Thoughts,opinions and musings of a restless nomad

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A nomad in today's world, a world traveler in essence

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Nair, Curry, Bose and Mohanlal


Things have come a long way since 1949, when Nair's was the first authentic Indian eatery to open in Japan -- in its present location in Ginza, Tokyo. However, it made a slow start, possibly because Japan already had its own curry dish called kare raisu (curry rice). This gravy-like sludge said to have been introduced more than 100 years ago, is especially popular with children for its sometimes sweet flavor. The Japanese Curry rice, thicker sweeter & milder than the Indian version, is a very popular fast food. Although introduced earlier, the dish became popular and available for purchase in supermarkets and restaurants, in the late sixties.

To a large extent, the curry became popular in Japan due to Ayappan Pillai Madhavan Nair, who founded the Ginza Nair’s restaurant. I have not been there, but well, some day if and when I visit Tokyo I surely will and would ask to meet Ayappan’s son who runs the place now.
Ginza Nair have their website, but it is all in Japanese (covering also the history) probably Nanditha can do some deciphering!!! I am hopeful that she can add some more dope to what is written; perhaps her family has even visited the place!!
Nair, who came from Trivandrum as an engineering student, got involved with Subash Chandra Bose when he came to Japan. So enamored was he, by Bose that he became his translator and left his studies. Bose went back and Nair went on to marry locally and start his Ginza Nair restaurant in downtown Tokyo.
Soon you will see Nair-san portrayed by Mohanlal and directed by Albert, on silver screens. “This will be a co-production between Japan and India. Japan’s Pal Entertainment Production will produce it with an Indian producer” and will be directed by Albert. Leading Japanese actress Shunsuken Matosuoka will star opposite Mohanlal in the film that will depict the era between 1920 and 1970. Nair, popularly known as Nairsan, hailed from Kerala and worked in Japan. Rubbing shoulders with freedom fighters like Rash Behari Bose, one of the founders of the Indian National Army (INA). “Nairsan lived in Japan for over half a century and spent several years in Manchuria. There, he was an unofficial advisor to the Manchukuo Government and the Kwangtung Army. He also conducted an anti colonial Movement against British imperialism in India and other parts of Asia, “said Albert, who is finalizing the Indian producer for the venture.Oman Tribune states that Kamal Haasan is also set to act in a Japanese film scripted by Malayalam novelist MT Vasudevan Nair. Kamal Haasan plays the role of a Japanese immigrant who comes to India to explore his ancestral roots. The film also apparently stars Mohanlal playing a real life character called Nair-san, who was supposed to be a close aide of freedom fighter Subash Chandra Bose. Rumor mills doing rounds is that the film makers are trying to rope in Jackie Chan as well.

So will Kamal be Gopalan Nair, the son of the elder Nairsan?

There is a fascinating article about Nairsan in
rediff, by the diplomat TP Sreenivasan. I have to borrow a bit from that article to add meat to this one. Thanks TPS for the data provided. TP Sreenivasan writes - In the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies, no Indian visitor could have missed the small Indian restaurant in Higashi Ginza in Tokyo, right across the Kabuki theatre. Every Indian visitor to the restaurant got the first meal free, but subsequent visits were purely on business terms. The Nair Restaurant also had a branch in a city department store, but even more famous than the restaurants was Indira Curry Powder, which had become quite popular among the Japanese. Gopalan, Nairsan's second son, looked totally Japanese, with no sign of his Indian genes. But Nairsan was absolutely insistent that Gopalan should marry from Kerala, failing which he had to forego his entire inheritance. It was not an empty threat as Nairsan had already disinherited his elder son, Vasudevan, who had married a Japanese girl. Unlike Gopalan, Vasudevan looked more Indian than Japanese. We asked him as to how he could insist on such things, particularly since he had not married a Keralite himself. Nairsan had no logical answer since his wish itself was without logic. Gopalan preferred to marry a girl of his choice rather than wait to inherit the curry powder empire. Nairsan came to Japan as a medical student. After he had learnt the Japanese language well and married a Japanese girl, whom he renamed Janaki Amma in true Kerala style, he fell under the spell of Netaji and decided to give up his studies to join Netaji as his interpreter. He traveled with Netaji all over Japan and stayed back to take care of his interests in Japan.
Andrew Montgomery’s comment on AM Nair’s writings on Bose however are in conflict with TP Sreenivasan’s notings about Nairs love for Netaji.
Montgomery writes - A.M. Nair, a historian who has written favorably of Indian revolutionary Rash Behari Bose (who had sought Japan's help during and after the First World War), found nothing to praise about Subhas Chandra Bose. After all, wrote Nair, he was clearly a fascist. A.M. Nair, An Indian Freedom Fighter in Japan (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1983), p. 250



R Subramaniam who was at Ginza Nair, explains -
Surprise and a sense of pride - these were the emotions that came across my mind when I saw a couple of things in Ginza, an upscale-premium-locale of Tokyo. If one draws parallels, Ginza is to Tokyo what Times Square is to New York City ! First, it was a NAIR's Restaurant right in the middle of action. Yes, and I was amazed to find a long queue to get into the 40 seat restaurant. I did not think twice to get inside. I was greeted by a "Japanese-looking" elderly person, who showed me a table. Here comes the waiter, Babu, with a menu, which proudly boasts of Kerala Kozhi curry, many rice dishes, the only genuine Kerala dish being Pulissery. He was also happy to see a mallu and was kind enough to reel out the history behind the restaurant. The Concept of Nair Tea stall anywhere in the world is proven again.
One of Japanese TV's most popular newscasters, Kume Hiroshi, is famous for spicing up his show with snide remarks and candid comments. When debunking public figures or ludicrous policies, this has a positive effect of cutting through guff. But one night, not for the first time, he went too far. He made a comment that could be seen as disparaging innocents--a whole people within Japanese society--non-Japanese, The Gai Jin..

Oct 1996-they were doing a thing on the new MacDonald's with their Maharajah Burger (actually a lamb burger) in India. Following the Indian report they switched to an interview with an Indian restaurant owner in Tokyo who spoke fluent (really fluent) Japanese, who explained that it is not true that no Indians eat beef, some eat this and that, etc. Then after the interview Kume Hiroshi [anchorman] came on again in his cynical manner, with his comments "shikashi, gaijin wa nihongo ga katakoto no hoo ga ii yo ne (its better to have foreigners speaking in broken/baby Japanese...)"shikashi,gaijin wa nihongo ga katakoto no hou ga ii yo ne" was made in reference to Mr. G. M. Nair, second-generation owner of Nair's Restaurant in Ginza (founded by A.M. Nair).

Nair’s assimilation in the Japanese society, the other country he loved, after India, instead ended with this racist comment.


BTW – Let me add a final twister, the last Indian who saw Netaji Bose alive was his driver Chindan Nair. A fascinating account of the last drive to mangle airport.

As an aside - Like the Nairsan family, Mohanlal is also a purveyor of Indian Curry powders – His brand ‘taste buds’ produces pickles and curry powders. So he should feel at home acting this movie.

‘Londonstani’ – An electrifying read


When I started with the first page of text brilliantly and ruthlessly compiled by Gautam Malkani in his book ‘Londonstani’, I was wondering what I was upto and why I was taking myself through the very process of reading those pages… The publisher has hailed the book as “a filthy, unflinching and politically incorrect take on modern Britain”. So why did I go on??

The book intro goes thus - Set close to the Heathrow feed roads of Hounslow, Malkani shows us the lives of a gang of four young men: Hardjit the ring leader, a Sikh, violent, determined his caste stay pure; Ravi, determinedly tactless, a sheep following the herd; Amit, whose brother Arun is struggling to win the approval of his mother for the Hindu girl he has chosen to marry; and Jas, who tells us of his journey with these three, desperate to win their approval, desperate too for Samira, a Muslim girl, which in this story can only have bad consequences. Together they cruise the streets in Amit’s enhanced Beemer, making a little money changing the electronic fingerprints on stolen mobile phones, a scam that leads them into more dangerous waters.
UK is not just home to gentlemanly cricket, lush lawn tennis courts, dreamy cows ambling through green meadows with a drizzle keeping company, or affable people like Tim Henman or David Gower, the queen or Salman Rushdie – but also a growing ‘Desi’ population who not only spread the curry culture, Shilpa Shetty and Bollywood in Britain, but also the growing ‘Rudeboy’ clan in pockets like London, Birmingham and Bradford.

This book will take you into the minds of four teenage ‘Desi’ youngsters (punks) ganging the streets of Hounslow near Heathrow. They are not ghetto boys, but are as Gautam says - middle class mummy's boys pretending to be ghetto kids. Theirs is a special world, different from the white and black punks about whom we have all read and seen in countless books & movies. We have the goras, the ‘desis’ and coconuts, and we have ‘desi’ rudeboys there. This one is the Desi rudeboy world in UK, neither white nor black, but brown, neither Brit nor Indian and very very far from the docile head nodding (hair parted neatly on the left), introvert-ish breed that we once were. They are the ‘rudeboys’, a Desi version of the Gangsta culture of the US.

Starting with smashing up the mug and re-education of a Poncey ‘gora’ kid who supposedly called the gang leader a ‘paki’, the book takes you into their lives, of their prim parents, who are mostly ‘’coconuts’ - white on the inside and brown on the outside, into the minds of youngsters who still have pin ups of Bollywood actresses like Kareena Kapoor in their bedroom, though they are replicating the lives of their heroes like Ali G, talking singing hip hop and roaming the streets of London in their souped up beamer (BMW), sporting outlandish attires and demeanor, cool dude looks and slouches…They talk Desi cockney (sometimes a little difficult for the reader, when accosted with words like ‘innit’ (isn’t it?)) but respecting their parents in true Desi way (“Gotta respect your elders, innit”).

Take a look at how Hardjit educates the Poncey ‘Gora’ well punctuated with kicks on his face – “A paki is someone who comes from Pakistan. Us bredrens who don't come from Pakistan can still b call'd paki by other bredrens if it means we can call dem paki in return. But u people ain't allow'd 2 join in, u get me?”

Jas the guy, who sometimes sees sense, is the protagonist. He is the one who joins the gang under building peer pressure to learn tough lessons like “Ladies judge how you’re gonna handle their bodies by how you handle a car”. Just listen to Jas’s explanation here about his nerdish days: “I didn’t get an E or a D in GCSE History, you see. I got me a muthaf&^%in A ….class, innit.” Their method of making pocket change is to unlock or recode stolen cell phones delivered by Sanjay. Sanjay is the Cambridge returned guy who introduces them to the Bling Bling ‘informal’ economics of making money reprogramming and unlocking stolen cell phones.

Jas explains his ambitions to be a pilot – “Wat’s fu&*%in’ wrong wid dat?” in defence of his aspirations to a career at Heathrow airport. “I’ll be a pilot Top Gun-stylee, innit.”
Aron Jacobs concludes wellWhat makes Malkani's novel engrossingly inventive is that, for all their petty criminal bona fides, these characters are mama’s boys deep down. Though it may seem hard to read that through their pompous jargon: “People are always trying to stick a label on our scene. That’s the problem with havin a fuc&*in’ scene. First we was rudeboys, then we be Indian niggas, then rajamuffins, then raggastanis, Britasians, fu^&in’ Indobrits. These days we try an’ use our own word for homeboy an so we just call ourselves desis."

But Londonstani is something special and it is very funny. There is comedy in Jas’s narration, comprised of English, Punjabi and urban slang: "I jus mouthin off cos I got me a high sex drive, dat's all, man. I can't help it if I is a wild fu^&in beast."


To a certain extent, you should have lived in UK to really feel the book, but well, it is an interesting read…helps you understand the youth of today and the alienation they face with cross cultures, backgrounds, the vicious racial pressures that alternatively hold them or push them in varying directions. To take a peek into the Hounslow world, check out the Londonstani ‘Youtube’ trailer

>
It is an interesting, electrifying and compelling though not overtly satisfying a read. But well, in my mind, if you want to understand what is happening out there, read books like this – if only to see the effects of action and reaction, of racial and identity conflicts, results of chasing a good life and resettling families in worlds far away from ones own…


Gautam Malkani was born in 1976 and grew up in Hounslow (West London). His mother came to London from Uganda and worked as a radiographer while bringing up Gautam and his his brother. Gautam went to Isleworth & Syon comprehensive and got into Cambridge Universtity by being clever and working hard. As part of his SPS (social and political sciences) degree, he wrote a dissertation on rude-boy culture which enabled him to rationalise his frequent visits home to see his mates as "field trips." Londonstani grew out of his abortive attempts to convert his dissertation into a non-fiction book.

Malkani is currently a journalist for The Financial Times and head of the Creative Business section. He has worked on the UK news desk in London as well as in the Washington bureau. He and his wife live in London, England
Gautam says - Hounslow is arguably the hub of the ‘desi’ subculture to which the characters belong, just as Heathrow acts as a more obvious hub for temporary diasporas. For most of us, the airport represented one of two things: a gateway to India conveniently located just down the Great West Road, or the prospect of a shitty job loading other people’s luggage on to a rotating conveyor belt. To make the escapism even more oppressive, for some people it was the cheap flights granted to airport employees and their relatives that made possible trips to far-flung corners of the globe such as Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore

BBC video
interview here or at youtube here

Pic of the four in the beamer –
from the NYT review of the book
Gautam pic from AIM magazine

Guarding the borders


I stood in utter exasperation at the transit immigration counter. Not definitely from the days when armour clad, sword brandishing giants secured the borders, but here was a grim looking aurat looking me down through her eye glasses, through the bullet proof windows. The lady had still not finished deciding whether my passport was genuine and if I was a terrorist or not. This was the immigration counter at the Stockholm departure terminal. She turned the well worn blue passport with visas from so many countries in it, back and forth, she consulted her companion manning the next window, she looked at me, she looked at the computer terminal, she showed the passport under her UV lamp, she tapped more keys and she looked at me again for the 5th time. Then she said lamely ’you know, the computers are so slow’…I am sure she entered my name into some terrorist database and was waiting to see if bells rang & red lights came on! Why? Because I was brown and had black hair and a moustache??? Anyway after a few minutes during which I stood and cursed mankind, she waved me on..

Why me? What is wrong with my passport? Yes, I admit that the quality of the Indian passport at that time was probably a bit lower compared to the ones issued by others, with the picture pasted, the details handwritten and then the whole page laminated. After some years, one end starts to peel off or an air bubble is seen in the lamination. What happens is that this triggers alarms in the minds of such immigration clerks who have been entrusted with the responsibility of determining the bonafide and strategic plans of the unfortunate passenger standing in front of the cubicle. In my case this really happened. One of my earlier booklets (as it is called) was getting pretty old and I was at Kimpo airport Seoul. The girl looked at me, back to the passport, back to me, and then decided that she did not like me. She put her long and manicured fingernail under the corner that had the photograph and lifted it. I was shocked to silence, but the dictum is, when in doubt, never question of argue with immigration staff. What did she do that for? Was it to see if it comes off, or to see if the photo was switched? Well, in this case, it did peel a little above her nails. She finally decided that I was harmless; the passport was OK and stamped the entry visa. But since that trip and till I changed my ‘booklet’ I was harassed by so many immigration staff due to that slightly peeled off corner.

The other day my friend was travelling via Frankfurt to UK. The airlines seized his passport and kept it under safe custody with the pilot till the plane reached Heathrow. Now what did he do wrong? Nothing whatsoever, his ticket was OK with a return fare, his visa was OK, he had money to support his business trip…but then the airline confiscated his passport (they felt his face looked fishy!!) so that he would not destroy it enroute and land in UK as a ‘no nationality’ asylum seeker.

If only we had the high quality or biometric passports, if only we had a better international standing, if only all immigration staff were better trained, be it in India or elsewhere… If only there were no visas, and travel was borderless ……If only there was no racial profiling…but I hate passports, visas and all of that. Just because I am born in one country, another determines if I am eligible to pass by their land, what is right in this?

No wonder I spend time studying and thinking about the time when people risked life and limb to see and grovel (like the Vasco de Gama who tried to bribe the Calicut Zamorin with petty gifts and got told off) at the ‘Proud and rich land of the Ophir’ - a time when the balance of trade with India became very unfavourable to Rome since large amounts of gold and silver were shipped to the East to pay for the costly imported commodities. This is confirmed by the elder Pliny, who complained that there was "no year in which India did not drain the Roman Empire of a hundred million sesterces (1,000,000 pounds)....so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women."

Oh! Come on now; stop thinking like John Lennon did, when he wrote & sang ‘Imagine…’

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...


Utopia does not exist…Border security does…. Walls & fences do… Bureaucracy does…

And so, now you know why I enjoyed the Movie 'Terminal' starring Tom Hanks.

P.S. – Actually this was written some years ago, with a plan to refine it and submit it for publication, but was never done. I dredged it out from an old 32MB (ha! They existed those days and were state of the art hot stuff) flash drive that I was going to discard and touched it up a bit.
Seoul Incheon airport pic - Unlawyer's photoblog

Home cooking – Soon a historical activity?


At an altitude of 30,000 feet with the seat belt sign illuminated and grim looking airline stewardesses policing the aisles and helping increase the pressure in my bladder, I had just about enough of gazing at the various types of clouds that we passed. I tried to recall the numerous types that were taught once upon a long time ago by teachers who assumed that this specific knowledge would prove useful some day - cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, stratus…..

I dozed for a while, waking up, I picked up my book, but found the small text heavy going, on that day. Looking around was the next thing to do. The kids in the front row were making a racket, their seat backs rattling my deteriorating knees. The old man across the aisle was eyeing me suspiciously, looking to see if the brown man with a moustache (i.e. me) would jump out with a box cutter or something like that. A couple of colored hair teens were busy musically necking (listening to their Ipods at the same time), a lady was knitting with her brow furrowed in concentration, a pretty girl was trying to sneeze silently and ladylike but not making much headway with tears streaming down her eyes instead. The tanned executive with his crisp white shirt and gelled hair was busy on his laptop, but I saw that he was actually watching a movie. The stewardess mercifully started down the aisles with the snack trolley. That was great!! Getting a snack instead of peanuts!! This time we got a biscuit. It was eaten with gusto in no time, leaving behind only the white covering with nice print on it, and I started to examine the wrapper idly. Nice picture and well known name – Distinctive, deep rich chocolate, exquisite flavored biscuit…. proclaimed the plastic cover with the silvered inside.

Do not use if package is open or torn!! I wondered… hmmm… we ate biscuits, not ‘used’ it! Ah! Well you can’t tell people what to do these days, perhaps; they use biscuits for something, other than eating, who knows?? And I wondered about the possible uses, to prop open a door? To blackmail a crying child? Toss at somebody when annoyed? To smell the vanilla when you felt airsick?? After I while I gave up trying to figure out potential ‘uses’ and thought of the saying that was drummed into our heads - an idle mind is a dangerous thing!!

Weight 0.75Oz, it said. Turning the wrapper over, I read through the Nutrition facts – 120 calories, 5mg cholesterol, 55mg sodium (but it did not taste salty, it was sweet so why so much salt??), various other vitamins and so on thus confirming that it is indeed great for one’s health. Then I came to Made from – unbleached enriched flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, chocolate liquor processed with alkalis, soy lecithin, palm and/or interesterified and hydrogenetaed soyabean and/or cottonseed…… Chocolate liquor processed with alkali’s…

The list went on…and I wondered…what the hell, in the old days you took some flour, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla essence and made a cookie. Why add interesterified and hydrogenetaed (I could not even guess what those terms meant!) cottonseed and reduced iron?? I promised myself that this needed some later study..

Reading how this biscuit was made later convinced me that it is
rather sophisticated a process. But when I read about its marketing campaign as an everyday reward, I was astonished. Not that additives and all that stuff is necessarily bad for health, but the huge difference between traditional home cooking and mass production simply amazed me…

What is interesterified oil?
Using either chemical or enzymatic catalysts, interesterification rearranges the fatty acids in soybean oil to allow the blended oil to function like the partially hydrogenated oils it replaces, but without the trans fats associated with the partial hydrogenation process.

Hydrogenetaion – well it is better known, and much talked about - Hydrogenation is the chemical name for the addition of hydrogen to an existing molecule, usually an organic molecule which has a double bond between two carbon atoms. This is achieved by forcing hydrogen, at high temperature (250-400C) and pressure into the liquid oil, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel or platinum, over several hours. The prime reason for inventing these oils was that the producers (mostly in the USA, especially in the early days) needed them to survive the long transatlantic ship journey required to reach the markets in Europe. Unfortunately the transfats created in the process are not so good for health!!

Fortification of flour – Needed to take care of iron deficiencies. Flour fortification with iron is an important component of any public health strategy for the prevention of iron, folic acid and other vitamin and mineral deficiency. It works well to deliver iron in constant small needed amounts to a majority of the population.

Propylene glycol monoester – Apparently an emulsifier -
Cake batter is also an oil-in-water emulsion, with shortening or oil as the dispersed phase and water as the continuous phase. Emulsifiers, especially hydrophilic types, aid in mixing the fat phase with other ingredients. They aid in fat dispersion by breaking the fat into a large number of smaller particles.

Humectant – Have you ever heard of this additive that prevents food from drying out? Can you believe that you consume cyanides? Well, they use ferrocyanide salts as an anti caking agent!

New methods of production -
According to Felicity Lawrence, author of the book, Not On The Label, bread making changed in the Sixties when scientists discovered how to make a loaf quickly and bulk it up with water. “Instead of allowing two to three days fermentation they found that air and water could be incorporated into dough if it was mixed at high speeds,” she says. “Double the quantity of yeast was needed to make it rise, chemical oxidants were essential to get the gas in and hardened fat had to be added to provide structure. The process gave a much higher yield of bread from each sack of flour because the dough absorbed so much water.” The added fat, often in the form of unhealthy hydrogenated fat, helps today’s bread look firm and spongy. It is often included as a part of the ambiguous-sounding “flour treatment agent” usually found listed in the ingredients.

Yes, I have heard of water forced (or water retention agents added during processing) into meat to increase weight and it is evident when you make a chicken curry, these days, you do not have add water!! UK now limits it to 15% but they had samples which showed over 43% of water added. Note here that chicken meat by
itself is 66% water.

Keep it fresh (also from above express.co.uk article) - The apples in your supermarket may look fresh but many are treated routinely with SmartFresh, the innocent-sounding trade name of the gas 1-methylcyclopropene. This is pumped into crates of apples & tomatoes to stop them from producing ethylene, the natural hormone that causes fruit to ripen.
A daily mail article provides some details and a list of some not so good additives – It says - Parents have been warned to avoid artificial additives used in drinks, sweets and processed foods amid a link to behavior problems in children. A study funded by the government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) is understood to have drawn a link with temper tantrums and poor concentration.

Well, the drive for profit and a good life is taking us to outrageous extents. Who ever imagined that the days of home cooking are slowly but steadily being replaced by these manufactured foods with all kinds of permitted colors, additives and substances??

It is most definitely even more outrageous than the 65 year old stripper (well she looked ok though) who was shown on TV today. What beat that was the fact that there is also a (I reserve my comments) 65
year old male stripper.

I think it best to stop….there are better things to do in life than analyzing the methods and machinations of the food industry (You can try reading Toxin by Robin Cook)!!



But for the cakes and biscuits and bread, we ourselves try to eat freshly cooked food, everyday.

Enterprising Malayalees


It is joked today that every corner of the world or even the moon has a Malayali tea shop to welcome you. You will find Nair messes or tea stalls all over India, you will even find a Nair hotel in Ginza Tokyo, you will find many of them in the Middle East, but by and far the other Malayalis you encounter around the world, many still maintaining their unique spoken accent, are employed in diverse trades or disciplines, it could be engineering, Nano technology, advanced rocket sciences like ramjet applications, cutting edge medicine or even as suave diplomats and peace keepers.

We keep the ever unhappy neighborhood Kerala store owner busy, by buying plantains, Puttu podi, Chinese yam, Pappadams etc and it is also because of this nomadic lot that companies which make Parachute Coconut oil or Chandrika soaps continue to flourish…

The first Malayali who took up a short job in Greece dates back perhaps to the days of Ptolemy (115BC). Half dead, he was washed up on the Red Sea shores after a shipwreck. He did not know any other language (Malayalam and a smattering of Arabic maybe) and the Cyzicuian, Eudoxus who found him, decided to teach him the Greek language in order to learn his secrets. He was the man from ‘The land of the Ophir’ After a full year of teaching Greek, the man explained about Muziris and the wonders of Malabar to the astonished Eudoxus, who had been eagerly trying to find the sea route to Malabar and break the stronghold that the Arabs had on the Malabar spice trade. The Malayali did eventually guide the Greek ship together with Eudoxus, not once but twice to Malabar. Later, Starbo wrote about the expedition, Ptolemy Eurgetes II profited from the wealth they brought back and thus started a lucrative trade, though much later after Hippalus (the Greek pilot of the Eudoxus ship) wrote about the monsoon winds.

That tells you a lot about the travel bug which bit the people from a world known even to the ancient…the people from Malabar. There are many such stories and when I read the following in Wikipedia, I decided to investigate

According to Ming dynasty Imperial Guard Recruitment Record, Nanking area town guard chief Shaban was a native of Calicut. He was recruited to join Zheng He’s expedition, and was promoted on his return. Another officer Shasozu from Nanking military division was also a native from Calicut, who joined Zheng He’s expedition and too was promoted.

Let me start with the relation Calicut had with ancient China. While it is a story by itself, trade flourished between the two countries and big Chinese ships (junks) were always found moored in the Calicut harbor during the 14th and 15th Centuries. In return for expensive gifts from the Zamorin, the Chinese king returned favor by deputing Zheng He with a shipload of gifts in 1407. Early journeys by this great Eunuch Chinese sailor Zheng He are well documented by Ma Huan. Calicut or Guli (Ku-li) went on to become a favorite destination for Zheng He who rose to an admiral’s position in the royal navy. After Zheng He’s fleet arrived in Guli and associated with the local people and officials, he was attracted to the simple and kind customs and people in Guli. Since then, every time Zheng He navigated west, he would stop by Guli. Zheng breathed his last at Calicut and was either buried there or his body was given a sea burial. His tomb in China has only some clothes and is mostly ceremonial. Zheng he is also known as Admiral Chengho.

Wang Tai Peng’s research establishes the following

Among the elite of the Zheng He crew, there were navigators both Chinese and foreigners. The Chinese navigators were simply called huo-chang. Foreigner navigators were called fan huochang or fanren huochang instead to be distinguished from the Chinese navigators. We don’t know how many of them were among them. But they were of considerable number for sure. Their mission was also to recruit those foreign navigators who were capable of ocean navigation by reading the sea-chart with compass points, cross-referencing stars and landmarks. In 1407, for example, foreign navigators were rewarded with monetary notes equivalent to 50 silver taels and a roll of embroidered silk each for their valuable contribution made to the success of the mission. While they were not entitled to official promotion, they got more material rewards in exchange.

Then there were the naturalized foreigners. There were quite a number of middle ranking naturalized-foreigner military officers under his command. Prominently among them was a military commander (zhihui) named Haji, who was a naturalized foreigner.

And a deputy battalion commander (fu qianfu) Shaban, originally named, as Sheban was a man of Calicut from India in origin. Because of his great admiration of China, Sheban came to live in China and joined the military. He served as a sergeant (zhengwu) of the Nanjing an embroidered-shirt guard. In 1430 he joined the seventh naval expedition of Zheng He mission. After his return, Xuande emperor promoted him to the rank of deputy battalion commander and conferred his name as Shaban in acknowledgement of his contribution to the mission. Sheban was a Chinese translation from the Arabic word which means August in the Islamic calendar. Arab people also commonly used it as personal name.

Silk Street – The Chinese of Calicut used to trade from the silk street. In bygone days, Silk Street was the hub of commercial enterprise in Malabar. Trading ships from far off lands, bearing the finest marble, carpets, and tiles docked at Calicut. The wealthy merchants of the areas in and around Silk Street bartered ships laden with silk calico, ivory, and spices for these foreign treasures. Even now, Silk Street is the popular hill-produce trading centre of Malabar.The Chinese are now gone, but the silk street remains. There was also a Chinese street in the past. The China street near Tagore Centenary Hall and Silk Street in Valiangadi bear testimony to the Chinese connections of yore, here was where Zheng he lived and even constructed a pavilion of sorts!!

But we do have today, a China Bazaar, behind the Corporation library where you can find deals such as a dozen batteries for Rs 10/- and the such …

MORE ABOUT ZHENG HE IN ANOTHER BLOG, It is a fascinating story!!

Pics - Wikipedia & other sites

On the border


I am sure most of you in India would have watched this Bharati Airtel advert. Personally I do not know anything about Airtel other than the fact that it is a mobile telephone company in India, but this ad is far out…

Set in the Middle East (Morocco as I understand), it has music, I believe, scored by AR Rahman. Watch it, turn up the volume and you will realize the beauty and warmth of the ad.




Which takes you back to the famous award winning 16 minute short movie ‘
The Little Terrorist” that came out some time back..If you have not seen it, watch it, better still check out the full quality DVD that is available in stores ...



Broken projector provides a detailed review and a synopsis.

Little Terrorist tells the moving story of a Pakistani Muslim boy who accidentally crosses the Pakistani-Indian border which is riddled with landmines. He ends up in a strange country that regards him as a terrorist. The old orthodox Hindu Bhola takes him in and hides him from the Indian soldiers. However, traditions and prejudices about Muslims remain an obstacle in the relationship between Bhola and the boy. Ultimately, humanity triumphs over prejudice when Bhola risks his own life to help Jamal cross the border again. This symbolic story of hope is a tale of human solidarity conquering all artificial boundaries.