Friday, January 25, 2008

One of the best things in life I love

It was by choice that my wife’s parents decided to settle themselves in Palakkad. Though they both were from known families of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, Palakkad seemed to be a place rich with culture, heritage and a certain simplicity that attracted them to call it home. Hence, my wife Sindhu and I too decided that it shall be our home too.

While in India, I had learned that the best time to be in Kerala was during December /January when the faint winter will hold sway. Though my mother will say that it is the “Tree chilling winter” (Maram Kochunna Manju), anybody used to real winter will vouch that Kerala’s winter is nothing more than a cool weather. In our younger days in the sixties, in our ancestral house at Cherthala, we had three large Sarppakkavu (Woods with small temple for worshipping serpents) full of large trees and plenty of birds and thousands of bats. In winter months, our servants used to mop up dried leaves from these Sarppakkavu and keep these in big heaps. Early morning, before the sun breaks, we the children, led by Vijay, my elder brother and followed by sisters Rema and Maya and Hari, the younger brother, used to enjoy a bonfire out of the above. We children had great time enjoying the burning fire and keeping ourselves warm sharing folktales and sometimes picking up quarrels too.

As we grew older, like Wordsworth said, many of such charms we lost on the way.

Still, I enjoy the Palakkad winter. Now, whenever time permits, I go for an early morning walk with Sindhu, my wife of 25 years through the sparsely populated road leading to Malampuzha Dam and overlooking the Western Ghats. On one side of the road, there are large tracts of paddy fields on the banks of which long palm trees could be seen. When we go for an evening walk, these interesting palm trees seen against the setting sun seem like demonic gatekeepers in an alien planet.

You may see the attached photograph , taken by our daughter Lavanya, to know the veracity of my statement.

On winter days, either in the morning or in the evening, when we go for our long walks, I and Sindhu share many things. Often the conversations go beyond the mundane things and go the realms of philosophy and Vedanta and meditation. Life seems a lot more relaxed and easy. Problems of life, which are always around are kept at a distance and the cool breezes take away the stresses. The feeling grows that there is someone who really loves you despite your inadequacies and the walk together becomes really enjoyable.

This indeed is one of the things I love most. Thank you, Sindhu.

Dubai, 25th January 2008.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Zulu (the people of the heavens), Zulu War of 1879 and the Campaign Medal in my collection

Meeting with a traditionally dressed Zulu man in Durban hotel was interesting. Here, the hotel keeps him as an attraction for tourists. I took a few snaps and paid some tips too which made him very happy.
I am a collector of war medals, and hence interested about the British wars of the Victorian Period.
I have in my collection quite a few of these Victorian war medals of which a coveted medal pertains to the Zulu wars of 1879.
One of the most bloody and colorful battles Britain has ever fought and in the aftermath of which they developed great respect for the enemy is of the Zulu war, notwithstanding the likes of the battle of Seringapatnam.

Zulu War of 1879 was a conflict in South Africa between the British and the Zulu. Fearing a Zulu attack, the Afrikaners of Transvaal requested British protection. The British High Commissioner demanded that the Zulu king, Cetewayo, disband his army. He refused, and the Zulu made a surprise attack at Isandhlwana, killing 800 British soldiers. Lacking modern weapons, the Zulu were checked at Rorke's Drift and decisively defeated at Ulundi.

The detailed story of King Shaka and the Zulus may be read from innumerable articles written on the subject and will make very interesting reading. Also, one may see the film Zulu I, a 1964 film depicting 1879 Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Army of the Zulus. The film was directed by Cy Endfield and starred Michael Caine .

23 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for the Anglo- Zulu War of 1879.

I can’t ever imagine of possessing a Victoria Cross, least of all one pertaining to the Zulu war, but I have in my possession a campaign medal awarded to 968 PTE G SWAINSON of the 90TH FOOT. This is one of my prized possessions.

Durban, 15th January 2008.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Johannesburg in Summer

Johannesburg in January is like Kerala during the monsoons. It rains all over and the visibility is poor. Mists are rising and you will feel gloomy wanting to sit indoors.
There are occasional power cuts and the traffic lights are also not spared. Despite mismanagements in many areas of administration, the city is still beautiful and there is pomposity all around.
I stay in the Intercontinental hotel near the famous Wanderers club, in Sandton. All these areas are more like up market residential colonies. These are indeed the legacies of the past.
Just opposite to the Hotel is a famous big mall named after Nelson Mandela. There is a big bronze statue of the great man in this area.
While driving down to the Crown mines area, the navigator, Riaz showed us the area where Mandela now lives. Though ailing, he is still active for the benevolent and the charitable causes. Riaz says that the days spent in a jail make a man live longer because such days are rather free of worries and tensions. He seems to have a point. In India the Sanyasins (Sage) live longer than the Grihasthas (Sanskrit for householder) because of the same reason. A Grihastha’s life is never easy, I can vouch for that. After all, the food eaten by a Sanyasin also is donated by a hardworking Grihastha.
There is no time for any sightseeing as the official meetings keep me tight. On Sunday, I go to Durban.
Johannesburg, 11th January 2008.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A musical wizard

The wizard left the stage five years back throwing us all into utter gloom.

The initials LPR is familiar to music lovers all over Kerala. LPR Varma was a music director par excellence who enthralled at least three generations of Malayalis through his great tunes and stage performances in music. A classical musician, belonging to the old school, he was totally ignorant about the tricks of the trade in the commercialization of music. Yet, his tunes are sung by many a music lover sometimes not even knowing as to who composed these tunes.

LPR, the maestro in Carnatic music, who won the national award for music direction in 1969, was born as Kochu Ravi to Mangala Bai Thampuratty of Lakashmipuram Palace and Vasudevan Nampoothirippad of Vadakkanchery Mana in 1926.Lakshmipuram Palace in Changanacherry, in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore is renowned as the birth place of Keralavarma Valiya Koil Thampuran, alternatively known as Kerala Kalidasa. Mahakavi Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer who had his childhood spent at Lakashmipuram Palace has written extensively on it through his essays.

Initiated in earlier childhood into the world of music, LPR was trained under the great stalwarts of Carnatic music like Muthaiyah Bhagavathar, Semmangudy Sreenivasa Iyer and Madura Keshava Bhagavathar. Such training helped him to imbibe the great heritage of Carnatic music with all its charm, vibrancy and tradition.

Writings in musicology by great masters describe the Classical Indian music as essentially creative (manodharma), and not simply as recitative. Therefore, it is said that the classical musician is a born prodigy and not one who is made so. Music is his life-breath from birth. As such it is believed that the accomplished musical faculty is a divine gift. Tantric texts say that the people with great artistic or musical skills have the elements of the Gandharva – the celestial musicians-in them. All these were truly to be observed in LPR who was also gifted with great physical and personal charm.

Starting his musical life at the age of eighteen through All India Radio, LPR electrified innumerable stages in his time spanning over 6 decades. In 1978, he won the award of the Sangeetha Nataka Academy for classical music.

As a music director to various dramas, during the golden age of Malayalam stage, he associated with Vayalar Rama Varma, the redoubtable lyricist of Malayalam cinema. In 1985, he won the State award from the Kerala Government for music direction of dramas.

LPR dazzled in films as music director and the first national award to Malayalam cinema for lyrics came through his music direction. The lyrics start in Malayalam as follows: “ajnjaatha sakheee, aathma sakheee “.

The Malayalam films for which he carried music direction include, Kudumbini, Ollathu Mathi, Sandhyaa Vandanam, Sthree Hrudayam, Thottaa Vaadi, and Sthaanaarthi Saaraamma.

Music lovers in Kerala will always remember his following songs which were written for various dramas.

· Parannu parannu parannu chellaan ------
· Poovanangalkkariyaamoo-----------------
· Maanathe mazhavillinnezhuniram--------
LPR also tried his acting talents with distinction in some Malayalam films. In Anarkali, he was the legendary musician Tansen, whose role he acted with aplomb. In the film Ayitham (Untouchability) he acted as the father of Mohanlal, in the role of a great musician who had later succumbed to the temptations of Bacchus and became wayward. He indeed gave a stellar performance in this role and won much acclaim.

The first national award for a song in Malayalam film was for the one starting, Upasana, Upasana, of which the music direction was by LPR and sung by Jayachandran as his first song.

LPR also had some illustrious students who learned classical music under him. Besides many professional musicians, this list includes noted film personalities like Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Sreelatha and Nedumudi Venu.

LPR was instrumental in introducing many known personalities into the wonderland of music and singing. Adoor Bhasi, the renowned comedian of early Malayalam cinema was introduced to singing by LPR.

Apart from his musical genius, he was remarkable as a great conversationalist. I have many pleasant memories of him on various discussions spanning over two decades.

He was Vallyacchan to my wife Sindhu, having married the elder sister of her mother. Obviously Vallyacchan had a lot of affection for me .Occasionally he has stayed with us in Trivandrum and Eranakulam where I have been working on my banking assignments. I must say that he was most considerate to me for whom music was like Greek or Latin. Despite knowing that he was talking to an ignoramus, he tried to explain various facets of music for my information. I remember the time when he stayed with us and explained to me on Boopaala raga (a morning raga) through his melodious rendering when I felt that the early morning light was just breaking and things were beginning to glow in the early sun light.

He had a wonderful circle of friends from various walks of life. It included many politicians, ministers, musical geniuses, film personalities, businessmen, officials, music lovers and common people. The children always found him young at heart. His wife Maya Rani was his shadow all through his life as they had married pretty young.

In 2002, after attending the marriage of a grand niece, while being surrounded by all the loved ones, his soul flew away to the beautiful world of the Gandharvas where the music never stops.

Besides, Vallyamma, his children, Prem, Raaj, Sobha and Beena carry the fond memories of this wonderfully affable human being in their daily lives. The youngest daughter Beena has been particularly fond of her dad in that she has taken pains to collect all available press clippings and other paraphernalia on the great man and his music.

I too cherish his memories and have with me some compositions of his memorable music in many a 78 RPM record.

I am sure; he is having a josh time in the Gandharva loka as he was having it here.

Dubai, 6th January 2008.

Friday, January 04, 2008

An obitury


Every day, when I take a capsule of Shuddha guggulu, an Ayurvedic medicine to reduce the blood cholesterol levels I am reminded of Dr.Mallinatha Varma,( 1937-2007) a wonderful doctor and an extremely kind human being. To me, he was Mallichettan who always had a keen ear (though he had impaired hearing) about my travels and my place of job.

Dr.Mallinatha Varma was born in Kattunkal Kovilakom an aristocratic Kshathriya family of Cherthala. Those were the days of Marumakkathayam, the matrilineal system of inheritance and the patriarch of the family was Advocate Goda Varma Thirumulpad, the father of Pratapa Senan, my father-in-law. He was very insistent on the best available education for his nephews and for his own children.

Mallichettan had three brothers and a sister. The renowned film actor Jagannatha Varma was his younger brother. While Jagannatha Varma and Surendranatha Varma-the youngest brother- dazzled in Kathakali training in their younger days, Mallichettan kept aloof and kept himself to his studies, reading , writing and often painting. He was a gynecologist of repute in the government service. But what kept him unique was his additional qualification in Ayurveda. He had a profound understanding of the subject.

After his retirement, he started private practice. Patients had always a liking for him because he never went after costly medicines which were often not required and which probably were not good for the patients. He blended the knowledge from both the streams of Ayurveda and Allopathy and advocated these according to the need of the patient. No wonder he had a regular queue of visitors.

After his retirement, he used to paint at times. Some of his sketches and water colours are showing the true talent in him .One of my regrets remain in that I could not gift him with a good set of brushes and pastels for oil painting in which he had a fine talent.

He loved travelling and wrote about his experiences in a most sincere way. Despite his failing health, he undertook a journey to Kashmir with his wife Kamala to visit his daughter Maya and her husband Satheesh, a Colonel in the Indian Army. His articles used to appear in various journals.

He had a profound sense of humour. In my school days, I used to read his anecdotes in the Humour corner of the Malayala Manorama Weekly.

He also dazzled in agriculture. After his retirement, he settled in Vattakkaattu Kovilakom in Varanad. He started various agricultural activities which included among others cultivating, vanilla, jasmine and various other cash crops and vegetables. I remember having seen a programme in the Kairali TV on his agricultural activities. We used to enjoy many products from his farm.

His health started deteriorating during the year and the end came not quite unexpectedly. He leaves behind his wife Kamala and son Manu and daughter Maya.

May his soul rest in peace!

5th January 2008.

Payyanur and its oldest Vegetarian Restaurant

Payyanur Pavithra Mothiram This week we visited Payyanur in Cannanore district that is famous as a cultural centre. An unfulfil...