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Sunday, August 30

Onam thoughts, career advice & some boring news

Another Onam round the corner and our dear old King Maveli must be well on his way 'up' from his abode.

Surely its a pretty vibrant Onam for us Keralaites... we're a state in full blast, yay we rock!!

The prices of all the essential commodities have skyrocketed 50%, 70% and 200%, but thank heavens the price of the most unavoidable commodity has remained stable. The commodity you see below...

Kerala State Beverages Corporation is having a rip-roaring time, apparently, with the record volume of sales in history. Bleh to recession! People are having a 'rum' time, that matters more!

Seeing is believing, the exemplary exhibition of civic sense by the Kerala gentlemen.. calm, composed, orderly, obedient... the King would be proud. (image courtesy The Hindu)

Discipline in front of a booze-shop in Calicut

I also heard that there are serious plans to bring in Trade Unions to function in the IT sector. Now that's good news because it will facilitate the movement of the educated youth from these bourgeois jobs to the only remaining and most rewarding of professions in the state: Quotation Gangs...

Any doubt? Check the newspapers or the channels to see who is making the headlines...Its not Achuthanandan, not Sonia Gandhi, not Obama, not Mohanlal, not Ambani..but Mr. OmPrakash, Mr. Puthanpaalam Rajesh, Mr. Gundukadu Sabu, Mr.Kaari Satheesh... And wow, the auditory 'impact' of the names, media spotlight, prosperous life..yo! A real invitation for the jobless youth...

The most talked about name on that list is a highly educated folk, with a high-distinction in SSLC, same for PDC and is a product of a reputed Bangalore professional College. So the field is attractive for the affluent and the educated.

Good luck to Maveli... Hope he got a good Life Insurance plan. Wait n see if he goes back down in one piece, and not sent further up.

And if he manages to go back to Pathalam, he could consider adopting a lost, abandoned and insulted soul: Mr. K. Muraleedharan who is roaming around the state like a nomad, knocking at all doors. But all's not lost yet, good old Dad is fighting it out!

And if you find that quotation groups don't suit your taste, why not join the youth wings of our Political parties and make your future secure... Each party feeds their own herd of prodigal sons: DYFI for the reds, Youth Congress for INC (no age-limit here), ABVP... Pick your team this Onam!

The only difference I could see is that these are 'official' quotation gangs registered under the pretext of 'students wing' or 'youth wing', whereas the bona fide quotation gang will usually get registration under the goonda list of the Police. But don't worry, its like the IPL and the ICL, they all play the same game.

Oh, and Salman Khan has his eyes on Kerala IPL team! Someone told me that it was Asin being the brand ambassador that caught the bad-boy's eyes...pssst... But what heinous crime did we do to deserve all this???

Let me add on some pretty uninteresting news on the way.. IIST opens its doors, IISER is well under construction, HDIL Cybercity is back on track, LNG Terminal in Cochin is well underway, the Real Estate sector is slowly coming back to life, the glamorous International Airport Terminal is fast nearing completion in Trivandrum along with the road-development projects... Pretty boring news for an average Keralaite but excusez moi for mentioning it.

HAPPY ONAM to you all!

Tuesday, August 25

TS Canal: A passage through time

I was pleasantly surprised to come across some of the vintage photographs of my sweet hometown while roaming through Google last evening. Historical portraits of how my city looked a good few decades ago, to be more precise, three-quarters of a century back.

Now I think anyone who loves this place should closely look and assess how the modern day democracy has benefited the city. The images in the post are that of Parvathy Puthanar or rather the TS Canal (Trivandrum- Shornur Canal). This 560 km waterway, as history says, was used as a means for transport of both people and goods, as an avenue for leisure and the water even used for bathing and drinking. The canal starts near Kovalam, a few kilometers from Trivandrum city-center, cuts through the city touching the Airport perimeter, old industrial estates, Akkulam lake, Kazhakkuttam and flows into the Kadinamkulam Lake. It then joins the Ashtamudi through a magnificent feat of Engineering called the Varkala tunnel.

TS Canal flowing into the Akkulam lake Pic courtesy Sudheesh Nair

The Parvathi Puthanar significantly boosted the trade relations that Trivandrum enjoyed with its neighbouring towns. There were anecdotes about the Travancore Royal family enjoying the rides in the waterway with crystal clear water, as evident from the name itself.

Alas, the name of the canal now severely contradicts itself. For a present day Trivandrumite, the TS Canal is synonymous with pollution, a portal for dispersal of communicable diseases and an end point for the raw sewage and wastes of the city. It's a total mess, a bane in itself. The once marvellous ecosystem has degraded into a weed-house, a breeding ground for rats and a habitat for vibio cholerae, E coli and thy mates. Not to mention the stenchy odour polluting the whole neighbourhood. The canal threatens the quality of ground water and even the Akkulam and Veli lakes.

Blame it on the authorities and the lopsided development of the city, but Parvathi Puthanar isn't something that the citizens could afford to let die. There has been sporadic and ineffective efforts by various Governments to resuscitate the waterway but with lack of funds, incompetent methods to check the primary pollutants and administrative red tapes meant that the canal remained a curse.

It doesn't give any comfort to see the canal in all its glory during the reign of the King. See for yourself...All the vintage photographs sourced from the LIFE photo-archive hosted by Google.

Then: The expansive boatyard near Chakkai bridge having business as usual.

Today: Somewhere nearby along the TS Canal, water as black as soot, smells rotten, flow stagnated and the ecosystem consisting of rats, weeds, parasites, microbes and the likes. (pic courtesy: Brijesh Nair)

The Vallakadavu Boathouse brimming with activity. Built in the 1820 it was the hub of cargo and passenger transport for Travancore State.

Today: An abandoned historical monument only of interest to Archeology students and historians. TRIDA spent 70 lakhs to restore the structure, but for what? (pic courtesy: The Hindu)

TS Canal near Varkala.

Today: The waterway flowing beside the Sivagiri Madam can scarcely be seen. (Pic courtesy:

Then: The famed Varkala tunnel.
Today: Passage almost impossible; clogged with silt and invaded by weeds. (pics courtesy:
Chief Minister V.S.Achuthanandan and officials visiting the tunnel as part of works related to National Waterway III

Then: The picturesque and green waterway used for commerce and travel.
Today: Too much "greenery"... Water hyacinths and weeds are the major travellers and inhabitants of the system.

The Chakkai boatyard from a different angle.
Today: This is somewhere around Chakkai. The colour of the water tells the tale. Those kids sure got guts! (pic courtesy The Hindu)

So there! What has the modern democratic governments done upto now? There is no point in flagging the dead horse, so lets move on and see what they propose to do about this catastrophe.

The Theerapadham Project envisaged by the authorities in the late 90s planned to convert the urban stretch of the TS Canal into a waterfront haven, yeah something like the image you see below. A dredger did some moving around here and there and deposited all the silt onto the canal banks. Soon there were protests from local residents about sullage on the shores and work stalled. At the first rains all those deposits were washed back into the canal and everything went back to square one.

There are fresh hopes raised when the 74 km Kovalam- Kollam stretch of the waterway was included as a part of the Smart Waterway project of the Central Govt. This will facilitate the desilting of the TS Canal, widening the canal to 14meters and to a depth of 2.2 m and restoration of the Sivagiri tunnel to complete the linking of the stretch to the National Waterway network which currently begins in Kollam. Works are currently underway on some reeches.

The project also envisages the integration of the Akkulam- Veli lake bodies and restoring the aquatic qualities of the water bodies. Boat terminals in Trivandrum and Varkala are planned. This time things have more chances to be fruitful because the primary funding is from the Central Government. Read more about the project here.

But for the full facial of Parvathi Puthanar into a modern day beauty there are some serious under-the-skin treatments to be performed which solely lie on the local self governments. First and foremost task is to check the influx of sewage into the TS Canal. Strict enforcement of law is necessary against whoever pollutes the water body. There has to be measures in place to check silting and ensure free flow of water. And obviously, one need to learn from earlier mistakes and make sure the dredged out sediments are disposed off properly. Combined effort of more than two Government Departments are needed for the whole process, which could be the toughest job of all!

Once realized, the prospects are immense! The cheaper transport options and growth of trade & commerce appear to be immediate benefits. Perhaps the Theerapadham project could well and truly take off once the waterway project is successful. The canal presently runs almost parallel to the NH Bypass and the NH 47 upto the Technocity area, before merging with Kadinamkulam. This throws up an exciting prospect of a waterfront boulevard on the lines of those in Amsterdam or Copenhagan. With the Internationally renowned destinations like Kovalam and Varkala on either sides and the local attraction of Akkulam-Veli on its way its a dream setting for any city .Throw in the swanky new International Airport under construction on its path I already see the intelligent investor rubbing his hands and licking his lips!

Now we don't want this to end up like the canal system in Alappuzha which constantly deliver chaos to the town. Town planners must also walk in the boots of an interior designer if we want to see a truly charming parkway. And please, don't give us another dampener like the Veli-Akkulam Walkway which has broken down and dissolved in many areas.

Are these ideas outlandish? I honestly don't feel so.. I strongly feel that as a nation in gallop, our cities need to think a step above the big names I mentioned in this article. And why can't Trivandrum? May be this is one chance to show the world we're capable of exhibiting a glossy showcase as well!

Saturday, August 22

The Kerala Gold Rush

An unprecedented number of Jewellery showrooms stipulated to open in the heart of my hometown in Trivandrum sparked this article, to dig deep into this phenomenon.

The phenomenon called Gold.

Kerala is well known for a higher than average consumption of two materials: first the ethyl alcohol products we usually mix with water to quench thirst and boredom, and second this yellow metal. The craze for these two items are quite legendary that you will find the most obedient, law abiding and orderly men in front of the Beverages Corporation outlets and the most spirited and trendy of women in these Jewellery showrooms. Quite a phenomenon, don't you think so?

Keralites' madness for the yellow metal is so evident from the fact that there are expansive Jewellery shops in every nook, corner and bend of the state. The small pass-through town of Karunagappally, a quaint town midway between Cochin & Trivandrum, proudly exhibits at least a dozen gold shops, some of them rivaling those in the big Indian Metros.

I've been kept guessing at the unveiling of these Jewellery showrooms all across my city this Onam. Its just a few months back that some of the well known jewel merchants like Sunny Diamonds, Prince Jewellery (Chennai) and Kalyan Jewellers(Trichur) set up shop in Trivandrum. And this Onam and the subsequent few weeks will see the unveiling of nearly half a dozen glittering branded jewellery merchandise ranging from 10,000 sq ft shop area to 25,000 sq ft.

This is not just restricted to Trivandrum alone; Aerens Gold Souk International is all set to throw open the mother of all Gold showrooms on NH Bypass, Cochin. A colossal 5 lakh sq ft of pure pristine space largely devoted to gold and silks. As per reports nearly all the major jewellery retailers in the country will have their own space in this specialty mall. Cochin already hosts all major Gold retailers within the state as well as from places like Mumbai, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Speak about all these recession, retail-gloom, job-losses, curbing of business expansion...I don't see any loss of glitter in these jewel merchants' face. In fact their business seem to be on an overdrive! What a paradox!

Kerala buys/sells over a quarter of the 800 tonne Gold sold all over India. The market is estimated at a whooping 20,000 crores. An established branded dealer sells anywhere between 10kg-40 kg Gold one single day; so that's just 1-5 crores per day! Small shop owners pinch out sales of around 100g to a few kilograms from between the whales.

One can't complain, considering the impact this business has on Kerala economy. The industry employs around 2 lakh people, including 40,000 goldsmiths and 5000 retailers. A single 2,000 sq ft showroom will employ as much as 25 personnel and a massive one such as a Wedding Center could generate hundreds of local jobs. In Kerala, Trichur is the focal point of the jewellery manufacturing industry, harbouring nearly 3000 craftsmen units.

The Govt has taken one appreciable step forward to provide fillip to the industry where Kerala is functioning well. In a deal to organize and modernize the jewellery related business and jobs, GoK has initiated the construction of a Gold & Diamond Park in Kalamasserry, Cochin. This facility by Aerens will host a multitude of features such as Training centers, gemology institutes and facilities for testing, manufacturing & hallmarking of jewels.

But why all this mad rush behind the mellow yellow?

Keralaites trust Gold with all their heart. Gold has become the one thrust area for investment for an average Keralaite. And the metal hasn't let the trust down. When the much hyped-up real estate markets fell headfirst during the downturn, and every commodity from rubber to spices & oil to coconut have come crashing down, gold maintained its value and surprisingly, the prices even soared. One sovereign (8 grams) of Gold were heading towards the previously unimaginable mark of 10,000 Rs. This, one mustn't forget, is from a Rs.3000 odd at the dawn of the millennium and from 125 Rs in 1970.

chart courtesy

Gold is more a social symbol than a prized investment. A weeding in Kerala has become the pompous exhibition of the halcyon metal. It has become a social necessity and it is embedded in the culture. This, however, has become a double-edged sword for the Kerala society. With the tradition of family- arranged marriages, the infamous dowry system and over-indulgence in Gold, the skyrocketing prices have thrown up a nightmarish situation for economically backward families. The efforts of a few social and religious organizations to tame to this Gold-mania has turned out blank pages as our society simply refuses to detach from the age-old custom.

The aesthetic touch gold provides to Kerala women is unmatched. The 22 carat variety (91.6% Gold, remaining Copper) is a fashion statement among the fairer sex. Our brown skin perfectly match the tingy orange glow of the metal when the pale-skinned Westerners are comfortable with the 9 carat gold. The youth are getting more inclined towards nauveau jewels like Platinum, white gold and even the Diamonds but its the yellow metal that rules!

Lately the businessmen have started exploiting the cultural beliefs of the average Keralite through ad-enhanced festivals like Akshayathrithiya, where buying Gold on that specific day supposedly brings you prosperity and luck! *gulp* The campaign was so robust and successful that Keralites took home 10 tonnes of Gold from these shops just that single day! Well, no one wants to miss an easy way to attain prosperity but the joke was that the customers who couldn't get into the shops because of the heavy rush were given sealed slips with which they could come the next day to buy their 'prosperity'!

Anyway, all that glitters IS GOLD in Kerala. :)

Addentum: Should have been a magnificient preamble, but Nikhil's Gold's own country would make a nice epilogue to this article.

Friday, August 14

The feeling that is INDIA

Just a timely coincidence that I chanced upon this piece of journal from a Frenchman: 10 things I love about India, just on the eve of our 63rd year of freedom, courtesy Twitter and Mani Karthik.

Before you turn all peppy and keyed-up let me remind you that it was a forced sequel to a rather uneasy but realistic portrayal of our country by the same author. Its the 10 things he disliked about India, the original link here. I've chosen not to highlight the original link because, obviously, the term 'hate' is an easy word to use but is as dangerous as it is counter-productive.

Nevertheless it is interesting to see a Frenchman's perspective of the country we know too well. An excerpt from his love-hate feature would be something like this:

India is an incredible place and I have never regretted, even for one day, to have settled here.

...the kindness and the smile of the villagers around. They were poor but they had such dignity; a quality of being which made them a hundred times richer than wealthy Europeans or Americans.

If one balances the 'hate-able' and 'lovable', the irritating aspects are just superficial prickly heat; the deeper one goes, the more one sees the inner qualities of Bharat

We all know what he is speaking about, don't we? Let's be honest to ourselves, the article is fair if we have the courage to call the spade a spade. The encouraging thing is that our country is acquiring the power to put the kibosh on those negatives, one at a time, because as of 15th August 2009, India's positives grossly outclass our shortcomings.

The West still harbor the shocking images of India circulated all around the world during our infamous drought, or rather the Famine of 1966. We've come a long way since, but the terrible pictures of those years still linger in the minds of many Westerners. For them, the IT Parks in Bangalore or Gurgaon, Metro in New Delhi or the Chandrayaan are just as unlikely as Moon Landings are for Bill Kaysing.

India's growing profile in collage. Clockwise from 12o clock, Ashoka Sculpture; Imperial Towers, Mumbai; INS Vikrant; Mumbai-Pune Expressway; Bandra-Worli Sealink; Technopark, Trivandrum; Delhi Metro; Chandrayaan launch vehicle;

It is encouraging to see our country shrug off the stereotypes and put its good feet forward. There is a vibe of positive energy in the air, commanded by the multi-million-strong youth of the country. We have personalities like Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam who knows that inspiring a few thousand young brains is enough to usher in brighter tomorrows. We have inspiring leaders like Shashi Tharoor who have made the youth of Trivandrum think and act beyond the sooty curtains of caste-ism and politics. We have cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad who pip the alpha-world cities in attracting investment. We have institutions like the ISRO and VSSC which are proud enough to show that we can do it! We have educational facilities like IIT and IISER which churns out some of the most sought after brains of the planet. We have the bravest of the braves like Capt. Jerry Premraj and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who taught our foes the virtues of a real soldier. We have industrialists like Mittal and Tata who are making it loud and clear as to who call the shots in the business-world today!

Lastly India is a proof that money and material are not the only things you need to see genuine happiness on a face... Look at Pooja, she has the most radiant smile you'd ever see, according to the photographer. Source.

Pooja from Calcutta; photograph by Dey Alexander

This is where the real Indian spirit lies... finding the sense of joviality in even the paradoxical of living states. Far cry from the rich and high-fi countries where depressive disorders are part and parcel of existence, people take their own lives when the value of their stocks crash on a Black Monday, when mothers have to be 'trained' and 'encouraged' to get emotionally attached to their own babies and where barbie-dolls and teddy bears become the only solace for those at the dusk of their lives... I'm seeing it all...

But they have their own strong points, and so do we.

So in a nut-shell folks, I always feel how incredibly lucky I'm for being a part of this part of the world. Never a day passes in my life without the urge to see how things are improving in my country and my state, so is the case with millions of Indians back home and abroad, I'm sure. Once you're exposed to the outside world and you get to realize some of the good things we miss back home (read efficient bureaucracy, equality in laws, obedient and socially responsible citizens, care of environment). You tend to become temporarily frustrated at the state of things in India...only temporarily.

Because at the back of our mind we know that it is only a matter of time before our society evolves into a better one for its citizens.. The British didn't shed Colonialism overnight, racism didn't evaporate from the US in a flash, Nazism took a while to move into oblivion and it took Kuwaiti women decades to earn their right to vote... All good changes take time...

So, the Earth revolving, we can bring about changes to our society. The charges in Claude Arpi's article doesn't demand a huge effort to tackle, except the politicians, the bureaucracy and the corruption. Well, as I said, this triplet may take a bit longer...

But there are more teething problems than those mentioned in that article. It may not be pleasing for anyone to see the sea of ghettos that spoil the Mumbai urban-scape when you take-off or land at the CSIA. Yes, still 25% of our countrymen live below poverty line, ie they earn less than 10 Rs/day/head. Don't ask how someone is going to survive @ Rs.300/month but if you consider the World Bank cut-off point of 1.25 $ per day, then 70% of our countrymen turn BPL! Gosh...

Looking at the official figures, do you see any silver lining? Look, the graph shows an obvious declining trend.

% of population below poverty line

But the road is still a a long, steep winding one uphill and all we've got is a moped with heavy load. Perhaps its the time to be pragmatic and lets join hand to bring in some real sunshine to the lives of children like Pooja. So why not take inspiration or determination from a few of our friends around us, a few of fellow-bloggers and colleagues for instance?

Kenny Jacob and his wonderful MAD volunteers, the exuberant youth of tidycity working to keep our environment in check, are all some of the efforts people I know undertake. If you're abroad and your heart still yearns out, why not consider signing up for something similar to Child Fund Ireland? Don't you realize how huge a difference you can make, for such a small sum?

So have you decided how you are going to share the feeling that is called India!!?? C'mon lets all join hands and pull that graph down to the trough!

image courtesy



Sunday, August 9

Mohanlal: still pristine

The one curious nature with us Keralites is that we seldom let go something/someone we love. It takes a lot of effort for a person to become a leader of mass in Kerala unlike the situation across our state border, and once he does, he stays.

Precisely why our filmi star Mohanlal hasn't been vacuumed out of the malayalee hearts despite his best efforts to exit the stage, unceremoniously.

The adjectives attributed to this actor by the pundits and public will envy any rival. Versatile, flamboyant, flexible, realistic...oh, I may need one full giga-byte to type them all here. In a nut-shell Mohanlal has been the one outstanding star among the glittering array of actors who've done Kerala proud...a true jewel.

Let me take the privilege of paying tribute to the actor who have had a two-way influence on my life. First as an adolescent film-mad boy who could brush aside any important works to watch him bedazzle on silverscreen; and lately as a more mature film-lover who purposefully avoided any contact with his new movies for prolonged periods of time just because I couldn't stick the deluge of crap anymore.

Mohanlal, who broke into the league as an anti-hero in 1980 conquered the Kerala hearts through his covetable exhibition of characters. From a rookie comedy man & romantic hero in his best-pal Priyadarshan's well-translated remakes to humourous one-from-your-neighbourhood man in Satyan Anthikkad movies, through the evergreen and charismatic Padmarajan flicks, thrilling the senses with trend-setter and career-changing characters like Vincent Gomez and SAJ and those realistic roles in the straight-from-life Lohitadas-Sibi Malayil tales, Lal chose to take the long hard route into people's ventricles. He was a dream actor for all directors and carried a guarantee tag for the producers and distributors. He has given his fans and public much and more to cherish.. The 3 National Awards or half a dozen state awards mean nothing more to common Keralite than the illustrious and unforgettable roles he portrayed.

I'm not sure where exactly the long slide down commenced for Mohanlal. But I'd bet my bottom dollars on his emergence as an above-the-almighty super-hero. This, one mustn't confuse with his old classic action-hero movies like Irupatham Noottandu (1987) & Rajavinte Makan (1986), somehow elevated the actor's image from a one-from-among-you man to an out-of-your-reach-hero. Films like Aaram Thampuran (1997)and Narasimham (2000), though commercially successful (and critically bull-shitted) triggered an unforeseen crisis for the Superstar from which he is still struggling to come out, even as you read.

Ustaad (1999), Ravanaprabhu (2001) and co didn't impress me much, neither did the following disastrous flicks like Praja, Onnaman (2002) and the likes. Seeing him and his movies degrade to standards of a third-rate axn film was so painful that I vowed never to watch another Lal movie after torturing myself with Praja (2001) on a near empty theater on New Years eve. Lal never give me an opportunity to break my oath for long 3 years until Roshan Andrews came up with Udayananu Thaaram (2005).

Every film star will go through lean patches, but for Lal the bad stretch seemed eternal. One after another he cast himself in utterly ridiculous movies and one after another they bombed at the box-office; each louder than the previous one. This is a list Lal will never be proud of, neither will be the vast majority of Lal fans in the Universe, starting 1999.

Olympian Anthony Adam
Life is beautiful
Unnathangalil (cameo)
Mr. Brahmachari
Kilichundan Mampazham
Hariharan Pillai Happiyanu
Vamanapuram Bus Route
Kilukkam Kilukilukkam
Baba Kalyani
Chotta Mumbai
Rock n roll
College Kumaran
Red Chillies

This archive from 1999-2009 features his major commercial releases which flopped. In the last decade Lal has given the audience not a single character which they'll remember 20 years from now, apart from Udayabhanu (Udayananu tharam, 2005), Mullamkolli Velayudhan (Naran, 2005) and Rameshan Nair (Thanmathra, 2005).

Just 3-4 roles worth remembering in a Jupiter year clearly tells a story, a far cry from the Lal of the late 80s or the 90s who gave us unforgettables like TP Balagopalan, Soloman (Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal), Jayakrishnan (Thoovanathumbikal), Ramadas (Nadodikkattu), CP (Vellanakalude Naadu), Sethumadhavan (Kireedam), Nettooran (Lalsalaam), Kalliyoor Gopinathan (Bharatham), Joji (Kilukkam), Mangalassery Neelakandan (only in Devasuram) and many many many more.

Its sad to note that Lal has already done irreparable damage to his celluloid-self, one which cannot be covered by a Band-aid or even a Plastic surgery. It is for anyone to imagine how the coming generation is going to perceive the "actor Mohanlal". If his 80s and 90s movies elevated his stature to Himalayan heights the current decade of rust have kind of nullified his previous efforts. I find him partly or wholly responsible for this state...

Whatever happened to the Lal who made us laugh, cry and think in all the dream roles an actor could get? His appearance on the screen was hardly inspirational, the roles totally misfitting and it appeared to me that Lal was getting uncomfortable with his own self. Many a times, his mannerisms and body language portrayed an individual who seemed to be trying too hard for an image makeover. For convenience, lets point the finger at those script-writers and directors who shelled out screenplays not worth a dime for Lal. Movies like Onnaman and HariharanPillai (2003) is doomed even if it was Tom Cruise leading the show. Even bewildering was it to see that these movies were created by directors like Joshi, Sibi Malayil, K.Madhu et al who'd created a name and fame for themselves. If you don't believe me, look at the list of Directors who shelled out loads of crap with Lal, it becomes clear that it is not one person at fault.

The one lesson Lal missed was that clinging on to the high standards he had set for himself was no easy job. It was eventually his responsibility to make sure that characters like Alibhai, Hariharan Pillai and Captain Kumaran was never born from him.

I agree cent-percent with blogger and film-critic BVN and his observation that Lal has completed transformation from the Asset side of Malayalam Cinema to Liability side with his 2008 disaster Red Chillies. What a shocker of a movie! Here is an example of a man who didn't care anymore.. Didn't care about his reputation, didn't care about the industry, didn't care about his fans like you or me... People even concluded that Lal cared only for the Green bucks, and his commitment to the industry and fans no longer existed. Is it so difficult to see through a screenplay (like Red Chillies) that this would be a colossal waste of 16 reels of film? Even Kunjakko Boban would've returned that poppycock script to Shaji Kailas.. But again Lal took it on his head because of his apparent inability to say "no" to close pals. And see where it has brought him.

But again, the rare streaks of light still trickle from those dark and deep clouds, evidenced by his latest release- Director Blessy's Bhramaram. The film, set on a framework similar to the duo' s previous hit Thanmathra (2005), exhibited to the world how the Carbon could come out as graphite or diamond if treated properly. It is also a testimonial to the barren intellectual state of our film industry which spreads rust into even the immaculate of metals.

So Lal, you're still pristine! Keralites will still forgive you for the torment you meted out to us in recent years because you're still capable of such occasional brilliance. What worries us is that this ray of light has become a bit too far between. Personally speaking, I'd like to see one Lal movie an year if it is a Bhramaram, or even like Madambi or Twenty-Twenty, instead of half a dozen Alibhais and Red Chillies.

Isn't it about time you handpicked what you want to do Laletta? Or are we destined to watch more red-faced appearances on the screen from you? I hope not, for goodness sake.

Images Courtesy:

Monday, August 3

Cochin Metro: Essential or Extravagance?

The Lords in New Delhi have finally given a green tick against one of the major infrastructural developments planned for Cochin: The Metro Rail.

Now this just sets the ball rolling and there is serious rough weather ahead of the rails, who doesn't know that, and giga-gallons of water would've flowed through the Periyar before the Metro could leave her shores. And as usual doubting Thomases (as well as sensible Thomases) have started asking questions...

So, who wants the Metro?

Well, end users, as always...I mean general public. And obviously the businesses... An MRTS is a huge fillip to a city's image in addition to the benefit of quick and efficient transport. A Metro line can meet the travel demands of the city for decades without significant expansion in its basic infra. It is expected to reduce the pollution in the city by the virtue of the no: of automobiles it takes off the roads. It improves the quality of living and provides more value to the most priceless commodity: time. Throw in the advantages such as creating employment to a few hundreds and ushering in development to new & outer areas of the city, one immediately visualises the positives of the system.

This is what the consultants have briefed about the project.. The Hindu, 24 Dec 2005

In an assessment made by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which is the consulting agency for the Metro project in Kochi, in 2011 there will be 13,681 travellers in an hour in one direction in the area under the Greater Cochin Development Authority. The peak hour estimates are 38,187 travellers in 2011, when the metro project is likely to be completed.

Now the million dollar question is: Is such a heavy-duty project an inevitability for a mini-metro like Cochin? So far, MRTS has been the choice of transit only if the city feeds over 4 million souls, as per Indian standards.

Before you zoom in on your verdict, I'd like to invite your attention to another small, neat city on the other side of the sphere: Dublin.

The Dublin Example

Dublin is lovingly addressed Europe's favourite small city. This is the city which has been my home for the past 3 years. It pales in comparison to the other regional heavyweights like London, Zurich, Paris or Berlin. With a population of just over a million, Dublin is no bigger than any major Kerala city. It has a Port smaller than Cochin but prides itself in the bigger hub-airport. The streets are traditional, architecturally rich, orthodox, pretty and congested but orderly. Dublin shows off a pretty impressive motorway network spreading out like a spider's web from various focal points of the city and hosts a 6-8 laner ring road, the M50.

Now whats so impressive about Dublin is the awesome public transport system the city has developed. (Refer the figure below) The wide and extensive road network is very well complemented by the exhaustive and exclusive BRTS system which is cheap and efficient. The sub-urban rail service or DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) (red)covers 3 different corridors and is punctual and quick. Dublin has resuscitated their old tram network(green), christened luas, and this services the residents on 2 different corridors. Luas has become the new face of Dublin, is hugely popular, trendy and punctual. And if that's not enough, Dublin is racing to the finishing point with their latest showcase: the Metro(blue).

Dublin Transport Infrastructure

This extensive and interlinked public transport system ensures that there are at least 2 different options available for a Dubliner on every corridors in the city. And hold on! This apparently small city has been credited by GaWC as an Alpha world City, pipping the likes of Los Angeles, where public transport is almost non-existent.

It might be unfair to compare a European capital to a third world city, especially since we're talking about big money here...really big money. The Cochin Metro is expected to cost the exchequer a dear 3000 crores for 25odd kilometers, roughly 125 crores/ km. And the frowns are yet more prominent with the fact that only 2 metro-systems in the world manage to produce green on the balance sheet.

So why are we speaking about such elaborate plans when there are, apparently, cheaper and better options?

Ok, lets dig a bit into the history of this proposal. The idea for a Metro system for Kerala's financial capital came from the most recognizable voice in Indian Railways: DMRC Chairman E. Sreedharan. He also considered the feasibility of the system in Trivandrum but the undulating terrain in the Capital rendered it unsuitable. He suggested a BRTS for Trivandrum for which actions are initiated and also a LRTS which would be more suitable for the city. (I've put my ideas about Trivandrum LRTS here, if you want to check out).

Coming back to Cochin, the city also featured an added advantage of having highly urbanized and industrialized Municipalities merged physically to the Corporation body. Cochin Metro is envisaged to pass through 4 urban bodies, the Corporation of Cochin and the suburban towns of Alwaye, Kalamasserry and Trippunithura. The combined population of these urban bodies and immediate suburbia may well cross 2.5 million, which theoretically still fall short of Indian benchmarks for a Metro.

But the morphosis and pattern of lifestyle of a city ought to set the standards for assessing the necessity of the type of transit mode it deserves rather than these population formulae. Every city with population of 1 million naturally thinks of a bigger transit system like the Metro in Europe. Dublin, for instance...

What are the other options?

If ever someone formulated a Transport 2025 policy for Cochin, then widening of those roads must become the utmost priority. Easier said than done in Kerala, eh? Ernakulam district has the highest length of 4-6 laned roads in Kerala but they're still strangulated all day long. Widening of roads is like having a bigger seat belt to treat obesity, you'll reach nowhere if you don't have alternate transit methods in place.

Cochin Road network

I'm sceptical of the success of systems like BRTS in Kerala, provided our road and driving culture. Also a BRTS could in no way replace a MRTS; its like a belt and a tie...both essential for a good pro outfit but one cant replace the other.

Now there is a solid proposal for a suburban rail service on the lines of one in Mumbai. Good one there, but again the existing rail lines are a bit dissociated from the main urban conundrum of Cochin (except for a small stretch). It still may not be good enough to take the pressure off the roads.

What about the light-rail options? No, according to Mr. Sreedharan. Because something like a Monorail, although a lot cheaper @ 40 crores/km, has a far inferior carrying capacity and has a maximum speed of 50km/hr. Also, the technical snags experienced with those Monorail in Goa must've left a bad taste in the mouth. Personally I feel its a waste of time searching for other options since the industry experts have given the green signal to the Metro. Perhaps we could think about an LRTS system to connect the two points of the Metro via Kakkanad, in future?

Goa Monorail

I'm curious to see how they propose to break even such a massive project. If it is taken up as a PPP project then it would be interesting to see who comes forward to build and operate it, and how. If someone is confident about making the ends meet, then double thumbs up!! Also with Kerala's notorious history of long gestation periods and even longer implementation time for her projects, I believe it makes sense speaking about the Metro now itself if we wanna see it running in 2025! True, transportation or infrastructural projects mustn't always be envisaged with profit in mind, you reap the real benefits after a decade or two,perhaps.

But at the end of the day we mustn't create yet another white elephant like our KSRTC which gleefully gobbles up public money and gives us this in return ---> shit...

How accessible this Metro would be for common population is yet another crucial question. Delhi Metro fares start at Rs. 6/- for a 1 minute ride. Well, how many of us in Kerala will opt for the posh way of travel regularly, for such exorbitant fares interests me...

So there! Its a delicately balanced scenario... Service vs Profits. Well, whats your pick?

Essential or extravagance?