Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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Posts from — August 2009

Nehru Trophy Boat Race,Alleppey,Kerala

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For a day, she had shed her serene attire. The tranquility she usually showed was missing today. The blue blanket she adorned looked unusually gorgeous on her. The blanket stretched to either side, beyond what my eyes could figure. The coconut trees that dotted her banks were swinging in a state of ecstasy.Even the ripples were high and danced in tandem. The tiny waves soothed the stone walls that formed the banks. The clouds smiled at her as if they shared a secret chemistry. Punnamada, was at her best.

Here was the celebration of Kuttanad. A celebration, that erased all the differences created by caste and religion. The boats came from various parts of Kuttanad and around. It was a clash of prestige. It was a show of strength. Only one thing mattered, winning the trophy for one’s village. The 57th Nehru Trophy Boat Race was just hours away. Unlike other days, the quaint inlets and creeks that connect the villages of Alleppey, were not buzzing with activity. The banks of Punnamada were encroached upon by the villagers.

The 4 tracks were laid. Practice sessions were in full swing moving in all possible directions. Speed boats and others carrying tourists, police and organizers zoomed across Punnamada. The high energy was evident in the air. The people from across villages were arriving to see their boat winning the show of speed.

We realized the pavilions were not the place to watch the race. Being one in the crowd could tell us how charged the environs were, nothing else would. Almost everyone was high spirited. Folk songs and aarpoo irroos could be heard non-stop from all directions. Snake Boats (Chundan Vallom) were long, some long enough to shy away from being captured in a single frame. The boats were Hindu and Christian, but the oarsmen had no religion. They sang in unison praising Hindu or Christian gods.

When the race was on, my ears could capture the sounds of the boat names, and their history from someone or other in the euphoric crowd. It was more like a running commentary. Karichal, Kumarakom, Kainakari, Karuvatta,Chambakulam….. Vepp A Grade, Iruttukuthy A Grade,Churulan and so on. I could get so many of these names around me.The crowd was now thrown into a frenzy.Many moved from the banks to water.The cops were in action shooing them off the race tracks,not that they could do much.

The effort of every village that has gone into arranging a boat for them is worth commending. Think about shoe string budgets and small time sponsors like some Gulf Malayalee or a mobile operator. The invasion of brands was evident, but as long as they bring in money to the race, who cares! Not only were they on the participating boats, but also on boats parked to act as stationary hoardings (on water).

This show of camaraderie, competition, enthusiasm is more than a vignette of Kuttanad’s village life. The rhythm of the oarsmen, the oars propelling the boat in unison, the songs sung to pump up their spirits, everything has conquered Punnamada yet again. They will continue to do it, for years to come.

I was live tweeting the #ntbr09

Some scenes from the boat race: [CLICK on the images for bigger view]  {Scroll down for some videos}

Some videos from the race. (If you are a Malayalee, do not miss the first two)

[How to reach: Alleppey(also known as Alappuzha) by Air(nearest Airport is Cochin), by Train(nearest station is Alleppey/Alappuzha) or by road(well connected by road) More info

NTBR(Nehru Trophy Boat Race) is held on the second Saturday of August. This year it was held on 8th August.The venue is 5-6 km from the town.Tickets are available at the venue and through agents.Contact Kerala Tourism for more info.]

Suggested Reads: The history of Nehru Trophy Boat Race

[Photos by Shreyash Pai,Bharat Narayanan and the author.Governed by this license ]

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August 12, 2009   27 Comments

To each,its own space

[This is a post full of links. You need not click on all of them as you read,as there exists a great level of uniformity in their tone]

Update: (I am a supporter of India’s space programme and this has been written in a way to show the British media’s concern for India) :-)

Why should a country where millions still lack basic services run a successful space programme? Why are they trying to reach the stars? Shouldn’t they be waiting for every problem to be solved and then start thinking about space and nuclear submarines? Why are they biting more than they can chew?

Once a colony,always a colony. Don’t you agree?

Here, we are still debating if we should get into space research on our own and there comes a colony that tries to launch itself into a different league. No, we do not suffer from any inferiority complex. We are plain jealous.We still believe in running an agency and paying annual membership fee to the ESA; getting out of the partnerships and stop being a pile on and do nothing much,yes, we do even that at times. UK probably believes in wiping out poverty which is just over 22% of the population unlike India with over 42% of the population below the global poverty line(or a bit less [33%] than that).Critics speak only to the Western media, you know they are genuinely concerned at the waste of resources in such over ambitious plans. Even the cynical ill-informed locals talk to them.

We believe in repeating our canned statements to help a developing nation focus more on infrastructure development and eradicating poverty. You read it right, repeat. We said this in Oct 2008 and again in July 2009

But the Indian government’s space efforts have not been welcomed by all.

Some critics regard the space programme as a waste of resources in a country where millions still lack basic services.

At times, we try to balance our opinions. In the name of balancing, we show our concern by taking a dig in the end like this or like this. We would want every Indian to first learn to read and write and then think about rockets. We are waiting for Global warming and pollution to be tamed, racism to be curbed and then get into the space war.If India uses its own satellites and launch vehicles,what will happen to the developed world? Who will lease ESA’s transponders? Poverty is widespread,go tackle that. No,our concern is genuine irrespective of the media house we come from. We do not believe in doing things simultaneously,even if the tasks are unrelated. First tackle,child malnutrition and chronic poverty, then build satellites. If we don’t ask,who will. Thank us for being this responsible.

Space technologies can be used for the common man’s good,right? No, no one told us this. We can never miss out on including some numbers to polish our articles. Poverty,mention of IT industry are must ingredients in these concoctions. [another example]

Frankly, like NY Times we also fear if India would use these technologies for military goals.

[Disclosure: My father works for the Indian Space Research Organization]

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August 4, 2009   16 Comments