Two movies and four women…'How Far Would You Go To Save The One You Love’

One of the best movies I had seen in 2005 (or was it 2004) was without doubt Perumazhakalam directed by Kamal and written by TA Razak. A wonderful movie starring Meera Jasmine, Kavya Madhavan, Mamukoya and Dileep. I saw it a while ago, so I recall only the main parts of the movie and the impressions it left. The songs were memorably done by M Jayachandran, and visually it was raining all through the movie, an effect that added to the pathos the director conveyed so effectively.

Kamal (Kamaluddin) has always made great Malayalam movies. Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thadikal, Orkkappurathu, Gramaphone,Nammal, Meghamalhar, , Mazayettum munpe, Ulladakkam, Niram, swapnakoodu, Manjupoloru penkutti, Gazhal..the list goes on.

PMK has four characters, two women and two men. The men have very brief roles, one of them Vineeth is ‘accidentally’ killed by Dileep in Saudi Arabia, where Shariya rules apply in these cases. Which simply put, states in this case …life for a life…You get to know the brief & intense relationships between the wives and the two husbands mainly as flashbacks…Well, Dileep has to die and his wife Razia-Meera Jasmine decides to try and get Vineeth’s wife Ganga - Kavya to formally forgive Dileep for the crime. With only such a document can the death sentence be stayed…A simple and poignant story covering so many aspects of life, the caste and religious climate, and of course the gulf worker and his place in Kerala. Meera Jasmine does wonders to the role and aptly the movie won awards. Mamukoya was, if you ask me, brilliant, topping the honors next to Meera J. So much for Perumazhakkalam, a ‘do not miss’ but ‘have your tissues ready’ movie. I wish every second Malayalam movie is as poignant as this one. It is reviewed by many on the web…

With all this in a distant corner of my mind, we set to watch “Dor’ by Nagesh Kuknoor. I had not read anything about it, but well it was Kuknoor and we had seem almost all his movies, truly enjoying Iqbal & Hyderbad blues. (I watched some others that have been quickly forgotten, but Rockford is still ‘view in progress’).

The scenes were breathtaking, the photography brilliant, and Gul Panag as Zeenat captivating. The two men from two corners of India Hp and Rajasthan boarded vehicles and bound for the flights to the middle east, a few days passed, the ill fated trunk call came to Zeenat and then it hit me, Shit, this is probably a remake of Perumazhakalam!!! Unfortunately the rest of the viewing was, I admit, critical and mentally comparing the movie with PMK…but well, in the end I must say the movie was good in its own way. A few bits could have been done better, for example the ending and here is where you see the difference between Kamal the master and Kuknoor the novice. The character played by Shreyas Talpade – Bhairoopia though refreshing could have been crafted better.

Gul as Zeenat does reasonably well in comparison to Meera J, but what you see from the beginning is that Dor is meant to be much lighter and for a wider audience. It moves well and true. Kuknoor does a wee bit in a couple of frames – the locales are so well captured on celluloid…but the music never finds a place in Dor unlike the MJC music in PMK. Ayesha Takia was passable…

The story is just about the same, a little less realistic towards the end, a mite faster than PMK - but nevertheless an enjoyable one… do watch it. Kuknoor had done two interviews (
Int1, Int2) answering questions about the similarities between the two movies, but the key question – was one lifted from the other? Kuknoor says not, that both are based on the same real life story, though he paid Kamal for the rights to avoid hassles!

A slight twist here – Apparently PMK shares the theme with an Iranian movie ‘Dame Sobh’ as explained in this
Hindu article… I have not seen the latter.

One scene I smiled at in Dor was the mobile phone rental service. How effective it was, the girl standing on a mound (to capture the signal) and talking for a minute – the owner checking his watch carefully for the seconds timing by…India is changing, gone are the visits to the post office to make an ISD call and scream at the top of your voice to get heard…I don’t think many of you would have seen the earlier wind up phones, I have seen them in the 60’s in my dad’s house in the estates…you have to crank them before and as you talk on…

Or how it was some decades ago in the Middle East, Since there were not so many phones in Kerala and since mobile phones were not even invented, people had to think of other ideas & methods to get their thoughts across to loved ones. They talked (some sang) into cassette tapes and posted or couriered them through others traveling back home (Filipinos also did it). This record of their thoughts & messages, resulting in a new wave called ‘Kathu pattu’ during the late 70’s.

BTW - For those interested – the Shariyyah law is based on

Intentional Murder = The Qur'an legislates the death penalty for murder, although forgiveness and compassion are strongly encouraged. The murder victim's family is given a choice to either insist on the death penalty, or to pardon the perpetrator and accept monetary compensation for their loss (2:178).

Tail note – Another movie you should watch is ‘Khosla ki Ghosla’ – Truly brilliant.

Mammad kaka's coat

Driving down the I 15, I was starting to nod off a bit when I was surprised by MS Baburaj’s Kandam bechoru Kottane, mammadu kakkade kottane from the old hits CD playing in the car.After so many years, I was hearing that song all over again. On a dull winter day with teeming traffic crisscrossing the lanes and driving you mad, this one song has that ability to get you smiling. I listened to the words…What simple and nice lyrics, sung in the inimitable Calicut Koya dialect & tuned by the great Baburaj (the Cd cover states Baburaj- Mehaboob – Did Mehboob sing this or Baburaj? BTW this was the first Malayalam color film).

A song about an old and worn out coat, fit to be condemned, one that belonged to Fakir Mohammed Koya, and not a coat worn by blood sucking rich businessman or lawyers. The coat was always popular whilst on Koya, and ah! it is now mine ( who was this pictured on ? Adoor Bhasi or Bahadur? I tried picturing it and ended up with Bahadur since only Bahadur could have the size of a fakir- they are usually thin). Hey bed bug who lives in the coat, don’t bite me or I will quash you (actually stated as chop you to bits – Kashap akkum). There lives in the coat another parasite ‘kalan Paatta’ which eats away into the collar and sleeves, an entreaty to him – stop please, allow me to wear this coat for a while…
And it got me all pensive, taking me to my childhood days at Chalappuram – Calicut and the Ambalakkat house where I spent my primary school years. As the only child around, I had the large house all to myself with many trees, plants, sticks and stones for company. My Valiachan and Valiyamma who were taking care of me then (parents were living in the high range Estates – no schools in the estates, only Englishmen, Indian staff, tea plantations, tea pickers & wild animals lived there) and my bachelor uncle Balamama. Valiachan was a retired headmaster, and he was quite strict with me, the house was full of books and pictures, I recall one of those pictures on the wall, my dad’s brother (whom I never met – he died young) receiving some award from Chacha Nehru. Valiachan was always telling me about the great freedom fighters Nehru, Bose, Shastri (he never told me about VK Krishna Menon though)and making me write in copy books, using a fountain pen and old fashioned rulers (solid wooden cylinders that are rolled over paper, not today’s flat scales). Balamama my uncle worked at the Standard furniture factory in Kallai, he was always meticulously dressed in white, spending much time on an elaborate shave (first hot water, then the soap, then the Wilkinson razor with the 7’0 clock blades, then Mennen after shave), finally Brylcreem-ing his hair to perfection and finishing off by donning crisp and spotless white shirts & dhoti’s. I used to sit and watch all this before my own travel in a rickshaw to the school. Sometimes the 1-2 mile travel was by a hand drawn two wheeler; usually an old guy pulling it, sometimes it was a cycle rickshaw. Sometimes it was a ‘kuthira vandi’ – horse cart that took me clippety clop to nearby Ganapati School. Once or twice I went to school in an uncle’s Morris Minor. What an event that was!! As I got older though, I was allowed to walk the distance and I enjoyed that slow walk taking in the life around me.

I still recall the dreaded days when doctor mama came by for monthly check up’s – Dr Balakrishnanan Nair, our family doctor who owned and ran the Karunakara Nursing home across Malabar Christian College. He always ended up prescribed more tonics and asking tricky questions from school books which I had no answers for. And I remembered the many volumes of leather bound ‘book of knowledge’ that I pored over, reading about the Greeks and the Romans and many more. I can remember even today that particular musty book smell, and the wind up record player playing 78 rpm MS Subhalakshmi vinyl records.

The elders sold that house in the late 60’s to a wealthy Koya and moved to Palakkad where the rest of the family had settled down..

Balaama (shortened Balamama) used to call me Mammada…And that is where Mammad kaka’s coat took me today.

There are so many interesting words that have crept into the North Malabar Muslim dialect – words like Koyi – Which is as everybody knows Kozhi – Or Arabic words like Jannath (Heaven) or Mayyath (dead body ). ‘You’ is ‘JJJ’, now that is quite special & known only to Calicut’ians and ‘Oon’ is ‘He’. In those days we heard all these choice usages from the fish monger (almost always a Koya) who passed by or the guy who purchased old pots and pans…Today it is popularized by our comedian Mammu Koya. The z is silent in the koya dialect, koyi, puya etc are examples. Mohammad became Mammad. Kaka here does not mean crow, but means an elder. This word came from Gujarati & Hindi! Sometimes you see the learned Haji or fakir passing by, wearing the ‘Mammad’ kaka coat, small beard and mostly no moustache. Children feared the Haji, I won’t tell you though what the elder’s usual threat was…lest I create furor. Kabaristan (graveyard), Beebi (lady), Ithata(sister), Umma (mother), Odath (garden), suvar (pig) are a few of the many such special malayalified words that frequent the Calicut dialect.

Today the fish monger Koya has changed a lot, he checks with the catchers and fish retailers about the catch after whipping out his latest model mobile phone, calling to find out if a specific fish, mussels or prawns are available. I am sure we will have online fish ordering soon in Calicut..
Kandam bechoru kottanu, pande kittiya kottanu
mammad kakade kottanu ithu nattil muzhuman pattanu
Tozhilalikale kollayadikkana muthalalikalude kottalla
Kashtatha perukiya sadhu janangade kanneer oppana kottanu
Kottil irikkana van mootte, mootte nee ithu keettatte
Kadichu kollan vannal ninne kashap cheyyum mushette
Vakeel marude kottalla, ithu fakir aniyana kottanu
Rabbin kalpana kettu nadakkana kalbine moodiya kottanu
Varsham nalayi kottin akathoru kalan patta irikkunnu
Collarum thinnu keeshayum thinnu kottum koodi thinnalle....

Picture - Courtsey Hindu, HMV

Californian musings

In the middle of settling down at our new house in Socal (South California), thanksgiving, black Friday, forest fires and the such…we did meander around South California…An insight

Temecula, the place where we live, is beyond the white specked cliffs as you drive north from San Diego to LA on the I 15 (see my previous blog….). The town that borders it on the North is Murietta and down South is just hills & desert. West of the Temecula town is the French Valley vineyards where prospectors and amateur wine hobbyists and wine pros (ala French kiss – what a great movie that was!!) vie to set up the winner farm and reap a good grape harvest to bottle it. We have never been there; it is a plan for a future weekend with nothing better to do, probably go ballooning as well. It was in Temecula that Erle Stanley Gardener decided to settle down some years ago when driving on the old 395 in 1937. Legend has it that his dog ‘Ripp’ started howling his head off and Gardener stopped to let it loose for a break. The dog would simply not step back in. Gardener looked around and said ‘well, dog you seem to have a point, this is a nice place to settle down’ or something to that effect. He purchased large tracks of land, many thousand acres and lived here for many many years…For those who don’t know this chap(you have missed a lot), he was the author of the great Perry mason – Paul drake books (82 of them - sold 350 million)!! Well, Temecula is a nice medium sized American town with all the usual shops and malls, decent schools, great weather (except summer where it rivals (?) any desert temperature).

As we are located virtually midway between San Diego and Los Angles, it takes a good 60-70 miles drive to reach either city. No real Desi crowd in Temecula, though we have a Sardar running a provision shop, son running an Indian restaurant and a second Indian restaurant
Niti’s to rival. So week ends are spent driving to Mira Mesa at the outskirts of San Diego for provisions and some Desi Khana! Or to distant Artesia which is the real desi place.

Get off 91W to hit
Artesia, the little India… Woodlands, Annapurna, Tirupathi Bhima, Shaan, Ambala sweets and so on and so forth line the Pioneer blvd. Here is where the LA Desis come on weekends to shop, eat (yes, Paan available) and see movies. As you would expect bars are hard to come by though you can get Kingfisher beer or other Indian beer on the tables. The latest desi movies are released here and a good number of us come by to cheer Shah Rukh and Hritik at their antics. After the movie you amble off to the Tirupathi Bhima to see a line waiting patiently to get in. It is easier at Udupi café…but then if you want a good biryani, try Shaan. Provision shops vie to get your attention, you see signs like 230V AC items available, we convert NTSC to PAL etc…to pander to those who want to take stuff home on their holidays as they are expected to..Saree shops, jewellery all line the streets, neons glowing at night…Little India Artesia is neater & better organized compared to its counterparts in Chicago or New Jersey. It was here that we found John and his Kerala store. Not a man of cheerful countenance, John was soon grumbling about the diversity & factionalism in Kerala about how the Malabarian will avoid Travancore food and so on, and the reasons why one should not start a Mallu hotel (one state 10 different food cultures). He has a point though!!

The people…you see a good number of Mexicans in this part of the world. I am really surprised, many of the Mehican (that is how Mexican is pronounced) girls look similar to Indians, wonder where & when the lineage converged. The men are a different matter though; they are swarthy and fierce looking, or glum depending on the situation. Driving in the LA area is daunting, neither traffic nor drivers are orderly or friendly, it takes a while to adjust to the multi track roads and multiple exits on these freeways. You do need a good big car or else the bigger one will try its best to intimidate you on the road. The Americans here seem to be of a better disposition compared to their brethren in the East of the country, taking life more easy.

Black Friday went by the way it should, Arun and I covered all the electronics stores by noon, Bestbuy, Circuit city, CompUSA, Radioshack, Walmart. That is the day when big sales & discounts are announced and Americans go crazy, lining up from the early hours of the morning. It is fun (my kind, I guess) though and you do get good bargains, not just on computer and electronic goods, but also clothes & home items.

Then there were the forest fires, a common occurrence in Socal. We had one close by where many acres were burnt down overnight – deliberate arson. The smoke was horrendous, while driving back from office; I could see the sky going hazy and the ash dropping on the cars, driven through the hills by a stiff wind. You could smell smoke in the car and outside for a couple of days.

Yes, it looks like we are settling down to Californian life fast, after a two year sojourn in the UK…

Pictures - Wikipedia

VK Krishna Menon (1896-1974) – An undiplomatic diplomat

It is not often that you come across people who create an impact on you, especially so if they are long gone and belonged to an era before your teens. I discovered one such person a week back. While his name is familiar to all, most today won’t know of his tremendous influence in geopolitics.

I studied in a Sainik school and one of the first things I picked up was that the whole concept of Sainik schools came from Mr VK Krishna Menon. I used to wonder about this great guy now & then, but never really bothered to figure out. Yes, conversation sometimes brought up his name, over the years, about associations of his with Jawaharlal Nehru and so on; eventually I thought it could be a good idea to dredge some stuff on this person. There was a lot of information available, but mostly polarized in support or against him. I have not read his biographies, understood his ideology or digested his famous 8-9 hour UN lecture on Kashmir, but my study will go on, for he is such a fascinating persona.

Today there are Krishna Menon Margs, statues, schools, stadiums, buildings & houses, books, memoirs, trophies…he was one of the first Indians to grace the front page of Time, he has books about him & his ideology written by non Indians…Some guy this!! He had been branded a communist, a traitor and what not…But then, in his heydays he hobnobbed with Kennedy, Kruschev, and all the big guns of that era. He was apparently instrumental in spearheading solutions for the Suez crisis, the Korean Crisis and even the French (Algeria) UN standoff. When he spoke, the world listened, when he gave press conferences, reporters asked questions fearing crisp retorts, but they always got a newsworthy interview at the end. Above all, he made more enemies than friends with his direct and probably arrogant outlook on life and lesser mortals.

The US always thought that VKKM was the one responsible for the Indian tilt towards Russia and (in those days) China. The AHR US stated: Krishna Menon, the Indian ambassador to the United Nations, was second to none- not even communist delegates to the organization -in the vituperativeness of his attacks on the United States.What did the international media have to say about him?
Menon was dubbed as "Mephistopheles in a Saville row suit", "the devil's incarnate", "the bad fairy of the UN", the "old snake charmer" and also as a diabolical combination of all "three witches of Macbeth".

So what did he have to say to that? Read this from Narasimhan

V.K. Krishna Menon, India's Defence Minister, was the leader of the Indian delegation to the General Assembly in 1961. He knew he was not very popular in the U.S. He also had a macabre sense of humour.
In September 1961, he had to undergo major surgery at a hospital in the Bronx which involved making an incision in his skull. When I went to visit him at the hospital, he said: "Narasimhan, your American friends think I am a lunatic. You can now tell them on good authority that you had indeed seen me at hospital and I am a man with a hole in the head."

But take this example written comparing
Galloway’s visit to Washington to Menon’s.
Nearly, half a century ago, when Krishna Menon was in USA, he was similarly expected to be pulverized for his views and the Indian embassy specifically advised him against appearing on a live radio program hosted by an extreme conservative host. Menon, typically, rejected the advice. He was given a lecture by the aggressive host and asked if it was true that Menon was a communist. Without batting an eyelid, Menon returned the lecture and concluded it with a question to the host: But tell me, is it true that you are a bastard?? For once, the radio host was silenced, at least momentarily by a visiting host.

Or this
Krishna Menon, the Indian nationalist leader, sums up the attitude perfectly: "There is no use in asking whether you would choose British imperialism or Nazism, it is like asking a fish if he wants to be fried in margarine or butter. He doesn't want to be fried at all!"
He was considered the liberator of Goa from the Portuguese after taking up the issue to the UN. In a UN debate, V. K. Krishna Menon described the Portuguese overseas territories as a "slave empire" and declared that the "liberation of Goa" was "part of the unfinished task of liberating India.". He eventually convinced Nehru to send troops into Goa and liberate it..

VK Krishna Menon belonged to the wealthy
Vengalil family of Calicut, studied at Presidency College Madras and then the University College & the London Business School, thence obtaining a PhD from Glasgow and joining the Labor party. He became a barrister, supporting the cause of poor ‘laskars’ who needed legal assistance and lived a number of years in England. He seemed to have had a very interesting and busy life there, for example did you know he was the founder & editor of Penguin books? And that he was the Councilor of St Pancras in London? It was in UK that he met J Nehru (they went on a dangerous trip to Spain to study the fight against Franco & fascism…and became fast friends after that) and post independence went on to become the UK high commissioner.

I stayed a couple of times at the YMCA - Fitzroy square in London. Little did I know that there was a VKKM statue out there. He did have his share of misfortune while he served and after he died. Twice they erected statues of him and in both instances they were stolen.

It is said that Nehru and Krishna Menon neglected the defense of the Northeast under the belief that China would never attack a fellow Socialist country like India; for which the country ended up paying a heavy price in 1962. Following that and loud opposition from all and sundry, VKKN was deposed (resigned) from the Defense minister post, taking the blame, to shield Nehru perhaps? I am not sure, I have also read reports that VKKM egged Nehru to take on the Chinese based on Gen Kaul’s advise and that this led to the problem, rather than the assumption that the Chinese wont attack.,

Unfortunately VKKM was disliked by many and the
reasons are put so succinctly by V Nevrekar. ‘It is however true that because of his arrogance, if not downright rudeness, Mr menon did not need much of an effort to irritate , anger and even antagonize people, especially those he considered below his intellectual level. This one article by Navrekar gives one much perspective, and shows us a different person from the submissive one that India presents at all kinds of international floors these days - people with hardly any oratorical skills or personality. He showed the white man, his place as Navrekar puts it…I enjoyed reading that…It was here that I saw some parallels between Menon with todays Rumsfeld!!! Just like Rummy, Menon, along with Nehru, apparently caused havoc in the army's working, disregarding professional opinion and advice, violating all channels and levels of communication and encouraging the same within the army hierarchy, which ended with disastrous results in the Sino-Indian conflict. Like his boss, Menon believed in giving verbal orders and disliked records.

His best friend arguably was Jawaharlal Nehru though it is possible that Menon finally became the fall man for Nehru’s Himalayan Blunder. However Nehru states the following while replying his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s complaint that Menon was always snubbing, ridiculing & rude to her (Rummy and Condy rice scenario!!!)

I have known Krishna now for a long time and have a fairly good appreciation of his abilities, virtues and failings. All these are considerable. I do not know if it is possible by straight approach to lessen those failings. I have tried to do so and I shall continue to try. This is a psychological problem of some difficulty and has to be dealt with, if at all successfully, by rather indirect methods. I propose to deal with it both directly and indirectly. "I hope I have the capacity to judge people and events more or less objectively. I am not swept away by Krishna; nor would I like my affection for you to influence my judgment to any large extent, though to some extent, of course, affection does make a difference and indeed should. Krishna has often embarrassed me and put me in considerable difficulties. If I speak to him, he has an emotional breakdown. He is always on the verge of some such nervous collapse. The only thing that keeps him going is hard work.

Besides "hard work" and cups of tea (he admitted to drinking about 38, not 40 cups of tea as frequently rumored, daily), Krishna Menon was "living for years on the drug Luminal ( Arthritis cure perhaps?), frequently fainting, or speaking incoherently in public".

Did you know that Nov 14th is a children’s day thanks to VKKM? I guess he could do so much in the UN, the ‘terror from the east’ as they called him. He wanted to be the secretary general. He knew he would never be that, though. It took many more years for another Malayali to step near the UN stage, i.e. Tharoor this year.

Menon was responsible for the term Menonism in politics. For those who are interested, A new word, "Menonism," has been coined by the American press to characterise the peace efforts of Mr. V.K. Krishna Menon. Explaining what "Menonism" means, the St. Louis Post Dispatch published an article saying that it was an "attempt to return to the great tradition of 19th century diplomacy."

Like I said before, there is so much more to know about this interesting person, his personal side, his post defense ministry years, his relationship with Kerala…my ongoing project!!

A newer article of mine covering menon's defense ministry days, the MI5 files, the jeep scandals etc can be found at this link.

A good article in the Hindu – by Supreme Court justice VR K Iyer
Kushwant Singh worked for
him and states…about his relationship with Menon

Pictures - Hindu, Time....

What's in a name? TURKEY

I am musing over this a couple of days before thanksgiving in USA, a day when thousands of Turkeys will be killed, roasted, stuffed and eaten with gusto…

When I was working in the Middle east, I realized that Arabs called Indians ‘Hindi’, since we are people from Hindustan (India is Hindi to Arabs but then, for Indians, Hindi is a language). ‘Aye Hindi…taaal…’. was the way they would call out to get our attention..

When we moved to work at Istanbul-Turkey, I realized that India was Hindistan (mind you, Hindistan not Hindustan) for them and Indians were ‘Hintli’. But I soon found out while eating food at the canteen or in hotels that there was another word they used, this was ‘Hindi’ meaning the bird we know as Turkey. Chicken was ‘Pilic/tavuk’ and Turkey was ‘Hindi’. Hey! Now the language becomes a bird which is also a country!

So there I was, in Turkey, an Indian wondering why the Turks call what we call Turkey the bird as Hindi – what Arabs mean to be Indians and which is instead a language to Indians!!

There were no Turkeys in India ( wrong now, saw a program yesterday on Asianet showing that this is an upcoming business in Kerala – Turkey farming). So what has India got to do with Turkey fowls?

For those who are wondering if they are going to get a lesson in ornithology. Let me reassure you in the negative, I will make this as painless as possible.

We all agree that the English were a confused lot (Did they have a hand in this?). Yeah! I see you nodding your head. Except in this case, it was further confounded by the Spaniards, Yanks and others.

Many people think that Turkey is named Turkey after the country Turkey

Mexicans were the first, to domesticate and raise Turkeys many centuries ago. They apparently called it the ‘huexolotlin’. Obviously nobody listened to Mexicans in those days or do so today.

When the Europeans started trading via Calicut in India, they saw wonderful sights & documented it, and one exotic bird which impressed them was the Peacock. This bird (now the national bird of India) is called Mayil in Kerala and in TamilNadu, but its feathers are called Thokiyam in Tamil (note : Thoki – Thukki this is the one and only Tamil word in the old Testament and borrowed by Hebrew). Apparently some of the colonials picked up this Tamil word and some others called it the Calicut hen. In those days many things exotic were for that reason somehow attributed to Calicut. So let us agree that the word Mayil did not catch on, Thukki did since Biblical times.

Columbus landed in the America's (new India as it was subsequently termed) and thought it was India, saw the Turkey birds (let us assume that Amerigo Vespuchi saw none or was wiser) thought they were Thukkis and believed he was for sure in India. To summarize, Spaniards had by then decided that the Turkey bird & Peacocks are fowls from the Indies…So they get the family name Indian fowls, Calicut hens, Thukki etc..

Then there was the Guinea-fowl (which lived in sub-Saharan locations). This bird was popular cuisine in Roman/Greek days and was reintroduced into Europe by Turkish merchants. It appears that that is how the Guinea fowl started being called Turkey birds by the English and others, since they were supplied by Turkish merchants.

Well we are half way now…..These quaint birds (Peacocks, Guinea fowls and Turkeys) were called Indian birds by the Spaniards (also the same by the Arabs and Turks). The English still did not know about the Turkey fowl, they called the Guinea fowl ‘Turkey’ since they got it from Turkish merchants or since it looked like the Thukkis (note also that Thukki, and Turki sound just about the same after a few drinks) that Spaniards talked about.

In early 17th century, the Pilgrims reached the "New World". The colonists saw turkey cocks gobbling and strutting around, and they were similar to the domesticated birds (Guinea fowl-Turkeys or Calicut Hens) they brought from England. So they ended up calling the American fowl too by the same name, Turkey (Finally India & Turkey meet officially in the US thanks to the English!), but the Turkey was obviously not the peacock.
When the Turkey did arrive in India finally, it came via the Spanish & the East Indies, and by then the name for it was the "Peru bird", as that was what the Portuguese called it. Indians also called it the Peru bird.

Boy! Can you imagine how many more such errors could have crept into History!

Now did you know that the Greeks called it the French bird and that the Japanese called it the Chinese bird?

Its zoological name is Meleagris gallopavo (pavo is Peacock in Spanish)

Benjamin Franklin, fearing that the 'bad moral character' of the bald eagle would reflect poorly on the young nation (USA), attempted to have the Turkey declared the national bird, BUT FAILED…That is a great story –
read this

So we went from England to Africa to Spain to Portugal to USA to Peru to Turkey to Calicut in India…I am sure more research will bring in more countries… The bird considered to be a slow and lazy one, traveled a long long way without being at most of its purported homes…to reach your Thanksgiving table..

So enjoy your meal
and give this a thought...Pictures:

A joyful bargain over a couple of hindi - turkey the bird -Safranbolu / Türkiye
Turkeybird picture courtsey

Burma Bazar - In the early 80's

It has been ages since I ventured to that corner of Chennai. At the Parry’s corner (called so since EID parry were headquartered there) in erstwhile Madras, during the early 80’s, there existed a long strip of ramshackle ‘hole in the wall’ shops where all kinds of smuggled (or more correctly (!!) stated these days as ‘grey market’ goods) were displayed and sold. The customs department had very high customs tariff’s on imported equipment and there were strict limits on what one could bring into the country and to what meager value. This promoted smuggling and the Burma bazaar catered to those who wanted that CASIO calculator or Yamaha music keyboard or a Panasonic Two in one and were willing to pay a bit more of a price..

I used to work in Madras then, right at Parry’s corner at the Bombay Mutual building. It was a great period that, with few college friends living in the nearby YMCA, I would bus down from Triplicane…great lunches at Hari Nivas…and sometimes real funny encounters & incidents. Lunch time was when everybody would get out and stretch their legs, though it was hot and humid out there in Madras.

Back to the Burma bazaar story. Go past the Lingi chetty and thampu chetty streets (where they still make 777 brand masalas & pickles) to the beach road and you will find it. It sure looked promising; there were plenty of lookers and askers, but not so many obvious buyers. Most would walk by like tourists to take a look at the forbidden stuff. Stories floated around that it was duplicate stuff, not Japanese, but made in some other place, or that they were damaged stuff which won’t work. These purchases had no warranty policy or anything. You buy it you are stuck with it. In the evenings, the shops would be shuttered and the guys took all the stuff home. Policemen walked by, turning a blind eye most of the time. I guess they were on retainers.

Some of the shops that sold music systems (big Two in ones or three in ones) displayed only catalogs, not the hardware itself. It was in front of one of these shops that I was standing with my cousin who was visiting Madras. He wanted a two in one and we were trying to locate one at Burma Bazar. We found a Panasonic system, and started the bargaining process. You had to do that in Burma bazaar, you see. Prices firmed up eventually at 30 to 50% less, after a half hour heated discussion. We were reaching nowhere today; prices were still 20% higher than our budget when this guy says ‘come with me’. With great trepidation, we accompanied him in an auto to some other part of the city, somewhere far down Kasi or Thambu chetty street - a dank and dark gully. We were then taken to a room on the second floor where a lot of hustling and bustling was going on, it was the main ‘godown’ for all the stuff.

Freelancers would row to the ship anchored beyond territorial waters and bring aboard, the smuggled stuff. The items would be packed in plastic gunny bags, weighted under water and towed by the boat to distant parts of Madras shoreline and then brought to the Kasi chetty street ‘Gudam’.. Sometimes water seeped in and eventually destroyed the stuff. Sometimes it arrived safely. If wet, they dried it and cleaned it and gave it to you without your knowing a thing, an on/off test was allowed, no warranty beyond that, after a while the corrosion set in and the stuff sometimes conked out. Sometimes the stuff was a Korean look alike but stating Made in Japan (ironically Korea is more advanced compared to Japan, in many areas, today!!)

Seeing all this, and fearing our safety (we had Rs 500 cash in our pockets) we were no longer interested in buying and wanted to vamoose ASAP. In fact we were quite terrified being in the den (much like one pictured in Hindi movies with Ajit but no Mona).There was the Bossman Chettiar lounging in the corner back to a pillow & barking orders. We were formally presented before him by the shopkeeper. He asked us what we wanted, and what price we were willing to pay. We stuck sheepishly to our price (without further negotiation – as we were scared shitless) and the deal did not go through. We were then told in nice & no uncertain terms to get the hell out. There ended the encounter with the man. The guy who brought us there was understandably furious ( he had lost face) and walked away uttering dire threats - if we ever went to his shop again etc etc , We had to find our way back to Parry’s on feet and have since then avoided Burma bazaar like plague..


After writing this I checked out if Burma Bazar exists these days. The first hit on Google was from the Tourism department of India!!! So the whole thing is legit now???

Parry's Corner is one of the biggest markets of the city and deals in wholesale as well as retail trade. Trading in almost all kinds of goods from plastic goods to textiles and stationery, and from ready made garments to household items can be had here for reasonable prices. Nearby is the famous Burma Bazar where one can find all sorts of imported goods ranging from electronic gadgets to readymades and perfumes.
Burma Bazaar gets it name because originally Indian refugees and traders from Burma would sell their wares at the Bazaar..

Incidentally a tamil movie is being released with Burma bazaar as the backdrop titled ‘Vattaram’.

These days, I understand one goes there for pirated DVD’s and VCD’s. Burma Bazar has even provided a proposal to regularize this business!!

Picture courtesy - The Mizzima News

Anybody remember the Moore market neighboring Madras central station? I recall reading a report years ago; stating it was all lost in a fire!!! That was one hell of a place, one could find rare books at MM!!

Forgotten or less known singers - part 2

Bhupinder Singh

Starting as Panchamda’s (RDB) guitarist, Bhupinder ended up as a reputed Ghazal singer after a foray into movie music. And the few songs he sang with his deep sonorous voice are still remembered by all. But like they mutter, his voice was never meant for the chocolate-faced teen heroes….

Well Bhupinder sang some melodious songs like in Mausam ‘Dil doondtha hai’, Gharaonda ‘Ek Akele is sheher mein’ and Naam Ghoom jayega from Kinara…each a masterpiece..amongst a few others

His passion was ghazals and he did them so well together with his wife Mitalee singh (they met on-stage!!). I remember one of his Ghazals ‘Ahat se koi aye to lagata hein’…wonderful, mellifluous, soothing…...

Naushad once said that nobody does better than Bhupinder on a guitar…well that sure is some compliment!!
Here is a very comprehensive article on him.


She came into the limelight together with Yesudas, the movie being Chitchor. ‘Tujo mere sur mein’ was a superb duet…Akhiyon ke jarokhon mein was one of her great solos. Today, she does stage shows and plans to come out soon with a new Geet Album soon with
Ataullah Khan. Looking back, only Rajashri films and Ravinder Jain got the best out of her.

One article says - The title song of “Ankhiyon Ke Jharokon Se” is her masterpiece. While Ravindra Jain and Hemlata have worked on many other exceptional songs, this is easily their best one together. This was hailed as the most popular song of 1978 by ‘Binaca Geetmala’ (a radio show that used to compile records of album sales).

But well,
did you know that she has sung over 5000 songs in 38 languages. She was planning on doing a Punjabi English pop album!! and that she was introduced by Usha Khanna?

Nazia Hassan

She entered the music scene with a bang. While many were listening to disco from Saturday night fever (the famous Beegees songs) and Boney M and the such, Nazia and Zoheb brought a new sound to the Hindi pop scene with the Disco Deewane tape. It soon became a rage and Nazia’s good looks helped, also the fact that the music was by a Brit of Indian Coorgi origin – Biddu. She followed with a couple more of disco records, a few songs here and there in movies (Star was a movie where they had some songs) – but nothing to beat her first song - Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi me aye from Qurbani. She moved back to the Pakistani music world…Soon she was lost to the Indian music scene. She married, became a mother, divorced and got involved in a number of charitable causes. Then came news that she was suffering from cancer and well, she passed away recently, leaving only some sonorous musical memories….

linked article has Raju Bharatan stating a lot of very interesting stories!!! It says….
AND the unvarnished truth is that Nazia Hasan's Aap jaisa koi meree zindagee mein aaye stayed put, in the top slot of Ameen Sayani's Binaca Geetmala, for (believe it or not) 14 weeks running! There was no way even the velvet voice of Lata could scale down Nazia during that spell. Not since Lata herself had occupied an enviable slot in the same Binaca Geetmala for one full year before the film's release, with her Mera salaam le jaa charmer from Naushad's Uran Khatola (1955), had we witnessed a Binaca phenomenon lik Nazia.

detailed article on her can be found here, she is well covered on the net, unlike the others.

The girl and the BART

SanFrancisco is a big and vibrant city. Like most cities the airport is a far way from the city center and one uses the BART to commute. The BART, well what an acronym- bay area rapid transit system, it has always been rapid whenever I went by it. So here I was standing in front of the BART ticket machine at the San Francisco international airport around 830PM wondering how much money to put in or if I should pick up a return or a one way ticket, when I saw her.

She looked quite perplexed, a pretty face with a deep frown. Dressed in a bright orange and spotted churidar kameez, she naturally elicited a lot of looks at the buzzling airport. Most regular travelers dress inconspicuously, so this was probably an oddity. I was walking briskly to the ‘down’ escalator as the girl was virtually dragging herself along. The leather yellowish orange duffel bag, that she carried, though stylish (now that was another disparity) is not normally carried by desi’s…Most hobble around in black or dark ensembles out here in America while traveling….Anyway, the girl looked quite uncomfortable, she seemed terrified actually as she neared the escalator, one the bag was obviously heavy and two she had never been on a BART or for that matter the SFO airport. Three she had a laptop bag unbalancing her… Then the obvious errors started, she dropped the bag on the escalator step in front of her. I, a couple of steps behind was startled; the thing did not roll down fortunately. Two - her long 2.5 mts dupatta was starting to trail on the escalator steps, it could easily get caught and create all kinds of problems. I was about to warn her, but she was oblivious to all this, she picked up a mobile from her handbag and was trying to switch it on, at the same time realizing that her dupatta was trailing, but fortunately she had it in her head to pull it up, though more as an unconscious act rather than the danger at hand prompting it. Well anyway the escalator was moving down rapidly and she was still fiddling with her phone and loudly muttering in an obscure undertone…the dammn cell would not start up. And to top it all, she was the least bothered about the fact that she was on an escalator that was about to plunk her on the platform, or me standing a step behind…well the escalator reached its destination, the bag rolled off and the girl stepped down to retrieve it while still on the escalator. By now I was also about to start swearing, what an idiot, I thought, but at the same time I was also feeling sorry for her, I assumed she had come straight from India or well, not very long ago. FOB as they call in US..’fresh off boat’ ( thanks for the correction - anonymous) gal. Just as I was about to fall over her at the foot of the steps, and imagine I myself was already half bent with the heavy overnighter hanging off my back, she managed to retrieve her bags and stepped off, no sorry, no nothing. I was fuming by now. There were hardly a few passengers on the BART station that night and I idly continued to track her with my eyes…

She went to one guy and asked if this was the BART station, indeed he said, she moved off, bag and duppatta trailing, found another Indian uncle about 55 plus I think and comfortably started chatting with him. I was surprised, she was by now managing famously. But the next was out of the blue and caught me totally unawares, she, without any doubt in her mind, tossed her head and walked way across the station (probably 30 mts or so) directly to me and said in a typical singsong south Indian accent ‘can I borrow your cellphone? My phone is dead and I want to make a call’. Well, I sure was surprised; what gall! no American would be so direct. Now I was wondering, who does she want to call, has she come from India, is it India she wants to call? And I asked ‘who do u want to call?’ She murmured ‘my husband’. I had no answer to that, she reeled off a number…561 something (actually I know it, is still on my phone) and I dialed it for her. She launched into a dialogue with hubby straight away, in Telegu, pleading, entreating him about something. Our man was obviously not in any mood to listen to her. That moron was also asking her whose phone she was ringing him with and the such, and he would not understand when she said that it was some Indian guy from the BART station. The girl tried pleading a few more times and finally hung up on him. The instant that was done with, her face relaxed, she returned the phone to me, murmured a thanks and walked continue the chat with uncle.

I thought, well finally all is well that ends well, may she reach wherever she had to reach, safe & sound and make peace with her husband…probably she was on her first unescorted business trip and learning things the hard way…

Well, the story of this encounter did not end there. After a while (the BART had another 3 minutes to arrive- my phone rang and it was the husband calling his wife to settle things or so I presumed. His voice was breaking up but he was asking for her…I could hardly hear so I tried walking across to the wife, phone in outstretched hand – emissary or messenger or whatever. By the time I reached there the line was disconnected. I told her that her husband had called…and that the line had got cut. Believe it or not this is what the girl said, ‘oh the phone got cut, eh? Great, that’s good news (sounded more like - good riddance to that hubby of mine). Good job, thanks…Both the Indian uncle she was chatting away with and me were left astounded…The BART finally came, of course the girl went on and asked yet another guy if that was the BART before getting in and that was it – she went her way..

I spent the next few minutes trying to fathom what transpired in that call and what a strange relationship this couple had…Obviously a small fight which they would eventually resolve, not my headache…

Welcome to San Francisco bay area…..the Mecca for the Indian IT crowd…Go on, enjoy life you IT guys, Strange are your ways, , but we old timers have to wonder at times…to figure out what’s going on…..

The wandering Bullock cart

The story of a bullock cart and its incredible travel across continents

Amazing, that was what I felt when I came across this offer,

I was chuckling away after going through it, and I have to pat Suresh on the back for the idea. Well why not, we used to go ‘cart riding’ in places like Turkey (not go-carting, but in some places like Camlica –Istanbul, they have a pair of huge bulls and a colourful cart) paying big dollar. Tree houses, houseboats are all favoured these days, so why not a bullock cart ride (albeit long duration – back breaking….)?

All this took me back in time. When we were kids vacationing in Pallavur, our tiny little village in Palakkad…

There was a time when we had a bullock cart at our maternal home in Pallavur. I remember the chap who drove the cart, Eaachran, who was also our supervisor in the fields (I guess only trustworthy positions got the exalted cart driver status). The cart was not used very much though. In our times, it was parked in the shed (yes, it had its own garage) and once a week, our man used to get the two bulls yoked up in front and take the cart to get stocks from the nearby Alathur market. The cart would come back late at night, loaded with sacks of cattle feed, vegetables, oil tins, fertilizer and provisions. The cattle knew the route back and forth; Eaacharan was normally asleep at the wheels (a few bottles of toddy maybe?) on the way back, but no problems….

We used to take short trips on the cart with Eaacharan, he was a ‘bindas’ guy, had no complaints, he never castigated us for jumping around or making noise. The roads were empty, there were just two buses plying between Pallavur and Palakkad, the Ex servicemen bus twice a day and what was the other? I forgot, I think it was the JBT. An occasional car that was going to Nemmara or a taxi taking some sick person to the town hospital…that was all the traffic on the roads. The lone taxi in Pallavur was used probably once a week, the Landmaster car finally rusted away, I guess, from lack of use.

It was always quiet on the narrow road; you could hear the birds, the wind whistling past the paddy fields. The road was raised, paddy fields and hills on either side. When buses came it was always complicated, they had to back off (ha! Bulls could not back effectively – or so I learnt) many yards till the cart could pull in ‘to the side’. Can you picture the exasperated driver? One could hear the tinkle of the bull-bells and you always smelled hay. The wooden wheels with the metal rim creaked most of the time, no ball bearings or suspensions, mind you!! Divine, when I think of it all now, what solitude! No pollution, no speeding vehicles or unruly drunks around…Sometimes Eaacharen would take the bulls to the place where they put new iron shoes on the hooves. I used to cringe, when the guy hammered nails through the shoe into the hooves…while the bulls serenely continued chewing the hay…it didn’t seem to bother them.

Once I had a longer than usual ride in the cart, we were shifting houses and a lot of stuff had to be taken from Koduvayoor to Pallavur. Some surplus stuff that did not fit the lorry had to go by cart and I was permitted to ride the cart with Eaacheren, Oh! Man, was it a great day!! My son comments, gross dad, you rode a bullock cart??

Life eventually got modern, a new shed was built to house the car and the tractor that came by, the cart was re-parked in a shaded corner of the estate, but it had lost its place by then. Children used it for play when they got bored, but it was built of good wood and it stayed intact through many monsoons and heat spells.

The cart is no longer there, the bulls are dead, everybody has gone hither and thither, living their fast lives…Eaacharan has retired; the roads are now full with the many vehicles plying the road. No industries or pollution in the vicinity, the village remains largely untouched by time, but there are huge numbers of kids around due to the popular Chinmaya school…and suddenly people have started to complain of new problems like allergies due to the rice husk powder floating around…Boy o Boy…There is cable TV, dial up internet is popular, an odd Kawasaki or Honda screams past, compared to the only chugger bike ‘in village’ the Bullet that Company (mill owner) Babu used to ride.

Well, the cart found a final resting place, hold your breath, no jokes, and do believe me, it is now an American citizen, proudly showing itself off in my cousin’s front yard in Tampa-Florida. It was fully dismantled and shipped across the seas, two years ago. At first I could not believe this was happening or that somebody was crazy enough to do such things, but well…I wont comment any further lest I draw her wrath!

What a trip for the lowly bullock cart, from Pallavur to its new home in the new world…One of these days I will get a picture of the cart in Tampa and post it up here. I have not seen it after it reached US, but I will one of these days…

P.S. Eaacharan came out of retirement to dismantle the cart prior to its packing, know what he has no teeth in his mouth these days. I am told Eaacharen fainted from shock & disbelief when he was told where the cart was headed…

PPS. Have you seen a rich mans (Maharashtrian) bullock cart ? Have a look!!

and - BTW there is an ongoing project to modernize the bullock cart..

Usha Uthup

On Kerala - Sometimes after a great show you are so excited and want to know how the programme was. They will just say, `kozhapam illa.' For every shilpi the most important thing is the applause. We live to listen to it. Actually if you can make it in Kerala, you can make it anywhere in the world. The most difficult people to please are in Kerala …So said Usha Utup, rightly so, in an interview….Usha Uthup has always been and will always be a favourite of mine. If you are short of optimism, see a show of hers (even a tape will suffice) to take in her 1000Watt smile and guffaws, or well, just listen to her songs.

I first heard about Usha Iyer, as she was known then, from our English teacher at school, Iyer saar. He used to tell us during the English classes, ‘Usha is my niece, and sings pop music’ And we used to imagine a girl swinging in her bell-bottoms, tight short tops (like Hare Rama hare Krishna’s Zeenat Aman – a movie for which Usha sang) blowing hair and the such. Later on, I discovered that she had always remained clothed in a chaste Sari and her big, trademark bindi, with mullapoo in her hair…
Dhool (Saravanan) has done a lovely article on Usha, so I wont repeat all of her life story here. Entering filmdom, MB Srinivasan, Kunnankudi vaidyanathan, RD Burman, Bhappi Lahri etc were some of the guys who helped her along in the film music world of yester years, though she complains that she never had any godfathers…now she does many a stage show and releases an odd album now and then.

Always a trailblazer, Usha started off with forming a pop music troupe with her sisters - called the Sami sisters– in the 70’s – Hailing from a staunch Iyer family, Cop father and all, and singing in a night club – imagine a single girl singing in a night club..Well that was Usha. Then she went on to marry an ardent fan Utup, a Christian and …even though a vegetarian herself (but
eating junk food mostly?) becomes expert at cooking Kerala fish curries (you can find her recipe here). Not to stop there, she has now decided to act, as Mammutty’s mom in an upcoming movie.. Well why not? And, she is a grandmother in real life who gives this advice – I recommend grandchildren to one and all. I love their honesty. They have changed my life and brought so much meaning to it.

I remember her songs in Kanyakumari, Shivathandavam (Way back in 1976, Kamal Haasan sang an English song along with Usha Uthup under the music direction of MB Srinivasan for the film Shivathandavam), later on I heard her EP vinyl versions of ‘Beautiful Sunday’ and ‘Seasons in the sun’ so many times. We played them ever so often over the college music system. Even after hearing the Terry jacks original version and the new one by Westlife, my memory sticks to the Usha version of Seasons in the sun!!! I had always been hunting for her songs, but they are so difficult to come by these days, except for the odd number she sang for Hindi movies.. There are a few on Usha’s own
website, but my favourites from her EMI, HMI, Polydor vinyl days are not to be seen anywhere.

Trivia - there is a story of her involvement in Pancham’s ever-famous song Chura Liya in Yadoon Ki Baarat. It seems the two of them had gone to see ‘If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ and it was from the title song of that English movie that the tune evolved - but then who knows?

I have not got a chance so far to see her immensely popular stage shows, though we saw tapes & bits here & there. One of these days, she will come to town and we will be there, to cheer, clap, smile, laugh and enjoy.

Less talked about singers - Part 1

Manhar Udhas

The first time I heard
Manhar was way back in College. Somebody had a record Mukesh ki Yadein and I saw that the collection in that record was superb. It had all the popular hits. After a few spins, I could make out that it was not Mukesh. Checked the cover carefully, somewhere in the corner of the LP was the statement – Sung by Manhar …That was the first time I heard one of these re-sung records…

The next I heard of Manhar was when the Abhiman EP came out – Loote Koi man ke nazar banke mera saathi – what a great song…He followed on in Qurbani with ‘Hum tumhen chaahate he’….Some more good hits followed, one I recall was the Hero song Tu meri janoo hai. I hear he is active and does Gujarati Ghazals etc these days…

Shailendra Singh

This chap just burst into the music scene with his ‘Bobby’ songs; even today ‘Mein shayar to nahin’ is a song that still enthrals the listener. But it was not to be; after a few Rishi kapoor movies and some years of struggling (and an aborted attempt at acting) in the Bollywood rat race, he quietly faded away.

A personal favourite after Mein Shayer is a Shailendra Lata duet – Dariya cha raja from Do Jasoos.

I tried to find out what happened to him post Bobby, Rafoo chakkar….but there are hardly anything written on this guy – I was and still am surprised!!
There are mentions that he came on a
Harmony TV program recently and goofed up the song completely…Ah well, must have been a bad day for him!!

‘Hum tum’ has Rishi kapoor humming the Bobby song; rumour mills state that Shailendra Singh probably re-sang the clip.

Runa Laila

Sultana Chowdhry aka Runa Laila sang probably a handful of Hindi songs, but apparently has over 5000 songs to her credit in 17 languages, did you know that? I used to think that she was born Bangla, but she is Karachi born and stepped into the limelight when her sister developed a sore throat prior to a stage show. Well she purportedly has a Guinness book record for the max songs recorded in a day – at Bombay!! And well, she even had
a successful stage show in Chennai!!!

I can still hum those famous Hindi songs of hers -

Do diwane shahar mein & Tumhe ho na ho mujhko to…from Gharaonda
Ek se badhkar ek zaman he donom anek….title song

Part 2 to cover Bhupinder Singh, Nazia Hassan & Hemlata

A minute with the president

There we were (year 1998), all suited and booted, the ‘few’ Indian families in Istanbul, fidgeting amongst other dignitaries waiting at the Hilton for the grand arrival of Indian president KR Narayanan. The occasion, ‘a breakfast with KRN’, arranged by the Indian consulate in Istamboul (as the consulate rubber stamp spelt it).

Meeting the president of the most populous country ‘one to one’, can you imagine that in India or for that matter any other place? Like my wife says, ‘ezhu ayalath kadakkan sammathikkila’ (I have tried to find out where & how that usage originated,, never figured it out – why seven neighbourhoods – so if anybody knows, please…)

Well, he made his grand arrival, accompanied by a number of ‘secret service’ chaps with microphones in the lapel and all that…his ADC (we were always told in our School days at Kazhakootam - that the ADC position is one we must aspire – President’s ADC) dressed smartly and standing next to him in the picture – Shoba, me and Arun. Our elder son Abi is missing in the picture, wonder where he wandered off so?

And the tete-a-tete?
Me – ‘Namaskaram – kandathil valare santhoshamundu’
KRN- ‘ehe? Malayalai ano’? The surprise was evident… “Evidunna?”
Me – ‘Palakkad, Wife Kozhikode ninnanu’
KRN- ‘Aha, eniku Palakkad nallonam ariyam, Ivide kure Malayalikal undo’?
Me – ‘Illa, randu familye ullu, veroral undu, you’ll meet him also today’
KRN- ‘Shari, ennal - nice meeting you all...’

Then he moved on and had a similar quick chat with Shoba…about Calicut, life in Turkey etc.

Naturally Arun, the little boy was forgotten in the rush – you can see him in the picture entreating us to introduce him, with animated eyes…

KRN moved away, Arun started to weep since he was not introduced & his hand was not shaken; So Shoba took him to KRN. He was all attention, “saramilla mone, come here” and shook his hand as well, after asking his name and patting his back.

Well, how’s that for an experience!!!

A quote from KRN
We are way behind when it comes to reading. I am not saying that people don't read but there is a need to make the younger generation develop a reading habit. After all, one acquires knowledge only through books. And, by books I mean fiction and non-fiction. Not just Harry Potter.

Those were the days

First of all, I must admit that the impetus for this blog came from the programme ‘Witness’ on NDTV. Regrettably I saw only the last part of it. Curiously, it covered a lot of things that were close to my heart…of times that had gone by…

I remembered the Vijay Scooter. My friend got an opportunity to work in Sweden for a year, so he lent me his vehicle for the duration. It took me a few rides to get used to the big difference in speed, and mind you, the Vijay was indeed nifty. While Lamby& Bajaj ruled the roost those days, riding a Lamby took more skill, the engine was off centre, so you had to be careful with the balance. The Vijay was thus easier to learn. Was I happy on that sleek blue vehicle!! We went all over Bangalore, Nandi hills and all kinds of places on it. Well after an year my friend came back and took it away, and I purchased the first of the modern mobike’s – The Ind-Suzuki…But the Vijay was a trustworthy vehicle indeed…Gone now, no where in sight…Remember the Enfield Bullet bikes, they went ‘thuc thuc’ or the inimitable Czech origin Ideal Jawa that whined (to be replaced by the Yezdi)…

While the Amby was always around, I recall landmasters, morris minors, standard heralds and the rest (even impala’s – my neighbour in Bangalore had one of them ships), I remember by uncle’s Premier Padmini more then everything else

Made from a fiat 1100 with a one litre engine, delivering 40HP.
This site has an old one for sale and states ‘the car is for people who need a boot but do not have much loot!’ If interested, read this review that puts the Padmini against the new Fiat Siena.

Of course there is the venerable Ambassador and will always remain as the only
bullet proof Indian made car…It can carry many a family within its spacious interiors, ride through dust and floods, ride on Kerosenated petrol or Ramar Pillai’s herbal hooch and ‘hopefully’ withstand small arms fire.

It is indeed a long way, to driving my Jaguar. What next?

As a small kid, I used to sit in front of the valve radio that was kept on its table, and fiddle about with the knobs watching the ‘magic’ cat’s eye thin and the sound go ‘fhium’ when close to getting that good reception, I remember the webbed aerials strung close to the ceiling, anchoring point for spiderwebs and home to a number of spiders. There were programs in the morning when Chettan used to teach aniyathis how to sing…then there were the chettnodu chodikku programs…and above all shabda rekha’s on Sunday afternoon’s when the whole family used to sit & listen to movie soundtracks and drama’s and katha-prasangams…When nobody was around, I would skim through shortwave to hear from distant places…Voice of America, BBC….With large doses of static hissing away in the background, I would dream of going to those lands some time (like I did eventually).

Time went by, the portable transistor radio came along and introduced us to Vividbharati, hindi songs and listening on the fly. Aap ki farmaish was a favourite, you will always hear from the various
Jhumritalaya listeners on Vividbharati. Later, I learnt how to make transistor radios and transmitters at school, starting with the crystal radio.

Then came the presenters who made radio listening fun – I remember Sarojini Shivalingam for two reasons, one the 330-430PM session in Radio Ceylon where they had the new movie songs and Sarojini did that session (Ilankai Olivarappu Koottusthapanam asiasevai…) in funny accented Malayalam after providing a long list of ‘prekshakr’ who requested the song….The other reason, she hailed from a village called Kakayur neighbouring Pallavur…Whenever we passed that village some relative or the other who was in the same car would proudly say, see see that house behind the coconut trees, there can you see, there…, there lives Sarojini…u know she lives there these days after her retirement!!!
And there was Ameen Sayani – Oh what a pleasure it was listening to Binaca Geetmala at 8PM on Wednesdays on my Keltron transistor radio Bhayiyon aur behnon, Ajj pandravhe paidan his own inimitable lyrical style…He made the song even more interesting with some added titbits…Like Shivalingam, I remember Sayani for a second reason, some years ago, I met a chap at the Dubai airport, who was travelling to Bombay from America and who stated he was Amin’s brother and he had a tall story to tell about his exploits in Vegas….

I don’t know if radio’s sell in Indian cities & villages anymore, it is now TV’s and a whole breed or brash and supremely confident anchors… Reporters reported in the past, now they go on and put a spin and a hype on it!! Gone are Doordarshan’s deadpan and the chaste Minu, Niti ravindran, Gitanjali Aiyar, Rini Simon, Komal GB Singh, Ramu Damodaran….. now we have the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai on one end and the Christian Amanpour at the other, excelling in the art of whipping up the viewer’s emotions, hyping and spinning…

Hey, talking of Binaca, do you remember the Binaca toothpaste and the small charms they used to have with every tube?? Never mind, Never mind, humour me…

Well, those were the days…..

Mom and the PC

Mom was here with us the last two months. It had been her long cherished desire to visit Britain, and she was brave enough at age 78 to take the flight all alone from Bangalore to Heathrow. What I admired most was her tenacity, coming all the way from Pallavur, struggling with her gait and with a Quadra pod stick to assist, many medications, but she did it and went on to enjoy the sights and sounds of UK..

One of her requests to my son was, ‘Arun, will you teach me the computer’? Arun was initially a bit sceptical about the whole thing; you can imagine how it is at that age. A grand old lady trying to learn computing?? Anyway, he patiently went through the basics of browsing and the hardware with mom. What the mouse does, what the keyboard is meant for etc, where to type what. I overheard one of the complicated topics – The enter key = when and how to use the enter key. That really took some explanation. Then it was the 'double click' sequence, you will not believe how complicated that is for an arthritic hand…Mom soon got the hang of it.

She could go to the address bar and haltingly type by herself, one hand.
From the moment the current edition of Mathrubhumi appeared on the screen, in large font, she got hooked. Then on, she would go the PC every evening and spend an hour catching up with news, Kerala elections, the monsoon report and so on. Starting with Mathrubhumi, she’d go on to Manaorama and then Deepika. Though she missed the feel and the smell of the ink on paper, and the surrounding ambience one has on the ‘kolaai’ at home with the bird cries, the humming bees and the such, it kept her in touch with her news, in a way the Daily Mail of UK did not.

She left back for India the other day, now it is the monsoon and various weddings at Palakkad that keep her busy. But I guess she misses the computer and the patient grandson.

Filter coffee

RK Narayan said in ‘My Day’s - Whenever I could afford it, I gave them a cup of coffee at a restaurant on Hundred Feet Road. The cup of coffee blunted the listeners' critical faculties and made them declare my work a masterpiece.
So guys, would you please drink a cup of filter coffee before reading this?

Ananda bhavan, after that good meal of ghee roast and vadas, one has to polish it off with a filter coffee served in the steel glass and ‘attified’ (cooled) with the dovarah. Nothing, not even paan can leave behind a better taste in your South Indian mouth! Remember the Mount Ganesh Coffee works at Malleswaram, can you smell the freshly ground coffee? Oh! The intricacies of making that filter coffee!

You fill fine coffee powder of the right proportion in the top compartment; push the plunger down to compact it. The top portion is then fitted over the bottom and boiling water poured into the top. Wait overnight to get an intense decoction as they call it. Add to sweetened hot milk, pour some froth on top, and voila – South Indian/Madras filter Coffee. This coffee is available typically in ‘Brahmanal’ cafes in TamilNadu or Kerala. They tried to emulate it with Bru, but not there yet.

I recall our training by my Pattar roommate Venkat while slaving in Bombay. Those days my employer paid me a pittance of a salary, with an HRA added. But it was only the term HRA that sounded expansive; the amount was in reality not even a decent ‘Hut rent allowance’. So we were five in a one-room kitchen flat compacted like the coffee powder, communal living at its best. Venkat was our coffee man, when we woke up he was there to get us going with decoction coffee made with great care. He was the one who taught us about tight compacting to get a good decoction.

But the trick was actually in the coffee powder. Dad was also very particular about his coffee, so we used to buy coffee based on his recommendations only from certain places like Krishna coffee works in Sultanpet. He used to remind mom when she went shopping (even though she knew) ‘ Babe, make sure the chicory is 25%’. Mom would repeat at the grinder’s – Plantation and Peaberry beans with 25% chicory and he would ask 25% are you sure, it is not right? She would say yes. This advice was repeated every time, month after month, year after year. After I got married and set up house, the same story continued in the new generation. The coffee guy in Malleswaram would ask 25%? First few times, he even refused, finally acceding to our crazy request. The norm was 20%, I believe.

After we left India, it was impossible to find coffee powder as above. In Saudi they had only pure Arabica, In Turkey they had acrid Turkish ‘kahve’, In America, well, less the said the better - we settled eventually on Maxwell house Columbian – grade 3. My search for the elusive Plantation plus 25% chicory continued…till I saw a version sold in New Orleans (Creole coffee). But it was not to be, the premixed Creole version tasted awful (had 50% chicory I guess!). So we gave up, to savour it only during vacations in India…

Chicory has interesting origins. Purists ask for pure coffee, so when we mentioned chicory in coffee shops out west, they blanched. What? You are asking for that cheap additive? Well, it has been around since the 15th century or even earlier, and is a root. Apparently it has no caffeine, lowers cholesterol & blood sugar. So, Coffee drinkers, that fact will come to your rescue. The French popularised it and the Germans adopted it. In all, Chicory gives coffee additional colour, body and bitter flavour..

But Historical French writers say it is contra-stimulante, and serves to correct the excitation caused by the principles of coffee, and that it suits bilious subjects who suffer from habitual constipation, but is ill-adapted for persons whose vital energy soon flags, and that for lymphatic or bloodless persons its use should be avoided.

Well, I don’t know all that…for me today living on British shores, I can only smell that elusive filter coffee in my mind, and dream of ‘Brahmanal’ coffee shops, steel tumblers and the dovarah…

Hey – Try reading – The Rape of the lock - It is a fun story – Now you understand why lots of things happen in college canteens, the vapours of coffee can get your spirits up. An extract from the writing of Pope.

Coffee is served, the vapors of which go to the Baron’s brain and embolden him to carry out his assault on Belinda’s hair. Clarissa, a lady who fancies the Baron, withdraws scissors from a case and arms him with the weapon. When he closes in behind Belinda, she bends over her coffee, exposing a magnificent lock. But a thousand sprites come to her aid, using their wings to blow hair over the lock. They also tug at one of her diamond earrings to alert her to the danger. Three times they warn her and three times she looks around. But all is for naught. The Baron opens wide his weapon, closes it around the lock, and cuts.
Pictures – Courtesy Wikipedia

RK Narayan took filter coffee to mainstream readers in many of his books. If curd rice was Narayan's favourite dish, coffee was undoubtedly his favourite drink. Writing in his Dateless Diary, Narayan talks about his visit to a New York cafeteria where he ordered coffee and was taken aback when the server asked him, "Black or white?" "Neither", he said haughtily. "I want it neither black nor white, but brown, which ought to be the colour of honest coffee - that's how we make it in South India where devotees of perfection in coffee assemble from all over the world." Narayan often used to joke with friends saying that he was the "globe's best coffee taster".
Narayan was known as a person who did not impose his regimen on his hosts. Even at home he was unfussy. But, according to those who knew him well, he made a great deal of fuss only about coffee, his favourite drink. He relied on his sister-in-law, Sulochana, to prepare this brew for him. This gracious lady, wife of his younger brother Seenu was a great friend of my wife, Ratna. She would tell her, "It is a terrible task for me, making the 'perfect' coffee for Kunjappa - his pet name. The warmth of the drink and the mix of sugar, milk and decoction have to be very, very correct. Even if there is a slight variation in warmth or flavour, he will ask me to make it all over again. One has to be a genius to 'repair' it."

Origins of coffee – check this blog out

Decoction –The act or process of boiling anything in a watery fluid to extract its virtues