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November 2012

Volume 2, Issue 36 Sponsored by:

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Indian Railways: Knitting people across the nation Plus: Parallel Careers: Chartered Accountant and Author Varalotti Rengasamy


Contents

EDITOR’S CORNER

November 2012 | Issue No. 36

Editor Dr. Nandini Murali Copy Editor Bhuvana Venkatesh

EDITOR’S CORNER

01 The Web of Life COVER STORY

02 Southern Railways and Madurai Junction-

Project Coordinator

A Great Connector

Archana Sundararajan

BEHIND THE SCENES

Journalism Supervisors B. Pooja Journalism Administrator G. Durgairajan Designer & Technical Support T. Jesuraja

09 In the Engine Driver’s Seat HERITAGE

12 Ooty Train-Chugging along the Mountains A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PORTER

16 They Also Serve Who Cart Your Luggage PROFILE

18 Dr. Tarun Chhabra: Reporters & Photographers Shoko Suzuki

Conversations with the Todas

Yulia Skopich

FACE-TO-FACE: VARALOTTI RENGASAMY

Nicholas Magnolfi 2

Manami Mizukami Eriko Morikawa Brydee Streader Giulia Testaverde Simon Mussard Camille Gobin Christoph Trimbach Cover Photograph G. Durgairajan

20 Inspired by Life ENTERTAINMENT

23 Go for Go-Karting! ISSUES

26 The Great Indian Traffic CAUSES

28 A Man for All Causes BOOK REVIEW

30 Train to Pakistan: Bloody Exodus FILM

32 Burning Train: Action on Wheels 34 Murder on the Orient Express: Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd.,

The Web of Life

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y feet trampled on the carpet of colourful leaves of every possible hue. Rust brown, burnished gold, mellow mustard and tender green. Sometimes my feet sunk in softly on the wet leaves; at times the dry leaves crackled and crumbled to powdery nothingness…. The leafy loveliness was enchanting. The early morning sunlight streamed in through the green canopy and lit up the wilderness with a soft luminescence. I was walking through the Arippa lowland evergreen forest, on the Thiruvananthapuram-Shencottah highway. Almost accidentally my eyes looked up. Suspended right before me were the gossamer webs of the Giant Wood Spider, (Nephila maculata) the largest arachnid species in India. The concentric webs that were almost 2 metres in diameter were suspended between trees. The female of the species, with its black body and characteristic mustard markings at the joints, was at the centre, reposing in sacred stillness. Every thread in the web glistened in the early morning sunlight like filigree. I stepped gingerly on the dry carpet of leaves and caught my breath as I pressed the camera shutter. The filigreed webs looked like crocheted handkerchiefs hung out to dry in the mellow sunlight. Although the webs looked apparently fragile, a spider’s web is one of the strongest materials in Nature; stronger even than steel or nylon and with greater elasticity. The Papua New Guinea tribes even use them as fishing nets. The most notable feature of spiders is their ability to produce silken threads, which are made of protein. They are very thin, about 1 micrometre, i.e. 0.01 mm in diameter. Each thread weighs very little. A spider web composed of 70 feet of silk thread weighs less than 1/1000 of a gram. Last week, at a writing workshop with the journalism volunteers, the spider’s web was to be a vivid analogy. Writing is like spinning a web. Like the spider, as writers, we need to keep the focus of our writing as the centre of gravity and spin around it. Every thread in the tapestry we weave must originate from a still silent centre within us and radiate symmetrically in all directions. Paradoxically it then becomes immaterial whether we start from the centre and radiate outwards or start from the periphery and find the centre. When each of us discovers our own centre of gravity, we discover a certain stability in our lives. It’s no wonder then that we don’t collapse, like the spider’s webs I saw in Arippa stretched against a canvas of the Sky and the Earth.

Still Making Tracks After 38 Years VILLAGE VOICES

Contact: editor@maduraimessenger.org MADURAI MESSENGER No. 17, T.P.K Road Pasumalai Madurai – 625004 Tamil Nadu India Tel. 0452-2370269

36 Toda Tales FIRST IMPRESSIONS

40 Diving into Madurai

Dr. nandini murali Editor

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story November 2012

Southern Railways and Madurai Junction:

A Great Connector

Nicholas Magnolfi spends the day trailing the personnel of Southern Railways and spends hours at the Madurai junction as he traces the historical advent of the railways in British India and its metamorphosis into a widely networked public sector undertaking—the Indian Railways—which is the world’s longest and most connected railway service. He gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the key people who keep the rail junction ticking-engine drivers, station masters and the porters—all of whom we take for granted By Nicholas Magnolfi

years later, in 1969, the first express lines were launched. The first line was the Pandyan Express, a train route from Chennai Egmore to Madurai via Tiruchirapalli that travelled at a speed of 68 miles. Then in 1977, the Vaigai Express was launched, which is one of the most prestigious trains in the Southern Railways. It runs every day from Chennai to Madurai at a speed of 307 miles. The railway system in India is not at all commercial; it runs entirely for the public. In reality, travelling by train is the most common and cheapest form of transport in a country as big as India. For example, Chennai-Madurai, by train, in a non-A/C compartment is just Rs. 107 whereas, by bus, it would be Rs. 580. Lenin Kumar, Station Manager, who is adept at orchestrating details

United Kingdom

A star performer

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hen I was told that the Indian railways was the backbone of India, I found it hard to believe. In Europe, the railway is not much more than a public transportation, which you use occasionally for short distance travel. But the system between the countries involved is entirely different, therefore more interesting, and a subject which is absolutely worth delving into to discover the details.

A historic past Our story starts when India was still a British colony and completely dependent on them for building its infrastructure. In 1853, Britain established the Great Southern Indian Railway Company headquarters in London. Shortly after, in 1869, the Carnatic Railway Company was also founded and subsequently merged into the original company. It was then to be registered as a firm called the South India Railway Company, in London in 1890, with the headquarters at Thiruchchirappalli (Trichinopoly) in South India. The headquarters were moved twice; first to Madurai and then finally to Chennai, where the headquarters still continues to operate even today. Throughout 1944, after the Indian Independence, the company was nationalised. It would finally become the Southern Railway of the Indian Railways on April 1, 1951.

At the entrance to Madurai Railway Junction

Madurai JunctionThe beginnings Madurai Railway Junction is one of the major railway junctions of Southern India and the headquarters of Madurai railway division. As Madurai is one of India’s oldest towns, it has a long and

important history. The station opened in 1875 and the very first train operation was on September 1 that same year. The very first journey, however, was to Tuticorin and took place exactly four months after, on the first day of the year 1876. A little under a hundred

Currently, Madurai is one of the best connected Southern railway stations, considering that there are many express lines going to all the biggest cities in India. The Indian Railways categorise stations by revenue and then classify them accordingly. For a station to have the highest classification, it has to have an income which is higher than Rs. 50 crore per year, a figure which Madurai Junction acquires. In truth, Madurai has an income of Rs. 250,000 per day, which, would amount to Rs. 90 crore per year. This is due to the fact that there are a total of 25,000 to 30,000 passengers using the train and station facilities every day, which, in total, amounts to 140 trains per day travelling through or departing from Madurai Junction. Further proof of the importance and power of Madurai Junction can be found when we read the letters sent by satisfied customers, all of them complimenting the services that the organisation’s staff have offered over the years. Madurai Junction even got a Rs. 75,000 reward from the government for such exemplary performance.

Comprehensive services Due to the enormous rush of passengers on Indian Railways, all stations must have the appropriate facilities to ease travelling, obviously including those for

“The station opened in 1875 and the very first train operation was on September 1 that same year. The very first journey, however, was to Tuticorin and took place exactly four months after, on the first day of the year 1876.” disabled people. Having these facilities in each station is very challenging if you consider the number of stations throughout India. Madurai Junction, however, has all the facilities needed to make your travel comfortable: pure drinking water, baggage check-area, computerised reservation centres, LED mega TV to display train timetables, ATM kiosks, e-ticket booking kiosk, restaurants, A/C waiting room, taxi and auto stand, cloak room and even a shop selling travel amenities. Apart from all this, there are the facilities for the physically challenged which include a separate counter and booking office and a ramp in the following areas: reservation office, waiting room and VIP entry, special upper class toilets, specially designed water drinking taps and lastly there are wheel chairs available free of charge for those who need them. On the trains themselves,

Southern Railways provide some important services too, independently, through their staff. The bathrooms are clean and well-maintained. Not only the bathrooms, but also the coaches themselves are cleaned regularly and are in a good hygienic state. The Madurai station has MRV, Medical Relief Van, are mandatory for all stations, and the Breakdown Specialist Car, that travels to any location and fixes any problem with the engine or the locomotives of the train. Furthermore, the staff on board the train are very helpful and work to resolving problems. There are also various vendors who sell their goods on the train, from egg biryani to plain drinking water. Recently, Madurai Junction has undergone a series of renovations to make it more accessible and comfortable. Renovations for the inner area were carried out: the interior

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story November 2012

S.Balasubramanian explaining his responsibilities as a station master to Nicholas Magnolfi

The view from the engine room

Not an easy job! Engine driver coordinating the entrance into the station.

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5 retiring rooms, the veranda, the lounge and the passenger information display. As for the entrances, the east entry was extended, the south side of the main entry had a new booking office and the façade at the main entry was smoothened and rendered elegant. Lastly, in the platforms: the circulating area was improved with vacuum dewatering concrete with guiding tiles and the paving, shelter and coach indication was significantly developed. These renovations laid for the first stone for Madurai’s eight platforms, connected to the ten train tracks. These renovations were overlooked by the Station Constructive Committee, who planned and ran the operation. Moreover, Madurai Junction has a 140 tonne crane at its disposal for maintenance and building.

Web of personnel The managing of the railway station and all its passengers is not at all an easy job. A network of personnel is crucial for the station to work, and they even work without any recognition. In Madurai Junction, I had the opportunity

to interview six different members of staff and enquire about their job. The man with the most important job, the gazetted railway manager, overlooks the smooth running of the station and deals with any emergencies. In this case, the man in charge is Lenin Kumar, a person with great experience who is on his second run as station manager for over two years now. His job is challenging, and he is in complete control of 16 departments which include operations, commercial, engineering, cleaning, police, lobby and carriage crew. Additionally, he is responsible for the smooth flow of station operations, for over 140 trains that run out of this junction. Kumar says that the most important thing in this job is to go with a smiling face and an open-mind. As a matter of fact, his training was very much focused on the social aspect of being a station manager; for example, he once gave his number to an ill passenger who was getting on the train and told him that he could call at any time for any reason. Another example of his dedication and hard work; his mother had fallen ill but he was unable

to visit, because he needed special permission and a substitute. “To do a job with such a degree of commitment, you must sacrifice some aspects of your personal life,” says Lenin. All in all, in Tamil Nadu, there are only five gazetted station masters in the stations of Trivandrum, Madurai, Trichy, Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore.

The kingpin of the railways: The station master The job of a station master, as is defined by themselves, is like helping a blind person cross the road. This is because a station master has to run the train through an elaborate series of train signals, so that the engine driver knows when to proceed to avoid problems with other trains from other directions. The signals work in the same way as traffic lights: red means stop, green means go ahead. The way this is done is through the “route relay interlocking panelcontrol”, which is an electronic board on which the station master can control the signals and the points, which are the machines that allow the train to change

To do a job with such a degree of commitment, you must sacrifice some aspects of your personal life, says Lenin. train track and therefore direction. With this complicated machine, he can control the single line traffic-trains that are only going in one direction, and the double line traffic-trains which are going in two directions. To avoid collisions in the double line traffic, the station master makes sure that the train is in a station where there are two train tracks, so that one train can occupy one platform and the other another platform. Then they can depart again in opposite directions, so that a collision is avoided. His job is therefore very important, because there are people’s lives at stake, and any sort of distraction can be fatal. That’s why the station master emphasizes that when you start working, you must have a completely clear mind and ignore the requests

of the passengers and his fellow staff members alike. For a station master, the worse type of train accident is indeed a collision, but there is something worse, which is a non-collision. The assumption of the damage would be much more costly to the train station, and the responsibility would fall on the station master and the station manager.

Safety for all The priority of all railway employees is the safety of the passengers. Yet it does not stop just with that. There is also the safety of the people who are crossing railway tracks all over India. There have always been many problems with the unmanned level crossing, where the public must use their discretion to judge if it is safe to cross the tracks. The safety divisional officer must look at educating the public about safety. That person must find new and innovative ways to constantly remind people of the dangers of crossing an unmanned crossing, and must show them how to do so. To do so, the safety divisional officer uses educational propaganda,

reminders, explanations and images on day to day objects. For example, the pens that children use at school have “stop, look and proceed at unmanned level crossing”. Also the hand fans of the elderly have that same warning engraved on them. Then there are the usual posters and pamphlets handed out at each crossing. Additionally, the safety divisional officer must make public speeches to remind people to stop, get out, look and proceed, at every crossing. Annually, September 7 is desginated as the International Unmanned Level Crossing Awareness Day, to remind the public of the procedures and of the potential dangers in violating the guidelines. Act 131, written in 1998, also clearly states that the duty of the driver to take certain precautions at unguarded railway level crossings as does section 161 of the 1989 Railway act. A safety divisional officer is responsible for his division and the other stations which are included in that division – this way, a huge area of India can be covered and educated. In fact, accident rates have been going down in the last


Madurai Messenger Cover Story November 2012

The headmistress, Girija Velan, and a teacher, P. Rajeshponkumar, fervently and happily explaining their school system

The hardworking porters of Madurai Junction

The under rated goods train Trains are not only used to transport passengers, but also goods. And that’s why the goods guard has a crucial job. His top job is to ensure that the train is in good condition. The goods train guard can use his walkie-talkie to talk to the engine driver and station master. In case of emergencies, the goods guard has a free phone to signal all problems and share the nature of those problems. If they are indeed potentially dangerous, he has control over a siren which will cause immediate evacuation of the junction. On an average, a goods guard has to check ten trains, whether they’re departing or passing through his division. A goods guard has no holiday, he has to be entirely focused and dedicated to his job

All jobs are important in a railway station, and, even though often underrated, the porter’s job is just as hard and important as any other. A day in the life of the porter is a very hard one; work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with an average daily profit of Rs. 150-250. But if there aren’t any passengers, they don’t make any profit. A porter gets paid depending on the weight he carries, at Rs1 per kg. Passengers grateful for their service, often tip them, even though the porters rarely ask for tips. They are given a license by the government for easy identification. They are currently looking for ways to ask the government for perks other than an annual free travel with their wives.

If, for example, there was a problem at an unmanned level crossing, it’s the person Crossing the track who is responsible and not he engine driver who is usually following protocol

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few years, to the point that there has only been one accident in the last six months.

The porter: A man for all seasons

“When the passengers sleep, we are awake. When they eat, we are hungry” is the motto of the engine driver. This job is the most important of all, because a slip up means potential death The kids had a little surprise for us!

Some excited schoolchildren posing for the camera

throughout the whole year. After five years of being a goods guard, they are promoted to senior goods guard and finally to passenger guard.

The all important engine driver “When the passengers sleep, we are awake. When they eat, we are hungry” is the motto of the engine driver. This job is the most important of all, because a slip up means potential death. Crucially, an engine driver’s job is to control the speed and the signals. There are two things that the engine driver absolutely cannot do: enter a station without permission

and steer without the order of the station master. The engine drivers follow this order so strictly that a Madurai Junction engine driver said, “If the Indian Railway Minister were to tell me to proceed without the signal, I would not.” Generally, the responsibility is only his if he disobeys one of the two previously mentioned rules. If, for example, there was a problem at an unmanned level crossing, it’s the person Crossing the track who is responsible and not he engine driver who is usually following protocol. All in all, there’s almost 100% probability that the person guilty of the accident is the person crossing.

The Railway Mixed Higher Secondary School playground

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story November 2012

In the Engine Driver’s Seat Yulia Skopich spends a day with engine driver J. Thirumoorthy and gets an insider’s perspective on what it means to be in the engine driver’s seat. After listening to the passionate engine driver, who has a diploma in mechanical engineering, talk about the multiple challenges in his profession and how he applies managerial skills to his work, she concludes that here’s a man who was born to be an engine driver! By Yulia Skopich Russia

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. Thirumoorthy (50) is an engine driver of the MaduraiRameswaram Express. His working day starts at 6 a.m. He confesses that his work timings are not fixed. His work can start at 4 a.m. or at 9 a.m.; sometimes he works at night and he finishes his working day the next morning. It also depends on what train he will drive because he drives trains that ply different routes from Madurai to Villupuram,Kanyakumari, and Rameswaram. He has one full day-off every six working days. J. Thirumoorthy confesses that in spite of this, every day is a busy day for him. The busiest month for the Indian Railways is May because its vacation time for schools and colleges.

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The Southern Railway Women Welfare Organisation dream team!

In protest and as a form of request, they do not use this free pass till their children also get one. The equipment provided to the Madurai Junction porters are wheelchairs for disabled and trolley for carrying heavy luggages.

Bottlenecks As with any major undertaking, the Southern Railways has also to deal with several problems and challenges. The main problem, which is common in all railway companies, is the passengers who often travel without tickets. A large number of people don’t buy any which costs Southern Railways about Rs. 5 crore every year. This loss of income impedes further improvement activities, either at the stations or on the trains. There is also the challenge of making the railways a preferred and more eco-friendly mode of travel – often people prefer to travel by road, which though more comfortable, does contribute to more congestion on the roads. Another major problem on the train is hygiene. In theory, when the train stops at a station, passengers are forbidden to use the toilets. However, many people do use them

J. Thirumoorthy began working at the Madurai Railway Junction in 1984 after completing a diploma in mechanical engineering. Candidates who want to become a railway engine driver should qualify in the exam conducted by Railway Recruitment Board. Those who have qualified the railway engine driver exam are the first given the post of diesel or electric locomotive assistant driver. After getting considerable experience in the field, one is promoted to the post of a railway engine driver.

resulting in the waste being ejected on the tracks, which then has to be cleaned. The most dangerous problem is that of people crossing the manned and unmanned level crossings, with a lack of caution. People cross anywhere and anytime, sometimes risking their lives. To counter this, the Railways have made it a punishable offence for crossing the tracks and not using the bridge or other facilities. Even though the educational propaganda has had its effect, there are still fatalities. The Indian Railways is a conservative public sector undertaking, based mostly on the willingness and hard-work of the good-natured people that work there, right from a station manager to a porter. It is a fantastic system, reminding us that we’re not yet at a point in history where everything is mechanised. The Indian Railways have many problems to deal with, and still has a long way to go to provide a perfect system for the huge population in India. Yet despite the constraints the system of rail network that criss crosses the length and breadth of the country is crucial for the nation’s 1.2 billion people. If there ever was a problem with the Indian Railways, it would bring India to her knees.

J. Thirumoorthy remembers his first trip as an engine driver. Although he was initially nervous, he quickly regained his confidence and composure and was certain that both he and the job were made for each other. He has never regretted his choice.

A demanding job

J. Thirumoorthy, 50, an engine driver with the Indian Railways

“Certainly, it is very difficult job because I must concentrate only on the railway track and I am nervous every time when I drive a train. Although I cannot see the passengers, I know that I am responsible for their lives. Despite this stress, I really enjoy my work. You can close your eyes for few minutes in other jobs; here it will be impossible because

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Madurai Messenger Behind the Scenes November 2012

Akshaya’s school for mentally retarded run by Southern Railway Women Welfare Organisation

Volunteers and our Journalism supervisor, Ram Kumar, with Madurai Railway Junction Loco Pilots Team

10 accidents can happen if you do so. In other jobs, you can take a lunch break; here I cannot stop driving the train because I am hungry or I want to go to the toilet,” he explained. The wide variations in weather is another factor Thirumoorthy has to contend with For example, today in Madurai it may be windy and rainy but in Rameswaram it may be hot. That’s why an engine driver must be in perfect health. From 45 to 55 years, engine drivers have a full medical inspection every two years and then from 55 to 60 years, they have a full medical inspection every year. Doctors especially concentrate on the eyes and heart. If engine driver develops health problems, he will have to quit his job. Compromises are impossible. An engine driver retires when he is 60 years.

A master decision maker Certainly, trains, like other forms of transport, have problems. The major problem faced by Indian Railways is carelessness of people at unmanned level crossings. When accidents happen, the engine driver has to make

quick decisions making and solve this problem himself. He can only report about it at the next station and get help. That’s why it’s important that his decision making skills are sure, swift and sound. J. Thirumoorthy thinks that trains have many advantages over other forms of transport. “For example, at the most, there are only about 15 passengers boarding at a stop, but I can have about 30-60 people on a train. In a bus, passengers travel together with driver but in trains there is a separate compartment for the driver, which is a good idea as passengers cannot disturb him when he drives. I can also drive a motorbike but it is not as interesting as driving a train. I like my job very much,” explains Thirumoorthy. J. Thirumoorthy is the first person in his family to be an engine driver. Although because of his demanding work schedule he is unable to spend sufficient time with his family, they have adjusted to his erratic work hours.

The excellent services they receive from the Railways including health care is something that makes it all so worthwhile.

“If my children want to choose this profession and they have the talent for it, I will be glad. I think it is possible, but they should choose themselves,” says Thirumoorthy

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“If my children want to choose this profession and they have the talent for it, I will be glad. I think it is possible, but they should choose themselves,” says Thirumoorthy. He thinks that trains in Madurai, like other cities of India, will have big future with the introduction of metro trains. At present, suburban railway services in India are limited and operational only in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and MMTS Hyderabad. J. Thirumoorthy tells me that metro trains will also be introduced in Madurai in the near future. On this optimistic note I left J. Thirumoorthy as he got into the engine driver’s seat on the Rameswaram bound train. I stared at retreating train for a long time, listened to the fading sound of the wheels…. and thought that this man was really born to be a train engine driver.

Trains in India


Madurai Messenger Heritage November 2012

Ooty Train: Chugging along the Mountains Eriko Morikava travels in the famed Ooty train from Coonoor to Mettupalayam and is captivated by the slow moving train that skims past the flowers and rocks dotting the train trail. Inspired by the breathtaking scenery, she is nevertheless saddened by the irresponsible tourists who throw trash out of the windows. All of us have a responsibility to preserve this unique railway, recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage body as the oldest, slowest and steepest railway in India, she asserts By Eriko Morikawa Tokyo, Japan

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Off we go!!

From right- Volunteers Eriko and Manami, N.Venkatesan, the Ticket Checker and volunteer Yulia

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hat pictures do you imagine when you hear the word “India”? Taj Mahal,of course. Traffic chaos, spicy curry, Bollywood and colourful saris.

Yet an unlikely contender is the Ooty train, a quaint little steam engine locomotive that runs between Mettupalyam and Ooty, the fabled hill station in South India, described as the “Queen of Hill stations.” Commonly known as the ‘toy train’, with it’s small wooden coaches in classic blue and cream with large

windows, it runs at a sedate pace. Interestingly the Ooty train, the oldest, slowest and steepest railway in India, has been accorded a UNESCO World Heritage status as one of the “Mountain Railways in India” in 2005. In 1908, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, was set up in Tamil Nadu by the British; it continues to remain in service. It travels about 46 km between Ooty (2200m above sea level) and Mettupalayam (326 m) in four and a half hours negotiating 108 curves, 16

tunnels and 250 bridges. With its vintage engines, this long line can be divided into two parts: from Ooty to Coonoor, the halfway point, and from Coonoor to Mettupalayam when it goes down. The former has a diesel locomotive, and then railway officers switch to a steam one (made in Switzerland) at Coonoor. It is quite marvelous to note that steam engines are still in use in India while my country, Japan, gave them up 35 years ago! Surprisingly, the average speed of this train is 10.4 kmph, which might be slower than a human running the distance.

A frantic chase I took the Ooty train from Coonoor to Mettupalayam. There is only one train in a day which travels the whole route and I couldn’t get enough information on when the train would depart. Fortunately, there are about four trains which leave from Coonoor so I chased the train by taxi and I begged the taxi driver to drive fast, so that I could board the train. It was my most thrilling experience in India.

The mighty ooty train at the station before departure

At 15:15 I finally caught the train and it halted at three stations before arriving at Mettupalayam at 18:00: Runneymede, for a water stop; Hillgrove for some rest and Kallar, again for a water stop. As soon as I sat down at the tail of the carriage, a festive mood came over me. Passengers were yelling and whistling. The smell of steam and smoke was everywhere.

A close up with nature The slow pace of the train was perfect to enjoy the scenery— thick forests, green tea plantations, rocky lands and high mountain ranges. The richness of Nature overwhelmed my senses and I couldn’t take my eyes off the window. Never did I get bored with the landscape and every second was a delight. I thought the train was going through a rain forest or jungle because the sound of running on the track was very similar to that of a river. I’ve never experienced such views in my entire life, so much so that I could shout out my joy at


Madurai Messenger Heritage November 2012

the breathtaking beauty. And many people also feel the same way as I do. Mr. Venkatesan, who works as a TTE (Train Ticket Examiner), told me that it is very difficult to get tickets since passengers tend to book them three months in advance.

Volunteer Eriko Morikawa in conversation with two passengers

When it comes to costs, running this train is very expensive. The management has been at a loss for a while because of the lowpriced fare: Rs 8 in second class and Rs. 105 in first class. Mr. Kiran Gandhi, a passenger, has suggested an increase in the price and a separate charge for locals and tourists.

Close encounters

The breath taking view from our seats

The Runneymede station which we crossed during our journey

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The Ooty train track is a 1000 mm gauge that allows passengers to reach out with their hands for flowers and rocky walls lining the way. You can see all the passengers in the same coach because there are no corridors; it is just one huge space that offers a chance to enjoy conversation with others. Mr. Allaudin, a co-passenger, likes to talk to tourists and foreigners and he believes this is one of the attractions of this train. The carriage itself is truly tiny like a toy but it offers infinite opportunities for meaningful conversations with co-passengers.

“Surprisingly, the average speed of this train is 10.4 kmph, which might be slower than a human running the distance”

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“The carriage itself is truly tiny like a toy but it offers infinite opportunities for meaningful conversations with co-passengers”

Living as we do in a time-is-money society, why are so many people still eager to take this train despite its famed slowness? Especially, since you can take a bus or car which is way faster. Its quaint appearance and vintage steam engine transport you to the 19th century and this kind of nostalgia is certainly addictive!

told me with a smile that he loved every day of his job.

Addicted to nostalgia

Mountains of trash

As the Ooty train goes up, the carriages are pulled by a locomotive. On the other hand, it controls their speed when it goes down. Normally almost all trains have brakes in the front but this train has them in the back when it climbs the mountain. Therefore there are four brakemen in one train.

The train going through the hillside

I interviewed one of them, Mr. Vasudevan whose father and grandfather had also worked in the same train. He cannot see what happens ahead of the locomotive so he has to watch forward constantly. He’s always in charge of the lives of passengers. Though this duty appears very stressful, he

Many monkeys were waiting at Hillgrove for passengers to feed them and I even saw two big elephants along the track. Mr.Venkatesan said that landslides and wild animals sometimes caused a disruption of the train services.

It distressed me to note rubbish heaps on each side of track because passengers don’t hesitate to throw trash out of the windows. Although currently the Ooty train is slotted as a World Heritage site, it sure runs the risk of being endangered because of the garbage. Certainly, strong measures against such irresponsible tourism are needed to stem the environmental damage. We all have a responsibility to conserve this magnificent train for our future generation.


Madurai Messenger A Day in the Life of a Porter November 2012

They Also Serve Who Cart Your Luggage

S. Mariappan’s work ethic rubbing off on a young reporter

If you visit Madurai Railway Junction, you will see hardworking railway porters, but it is unlikely people understand how much effort these diligent workers put into their jobs. With 71 trains and 40,000 passengers passing through Madurai junction every day, the team of just 47 porters prove that despite their physically demanding and challenging job, they are second to none, writes Brydee Streader who spent a day with them

Being a porter is hard physical labour. Carrying up to three lots of baggage each weighing 40kg or more requires strength and determination. Regardless of this, there is a happy atmosphere in the porters’ group; they are equals and friends. Even though they work long difficult days they still have the energy to laugh and joke with each other. It is this enjoyable mood that makes porters such delightful people. When they do have a break, they sit and drink coffee. “This is the best coffee,” Mariappan says, as he talks with his other colleagues.

By Brydee Streader Australia

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here are numerous things that account for successful rail travel and transport in Madurai. One crucial factor is the service rendered by railway porters. These people are vital to achieving smooth travel by train. They are incredibly hardworking and committed to their jobs. S. Mariappan is the porter supervisor at Madurai Railway Junction. At 52 years of age, he has 15 years of experience as a porter and has been a supervisor for the last ten years. He is a friendly man, who takes enormous pride in his work. The porters receive no payment from the Railway or Government; they rely on the money they get from the passengers. If they want to make enough money to look after themselves and their families they must work hard and serve as many people as they can all day. It is not an easy job but all the porters treat their work with respect and with pride.

9 a.m. The start of a long day for the 47 porters at Madurai Railway Junction. Their first port of call is to visit the porter’s restrooms and put on their uniform. Their crisp red shirts and white dhotis not only make them distinguishable to the public, but these uniforms are part of their identity as porters. With their uniforms on, they then check in with the station manager

says, “If there are passengers, we work.” This commitment to their work is admirable. Trains keep passing through the station all day. Usually there are 71 trains, with 40,000 passengers passing through Madurai Railway Junction every day. Considering there are only 47 porters to assist those who need it, you can understand why they often work through their lunch.

In discussion with S. Mariappan, a devoted porter

9:30 p.m.

The Porters at work!

and make sure their attendance is marked. Now it’s time to start working. They wait for passengers on the platform and serve them politely. The role of a porter is to attend to the passenger’s luggage on and off the trains and deliver the luggage as far as the passenger wishes. Mariappan says that whatever the passenger wants, they do. If they want their luggage taken from platform one to platform eight, the porters must do so without expecting any extra pay. Sometimes they

must even accompany the passenger to their hotel and deliver their luggage there. The minimum payment is Rs. 40, but out of appreciation and gratitude some passengers will pay Rs.60 or more. If a porter does not work, he does not get paid.

Lunchtime Porters are given two hours for lunch, but it is not leisure time; as the passengers continue to stream in, they need to be on their toes. Mariappan

Smiles are not hard to find despite the long hard work days the porters do

After the last of the passengers have been helped, the porters take their uniforms back to the restroom. Finally it is time for the porters to wrap up and go home. By this time all the other railway employees have left, and the porters are the last ones here. One porter said he spends more time at work than he spends at home. They all go home to their families after carrying heavy luggage all day and try to get enough sleep to prepare them for the next day. It’s a physically exhausting and mentally draining job but somehow they approach each day with a positive outlook. Porters are an integral part of rail travel though they often go unnoticed and unappreciated by the passengers and the Railways. A day in the life of a porter is a difficult one; regardless of this, they continue to work hard for their money and serve people to the best of their ability. They are a unique group of people who work diligently all day and it was a pleasure to spend time with them.

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Madurai Messenger Profile November 2012

Dr.Tarun Chhabra: Conversations with the Todas

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Dr. Tarun Chhabra, 48, a dentist in Ooty is passionate about his involvement with the Toda tribes of the Nilgiris. When he is not busy peering into his patient’s mouths, he researches the Toda tribes. His involvement with the Todas began in the early 1990s, and he is the only outsider who has, for the last 20 years, been successfully running an NGO for the restoration and preservation of Toda heritage and culture

Besides, it does botanical and ecological studies. It has a project to breed the endangered Toda buffalo and also to compensate Todas with buffaloes.

What do the Todas think about the EBR activity? The Toda are participating in the EBR activity.

You found the Toda Nalavazhvu Sangam (TNS). What is the purpose? This was started in 1992 (I am the only non-Toda member) to ensure that the rich and unique cultural heritage of the Todas is maintained. We have also had numerous other development schemes ranging from health funds, education assistance, housing, to getting government schemes implemented for electricity, embroidery, etc.

What is the difference between the activities of EBR and TNS?

Dr. Tarun Chhabra- The Man who has made a Difference

By Manami Mizukami Japan

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r Chabbra graduated from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal scoring a Mangalore University third rank and was awarded the Cibaca All India first prize in Periodontology in private practice. In1992, he founded The Toda Nalavazhvu Sangam (TNS). Through this organization, he works to restore and preserve Toda culture and protect nature in the Nilgiris. His studies focus on ethnography and ethno botany of the indigenous Toda tribe. In 2004 he established Edhkwehlynawd Botanical

EBR was established to ecologically restore degraded landscapes near Toda areas using the traditional ecological knowledge of these people. Also it was established to provide a refuge for rare, endangered and endemic plants of the Upper Nilgiris.

Refuge (EBR). He is one of the few non Todas who can speak the Toda language. Among his numerous activities are the 50 articles, published in journals and international books.

by this unique indigenous community residing nearby since ancient times, and was so amazed by their unusual cultural traits, that I started visiting their hamlets, witnessing their ceremonies and writing about them.

landscapes that they choose for their hamlets, to their unique language.

TNS is more related to preservation of Toda culture and heritage. Other activities include assistance for education, and enabling access to various facilities, for example, electricity and water. But the main focus of this organisation is preserving the culture of the Todas.

What does Edhkwehlynawd Botanical Refuge (EBR) do? What is purpose of EBR?

Until when do you want to continue your research about Todas?

Excerpts from an email interview with Dr Tarun Which aspect of the Toda tribe Chabbra (TC) by Manami are you most interested in? Many aspects! From their buffalo cult to Mizukami for Madurai their dress and architecture to beautiful Messenger Why did you start investigating the Todas? In 1990, I (a young dentist just out of college) happened to read The Todas by WHR Rivers (1906). I was so fascinated

EBR concentrates more on ecological rehabilitation and restoration using the traditional ecological knowledge of the Todas. We are doing ecological and botanical studies. It was an ecological initiative to preserve the ecological and botanical of Toda culture. They also help students who want to do research on the botanical aspects at EBR.

Is it hard for you to work as a dentist and researcher?

ceremonies. These plants are allowed to be touched by only the Toda priest and not by other Todas. Therefore all plants are protected according to the Toda culture.

Not so hard because I undertake research activity near my work place. (The Toda village is near Ooty near his office)

For you, what does researching the Toda mean?

I want to continue this till i write over fifty papers, articles and books.

How did you learn Toda language, for example, from the Todas or in college? Of course, from the Todas! No outsider knows the language.

Why do you think the population of the Toda tribe is low? Not really. When the British opened up these hills in 1820, the Toda population was barely 800. Now there are 1400 traditional Todas and another 250 Christians.

What is the most important need for the Todas? It is to preserve their culture in this fast changing world of monoculture.

What is the biggest change between the past and present? There are lots of changes, for example, in terms of occupation. In the past, the Todas were engaged in dairy farming for a living. But today, it has changed. Most Todas work as farmers.

What should the Todas do to preserve endemic species? It is very important to protect these endemic plants. Every plant is closely related to the culture and rituals of the Todas. In all Toda ceremonies, (from births to funeral ceremonies), the Todas use plants. For example in the pregnancy ceremony, they generally use more than half a dozen specific plants. It is usually conducted on a new moon night, and people go out to collect specific plants at night. They must have these plants during the rituals. Some species are sacred, so they are used only in these rituals and

Actually, my research is already done. However I have to keep at it. And second, I am also trying to document it for next generation, because I suppose that culture, heritage, custom, and past knowledge of Toda must be passed down, it is necessary for the future. This is a different aspect of my project.

There are 60 toda villages. Are they different from each other? The number of clans is different. For example, Tawrtatsh has ten clans, Taihhfilly has five clans.

Any other difference? The most important distinction I guess is about the temples. A typical Toda temple is mainly a dairy temple. There are a lot of variations, based on the villages they are located in. One village has a sacred temple, another one has something different.

We know you are busy doctor, how often do you do your research? When the Todas came to me for treatment, I ask them a lot of information about their tribe. And I take notes. I got the knowledge and research from my conversations with Todas.

Did you have any problem before establishing TNS? I was worried about gaining the trust of the Todas. No other NGO was successful in working with them for more than one or two years because the members were not the Todas. In 1992, the members came to me and told me that they were not successful in building trust, so they asked me to start the TNS. I was nominated as a non-Toda trustee of TNS.

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Madurai Messenger Face to Face November 2012

Inspired by Life Shoko Suzuki in conversation with Madurai-based chartered accountant and bilingual author R. Sridharan, aka Varalotti Rengasamy, discovers that writing is very little about inspiration and more about working hard, harder and hardest By Shoko Suzuki Japan

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ike the mythological Greek God, Janus, Madurai-based R. Sridharan, 54, has two professional faces. He is a full-time chartered accountant and tax professional. However, adopting the pen name Varalotti Rengasamy, he has authored around 80 to 90 books in Tamil and three books in English.

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The three books written by the author

The reason Varalotti Rengasamy turned to writing is interesting. He was a member of a business organization and was conducting a forum on creativity. On the last day of forum, during the feedback session, one of the participants asked him a sharp question. “Sir, you were talking about creativity. Isn’t easy to tell us to be creative but hard to be creative?”

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Writer’s way According to Varalotti, the first part of writing is always the hardest. To design the outline of the story, he first writes two pages of the plot summary. Then it develops into ten pages of a more specific summary. After that, he conceives the sub plots which would constitute each chapter. Each book has 50 to 60 chapters that evolves constantly.

A turning point That was when he started thinking about being creative and decided to take initiatives in this direction. First, he started learning to play the traditional Indian instrument, the veena. However his neighbor complained about the noise to the police and so he had to quit! Then in 1998, at the age of 48, he started writing in his native language Tamil, with his wife as the editor. His inspiration for the story was life itself. “You cannot wait for inspiration. You just have to keep on writing and as long as you write, one day it will come,” says Varalotti Rengasamy. Therefore he doesn’t make up the characters in his novels. He just

Author Varalotti Rengasamy with his creations

“You cannot wait for inspiration. You just have to keep on writing and as long as you write, one day it will come,” says Varalotti Rengasamy observes people on the street and whoever impresses him, he writes about them. All of his characters are based on real people. “God is the best and only creator in the world. We just have to observe what God has created and copy His template. Otherwise the characters would be boring and heartless,” muses Varalotti.

Sridhar also doesn’t like to call himself a “professional writer.” It’s not because he has a day job but because he says he is not forced or obsessed to write unlike full-time writers. He writes two or three hours a day and he puts all of his writings in his pen drive so that he can write whenever he feels like, at office or anywhere else.

“Love” is an important theme in his writing. All three of his English titles - A Love Story, Love All, and The Lovers Park deal with this central theme. He also writes poems on love and romance. Why is love such a magnificent obsession with him? “By writing about plain love between a man and a woman, I want to find how intense language can get,” says Varalotti. Despite his “love” for writing, publishers rejected his book saying that “It’s too good to be true!” They found his characters and stories too ideal. “It was shocking to me. I mean, do they reject the book because ‘it’s too bad

to be true?’” wonders Varalotti. He is not against the current trend in popular fiction to be sensational and sexually explicit. “We are slowly losing the goodness from our minds. I don’t decry pornography, but real love is much more than having a physical relationship and I want people to know that.” Because publishers rejected his book, Varalotti Rengasamy self-published his books. Readers can see several autobiographical elements in his book. For example, “The Lovers Park” is set in Madurai and the well-known Eco Park is the setting where the action unfolds. The place the characters went for a party, the hospital where one of the characters died, and the restaurant where they had dinner… all these are familiar landmarks in the city. The author attributes his intimate knowledge of the city to his having lived in the city since he was ten months old! Readers also realize the author’s primary profession as a chartered accountant. In his book “Love All”, his lead character, Shobana, is a chartered accountant who

Signing copies of his books for us with a broad smile!


Madurai Messenger Face to Face November 2012

Go for Go-Karting!

works for a leading audit firm. Shobana used her knowledge to help women by giving them a lecture about the finance. Readers are not only impressed by the gripping story but also get an idea about the world of finance. Varalotti admits that these days, thanks to Google, he can get all the information about a profession with just a mouse click even though he doesn’t know anything about the character’s job or life.

A Go-Kart enthusiast, Japanese national Shoko Suzuki go-karts in Hawa Valley and is thrilled to feel the wind on her face! She also discovers what makes Hawa Valley a Go-karting hub in Madurai and confesses that she was amazed by the Go-karting speed of 80 kms notched by the staff of the gokarting track

When I asked him if there is anything he wants readers to know, he immediately replied, “I’m an ordinary person. The readers of my books tend to associate the characters with me and think I must be a nice person. But I’m not like the characters in my story. They are my ideal people and I want to be like them, but I’m not perfect. I’m not what they are,” he said with smile.

By Shoko Suzuki Japan

Works in progress

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Currently Varalotti Rengasamy is working on three projects. The first is a poem that tries to express the love between man and woman through lyrical lines. His poems are very impressive and are full of love. This is my favorite part of his poem, “Write Something” which is about the man who lost his girl.

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Who lost his girl. ‘Haven’t I told my love, darling’ I asked the smiling picture ‘With my eyes as a pen And my tears as the free-flowing ink?’ The second project is re-telling the Indian epic tales in his inimitable style that makes it easy for the younger generation to understand. For example, he wrote a story about “Krishna’s leela of stealing the butter.” His biggest project, however, is translating Kalki’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan into English. The 2400-page Tamil novel is made up of five parts. Although there are a few translations already available, according to him, they have not done justice to the great storyteller, Kalki. He has finished the first two parts and is midway through the third part. He started in 2010 and may complete the project in another two years. This is a mammoth project and it is impossible for him publish it by himself. Therefore he is looking for a good publisher while he is working on the project.

“God is the best and only creator in the world. We just have to observe what God has created and copy His template. Otherwise the characters would be boring and heartless”

Varalotti Rengasamy with his beautiful wife Indhu

The voice of experience What is the most important thing for a writer? “Be unique and work hard,” says Varalotti. “Every person is unique and so is every writer. Before you even think of publishing, just keep working. Working hard is non negotiable.” He also believes that having somebody to critique your writing is also important. “Have a mentor, have a friend, have a group of people to give you some advice, post the story on a blog and then you will get the lots of responses.” He himself posts his story on the web site “www.indusladies.com”. He sometimes posts on Facebook too. Varalotti Rengasamy makes it a point to write everyday and that is his message for every aspiring writer. Though he could quit his chartered accountancy job and focus on writing, he continues to work full time because of the passion he has for both his jobs. When I asked him his goal as a writer, he replied, “I don’t have a goal. The problem of setting a specific goal like wining the award or selling X number of books is that once you achieved the goal, what will you do? You stop writing because there is no reason to write.” What he said was meaningful. “So if I have to set a goal, it will be to keep on writing. As long as I live, as long as God wants me to write, I will write,” he added as a parting shot.

nce I walked inside Hawa Valley on the Madurai-Natham highway, the green grass and a carpet of flowers welcomed me. I could feel the wind blowing gently and the pond reflecting the sun beautifully. It was very hard to believe that this place is only about 45 minutes away from the Periyar bus stand which is located in centre of Madurai, a noisy, busy and messy place. During the one month of my stay here, I’ve never seen any other beautiful place like Hawa Valley in Madurai city.

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Away from the hustle and bustle Hawa Valley, located in the northern part of Madurai, was opened in 1998. It is known for its serenity and is a popular picnic spot for the locals. However, its greenery attracts many people not only from Madurai, but also other parts of Tamil Nadu. Every weekend about 300 people visit here to relax, enjoy, or to have a party. There are so many things that you can enjoy at Hawa Valley. After entering the gate, you can see the pond for boating on the right. You can enjoy the beautiful views from a boat as long as you want for only Rs.50. Opposite the pond, there are many Bonsai plants which have been imported from my home country, Japan. It was a pleasant surprise because I never expected to see Bonsai during my stay in India. Bonsai is a Japanese art of plant arrangements using miniature

Shoko exhausted after the ride


Madurai Messenger Entertainment November 2012

“It started to move slowly and sped up eventually. As the speed increased, I could feel the wind on my face – it was a terrific experience!”

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25 The Go-Kart track at the Hawa Valley near Madurai

trees grown in containers. It is a very expensive and valuable art in Japan and in India. The bonsai plants were priced around about Rs. 25,000 and yet had many buyers who thought it worth the price.

Go-Karting-a star attraction However, the most exciting entertainment at Hawa Valley is undoubtedly Go-karting. There is a car driving track with a nice restaurant to cater to need of the visitors. We had a glass of fresh juice at the restaurant, and it was amazingly delicious. The General Manager, P.Sudhakar, (32), who has been working at Hawa valley for the past several years built the track in 2000 and shared his rationale for launching go-karting in Madurai. First, as there are very few entertainment options in Madurai, he thought go-karting would be something that would engage people as a sport. The second reason he

The board of go-karting rules and regulations to be observed, placed near the track

Volunteer Shoko all set to go!

began this activity was because his son is passionate about racing. He says his son was his greatest motivation. In Hawa Valley, you can enjoy five minutes of driving which allows you to go about 20 laps for a fee of Rs.100. The price is very low when compared to other go-karting tracks in India. Mr. Sudhakar has never increased the price because he wants to make it possible for all to enjoy the sport. I was also so impressed to know how much attention he places on safety. Even though about 50 people go-kart every weekend, there hasn’t been a single accident since inception. The minimum age for go-karting is eight years, and when children ride, one of the staff always follows them to ensure that they drive safe. The staff are well informed about safety and are instructed to strictly follow the regulations. Before the interview, Mr. Sudhakar permitted three Projects Abroad

journalism volunteers, including me, to ride a go-kart. I was the first one to get in it, and then the staff told me about the regulations and how to drive. I put on the helmet and sat in the small seat, then pressed down the gas pedal carefully. It started to move slowly and sped up eventually. As the speed increased, I could feel the wind on my face – it was a terrific experience! I used to ride a go-kart often when I was a child so it was quite easy for me. However, it seemed to be difficult for one of our volunteers, Manami. It was the first time she was driving and hence she was so slow that it took about 3 minutes for her to complete a lap. “It was a bit scary at first but so much fun at the end!” she later admitted. Later, one of the staff told us that the maximum speed is 80 km and he proved that by driving. I’ve never seen such a fast race- it obviously requires a lot of practice to drive at such high speed.

Furthermore, Mr. Sudhakar is planning to build the new track at some point in the near future, as go-karting is the one of most popular activities in Hawa Valley. A lot of other facilities are under construction. He didn’t tell us the details of the plan, but I’m sure Hawa Valley is going to be a much more fun place than it is now. When I asked him what was the most important thing in his business, he immediately replied, “Customer satisfaction.” Sudhakar and his employers put 100 percent of their efforts to make visitors happy. I think it is the biggest reason why Hawa Valley keeps attracting so many people from all over Tamil Nadu. People leave Hawa valley with joy and they want to come back to enjoy the good services and to have fun. And I, for one, can confidently state that the fun and excitement is only going to increase in the days to come.


Madurai Messenger Issues November 2012

The Great Indian Traffic Japanese national Eriko Morikawa, used to the organised traffic in Japan, is bewildered by the complicated maze of Indian traffic where every golden traffic rule is meant to be broken! She finally decides that the best way to cross Indian roads is to cross with the herd! She also meets up with a traffic police inspector, A. Thirumalai Kumar, to get a perspective on how Indian roads can be made user friendly By Eriko Morikawa Tokyo, Japan

Traffic at its peak!

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“No matter how much I learn about traffic rules, I confess I don’t not have the courage to drive on Indian roads”

On Madurai roads, it appears that there are no traffic rules. Even if they exist, no one obeys them. Traffic lanes and road crossings mean nothing, so pedestrians must be very careful or they would be hit by vehicles. In fact, I’ve almost been bumped by vehicles a few times. And I want to mention that buses rushing towards me definitely do not slow down! As Mr. Kumar stated, these are ‘normal’ incidents for the locals. But then what about a visiting Japanese like me? I can picture it easily. Suppose we Japanese had to cross the road in Madurai, we would despair and some of us would even give up at once. Under these circumstances, I’ve discovered that the solution is to follow the locals because they time it perfectly! Apparently although the traffic is chaotic, it somehow works. I’ve always wondered about it and I must admit that I haven’t been able to figure out how does it really work.

Stumbling blocks According to Mr. Kumar, the size of the road is one of the reasons for a traffic jam. This can also apply to Japan, particularly Tokyo, since the city is not very big. I think Madurai has wider roads than Tokyo but there here, there are various kinds of vehicles and the traffic density is high. When it comes to a traffic signal, the pedestrians find it very difficult to cross the roads, as the traffic is released within very short time. Undoubtedly, the status of a pedestrian is the biggest difference between India and Japan. In Japan, pedestrians have top priority all the time and pedestrians who are not mindful of road rules are often the cause of accidents. Meanwhile in Madurai, a stream of cars on the road looks continuous and you need to survive on the road.

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f I was required to describe Indian traffic in one word, I would definitely choose “chaos”. There’re so many types of unnatural “vehicles” on the road. Cows, dogs or sometimes elephants, auto-rickshaws like ants, obviously overcrowded buses and a large number of motorbikes. “Good horns, good brakes and good luck!” This is a well-known motto for Indian drivers and I’d like to add, “No helmets, no seatbelts and no doors,” as a loud warning. The International Road Federation reports that Indian traffic fatalities are over 130,000 in a year, or 390 in a day and 17 in an hour. It’s a quite a contrast to the than 5000 casualties in Japan annually.

Ordinary or extraordinary?

Most people who have been to India remember the sound every driver makes: the screeching horns. The air is filled with the sounds of horns, as honking appears to be as natural as breathing, for most vehicle users. Unlike here, in Japan, honking is an offence. The Japanese Road Traffic Law prescribes the maximum penalty of Rs. 13,500 for inappropriate honking. This fine seems rather expensive but when compared against the price of a new motorbike in the two countries: around Rs. 50,000 in India and over Rs. 135,000 in Japan, it seems fair.

I was very shocked when I saw the traffic in Madurai for the first time. It seemed unbelievable but I soon got used to it and it didn’t seem uncommon after a point. Mr. A. Thirumalai Kumar, a traffic inspector, said, “Traffic jam is a part of our life.” Despite the best efforts of the traffic police to regulate it, jams are a regular occurrence.

Mr. Kumar also pointed out the absence of electric traffic control systems in Madurai. Police officers use the manual system. I’ve seen the manual system used only once in Japan when a huge earthquake struck the island and caused a blackout. Of course Madurai requires an electric system for

While a traffic jam in and by itself might not be directly connected with death toll, however, it makes drivers impatient and thereby indirectly contributes to rising incidents of accidents. We need to see this problem in a larger perspective.

smoother traffic, but as you can see, irregular power cuts are a major problem. Mr. Kumar also strongly believes that a “lack of education” is the root of the matter. There are two types of driving schools in India. For the first 30 days beginners learn how to drive on the public road, then for another 30 days they study traffic law and rules at a private school. On the other hand, in Japan, they learn both fields simultaneously at one driving school. Incidentally learning to drive is very expensive in Japan. I got a driver’s license more for identification purposes than any actual need to drive. The Tokyo train and subway network is so convenient that it’s not necessary to drive. But for Madurai citizens, the price of vehicles is relatively affordable and a boon in their lives. Why is Indian traffic always in disorder despite drivers who were supposed to have formally studied at driving schools? I suppose it’s because local traffic regulations have been already established. No matter how much I learn about traffic rules, I confess I don’t not have the courage to drive on Indian roads.

Confronting challenges Despite these problems, Mr. Kumar confidently states that strict enforcement of rules can resolve these issues, as also a more practical and immediate solution of one-way roads in Madurai. I couldn’t understand why this plan would help defuse the congestion immediately since drivers often ignore traffic lanes as if the lines are invisible to them. Besides, the traffic regulatory authorities need to set up more traffic signals for pedestrians through a close research on the probable time periods that jams are likely to occur and take proactive measures to ensure constant power. I think the right to drive must be given only to people who have basic road rules awareness. These two key ideas should be emphasized more than local customs. {check relevance of this sentence] We need to remember that cars or motorbikes are useful, but when driven carelessly, they can kill people. Stringent enforcement by the police, a road-sensitive attitude among drivers and adequate sensitization towards traffic rules and regulations is the need of the hour to make traffic in Madurai orderly. Now that I’m in Japan after a month’s stay in Madurai, I find that I have become bold and aggressive while crossing roads, thanks to the courage and exposure on Indian roads.

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Madurai Messenger Causes November 2012

A Man for All Causes! Volunteer Christoph Trimbach spends time with A. Muthukrishnan, crusader for Green and human rights, who uses his skills as a journalist to create awareness about myriad causes that might otherwise fall by the wayside for want of a person like him to champion their voices and needs By Christoph Trimbach Germany

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.”

Stepping into historical paths

Barbara Ward (English social historian), Only One Earth, 1972

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atural and historical monuments have always inspired people. John Ruskin, a British writer and philosopher once said, “Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” Yet they are increasingly being taken over by the tourism and the resource-industry, destroying the natural beauty of the places. Thus these spots have to be protected by the same species that is about to destroy them out of plain self-interest. “The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed,” said Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian freedom fighter. The Indian journalist and activist A. Muthukrishnan (39), is an outstanding environmental and human rights activist, passionate about his commitment to human rights and environmental protection. His enthusiasm for helping people, protecting nature and raising public awareness is almost without a precedent.

The writer as an activist A. Muthukrishnan grew up in Mumbai, where he finished his schooling and received a diploma in Electronics. He was very interested in in the world around him and socially oriented. Yet in his younger days, he did not think about becoming a journalist, even though “Reading the newspaper every day, reading about what’s happening around me, created a lot of passion!” So when he moved to Madurai around 25 years ago, his passion for social work strengthened as he began to get involved with several problems in his environment. He started off by gathering information just out of interest, and soon began to write out his thoughts. “Once you begin writing, you can’t stop yourself on the journalist’s table, and so I got into activism as well.”

-it is not a tourist trip; it’s a story about a hillock called “Yanaimalai”, or “Elephant Hill” on the outer fringes of south Madurai. There was a plan to carve this 4 km long single block hillock near a village called Othakadai, into a tourist attraction, although in doing so, the original beauty of the place would be destroyed forever. Local people signed a legal complaint and blocked the highways for ten months, preventing workers from destroying the hillock, compelling the government to yield to such activism and halt the project. When Muthukrishnan published an article about this kind of nature activism, friends and writers, inspired by this incident and spurred into action, asked him to mentor them as a group of 40 to 50 persons, to restore all the old and neglected monuments in and around Madurai on a regular basis. Thus “the Green Walk” was born.

Muthukrishnan- The Passionate Green Walker

This “activism” has indeed changed him and India. He has raised public awareness for issues; for example, about the suicides of poor farmers in a central Indian region called “Vidharbha” (32,000 farmer suicides in a decade) or in a small village nearby Madurai, called “Uthapuram” where a wall was built to separate Dalits (the lowest Indian caste) and the other castes (a temporary electric fence was installed that cuts supplies and community for a big part of the village’s inhabitants – he calls it a “Wall of Shame”). Yet he did not participate only in Indian activism. He went to Gaza in a caravan with around 500 people from 17 Asian nations bound by the theme of “Asian Peoples Solidarity for Palestine”, supplying mainly medical goods to the country worth USD 1 million. His activism and candid reporting caught the public eye. “You have to respond to the time, to the social happenings around you, and when you are active and dedicated, you are more aware of issues, and in a country like India, there are a lot of issues around you.” If you have already read about “the Green Walk” you might wonder how a small guided tour is related to activism

The Green Walk trips are held once a month on a Sunday. I was amazed to know that there is no formal organization guiding this group. When he held up his mobile phone and said, “That’s the office”, I could not stop laughing. With over 300 members on these trips, he simply texts them the venue and date of a walk, and they all meet at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning, going or driving to the monument, climbing up the hillock and having breakfast at the monument at 9:30 am. The group usually disperses at 10:00 am. Even though there is no formal group or organization, there are 15 dedicated members, including three archeologists, who collate important information about the monuments. Meanwhile, after 17 walks to “Elephant Hill”, the group today has grown from 40 members to 250 members across the age group of toddlers to senior citizens!

Muthukrishnan’s sister, Yani with her husband, Dakshina Moorthy The members of the Green Walk programme gathered at one of the treks

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Although Muthukrishnan is happy with this trend, he doesn’t want to force the growth of his little hobby project. “With some media support, I can make it into a group of a thousand people, but I don’t want it that way. I want it to grow naturally, out of the people’s interest.” School principals have already asked him for the possibility of a guided tour for their students. Muthukrishnan wants to make sure that only people who are really interested in the subject, attend the walks, with no sense of compulsion. He hopes to have a little office for Green Walk in his new home that he is moving into shortly. Currently, he is busy with his book on Green Walk.

A Green Walk experience Yani, Muthukrishnan’s sister, talked to us about her experience on the walks she has been on so far. “I like to meet people, go on a trip, into the forest - that’s what I like.” She was surprised to see a large number of people attending the walk on a Sunday morning, when typically everyone wants to have a late start to the day. Yani loved the feeling of this open community with members of different age groups. She is quite impressed with the enthusiasm of the members, “Once it started, it felt like everyone was really focused on it, even the children!”

Her favourite trip was to the hill called “Thirupparankundram”, one of the many hillocks around Madurai with a Hanuman temple at its peak. There is an archeological site on the other side of this hill, where they came across a group of locals holding a cultural celebration. The group members joined in the celebrations that heightened the very special feeling one gets while visiting an old, historical and neglected monument. Everyone enjoyed the antics of the monkeys prancing around the site, while another young member said that it helped him connect with other kids of his age. “I enjoy these trips because I come along with my friends, and it also gives me the opportunity to make new friends. It’s also about learning new things and having a great adventure as well.”


Madurai Messenger Book Review November 2012

Train to Pakistan:

Khushwant Singh- The Author

Bloody Exodus Eminent writer Khushwant Singh’s classic Train to Pakistan, guides you through a sociological journey into the past in just 190 pages to understand partition issues in the wake of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 By Giulia Testaverde France

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any writers try to figure out Indian partition, after India gained freedom from the British. Khushwant Singh is, certainly, one of the first, and especially, the most well-known. Talented, he uses specific words to deeply affect you. For sure, he is such a good writer through his abiding love of poetry. He is straight-forward: no waste of time or words. He loves using descriptions to boost your imagination but he does not want to be intrusive.

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Khushwant Singh is well acquainted with Indian’s partition. He writes about one of the saddest episodes of the world; for readers, just like a beautiful passing down of historical and sociological knowledge. With his incisive way of writing, he provokes you, shocks you but always tells you the truth and nothing but the truth! Khushwant Singh is straight: certainly a value earned by being a journalist. Even if reading Train to Pakistan hurts you in so many dreadful ways, it is undoubtedly an honest book capturing a range of humane feelings. Fictional facts are added to the grim reality to make it concrete and tangible for the reader. India will not forget this part of her history—it always runs through their memories. Published in 1947, just after India’s Independence, this novel will not leave you cold! Be ready to go back in time, hand in hand with the author.

Scars of the partition of India

Title:

Train To Pakistan

Author:

Khushwant Singh

Publisher:

Ravi Dayal

Year:

1956

Price:

Rs. 225

Pre-partition India: On one hand, the Sikhs own most of the land, and on the other hand Muslims are labourers. They live together in harmony. It works. But the summer of 1947, when the partition of India was taking place, the entire country turned into a hotbed for extremism and intolerance. Muslims in India moved towards the newly formed Pakistan. Sikhs and Hindus who were in Pakistan migrated to refugee camps in India.

Mano Majra starts to bleed Mano Majra is a fictional village created in intricate detail by Khushwant Singh. This small peaceful village in Punjab is located along the Indo-Pakistan border. In this village,

“A breath taking story, Train to Pakistan is a must read for an insight into what had truly happened in what is certainly one of the most gruesome events in the history of humanity” traditionally, Sikhs and Muslims lived side by side in complete understanding and goodwill. Suddenly, a dramatic accident took place and overwhelmed the prevailing tranquility. The murder of Ram Lal, the village money lender sends shock waves through the village. Finding the identity of the murderer becomes a priority for the people and this casts a shadow of doubt as everyone suspects everyone else.

Exodus! The arrival and departure of a passenger train regulates life in Mano Majra. One day, a train arrives from Pakistan and disrupts the peace in Mano Majra. Actually, it transports bodies oftravelers who had been butchered while they departed from Pakistan. Usually a peaceful village, Mano Majra now becomes a war territory…

The plot unravels As soon as constables find Ram Lal’s body, the arrests begin. The story shifts to the three central characters: Iqbal, Hukum Chand and Juggut Singh. Juggut Singh, a Sikh boy, is suspected to be a murderer by policemen. Actually, he is described as the ‘badmaash’ (mischievous boy) of the village. Besides, he is in love with a

Muslim girl, Nooran. Their love lived through the ravages of war. Then, the story focuses on Iqbal, a social reformer. Police officers are convinced he comes to mobilize support for the Socialist Party of India. He is under suspicion. Hukum Chand, village magistrate, is certainly, the moststriking character. He is always above the law. Khushwant Singh paints him as an insane guy, ready to have sex with 15-year-old girls Throughout the story, he is confronted by his own moral dilemmas, like Iqbal or Juggut Singh. Through the medium of a novel, Khushwant Singh also highlights the administrative failures. Mano Majra authorities come across as dishonest and incapable. Train to Pakistan is an explosive mixture of ingredients such as love, regret, anger and disgust. The interesting mix of characters allow the reader to I get an in depth picture of what happened and enables the reader to view the story from several different angles. The events are so vividly described that they effortlessly transport you through the pages. A breath taking story, Train to Pakistan is a must read for an insight into what had truly happened in what is certainly one of the most gruesome events in the history of humanity.

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Madurai Messenger Films November 2012

Burning Train: Action on Wheels Burning train is a Bollywood action movie full of suspense and thrills that reminds one of classic Hollywood movies such as Speed or Unstoppable, says Simon Mussard By Simon Mussard France

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The Burning Train is a Bollywood action movie released in 1980 by Ravi Chopra, an Indian movie producer and director famous for films such as Mazdoor (1983), Dahleez (1986), Baghban (2003) and Baabul (2006). The movie has a multistar that includes Dharmendra (Ashok), Vinod Khanna (Vinod), Jeetendra (Ravi), Hema Malini (Seema), Parveen Babi (Sheetal) and Vinod Mehra (Rakesh). The actors’ talents and skills are obvious throughout the film. The action takes place mainly in the fastest train in India which covers the distance between Delhi and Bombay in just 14 hours. The film is about love, friendship and jealousy.

“In contrast to the other Bollywood movies I have seen, this one is more realistic”

Childhood Ambition At the very beginning, we see three children aged about 11 years old fighting and arguing about who among them will design the fastest train in India. The three boys are Ashok (a wealthy industrialist’s only son), Vinod (passionate about trains and Ashok’s best friend) and Randhir (a violent kid jealous of Vinod). These early scenes are very important to understand the film because they give us an idea of the personalities of the main characters. For instance, we understand that Randhir is a devious person because he is willing to physically hurt the two other kids with a stone.

the movie. Only Randhir who loves Sheetal as well is angry. The rivalry between Vinod and Randhir goes further when the railway chooses Vinod’s project to design the fastest train in India. We understand at this precise moment that Randhir has become a deadly enemy for Vinod. The anger is very well expressed in this scene in which Randhir destroys everything in the room. The music increases the tension. We understand that something terrible will happen to Vinod’s train; we see in Randhir’s eyes that he is planning something evil: Vinod has stolen his love and his career and he has to pay for that!

“Burning Train handles, surprisingly well, the classic elements of an action movie” A deadly game Many years after, the three kids grow up. During a railway show, Ashok and Vinod see two beautiful girls (Seema and Sheetal) who dance during this show. In the pure Indian movie tradition, they fall in love immediately. Smart and good looking, the two friends don’t have too much trouble in seducing them. These love stories are perfect. As a viewer, you are pleased by a song that sings of the love they have for each other. The marriage between Vinod and Sheetal is the highest point of

Title:

The Burning Train

Director:

Ravi Chopra

Music:

RD Burman

Lyrics:

Sahir

Released:

1980

Duration:

143 minutes

After this first part where everything was fine sailing, the tension begins in the second part of the movie with the problems that the main characters face. First, Ashok’s dad who faces financial ruin commits suicide, leaving his son a broken man. Seema who learns about Ashok’s ruin, breaks up with him. This is too much for this poor Ashok who disappears for seven years. On the other hand, Vinod who is only preoccupied by the design of his train, neglects his duties towards his family. During the first journey of the train, Randhir plants a bomb in the engine to ruin Vinod’s reputation in an act of vengeance. The rest of the movie, which is the most interesting part, is about how Ashok and Vinod manage to save the 500 passengers (including Vinod’s son: Raju) on the train.

Nail biting climax In my opinion, this movie offers action packed suspense-filled moments. The plot is very well constructed and we truly believe in each character. The realism is reinforced by viewing the childhood of Randhir, Ashok and Vinod in Freudian analysis which traces the source of the jealousy and conflict to childhood. The storyline is also very well controlled, that begins with their childhood, moving on to their marriage and career offering viewers a full vision of the different characters. Beside the main story, we see a lot of stories in parallel. For instance, the love story between a thief and a woman who run away to escape a forced marriage is a good example. This movie is also about tolerance and forgiveness. For example, when the ill fated passengers think they are going to die, both Muslims and Hindus realized that their religious conflict is groundless. The film also point out the stupidity and the greed of forced marriage. Instead, it promotes the concept of true love between two persons (a common theme in Indian movies). My criticism is about the length of the movie—three hours. And at some moments, the slow pace of the movie makes difficult for the viewer to be entertained during the whole film. Plus, even though dances and songs keep you delighted, there aren’t enough dances for me! In contrast to the other Bollywood movies I have seen, this one is more realistic. It reminds me of classic catastrophic films shot in Hollywood. Overall, I would give the movie a score of 4 out of 5. Overall, Burning Train handles, surprisingly well, the classic elements of an action movie.

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Madurai Messenger Films November 2012

Murder on the Orient Express:

“Murder on the Orient Express is evidence that newer isn’t always better. This film has been impressing audiences for nearly four decades and will continue to do so for some time”

Still Making Tracks after 38 Years A review of the timeless classic Murder on the Orient Express based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Even three decades after its release, the film continues to hold the audience spellbound with its complex, suspense-filled plot and brilliant acting. What is unusual is that the whodunit film manages to involve the audience in solving the mystery—a participatory style of watching a film that has few parallels, writes Brydee Streader

Murder on the orient express original

By Brydee Streader Australia

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lder movies risk losing the interest of audiences as time passes. With so many new film techniques and concepts surfacing, can a 38-year-old film still stand alongside more recent creations? Murder on the Orient Express is a 1974 mystery film based on the novel written in 1934 by Agatha Christie, the well-known crime fiction writer.

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Set in the 1930s it follows famed detective Hercule Poirot’s efforts to solve a suspicious and intriguing murder on the Orient Express. Sidney Lumet directs an extensive list of commendable actors including Albert Finney and Ingrid Bergman. Full of suspense and conspiracy, this film has a plot that thickens as the story progresses. The makers of this film have used its remarkable storyline and memorable performances to ensure this movie was extremely well received at the time of its release - and of course, it continues to impress audiences even today.

Superb storyline

Title:

Murder on the Orient Express

Cast:

Albert Finely, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid

Bergman Director: Year:

Language:

Sidney Lumet 1974 English

The first scenes in the movie portray a crime through still images and newspaper articles coupled with highly dramatic music. Three-year-old Daisy Armstrong had been kidnapped from her parents Mr and Mrs Armstrong, who then paid a ransom for the safe return of their daughter. Viewers then learn through more newspaper clippings that Daisy has been tragically murdered. These scenes set the ominous and sinister tone of the film. The rest of the film is set on a prestigious train that runs between Istanbul and London. A group of apparent strangers are making the journey from Istanbul to England, including Poirot. After the train is forced to stop by the excessive snow outside, one of the guests, Mr Ratchett is found murdered in his bed. Poirot is left responsible to deduce the identity of the murderer who is still on the train. He makes a connection between Mr Ratchett and the 5-year-

old crime involving the kidnapping and murder of Daisy. He uncovers Mr Ratchett’s true identity as Mr Cassetti, a member of the mafia who was behind the kidnapping of Daisy and caused her death and those of her parents. (Mrs Armstrong died in premature childbirth after the shock of losing her first child and Mr Armstrong later committed suicide.) Poirot questions all the remaining passengers and begins to find their hidden links between every passenger and the Armstrong family. Their identities have been a charade and they all have a motive in wanting Cassetti dead. He now has a train full of potential murderers who are playing as many mind games with him as he is with them. Using his well-established skills in investigation, Poirot faces a captivating and treacherous journey to find Cassetti’s killer, or killers.

Intriguing investigators One of the things that sets this film apart is the aspect of detection and investigation on behalf of the viewer. We learn everything along with Poirot and can use our own powers of deduction to figure out the mystery. Murder on the Orient Express hosts a range of characters, all of who carry significant secrets. The audience sees the unravelling of these secrets throughout the film’s progression adding a sense of mystery and suspense. Starting with Cassetti’s true identity, the surprises keep coming. As viewers learn more about the characters they become more relatable and we start to care for each of the men and women. The audience joins Poirot in unravelling the intricate web that links each passenger with the Armstrongs. While watching the film we are able to guess and speculate along with Poirot, and thus the entire audience become detectives, making the film truly engaging. Various hints and clues present themselves over the course of the movie and for the audience; this adds an element of discovery that is not often found in other films.

Astounding actors This film does a brilliant job at getting the audience deeply interested and involved in the complex plot. We need to make ourselves realise for a moment that the characters we are now caring for are really actors, very capable actors. Under Lumet’s direction a cast of skilful men and women each play their part extremely well. Albert Finney, who plays Hercule Poirot, sets the standard for the rest of the cast, and comes up with a flawless performance. . Along with Finney, Ingrid Bergman was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Greta Ohlsson, a woman who is later discovered to be Daisy’s nursemaid. She won the prestigious award for delivering such a believable and meaningful portrayal of Greta. The film won numerous awards for acting and other aspects, and they were all well deserved. Other notable performances include Jean-Pierre Cassel’s portrayal as the train conductor, Pierre. Pierre was the father of Daisy’s nursemaid who was wrongly accused of her murder, and who committed suicide under pressure. Cassel’s performance showed the torment and pain of losing a child although for much of the film he needed to hide this from Poirot. He delicately pulls of these aspects of acting. Linda Arden’s depiction of Mrs Hubbard is the only humour in the film. She is a loud American woman who puts her nose in everyone’s business, often with entertaining results. These characters lend entertainment and suspense. Murder on the Orient Express is evidence that newer isn’t always better. This film has been impressing audiences for nearly four decades and will continue to do so for some time. Agatha Christie’s story laid the foundations on which the director and the actors built this extraordinary film. The audience is not just watching this film; they are a part of the investigation. It proves that a well-written mystery and flawless acting can effortlessly withstand the test of time.

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Madurai Messenger Village Voices November 2012

Toda Tales Manami Mizukami meanders around Melgas, a picturesque little Toda village in the Nilgiris and talks to the community about their unique customs and traditions, including the buffalo, which is a sacred animal for the tribe By Manami Mizukami Japan

Buffaloes at the Toda Village

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37 The residents of the Toda Village

The Todas have a unique guest relations policy. They are very warm and hospitable to guests and give generously but never accept anything from their guests

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elgas is a quaint little mysterious Toda village that nestles in the Upper Nilgiris in South India. The Todas are a unique tribe in the Nilgiri hills. The picturesque Toda village is nestled among the high hills and has panoramic views of the whole village and the Nilgiri hills. It was a breathtakingly beautiful typical Toda village, with many buffaloes welcoming us! We felt as if we had been other

world. Melgas is one of the 60 Toda villages in Nilgiris district.

Place Melgas is situated in the upper Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu at a height is 2623 meters, near Ooty. It takes about seven hours by bus to Ooty from Madurai, and then we walked up the hills for about 30 minutes to reach the village. When the journalism team arrived in

Ooty at 4:30 am, there was a nip in the air. Everyone we met on the way wore a sweater and a shawl to protect themselves from the intense cold.

Past and present In olden times, the Toda tribe had many peculiar customs and traditions such as “sati” where the wife burns herself on the funeral pyre after the death of her husband. One such interesting

custom that still survives is polyandry where the women are permitted to engage in relationships with several men simultaneously. The Todas have a unique guest relations policy. They are very warm and hospitable to guests and give generously but never accept anything from their guests. “Theikirshy” is a highly revered god here. He is a male god and protector. He is believed to have created the buffalo at first and then the first Toda man, and next the woman was created from a part of the body of the first Toda man. This tradition shows that buffalo is the most hallowed animal for the Toda. They are killed only when a very

old person dies so that he does not go alone to the next world. And the tradition of the buffalo being a sacred animal continues even today. While earlier the Todas didn’t travel outside their villages, today almost every Toda seeks education and employment in big cities like Chennai and Madurai. They spoke the Toda language, which was known only to the members of the Toda tribe. Now even most Todas can’t understand the language.

People First, we interviewed Karas Kuttan (60). He was born and bred in Melgas. He said, “Life here is quite good.” His

family has been farming for a long time. He has travelled once to Madurai. He, like the other locals, is vegetarian. We also spoke to a kind-hearted woman Mudsin (70). Although she was born in another village, she came to Melgas after marrying a local man. In the Toda tradition, marriages take place between partners from different villages. Marrying a person from the same village is a definite no-no. She showed us a traditional dress. Everything is handmade. The Todas wear this dress only on important functions such as festivals, and marriages. When I wore it, she said, “Now you are Toda woman!” “I don’t want to marry,” Manabadhi (46) said flatly. She lives with her mother and cousin. If she gets married, she has to live in another village, and this means that she can’t see her mother often and cited this as the reason for not wanting to marry. She told us about the status of women in the community. Among


Madurai Messenger Village Voices November 2012

Despite this drawback, the natives seemed happy and said that if they had “good electricity, good water facility, and good transport, we don‘t need anything else”

the Todas, women have equal rights as men. After the interview, everyone here sang their own songs for us. The songs are a mix of Tamil and Toda language. There is no music, but only the clapping of hands and dancing.

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We were lucky to interview to Piluvu Kuttan (88), whose name means silver, and is the oldest man in this village. A strong personality with arresting eyes, this former gardener is well respected by his community who take good care of him.

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Volunteers Eriko, Manami and Yulia sitting in front of the Toda temple

Velli, a resident of the village

Piluvu Kuttan talked to us about the peculiar marriage system of the Todas. To our great surprise, the Todas do not follow the typical marriage system. They believe marriage means God is becoming pregnant. In case a woman doesn’t get pregnant after marriage, she can have another girl marry her husband, and the man can do same for his wife too. Also, if a relationship doesn’t work and they don’t have children, they are permitted to separate and find a new partner. Before we took leave, Archana, journalism supervisor, and I experienced a traditional greeting for the first time. At first, we knelt in front of Piluvu Kuttan, and then we touched our forehead to his feet for a few moments. Do you see something unique about their name? Actually, their family name is the same! Sin is the family name for men, kuttan is for women.

Volunteer Manami and Archana, Coordinator of Madurai Messenger, interviewing Velli

The people’s friendly smiles made me feel relaxed in what was my first journalism interview in India. When we left, the Todas gave us warm hugs much like our mothers would

Problem and prospects Melgas is an isolated Toda village and has no school or hospital. When people fall sick, they have to go down to Ooty for medical assistance. Despite this drawback, the natives seemed happy and said that if they had “good electricity, good water facility, and good transport, we don‘t need anything else.” I was surprised by their optimistic answer. Poverty is one of their biggest problems. It makes their life hard. Mudsin told us about the “self help group”, an initiative by the government that encourages women farmers to produce traditional goods for tourist sales. Each Toda village is bound by strong family ties. Without hesitation, a boy, Meshak (8), said with big smile, “I like everything here.” His family is engaged in agriculture. Like many other children, he helps his family in farming. Even after

they finish school and move away, they often come back to help their family. They love this place so much that they can’t be away from it.

Parting ways After the interview, the villagers showed us their temple. It used to be a traditional house that now functions as a temple. They worship the Toda folk deity Theikirshy here. Toda tradition forbids Toda women from either seeing the deity or crossing stone which is near the temple. There were many chairs made of stone around the temple. I guess these were used during meetings or religious ceremonies. I can never forget the warm Toda welcome. The people’s friendly smiles made me feel relaxed in what was my first journalism interview in India. When we left, the Todas gave us warm hugs much like our mothers would.


Madurai Messenger Firs Impressions November 2012

Diving Into Madurai Like a diver who explores the world beneath and discovered the treasures of the deep, Brydee Streader delves into Incredible India and discovers that what was in store for her was infinitely grander and more diverse than her expectations By Brydee Streader Australia

The Beautiful entrance of the Tailor’s market

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ecently, I embarked on a journey from my home country of Australia to dive into the trip of a lifetime, to Incredible India. On a break from academics, I chose to leap into a country that I thought would be full of life and culture. I have not been disappointed. My expectations of this vibrant country were based upon Bollywood films and Indian style restaurants in Australia. But, as I discovered, the reality is so much deeper and more diverse. I dove into a place where every trait here is colourful, flavoursome and entirely beautiful. I landed in Madurai and stepping off the plane, every one of my senses was instantly offered a new and interesting aspect of India to explore. A wave of humid heat surrounded my skin that was whisked away briskly by a pleasing cool breeze that brought with it an unfamiliar smell. At first, the scent of India was unrecognisable to me, an odour so rich and overpowering I could not figure out what would cause it, and then I distinguished specific aromas. The spicy irresistible waves of fragrances from the food stands mixed with the raw and natural scent of the many cows wandering the streets and the pungent expulsions from the unimaginable amount of cars, bikes and autos raging on the roads. I quickly accustomed myself with the constant beeping and tooting of these vehicles as they fought one another for their route. The people behind the wheels and those on the streets were dressed in such vibrant, beautiful colours and patterns, making India a feast for one’s eyes. While my eyes where fed with

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these images, my stomach craved the cuisines this country had on offer - the naan, curries and countless sweets are completely enthralling like every aspect of this lively land. As alluring as I found this country, it can also be a confusing and daunting place - I was overwhelmed and underprepared, feeling as though I had fallen into not only a different country, but also a different world. Being a foreigner here drew many stares from the local people, but a friendly smile from me was always reciprocated with a generous offer to assist me. I am so thankful for almost every person’s ability to speak English as it overcame my extremely messy attempts at learning Tamil which might have otherwise resulted in some language barriers. A local woman approached me in the streets and bestowed a bindi on my forehead, the children wave and laugh so beautifully and all the men and women call me “sister.”

Being guided through by the generous and diverse people who make this country so vivid and enigmatic has made this culture that I have fallen into, one that I am now falling in love with. India’s charming culture that lured me here is yet to disappoint me. In the short time I have been here I have experienced such a huge slice of culture. Within the first few moments of arrival my trip has been worthwhile and hugely enjoyable. The smells, sounds and sights are captivating, and the unique and fascinating group of people I have met have welcomed me with enormous pleasure. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here and expect to delve even deeper into this curious but absolutely amazing country. As Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. “


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November - 2012