Musings for a responsible society




Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my life...in vain!
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20131228

A Journey with cockroaches: The ‘static’ Indian Railways and the public woes





World has changed radically. India and most Indian manufacturing, retail, and service sectors have changed for the good. Only one thing which believes in ‘continuity’ is the Indian Railways in spite of the fact that it has completed more than 160 years. It has not adequately used to its advantage a) the modern technology, b) increased mobility across the regions, c) preferences of the new generation customers, d) high tourism potential, and e) loyalty of the Indian passengers. Volumes can be written on each of these topics to show that what has been done is not at all enough. There are hundreds reports and research studies on these topics. My attempt is not to dissect the policy framework or analyse the financials or explore the technological opportunities to improve the system. 

Indian Railways is the third largest railway network in the world. It has more than 7000 railway stations and 1.36 million employees and operates about 19000 trains every day. It transports 23 million passengers every day and has an annual revenue of more than 1 lakh crore.

In this write-up, an attempt is made to make certain observations from the passengers’ point of view about the service they perceive while using the Indian Railways. There is no exaggeration in reproducing what has been observed by me and many fellow passengers during their journey across the country.


Animal friendly establishment: The Indian Railways (IR) continued to be the single largest settlement for all rats in the world. That is the impression anyone could get after watching the rats going around inside the trains, around the trains, on the railway platforms, and inside hundreds of offices and commercial outlets in the railway stations. There are innumerable bedbugs inside the berths. People wake up to find that the rats have damaged the baggage. Cockroaches and many other unidentifiable living beings enjoy total freedom inside and outside the railway coaches. How much amount has been spent by the IR to stop this menace?

Anyone- Anytime –Anywhere: IR is magnanimous. Anyone can enter and stay for hours and days inside the platforms and anywhere in the railway property. Remember, this is the only government department which has separate security wing called ‘Indian Railways Protection Force’ whose top officers are selected through national level competitive examination. Railways platforms are full of unauthorized passengers, unrecognized vendors, illegal agents, thieves, animals and beggars. Why can’t IR establish a proper entry level security system after closing the multiple unauthorized accesses?   

Free- mobility inside the coaches: Even if you are inside a reserved coach, you could find hundreds of people moving inside during day and night peeping at each cabin. Suddenly when you wake up past midnight, you would find people sleeping on the floor inside the reserved coaches. There are many reports of thefts taken place in the coaches.

Climbing the upper berths: No change in this system for past several decades. Design of every other mode and medium of transport in the world has changed, be it auto rickshaw, four wheeler, boats, airplanes or anything else. But people still struggle to climb to the middle and upper berths. IR could not find a better design in spite of their huge number of brilliant engineers. In a coach containing 8 seats, 5 passengers need to struggle to settle themselves on their berths and a sizable number of passengers are senior citizens and ladies.

Coach position: As usual, passengers wait indefinitely for the arrival of trains. Coach positions are not displayed in many stations. Even where these are displayed in the digital screens, that will appear just a few minutes before the arrival of train making people run with their heavy luggage. Many passengers would agree that the coaches never stop exactly at the position displayed.

Where is the train name?: Every train has been given a name apart from the number. But why can’t the name board (removable in case coaches need to be changed) be fixed prominently in large font on each bogie/coach?
Photo: bhatcallys.com

Crowded over-bridges: Railway over-bridges in most stations are crowded and there is tough time of senior citizens and women to get through the over bridges. Passengers come from the opposite side simultaneously and people get crushed along with their luggage. There are many pickpockets and anti-social elements operate at these spots.

TTE in the midnight: Many times we need to wait for hours for the TTE to come to our seat to check the tickets. After going to sleep, TTE comes and switches on the lights and impolitely wake up the passengers. If your ticket is in RAC status, you need to go behind the TTE for hours to get a berth allotted to you as per the correct priority. If you are with family and children, you will get stranded without seats till the time you find a TTE after hours.

Which station it is? IR is still in the old century as far as digital displays are concerned. Many times, you wonder while you are inside, which station the train is passing through. We would like to know whether the station we want to get down is nearing. The sign boards are placed in the station mostly in the beginning of the platform or at the end. At other places, if at all any board is placed; it won’t be possible to read it from the train. How many people have access to real-time information in their devices? With simple technology and cheaper cost, train running information can be given in the train itself. Very few trains have such facility.

Before you eat the food supplied…:  If rats and cockroaches enjoy their stay and mobility inside the coaches, they definitely prefer the kitchens in the trains. I have seen many rats and cockroaches even in the first and second A/c coaches. Food is brought to cabins in open trays and the bearers yell so loudly showering their saliva all over the food items. Platform vendors keep the snacks in uncovered containers in the platform. I have witnessed small cockroaches liberally tasting the stuff in the platform as the vendors wait far way for the next train. One could see them diluting the chutney with water from the platform taps in some stations.

Untidy interiors: Even the interiors of luxury trains such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi etc. are not cleaned properly by the staff or the housekeeping agency. The state of other trains is worse. There are not enough dustbins inside the coaches. For 72 passengers in a coach, there would be just two waste bins, which would be full within hours.

Blankets and bed sheets: Blankets are folded by placing them on the floor near the toilets. Though bed sheets are said to be washed and ironed, blankets are dry-cleaned only occasionally. In trains like Garib Rath (where one has to flock around the contract personnel to collect bed sheets on payment of a fee), the sheets and pillow covers are often in damaged condition. Ladies and senior citizens also have to go near the toilet/door area to collect the bed sheets in the night. There is always a very bad smell in the A/C coaches from the dirty and moist blankets. There are no controls to regulate the Air Conditioners in each cabin. Closing the vents in the roof is very tedious. At present, senior citizens and children find it very difficult as the Air Conditioners are never regulated by the staff early mornings when the temperature falls.

Water bottles:  In most stations, none of the premium brands are available. Passengers are forced to buy substandard and local mineral water bottles. Why there is a restriction on this? One senior officer from Railways said that suppliers are selected based on lowest quote coupled with several other ‘considerations’. Vendors sell only mineral water bottles from a prescribed list.

Luggage space: For many day-trains, the space for keeping the luggage is very limited. For some trains, the luggage racks have been fixed just below the roof and passengers need to take the help of  very tall and well-built co-passengers to keep and take out their luggage.

Inadequate seating for passengers in the platforms or waiting halls.  In many stations, there are not enough seats for passengers either in the platforms or in the waiting halls. People wait indefinitely for the delayed trains in the platforms. Hundreds of people sit and sleep on the floors in the platforms in bigger stations. Luggage for the brake van including bikes etc. are also kept on the platform.

Uncovered platforms: Trains are long with many coaches. But in some places, the platforms are not that long (or the train is not stopping at the right place?). Even in important stations, there is no roof for part of the platform. Even when there is roof, water leaks to the platform in some stations.

Inadequate number of fans: There are not enough fans though hundreds of passengers wait in the platforms. Fans are sparsely placed and at locations not beneficial to passengers.

Indian Railways is not for people with disability and for senior citizens: Passengers with special needs/ disability or those who are senior citizens find it difficult to use IR because of inadequate facility for them. Lights are switched on only at the last minute in many originating stations creating difficulties for the passengers. Charts are pasted in a hurry, that too with gum all over the paper making it difficult to read, only just a few minutes before the departure of the train.

Lifts/Escalators/ Ramps: When would all platforms have lifts/escalators/ramps to exit or to go to other platforms?

Waiting list within minutes: It is a big mystery, how within a few minutes of opening the reservation (on the first day of the advance reservation period of two months), you get a waitlisted ticket!

Platform tickets and unreserved tickets: There are long queues to buy the platform tickets and unreserved tickets. Passengers miss their trains because of the inadequacy of counters in most stations. IR is yet to start e-ticketing for above tickets. It is reported that in some stations, platform tickets are given in STD booths in the platform charging a Rupee extra.

‘Service Unavailable’: It is likely that most of the passengers get this message very often when they login to the websites of Indian Railways to book the train tickets. Even registering your cell number is very cumbersome as you would get notified that the number is already in use when the account was already deactivated. The largest organization with separate budget could not create a robust network.

Believes in toilet transparency: How can India ever claim to be a hygiene conscious country till the time railways stop discharging the human excreta all over the country, including roads and railway lines near platforms?  Till today IR could not find a proper alternative for this. Even at platforms there are no clean and adequate toilets in many stations.

The condition of the windows: In most A/C coaches (shatabdi trains and a few luxury trains are exceptions), there is no way you can see the outside because of the smoky age-old glass. Glasses of many coaches are not replaced or cleaned for decades. There is no proper vacuum cleaning done in the interiors to remove the dust. When there is rain, water leaks through the window in some coaches.
 
Plugs: People use the plugs in the cabins for charging their cell phones, laptops etc. But many plugs do not work and a few plugs will damage your laptop because of fluctuations in power supply.

Water taps: Water taps in the toilets in many passenger trains are in the same age old design. In many long distance running trains, water gets exhausted in the night. Even when there is water, the pressure is so low because of that you need to keep your hand for several minutes to clean them.

Coach attendance sell liquor and cigarettes: Some coach attendants have thriving business inside the trains. Apart from striking deals with unreserved passengers for allotting berths through TTEs, they also sell liquor and cigarettes to passengers.

Announcements and signs: In many stations there is no proper digital communication regarding the arrival and departure of trains. The manual boards are also not updated promptly. If someone wants to enquire in the counter there would be a long queue. Even if you get access to the counter staff, (people of very few words; no counter questions please) they will reveal the information as if they are doing a big favour. Speakers in many platforms are unclear and not clearly audible. There are many occasions when trains arrive in the platform without any prior announcements about the correct platform. Advertisements through the TVs are very lengthy and passengers have to wait for long to see the status displayed on the TV screens.

Railway enquiry phones: Certain phone numbers are given as belonging to the Indian Railways in public domain. But many times, none picks up the calls, especially in railway stations in small towns. Enquiry numbers get disconnected very often and the passengers lose money calling repeatedly. Internet complaint centre usually gives an error message.  

Blame the computer or blame the man?: There are hundreds of grievances regarding refunds. There are grievances regarding confirmed tickets getting waitlisted on the date of journey.

Identity proof: There are umpteen number of grievances related to identity proof for e-tickets. Even in group tickets, some TTEs ask for identity proof for everyone. Even when a person with an individual ticket carry a Xerox copy of one of the valid documents, TTEs mercilessly ask him to pay the entire fare when he has a ticket with full fare already paid.

Indian Railways can do wonders by improving the quality of service. People still prefer railways, as it it is cheaper and safer than other medium of transport. India has tremendous tourism potential and Indian Railways can benefit a lot from the inflow of passengers from abroad

You are welcome to share your thoughts and experiences on the topic by clicking comments below (or by mail :  mail@sibichen.in)

(Opinions expressed in this article are my personal views and the constructive criticisms spiced with humour are stemmed out of a sincere wish to see that Indian Railways regain its quality of service)


                                                          © Sibichen K Mathew

20131223

With Auto Raja- An Angel for the beggars and the unwanted



Have you heard of a person called ‘Auto Raja’? He is a former auto driver whose formal educational qualification is Standard III, though he has received an honorary doctorate later. He was a thief, a goonda, and a convict at a very young age. But now, he is a transformed person. He hugs and saves every destitute he sees on the streets. He feeds them, he gives them a place to stay in his ‘Home of Hope’ at Bangalore, and he takes care of all their needs to give them a life and death with dignity. The events related to Narayanan who went missing on a fine day (described me in the earlier article (click here to read)), led me to Auto Raja.

Here below the excerpts of Raja’s long conversation with me:

What was your inspiration for starting this great initiative to care for the poor and needy?

I do not know exactly. I have not seen Mother Teresa. But I have heard about her. I was a neglected person in the childhood. Everyone hated me because I used to steal money and things from others. I studied only upto 3rd standard. Even at that time I used to steal from my classmates. I used to beat other children if they didn’t pay me paisa. So they used to pay me 10 paisa, 5 paisa etc. to get rid of me. I robbed my mother’s mangal sutra and sold to get money. I stole mother’s silk saree and sold it. I used to spend the money for partying and cinema with friends. Finally my parents threw me out of my house. I slept on the streets, bus stand, railway station, foot path etc.  I went to Chennai and I was caught by Police there. I was jailed and stayed along with about 300 persons. They didn’t give me any fresh pair of clothes. I used the same pant and shirt I wore to wipe after bath. Entire area was smelling bad. I couldn’t go to toilet for many days. I became sick and  felt miserable. I thought I would die in the cell. I was just 16 at that time. I prayed and cried to God: ‘Are you there to help me?’ I wept there and prayed for more hours, though another 300 people were around watching me. After my long prayer, which I did for the first time in my life, my entire body sweated, which was very unusual. I sweat profusely. Suddenly I felt relieved from all pain, fever, and the sore throat. I felt that God has answered my prayer. For the first time I felt the presence of God and instantly believed that there is someone who still loves me. I prayed to God again intensely. ‘God, hear my prayer once again. If you take me out of this jail before this Christmas, I will live a worthy life for you’.  That was the time my parents who lived in a far away native place came to know that I am in the prison. They came all the way to Chennai. They took the help of an advocate and got me out of the jail.

What was the response of your parents after you were released from the Jail?

 I fell on the feet of my parents. I told my dad: ‘I have got a new lease of life dad. I don’t want to get destroyed again’. He gave me Rs 1000 and with that I registered for a licence to drive auto and became an auto driver. But as I was driving auto in the streets, my eyes would go straight to those people who sleep on the streets, the beggars at signals, and the orphan children on the road. I felt compassionate to them. I never had any such feeling ever towards anyone including my parents. But the new life had transformed me miraculously. I got an instant craving to go and hug those beggars on the streets. I asked God: ‘How could you leave those children you created in your image to live in such miserable conditions?’ I got the answer later: ‘I have created people like you to help them!’

With your meagre income as an auto driver, how did you manage the resources to help the beggars and the unwanted?

I started helping them in a humble way. The news of mother Teresa’s death reached me during that period. I saw her photos in the newspapers and heard about how she saved those who were about to die on the streets. I started reaching out to those unfortunate ones. I brought a few of them to my own house. We had a small shed in front of our house where my dad used to park his two-wheeler. I accommodated them there. I cleaned their wounds, shaved and bathed them and gave food. 

There are a few people who criticized me also: ‘Look at the thief, who used to rob people! Now he is trying to become a saint. He is just acting to get sympathy from people’. But I continued my work. I understood the need for a larger place as I came across more people who led an invalid life on the streets. I named my place ‘Home of Hope’. After about an year I approached an NGO called ‘India Campus Crusade for Christ’ located nearby. They visited my place and understood the need and offered to help. After about 2 years they bought a land for my work which can accommodate 50 persons. But the number of persons I brought from the streets went above 200. Meanwhile Chief Minister of the state helped me in purchasing another piece of land where a building was constructed to accommodate about 250 men. I accommodate about 50 orphan children in a nearby house.

I rescued more than 5000 people from the streets. More than 2800 people died in our home. We ask them their last wish and try to fulfil that. I am very happy to see their smile. 

Tell me about your family. Did they support you in your venture?

I prayed to God that he should give me means to take care of my wife, children and parents so that I can fully work for the poor. We stay in the same building where the destitute ladies stay as our own family members. My wife looks after them along with my relatives.  I am the dad for not only my two daughters and son, but also for all the 500 persons in the Home of Hope.




Know more about 'ordinary' persons with extraordinary vision. Click below.






The ‘missing’ Narayanan and the Auto Raja- A living angel




On 9th November 2012, Mrs Uma, wife of an officer in the Indian Air Force at Trivandrum filed an FIR at the Peroorkada Police Station, Trivandrum as follows:

“My father Shri T.R. Narayanan, 80 years,  who was staying with me in Trivandrum at Planning Board Lane, Rajalakshmi Nagar, Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram has been missing since 8th November 2012. He is a dementia patient and has no clear memory; consequently he is under essential, regular medication. He went out for a walk on 8th November in the afternoon between 12.30 and 1 pm. He has not returned till date”
Narayanan was the second son of M V Ramaswamy Iyer and Ranganayakki who were agriculturists owning more than 400 acres of paddy land at Palakkad, Kerala. They gave employment to many people and also personally toiled to produce paddy and other agricultural commodities. That was the time Kerala embraced the communist rule (first time in the world a communist government was democratically elected). Ramaswamy Iyer lost the entire 400 acres of land in the ‘communist revolution’ when the ‘tiller became the owner’. On a fine day he became landless. He was not in a position to fight a legal battle. He died when his son Narayanan was just 11 years old. As the entire family property of many generations was lost, Narayanan started going for stenography classes immediately after completing his matriculation. He travelled to Bombay in search of a job. As he couldn’t get a proper job, he reached Bangalore and later got placed in the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. He brought his younger sister and mother to Bangalore and took up the responsibility of the education and marriage of his sister. He got married to Saroja and had two children Uma and Vidya. His wife died when he was 57.

Narayanan was a source of inspiration for his daughters throughout his life. Once both of them got married, he chose to stay alone without disturbing any of the daughters. He cooked himself, did gardening, maintained the house and enjoyed his old age. He used to go and stay with his daughters for a few days during festivals and birthdays. He was proud and confident being healthy and independent. But the daughters noticed something strange soon. He started forgetting the names of the close relatives. He lost the way to the house of his daughter. He forgot his own landline number.
Daughters of Narayanan quickly realized the need for a panic button.  Narayanan was losing his memory very rapidly. Narayanan was staying with his daughter Uma at Trivandrum till the morning of 8th Nov 2012, the day he was found missing. The details were published in newspapers. Announcements were made in Doordarshan and a local channel. Daughters met the Chief Minister at his residence and handed over a written petition seeking his help to trace their father. Meanwhile an auto driver reported that he saw the missing person crossing the road at PMG junction with the help of a Policeman on a particular day. From the CCTV footage at the traffic signal the policeman identified Narayanan. Frantic searches were made in all possible directions across Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  Posters were put up at prominent locations and letters were sent to all old age homes and Ashrams. 

After several months, a letter was received from the  ‘Home of Hope’ a charitable organization run by a person called ‘Auto Raja’ at Bangalore confirming that Bangalore Police had handed over Mr Narayanan to them on 10th November 2012 and he had a peaceful death at their home on 23rd November. Narayanan  was  found  sitting alone in the Marathahalli Ring Road (Narayanan had  lived in the house in that location for about 40 years) and a conscientious passer-by  reported that to the police after it was found that he was unable to recall the address of his daughters. He was just mumbling ‘my daughter…my daughter’. The people from the ‘Home of Hope’  cremated him on 24th November 2012 as per the Hindu rites seeing his poonal.  They had taken the picture of Mr Narayanan on the day of arrival and also of his body after he was no more.

Friends, be aware...

Next time when you see a person sitting lonely on the street, remember he could be a person who had lost his memory and yearning to get united with his/her dear ones! Naryanan’s two daughters, Uma and Vidya were devastated when they heard that their loving dad had roamed on all streets in Trivandrum and Bangalore looking for the houses of his daughters. Imagine the plight of a person who had lost his memory and unable to find his way to sweet home!

Dementia or the specific disorder called Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, a progressive brain cell death. As per the World Alzheimer Report 2013, ‘nearly half of the 101 million dependent older people in the world are living with and experiencing the effects of dementia’.

The WHO Dementia report estimated that ‘there are 7.7 million new cases of dementia each year, implying that there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world every four seconds’. It calls for the following:
- promoting a dementia-friendly society globally;
- making dementia a national public health and social care priority worldwide;
- improving public and professional attitudes to, and understanding of, dementia;
- investing in health and social systems to improve care and services for people with dementia and
   their caregivers;
- increasing the priority given to dementia in the public health research agenda.

(Anonymous)Google Image


Narayanan has gone for ever. But we have a few angels like Auto Raja who serve hundreds of destitute people who have stranded on the streets of our cities.

After knowing about the above incident from Vidya, daughter of Narayanan, I was curious to know more about the person called Auto Raja who took care of her father and given him a dignified funeral. I found out his address and spent two days with him to know about his great service. You can read about that (along with a short film) in another article. (click here to read)

                                                                    (c) Sibichen K Mathew

20131218

The Imprint

(A short story-film)

‘Dad, I have an interview tomorrow at Patna. I need Rs 500’. Pankaj told his father while they were having dinner.

‘Pankaj, how many examinations and interviews you have attended in the last two months? I have given you more than Rs 2000 in this month. You had gone to Patna, Ranchi, and Kolkata for attending interviews and tests. Why nothing is ‘clicking’ for you?’, Pankaj’s dad asked.

‘I don’t know Dad. I have done the tests and interviews well. But we need to try the luck with many tests. I am sure I will get a job soon. Tomorrow I am having the interview in a US company for their Boston office as I cleared the written test already’ Pankaj said confidently.

‘I am just a primary school teacher. You know very well that the government has not paid us salary for last five months. I am finding it difficult to pay money to the grocery shop.’ Dad said.

‘Give him the money. Why are you telling him all this when he has an examination tomorrow. Let him study peacefully’ Pankaj’s mother told his father.

Pankaj’s father got angry. He shouted at his wife: ‘Is he bothered about how we struggle for money in this house. Everything is because of his studies at the Patna college. You forced me to send him there!’

‘What happened because of that?’ She asked him as she put hot rotis into his plate.

‘You don’t know? Every one of his friends who studied in the C M Science College in Darbhanga got jobs. Of course they may be at low salary. But they are not wandering like my son who went to the city for studies staying in a hostel. He was a topper in School. But he became irresponsible in college.’ Pankaj’s father continued to shout. ‘I am finding it difficult to repay the loans I have taken. I need to sell the only piece of land to marry of Sunita’. Father left the dining table without finishing his dish.

Pankaj went to his room after quickly finishing the meal. He lay in bed blindly looking at the old ceiling fan. He has never seen his father becoming so upset. He was disturbed because of the financial strains. The government has not paid him salary for last few months. He recalled the words of his father at the dining table. He went back to his past.

‘Yes, I was irresponsible while at the college. But that was only during my degree course. I never attended the classes regularly. I watched all types of movies. Went for weekend parties with friends. Roamed in the streets of Patna. But all that I stopped after getting such low marks for the degree course. The school topper just managed to pass in the degree examination. I studied hard for my post-graduation in economics and got a first class.’ He talked to himself.

He continued to be in the bed for a long time. He turned towards the wall where he had pasted his  favourite words of Vivekananda, ‘Arise, awake, stop not until your goal is achieved’. Many times in the past when he was down, those words had given him inspiration. But, not this time. He was deeply pained by the words of father and how much struggle father was making to run the family. He closed his eyes. He thought of going to Gaurav’s house to borrow money, though he had not paid the money he borrowed for buying a gift to Sunita on her birthday. Gaurav was his classmate and friend for past several years.

Suddenly a hand was on his left shoulder. He turned back and saw his father standing there. Pankaj suddenly tried to get up. Father said: ‘Beta, you sleep peacefully’ He sat on the bed near Pankaj and continued, ‘I will give you money tomorrow morning. Go and attend the interview. I shouted at you because I was not in a good mood. The stupid clerk misplaced my provident fund withdrawal form sent by me weeks ago.’ Father got up after covering the blanket over Pankaj.

Pankaj woke up early morning and got ready. He wore a white shirt and called Sunita to help him wearing the tie. Though he wore it for many interviews, he was still not good at putting the knot. He always took the help of his sister for that. He had to travel by the local bus to the railway station wearing the tie and people used to curiously look at him. He enjoyed that.

While sipping tea given by Amma, he asked: ‘Where is dad? I need to start now’. Amma said, ‘He will come now. He has gone to Sahayji’s house’. Sahay, who stays in the next street is the headmaster of the school where his dad is teaching.

As Pankaj anxiously waited outside the house, his father reached pedalling fast his old bicycle. He took Rs 500  from his pocket and gave to him. Pankaj touched his father’s legs. ‘Do well my son’, his father blessed him.

Pankaj Kumar Singh, s/o Dinesh Kumar Singh residing at Hanuman Nagar of Darbhanga village walked fast to the bus stop carrying all his certificates in a thick black bag received by him when he attended a national seminar at the university.

                            *   *   *   *                                                        *   *   *   *   *

He reached the venue of the interview on time. Rest is presented in a single-shot video format below. 


Click below to view the short film (2.53 minutes)


       Short Film: Click here

                                                           © Sibichen K Mathew     

20131205

Have you ever been to Karwar beach?


Instead of going to overcrowded beaches and highly commercialized tourist locations, why don't you explore a very serene place in Southern India?

I stopped at Karwar for an overnight stay on my trip from Udupi in Karnataka recently. I chose Devbagh Beach Resort, a unit of Government owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. It is located in the Uttara Kannada District of Karnataka.

I was told by the staff in the resort that the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore stayed in Karwar between 1882 and 1883 and his poem 'Prakritir Pratishoota' was based on that visit.

A quote form Tagore prominently mentioned in the brochures of the resort. It said as follows:

  "The beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realize that the beauty of nature is not a mirage of imagination, but reflects the joy of the infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves into it"
I reached the hotel office around 12.30 pm and showed my internet booking receipt. Within a few minutes I was escorted by a short jovial middle aged staff to a small boat parked nearby. I was a bit scared seeing the old boat and the deep water. He helped me to get into the boat and told me not to get scared. Once settled inside I enjoyed the travel towards the resort situated in an island full of dense trees.

 
Forest in the Devbagh beach resort


A few staff were waiting at the other end to receive. They took my luggage and asked me to go ahead to the cottage. They said they will bring the luggage in a cart along with luggage of other visitors who were expected to reach that time. I went in search of the cottage through the narrow pathway. I was expecting that the cottages were nearby. Seeing no human beings anywhere, I thought I took a wrong route and started walking back. Then I understood that the path was the correct one as I saw a few guests returning after their stay there.

The single room cottage allotted to me was clean and elegant. I went to the dining hall (called 'Gol Ghar'- an open to-two-sides circular gazebo) to have the buffet-style lunch along with other guests. After relishing a good spread of vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes and fruits, I went to the cottage to send some official mails through the BSNL dongler. The absence of TV  was a good change. Tourists can spend the afternoon for water sports like rafting, canyoning, para-sailing, speed boat cruises etc.

The Cottage

In the evening one could visit the nearby fishing village. Around 7.30 pm I went to the beautiful beach where Bonfire and Barbeque were organized by the resort for guests. No music or microphones allowed to preserve the serenity, though the guests could sing, play or dance. Guests in the resort sat in their own groups and had quiet conversations.

After a coffee at the Gol Ghar at 6.15 am in the morning, the guide took all guests for a nature walk till 8.30 am. After breakfast there was a boat ride in to the Arabian sea! The check out time is 11.30 am.

 Karwar Beach by Sibichen K Mathew
Karwar Beach (Photo: Sibichen K Mathew)


Best time to visit is October to March when the climate is pleasant and suitable for various activities. Nearest airport is Dabolim (Goa) about 2 hours away. Nearest railway stations are Madgaon (Goa), Mangalore (Karnataka) and Karwar (only a few trains stop here). One could travel by road from Bangalore, Udupi (major part of the road is bad), or Madgaon.

One can book the cottage at www.junglelodges.com. Average tariff for a cottage for 24 hours for one person is around Rs 4500/- (including food, boating etc. Alcoholic beverages are charged).

Here are a few rules mentioned in the notice board:

a. Do not talk loudly or play music
b. Do not smoke
c. Do not wear strong perfumes 
d. Do not tease animals (I didn't see any!)
e. Wear forest friendly clothes
f.  Be punctual for all activities

Karwar   Photo: Sibichen K Mathew

Comments are welcome. Views are personal.
                                                                                            Sibichen K Mathew





20131128

The dream to become a child; the nightmare too!


photo: saturdayeveningpost.com


                                                                               ©  Sibichen K Mathew

Click to see related articles:

The institutional child abuse: What is the panacea?

Stop this harassment: A cry for deschooling India

An ordeal called school admission


20131118

Goat Days: A real-life story of a young man's journey to loneliness



If ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho was a story about a Shepherd boy following his dream, Benyamin’s ‘goat days’ is a real life story of a young man who pursued his dream and ended up as a shepherd in a sterile wasteland.


When a friend mentioned that there was a visa for sale to go to a gulf country, Najeeb didn’t think twice. He had only simple wishes: Settle a few family debts, add a room to the small house, and to get out of the work of a sand diver that gave him chronic cough and cold. Leaving her pregnant wife and mother, he travelled to gulf after obtaining a visa from an agent paying a huge sum he mustered by taking loans from every source possible. He landed and stranded at the airport itself unclaimed by his job sponsor. He was grabbed by a dirty, smelly ‘arbab’ who pushed him into the open back of his very old vehicle.

Najeeb’s experience in the desert reminds us of the value of our existence in a free world. We take our freedom to live, work, interact, recreate, and procreate for granted. We forget to consider that the people and the relationships are precious. When Najeeb and his friends dragged their feet with an overwhelming numbness and pain in the body and in the mind, they understood that even despair, disillusionment, and the pain had no meaning in their life. All desires cherished by them left one by one and they had only one urge – just to have a drop of water.

Read the following lines excerpted from the book:

‘Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.
So far I had not tried to escape. The first few times were amateurish attempts. I had not reached the end of my tether then. Actually, I had learnt to live with my circumstances. My experience taught me that no matter how severe our pain or how harsh the difficulties we face, we come to terms with our miseries in the course of time…..In the past I used to wonder how beggars, the very poor, the permanently sick, the blind and the handicapped went on with their lives, how happy smiles broke out on their faces.’ (Chapter 28, the shortest, but for me the most penetrating chapter in the book pp 175-176)
Could he escape from his bondage and misfortune? Could he ever see his family? You must read this book not to know the climax, but to understand how it would be if we were made to live a goat’s life.

The book was originally written in Malayalam by Benyamin and won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award. Joseph Koyippally has tried to showcase the book to the English readers without losing its essence. As we read the initial pages we would doubt whether Joseph is a little apprehensive about his venture, but later he has picked up his creative best and really made a great contribution in the translation of ‘Aadujeevitham’ (the title of the book in Malayalam). Justifiably, the translated work has been shortlisted for the coveted DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Man Asia Prize.

Buy it at a huge discount at Amazon


© Sibichen K Mathew. Comments welcome

Click below to read other book reviews



20131106

The 'Lucky Peanuts', Men of God, and the Scientific Temper

Whether faith in God or faith in the predictors amount to tampering or tapering of scientific temper?

I have a few stray thoughts on this, though I am fully convinced myself that true faith in God is never antagonistic to scientific inquiry and exploration. 

India has made a historic leap into a new space age with the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter. The project Mangalyaan by the Indian Space Research Organization took India to the league of just four nations that succeeded in the Mars missions till now (others being US, the European Union, and Russia). Two things we read in the media while keeping a track of the launch were really interesting:

One was the act of NASA to wish ISRO with ‘lucky peanuts’. "As you prepare for your launch to Mars, do not forget one of the few, but important action: pass around the peanuts!”,  Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL ) pasted on ISRO's MOM Facebook page.
Nationalpeanutsboard.org


(JPL at NASA field centre in California, United States has a tradition to eat what they call ‘good luck peanuts’ before critical mission events, such as orbital insertions or landings. It is said that in a series of unmanned space missions by United States in 1960s, only mission which was successful was when one of the staff member was eating peanuts. Since that time a tradition continued in all space missions that eating peanuts would bring in good luck!)

I get reminded of a desi proverb: ‘With every fall of jackfruit, rabbit won’t die’ (Sorry for my poor English translation. Better translations invited)

Second was the placing of the replica of the PSLV-C-25 at the hill shrine dedicated to Lord Venkateswara personally by the ISRO Chief just a day before the launch. While devotees were delighted by the gesture, the Federation of Indian Rationalist Association strongly condemned the act and alleged that the ISRO chief has insulted the constitution of India. It referred to Section 51A(h) of the Indian Constitution which says that ‘it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform’. The rationalist organization said that ‘if he were to go to a temple for his personal work, we would have no reason to object at all. But carrying his personal superstition into matters of the state is a crime against our constitution’.


Viewing through the lens of a sociologist, I tend to consider the above two acts as culturally significant, emotionally appealing, and even intellectually boosting to some extent for the respective actors. But from a purely scientific and rational point of view the acts could be labelled as absurd.

Recently I attended the formation day of a state. It was a purely government function to commemorate the formation of the independent secular state. The celebrations where people irrespective of their religious affiliations participated started with the offering of puja to Goddess Bhuvaneshawari.  People from other religious communities joined the program where only the ‘God’ of only one religion was made to ‘represent’.  In a tolerant country like India, this was not a serious issue to be criticized, as traditions play a role in bringing cohesion. However, this has triggered a new trend in that state recently. After experiencing ‘exclusion’, the people from other religious communities also started celebrating the statehood day in their own ways separately. Ultimately who won here? State or Religion? It is religiosity rather than ethnicity or patriotism that triumphed.

In many government offices in India, where premises are owned by government, one could see portraits of Gods and Goddesses prominently placed. This is an indication of how religion has inextricably intertwined with governance, though not sanctioned by the nation’s constitution. Even here, the officials who are believers find such religious symbols motivating to be happy at work and they depend on them for a sense of security and wellbeing.

newsX Image

After a seer revealed his dream that there is a treasure of 1000 tonnes of gold buried beneath the 19th century fort in Daundia Kheda village of Unnao district, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) inspected the place (the seer reportedly convinced a Union Minister). The Archaeological Survey of India started quick action to excavate the place and nothing valuable could be found out. However, after the exercise became futile, the recently retired Director General of GSI claimed that GSI neither recommended the excavation nor indicated that there were gold deposits at the site. Now, the seer revealed another dream about the existence of tonnes of gold under the temples of Fatehpur, in Kanpur.  One should sincerely hope that government would not decide to send another army of excavators there to unearth the treasure. Instead, our taxmen should be on an unearthing spree of hidden treasures in India and elsewhere that escaped Indian tax laws for years.

Recently a concept note was prepared by the students and faculty of the prestigious National Law School of India University wherein it suggested to the state government to setup an autonomous authority called Scientific Temper Authority, headed by a retired High Court judge. This would be a move in the right direction if various state governments accept the recommendation.

Religion has a crucial sociological role to play in society, but not superstitions and illegalities in the name of religion. It is the duty of the government to ensure that its arms uphold the scientific temper and encourage the citizens to act in accordance to that. Faith in God can work wonders by making people love others and by making them care for each other without hurting the sentiments of anyone. Governments can protect the faithful, without even being a party to the faith. If at all it wants to be a party, it should be ‘inclusive’ in its approach.


Yes, Science and faith can go together! 

                                                                                    Sibichen K Mathew
(Views are personal. Comments are welcome)

20131022

Why she loves butterflies? A conversation with an Installation Artist


   

        

                  " I found it in a legendary land 
     all rocks and lavender and tufted grass,
     where it was settled on some sodden sand
     hard by the torrent of a mountain pass.
-----
My needles have teased out its sculptured sex;
Corroded tissues could no longer hide
that priceless mote now dimpling the convex
and limpid teardrop on a lighter slide.
-----
Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrim kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immorality of this
red label on a little butterfly.”

         (‘On Discovering a Butterfly’ by Vladimir Nabokov)

                                                                                                               


                                                    
 
Here is a unique artist who perceives the world around her, from the angle of a butterfly. She is Sharwari Tilloo. She believes, (backed up by her scientific analysis) that there are similarities between the life of a butterfly and human behaviour. According to her, the butterfly is a symbol of freedom and beauty; it represents the status and life of women in society, their aspirations and desires.  When I met her amidst her exhibition at the Chitrakala parishath (Karnataka, Southern India), I found that every creation at the series named ‘Metamorphosed’ depicted what she spoke.



Two hundred and fifty steel butterflies were suspended from the ceiling, each representing hundreds of women who were brutally raped in India every year. Though physically and emotionally hurt, these women should feel that they have every right to live a meaningful and happy life irrespective of the scars.  Society needs to support them in their determination to live happily and confidently.

She says on behalf of all the hapless women:
“Everything I want to say to my harasser: ‘I am not afraid. You don't scare me. I will stand up against you with my head held high’.”

Sharwari is a fulltime ‘papierieste’, working with ‘papier mache’ and other found objects. She started her tryst with art when she was just ten years old. She was guided by Bal Wad, an artist from Pune early in her life. She was fortunate to get trained under renowned potter Nirmala Patwardhan, the first Indian woman to be a studio potter. Later in life, she continued her passion for pottery under Angad Vohra at MantraHandmade Pottery, in Auroville, Pondicherry,in Southern India.

Before returning for work at Auroville, she spent time mastering Ceramics Art  at LaSalle SIA College of the Arts, Singapore. Studying in LaSalle along with art students from diverse cultures opened up the world of art and she picked up the skill of observation. An injury on the hand, while producing a creative piece, severely affected her work for years. However she was not disappointed. She went to HarvardUniversity and did post-graduation in Education. She started teaching children and also designed a curriculum for them.  

Papier Mache gave her the break she was looking for. In her explorations with papier mache, her constant endeavor was to push the limits of the medium and turn that into a ‘recognizable art medium to make sculptures and installation pieces’. Now, she does not restrict herself to only one medium. She uses ceramics, glass, gold, silver, and any recycled and organic material she can find.



She says: “My life has been analogous to that of a butterfly’s. I see the years in education as being a chrysalis, poised and absorbing everything, to break out into a butterfly. The phase that I am in now, I’m learning to fly, finding my wings, my freedom’.

Sharwari is an inspiration for all, not just as an artist, but as a person deeply involved in spreading a message of freedom to women across the globe, especially those who were victims of abuses. She is a thinker, visionary, talented artist, educationist, and a courageous advocate of women’s right to lead an honourable life. Artists, young and old, can learn a lot from Sharwari’s determination to innovate in the chosen field of art.


Good wishes to Sharwari in her research on the artistic intersection of butterfly and human behaviour. Readers of Cyber Diary can reach to her at sharwari.t (gmail). The products are available for sale.


© Sibichen K Mathew. Views are personal. Comments are welcome.

20131021

‘Shahid’ : A movie review



The other day my friend Homi, who is a leading counsel for many global entities, sent me a draft deed of a Charitable Trust he and his friends proposed to start, for my comments. I read the deed and was impressed by the noble purpose of the proposed Trust. The main objective is to render assistance in the cases of the wrongly accused and convicted persons and the reformed criminals who do not have anyone to help. Later, when I watched the movie ‘Shahid’, I was convinced about the need for such initiatives to save several innocent lives languishing in police lock-ups, prisons, and long pending legal bottlenecks and inquiries.

‘Shahid’ is a movie one should not miss. And I want you to see this in a movie hall rather than waiting to watch it in the mini screen or in the DVD player. I don’t say this because of any great digital experience or any multidimensional visual experience in the cinema hall. I sincerely want the producers of this fantastic movie to get their returns. When there was a long queue to get tickets for the movie being shown in the adjacent hall, there was hardly anyone to watch ‘Shahid’ in the large multiplex where the movie was screened. After just a few minutes into the movie, my wife and I wondered how such a wonderful movie didn't attract the average moviegoers.  The answer lies there itself. The mainstream viewers are satisfied by the mediocre movies rather than high quality productions.

 

Based on the real life story of a human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi who lost his life in his mission to defend an innocent person, the movie very vividly and interestingly depicts the prejudices, fallacies, and injustices in the criminal justice system. It is not just in the fascist and the dictatorship systems, innocent lives are targeted and tortured. Even in many so called democratic countries this is a practice very few would like to question. Investigating agencies can charge anyone with an offence on the basis of an allegation, accusation, suspicion or surmise. He can be raided and arrested. His family members can be subjected to harassment. Bails can be indefinitely denied stating that the investigations are pending. Meanwhile, there will be a frantic search to cook evidences to justify the action of the prosecution and to impose a punishment.

Watching a good movie is a delicious treat for our senses and sensibilities. Instead of watching movies with nauseating dialogue, cheap comedies, oft repeated themes, and digital circuses, we should watch movies like ‘Shahid’. Sometimes, such movies will sensitize our hardened hearts and we would learn and enjoy real acting, gain awareness of what is actually happening in our surroundings, and make us think loud to be proactive. ‘Shahid’ showcases an unadulterated presentation of reality in a very beautiful manner. You might ask, if is so close to reality, why should we watch? You are right! But we know that reality would bite only when it is re-told by someone else, because most of us would like not to accept reality as it is.

I recommend this movie not just for its bold story-line, but for the superb direction and outstanding performance of all the actors. The expressions of Raj Kumar Yadav who played the role of Shahid cannot go away from you for a long time after watching the movie. Baljinder Kaur ‘lived’ in her role as the mother of Shahid. I have no words to describe her marvellous performance. Prabhleen Sandhu, as Mariam enthralls us with her mature performance and expression of finer emotions beautifully. KayKay Menon as ‘War saab’ did a wonderful job. Everyone in this movie acted fabulously and one should congratulate the director Hansal Mehta for this. He won the Best Director award for Shahid at the 13th New York Indian Film Festival. The film has been produced by Bohra Bros Productions Pvt Ltd, AnuragKashyap Films and Paramhans Creations.

Part of the team behind 'Shahid'

Now, check-up whether it is running in the cinema hall in your place and get prepared to use (not spend) 123 minutes of your valuable time!


                              © Sibichen K Mathew. Views are personal. Comments are welcome. 

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