Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

Not so often I am away from blogs. As regular bloggers would admit, this online journal stuff can get addictive. The maximum duration I can stay away from blogs without any adverse effect is a week. It’s mostly more important and immediate work that keeps me away from weblogs. But, before long, the urge to find some time to blog becomes compulsive.

Last week, Mr Henry Whitfield was back with us. He is a family friend of ours who first came to India from the UK in 1968, and has been coming back quite frequently; one, to pursue his passion of climbing mountains in the Himalayan region and two, to see — not the glitzy side of India’s development but — the heritage and traditional features of the country. One of his interests is rocks and minerals.

He is easily one of my best and closest friends, for one simple reason: his attitude and approach to life, the amazing realistic view he has to everyday situations; his ability to soak in and enjoy the precious moments that life has to offer. That’s possible for him because he has loads of patience and he is in no hurry to flee the present to some unknown future.

On 25th, he reached Bangalore by the Rajdhani Express around 8.30 am, some 2 hours behind schedule. As we drove into the city, his initial comments were that traffic in Bangalore was much more organised and less chaotic than in Delhi. But the next day, Friday, his impressions changed. He discovered how it had deteriorated since the last time he was in the city a year back. We got caught in a awful jam for more than half and hour near the Ulsoor Lake. We abandoned plans to see a few places of interest and instead decided to get to shopping right away.

On Saturday, in the afternoon he made a trip to Lal Bagh alone. But it ended some disappointment: a plant that he bought from the nursery there got badly squashed in the crowded BMTC bus. In fact it was meant to be an addition to our little garden at home, but he was so upset at the way the plant got damaged in the crowd, he just dumped it by the way side. We felt quite bad about it. “It’s okay, I must understand that such things do happen, and it’s by no means the end of the world,” is what he said about the incident.

On Sunday Mr Whitfield was at the at the get-together of the alumni of Sainik School, Kazhakootam. He had taught chemistry in the school from 1968 to 1971 along with my father. In a short speech there he said how important it was for all of us to get into a routine that’s different from the usual one. “When I am back in the UK, I follow a particular routine. When I come to India, when I am at the foothills of the Himalayas, when I am climbing the mountains, when I am touring places, I follow a very different routine. It’s refreshing as much as it is educative. Such occasional changes from the normal, helps us widen our perspective.” A very profound thought.

On Monday, around 8.30 am we set off to Kolar, some 70 km east towards Chennai. The small town is known for the gold fields, which are now shut down. It was Mr Whitfield’s interest in rocks and minerals that prompted this visit. He was quite curious about the KGF, the geology of the area, the methods used to extract gold, the reasons why such a successful mine has now been closed down. He said a number of mines back in the UK had shut down simply because they ran out of the minerals and ores. We were very lucky to meet an engineer, Mr K M Diwakaran, who was very optimistic about the future. He is the president of the Bharat Gold Mines All Employees Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd that’s involved in efforts to revive the mines. His estimate is that in a year employees would be recruited and mines would reopen.

A section of the dysfunctional mine.

Another view of the mine.

Kolar Gold Fields is said to be one of the oldest mines in the world, though the modern history begins with the systematic mining by the English firm John Taylor and Sons in 1880. One of the first hydro-electric projects in Asia was built in 1902 to provide power to the mines. The Mysore government took over the mines in 1956, the government of India took over in 1962 and the mines closed down in 2003.

We visited the a portion of the mine and the mill tailing dumps called the cyanide dumps, because of the cyanide content. These expansive elevated plains of deposits are nothing but the mining waste and have accumulated over the years. The dumps which have in them gold worth crores themselves provide gold extraction work for so many years. At some places it rises to up to 30 meters. From the top one gets a good view of the town. It’s a scenic area and not surprisingly many movie shootings have taken place there. We understood that the mines closed down because of a variety of factors: lack of far-sightedness on part of the authorities, poor management methods, and the bureaucratic lethargy many public sector firms in India have become victims of.

A section of the vast cyanide dump.

Mr Whitfield, who has a keen interest in rocks and minerals, examines a piece from the dump.

On the way to the top of the dump.
A view from the top.

Kolar has plenty of interesting places to visit. Just heard about them, didn’t get time to visit. However, one wonders, why these places aren’t developed into tourist centres. For a huge country like India, the tourism potential is wasted untapped.

On our way back, at a spot some 35 km before K R Puram, we saw a large nursery, from where Mr Whitfield finally bought a plant, that bears bright reddish yellow flowers. The next day, Tuesday, we had lunch at the Tamarind Restaurant on the Ring Road near the Ramamurthy Nagar junction. “The ambiance is very pleasant. I must say this is one of the best hotels I have come across in India, and it gives, what we call, good value for money.”

After the lunch, we headed to the railway station to book his reservation for onward journey to Pune. He is going there with the hope that he would be able to see a quarry (quite unlikely since one needs to get permission, which he felt may not be easy) or at least meet someone who deals in minerals. I am yet to hear from him. Hope he has had some luck! He got a berth in the foreign tourist quota in the Udyan Express for Wednesday.

From the railway station we headed to the Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). He found the spiritual and tourist side to the place quite innovative and was quite skeptical if a similar thing was possible back in his country. He felt Iskcon has been able to combine both remarkably well.

I spent a lot of time talking to Mr Whitfield: our likes, our prejudices, our cities, our nations, the world we live in, the leaders, heroes, and villains. He has the typical British understatement, and of course, what makes conversations interesting are the insights he brings into a subject.

I asked him what brings him back to India over and over again. “One, obviously the mountains and the nature in general,” he says immediately. “It’s remarkable to be in the midst of people who are extremely calm; Indians patiently work around situations that are very difficult, hardships that we in the West aren’t used to… I must say trees are a refreshing sight in Bangalore. Roads in Delhi are broader but the city isn’t as green as Bangalore. I’m sure the roads here will get better the next time I’m here.”



Last year’s visit by Mr Whitfield:

Friend from Britain
Business at Sangam
The Gumbaz

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I doubt if Sanjay Dutt himself approves of the campaign by a Bollywood section and some of his fans against the six-year jail term he is undergoing for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts.

The conviction and sentencing were the culmination of a well-acknowledged judicial process and have to be accorded the respect it richly deserves. Bollywood isn’t so deprived that it would collapse if Sanju is away for a few years. I’m sure when he is back, his reputation will be much higher than it has ever been.

Munnabhai should see what good can be achieved for himself, for the prison system and for the society at large through his tenure in jail. For example, one focus area could be greater emphasis on community service by prisoners. It’s a much undervalued aspect of imprisonment.

Let’s leave Munna alone to his wisdom. He can take care of himself.

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This is one celebrity verdict the nation wouldn’t forget so fast.

The arrest, 14-year trial and coviction in the 1993 Mumbai blast case has been a humiliation and a punishment for Sanjay Dutt. A mistake is a mistake. The smallness or bigness of it is relative, subjective.

There is a lesson here that shouldn’t be missed: It’sn’t worth getting on the wrong side of law, not even for some time. The law will catch up sooner or later. That it hasn’t caught up with some (many criminals) is no justification that it shouldn’t catch up with the others.

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A glorious period in world cinema has ended. Though in his 80s, he continued to cast a spell with his directorial genius. A few years back he was in news for the hugely successful teleserial Saraband.

His movies are a must-see for mass communication students in general and film students in particular. Not without reason: his ability to convey with huge impact deep emotions was extraordinary. His movies are a permanent fixture in most film festivals.

Three Oscars out of 9 nominations; over 40 directorial ventures in a career spanning over 60 years is no mean achievement.

One reason I like Bergman movies is because many of them have the common theme of human relationships. Aspirations have a way of bonding lives. The twists and turns these lives endure play their own angelic or deathly roles.

Bergman movies have intense impacts. Through a glass darkly, for example, is a haunting medical movie.

Bergman is not around, but his movies will live on forever.

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Witch hunt, the dark underside of India’s development thesis, will be captured on celluloid by Sydney-based director-cinematographer Simon Kurian.

(In the photo: Ismail Merchant ( standing), Simon Kurian (sitting), Madhur Jaffery (sitting) and in the background (standing) looking on is the Producer Richard Hawley.)

Set in contemporary India, the movie examines the widespread practice wherein women are abused, persecuted, exiled or killed. In mainly superstitious tribal societies of north India, witches are blamed for drought, floods, a stroke of bad luck, or ill-health. But some sociologists say the superstition is only a convenient excuse to harass women.

“The Witch Hunt is a dark and dramatic tale, of the unequal battles that are often fought in the Indian landscape unnoticed by most and ignored by many,” says Simon Kurian who has co-written the script with his wife Geethanjali.

“The story is based on true events, which Simon researched and developed over 10 years, after travelling to northern India and at one point living for several weeks with the tribals who are trapped in this practice,” says Geethanjali. “Over the years we have continued to follow the stories. A decade has passed, but our story remains as tragically relevant as it did when Simon first began researching the subject. Simon and I wrote the screenplay based on the diary he had written during his research.”

The film will be released internationally with part of the proceeds going towards the rehabilitation of women who have been victims of witch hunts. “For us this is not just a feature film, it is a cause to which we are deeply committed and we hope through the film to bring it to light and force people to sit up and take notice and do something concrete and sustainable to support the victims and also to stamp out the practice once and for all,” says Geethanjali.

The film was originally to be produced by Ismail Merchant and will now be dedicated to his memory. Merchant died in 2005. “It was Ismail and James Ivory to whom I first gave the screenplay to read. They both loved the script and Ismail asked me in 2003 whether he could produce it. He remained deeply committed to the project ever since he read it,” says Kurian

With a cast of prominent Indian and western actors, the key crew for the bilingual (English- Hindi) film will be drawn from Europe, and India and it will be post-produced in Sydney. “Casting will commence in India shortly,” said Kurian. “This is a film that requires committed performances from actors who can understand the cause behind the story and elevate the roles with the empathy that can convey a harsh issue in an uncompromising and real way.”

Simon has been associated with Merchant Ivory ever since he assisted Ismail on his film ‘Cotton Mary’ which was filmed on location in Kochi; they went on to become close friends. Simon, who is originally from Kerala, has been making films for international television since eighties; his credits include films for BBC Television and Channel 4 UK.

(Published in Sunday Times of India, Bangalore on May 27, 2007)

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Dr John Daniel is a good friend of mine and lives in Bangalore. The most striking aspect about him is his affable demeanour and contagious sense of humour. He spends time reading and writing, besides of course watching TV and keeping up with current affairs.

He doesn’t practise now, but has a keen eye on matters of health. He has authored a wonderful book: Doctor At Home, along with his wife Dr Jagjit Daniel. Though, naturally, it is not a substitute to an actual doctor at home, it comes very close to it; because, it answers a number of doubts we all have on health and fitness. It has a lot of tips and advices, and has been written keeping in mind the Indian medical scenario.

More on the book later. Before that, a little about a new passion he has just discovered. During the past few months, Dr Daniel has been exploring the new communication-publishing medium of weblog. Yesterday, he called me up to say that his blog is now up and running. Keep in touch with him at Funnylines.

Back to Doctor at Home.

May be you can call it the R-DEL approach: Right diet, right exercise, right lifestyle. Dr Daniel says if these three aspects are taken care of, 80 per cent of illnesses can be avoided. The book gives lots of interesting tips:

Diet: We are all hung upon calories, are we not? Dr Daniel says a healthy diet is more about eating right kind of food in right quantities. Those who are on weight-reducing diet should take lesser calories than what the body spends daily. If you check your weight over a week or two, you will know if the calorie intake is less, unchanged or excess, says Dr Daniel.

Exercise: What counts is not the amount of exercise but the regularity. Jog or walk briskly or just walk; or exercise in gym or play tennis — but never overexert, says the doctor, because it is harmful. Any exercise, should involve deep breathing that pushes heart and lungs to work harder; for, that is the key to raising total body fitness.

Lifestyle: It’s defined as the general pattern of attitudes and behaviour you adopt through life, involving different aspects of living. A healthy lifestyle includes right diet and right exercise. Besides, it comprises proper immunization, hygiene, moderation and avoiding addictions, relaxation, closeness of family and shared love, regular medical check-ups, early treatment and safety precautions, says the doctor.

Your rights: Dr Daniel says patients should be aware of their responsibilities and rights. Doctors work under pressure in crowded hospitals under hectic schedules. So patients must cooperate with them. Patients should also make clear to the doctor that they would like an open, frank discussion before important steps are taken.

Dr Daniel says few people in our country are aware of their rights as patients. For good treatment, patients need to be informed about planned steps, to have their views heard and doubts cleared, and — if they wish and if their condition permits — to seek other opinions, says Dr Daniel.

First aid: It can often make a difference between life and death. Emergencies like chest pain, choking on food, fracture and head injuries can occur at any time in any family. Instead of throwing one’s hand up, at least one person in the family should be aware of first aid. Dr Daniel says first aid is so important that hospitals and NGOs should organise classes for the public.


“The earlier cancer is detected the better the chances of cure. The essential objective is not to ignore anything that is abnormal that happens in your body, particularly a growth, and wait for it to go away.”

“Plan your diet. Take plenty of (but not excess) of wheat, rice, vegetables and fruits. Take modest amounts of milk and milk products. Use minimum quantity of sugar and salt. Limit oil and other forms of fat, but using the unsaturated variety.”

(The above is an extract from my review of the book in The Times of India, Bangalore.)

— Review of the book in The Hindu, in Deccan Herald, and in Hindu Businessline
— Order the book from Indiatimes Shopping.

Doctor At Home by Dr John Daniel and Dr Jagjit Daniel is published by EastWest Books (Madras) Pvt Ltd, 571, P H Road, Aminjikarai, Chennai, 600029; 270 pages; Price Rs 275.

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Fountain pen in hand, Duong Van Ngo sits near the post office in Ho Chi Minh City waiting for his next job. He is the last public letter writer of Saigon.

A polyglot, he bridges different worlds — connecting people across the planet with his fountain pen. His profession may be dying, but in his 60 years on the job, he has created many marriages ….. — More in Spiegel magazine

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It’s difficult, sometimes, not to notice a sad coincidence. Within a couple of days of Sham Lal’s passing away, another legend, P Bhaskaran, has bid goodbye for ever. Both were icons in their respective fields: journalism and cinematography. In Kerala, one whole generation grew up listening and humming the songs Bhaskaran penned; lyrics which hid within them ideas that struggled to break free in a society shackled by parochial taboos.

Neelakuyil, made in 1954, was a landmark in Malayalam cinematography. P Bhaskaran not only penned the songs, he, along with Ramu Karyat, directed it. The movie was based on a story written by Uroob. The movie, the first Malayalam movie to be shot outdoors, also won the President’s medal. The movie also had launched Sathyan, another great Malayalam actor.

Incidentally, Sashikumar, the well-known TV personality, and currently with the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, is Bhaskaran’s son-in-law.

Photo credit: The Hindu

Obituary in Malayala Manorama

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Sham Lal, who passed away yesterday, belonged to a different strand of journalism. He illustrated that journalism is not just about reporting news. Journalism, as a social subject of mass communication, is also a lot about the message, how it’s conceived, crafted, delivered and pondered over. It’s as much about the language as about the content. He was a great literary critic. Not many have combined so well literature and journalism. My first exposure to Sham Lal’s writings was when I used to go through The Times of India’s issues at the Trivandrum Press Club, while I was doing my MCJ in Kerala University. The column ‘Life and Letters’ was a must read. A collections of his pieces is available as ‘A Hundred Encounters’. There is something about his style that is addictive. International affairs is my favourite, and among the most memorable of his writings are on the collapse of the Soviet Union and East European countries. (Photo credit: The Hindu)

The Times of India paid tribute to this great journalist with a special Edit Page today: Homage to Sham Lal.
Leader article: Above the Fray by Dileep Padgaonkar
In a Jungle of Theories, by Sham Lal
Life of Letters, Tribute by Ian Jack, Editor, Granta

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Though it was known that Art Buchwald was ailing, the news of his passing away yesterday was a shock. His syndicated column, The Hindu used to carry, was a must-read for me during school days, on the recommendation of my English teacher Mr Prem C Nair. Not all this articles were set in the Washington political context; many were based on international politics, and it was easy to relate to the topic.

Buchwald made people laugh, but he had a such a tragic childhood. His mother was mentally unstable, he lived a number of years in orphanages. Probably, the sense of humour was a protection against the hardship of life.

Even when he suffered heart attack, had his leg amputated, suffered kidney failure, he never lost his sense of humour. He even confronted death the same way. He preferred to court death, stopped dialysis, and moved into a hospice.

People came calling, probably thinking that it would be last meeting. But he announced to them that in the hospice that he was having a whale of time. And, in what he describes as a medical mystery, he recovered, and moved out, alive!

He has been an inspiration on how one should look at life. “The world is a satire. All you are doing is recording it,” he said once.

Here are some of his gems:

  • The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.
  • Just when you think there’s nothing to write about, Nixon says, “I am not a crook.” Jimmy Carter says, “I have lusted after women in my heart.” President Reagan says, “I have just taken a urinalysis test, and I am not on dope.
  • Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.
  • Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.
  • We seem to be going through a period of nostalgia, and everyone seems to think yesterday was better than today. I don’t think it was, and I would advise you not to wait ten years before admitting today was great. If you’re hung up on nostalgia, pretend today is yesterday and just go out and have one hell of a time.
  • We’ll miss you, Art. Rest In Peace. (Obit on New York Times)

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