Showing posts with label Kerala. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kerala. Show all posts

Monday, April 10, 2017

Kozhikode trip

 

Two weeks back we travelled to Kozhikode, to attend a wedding of a friend, and to catch up with others too. Kozhikode is a city in north Kerala, situated right on the west coast in Malabar. I was not looking forward to this trip, partially because I knew how the weather there would be like at this time of the year. But also because I have my own history with the place. The last time I was here was...what..11 years ago ? For my undergraduation I went to an aided college in this district, and had to travel frequently via private buses on this route. There was no direct bus to my college, I had to switch buses at Kozhikode private bus stand, with those half ring curves for its roof. While there, I have had snacks and tea between buses, and very rarely, lunch. And I hated college. Really hated. So when I finally I secured my degree and certificate , I had decided I will never have to come back to this place again.

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Well after 11 years I can proudly say the city has not changed much at all. I remember the traffic was always this bad. Specially around the bus stand, those roads are the arteries of the city traffic. And the weather was always this hot. Being so close to the beach, the humidity is always high. The city has this strange habit of clinging on to its past, modernization comes so slowly. Even in this day and age, most of the establishments do not accept credit card or e-wallets for payment. Except only the high end ones. And people still stare at couples walking together in the big city.

And the hotels, they still cling on to their 12-pm-checkin time rule from last century. We had to pay extra on OYO to ensure we could check in at 7 in the morning. Maybe they take up the entire morning to clean up, thus mandating that checkins are only after 12 noon. But what about early morning travellers ?

It is a similiar irony at the city's most well known shopping mall, the 'Focus' mall. Surprisingly, this is just opposite the private bus stand I used to travel through as a student. There are a few other malls too, but this one seems to be the most well equipped. Puttakke puttakke karimeen puttakke. All the youngsters are there, and even a lot of families. Kozhikode has a majority muslim population, and they dress conservatively. I still cannot understand how they wear those long black burqas under such a blazing heat. So it was ironical that the branded readymade showrooms in the mall were advertizing and displaying a lot of western wear, things which no body in this city would dare to wear. All those shorts and tights and straps, anybody wearing these would turn heads of the 'traditional' population. Neverthless, people were still checking those clothes out.

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The autorikshaw drivers in the city maybe charge the lowest fares in the country. I hope that stays like that for a long long time. We travelled 8 times in autos and paid a total of only 200 rupees ! We would have had to pay about 500 had it been in Bangalore. There is really no need to own a car here, these autos are dependable enough to get around , and they know every nook and cranny and all the secret roads of the city, some I could not even find on google maps !

As always, the city still serves up the best food. Wether it is vegetarian fare, or their cuisines borrowed from Arabia, or their famous biriyanis, the food is lip smacking ! Do visit on an empty stomach. Also one has to visit those famous halwa stands to sample all those colorful halwas, now available in modern flavors of mango and grape !

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And another thing which is thankfully still the same, is the cleanliness. It is still the cleanest cities I have visited in my country. Even the beach area is clean and well maintained. The rest of this country and learn something from it.

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Unforgettable Onam….

 

…In which we travel via Banaswadi and on Kochuvelly during the Water wars.

Happy Onam. It is easy to wish somebody in two words, but no true Malayalee can explain what Onam really means to us. For many of us, we stay away from our native, only so that we can come back to celebrate Onam. Which is usually easy, travelling is becoming easier and affordable every day. But this year, we had to overcome a different kind of adversity. The violent self-destruction of a state during its water wars.

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I will not explain what these water wars are, enough has been said of the matter by the media. We were supposed  to travel from Bangalore to Kerala on Monday, the 12th of September ,2016. The day started pretty well off in Bangalore city, with all its cheer and lovely climate. But shortly after noon, violent erupted when self-appointed 'protectors' of the state started putting public and private property on fire. A very ironical way to agitate against shortage of water. But that is what happened.

By evening, all public and private vehicles were being blocked from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu at their borders. And TN numbered vehicles were being targetted and burned in Bangalore. Our scheduled bus journey in the evening is cancelled by the operator. And we are stuck in the city. Section 144, and shorter version of  a curfew, is imposed very late in the day, after all the damage is already done.

It was safer to stay back home that day. The next day, there was still no decision if vehicle movement has been restored at the border. So we wait. It was the first day of Onam, when back home in Kerala, Malayalees would throng the markets for purchases. Last minute groceries to clothes, to shopping for Onam discounts. We were supposed to be there, but instead, were stuck 500 kilometers away.

That evening, I began to check travel sites. All private buses had stopped operations, there was no need to take such a huge risk and endanger the lifes of the crew and travellers as well. But it seemed, the trains were still on track. Pun intended. None of the trains bound to Kerala had been stopped. Instead, the railways had arranged for special extra trains to carry people stuck in the city back home. It was probably the only positive action taken by somebody in power that day. But these special trains were unreserved, and  undoubtedly crowded. So I decided not to opt for them.
 
So I checked the IRCTC site, and found that the last train to leave from Bangalore to Kerala was at 9pm. A non-daily , all AC reserved train called the Kochuvelly garibh-rath. It was scheduled to start from a station on the north side of the city (Yeshwantpur), which was faar away from where we were staying. And it had only one other stop in the city, at a small station called Banaswadi. Although I had heard of the name of the place many times before, I had never known it had its own railway station. That place was still far away, but still commutable. There were no direct buses from our location. We had to rely either on radio-cabs, or take three different buses to get there. BMTC public transport buses were still plying, but not to all places. All the major taxi operators had closed their offices, but some cab drivers , who were willing to take the risk, were still driving around.

And so the first miracle. The train was still accepting reservations, and there were berths available ! Unbelievable. I booked confirmed berths for our travel. Now all we needed was to get to the station on time. So we started attempting to book cabs on Ola. We tried other radio cabs as well,but they were not available.

Due to the curfew like situation in the city, lights had been turned off everywhere to prevent people from grouping together. Street-lights were off.  And the shops were still shut down, so no lighting from there either. It was an eery feeling walking through the city in pitch darkness. I have only seen a fully lit metro-city in Bangalore during nights. All the traffic lights had defaulted to yellow, so it was a free-for-anyone on the junctions. The lesser number of vehicles helped, but those vehicles were driving all over the place.

And then the second miracle. We had been trying to get a cab to Banaswadi. Finally, after more than an hour of pushing buttons on the app, a cab responded. There was a shared cab available to travel to Banaswadi.

Things were back on track now. It took some time to find the Ola-cab, then a one hour journey to the destination. This is the first time that Ola actually sent a cab when we really really needed one.

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The Banaswadi station was shorter than the length of a train compartment. It was a small locality with secluded roads, and nicely tucked away. And it was crowded. The crowd was overflowing through the front steps into the yard. And I could hear a lot of Malayalam and Tamil being spoken. Clearly they were all from neighbouring states and were waiting to travel home. We had arrived an hour prior to the scheduled departure time of our train. So we waited, and watched, as trains chugged in and out and ferried off stranded passengers. More passengers arrived via autos and cabs, a family was dropped off by 5 youngsters on their bikes.

Our Kochuvelly express was the last train to Kerala that night. And we could see the whole train was booked and boarded by anxious Malayalees who were travelling home for their state's biggest festival.

Now after celebrating Onam, we still have not decided how we are going to get back. Its now TN's turn to agitate. A day-long bandh has been called in the state, and buses and trains will be stopped at the Karnataka-TN border.

I hope the journey back is less adventurous.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Living in India is getting more expensive

 

Well, prices of things are always going up, but now the Indian citizen is getting crushed under a new set of taxes. After introducing the 0.5% Swachh Bharat Cess in November, the Union Finance Minister announced in this year’s Budget that the government would levy a Krishi Kalyan Cess to finance activities related to agriculture and build a fund for the welfare of the farmers. Indirect taxes and charges such as these are an important part of the government’s income from taxation. Of the Rs14.4 lakh crore ($213 billion) of taxes collected by the Indian government in the last financial year, 44.4% came from indirect taxes.

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Meanwhile, prices of petrol and diesel were hiked on June 1. Petrol will become costly by Rs2.58 per litre and diesel by Rs2.26 a litre. This means transport costs will rise, affecting the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk and other food products, among others. To add to household woes, the cost of an LPG cylinder—used for cooking across the country—was also increased by Rs21.

Travelling in airconditioned buses will be costlier from today with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) increasing its fare by 6%, thanks to union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who has imposed service tax on state-carriage AC buses. Not just tickets, daily and monthly passes will also cost more. Monthly passes of AC buses which operate within the city are likely to cost `135 more, and passes of AC buses to and from Kempegowda International Airport will cost `201.

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What a fantastic time to be living in India. And the reality of all this is that after all these taxes and charges, nothing  is going to change in the country.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

പൂട്ടിയ ബാറുകള്‍ തുറക്കില്ലെന്ന് എക്‌സൈസ് മന്ത്രി

 

Excise Minister T.P. Ramakrishnan on Thursday said the LDF Government's liquor policy would focus on abstinence to bring down the consumption of liquor gradually even while reiterating that the closed bars would not be opened.  Mr Ramakrishnan told DC that the government would soon launch a people's campaign to create awareness.

"We are for abstinence. Our efforts would be directed at reducing liquor consumption in society in a phased manner. As far as shut bars are concerned, there are many which are functioning as beer and wine parlours. So we have to look into all these aspects before taking a decision on our policy. People will be taken on board for state-wide campaign,'' he added.

The LDF leadership believes that not even a single bar had been closed in the state. Most have been converted into beer and wine parlours where beer and wine with high alcohol content was being sold. According to Left leadership, spurious liquor was being supplied through various outlets.

Moreover, a number of studies had pointed out that the use of drugs, psychotropic substances were growing alarmingly in the state. Houses, vehicles have turned into bars rendering the previous government's liquor police totally ineffective.

“CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury had also made it clear the Left Government's  policy would be to further reduce the impact of liquor consumption in Kerala society which has already demonstrated new social problems. The efforts would be aimed at further reducing liquor consumption," he added.

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Making the first announcement after assuming the office and putting the concerns about the excise policy of the new government to rest, the government has declared that it has no intention to reopen the closed bar hotels.

Talking to reporters, excise and labour minister T P Ramakrishnan said here on Thursday that the government will not reopen the closed bar hotels. He said that the governments policy was to reduce the consumption of liquor. For this, the government will launch mass campaign. He said that the LDF had declared its stance in the manifesto, from which the governments policy is clear.

Though there are promises in the manifesto on alcohol and curbing the drug menace, the promises are too shallow without any concrete framework, even the excise department officials feel. According to excise officials, the consumption of drugs has easily increased for two reasons- less availability for alcohol and ready and cheap availability of drugs like ganja. Officials say that a detailed survey will have to be undertaken to find out the intensive users of drugs, who will have to be subjected to medical treatment.

The officials in the cutting edge level in the filed have found that the users of drug themselves are later becoming the sellers. So the officials say that unless the distribution chain is cracked down at the root, the awareness or a peoples movement for awareness will become futile exercise.

Meanwhile, there are also sources who believe that the government might adopt a new liquor policy from the next financial year, that would give more stress on awareness campaign and not prohibition, that may lead to relaxation of current policy of not granting licenses to any hotels below five-star category.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thrissur is India’s chit fund capital

 

 

Kerala's banking sector had its roots in local 'kuris' and when RBI started regulating banks, their numbers came down from 163 to a mere handful by 1970s. However, during the same time, Kerala witnessed a mushrooming of kuri companies - especially in Thrissur, which could be called the chit fund capital of India as one among every six chit funds in India is from Thrissur.


Two decades ago, chit funds from Kerala had shifted their registered offices to other states as the state legislation was tough. "They first moved to Bengaluru and when Karnataka started implementing the Central Chit Funds Act, they shifted to Faridabad," said Mathew Puthukattukaren, director, Dharmmodayam, which was registered in 1919 as a company with the then Cochin state.


"Those companies operating out of Faridabad had opened a namesake office. According to local rules, they were able to register the companies under the Local Shops Act, just like any other shop," he said. This reached such a farcical level that few years ago a British newspaper Daily Mail had reported that a two-storey building in sector 7 of Faridabad was home to 130 chit funds from Kerala.


Once Haryana was brought under the central act in 2012, the exodus of registered offices reversed. According to the documents of the ministry of corporate affairs, by the end of October 2014, India had 5,836 chit fund companies and 2,148 were registered in Kerala. Thrissur had the maximum : 1,090 firms.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Left,Right ,Left

 

The results have come in. And its a red wave in Kerala. Repeating the countless earlier patterns, the incumbent UDF government was removed and a new LDF run government will be put in the state. Perhaps no where else in the world would the results of an election be so predictable.  I guess outgoing Chief Minister Chandy saw this coming, and had the last laugh. In his final months leading up to the election, he ran helter skelter across the state inaugrating various establishments like the Kochi Metro, and new airports. He was able to leave his name, and legacy for generations to come.

Now the number one question troubling the people of Kerala is, will the new government reverse the liqour policy put in force by the previous government ? Will the closed bars be reopened ?

And what is that orange dot in the assembly ?

 

 

 

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Rain drenched Election day

 

Today it was the poling day for the state of Somalia Kerala for the Assembly elections, 2016. And it has also been raining. Steadily. Medium to heavy rain was reported all across the state. But the rain didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the voters anyway. If theres one thing living in Kerala has taught me in all these years, its that a rainy day is just another day in the life of a malayalee. We welcome it with open arms.

It was felt nice being a part of the election machinery of the country. The Indian consitution does not give the average voter too may powers, this is perhaps the only time where a citizen can bring about some change in the system. This chance comes but once in only 5 years, and sooner, if things are really that bad. This particular year, the stake are abnormally high. Whatever result is proclaimed two days from now, its going to be a sure surprise to the whole country.

So what are the thoughts going through the mind of a voter now ? Waiting in the rain ? Here are mine.

The incumbent Congress party has actually done quite well in its term. There are allegations of corruption against them. But then, there are always allegations of corruption,  before every election. It was the same before the last one too. I think these things have now become such commonplace that it no longer comes as a surprise to the average Indian. But if one examines the pattern of who has one over all the years, the chances of the incumbent party winning is very minute.

Which opens up the possiblity of a Left led government. Kerala is the last chance for this party to come to power, they have already lost in Bengal, and they only have a government in tiny Tripura. Problem is that the ideals of this party (if there are still some left) are directly against the laws of economics. They are against capitalism and foreign investment. No problem there. Except without foreign ties, India can never call itself a developed country. Daily wage rates in Kerala is highest in the country, and labourers from north India, called ‘migrant labourers’ by the media, is now the core workforce of the state. The state is turning out to be a mini-Gulf for these workers.

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One could analyze the election patterns around the world, and may not have seen such a fishbone diagram for its depiction. This graph shows how Keralites have changed side to the extremes during every election. But the last election was a photo finish.

Kerala has painted itself into a unique corner. On one side, it has the highest human development index for any state in the country.  That should mean that the standard of living here is much higher. But this is primarily because of Kerala’s innumerable remittances from migrant Keralites of the middle east. With a failed industry, and a failed agriculture, Kerala depends on imports from other states for everything from food to services. That always means that these things come with a higher cost. Groceries are more expensive. Even staple food grains. And all the vehicles and raw materials required by a state…they are all imported from another state, and thus cost more.  No party seems to have an agenda to boost agriculture and industry in the state.

 

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Its well known that all electrical & electronic applicances cost more at the store in Kerala, which is why a huge number of buyers were buying these things online, and when the state government found out, they tried to impose a penalty tax for these goods. The Kerala High Court had to quash this later.

The only industry which could be exploited was tourism, which the government promptly did. But the state Congress govenment’s decision to ban liquor has now adversely affected this as well. Media says that the decision was warmly welcomed by the women of the state. Which is important, because unlike the rest of the country, Kerala has a reverse sex- ratio. There are more women than men, so that is a majority movement here.

When UDF was power at the center, incumbent UDF state government enjoyed a lot of benefits. But now with BJP at the center, the equation is no longer feasible.

All in all, its a mixed bag. Like I said, the result , whatever it is , will be a huge surprise.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

#PoMoneModi

 

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Angry Twitterati in Kerala launched a blitzkrieg on Twitter, with the hashtag #PoMoneModi (Get Lost Modi), after Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the infant mortality rates among Scheduled Tribes in Kerala with that of Somalia.

The tag #PoMoneModi, derived from Po Mone Dinesha, a dialogue in Mohalal-starrer Narasimham, was trending on the micro-blogging site with over 25,000 tweets. This was even as Mr. Modi, who is second most followed world leader on Twitter, was preparing to address his third and final election rally in Kerala on Wednesday. Another hashtag, #Somalia, is also trending with around 15,000 tweets.

The Twitterati, mostly Congress and Leftist supporters, tweeted and re-tweeted the hashtag, berating and lampooning Mr. Modi for his remarks.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Gregory Jacob, the inspiration to Jacobinte Swargarajyam

 

There is a fantastic little piece here on the man whos life inspired the hit Malayalam movie, Jacobinte Swargarajyam. Go on and the read about how the real life tribulations of Gregory and his family reached Vineet Srinivasan, and lead to the creation of this awesome, feel good movie. Gregory comes across as a an exteremely optimistic, God fearing, and humble being. And Vineeth, he did a fantastic job directing the movie, which would have otherwise turned into a  documentary newspiece.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Kerala Elections

 

A survey by a leading television channel of the state suggests a close finish in the elections due in Kerala, with the opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) having a slight edge over its rival, the United Democratic Front (UDF). This should not come as a surprise, for the state has been rotating between these two coalitions for almost as long as one can remember. It is as if the electorate is never fully satisfied with their performance after they have been given a chance to govern.

It could also be that it intends to place political parties permanently on probation. There is seldom anything like a “wave” in Kerala. This could be for one of two reasons: That a politically aware populace is not easily swayed by persons, or that interests are deeply entrenched and loyalties fully formed. Malayalis tend not to be heroworshippers. The charisma of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, had derived not from his personality but from his luminous intelligence. The people of the state also very likely have a sense of the constraints faced by its economy and don’t accept great change as a quick possibility. But a churning is perhaps still considered desirable to keep in check the arrogance of politicians, preventing them from assuming that they will always remain in power.

There is, however, some genuine cause for popular dissatisfaction with the UDF currently in power. Despite the unusually mild manner of the chief minister and the efforts he has made to cultivate an image of accessibility to the public — via 24×7 CCTV coverage of his office and adalats held at periodic intervals — two corruption scandals have blighted the image of the UDF. The first is one in which the finance minister was accused of having taken money as quid pro quo for a favourable cabinet decision affecting owners of bars. Though K.M. Mani, the concerned minister, is yet to be indicted, he had to resign, bowing to public pressure. The chief minister is relatively unaffected by the allegations but has shown himself to be unduly sympathetic to Mani’s predicament and unwilling to let him go.

The other scandal has closer links to the chief minister. It has to do with the promoters of a private company dealing 3/29/2016 webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Aindianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Findia%2Findia­news­india%2Fkerala­assembly­elections­201… http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Aindianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Findia%2Findia­news­india%2Fkerala­assembly­elections­2016… 2/2 in solar panels advancing its prospects by claiming proximity to the government. Links between the promoters and the chief minister’s office, including an unusually large number of telephone calls from one of them to the chief minister’s official gunman, have been detected. Even though the chief minister has stoutly denied any wrongdoing, the whole affair has left him under a cloud. The two scandals surfacing so close to the elections is likely to have dimmed the chances of the UDF returning to power. In Kerala, there is low tolerance of the misuse of office in the pursuit of personal gain.

However, for the people of Kerala, the relevant question would be whether the present opposition, the LDF, has anything substantially different to offer by way of policies that can improve their lives. As the composition of the leadership of the LDF has not undergone any change in the past decade, there is little for them to hope for in this respect. Not only are the faces that matter the same, the announcement that they are both — V.S. Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan — to receive tickets means that we have not seen the last of the longstanding rivalry between the two. The public would be naive to overlook the impact of this on governance. But the issue is not so much of dissonance within the LDF but whether it has anything new to bring to the table after its lacklustre performance over 2006­11. Kerala’s fundamental constraint is that it is an economy dependent on the rest of the world, notably the Gulf region. Not only has the government, therefore, had little control over it for some decades, but this model is also unlikely to be sustained. The Gulf is reeling under the impact of declining oil prices and the construction boom, confined mainly to Dubai, cannot last indefinitely. Unbounded outmigration is not a reasonable prospect. Therefore, if unemployment — estimated to be three times the national average in Kerala — is an issue, the way out would have to be through domestic production. But for domestic production to be feasible, it must be competitive. Three factors determine a region’s competitiveness: The educational profile of its workforce, the industrial climate, and the availability of producer services. Historically, the CPM’s contribution to a negative industrial climate characterised by labour militancy is substantial. Labour militancy may have declined, but its shadow has apparently not paled.

Beyond trade unionism, which has been the opiate of the Left, both fronts share an approach to governance defined by welfarism. Even before establishing health and education on a strong footing, successive governments have championed the proliferation of welfare schemes. This has meant that little is left for investment in infrastructure for production, which only the state, as opposed to the market, can provide. Producer services, ranging from water supply to waste management, set limits to productive activity.

The said survey also indicated that the BJP may open its account with seats in the legislature for the first time. It is difficult to say right now which of the two fronts this will impact. But one thing is certain: Unless the manifestos of the two extant fronts contain something radically new, we are unlikely to see a change in the profile of the state. It will have to continue to live by exporting labour, with the attendant consequence for its autonomy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Heat

 

Man its getting hot here. You don’t have to read the papers or listen to the news to confirm that the temperature is rising across the country, and around the world too. But the papers all full of ‘record-breaking’ news, the maximum temperatures recorded so far this year have shattered all time records.

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Climate change is usually assessed over years and decades, and 2015 shattered the record set in 2014 for the hottest year seen, in data stretching back to 1850.The Nasa data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just one month earlier in January, was 1.15C above the long-term average for that month. February was the third consecutive month to break the global temperature record, which is calculated by setting the temperature for a particular month against the average temperature from that month between 1951-1980.February was 1.35C above the norm, easily surpassing the 1.14C margin from January of this year, which also set a record.

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Temperatures in Bangalore city is now higher than that of Chennai, which was always known for this hotter climate. While driving back home from work, I can feel the hot air coming in , instead of the otherwise cooler breeze. And things are going to get much more complicated, with load shedding power outages coming up soon. And the last insult to this injury is that the water table in the city is also quickly drying up. News reports say Bengaluru will become hotter this summer. And there is drinking water in stock at KRS only for 60 days.

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A study conducted by V Balasubramanian, former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, has sounded a warning bell for Bengaluru: If the current rate of groundwater utilisation continues, there will be a major crisis by 2025 when people may have to be evacuated. The state is also facing an increase in pollution of groundwater in many areas. The groundwater in about 12 of the 30 districts in Karnataka is highly polluted, a recent study by the department of mines and geology shows. "Groundwater is highly polluted with excess concentration of fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate and salinity due to both anthropogenic and geogenic factors, particularly in the districts of north Karnataka. The quality of water is deteriorating due to the mixing of sewerage through unlined open drains, leakage from cesspits and septic tanks, and contamination from industrial wastes," the report said.

 

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In the month of March, Kerala usually sees a lot of pre­monsoon activity. But this year the pre­monsoon activity has been little subdued. There is hardly any thundershower activity in the region which is evident around this time of the year. Neither the thundershower activity nor the moderate showers of pre­monsoon has showed up in god’s own country. The current temperatures of the state are at scorching high. The temperatures during the day are fairly high. Mornings and late afternoons will see a lot raised temperatures, as the winds will be flowing from the lands to the sea. These winds are hotter as they travel over the land. But then early evenings and nights will see sudden change in winds that will allow the sea breeze to move towards the land. Early evenings and nights will experience a dip in temperature but this dip in temperature can hardly be experienced as the overall humidity level will be high. But later in the night, the reversal of the sea breeze can be experienced; the temperatures will see a rise. The dissonance over the stability of temperature will be observed over the region, with constant high humid levels sticking their heads up in the state.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kerala Film Awards - 2015

 

So the latest buzz in Kerala news is the announcement of Kerala State Film awards. You know, the usual annual opportunity where the art/parallel movie movement can have a shoutout, remind others of its presence. It is very rarely that mainstream movies win these awards, and time has shown that many art movies which win these awards get lot more publicity and more patrons as a result. Every year, the recipients of these awards are congratulated and recognized for their achievement.

This year however, the general 'public' is not happy. Two of the most prestigious awards , the best actor and actress, have been awarded to two relative new-comers for their roles in fully commercial & popular movies. There are already memes and posts all over media mocking the committee's decision to fall to commercial cinema's charms and give away awards to crowd pleasers. Never mind the fact that the winners actually did do a good job, the general consensus is that there were movies with veteran actors who 'deserved' to win.

As a chronic movie skipper myself, I don't care who wins each year. But this year, I feel the awards have gone to good performances. The characters they played were believable, likeable, and convincing. Maybe the roles were custom written for them, but so too have been many such roles in the history of cinema. And whoever said commercial movies cannot have good actors ? Why should only the roles which make us cry and think win awards ? Can't the awards go to funny, bubbly and positive roles ?

For the last few years, if you check the winners list, they have gone to younger and newer actors. Last year Fahadh Faasil and Ann Augustine won them. The year before that, 2012, Prithviraj and Rima Kallingal were the winners. This is a good trend, showing that the established clichés of the industry are being broken, people are accepting convincing portrayals from younger actors.  The winning movies of this year definitely clicked with the crowd. And a state level award like this is a recognition of their work and contribution to the industry.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Premam Trivia

 

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Somewhere along the Chokkampatti Hills where Periyar starts

Some successes are meant to be, and so it is that ‘Premam’ has become the year’s biggest box office success, catapulting its lead actor NivinPauly into superstardom.

Years ago, when Priyardarshan’s ‘Kilukkam’ became the rage and sensation, an impromptu Ootty trip became a tribute to the movie as ten of us trekked down to every spot in the hill station where the film was shot.
It was 'film madness' at its heights that culminated in a group photo with Disco Shanthi (the then sex-siren), who was shooting with a big Telugu actor, whose name hardly rang a bell for us.

It is therefore with little surprise that I watch hordes of youngsters, a number of them couples or potentials, making a beeline for the aqueduct on which Premam’s superhit song ‘Aluvapuzhayude’ was shot.

For years, the aqueduct was the monstrous ‘good for nothing’ construction that people would curse for every woe. Its mere presence meant a hurdle in widening an increasingly busy road to Alangad (which in a way serves as a fascinating detour if you want to reach Kochi without being bogged down by highway traffic).

A number of stories circulate about the aqueduct, a part of the Periyar Valley Irrigation Project.
Built in the early 1970s, it is described as "an abandoned project, after an engineering design made it flawed and unworkable" in the quest to bring the ‘dead water’ of Periyar river, which has been sucked out of its electricity and lies still as death in the Bhoothathankettu reservoir, to the lower reaches of Ernakulam district. Oldtimers recall how the nearly 12 ft piling (almost the height of the aqueduct) cracked up homes in the vicinity.

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The dead water sucked of power carried downstream for irrigation

There has always been a magical charm to the story of Periyar, and in earlier adventures to trace it back to source, a road-trip had taken us to what we believe is the slope of the Chokkampatti hills on the Western Ghats from where it starts as a trickle.

The river makes two significant diversions at the point where it meets the famed Aluva Shivarathri temple.
Gone are the sandy beds of the river now but the reverence you feel for the temple, where a stone idol submerges under river water every monsoon, is palpable.
If surreal is the right word, you feel that here. Under fading sunlight and a starlit sky, you can watch trains ply over a distant bridge and live a similar ambience that MT Vasudevan Nair so vividly describes about his own favourite river, the Nila.

Here at the once-sandy river bed, thousands also congregate to bid goodbye to their dear and departed, and come every year for annual tributes.

Where it begins

Where it begins

It could be that the deathly pangs of the mortals and their quest for heavenly salvation  become so unbearable the river divides into two here.
One stream heads down to Mangalapuzha to join Chalakudy river and end in Lakshadweep Sea at Munambam. The other under the now 75-year-old Marthandavarma Bridge and drain into the Arabian Sea at Varappuzha.

And our story starts, rather becomes relevant, with this second branch of the river.

An intricate network of canals and aqueducts, in fact, had been envisaged as part of the massive World Bank funded project; you can see them through the road-trip to Perumbavoor and Kothamangalam. But things get a bit murky when it reaches Aluva.

According to a few old-timers, an underground canal that carries the ‘dead water’ ends near the Aluva fish market, where the ‘Premam Aqueduct’ marks its start. Here the water rises up and continues its journey through the aqueduct for irrigating land further down. Or so, they say. They vouch that the aqueduct is not so useless as it seems and it irrigates farmlands as far away as Koonammavu.

Others claim that no water has passed through it since their early memory, and it is an engineering debacle that profited an ‘engineer from Kottayam’ and the mismanagement was summarily buried by the media. Well, this is all unverified.

What we can, however, see today is an entry point to the aqueduct that is typically messy. The stench from the market is perhaps the first thing that greets you.'

Marthandavarma Bridge beyond

View of the Marthandavarma Bridge from the aqueduct

Realty developers have cashed in on the prospects and you have a number of high rises with ‘river views,’ one right at the start of the aqueduct.

Its first lap gives you a glimpse of Kunjunnikara island, which is home to the famous Uliyanoor Temple associated with Perumthachan.
Ha, the magic of folklore. His envy at his own son outsmarting him in temple architecture led to the man ‘killing’ the youngster, a story reinterpreted with such dignity by MT and enacted with finesse by Thilakan.

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The 'Premam' brigade

People fish in Periyar from the aqueduct, and you can now see a steady flow of youngsters in bicycles and bikes on traverse it trying to relive the ‘Premam’ moments.

Walk past the first part, right over Periyar River, watch it take a detour, and you enter land lined by homes. It is almost as if the river just disappears.
Agriculture has long given way to patches of wasteland where buffalos enjoy symbiotic moments with black crows. Rows of nutmeg trees line the path, apart from dead, dying and some fruity coconut trees. As if to remind us of Kerala’s one-time misadventure with cocoa farming, there are a few of them too.

At several points the railings have given way totally leaving wide, danger-prone holes. You also pass exit points to the mainland before you hit the second patch of the aqueduct (the real Premam one) that passes over Periyar again and overlooks the Marthandavarma bridge.

Ending into a ditch

Where it ends

No matter the decay around, the views from here are majestic. Youngsters in packs celebrate ‘selfie’ moments for Facebook posts. The turn where the hero meets with the heroine's dad is postcard perfect with bamboos and verdant green trees.
The aqueduct, however, doesn’t end here. You walk on, and what you see is a microcosm of Kerala – palatial houses that flaunt Gulf and US expat money, small dwellings, dilapidated lamp posts, wastelands of green, marshes and water canals that are still needed to meet daily needs.

It is no more than a 45-minute walk, picturesque at best, before the aqueduct ends as abruptly as it begins.
There is nothing but a ditch, overgrown with vegetation that marks the endpoint. A few steps down the aqueduct and you reach the North Parur road, right by the historic UC College.

Right now, the innard of the aqueduct isbrimming with water – is it from Bhoothathankettu or from the heavy monsoon rains is hard to tell.

When water flows, the aqueduct 'leaks' with the water trickling down to the roads to deepen the potholes. In summer, it still serves as an easy conduit to walk from UC College to the Aluva market.

View from the end

 

 

 

Alphonse Puthren. The name itself is novel. Just like Premam, the name of its director too grabbed eyeballs.

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But come home to the Manjooran house here at Aluva Kalathil Lane, ‘Puthren’ (son) becomes father, and the son becomes Alphonse. Here, there is a ‘Puthri’ (daughter) too – Alphonse’s sister, Dr. Puthri Puthren.

Alphonse was baptized as Alphonse Joseph Paul. But when he was admitted to L.K.G in Ootty, his name was changed to Alphonse Puthren. Alphonse’s father’s name was Puthren Paul, and it was Alphonse’s grandfather, M.C. Paul, who gave this unique name to his son. Yes, there is a story behind that too!

Paul was working at a coffee house in Mumbai during the Second World War, and that is when the story begins. A guy named ‘Puthren’, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh used to work in the coffee shop where Paul worked. One day, he went to one of the ships to give coffee, and he was killed in a bomb blast there. Paul was deeply hurt by that incident. That is how Paul decided to name his next son ‘Puthren’.

As for ‘Puthren’, he decided to lovingly call his daughter ‘Puthri’. If his dad could call him ‘Puthren’, then why not call his own daughter ‘Puthri’?! This is what Puthren thought. Today, Puthri is a dentist and is settled in the U.K with her husband Raphy Paul.

The name Alphonse is the contribution of his mom Daisy who decided to name her son after Saint Alphonsa. Daisy, who had two lovely daughters, prayed for a son when she was pregnant for the third time.

Daisy was three months pregnant when she visited the famous Bharananganam Church to pray for a boy. As she pressed her head on the holy bed of the St. Alphonsa, a breeze passed by her. It seems the breeze told her that she was going to have a boy!

Alphonse was born on February 10, the same day when Saint Chavara was born. It is believed that Saint Chavara came in Saint Alphonse’s dream and cured her illness. Daisy found it a miracle that her son was also born on the same auspicious date. Alphonse has another sister named Mary. She lives with her husband Bejoy in Qatar.

The director of Premam has always been media shy. Unmoved by the brouhaha over his movie, this guy still takes a rickshaw to commute around. Even though he has done two blockbuster movies, Neram andPremam, his interviews have not come out much in the media. He also stays away from the promotions of the film. But the residents of Aluva are not surprised by this. That is how Alphonse is. He loves to travel in an auto than in an AC car!

Alphonse was obsessed about cinema from childhood. That is how he left to Chennai to pursue studies in digital film making. Alphonse has never assisted anyone, and yet took Neram that topped charts. He directed a music album named Yuvvh before Neram. Alphonse believes that the fate of a film is determined by its screenplay, rather than the story.

Due to their hard-core love for cinema, Alphonse and his family would go for movies every week. Daisy used to be a good critic and after watching a movie, she would imagine how the plot-line could have been changed for better.

During her school days, Daisy has won the first prize in a story writing competition held by a bunch of film-makers. But later, she left writing and ventured out to be a beautician. Apparently, Daisy is the first beauty parlour owner in Aluva. She had run a beauty parlour in Kochi also for some time. The first gent’s beauty parlour in Kochi was started by Alphonse's father, Puthren Paul. It was called ‘Gents Beauty Parlour’, and was located at Ammankovil Road. Puthren, who used to work at Premier Tyres in Aluva, had a parlour in TAS road at Aluva as well. Both Puthren and Daisy had completed their beautician course from Singapore.

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Alphonse prefers English over Malayalam to write his script and screenplay. The reason being his fluency in the language of course, as he studied in Ootty from L.K.G to sixth standard. He completed his B.Sc in Computer Science from MES College in Marampally before leaving to Chennai for film studies. Most of his close friends from college are seen in his two films.

Alphonse, Nivin, and their bunch of friends used to visit ‘Gopu’s Sarbath Shop’ that was located near Aluva Palace. The shop is shown in ‘Premam’ -- the one where the guys come and ask for Kus Kus in order to cool their soda. It is shown as ‘Gopus Cool Bar’ in the film, and is located at the junction near actor Dileep’s house. Gopu, who runs the real shop, is shown as Unni, who runs the shop in the movie. But the shop shown in the movie is not real. It is a set that was put at Uliyannoor, a small village near Aluva.

After Premam became a hit, the number of youngsters who throng Gopu’s shop has risen. Their latest marketing technique is ‘Premam’ sarbath that is available in the shop, and for that, they have stuck a poster saying the same!

Alphonse, who strongly believes that a film is a director’s complete responsibility, does not let anyone interfere in it. Not even the producer! He is very strict at the film location. After completing his film studies from Chennai, he wrote the script and screenplay for Neram, and waited for seven long years for a producer.

Premam is undoubtedly Aluva’s own film. The pulse is felt not just in the song Aluva Puzhayude Theerathu. Many youngsters from Aluva have been part of this film. Nivin, Anend Chandran who is the cinematographer, Alphonse, Jude Anthany Joseph, who is also a director, Sabareesh Varma who has penned down the songs, Krishnachandran, Saraf and Siju who comes as Nivin’s friends on-screen, are some of the prominent Aluvites who were part of the movie.

 

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Alphonse Puthren lights a lamp during the film puja of 'Premam'. Producer Anwar Rasheed, Actors Dulquer Salmaan, Fahadh Faasil and Nivin Pauly look on.

Jude and Alphonse were classmates at Paravoor St. Aloysius High School. Sabareesh and Alphonse are friends from MES College. Nivin, Siju and Alphonse belong to the same church. The story and screenplay for Premam was done in a small house near U.C. College in Aluva. The main locations for the film were Uliyannoor and U.C College, and both were very close.

Most of the actors in the film are their friends from ‘Gopus Cool Bar Association’! In the film, Alphonse has added an incident that he has heard from his mother Daisy. But his mom came to know about this only after watching the movie. In the movie, Nivin’s house is shown as ‘Kalaparambath’, and that is for real. Alphonse’s mother Daisy also belongs to the same family. It is popularly called as Karumaloor Kalaparambath.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Who Was Edmund Thomas Clint ?

 

Edmund Thomas Clint was the only son of M.T. Joseph and Chinnamma Joseph, a couple who hailed from Kochi, Kerala. His life was cut short to just 2522 days due to his prolonged illness and suffering due to kidney malfunction from the age of two. But despite all those sufferings he completed 25,000 pictures which were indeed breathstaking!

Clint used every medium: chalk, crayons, oil paints, and water colours to create drawings and paintings that depicted the world as he saw it. His collection stunned art admirers and critics who were astounded by his maturity and convinced of his artistic genius.

Clint passed away a month short of his seventh birthday leaving behind a treasure trove of art work. He had the unique ability to understand how people felt, and drew inspiration from these powerful emotions. Despite his young age, Clint created art that depicted intense themes like death, solitude, and love. In addition to being an artist, Clint was also a voracious reader. He was drawn to the drama of epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and was keen on listening to adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe. His mind grasped every detail described in these stories and then expressed them as a colorful canvas.

Clint's father was an ardent fan of the Hollywood actor, Clint Eastwood, and gave his son the actor's name. After Clint passed away, Sivakumar, renowned documentary film maker from India, made a documentary on the young artist's life and work. The film was shown at international film festivals and Clint Eastwood saw the documentary in Brazil. The actor was so touched by the story of Clint that he sent a message of condolence to Clint's parents and expressed sorrow at the child's untimely demise.