When Martin Luther King Jr visited Kerala

It was I think around the year 1953, that MLK discovered the light in the teachings of the Gandhi. Many years later he recounted thus – ‘The inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence. I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhi method of non violence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in this struggle for freedom’. He also explained in his works about how Juliett Morgan first compared the Indian and the Negro struggle, writing about the bus protest to the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. She did not survive the furious public onslaught and died soon after, in 1957. But she brought the name of the little brown saint, the Mahatma to the American lips. And later MLK accounted his struggle in simple terms ‘Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, Gandhi furnished the method’. Interestingly King Jr was also one of the few who observed another Gandhi technique, as he observed “Mahatma Gandhi never had more than one hundred persons absolutely committed to his philosophy. But with this small group of devoted followers, he galvanized the whole of India.”

One fine day he came into contact with such a follower of Mahatma Gandhi who was convinced that MLK should visit India to see all of this for himself. After discussions following the unfortunate incident involving the Curry letter opener stabbing, MLK Jr finally decided to tour India. In February and March 1959, the 30 year old Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, traveled throughout India. King aptly told a group of reporters gathered at the airport, ‘‘To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim”.

While much of King’s visit to the big cities of India is well remembered and documented, most may not be aware of his days spent in Trivandrum and the glorious weekend that King and his wife spent at Kanyakumari. It would also surprise many, that the person who convinced King to visit the land of Gandhi was a Malayali, whom very few would remember today, a man they should actually revere, named G Ramachandran. Read on, for I am going to take you to the last week of Feb 1959, when King was to fly in from Madurai to Trivandrum. The date was 22nd Feb 1959.

King flew out from Madurai destined for Trivandrum, after visiting the Gandhigram started by G Ramachandran and seeing the (Madurai Meenakshi?) temple. A crowd was waiting at the Trivandrum airport, to greet them with bouquets of flowers and garlands. EMS Namboothiripad, the chief minister of Kerala, the only state that Nehru’s Congress did not rule then, had hosted a luncheon in his honor. EMS had just returned after spending several weeks in Moscow, but he arrived half an hour earlier than the plan to chat alone with King. The luncheon was attended by many dignitaries, including Anna Chandy, the first woman to be appointed High Court judge in India. Noted Gandhian P. Gopinathan Nair, recalled recently that he was also there to receive MLK Jr at the airport. “His wife was also there with him and both of them attended a few functions. And in one of the functions, his wife even sang a song,” Nair recalled.

Many years later, King also recalled a school visit, the school was a school for former untouchables in Trivandrum and the principal had introduced him as a fellow untouchable. ‘I remember when Mrs. King and I were in India, we journeyed down one afternoon to the southernmost part of India, the state of Kerala, the city of Trivandrum. That afternoon I was to speak in one of the schools, what we would call high schools in our country, and it was a school attended by and large by students who were the children of former untouchables .... The principal introduced me and then as he came to the conclusion of his introduction, he says, “Young people, I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” And for a moment I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable. But then he reflected on the ‘airtight cage of poverty’ that afflicted African Americans ‘in rat infested unendurable slums in the big cities of our nation who still attended inadequate schools faced with improper recreational facilities .. And I said to myself, Yes, I am untouchable, and every Negro in America is an untouchable.’

That evening, King and party left for Cape Comorin to see the sunset, to visit the Gandhi shrine where his ashes were cast into the seas, and to take some time off for themselves on the glorious beach. The next day King, Reddick & Bristol swan in the waters of the merging oceans before breakfast. Later they attended a Legislative assembly meeting and afterwards King addressed an overflow crowd. The Kings never forgot the sunset and the moments at he Cape. He was profoundly affected by the visit and included a lengthy part of it in his sermon. The words are beautifully expressed and suffused with beauty that only one who has visited the cape would understand. Here it is in Martin Luther King Jr’s own words (extracted from his sermon)….

In India Mrs King and I spent a lovely weekend in the State of Karala (let’s forgive him for the misspelling!), the southern most point of that vast continent. While there we visited the beautiful beach on Cape Comorin, which is called "Land's End," because this is actually where the land of India comes to an end. Nothing stretches before you except the broad expanse of rolling waters. This beautiful spot is a point at which meet three great bodies of water, The Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. Seated on a huge rock that slightly protrudes into the ocean, we were enthralled by the vastness of the ocean and its terrifying immensities. As the waves unfolded in almost rhythmic succession, and crashed against the base of the rock in which we were seated, an oceanic music brought sweetness to the ear. To the west we saw the magnificent sun, a great cosmic ball of fire, as it appeared to sink into the very ocean itself. Just as it was almost lost from sight, Mrs King touched me and said, "Look, Martin, Isn't that beautiful!" I looked around and saw the moon, another ball of scintillating beauty. As the sun appeared to be sinking into the ocean, the moon appeared to be rising from the ocean. When the sun finally passed completely beyond sight, darkness engulfed the earth, but in the east the radiant light of the rising moon shone supreme.

To my wife I said, "This is an analogy of what often happens in life." We have experiences when the light of day vanishes, leaving us in some dark and desolate midnight - moments when our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair or when we are the victims of some tragic injustice and some terrible exploitation. During such moments our spirits are almost overcome by gloom and despair, and we feel that there is no light anywhere. But ever and again, we look toward the east and discover that there is another light which shines even in the darkness, and "the spear of frustration" is transformed "into a shaft of light."

This would be an unbearable world were God to have only a single light, but we may be consoled that God has two lights: a light to guide us in the brightness of the day when hopes are fulfilled and circumstances are favorable, and a light that guides us in the darkness of the midnight when we are thwarted and the slumbering giants of gloom and hopelessness rise in our souls. And so we know that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the darkness as well as the light.

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds and our nights become even darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. This is our hope for becoming better people. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world. Amen!

Meanwhile, in Kerala, in the year 2009, they have been desperately trying to figure out the identity of that old school which MLK Jr had visited, but it appears that it has long since vanished. The search actually started when MLK’s son MLK III visited India for the 50th centenary celebrations, retracing his fathers steps.

But for all this one must thank G Ramachandran. It was G. Ramachandran (popularly known as GR in those days) who coordinated the month-long visit Martin Luther King, Jr. to India. G.R was then the secretary of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, and later the editor of Indian express and a minister in the Pattam Thanu Pillai cabinet. He later established a school at Neyyatinkara where he hailed from. More about him can be read here.

“It was wonderful to be in Gandhi’s land,” wrote the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a few months after returning from a month long visit to India in 1959. “I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

Note: LD Reddick was a Prof of History & JE Bristol was head of the Quaker International center in Delhi. They were two others who accompanied MLK Jr during this trip.

Martin Luther King Jr - (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States and he is frequently referenced as a human rights icon today. King is recognized as a martyr by two Christian churches. A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, serving as its first president. King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. There, he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King, Jr: a profile- By C. Eric Lincoln
The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Vol 5 Ed Clayborne Carson
The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr By Clayborne Carson
A testament of hope: the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther .By Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King (Jr.), James Melvin Washington
The Stanford university collections
Listen to MLK Jr’s address in New Delhi

Pics – Except for GR’s (SGI), all others from Stanford site, thanks

Two facets of Krishna Menon

Some times I feel sad, seeing how people react, especially towards people they do not know at all or are even dead and gone since ages. Just look at this guy who was searching on Google. His search line on Google search is ‘Krishna Menon was a*&shole’. He lands up on my site since I had written about VKKM and he leaves after 5 minutes of reading. Fine, hopefully he knows more about VKKM, hopefully he changed his mind, but what kind of a mindset made him feel like this about a person who passed ages ago?

Anyway that reminded me of another nasty man which of course resulted in this article. In the meantime, let our ‘searcher’ continue his search and get what he wants.

Recently I was in Calicut, the birthplace of VK Krishna Menon. Menon was one who left his home town early in his life and maintained little contact with the place and people, and after his sister with whom he was very close with, expired, he had nothing more to do with the town. He lived off and on either in Delhi or Madras after a stint at the UK. Last year, he was posthumously awarded a medal by the South African government, but they found it very difficult to find somebody to claim the award on his behalf. It had been a long time after he left this abode, and people who owed him something obviously forgot him, while those who hated him continued to.

Anyway I was in the indoor stadium in Calicut named after him to check out the books displayed at an Onam book fair (Now tell me where else in India would you have a book fair during a festive holiday occasion? Only in Kerala!! You will never see a Navarathri or Diwali book fair). Well, there I was, and Lo and behold, I found the very book I had wanted to peruse some time back, but had forgotten about. It was a book titled ‘Not a nice man to Know’ by the writer journalist Kushwant Singh. I wanted to read it only because it had one of those rare articles on the persona of Krishna Menon. Singh had been roundly abusive of Menon in his biography and had done another article in this very book. Strange is it not? Buying a book reviling Menon from the very stadium grounds named after Menon! Well, such is life. I will not write here all that stuff that Singh enjoyed doling out in his book, but I will give you some of the more contentious and salient points.

When he says that Menon is no longer alive to sue him, he loses all moral ground in his observations. The very fact that he chose to say what he did after the poor man passed away and not to his face, tells you quite a bit (Singh implies being fearful of Menon in his presence). Singh gleefully states that General Shiv Varma (I have never heard of Gen Varma, nor do most people I know, but I guess he is a famous man) summed him up aptly when he said: ‘Menon was a bachelor, the same as his father.’ The book covers Singh’s observations about Menon’s relations with Sudhip Ghosh, his enamor of Kamala Jaspal, relations with Patel, Nehru etc and all kinds of salacious gossip.

Well explained is Singh’s first day at office which ended up with Singh nearly in tears and a hugely deflated ego (according to his own words) that left a deep wound in his soul, one he chose not to forget or take it in his stride, for such was the Sardar’s pride.

Singh also presents an interesting picture of Menon’s taste for women, he says ‘Convent accent, and coquettishness captivated Menon’. Of the officer’s wives, Lall’s wife Sheela and Singh’s wife were Menon’s favorites for the same reason, these women according to Singh also shared the distinction of being ‘misunderstood’ by their husbands, and Menon had a great understanding of misunderstood wives according to him. Another interesting anecdote is how Menon took Singh to Kensington High Street and got him properly tailored suits which he wears to this day.

Likewise is the anecdote about Menon’s Malayali cook, another Menon who was drunk most of the time according to Singh. An interesting person I believe, who pinched the bottom of a visiting ambassador’s wife. Now that is movie stuff, I tell you, for when would a cook land up in front of the chief guest at a state dinner and take stance behind the dignitaries wife? That too, at a Desi, classy dinner? Anyway, let us believe Singh this time.

There are some sparingly good remarks too, like how Menon always stood by his friends (including Singh himself after he goofed up once) and how steadfast he was, how much of a workaholic he was and how he could give back to the condescending Brits of that period in the same coin. But on the whole it is full of innuendo, and much of it is Singh’s attack of a person, he disliked intensely.

He summarizes thus in an interview “Menon was a complex character, the most unpredictable and prickly I have ever met. He had a chip on his shoulders about being a black and picked up quarrels on imaginary racial insults. He had no scruples in business matters. He was also a congenital liar... he had a strong streak of sadism. Menon’s bad temper and discourtesy had to be experienced to be believed... Merit did not matter very much to Menon; unquestioned loyalty did...” But Singh blesses Menon for his own buoyant literary career - All I needed was the courage to kick diplomatic life and launch my bark on unchartered seas of literature. The decision was made for me by Krishna Menon. Anyway, so much for Singh and his cheap shots at his one time boss.

Now let us look at another facet, a diametrically opposite one on Menon’s legacy – This comes from Dev Anand’s biography ‘Romancing with life’. Dev Anand had deep admiration for Menon and they became good friends (Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar were also his good friends). Dev talks of his and the movie industry’s support for Menon’s election win at Bombay and mentions that whenever Menon came to Bombay, Dev Anand’s house (or Raj kapoor’s) was an impromptu meeting venue for Menon and his friends. Menon’s visits to Bombay were greeted with great fanfare. And then Dev narrates the story of Menon’s decline from such heights, with much passion – read on.. this excerpt


But the day he fell from grace, and had to resign in the aftermath of India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese aggressors on our North Eastern borders, Krishna Menon was made to look very small in the eyes of his countrymen. A shining star on the political firmament suddenly became a complete non entity, like a shooting star fizzling out into nothingness.

One night as I was standing at the first floor window of my house, I saw a frail old figure at the wooden gate below, trying to knock at it with his stick. He was wearing a white dhoti n a south Indian style. As my chowkidar rushed to confront him, I recognized Krishna Menon. He was alone, I ran down to greet him. He looked very lonely, his disheveled and unruly hair flying in the breeze. There was no police or army jeep to accompany him, no body guard to protect him. He was the picture of a lost forlorn deserted man.

As I respectfully ‘sirred’ him, trying to get over my astonishment, he stopped me from saying anything further and said “I didn’t mean to disturb you Dev, It is already eleven thirty at night. I tried to call on your neighbor Mr Menon, for he is a friend, but he is not there.

Why don’t you come in Sir, I said.

No Thank you, I have to catch my flight back to Delhi and thought I might as well say hello to you while I am here. He seemed undecided.

I know you love tea sir, and my cook will make a cup as fast as I order him, I tried to persuade him.

But a little distance away, a car honked.

No it is time for me to leave now, look after yourself, Dev.

And he walked away and got into his car, waving his stick at me. It was a very old ramshackle car, with just a driver inside, busy smoking a cigarette, not bothering to come out and open the door for the person who was once India’s defense minister.

That was the last time I saw Krishna menon. After a few days, I read that he had died,

Fame, power and money are the three factors that make you great in the eyes of the world. The moment those desert you, you are like a particle of dust under one’s feet.


Thank you Devsaab, I was deeply touched reading this small part of your book and have only greater respect for you, for I have always admired you too.

Interesting is it not? Two disparate opinions from two Punjabi’s…

Such is life….


I cannot leave this topic without a nice joke that comes from Khushwant Singh's joke book – The joke is contributed by one KS Menon - Mumbai, but I suspect it originated from Singh himself

VK Krishna Menon, onetime defense minister was a bachelor and hated people with large broods of children. In his early career as a barrister, a neighbor couple with three girls in tow called on him and suggested that he accompany them to the theater as they had an extra ticket. The six some waited for a bus and the first one had only room for four (no overloading). The second one came after five minutes and had only three vacancies and the third had two. So they decided to walk the distance instead of being late for the show.

Menon was tramping on the cobblestones, on the pavement, tuck tucking with his walking stick. The father already irritated at not getting the bus, remarked ‘Dammnit Krishna, can’t you put a piece of rubber at the end of your stick?’

Pat came the reply “if you had put one at the end of yours we would have got into a bus’

Disclaimer – I am in no way related to Menon. In fact even a real relative of his from the Vengalil family, more or less abused me when I asked him if they were related. But well, I continue to have faith in the man who left us a lot, but was one who was thoroughly despised by many of his peers and compatriots. I guess I do so because I made an effort to check out the facts & understand his passion for his country. That is all

Special thanks to Blogger Anuradha Warrier for her help in sourcing Dev Anand’s book

Those interested may also read this fine piece of writing by RK Bhatnagar, the press secretary to former Indian President R Venkatraman.

Kushwant Singh – Not a nice man to know
Dev Anand – Romancing with Life

Pic – Cover of VKKM book by Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi. Singh from Indianetzone,

Notes: Let me also mention a strange fact - this much reviled man has more books written about him than most other revered Indian leaders!! Here are some of them….

V.K. Krishna Menon : India And Kashmir Problem - S R Bakshi
VK Krishna Menon – Madhavan Kutty
VK Krishna Menon, a persona Memoir – Janki ram
VK Krishna Menon – TJS george
Krishna Menon – Emil Lengyl
In defense of Menon – Sitaram Goel
VKK Menon – Man of the Century – Kiran & Mahdevan
VK K Menon and India’s foreign policy – KT Varkey
Krishna Menon profile and views – Narendra Goel
KM and the Indian League - S Chakravarthy
KM’s views of the world – M Breecher
VK Krishna Menon Remembered - Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi

The story of a nut

I think only Malayalee’s and Goan’s would really enjoy the taste of a cashew fruit though everybody would know of and like the taste of the ever popular cashew nut. But the fruit, if chosen well from the bunch, is a revelation to the uninitiated - As you bite into the succulent juicy orange yellow colored fruit, you get that special sweet taste with that small raw & unripe ‘pull on the side’, like when you bite a raw mango.

At the base of the fruit hangs the popular kidney shaped nut, and this is one of those rare fruits with the seed outside - or is it a fruit in the first place? No it is not!! This good looking fruit is not technically a fruit at all but a swollen stalk. I am sure many of you would have tried fenny from Goa which is a beverage (with a solid kick, like one you get from an Arabian hose - when properly fermented & drunk – now don’t ask me if I got kicked by an Arabian horse, it is only my well thought out metaphor) made from this fruit. Many people state that the fruit itself is scarcely edible, having an unripe flavor but I think they are wrong, or for that matter it could be an acquired taste for Malayalee’s and Goan’s.

The cashew apple or ‘Kashumanga’ may be consumed fresh, and contains high quantities of tannins which are the cause for the slight bitter taste and a dry mouth feel. But here is some more about the nut, a nut that we got in return for all the Portuguese plunder of Malabar. Like the great historian & politician KM Panikkar said in his ‘Survey of Indian History’,‘There is a very little to recommend the Portuguese from any point of view’, but in his book ‘Malabar & the Portuguese’, RC Temple adds in his foreword – They however did immense good for the country by introducing new products such as cashew and tobacco and modernizing the cultivation of coconut and the ‘coir’ trade.

After the Portuguese invaded Brazil in the 1500's, Portuguese seamen brought the seeds of the cashew nut tree from Brazil to be planted by the early settlers along the east coast of Africa. The trees took root and thrived. It was not long before cashew trees were growing wild along the entire coast of Mozambique. The spread of these trees later stretched to Kenya and Tanzania. Uncared for and uncultivated, the ripe nuts were harvested by the natives of Africa. Later, they were sold to the Portuguese traders who in turn disposed of them to merchants who then shipped the nuts to India where they were shelled. Thus started a fledgling industry which grew over centuries to become a thriving global affair.

The word ‘cashew’ itself has many purported origins. Some say it was sold on the beaches, at 8 per coin or ‘cashu’ a term for the old currency in Malabar. So it became ‘cashinettu’ and thence cashew nut. But the nut that has a botanical term ‘Anacardium occidentale’ owes its name actually to the Tupi-Indian word Acaju and is a native of South America. So is it cultivated in South America? The cashew tree grows in Central and South America, the West Indies, East Africa, and India (from which the U.S. imports 64% of its supply)

Well if that was so, why do most cashew nut tins you buy state origin from ‘India’? It was due to its popularization in Kerala by the Portuguese and in Kerala it is incidentally known as Parangi Andi. In jest I can say, we are simple people who never deny credit, even to the enemy.

Any idea how the nut reaches your table? The nut is first of all detached and sun-dried. Before it can be eaten, there are two shells and a skin that must be removed. The outer shell contains poisonous oils that can blister the skin; it was even believed in old times that uncooked cashew nuts were poisonous. However, the shell oil does not in any way contaminate the raw nut. To remove this shell, and to get rid of this oil, the nuts are either placed among burning logs until the oil catches fire (the fumes of which are injurious to the eyes and skin) or put in modern roasting cylinders. Later, the inner shells are cracked open, also by hand, and the kernels heated to remove the skins. Oil from cashew nut shells is used in insecticides, brake linings (WOW!), and rubber and plastic manufacture. The milky sap from the tree is used to make a varnish.

The book The world cashew industry – an Indian perspective,’ authored by J. Rajmohan Pillai and P. Shanta, unravels the stories of ‘the poor man’s crop and the rich man’s food. “Not many of us know that Keralite’s are the pioneers of the cashew industry in the country. It is believed that cashew was first discovered by the Portuguese travelers in Eastern Brazil. Brazilians devoured the fruit but discarded the nuts. It was again the Portuguese who brought cashew to Goa and planted it along the coast to check sea erosion. The country saw processing and trading of cashew kernels take off in Kollam, Mangalore and Vettapalem in Andhra Pradesh during the 1920s,” says Mr. Pillai.

In the course of this all, I came across a very interesting blog by Mathai Fenn, where he mentions thus - The Cashew Nut symbolizes "The Outsider" in a way that Albert Camus could only dream of. There is a story that illustrates this. The story says that God had completed his work of creation. He surveyed all he had done and saw it was good. It was at that point that the Cashew came to God and told him that he forgot to give the Cashew a seed. It was too late to do major surgery, so God stuck a nut OUTSIDE the fruit. Hence the Cashew Nut is an outsider even on its own tree.....Interesting indeed..

And of course, Qulion is the cashew city of Kerala. Cashew processing factories are so much woven in to the life of Kollam that a sizable population find their daily bread from it. From two factories in 1933, It became many hundreds and cashew kings, barons and cashew magnates emerged from these areas. Thus it started, in the 17th century by the Portuguese, in small gardens, quickly spreading into the wild and becoming a staple crop (if one could say so) to the people of South Travancore, especially Quilon. Despite its early introduction the commercial value of the cashew- nut was discovered only in the nineteen twenties. India exports about 2500 Crores of Rupees worth of cashews every year and is the biggest exporter. Vietnam & Nigeria produce more, but I wondered what they do with it. A little checking made it clear, much of the African nuts land up for processing (low labor cost) in Kerala and are thence re-exported! And the very interesting fact of this business is that virtually all Cashew workers, especially shellers are women. When somebody raised the question, the answer was – There have never been any men in the shelling, peeling or grading section, they do not have the patience and are absolutely unfit for the job! Men are only engaged in roasting, head loading and drying.

There is so much more, but I will leave that to the cashew businessman. The other crop introduced to Kerala by the Portuguese is Tobacco –Well, that really took root in Kerala, it is stated that the highest concentration of smokers is in Kerala – smoking traditionally the “Scissors’ brand from Wills.

Some trivia about the nut & fruit.

Sadly the fruit which is as good as the nut is also called a false fruit, for it is a swollen stalk as explained earlier. But then, it is a country cousin of our mango tree! The milky sap from the tree is used to make varnish. It got its name Anacardium because of its heartlike shape

Cashew skin oil can possibly remove warts ( I read this somewhere, it may be true, but do not try it)

Cashew nut is a member of the poison ivy family. Now this could not be quite right. Some checking revealed that both have the same poisonous chemical resin Urushiol!!

The Brazilian cashew is the largest, softest and whitest cashew. Some find them sweeter or richer in taste. Cashews from India are smaller and crisper. They can be sweet, or bland. Indian cashews are supposedly more ivory like in color. Vietnam cashew pieces are quite sweet.

Most people think Cashews are high in calories & oil. Actually they are at the lower end of the spectrum of oils &calories. With no cholesterol, a rarity for such a tasty and pleasing treat, cashew nuts are a healthy fat food for heart patients. And because of their high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, they also help support healthy levels of low good (HDL) cholesterol. They are high in Magnesium and antioxidants. It also has Zinc, which helps with Vision & immunity. So go for that handful of unsalted cashews.

In November 2005, Filipino inventor Rolando dela Cruz won the gold medal for his "DeBCC" anti-cancer cream at the prestigious International Inventor's Forum in Nuremberg, Germany. The "DeBCC" cream, developed from cashew nuts and other local herbs, was chosen over 1,500 entries as the "most significant invention" of the year. According to Mr. dela Cruz, the cream was a simple answer to basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer worldwide. BCC affects around 800,000 Americans every year, according to the Skin Care Foundation. BCC also affects 500,000 Europeans and 190,000 Australians every year

ReferenceModernization and effeminization in India: Kerala cashew workers since 1930 -By Anna Lindberg, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies

Images from Cashew India.

The ‘Bell Thieves’ of Cochin

The history of the Cochin Jews is indeed quite interesting and it is also interesting to note that Cochin was probably the only place in the world where Jews had an uninterrupted stay, not unduly troubled by any kind of religious persecution, till they themselves decided to leave for Israel on ‘Aliyah’ (Holy immigration to Israel). I would recommend the reader to see the Malayalam movie ‘Gramophone’ to get a brief insight into this very interesting Diaspora of Cochin.

Two books I read recently, gave me details of this very interesting historical anecdote. I am sure the real story has been well massaged by time, to become a highly interesting tale today, with salacious additions by various grandmothers and uncles. I am recounting the present version for those interested about those times and am sure readers from Cochin can add much more insight. This version of the story comes from Ruby’s accounts, but slightly corrected with more aspects from Prof Jussay’s account.

This story comes from Fort Cochin and Mattanchery (did you know that the Mattanchery palace (later known as Dutch palace) was built by the Portuguese and later occupied by the Dutch is built in traditional Kerala Nalukettu style? This was finally gifted to the Cochin Raja) environs where the white and black Jews lived. Those who are interested in the tales from early days about this community may refer the books mentioned at the end.

In general, the Cochin Raja had reasonably good relations with the various foreign heads or governors who lived side by side, like the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the Jews and so on. Except of course the neighboring Zamorin with whom he had constant rivalry and kept at many many feuds that emptied coffers of both kings over a 10 century period.

But once the Cochin Raja quarreled with the Dutch governor and this relates to that very event. This story takes us possibly to the Dutch times (Possibly late 17th or 18th century) where a fortification (possibly the Portuguese Fort Emmanuel or another which was eaten up by the sea) existed and Cochin was termed ‘Fort Cochin’. The governor and his people lived well within the fort, which was strictly protestant. All Roman Catholics had been expelled. The local populace, i.e. the Malayali community lived outside. Doors of the fort were opened in the morning and closed by dusk.

Many Jews had business with the Governor in supplying various commodities such as chicken and eggs and these were carried in the traditional way, in big woven baskets over their head, into the fort. Business went on; life was difficult & troubling for the people outside, though largely uneventful…But the reader may now wonder, why am I describing how the Jews carried provisions inside? Wait, it has a reason, of course.

One fine day, as it appears, the governor insulted the Raja. It was a bad day, I guess, maybe the heat & humidity was too much for the Dutchman? Well, what happened was this. The Dutch governor was in a meeting with the Rajah. After a while, as the interpreters struggled between themselves trying to translate, the king, who had probably been spending the whole night at the temple watching Kathakali or Krishnattam or something, nodded off, snoring with his mouth open. The Dutch governor was furious. He took out a pair of scissors (now don’t ask me why a governor should be walking around with a pair of scissors in his pockets – I don’t know and you should not question a simple story teller like me) and clipped off the royal whiskers.

As the King woke up and jerked back to life after a few minutes, he felt the cool sea breeze on his upper lips and discovered to his dismay that his manly moustache had vanished. And he saw the smirking governor, the culprit, with the scissors in his hands, sitting in front. Needless to mention, that the governor by now was feeling a bit bashful after his hasty act.

The Raja swore revenge – his screamed that he would pull out the governors tongue in retaliation, albeit impetuously. Only after the words came out did he realize, that as a king, he could not take back his word. What was sworn, had to be done.

Would the Raja expect the governor to put out his tongue so that he, the Raja can pull it out? Of course not, but the royal humiliation was too much. His courtier finally gave him a way out, maybe the rajah or somebody could go and pull the tongue of the great bell situated near the governor’s bungalow on the hill, which would be symbolic. But that was not an easy task and the King was lost in thought, trying to figure a way out.

The fort overlooked the serene waters of the Arabian Sea, strategically located with entry only from the fort side of the hill. The seaside however was unguarded. But it was a steep cliff and well, not the answer..

The Jewish (I guess they were consulted by the Raja) finally came up with a plan. They were trusted suppliers and not usually searched by the Dutch when they entered the fort with their provisions. So one day, they took a small boy with a thick long rope hidden inside one of those baskets into the fort. He was well hidden beneath cotton, chicken and so on (how he sat there without sneezing, I do not know – but you are not expected to question these stories or story tellers). Some people might wonder, why cotton? Well, there is a reason, so please wait, don’t be in haste, I will tell you. The basket with the boy was surreptitiously left near the bell tower in the fort and the sellers returned after their work was done with. The boy waited as he was told to, till darkness set in.

On the other side of town, two of the selected Jews boarded a ‘Pathemari’ (I will tell you more about this indigenous boat another day) but it is a traditional wooden vessel used to move cargo) or some such vessel, sailed it to the sea side the fort, late into the night of and waited there.

At the appointed hour, the boy clambered out of the basket, climbed the tower, reached up to the bell, wrapped the bell tongue carefully with the cotton, removed the entire bell, tied it to the long rope and lowered it to the waiting seamen. The bell was thus slipped noiselessly into the boat by the trio. The boat then quickly sailed away with the booty, the Dutch governor’s bell, the symbolic instrument for summons.

The boy went back and hid beneath the chicken. Early next morning the trader Jews came and took away the basket and the boy.

The bellman came to ring the bell, but did not find a bell to ring.

The bell was erected in the raja’s palace by now, the Raja pulled the tongue and rang the bell. Revenge was sweet. The royal word had been kept. The raja wanted to twirl his moustache in style, looking at his people (Like Sivaji Ganesan does in Veera Pandya Kattabomman), but it was only starting to grow back.

The happy Raja gifted a whole street in gratitude to the Mattanchery Jews and this, my friends, is what is known as ‘Jews street’ in Cochin. A much visited historical place.

But well, life is life, the Jews of Cochin after all this, wound up getting the name “Mani Kallanmar’ or bell thieves.

A child or a person wont to making snide remarks might pipe up and ask - What about the chicken? Did they make noise while the boy clambered out and got back in? I do not know and you should not ask such questions.



The story did not end there; it actually intensified the conflict between the two trading communities of Cochin, the Jews and the Konginies. The Konginies ( Konkan traders – Saraswat Brahmins) were of course gleefully taunting the Jews with the term ‘Mani kalla’. But as it usually happens, justice is served at the end. The Konganies had loaned their deity to a neighboring temple for their festivities. But the temple would not return it. So the Konginies apparently bribed the priests to steal it and bring it back to their temple. The word eventually came out into the public and the Jews got their golden opportunity to retaliate. They started calling the Konginies as ‘Devan Kallanmar’ (God Thief). This was a bit too much for them and so a truce was arrived at and the two communities dropped their taunts of Mani kalla and Devan Kalla.

This real aftermath of the Kongani story took an even more interesting turn, and the complete story of the Devan kallar’s will be recounted another day….

Now this was all based on Ruby’s account, embellished by me with suitable masala and prepped up with Prof Jussay’s facts. Prof Jussay, my professor from college actually states - The King screamed – is there somebody who can pull out the tongue of this dog (Dutch governor)? The Jews came out in support of the Cochin Raja and the story took place as above (I suppose). I decided to leave the Ruby version in place; as it was more fun. According to the Jussay account, the Governor also repented and donated the Bell tower to the Rajah or the Jews.

Ruby of Cochin – Ruby Daniel & Barbara C Johnson
The Jews of Kerala – PM Jussay
The Last Jews of Kerala – Edna Fernandes

For lovely images of 'Jew Town' Cochin – check this blog