Page 1

VOLUME 1, ISSUE 11 October 2010

Beggars and Sex Workers: The Underbelly of Madurai Sponsored by:



Contents October 2010 | Issue No. 11 Editor

Nandini Murali


03 Begging the Question COVER STORY

Assisted by

Ezhil Elango Media Relations Officer Coordinator

Joel Powel Abraham Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd., Reporters and Designers:

Akiko Shimada Angus Roche Costanza Giannelli Eri Kakinuma Genki Ichihara Rufus Pfingstag Tomomi Hayata Yuya Oshima


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

Angus Roche

04 08 09 11

Beggers and Sex Workers: The Underbelly of Madurai HIV/AIDS Scenario in Madurai EVENTS

Towards a Model of Responsible Tourism Sixth Development Film Festival : An Instrument of Social Change NOSTALGIA

12 Projecting Dreams WEEKEND WANDER

14 New Orleans: A Confluence of the Old and the New


16 Piranha 3D: The Epitome of Guilty Entertainment




Taste of Madurai FESTIVAL

A Matter of Faith

Madurai Messenger


October 2010

Begging the Question You see them everywhere. Pressing their faces against the car window at traffic intersections, or tugging at you with a baby in their arms. Despite high economic growth rates, poverty and unemployment continue to plague more than half of India’s population. Recently a friend of mine wondered in anguish, “Why it that we have two distinct India is separated by a distance of more than three oceans? One India where 370 million people are hungry and another India of the rich and famous whose children go shopping to New York!” Begging and commercial sex are indeed pressing social issues in any developing country. According to the Ministry of Women and Children, there are 2.8 million sex workers in India, 36 percent of whom enter the trade before they are 18 years. A recent report by the Delhi School of Social Work states that the number of beggars in the country has gone up by a lakh since 1991. Our cover story this month seeks to explore why some people resort to nonconventioanl means to earn their livelihoods. Whatever their compulsions, it is clear that a therapeutic and rehabilitative approach is the needed to address this social malaise; not philanthropy or charity. Begging and sex work—long regarded as taboo and stigmatized professions, are at crossroads. With a high prevalence and incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country, sex workers have been the subject of targeted interventions that promote safer sex practices in a country where 80 percent of HIV is transmitted through the heterosexual route. What are the alternatives and options? What do the two groups themselves want? Not an easy question. A friend of mine runs a home (free of charge) for senior citizens who are destitute remarked how families were unwilling to send them there because they earned a significant amount (Rs. 3000 monthly) by begging around the Meenakshi Temple! So where does the buck end?

Nandini Murali Editor

Reader’s Responds Madurai Messenger is becoming more and more interesting. The teachers profile reminded me of my English teacher in School. She was the only one from London while all others were Irish. When she taught us Shakespeare she made us act the play and I still remember her saying show the characters feeling in your face I also remember my Botany Professor an American when I went to USA as part of an official delegation I visited her. She was 94+. She immediately held a party and told all her cronies that I was her student and how proud she felt and that I belonged to the first batch of students who thought of becoming professionals. I enjoyed reading about the tribals I wish the educated will respect some of their traditions as their traditions will preserve the ecology. Dr Lakshmi Rahmathullah Family Health and Development Research Service Foundation, Sevayoor I had the opportunity to read the ‘ Editor’s Corner ‘ of Madurai Messenger Sept 2010 issue. After I finished reading it, some thoughts started crowding my mind. It is true some beautiful memories grace our lives to inspire and guide. No doubt, it’s a fortuitous happening in your life to come across Lillian Boog. Your editorial not only

brought”The Daffodils” once again before me, but also made me to recollect the good old time in which my master tried his best to paint the Daffodils in our mind. I am sure my master was not another Lillian Boog. The beautifully sculptured editorial ‘ She Brought Us Daffodils ‘ has exhibited your craftsmanship also. Each and every word and the apt idioms and phrases you have chosen to use speak volumes about your credentials in the language. I feel all it exhibits is only the tip of the ice berg of your mastery in English language. The whole editorial has been woven and studded with beautifully carved words and I am captivated by it. The beautiful usage has enthralled me to a great extent. Honestly speaking, I have been captivated by the wonderful style, elegance, flow, and standard in which it is written. At this juncture kindly permit me to add some of my other observations. No doubt the article is of high standard. But how many of the readers would have understood the beauty of your language and the message you have tried to impart? An average reader can never grasp without ‘ a THESAURUS .How many of us know the’ Pygmalion effect.’? Of course, I know what the Pygmalion effect is. Kindly remember that you cannot expect your standard of learning understanding, and knowledge in every reader to whom the article is intended for.

I am not aware to which layer or class of society receives the copy of this magazine. Whatever be it, my humble request is that kindly come down to the level of the readers, like Lillian Boog who came down to the level of the students. Then only your message will reach the mind and heart of every one.Eventhough I derive a wonderful pleasure in reading your editorial, I wish your knowledge and elegance should reach down the line also. S.George Ford, Correspondent, Amudham Mat.Hr.Sec. School,Perungudi,Madurai. The editorial Nandini Murali in Madurai Messenger is something to cherish by the entire teaching faculty. A teacher does effect eternity. More than that, I could assure Ms. Lillian Boog that ‘the soft spoken sensitive girl’ perceived by her remains the same unperturbed person through the years that have flown by. The lucidly written editorial is a tribute to the teacher and of course the taught too. Madurai Messenger in bringing out an issue On Teachers’ Day has made every teacher of Madurai proud. Kudos to the editors, reporters and designers.” Shanthi Mohan, Vice Principal, TVS Lakshmi School




Beggars and Sex Workers: The Underbelly of Madurai Angus Roche speaks with a few beggars and sex workers in Madurai, unravelling the mysteries and misconceptions shrouding those driven by their poverty to seek their livelihood through unconventional means. Angus Roche Melbourne, Australia

The stories of those living in extreme poverty in India are plentiful, but seldom told. For the most part, those in favourable circumstances think that they are powerless to solve such issues and thus find it easier to ignore them altogether, but some stumble across other reasons to avoid discussing the impoverished. For example, the very first person I come across whilst wandering the streets of Madurai in search of the destitute, dressed rather shabbily at Periyar Bus Stand, chastises me for wanting to interview beggars. For reasons I am unable to describe, he looks oddly like a preacher standing alone at this busy public place, long grey hair and beard blowing wildly in the wind. I am surprised to discover, upon asking him where we might find some homeless people to talk to, that he speaks perfect English. “Why do you want to write about these people?” he asks. “It’s a pointless, superficial activity, and it helps no one. All you are doing is drawing attention to yourself. If you truly want to help those who are less fortunate, then do so directly.” Slightly taken aback, I explain to him that my money and food will only go so far in helping people. Whatever relief my direct assistance may bring would be temporary; it isn’t addressing the root of the problem. Besides which, I haven’t the resources to give direct help to all the legions of people (over 20 percent of the world’s population, according to the World Bank) that live in abject poverty.

The man shakes his head. “Helping someone today lays the foundations for tomorrow,” he tells me. “All people in poverty are interrelated. Each person is like a single branch of a tree, together forming a cohesive whole. By helping the individuals, you are also helping the entire community.” One might call such an outlook optimistic. I would call it naive. For the homeless and insolvent, the occasional meal or a few rupees is feeble and largely worthless in terms of their enduring standard of living. An idea, however, is resilient, powerful and eternal. To talk about the issues is to spread the word, and to put pressure on the people who do have the resources to address such problems permanently, NGOs and governments. Investments must be made in long-term solutions for large numbers of people, not shortterm relief for small numbers of people.

Abandoned and Helpless More determined than ever to delve into the lives of the impoverished, I eventually come across two rather large communities of 20-30 homeless people living at the train station and around the Meenakshi temple. Mr S.D. Jayaraman (pictured above) had quite a comfortable early life. Born in Chennai in 1944, he completed ninth-standard education in 1967 and then owned a successful tea store with 11 people under his command. But after losing his ability to walk through an electric shock from his television, working was no longer an option. Considered a burden by his family, his son sold his house for more than 3 million rupees and he has been living on the street ever since.

Such stories of disability combined with family disputes are commonplace amongst Madurai’s beggar population. Meera Momi has long since lost count of her exact age, but she estimates she has been homeless for more than ten years. Her family dynamic was ripe with tension, culminating in her son murdering his wife and attempting to usurp the family fortunes. Now isolated, she found that employers were reluctant to give her work due to her bad eyesight, so she resorted to begging and sleeping around Meenakshi temple. On a good day she makes a mere Rs. 20, but she has not considered moving elsewhere. Due to her poor vision, she would prefer to stay in one place.

Madurai Messenger October 2010

Impoverished by Choice

But of course, one can’t automatically assume that all beggars have such a tragic life story or desperate intentions. Begging in India doesn’t necessarily have the same stigma or indignity attached to it as it does in more developed places. There are many more practical reasons why people may choose to beg, making it all the more difficult for sympathetic observers to decide where best they should direct their assistance.

The next time you are coming out of Madurai Junction, look directly to your right: Torrential downpour or scorching heat, a man from Andhra Pradesh has been sitting there at the same spot for the last 17 years. But he stays there by choice, rather than out of necessity. His family and the police have numerous times tried to relieve him from his makeshift home, but he is adamant he should stay. A devout Hindu, he claims that he received a message from the gods telling him to live near Goddess Meenakshi at the train station in Madurai. Out of principle, he refuses to accept offers of money, taking only food and cigarettes from compassionate passers-by. Another man (pictured bottom left) I approach who lives at the bridge in between Pasumalai and Madurai central has rotting teeth, a long scruffy beard and clothes as ripped and dirty as any I have ever seen. But nonetheless, he refuses to even acknowledge my presence, let alone my offerings of food, water and money. Continuing to snack on a putrid apple, he speaks not one word and eventually wanders away. Utterly

bemused, the locals explain to me that he is mentally ill and that, for the most part, he does not want or require the help of others. He is self-sufficient, and only ever accepts offers of food or money if he is desperately hungry. As we leave the area, though, we see him searching through a dumpster for something. Is it our duty as compassionate world citizens to protect these people from the squalor that they live in, even if we have to do so by force? One could easily make an argument for the answer being yes, particularly in the case of the destitute mentally ill, who arguably do not have the intellectual capacity to decide what is and isn’t good for them. Due largely to a lack of political will to address the problem, the vast majority of mentally retarded people abandoned by their families aren’t lucky enough to find themselves in institutions designed to care for them.

A Professional approach

An additional dilemma-inducing class of people for potential donors are those who certainly want your money, but don’t necessarily require it for noble purposes. Not restricted by their sense of pride, some people see begging as a legitimate profession, rather than a last resort. One woman we talk to reveals that she has a job cleaning a restaurant in her hometown, where she earns enough to pay for her son’s government school fees. However, she often travels to the surrounding areas to beg when large tourist attractions are present (such as the recent Ramadan festival in Madurai), where she can earn money at a much higher rate. Due to her busy travel schedule, she took her son out of school after third standard to keep him close by.

Moreover, substance abuse is relatively common amongst the homeless. Mr K. Mookan (pictured bottom left) graciously accepts our money and request for an interview, before shamelessly revealing that he is alcohol dependant and spends the vast majority of the money he earns from begging on liquor. He in fact receives government pension money, works erratically as a labourer and has an ongoing offer of support from his son. However, in order to get enough money to feed his addiction, he chooses to beg and sleep around Meenakshi temple. . An even more sinister alternative to the traditional beggar story may also be thriving underground. Though of course none of the beggars I interviewed were willing to discuss such a possibility, reports have been made of mafia bosses rounding up the homeless community in the greater Madurai area into some kind of organised mob. Worse still, these crime lords have been known not only to make a huge profit off the backs of the underprivileged, but also to employ certain tactics in order to maximise their revenue; tactics that often involve small children, who generally evoke greater empathy from the public and thus make more money. So whilst it isn’t always easy to ignore the confronting poverty present on the streets of Madurai, handing out cash may even be exacerbating the problem rather than fixing it. Supporting NGOs that work to improve the lives of the destitute is a legitimate alternative; one such organisation feeds the homeless community at Madurai Junction every Friday, for example. But without the undivided and unwavering




be doing what they do. We merely equip them with the knowledge and resources to practice their profession safely, and ensure that their working conditions are both comfortable and sustainable.”

Mrs. Jhansi Sunitha support of both the Tamil and Indian governments, such relief will not be widespread or permanent. Consistent quality education, as a means of giving these people another option, is paramount, both for the homeless and for other weaker sections of Indian society.

Educating the Underprivileged

The People’s Association of Community Health Education (PACHE) Trust is a not-for-profit non-government organisation that has worked amongst the poorer sections of the Madurai and Theni districts since 1987. In the past they have campaigned for universal education and women’s rights, and now their primary goal is to educate sex workers in and around Madurai about safer sex practices, including the containment of HIV/AIDS (see on page 8). The organisation works with over 2000 sex workers in Madurai, with whom they came into contact through several notorious sex brokers, who often drive rickshaws as their day job. They have kindly agreed to put me in touch with five such women willing to talk with me about their profession, and I meet first with the programme manager, G. Jhansi Sunitha (pictured above), to discuss the social aims of the PACHE Trust.

“We do our absolute utmost to stay out the politics and stigma associated with the sex industry,” says Mrs Sunitha. “We don’t support the legalisation of prostitution, nor do we try to limit the number of people entering the industry, or tell the sex workers that they should not

The organisation does, however, work towards giving the women other money-making options by training them to acquire skills in other areas. This is at least partly because of their long term obligation to find a new job, as men generally do not crave the services of a sex worker over the age of 40. Due to the surprisingly large yet covert demand for sex workers in Madurai, the average young sex worker may engage in sexual activity as many as 50 times a month. The trust also aims to reduce this number, even if this does mean sacrificing a significant proportion of their wages, which often border on the astronomically high (in some cases more than Rs. 20,000 a month).

A Regrettable Necessity

The first sex worker I talk to entered paid sex work several years ago after her husband was arrested. Lacking the skills required to perform any more than rudimentary work, she could not afford to give her children regular meals or send them to school. The idea of resorting to sex work was thrust upon her when the owner of the house she was cleaning as a stock-gap job, aware of her desperation for cash, offered to pay her for sex. Having been introduced to countless other clients since then, she has grown desensitised to

the shame that accompanies such an act. She continues to work in the sex industry even after her husband was released from jail as he refuses to support the family, spending all the money he earns on alcohol and often beating her. Sex work is not something she enjoys; rather she sees it as a necessary means of making money, the same as any other profession. Her two children now go to school and have an abundance of food. Another woman I talk to got involved in the sex industry at the age of 14 years when the father of the village prostitution house she was cleaning for money got her drunk, locked her in a room with a man and sold her for sex. Disputes ensued when her family ascertained this, and she ran away from home shortly afterwards. Money being scarce, she resorted to the only way she knew she could consistently make enough funds to live off. Now in her late thirties, she has been working in the sex industry for over 20 years. Given any alternative she would quit without a second thought, but she is alcohol-dependant and thus requires a lot more money than she could possibly earn from a low-paying job. Nonetheless, despite all the indignity of her profession and life in general, she still resolutely maintains some of her pride; she does not accept money to perform oral sex, even though she can make twice as much money from it than she can from intercourse, and out of principle refuses to facilitate underage girls joining the industry.

Madurai Messenger October 2010

Sex Work by Choice

But just as I am starting to think that every life story I hear would be one of compounding tragedy, I meet a woman who reports that she is ‘very happy’ with her profession. Though initially driven to the sex industry by financial strife, she found herself to be enjoying the welcome respite she received from her unsatisfactory sex life with her husband, who is over ten years older than her. Now making a small fortune every month, she does not feel the need to seek a new career path, nor does she think she would abuse such an opportunity if one presented itself. Since the younger generation almost always enter the industry out of financial necessity, which is in her opinion a justified rationale, she would not necessarily advise them against taking up sex work. She even acts somewhat like a broker, directing her contacts to younger sex workers if they so request, and half-jokingly tells me that I can get her phone number off Mrs Sunitha! In fact, the only real problem she seems to have with her profession is that she has to carry out all her practices behind closed doors. Sex work being frowned upon almost unanimously across cul tures, she lives her life in constant fear. If anyone finds out how she makes her cash then the news would spread like wildfire, her house owner would kick her out and she and her family would be shunned, she says. To avoid being seen, therefore, she often makes a tiresome journey to small villages outside Madu-

rai to fulfil her client’s wishes. And this is not an irrational idea, as corrupt police officers have been known to arrest women carrying condoms in public on suspicion of sex work, despite having no other evidence to suggest this being the case. She urges the Tamil government to legalise commercial sex, so that Tamil law and people could begin to recognise sex work as a legitimate profession. It is hard to say how prevalent such an opinion is amongst sex workers in Madurai: a sample of five women willing to talk to a magazine about their humiliating and illegal practices is almost certainly not representative of the entire population of sex workers. Obviously though, laws forbidding sex work have not prevented the industry from flourishing, and if legalised then workers would be better informed about safer sex practices. On the other hand, ethical standards in India are opposed to encouraging commercial sex, and legalising the industry might give rise to organised sex in brothels and red light areas. In such a scenario, brokers often make a huge profit from organising meetings between clients and the workers, a culture which under the current system has all but died out in Madurai. Here, information about the sex industry has been widely spread by word-of-mouth since the popularisation of the mobile phone.

Hands tied

Shame and regret are the two most common emotions I hear expressed

by the sex workers. All but one of the women I talk to would strongly advise youngsters to seek alternatives to paid sex and not one has told a single person, not even their most trusted friend or family member, how they earn their cash. The tide is changing in terms of the Indian taboo surrounding sex, however, both as a profession and in a more general sense. When Mrs. Sunitha first began working at the PACHE trust, she was shunned by her friends and acquaintances for associating herself with commercial sex workers, despite her clearly noble intentions. But slowly, assisted by the consistent support of her family, she and the organisation she works for have become accepted by the majority of the community. In spite of a few notable anomalies, without a doubt the overarching theme throughout my interviews with both the sex workers and beggars is one of tied hands. It seems these people are merely common citizens who have encountered more than their fair share of misfortune and for reasons beyond their control had to make the regrettable decision to pursue an ignoble career. And whilst there is still one person out there who has been forced into this predicament through no fault of their own, then this is unacceptable. The government should and must do more to ensure that every Indian citizen has the opportunity to work in a respectable job in good conditions. The place to start is with education, but this alone is not sufficient. Measures must also be undertaken to guarantee that the mentally and physically disabled, currently lining Madurai’s streets, receive adequate care. Equally, the government must invest in upgrading food storage facilities, currently inadequate and resulting in up to Rs. 580,000 crore worth of food prematurely decomposing each year. This is a widespread problem that the public must also consider, to make certain that the underprivileged will no longer suffer due to the greed and apathy of the more fortunate.




HIV/AIDS Scenario in Madurai Rufus Pfingstag

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a blood borne pathogen that can be contracted through unprotected sexual activity and through blood-to-blood contact via needle sharing or blood transfusion. In its dormant state, which can last for years, patients infected with HIV show no symptoms, but they can still pass on the virus through bodily fluid exposure and from mother to unborn child. When HIV leaves the dormant state, it is known as AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Patients with AIDS suffer from a decreased immune response, making it more likely for otherwise harmless bacteria and viruses to infect the patients and cause serious illness and death. The primary danger to AIDS patients is not the AIDS virus itself, but rather the other life threatening diseases that patients are unable to fight off due to AIDS. Louisiana, United States

In the past, the PACHE Trust has been involved in all kinds of sexual education with both adults and under 18’s. However, the aims of the organisation have shifted during the last few years, and their primary focus is now on educating sex workers on all aspects of sexual safety, in particular the risk of HIV/AIDS. PACHE trust is in contact with almost all of the two-thousand-plus sex workers currently operating in Madurai. Of these workers, less than three percent are HIV positive, well below the average in Indian cities renowned for their red-light districts, such as Mumbai. The Tamil Nadu government has been credited with dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic much more swiftly and effectively than other state governments, through measures such as the introduction of free, quality condoms for its citizens. HIV/AIDS is a misunderstood topic by many Indians due to lack of education in schools and also a lack of willingness to discuss sexual topics. In Tamil Nadu especially, sexual topics are taboo and it has been difficult in the past for people to get accurate information on safe sex practices. In addition, condom usage is not widespread, either as contraception or as a form of disease prevention. However, due to the efforts of PACHE Trust and other similar organisations, over the last six years condom usage among sex workers in Madurai has grown from almost non-existent to almost universal. Sex workers will now insist upon safer sex practices, even if this means deceiving their clients and forcing a condom on with their mouth whilst performing oral sex. This greatly reduces the risk of contracting HIV, both for the sex workers and for the men who patronise them.

Madurai Messenger October 2010

Towards a Model of Responsible Tourism Attending a one-day celebration of World Tourism Day with a thematic focus on Tourism and Biodiversity at SVN College, Madurai, Genki Ichihara concludes that both the hosts and guest visitors have a mutual commitment to responsible tourism. Genki Ichihara Tokyo, Japan

To commemorate World Tourism Day (September 27) an Inter Collegiate Competition was held in S.Vellaichamy Nadar College (SVN College) in Madurai on September 22, 2010. This competition was organised by the Department of History, SVN College, and Tamil Nadu Tourism, Madurai. Students from thirty different colleges participated. This year the theme was “Tourism and BioDiversity.” Biodiversity means the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular

habitat. The event highlighted the importance of biodiversity to tourism and the role of sustainable tourism in conservation of life on earth today. Tourism is one of the most important industries in many countries. In order to attract more tourists several factors such as hospitality, entertainment, high standards of public safety and natural beauty are necessary. For a long time, many people only considered the importance of the rapid development of technology rather than the need to protect nature. But today, environmental issues are crucial and people are concerned about the environment. We

Celebrating World Tourism Day!

should indeed guard against rampant exploitation of nature due to the high revenues generated by tourism which in turn would led to a dip in tourism and thereby perpetuate a vicious cycle. Countries get a huge amount of money from the tourism industry. Hence they have a responsibility to the world by protecting nature. “No nature, No tourism.” Tourism and Bio-Diversity is, therefore, a crucial topic for the 21st century tourism industry and the world. The competition was divided into three sections: speech [English and Tamil], drawing and writing. In the Tamil speech competition S. Reeka, a student




of the P. M. Thevar College, said, “There are many forests and animals in India, so we should not destroy them.” Another student of P.M.T. College talked about environmental facts in India. For example, 1.5 million of hectares of forest lands are depleted, with singing entertainment during his speech (He should be a goodwill ambassador for eco-tourism!). In the writing and drawing sections, students drew several innovative pieces such as a photo of a hand holding the earth. “The Earth is in our hand”. Now we know that we need to prevent the destruction of nature, tropical rainforests and animals, but what can we do to stop global warming? P. Linda Rajakumari, a student of Lady Doak College, said that we have to carry out several initiatives to protect nature. Firstly, governments and NGOs should put their energy into eco-tourism. Secondly, we have to increase the prevelance of eco-friendly resources. She also explains that it is essential to educate local people about the importance of understanding the relationship between tourism and biodiversity. In a personal interaction, Linda Rajakumari told me that there are a lot of people who do not know about the problems we face today. Hence, governments and NGO’s should encourage the public to protect biodiversity through media sources such as TV and articles in magazines and newspapers. “Tourism and biodiversity is mutually dependent,” she says. “Incredible India” is the catchy slogan of the Department of Tourism. Yes, I think India is incredible; that’s why millions of people come to India. There are many places to visit in India, and the hospitality is great. But the destruction of the environment is not only caused by the people living in the country, but also by tourists. Both the hosts and the visitors have a stake in responsible tourism.

Competitions in Progress

Madurai Messenger October 2010

Sixth Development Film Festival: An Instrument of Social Change After watching a screening of a few short films at the recently held Sixth Development Film Festival in Madurai, Tomomi Hayata concludes that films indeed are a powerful instrument of social change Tomomi Hayata Tokyo, Japan

The sixth Development Film Festival conducted by the Centre for Development Communication of DHAN Foundation was held at the Gandhi Museum in Madurai for four days from September 15-18. The Festival aimed to increase public and political awareness and encourages the grassroots movement to involve themselves in decision making and management of resources that could impact people’s lives. The Festival is held once a year with a different theme, such as poverty and education. The theme of the sixth festival was “People, Democracy and Development.” Seventeen films which are already sold as DVDs were selected by a panel comprising of film makers, development practitioners and academics for the festival. We went to the festival on the first day, and watched a video that provided an overview of social issues in India and also the film Power to People by Ishani K. Dutta.

your perspectives. If you know from the Internet, TV, non-governmental organisations and other such reliable sources that malnutrition in India is a “silent emergency” with 46 percent of children under three years of age being underweight, for example, you will not be satisfied with this fact and will think something should be done about it. Then, people’s new perspectives and dissatisfaction could lead to the development and the improvement of a society. Therefore, initiatives like the Development Film Festival which provide people with opportunities to know what is happening are crucial. List of films screened in the Sixth Development Film Festival: • Power to People by Ishani K. Dutta • Fuera by Maria Corcorran • Nadantha Kathai by Pon Sudha

• Committing for Change by Centre for Development Communication, DHAN • The Story of a Municipality by Awati Dandekar • Naalaikku Malai Peiyum by A. Velmani • Abolombon by S. M. Ashraf Abir • Local Self Governments- Some Reflections by Swati Dandekar • The Missing Bailout by Maha Mirza • Thotti by G. Murali • The Last Board by N. Sundar • Mayandi Bharathi by DHAN • Roomal by Sanjay Desai, et al. • Puli Yarukku? (Tiger for Whom?) by V. G. Anto • Etc… by Ravi Prakash J K • Voices from Mindanao by Juan Carlos Gonzalez • Catalizing Communities by DHAN

The film is about the Right to Information (RTI) Act that provides a practical regime for citizens to access information under the control of public authorities in India. It tells the audience the importance of information in people’s lives by showing “how the RTI Act promotes transparency and accountability in the working of government and how this Act has given the people the power to change the country”. As the film suggests, one‘s right to information is vitally important. Knowledge about what is happening both in the world and around you changes

Naresh Gupta, Former EC, honours DHAN Foundation




Projecting Dreams Tomomi Hayata interacts with Ayyasamy and Balu, film projection technicians at Guru Cinema, Madurai, and discovers that so much happens behind the scenes to ensure that the audience has a memorable viewing experience! Tomomi Hayata Tokyo, Japan

A movie theatre is a house of dreams. The lights, the smell, the space… the entire atmosphere creates pure magic. You buy a ticket, take a seat and the lights dim. Then darkness settles and begins to cloak the entire space… it‘s time for entry into another world; either alone or shared with other people in the theatre. You may be happy, cry, worry, or even get bored! Whatever feelings you get are real, but the experience you witness on the screen is only a dream. You are in the dream only for a while,

but people like film projector operators are people who live with the dream. Every time I go to the movie theatre, I am fascinated by the projection room and curious to know how it functions. My dream came true here in Madurai. I interviewed two film operators, Ayyasamy (51) and Balu (50), working at the projection room of Guru Cinema. Ayyasamy has been working as an operator for thirty years and Balu for five years. Guru cinema in Madurai was renovated recently and now it has a SONY 4 K projector which no other theatre in India is equipped with.

Ayyasamy’s Paradise

I expected the projection room to be dusty and hot, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was clean and cool. There were three types of projectors; Sony 4K projector (the latest one), Photophone (the oldest one) and Qube. Operators had used Photophone, a manual projector with changing mono sound system to DTS and Dolby Sound system, for thirty years, and then started using automatic projectors, Qube with digital sound system and SONY 4K with HD vision. The shape of the 4K projector imported from Hong Kong is like a box, but the manual projector looks like a steam train, which is the perfect image for a movie theatre.

Madurai Messenger October 2010

When the operators opened the cover of the manual projector, we saw a long stick inside. The manual projector is powered by the stick, which causes fire to come out. A film roll is then maximised through a cinema scope and extended to the full screen we watch the film on. Operators formerly used two manual projectors at the same time for one film because they needed to change the film rolls. They now use the 4K with a hard disk, not a film, and a touch panel system. They use a stick instead of their fingers, however, to touch the panel. Within thirty years, the system of projectors has been improved and the tendencies of the audience and the film have changed from time to time. Ayyasamy, however, has consistently been watching everything that happens in the movie theatre. He tells us about his interest in film, his job, old memories and life working at the cinema. “I have always been interested in watching movies. When I was a child, I often cut school classes and went to the theatre instead. I became an operator after finishing college when I was 21. I took training in Madras for a year and got a proper license because this is a dangerous proffession. The room was too hot to check the operation system when we used only manual projectors, but since

4K came, we need to put full air-conditioning on to protect it, so the room is now cool. We can’t hear the voices of the people in the audience because of 4K, but we could before. Before DTS system came, we used the manually operated sound system and speakers to bring out sound to the theatre. We observed the likes and dislikes of the audience so that we knew which scenes we had to adjust the sound levels for. So when we made

List of films screened from 1980 sound, the audience expressed their joy or distaste through exclamatory shouts. In 1985 while screening a film called ‘PRIYA’ starring the famous actor RAJINI KANTH, the projector suddenly stopped working properly, so the audience shouted and threw burgers at the screen. The police intervened and

The Old Movie Projector

the movie began again after an hour”. “The trends in movies change every year. Today’s films are technically better but the quality of the stories are getting worse. And today’s audience are well informed about sound systems due to the popularisation of the TV, so they sometimes tell us the sound quality in the theatre is not good.” Thirty years is a very long time, but Ayyasamy remembers many things. The very first film he operated in the theatre was the Tamil film ‚Udiripookal‘ in 1980. The last time he used the manual operator was 2002. The first 3D movie he operated was the Chinese film ‚Magnificent Bodyguards‘ in 1978. Of course, with foreign films such as ‚The New Cinema Paradise‘ he cut prohibited scenes that involved kissing with an editing machine. Ayyasamy and Balu are individuals who are passionate about what the do. They remind me of the film projector technician in Cinema Paradiso. When I looked down to get a wide angle view of the theatre from the small window of the operator room, I was so excited and felt like I was in Cinema Paradiso. There is something fascinating to people about the theatre. You need to love cinema and to enjoy working with projectors to be a film operator. Ayyasamy showed us his notebook with the list of movies he operated in the theatre from 1980. Ayyasamy and Balu said that they are honored to be the first to operate QUBE and 4K in India. Yet they still have a certain attatchment to the manual projector. I asked Ayyasamy what career he would have pursued if he could not have become a film operator. “I don’t know,“ he said, „maybe I could have been a film director.” People like Balu and Ayyasamay work tireslessly behind the scenes to ensure that we have a memorable viewing experience in the theatre. So what if occasionally some slips happen?




New Orleans: A Confluence of the Old and the New Rufus Pfingstag captures both the old world charm of New Orleans with its distinct French character and spirit and its contemporary avatar as a popular tourist destination.

Rufus Pfingstag Louisiana, United States

The city of New Orleans was born from the bustling river trade up the Mississippi river. Squashed between the Mississippi river and Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans is a fascinating combination of historic splendor and modern innovation. The city of New Orleans was originally confined to the vieux carre, or what is now known as the French Quarter, which was the portion of the city

Missisipi River View where French immigrants settled in the early seventeen hundreds. Since then, the city has expanded to encompass over one hundred and eighty square miles of land, in addition to one hundred and seventy square miles of water.

A Sense of History

The city of New Orleans has passed between many nations since its founding by the French in 1718. In 1763 the city was ceded to the Spanish in the Treaty

of Paris. Though the French would once again take control of the city in 1801, it was just two years before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 would make the city part of the United States of America. As the historic district of New Orleans, the French Quarter, known to locals simply as ‘The Quarter’, contains most of the attractions that draw tourists to the city in droves each year. The district’s name, however, is misleading. While

Madurai Messenger October 2010

what is now called the French Quarter is the area of New Orleans which was originally settled by the French, due to several fires early in the city’s history, all surviving 18th century architecture is actually from the period of Spanish occupation between 1763 and 1801. Some of the more famous destinations in the French Quarter are Jackson Square, which sits in front of the equally famous St. Louis Cathedral, and Café Du Monde, the café on the Mississippi river which operates twenty four hours a day. serving café au lait (coffee with milk) and beignets (a French doughnut).For daring tourist there is also the famous Bourbon Street, serving up strip clubs and alcoholic beverages- notable the well named “big-ass beer” –to its adult visitors. For the more refined palate, the French Quarter is also home to many world class restaurants, with options ranging from classic New Orleans creole eateries, such as Tujagues, to internationally renowned five star restaurants like Commander’s Palace.

Carnival Capers

Of course most famous attraction of New Orleans is not a place at all, but

an event. Carnival is the yearly party preceding the Catholic season of Lent. The Carnival culminates in Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday’, which draws tourists from across the world. Carnival season technically beings on January sixth, however, only in the last weeks leading up to Mardi Gras is every weekend taken up by parties, often masquerade balls, and parades, featuring extravagant floats from which riders throw beads and small toys to parade-goers. The biggest parades of the season are arranged those by the super-krewes such as Endymion and Zulu, which take place in the last three weeks of Carnival. The parade season culminates in the parade by Rex, the king of Mardi Gras, on Mardi Gras day.

The Party Never Ends! Even outside of carnival the party never really stops in New Orleans. No matter what the time of year, or indeed the time of day, you can always find tourists drinking and partying on Bourbon Street. In addition, locals and discerning out-of-towners can be found in clubs and bars throughout the city playing anything from Jazz to Rock-n-Roll. The

most famous not-so-secret local clubs, advertised in every guide book, can be found in the Marigny, the district of New Orleans just east of the French Quarter. Just by crossing Esplanade Street, you step from the loud, crude tourist district that is the French Quarter into a world of music clubs and hookah bars frequented by New Orleans natives. In 2005 the city of New Orleans was devastated by hurricane Katrina. The hurricane resulted in more than eighty percent of the city being flooded and claimed the lives of at least fifteen hundred people. However, since then, the city has undergone a massive rebuilding effort and has in many areas sprung back to its former levels of occupancy. In addition, the French Quarter was one of the areas relatively unaffected by the hurricane. While New Orleans may not have been a premier tourist destination in the aftermath of Katrina, in the five years since the storm the city has rebuilt and is once again a safe and enjoyable destination for tourists.




Piranha 3D: The Epitome of Guilty Entertainment Director Alexandra Aja pulls out all stops to ensure that his latest work is the most ridiculous movie of the year, writes Angus Roche. Angus Roche Melbourne, Australia

Combining elements of horror, comedy and soft-core pornography, Piranha 3D is certainly no artistic feat. French director Alexandre Aja does his absolute utmost to cram in as much blood, gore and sexually suggestive gestures into his outlandish remake of 1975’s Piranha. By all objective measures it’s a cinematic disgrace, but as a piece of lightentertainment, the film’s concise length and tongue-in-cheek witticisms make it a minor success.

Predictably Predictable The premise of the story is simple, unoriginal and ludicrously implausible. In the midst of a ‘Spring break’ party in and around an American lake, a small earthquake splits the lake floor and releases from the resulting chasm a school of inexplicably treacherous and bloodthirsty piranhas. The piranhas proceed to wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting partiers whilst the police try desperately to clear the waters and maintain order. Inevitably, Aja also weaves in a generic character-based storyline involving an unlikely and uninspiring hero, his dream girl and a number of intolerable antagonists who predictably get their comeuppance at the hands (or should I say teeth) of these very angry fish. And that’s it. As one reviewer aptly put it, ‘it’s a massacre at a wet-t-shirt competition’, and one shouldn’t expect anything more than this; despite the film being dubbed in Tamil and thus me being unable to understand the specific dialogue, I find it hard to believe that I may have missed any subtleties, subplots or thematic messages. Whilst the film lacked any real drama or suspense beyond a couple of jumpy

moments, I must admit I was impressed by the sheer number of different ways the movie portrays a human being decapitated by piranha. Full credit to the director’s creativity and aptitude for barbaric violence. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more clear that its primary aim is to amuse, rather than to frighten, disturb or stimulate intellectual debate. The gore scenes serve as visual humour and with every moment get funnier and more ridiculous, despite the cringe worthy ultimate shot. One can’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of a man tearing the motor of a ski boat and using it to fight off an infinitely long stream of sadistic fish.

A Jaundiced View If nothing else, watching this film finally brings to light the reason behind the common Tamil typecast of Westerners as promiscuous and overtly sexual. Movies being the closest that many Indians can come to experiencing Western culture, they unquestionably influence local views on foreigners. Aja makes extensive use of the physical properties of his cast, not to mention the legions

of female extras dancing around the set semi-naked. Certainly, the movie is designed to titillate horny teenage boys not yet old enough to get into strip clubs. Thank God the underwater love scene was cut out in the Tamil version! In reality, of course, the stereotype portrayed in the film is largely inaccurate. I consider myself to be a fairly average Western young adult, and I can honestly say I’ve never been to any party that even vaguely resembles the one depicted in the movie. Nevertheless, if one ignores the film’s complete lack of logic, originality, genuine horror and artistic merit, then it makes for a mildly entertaining afternoon. Piranha 3D is a guilty pleasure; despite every inch of my critical mind pining for the director’s head, I could not contain my laughter at the remarkably imaginative ways in which the cast is one-byone brutally slaughtered. Don’t take it seriously and don’t question how the police officer can possibly begin to pick off the piranha with his shotgun. Just go with it and enjoy the ride!

Madurai Messenger


October 2010

Taste of Madurai

Eri Kakinuma falls in love the delicious kothu parotta and discovers that she would always remember the sights, sounds, and smell of Madurai in the kothu parotta! Eri Kakinuma Niigata, Japan

I’m very interested in south Indian local food culture, because ever since I came to India, food has been a novelty and a source of endless curiosity. Every time I saw and later tasted a particular kind of food, I wanted to know how it was cooked and how local people felt about it. One particular dish that caught my fancy is kothu parotta, the most popular roadside food in Tamil Nadu. Kothu parotta is as popular as idli, dosa, and chapatti in Tamil Nadu. The dish has many stuffed variations: egg parotta, fried parotta, chicken kothu parotta, and mutton parotta. As for the origin of kothu parotta, it is widely believed to have originated in Sri Lanka, while others atrtriuibute it to Madurai; while yet another traces it to left over dishes. Today, however, while the left over theory is most widely accepted, today’s kothu parotta is no longer made with old parottas, but freshly made ones. I think this has a subtle yet tangible impact on the dish, since these are less absorbent than stale parothas. Usually, it is available after 6 pm till 11.30 pm in every roadside shop.

How to make mouth watering kothu parotta: 1. Put oil in heated tawa and sauté onions until they turn translucent. 2. Then, add the tomatoes, green chillies and curry leaves. 3. Add fried parotta and then tear them into small pieces by hand. 4. Add in chicken gravy and two scrambled eggs and some black pepper. 5. Start mixing thoroughly. This is the most important point of kothu parotta. Parotta masters expertly mince the concoction of sliced parottas and chicken-egg gravy combination. This is a high speed activity that produces the famous rhythmical sound “tak-atak-a-tak’ that is also the origin of the

term kothu which means to mince or tear into small bits. The finely minced parottas makes it soft and tasty I first went to the Burma Hotel, Virudhunagar, famous for over 40 years for kothu parotha.The owner’s son, Vetrivel, shares with me the recipe of the parottas and explains how they are made. This shop makes about 1500 parottas every day. In Virudhunagar, fired parotta is a specialty and forms the base for making kothu parotta. This is unlike Madurai where only ordinary parottas are used. The ingredients for making parotta include maida flour (1kg), water (500ml), salt (10g). Surprisingly, only one person mixes them by hand for more than 30 minutes! This is the r testing ground and the first of the many difficult talks that enable a cook to graduate to parotta master status! In the kitchen I noticed two big tawas more than five times bigger than a normal tawa!! In front of them , two parotta masters were each making kothu parotta and fried parotta. One of them, Gomathi Nayagam, has been working for almost 30 years as parotta master. Unable to pursue education because of poverty, he began to work in Burma Hotel. . “Practice is the best and only way to be a parotta master.” he said. Mr. Prem, who has been coming here twice in a month for almost 20 years from Sivakasi says, “I love parottas and must have them at least three times a week. Of course good quality and taste is the main reason I come here. Besides we do not know how to make it at home.” Of course, he admits that parottas are not healthy food. Prem’s favourite is and his usually ordered kothu parotta with mutton or pigeon curry. According to him, this is a popular choice

with most people! Besides pigeon curry is believed to be good for fever and throat. I next visited Hotel Gamaliya where parotta masters were making fried (plain) parottas. According to the manager, M.Mahim Abubakker, the shop begins business from 4 pm to 11 pm. A fried parotta is priced at Rs.8, and the shop sells around 2000 parottas everyday! According to Abubacker, the challenges in making kothu parotta is the intense heat in the kitchen. He, however, adds that he is willing to overlook this inconvenience because of the joy he derives. In Japan, most Indian restaurants serve only north Indian food. So for almost all Japanese, the stereotype of Indian food is naan and curry and tandoori chicken. Only a few people have even heard of south Indian food “Eating” is basic to life as hunger is a basic human need. Food has distinct local and regional variations. So we feel nationality when we eat local food. For people in Madurai, kothu parotta is a not just “food” the sound is also associated with the taste.. In addition, I think association between food and sound is fascinating “tak-a-tak-a-tak---”the sound, smell of oil and pepper, in the kitchen with hot excitement ….. I will NEVER forget the taste of Madurai in its famous kothu parotta!




A Matter of Faith Yuya Oshima visits a group of women who make Plaster of Paris dolls and an exhibition of Ganesh idols and realises that it’s faith that makes the world go around! Yuya Oshima Saitamaken, Japan

In earlier times women in India did not take up paid employment, but only toiled endlessly at home for no wages. Recently, however, thanks to the women’s movement in the country, increasing numbers of women are steeping outside their homes to earn a living. In a small village in Virudhunagar district, Inaiyum Karangal (Joining Hands), a women’s Self Help Group (SHG) of 20 members promoted by a local NGO was started in 2009 Oct. Availing a loan from the bank, they began to make attractive dolls of Hindu gods and goddesses, Christian figures such as Jesus, Mary, and political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi The SHG gets the moulds of dolls from Delhi. They then pour wet plaster of Paris inside the mould which hardens when exposed to air. After it solidifies, then if they put water inside, it will be solid. After it has been solid, they put a design on surface like drawing god eyes and mouth or so. It takes 10 minutes to make a doll. When it was finished to make, it seems so beautiful. And they show it to the people and sell.

The dolls are sold in many places in Tamil Nadu as gift items for special occasions such as weddings and festivals. Each doll is priced between Rs. 15-150. Although the work five to seven hours a day, they have the advantage of flexible working hours because they have to combine it with their household chores. The group does brisk business during festivals such as Navarathri, Ganesh Chathurthi, and Christmas. The economic independence has given the women a newfound sense of selfconfidence. Before they got involved in this work, they admit that after finishing their work at home they would idle away their time gossiping or watching TV. They use the income for their children’s education or other needs of the family. Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the famous and popular festivals not only India but also in Asia. This is the Hindu festival of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of prosperity and wisdom. This festival is held in Bhadrapada which is Hindu calendar, and starting on the shukla chaturthi which is fourth day of the waxing moon period. The date usually falls between August 20 and

September 15. The festival lasts for ten days, ending on Ananta Chaturdashi which is fourteenth day of the waxing moon period. Ganesh has four names: Vinayaka, Vigneshwara, Ganesh, and Ganapathi. Invoking Ganesh, it is believed, is the best antidote against ill luck, misfortunes and obstacles. According to Hindu mythology, the goddess Parvati fashioned a human form out of clay and breathed life into it. She named him Ganesh. She once instructed Ganesh to guard the bathroom door while she bathed. When Shiva entered, Ganesah forbid him to do so. An angry Shiva, not realizing that Ganesh was his son, cut his head off. Later filled with remorse, he transplanted an elephant’s head and granted him life! An exhibition of Ganesah idols was held at the Poompuhar showroom in Madurai from August 30 to September 1. This is a yearly event just before Vinayaka Chathurthi. September 11. The idols were made of bronze, wood, marble dust, aluminum, alloy, tiger nail, and so on. The prices varied from Rs. 100 to 90000. We can choose status in many varieties.

Sponsored by:

For Private Circulation Only Printed at Bell Printers Pvt. Ltd


You see them everywhere. Pressing their faces against the car window at traffic intersections, or tugging at you with a baby in their arms....