Monday 30 August 2010

Destination stories : unique fund raising

N GopalaKrishnan with PM Narayanan Image courtesy The Hindu

This Saturday, Malayala Manorama newspaper featured a story about a gentleman called N. Gopalakrishnan who is involved in fund-raising for Institute for Palliative Medicine.

We had met Gopiettan, as we call him, about 5 years ago when The Blue Yonder had just started taking travellers to remote areas along the River Nila. He spent about a week every month in his traditionally-styled cottage called 'Vaappikudi', facing the river, mostly sitting in the portico reading and writing. His house was named after the slave his forefathers had as part of old-age feudal system in Kerala. For the occasional traveller who came visiting this region, Gopiettan makes for an ideal company. A man of letters, a close friend of writer M.T Vasudevan Nair, he entertains them with his wit and intellect while sharing anecdotes about his life in the IRAS (Indian Railways Accounts Service) and in Kolkata. His love for the railways is so great that even the gate to his cottage is designed like a level crossing! The name board written in Malayalam, Hindi and English reminds one instantly of the yellow-black railway sign boards!

A Kendra Sahitya Academy Award winner for his translation of 'Oriya classic 'Sri Radha'', Gopiettan has also translated 'The Insider', a political novel authored by earlier Prime Minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao. Malayalees though remember him for his beautiful translation of K P Ramanunni's 'Sufi Paranja Katha' (Story told by the Sufi) to English.

Sufi Paranja Katha has been made into a feature film

We met him recently again at the Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM)). Like many citizens of Kozhikode, Gopiettan spends a few hours every week at the in-patient section at IPM. Seeing the impact the palliative care movement was having on thousands of people with terminal illness needing end of life care and the community of volunteers alike, he decided to do his bit to raise funds for the movement. He was then discussing how he planned to go about the fund-raising. When we met him after a week, he had actually traded a place with a beggar in the city as the 'spot' looked promising to 'beg'!

Rather than ask his friends for donations (which would have been far simpler and easier for him!), Gopiettan in his unique way decided to get the local community participate in this process. Elegantly dressed as always, resplendent in his royal - waxed moustache and the gold-trimmed walking stick, he cut a majestic figure as he walked about non-descript streets with a small white card requesting the public to donate Re 1 in support of the palliative care movement! Curious and amused, passers-by not just gave him the money he asked for, but impressed with his commitment and humility, many gave a lot more. In the last few months with just a few rounds of his “begging” tour, Gopiettan has collected more than a hundred thousand Rupees, in addition to raising awareness among locals in the city about the movement. With the steady inflow of small amount of cash that Gopiettan brings, IPM has now set up a separate bank account that goes by the name of 'thendu fund' (thendu means “to beg” in Malayalam).

Kozhikode Palliatve care movement: 'a beacon of hope' according to EIU report

In a world that seems bankrupt when it comes to compassion, people like Gopiettan fill us with hope. While India ranks amongst the lowest in the list of 45 countries surveyed in the recent Economist Intelligence Report on end of life palliative care, the same report highlights the palliative care initiative in Kozhikode as a beacon of hope.The report says "With only 3% of India’s population, the tiny state provides two-thirds of India’s palliative care services"

It is volunteers like Gopiettan and a movement like this that can perhaps help us dream of a 'compassionate city'.

Posted By GP to One Tight Slap on 8/30/2010 09:25:00 AM

Friday 27 August 2010

Toddy tappers of Kerala - God's own

a toddy-tapper along Tirur river. in the background is our country boat

For those who prefer sweet alcoholic beverages, the toddy sap obtained soon after it is tapped can be a real treat. Its mildly intoxicating and very different from the stale-cider tasting fermented toddy one gets from roadside “toddy shops” in Kerala! Toddy is usually drunk soon after fermentation by the end of day, as it becomes more sour and acidic day by day.

In most of parts of Kerala, toddy is collected from the toddy palm by a community of people called 'Ezhava'. In the northern part of the state, they are popularly known as 'Thiya'. How the Thiyas came to be the traditional toddy tappers is an interesting tale. This story was shared by one of our interpreters called Anwar, the mangrove man!

fresh toddy served in a toddy shop

Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya and the consort of Lord Shiva (one of the gods of the Hindu Trinity) was getting restless in their abode in 'Mount Kailash'. She noticed that people on earth where extremely happy and suggested Shiva that they visit and find out the reason for their happiness. After some initial hesitation, Shiva agreed to take on the human form and grant her wish and visit the earth and landed in Kerala.

Compared to the snowy Mount Kailash, Kerala was green, covered by rain forests, wild rivers and animals. People were content and enjoyed life. Shiva and Parvati wandered about the whole day in the lush green meadows and forests and soon got tired and fell asleep by a tree. Woken up rudely by the buzzing of bees, Shiva got up feeling very thirsty. He noticed the bees buzzing around a sweet-smelling liquid flowing out of the roots of the tall tree they was resting under. He took a sip of the liquid to quench his thirst and felt refreshed. He had a few more sips and became increasingly tipsy. By the time Parvati woke up, he was rather intoxicated and was at his flirtacious best! He troubled her enough that she had to run for cover.

our guests enjoying a sip along the backtwares of Kumarakom

Exhaustion once again made Shiva sleepy and Parvati wondered the reason for her husband’s sudden amorous behaviour. She soon found the liquid flowing out of the tall tree and to ensure that Shiva doesn’t reach out for the liquid again when he wakes up, she caressed and rubbed the trunk and made the sap reach up to the top of the tree. As expected, Shiva reached out for the drink the moment he woke up. Finding the root dry and hearing his wife giggle, Shiva realized what had happened. Legend has it that Shiva created a man out of his left thigh who he trained to climb the palm and tap the sap. The tree was the coconut palm and the drink the sweet toddy that we know today. The man who was created out of the body of a God (known as 'Deva' in Sanskrit, 'Daivom' in Malayalam and 'thaivam' in local parlance) came to be known as "Thiya" and to date, men from this community are expert toddy tappers!

Every time a tapper climbs the toddy palm or a coconut tree, we are reminded of the man who originated from the God Himself. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons why some communities in Kerala still prefer toddy as a divine offering to the Gods when compared to the customary and more traditional milk in most other places in India.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Perumthachan's chisel: legend trail of Nila

Panniyoor Varahamoorthy Temple

The village of Panniyoor on the banks of River Nila (Bharatapuzha) once decided to build a temple complex that would be better than the ones even in Heaven! The onus of building this marvel fell on their master carpenter, Perumthachan.

With a team of fine carpenters in the region, Perumthachan started the work and soon the news spread to the Heavens that the architecture of the temple complex in Panniyoor village had the potential to overshadow the splendour of the Gods. As insecure as only he could get, Lord Indra, the King of Gods himself, set out on a journey to the village to find for himself if there was any truth in these rumours. Once he saw the brilliance of the work in progress, he was overcome with envy and started plotting against the carpenters’ team.

Perunthachan's chisel stuck in the wall of Panniyoor Varahamoorthy Temple

Every day, once the carpenters went out of the temple complex after the day’s work, Lord Indra would come to the workshop and make wrong markings on the wood, so as to confuse the carpenters the next day. With wrong measurements, they failed to finish the work in time, but were not aware that it was the handiwork of Lord Indra. Every single day, they ended up having to redo their work the previous day, and this delayed the project.

Perumtachan however realized that it was the handiwork of the jealous Indra who wanted to scuttle the initiative. He understood that his fellow carpenters would lose their reputation and therefore their livelihood if they did not complete the project on time. He decided that since he couldn't find a way to appease the Gods, he would rather quit than jeopardize his colleagues’ careers. He jabbed his chisel and measuring scale into the temple wall and left the temple courtyard in anger pronouncing that he has decided to stop working and was going to be a nomad. Since Perumthachan was no longer in the picture, Lord Indra too expectedly, returned to his abode. Through his sacrifice, Perumthachan ensured that the carpenters in his village were never out of work!

view of a portion of the temple through the stone wall

This 4,000 year old temple to this day stays as an incomplete work of art and looks like a work in progress. A chisel and measurement scale are visibly inserted into the wall. Attempts to restore some part of the building without much expertise is visible in the way the temple authorities are now building the new compound wall. The lime coated paint has destroyed some of the temples’ old world charm, perhaps ensuring that Lord Indra would never have to feel jealous again!!

Another version of the temple legend has that Perumthachan, the carpenter was on a pilgrimage repenting the accidental death of his son. He came to Panniyoor one afternoon when the carpenters were having their lunch. They failed to recognize him and continued with their lunch ignoring him. Upset and angry with the snub, he went in and placed wrong measurements on the wood. When the carpenters returned, they went about their work, but couldn’t complete the work the way they had designed and planned. They were worried about the fact that their reputation would be sullied if the work couldn't be completed on time. Taking pity on their situation, the nomad carpenter climbed up the towers and completed some of the work for them. Before leaving, he said that he has decided not to work anymore and inserted his chisel and measurement scales into the temple wall and walked away. He also prophesized that the carpenters in the village will never have trouble finding jobs and their reputation will reach far and wide.

temple courtyard is full of such incomplete structures...

Irrespective of different versions of story one want to listen to , River Nila from eons continue to bring out such fantastic stories. Join one of our legend trails to listen to such stories and experience the destination in a different way.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Compassionate City : Gandhigiri by Kerala Police

Police in the City of Kozhikode in Kerala were flooded by complaints of people who lost their motor bikes over the last few months. Many had also lost gold, computers and mobile phones. The Police department was in for surprise, when they arrested more than fifty nine teenagers who were from lower middle class families and some of whom who were as young as 13! What was even more interesting was that many of them were selling it for silly amounts of Rs 3,000.

Kozhikode City Police says, “
Police recovered 15 bikes and seven personal computers stolen by the juvenile group from different locations. Besides, spare parts worth ` Re 1 lakh was also recovered by the police. The teenagers used to steal new motorbikes with prices ranging Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 and put them up for sale at cheap rates ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 to their friends. Many of the juveniles belonged to low-income groups and broken families, but the buyers were from middle-class families. The culprits were utilizing the money received through theft for enjoining costly food, dress and mobile phones. Police will carry out further investigation and are expecting to recover more material evidences”

If the police were to follow regular procedures, they would be taken through routine course of questioning, lock-ups and year-long trials. In a typical loop of social branding as criminals, there is a hardly a way for any of them to be part of the main stream social life. Instead, Police Commissioner P.Vijayan who is credited for starting many new innovative initiatives in social policing including Student Police Cadet Project has turned a new leaf in the history of Kerala Police.

Today saw the most unique intervention of police to explore the possibilities of bringing these arrested youngsters to the mainstream and hence avoiding the near sure destiny of bring criminals of the future. Engaging the likes of palliative care movement (Institute of Palliative Medicine), few City Rotary Clubs and IMHANS (Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) along with a group of socially active citizens, the City Police is attempting to bring the youngsters back into main-stream with social acceptability.

Dr.Jairam Ramakrishnan, consultant Psychiatrist from UK also has been pitched in to provide expert service to the youngsters. Dr. Suresh Kumar, founder director of Institute of Palliative Medicine, popularly known as “poor men’s Doctor” considers such initiatives with public private participation is a beginning to build up a “compassionate city”.

A one-room initiative that was started as a ‘pain clinic’ fifteen years ago in an anesthetist's dressing room in Kozhikode Medical College for bringing in relief to terminally ill patients has now grown into a movement comprising more than 25000 trained volunteers. Self-sustainable 300 palliative centres in Kerala is now spear-heading a social movement, not just restricted to palliative care. No wonder that such a movement is approached by various stake holders to take larger roles in the society.

Marriage proposal at 4200 MSL

'Make no mistake' leader of the group seems to be convincing our driver

We were on our way after a volley ball game with young lamas of the monastery in the picturesque village of Komic, when we came across some women who came and blocked our way. Women in Spiti Valley are quite social, looks confident and since we have heard several stories about their empowerment we were more than curious to know why they would want to block our way.

These women refused to let our driver go. They even sat on the bonnet for a while!

We were driving from Kaza to Komic and back en-route to Langza. The Komic at an altitude above 4000 MSL is amongst one of the high altitude villages in the Himalayas.

Initially we couldn't figure out what was happening. All we could notice was that the women, especially the older ones were quite happy about blocking the road and talking to our young driver. There was also a young girl who was shying away when we looked at her, but 'making strong' statements to the driver.

volley ball with lamas in one of the highest villages in the world.

Even after ten minutes, when we realised that they had no intention to let us pass by, we got curious and asked our driver if every thing was okay! He blushed! Once again we weren't sure if we read the expression on his face correctly. By this time two women were already sitting on the bonnet while other engaged in conversation with the boy. It looked more like a cajoling towards the end, but we were totally lost on what exactly was going around.

After half an hour, our driver tried to move the vehicle slightly which was vehemently opposed by the group. They refused to let us go! Later in the afternoon when we managed to pass them, our driver told us that the women were trying to convince him to get married to a girl in their village! No wonder he was blushing. Apparently a proposal had come to him couple of months ago and he was not ready to get married at 23, and the women refuse to accept that. So every time his vehicle passes through the village with travellers, he is under siege! Poor thing.