Adapting to the Indulekha model

Indulekha is a brand that has been churning out so many TVCs recently for their product range. The first series of their advertisements featured popular mini and big screen actors, which was followed up by another series that had ‘reality TV’ sort of feel to it. Their latest series even has a theme and name – uLkkarutthu – and contrary to the direct selling strategy, they have adopted a model that is ‘seemingly’ progressive and feminist in the outset but is pushing certain politics which seems to be the trick of new age marketers and advertising gurus to keep them in business. More on this advt in Kafila and Nalamidam. And do watch the first video of their series here before you read further.

I was thinking what would happen if other businesses have started adopting the Indulekha model. Imagine a barber who cannot afford to have men who do not cut their hair. This will certainly threaten his regular business. So what he really needs to ask for is business but in the new age, he cannot be too direct with it so he has to push certain politics to market his service. And here is what happens when he adopts the Indulekha model.

Nel nome di Cristo

Everything is powerful as long as it is in the powerful hands. The powerless are deluded by the powerful to think they have the power when they actually don’t. That is why we remain happy with our version of democracy or the predictions of India becoming a super power in 20xx. That is also why when the clergy teaches us of the greatness and acceptance of our version of religion makes us happy that we are part of something great, while we actually do not have any role in it. The powerful plays it all – politics, religion, race, caste and what not. And the powerless are only meant to nod their heads and fooled to believe that by doing so, they are playing a larger role.  The powerful knows how to work their way though and that is what this news tells us of the fishermen, whose husband/brother were killed in cold blood by the Italian marines, forgiving the accused ‘in the name of Christ’.

There seems to have been a concentrated effort from day 1 to save the Italians of the murder charge. First it was Mar. George Alanchery, the newly crowned Cardinal of Syro Malabar Church, who told the Catholic news agency in Italy that he has instructed the Catholic ministers in Kerala to intervene in the matter. Then came two Italian priests to visit the families of the deceased, which the Church calls ‘a spiritual exercise‘ but believed by everyone else that it was for an out-of-court settlement (why else would two Italian priests come all the way from Italy to pray for the deceased, which doesn’t happen usually unless the deceased are rich and powerful, I wonder). Two Italian ministers followed with their visit to India to find a settlement. Later, the Central government claimed in Supreme Court that the Kerala police doesn’t have jurisdiction to probe the killing, which was slammed by the honorable court.

When all these ‘diplomacy’ through religion and state did not work, the Italians made an offer that the families of deceased could not deny. Even there the religion and faith had to be involved to work the powerful’s way through, so they worked with a couple of influential priests (good work, Fr. Churchill and Fr. Wilfred!) to come to an out-of-court settlement. So the settlement was that the families would state their forgiveness ‘in  the name of Christ’ duly signed in a stamp paper and in return they would get Rs. 1 crore each. One of the families’ counsel Jestin Poulose said they had no faith in the government, so the “next best available option” was to at least secure the compensation. Though it is said that the murder case would continue, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess what will happen to the case now with the families have applied to withdraw the petition.

At the end of it all, it seems that in Catholicism, some Christians – especially the white and Italian Christians – are holier than their Indian counterparts. I don’t see why otherwise would the Catholic clergy in Kerala work so hard to secure the two foreign marines accused of murdering their own community members. All these while Sr. Abhaya is still seeking justice.

(Photo courtesy: India Today)

From sculptures to idols

There is a hill called ‘Kalasa Mala‘ at Akathiyoor, a beautiful village near Kunnamkulam in Thrissur. Malayalees would know this place from the popular Malayalam movies such as “Thoovaanatthumpikal” and “Bhoothakkannaadi”. Kalasamala is a popular shooting location for movie industries outside the state also and I have heard an interesting story about the place when I was there.

Once a Telugu film production team came here for shooting and their art director created a temple set. The crew had left when the filming was over but the temple set they made for the film had stayed. A few days later appeared a kal viLakku (multi-layered lanterns made of stone) in front of this temple set and people started flocking to the temple and rituals were begun. Some youth in the village brought this to the attention of the Panchayath and it is said that the higher authorities had to interfere to remove the movie set.

Now on to the topic of this post. Something happened recently that reminded me of the movie set incident at Kalasamala. Almost an year back, I saw some sculptures made of plaster of paris lying on the road side at Jagathy, in Trivandrum. I walk through the place every morning and these sculptures seemed to have been discarded by somebody, probably a north Indian vendor who sells such plaster of paris sculptures from house to house (it is a common sight in Kerala). These sculptures were of Ganesha and Ayyappa. After a few days, I noticed that the sculptures have been put straight; now on a sitting posture. Few more days passed by and there was a garland of flowers on both the sculptures. Then one day I spotted a set of incense sticks with a fresh set of garlands. Clearly, somebody has been doing a pooja with the sculptures. This continued for many months and in the last week I noticed that somebody had erected a sheet roof on top of the sculptures. Now it has the shape of a small temple.

I see a scope for Kalasamala issue to repeat here and if it is not nipped in the bud, it is going to be a very sensitive issue in the future. This is right next to the road and is blocking the footpath already (as you can see in the pictures below). If there is going to be a complete temple erected in the name of these two sculptures, which was junk in the first place, it will create traffic blockade and misuse of the public property.

The ‘traditional’ attire of Keralam

The photo above is from the inaugural function of the International Theatre Festival of Keralam (ITFoK). There was a heated debate in Facebook about the scene highlighted in this photo. The debate was about how settu mundu is being touted as the traditional attire of Keralam when it represents only the upper-caste traditional attire. The discussion was initiated by someone called Abdul Kareem and I got to see it when Sudeep Ben re-shared the photo in his FB page. After following up on the debate in the FB pages of Sudeep, Abdul Kareem and BRP Bhaskar, I posted my thoughts in one of the posts. Here it goes:

1) It is important that we ask questions about what is being celebrated as ‘traditional Kerala attire’. Every community/caste/tribe has had a different attire so it is impossible to define what is traditional and what is not. And just because one of them is being commonly celebrated as ‘traditional’ (which has happened long before the ‘disturbing’ questions about caste arose) does not mean that it must be accepted without a question.

2) Wikipedia says that ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ is “one of the remains of the pre-Hindu Buddhist-Jain culture that once flourished in Kerala and other parts of South India” (Ref: It is also said to be an adaptation of the Graeco-Roam costume called ‘Palmyrene’. So I am not sure how ‘Hindu’ it is. Upper-caste Hindus might have adopted the dress-code because they could afford it while the lower-caste being the working class couldn’t have afforded the attire.

3) The Sangeeta Nataka Academy function is a less harmful example if compared to the inaugural function of the TV programmes like Idea Star Singer which seem like a Hindu religious ceremony.

4) The remaining question is which identity we should use as a common cultural identity. Now it is dominantly upper-caste Hindu and not many have questioned this, so it continues. Whether we need to have a common pre-set cultural identity when it is projecting only one cultural identity is the next question. In this particular case, whether an ‘international’ theatre festival needs to have a local identity stamp on it is a third and more relevant question. I think it will be good to let people wear what they want to wear rather than giving a false notion of a common cultural identity.

Cardinal, Catholicism and Caste

When Mar George Alancherry was ordained a Cardinal, the newspapers wrote about how humble he is and how much he respects the Indian tradition with wearing a Syrian cross, that upholds the eastern tradition of Christianity, on a rudraksha chain around his neck. He is also said to be against the ‘Latinisation’ of the native Syro-Malar Church. But Mar Alancherry has ruined that reputation (of a native church trying to retain its identity while being part of a global Latinized Catholic church) by making an unwarranted intervention in a legal row between two countries, just a couple of days after his ordination in Rome.

When asked about the murder of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines, he said that he “immediately contacted the Catholic Ministers of Kerala urging the government not to act precipitately”. This has raised questions about his stand on justice and his allegiance to his country.

First of all, the Cardinal did not have to intervene in the legal dispute between the two countries because he was not asked for help by the Indian government to mediate. But he did, and it sets a wrong practice of religious leaders trying to influence an elected democratic government through it’s community members in the ministry. Suppose that he was asked for help to mediate and even then his priority should have been to ensure justice to the poor fishermen who were shot in cold blood by the Italian marines – as a fellow human being and a Christian. If he had to ‘urge’ the government about anything, it should have been to bring justice to the family members of the dead victims. But he failed to do that.

The Cardinal also said, “But the point is another: it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of ‘Western powers’ or the ‘will of American dominance’“. Here also he is setting the wrong priorities. Political parties always look at the options to make political gains out of socio-political issues, especially during the elections. This is nothing new. And every single political party has done this. Congress party would do the same if they were on the opposition. So why is the Cardinal worried only about the Communists?

There is another side to the story which is about caste in Kerala Christianity. Though the Latin Catholic Church is part of the global catholic church, the Syrian Christians (Syro-Malabar Church) consider them as converted lower caste fishermen (and Syrian Christians consider themselves as Namboothiri descendants). The murdered fishermen are both Latin Christians. So you can assume why the Cardinal did not have any qualms to take sides. The Latin Catholic Church has reacted sharply to the comments of Cardinal Alancherry.

“They called it unfortunate and said it was against the interests and sentiments of the fisherfolk. The families of the victims also vehemently slammed the alleged statement. The Latin Catholics, mostly on the coastal belt of Kerala, are not likely to be happy with the reported statement from Alencherry, who is from the substantially more socio-politically influential Syro Malabar Church. This controversy is likely to amplify the socio-political divide between the two communities, although both are Catholics.” [via]

The story is reflecting badly on the Syrian Christian community. Sangh Parivar has begun to sharpen their weapons claiming that the Catholics have their allegiance to Rome than India. And we will have to wait and see how this dangerous precedence set by Mar Alencherry would help the soft terror strategies of Sangh Parivar and how it will affect the Christian community in the long run. And as long as we have such people in the clergy, who had declared Communism a greater threat than Hindutva while Christians were being persecuted in Mangalore and North Kerala by Sangh Parivar, it does not need much imagination.

Photo courtesy: Reuters/

Being an outcast, for being raped

How do you judge a society’s morale and progress? Is it possible to judge them by taking a look at how the society treats it’s women and children? If so, Keralam has shown an example of it’s morale and progressiveness by the incident of a minor girl being sexually abused. The incident took place in the coastal village Mangalam in Alappuzha district. A 12 year old girl was sexually abused by her neighbor who is a father of two children. The girl did not feel well after the incident and was afraid she could get pregnant so she shared it with her friend in the school.The friend shared it with her family.

The friend’s parent went to school the next day with other parents but here is the shocker. The friend’s family did not go to school to ask for justice to the abused girl but to threaten that if the sexually abused girl continued to study in that school, they would not send their children there. Some of the lady teachers in the school also said that they wouldn’t take lessons in the class if the girl continued. The headmaster then sent the girl out with a transfer certificate.

The story doesn’t stop there. The girl joined a Sanskrit school nearby but the school administration received a phone call saying that it is better for them to show the door out to the girl. The girl was put out again on the same day. The next option for the girl’s parents was another school in Punaloor, but again the moral police in the area intervened and the girl was out again.

This news story is an example of why women are still not daring to come up to the forefront to report domestic/sexual abuse or rape. The society treats the hunted as the culprits and the hunter walks scot-free. “Why didn’t she protest” is the question we always hear. “She could have resisted”, “looks like she asked for it”, “she might have enjoyed it” are the brutal comment we pass on such incidents. And not a comment on the ‘family man’ who took advantage of a young girl of 12 years for his perversion.

Wondering what happened to the man who sexually abused a minor girl? The people, police and media have no intention to question the injustice because he is a ‘family man’.

(Go to to read the full story in Malayalam)

Image: graur razvan ionut /

Still living in the old times

I have high regard to Perumbadavam Sreedharan, a writer of Malayalam literature who is now donning the role of Kerala Sahitya Academy President. His celebrated novel, Oru Sankeerthanam Pole, is one of my all time favorites in Malayalam literature and I have read it many times. And that is why I was so saddened to see him acting like an old royal court member trying to appease the king for a reward.

“Even though there is no royal ruling now, I am still a praja of the royal family”, the man declared his loyalty to the royalty while publishing a book written by Marthanda Varma of Travancore royal family. He added that he takes pride in saying that he is a praja of Travancore royalty. Mr. Sreedharan seems to have forgotten that he is living in the modern era where the dynasty ruling is a thing of past. His post as the president of academy was not a royal gift to him either. So when he declares that he is a praja of the dynasty, while living in and enjoying the fruits of democracy, he should at least stick to his word and step down from his position in the academy which is a cultural institution in this democratic country. But not a single word against him from the whole literary community! Not one, even from the so called Leftist writers.

So that leave me wondering, reading along the debates surfaced about the Padmanabha Swamy temple wealth, are we, by any chance, living in under the Trvancore dynasty rule?

(photo courtesy: Mathrubhumi online)

To control or not to control, that is the question!

Every single Malayali is now concerned about Mullaperiyar dam all in a sudden, though the dam has been in (alleged) danger for many years. The proposition from the Keralam side is to lower the water level, decommission the existing dam and build a new one. Why? Because Keralam fears that the dam cannot take a major earthquake and it could cost the lives of people in four districts of Kerala. But the process of building a new dam will take a few years and it remains unclear what guarantee the government will provide that an earthquake during this time will not happen or will not effect the people living in the surrounding towns. Which leads to the question, is the dam really in danger? If so, are the measures being proposed now enough to take care of the threat? Or are there any other motives behind the Keralam proposition? Keralam has also made a ‘generous’ offer to build a new dam at it’s own cost and still provide water to Tamil Nadu (which will transfer the control of the ownership, operation and maintenance of the new dam and it’s surrounding areas from Tamil Nadu to Keralam).

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu claims that the dam is in good shape and it can live longer. World over people are talking about decommissioning dams older than 40-50 years but Tamil Nadu politicians believe that it is not yet time for this 116 year old dam, built with limestone and surki, to rest in pieces. Commonsense would tell us that if not now, a new dam will have to be built sooner or later because this already 116 yrs old dam cannot survive the 999 years of the lease period. Tamil Nadu says that the safety of dam is an important matter to them also, because a burst of dam would affect the irrigation, agriculture and the lives of Tamilians. They also fear that if the new dam and it’s ownership is transferred to Keralam, they may not provide water to them.

But what does the common man learn from the whole issue? Ultimately, the issue of Mullaperiyar is not really about water or the dam’s safety but the ownership of the land. Currently, the ownership of the dam and it’s surroundings belong to the public works department of Tamil Nadu government though the area is in Kerala. Keralam had a good chance to claim it’s ownership of the dam and it’s surroundings when the lease agreement was renewed in 1970. We also had a chance to demand timely revisions of tax/lease rates per acre that Tamil Nadu has to pay. But the short-sightedness, or short-term interests of the government and officials in Keralam back then resulted in the current situation. It is only ourselves (or our politicians) to blame than the neighbor.

So what resolutions can be made now? A political resolution is most unlikely to turn out to be in favor of Keralam because Tamil Nadu has better political negotiation power in the center. Even though Keralam has a couple of Congress ministers in the center, it will be stupid to expect the UPA government to intervene against the interests of both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as regional political parties play a big role in the coalition politics in India. If safety is the concern, Keralam should wait for the report of five-member committee appointed by Supreme Court and act accordingly. Meanwhile, we should take measures to handle an emergency situation in the area. If the water supply is the concern to Tamil Nadu, they should ensure the supply through a legal pact with Keralam while making sure of the safety of people and timely decommissioning of the dam. Or if ownership is the real issue behind all this, both states should make it clear and file their claims in the court.

Right now, it doesn’t seem both sides are being honest in their stance.

(Photo courtesy: The Hindu)

Yesudas – fifty years on

Do you remember the first time when you heard Yesudas’s voice? Probably don’t. If you ask me, I would say it is as difficult a question as asking when was the first time you heard your mother’s voice. It is said that not a day passes in a Malayali’s life without listening to this legendary singer’s voice. And now, the man has marked fifty years in the playback singing profession.

Yesudas is the ultimate benchmark for Malayalees when it comes to singing. “You sing like Yesudas!” was the ultimate compliment that a singer could get in the old days. In my childhood, the quality of singing was always measured by comparing a singer’s voice to Yesudas’s. So anybody who had a melodious voice would be fondly called “Junior Yesudas” in the local circle and that’s the biggest appreciation one could get in his local community. This has negatively affected singers who had a different tonal quality (not all good singers need to have a sweet voice and not all songs demand a sweet voice to render them).

As time has passed and people got exposed to various singers and genres of music, the benchmark was changed. Now, at least in the musician circles, having a voice that resembles or ‘accused’ to be resembling Yesudas’ voice is a curse. During my visit to Chennai, I had given a demo CD to a person in the industry on a suggestion from a friend. This person then gave it to a couple of music directors and then later told me that ‘they don’t need yet another Yesudas’. I realized how times have changed from my childhood, when everybody wanted to sing like Yesudas to this incident. From then onwards, the process was to cast-out the Yesudas influence. So I’d be more careful not to sound like Yesudas and would be disappointed and defend myself if I got a comment that said, “you sound like Yesudas!”, even if it is in a positive nature.

Yesudas has a contrasting life story. He was born in a poor Latin Catholic (kind of a Dalit in the Kerala Christian caste-ism) family and was taught music by a Tamil Brahmin. He is still not allowed to enter Guruvayoor temple because he was born Christian, but his song “Harivaraasanam” is played in the Sabarimala temple everyday before the sanctrum sanctorum is closed for the day. The Christian church has not disowned him, probably because of his popularity, even in the old days when a Christian would be expelled from the religion if he went to Sabarimala by following the penance and rituals. He has sung in several Indian and foreign languages, even though the perfection of his diction in languages other than Malayalam and Tamil are debatable. Purists of Karnatik music would say he has too much filmized the classical music, but he could help generate an interest in classical music among the laymen with his semi-classical filmy songs. He had made news when he allegedly said that Lata Mangeshkar should stop singing whereas he continues to sing in his 70s which has begun to draw criticism from some quarters.

For an ordinary Malayalee, Yesudas is not just a singer but an angel who advocates for peace. Somebody who transcends the borders of religion. And there is a saintly aura that was built around him in all these fifty years. And no ordinary Malayalee can tolerate any criticism against him.

One could very well doubt if this saintly, secular image was carefully tailored by the man himself. Though he has often commented on sociopolitical issues, he’s always been careful to sound neutral. When he spoke against something, particularly where the religious extremism is involved, he has never specifically spoken against anybody or any organization. He would pass on general/neutral comments which would give him a round of applause generally from all quarters. Most of the times, this is in the name of harmony and peace but it is debatable if it is part of an image that he is trying to maintain.

No matter how his sociopolitical comments are taken, there are many things that a singer could learn from the man. His hard work that started from the days of live recording, when there was no punch-in softwares available, and his devotion to music that he sacrifices some of the earthly pleasures for music.

At 71, Yesudas is not much of a wanted name in the Malayalam film music industry. With a wide variety of choice of singers and exposure to other language music and genres, Malayalees have learned to live past Yesudas. Perhaps this would be the right time for the singer to do what he had advised Lata Mangeshkar sometimes back. To stop singing filmy songs and dedicate full time to classical music. Nevertheless, Yesudas will continue to remain an icon in the Malayali community as long as he goes with the popular ideals of the society.

(Photo courtesy: The Hindu)

The Malayali Mob

When they hear about a group of people beating someone to death for petty crimes, Malayalees would take pride that it did not happen in their home state. ‘Must be Bihar‘, they would say. ‘Or some other illiterate state in India‘, they would comment. But when they got a chance, they proved themselves to be the most hypocritical society in India. And note that the victim here was not a thief, but a complete innocent.

Raghu, a native of Palakkad, was traveling to Perumbavoor in a bus with some money that he borrowed from gold loan. That is when two people got into a fight with him and started beating him. When people had noticed, they accused Raghu of pick-pocketing. It is only when Raghu got sick of the beating and fell down on the ground that the KSRTC employees kept the two culprits in their custody and informed the police. But Raghu had died before the police could reach the taluk hospital with him.

One one hand there is Raghu, a father of two, who took a gold loan of Rs. 19,000 from the local co-operative bank to help his wife’s grandmother’s family in Tamil Nadu. On the other, there are two people – one of them a gunman, a cop, to a Member of Parliament (K Sudhakaran) which gives him ‘special privileges’. Then there is police, who refused to give details of the questioning of the culprits and prevented the media from taking photos of them. They said it was an ‘order from the top’.

Then there is me and you – the Malayali common men who seems to believe that beating someone to death is justified if the victim is a pick-pocket. That is probably why nobody stopped the two culprits – the gunman and his friend – when they said the money that Raghu carrying was pick-pocketed. It is the same Malayali mindset that would justify the men who slapped a woman for traveling with a friend at night with a comment that ‘she deserved it‘, because she was traveling with her friend to drop her at her place after a night shift job. The same Malayali men who would justify the flesh trade pimping minor girls with a comment ‘why did that girl go with that man in the first place?‘, ‘she must have been craving for sex‘.

I think more than these people who abuse their power and positions, it is on us to take the blame. For being the silent spectators that we have turned out to be.