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August 2013

Volume 4, Issue 45

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The Kanchipuram Silk Saga Plus: Fashion Designers Mamta Fomra and Sujatha Srinivasan Atman Home Stay: A Perfect Getaway in Kodaikanal


Contents Editor

August 2013 | Issue No. 45

Dr. Nandini Murali

EDITOR’S CORNER Copy Editor

01 Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?

Bhuvana Venkatesh Journalism Coordinators B. Pooja R.P. Surya Prakash Journalism Administrator

COVER STORY

02 On The Silk Road: From Weaver to Wearer SPOTLIGHT

10 Unravelling the Ahimsa Silk Story

EDITOR’S CORNER

Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?

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wiss chocolates in Usilampatti near Madurai? Dosas in the Antarctic? Post globalisation, the world is shrinking as borders and boundaries erode and eventually disappear… Today Indians love pizza, pasta, Thai and Chinese food, Sushi and every kind of global cuisine!

G. Durgairajan

Fashion Design

14 Sujatha Srinivasan: Homespun Fashion

Fabiola Sánchez Peregrina Antonio Gallo Salvador Orozco Lucano Maldonado Technical Support G. Durgairajan T. Jesuraja 2 Reporters & Photographers

20 Mamta Fomra: “Style Comes from Confidence, from the Wearer’s Personality!” Food

22 The Mouth Watering Ennai Parotta Tradition

26 The Trying Life of Panju Asari, a Rekla Cart Maker

Yuka Furuya Adam Pigott Owen Daniel

Weekend Wander

28 Andaman Islands: Where Time Stands Still

Alice Notarianni Rachel Elise Smith Jacqueline Agate Mona Gibert Sophia El Boukili Cover Photograph Alice Notarianni

BOOK REVIEW

30 Devil Wears Prada: All that Glitters is not Glamour FLIM REVIEW

32 Kanchivaram: Weaving Silk with the Warp and Weft of Poverty and Inequality ECO TOURISM

Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd., Contact: editor@maduraimessenger.org

34 Atman Home Stay: Home is Where the Heart is CAUSES

36 Radio Vayalaga FM: Of People, By People, For People

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

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

38 Feeling the Pulse of India 39 A Strange New World 40 Bridging The East West Divide

I first encountered the metaphors of the melting pot and salad bowl when I was doing my PhD on gender and immigration. Simply put, what they meant was immigration is challenging. Hence the vivid culinary analogy was used to make the process accessible to people. According to the melting pot metaphor, immigrants must give up their identities and ties to their countries of origin and instead dissolve their differences and merge with the dominant culture of their adopted countries. The salad bowl metaphor, on the other hand, upholds that cultures should retain their distinctiveness and that cultural differences are valuable and should be preserved. The salad bowl metaphor that is central to multiculturalism holds that every immigrant retains their unique cultural identity, much like the items in salad that impart their unique aroma and flavour to the salad. As the editor of Madurai Messenger, a multicultural magazine both in letter and spirit, I am often reminded of these two powerful metaphors. Of course, I am all for the salad bowl metaphor. Having edited the magazine for the past seven years, I am simply amazed at the plurality of voices that I encounter on every page. I often recall a writer friend who wisely remarked, “Culture is not something out there; it’s right in here; inside our heads.” When two cultures meet, they don’t clash or collide, but co-exist side by side, with all their similarities and differences. I only have to read the wonderful stories churned out by our volunteers to remind me that across the world, people are more similar than different. Yet we keep harping on the differences and ignore our commonalities---- the warp and weft of human experience. The challenge as an editor is always this: How do I retain the diversity and originality of the voice, tone and style in each of the stories, while adhering to certain minimum acceptable standards? In the early days, I had to consciously resist the urge to homogenize every piece and make all the pieces bubble unrecognizably in a melting pot! Today, seven years later, I effortlessly combine all the ingredients and lay it out on a multicultural salad platter! Come, savour the experience—it’s delicious, and well, irresistible!

Dr. Nandini Murali Editor

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2013

On The Silk Road:

The weavers of these extremely highly regarded saris are said to have descended from Sage Markandeya, the master weaver of the gods who obtained immortality through his devotion to Lord Shiva

From Weaver to Wearer For many women in India, especially in the south, a Kanchipuram silk sari is a must in one’s wardrobe. No celebration is complete without this sari. The dazzling Kanchipuram silk sari is simply breath taking. Speaking to a cross section of weavers and retailers in Kanchipuram, the famous silk town in Chennai, Adam Pigott weaves a tapestry with the warp and weft of tradition and modern trends and warns that the challenges of silk weaving causes many weavers to migrate to other lucrative professions. Unless drastic measures are taken, the fabled Kanchipuram silk sari may well become nostalgia Text: Adam Pigott, United Kingdom Photos: Alice Notarianni, Italy

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Balasubramanian works by daylight in the ancestral business he has been involved in for 40 years, turning silk into sari.

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fter a gruelling nine-hour hour bus journey from our base in Madurai, we finally arrived in Kanchipuram, the silk town, 45 miles from Chennai. However, as we were cruising along the streets in our taxi, it looked just like any other South Indian town. I saw coffee shops, fruit stalls, shrines, oxen pulling carts laden with

grit, even temples, but nothing to distinguish it from Madurai. One thing, however, I didn’t see any sign of, was silk. Just as I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about we pulled out onto the iconically named Gandhi Road. Suddenly I understood the hype. Every other building

was a silk sari shop! It stretched on and on and would itself have been justified in being nicknamed the Silk Road. There were emporia and warehouses lining the street on both sides and with them being situated on a road named after the most preeminent and worldrenowned Indian in modern history, I felt renewed confidence in the search

Shuttle in hand, Mr Balasubramanian sets himself at his loom, preparing to weave his magic

for my story. However, I soon realised that this story would be no straightforward fairytale.

A tradition of heritage As the name suggests, Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, with a population of just over 164,000, was the birthplace of the renowned Kanchipuram sari. The

weavers of these extremely highly regarded saris are said to have descended from Sage Markandeya, the master weaver of the gods who obtained immortality through his devotion to Lord Shiva. While cotton was worn by the poorer lower classes, silk was historically worn exclusively by royalty and the very wealthy upper classes, and is still

synomonous with wealth and glamour, functioning as important status symbols in Indian culture. Popular motifs for the Kanchipuram designs are suns, moons, chariots, peacocks, parrots, swans, lions, coins, mangoes and leaves. A striking feature of these saris is that they are often ornately decorated with gold and bronze, with gold dipped silver thread, known as Jarigai, being directly woven onto premium, fine quality silk. They continue to be handcrafted using traditional methods using handlooms. It is because of these techniques that the saris are so highly thought of, and for this reason they are worn only for the most special occasions, celebrations and festivals, such as weddings. They are said to have developed over the course of over 150 years of tradition and are largely untouched by modern fads. The silk used for Kanchipuram saris come from areas with suitable climates for sericulture: Bengaluru, Dharmavaram, Hosur and Coimbatore. Behind this façade, however, are the weavers themselves. I talked to the local weavers about the traditional methods of weaving and the traditional style of sari originating in the region, how they compare with the modern techniques that have developed, how the business has coped with the competition, and why this particular style is so popular, compared to other styles from the region, the country, and the world? How do weavers view the growing fashion industry and the increasingly liberal attitude towards Western culture and clothes? Perhaps most importantly, what are the realities of life for the weavers themselves, away from the glamour of the sari they produce and the beyond the myth of Sage Markanda? And how have their lives been affected by globalisation and industrialization?

The Weavers’ Home Appropriately, my first stop was the sleepy village of Ayankarkulam, on the outskirts of Kanchipuram, home to 500 weaver families, all working for the same co-operative society. Here I was invited in, without hesitation, to the home

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2013

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of 65-year-old Mr. G. Balasubramanian and his family. We were warmly greeted and immediately blessed with a demonstration of a traditional handloom at work. We were poised and ready with our cameras as he settled in and guided the shuttle so seamlessly and naturally from left to right, right to left, interjected with a move of the beater, designed to secure the weft yarn into place. He explained that this handloom was a Jacquard handloom, meaning that the design for the sari was controlled by a chain of punched cards, with the pattern of holes corresponding with the pattern of the brocade on the sari. With this piece of kit, heralded by many as an example of pioneering computer engineering from the 20th century, he is able to weave one metre of silk in one day, taking 15 days to produce one sari. With an entirely traditional handloom, it could take up to 40 days, which is not justifiable in this age of industry and competition. The equipment has developed to meet the needs of the customers, as demand has risen along with the rise of a middle class with expendable income at their disposal, but it has retained the same qualities of the handloom tradition. What makes Kanchipuram saris so special? I was bequeathed with an explanation about the fabled gold and silver Jarigai thread. It is particular to this region and is probably the key attribute distinguishing these saris from those originating from other parts of the country, and world. The price of the sari is dependent on the use of this Jari, as it is colloquially known. Although Jari is used in other parts of the country, it is only in Tamil Nadu that the materials used are still genuine gold and silver. The thread is comprised of 33 percent silk, 60 percent silver, and 7 percent gold. It is because of the use of gold in the material that fluctuations in the price of gold can be so consequential for business. Coupled with this is the humid climate over the months of July and August which can be damaging to the machinery, and also the fact that wed-

This celebration of crimson and gold seemed to burst at the seams as I listen attentively to Mr Kuppan’s story We look on in surprise as Mr Nambirajan foretells the demise of the industry, as a result of newer industries causing a decline in skilled workers

Mr Vijay, one of five working partners at Sri Varadha Silk House, proudly displays this genuine handloomed Kanchipuram silk sari, replete with the gold jari trim

B. Srinivasan, tells me when I inquire about their working hours. They work for around five or six hours every day of the week, weekend included, if possible. He switches on a dull, flickering electric light as if to illustrate the importance of natural light. With the headache-inducing artificial light now accompanying our talk, I feel more connected with the reality of life as a weaver.

dings are not so popular at this time of year. These factors cause a down turn in business. I, however, am perversely grateful for this! If business was booming, I may not have had chance to speak with Balasubramanian and his family. He explains that the co-operative society that they have been a member of since 1942 ensures a steady income during these down periods, and provides all the necessary raw materials for each order so the weavers themselves do not have to undertake risky investments.

Spinning a tradition There were nine family members from what I could see, squeezed happily into this humble abode. I, in turn, felt humbled by their warmth and sincerity, especially as I settled in to chat with them with a cup of chai in hand. The whole family is involved in the weaving business. Under normal circumstances three people would work simultaneously on the loom to produce an ornate, patterned bridal sari. “Work is dependent on daylight,” Balasubramanian’s 28-year-old son, Mr.

It was at about this point that they presented me with an example of their work: a beautiful, shimmering blue sari replete with gold Jari trim. I presumed it was freshly woven and ready to be delivered to the co-op for sale, only to discover that it was actually almost nine years old! It had retained its quality over this significant period of time, and this durability they assured me, was another sign of the true quality of Kanchipuram silk. They are aware of the discrepancies between their earnings of Rs 2000 per sari and their retail price at the other end of the process, which can be anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 100,000. While they understand the realities of business and appreciate that all parties

We were poised and ready with our cameras as he settled in and guided the shuttle so seamlessly and naturally from left to right, right to left, interjected with a move of the beater, designed to secure the weft yarn into place need to earn a living, they are not entirely satisfied that their earnings, which equate to around Rs 100 per day from producing two saris per month, necessarily represent a fair deal. However, Balasubramanian has worked in the industry for 40 years, and philosophically says he has no regrets. “It has provided my living and I have been able to see my two daughters married. You have to utilise the means at your disposal.” I am pleasantly surprised to learn here that they do indeed own a Kanchipuram sari themselves. It appears to be a simple life, looking through Western eyes. These highly skilled artisans apply their trade through hard work under questionable working conditions. But the main thing that stayed with me after I left for the next leg of my journey wasn’t the negative aspects of their existence, but the sense

of closeness the family shared, and the pride in their work. The co-operative initiative has improved the lives of weavers enormously since it was first established in 1942, but the industry is under threat.

Changing trends Not, as I had thought, from direct competitors such as mass-produced power loom goods or from Chinese imports, but from indirect competition. It seems that the younger generations are being tempted, or in some cases parentally encouraged, into newer industries in the cities. Srinivasan himself says he does not want his children to follow him into the weaving industry. He wants them to enjoy a more prosperous life, but plans to teach them the technique to keep the tradition alive. Apparently though this is a commonly held aspiration, and as there is

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Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2013

currently no formal or theoretical training, I can’t help but speculate that the ancestral weaving knowledge, reputedly passed down from generation to generation since the 7th century, may one day be lost.

Migrating to greener pastures The next step was to find out more about the co-operative society that the family belonged to. Established in 1935, the scheme was initiated to protect the weavers’ interests and to protect the handloom industry itself. The co-operative has 202 showrooms across India and more locally, is competing with more than 100 private retailers, although it is difficult to measure as many do it directly from their homes.

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compare even to hotel work, which provides an Rs 8000 monthly salary.” These financial realities mean that people are leaving their ancestral family industries. The answer, he says, is further intervention by the government. The government funded Co-Operative Society is a novel initiative that has ensured an acceptable standard of living for the handloom weavers over the years. But as the private sector has grown and new industries have emerged, the temptation for younger people to move into more prosperous careers is stronger than ever. Nambirajan believes that formal training and increased pay need to be introduced before it is too late and the skill is lost for good.

In search of the powerloom The next step was to locate a power loom and elicit a comparison between the two modes of production from the alternative viewpoint. I wanted to see the automated tools of mass-production for myself to unearth the humanist tale beneath them. Unfortunately for the sake of my article though, we discovered that officially, the mechanised clarion call of industrialisation has been eradicated from the looms of Kanchipuram. Unofficially however, as our driver Sigajith discovered from a group of helpful locals, rumours abound that the practice secretly persists. Though I was disappointed not to find a powerloom for comparison sake, I felt the little bit of information I got on the subject

K. Nambirajan, Sales Manager at Kamatchi Showroom, is the founding member of the Kanchipuram Silk Co-Operative Society. Initially, this interview felt more formal and intimidating than the previous one, but Mr. Nambirajan soon proved to be quite forthcoming. He explained that the underlying basis for the establishment of the co-operative is to safeguard the livelihoods of the handloom weavers in the area. The society provides its weavers with the raw silk and pays a fair rate for the goods they produce. It acts as a ‘middle man’ between the weavers and the retailers, ensuring fair treatment. Nambirajan confirms that the government establishes a constant rate to ensure a steady income for the weavers even during the down periods, as stated by Balasubramanian. Nambirajan states that “without the Co-Operative the weavers would be extremely downtrodden. They would be taken advantage of by private retailers.” He shared stories of retailers striking deals with weavers only to renege on the deal, finally only paying them half of what the sari cost to produce. I ask him what he thinks the future holds for the industry, and am shocked by his candid response. “The industry is dying, as younger people move into newer industries.” He adds that it is down to a perceived “lack of dignity” for physical labour held by university graduates. He says the ‘Rs 4000 that can be earned by a family of four through weaving cannot

The equipment has developed to meet the needs of the customers, as demand has risen along with the rise of a middle class with expendable income at their disposal, but it has retained the same qualities of the handloom tradition spoke volumes. Ultimately, people have to earn a living.

Seals of approval Traditionally woven Kanchipuram silk saris have been awarded Geographical Indicator (GI) status to protect the handloom industry, which has struggled in the face of increasing competition from more modern automated techniques, offering faster and cheaper production, but lower quality products. The GI status certifies that a product is genuine quality from a particular, specially recognised area, made using specified techniques. Previously any new competitor in the industry was able to label his product as being from Kanchipuram. They were able to mass produce poor quality items at a much cheaper rate and still advertise their goods as being the genuine Kanchipuram article. The GI status awarded in 2005 now means that only the traditional weavers producing the real high quality items are able to advertise their goods in this way.

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There are two identification marks producers can strive for. First is the Handloom Mark, which promotes handloom products domestically and internationally, assures consumers about the genuineness of the products’ origin, improves the livelihoods of the handloom weaver community, and helps gather data for potential further improvements in future. The second is the Silk Mark, which protects the genuine interest of silk consumers, builds brand equity for Indian silk internationally, connects all stakeholders in the silk industry together, and promotes Indian silk locally and globally.

This nine-year old sari was unveiled to our disbelieving eyes; it could have been brand new, ready for shipment

S. Kuppan, 40, who runs the wholesaler Sri Ganapathy Silk House, meets the requirements for adorning his products with these sought after and respected labels. He says you need both to qualify as being a genuine handloom producer,

Shuttle which gives rhythm to the silk

However, Balasubramanian has worked in the industry for 40 years, and philosophically says he has no regrets. “It has provided my living and I have been able to see my two daughters married. You have to utilise the means at your disposal.” I am pleasantly surprised to learn that they do indeed own a Kanchipuram sari themselves


Madurai Messenger Cover Story August 2013

but says a third mark has recently been introduced identifying a product comes specifically from Kanchipuram, and he is striving to achieve this one too.

The weave crashes against the shore as the silk embodies an organic feel, matching the nature of the work itself

Kuppan explains that the way the labels are designed has been successful in discouraging fraudulent duplication. The government carries out random investigations, and any power loom producer incorrectly using either of the marks can be immediately shut down. If the hallmark of the label on the item is damaged or incorrectly applied, misuse can be detected.

Behind the façade

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Next up, to get a taste of the business of a private retailer, we visited the government approved retailer Sri Varadha Silk House. This interview was different from the others. They were prepared for me, ushering me in, and before I knew it, before I’d even asked a question, I was being talked through the weaving process by one of the five working partners involved in the business, 47-yearold M. Malathi. I listened attentively as she very helpfully explained the business model and values. Before I knew it however, the interview had turned into a sales pitch and I was being offered silk shawls at knock-down prices!

It seems that the younger generations are being tempted, or in some cases parentally encouraged, into newer industries in the cities. Srinivasan himself says he does not want his children to follow him into the weaving industry. He wants them to enjoy a more prosperous life, but plans to teach them the technique to keep the tradition alive

The Indian Bridal Fashion week took place on July 23, 2013 in New Delhi, and offered a wide array of bridal and couture collections from designers across the country. Jacqueline Fernandez, perhaps the epitome of Bollywood glitz and glamour, was the face of the show. As an outsider visiting India for the first time, this idea of modern trend setting and Bollywood bravado contrasted sharply with the image of India as a conservative, traditional and spiritual country. What I discovered in this shop though was that bridal saris simultaneously retain their ancestral heritage and offer big business opportunities. M. Malathi explained that the very wealthy may buy seven saris for one ceremony, and that the most expensive ones can fetch more than Rs 100,000. I was then introduced to Mr. G. Vijay, 33, another of the five working partners, who informed me that the seventh century Chinese explorer Xuanzang is said to have written of Indian silk in his narrative The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. The sense of pride attached to being involved in the industry shone through again here. He went on to describe how the good reputation of

their establishment meant that consumers from France, Germany, Australia and the United States seek out their goods. He then very kindly presented me with a small spiel of blue silk thread as a memento of my visit. I finished the interview by asking him what he thought of the weavers’ conditions and whether they got a good deal. He hesitated for a moment before assuring me that they did indeed get a fair deal. Often it is the things left unsaid that paint the richest picture.

The Last Leg: Marital Bliss My final pit-stop was at the home of 60year old grandmother Arputham, in the small village of Seavalimedu. I must say I felt a degree of shyness wash over me as I was welcomed openly and sincerely by her whole family. They were busy preparing for the marriage of her daughter in September, and, as is tradition, have recently been the recipients of a brand new maroon Rs 25,000 Kanchipuram silk sari from the groom’s family, which they had no qualms in unveiling.

I asked why Kanchipuram products are so highly regarded and was treated to an animated appraisal of their numerous positive traits. They are highly durable, lasting for up to 20-30 years. Arputham explained that she was able to sell her own sari after 20 years for half its original value in order to help fund the purchase of a brand new one for her daughter. She explains that saris produced with a power loom only last a mere two to three years in comparison. “The tradition of weaving began here,” she said, and it is deemed to be “a very holy place, home to 1008 temples.” They hope for the tradition to continue through the generations, but also admit however to having bought cheaper mass-produced saris in the past for occasions less grand than weddings. The cross-cultural aspect of my visit hit me half way through and I broke out in a sweat under the watchful eyes of the curious family. This prompted Arputhan to start fanning me, and to replicate the running of the sweat down my forehead with her finger, much to the amusement of everyone else present.

I finished the interview by asking them what their opinions were of the lives of the weavers. Arputhan goes on to tell me somewhat evasively that it is possible to buy directly from a weaver for cheaper but that you get more variety from a retailer. This slightly digressive response suggests to me that perhaps this wonderfully welcoming family is not altogether familiar with the plight of the weaver, and of the handloom industry in general.

End of the Road? There is no escaping the inevitable fact that motivation all too often is the all-mighty Rupee. People have to earn a living, provide for themselves and for their loved ones. That is why the weavers weave and the retailers sell. It is the reason why less affluent consumers will purchase cheaper goods which may or may not be handloomed, and it is the reason in turn for why shops will provide those cheaper goods. As of 2010, the World Bank revealed that around 33 percent of the population of this vast country lives below the international

As the family prepare for the upcoming nuptials, grandmother Arputhan animatedly describes the attributes of the Kanchipuram sari

poverty line. These figures adorn the illegal sale of mass-produced goods with a different perspective. Reality bites. People have to earn a living, and the sad truth is that protection of traditional industries may fall to the way side in order deal with the more pressing issues facing the country. India is a land rich with vibrant culture. But it is also a land of contradictions. I was able to take the most colourful and vibrant strands from the reel of information I got and weave a tapestry of opinion, creating a compelling story. Perhaps the future is not as bright for the weavers as the saris they so proudly produce, but it is not due to a lack of demand. While the weavers I spoke with were very philosophical about their lives and prospects, it appears the only way for the industry to be saved in the long term is for the government to intervene further and provide incentives of better pay and conditions to stop the younger generations emigrating to urbanity in search of better lives in more modern industries.

Traditionally woven Kanchipuram silk saris have been awarded Geographical Indicator (GI) status to protect the handloom industry, which has struggled in the face of increasing competition from more modern automated techniques, offering faster and cheaper production, but lower quality products. The GI status certifies that a product is genuine quality from a particular, specially recognised area, made using specified techniques

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Madurai Messenger Spotlight August 2013

Unravelling the Ahimsa Silk story The consumer of today is faced with increasing ethical choices. One such dilemma has to do with traditional silk production that kills 1500 silk worms to make one metre of woven silk. Ahimsa silk, an alternative to such unsustainable practices and violation of animal rights, emerged as a result. However, Adam Pigott, who travelled the South Indian silk trail, argues that organic wild silk is the best alternative as the claims of Ahimsa silk of not causing injury to the moths is not really cruelty-free Text: Adam Pigott, United Kingdom

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ndia is the largest consumer and the second largest producer of silk in the world. It is used for the most glamorous and highly-prized saris, but comes with a price, not just monetarily for the consumer, but also in humane terms for the silk worms and often the people involved in the labour. The traditional method of extracting silk involves dissolving the cocoon in boiling water while the silk worm is still alive within. Sericulture is a hugely developed worldwide industry earning its livelihood from domesticated silkworms. A few moths are allowed to emerge to breed the needed population, but most of the cocoons are boiled or baked with the pupae inside. This process is carried out so that the silk fibers are not broken when the moth emerges from the cocoon. Conventional cultivated silk procurement would be considered a cruel process by many, in tandem with the growing movement across the world towards supporting animal rights. It is estimated that 1500 silk worms are killed to make one meter of woven cloth. These approaches may also involve the exploitation of humans. It is rumoured that the fashion and textile industries are notorious for exploiting workers with long hours, dangerous working conditions and extremely low wages. It has even been said that silk

that is not specified as Fair Trade may involve sweatshop labour. However, an alternative is available for those dissatisfied with the cruelty involved in the production of silk. Kusuma Rajaiah researched and created a technique for acquiring silk without killing the moths in 1991. His patented Ahimsa Silks are synonomous with no child or forced labour and no discrimination over sex. The Hindi word Ahimsa means ‘non-violence’, and it is also referred to as ‘peace silk’ for this reason. The most famous expounder of ‘non-violence’ was Mohandas Gandhi, who was also critical of the old methods as it conflicted with the Ahimsa philosophy ‘not to hurt any living thing’. Non-violence is the practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that any outcome can be achieved without hurting people, animals or the environment. It refers to a general philosophy of abstinence from violence based on moral, religious or spiritual principles. In the Ahimsa method, the silk is only extracted from the cocoon after the worm has matured into a moth and has flown away. Mr Rajaiah’s hope is not necessarily for a complete nationwide adoption of the use of Ahimsa silk, but just to make a difference. He states on his website, “people are becoming more environmentally aware and compassionate to animals’, adding ‘we are confident it will be adopted by those who are concerned about flora and fauna.”

The Bombyx Mori is completely domesticated

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The Bombyx Mori

Unfortunately, despite the promotion of sustainability and conservation attached to Ahimsa Silk, it is not necessarily a clear-cut situation.

Kusuma Rajaiah, who patented the Ahimsa silk, proudly displays the end product

The now fully-domesticated Bombyx mori moth has been bred for entirely economic and commercial reasons. The idea has been to produce healthy moths with the best possible silk production rates. However, the financial capacity of the moth has always been the prime motivation rather than the health of the creature,

The traditional method of extracting silk involves dissolving the cocoon in boiling water while the silk worm is still alive within. Sericulture is a hugely developed worldwide industry earning its livelihood from domesticated silkworms. A few moths are allowed to emerge to breed the needed population, but most of the cocoons are boiled or baked with the pupae inside


Madurai Messenger People & Causes July 2013

Pulling at the thread of

Peace Silk

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Conventional cultivated silk procurement would be considered a cruel process by many, in tandem with the growing movement across the world towards supporting animal rights. It is estimated that 1500 silk worms are killed to make one meter of woven cloth

and due to extensive inbreeding, this very commonly used variety of moth is often blind, cannot fly and cannot eat. It is bred simply to produce silk and breed again, and lacks the capability to live a natural life upon hatching. Therefore, it could be claimed that any silk produced by the Bombyx is inherently cruel. The greenest and most sustainable strains of silk come from the less exploited Eri or Tussar moths, from recognised Fair Trade producers. Organic silk produced in small villages by indigenous people is arguably the most sustainable choice for the purest silk. One consumer dilemma is that sometimes raw silk production is in fact organic because it has not undergone any kind of chemical intervention. However, an ethical question may arise because organic silk may not necessarily be peace silk. So it really boils down to consumer compromise--choosing natural silk favours chemical-free production and natural or low-impact dyes, while on the other hand, choosing wild or peace silk does not kill the silkworm. The most responsible method would

Another potential issue arises when considering the offspring of the moth that is kept alive. A fertilized female moth will lay between 200 and 1000 eggs which may need to be refrigerated and will need to be fed. This is too many to be practical. Therefore, in saving one moth, an average of 500 must be left to die. For this reason many dispute Ahimsa’s claims to be vegetarian. In some strains, the eggs will require refrigeration - without refrigeration, the living embryos within the fertilized eggs will wither and die over the course of a month or two. If they are refrigerated, they will hatch upon removal, in which case they have to be fed immediately, or they will die of starvation and dehydration. Either process will require the destruction of approximately 200 - 300 embryos or hatchling silkworm per moth, for any amount that exceeds what is required for breeding for the next crop. Instead of killing one pupa for the silk of the cocoon, it kills hundreds of caterpillars. While it may be true that the individual caterpillar that spun the cocoon didn’t die inside it, its offspring will have to be ruthlessly culled.

be the procurement of naturally dyed wild silk, collected by hand after the hatching process. These moths are not captive and are fully capable of enjoying a healthy, natural lifespan. Because it is harder to acquire and the process of collecting is more laborious, wild silk products often carry a higher price tag. However, if wild silk is within budget, the responsible consumer should opt for this kind of silk. Alternatively, second hand goods could be chosen. This is arguably the most sustainable approach, as it involves recycling and does not carry

the risk of involving any cruelty to animals or humans. So, at first glance Ahimsa silk is certainly a better choice than silk obtained through traditional means. But consumers should be wary and not take the ‘Ahimsa’ label for granted. Unless it is wild silk or a second hand garment, it will unfortunately have involved some form of exploitation, at least to some extent. The rise in the popularity of Ahimsa Silk reflects a general increase in awareness of issues of conservation across the world, but tug too hard and the argument in favour of Ahimsa may become tangled.

So it really boils down to consumer compromise-choosing natural silk favours chemical-free production and natural or low-impact dyes, while on the other hand, choosing wild or peace silk does not kill the silkworm

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Madurai Messenger Fashion August 2013

Sujatha Srinivasan: Homespun fashion Alice Notananni meets fashion designer Sujatha Srinivasan of the city-based Uttara boutique, who believes that fashion sense is all about wearing what suits you best!

also during her maternity leave that she finally realized that she would not be an employee again; she would be an entrepreneur in the field of dance or clothes. In her travels around Asia, Europe (she had been living in Geneva for five years, from 2005 to 2010) and America, she was always attracted by clothes. However, she felt the lack of functional clothes that could be worn directly from work to a marriage. “I remember that I had hard times going to a tailor and getting exactly what I wanted. Even if I was able to draw what I wanted, what I got was never what I was looking for,” she candidly admits.

“In the West seasonal colour palette works because the weather changes, the seasons change everyday life. But I’ve always been wondering who decides the trend colour in the West? And why? My first impression when I saw a seasonal palette was like ‘Why? Why everything is green!?’”

Text & Photos: Alice Notarianni, Italy

Team Uttara: Sujatha Srinivasan with her staff

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Mufazzal, the face behind the beautiful machine embroidery seen in Uttara’s dresses

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esign makes clothes alive. Giving life to a brand new garment means having the rare chance to think and act like a powerful creator; everything’s up to you, everything in your own hands.

sweetness and warmth of a mum, but at the same time the confidence and the heart’s ease of an entrepreneur. Born and brought up in Madurai, Sujatha graduated in Mathematics and then worked as a software engineer, for four years, in Chennai and Bengaluru, and then for two years in Arizona and Minnesota in the US. But soon, her strongest and inner passions, for drawing and dancing, began saying that she was on the wrong path.

In 2010, Sujatha didn’t opt for the easiest way: investing money, picking clothes up around the world, using her already developed good taste, and reselling them in India. She preferred the hardest way: she wanted her own brand of clothes.

I met local fashion designer Sujatha Srinivasan in Madurai, in her boutique Uttara on Bypass Road. She is a good looking and curvaceous woman, feminine and smart. Her hair was black and straightened, she had well-manicured hands, and her deep set eyes were made up with black kajal beautified even more by a fine black round bindi.

It was just an idea, she knew she had to do it, something was telling it her from within, but she didn’t know what exactly do next. She didn’t hesitate, she was not afraid, she knew she had what it takes within her.

A turning point

A brand is born

She was wearing a black Indian kurta with ethnic and colourful embroidery, orange leggings and a pair of thong sandals. Her aesthetics spoke for her. I could feel the

Sujatha’s life took a new direction after the birth of her son. Her job as a software engineer was getting too competitive and was requiring too much time that she would more gladly spend with her husband and her new family. It was

From her childhood, Sujatha observed people around her dressing up. She was curious. She noticed how everyone was mixing and matching their outfits in everyday life, but soon she became aware that actually she was now looking up just

to a few people because only they inspired her with their personalities, their lifestyles and their choice of clothes. In this way she learned that style actually was not just wearing what everybody else is wearing but what best suits a person. When she returned to settle in Madurai in ---, she noticed what was missing in the fashion scene in the city: the supply of simple, smart, comfortable, readymade and women friendly clothes, with good value for money. Besides, most often there were no large sizes, and even when there were, there were no good options. Yet, at other times, when there were good options, it was expensive. Sujatha’s mission was set. Sujatha Srinivasan was all set to plunge into fashion retail. In


Madurai Messenger Fashion August 2013

Splash of colours

April 2012, she gave birth to her own new brand: Uttara, a Sanskrit name that means “superior and royal daughter.”

Her design is strongly linked to the south Indian style, which is surprising because nowadays everything, in the Indian fashion world, is influenced by the north Indian fashion sensibility, from Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkota

In Madurai, there is no seasonal colour palette, The season is just one. The weather can be hot, hotter or hottest, therefore everything bright and colourful will always be attractive. Boxing palettes, like in Europe, in south India is not practical. “In the West, it works because the weather changes, the seasons change everyday life. But I’ve always been wondering who decides the trend color in the West? And why? My first impression when I saw a seasonal palette was like ‘Why?Why is everything green!?”

“When you have your own store, your own line, you could have complete flexibility in working but anyway you keep constantly thinking about work, about what to do next. It’s not a duty for me, it’s like my baby, and it’s like my child. It demands a lot of effort but I don’t mind, as long as I found what I really like to do, I’ll never be complaining,” says Sujatha.

Team work

Uttara’s production runs everyday. Every week, four or five (it depends on fabric availability) new designs are made with variation in colours and embroideries, from the minimum size of 36 to the maximum size of 48. While there are no seasonal collections, production is geared towards major festivals that fall throughout the year.

Sujatha started wondering where she could find good tailors. It took nine months to chose the right people to work with but now she can really trust and count on her little team: a master tailor, who is responsible for all the cuttings, three embroiderers, who she says, keep teaching her the secrets of traditional embroidery techniques, and a tailor. Seeing them working together it was obvious that they did not consider Uttara as their workplace. They were like a little family, really close to each other, cooperative and really proud of their teamwork. “Everyone goes somewhere else to do shopping, in Chennai, in Mumbai, in Bangalore for wedding occasions, never in Madurai.Here there is no ready-to-wear garments of quality. Something was missing in the market, here in Madurai, and I wanted to fix it like a puzzle,” explains Sujatha.

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The price of exclusivity Uttara offers both ready made and tailor made services but most people in Madurai, still prefer ready made clothes, as they still don’t understand the value of the tailor’s work. At Uttara’s, blouses, kurtas and kameez are left unstitched so that they can be stitched/customised right away. A sample design created by Sujatha

Inspiration Sujatha deeply believes in ethnic aesthetics. She always draws inspiration from Madurai’s temple architecture, old drawings, popular motifs and temple jewellery. Her design is strongly linked to the south Indian style, which is surprising because nowadays everything, in the Indian fashion world, is influenced by the north Indian fashion sensibility, from Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkota. “What you find here in Madurai, you’ll never find anywhere else,” Sujatha insists.

Fabric oriented creations Then good fabrics were needed. The conception of an Indian garment, in Uttara boutique, starts exactly from Sujatha’s spontaneous and impulsive choice of fabric. She travels quite a bit, and she randomly picks up fabrics from Bengaluru, Mumbai…or even just from the Tailor’s Market in Madurai! She buys something if she likes it, but she still doesn’t know what she will do with it. “I can buy one fabric today and then use it a month later,” she says. The fabrics are not printed or dyed by Sujatha’s team, they are just ready to be stitched or be embroidered.

Razzaq, expert in hand embroidery

Sujatha’s creations are fabric oriented. Her stock is organized according to the different kind of fabrics ( batik, plain or printed cotton, silk) and they are just waiting for Sujatha’s inspiration.

The aari work of embroidery on a cotton saree

Yet a challenge that Sujatha faces every day is that most people in Madurai don’t know the difference between a tailor

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Madurai Messenger Fashion August 2013

and a fashion designer. They don’t trust and don’t recognize, and sometimes don’t respect a brand style. For example, they can show up at Sujatha’s asking for a simple blouse, like she was just a tailor! As there continues to be mass production of ready made inexpensive (kurtas for instance are sold for Rs. 299 – 399) that compromise on fabric and stitching quality (something that buyers don’t discover till their first washing), convincing people of boutique styled clothes is near impossible. However, Uttara has an exclusive clientele. These discerning

people have visited metros like Coimbatore, Chennai or Bengaluru, and recognise quality. They have exquisite taste and they know how to buy good clothes for good prices. “I don’t want to push my clothes, I keep telling my sellers ‘we can’t hard sell’ our brand. I want to be honest, and quality is our only way to convince our costumers,” says Sujatha.

Finding her fashion space It was hard at the beginning, when Sujatha didn’t have a store. She started the production in winter 2011 and she chose to show her creations first through a catalogue,

an easy and economical way to start. Then she tried to give her garments to the best stores in Madurai to see how people respond to her taste. The response was good and at the end of the year she was able to have her first exhibition, which was a huge success. Encouraged by the response, in April 2012, Sujatha was finally able to open Uttara in April 2012. The interior design of the store communicates the brand philosophy. Uttara is conceived like a coffee shop, like a lounge, a space to stay, to move, to use and relax. While it could easily be perceived as a colossal waste of space,

Sujatha tells me that the designer wanted clients to enjoy the experience of shopping and spend time in a relaxed manner in the boutique. “No advertising. I prefer that clients visit us.” Sujatha believes more in face to face interaction with clients rather than remote selling. Now Sujatha is 38 and her little brand baby is just one year old. She’s growing really well and fast. To keep her alive, she needs to be fed everyday with love, passion and energies. But knowing her story, seeing how she is formed, and how she touches other people, leaves you without words: a whole life in a piece of cloth.

“What you find here in Madurai, you’ll never find anywhere else,” Sujatha insists

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Experienced hands at work: Uttara’s tailor Ramalingam, 32, shows us the art of cutting a kalamkari material

Sujatha Srinivasan and journalism coordinator, Pooja, at Uttara’s grand store


Madurai Messenger Fashion August 2013

“Style Comes from Confidence, from the Wearer’s Personality!”

Mamta Fomra, Madurai-based fashion designer

I’m wearing an Indo Western outfit, a pant and a top. I’m not wearing a proper Indian Pajama, it’s more a formal pant and I’m not wearing a proper Western top, mine is longer. For many Westerners, Indian clothes are too loud, too bright…foreigners always prefer single color print, saturated colors, elegant, classic and that was my original choice… this is my specialization, gradually bringing them to where I want.

Alice Notarianni, a graduate in fashion design from Milan, the world’s fashion capital, in conversation with city-based fashion designer Mamta Fomra, on the joys and challenges of creating a fashion brand—all in namma Madurai!

What makes clothing traditional or stylish?

Text: Alice Notarianni, Italy

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ashion crosses borders and boundaries. From Madurai to Chennai, from Tamil Nadu to Kerala, from Karnataka to Delhi, from India to Asia, to all over the world, the language of fashion is universal. Across the world, colors, shapes, clothes and accessories, represent our culture, our values, tell our stories and frame our personalities. To get oriented in the international landscapes of fashion, one needs a fashion designer like Mamta Fomra, 39, who has been running her own label for 17 years. Born in Kolkota, she moved to Nepal, and later settled in Madurai where she set up her fashion base. When I first met her in her store in the third floor of the Vishaal de Mal, in Madurai, I expected a modest, calm and silent Indian fashion designer. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Indian woman so self-confident, dynamic and chatty. She was not the typical traditionally dressed south Indian woman. Rather she was dressed casually in an Indo Western outfit that consisted of a bright sky blue kurta with French embroidery, white linen trousers and accessorized with pearl and gold jewellery. Mamta Fomra exuded femininity combined with self-confidence and a contemporary outlook.

Some excerpts from an interview: You were born in India. What do you remember about your first visit abroad? I’m Indian by heart, by mind, by body and by my soul. I was born in Kolkata (Calcutta), and then I immediately moved to Nepal, because my parents were staying there. I moved once again to Kolkata in my 4th grade and was there until 18 years. As soon as I turned 18, I got married and moved

to Madurai, where I did my under graduation. I’ve been traveling from my childhood. After my birth, my father lived in Hong Kong for six years, where he was studying. He has his own yarn and thread business, all the thread used to come from Hong Kong. Everything, from the thread to the making of the fabric, was made inhouse. All the yarn used to come from Hong Kong so from the making of the fabric, the dying of the yarn, cutting the edges, the making of men’s inner wear, children’s clothes, t-shirts for men, everything was made inhouse. I was born in a family of textiles. So everything has always been around me, so I learned it by observing the production process in the factory. Clothes were dyed in a big pool, deep 4.5 feet. It used to be like our swimming pool. When I was small, I used to swim there on the week ends! Textiles and fashion has always been in my blood, even if anyone had not taught me anything, I would have become a designer.

What, according to you, are the main differences between fashion in India and in other parts of the world? The first thing that I noticed was in terms of choice. There, in Hong Kong, no matter what you were designing, irrrespective of whether it was a revealing outfit, the nature of the fabric (whether it was translucent or transparent),… the design was fine. But here the people are conservative in what they wear. Hence there are constrains in making clothes. For example, the neckline can’t go down more than 7 centimeters in the front, and 10 in the back. The fabric has to been lined, it cannot be transparent, it has also to respect the weather condition in which you are living in...

When you have to project garments, every time you have to look at the guidelines; once you have your guidelines you can proceed with your designing., So 80 percent of my clothes are produced in cotton, for example, as they have to be user friendly. So I have to always keep in mind that I design for south Indians, especially Maduraiites. I’m a Western woman. How could you explain to me about Indian clothes and customs and how do you think I would react? It’s very different, for someone like you. You came here to enjoy a new experience, at 25 years, almost across the globe. You came here to have a cultural experience, to experience something different! It’s a cultural experience! You cannot live a life like it was in your place, it might be difficult, it might look bizarre to you, but it is a cultural experience. The acceptance of experience as a part of the world different from yours is why you came here, so like the air you’re breathing, the food you’re eating, the water you drinking… air, water and food are the 50 percent of our basic cultural change, and you accepted it…it’s a process of transition, and it’s the same for lifestyle and clothes…A widely travelled, well educated person is more open to ideas.

It’s the person who is wearing the clothes that makes it stylish. The costume depends on the person. It’s the person. For this reason I think even if the design is for everybody, style comes just from confidence, from the wearer’s personality. If someone asks me “Mamta, do you think I’m looking good in this dress?” I ask, “Are you confident wearing that dress?” Just work on confidence! It’s something in your eyes, a spot of light, and that makes you look good. You have to be convinced of something if you want to convince others. Self-confidence! If you don’t have confidence, try to build it. It’s just a mind set. I sell just what I believe in; this is how I survived for 20 years in Madurai.

What does fashion mean to you? Fashion for me is something that is within you, it cannot be created overnight. It’s something like a language that you learn over a long period of time.

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Madurai Messenger Food August 2013

The Mouth Watering Ennai Parotta

We watch in amazement as the chef coats in a thin layer of oil, then rolls, flips and stretches the dough, faster than my camera can capture

Self-confessed adventurous street foodie Rachel Elise Smith samples Virudhunagar’s famous ennai parotta. Despite being a health freak, she admits that her taste buds sang in gratitude after she tasted the delicious dish which had her lust for more! Text and Photos: Rachel Elise Smith, Australia

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‘Food that sticks to your stomach’

A.K.V.Sakthivel, 38, one of the owners of Burma Kadai with his very close friend, Roopsingh, 72

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nnai parotta. This dish, golden brown and perfectly crispy, smothered in the chutney or gravy of your choosing, is not for the health-conscious...but is utterly, irresistibly delicious, and I am about to descend upon it. It’s a scorching hot day at the beginning of Indian summer, and we bump and bounce over the rutted streets of Virudhunagar in search of Burma Kadai. Virudhunagar’s parotta is famous (for good reason, I’m about to discover), and we’ve had Burma Kadai recommended to us by a town local. I’m anticipating a good meal, but I’m about to get more than that - I’m about to hear a series of stories from an amazing man.

Burma Kadai stands out. Its exterior, all purple and black and geometric angles, in comparison to the more traditional looking stores around it, is downright avant-garde in this tiny South Indian town. We walk inside and are startled - it seems as if the entire population of the town is crowded inside this restaurant! I am immediately heartened - to me, a packed restaurant says ‘good food’ better than any advertisement! We are greeted warmly and immediately whisked away to the air conditioned section to sample the parotta. A large banana leaf is placed before me, on which is set a metal dish of broiled chicken in gravy, a red onion side dish...and then, triumphantly, two glistening, golden disks. Ennai parotta.

I break a portion off, dip it in the gravy, and sample. Oh, my! What is this? Pure, culinary bliss. My taste buds are singing in gratitude! Normally I’m not one for fried food (I’m one of those terrifying health-conscious types mentioned at the start that need to beware) but this is just about the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in my entire time in India. The waiters are hovering, eager to find out my opinion. How is it? What do I think? Does it taste OK? I am quick to assure them that I am most definitely enjoying my meal, and they beam with delight. While I eat, they talk up the shop to me - at Burma Kadai they grind their own spices to make their own masalas, there are a large range of dishes they serve with ennai parotta...I am seriously impressed at both their knowledge, and their enthusiasm towards their workplace. Finally the manager is free to see us, and I finish my parotta with no small amount of regret - I am full to bursting, but I suspect I could still have eaten all day.

The Burmese connection A.K.V. Sakthivel, 38, is a gentle person, with a serious, intelligent gaze. He doesn’t look like much of a talker, but this

impression is soon proved completely false. Before too long I’ve stopped asking questions, and sat back to listen to what this man has to say. The name of the shop reflects the family origins. “Our grandparents, parents, our whole family, we came here as refugees from Burma, “he explains. There are now three Burma Kadais in town, but the restaurants have a humble beginning - a 12 x12 foot shop, granted by the Indian government to Burmese refugees to assist in their rehabilitation. The refugees were allowed to open any type of shop they choose, and Sakthivel’s family chose to start in 1964 with a petty shop, the type we can still see on any road in India selling snacks, drinks, cigarettes, and so forth. They later changed from petty to tea shop - Sakthivel’s father noticed during the Indian festival of Diwali that people were so busy with preparations, they didn’t have time for the basics of home life. He took a gamble, and changed the store to a tea shop, and made it a roaring business. The third transition to restaurant came when a family friend, who owned a catering business, decided to retire from the trade. He asked Sakthievel’s father if he might start a lunch


Madurai Messenger Food August 2013

There are now three Burma Kadais in town, but the restaurants have a humble beginning - a 12 x12 foot shop, granted by the Indian government to Burmese refugees to assist in their rehabilitation

menu at the tea shop, with him working as chef. Sakthivel Senior agreed, and so the shop flourished. Now it is A.K.V. Sakthivel’s generation, he and his cousins (or brothers, as he calls them) managing the three restaurants. This answers a burning question for me - how do Burmese refugees come to sell South Indian food in such a place? Since this transition to restaurant, Sakthivel explains, they’ve always served South Indian food in a very traditional manner. He takes a moment to lament the youth of today. “There’s an increased interest in health food, so there’s now less interest in the heavier, traditional foods, “he explains. But, he says, natural evolution is based on climate. Location makes people suited to the food of their area, and that’s what they should eat. I ask if ennai parotta have always been the most popular item on the menu, and he shakes his head. “When the catering section started, it was puri that was the most popular, “he explains. “We always had parotta on the menu, but it suddenly became popular.”

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Expert hands at work: A cook in Burma Kadai in the process of making the yummy dish The parotas being fried in oil

He laughs. “Of course, that’s evolution!” He admits he can’t confirm it 100 percent, but thinks that it is likely that is the case. He adds that while there are many different oils, like palm and sunflower, groundnut is the best for parotta.

Burma Kadai has an extensive menu, but it’s ennai parotta sales I’m interested in. “Sales are dropping,” he admits, “But I can tell you that in Viruduhunagar, all the restaurants and stalls sell about 20,000 ennai parotta a day. About 1 in 8 people in town will eat two parotta a day.” I am flabbergasted, and ask how many he personally sells. He swears me to secrecy on the exact number, but it’s impressive, I promise. He says that he makes parotta to match the demand of the clientele from the town.

We’ve been talking for hours at this point. Tea-time has passed, and the chefs have started to make the ennai parotta for the evening. We are invited to come and see.

A surprisingly tricky business!’ Ennai parotta are made smaller and tighter than normal parotta. “They’re too heavy a meal if made large,” Sakthivel explains. “Too high in calories,” he adds. We watch in amazement as the chef coats in a thin layer of oil, then rolls, flips and stretches the dough, faster than my camera can capture. When it is thin enough, it is rolled into an almost tube-like shape, then curled into its familiar, circular form.

I am intrigued to know more about why sales are dropping, in his opinion. “Because of the loads-men, “Sakthievel theorises, and suddenly I am being given another history lesson, this time of the town. I think I could listen to this man speak all day.

A brief town history Virudhunagar is traditionally a trade town. I would never have suspected, but this tiny town is a trade hub, for oil, coffee, textiles, even daal (it’s sent from up North India to be dried here). ‘Did you see the large pond when you came in to town?’ he asks us, “Once upon a time, at this time of day, it would be surrounded by loads-men sleeping.’

“The communication gap has dropped,” he explains, and we are given another whirlwind information session. Increased communications has made it easier for farmers to sell directly, for agents to contact the South, and so forth. The number of people coming to town to sell their wares and make connections has decreased, and so the amount of loads-men necessary has also dropped.

The chef flattens the ennai parotta slightly with his hands, then places them on the edge of an enormous tawa. There is a well of oil in the centre, but the parotta are placed on the edges, not directly in the oil. I ask Sakthivel and he explains. “They need to be lightly cooked first. If they are placed directly in the oil, air bubbles and blisters form, and the texture is not as good.” He instructs the chef to put one directly in the oil so we can see firsthand, and sure enough, there are soon blisters sprouting all over the surface. Other, correctly prepared parotta are pushed into the bubbling oil around it. Soon they have assumed the smooth, golden medallion appearance that I am familiar with. I think they look pretty good, but Sakthivel is watching the chef prepare with careful eyes. He notices me looking, and smiles wryly. “He is making it too thin,” he explains. “I would not make them so thin, there is too much of a chance of air bubbles.” He shrugs. “But sometimes, as manager, I cannot say anything.” Sakthivel takes us over to a huge, bubbling pot of salna (a coconut-based gravy) and samples it. While I had my parotta with chicken gravy, traditionally ennai parotta is broken into pieces and served soaked in salna. Sakthievel personally prepares the customer’s order - this customer has asked for mutton on top of his, in addition to salna. I’m still full to bursting from my prior meal, but at the sight my mouth starts watering again. Ennai parotta is an easily customised dish, and can be served with a variety of gravies and toppings, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, to the customer’s tastes, but for the standard Burma Kadai parotta - two pieces, broken and served with salna - it is Rs. 26. Incredibly affordable!

Being a loads-man is demanding, physically, so the loadsmen required heavy foods to maintain their strength - heavy foods like ennai parotta. But now, there are less loads-men.

The oil industry

His mention of the oil industry has piqued my curiosity. Fascinating as the town history is, I’ve come to find out about ennai parotta, and I see now a chance to link the two. ‘The difference between normal parotta and ennai parotta is that ennai parotta is shallow-fried. He assents to my observation and, so I continue, emboldened. Was the presence of the oil trade, thereby making it a plentiful commodity in town, also responsible for the existence of this deep fried parotta?

We walk inside and are startled - it seems as if the entire population of the town is crowded inside this restaurant! I am immediately heartened - to me, a packed restaurant says ‘good food’ better than any advertisement!

It’s time to take our leave, and we thank Sakthivel for his time, and his conversation. I am more grateful than I can possibly say - I am leaving with a full stomach, and a full mind, far more than I had expected when we drove in to town!

Ennai parotas ready for serving

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Madurai Messenger Tradition August 2013

The Trying Life of Panju Asari, a Rekla Cart Maker Mona Gibert meets rekla cart maker Panju asari and discovers what makes him persist with a traditional occupation despite the many challenges Text: Mona Gibert, France Photos:

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anju asari, 70, a rekla cart maker, lives in Appan Tirupathi, a village near Madurai. Dressed in a green dhoti and surrounded by his family, he warmly hosted me in his studio. The roof was ruined, the wood piled in a room and the embers in the fire were adding to the heat. When he spoke his first words to me, in Tamil of course, his voice was a whisper and I could detect in his red eyes the experience of his life and the tiredness of old age.

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The art of creating a rekla cart The word rekla cart comes from the word thatuvandi  in Tamil which refers to the cart used by common people. It is also the cart pulled by bulls in races. Five generations of Panju asari’s family have been making rekla carts, the skill being passed from father to son. But Panju Asari brought in his imagination and creativity to the making of the rekla cart. He created a smaller one in response to the request of his customers.

Panju Asari, (70), sitting on his plank, is carving the wood for the cart’s wheel

Since the past forty five-years, he wakes up early in the morning. He collects the wood from neighbours and seated in his small plank of wood which seems to be a chair, he works the iron on fire. But the heat and the pain caused by this repetitive work forces him to stop at three p.m. For three months in a year, he is focused on one rekla cart which requires several materials. Panju uses five kinds of Indian wood: nattukacuvai, vagai, teakwood, porasu and koongu. Easily foldable and light, they allow the cart to weigh only between seventy-five

Panju Asari’s rekla carts, proof of his hard work, exhibited in front of his studio

and eighty kilos and to go faster. Despite this long and exhausting work, Panju does not make much money. It is only when the object needs some repairs that he can earn his living. He charges around Rs 300 to set it right. But the rekla cart is a symbol of fame and wealth which he can be proud of. Unlike many people who collect rekla carts, Panju’s customers’ primarily aim to participate in the rekla cart race.

The amazing race While showing me a rekla cart race

In his studio, explaining his way of life

invitation, Panju explained that forty carts pulled by two bulls participate in the race which takes place in nearby towns such as Nellai, Devakotai, and Melur during temple festivals. There are three kinds of bulls in India, the first is used in temples, the second to carry heavyweights and the third one, which interests me, is used for races. The participants feed the bull with proteins and vitamins to make them race worthy and competititve. If the bull does not perform satisfactorily, it is used for meat. But the bull’s life is

not the only one to be endangered. In fact, the sport is also dangerous for the participants. Despite this danger, Indians love participating or watching such action sports because I suppose it gives them an adrenaline high.

Everyday is a challenge  With a tired look but with a smile on his lips, Panju said in a whisper, “Everyday is a challenge.” In fact, this rekla cart race is an amazing moment for people who watch or participate in it which contrasts with his life that he described.

Unfortunately, the evolution of new technologies is not the only explanation to justify his condition . In fact, making rekla cart is the only skill Panju has. Despite the pain and the tiredness of old age, Panju cannot stop his job because he needs the money

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Madurai Messenger Weekend Wander August 2013

Andaman Islands: Where Time Stands Still Sophia El Boukili fell in love with the Andaman Islands when she saw a picture of it in a guide book. Fascinated, she decided that her trip to India would not be complete without a visit to this tropical archipelago, off the east coast of India Text and Photos: Sophia El Boukili, France

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Getting there I waited for my day of departure with impatience. A total of seven hours of travel awaited me. The Andaman Islands is 1000 kilometers off the Indian coast. One has to take a flight from Madurai to Chennai, then from Chennai to Port Blair and finally a boat ride of more than two hours to Port Blair and Havelock Island. On the boat which crosses between the different islands which comprise the archipelago, the atmosphere is rather special. The strength of the sea and the peace which reigns there made obvious the greatness of the ocean and pushes you to introspection.

Andaman seascape: The mystique of the sea

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ven from the aircraft, when I glimpsed the string of small islands fringed by a turquoise blue sea, almost crystalline, I knew that my journey to the Andaman Islands was going to be incredible.

We could even distinguish the movements of the current. Without having read a single line in the guide, I knew that during my stay in India, I would have to visit this slice of tropical paradise.

Everything began when I opened my guide book and saw this amazing photo. It was a man who was returning to the shore after fishing on his small boat, against a backdrop of fine sand beach and translucent water. So translucent that we could see the hull of the small boat and even the slightest details of the sea floor, each fish, and each coral.

Andaman Islands, situated in the Indian Ocean, is administratively connected with the Indian territory. The archipelago consists of 204 islands (507 if we include the Nicobar islands). These islands situated between the Bay of Bengal and the Sea of Andaman is approximately 200 kilometers to the South of Burma.

A tropical paradise Even as I take my first step on the island, time seems to stop, as if the rest of the world did not exist. To explore the island, one has to hire a scooter. Its tropical climate, white sandy beaches lined with palm trees, luxuriant vegetation and turquoise blue waters make Andaman islands a tropical paradise. The islands undoubtedly shelter the most beautiful beaches in the world. The hilly and densely wooded territory have a wealth of remarkable flora and fauna. The territory is covered with more than 80 percent of tropical primary forest, housing a multitude of endemic plants, among which are numerous varieties of unique orchids. An

important network of mangrove swamps are home to rare faunal species such as the marine crocodiles and the coral reefs populated with a diversity of multicolored fishes. Fishing is the main resource of the island. In the small village near Havelock, we met a rather interesting copper craftsman who makes jewelry and crockery. Beyond his talent, is the real wise person, a native of the island who works and speaks with his heart. In spite of the tourist influx, the islands still manage to be well protected. But some damages are already evident. The roads, like most Indian roads, are bumpy. Road accidents are not uncommon. The Jarawas, original tribes of the island, are threatened by the pressures of tourism that regard them as objects of curiosity. They are naked, except for a red cloth at the waist. The Jarawas are one of the five tribes who live deep inside the tropical forests of the Andaman Islands. Like most ancient tribes, of which only a handful survive in the world, the Jarawas too are threatened by the pressures of modern civilization. Nevertheless, their rights to want to live without us are indisputable. In the end, it is their paradise.


Madurai Messenger Book Review August 2013

All that Glitters is not Glamour In a telling review, Adam Pigott admits that like the central character Andrea Sachs in the best seller The Devil Wears Prada, he too identified with her tentative steps in the world of fashion, even as he bravely takes his first steps into the world of contemporary journalism Text: Adam Pigott, United Kingdom

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here is an ancient Tamil proverb that decrees that having an unadorned foot is preferable to having no foot at all. I don’t believe Miranda Priestly, editor of Runway magazine in Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 international bestselling novel The Devil Wears Prada would concur. In this book, the reader enters the unforgiving world of couture high fashion, where the emphasis on glamour, beauty, and celebrity voids the inherent sins of vanity, greed and excess.

In stark contrast, Miranda Priestly (the devil in question) is an effective villain. She encapsulates much of the intoxicating and self-indulgent trappings of capitalist modern life; unsustainable, wasteful living, no regard for anything other than her own position of power and personal comfort. It was interesting following Andrea’s assimilation into the fashion business and her attempts at forging alliances and relationships, under the radar of Miranda’s dictatorial regime, with her co-workers, who gradually (but not significantly) develop beyond being mere two-dimensional size zero mannequins.

Stretching it too far

When lead character Andrea Sachs lands the job ‘a million girls would die for’ she thinks she has taken her first step towards achieving her dream of working for New Yorker magazine. Her initial ignorance after immersing herself in the job of the array of fashionistas and designers we meet along the way mirrors my own lack of acquaintance with the subject matter. My learning curve followed hers very closely. I felt I was there with her learning the subtleties of this world step-by-step.

A strong connection

Title:

The Devil Wears Prada

The ability for an author to connect with their reader is essential for a book to be successful, and through Andrea’s vulnerability and downto-earth common sense, I believe Lauren Weisberger does just that. Part of the appeal for me was that it seemed in many ways to reflect the stage of life that I’m at. I’m a little older than Andrea, but her story resonated fairly closely with how I feel as I try to break into the world of journalism myself. Andrea is a sympathetic hero. It is easy to relate to her as she tries to make her way in the world, making sacrifices in the short-term to pursue a longer-term goal, and I appreciated her motivation and determination to follow her dreams.

Author:

Lauren Weisberger

Publisher:

Broadway Books

Year:

2003

It was interesting following Andrea’s assimilation into the fashion business and her attempts at forging alliances and relationships, under the radar of Miranda’s dictatorial regime, with her co-workers, who gradually (but not significantly) develop beyond being mere twodimensional size zero mannequins

However, while the character development is generally quite strong, the plot seems at times to be lacking. So often we go through the same routine of Andrea trying to fulfill Miranda’s increasingly ridiculous and uncompromising demands. There doesn’t seem to be much difference from chapter to chapter, and outside of the day to day running of Runway magazine, it seems to take a long time for much to happen. Weisberger spends too much time establishing Miranda as a behemoth. She is pure evil; she is a terrorising boss, and a terrible person. We discover the extent of it quite early on but the book’s main aim throughout seems to be to continuously drill this into to us. It is witty and well written, and very easy to read, but too often I feel as though I’m merely re-reading Andrea’s previous exploits. The bulk of the book is designed to make the reader hate Miranda as much as Andrea does; and it works. It just covers the same ground too often, spiralling round in circles until it actually comes to a point where the extent of Miranda’s unreasonableness actually feels too contrived and unrealistic. The ending itself however I found slightly inadequate. It felt incomplete and I was not entirely satisfied. This

31 Celebrity author: Lauren Weisberger

may be because a sequel was on the cards; Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns hit bookstore shelves recently to mixed reviews. I found myself being drawn in at times and started to dislike the book

for promoting this unabashedly selfindulgent world. I had to consciously take a step back and remind myself that the book was actually poking some chastising tongue-in-cheek fun at the fashion business and its associated foibles.

It seems the devil of the title refers not just to Miranda herself and not just to the fashion industry in general. I would go further and suggest that the ‘devil’ is in fact the self-centredness of the human condition in an increasingly individualistic modern world, while ‘Prada’ refers to the shallow facade of glitz and glamour presiding over the wealth and fortune acquired through questionable means.


Madurai Messenger Film Review August 2013

Weaving Silk with the Warp and Weft of Poverty and Inequality: Kanchivaram The acclaimed National Award winning film Kanchivaram is woven around the lives of the silk weavers in the famous South Indian town of the same name. The irony that silk sari weavers can never afford a silk sari of their own is one of the key themes of the film; ‘A silk weaver can only weave silk, not wear it,’ is the take home message of this poignant and powerful film, writes Adam Pigott

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Kanchivaram

Director:

Priyadarshan

Cast:

Prakash Raj, Shriya Reddy, Shammu

Language: Tamil Year:

2008

A tall promise The film centres on an aged Vengadam recalling his life as a young man as he is transported on a prison bus. Certain events, sights, sounds and smells, trigger his recollections and we the viewer are transported into his memories along with him. The story of his past begins with him returning to his home village with his new wife, Annam, played by Sriya Reddy, in tow. He is derided as he goes, disparaged by the residents of the village for reneging on a vow he once made to wed a silk sari-clad bride. Nonetheless, he subsequently goes on to make the same promise to his newly-born daughter, and is once again met with cynicism. A wave of negative opinion from the other villagers confronts him for once again promising something he cannot possibly hope to achieve. Even his wife is upset and sceptical. However, he subsequently reveals to her that he managed to save half of what he needed for a sari for his wife, and therefore, with hard work and committed saving over time, should in fact be able to fulfill the vow he made to his daughter.

Text: Adam Pigott, United Kingdom

Title:

When we think of Indian cinema, it is Bollywood glamour that springs to mind, and I readied myself to enjoy the iconic dance sequences synonymous with that genre. However, this was to be a different experience altogether. As the tragic events of this film unfolded, I found myself being drawn emotionally deeper into the main character Vengadam’s life, and emotionally deeper into this mysterious culture. Any scepticism I felt at the onset was replaced by respect, not just for the film making of director Priyardashan, but also for Tamil culture in general, and for the lives of the weavers themselves as they struggle so valiantly against adversity just to make a living.

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hen I sat down to watch my first Tamil movie, Priyardashan’s 2008 award-winning drama, Kanchivaram, I had no idea what to expect. Having been brought up on a steady diet of Western-style Hollywood blockbusters, I felt intrigued but sceptical about sampling an Eastern screenplay. I’m afraid to admit that I was relatively ignorant of Tamil movie culture.

A weaver’s plight Every father I’m sure promises the earth for a new born daughter, dreaming (or perhaps dreading!) the day she gets married in a beautiful dress. What struck me in the film was the shock and grave premonitions being cast by

The newly married couple

the other villages when Vengadam makes that promise to his daughter. ‘Even if a weaver works his whole life he can’t even afford half a sari’, he is warned. The irony that silk sari weavers can never afford a silk sari of their own is one of the key messages of the film; ‘a silk weaver can only weave silk, not wear it’. The plight of the weaver is highlighted early on as one of the workers commits suicide after suffering the shame of being accused of being a thief. His father then blames his own ‘cursed tongue’ for bringing about this tragedy. It is this idea that leads to the arrival of a communist preacher to the village. The activist arrives with social reform at the forefront of his mind.This triggers Vengadam’s own involvement in the spreading of communist dialogue. In the only scene that resembles my preconceived ideas of Indian cinema, he takes up the craft of street theatre. Unforeseen circumstances lead to Vengadam reluctantly giving away his savings to his brother-in-law. Out of sheer desperation he eventually resorts to smuggling silk out of the supply and working at night to secretly create the promised silk sari. It is these controversial activities that lead to his arrest. His life spirals out

Any scepticism I felt at the onset was replaced by respect, not just for the film making of director Priyardashan, but also for Tamil culture in general, and for the lives of the weavers themselves as they struggle so valiantly against adversity just to make a living of control as his wife dies and his daughter becomes paralysed through a freak accident. The key message I personally took on board from the film was to be open minded. It is difficult to shed my Western perspective entirely, but this film opened my eyes to the promise and potential of alternatives to the globally dominant American entertainment industry. This film opened my eyes to something much more important and deeply felt as well; the potential for change. The capitalist world favours the rich at the expense of the poor. While I’m not sure that communism is the answer, I have now garnered a wider viewpoint and understand that something needs to be done to address the world wide problem of poverty and inequality.

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Madurai Messenger Eco Tourism August 2013

Atman Home Stay: Home is where the Heart is Yuka Furuya meets couple Lakshmi and Dinesh Chand who run Atman Home stay in Kodaikanal, and comes away touched by their hospitality and warmth Text: Yuka Furuya, Japan

Atman Home Stay was established in December 2012. There are four spacious bedrooms with attached state-of-theart bathrooms. Large French windows open into a green garden. White is the prevailing color in these rooms. Laksmi adds a personal touch by cooking for her guests, who get a taste of fresh home cooked food. She says, “Our guests come from all over the world and we welcome families and backpackers.” The Chands have friends across the globe and there are always a few stopping by to visit.

The charm of a home stay According to Lakshmi Chand, there is a rising trend among tourists to opt for home stays over hotels. The reasons are many. The warmth, intimacy and

personalized environment of a home stay and healthy food are seen as distinct advantages. The Chands love Kodaikanal and contribute to the local economy. For example, they always buy their food and daily requirements from locally available sources. On Sunday, they shop for veggies at the local farmers’ market, uzhavar sandhai, where farmers can sell their fresh produce directly to customers. Atman guests get to sample a diverse range of local veggies for which Kodaikanal is famous. “What kind of cuisine do you like? North Indian or south Indian? Spicy or bland?” enquires Lakshmi as she rustles up a tasty lunch for us.

Interestingly, Lakshmi Chand is doing her Phd on mountain eco tourism at MK University. The Chands have incorporated several aspects of sustainable energy solutions in their home stay such as installing solar panels, translucent roofing to allow more sunlight to flood the rooms, rain water harvesting techniques and cultivating organic vegetables. Also part of the Atman experience are bird watching and nature tours, campfires and BBQ! The people-friendly Chands of Atman made us feel good, much like a warm comforter in the cold rainy weather of Kodaikanal.

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Mejestic look of the Atman Home stay

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e left Madurai with the rising sun. It took three hours to Kodaikanal. Breathtaking, magnificent, fabulous, inviting… Kodaikanal is a place where adjectives work overtime! Derived from the Tamil word that means “summer forest” this picturesque little hill station is a naturalist’s paradise-- gurgling streams, cascading waterfalls, and a wealth of breathtakingly beautiful flora and fauna. The longer we drive, the landscape turns greener. The trees made a beautiful contrast against a bright

blue sky. We drove through narrow winding roads which terrified me because of the manic speed at which the driver drove through the winding mountain roads. After considerable meanderings, which we nearly lost our way, we reached Atman Home Stay, run by the warm and friendly couple Lakshmi and Dinesh Chand.

How it all began Lakshmi’s mother Kamakshi lived in Kodaikanal where she studied at the Sacred Heart Convent. Her father, Narayana Iyer, was among the first

few Indians (after the British) to own property in Kodaikanal. As a young girl, Lakshmi often came up the hills during school vacation.While in her later years, Lakshmi and Dinesh lived in Dubai for nearly two decades, where Lakshmi was a professor of finance and accounting at the local campuses of various foreign universities, and Dinesh worked for a global commodities firm, they always longed to return one day to Kodaikanal—far from the madding crowd of busy cities like Chennai— to settle down in their dream home.

Gracious host Lakshmi Chand of Atman Home Stay

Eco-friendly energy solutions: The solar panel at Atman

Cozy nooks and corners define space inside Atman

A room with a view: One of the rooms that spills into the garden


Madurai Messenger Causes August 2013

Radio Vayalaga FM:

“Copyright for cinema songs is too expensive. So we use the local village folk songs as our own resource. People love this because these songs are rarely heard these days in villages,” says station master in a proud tone

Of People, by People, for People Sophia El Boukili reports on an innovative community radio initiative, Radio Vayalaga FM, by the Madurai District Tank Farmers Federation (MDTFF) Text: Sophia El Boukili, France Photos: Durgairajan, Madurai messenger

Vayalaga FM staff air the programme live

“All the workers in the radio are from the same village community, which makes them feel like they are working in their own community radio.”

Vayalaga FM Staff team along with their station manager B. Muthu Kumarasamy (center)

jockeys, operators and field executives. The radio has a coverage area of only 15 kms. It covers 95 villages and 27 panchayats. The radio has its own advisory committee consisting of five elderly people, five teenagers and five women to appraise and instruct them on farmer-friendly programs. “We started with our farmers’ money, so we are very cautious on spending them wisely,” says the station manager, when he takes us to the broadcasting room.

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The setup is minimal and the spirit and enthusiasm of the members are high. “On the entrance of the Kootampatti we have this cutting edge technology; to spread and equip our farmers with valuable information on local weather conditions, commodity rates and current trends in farming,” adds station manager.

small community of farmers along with the women in village of Vadipatti, near Madurai, spread people’s voices through Radio Vayalaga FM. Vayalaga means farming. It is a subsidiary unit of the Madurai District Tank Farmers’ Federation (MDTFF).

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Empowerment through access to information

MDTFF was started at 1997 with 4500 farmers as members. They set up small information centers in every village to enable access to the internet for various farming related information in the villages. In 2009, the MDTFF applied for FM spectrum, and after a long screening process, the Vayalaga FM made its way to the air in 2011.

“It is a massive success because of the efforts of the entire whole community,” says B. Muthu Kumarasamy, the station manager. He adds, “All the workers in the radio are from the same village community, which makes them feel like they are working in their own community radio.” There are __people working in the radio, as radio

Today more than 95 villages participate in the project. It has a wide reach because the villages are often at a distance of more 50 km and only 50 villagers are active on the radio.

on agriculture followed by a music program in the evening. Obviously, the farmers’ program is agriculture.

The music program is also a big hit with listeners “Copyright for cinema songs is too expensive. So we use the local village folk songs as our own resource. People love this because these songs are rarely heard these days in villages,” says the station master in a proud tone.

Vayalaga FM is a radio created by farmers and for them. Every month, a meeting is organized in every village to choose a topic which the farmers are interested in. But the interviews seem to appear adhoc. For example, if somebody seems interesting, the programmer will ask him questions like an interview but with just a notepad or recorder. Improvisation is thus a key aspect of the community radio service which remains tied to its roots and builds itself on the local culture and on an agriculture-centred lifestyle. It thus aims to woo the people of the village, and educate and entertain them through this valuable tool. The program starts every day at 4 a.m. with four different time slots. The program schedule and the chart is designed by the station manager along with his team and then goes on air. Every morning, there is a general program followed by reports and in the afternoon, there is a three-hour exclusive

A live village folk song by a local women on vayalaga FM

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Madurai Messenger First Impression August 2013

Feeling the Pulse of India

A Strange New World

Despite having subscribed to stereotypical notions of the former “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire, Adam Pigott steps back and discovers the Indian sub continent for himself through untinted glasses and loves what he sees…

India’s vitality and wisdom impress French national Sophia El Boukili, as do its incredible range of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. But most of all, she is spellbound by the tropical sun with its nuances of shades that she is certain can be seen only in India!

Text & Photo: Adam Pigott, United Kingdom

Text & Photo: Sopia El Boukili, France

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 38

Goats grazing in a street in Madurai

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ooking back to my arrival in India a few days ago, I feel contented with how quickly I became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of life in the sub-continent. The relative peace of the office gives me chance to take a metaphorical step back and think about the choices that led me here, as well as to consider the sheer cacophony of the country from a more objective distance. I really didn’t know what to expect. I had preconceived romantic notions of the former jewel of the British Empire derived from reading literature in England and from watching travel documentaries. But I’d heard that there was no way to adequately prepare for the culture shock that was awaiting me, so I tried to leave those preconceptions at home and go with a receptive heart and open mind.

Plethora of new experiences Upon arrival, my open mind was instantly filled with a plethora of new experiences. I arrived in Chennai initially at half past three in the morning and it was 28 degrees Celsius. Hotter than it is in my homeland England at the height of a scorching summer’s day! After subsequently arriving in Madurai a few

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hours later, I was promptly met by the waiting Projects Abroad staff and whisked off to my accommodation before I had time to take breath, and to meet my host family. As we passed through the winding streets and busy roads of Madurai, I tried to watch and observe and take it all in. I think the main thing that struck me was the buzz of activity wherever I looked. Convoys of cows transported cargo as street vendors set themselves up for a new day of commerce, next to the road but often harmoniously intermingling with trees and shrubbery as well. At first glance, the roads seemed to be teeming with dysfunctional chaos, accompanied by a soundtrack of almost incessant horn sounding. But as I gradually became more familiar with it, I became aware of the organic nature of the city. The road was straight but the traffic flowed liberally and naturally down it, almost like a wild animal making its purposeful and seamless way towards its destination. The city had a pulse and felt alive. I was then shown where I would be staying and had the chance to meet the some of the other volunteers, before getting the chance to rest and recover my bewildered senses. Only a few short hours later, I was awakened by what I thought must be gunfire! I quickly jumped up to look through the window but saw nothing amiss, discovering later that it was actually celebratory wedding fireworks, as there was a ceremony taking place that day nearby.

A lady working on the construction site

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he first words that come to mind to regarding India are vitality and wisdom. In this world, which is another world than the one that I have known back home in France, I feel as if I am losing all my senses and at the same time to find them all. People, colours, culture, mentality, food and taste, traffic, all of these things are different here. Even the colour of the sun seems to me more nuanced in the tropics with shades of pink and purple I’ve never seen in France!

On high alert My spirit is constantly alert.I was really scared when I climbed into an auto rickshaw for the first time. This mode of transport which is half way between a motorcycle and a taxi, looks so dangerous to me, but in Madurai and certainly in India, it`s one of the most widely used form of transport.

After few minutes in the auto rickshaw I was little more relaxed when I saw the confidence of the auto driver! Perhaps it’s because I was distracted by the street which called out to me with incredible views and smells, which changes often. Sometimes it was good and I imagined the mama in her kitchen who cooks some spicy dishes and on other times it was too bad and smelt of tar and bitumen of the city under construction and in perpetual change. It’s so crazy to find two very different places, only separated by a few hours in a plane. We often say that it`s a small world, but I realize now that the world is big with so many things that remain for me to discover.


Madurai Messenger First Impression August 2013

Bridging the East West Divide Jacqueline Agate, like every other foreign national, is overwhelmed by the Indian experience. However, she comes to terms with the intense hitherto unknown feelings stirred in her and like a detached observer, is able to see India from a larger perspective Text & Photo: Jacqueline Agate, United Kingdom Unique to Madurai: A cow in the centre of a very busy street in Madurai

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hen asked to write my first impressions about Madurai, I wondered how on earth I would compress them into 500 words! From the first moment I entered this fascinating place, as the warm air hit my face, so too did an array of feelings that I’m not usually accustomed to. I felt anxiety, excitement, fear, all blended with an intense eagerness to discover and explore. The most unusual of all, however, was the feeling that I was somehow detached from my body, looking down on myself in this unfamiliar land and thinking what am I doing here?! Nevertheless, as G. Durgai Rajan, the Projects Abroad staff member introduced himself to me warmly, I knew that I would be well looked after.

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Overflowing with warmth and friendliness The perfect friendliness of my host family in Madurai came as little surprise to me. Mainly because of the many stories I had heard concerning Eastern hospitality, but also because I had my first taste of it at the airport. A young woman came over to talk to me, simply because ‘I was sitting alone’. As we talked about music and films and the difference between the culture of the East and West she seemed genuinely interested in all I had to say. This intense difference between East and West has struck me the most: along with the inescapable looks of intense curiosity, smiles and waves follow me wherever I go in Madurai. Warmth flows from the people here in a way much different from the more reserved friendliness of the British.

Embracing Differences The differences between Madurai and Britain don’t stop there! The most overwhelming is perhaps the traffic. The chaotic stream of buses, cattle, cars and rickshaws which seem to know no highway code can be unnerving for the Westerner. I am used to lines of traffic as ordered as a military operation! The abandon with which the car horn is used cannot go unmentioned either. The horn, which is practically sacred in Britain, used only in extreme scenarios, is pumped and prodded at regular intervals. Cattle too is scattered across the streets, free to roam. It was when I saw a group of small children bathing

in a river alongside their cattle that I realised just how much the people of Madurai are at one with their land. Never before have I been in a place which has such an amazing capacity to arouse the senses. I cannot turn a corner in Madurai without being confronted by a new smell, a new sight, a new sound. Be it a colourful sari, the call of some exotic bird or a roadside shack serving Indian delicacies, my faculties are continually excited by all that Madurai has to offer. As I wander through the dusty streets, I know that this is a place that will remain with me forever.


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