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July 2013

Volume 4, Issue 44

Sponsored by:

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Weaving an Epic : Author Anuja Chandramouli from Sivakasi Plus: Spinning a Tale: story teller Eric Miller Danushkodi: LOST GLORY


Contents

EDITOR’S CORNER

July 2013 | Issue No. 44

Editor

Lost Longings

Dr. Nandini Murali

EDITOR’S CORNER Copy Editor Bhuvana Venkatesh Journalism Supervisor B. Pooja

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Lost Longings COVER STORY

02 Anuja Chandramouli: In Her Own Words-Re-

Telling an Indian Epic

Journalism Administrator

CAUSES

G. Durgairajan

10 Eric Miller: Teller of Tales

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lthough I had seen the island of Rameshwaram on the map of India jutting out like a narrow projection from the Bay of Bengal on the South East Coast of the country, the experience per se was so different from the abstract representation. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we can only approximate reality. Just as the word ‘apple’ symbolizes or represents the apple and is not the apple; a map too, like the word, is only an approximation.

Designer & Technical Support T. Jesuraja Reporters & Photographers Adele Eude

THE WORLD OF MYTHS

14 Australia’s Aboriginal Mythology: Blurring the Divide 18 The Stuff of Legends

Florian Thomas Hanae Araki Isabelle Brotherton-Ratcliffe

TRAVEL

22 A Passage to Egypt

Krysten Maier Loretta Dean 2

Salome Fleur Becker

YOUNG ACHIEVER

26 Oviya Govindan: Twenty Going on Mastery EATING OUT

29 The Utterly Delicious Palgova Cover Photograph G. Durgairajan

BOOK REVIEW

33 Engrossing Narrative: Inferno 35 The Greek Connection: The Penelopiad 37 A Life Manual: Manuscript found in Accra

Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd., Contact:

VILLAGE VOICES

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

As a young boy in the late 1940s my father travelled by the Boat Mail from Trichy to Rameshwaram and boarded the ferry at Danushkodi to travel to Ceylon that is Sri Lanka today. Today all that is the stuff of legend as a catastrophic cyclone in December 1964 destroyed most of this coastal fishing hamlet. Once a prosperous port town, popularly known as “Little Colombo,” today Danushkodi is a ghost town. After the fishing families were resettled elsewhere, the town has seen little development—including no electricity. Yet a few families chose to live there under these challenging circumstances. Among them is fisherman Kumar’s father Neechal Kali and his ninety-year-old Uncle, ---. Today Kumar takes pride in telling visitors about the glory that was Danushkodi. His uncle is the sole survivor of the disastrous cyclone. Despite age, his memories of the disaster are still vivid. He is the last link to a slice of the recent past. If his memories are not archived, a vital link will soon be l submerged and lost—much like Danushkodi that lies buried beneath the sandy shore.

40 Danushkodi: Remains of Another Day

editor@maduraimessenger.org MADURAI MESSENGER

As I stood on the narrow sandy inlet that fringed the oceanic shore of south east India, the placid turquoise-green waters of the Bay of Bengal, the turbulent blue of the Arabian Sea and the inky black waters of the Indian Ocean dissolved their differences and merged as one. The Madurai Messenger team that consisted of people of different nationalities, posed for photographs at this land’s end of mainland India. The metaphor was striking. If Nature could transcend differences, isn’t it possible for us humans to live a life beyond narrow and rigid man-made borders and boundaries… and instead be united seamlessly by love and compassion?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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A Thousand Word Moments In Gandhi’s footsteps… Confessions of an Unabashed Foodie! From Milano to Madurai

Dr. Nandini Murali Editor

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2013

In Her Own Words: Re-Telling an Indian Epic

“With writing, I would say that if you don’t do it when there’s no time to write, there’s no guarantee you’ll write when you do have time”

Tim Hardaker travels to Sivakasi and engages in a delightful conversation with young debutante author Anuja Chandamouli , whose book Arjuna, is a passionate retelling of the Mahabharata, woven around Arjuna, the iconic Pandava warrior prince as the central character Text: Tim Hardaker, Australia Photos: Alice Notarianni, Italy

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he town of Sivakasi, located 80 kms south-west of Madurai, is perhaps best known for producing 70 percent of India’s fireworks. It’s not necessarily where you’d expect to find a young author proudly espousing the literary genius of Veda Vyasa’s culturally defining epic, the Mahabharata. Then again, Anuja Chandramouli is not your average 28-year-old mother of two.

An avid reader, Anuja says: “If I find someone who is willing to discuss books with me, I’m a happy person”

“Agatha Christie is someone I adore. What I love about her is that she’s created a body of work and it’s all excellent. There are some writers who come out with something brilliant, and then they just fizzle out. But Agatha Christie is my inspiration because the quality of her work was never compromised.” However, she’s not restricted only to the celebrated English crime novelist, as she’s also deeply passionate about the fantasy genre, specifically Terry Brooks, and George RR Martin’s Game Of Thrones series of novels.“ I just love books, and if I find someone who is willing to discuss books with me, I’m a happy person.”

When arriving at her home – which she shares with her two young daughters Veda and Varna, her husband Chandramouli Vidyasagar, his mother Savithri Vidyasagar and his paternal grandmother Rajalakshmi – Anuja greets us warmly, although she definitely seems somewhat bemused. “This is the first interview I’ve ever done,” she informs us in a slightly selfdeprecating tone. Understandably, she seems a little nervous about sitting down to talk about her entry into the world as a published author, but beneath the surface lies a clearly confident individual. After all, it takes a great deal of courage to undertake a retelling of India’s most important story, arguably even more so when it’s your debut novel. Within minutes of settling in Anuja’s sitting room it becomes apparent that she’s a seasoned reader, simply by seeing how her eyes light up when asked to list some of her literary inspirations.

Discovering her passion

Author Anuja’s debut Book - Arjuna: Saga of a Warrior Prince

The seed for Anuja’s debut novel Arjuna was planted long before she ever positioned herself in front of a laptop to begin writing. In fact, you can trace it all the way back to her childhood, when she first discovered she had a knack for the written word. “I was what you’d call a jack-of-all-trades.

I was good at everything but I wasn’t great at anything,” she explains with a laugh. “In a race I’d probably make it past the heats, but I wouldn’t finish on the podium. So I was thinking, ‘why am I not great at anything?’ I realised I enjoyed reading a lot and I’d write a little bit; then around 7th or 8th standard I discovered that I liked writing.” Unlike her schoolmates, she quickly found herself relishing the oft-punishing homework task of essay writing.” All the girls in class would be groaning but I’d be thinking, ‘That sounds like fun!’ I would have been 12 or 13 years old then, and I had a teacher who read out my essay to the seniors.” Clearly encouraged by the positive feedback that her first public audience provided, this is where it dawned on Anuja that writing was something she wanted to pursue in the future. “I wanted to be a journalist, to see the world and put all my experiences down onto paper.” Fast-forward 15 years, and even though Anuja’s life has taken a slightly different

path, it’s not something she bears any ill-feelings over. She’s happily married and the mother of two young girls – aged five years and three years – which has given her life a purpose that she previously couldn’t have imagined. “It’s hard to explain how motherhood influences your perspective on life, because I used to wonder why women made such a big fat deal out of it,” Anuja explains with a wicked laugh, not at all worried about how her words could be misconstrued by those unable to see the humour in her perspective. “I used to get impatient with them and I’d be thinking, ‘people have been doing this for donkey’s years!’ But when you go through it... its like when you touch fire – you know it’s going to burn, but nothing can prepare you for being burnt.” For some, balancing the blood, sweat and tears of having a young family alongside the creative endeavor of setting out to write a novel might have seemed an overwhelming task. This

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was not the case for Anuja, as she was able to use the seemingly-opposed worlds of writing and motherhood as foils whenever either priority in her life became too much to bear. “You need to be mentally fit and emotionally fit to be a parent, so it was nice that I had writing,” she muses. “It was something to take my mind off being a mother. The pressures that I had when writing – I was frightened and nervous – the kids took my mind off that, so in a way it was a very complementary thing. I was very grateful to my kids for that.”

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Prior to kick-starting her career as a novelist, Anuja had contributed to several magazines, newspapers and publications, including Women’s Era, The Hindu and travel bible Lonely Planet. With a slowly growing number of published pieces under her belt, she also found herself facing her fair share of knock-backs, and it was while she was pregnant with her second daughter that she had the idea to pour all of her creative energy into a book. “I was feeling a little discouraged... that my great dream to be a writer was not taking off. I was a little depressed,” she explains, relating her state of mind at the time. “I thought I should just start writing. I was supposed to finish the book before the baby was born, but it didn’t turn out that way! Everyone says you should write about what you know, so I thought about what I know and really love, and that was the Mahabharata.”

Everybody loves a good story- MM team Pooja (centre) and Tim with Anuja

“The general opinion of Arjuna is that he was an arrogant fellow. But I liked those little glimpses into his character that show him as a vulnerable person”

the Mahabharata. I was known as the storyteller! I used to draw the battle formations on the ground, in the mud. It made sense that this would be the first story I’d ever write, because I love it so much.” Not that you need the reminder considering her novel’s subject matter, but Anuja’s deep passion for the Mahabharata is so clearly evident that even the book’s dedication is in honour of the story’s original author, Veda

Vyasa. “I don’t have to say it, but if anyone ever asks me who is the greatest storyteller ever, I will say it’s him,” Anuja implores, demonstrating her lifelong respect for the revered Hindu literary icon. “I think what he’s written is very complicated; the story within a story within a story. I love the amount of detail that’s there in the Mahabharata, and I think you can never be ‘done’ with it. You read it [again] and you find something new or different, you get a fresh insight.”

An epic undertaking To anyone not familiar with the Mahabharata – don’t worry, I was right there with you prior to my recent arrival at the Madurai Messenger when I dived headlong into research for this story – without overstating things, it is the defining literary work of India’s rich history and expansive culture. It is also a story that’s clearly had a huge impact on Anuja’s development as a writer. “I love the Mahabharata, it’s the great love of my life,” she states emphatically. “Even when I was a small girl in school I used to tell my friends stories from

One of India’s most important stories, Anuja was confident that the Mahabharata was in safe hands with her.

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One of India’s most important stories, Anuja was confident that the Mahabharata was in safe hands with her.

Initially giving herself a three-month window to complete the book, Anuja quickly discovered that it was a far more time-consuming undertaking, and it quickly ballooned into a project that spanned three years. “The gestational period was pretty lengthy,” she confirms. “I was very scared, I think that’s what slowed down the process immensely. I didn’t know how people would receive it. I was petrified as I felt discouraged that my writing career was going nowhere. At that time my baby was very small, so I would write at night and some days I was really tired, so it took a lot of discipline to sit in front of the laptop and write a few pages every day.” Anuja’s dedication to her story, even when her attention was diverted by the trials and tribulations of motherhood, also helps to illustrate her hardened work ethic. “Anything you want to do, you have to make time for it,” she

explains. “With writing, I would say that if you don’t do it when there’s no time to write, there’s no guarantee you’ll write when you do have time.” Clearly a naturally motivated individual, it’s interesting to have Anuja explain one of her driving forces when writing the book. “I worried that in my obituary there will be nothing interesting to write about! I want my kids to have something to say about their mother, something they can be proud of.”

Continuing a tradition The Mahabharata is a topic that’s been discussed, dissected and deciphered at length. There’s no shortage of re-tellings and reinterpretations; however, from the outset, Anuja always had a very clear vision for how she would approach her story. “I had no intention of messing with what Veda Vyasa had created.” And, instead of crumbling under the weight of the story’s importance and

cultural significance to generations of readers, she relished the opportunity to contribute to its ongoing existence. “What I find magical about the Mahabharata is that it’s so ancient and yet people still love to talk about it, and I wanted to be a part of that tradition.” In an ironic twist, considering Anuja’s book is itself a re-telling, when the topic is raised of other authors who have contributed their own interpretations of the Mahabharata she’s very firm in her belief that the original is not something to be tampered with. To the extent, one has to ponder, if she were faced with her own book on the shelf in a store would she buy it? “I’m a purist when it comes to Mahabharata. I wouldn’t pick up a book if it was somebody else’s take on it, because I’m a rabid fan.” Of course she’s familiar with the authors who have contributed to the canon of work influenced by Vyasa, listing off


Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2013

celebrated titles by C.Rajagopalachari, Ramesh Menon, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Meera Uberoi. It’s just that she’s not interested in having their interpretations influence her long-held vision. “You have a certain relationship with the author and the characters they’ve created,” she outlines. “You imagine them in your head... When I become a fan, I’m a little bit of an extremist.”

“At that time my baby was very small, so I would write at night and some days I was really tired, so it took a lot of discipline to sit in front of the laptop and write a few pages every day”

Proud to be a part of the Mahabharata’s legacy, Anuja always knew that her book would tell Arjuna’s story

It was always Arjuna

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Clearly focused from the outset that her novel would concern the Mahabharata, it’s interesting to note that Anuja was equally sure what aspect of the expansive story she would distil into her re-telling. Considering the story clocks in at around 1.8 million words, spread over 200,000 lines (Mahabharata is ten times the length of Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey combined!), this is no mean feat. “Arjuna is my favourite character,” she relates, deadpan. “Usually people support the underdogs... I don’t! I go for the winning team.” Arjuna is widely celebrated as the finest warrior of the Mahabharata. Son of Pandu and Kunti, and the middle of five brothers, he was a prince and – in Anuja’s own words – “he was the talented one.” In fact, Anuja’s admiration for her chosen protagonist runs so deep, at times it felt like we were talking about a real person, and not the character in a book that dates back to the 8th century BC. “Over the years it became a more emotional bond,” she explains. “With Arjuna it has been a very constant bond, so I wanted to tell his story.” Although enamored with Arjuna’s character, Anuja is under no illusion that he’s without flaws. “The general opinion of Arjuna is that he was an arrogant fellow,” she recalls. “But I liked those little glimpses into his character that show him as a vulnerable person. Someone who could fall madly in love, someone who could get angry.” In fact, Anuja sees many of these elements running parallel to her own personality.

Anuja with her daughters Veda and Varna; a constant source of pride, and also a diversion when the pressures of writing became too much

“The magic is alive for me, and I really believe the characters lived and died and left their legacy for us”

“Maybe it’s because I can see the same in myself? I would describe myself as a nice person, but I have my flaws. All of this brought Arjuna a little closer to me.” A central aspect of Arjuna’s story is his relationship with Krishna, and this was an element Anuja relished being able to write. “Krishna is such a complicated and beautiful person. Whether I’m at a place in my life where I’m religious or agnostic, at no point did I not love Krishna himself.” She recounts the humiliation of Draupadi – wife of the Pandavas brothers – at the hands of Dushasana as a clear indication of Krishna’s importance as a character. “It used to make me so angry, that men could get away with doing something like that to a woman. These were the greatest warriors of their age and they let something like that happen to their wife! It’s something I cannot accept, even now it makes me so angry.” “It’s still so relevant today in India, and anywhere else in the world. To be a woman and to know that because you’re not as [physically] strong as a man you’re at their mercy, that you can go outside without your dupatta and a guy makes a snap decision, “She’s a whore, I can treat her like one.” Of all the men who were there – the great, learned and wise – not one of them lifted a finger to help Draupadi. Krishna was the only one, he wasn’t even there and he still came to her rescue. That says everything there is to say about him, he loved women and respected them, and that’s what makes him both a man and a god as far as I’m concerned.” A graduate of the Women’s Christian College in Chennai, Anuja has a Master’s degree in English and Bachelor’s in Psychology. The former, not surprisingly, comes in handy when she sits down to write, but it’s the latter that she finds influencing her work in a unique way. “I tend to psychoanalyse, and that seeps into my actions with other people and my writing. I’m forever trying to get

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story July 2013

“The gestational period was pretty lengthy,” she confirms. “I was very scared, I think that’s what slowed down the process immensely. I didn’t know how people would receive it. I was petrified as I felt discouraged that my writing career was going nowhere”

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Arjuna, the great warrior, and Krishna, his close friend and protector

under the skin of the character. I’ll be thinking ‘what motivates them.’” This manifests itself throughout Arjuna, as she strives to delve deeper into the epic’s central characters. “I never just accept it if someone says, ‘he was a bad man and he threw a baby into the sea.’ I’ll be thinking, ‘why would he do that? Was he a violent person or was it something else?’ I tend to analyse all the time and try to understand what motivates them.”

One story, many meanings The purpose of the Mahabharata is frequently debated, with many having pondered over whether it should be considered a work of historical, literary, mythological or religious significance. It’s often compared to the Bible and

Arjuna in conversation with Krishna

Anuja has a Master’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Psychology. “I tend to psychoanalyse, and that seeps into my actions with other people and my writing. I’m forever trying to get under the skin of the character. I’ll be thinking what motivates them Quran, as well as Homer’s epics Iliad and Odyssey, and in some cases even Shakespeare. Anuja is measured in her perspective, and explains that she has continued to find new ways to apply it to her everyday existence. “As a child, I was a very religious kid. My grandmother used to tell me a lot of stories from Hindu mythology, so for me it was something that actually happened, it was very real.” Over time, however, this changed. “As I grew

older – my dad is an agnostic, and I have a lot of my dad in me – I guess I became a little cynical along the way, and so it turned instead into a great literary piece. The greatest work of fiction ever created.”

Incubating an idea Interestingly, after immersing herself in the story of the Mahabharata and Arjuna’s exploits for the preceding three years, she’s again found a new

and updated perspective on how it should be considered. “I wasn’t a believer for a long time in my life, yet as soon as the book was finished, I visited the Ganesha temple in Sivakasi. I felt a kinship because he was the great scribe. At this point I would say that I believe it all happened, and that there’s no proof that it didn’t. The magic is alive for me, and I really believe that they all lived and died and left their legacy for us.” As our time together draws to a close, our discussion broaches the topic of ‘what comes next?’ Anuja is tight-lipped about the subject of her second book, which she has already started working on, but it’s a habit she formed while writing Arjuna. “Call it a quirk of mine,

but nobody, other than my husband knew I was working on Arjuna.” She eventually showed it to her father when it was nearing completion, but to everyone else in her life, it remained a mystery until a publisher had accepted her manuscript. “A lot of people, my close friends, my sister - they were very offended that I hadn’t seen fit to tell them I was working on Arjuna. When I start something, there’s no guarantee that I have faith in myself to see it through to the end, so the way I saw it, there was nothing to talk about until it was actually completed.” Upon receiving her first finished copy of Arjuna, Anuja was understandably delighted – and not just because she was holding her very own published book. “It

made me very happy, to know that now I was part of it all and not just a reader, I was helping to keep the story [of Mahabharata] alive through the ages.” It was a lofty ambition, to join the ranks of helping to tell one of India’s timeless epics, but for Anuja the effort was more than worth it. “As the Mahabharata was something I loved so much, it was in safe hands with me. I trusted myself with it, I knew I’d take care of it.” Perhaps it was her motherly instincts that helped her along the way – after all, she’s proved herself to be fiercely proud of the Mahabharata and she nurtured the story lovingly and with care. Aren’t these the characteristics universally expected of good parents?


Madurai Messenger People & Causes July 2013

Teller of Tales Twenty-five years back, American Eric Miller decided to come to south India to explore traditional forms of storytelling. Fascinated by the Tamil epic Silapathikaram, he even traversed the 400 km Silapathikaram route in South India. Today he is the Director and co-Founder of the World Story Telling Institute in Chennai Text: Tim Hardaker, Australia Photos: Alice Notarianni, Italy

daughter, but today she was at school and not here to witness a room full of grown adults pretending to be nauseous!

She willingly gave them to her husband, and they set off for Madurai to begin a new life together.

An invaluable anklet

At the very same time that Kannagi and Kovalan arrived in Madurai intent on selling their anklets, the queen of the Pandya King Nedunj Cheliyan I, happened to have her own anklet stolen by a deceitful member of the court. Unfortunately it bore a striking resemblance to the very one Kovalan was attempting to trade – the only difference being that the queen’s had been filled with pearls, while Kannagi’s was filled with rubies. Before too long Kovalan found himself brought before the king accused of theft, and with no trial or opportunity for explanation, he was immediately beheaded.

“Do you know the story of Kannagi?” Eric inquires within the first few minutes of us sitting down to talk, already anticipating my line of questions relating to the famed Tamil epic Silapathikaram. Dating back to 100-300 CE, Kannagi is the story’s central character, and his decision to bring her up so soon in our discussion is evidence of Silapathikaram’s importance to him. Known in English as The Epic of the Anklet, it is a tale that has specific relevance to Madurai as it’s where the story reaches its apocalyptic apex. “The Epic of the Anklet, in a sense, encapsulates the story of my life,” Eric assures us. Kannagi was an intensely beautiful young woman and she married a man named Kovalan. They lived in Kaveripattinam 300 km north of Madurai and were happy until Kovalan became infatuated with a dancer named Madhavi. Kovalan squandered all of his money on Madhavi, not realising the error of his ways until it was far too late. Left with nothing to his name, he returned to Kannagi and she forgave him. The only possession of any value that they had left were a pair of precious anklets filled with gems which belonged to Kannagi.

Spinning an engrossing story: Storyteller Eric Miller

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When news of Kovalan’s death reached Kannagi she was enraged, and she set out to prove her husband’s innocence. Arriving in front of the king, Kannigi broke open her anklet to reveal the rubies inside, and the king instantly realised his mistake as the queen’s contained only pearls. So overcome with remorse at his hasty punishment of Kovalan, both the king and the queen died of shame. Kannagi was not placated, however, and as her anger continued to mount, she ripped out her own breast and threw it at Madurai’s city walls, casting a curse on all its inhabitants – except for the old, young and infirm.

Volunteer journalists Tim Hardaker, Owen Daniel and administrator Durgairajan in a chat with Eric Miller

One has to wonder what that journey would have been like for a young American who spoke only a couple of basic Tamil phrases; however Eric is suitably nonchalant. “It was not so hard. I was young and had a backpack”

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wwwwwwww, yuck!” we all yelled, while wrinkling our faces in mock-disgust.

I can’t say I’ve had many interviews end with everyone in the room gathered in a circle as we loudly shout and feign revulsion, but I also can’t say I’ve ever spent a few hours in the presence of a man who has dedicated his life to the art of storytelling. Who knew how this was going to pan out? Like all good stories, the ending proved to be a surprise. We were in Chennai to meet with Eric Miller, director and co-founder of the World Storytelling Institute and a celebrated

scholar who has been an avid proponent of the storytelling medium since the 1980s. Born and raised in New York City, Eric was providing us with an impromptu storytelling workshop, offering us a few helpful tips on how to convey your message expressively and with purpose. There’s little point in us starting with the finale, though, so let’s wind the clock back a few hours to the time of our arrival at Eric’s institute. It’s a quiet sanctuary hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Chennai’s noisy streets, and he shares the space with his wife Magdalene Jeyarathnam, a counselor who specialises in expressive art therapy. They have a five- year old

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Madurai Messenger People & Causes July 2013

Storytelling can be seen as a type of theatre, but you don’t need actors, props, scenery, make-up, costumes, a stage. You just do it, anywhere!”

An artist’s eye - playful creativity on the streets of Los Angeles

An American in India Considered one of the five great epics of Tamil mythology, how does a young New York academic find himself drawn to the story of Silapathikaram, especially to the extent that he’d consider it a tale that encapsulates his very own life? 12

“When I first came to India in 1988, 25 years ago, I walked the path of the main characters in the story,” Eric explains. “I had read the story long before, so when I came it was part of my Master’s degree and I walked the route from the coast to Madurai.” His trek covered a distance of more than 400 kilometers, and took him through Madurai and beyond to Valparai in the Western Ghats. One has to wonder what that journey would have been like for a young American who spoke only a couple of basic Tamil phrases; however, Eric is suitably nonchalant. “It was not so hard. I was young and had a backpack.”

13 Graduating from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 1984, he returned to the institute in 1988 to pursue his M.A., which in turn led to his decision to travel abroad. “I had to choose where on the other side of the world I’d go to study traditional storytelling.” Tossing up between Ireland and India, he eventually picked Silapathikaram as his focus and soon found himself in southern India. The rest, as they say, is history.

The grammar of story telling

Eric is able to recount Kannagi’s tale of heartache for us in great detail, and in doing so we get a firsthand look at his finely tuned storytelling abilities. It’s engaging, and his emotional attachment to Kannagi’s plight is tangible. “This story, which can be called an epic, legend or folktale, it is very wrapped up with the World Storytelling Institute, with my life as a scholar, and also my work as an artist,” says Eric of his attachment. “When I took the walk in 1988, I made a vow that I would do my best in my lifetime for every prime minister and president to hear this story. It serves as a warning; that state power should not be abused.”

In its purest form, Eric agrees that storytelling is the process of human communication. “It’s the things that we talk about with our friends all day long; “What did I do? What did you do? What do you want to do?” Maybe 95 percent of human communication with each other is storytelling.” However as a professional in the space, he has some clear methods. “There are many different types of stories. In my workshops I especially work with autobiographical stories. I have everyone think, write, journal and tell their life story. Some people are shy, [but] I encourage people to focus on the work and professional aspect of their life story. What are their special interests, skills and talents?”

Born and raised in New York City, throughout the 1980s Eric lived among Manhattan’s vibrant East Village community of artists. However he first discovered storytelling as a teenager, when he was involved in theatre. “Storytelling can be seen as a type of theatre, but you don’t need actors, props, scenery, make-up, costumes, a stage. You just do it, anywhere!”

It is Eric’s view – and one he shares with many of his storytelling compatriots – that to truly partake in the act of storytelling one must do so in a live environment, where the speaker is able to receive live feedback from their audience and temper their delivery accordingly. “All around the world people use storytelling to refer to any presentation of story.

Ewwww yuck! Owen of Madurai Messenger, Eric and his wife Magdalena feign distaste during an impromptu storytelling workshop

It’s engaging, and his emotional attachment to Kannagi’s plight is tangible. “This story, which can be called an epic, legend or folktale, it is very wrapped up with the World Storytelling Institute, with my life as a scholar, and also my work as an artist,” says Eric of his attachment. “When I took the walk in 1988, I made a vow that I would do my best in my lifetime for every prime minister and president to hear this story. It serves as a warning; that state power should not be abused” A novelist, a movie-maker, people will say this is storytelling, and that bugs us,” he laughs, relaying the frustration of storytellers the world over. “We define storytelling as ‘relating a story to somebody else’. Literally, it is [the act of] telling. We like to translate telling as ‘relating’, which means having a relationship with people who are listening to you, and having that ongoing feedback loop.” One might consider that the art of storytelling is something that generally appeals to children more so than adults – we’d all remember being told of the monsters hiding under the bed and fairies frolicking in the forest when we were kids – but this is another misconception that Eric is keen to clarify upon. “Autobiographical stories tend to be the most popular

amongst adults,” he explains. “Then there are the stories that I call folklore, meaning they’re passed down from generation to generation with no specific author.” Perhaps one of the main reasons Eric has always been drawn to Indian storytelling and mythology is that even its most famous stories tend to break the rules set out to follow in Western society. “Folklore includes epic, fairytale, animal fable, legend, myth... The problem in India is that many stories here combine all of those into one! They don’t respect our genre differentiations,” he says with a laugh. Of course, anyone who has spent any amount of time in India will no doubt share Eric’s view, as it’s a place unlike any other. And aren’t the best stories always those that follow their own course?


Madurai Messenger The World of Myths July 2013

Australia’s Aboriginal Mythology: Blurring the divide Australian national Tim Hardaker gives us a glimpse of the 50,000-year-old fascinating world of Aboriginal mythology that he says has coloured and impacted his inner landscape By: Tim Hardaker, Australia

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ike most Australians, my earliest introduction to the rich mythology of my country’s indigenous inhabitants – the Aboriginals – came in primary school, with vividly illustrated story books like ‘Rainbow Serpent’ regularly part of our daily lessons. Of course, the stories taught us important aspects of Aboriginal culture and history, but delving deeper into these allegories passed down through generations of indigenous Australians over the preceding 50,000 years also inadvertently introduced us to weightier concepts like the nature of greed, the necessity to treat people with kindness, and the importance of respecting the environment. Little did we know at the time, but many of the themes presented would start to help us form our own opinions on what was right and wrong – the profundity of which is hard to quantify.

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A hoary heritage

Australian mythology drawings - ‘therealpinkfloyd’

The period of Aboriginal mythology is most commonly referred to as Dreamtime. This was an era when the land and all its features were yet to be created, and animals and human life existed only in a spiritual sense. As a society, the Aborigines were nomadic and largely self-sufficient, so there was little opportunity – or need – for interaction between tribes; however, it’s through these Dreamtime stories that they’re irrevocably linked. Traditionally the stories were shared in a number of ways; song and dance, spoken word, and also art. These modern methods live on; however, they’re also

supplemented by a variety of new ways to keep the message alive with current generations, including television and movie adaptations, children’s books, music and theatre. In fact, it’s the ease with which these myths are adapted that sees them live on as such an important part of Australia’s national identity. Australia was colonised by the British in 1788, so its modern history is relatively short at 225 years. However the heritage of its indigenous people, the Aborigines, stretches back significantly further. It’s estimated that indigenous Australians first arrived ‘down under’ more than 50,000 years ago, having migrated from Africa through Asia. Much like the variety of India’s many ethnic groups, indigenous Australians also share a great cultural diversity. At the time of British settlement, it is believed that there were 600 different Aboriginal nations, speaking 300 languages and more than 500 dialects. Tribes were spread across the vast Australian continent (which is more than twice the size of India!) – from coastlines to desert, bush land to swamps and mangroves, and everywhere in-between. In another interesting similarity to India’s own mythology, Dreamtime stories regularly seek to explain how key aspects of the natural landscape came to be. Much like the myth of the mighty Ganges River and its creation by Mother Ganga, many of Australia’s mountain ranges, rivers and natural wonders are brought to life through Dreamtime stories. In fact, according to Dreamtime, Australia’s most famous natural wonder Uluru (also commonly known as Ayer’s Rock) is said to have been created by ten Anangu spirit people at the beginning of time, and these ancestors are represented at Uluru in rock outcroppings and caves. Here’s a guide to some of the most renowned Dreamtime tales; although we’re only just scratching the surface as 50,000 years of combined history is not easily summarised! If you want to

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Australian Mythology Drawings - ‘szatya’

Of course the stories taught us important aspects of Aboriginal culture and history, but delving deeper into these allegories passed down through generations of indigenous Australians over the preceding 50,000 years also inadvertently introduced us to weightier concepts like the nature of greed, the necessity to treat people with kindness, and the importance of respecting the environment. Little did we know at the time, but many of the themes presented would start to help us form our own opinions on what was right and wrong – the profundity of which is hard to quantify


Madurai Messenger The World of Myths July 2013

what she loved - dancing! Around this time an evil man, Waiwera, started to follow Brolga in secret. The people of her tribe were worried and warned her not to stray too far from the camp, but one day she danced and danced so much that she found herself far across the plains. Waiwera was there and he angrily demanded that Brolga marry him. She refused, so he used his magic to turn her into a bird. The Aboriginals call this bird the Brolga and to this day it’s known for its graceful ‘dance’ as it hops and steps.

MIN-NA-WEE – why the crocodile rolls

Australian mythology drawings - ‘Rainbow serpent’

16 dive in to any of the stories deeper, be sure to follow-up on the further reading suggestions provided.

RAINBOW SERPENT – the snake who made the lands The story of the Rainbow Serpent is perhaps the most common among all Aboriginal tribes on Australia’s mainland. In the beginning of Dreamtime, the earth was flat and completely bare, and the Rainbow Serpent lived underground with all of the animal tribes inside her waiting to be born. When the time was right, the Rainbow Serpent came to the surface, and as she made her way across the land her slithering body caused the creation of all mountains, hills, rivers and lakes. The animal tribes awoke, and the sun, fire and all colours were made. The Rainbow Serpent brings each wet season, and she also appears in the sky after the rains have cleared as a rainbow. In fact, it’s said that rainbows are the Rainbow Serpent moving from one waterhole to the next. As water brings life, she is revered as a great creator; however, the Rainbow Serpent is also feared and will drown those who have broken the law in floods.

TIDDALIK – the frog who made the floods One day, Tiddalik the frog, woke up with an unquenchable thirst. He drank and drank but no matter how much water he gulped down, he could not be satisfied. Before too long,

Tiddalik had drunk all of the land’s available fresh water leaving nothing for the other animals and plants, and they very quickly started to wither and die. The remaining animals got together and decided to do something about Tiddalik, the greedy frog, to teach him a lesson. Led by a wise old Wombat, their plan was to have Nabunum, the Eel, turn his body into funny shapes. This caused Tiddalik to laugh uncontrollably, and all the water he’d swallowed began to rush out. Pretty soon all of the dried up riverbeds, lakes and swamps were filled once more, and the animals and plants flourished. It’s believed that Tiddalik was a water-holding frog, a species which is unique to the central Australia desert. During dry periods they live underground, only emerging during the rains to absorb as much water as possible. Aboriginals use them during droughts as a source of much-needed moisture.

BROLGA – the beautiful dancing bird There once was a young girl named Brolga. She loved to dance, although she didn’t often get the chance to as girls were not allowed. Instead she had to sit and keep rhythm while the men of her tribe had all the fun, but one day it all became too much and she jumped up and joined in. Although her tribe was initially shocked, they saw how good she was and allowed her to continue. Very soon the stories of Brolga’s dancing spread far and wide and many people came to watch her. All the men were entranced and she was asked by many of them to marry. She wasn’t interested, though, as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and finding food would have stopped her from doing

Min-na-wee was a mischievous girl. Even though the people of her tribe were happy and content, she was always the one to cause trouble. The tribe elders warned Min-na-wee’s mother that if she didn’t settle down, one day something terrible would undoubtedly happen. Years went by, and soon Min-na-wee was a young woman preparing herself for marriage. She stood in a line with all the other girls of the tribe as the elders picked out who was to marry who. At the end of the ceremony Min-na-wee was left alone with no one to be her husband. This caused her hatred to grow even stronger, and she continued to create fights within the people of her tribe. One day it was decided that it was time to teach Min-na-wee a lesson, so the men grabbed her and rolled her around in the dirt. She escaped and ran to the ocean where she called on evil spirits to change her form. She became a vicious animal, the crocodile. Min-nawee was soon forgotten by her tribe and they went on with their lives. Then one day without warning one of the men involved in her punishment entered the water hunting for crabs. She crept up and grabbed him, rolling him around in the water just like how she’d been rolled herself. To this day her spirit stays inside the crocodiles, and it’s why they roll their prey in the water after they’ve been caught.

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WAYAMBEH – how the turtle got its shell Wayambeh, the turtle man, was out one day hunting for food when he came across the lizard man’s wife and children. He thought to himself that he’d quite like a family of his own, so he decided to take them home. When Wayambeh’s tribe heard about what he’d done they were quick to tell him he had made a very big mistake and that he’d surely be punished. Wayambeh simply laughed. The very next day Wayambeh found himself showered with spears, which were being thrown by his very own tribe! He ran and grabbed the two biggest shields he could find – one for his front and one for his back. As the spears continued to fall he pulled his head and arms into the space between the shields, and when his tribe got too close he was left with no choice but to jump into the creek. Wayambeh disappeared, never to be seen again, though every time his tribe went to the water and saw the strange animal with two plates on its body that drew in its head, arms and legs whenever it got scared, they were reminded of how the turtle came to be.

Australian mythology drawings - ‘artaborigene’


Madurai Messenger The World of Myths July 2013

The Stuff of Legends It is said that the world is made of stories; not atoms. Owen Daniel travels down a mythic maze of Indian mythology with renowned art historian Professor R. Venkataraman and emerges from the mythic paradise enriched by his encounters with the fascinating world of Indian myths in their unknown splendour Text and Photo: Owen Daniel, United Kingdom

Professor-V A-Man-With-Great-Vision

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asked with writing an introduction to mythology with a special nod to the Indian school of thought, I begin to wonder what I’ve got myself into. For this is a massive subject and one, up until now, I knew nothing about. Since my arrival in mother India I’ve been truly gripped by this topic. The importance of mythology should not be undermined, something previously I’ve been extremely guilty of myself. The brief was vague; my knowledge nonexistent. However, as journalists we are, allegedly, the ultimate truth-seekers. What answers would I find in this mythic maze of tales and tribulations?

Mythic maze of tales and tribulations Despite people’s fascination with other cultures and belief systems, many never even attempt to grasp the basics of mythology. Add this to the fact there is no greater way to understand the identity, psychology, rituals and background of another world within our own, this area of studies should always be given a higher priority. George Orwell wrote, “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.” Certainly he has a point. I wonder how many myths are we told in this day and age and how many will become true? What was the real reason behind the Iraq War or invasion of Afghanistan? Who was behind the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and perhaps even John Lennon? The truth maybe out there, but who’s to say exactly what it is.

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Something in the stars- Dr V infers mythic motifs from stellar constellations

On the flipside, the genius that is Albert Einstein eulogised at Gandhi’s funeral: “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” I’m sure if the Mahatma had lived a few thousand centuries before, he’d undoubtedly be a god by now. I hope nobody in the future generations tries to write him off as ‘just a myth.’ He will always be so much more than that to millions, probably billions of people.

cultures which embrace them either directly, or indirectly.

Ancient stories are intertwined with ethical beliefs, ritualistic guidelines, and can teach lessons of love and hate, peace and war, family and friendship. They act as a moral compass for those

According to the best estimates, 89 percent of the world’s population are religious, that is, an excess of seven billion people are directly affected and/ or influenced by mythology to some

Mythology is the oldest form of communication. It outdates art, religion, literature and probably even spoken language itself. The basis of all religions the world over are certainly shaped and influenced by its myths. Recited and passed down through generation after generation, they act as a spiritual guide, an educational tool as well as a form of entertainment.

degree. Based on just these stats, even the most hardcore non-believers amongst us will undoubtedly have friends and acquaintances that are touched by myths. It’s clear to see the very fabric of Indian culture is woven by a moral undercurrent pinning together communities throughout the subcontinent and stretching to all four corners of the globe. The myths, fables and parables create legends in the forms of kings, queens, animals, serpents, dragons, gods and goddesses. Issues of spirituality, morality and mortality lead people to find answers for questions such as “Why are we here?


Madurai Messenger The World of Myths July 2013

Think of any superhero and there you’ll find a myth, Batman (holy cow Robin), Superman, Spiderman, The Fantastic Five, He-Man, Wonder Woman (although I still believe in her), all have mythological powers.

Vishnu has Aquila the Eagle as his vehicle and Bhariva has Canis Major (the big dog) as his. With Professor V’s method of cosmisisation (his coined phrase), every god within Hinduism can be linked directly to the stars. On this basis, Taurus, the bull is the likely reason for the sacred, holy cow and non beefeating principles of the Hindu world.

The essence of life

As I venture up to our Madurai roof-top terrace, the stars look beautiful tonight and I know from this moment on, I’ll never look at the stars the same way.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, why do we still continue to follow these mythological beliefs and ignore scientific rationale instead? In life, we need happiness and positivity. We need to believe in happy-ever-after tales and romantic heavenly partners. Fairytales are so much nicer and happier than the dry, drab and harsh reality of our toooften cruel and imbalanced world.

Their centrality in terms of the 12 zodiacs and the star-signs, resulting in 12 months, 12 hour days, 12 inches to a foot, 360 degrees and who knows what else is one thing. Moreover I’ll be thinking of the wise words of wisdom from Professor V, wishing he was here with me to point out which stars are which Indian gods.

His inspiring talks instantly made me think of the American poet, Henry Longfellow and his quote: “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.” Although I think if I studied the solar systems for five decades I still wouldn’t have a fraction of his knowledge. 20

Lord Vishnu riding Aquila the Eagle

How did we get here? How did it all begin? What is the true meaning of life? What is right and what is wrong?” Possibly the stories were an outlet for answers before science was uncovered, as a way to explain naturally occurring phenomena, such as the moon, the stars and the elements.

A web of inter connections One theory on the origins of mythology, specifically the Indian Mythology, was provided to us by an incredibly wise and humble gentleman. Professor Venkatraman, formerly Professor of Art History, MK University, spent some precious hours enlightening us to the possibility of a link between astrology, astronomy and mythology,

and I for one, am certainly convinced of his conclusions. Professor V’s concept is that all ideas take inspiration from somewhere. “All dreams have a basis,” he says. They have a meaning, a reflection of thoughts, however subconscious they may be. It is impossible to dream of an eight-legged monster without some factor inspiring the dream, no matter how remote the link.

Stellar wisdom The youthful, yet now officially retired, 79-year-old shines. “Good knowledge is one which tries to classify all the inputs you have. You may have so much of inputs they lead to confusion – unless you have a knack of classifying.” His wisdom knows no bounds in his specialised fields, of which he has many.

During his twenties he would sit for hours on end listening to his philosophical uncle describe the stars under moonlit nights till the early morning. “I fell in love with the stars,” he states and it’s clear to see that love has never faded. He continues beaming bright like the stars he studies so well, “I can forget the names of my friends but I cannot forget the names of the stars and the constellations.” Professor V’s smile and laugh are utterly infectious. His energy levels surpass many people half his age, as does his IQ. After a mere half an hour in his presence, at his simple home he shares with his loving wife, one feels that you’re talking to a long-lost grandfather, brother or uncle. After Professor Venkatraman saw a 7th century cave-drawing showing Durga, the wife of Shiva who has a lion as her

to avoid their influence. Like a blanket they hug us, keep us warm and give us that feeling of love and security.

vehicle, moving forwards or clockwise and Lord Shiva, with the bull retreating, he realised this replicated the stars above perfectly. Leo, the lion and Taurus, the bull share the exact same formation and he had his eureka moment.

Current myths still commonly believed the world over, include but are not restricted to Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, Nepal’s Abominable Snowman and America’s Elvis. Not forgetting the globally acknowledged angels, fairies, telepathy, healing crystals and tarot-card reading too. Despite huge gaping holes in logic, the number of believers barely seems to diminish at all.

Vishnu has Aquila the Eagle as his vehicle and Bhariva has Canis Major (the big dog) as his. With Professor V’s method of cosmisistaion (his coined phrase) every god within Hinduism can be linked directly to the stars

We all hope, wish and/or pray to find, meet and stay with that special partner till our dying day… the reality for most, is not so romantic, at least in the West it seems. Myths offer a heavenly divine and spiritual place we can go to after this life, they provide a light at the end of our last, long dark tunnel. Science and reality just don’t generate that same warm glow that we can get from these stories. Today we’re still touched by myths via music and TV. Beyonce recently sung ‘Wish Upon A Star’ and even those of us with our heads clearly ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ it’s almost impossible

No matter where you are in this beautiful country, it is possible to see mythological gods, goddesses, animals and creatures all around. It’s completely unimaginable to consider an India without myths, a country without history or even without her soul. Not only does mythology shape the country’s character, it defines its very heartbeat. And mother India has the biggest heart of all. Regardless of the fact I am certain the following is a myth - I’ll always wish on a shooting star. And one day, I wish, all our dreams will come true.

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Madurai Messenger Travel July 2013

A Passage to Egypt Owen Daniel recounts his amusing and often amazing experience of setting up one of the world’s biggest nightlife brands on the picturesque Red Sea coast in Egypt and the adrenaline highs of what must certainly be a challenge for every marketing professional! By Owen Daniel United Kingdom

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hat possible connection could there be between the world’s biggest brands in nightlife and the former president/dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak? Or even a host of international celebrities and possibly the greatest fast-food delivery tale ever? I was hoping you may ask…

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Spotting one of my dream jobs on London’s Ministry of Sound website, I sent off my CV not really expecting, even an acknowledgement in return. Being the leading brand in the field, the A-list level of applicants for the post of Marketing Manager for Ministry of Sound, Hurghada, would surely be outside of my grasp. As someone naturally diabolical at geography, and someone who’s not so well travelled, this wasn’t a location I’d ever heard of and I presumed the job would be based in London!

Keep it professional After I’d applied for the job, I received a job description by email which stated, “Visit the venue each evening to check what we have on offer is available”. Hmm… venue, visit – perhaps I should Google this one. I was more than a tad surprised and extremely happy when I discovered the location was the beautifully photogenic Red Sea coastline of Egypt! Surely they don’t expect me to commute there?! After a couple of telephone interviews, the boss – and now good friend – Paul Evans suggested I get on a plane. They would cover hotel, food and beverage for one week. If I would be successful, they’d reimburse flight costs, if not and worse case, I’d get a very cheap holiday in Egypt! “How does that sound?” he says. Well despite me wanting to reply with “Are you nuts, you’ll pay for me to sleep, eat, drink and party for a week?!” I managed to calmly state, “Yes, that sounds fair to me, thank you so much. See you next week.” Keep it professional, Daniel. WOO-HOO! This was it! All my hard work – approximately a decade of industry work free of charge – was finally (potentially) about to pay off. I was so excited I was literally jumping up and down on the spot after I put the phone down. I was so elated, like I’d won the job-in-the-music-biz

lottery! I guess technically I had… I phoned my big brother James (RIP) and almost screamed down the phone him… “Bro! You never guess what… I’ve got a week-long interview for Ministry of Sound in Egypt! I’ve totally made it dude!” It was his inspiration that helped to fuel my love of dance music, the oldskool hardcore tapes we’d listen to the flyers he’d bring back after attending some of the legendary UK raves in the early-mid 90s. I thanked him profusely, and then called Mum. She was ecstatic for me and encouraged me to give it my all – and then time to tell Dad.

Dream Job I go skipping into our front room, “I got it Pa, I got it!” I yell… “I got the chance to get this job for Ministry of Sound in Egypt as their new Marketing Manager! Whoop-whoop!” He didn’t look impressed. “Do they give you a pension, son?” he asks. “A pension, seriously? Dad, I couldn’t give a Pharaoh’s nose if they give me a pension, this is my dream job!”… I passed the induction with flying colours. The job’s duties consisted of daytime visiting of hotels, dive centres and tour operators to drum up business and the evening would more of a host, VIP manager and general rump-shaker. In

a nutshell, I got paid to talk and party six, sometimes seven nights and days each week… It was beautiful in every possible way. Palm trees, crystal-clear waters, parties every night – not to mention the girls sunbathing on the beach outside my office window!

Manchester United) and Olympic eight times British gold medallist Mark Foster. Here in this high-brow publication, I shall grace you with just a few, clean, exclusives…

Within a week or so of me rocking up, Mr Evans states, “We’re closing one of our main bars!” Oh no, this wasn’t a good sign. “Instead we’ll re-launch it as the world’s first and only Hed Kandi Beach Bar!” I nearly wet myself with excitement; this place gets better every single day!!! Halleluiah or more to the point Al Hamdulilllah, as they say in those there parts (loosely translated to ‘thanks to god’).

A Rite of Passage

The boss wasn’t content with the company’s array of eight highly-successful venues countrywide, he wanted more, much more. He wanted bigger things. He wanted a new challenge. He wanted to take control of the management of the near empty Hurghada Marina. It was a fully operational marina for boats, with buildings almost completed, residents renting apartments but next-to-nothing in terms of commercial properties. This left the entire ground floor of the marina standing deserted.

I arrived around the same time as a crazy Dutchman, Maarten. We were brand new in Egypt and debating how ‘involved’ we were going to get with the local culture as we watched men kiss men (cheek-to-cheek) when greeting each other. “Hmm not sure about that I said,” coming from Brighton I wasn’t vaguely shocked or surprise to see it, just its relevance was still new to us both. Within a few weeks of making some amazing friends-for-life, we both agreed to embrace the etiquette and found ourselves kissing lots of male friends without giving it any thought. Get involved we figured. Just no tongues!

He stormed into the office one ludicrously sunny March day in 2008 declaring, “We got it, boys!” There were cheers all round… we all knew this was huge. We had a team brief, “So when’s all this happening then boss” I squeak (knowing full-well my 80 hour (+) per week workload was just about to quadruple)… “We’ll open the first weekend of June,” he says! JUNE??? Three months… To build 150 outlets and market the whole thing?? No way… None of us have ever worked on a project of this size! How about four months boss, maybe five or six even? He never changed his mind.

And so the hedonistic days and nights, tumbled seamlessly into weeks, months and years… with more stories than I could fill a trilogy with – and some far too outrageous for print! We had VIP guests from the national football teams of Egypt, Belgium (Marwan Fellany), UK (Lee Sharpe – ex

For the launch weekend of Hurghada Marina in the summer, our target audience area massively increased from the local vicinity to a nationwide campaign. Within the month of May we zoomed round the country with invites for anyone who was anyone in Egypt’s elite circle of VIPs including: hotel and

The empire expands

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Madurai Messenger Travel July 2013

The new heart of the city Hurghada-Marina

DJs on fire at Ministry of Sound presents-Pacha Sharm

business owners, definitely the have yachts (not the have nots), stock-brokers, politicians and some of the biggest family names in the country…

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Over the space of the most hectic weekend of our lives – and we’ve all experienced many a hectic weekend – we pulled in anywhere up to 20,000 punters with fairground rides, a starstudded line-up of musicians and DJs, professional performers and created the new heart of Hurghada almost over-night. Anyone who’s visited the city since will find it hard to imagine where we all went to before the Marina opened.

As someone naturally diabolical at geography, and some one who’s not so well travelled, this wasn’t a location I’d ever heard of and I presumed the job would be based in London!

Dad’s not impressed We even received a visit, and therefore blessing, from the one and only former president Hosni Mubarak! I was elated; a president was coming to see our marina! Our work! Our little baby! During my fortnightly call to the folks back home, I told my father that President Mubarak was coming to see our marina! A dull silence came across the line, “But son – he’s a dictator isn’t he?” … Grrr “Dad, it’s not really the point, I don’t care about the politics (I do in general but this wasn’t relevant then) it’s a president coming to see my work!” There’s just no impressing some people.

On one such trip, we arranged to meet at the Hed Kandi Beach Bar (now Papas Beach Club) within the marina around 10 a.m. Not easy at all when the whole team works in nightlife, often finishing around 4 a.m. after consuming various alcoholic beverages.

A McDonald Act As we arrive, we’re still waiting for most of the group so we order a McDelivery. Yes, you heard me right, McDonalds do a delivery service in Egypt and that phone number was essential as a resident. We wait and wait, the whole team arrive so we can’t delay the trip for the whole group for just three of us to have breakfast. So ridiculously hungry and fairly upset at the no-show of the delivery, we board the boat.

Sign of the times

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During our seldom days off, we’d try to organise trips out with the management team (in excess of 20 people at times) such as quad-biking in the desert, days at the aqua park (where no matter how old you are, you feel like a teenager flying down slides) or private boat trips to beautiful deserted islands.

As we start to chug out of the marina, we see the baseball hat of the McDonalds guy waving at us from the port… “Stop the boat,!” We cry. The driver starts to slow the massive 30ft plus vessel. “Turn around”… then it dawns on me that to turn a boat like this around would take far too much time. So we told him not to worry and to continue regardless. With tears almost welling up, we realised that our amazing breakfast was so close, and yet so far…

The-world’s-only Hed Kandi Beach Bar, Hurghada-Marina

All of a sudden the coastguard in his little Zodiac boat spots our dilemma and zooms over to the McDelivery guy! In a state of utter delirium we’re all on the boat shouting and screaming “he’s going to get the food!” He grabs the bag of goodies, and the coffees and chases after the mother-ship… We’re absolutely giddy by this time bouncing on the back of the boat as he catches up with us and makes us the happiest people on the Red Sea! We actually got a McDonalds breakfast delivered to us on a boat off the coast of Hurghada! Only in Egypt! Shukran katir (Thank you so much).


Madurai Messenger Young Achiever July 2013

Twenty Going on Mastery

Oviya wins the essay contest and gets the prize from the guest

Ella Verkuitjen meets Madurai’s very own Oviya Govindan, a student of Masters in Development Studies at the prestigious IIT, Chennai. The 20-year-old, a winner of a global essay writing contest, is also passionate about creative writing and even inspires Ella Verkuitjen to resume her interest in the field! By Ella Verkuijten Holland

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t first sight, 20-year-old Oviya Govindan might not stand out from the numerous Indian girls studying in Chennai. She goes to class, talks with friends and is interested in culture. Nothing out of the ordinary, you think. There is something about her though. Something different, something special. It’s not just her distinctively curly hair, her bright smile or her pleasing personality. There is much more to this girl than meets the eye. We meet Oviya at the campus of the famous Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai, where we arrive at a shady yard situated next to one of the two women hostels on campus. With a slightly hesitant but genuine smile, Oviya comes walking towards us and offers to take us to a suitable place to talk. As we stroll to a well air-conditioned cafe, Oviya shows us some parts of the campus which, with its size, might just as well have been a small village. I’m amazed by its beauty and peaceful atmosphere. There is an abundance of tall shady trees housing many bird species, squirrels and even monkeys. “Our campus is actually part of the Guindy National Park,” Oviya declares, smiling when she sees our amazed expressions. Being on this huge and beautiful campus, I can’t help but wonder how difficult it really is to apply for a college like this.

The IIT was founded in 1959 and is one of the most prestigious colleges in India. The institution has the 314th place in the World University Rankings 2012 and was number 45 in the Asian University Rankings of that same year, illustrating that it’s more than just a university. “In my year, there were around 3000 students who applied,” Oviya starts to tell us, “Of which 40 got accepted.” The pupils have to undergo several tests in intelligence, reading, English language and creative writing. Besides that, admission tests with questions on Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, both in English and Hindi, are conducted. Considering these tests, you could say IIT definitely is not an easily accessible education. However, Oviya managed to be one of those 40 who met the exacting standards. According to her, the fact that she went to private school gave her an incredibly large leg up. “Private education definitely matters because not everyone has had the same academic preparation as me. The English test, for example, was rather easy. Students from public schools don’t really have the advantage of being higher educated, so the tests are harder.”

An unusual choice With such a prestigious education, you would expect glamorous jobs to be available immediately after graduation and parents happily applauding their

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“In the area of choosing a career, parents force immense tension if a child were to refuse to become the usual ‘doctor’ or ‘ engineer’. Try telling your parents you want to become a social scientist, refuse an engineer seat,” she writes in one of her articles Winner all the way: Sensational student Oviya Govindan

child’s attempt to aim for the highest. I know my own father, teaching humanities in one of the universities in Holland, would have been incredibly happy with my interest in social science. How about Oviya’s parents? “In the area of choosing a career, parents force immense tension if a child were to refuse to become the usual ‘doctor’ or ‘ engineer’. Try telling your parents you want to become a social scientist, refuse an engineering seat and see what happens at home,” she writes in one of her articles. In the field of social science, it is slightly complicated, Oviya elaborates. Because there is not one particular profession after her

masters in development studies, the choice of study for Oviya and many of her fellow humanities students is an “ongoing battle” with their parents. The fact that there is not a clear career perspective makes parents somewhat anxious. Still, Oviya is incredibly happy with her choice of studies, even though her parents might attempt to convince her differently. Besides, she doesn’t know yet what type of profession she would like to pursue anyway. We might see some of her creative writing in the future though, which is a strong passion. She is currently writing various opinion pieces, essays and columns, most of which are related to her field of studies or relevant to Indian society. She discovered creative

writing at the TVS Lakshmi School in Madurai at the age of 12, when she had to do small assignments related to the art of writing. Ever since, she has learned to keep developing her skills. Unfortunately, we are not yet lucky enough to read some of her articles. “At the moment, my writing is just for me,” she explains. “I like to write down how I think about things.” Still, this doesn’t mean she will never publish. “I would like to publish a book someday. Not fiction, but a book about a social subject,” she explains.

A winning entry In 2012, Oviya won an essay contest ‘Can you imagine a sustainable world beyond consumption?’ Her entry was picked out of 40 contestants. But

what made her decide to enter the contest if she prefers to write solely for herself? “Somehow it just clicked,” she says smiling. “The subject was partly in my field of studies and I felt like I could formulate a clear opinion about this.” And without particularly high expectations for herself, she won! Suddenly, she had the chance to go to the PERL conference ‘Beyond consumption: Pathways to responsible living’ in March 2012, at the TU Berlin. “It was my first time overseas and the whole trip was paid for,” she enthusiastically tells us. “It was a really nice conference and there were many interesting people.” Even though Oviya is not sure what profession would suit her best, one thing is certain; she will keep working hard, achieve her goals and pursue whatever makes her happy. Her will to pursue her own interests, her academic achievements and her strong opinion is something we can all take as an example. In fact, I think I might pursue my interest in creative writing again.


Madurai Messenger Eating Out July 2013

The Utterly Delicious Palgova Self-confessed foodie Rachel Smith travels to Srivilliputhur in search of its famous palgova or the delicious milk sweet. She not only eats dollops of the irresistible sweet but also tracks the production process from start to finish By Rachel Smith, Australia

A family affair Singh’s family shop, opened in 1957, is the pioneer, he states, and the recipe was gifted to his grandfather (the first man to start selling palgova in Srivilliputtur) by his great-uncle. The stores selling the milk co-operative goods, which proclaim themselves as palgova pioneers, he informs us, came into being only after the family business. While the amount he sells daily is a secret - when asked, he smiles mysteriously, shakes his head, and that is all the answer we’re going to get - there’s no denying Singh’s sales are high. He takes out his phone and shows us his contact list - there are the names of locations around India with ‘order’ written under them, Delhi, Kerala, Thirupur, Chennai, Mumbai...names flash by faster than I can read them. These are his agents, he tells me, that he sells to around the country. His palgova is in demand - those of us lucky enough to live nearby can purchase it for Rs. 200 /kg, but gourmands in Delhi, Kerala and Mumbai are purchasing at the rate of Rs. 300 /kg!

No compromise on quality Additionally, this is the first family business I’ve encountered in India that’s shown a willingness to expand outside their home town and local market. I tell him so, and he looks a little chuffed. He and his father, he explains, together believe they can expand the business beyond its already impressive operations. Singh himself wants to export overseas, if he can work out a way around the short lifespan of the product (about 15 days, wrapped and kept at room temperature).

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Let’s start at the very beginning: Heating the milk is the first stage of palgova production

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he tower of the Andal Temple is sadly under reconstruction, hidden away behind a covering of sackcloth. I’m a little disappointed - I’d been looking forward to savouring palgova, the delicious milk sweet, whilst standing admiringly in the shadow of its impressive bulk, like so many pilgrims before me. Unlike those pilgrims however, I’ve come, sweating and a little excited, to Srivilliputtur not for a religious experience, but a culinary one. I’ve come in search of palgova, a South Indian sweet that I’ve heard talked about with such enthusiasm that I’m almost a little frightened that it won’t live up to the hype. I’m soon to discover that I need not have worried. With no idea of the gastronomic experience in store for me, we make our way through the crowded town to what is, for India, an almost deathly silent, tree-lined street that leads to the temple. It’s like an oasis in the desert, and the cool water

we’ve been longing for is Sri Backiyalakshimi Puliyamarathadi Palgova Kadai. What a mouthful of a name! But I’m hoping to find there a mouthful of something else. We are introduced to S. Praveen Singh, aged 32. He co-owns this business with his father, and wears a serious expression that belies his age. I’m about to find out why - he may only be 32 years old, but this is one shrewd businessman!

A delightful sweet This sweet, milky delight, is light cream in colour and damp and spongy in texture. It’s near impossible to stop eating once you try it - my mouthful of palgova dissolves sweetly on my tongue, and I’m tempted to keep eating until I slip into a sugar coma! For such a strong flavour, there are simply two, easily found major ingredients - milk and sugar. Actually, these two, Mr. Singh informs me, are all that’s required to make palgova. The trick is in knowing how long to cook it for, and in what quantity.

He proudly shows us the packaging of his shop’s palgova. He points out the dietary information and informs us his shop can print this because they do high-quality and, no doubt, expensive lab tests on their product. He turns the carton around and shows us an encircled ‘S’ logo - their trademark, we find out. They are the first palgova vendors in Srivilliputtur to trademark their product, and while anyone can do it these days, theirs was the first.

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The utterly delicious palgova that was only for Rachel!

I am intrigued and ask him to tell me more, and he obligingly tells us his technique. The milk arrives fresh at the shop twice a day, after milking time at the small village outside of town from where Singh sources his milk. Palgova is made between the hours of 7-12 and 6-10 every day, and is made swiftly to ensure the milk doesn’t spoil.

Actors and actresses, agents from around the country, local businesses...they are buying Singh palgova, because, he informs us, they have the reputation, and the high quality to back that reputation up. Singh tells us, their shop does not add any refined flour, or huge amounts of sugar - those are the tricks of shops whose techniques aren’t up to scratch.

The milk is heated in 10 litre batches. When it is boiling, 1.1kg of sugar is added, and then the whole heated mass is stirred until the milk reduces and it becomes the delicious palgova. So simple! But, he stresses, you need the right quantities of items, and the correct technique of his seven workers! It takes 45 minutes for 10 litres of milk being stirred constantly to make palgova, but his employees are up to the task, and know the exact moment to remove the palgova from the heat.

I’ve done my homework, and found recipes for palgova, and ask him - why buy, if you can make it at home? He is almost disdainful as he talks of the home recipes I’ve tracked down, declaring that palgova cannot be made properly at home - you require at least 10 litres of milk to heat, otherwise it will burn, and what household has access to that quantity of milk, or the facilities to cook it?

With the milk having to reduce a great deal, 10 litres of milk - which sounds impressively large - doesn’t seem like it will make such a great quantity of palgova to meet the demand of Singh’s customers, both local and outside Srivilliputur. Singh provides the answer - his businesses uses 600 litres of milk a day! He also is doing his part for local industry, by sourcing


Madurai Messenger Eating Out July 2013

A heavenly blend- the making of the delectable dish

Brand loyalty Just as I am thinking that, in walks Ganesh Raman, age 34. He is one of Singh’s loyal customers. I ask him about his relationship with palgova, and he tells us that he has been buying palgova from Singh for 21 years, and his father bought from there before him. ‘Have you ever bought anywhere else?’ I ask. He smiles, and explains that sometimes he goes to another shop, but if he does, his family right down to his six-year-old son, can tell instantly and ask him to return the product! Only Singh, he explains, doesn’t corrupt his palgova with refined flour. The texture is slightly grainy, the particles slightly separate, whereas other shops with inferior products make palgova overly sweet, with a smoother texture that is too soft for his taste. He is, he states, completely satisfied with Singh’s product. Singh smiles behind him throughout our interview, his look of confidence never failing. This is a man who knows his job, and knows he does it well.

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all of the milk he uses from a local village, which sells to him at a reduced cost for his loyalty. When I ask him about rising demand for milk in India and what potential rises in milk costs mean for him, he shrugs - those sort of thoughts don’t concern him, he explains, for if milk prices rise, he will simply raise the prices of his palgova. He certainly seems sure that there will be a market for him, even if his prices rise!

Witnessing the creation of palgova Day two dawns, and we arrive bright and early at Singh’s shop. He meets us outside and takes us one street over to a small workshop, where production is already well underway. I watch amazed as sweating staff stand over enormous ovens and pots, stirring and scraping the milk into palgova with their powerful arms. I am intrigued by what look like blackened nut shells, scattered around the eight enormous stoves, but before I can ask Singh provides the answer. They are the waste from cashew nuts, he explains, and they’re used as fuel in the stoves. At Rs. 190 a sack, they’re more expensive to use than conventional wood, but they produce more heat and a better result, so he’s willing to pay more for quality. We move further into the workshop. One employee is already washing out the empty milk containers, preparing them to be sent back to the dairy. Another is scraping palgova into a pan. The amount is minute - I am amazed. ‘Does 10 litres of milk reduce to just this small amount of palgova?!’ I inquire. Singh laughs. It does. So much input for so little output! It’s fortunate his business is popular enough to justify such effort.

On that note, it’s time to go to the dairy co-operative, to hear their side of the story. Will it match the version I’ve found online, or Singh’s? Before we leave town, we stop at a corner to talk to a crowd of auto drivers - I want to know where the average towns-person is buying their palgova. ‘I don’t buy the milk cooperative palgova,’ one ventures in answer to our questioning, ‘I go to Sri Backiyalakshimi Puliyamarathadi Palgova Kadai.’ He has just named Singh’s shop. Amazing. I ask if Singh or the milk cooperative were the first to sell palgova. ‘They started selling about the same time,’ he supposes, ‘but I like Sri Backiyalakshimi Puliyamarathadi Palgova Kadai’s. They don’t use any refined flour or too much sugar. I always buy there.’

the union, where it is processed and packaged, ready for distribution. The bulk is used for drinking milk, curd, etc, he explains, according to demand. The surplus is used for things like butter...and palgova.

He shrugs. ‘Operation Flood had no relation to palgova,’ he said. ‘The aim of the operation was to increase milk production. The government didn’t care about how the milk was used. We just make palgova with the surplus.’

When I inquire about palgova production in regards to the milk cooperative, I receive quite the surprise. The Virudhunagar district office has only been registered and open since 1986, and have only been producing palgova (or peda, as they choose to call it - they cook for a slightly longer time, so the consistency is thicker than that of regular palgova) since 1987! What happened to the 1977 date of my original research?!

‘But did you create palgova as a way to use the surplus?’ I press eagerly.

Mystified, I make further inquiries about the union, and find they also provide mobile veterinary services for the district. Dr. Sekar explains the milk they use is all produced by foreign Jersey cows, as opposed to native Indian breeds. Indian cattle aren’t economically feasible for the milk industry, he states. They don’t produce as much, and the fat content is lower, resulting in inferior milk. However, as imported breeds of cattle struggle in the Indian climate, veterinary services are a must.

The foreign cattle were introduced to meet the demands of milk supply during Operation Flood. At last, we’re back to my original story! Was the creation of palgova a result of Operation Flood? I ask.

The other side of the story The greeting at the milk cooperate is so warm and friendly I am almost taken aback. We have arrived while the general manager of the Aavin Virudhunagar District Cooperative is in a meeting, but he immediately puts it on hold to see us. We crowd into Dr. S. Sekar’s (49) office with the members of his meeting. They are all eager to answer our questions. First, I wish to know more about the milk cooperative process, and what exactly they do at Dr. Sekar’s establishment. He explains to me how that it is a threetier system. There is the Milk Producers Cooperate Society (MPCS), at the village level; then the Milk Producers Cooperate Union (MPCU) at the district level; and finally the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Producers Federation at the state level. We are currently at the middle tier, the district level. The services provided by his cooperative are the following, he explains. They collect milk from the MPCS, at the village level, every day. It is taken to a district chilling facility in Virudhunagar. Then it is brought back to the establishment,

Packaged goodness- Boxes of palgova ready to eat!

He waves a hand dismissively. ‘Palgova was already an indigenous sweet,’ he says. ‘It’s just a way to use the surplus.’ I am amazed. I inquire,”So, was Srivilliputtur always a dairy region? ‘Was palgova a result of this being a dairy region?” ‘Srivilliputtur is only a dairy region because of Operation Flood,’ he explains, ‘it’s just a coincidence that palgova was also here.’ Debunked! My original research has been completely debunked! The words have come straight from the mouth of the general manager. Singh’s claims to be descended from the palgova pioneer are looking more and more credible. Palgova is obviously a lucrative enough business for the cooperative to consistently make it from the surplus, but I ask him anyway why he thinks people are buying it, as opposed to, say, making it themselves. The ingredients are simple, only milk and sugar (so, no refined flour, as speculated by people in the town) he states. But

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Madurai Messenger Eating Out July 2013

Engrossing Narrative: Inferno Tim Hardaker reviews the latest Dan Brown book Inferno, and finds it an irresistible read; a vintage Brown novel with his trade mark twists in the tale By Tim Hardaker, Australia

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elebrated American novelist Dan Brown returns with Inferno, the fourth installment in his series of hugely successful books concerning the exploits of the thinking man’s James Bond, noted Harvard Professor, Dr Robert Langdon. Brown’s books have the uncanny ability of being able to keep you utterly enthralled, and right from the outset. They’re the living, breathing embodiment of the term ‘page turner’, as once you pick it up, you’ll no doubt find it very difficult to put it back down until you’ve reached its dramatic conclusion. To achieve this, there are a few techniques that Brown uses to his advantage, specifically he keeps each chapter short and punchy – often no more than four or five pages – and he always manages to end them with a cliff-hanger of sorts. It all combines to make it very easy to convince yourself, ‘I’ll just read one more chapter!’

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A slab of the simply divine and divinely simple palgova

palgova needs to be made in vast quantities, so the milk doesn’t burn, and to be stirred for a long time. It’s impractical to make by oneself, he says. People like it simply because it’s sweet and delicious - and being too difficult to make themselves, that’s why they’re willing to buy. The answer is certainly similar to Singh’s - getting into the palgova business seems to be a serious commitment in time and energy, and it’s the big muscle with the customer base to make it a worthwhile investment that seem to be making that commitment

I ask mischievously to all the members in the room if they themselves like palgova. They all laugh, but then sheepishly confess that they do. One admits that when they have meetings, there is always palgova on the table. And for weddings, in this area, palgova is the sweet of choice to be served to the guests, another adds.

Well, it’s always nice when a board is a fan of, and consumes its own products! That speaks highly of their faith in what they produce. My original story in pieces, Singh’s words validated, only one question remains for me - if everyone we asked outside of town, and everyone we asked inside the town has recommended us to Singh’s Sri Backiyalakshimi Puliyamarathadi Palgova Kadai...who is buying the milk cooperative’s products and promoting them?

A winning formula

The answer? Tourists. ‘Tourists come to the temple,’ Dr. Sekar explains, ‘and they buy from the shops around the temple.’ It turns out, while they do have agents, and private businesses buying from them, most of their local buyers are the milk cooperative associated shops around the temple. I can see it now...a stream of religious pilgrims to the temple, buying from the prime-located shops with their milk cooperative products, and carrying the flavour, and word, of this sweet delight back to their hometowns, near and far. As we drive along the Madurai Road, sun flashing through the parched trees along the roadside, the taste of palgova is still melting in my mouth.

Title:

Inferno

Publisher:

DoubleDay

Author:

Dan Brown

Year:

2013

If you’ve read any of Brown’s previous Langdon-focused mysteries – the 80-million-copy-selling-turnedHollywood-blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, its predecessor and series debut Angels & Demons, or the most recent installment The Lost Symbol – you’ll know that he’s not one to deviate too far from his tried and tested formula. Although it has to be said, when your books have sold in excess of 150 million copies worldwide and you have a fan base who rabidly await the delivery of each episode, you can be sure your blueprint doesn’t need much revision. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – as the saying goes! Each novel in the series generally follows the path

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Madurai Messenger Book Review July 2013

of Langdon pursuing a mystery steeped in ancient-symbolism, with a revolving roster of young, female sidekicks to ably assist... and provide the sexual chemistry and tension. There’s usually a worldwide threat on human safety, and also a clandestine secret-society operating far out on the fringe. Inferno is no different, and that’s why fans of Robert Langdon’s adventures will devour it in record time.

The Greek Connection Owen Daniel reviews Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and finds it an engrossing narrative about the Iliad from the perspective of Penelope, the lead woman character, thereby imparting a contemporary feminist perspective to a timeless story By Owen Daniel

A historical whodunit

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United Kingdom

The story begins with Langdon waking in a hospital room in Florence, Italy. He has no recollection of the series of events that brought him there (he has retrograde amnesia due to a bullet injury to the head), and before he’s had much of a chance to recover, he’s very quickly thrown into unraveling the plot of a fast-approaching global catastrophe. As he reveals the secrets of his quest, he’s also able to regain his own memories, but it’s a captivating plot device to have the story’s main character unsure of exactly who he’s chasing, why he’s in pursuit, how he came to be there, or even whose side he’s actually on. Very early in the piece he joins forces with Sienna Brooks, a young doctor with a mysterious past who serves as his accomplice and an equally-intelligent ally throughout. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Brown – and by definition, his long-serving protagonist Langdon – is a great lover of Italian history (The Lost Symbol has been the only book in the series not to play out predominately in Italy). Inferno provides him with another opportunity to flex his creative muscle in this regard, as Brown paints an incredibly vivid picture of Florence and its richly historic architecture. The book takes its name from 13th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s celebrated epic The Divine Comedy, the likes of which form a central component of the story, so it’s chock full of essential references to Renaissance art, history, science, symbolism, mythology and religion.

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argaret Atwood takes Penelope, the heroine from Homer’s The Odyssey, and approaches the feminine moral icon from a fresh new angle. As the daughter of Icarius of Sparta and cousin to the beautiful Helen of Troy, Penelope’s hidden chambers are opened up effortlessly by Atwood. She allows us to gawp through her doors of perception and unravels the story by shining a new light on the characters within.

The main reason Dan Brown’s work is so captivating is you find yourself constantly educated along the way... Interestingly in the build up to Inferno

Originally published in 2005, it was nominated for the 2006 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and also for the 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It comes as one of the first books in the Cannongate Myth Series and was translated in to 28 languages by 33 publishers across the globe. The Toronto-based author won the esteemed Bookerprize award for The Blind Assassin (2000), and was also shortlisted another four times for the Booker with different titles. Famed for penning many other novels (both fiction and non) alongside essays and poetry – over 50 in total - she has achieved critical acclaim worldwide and international awards in France, Italy and Norway. She’s also received no-less-than 24 honorary degrees!

No Greek and Latin As I struggle to sleep in a sweltering Chennai hotel room after days of lengthy sleeper bus and train journeys, I flick through the early pages and chapters grasping the flavours of The Penelopiad. It makes a refreshing change to taste anything Greek in India. Finally I’ve found something not so spicy.

Celebrity author: Author Dan Brown

The main reason Dan Brown’s work is so captivating is you find yourself constantly educated along the way. Unfortunately it’s also the main criticism he’s leveled with, as it’s been said many times over that Brown takes certain liberties with the accuracy of the information he conveys. Interestingly, in the build up to Inferno’s release Eugenio Giani, the president of the Italian Dante Society, came to Brown’s defense before any

of these inaccuracies had a chance to surface. “The Divine Comedy is 600 years old,” he told the UK’s Daily Telegraph. “It can survive a few mistakes being made by Dan Brown.” He’s clearly hoping Inferno can do for Dante’s legacy what The Da Vinci Code did for Leonardo, even if a few aspects of the legend’s work are skewed along the way. It’s all in the name of a good story, so what’s the harm?

As the plot unfolds, Odysseus wins Penelope’s hand in marriage in what could be deemed the world’s first doping

Title:

The Penolopiad

Author:

Margaret Atwood

Publisher:

Knopf Canada

Year:

2005

From near-death experiences between the herd and himself, to loving family moments, each page paints a unique portrait of the wild

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Madurai Messenger Book Review July 2013

A Life Manual Alice Notarianni, an unabashed Paulo Coelho fan, reviews his latest book, Manuscript Found in Accra and discovers it to be another vintage Coelho narrative, filled with gems of wisdom about life and living By Alice Notarianni Italy

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he book came into my hands by sheer chance. Dated 1099 and released in 2012, unearthed from a cave in Cairo. The “Brazilian scribe” Paulo Coelho, has written down the last speech by an old and wise man called the Copt, before Jerusalem was invaded by crusaders. Within the city, men and women of every age and every religion, were afraid of death and were looking for rescue, comfort, hope and truth. Gathered together around the mysterious Greek man, the crowd started questioning him about life, first wondering about defeats and struggles, then turning to questions about beauty, love, wisdom and future.

All in all, this read is an extremely well-written piece with eloquent and witty prose. Margaret’s sense of humour radiates throughout not taking herself or Penelope too seriously, and adding a modernday appeal to an ancient tale. The short paragraphs helped to encourage my reading habits and I managed to digest the entire book in record time 36 Margaret Atwood: A potential Nobel prize author

scandal. Meanwhile, Helen leaves her husband and runs off with a younger man leaving Odysseus, or Ulysses as he’s known in Roman mythology, to plan an attack on the great city of Troy. Then, after a certain amount of horseplay, he goes AWOL and the rumour-mill starts to churn. Despite his exceptionally lengthy absence, his good lady remained utterly faithful throughout, although word on the street said anything other than this. As her suitors hawked around, people would laugh at her dedication to this mysterious warrior. Everyone wanted to get their hands on her royal highness and with it the kingdom she ruled. Naturally with so many testosterone-filled men chasing her, especially in those days, it was always going to end in a murderous bloodbath. What else would suffice?

often tenuous relationships within her own family and the challenges they provided. She manages to apply focus only when necessary and blurs the edges of shots that need not be consumed in full detail.

From the heart There are books that go far beyond every literary genre, every ephemeral character and narrative plot, they go straight to the one and only point that ever matters: human beings and human life, and The manuscript found in Accra is one of them. Its poetic, realistic, and its philosophical style and symbolic language don’t speak just to the mind but directly to the heart.

Despite my lack of knowledge of Greek or any other mythology, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Margaret intertwines poems, ye olde references and more current terminology seamlessly, and now personally for me at least, I can pretend to know a thing or two about Greek gods and goddesses. One of my personal poetic favourites as performed by the maids begins with:

“If I was a princess, with silver and gold, All in all, this read is an extremely well-written piece with eloquent and witty prose. Margaret’s sense of humour radiates throughout not taking herself or Penelope too seriously, and adding a modern-day appeal to an ancient tale. The short paragraphs helped to encourage my reading habits and I managed to digest the entire book in record time. Atwood manages to capture perfectly the love, anger, fear and complexity shared by the ill-fated couple, the Queen’s jealousy towards her cousin Helen, as well as the

And loved by a hero, I’d never grow old: Oh, if a young hero came a-marrying me, I’d always be beautiful, happy, and free!” As one incredibly old dead dude called Virgil put it so aptly back around 24 BC: “She nourishes the poison in her veins and is consumed by a secret fire”. Margaret and Penelope share burning ambitions, and all are realised in this epic mythical novel.

Title:

Manuscript found in Accra

Author:

Paulo Coelho

Publisher:

Knopf Canada

Year:

2013

In these words, in these lines, in these pages, are written all the answers you are seeking for. You should take your time to deeply understand the meaning of each allegorical phrase, find a nice silent and natural place and read the pages, found in Accra, really slowly and carefully, sometimes twice, sometimes three times or even keep reading them forever, because the real one teaching of the entire book is always within you, your own feelings and thoughts, your

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Madurai Messenger Book Review July 2013

From the heart

own experiences, your own life.... it’s your own interpretation.

There are books that go far beyond every literary genre, every ephemeral character and narrative plot, they go straight to the one and only point that ever matters: human beings and human life, and The manuscript found in Accra is one of them. Its poetic, realistic, and its philosophical style and symbolic language don’t speak just to the mind but directly to the heart.

Life lessons This is why Coelho’s works are considered modern classics and why he is one of the most widely read author in the world. The Brazilian novelist, born in Rio de Jainero in 1947, now 66, before becoming a best selling author and gaining international fame, went through hard times that made him develop extraordinary sensitivity and insight into human pain and sorrow.

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“You cannot take something out of nothing. When you write a book, you use your experience.” Paulo Coelho has always taken inspiration from his long and intense life experiences. When he was just an adolescent, he was subjected to electroshock therapy in a mental institution for his introverted, rebellious and controversial behaviour. At 27, he was arrested and physically tortured, for presumed “subversive” activities by the ruling military government against Brazilian dictatorship and then, when he met the rock star Raul Seixas, he lived as a hippie and a free “love and peace” life in the era of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.” First a composer, then journalist, rock-star, actor, playwright, theatre director and TV producer, when Paulo Coelho was 38, he realized that he was already a complete artiste but still far from his only one and true dream of becoming a writer. His writing debut came only at the age of 40. The turning point of Coelho’s life was in 1986, when he walked the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela, a medieval pilgrimage, between France and Spain that helped him to rediscover the spiritual side of life. This mystical experience initiated him into his writing career, and since then, his prolific output, almost one book every two years, has never stopped, and all of them have become best sellers. The Manuscript Found in Accra is the latest in his stable of 30 titles. From his early masterpiece The Alchemist

- his second book, published in 1988 – Coelho’s view has changed. From self help and one’s own destiny, he moves towards the collective destiny of humanity and the greater common good. Every Coelho reader has identified, at least once, with the young character of the Andalusian shepherd Santiago in his journey to Egypt. But now, after 25 years, the reader is mature enough to identify herself in the latest townspeople crowd in their community exploration of our most enduring and transcendental values. Reading Coelho’s book always works like a one to one or group meditation. Every book story has ourselves reflected in it and gives us the chance to find and explore our own selves. According to the author, writing is a fellowship of souls, a magical tool that can easily connect people to make them know, reveal and communicate their souls in return. The connection can be created between the author and his reader or even between the reader and other readers.

Now the book is in your hands. “Blessed are those who hear these words or read this manuscript, because the veil will be rent from top to bottom, and there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed to you,” are the concluding lines of this reflective book. “Pass on the word or the manuscript,” writes Paulo Coelho in his latest book, The Manuscript. The book is definitely worth reading. The book came into my hands by sheer chance. Dated 1099 and released in 2012, unearthed from a cave in Cairo. The “Brazilian scribe” Paulo Coelho, has written down the last speech by an old and wise man called the Copt, before Jerusalem was invaded by crusaders. Within the city, men and women of every age and every religion, were afraid of death and were looking for rescue, comfort, hope and truth. Gathered together around the mysterious Greek man, the crowd started questioning him about life, first wondering about defeats and struggles, then turning to questions about beauty, love, wisdom and future.

In these words, in these lines, in these pages, are written all the answers you are seeking for. You should take your time to deeply understand the meaning of each allegorical phrase, find a nice silent and natural place and read the pages, found in Accra, really slowly and carefully, sometimes twice, sometimes three times or even keep reading them forever, because the real one teaching of the entire book is always within you, your own feelings and thoughts, your own experiences, your own life.... it’s your own interpretation.

Life lessons This is why Coelho’s works are considered modern classics and why he is one of the most widely read author in the world. The Brazilian novelist, born in Rio de Jainero in 1947, now 66, before becoming a best sellering author and gaining international fame, went through hard times that made him develop extraordinary sensitivity and insight into human pain and sorrow. “You cannot take something out of nothing. When you write a book, you use your experience.” Paulo Coelho has always taken inspirations from his long and intense life experiences. When he was just an adolescent, he was subjected to electroshock therapy in a mental institution for his introverted, rebellious and controversial behaviour. At 27, he was arrested and physically tortured, for presumed “subversive” activities by the ruling military government against Brazilian dictatorship and then, when he met the rock star Raul Seixas, he lived as an hippie and free “love and peace” life in the era of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.”

Best selling Author Paulo Coelho

First a composer, then journalist, rock-star, actor, playwright, theatre director and TV producer, when Paulo Coelho was 38, he realized that he was already a complete artiste but still far from his only one and true dream of becoming a writer.

the Andalusian shepherd Santiago in his journey to Egypt. But now, after 25 years, the reader is mature enough to identify herself in the latest townspeople crowd in their community exploration of our most enduring and transcendental values.

His writing debut came only at the age of 40. The turning point of Coelho’s life was in 1986, when he walked the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela, a medieval pilgrimage, between France and Spain that helped him to rediscover the spiritual side of life.

Reading Coelho’s book always works like a one to one or group meditation. Every book story has ourselves reflected in it and gives us the chance to find and explore our own selves.

This mystical experience initiated him into his writing career, and since then, his prolific output, almost one book every two years, has never stopped, and all of them have become best sellers. The Manuscript Found in Accra is the latest in his stable of 30 titles. From his early masterpiece The Alchemist - his second book, published in 1988 – Coelho’s view has changed. From self help and one’s own destiny, he moves towards the collective destiny of humanity and the greater common good. Every Coelho reader has identified, at least once, with the young character of

According to the author writing is a fellowship of souls, a magical tool that can easily connect people to make them know, reveal and communicate their souls in return. The connection can be created between the author and his reader or even between the reader and other readers. Now the book is in your hands. “Blessed are those who hear these words or read this manuscript, because the veil will be rent from top to bottom, and there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed to you,” are the concluding lines of this reflective book.

39


Madurai Messenger Village Voices July 2013

Danushkodi: Remains of another Day Owen Daniel and the Madurai Messenger team wander around Danushkodi, the sleepy little fishing village in the southern tip of Rameshwaram island that was destroyed by a cataclysmic cyclone in December 1964. The ruined relics of old Danushkodi still stand a mute testimony to the ravages of the natural disaster, and a lone survivor’s fierce pride of wanting to breathe his last in this vulnerable little fishing outpost at land’s end of mainland India was simply touching Text: Owen Daniel, United Kingdom Photos: Nandini Murali, Madurai Messenger

landscape and structure of the area was devastated by a violent cyclone. Reports of damage to property were estimated anything up to $150 million, a huge sum, especially in these parts. Continuing on our way to Danushkodi, the ghost town as it was dubbed after 1964, I learn somewhere not so far in front of is one of the world’s shortest land-borders. Just 50 yards in length, it stretches between India and Sri Lanka in a shoal probably above or around the renowned Rama’s Bridge, also known as Adam’s Bridge. It is thought this bridge was intact and passable until around 1480 when a cyclone swamped it forever more. Legend says Rama shattered the bridge, or Sethu, with one end of his bow – after he rescued his wife Sita – danush meaning bow and kodi meaning end hence the town’s name.

A road less travelled

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We switch our air-conditioned Chevvy for a retro four-wheel-drive jeep, as our 25-year-old driver Jyothi tells us the only way to visit Danushkodi before the invention of the four wheel drive was by fish trucks. He stops the car to check the bolts on his wheels; digging through a dirty plastic half water-bottle to check his, er, nuts… he continues driving and explains the lay-of-the-land, “This walled roads protects us from high sands blown from both seas either side, the Indian Ocean to the right or the Bay of Bengal to the left.”

The remains of the Danushkodi Railway Station that was washed away by the 1964 cyclone

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s we cross the southern-most bridge out of mainland India, the magnitude of mythological importance – here in Rameswaram – doesn’t escape me. The island allegedly is the exact route to Sri Lanka, as taken by the hero Rama in Ramayana, the world-famous Indian epic.

Up above, a convocation of eagles glide on the contours riding high and searching for prey. We’re approached by a local offering freshly cut pineapple chunks and gladly appreciate this perfect thirst-quenching refreshment on such a glorious day.

Gazing down below the Pamban bridge, we can see stunning clear-blue waters brushing up against sandy beaches and rocking the brightly coloured fishing boats dotted all around.

The bridge was originally built by the British during colonial times. It ran a railway service for almost 50 years, up until that fateful date of December 22, 1964, when the whole

Going off road we drive onto the shrubedged beaches, skipping through quick sands and rock pools as we go. Little fluffy white clouds hover over herds of goats and random horses stroll along the shallow shorelines without a care in the world. All the while, two beady eyes from a lonesome eagle monitor our movements. Discussing what troubles him, Jyothi gripes: “The Sri Lanka navy recently killed 15 local fishermen and this is certainly impacting the local communities.” Immediately I wonder

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Kumar’s parents were stranded up on a mound and “were watching helplessly as the train full of passengers was swept away by gigantic 25 metre waves.” There were no survivors from the last ever journey between Pamban to Danushkodi and the death toll was at least 150, as all six coaches were washed away. Any remains of the train and its occupants lie submerged in the Indian Ocean even today


Madurai Messenger Village Voices July 2013

if and how the ancient Indian myth of Rama, and how his wife was abducted by the powerful demon god Ravana – king of [Sri] Lanka – affects modern-day relations between the two nations.

Relics of the past With an occasional taste of salt in the air, we observe black herons and sand plover birds foraging for insects in the tide pools. Just behind them, a row of rocks are scattered along the beach. This turns out to be the remains of the other half of the train bridge, washed away during the cataclysmic cyclone of 1964. The winds that ugly winter night reportedly reached between a staggering 240-280 km/h (150-175 mph) and the eye of the storm was anything up to 16 km wide! The damage and catastrophe that followed are absolutely unimaginable, but try as we might. 42

Arriving at some dilapidated stonewalled structure, it’s then pointed out to us that this is actually the infamous Danushkodi train station – completely demolished during those life-changing days. The cold walls give no indication whatsoever of its original purpose or history to the untrained eye. I sit down in the middle of the four walls for a moment to scribble some notes and a sombre, powerful mood takes over me. It’s impossible to comprehend how this looked, sounded and smelt prior to that night that took the lives of over 300 locals. The total death-count for the region was closer to 2000, and, to be honest – I’m surprised it wasn’t more. A scientific Geological Survey of India found that the town had sunk by almost five meters during 1948-1949. I’m sure little did the inhabitants know within less than two decades the entire town would be completely submerged. We meet K. Kumar, a local tour-guideby-day and fisherman-by-night. The father of three is 32 years old and his mother and father were two of the few fortunate survivors of the Danushkodi cyclone. The 9th child in the family with

four sisters, five brothers, sadly only his mother and a few brothers are still alive today.

A survivor’s story His father, Kali, was a fisherman and extremely strong swimmer and hence popularly known as “Neechal Kali” and was not only a survivor but also one of the great heroes of those disastrous days. He told Kumar before their life changed irreversibly, that the sea was half a kilometre further away… as we walk with him, he starts to relive the story taking us to the old customs and port office, the shattered remains of which his parents adopted as their new home after the deathly cyclone ,

ignoring the advice to leave and staying at their own risk.

Spooky ruins of the Danushkodi church destroyed in cyclone

“As the high-winds approached, flocks of flamingos came squawking into the house – they immediately knew something was terribly wrong and danger was just around the corner,” Kumar states as we listen intently. Fleeing to higher ground with his pregnant mother (Rathamal, now 96) Kumar’s parents were stranded up on a mound and “were watching helplessly as the train full of passengers was swept away by gigantic 25 metre waves”. There were no survivors for the last ever journey between Pamban to Danushkodi and the death toll was

now. Kumar’s dad taught him to swim at the age of five, something he’ll soon be teaching his eldest son in return – and encouraged him into the family tradition of fishing and assisting tourists to the area. I prompt him on his thoughts of divine intervention; he eyes seem to have well up – I pause thinking how difficult it must be to relive these memories for him – “The Arabian Sea is male because of the depth and rough waters, and Bay of Bengal is feminine because of how shallow and peaceful it is in comparison. The Indian Ocean is mother, therefore divine. It nurtures and protects us.” We are interrupted by a gecko chirping – something I didn’t know was possible – this is allegedly a good omen, validating that he speaks the truth.

Our star reporter Tim Hardraker passes me a local delicacy drink; fresh lemon with salt and soda – presumably great for rehydration in these parts, I squint as I sample this au naturale Indian lemonade. Not sure it will catch on like Coke or Pepsi though!

Our star reporter Tim Hardraker passes me a local delicacy drink - fresh lemon with salt and soda – presumably great for rehydration in these parts, I squint as I sample this au naturale Indian lemonade. Not sure it will catch on like Coke or Pepsi though!

The confluence of three seas: The Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean

at least 150, as all six coaches were washed away. Any remains of the train and its occupants lie submerged in the Indian Ocean even today. His father acted as quickly as he could. “He rescued 40 people that night,” Kumar proudly states as our mouths hang open in astonishment. As recognition and a thank you, Mr Kalai was given a wildcard to enter the swimming competition - a race between India and Sri Lanka across the Palk Straits covering 18 miles. Having been

a winner of the swim, he was offered a cash reward and despite the family’s extreme financial hardships, he refused the prize and commented that he was “happy to have attended and competed for all those who lost their lives” in the sunken town.

Carrying on a family tradition From that day forth, his father never shaved again, his hair and his beard grew wildly, reaching below the groin before he sadly departed two years ago

Making our way over the beaches, we reach the ruins of a 1935 church, built by the British Raj. It has an eerie feel to it knowing some where in the waters lapping down behind it, is a hidden town and home of the dead. I wonder if people took refuge here that night hoping to be saved. As we slip and slide through the sands, Kumar explains the only major inconveniences of living here are the lack of electricity and fairly unreliable transport out of town. That said, we did spot a hut with a few solar panels and a cable TV dish outside. Some people still get the finer things in life it seems. A couple of crows screech out as us as we’re examining the remains, no doubt they also have a story to be told but today we left our bird-translator back at the office!

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Madurai Messenger Village Voices July 2013

A Thousand Word Moments They say that sometimes it can be an unnerving experience in India when you find the locals staring at you for longer than you’d like – but I have to check myself regularly as I’m pretty sure I’m staring back, inherently fascinated by their story By Tim Hardaker Australia

T

he most common version of the age-old saying is that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. I agree, of course, but I think a sound or smell is just as powerful and likely to leave a lasting impression. When all three combine, it can be an overwhelming experience. But that’s an every day occurrence in India, with the multitude of amazing sights, sounds and smells converging to conquer your senses. It’s what makes it such an incredible country to visit. It makes you feel alive.

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Uncle Durai and cousin Uymal, two of the few living survivors from the killer storm

A warm welcome Before heading back to Madurai, we visit the simply stunning land’s end point. This is where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian Ocean divided by a thin strip of golden sand before the waves meet from opposing directions. The last survivor When we arrive at his Uncle Durai’s shack, the 96-year-old creeps out to join his 75-year-old daughter, Uymal, as she sifts through shells in order to collect a load for a daily wage of Rs. 20. That’s on a good day. The frail gentleman tells us how he was the 4th or 5th generation of fishermen from their family as he recounts his recollection of what happened. Within just a few hours of the winds, the whole town was underwater. “The waves were as high as the sky,” he said. And judging by the reports we’d already heard, he probably wasn’t exaggerating. He took shelter with his wife and three children, Uymal being just 12 at the

time, and waited till the water receded the next day. Then they visited the station to see what and who they could find and were only met by the “bodies of the train driver and conductor.” I quiz him whether he feels threatened by a similar event happening in the future and if he considered moving away, “No, no.” he firmly says, “I want to die here, even if I do get thrown around a bit first.” Before heading back to Madurai, we visit the simply stunning land’s end point. This is where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian Ocean divided by a thin strip of golden sand before the waves meet from opposing directions.

A bath in this holy place at the junction of the two seas is undertaken by thousands of devotees every year before the pilgrimage to Rameswaram. If this is one of the four corners of the world, it is by far the most beautiful of them all. I felt like we had just touched Indian history. In turn, I guess we helped to shape the future in some small degree. In a few years time they’ll be no living survivors of this deadly force of natural disaster. My colleagues and I will be among the privileged few to have met and interviewed some of them. Regardless, with Kumar and his young family staying put, the memory of those terrible days will live on in the hearts of many for generations to come.

Arriving in Madurai to undertake our volunteer projects, my wife Erin and I initially felt a sense of relief. We’d been traveling in the north of India for two weeks already, where temperatures were routinely in the high-40s, so to step out into Madurai’s relatively mild 30 degrees (a very recent cool change after a spate of incredibly hot weather we were quickly informed!) was a welcome reprieve. Our host family, the Jebakani family welcomed us into their home and we immediately felt a sense of belonging. When you’re this far from home, the benefit of a warm smile can’t be underestimated. As part of the Journalism project, I’ll be writing for the Madurai Messenger. On day one, I had my stories for the current issue delegated, and I’ve since been busy researching for my first interview. It’s been hugely interesting as I’ll be speaking with author Anuja Chandramouli about her novel ‘Arjuna’, an interpretation of one of India’s most revered epics, the Mahabharata.

The city with beautiful people

Our host family, the Jebakani family welcomed us into their home and we immediately felt a sense of belonging. When you’re this far from home, the benefit of a warm smile can’t be underestimated Could there be a more fitting subject to immerse myself in while I soak up India’s myriad of cultural quirks and idiosyncrasies? I don’t think so! Not that I need the reminder, but I’ve found the short 10-minute walk from home to the office each morning has been the best way to reflect on where I am and what I’m doing. Chickens, goats and cows running loose, me navigating the busy road amidst a never-ending swarm of buses, autos and scooters,

people generally going about their daily lives has left me intrigued as I wonder where they’re headed. They say that sometimes it can be an unnerving experience in India when you find the locals staring at you for longer than you’d like – but I have to check myself regularly as I’m pretty sure I’m staring back, inherently fascinated by their story. I’m building a bank of lasting memories, an array of those ‘thousand word’ moments that you won’t soon forget.


Madurai Messenger First Impressions July 2013

In Gandhi’s footsteps… Owen Daniel feels privileged to be in Madurai… In the shadows of the Father of the Nation, he joyfully embraces the many splendoured Indian experience, for which he says, “Mikka Nandri, India!” By Owen Daniel United Kingdom

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Cars drive on the correct side of the road here, if you’re British/Australian that is, or the wrong side if you’re from any other part of the world. The roads are absolute carnage—buses, rickshaws and mopeds galore dodge random donkeys, goats, cows and chickens meandering about without a care in the world…

A city with character Pastel-coloured flat-roofed buildings are sporadically dotted around without much in the ways of what we know in the Western world as ‘town-planning’ or ‘building regulations’. Between them are messy low-lying telegraph wires and

Self-confessed foodie, Rachel Smith, is a poster girl for street food. Although she admits that the street food in Madurai does not match the variety of Thailand, China, Singapore and New York, she says she values it because of the great opportunity it provides to meet people and the new experiences it offers By Rachel Smith, Australia

s I arrive in India’s southern city of Madurai, the place responsible for Mahatma Gandhi’s simplistic style of dress, I try to embrace the weird, the wonderful and go with the local flow. Almost a century ago, in 1921, the Father of Nation embraced the loin cloth as his favourite attire in solidarity with his people after seeing the farmers wearing the same, as they still do to this very day. I feel privileged to be able to tread in his shadows. For a city not so well-known the world over, it’s also credited with a local professor, Pitchappan’s discovery of a missing genetic link between 3000 BC and 7000 BC. The anthropologist found evidence of descendants from the first humans thought to have left Africa around 10,000 years ago! This dwarfs anything from the great Kings and Queens of Egypt and is the oldest known civilisation known to humans. And I thought I was old-school.

Confessions of an Unabashed Foodie!

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oodie.’ If ever there was a word to describe me, that’s the one. I can’t even call it a guilty pleasure, because I am loudly and unabashedly public about it – I love to eat.

A street food sample package - corn, a samosa, some sort of chilli, and a mixed vegetable concoction!

There’s something in the road side shack

A room with a view

rubbish-strewn streets. Entrepreneurial vendors sell fresh-fruits, juices, hot drinks at almost every public space to catch a break from the hectic pace of the roads. All adding to the unique charm and character this city has to offer. My first meal was the classic South Indian Thali dish; an amazing homecooked vegetarian cuisine served on a banana leaf base. We were treated to rice, vegetables with flavours and spices I’ve never even read about. All of which blew my mind and my taste buds like nothing I’ve sampled previously. Certainly stepped up from the usual (mild-as-hell chicken korma) dish I have.

Curfew, Indian style! Sampling student life at the ripe old age of 34, I have a 9.30 pm curfew if you please! Unbelievable, but at least my girlfriend approves of that one. No 24hour raves for me then. After the early night I take breakfast post-yoga on the roof terrace... If there’s one place in the

world to try yoga it’s here. It’s totally what Gandhi would have wanted. On the roof terrace, I spot more of the coolest little ninja-yellow-back squirrels ever. They’re so much better than European squirrels. Allegedly, they’re trained in an animal form of martial arts, so I’ve heard! I’m thinking of smuggling two of them out of the country to bring them back to Europe so we can all have uber-cool ninja squirrels. Don’t mention it to customs, though! In the bright morning sun, the crows fly south in the summer too it appears. They seek shade in the coconut trees as coconuts drop down naturally when ripe just yards away. People’s gardens flourish with curry trees, jasmine and the roadsides are scattered with pink, yellow, white and red flowered-shrubs growing wildly. Some of the houses are so close to overbearing coconut trees it’s hard to establish which grew up around which!

When I travel, it’s all about street food. Keep your 5 star Michelin meals, because I know that food tastes better when it’s cooked in a road-side shack. Meat tastes better jammed on a stick and handed over to you fresh from the charcoal-fueled BBQ, I promise. So I’m sure by now you can see in your mind’s eye, the look of childish glee on my face on my first morning in Madurai, as we hurtled along the packed streets, dodging a pedestrian here, a cow there, as I took in the vast array of neighbourhood stalls peddling things I couldn’t identify but knew I was going to devour. Honestly, compared to some of the places I’ve visited – Thailand, China, Singapore, even New York – Madurai doesn’t have a huge variety of street food. Most of what’s in the area of the office and my home is more like the equivalent of the neighbourhood newspaper shop – a counter with jars of biscuits, cakes and candies, a bunch of bananas hanging from the roof, a rack of cigarettes behind the sweaty attendant, sometimes even a refrigerator stocked with cool drinks. Dotted around are some shacks, little more than tin roofs on stilts

47

When I travel, it’s all about street food. Keep your 5 star Michelin meals, because I know that food tastes better when it‘s cooked in a road-side shack. Meat tastes better jammed on a stick and handed over to you fresh from the charcoal-fueled BBQ, I promise with perhaps some lawn furniture, perhaps recycled items underneath, for sitting, where the food seems to come directly from the kitchen of a nearby house. These offer the staple foods of the Indian diet – my first day before coming in to work I had a coffee at one of these shacks, and had an interesting conversation (of sorts) with a gentleman enjoying his morning idli. There are even a few stalls with no room for the customers even to squeeze into the shade of the roof, having only room under them for the owner, a blackened pot of bubbling oil for deep frying, and a selection of local

foods on display that can be hastily wrapped in a piece of newspaper and tucked in a pocket for later. No, there’s not the breadth of food I’ve seen in other places, but that doesn’t matter. To me, the greatest joy of street food is being with the locals, eating what they eat, seeing the food that doesn’t get offered to the casual tourist. Street food, apart from indulging my joy of eating, also satisfies my craving for new experiences, and I was happier than can be said to see it whizzing past outside through the windows of the car when I arrived.


Madurai Messenger First Impressions July 2013

From Milano to Madurai Alice Notarianni, a resident of Milan in Italy, is amazed at the many divergences between Milan and Madurai. While the former is materialistic, she finds Madurai spiritual. Finally, she concedes that Madurai is a splash of colour and life in this ancient city is all about art and emotion By Alice Notarianni Italy

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rom West to East, from Italy to India, here’s what’s missing: Time, nature, spiritualism, tradition and colours. Milan, my home city and Madurai, my temporary home are two completely opposite and different realities. But this doesn’t mean they’re alternative. On the contrary, they are mostly complementary.

Megestic tower of the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

East is east and West is west 48

If in Milan, time is money, in Madurai time is humanity. Wherever you go, you find people taking their time, let things go naturally. Work appointments, auto rickshaw calls, restaurant bills…Indians would always take them easy. At first, Westerners feel annoyed at such a laid back attitude but then they understand and appreciate this new way of life. Indians never seem to be in a hurry. They always have time for you, especially if you’re coming from West. They readily help Westerners with directions to the bus stop, they are friendly and want to have a talk with you, and invite you to their home for lunch, tea or coffee, even if they’re busy. Madurai’s people have an easy smile on their face that always reflects kindness, respect and helpfulness.

Connecting with nature In Milan, men prevail on nature. But in Madurai, man lives in harmony with nature in a more simple and raw way. In every day life, people are surrounded by the Earth that they can truly feel and touch walking barefoot, see huge fields, bright palms, wild squirrels, dogs and cows and exotic trees that give them no GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) fruits.

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The Westerner is at first bewildered but then glad to feel and breathe a new spirit of freedom, simplicity and authenticity that they’re not used to. Indians are used to eating with their hands, and to cook, rest, read newspapers squatting on the ground, and they probably would feel weird about several artificial aspects of Western lifestyle. Milan is a materialistic city while Madurai is spiritual. South Indians have deep religious beliefs; every day, they take their time to analyse their consciousness, to question their lives and pray, at home or at the temple. Their noble and humane spirits make you feel really welcome, peaceful and

positive. Tamilians treat their guests like Gods and in daily life, on the wall long the street, in SMSes or even in a pizza eatery, you can read phrases like “your visit brings happiness to us.” Milan is a cosmopolitan city, while Madurai is traditional. Milan is grey; in Madurai, everything is a colourful, decorative and an expression of its people’s love for life. The saris are a mix of fantasies, the houses look like bright, plain and geometrical flowers, and even the Tamil script looks like a decoration. Westerners are used to science and rationality but in Madurai everything is art and emotion.


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Maduraimessenger issue44 july 2013 lowres  

Although I had seen the island of Rameshwaram on the map of India jutting out like a narrow projection from the Bay of Bengal on the South E...

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