Politics in the name of faith

So the RSS at the centre supports the women entry at Sabarimala, but many footsoldiers of RSS (including the online ones) do not. BJP at the centre supports the cause but BJP in the state opposes it (the BJP state chief has openly said that this is a political shift in favour of BJP). Hindutva’s long time poster boy Rahul Eswar fights for the cause but Hindutva and RSS ideologue T G Mohandas fights against it. The ex-VHP and now IHP head Pravin Togadiya who has a rift from the parivar (but not from its core ideology) is against it and challenges the BJP government at the center to issue an ordinance against the verdict. SNDP general secretary was against the protests one day (a stand that he shifted twice since then in a matter of a couple of days) but BDJS, the political wing of SNDP and led by the secretary’s son, is protesting.

And then there are some Christian and Muslim organizations, parties and people against the verdict, not because the secular values have hit them all of a sudden, but a strategy well in advance so as to protect their own patriarchal practices if a similar verdict is issued against practices of their respective religions.

All these drama happens in Keralam, however. It is obvious what their common goal is with this theatrics, right after we as a state and community have shown the world some great examples of humanity, survival and co-existence at the time of the floods, and now that the upcoming elections are a priority. Yet many are left confused about which side they should pick and fight. One must be a total idiot not to see these political games in the name of faith but unfortunately that is what happening.

Kerala Chronicles

I usually am very proud of my home state. About how, despite the desperate attempts of some pro-Sanghi north Indian media, we are faring well, and on top, on all major social indices and how the international media says that we cannot be compared to any other Indian state but to the developed nations.

And today was one of those moments when every Malayalee should be proud of as the news of Kerala being at the top of the health index by NITI Ayog came out. But for once, I am not very proud right now. There is something wrong with our society’s mental health. I’m ashamed, because this news comes a day after a mob beaten up a migrant worker, accusing him of child trafficking. In between all the beating, he was trying to eat what he had and the mob thrashed his food to the ground and asked him to eat from there. The man seem to have told the mob that he has a child back home and none in Kerala, but the mob inferred that he had kidnapped one child in his home state and none yet in Kerala. Yes, the Malayalee mob who would otherwise point to the mobs in Bihar and U.P.

The incident happened shortly after the chief minister himself had said that out of the 199 people who were arrested in charge of the child missing cases, 188 were Malayalees. And the state police chief had warned that those who spread false news through social media would be charged.

All this happening in a state from where people have migrated to all parts of the country and world for a living. And when they became rich enough, they had to resort on the domestic help from outside the state to do the job that they refuse to do.

Of course there is a spike in the child missing cases each year, and as a parent am worried. As Muralee Thummarukudy mentioned, as the state develops compared to the other states, it is likely to attract all sort of things from within and outside – businesses, development and, criminals. But to outrightly point to the migrant workers, most of them who are here to make a living, just like how Malayalees are in Gulf or elsewhere in the world, is utterly wrong.


Kanthalloor is a village in Idukky district in the south Indian state of Kerala. It is close to Munnar, the most popular hill station in Kerala, and is filled with picturesque landscapes all around and also famous for it’s vegetable and fruit farms. Our trip to Kanthalloor was through Pollachi and the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Kanthalloor is yet to become a busy tourist place so it has it’s pristine nature much unexplored.

The windmills of Pollachi on the way

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As we reached Marayoor, the sky had this for us.

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It was almost 7:30 PM when we reached the place we stayed.

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And then we had bonfire, some barbecue, a lot of singing aloud to keep the night young.

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And in the morning, we woke up to this! The house was called “Madamma’s Mud House”. It was supposedly built by a British lady using clay, mud and wood.

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The view from the house was spectacular as there was nothing to obstruct the beautiful view of the valley and hills. It was breathtaking.

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Bring a cup of coffee, pull a chair and enjoy the serene view!

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Another view from the house we stayed.

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The majestic Madamma’s Mud House.

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And then we took a hike through the dense forest nearby.

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After a long and tiring hike on a chilly morning which made us sweat, we reached a farm land maintained by the tribals (do you see the dragon flies?). The hut on the right is for the watch dogs who didn’t stop barking until we left. There were many sorts of crops around.

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Ever seen apple on the apple tree?

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Trip to Nelliyampathy

Nelliyampathy is a locally famous hill station in Kerala, located in the Palakkad district. It is very easy to ride to the top of the hills as there are not many hair-pin turns, quite contrary to the other south India hill stations like Kodais or Ooty. There isn’t a lot to see in Nelliyampathy, so it is a quick weekend getaway for you. I would say do not waste your time at the Pothundi Dam en-route, rather go straight to Nelliyampathy. It is not yet a very popular tourist destination, so there are only a few good hotels/resorts and restaurants. So you have to make your reservations well in advance because these days the number of local tourists flocking to the hills on weekends have increased but very few to serve the need. Otherwise you will end up paying too much for the cheap places with limited facilities (like I had, on this trip). Also make sure to include at least your breakfast and dinner because there are not many restaurants open outside except for those tiny tea shops meant for the tea/coffee estate workers. November to January would be the best time to visit Nelliyampathy as it will be cold and foggy in early mornings and evening/nights.

Here comes some photos of our trip to Nelliyampathy on the last weekend.

This was shot from the cottage that we stayed in. It was twilight already by the time we got to the cottage, which required us to park the car in town and get on a jeep because this place was in the middle of the forest. Even though the location was superb, the cottage was so expensive for an old and unclean place. But we were left with no choice because almost all places were full in that weekend (thanks-giving has come to Kerala?), yet we couldn’t complain much because of the location. We spent a whole night out doing barbecue, singing our favorite movie songs aloud. Some of us could see bison herds in the early morning in the nearby hills.

The famous jeep ride through the forest! Whenever you mention the name Nelliyampathy, those who had gone there would instantly recommend this adventurous jeep ride through the forest. You need the forest department’s permission for that but you can easily grab one on the way which your jeep driver would get for you. And don’t take it if you are unwell because it shakes your body towards all sides throughout the journey. One heck of an experience. If you ever visit Nelliyampathy, you gotta get on one of these. If you are lucky, you can spot some wild animals too. We saw some deers (and lots of monkeys but that doesn’t count, I suppose) on the way and traces of destruction caused by a wild tusker who is now the talk of the Nelliyampathy town. The locals call him “chilli kompan”.

The first peak/viewpoint on the jeep ride inside the forest. Don’t get fooled by the pic, the view is awesome when you are there.

The travel mates at the second peak/view point along the journey.

And me too! A bit shaky in that cold wind that blew strong but one for the memories. Regardless to say, the view was awesome!

We found many such abandoned and partly destroyed quarters like this one in the forest. It will be a photographer’s delight for some.

The famous AVT tea estate, on the way to Karappara waterfalls. As we stopped by at some of the empty places, some of us were bitten by the leeches also, so watch out for that.

We saw the Karappara waterfalls, but locals told us that there is a less touristy spot nearby where you can take a bath in the clear water or just simply enjoy the view in the silence. So one localite escorted us to this place and it was super cool! The place was quiet, the water was so cold, and if you have your drinks stocked up, this is heaven on earth. So once you are near Karappara waterfalls, don’t forget to ask the locals for this route. We also got some awesome Kerala meals with the help of this guy.

Another view of the place.

This suspension bridge was inaugurated just a couple of hous before we came to the place. This was also near Karappara waterfalls. It has a nice view of the waterfalls from on top of it.

And that summed up our one day trip to Nelliyampathy this year.

Malayali House – more ‘reality’ in the house!

Malayali House

It is a ‘reality show’ everywhere. In sports, music, on stage, television and many a times in life too. People initially had thought that many of these shows would be for real but later some of them have realized that it could be all cooked-up. But that did not turn them away from watching the made-up reality of the reality shows.

Many of my friends who were mad about cricket had told me that they lost interest in watching the game when the match-fixing controversy erupted. But they kept on watching and enjoying the game even though they were unsure that they could be watching a pre-fixed game. Look at the reality music shows scene in television. The drama that was inherent in these shows have made people doubt the reality element in it, but they still loved it for the entertainment it provided. Even many of the music stage shows are just a ‘show’. Lip-syncing is a common practice and even the popular singers do it and that too after being caught by audience on several stages.

So basically people love reality shows. Although, they often ridicule it, blame it or anything. They love the entertainment and the gossip material that these shows give them (particularly the television reality shows). And they celebrate it – those who know and don’t know if it is cooked-up. But it wouldn’t be exciting to them if you told them beforehand that it was made-up. Then the gossip element, the talk that could be built around the show would be missing. That would make a serious effect on the entertainment element of the show and the TRP. The television channels know it, so they keep boasting on how ‘real’ their show is and we happily accept it.

But you can’t stretch these shows beyond it’s limits. People would get bored after some time. That is why new ways of reality television have been invented. So when people of Keralam got bored of music reality shows, television channels brought out comedy reality shows. When the audience got bored of that, they now bring the regional copy of Big Brother or Big Boss. And thus was born “Malayali House”, a reality show in Surya TV.

This is probably Surya TV’s best attempt to claim the first place off Asianet in Malayalam television scene and they have brought in all the right people to do it. The line-up of participants include some people who were fading out in the public and some who are publicity-hungry. It is a mixture of people who could not make it big consistently and others who want to make it big and some who just want to keep being in the limelight. The controversies, debates and discussions have already begun in the social media about the show which should make Surya TV and the participants happy. The audience should be happy too, as they are already fed up with the reality music/comedy shows in Malayalam television channel and needs some more drama from a ‘reality’ show. And now the show is adding up more spice to the episodes.

It is wholesome entertainment. And to think of it as an opportunity to watch the everyday life of some people adds more spice to it. And Surya TV markets it promptly that way with their tagline – “your license to ogle”. Long live reality television!

Religion / spirituality as a paid service

The other day I was reading the news of Sri (x 2) Ravi Shankar’s satsang in Alappuzha in Kerala, where he was asked by the journalists his opinion on selling/marketing spirituality (Ravi Shankar was accused of commercializing spirituality by a Communist leader in Kerala). He said that he was indeed selling/marketing spirituality, yoga and ‘Indian culture’. I was astonished that he admitted this openly. But in the very next sentence (as reported by Mathrubhumi daily) he said that the profit he gets from this business is ‘smiles’ from the people and not money. That was a huge let down. I mean, why are the spiritual gurus, religious heads etc hesitant to admit that they are providing a service which we have to pay them? We all know that is the reality but why wouldn’t they admit it and why the word ‘money’ is so evil to them when they have no qualms in receiving it in loads?

Let me tell you about another incident. This is from the last weekend, on January 5th on my second brother’s 16th death anniversary. I had paid for some spiritual services for that day about a month ago in our parish for which I got the receipt (as per the rule I should show the receipt before the service is done or I would be denied the service, even in a possible case of misplacing the receipt). When I got there with my entire family (all of us would get together every year on that date for the service and thereafter for breakfast and lunch in my house) I’d found out that the second morning mass was canceled for that day. The cancellation was announced a week ago on a Sunday, but I did not go to the church that Sunday. But my booking was done about three weeks ago and nobody in the parish office notified me on this. So there were three services for which I had paid and I was ready to let go off two as a compromise. But the parish vicar denied me these services. He said I could choose one of the three services which he would decide, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. I told him that I was ready to let go the other two but one must take place because the entire family had come for this day and this special service and it cannot be postponed.

I also told the priest that I had paid for these services, which got him furious. Furious to a level that he even threatened that “I will show you” for which I responded “let’s see”. I don’t understand this. Why get furious for mentioning money? Especially when there is a practice that the priests would do the special services only upon presenting the original payment receipts? If they are so ashamed of the mention of money, or if money is so evil, then why demand the pay?

There are a couple of things that people who practice religion can and should do about this. First, remove the ‘holy’ or ‘divine’ element when you demand these services, as long as you are paying for it. Respond to the priests just as they respond to you; you wouldn’t find ‘holiness’ in the way that most of them, like our parish priest, speaks. Then demand the service as you would in case of any other paid services in this world. And, I am not sure if it already is and if not, bring the spiritual/religious services under the consumer court. A first step to deal with this this kind of issues is for the spiritual/religious heads to admit that they indeed make money (and not just smiles) out of special spiritual/religious services, and then the believers/consumers should see it as yet another paid consumer service (with a ‘divine’ element if you’d like, of course).

From Raga to Rock

My story on contemporary Malayalam film music scene written for the December issue of Sound Box magazine. Here is an unedited version. You can read the e-magazine from here (go to page # 36 to read).

Ask any Malayalee what genre of music he or she likes and the instant reply you would get is melody. Even though the word ‘melody’ has somewhat different meaning in music, the average Malayalee uses it to refer to the soft and soothing music. Malayalam film music has played a big role in developing this ‘taste of melody’ among the Malayali audience. Like many other film music industries in India, Malayalam also did not have much exposure to the various genres of music outside the Indian classical music system. As a result, it contained itself to be a simplified version of Karnatik and Hindustani music systems for the past several decades. The equations however are changing and fast.

The old school

The lighter version of the various Indian classical music schools went very well with the audience too, thanks to the lyricists like Vayalar Ramavarma and P Bhaskaran who used simple words to convey the ideas through songs. Their words and the lighter forms of classical music stayed with the audience. Composers like G Devarajan and M S Baburaj were a supreme influence of this era. Singer K J Yesudas was another big factor and his voice had set a benchmark to the singing aspirants of Malayali society. But there was little life for popular music outside the film music scene that got stuck to the style of Karnatik music. Then came music composer M G Radhakrishnan who popularized a music genre called “Light Music” in Kerala. Radhakrishnan who was working with All India Radio before he entered the film music had helped this genre to become mainstream. Parallely, Yesudas had also begun releasing light music albums under his own recording label Tharangini. Be it in popular music (that consisted of light music) or film music, Yesudas found a massive fan following.

“In an industry where a lot of music has become formulaic, often bcos the producer tells the music producer exactly which hit song to copy ;), I think filmmakers who are experimental enough to approach indie artists are looking for something different and thats what they are getting. I’m sure the audience can make out the difference and appreciate it. – Suraj Mani, singer and  ex-vocalist of Motherjane

Late 80s and early 90s saw the Malayalam film music going back to it’s classical roots with much vigor that was not seen even in the early days. Thanks to a new trend in film music called ‘semi-classical’ which was made popular by music director Raveendran. The trio of composer Raveendran, singer Yesudas and actor Mohan Lal made these films and genre extremely popular. This has in a way helped bridge the gap between the general public and Karnatik music but it did not change much for the Malayalam film music.

The pace hots up

Meanwhile, a younger generation of Malayalees was growing up, listening to the fast paced Hindi and Tamil film music. The ‘dappankuth’ genre of fast paced Tamil numbers had taken over the Malayali youngsters so much so that every orchestra or every single Malayali musical programmes had to have a few Tamil numbers to mark a grand closure of the show. TV channels were flocking with requests from Malayali youngsters to play fast-paced Tamil songs. Indi-pop singers like Daler Mehndi also had a huge fan following here in his heydays.

But the clutches of classical music stayed on in Malayalam film music and not many tried to break the barrier (agreed that there were one-off attempts at western music by music composers like Devarajan) until a new music director came into the scene. Jassie Gift became a household name among Malayalees with a single song called “Lajjavathiye”. The song was a massive hit not only in Kerala but in other south Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and heavily contributed to the success of the movie that featured the song (which was then remade into other south Indian languages). The song with it’s Rap intro, heavy beats and a different style of singing by Jassie himself had drawn much criticism from the purists of music but nevertheless enjoyed a huge success. Alternatively, another music director, Alphons, was also experimenting with different genres of music. One of his compositions in Malayalam film “Manju poloru penkutti” had an English number that featured one of the best voices in the contemporary Malayalam film music industry, Sayanora.

But still, a bigger change of genre was just waiting to happen. Musicians like Jassie or Alphons had to work with an older generation of movie makers, a fact which might have drawn limits to their experiments in music. This applies to almost all new entrants in the Malayalam film music industry. But a new era of young and vibrant film makers in the industry has dared to take the film music score to a new level of experiments. Parallely, the Malayali music bands like Avial and Motherjane were making waves across the country and abroad.

Leading the change

Director Aashiq Abu was probably the first among these new age movie directors to introduce the Malayali rock band Avial in his popular film ‘Salt N Pepper’. The song was used for the movie’s online promotions, but Aashiq Abu could not feature it full length in the film or let the band compose the score of the film. So while the movie and songs were scored by another young music director Bijibal, the Avial song was played at the end of the movie. Sameer Thahir, another young movie director, went a step further and roped in Avial’s lead guitarist Rex Vijayan to set score for his debut venture “Chappa Kurishu”. The change was clearly audible in the music of the movie. Rex’s second film music project was for Aashiq Abu’s third flick “22 Female Kottayam” and this also has made a mark in the industry. He has also composed for the film “Second Show” with his band Avial. It would be interesting to note that Rex Vijayan had said in an interview that he has no idea of raagas. This is in a music industry that has it’s roots gone deep in the classical music system and it clearly shows the sign of a transition phase.

As a band, Avial was already a popular up north , not so much so down here. But, with ‘aanakallan’ (the song from the movie ‘Salt N Pepper’) they became household names in Kerala and that year we did a lot of shows in Kerala for colleges and Govt. sponsored shows and corporate events. – Neha S Nair, playback singer and vocalist of Avial

The raaga to rock journey in the Malayalam film music industry couldn’t get more visible than the entry of internationally acclaimed rock band of Malayali origin, Motherjane. Motherjane sang the English theme song “Jehad” for director Amal Neerad’s “Anwar”. But it’s not just the local musicians alone. The X-Factor fame Piyush Kapur has sung an end title song in English for the movie “Asuravithu”, which is in a pure metal flavor.

This could well be the beginning of a new era of diverse experiments in Malayalam film music. With a new set of film makers, music composers and a changing audience, the scene is definitely bringing up multiple genres together in Malayalm film music. There couldn’t be a better time and audience for such a change in the indie-music scene nationally and Kerala also seems to be marching in that direction.

M-Pod update

M-Pod, the Malayalam podcast was temporarily down due to our old audio file host shutting down the service. It was a great experience with Podbazaar, our old host, and it is sad to see them go. As we move on our mp3 files have been now moved to Internet Archive. So the website has been updated with the new audio files. Do check out the podcast.


Nelliyampathy is a hill station in our neighboring district Palakkad. I have never been to the place though it is pretty close (must be around 80 kms max to reach). So when my nephews planned for a trip to Nelliyampathy on last Saturday, I jumped right in. We started in the morning and came back by night. It was a fun trip with the young ones in the family.

There isn’t a lot to see in Nelliyampathy. It was a sunny day when we got there, yet there was cool breeze in the air. So the climate on that day was somewhere in the middle of being too cold and too hot. Our first stop on the way was Pothundi irrigation dam, but if you go there don’t waste too much time. There is a beautiful garden in the area and that’s a good place to relax a bit, but the dam in itself doesn’t offer much to see. There are some small waterfalls en route to the top of the hills and there was one place that we stopped by when we returned and spent a lot of time. It was a picturesque location and we enjoyed our time there. Another place to see is Seethaargundu view point. That place offers some nice view from the hills and is a major spot. There was another peak called Manpaara, but we didn’t go there.

Ours was a day trip but there are some nice resorts to stay if you go with your family or friends. But when you are outside, there isn’t any good restaurants to eat; at least we could not find any. Below are some photos from our trip.

A beautiful church somewhere in a rural area with a huge Pietà replica; en route to Nelliyampathy

A nice view of the hills on the way

Another view on the way

The team posing for a photograph en route.

Pothundy dam

Boys striking a pose at the Pothundy dam garden.

Seethargundu view point – friends from the evolution period saying ‘Hi’. 🙂

Lunch time for the old friends – at Seethaargundu view point

A view from Seethargundu

This tree must have been photographed a thousand times by tourists to Nelliyampathy. I have seen numerous photos of this on internet. This tree is situated at Seethaargundu.

Taking my fair share of fame by posing with the famous tree

The boys at Seethaargundu

Literally scratching each others back 😉