Sunday, January 29, 2012

Memories are history

What prompted me to write this post were two recent articles in KR Dinakar’s blog Mysorean Musings. The first one is Earliest memories of watching a movie. This gives details about the cinema theatres in Mysore city during the 1960s and the movies that were being shown during that period.

The second one is about what I think was India’s first sports magazine, A magazine called Sport and Pastime. I used to be fan of this well brought out publication from The Hindu Group. On the cricketing side they used to have correspondents like Neville Cardus, Jack Fingleton and Norman Yardly. Apart from their deep knowledge of the game, the English that they wrote was beautiful. They could nearly match the famous American sportswriters Grantland Rice and Red Smith. Unfortunately, the publishers discontinued Sport and Pastime.

The point I am trying to establish is that the observations and memories of a person form part of history. If someone wants to do a study of the history of cinema houses in Mysore, Dinakar’s article would be an invaluable document. But not many people record their experiences. The regular excuse is “I can’t write”. That is not correct. Anyone can write if he has a pen and paper.

Unfortunately, even what is recorded is not always carefully preserved. I have seen moth eaten pieces of ancient olas (dry palm leaves on which documents were written before paper became common). That was so sad. Only recently people are becoming aware of the importance of conserving old writings and drawings.

Details of historical events are often passed on from generation to generation verbally. These are known as oral traditions. They have an important part in history. But the problem is that as generations pass by, some parts of the original story might be forgotten, or the narrator would add something new to suit his views. An incident which is unpleasant may be dropped. Therefore historians are very careful in accepting oral traditions.

It would be a good practice to note down the oral traditions that we hear. And that should be done without any bias or slant. I am not a historian but have great interest in the subject. I have done quite a bit of study about Kerala Church history. Initially there was only the Malabar Church consisting of people converted by St. Thomas the Apostle and about 400 Syrians who migrated under the leadership of Thomas of Cana.

The Portuguese domination of the Malabar Church changed that. The locals rebelled against the Westerners and there were divisions and subsequent divisions in the ancient Church. Now each denomination has its own history books – or rather books which murder history. Details are twisted and coloured and modified to establish the views of each group.

Coming back to oral tradition – Appan. (my father) used to tell me during my young days that Portuguese ships used to come to our place to load spices and that there was a shipping channel  in our Olavipe Lake. This also connected to the inland water pirate Lebba Moosa story. (See A unique prayer.) No historian would take it. That tradition would have died a natural death. But recently, quite by accident I came across a quoted Portuguese writing about their ships moving from Cochin into interior locations like ours. Also a well-known historian has confirmed that Lebba Moosa is mentioned at least thrice in Dutch documents. This is one occasion when an oral tradition is in the process of becoming credible.

I feel that each of us should realize our own importance to history. If I had not started this blog the things that I know or have heard of would have gone along with me. It is my requests that everyone, whenever they have the time, note down their memories and observations and events they participate. The importance of such records would be judged by future historians.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


 Red Fort, Delhi

Republic Day stamps (below)

Shown below are half rupee and annas coins
which were in circulation when India became a Republic.

And, here is a message for every Indian:

(All images from Wikimedia Commons. The message on the
last picture is written by me.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Keep on saluting Gen. VK Singh?

The current Chief of the Indian Army, Gen. VK Singh has filed a petition in the Supreme Court to declare that he was born in 1951. Of course he has every right to take such an action as a citizen of India.

It is said that Gen. Singh, in his application for admission to the National Defence Academy, has written in his own handwriting that his date of birth is May 10, 1950. Well, it could have been a mistake. In 2006 when his promotion to Corps Commander came up and for subsequent promotions, 1950 was accepted as his year of birth though it seems that in the Adjutant General Branch there is some paper which mentions 1951. Is the large Indian Army (1.13 million?) in the arms of a man who does not know his own date of birth?

But Gen. Singh reportedly says that the issue is one of integrity and honour and that he is tackling the matter in organisational interest. Can we blame citizens if they doubt that the reputation of this great army is safe in the hands of the man who ignores his own handwriting? (That is, if the report and Army records are right.) Or does he want one more year in service?

For determining age there are several ways which includes inspection of teeth. We can be sure that the Supreme Court would decide on the appropriate method. There would be an acceptable and unquestionable verdict.

But what would happen if the decision is that Gen. Singh was born in 1951 and not 1950? Nothing alarming. His appointment as Army Chief was based on the date of birth of 10/5/1950. That tenure ends on May 31, 2012. If the Supreme Court finds that Gen. Singh was born in 1951, the man can be posted for the rest of his service in the Ministry of Defence to recommend a plan for the future of the Indian Army. Or something of that sort.

The honour of the Indian Army cannot be compromised by one man though he has taken part in the 1971 War.

Also please see:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Messing up Kochi Metro Project?

The expectations of the people were that Kochi (Cochin)’s metro rail project would move quickly with the internationally accepted Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) as the nodal agency and India’s ‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan in charge. A company under the name Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) was formed for the project. It has 11 Directors with the Chief Minister as the Chairman, 5 more ministers, 4 IAS officers including the Managing Director, and the Mayor of Cochin.  

It is reported that the state government wrote to the Ministry of Urban Development in Delhi that "The Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) was set up to coordinate with other government departments to effectively implement the project," A noble objective. Probably KMRL would run the Metro once it is completed. We see that DMRC which is constructing the Metro project in Jaipur has asked the government there to start recruiting station masters, train drivers and support staff so that they can be trained in time, for the Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation.

DMRC was asked to do two preliminary jobs for the project. Keralites who are quite gullible sometimes believed that here we go ahead with the Rs.5000+ crores scheme in association with DMRC and Sreedharan. But last month the PWD Minister announced that the work would be awarded through a global tender. It was also heard that the KMRL has submitted an affidavit in the Kerala High Court confirming this.

State government sources have reportedly asked why the DMRC cannot take part in the global tender. The answer is simple. They are not interested. There is enough work on hand already for them in different cities. It was Sreedharan’s interest to bring a metro to his home state that kept him and DMRC involved in the Kochi project. Sreedharan the man and DMRC the organization have great worldwide reputation for their efficiency and integrity. I believe that Sreedharan has stated that DMRC doing the project would bring down the cost by over Rs.300 crores. Is KMRL interested in that?

KMRL may not have had the time or inclination to study how DMRC operates. They float global tenders for specific areas. In Jaipur the world renowned group Mott MacDonald was brought in to advice on tenders. When the argument for global tender became weak, a new gimmick was introduced – without that procedure Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) would not grant the necessary soft loan for the project.

There are different ways of successfully managing such situations which many major projects may face. But here nothing was necessary. In projects undertaken by DMRC, JBIC does not insist on that clause. A phone call to Jaipur or Delhi or Japan by KMRL would have clarified the position. One is tempted to think that what the Kerala government wants is Sreedharan’s name but project management by its own selected people.

Of course, the project can be successfully completed without Sreedharan and DMRC. But it takes time. Organizing a large team of experts may involve two years or so.  A new gang may need more time for implementation. Finalizing the global tender might itself require a longer period. All these would mean cost escalation as well.

It is said that tomorrow a final decision is to be taken about awarding the contract. If Sreedharan and DMRC are to be involved now because of public pressure, there is the danger of a variant of the Kerala Crab Syndrome quietly creeping in. The government departments may not provide the required cooperation. Sreedharan has publicly stated that the KSEB and the PWD are not cooperating with the present work.

The Chief Minister would certainly be aware of all these. Let us see what he does.

Also see:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Five Yercaud Flowers

Click to enlarge.

Photos by KO Isaac.

Copyright Reserved.

Also see:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

As birthdays go by…

Last week we celebrated my elder sister Mariamma’s 80th birthday. We call her Pengal. She normally stays at Chennai but had come down to Cochin for a function. The birthday luncheon party was just for the family, four generations of it. It was a nice get together, but a sad one too in some ways.

In a short period Mariamma had lost her husband Mathew Alapatt, an authority on gear technology, eldest son Francis Alapatt who was a well known management teacher, her second daughter Rosie who was an excellent painter, and son-in-law Chandy Mathew Pallivathukkal, an industrialist and writer. Just six months back one of the brothers, George (Tharakan, formerly Air India's Regional Director, Middle East) too passed away. Thoughts of them must have ran through the mind of this brave lady while the youngsters were having fun at the party. One could see tears running down her cheeks occasionally.

I am two years younger to Pengal. Another brother present at the lunch, Joseph Tharakan is six years younger to her. We were the elder group at the gathering, sharing several childhood memories mainly about Olavipe (Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu) and our mother’s house Konduparambil (Kerala Architecture: The house where I was born).

Childhood games and fights and schemes and secret dreams are so touching to think of and discuss sometimes with others who were involved. I suppose everyone has plenty of them. But our childhood belonged to another era. (Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.)

Life before the Second World War was different. The first indication of the War for us children was that the British made toys and dolls stopped coming. Chocolates and toffees and biscuits too disappeared. Time was moved ahead by one hour. We had to get up earlier to reach school on time but had extra one hour in the evening to play. Then the War was over. Soon India was independent. There were elections, and drastic changes in every field that one had to and did acknowledge and accept.

We who were children grew up, drifted apart, got married and live with our own nuclear families. The same is true for our children as well. Occasionally the siblings meet at a function or an organised get together. We are fortunate because there is a family meet too, every May. We also keep in touch through phone calls and emails.

Life goes on like this till one reaches an age when sometimes the image of one’s own garlanded photo hanging on the wall flashes through the mind.

Well, that’s the way it is. Ignore that.. Be happy and positive.