ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Maharaja's and the Saint

A very recent post here had begun: "Maharaja's College, Cochin is a curious place....". The hallowed institution has just come up with something more than merely curious.

What looks like a new film is being made: 'Ormayilennum Maharajas' (approx. "Maharajas - Evergreen Memories"); the makers are very likely, alumni of the college. Here is a poster:



Now, let's cut out the hefty, bearded chap to the right of center and place him alongside a very similar (admittedly, somewhat more heavily muscled) fellow, St. Barthalomew, as visualized by Michelangelo (a detail from 'Last Judgement'). Click on the picture for a larger image:



And thus, in its 11th year, this blog has acquired its first ever visuals - and what better to begin with than a tip of the hat to Old Mike the Angel?!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TEN - 2



Having just wrapped up a Decade of this blog, I look ahead with hope and trepidation. One would love to keep this going but there is also a slowly growing fear within of a certain ‘Perdition of Memory’ (facts, details, plans keep slipping away, very frustratingly. This could be either part of the standard package of Ageing or something more damaging; it is too early to tell. Whatever, the process of putting together a post is becoming increasingly laborious). To keep worries of this decline at bay, there is no better way than to plunge headlong into another post. Here goes….

Mathai and his Manifestations

"It was just past 5 am. The gentle caress of the dawn breeze had a silky feel. Our ‘ekka’ passed clusters of sad-looking huts and then rocked along still sleepy roads lined with strange-shaped and whitewashed mansions. The thought that one was entering the ancient city of Ayodhya made my mind fly off to a long gone era when Dasharatha ruled over it….."

S K Pottekkat’s travel notes titled ‘Ayodhya’ written way back in 1944 (it is a part of his collection ‘Yatrasmaranakal’) begin on such a note. SK had gone there with a very literary-minded friend who had brought along a volume of Vallathol’s ‘Sahityamanjari’ and would, from time to time, recite passages from a famous poem therein on Sita as a little girl.

Later, as the day grew warmer, the duo felt like a swim and having searched and found a secluded spot on the Sarayu river, took off their things and dived in….

SK mentions several temples and shrines and ghats along the Sarayu but is totally silent about Ramajanmabhoomi. The controversy surrounding Babri Masjid began five years AFTER his visit with the ‘miraculous’ appearance of the Rama idol inside the mosque.

As thy return in another ekka, the Friend recites Vallathol’s lines where little Sita complains to her doting mother (put in the mouth of a child, these lines are prophetically poignant):

“Why does this silly poet want to get me married to that Rama fellow!”

I first read ‘Yatrasmaranakal’ as a primary schooler and must have reread it at least half a dozen times since then. But I never cared to know more about the unnamed Friend.

To the present. I just finished SK’s ‘Ente Vazhiyambalangal’. Among its several disconnected pieces is a reworked version of the same Ayodhya notes. SK reveals that the dip in the river the party had was a proper ‘skinny-dip’; more interestingly, he tells us the Friend was long-gone firebrand politician Mathai Manjooran (1912-1970).

“The river bed has thick deposits of a grey-coloured clay-like sediment said to have special medicinal qualities. We gathered fistfuls of it and applied it all over our bodies. Mathai looked like a proper Naga Sadhu – in nothing but ash smeared all over.“

I just saw that Wiki has plenty to say about Mathai’s tumultous career. Excerpts:

As a fearless freedom fighter, he led many daring exploits against the British, both in Kerala and in the north of India. The Quit India Movement of 1942 saw him and his cronies actively involved in an attempt to sabotage several strategic railway bridges…. The sensational Kizhaariyoor bomb case is the result of one of such attempts….

Mathai ... once snatched a pointed gun away from the hand of the dreaded police officer, Mariya Arpudam, who had come to arrest him. On another occasion he slapped the prince of Cambay for indecently advancing upon a dancing girl (SK too mentions the vice-like power of Mathai’s handshake and how a rowdy Brit soldier who tried to scoot from a Lucknow restaurant without paying his bill gave up on the idea when given a taste of Mathai’s iron fist).

In 1944, at the height of the Second World War, Mathai led the famous 'Famine March' towards the palace of the Maharaja of Cochin.., the Cochin government agreed to and implemented Mathai’s proposal of introducing the rationing system in Cochin. It was in effect the first instance of rationing in the history of India.


After Independence, Mathai became a staunch activist for the formation of Kerala State and rose to be a member of the first elected government of Kerala. Wiki also mentions his affinity towards literature and some sporadic but serious efforts at scholarly literary criticism.

The reason for ‘Yatrasmaranakal’ not naming Mathai is simple. As ‘Vazhiyambalangal’ tells us, Mathai was then (1944) on the run from Brit police; when the Ayodhya trip happened, he was actually working as a hotel manager in Lucknow with the false name of ‘Mr. Mathews’.

Everything quoted above about Mathai is new to me. Indeed, I don’t recall ever having read anything about him. But I had known about the man for a very long time! Indeed, for an entire generation of Mallus, the word ‘Mathai’ had a very unique connotation thanks to one of his ‘exploits’, immortalized in a half-century plus old urban legend (I heard it while at college from an Elder):

The staunchly atheistic Mathai Manjooran once had a bit too much to drink. His usually confident mood dipped and repentance set in. He stepped into a wayside church and prayed his heart out before the crucified Jesus: “Lord, I have sinned ….forgive my soul (he proceeded to list several transgressions)!”

Jesus did not respond but Mathai's impromptu confession progressed… Inevitably, the influence of alcohol ebbed away and Mathai gathered his wits, pulled himself to his full height and defiantly told the silent Savior: “If the Lord cannot forgive Mathai, it matters a ….. to Mathai!”.


The blank marks the most basic of Malayalam’s (not particularly rich but quite functional) battery of expletives. The episode somehow acquired such rowdy popularity that for a very long time, folks would say things like: “your threats mean a Mathai to me!” or more directly, "Nee poda Mathayee!"

TEN – 1



Today is Vishu, sort of the New Year in Kerala. And it is a birthday too - this blog began on a Vishu day, a round 10 years ago.

Let me first quote a bit of sagely advice that came in y'day from Gyani: “For Decade Two, you could consider adding the odd picture, unless you want to stick to the Paul Dirac style”.

This two-part post shall comprise fragments touching upon several subjects one wrote about during the last decade.

Narayam:

In the very first post here, I had said: “For several weeks, finding a suitable name for this blog was a bother. Then ‘Anamika’ sort of hurled into view….” In a later post I confessed: “’Anamika’ (= the nameless) marks my failure to find a good name for this blog”.

Now is the time to let my readers in on a secret - I had actually thought of a name, albeit a couple of years before this blog began; the idea then was to start up a website as a repository of my random notes – since mid-1990s, I have been a ‘writer of sorts’, writing mostly travel notes, initially in Malayalam and switching to English around Y2K. The name found for the website (which never got started) was ‘Narayam’ (prounounced ‘nah-rah-yum’). As per Wiki, a narayam is a traditional Keralan and South Asian writing instrument; it is a metallic nail used to scratch letters on to palm leaves (it is also called an ezhuthaani = ezhuthu + aani, literally, the writing nail).

Aside: Wiki says the narayam was a very versatile tool - a Desi equivalent to the Swiss Army knife. For example, it was the weapon used in the murder of Annavayyan, a key episode in the classic romance 'Dharmaraja'.

Though very similar sounding to 'Narayana' (one of Vishnu’s many names), the Malayalam word ‘Narayam’ looks like a derivative of the Sanskrit ‘naracha’ which I have seen used as a synonym for arrow, dart or nail. In Malayalam, the tap root of a plant (the main root, growing vertically down) is called the ‘narayaveru’ or ‘aaniveru’ – here maybe because like a dart, this root goes straight down. Likewise, the ‘aanikkallu’ (kallu means stone) appears to point to the most basic unit(s) of an old style stone foundation.

I could not recall 'narayam' when starting up this blog in what could only be called a lousy memory slip. Anamika is not a bad name but Narayam would have been apter. Of course, it can be argued, the rambling and desultory nature of this blog has been nothing like the tap root or the nail that goes straight to the core of things. But it is also true that in its role of a writing instrument, the nail merely scratches all over the surface! And some of my readers have observed that despite all its wanderings, the blog has always had a tap-root like anchor - Kerala(*).

Irinjalakuda, Changampuzha and SK

“Irinjalakuda, Koodalmanikyam, Thachudayakaimal – wow, such beautiful words, so musical”. Long ago, while a student at Christ College in the small town of Irinjalakuda, I heard this ecstatic remark; Our Malayalam teacher had attributed it to the brilliant late poet Changampuzha. Several years ago, I started a post here on Memories of Irinjalakuda with this quote.

Another claimant to the quote has just swum into view; S K Pottekkat writes in his ‘Ente Vazhiyambalangal’ (my free translation):

Being both first-time visitors to Irinjalakuda, Changampuzha and I took an exploratory walk around the town …. We were now at the gateway to the Koodalmanikyam temple.

“The legends surrounding this temple are of a fantastic nature; but we certainly are on hallowed ground - where music and fine arts are eternally locked in a divine embrace!” Chengampuzha said.

“Truly, just hear those names, Irinjalakuda, Koodalmanikyam, Thachudayakaimal… Don’t they sound so lyrical?” I remarked.

“Hmm, not just the names, the glorious pulchritude of the place finds its highest expression in the looks and gait of its damsels!” said Changampuzha.


Chakka - and a Gentleman from Aluva:

Last summer I had written here about chakka or jackfruit and mentioned the two common strains of jackfruit, the varikka and the koozha, signing off a remark: “I happen to know a gentlemen hailing from Aluva (near Cochin) who eschews the varikka and feasts on the koozha”.

Yesterday, I happened to hear about a certain Mr. James Joseph. A former Mallu-American, he was a successful manager with Microsoft. During a holiday spent at Aluva, his little daughter took a strong liking to chakka and said to him: “Dad, it would be nice if we could get such gorgeous fruits to eat everyday!” and, long story short, Mr. James now runs a burgeoning fruit processing company with strong focus on chakka products.

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(*)Note: Vimal suggests the variant: 'Nararum', a cocktail of 'Na', 'Ra' and 'Rum', the first two being the opening syllables of the two halves of my name and the last, my favorite tipple.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Women and Semantics

EMPOWERING WOMEN:

As is obviously known, the primary intent of India’s massive Public Distribution System is to support the large fraction of our population still languishing below the Poverty Line. A survey has just been conducted in central Kerala on the recent Governmental move to shift ownership of Ration cards to Women in the family – widely touted as an attempt to Empower Women.

Among male respondents from families Above Poverty Line (APL), 85% support the ownership shift to their womenfolk and only 15% think it is a bad idea. Among men from BPL families, the fraction supporting the move dips to 64% and those who oppose amount to 36%.

An overwhelming 90% of APL women say the ownership shift is a great thing and only 2 out of 100 oppose it (a much more substantial 8% said things will stay where they are). And here comes the punch: from among Below Poverty Line women (the primary target group of the reform) an emphatic 83% oppose the move and a mere 12% support it!

Let me leave my readers to infer what they will from these curious numbers.

Note: The survey was conducted by Mrs. Ambili and Mrs. Supriya, both teachers of Mathematics.

A SEMANTICS PUZZLE:

Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, like words, phrases, signs and symbols and what they stand for. Linguistic semantics is the study of meaning that is used for understanding human expression through language… (Wiki)

The following exchange took place the other day between two high school students (let me call them Tik and Tak) and yours truly. The situation: their school was planning to take them on a tour to some hilly areas of Kerala.

Self: So you guys are not going?

Tik: No way! The weather is horrible, jungles will look burnt out, rivers will be bone-dry …

Tak: … and they will take us on visits to some tribal colonies.

Self: What of tribal colonies?

Tak: Why would I want to go all the way there and see tribals? … And I see this specimen (points at Tik) on a daily basis!

(Tik pounces on Tak in mock anger; I too am somewhat taken aback - by the apparent political incorrectness of Tak’s utterances)

Self (addressing Tak, in a somewhat solemn tone): Look here, ‘tribal’ is not a bad word!

Tik (to self, almost screaming): You too, Brutus!

Question: If I had addressed Tik instead of Tak and said exactly what I had said (in exactly the same tone and manner), the meaning and significance of the sentence spoken would have been very fundamentally different, isn't it?