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A Tribute to Ethakka Appam ( Banana fry)

>> Friday, August 27, 2010

The school I attended, belonged to the church. It was named after the church,  St Mary’s LP school. There were two tiled buildings at the front, facing the road , and one behind the main buildings, which was thatched. The class rooms were separated by wooden partitions. One could hear what was going on in other classes, as well as all around.
I was at the third class, and my teacher was Thomas sir. The adjoining class was run by Ponnamma teacher. Thomas sir had taken a liking to her. At every opportunity, he would go to the side of the wooden partition that separated the class, and Ponnamma teacher also would reach there in no time.

I don’t know what they used to talk about. But they used to stay near that partition for long times. At times, they would just look at each other and just stand, without saying a word. When they had more and more to talk about, the questions on our black board used to get lengthier and more difficult to solve.

The Head master was Thomma sir, who was my immediate neighbor. He was elderly, with a crew cut hair which was all white. He used to wear what we used to call a bush coat, on top of his dhoti. One could never see him without the long cane, which he used to carry at all times. It was, as if it was part of his attire. And he never wasted any opportunity to use it on the kids. He was a terror for us.

Buying tea and snacks for the teachers was considered a matter of prestige. At about mid day, Thomma sir would call “ Babu, come here “ and order me to go to the tea shop and bring three teas and  Ethakka Appams.( Fried bananas). This was the most enjoyable time for me. I could escape the classes.  I would make it a point to walk to Pillachan’s tea shop, which was about half a mile away, at my slowest pace. I would stop at every opportunity on the way. Having reached the tea shop, I would sit at the bench in front of the shop and watch those lucky ones eating appoms and mutta roast greedily. Every now and then, Pillachan would come and add little gravy on to the appoms,  to encourage the customer to eat more. My mouth could sail many boats, with so much of watering. I was never in a hurry to go back to the school with the tea, and would tell Pillachan, to make it slow. Once in a while,  Pillachan would give me one of those precious banana fries,  at no cost. After all, I was one of his promoters !..The trip back to the school used to be slower, because I had the banana fry at one hand, and I used to savor the taste of it in small bites all the way. Thomma sir used to get angry about why the tea was always cold.

When I shifted to the Govt high school, the scenario was much better. I must have been about 12 years old and at the 7th class. The school had a larger campus and pucca buildings and class rooms. Anandavalli  teacher was the most beautiful among our teachers.  It was rumor was that our mathematics teacher, Sahrudayan sir, was in love with her. He was liked by no one in the school.  On the other hand, everyone  at the school liked Anandavalli teacher. I thought she was the most beautiful woman on earth and was secretly in love with her. I used to see her in my dreams.

Probably the only thing I loved more than Anandavalli teacher was the Ethakka Appam.( Banana fries).Being the youngest in the family, my mother used to give me half Anna in the evening, when I returned from school. There was no practice of making evening snacks, and I used to go to Pillachan’s shop and get one banana fry   in exchange of my half Ana. I used to select the biggest of the fires in his Alma rah. Back home, I would sit at the front steps and slowly take nibbles of that delicacy. I never wanted to finish eating it.

And so it was, one of those evenings, I was sitting with my banana fry, when my brother Unni came back from college. He came near me and asked me to give him a  bite of the fry. I would have parted with my life, than my banana fry.  He was coming closer and closer to me and I was afraid if he would snatch it away. I was supposed to be very clever and then this idea occurred to me. I licked the whole banana with my saliva drooling all over it, so that my brother couldn’t eat it any more. I was happy and relieved.
And that was the only time my brother proved to me he was cleverer. He came closer to me and spat all over my banana fry and said.
“Now, you eat and enjoy”.


Onam for sale

>> Thursday, August 19, 2010

Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad’.

                                Christina Rosetti

It is true that for some people, the past never seems to hold any memories worth treasuring.  Nor is there a pause in their daily grind to let them worry about what their future holds in store for them.  For, it takes them all of their present to grapple with the grim business of everyday survival.  

“We are what we remember” writes Rebecca Rupp in her book, ‘Committed to Memory’.  I have vivid recollections of my childhood and growing up. I cherish them as  life’s treasured moments. The best part of my life. Must have been the times I had with my parents and siblings, growing up in the middle of a big family, striving to keep ends meet. This had its advantages. I had lots of free time. To do  things I liked to do. I could go to the stream in front of our house, which used to run clean water most of the time, except when it was rainy. And watch the small “parel meens” swimming, making futile attempts to catch them with my torn thorthu mundu. I could spend endless time playing in the rain. The small tin drain which used to run along the edges of the roof tiles, would bring the rain water splashing on to you. What a feeling ! I would make paper boats to float in the rain water, and watch them dancing along the flow, to distant places, don’t know where.

The variegated splash of colors of the butterflies, each showing off its characteristic squiggles and dots and radiating lines all symmetrically arranged , fluttering among the greenery, was fascinating. At night, I would look on in wonder at the myriads of fireflies winking against the backdrop of dark and looming trees, making them all look like so many silhouetted Christmas trees strung up with fairy lamps.  During harvest, as I occasionally romped carefree beside the streamlets that ran along the paddy banks, I would suddenly stop to dip cupped hands in and pick up the wriggly tadpoles and the delicate little fishes or paral meen that abounded there only to throw them all back in, being curious no more.  I could, thus lead an absorbing life in a delicate world of fantasy. 

The ever-present hibiscus or the chemparathi, the sweet smelling jasmine or the mulla poove, the not-so-sweet-smelling periwinkle or the shavam naari, the many hued bougainvillea or the divine chethi poove and thumpa the flower of Gods adorned almost all front yards. They are all.. long gone. And then there were the mango trees in season. It was customary for the children of the family to try to outrun one another in the mornings to scramble for the mangoes that lay strewn all around.  And, after having picked the ‘fallen’ ones, they would fling stones and other missiles with uncanny aim at the reluctant fruit that had ‘refused’ to come down the night before.

Thatches are not a common sight any longer.  Nor is the early-morning haze of smoke hugging the thatch that slowly diffuses like a mist cover as the heat of the sun lifts it.  The smell of the fragrant wood smoke that rises from the new palm-frond thatch is a mere memory now.  And, what of the smell of earth made fresh after the previous night’s rain especially in the mornings when the house begins to stir before the sun is up?  No longer are the homemakers up and about so early to kindle a fire in the kitchen and start their long-drawn-out chores and keep the home fires burning all day long and well into the night.  These days, they have in their modern, almost smokeless kitchens home appliances that help dice, mix, blend and cook dishes in large quantities at the mere touch of a button.  We save time and labour, no doubt, but no longer can we enjoy the taste of freshly cooked dishes at every meal as we once used to.  Refrigerators have put paid to that joy.
The thatched cattle sheds or Erithil are disappearing too, as are the farms and the farm animals. The sweet-smelling haystacks that gave any village its distinctive stamp are also slowly on the way out.

Thease are all part of my Onam memories. Because I cant think of Onam in another environment. It was full of fun , frolic and freedom.Onam examination was a welcome hurdle,because of the holidays that followed. The feeling was exciting and worth waiting for. Thattukali, Kutti Kol , Panthu kali, Kabadi kali… I don’t even think the new generation  knows such games existed. Everything is drowned in an idiotic game called cricket. Puttu kadala, idli sambar, Aappom kari, have given way to sandwiches and corn flakes. And then, where is the relevance of a  meal on a banana leaf, for name sake? What feeling or excitement do you get out of it? Waiting in the queue for the chance to sit down for an Onam meal in star hotels, people often forget what was the spirit of Onam.

The asianet Maveli is on tour on a decorated Tata truck, and is being received by politicians and local leaders,who want to get photographed. The government is selling Onam packets through maveli stores. Cherian Philip vows to sell more payasom this year than liquor.Star hotels are receiving advance bookings for Onam lunch. Pay a little extra..and a Maveli can come to your house also.There are hotels offering non vegetarian Onam special meals, with fish and mutton( Maveli , I am sure,will get a stomach upset).And there are Onam discounts at all the stores.What more do you need?

It can never come back. And it cannot be the same Onam. Because, everything around us have changed. There are no more clean landscapes, no peaceful villages, no rivers, no flowers, and then, no one has got the time to spend. It is Onam in a packet. Eat your Onam, drink to your limits… and go to sleep.


The Death of a River

>> Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The poisoning  of the river at Alakkode was a shocking news.It is appalling that the poisoning was intentional ,and not accidental, and that truckloads of lethal pesticides were dumped in to the river by some irresponsible youth.  The only good news is that an expert team from the Gwalior-based nuclear, biological and chemical wing of the Defence Ministry will study the pollution in the Rayarom river at Alakkode and help recover the pollutants from the river-bed.

The pollution of the river was first noticed when people who had bathed in the river downstream developed health problems, including exhaustion. Later, eight youths who had volunteered to recover the pesticides dumped into the river also showed signs of physical exhaustion and were taken to hospital. Personnel of the Fire and Rescue Services continued to search for the pesticide waste on Thursday. Nearly 30 bottles and packets of pesticides were recovered.
It is feared that the pollution of the river will affect the health of the people living along its banks from Rayarom to Valapattanam who use the river water for various purposes.

Six persons involved in the dumping of the pesticides have been arrested by the police. The police said that bags and bottles of pesticides, whose expiry date was over, loaded in three pick-up vans had been unloaded into the river by those arrested. The pesticides had been collected from a closed pesticides shop that has now been rented out for a new venture.
Some time back, I had written on the literacy standards of Kerala. Literacy doesn’t mean just reading alphabets. It is a shame to the people of Kerala, who boast of our literacy and education that some young people were involved in dumping the poisons in to the river. If it is not due to illiteracy, then it is a clear lack of civic sense and responsibility, and  a heinous crime. This is almost same as attempted murder and should be treated the same way.

Now that some people are arrested, the same dramas which follow such sequences in Kerala will ensue. These youths will definitely be belonging to some kind of political clan or other, and their leaders will secretly start using their political power for their release. Police documents will disappear, samples will simply vanish, and ultimately when it reaches the court, I  will not be surprised, if the court doesn’t find anything to implicate the criminals.

If the state has some kind of responsibility to the people, those involved should be punished to the maximum possible, to set an example. It is saddening that most of our criminals escape on the loopholes of our outdated judicial jargon.

In this context,it is worthwhile to review the situation of our rivers and the extent of damages by pesticides in the state.

Kerala is one among the most thickly populated regions in the world and the growth rate amounts to 14 % per decade. Consequently the rivers of Kerala have been increasingly polluted from the industrial and domestic waste and from the pesticides and fertilizer used in agriculture. Industries discharge hazardous pollutants like phosphates, sulphides, ammonia, fluorides, heavy metals and insecticides into the downstream reaches of the river. The major rivers namely Periyar and Chaliyar are apt examples for the pollution due to industrial effluents. It is estimated that nearly 260 million liters of industrial effluents reach the Periyar river daily from the Kochi industrial belt.
The river Periyar, the longest river of the state ,is considered to be the life line of Central Kerala. It originates from the Sivagiri peaks of Sundaramala in Tamil Nadu. River Periyar is gradually undergoing eco-degradation throughout its course of flow due to various anthropogenic stresses, which include indiscriminate deforestation, domestic-agricultural-industrial water pollution, excessive exploitation of resources, large scale sand mining and various interferences in the flow of water.

There are more than 30 unauthorised effluents pipes spewing toxins straight into the river from the industry. Air emissions range from acid mists to sulphur dioxide , hydrogen Sulphide, Ammonia and Chlorine gas. Wells and ponds in the region are severely contaminated as well.

Angamaly to Kochi come under the most industrialized zone of the Periyar river basin. There are over 50 large and medium industries and over 2500 small scale industries in this region. The southern branch of Marthandapuzha which cater to the needs of these industries is estimated to have a lean water flow of 8200 cum/sec which the monsoon flow is calculated as 150-250 cum/sec. The industries located in Edayar–Eloor area consumes about 189343 cum per day water from the day and discharge about 75% as used water along with large quantity of effluents and pollutants. The major types of these industries are fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and allied industries, petroleum refining and heavy metal processing, radioactive mineral processing, rubber processing units, animal bone processing units, battery manufacturers, mercury products, acid manufacturers, pigment and latex producers etc. The wide spectra of pollutants that adversely affect the natural environmental quality of the water of the river include toxic and hazardous materials such as heavy metals, phenolics, hydrocarbons, pesticides, radionuclides, ammonia, phosphates, domestic and untreated waste water.
The industrial belt of Eloor in Kerala is one of the world’s ‘top toxic hot spots’, according to international environment group Greenpeace. Unchecked pollution in the area, says an elaborate study conducted by Greenpeace, has led to people in Eloor near Kochi suffering from higher rates of death and disease. Greenpeace holds the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) that has been manufacturing pesticides at its Eloor plant responsible for making the industrial village a toxic hotspot.
According to an epidemiological study that Greenpeace conducted at Eloor, an island in the Periyar river, unchecked pollution from HIL has resulted in diseases like cancer, congenital birth defects, bronchitis, asthma, allergic dermatitis and stomach ulcers in the local population.
Greenpeace collected samples of water and sediments from an adjacent creek and soil from the nearby wetlands. Its detailed analysis found that the water at Eloor contained 100 organic compounds that included DDT and its metabolites, endosulfan and several isomers like hexachlorocylcohexane, a persistent pesticide. It says the chances of the residents of Eloor inhabitants contracting cancer are 2.85 times higher than similar toxic areas in India.
Scary findings
It said children face 2.63 times higher risk of malformation due to congenital and chromosomal aberrations. Chances of death due to an accident are 2.7 times higher. Chances that children may die due to birth defects have increased 3.8 times. Death due to bronchitis at Eloor is up by 3.4 times. Death due to asthma is up by 2.2 times, the study stated.
Open wells of Kerala are under the threat of bacteriological comtamination. About 60% of the population in the State relies on ground water for drinking. Studies have shown that faucal contamination is present in 90% of drinking water wells. The open character of the wells, conventional maintenance habits, use of buckets and rope to draw water, kitchen wastes and pit latrines with average family load factor (5 members) at a distance of less than 5 meters from wells are some of the factors contributing to the bacteriological contamination. Ground water contamination due to industrial pollution has been reported from places of Kochi (eastern part of Aluva), Palakkad and some parts of Kollam and Kozhikode.

“We are watching our river die. We’re all like the prople waiting pensively by the death-bed of a loved one. The state, which has all the powers to save the river is indifferent. People have lost faith in the system,” says V J Jose, the Periyar River Keeper appointed by Greenpeace India.
The State Fisheries Department recently ordered a probe by the PCB to find out those responsible for polluting the rivers in Ernakulam district. Interestingly it has apparently ignored the report of the Greenpeace submitted to the State Health Department last September listing industrial units responsible for increasing toxicity in the Periyar. It’s high time the state woke up from its slumber and took immediate action. As Manu Gopalan, a former campaigner with Greenpeace India puts it

“A poisoned river means a dying people”

1. Greenpeace Report on Pollution in Periyar - Aditi Wanchoo, Greenpeace India
2. Status Report on Periyar - krpcds.org/report/Joseph%20M.L.pdf.



A rape story

>> Friday, August 6, 2010

Before I go in to the actual story, you will definitely need some background information.

Khorfakkan is a  small town in the east coast. And it has all the problems of the small town. Living in a small community has a lot of benefits. Privacy, however, is not one of them. Small town gossip is at the top ten of the deadly sin list. There is nothing in the world that can destroy friendships, marriages, families and personal lives, like gossips.  And then, every one here thinks he is the most important person and his family is next to the Nahyan family ( The Ruling family).

The landscape combines desert, with an impressive mountain backdrop scenery, while the coast is scattered with small fishing villages. And it has a lovely beach, often the destination of vacation travelers.
Half are original natives. Half are Baloochis,  probably of Afghan origin, with many having no passports, and they live in something like the slum areas. The true locals live on the other side of the road, where the roads are cleaner, have pavements and trees at the roadside. There are no dirty garages and meat shops at that end. The Baloochis are generally not educated and many either end up working in the defence or police. It is a joke that the most idiotic and mentally subnormal end up working with the defence or police. The government has found a way to employ those youth, who would otherwise find it impossible to get a job anywhere else.
There is probably a policeman from every family here and so also same number of thieves. Because the thief and the police  are from the same family, the law enforcement is often funny. The law takes different courses for the locals and non locals. There are too many policemen for such a small town. There are at least half a dozen policemen walking around the hospital corridors at all times. At least the same number sits at the emergency room also.” Looking for crimes’, I don’t know what. I have heard that the policemen are given credits  for each case or crime they find. There are only petty crimes here, often small scale burglaries, and occasional rapes. So the policemen roam the roads looking for single women. The common offences are  the love making of the poor Bengali men with equally poor willing  housemaids, who have no other opportunities. It is a common sight at the hospital to see these policemen walking around proudly with their catch of those frightened looking women. They bring them first to the emergency room, and from there to the Gynaec department for detailed physical examination. They are subjected to the inhuman act of taking swabs and specimens from every orifice. If a sperm is detected from any of the specimens,  it is ‘ Eureka’  and the policeman has his orgasmic experience.

The local men still rear their flocks of sheep. It is probably good business because local meat is in good demand, and so also goat’s milk. They are kept at the mountain side, and looked after by poor Bengalis, who also live in those thatched sheds at the mountain sides. They eat and  sleep there, with no connection to the outside world.

And so, it was one day when I was passing through the ER I found a Bengali man sitting outside the doctor’s room, handcuffed. He was shabbily dressed and appeared having not taken a bath for many days. Few policemen were also around as usual. Out of curiosity, I asked the ER doctor what had happened. He had a mocking kind of laugh and said” it is a rape case”.

The local man had gone to see how things were, and unusually early. He found the Bengali having sex with the goat. He shouted and yelled , and the goat ran in to the flock. He caught the Bengali half dressed, and brought him to the police station. The police, had a good case at hand, and they brought him to the hospital. But after listening that it was a rape case, the ER doctor asked,” but, where is the girl, the victim?”

The police man was seriously thinking, and finally scratched his head for some time. He left without saying a word, leaving the Bengali  under custody of  half a dozen police men. And some time later he came back with a goat, and brought it to the doctor. The doctor had the laugh of his life time and asked.

“ But then, how do you know this is the particular goat?”
The police man had no hesitation  in replying.
“ This is the sexiest looking goat of the lot !! “”


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