Wednesday, January 31, 2007


What General of the Army Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander during the World War II, British hero Field Marshal Montgomery and the flamboyant American General, Patton, failed to do, was achieved by a doctor from Kerala, India. Or so he claimed (he is no more now). He arrested the great German general, Rommel!

1941-42. Desert War in Africa. Rommel’s Afrika Korps was battering the British. Our hero was a captain in the Medical Corps. After an engagement when his beaten unit withdrew, the doctor and a few of his orderlies stayed back to attend to the wounded.

Suddenly there was a flurry of movement. A fleet of military vehicles arrived, with a cloud of dust in its wake. The young medical officer looked up to see Rommel alight from one of the vehicles. The German commander had come to see for himself the result of the battle.

The captain realized that he was in trouble. After a moment of hesitation he walked up to Rommel with all the military élan he could command. He saluted, identified himself and said, “General [this was before Rommel was promoted as the youngest Field Marshal of Germany], Sir, I’m taking you as prisoner of war under the [appropriate provisions of] the Geneva Convention.”

Perhaps, for the first time in his life Rommel was rattled for a moment.

The doctor himself told me the tale while we were having a few drinks at my house, forty-five years back. It sounded like a structured yawn similar to one of those hunting stories. But I did not discount it totally, for valid reasons. I knew the doctor and some of his brothers quite well. The clan was always gentlemanly but could be tough if the occasion demanded it. Secondly, our hero was extremely intelligent. He had the presence of mind to realize that his only chance lay in doing something extraordinary and count on Rommel’s nobility.

That was precisely what happened. Rommel recovered quickly and said something to the effect: “You are technically correct. But there is a small problem. You have to escort the prisoner back to your camp. Are you in a position to do that?”

The young officer had to accept the logic.

Rommel gave him safe passage and helped him to get back with his wounded.

The moment in history had come and passed. Unfortunately there was no senior Allied officer on the spot to record the event and mention it in dispatches. Perhaps Rommel’s papers, some of which, I believe, are yet to be discovered, have a note about this episode.

Public Domain photo from Wikipedia.
Also see:

Lili Marlene.

Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.


“I’ll kill you.”

The hissed statement came from right behind me. I was in an awkward position. The hood of my old Ambassador car was up and I was bending over the engine that had stalled on the deserted mountain road leading down to the plains from my friend’s cardamom plantation.

Don’t panic, I told myself.

“Do you hear me?” This time it was almost a shout. “I’m about to kill you.”

It was a strange place where I wasn’t known. Obviously, there was some mistake. But murdered in error or otherwise, a dead man was a dead man.

“Take all you want,” I said. “But don’t do anything drastic.”

“Do you think I’m a highway robber?”

“Sorry, didn’t mean that.”

“You did.”

“Okay, I did,” I admitted. “Why else should you hold me up?”

“To finish you off.”

A chill ran down my spine. The man apparently meant business. “But why?” I asked in desperation. “We don’t even know each other.”

“I know you, great sinner. And you know of me.”

Nut case? Drugs? Drunk in the afternoon? That was immaterial; I had to find a way out. The voice direction gave me a fairly good indication of where the assailant stood. But from my vulnerable situation it was impossible to whip around quickly enough to overpower him. And I didn’t know what weapon he was carrying.

“I don’t,” the voice came again, “like stabbing people in the back.”

I wondered why he made that statement. “That’s decent of you,” I responded.

“Stretch your arms,” I was told, “sideways, palms open.”

I obeyed.

“Take one step backward and straighten up.”

That was at least a great relief to my back.

“Turn around slowly.”

Now I was facing a young man who stood about ten feet away. His shoulder-length hair that was parted in the middle, and beard were neatly combed. The eyes were clear and focused and had an unusual intensity. His hands were behind the back.

I looked up and down the road.

“No chance,” the stranger said. “There won’t be any traffic at this time.”


“Do you recognize me now?”

“No, but you resemble Jesus Christ.”

“I am Jesus.”

I had anticipated something of the sort. “Jesus,” I said, “didn’t go around killing sinners. His mission was to save them.”

“Was that the script?


“Then we’ll change it in your case.”


“To kill you. Imagine tomorrow’s banner headline, ‘Jesus Slays Great Sinner!’”

By now, instead of fear it was exasperation that I was feeling. If he were carrying a gun there wasn’t much that I could do. But if it was a knife, I had a fairly good chance of defending myself.

“Why don’t you,” I asked, “shoot and be done with it?”

“Can’t. I don’t have a gun.”

“Okay, stab then.”

“Not possible from this distance. If I get closer, you’ll fight me.”

“Well,” I said, “you have a problem then.”

“None whatsoever.”

I stared at him, trying to understand.“Knife throwing,” he explained. “Can hit a flea at twenty-five feet.”

He sounded convincing. “Bastard,” I shouted.

The chap went into peals of laughter, throwing his head back first and then doubling up. I quickly moved a little closer to him.“They have called me that before.”

“Okay mad man,” I almost screamed, “throw your damned knife.”

“Not yet. Sudden death would be a relief to you. Sinners must suffer in this world and in the next.”

The fellow started asking questions about my family – whom I loved most, how that person would react to my death, whether my wife would marry again, and so on. Then he described what would happen to my body after the execution. He would roll it down the mountain slope to the forest below. The animals and the birds would have a feast. Perhaps the skeleton would be found on some future date.

“It could,” I said, “very well be your bones.”

“How’s that?”

“Because I’m going to kill you.”

The man quickly brought his left hand forward in an underarm throwing motion. I leapt aside and steadied myself, getting a foot nearer to him in the process. But nothing was thrown.He laughed aloud.

Rush him now, my mind whispered.

In a split-second his right hand came up, holding a mini-dagger by the tip of its perfectly shaped blade. The handle looked colourful.

”Hey, that’s a beautiful knife,” I said, thinking quickly.

The man looked at the weapon and back again at me, and asked, “You really think so?”

“Absolutely. Where did you buy it?”

“Fool,” he shouted. “Which shop will have such a treasure?”

“Sorry. Where did you get it?”

“My grandfather had it specially made by the best blacksmith of those days. He was a great man, my grandfather.”

“Great knife for a great man.”

“The handle,” the man said moving towards me, “is ibex horn. See these studs. They are 24 carat gold. The stones are real rubies.”

Perhaps what he said was true. “This must be,” I commented, “the finest knife in the world.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can I have a feel of it?”

“Sure,” he said, came forward, and handed over the weapon.That was incredible. I backed to the car door quickly.

“Hey,” the man hollered, “Give back my knife,” and came forward.

I took out my Beretta from the glove compartment. The idea was to leave provided the car started and chuck the dagger to its owner.

The moment he saw the gun the stranger screamed, “You’re going to kill me.” He turned around and raced away taking a narrow footpath that led down from the road.

“Stop,” I shouted after him. “I won’t harm you.”

There was no response. He had already disappeared.I was left holding his knife and wondering what to do with it. Abandoning the apparently valuable piece there wouldn’t have been right. One option was to locate the nearest police station and report. But I didn’t know the locality and had a four-hour drive ahead of me. Finally I went home taking the knife along.

Next day I contacted my plantation-owner friend. His advice was not to bother. He said he would try and trace ‘Jesus’.

Six weeks later a police inspector came home accompanied by a constable. He said they were investigating the roadside incident. I assumed that my friend had contacted the police.

The officer said to call my lawyer if I wished, but I felt there was no need for that. The inspector wanted me to describe in details of what had happened that day at the roadside. The constable took notes. After the narration I was asked for the knife and told to see if there was any inscription on it.

The word ‘Eso’ was etched on the hilt.

Eso. That meant Jesus in the local language!

The policeman stepped forward and asked me to place the weapon on the handkerchief spread over his palm. He wrapped it carefully and put it in a plastic bag.

I was wondering why all the formality when the inspector asked, “Were you driving under the influence of alcohol that day?”

“No. Had a couple of gins for lunch at the estate bungalow. That was an hour or so earlier.”

“Are your driving license and the car papers current?”


“Gun license?”


“We’ll be,” the officer continued, “taking the pistol into custody.”

“What’s all these about?” I asked, feeling that something was amiss.

“I told you we are enquiring into the complaint.”

“What complaint? I just want to return the knife to its owner.”

“Well,” the inspector answered, “we’ve received a petition against the person who was driving Ambassador car number KLK 1232 that day. We traced the vehicle to you.”He gave the details briefly. The allegedly drunken driver nearly knocked down the complainant, who protested loudly. The accused jumped out of the car with a gun, threatening to shoot. Then he noticed the valuable knife tucked in at the waist of the complainant and grabbed it. When the complainant tried to take it back, the accused pushed him over the edge of the road.

“Who,” I asked after the initial shock, “has filed this complaint?”

“One Eso.”

Eso, grandson of Eso, I thought with wry humour. “Its all rubbish, inspector,” I said.

“The man is still in hospital. His shoulder, two ribs and thighbone are broken. Some woodcutters found him, almost dead.”

I thought of saying, ‘Serves him right,’ but restrained myself.

“I suppose,” the inspector went on, “you understand that the charges include robbery and attempted murder.”

I nodded.

“You can,” the officer added, “still call your lawyer because I’m arresting you. I can quote all the relevant sections if you like.”

“No need,” I said, reaching for the telephone.


Copyright: Abraham Tharakan.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.

The main topic of conversation all around in the late 1930s and early 1940s was the Second World War. As a child I had some idea of military campaigns by looking at the pictures in the Illustrated War News of the First World War, which grandfather had subscribed to. Those days I never dreamt that I would ever come across real soldiers in a foul mood.

Well, I did, at Cochin, Kerala State, India. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the area: Cochin basically consists of Fort Cochin-Mattancherry belt along the Arabian Sea coast, Wellingdon Island, and Ernakulam in the east. Before Indian Independence in 1947 the present Kerala State had three segments – Travancore State in the south under its Maharajah, Cochin State, again under a Maharajah, and British administered Malabar in the north.

I was travelling with my parents to Chalakudy for the housewarming of the younger of my two aunts. We were carrying a number of gifts and reached what is now known as the Old Railway Station at Ernakulam – it was the railway terminal then - well ahead of the scheduled departure of the train and settled in the waiting room. After a while we heard a commotion from the open space in front of the station.

We could see through the windows a group of white soldiers on a drunken spree unleashing terror all around. They started with beating up the ‘Kabulis’ and trampling upon the wares the nomads were selling. The fruit vendors were not spared either. After that the wrath of the soldiers turned to the parked rickshaws and bicycles. The local police who reached the spot beat a hasty retreat.

After a while the worried-looking Station Master came to the waiting room with a rickshaw puller. They said that the situation was worsening and suggested that we leave. The rickshaw man offered to lead us to safety and the Station Master assured that he would keep the waiting room locked to protect our baggage.

We walked southward beside the rail track till it ended and then along an interior path, crossed Banerjee Road (I believe it was a canal originally) and reached a relative’s house on Market Road. In the evening we heard that the Military Police had finally handled the troublemakers. Our journey was resumed the next day. Thanks to the Station Master, not a single item of our luggage was lost.

Train journey was generally difficult those days. Military personnel, arms and ammunition and other war supplies had priority over civilian requirements. In fact, rail travel by civilians was discouraged. There used to a series of newspaper advertisements in cartoon strip format titled ‘Panku Menonte Theevandi Yatra’ (Panku Menon’s Train Journey) highlighting the travails of travelling by train.

Road transport had problems as well. Petrol was rationed. Beautifully printed coupons with intricate design like a currency note were issued to vehicle owners for limited quantities of the fuel. These and many other scarce items were available in the black market as well. Use of the car had to be carefully planned. The old tyres that we used to play with, were taken away for the newly heard of ‘re-treading’.

Buses were converted to run on coal gas, a messy and inefficient system. Except for the Otter ‘Transport’ buses of Trivandrum (run by the Travancore Government), the others were side open vehicles. They had bench-like seats in front, and rectangular seating at the back, which was commonly called ‘nalukettu’.

The journey from Olavaip, our small hamlet on Pallippuram Island in Vembanad Lake, to Ernakulam was normally by ‘line’ boat, which meant scheduled boat service. The vessels those days had a first class cabin in front. The earlier generation boats were double-deckers. Before that, I believe, larger steamboats with paddle wheels on the sides plied in the lake.

Another popular mode of water bound passenger traffic, known, as ‘company vallom’ also existed during that period. These were large country crafts. They were moved by using punts and carried travellers to overnight and longer destinations. The passengers spent a good part of the journey exchanging news and gossip from their respective places.

Sometimes, when all of us were travelling, the family launch was used. Occasionally the trip was made by a big vallom, which was temporarily improvised into an unsophisticated houseboat. We would board the native craft after dinner and reach Ernakulam early morning. The journey used to be comfortable but we missed sights en route.

The most awaited landmark while commuting by motorboat to Ernakulam was the newly built Venduruthy Bridge. After the mandatory delay at Arookutty ‘Chowka’, everyone would be straining to catch the first glimpse of the structure, which was a marvel those days.

The Ernakulam boat jetty was a hub of activity. Most of the visitors to the town depended on water transport. A vessel would be arriving or leaving every few minutes. Apart from local ferry services, there were boats to several distant destinations. One could hear boat crews shouting ‘Kottappuram’, ‘Alleppey’, ‘Kottayam’ and so on. At any given time, there would be dozens of rickshaws parked in the jetty compound and on the road outside.

All water bound traffic passing by had to stop at Arookutty on the Travancore side for customs check. There was a long list of what could be taken out from or brought into Travancore. Two small check posts operated at Edapally (Toll) and at Udayamperoor to inspect road traffic. The Ernakulam-Vaikom Road had two vehicle ferries. After the old Ithipuzha Bridge was swept away during one monsoon, the number of ferries increased to three. Now of course, all of them are bridged.

Rice was on the list of prohibited items during the World War II and couldn’t be exported from Travancore. During the famine of 1942 we were lucky because paddy cultivation went on as usual and the produce that remained after meeting the Government levy was not sold. Wages were paid in measures of paddy. When rice scarcity became acute, we started giving free noon kanji to whoever came for it. Some brought bowls but others made small pits in the sand and lined them with blanched banana leaves to hold the servings.

Then came maize and corn through the ration shops. One of them was scornfully called ‘madamma pallu’ (white woman’s teeth). The locals didn’t know how to cook them properly. People ate them anyway and many got sick. On top of it, there was an outbreak of cholera in our place. To an extent it was contained with herb and mineral powders that came in tiny bottles. The labels had no names but only numbers. Even school children like me were taught what number medicine was to be given in what dose for a particular symptom.

Construction of the Burma Road provided employment to some of the more adventurous men. Their remittances offered financial stability to families back home. There used to be a song, ‘Assamile paniyille pande chathene, kappalandi pinnakkille pande chathene’ (Without work in Assam, would have died long ago; without groundnut oil cake, would have died long ago). But at the other end many workers died of malaria before the roadwork was completed. Some who survived married local girls and stayed on. If I remember correctly, Malayala Manorama reported about a couple of communities of their descendants near Kohima a few years back Among those who returned from Assam was Vakkan (name changed) of my village.

During the war the clock was turned back by one hour so that people could go to bed early and save precious fuel. The children were happy because it gave them more time to play after school. But there were problems as well for the students.

Writing instruments like Waterman’s and Swan pens and ‘aana mark’ (German made Staedler) pencils disappeared from the market. The local substitutes scratched along the paper. The case of notebooks was even worse. Each middle school student was allotted two notebooks per academic year. These were made of light brown paper produced in Travancore. It tore easily and the writing wouldn’t be clear.

St. Teresa’s at Ernakulam faced a peculiar problem. Some of the institution’s buildings were commandeered and used as a convalescing home for white soldiers. The classes were shifted to the government buildings at Kacheripadi Junction. Originally, the Convent Road connected to the present Park Avenue. A wooden over bridge linked the convent’s buildings on either side of the road.

Till Shanmugham Road was laid on reclaimed land before the war, Broadway was the lands end of Ernakulam on the western side. It was the shopping street of the town. The only permanent cinema theatre those days in Ernakulam was Menaka. It was located very near the site of the original bioscope show, which was on the sands west of Broadway at the beginning of the 20th century. Menaka had comfortable cane chairs on the balcony. Once it was dark the door curtains could be pulled aside to let in the cool breeze that blew in across the backwaters. Laxman and Patel theatres came up subsequently.

An Air Force plane crashed at the Broadway-Banerjee Road junction. I can’t remember whether it was during the war or shortly after that, but do recall visiting the site a couple of days after the accident. The name board of the shop that the plane had demolished, TIME HOUSE, could be seen among the debris.

Disposal sales of many war surplus items were a big bargain. Jeeps went for Rs.300-400. Many people made money on resale. A large number of ‘empty’ lubrication oil drums that a person bought were half full. It was a windfall for him because of the acute shortage of engine oil that followed. Parachute silk was a great hit. Many who could afford had shirts made of the material. The garments looked impressive but the wearers soon found to their dismay that air wouldn’t pass through the fabric.

Wellingdon Island had the prestigious Spencer-run Malabar Hotel. On the Ernakulam side National Hotel on Cannon Shed Road was popular. It was, reportedly, a place for political discussions. Later, Hotel Kailas was established near National. Other hotels that come to mind are Terminus, Atlantis and Sea View. The room tariff at the last named when it started was two and a half rupees for single room and five rupees for double room, bath attached.

Well, one had to specify ‘British roopa' (rupee) which was legal tender in both Cochin and Travancore States. But Travancore had its own mint, ‘Sarkar roopa’ as well. Both States has mail service called ‘Anchal’ and their own stamps. ‘Anchal’ would deliver letters within the two States, but for out of State missives one had to depend on British Indian Postal Service.

After Independence with the integration of Native States, Travancore and Cochin were combined to form what was initially called United States of Tavancore and Cochin (USTC), and later, T-C State. The Maharaja of Travancore was the Rajapramukh, equivalent of the present day Governor.

There were three administrations in the area that is known as Greater Cochin today. Ernakulam proper was under Cochin State. The British had jurisdiction over Fort Cochin, Wellingdon Island and the railway properties. The areas north of Edapally and south of Udayamperoor were part of Travancore. This created a great deal of problems particularly for the police. One amusing story was about a thief being chased by Cochin constables, running over to Travancore and mocking the cops from across the border.

Malabar Mail, a Malayalam daily published from Ernakulam, played a major role in the Church’s agitation against the education reforms introduced by Dr. CP Ramaswamy Iyer, the then Dewan of Travancore. It was banned in that State. There was also an English news journal named Malabar Herald, which was launched in the 19th century. Two tabloids popular those days were Gomathi and Deepam. Newspaper boys went around shouting ‘nalathe (tomorrow’s) Gomathi’, perhaps because it was an afternoon edition.

In the matter of currency also, the British kept the upper hand. Their roopa was worth twenty-eight and a half ‘chakrams’ whereas the value of the sarkar roopa was only twenty-eight ‘chakrams’. It was a nightmare converting a given sum of British roopa into sarkar roopa and vice versa. Many a good student failed arithmetic examination over such questions about a mythical roopa – Tavancore was permitted by the British to mint only up to half roopa coins!

There were not many eating-places in Cochin. India Coffee House on Broadway (now Bharat Café is located at the premises) was popular. The turbaned bearers were impressive. The masala dosas of Maruthi were famous. I think Cochin Refreshment House was also functioning towards the end of 1940s. I still remember their faloodas that were superb, both visually and taste wise.

‘Assam’ Chacko mentioned earlier was an excellent cook. In his younger days he had spent a few years in the kitchen of Verapoly Seminary where he learned several exotic Portuguese dishes. He was our party chef for several decades. The cigarette lighter that he brought along when he returned from Assam fascinated everyone. But soon the gas ran out. Chacko continued to be in our service till his death.

Then we have ‘Military’ Madhavan (name changed). He is still alive. Recently (December 2006) I checked about his ‘military’ career. It seems that he went only up to Vizag where he worked for a railway contractor. But he has a soldier’s bearing even today.

The real soldier was Mathai (name changed) the son of a former employee of ours. He was a driving force behind Montgomery’s Eight Army, from Africa to Sicily and up the Italian Penninsula. He was an army driver. He was handsome with an Errol Flynn moustache and slightly curly hair parted in the middle. I have heard others wondering how the Italian girls let him go.

The Germans couldn’t produce a bullet with Mathai’s name written on it. But a few years after returning a war hero, he died of tuberculosis!


Also see:


Lili Marlene.

(Cross-posted to Abraham Tharakan's Articles Blog.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Special action on 1st February 2007

(Copied from Jacob's Blog. Cross-posted to Earth Save - Abraham Tharakan's Blog.)

This message was sent to me by my friend 59er Peter Miovic for the widest possible circulation. Since I believe in this cause, I am posting this on all my blogs and groups. Hope you will take heed and spread it within your circle. Send this message to as many people as you know!

An action to bring climate change to the notice of Politicians and World LeadersOn February 1st 2007 take part in one of the biggest actions against climate change organised by the people.L'Alliance pour la Planète (a group of environmental activists) send this call to all civilians:Make our planet rest for five minutes!Everybody is requested to dim his/her lights for five minutes between 7.55 pm and 8.00 pm on February 1st 2007.

This not only to save engergy for five minutes, but to bring this message in a way that will attract the attention of politicians and leaders. It is time for them to take action and avoid the waste of energy.During the 5 minutes we'll give the planet rest: it doesn't take long and it won't cost you a thing. And it will make a statement before the Belgian federal elections that we as citizens want climate on the agenda.

And why February 1st 2007?Because on that day a new file from the climatologic experts of the United Nations will be published in Paris. Because it is with our Belgian neigbours, it is impossible to let this opportunity slip! We have to get attention to the urgent matter of the worlds climatological situation.

If everybody takes part in this action it will have an effect on media and politics that might have a real influence, this would be good on such short notice before the (Belgian) elections!

Make this message go around the globe, send it to friends, family and local politicians. Put it in your newsletter and your blogs.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The story of a story.

Linking the following:
*In September 2004, the seawater along some beaches of Kerala turned black and dead fishes were washed ashore. There was panic, and people avoided seafood. The discolouration vanished after a few days but till now, the scientists have not been able to explain the phenomenon. *The incident narrated in Komana Kadu (posted Jan. 11) *Astrology. See Three Predictions (posted Jan. 15) *Authoretative statements by my friend and advocate (late) Mr. K.Vijayakumar that horoscopes of buildings can be drawn up with great precision *Detailed discussions with Shilpi Babu (Thomas George, Architect) about Vaasthu. * Kerala government’s plan to build an express highway from one end of the State to the other. *The historical fact that the waters of the Arabian Sea receded at different times and people migrated to the newly formed coast. *Each fishermen community had a chief. *Many ancient houses are being bought and transplanted, mainly for tourism,
I wrote the following story:

By Abraham Tharakan.

One look at the Arabian Sea in the early morning sunlight and I was unnerved. It was a dark blanket stretching to the horizon in sharp contrast to the white sands of the beach. The stench of dead fishes was just bearable because breeze had not picked up yet.

“Awful,” Maya, my colleague, said softly.

Several media persons like us were already there. The breaking news had been on from the previous day. The air along a three-kilometre stretch of beach near Cochin had suddenly filled with a severe stink around noon. A few schoolchildren vomited and fainted. Later, some adults too became afflicted. The fisher folk panicked as seawater began turning black and the waves washed ashore dead and dying sea creatures.

The locals who stood around tense and grim told us that Kadalamma, the Mother Goddess of the seas, was still angry. They didn’t know why. The people of that beach, they informed us, belonged to one clan and considered themselves superior to the other fishing communities. Their chief was traditionally respected even by rajas. They used to have special rites for Kadalamma, and for their ancestors.

“Can we meet your chief?” I asked.

“Won’t do you any good,” one of the men answered.

“Why?” Maya asked.

“He’s been mentally sick for many years. That’s why our rituals are discontinued.”

“Does he have any sons?”

“One. You’ll never find him sober.”

“See the chief anyway,” another person suggested. “Occasionally he’s normal for short spells.”

I phoned the office. The ‘sea stain’ as the media had termed the discoloration of the water, was extending further out to the west, but other beaches were not affected. The scientists had no clue about the phenomenon.

Maya was thoughtful for a while as we walked to the chief’s residence. Then she said, “Strange.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “What kind of scientists do we have?”

“May be it’s something beyond science.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see, Ravi?” she asked. “This area is inhabited by a particular group. Their leader and his son are sick. The customary rites are disrupted. And this curious problem is confined to their fishing field only.”

“That’s a Brahmin mind at work.”

“Call it whatever you like.”

The chief’s wife received us. “We would like to pay respects to the chief,” Maya told her.

“So many people,” the lady said with feeling, “came to our beach from yesterday. No one else bothered.” She went inside and reappeared minutes later with her husband.

Maya told him that we were from Morning News and asked, “Can we take photos?”

The old man thought for a moment and nodded. “Get my baton,” he ordered his wife.

“Would you,” I asked, “care to comment on this problem?”

“This is,” he replied after a long pause, “only a warning. It’ll pass. But great calamities are coming unless –"

He was interrupted in mid-sentence as the baton arrived. It was a black, rounded wooden piece with a silver ring at the top. The chief held it in his right hand across his lap, sat back and ordered, “Take photo.”

Maya quickly clicked a few shots.

“You were,” I reminded the chief, “talking about calamities.”

The response came after a while, “Yes,” he said. “May be you can help.”

“Whatever we can, shall be done,” I assured him.

“The solution lies in the east. That’s where our treasure is. We must bring it back.”

“What treasure?” I asked quickly. “Where in the east?”

“Get a plane and -” The chief made a flight simulation with his baton. His wife was crying silently as she led him back.

“I’ll stay here, Ravi,” Maya said, “and talk to the lady alone. You scout the place and get some photos as well.”

I roamed around, keeping away from the waterline. The only interesting landmark in the otherwise monotonous scenery was a large grove with astonishing biodiversity. The pond beside it, a native who was there told me, contained sweet water.

The boss came on the mobile phone. “What’s happening?” he asked.

“We may be on to something,” I replied. “Reserve front page space for us.”


“Can you get a historian’s comments about any migrations from the east to the coastal areas?”

“What’s this about?”

“Just a hunch,” I answered. “We’re starting in about half an hour.”

Maya briefed me on the way back. The chief had been telling his wife a story handed down the generations. His people had come to their present location from the east centuries back, leaving behind a treasure with a Brahmin family for safekeeping. When the new settlement was ready to receive the cache the incumbent chief was to collect it. This had to be done within a certain period failing which disasters would befall the community. Indications that the time was running out had been appearing frequently. The chief even attributed his sickness and his son’s aberration to the non-recovery of the treasure.

“Why doesn’t the chief,” I asked, “go to the custodians and get it back?”

“That’s the problem,” Maya replied. “Somewhere along the line, the details were lost. Today none of them know where they came from, who the trustees are, or even what the treasure is.”

“Makes a great story alright,” I said. “Do you believe it?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

The next day’s issue of Morning News was a great hit. The headline read, “SOLUTION LIES EAST, SAYS BEACH BOSS”. The chief’s picture was impressive. A brief article by an eminent historian confirmed that there had been migrations to the present coastline. The paper also carried a boxed item, offering a reward of one hundred thousand rupees for authentic information on the chief’s story.

Around noon a message came from one Vamadevan Thirumeni of Olavaip Mana claiming that he had important material on the subject. He wanted someone senior to meet him immediately. We went across straightaway since Maya had heard of this eminent Kerala Brahmin family.
Thirumeni greeted us at the front steps of his huge tile-roofed building.

“Ravi Menon,” I introduced myself, “This is Maya Dathan.”

“Maya!” the old man said, studying her. “Short form for Unnimaya. Some Brahmin ladies have that name.”

“My grandmother was one,” my colleague said.

“Maya is from Thekkanatt Mana,” I explained the background.

Thirumeni gave my colleague an affectionate smile and stated, “Devadathan’s daughter.”

“Do you know my father?”

“By sight. Never met the great lawyer.”

The old man led us inside. As soon as we sat down he said, “I’m the custodian that the chief mentioned.”

It was as simple as that.

“How do I claim the reward?” Thirumeni asked without waiting for our response.

“There’s a committee,” I answered, “to make the final decision. We can pass on the details to the members.”

“Before that, tell me why anyone should part with a treasure for one hundred thousand rupees?”

“There could be,” Maya answered, “several reasons. Fear of possible consequences?”

“At the age of eighty-nine, what retribution should I be afraid of?”

“Okay. An obligation, perhaps?”

“Precisely,” Thirumeni said. “An undertaking given centuries ago. Generations went by waiting to fulfil that commitment. This had to come up at least now because time is running out. I have only three more months in this world.”

“Horoscope?” Maya asked.

“Yes. There could be problems after that.”


“For one, after my death this Mana will not be here for long.”

“Again, horoscope?” I asked rather cynically.

“Of course. Horoscopes of buildings, separate from that of people who live in them, can also be drawn up with great precision. It is all based on astronomy and mathematics.”

“Okay. What are the other possible complications?”

“The question, after me who? I have no legal heirs.”

“Well,” I said. “How do we proceed?”

“I can return the treasure only if the chief requests and I am certain about the authenticity.”

“But the man,” I said, “is mentally sick.”

“In these matters there could be a divine intervention.”

We were silent for a while. Then Maya said, “The chief has appealed through us.”

Thirumeni looked at Maya thoughtfully. Then he closed his eyes and remained so for a long time. “Yes, Maya,” he said finally, “the chief has asked through you. That is sufficient. But I have to be convinced that they are ready to receive the treasure.”

“How?” I asked.

“I will know when the sign comes.”

“What exactly,” Maya asked, “is this treasure?”

Centuries back, Thirumeni explained, the sea extended up to a sacred grove three kilometres west of the Mana. The shore was inhabited by a colony of fishermen. Suddenly, due to some geophysical occurrence the waters receded for miles and took away their means of livelihood. That forced the fisher folk to shift to the new barren coastline leaving behind the remains of their ancestors who were buried in the copse. They requested the Mana to take care of their forefathers till the new settlement was ready to receive them. The Mana was also entrusted with all their lands as compensation.

“Oral tradition?” I asked.

“It was,” Thirumeni replied. “But in 1789 the then boss of the Mana had it written down on palm leaf. The document is well preserved. Should be sufficient proof for your committee.”

“There could be legalities,” I said.

“I am an only child and a bachelor.”

“That should,” I agreed, “make it easier. How will you transfer the so called treasure?”

“It’ll be a fistful of earth from the woods sealed in a pot.”

“A symbolic act?”

“No. The spirits of those sleeping there would be drawn into the sand by thanthric power and locked.”

“Many would be disappointed,” I said, “when it is known what the treasure really is.”

“Understandable,” the old man agreed. “But if it were material wealth, fighting for share would begin immediately.”

“Would you,” Maya suddenly asked Thirumeni, “hand over the pot or deposit it somewhere?”

“Grove,” the old man answered. “That is it. There has to be a grove to bury it.”

“There is,” I said elatedly and quickly fished out a photograph of the beachside woods from my briefcase.

One look at it and Thirumeni’s face brightened. “It takes a very, very long time,” he said, “for a grove to mature. I hope that the pond beside it has sweet water.”

“It has,” I said.

“That settles it,” Thirumeni stated. “I’m about to discharge the great responsibility of this family, as written in my horoscope. But I need seven days for fasting and prayers.”

“Very well,” I said.

“The other side too may have traditional rituals to go through.”

“We’ll inform them.”

“My abstinence,” the old man stated, “starts tomorrow morning. The sea stain is only a sign. It will disappear soon.”

Before we left, Thirumeni handed over a sealed envelope saying, “Please open it when your committee takes a favourable decision. I hope there will not be any problems or delay about the reward.”

The first thing I said on the way back was, “Eighty-nine years old and the avarice hasn’t subsided.”

Maya’s response was, “The obvious needn’t always be true.”

We visited the chief before returning to the office. Fortunately his condition was normal. We told him and his wife confidentially that the custodian had been located and what the treasure was.

Tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks. “The spirits of our ancestors,” he said, “are more important to us than any amount of gold or gems.”

“They’ll come to you soon,” I said.

“So many arrangements,” the chief continued, “have to be made. Suppose my mind goes again? You know how my son is.”

“Everything will be fine,” Maya reassured him.

By the time we were back at the office the Editor had the management’s clearance to disburse the reward. They had also decided to bear the entire expense for the function.
Maya phoned Thirumeni and told him that we were opening the envelope. It contained two sheets. The first read, “The money is to be kept with the newspaper for: (1) meeting the expenses for transferring the treasure, (2) giving treatment to the chief, (3) paying the chief a reasonable monthly stipend till the fund runs out.” The second sheet gave details of the arrangements to be made.

The event was a memorable one that attracted a great deal of media attention. Two days prior to the transfer of the spirits, the sea stain had vanished. There were festivities, but immediately after the rituals were performed Thirumeni returned with Maya and me.

When we were about to leave after dropping him at the Mana the old man said, “I would be delighted to see you often. Come whenever you can and make an old man happy.”

It didn’t take long. Two weeks later we were back there in response to a call.

“The proposed super highway,” Thirumeni said as soon as we reached, “is to pass through the middle of this building.”

“No,” Maya’s reaction was sharp.

The plan to build an expressway from one end of Kerala State to the other with World Bank assistance had generated a great deal of protest but the government seemed firm on going ahead.

“The engineers,” Thirumeni continued, “showed me the alignment sketch yesterday. They said altering the route would escalate the cost considerably and displace many more people.”

“But this,” Maya’s tone was still edgy, “is part of our heritage, a place of history. We must fight the move.”

“The local people also say the same things. But we should not obstruct development.”

“The first time we came here,” I addressed the host, “you mentioned about the Mana’s horoscope. Is that why this is happening?”

“Nothing happens because of what some astrologer wrote. Horoscope is a statement of what is likely to take place on the basis of planetary positions. Of course, there are superior forces that can change the readings.”

“Then,” Maya’s response was immediate, “we shall create or invoke such force.”

I got the impression that she would want to rush back. But instead, she asked Thirumeni, “Can I see inside of the Mana?”

“Of course my girl,” the old man promptly agreed. “Call a servant from the kitchen to show you around.”

Maya proceeded with an easy assurance. For some time Thirumeni sat looking at the door through which she went. Then he turned to me and said, “It is amazing how human destinies get entangled sometimes. Now this girl is inside the empty building. It should have been full of people but for the treasure and the astrologers.”

“What’s the connection?” I asked, rather baffled.

Years ago, Thirumeni said, he was in love with the sister of his closest friend. They were working together in a progressive group dedicated to social welfare, and met often. Since the families belonged to the same community and were of equal status there were no apparent impediments to their marriage. But at the last minute, the girl’s family astrologer brought up an argument that even though Thirumeni’s horoscope showed a possible life span of eighty-nine years, the core was that it depended on him discharging a family obligation, soon after which he would die. There was no indication when that call to duty would come. The bride could become a widow any time. The girl’s family backed out. Within days she was quietly married to a rich and powerful elderly widower who was known to be keen on the alliance.

“We did consider eloping,” Thirumeni said, “But there was this treasure and my inherited obligation. I had to remain here.”

“Was the astrologer,” I asked, “influenced?”

“That was one of the rumours those days.”

“What were the others?”

Thirumani didn’t answer, but continued a few moments later, “I don’t know how the horoscopes of that couple were matched. A month after the wedding the husband was totally paralysed.”

“Fate,” he added and lay back on the easy chair. “She was so beautiful,” he whispered and closed his eyes. He opened them only after Maya returned.

“I’m all the more determined,” Maya said. “We have to save the Mana. It would be criminal to demolish it.”

Thirumeni nodded.

“The lamp,” my colleague went on, “the servant said it’s called ‘Perpetual Lamp’, is beautiful.”

“Its flame,” Thirumeni mentioned, “is believed to be burning uninterrupted for five centuries and more.”

“Amazing,” I commented.

Maya’s story on the Mana was a masterpiece. The headline ran ‘Disputed Super Highway Project – BLOW OUT THE PERPETUAL LAMP?’ When I congratulated her she said, “There’s something I want you to clear,” and handed over Thirumeni’s obituary ready for press. I looked at her questioningly.

“His Karma,” she said, “is over. The end is near according to what he said.”

The write-up contained several details that I was not aware of. Thirumeni was a multifaceted personality. Maya said she obtained some of the information from an old lady who had come with her grandmother as bride’s maid and stayed on. She knew of almost all the old Kerala Brahmin families. Maya had also contacted some of the community organisations, referred to old publications, and talked to elders.

“We must,” I said, “visit Thirumeni soon and get an auspicious date marked for our wedding.”

Surprisingly, Maya did not respond. I felt uneasy about her silence, but decided not to pursue the matter at that moment.

Our next trip to the Mana was for the funeral, which was attended by many people from all walks of life. A group under the leadership of the chief’s son who looked well groomed represented ‘The Beach’. His father couldn’t come because of physical ailment. He said that before leaving, they planned to visit the grove where their ancestors had rested for centuries. Maya deputed one of our people to cover that gesture.

Suddenly we saw Maya’s father. He was about to leave when we caught up with him.

“I’m rushing to the airport,” Mr. Devadathan said. “Have an appearance before the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

“You knew Thirumeni?” Maya asked.

The lawyer nodded. “Great man,” he said and added while getting into his Mercedes, “He was very fond of you.”

Maya seemed to be thoughtful and waved feebly as the car moved forward.

Life was routine till an NRI businessman from Hong Kong called on us a week later. He congratulated Maya on her article about the Mana.

“Within couple of days after seeing it on the Internet,” he said, “I flew down and bought the Mana.”

Maya and I looked at each other.

“Thirumeni,” the visitor continued, “wanted it kept secret till his death.”

After a pause the man went on, “I’m having the building shifted stone by stone next to the grove. Experts are working out the details. The highway may or may not come but we can’t risk our heritage landmarks being lost.”

I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the stranger but it was Maya who expressed the feeling. “That’s very noble of you,” she told him.

“I don’t know what to do with the building after transplanting it. May be a research centre. There are so many ancient records there. And antiques. Your suggestions are welcome.”

Thank God it’s not another tourism project, I said to myself.

“Part of the purchase consideration,” the visitor explained, “is to be distributed among the staff and a couple of Brahmin social and charitable organisations. The balance is to be held in trust for the benefit of the fisher folk. Thirumeni wanted the two of you and Mr. Devadathan, the lawyer, to be the trustees. You’ll be receiving the documentation soon.”

“Mr. Devadathan is Maya’s father,” I said.

“Really?” the NRI asked. “A perfect gentleman. I engaged him for this transaction and introduced him to Thirumeni. We stayed there for three days.”

“You mean,” Maya asked, “my father stayed at the Mana?”

“Yes. Thirumeni and he got on famously – chess, classical music, and discussions on the epics! Even shared the same room.”
Maya shook her head gently.

“Well, coming back to business,” our visitor continued, “there is the matter of the Perpetual Lamp. I was very keen on buying it, but Thirumeni said it was for you, Maya. Let me know where you want it delivered.”

Maya nodded silently.

“Thirumeni also mentioned,” the visitor added, “about your marriage. He has entrusted with me a wedding gift for you. Do inform me the date.”

After the visitor left, Maya was unusually quiet and I couldn’t fathom the expression on her face.

“I would also like to know the date,” I said.

“After the customary mourning period,” she whispered.

“What do you mean?”

Maya turned to me slowly. “He was,” she said trying hard to be calm, “my paternal grandfather. I could feel a bond right from the beginning. But grandma’s old maid told me too late.”

My God, I said silently.

“The sea stain,” Maya continued with a quivering voice, “brought us together briefly and gave me a few moments to treasure.”

Suddenly she put her face on my shoulder and broke down.


P.S. After three of my knowledgeable friends including a published author rated the story high, I entered it in a short story competition. It was thrown out in the first round. I suppose that too many facts in fiction make the fiction lack credibility!
Critique would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Memories: Soochi Varkey Chettan to Ravi - the Tailors of Olavipe.

Among the gifts that I received for my last birthday was a nice Nike yellow T-shirt. Recently when I wore it with a pair of khaki pants my mind went back about sixty-five years, to a boy going on eight. I could see myself again wearing a smaller version of the T-shirt tucked into brand new khaki short-pants. A bamboo stick was my sword and I was fighting the army of arrowroot plants that cropped up at random in Olavipe.

The attire was a dream one for me. During holidays at Peruvanthanam (near Peermade) I used to watch with admiration Kunjappu Achan (Chacko A. Kallivayalil), Ammachi’s second brother, leaving for the family estates clad in white shirt, khaki pants, khaki stockings, brown shoes and a pith hat. Now I was dressed almost akin to him and felt proud about it.

The memory of that event made prompted me to write this piece. Soochi (needle) Varkey (Malayalam version of George) Chettan (a respectful salutation to elders) was probably the first tailor of Olavipe. He was my grandfather’s contemporary. I remember him vaguely - shaven head, wearing a dhoti (no shirt), a thorth (thin local towel) on his shoulder, and a scapular around the neck. It was said that he always carried needle and thread and thimble in the fold of his sarong at the waist.

I wonder what he used to stitch. His generation didn’t wear shirts. Even my grandfather didn’t. At Olavaip, trousers were seen only when an occasional sahib called on grandfather. Appan’s clothes, at least when he went to St. Albert’s School and Maharaja’s College at Cochin, were made by Newfield of Broadway, By Appointment Cutters and Tailors to His Highness The Maharaja of Cochin.

Varkey Chettan's son, Kochu, followed the same profession, but was called ‘thayyalkaran’ (tailor). For some reason, Kochu shifted to Thycattussarry. Kochu’s son John was my classmate. He obtained a white-collar job. One of John’s sons was ordained a priest.

Currently there are several tailors in Olavipe. But the family’s tailor now is Ravi, late cook Govindan’s son. He is intelligent and grasps instructions quickly, has a sense of fashion, and excellent in stitching from patterns. I don’t think anybody calls him ‘tailor’. Quite rightly too, because he is a jack of all trades. He is the only man in Olavipe, as far as I have seen, who walks fast and purposefully. Amazing, considering the fact that twenty years or so back the doctors had pronounced him a terminal cancer patient!

But the man who made the short pants that I wore sixty-five years back was Ponnakkeri Pappu. He was the family tailor for decades. Later on he started a textile shop at Poochakkal and did well for himself.

Pappu’s smile was like a splash of sunshine. It seemed to say, ‘I’m happy to see you, to be with you, to listen to what you say’. It was something that came from the heart. Whenever I think of him the smile is what I remember most.

Once as I was walking home after Sunday mass Pappu happened to be walking beside me. When we reached the gate I asked him to come in. He was served breakfast and I sat with him. It was, I’m sure, the first time that he had a meal sitting at the formal dining table of the house. He was obviously touched by it. While taking leave after the meal he tried to smile, but tears were rolling down his cheeks.

That was the last I saw him. He died a few months later.

Memories: Shoeless on suburban train.

I don’t remember where I came across the following stanza or who the poet is:
“I had the blues
Because I had no shoes
Until upon the street
I saw a man who had no feet.”
But what I am writing about now is not in this context.

Bombay, 1957-58. I was undergoing management training. As far as I know, there was no MBA courses those days. My programme was to work with different companies for fixed periods, moving from department to department. Mr. PR Hariharan, the well-known Chartered Accountant, was coordinating it. He was my guru.

I was staying at Buckley Court on Woodhouse Road. A good friend from Bangalore (where I did college), Jacob Matthan (Sushil) was living in his father’s flat in Meher Mansion facing Cooperage – about two hundred meters away. But we never used to meet during that time. Once or twice I did come across two college friends, Atul Shenoy and Fazal Hathiari. Unfortunately I lost touch with Fazal but was happily able to re-establish contact recently with Atul in Canada by email. Incidentally, Sushil who now lives in Oulu, Finland, is the inspiration behind me starting my blog.
Initially, my training was at Mr. Hariharan’s office in the Stock Exchange building on Dalal Street. Work began at 11 A.M. That suited me because, like W. Sommerset Maugham, two things I hate are going to bed, and getting out of it in the morning. (It is actually a Parayil family trait.) The bad part was that often we had to stay on till late at night.

After a few months my training was shifted to Automobile Products of India, Bhandup. They used to manufacture scooters. I bought a first class season ticket and would board the train at Victoria Terminus (now Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus) with a copy of the Times of India. The compartment was usually empty because the morning rush was towards the city and I was going the other way. I would take off my shoes, put my feet on the opposite seat, and read the paper till the train stopped at my destination.

After a few days of this routine, I found my shoes were missing when I reached Bhandup. Apparently, someone had stolen them. I caught the next train back to VT and on alighting, shuffled towards the exit. I was highly embarrassed thinking that every one of the thousands on the platform was looking at my feet and wondering about the fellow travelling in his socks. Actually none of them was likely to have even noticed.

From then on I was very careful and used to check for my shoes at every stop between VT and Bhandup. But the alertness waned as time passed and sure enough, I lost a second pair.

Then onwards I threw my civic sense out of the window and started placing my legs on the opposing seat, shoes and all.


Also see:
Travel: A round trip by train

The front veranda, Thekkanattu Parayil.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Alligator Tails/Tales/Tiles.

The tiles on the front veranda of Thekkanattu Parayil (picture on left), are vitrified, which means that the design runs right through the thickness of the flooring. Even with wear, the pattern will remain the same.

While the tiles were being laid, the then Palace Doctor at Trivandrum, who was a friend of grandfather (PM Avira Tharakan), visited Thekkanatt. He was fascinated with the tiles and wanted to procure some for a room in the house that he was building. They were not available in the market. Graciously, grandfather sent him some from the stock meant for Thekkanatt. This resulted in a shortage. That is why there are no tiles towards the southern end of the front inner corridor.

How grandfather got the tiles in the first place is interesting. Those days the waters in and around Olavipe were infested with alligators. There were big saltwater crocodiles and smaller muggers. Even now we can see on our lands solidified droppings of these reptiles, which are descendants of dinosaurs.

Sahibs from Cochin used to come down in big rowboats to hunt the creatures. I am told that, apart from the sport and the value of crocodile skin, the tails of the beasts with its stored up fat was a delicacy. The white men of course took no permission from the landowners. Grandfather didn’t like people, sahibs or otherwise, trespassing on his properties. Discreet warnings were given a couple of times, but the hunters paid no heed.

The next time a batch came for the shoot and was out on the embankments of the paddy fields looking for crocodiles, their boat and crew were taken away under grandfather’s orders. The hunters had no transport to get back to Cochin. Finally, they went to Thekkanatt.

What awaited them was a fabulous dinner with the choicest of wines and liquor. The house that was full of invaluable antiques and curios, and grandfather’s collection of guns impressed them.

At that time the construction of the front hall had started. It was added on after the main building was completed. The reason for this was that the house appeared too tall. The lean to was decided upon to tone down the front elevation.

The sahibs went back to Cochin after what certainly would have been an enjoyable evening with the famous Parayil hospitality. Couple of months later they sent a consignment of tiles for the front veranda as a gift.

Taliat Ammai (the elder among Appan’s two sisters) told me this story. But I heard later, though not directly, that Narayana Kaimal who had joined our service during grandfather’s time and was our chief manager for several decades, thought that the tiles were bought from P. Orr & Sons, Madras (now Chennai).

Well, alligator connection or not, the century-old tiles look beautiful!

Fiction (Flash): The Wait.

I’m sure that I fell in love with her only after my death.

As the end was nearing I was afraid – the dread of the unknown. She was also in the room along with a few others, standing apart in a corner. Her eyes, which often met mine, gave a silent assurance that she would be there to see me off to the place I was going. That helped.

She was crying quietly as I left.

There was no wall, no door, and no veil to go through. I was in one world and a moment later in another. It was a surprise that I could still see humans and kept watching what was happening on earth. She was at the funeral as well, dignified, even beautiful, but I knew that her inside was lacerated. I wanted to reach out and sooth her.

Was it then that I fell in love?

We had been schoolmates in our small town. Later I became a travel journalist and a globetrotter. She stayed back, became a teacher, and went through a marriage that ended in divorce within two years. We met occasionally on my rare visits home. That was always enjoyable.

What struck me about my new home was the emptiness that stretched out to infinity. I was alone. From time to time translucent images moved in the distance, some in a hurry, others slowly – spirits like me. But we had no communication between us.

Sometimes I wondered how she would like my present abode that would be hers too some day. I watched her on earth regularly. She looked different – sadder, older, so lonely.

I had no physical wants. Days and nights did not exist where I was. All that could be seen was the woolly nothingness. But time was aplenty. Not in units. Interminable.

My entire earthly life was on show frequently. At each viewing new revelations emerged – the wrongs and rights I did, matters that I could have handled better, my failures, weaknesses, and so on. I was capable of much more good. And questions came up. Why did I hurt people? Why didn’t I help others as much as I could have? Why did I carry grudges?

There was no feeling of guilt but only realisation, disappointment that I had not performed as well as I could have, and a sense of sadness. The greatest regret was that I failed to recognise her love for me. We could have been married happily, had a home, children.

Then I started visiting her at night. I would sit silently on her bed watching the woman I loved. Some times I communicated without words. I knew she understood because of changes in her expression and the rare smiles. In the morning she perhaps forgot what had happened in her sleep or dismissed it as a pleasant dream.

During one of my nocturnal visits she fell sick, suddenly going into a fit of coughing. She was perspiring profusely and clutched her chest, gasping. My inability to help was frustrating. I returned, praying that her death would be painless, and waited.

I was unaware how long it took, but finally she died.

Shortly, an image flashed past me. Was it her, looking for me? She didn’t know where I was in that vastness of space. Then it sank in – a soul had no visual identity without physique.

What next? Rebirth? Resurrection of the body?

The wait for my beloved continues.

Three predictions.

It was about 10 in the morning of October 31, 1984. A close friend of mine, TM Thomas Thekkekara, who stayed close by to my house in Panampally Nagar, Cochin, phoned to say that Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was assassinated by one of her guards. Within minutes he was at my place and we went over to the Lotus Club.

The Western Court of the club was full of people when we reached. On seeing me, a member named Krishnan shouted out, “Tharakan, all of us were waiting for you.”

“Krishnan tells us,” another member said, “that last year you predicted Indira Gandhi’s assassination.”

That of course was not correct. But I recalled meeting the famous astrologer, Mitran Nampoothiri at the Poonjar Palace, Kerala, a year earlier. I had gone there with a friend, KV. Thomas Kochukudy. As we were sitting on the palace grounds in the evening and chatting, Mitran Thirumeni had said, “Indira Gandhi would be finished on October 31st next year.“

“You mean,” I asked, “that she will loose an election?”

“No, she will be murdered.”

Thirumeni went on to make two more predictions. Perhaps noticing the skepticism on my face, he added, “Tharakan, note down in your diary that Mitran said these.”

I did ask him how he could make such forecasts. He explained that it came from a combination of prayers, concentration and precise calculations based on planetary positions.

I didn’t take him seriously. I had no faith in astrology or fortune telling. But the next day there was some discussion about astrology at the club. Rather irreverently I mentioned about Mitran’s predictions and promptly forgot about them. Some people, however, had remembered at least the Indira Gandhi part.

“Mitran Nampoothiri,” I answered the member’s question, “predicted that last year. He had made two more prophecies as well.”

Now the people were astounded. They wanted to know about the other two predictions. I couldn’t remember them.

But I did recall one of them several years later. I was at Chennai, en route to Delhi. The date was September 11, 2001. As the news about the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York poured over the TV, Mitran’s second prediction suddenly came to my mind. He had said that there would be a major explosion in New York with far reaching consequences. I was not sure whether he had mentioned any date.

What about the next forecast? May be I’ll recall Thirumeni’s third prediction if and when that event happens!


Also see:

The story of a story.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Komana Kadu.

Komana Kadu by our western lakeshore at Olavipe is one of the thousands of groves found all over India. Such emerald beauties are veritable treasure troves sustaining amazing bio-diversity and functional eco-systems, and provide homes to several species of trees, plants, animals and birds. They are considered hallowed because of the belief that certain deities or spirits dwell in them.

This veneration safeguarded the woods from exploitation by man. Sacred groves, in which all forms of life are protected, existed even during Vedic times. Later, Emperor Ashoka's Fifth Pillar Edict (252 B.C.) decreed that forests were to be preserved. The sanctity of these woods became ingrained in the minds of the people.

The origin of sacred groves is still unclear. One theory is that these small patches escaped intense climatic changes ensuring survival of plants and animals. Another is that parts of forests were left undisturbed while clearing land for agriculture. A third possibility is that they were carefully selected, protected and conserved for the benefit of communities living around them.

In my memory, there was only one family living in the area around Komana Kadu – that of Valan (a fishermen caste) Shankaran. It is said that members of this community manned the boat/s that brought the Parayil Family centuries back from some location near Cragannore to Thycattussarry of which, Olavipe is a part. They had a special relationship with the Family through the generations. Shankaran who was also called Shankari, was our favourite boatman.

Today, no one stays at Komana and no lamp is lit at sunset for the serpent gods and spirits of the Kadu. But once, in another era, there was a community inhabiting the place. It is not known why those people migrated from the locality, but once their descendants came back to pay respects to the spirits of Komana Kadu.

That was, I think, in the early 1970s. Ammachi was alone in the house when a large group of people arrived by a country craft at our western landing and came straight to the house. They said that their ancestors used to live in Komana and that they wanted to conduct a pooja at the grove where their forefathers were buried. According to them, it was to be a onetime function.

Ammachi was naturally apprehensive. It was difficult to say no to the visitors. But at the same time there was the risk of the pooja, if permitted, becoming a regular feature. She asked the people who came to sit on the western courtyard and ordered that all of them be served tender coconut water. After consulting the ‘karyasthans’, permission was given to the visitors to perform their rituals.

The function took couple of hours. When it was over, the leaders of the group returned to the house to thank Ammachi. They told her that their obligation to the departed souls had been discharged and that they would not come back.

They never returned.


Also see: Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Oru Desathinte Amma.

Mrs. Rosakutty Kochupappu Tharakan.
Thekkanattu Parayil.

Ammachi was born into a prominent old family near Palai, in the foothills of the Western Ghats of Kerala. Her father, late Mr. KC Abraham (Kallivayalil-Konduparambil) was perhaps the largest landowner in that area He was one of the first Indians to venture into organized plantations.

Ammachi was married at the age of fifteen. And from the mountainside she came to Olavipe, into the lap of the waves. She lived at Thekkanattu Parayil, the house that her father-in-law (who had died before her wedding) had built, for 71 long years. She gave birth to fifteen children. Three died young. She brought up the remaining eight sons and four daughters and lived on to see all of them well settled in life.

Of the many things that I remember of Ammachi, one stands out. When Appan died I had to temporarily break my career and attend to urgent matters at home. There were Income Tax arrears, Estate Duty, and Gift Tax (Appan and Ammachi had gifted some of their properties to the children to meet education expenses) to be paid. And we were facing a cash crunch.

One morning Ammachi asked me for Rs.500. She said that the marriage of a Brahmin girl in Olavipe was fixed but her family was short of Rs.500 to pay the dowry. That was not a small amount in 1959. I explained about our financial difficulties but Ammachi insisted, and the wedding took place as scheduled. That was the kind of compassion she had. The tax problems were sorted out in due course.

Sunday Herald (Sunday edition of Deccan Herald, Bangalore) dated September 18, 2005 carried an article about Ammachi by Shiela Kumar titled ‘Beneath the wings of a ministering angel’. It focused mainly the exemplary way in which she had brought up her children. The following quote from the article is revealing: “Of course, differences tended to crop up [within the family] from time to time. This was a family of humans after all, not potential saints. However, at times such as these, her clear-cut rules held strong. She had instilled it into her family that they were all part of one entity and how, for that entity to function well, it was essential for all to pull together, harmoniously. Love conquers all, she repeated over and over again and soon, the clan had absorbed that dictum. Soon, they also found love did conquer all differences or at least, made it fade away into insignificance.” Even today, when Ammachi’s great-great grandchildren are growing up, the family bonds are strong and active.

Ammachi’s domain extended far beyond her immediate family. Many relatives, institutions, and common people benefited from her counsel, compassion and generosity. She was, in fact, ‘Oru Desathinte Amma’ (mother to a land). The thousands who attended her funeral demonstrated the respect, love and affection people had for her.


Also see:

The House That Grandfather Built.

Ammachi's Health Recipe - may lower cholesterol, blood sugar.

Saturday, January 6, 2007


PA Kochupappu Tharakan.
Thekkanattu Parayil.

Appan was studying for the intermediate at The Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam (Cochin), and being groomed to write the Indian Civil Service examination in London, when his father, PM Avira Tharakan died. He was an only son and had to takeover the family responsibilities. We were landed gentry owning large areas of coconut plantations and paddy fields. He was also involved in business activities and along with my maternal uncle Jose A. Kallivayalil, was director of several companies.

Among the public Appan was known as ‘Gentleman’ Parayil (not that the other Parayils were un-gentlemanly). He was a voracious reader. He had fifteen children – eleven sons and four daughters. The first three, all boys, died early. I am the eldest surviving son.

Appan used to discuss with us many subjects including world affairs. It was from him that I first learned the concept of Provident Fund. While I was in high school, our workers were being paid 14 ‘chakrams’ per day while the outside rate was 15. (28 chakrams made 1 Travancore rupee; British rupee exchange was 28.5 chakrams.) I felt that we were being unfair to our workers and took up the matter with Appan.

He explained to me that when we held back one chakram of the worker, we were undertaking a great obligation. Whenever the man had a genuine need, like food, medical treatment, marriage of children etc. we were obligated to take care of it irrespective of whether his money held back by us would cover the expenses; there were no limits.

A couple of days before Appan died, we were discussing about progress. Great changes were taking place. A Communist government had been voted into power in the State. The land limitation programme that was being pushed by the leftists was sure to result in families like ours losing large areas.

Appan gave me a near perfect statement on progress: ‘Progress means a series of changes and adjustments.’ He had constantly imbibed into us the need to study well and obtain jobs. If he had gone through with the pursuit of ICS, he would have been the first in the Parayil Family to break away from the land bound tradition. As it happened, that honour came to me.

Appan lies buried in the family crypt in the cemetery chapel of St. Anthony’s Church, Thycattussarry, which was built by the Parayil Tharakans in 1791.


Also see:

Oru Desathinte Amma.

The House That Grandfather Built.


My name is Abraham Tharakan, and family name Thekkanattu Parayil (Kerala). I am a retired company executive and consultant, past 73, currently staying at Chennai.

I love reading, mostly fiction. And writing. Writing means sitting in front of the computer and struggling with the writers block. Nevertheless, a published writer. I wrote an article on the education policy of the first Communist government in Kerala, in 1958. It was published by a major U.S. magazine. Forget the name. US Educator or Catholic Educator or something like that. I was paid USD 25 for it. Published a few articles in India after that.

Then I turned to writing short fiction. Two of my stories and a poem have won prizes in competitions.

The purpose of this blog is to record my memories, thoughts and ideas.