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September 2012

Volume 2, Issue 34 Sponsored by:


India: The World’s Emerging Grey Capital Plus: Redefining Old Age: Dr. Sam C. Bose & Dr. R.Venkatraman New! Madurai‘s first daycare centre for Senior Citizens



September 2012 | Issue No. 34

Dr. Nandini Murali

A Grandmother’s Courage



01 A Grandmother’s Courage COVER STORY

Copy Editor

02 The Greying Population of India

Bhuvana Venkatesh


09 The Bucket List: A Different Life Perspective Project Manager


B. Pooja

10 Dr.Sam C.Bose: A Rebel Against Time 12 Dr.R.Venkatraman: When a student is ready, he becomes the teacher 16 Harihara Subramanian: Interpreter of planetary positions

Journalism Supervisors

18 Lily Ernst: A Sacred Calling

Ingelise Jones Project Coordinator

PASSION Archana Sundararajan Ram Kumar Journalism Administrator G. Durgairajan Designer & Technical Support T. Jesuraja 2

Reporters & Photographers Amanda_Lee Brownrigg Rebecca Collins Talisha Demetriou Amelie Phillipson Romain Logist Jessica Farrell Natsumi Sakai Agathe Hamel Tatsuo Tsukamura Geoff Nowakowski Sowmya Ramanan Cover Photograph Archana Sundararajan Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd., Contact: MADURAI MESSENGER No. 17, T.P.K Road Pasumalai Madurai – 625004 Tamil Nadu India Tel. 0452-2370269


20 Tuesdays with Morrie: Life Lessons 21 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Too close for Comfort MAKING A DIFFERENCE

22 Pahal Veedu: A Fellowship of Senior Citizens PHOTO ESSAY

24 Autumn Sonata INTERFACE

28 Inba Illam: An Oasis of Peace and Tranquility SERVICE


34 A Platform for Creative Arts IN CONVERSATION

36 Dr. Pradeep Kumar: Healthy Aging GRANDPARENTHOOD

38 Cherishing Grandparents 40 Second Parenthood NOSTALGIA

42 Anna Raja: Man for all Seasons VILLAGE VOICES

44 Kodaikkanal Road: Fruit Paradise CROSS CULTURE

48 Murali Srinivasan: A Bridge between Cultures FILM

50 Iron Lady: Dementia on the Big Screen 52 Piravi & Pranayam: Sensitive Portrayals of Old Age


hen I did not see Tulasi, the woman who ironed my clothes, for over a month, I wondered about her long absence. She never shirked work and her unexplained absence was worrisome. Tulasi was a cheerful robust woman who was energetic and enterprising. When I heard that she died under “suspicious circumstances,” I was shell shocked. In a state of denial, I refused to believe that she was no more. She had three very young children, including a hearing impaired child. Tulasi was a responsible parent, determined to give her children the best possible education. She had even enrolled her hearing impaired daughter in a school for children with special needs, and like the proud parent she was, exulted over her daughter’s achievements and milestones. Although her life was stormy, with an abusive husband, she, however, ensured that her children had a happy childhood. Sometime later, I happened to run into her mother Muniamma at a neighbour’s place. Tulasi had often spoken to me in glowing terms about Muniamma. I told her so and also said I wished I had met her in happier circumstances. Muniamma was stoic. Poised and composed, she told me rather matter-of-factly the tragic circumstances in which her daughter died. She had no time to grieve, because her young grandchildren were distraught over their mother’s sudden death and were inconsolable. Mustering all the courage she was capable of, the 60-yearold grandparent in Muniamma decided to re-parent her grandchildren. As primary caregiver to her semi-orphaned grandchildren, Muniamma swiftly adjusted to the new demands and expectations of her new role. Despite being uneducated, she was a woman of profound commonsense and wisdom. Her resilience and enormous reserves of inner strength and courage touched and humbled me. People like Muniamma are an instance of how grandparents are increasingly being called upon to play the role of caregivers to their grandchildren whose parents have died prematurely, often wiping out an entire generation and involving the older, third and the younger first generations in a strange symbiosis. I held Muniamma’s hands. It was a communion without words, which seemed so superfluous in devastating grief. As we parted, Muniamma hastily wiped a single tear that slid down her face. At that moment, I sensed how human and vulnerable she was… a mother grieving for her lost daughter. For Muniamma, this was a sorrow that even time could not heal…. But then life had to go on… for the sake of her grandchildren.


54 Bowing to Japanese food FIRST IMPRESSIONS

57 58 59 60

A Sensory Adventure Embracing Differences My Hyphenated Identity The Mystrique of Madurai

Dr. nandini murali Editor


Madurai Messenger Cover Story September 2012

The Greying Population of India With a growing population of the elderly, India is slated to become the grey capital of the world by 2020. The elderly, once revered and respected in the country, are now slipping from their pedestal. In an insightful analysis, Amanda-Lee Brownrigg explores the causes for the decline and captures the pioneering work of Help Age India, the Indian wing of the international NGO that works across the world to enable senior citizens lead fulfilling, healthy lives with dignity and respect By Amanda-Lee Brownrigg

T. Lakshmanan, a resident of Madurai’s old age home Inba Illam, spent his life providing for his three sisters with his accounting income. He took care of his widowed sister instead of getting married, and when he was unable to work anymore, he had no savings or income, and he had no family to take care of his needs. He was destitute like many elders in India. Even seniors with families face hard times in their old age. Families do not know how to handle the financial and emotional strain of the dependent senior citizens. The increase in life expectancy has led to a need that lasts 23 years longer than it did in 1954. Not only are families unfamiliar with how to deal with the needs of an aging population, even Indian society is changing. Rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, and Westernisation has led to the move from joint to nuclear families that no longer have room to care for aging family members, even if they do happen to have the resources. There is a great need for aid. The elderly need their emotional, physical, and financial needs taken care of, and where the families are unable or unwilling, an organization stepped in to fill the gap—HelpAge India. Established in 1978, HelpAge funds T. Lakshmanan’s stay at Inba Illam. “It is because of HelpAge that I can live,” he says. Truly, it is because of HelpAge that many seniors in India can live.



HelpAge in Madurai HelpAge is an NGO that was started in New Delhi in 1978 by Samson Daniel. HelpAge works with the mission “to work for the cause and care of disadvantaged older persons and to improve their quality of life.” “HelpAge works at preparing elders to face their life,” says K. Vijayaprakash, 33, the Social Protection Officer and Mobile Medicare Unit Coordinator for HelpAge Madurai. And in Tamil Nadu, this cause is truly being made a priority. Tamil Nadu is the state to boast four divisions of HelpAge: Chennai, Ramnad, Coimbatore, and Madurai. The Madurai divisional office was opened in April 1985, and it has been working hard for 27 years to address the needs of the elderly here in Madurai.

People Serving People

The staff of HelpAge India, Madurai


n India, the wish for long life is coming true. The life expectancy of Indians has climbed from 41 years in 1954 to 64 years today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2020, India will have the second largest elderly population: 142 million. The idea of old age homes and elder abuse used to be considered foreign and Western. India did not face these issues. Joint family systems were the norm, and

parents were looked after in their old age by their children and grandchildren. This is not the reality anymore. There are currently nearly 90 million older persons in India. Of these 90 million, 66 percent are below the poverty line. Seventy three percent are non literate or work, doing physical labour. A staggering 90 percent of the elderly are part of the unorganised sector, and do not have social security.

HelpAge India is very simply an organisation of people who want to help those who have helped India. The walls of the Help Age India office sport posters of elders with the phrases “Fed India”, “Led India”, and “Taught India”. Help Age Madurai has eight employees and two departments: resource mobilisation and programmes. C.Radhakrishnan, senior manager has a lot to say about the role we should be playing for those who have served and aged in India. “Society needs to understand elders, give them respect, and take care of them like children. That is enough.” He nods his head emphatically, “Give them equal importance.”

The donation box placed in the HelpAge India, Madurai office

Unfortunately not all families can or will do this. Help Age has conducted a few surveys to understand the challenges that senior citizens face in their later years. The results are as upsetting as they are informative. In 2004, HelpAge India did a survey on loneliness and isolation in later life and how it is affecting senior citizens. The heart-breaking responses proved the need for a community for the elderly: one in eight respondents said that no one cared they existed. One in five respondents felt alone and socialise with very few people. In 2011, Help Age delved into the uncomfortable again. The issue of elder abuse is neither a comfortable nor happy topic for discussion, but it is a large problem all across India, and unfortunately, in the city of Madurai as well. In May 2011, Help Age India did an in depth study on the issue of elder abuse in India. It explored the prevalence of abuse in many Indian cites, the causes of the abuse, and the effects of the abuse. Here are some of the shocking findings: With all of these people in need, HelpAge is faced with the challenge of deciding how best to allot the resources they have to support and nurture India’s aging population. The majority of Help Age’s resources are focused on helping people with two programmes, Sponsor-a-Granny and Adopta-Granny, and its flagship project, the Mobile Medicare Unit.

Adopt-A-Granny There are six Adopt-a-Granny programmes in Tamil Nadu. The Adopt-a-Granny programme in Madurai is run through the old age home, Inba Illam. The home was originally started in 1954 in a small hut, and it was transferred to the current location in 1976. There are 50 residents: thirty women and 20 men. The people who are taken into the home are destitute elders below the poverty line with no one to take care of them.


Madurai Messenger Cover Story September 2012

“Society needs to understand elders, give them respect, and take care of them like children. That is enough”

of her. On the street, she fractured her hip and could barely move, let alone find a way to support herself. She is very solemn when she says, “Without HelpAge there could be no home like this, and I could not lead the life I have now.”

Sponsor-a-Granny There are many elderly people who have no one to take care of them or have families who choose not to take care of them. This is not the only problem elderly people in India face. There are also seniors who have families that want to take care of their aging relatives, but simply do not have the means to meet their needs. For such people, Help Age has the Sponsor-a-Granny Programme. There are 19 Sponsor-aGranny programmes in Tamil Nadu. In Madurai, Sponsor-aGranny supports 175 senior citizens. Only 45 of them live in an old age home called Sneha Illam. The rest reside with their families.


It’s play time for Seniors at Inba Illam

Ms. Justina, 79, is the honorary coordinator of the home, and her gratefulness towards Help Age is clear and moving. “We moved to this location in 1976,” she says, “and we struggled to feed and clothe the inmates. Things were very hard for us, which is when Help Age came forward to lend us a helping hand.” They began financing the residents at Rs. 300 a month. That funding is now raised to Rs. 500 a month. This money goes towards food, clothing, medicines, and pocket money. The smile on Ms. Justina’s face is large and bright as she explains, “We were finding it difficult to take the ailing to the hospital, so HelpAge gave us an auto in 1999 to take them. We are still using it to this day.” She continues, “We used to have wood stoves; they gave us a new kitchen and gas power. We used to have well water; HelpAge put in water pipes.” Each of the 50 residents of the Inba Illam old age home is supported by the Adopt-a-Granny Programme. There is S. Rita, 70, who came to Inba Illam 14 years ago after living on the street. Her husband had passed away after ten years of marriage, and she did not have any children to take care

Senior Citizens Fact File

22% 72%

of elders have experienced some form of abuse.

percent of elderly feel neglected sometimes, and 17% feel neglected

every day.

Family members are reportedly the major abusers, with sons and daughters-in-law being the main abusers reported.

68% 98%

of the elderly did not take any action against the abuse.

percent of the elderly had never filed a complaint about the abuse they faced. They did not want to shame their families in the community, and they were also afraid of future abuse.

One of the most life-altering aspects of the Sponsor-a-Granny programme is the 22 Elder Self Help Groups (ESHG) it runs. Each month, every member contributes Rs. 10 to the group’s saving account. This amount is saved over five years, and distributed equally among the members at the end of the term, which ends up being around Rs. 20,000. The groups are educated by HelpAge about business and money so that they can best look after themselves and their finances responsibly and independently. “We focus on motivating them to form groups so that they can be less dependent on their families, and thus earn some respect from their families,” says B.Udayakumar, young professional-social protection. “We are preparing them to face their lives. We train and monitor them, but thereafter the groups look after themselves. While HelpAge assists them, we want to give them the power to look after themselves.” P. Subramani, 70, and S. Petchi, 65, are being helped through the Sponsor-a-Granny Programme. They have been married for 43 years, and in that time they have been blessed with four sons and eight grandchildren. They have been in the program for ten years, and during that time they have been part of an ESHG. When they speak of the support they have received through HelpAge, the look


“They teach me morals,” grins Alexander. “I like to hear the stories about their lives before they moved here,” says Regina of gratitude is bright on their faces. “We can give each child Re 1 or 2 to buy sweets.” It is clear that it is their family that brings them joy in their later life, the family that they are able to help in many ways thanks to the group and various benefits of the Sponsor-a-Granny Program. Their eldest son, S. Mayavelu, 41 says, “I want to be on the giving side, but we are on the taking side.” The whole family uses the fund to help lead a smoother life. The grandchildren eagerly talk about their grandparents. A. Regina is the eldest granddaughter at 14-years-old, and K. Alexander is the oldest grandson at age 12. Alexander is quick to proclaim his desire to be a police man. Regina happily declares that medicine is her chosen career path. Each child looks to their grandparent lovingly as they talk about going to church and festivities with them, and listening to their

Madurai Messenger Cover Story September 2012

The elderly of India fed the country. They led the country. They taught the country. They are the country. It is only by supporting them with inspiring NGOs like HelpAge that India can continue to be the country it has been and become the country it can be

A doctor working at the mobile medicare unit doing a routine health check up for a senior citizen who is part of the programme


7 RadhaKrishnan, the Senior Manager of HelpAge India, Madurai,interacting with the Madurai Messenger team

grandparents’ stories. They talk about how their school brings them to the nursing home to teach them that they should not choose to leave their parents there, though it is clear these children couldn’t imagine not having their elders around to guide them. ‘They teach me morals,” grins Alexander. “I like to hear the stories about their lives before they moved here,” says Regina.

Educating the Future Generation Madurai school children like Alexander and Regina are being educated by HelpAge in their schools. Help Age runs Student Action for Value Education (SAVE). The resource mobilisation department of the organisation visits 35 schools in and around Madurai to teach students three things: (to be filled in I guess)

Mobile Medicare Unit While the majority of the work HelpAge does focuses on educating society and the elderly, the Mobile Medicare Unit is a project that directly provides medical aid for many of Madurai’s aging population. Every week, about 60 people come to each of the ten sites the Mobile Medicare Unit visits. There are three staff members in the van: M. Shanmugam, 29, is the driver who has worked for HelpAge for two years. He takes care of the registration and guarantees the weekly

“Each child looks to their grandparent lovingly as they talk about going to church and festivities with them, and listening to their grandparents’ stories” arrival of the Unit. M. Sujatha, 37, has worked for the Mobile Care Unit for three years as a doctor. Her passion for service has her hoping to continue this role for many years to come. J. Vijaybaskaran, 29, is the pharmacist for the unit and has worked with HelpAge for three years. K. Vijayaprakash knows almost every recipient by name. He has been running Madurai’s Mobile Medicare Unit since the inception of the project here in 2007. He believes that the units help all generations in India. “Going to the medical van reduces financial strain on families.” He motions to the medicines being dispensed from the back of the van. “These medications usually cost Rs. 70-80 for a week of medicine, and the families below the poverty line cannot afford to supply them, and the elders cannot provide for themselves.” Each medical unit costs approximately Rs.1, 700,000 a year

to run. There are 74 units in India and one in Madurai. Every month 1, 37,000 disadvantaged elders are treated through these units. Every year, the Mobile Medicare Unit at Madurai provides treatment for around 20,000 people. The funding for the Madurai Mobile Medicare Unit is provided by the corporate sponsor Hi Tech Arai, based in Madurai.

G.R. Sivakumar, 33, has been a photographer for the Red Cross for four years. With a background in social work, he has taken it upon himself to do what he can to aid the abused elderly on his own time. He often rescues them off the street, and sometimes from family homes. The instances are almost always reported by the public.

B.T. Bangera, the Managing Director of Hi Tech Arai is proud of the three-year Rs. 5, 659, 000 contract he has signed with HelpAge. “We feel very proud that we can be a part of such programmes that help senior citizens,” Bangera smiles. This contract is their second with HelpAge, and it is their funding that makes the Mobile Medicare Unit a possibility in Madurai.

“I have a team in the government hospital that works along with me in rescuing people,” he explains. “As soon as they are rescued, we take them to a public restroom which has been set up, and we will give them a bath. We will then admit them to the hospital or an old age home, depending on their condition.” HelpAge offers assistance where possible. They provide aid to transport the elderly and they take over responsibility of the senior citizen after the rescue now and then, but Sivakumar does a majority of the work voluntarily because he is so passionate about the problems that senior citizens in India face.

But there are still more seniors that need help. “We need more units, for which we need more funds,” says Vijayaprakash. “We always have limitations. Even if we had five, it would not be enough.”

What is needed to move forward HelpAge is clearly making a difference in the lives of the elderly all over India, but with such big problems, there is so much more that needs to be done. The issue of abused elders is an unfortunate reality that requires even more than what HelpAge can currently do to help.

“A while ago, a man was admitted to the hospital,” he says. “I used to visit him at 1:00 pm everyday. One day he died at 12:30 pm. I called his son. He was only 3 km away but even after five hours, he did not come.” He shakes his head, clearly frustrated. “Later, the police had to force him to come to the hospital and take his father’s body. He claimed he had been too busy to come earlier. Too busy to even visit his father on his deathbed!”

Madurai Messenger Cover Story September 2012

A Different Life Perspective A thought provoking and funny film about life and living that inspires Tatsuo Tsukamura to overcome his fear of dying by making his own bucket list! By Tatsuo Tsukamura Japan


he term ‘bucket list’ refers to a list of things one would like to do before one dies. The Bucket List is the story of two old men, Edward and Carter, who are given about six months to live following a diagnosis of cancer. Although their lifestyles are vastly different, they have great chemistry and get along with each other.

The identity cards issued to the Senior Citizens by HelpAge India in order for them to get their pensions.

“I felt personally satisfied that I had helped bring some light into other people’s lives,” says K. Vijayaprakash 8

Sivakumar follows his story with a passionate quote, “If you allow your parents to shed their tears, your children will make you shed your blood.” He wants children to perform their role in looking after their parents, but so many do not care or are unable to do so. Sivakumar’s job would be much safer if there was a help line in Madurai. At Chennai, HelpAge India manages an Elders Help Line with a toll free number 1253 located in the modern control room of the commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai, Egmore. This facility offers assistance and information referral services. It provides information on old age homes, counselling, legal assistance, medical aid, and a variety of other services that senior citizens require. In Madurai, there is no system like this yet, but HelpAge is in the middle of creating a proposal for one and also looking for the donors to support . Right now, Sivakumar is accompanied by a red cross for protection from the press and as a legal deterrent in cases where a rescued victim passes away during the rescue. However, often enough, his life is at risk in these situations. A help line would make volunteer safety a number one priority, and it would help elders in need, as an organized mode of assistance, more than what even the most passionate of people can do in their individual capacity. HelpAge India also hopes to have a home for 200-250 people in Madurai. This would reduce the strain on hospitals as well as provide a safe and caring place for elders in the final phase of their lives.

Knowledge is Power The need for the services that HelpAge offers will continue to grow. India is changing, and with the new benefits that come with industrialisation, urbanisation, and Westernisation, many new problems will also make their presence. HelpAge can continue to expand its assistance and aid only when there is more awareness and positive action from Indians. India is facing a grey population boom that will continue to strain families who are left to care for the elderly. HelpAge will continue to fight for seniors’ rights and work on sensitising the nation to the struggles of senior citizens. HelpAge’s expertise on the legal responsibilities of family and government in caring for elders helped the HelpAge Madurai Division to obtain the old age pension due to 26 seniors in Madurai. HelpAge took on the complicated application processes for them, and after ten months, the process was completed. “I felt personally satisfied that I had helped bring some light into other people’s lives,” says K. Vijayaprakash. And it is this personal drive that keeps HelpAge moving forward to do more for the elderly and the families who are faced with the challenges presented by a longer life expectancy in India. It is all about people who want to help people. Battles, big and small, are won every day with the aid and expertise of HelpAge India. The elderly of India fed the country. They led the country. They taught the country. They are the country. It is only by supporting them with inspiring NGOs like HelpAge that India can continue to be the country it has been and become the country it can be.

When I saw the scene where Edward and Carter learn about their cancer, I recalled my own fear of death as a seven-yearold. That’s why I was certain that the old men too would feel abandoned after learning about their serious situation.

Full of Twists However, right from the beginning, this movie was unpredictable. Edward and Carter’s attitude was quite different from what I expected. To my surprise, the two men accepted it as if it was nothing important. Then they made a to-do list of all that that they wanted to experience before they die. This was ‘the bucket list’. Certainly not what you would expect from people waiting for their own death! Their toughness astounded me and I wondered why they did not fear death and dying. Instead I learned from them that preparing to die means how to live for rest of the life. Thus the two characters were catalysts in my thought process. Next, the story proceeded with further developments. The two men came back to their home, and Carter was surrounded by loving wife, children, grandchildren and other family members. At that time, his smile literally looked like the picture of happiness. In sharp contrast with Carter, the people waiting for Edward at his home were just escort girls and it brought him a feeling of emptiness. Then he wept silently like a child being scolded by a mother. I was really impressed with this scene. It was food for thought about the importance of strong relationships within a family. The climax is my favorite scene where Edward talks to his ex-wife on Carter’s insistence. During his talk with her, he didn’t seem to be the old Edward, but rather like a young man who declares his love for his beloved. He kissed his daughter with loving smile and he marked ‘kiss the most beautiful girl in the world’ off the bucket list! This had me grinning for some time.


Film: The Bucket list (2007) Director: Rob Reiner Cast: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman and Sean Hayes Language: English The message of this movie is very simple. From ‘what do you do before you die?’ this question naturally changes to ‘who do you want to spend time with for rest of your life?’ This thought-provoking film makes us look back on our lives. Although serious in its theme, it was an enjoyable film, combining both human drama and entertainment. Inspired by the film, I’m going to write down my bucket list.

Madurai Messenger Silver Profiles September 2012

“This is the doctor’s mantra - his keep-busy rule that deters the seeds of laziness which start to grow when one hits the equivocal “middle-age”


A Rebel against Time Twenty-year-old Rebecca Collins describes her engaging conversation with eminent reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Sam C, Bose, 83, as a “banter between the ages.” Listening to the witty and charming doctor, who is 60 years older, philosophize, postulate, interrogate and tease, she concludes that she learnt more about what it means to stay young and vibrant in one afternoon than in her two decades

The average age for retirement in India is 60, but Dr. Bose still works with as much spirit today as he did when he first graduated from medical school at 23. This, he believes, is the reason why he has remained so young. It is retirement which is to blame for our youthful demise.

By Rebecca Collins UK

Prolific Surgeon

S 10

urely not. This isn’t what “old” looks like, is it? Old is tired, quiet and forgetful, like a rusty rickshaw puttering uphill as it slowly runs out of gas. When you’re old, that’s it. Kaput. Finis. Say your farewells and wrap on a blanket; I’ll get you a Horlicks and pass you the remote control.

Taking a Stance: Dr.Sam C.Bose

But what I see before me – a sprightly and intelligent doctor with a canny wit and able body – totally crushes my preconceptions of what it means to be a senior citizen. Dr. Sam C. Bose, well known reconstructive surgeon at Madurai, is the bulldozing antithesis of everything I ever thought “old” was.

His mantra

Effervescent Doctor “What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?” Dr Bose asks me casually from his armchair. Sorry, what? I thought I was the one conducting this interview. Wisdom and knowledge... any guesses? Erm, pass. He’s quick to inform me that knowledge, apparently, is learnt information. But wisdom can only be achieved through life experience.... right. But no sooner have I digested this idea when another question comes flying my way: ‘So what exactly is old?’ Umm… well... that’s a tricky one for a 20-year-old to answer. Perhaps my

postulates, philosophises, interrogates and teases. Drop your wits at your peril—his conversation is quick, fast, and never dull. We sit in his front room, curtains drawn and a coffee table apart, discussing in smart and whimsical fashion everything from plastic surgery to the concept of age. Between the ornaments and wooden elephants that line the shelves of this small red lounge, a banter between ages unfolds, and I learn more about what it means to be young in one afternoon than anything I gleaned from my recent years living it up as a teenager.

afternoon with Dr Bose will help me figure this one out. Dr. Bose’s home, a large yet modestly furnished independent house in K.K Nagar, is atypical for a man his age. It is teeming with trip hazards: stairs, low-level furniture, and little tables, foot rests, tiled floors...and not a stick or pillbox in sight. His mind is sharp and his talk is playful, and he looks and acts like a man at least twenty years

younger. Walking with ease across the beige floral carpet he jokes as the photographer takes out her camera, “Oh, if I knew that you were taking photos then I would have worn a smarter shirt!” With such snappy talk and physical energy, one can’t help but wonder, “Are you really 83?” I have my doubts. Evidently, Dr. Bose is intelligent and articulate. In one afternoon, he

The secret to staying young, he tells me, is very simple: “Keep your eyes and ears open and this will leave your mental faculties intact!” This is the doctor’s mantra - his keep-busy rule that deters the seeds of laziness which start to grow when one hits the equivocal “middle-age.” “The moment you say, ‘I’m retired,’ ” he explains, “everything changes. You become lazy. A friend of mine one day said ‘enough is enough, I’m going to retire. I’m going to read Shakespeare’. So okay, I say, off you go and read Shakespeare, enjoy yourself. But his mind, it wandered, and now he is no more.”

And so, Dr. Bose continues to work as a stand-in reconstructive surgeon here in Madurai. With 60 years experience in the medical profession, he has performed more operations than you can shake a scalpel. He says, “In ‘87 I held the Indian record for performing the most cleft lip surgeries” - and is still working hard to this day as the senior consultant at Madurai’s Apollo Specialty Hospital. “Every Friday we have what is known as a clinical meeting, and as the senior most person I have been given the privilege to chair the sessions for the past ten years,” he grins. Then perched on the armchair in his dimly lit front room, Dr Bose recalls with exuberance the reason he went into medicine: “My late father was a surgeon, and as a child I thought when I’m older I want to be like him.” Nostalgia takes hold and he narrates the history of his long and successful career, which began in 1946 at medical college. Choosing to specialise in plastic surgery in 1956, Dr. Bose has since improved the lives of hundreds through performing life-changing reconstructive procedures—burns, cleft palates, scars, and skin grafts.

Passion, the elixir of life And has he ever considered cosmetic instead of reconstructive surgery?

“May I correct you?” he quips. “It’s no longer called cosmetic surgery; it’s called aesthetic surgery. The reason I am not in aesthetic surgery is because when patients come to us, the reconstructive surgeons, they say ‘I want to become normal.’ But to the aesthetic surgeon the normal patients want to become supernormal! It’s an addiction.” He pauses for a second. “God has made you the way you are, don’t change it. Pensive, he adds, “People who want plastic surgery don’t know how to age” - something that Dr Bose, clearly, has never had a problem with. This man is the master of aging. He is the rebel against time, challenging what it means to be “old” just by staying busy. And so, if you haven’t worked it out already, how do we stay young, readers? The answer is simple - no ointments, face creams, surgery or pills required. Just keep doing what you love, and don’t stop. “It’s a very rewarding job,” he tells me. “When I was in Government service, I made just enough to be happy and the patients’ regard for me was very high”. Safe to say that Dr Bose has got a lot out of his 60 years in medicine; if he’s not being praised by his patients, he’s receiving medical awards and diplomas for his dedication to reconstructive surgery. He hands me the citation of a prestigious award and instructs me to read the text aloud.. “Better than an Oscar!” he boasts – and quite rightly too. It’s not every day that you come across a surgeon who has been feted and honored with the “plastic surgeon of the year” several times in the space of 12 months. A rewarding career indeed!


Madurai Messenger Silver Profiles September 2012

When the Student is Ready,

He Becomes the Teacher After her joyful interaction with well-known art historian Dr. R. Venkatraman, Amanda-Lee Brownrigg reluctantly comes away, as Dr Venkatraman’s zest for life and love for teaching and learning makes her wish she could spend hours with him sitting under a neem tree learning how to live By Amanda-Lee Brownrigg US


minent art historian Dr. R. Venkatraman, 79, makes me wish I could stay in this philosophical country called India and sit under a neem tree to spend many hours with him learning how to live. 12


My interview with him begins with a laugh and a happy shrug as he explains, “I am 79 years young! My favorite playmate is my grand daughter; other people are too old for me.” His laughter is infectious, and I join in as he motions to his wife, Lakshmi. He tells me that she is his inspiration, and invites her to sit with us so that he can be inspired. She smiles and shakes her head at her husband, leaving us to discuss Venkatraman’s many experiences as a life-long teacher and student. I note the worn-in books that line the shelves around his living room. English and what I assume to be Tamil titles co-exist in stacks and rows. I prepare my coiled notebook, pen, and recorder as Venkatraman talks with Romain, one of the volunteers joining the interview as a photographer, about the pronunciation of the word Belgium. “Bell-jum,” he asks, eyes wide with excitement, “Not Bell-gee-um?” When Romain nods, Venkatraman lets out a hoot and shakes his head in wonder, “Life is too short to learn everything!”

Volunteer Amanda interviewing the articulate Dr.V

Professor Venkatraman- The passionate art historian

Not a businessman Venkatraman grew up in Tuticorin, where his grandfather ran a very successful salt manufacturing business. His family had five brothers and three sisters, and he smiles when he talks about how easy it was to live in harmony. Though there were differences, he tells me, “Differences will always be there.

My father used to tell to me, you are different from what you are in the morning to what you are in the evening. And truth has so many faces.” He grew up learning from his parents, grandfather, uncles, brothers and sisters. Even now he finds that he continues to learn things from the

knowledge he gleaned from them as a boy. He thrived in school, got a BA, and in 1956 he began working for his grandfather’s company in Vedaranyam. That year a tsunami struck, and a lot of money was spent to cover the damages. He was working to repay the debts when a second tsunami hit the area in 1957. After a few years of struggle, his grandfather told him the Gods didn’t want him to be a businessman because, first, he was not lucky, and second, he was not made for business. And this was true. Venkatraman found it impossible develop the subtle dishonesty that can be necessary to succeed in business. “I can sacrifice anything but I can’t sacrifice my values. I can’t tell a lie.” His grandfather understood this, and told him that since he was always talking about the values and ethics he wanted to teach others, he should become a teacher.

So in 1960, he became a high school teacher. As a businessman, he was always unhappy, but when he handed the business to his partners and became a teacher, he felt the weight lifting from his shoulders, and all he could feel was joy. “When I took up teaching I was so excited because I could now share all my stories with everyone. All the students loved me and I loved them.” He taught at the high school for five years, and loved every minute of his job. He came in early and he stayed late, and it wasn’t only the students who noticed his passion for his job. After five years, the headmaster urged Venkatraman to become a college teacher. Venkatraman told the headmaster that he couldn’t do this with only a BA, but the headmaster had found out that if a person taught at a high school, he could apply for a college professor’s position if he cleared his Master’s exams as a private candidate.

Venkatraman took up his advice and became the first private candidate to achieve a first class grade and rank. He got the results in the morning, and by that evening, he landed a job with a college. After a few years at the college, the head master there suggested he become a professor at the university, and put Venkatraman in touch with one of the senior professors at the Madurai Kamaraj University. The professor Dr.N. Subramanian liked him and asked him to do research at the university on the Siddhars of Tamil Nadu. From then on, Venkatraman began his tradition of being both a student and a teacher.

Happy wherever he may be When Venkatraman tells me about his long career in teaching, I can feel the joy that radiates from him as his hands dance to punctuate his statements with his smile complemented by his wideeyed excitement. He tells me a brief story, “Two men look out of the bars

Madurai Messenger Silver Profiles September 2012

shave because they were educated. Venkatraman refused the special treatment, and grew a beard for the first time. “There were a lot of regulations. I followed them all. Where ever you are, learn to follow those rules.” He believes that only if you immerse yourself in situations you experience them to the fullest, and find the joy that is offered in them. Even today, he feels joy at the memory of his experience, and he says it keeps him young.

A matter of interpretation

14 Professor Venkatraman with his wife V.Vijayalakshmi, better half or best half, as he claims!

of a jail. One man sees the stars. The other man sees the mud on the floor. It is all in your attitude.” Venkatraman had the opportunity to put this belief into practice when a conflict with the university management led to his imprisonment. At the university, he was unanimously elected president of the Professors’ Forum. When a conflict with the management could not be resolved, contrary to Venkatraman’s will, a strike broke out. Venkatraman agreed to the strike on the terms that the students not suffer from it, so he taught his class under a tree, and did not take attendance. They had classes there for 40 days, and the students loved it. “When the strike was over and we were back in the classroom, the students said,’ Sir, the classes under the tree were more interesting. You continue with the strike, Sir!’” Before the strike was over, the professors went down to the District Collector’s office to protest against the

management, and about 40 of them were arrested. They assumed that they would be held for a night and released in the morning. They were wrong. The group was put on a bus and taken to the central jail where they stayed for 25 days. Many of them wept, afraid of what would happen to them there and regretful of the decisions they had made. “I said to them, you must be happy wherever you are,” he tells me. He told them stories of Buddha giving up the castles and riches of his family to sleep under a tree and reflect on himself and life. He saw the jail as an opportunity. The inmates were allowed outside, so every night he slept under a tree like Buddha, and after a while, most of the other professors did so as well. But he didn’t just survive in the jail; he adapted and relished the learning opportunities it gave him. He and his group were offered razors to

Venkatraman speaks of his former students with great fondness. When he started working at the university, he had some difficulty adjusting to the new place. He called his students “Da” as he had done when he taught in high school. “Da” is a highly diverse word that can refer to a slave or servant or it can refer to a close friend. Venkatraman used his “Da” to express his fondness for the students, but his colleagues did not agree. They told him that he must refer to his students with the Tamil honorific “Vanga” that implies equality and respect. They said he was not in a high school anymore, and couldn’t treat university students like children. Venkatraman was very upset to hear this. He thought he had been a fool. He had not meant to insult his students, so the next day in class, he avoided the term. That day the students came to his room, furiously wondering why he had stopped addressing them as “Da.” Did he not like them anymore? When he explained that he shouldn’t have been calling them that, the students declared they would not attend classes unless he called them “Da.” They went to the other professors and told them they should not have influenced their master. They said, “He is our Guru. You are only our teachers!” Venkatraman smiles as he recalls the fond relationships he built with all the students he addressed as “Da.” He

15 All Smiles- Amanda with the walking encyclopedia

“I always said my knowledge on the subject is not as strong as my colleagues. I was surrounded by giants in the subject. I am a pygmy before them. But when it comes to the question of love and affection and caring for them like a mother, I am a giant, and they are all pygmies,” he guffaws, slapping his knee.

have always strived to do.” Though he retired from the university in 1994, he continues to teach international students from the Washington and Wisconsin universities. Again, he focuses more on teaching them attitude than teaching them art history or Indian culture. “I am not a very intelligent man. I often tell my students, if you want to learn the subject, take other teachers. I can only teach you attitude. The men I have taught are now officers and principals and they come to me and say what we learned from you more than the subject was attitude. The subject we learnt ourselves!”

A guru teaches attitude

Becoming a wise man

When I ask him what he thinks makes a good teacher, he pauses to think. “Well, be sincere about teaching the subject, display the desire to share knowledge, and demonstrate care like a mother. That is very, very essential. That is what I

Venkatraman shakes his head when I ask how he feels about aging and he smiles broadly, “I enjoy everything about aging. The first day I spotted a white hair, I told myself ‘I am becoming a wiser man!’ It is a sign of wisdom.” He

stopped using the term in the later years of teaching in order to appease the university, but he always felt he wasn’t as close with those students as with the earlier batches. Those he taught in the early years still visit him. They introduce him to their families and ask him to call them “Da.”

continues, “Grow old gracefully. Enjoy. When I lose a tooth, I ecstatically claim I am becoming Gandhi! When I lose all my teeth, I will be a real Gandhi!” There is no room for negativity in Venkatraman’s life. Everything he has experienced has been a source of joy and knowledge that he can share. He ends the interview telling me, “Life is a great journey towards happiness.” As we pack up to leave, he stops and has us take a picture of him with us, and then of him with his wife. He grins with his arm around her shoulder, and gives me a thumbs up. “You see why I am so young?” he asks. It is the simplicity of his lessons that stays with me. Nothing he has said during our interview has been complicated or abstract; in fact, it has been most informative. If he can make life seem easy, I can only imagine the things he could teach me if I wanted to learn.

Madurai Messenger Silver Profiles September 2012

Interpreter of

Planetary Positions The ancient Indian science of astrology attempts to impart a semblance of order and predictability to human lives in an uncertain world. Agathe Hamel, in conversation with astrologer Harihara Subramanian, comes away convinced that the need to believe in something defines Indian thought and way of life By Agathe Hamel France

The happy couple: Astrologer Harihara Subramanian with his loving wife, Vasantha



was a little afraid to interview somebody who was greatly respected in Madurai for his formidable knowledge of astrology. But I didn‘t expect to meet someone as approachable as K. Harihara Subramanian. The 75-year-old astrologer, dressed in a striped shirt, over which fell his pair of glasses,

welcomed us with a warm smile. The desk in the first room of his house, which also serves as his consultation room, is strewn with papers, books, computers and cups of tea thoughtfully made by his wife. Although I had to interview him, he began by asking our names and origins, and it looked like he was to going to interview us! The

astrologer was easy to connect with and explained everything about astrology without any hint of superiority, but with a keen desire to share his experiences and thoughts. “I am an astrologer, and if my knowledge is able to help someone, let it help,” says Harihara Subramanian

rather matter of factly. He left his small village Harikesanallur in Tirunelveli district when he was 18 years to go to Bombay (now Mumbai) to work in the life insurance sector. After that, influenced by a colleague who used to study the position of the planets, he found himself drawn to the subject. According to him, astrology has always been a part of him, maybe in a previous life, but also a part of India, where everything seems to be connected to it. After relocating to Madras (now Chennai) for career reasons, he finally returned to Madurai at the age of 60.

Ancient Knowledge As astrology is very closely linked to astronomy, he also had to study astronomy through books and through his interaction with other people in the field. According to Harihara Subramanian, the foundation of Hindu astrology is the Vedas. Astrology remains a primary facet in the lives of many Hindus, and that is why astrologers are highly respected in India. In contrast to Europe, where everything is based on a 24-hour time system, Hindu astrology matches everything in accordance to the sunrise and to the time of birth. Everything depends on the movement of the planets and the moon (Dasha: the planetary periods) and their combination (Yogas: the planetary combinations). The moment in time that Hindus do something such as get married or open a new business is very significant- which is why they prefer to do/or not do something at certain times. Though an ancient science, Hindu astrology seems to be evolving and sustaining itself despite modernisation. For example, the way to calculate the time of birth raises several questions: should we determine it from the moment when the child touches the earth, or the moment when the umbilical cord is cut, or whether or not he or she had a separate existence before? Hindu astrologers are continuously asking themselves about the ‚right moment‘, and that is why they often congregate to discuss these issues. Astrology is not a topic that can

Volunteer Agathe in a deep conversation with the astrologer

In fact, his motto is “Like to learn and learn to like” implying, you need to like to start learning, and to learn to keep liking 17 be discussed with everyone; according to Harihara Subramanian, there is a recent lack of knowledge in developing horoscopes, which he comically terms “horrorscope”. He believes that he will never stop learning (and that is probably what defines the strength of his character). In fact, his motto is “Like to learn and learn to like” implying, you need to like to start learning, and to learn to keep liking. According to him, “lack of time does not exist,” and should not stop anyone from doing something, because it is in our hands to manage our time. Therefore, if you really want to do something, you can always find time to do it. Astrology also brought Harihara Subramanian into Jyotish philosophy (sign of light) and the question of faith. He said that even if people do not believe in astrology, it does not bother him, because ultimately it will not affect Hindu astrology as a concept. If you want to believe in astrology, then he will always offer his services. Harihara Subramanian does not accept money

for his services, and generally only consults for people he knows or friends of friends. His sole aim in practicing astrology is to use his knowledge of planetary positions to help others. Today, astrologers are most sought after to cement matrimonial alliances. Harihara Subramanian, who married at 36, did his own matchmaking and horoscope for his wedding, and the fact that he and his wife seem to be really happy together could be sufficient proof that his work is reliable! Another unique aspect of this astrologer is that he does not insist on matching horoscopes before a marriage: “If you really like the person, do not come to me, I will tell you to go ahead! You can trust God. Astrology is just relying on God.” Interacting with him made me understand that the most important thing is not to believe in astrology, but just to believe in something. Therein lies the foundation of Indian thought and way of living.

Madurai Messenger Passion September 2012

A Sacred Calling

A Sanctuary Lily Ernst’s work with destitute women began in 2002. The first woman to join, Ponni, 67, is still there. Ponni, who comes from a little village nearby, was brought by her brother after the death of their parents, because he did not want to take care of her. The second woman, Usha, 62, came three years later – she had been locked in a little room at her brother’s home for a while. Today she is happy in her new ‘home’ and looks after the garden. Another woman, Solai, came three years ago.

Agathe Hamel meets Lily Ernst of the Department of English, Lady Doak College, Madurai, who runs a home for destitute women in the city. Although she dismisses her efforts as “just a drop in the ocean,” every little drop matters By Agathe Hamel France

Lily Ernst, with a spark of service in her eyes

Volunteer Agathe and Pooja B, the journalism supervisor of Madurai Messenger, listening to the heart touching incidents told by Lily Ernst

The self-effacing Lily Ernst says, “It’s just a drop in the ocean.” Perhaps she overlooks the fact that every little drop helps


Two ladies who are taken care of by Lily


t is said that in whatever we are trying to become, our mother’s souls are always somewhere inside us. Therefore it is not a mere coincidence if Lily Ernst, 52, decided to devote her life to helping destitute women. When Lily was growing up, her mother Beulah Ernst used to take care of people in the street, offer support to anyone who needed some help.

The first step In 1995, when Lily Ernst met an old man in the street without arms and legs, trying to move himself in order

to find something to eat, she had the feeling that it was a call from the Divine. Against several odds, Lily Ernst, who teaches English at Lady Doak College in Madurai, decided to look for a place big enough to welcome people in need. She zeroed in on her space in the quaint little village of Konarpatti, on the outer fringes of Madurai. It was an acre of barren land in a sandy wilderness. In the absence of even a fence, it was free grazing ground for cattle and goats. Over the years, taking one baby step at a time, she built the place and turned it into a lush, green garden.

However, finding people who want to stay in her home was more difficult than she expected. She used to go around temples with her friend, Rita, 52, hoping to reach out to beggars. However, what surprised her was their unwillingness to give up their current lifestyle and relocate to the home. According to them, they earned more than Rs. 100 every day by begging. Despite the warm and welcoming ambience in Lily’s home, a resident even set a fire in the home because she had a disagreement with the watchmen.

A drop in the ocean After the death of Lily’s father, her mother chose to come and help her. Because Lily works as an English lecturer, she comes only on the weekends. She receives support from friends and well wishers. The self-effacing Lily Earnest says, “It’s just a drop in the ocean.” Perhaps she overlooks the fact that every little drop helps. Lily is helped by her friend Rita, who lives on the campus with the women. Rita used to work in a cooperative store before she became a part of Lily’s home. She does her best and believes it was “a call from the Bible to help poor people.” She is very happy to look after the garden and wishes she could have a small vehicle to take the women outside. To the destitute women she is a “big sister,” and she believes that the relationship she has built with them will only strengthen. She was able to adapt to a totally new way of life with them, and is really happy to be where she is now. Rital also thinks that she has a duty to teach them good things from the Holy Book. Beulah Ernst also plays a very important role and the daughter’s initiative is a source of pride for the mother who is her daughter’s inspiration. Like most mentors, Beulah Ernest, who lives on the campus, and is the catalyst in her daughter’s charitable initiatives, is also a source of visible support with her presence.


Madurai Messenger Book Review September 2012

Life Lessons An unforgettable story about living life fully and embracing death joyfully as “taught” through weekly “lessons” between Professor Morrie Shwarz and his former student Mitch Albom. Tuesdays with Morrie combines the literary eloquence of a novel, the accessibility of a self-help book and a rare honesty, writes Rebecca Collins

E 20

very student needs a good teacher. Someone to guide us through life’s little lessons and teach us how things are supposed to be done. How to ride a bike, how to tie your laces, how to cook, how to read... these things don’t come naturally to us humans—they have to be learnt. And anybody who has ever tried to learn anything in their lives can vouch that gaining a new skill can be very, very frustrating; it takes practice. But with the right teacher - that difficult barre chord you’ve been working on this month, or that tricky exam question you’ve been struggling with, can become as easy as learning your ABCs.

The most difficult lesson There’s one lesson, however, that can’t be taught: How to die. When you fell off your bike, you got back on. When your lace came undone, you re-tied it. But dying? Oh, boy! There are no re-runs for death, so if you spend your last few weeks on earth filled with regret and pining over a lost love, well then I’m sorry, but you’ve messed up big time you can’t go back and try again. So with no teacher to show us what to do, how are we supposed to learn how to die? Cue Tuesdays with Morrie, a true story about revered sociology teacher, Morrie Schwartz, and his losing battle with the degenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Morrie’s on his way out, but he’s got a lot to say about life – and death – before he goes. As Morrie himself puts it, “I’m not as alive

as I used to be, but I’m not yet dead. I’m sort between.” Prepare yourselves: this is the closest you will ever come to “learning” how to die. Written by Mitch Albom, a former student and close friend, Tuesdays documents Morrie’s views on life as he edges towards death; what values we should hold close to us, how we should embrace culture, what career paths we should follow, and most interestingly, how to overcome the fear of death.

A meaningful dialogue Drawing heavily on classroom semantics, Albom presents the reader with a smart little thesis on life and death, developed from inspiring and provocative conversations with his old and dying lecturer. The reader slips into the role of “student” through the book’s first person narrative, and Morrie becomes our teacher as we learn life’s most important lessons from him. Albom’s writing is elegant and composed, and despite an apparent skewed focus towards only the special world of Mitch and Morrie, Tuesdays is by no means a private tuition. On the contrary, this novella discusses at length – among many other things – various sociocultural phenomena like consumerism and religion, and the impact these have on our lives...not bad for a book just short of 200 pages long. Tuesdays is a hybrid of genres, to be sure. It encompasses the literary eloquence of a novel, the accessibility

Too Close for Comfort Title:

Tuesdays with Morrie


Mitch Albom

Publisher: Doubleday Language: English

A powerful narrative that explores the world as seen through a nine-year-old boy’s quest for answers, love and understanding as he attempts to prise locked secrets, writes Jessica Farrell


of a self-help book, and a striking candid voice that one rarely sees outside biography. Successfully integrating elements from all three of these formats, Albom has created a concise and enlightening little pocketbook which anyone, young or old, can use to learn how to live a better life and appreciate-rather than fear – death. It is, of course, at times, very sad (the man’s dying for goodness sake. Try getting through this one without sniveling, I dare you). But despite its tear-jerking subject matter, Albom’s perspective is realistic, rather than pessimistic, “Mitch, I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than this. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all” - and this is coming from a man whose body is slowly being destroyed by a debilitating illness...makes you feel bad for complaining about the bad traffic this morning, huh? You see, there’s much to glean from Tuesdays. For all its poignancy and charm it still grapples with the hard stuff: regret, money, love, forgiveness, family life...all weighty topics sandwiched between a heartbreaking tale about friendship and so much more. This certainly is no How to die 101, but if you’re looking to understand yourself a little better then read Morrie’s story; he’s a great teacher with all the right lessons. Tuesdays with Morrie is like riding a bike...this is one book that you’ll never forget.

Incredibly Close

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer Publisher: Turtleback books Language: English

By Jessica Farrell By Rebecca Collins

Title: Extremely Loud and



onathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of nineyear-old Oskar Schell’s journey through the boroughs of New York City as he searches for answers, love, understanding, and a cryptic lock somehow connected to his deceased father. This novel examines one family’s struggle with reality as they live through the aftermath of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks.

Journey into the unknown Oskar’s journey starts around a year after his father’s death when he discovers an envelope inside a vase in his father’s closet. On the back of the envelope is the word “Black” and an extravagant key is inside, nothing like any key he had seen before. Oskar feels like his father has unintentionally left him one last expedition. As a way of getting closer to his dad, and perhaps giving him some peace of mind, he ventures onto the streets of New York in search of every person with the last name Black. A journey that could be impossible to complete ensues and Oskar finds himself getting further away from answers as he speaks with many different people, none who know about the key or his father. By the end of the novel, Oskar is still stuck in the past. He has only grown tired of looking for something that doesn’t exist: the answer to why his father died. I came across this novel after a friend praised its experimental structure and electrifying narration. So I expected a piece of literature that would tug at my emotions and delve into the mind of a child. I wanted to know how the September 11attacks affected families in New York. I wanted to go on a journey and I did, through the eyes of this boy. Although Oskar is a contrived character at times and the novel nearly

verges into the realm of magical realism that doesn’t fit with the rest of the exposition, this was a book I didn’t want to put down. The voice sings from the page as Oskar dives into thoughts and emotions following his father’s death. The pace allows readers to fly from one scene to the next just like Oskar travels from one house to the next in search of answers. The switch in point of view from one character to another is refreshing and allows readers to gain perspectives on other family members. The structure has its positives and negatives. It feels forced when pictures take up page space during Oskar’s point of view because they don’t really add anything. The pictures represent what Oskar is seeing but with everything is written in great detail, the pictures appear redundant. Although the idea of using photographs in a novel is a little unique, I found myself barely looking at them due to the lack of colour and interest in what was being shown. A door knob is a recurring photograph that shows the journey ahead for Oskar, that he only needs to open the door, but it also represents the secrets being withheld from him, such as why his father died and why the key was hidden in his parents’ room. Each picture has a meaning but they are no more than a five second distraction from what really matters which is this little boy’s story. The novel switches point of view from Oskar to his grandfather and grandmother as well. Both of his grandparents lived in Dresden when it was bombed during World War II and their sections in the book are written in such a way that it I felt like I was in a different world while reading, like I had exploded into several realms.

The grandfather, Thomas Schell Sr., lost the power of speech when he came to America. He says, “I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer.” He explains that the words just stopped coming and now he must write everything down in a notebook, so much so that certain pages in the book look like the notebook, with only a single word or phrase on a page. The structure during Thomas’s point of view, on a sentence level and on a page level, reflects his emotional state. Commas replace periods so that all thoughts stream together to become one, just as many of the pages are only filled with one word or phrase. That one thought is of the woman he still loves, Anna. He is so distressed that everything has become fuzzy. His wife, Oskar’s grandmother, also has a unique structure that is all over the place with fragments and short sentences. This represents how she feels she doesn’t belong anywhere and the support lacking from her husband. This story is an incredible display of how a child’s mind can change the world, even if it’s only the world of a few strangers in New York City. One piece is missing from this story though: Oskar’s mother’s point of view. She is only shown through Oskar’s perception but at the end of the story, I knew exactly how most of this family felt and lived. I knew this family personally with their wonderfully playful and tragic stories. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel that asks readers to step into the shoes of a nine-year-old and walk until locked answers are found.


Madurai Messenger Making a Difference September 2012

A Fellowship of Senior Citizens

a contract stating that if they are violent, under the influence of drugs, alcohol or verbally abusive, their membership will be terminated immediately.

Talisha Demetriou feels privileged to spend a day at Pahal Veedu, a day care centre for senior citizens, the first of its kind in Madurai. What better antidote to the isolation and loneliness so common among the elderly, she asserts By Talisha Demetriou UK

Doctors give the members of the daycare a monthly check up to ensure that they are healthy and happy. Pahal Veedu has copies of the members’ medical records so that doctors will have quick and easy access to them in case of emergency.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness”


They sit alone. Silence haunts the room like a ghost and the seconds drag on for what seems like eternity. Their children have left for work, living their own lives while these senior citizens long for the active lives they used to lead. As still as statues they wait. According to surveys, more than 60 percent of senior citizens experience some form of loneliness. This could be due to their children focusing more on their own responsibilities than on their parents or due to their partners passing away. Both are inevitable. They knew that this time would come. But what happens to them now? Senior citizens need somewhere to go and meet new people, converse and find their lost smiles that seemed to have disappeared with their old lives.

Another way the staff members at Pahal Veedu ensure that every member is safe and in a secure environment is by coming in earlier than the members. The day care opens at 10 a.m. for the members but staff members have to be at work at 8:30 am to clean the building. It also ensures that the day care is clean and that members are not left vulnerable to infection. Talisha chats with grandmoms and granddads

The medical history files are also extremely important for learning the dietary needs of the members. Jebi Victoria proudly claims that every staff member can clearly recall every member’s dietary restrictions. “Even the maid knows the medical history files by heart!” she adds.

“They’re all my family” The van is used by Pahal veedu to transport their members

Antidote to loneliness

The daycare is open to people of all religions. Unity is a priority in Pahal Veedu. One way it does so is by ensuring, on a member’s first day that all activities are done together as a group. This bonds members and helps them make new friends.

Pahal Veedu is that place. A day care centre for senior citizens opened in 2009 by Maurine Jeyaraj and her husband JayaSuresh Jeyaraj, Pahal Veedu has grown successfully in three years as a centre with four staff members and 44 members! Pahal Veedu’s motto is to work extremely hard to keep senior citizens occupied and happy. It is a place that senior citizens can visit anytime, to keep their minds distracted from their every day stress.

Pahal Veedu is filled with fun-packed activities to ensure that boredom is vanquished and replaced with the feeling of excitement. Jebi Victoria, 41, Coordinator, was extremely welcoming and happy to explain the routine at the centre. She explains, “From 10 a.m.10:30 a.m. we have mind games, which helps with memory loss and keeps the members occupied.” This is just one of the many activities for the members.

Other facilities include a library, two bedrooms which members can use to rest, and a games room where members play board games. Every month there is also an outing for all the members. Members are taken out on picnics and to shop at the Madurai town. A weekly activity that the members love is cooking lessons. A chef visits every week and shows them how to cook some delicious meals when they are at home.

A safe space Besides proving a source of entertainment, Pahal Veedu ensures that every member is safe. One way it does this is by getting the members to fill out

Meters away you hear an echo of laughter that would have touched the heart of even the coldest of people. Walking into a room full of smiles is the most magical feeling ever! The room was bright, with the summer sunshine peeping in. Everybody was playing games: Chinese checkers, crosswords, and Sudoku. All the games help defeat memory loss. Every game counters the horrible feeling of loneliness and boredom. Every member has a different story to share: some of them have children who have gone to live abroad, some of them had husbands who had passed away. A volunteer explains that he was alone and felt like the days were dragging on for him and his wife. They had nothing to do now that they were retired


Mind honing games for the senior citizens

and this was distressing them. They explained they were all alone before they came here and that everyone in the centre is now their new family. “They’re all my family.” When asked to explain Pahal Veedu in one word, a volunteer expressed that “one word wasn’t enough” as he enjoyed it so much. He believes the day care is “very very nice.”

Cherishing memories On the wall there is a shrine, a shrine for a dear friend that every member lost. Rev Charles Victor was a dear friend and fellow member of Pahal Veedu. As the only member who passed away, he is still cherished. Every member prays for Rev Charles Victor every day. It is

truly amazing to learn that this man is cherished by so many friends who miss him. Pahal Veedu makes senior citizens part of a group that is bound by close ties. They will never be alone and will always have great memories that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They are no longer alone. Cheerfulness and chirpiness fills the room like an angel beaming its light of happiness and peace. Seconds feel like they’re traveling at the speed of light, flying by. With their children having left for work, living the lives they use to have, these members are getting ready to go to Pahal Veedu, eager to begin their day. They have no need to wait any longer to feel involved. They are happy and have brand new friends.

Madurai Messenger Photo Essay September 2012

Autumn Sonata An evocative photo-essay by French national Amelie Phillipson’s close encounters with senior citizens in India—an experience that has enriched her incredibly with the inherent humanity that binds people across ages, cultures and nationalities By Amelie Phillipson France

children spend a lot of time with their grandparents, sometimes as much as with their parents. This differs a lot from my home country where it is not uncommon for a family to live apart, sometimes very far away from each other. However, my visits to many old people’s homes here makes me realise that the situation shows a tendency to become similar to what it’s like in Europe: more and more, senior citizens here too live away from their children and grandchildren. The senior citizens I met in India were all that I expected them to be: lively, usually quite talkative when their English was good enough, very expressive, and always incredibly happy to meet us and very kind. They would always greet us in the best possible manner, they were curious to know more about us and they always made sure we were comfortable. When I think of my photo essay, I will not remember… the number of times I pressed my camera button, the hours spent in cars to go and meet all these incredible people and the time spent selecting the best photographs out of the hundreds. I will remember …the smiles I discovered, the lovely welcome I had each time I met someone new, how kind and easy to talk to they were, even though we didn’t always speak the same language, even though we were strangers from far away entering their homes…


R Nahami who is part of the sponsor a granny program

The seniors of Inba Illam quietly play a board game in the courtyard

The senior citizens from the day care center posed happily for me, interrupting there word puzzle game


enior citizens look good on pictures: they are some of the most expressive people I have ever encountered and their faces alone can tell such interesting stories. This is what I learned from taking hundreds of pictures of them during the last few weeks. In fact, taking pictures is probably not the most important thing I did for this photo essay. In order to take pictures, I had to follow volunteers on many interviews which gave me quite an insight into the lives of senior citizens in and around Madurai. Through these encounters, I have been able to see their lifestyles, compare different lifestyles within India, and also compare it with the lifestyles of senior citizens in my own country, France. The most notable difference is that in India, many senior citizens live with their children: traditionally, families tend to stick together, even when grandchildren are born. Therefore,

Whatever their age, women in Madurai take pride in their very long hair


Madurai Messenger Photo Essay September 2012

All Smiles


The funniest smile always comes unexpected by especially in places where smiling is the easiest way to communicate

Hard at work even after retirement, the word puzzle keeps his mind going!

The senior citizens I met in India were all that I expected them to be: lively, usually quite talkative when their English was good enough, very expressive, and always incredibly happy to meet us and very kind. They would always greet us in the best possible manner, they were curious to know more about us and they always made sure we were comfortable


Madurai Messenger Interface September 2012

Inba Illam:

An Oasis of Peace and Tranquility Amelie Phillipson and a group of co-volunteers spend a day with the residents of Inba Illam, a home for senior citizens. For all of them, it was humbling to discover how little it takes to make people happy By Amelie Phillipson

This simple timetable shows how religion organises daily routine in India, something very different from France, where I live: faith is extremely important for these senior citizens in India

waved at me and invited me to sit next to him, and we started chatting in English. Nagarajan, 66, was the manager of the Meenakshi temple up to 2002. Having lived for a year and a half at Inba Illam, Nagarajan was well acquainted with the functioning of the place and detailed a typical day at Inba Illam. The residents wake up everyday at 6 a.m. and have a cup of tea before prayer, followed by breakfast at 8 a.m., another tea at 10.30 a.m. and lunch at 12.30 p.m. Residents sleep or rest upto 3 p.m., have tea at 4.30 p.m. and then diner at 7 p.m. before going to bed.



The lovely Nagarajan pushing us to go to church and listen to mass

In between meals, residents have a lot of time for prayer, but they also play indoor games like the popular board game, Carom, which I have had the chance to play. This simple timetable shows how religion organises daily routine in India, something very different from France, where I live: faith is extremely important for these senior citizens in India.

Volunteers in front of the gate of Inba Illam at the beginning of the day


olunteering at an old people’s home in India was nothing like what I expected it to be. I believe the word observation best describes my experience at Inba Illam. Along with four other volunteers, we reached the home at 10 a.m. I recognised the courtyard from my previous visit with other volunteers when I had accompanied them on their interviews.

As soon as we stepped into the ladies dormitory, we were greeted very warmly by the residents. I recognised many faces, and felt happy when I was told that they remembered me very well. We were offered tea and biscuits, and were the centre of attention for a few minutes. When they played some music, volunteers Tillie and Camille began dancing, lighting up the ladies’ faces

with big smiles. I put my camera down for a moment in order to join them for an Indianised version of the Macarena dance. Laughter filled the room, demonstrating how a simple thing can lighten up everyone’s spirits.

A space of their own I discreetly made my way out of the room and into the courtyard. A man

Volunteers Tillie and Camille livening up the ladies dorm with fun dancing

While I was talking to Nagarajan, I heard the sound of music from the chapel. I quickly joined the mass where volunteers Camille and Tillie had just finished singing “Amazing Grace” with the residents. I sat with the ladies and someone shoved a book of prayer in my hands. I opened it and saw it was in Tamil, with no translation whatsoever. The ladies around me laughed as they saw my disconcerted


Madurai Messenger Interface September 2012

Take Care These are the people who work behind the scenes to make life just that bit easier for people who have no one else to care for them. Romain Logist speaks to a cross section of people involved in caring for senior citizens, and comes away impressed by their dedication and spirit of service By Romain Logist Belgium

Paerinbam and senior citizens of Sugavanam

Reaching out through a gift of clothes


31 look, the situation was pretty funny: they wanted us to sing along, but we didn’t know any of the songs and were unable to read Tamil. Even though we couldn’t understand anything, we were still a part of the ceremony and it had an impact on us: Tillie says “visiting the church was a truly inspiring time for me. Singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in front of everyone really boosted my confidence and the memory still brings a smile to my face.” After church, I spoke to Justina Durairaj who talked to me about the residents of Inba Illam. Most of them are unmarried, and therefore have no children to take care of them. I was introduced to the only married couple of Inba Illam: Mr Krishnamoorthy and Mrs Vathsala who have no children to support them. They found it difficult to pay rent for their house, so they sought help and were admitted at Inba Illam where they are quite happy and appreciative of the lifestyle at the home. Before lunch, a family came to donate saris and clothes for all the residents. Justina thanked them with a prayer and

all the residents were incredibly grateful. Even I was offered a cloth as a present to thank me for visiting India. All the women were very excited about their brand new saris and were showing their saris to each other and also showed me the colours they had picked.

Bonding over food All this excitement led me to spend more time here. I was the only volunteer who stayed at Inba Illam for lunch, and I certainly didn’t regret it: it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in India. We had rice, meat, onions and a delicious biscuit for dessert. Meal time is a special moment at Inba Illam when all the residents gather around a meal for a chat. After lunch, I found myself quietly sitting in the courtyard while most of the residents went to take a nap. I found myself mirroring the behavior of the inmates, sitting in a peaceful corner, taking in the silence, watching the chickens run around the courtyard… I spent my last minutes at Inba Illam watching the residents play a board game. I didn’t understand the rules and the players didn’t speak any English, but observing them quietly was satisfying enough.

The overall impression the other volunteers and I had of Inba Illam is that it’s probably one of the most peaceful places we discovered in what to us a country of frenzied activity is. Romain Logist, a co-volunteer, quite rightly described it to me as “a very good place for reading.” We overseas volunteers who have a very different lifestyle in our country were curious about these people who live so happily with so little. Indeed, as Leila, another co-volunteer echoed, “If I had been in their place, I would have thought that never stepping out of a place is hell; but here the inmates are happy to stay within the home, and consider it a paradise.” These simple though memorable moments just proved to me that people do not have to speak the same language to connect with each other. Something as simple as volunteering at Inba Illam was an amazing opportunity to know more about Indian culture; it highlighted how such opportunities can come our way unexpectedly, especially when travelling to a foreign country.


have always been wanting to talk to the people who work passionately towards the wellbeing and good health (both physical and mental) of the Senior Citizens who reside in old age homes. I really learnt the importance of service and the amount of passion and dedication it deserves, from doing this interview and meeting with the carers of the old age home in Sugavanam.

Paerinbam is a care taker in an old age home situated in Sugavanam. Her job consists of taking care of seniors in her charge. She is 80 years old but she is in pretty good form for her age! Flora Mari, 67, is the supervisor at Shalom Gardens. S.B Sharmila, 33, is the warden at Inba Illam.

Madurai Messenger Service September 2012

Excerpts from the interaction: What’s your job? Paerinbam: My job consists in helping all the seniors who live in this old age home. I’d like to take care of every problem here; it is important to me. I just need everyone to be happy and feel good. Many people here have had a hard life, so now, I am happy that I can do my bit to take care of them. Flora Mari: I take care of all the people in the centre. Sharmila: I’m the warden of Inba Illam.

How long have you been in this job? Paerinbam: Twelve years, but it doesn’t feel that way; I just work and the time passes by. Paerinbam, the care taker of the old age home

Flora Mari: Six years. Sharmila: Two years, and I really like my work.

Do you like it? Paerinbam: I like it very much, I hope to spend the rest of my days here at this center. Flora Marie: Yes, I really like my job. For a lot of people it may be hard or strange to take care of seniors all time but I really like it.


Sharmila: I really like this job; doing this makes me feel good. I like it because I provide services for old people.


Sharmila and her son

Why did you choose this job? Paerinbam: I began my career as a nurse a long time ago, and as I got older, I just chose to continue helping old people. Flora Mari, the supervisor at Shalom gardens

Flora Mari: I just like speaking with the elderly; I enjoy my contact with them. A lot of people are alone in the centre, and it’s important to speak with them. I make sure all the people feel good, and that every problem, however insignificant it is, is handled with care. Sharmila: I have always wanted to help others, particularly old people. I don’t consider salary as a big motivator to do this job; I am happy that I enjoy my work.

How does this job impact your life? Paerinbam: I am really happy; taking care of others is very rewarding. I have had a good life, now I’m just waiting for my turn to meet the Lord.

Sharmila, the warden at Inba Illam

Flora Mari: I love to meet people and try to understand their needs In India, family is very important and close knit, so for a lot of people living alone in the centre is difficult. When I see someone feeling low, I ask “Are you ok? … I try talking to them and comfort them.

“I’d like to take care of every problem here; it is important to me. I just need everyone to be happy and feel good”

The families that visit these inmates need reassurance that everything is ok. They come to see their grandparents, or parents… and they ask me “Everything go well?” and I take pride in answering, “Yes, they are well.” Sharmila: I think if I do good actions in this life, God will bless me later. I like being useful; it’s important to me.

In the future, will you want to change your job? Paerinbam: No, I’m 80 years old, I want to spend the rest of my days here. Flora Mari: No, I like my job. I had a 17-year-old daughter who died of cancer. After that, I chose to dedicate my life to God and old people.

Sharmila: I like providing doing service; in the future, even if I change my job, I want to do a similar job. I would like to continue in the same profile.

What’s your position in your job? Do you have a boss? Paerinbam: No, I take care of everything. I don’t have a boss. Flora Mari: Yes, the centre has committee members. They take all the decisions. Sharmila: Not really, but I’m not alone. We have two managers and an administrative manager.

Madurai Messenger Innovations September 2012

A Platform for Creative Arts Amelie Phillipson profiles the Sivakasi Arts Club, a platform for the creative arts that is managed by a group of senior citizens for whom age is a quality of the imagination and not mere chronology. The club, which has supported senior theatre artistes, seeks to make art inclusive and democratic in its reach By Amelie Phillipson France

“I 34

never want to retire,” said N.S.P.T.P. Rajamanikam, who almost seemed shocked at the question. He has been a member of the Sivakasi Arts Club, which has been promoting artistic activities among senior citizens for the past seven years, and being the kind of person who lives for and through the arts, he is the perfect representative of all art aficionados. The Sivakasi Arts Club was founded in 1974 by the Standard Fireworks Company, India’s leading fireworks manufacturer. Over the last forty years, its importance has grown: the club had fifteen members in the beginning, and currently has more than sixty members, all of them being senior citizens aged between sixty to eighty-seven years. If one has talent, one should share it with others. This defines the philosophy of the Sivakasi Art Club which provides a platform for talented people to perform. S. Kuttralam, who is not only the current secretary of Sivakasi Art Club, but also at 87 years, the oldest member of the club, insists that anyone who has talent and who wants to perform in front of an audience will be supported by the Sivakasi Art Club.

Creative Convergence The club organises a programme every month, sometimes two, which comes to about twenty programmes every year. A performance can last from fifteen

himself was involved in Kollywood as a make up artiste. For drama, the club has supported renowned theatre artistes R.S. Manohar, Visu and Y. G Mahendran. The famous dancer duo Lalitha-Padmini also performed in partnership with the Sivakasi Art Club. Funding for the club partly comes from membership fees and as S. Kuttralam pointed out, the main funding comes from the public: to see a performance, people need to pay, so it is the fans who financially support the Sivakasi Arts Club. The Sivakasi Arts Club is set up in the center of Sivakasi. The land was given by the owners of Standard Firework Company and consists of a large performance hall and a big and peaceful courtyard.

A wall at the club displaying a dance posture

The main function of the club is to develop a diverse repertoire of different arts: drama, music and dance. Rajamanikam defines himself as “art crazy” and for good reason: his home is full of art, he takes pride in sharing it with other people, he is keen to talk about it, and his eyes light up when he talks about supporting the Sivakasi Arts Club through arts such as mimicry, comedy and dance.

C.Kutralam, the organiser of Sivakasi Arts Club

minutes to two hours, and the club will take care of the logistics and the audience for the artiste. Any form of art, music, or dance is accepted. Artists have to be talented and they need to practice in order to give a good show, so performing at the Sivakasi Art Club is a good experience for anyone. It’s important for the club to be accessible to all aspiring artistes, irrespective of their social and religious backgrounds. In keeping with their inclusive approach, the Sivakasi Arts Club also provides a platform for people from low socio economic groups who aspire to become performing artistes. Building an audience base is a crucial

part of becoming well-known, so the Sivakasi Art Club provides significant help in this area, making it much easier for artistes to break through. Often, people have a lot of talent and have the will to work as performing artistes, but they do not have the means to reach their goal. Therefore, the club is a perfect platform to become a better artiste by learning how to perform in front of an audience in a safe space. The Sivakasi Arts Club is now well known not only in and around Sivakasi, but also across South India. Many major film actors from Kollywood have performed at the Sivakasi Arts Club. The secretary of the Sivakasi Arts Club

If the aim of the club is to support young talented upcoming artistes, it also works the other way round. It gives senior citizens the chance to share their knowledge and to be active in the field of performing arts. It enables them to still be involved in society in a positive way because they still contribute to it instead of just being supported by it. Rajamanikam himself admits doing something about which he is passionate, and which also keeps him young in spirit. Therefore, when older people give opportunities to youngsters, they lead the way for talented people by sharing their enthusiasm, passion and dedication; in the end, everyone who takes part in the Sivakasi Arts Club, performer or sponsor, feels satisfied and fulfilled. It’s more than just a painting or a show for the public: it’s a real human interaction. Art is something to be shared and the Sivakasi Arts Club makes sure that it stays that way.


The men behind the show

Rajamanickam with the Projects Abroad volunteers

Madurai Messenger In Conversation September 2012

Healthy Aging Amanda- Lee Brownrigg in conversation with geriatric physician Dr David Pradeep Kumar on the need to address medical aspects of aging with informed awareness How long have you been practicing geriatric medicine?

By Amanda-Lee Brownrigg US

I have been practicing geriatric care for the past 15 years.


Why did you choose to go into geriatric medicine?

ne day, you look down at your hands and see your mother’s hands. “When did that happen?” you ask yourself. You never noticed you were aging, but here you are. Time has flown by, and there are your mother’s worn, thin hands at the end of wrists that you don’t remember aching this much. 36

Why? I am basically a physician. While doing my MD, I met Prof V S Natarajan, the then Prof of Geriatrics, Madras Medical College, who got me interested in this field. He was mainly responsible for my training in the care of the elderly. The challenges in picking up problems that are not realised by the patients or their care givers and to sensitize and prepare them to the potential problems spurred my interest. Explaining to them that most problems cannot be solved but taken care of as best as we can makes it worthwhile. Making the lives of human beings comfortable and interesting especially at a time when others try to ignore them keeps me going.

Age can surprise. Its aches, pains, and problems invade your body all at once, and suddenly you are facing health issues you never thought about, because you never really thought that you would grow old. Along with those age-spotted hands you’ve discovered, come a multitude of health risks and problems that will need to be prevented, prepared for and treated. The health concerns that come with aging are different than those of youth, but they can be managed if you arm yourself with information. Dr. David Pradeep Kumar, 47, is a geriatric physician with the Government Rajaji hospital in Madurai. His years of experience and passion for his profession makes him the ideal person to discuss some of the most common ailments faced by people as they grow older, and how you can help yourself lead a healthy life as you age.

What are the five most common problems senior citizens/old people come to you for? 1) Infections—common urinary tract infections and respiratory tract infections - mainly the different modes of presentation. 2) Instability that commonly leads to falls, injuries and fractures, leading to lack of confidence and lack of independence. 3) Intellectual failure presenting as confusion and overt dementia. 4) Incontinence - usually they do not seek assistance but slowly prefer to isolate themselves socially. Dr. David Pradeep Kumar

Regular exercises, more physical activity, maintaining the ideal body weight, healthy personal and social habits, enjoying life and hobbies, good sleep and periodic health check ups from the age of 40 sets the tone for healthy aging

5) Inabilities - to accept aging, to accept help, to undergo treatment, to accept the social and cultural changes.

How can each of these five problems be either prevented or aided at home? Preparations for graceful and safe aging should start when you are younger. Regular exercises, more physical activity, maintaining the ideal body weight, healthy personal and social habits, enjoying life and hobbies, good sleep and periodic health check ups from the age of 40 sets the tone for healthy aging. Any problem faced by the elderly needs to be addressed as early as possible. The earlier it is detected and attended to, there is a better chance

of it being totally corrected or cured with less morbidity and inconvenience. The longer the problem exists, the chances of treating it slowly diminishes and the duration of treatment lengthens and gets a lot costlier with higher mortality.

What sorts of symptoms should signal a senior citizen that they should go to a doctor immediately and why? Any small problem or however trivial the symptom might appear, if it is not under control with usual medications in due course or if gets worse, requires the patient to see a physician as early as possible.

What are some easy tips for seniors to take care of their health at home? The house or a room where an elderly person resides should be altered for their safety and convenience. Like baby-safe rooms, these rooms have to be modeled. Ventilation, lighting, flooring needs to be specially looked after with railings installed for support and safe mobility within the room. Easy access to the toilet with accessories for special needs have to be installed. They should be able to go out as safely as possible with supports or attenders. They should be made aware of access to alarms or support in case of emergencies. Periodic visits by someone to supervise their nutrition, health, medications, and meeting other psychological, spiritual and social needs as appropriate is recommended.

How is seniors‘ health different from younger persons‘ health? As age advances many physiological functions start to decline and that makes an elderly individual vulnerable to infections and degeneration. Moreover, as the reparative processes slow down, recovery from diseases take longer and less complete. As more and more systems get impaired from the onslaught of aging, the individual ceases to be the old self.

Do you have any tips for seniors on taking care of their health? Enjoy God-given life within the restrictions. Accept the changes that take place. Continue to do what you enjoy as long as you can do it safely. Prepare yourself to face the next phase of your life with its changes and new challenges.


Madurai Messenger Grandparenthood September 2012

Cherishing Grandparents A cross section of youngsters in Madurai speak about what their grandparents mean to them. The answers, not surprisingly, are revealing. Respondents unanimously expressed their deep bonds with their grandparents. It is such traditional ties that make up the Indian character. Yet there is an ever present danger of such traditional values being eroded by socio political changes like globalization, says Tatsuo Tsukamura By Tatsuo Tsukamura Japan

C 38

an you remember your grandparents? They must be memorable for everyone. For me, they represent gentle, deep love and great dignity. Their wrinkled hands which look both small and big speak of their respectable life. That‘s why children must show unconditional veneration for grandparents. On an inspired impulse, I decided to speak to a cross section of young people in the city about grandparents‘ love. To my surprise, it was so easy to meet people because college students readily agreed to be interviewed. Most of them acknowledged their deep

bonds with their grandparents. I strongly believe that such traditional ties are responsible for the Indian character. However, there is an ever present danger of such ties being diluted because of pressures such as globalization and other socio-political changes. In Japan, my home country, senior citizens‘ day is celebrated on the third Monday of September to show respect and affection for the elderly who have devoted themselves to society for so many years, and to celebrate them.

Name: Lavanya (22 years) Likes grandparents because: They shower a lot of love and care, more than what we get from our parents. My grandfather is 70 years old. Grandparents are important because: They have so much to offer; I value them more than my parents. Memorable moment: Helping my grandmother in cooking and household activities and going to the temple with her. She is very active when compared to the other people of her age. Special message: Thank you, for all that you have done for me. One message which I would like to give to today‘s children is that instead of being hooked on to laptops and computers, try to spend some time everyday with your grandparents because most of us never realize their worth when they are with us.

Name: Muniyandi (24 years) Likes grandparents because: They are very loving and caring. Even if we are mischievous, they will enjoy our antics and not scold us. Grandparents are important because: They have so many things to teach us. Memorable moment: Once, when I was young, I stole some money, but my grandparents did not scold me but rather gave me more money and told me to get whatever I wanted! That made me realize my error and I vowed to never repeat that mistake. Message to his grandparents: I miss them a lot. They are special to me.

39 Name: Azhagu Meena (18 years) Likes grandparents because: We learn life skills from them and the time shared with them is enjoyable. Grandparents are important because: they are our role model, guide and teacher. They are the architects of our future. Memorable moment: My grand mom used to dance and play with us. My grand pa used to share some great value based stories with us. Special message: They have brought us up to be mature adults. When they become old, they are in their second child hood, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.

The journalism team with the students of Thiagarajar College of Arts

Name: M. Kannan (21 years) Likes grandparents because: They are friendly and they have many stories to share. Grandparents are important because: He can learn a lot from them. He wants his grandparents to be with him always because he loves spending time with them. Memorable moment: Likes to help them out in their fields, right from childhood and even now. He enjoys those moments. Special message: I miss my grandparents a lot.

Name: M.Mohammed Arsath (21 years) Likes grandparents because: They encourage him more than his parents and even if they scold him, he likes it! He loves his grand mom a lot. Grandparents are important because: Grandparents are as precious as his life. Memorable moment: All moments I spend with them are special. Special message: He misses his grandfather.

Name: K. Nandakumar Age (21 years) Likes grandparents because: They are very experienced and they take care of him and guide him. They are more affectionate than his parents. Grandparents are important because: They have taught him good principles. Memorable moment: Doing his homework with his grandmother for five years. She taught him to write. Special message: Without my grandparents I could not have been who I am now. They are very important to me.

Madurai Messenger Grandparenthood September 2012

Second Parenthood The arrival of a grandchild is proud moment for grandparents. Leila Baros and Agathe Hamel speak to two Indian grandparents about their deep bonds with their grandchildren. They discover that it is a great opportunity to reparent with wisdom, and Leila Baros, a French national, is reminded of her special relationship with her grandmother By Agathe Hamel France

Volunteer Agathe intently listening and taking down notes of the interview

when welcoming them into their family. Both Baskaran and Rangamani are clear about the qualities of an ideal grandparent. “Have the patience to correct them, again and again, and never get annoyed if they do not understand. Explain to them in a way they can understand.”


Baskar and Rangamani, the proud grandparents


n 2003, V. Baskaran, 60, and K.A. Ranga Majani, 57, became grandparents for the first time. In India, the birth of a grandchild is very important event. It is just like being parents for a second time. And when we know how long it took them to have Jebba, their first child (nine years!), they were really happy for her. They now have two grandchildren in Madurai, Jasmina and Jannis and one in Chennai, named Jesuroy. While we may think that it could change the relationship they have with their

own children, they, however, insist that it has only strengthened the bonds. They see their grandchildren almost everyday. And when they do not come, Jasmina calls them to ask why! The grandparents are an integral part of the grandchildren’s lives. V. Baskaran takes time to help Jannis with his homework (especially in mathematics) or take him for a walk. When Jebba cannot come, she usually sends them to their parents, who live really close by. They also take them during the weekend, and share a special lunch with them.

A Great Day The grandparents think that they have to take part in their education, such as teaching them good manners and values. They read stories from the Bible with them everyday, and pray together before going to school. They would like Jannis, Jasmina and Jesuroy to be studious and to place their trust and faith in God. Being a grandparent also means sharing memories together such as fun weekends or holidays. But the best memories for K.A. Ranga Mani will always remain the day of their birth and the great pleasure they experienced

But nowadays, the situation is changing. With the omnipresence of entertainment avenues such as TV or Play Station, grandparents are faced with an unusual situation. In fact, children are increasingly less interested in the past and the input that their grandparents could bring, and nowadays do not take the time to share things with them. However, Baskar and Rangamani are certain that these kinds of things will not happen in their family, and have even ensured that they have no TV connection! In France where I live, I too have a strong relationship with my grandparents. For example, ever since I arrived in India, I call my grandmother everyday. I do not do it out of compulsion but rather because I just enjoy talking with her about my life here. Contrary to popular notions, the family is considered important in France and we are also very attached to our grandparents. But things like work

“In fact, children are increasingly less interested in the past and the input that their grandparents could bring, and nowadays do not take the time to share things with them” can physically separate people. Since I study in Paris, I cannot see my parents everyday but I still call them many times a week. However, the family is always together at Christmas or birthdays. I come from a family which is very close

knit. We talk every week with everybody in the family and have the space to argue and disagree. This really helps us bond better and ensures that we are there for every family member during both good and hard times.

Volunteers Agathe and Leila with Jebakani, her mom and dad


Madurai Messenger Nostalgia September 2012

Man for All Seasons Geoff Nowakowski meets Thiruvadi Annarajha, who initiated the recently concluded Golden Jubilee Reunion of the Class of 1962 of the Thiyagarajar School of Engineering, Madurai. The retired engineer who proudly asserts that he “never slows down,” still pursues an active life. His personal involvement in upgrading the local middle school in his village to a higher secondary school is a tribute to his spirit of patriotism inspired by John F Kennedy’s immortal lines By Geoff Nowakowski US



s soon as we arrived, Thiruvadi Annaraja greeted us at the door of his beautiful home and then moved swiftly into the next room to inform his wife, Vijayalakshmi, that we had arrived. His legs clearly showed no signs of old age as he moved with ease. At 73 years, the versatile Mr. Annaraja, doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

However, unlike most retirees, Mr. Annaraja chose not to relax in his old age. Some could arguably say he became more active in his community. In 2002, the father of three and grandfather of five, decided to take on a project that had a lot of meaning for him. Mr. Annaraja told us that his father had a lot of trouble studying in Madurai while he was growing up. His father had to travel to other cities due to the lack of higher education schools in the area. This is why, he said, his father was “very eager to upgrade the local middle school to include a high school and higher secondary school.” So this is exactly what Thiruvadi Annaraja did from 2002 to 2010. This was no easy task. Mr. Annaraja battled through seemingly endless paperwork and contributed his knowledge, about 3 acres of land, Rs. 1 lakh, and most importantly, a lot of his time to expanding the school. “I owe something to my country and to my people,” Mr. Annaraja said sternly when I asked why he would make such a big commitment at his age. He ultimately completed his father’s dream. Now students in this area can attend the local school all the way up to 12th class without having to worry about travelling to other cities to complete their basic education.

“I don’t slow down,” he proudly proclaimed with a smile when I asked him if he thinks age has affected him in any way. And after talking with him for just a little while, I can honestly say I believe him. Mr. Annaraja seemed to be more sharp-minded and active in his community than many twenty year olds I have met.

Recalling Previous Days Mr. Annaraja recalled the days when he was growing up in a small village on the outskirts of Madurai. “Over time, I have seen so much change,” he told us leaning back in his chair. He went on to explain some examples of the changes he has seen. “When I studied in school, we used to go by bicycle or by walk. But nowa-days people aren’t going by walk. They are going by motorcycle or some other mode of transportation like that.” He expressed to us that these are signs of progression in the Madurai area from when he was younger. His face displayed a proud expression as he talked about them.

Reuniting Friends From the Past However, this is just one of the many activities he has been involved in since he has retired. Mr. Annaraja is also currently a rice farmer, president of Madurai District Pension Association, and Chairman of the Golden Jubilee Committee of his 1962 class from TCE.

Mr. Annaraja explained his days studying at Thiagarajar College of Engineering (TCE) in Madurai. “We were the first batch of that college,” he said briefly showing his age. Mr. Annaraja graduated in a class of only 98 students, 78 of whom are still around today. After college, he worked his way up the ‘ladder’ at the public works department, progressing from assistant engineer all the way up to the most senior engineering position. He retired from the Public Works Department with the title of superintendent engineer in 1998.

Completing a Dream

Thiruvadi Annaraja explains the Golden Jubilee Celebration with the commemorative plaque on the table behind him

“The responsibility came to me automatically. My classmates said since it’s your idea, you should be the chairman,” he said explaining how he became Chairman of the Golden Jubilee Committee. So in 2012, Mr. Annaraja organized a 50-year reunion for his former classmates. “We enjoyed the reunion because everyone brought their

Thiruvadi Annaraja enthusiastically shows us the pictures of his three children and five grandchildren

families.” Due to the success of Mr. Annaraja’s reunion, he now serves as an advisor for younger classes who are inspired to do the same.

not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” he said recalling John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 inaugural address.

Wise Words for Future Generations

“I try to live by these words everyday,” Mr. Annaraja explained. He went on to say that this phrase should guide everyone’s life choices even in their old age. And I have to say I agree. If everyone actually lived by these words, like Mr. Annaraja has done, we would all probably be much better off.

Before leaving, I asked Mr. Annaraja if he would like to share any advice for the younger generations and the generations to come. He took me by surprise. Without any hesitation, he cited a line from a speech of a wellknown former American president. “Ask

Thiruvadi Annaraja and his wife, Vijayalakshmi


Madurai Messenger Village Voices September 2012

Kodaikkanal Road:

Fruit Paradise

Geoff Nowakowski and Tatsuo Tsukamura stroll around the picturesque little village of Kodaikkanal Road and discover a fruit paradise that offers both exotic and local varieties of fruit on sale throughout the year. The gateway to the popular hill station, Kodaikkanal, Kodai Road has a quaint rustic charm and an old world feel to it, thanks to the railway station built by the British in 1845 By Geoff Nowakowski, US Tatsuo Tsukamura, Japan

A child enjoys sapota, one of the most popular fruits of the locals

Flies buzz around the sweet smelling fruit at one of the many street stands on Kodaikkanal Road

Anyone who is making a pilgrimage will pass through our village every year during this time


The train station, which has provided people the main way in and out of the city for over a century, has existed since the British built it back in the mid nineteenth century. In 1875, the Great Southern India Railway Co. extended its line from Chennai to Tirunelveli and a train station named Kodai Road was built near Ammaianayakkanur village, to enable visits to the then new hill station of Kodaikanal.

Welcome to Kodaikkanal Road. This large yellow sign invites you into the village


pon arrival, we could hear the sound of the trains passing by echoing through the small town, known to the locals by the main street which runs through it, Kodiakkanal Road. Also known as Kodai Road, it is located between Madurai and Dindugul. Following a half hour drive from Madurai, we arrived ready to explore this quiet little town. The smell of the sweet fruits sold here drifted through the air, drawing us to the streets. But getting there was a struggle. Many bicycles and motorcycles crowded the train station parking lot as our

driver attempted to squeeze our car through, just barely succeeding to do so. We would soon experience all of what Kodaikkanal Road had to offer!

Place We stood in the middle of the village, gazing at what seemed to be hundreds of mountains lining the coast off in the distance. With Kodai meaning “hills” and Kkanal translating to “cool place with many trees,” it is easy to see why the founders thought Kodaikkanal would be a fitting name.

We found the small beige, old building sitting in the middle of town, just off the main drag of fruit stands. However, do not let its seemingly small size fool you. This train station still serves as a major junction station for travellers who wish to visit the popular tourist town, Kodaikkanal.

People and Education Twenty thousand citizens call this beautiful town home. We ventured down the road to find the only high school currently in Kodai Road. The village is also home to 21 elementary schools. As we pulled up, a middle aged man pushed the tall, rusted gate door open to greet us. “I am the physical education teacher,” he explained as he showed us inside. He introduced us to a few of the enthusiastic students who swarmed us as we walked in. The students, ranging anywhere from 11 to 15 years old, led us to their

classrooms held in two long buildings on either side of a dirt field, eager to show us where they learn. The school has around 500 odd students. We both agreed that we had never seen children so happy to be at school. Kodaikkanal Road offers this education system free of charge to all of its citizens, and provides an environment that the students clearly seemed to enjoy.

Production & Labour Next, we hit the streets to talk to a few street vendors. After speaking with a few, it was not very difficult to tell what the main source of income is for the people of Kodaikkanal Road. Selling fruit undoubtedly fuels the major part of the economy. Fruits ranging from grapes to mangos to sapota and even three different types of bananas can be found at any one of the small stands clustered close together on the street. Most of the fruit is shipped into Kodaikkanal Road from different cities all around India. This allows for these stands to sell the fruit all year long, not just during one particular season. While the majority of the fruit originates from Bengaluru (Bangalore), some fruits are also grown near the village itself. One fruit stand owner showed us hill bananas that grow wild on the Sirumalai Hills close by.


Madurai Messenger Village Voices September 2012

We both agreed that we had never seen children so happy to be at school We got to talking to another shop owner named Shanthi who is carrying on the family business of selling fruit. She pointed out that this was the slow season of the year. “There are only about five fruit stands open right now,” she said. She went on to explain that during the month of December there is huge demand, with nearly 50 stands catering to the enormous group of people making their pilgrimage to the nearby temple town of Palani “Anyone who is making a pilgrimage will pass through our village every year during this time,” Shanthi explained.

Problems & Prospects Our final stop was at a government office not too far down the road. There we met R. Thandapan, chairman of Kodaikkanal Road Town Council. Although the chairman made it clear that there are currently no problems plaguing the village, we have heard there is one worth recognizing. For over a hundred years the village has relied on out-oftowners passing through Kodaikkanal Road to buy these 46

R.Thandapan (in white) with the government staff and volunteers

R. Thandapan, chairman of the village, explains how they plan to work toward a “zero-waste society”

fruits, among other things, as they make their way to Kodaikkanal. However, the relatively new motorway that bypasses the village is hurting the economy. Not many people stop at the village to buy fruit and it is ultimately hurting the bottom line of the fruit stand owners who rely on their business to survive. That being said, the chairman also highlighted a lot of bright spots for Kodaikkanal Road. Mr. Thandapan made it clear that they are investing in the future through education and green initiatives. “We provide students with all the materials they need to receive an education,” he said. “Everything from a laptop all the way down to a pencil box.” He also went on to emphasize that they are moving toward a “zero-waste society” by using biodegradable materials instead of plastics and will even fine business owners who use non-biodegradable materials. With progressive leaders like Mr. Thandapan, the future only looks bright for Kodaikkanal Road. 47

Volunteer Geoff Nowakowski with students

Madurai Messenger Cross Culture September 2012

A Bridge between Cultures In a freewheeling chat with octagenarian, Mr Srinivasan Murali, 84, former host parent for volunteers of Projects Abroad, Somwya Ramanan discovers what motivated him to associate with Projects Abroad and the two-way exchange of cultures that has left him enriched and empowered By Sowmya Ramanan UK

Volunteer Sowmya Ramanan with Murali and his wife, Malathi



When asked why he likes Madurai Messenger, he said that the magazine improves his English, and that he has always had an interest in learning about foreign cultures

Murali with his wife, Malathi in the Madurai Messenger office


y interview with Srinivasan Murali, 84, was somewhat unconventional. He turned up at the Madurai Messenger office for a spontaneous visit. Mr Murali and his wife were host-parents to the volunteers of Projects Abroad. He said that he had been on his way to the doctor, when he decided to stop and see some of his “old friends.”

As soon as I was introduced to Mr. Murali, he immediately put me at ease, and I could tell immediately gauge how intelligent and knowledgeable he was. He was constantly smiling and enthusiastic, and made an obvious effort to connect with all the volunteers present. I was also impressed with his language skills – he was quite articulate.

Mr. Murali seemed to come alive when he was talking to us, later saying that after speaking to us, “he felt lighter.” He explained to us that he only has one son, who lives with his wife and two children in California. Despite his son living so far away, family is very important to Mr. Murali. He lives with his wife’s mother, who is over 80, and his wife’s

brother’s family in a large house. This is a typical joint family dynamic which is common in India.

English. This helped to create career opportunities for them, and they are both now settled in Bangalore.

A people’s person

Mr. Murali’s most cherished memories of being a host father were watching his volunteers learn the culture of his city, and some of them even learned a few words of the local language, Tamil. He remembers taking the volunteers to a neighbouring village because he wanted them to interact with the natives. The volunteers thoroughly enjoyed this memorable experience. He did recall one horrifying experience when a volunteer who had been staying with him, ate street food one night, although he had been advised not to. The volunteer became very unwell, and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he stayed for 24 hours.

It was evident that Mr. Murali is a very welcoming man, who willingly opens his home to others. He told us that in addition to his family, he has two young professors of engineering (where?) living with him. When asked about them, to our amusement, he described them as “bachelors.” He told us that being a host father made him “very very happy” and that he has so far housed fourteen volunteers. Not only did he enjoy the experience, but he also found it beneficial as the volunteers helped to improve both his nephews’

When asked why he likes Madurai Messenger, he said that the magazine improves his English, and that he has always had an interest in learning about foreign cultures. His favourite articles are those relating to temples, or the preparation of food. I explained to him that this issue featured articles about the elderly, and asked what his opinion was on the elderly. He simply answered that children should always look after their parents; he does not believe that they should be transferred to a home or be seen as a “burden.” Mr. Murali said that he was troubled by the fact that modern values of children do not include taking care of the elderly. He, however, hopes that wisdom will prevail on the current generation who even in the age of globalization realise the truth in the old saying that old is gold.

Madurai Messenger Film September 2012

Dementia on the Big Screen The critically acclaimed and commercially successful biopic, The Iron Lady, raises global awareness about dementia. While critics have slammed the film as insensitive as it deals with the illness of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who is still alive, Rebecca Collins nevertheless argues that there is no other powerful way to unveil this public health problem that particularly affects the elderly, than a biopic By Rebecca Collins US


ilm stars, presidents, singers, celebrities, musicians. Society’s invincibles. These are the indomitable few which, thanks to money, fame, and power, are rarely shot down by bad looks, disease, and the everyday misfortune that us “ordinary” folk regularly endure. But there’s one thing that all the money and power in the world can’t stop: dementia. It can strike anyone – rich or poor, famous or nameless – discrimination is not in dementia’s vocabulary, and the effects of this illness on the human mind are devastating.


Recently the disease made an appearance on the big screen in The Iron Lady, the 2011 biopic about Britain’s longestrunning and first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Seasoned with flashbacks of her long and controversial reign over Great Britain, the film is set in the present-day, and depicts an old and dithering Thatcher in the throes of dementia. We see the two sides of her personality — the strong, influential and forthright individual at the peak of her career, and the Thatcher of today, who potters around at home talking to her dead husband, and sometimes struggles to keep up with the simplest of conversations.

The Iron Lady, an internationally successful award-winning film, has educated thousands around the world about dementia and the impact it has on people’s lives - and that’s a hell of a lot more than a little pamphlet in your local doctor’s clinic will ever do

But one cannot fault the film’s accuracy in Streep’s representation of dementia, nor its potential to raise global awareness for the signs and symptoms of the disease

hears voices in her head, and generally appears perplexed in the most ordinary of situations...very different from the Thatcher that we once knew.

A moving portrayal Title:

The Iron Lady


Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E.Grant

Director: Phyllida Lloyd Year:



The disease, which affects memory and cognitive ability, is depicted excellently through Meryl Streep’s performance as Thatcher. In several embarrassing incidents, the former prime minister fails to recognise close friends and wellknown politicians, she becomes confused about time and her whereabouts, occasionally forgets that she is no longer in power, believes that her late husband, Denis, is still alive,

Critics have slammed The Iron Lady for its portrayal of Margaret Thatcher as mentally ill, labelling it distasteful to present her as such while she is still alive - and indeed suffering from dementia (many of whom watched the film assumed that she had, in fact, died and that they had missed the big news). But one cannot fault the film’s accuracy in Streep’s representation of dementia, nor its potential to raise global awareness for the signs and symptoms of the disease. Surely those with friends

and relatives in a similar situation will relate to the film’s realistic portrayal of the difficulties that sufferers and family members alike experience when battling dementia. And one can equally appreciate the attention that the film draws to society’s appalling treatment towards the elderly and people with dementia. In one scene, Maggie fumbles in a corner shop while buying some milk – a busy man in a suit pushes his way ahead of her to get served first. Other times, Maggie hears people talking about her while she is present, as if she weren’t there. And occasionally she attempts to join a conversation, but a pitiful nod is all that she gets in response. Indeed, The Iron Lady will make anybody who has ever considered the older generation as “has-beens” or useless, feel very ashamed of themselves. Quite right are the critics who deemed The Iron Lady distasteful; how incredibly rude to portray a living person’s mental illness on screen, and subject it to the storyline’s whims, for the sake of Hollywood poignancy. But without it, I wonder, where else would we a see voice for the elderly in the media? The Iron Lady, an internationally successful awardwinning film, has educated thousands around the world about dementia and the impact it has on people’s lives - and that’s a hell of a lot more than a little pamphlet in your local doctor’s clinic will ever do.

Madurai Messenger Film September 2012

Sensitive Portrayals of Old Age


Amelie Phillipson reviews two films that are divergent in the portrayal of psycho-social issues of senior citizens. The critically acclaimed Piravi is a sensitive film that scores in aesthetics and reflectivity, while Pranayam has the potential to reach out to a wider cross section of people because of its easy-to-understand story line and high entertainment quotient

Piravi is a Malayalam film directed by Shaji N. Karun that was released in 1988. The film has been well received in many film festivals such as the Cannes Film festival, winning a total of 31 awards. The whole film is centered on Raghavan who waits endlessly for his son Raghu to return home, asking for help at the police headquarters. The role of the father is brilliantly played by Premji who manages to portray quite realistically how much a father cares for his son and worries about his absence. At the beginning of the movie he portrays the kind of worry that is contained by hope, and it gradually becomes simple despair as Raghavan loses any sense of reality and dreams of his family being reunited.

By Amelie Phillipson France

ften, movies are oriented towards young people and don’t deal with the problems of the elderly, even though they are an integral part of society. In India, one of the values that impress me most is the respect for the elderly and the importance they have within a family: respecting one’s grandparents is a given for all young people in India.

Over all, this movie shows in a down-to-earth and human way how children are extremely important to their parents. Piravi is a slow film, with very little action and centered on the emotions triggered by something as difficult as the disappearance of one’s child. It focuses largely on the waiting aspect, the wondering and the strange mixture of hope, despair and impatience.


A Slice of Life The cinematographic elements support the realism in Piravi. First of all, the plot is written in a way that makes you feel how time is an issue when it comes to worrying about someone. The costumes and the set design match the geographical and historical setting of the movie—Kerala at the end of the 1980s. It also enables us to understand the social background of the characters and their lifestyle.




Premji, Archana, Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy,

C.V. Sreeraman, Mullenezhi, K. Gopalakrishnan Director: Shaji N. Karun Year:





Mohanlal, Jaya Prada, and Anupam Kher

Director: Blessy Year:


53 Mohanlal, Jaya Prada and Anupam Kher playing the lead roles. The film is well supported with music that delivers every single emotion felt by the characters, especially during dramatic scenes, where the music becomes so overwhelming that it takes over the acting skills, and the spectator absorbs everything just through the music. Interestingly, throughout the film, the music is more powerful than the acting.

The background music is not very remarkable, which supports the idea that while watching this film, the viewer should process her emotions within and come to grips with them rather than expecting a hand out from the movie. The plot itself being simple, Piravi comes across as a film that centres on the art of cinematography: how to translate emotions with sound, camera and actors. The simplicity of the film makes it what it is: a perfect fit with reality Therefore, Piravi, probably, is a reflective film and not merely an entertaining film like its commercial counterparts.

However, there are a few musical scenes where the songs picturised on the actors makes sense in the context, and where the choreography contributes to the storyline by giving a strong grounding to the movie, contrasting with the strong dramatic scenes and adding a lighter tone to the film. This idea of alternating happy and comic scenes with more dramatic sequences is reinforced by the editing of the movie which makes it easy for viewers to follow the plot without having to sit through long endless scenes. This is a significant choice that makes all the difference. As a result, unlike the reflective Piravi, Pranayam comes across as high in entertainment rather than artistic value.

On the other hand, although the movie Pranayam also deals with the life problems of senior citizens, it is portrayed in a completely different manner: it is far livelier and probably more appealing to a wider cross section of people. The issues that the movie deals with are more diverse: illness, family stories, love. Pranayam, released in 2011, is an Indian romantic drama film written and directed by Blessy, with

In sum, the two films with their divergent approaches to addressing old age issues, offer an insight into the psychosocial issues that senior citizens face not only in their day to day life, but in their life as a whole. Piravi as well as Pranayam portray senior citizens in India not only as caring and loving people who are very sensitive but also strong and firm in their beliefs and values.

Madurai Messenger Culture Kitchen September 2012

Bowing to Japanese Food In a determined bid to introduce Japanese cuisine and elicit a response ‘delicious’ unanimously, Natsumi Sakai and Tatsuo Tsukamura prepare the simple and tasty Omurice (a blend of rice and omelet) and cheese cake. Not only was their wish fulfilled, as evident from the overwhelming response, but the duo is also hopeful that the next time they visit Madurai, they would spot Japanese restaurants in the city By Natsumi Sakai and Tatsuo Tsukamura Japan

Tatsuo enjoys stirring the cheese cake ingredients

It is amazing how many products in the store are identical to those sold in Japan, and at cheaper rates too


Omurice ‚is a combination of omelet and rice, and ‚Rare cheese-cake‘ refers to a non-heated cheese-cake. It is a soft cheese cake, and usually gelatin is used to harden the ingredients. When we started shopping, we were in a state of panic as we were unable to find the ingredients we needed. We ended up going to two different shops to find everything. It did take time but we enjoyed the experience looking through the store and discovering new products. It is amazing how many products in the store are identical to those sold in Japan, and at cheaper rates too.

Simply Delicious! Volunteers dipping into the tasty rare cheese cake


elicious!‘ Have you ever tried to count how many times people say delicious to you? It must be impossible to count the number of times we hear this word in our lives. Although it is such a simple word that we use in everyday life, we forget how much the word means to the one who cooks food. Therefore, our aim was to

make Japanese food that could win the palates of the other journalism volunteers from different countries and staff, and to hear people call our food‚ delicious.‘

The Challenge We knew from the start that it was going to be a big challenge to cook

Japanese food without any fish or meat. We also lacked Japanese flavoring like soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice-wine), sake (rice-wine), etc to prepare our food. We searched through the Internet to find a perfect dish that can be made easily and with the available ingredients. Then bingo! We found two perfect dishes-‘Omurice’ and ‚Rare Cheese-cake.‘

Around lunch time we started cooking in the kitchen located on the top floor of the Projects Abroad main office. We

Mouth watering Cheese-cake

weren‘t sure how we were going to use the kitchen, but the kitchen staff helped us out with the kitchen equipment. Actually, the cooks helped us out throughout the cooking process! They were quite fast at cutting vegetables and there were times when all of us would be fascinated by the way they prepared the dish.

When we finished cooking, many of the Projects Abroad staff came to see our dish. It was a little embarrassing when people from various departments of the office gathered around for this event, but we were delighted that we did our job well and were able to make something good to eat.

Just Delicious

The best moment of the culture kitchen is when people come over to you and start asking for the recipe. It is the moment when you know that they really enjoyed the food. Some volunteers, and even the office members, wanted to know how we made the dish.

It was the first time we were making Omurice and so we were not sure how it was going to turn out. However, with the help of the volunteers and the cooks, it turned out to be really tasty! The volunteers especially loved the egg pancake on top of the rice. The problem was that we made too much! Everyone was full by the time we finished eating it all! We did not worry too much about the cheese-cake as one of us has made it before in Japan. It did not take much time to actually make the cake, but it took nearly one and a half hours for it to set in the freezer. The wait was worth it! Everybody loved it.

It was hard for us to make food for around 20 people, but we enjoyed it very much. Most importantly, we accomplished our aim of making people say that Japanese food is ‚delicious.‘ We hope that the love for Japanese food will spread across Madurai and that when we come back to Madurai in a few years time, we might see a Japanese restaurant in the city.

The best moment of the culture kitchen is when people come over to you and start asking for the recipe. It is the moment when you know that they really enjoyed the food


Madurai Messenger Culture Kitchen September 2012

A Sensory Adventure

Delicious Omurice

Seeking a personal challenge, Agathe Hamel believes that India is a multisensory experience for the body. With a keen sense of smell, sight, sound, space and taste, she explains that adventure can be found everywhere, even just by attempting to cross the road! By Agathe Hamel France

A clear view of the Meenakshi Amman Temple towers



Rare Cheese-cake


Serves: 6-8 people Ingredients: 3/4 cup cream cheese, softened 3/4 cup and 2 tbsp plain yogurt 1/3 cup sugar 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 tbsp gelatin powder 1/4 cup water For Crust: 1 cup crushed graham crackers & 3 tbsp butter & 1 tbsp sugar

Serves: 4 people Ingredients: 6 eggs 600g rice 1 bottle tomato ketchup 1 onion 6 mushroom Salt Pepper Oil



1. Mix gelatin powder and water in a small cup and set aside. 2. Combine crushed Graham crackers, melted butter, and sugar in a bowl. 3. Press the crumbs into the bottom of a round cake pan (8 inch). 4. Stir cream cheese in a bowl until soft. 5. Heat water and gelatin mixture in the microwave until it becomes liquid. 6. Add yogurt, sugar, lemon juice, and gelatin into softened cream cheese and mix well. 7. Pour the filling into the crust and spread evenly. 8. Refrigerate the cake for three hours, or until set. 9. Serve with your favorite fruits, fruit sauce, or jam.

1. Boil the rice. 2. Cut mushrooms and onions into small pieces. 3. Sauté the mushrooms and onions in a pan. 4. Add rice to the above and mix. 5. Add ketchup to the above, until the rice turns into a light red colour. 6. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat it well. 7. Put oil into another pan and pour in a small amount of the eggs to make a thin egg pancake. 8. Ladle the ketchup-rice on the plate and top it with the egg pancake. 9. Pour ketchup on top of the egg pancake (any way you like). 10. EAT! ENJOY!


here can you go when you want a personal challenge? India, of course! This country is a bodily experience that will call upon your five senses. Smell, first, because when you get off the plane, you are embraced by a blend of smells with a particular heat that strengthens them. Then sight: women in the plane from Chennai to Madurai wearing beautiful saris, and. a city that fuses colourful things such as fruits, jewellery, clothes and smiles. Next is your sense of hearing, the most difficult for me to get used to. Noise is everywhere: horns, television, animals.

Even when you try to sleep, you hear mosquitoes and a dog barking. At first, you have the impression that it consumes your personal space. But one thing to know when you travel in India: you must put this need for privacy and individualism away. You must cope with all the things that will titillate your body, and embrace what is a total experience. Then there is taste, of course... Is India really India without its food? Everything seems new for my taste buds, and for my stomach too! You try to prepare your mind for India, but it’s your body that must adapt to such

new flavours, and only then can you actually say, “I am in India.” Every morning, I have to go to the office by foot. When I arrive to the main road, I cannot stop smiling. The craziness of the bus conductors, the total chaos (partly organised) that is reigning, the noise of horns, amidst quiet people and merchants on the roadside. Rickshaws, motorbikes, buses packed with people and also cows, goats and carriages driven by children. It would be so fun... if only I didn’t have to cross the road! I have to put my life at risk every morning when I cross the T.P.K. Road in Pasumalai. Now that’s what I call an adventure!

Madurai Messenger First Impressions September 2012

Embracing Difference

My Hyphenated Identity

Despite coming to terms with car horns that sound like a lullaby, dirt that stains the skin and irritates her eyes, and the appalling lack of personal space, Jessica Farrell admits that the liveliness of the city weaves its magic on her… slowly but surely

Unlike most volunteers, Sowmya Ramanan is an Indian who lives in London. When she lands in Chennai airport she realises the huge contrasts between her home and adopted countries. The trip to Madurai evokes nostalgia about her grandmother’s house in Coimbatore where she grew up

By Jessica Farrell

By Sowmya Ramanan

United States



y ‘first impression’ of India was slightly different from that of my fellow volunteers. This is probably due to the fact that unlike the others, this was not my first trip to India. I was born in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and although I have lived most of my life in London, India has always and will always be a huge part of my identity.


A peoplepacked city centre in Madurai


t’s bizarre how one breath can be life changing, how car horns become a lullaby at night, how stray dogs and cows wait on the streets to cross through traffic like people. I could literally smell Madurai in the air when I stepped off the plane: a mixture of people, food, dirt, manure, and chaotic traffic. There is a layer of dirt in the air that stains my skin and stings my eyes every time I walk outside. It’s a reminder that I’m not home and that I need to embrace the changes. The differences between American culture and the way of life in Madurai is a list that could probably go on forever. Cows walking alongside me and music blaring through the neighbourhood, are part of a normal

day. A wedding where the guests are barely paying attention to the ceremony, and instead are socializing with others, isn’t rude at all. Markets crowded with fabrics, jewellery, and people staring or asking for a picture with me, is just common Madurai. The wedding I attended was beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen. There were so many rituals being performed, incense and powders clouding the air, flower petals showering the couple. I watched in awe as the two families were joined by prayers. I had never been so moved by a wedding ceremony before. Curiosity and a lack of personal space is something I’ve had to get used to. Just yesterday, I was sitting in a bus and

the man next to me grabbed my book off my lap and started looking through it! No matter where I go with other volunteers, there is always someone who wants to know where we are from, what we are doing here, and our names. It’s like we are local celebrities, and something that disrupts the norm. Rickshaw drivers act like they own the road! Well, everyone acts like that here while driving. With no traffic lights, the system used is honking. It starts to sound like a song when riding in the back of a rickshaw after having to barter for ten minutes on the price. Madurai is a city that keeps going and I am happy to witness the liveliness each day, as it gets hotter and crazier than the day before.

My flight was from London to Chennai, and subsequently from Chennai to Madurai. Even after having experienced Chennai airport before, it is still overwhelming to walk out into the blistering heat, and the midst of what seems like one million people waiting outside. I experienced the somewhat familiar attack on my senses; the smell of dry heat, the sound of horns blaring, and the sight of colours, cars, and people everywhere. I had a few hours to kill, so passed time by practising my Tamil with passers-by. They found my accent very entertaining, and said that I spoke Tamil as though I was a “young child”! I had never been to India alone before, and coming from a big family, I realised that I felt lonely despite the crowded airport. Although I had heard of Madurai I had previously never had a reason to visit before, but I expected it to resemble Chennai. I landed in Madurai on Saturday afternoon. As I was driven to my host family, I realised that Madurai was in fact not all that similar to Chennai. It seemed like a much more traditional city, I noticed how


The beautiful temple tower seen through the array of shops in Madurai.

conservatively everyone was dressed. I was dressed in Western clothing. While this would have gone unnoticed in Chennai, here people stared curiously at me when we stopped for lunch. There was another volunteer in the car with me who had never been to Asia before. Her face was pressed against the window the entire journey as she watched with amazement at the people carrying loads on their head, cows in the middle of the road, market stalls, wooden huts, and the chaotic traffic. I found this very amusing. Yet as I witnessed her expressions I too felt as

though I was experiencing these things for the first time. I reached my host family first, and was anxious to meet them. However, they were more than friendly and welcoming. Their house reminded me of my grandmother’s house: the gates, the flowers, the ceiling fans, the large airy rooms, and the rooftop. They reminded me of all the small things that I desperately miss about India when I am in London. India is an all encompassing country that never fails to captivate me; no matter how many times I return. I hope to live in Delhi for a year when I finish my studies.

Madurai Messenger First Impressions September 2012

The Mystique of Madurai “Sensible and organised” Briitsh national Rebecca Collins confesses that Madurai is nothing like anything she has encountered before, —perilous traffic, people ogling at her, and an oppressive climate are among her first assualts on her British sensibility. Yet she avers that discarding her notions of right and wrong and pejudices is the best way to savour and embrace a different cultural experience By Rebecca Collins UK

Rebecca Collins in her Indian attire

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obsmacked. I’m absolutely gobsmacked. Protected from the heat, horns and dust in my taxi, I watch from the window as an extraordinary new city unfolds before me. Madurai, front row seats. This place looks... scary! But for now at least I am safe, in my little taxi bubble. I convince myself that I am merely an observer of this hot, busy metropolis. This is a movie, a dream, and it’s trapped behind glass - I am not part of this story.


En route to my hotel I try to imagine myself - a pale, polite student - among the chaos and colour of Madurai. ...Nope, it’s not going to work! There is no way, I profess, that a sensible and organised British girl can get on with this loudmouth of a city. It’s so, so different. Clinging to my 7Up and packet of Walker’s crisps like they’re the last existing fragments of Western civilisation, the reality of it all slaps me in the face and I start to freak out a little:I’M SO FAR AWAY FROM HOME! WHY IS EVERYBODY STARING AT ME?! And why, WHY didn’t I travel to a quieter, more English-y destination, like Scarborough or Bournemouth?! The roads are perilous. I see no traffic lights, no “side” of the road, no rules. Utter mayhem. One man and his four children share a motorcycle, push bikes tailgate buses, people saunter into the roads towards oncoming traffic, and, I kid you not, the car horn is used more frequently than the accelerator. For the Madurai first-timer, crossing the road is an accomplishment. As the manic drivers trundle towards you, prepare for this stark realisation: you are in Mario Kart. But once you finally make it across, dodging the bikes and taxis and banana skins (..kidding), the sense of achievement you feel is tremendous. Hurrah, I did it! I just crossed the road! Now all I have to do is find my way around the place...

And the weather? My God,,is it hot. It’s 35°C and the children play cricket for hours on end; women carry heavy baskets of fruit on their heads in this intense heat. I am in awe; they do all of this with such ease, whereas I can barely walk for 20 minutes without needing a water break. Madurai is unbelievable – I honestly cannot believe that a place like this exists. To enjoy it, discard your preconceptions of right and wrong, this instant. Abandon all prejudices, and open your mind to a very very different world. And for the four weeks that I am here, this is exactly what I intend doing.

Sponsored by: For Private Circulation Only Printed at Bell Printers Pvt. Ltd

September - 2012  

When I did not see Tulasi, the woman who ironed my clothes, for over a month, I wondered about her long absence. She never shirked work and...

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