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January 2013

Volume 2, Issue 38 Sponsored by:


In Vinobha Bhave’s Footsteps: Social Activist Krishnammal Jagannathan Plus: Tranquil Tarangampadi & Chasing the North East Monsoon

Contents January 2013 | Issue No. 38

Editor Dr. Nandini Murali


Passing the Parcel

Bhuvana Venkatesh


Journalism Supervisor

02 Iconic Social Activist Krishnammal Jagannathan

Journalism Administrator



Shant Manas: A Balm for the Mind

G. Durgairajan


T. Jesuraja



Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen

Florence Davis 2

Katie Grainger Isabelle Brotherton-Ratcliffe

Cover Photograph G. Durgairajan

Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd., Contact: MADURAI MESSENGER

Madurai – 625004 Tamil Nadu India Tel. 0452-2370269

A Monsoon Quest


28 South Indian Coffee versus Western Coffee:

Can the Two Coexist? ARTS 33 Spicing up the Madurai Art Scene BOOK REVIEW 36 Panoramic Monsoon Chase BOOKER SECTION 38 Love in the Time of Intrigues 40 Through the Swirling Mists of Memory A DAY IN THE LIFE OF 42 The Fishers and the Sea VILLAGE VOICES 46 Keechan Kuppam: Paradise Lost and Regained? FIRST IMPRESSIONS

No. 17, T.P.K Road Pasumalai

Most of us knowingly or otherwise often play this game in life. We simply pass on the parcel to others; point fingers at others. In other words, we hold others responsible for events and thereby absolve ourselves from all responsibility. At the other extreme, we cling on to the “parcel” and end up blaming—often others, or worse, ourselves. Responsibility vs. blame. The former empowers and helps us bloom; the latter stunts our growth and makes bonsais of trees that have the potential to soar beyond the sky.

24 On the Danish Trail in Tranquil Tarangampadi

Salome Becker Hanae Araki

Perfecting Life by “Going to the Source”


Amy Cassell Lea Buettner


universal favourite game and one that has enduring popularity as a party game is passing the parcel. Participants stand in a circle and pass a parcel as music plays in the background. It’s often touch and go and excitement and laughter fill the air as everyone wants to “pass” the parcel. Whoever is “caught” with the parcel when the music suddenly stops, steps out of the game. The game continues until the circle dwindles to a pair. The winner, obviously, is the person who is “lucky” enough not to be saddled with the parcel!


Designer & Technical Support

Reporters & Photographers

Passing the Parcel


Copy Editor

B. Pooja


50 Why Everything I Ever Thought about India

was Wrong 51 India Live! 52 Like a Second Home

The recent horrific gang rape of the courageous unnamed 23-year-old girl and her tragic death in New Delhi is perhaps an opportunity for us to reflect, look within and take responsibility. Could we, individually and collectively, realize how we as a society contribute to violence against women? Instead of “blaming” a woman victim and survivor of sexual assault and say that “she brought it on herself” and insist that “women should dress decently,” can we for a moment wonder why we don’t hold perpetrators of sexual crimes responsible? Like most young girls growing up in India in the late 1960s and 1970s, I got the message that my personal safety in public spaces was entirely my responsibility— dressing appropriately and getting home early would keep predatory men on the prowl at bay. A sacrosanct rule for me as a girl was that I had to be back home by 6 pm. It was an invisible, yet very real line of control that I dare not breach. Because the consequences would be terrible. Today as a professional increasingly in the public space, I feel overburdened by my sense of personal responsibility. Or at the other end, we have women who hand over their personal safety, usually to a male sibling who “protects and watches” the sister from an unwelcome male gaze. As parents of young boys and girls, do we ever bother to model respect for women through our own behavior? Do we especially tell young boys that they can’t assume a sense of entitlement and privilege just because they are male? And young girls that they surely are different but equal? There are no Band-Aids or quick fix solutions in life. Instead, life offers us numerous opportunities to take responsibility for our lives. I sign off on a note of optimism and hope that all of us will look within ourselves and individually and collectively be the change we want to see. That would be one small but crucial step towards an inclusive and humane world. The time is now.

Dr. nandini murali Editor


Madurai Messenger Cover Story January 2013

Iconic Social Activist Krishnammal Jagannathan

Volunteers (L-R) Amy, Brydee, Florence, Caroline and Hanae listening to Krishnammal’s amazing stories

She’s been written about countless times, and for good reason. Krishnammal Jagannathan, a Dalit born woman and social activist has been a peaceful activist her entire adult life, never pausing to take a rest from the cause. Amy Cassell was privileged to meet her and visit the area where her work is taking place, to discover the extreme strength of character of this icon, and the far reaching impact of her work By Amy Cassell Australia



series of winding gravel roads take us further and further away from the hustle and bustle that marks much of India’s landscape. It’s only a few minutes from the busy main road of Kuthur village, in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, but it seems a world away. Passing grassy fields, the only sound we hear is the muezzin’s call to prayer, echoing from a nearby mosque. We’re at Vinoba Ashram, established here in 1972 by social activist Krishnammal Jagannathan. We sit opposite K.Pitchai, a greying man in a dhoti, who speaks only in Tamil, but undoubtedly animatedly about Mrs Jagannathan, the woman who has inspired his community. He tells me about her arrival to this village after one of the biggest tragedies the village has ever seen; the massacre of 44 women and children, set fire to in a hut in late 1968. He recalls Krishnammal organising a meeting at the very location of the incident, and her speech promising to give the people their own land and houses to live in. He remembers, they only needed someone to lead them. And she was the right person.

A passion for the cause Krishnammal has been a social activist for most of her long life. When she completed university, she found it difficult to settle. She confides “there were always some questions disturbing my mind.” As she was not keen on abandaning her university education and run away from her Dalit upbringing, she kept looking for something more that could be her vocation.“I was searching for some mission,” she says, “I want to do special work in this life.”

“I was searching for some mission,” she says, “I want to do special work in this life” Krishnammal Jagannathan- The lady of her dreams

3 She had been inspired by Gandhian thought, and she participated in India’s Independence peacefully, always maintaining her focus on the plight of the Dalits. Through this work she met her future husband, freedom fighter Sankaralingam Jagannathan, now 98 years old. Continuing to buck tradition, Krishnammal married Sankaralingam, a union which she said was arranged by Gandhians, even though he was from a much higher caste than her, and his father, also named Sankaralingam, was a landlord. They agreed to marry only after India was independent, so the wedding took place in 1950. When asked about how his family felt about this, she said they not only accepted the wedding but also welcomed her into the family. She adds that they were pleased as their son had not been home in so long, and when he and Krishnammal married, he returned. Krishnammal was forever focused on the cause and how she can contribute to it. Her condition for marriage was that the ceremony be free of costly things.

Her condition for marriage was that the ceremony be free of costly things. So, on the day of their wedding, they were joined by a piece of holy thread, spun by her husband, and had limited other trinkets associated with the occasion

So, on the day of their wedding, they were joined by a piece of holy thread, spun by her husband, and limited other trinkets associated with the occasion. From the very start, Krishnammal felt strongly that empowering the landless with land of their own was crucial to the progression of Indian society and Gandhian principles operating within it. From 1950 onwards she worked with nationalist and Gandhian Vinoba Bhave in the Bhoodan movement, undertaking peaceful activism and pilgrimages on foot towards this end. She tells me that she did the same work for years, until on December 25, 1968, 44 women and children were

burned by a disgruntled landlord in Kilavenmani in the Nagapattinam area. Speaking of this incident, the anguish and the outrage still echoes through her voice. Pitchai had explained to me that the tillers of Nagapattinam were paid daily in grain. Krishnammal explains that they were paid 4 litres of grain a day, and wanted to paid half a litre more. The landlord was enraged at this demand, and rounded up the families of the tillers into a hut and burned them down. Krishnammal was engaged in prayer when she heard the news. She was distraught at the tragedy and questioned herself, “Forty women burned, what is the use of my living?” She was determined to help, believing that God was giving her a new

Madurai Messenger Cover Story January 2013

Gandhian Philosophy is the cornerstone of Krishnammal’s work

mission. She relocated from Thanjavur to Nagapattinam, where she lived and worked for the next four decades.


Face to face with the activist After trundling down a series of narrow streets to arrive at Krishnammal Jagannathan’s airy, light-filled home in Chennai, the front door opens as we approach. The face I’ve seen accompanying a myriad of articles, biographies and essays appears before me. Her gentle face and sparrow-like stature surprises me, after all I’ve heard about her leadership, influence and achievements. Yet, just as I am having this thought, I realise, she is reminiscent of her mentor and inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi. She straightens up and says, as if we might not recognise her, “I am Krishnammal Jagannathan.” This humility continues, accompanied by unabated hospitality. As we walk in, she warmly offers us tea, coffee and biscuits, as if my fellow volunteers and I are her old friends. This social activist, who history has shown is a force to be reckoned with, makes us feel right at home and welcomed in with open arms. Krishnammal grew up in a Dalit family in Ayankottai in Dindugul district in Tamil Nadu, the fifth child of seven children, so she understands the suffering of that

particular caste well. Her father Ramasamy died of cancer when she was 11 years old. She says she had “wonderful parents.” Her family connections sound closeknit, and loving. “We all lived together back then.” She talks about her uncles doling out milk and curd to the children, and she seems nostalgic when she remembers that such things were shared between everyone when milk was not a commercial commodity. In her community, they were strongly connected to each other, and to nature. She often brings up what she calls “the light in you” and she applies this philosophy to her activism, as she helps the Dalits, rejecting the discrimination others have applied to this group. It becomes clear that this is another influence from her childhood. Her mother Nagammal used to take her out into the fields at sunrise. At sunrise, she would pray. Her mother taught her that this light is in everyone. As if to back this up, she points at me and my fellow volunteers in turn saying, “The divine light is here, here, here, here.” She tells us story after story of her childhood. The tales are full of life and love, and the poverty almost fades to the background.

Almost The Dalits were tilling the land, “working in the mud,” says Krishnammal. Because of their role, because they

Her gentle face and sparrow-like stature surprises me, after all I’ve heard about her leadership, influence and achievements. Yet, just as I am having this thought, I realise, she is reminiscent of her mentor and inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi

were producing the food and feeding others, they were condemned to be untouchables. Not even allowed to live in the same part of the village as other people, it was, as Krishnammal describes it, “an inhuman life.” Even after a life of fighting, her passion and vigour shows through. “I feel it is an injustice,” she says. She rejects the notion that tilling the fields is dirty work, remarking “they are doing it because it is a happy thing.” Krishnammal tells me that others don’t recognise the noble cause of their work, and that is why Krishnammal wanted to fight. “We are not below anybody.” Despite the Dalits’ lack of formal education, Krishnammal managed to overcome her circumstances and attend university, completing both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education. When asked about how she managed to do this, she tells us how she grew up with the importance of education instilled in her. Her parents had “so much interest in giving education to the children.” Krishnammal says, the people of her community, despite not being formally educated, possess “natural intelligence.” She proves this time and time again, as she blesses down-trodden people with independence but also with responsibility, only to see them flourish.

Krishnammal’s boundless energy is something to marvel at

An activist’s work is never done After a long life of activism, at 87 years old, Krishnammal shows no signs of slowing down. Now, her focus is on Land for Tillers Freedom (LAFTI) and restoring land to the landless, building “dignified homes” for those without, fighting against prawn farms and multinational companies that use local land and leave it unworkable, and campaigning for the rights of women and Dalits. Krishnammal and her husband established LAFTI in 1981. LAFTI did and continues to manage discussions between the landless and their landlords, to re-allocate land and to manage payments from the tillers. Krishnammal tells how she goes from


place to place, meeting with landlords, persuading them to give up their land, enlisting the help of people to make bricks for the houses she builds, and talking to people in need. The technique is practical and realistic though. When a landlord gives up his land to tillers, just as in another official sale of land, the tillers must pay. LAFTI assists in collecting their payments in increments.

into the system they had so long been denied a place in.

Krishnammal changes the lives of the Dalits by not only giving them land or houses, but by encouraging and instilling a sense of responsibility that comes hand in hand with these new rights, forming a sustainable system. As Krishnammal says, the preconceptions of the “untouchables” as inferior are wrong but as Pitchai says, they needed someone to take the lead, to bring them

Seeing her concern that her ability to continue her legacy is being reduced by age, we question, is there anyone to follow in her footsteps? Krishnammal is very honest and says the young people are forgetting Gandhi’s principles, the cornerstone of her work. She says many young people “close their eyes” to suffering around them. This will have to change if her legacy is to be continued.

Though her passion is still as strong as ever, Krishnammal worries that as she ages she cannot take on as much as she used to. She can no longer take charge of all the discussions with landlords, of all the running from place to place persuading people to help.

She talks of her uncles doling out milk and curd to the children, and she seems nostalgic when she remembers that such things were shared when milk was not a commercial commodity. In her community, they were strongly connected to each other, and to nature

Madurai Messenger Cover Story January 2013

Krishnammal is very honest and says the young people are forgetting Gandhi’s principles, the cornerstone of her work. She says many young people “close their eyes” to suffering around them. This will have to change if her legacy is to be continued

Perhaps this love for all around her comes from her faith in the concept of “one world, one family, one community.” She tells me she believes “we are all one, the same matter”

Alive with passion for the cause

quotes a Tamil proverb, “every human should have food for eating, clothes for wearing and land for living.”

A complex identity

A legacy not to be forgotten


Visiting Nagapattinam, it is clear her legacy is a remarkable one. Pitchai tells me about how his village and community have been changed by Krishnammal and her work. Pitchai used to live in a hut made partly out of mud, partly out of coconut trees. Whenever the monsoon came, the hut would be destroyed and he would have to start again. Krishnammal built him a proper, concrete house with a sturdy tiled roof, and he’s had no problems with the monsoon since.

Krishnammal and Amy deep in conversation

Pitchai used to work as a farm labourer for a landlord, and speaks about how difficult life was. He refers to his past job as a “life or death” situation. It seemed it was only getting worse when the Kilvenmani massacre occurred in 1968, when people from his community and the Nagapattinam area, including some of his relatives, were brutally burned. However, now he says, that incident is the reason they are “out of slavery,” as it brought them a leader. Ever since Krishnammal stepped in to help the community of the Nagapattinam area, Pitchai has been blessed with a sturdy house, and leave his brutal work as a farm labourer to become a driver for LAFTI, an organisation he truly believes in. His work consists of driving a tractor to pick up the payments of people now owning their own land, and also helping them with the tractor, ploughing the

A snapshot into the life of Krishnammal Jagannathan-awards and role models

fields for free. This is common practice within LAFTI. He says that he is much happier now that his life has been changed by Krishnammal, and speaks of the benefits for those who stayed committed to farm work but now have their own

land. He tells me, even if they have nothing, they have land, which they can use to better their economic position. Under a landlord, they were working hard and getting little of the rewards, now they work hard and all of the rewards are theirs. When asked why land is so important to these people, he

Volunteer Journalist Amy learning from Krishnammal

Pitchai also tells me about Krishnammal as a person. Her following of Gandhi’s peaceful principles is evident in her work and in her personality. He says if ever someone gets angry at Krishnammal, she will talk peacefully to them. This may be the key to the negotiations she has personally engaged in with landlords. Krishnammal herself recalls landlords yelling at her, but now, she says, they love her. She is respected by both sides of the community – by the Dalits and the landlords. She is regularly invited by landlords to functions, and is acknowledged if she is unable to attend. She tells me that she does not hate them, she loves them. Her father-in-law is a landlord, and she says, “How can I hate him?” Perhaps this love for all around her comes from her faith in the concept of “one world, one family, one community.” She tells me she believes “we are all one, the same matter.” But this widespread love, patience and understanding, takes nothing away from her vigour and fiery passion. Speaking of the lower caste, she says with unmistakeable determination “the human suffering should go away” and she will continue to work for this to become the reality. At the same time, she believes nothing can be achieved without suffering. She says these people have nothing to lose, and she must convince them to increase their suffering to eventually be free of it. She is not afraid of the suffering either, saying “I am giving my life.”


Madurai Messenger Cover Story January 2013

Her facial expression contorts into one of defiance as she tells me, “One day I will win the battle. That is the aim of the non-violent soldier”

Krishnammal’s bravery is something to marvel at, as Pitchai told me in Kuthur, she is “dauntless” and that’s what he loves about her. When I ask her if she has ever felt afraid in her work she says no without hesitation. Yet, there is much she could have feared. Countless arrests and three or four stays in jail, ranging from 10 to 50 days, are discussed briefly, until she turns the conversation to a hilarious story, saying “I always escape from the police.” She recounts the time when she was arrested by the police, after which they stopped to have a tea and relax, an opportunity which she took to clamber out of the vehicle and escape. Her offhand tone in telling this story has all the volunteers in fits of giggles.


In another even more serious memoir, Krishnammal had gone to visit Bodh Gaya in 1975, the historical location where Buddha received his enlightenment. She found the locals suppressed by the more powerful castes. She organised a protest to help the poor landless own their own land. This was fiercely objected to by a priest in the area, Shri Jeyaprakash Narayan, the owner of 30,000 acres of land. He wrote to her, threatening her life. She tells us that she thought seriously about it and realised he was actually capable of killing her, so she escaped with her friend, another holy man, Sukandranantha, and hid in the forest for, as she puts it, “only three months.” Her casual tone once again surprises everyone in the room. This bravery and admirable stubbornness is a strong as ever in her now, at age 87, and still it shows no signs of abating. Though she lives by the principle of peaceful protest, her spirit is still aggresive. Her facial expression contorts into one of defiance as she tells me, “One day I will win the battle. That is the aim of the non-violent soldier.”

Never working alone Her permanent state of defiant bravery sounds exhausting, and too much of a load for one person to bear. How does she keep going?

is why she continues to work into her old age, to fulfill her selfless mission to give the Dalits freedom. When she looks back on her work, she is satisfied to a degree. She concedes that a lot has changed in the area, but also insists there is more work to be done. “The caste system must go,” she declares “they must have the freedom.” So she will continue to work, as long as she can, juggling as she is now, her own limitations as brought on by age as well as the need to care for her husband, with the work she feels called to do.

At 87, Krishnammal has lost none of her passion and vigour

She recounts the time when she was arrested by the police, after which they stopped to have a tea and relax, an opportunity which she took to clamber out of the vehicle and escape. Her offhand tone in telling this story has all the volunteers in fits of giggles An old photo of Krishnammal and her daughter, Sathya (now 50)

Krishnammal Jagannathan and her beloved Tippu, named after fellow freedom fighter Tippu Sultan

Krishnammal believes strongly in faith and the power of prayer. She says, “Wherever we go, there is God” and turns to him often when she needs help. One significant example is when she was trying to find the money to set up LAFTI. She was penniless and the bank told her she needed to come up with Rs. 100,000. She relied on the power of prayer, which gave her the strength to write to a friend in Europe, who lent her the money that allowed her to formally establish LAFTI, an organisation the people of Nagapattinam can now not imagine life without.

the input of others. Over the course of our conversation, various people who have helped her come up—from the local people she persuades to make the bricks, to her friend Sukandranantha who lived in the forest with her, to her connections around the world.

Pitchai believes that God is a defining factor in the success of Krishnammal’s activism as well. He believes three things are the key to her performing her work successfully—God’s blessing, her hard work and help from others. Krishnammal certainly doesn’t deny

Overwhelming though it may be, Krishnammal loves her work. She says “it is a great privilege to have the time and energy to help others.” She does not do it for herself though. She believes to truly help these people, someone must be there with a “selfless motive,” which

Despite all this though, she still becomes overwhelmed at times. She tells me that on occasion she will sit down and cry, and she speaks about the “burning in her heart” to complete this overwhelming mission.

An inspiring attitude

When will she be satisfied her mission is complete? She tells me her life’s mission covers two things: give the Dalits a “livelihood” and provide them with “a dignified house.” This is her life calling and until she finishes it, she says “my mission is incomplete.” The legacy she hopes to leave is one of service to others, above all else. She tells me it is important to do “at least a little bit of service to uplift the human being,” wherever we are and to “share the suffering.” When I came to meet Krishnammal Jagannathan, I hoped to find out a little bit about the person behind the activist. And I have, to a point. It is clear to me that she is the most dedicated person I’ve ever met. Finally, she makes a comment that leaves no ambiguity of her identity, she says she is “fully dedicated to the cause, no other interest in life.” Back in Kuthur, K. Pitchai told me that Krishnammal is incomparable in terms of spirit and energy. Having met her, I see that he is right.


Madurai Messenger Making a Difference January 2013

Shant Manas: A Balm for the Mind Lea Buettner gives us a quick overview of the Shant Manas Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre in Madurai that reaches out to people with mental illness in rural areas around Madurai, providing inpatient and outpatient services as well as home visits to ensure that patients comply with medication

L. Vijayalakshmi (60) administrator at Shant Manas

Reaching out Bhuvaneswari confirms the difficulties doctors have in finding and treating mental health patients in outlying areas. To alleviate the symptoms of mental illnesses, it is necessary to have continuity in the treatment and Dr Vasudevan understood that it would be difficult to ensure that patients continue to take the pills they had been prescribed, particularly after initial improvements. To ensure compliance, he devised a follow-up programme whereby medical staff would return regularly to each of the villages in turn to explain the need for regular medication, counsel the patients and their families and give reassurance about their fears and misconceptions and clarify their doubts.

By Lea Buettner and Isabelle Brotherton Ratcliffe Germany



riving to the headquarters of the Shant Manas India Trust, an organization promoting positive mental health in villages around Kochadai in Madurai, we have difficulty in finding the building which seems a metaphor for the quiet, unassuming style of this local charity. Shant Manas was established on August 18th,2007 by psychiatrist Dr C R Vasudevan with the aim of alleviating the problems caused by mental illnesses in rural areas around Madurai. At Shant Manas we were introduced to L Vijayalakshmi, a calm, gentle and soft spoken woman of 60. She worked for a few years as a school teacher in Chennai in Vivekananda Vidyalaya, Babuji Matriculation School. In Madurai, she worked in TVS Lakshmi Higher Secondary School and Anand Memorial Matriculation School, Dolphin Matriculation School and Karpagam Matriculation School, Paravai, where she worked as a Principal. She has handled subjects such as English, Science, History and Geography for students belonging to the 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades. She joined Shant Manas on the date of its inception to support Dr Vasudevan and his work. She is now the administrator of the organisation and is clearly very proud of her brother. She frequently cites her admiration for all that he has done and is happy to tell us about their work.

How it all began The story began when Dr Vasudevan was struck by the higher than average rate of suicides attributed to mental illness in some villages in Tamil Nadu and hence sought an explanation. At first, he selected five villages and that has now been

may be living in the shadows, out of sight of all but their neighbours. Shant Manas’s greatest successes are when these people are able to return to a balanced and routine lifestyle. Achieving this takes time and medication. The charity has access to lower priced medicines provided by a local pharmacy in support of their work, and the funding for this comes from friends and sponsors of the charity. The time is given by a team of social workers and trainee psychiatric nurses. Vijayalakshmi introduces us to S. Bhuvaneswari (42), the Senior Community Mental Health Social Worker at Shant Manas.

A sobering experience One of the charity’s focus areas is to train more nurses in psychiatric care. We met a group of trainee nurses who have

come to the headquarters for a training programme. They are students from one of the five nursing colleges working with Shant Manas and all are dressed in crisp white uniforms, carrying stethoscopes and are enthusiastic about their chosen field. The nurses, who are pursuing the second year of their Diploma in Nursing, out of the total three years, from Shenbagam School of Nursing which is run by Shenbagam Nursing Home in Anna Nagar, Madurai are keen to tell us how much they have learned and how they hope to put it into practice in their profession. The course lasts three weeks and during this time they are taught about mental illnesses and their treatments, about the meaning of being a psychiatric social nurse and about the Shant Manas patient survey. The girls are really excited about the project because they “do not only learn things out of books” but “see the reality”, as well. For some, it is a sobering experience and puts the problems of their own lives in perspective. Dr Vasudevan himself is now a consultant Psychiatrist and Psycho Therapist in England Andrews Health Care group of hospitals in England. He is also a medical advisor to an NGO called Mind in England. He is also an advisor to LEPRA (Leprosy Relief Association) in India and in England since 1977. He has worked in Australia, England and India. He has teaching experience in the field of Mental Health in the University of Essex, United Kingdom. Vijayalaksmi and the team of Shant Manas are greatly looking forward to the doctor’s visit shortly, and, I suspect, of showing him just how well the project he began is now flourishing.

“do not only learn things out of books” but “see the reality” increased to a total of eight each located at a distance of 20 kilometres from Madurai, and conducted a survey among the people to find out the number of mental illness cases. Of course many people have reservations about admitting to mental illness themselves, or in their family, believing it casts a stigma on their family. Through a gentle approach, Dr Vasudevan and his colleagues learnt about the symptoms and erratic behaviour which they could diagnose as depression, including post partum depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, mood disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.There were also cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease but Dr Vasudevan and his team decided to confine their attention to the conditions they could treat with regular medication. The problem in these cases is not only the number of sufferers driven to take their own lives, but that, depending on the severity of their cases, many patients are unable to work or remain integrated in their community. They

S. Bhuvaneswari (42), a senior social worker at Shant Manas

Trainee nurses at Shant Manas, from left to right D. Saranya, N. Mano, S. Prema (their tutor), P. Durgadevi, N. Rathika and T. Kalai Selvi


Madurai Messenger Spirituality January 2013

Perfecting Life by “Going to the Source”

Chandrasekaran telling us about his lifelong passion, Transcendental Mediation

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is as mysterious as it is popular. Amy Cassell spoke to experienced TM guru K.M Chandrasekaran, a direct disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM, to learn more about this unique form of meditation that has been raved about by The Beatles and film maker David Lynch, and to discover how it changes lives By Amy Cassell Australia

I 12

t’s hard to know what to expect when meeting a TM guru. Meditation is an ancient art, passed down through the tradition of spiritual masters, which traces so far back that no one can really know the specific origins.

Chandrasekaran’s guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


So how will that translate to modern-day Madurai in 2012?

On the surface…the sea is very chaotic. But the same sea…at depth is very silent, very clear. This is true of ... our mind too.”

K.M Chandrasekaran (62) appears, a vision, as we are lost in the streets of Madurai, attempting to locate his seemingly hidden Aalilai Dhyanam Transcendental Meditation centre, opened in 1975, while receiving directions from him on a mobile phone. He emerges as an image of the fusion between tradition and development, dressed customarily in a crisp, luminously white kurta, mobile phone in hand. We soon learn that a sense of balance, such as this, is key to the practice of Transcendental Meditation, popularly referred to as TM.

The source of his tranquillity It sounds clichéd, but Chandrasekaran has an undeniable sense of tranquillity about him, along with eyes that seem to be constantly smiling. He’s the most youthful 62-year-old I’ve ever met. We are led up a steep staircase to the epicentre of this tranquillity, his meditation workshop room, and invited to sit on the floor.

The meditation workshop room is a haven of calming blues and greens, dominated by an image of a tranquil garden, and dotted with portraits of Chandrasekaran’s guru and effectively the inventor of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Along with this is a striking illustration of what Chandrasekaran refers to as the “tradition of masters.” We soon discover masters are infinitely

important to the art of meditation, and though Maharishi Mahesh Yogi may have invented and popularised TM, the true origins of the practice can never be known, as they go back thousands and thousands of years through each guru to their own master. Chandrasekaran shares these details with us as we look around the room from our cross-legged positions on the woven mats on the floor.

Chandrasekaran tells me people think that life is all about suffering. But it’s not. “Life is bliss,” he says, but we don’t know how to enjoy it. He feels he has attained this bliss and it is not about having everything

The foundation of meditation; the tradition of masters

Madurai Messenger Spirituality January 2013

Chandrasekaran is chatty, as he sits next to his equally tranquil, soft spoken wife of 34 years, Kaladevi Chandrasekaran (60). He’s eager to learn about our home countries, and our answers elicit exclamations of interest, or, in the case of my home town Melbourne, the proclamation that they lived there for a number of years. It becomes clear he is extremely well travelled. As we enquire more about his life, nearly every story he tells is through the lens of Transcendental Meditation, hinting at a life consumed by the art of TM and the dissemination of its technique.

A large image of a tranquil garden sets the mood for meditation


Other forms of meditation demand you “concentrate and contemplate on something” and engage in “intellectual effort.” However, Transcendental Meditation does not demand this of the mind. The challenge in TM is to think less, but Chandrasekaran emphasises how easy this is to pick up. “The mind always wants to be very silent”

Not surprisingly, he tells us that when he was growing up, he always had “some kind of inclination towards spirituality.” He doesn’t exactly have an explanation for why he was drawn to the spiritual, but does confide that his father, a yarn merchant, was a keen meditator, “so maybe I got that gene from my father.” But his calm appearance, the picture of well being, is in contrast to his explanation of how he came to Transcendental Meditation. After growing up in Madurai, the fourth of six children, and completing a Post Graduate degree in Tamil Literature, Chandrasekaran, like many others with high-level qualifications in academia, found himself unemployed, and unable to find a job. He felt dejected and depressed. One of his university teachers introduced him to the art of Transcendental Meditation, which transformed his wellbeing and led to a rewarding job as a TM teacher. He hasn’t looked back since.

A life without fluctuation

Enthralled; volunteers and staff learning about the art of Transcendental Meditation

How does TM deliver this tranquillity? After uttering for the first time what will become his unofficial catch phrase “you have to go to the source,” Chandrasekaran explains with a metaphor: “On the surface…the sea is very chaotic. But the same sea…at depth is very silent, very clear. The same is true of our mind.” He likens the top of the sea to the top levels of the brain, occupied by a multitude of thoughts,

which confuses it, causes stress and generally interrupts functioning. Chandresakeran explains that in TM, you tap into the deeper, clearer part of your brain, the part “without fluctuation.” Entering this state, even for a very short time, allows you to function better in your daily life. The metaphor returns, how do we reach this deeper layer? Chandresakeran likens it to the way a scuba diver uses oxygen. It is the mantra, allocated in training by the master that equips the meditator to reach this deeper layer of consciousness in Transcendental Meditation. He calls this “effortless thinking,” as he says it is natural for the brain to be in a tranquil state. But it takes effort at first to learn the technique, which is why it is necessary to be taught one on one. But Chandrasekaran says, once you’ve done it, it’s effortless and endlessly rewarding. He recalls clients coming out of their meditative state celebrating how calm and happy they feel. The importance of the source is that it is free from the stresses of daily life, as it is the origin of the being, and does not come into contact with these stresses. By “going to the source” through meditation, it is possible to experience this original tranquillity. Even if only experienced for a short while, the benefits accompany you out of this meditative state, to influence and improve the actions you take in your daily life.

A practical method Talking about the way Chandrasekaran lives his life, the conversation constantly turns back to Transcendental Meditation. The defining factor in his life, he feels, is the way that it fits into his everyday life. To an outsider, Transcendental Meditation is hard to tell apart from other forms. It is characterised by sitting still with eyes closed, as are many other methods of meditation. But Chandrasekaran stresses that the differences run deep. Other forms of meditation demand

The importance of the source is that it is free from the stresses of daily life, as it is the origin of the being, and does not come into contact with these stresses. By “going to the source” through meditation, it is possible to experience this original tranquillity Chandrasekaran demonstrates his point with reference to his masters


Madurai Messenger Spirituality January 2013

Some of the portraits of Meditation Masters on display


you “concentrate and contemplate on something” and engage “intellectual effort.” However, Transcendental Meditation does not demand this of the mind. The challenge in TM is to think less, but Chandrasekaran emphasises how easy this is to pick up. “The mind always wants to be very silent.” Research into TM brings up a vast majority of positive reviews, along with a minimal smattering of bad ones, mainly claiming that TM is a hippy practice, a cult, or that it claims to provide the seemingly impossible power of levitation. However, talking to Chandrasekaran, the lifestyle of a TM practitioner seems remarkably moderate. This is surprising, given the well-known kooks who have followed the movement, including The Beatles and filmmaker David Lynch. Chandrasekaran assures me that TM is designed to fit in with daily life, practised twice a day for 20 minutes, in any position, in any place that suits you. As the mantra used is recited in your head, you can perform the exercise anywhere without disturbing others. When I try to gauge how valid the cult claims might be, Chandrasekaran looks almost puzzled. He explains that after

the initial four-day training, they are free to go and practice on their own. They don’t have to come back, he says. They can, of course, but it is up to them. When asked about cynicism regarding the practices of levitation and yogic flying, he smiles. Chandrasekaran was the first man in India to experience yogic flying. He says that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught him that people can’t understand it before they have experienced it. “Let them have the experience and then criticize.” As for my question about other powers TM can provide, Chandrasekaran just shakes his head and laughs. Apparently levitation is as far as this down-to-earth practice reaches.

A spiritual way to health While the mystical powers of TM may be limited, the health benefits are well documented, and Chandrasekaran backs them up whole-heartedly. Reported benefits range from lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attacks, to improving respiratory health, and many other effects. Every reaction is unique to the individual. Chandrasekaran himself used to suffer from chronic headaches, which he

believes were cured by Transcendental Meditation. He has also seen clients transformed after he teaches them the practice. Insomniacs are able to sleep again. Those with high blood pressure, or anxiety found their levels were vastly improved. He has also seen alcoholics and smokers abandon their addictions. Chandrasekaran tells me about the process. He tells me that when you meditate, systematic processes within your body are altered. The chemistry of your brain and blood changes, the brain wave pattern changes. As you become calmer, your respiration and metabolic rates slow. Doctors don’t recommend the treatment of heart conditions and other life threatening problems with TM alone, but if, like Chandrasekaran, you believe that health can be, at least partly, psychosomatic, then it can be a worthwhile supplement in conjunction with other treatments. One of the most obvious, and most significant, effects of Transcendental Meditation is the effect on stress. As the mantra takes you deeper to the non-fluctuating layer of your mind, you become calmer. As Chandrasekaran says

Young for their age K.M Chandrasekaran and Kaladevi Chandrasekaran

“the silent layer of the mind is more blissful.” The more fluctuations in the mind, the more unsettled the person, so spending time in the layer that is free from fluctuations can relieve this. Chandrasekaran believes that stress causes people to be narrow-minded. Without stress, people are more accepting. In this way, relieving stress through TM can benefit many aspects of your life. He explains that it is a highly practical philosophy, “whatever the state of your mind, the state of your life will be.” It’s refreshing in its simplicity, and certainly makes a good argument for endeavouring to reach the calm, blissful part of the mind.

A teacher’s satisfaction Chandrasekaran speaks of his teaching work with pride. After all, out of teaching he has made a successful business, an impressive reputation and client base and has had the opportunity to travel the world. He feels teaching is very important, as meditation is a very subtle art, with subtle rewards, so his clients need someone to make it clearer. When asked about any common challenges or complaints in newcomers to meditation, Chandrasekaran says, “always they say, I don’t have the time

to meditate” which he says is because “they don’t understand the benefits.” He swiftly remedies that. He loves watching his students transform in the days of their workshops. “One day they will be complaining of tiredness, the next day they will comment ‘I am very fresh!’” Chandrasekaran’s passion for teaching is evident. He finds it gives him a great sense of satisfaction, to see people’s lives, health and wellbeing transformed. From the time he was introduced to TM by his university teacher, to being under the tutelage of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself, Chandrasekaran felt strongly about the power of this form of meditation and his need to be involved with it. Chandrasekaran tells me people think that life is all about suffering. But it’s not. “Life is bliss,” he says, but we don’t know how to enjoy it. He feels he has attained this bliss and it is not about having everything. Meditation helped his mind become one pointed.” I ask him what he means and he explains with another of many analogies. He tells me he is travelling in “one stream…one boat.” Without focusing on other possibilities around him, he has satisfaction in his life and

in what he has now. He tells me “when I became one pointed…I am not getting attracted by glittering gold.”

A blissful life Transcendental Meditation has changed Chandrasekaran’s life. The man sitting before me shows no shadow of the depression he spoke to me of, when he was searching unsuccessfully for a job. He’s well aware of this. He describes it and it sounds like a miracle. “All of a sudden, when I got the meditation, my mind became clear, more confident.” And when he became a teacher? “My life changed into bliss.” He tells me that from there his life only progressed. “I got a good job, good friends, good marriage, good wife, the whole life became easy.” When the cynic in me questions whether this is really all thanks to Transcendental Meditation, he tells me that all of life depends on decisions, and “when the mind becomes clear, you can decide everything in a very clear manner.” His smile as we finish our interview is one of deep contentment. It’s easy to see why he wants to pass this feeling on to other people, as his own Guru did for thousands of others.


Madurai Messenger Spirituality January 2013

What is Transcendental Meditation?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Transcendental Meditation is a meditation technique popularised in the late 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was developed in India and Rishikesh was the centre of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s practice.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, sometimes called the “giggling guru” is credited as the founder of the Transcendental Meditation Technique, and the Transcendental Meditation Program. He was born in 1918, and studied physics at Allahabad University. Chandrasekaran refers to him as both a “great Vedic saint” and a “scientist.” These two sides of him are reflected in the Transcendental Meditation technique, as it combines aspects of spirituality and medical science, to affect the brain and body. Chandrasekaran was one of his students and a follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s legacy. He recalls Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as “the happiest man in the world.” The “joyful and jovial” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi felt he had found the key to happiness through Transcendental Meditation, and aimed to spread this happiness. Chandrasekaran recalls that this was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s objective in disseminating the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Transcendental Meditation is built on the principles of going to the deep, calm part of the mind that is free of fluctuation, in order to achieve bliss in everyday life. An important part of this operation is the mantra, allocated individually by the master to the student and repeated silently in the mind while meditating. The mantra is important, as it is the technique to take the mind into deeper layers of consciousness, to reach the calm depths, free from fluctuation. Transcendental Meditation differs from other meditation techniques in its practicality. It can be undertaken anywhere, and is done for 20 minutes in the morning before breakfast, and 20 minutes in the evening before dinner. Another crucial difference is that other forms of meditation may demand you concentrate on something in particular, without breaking focus. Transcendental Meditation, in contrast, aims to clear the mind to think of nothing in order to reach “the source” and the ultimate level of calm. 18

In order to perfect this technique, training is done over a four-day period, one on one with the Transcendental Meditation master. This workshop has seven stages, the first is purely intellectual, learning about TM’s effect on the mind and body. The second, is once again theoretical, learning about how TM is different from other forms of meditation. The third stage is where the mantra is allocated and the student actually learns how to practice TM. The rest of the stages are variations of supervision and checking that the student’s meditation technique is correct. In Madurai, for locals, this process costs roughly Rs. 1000 but prices vary the world over, and can reach up to USD 2000 in some Western countries. There are TM ashrams all around the world. Some explanation of TM’s popularity may lie in the fact that it is not affiliated with any religion. People of any faith can practice it. It also demands very little of the individual, just 40 minutes of time per day and there are no limitations or requirements on where the meditation should be performed, or with whom. Likewise, there are no restrictions on what an individual can do outside the times of their meditation. It is designed to fit into everyday life and to show that it is possible to achieve spiritual bliss while still living whatever kind of life you choose. Transcendental Meditation is thought to have many health benefits, such as assisting with lowering blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks, along with lessening stress and anxiety. The practice involves a combination of spirituality and science to work towards living life and making decisions with “no dilemma” as teacher Chandrasekaran puts it.

Before developing his Transcendental Meditation Technique, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a disciple of His Divinity Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. In the technique of meditation, the tradition of masters is paramount, and it is possible that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was highly influenced by his guru, and the gurus of past generations. Chandrasekaran believes this contributed greatly to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s development of the Transcendental Meditation Technique he pioneered. Chandrasekaran says “he is giving happiness to everyone, with the knowledge he got from his master.”

A Monsoon Quest Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen chases the north east monsoon from Chennai to Kanyakumari and talks to a cross section of locals impacted by the monsoon—from scientists who track its progress, to fishermen and farmers who are dependent on the monsoon, to urban residents—all of whom anxiously await its arrival—much like the land watching the sky for water By Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen Denmark

Dr. Y.E.A. Raj, Deputy Director General of Meteorology, elucidating the behavior of north east monsoon to our MM team


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was known as an incredibly calm and peaceful person. Chandrasekaran recalls him as “a very gentle person,” reflected in his interviews, in his teaching, and with anyone he came into contact with - “he could handle any situation in the nicest manner.” He was known for laughing often, including in interviews and Chandraskaran remembers him not being easily daunted, even by difficult questions. “He’ll make anyone happy, even when answering the toughest questions.” He is also recalled as a patient and versatile teacher who could “handle any person, from a very small child to a very educated politician, anybody.” He lived his life as an example of his teachings, by showcasing the effortless bliss that he found through meditation. As Chandraskaran now teaches, the lack of stress, and the lack of fluctuation in the mind, that Transcendental Meditation aims to reach, makes for a very fulfilled life. Chandrasekaran describes how Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lived this principle - “he took all the things, whatever they were, and just enjoyed it.” At the same time, he was a giving man and a motivated man, establishing and disseminating the message of Transcendental Meditation and teaching hundreds of thousands of people to become teachers themselves. He also created the Global Country of World Peace, a borderless kingdom for those who love peace. In doing these things, and in living and spreading his message, he “shared his happiness with all the people of the world.”


ushing tropical rain showers that darken the sky and soak the earth, followed by an explosion of green as the land comes to life thanks to the life-giving drops. This is probably what most people think when they hear the word ‘monsoon’. A world famous phenomenon, even people in areas that do not experience it, are aware of its existence. The word monsoon originates from the Arabic ‘mausm’ meaning season.

I was surprised when I came to India, prepared for its monsoon season. I expected thunderstorms and heavy rainfall on a regular basis. So far though, I have hardly seen one drop of rain. We set out to explore the impact the monsoon on those whose lives are inevitably affected by the periodical return of downpour or lack thereof. The focus is on the North East (NE) monsoon and its significance to the

people of Tamil Nadu. We followed the direction of the wind, tracing the monsoon on its route along the shore from Chennai and Puducherry, all the way down to the southernmost tip of India where the Bay of Bengal meets the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Along the way, we talked to people in the cities, fishermen and farmers, and discovered that there are several sides to the monsoon. They are all interrelated, and allowed us to gradually form a

Madurai Messenger Issues January 2013

K. Gurusamy (72) is able to irrigate only half his land


picture of one of the world’s most anticipated weather phenomena and the huge impact its erratic nature has on the environment, society and the overall economy of the area.

An erratic and unpredictable phenomenon Our first stop on the trip is the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) in Chennai. The busy, but very helpful people we talked to, helped us to better understand the nature of the monsoon.

weather related activities of south India. Some of these are related to the monsoon; for instance, the centre has been recording the onset date of the monsoon for 130 years, and is constantly working on monitoring and forecasting its course. Dr. Y.E.A. Raj (59), Deputy Director General of Meteorology, tells us that the centre is predicting short-to medium range forecasts very accurately. Seasonal forecasts, however, are much more problematic. “The problem is that they can only be based on statistical models,” he explains. Even though meteorology has come a

There are several sides to the monsoon. They are all interrelated, and allowed us to gradually form a picture of one of the world’s most anticipated weather phenomena and the huge impact its erratic nature has on the environment, society and the overall economy of the area

long way over the years, with more and more data and computing power being available, he does not know whether seasonal forecasting of the monsoon will ever be possible. Although he has twenty years of experience in the field and has presented theoretical forecasts to a scientific forum, Dr. Raj does not consider the conclusions precise enough to be presented as public information. “I am not 100 percent confident, and so it is not good enough,” he says. Whether it will be a season of excess or deficit rain, however, would be

The main monsoon in India is the South West (SW) monsoon, that occurs between June and September. But, for south east India, the NE monsoon is of greater significance. What happens is that, in October, the winds of the SW monsoon reverses and turns into the so-called “winter monsoon” blowing from the North East. Although it brings with it less precipitation than its bigger and more glamorous sibling, it accounts for about 48 percent of the annual rainfall in Tamil Nadu, and is of great importance to the area. The normal onset date is October 20, and it usually lasts about fifty days. The RMC Chennai is one of the six branches of the Indian Meteorological Department, and takes care of all the

Half of the farmland around Madurai is completely dry

very useful to know in advance. Both can cause problems; floods as well as droughts can cause considerable loss of resources and in some cases, even lives. This is why most people, meteorologists and public alike, are hoping for a monsoon, which is a “desirable normal”, with not too much and not too little rain either. Unfortunately, the erratic nature of the monsoon seems to exclude the option of long term preparation, and people have to deal with whatever weather comes their way. As it turns out though, the moods of the monsoon affect different people in different ways. We first sought out the people who are in the front row when the monsoon hits the Indian shores the fishermen. Fishermen trust their own experience. To any fisherman on the east coast of India, the rain and wind of the monsoon represent a potential financial loss. In the best case scenario, the weather conditions will not be bad enough to prevent them from going out to sea. But sometimes the wind will be so strong or the sight so bad that they are landbound, and they will lose the income from one or even several days’ catch. This is exactly the case for the fishermen we met outside Chennai: Udayakumar (50), Pospalikam (58) and Mar (50) have not been able to go out for a whole week due to the wind. As we talk to them, they are sitting on the beach, mending their fishing nets. They know no other work, so they have no other option than to wait it out. It is tough, but nothing new to them. “We face these problems every year when the monsoon comes,” says Udayakumar. The meteorological department provides the government with official forecasts, but this is of no importance to the fishermen. It is the same story in every fishing village we visit along the coast. They are the ones who have been living with the monsoon their entire lives, and they trust their own experience rather than technology when it comes to assessing the weather conditions.

Meteorology Staff explaining the contemporary course of the monsoon

I am truly hoping for more rain for their sake, especially as my lovely host mother tells me, “I am really happy when it rains, it brings everything we need” 21 In the village of Keecham Kuppam outside of Nagapattinam, about 316 km south of Chennai, we meet R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar (61) who is the head of Tamil Nadu Fish Workers Union. He explains to us how the fishermen get the information they need from observing nature. “When the silver crab comes all the way up to the living area, we can tell that there will be a storm”, is one example he gives us. “And when the birds build their nests very tightly and high up in the trees, we know it will be a tough season. If they build it lower, it will be normal.” Although we can see that the conditions and level of technology available to the fishermen vary from town to town as we travel down the coast, the attitudes of the fishermen towards the monsoon are very similar. It undoubtedly affects their business, but they just seem to shrug it off. “The monsoon (and its negative impacts) is inevitable throughout the world, for people living by the seas, ”, says S. Antony (53). He is one of the

fishermen we met at our last stop at the southern tip of India, in Vavathurai just outside of Kanyakumari, 700 km from Chennai. He knows, as do all the others we have talked to, that the monsoon is important, even if it is bad for business.

Finally some monsoon clouds over Kanyakumari

Madurai Messenger Issues January 2013

Farmers pray for water

The constant power cuts only allow him to pump water from the well for two hours every day

While the coastal areas seem to get enough monsoon activity, sometimes even more than desirable (as seen when the cyclone Nilam hit the coast close to Chennai in the end of October this year), the inland is more likely to experience the opposite. Especially this year, farmers across Tamil Nadu are struggling with insufficient water supplies, and the area around Madurai is literally in a drought. K. Gurusamy (72) is a farmer we meet in K.P. Othapatti about 30 minutes away from Madurai. As is the case for most farmers in interior Tamil Nadu at the moment, he is able to irrigate only half of his land. The crops he is able to grow are not even the ones that generate the most income.


“Normally I would grow rice on all of these fields,” he says. “But this year I can grow rice on only one field.” Apart from the single paddy crop, he now grows Sampangi flowers, which are mainly used in the production of fragrances and garlands, but which do not sell at as good rates as rice. The consequence is that about 75 percent of his income is lost. Like the fishermen, farming is K. Gurusamy’s only option, and deficit rain inevitably results in a life of hardship for him and his wife. “At least my children are all married and live on their own, taking care of themselves,” he says. He can do nothing but wait and see; he believes that “50 percent rely on God, and the other 50 percent on Nature.” There is an old Tamil proverb that says, “The land watches the sky for water,” and when asked how he feels about the rain, his whole face, creased and shrunken by a lifetime of working in the sun, lights up in a big smile. He does not speak English, but he does know the word “happy”! No further translation is necessary.

The economic chain Due to the inherent differences in their occupations, the monsoon affects fishermen and farmers in almost

R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar explains the natural ancient technology used to predict the weather

opposite ways. But what of the people in the cities and the population as a whole? In Puducherry, 162 km south of Chennai, we meet S. Mani (34), who runs a real estate business. His business is not dependent on the monsoon, and when asked how it affects his everyday life, he answers, “Rain is a must, otherwise we get excess heat. The rain is comfortable, and we get better vegetable prices.” This may sound like a very simple response, but it actually reflects a much bigger picture. A large part of the purchasing power of people and general quality of life are directly affected by the monsoon. When the farmers have enough water, the prices of vegetables and rice will be good. This benefits the fishermen as well, as people will only buy fish as a secondary choice, if they have enough money left after having purchased the primary components of their nutrition. If the availability of rice shrinks, the prices go up and the average people will have little to no money left for other necessities. Everything is interrelated when it comes to the effects of the monsoon, and in the big economic chain, “rain is good for everyone,” as S. Mani says.

Rain brings happiness Back in Madurai, about 130 km from the coast, rain is not something we have seen much of this year. Especially to those of us foreigners from much colder and wetter parts of the world, the everpresent heat and dust seem to testify to a parched city. This impression is backed up by the data we receive from the meteorological centre. When it comes to district-wise seasonal rainfall, Madurai has the highest negative departure from the norm in the period from October 1–November 11 this year, with a deficit of 40 percent. Not surprisingly, the wet drops would be more than welcome here. “This year is the worst I have ever experienced,” my host mother, B. Jebamalar (33) tells me. “We have not even had ten days of rain.” Normally, during the period from September – November, the schools will be closed for several days due to the rain, but this year they have received basically no rain at all. Consequently, they have to deal with increased prices and electricity shortages due to the lessened production of wind and hydropower. “We pray for rain every day. Without rain, I don’t know how the coming year is going to be,” Jebamalar says. I am truly hoping for more rain for

“The land watches the sky for water,” and when asked how he feels about the rain, his whole face, creased and shrunken by a lifetime of working in the sun, lights up in a big smile. He does not speak English, but he does know the word “happy”! No further translation is necessary

The monsoon is inevitable for people living by the seas, says S. Antony (53)

their sake, especially as my lovely host mother tells me, “I am really happy when it rains, it brings everything we need”. On our entire trip, the famous monsoon showers remain conspicuously absent. It is not until we reach Kanyakumari, at the very end of our quest of chasing the monsoon, that we finally catch a few drops of cool water. It starts around 6.30 a.m., as we stand on the beach talking to the fishermen who had just returned from a fishing trip. At first, it is only a soft drizzle. But then, in a matter of minutes, the clouds darken and finally release a real shower of cool, refreshing and vitally important drops. I experienced an unexpected sentiment of excitement as the water hit my face and soaked through my hair and clothes. “Rain brings happiness,” my host mother says. Being from a country, which receives more than its fair share of rainfall, this is quite new to me. But here, where the amount of water received from the sky makes such a big difference to so many people, it takes on a completely new significance, and I cherish the rain, perhaps for the first time in my life.


Madurai Messenger Time Out January 2013

On the Danish Trail in Tranquil Tarangampadi

Christian church you would find in India), and the old Governor‘s bungalow which has been converted into a hotel.

Hanae Araki visits several second hand bookstores in Madurai and explores why people buy used books. Besides pricing and availability, she concludes that used textbooks that have several lines highlighted by a previous owner are useful pointers for students preparing for exams! By Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen Denmark

B 24

ased on my own experience, I‘d say you could hardly find any two countries which are more different than India and Denmark. The climate, the people, the customs, nothing here really resembles my home country in Scandinavia, and it seems hard to point out any sort of connection between the tiny country in the cold North and the gigantic exotic subcontinent that is India.

K. Ramesh explining about the Dainsh fort and its traditions A wide view from the shores of Tharangambadi

Danish national Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen wanders around the picturesque coastal town of Tarangampadi and tries to discover the Danish essence of the town that was one of the three Danish colonies in India

However, it turns out that there is, in fact, a connection that I (and most other Danes, I believe) did not know about. It is a historical one, and the quest to explore this link between nations takes us to Tarangampadi, (or “Tranqebar” in Danish), a small town on the east coast of Tamil Nadu. What does a random, Indian fishing village have to do with Denmark,? It was actually the first Danish settlement in India, out of the three Danish colonies that were ever established here (the other two being Serampore in present-day West Bengal and the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of mainland India). Tarangampadi was under the control of the Danes for 225 years and was the main port for the trade between Denmark and India. The Danish captain Ove Gedde built the fort “Dansborg” in 1620, which is still standing and remains one of the town‘s main attractions even today. This, of course, made it the focus of our exploration of this sleepy little coastal settlement.

Danish colonization The sand-coloured fort is located on the shore, next to a spacious square surrounded by old-fashioned street lamps (actually resembling something from a Danish 1950s movie, if it wasn‘t for the palm trees in the background). We enter the fort through huge wooden doors, and step into a green yard with a couple of goats grazing around an old well. The surrounding walls have sharp pieces of glass sticking out of them, a reminder of the fact that forts were in fact built to keep out unwanted visitors.

Tarangampadi offers a break from the hustle bustle of beeping horns, the shouting of shopkeepers and kamikaze actions of rickshaw drivers which usually surround you wherever you go

On one side, we find the old storage rooms, later converted into a prison. They seem to have been built for people a lot smaller than the average Dane today – I, at least, am (painfully) reminded to keep my head down several times. We then climb the stairs to get to the front of the building overlooking the Bay of Bengal. This serves as the entrance to the museum, a place which contains a number of objects left behind by the Danish, such as porcelain figurines, mugs and coins, to name a few. None of them seem very familiar to me, but then of course, I am not a historian and I obviously wasn‘t around two centuries ago.

and economic exchange between the two countries. They built the fort as the base for a succession of governors, and a harbour where the ships from Denmark could be received. According to a list we found on the museum wall, the first Danish ship to land at Tarangampadi in 1620 was called “Oeresund”, named after the belt of water between Denmark and Sweden. It was followed by many others, all of which successfully completed the threemonth long journey from Denmark to India. Eventually, in 1845, the fort was sold to the British, putting an end to Danish colonization in India.

The watchman at the entrance, K. Ramesh (41) is kind enough to tell us something about the place. We learn that the Danes, who first arrived in 1620, rented an area of 6x3 miles from King Ragunath Nayakar. The king allowed them to establish a settlement in order to enable peaceful cultural

On first sight, it is difficult to spot anything particularly “Danish” about the village itself. There are some historical buildings, of course; the fort, which is protected as a monument by the Archaeological Survey of India since 1977, the old Danish-built Zion church (which quite resembles any other

On the Danish Trail

However, digging a little deeper, it turns out that a certain connection between the coastal village and Denmark is still alive, in the sense that there is a number of Danes cooperating with locals in order to help the community and maintain its historical heritage. One example is “Foreningen Trankebar”, a Danish association founded and run by volunteers with an interest in DanishIndian relations. They own “Flora Cottage” on Queen Street (previously “Dronningensgade”, the Danish equivalent of the English name), and members come to stay here, to work on restoration projects or just to see the place. K. Ramesh did not seem to be aware of this though, but he does know of a Danish couple who come to stay every year from December – May, wishing to contribute to the development of the community. “But no one here is really aware that they are Danish,” he says. “They are basically just seen as foreigners by the people here.” This seems to be the overall perception of the Tarangampadi locals. Although they are generally aware of their historical background, it is not something that means anything to most of them. “Since the Danish colonization was so short, it did not have a very big impact on the area,” says K. Ramesh. On our way through the town, we did pass a place called “Danish Shop,” but our knowledgeable watchman informs us that it is actually run by a Muslim man with no connection to Denmark whatsoever. The shop sells stationery, so the name does not refer to the selection of products either. But it does suggest that there is a certain awareness of the town‘s historical background, even if its significance is virtually non-existent.

A peaceful getaway Tarangampadi seems very peaceful and quiet, like many coastal Indian towns. It offers a break from the hustle bustle of beeping horns, the shouting of shopkeepers and kamikaze actions of


Madurai Messenger Time Out January 2013

rickshaw drivers which usually surround you wherever you go. It is a fishing village, with only about 1,580 people living in the actual town of Tarangampadi. It is also the head quarters of a town panchayat, a division comprising a number of surrounding villages, covering an area of 13 sq. Km. The total number of inhabitants in this area is 20,841. In old Tamil, the name of the town actually means “place of the singing waves�, and it is not hard to understand why. Standing on the deserted beach, free of the otherwise everpresent noise, you can fully enjoy the freshness of the sea breeze and the spray of the waves when they hit the slowly disintegrating ruins of the ancient fort. You can tell that the place is rich on history, although not merely related to colonization. About 200 metres from the Danish fort lies the ancient Masilanathaswamy temple from 1305 AD, which is also being eroded by the sea. Furthermore, the town is known as a kind of health resort for asthma patients, K. Ramesh informs us. This has to do with the high level of ozone in the atmosphere, and he says the period from April to July is the most beneficial time to visit the beach and breathe in the healthy air.

Museum filled with Danish items reflecting Danish traditions

Frontal view of Danish fort



This has to do with the high level of ozone in the atmosphere, and he says the period from April to July is the most beneficial time to visit the beach and breathe in the healthy air

Deed carved on gold plate between Danish King Christian IV and Tamil King Ragunatha Nayakkar; copy at the Tharangambadi Fort, original at Royal Museum Denmark

Ancient miniature of Danish ship; real ship takes 3 months to reach Tharangambadi port

Tharangambai-Danish engineered ship docking platform

Visiting Tarangampadi itself was an enormously pleasant experience, literally a breath of fresh air. Although is has no great impact on the daily lives of the locals, the historical aspect contributes to the atmosphere of the town, and it was very interesting to visit the former colony and try to imagine how the Danish sailors and traders must have felt upon arrival in this exotic country.

I get quite a good idea of the experience, as their home country was the same as mine, even if it has changed in some rather obvious ways since the 17th century. Standing by the wall of the fort though, seeing the foam on the waves and feeling the cool sea breeze on my face, I finally recognize one thing which makes me think of home, as it must have done for any other Dane who ever came to this country which is otherwise so much in contrast to our own.

Madurai Messenger Eating-Out January 2013

South Indian Coffee versus Western Coffee: Can the Two Coexist? The South Indian filter ‘kapi’ has traditionally captured the taste buds of coffee addicts. But with newer contemporary avatars such as cappuccino and café latte making inroads into the country thanks to brands such as Café Coffee Day and Barista Lavazza, how is the South Indian coffee coping with competition? Florence Davis, a coffee buff herself, explores, as she savours coffee, both Indian and Western By Florence Davis United Kingdom


29 Contemporary western coffee with its attractive look, Woo’s new customer

Lavazza in the Express Avenue Mall in Chennai did not have any customers at the time, I spoke to Krishna Kichaa (27), one of the baristas there.

A Convenient Substitute?


offee drinking has historically been very popular in South India. Currently, there are approximately 250,000 coffee growers in India, and despite Tamil Nadu accounting for only 11 percent of coffee production in India, South India is still responsible for 70 percent of India’s coffee consumption, and coffee consumption has outdone that of

tea in these areas for years. With the introduction of modern, Western style coffee shops, I decided to look at the relationship between the traditional South Indian coffee, and the new, foreign coffee, and whether the two are able to coexist. The two biggest chains of Western coffee houses in India are Café Coffee

Day and Barista Lavazza. Café Coffee Day opened its first coffee house on July 11, 1996 on Brigade Road in Bengaluru. Now with 1407 branches, the red speech-mark logo can be seen in almost any major town or city across India, including Madurai. Barista Lavazza is much smaller, with 160 outlets, but is still the second biggest coffee-house chain in India. Although the Barista

Interestingly, he told us that his customers tend to pick the coffees that are most similar to the traditional coffee, such as Café Latte, Cappuccino, or the ‘spicy’ coffee from the new collection, and drink them “like South Indian coffee … with lots of sugar”. Krishna believes that the Western coffee he serves is “very similar to South Indian Coffee” as the coffee is “compressed” and then “boiling water is added.” His personal favourite, however, is black coffee, as it gives him the energy he needs to get himself through the long working day. He describes coffee as “refreshing” and “relaxing” and he sometimes drinks up to six cups a day. What I also found interesting was that Krishna believed that coffee was “good for health” something I’ve heard a lot

Cup filled with south indian trditional coffee

in India; and indeed, Café Coffee Day is keen to stress the benefits of coffee on their website.

You Can’t Argue With Tradition To speak to some traditional coffee drinkers, I visited the New Vishalam coffee bar in Thalakullam. The bar was full of customers from all walks of life, some in business suits, and others in a casual shirt and trousers. Here, coffee costs Rs. 25 a cup, which while pricier than your average chai stand, is verylittle compared to the Rs. 100 or more price tag carried by the coffee in Western style coffee-houses. This price accounts for the quality here. Coffee is freshly ground on site, in a wonderful-smelling back room behind the serving area, and the coffee here is mixed only with milk, and not diluted with water, as the coffee from a roadside stand would be. We even watched as a family had their coffee brought to their car without having to even open the door.

Krishna believes that the Western coffee he serves is “very similar to South Indian Coffee” as the coffee is “compressed” and then “boiling water is added” I spoke to M. Palani,45, (the man behind the bar), about why their Indian coffee is so popular. M. Palani has been working at New Vishalam for almost thirty years, and sees around 1400 customers a day. When I asked him, he said he’d seen no difference in customer numbers since the opening of chains such as Cafe Coffee Day. He never drinks Western coffee himself, and believes it is the “quality and taste” that sets traditional Indian coffee apart from its foreign equivalent, a fact agreed upon by the two other customers I spoke to. M. Muralidharan (50) drinks Indian coffee because it is “homely”, and

Madurai Messenger Eating-Out January 2013

Customers enjoying the coffee even on sunny mid day, to refresh and to be brisk

“a habit” he has had “since childhood”, although he still drinks foreign coffee about once or twice a month. He drinks three to four cups of coffee a day, without milk, as it makes him “mentally brisk,” something essential in his job as an advocate. When I asked him whether he thought Western coffee could replace Indian coffee drinking, he was adamant that “in India that cannot be done. The people are accustomed [to traditional coffee]”. N. Aramugam (31) once tried a Western-style coffee in Cafe Coffee Day, but didn’t like it, as it “wasn’t what he expected” from a coffee. He claimed it “wasn’t strong enough”, and wasn’t the “Indian taste”. He agreed that Cafe Coffee Day and similar chains do not pose a threat to Indian coffee.

A Taste of Italy


Florance from our MM team interviews the scope and influence of western coffee

Krishna & Kichaa at Barista Lavazza’ chennai-Express avenue

To look at the Western coffee on offer in Madurai, I visited Cafe Coffee Day in Annanagar. My cappuccino took me straight back to Italy, and sitting in the Campo San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice sipping true Italian coffee. Romina, my Italian colleague, does not entirely agree – for her nothing can match the unique Italian taste. But she agrees that the coffee is good. ‘Cafe Coffee Day’ put a strong emphasis on conversation in their brand image. In the Cafe, comfortable seats encourage customers to linger, spending more time than they might have spent at a coffee bar. As well as the logo being a speech mark, the wall opposite us reads, “If these walls could talk, they would join your conversations.” With yet another absence of customers, I hold my own conversation with colleague Durgai Rajan (31), about why he prefers foreign-style coffee to traditional coffee. Western coffee, he says, “gives another dimension of coffee.” Having grown up drinking South Indian coffee, new styles of coffee give him some much-needed variety. Although this coffee is much more expensive, he believes it is well worth it for the high quality and unique taste; interestingly the same qualities that traditional coffee drinkers believe sets their coffee apart. “If it comes into my budget”, Rajan says, “I’ll taste it...I

love to taste different things, so I want to try every different taste”. Variety is a good argument, yet Rajan agrees that the price is too much for some. However, he also argues that the reason people do not try the new coffees is that they do not know what styles of coffee are on offer. Basically, they don’t know what they’re missing. Cafe Coffee Day offers cold coffees, which in the Indian sun can be very welcome. You can have a cold coffee, or a mixture of cold coffee and chocolate, known as Mocha, as well as a selection of ‘Fruiteazers’ – cold fruit-based drinks, in strawberry, lychee, mango, blackcurrant or apple flavours. A large variety of cold and hot teas are also available. And it’s safe to say that the chocolate cake I had with my coffee, served with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, was among the best I’ve ever tasted. Indeed, Cafe Coffee Day offers more than just coffee, and I saw some branches in Bangalore offering full Italian meals.

M. Palani casher of Visalam Coffee bar- Madurai, explains the fame of traditional coffee

M. Muralidharan (50) elucidates on the refreshing traditional coffee


So Can Western Coffee Take Over? “Definitely, in four or five years,” replies Rajan, when asked if he thinks Western coffee could replace traditional coffee. Yet from speaking to the traditional coffee drinkers, it would seem that foreign coffee chains are unlikely to threaten the current Indian coffee drinkers, who have been accustomed to the traditional taste of coffee all their lives, a taste which foreign coffee cannot replace. Indeed, I have quickly grown to love Indian coffee, finding its sweetness and richness unlike anything I have ever tasted. The fact that customers at ‘Barista Lavazza’ prefer their coffee in a traditional style appears to be good news for the traditional coffee culture. The only issue is then, that with no or very few Indian coffee houses that offer a cup of the traditional brew in a sit-down environment, customers may choose these coffee-houses over the chai stands, growing accustomed to the taste. Those that are gravitating most towards coffee shops are the younger generation, who have fewer memories of the traditional taste, and if younger children are

Miss.Florance asking about the varieties of coffee sold in Brista café at Express Avenue.

Madurai Messenger Eating-Out January 2013

Spicing up the Madurai Art Scene Isabelle Brotherton-Ratcliffe meets Reshma Zafar, the creative head of Urban Spice, a contemporary art gallery that opened recently in Madurai. A connoisseur of modern art, Reshma Zafar shares her dreams and aspirations to make Urban Spice a creative platform for promising artists to showcase their work and a space where several creative arts converge By Isabelle Brotherton Ratcliffe United Kingdom

N. Aramugam (31) explains the mesmerizing taste of traditional coffee


exposed to coffee shops, they will no longer associate the taste of South Indian coffee with the childhood memories that the older generation have.


But is this really an issue? Ultimately, people will drink their coffee wherever they prefer it: whether it is the tradition they value, and low price that they enjoy, or whether they are happy to pay a larger price for a social, relaxing experience where they can sit and linger, and enjoy new exotic tastes. To me, it would be a shame if traditional South Indian coffee disappeared, as it seems exotic, and offers a variety to the Western coffee I am used to. Yet this is the reason many people appreciate the existence of the Western coffee in India, and variety gives people the freedom to choose their own preference, which can only be a good thing. Having spoken to coffee drinkers, I do not feel that Western coffee poses a threat to South Indian coffee. People will make up their own minds as to which they prefer, which after all, seems like the best solution. Traditional Coffee maker at work in Visalam Coffee bar- Madurai

Reshma Zafar in her office with the painting by artist Murugesan which she loves


hen Reshma came from Bangalore to Madurai to marry Zafar Salim13 years ago, she did not like the city very much. Now, however, she says she would not live anywhere else. In the years she has lived here with her husband and their three children (a daughter of 11 and sons of 5 and 1 ½). Reshma (35) has seen a lot of change in the city and, among

other things, believes that there is more demand for art now than before. Reshma had always nurtured the dream of running an art gallery and believing that the time and the place was right, in October 2012 she opened a gallery in Madurai, calling it Urban Spice. Located on the Taj Hospital Road, Urban Spice takes up the ground floor of Reshma

and Zafar’s home. She believes it is well placed at the heart of the city to serve the clientele who are now beginning to buy art both for decorative purposes and as an investment. Reshma credits her husband and father-in-law for encouraging and supporting her in her work and also artist and graphic designer Praveen Kumar Pouraj, curator of a Madurai-based design studio

Madurai Messenger Arts January 2013

Drawing on the quotation “variety is the spice of life” she wanted the name to signify something different, something that spiced up the art scene, and something that brought multiple art forms to urban Madurai

Kiruku, whom she has known for some years. She acknowledges that Praveen’s expertise with his own design studio helped her in what was for her a new field and now, Urban Spice is set to become part of the burgeoning Madurai art scene.

A space for artists Reshma loves modern art. She has a striking picture by well-known landscape artist K C Murugesan in her office which she loves: a canvas of bright oil colour paints laid on with a palette knife in apparently random blocks. It is a vibrant picture, which seems to match the personality of this energetic and cheerful woman. Reshma demurs about her own artistic abilities. She admits to enjoying working with oils, and particularly making handicrafts for her home, but for her the greatest enjoyment of running the gallery, she says, is the chance to meet artists. 34

Reshma’s aim in particular is to bring promising artists to the fore and she describes the growing trend for art buying in Madurai. Previously, she says, people in Madurai commissioned artwork for specific places in their own homes but shied away from buying finished art from galleries. Now this is changing and by keeping the prices low, Reshma hopes to encourage the trend for new art. Prices in the Urban Spice gallery run from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 15,000 and the art on show can be anything from photography to oil paintings, water colours on board, ceramics, drawings and even Praveen’s kitsch painted plastic buckets and chairs. The average price is likely to be Rs. 3,000 – 4,000, with photographs costing less. Framing is one of the factors that raises the price of paintings, so many of those on show, including many landscapes, were deliberately displayed unframed. Reshma cites the artist Devisri as one of the exhibitors whose work she had sought out. Devisri is perhaps best known for her traditional paintings, examples of which are on display in Madurai airport, but Reshma wanted to discover Devisri’s individual style and

Selection of works on show including pieces by Devisri and Praveen Photographic display

Urban Spice Exhibition Invitation with their distinctive logo


Framed paintings in the gallery in front of the unusual windows

the artworks included in the Urban Spice show are in a completely different geometrical style. Other artists in the initial show included Thirunavukarasu, Satish, Chandan, Arivu and Rajkumar’s urban photography.

More than just an art gallery Reshma is keen that Urban Spice should not be seen simply as an art gallery, but as an overall art centre as well, so there will be differing events including some related to fashion, jewellery, and perhaps even a book fair.

The recent exhibition was enhanced by some of the artists drawing onthe-spot sketches and Reshma would be delighted if her centre came to be seen as an artists’ forum where artists would come from all over to chat, work together and exchange ideas. When I asked her why she had named it “Urban Spice” she explained that drawing on the quotation “variety is the spice of life” she wanted the name to signify something different, something that spiced up the art scene, and something that brought multiple art forms to urban Madurai.

In fact the inaugural exhibition was by an external exhibitor: Bombay Dyeing, the upmarket home linens suppliers displayed their products and it was followed, during Diwali, by Chennai men’s wear firm Khans showing off their latest styles. Reshma is clear that the gallery should be known only for premium products and, in spite of it being so new, she is delighted with the response Urban Spice has had from Madurai residents. It seems that word of mouth among the artists and art patrons of Madurai and its environs has spread the news of this innovative addition and many are keen to keep in touch with the gallery’s development. Workshops will also be a feature of the Urban Spice programme and two events have been planned for December. The Israeli-based music therapist Ayala Gerber Snapir, holidaying in South India, has agreed to spend a day talking about her work to members of the Madurai Soroptimist Club, an all women’s service

club, at the gallery. Between December 11 to December 21, Bharat Rawal, a mural painting expert from Pune, will share his techniques with other artists. There are more exhibitions in the pipeline and the next ones will be on religious pictures from different doctrines, and on Tanjore painting. Entrance to the gallery is through an ornately carved doorway –the result of Reshma’s father-in-law’s astute reclamations from demolished buildings. In creating the gallery space, Reshma and her husband had to enlarge the windows and put in additional lighting and they envisage further building development as the use of the gallery increases, but it is clear to visitors that this is a building with innovative architectural details. The inner doorways are surrounded with wood remnants arranged in a striking pattern reminiscent of log cabins and Reshma’s family’s passion for design can be seen throughout the gallery.

Urban Spice is not the only enterprise in the family. Originally travel agents, they also have a homestay lodge in the Aanamalai hills, overseen by Zafar, and the first and third floors of their house are run as independent service apartments for visitors to Madurai. Clearly this is a family with great imagination and management capabilities, but even so it has required a great deal of time and dedication to create the new gallery. When I asked Reshma what struggles she had faced in bringing her dream to fruition, her immediate answer was that finding the time necessary for such a commitment, while being mother to three children, had been difficult. As for her future ambitions for the gallery, she is delighted by the suggestion that there might be more galleries in other towns but for the moment her aim is to make Urban Spice a fixture on the Madurai map. It seems to me that with a woman of such enthusiasm and optimism running it, it will not be long before Urban Spice is exactly that.

Madurai Messenger Book Review January 2013

Panoramic Monsoon Chase A perceptive review of the travel classic Chasing the Monsoon that weaves in narratives of the people in different parts of the country as the author pursues the monsoon from the south to the north of India in a panoramic sweep of weather, wind, and waves By Katie Grainger United Kingdom


he Indian monsoon is definitely an engaging talking point, with much of the country’s population split over whether the monsoon brings more happiness than bother. With a country as densely populated as India, water is a much-needed resource and the annual monsoon brings much needed relief to arid parts of the country. But what can come with it is disease, an overpowering of technology and flooding of an overpopulated land. Alexander Frater, a travel journalist from London, follows the monsoon from the very southern point of India at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala to Cherrapunji,the world’s wettest place in the North East part of the country (way back in the 1970s). Travelling through Kerala, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Assam, through the medium of a travelogue, Frater discovers how much the monsoon affects all aspects of Indian life and in the process, also unearths some discoveries about himself.


From the beginning of the book it is clear that Frater’s love of the weather, and monsoon conditions in particular, comes from the influence of his father and his introductory teachings in meteorological conditions.While the book is described as a travelogue, Frater never loses sight of the main reason he travelled to India and continues to write about his travels that cover not only his anecdotes, but also his views on the weather. He writes a beautifully descriptive account of exactly what he sees throughout his travels and it’s quite interesting to see how the weather changes from day to day as he follows the monsoon from South to North India. Sometimes travelling in


Chasing the Monsoon


Alexander Frater

Publisher: Pan Macmillan India Year:




I personally believe that the stories that these people share and the opinions they have on the monsoon and its outcomes are what make the book such a remarkable and sincere read

front of the monsoon and seeing the weather change from calm to storm, and sometimes travelling behind the monsoon, Frater’s portrayals are nothing short of intricate and really give you a taste of the awaiting, the monsoon itself and what it leaves in its aftermath-- ‘the sea a motionless silver plain stippled with fragile pencil-thin fishing canoes.’ While the descriptions of the weather make the book a very interesting read, the specificities of the wind and rain within the monsoon, and the scientific facts that come along with it, can sometimes be a little overwhelming for someone who really doesn’t follow or understand the complex details of meteorology. What is extremely special about this book, are the people Frater meets along his journey and the fascinating stories they share. From meteorologists who help him discover exactly where the monsoon plans to move, to the people he meets along his travels, each person gives Frater an insight into what it is actually like to live waiting for and with the monsoon. Each one has a completely different tale to tell and adds so much more to the book that would otherwise be simply a description about the Indian weather and its effects on the land. As he moves along his journey, Frater realises that the people he meets have much more of a profound effect on him than he was expecting. “I reflected that India was a giant web of interlocking personal networks which, once infiltrated, would keep passing you along indefinitely. I personally believe that the stories which these people have to tell, and the opinions they have on the monsoon and its outcomes are what make the book such a remarkable and sincere read.” The book makes the split opinion on the monsoon strikingly clear, with some people who look forward to the monsoon and celebrate its arrival and others who merely see it more as a bane in their lives. Both viewpoints hold extremely good reasoning behind them and even gave me, someone who simply sees rain as a day to day boring

Frater’s account gives a wonderful insight into Indian culture and is full of narratives which give you a clear picture of what he was undergoing and allow you to imagine the weather conditions as if they were just outside your window occurrence, a new insight into how much this weather condition means to many humans lives. The time of the monsoon is described as a “time for rebirth and nourishment” after the body is exhausted from the heat of the summer months. Particularly in Kerala, many believe that once the monsoon has passed through, you can feel like a completely different person and can add years to your life. In stark contrast, others in India believe that the monsoon brings more harm to the population than good. While the water brings much needed nourishment to the lands, the floods also bring diseases, which cannot be controlled and are a stark reminder of why deforestation brings more problems during the monsoon season with run-off preventing asphalt replacing forests. The distinction between these two sets of people add so much more to the story of the monsoon and allows Frater to understand the Indian perspectives about the monsoon in an fascinating light.

Set in the 1970s, this book is most definitely miles away from the Indian experience I am currently having and some of Frater’s vivid descriptions can be described as outdated at times. For example, he spends much of his time desperately begging for a permit to enter Cherrapunji, which is now open to all for a visit. Having said this, Frater’s account gives a wonderful insight to the Indian culture and is full of narratives that give you a clear picture of what he was undergoing and allows you to imagine the weather conditions as if they were just outside your window. Having never read a travelogue, I was a little anxious as to what it would be like, but Frater’s ability to give a witty account along with the informative description of the monsoon itself makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read and, even slightly, makes me want to ‘chase the monsoon’ myself. Only slightly.


Madurai Messenger Booker Section January 2013

Love in the Time of Intrigues A challenging novel set in sixteenth century Tudor England that would appeal more to readers familiar with the political background of the times, writes Salome Fleur Becker in her review of this year’s Man Booker Prize winning novel By Salome Fleur Becker Germany

“Am I not a man like other men? Am I not? Am I not? ”

nation is not willing to accept the former concubine as their new queen and also Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary are also stirring the conflict by their mere presence.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

In this very delicate situation Thomas Cromwell has to mediate between the king, the imperial ambassador, the queen, the ancient English and therefore Catholic families and Catherine of Aragon. Like a tightrope artiste always aware of the razor thin edge he moves on, the principal secretary has to decide how and what information he can pass on to the several involved persons.

(Henry VIII to Eustache Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador)


It is hard to explain how Hilary Mantel creates the Tudor England so that the reader has the impression it could take place in the next corner. With her detailed description, not only of events and historical facts, but of the everyday life of Thomas Cromwell and the members of the court, she gives us a deeper insight into the England of the sixteenth century


ith this very representative quote of Henry VIII, Hilary Mantel opens her latest book Bring up the Bodies, winner of the Man Booker Prize (2012). Interestingly her earlier novel Wolf Hall (2009) about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, also won the Booker, making her the first author to win two Bookers. Bring up the Bodies describes the years of Anne Boleyn’s regency as the Queen of England from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, the principal secretary of Henry VIII.

Although he is known for his calculated and strategic action, he notes with amazement, the uprising discontent of the king himself against Anne Boleyn, since she is not able to give birth to a male heir. As he helped her climbing the throne he fears to fall with her, if Henry decides to get rid of the woman who has disrupted England and the whole of Christianity.

The power of seduction The novel describes the most difficult era of English history from the perspective of the everyday life of a statesman. Following King Henry’s VIII divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, the whole of England fears the invasion of the Emperor and the break with Rome and the Catholic Church. Since Henry VIII denies the validity of his former marriage the whole Christian world is in uproar. But the king of England is willing to accept the excommunication of the Pope for only one reason: Anne Boleyn.

A speaking picture

Anne Boleyn was introduced to the court as the sister of Mary Boleyn, a former mistress of the king. Her particular sense of humour and sassy attitude was a contrast to the shy and obedient behavior of women of that time. But these exact characteristics made her incomparably seductive for men who worshiped challenges. As did Henry VIII.

Bring up the Bodies invents a completely new way of dealing with historical narration. It is hard to explain how Hilary Mantel creates the Tudor England so that the reader has the impression it could take place in the next corner. With her detailed description, not only of events and historical facts, but of the everyday life of Thomas Cromwell and the members of the court she gives us a deeper insight in the England of the sixteenth century. Also the character of Thomas Cromwell is vividly recreated by describing him not only as a smart and self-assured statesman but also as a man who not only had lost his wife and daughters and as a son was threatened and humiliated by his father.

The mastermind behind the modern English state In times of such political upheaval Thomas Cromwell, adviser and friend of Henry VIII, gets into the dangerous power struggle between the leading nations and the potentates of England. The

There are several novels spinning their own picture of the Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell. So what’s the difference between those and Bring up the Bodies? Before I started reading the novel I was sure it would be another sensational story about the lascivious Tudor king and his sassy and ambitious concubine, but as soon as I read the first lines I knew that I was wrong.


Bring up the bodies


Hilary Mantel

Publisher: Fourth Estate (UK)/ Henry Holt and Co. (US) Year:





Even though Cromwell is the main character, the focus of the second novel of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy lies on the king and the queen. The reader can look through Cromwell’s eyes and experience the court life. Although Hilary Mantel sticks to the common picture of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn she goes beyond the set stereotypes. The characters stay unpredictable through the novel, despite the fact that the reader actually knows how it has to end. But there are also some difficulties in the book that the reader contends with. It is quite difficult to keep up with all the names and relations between the various characters and to understand the dimension of the diplomatic difficulties especially if one is not familiar with English history. Besides, the extensive details sometimes tends to make the story progress at a slow pace. I truly recommend Bring up the Bodies for people who are interested in English history and therefore have some background information. If so, Hilary Mantel’s novel can give you a multifaceted and realistic picture of all the characters and circumstances. In the author’s note Hilary Mantel writes that she wants to “continue [her] efforts to dig [Thomas Cromwell] out.” So I am looking forward with curiosity to her third novel about the Master Secretary and his impact on the lives of those around him.

Madurai Messenger Booker Section January 2013

Through the Swirling Mists of Memory

Although it eventually lost to Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, it is a charming book, which is well worth a read – even if you find yourself consulting Wikipedia often.

Florence Davis whips up a scholarly review of the Booker shortlist The Garden of Evening Mists, and finds it a worthwhile read, even as she finds herself consulting the Wikipedia several times to place the historical events that form the backdrop of the book in perspective Tan Twan Eng, the latest author to bag the booker prize

By Florence Davis United Kingdom

novel. As a result, I found myself reading up about these events on the internet. From 1941 onwards, Malaya was occupied by the Japanese, who sent many Prisoners of War and civilians to concentration camps such as that which Yun Ling and her sister were sent to. Prisoners were tortured through forced labour, women prisoners were raped, and thousands died in these camps. Yet, by far the worst place for Prisoners of War to be taken to was the BurmaThailand Railway, mentioned in the novel, where prisoners were forced to work alongside Asian labourers building the track, which had previously been deemed too difficult to build by the British. Work was extremely hard, living conditions were very poor, and one in five prisoners died. Although Japan eventually lost the war, Malaya’s troubles were not over yet. The Malayan Emergency, during which most of the story is set, started in 1948 and lasted twelve years, and was a fight between the Commonwealth Armed Forces and the Malayan Communist Party. There was even a renewed insurgency in1967, lasting another 22 years. Both campaigns failed, and Malaya (now known as Malaysia) “was one of the few countries to successfully fight off a communist insurgency” as Tan Twan Eng writes in his Author’s Notes.



his year’s Booker Prize shortlist was an eclectic mix. Ranging from a book exploring ‘the industrial madness of World War One’, to a book about opium consumption in Old Bombay, I found myself wanting to read all six. One of the books on the shortlist was Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng’s second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. Although it eventually lost to Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, it is a charming book, which is well worth a read – even if you find yourself consulting Wikipedia.

Memory, a character in the novel Set partly during the Second World War, partly during the Malayan Emergency, and partly in the peacetime following the emergency, The Garden of Evening Mists follows the life of Judge Teoh Yun Ling, and her relationship with the Japanese gardener Nakamura Aritomo. Threatened by aphasia, a disease that will slowly destroy first her memory and eventually her ability to read and write, Yun Ling struggles to hold on to her wealth of memories, while attempting to forget others. Following a suggestion that she write down her story before she forgets it, this is exactly what she decides to do, and it is a combination of these recollections and present day events that we will read. We accompany Yun Ling through her experiences during the Second World War, her arrival at Majuba for the first time, her friendship with Aritomo, and her experiences during the Emergency; all narrated from the present time, as she returns to Majuba house, and Yugiri – or The Garden Of Evening Mists for the first time since Aritomo’s mysterious disappearance. Tan Twan Eng assumes his readers to already be in possession of a basic knowledge of Malaya during the Second World War and, later, the Emergency. Unfortunately, I was not in possession of this knowledge, which proved pretty important in understanding and appreciating the

Memory and forgetting: Two sides of a coin


The Garden of Evening Mists


Tan Twan Eng





Year of Publishing: 2012

The novel opens with an epigraph from Richard Holmes’ A Meander Through Memory and Forgetting, talking about the “goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne” yet pointing out that there is “none of Forgetting. Yet there should be, as they are twin sisters.” The relationship between memory and forgetting is key in the novel, and the two “sisters” of Memory and Forgetting are represented throughout by a pair of statues in the garden of Majuba house. Yun Ling notes at the novel’s end that “The Goddess of Memory has remained unchanged but, to my dismay, her sister’s face is almost worn smooth.” The way the novel skips between past and present, following someone attempting to make

their peace with the past as they enter their twilight years, calls to mind Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989). In both novels, characterisation is subtle, yet effective, and the characters will stay with you after finishing the book, though you may not have expected them to. As a result of her sister’s and her internment in the camp, Yun Ling has developed a powerful hatred of the Japanese. As a memorial to her sister, who died while still a prisoner, Yun Ling decides to create a garden. Despite the hatred she feels towards the Japanese, Yun Ling decides to contact the former gardener to the Emperor, Nakamura Aritomo; who is also the neighbour of an old friend. Ever since a visit to Japan as a teenager, Yun Hong had a powerful love of the traditional gardens, and often mentioned the famed gardener. Aritomo plays a key part in the novel, mentoring Yun Ling and helping her make peace with the pain of her experiences in the camp. Through Aritomo and the other Japanese characters in the novel, Yun Ling learns, not exactly to forgive, but perhaps to understand. With simple, believable, yet also complex, and certainly surprising characters, the book has its fair share of twists and turns, as does Ishiguro’s novel. However, while it is fascinating to watch while the events of Yun Ling’s life and the connections between them unfold, it seems that most of the plot is contained in the final 100 pages, leaving the first 250 pages somewhat slow moving. Given the quality of the second half of the book, this is a shame. Yet whether the novel’s climax would have the same impact without the slow build-up of the book’s start is questionable. But once you have started reading, it is worth sticking with the book until the end; the characters will grow on you, and certainly leave their mark, teaching the reader some important lessons about forgiving, forgetting, and knowing when a great work is finished, and it is time to let it grow by itself.


Madurai Messenger A Day in the Life of... January 2013

The Fishers and the Sea Hanae Araki spends a day with the sea fishers in the coastal town of Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India as they share with her their highs and lows of an occupation that is entirely weather dependent and a bumper catch being a “lottery” despite technological advances such as mechanized boats and weather and geographical tracking systems Japan


Their work hours each day is also flexible depending on the time of fishing. Sometimes, fishing starts in the evening and ends the next morning as on the day we visited Kanyakumari. So, they usually work 5-11 hours on the sea. Although fishing at night is challenging, they need to do so because the sea is relatively calm from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Fishermen bringing the day’s catch of fish to the shore

waves against the background of the rising sun. Were they tourist boats? No. They were catching fish from late last night till early morning. The life of fishers is not easy. Their life is full of uncertainties. In Tamil Nadu, there are 591 fishing villages and we visited three of them, from south Tamilnadu to north tamilnadu, from Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam to Chennai.

All in the family The hard life of a fisherman begins when they are rather young. One of the fishermen who was working in the Kanyakumari harbour, S.Antony Adimai (53), started fishing at the age of 14. Generally, fishermen learn fishing from their fathers or grandfathers. When we visited the Kanyakumari beach, some boys around the age of 12 years were

Women selling fish in Kanyakumari

A weather-dependent profession As we drove along the coast in Chennai, we saw three rather thin looking fishermen sitting on on the beach surrounded by pink and yellow colourful fishing nets. They were mending the nets for the next fishing expedition. According to Udayakumar (50), one of the fishermen, they are always preparing for such expeditions even though they cannot go fishing because of strong winds or heavy rain, especially during the monsoon season. On the day we met them, it was so windy that we could hardly turn to the direction in which the wind was blowing. It was the wind that forced them to stay on the land. Thus, the possibility of fishing on a particular day depends entirely on the weather of each day.

By Hanae Araki

Kanyakumari 5:45 a.m. The whole town seemed to be fast asleep. However, walking down to the seashore, we found a lively crowd of people waiting for the sunrise, including tourists and pilgrims, as Kanyakumari (formerly Cape Comorin), is one of the sacred places in Southern India. Once I turned my eyes to the sea, I also found many boats bobbing on the

helping to land the fish they caught in the morning, and women were selling them at the beach nearby. Thus, all members of a fishing family cooperate to support the life of fishermen. This means, in turn, that their lives are greatly dependent on the catch, and the catch is affected by factors such as wind or waves and the market.

Basically, in Chennai, they do one-dayfishing because the sea is rather shallow and the fishermen cannot use big boats. So, they use small boats, catamaran or fibre boats, which consume 10 liters of fuel and cost Rs.500 per day. On the other hand, fishing can last two weeks or even a month. Such type of fishing is seen in Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari, where they use mechanized boats or killer net boats. They are big enough to allow fishermen to go further off the


Thus, all members of a fishing family cooperate to support the life of fishermen. This means, in turn, that their lives are greatly dependent on the catch, and the catch is affected by factors such as wind or waves and the market Volunteers Caroline and Hanae in conversation with a fisherman

Madurai Messenger A Day in the Life of... January 2013

which is about 80 cm each, and also padaka fish, which is much smaller and can be attached to a fishhook to catch seer fish. Here in Kanyakumari, they use not only nets as in Chennai, but also fish hook. “Shark (Sura), Crab (Nandu), Pomfret (Vavwall), Prawn (Iraal)…” are some of their common catches. While we were watching fishers landing the fish, at least 20 kinds of fish were being carried to the beach and sold at the auction—from small fish which cause baskets to overflow, to big ones that need to be carried by two men!

The uncertainties in a fisher’s life

The auction in kanyakumari

44 shore. After taking a ferry as big as the mechanized boats for only five minutes to go to the secret island Kacha Theevu in Kanyakumari, I could hardly believe that they are working on such a boat that resembled a roller coaster, or even smaller one! As big mechanized boats need as much as 700 liters of fuel and cost Rs. 2000 per day, they cannot always use it due to the high cost. So, sometimes, they have to use small boats although the waves are so high that it seems impossible for us to go fishing on them. Yet compared to the past, there are great advances in fishing thanks to technology. While in the past, they mainly used rowing boats, currently, they mainly use diesel boats or mechanized boats. This change has brought them increased catch of fish. In addition to boats, S.Antony Admai happily cites the introduction of Echo SONAR, wireless Geo Positioning System (GPS) as a great improvement in fishing. Both of them help fishers to find a shoal of fish, avoid bashing onto rocks or being in any other sort of maritime distress.

The fish auction: Mela time 7:00 a.m. Once the catch was brought ashore, the auction began on the beach of Kanyakumari. The interview was also suspended due to this reason. They were serious, about a sale as their life depends on these sales. Many fishers and wholesalers were gathering there, selling and buying fresh fish caught just a few hours before. Curious tourists, pilgrims and, of course, we, were there

to see what was going on. Even during the auction, new kinds of fish were being carried in. At least 20 kinds of fish were part of the transaction. The auction was crowded and the smell of fish was everywhere. This is one of the most exciting moments in their daily lives. In the three villages we visited, they catch almost all kinds of fish in the Bay of Bengal. S.Antony Admai showed us 13 seer fish (Arakkula/Vanchiram),

However, despite all the advances, the catch of a day is “a lottery,” as Udayakumar says. In Kanyakumari, if they have a good catch and cannot sell it all, they keep the rest in storage and sell them the next day. Usually, they expect a big catch from June to August in Kanyakumari, and from February to March in Chennai. The problem is when they have a poor catch, or cannot go fishing for a long period. For instance, fishermen in Chennai were forced to keep away from fishing for 10-15 days during the monsoon. This means that they have no income during such lean periods. “The government gave Rs. 2000 this month as compensation to each fisherman in Chennai, but it’s not enough to support all family members,” said Udayakumar without pausing as he mended the net. He is the only earning member in his family. Their lives are completely decided by the weather, the catch and the market. In this sense, their life is full of uncertainties. They are living, so to speak, a life of “death or l life” everyday.

A deep bond with the sea

The old boat on the beach of Chennai

7:30 a.m. After the main part of the auction, S.Antony Admai came back and the interview resumed amid a light drizzle. Smiling with the relief of finishing their work successfully, many of his colleagues joined us. They were all


Udayakumar mending the net in Chennai

“Yet, when we are on the sea, we are happy,” says Udayakumar. This feeling is common among all fishermen living with the sea, not only fishermen in Tamil Nadu, but also other countries such as Japan. When we listen to fishermen saying “happy” in Kanyakumari, I am certain to recall their smiling faces when I eat fish in Japan sturdy, tanned and seemed never to lose their battles with rough waters. Even such fishermen feel utterly disappointed and sad when the catch is not sufficient. What is worse, every year a few colleagues lose their lives while working in rough weather. “Yet, when we are on the sea, we are

happy,” says Udayakumar. This feeling is common among all fishermen living with the sea, not only fishermen in Tamil Nadu, but also other countries such as Japan. When we listen to fishermen saying “happy” in Kanyakumari, I am certain to recall their smiling faces when I eat fish in Japan.

Madurai Messenger Village Voices January 2013

Keechan Kuppam: Paradise Lost and Regained?

Seeing the photos of the ruined village soon after the tsunami, I trembled and couldn’t help remembering the similar sight of Japan after the big earthquake last year

Hanae Araki strolls around the picturesque fishing village Keechan Kuppam, one of the 591 fishing villages in Tamil Nadu, and talks to the locals about the various post tsunami reconstruction measures that hope to transform this badly devastated fishing village into a paradise of prosperity By Hanae Araki Japan


sunami!” The president of fisherman’s union stressed, with his body leaning toward us. Even though he was talking in Tamil, I could understand what he said. He continued, “Everything has changed after it.”


R.M.P.Rajendira Nattar in conversation with volunteer Hanae Araki and desk officer cum administrator Durgairajan

Keechan Kuppam is a tiny, quiet fishing village in Nagapattinam. Although it seems like an ordinary fishing village at first sight, it has had its own share of many hidden hardships. Despite seven years since the tsunami devastated the eastern coast of India, people in this village are still struggling to regain their lost prosperity. This month, we listened to the voices of this tiny village, feeling the sea breeze on our faces and smelling the oceanic salt in the air.

Like most fishing villages in Tamil Nadu, the people of this village too primarily depend on fishery for their livelihood. Almost all of the people are engaged in fishing. The men go fishing and women are fish vendors who sell fish at markets or in the village. The Tamilnadu Fish Workers Union was formed to serve as a platform to organize the fishermen and forge new links among them. Thanks to their hard work, this village rapidly developed as the gateway of Nagapattinam (before the tsunami in 2004).

Place Keecham Kuppam is located in the southern part of Nagapattinam town, which is situated at a distance of 350 km from Chennai and about 250km from Madurai. A ten-minute drive from the centre of Nagapattinam takes you to a beautiful blue bridge over a river flowing into the Bay of Bengal.

At that time, people and goods flowed through Keecham Kuppam to Nagapattinam, because there was a big bridge connecting the two areas. The village benefitted from this exchange and many facilities such as ice factories to preserve fish or processing plants were built. “This village was booming,” recalls R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar.

Crossing the bridge, we see several ships anchored in the port or being built in the shipyards along the ocean front. Welcome to Keechan Kuppam, one of 591 fishing villages in Tamil Nadu.

People, production and labour


We got out of the car and sat on the half-broken parapet, waiting for the person we would interview. Although there were few people on the street, a fisherman who was shopping looked at us with an interest from a distance. We met R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar (61), the president of Tamil Nadu Fish Workers Union (TFU). He welcomed us at his home, and from the veranda we could glimpse the village, ships and the single-storied houses. According to him, the estimated population of this village is about 4400 after the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 26, 2004 that claimed 600 lives.

However, the tsunami changed everything. Since the disaster, the village has been struggling with various problems. The situation of this village, which was in the midst of growth before the tsunami, has become “the worst” sighed Rajendira Nattar. There were so many problems that he didn’t stop talking about them for at least 20 minutes.

R.M.P.Rajendira Nattar, talking about the problems of this village

One of the problems is the after effects of the tsunami. Nagapattinam, including Keecham Kuppam, was one of the most affected parts in Tamil Nadu. Seeing the photos of the

ruined village soon after the tsunami, I trembled and couldn’t help remembering the similar sight of Japan after the big earthquake last year. The tsunami destroyed fishing boats and other equipment indispensable for fishers. Besides, it ruined the infrastructure and the factories related to fishery such as ice factories. Rajendira Nattar said that the measures taken against those damages haven’t been adequate. For instance, poor sanitation led to the mosquito transmitted yellow fever and dengue, which is said to have killed about seven people. What is distressing is that the factories have not been rebuilt for fear of similar disasters happening again. The tsunami has also affected the lives of the people in this village. They call themselves as “sea-nomads” to describe the situation of losing their identity. In the post disaster reconstruction phase, new houses were built with government aid, 1 km away from Keecham Kuppam, and schools were also relocated from this village to another place far from the seashore, as protective measures against future tsunami occurrences. This caused the political, economical, governmental functions to shift from this village to the inland. Thus, this village has lost the position as the gateway of Nagapattinam. Listening to a chain of disaster stories, we remembered our first glimpse of the village – cloaked in an eerie silence. The silence might have been the expression of grief.


Madurai Messenger Village Voices January 2013

Currently as part of the implementation efforts of the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ), the government is asking people still living here to not live within 500m from the seashore in order to make them less vulnerable to impending tsunamis. When asked about it, fishermen we met later shook their heads and said in unison, “We don’t want to live away from the seashore.” After all, to live far away from the sea means to be separated from the sea. They have grown up with the sea since they were born, so they cannot accept such a way of living. As R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar said, “We should live with nature.”

R.Manonmani, fisherman, working at the harbor

Fishermen working on their boats in the harbor

“We don’t want to live away from the seashore” After all, to live far away from the sea means to be separated from the sea. They have grown up with the sea since they were born, so they cannot accept such a way of living 48 The view of this village from the house of R.M.P.Rajendira Nattar

He talked about the days of hardship of this village. There has been another problem in this area for the last 40 years the maritime territorial war between India and Sri Lanka over Kachchatheevu Island. It’s an uninhabited island located about 150km from Nagappatinam, and the sea around it has been important for Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s fishermen. In 1974, this island was given to Sri Lanka by India on the condition that Indian fishermen can fish around the island. However, after the treaty agreement, many Indian fishermen who entered that area were said to be shot or jailed by the Sri Lankan government. Combined with the civil war in Sri Lanka, this problem has become quite complicated and has not been resolved completely. Keecham Kuppam is also affected by this problem. “So, we need more proper representatives for this area,” he argues. Now there’s only one minister to represent this area. He thinks that if they have many powerful representatives like him, it will be a great help for the development of this area, because they know the local situation well and can work with the government for the benefit of the village.

Prospects Even though there are a lot of problems they have to struggle with, they never give up. “Harbor!” R.Manonmani (35) answered instantly, when asked what is needed most for this village. He is one of the fishermen working at the Nagapattinam port. About ten of his colleagues gathered around us and nodded at his answer. Now, the plan to build a new big fishing harbor is in progress and it would be built within three years. “If the fishing harbour is built, this village can bloom again,” said R.M.P. Rajendira Nattar, with his eyes full of hope. Once a bigger fishing harbour is built, they will have enough space to anchor more and bigger fishing boats. Although currently they have a fishing harbour, it is so small that there is a high possibility that the ships could hit against each other on a windy day. The increase in boats means that they can expect an increase in the catch of fish, leading to more factories related to fishery such as ice factories and storages, all of which would lead to more employment opportunities for the locals. Besides a fish market will be opened close by. Thus building a new fishing harbour holds the key to the prosperity of the village. Crossing the bridge again on the way back from Keecham Kuppam, I looked back at this village. It was not what I saw on the way there; it was not an ordinary village of fishers. It was the village struggling quietly against adverse circumstances for a brighter future.

The pictures of this village soon after the tsunami in 2004


Madurai Messenger First Impressions January 2013

Why Everything

India Live!

I Ever Thought About India Was Wrong Braving friends and relatives who thought she was crazy enough to visit India, Florence Davis nevertheless is bowled over by the hospitality, warmth and friendliness of its people, rivaled only by the spicy Indian curry!

With Hollywood films as the only impression of India, Amy is shocked to learn that the stereotypes she’s seen countless times in the cinema actually exist, and she’s actually among them. But what hits her even more is the complexity behind these clichés, which could never be done justice to on a two-dimensional screen

By Florence Davis By Amy Cassell

United Kingdom

Melbourne, Australia

T 50

o many of us Westerners, tucked away on the other side of the globe, India seems mysterious, magical, and terrifying. Many relatives and friends were shocked to hear I wanted to spend three months in this country; shocked that my mother was not worried, and amazed that I ‘had the courage’. Yet these are not words that I would associate with the India I have experienced at all. India is mysterious, yes; but instead of a land of fear and danger, I have found a land of warmth (quite literally!), friendliness, and beauty.

“This is like a movie” That was my first thought upon arriving in Madurai. Okay, maybe it was followed by “I stick out like an extremely pale sore thumb” a few seconds later. Portrayals of India in mainstream films have oft been controversial, with debates ensuing on whether fair representations of Indian society have been depicted in films such as Slum Dog Millionaire.

Starting with the Indians themselves. My host mother and her daughter have been so welcoming, and every time I enter the streets of Madurai I am greeted with smiles, and people asking to pose for photos. To think such beautiful, photogenic people are actually volunteering themselves! And I thought I’d be the one constantly plaguing people with requests! Next, the traffic. It’s really not as bad as I was expecting. The horns actually remind me of New York, but instead of the anger and frustration behind the sound in the West, here it seems casual and sort of playful. Besides, it’s quite useful in pointing out the motorbike heading up the wrong way of the road towards you! And then the food. Oh, the food! First of all, it’s delicious. The endless variety of fresh and crispy breads: naans, chapattis... Names I am familiar with

The endless traffic takes some getting used to

But from the window of the car that speeds through the unsigned streets towards what will be my home for the next month, it looks just like a movie. From my memories of films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slum Dog Millionaire, there are just as many rickshaws, just as many animals and just as much crazy traffic as the scenes on the silver screen have led us to believe.

Eager to be photographed

from the good old British curry house. But not like this, never this good. And the sauces that accompany them, with their tingling spices and rich flavours. Vegetarianism here is a world away from the limp salads and steamed vegetables of back home. Here, meat just feels inferior to the rich, spicy, succulent vegetables and cheeses. But this brings me on to my biggest surprise.

While I was bracing my taste buds, at home, asking for extra chili in my curries at home, ordering spicier and spicier food in the restaurants, the food here is simply not as spicy as I thought. It’s just perfect; tingling and exciting, but not burning (although somehow I suspect my host mother is sheltering me from the full extent of Indian spice). I could very happily get used to this!

It’s an odd combination of feelings; on the one hand, a complete and utter shock to the system, on the other, it’s strangely familiar. By far the most bizarre experience is the realisation that as much as this looks like a movie, it’s not. It’s reality for over a billion people and it’s reality for me for the next month. But overriding the slight unease in the pit of my stomach is a feeling of overwhelming fascination and excitement to be immersed in this


society. An inherently curious person, my brain is going into overdrive with a sense of wonder that this place actually, truly exists beyond a film screen, and that I am actually, truly in it. But already, Madurai is showing me that it is more than a movie. And, most importantly, it is much, much more than its stereotypes. Yes, the traffic is stereotypically fast, but the drivers are also skilful, with enviable, lightning fast reflexes. The people are dressed traditionally, and many fulfil the typecast of staring unashamedly

at Westerners, but what motivates this is a genuine and admirable curiosity about other cultures, a virtue that would be a valuable lesson for many more supposedly progressive nations. The animals that wander the roads play a more integral part in the culture, industry and livelihoods of Madurai and its residents than could ever be shown in a movie. I only just arrived in Madurai, and I am yet to get to know it, and India, well. But it captivates immediately, in a way that cannot be distilled on film.

Madurai Messenger First Impressions January 2013

Like a Second Home Salome Fleur Becker believes that India has to be experienced—something that she discovered as she tries to explain the enigmatic beautiful country that already feels like a second home, to her family and friends back home in Germany By Salome Fleur Becker Germany

H 52

aving arrived in Madurai and lived here for several days now, I tried to explain to my friends and family back in Germany in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau about life in India. I was confronted with a big problem when I tried to send them a really detailed description. It is not easy to describe an environment which is totally different from everything you experienced before. How should I tell them about the scent of the spicy food which is cooked at the roadside hotels? How could they imagine the lively traffic chaos, as they’ve never seen people driving on the wrong lane, using the horn even more than the gas pedal because it is the only rule everyone is obeying?


And every time I tried, I had to start again, because it sounded too negative. Even if the displeasing things are more striking, it is absolutely untrue that India is not a beautiful and extraordinary country. It is extraordinary because its beauty is not made up of anything we are used to. You can find it in the furrowed face of an old woman smiling a toothless smile as you walk by, or just by looking at the bright tones of red and orange when the sun is vanishing behind the mountains. It is shown in the helpfulness of people who are crossing your way, always trying to do their best, and in the colour of a saree coupled with the clinking sound of the bangles.

The ever charming elephant blending in with the Madurai crowd

I think a foreigner has to forget about all her concepts of beauty and lifestyle to be able to see those little but delightful details and to be open minded to absorb differences. There is so much to learn from India: how to make a business out of nothing to provide for a whole family, or even just how to make a delicious sugary tea!

Although I continue to remain bemused by so many things, like men walking around in dhoties or elephants standing in the middle of the road, I have really begun to appreciate the life in Madurai. And even though I have been here for only one week it already starts feeling like a second home.

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January - 2013  

A universal favourite game and one that has enduring popularity as a party game is passing the parcel. Participants stand in a circle and pa...

January - 2013  

A universal favourite game and one that has enduring popularity as a party game is passing the parcel. Participants stand in a circle and pa...