I was never a “birthday boy” and seldom do I celebrate my birthday, though a few around me remind me of the glorious occasion, the day after India turned a full republic..a very important year as that. Birthdays to me are normal days of the week. I can never imagine wasting my time planning for celebrations, then executing it and finally blowing off the candles. All these look childish and bogus to me and when someone wishes “Happy Birth Day” I would like to reply “Bah Humbug” like Ebenezer Scrooge. And getting older by one more year is no occasion to celebrate either. Celebrations need victories and I haven’t done anything special to celebrate. By Malayalam era it falls on one particular day, Gregorian calendar it is another day and it is yet another day by the star under which your are born. That doesn’t make sense. In fact the only day worth celebrating is the day you are born, your real birth day, the day you started business in this world. Well! my daughter thinks otherwise and she decides this birthday is something special and flies down from Mumbai unannounced. And my daughter in law composes a poem, rather a paean.
Since many of my friends and relatives, who crossed this milestone had celebrated it in a big way, with great reluctance I agreed for a small prayer at home with family and just a few other close friends. But a formal prayer demands someone to lead us in prayer and that is how our Student Chaplain Rev.Vineeth Mathew Achen, a genuine priest in theory and practice, and his sweet Baskiama Seba Kochamma were invited. Knowing about my love for books, Achen thoughtfully presented two books – Ethirpokku by Joy Mathew and The Namesake by Jumpa Lahiri. The books were not only a gift for an eager reader but a memorable present that can last for ever as it was signed not only by Achen and Kochamma but by their little angel Joanna too who had passed away in a tragic accident a few months ago.
I reserved The Namesake for serious reading and started off with Joy Mathew. Half way through this book was this reference about “Koottu” another book authored by Boby Jose Kattikkatt, a Capuchin monk. I left Joy Mathew and ordered Koottu over Amazon which promptly arrived the very next day. Here is what Joy Mathew has to say on the book:
“യാത്രകളിൽ ‘കൂട്ട്’ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നെങ്കിലും വായിക്കാൻ തുടങ്ങിയത് ഏറെ കഴിഞ്ഞാണ്. വായിച്ചുതുടങ്ങിയപ്പോഴോ പുസ്തകം താഴെ വയ്ക്കാൻ തോന്നിയതുമില്ല ആഴത്തിലുള്ള വായന നൽകിയ അറിവിന്റെ , അലിവിൻറെ, സൗഹൃദത്തിന്റെ, ചങ്ങാത്തത്തിന്റെ ഉദാത്തമായ സ്നേഹത്തിന്റെ വെളിപാട് പുസ്തകമാണ് ഈ കൂട്ട്.. ഇത്രയേറെ എന്നെ കൊതിപ്പിച്ച പുസ്തകം അടുത്ത കാലത്തു ഞാൻ വായിച്ചിട്ടില്ല. നെരൂദയും കസാന്ത്സാക്കീസും, ദസ്തയേവിസ്കിയും സച്ചിദാനന്ദനും സുഗതകുമാരിയും ഫെല്ലിനിയും ചാപ്ലിനും ഗാന്ധിയും രാമനും കൃഷ്ണനും ഇതിഹാസങ്ങളും കയറിയിറങ്ങി നാം ഒരു തീരത്തണയുന്നു. സ്നേഹമെന്ന അലിവിൻറെ തീരത്ത്.”
Joy Mathew is bang on. I read the book in one go and can undoubtedly recommend that this is perhaps one of the best books in Malayalam that goes in to the deeper meanings of friendships of all hues including that with God and Nature. Friendship or koottu is the essence of life that pulls you on. To overcome the killing solitude or loneliness one has to necessarily build bridges of friendship and the book celebrates that with beautiful imageries and frequent bits of intelligent humour.
My birthday celebration was worth the troubles thanks to this classic book – almost a treatise on friendship and strange is the route it has taken to reach me..thorough Vineeth Mathew Achen, through Joy Mathew and finally Amazon. As Joy Mathew himself writes; “അതങ്ങനെയാ ജോയി, ചില മനുഷ്യരിലൂടെയേ ചില കാര്യങ്ങൾ മറ്റുള്ളവരിൽ എത്തുകയുള്ളൂ.”
Travelling, often puts things in perspective. It allows one to realize that there are far bigger things in life than our everyday problems. So what if the WiFi is slow or your quirky neighbour has again dumped waste on the wayside. Travelling allows you to see that the world is not always about you or your neighbour. We had been travelling quite a lot and the thing we love most about travel is that exciting break from the routine. Almost an year has gone by since our last trip to Srilanka and that is far too long to put away our travel bags. Some injudicious engagements I had taken upon myself, tied us down and now all I could think of was a weekend getaway. Hence I considered options that were within driving range without much concern for the destination.And that’s how Sundar, a young entrepreneur, a keen golfer and a good friend, came to my mind. I was aware of his ongoing resort project at Thenmala tucked in the tapering slopes of the Western Ghats close to the Shendurney Wild Life Sanctuary. Having known the person, his tastes, his love for the environment and ecology, I could well imagine the priorities he might have set for his dream project. And we were not disappointed either.
Thenmala which is just two hours’ drive from Trivandrum, is almost our backyard but the entire topography changes once we get ahead of Palode. We are almost into the forest mode with thick vegetation all around and occasional dense forests. There was hardly any traffic and that makes driving enjoyable for someone on a laid back pleasure trip. With no signboards of the Resort on the way and not even a visible one on the beautiful architectural building housing the front office and the restaurant, guests will find it difficult to locate ‘Thenmala Ecoresort’,in spite of its proximity to the Kollam-Tenkasi Highway. The Resort is in the final stages of completion and we are told that all the promotions including signboards, website, brochures etc. will be made available only after the official opening and until then it is just word of mouth,which appears good enough. Though it is not yet officially inaugurated we were surprised to find most of the things in place, well-appointed cottages for families, dormitories for groups, amphitheater for cultural programs, poolside venue for campfire, a craggy tree house, a challenging walking trail and even a few cages and coops housing rabbits, turkeys and geese. Peacocks and monkeys casually saunter in from the nearby forest to entertain the guests. External mud coating on the cottages, dried grass on the rooftops and captive solar panels validate the emphasis on eco-preservation. The view of the enchanting hills from the cottages are breathtaking with the enveloping mist, more so when it is drizzling.
Shendurney is an ideal destination for those
who are passionate about trekking. There are different options such as a soft
trek along the reservoir bank, full day trekking for about 18 kms accompanied
by forest guards and the independent route taking the rough road to Rosemala, a
valley that unfolds like rose petals. Though we decided on Rosemala with its
beautiful rocky forest road, the lumbar strain was too much to ignore forcing
us to abandon it half way for the easier option of Palaruvi, which is only 16
kms from Thenmala. To control the crowd Forest Department is not allowing
private vehicles beyond a point. Tourists in small groups are then taken in
minibuses operated by Thenmala Forest Development Agency. As soon as you alight
from the bus you get a glimpse of the milky stream cascading down at a distance, but to reach the stream one has
to trek further through the slippery rocks and the tiled steps beyond. But once
you reach the kalmandam, a raised platform almost in line with
the hilltop where the falls take its origin, the view is stunning. The
surrounding mist clad blue hills and the green valleys make a dazzling backdrop
to the muffled roar and
the gush of foam, making it a picture perfect combination for a video shoot. Many bathe downstream trusting
in the medicinal properties of the water that has taken its course through the
labyrinthine root systems of the herbs of Aryankavu forests. There are remnants
of old glory strewn around like a dilapidated stable with individual stalls for
keeping horses dating back to late 1800s, evidence enough to prove that this
could have been a resting place for the Travancore royalty en route to their
holiday home at Courtallam.
Lal of Thenmala Ecoresort took over as our driver cum guide and we were more than
glad to let him take on a dual role, as we did not want to waste time asking for directions at every
junction as some of these remote places are still not mapped on Google.
Palaruvi to Sundarapandiapuram is about 40 kilometres but it takes more than an
hour as the roads get narrower once we deviate from the highway. Ever since I
saw a travelogue on this pastoral village of vast sunflower fields it was in my
bucket list of must-see places. Unfortunately, the harvesting season was just
over and there was only a tiny bit of private patch left. Seeds are sown
towards the end of June and in about 100 days the flowers are in full bloom
ripe enough to be harvested. Sunflower seeds are primarily used for making
edible oil, though its health benefits when taken whole are well known. Many
nutrients are packed in to this tiny seed making it one of the healthiest foods
in the world, often prescribed as an immune booster and natural anti-oxidant.
The farmers of Sundarapandiapuram have taken to sunflower cultivation only a
decade ago though most of them continue
with the traditional crops of rice, onions, coriander, maize etc. as well.
On our way to the sunflower fields,,Gandhilal stopped our
car by a huge unimpressive rock in the middle of a wide expanse of paddy fields
and water bodies and we were wondering whether to get off or not. But when he told us about the filmy
history of the place we thought it
worthwhile to climb and see what was up
there. Tamil films like Anniyan, Roja, Mudhalvan and Malayalam films such as
Soothradharan and Kalabham were shot here among many others. The song sequence
of “randakka, randakka” was entirely filmed on this rock and
the fields nearby. On some of the big boulders faces of Rajnikant, Kamal Haasan
and MGR were painted and we could see a few youngsters taking selfies with their faded
heroes in the background. More than the rock art, it was the unending fields guarded by rotating windmills and an array
of hillocks on one side and the water bodies with migratory flocks of pelicans,
flamingos and cranes on the other that arrest your attention.
Good food knows no borders. Our friend back in
the city had reminded us about the string of wayside eateries at Shenkottai
famous for their chicken and quail dishes, popularly known as border
chicken named so because truck drivers took a break at the toll gate of yesteryears at the border
between Tamilnadu and Kerala. Being a Sunday all these food joints were open
during lunchtime and were crowded too.
It was around two in the
afternoon that we reached Shenkottai and were ravenous after the five-hour drive. We settled
for Rahmath the most popular Parotta Stall which is a landmark
in the culinary landscape of the junction. There is a saying in Shenkottai that
no matter what time of the day it is you cannot avoid this place even if you
try. Conversations take a back seat here, all are busy gobbling down the soft
chicken legs, the spicy biriyani or the fluffy parottas. There is hardly any time for niceties; you share the
table with strangers, eat, dump the plantain leaf in which you have eaten in
the bin and quickly make way for the dozens waiting for a seat. Like the
sunflower fields and the Courtallam falls,Border Chicken too is an enticing tourist attraction here.
Back at the Resort our
host had already made
arrangements for an evening boating in the Thenmala reservoir followed by the Musical
Fountain and the light and sound show. The Musical Fountain was a bit of a
disaster as the elegantly dancing fountains were totally out of sync with the
blaring popular film songs. The light and sound show was educative about the locally endemic species of the flora and
fauna of Shendurney Wild Life Sanctuary, a unique eco-system with a nomenclature,Freshwater Myristica Swamp
The thing to remember
about a weekend getaway is that most of the fun is inexploring a new place and selecting trails of your taste, away
from the distractions and challenges of everyday life. It doesn’t always have to involve an
expensive, luxurious stay or a tailormade
weekend. Just focus on your
fascinations and then plan around whenever a break is possible. You can make
memories and romance almost anywhere you go.
മരട് ഫ്ലാറ്റ് പ്രശ്നത്തിൽ ആരാണ് കുറ്റക്കാർ.. റിയൽ എസ്റ്റേറ്റ് ഭീമന്മാർ? സർക്കാർ ഏജൻസികൾ? തദ്ദേശ സ്വയംഭരണ സ്ഥാപനങ്ങൾ? ഫ്ലാറ്റ് ഉടമകൾ? ഫ്ലാറ്റ് വാങ്ങാൻ കടം കൊടുത്ത ബാങ്കുകൾ? നീതിന്യായ വ്യവസ്ഥ? മാദ്ധ്യമങ്ങൾ? പൊതു മനസാക്ഷി? ഒരു വിധത്തിൽ പറഞ്ഞാൽ ഇവയെല്ലാം ഉത്തരവാദികളാണ്..ഏറ്റക്കുറച്ചിലുകൾ ഉണ്ടാകുമെന്നു മാത്രം. എങ്കിലും ഒന്നാം പ്രതിയായി പൊതു മനസാക്ഷി (Collective Conscience) തന്നെയാണെന്ന് നിസ്സംശയം പറയാം. സ്വർണ്ണ ചേന തുടങ്ങി സോളാർ പാനൽ വരെ അനർഹമായ ഏതെങ്കിലും ലാഭമുണ്ടെന്നു തോന്നിയാൽ നമ്മൾ അവിടെ ചാടി വീഴും, പൊങ്ങച്ചം നമ്മുക്ക് അലങ്കാരമാണ്, അത് ചൂഷണം ചെയ്യാൻ നമ്മൾ മന്ദബുദ്ധികളെപ്പോലെ നിന്നുകൊടുക്കും, ഫ്ലാറ്റ് വാങ്ങി പൂട്ടിയിടുന്നതും നമുക്കൊരു സുഖമാണ്. വസ്തു കൈമാറ്റം ചെയ്യുമ്പോൾ ആധാരത്തിൽ വിലകുറച്ചു കാണിക്കുക എന്നുള്ളത് ഏതാണ്ട് നാട്ടു നടപ്പാണ്. സ്വന്തം കാര്യം വരുമ്പോൾ മനസാക്ഷി പണയം വയ്ക്കാൻ നമുക്കൊരു മടിയുമില്ല. പുറമെ മേനി നടിക്കുമെങ്കിലും വ്യക്തി ജീവിതത്തിൽ ആർജവവും, സത്യസന്ധതയും ധർമ്മ നീതിയും ഒക്കെ നമുക്കന്യമാണ്. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. അതാണ് നമുക്കില്ലാത്തതും.
പറഞ്ഞു വന്നത് വസ്തു കൈമാറ്റമാണ്. മരട് പ്രശനം ആത്യന്തികമായി നമ്മെ ഓർമ്മിപ്പിക്കുന്നതും വസ്തു കൈമാറ്റത്തിന്റെ ബാലപാഠങ്ങൾ ആണ്. നമ്മുടെ നിയമ വ്യവസ്ഥയുടെ പശ്ചാത്തലം ബ്രിട്ടിഷ് നിയമങ്ങളാണെങ്കിലും അതിന്റെ നല്ല വശങ്ങൾ പലതും ഇന്നും നമുക്കുൾക്കൊള്ളാനായിട്ടില്ല. വളരെ ചെറിയ ഒരു അതിർത്തി പ്രശ്നത്തിൽ ബ്രിട്ടനിലെ ലിവർപൂളിൽ മകൻറെ വീട് കച്ചവടം ഏതാണ്ട് ഒരു വർഷത്തോളം ഉടക്കി നിന്ന് പോയത് എനിക്ക് നേരിട്ട് അറിവുള്ള ഒരു കേസാണ്. വിൽപ്പനക്ക് വച്ച വീടിന്റെ ഒരു വശത്തു അയൽക്കാരൻ തന്റെ കാർ പാർക്കു ചെയ്യുന്ന പതിവുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. മകനാകട്ടെ ആസ്ഥലം തന്റെ വസ്തുവിന്റെ പരിധിയിൽ വരുന്നതാണെന്ന് ഉറപ്പും ഇല്ലായിരുന്നു. സിറ്റി കൌൺസിൽ രേഖകളിൽ ആ സ്ഥലം മകന്റേതു തന്നെയായിരുന്നു. പക്ഷെ അയൽക്കാരൻ നമ്മുടെ നാട്ടിലുള്ളതുപോലെ തന്നെ ഈസ്മെന്റ് അവകാശം ഉന്നയിച്ചു. ഇതാണ് വിൽക്കാൻ തുടങ്ങിയപ്പോൾ പൊല്ലാപ്പായത്. മകൻ അത് വിട്ടുകൊടുക്കാൻ തയാറായെങ്കിലും നിയമോപേദശർക്കു അത് അംഗീകാര്യം അല്ലായിരുന്നു. ഇടപാട് നീണ്ടുപോയെങ്കിലും അവസാനം ഒരു പ്രശ്നങ്ങളുമില്ലാതെ നിയമാനുസരണം തന്നെ പ്രശ്ന പരിഹാരവുമായി.
ഇതിന്റെ പശ്ചാത്തലത്തിൽ ഇംഗ്ലണ്ടിലെ വസ്തു കൈമാറ്റം നമുക്ക് എങ്ങനെയാണ് മാതൃകയാകേണ്ടത് എന്ന് അറിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്നത് നന്നായിരിക്കും. എല്ലാ വസ്തുക്കളുടെയും നടപ്പു വില പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട് അതിന്റെ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തിൽ നിങ്ങളുടെ വസ്തുവിന്റെ വില എസ്റ്റേറ്റ് ഏജന്റ് മുൻകൂട്ടി കാണാക്കാക്കി നിങ്ങൾക്ക് ശരിയായ ഒരു ധാരണ തരും. ഇതിൽ യാതൊരു തട്ടിപ്പിനും ഇടമില്ല. വാങ്ങുന്നയാളും വിൽക്കുന്നയാളും ഈ ഏജന്റിനെ സമീപിക്കുന്നു. അവർ ഇരുകൂട്ടർക്കും സോളിസിറ്ററിനെ യും കൺവേയൻസറിനെയും ഇടപാട് ചെയ്തു തരും. വേണമെങ്കിൽ ഇടപാടുകാർക്ക് സ്വന്തമായും സോളിസിറ്ററിനെ കണ്ടെത്താം. പക്ഷെ എല്ലാ കൈമാറ്റങ്ങൾക്കും മുന്നോടിയായി ഈ നിയമ പരിശോധന അനിവാര്യമാണ്. വസ്തു പലപ്പോഴും മോർട്ടഗേജുകൾ ഉള്ളതാവും അങ്ങനെയെങ്കിൽ മോർട്ടഗേജിന്റെ വിവരങ്ങളും നിയമ പരിശോധനക്ക് വിധേയമാകും. വാങ്ങുന്നയാൾ പുതിയ മോർട്ടഗേജിനു പോകുകയാണെങ്കിൽ ബാങ്കിന്റെ നിയമവിഭാഗവും രേഖകൾ പരിശോധിക്കും. ആരും ആരെയും തട്ടിപ്പിന് ഇരയാക്കുന്നില്ല. നടപടികൾ എല്ലാം സുതാര്യവും വ്യക്തവുമാണ്. അമിത ലാഭം ആർക്കും ഇല്ല, അമിത നഷ്ടവും.
“Whither is fled the visionary gleam Where is it now the glory and the dream?” Wordswoth
One more year has passed. I am one more year older and that’s worrying. It is all the more scary when you are the data centre for not just you alone. As you get older three things happen, the first is that your memory fails and the second and third you can’t remember. But thank God for the blessings that come with aging.
Is there anything that can be said in favour of getting old? Yes. There are many silver linings. Even as mental skills decline with age, the mind gets sharper at a number of other vital abilities. And also people learn to deal with social conflicts more effectively as they grow older. Negative emotions like sadness, anger etc. become less pronounced in old age than in those drama-filled younger years.
Though the year was stormy for the world outside with Trump-Kim Jong un standoff with their thumps on the nuclear buttons, Teresa May’s Brexit, and back home unprecedented floods and the Sabarimala crisis, it was mostly uneventful and leisurely for us. During March we had a much laid back and unhurried trip to Vietnam and Cambodia taking the countries, its sights and sounds at our own pace. Though one has to spend a little extra it is better to make travel plans on your own than joining those hectic group tours. September brought with it some additional responsibilities which I consider as my tithe of time to the faith I uphold.
We were fortunate to be with our son’s family in UK during October/November when the English countryside was a riot of colour with Autumn in all its beauty. The thrill of the trip was latching on to Jason, our grandson, during his Halloween rounds in the neighbourhood. There is nothing like meeting up with old acquaintances and a surprise rendezvous always adds spice to an otherwise dull routine. November was generous that way too.
I do only the back seat driving since quite sometime while going on long road trips. But then, I wanted to prove that I can take on the wheels as of old. This month I drove about 700 kilometres(in two days) that gave an excellent opportunity to tone up my driving skills and the mayhem on the roads taught enough patience too.
But still your overall pace slows down, your golf drives do not get that far, your memory fails more often, your body finds it tough to keep pace with the mind and attention becomes disconnected from perception.
“The things which I have seen I now can see no more”
2017 (Facebook post of December 2017)
The year that has just a few more hours to go has been kind to us in more than one way. It closed many chapters and opened new ones. Many things that we were looking forward have come through this year that included Jaisy’s retirement after a long stint in the medical profession, a holiday in the US and a resident Ayurvedic restoration therapy towards the closing days. The very fag end found Jaisy reinventing her one-time passion for sketching and painting taking lessons from a skilled teacher young enough to be her student. Golfing continued to be my main getaway and travel taught us to appreciate the little things you have and the things you never realized you did. Yes, indeed travel opens up your eyes, your world and of course your heart. Feeling relieved that we did not insist on staying longer than necessary at one stage so that we do not lose the thrill of other stages awaiting us. “Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished” (Paulo Coelho). As St.Paul said “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”…
2016 (Facebook post of December 2016)
The year 2016 has taken us personally through good times and tough times. As Dickens would put it perhaps it was an year of belief as well as incredulity, a season of light and season of darkness. Though a believer all through, the year had more than its fair share of troubled times triggering bouts of loss of faith. That’s ok as I’m in glorious company of our very own apostle St.Thomas who had doubts on the risen Lord. Again when things fall in places I’m back to my stubborn faith“The lark’s on the wingThe snail’s on the thornGod’s in His heaven And all is right with the world.”Ironically troubles of life make you both a believer and agnostic at the same time. You ask questions like “what on earth I am here for?” (even after reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life) and in the same breath will not hesitate to make all kinds of vows, Friday fasting, charity donations, pilgrimages and what not. That’s how we put on our religious robes for the faith journey to the land where Jesus lived and died. In spite of both Jaisy and me going far and wide across the globe, the guilt trip of not visiting Holy Land was weighing heavily on us for quite some time. March found us in Mount Sinai, Nazareth, Galilee, Jericho, Bethlehem and Golgotha and lo and behold it was indeed an occasion for reaffirmation of faith. Faith often begins where reason ends….”hidden from the wise and the learned but revealed to infants”. Kneel down like a child and your are healed. June saw the second bereavement in the household since we moved over to the present house in1992. As my daughter has scripted about her grandfather “he has left nothing unsaid”, a true military man till his last breath. The September trip to Rameshwaram, Dhanushkodi was rewarding in more than one way…the long drive through the parched Ramnathapuram District, the rail-road sea bridge to Rameswaram island and the ghost town of Dhanushkodi reminding one of the ephemerality of human nature. The year end took us to England and the winter was too unkind perhaps to make you understand Shakespeare better.“Blow, blow, thou winter wind Thou art not so unkind As man’s ingratitude; Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen, Although thy breath be rude.” Golf took the back burner this year as I wasted more time on social media…fighting against fears which are of no concern to me. Jaisy and me are planning many more journeys in the years to come, if health permits. Unfortunately time seems to go faster as you grow older.
How many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and high school that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I’m sure you didn’t. Me neither.
After a long gap of 54 years I am back to school, neither as a student nor as a teacher but as part of the management. In this half century the concept, approach, and process of education has undergone a sea change. Gone are the days when students walked longways to schools through country roads and fields in small groups, getting caned by teachers for reaching late, and sending children for tuitions /coaching was never an idea to parents. Till upper primary I attended government schools near my house but high school education was at a boys’ school run by the Catholic Church, two to three kilometers away. We walked all the way and on return stopped by the play ground for a game of football barefooted after keeping our bundled books and the tiffin box tightly held together by a thick rubber band along with the chappals, near the goal post, reaching home late invariably. We could wear any clothes we wanted as there was no uniform, and our footwear was mostly the thin hawai slippers. There was hardly anyone who were dropped off in cars or even two wheelers – almost everyone walked to school and back. We never knew the religion or caste of our friends, never bothered about the colour of their skin – it was just the way we were, the sap of life slowly rising up in our slim bodies.
I was lucky to be taught by some very memorable teachers. K.V.Chacko, my class teacher in 8th(for us Fourth Form) at the beginning itself had declared a prize for the best performing student which will be announced after the annual examinations. He kept his word by religiously keeping a full record of all our test scores of the year and on the first day of the reopening day itself declared the final rankings where I stood first and that was the first ever recognition I received in my academic life. There I learnt the first life lesson too – perseverance pays and there are teachers who are fair and square with no manipulation or favouritism. School was all drab and dreary with some delightful intermissions of language classes that I enjoyed. All the teachers were middle aged males and those were days when school teaching as a professional role for men was highly regarded unlike today. There was hardly any training in public speaking, debating, communication skills or value education. Perhaps that was true of every run of the mill school those days. How many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and high school that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I’m sure you didn’t. Me neither.
Though there were some scholarship examinations as you go along, SSLC (for me it was the 11th year of school, though for some with us, it was 10th)was the ultimate touchstone of brilliance. We (the 1964 SSLC batch) were guinea pigs for many academic experiments. Till then examinations were descriptive and with us the pattern changed to multiple options, one word answers and short questions.Two batches of students were clubbed together to introduce ten plus two pattern. One year course of Pre-University was abolished and in came the Pre-Degree where one had to choose his group of optionals – Physics/ Chemistry/Mathematics(1st Group), Biology/Physics/Chemistry (2nd Group), and the Humanities (3rd Group). I was a resolute and introverted lad(but for my football) at school and had taken SSLC as a challenge always in competition with James and Chandrasekharan my arch rivals in every examination.My SSLC book, especially the marks of General Science and Mathematics, made my parents think that I am born to be a doctor. Though I feebly argued for Humanities group for Pre-Degree, it was arbitrarily pushed aside citing my excellent marks in Science and Maths, though I told them that scoring marks has nothing to do with one’s ultimate interests. Should parents make their children‘s decisions? May be it depends on what and when they should allow kids to make their own decisions? Child rights were unknown then.Now my nine year old grandson jokingly hints at the “irresponsibility” of his parents, silently eloquent about his right to leisure and recreation.
In Kerala SSLC and Pre-Degree slowly gave way to ICSE and CBSE. There are even schools right herewith international syllabi like International Baccalaureate,Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations. Private schools sprang up like mushrooms dotting the entire geography of Kerala. Properly(and improperly) dressed children in uniforms with necktie, shoes and expensive school bags are a common sight everywhere. How can we tell a good school from a bad one? This really starts at the human level, but that’s a broader issue. Some institutions have made their mark, where the pupils, the teaching staff, the cleaning staff and the local community keep the school in high regard. What are the USPs of these institutions? Could be the excellent infrastructure, the enlightened managements, the values they hold on to, the well-educated parents, the dedicated faculty, the bright students and above all the X factor. Unlike olden days now students are neatly attired, dropped off in posh cars or by the school bus, picked up by parents either from the school or from the bus points,well-stocked canteens to cater as per taste with excellent opportunities to develop curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular talents.
Let us educate our children to become responsible citizens, respect their surroundings and to tread lightly on the Earth. And above all make them aware of their rights – right to good education, right to good parentage, right to good environment and righto express themselves…..something unheard of in our school days. And let us not forgetparents are the best teachers
(The trek was in 2006 and the piece was published in Destination Kerala in the same year and later in Deccan Chronicle)
For a long time I was looking for a small cohesive group for this long cherished but much postponed trek to Agasthykoodam. Unless the fellow travelers are on the same wavelength I was sure that the three days of an otherwise heady trek to the second highest peak in Kerala, will turn disastrous. Finally two veteran journalists and two young executives of varied interests made the team perfect. Agasthykoodam is a legendary herbal mountain located 60 Kms North East of Trivandrum on the southernmost tip of the Sahya ranges. A journey to Agasthyakoodam, believed to be the abode of sage Agasthya, is a way to rejuvenate your body and soul. While it is a spiritual quest for some, for others it is a close encounter with nature at her pristine best.
We got the clearance from the Forest Department without any fuss. They had gone an extra mile in providing us with the assistance of two armed guards throughout our trek. In addition we availed the paid services of three other helpers from the local Eco Development Committee for carrying our provisions and cook for us for the next three days in the forest. The journey of around 30 km was carried out in two phases, starting from Bonacaud a sleepy tea county now in disarray. The tea estates are abandoned by the owners and the plantation workers have turned to either eco- tourism or illicit brewing for a living.To preserve the rich flora and fauna of Agasthyamala and the surrounding areas covering around 1025square kms, Agasthya Vanam Biological Park was established in 1992. The intention was to restore the degraded forests and restoring plant life. So you will get to see a large number of rare trees and exotic colorful orchids. More than two thousand varieties of rare herbs of medicinal value can be found here. Eighty percent of the plant species here are said to be unique to this region. No wonder Agasthyakoodam and its surrounding Western Ghats, constitute a complete ecosystem of bio-diversity.
We started early morning. The first phase of trekking was mainly through the plain forests and so not too strenuous. The sunrise among the hills and the trees was a glorious sight. After the first few miles we entered the dazzling grasslands dotted with trees, a welcome sight for our city-weary eyes. The elephant grass, at certain places, was as tall as ourselves and soon we realized that we should have worn full sleeves to escape their sharp blades. On the way we had to cross endless streams but the real challenges were Neyyar, Karamanayar and Vazhappinthiyar where we had to hop from rock to rock through the river bed or form a human chain to keep balance. And then there were the hills so steep that the forehead will touch the knees as you climb up and the cooling waterfalls to recharge your exhausted body and soul.
In the deep forest we met a tribal (Kani), with his companion dog, collecting herbs. He identified for us the famous herbs “Arogyapacha” “Chakkarakolli” and “Kallurukki” proven antidotes for debilitating diseases, diabetes and urinary calculus. But visitors be careful, as you are not allowed to take away any of the herbs or other forest produce. On the other hand the tribals seem to have a right for collection, may be on the confidence that they don’t exploit nature like the greedy outsider. I was told that there is a weekly market called “kanichantha” at Kottur near Vithura where the tribals sell their forest produce.
By late afternoon we reached Athirumala where there is an unmanned wireless station in a dilapidated building surrounded by a moat to dodge wild animals. Though there was a statutory warning exhibited on the building indicating its perilous condition we had no other alternative to spend the night. From Athirumala the towering summit and the surrounding mountains bathed in moonlight is a breathtaking sight. Our helpers cooked food for the night and we celebrated the evening with campfire and “Cholkazhcha” (poetry recital) from the works of Kadammanitta, Ayyappa Panicker and to top it all Agasthyahridayam of Prof.V.Madhusoodanan Nair.
The climb to the summit began early next day. It is a strenuous stretch where every step is an effort and some times one has to use all the four limbs. At one or two places there are ropes tied to huge nails driven into rocks to prop the climbers. But the efforts are amply compensated by every glance that reveals a new scene of the sweeping scenery of the mighty Sahya ranges. As one climbs the remaining stretch of the steep rocky heights, the beautiful Sahyadri panorama hosts a feast for your eyes.
Pongalappara is a halt before you reach the summit and many devotees do a ritual ‘pongala’ here. At Pongalappara we came across people coming from Tamilnadu trekking through Papanasam and Ambasamudram. In fact the eastern slope of Agasthymala stretches to Tirunelveli and the southern side to Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu.
Finally the summit; at 1868 m above sea level we were walking above the clouds soaked in the ambience as time flies. There is a large sculpture of Sage Agasthya installed by Swami Vishnudevananda in the recent past. We were atop the mountain revered by both Buddhists and Hindus, believed to be the abode of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara as well as of the sage Agastya, a disciple of Shiva, the mythical place referred in the Tamil Sangam literature as Potalaka.
Rather reluctantly we began our trek downhill. Pechippara Dam, Tirunelveli town and Ambasamudram were clearly visible from many places. On the way down our mobiles started ringing reminding us that once again we were in the range of civilization.
How to reach Agasthyakoodam: The nearest railway station as well as airport is Tiruvananthapuram and Agasthyakoodam is located at a distance of about 80 km by road. Once you reach Tiruvananthapuram, you can avail of any local means of transportation like buses and taxis to reach Bonacaud from where the trekking starts. Forest Department gives permission to visit Agasthyakoodam only during December to April and the passes are limited.