across to the new train station. When we visited them again in 2013 , there was no visible progress in the construction of the station. We were there in July this year [ my daughter has moved to a locality near Princeton now] and was happy to see some construction happening at last!. Hopefully , the station will come up sometime in 2019!

Unlike in India , there is no state level funding for such infrastructure projects in the US . The railroad company also will expect the local city government to raise funds for any such venture as their own resources are stretched . As a result ,if the public wants a facility like the new rail station, they have to raise funds from the local civic establishment . While going through the net for details on this new rail station, I came across a news item where more funds have been granted by the City Mayor’s office for parking facilities at the new station coming up . Thus, there is very visible participation by the public in infrastructure development which affects their day-to-day comforts . Truly a federal structure with distributed ownership at all levels .

Do we have a good case study for Indian railways here? We keep complaining about various shortcomings in the Indian Railways but it is seldom that the state or local city establishments come forward with any helping hand to remedy the situation. May be we need to own up such problems and find local solutions .

Defense Services – Industry Partnership – Sharing the Brainware

I wrote a post in 2011 titled ” Day of the Generals ” in this site , [copied below] referring to an Initiative by the CII [ Confederation of Indian Industry ] in organizing the very first Army- Industry Partnership Seminar in New Delhi in 1996. I had the privilege of reading a paper titled ‘ Share Our Brain Ware ” in this seminar. The focus of my paper was to brief the Industry representatives about the basket of skills available with Defense Service Officers which can be gainfully used by the Civil Industry , providing an opportunity to the service officers who retire at a relatively younger age [ in comparison to their civilian counterpart in the government] with a second career option,if otherwise qualified. During the interactions at the seminar, it was felt that the services HQ could arrange some management orientation programs under the Resettlement Directorate to ease such transition to the Industry Jobs.

Today,Colonel Rajesh Gopal who is doing a certificate program at IIM Indore called on me to ask my help in arranging guest speakers for their program using my contacts with the Industry. I was very happy to note that a lot of ground has since been covered from 1996 in facilitating the Defense – Industry transition which we discussed way back in the CII seminar. I learned from Col Gopal that 59 officers from the three services are undergoing a six months rigorous training at IIM Indore ,arranged by the Defense HQ and funded by them with part contribution by the participants [25 % ] for the benefit of those officers who have taken premature/regular retirement from the services. This program has gone on for some time and recognized widely by the Industry as is clear from the record of placements made so far after the training. This is really encouraging news. I promised Col Gopal that I will do my best in forwarding the profiles of the participants to Industry leaders whom I know at Hyderabad based on my interactions with them during the last twenty years.

Day of the Generals

A Humble Tribute to Late M Balamuralikrishna – Reflections on his first concert in Kerala

22 November 2017 is the first death anniversary of Padma Vibhushan Late M Balamuralikrishna, Carnatic Vocalist, Musician, Multi-instrumentalist, Playback Singer and Composer – one of the greatest gems of Indian Music with a record of 25,000 concerts worldwide.

This blog is a brief story of his very first concert in Kerala – based on my memory after 60 plus years of the event. To begin with, I need to fill in some background information to set a context to the event. I was born at a small town Mavelikara in the southern part of Kerala. In our town, there is a famous Krishna temple and every year during March, there was a 10 day long festival. As the town has a long tradition of developing and nurturing Carnatic Music talent, be it vocalists or percussion instrumentalists, the temple committee used to have one musical concert per day in the evening after the pooja and other rituals from the 4th day of the festival to the 10th day. While the concerts on Day 4 to Day 8 were offered to local talents, the 9th and 10th Day were reserved for eminent artists of the region. On the 10th Day, we used to have music concerts by famous vocalists like G N Balasubramaniam, Madurai Mani Iyer, Alathur Brothers, Semmangudi, Ariakkudi etc accompanied by violinists like TN Krishnan, Chowdaiah or Lalgudi Jayaraman and percussionists like Palghat Mani Iyer, Muruga Bhupathi or Palani Subramaniam Pillai.

My father, Late P Krishnan Nair, an advocate, was the President of the Temple Festival Committee during 1955 to 1960 and the other Committee members were drawn from among the eminent citizens of the town. Even as a school student of 13 or 14, I used to work with my father in co-ordinating his activities connected with the festival. I remember it was either during 1956 or 57 temple festival that one of the committee member Mr Gopala Pillai informed the committee that he heard from his brother Mr Sakhtidharan Nair who was Station Director for the Vijayawada station of AIR [All India Radio] about one Balamuralikrishna, a very young Carnatic music vocalist, a child prodigy, who started singing classical music from the age of six and gave a public concert at the age of eight at Vijayawada. This boy in his late 20’s is already a sensation in Andhra and Madras and no less than the best of vocalists at that time in Carnatic music. Mr Nair said he can get him to perform at our temple festival, if the committee wishes to do so. Mr Nair also suggested that we get the violinist and percussionist at our end for the concert. The committee made some reference checks with experts at Chennai and decided to experiment with Balamuralikrishna for the 10th Day music concert that year. Shri Chalakudi Narayana Swamy and Mavelikara Krishnan Kutty Nair were selected to be the violinist and percussionist on mridangam respectively for the concert. Both of them were very famous in Kerala already and performed for major vocalists earlier. In the printed program for the festival, the new vocalist was announced as “Ganasudhakara Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna” from Vijayawada, performing for the first time in Kerala State.

Normally, the music concert used to begin at about 9 PM and go on for about 3 hours most. As we had many knowledgeable people in the audience who were well versed with the nuances of Carnatic music, there used to be a separate enclosure for them, marked as such in front of the stage. The purpose was to encourage the artists with meaningful gestures, following the raga, thana and pallavi throughout the concert. This arrangement used to work well and about 100 people used to fill these seats voluntarily, out of a mass of about 1000 plus audience attending the event. On the scheduled day, Mr Balamuralikrishna arrived an hour early and was introduced to his other two accompanying artists. None of them had met earlier. The program started at 9 pm sharp and within a few minutes, the audience was mesmerized by the melodious voice of the vocalist. He initially spoke in English, introduced himself and talked about his interest in research on the Carnatic ragas and offered to share some of it during the concert. After an hour or so singing traditional ragas, he introduced a raga named Rohini to the audience and went on to sing the raga, thana and pallavi in that raga [Maamava Gana Lola] with the violinist and mridangam artist accompanying his rendering in a very spirited manner. The audience, needless to say sat transfixed enjoying the treat throughout the program. As per requests from the audience, Balamuralikrishna continued with the concert for more than four hours and ended the program at about 1.30 AM with great applause from everyone. Many organizers from other temples in Kerala were present during this program, having heard about this new artist and I understand Mr Balamuralikrishna got many bookings on that night itself. I also remember our Committee paid only the airfare from Chennai to Cochin, the taxi fare and overnight stay at Mavelikara along with a token amount to the singer for his maiden concert in Kerala.

I never got a chance to listen to Balamuralikrishna in person again but have enjoyed listening to his discs, cassettes and now YouTube programs, whether as a vocalist in Carnatic music or a jugalbandi with the likes of Pandit Bhim Sen Joshi or playing violin solo or playing other musical instruments with elan. His contribution to the Annamacharya Kirtanas and Rabindra Sangeet will always be remembered by all the music lovers across India and abroad. He has created 18 new ragas and has composed in all the 72 Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic music. His penchant for experimentation and creativity leaves a rich legacy difficult to emulate. Long Live the Memory of this Great Thespian of Carnatic Music!

Disclaimer: The above story is purely based on my memory and association with the event at Mavelikara 60 years ago. It is prone to minor inaccuracies which are not intentional. I do not remember if the concert was in 1956 or 57 and therefore it is possible that the artist’s maiden performance was in the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin State if the concert was before 1st November 1956 when the Kerala state was formed.