Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Himalayan disaster and the blunders

The colossal devastation caused by nature particularly in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, is so saddening. It has also exposed the deficiencies in India’s disaster management capabilities.

A few years back I had attended a meeting in Delhi convened by the Cabinet Secretary to discuss disaster management. I had submitted a project profile to the Government of India suggesting the formation of a full-fledged National Disaster Management Authority.

Something on these lines was finally done when Disaster Management Act, 2005 was passed and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was constituted. Instead of a full time body of experts, this set up was headed by the Prime Minister. Another politician is the Vice-Chairman. We have seen how tragically it failed in the present Himalayan calamity.

Enter Narendra Modi. He rushes to Dehradun, ‘evacuates 15,000 Gujarathis in a day’ and there is clapping all around. Na Mo Magic. Did those who tried to sell this story through the media - quite possibly Modi’s publicity agents Apco Worldwide of the U.S. - think that everyone would swallow it? Logistically that claim was impossible

This Modi episode relating to the Himalayan deluge has generated other negative impacts as well:

1. A feeling has started developing that if Modi ever becomes the Prime Minister of India, the Gujarathis would get priority over other Indians in everything including disasters. Internationally followed evacuation procedures would be ignored. Hindus would try to save only Hindus, Muslims only their own and so on.

2. People in other states became angry with their Chief Ministers because of the wrong information about Modi’s ‘miraculous achievement’. Imagine every Chief Minister landing in Dehradun at the same time and trying to save only their people! Because teams from several states arrived in Dehradun for arranging selective evacuation the Uttarakhand Government had to make an appeal against it.

3. Should each state have disaster management units to operate across India to save its own people in the event of a catastrophe?

Another sad instance - really I don’t like to say this, but I feel bad about the reaction of some sanyasis from my own state, Kerala because they were not given priority in the evacuation process. They wanted a helicopter to escape and even offered to pay for it. How magnanimous it would have been if that money was donated to help the sick and the maimed.

According to certain reports, Christian priests and nuns who are being constantly persecuted are staying back in Uttarakhand to help. Mata Amritanandamayi’s Institute of Medical Sciences has sent a 30 member disaster medical team of experts to Uttarakhand.

I believe that all the sanyasis were rescued but still they held a dharna in front of the Trivandrum Secretariat. One of the people who visited and encouraged them was the President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee! What kind of politics was that? Was anybody impressed?

The sanyasis I suppose know the “Golden Sayings” ( by heart. Perhaps they forgot the great wisdom contained in those words when they faced the discomfort of the floods. Did any one of the sanyasis say a prayer for those who died in the helicopter crash during rescue operations? Do something for their families? One of the chaps who died in that accident, Jose Mon is from the village next to mine, in Alleppey District. The tragedy has cut across the whole of India.

The Home Minister of India admitted that there were some deficiencies in handling the calamity at least initially. Those could provide a guideline for the future. And, a re-look at the NDMA and its functioning may be required. What would have been an effective step, I think was not even considered. As soon as the immensity of the disaster was realized, Local Emergency could have been declared by the President. I believe that the Constitution provides for that.

Let us salute and thank the men in uniforms. But for them, how many thousands more would have died? They are the heroes and the nation is grateful to them.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Medical Colleges: An Addendum

There used to be a joke about a school lab which had no implements. The teacher puts up his thumb and tells the students, “Suppose this is a test tube….” Well, that seems to be what is happening to the mushrooming medical colleges in the country.

In my post Kerala to have too many Medical Colleges I had mentioned that the availability of cadavers should be a major consideration while planning new medical colleges. Dissection of dead bodies is essential to medical studies. That is how the students learn about the human body. Any number of detailed pictures cannot match the real thing.

Today’s (June 25, 2013) Times of India, Cochin carries a worrisome report by Janani Sampath titled ‘Cadaver shortage pushes med colleges to virtual learning’. It gives details of the number of cadavers needed by medical students for dissection, why the availability of dead bodies is becoming insufficient, and how the existing medical colleges are planning to handle the problem.

It seems 3D digital bodies of the human body is the best alternative though it cannot match the real thing in medical training. Simulation. Suppose this is a test tube…

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cards & Curry

A few days back when my brother Jacob called to say that he was planning a ‘Cards & Curry’ session at our Tharavad, Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe I was rather stuck. I didn’t know what it meant. Any way, Jacob explained and I told him to go ahead.

Well, the event is just a session of games, lunch tea, refreshments and fellowship for a compatible group. In this case, just our cousins and their children. About sixty turned up. 

 Arrangements were made for gin & rummy, table tennis, caroms, one ring basketball, chess, Bridge, and Monopoly. Nobody took up the last three. Why rack the brain instead of relaxing.Gin Rummy of course was the most popular.  The children had their own amusements.

Some sat away quietly, catching up with the news, but a little one preferred the hammock. A few quietly listened to music. Some went walking around the estate. Because of the inclement weather, backwater events were not planned.

The fellowship was of course nice. The refreshments were popular. But an unplanned but very interesting development was impromptu discussions on matters ranging from agriculture to the rupee slide. They were useful.

Now, the food. There was something unique about it, apart from the quality. The whole range was prepared by the gentlemen guests. The kitchen staff only had to watch and perhaps learn a few new things. The ladies in the family group were totally free to join whatever activities that they liked
 other than cooking
The chef was Kunjavirachan, a medical practitioner with many years of experience. His specialty for the day was “Suriyani Biriyani”, a name which many may not have heard. I don’t know what additional ingredients went into it compared to the ordinary biriyani. It was delicious.

There was barbeque and some of the regular snacks like tiny river fish fried, sliced vegetables, chips and so on. What I liked best was something I never had before – chena (elephant foot yam) balls. Absolutely great with drinks.

 We wound up at about 6 in the evening after tea with sandwiches and the usual           accompaniments.. It was a most enjoyable day – for Rs.250/ per head, all inclusive.

Be Clannish, have Family Meets

(All photos by Thomas Tharakan.)






Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Photos from our garden

Photos by me. Copyright reserved.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Diamonds: The Two Sisters from Golconda

Koh-i-Noor and Darya-i-Noor – That is how they are known now. The first means “Mountain of light” and the other, “Sea or Ocean of light”. These great diamonds, amongst the largest in the world, were found in the Paritala-Kollur Mine near Golconda, India, perhaps 5000 years ago. Over the centuries several dynasties had possession of them. They symbolized, power, wealth and glory.

Glass copy of the famous Koh-i-Noor in its current (newer) cut from the "Reich der Kristalle" museum in Munich
This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73

Of the two, Koh-i-Noor which was originally called as Samantic Mani (Leader and Prince among diamonds) and then Madnayak (King of Jewels), became better known among the two probably because it came into the possession of Queen Victoria during the mid-19c and formed part of the British Crown Jewels. At that time it was 186 1/16 metric carats (37.21 g).

The Koh-i-Noor’s route to London was quiet circuitous. The diamond seemed to have changed hands frequently accompanied by violence and war. The first identifiable reference to this gem was in 1526 by Babur in his memoirs. But there are claims of earlier ownerships. According to Babur, the value of the diamond could feed all the people in the world for a day.

At that time it was owned by the Raja of Gwalior. But much before that a belief had developed that the Koh-i-noor carried a curse. It was believed that only God or a woman could wear it safely; a man who owns it may rule the world but will know all its misfortunes as well. But conquerors often overlooked this.

Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India and carried the two sister diamonds and the Peacock Throne to Persia in 1739. After Nadir Shah was murdered in 1747 Ahmed Shah Durrani became king of Afganistan and built the Afghan Empire which covered parts of Persia. The Koh-i-noor came into his possession.  He was succeeded by his son  Shuja Shah Durrani who used to wear the gem on his turban.

Durrani was overthrown in 1809. He managed to flee to the Punjab, with the Koh-i-noor still in his custody. He exchanged the jewel to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for winning Afghanistan back for him. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 before that could be done. The British took over Punjab and the Koh-i-noor.  The gem was presented to Queen Victoria. It was mounted on her crown with, according to certain estimates, over 2000 other diamonds.

The British were aware of the Koh-i-noor Curse. Therefore, only women - the queens or queen consorts - used it. But nevertheless, within a century of obtaining the gem the Empire, on which the sun never set, was lost. Was the curse still there in spite of the woman factor?

Or was it because a man got involved and the Koh-i-noor lost too much with the British? Under an obvious misconception that reduced size would increase the brilliance of the diamond, Prince Albert, the Consort of Queen Victoria spent about 8000 pounds to have about 42% cut off from the Koh-i-noor, reducing it to 105.602 carats. It is sai
d that the prince himself was not satisfied with the result.


The newly cut gem was used on the crown of Queen Alexandra for the coronation of her husband King Edward VII in 1902. See the photo below by W. and D. Downey. Wikimedia Commons sourced it from Memories of Madras by Sir Charles Lawson.

All this while, the other sister diamond, the182 carat Darya-i-Noor remained in Persia as a favourite of the rulers. It is one of the prettiest gems in the world. It has a pink hue which is rare in diamonds, and great clarity. Darya-i-Noor has the company of a gem of its own, Noor-ol-Ain (Eye of Light) which is believed to be 60 carats and has identical qualities.

There is a story behind this. The largest uncut diamond found in the world was from Golconda. It was referred to as Great Table Diamond. This was either cut or broke into two accidentally. When or where this happened is not known. Most experts believe that the larger piece is Darya-i-Noor and the smaller one .Noor-ol-Ain


And now there are three beauties – Mountain of Light, Sea of Light and Eye of Light. The first one is on the Crown of Queen Elizabeth and can be seen in the Tower of London. The other two are safely kept in the Treasury of National Jewels in the Central Bank of Iran in Tehran.

A diamond is for ever, it is said. But not necessarily in the same hands always. There was a demand for the return of the Koh-i-noor to India and Pakistan but the British firmly turned it down earlier this year.

Why go through another Partition!

(All images from Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge


Sunday, June 2, 2013


Aerva lanata
from Wikimedia Commons.

I have been getting some inquiries about Dasapushpam recently. The term refers to ten different items listed below (from Wikipedia):

They are supposed to have great medicinal value. Kerala is the place for Dasapushpam.It is a must for the ladies during the Thiruvathira festival.

I came across the three beautiful blog posts about Dasapushpam. They are:

Dasapushpam by Jayasree Sreedharan

Kerala Ayurvedics. com

It is worth having a look at them.