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July 2011

Volume 2, Issue 20 Sponsored by:

Aravind Eye Care Systems: Inspired Vision


Contents July 2011 | Issue No. 20

Editor

Dr. Nandini Murali

EDITOR’S CORNER

03 Ode to Oxygen COVER STORY

Media Relations Officer

Ezhil Elango Journalism Supervisor

B. Pooja Assistant Editor

Ingelise Jones Reporters and Designers:

Ingelise Jones Katharina Schneider Katrin Grätz 2

Kristina Wilshusen Monique Djarn Umberto Bacchi Cover Picture:

Ingelise Jones

04 From Darkness to Light PEOPLE

12 Dr. A. B. Chitra - A Woman’s Best Friend INSTITUTIONS

15 The Christian Fellowship Hospital: Mission Extraordinary EATING OUT

19 Chettinad Craving CULTURE

23 Destiny in her Mouth CRAFTS

26 Unlocking Tradition ORDINARY PEOPLE, EXTRAORDINARY LIVES

37 Powerful Postures, Peaceful Mind - Come, Friend, Come PASSION

30 Confessions of a Car Lover Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd.,

SCIENCE

32 A Journey through Science BOOKS

Contact:

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

35 A Parody of Justice FILM

37 Terms of Endearment VILLAGE VOICES

38 Gandhigram: Where Gandhi once Set Foot FIRST PERSON

41 Trapped in a Sari FIRST IMPRESSIONS

42 Magical Madurai

EDITOR’S CORNER

Ode to Oxygen

I

experienced the vitality and life affirming power of oxygen in the thin atmosphere of the Trans Himalayan region of Ladakh. Ironically, as I stepped out of the aircraft at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport in Leh— one of the highest airports in the world —there was little to alert my body that I was at an altitude of 3256 m (10,682 feet) above Mean Sea Level. I was complacent. A habituated lowlander, I wondered whether all the travails of visitors to high altitude were just traveller’s tales! Here I was at 10,000 feet and not even a remote whiff of the much mythologised altitude sickness! Even my breathing seemed ‘normal’. In just a couple of hours, however, I developed a constellation of symptoms that began without warning. A strange tiredness spread throughout my body. Blinding headache throttled my head like a cerebral earthquake. Sleeplessness, unsteady gait, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting exhausted me further. The mountains jolted my complacency and invulnerability! Having researched on the Internet, I realised I was suffering from a clinical condition called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Also known as altitude sickness or hypobaropathy, it affects approximately 30 to 40 percent of people who ascend to high altitudes. AMS is caused by reduced air pressure (460 mm of mercury in Leh as against a sea level barometric pressure of 760 mm) and lowered levels of oxygen in the air. I was hospitalized at the 153 GH (General Hospital) in Leh and was on oxygen for the next 48 hours. The moment the oxygen mask was capped on my nose and mouth, a feeling of ease and peace swept through every atom of being! My head hurt less and gradually the other symptoms too decreased in severity. Oxygen, the elixir of life! I was in the ICU and on oxygen 24/7 for the next 48 hours. I wondered how our soldiers posted at high altitudes dealt with AMS and other high altitude related illnesses. What about mountain happy tourists in search of quick fix mountain tourism? How aware and informed are they of the risk of high altitude illnesses, some of them potentially fatal, because of lack of awareness and appropriate acclimatization schedules? Like so many things in life, we lowlanders take it for granted! We breathe by default! At the end of the second day, I was ‘released’ from the ICU and was eager to begin work. The headaches, and insomnia, however, would remain a constant (although the severity was lesser) throughout my stay in Ladakh. As I boarded the aircraft to Jammu, the moment I stepped inside the pressurised cabin, I felt like I was in heaven! Breathing seemed joyful and joyous! Later, when I landed in Delhi, I exulted in inhaling lungfuls of air. My transition from default to a conscious aware breather was dramatic. Despite being a committed meditator, it needed the spiritual energy of the mountains to remind me that breath is the very essence of life. The Ladakh odyssey was an adventure in mindfulness and awareness.

TOURISM

43 On the Back of a Horse HUMOUR

45 Lord of the Roads

Dr. nandini murali Editor

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2011

From Darkness to Light

The vision: “To eliminate needless blindness!”

Avoidable blindness affects millions of people in India, the majority of whom cannot afford treatment. But in the darkness, there is a shining light of hope. In this two-part cover story, Ingelise Jones visits Aravind Eye Care Systems to learn about an inspiring institution delivering a vital service. She also discovers a special department, the Instruments Maintenance Department, who work behind the scenes to ensure that the essential instruments needed to perform eye surgeries and care are maintained. By Ingelise Jones Melbourne, Australia

Part One:

All Seeing All Caring 4

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 80 percent of the world’s blindness is avoidable. In India, the problem is vast and unmanageable. It is escalated by a rapidly increasing population, the majority of whom live in poverty, the prevalence of poverty related

Dr. S. Aravind: inheritor of a legacy

diseases, low levels of literacy as well as inadequate screening and treatment facilities. The government cannot resolve this endemic issue alone. Luckily, it doesn’t have to. Aravind Eye Care Systems has a simple vision: “To eliminate needless blindness”. This inspiring private organisation demonstrates compassion at every level of its activities, from

A doctor examines a patient through a slit lamp

patient care to teaching, training, research and its outreach programme. With headquarters in Madurai and facilities throughout Tamil Nadu, Aravind is one of the largest eye care centres in the world. But its success is not just about care, technology and efficiency. This organisation is also unique because it treats a large proportion of its patients for free.

See it How it is About 93 percent of eye problems are treatable. The most common causes of blindness and vision impairment are trachoma, glaucoma, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, age related degeneration, onchocerciasis (river blindness), low vision and childhood blindness. In developing countries, the incidence of these causes is higher and commonly linked to poverty and lack of resources. The WHO reports some startling statistics: 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide- 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision; cataracts represent 48 percent of world blindness; 60 percent of children in developing countries die within a year of going blind; 153 million people are functionally blind because they can’t afford spectacles. India is no exception.

Inspiring Vision “Loss of sight can be the greatest tragedy next to death, yet hundreds of thousands of people in India are suffering from blindness. Participation by the public is the urgent cry in this mission of restoring vision.” - Dr. G.Venkataswamy Aravind Eye Care Systems began with the late Dr Venkataswamy (1918-2006), a remarkable man with an inspiring vision. Affectionately known as “Dr. V”, he was man of great self-determination, overcoming rheumatoid arthritis to train as an ophthalmologist. Deeply concerned about the number of people affected by blindness in India and determined to do something about it, he established Aravind as a small 11-bed hospital in Madurai in 1976. Since then, Aravind has expanded to include seven hospitals in Madurai, Theni, Tirunelveli, Coimbatore, Puducherry,

Dindigul and Tirupur. Together, these hospitals have so far treated over 2.5 million outpatients and performed over 300,000 surgeries. But Aravind’s caring arms reach far wider, with an expansive outreach programme that includes ‘eye camps’ and vision centres to ensure they see as many patients as possible.

Belief and Compassion Dr. V’s spiritual beliefs underpinned his achievements and helped drive a culture of selfless compassion at Aravind. Dr V was a follower of Sri Aurobindo, one of the most respected spiritual leaders of modern India. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy focuses on self-awareness and consciousness, believing that the divine is within each of us. He encouraged people to live with spirit in their daily lives. In honour of his spiritual leader, Dr V built Aravind with this idea running through its core and named the hospital after Sri Aurobindo, who was born Aravind Ghose (1872-1950). Dr. V. believed that you don’t have to be a religious person to serve God. By serving humanity, you serve God. He once said, “Being of service to God and humanity means going well beyond the sophistication of the best technology, to the humble demonstration of courtesy and compassion to each patient.”

The Gift of Sight Dr. S. Aravind is the Administrator of the Madurai hospital. A natural leader, Dr Aravind has a perfect balance of confidence, charisma and compassion. As the nephew of the Aravind Eye Care System’s founder Dr V, ophthalmology and helping those in need is in his genes. But he is not

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2011

It’s a novel and progressive model that seems to work. Dr Aravind informs me that 99 percent of paying patients aren’t aware of their indirect contribution towards eye care for the poor. It’s a startling fact but at the same time quietly satisfying. Aravind is constantly finding new ways to increase throughput so they can continue to provide and improve their services and help bring the cost of patient care down.

The Right to Sight Aravind’s initiatives seem to be never ending and constantly growing as they fulfill their mission to relieve needless blindness. Patients from Uttar Pradesh

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only an ophthalmologist, he has also completed an MBA from the University of Michigan in the US. His motivation is simple. “In my job, I get the best of both worlds. Our work allows us to reach people. It allows all of us to give by default,” he explains. “Giving goes beyond the service you provide. It is a gift that doesn’t stop with you.”

In Their Eyes So far in his career, Dr Aravind has performed 35-40,000 surgeries, a figure he tells me is quite common and not so significant among his peers at the hospital. He is quick to point out that as a surgeon he gets all the credit, when really it is a team of people who make the hospital such a success, and who together, help change the lives of their patients.

Awareness sign

“Without a great team of people, none of this would be possible. This would all be meaningless,” Dr Aravind says with thoughtful reflection. From the moment someone steps into the hospital they are helped and cared for by different staff members. People form the heart of this organisation. Investing in their people is as important as investing in new institutions. Without good employees, none of their inspiring work would be possible. Employing around 1,900 people in the Madurai Hospital, they have a total of 3,800 employees in Tamil Nadu. Women make up around 80 percent of total employees and 30 percent of the leadership team. Dr Aravind

acknowledges that most women leave in their 20s to have a family, but some will stay on during their family years. Unlike many employers in the West who may fear the longevity of women employees of a particular age, Aravind is fully accepting and supportive of the cultural expectations placed on women in India. Aravind also encourages and facilitates the sharing and exchange of knowledge and resources. At any one time, at least 10 percent of Aravind’s staff will be visiting from other countries, and similarly 10 percent of their Indian staff will reside temporarily at other eye care centres around the world.

Sight for Sore Eyes As a WHO Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Blindness, Aravind is one of the largest eye care facilities in the world, admired and revered for both their services as well as their novel and highly effective business model. There are two types of patients: those who pay and those who do not. The paying patients make up about 30 percent of Aravind’s patient base, while the rest get treatment for free.

One great example is the Lions Aravind Institute for Community Ophthalmology Club (LAICO). In partnership with Lions Club International, Aravind established the centre in 1992 to provide a consultancy, training, teaching and research facility to the international eye care community. Aravind shares resources with over 300 hospitals throughout the world through the LAICO facility. In association with ‘Vision 2020 – The Right to Sight’, a global initiative run by the International Agency of Prevention of Blindness, Aravind has so far set up 45 Vision Centres in Tamil Nadu in areas around their hospitals. These centres are permanent, each servicing up to 50,000 rural people. The Government of India plans to open 20,000 across the country to support the prevention of avoidable blindness. Temporary Eye Camps target small communities that are located far away from Aravind hospitals or Vision Centres. Eye Camps are a highly effective way to provide a screening service to people who would otherwise never receive diagnosis or treatment, and who could potentially face blindness. During 2009-2010, over 2,000 Eye Camps were run, screening over 450,000 patients and performing over 75,000 surgeries in Tamil Nadu.

A variety of donations are welcomed to support Avarind, from monetary donations to volunteer opportunities, as well as eye donations. Eye Banks have also been established to receive eye donations after people have passed away. Aravind deliver this vital and innovative service in coordination with a network of NGOs and charities.

Restoring Sight People are bursting at the seams of this unique and impressive hospital. Seeing hundreds of patients with one eye covered and looking at you intently with the other is at first a little disconcerting, but at the same time humbling and reassuring. All of these people have been helped by Aravind.

The gift of sight: thanks to a simple restorative surgery

Walking around the free hospital is nothing short of awe inspiring. Examination rooms are run efficiently with doctors, nurses and assistants ensuring that all the patients are seen in turn.

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Many of these patients travel from all over India to receive a free eye care here. One family we met made the long journey from Uttar Pradesh. Looking at the number of people, it seems likely that many are from far away states in India. With so many patients from outside Tamil Nadu, language can be a problem here. Nurses and support staff tend to be Tamil, whereas many doctors are from different parts of India and the world. Fortunately a few words of Hindi, English or the presence of someone who can help bridge the gap will help doctors and patients communicate enough to understand each other. The energy is high but at the same time calm. You almost overlook its efficiency because of the sheer number of people. Aravind feels more like a large family of friends than a clinical place. Knowing that everyone here is being taken care of, not just the patients but also the employees, it is impossible not to feel inspired.

Refraction test in progress

The Aravind Eye Hospital: A different vision


Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2011

a patient. “When a patient dies, they are gone. When an instrument stops working you can almost always bring it back to life,” he explained with great passion. “My staff feel the same way. When you fix something it is like the joy of bringing a new born baby into this world. You can see the joy in their faces.” Indeed, you can tell that all of the technicians love what they do. It’s not just a great job. These people are driven by their desire to fix things in support of important medical work and ultimately help patients in need.

Talented Technicians Professor Srinivasan is keen on fostering talent within his department. All of his team members receive focused training and support to achieve their goals. But he also understands when opportunities arise and sees those former team members who leave to pursue other opportunities as a compliment. He says that any one of his staff could walk out the door tomorrow and start their own electronic repair business. Balancing clinical care with a human touch

Among this dedicated team of highly skilled technicians is Shri. Poornachandran. He has been working in the

department since its inception. We are told that he can fix absolutely any electronic device. Poornachandran is not only a highly sought after technician, he is also deaf. His achievements have been recognised externally, being awarded the Best Deaf Employee for 2008, from the Deaf Leaders (Deaf Empowerment Activities for Literacy, Education, Accessible Development, Employment, Rehabilitation and Sports). Poornachandran often accompanies Professor Srinivasan on his overseas trips where they provide training to technicians in other countries. Another long term team member is Ganga, a Senior Technician who has worked in the laboratory for 13 years. She has continued to work while raising her children, something which is not common among women. An Engineering graduate, she is bright and enthusiastic and speaks fondly of Professor Srinivasan. She tells me he is a great boss, full of encouragement. The obvious mutual appreciation between these two led Professor Srinivasan to also speak of his great admiration of Ganga and her many achievements in fixing instruments, often with great speed. Ganga sets a great example for the younger women in the laboratory.

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9 Part Two:

Labour of Light Aravind Eye Care Systems’ success is built on many facets of excellence, teamwork and compassion. Behind every great organisation, there are great people. But it isn’t just about great doctors, nurses and support staff. Quality care needs quality instruments! It’s an area that probably doesn’t spring to mind at first, but the technical instruments required to perform eye care procedures and surgeries need to be maintained. Without working instruments, Aravind’s work would not be possible. Let me introduce Professor Srinivasan, a retired physics professor, who runs Aravind’s Instrument Maintenance Department based in Madurai. A friendly and determined man, he is a helpful and dedicated teacher with a love for ‘tinkering’ with electronics. He is lighting the way for his team of talented technicians who together provide an important service to Aravind and indirectly its patients.

Maintenance Matters The WHO estimates that about 50 percent of medical equipment in developing countries cannot be used due to lack of maintenance. So it’s no wonder that Professor Srinivasan is immensely proud of the work he and his team do. They are helping support one of the largest eye care centres in the world. After his retirement as a Professor of Physics at the American College in Madurai, Professor Srinivasan found himself at home spending much of his time ‘tinkering’ with electronics. “I can repair just about anything!” he declared. His department was established 25 years ago to provide an invaluable service to doctors and in turn to all the patients of Aravind. Professor Srinivasan insists that, “Even the best doctor cannot do a good job if his instrument isn’t working. Everything is measured by instruments.”

Back to Life Just like a patient needs check ups from a doctor, so too do the

instruments. Professor Srinivasan claims that the users don’t know much about the equipment they use and take for granted that it is in working order… until something goes wrong. Fortunately, the technical team is on call 24/7 to tend to any problems that may arise. Often the problems are simple, but if something more serious is wrong, you can virtually guarantee that someone in his team can fix it. The most important part of what these technicians do is diagnosis. Professor Srinivasan assures me, “If you can pin point what is wrong with an instrument, you can fix it!” When an instrument fails, not all parts of it fail. There will always be one or two parts that are the culprit, and the rest of the parts function as normal. Sometimes the greatest challenge is finding available spare parts. Everyone in the laboratory works hard and enjoys being busy. Professor Srinivasan compares their satisfaction of fixing things to a doctor treating

Lab technician Poornachandran \ troubleshooting

Senior Technician Ganga


Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2011

Training Trails Professor Srinivasan’s development of talent doesn’t just stop with his laboratory in Madurai. He travels the world imparting his knowledge and training technicians, the majority of whom are from developing countries. He and his team have just delivered their 71st six-week course. Everyone in the department can give the course, it’s part of the team’s diversity. They train trainers so that they can in turn train other technicians. Courses are usually delivered in English, but more recently, also in French and Spanish. It seems Professor Srinivasan has thought of just about everything. His team has produced special booklets to aid participants and trainers with language barriers. Basic vocabulary plus relevant technical terms are collated to help them communicate. Proud of his far reaching training programme, their laboratory features poster sized maps of India, Africa, South East Asia and the World to display their success. Each map is equipped with little lights to indicate the number of people who have been trained in various locations. There are red lights for men and green lights for women, with tallied numbers in the corner. 10

So far, Professor Srinivasan and his team have trained 281 men and 62 women around the world. Interestingly though, the gender scales have been tipped in Tamil Nadu, where they have trained 37 men and 54 women.

Leading Ladies It seems the encouragement and support for women technicians is localised, but this is something that Professor Srinivasan would like to change. His laboratory is currently made up of 20 women and four men. In line with Aravind’s support for women, Professor Srinivasan believes in giving young women opportunities to not only work, but to excel in a profession that is highly skilled. He has a theory that women are generally better technicians than men and he is keen to share his theory with everyone he meets.

“Giving is a gift that doesn’t stop with you.” Technical Triumphs Ganga and Professor Srinivasan seemed delighted to tell me about some of the department’s achievements. One of the highlights was the day Ganga answered an urgent call for help from a local ophthalmologist. The instrument in need was a refractometer worth US$600 million that had been imported from Japan. Ganga cleverly diagnosed a problem with the on/off switch, something that could have been easily overlooked. She used her initiative to come up with an alternative and simple solution: replacing it with a switch used on televisions. She received the call at 3 pm and managed to fix the instrument by 6.30 pm that same day. She still recalls how ecstatic the ophthalmologist was that he didn’t have to wait a long time for the manufacturer to fix the problem, something which can often take weeks. Another great example was in 2007, when Professor Srinivasan was running a biomedical workshop in a developing country outside of India. He found an abandoned operating table in a garbage pit near a hospital and challenged the trainees of the workshop to repair it. In an amazing feat of technical brilliance, Shri. Poornachandran and the trainees brought the table back to life.

Labour of Light Professor Srinivasan and his team’s love of electronics combined with their keen interest to help the visually impaired, has led to the invention of some special devices. For example, the simple but effective ‘CCTV Aid / Reader’ is

He says that women demonstrate more patience and are better at repetitive work, able to concentrate on detailed tasks for extended periods of time without getting bored. Some of these women are engineering graduates, others are straight from high school. If you have an aptitude for technology, work hard and are willing to learn, there are many opportunities here for women. Of course, employing lots of women also means that many will leave the Department to have a family. Professor Srinivasan accepts this happily and is only too willing to support these women just as much as those women who choose to stay working, as well as those who return after their children have grown up.

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Professor Srinivasan and his team

a magnifying gadget that enables people with low vision to read text, by projecting it on to their television or laptop. It costs around Rs. 3,000 each. The ‘Running Lights’ device was simply created using Christmas tree lights placed on a long rectangular wooden board. The little lamps are turned on and off in succession, hence the term “running lights”. Children who have difficulty fixating on light, have benefited from the display, by watching and following the lights for 20-30 minutes three or fou rtimes a day.

Tinkering for Tomorrow The Instrument Maintenance Department is as essential as the instruments themselves in supporting the amazing and inspiring eye care provided by Aravind. With such a skilled, supportive and encouraging leader like Professor Srinivasan, it’s no wonder that this group of skilled technicians are highly valued throughout the hospital and revered internationally for their work and messages of encouragement for good maintenance. Like many women who get to meet Professor Srinivasan and his team, it is wonderful to see such encouragement of women in this profession. CCTV aid

But as Professor Srinivasan attempts to retire for the second

time, the question most hotly debated is: who will take over from him? There seem to be many contenders in the laboratory. No matter who fills his shoes, we can be assured that the department will carry on with their important work to support and enable the care of millions of patients.

Aravind: The Eyes Say it All Vision is a gift. As I spent time wandering around Aravind Eye Care Systems, all I could think about was the essential role our eyes play in connecting us to other people. It may be a basic observation, but it’s one many of us take for granted. Eye sight helps us live our daily lives and enhances our experiences and relationships. So, imagine not having your sight. Imagine agonizing over a loved one’s failing sight with no access to care, or not having enough money to seek help. In that moment I understood the magnitude of this organisation and how they are changing the lives of thousands of patients every week. Aravind Eye Care Systems is inspiring from top to bottom. It is one of kind. It is a model of progressive and positive health care. It is a place full of compassionate people providing essential care to patients in need, while fulfilling a much bigger vision.


Madurai Messenger People July 2011

Dr. A. B. Chitra:

workouts to keep fit is rather different from popular sterotypes. “The usage of exercise machines is not an integral part of my fitness therapy programme because most of my patients can’t afford a machine or a gym membership. What I recommend to them, in terms of exercise, is a well-balanced combination of yoga and aerobics. This is a programme which I’ve developed and which I follow myself.”

A Woman’s Best Friend By Kristina Wilshusen Germany

July 1st is Doctor’s Day in India. It’s a time to celebrate and thank the doctors who provide the nation with invaluable service. Kristina Wilshusen meets the engaging Dr. A. B. Chitra, a unique gynaecologist and obstetrician who is also a fitness trainer, helping women of all ages with their weight.

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Dr. A. B. Chitra in her office

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life-size poster of an obese man welcomes patients who enter the waiting room of Dr. A. B. Chitra’s nursing home in Rajapalayam. “Time is ticking!” says the inscription on his tight t-shirt. Several posters on the walls take the same line: “Lose Weight – Gain Confidence” or simply “Get slim!”

gynaecologist and obstetrician with more than ten years of experience. When I entered her office, the first thing I noticed was a little wooden train with carriages shaped like the letters “ABC”. Later, I learned that this was neither just a toy nor a pun on the doctor’s initials, but a symbol of her personal work attitude.

reserved for a different patient target group: pregnancy (normal and high risk), adolescent, menopausal and fitness. They have one crucial factor in common, though: all of Dr. Chitra’s patients are women. On certain weekdays she sees her pregnant patients, others are reserved for menopausal patients and adolescent girls.

I can’t deny that I was skeptical before I met Dr. Chitra. Was this a clinic where patients can get rid of their fat pads for money? Wealthy patients, not healthy patients?

Dr. Chitra arrived in a hurry for our interview. She apologized for being late although, in truth, she was early. Evidently, this woman does not waste time! She immediately fired away, doing away with any warm-up questions. I barely got a word in edgeways while she was telling me about her practice and her work schedule, which turned out to be a very busy one. Each day of the week, from Monday to Saturday, is

A Sensible Approach to Fitness

Let’s forestall it: I was proven very wrong. Dr. A.B. Chitra (40) is much more than just a fitness consultant or a commercial doctor who performs liposuctions for a living. She is a

Dr. Chitra’s general fitness consultations are usually on Tuesday. The clinic is open to women of all ages. “It’s never too early or too late to consider health and fitness matters,” Dr. Chitra explains. “Healthy girls grow into healthy women and give birth to healthy babies! It’s an endless circle.” Dr. Chitra’s views about the role of exercise and gym-based

What about diet? “Of course!” Dr. Chitra exclaimed. “Providing my patients with thorough nutrition advice is an essential part of my work. As you know, the South Indian diet is very rich in carbohydrates. I can’t change the diet itself, but I encourage my patients to modify it: less oil, less spices, lots of fruits, no protein powders. A healthy diet is a life-long commitment. Barring my patients from having their favourite foods wouldn’t make sense; they’re human, they’d be bound to give up sooner or later. The key to losing weight is eating less and eating sensibly!” This sounded very similar to “Don’t Lose your Mind, Lose Your Weight” by Rujuta Diwekar, a book that I wrote about in last month’s Madurai Messenger. Dr. Chitra laughed when I pulled a copy out of my bag. “Oh yes, some of my patients told me about this book! They claim that I sound exactly like Rujuta Diwekar when I talk to them about health and diet matters. But I can’t tell. I have never had time to read the book.”

“Mummy, why do you have to be a doctor?” The latter is not very hard to believe! Dr. Chitra looks, talks and behaves like an extraordinarily committed, hard-working woman. She even skips her lunch break on most days of the week. Doesn’t she think she is overworking? “Yes, I probably am. But it was even worse in the early years of my practice!” Her only daughter, Surya, can share a thing or two about this. Aged four or five, she would ask her mother, “Mummy, why do you have to be a doctor? You never have time for me! Can’t you be a teacher instead?”

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A doctor like a train: always on the move!

Dr. Chitra’s daughter was not the only one with worries. Many friends and relatives discouraged her from establishing her own practice. “Rajapalayam is too small a town. People will frown on your work; you won’t have any patients!” Doomsday prophecies, however, could not stop her. And Dr. Chitra was right. Her practice has been flourishing, so she can complain about anything other than a lack of patients. Her best publicity is the word of mouth testimonials from satisfied patients. “At first, many women are reluctant to tell their friends and neighbours that they are undergoing weight loss therapy. But the results will be visible soon enough. Just think about how saris leave a woman���s stomach uncovered!

So, when my patients go to some function or other places, they will very surely be complimented on their looks and asked about their weight loss. By that time, they are usually proud to admit they’re patients of mine.”

An Inner Calling But why does losing weight matter so much to Indian women in the first place, especially to young women? And why are they ashamed to talk about it? Dr. Chitra gave a straight answer to my questions: “It’s the Indian society, and the marriage system. Many young women don’t have a choice. They must be as pretty as possible, that is to say they must be slim, or else they won’t be chosen for marriage. If their future husband and his family don’t like a girl’s appearance, she may be rejected as a bride.”


Madurai Messenger People July 2011

As a Westerner, I am not much of a supporter of arranged marriages. However, I cannot help but believe Dr. Chitra when she says it is her honest wish to help these women. For her, it is an inner calling. Her voice carries a distinct undertone of pride and affection whenever she talks about her patients. “I love to make them feel better. If young women lose weight through my therapy, so that they are subsequently chosen as brides, and if they deliver healthy babies later, they are happy. If they are happy, I am happy as well. My patients are like a big family to me!” In fact, the photo album which she shows me looks like any other “happy memories” family album. You can see Dr. Chitra’s daughter in many of the snapshots, mingling happily with the patients at various get-togethers. Surya has obviously not only grown into a remarkably pretty 15-year-old, but has also learnt to approve of her mother’s work. As a young girl, she can identify with the patients and their problems very well!

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Incidentally, some of the photos were taken at an important function that took place just a couple of months ago: the 10th anniversary of Dr. Chitra’s practice. This was not so much a party as an award ceremony, with prizes being awarded to those patients who lost the most weight while under treatment. Two of the prize winners were a 63-year-old lady who lost 20 kilograms within seven months and a young woman who lost 15 kilograms. Before undergoing therapy, the latter had been rejected as a bride several times. In the meantime, she finally got married.

You can if you think you can! Motivating her patients is Dr. Chitra’s strategy. “Take it as a challenge!” she tells any woman who comes to see her for the first time. The first appointment is always about goalsetting and an individual therapy plan (depending on the patient’s height, weight, age and physical condition). The second appointment takes place one month later. The first few weeks are crucial for the success of the treatment, says Dr. Chitra, because they separate the wheat from the chaff: “When I ask my patients whether they stick to the diet and the exercise plan, most of them frankly admit

that they don’t. Then it’s my job to motivate them. It’s a question of will power. In any case, I know that a patient is serious about losing weight when she comes back. Patients who aren’t serious won’t even show up for a follow-up appointment.” Most of the women and girls remain under Dr. Chitra’s care for six to eight months. By that time, they have got so used to their diet and the yoga/aerobics programme that they do not need supervision any longer.

All in the Genes Dr. Chitra describes herself as a true Capricorn – a hardworking perfectionist. The glow in her eyes and the dedication in her voice underline her vigorous statement that she loves her job. Actually, the strong urge to help people might just as well be in her genes. Most of her family members are doctors, too: her father Dr. A. Bhimaraja is a well-known cardiologist in Rajapalayam, her brother Dr. Gopi is a UK-based cardiologist and her sister Dr. Surekha is a sonologist. It goes almost without saying that Surya aspires to follow in the family’s footsteps.

The Christian Fellowship Hospital: Mission Extraordinary The Christian Fellowship Hospital in Dindigul, established nearly 65 years ago by public health activist Dr. A.K. Tharien, strives to make primary and secondary health care available, accessible, and affordable in rural areas regardless of a patients’ capacity to pay. Their efforts are particularly commendable because healthcare in India still remains a privilege and not a matter of right. By Kristina Wilshusen Germany

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he air smells of cleaning powder. There is silence, disrupted only by the monotonous constant beeping of life support machines. People who set foot in this room automatically speak in subdued voices. Hooked up to the machines are a handful of elderly people on simple cots, hovering between life and death. There is a very thin line between hope and despair within the walls of this small hospital room.

Incidentally, it was Dr. Chitra’s brother who gave her the little wooden ABC train mentioned at the start of this article. “This is you! You are like a train, always on the move.” She agrees and adds with a laugh, “But I never stop!” The women of Rajapalayam are lucky to have a committed doctor like this, though not all of them seem to be ready to believe it. Funnily enough, it is Dr. Chitra’s mother Rajalakshmi Bhimaraja (as the only family member with no medical background whatsoever) who gets mistaken for the gynaecologist sometimes. “My mother is slightly overweight, which is how Indian people think the typical gynaecologist should look like. So, whenever she’s around in the practice, new patients won’t take any notice of me. They think I’m the assistant and she’s the senior doctor! ”

Visitors have to remove their shoes before entering the critical care unit of the Christian Fellowship Hospital (CFH) located in Oddanchatram, Dindigul District. Staff nurse M. Beulah (24) informs me about the patients’ medical backgrounds, “This man suffers from kidney failure, and that woman from heavy chest pain. The other man has been here unconscious for a week because of alcohol abuse. And the second woman is currently recovering from a complicated bowel surgery.” The pain and the suffering are virtually tangible. Even as a visitor, I find it impossible to breathe freely inside this room. No surprise! This is, after all, a hospital and none of the patients would be here if they were feeling well. At any rate, it is a minor comfort to see that every single patient has at least one family member or friend sitting next to his or her bed, holding their hand or just keeping them company.

Dr. A .B .Chitra, with her svelte figure is her best brand ambassador. While her enviable fitness is an asset to her work as a fitness consultant, her clinical and surgical skills combined with her compassion and empathy for her patients, makes her a perfect healer – and every woman’s best friend! Dedication and commitment in practice

A selfless mission

Nurse M. Beulah at work

Founded in 1955 as a one-room clinic operating with only the most basic facilities and instruments, the Christian Fellowship Hospital has gradually developed into the biggest hospital in and around Oddanchatram. As a principle, the hospital depends only on local people and resources for support. The CHF currently has nearly 300 in-patient beds as well as several major speciality departments. In addition, the out-patient clinic sees up to 1500 patients a day. Since its inception, the CHF has been striving to provide ethical, holistic and costeffective primary and secondary level medical care irrespective of caste and religion, with a focus on the marginalized.

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Madurai Messenger Institutions July 2011

Dr. Susheel Tharien’s curriculum vitae leaves no doubt that he knows what he is talking about. As a matter of fact, he is the son of Dr. A.K. Tharien, the well-known doctor who founded the Christian Fellowship Hospital more than 65 years ago. With his father as a role model, Susheel Tharien was a campus kid who grew alongside the CFH. Nowadays, he is in charge of everything, including the soul of the hospital. Passing on the baton when the day of his own retirement comes is likely to be a difficult step because the reins of the hospital won’t stay in the family any longer. Susheel Tharien has no son to follow in his footsteps. Dr. Susheel Tharien

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The CFH is a charitable hospital. Every patient is treated according to his or her individual needs, regardless of their capacity to pay. Medical superintendent Dr. Susheel Tharien (59) explains, “Doctors are held in high esteem in Indian society, but medical treatment is very expensive. That’s why, unfortunately, many doctors care more about the money than about the people. They won’t treat the poor who can’t pay for it. In the CFH, we believe that doctors shouldn’t be that selfish. They shouldn’t aim to make money out of a patient’s suffering, but use their skills and expertise to help him. The high reputation implies a lot of responsibility!”

Nevertheless, the unselfish hospital philosophy is not in danger of dissolving anytime soon. With more than 500 employees, there’s no lack of people to keep the spirit of service alive! The CFH’s nurses, for example, tirelessly devote themselves to their patients’ well-being day after day. “Of course I like my job,” says Deputy Nursing Superintendent Omana Chandy (48) and smiles candidly. She has been working at the CFH for 10 years and looks forward to many more years there. “Helping our patients with passion and compassion, that’s our goal!” The nurses’ work clothes seem to underline this pure and humble attitude: snow-white saris and plain jewellery. However, Omana Chandy does not “whitewash” anything, “Nursing is hard work. We are trusted with a lot

of responsibility in this hospital, but this also means a lot of stress and little leisure. Sometimes it can be hard to live up to our selfless goals!” Omana Chandy concedes that she never pushed her daughter (who works in the printing business) to step into her shoes. For her, nursing is more than just a job. It is a sacred calling. When asked for the backgrounds of her personal career choice, she reveals that she was inspired by Florence Nightingale, “I believe that God called me to be a nurse!”

A healing mission In fact, the name of the hospital is neither a coincidence nor outdated. As yesterday and so too today, the CFH defines itself as a Christian institution. “We treat, God heals!” reads a large sign at the top of the highest building. Even the TV sets in the waiting area are broadcasting a biblical epic movie. Still, the hospital atmosphere is not a missionary one. “The patients’ religion doesn’t matter to us. We accept everybody!” says Administrator M.A. Abraham. “Rich or poor, Muslim or Hindu, tuberculosis or H.I.V. patient… If you are sick, you are welcome here. And if you can’t pay, we treat you for free.” It goes without saying that such an altruistic attitude is not a matter of course. The CFH may give free treatment to the poor, but like any other hospital, it is run and has to be kept running by money – which does

The CFH intensive care unit

not grow on trees. Where do the financial means come from? “There are no funds from outside, no donations,” M.A. Abraham explains emphatically. “The hospital depends on local resources only. There are no foreign aids. The CFH is financed by its patients. They pay whatever they can afford to pay. The daily income covers the expenses for free treatment several times over.” Apart from that, the hospital management saves funds by following a prudent salary scheme: there is a remarkably small disparity in salary scales, so that the highest staff remuneration is about four times that of the lowest. Clearly, money would be the last reason for doctors, nurses or paramedics to join the CFH staff. Instead, it is about a calling to help people in need! Finding junior staff is never a problem for Susheel Tharien and his team. The CFH does not only train nurses, health care workers and medical technicians in affiliated schools, but also offers postgraduate training for doctors. “Local resources” is the key phrase again. Students with a less wealthy background are financially supported. Two of the nurses “trained on site” are M. Beulah, who is only 24 but already looks back on more than five years of work experience, and Omana Chandy. Reminiscent of one of her most memorable patients, the latter positively beams: “Sometimes you become really attached to the long-term patients. There was this young man from Madurai, he had been in a bad road accident and suffered several fractures of the legs. His family couldn’t afford decent medical treatment, so the plaster casts he got were far from satisfactory. His bones didn’t grow back together the right way so he was unable to walk. Then he was brought to us and we treated him for many weeks. The moment I watched him walk out of the hospital, still on crutches, but clearly on the road to recovery, was one of the most rewarding moments of my career!”

Medical successes like this keep the staff going and the spirits high, but of course, they are not a daily occurrence. Dr. Susheel Tharien states that “the cure rate is good and the death rate is low” in the CFH. True, the machines are surprisingly up-todate for a hospital in a remote area like Oddanchatram. All the rooms look reasonably well-equipped and clean. Still, there are shortcomings, especially in terms of disinfection. The furniture and the linen are visibly battered. In a narrow alley between two of the buildings, I come across a long washing line with a row of disposable rubber gloves, left to dry in the sunshine. Apparently, gloves are not utterly disposable in this hospital! It also strikes me to see that only some of the nurses habitually wear breathing masks (whereas every single sweeper in the spacious hospital courtyard wears a protective dust mask). Nonetheless, observations like this do not put a question mark over the significance of the medical work which is done in the CFH! They merely underline that with low funds, the road to optimal patient care is a long and stony one.

Hope versus Despair The courtyard incidentally serves as the waiting area for the out-patients. People either stand, sit or lie all over the place in here, waiting patiently for their turn to see a doctor or receive their scheduled treatment. They may come from different backgrounds and suffer from a wide range of different diseases, but all of them are subject to the aforesaid mixture of hope and despair.

Hidden in an alley

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Madurai Messenger Institutions July 2011

Out-patient Rajagopal (53)

Chettinad Craving For ‘foodies’, a trip to the Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu is a ‘must-do’ Ingelise Jones visits the famous Amsavalli Bhavan restaurant in Karaikudi and reports back on her delicious lunch. By Ingelise Jones Melbourne, Australia

Murugan’s brother Rangasamy (29) and mother Kannamal (45)

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In Rajagopal’s (53) case, the predominant emotion is hope. He is from Udumalpet, about 50 km away from Oddanchatram, and has been travelling back and forth to CFH for more than a week. A person with diabetes, he is currently under regular medical observation. The doctors are trying to get his problems under control by means of insulin injections. As a matter of fact, Rajagopal did not even know about his diabetes until he was examined by one of the CFH doctors! The reason why he came to the hospital in the first place was a breathing problem, caused by a fractured bone in his nose. Before the necessary surgery can be performed, however, his blood results must improve. To have them monitored, he comes back to the CFH every single day and sits waiting patiently for period of up to six or even eight hours. Since the number of hospital beds is limited, out-patients like Rajagopal cannot stay overnight. But he would never even think of complaining. “Friends recommended this hospital to me because it offers good treatment at low cost. I’m very grateful and I’m sure I’ll feel better soon, thanks to the CFH!” Just a few metres away, there is not so much hope as despair in the air. A man is lying motionless on one of the stone benches. His name is Murugan and he is 30 years old, but tuberculosis has taken a toll on him. He looks much older. His younger brother tells me that Murugan used to work as a header at the vegetable market, until he fell sick a couple of months ago. He is a chain smoker, but otherwise a strong and healthy man. Nowadays, he is a human wreck and can barely sit up. His tuberculosis is being complicated by severe diarrhea, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a tumor has just recently been discovered in his stomach. This may be his 15th visit to the CFH, though neither his brother nor his mother can remember the exact number. But one thing they know: Murugan has never had to come and stay at the hospital on his own. At least one of them is always with him. Their mere presence helps him to endure the treatment, which consists of tablets and infusions. That’s all the

doctors can do for now. Murugan’s brother’s eyes look sorrowful when he talks about him, their mother’s face is desperate. “His body is very weak. The treatment has only produced very little improvement so far. Murugan has three kids at home, his wife is depressed because of his illness. Plus, with him not being able to work, we are constantly short of money. There seems to be no way out. We don’t know what to do.” It’s a sad and gloomy family story which is unfolding in front of me here.

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Hopeless as the situation may seem, none of the family members are actually willing to give up hope completely. The CFH is their last straw. When we say goodbye, I know for sure that Murugan and his family will be back here tomorrow, and the day after and so on, until fate decides who will come out of this struggle as the winner: life or death. Until then, like in so many other cases in this courtyard, there is nothing else to do but to wait, hovering between hope and despair.

A hospital out of the Ordinary! The CFH may not look like an extraordinary hospital at first sight. It does not possess any state-of-the-art facilities and the hospital’s resources are just sufficient enough to keep it going. Both Susheel Tharien and M.A. Abraham emphasise that there are no plans whatsoever to expand the hospital any further in the future. “If we become a bigger institution, the poor will be neglected!” In fact, if you take a closer look, it is their attitude and the focus on the poor which make the CFH extraordinary. Using only local resources, CFH is able to make primary and secondary healthcare accessible for anyone, regardless of caste or religion, offering low-cost treatment to people from less wealthy backgrounds, like Rajagopal or Murugan. It also provides local young people like M. Beulah with employment opportunities. CFH assuages despair and gives hope to the sick. In rural India, this is anything but an ordinary mission!

Delicious Chettinad cuisine

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asting local food is one of the absolute joys of travelling and an essential part of embracing a new culture. Personally, I like to think that I’m eating my way through Southern India. So, considering that Indian food is one of my all time favourite cuisines, it was quite a treat to visit Hotel Amsavalli Bhavan, a famous restaurant in Karaikudi, a small town in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Serving hearty local Chettinad fair, Amsavalli Bhavan is more than just a popular hotel, it is an institution that is frequented by locals, villagers and tourists alike. I met with the restaurant manager and owner, Kapil Dev, who explained about his family’s passion for Chettinad cuisine and gave me a backstage tour of the restaurant so that I could see his team in action.

Kapil Dev, Restaurant Manager, with the popular Thaathu Elai leaves

Standing the Heat The classic saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” couldn’t be more poignant. As I stepped into the kitchen, I was struck by the intense and overwhelming heat. I’m not sure what I expected, but this kitchen looked very different from the kitchens I was familiar with. Along the wall sat several large black pots on top of a long black stove. Wood and charcoal were used to light the stove. One man stood at a large hot plate churning out parotas made to order. Fascinated by his technique, I was salivating as I stood there trying to concentrate on my interview when all I could think about was my impending lunch! Like several of my fellow volunteers, I am currently having a love affair with parotas. I’m told this place makes amazing parothas. I couldn’t be more excited!


Madurai Messenger Eating Out July 2011

Amsavalli Bhavan’s famous Biryani

To a Western eye, it seemed like a very basic set up, lacking the modern appliances and a distinct lack of white walls and white tiles. Nonetheless, it was spotless and extremely well organised. Carefully prepared fresh produce lay in silver dishes ready to be thrown together upon order. Every person working there wore a look of concentration, demonstrating skill and precision as they performed their tasks.

Sumptuous South Amsavalli Bhavan serves both South and North Indian food. Variety is the spice of life and Kapil Dev is keen to cater to different tastes. Local people from the villages and tourists tend to want their special local fair, whereas town folk of Karaikudi like to dabble in the Northern offerings. Chettinad food is well known in India and throughout the world for its slowly cooked succulent meat biryanis, flavoursome gravies, sambars, masalas and chukka, to name a few. Kapil Dev tells me that the main differences between North and South Indian cuisine is the time it takes to prepare and cook the dishes, and of course the fusion of spices to create distinct flavours.

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Indeed, authentic Chettinad cuisine is all about flavour. It is spicy, but not too hot. One of the techniques of true Chettinad cooking is the use of charcoal. It is placed on top of the lidded pots of meaty goodness so that the food receives heat from above and below. It allows the flavours to intensify and gives them staying power. Kapil Dev explained to us that long after your Chettinad dishes have cooled, they will still taste delicious. North Indian dishes, however, tend to lose their flavour once they are cold. This seems to be evident in Amsavalli Bhavan’s preparation for each cuisine. For South Indian cuisine, preparation begins at 3am each morning, whereas North Indian food preparation is more instant.

The restaurant’s charcoal and wood stove

Recipes and methods vary for preparing the South Indian classic, the Biriyani. Here, they don’t make one base of

biryani rice from which to create their chicken, vegetable and mutton varieties. Instead, each type of biryani is made separately to allow the true flavours of the particular style or meat to infuse the rice and melt in your mouth.

Mutton Biryani

Master Plan The food here is prepared by ‘masters’, who are chefs qualified by the Hotel Association of India. Once you’re a ‘master’, the only thing that truly makes you stand out is the quality of the produce. Masters also work openly with each other to share recipes and ideas. I am honoured to meet Karuppaiya, a 65-year old master who is one of Kapil Dev’s most loyal and dedicated employees. We are especially privileged to have him serve us our lunch.

Meat Matters Quality meat is one of the traits that sets Amsavalli Bhavan apart from other restaurants. They are very particular about what they serve and buy fresh meat every single day. Mutton and chicken feature heavily on the menu, as well as some crab and fish.

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Mutton seems to be extremely popular. Every part of the sheep is used except for the skin and horns. The brains are a particular delicacy, but one I’m willing to forego this time. The restaurant’s revered mutton biriyani uses only the thigh of the animal, while their masala uses the chest meat. The chicken here is ‘Naattukkozhi’, which is essentially good quality organic and free range. It is prepared using the halal method, a more humane method and one that also respects Muslim dietary customs.

A New Leaf Like any typical authentic Tamil restaurant, meals are served on your own banana leaf. But here at Amsavalli Bhavan, the leaves are special. Thaathu Elai leaves are considered the best. They are exceptionally popular with people who dine here. The leaves are about five to six foot long and are grown in Tanjore, about four hours from Karaikudi.

A kitchen hand prepares fresh ingredients


Madurai Messenger Eating Out July 2011

restaurant is famous for. As promised, it literally melted in my mouth. Kapil Dev’s favourite dish since childhood is Karaikudi chicken, so naturally, this was one of the dishes I wanted to try. I was not disappointed, it was the best chicken I have ever had in India. Overall, I was bowled over by the taste. Everything I ate was packed with flavour and nothing short of divine. The parothas were particularly good. As they graced my mouth and tantalised my tastebuds, I was in heaven. They had the kind of light doughy goodness that transcended all my expectations. So then, when confronted with their egg veech parotha, I was speechless. It was chopped up parotha mixed with egg and spices. It was simply out of this world.

Kapil Dev with one of the ‘masters’ Karuppaiya

Family Fair Amsavalli Bhavan is a family affair spanning three generations. Established in 1979 by Kapil Dev’s grandfather, Ganapathy, it was later run by his father, Murugesan, before being handed over to Kapil Dev just two years ago. 22

A few doors down on the same street, Kapil Dev’s uncle runs another branch of the family business, a vegetarian restaurant called Hotel Annapoorna. Equally famous, Hotel Annapoorna’s kitchen and storage areas are expansive, so they also house produce for Amsavalli Bhavan. The family has plans to expand their business to include bakeries, a rice and bread factory and an ice cream factory.

In one of our earlier issues, Madurai Messenger explored thoku, the traditional art of healing diseases and ailments with a pipe. Our fascination with this practice led us to reinvestigate and meet Karupayi, a thoku practitioner who heals animals. Katharina Schneider reports on Karupayi’s special “clients” and how meeting her touched their lives. By Katharina Schneider

Delicious Devotion

Cologne, Germany

Amsavalli Bhavan’s popularity has remained consistent for decades. With a capacity to serve 68 diners at a time, the restaurant’s busiest days are Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Serving an average of up to 400 customers on these days keeps them very busy. On special festival occasions, they have even been known to have a line-up down the street!

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Kapil Dev and his enthusiastic team, together with their legion of devoted diners, will surely see this institution expand and continue to provide some of the best food and service you’re likely to find in Chettinad. The food is undoubtedly delicious, so if you’re passing through Chettinad, I recommend that you stop by. Or, better still, make a special trip there. It is most certainly worth it, and your tastebuds will thank you!

Her working aids are a bucket of water and five different pipes: aluminum, plastic and copper; which she made out of trivial things. Her biggest pipe is a piece of a bicycle. These simple things are all she needs for thoku. So, how does it work?

arupayi’s day starts early in the morning: at 5:45 a.m. she leaves her house in Annapatti in Theni Nakalapatti and travels 10-15 minutes to, where she rents a small place. Every day (without any exception) she starts to work at 6 a.m. and finishes at 12 p.m. So, in fact, for six hours a day she practices “Thoku”.

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Mouth to Mouth Thoku is an esoteric art and its origin is unknown. Even Karupayi is not able to explain it. She considers it to be a rural tradition, which has been passed on orally. Its basic principle: If something is stuck, you can try to suck it out! And that’s precisely how thoku works! Karupayi sucks troublemakers out of the throat and sometimes the ears of her patients, with the aid of her pipes.

Kapil Dev, who shares his name with one of India’s greatest cricket players, has dreamed of running his family’s restaurant since he was a little boy. Now the proud father of twin boys aged six years, he hopes one of them or both of them will follow his footsteps. He is quick to point out that his father actually pushed him to go out into the world to learn about other trades before he came back to fulfill his dream. Kapil Dev says he will do the same with his sons.

At first, she feels the throat with her hands to recognise what is stuck and where. She only sucks things out of the gullet and never out of the stomach. “It is too dangerous for the patient and for me. If something bad happens I can lose my job. It’s all about references,” she conceded.

An IT graduate, he has injected his work experience and education into the restaurant with computerised ordering and receipting systems, something quite uncommon outside major cities in India. He has also brought back the more Western notion of nurturing talent and encouraging employee suggestions, something he learned from his time in the US. Regular staff meetings and rotating duties keep his team fresh and engaged. Walking around the restaurant, you can see that they all enjoy what they do and are ready to serve you a smile as well as delicious meals!

Tantalising Tastes Choosing what to eat was extremely difficult. It would be impossible not to try their mutton biryani, something this

Destiny in her Mouth

Mouthwatery Parothas being made

Depending on the patient and the size of the stuck object, she chooses a pipe which she then places in the mouth of the patient back to the point where the tongue ends and the throat begins. Through the pipe, she blows air-mouth to mouth—into the patient’s gullet. “The blowing,” she explains, “widens the gullet and releases the foreign particle.” Once this has happened, she can suck it up and spit it out. So far, it seems every thoku healer follows the same principle. She is the only thoku healer who also treats animals! Just a pipe separates her from direct mouth-tomouth resuscitation of a cow.

Pipes used for thoku


Madurai Messenger Culture July 2011

A usual session with humans is short and lasts between one to two minutes. In contrast, a session with animals can last five minutes. Obviously, an animal doesn’t understand that this practice will help . And of course it is not the nicest treatment neither for the animal nor for the healer. Finally, it is a tedious operation and a challenging task to convince (or force) an animal to stand still to endure the ‘healing’. While treating a cow, four mean are needed to control the animal. Smaller and weaker animals need less people. For example, a sheep needs two men and a chicken just one man.

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A person can decide independently if they want to have a thoku session or not. The warning signs to discontinue treatment is a pin or scratching sensation in the throat. But a cow or a sheep can’t express its pain with words. The owners bring their animals to Karupayi when they stop eating, start wailing or have problems with their breathing or digestion.

being asked, Karupayi too adopted the healing tradition of the family. She watched him working and learned how to do the thoku practice as well. In 2003, Karupayi’s husband passed away unexpectedly at the age of 47 years and left behind his wife and two children. In order to survive and to support her children, she began to practice thoku. “I had no other choice. We were depending on the money,” she explains. In the beginning, she was disgusted by the stench which comes out of the mouth from a cow or a sheep. “I felt bad and dirty,” she said describing her first experience, “but I learned to tolerate my situation. I had no other choice.” Thoku treatment: For humans

Now the 49-year-old Karupayi has worked as a healer for almost nine years. First she worked in Nakalapatti and for the past two months, she has been working in Annapatti. “This is a bigger place. Here I can get more clients,��� she explains.

Thanks to the immense pollution and garbage on the streets, cows and sheep are permanently running the risk of getting sick. It is therefore no big surprise what Karupayi sucks out of the animals: plastic, iron pins, needles, hairclips, bones, stones, wire and screws.

Both her children are married. Her daughter is a homemaker and her son a rickshaw driver. She is uncertain if her son would also continue the family tradition. “He is able to do the thokutreatment, but it is his own decision. For now he is a rickshaw driver...” After a short break she concluded, “… but you never know what happens.”

The charge for one treatment depends on the client and the particular effort and the risk Karupayi takes. Her fixed prices are: Rs.20 for humans, Rs. 50 for sheeps and Rs.100 for cows. Usually she has 10-12 clients a day. One half: humans, the other half: animals.

Throughout her life, Karuapayi has always abided by others’ decisions. She left school and married a thoku healer because her family told her to. She learned the thoku-practice because of her husband. Even after he died, she had no other way to go but to become a healer.

Karupayi’s clients are mostly poor people who cannot afford to go to a real doctor or a vet. In fact, they have to trust and believe in this strange and doubtful practice.

At Her Own Risk Thoku is supposed to be curative. But if you take a closer look, the risks are higher than they first appear. First and foremost, it is dangerous for the thoku-healer in general, but especially

Thoku treatment: For a sheep

for Karupayi, who works with nonhuman patients. Working with animals, she always runs the danger of getting attacked. The most dangerous animal she had to deal with was a dog. “Five men tried to hold the dog, but he still wanted to bite me,” she said. Obviously it’s not the safest situation to be face to face with the fangs of an angry dog. However, even a pipe, which hits her pharynx lightly, can cause a wound and provoke an infection. But these are just the obvious risks. In contrast, there are even more dangerous

Future Perfect? Karupayi in a reflective mood

and harmful risks to health. Every thoku practice implicates a transfer of germs and every day Karupayi has to face them. It is hard to imagine the different and harmful bacteria you can find in the mouth of an animal. However, Karupayi explains, “I have a special resistance which helps me to do this job. And so far, I just get sick once in a while: fever, but nothing really bad.” Maybe this belief is the reason why she is using just water to clean and ‘disinfect’ her pipes after every use and changes the water almost everyday. Or maybe it’s more a question of cost and not belief.

Another risk she takes is that the things she sucks out of the throat of her clients can easily end up in her own throat or even stomach and become perilous. In fact, her husband had to learn this the hard way. He died by virtue of a needle he sucked and swallowed during a thokutreatment - a treatment which should have brought healing instead of death.

By the collar of destiny “I hate it, but it’s my destiny,” Karupayi confessed. We met her during the morning hours at her working place. From the first moment it was clear: this

woman has had a hard life. Even a smile couldn’t erase her plangent glance. Her whole body showed her anguish and said: “I am broken”. As a child she had no certain dream about her future. She knew that she would get married and follow her husband afterwards, wherever he went. She left school early, and discontinued after 5th standard. Her arranged marriage sealed her fate. A thoku-healer became her husband. He learned this practice from his father, who had done it for nearly 40 years. By chance, and without

Although she dislikes her job, she has a few alternatives. She has no other skills and no education. She knows no other way to earn money and she doesn’t know how to be independent. That’s why Karupayi has to believe in her special resistance and her clients have to believe in thoku. She calls it ‘destiny’. But is ‘destiny’ not just a consequence of a lack of self belief and determination?! So often, destiny is perpetuated by society, and not God’s Gift.

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Madurai Messenger Crafts July 2011

Unlocking Tradition The Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu is famous for its unique locks. Katrin Grätz steps back in time to see an old traditional craft that is still very much alive today.

Powerful Postures, Peaceful Mind Come, Friend, Come!

By Katrin Grätz Duesseldorf, Germany Crafting masterpieces

Mango Nine Levers lock, which looks like a mouse

Yoga is practiced by millions of people everyday, so it seems only natural that our Project Abroad volunteers would also be keen to practice their asanas during their stay in India. Bewitched by the power of yoga to clear the mind, enlighten the spirit and strengthen the body, Ingelise Jones shares her impressions of their beloved ‘Yogi’, Yogiraj N. Ramalingam, an ordinary man leading an extraordinary life. By Ingelise Jones Melbourne, Australia

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and carried on working hard. They didn’t seem particularly interested in anything other than their work.

Locks have been manufactured in Dindigul for the past 53 years. It was founded by a co-operative society and is supported by the government. The idea was to establish a controlled lock industry with the intention of bringing commerce and skilled trades to Dindigul, one of the largest districts of Tamil Nadu. It also gave more opportunities to provide better security for Tamil Nadu.

Dindigul Locks is an initiative that is run on a cooperative model. It formerly had 25 employees but currently there are only ten. Ten years ago, the company lost several workers because they wanted to earn more money and shifted to a company where locks were industrially manufactured. The workers wanted to prevent the risk of injuring themselves by making locks by hand. Nevertheless, the small manufacturing company is still alive, not least because of the distinctive feature of Dindigul Locks.

n Dindigul, time seems to have stood still. Besides its agricultural and textile industries, Dindigul is especially famous for its locks which are still hand-made.

When we arrived at the factory for the interview, I was really surprised to see that only ten workers were making the locks on a small desk in a handicrafts room. It seemed as if we were visiting the past. The way the workers were preparing their locks reminded me of pictures from a bygone era. They worked quietly and with great care. Even when we, as strangers, were standing beside them to look at the locks, the workers didn’t seem to mind

Alagesan, the store keeper, told us that Dindigul Locks makes more than 500 locks each month. The locks are mainly used in the government sector, especially for temples, hospitals and prisons. The locks are also used in the private sector. So why are Dindigul Locks so special? One reason is that the locks have their own unmistakable design. Every single lock that is designed possesses a unique

style and it has its own special name. There are 50 varieties of locks made here. For example, the Mango Nine Levers lock which looks like a little mouse. I was surprised and amused to see a lock that looks like a little mouse! The keys to the locks were also quite beautiful with vintage designs. I could see that Dindigul locks are indeed made in a different, special and creative way. It was a nice change compared to the normal, ordinary look of regular locks. The locks are made of steel and bronze which is available in various sizes. Some of the large ones were very heavy, weighing up to two kilograms. These locks have a life span of twenty years. In that context, it is incredible to see that the locks are still made by hand just as they were 50 years ago. It was amazing to see and learn about an old craft that is still alive in the 21st century. Dindigul Locks is a tradition being preserved largely because of the will of the workers, who wish to continue their craft with strong working values and their passion for crafting hand-made locks.

art of India’s charm is its spiritual energy. Whether you live here or are just visiting, it is almost impossible not to feel a little magic. Many of my fellow Projects Abroad volunteers and I have been lucky enough to find our own Indian magic through the art of yoga and our very own yoga guru. Meet our ‘Yogi’, the enchanting and funny Yogiraj. N. Ramalingam.

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Yogi is an ordinary man who has devoted his life to yoga and meditation. He is quite possibly the happiest man you could ever hope to meet. He exudes energy through his bright eyes and cheeky grin. With his long flowy grey-white hair and big bushy beard he wears only white attire. I’m not sure if you could picture a more perfect looking yogi. He is a vision of purity. Not to mention his memorable catch phrases which often invoke excited giggles. He will make you feel very welcome as he greets you and says, “Come, friend, come!”

Exploring Within Yoga is one of the most popular ways to explore the divine… and yourself. Some are searching for spiritual awakening, some wish for a new way of life, others simply enjoy the exercise.

Yogiraj N. Ramalingam in the Padmasana posture


Madurai Messenger Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives July 2011

One of the many messages painted in Yogi’s house

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No matter which approach you take or what goal you strive for, the benefits of yoga are endless. Yoga is about the interconnection between your mind, body and spirit. Many also believe that yoga can help cure all kinds of diseases.

He married Rukeermanu in 1980. Together they have two daughters aged 22 and 24, and a son aged 25. All of them are yoga teachers too, naturally. In fact, his son lives in China with his wife who is also a yoga practitioner and teacher.

There are many different kinds of yoga practiced around the world, many of them originating from India. Our Yogi practices Swamy Sivananda Yogasana. In India, it is widely believed that yoga was founded by Lord Shiva, who embodied supreme consciousness, and his first disciple, Parvati, who personified knowledge. Yoga was then developed by saints and siddhas, and passed on through generations since humankind began.

Yogi’s most profound and life changing moment was in 1983 when he met his guru, H.H. Sri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj. He describes his guru as a very happy man who was deeply spiritual. He travelled back and forth from Rishikesh to Madurai, to spend time with his guru and in 1985-86, established his first yoga school. It was a risk vworth taking, when you look at the success he has had since.

Yoga transcends religion, race, caste and sex. Yoga is for everyone and anyone. “Yoga helps provide peace of mind. Yoga knows no caste, no religion… only humans. We are a yoga family. We are a world family,” Yogi enthusiastically tells me with a smile.

Spreading Spirit

Yogi believes that the spirituality of yoga is not so much about a God of any religion, it is about you. “God is not outside. He is inside you… God is your mind,” Yogi explains, “Your body is a temple. Your body is like a temple, like a mosque, like a church. We are all equal. All bodies are equal.” His body is certainly like a temple, and his mind must be powerfully peaceful. In an amazing feat of meditation and strength, Yogi recently sat in the Padmasana posture for 365 continuous hours without food or water. His only sustenance was the air he breathed! Every morning, Yogi meditates from 4am-7am, before tending to his beloved garden. He explains that nature is another central part of the yoga way of life, and something he wants to share with his students.

Spiritual Journey Born in Palani in Tamil Nadu in 1950, Yogi is now based in Madurai. He has been practicing yoga for almost 40 years. His journey began at the age of 22. Originally inspired by a book of asanas, he became fascinated with the spiritual, physical and mental aspects of yoga and meditation.

In 1988, Yogi founded the Tamil Nadu State Yogasana Association and began to organise numerous conferences and competitions at the state and national levels to bring likeminded people together to share and learn about yoga. He ran his 23rd Tamil Nadu conference last year. In 1993, he organised a National Yoga Conference and Competition in Madurai for 1000 people from all over India and the world. In 1996, the numbers grew to 2000, and subsequent conferences and competitions followed in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2009. He received the title “Siddha Seva Rathnam” in 1993 by the Siddhashram for his work in using Yoga to help cure diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy, asthma and depression. Yogi is gradually building his own Ashram at his home in Madurai. He also plans to create statues of the 108 asanas, to commence next year. Each statue is estimated to cost Rs. 30,000. Donations are welcome. Sought after around India, Malaysia, China and Europe, Yogi’s influence is far reaching. So far, he has trained 120 yoga masters, 12 of whom are foreigners from Europe, the US and Australia. He hopes this number will increase as he continues on his mission. Yogi’s classes have been especially

Our warm and friendly ‘Yogi’

A statue of his guru’s guru

popular with Journalism volunteers. In fact one recent volunteer, Stella Brikey from Germany, even trained for her master qualification!

Then stand in awe of the colourful statue of his guru’s guru, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, surrounded by a lovingly tendered garden and ponds.

Tranquil Oasis

Follow the path through the garden and you arrive at his bamboo thatched roof shack-cum-temple. Mystical music plays, incense burns and you feel like you’re in a slice of spiritual tropical heaven. Through a small door way you can see his Hindu temple. More photographs of Yogi feature on the walls, in postures and with his guru.

Entering Yogi’s yoga centre is like stepping into a lush tranquil oasis. At first you may be greeted by his gorgeous dog, Skubi, who is known for her attempts to steal the limelight from Yogi. Walk down his drive way and notice the many poster sized photographs of him with prominent yoga figures, and several of himself or his son in various postures. It’s difficult not to think to yourself, “Wow. How does he move his body in such a way?” Read the quotes that are painted on the side of his house: “See good in all. You can see God in all. Man-Mind-God”; “Discipline and purity must come from within”; “Yoga and nature: Food for healthy living.”

Yogi’s vitality is almost infectious. No matter what your mood, when you see his lovely smiling face, it’s hard not to feel instantly happy. He will warmly invite you into his sacred place. His classes feel relaxed. He teaches by demonstration and will correct your postures as needed. A friendly “Come on” and you move on to the next asana. If you’re doing well, you’re likely to get a “Good, good, very good!” and if you’re very lucky, an “Mmmm, very nice!” But perhaps you have to experience Yogi’s class for yourself to truly understand.

Power of Peace Yogi’s greatest dream is simple but powerful. “I wish for the whole world to wake up and do meditation together,” he said with a big grin. “From 6-7am every day all around the world. This would bring peace.” This interview is packed with quotes I scurry to capture with pen and paper… “Yoga fills your heart. It makes you not empty. With yoga, you will live a long healthy life.” “Being rich is not about money. To be rich in mind and heart means you have no worries!” Finally, he imparts some wise words of advice that linger in my wandering mind, “Live for today… live for now. This time is not about yesterday or tomorrow. Live for today… it is the only way to be happy.” We thank our Yogi for inspiring us with his magic, helping us experience the benefits of yoga and touching our lives. Want to learn more or try a class? Visit http://www.yogiramalingam.org

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Madurai Messenger Passion July 2011

Confessions of a Car lover Mr. T. Israel Devadasan of Palayamkottai is a passionate collector of vintage cars. Katharina Schneider talks to him and discovers the extent to which he would go to acquire his treasured possessions, once even traveling 2200 km! A Treasury of Cars • Morris 8 (1932) • Fiat Millicento (1954) • Plymouth (1955) • Mercedes Benz (1967) • Hindustan Ambassador (1968) • Fiat Delight (1972) • Standard 2000 (1985) • Premier 118 (1985) • Maruti Suzuki (1993) • Tata Estate (1995)

By Katharina Schneider Cologne , Germany

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hen T. Israel Devadasan, 65, takes his treasures out for a drive, admiring glances are never far behind. He is neither a superstar nor a rich celebrity, but a collector with heart. Devadasan’s heart has been beating for vintage automobiles since he was a little boy.

taught him to drive and in 1990 bought him his first car, an Ambassador (1968) for Rs. 12000. Devadasan completed his post graduate degree in History and a Master’s in Education before joining Sadakatulla Appa College in Palayam Kottai, as a professor.

man as a vintage car is for a collector. Maybe it is the shimmering headlights or the elaborate curves of the metal which make them so irresistible. Or is it the overwhelming feeling of sitting in a piece of history, smelling a sense of the past and driving a beloved treasure?

We met T. Israel Devadasan, at his cozy home in Tirunelveli. Even when at the gate, it is clear that this is a different house. In every corner you can see a car. And every car has its own special story.

Vintage Passion

T. Israel Devadasan shares his love for vintage automobiles with other well known collectors such as the owner of the popular cigarette brand, ‘Kajah Beedi’, who has over 150 cars, industrialist Vijay Mallya who is the proud owner of the oldest car in India (1903) and Mani Nagappa, President of the Vintage Car Collectors Association in Tamil Nadu.

“I have always loved cars,” raves T. Israel Devadasan, as he looks indulgently at the several cars lined up at the entrance. While he can’t pin point where and when his passion originated, he is certain that it started early! As a child he always took pictures of cars on the streets and at home he collected toy cars. This was the kiddy beginning of a life long love; a proposal before the wedding. The answer was ‘Yes’. At the age of 26, T. Israel Devadasan got his driving license. His brother

“I saved money little by little,” he remembers. Sixteen years ago, in 1995, he started his collection with a second car to take its place next to the Ambassador. It was a 1961 Standard Herald that he bought for Rs.6000. “The cars I buy aren’t too expensive,” he explains, “I buy used cars and restore them.” To do this, he gets the help from his mechanic friends, who share his passion for cars. Soon it swelled to 20 vintage cars. Currently he has nine cars, waiting for a new friend to come: a Chevrolet Impala, Devadasan’s new desire. So, what is the secret of the attraction cars have for this collector? I guess every woman would like to know how to become as lovable and attractive for a

United by cars

The automobile collector community network through automobile magazines. T. Israel Devadasan, for example, spots his beloved vintage cars in the magazines and goes straight to the owners of the treasure he wants to possess. No car is too far away. Often he has to travel long distances. His longest trip was 2200km for a Hindustan 14!

A lot of other collectors pursue him and want to buy his cars, for they believe that he is too old to take care of them. Rather unwillingly, he sold five cars and exchanged a Herald for a Fiat. Trading in vintage cars is not just about money, it is about sentiment and honoring a legacy. T. Israel Devadasan was once interested in a 1967 Mercedes Benz. ‘Mercedes’ was the name of Karl Benz’s daughter and an excellent symbol of the love and care, which the collectors sometimes shower on their cars. The owners of the vintage Benz, however, were unwilling to part with it as it was a legacy from their father, who was a coffee-king and a passionate collector. They eventually sold the car to him for Rs. 150,000 only after he promised to take good care of the car and never resell it. In fact, it was not the money but rather Devadasan himself with his trustworthy nature and loving devotion for cars that cemented the deal: a silent agreement between like-minded people, like a handshake between friends.

How to love a fourwheeled friend “It’s very difficult to choose among stars,” says T. Israel Devadasan as he pauses to reflect on his favourite car. All of his cars are his children and you can tell by the look in his eyes that he really loves them. It is not without reason that he is called “car thatha” or “car grandfather”. Every night, before going to sleep he has to read one of his magazines or books, “If I don’t read at least one page, I can’t sleep,” he confesses. Through the eyes of a collector, a car is not just a material object. Moreover, it is something precious and special. He restores the old and used cars with the help of his friends, and then takes care of them like a doctor cares for a patient. “I don’t want to let the car die,” he says. He has a strong belief in God which makes him neither fearful of accidents on the chaotic Indian roads, nor of car burglary. T. Israel Devadasan believes that his cars are “God given cars”- and whatever happens is in God’s hands. Call it the power of faith that

none of his cars have been stolen, even though he never locks them, nor has any of them met with an accident. “Don’t show me old cars if I can’t get them!” is the daily prayer of this compulsive collector. T. Israel Devadasan

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Madurai Messenger Science July 2011

A Journey through Science Kristina Wilshusen visits the 16-coach Science Express that has been touring the country since 2007. On its visit to Madurai, she experiences a fascinating journey through the world of science and also wonders if the visitors found her skin colour more intriguing than nanotechnology, climate change, nutritional science or cosmetology! By Kristina Wilshusen Germany

The Science Communicator knows it all!

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Platform 8: waiting for admission to the Science Express

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oday, platform 8 of Madurai Junction is occupied by a long, spotless white train: The Science Express has come to town! Right next to it, almost as long as the train itself, a queue of people wait patiently for admission into this unique science-onwheels exhibition. My German colleague and I have been sent here for the simple fact that this science train is an IndoGerman collaborative project. Most of the exhibits on board were developed by the Max Planck Society*, Germany. The train itself has been travelling all across India since 2007, stopping at

countless cities and inviting millions of visitors for a brief expedition into the fascinating world of science. The entrance is free of charge, but the regulations are very strict: no bags, no cameras, no mobiles and no water bottles inside the train. As journalists from the Madurai Messenger, however, we get the V.I.P treatment that includes flexibility in terms of the rules. We may keep our bags, but must leave our water bottles outside; we must switch off our mobiles, but we may use our cameras. Most importantly,

we may jump the queue. Leaving the sunlit platform and boarding the air conditioned train feels heavenly! We ask several of the people boarding how long they have waited for admission. The answer comes in unison: “Two hours!”

Scientific Encounters of the Strange Kind The Science Express is comprised of 16 coaches, each of which is based on a specific scientific theme. “On the Way to Big Bang”, “Spaceship Earth” and “The Joy of Science” are only a few examples of their pompous-sounding

names. It soon becomes clear that this science exhibition is a predominantly visual treat because most of the exhibits are simple information boards, illustrated by large-format visual images and short video clips. There are also a handful of multimedia exhibits, which allow the visitors to acquaint themselves with science in an interactive way. In addition, trained Science Communicators are stationed throughout the train to offer explanations and advice to anyone interested enough to listen. Sudhir Tiwari (24) is one of the Science Communicators working in the coach featuring microorganisms and nutrition. He travels with the train wherever it goes and tirelessly explains the details of his special field to the never-ending stream of visitors. In fact, he seems to have adapted his way of speaking to the number of listeners, because he talks extremely fast! We ask him how often he has to repeat the same things in one day, but he can’t even guesstimate a number! Nonetheless, he affirms he’s very proud to have been chosen for this job by the Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi, even though this means that he has to celebrate public holidays in the train! Weekday or holiday, the Science Express is always on the move or full of visitors. What’s the target group of the exhibition, anyway? “This train has been designed for students, to encourage them to pursue higher studies and careers in science. But everybody is welcome! Young or old, literate or illiterate. We try to explain our exhibits to everyone as best as possible,” says Tiwari.

That’s a well-meant intention, but with so many visitors, it’s hard to do justice to everyone. The thing is that even inside the train, people are forced to move in a queue! Whenever someone lingers for too long at a certain exhibit, the train staff will tell you to move on, which makes it impossible to read all the information boards. What’s more, the boards are written in English and Hindi, a considerable challenge for native Tamil speakers in Madurai. However, most of the visitors don’t seem to mind. They just glance at the exhibits and then focus on another attraction: us. Two white girls seem to be at least twice as interesting as nanotechnology, nutritional science or cosmetology! As a result, we are never short of people to interview.

Catch ‘em Young! One of the visitors we talk to is Kalimuthu (42), who has taken his son Lokesh (12) to the Science Express. He admits that some parts of the exhibition are too hard for children to understand. There should be more pictures, more Science Communicators and, most importantly, more time to take it all in. “Pictures are better than text!” Still, he considers the train a great means to introduce kids to the world of science and to consolidate the knowledge they have already acquired at school. In fact, we see countless groups of students passing by, dressed in neat school uniforms, many of whom carry notepads and try to jot down the most important facts. Until they see us, that is! Once again, we observe a distinct gender difference in the kids’ behaviour. While the girls approach and speak to us in a very curious but polite manner, the boys virtually crack up and go wild!


Madurai Messenger Science July 2011

A Parody of Justice Umberto Bacchi reviews Siberian Education by Nicolai Lilin, a fascinating story about the violent and adventurous youth of a boy who grew up in the Siberian criminal community in Transnistria, a province of the U.S.S.R, during the fall of Communism. By Umberto Bacchi Milan, Italy

“In the Siberian community, you learn to kill when you’re very small. Our philosophy of life has a close relation to death; children are taught that taking someone else’s life or dying are perfectly acceptable things, if there is a good reason.”

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The Science Express at Madurai Junction

Two of the boys we meet are lucky enough to have a private teacher at their disposal: P. Vishnu Varthan (14) and his brother Nandha Krishore (11) have been taken here by their grandmother S. Kasthuri. As a retired teacher, she ensures that her grandsons make the most of their visit to the science train. The elder one, Vishnu Varthan, doesn’t give her a hard time in this respect because he is very eager to learn as much as possible today. The human body especially intrigues him. Asked for his career aspiration, he doesn’t hesitate a second: “I want to become a doctor, and specialise in diabetes research!” His younger brother, Nandha Krishore, seems less enthusiastic just now. In spite of his grandmother’s critical look, he states that he’d rather become a pilot than a natural scientist. Well, why not? After all, aviation is as respectable a branch of science as medicine. The liveliest coach of the train is the one themed Climate Change and Global Challenges. Kids and adults crowd around one of the interactive exhibits, a box-shaped machine

featuring coloured buttons. Next to every button, there are labels with suggestions for eco-friendly behaviour in everyday life. Whenever the machine displays an overall theme like “power consumption”, you are supposed to press the appropriate button (in this case: “Switch off the fan and the light if you don’t need them!”). However, the people around this exhibit don’t even bother to read the labels, but have a visibly good time just pressing all the buttons at random. Incidentally, I can’t help but get a vague feeling that the German collaborative partner insisted on boosting this very coach of the Science Express. Climate change and global warming are always at the top of the political agenda in Germany, so the Max Planck Society will have jumped at the chance to spread the message. After two hours, our journey into the world of science is over. Large posters in the last coach sum up what we (should) have learnt on our walk through the Science Express. Getting off the train, we realise what a literally cool experience it was!

* The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (German: “Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften Eingetragener Verein”; abbreviated MPG) is a formally independent non-governmental and non-profit association of German research institutes publicly funded by the federal and the 16 state governments of Germany.

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or generations, boys who were born into the criminal world of Low River received a ‘Siberian Education’. It defined their childhood and differentiated them from the multitude of other young criminals who lived in the city of Bender in Transnistria. Nicolai ‘Kolima’ and his friends had their turn in the 1980s. They learnt to follow this strict and violent path and become a living contradiction: ‘Honest criminals’. Nicolai Lilin narrates his extraordinary youth through his childhood eyes. While recalling the episodes that made him a man, the author gives us a snapshot of the bygone world of the Siberian Urka Criminal Community: a world where violence, murder and crime were a part of ordinary life and rigorously regulated by a criminal ethical code of traditions, non-written rules and symbols; a world that has since disappeared due to the rise of capitalism and the increasing greed of younger generations of criminals.

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Madurai Messenger Books July 2011

“Some enjoy life, some suffer it, we fight it.”

Terms of Endearment Umberto Bacchi reviews Paa, a heart-warming film about a special boy who, despite suffering from a crippling disease, shows great determination to reunite his parents, ‘Maa’ and ‘Paa’. With a great cast and outstanding performances, Paa is sure to move you. By Umberto Bacchi Milan, Italy

Nicolai Lilin

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Transnistria is a no man’s land between Ukraine and Moldavia. Abandoned by law, it is a place where the word ‘justice’ had a unique meaning and very different rules and boundaries from what is commonly accepted by Western civil society. The state declared itself independent in 1990, but its status is yet to be recognised by the international community. At the time the story begins, Transnistria was part of the U.S.S.R. Under the Soviet administration in the 1920s onwards, many people were deported to Transnistria from their homes in Siberia, Armenia, and other parts of the Soviet empire. Among these deportees were criminal communities who established themselves firmly in their new home.

Tattoos played an important social role for the Urkas. Each drawing had a specific meaning and represented a sort of criminal visiting card or life story. Learning how to read them properly was necessary to understand with whom you were speaking. It was information that could save your life. The guardians of this counterculture were the Urka elders. Once retired from their criminal duties, they taught the children the “honest criminal’ way. It was by following the elders’ advice, especially from Grandpa Kuzja, that Nicolai and his young friends learn how to live and behave in this difficult and challenging world.

A Means to an End

“Firstly, it was necessary to respect all living beings, a category that did not include policemen, people linked to the government, bank clerks, loan sharks and all those who had money power in their hands and exploited simple people.”

Once settled, the Siberian Urka continued their personal and peculiar war against the Communist regime. Every time they committed robbery, murder and acts of sabotage, they did so in the name of freedom. To them, crime was not a means of personal wealth, but a way to fight the state, police and the power they represented. It was forbidden to show wealth: money had to be spent only for community sustenance, weapons and orthodox Christian icons. However, crimes such as rape, extortion, usury and any act that required the participation of corrupt police officers were prohibited. Anyone who committed these forbidden crimes had to pay for their offence with their life. The Urka also respected and protected those people with physical or mental disabilities. The ‘honest criminal’ way of life was also governed by practical rules. For example, weapons used for crimes could not be kept in the same room as weapons used to hunt, because they believed this would contaminate the purity of the hunting weapons. Also, men were not allowed to speak to, or accept anything from the police. If they found themselves in a situation where they were forced to have contact with the police, a woman was needed as an intermediary.

Lilin’s curt and direct writing style provides insights into a fascinating and largely unknown place and culture. He takes the reader on a thrilling journey that follows Nicolai’s group of young criminal friends through their adventures of life and crime. Reflecting on his ‘Siberian Education’, Nicolai shares his stories of friendship, afternoons by the river, nights in jail, anecdotes from the elders, assaults on the police station, and fights with other criminal baby gangs. It is a world where concepts of good and bad, and right and wrong, are relative and different from the mainstream. Siberian Education not only captures your interest, but also keeps you thrilled from beginning to end.

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sweet but seriously sick boy, a caring single mother, and a father that is unaware of his son’s condition. These are the main members of the ‘family in progress’ whose story fills the frames of Paa (2009), a film that will conquer your heart. Amitabh Bachchan plays Auro, a 13-year-old boy affected by Progeria, a very rare genetic disorder. Mentally, he is a typical boy of his age, lively and playful. But because of the disease, his body ages five times faster than normal, giving him the appearance of a 65-yearold man. His condition means he has a short life expectancy and must cope with many physical difficulties. He is being raised alone by his mother, Vidya (Vidya Balan), with only the aid of ‘Bum’, his lovely grandmother, nicknamed by Auro because of her big posterior! His father, Amol (Abhishek Bachchan), is a successful and honest politician who is not aware of Auro’s existence. Vidya became pregnant to Amol while at university. But at the time, Vidya dumped Amol because he asked her to abort the baby so as not to compromise his future political career. Vidya wanted to keep the child. After that episode, they never met again and she never told Amol about the birth of his son. One day 13 years later, by chance, Amol is called by the principal of Auro’s school to award a student competition. It is here he meets his son for the first time. Struck by Auro’s condition and intelligence, Amol decides to keep in touch with the boy. Once Auro discovered that the

politician is his father, he is determined to use the last efforts of his short life to join his ‘Maa’ Vidya and his ‘Paa’ Amol together again. Paa is not an informative movie about Progeria. The disease is just an element of it. It is a human drama which centres on the changing family. The relations between the main characters are the real core of the film. There are three axes on which the story turns: the troubled love story between Amol and Vidya, the tender relationship between Auro, his mother and his grandma, and finally and above all else, the touching experience of a father and son who discover each other and develop a very special bond. This last aspect of the movie is made even more interesting by the fact that the two actors, Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, are father and son in real life. Their relationship has, however, been reversed on screen, which gives the occasion for some funny cues. R. Balki directs a great cast with a particularly outstanding performance by Amitabh Bachchan, who does not give the audience any chance not to love his character. Winner of four National Film Awards for Best Actor, Best Supporting

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Actress, Best Feature Film in Hindi and Best Make-Up Artist, Paa is engaging and moving. Some of the dialogue, especially the conversations between Auro and his schoolmates, are very entertaining. Perhaps some scenes, like those related to the political views and career of Amol, are unnecessary to the plot and make the movie a little too long. Finally, a special mention must be given to the talented make-up team. They were able to turn Amitabh into a believably ill boy suffering from Progeria. And above all, they managed to change the distinctive traits of one of the most famous Indian actors and make him almost unrecognisable!


Madurai Messenger Village Voices July 2011

Gandhigram: Where Gandhi once Set Foot Katrin Grätz visits Gandhigram, a village in the Dindigul district, north of Madurai. While interacting with the people in the village, she was supported by Ingelise Jones, Katharina Schneider, Kristina Wilshusen and Umberto Bacchi. By Katrin Grätz Duesseldorf, Germany

When we asked a few people whether they believed in Gandhi´s philosophy, they all answered a surprising ‘no’. They told us that in spite of the famous name of their village, it is just like any other village in India. The university here is called the Gandhigram Rural University and was founded by the Government of India (University Grants Commission, New Delhi). It offers a range of courses in the academic disciplines such as Science, Agriculture, Public Health and Rural industries. Most of the students who attend Gandhigram Rural University do not usually come from Gandhigram itself, but from all over Tamil Nadu, especially from the Dindigul and Madurai districts.

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after him. Another version is that the village was named in honour of the great freedom fighter following the declaration of independence in 1947. And last but not least, the third story is that one day in the 1950s, a worshipper came to the village and named it Gandhigram.

hen we arrived in Gandhigram, we instantly noticed that the village had many facets. At first, when we were driving by bus through the village, we spotted the Gandhigram University, several students and many other campus buildings. And then when we got off the bus, we soon felt the real village atmosphere—children playing on the street, men sitting together in a convivial group and women standing on the street talking to each other. The village seemed so peaceful and relaxed. At first, we were invited to sit and talk with some of the inhabitants of Gandhigram in a small open stone house. Soon, it was obvious that the people of Gandhigram were very friendly, open and happy to speak to us about their village and lives. We talked with lots of people, men, women and of course some children.

There is also the Kasturba Hospital, named after Gandhi’s wife, which is run by the Gandhigram Trust. The Trust was established in 1947 to fulfill Gandhi´s vision to help

Population The village has around 2500 inhabitants, with slightly more men than women.

Production and Labour The men in Gandhigram mostly work in agriculture, while some of them also work in construction. They grow several kinds of vegetables and fruits including black grapes, onions, and sapota, a special Indian fruit. Sapota looks like a potato but it is much sweeter and is very famous in the Dindigul district. Produce is sold in markets all over Tamil Nadu. A lot of these agricultural products are in fact sold in Madurai. Some villagers are also involved in horticulture. They cultivate several beautiful flowers such as jasmine and roses that are also sold to markets in Chennai, Madurai, Trichy and Srirangam. Women are mostly helpers on the farms, and some also have cleaning jobs at the hospital and university. Some villagers also work in shops in Dindigul. Working hours for the people in the village are usually from 8 am to 3.30 pm with a one-hour lunch break.

People The people we spoke to were all very communicative and told us some interesting stories about village life. Ramayee, 80, sat next to us in the open stone house, and told us that the oldest person in the village is 105 years old! This is a woman who, believe it or not, still works as a cleaner in the university. There are about five women, who are older than 85 years, which means that the life expectancy in Gandhigram is quite high.

Place Gandhigram lies to the north of Madurai. It is located in the Dindigul district, 10 kilometers away from Dindigul town in the state Tamil Nadu, southern India. Why is the village called Gandhigram? The people told us three versions of how the village acquired its name. The first is based on the belief that when Mahatma Gandhi travelled through India in 1950, he visited this village and made a speech there. Hence the village was named Gandhigram

rural communities through sectoral interventions in health, education, employment and social welfare.

Family size in the village has changed in recent years. There used to be about ten children in every family, but today, there are two to four children in each family.

Faces of the village

A little boy weighed with a traditional scale

The cost of living depends on the size of the family. In the average family, there are five members, which means that

at least two of them have to work to support the family. The estimated cost of living per month for a family of five is Rs. 6000-7000. But a budget conscious mindset means that these costs are kept to a minimum. So, what do the villagers do in their spare time? We are told that the women clean the house and the men take care of their cows grazing on the fields. After these obligations, they rest and talk to one another in groups, or play with their children. Sometimes, they even go shopping in the village nearby, Chinalapatti where there is more infrastructure and several retail stores. Most of the villagers are Hindus. The main goddess revered in the village is Mariamman. There are also some Muslims living in Gandhigram. The people told us that the relationship between them is good and there are no conflicts. We met a 52-year-old woman named Papathi who told us about her life. She was born in the village and has been living here all her life. She is employed by the government to clean the lake next to the village. Years ago, she married a man for love. It is quite unusual to have love marriages in Indian villages. She had a baby with him but later they broke up. ”Something went wrong,” she said. But what she didn’t tell us was that she is now living with his son and father together in a house. While we had this conversation, she seemed to be sad and deep in thought. To help take care of the young children, Gandhigram has an aanganwadi or crèche that is supported by, and dependent on, the government. It is a programme for 15 children, aged three to five, from poor families. The children’s nutritional status is closely monitored by regularly weighing the children and recording their weight on charts. This is an effective method by which malnutrition can be identified and addressed in a timely manner. The children come to get food and are also

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Madurai Messenger Village Voices July 2011

Trapped in a Sari Kristina Wilshusen recalls her hilarious experience of wearing a sari for the first time, which she realises is more than wrapping oneself in a long strip of cloth! At the end of her ordeal, she confesses that she has a new-found respect for the Indian woman who wears it day after day! By Kristina Wilshusen Germany

Colourful village idyll

Water tank

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able to sleep there. It is a small and simple facility, but provides a much needed service to children from low income families.

Problems The village faces several problems related to sanitation, water and medical care. Sometimes there is not enough water for the whole village. The only village water is provided through a tank which is filled up once in every three days with 25,000 litres. Usually on every third day, water becomes scarce so the villages have to manage with much less water. Small houses don’t have space for toilets. So, often many family members and sometimes even neighbours have to share one toilet. The sanitary conditions here are appalling and there are no public toilets. Poor sanitation means that there is an increased risk of contagious diseases and illnesses. For the people of Gandhigram, it is quite difficult to get good medical treatment because the hospital is not accessible. Even though it is only 2 kilometers away, most of them do not have any means to get to the hospital. To walk there, they must cross a very busy highway, which often proves very difficult and dangerous. The medical treatment here, however, is not free and some of the people cannot afford to see a doctor. The people of the village therefore want more medical facilities and support from the government.

Prospects and Promise Talking to the children was the most enjoyable and fun part of our interview. The kids here are truly amazing. They are cheerful, kind and engaged. Children of many ages joined us to share their views. Manoj kumar, 7, Satish, 6, Soundarya, 13, Kalpana Devi, 12, are only some of them! They told us that they love going to school because they love to learn and play with their friends. After school, most of them would like to pursue higher studies. Some of them want to become a doctors, collectors and army officers. One child wanted to be a lawyer; and another, a policeman. Their hobbies are football, meeting friends, watching television, and of course, cricket. When we asked them whether they wanted to stay in the village once they had grown up, they all agreed that they would like to move away from Gandhigram to earn more money and live a better life. Most of the children said that they would prefer to live in cities like Chennai, Mumbai or Kolkata. Thank you to all of the people of Gandhigram for time and for being so open. It was a very informative interview and a nice experience for me and my fellow volunteers. We wish all of you good luck for the future!

Ready to go? Be brave, girls!

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ff goes the alarm clock. It’s 5am in the morning of our Indian colleague’s wedding day. Before we can join the party and enjoy the ceremony, however, a big challenge lies ahead for my roommate and me! Helplessly, we stare at two piles of folded textiles. How on earth are we, two German girls who wear jeans and t-shirts on most days of our lives, supposed to put on our brand-new Indian saris? We already know that wearing a sari means much more than just wrapping yourself in a long strip of cloth. Putting on the sari underskirt and the blouse isn’t much of a problem (or so we think!), but beyond that, we’re lost. Luckily, our faithful host mum hasn’t forgotten her promise and rushes to our rescue. She begins by fussing over our underskirts, which we’re already wearing. As it turns out, she thinks they’re not tight enough. To me, it seems impossible to make them any tighter, but she insists: “This is dangerous!” Having gone through similar discussions with Indian women at the time we

41 purchased our sari blouses, we’re not as surprised as we could be. Apparently, that’s the Indian way: no matter what, underclothing must be tight! Still, we can’t help wondering about the term “dangerous”. The only danger we can see would be that of suffocation. Don’t Indian women need to breathe…? We assure our host mum that it’s downright impossible for our underskirts to just slip off our hips. As a matter of fact, nobody would notice if they did (or if we didn’t even wear them!) because an underskirt is completely invisible underneath the sari cloth. She’s not convinced, though, and tightens our underskirts anyway. Twice.

Sartorial Transformation! Time is short and a sari cloth is 6 meters, so we don’t waste time in discussion. Actually, it’s only now that we go right to the heart of the matter! Our host mum resolutely starts unfolding and re-folding the long coloured cloth, wrapping them around our waists, draping and shaping them,

and finally throwing the loose end over our shoulders. Before we know it, it’s 6am; we are dressed and ready to go to the wedding. Well, almost! Our host mum makes very sure that we don’t forget to put on matching necklaces, matching earrings and the indispensable bangles. Anything else? You bet. As a girl, you cannot dare to attend a wedding without a garland of jasmine flowers in your hair! When we look into the mirror now, we see two Indo-German girls torn between different impressions. Beautiful, yes! Comfortable, no! The wedding ceremony turns out to be very nice, but it’s neither the service nor the delicious food which will linger in our memories the longest. It’s the feeling of wearing a sari, or rather, being trapped in one. By the end of this day, we will be very glad to take our saris off (for which we won’t need help) and we’ll also have a new-found respect for all Indian women who wear these garments so matter-offactly and gracefully, every single day. Thank you for your help, host mummy, and most of all, kudos to you!


Madurai Messenger First Impressions July 2011

Magical Madurai

On the Back of a Horse

On her first visit to Madurai, Katrin Grätz discovers a captivating historic city where heritage and modernity are two sides of the same coin.

Kodaikanal is a pleasant place. It is cool, you breathe fresh air and a walk around the lake refreshes and relaxes you. But why walk, if you can have a horse which carries you? And that’s what it is famous for: the horse ride! Katharina Schneider was on the trail of the horses, exploring two sides of the coin.

By Katrin Grätz Duesseldorf, Germany

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Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple

t was my first time in India and, of course, Madurai. There are many things which you find particularly impressive and even exotic if you have perhaps seen them in pictures, books or movies. As a person from the West, one lives in another world. Of course globalisation means that different cultures and economic systems are becoming more connected and similar to each other, largely because of improved communications and the influence of multinational companies. Nevertheless, the language and culture prevailing in India is so different from the West that you cannot help but be amazed.

Elephantine blessings!

Choc-a-bloc Streets In Madurai, it seems as if the whole town is on the street! The roads are populated with traders, cows, rickshaws, homeless people, dogs, shopkeepers, children playing on the streets, sadhus, yogis, pilgrims, and tourists. There are so many things that you don’t notice at first because it is awfully crowded, loud and colourful. It is an assortment of everything.

Traffic Jitters The traffic in Madurai is mind boggling. People drive their cars and rickshaws criss cross from left to right and vice versa. Everyone sounds their horns constantly. In addition to this, people run to cross the street and as an inexperienced stranger, sometimes it seems as if they might be knocked down at any moment by a car or a rickshaw. But somehow, the people here have their own functional chaotic system. This is a common phenomenon in Madurai and India, so it is just a matter of getting used to it.

There is a completely different smell on the streets. You can smell the aroma of joss sticks and musk and sometimes, there is also a pungent smell of urine and garbage in the lanes. And then you notice the many different fresh herbs and spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chilies, and coriander. The smell of freshly baked Indian bread, biscuits and other specialties help build an appetite. The streets of Madurai offer you a wide variety of food to choose from. Of course Madurai is a historically and culturally interesting region. The very impressive Hindu Temple in the city of Madurai near the railway station is called the Meenakshi temple. It was built in 1560 and from the outside you can see four large colourful gopurams, and inside the temple stand six smaller equally colourful gopurams. There is also an elephant inside which blesses you with its trunk. The ornate architecture really takes your breath away with its colourful murals and carved stone deities. The temple was dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi Amman and is one of the most important temples in Southern India and considered to be a brilliant architectural achievement. When you are in Madurai, the atmosphere of the past is perceptible. You can feel that this place is a very old traditional town and it is easy to imagine that some things in Madurai are still the same as they were centuries ago. Even Tamil, the 2000-year-old language of Tamil Nadu, is one of the oldest languages of the world. So on one hand, you can notice the development, and on the other, you can see traditions, old values and customs.

By Katharina Schneider

At the horse stand

Cologne, Germany

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iding horses gives you a feeling of freedom and allows you to watch your surroundings from a different point of view. It is a girly-fairy thing for little girls and women young at heart; and a cowboy-Western thing for young boys and men. In Germany, we have a saying: “Das Glueck der Erde liegt auf dem Ruecken der Pferde!” which means that the luck of the earth lies on the back of the horse. The rider is lucky, of course! The horseman earns money, for sure, but what about the horse?

In the Saddle All the way around the lake, which nestles in the heart of Kodaikanal, you can watch horses. Especially in the peak tourist season from April to May, you will hear more hooves trotting down the street than cars honking! Senthil Kumar, a tourist from Puducherry, just down from the saddle with his daughter in his arms, says, “It was wonderful! I felt safe and it was a soft ride.” The horse riders lead you as far as you like, round the lake or up to the forest. If you would like to do a sightseeing trip on horseback, you should choose the round-the-lake-ride. You will see the boats paddling on the lake and several shops offering Kodai’s famous home-made chocolate. The horse ride through the forest, however, is a more adventurous choice and will give you a close-tonature experience. A happy tourist

Your wish depends only on your budget. One kilometer around the lake costs Rs. 80. Considering the circumference of the lake, a roundtrip would cost Rs. 600. Whereas a horse ride through the forest is less expensive and lasts longer. One hour in the woods costs Rs. 300. You are free to go alone for the same price, as long as you keep in mind that the horses in Kodaikanal are used to being led rather than being ridden!

Horse Power For centuries people all over the wolrd have felt the special magic of horse riding. Even in Kodaikanal, people were fascinated by horse riding. The horse riders of Kodaikanal joined together in 1968 and started the Anna Memorial Horse Ride Development Society, which still exists today. Its main activities include organising horse races, fostering horse riding as a popular tourist attraction, and stipulating charges for the ride.

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Madurai Messenger Tourism July 2011

Lord of the Roads

The horseman starts his work in the morning when the first tourists wake up. In the peak season,,this means beginning from 8.00 am and ending at 7.00 pm. Around the lake, there are three different ‘stands’ where the horsemen wait with their horses for the next customer. Around 40 horses work in the main season. Each horse carries about 25 persons per day on its shoulders. Every day in the season, a ‘race’ is held. It is a tourist attraction, There are no bets and no competition, just eye candy and an attraction for tourists!

Monique Djarn gives us a hilarious account of her first encounter with the Indian traffic. Brave enough to venture an auto rickshaw ride through the bustling streets of Madurai, her ride had made her hair look like a lion’s unmanageable mane. Monique is also drenched in the unseasonal showers—all of which contribute to some unforgettable moments!

“It is a seasonal work! This is why it is hard work too,” Peter, 51, explains, “It is impossible to earn enough money for one year in two months of the good season. We all have to work somewhere else at the off-season-time. Most of us do planting work around Kodaikanal.” Peter has already been in the horse riding business for 30 years and he loves his horses. Like other riders, Peter learned to ride horses and inherited the occupation from his father.

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By Monique Djarn Copenhagen, Denmark

Scratched legs and bleeding feet are nothing special. “The horse hit his legs while trotting next to the bicycle”, a horseman explains.

Most of the riders own a stable where they take care of their horses and keep them over night. But not everyone is lucky enough to afford their own place. We met Nagarajan and his horse in the street. “I’m poor and do not have enough money to rent or even buy a stall.” His horse, Vicky, is tied up during the night Nagarajan tells us that a foreigner once supported him with money. On average, it costs Rs. 300 per day to keep a horse, feeding it with rice, oats, grass and water.

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Horse talk “All horses deserve at least once in their lives to be loved by a little girl”, says a famous quote, which paints a rather romantic picture of horses in our minds. But this glamorous picture often hides several disturbing truths. The job on the streets of Kodaikanal is dangerous for horses. While the normal life expectancy of a horse is over 20 years, a horse employed for riding does not usually live past 10 years of age.

We discovered a dangerous looking eczema on the belly of one horse. “It is an allergic reaction” the owner confirms. Nagarajan and his horse “Vicky”. This must be love?!

A rickshaw sailing through the Indian roads.

“Just this summer two of my horses died,” reports Dheen Mohamed, another horseman, “They had an accident.” In fact, a lot of horses die because of accidents caused by the slippery streets. The weather can be fatal. Horses can develop colds and fevers resulting from wet weather, or die from a lack of adequate shelter, not to mention the long and tiring working hours. Almost every second, a horse is a victim of such stressful work conditions. Some horses will be resold if the owner has financial problems or if the horse becomes too ‘old’. “We buy the horses from race-riders or from the horse-farm near Pune. On average, a horse costs Rs. 60,000-80,000,” says Dheen Mohamed.

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Of course, the horsemen ‘love’ their horses, but this love can’t hide the truth of broken legs, scratched and injured feet and ugly death of the horses.

My first encounter with Indian traffic was on the day of my arrival in Madurai. I was crammed into a rickshaw with my big

hen I came to India, it soon became clear that the traffic is a little more thrilling than what I knew from Denmark. It is as though people believe there are no rules! The bigger vehicles rule and can drive as they like, while the smaller ones just have to adapt and react to the Lords of the Road! Well, that’s the system and it sometimes makes you sit on the edge of your seat fearing for your life.

suitcase, backpack, camera bag and a few smaller things. We sat glued to each other. The spin off was that it blocked my view and made me unaware of the kind of traffic that I was soon going to experience! After a bumpy ride, I reached my host family’s house. My attempt to look presentable, however, was ruined from the drive. The combination of humidity and bumpy roads had unfortunately not helped me give the first impression I had hoped for! Later that day, I decided to explore the heart of the city. Since my latest

experience in a rickshaw was not so bad, I took another one again. I sat in, felt relieved and was excited to see what Madurai had to offer. Everything seemed to go well initially. The traffic swarm had not yet begun and I was fascinated to see the small shops, experience the smell in the air and soak in the Indian atmosphere.

Drenched lion The sky was beginning to turn grey. Normally, I would have given that a little thought but being the thick-headed Westerner that I am, I was convinced


Madurai Messenger Humor July 2011

that it would not rain. My guidebook said that the rainy season was later in the year, not now. While my guidebook was certainly factually correct, perhaps Indra, the God of rain and thunder just wanted to give me a special “showery� welcome. As I came in to the centre of the city, the sky opened and sheets of water fell down. As I sat in the rickshaw sheltered from the rain, I watched the roads flood, transformed into rivers. People were fighting their way towards the nearest shop or cover. The devil inside me found it a little amusing to see the rickshaw soak the people who tried to cross the road. One moment later, I was dropped off and all of a sudden found myself trapped in the middle of the road. The rickshaw went from being my dry savior to a tsunami-creating nightmare. Talk about my nemesis! As I jumped around like a wild kangaroo trapped in traffic I realised how traffic was in India. There is no mercy. If you stand in the way, you will be run over. If you stand next to a big puddle, you will be soaked!

My swim around in the rickshaw

46 A flooded city centre

After jumping around for half an hour, I was drenched. Exhausted and in a state of a shock, I decided to get another rickshaw home. By this time, the traffic swarm was at its worst. Cars, buses, motorbikes and rickshaws created a huge traffic jam. Horns sounded from every direction. Motorbikes and cars pushed in front of me creating pools of water big enough to make me swim around in the rickshaw! The twenty minutes in the rickshaw felt never ending. I sat with my face frozen in a stiff uncomfortable way that gave me a jaw cramp which, I think, will surely cause some wrinkles later! When I finally made it home, my lion mane was like a wet cloth sticking to my forehead and my white clothes had changed to brown. My second attempt to make a good impression had failed again. I came home filthier than a stray dog! I felt it was completely understandable if my host family had second thoughts about having me in their home. Fortunately they seem to have forgotten about it now. Everything that could have possibly have gone wrong happened on my first rickshaw adventure. I still remember it as the funniest and most absurd situation I have found myself in so far. Until wrinkles show on my face, I will cherish these memories.


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July - 2011