Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian cuisine: Col. Skinner, Maj. Grey, Chutneys and Southern Railway Lamb Curry

While browsing through the menu to order lunch yesterday (Sunday, 29th) at a reputed Chennai hotel, I came across the listing ‘Southern Railway Lamb Curry’. It was claimed to be a repast from the Raj days.

What struck me immediately was that during the British rule we didn’t have a Southern Railway. It used to be South Indian Railway. Regardless, I studied the description thinking that it could be one of the famous Anglo-Indian recipes. But somehow it didn’t appeal to me and I opted for the old fashioned fish and chips with tartar sauce and Colonel Skinner’s Chutney.

No comment on the food except that I felt the mango chutney was not Col. Skinner’s but more likely, Maj. Grey’s. I believe this brand, which is milder than Skinners, is better known in the United States than in India. Col. Skinner outranks Maj. Grey.

Col. James Skinner was one of the most famous Anglo-Indians. Born to a Scot father and Rajput mother in 1778, he was affectionately known to his soldiers as ‘Sikandar Sahib’. He raised the legendary army unit, Skinner’ Horse. The St. James Church at Kashmere Gate at Delhi was built by him. In the culinary world his name is perpetuated by the famed pickle.

Major Grey was a Brit who soldiered in India. He is best remembered for his chutney. I have not been able to ascertain whether this Major Grey was related to Earl of Grey who was Prime Mister of England (1830-34) and a connoisseur of tea. Earl Grey brand tea bags are available in the market.

Interestingly, a Gray (note the difference in spelling) commanded Skinner’s Horse from 1935 to 1947. That was Col. Douglas Gray. He came down from England to attend the bicentenary celebrations of the Regiment in 2003. He was 90 then. Whether he relished Skinner’s Chutney is not known.

With due apologies to Col. Skinner and Maj. Grey – the chutneys named after them were probably the creations of their cooks. In my opinion, neither of these famous preparations can match the uppumanga (salt mango) chutney served in some Kerala homes. The mango pickled in brine is mashed or lightly ground with red chilies and certain other ingredients. That is delicious.

How many chefs know about it?


Also see:

Kerala food: Peechappam, a forgotten item?

Britain strikes back at the Empire

Mango Memories

Sunday, June 29, 2008

An uncommon flower arrangement

The arrangement above is done with flowers of areca (betel nut) palm. The photo on the left is of a bunch of tender flowers. They get greener as they mature. Most of the florets fall off in the process but the remaining ones turn into fruits.

Photos from Olavipe by me. Copyright reserved.
Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see:

Photos: Flowers from Switzerland

Kerala Flowers?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Great soldiers never die…

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (1914-2008)

speaking to a jawan during the 1971 Indo-Pak War.

Never met him, never spoke to him, never seen him.

Still he is a hero.

Do Not Stand by My Grave and Weep

- Unknown

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow;

I am the sunlight on ripened grain;

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.

But we shall not see you again, Sam Bahadur.

Therefore, Goodbye.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Health food: Pumpkin

The humble pumpkin is what the doctor ordered. It is a cheap, simple to cook and tasty health food. And, all parts of pumpkin except the root are edible and have excellent nutritional value.

During my childhood I have heard it said in my village that smokers should eat a lot of pumpkin. They had a point all right. Pumpkin contains a good dose of beta-carotene. Modern research confirms that beta-carotene could reduce the risk of some types of cancer and is a prophylactic against heart disease. Carotenoids give pumpkins the orange color.

There is more. The anti-oxidants lutein and zeaxanthin contained in pumpkins may offer protections against cataracts and macular degeneration and therefore, are good for the eyes. Also contained in this nature’s package are nutrients like iron, zinc and fiber.

There are so many easy ways to make attractive looking and delicious pumpkin (by itself or in combination with other food) preparations for the table. Boiled and mashed pumpkin flesh is said to be a good baby food. Ammachi (see Oru Desathinte Amma.) used to make a sweet munch – diced pumpkin pieces coated with sugar. That was great.

How many people include pumpkin leaves and flowers in their home menu? They involve very little preparation time, cooking is easy and the flavor good. Use them in salads or soups. The leaves can also be stir fried, boiled, roasted, steamed or stewed. Many recipes are available on the Internet. Or develop your own. Add spices, masala if you want the Indian taste

The flowers are excellent as well. They can be added to salads and curries. Or make fritters with them. At my home, some dishes are served hot garnished with whole pumpkin flowers. They look lovely and blend well with the food.

Do not throw away the pumpkin seeds (pepitas). They have high nutritional value and are considered helpful in avoiding prostrate problems, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The pumpkin seeds may also reduce cholesterol levels.

Eat pumpkins regularly. They are good for you.


(Photos by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Click on them for enlarged view.)

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

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nuclear Deal: The Left, and the right

Last week India witnessed two ominous events. The first was yet another incursion into Indian territory by the Chinese. The other was the Left parties carrying the brinkmanship on India’s talks with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) almost to a point of no return.

What is the problem with IAEA negotiations? Accord with IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a prerequisite for concluding India’s 123 Nuclear Agreement with the USA. The IAEA, which was originally formed as ‘Atoms for Peace’ under the UN umbrella, is the premier agency for promoting safe, secure and peaceful use of atomic energy. Without their approval, India may not be able to procure uranium, the critical material, even for the existing facilities.

China has been a member of IAEA from 1984. The statement made by China at the IAEA General Conference in 1997 says, "China always supports the safeguards activities of the Agency. China signed the voluntary-offer safeguards agreement with the Agency soon after joining it, and subsequently acceded to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the NPT, displaying China's consistent sincere wish for the maintenance of world peace and stability…” The full text can be read at [Accessed on 21/6/08]

Why do the Communists oppose India’s discussions with the IAEA? Their view seems to be that India should limit its atomic cooperation to Russia. But Russia has made it clear that India has to obtain clearance from the IAEA and the NSG before future collaboration in the nuclear field can be effective. Russia is reportedly supporting Indo-US Nuclear Pact.

It is generally considered that India’s nuclear technology is more advanced than China’s. Both countries accept the reality that atomic plants are essential to meet their energy needs. Ground realities do not sustain the Indian Communist’s claim that alternate sources like coal can provide the country’s power requirements. Therefore, it is not surprising that the major parties in the country do not oppose the idea of an Indo-US Nuclear Deal.

Is the Left unaware that China would be the gainer if India’s nuclear energy program is thwarted? China is rapidly expanding their atomic power capability with mostly Western technology. Even Westinghouse of USA had helped them build a facility. According to reports China’s plan is to expand their nuclear energy capacity six-fold by 2020.

If the Indo-US Nuclear Pact becomes a reality and India enters the world market, there would be escalation of the demand for and prices of uranium. Neither India nor China is self-sufficient in this metal. If India is out, China can procure uranium at low prices and outpace India’s development. By the time India stabilizes its thorium (indigenously available and cheaper) based technology in the next few decades, China would be too far ahead.

If the UPA, more specifically the Congress, genuinely believes that the Deal is good for the country, they should go ahead and conclude the talks with the IAEA and sign the 123 Agreement. That may lead to premature election and possible loss of power. The Left parties, in turn, would have the chance to face the people and vindicate their stand.

It would be a historic day for India if those in power decide to put the country before the self interest of hanging on to their seats.


Also see:

Indo-US nuclear agreement

123 Go - BY THE BOOK

[Cross posted to Articles By Abraham Tharakan]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Photos: Kerala fruits

Sapota (Chikku)







Photos by me from Olavipe. (Copyright reserved)
Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see:

Kerala photos: Village paths

Kerala Flowers?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Giant fruits from small tree

This small tree is already yielding well.

A jackfruit

Cut piece.

Photo credits:
Top two are from Olavipe taken by me. Copyright reserved.
Cut piece is Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons.

Also see:

Jackfruit, the jumbo

Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Hat rack from a dry branch

Pots in the library.

Photos by me from Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe.
Copyright reserved.
Click on images for enlarged view.

Also see: Kerala Architecture: Interiors

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Forbidden fruit

“Don’t eat that fruit,” was the warning. Now, this has nothing to do with the Garden of Eden or Adam and Eve or apple. It was a caution to me and my siblings when we were children. We in turn say the same to our children and grand children.

(Size comparison with a lime.)

The reason for the warning? “It will make your intestines stick together,” the elders would say. And the reason for that? The tiny fruit contains glue inside. Remove the stalk and squeeze gently, and presto, the sticky liquid flows out evenly.

One could call the fruit a glue capsule that grows on a tree. Before the days of roll on or brush on gum, this was used to stick envelopes. The thorns on the tree can effectively pin papers together. Therefore the plant could be called ‘two-in-one’ office equipment.

The one we have at Olavipe is a hardy shrub about 10-12 feet high. It looks the same today as it did in my childhood. Almost certainly it was planted by my grandfather. That would make the tree about 100 years old. And it still bears fruits as you can see from the photographs.

What is the name of this tree which I have not seen anywhere else? I spent a great deal of time on the Internet to identify the plant but no success. Locally it is called pasa (glue) narakam (citrus tree). The leaves look like that of citrus, but do not have the same smell.

Normally as a tree grows older, its seeds scatter far and wide. But this is the only plant of its type in our area. Probably the reason is that the birds dislike the glue taste and do not carry them away. Some of the fruits that fall to the ground do germinate but cannot survive in the heavy shade. Now our chief gardener Bhaskaran has saved three saplings which he has planted at different locations.

If you have any information on this tree will you kindly share it with us by way of a comment. Or you can email me at

No paradise would be lost if one eats the fruit. I have, like other children, tasted it. Yucky! (Learned that expression from my little granddaughter – first time I got a chance to use it.)


Photos by me. Copyright reserved. Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see: Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) - flowers that gods and men love

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Remembering grandfather

A man who would not shake even if the earth trembles – that was my maternal grandfather KC Abraham (Kallivayalil-Konduparambil). People respectfully called him ‘Pappan Chettan’. To us, he was ‘Ichachan’.

He was an uncrowned king. But then, there was the turban. The public believed that the Travancore Maharaja had granted him the privilege to wear it. That is not confirmed. He would remove the headgear only before peers and while praying or eating. A whispered joke was that he even slept with the turban on.

Ichachan’s dress code was unusual too. At a time when Kerala men usually did not use an upper garment, he wore white juba (kurta) and dhoti. In his book Pala – Ente Gramam, KC Thomas Kuttiyani says that Ichachan was perhaps the first in Kerala to use juba.

The man loved children but rarely expressed it. One exception was his first grandchild, my elder sister Mariamma. But when it came to manly matters, ‘men’ were preferred. I was the only one he took along to see a tiger which had fallen into an elephant pit in the forests a few miles from the house near Palai. Eight years old then, I was so excited and proud.

Among grandfather’s many achievements, the greatest was providing land to small farmers. With the expansion of organized plantations, land for cultivation became scarce. Ichachan acquired 7000 (one version says 5000) acres in Peruvanthanam (between Mundakayam and Peermade) and distributed it among the landless on sharecropping basis. It was a historic event.

The small army of beneficiaries rallied behind Ichachan when the Travancore Government wanted his help twice. One was when Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India (1926-1935), decided suddenly to go on a shikar to what is now Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Government machinery could not organize the safari which also involved construction of accommodation for the Viceroy and entourage in the dense forest. Ichachan who was a good hunter too, stepped in with his men and made the arrangements. The excellent facilities at Edapalayam in the Periyar Lake were originally built by him for the distinguished guest. The Viceroy honored him with a commendation.

The other instance was when the famous historian Fr. Henry Heras SJ wanted to explore Nilakkal (Chayal) deep in the forests. It used to be an important station on the ancient trade route between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Ichachan organized the expedition.

Once I accompanied him to the Trivandrum zoo. We reached in time to see the lions being fed. Ichachan asked the keeper how much food was given to the animals. ‘Two kilograms,’ the man replied. With a sad smile Ichachan responded, ‘No wonder they look starved.’

Larger than life, Ichachan was! He died on February 8, 1972 at the age of eighty-one. KERALA CHRISTIANS – Their Contribution to India* says of him ‘He was known for his bravery and courage, a man with an enquiring mind, and a great capacity for action. Though stern in demeanour, he had tremendous compassion and a fine sense of humour.’


*Edited by Francis Mathew Alapatt and Bernadine Joseph.

Also see:
Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kerala kitchen – some implements of the past

Recently, I came across some quaint old kitchen implements in the Archives at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe. Assuming that you too might find them interesting, I am presenting a few photographs below:

This is an old noodles maker which was used for idiyappam (string hoppers). The handle on top is pressed and turned to make the dough into strings.

This too is an idiyappam press, made of wood. Now metal presses and screw extruders are used mostly.

Grated coconut is an essential ingredient in many Kerala recipes. This beautifully carved grater is, I think, made from a single block of wood. Notice how nicely the collection bowl is shaped.

Curry salt used to be kept in the kitchen in wooden boats like this.

This type of curd churner may be still in use in some old houses.

(Photos by me. Copyright reserved. Click on them for enlarged view.)


Also see:

Kerala Food: Breakfast range

Kerala Cuisine: Manga thera (mango mat) recipe

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Princess leaves her land

Her Highness Karthika Thrirunal Lakshmi Bhai, sister of Sri Chithira Thirunal, the former Maharaja of Travancore passed away at Trivandrum yesterday. (‘Karthika Thirunal’ indicates the star under which she was born, a customary usage.) She was 92. In an era where royals are ordinary citizens, her last rites were conducted with State honors.

What was special about Karthika Thirunal? She was a blend of tradition and modernity, sports and music, sternness and compassion. The horse riding, racquet wielding Princess who was an expert of classical music and dancing, and could handle Malayalam, Sanskrit, English and French with equal ease, was the pride of her people.

When Karthika Thirunal married the the handsome, dashing sportsman Col. Goda Varma Raja of Poonjar Palace, it was a dream wedding. Tragedy struck when their first born, Sri Avittam Thirunal died at a tender age. The famous SAT Hospital at Trivandrum, the State capital, was built in his memory.

In the second half of the 1940s, a new movie house, Sree Kumar, came up in Trivandrum. It had a royal box, and showed mostly English pictures. (Malayalam movie industry was then in its infancy.) The royal couple used to occasionally watch a late show there.

Something here about ‘Thirumeni’ as Col. Goda Varma was affectionately known. He was not just the consort of Karthika Thirunal, but was a man of stature in his own right. No one has contributed more than him to the development of sports and tourism in the State. His achievements in these fields would run into a long list.

The last I met Thirumeni was at the Delhi Airport. Mathew Marattukalam, the promoter of Apollo Tyres and I were waiting for an early morning flight to Madras (now Chennai) when we saw Thirumeni with his inseparable tennis racquet. We talked for a while. He was on his way to Kulu.

At Madras we heard the shocking news that Col. Goda Varma Raja had died in a helicopter crash. I think that was on 30th April 1971.


Also see: The last of the Travancore Maharajas

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A beautiful carving

Photo: AT (Copyright reserved)
Click on it for enlarged view.

This beautiful carving on a coconut is another creation of Reji Navasree (see: A village artist). Coconut husk is a difficult medium to carve on. First of all there is the tough outer skin. Then there are the fiber and the pith. But Reji has done a fine job, delicately cutting through them to produce this piece. Unfortunately it doesn’t last for more than a day or two. Ideally this work is good to decorate a party table.

Also see: Coconut wood sculpture: Stump to sheep

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Kerala Scene: Girls forced to join convents?

Media reports say that the State Women’s Commission (SWC) has made, after studying a complaint it received, the following recommendations to the government regarding admitting nuns to the convents:

  1. Ensure that girls below the age of 18 are not forcibly enrolled as nuns
  2. Implement a scheme to rehabilitate women who leave the convents.

There cannot be any dispute on these. In fact, the first point should apply to marriages as well. No person should be compelled to act against her/his will. It is worthwhile noting here that a Catholic marriage is annulled by the Church if defective consent is proved.

Another suggestion by the SWC is that a girl’s share of her family wealth should remain in her own name and not vest with the convent she joins. This can raise some questions.

Would it interfere with the fundamental right of citizen to handle his/her wealth? What about the many poor girls who join as nuns? How would they be provided for? When a person joins a community with full consent is not that person bound to follow the rules of that community? Can there be a meaningful religious group consisting of rich members and poor members?

To a lay mind the effect of this recommendation would be that a nun’s share of her ancestral property could go to anyone else or to the government but not to the convent of which she is a member. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair.

The SWC affirms that it does not want to tamper with matters relating to faith.

The major churches in Kerala have come out with clarifications:

  1. No person under the age of 18 can be accepted as priest or nun.
  2. Only if there were full consent their training would start.
  3. There is no compulsion that a girl should donate her share of the family wealth to the convent she joins.
  4. Even after the final wows are taken, a person can leave the vocation.
  5. Help is extended for rehabilitating those who leave the convents.

The Church authorities should have explained all these to the SWC. But it is not clear whether they were given a chance to do so.


Also see: Vedas, Syrian Christians

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vanishing haystacks

‘He lay down with the bottle in one hand. After a while he heard the harvest song. It came from a distance but with great clarity. The music was back, carrying the pulse of nature with it. People cared after all. The granaries would fill. Haystacks would rise towards the sky. There would be dancing and games and merrymaking. “Hurry, Neeli, we’re late,” he called out and sat up.’

That is from a short story, ‘Morning after the storm’ (

Once upon a time, haystacks reflected prosperity. The paddy fields would be readied and sown before the rains. In a few months time the crop would be harvested. After threshing and winnowing, the paddy would go into granaries. And the land would dot with haystacks. That was how it was, till recently.

Now the situation is different. Large tracts of rice fields lying uncultivated are a common sight in Kerala today (see: Un-ploughed lies my land ). Many of those who still maintain cows and cowsheds have to buy hay at high prices. The haystack at Olavipe in the picture above is made with bought material.

Does this mean there is less prosperity now? Not really. Generally speaking, people better off today than at any time in the past that I can remember. This morning I found number two-wheelers at the local church. A decade or so back the vehicle population was limited to half a dozen bicycles.

Most people have jobs now. They eat regular meals, dress better, send their children to good schools. It is not at all surprising that the youngsters prefer to work elsewhere and not in the agriculture field. They can afford to buy rice with their earnings.

That too is progress.


Photo by me. Click on it for enlarged view.

Also see: Kerala: Left with empty granaries