Meeting MohanLal

 

Being a Malayalee, an avid film buff and part of a generation that had grown up watching best of Malayalam cinema where the Padmarajans, Bharatans and M.T Vasudevan Nairs used to rule the Industry, I did not hesitate when my cousin brother called up and asked to pack the bag to Pondicherry. The only reason was Lt Col.Mohanlal was shooting at Pondy for his latest film ‘Angel John’. Mohan Lal was lucky enough to portray so many evergreen characters made by the above said Legends of Malayalam cinema.

The opportunity to meet him came in the form of a cousin of ours, Saseendra Varma who happened to be co producer of the film. We knew that it was a rare opportunity and we left Chennai.

The shooting was in progress by the time we reached Pondy.

Shooting was boring except for Lalettan’s presence 🙂  As we sat opposite to Lalettan, like a kaleidoscope, various characters potrayed by Lalettan came to my mind. Jayakrishnan in ‘Thoovanathumbikal’, Doctor Ram Das in ‘Amrutham Gamaya’, Solomon in ’Namukku parkkan munthiri thoppukal’ to name a few.In front of me, just a couple of yards away, was sitting the man who has been ruling the Malayalam cinema for past three and half decades!

After a while my cousin introduced us to Lalettan, I had the script of ‘Padamudra’,a film released in 1988 which won him best actor(Kerala film critics) award, Special Jury (State award) and The Filmfare.

He was surprised to see the book and asked whether I liked the film. He wrote ‘With Love Mohanlal’. We discussed about the film he had acted way back in 1984 (Akkare)based on my dad’s story.

Sitting there I noticed that throughout the shoot Lalettan was active, talking to almost all the technicians, giving tips to co stars. So involved and dedicated to his work. In between talking and posing for pictures with the fans, ever smiling, no wonder he is a Legend I thought.

It was almost 11:00 p.m and my brother said he had never imagined sitting in the middle of one of the main roads in Pondy at midnight and having tea. I thought all this only for a man, Lt Col Padmasri Bharat Mohanlal and there he was getting ready for the next shot.

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Dabbawalas Of Mumbai

One of the very interesting talk at  TEDxSSN  was of Dr, Pawan Agarwal, CEO of Dabbawalas of Mumbai. Dabbawalas, meaning “person with a box”). Now what Dabbawalas does is they collect freshly cooked food for lunch from the residences of the office workers and deliver it to their respective workplaces and return back the empty boxes by using various modes of transport. The reason behind why these office goers not carrying their lunch is that during peak hours it is very difficult to even travel in suburban trains, forget about the lunch boxes.

120 Years, 0 attrition!

The system started more than 120 years. Most of the Dabbawalas are illiterate. They segregate and carry out the activities based on various colour codes and make sure that there is no error and each one receives their lunch. The error rate is astonishing in the case of Dabbawala, one error in sixty million transactions. The education level of the Dabbawalas makes it more special.

Some interesting facts about Dabbawalas!

  • Dabbawalas are not employees but each one of them is an entrepreneur and are shareholders in the Dabbawalas trust.
  • They earn Rs 4000 per month.
  • One Dabbawala carries around 40 Dabbas, almost 60 kgs and cover a distance of 70 Sq. Km in and around Mumbai
  • They on a daily basis carry out 400,000 transactions.
  • During their 120 years of existence not a single customer complaint has been raised and not a single person left the group, that is Zero attrition in the last 120 years.
  • Dabbawala is the only group to get six sigma without applying for it.

Customer is far bigger king than Prince of Wales!

 ‘Dabbawalas’ were one of the only three guests from India invited for Prince Charles wedding. When he visited India and showed interest in meeting the ‘Dabbawalas’ team, he was asked to plan his trip in accordance with ‘Dabbawalas’ rest time and asked to come to place where they meet for mid day .

 

 

The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. The local Dabbawalas and population know each other well, and often form bonds of trust. That’s the reason why they are so successful and trustworthy.

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Mysore Sandal’s Sir M V 100 Agarbathies

Mysore Sandal’s Sir M.V.100 Agarbathies

During my usual grocery shopping at the nearby store, I happened to see this interesting pack, written as Mysore Sandal Sir M V 100 Agarbathies. A detailed look revealed that this special pack was a tribute to the genius engineer Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, popularly known as Sir MV.  The brand is owned by world famous  Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited, (KSDL) which makes Mysore Sandal Soaps. KSDL is World’s largest producer of Sandalwood oil.

 

 

SIR MV.

Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, popularly known as Sir MV  was an engineer, scholar, statesman and the Diwan of Mysore from 1912 to 1918. He is a recipient of the Indian highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna and was knighted by the British. His birthday day , 15 September is celebrated as Engineer’s Day. He was the chief engineer responsible for the construction of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam in Mysore as well as the chief designer of the flood protection system for the city of Hyderabad.

SIR MV is truly a Bharat Ratna and this is a great tribute by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited.

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Chettinad Mansion: Reminiscence of a Glorious Past

On the Rameshwaram road, barely a kilometer from the Devakottai bus terminus, towards Rameshwaram, one can hardly miss this huge majestic mansion that’s standing on the roadside. Officially named RM.M.ST.House, this mansion, as so many other mansions you come across in Devakottai is the testimony of the rich cultural heritage of Chettinad and Nattukottai or Nagarathar Chettiars.

Chettinad and Devakottai

 Devakottai, is one of the biggest towns of the Chettiar community. Chettiars originally from Kaveripoompattinam, migrated to Karaikudi and nearby areas of present Sivaganga district. Later this region came to known as Chettinad region and Karaikudi became the capital of Chettinad, the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars. The Chettiars were a prosperous banking and business community, having very rich cultural heritage, known for their philanthropy; building temples and schools, and maintaining them throughout India and Asia.

About joint families and mansions

Nattukottai Chettiars had businesses all over the World especially places like Rangoon, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and many other South East nations. Mainly agents used to run the businesses in these countries and Chettiars used to visit once in a while. For the business reasons when the male members of the families used to roam around in different part of the World, people in Chettinad communities used to live as joint families and Chettinad houses are signs of successful joint families. Being a joint family also gave security to all the members and the wealth. Because of this none of the buildings are owned by a single family or a member.

Now as the time and lifestyle changed what used to be an advantage in olden times has become a disadvantage now. 90 percent of the buildings have been either neglected or destroyed as a result of no consensus among the family members, who are now in different part of the World.

Maintaining these mansions, having wide courtyards and spacious rooms have become nearly impossible. Disputes among various family members and not much income to support the renovation work have also fueled the destruction of these wonderful mansions

RM.M.ST. House

RM.M.ST. House: View From The Entrance

The mansion was built by Mr.Vairavan Chettairs, along with two of his cousins. He was a banker, like most of the Nattukottai Chettiars. It took around 3 years to build the mansion and he spent around 2 lakhs. The Chettinad houses are built on a rectangular traversal plot that stretches across two streets, with the front door opening into the first street and the back into the second. A typical Chettinad house will have Mugappu(the entrance of the house), The door leads into Valavu, the living area of the house. The first thing you notice is the Naduvasal, huge open air courtyard. The centre courtyard supply ample light and air and leaving the rest of the house in deep and cool shadow.

The huge Hall

You see pillared Nadai (corridors) running on each side that lead into Valavu veedu( individual rooms), both ottai and Irattai Vidu. (Single and double rooms) connected by a single door, each meant for a married son. Then the four platforms that are called as Pattalai that are on each at four corners of the Valavu. These Pattalai are the living halls of each family. The RM.M.ST. House has 12 Irattai vidu.

When you walk through the Valavu using the corridor you will reach Irandankatu. Irandankatu is used for dining purpose and have store rooms in them for storing all kitchenware. The huge Irandankettu, now just a huge hall once had 8 rooms for storage purposes and 4 separate kitchens along with dining areas. It was almost a 30 member joint family.

Pigeon house on the roof

Normally Chettinad mansions don’t have a bath attached bedrooms on the first floor, but this mansion has several bed rooms on the first floor with attached bathrooms, an ultra modern facility in those days, thanks to ideas from some English friends of Mr. Vairavan Chettiyar. In total there are almost 55 rooms in this mansion, in two floors.

Materials from whole over the World

Glasses from China

The materials used for construction of the mansion have all been procured from different parts of the World. The entire walls were made of Lime, sand and polished with Egg yolk to give smooth texture and it is said that the eggs were imported from Rangoon (Burma). Also the wood used for construction i.e. Teak was all imported from Burma. They had a ship called Padma, wich used to ferry rice from south East Asian countries. The entire wood used for constructing the house and locks were tied to the ship and brought to Devakottai. The Tiles used were from Italy. The mirrors and glass chandeliers were brought from Belgium.

Italian tiles, more than 90 yrs old!

Renovation and beyond

Till 5 years back no one realized the damages happening to the mansion. None of the members bothered to have a look at what was happening on the second floor, once found that the decay has already been on full swing all the cousins decided to renovate the mansion. They pooled the money, spent around 60 lakhs for the much needed renovation work. The idea was to use the mansion for generating revenue.

Belgium Mirror

Two ideas came for discussion. To convert the mansion to a Heritage house, which showcased the lifestyle and culture of Chettinad and the second option was to convert it into a Kalyanamandapam (wedding hall). At last it was decided to rent out the mansion for wedding.

In order to make it ready for renting it out, some more work to be completed. As the present members of the house are staying in different part of Tamil Nadu, renovation and maintenance is at slow pace. We spent almost half a day inside the mansion and at the end Bhaskaran becomes philosophical, any property or assets has its own journey, destiny and a lifecycle. But he is hopeful that one day everyone will realizes the greatness of their rich heritage. An age where an immense portion of the chettiar Mansions are being dismantled and sold in pieces, their families belongings are available in the local antique shops and being shipped across the world, the efforts taken by members of RM.M.ST. House is a welcome sign.

 

Paperman! The Wonderful World of News Papers

Being a journalist, R.Vaidyanathan (retired as Assistant Editor- Sports, The Hindu) was always interested and wanted to collect newspapers. When of one of his friends’ introduced to him rarenewspapers.com, there started an interesting journey of collecting very old and rare newspapers. Vaidyanathan has been collecting rare news papers for the past 10 years and he specializes in Indian History, mainly South Indian. He started collecting newspapers related to Indian Mutiny of 1857 and later Carnatic wars as these two events were recent in history. His interest in History helped him to concentrate more on last days of Mughal Empire. He has papers reporting the Anglo Dutch war of 1760, Aurangazeb’s attack against Sivaji’s son, Sambhaji and ‘the seizure of Goa’. The paper describes in detail the arrangements made by Aurangazeb for the war. His collection includes the National Herald dated 1857, the day the mutiny started, featuring the Portrait of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor. 1858 when the mutiny was suppressed and later, in 1862 when The British Empress seized the Mughal Empire that resulted in sealing the British rule in India. Now he is doing more research to write a paper on the Sepoy Mutiny as it had happened. Lots of scholars and journalists come for reference says Vaidyanathan. He also has the paper featuring Nana Sahib on the cover page. There is a impressive collection of news related to Major General Robert Clive, as his contribution to Madras presidency was innumerable.

So far Vaidyanathan has spent Rs.25, 000 to 30,000 for his collection. The value for a paper depends on the condition, says Vaidyanathan. A non circulated paper, in a very good condition may cost $200-300.

The beginning of News collection

Vaidyanathan shares an interesting story of how collecting of news began. Way back in China, they had a tradition where one person, in a note book would record the various news or events happening in and around his village, once he is done, he would pass on the book to another person in the neighbouring village and that person would in turn continue the same process. The book would travel the entire province, and once filled with news, would return to library where anyone could read and refer it

Authentic papers

Vaidyanathan explains how to find the genuine news paper.” Earlier news papers were printed in Laid papers, a paper made on wire molds that give it a characteristic watermark of close thin lines (10, 12 or 16 lines per inch). The pattern could be seen when one looked through the sheet. Nowadays this technology of printing news papers is no longer in use and nobody can duplicate this. These lines are the proof that the paper is not a duplicate one.

Learn History through News Papers

These news papers show the true picture about the incidents of the past. The reporting was unbiased. Sir James Campbell attaching the Marathas and vice versa were reported with same vigour. How Lord Cornwallis treated the sons of Tipu Sultan. “The best way to learn History is by reading news papers and not through text books, says Vaidyanathan. First, what news papers do is reporting of an incident that happens as it is there for there would not be any bias. Second as in the case of text books or History related books, the events are recorded after so many years and it could be biased.

 Dedication and Passion

The news reporting of yester years were more authentic and there was lots of passion, says Vaidyanathan. He cites some examples from his collection. The special edition celebrating the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 by London Chronicle has a huge six column at picture of The Queen and on the reverse side it is blank so if somebody wanted to frame the picture, you could cut the picture and no news would be lost. Another one being a detailed sketch of the Procession of Queen Victoria during Diamond Jubilee celebration of her coronation. The News Paper appointed an artist, who sat on top of the St Paul’s cathedral and visualise the entire procession. These days nobody takes this much pain but you just take some stock image and print it. Another example shows the level of detailing has gone through while reporting. This being the map of India in Harper’s Weekly, published from New York in 1857. The map is 3D map, where Himalayas were shown as high altitude areas, sea coast are shown with low altitude, in that Calicut is much higher when compared to Chennai. Mumbai and Kolkatta are shown like Islands. His collection also includes the news on invention of motion picture exhibition device, Kinetoscopic picture by Thomas Alva Edison, The copy of Illustrated London News that featured the first official cricket team photo in India when a test match was played in 1864, Jan 5-7 between Madras and Calcutta and Madras won the test match.

Maps, Autographs and Coins

News papers are not the only thing that Vaidyanathan collect. He has an impressive collection of rare maps, autographs of well known personalities and rare coins. His collection of maps includes one from 1862. “In earlier days various crimes were committed for maps as those who were in possession of the maps were the one who knew routes, mainly sea routes”. Another passion being collecting Autographs of people who are first in their fields. Be it the first president and Prime Minister of India, Presidents of United States of America, first woman to go on space or first man to land on moon. Vaidyanathan is also the president of Madras Coin Society, an organisation of coin collectors.

Specialise

So what is the message of Vaidyanathan to people who are passionate about collecting various things? Select a topic and start collecting. Apply the basic principle of research. Everything has a beginning, try to go back to the roots. “For example if one is interested in Films, start collecting from the first film way back in 1892, then go further down, to theatres and you will end up in Rome”. With the advent of internet, it is easy nowadays to collect things, what you require is passion and perseverance.

Sri Lankan Tour: Galle Fort and Talpe

Two places I enjoyed a lot during my visit to Sri Lanka was Galle fort and a place called Talpe, close to 10 kms from Galle.

Talpe Railway Station

Talpe 
The railway station at Talpe reminded me of the one depicted in the famous book ‘Malgudi Days.’  We were the only people to get down at the station. The station master and his pet dog received us, only two souls present at the station. There was interesting wooden time table that had the schedules of the trains that had stopovers. 3 trains stops in a day.

Cantaloupe Aqua resort, Talpe

Talpe has beautiful beach resorts. Clean, no pollution and less crowded. The place is almost like how Kerala was some 20-25 years ago. I stayed at a resort called ‘Cantaloupe Aqua’.

 

Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Galle fort can be defined as Fort Kochi + Extra clean + less crowded + very nice people . The place is very similar to Fort Kochi in Kerala, India. Sea side, lots of shops, pavements, very humid and of course lot of tourists. But they have maintained Galle fort and nearby places very clean.

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Sound Factor: The Sound People Of South Indian Cinema

With two real ‘PULIs’, Vishnu Govind and Sree Sankar of Sound Factor, leading sound designers in south India. Their notable works are Pizza, Neram, Premam, Soodhu kavvum, Jigarthanda, Oppam, Kali, Take Off to name a few. Within a very short span of time ‘Sound Factor’ has done quite a few memorable films and become the most sort after Sound designing company.

Recently they were awarded for their work in the super hit Tamil film ‘Irudhisuttru’ by  Behindwoods.

They have a handful of exciting projects coming up both in Tamil and Malayalam.

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The Life Of A Marathon Runner!

I was absolutely a normal person in mid 30s, just like anyone else, and one fine day I happened to read this post of my friend Neville j Bilimoria and it changed my life.

‘Run for your neighbourhood’ challenge!

The news came in a neighbourhood paper, encouraging people to join the training programme for the forthcoming chennai Marathon (2013). I got curious and decided to attend the training programme. I was part of ‘Pettai Rappers’, one of the 15 running chapters of ‘Chennai Runners’. It was in September 2013. My first run was a 10k Chennai Trail Marathon run organised by Chennai Trekking Club.

During the training I first signed up for 10k at the The Wipro Chennai Marathon that was to happen in the December but as I progressed in my training program I changed my target to Half Marathon (21.1 KM) and 2013 Wipro Chennai Marathon  was my first Half Marathon. I will always cherish the moment I touched the finish line and someone handed over me the Medal.

How the life changed once I started running Marathons?

More Sunrises!

For the first time in my life, I started getting up at 4:30 AM on a regular basis. The run would start at 5:00 AM.

Early to bed

Because you have to get up early, you are forced to hit bed early. You need to have atleast 8 hours of sound sleep then only you can run the next day.

Traffic Less and clean and fresh air!

Because The run would start early and mostly on the city roads (Chennai), you breath fresh air and run on the roads that are traffic free. A great way to start the day.

Eat Healthy

Running completely changed my food habits. I cut down eating junk, fried items and sugar. Eating out has become a rarity. Started eating more fruits and healthy food.

Places

Another interesting thing that happened as a result of running is when ever I visit new places, I make sure to look for opportunities to run there. North paravur – Cherai road is one of my fav running routes, it’s cool, windy, and breathtakingly beautiful.

New friends

A typical running group comprises of people across age groups and also from different walks of life. You train together, run together, share tips on running, help each other. The group is like an extended family.

Gym and Biking

In order to improve your running speed, you must have a strong core. So I started hitting gym for the first time. Also started cycling for cross training.

Marathon is like Meditation!

Yes, almost. When I run its like I am meditating. The mind is calm and clear. Its a great way to start your day.  During my run I plan for the day. Best of the the ideas comes to my mind while i run.

15 Half Marathons and counting!

So its been 4 for years and 15 Half Marathons. And I am still running. Now busy training for two forthcoming Marathons. One in July and one in Aug (my first Hyderabad Half Marathon).

 

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K.P. Namboodiri’s “Dantadhavanachoornam”

One of my strong associations of my memories of grandpa is rather unusual one, K.P. Namboodiri’s “Dantadhavanachoornam”, in modest terms, a brand of Tooth powder. It was my grandpa who introduced me to K.P. Namboodiri’s brand and he was a strong advocate of this brand. I should admit that I stopped using the product long back and conveniently switched to Tooth paste. Years passed and I almost forgot K.P. Namboodiri’s.

Now my younger brother,  uses the same K.P. Namboodiri’s Tooth powder. I don’t know how he switched over from toothpaste to toothpowder. During one of my trips to Kerala, he asked me to buy one tin of same brand (This was when he used to be with me in Chennai). Seeing me buying “Dantadhavanachoornam”, my friend also bought one tin of this brand. He said that he was a regular user of this brand and some how lost in touch with this product.

Now this brand has undergone a complete change, in product innovation, Branding, design and packaging. The old sober and not so attractive look has gone. Present packaging is more stylish, trendy and handy also.

I am convinced that at least some section of younger generation likes to use age-old brands that too when lots of substitutes are available in the market

As Old habits die hard, can we say old brands die hard?