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Saturday, December 28, 2013

ulu ulu

Into the heart of Borneo

The word Borneo makes one think of  the colour green ,a world of lush tropical forests meandering streams and the sun peeping through tall trees in falling rain .
This turns out to be true as we realised on  travelling into its heart to the Temburong national park in Brunei .
The national park itself  a part of the Borneo conservation efforts is only a small portion  of the 575 sq km of forests hills and waterways
 Unscathed by mankind there were exotic and rare varieties of plant and small animal life
The dwarf squirrel ,the black butterfly also named as the White rajah after the ruler of erstwhile Sarawalk the Englishman James Brooke ( read the white Rajahs of Borneo ).
The Brunei government   preserves the  rich  flora and fauna the country is blessed with .
adventure and ecotourism are  encouraged but with great care not to disturb nature in any form .
Even the capital city is richly endowed with greenery trekking hills are available within the city limits itself which is rare anywhere .
To reach the Ulu resort in temburong national park one had to go by motor  boat bus  to Bangar in Temburong and from there by bus to .Batang











one has to go in a longboat canoe fitted with an engine then to reach the resort .
The day trip arranged by sunshine tours was around 150 Brunei Dollars per head of which entry charges to national park was around 80 dollars
 We were picked up from the Empire hotel the exotic five star hotel befitting its name by the beach very near our house at 7 am sharp by the tour people and dropped off at Bandar seri Begawan jetty
We got into the steam boat which was more of a small bus with rows of seats ,the steam boat left Bandar and the Kampong Ayer ( Kampong means village and Ayer is water )
 The water village was  called the Venice of the east by traveller Antonio Pigafetta when he visited Brunei in the 16th century
Its  is a small city of houses built on stilts on the Brunei river in Bandar Seri Begawan the capital ,one could reach it by motor boat taxis called Perahu Tambang .
 There are wooden houses some made of concrete and some are fitted with all luxuries like AC ,internet connection etc .
The motor boat bus sped along the blue waters quite fast ,the city receded fast ,we went through mangrove banks thickly green uninhabited with the occasional bird fluttering out ,there were crocodiles too there it seems but usually they kept away when  boats plied in daytime .if one was very lucky one could spot a rare proboscis monkey too !
 the plump driver continued his work unaffected by my presence on  his side as I had migrated from my seat  to get a front view of the action and take some photos ,the driver was used to tourists doing just that , slowly I even found a small perch to place my haunches on and focus more better in the speeding boat and suddenly was amused to find a small crowd around me imitating what I started .
 we reached Bangar in about 45 minutes and eased into a jetty stop with all facilities ,we got into a local bus which drove along narrow streets to reach another jetty on the other side of the island ,on the way we saw some longhouses .
 Incidentally the long houses are seen in  countries like Malaysia ,Brunei ,Indonesia etc .
 I had read about them in the travel book by BBC correspondent Palin called Full Circle .
Longhouses are exactly what it it means ,it contains a long array of rooms or apartments with a central common area where all residents could gather ,even though the families lived in separate apartments there was a communal feel to the house ,such living began  in the days when people needed to live together for safety from enemies or wild animals ,today longhouses are   dwindling with  people living more in individual houses some  longhouses still existed in the interiors .
 
on reaching the steep jetty we quickly adorned our life jackets and got into the canoes which were motor powered ,
5 passengers excluding the driver in each canoe was permitted .
we could sit on a small seat and lean back ,the boat skimmed on the green waters speeding along placid and at times turbulent waters ,whenever we reached rough waters driver would off the engine to prevent us being sloshed ,we did get wet a bit and was careful with our cameras but the ride itself was exhilarating ,both sides the embankments were mountainous full of thick forests wild flowers b and rare plants  tall thick trees .
  A real garden of Eden .
Brunei's first national park, the Ulu Temburong National Park, is located south of the Temburong district, covering 550 square kilometres of the Temburong forest. The national park has a scientific research centre facility, the Kuala Belalong Rainforest Field Studies Centre, which is only accessible by boat.The Temburong District is rich in unspoiled natural heritage, including the Ulu Temburong National Park (formerly the Batu Apoi Forest Reserve).
 The  resort  was perched on a steep bank and we had to gingerly step out of the rocking boat and climb wooden steps to  a hall with souvenuirs and a small restaurant there were also around 19 cottages to stay overnight but we were there only for the day .
 there were no TV ,internet connection or mobile phone range there and one was cut off from all these modern day distractions to be in the lap of nature .
We then started our trek to the hill nearby .
the park was famous for its canopy which was a 50 foot steel bridge built on tall towers with steps this was on top of a hill which one had to climb first.
 the canopy was built for scientists who needed to study the flora and fauna above the tall treeline on top of the hills ,today it has become a tourist attraction .
the climb was also hardy some over wooden steps then over rocks gnarled giant roots some mud and slush ,
 I was gasping and sitting  on every rest stops  and finally after an hour of climb reached the canopy
looking at it from below and its steep curving ladder  I decided to call it a day and refused to join my family who were brave enough to plod on those vertical limits .
 So I only have a second hand version of their joy in reaching the top its cool winds and wonderful sights of unremitting green hills the tree tops and the azure skies .
We then clobbered back down and on  the boat to a small waterfall ,we had to walk a bit this time  barefoot over sharp stones which was a torture
 I stood for long in the cool shallow waters with tiny fish nibbling our soles
we  returned  to the resort for a lunch which I could gulp down well because of some handy  yoghurt conjured by the attentive chef on my request !
 later after a dozy rest on easing chairs facing the flowing river we got back into the canoes and then got back to and later to Bangar and Bandar
It was a trip into the virgin Borneo forests ,a treat for our senses and a balm to our soles

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mustaches for the Prostate

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 










Oncology or cancer speciality in medicine has made great strides though the common perception of the C word has not only not changed but the cancer phobia has only increased with time.
In 1960 the five year survival rate ( in oncology and hematology the percentage of patients who survive for five years is taken as a measure ) was around 10 % which today is more than 60 % which means 60 out of 100 patients would live after five years .

Many of them could get cured too depending on the stage ,type ,associated problems and condition of patient ( performance status in medical lingo )and also the centre and skill where the treatment is given as oncology today has become a very specialised field .
A lot of money goes into research into new molecules to combat types of cancer and behind it are hard work ,and hard funding to achieve results ,approval of drugs by bodies like the Federal drug authority USA which could be called as the gold standard of approval today requires years of meticulous research and fool proof trials in several phases and approval by peer bodies before reaching the market hence drug companies who spend the money have a pay back period where they own the patency and the drugs are exorbitantly costly .

  Cancer research is also funded by the society at large and private organisations .

Foundations one example is the Max foundation which has been doing yeoman service by distributing life saving drug imatinib maselate for millions of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients.specially in third world nations .
( one keeps finding FB statuses of imatinib being given free of cost in such places this is mostly Max foundation .)
  Breast cancer too has a lot of backing and is well known to the public who participate in breast cancer runs badge drives and dinners and balls.
 Celebrities like Angelina jolie have put in their charisma behind such drives .


The prostate gland unfortunately had been a back bencher ,a cancer usually affecting older males the tumour had a low profile and treatment too was static over the years if it was localised depending on the patient one could have a radical prostatectomy or radical radiotherapy which could be called as curative but the side effects too were not very gentle and if spread out ( metastatic ) hormone therapy where the effect of androgens were reduced by several means ( androgens are male hormones which can stimulate prostate cancer cells to grow and multiply ) was usually the start with bone protecting agents like zoledronic acid ,with time when the patient turned resistant to hormones and the cancer grew chemotherapeutic agents like taxotere and prednisolone or mitoxantrone were used it stopped with that .
Even screening for prostate cancer with Prostate specific antigens a tumour marker seen in  blood was controversial as it produced a lot of false negatives and wasteful treatment where it was not needed but all of a sudden treatment for prostate cancer has had an upturn with discovery of more than twelve new exiting molecules like taxol derivative cabazitaxel ,Hormonal agent Arberiterone ,Immune agent siplucel T and Injected Radium 221 an alpha particle which is injected into the vein .
The rush of such molecules sure had reasons for it it was mainly good funding behind the research  how did this happen ?
 it all started when one  Michael milken developed prostate cancer and  was cured by radical surgery he knew when breast cancer was getting more than 500 million dollars as funding poor prostate cancer was getting only 50 million dollars
  he felt he should give back and he started a foundation which worked relentlessly in trying to raise funds of prostate cancer research the national prostate cancer coalition came about just like the breast cancer coalition .
Clay Hamlin was a wealthy real estate developer
he was a go getter and his principle in life was lets do it no not today but yesterday

He too was a prostate cancer survivor and joined the  board of national prostate cancer coalition as he was from philadephia he developed an annual funding event called philly for prostate which initially was a golf event to attract all corporate chiefs  to empty their pockets for the cause but later metamorphed into a huge funding event with dinners conferences runs and races with many celebrities thrown in and brought in much needed funds .

  It seems once during a fund raising dinner a bit too much of good wine made Clay swoon and fall to the floor flat .
Amongst the many doctors attending the dinner one was an emergency room specialist who quickly started artificial respiration to poor Clay  who on waking up according to his own words found the ugliest guy in the world on top of him !

The month of November was movember for moustache or grow mustache in November for prostate cancer awareness .
 there is an FB page on this and they encourage men to grow mustaches in this month

  to quote
"If you're going to make such a bold statement, you have to believe you look awesome. If you appear unsure of your moustache, you'll just look like a chump. It's like hitting on a chick or wearing plaid pants. Men who sport moustaches are bold. It takes balls to go against the grain and grow a mustache. It says, "I don't give a rat's ass what you think, society. I like my facial hair." "
unquote

Even girls could grow one but are not advised to do so they could just support with mustaches drawn !

To make the story end the spate of drugs for prostate cancer grew giving life and hope for its victims due to these two individuals and their funding's and several moustaches too !!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dead soldier going on leave

India is an exotic land ,at same time of the year one could go to a desert burning like a furnace or climb a mountain in the himalayas which would be subzero in temperature or trek in a green forest , lap in the turqouise waters of a wbp.blogspot.com/-1VCpjib6UXA/UqaoC9gEOzI/AAAAAAAAMgo/OaX6j_QkhgM/s1600/Sikkim_Gangtok_Nathula_Baba%2520Mandir.jpg" imageanchor="1" >rm sea or speed along a three laned highway dwarfed by highrises in a city . theres so much to see and experience in India ,my children often say they remember best the places they have gone in India over the years .the passes and hill stations we visited are ever memorable . Way back in the nineties we went To Darjeeling a qauint hill station with a toy train chugging its way up ,we stayed put in Ghoom which had the honour of having one of the highest railway station in the world ,it was bitterly cold and the small Gurkha home ucm restaurant we went for dinner had a plumpy matronly lady owner cum waitress who selt rum on the sly for weary nationals to cobat the cold . After doign the sights and munching pastries in the famous deli in darjeeling we sped to Gangtok alongside the bewitching Teesta river white water rafting and canoeing were watersports coming up in a big way in these places ,Sikkim is one of the most beutful states of India with its pristine forests and rare fauna and flora ,Gangtok was like any other hill station foggy and cold with lighten warm rooms inside frosted windows as we alighted from our four wheel drive and caught a maruti van to go to our hotel . We liked Gautam the teen driver of the van immediately he was asuch a pleasant unassuminfg boy he was full of exitement when he talked of th3e places we had to see in Gangtok and informed us that he was ready to take us to lake Psongo 10500 feet above if we so wished ,we said we will think about it . We walked around in the cold dusk visitng a famous Buddhist monastery in the market we returned to an ethnic Sikkim dinner in the restaurant ,with christmas coming the place was all spruced up . Next day Gautam came early as we had agreed to go with him ,we had to elave early as one needed army permission to reach psongo lake ,Gautam first went to a police station to meet his cousin a cop for some much needed recommendation the cop came with us to the army camp and talked for us as the limit fr that day was already over we also added that we have come a long way from Kerala and finally got the pass . the road up was dizzyingly steep and for many hours through virgin forests and snow covered slopes ,we could feel some shortness of breath with the altitude and piled orselves up with all sort of wollens we had taken with us after hours we reached the Psongmo lake 40 km from Gangtok ,the icy blue waters was etherally calm reflecting the azure skies and the tall snowy peaks ,everwehere there was snow on it sbacnks and yaks wandered arond with tourists having a ride ,a few tea shops clutttered aroudn to give feeble warmth ,we were surprised when a rotund paunchy swamiji walked around with just a dhoti and no shirt in the freeze and even posed for some photographs sportively smiling away ! Gautam aksed us to hurry along our way as we still had to cover another steep 14 km to reach the Nathula pass ,we were a bit hesitant on its safety as most tourists stopped at the lake but Gautam assured us he would bring us back safe and sound and it was something not to be missed hew as right of course . the road turned trifle tricky from then with no trees but only snow everywhere on the hard rock like mountain slopes which were threatening and huge our lone maruti van chugged it way up lost in the white wilderness as we huddled in collective togetherness . i almost dozed off and woke with a splitting headache and mild shortness of breath asGautam stopped we were at the Nathula pass itself . the china border was just across and we could see the Chinese soldier standing there he waved too at us !! Gautam took us straight to a mandir called Babajis Mandir this was actually a small memorial temple for a Punjabi jawan who plummeted to his death from a mule during the 1962 war with China ,strangley he is said to have appeared in the dreams of his friends that night and aksed them to build a memorial for himself so that he protects the place forever ,the army took it up as a morale building exercise and it is still maintained by the army ,we entered in with our socks prayed and offered our respects we sat down to be served hot kheer and chapatis by our own jawans themselves as langar or prasad . It seems Babaji the jawan who died is still considered as living ,the army even pays his salary to descendants and every year the youngest soldier in the regiment goes to thier house in Punjab ona months leave and stays with them as if the Babaji himself is on leave and as promised till date no incursion has ever happened in that area . i published this in the Indian express as an article Dead Baba goes on leave !!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Great Grand uncle of mine


He would be  up and about in the dawn , a man of regular habits ,one could time a watch with his moves

living in England and the English had made him imbibe many of their customs ,their punctuality and value for time .

VG Nair was known as a brown sahib in the small village of Parappanangadi .

A brown sahib in indian dress

The one railway platform Parappanangadi was always ignored by the mail and express trains as they thundered past it with disdain  in fact they did this with a distinct sneer as they increased their speed once they crossed the bridge over the river just before the station .

 Ravunni the red turbaned porter with a limp had always had a suspicion about this  ,he was a permanent fixture in the lazy station ,like a picture hung on its wall  ,he lived there day and night ,it was his job in the nights to wake up and stand with his hand outstretched holding the key

The key was something old timers who have seen steam engines would  remember ,it was a fool proof railway invention where every station had to give a  metal ball which was tied securely to a round leather case fixed in the loop of a huge bamboo key ,for trains that do not stop someone holds it stretched to be looped  by a leaning assistant from the steam engine ,the key from the train would be just thrown to the platform which would be collected later only on inserting this key would the rails join before the next crossing and thus the train proceeded  safely and in fool proof fashion .

This tricky job of stretching out the key specially in dark rainy nights with a kerosene  lamp or a bon fire was given generally to old porters

it was an awesome sight ,as the train thundered past with its steamy belligerence and belching angry fumes  the fireman leaned out in practiced nonchalance with his hands stretched out to catch the huge key extended by Ravunni whowould  stand like   a rock  in the dark with a huge flaming torch on his other hand to identify himself ,it was never missed but  always Ravunni was put slightly out of balance by the daredevil act that he had to correct his stance which he did without fail ,as the winking lights of the fast disappearing train sped into the horizon .

this image of a man standing with a key in a dark night to a roaring steam engine is embedded in my mind even today

Ravunni  would then return to his deep slumberand  the brew inside him assured him of that

Come  day time he would have a quick bath in the waiting room combing his beard with his fingers and tying his turban around his unruly hair ,the tea and steamed rice  in the nearby shop would invigorate him to go about his work which would include carrying loads of luggage to far houses of the rare passengers who would get down from the slow trains that deemed to stop in this place ,his thin slippers would step gingerly over the sharp stones as he  trundled balancing the bags talking as he walked .

He always looked forwards to the browns sahibs visit either on his way to Kozhikode ( Calicut ) or back which he took at least once in a month ,this was a man Ravunni  respected ,one  could see in his face that he was a learned man from a cultured family and even though he had English habits he wore a spotless white dhoti and bush shirt which hung on his tall frame if it was rainy or early in the morning he had a brown coat over this he also had  an ornamental walking stick which added to his dignified presence .

Sankaran  nair his man butler cum secretary walked close to him carrying his huge umbrella with a curved handle and some books in his hand

 VG sir was a doctorate in chemistry and was known to have held a high position for years in the Bombay Morarjee mills leaving them for retiring to his native place after winning a court case against them on a matter of principle

 he was known to the village as one scientist who made waves in England even to the extent of getting some patents in textile chemistry his chosen field  ,he had left all that and today was like any rich landowner looking after an extended family of nephews and nieces ,he had never married ,and to him his family was the more than sixty inmates of his huge house

Those days such big houses were common in kerala and were called Tharavadus ,following matrilineal system the uncle had a honored place in such tharavads where the nieces lived with their children ,husbands making periodical visits .

Generally the household matters like servant handling cooking matters temple pujas were dealt by the nieces in accordance to their seniority and the senior most nieces were like ministers in a royal durbar holding  great power with direct access to the grand uncle himself ,some even went to the extent of ticking the big man for perceived misdemeanors  .

For the children it was one big playground ,generally left alone to tend themselves with their mothers busy in their own errands or temple going or servant dealing or cooking the children were like flocks of sheep with a rare shepherd to guide them ,they knew their limits and were careful not to be seen much in the presence of the grand uncle or other sterner seniors ,school days involved walking at least for 4 to 5 km at times in poring rains with dark umbrellas and getting into the red roofed yellow walled building near the railway station where  many of the droning voices of their teachers were drowned by a rumbling train or shattering thunder and rain,

during karkadakam or the dark monsoon days the school was mostly flooded as the whole place turned into a green water world ,children safely stayed at home ,this was the time they stole into kitchens to steal jiggery or mango pickles and get into dark attics to play their games ,generally the children kept to their world and the adults to theirs but both were mutually aware of the other

summer would see  their teeth tingle with sourness as they bit into unripe green mangoes sprinkled with stolen red chilly powder or climb cashew trees and suck out the acidic juice while pocketing the cashew nuts to be roasted later over fire

jack fruits were plenty and many tummies had to be quitened with a mixture form the local compounder  after a gluttonous orgy of jack fruit eating frenzy

,children played well ate well and were generally free of any stress those days .

Nambiar vattam zindabad howled the gang of children when they saw the folded dhoti clad  Nambiar the chief cook ,he was a prized possession of VG uncle and though others tried to lure him with offers of lucre he stuck loyally to Thekkepat Kovilakkam  and for this he was bestowed with vast viceragal powers .

no nieces dared to cross sword with him and the senior most velliya muthamma or big mother conspired with him on matters of menu and came  to an understanding ,it was left to Nambiar to oversee the menu but to do the job he had two hands

one was svelte Ammini whose seductive hips tantalized many nephews to eternal visits to the kitchen to inspect what was brewing and what not ,Nambiar was well aware of such tempting possibilities and virile beings that roamed the house  and his stern roving eyes would discourage any such frivolities

he himself  was too old for such carnal temptations and only lost himself to the  cuisine itself ,it was his job to make Ammini do the work and for her assistance was Unal………who was an antithesis to Ammini……and her charms ,Unal ……was the hardworking loyal dog who did the odd jobs as an assistant ,there once was a story of a slithering snake biting Ammini…….which I had recounted in an  earlier post



   

many a heart missed a beat that day only to be resurrected with her saucy comeback !

It was only Nambiar who was allowed to cook for the big uncle  for he knew how fluffy the omelette needed to be or in which place the fork should behe knew how warm and soft  his toasts would be he knew how his English loving master liked his porridge his cup of ovaltine or his fineimported  biscuits to be

Uncle generally had his breakfast or dinner alone in the north hall where he sat like a king in the huge dining table Nambiar would serve his food quietly and stand with folded hand while Sankaran nair would walk busily up and down

 at times an elder niece would break in with a question as administrative matters were discussed  over uncles  mouthfuls

He would then stretch out in the wooden easy reclining chair with two huge foot rests spreading out his dhotied legs modestly as the workers lined up to receive their wages

 every single paise would be noted meticulously in his neat handwriting into his ledgers all so methodical and precise the scientist in him was always in the background ,

monthly once he would go for a tour to his lands around the house and it would last for two to three days as they were plenty and vast

During harvest season he would be very busy as loads of grain would be carried by dark sweaty men and women from different fields and the western compound would thunder with their feet trampling out the hay which would be gathered into small molehills the granaries would fill before the rains came  crashing  down to continue for more than three months ,many of the poor would then stay in makeshift huts in the ground as thiers would get flooded and were looked after and tended by their master whom they loved as much as he cared for them

 this was true socialism one born out of love not of fear as it is today .

Uncle would go to Kozhikode or Calicut at least once a month where he would have a huge list of to do things  so much so he would invariably stay there in some relatives house or in Mankavu kovilakkam from where one of the nieces husband hailed form ( my grandfather )

he would meet Dr Balakrishnan during his visits to check on his ailments

Dr Balakrishnan was occasionally brought to Parappanangadi by first class in the passenger train from Calicut

 it was a big event as the doctor came to kovilakkam with a retinue of servants who had go to the station to receive him and carry his bag

,Ravunni too joined such processions ,grand uncle would ask all nieces to bring their children if they had any problem to see the doctor and slowly a small clinic would be formed there

The good doctor   would go back by the evening train after a sumptous nambiar special lunch and he would be  laden with fruits and nuts and chips and his  fees

Grand uncle was a passionate reader he would order his books from Britain and his shelf was heavy with encyclopedias and short stories classics in leather bound luxury adorned his bookshelves he would sit majestically in the big red tiled hall behind a mammoth table to do his writing in his fine hand with exquisite pens

As I had described in an earlier blogpost his hoe and coe diaries were written meticulously for more than four decades every singe day without fail






 

 

The freedom fighters  of the village never used to like grand uncle

 he too had no love lost to them being the anglophile he was ,to him Indians should start talking of freedom once they acquired the good habits of the British  like hard work and punctuality which he felt they  possessed in abundance ,he would never part with his money to them as donations and considered them as riffraff ,

all this are from small bits of information I had gathered from my mother before she passed away

how I wish I had met this uncle of mine

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Women politicians

Women politicians are said to be less corrupt than their male counterparts ,I would take that with a pinch of salt knowing many examples which could disprove this theory
Are they more capable focused dedicated and action oriented
Are they more vindictive calculative and cunning in their manipulations or  more naïve
Do they have that sixth senseof female intuition to guide them  better
With the history of having a prime minister like Indira Gandhi who used to be called as the only Indian with balls we do feel so
She was a no nonsense women who would stand alone and give it to the many doubting Thomases who never made  any decisions in their lives
Her Italian daughter in law though giving an appearance of being a woman of substance is a master of backroom manipulations and string pulling through which she makes all her puppets dance to her tunes
A streak of narcissism exists in all women specially more in politician women
Mayawati the non glamorous uttar Pradesh politico spent crores to erect her own statues gazing into the skies while her downtrodden Dalit voters wallowed in poverty
Rabri Yadav now probably is counting the cattle to feed while her husband Laloo yadav plays marbles in Jail for cheating on cattle of their feed
 what an Yadav !
Sheila Dixit of Delhi is shaken with the Aam Aadmi which she had so far thought amounted to nothing after all aam aadmis are nobodies
The glamour good lookers like jayaprada jayasudha hema mailini  vijayantimala nafisa ali  add spice to an otherwise dull parliament ,other than this they serve little purpose
Heavy weights like Jayalalitha throw around their considerable weight to good effect as they frighten Karunanidhis  to hide behind his many wives
We should not forget foreign women politicians be it the enthralling Thai prime minister who could get most head of states forgetting what they came for during their détente conferences
Be it the   foreign minister of Pakistan by twiddling her eyebrows would send tremors into h er Indian counterparts

the austere Burmese freedom fighter  Aung sang or the globe trotting Hillary Clinton are examples of women who matter



























Sunday, November 17, 2013

Karthigai Deepam

Today is Kathigai Deepam  a celebration where lighted lamps are lit in the house ,
we too lit a few clay lamps in our home here in Brunei 
Lamps and brightness hold a lot of significance in Hinduism it is equated with enlightment and enrichment of ones soul from darkness to light !
The Karthiga festival falls on the day when six stars line up in line with the moon and has been imagined as six damsels who brought up Kathikeya or lord Muruga the one with six faces ,
it also coincides with Mahadeepam at  Thiruvanamalai

http://hariwrite.blogspot.com/2006/04/arunachala.html
where a huge fire lit on the hill shines over  the whole area signifying Lord Shivas column of fire which was so tall that an investigating Vishnu changes into  a boar diving deep into the bowels of earth but never finds  Shivas feet while Brahma flew up as a swan ,a long way up he catches hold of  a falling flower from Shivas head which had travelled 30000 years to reach there  and declared he had seen the head
 for this falsehood he was cursed never to have any temples for himself so we rarely find Brahma temples 
Kartiga festival is more seen in Tamilnadu Kerala and in Andhra Pradesh
it has been mentioned in Agananooru a scripture in 200 BC so its an ancient festival

Friday, November 15, 2013

Untold Story of Shilpa.....SAGA of a special child


The Saga of a special child ….ours …. an untold story of Shilpa

1984

Just one year after our marriage we looked at the world like any other with hope and happiness

26 and 21 years are ages when hope reigns supreme

The world is seen with rose tinted glasses   

And then we had our first baby

 Suddenly we went into a free fall and the future looked dark and foreboding.

This was a story we would hear repeatedly over the years from distraught parents of the disabled.

Suddenly you are moved into a different world, pushed behind curtains and you look at others who do not have the problem from a dark crevice.

Pain and punishment be it a handicapped child, loss of a loved one, even frustration and harassment in life changes perceptions and one crosses over into a world of misery

is this the hell people talk of ?

 Many of us never realize the heaven they are in do they?

But those who have been in pain surely do ,though time makes them forget things

 I wouldn’t wish learning these lessons  by personal experience it just isn’t worth it

sorry to say so

Back to our story We knew there was something missing from Shilpa though she looked like any other baby a trifle  smaller in size ,no disfigurements in fact she was a beautiful child .

There was a neonatologist in the hospital at that time neonatology was  a rare specialty he  confirmed our fears by clinically numbering her problems ,

The way doctors break bad news should be as nimble as breaking an egg ,unfortunately many of the physicians whom we met then were crude and unskilled in this vital acumen ,I still remember waiting in his overcrowded clinic after a few days with a whimpering and irritable shilpa ,finally we sent a note asking him to grant us earlier audience after all we were from the same profession ,and we had a problem child , I remember the reply note that Dr Gopaul sent to us  vividly even today after more than three decades ,it said “”you may wait till I call you “!!!!

We walked off in a gruff but even to this date both me and premila and me give priority to the handicapped or to our own colleagues waiting to see us ,

I hope Gopaul happens to read this or someone shows him this.

Over time humans get used to all miseries and they attempt to be happy with what they have.

For us too days moved ahead, at times filled with happiness and at others with grief, we would be happy at a small smile or a single step of our child years behind when other children would have done the same with natural ease but still great steps for us, our eyes would glow and we would declare to one and all of the tiny victory at times to be countered with a vacant stare or an amused smile at our strange happiness ! From the world at large .

everything is relative isn’t it ?

Temples, ashrams wise men many specialists ‘in different hospitals astrologers the frequented haunts by such parents were not missed by us too

Slowly it sank into us that there is nothing the world we could do but sigh for our child and on that day we or rather premila my wife decided to be proactive.

We knew that only we could do something for her

We searched for and found Raksha Rehabilitation Centre in Cochin west a day care center for special children and shilpa started going there,

Premila would accompany her and sit through the sessions learning the nuances of teaching a special child

For her there was nothing more important than her child and she focused only on shilpa leaving the tending of the family part to me through our small clinic.

 we had to live you see !

We can never forget the dedication of the teachers and trainers in Raksha, they were dedicated sincere and totally committed ,Ms Jayashree menon ,Ms Manju Menon Ms Minal, so many more worked with dedication

truly they were angels of love.

They had no reason to be there to do this work which was demanding and needed a lot of patience and could give a lot of frustration too but they did it with a smile.

Shilpa did show improvement with all the attention she received ,she was a beautiful child and premila dressed her up in the best ,to her this was very important .

We heard that Christian medical college hospital in Vellore had a centre for training special children along with their parents from a doctor couple friend of ours who had a special child too.

Premila communicated with them and soon left with shilpa and her mother and our second daughter Sruthi to Vellore

Nambikkai Nilayam in Tamil means centre of hope, true to its name this centre run by the psychiatry department of Christian medical college Hospital was a pioneering experiment to include parents of mentally challenged children to live together and be involved in training of their special child and in the process be taught in the nuances of looking after and improving the child.

This had several benefits for one it was something proactive for a parent who did not know how to go about doing anything for his or her child, secondly it empowered them and gave them a very positive attitude to their predicament it also brought together several people with similar issues and thus developed cohesiveness from each other to solve their problems in a better way, parents also were given time off with the staff looking after their children to release their stress.

The novel concept attracted Premila a lot and within as short time she was an active participant in the training as well as in parent activities sowing the seed for her parent related work which would grow.

Shilpa too was happy as she had undivided attention from many, the place was calm and easing.

After about 6 months Premila had learnt a lot on training her daughter.

We also showed Shilpa to the cardiology department in CMCH for the  ventricular septal defect ( hole in the heart ) ,to any other parent having a VSD would give them great worries but to us with her developmental issues which was impossible to be treated we were less anxious but we knew it had to be closed if she would be symptom free later ,at times most VSD close spontaneously but with age if it did not then it would be better It was closed surgically or else she could develop irreversible cardiac failure with time .

We wanted what any other child would get for Shilpa  and were ready to leave no stones unturned to achieve that .

The cardiologists also felt surgery at the earliest would be a good option in her case but was hesitant to give us a date, one of them asked us if it was cost effective to spend money for such a child and when we protested that for us she is our child as much as any normal child they declared they did not encourage surgeries for such children as their time would be better utilized for normal children!!

This was we felt and still feel a heartless policy for heart surgeons

 (Forgive the pun could not resist that  ),and we could never forgive that institute for having such a policy

We did not lose heart,we travelled to Madras to meet eminent cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Cherian who was a celebrity ,he listened to our story patiently being  a man of few words never made any comments but just said I shall do it and for you both in a concession go ahead and plan for it, he was God himself to us .

And thus the great man took great care and operated on our delicate daughter with great finesse and Shilpas heart was finally healed  .

Returning back to Cochin after recovering Shilpa started going back to Raksha with her mother every day

Premila would dress her in the best and most fashionable dresses and with all her problems she looked like an angel but as she grew so did her problems ,she could still walk only with support and still had toilet accidents ,this never stopped us from taking her out ,we were  adamant that she would go everywhere so we went for dinners in good hotels to holidays in hill stations ,at times we were embarrassed by toilet accidents and we also had to constantly listen to people giving free advice of why it all happened and what should be done all this something that all parents of the handicapped go through .

This gave us an inside feel of a parent and we became active in parents organizations

We were part of the founders of Mithram a parent group who planned to start a residential centre with parents running and later living together as a colony which today has become a reality in  Mulanthurthy in Kerala .

The state council for Exceptional children a Kerala parent organization was also formed to fight for the rights of mentally challenged and their parents and I was the first President of the same .

We organized the first parent meet in Kerala in Ernakulum with experts giving talks

We also started counseling and giving lectures to parents on rearing a special child.

 

The days ran fast with our work in this field and our professional duties in running our own clinic called Shilpa clinic .both our mothers and premilas  father  were like pillars to us during this time

Shilpa was unfortunately not doing so well by this time she was developing seizures or fits which was quite common for severely handicapped children as they generally had brain damage

We used to manage most seizures with our own medications but at times we needed to take her to hospitals and we were faced with some doctors insisting on procedures like lumbar punctures which is generally done to diagnose seizures but in her case as the cause was well known and as doctors we knew it was not needed we refused such tests and did not want her to undergo invasive diagnostic tests with no use whatsoever but only for academic reasons  .

But many a time we were shocked by the heartlessness of our own colleagues who insisted that she have those tests if we wanted to continue or else we could take her home !

of course there were also some who looked after her with so much concern and empathy ,Dr Venugopal pediatrician in City hospital was one such person we can never forget

just like in society we can never generalize in any profession there are always the good and the bad .

Even though medicine has evolved over the time developmental intervention was a far cry amongst even trained professionals ,trained as they are in diagnosis and therapeutics they find themselves in ignorance in a situation which doesn’t fit into their training and they have no answers to some questions ego too played a great part as ignorance to be accepted by one required a broader mindset ,we still remember when shilpa was born we met the Director of pediatrics in Chennai ,he examined her and told us that she had a developmental problem and a VSD but when we asked further on her developmental delays and the future she was likely to have ,he avoided our question and went on talking about her cardiac issue till we left the place  .this was a classical case of ignoring selectively some things for which one had no answers ,referring to a special educator or for physiotherapy and other allied health care specialists did not come easily for many specialists who felt how could they do something for which we have no treatment ,of course this attitude has lessened these days .

Avoiding hard facts  and skirting the main issue is at times used by all professionals when they are uncomfortable with the topic even I can be accused of the same at times so this is not to blame anybody but to show a picture of the predicaments a parent of a handicapped child goes through .

We both felt parent counseling was vital not only to accept the child positively but to move away from denial and depression and to be proactive in the development of their child

Shilpa was teaching us all along her short life so many things .

She also taught us the value of small events which could make one happy,

she opened a window into the grief in other people who at times had more suffering or less than us ,through pain life was more clearer but I wouldn’t recommend that route of learning for anyone as it is a hard way to learn indeed .

Life  was like the waves in a deep sea rolling up and down but if one maintained an inner calm like in the the ocean  deep one could get through it without a lot of misery .

Another message we got was that every person had their own joys and miseries and it’s different only by grades by time and by attitude or acceptance

Everything in life is relative

We found many parents who were extremely cheerful and happy even with a disabled child and so many problems they faced on the other hands some with normal children always worried on their school achievements comparing them to other children and were miserable all the time, so it wasn’t always what you got it was how you took it but still having a handicapped child physically or mentally is a considerable strain for any parent and they needed support.

Another discovery we made were there was greater acceptance of bad luck in poorer people than in the richer ones ,of course one can never generalize as there could be exceptions on both sides  ,probably for the poor the stakes are lesser and they carry on better ,the poor expect more miseries and are attuned to its coming there is also an inherent acceptance of deficiencies in their societies which accept handicaps and treat them just as someone a bit different whereas amongst the rich there is more of a societal pressure of succumbing to established norms and hence there was self-consciousness and lack of acceptance of their wards ,they were also more concerned and bothered of what society would think than the poor .

One good example was when we conducted the first parent seminar in Ernakulum a curtain raiser came in the newspaper a few days back announcing the event and inviting parents across the state to participate in it ,I got a call from a senior police officer who mentioned that his only son a sixteen year old  was  mentally challenged , the mother too was a medical professional and  in a senior position in the Government and they both held important positions .He was keen to know more about the conference I was happy that such people too could be a part of the budding parent movement ,he insisted that he would come home to meet us before the conference and we asked him to do so asking him to bring his son too ,we knew that many are not happy with special children being brought to homes or public functions etc and we made it a point always to welcome them to our house .

A posh car brought the official his wife and a very smart handsome 16 yr old boy who wished us smartly as soon as he saw us the boy obviously was not mentally challenged so we asked the police officer about his mentioning that his only son was a special child and he replied yes he is but we don’t take him out, this is our nephew and he lives with us and we take him out everywhere!

Then he disclosed the reason for his coming and it was to ask us for a nice place where his son could be left permanently to be looked after and he was willing to part with any amount for the said purpose!

He came to the wrong persons for we strongly felt that no parent should ever dump his child whatever be their disabilities and later when Shilpa school was formed too we never made it a residential one just to avoid such tendencies.

and thus time rolled on with Shilpa becoming bigger ,taller but also burdened with recurrent seizures or fits which was becoming intractable ,she used to love the wind on her face and I used to make her sit on my bike on my front as she was safely ensconced there and go for a fast ride she used to laugh as the wind blew her hair all of a sudden  she would become all silent and her head would lol down ,I knew she was about to get an attack of fits  and would immediately stop the bike and get an auto rickshaw to come back  but still I used to take the risk because she liked it so much .

Shilpa was eleven years now and as she grew older it was becoming more difficult to carry her when needed

other problems were also on the increase and she was unhappy most of the times ,once when Premila my mother in law  and my younger daughter Sruthi had gone to Mangalore to visit Premilas  sister and family ,on the return Shilpa had a long attack of seizure in the train and the next day was weak and drowsy ,she developed fever and we admitted to a hospital ,

we never knew Shilpa was going to leave us shortly and she just ebbed away due to a post ictal encephalitis though the best care was given to her till the end .

We were devastated at our loss

Many of the people who knew us found this attitude of ours strange

after all shouldn’t we be happy that we lost a disabled child .

true it was a relief for the bleak future of our old age when the question would come of what to do with a disabled child when the parents become too old to look after her or die before the disabled person a question that haunts most of the parents of special children ,

some of our friends even advised us to start living now as we had lost so many years in hardships !

But to us the loss was as much a loss as for any parent of any normal child there was no difference she was our daughter whose calm face at times wrinkled in unhappiness kept haunting us all the time.

This was all the more a strain for Premila who was pregnant at that time

 

She went through those empty days staying on and off in Anand Ashram near Kasargod and also attending discourses in local temples .

These are days  we still like to forget .

We also had very good support from some friends one particular friend an ENT surgeon would come home every day and stay with me for an hour hardly talking but only listening

(  Dr Nadarajan I can never forget you for that ! )

 

Shortly our son Shyam was born to us ,a new life like a gift for our loss ,but Shilpas looming presence had always been a part of our life even to this day after years have rolled away .

When the first anniversary of Shilpas demise approached Premila informed us of her plan to start a special school in her memory and no amount of dissuasion would stop her from doing that.

It was a small function when the Shilpa school for the mentally handicapped was begun in the house

we lived with just four to five children and one teacher just a small gesture ,the number of children multiplied fast and in three months we had more than forty children all coming in the morning and leaving by late afternoon ,our house turned into a school during daytime ,even the car porch had children there was now more teachers and some of them trained in special education ,we had one physiotherapist visiting us .

We were advised by many to start a charitable organization or trust so that we could avail of governmental help for our activities and thus the Shilpa Society for the mentally Handicapped was registered as a charitable organization its members mostly our friends and well wishers were mostly professionals who shared our concern for the handicapped.

Slowly shilpa society grew we were advised to buy a small piece of land to have our own building as the house could hardly contain the growth .

One thing that had amazed me over the years is the assistance that came from somewhere when something is done unselfishly it was so true in Shilpa society

The celebrity legend singer Yesudas dearly called as Dasettan by all Malaya lees once visited our school with his wife ,he advised us to apply for income tax exemption for donations and also encouraged us to build our own building ,his words turned true as we bought a small piece of land from one of our members amongst the small contributions from many was the one we could scrounge from selling our Maruti car and buying a new one with a loan

Dasettan himself put foundation stone and we managed to build the ground floor by a donation from TVS groups who were related to our president Dr Rangamani a retired civil surgeon with a golden heart.

The building was well planned and disabled friendly with a ramp to the upper floors it had a small garden and a small pool too,it had physiotherapy equipment’s and special education tools ,

we never imagined we could go beyond that but strangely when the ground floor was over we got a call from a German priest who had visited us an year back but later never contacted us ,father was bringing us a cheque just needed for our second floor

Amazing !

And then one more surprise as we finished the second floor a Parsi trust known to my aunt  because she had studied with one of the trustees in Mumbai helped us with money for the third floor !

Shilpa School had a wonderful building all within a year and our beloved Dasettan inaugurated it with so much grace.

The school would go on to see many celebrities over the years ,people in the area would look forwards to all annual days as they knew some superstar would adorn the stage ,

we were not celebrity hunters nor did any of them give us financial support and we asked them only for their time ,we called them as most of our students watched TV as their only entertainment and were delighted to see them ,

all creative people had tender souls and many of them empathized with our children ,it was again a lesson to us

Government grant was issued and the school became more professional, formalities also increased as we needed to maintain records stringently and the staff grew

Premila left me with two children to Secunderabad to the National Institue fo mentally handicapped to do a post graduate course on Early intervention of disabilities ,she also started her MSc in psychology by distant education so that she was more professional in her commitment .

We could get many neurologists orthopedic surgeons pediatricians psychiatrists to conduct clinics and give lectures in our school ,nutritious lunch was provided for the children and we encouraged parent participation to a large extent .

It was like one big family

Children were taken for picnics sports events even for a flight around Cochin courtesy Ari India ,

Premila spent most of the day in the school and would often be found with a child in her hip

 to her all were her children

she often used to say I lost one Shilpa but I found hundred Shilpas !

One Downs syndrome boy whose mother had serious burns due to an accident had no one to look after him in his house till his mother got discharged and he stayed in our house for more than a month we never thought of them as other children to us every one of them was our shilpa but later we came to know sadly that  not all parents felt like that !

Our Shyam and Sruthi grew during all this they too were tuned to our life styles and would often come to the school and help out ,our mothers took over their upbringing ,

I had joined Lakeshore hospitals with Dr V.P Gangadharan in medical oncology by this time

 he too was a great support to our activities and always used to praise the work done by Premila

Premila received many accolades and awards TV interviews and magazine articles were done on her ,she allowed all this so that her message to parents would spread more many parents came from different parts for counselling and advice every single service was given free of cost ..

The school had more than 140 students by now and more than 30 staff with 2 buses and one van used for transporting for a long,its building was by now too small for it and we requested for land at concession from GCDA cochin and were granted  a good piece of land in a prime spot ,the story was repeated funds came surely and slowly and the three storeyed building came into being

So many people had helped us over time which included from common men to men with power and influence in their positions politicians creative people industrialists merchants professionals all this came on their trust in our society its members its commitment and its transparency

Above all it was the dedication of premila that made all this happen

I had only been a silent supporter in her shadows

It was by now slowly and surely that the wheels turned to the another direction

Disgruntled elements rise in any venture especially in a place like Kerala ,

a small caucus of parents and staff who had axes to grind over time with outside political support made trouble

this grew with time  into mammoth proportions,

to our surprise one of the parent activists known to us for a long time joined forces against the society till this day we do not know what made him do that !

I had by then moved into the UAE for a job and Sruthi was in Trissur doing her plus two ,

pressure from Government agencies on the inducement of some influential people and a part of the media all joined hands and made a mountain out of a mole hill

Harassment often   causes frustration

 To someone who had dedicated a  life to the cause and  to someone who breathed the mission it was ironic that some of the very forces who benefited from that mission turned tables and were part of a group who accused and taunted ,

The mother of the Downs syndrome boy who stayed with us was also in that group, the majority were silent and never opened their mouth though they knew it was all wrong,

Shilpa society members stood as one against this unfair onslaught and reacted angrily at this harassment the school continued to work well though every attempt to close it including Dharnas, police complaints court cases and even human rights accusations were heaped on the school and society!

 People in responsible positions acted strangely at the behest of their political masters who mysteriously moved the pawns in the background

Even to this day it is an enigma how and why it happened

After all it was a small special school and a charitable society doing good work and why should someone wreck it but this was done systematically there is no doubt it was a well-planned move by forces stronger than we imagined.

Many powerful bureacrats advised us to leave the school so that they or the masterminds directing it could take over

We were frustrated and irritated at what happened and our society members were determined that shilpas school and society cannot fall for these small petty people,

I was also determined that Premila should face no more harassment for all the good she did.

she was an excellent physician and she could easily get an excellent job anywhere or continue to run her clinic

she had sacrificed her whole life for people amongst whom were such ungrateful wretches as only Kerala could provide

 sorry to say that  

Our society made a decision

 they knew that the fulcrum of the mission was Premila and her leaving would only lead to its fall unless it is taken over by an equally committed organization so that it does not fall into unscrupulous hands who were aiming at it .

The Amritha organization is well known in Kerala and around the world for its selfless services in the fields of education ,medical care disability disaster relief and in so many other avenues of charitable activity



 it functioned  under the blessings of Mata Amr
tanandamayi who was a great realized soul ,




society members and premila went to Ammas ashram and recounted the saga of Shilpa society and the need for an able and selfless organization to take it under its fold ,Amma consented as she realized the sincerity of the work done intuitively ,

slowly over the year the Amritha group ran the school and recently officially all assets were transferred to Amritha group without any cost considerations and with only the assurance of carrying forwards all its ideals in same and definitely a better manner considering the experience and commitment of Amritha to many causes

Shilpa school and society continues to live today ,and there are many programmes like training of professionals ,research programmes parent education etc planned with efficiency with the immense scientific and academic strengths the organization possesses .

Telling this story is not to accuse anyone or to cry over our bad times it is to share our experiences in life which showed us its two faces and often it is to narrate our moments of grief frustration and misery which was overcome with the courage dedication and  commitment of one  person whose heart glowed with the light of a mission ,it is to show that  good does win ultimately however much evil tries to harm it with all its powers ,it is also to shine a light on Kerala an enlightened literate state but one which also  has a minority who are bent on destroying anything good that happens by their chanakyan machinations .

This untold story is of the lessons learnt some good some bad

It is a saga of fulfillments and at the same time frustration

Should we have kept quite when our Shilpa left us

Should we need to have start a society for other similar children we could have just donated some money for the cause and continued to run a family with all its small pains and gains and live happily ever after

Did someone who decide to dedicate herself with pur love to all disabled children and their parents deserve the amount of hate that came because of that

No answers for such questions

If one would ask me I would reply a bit differently from my wife I would say it was not worth it and none of them deserved what they got ,but Premila has no regrest ,to her to this day and Iam sure forever every single shild in Shilpa school would continue to be hers and her would continue to bleed for them and their parents .

Bur one thing is sure Shilpa society will continue its children will grow and new children will join its staff would continue to teach and many of them would be committed to their cause ,the tribulations and trials which we encountered may be forgotten over times thought the painless scar would always knaw in Premilas mind that her sincerity and commitment was reciprocated in such a fashion

for this I would blame all who were  behind it and  the majority who kept silent !

Lessons learnt and to be learnt from  this saga of a disabled child

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 


 

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