Thursday, December 27, 2007

Adieu Benazir

She was the second woman politician I recognised, the first one being Indira Gandhi. She had just become the Pakistani Prime Minister, in 1988. The pages of India Today familiarised her face to me. As a four-year-old boy then, she was the one among the three faces I could recollect. (The other two were Phoolan Devi and Madhuri Dixit!)

What made me remember was her surname. It appeared pretty for me then. As the calendars changed, the name became more familiar.

The next big thing about her was the large black & white photo in Mathrubhoomi. It was her second term as the Prime Minister. I was in third standard then.

By the time I joined my high school classes, I had garnered considerable knowledge on this lady. Her foreign education, how her father was killed, the number of her supporters in a male-dominated Muslim country... all were more-than-interesting facts.

But then, she also acquired another status in my mind: Corrupt.

It was 1999, Nawaz Sharif was in power. Corruption cases against her featured regularly in the international pages of local dailies. The Vajpayee-Sharif peace movement had increased my esteem for the Pakistani premier. Benazir and her husband had fled Pakistan to avoid prosecution. Soon, Musharraf came and stole the headlines. I had left high school by then.

She was almost pushed into the corners of my memory.

She gained back the prime slot, only after seven long years. I was no more a student, but a man on his own. She was trying to forge an alliance with the deported Sharif to combat the General. Opportunistic politician, my mind muttered.

However, that plan never took off. Then she chose the General as her ally.
After eight years of exile life, she dared to return to Pakistan last October, only to be welcomed by the blood of her 139 supporters.

Still, she couldn’t regain the charisma she once had in my mind. And today, a sudden panic in the news desk gave away the news.
She was assassinated!

I went up to see the television, it showed her death as breaking news. I was walking back when I saw a computer screen with the Reuters update saying that she was hurt badly, not dead.

In my computer, a Bloomberg copy updated 25 minutes ago was showing that she had escaped unhurt.

That ignited a hope in my mind: What if she escaped?

But she had indeed gone. Another memory. Adieu Benazir.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Job: Through different eyes

Brigadier (remember?) got his first job last week. And Thomman filed his second resignation the week before. He will join his new firm next month. Everyone in our ‘Editors-n-Engineers’ house, except Brigu, is now one-resignation old. Even Raku, who has completed only five months in the city, has filed a resignation. He is on his second job now.

Just 18 months into profession, and this is my second job. For Thomman, it’s third.
Last May, I had made a trip to Gujarat to attend my vallyachan’s (uncle, paternal, elder) 60th birthday. It was also his retirement day. A central government employee, he had spent his entire career in Western Railways. A career spanning almost four decades! He ate, drank and slept as per the railway timetable.

And there was a great gathering in his house. His friends in the railways, and a good number of north-settled Malayalee families; all of them who left home to make a life, just like the several thousand youth of their time, and mine.

He had left home during the 60’s. At his youth, he had achieved what every person of his age craved for: A respectable government job. His was all the more great because he was a Central government employee, and he earned it on his own. Other than my father and my younger aunt, all members of the clan were government employees.

By the time I was in the kindergarten, they were all employed. I still remember the day Unni maman (uncle, maternal, younger) got his first salary. Everyone back home was happy. Being a clerk in a state government department, the day he counted that few thousands was his happiest in many years.

Revolutionary ideals harboured in his head during the restless 70’s and 80’s. But now, he had achieved what scores of middle-class Indians crave for: A government job. A job in a public-sector bank commanded the next grade of respect.

Business, in our small locality, meant shops. Those who made big were the cashew exporter families. You have to born big to make it big. Rare exceptions were the NRI elite, the ones among the hundreds of ‘gulfees’ who made the extra buck with that stroke of luck pushed by the right deeds at the right time.

Persian Gulf, even after the Iraq attack on Kuwait, was a tempting job hub. Conversion offered a never-before-seen advantage. Saving a dinner worth 10 dirhams or 5 dinars and sending it home as Rs 120 was the routine of the blue-collar Malayalees there. Manage to get a white-collar job, and your finance is secured! My father had joined the fray in mid-80’s, even Unni maman took a long leave and left for Dubai.

But government jobs still commanded the highest grade of social respect and financial security. Even the privatisation boom in the 90’s could not harm its reputation much.

Then came the Y2K, followed by the IT boom. IT jobs came had an attractive wrapper of swanky offices, hefty pay packages and a reputation that was far more attractive for the cable-TV-fed net-savvy generation in comparison with the seemingly mundane government job. Demand for engineering courses multiplied by the minute, so did the number of self-financing engineering colleges.

The personality, pace and pay of work underwent drastic changes. Stipulated work hours gave way to ‘leave-when-you-finish-the-project’ schedule. Permanence gave way to contracts. HR guys became trained authorities specialising in veiled lies. All this had a deep impact in the human resource policies of the private corporate sector.

I got my first job in June 2006. By next May, I was planning to quit. It was then that I took the train to attend vallyachan’s birthday-cum-retirement party. Two of his counterparts were also retiring. The send-off party held at the railway conference hall near Mumbai Central Railway station was a gathering of many who were virtually wedded to the department, and maybe the post they held.

Why do I feel that they are the last of their kind?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bachelors in Bangaluru

“Hello?” An elderly voice growled.
“Hello, we saw your advertisement regarding a house for rent.”
“Yes?” The voice replied.
“See, we are a group of bachelors..”
-Kdap- The receiver was banged down on the cradle.
Aliya, avan phone vechu” (He cut the phone)

For the last three weeks, we — six bachelor Malayalees — had a uniform routine: Get up, take the bike and head to cover different corners of Bangalore. Mission: Locate a fabulous house at a cheaper rent. Phone calls seldom worked, as most of the numbers in the ads for houses were either not answered or went to a broker. Well, we never had any problem with the brokers in Bangalore, but they demanded a month’s rent as commission for getting us a house, which we did not want to pay. So, after enough browsing through the net and ad mags, we decided to hit the road.

It all started with one not-so-fine evening, when the kith and kin of our landlord marched into our house. Construction was going on at the terrace. They were building three storeys above the two-storey structure, flouting almost all the corporation laws regarding the construction of a residential building. We thought it was a regular inspection, but they were actually counting heads. We roommates were eight at that time, but they “expected” only Mithun, my classmate and colleague, and “one or two of his friends” at the house.

Eight! Their eyes gleamed. The son-in-law of our landlord, who was the self-proclaimed caretaker of the property, demanded to hike our rent from Rs 6500 to Rs 10,000.

When the house was rented to Mithun, it was told that his brother and family would be coming to Bangalore soon and occupy the house. But that never happened. It was a simple lie to reduce the rent. It’s a well-known fact that bachelors are pariah to landlords nationwide, but Bangalore had an exception. With the IT boom resulting in heavy purses of indulgent youngsters, bachelor techies migrated to Bangalore were a sure high-payers for the local house owners. Apparently, the heavily-paid youngsters never bothered to bargain. So they expected the same from any youngster. And the press card, which came handy especially when night-patrolling policemen stopped us for verification and bribes, never helped here.

With the construction above our present den at full swing, the condition of the house was deteriorating. We tried to bargain, with the promise of cutting the number of occupants to five, but they wanted money, and they were adamant. So we chose to quit. But it was not that easy

We were pretty pampered by our stay in Thavarekere, not because of our house (in fact the place sucks!!) But due to the convenience of having Malayalee restaurants nearby, stop for buses from Kerala at Madiwala, easy connectivity to Majestic bus stand as well as MG road and, last but not least, Forum mall. So we had to find a place where we had most of these conveniences. The first source? Ad mags. The very next day, they were there on our bed, and we began frantically marking desirable ads. Then came the big problem: Bachelors? Pay high!

Houses that had Rs 8,000 rent in the ad suddenly zoomed to 10,000-plus level as soon as we said that we’re a group of six bachelors. Some flatly refused to allow bachelors. We were ready to pay even 10,000, but the “norm” is that you have to pay 10 months rent as advance. So 10K rent means Rs 100,000 as advance! Now that was definitely beyond our means. Four of us were working, and we couldn’t go back to Kerala and ask that big an amount from our parents. The focus of our search became the rent to pay.

We fixed a cap of Rs 8,000 for the search. It widened from Madiwala to Arikkere-BTM layout to Kaggadasapura to HSR Layout, and a variety of houseowners! From an extra-decent Sultan at Kaggadasapura to a hyper-tempered old man at Thavarekere, we met a variety of human beings. Many were asking veiled questions to check our religion!

The ‘architectural wonders’ in the guise of houses we had to see was equally varied. ‘Brigadier’ gave a description of a house that was constructed east-facing, but the road was on the west. All you see is the back of the house! Houses literally crammed into the space available, caring little about the safety and construction rules, were innumerable. Muti-coloured interiors with fancy lights, bedrooms that can be used better as dark rooms were among the rarer sights. But one thing was common in all places — atrocious rent for not-that-good dens. Why doesn’t the government form a body for rent regulation? Is the land Mafia in Bangalore that strong to prevent it? Less-rented houses were still farther. That caused another problem: Proximity.

After all the house-hunting with MG Road as the center of our search radar, we formed an equation. Farther the house, greater the facilities, lesser the rent. Nearer the house, lesser the facilities, greater the rent. Mithun, Aby and me had our offices in MG Road, so a farther location was not desirable for us either. 'Brigu' had problem commuting from his sister's place in another corner of the city. Apart from this, Mithun and Rakesh had another problem. Their girlfriends were in Bangalore, and farther locations affected their regular meetings!

Finally, we came upon a 2 bedroom-hall-kitchen house near Christ College, sufficiently close to the main roads, Madiwala and Forum. The rent was definitely higher than our cap, but the landlord decided to cut the advance amount. The search is over, we are moving into a swanky place (not that swanky when the rent is considered) next week. Mr son-in-law of our present landlord, hell with you and your illegal construction of an apartment!

Sunday, September 02, 2007


There was a small subject in mind when I came back from home this August. I had reserved this date for that. Then lethargy took over. Almost two months with the blank post, and three comments!

Attribution said: For?

Sanity in a world of Insanity is insane~The Insane said: Yeah, Reserved for?????

Attribution said: C'mon. Update it. Do something. Write something.Well i have decided on something.Check mine for updates.

The last time I had three comments was in February. Regular articles these days hardly gather one. The second, if any, would be Attribution’s call for update.
Anyway, I am not planning to leave the page khaali. I’ll introduce six not-so-gentle men; my housemates.

Aby. Sports reporter in a Bangalore daily. Classmate in Mascom. A permanent teasing machine, with whom you can’t get angry. Seniormost in our gang, though carefree like the rest.

Mithun alias Thadiyan alias bourgeois. My classmate-cum-housemate-cum-colleague. In competition with Aby in teasing. We go to office togather, his bike is my official Bengaluru gaadi. Jolly good fellow.

Rakesh alias Raku: Recently christened Rakula (remember Dracula), Raku is a call centre employee. Simple guy who has only two ambitions at present: Meet his girlfriend daily and deal with the humongous number of his arrear subjects in engineering.

Nidhin Tony, or simply, Tony: Nicknamed Brigadier (Brigu for short) for his relentless pursuit of army entrance exams and the rejection in the final stage because of his colour blindness, Tony is the ‘visiting member’ of our gang. His married sister lives in Bangalore, and half the time he is with them. still in search of a job.

Vinod alias Thomman. He works in a high-profile call centre, but hates to describe his branch even as BPO. "It’s India Delivery Centre," he’d say! engineering graduate, settled as an outsourcing executive.

Loud arguments, occasional outings, simple pranks, and heavy-dosed teasing, which we call aparaadham, make our lives merry.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Death is painful

Death is painful, even more so when someone close to you departs.

Gradma’s death was the recent one, but then it was a relief for her bed-ridden sense-faded self.

But often, death plays foul. This time, it played real foul.

Miss you, Vijayan Kochacha...

Broken Crown

I was a bit sceptical when I came to know about the Tamil remake of Kireedam. It was definitely not a typical Ajith storyline, or a regular Tamil movie storyline for that matter. The story, a tragedy, was all about the dreams of a youth being shattered by circumstances.

The original film had many luminaries of contemporary Malayalam cinema. Lohitadas penned the story, Sibi Malayil directed it, S Kumar cranked the camera, capturing brilliant performances from Mohanlal, Thilakan and Mohan Raj as Keerikkadan Jose, an extremely-hated on-screen baddie in Malayalam cinema.

I had seen the butchering of Manichithrathazhu in the hands of P Vasu in Chandramukhi twisting the entire story to boost the role of Rajinikanth. In the original script, Mohanlal’s character appear just before the interval. And the story was heroine-oriented. The performance by Shobana is a benchmark in acting. Same was the case for Kireedam. Mohanlal won his first national award for his role in the movie. And the story was a tragedy.

Tragedies or realistic performances are a strict no-no for the mainstream lead actors in Tamil, although I agree that youngsters like Amir would come up with a Paruthiveeran occasionally. But in that instance, the hero was a newcomer and the crew had the guts to go on with the script. You can’t even imagine going to get the date of a star like Vijay for such a subject.

Kireedam, which means crown, had a similar theme. It starts with the disciplinarian police constable dreaming about his becoming a police officer. The youth, all prepared to take up the tests. But fate plays foul, in the form of  a fight with a dreaded goon, an accident. He beats him down, and the village crowns him as the official rowdy of the locality.

Unable to face his father and always chased by the goons of the beaten dada, the hero sees his dreams shattering in front of him. He loses his career, dignity, and his love. The villain’s thugs aim the hero’s family. Then he takes the big decision: to end this once and for all, either by dying or killing. In the climax, he murders the villain. The transformation from a police-aspirant to a criminal  is complete, as he surrenders before his weeping father.

This storyline would be a perfect misfit for the Tamil mainstream cinema. Here, the hero doesn't run for his life. He single-handedly battles 100 goons, all armed with sickles. He kills the villain, but never surrenders to police. He gives a heavy-worded, high-pitch speech in the climax and walks off with the heroine. And a fan-driven star like Ajith, who has not gone for variety in his choice of roles for years (even Godfather/Varalaru was a disappointment), was not expected to choose such a climax.

But the reviews were encouraging. The story was changed to suit the Tamil Nadu milieu. The role of the heartbroken father was safe in the hands of Raj Kiran. Ajith did a decent job in the role of Shaktivel. And the climax was not changed. I was really happy to see Ajith taking such a decision. slammed the movie but said, "Ajith has to be commended for his courage in essaying a loser's role, not done by stars of his stature." lauded the movie as "a sensible and sincere attempt at realistic entertainment."

But this is the hero-worshipping Tamil movie industry. Nothing can happen to our hero, even if he goes on killing the goons. reported a day before: "Ajit’s Kireedam climax has been changed on the request of audiences and fans of the actor. Now the climax has been re-edited, with a "positive ending," and will be screened in all theatres across Tamil Nadu from Sunday (July 29) evening. In the new climax, hero Sakthivel (Ajit) after killing the notorious criminal wanted by the police, a voice-over with the Madras High Court in the background says that Sakthi is pardoned. Later he gets a medal from the President of India and the film ends with a shot of Ajit coming in police uniform and saluting his dad."

Positive ending! Pathetic! The whole beauty of the movie was how it ended. The original climax was a five-minute emotional time bomb. The hero’s cry was not dramatic at any point. The plea made by the father character (Thilakan) was chillingly authentic. Everything was so realistic, and I sincerely wished that to happen in Tamil. Had it happened, it would have been a bold move by Ajith.

But popularity weighs more than performance in Kodambakkam. Unless you have a gutsy hero or producer to back up, the directors will continue to be marketers and the "stars" will never turn real actors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Needed a tag from attribution to write a post, one after a long sabbatical. And there are certain rules for the tag.

* Each player starts with eight random facts or habits about themselves.
* People who are tagged need to write posts in their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
* At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

Well, here goes...

1. I am a man for my friends and a kid for the entire Makkattu clan and the Vallikkezhu locality.

2. I love to write and procrastination is my weakness.

3. I am so sentimental that my cupboard is filled with seemingly useless things that I could not trash. Each one is associated with at least one memory that makes me nostalgic.

4. I love my village, and the pace in which it is being urbanised pains me

5. I am a die hard music lover and movie buff.

6. I collect stamps, coins, currencies, audio cassettes, CDs, books............even bus tickets!

7. I give missed calls to 21 persons every night

8. I always make it a point to break silly rules, so I will not tag anyone!!

Hope you got the picture. If not, try reading the past posts.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Armless driver with one leg leads chase

This brief was among the items that was taken off the News Plus page to accommodate a huge advertisement.

New Port Richey (Florida), May 11: Authorities were led on a high-speed vehicle chase by an armless, one-legged man, and they said this wasn’t the first time he eluded the police.
Michael Francis Wiley taught himself to drive after losing both arms and a leg in an electrical accident when he was 13. He led police on a 120 mph chase in 1998. (AP)

So much was there in the page received from Delhi. Only this much part would have seen the light of the next day, had there were no ad in the page. This is the fate of almost all agency copies. Agencies like AP, AFP and our own PTI and IANS have some very good writers who endure several hardships to get one brilliant copy, and most of them get buried in the pages of newspapers. It is not fate; it is not anybody’s fault. It is how the system works. I thought I’d make a small change. So here’s the rest of the copy, that was buried in the original page.

On Tuesday, Wiley sped off in a Ford Explorer when the police approached him at a convenience store, New Port Richey police Capt. Darryl Garman said. Officers pursued, but called off the chase after eight minutes because they did not want to put others in danger, Garman said.

Wiley was arrested the next day on charges of fleeing from police and habitually driving without a license. He also is awaiting trial on separate drug charges and traffic violations. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Defense attorney John Hooker said his client has paid off previous traffic fines that got his license suspended and tried to get a new driver’s license, but he was rebuffed by state officials. Wiley’s license has been revoked so many times it is now a felony to drive.

“What makes him do it?” Hooker said when asked why Wiley keeps getting behind the wheel. “I think it’s an urge he has that makes him feel as important and as good as anyone. It gives him a sense of self-esteem.”

Hooker said he had not had a chance to talk to Wiley about the most recent charges.

Even before Wednesday’s arrest, prosecutors were seeking to send Wiley to prison for at least five years for felony drug and traffic charges.

“He has a hideous record,” Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said after an August 2006 arrest. “It’s just got to end.”
Wiley was being held in the Pasco County jail on $500,000 bond.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shame on me!!

Ernakulam-Barauni Express, Katpadi railway station.
6.05 am
A few days back

He woke up when I got in.
“Katpadi thaana?” (Is it Katpadi?) He asked in Tamil, rubbing his eyes.
“Yes.” I answered, as I pushed my luggage under the berth.
“This train was supposed to be here at 3,” he said in Malayalam.
“Late aayathu kondu enikku ee train kitti!” (I got this train because it was late!) I replied in Malayalam.

“Aaha! Naattil evideya?” (Where’s your place?)
“Working in Chennai?”
“I am also working in Chennai.”
“You are from?”
“I am from Kannur.”

And we started a chat on the nostalgic trips to home. For him, it was twice-a-year affair. For me, thanks to the compensation off facility in my office, it has become almost once in two months.

“I have to get down at Shornur and then catch a bus to Kannur. Trains to Kannur is not that frequent,” he said.
“Isn’t bus trip tiring?” I asked.
“Ya, buddy. But this is more convenient than waiting for the train. And it is faster too, unless there is some problem like break down or strike,” he explained.
“Ya, strike. Who would know better than one from Kannur?” I said, remembering the news reports of the bloodshed between the hindutva cadre and the leftists, which had been an annual affair once.

“Kannur town is relatively peaceful, buddy. It is the interiors that are troublesome. Areas such as Nadapuram and Panoor… I am from Panoor. You know the area, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. Panoor was notorious for local-made bombs, and many blasts too.
“The rift between the political parties has affected even family ties. A Marxist won’t go to the house of a BJP man for any function, not even for the last rites of a family member,” he said.
Back in my place, social ties were not affected to this extend by politics. Ours was a family of Left supporters, and my father’s uncle was a noted Kerala Congress leader!

“Even areas are segregated as Marxist and BJP dominions. Marriages in between a Marxist family and a BJP one is quite unthinkable,” he continued.
“How would you know which area are you in?” I asked.
“That’s simple. If the flag at the next junction is red, you are in Marxist area. If it is saffron, you are in BJP area.”
“How would they treat outsiders?” I asked.
“You have to change according to the area you are in. There is an unwritten rule in the BJP area that there should be lamps in front of very houses on the Janmashtami day. Once there was a newly transferred postmaster who went out of town on the day. There was not even a bulb burning in his house that day. The house was ransacked the next day and he was beaten to pulp. He promptly secured a transfer the very next week.”

“Which side are you in?” I asked him.
“Buddy, I had a tough time staying away from politics. Luckily I found a job and got out. There are many who have lost their family, career and sometimes lives,” he finished with a deep breath.

This was nothing short of a shock to me. I had heard about the social segregation in North India. Weekly reports come to my office about the social discrimination faced by the panchayat presidents in Madurai because they were Dalits. But in Kerala?I was always proud to be a Malayalee. Maybe he exaggerated. Maybe he was biased. But if it is true, then shame on me!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Give me a pen to write

It was a usual day. After the off-day sumptuous meal, I was lying down. Santosh was typing in his laptop the lengthy report meant to go on print the next day. The playlist of MP3 files he made in his laptop were all my favourites. It always was. Whenever he opens the song files, his choices would obviously be my favourites.

All the songs were very nostalgic.

Suddenly I felt like scribbling. I searched out my diary from under the pile of clothes in the suitcase. I started writing, and after a few words I noted that the speed is lost. My handwriting was terrible. Suddenly I realised that it’s been almost a year since I wrote Malayalam. Gosh! Time does fly.

My handwriting was not that great in school, but I could maintain a legible fare at least in my answer sheets. The realisation that my handwriting was bad came upon me when I was in class IX. I had read somewhere that handwriting indicates the personality of the person, and a steady handwriting, with no right or left slant showed an upright, smart personality.

All of a sudden, the alphabets I scribbled in my notebooks seemed to be in an inebriated condition! They were so slanted towards right. I began using a fountain pen from then, with a visible improvement in my handwriting. I used that till my plus two days.

I never maintained my notes clearly in school. As a result, writing was limited, except for the language classes and math. And during the exams, my hands would hurt after finishing two papers. We had two hours for a paper, and there were two papers a day.
During the plus two classes, I chose Malayalam as my second language. There was much writing involved, though not as much as in the high school classes.

Then came college, and I ditched Malayalam. The additional language I chose was Hindi, so no more Malayalam writing. But in the second year, I began writing Malayalam with a newfound vigour. Reason? Letters!

Berny, one of my intimate friends, left for Coimbatore and started her graduation anew. I had made sure that she’ll write to me the very first week, and she did. Sot it was only courtesy that I had to give a prompt reply. And she wrote back the very next week. The communication continued, with at least two letters a month, till I joined journalism classes.

That was her last year of graduation. Both of us were bombarded with assignments, and the number of letters dwindled to one in two months. Guys back in Kollam and abroad were ever reluctant to write, even though two of them were in a pucca nostalgic set up in Dubai. (After all, distance is the mandatory ingredient for writing letters, even love letters to the girl next door!!) By then, our professor declared a pen-down for us. He said he was fed up with or handwriting and wanted our assignments in print.

The next big writing was the first placement test, which was held in our institute. Then the one in my newspaper. After that, there was absolutely no writing, not even a weekly scribbling, only typing. I could type out pretty quick now. But I can’t write quickly, neatly. It’s high time I start scribbling. I don’t want someone to look at my handwritten copy and say, “What is this Chandu?”

Saturday, March 10, 2007

To Sir, with love

This is an article about the man who was instrumental in making me what I am. I have hated this man as much as I loved him. He is K. Thomas Oommen, Director, Manorama School of Communication. It appeared in Mint, the business paper of the Hindustan Times. This is for his students across the globe and all those who are his acquaintances.

In a sea of red ink, a lonely crusader

Chitra Narayan

It’s hard to imagine that an innocuous red ink pen can inspire so much dread. But in the hands of journalism teacher Kollemvarieth Thomas Oommen, the red ink pen is a deadly weapon.

On a pleasant winter morning in sleepy Kottayam, where a journalism class is in progress at the Malayala Manorama Group-run Mascom Institute, the full force of this pen can be seen. A pile of corrected assignments in hand, KTO, as Oommen is better known, is reading his red-inked comments out loud. Informally seated on the table, the grandfatherly figure with the mild tone doesn’t resemble the dragon he has been painted to be by some of his former students.

In a soft voice, he asks one student who covered recent municipal elections how 47% can constitute a majority. He continues to pick holes in the copy in a manner so caustic and witty that the whole class, except the unfortunate student reporter, begins tittering. He moves quickly through the pile, asking one young man who took particular linguistic licence with grammar, “did you learn your English in Kazakhstan?"

Meet “Prof. Oommen”, as the nearly 600 Indian journalists who have suffered, hated and loved the man, tend to call him. One of India’s best-kept secrets, this journalism educator has spent 26 years taking in young, impressionable—and often terrible writers and editors—and instilling in them a love for journalism and a sense of right and wrong, at least when it comes to the English language. Today, there are hardly any Indian newspapers where former Oommen students are not playing key roles (including at this paper).

For a country with one of the most vibrant and free media in the world, India has surprisingly few quality journalism teachers or schools. And amid a widely acknowledged shift toward entertainment and blending of news and paid content, it is even more remarkable that Oommen has maintained his commitment to teaching the kind of journalistic rigour that is fast disappearing from newsrooms.

Chuck Jackson, a copy editor at the International Herald Tribune, who taught at Mascom a year ago, says that an Oommen-trained journalist stands out from the crowd: “Thomas pushes his students so hard that it turns into a habit for them when they become professionals. They know how to get the job done and do it. And they are tough-minded, too.”

Oommen was a reluctant teacher despite hailing from a family of school teachers. He first worked for the now defunct Free Press Journal soon after his MA from St Stephen’s College for a monthly salary of Rs120. “When I was going home after writing a humorous story on an insurance sector strike, I sat next to a guy who was reading the paper,” he recalls. “Suddenly, he started chuckling and I noticed he was reading my piece. I knew then that I was right in choosing journalism as a profession.”

Three years later, he heard about an interesting job in Ethiopia. Soon he was winging his way to Addis Ababa as an advisor at the ministry of information and broadcasting, where, among other duties, he also had to help produce the Ethiopian Herald. The only caveat about this job was to make sure the first page carried reports of the Emperor and his family with prominent photographs. “No name could go above the Emperor’s name,” grins Oommen.

That experience and many others from his journalism career, including a second stint in Africa in Swaziland during the 1990s, now form part of an ethics course he has introduced at Mascom—one of the many innovations that Oommen brings to his job as teacher. “Of course, it’s hard to teach values and ethics, but I would like my students to be equipped for all eventualities and situations at the workplace—be it sexual harassment or discrimination or prejudices,” he says.

Like most young men of a certain era, Oommen pursued studies in the United States. He enrolled in the Master’s programme in journalism at the University of Iowa in 1963. It proved to be an exciting time for him and the world press as a whole: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated three weeks after he arrived in the US.
A couple of jobs at small papers led to the night city editor job at Associated Press in Los Angeles. Apart from reporting and handling copy at breakneck speed, Oommen also picked up useful computer skills as the wire service was transitioning to a computerized service. Along the way he met his wife, Sandra—a meeting engineered by the local public librarian, who knew both of them had worked in Africa.
Despite a promising career in the US, India was still beckoning Oommen. “My motive in coming back to India was that our children should grow up here,” he explains. The children were six, four and two-and-a-half years old and the Oommens felt that if they had to straddle both cultures comfortably, they needed to be brought up in India.

Once back, however, none of the journalism offers excited him—most of the papers wanted him to handle the international pages. “I would have been relegated to writing edits on foreign affairs,” says the man who thrives on the excitement of daily news. On balance, the offer by H.Y. Sharda Prasad, who was setting up a news agency journalism course at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Delhi, looked more exciting. Although, he says, at a salary of Rs1,800 a month, it was equivalent to what he earned in three days at AP.

The IIMC job was challenging, but in ways that Oommen could not have imagined. The students—all from non-aligned countries—could barely speak English. There was no hostel facility and, often, both Oommens would be frantically trying to find accommodation for the students in a Delhi that appeared reluctant to house black-skinned Africans.

As a teacher, Oommen believes his golden years were undoubtedly the five years when he headed the Times Centre for Media Studies. Says head Sunil Saxena, who taught along with him at Times: “As an administrator, he was very meticulous, and looked at the smallest points. As a teacher, he was beyond comparison. I saw him take classes for two to three hours at a stretch, and the students would sit spellbound.”

Certainly the classes were interesting, if not combative. Armed with a devastating sense of humour and gift of repartee, Oommen used a combination of wit, sarcasm, anger and passion to goad his students. Several students found his methods objectionable and some staged walk-outs, others fought bitter battles with him but, today, those very students are united in his praise.

Prosenjit Datta, executive editor of Businessworld magazine, was hauled over the coals many a time at the Times school and even failed several assignments. But he acknowledges Oommen’s training for his rise, especially in rewriting and sub-editing, and is forever quoting Oommenisms to his desk hands.

Says former student Nidhi Raj Kapoor: “He was very good at reducing students to size and breaking their confidence.” But Kapoor, who is no longer a journalist, says that for all the humiliation Oommen used to subject his students to, he was always fair. Once he pulled her up over the way she had spelled a popular brand name. But the next morning he found out he was wrong and apologized in front of the class. “For all of his tough exterior, he was soft inside,” she says.

To an extent, Oommen’s toughness was tempered by wife Sandra—a motherly influence for many of the students, who were away from home for the first time. Oommen’s relationship with his students was never a cut-and-dried professional one—rather the students just became part of his family. Many visited his home and former students still dash down to Kottayam to meet him. Watch him during the lunch hour at Mascom, where he eats at the same canteen as the students and you realize that the gruff manner is reserved for the classroom.

Ask KTO himself why he drives his students so hard and he is unapologetic: “I explain to my students on the very first day of their class that it is the first day of their professional life and not the last year of college life.”

Indeed, Oommen has not shared the same relationship with the newspaper barons who run the institutes. His no-nonsense attitude and blunt talk often does not go down well. He quit the Times school after falling out with the management. Similarly, at science and environment magazine Down To Earth, he walked out when he could not see eye-to-eye with the promoters.

But Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment, which brings out the magazine, acknowledges his contribution: “Anybody in publishing will tell you how hard it is to find good desk hands. Oommen’s contribution was in the way he trained the desk in handling science copy and the rewriting skills he brought.”
Oommen then took off for a five-year stint at the department of journalism at the University of Swaziland. When he returned in 1999, he slipped into the role of dean at The Hindu Group’s Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Says Sashi Kumar, chairman, Media Development Foundation , which has promoted ACJ: “In the field of journalism teaching in India, it’s hard to find such a thorough professional, with hands-on experience especially in copy editing, who in addition is a disciplinarian, and meticulous to boot.”

Although ACJ was loath to let him go, Oommen’s dream of settling down in his native Kottayam was too strong and when to his hometown the Malayala Manorama Group came calling, he moved, helping launch Mascom.

Today, life has come full circle for Oommen. He is teaching at an institute that is just a few minutes away from the CNS school where his grandfather taught. He and his wife are ensconced in his mother’s ancestral home, 12km away.

Even at 70, Oommen remains as much of a workaholic as ever, heavily prone to moments of angst about where journalism is heading or the calibre of the students who enrol every year, and the falling standards of spoken and written English in the country.

“Print journalism in English is going to be a hodgepodge of words put together indelicately, with no thought to grammar and less to meaning, and whose sole purpose is to fill up space on the page between advertisements,” he concedes. “Vernacular journalism has more promise for the future.”
What about journalism education? “This shortage will be remedied only when good journalists acknowledge they owe a debt to their profession and become good journalism teachers,” he says.

Is a second retirement around the corner? “There’s just too much work,” Oommen may grumble, but he’s the first to admit that he will only give up teaching the day he finds his students are bored. “When that happens, I shall go for long walks, catch the fish that have been swimming fearlessly in the Kodoor river and read all the books that I deliberately put off reading till later ... and later,” he says.

Sixty in Sixty is a special series of profiles that we plan to run throughout 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. We will introduce you to Sixty Indians—both here and aboard--who are not rich or famous or important. These will be people who are making quiet but important contributions, without seeking headlines, to help make India and in some cases, the world, a better place. Please send your suggestions by email to

Thursday, February 08, 2007


“Now what?” asked our Resident Editor, visibly frowned.
“Ma’am, my leave application,” I said.
“This is not the way, Chandu. You took a leave last December. You can’t go on taking a leave every other month,” she said, without looking into the form to see that I had worked for four weeks without a break for this four-day leave.
“Ma’am, I need this break. I must be there in my town on Tuesday,” I replied.
“When will you be back?”
“Thursday, Ma’am.”
I walked out of her cabin, relieved that I will not miss the aarattu this time. I had never missed it during the past twenty years.

The Sakthikulangara temple is the biggest and the most prominent one in our locality. The eight-day annual festival held in the temple was a combined effort of all the locality members and authorities of the local temples. And festival concludes with the aaraattu celebrations, a big day for our erstwhile panchayat, the grandest day of the year for many, including me.

The earliest memories about the aaraattu are that of balloons and sugarcanes. I remember listening to the song “Janaki jaane..” from the movie Dhwani, holding to the rails of my window. That was the Pallivetta day, the penultimate day of the festival. I was barely four then; a kindergarten student.

Attendance was the lowest on the aaraattu day in our convent classes. And we had classes only till afternoon on that day, as the road would be blocked for the processions that would flow in from various temples around the panchayat. Back home, a sumptuous lunch would be waiting for me. After that, the battalion of my cousins would come home to watch the set of processions that would pass my roadside home on their way to Sakthikulangara temple 2 km away from home. Several such batches of processions would join at the Sakthikulangara temple grounds.

Then, lead by the elephant carrying the replica of Lord Ayyappa, the deity there, they would all come to the Vallikeezhu temple by dusk. From there, the row of elephants with the one carrying the idol leading, would go to the aaraattu kulam, the pond in which the deity will take a bath. On the journey back, the devotees would set up the para, their offerings ranging from rice to jaggery and bananas ready in front of their homes.

Receiving everything, the deity would ride back to Vallikeezhu temple at around midnight to greet the towering eduppu kuthiras. After a halt there, the procession would move to Sakthikulangara temple and reach there by dawn.

The 1 km walk along with the procession to Sakthikulangara Temple, the heavy dose of sugarcanes, aching gums, midnight games with my cousins to keep us awake till Aarattu, and last but not least, the eduppu kutira. Every year, we try to photograph the humongous 30 metre structures, but lighting in the temple grounds is too low to capture the juggernauts in our point-and-shoot cameras. There will be four such kuthiras, each an initiative of the four cheri (region). The frame will be of wood, and it decorated with clothes and other accessories. Each weigh about a tonne and they are taken from Vallikeezhu to Sakthikulangara and back on the shoulders of the volunteers from the respective cheri. I still wonder how they manage to do that.

The day was more or less the similar every year during my convent days. A change came the year I joined my high school. That year, aaraattu was the third final of the Dhaka Independence Cup. The match was one of the exciting ones seen by me. We all were glued to the TV the day. The target was a tough 314, with Saeed Anwar and Ijaz Ahmed scoring centuries. We were a bit apprehensive about our victory. Then, Ganguly came out with a brilliant 124 and Robin Singh hit 88. Pressure mounted as the last over neared. India needed 9 runs from six balls. Then Kanitkar hit a four at the last over, finishing our score at 316. That was one brilliant victory.

By then, I was allowed to move around on my own. I was no more a kid, but a teenager. Enjoying the festival with friends was more interesting than with the canopy of an elder with you. We, the third generation of the Makkattu family, were developing our personal spaces in the family. Guys preferred to roam around the temple grounds instead of the midnight games, and girls were contented with their chitchat. Grandma, who was always particular about the way the offerings are made every year, was bedridden by then. And with the members setting up their individual homes, the family house was given for rent.

But that didn’t anyway reduce our fervour for the festival. We were particular in setting up the para in front of the Makkatttu house. And during the second year of my college, I took part in my debut concert, my arangettam, at the fourth day of the festival. And grandma would be there, sitting in a chair and praying teary-eyed when the elephant carrying the idol comes. After college, I joined the journalism institute last year, and she departed on the eve of Onam that year. That was the first festival without her, and that was the one when I missed the aarattu.

I am not sure about next year, so I did not want to miss it this year. This time, the day was all the more different. I was employed; I was living on my own (although I still feel uneasy if I don’t get a call from home for two days). I had a present for my newly married distant-cousin-close-friend, tucked in the baggage. He had just migrated to the rank of a family man. There were guests from his in-laws in his home when I walked in. And, for the first time, I waited for him in the hall. Before, I never hesitated to dash into his room, mercilessly breaching his privacy. He is family, but he has a family now. Times change real fast.

I was alone during the walk to Sakthikulangara this time. Elders in my family and the group of relatives were treating me like a man, although I still crave to be the little boy once again. I met several of my classmates in school and college. Employed, studying, business, and some still looking for jobs… I somehow felt that becoming big is becoming alone. And that didn’t deter me from chewing out whole sugarcane, a thing that I never misses during the festival.

Will I make it next year? Hope so.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Black Friday to see the day

Aliya, do you know who is the unluckiest director in Bollywood?”
I remember Mithun asking me, back in last November.
“No,” I replied.
Anurag Kashyap,” he said. “He made Paanch and invited trouble with the Censors. Now his Black Friday is also denied release.”

Black Friday is finally making it to the screens. And the report in the Movie Plus page of our paper also began in a similar tone.
“Mumbai: Anurag Kashyap, the jinxed director of “completed, but awaiting release” movies such as Paanch and Black Friday is a relaxed person now. After all, the court has given a go-ahead to his much controversial, four-year-old movie Black Friday and come February, the movie will finally be released across the country.”

Interesting guy, he is. He is probably Bollywood’s only director to gain a fan following even without a single release. He has written some impressive screenplays, including the internationally renowned Ram Gopal Varma movie Satya (1998), but attempts on his own had to face tough times. Paanch was canned for six years, Black Friday for four, and two attempts Gulaal and Alvin Kalicharan are somewhat like aborted foetuses.

My first film, Paanch, had run into trouble with the Censor Board in 2000. They felt it wasn’t “healthy entertainment” because it dealt unapologetically with sex, drugs and misguided, alienated youth. It was constructed around the famous Joshi Abhyankar murder in Pune, but I had fed a lot of my own life and angst into it — my anger, my escape into drugs and alcohol. Jakkal, the murderer, was a brilliant university topper, but he was led into crime. I saw myself in him; I saw what I could have so easily become if I had not channelised my rage into writing. I saw that violence often has no justification. Not everything stems from emotional desire, or motivations like revenge. It is just irrational, impulsive, irreverent. And, for being that, more brutal. But our cinema is not allowed to reflect our realities. Once Paanch was cleared by the censors, it couldn’t find a distributor: no songs, no stars, no foreign locales,” recalls Anurag in an interview given to last October.

Writer director Abbas Tyrewala, in his blog, accounts the face-off Anurag had with the Censors.
Anurag screened Paanch for this Jurassic wonder. At the end of the screening, a man who I believe is a primary school teacher called Anurag in and asked him what cinema meant to him. Anurag asked in turn what it meant to him and the man replied, without blinking an eyelid, that it meant “healthy entertainment”. Healthy entertainment, according to Masterji, was absent in Paanch. He asked why there were no “positive characters” in the film. Obviously it would have been a complete waste of time to explain the concept of a noir film to the gentleman; Anurag explained instead that all the characters were to him positive to some degree.

The gentleman then suggested that the film was too violent.

I have seen Paanch. Its wizardry lies in creating a sense of violence without its explicit depiction. The film gets under your skin, creates the kind of dirty residue that normally remains in the aftermath of a street fight. Instead, Teacher Rex felt that this film glorifies violence. Anurag asked for specific scenes that had bothered the Board, which he was willing to defend and delete if necessary. No instances were forthcoming; the man was too busy objecting to the language now.

Then came the piece de resistance. The man said that the film was too long for a thriller. He arbitrarily asked Anurag to trim it by forty minutes! Too long for a thriller. Oh Anurag, I wish I had been there to see your face. The joy it would have given my aching heart to see your initial lack of comprehension, then the rage and then the helplessness; the intense desire to ask this gentleman where he kept his cane so you could put it where it belonged. Too long for a thriller. Marvelous!

Maybe Once Upon A Time In America should have been cut down from four and a half to two hours. Oh wait a minute, they did. And reduced a classic to a schizophrenic collection of visuals. Isn't Bertolucci's 1900 too long for an epic? Well, it does encompass the story of a century, so I guess it can stretch to five hours. And thank God cricket matches last an entire day, or else Lagaan would have had to be trimmed by an hour or so.

But a thriller! What in a thriller justifies two hours and forty-five minutes? Your story? Your development of characters? Your plot? Your choice?

Finally, Paanch was cleared, but left with absolutely no takers. Anurag recalls in the interview: “We had more than 200 private trial-screenings of Paanch — the audience response was fantastic. But no distributor would risk it. Bollywood is controlled by families that have grown up in trial rooms. They have no knowledge of the real world.”

A single Googling on Paanch gave me a list of Bollywood technocrats endorsing the movie.

Govind Nihalani, Director: There is no justification for the censor board to refuse a certificate to Paanch. It is an extremely well made film. It belongs to a genre not seen before in India. The censor board has no right to decide what subject a director should choose while making a film, or what the treatment ought to be. It's the director's prerogative to decide on his approach. As long as the film's content does not violate the censor board's guidelines, the board has no justification to ban a film. It is not for them to verify whether a film is full of hope or despair. It is up to the writer and director to decide whether their film needs to generate hope amongst its audience or shock and depress them. The censor board has no right to force filmmakers to make positive films. People should be given a chance to see Paanch. The very fact that other filmmakers who have seen the film are openly supporting it, and are willing to associate their names with it, means the film is not deserving of a ban.

Saurabh Shukla, Actor: I saw a rough cut of Paanch long time ago. The film wasn't complete then and I'd seen the unfinished version on video. I have no idea about the ideology of the entire film or what the end conveys. But whatever little I saw, I didn't think the scenes had abusive language or violence that was without context. Everything that a particular character says or does in a film is part of the film's journey. And it has to be seen in that context. One cannot just take it out in isolation and talk about it. I thought the film's language went with its characters. I have worked with Anurag in Satya and know that he's a good scriptwriter. But then, this is a personal opinion. Just like what one person thinks about a film, may not be what others think.

Farhan Akhtar, Director: I saw the film and found it very contemporary and extraordinarily intelligent. I think the film should be viewed by all sections of the adult Indian population. From what I have heard, Paanch has been refused certification by the censor board because, among other things, it has no social message. But then, most films that are made today do not have any message. And I feel films need not necessarily have social messages. The film has been criticised for its unjustified violence. I can name a 100 films now which have more violence. And there's no such thing as justified or unjustified violence. Isn't all form of violence unjustified? How can the censor board decide whether the film is suitable for adult viewing or not? What do one mean by the term 'adult'? Isn't it supposed to mean someone who can take his own decision? In that case, we are as capable of making the decision as board officials are. It is time we reviewed this system of five people sitting inside a room and making decisions about what is good for the rest of the Indian population. I totally support Paanch and think that it is a very good film.

Saeed Mirza, Director: I have not got a chance to see the film yet. But from whatever I know of this young man (Anurag Kashyap), he is a responsible man. He understands the sensibilities of filmmaking. People who know Anurag closely, filmmakers who have worked with him, also feel the same. Many of my close friends, all filmmakers whose opinions I have high regards for, have seen the film and all of them have liked it. They support the film whole-heartedly and I respect their views. I'm sure the film is worth a release. I don't think the censor board needs to make such an issue about Paanch and keep it away from the public. If the board feels the film is too violent, it can clear it with adults or whatever other certificates it has. It need not ban the film. It's the director's first film and he deserves to be given a chance. He has a right to take his film to the public and one should not deny him that. Let the public decide for themselves.

Paanch was accused of having all dark characters. But we can’t expect a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai from a man who had undergone dark times right from his childhood, can we? Molested in childhood, grew up as an insecure, confused youth, he found solace in writing. He found passion in cinema. As put in by Anurag in the interview,

I grew up in Benares, part of a larger community of relatives and neighbours. My father was an officer in the state electricity board; my mother was a housewife. We often ate at a cousin and neighbour’s home. I was five when an elder cousin and a neighbour began to abuse me sexually. It was more than molestation; it violated everything. I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t speak of it. I was always a very detached child. I went into a deeper shell; my behaviour became erratic. When I was eight, my father sent me to Scindia School in Gwalior. It was more than he could afford and I will always be grateful for that. But Scindia was hell for me. The sexual abuse continued there for years. I hated myself. I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I was often picked out, beaten, then taken to the toilets. To save myself from the beatings, I’d give in to the abuse. Once I saw a senior abuse another junior. I spoke up about it. The repercussion was terrible. When I was in Class VII, I felt suicidal. That’s when I began to write.

I wrote a story, I still remember, called Apekshit. I was the youngest in my class, the prodigal, but always very good at my work. But when my teacher read the story, he said, this can’t be genuine. I looked up the word in the dictionary — the Hindi-speaking gunk in an elite English school — and that became my burden for life. I was thwarted at every turn. I excelled anyway. But every achievement became a joke.

My turning point came in 1993. I had joined the Jan Natya Manch while in college. Those years were a haze of beer and pot and anger. Then Moloyshree Hashmi and Joy Sengupta urged me to catch a de Sica retrospective. That changed my life. Cinema became my cocoon. Two months later, I left for Bombay. It was raining. I had Rs 6,000 in my pocket. I spent eight months on the street, sleeping on beaches, hanging around outside Prithvi Theatre for work and a night out of the rain. My most permanent shelter those days was the space below the water tank in the Four Bungalows complex in Andheri. Then, I wrote a play and people began noticing me. People like Makarand Deshpande, Mahendra Joshi, Shivam Nair, Sudhir Mishra, Ram Gopal Varma and Amol Gupte infused hope and faith into my life. They were my mentors; my proof of generosity

After the Paanch sabbatical, came the idea of Black Friday.
Heavily based on Hussain Zaidi’s book of the same name, the attempt was to make a TV series. It was very convenient to make it a TV series indeed, as there were so many strands and so many characters in the work that that they just would not fall into place. Then it was decided to start the film at a point three days before the blasts — when one of the accused allegedly informed the police about the attempt but no one believed him — and worked backwards to the Babri Masjid demolition.

All this while,” says Kashyap, “People kept telling me that it’s going to be damn controversial.”

And the worst fears came true when some of the accused succeded to obtain a hold on the release of the movie. The movie was made on a shoestring budget of Rs 4.5 crores, and with the release being put off for years and the accumulating interest on the debt taken by the producer, the total expense shot off by about Rs 3 crores.

In a turn of events, and I would call it the divine reward for the pain Anurag underwent, Anil Ambani’s Adlabs Films was prompted to offer a deal, following the hypre generated after the movie ban and the posibility of a stellar opening in the multiplexes. Adlabs, on the other hand, seems to be quite charged up about the fate of the movie. The film releases on February 9, 2007.

A simple search in the annals of Bollywood, and you will find many like Anurag, with brilliant ideas and burning passion, but no corporate backing to launch their dreams. Because in Bollywood, the dream merchants have literally taken the wholesale rights to launch the dreams also. As Anurag says, it took a star like John Abraham to make a risky choice to act in Kabir Khan’s dream project Kabul Express, to attract Yash Raj films to launch the movie. It took the success of Lagaan for superstar Shahrukh Khan to take up Swades.

Courtesy: DNA,,,

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's Pongal, It's Jallikattu!!

7:15 pm.
I walked in with the south page dummy to the cabin of the chief of news bureau of our paper. He had two slots to fill, both on Jayalalithaa, with a total of 630 words. And below the two slots and the picture was a meagre 210-word slot, supposed to carry the Madurai copy on Alanganallur Jallikattu.

He glanced at the A3 sheet.
“Why this small slot for Jallikattu?”
“Sir, Ma’am said that we have had carried several Jallikattu copies for the last few days.”
There was a copy the day before on the Palamedu Jallikattu, a smaller one, held as a prelude to the Alanganallur Jallikattu, and some more on the preparations and protests, including the petition in the Madras High Court.
“Boy, where are you from?”
“Kerala, Sir.”
“OK, understand this. For the entire southern Tamil Nadu, the Alanganallur Jallikattu is the..the,..” he paused
“The event,” I cut in.
“Yes, it is The Event. The one held yesterday in Palamedu was just a prelude. This is the big event, and one of the biggest cultural events in Tamil Nadu.”
He picked up the phone and asked the RE to give prominence to the story.
Dummy changes, and the story gets a 300 word slot, with a picture inside.

Here are the pictures from the world famous Alanganallur Jallikattu. The pictures and the text is borrowed from the copy filed by our Madurai correspondent.

The jallikattu held in the Alanganallur village near Madurai on Wednesday, was a “regulated” sport this year with lesser number of bulls and more men participating in this event. Safety measures taken to segregate the crowds resulted in lesser number of injuries. As many as 120 foreign tourists also witnessed in the event.

The sleepy hamlet of Alanganallur, 22 km from Madurai city, wore a festive look with coloured flags, banners and cutouts decorating every nook and corner. People began filing into the galleries, as early as 6 am, to get a vantage seat and the animals were made to stand in long queues outside the arena.

A team of veterinary surgeons conducted the eyeball test, heartbeat and breathe analyser tests for each of the animals before allowing them to enter the queue. Though 587 bulls had registered for this year’s event, only 345 animals turned up on Wednesday, of which seven were rejected because they did not pass the tests.Similar tests were conducted for the 527 men who entered the arena, wearing T-shirts given by the organisers after they passed the test.

At 11 am the special pooja was performed at the Alanganallur Muniyandi temple and the temple bull was first released into the arena after which the others followed. The animals were brightly coloured and garlanded with flowers.

Most of the prizes included gold coins, dhotis, shirts, beds and furniture. But, this time the owners of the bulls that successfully evaded the chasers bagged more prizes. Jayapandi of Kalavasal in Madurai bagged ten prizes the highest by a fighter in this game.

“More bulls bagging prizes is the result of the ban on the alcohol consumption by both the bull and man” said Marimuthu, a teacher, who has been following the event for more than 10 years. “Under the influence of alcohol, the men would try to have a brave show, increasing the risk of injuries and death. This year most of them preferred to take
the side stand when the ferocious animals were released” he said.

Due to the elaborate arrangements made at the venue, none of the spectators were injured. This was the first time that a double barricade system had been constructed at the venue. Sixty-six persons were injured, out of which six were referred to the Government Rajaji Hospital and the rest were given first aid at the venue. Over 25 doctors were kept ready to deal with any casualty.

The precautions taken by the district administration had also paid off with lesser number of persons being injured compared to previous years. The superintendent of Police T.S. Anbu made the final checks and took care of the security. Around 1000 police personnel were pressed into duty for the games. Kent, a foreign tourist who had come to see the event, said that he felt it was an “unruly” game and that more care should be taken to prevent injuries to men in the arena. Some of them said they enjoyed the whole game.