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August 2011

Volume 2, Issue 21 Sponsored by:

Josephine Selvaraj & Rosseau Britto: A BUZZING BUSINESS


Editor: Dr. Nandini Murali

Contents August 2011 | Issue No. 21 EDITOR’S CORNER

Media Relations Officer: Ezhil Elango Journalism Supervisor: B. Pooja Coordinator: J. Venkatesh

03 Circle of Love COVER STORY

04 Queen of the Bees FAITH

11 Different shades of the same city: Praying

in Madurai

Reporters and Designers: Jennifer Byres Maxime Bailly

TRADITION

14 Keep Traditional Honey Gathering Alive YOUNG ACHIEVER

Kristina Wilshusen Anouk Hello Qian Xu Max Goetschel Manon Stalder 2

16 A Photographic Memory PEOPLE

18 A Stitch in Time

Julliette Bonhoure Clarisse Treilles Anne Laure

HERITAGE

20 A Living Heritage VILLAGE VOICES

Kinge Eliza Gardien Cover Picture:

22 The Temple Town of Tirumohur EXHIBITION

Jennifer Byres

26 The Power of Gems Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd.,

Contact: editor@maduraimessenger.org

BOOKS

28 Finding your path: Thatzzzz the question! 30 Healing Naturally FILM

32 180 Days: The Countdown Begins

MADURAI MESSENGER No. 17, T.P.K Road Pasumalai Madurai – 625004 Tamil Nadu India Tel. 0452-2370269

FIRST IMPRESSION

33 34 35 36 37 38

A Gateway to Openness Embracing the Unknown Welcome to India The World’s Friendliest People On the Bhagavad Gita Trail An Innocent Abroad

EDITOR’S CORNER

Circle of Love

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hen I was a little girl, my mother’s thick flowing black hair fascinated me. Braided into a long plait that curved down her back, its serpentine swing, as she walked, made her an object of envy. People always asked for her brand of hair oil, which they believed, was responsible for her gorgeous mane. The impressionable young girl that I was, I too wanted to have long silky tresses like my mother. My favourite refrain was, “When will I have hair like yours?” Like most mothers, my mother too quelled my anxious queries with a home spun recipe: If I combed and oiled my hair every day, and had the mandatory weekly oil baths, I too would have hair like hers, if not better. It seemed the perfect formulaic solution. And so I followed this childhood mantra, with the zeal of a quester in search of the Holy Grail! When I was 12 years old, however, my frizzy, unruly, gravity defying hair that preferred to grow sideways rather than downwards, showed that it had a will of its own. The mantra seemed to be ineffective. But I was as tenacious as a barnacle on a rock. Finally my grandmother (whose curly hair was a genetic legacy she bestowed on me!) broke the spell by announcing that I could never expect to have long tresses like my mother as “Both of us have curly hair that can never grow long!” For a pre-teen, it was the ultimate disappointment. I resigned myself to the pronouncement. But throughout most of my adult life, I nursed this secret desire in the sacred spaces of my inner self. When modern technology arrived with the allurement of hair straightening, and shampoos designed to transform frizzy hair into a perfect advertisement for the ultimate shampoo, I yielded. Very soon, however, I realised that the spiky straightened hair seemed so artificial and unlike myself. Today, I rejoice and completely accept myself and my frizzy hair. It seems to have a certain character and vibrancy; a certain hardiness and resilience like the desert vegetation. Of course, I am amused by the fact that all those shampoo ads for silky tresses are some glib copy writer’s play on words, as nothing can transform my iron gossamer mane! Today, as an adult, I realise that life is all about accepting oneself. When we truly accept ourselves, we can in turn reach out and embrace others in an endless circle of love.

Dr. nandini murali Editor

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2011

Queen of the Bees In the first of a two-part cover story, Jennifer Byres meets Josephine Selvaraj who has achieved great heights with her beekeeping business that produces the Vibis Agmark brand of honey. Organic cultivation and family values is the heart and soul of the business. However, behind the success lies a story of sadness, strength and passion. A passion that has resulted in her deep and humble friendship with the bees whom she calls her ‘winged angels’.

By Jennifer Byres A bond with the bees

Edinburgh, Scotland

more so than in the office we had visited the day before. She was dressed in a purple sari and gold jewellery that blended with the nectarine colour of the honeybees. They buzzed around her and as one crawled under her sari, she didn’t even flinch! Josephine Selvaraj is 38 years old and the eldest of four children. She married early at 18 years and had three children from an arranged marriage. She studied for a postgraduate degree in History (in distance mode) whilst she had children before embarking on a three-day course in beekeeping at Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK). She and her husband Selvaraj, started with ten boxes of bees in 2006, her brother Rosseau Britto now deals with the marketing side, and gradually they turned the honey production into the successful business it is today.

Start Small, Think Big

Why did this young woman, who had married and had children so young, had a history degree and yet chose to turn to the uncertainty of apiculture (bee-farming)? Josephine’s foray into beekeeping was seemingly accidental. Her father owned a 100-acre organic farm, but she initially expressed little interest in following in his footsteps. However, she discovered that through beekeeping she could attain a greater degree of financial independence that is not guaranteed by becoming a teacher or a similar profession. Furthermore, Josephine appeared surprised at the growth of the business due to the small investment she put into it initially, but seemed modest about her success. However, Josephine jests reminiscently about her lack of practical training to start with.

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“I had ten hives and one day discovered all the bees from one hive disappeared. I then learned that bees do not like to be disturbed; otherwise they will leave. Even my classmates teased me about my lack of practical experience!”

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s our jeep wobbled down potholed roads and winding paths surrounded by paddy fields, we eventually arrived at Josephine Selvaraj’s honeybee farm

in Alanganallur, where she cultivates the honey for Vibis Honey, her family business. Nestled under a cluster of palm trees sat mismatched boxes each containing around 3000 bees. With

every sway of the palms you could smell the subtle scent of honey wafting through the breeze. Within the peaceful serenity of this enclave, I sensed that Josephine Selvaraj felt most at home,

Yet look at her now! For example, in the early stages of the business, officials from the National Horticulture Mission visited a bee farm she had set up in the drought-prone Sivagangai district and were amazed at how she still harvested the honey. Her ease and gentleness with the bees impressed them so much that

“It’s my honey!” A bee clings on to her honey before it is fed to us!

they donated 62 beehives to the farm as part of a beekeeping promotional scheme. Although modest, she has a sense of immense pride in her work. She recalls that six years ago, she could never imagine owning a car and now owns a four wheel drive and financial independence, so much so that her husband quit his job to join her! Josephine’s success mantra in the beekeeping business is to start with a low investment. Start small and think big. “The local tea store owner receives regular visits from her bees and jokes that they are foraging for sugar.” It seems the neighbourhood is abuzz with her bees!

Principle before Profit Prabha House of Honey is the office located in Pudur and is the production centre, where the honey is processed and packaged. The unique selling point of Vibis Honey is that it’s organically harvested. Again, there was a strong sense of pride and commitment when Josephine explained that all the bee products were organic. That means no pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Josephine very firmly assured me that, despite being organic, they have the lowest price in all of Tamil Nadu. This

is mainly due to the fact they do not advertise. ‘Big players’ invest a lot in advertising and charge higher prices as a result. Josephine maintains that they do not spend on ads so that they don’t compromise on quality. Why is Josephine so determined to be organic? She claims, “Honey is the only product in the world that can never decompose. There are records of honey from 3500 years back being found in the Egyptian pyramids.” She also asserts that the big players have no idea of the bee and honey process. “They don’t have a bond with the bees. It’s a very profit orientated way of running a business.” Josephine is certain that she would not like to export honey. Her speciality is delivering local produce to local people, particularly her Jamun honey that is beneficial for people with diabetes. She recalls that Punjab offered to buy in bulk from her at an impressive price but she refused. Why? “The Indian Apis Cerena bee produces high quality honey that cannot be mass produced.” With Josephine, it is strictly principle before profit, and that is what sells her honey

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2011

“No human beings can be equated with bees. It’s their sense of teamwork, dedication, cooperative living and concern for the greater good”.

and makes her business so refreshingly unique.

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At this moment, Josephine’s son Vijay came along and shyly hovered behind his mother. Vijay, at 9 years old, has loved bees even before the business started. Josephine explained that she got Vijay used to bees by being around drones – the male bees that do not sting. However, he tells us his first sting was on the eye! With this, I didn’t expect to hear that he had made the Guinness World Record of having the most bees on his head at one time! There is a second side to Josephine’s business, a very people oriented side. On the second Sunday of every month, she holds a one-day training programme entirely free of charge for those interested in beekeeping. She has trained over 30,000 people since the business started. Inspired by her own personal example, she offers training to students and a women’s self-help group. She aims to create a fellowship amongst women. The fact that she herself is a woman, makes other women feel reassured and comfortable around her. Her first preference would be for other women to take up this profession because, as she says, “We still live in a very conservative society. It would be good to see that change.” However, Josephine maintains there is a clear division of labour within the company. Her husband deals with the business side; her brother, Rousseau, with the marketing side; whilst she deals more directly with the bees and the honey. She doesn’t even need protective clothing!­

A fearless Josephine holds the Super Chamber for us all to see

Magic Medicine

Josephine casually claimed she had been stung a shocking 2,800 times and even offered to let a bee sting her for the purpose of the interview! She admits that her first sting resulted in a fever for many days and her husband discouraged her from continuing the business. For many people, stings are a small price to pay for the honey that the bees give them, and Josephine is no different. Furthermore, bee venom holds a number of medicinal properties that can increase longevity by boosting the immune system and killing cancer cells better than chemotherapy. As a result, Josephine has many visitors wishing to be stung, free of charge. Although she claims it was the Russians who discovered the curative properties of bee venom, she has first hand experience. Before Josephine started the business, she suffered from frequent headaches and fevers and now, after 2,800 stings has suffered none! It is not just the venom that can improve health, but the honey itself has a long history of curing and preventing illnesses and increasing life-span. Josephine puts as much importance on this side of her business as she does on the production element. She tells us that her Jamun honey is the most popular, particularly amongst those with diabetes. She claims that two teaspoons of Jamun

honey, along with two pinches of dried gooseberry powder taken everyday, will stabilise blood sugar levels. Her own father had very high blood sugar levels and developed severe toothache three years ago. For this, she gave him honey with lime and the next day, his toothache had disappeared and after a week of treatment he developed a fully rooted tooth. Josephine is now writing a book called The Medicinal Properties of Honey. She also advised that if you put honey on your tongue regularly, it can purify your blood, cure colds and fevers and also prevent brain tumors, cancers and coronary diseases. It can also improve fertility. Josephine gives us an example of her cousin and his wife who had been trying for a baby for five years. She gave her honey and royal jelly, which is a substance extracted from the head of the worker bee. Sure enough, she conceived within three weeks. She claims it is because honey mixed with royal jelly stabilises body temperature and strengthens the uterus. Josephine’s knowledge and expertise on the medical benefits of honey are again one of the unique aspects of her business as well as the passion she has for helping people. However, we discovered that there was a sad truth behind her motivation for this. Despite

Josephine demonstrates the process of extracting honey from the comb

her reserved and gentle nature and strong headed approach to business, there remained a shadow of sadness behind her eyes. Josephine lost her 17-year-old daughter to bone cancer in 2009. In 2006 when her daughter was just fourteen, she complained about a pain in her left leg. The doctor diagnosed it as a blood clot and prescribed tablets for her. However, one day whilst changing her dress, her bone broke into two. They visited an orthopaedic surgeon who diagnosed her with bone cancer and said she had only four months to live. However, after sending a sample of leg muscle to four labs in India, the results came back mostly negative, apart from one which came back positive. “My daughter will not have cancer” Josephine found herself saying at the time. She explains that they are a very pious family and have not hurt anyone – “Surely we would see this through”. After three years of chemotherapy, operations and tests, Josephine used royal jelly in the final three months of treatment, yet her daughter complained of more pain. In November 2009, after a conversation with her daughter at around eleven in the morning, she lost her life to the disease. Josephine expresses with pride how her daughter was intelligent and gained distinctions in her studies as

Josephine’s trademark Vibis Agmark Honey

well as being a district athlete. The economic consequences of paying for the treatment forced them to sell their house. Yet, Josephine has channeled her grief into the business by emphasising the medical benefits of honey. There is a personal element to Josephine’s business – something that is reflected in the strictly organic nature of the produce and the training she offers to others.

The Secret life of Bees

Whilst at the farm, Josephine explained the lives and habits of the honey bees. She says, “No human beings can be equated with bees. It’s their sense of teamwork, dedication, cooperative living and concern for the greater good”. She explains that worker bees have a 60-day life span and that they start work as soon as they are born. The worker bees follow the queen bee around the hive, feeding her honey and royal jelly to improve the nutrition of the larvae. Josephine displayed a deep bond with the bees and I could see she gave them a very special status. They buzzed around her, landing gently on her sari – both she and the bees seemed at one. As she held the frame of honeycomb that was crawling with bees, she explained the lifespan of a bee. When they are seven to 16 days old, their heads start to produce royal jelly that

is then fed to the queen. From 14 to 21 days, they produce wax from their stomachs to line the honeycomb. Josephine explains the architectural brilliance of the honeycomb. The super chamber is a closed chamber where there is an extra honey supply and the only chamber where honey can be extracted for our own use. The broad chamber is where the queen bee lays her eggs and seals the cells. There is the ‘engineering department’ where the bees build the honeycomb and bring back the nectar. She then explained the functions of different bees – the dancing bee who through vibrations, can locate which flowers to pollinate; the medical bee who treats the weaker bees; the soldier bee who sit in a gap beneath the box and kills any intruders; and last but not least the dead body bee who dispose off the intruders! There was another bee that she showed us – the stingless mosquito bee that makes honey as well. I was amazed with the ease at which she snapped this mosquito bee out of the air, very much alive and showed it to us through her fingers – like some sort of ‘Queen of the Bees’. However, she explains that the bees are her bosses and that there is a “sacred communion” between her and the bees as they have enabled her to lead the life she does. “They are not insects. The bees are angels. Winged angels.”

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2011

A Sticky Snack!

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Putting the honeycomb into my mouth felt like I was eating the infrastructure of a community. The architectural complexity of the honeycomb, with its super efficient chambers and every cell with an important purpose. A community built by the worker bees, soldier bees, medicine bees – like its own town with workers, nurses and an army. Having said that it tasted delicious, Josephine told us to chew the wax comb and that the honey will naturally separate. Being somebody who is used to consuming supermarket bought honey, processed 100 times with additives and preservatives, it was surreal to taste it in its purest form. It was very saccharine and concentrated and after a few sweet seconds of taste, it dissolved in my mouth leaving my mouth watering for more. After chewing the wax to get every drop of honey, I spat it on the ground so it will naturally fertilise more plants and flowers. What an amazing ecosystem! The comb she gave us was from the super chamber where the extra supplies of honey are stored so I didn’t feel so guilty about eating the honeybee’s hard earned honey!

Part II Rousseau Britto is Josephine’s younger brother. Rousseau’s focus lies in the marketing side of the business. His passion for organic farming is reflected in his bold ambition to promote and raise awareness of its importance, nationally and internationally.

Rousseau’s motorbike soon rolled up, chasing away a fleet of clucking chickens. As he sat down, he looked both nervous and content at the same time. The wisdom in his sister Josephine’s eyes were replaced with a sense of wide eyed wonderment in his. This was a young man, a passionate man with entrepreneurial spirit but also a childlike sense of wonder – somebody who wanted to learn, whose world is his oyster.

We sat under a sun-drenched veranda waiting for Rosseau Britto on his family’s 100-acre organic farm. We sipped freshly squeezed mango juice his mother had prepared as we listened to the gentle quacking of ducks – unlike the diluted sound of the traffic horns in the city we had left behind. Like his sister Josephine’s bee farm, the surroundings had a peaceful tranquility to them, broken only by his father’s voice – “the ducks are very bold and courageous” as two of them chased a chicken into a nearby bush. The peacefulness and the courageous ducks epitomise this family – gentle natured but brave and determined.

Rousseau graduated with a degree in marine engineering in 2003. After working for four years as a junior engineer with the Shipping Corporation of India, he quit the job in 2008 to nurture a new-found passion for ecofriendly systems. He began an organic retail outlet in Muthupatti called Raasi Organic Farms. Currently, he deals with the marketing side of this as well as Vibis Honey. His drastic career change is one of the most unique aspects of this venture. So, why did this young, educated man give this up? As his father owned the organic farm we sat in, he already had a familial background to the business. Rousseau explains,

A Blossoming Business

“People forget nature” because diseases such as cancer and heart failure come from non-organic sources. His goal was to raise awareness, an awareness he did not possess before.

Organic Only

I was curious about the beekeeping side of the business that his sister is so passionately involved in. He claimed he began the bee-farming on his father’s farm but after a cell phone post was put up, as the radiation drove the bees away. Because he deals with the marketing side of Vibis Honey, he admits that he doesn’t possess that special bond with bees that his sister, Josephine, does. As part of his marketing strategies, he exhibits new products and distributes pamphlets about the health benefits of honey and organic produce. Rousseau offers his expertise to farms in Chennai, Vellore, Kanchipuram, Villupuram, Puducherry and Cuddalore, each having a different ‘theme’. For example a sunflower farm will produce sunflower honey. I asked Rousseau if he would ever export the honey or any of his products

A peaceful enclave: Josephine’s farm in Alanganallur

Spot the odd one out!

Go Organic: Rousseau explains the importance and benefits of organic Farming

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2011

Volunteer Maxime Bailly interviewing Rousseau Britto

‘A Sweet Success’

How does Rousseau describe his success? He claims that one of his proudest moments was conducting a conference related to organic and honey bee farming in Chennai, where farmers from all over the world attended. According to him, it was the first time in India a retailer had done so. He claims his business is steadily growing because “word of mouth is more effective than watching television adverts.” It is in this refusal to conform to the strategies of big companies that his greatest success lies. “It takes time to become successful, I will not do any contamination.”

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abroad and he claims if he were to go near mass market exportation, he would invest time into improving the quantity and quality of production first, as many big players abandon that element. Yet, he does export a small quantity of health beneficial honey, such as Jamun and Multiflower to Germany and Singapore. It appears that both he and his sister value principles before profit. I was curious about what processes would take place in an organic farm – are there any tricks of the trade? He explains that he follows the biocycle calendar in order to determine the best days for cultivation and fertilisation. Due to the strained water resources in India, rainwater harvesting is essential. By leaving the dried leaves at the trees roots, they retain water and increase soil fertility. In terms of beekeeping, this can simultaneously improve cultivation through pollination. And in the case of sesame flowers, honeybee boxes improve cultivation by 200 percent! Although Rousseau claims not to have a special bond with the bees, he does claim that they motivate him in his work– “They work so hard and don’t expect anything from others.” I also enquired, as I had with Josephine, as to whether the price of organic honey might put customers off. He assured me that people won’t compromise when it comes to their health, after all, “When buying mobile phones we don’t hesitate in spending Rs. 10,000.”

Doing the Write Thing

There is another dimension to Rousseau. A dimension that you wouldn’t immediately assume – he is a writer. He explains that when he was as young as fourteen, he would read in his boarding school and was inspired by the writing style of C.N. Annadurai – the use of long sentences. Rousseau even has his own blog – kavithairooso.blogspot.com. He writes both poems and literature and claims to be inspired by “anything and everything”. For example, people who sleep on the platforms in Chennai, he will ask, “What do they do when it rains? There is a story there.” Again, I sense this childlike curiosity. Rousseau has a lot of questions and a yearning to learn. However, with his knowledge and experiences, he has a passion to share. The first book he wrote whilst at sea as a marine engineer – ‘Midhaviyil Poottha Malargal’ (“The Flowers that blossomed whilst I was sailing”), is a collection of poems about life at sea and organic farming. Rousseau admits that he has little time for writing these days but he has completed three books – one is published, the second is about to be, and the third is completed. One of his books focuses on farming and consuming – what we can and cannot eat and what fruits can prevent ageing. “Very useful for ladies” he jokes. And just so you know, he recommends avocados, carrots, radishes and gooseberries!

What is his advice to other entrepreneurs looking to partake in organic farming? “They must be involved 100 percent. They need to study and absorb the whole process.” And above all, they need a passion for it.

All the World’s an Oyster

Rousseau has, it appears, a bright future. But where does he see himself and the business in fiveyears time? His ultimate aim is for the business to become a leading brand in India but to stick firmly to his organic principles. And himself? He hopes to be the person to advise the government on organic farming and honey bee farming and to construct a five- year plan. “I’m young. I can give a lot of ideas.” Touchingly, he considers his role model to be his sister, Josephine. He describes her as “just like a bee.” Because, he says, she works so hard and asks for little in return despite losing her daughter, marrying young and moving to Madurai, knowing nothing of city life. He explains that he admires her passion for her work. “I always want to do jobs that will give me happiness.” For Rousseau, his success is not measured through income. “Within this two-year period, I have reached great heights, but not through money.” Why does he consider himself this successful? He claims that honesty, quality and hard-work are key and not being labour dependent as he mucks in with all kinds of work on the farm. Beekeeper, Organic Farmer and Writer Rousseau’s three passions that contain all the energy of youth and richness of time to unfold and naturally blossom…

Different Shades of the Same City:

Praying in Madurai By Max Goetschel US

Madurai is a city of many faiths, but one thing that everyone does is prayer. Max Goetschel attempts to explore this personal activity by discussing the different ways of how people pray in the city, and how this all reflects on the spirit of Madurai.

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or Madurai, night times are just as exciting as any other major city in India; that is, exciting in a much different way. On this particular night, the usually warm and humid air of Southern India felt electrified as thousands of Indians stood in a dirt field, praying with conviction in front of an illuminated stage. Two Indian priests spoke with booming voices; one in English, the other translating into Tamil. “Jesus shall lift your spirits to heights never thought possible!” the priest roared, as the other priest hastily interpreted him. “God has an infinite capacity of love for all his children.” Indians swayed and chanted, absorbed by the magnificent display before them. Behind the priests stood a grand and colourful backdrop, decorated with an image of Jesus surrounded

by luminescent, floating angels. I was standing off to the side, sitting next to an Indian family. One of the family members, a small Indian boy, smiled and waved to me. His father looked at me as well and smiled. “This is his first time at one of these ceremonies.” He explained in clear-cut English. “I am proud to bring my son to such events.” What I witnessed that night was a Christian ceremony preformed just outside the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary (TTS), located in Western Madurai. The TTS is a walled community of Christians that eat, live, and pray together. Throughout the year, several priests come to the compound to preach their word of God. The man I spoke to, whose name is Ramesh lives with his family here, along with 500 other Indian

Christians. My colleagues and I spent two weeks living in a guest house there. We foreigners ate in a separate area from the other families, but whenever we passed by the local Christians they smiled at us, and the children said “hello!” with a curious enthusiasm. Christianity has ancient roots in India; almost as ancient as the religion itself. It’s said to have been introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD to spread the gospel amongst Kerala’s Jewish settlements. Today, India has over 24 million Christians spread all across the country. Most of its followers are in East India, but there is also a substantial population in Southern India, specifically Madurai. Christianity is a religion well known for putting on exciting

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Madurai Messenger Faith August 2011

performances and having charismatic priests and pastors. You could see the same exhilarating performances from pastors in America as you do in India. For Christians, it is important to build a strong community within their community; external identity is important. “Expressing love to God is just as important as receiving love from him!” shouted the jubilant priest, as the crowd jeered in agreement. Of course, Christianity is far from the only religion in Tamil Nadu. In terms of size, the majority religion is Hinduism (88 percent), followed by Christianity, with Islam taking a close third. But the city of Madurai is especially known for its different religious cultures. As one of the oldest continuously St. Mary’s Cathedral

temple. When you escape the constant noise and density of the Indian streets, one can finally be alone with one’s own thoughts in the magnificent temple. Hindu temples contain extremely unique and colourful painting schemes. In terms of exterior color, the four towers that surround the Meenakshi Temple rival the lively St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia. Because of its intricate paint schemes, the temple has to be closed for an entire year to be repainted. The rejuvenation process occurs every 12 years. Inside the temple, Hindus practice a much different style of worship than Christians do. When Hindus come to the Meenakshi temple to pray (thousands of locals visit daily), they perform sacred rituals and follow strict customs.

even common in Islam when followers destroyed the idols surrounding the Kaaba during the conquest of Mecca. The Quran also states, “You shall not set up any idol as a Lord and Master beside Me.” (Sura 17). The difference between Hinduism and the other major religions is staggering. Polytheism vs. monotheism, pacifist mantra vs. encouraging conversion (sometimes with aggression), general conglomerate of beliefs and ideas vs. centralised faith systems, etc. But in Madurai, these differences of faith have never led to serious conflict. There has never been a religious riot in the history of the city (the caste system is far more confrontational). Here, the three major religions live in

The OM Symbol

exhibit far more faith and spirituality towards their philosophy than most religious leaders. Contrary to Christians, who practice their faith externally, or Hindus, who choose to worship at temples, Siddhars practice their spirituality exclusively internally. It is a difficult and arduous journey to become a Siddhar. That is why we were lucky to find and interview such a spiritual Indian. Pondion was standing at the doorway, draped in a clean white gown and scratching an equally white beard. When we approached his house he smiled, making us four guests feel as if we all were longtime friends. He stepped back from the doorframe and motioned for us to enter. We all filed in, nervous yet keenly interested in what A famous Mosque

beard, I could have guessed that the man was in his early 40’s. When I asked him his age, he replied “74.” in a thick Indian accent. He attributes this to daily meditation and not eating meat. Technically, there is no such thing as a living Siddhar. As Pondion carefully explained to us, you can only be a Siddhar once you have died and have been buried. Then, if you truly have achieved Siddhar status, your soul will be permanently fused with your body and your grave will be worshipped. What does being a Siddhar mean? “Being a Siddhar is when your soul is so elevated it can interact with God’s light. Then, you can truly know all secrets and mysteries, as well as seeing

These revelations ventured far away from the main religions of Madurai. But Siddharism actually has its roots in the Hindu religion, although Pondion cringes whenever Siddharism is referred to as a religion. “It is not a religion. It is a philosophy!” He lightly wags his finger at us, as if he was our teacher and we his pupils, subtly revealing his past work as a school principle. He is retired now, working on becoming a true Siddhar while taking care of his 98-year-old mother. The differences between all of these faiths are at some times subtle, and at other times, vastly different. Yet Madurai is a city of harmony and peace; it boasts some of the lowest crime rates in the country. Whatever faith or religion

Meenakshi Temple Rival

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inhabited cities in the world, Madurai boasts beautiful places of worship that are both ancient and new. It seems that every tourist that comes to Madurai visits the MeenakshiSundareswar Temple. With four vibrant and colourful towers guarding each side of the temple, stretching into the sky like sacred monoliths, the temple is famous world-wide. Although, as one of the largest temples in India, it’s surprisingly quiet. The first thing my travelling companions and I noticed (and greatly appreciated) was how noiseless it was outside and inside the temple. Even though the temple is situated in the heart of Madurai, cars and rickshaws are not allowed within two blocks of the

I witnessed Indians vigorously scrubbing a sacred rock, rubbing white powder on a statue, worshipping cloth adorned idols, and lighting cay pot candles in worship of their god. Actually, the last ritual is also practiced by Christians, who light candles as a way of extending one’s prayer and showing solidarity to whomever you’re praying for. The worshipping of idols, however, is a ritual that is strictly forbidden in Judeo-Christian religions. The Old Testament states that “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4) Smashing idols was

relative harmony, with worship a part of the daily lives of most individuals. When the Big Mosque from across the river turns on its loudspeakers and recites the fajir (Morning Prayer), no one seriously objects to the somewhat startling wake-up. Madurai is a city of devoted worshippers, with most of the population aspiring to be virtuous devotees. Muslims pray five times a day, Hindus visit temples twice a week and Christians go to church every Sunday, all without fail. But the city also has those who don’t subscribe to a particular religion. Some choose to focus on spiritual faith rather than religious faith. These people are called Siddhars, and these Siddhars

the home of a Siddhar looks like. We were shown to the first room of his house, which was also his living room. Three chairs sat next to each other on one side of the room, with a single chair facing opposite them. There was a coffee table in between it all. Pandion counted the number of heads in the room, and then went to fetch another chair. Three of us were told to sit down as our interpreter waited idly and humbly. It was clear that he greatly respected the Siddhar. When Pondion returned with a foldout chair, the first thing I noticed about him was that he had no wrinkles- none whatsoever. Other than the thick white

the past, the present and the future of life.” He stroked his beard periodically during his explanation and the following translation by our interpreter. To become a Siddhar, you must mediate every day for hours on end, eliminate any distractions that keep you from communicating with God, and you must teach, spread and share your knowledge of life with other people. Disregarding material possessions is important as well. “You do not need a single rupee to achieve Siddhar enlightenment. You do not need festivals or prayers or chants to communicate with God. It is all an internal process; an eternal evolution.”

you choose; there is no persecution when you are in Madurai. The spirit of the city isn’t one of great commerce or agriculture; it is a religious city for those who view themselves as smaller pieces in the grand puzzle of life. They are equally strong in their faith, yet they worship in radically different ways. Smoking and drinking are uncommon and pricy in Madurai. Instead, self -betterment and religious devotion are the real night life activities. The city has developed from an ancient Hindu town and transformed into a religious utopia. It is rightly called the cultural capitol of Tamil Nadu, and is a haven for those who are having troubles with faith; one does not need to go far to find inspiring conviction for God.


Madurai Messenger Tradition August 2011 Patriofism being practised

Keep Traditional Honey Gathering Alive

gathering all their life. Besides, it represents the main source of livelihood for the village.

Maxime Bailly visits Thottapanayakanur village, near Theni, and discovers the world of traditional honey gatherers. How do they strike a balance between being faithful to a traditional practice and adapt their livelihood to a changing modern context? For someone, who until recently thought that honey was a product from super market shelves, he gets a close encounter with the risks and challenges faced by tribal honey gatherers, for whom the profession is a sacred calling. By Maxime Bailly France

Actually, honey gathering does not happen in the village but on the rocks of the mountains. To go there, not only do the gatherers have to walk through forests and bushes to reach the mountains, but also have to set up a specific “magic” system to protect themselves from predators in the forest tempted by the honey. Once they arrive, they use a rope system to climb up several meters to get to the honey. The gatherers then prepare smoke to drive away the bees. They sing a “magic” song to protect themselves from bee stings, while also honouring their ancestors. Indeed, the chief pointed out to me that they have a spiritual relationship with the mountains: “We consider mountains as gods.” The villagers have built a temple for the mountains. Before each honey gathering, all the gatherers of the village pray to God for giving them honey and protection. Once they have extracted the honey from the mountains, they separate the honey, rock and honeycomb. On an average, they spend seven to ten very exhausting days to extract 5 kg of honey: the main purpose being to bring back only pure honey to their village.  

Changing Tradition 14

Honey gathering is strenuous and time consuming. It is also dangerous and risky. A fall from such heights could result in either death or serious injuries. Honey gatherers are often at risk from predators such as bears and the ever present threat of snake and scorpion bites. The children in the village have no real alternatives other than this occupation. Hence the gatherers welcome the decision of the government to build schools in such tribal villages that would give their children a gateway to better opportunities.

I

ndia is well known for preserving biodiversity and supporting the traditional system of honey gathering. With the expansion of this activity, honey production could be an essential part of the Indian economy. Moreover, Indian bees are well known for their immunity and resistance to diseases. This is in contrast to bees, in the Western world, 50 percent of which died due to Colony Collapse Disorder in 2009.

Honey is one of the few natural products, which does not need to be processed. Therefore, the process of collecting honey has to stay natural. In India, there are two different types of honey collecting: using bee boxes and gathering honey from trees and mountains. Eager to know about the latter method of collecting honey, I visited the tribal honey gathering village of Thottapanayakanur, near Theni. The village of Thottapanayakanur is located far into the countryside in a remote area. To get there, I travelled through long roads surrounded by bushes, little villages, and dried fields and arrived in the tribal honey gatherers’ village early morning. All eyes were staring at me as if I was an alien! Then, I was surrounded by Indian

The Tribal Honey Gatherers

villagers and was introduced to the chief of the village, who began to tell me about a very interesting activity in the mountains: honey gathering.

A traditional Indian activity

The village comprises of more than 150 gatherers including children.

This tradition of honey gathering has endured in the village for years. Traditional honey gathering has been passed down from the expert gatherers to new entrants. The village is a community where the adults are like bee teachers, wise men who maintain the traditional way of the in the village. Everyone lives in the cradle of honey

Besides, the Indian government is planning on making honey gathering uniform and official. Some official organisations such as TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited) have organised a collection model for honey gatherers. This plan would improve gathering techniques and create an official honey market for the villages. The chief has heard nothing about the official helpful plan. So far, he has been more confident in receiving help from other tribal villages than from the government. But, he hopes that the government will do it. Despite lack of help from the government, the chief is planning to accept an offer from a private company which could help them to develop their activity. This company would boost their production and provide them a weekly wage. On a global scale, Indian honey gatherers will produce more and more honey and will occupy an essential place in the world market. However, there is every chance that the company is hoping to exploit gatherers to generate bigger profits. Commercialisation of honey gathering could also disturb the traditional culture of the village and ruin the sacred relationship between the people and the mountains. Above all, the gatherers would break the limit fixed by the government to get the honey and thus would take more risks. Gathering would become more dangerous. Consequently,

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A Picturesque view of the Village

honey gathering might cease to be a beautiful tradition and turn into just another factory process system.

The Indian Hope

The gatherers love their occupation despite the dangers. They respect the mountains and are concerned about conservation and eco sustainability. Despite the advent of business models and market trends that would change the face of the traditional activity, the chief of the village is clearly unwilling to compromise. On behalf of the gatherers, he demands that the company pays them regularly, despite irregular collecting and ask a fixed price of Rs. 300 for 5 kg of honey. Despite the many challenges, the private company seems to be the only option for this traditional village of Thottapanayakanur to develop further.


Madurai Messenger Tradition August 2011

A Photographic Memory

16 World record holder Ashik (7) with his most prized possessions

Professional achievements...

Do you know where to find Papua New Guinea on a blank (!) world map? Nicaragua? Turkmenistan? Most people would fail when confronted with a challenge like this, but seven-year-old Mohamed Ashik does not even hesitate two seconds before he unerringly places his index finger on the countries mentioned above (and many more). Obviously, he is not just any little boy. Kristina Wilshusen profiles the young achiever with a prodigious memory. By Kristina Wilshusen Germany

“Y

oungest World Map Memoriser” says the biggest medal in his collection. Ashik, studying in 3rd standard at Le Chatelier School, is Madurai’s youngest world record holder! He is most famous for his achievement of memorising the names of 195 countries and pointing them out on a blank world map within three minutes, though his actual repertoire is much more.

How is it that a seven-year-old kid knows all the countries of the world, a task which hardly any grown-up would be able to complete? Surprisingly enough, it was not geography which got the ball rolling in the first place. It was food! When he was two and a half years old, Ashik often asked his father for blueberries, a wish that the latter was unable to fulfill. At a loss, S.A. Shiek Alaudin eventually explained to his son that blueberries were available only in London. This statement sparked the

eager little boy’s geographical interest: “Where is London?” His father showed him the U.K. on a world map, but little Ashik was not satisfied. He kept asking for the names of more countries. Later that day, when his father came back from an outing, he was amazed to find that his son still remembered the names and locations of all the countries he had pointed out to him! The family realised that Ashik must be blessed with a photographic memory.

By the age of four, he had mastered the whole world map and set the first milestone on his way to the world record. His father decided to train him and started a paper folder containing all the documents which are evidence of Ashik’s success: certificates of participation in various competitions, newspaper articles and letters from well-wishers etc. In the meantime, both Ashik and his father have lost track of the actual number of competitions that he has taken part in. “Ninety or hundred”, estimates Ashik confidently. It has to be noted, however, that not all of these competitions are about memorising the names of the countries of the world. Such a one-sided approach would not do justice to this boy’s talent! He also competes and excels in elocution and chess contests. “It is all very easy to me”, remarks Ashik when I ask him if he ever suffers from stage fright. “I’m never nervous.” His father plays us a video of the aforesaid world record attempt (to be found on Youtube ), which underlines this statement. Onscreen Ashik rattles off the list of the countries of the world like a well-oiled machine and never fails to find this or that country on the map, not even tiny places like Liechtenstein or San Marino! After that, the representatives of the World Records Academy test him on random neighbouring countries. The video features Ashik pacing the stage calmly. All his answers come as loud, clear and quick as lightning: “Poland? Germany!” – “Canada? USA!” Mind you, he is not allowed to look at the map during the task. While we are watching the video, I glance at the real Ashik. He whispers the names of all the countries in absolute accordance with his on-screen self. Obviously, he has not forgotten a single thing since the day of his world record performance! What does Ashik like to do in his free time, then? “Studying! I love reading books, especially general knowledge books.” Let’s face it: such an answer usually makes you wonder how much of all the studying is based on a kid’s own initiative. In many families with a child prodigy, the most ambitious people are actually the parents! Ashik’s case, however, does not evoke any doubts like that; his extraordinary interest in geography and history is genuine. It goes without saying that his family is very proud of him. Conveniently enough, they never have to remind or encourage him to do his homework! Thanks to all his competitions and achievements, Ashik has already had the pleasure of meeting various high politicians and esteemed persons such as the former President of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, and Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi. Considering his young age, the “file of successes” which his father keeps in his name is amazingly thick now! And thanks to his endless thirst for knowledge, there’s bound to be more to come. Both Ashik and his family hope that they can come up with the financial means for him to compete in international memory competitions in the near future. Apart from the world record, one of Ashik’s greatest achievements is his participation in the All India Elocution Competition on the topic “I revived the Mahatma”, conducted by the Leprosy Mission Trust of India in New Delhi in 2010. Ashik was the only representative of Tamil Nadu in this National competition. Dressed as Gandhi, he surprised both the jury and the audience with a fabulous speech – without even glancing once at the notes in his hands. Moreover, he did not seem bothered at all by the fact that he was the youngest

Ready for the next challenge!

competitor! All the other states of India were represented by older students. Ashik’s boldness paid off: he came out of the competition with flying colours, second place and a large trophy, which can be found on a shelf in the family’s sitting room now. On top of the trophy sits a cuddly pink teddy bear. The ambiguity is striking. On the one hand, Ashik looks like a little professor with his neat school uniform, his glasses, his tie and the tie needle. He also behaves like one when he performs or talks about his skills, very casually and professionally. As a matter of fact, not only is his memory stunning, but also his knowledge of the English language! On the other hand, he is still a boy of seven years. Just before we finish the interview and say goodbye, he eagerly asks us, “Do you want to hear my teddy bear sing?” Off goes the pink teddy bear. It is very reassuring to see that underneath all the professionalism, there is still a refreshingly normal little kid! After all, Ashik will grow up soon enough and maybe become a real professor one day. What about his personal dreams and ambitions for the future? Ashik’s answer fits perfectly into the picture: “I would like to work in International relations, maybe with the Indian Foreign Service.” His father adds, “Ashik wants to become an ambassador, building bridges of understanding between the countries of this world!” One could hardly imagine a more promising candidate for a mission like this. Which country would he visit first, then, if money was no issue? Once more, Ashik does not hesitate: “London, U.K.!” Probably, he still has this image of blueberries in his photographic memory…

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Madurai Messenger People August 2011

A Stitch in Time

her business without being selfish. Moreover, she told us that her social responsibility to her employees led her to success. Thanks to yoga classes that she conducts for her employees, she has a very good relationship with them. Also Vijaya Lakshmi works around 12 hours every day, usually from 9 am to 9 pm. But it’s different with her employees, 90 percent of whom are women and only 10 percent are men. Thus, most of them have to take care of their family. SoVijaya Lakshmi ensures that do not work more than eight hours a day.

Vijayalakshmi- The Proud Owner

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The woman behind the business, “Sanatana Ladies Tailors”. “Powerful” and “successful” are the two words she uses to describe Vijaya Lakshmi, who has been instrumental in providing employment opportunities to a lot of marginalized women.

Vijayalakshmi is ably supported by a committed and efficient staff. S.Balakrishnan, the accountant, who earlier worked with Madura Coats, has been with Sanatana for nine years. Jeya, the first employee of Santana, is the public face of the business. Most clients ask for her the moment they step inside. She is responsible for getting orders and also delegates work to the employees. Jeya has two daughters. The work opportunity has given her a sense of independence and identity. Her employment has enabled her to educate her daughters, one of whom is studying to become a teacher. Arun, a young man, liaises between Sanatana and the women who work for Sanatana from home. He has been here for five years. He also has many other things to do. He purchases thread, lining cloth, lace and other materials. Arun also irons clothes and helps the accountant, S.Balakrishnan.

By Anouk Hello France

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amaste, greets Vijaya Lakshmi, the owner of Sanatana Ladies Tailor, as we enter her office. I found myself face to face with a spiritual woman with deeply rooted beliefs and principles. Intrigued by her very Indian greeting, she later told me that she loves this traditional Indian greeting because it is based on the belief that the person who greets sees God in every human being. Vijayalakshmi even opted for a spiritual name for her business—Sanatana –a Sanskrit word that means ‘permanent,’ or ‘the eternal law’. Inside the shop too, I felt the spiritual atmosphere, thanks to different portraits of Swami Vivekananda and, behind her desk, a large photograph of Sarada Devi of the

She, however does not doesn’t manage the business single handed; but is helped by her whole family. Her sister is the owner of the new embroidery section, Brahmasagar.

Sri Ramakrishna Mutt, who are Vijaya Lakshmi’s inspiration. About ten years back, Vijayalakshmi started the Sanatana Ladies Tailors as there was no tailor exclusively for women in Madurai. Vijaya Lakshmi set up the tailoring business because of her interest in social work. Thus principles; not profit; was her primary motive. Indeed, the business runs very well with a staff of 50 and a friendly and pleasant work atmosphere. Vijayalakshmi doesn’t have any problems either with competitors, customers or employees. Last year, she created an expansion called Brahmasagar, which consists of an embroidery section and a blouse section. She not only has customers from Madurai, all over India (Bangalore,

Chennai or Delhi) but also from USA, UK, Singapore and China. She is also getting some requests from the two last countries to expand her business. Finally, some of her customers have been coming regularly to her shop since the business began, around ten years ago. The business has around 30 clients every day in the off season, and 60 every day during festival and school time. Vijaya Lakshmi is obviously a powerful and a successful woman. But in my opinion, her power comes more from her generosity to her customers or to her employees. Her goal in life is doing something for the others. While several poor widows work in her business, she wants to help the others, like Swami Vivekananda did all his life. She runs

The Ladies at Work

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Another person who is very important in the business is Hema, the fashion designer. She designs new clothes because, as she said, fashion changes. For example, a few years ago, there were only sarees, but nowadays, she also designs jeans and mini skirts. Her clients have a range of preferences and varied tastes. Clients from Singapore are more interested in blouses whereas those from China prefer miniskirts and shirts. She has only been here for three months, and she already has future plans. She would like to design costumes for films. Recently Sanatana has expanded to include a blouse and embroidery section, Brahmasagar. Located in a one-floor building, the embroidery section is in the ground floor, and the blouse section in the first floor. In the blouse section, we find five types of clothes: Churidhars, salwars, blouses, silk skirts, shirts and school uniforms. Jeya, an employee of this section, is not only responsible for billing but also checking the number of clothes stitched every day. The section makes around 30-40 clothes every day. Jeya, who has been here for six years, is a tailor. The embroidery section, , which is managed by R.Banumathi, Vijaya Lakshmi’s sister, makes a range of embroidery-based clothes: plain machine made embroidery, Zardosi, Chumki, patchwork, and the embroidery with stones. The most expensive embroidery is the Zardosi work because it is handmade with stones and springs. Hema, one of the embroiderers in the section says, “You just have to be interested and patient,” Perhaps it is this simple philosophy that has enabled Vijayalshmi improve the lives of the many women who work at Sanatana—one stitch at a time.

Mrs. Jeyalakshmi- The Efficient Employee


Madurai Messenger Heritage August 2011

A Living Heritage Qian Xu visits Chidambara Vilas, the 106-year old Chettiar mansion in Pudukkottai and steps back to experience the traditional old world Chettinad charm.

Chidambara Vilas

By Qian Xu China

Panoramic View

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uilt 106 years ago by the prestigious T.S. Krishnappa (TSK) Chettiar, the TSK family house has now been converted into a luxury heritage resort – Chidambara Vilas. On a sunny Monday, we visited this palatial mansion in the peaceful village of Kadiapatti, in Pudukottai district. Chidambara Vilas is 4 km off the famous Thirumayam fort. Mr. Premchandran, General Manager, Marketing, and Mr. Manikandan, the FNB (Food and Beverage) & Guest Service Executive, led us into this exclusive heritage experience. Chettinad houses are well known for their rich cultural heritage of art and architecture, and this 106-year old mansion lives up to this reputation. The first floor of the house preserves the historic past and invites guests to step back into the yesteryears of Southern India. Each room has a Tamil name that reflects the cultural heritage of the Chettiars. For example, Mogappu (lobby), Valavu (where male members used to sleep and store their valuables after marriage), and Bommai Kottai (where festivals and ceremonies were celebrated). As we step into the rooms, we are transported to a world of nostalgia. We were amazed by the intricate carvings and colourful paintings, each being different and unique in its own way. All these paintings, including the ones in all the rooms, are original. Though more

The Swimming Pool area

As we step into the rooms, we are transported to a world of nostalgia. We were amazed by the intricate carvings and colourful paintings, each being different and unique in its own way. than one hundred years old, the colours looks bright and freshly painted! Vegetable oil is what makes this magic last. We also discovered several other ‘secrets’ of Chettinad art such as the use of eggshells to plaster the walls, which makes them soft and smooth. Truly, the Wisdom of the Chettiars! I was also pleasantly surprised to notice the blend of the Chettinad tradition with Western artistic influences. The exotica was evident in the Belgium mirrors, Italian floorings, pillars made out of imported rose wood – no wonder it took seven years and seven lakhs to finish this masterpiece!

Inner view of the Palace

Modern comforts come along with the old-world charm. The modern kitchen is located in the back yard; air conditioners are hidden strategically behind the wardrobes in each heritage room; a mini bar is situated next to the activity room, where guests can try their hand at traditional indoor games played by women. These include pallanguzhi, played by women with little beads on an artistically carved wooden board with shallow depressions; and another traditional Indian game—Paramapadam or snakes and ladders. The backyard is converted into a swimming pool installed with Jacuzzis; even the flooring in the lift is made of Athangudi tiles—the traditional hand made brick fired tiles made in Chettinad, that is also used everywhere in the mansion to recreate the ambience of a traditional Chettinad home. The house is renovated to suit the physically challenged guests as well. Ramps and other facilities are installed in the true spirit of inclusiveness to make any visitor feel at home.

A visit to Chidambara Vilas is not complete without tasting the Chettinad cuisine. Seeing the banana leaves with pickle and thovayal waiting in the dining hall, I could hear my stomach rumbling! To get a taste of authentic Chettinad cuisine, we were required to eat with hands from a banana leaf, as in the traditional Indian way. Chettinad cuisine is famous for its aromatic spices and coconut that make the cooking simply delicious. We were really excited as we headed towards the lunch room, where yummy food was waiting for us! To start with, we were served cauliflower soup, the best appetiser! The main course included rice, carrot and cabbage curry mixed with coconut, sambar, rasam and curd, served with dollops of pickle! Guess what the last exciting dish was – Payasam, a traditional South Indian dessert. For health reasons, the food is now cooked with less oil. Lunch at Chidambara Vilas is limited to Chettinad cuisine only, but for dinner, a range of international cuisine is provided. For breakfast, guests can even watch a live demo of how the delicious chapattis and dosas are made. A number of cultural programmes are arranged free of charge for guests. These include a trip to the morning bazaar in a bullock cart, classical Indian performances, and the upcoming ayurvedic health spa—activites that recreate the magic of a bygone era. As Mr. Premchandran concluded, “Chidambara Vilas is not just an accommodation; it is a place to experience.”

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Madurai Messenger Village Voices August 2011

The Temple Town

village. There was a strong sense of community, irrespective of occupation or background, as they all knew each other and would refer us back and forth depending on our questions.

of Tirumohur

Place

Jennifer Byres and Clarisse Treilles visit Tirumohur Village to discover the ancient temple that makes this village so unique. They experienced the warm welcome of its inhabitants and learnt of the ancient legends surrounding the deities of the temple. By Jennifer Byres

Tirumohur is a village situated between Madurai and Othakadai. It is 9 kilometres from the periphery of Madurai and is 15 kilometers from the centre of the city or around a 40-minute drive. It is famous for its ancient temple-the Kalamegha Perumal temple, a Vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, believed to be around 1000 years old. The village is scalloped by mountains, the most famous of them being Yanamalai. Stretches of paddy fields form a green patchwork quilt in the landscape.

Population

The village has a population of approximately 15,000. The life expectancy is around 75-80 years of age, with the oldest person approaching 90!

Scotland, UK

Production and Labour

At the heart of Tirumohur lies the ancient Tirumohur temple. The presiding deity of the temple is Kalamegha Perumal. There are shrines for Goddess Mohanavalli, the Divine Consort; and Sudharsana or Chakrathalwar; the discus of Lord Vishnu.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes in Tirumohur!

Located right outside the temple, there is a row of tables with people selling beautiful garlands of flowers, namely Jasmine – which is a popular flower with which South Indian women adorn their hair. Although it is marketed at temple visitors, it is reflective of the large floriculture industry that dominates Tirumohur. We talked to M.S. Srinivasan, a retired engineer, who told us that at the foot of the ‘elephant mountain’ (Yanamalai), was the Agricultural College of Madurai. The florists were part of the tertiary sector of this industry, and they seemed to take great pride in their work.

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People

M.S. Srinivasan had told us that after he retired as an engineer from the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai in 1993, he became a priest at the temple. I noticed the distinctive Vaishnavite symbol on his forehead—two white lines, drawn in a v-shape with a red line in the middle, that I also saw painted in and around the temple. He told us that he had been educated at the local elementary school in the village. As it happens, Tirumohar has only one school, and further schooling has to be outside of the village.

Towering: the Tirumohur temple stands proud

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pon arrival in Tirumohur, we were struck not only by the colourful and powerful dominance of the temple, but of the curious smiles of the locals. In particular, the ones selling colourful arrays of flower garlands that were hand-picked in the sprawling fields surrounding Yanamalai or the ‘elephant mountain’.

However, there was calmness when we appeared, and we soon found out that the people of Tirumohur were used to meeting foreigners! The temple attracts both locals and tourists, so we did not have so much of a celebrity status! It was around 11 a.m. when we arrived, and the sun was beating down on us

with a furious glare. We retreated to the coolness of the temple, absorbing the aroma of jasmine and burning incense as we padded from room to room in wide-eyed wonderment. Outside the temple, men, women and children all seemed eager to express their thoughts and feelings on life in the

We talked with some of the younger inhabitants, who were selling garlands with their families. We met a boy called Singaraj and a girl, Arumugam, who were both 18 years old. They told us that they sell flowers from 6 am until noon and then from 4 pm until 8 pm. The business is 25 years old and currently, 30 percent of the population is involved in it. The temple attracts tourists from both India and abroad, therefore it is suitably marketed. We met Kumar, who held a very important position in the temple. During the festival months of January and April, he

Local women prepare stalls of flowers and fresh fruits


Madurai Messenger Village Voices August 2011

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Agriculturists at work

Work Hard, Play Hard!

would assist the temple priests by holding an umbrella for the deities as they were taken around the temple as part of the circumambulation. We were told that the Kodimaram or the dwajasthambam (the gold post in the centre of the temple) is the main part of worship in Vaishnavite temples. We were shown various small shrines that housed different deities. For example, a small temple on the left of the Kodimaram was the shrine of Hanuman, the Lord of strength. Kumar himself has served in the temple for the past 35 years. During his time, the only reconstructions that have taken place are some white sculptures on the roof and paintings that were constructed specifically for the kumbabhishekam or consecration of the temple. Kumar explains that consecration happens every 12 years, with the last one being performed in 2010. He explains that on the first day a coconut is taken to the top tower of the temple. The coconut is split open and the water is poured from the height. The remaining parts are offered to the main deity of the temple – Perumal. Before we were led into the passage way towards Perumal, we noticed two very peculiar statues covered in yellow paint. These were of Rathi and Manmatha or the God of Love covered in a yellow powder or turmeric. We were shown the tiles on either side of the passageway to the Perumal shrine that depicted stories from

the epics of Ramayana and Mahabarata. We reached the shrine where a priest performed a ritual before giving us thulasi leaves that has medicinal benefits for curing colds and fevers. He gave us holy water and also placed a bell-shaped object that represented the feet of Perumal, on the heads of devotees. The sacred lotus temple tank is the place where Vishnu assumed the form of the enchanting Mohini, when the gods and demons were wrangling over the nectar that arose from the churning of the ocean.

Problems

Even though the temple generates income for the people in the village, their financial problems are far from over. Clearly, flower vending as a business seems insufficient to provide a decent standard of living. Yet, a quarter of the village is involved in it. Singaraj, for instance, had to discontinue his studies at the age of 15 in order to support his family after his father’s death. He became the ‘man of the family’ when he was just 18 years. For Selvaraj, and many others like him, the sale of flowers is at best a short-term solution to earn some money. As Selvaraj is into full time paid employment, he is unable to study. The financial problems of the family are a vicious circle

that entraps young people and deprives them of an education that will equip them to earn better. This trend is common in the village, but recently there has been a dip. Indeed, 50 percent of the current generation in the village is educated, in contrast to only 25 percent from the oldest generation whop have pursued education beyond the primary level. The fact that there is only one elementary school (which is a hundred years old!) in the village explains why 90 percent of the parents send their children to school but it only provides them a basic education. That is why young people have to leave the village if they want to study further and to work in a field other than agriculture. M.S. Srinivasan’s daughter now lives in Ireland, as she is married to a physician who worked in Chennai. People who have higher work expectations need to leave the village in order to find a job. Otherwise, the people in the village are dependant on government grant and subsidies. The only hospital is 5 km from Tirumohur. Therefore care in the village is rather basic. The common ailments are cold or fever. However, as life expectancy is quite good, we wonder if the medicinal plant, called the Tulasi, which is part of the sacred offering to the Lord, is the secret of longevity in the village.

Prospects and Promise The children learn English right from the time they enter school. While we entered the school playground, we heard them welcome us and understand what the teacher told them in English. This early beginning could well be a stepping stone for their higher educational aspirations. We, at Madurai Messenger, hope that with the government emphasis on universal primary education, and improved economic conditions, their aspirations may grow skywards and soar like the towering gopuram of the Temple Town.

Parting ways We left this peaceful village with the smiles of the children and the legends about the temple in our minds. Before we left, we visited the local school. Although the children were in the middle of lessons, they came rushing out to greet us with beaming smiles. They hastily offered us seats, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay. However, their warm welcome and innocent curiosity will remain in our memories of this village. We left as we came; no crowd, no agitation; just simplicity. On a Thursday afternoon, all the villagers were looking for shade and only the millennium temple remained still, similar to a lighthouse illuminating the whole village.


Madurai Messenger Exhibition August 2011

The Power of Gems Manon Stalder visits the jewellery exhibition organised by the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation and is dazzled by the material and spiritual value of the gems. By Manon Stalder Yverdon, Switzerland

significance in the Hindu religion. Only seven gems are considered to be precious. These gems are the ruby, the pearl, the coral, the emerald, the yellow sapphire, the blue sapphire, and the diamond. The 77 others listed are considered to be semi-precious. In the Hindu religion, there are five elements that are associated with a particular gem: fire, water, air, sky, and earth. They can be associated to the following gems: • Coral and Ruby à Fir • Yellow Sapphire à Sky • Pearl and Diamond à Water • Emerald à Earth • Blue Sapphire à Air The main role of gems is to protect humanity against the malefic effects of planets that can sometimes cause harm. They think that each stone attracts a cosmic ray. Your birthday can actually determine what gem represents you, due to the location of the planets and stars at the time of your birth.

Characteristics Of The Gems

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Busy Purchasing!

Zarina : The Jeweller

A Gem is Born

Zarina: a jeweller

The story begins in the centre of the earth where the heat and pressure are high… after some millions of years of minerals crystallization, a gem is born. The Hindus think that each precious stone contains the gravitational force and the energy of the earth. Consequently, gems are gifts for humanity; a protection against bad luck. Besides their spiritual value, people adore gems for their beauty, rarity and durability.

Exhibition in Madurai

The jewellery exhibition at the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation, Ltd; was held in July 2011. Numerous objects of Indian cultures and traditions were displayed at the show. In the middle of these mountains of holy statues and candelabras, you could also see a long table covered with jewellery. There were ornaments of different styles—bracelets, necklaces, and ear rings—but you can also just buy a pendent or a gem and get a feel of the place.The building is managed by Mr. V. Ganesan, who works for the government. Each family of jewellers is chosen and paid by the government. Thus, we can see the will to maintain and develop the Indian handicraft business.

During our visit, we met Zarina, one of the jewellery artistes. She is especially skillful with crystal. She has been a jeweller for over three years. She explained to us that she takes two hours to make a necklace. Her favourite gem is the diamond, but her diamond jewels were not displayed in this exhibition. She smiled and invited us home to see them.

Gems galore

There were ten different kinds of gems at the exhibition. Their prices vary with the rarity of the gem, the location of extraction, and the work of the jeweller. The two most expensive stones are the ruby and emerald. The maximum cost is Rs. 96,000. But most of the jewels cost between Rs. 500 and 2000. There aren’t just stones, there are also jewels made with products from the sea such as shells, corals or pearls. A lot of bracelets are made of shells, which can be engraved with a machine.

The Right Jewel for the Right Person

Customers usually do their research on how to find the perfect stone. After all, there are many different symbols and meanings that go behind each gem. Each gem has a particular

Ruby

Vigour, command, love, passion

Pearl

Calm emotions, happy conjugal life, protection from widowhood

Red coral

Courageous, cures blood diseases

Emerald

Memory, communication, intuition

Yellow sapphire

Financial status, honour, fame

Diamond

Luxurious life, fame, artistic quality, sexual power

Blue sapphire

Cat’s eye

Pretty Pearls

Eliminates long term misfortune, longevity, happiness Protects against enemies, mysterious dangers, drowning, intoxication and government punishment, and also brings fortune

A Way of Life

A customer named Srividhya confided to us that she comes to the exhibition with her husband each year. She studies each piece attentively and discusses gems with the artistes. Mr. V. Ganesan is happy that this exhibition was just as successful as the last one. The subject of the last exhibition was “spiritual collection.” He is proud to say that this exhibition made over Rs.200,000. The field of spiritual and magic power seems to be very important for the typical Hindu customer. The exhibition just goes to show that to be Hindu is not only a religion; it is also a way of life. From the smallest gems to the biggest temples, everything has significance in the Indian way of life.

All that Glitters is Jewellery

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Madurai Messenger Books August 2011

Finding your Path: Thatzzzz the question!

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his delightful spiritual was written by American author John Penberthy, an “ardent student of Life and Spirit.” Passionate about nature, his vision of seeing the “Divine in all” led him to write the simple yet profound, To Bee or Not to Be. The book is the story of a young bee called Buzz, who tries to find his own path in life. The thematic black and yellow illustrations by Laurie Barrows complement the text. Interestingly, when Penberthy was just a year old, he remembers being stung by a bee! Later, as an adult, his engagement with blindness prevention and nature makes me wonder if blindness could be a metaphor for the darkness of ignorance in which we live most of our lives.

To Bee or Not to Bee is about “the journey from I to We”. It follows the story of a little bee called Buzz who takes us on a religious, spiritual and philosophical journey. With simple words and beautiful illustrations, the American author John Penberthy creates a buzz with this book, translated into 13 languages, conveying his deep message which can bee enjoyed by all ages!

Buzz lives in a world which he does not understand. He is involved in the huge “industrial” society of honey making called a bee hive. Like the other bees, Buzz has to work everyday to gather nectar from blossoms, which is a very painful job. He carries his heavy load to the honeycomb, day by day, month by month. Work, work, and more work are the only goals in the lives of the bees. Why does he have to do all this work? What is the purpose of the endless work of the bees?

By Maxime Bailly and Julliette Bonhoure France

Title: To Bee or not to Bee Author: Written by John Penberthy and illustrated by Laurie Barrows

“Don’t bee so concerned about them, Buzz. They’re doing what feels right to them, just as you are. The power of the mind lies in perceiving differences; the power of the heart lies in perceiving similarities,”

Year of Publishing: 2007 Publishers: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Price: Rs.399.00 Buzz doesn’t really understand the purpose of such meaningless work. He wonders why he has to pursue this simply because the others in the hive do so. He likes to stand on top of a poppy

flower, view his surroundings, and feel the gentle wind through his skin. Nature fascinates him. He always wants to see beyond the mountains, far away from his valley, which he knows only too well. Buzz feels alone. Nobody seems to think like him. He would like to change the mindset of the other bees. He tries; he fails. He wants to give up work; yet he can’t. All his reflections are quite painful. But one day, he meets Bert, another bee, who opens his eyes and begins to change his vision of his world. Bert is an old and wise bee. He tells Buzz that his interest about nature and exploration is not incompatible with the work he does. Moreover, Bert tells him that his desire to change the minds of other bees is certainly not a good way to act. He is after all, only a bee and can’t change the world: “Don’t bee so concerned about them, Buzz. They’re doing what feels right to them, just as you are. The power of the mind lies in perceiving differences; the power of the heart lies in perceiving similarities,” says Bert. He has to adapt himself to this ‘industrial’ society if he wants to do something about his life. The young bee Buzz learns a lot thanks to Bert, but also by tapping his own inner resources. “Thinking is certainly a part of it” said Bert, “but no means all of it. There’s a higher part of you that can control even your mind but you can only connect with it through observation and experience. The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” Buzz confronts several religious questions and the blurred idea of a God. He doesn’t really understand why some people have to give a name to this force, to pray, or to institutionalise their worship. Afterwards, when he is trapped in a severe storm, he understands the vulnerability of the bee society. The bear attack is also a difficult moment for the queen bee who sees her bees struggle and die to protect her. All these events give Buzz a different perspective about the notion of God, of fairness and of unfairness: “God cannot bee comprehended; only experienced.” Buzz, in all these different adventures, assimilates several experiences.

This book was a fascinating read. It offers several insights and mature reflections about our lives. It is also really easy to identify ourselves with Buzz. “When I was young, I always wanted to be different. I really didn’t understand why people had to conform to society. With time, I realised that being different doesn’t have a real meaning: “Our basic problem is that we perceive ourselves as separate from the others and our surroundings, apart from God, but everything is also interconnected,” writes Penberthy.

“It is not only with your mind that you can think. You have to experience and live.”

29 The only way to understand my surroundings was, at first, to accept and understand myself. Obviously it takes a whole lifetime. You can’t change all the things around you, but you can change the vision you have about these things. But Bert’s wisdom, gathered from his life experiences, can’t be forgotten. For example, he says, :“It is not only with your mind that you can think. You have to experience and live.” In this book, many of Buzz’s experiences are universal. Travelling, meeting someone, death, disaster - all of these events can have a strong impact on our lives and can change our vision of our world. Our life is still the same in the end, but our vision and our way of living changes drastically. The illustrations touched me with their simplicity. The black and yellow colours thematically capture the spirit of the bees. A simple story, appropriate illustrations, and profound philosophy— what more can one ask for?


Madurai Messenger Books August 2011

Healing Naturally

“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.”

A heart warming story set in the American South, about a young girl’s coming to terms with her troubled past—a process facilitated by the bees, with wisdom and compassion, write Maxime Bailly and Manon Stalder By Maxime Bailly and Julliette Bonhoure France

Title: The Secret Life of Bees Author: Sue Monk Kidd Publishers: Headline Book 30

Publishing Year of Publishing: 2005 Price: Rs.295

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he Secret Life of Bees is an interesting book that takes the reader into the world of a little girl, Lily. She is only fourteen but her life is very complicated. She has faced many difficulties such as racism, a violent father, and her own guilt at having accidentally killed her mother. But fortunately, the bees are going to see to it that Lily follows the right road. Sue Monk Kidd provides us insights into the world of a teenage girl.

Making Peace with the Past

The story takes place in the South of Carolina in 1964. Lily has lost her mother and lives with a father who neglects her. She is constantly troubled by the memory that she has accidentally killed her mother. She definitely wants to know her mother’s past. The house still has some objects which remind her of her mother like a small wooden picture of a Black Mary with the words “Tiburon, S.C.” written on the back. Lily’s only friend is the housekeeper Rosaleen, a black woman, who takes care of her. In 1964, despite the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the Blacks were still not on an equal footing with the Whites. When Rosaleen goes to register to vote, she is attacked by three white people and she is arrested. This injustice encourages Lily to escape with Rosaleen from jail and run away. She decides to find the place written at the back of the Black Mary’s picture: Boatwright residence, home to three black sisters who are bee keepers. Arriving at the beekeepers’ accommodation, Lily lies about her identity, her motives to be at Tiburon and her intention to stay there. The sisters, May, June and August welcome Lily into their family. In contrast to the widespread prejudice against the Blacks,

Lily discovers the true nature of Blacks through the ways of the Boatwrights and their beekeeping. With this new family, Lily builds a new life for herself. She also learns about the religious values at the Boatwrights’ residence. At first, she was surprised at the statue of the Virgin Black Mary. Thanks to August, the eldest of the Boatwright sisters, Lily begins attending the meetings and seeing more of their unique religion. Then, she meets Zach, August’s godson, who helps her with the honey. Later she has her first relationship with him. Moreover, they always encourage each other to achieve their goals in a racially segregated society. Zach wants to become the first Black lawyer in the area and Lily wants to be a writer. When Lily and Zach go to harvest honey, Zach and his friends get arrested for injuring a White man. The Boatwrights decide to hide this shocking news from May, who is abnormally sensitive. Unfortunately, she hears the news, and commits suicide. Afterwards, Zach is released from jail and life begins to return to normal. After several rejections, June Boatwright, a school teacher, agrees to get married. Besides, Zach and Lily are no longer secretive about their relationship. After some days, T. Ray, Lily’s father comes to take her back. But she clearly claims that she wants to stay there and August supports her decision. T. Ray lets her stay with the Boatwright sisters and her new family.

The Bee Metaphor

Sue Monk Kidd took three years to collect information about bees before writing this book. However, the novel is not about the life of bees. These insects are the central motif that guide Lily in her life and help her. Thus, bees are a metaphor for the love which the girl missed. Lily is fascinated by the bees. Each time they

appear, it is to do good. For example, they weld the small community of Tiburon, which subsists with revenues from collecting honey. This stability enables Lily to reconstruct herself and her life. Honey is symbolic of the close knit community of the Blacks and the bonding in the Boatwright household. The symbol of the Black Mary on the jar of honey forges a link with the theme of racism omnipresent in the novel.

Breaking Stereotypes

Racism is the dominant theme in the story. In the beginning, the author describes the abusive arrest of Rosaleen. It’s abusive because she is within her new rights. The Civil Rights Acts in 1964 is the first main step against inequalities between white people and black people in America. Nevertheless, in the United States particularly in the South, people were still disrespectful of the Blacks. They were still refused their rights such as vote, and attending the same schools and sharing space with Whites in public places such as restaurants. The book denounces clearly, the difficulties in applying the new law. But, when Lily and Rosaleen arrive in Boatwright house, they are warmly welcomed. The Blacks are no different from the Whites. They believe in the same God, they are friendly, successful and are also able to run a profitable business (beekeeping), despite the painful segregation.

A Perfect Summer Read

There are many similarities between the lives of Lily and the author. Both have grown up in South Carolina and began writing at the age of fourteen. The Secret Life of Bees is a best seller that has sold over 4 million copies. Written in simple English, it touches people of all ages. The story is full of emotions. It’s a perfect summer book. I advise readers to take a jar of honey while reading the book!

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Madurai Messenger Film August 2011

180 Days: The Countdown Begins What would you do if you had six months to live? This question is introduced in the film 180, which was released recently. The bilingual film in Tamil and Telugu is directed by Jayendra, an ad filmmaker. 180 is Jayendra’s first feature film as a director.

By Clarisse Treilles Paris, France

Title: 180 Cast: Siddharth, Priya Anand, Nithya Menon Director: Jayendra Language: Bilingual (Tamil and Telugu) 32

180 is a romantic film since the three main characters, Ajay (played by Siddharth),Vidhya (Nithya Menon) and Renu (Priya Anand), are involved in a love triangle. Beyond the love story, the film is also about a young man who decides to leave his past behind and start a new life in Chennai, South India. In Chennai, Ajay prefers to be called Mano and gets involved in helping people around him. He finds satisfaction in driving an old lady on his bike or in giving some money to street children who can’t afford to go to school. A young woman, Vidhya, who is a photojournalist, wants to know more about him and then starts to follow him in the city in order to get a chance to meet him. Vidhya is increasingly attracted by his generous nature. This beginning could be a perfect start for a romance in India, between two young protagonists. But Ajay hides a huge secret behind his generosity and his smile. Ajay has an incurable form of cancer. He is condemned to die in 180 days and this truth is the title of the film. Beyond love, the film deals with darker issues, which are disease and death.

A tragic story

The film could be compared to a tragedy in the way it deals with freedom and fate. Indeed, there is a tension between a desire for freedom and an absolute constraint, represented by the incurable disease. Ajay chooses to live day after day without any rule that could restrain him. To do so, he decides to abandon the past life that he led in the United States. He decides to instill the belief that he is dead, so that his wife could have a chance to forget about him. This tragedy is the background of the story, and it is introduced through the use of successive flashbacks. It seems like wherever he goes; ghosts

from his past surface. The more he tries to escape from his past, the more memories come back to haunt him. The past and present are constantly confronted symbolically through the two women characters. The first wife belongs to the past; she lives in an idealistic world, where affluence rules and where life seems to be very easy. On the contrary, the young journalist belongs to the present and she is closer to reality as we can follow her daily life as a journalist and as a woman in love with Ajay, a.k.a. Mano.

A Gateway to

Openness For Jennifer Byres her visit to Madurai is all about being receptive to new experiences, which she believes has the ability to counter culture shock. Already she admits that she has forgotten to use the knife and fork and is comfortable with eating with her hands! 33

Mano stands between these two women as a free person who wants to be the master of his destiny. He decides to struggle against fate and cancer by imposing his freedom. Even though Ajay is physically condemned, he tries to rule over his life. ‘Freedom above all’ is the immediate image that came to me after watching this film.

Jayendra’s fingerprints on 180

On a technical aspect, 180 showcases Jayendra’s interests and skills. As an ad filmmaker, Jayendra is used to working on short films with the latest technical effects. In 180, we see that he uses ad film techniques in order to create outstanding and effective images. He attaches great importance to impressive visual effects such as slow and fast motion, or panoramic views over beautiful landscapes. The eye of the camera is really varied and captures the evolution of the characters very well. The film doesn’t give any answer on how we are supposed to live when we are condemned to die in 180 days, but it helps us, for sure, to understand the meaning of sharing, loving and experiencing the world, whether we are ill or not.

By Jennifer Byres Scotland, UK

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n my arrival in Madurai, I came bombarded with expectations and preconceptions. A year earlier, I had visited Sri Lanka through Projects Abroad and even from the first bumpy landing on Madurai soil, I was comparing everything from the language and the people to the height of the palm trees! The stifling heat, the way a cow and a taxi moved up and down the chaotic roads reminded me of Sri Lanka. Perhaps I noticed things that I would not have otherwise noticed, if I hadn’t recently visited the same part of the world. The people in Madurai have a more innocent charm about them. For example, on my first day I went shopping to the town hall with my host Mum, and four other volunteers I shared the house with. The gaggle of women shop assistants took it in turns to brush past us and ran off giggling, like a game of truth and dare or knock and

run. It felt surreal but I felt flattered, it made a change to being ogled at. The food of South India I have found to be a novelty. Breakfast, lunch and dinner over the past couple of days have very much become a central part of my day. I like not knowing what to expect and immersing myself in the unknown – nothing seems to taste like it looks! Eating with my hands is a custom that I feel I could easily become used to. I’ve already forgotten what it feels like to pick up a knife and fork! Everybody from my host family to the people who have made my coffee each morning at the stall next to the office, has been warm and welcoming. Throwing myself into this experience with a completely open mind has reduced any culture shock that I may have otherwise felt.


Madurai Messenger First Impression August 2011

Embracing the Unknown

Welcome to India

Clarisse Treilles writes of her bewilderment on encountering the spicy south Indian food and the sights and sounds of a bustling city. Her take way however, she says, is the kindness of the people in India.

What is this sensation when you smell the first perfume of India? The feet hardly put to the ground, you are bewitched by typical intense smells, flowery and spicy. You feel better, you feel so alive writes Anne Laure.

By Clarisse Treilles

By Anne Laure

France

France

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he day I arrived in Madurai, I knew that I would need a transformation in my understanding of the world. Indeed traveling isn’t just a matter of leaving a country for another one, different in many ways. Traveling is about `opening the doors of our sensation`. Everything about the smells, and the colors or the food is different here. All of my senses are confronted by the unknown. The spicy food is the most uncommon and disturbing sensation, it is way different from the French food I used to eat until now.

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In the streets of Madurai, I do nothing but watch things that surround me from the smallest detail of clothes to the huge architectural monuments that seem to be rising from nowhere in the heart of the city. Through the window of a bus, I could see a woman seated on the sidewalk peeling onions while observing life going on around her. I loved to see children walking down the side of the road wearing their school uniforms. I paid attention to the elegant girls` hair; their long black hair plaited and attached with colourful ribbons fascinated a tourist like me. I try to catch the atmosphere of South India, its heat, the horns of the buses, rickshaws and bikes trying to always go faster. It seems as if people are always in a hurry. However, this impression contrasts people’s perception of time, which seems to spread indefinitely. But the most pleasant thing about India is the kindness of the people. Whenever you are in trouble, someone is ready to help you.

Indeed traveling isn’t just a matter of leaving a country for another one, different in many ways. Traveling is about `opening the doors of our sensation`.

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ndia surprises and attracts many people. This country is so peaceful, so relaxing, where we find that one can meditate peacefully. My first steps as soon as I came out of the airport were unforgettable: the stifling heat, humidity, the continuous honking, the smells and colours. We, as foreigners, are not used to this ambience. None of our colours can compete with those of India. We feel insipid compared to palette of colurs in this tropical paradise. India has got a lot of charm. Like this circulation without law, without rules. I have never seen something that can be compared to this. Buses assume a weird, abnormal shape with the weight of the passengers. Sometimes it is impossible to even get on to the bus. There are so many people who assume themselves to be great adventurers as they try to hang on to the doors which remain opened. This is my first visit to India and my views regarding the same. Incomparable is the instant thought that comes to my mind.

My first steps as soon as I came out of the airport were unforgettable: the stifling heat, humidity, the continuous honking, the smells and colours.

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Madurai Messenger First Impression August 2011

The World’s Friendliest People

On the Bhagavad Gita Trail

Kinge Eliza Gardien says that despite the fact that she finds India “crazy” in every possible way, she is bowled over by the friendliness of the Indians, who she declares are the world’s friendliest people! By Kinge Eliza Gardien, Holland

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he first that came into my mind as I arrived in India was the word crazy. The numbers of people is crazy, the traffic is crazy, and that it’s usual to advertise for a bride in the newspaper is really crazy!

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When I arrived at the Chennai airport, I did not know where to go. There were people everywhere and when I walked the right way, they sent me to another direction. I needed to hand in my bag somewhere and I was just left there standing. Then I met two of the nicest people—an Indian mother and daughter on their way home to Bengaluru. They helped me with everything, where I needed to go, where I had to leave my bag and they brought me to the airport lounge. They were so open to me. We had been talking for hours about everything. After that, I went to Madurai to meet my host family and the people I would be working with during my stay. I realised that it wasn’t just the family I met at the airport that was very nice. All Indian people are. They will help you with anything and they want to know all about you. They give you the feeling that you are welcome in their country. Compared to the Netherlands, where I come from, people are so open here. So, even though it is really crazy over here, people will help you with everything and are very open to visitors. Because of the help you get and all the people smiling to you, it just feels good to walk on the streets and be among the Indian people. It feels right.

‘Reckless’ is the word Max Goetschel uses to describe the traffic on Indian roads. He says it is really difficult to have a quiet phone conversation in Madurai traffic. He also talks about the similarities and contrasts that caught his eye. By Max Goetschel UK

M

y first impression upon coming to India is that India is a land of different speeds and paces. Traffic is at a level of aggression I’ve never seen before, but the people are as reserved and peaceful as though they were perpetually at church. India is a country on the cutting edge of technology, yet it leaves behind those who cannot change with the rapid times. It is not an uncommon sight to see a sprawling mansion next to a decrepit slum, or a limousine pulling past a swarm of chirping rickshaws. My first day in India was a mixture of sounds, different and familiar. Identifiable cell phone rings, the engine of an accelerating Lexus, and the French language of my roommates all greeted my first hours of being in India

and made me feel slightly at home. But I have also experienced brand new sounds. I’ve never been more frustrated than when I tried to talk to a friend while walking next to a bustling Indian street. Every time I tried to make a point, a rickshaw horn blared in my ears! Luckily, the local language has been much more kind to me. I’ve come to enjoy listening to the bouncing consonants of the Tamil language while sipping sweet and spicy chai on a tea break. The best preparation I made for India wasn’t the countless pages of travel books I read, nor was it all the Wikipedia pages I scanned in anticipation for my trip. The best preparation for me was to read the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that

discusses different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies, filled with examples and analogies. After reading the text and conversing with people of India, I could almost feel the peaceful practices that the book preaches- treating God as a teacher instead of a feared being, having the utmost respect for your enemies, and the oddly comforting idea that the soul is eternal and the body is only temporary- everywhere I go. When I interact with Indian people, I very much enjoy the simplicity and matter-offactness of Indian speech. But if I had to sum up my first impression of India, it would be… Reservation in conversation, recklessness in driving!

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Madurai Messenger First Impression August 2011

An Innocent

Abroad “Chaotic” is the word Maxime Bailly uses to describe his experience with Madurai traffic. He shares with us, the various happenings on his first day at a place that is entirely new to him. By Maxime Bailly France

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arrived at the Madurai Airport and that was the moment when my first impression about Madurai was created. I did get stares and also had the feeling of being treated as an alien at certain times. But on the whole, it was a memorable experience because I had most of the Indians treating me as one among them. When I was waiting for the next flight, an Indian man came up to me and we spoke for a couple of hours. He warned me about the difficulties I may face when conversing with locals. I had no big plans for my first day. I had less confidence in myself because language is the most sustainable means for a foreigner. My first steps in India were a little bit strange because I was overcome by the feeling that I was in a different world. As I had just arrived, even small issues seemed to intrigue me. I couldn’t figure out their impressions and thoughts about me. I was sure that they were wondering who I was, a tourist or someone from overseas. Each step I took, I was wary of drivers because it seemed like both the vehicles and me were parallel to each other. I was very cautious whenever I was on the road. I hurried back to my cool and cozy guest house as it was very hot outside. I preferred to spend the rest of the day drinking water and staying under the fan for the last hours of the day…

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My first steps in India were a little bit strange because I was overcome by the feeling that I was in a different world.


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When I was a little girl, my mother’s thick flowing black hair fascinated me. Braided into a long plait that curved down her back, its serpe...

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