Somali pirates and the Indian Navy

Many years ago, the architect of India naval strategy, eminent historian and reluctant diplomat KM Panikkar said: "A navy is not meant for the defense of the coast. The coast has to be defended from the land. The objective of the navy is to secure the control of an area of the sea, thus preventing enemy ships from approaching the coast or interfering with trade and commerce and conversely after securing the control to blockade the enemy’s coast and destroy his shipping. The Indian navy, whether it be large or small, must learn this lesson. Its purpose is to protect the seas and not the land and if it cannot protect the seas vital to India’s defense, then it is better not to have navy at all”. He further argued that “while to other countries the Indian Ocean is only one of the important oceanic areas, to India it is a vital sea. Her lifelines are concentrated in that area, her freedom is dependent on the freedom of that water surface. No industrial development, no commercial growth; no stable political structure is possible for her unless her shores are protected.” Jawaharlal Nehru agreed with Panikkar in this case: “History has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea borne trade at her mercy and, in the second, India’s very independence itself.” Note here that the Indian Ocean region in this context means the seas and oceans around India.
But let us get back to the oceans, in this case the Gulf of Aden. When I read about the Ukrainian ship with many T72 Russian Tanks being held by these pirates, and that it still is, I was flabbergasted. Russia had no compunctions in chasing the Chechnyan’s with the hot pursuit logic that USA once followed, but have done nothing to the Somali pirates holding their ship. It was also a bizarre fact that terrorizing of this shipping lane had been going on now for 15 years. The surge in attacks came fourteen years after the fall of Somalia's last effective government. Now entire villages on the coastline collaborate in these activities and the rich takings have resulted in an even better equipped pirate force with mother boats, fast speedboats, satellite phones, RPG’s and automatic weapons. Can you believe it; they took just 16 minutes to subdue the Saudi Tanker (BTW it had only about twenty five crewmen)!!
From a $135,000 ransom for the ‘Semlow’ in 2005, it has now reached a $25 Million demand for the Saudi Oil tanker ‘Sirius Star’ (While the pirates have so far earned a total 150M$ in 2008). Currently some 15-17 ships (95 plus attacks this year) are held captive by the Somalis. The average going rate is a ransom of 1M$ per ship.
Why did this happen? Why are ships being terrorized? While an answer points to greed, it was primarily due to antiquated maritime laws which do not make it easy for a merchant ship to carry arms. To this day they have only water cannons and possibly acoustic bangers even though some have recently started to employ security guards. One other reason is that tanker environments are too explosive for arms to be carried or used. So what can these ships do? Either travel in convoys with an armed escort, or reroute away from the Gulf and employ faster, bigger ships. But that adds to the cost (fuel bills alone increase by 20-25%) and delays the shipment. Peter Hinchcliffe, marine director with the International Chamber of Shipping, explains to ABC News Australia
“First of all we think that to put arms on board, even with trained armed guards, is not a good thing to do, because that is going to increase the potential heat and damage out of a firefight.” So we're not in favour for that reason, but there are more fundamental reasons. “Firstly that some flag states do not allow ships flying their flag to carry small arms on board.” And even more serious from a commercial point of view, some port states will not allow the ships into their ports if there are small arms on board.
Further complicating are other issues like if a ‘pirate’ is killed, the ship would have to enter port and her master and crew would be detained and questioned. You can imagine their plight in a lawless country like Somalia. The legal advice typically goes as follows - Since privately owned merchant ships are not armed in peacetime, it is not usually prudent to risk crew and cargo if the harassing vessel has demonstrated the intent to use force to prevent free passage (e.g. firing a warning shot across your bow)
What had India got to do with this situation and Somalian Piracy? A large number of Indians work in the mercantile marine and serve the many ships operating in that region. Recently the Japanese ship that was hijacked by Somalis had 18 Indian crew members (do you remember the number of news reports featuring Seema Goel, the wife of the ship’s captain PK Goel?). They were released after the Japanese paid a large ransom. Then comes the commercial facts (so nicely explained in this article by CSM) 85% of India’s sea trade is carried on these routes by foreign ships. Over 300 Indian ships are at risk on this route and finally as an ex Army man says, India also had a present need and opportunity to project its forces beyond its borders as a show of might and to bolster its claim for a seat in the Security Council.
Here is a real pointer - Senior shipping sources said the move of Indian armed security follows a recent refusal by a Western naval patrol to protect an Indian merchant ship that felt “vulnerable” to attacks on what is perhaps the world’s most dangerous stretch of water. “When the Indian captain asked for protection, he was asked, firstly, about which flag he was flying, then about the nationality of his crew, and finally about which cargo he was carrying,” said Shipping Corporation of India Chairman S. Hajara. When informed that it was an Indian ship with Indian seafarers, the captain was told that he could not be provided immediate protection, Hajara, who is part of the Indian delegation to the IMO Council meetings, told IANS.
The nation of 1.1 billion people provides one-sixth of the world's maritime workers and every month it sends 30 Indian-owned vessels carrying oil and other goods valued at $100 billion through the Gulf of Aden. Indian shipping firms say they are losing $450,000 a month on cost overruns and delays due to piracy. "India cannot wait to take action until the Somali pirates hit the coast of Bombay ," says Mr. Bhaskar. "They must be quarantined in their own waters before they cause more damage."
India finally entered the fray on Nov 2nd with the deputation of F44 INS Tabar (battle axe). INS Tabar, a Talwar-class Russian made stealth frigate, the Indian navy's latest, is on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and recently shot into limelight with the destruction of a Somali mother ship (later clarified as a Thai fishing ship Ekawat Nava 5 hijacked by pirates) on Nov 19th and successfully escorting approximately 35 ships, including a number of foreign flagged vessels, safely during their transit through pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden plus preventing two hijacking attempts. The bigger INS Mysore will either join or replace it soon. The official version of the pirate boat sinking by INS Thabar is dull and drab. If you want a proper Indian masala version, look at the one put up by Chairboy in Digg.
And now, who are the pirates and what is their cause? CSM explains
Today's pirates are mainly fighters for Somalia's many warlord factions, who graduated from operating roadblocks to terrorizing ships, who have fought each other for control of the country since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991. Their motives are a mixture of entrepreneurialism and survival, says Iqbal Jhazbhay, a Somali expert at the University of South Africa in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called. Using a mother ship – often an Old Russian trawler – to prowl deeper waters for their target, they can offload smaller boats to move in close and overtake the ship, and climb up with hooks and ladders, and submachine guns.

Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme told Deutsche Presse that there were fewer than 100 gunmen operating in 15 groups in 2005. Now there are some 160 groups with a total of up to 1,200 pirates operating in Somalia's coastal waters. The pirates, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, launch speedboats from 'motherships' to pursue their targets. The mother ships are old captured Russian trawlers (Guardian confirms this - It turned out to be a previously captured ship being used by pirates as a base to launch their speedboats far out to sea.) 'The big question is where does the money go?' Mwangura said. 'We think they are collecting money going to fund other projects onshore ... we can say they are doing this on behalf of organized crime and for terrorist activities.' However some other reports mention a fishing class that had their daily means disrupted by the busy ocean waters and the ships taking up arms. Others mention that a good portion of the ransom is diverted to the insurgent groups.
Finally I read reports that India has to seek UN approval for each operation and that recently Somali had acceded to India’s request to enter their waters. With the going average ransom rate at 1M$ and possible local competition, the Somali pirates have not been troubled by sailing brazenly as far as 400 nautical miles from their shores as they did in capturing the Saudi tanker. Or is it that they realize that time could run out soon for them?
I agree that it is time to take the fight to the pirates and if the Indian Navy has to set an example, let it be so. Kudos to the navy!! KM Panikkar would finally be smiling from up above!!
Update - 26th Nov 2008: It has now been clarified that the destroyed trawler was the Thai fishing vessel Ekawat Nava 5 which was comandeered by Somali pirates before the event. A survivor recounts that the ship was hijacked by 10 Somali pirates on Nov 18th.
Recommended reads
India & the Indian Ocean – KM Panikkar
India in the Indian Ocean – Donald Berlin
Dimensions of National Security: The Maritime Aspect
Pirate speedboat - from Herald Sun
Location map - WSJ
INS Thabar - from
Barum mother ship - NPR

Talpade's flight over Chowpathy

One of the conquests many attempted since Da-Vinci’s time or even earlier, is flight by man, powered or un-powered. There were people who attached wings to their backs, some even attaching feathers to their arms, but in the end injuries, hurt egos and even death were the results.

Historic documents such as the Vedas and some Indian epics do mention flight and structures termed Vimana’s but nobody seems to have taken them seriously (inspite of claims & rumors that NASA's ion engine is based on the vedic texts). The contents of the book Vimanika Sastra and all the innuendo put together by H Childress and Berlitz, were dismissed as hogwash by many learned scientists. Having read the “the anti-gravity handbook” and the Vaimanika Shastra translation myself, I should agree that both leave a number of new doubts and questions in the reader’s mind rather than answering them. It could be so since the original Sasthra text itself is considered incomplete.

1800-1900 was a period of inventions- People were innovating left and right, at a pace never attained since then. Eventually, two attempts got recorded into the annals of aviation history. One was Santos Dumont of Brazil and the other the Wright brothers of USA. The latter are accorded all the credit today for being pioneers of manned, controlled flight. Dumont’s supporters argued that his 14bis flew for 722 feet in 1906-1907 after his 1901 dirigibles; The Wright brothers did their first 852’ flight in 1903, but more in secret. Brazilians argued that Dumont flew without use of catapults and slopes to aid take off, the Wright brothers did just that. Clement Ader did a self powered flight in 1890; or so it appears, but just 8 inches above the ground. Then there was John Stringfellow’s plane in 1848. The Wright brothers did some more sparsely witnessed flight demonstrations 1903-1906. But was there somebody else before the Wright’s, perhaps? Somebody who did not get his due recognition?

Well, one other person 'purportedly' flew a self powered unmanned plane in 1895. That man was Shivkar Bapuji Talpade. His plane was called ‘MarutSakha’. Reports concluded that he obtained the designs from his Guru Subbaraya Shastri (who compiled Maharishi Bhardwaja’s Vaimanika Shastra – a collection of some parts of the original Vedic period text), that he had his wife supporting him in these design & production endeavors, that the plane flew only a short distance before crashing, that it had a mercury ion engine, that he stopped his efforts after the crash due to paucity of funds, imperial animosity & lack of sponsorship.

The problem with this story is that there is very little to corroborate it except for the two articles, one by Times of India and one by Deccan Herald. There is a third write up linked here.

The Times article states- In 1895 an Indian pioneer flew what is said to be the first Indian plane in the air. The centenary year of the first successful flight, by the Wright brothers, was celebrated from December 17, 2003. But our own pioneer from Mumbai, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, made an aircraft and had flown it eight years earlier. One of Talpade's students, P Satwelkar, has chronicled that his craft called 'Marutsakha'(Friend of the Winds) flew unmanned for a few minutes and came down.

KRN Swamy of Deccan Herald states - One day in June 1895 (unfortunately the actual date is not mentioned in the Kesari newspaper of Pune which covered the event) before an curious scholarly audience headed by the famous Indian judge/ nationalist/ Mahadeva Govinda Ranade and H H Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, Talpade had the good fortune to see his unmanned aircraft named as ‘Marutsakthi’ take off, fly to a height of 1500 feet and then fall down to earth.

Doubts remain, since the Guru named Shastry later turned out to be a disciple. Talpade passed away in 1916, the manuscript of Vaimanika Shastra was completed by Shastry only in 1923 (he died in 1941) to make do a promise Shastry had made to the well known scientist JC Bose. The drawings of the craft and engines were made by a TK Elappa, a draftsman from what he thought the text meant. Then there is the fact that Talpade was a Sanskrit scholar, not really an inventor (nor was his wife one) who could build an ion engine from incomplete Vedic text. Those interested may checkout a critical study of Vaimanika Shastra by a few IIS students.

Kesari was a newspaper edited by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Marathi. Some argue that the very fact that Kesari Bal Gangadhar himself was editor when this article was printed, gives it complete credibility. Some add that Shivkar Bapuji's craft only flew only to a twenty meter height and crashed within seventeen minutes, hence was counted largely as a failure but had he been loaned more R&D money he might have gone into the annals of history. Anyway Talpade supposedly lost interest in things after his wife`s death which happened some time after the test flight, and after his own death in 1917 at the age of 53 his relatives sold the machine (in which children of the house used to play) to Rally Brothers, a leading British exporting firm then operating in Mumbai.

The story of the first Indian to fly a plane thus remains a myth, for lack of further evidence. If somebody has some more concrete data to prove this event, please feel free to provide it. Another question remains unanswered. Since Subbaraya Sastry completed the book after Talpade’s experiment, why did he not allude to it or add information of this very important practical experiment?

Disclaimer – This article does not imply that the ancient wisdom was non existent. On the contrary the question asked is if there is some kind of proof out there on Talpade’s flight and details of the kind of craft he built, in scientific terms.

Added references
Another translation of Vaimanika Shastra
Vimanika Shastra – Wikipedia entry
Vimana Aircraft of Ancient India and Atlantis - David Childress, Ivan T Sanderson

pics - from the web, thanks to the uploaders


I read a lot and yes, as always, I simply enjoy the feel of the paperback in my hand. Hardbound editions are difficult to hold for a long time and even though the typeset is big, your wrists ache after a while. There are very many nice ebooks available (for which I am grateful to Googlebooks) and I find the compact Acer Aspire One Netbook competent enough to handle these. So now, many historical ebooks from Google books can now be read on it in peace. It is still tough on the eyes, even with the LED backlight and towards night you wonder how all that sand got into your eyes. But still nothing can beat a real book, even if yellowed with age, or smelling musty and allergic – sufficient reason to encourage a swig of Benadryl or some such antihistamine before the attempt. Sometimes I wonder why some cruel guys mark, underline and write cryptic comments on these book margins ( 2nd hand books) and then finally decide to sell it ‘as is’.

It is funny – Does development kill the need to read or the desire to read? I guess so – Apple has been working on a ebook reader and Steve Jobs had this to say in Feb 08- "Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," he said. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."…

Ah! Well.. I am drifting in the wrong direction; let’s see what entertained me the last few days - My latest pick – Chowringhee – Shankar

I met Bhaskar my old friend after many years, in Bangalore a couple of months ago. He is now managing a prosperous supermarket chain, and I recalled one of our earlier conversations about a Jeffrey Archer book ‘As the crow flies’. Bhaskar had at that time talked about doing something like the protagonist and well, he ‘the man’, as they say in USA chased his dream, to start supermarkets & department stores in Bangalore.

When we met, Bhaskar recommended that I read Chowringhee, a book about Calcutta, for he had been fascinated by it. Well, I finally found a lone copy after a tedious search in Gangaram’s on MG road and have since then finished reading that glorious book. What fascinating writing and more than that, what a fabulous translation work from the original Bengali. It was simply impossible to put down the book. You enjoy the story telling, meeting and getting to know each character in the book, be it Sankar himself, or Bose or Sutherland or Connie or Rosie….

A little bit about Chowringhee. This is a locality or neighborhood in Central Calcutta, also termed the Regent’s park of Calcutta. It is a business district, a shoppers place and home to many hotels today. In the British days they had magnificent houses in that area. In those days leading to independence, there used to be a Spencer hotel located in Chowringhee. It was considered by many, including Jules Verne (Jules Verne mentions the Spencers hotel in his book the Demon of Crawnpore (The steamboat – Nana Sahib) as the best in Calcutta.

David Martin states in his ‘Changing face of Calcutta’ - Fame and fortune have attended Chowringhee Road for nearly three centuries. One of Kolkata’s principal arteries, throughout the length of its history it has carried an aura of prestige and importance. Fashionableness and colour have always been its handmaidens. To countless Indians, and for most people familiar with India, the singularly unique name Chowringhee immediately identifies with Kolkata. It represents the nearest equation in India to what Piccadilly is to London, Fifth Avenue to New York and the Champs Elysees to Paris. Nostalgic Londoners like to regard their Circus as the centre of the universe. Kolkatans are more reserved in their acclaim, although the fervour they display for their city is perhaps unmatched. Although dowdier these days than its more illustrious worldlier partners, Chowringhee no less exudes similar allure and magnetism in its eastern setting. Yet another book that explains Chowringhee of the early part of the century is ‘The Underworld of the East - By James S. Lee’ where the steamy underbelly of old Calcutta comes to light. In that real life account of his visit to the city, Lee lives on the rooftop rooms of the Spencer Hotel and talks of ‘Punkha’s’ in these (Hotels had no electric fans during those years) rooms which were pulled through a hole in the wall by the Punkah wallah. Humorus accounts of the ‘punkah wallah’ nodding off to sleep prepare the reader to the hotel stay at Spencers during the early part of the 20th century.

The author of ‘Chowringhee’ is Mani Shankar Mukherjee a.k.a. Shankar. As the book blurb puts it - The book set in the Kolkata of 1950s is a saga of the intimate lives of managers, employees and guests in one of its largest hotels, called Shajahan in the novel. Shankar, the newest and the youngest recruit, recounts the stories of several people whose lives come together in the suites, backrooms and restaurants of the hotels. This book predates Arthur Hailey's "Hotel" by three years and has been translated into Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Russian and now English. It’s larger than life characters - the enigmatic hotel manager Marco Polo, debonair receptionist Sata Bose, the tragic hostess Karabi Guha - attained almost cult status. And the novel became a classic.

A fascinating study of human character, Shankar takes you into the workings of newly liberated Calcutta, the babu’s, the gora’s and what not. The camaraderie between the staff of the hotel, the dark secrets, all of them are retold in a style with a singular purpose of entertaining you. It makes you feel that you have just stepped out of the hotel, as you finish the book and it is then you feel the warm glow and contentment of having read a masterpiece and the sun on your back as you step onto Chowringhee road.

From Telegraph India article - It took Vikram Seth’s recommendation, who read the novel in Hindi, to spur Penguin into translating Chowringhee. Arunava Sinha’s translation in 1992 was fished out. “There is nothing dated about Chowringhee. It is so much about people that the story carries well ahead of its background and period,” says the translator, who is now on the verge of finishing Sankar’s other celebrated work, Jana Aranya.

Excerpts from a Samachar article

Shankar revealed the inside stories of the book only recently (Jul/Aug 08). He goes on

"I will reveal some inside stories about 'Chowringhee' that I could not tell for fear of a British barrister. I began my career as a clerk after my father passed away when I was barely in my teens. I had to drop out of studies in search of a job. The book was loosely based on him - more as a tribute because he introduced me to the world of good writing. Now that he is no more, I can share the inside stories," the writer said with his trademark wit.

According to Shankar, the idea for the book took off when he was still in the service of Noel Barwell, the last British barrister in the Kolkata High Court. "Barwell stayed for a long time at the Spencer's Hotel in Kolkata and I was a frequent visitor to the hotel. It was through common friends at Spencer's that I came to know what was happening at the Great Eastern Hotel, one of the biggest hotels in the metropolis then.

"So, there was this notion that the book was inspired by Great Eastern Hotel. Actually, the muse was the Spencer's Hotel. It was from there that my love affair with hotels began," Shankar disclosed.

The author, who was unusually expansive, also gave away the real identity of the charismatic receptionist of the Shahjahan hotel in the novel. "I got the idea to create the debonair Sata Bose, the receptionist, from a railway employee I chanced across. His name was Satya Sadhan Bose and since he had many sahib friends, he refused to be identified by anything but Sata Bose," he divulged.

Shankar, whose books stormed into Bengali homes with the marketing slogan "A bagful of Shankar (Ek Bag Shankar)", is a household name in West Bengal. Collections of his books were sold in blue packets that readers were proud to possess. Shankar wears many hats. A street food expert with two books to his credit, the writer is an also an adept marketing man associated with a leading industrial house.

The book also became a popular movie in the 60’s acted by Utpal Dutt, Uttam Kumar, Subhendu Chatterjee, Biswajeet etc..I have not seen it, but have recently acquired a VCD. Now I need to find time to enjoy the movie even though I do not have the faintest inkling of the Bengali language. But I will manage, surely.

For those who can find the book - read it, You will see a different India, set around the times of the movie Parineeta and yes, without doubt you will enjoy it ...

Further reading
A Hindu Article
Pics - Sankar - Telegraph, Book cover from the net

Shanta P Nair Kerala’s Nightingale

Thumbi Thumbi va va…Picture a scene - a song from 1956, K Raghavan master’s music and Vayalar’s lyrics. The nervous Vayalar Rama Varma would have been sitting and listening to his very first lyrics for the movie ‘Koodapirappu’ being sung by Shanta Nair. After the opening lines, he would have finally relaxed, and allowed the magic of the experienced singers voice to take over. Or switch to another scene – The great MB Sreenivasan is tuning a song for Kalpaadukal. He asks ‘Shanta, do you think you can do a duet with a young newcomer’? Shanta says (a time when stalwarts usually refused to sing with newcomers) – ‘of course, why not’ – thus introducing Yesudas into the singing scene, singing the chirpy song ‘Attention penne’. Or the great Baburaj doing his very first movie ‘Minnaminungu’ with Shanta singing ‘Vallittu Kannezhuthanam’…or some years later, enthralling Salilda with her own composition for a ‘Salilda movie’.

Sadly, yet another great singer of yesteryears passed away recently (July 28th 2008), after prolonged illness. I had been collecting information on Shanta P Nair even before her demise and it was a blog entry by Cris and Jo’s gentle prod for a music related blog that finally got me to finish this. The collection of information that I have on this great singer, other than having listened to her songs comes from the archives of our fine ‘Hindu’ newspaper, namely the articles by K Pradeep, Jayakumar and Ambika Varma and various comments from music enthusiasts of Entelokam, a fine Malayalam music site.

Calicut, a city of the arts & trade, yet again figures in this fine singer’s story. I remember the hallowed recording rooms of the AIR station across the Arabian Sea waters, right on the beach. The air conditioned interiors smelled different where as a child I had gone there many times to participate in some programs. This was also the place where my wife used to sing some years ago. Abdul Khader worked there, so did Shanta P Nair as an announcer, initially. Then the two became popular with their ‘lalitha ganam’ programs. It was here that Shanta Nair met drama writer & program director Padmanabhan Nair, married him and settled down into the routines of family life and away from the recording rooms. (However Saraswathy Amma in a recent article stated that Shanta Nair also worked at the Trivandrum AIR later).

Born 1930, she spent 79 years in this world and her 200 odd songs (I could list only about 50) for some 100 films are now a testament to fine music, if only in posterity. They were songs from an era when melody was queen and when Malayalam music and films were only just taking shape and form. In a group of singers with a heavy Tamil and classical base, she stood out with her lovely clear voice. It was in 1952 that she started in the film world singing for the movie Tiramala. She had studied Carnatic music from the age of eight under Chertala Gopalan nair and Ramanattu Krishnan and went on to complete her intermediate at Women’s college Trivandrum, later finishing her BA at Queen Mary’s Madras. Subsequently she joined AIR Calicut as an announcer and after a stint of 3 years there and a courtship with Padmanabhaan Nair culminating in wedlock, left the job to continue in the film music world. Under Cherthala Gopalan Nair she gained confidence in performing on stage. In a Hindu interview, Shanta Nair remembered how at the age of 10 she sang a Swati Tirunal Adathala varnam before the famous Muthiah Bhagavathar. "When I finished, he said `belle belle nalla padara."'

Quoting Hindu from an Interview - Gentle, gracious and reticent. A singer who never knew how to market herself, a sense of nervousness was palpable when you talked to her. Her sister and her daughter, Latha Raju, who were there with her in the room that evening, intervened. They revealed that Shanta had always been like that; she needed to be persuaded to sing, or even to talk. There was something in Shanta’s voice that endeared her to a generation of listeners. It was a voice that was as smooth as the serene backwaters, lively as the monsoon showers. It was a voice that gelled with the Malayali psyche Shanta had the unique honour of having sung for stalwarts like K. Raghavan, Vayalar Rama Varma, G. Devarajan, O.N.V. Kurup and Baburaj in their first film and with many singers who recorded for a film for the first time. Among those singers was K. J. Yesudas

And once in the absence of Salilda, she composed a tune for Ramu Kariat. Salilda after hearing it insisted that it be retained without changes in the final release. Shantha remembers how she was persuaded by Ramu Kariat to compose music for that song in his film `Ezhu Rathrikal.' The music director Salil Choudhury was away in Mumbai. The song was `Makkathu poi varum maanathe.' "When Salilda heard it, he complimented me profusely. It is such a simple and nice tune and sung by her daughter Latha Raju. She also did the chorus for Salilda later in the Chemmen songs.

Her last song was in 1961/5 for V Chidambaranath’s Murapennu `Kadavathu thoni aduthapol' in the film `Murapennu' along with S. Janaki. The song remains a hit to this day, and it was Shanta's last screen song (You can get a flavour of her “kadavathu thoni’ when you hear the Ousepachan song ‘Ormakal odi’ from Mukundetta sumitra vilikkunnu). She recalls with pride how thrilled she was when she got an opportunity to sing `Vande Mataram' before Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. ‘Unarunaroo Unnikanna...’ a solo by Shanta P. Nair, based on Bilahari raga, is still one of the best devotionals in the language.

Shanta P. Nair immortalized many film songs with her mellifluous voice in a career spanning from 1951 to 1967. She was equally proficient in Carnatic music and held many concerts, which she used to end with light music. She is no more, but her music and sweet voice will remain in our hearts.

Singing Highlights of her career
Yesudas first duet (Attention penne, Kaalpadukal)
Vayalar ‘s first movie (Thumbi thumbi vaa vaa, Koodapirappu)
Vayalar & Devarajan combination first movie (Janani, Chaturangam)
Baburaj’s first compositon (Vaalittu Kannezhuthanam, Minnaminungu)
Raghavan Master’s first (released) movie song(Unarunaroo, Neelakuyil)
Her first song (Amma than thankakudame, Thiramala)

She sang for the following movies
Thiramala, Balyakalasakhi, Neelakuyil, Aniyathi, Koodapirappu, Manthravadi, Rarichan Enna Pouran, Newspaper boy, Kaalam Marannu, Achanum Makanum, Jailpulli, Minnaminungu, Padatha Painkili, Lilly, Mariakutty, Chaturangam, Krishnakuchela, Mudiyanaya puthran, Sabarimala Ayappan, Baghyajathakam, Kalpadukal, Laila majnu, Palattu koman, Swarga rajyam, Veluthambi Dalawa, Vidhi thanna vilakku, Moodupadam, kalanju kittiya thankam, Tacholi othenan, Murapennu, Chemeen, Ramanan, Dantha gopuram, Ezhu rathrikal.

More Bio
Wife of late Padmanabhan Nair, daughter of R Vasudeva Poduval and Lakshmikutty Amma, hailing from the Ambady Family Trichur. Survived by Latha Raju also a singer (AIR Chennai Deputy Director) and son in law JM Raju a music director and singer himself. Shanta Nair won the Sangeet Natak Accademy award in1987.

My FavoritesThumpi Thumpi Va Va
Valittu Kannezhuthanam
Tengidalle Tengidalle
Kadavathu Thoni
Unaru Unnikanna
Poove Nalla Poove (with P Leela)
Poomuttathoru mulla virinju
Makkathu Poivarum (Music by Shanta - sung by Latha Raju)

References & Photographs – Thanks to Hindu
A voice from yesteryear – G Jayakumar
Yesterday Once more – Ambika Varma
Unforgettable Voice – K Pradeep
Neelakuyil – The movie
Entelokam – The confluence of Malayalam music enthusiasts

My Blogs on other Malayalam singer’s & MD’sMehaboob
Kozhikode Abdul Khader
MB Sreenivasan


The Mini CAT

Ah! This is not feline at all; CAT in this context stands for compressed air technology. Now, I had read about this development from newspapers some days back and I was wondering when and how the development will hit the streets what with the influence of the powerful oil & conventional automobile lobby.

A few days ago, I was listening to the LA 103.5 FM station and one of the RJ’s said, “know what India’s TATA is launching? an air powered car” and the lady DJ wise cracks “aha, so the car has windmills on it or what”. My blood pressure rose in a jiffy, but came down when the male DJ calmed her and me down by stating all the great things about the car. Of course the end of the clip was spoiled by another RJ who said well, “Nowadays Indians can also lay their hands on Jaguar and Range rover and all those high end cars”. I did feel he was a bit sanctimonious about the whole thing, but let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Politely the others said wow! Fantastic! And all that…not remembering that many Americans had air car inventions to their credit years back but had gotten steamrolled by so called ‘better petrol driven inventions’.

When Guy Negre - Renault F1 engine developer and aeronautical engineer, his son Cyril and his 17 year old company Motor Development International (MDI) completed the designs for an air engine, the Frenchman had finally realized the dreams of Jules Verne. In his book ‘Paris of the 20th Century’, Verne had foreseen aero cars driving on the streets of Paris. Our modern cities, with streets a hundred meters wide and buildings three hundred high, and which are always maintained at the same temperature, and with the sky furrowed by thousands of aero-cars and aero-buses! (Verne 1863)

MDI has had a long haul since then. MDI promoter and US agent Shiva Vencat struggled to get the project flying in the USA, funds were hard to come by and the response was lukewarm. It finally took a 27M$ infusion from Tata Motors in 2007 to jump start the air car project. Tata as part of the deal got the rights for licensing and further developing the engine in their vehicles, MDI got the finances to develop their own version for Europe & other countries (Tata is the only big firm Negre’ll license to sell the car - and they are limited to India). For the rest of the world he hopes to persuade hundreds of investors to set up their own factories, making the car from 80% locally-sourced materials.

Well, I am not sure we would see many aero cars in US freeways or streets in the short run, even with the high price of gas and the uproar about fossil fuels in the public media, but I can foresee and look forward to seeing such cars running on the roads in Indian cities by next year. But back to the topic…the Mini CAT air powered car…

Air technology - The idea first came up in Englishman Dennis Papin’s mind in 1687, with the first model made in 1840 in France, then the idea died off. Starting with the Mekarski engine in 1872, Porter, Hardie, Hodges, Kiser, Barton and Wardeiner came out with successive working models. Since the world war, no further attempts were made in the mainstream until the 70’s by Truitt followed by Russell Brown, Starbard and Miller. Liesler, Mead and Miller refined the ideas further and provided renewable and perpetual versions. For details of all these inventions, and for those interested in the milestones, check here.

Tata and the air cars - Tata had a lot of headway in this due to the fact that they had been selling air powered buses since 2000, something that I did not know. All eyes would be on the Tata MDI model which would be the first to produce about 6000 of these cars, maybe later in 2008. Tata’s Air Car, which MDI calls a MiniCAT, is expected to cost the equivalent of $8000 (reports vary between $5000 to $8000)in India, and would have a range of about 300km between refuels—an event which, due to the fact you’re only paying for the power needed to work the compressor, would cost around $2. Until the market for this car is properly developed though, owners will find included a small compressor which can be connected to any regular power supply, and will refill the tank within 3-4 hours. While Tata has been tightlipped on plans, Forbes states the following - MDI is shipping a prototype to Tata this summer. Tata will either reproduce that car or, more likely, install the MDI technology in one of its existing cars, such as its recently unveiled Nano. The MDI technology - Air car models today have a four-piston engine powered by compressed air stored in tanks at 4,500 pounds per square inch. The lightweight tanks hold around 3,200 cubic feet of air. The air car is propelled when compressed air from the tanks is injected into a small chamber, where it expands and cools. This expansion pushes a down stroke of the piston and as the temperature again heats the air in the first chamber, that air is forced into a second chamber, where it expands again to drive an upstroke.

Forbes adds – MDI versions come in bright colors, can go 70mph and have a range of 125 miles on flat roads. The motor uses a whoosh of air to push its two pistons up and down. Exhaust from the engine consists of harmless atmospheric air, cold enough to serve as air-conditioning on a hot day. But don't try to tow a trailer with one of these things. The engine can't top 75 horsepower.

The designers say on long journeys the car will do the equivalent of 120mpg. In town, running on air, it will be cheaper than that. The developer Mr Negre says there's no issue with safety - if the air-car crashes the air tanks won't shatter - they will split with a very loud bang. "The biggest risk is to the ears”

So looking forward to an air driven vehicle and many more such ‘green’ inventions.

Pics – from related manufacturers sites on the net - thanks