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Monday, July 27

Taller, greener, better...

There is good news just out for skyscraper buffs like me!

The Civil Aviation Ministry and the Airport Authority of India have trimmed down the height restrictions for constructions around our airports. This allows for buildings to sprout higher into the skies above our cities, almost double to what was permitted until yesterday.

I expect Kerala to significantly make use of this waive in the existing law. Kerala has been the only state outside the megapolis Mumbai, and to a lesser extent Gurgaon, to embrace the highrise culture. The trend which was kicked off in Cochin in the early 90s slowly spread to even the smaller Municipal towns of the state. Its become a fashion statement with even towns like Thiruvalla and Kottayam with just over 1 lakh population hosting 20+ structures.

Even though it may take some time for our local self Govts to adapt themselves to the law, it is certain that the Architects and builders would be licking their lips to make full use of it. Kerala is only second to West Bengal in population density; with 35 million inhabitants @ 825/sq km and severe scarcity of de-notified habitable land, it is common sense to understand that this model of urban development suits us best.

I'm a sucker for tallies, yo! I admire the style of urban development followed in North America and Australia which plots a highrise CBD, with suburbs harbouring midrises and housing estates. Each suburb is planned to be self-sufficient on its own for their shopping and entertainment needs, with residents travelling to city-center only for business and work. The CBD builds and rebuilds itself with major improvements necessary only in the transportation network.

A typical US city; Chicago seen here

European cities have taken a different route in urban planning with the CBDs not distinguishing itself from the suburbia in terms of height. Apart from a handful of cities like Frankfurt and Paris the concept of a tall central district was considered alien. But lately Moscow and even London appears to be moving towards the American way with new skyscrapers planned in their erstwhile low-rise heartlands.

Standard European cityscape; Berlin, Germany

In India there doesn't seem to be any definite pattern; haphazard has been the general rule, and Kerala has followed suit. This waiving of height restrictions means that now buildings would be allowed to rise twice as high as previously allowed. The new regulations make it possible for utilization of the land in a better, economical manner. Even though AAI primarily had Mumbai in mind while trimming the numbers, Kerala will benefit more than the megalopolis as along with the high population density we also have the highest concentration of present and planned International Airports in the country, 3 at present, 1 under serious planning and a dozen or so proposed, cough..cough..**

Kerala already has quite a few impressive records for highrise construction. Apart from the tallest u/c residential tower in South India, the Choice Paradise, there are elaborate plans for even taller apartments, hotel complexes, IT parks and so on, and this new regulations will be a shot in the arm as well.

I believe this would lead to a better utilization of land for supporting the exploding urban population. Utilization of land is a critical component of city-planning and the in-city airports, like the one in Trivandrum, did hinder its vertical rise in a big way. The major arteries of Trivandrum, especially the MG Road were shut down to highrise structures because the runway at TIA was too close. The newly developing pockets of the city along the NH Bypass also had height handicaps because it fell directly on the take-off funnel. With a cap of 60m for highrises even on NH Bypass, Akkulam, this seemed another handcuff for the builders and planners. As I understand it, structures could rise upto 50 stories on Akkulam shores where anything beyond 21 floors were not possible before.

Well, if you ask me if anyone is going to build such tall sky-kissers, Kerala cities have already breached the 30 floor mark and planning permission has been sought for 48 floored skyscrapers outside the Trivandrum city limits. A liquor baron in the city had plans for a true mixed-use skyscraper but this proposal got stuck on AAI tables. So if you ask me, I'm optimistic to see Kerala produce skyscrapers of a different breed!

Apartment developers could score some brownie points by going for true highrises because it gives an opportunity to provide more green, open spaces for the residents. I'm no fan of urban sprawl, where the city extends miles and miles into the outbacks. Expanding horizontally is inevitable for a growing city but only after it has exhausted the options for vertical growth. Sprawl will only lead to more complications in the future, like transportation, increased cost of maintaining infrastructure over a wider geographical area & encroachment into farmlands and forest-lands. If we don't want to end up as a bonsai form of Los Angeles, then we'd better check the horizontal growth of our cities. Experts are calling for more mixed-use developments to counter the sprawl, and growing taller is definitely the striking option.

And know what, taller could well be the greener option too! We've already had a beginning here in Trivandrum, SFS Grande, remember? Go green, go tall and save our poor Earth from this CO2 witch...please.

With the new AAI regulations in place, it is now upto the Govt of Kerala to get their priorities right regarding the width of the roads, policies such as FAR, utility developments and urban layouts with taller structures in mind. At least in the new developing corridors, provisions had to be made for the smooth graduation of our cities from midrise havens to highrise districts!

So let the race begin, eh? ;)

Thanks for JK and Desipundit for featuring this article.
The article also featrued in Urban Architecture

Thursday, July 23

Hell in a handbasket

Disclaimer: The references to any specific community or belief in this article is not aimed at spreading hatred. The newslinks provided are from national news-agencies and I regret if any of the observations made here hurt any reader in any way.

The smart Kerala Police has nabbed the prime suspect in the Ernakulam Collectorate blast the other day. Nice job again, yes, provided you keep him warm for the next few years.

Because the last time this guy Abdul Halim was arrested for stealing a car, (later proved to be used for the Bangalore blasts) the Police let go of him as they were taken for a ride by his tear-jerker tale about a dying wife! Imagine that...

Well, this post isn't exactly about Abdul Halim or Kerala Police but about a few uncomfortable pricks which have managed to creep under the unsuspecting Kerala society. The literate, affluent, forwardish and orhodox mallu-land folks are awakening to the rude truth that our evergreen strip of earth is no longer a cozy honeymoon point.

In reality, Kerala is emerging with a tag none of us would like to hear...a feather-bed for perpetrators and extremists. Look at this report from the Institute for Defense Studies , New Delhi, as early as in 2006.

The fact that the recent terror attacks in our country cut a vivid trail back to our state should've been a wake-up call for our think-tanks, especially in the aftermath of Mumbai 26/11. On the contrary, when other states have fastened their seat belts, Kerala still seems to be on a jaywalk with our lethargic leaders turning a deliberate blind eye towards the looming danger on the horizon.

The Calicut bus-stand blasts failed to wake us up, the Intelligence reports about utilization of Kerala soil for illicit activities were brushed aside, training camps in Vagamon went un-noticed and now we got it in a major district headquarters, and is it wrong to assume that these were dry runs for a much bigger or softer target? Still our Home Minister has gone on record claiming that the Collectorate blast was a one-off incident and nothing to be concerned about. Will our authorities and leaders only wake up if the wrong people decide to test the walls, furniture and the living souls inside the Secretariat, God forbid? Or perhaps we haven't got enough blood on our hands to necessitate desperate measures?

As a Keralaite, its appalling to see the ever-growing tally of Malayalees figuring in the wrong lists for the wrong deeds.

I always assumed religious fanaticism and intolerance to be ingredients of an idle, demented and illiterate mind. How wrong I was! Its shocking, to say the least, that the major culprits we've got here are all professionally educated folks bred out of leading institutions. So education doesn't make a man wise, does it? And such chauvinism indwelling in the minds of the exuberant Kerala youth appears baffling to many.The authorities may better check out the breeding grounds for the next battalion of fanatics right inside our professional colleges. It is unfair and in-just to point the finger at any particular community, but it will be for our own demise if we let loose the activities that go on in the name of God down there. It is no secret that there is widespread preaching classes, akin to those in Madrassas, going on in the Hostels of our Medical and Engineering colleges. The malleable young brains are moulded too easily and injected with all the malignant ideas, and I've been a spectator to this while in college. Some of the 'teachers' are upto no good, belonging to the same class as Abdul Halim, and the seeds of hatred, violence and fanaticism are easily sown.

A major aganda of these religious preaching is to view the religion above self, family and motherland. Inadvertently, provided the sensitive and abrasive history of our country, it is not too difficult to inject the poison of anti-nationalism into these students. End result: we get outputs like Shibily (software engineer and mastermind behind Vagamon camp) and C.A.M.Basheer(Aeronautical Engineer and most-wanted terrorist) from our colleges. This bud has to to plucked out and crushed at the earliest, for our own good.

The policies of our govt doesn't help either, with now Madrassas bestowed the same value as a CBSE certificate we can expect a turbulent ride, in future. Madrassas, whatever be the noble intentions behind them, have often turned out to be breeding grounds for fundamentalism, as evident from across our national border. Hush, these vote-bank politics...

Remember, the same vote-bank calculations almost caused a few lives in Calicut and Cochin because this guy Halim, a former ISS/PDP activist and Abdul Nasser Madhani's bodygurad, evaded arrests just because of the political environment which prevailed in Kerala before the previous Lok sabha elections.

Mr. Karat and Mr. Pinarayi may check and recheck their coalition arithmetic before their affiliate decide to check out a few more soft points. The only attribute I found right in the Left was their true-secular policies and now it has just vapourised into thin air. PDP had its rebirth from the murky shadows of the ISS(Islamic Sevak Sangh) and its alarming to see our mainstream political parties joining hands with such fringe groups.

Let's face it, our State Police is not trained to deal with this rising threats of extremism and still operates under shoe-string budgets. We need to discriminate a rookie goonda or petty thief from a trained extremist, and at the moment our laws are too soft on the latter. If Halim walks out through the loopholes in our system again, like he did last time, then its only a matter of time before he makes us regret.

So ding-dong! Its wake-up time... Act now before its too late. Do we need to write all scripts in blood? After all it is much much more thicker than water.

Related Post: Living on borrowed time

Monday, July 20

I'm moving...

Hi all,

I'm in the process of moving to my own domain name at

Some of the features in the present address may not be fully functional in the new domain. And I'm no tech-guru, so expect some glitches for the first few days as I'm looking at customising the site more to suit my taste. ;) So I'm going to experiment with this poor site for the next few days.

So dont be aghast if you find this site in total mess this week.. The culprit is right here.

I've added the Blogroll manually and please notify me if you find your blog absent from the list. I dont want to miss any of your posts, no...

And I dont want you to leave without any fun. Here read on... Someone stole a Police Jeep a stone throw away from my house in Trivandrum! Now thats what I call a kiduva..

Saturday, July 11

Gods own craters

This is just a filler-post compiled from a forwarded e-mail I received today.

Courtesy: Metro Vaartha

One more reason why you should have a comprehensive insurance cover while taking-on the Kerala roads during monsoon. You never know where you'll end up, like this hapless biker found out.

Yes its funny, untill its you or me with our family down there...Hope the guy is ok, though.

These roads must be specially designed for amphibians, as found out by the warm-blooded dude who came to the rescue of the lad in the pool and ended up in 'hot water' himself. Able to swim must be a mandatory requisite for all the emergency-crew in Kerala, you concur? ;)

Sunday, July 5

The Pen, the ink & the colours PART III

Disclaimer: This post is not aimed at spreading detestation, nor is this an attempt to differentiate the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm aiming to evaluate in a small detail how one of our leading vernacular dailies has been doing their business around with regard to the ethical principles in journalism. The views expressed here are personal and the links to the blogs provided in this article is for the purpose of a broader description, but I do not claim responsibility for all the statements in those posts. Read the full disclaimer before proceeding to read this article.
Concluding, from Part I and Part II

The claim is pretty vociferous and veracious... Malayala Manorama is the most circulated newspaper in Kerala. It is ahead of its nearest opponent by over 5lakh copies (ABC 2008)

And the lead still keep climbing...

Manorama has a few points to their credit. It appears the most glitzy of all mallu dailies; it has an attractive makeup, is colourful and catchy, leads by miles in the quality of print and paper and sits pretty on a strong advertising cushion. Good for ém, sure!

Manorama is second to none in reporting business and development news, is forward-thinking when it comes to showcasing the state as an investment destination and is one of the well known Superbrands of Kerala. I like their Sports page, hosts a superlative 'Opportunities' supplement and dishes out a trendy 'Metro' pull-out in the bigger city editions. Not surprising at all, Manorama hosts the best online edition among all contemporary regional papers.

But wait a minute. Are we talking about a newspaper or a waxpaper here? Manorama is surely an 'intellectual product' and certainly not a 'material' one. And you take out the mundane features like colour and texture and look at MM in the right way, then you'd see why its no better than toilet-paper.

Have a look below to see how Manorama gets people to 'see' things. Below is the Manorama report of Pinarayi Vijayan's 'crowning' after the Navakerala march. The MM photographer's focus was on V.S. Achutanandan and his apparent disinterest with the proceedings. MM makes sure the point gets across by the tagline below the picture.

And see how Kerala Kaumudi has reported the same news. And hey, Achumama is all glued up into the action!

Images: Courtesy Sajith Vijayan, Rajith Mohan

I'm the last person to support our current CM Achuthanandan or his commie Govt, nor am I closing my eyes to the open war between the two senior comrades, but what kind of reporting is this? May be you could argue that it was the Kaumudi reporter who waited for the right time for his click, but given MMs track record this is another instance where it has created an avenue for sticking the hot rod onto the reds' ass.

Not the least surprising, given the history that the late godfather of this paper had vowed that he would commit suicide if a Communist Govt ever got elected in Kerala. Period.

The tradition is still kept alive by the new generation MM journos by news like "CPM activist's wife commits suicide" , "CPM supporter kicked his wife" (hyperbole) and so on...It isn't an exaggeration to say that Manorama and Deshabhimani will balance each other when it comes to biased reporting, you know what I'm talking about. Wonder if Congress will ever need another "Veekshanam" ?

The newspaper's wicked and shady deeds need just one undignified example: the ISRO Espionage Scandal that rocked the nation in the 90s. Who else could be behind such outrageous dreamwork rivaling the Hollywood fiction writers other than Manorama? The fairy tale cooked up by Manorama was taken over by other media and turned into a full-blown scandal. Spare a thought for the innocent souls, including the foreigners and the scientists, caught in the trap.

Recently, when the whole country was unanimous in condemning President George Bush and the United States for triggering another unnecessary and monstrous war in Iraq, Manorama shocked the entire state by exhibiting in the front page an emotional photograph of an American wife bidding a tearful farewell to her Marine hubby departing to destroy Iraq in a US warship!!! Disgraceful is a mild word to use here...What was MM thinking???

The accusations against the Manorama House doesn't end there. In the modern democratic era the word "lobbying" is as essential as it may sound obscene. Newspapers have their own regional preferences but Manorama is being constantly accused of playing the dirty regionalism card by torpedoing the developmental projects outside their turf.

When Infosys Technologies announced their interest on Kerala, MM jumped in with a clinical assessment of the locations Infosys considered and shortlisted their choice: Cochin. They even went on record with this one bit, totally exclusive which none of the other newspapers heard. When Minister Rajagopal proposed the Habitat Centre in Kowdiar, Manorama cited someone in the Finance Dept proposing to move the project to Cochin to help the project break-even early! Ditto with the Central University where what GoI wanted was 500 acres within 50km of an Int'l Airport. Manorama couldn't see beyond Malayattoor even when the Trichur location met the same criteria. When KCA announced the Cricket Stadium, MM came up with a report that 'officials' in BCCI had quoted that ''If not in Ernakulam, then nowhere in Kerala" WOW! The curious thing is that none of the other newspapers reported these 'demands', even though they were all present at the respective locales and conferences. So its logical to conclude that MM see and hear things which noone else does...

And lately,the finger has been pointed at the Manorama House for attempting to scuttle the Vizhinjam Port project for the favour of the business interests of their own backyard. Speak about the larger interests of the state!

This is what pisses me off to the maximum. Every newspaper has the right to be the patrons for their own niche, but could it only be done by annihilating the other locales? All these years I was reluctant to believe this one accusation against Manorama, but the Vizhinjam episode gave me first hand proof to see the truth. The personal account from one of my friends about the indifferent attitude of Manorama to report an awareness-campaign in favour of the port project put the newspaper in the right light, for me.

And Manorama, as shrewd as they are, pitches in with some seminars on Capital Development, Malabar Development and Coconut Development once a while, just for the namesake of it! Lets keep everybody happy, eh MM? and pull the plug from behind...

Even weird is some of the social issues and moral policing taken up by Manorama and its team. True, there have been some instances where the media house has to be given credit for reports like "How Kerala behaves towards the fairer sex".But there is ample proof that Manorama pays some of the inept journos in Kerala who haven't the faintest idea what they're writing about. First a stir-up in Vanitha about how mobile phones are perpetrating social morality, then comes a teething attack on Bluetooth technology which created a wave of laughter among the techies. And now Manorama has jumped upon the major medium of communication, the email!!

What does Manorama want us to do? Lock our telephones, throw away the mobiles, discard laptops and computers and go back to the Damayanthi- Hamsam era?

To crown it all, have a peep as to how careful and technically impeccable MM dudes are with their reporting. C'mon, have a look and enjoy! The report is of Planning Commission Deputy Chairman M.S.Ahluwalia speaking about the Budget, and look whose pic is there instead of the man...Nithari serial murderer Mohinder Singh Panther! Oops!

How very Manorama-istic... :()

So Manorama, behind all those glitz and colour, is not a dependable organization. It faults at its basic function: taking the truth to the public. You can argue that truth depends on which angle you look at it from, but view it upside down or in 3D, Manorama still stinks. It is a glorified example of the most-sold not necessarily being the best.

There is little hope that Manorama will change for their own good. They have a force behind them which keeps them going, not talking about the poor subscribers here. And at times I feel that as Keralaites we deserve something better than this load of crap.