For many Kochiites, it was rather a thrilling experience to have travelled in the AC Volvo bus run by KSRTC‘s city service. On Wednesday (30.12.2009) Morning at 7 ‘O’ clock Kochi‘s KSRTC Volvo buses started off their maiden trip and ended at 10 pm. Many awaited eagerly and patiently to have a Volvo experience to reach their offices or houses. On the first day trip, the buses were delayed on consecutive trips due to traffic blocks. Of the seven Volvo buses, three plied between Fort Kochi and Nedumbassery, while four buses conducted service in the Aroor-Angamaly route.
Travelling in the Volvo is indeed a luxury. Most buses plying on this route were filled to capacity. But the only problem is that you will have to sacrifice a lot of time to enjoy this luxury. From Aroor to Ankamali you will be charged Rs. 68 and from Fort Kochi to Nedumbasseri Rs. 70. Eventhough, the bus fares are something that won’t fit to the daily expenses of an ordinary man, the greater facility is that, you can travel daily in a luxury bus without facing any hassles unlike other private buses operating in the city. The gutters and the zig-zags of the Kochi roads will not affect the smooth and happy journey of travellers in these orange coloured Volvo buses.
The bus employees dressed in variations of blue colour shirts and trousers, are specially trained to make you feel more comfortable inside. The place names appear on the board in English and Malayalam. Songs are played all the while you travel, so that you don’t have to feel bored. A fully automatic controlling system enables you to get inside and outside the bus easily. The door is controlled by the driver with a press button.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture K V Thomas on Monday inaugurated the much-awaited Volvo low-floor bus service in the city. Seven of the 50 low-floor automatic Volvo buses earmarked for Kochi under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) scheme were flagged off at Vytilla Junction. The minister hopes that these hi-tech buses would attract more people towards the public transport system, thereby easing the traffic congestion on the city roads. In Thiruvananthapuram, the Volvo buses are not very successful. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation(KSRTC) will have to bear the additional liability if the bus service does not reach upto the break-even level, The minister noted.
Anyway let’s hope that these Volvo buses would meet the demands of all those who love a luxury travel.
Varkala, my home-town is known far and wide for the Papanasam beach that attracts tourists from all over and for Sivagiri, the hillock on which Sri Narayana Guru, one of the greatest of social reformers in Kerala, had attained ‘samadhi’, where stands now the famous Sivagiri Mutt, often referred to by many as a centre of spiritual thought and spirituality.Well, starting today, Varkala will be abuzz with people and different kind of activities, focussing these two places. People from all over Kerala, especially from the Kollam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam districts flock to Sivagiri to take part in the ‘Sivagiri Theerthadanam‘, held annually on Dec 30, 31 and January 1. (I had come across, while coming back to Kochi after the Christmas vacations, groups of yellow-clad pilgrims marching to Sivagiri on foot from different parts of Kollam and Alappuzha). People from places near Varkala would be flocking to the Papanasam beach tomorrow evening to celebrate New Year’s eve in ‘grand style’, boozing, howling, paying fines to the cops for drunken driving etc.
It was in 1928, the very year in which the Guru had attained samadhi that the Sivagiri Theerthadanam (Theerthadanam=Pilgrimage) was conceived by a couple of his disciples and approved by the Guru himself. The Guru, who had always stood for the ideal of ‘One Caste, One Religion and One God’, wanted the pilgirms to observe 10 days’ self-purification according to Buddha’s principles of Pancha Dharma and wear yellow clothes,yellow being the colour of the garments worn by Buddha. He did make it clear that no one should purchase yellow silk or new clothes and also that a yellow garment can be had by dipping a white garment in turmeric water and then drying it. He desired the pilgrimage to be conducted in all simplicity. The Guru also recommended holding a series of lectures.
Of course the Sivagiri Theerthadanam began on the same lines, as said by the Guru. But in the course of time, or to be more precise, in the last one decade or so, it has attained more popularity and is now more of a celebration and fair than a pilgrimage for many. Of course there are the devout, especially those who come from far off places, who still see it as a real pilgrimage. But, there is no denying the fact that yellow robes and the seminars and lectures notwithstanding, the ‘Sivagiri Theerthadanam‘, like most other things associated with our cultural life, has taken the proportions of a festival held on a grand scale. The politics, which includes power-politics as well as caste-politics, which has crept into the ranks of the Guru’s followers too has led to it all attaining a different colour.
I too had been visiting Sivagiri during the Sivagiri Theerthadanam days in the past many years and, to be honest, I too have been seeing it and ‘enjoying’ it all in a very festive mood. But I’d say that other than the festivity-austerity issue, there is something of more serious concern relating to it all. It’s to be remembered that the ‘Guru’ had envisioned a society which would be casteless and where there would be no strifes and issues based on religion, caste and God. He had always stood for the ideal of ‘One Caste, One Religion and One God’ and had been against idol worship, but the saddest fact remains that in today’s Kerala, where age-old social evils like casteism, dowry etc seem to be still rampant (Remember our honourable President’s comments made a couple of days back?!), the ‘Guru’ and his ideals are all almost forgotten and he himself deified. In this context I am reminded of what noted Malayalam poet Chemmanam Chacko, noted for his waspish tongue, said in one of his poems about this particular thing- “Oru Jaathi, Oru Matham, Oru Deivam koodi Manushyanu” (Yet another caste, Yet another religion and Yet another God…for man)!!
I do agree that Sri Narayana Guru is there everywhere, right from Sivagiri to the bombastic speeches made by our politicians, cultural spokespersons et al to soap wrappers. (Yes, coincidentally it was today morning, on the very first day of this year’s Sivagiri Theerthadanam, that I happened to take a bath-soap out of its pack and find it wrapped by a small ad of ‘Yugapurushan’, a bio-pic in the making about Sri Narayana Guru. (It’s the same guy who manufactures the soap and produces the movie and hence the promotion strategy, hats off to his thought and novel ideas). Yes, the ‘Guru’ is there everywhere, from Sivagiri to soap-wrappers; but not in the hearts of the people. (Doesn’t this apply to all great men, including Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teressa, Buddha etc?).
Well, that’s the way things are. Anyway, since it happens in my hometown, I am always with the Sivagiri Theerthadanam. Jai Ho, to Sivagiri and Sivagiri Theerthadanam!!
An extended weekend holiday- The fun loving Malayalees could not have asked for more on the New Year eve as their gift! Most of them are on a hangover of an extended Christmas holiday. This year as the Christmas happened to be on a Friday, many organizations declared a holiday on Saturday, to complete the weekend fun. It was then a nondescript regional political party came up with a hartal call in Kerala on Tuesday, which extended the holiday by a couple of days more.
Many families made the most of this unexpected holiday bonanaza by making trips to near by tourist spots and hill stations while others were getting ready for their maiden cruise experience now that Cochin is home to a cruise operator with handy cruise options on offer including Cochin- Colombo and Cochin- Maldives sector. The prices are attractive and for many it was a dream come true opportunity that they do not want to miss out at any cost. As the New Year celebrations and excitement is already in the air, you cannot expect full attendance in Government offices till next week and as usual the lay man is left high and dry!
Christmas and New Year celebrations are about traditions, fun and merriment. But in the ‘God’s own country’ of Kerala, New Year is more about a heady dose of liquor than anything else. Celebration or mourning Malayaless have endorsed liquor as their best companion. It is paradoxical to note that Kerala, which takes credit for being the most literate State in India also tops the list of the highest per capita liquor consumption in the country. The state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd, the sole distributor of IMFL ( Indian Made Foreign Liquor) records an all time high in its sales during Onam, Christmas and New Year.
This year for Christmas, Chalakudi, a nondescript town in Trichur District had the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita liquor consumption in the country when its locals blew up a staggering 18.70 lakhs on this dark intoxicating liquid while the total sales during Christmas recorded an all time high of 55.08 Crores! Every season the IMFL sales are breaking their own record and that too during one of the worst economical recessions that is currently on! With New year only a few hours away, the coffers of the Beverages Corporation is expected to see yet another surge this weekend!
The sale of foreign liquor in Kerala is channelled through 300 beverages outlets and around 500 bars. The actual sale of foreign liquor could be much higher than the available figures as the spirits gulped down in bars do not figure in this account. It is interesting to note that Malayaless have a penchant for Rum, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the total sale. Brandy and beer come in the next two slots. Whisky does not feature in the favorite list of beverages of Malayalees unlike in the other parts of the world, where it is one of the most popular spirits. So , Kerala is all set to be in high ‘spirits’ literally this festive season. Who cares whether Alcohol consumption is injurious to health or not as long as it brings a few smiles to the user and a few quick bucks to the Government coffers!
It is a state where the female population is over 51 per cent and the literacy rate of females is 88 per cent, the highest in India. However, I am surprised to learn that in spite of this, alcoholism is rampant and women are the worst sufferers. Similarly, I am told that the dowry system persists and continues to be a major problem here.
This was from none other than Smt Pratibha Patil, President of India on her visit to Kerala.
Time for a couple of stats:
- The state’s alcohol consumption for the month of December was a whopping $9 million.
- Kerala State Beverages Corporation has said that the total sales for this fiscal is expected to be in excess of Rs 5,300 crore, up from Rs 4,631 crore in the last fiscal.
It’s almost like men in Kerala work to drink, the skilled workers and labourers both young and old simply resort to hooch to celebrate, mourn or relax after a day’s work. Alcoholism is everywhere, hospitals filled with patients with liver problems and addiction centres full of drunkards who are bundled out of their homes in the hope of a recovery.
Relapse in treatment is also common with prayer and treatment centres and other facilities refusing entry after a third time. Families divided, divorce and all the other evils that follow is everywhere. The President’s remark has brought Kerala to the national front today.
What can be done? A social reform where there are more sports and recreational facilities for a nominal fee minus the drinks is what is needed. Something that a man can do with his family and get his mind of the hootch. Why can’t they revive a few football clubs and have matches that people can go and enjoy? Any ideas anyone? What’s your take?
Go to any lane or bye-lane in Kochi, or for that matter any city or town in Kerala at Christmas time and you will find one or sometimes many Santas roaming about. Of course this does add to the festive mood. But if you observe a bit too carefully, you’d see in the eyes of Santa a very strange kind of gleam. No, don’t be mistaken; for it has got nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas. The gleam that you see is akin to the gleam that’s apparent in the eyes of a shopkeeper eager to get his customers.
Yes, Santa is hot business in Kerala. Get a red-robe (hey, I happened to see a Santa wearing a nightie and a plastic mask), a good Santa mask and a couple of kids to accompany you and just scout the shops and homes near you and earn some quick bucks. The business requires no credentials or prior reputation. Lots of new entrants every season for the Santa business.
Of course I am no cynic. I do agree that the ‘Santa business’ is worth encouraging. While it solves the unemployment problem at least momentarily, it does add to the festive mood to. Hail Santa! Hail Christmas!
The tourist season for Kerala was far from impressive this year with a marked drop in the number of foreign and domestic tourists. Most of the tour operators in Fort Kochi are pinning their hopes on the Cochin Carnival for more tourist arrivals in the next two weeks. During the Christmas and New Year seasons, Fort Kochi draws a lot of foreign tourists with most of the hotels and homestays registering near full occupancy. But this year things were bleak and the regular tourist crowd was missing even from the main hot spots like Fort Kochi and surroundings.
Meanwhile the carnival committee is not leaving anything to chance and the efforts are on to make the carnival a big success. Both the sides of roads from Veli to Fort kochi are being decorated with lights and stars to welcome the tourists to the area. This year , a novel competition to select the best decorated and painted house has generated a lot of interest among the local community. A kayaking contest is also being introduced this year. The beach bike race at the Veli ground is expected to bring in scores of biking enthusiasts while the swimmers can vie for the prestigious title in the Fort Kochi-|Vypeen swimming contest. The other attraction of the Carnival include tableaux and the traditional art forms of Kerala.
Additional police forces have been deployed to prevent any untoward instances and street lighting along the beach and the walkways have already been completed. Will the Cochin Carnival bring back the tourist surge in Fort Kochi- the next few days will unravel the answer for this million dollar query!
- ‘Jermal’, directed by Ravi Barwani and ‘About Elly’, directed by Asghar Farhadi, have been chosen to share the Golden Crow Pheasant (Suvarna Chakoram).
- ‘True Noon’ from Tadjikistan, directed by Nosir Saidov, bagged the Silver Crow Pheasant Award (Rajata Chakoram) for the best director and ‘My Secret Sky’ from South Africa, directed by Madoda Ncayiyana, the Silver Crow Pheasant Award for the best debut director.
- ‘True Noon’ also bagged the Audience award, being voted the best film by the delegates who took part in the festival.
- The Marathi film ‘Harischandrachi Factory’, directed by Paresh Mokashi, got the Hassankutty Award for the best Indian debut director while Ranjith’s ‘Kerala Cafe’ got the NETPAC Award for the best Malayalam film.
- ‘A Fly in Ashes’ by Argentinean filmmaker Gabriela David got the FIPRESCI Award for the best film).
- ‘Paththaam Nilayile Theevandi’, directed by Joshy Mathew won the FIPRESCI Award for the best Malayalam film.
- ‘Jermal’ directed by Ravi Bharwani was awarded the NETPAC Award for the best Asian film in the competition section.
The IFFK, which has won over the years a reputation for itself, got on to its 14th editing with veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen lighting the inaugural lamp on Dec 11 and the Turkish film, ‘A Step into Darkness,’ directed by Atil Inaq being screened as the inaugural film.
More than 160 films were screened, in different sections, in eight theatres in Thiruvananthapuram. The competition section had 14 entries, including two Malayalam films- Priyanandanan’s ‘Sufi Paranja Katha’ and Madhu Kaithapram’s ‘Madhyavenal’.
The retrospective sections included films by Mexican director Arturo Ripstein, Japanese filmmaker Mikio Naruse, French filmmaker Jaques Tati and Indian filmmakers Mrinal Sen and Lohithadas. There was a package of films by Italian director Francesco Rosi and homage section dedicated to the memories of Murali, Madhavikutty, Shobhana Parameshwaran Nair, Rajan.P.Dev, K.P.Thomas and Adoor Bhavani.
The contemporary masters section had films by Raul Peck and Pen-ek Ratanaruang while there were Country focus films on Cuba and films from contemporary Africa. There was also a section for debut films and a package called ’50 years of French New Wave’.
A first hand account
IFFK has been part of my life-plan ever since it began in Thiruvananthapuram. Of course the IFFK had its beginnings in Kozhikode in a small way, but I have been proud to be a part of all the editions of IFFK that has been held in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, the city with which I have had a strong emotional bonding, like many of my friends and peers.
Well, when I took the early train from Kochi on the 12th of December, aiming to make as much of the film festival as possible in the four days that were at my disposal, I didn’t know that the train would be a bit late and I’d have to miss out on one show due to problems relating to procuring my entry pass for the fest. Anyway, with timely help provided by the Chalachitra Academy Secretary Dr.K.S.Sreekumar (who’s also the Executive Director of the festival) and others, I managed to get my pass in hand, all laminated and ready by 1 pm. Then on, it was, as usual, reading the synopsis of different movies in the festival book and moving on to theatres after theatres eager to catch up with films after films.
The crowds seemed to be there, eager to lap up all the films, especially the contemporary ones and the competition films. The four days that I spent at Thiruvananthapuram, as usual, was nothing less than great, a real good break from my usual work and other chores, a departure from the mundane and a take off to things that would propel me to be happy and contented with the mundane things till the next edition of the IFFK, the 15th IFFK.
I liked being part of the crowd in seeing films like ‘Jermal’, ‘True Noon’, ‘About Elly’, ‘Dream’ (there were friends joking that the director Kim Ki-Duk has no admirers in Korea and his admirers are all here, in Kerala), ‘Sweet Rush’ etc. (Well, there were people sitting even on the floor, all crammed up, to watch these films).
I also took time to watch in peace some of the films that didn’t attract that much of a crowd, like P.A.Backer’s ‘Manimuzhakkam’ (which I had been desiring to see for a long time), Cheran’s ‘Pokkisham’ and Saeed Mirza’s ‘Ek Tho Chance’; and I was pleased to see a fairly good number of people coming to see Francois Truffaut’s 1962 movie ‘Jules et Jim’, one of the most talked about movies of all times.
At the same time, I regretted being not able to see some of the most talked about movies in the festival, including ‘Anti Christ’ and ‘Shirin’. I longed to re-visit films in the Mrinal Sen retrospective, most of which I had seen earlier. (Well, that happens in all film festivals, especially when you have to choose from seven or eight films that are being screened simultaneously).
The talks that I had about with films with friends and festival regulars and people from the world of films like Thampy Antony (actor and producer based in the U.S), director Sohanlal, an African filmmaker (whose name I forgot) among others proved enriching.
It was with a not-so happy heart (because there were 3 more days of the festival to go) and at the same time with a happy heart too (because I was richer now despite having spent money out of my pocket for travelling, accommodation, food etc- richer because I had earned things more valuable than money) that I left Thiruvananthapuram and clambered on to the train to Kochi.
It was a dream come true for all of us. The 4th anniversary celebrations of Karmakerala coupled with the Christmas and New year festivities were celebrated on the 18th of December with much fun and fanfare. The office was decked up with decorations, balloons and festoons and the day started with a funny award distribution ceremony where awards like ‘loud speaker award’ ‘baby award’ and ‘Gandhiji’ award were distributed in recognition to some of the staff members for their personal attributes.
There were skits, carols and musical programmes to add variety. The party mood was very much in the air as music and dance lend an air of celebration to the milieu. The brief round up of the performance of HMGT in the year 2009 and the proposed plan of action for the year 2010 presented by our boss Mr. Tejal Vasudevan, was the most important item in the day’s itinerary.
The refreshments and a sumptuous luncheon ensured a welcome break in between the cultural activities and high decibel activities around. Everyone exchanged gifts with their respective Christmas friends and as every gift wrap was opened there were loud applause and cheer. Some of the other events included musical chair and funny competitions like drawing the moustache and putting the ‘bindi’ for girls and boys respectively.
It turned out to be an ideal bet to chuck out the work pressures and to keep the team in good spirit. As they say all good things must come to an end; and so did this well planned day. But at the end of the day, it turned out to be an enjoyable day and a perfect icebreaker that made us feel really special for being part of the enterprising HMGT family.
Just think of the impact if prostitution is legalised in Kerala. The matter is under consideration at the Supreme court! The Supreme Court judges Dalveer Bhandari and A.K. Patnaik argued in front of the Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam that, “when you say it is the world’s oldest profession and when you are not able to curb it by laws, why don’t you legalize it? You can then monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved.”
Let’s take a look at what the famous Sex worker Nalini Jameela, author of “Autobiography of a Social Worker” which sold out 13,000 copies within 100 days of its release in 2004, has to say. While attending a conclave of sex workers in Bangalore, she said that, her profession should be legalised. Nalini Jameela added that, only if her profession is being legalised, the stigmatisation- the sex workers community faced will change, so that they can be a part of other mainstream groups.
Education Minister M. A Baby and other famous personalities in Kerala, however feel the legalisation should not happen, since the tradition and the moral values we follow don’t allow such things in public and legalising’ such an issue will endanger the image of the so called “God’s Own Country”. In order to tackle HIV and to give basic education, special emphasis on adult education need to be provided at certain levels, the minister stated..
S.K Harikumar, behaviour physician and a leading consultant in HIV/AIDS, had this to say -”The right to privacy in sexual acts, urges and desires should be vested with the individual and, decriminalization of multi-partner sex among both males and females should take place.”
According to the recent statistics, Kerala has more than 55,000 prostitutes, and this figure is growing rapidly. Now, can you imagine if prostitution is legalised, where this figures will be? Or, will it come to a situation that Kerala has to change it’s tag -’God’s own country‘ to something else?
I am sure, if Supreme court ever made a move towards legalising this issue, the many good natured and moral valued people in Kerala are going to stage a protest. But who knows, may be in future there will be a time when all these things are made legal and public. Let’s see what happens!