Saturday, June 09, 2018

Newton


It was the election day. 
I set out with my voters id card and booth slip to cast my precious vote to the usual polling booth just 200 mts away from home, only to be told by the officials that my polling booth had changed to VIBGYOR School. ( yes the one made infamous by the leopard visit a couple of years ago) .

I check on Google maps and it says 1.8 kms 21minutes by walk.  Navigating through the treeless concrete jungles of Bangalore in the oppressive heat of May is’nt exactly very appealing.

My-vote-is-not-going-to-make-a-difference… or-does-it . Should-that-really-matter … 

Truth be told, I was not always a very conscentious citizen, however I have been taking my voting rights seriously off late. 

Thanks to Newton.  

The vehicles parked on the main road,exactly 200 meters away from the polling booth with the symbol of a certain flower would have a happily offered me a free ride to the other polling booth. But I obviously could not take their favour. 

Newton would certainly not have done that.

And so  I set my pedometer app and walked the 1.8 km stretch, cast my vote and walked back the 2.0 km stretch ( 1.8  + 0.2 m) back home. 

With the mission accomplished, I was proudly showing the voters
ink mark on my index finger and I let my niece know that I had breached my quota of 10000 steps for the day.



‘What does a polling booth look like’ asked my curious 17 year old niece who is worried she would narrowly miss her voting eligibility for the elections next year whereas her classmate older to her by two months would not. 

I started to describe the polling booth … and I paused.

Instead, that evening on Amazon Prime … we watched the movie ‘Newton’. 

I was watching it for perhaps the third or fourth time, but who cares, some more laughter therapy could only do you good. 
  
Newton – Nutan Kumar is a small town millennial boy who is idealistic and follows his idealism with stubborn conviction . With a protagonist like that, Newton could as well have turned into a serious boring art movie, which it is not. If anything it is a satire and I am told falls under the Genre of ‘Black comedy’. 

Told from the view point of a Presiding officer who is randomly appointed to conduct elections for 76 tribal voters  in a remote  area in Madhya Pradesh infiltrated with Maoist insurgency, there is not much to tell by way of the plot.

And that is the plot.

It takes guts to make a movie on a topic as mundane as the election process.

But that is what is so heartening about the new age cinema in India.  Every once in a while you have a small budget movie that hits the box office with yet another refreshing perspective and makes you wonder, if this is what could be the new phenomenon called disruptive cinema. 

The icing on the cake was that Newton is India’s nomination to the Oscar this year. ( thank god it was not bahubali )
Rajkumar Rao is not exactly what one would call a typical ‘Hero’ of the movie.  Nutan kumar is his original name that he claims to have deliberately misspelled in his tenth marksheet application and got rechristened as Newton kumar. 

Idealistic, stubborn, rule-book abiding and fearless, Rajkumar Rao plays the role of Newton to the hilt that it gets difficult to differentiate the actor from the character for a long time. 

Atma Singh the cynical, hardened army officer who is entrusted to provide security for the polling officials to carry out their duty is played by Pankaj Tripathi and he too leaves a mark way after you have finished watching the movie.

Malko, the local school teacher has a small but significant role. Played by Anjali Patil , the girl from the forest leaves an imprint on you, especially with her gorgeous eyes and realistic acting.

It would be unfair to leave out mentioning Raghubir Yadav who plays the middle aged, cynical and lethargic polling officer that we must have all across sometime or the other in a government office.

He is a genius of an actor. No role is too small for him and he proves it yet again in this movie.
I just stumbled upon this trivia sometime ago.  Of the four movies from India that have hit the Oscar nominations circuit three have starred  Raghubir Yadav.
Mother India made it to the Oscar much before his time. Apart from that Salaam Bombay, Lagaan and Water have featured this lucky Oscar charm … Raghubir Yadav.

Newton is introduced to us in the first scene eating an apple, but it is the punchline at the very end of the movie that leaves you ROFL as the credits roll on. 
   
‘Ji kuch nahi ... yeh mere kuch actions key reaction hai …


When you search the deeper meaning to the movie, just like I did you may google around to refresh the three laws  by the original Newton (that scientist fellow ) .  The third one is very popular, but it is the first and the second one that are tricky especially if you have not paid attention in your physics class in school)


1. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.


2. The rate of change of momentum of a body is directly proportional to the force applied.

3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Watch Newton (the movie) and interpret the Newton’s ( the scientist) laws in the context of contemporary India. 

There lies the beauty of the movie.

Loved it.





P.S : Oscar or no Oscar, It is a movie that all TV channels should telecast 24-48 hours before the election day after all campaigning has stopped.   
It will stir something in every citizen’s conscience and will get them to strut their butt and get out to the polling booth and vote.


Friday, June 08, 2018

SECOND DAY SECOND SHOW....




SECOND DAY SECOND SHOW

Ok ok ok !!!  for the rest of the world a ‘second day second show’ may not be a big deal.  
But for us the Brave Bangalorean Thalaivaa fans it was actually the first day.  Albeit the second show.

Cannot still understand why HDK Anna created such a fuss and stopped Rajini Anna from releasing the movie in Bangalore. It is besides the point that he relented after the first day and let the movie show in bangalore theatres.  HDK – Anna  - this was free post election propaganda for your party and your allies who benevolently bestowed the power on you.  Chill Madi.

Having bunked half day at office and braved our way through the Friday afternoon bangalore traffic for the second day second show , it was a heart sinking feeling to see no cut outs , not even a poster of the ‘Thalaivaa’ at the Cinema theatres.  Deliberately empty billboards hurt, really hurt.   


After all what is a new Thalaivar release without the huge cutouts, lengthy garlands, fire works and the now defunct  Palabhishekam’.  
Pchhh … jaane kahaan gaye woh din


Or may be it is just in Namma Bengaluru .
Anyway all that is now water under the k...... bridge.  

Once the Brave Bangalore  Thalaivaa’ fans silently got into the cinema hall, energy levels and excitement hit the roof.  Thalaivar’s entry was not exactly spectacular. But the shrill whistles blew anyway, voices shrieked out and the empty plastic bottles flew in the air.

What was really unfair was that it almost felt like Nana Patekar in the second half of the movie had a far more spectacular entry than the Thalaivaa himself. Looks like the director got his priorities wrong.


Set in the backdrop of Dharavi is this benevolent Mafia leader playing gully cricket with his grandchildren. They are fighting  against the builder mafia that is politically connected and has set its eyes on land in Dharavi the famous slum in mumbai.  

Dravidians versus the Aryans ?
Blacks versus the white ?
Poor versus the rich ?
Secularists versus the fundamentalists ?
Ravana versus  Rama ( note this is not Rama versus Ravana but the other way round)
Modi versus Sonia
North versus South
Kaala is a cinematic simulation of the real life political khichdi

Every dialogue, every costume, every actor and every set leaves you guessing …
Aiyo …. Thalaivarey  where exactly will be your political leaning   ?

With no other bankable star presence other than the most bankable SUPER STAR himself, the film in its totality does not seem to ring the bells and its producers are not exactly laughing their way to the banks.

But then this is no movie review. Like they say there are no good movies and bad movies when you watch a Rajini movie. 

Such classifications are for the lesser movies and lesser mortals.

Apart from ‘Thalaivar’ himself who has done a role that fits his age and his current agenda of making an entry into the TN political scene, all other actors have done a fairly good job.  The legendary Nana Patekar could have got himself a dubbed voice when speaking Tamil. It was not easy on the ears watching him fumble with his Tamil. ( Perhaps he was trying to enact Modi to perfection who knows ?)

Noteworthy among others were Anjali Patil ... ‘Puyal  Charumathi’ who has rendered her role to near
perfection.
She is one upcoming actor to watch out for …

Was happy to see that two of ‘Newton’ lead artistes Anjali Patil and Pankaj Tripathi have got a break with meaty roles in a ‘Thalaivar’ movie. Apparently Pankaj Tripathi signed up for Kaala only to meet Rajinikanth.  

A long pending post of the review of that award winning movie ‘Newton’ will follow next … stay tuned to this blog site.
  
I promise to wake up from my long hibernation .
Is’nt that the effect a ‘Thalaivar’ movie is supposed to have on you ?     

         

Monday, March 26, 2018

A to Z 2018 Theme reveal








A to Z Theme reveal

The other day,  I arrived early at the Vizag airport.  Unlike the modern airports at other cities, this one still retains its old world 'defence' airport charm.  Nice seats in the waiting hall.  And not much of a crowd for a Saturday evening.

I was clearing up my pictures that I had taken over the past year on my mobile phone.  
Did not have the heart to delete many of them. 
But honestly did not know what to do with them either.

And that is when it all fell into place.  Why not write about the year that went past? 
I grow a year older every April and normally reflect on the year gone by around this time. 

For want of any particular theme this year’s A to Z is going to be my reflections of the pictures I took on my mobile phone.

I am about to embark on a journey quitting my mainstream job and do something that I have until recently only day dreamt about.

Writing is one of them.

But in the past two years I embarked upon a little bit of natural farming. 

So, my blogposts are going to be full of them.

At the cost of sounding self-indulgent let me promise this is going to be a very honest  journal capturing the moments from the year gone by.  

The broad theme is EAT – GROW – TRAVEL



follow me and let me know your thoughts .
Good bad or ugly ....i wold love to hear from you.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

N - New york - Musings along the New York skyline


Been there ... done that



N - Musings along  The New York Skyline






From far across the Staten Island I am about to embark on the most touristy thing that one does when in the US of A.

I am going through the security check. In a few minutes I would board the ferry that would take us across to Staten Island. 

From afar, the lady in Green beckons us and everyone in the ferry is clicking away on their DSLR and mobiles phones. It feels surreal.  (That is when you realize that selfie sticks are the best thing that happened since sliced bread. One shudders to think how civilizations of the previous era managed without something as primitive as a selfie stick) 

The icon that symbolizes what America stands for.


Over many centuries since Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered that promised Land, millions have arrived on her shores to make their dreams comes true in the land of milk of honey. Rags to riches stories of many immigrants who made their wealth and their mark after arriving here are what legends are made of.

Just across the Island is Wall Street whose spirit is filled with stories alike of people from Riches to rags as well.  It has weathered many an economic upheaval.  The great recession of 1929 was etched in historical memory for the many riches to rags story of American dream until the 2009 Global recession whose epicenter originated arguably over here and not somewhere over the ethernet. . 

 Yet even today the Manhattan skyline allures and attracts many men (some women as well) in the promise of making wealth. 

On the way to board the ferry to Staten Island, I stopped by a street hawker selling souvenirs of New York. In it is a picture of work men sitting on top of what looks like an iron scaffolding far above the sea level.




Like those men on the picture postcard, there must have been millions of unsung heroes who must have toiled to build those tall skyscrapers, those iconic bridges and the symmetrically laid out city of New York.
They look tough, weary, and dirty and in overalls that labourers would wear at construction sites. Yet there is no mistaking the smile on their faces.

A smile perhaps taken during a break for a few minutes from some back breaking manual work. ..

Or perhaps 

A smile thinking of a loved one or a family left behind many miles away, 

Or perhaps 

A smile dreaming of making enough money in the land of opportunities 

Or perhaps

A smile of having been part of building something that would last beyond their lifetime


The New York Skyline ...

There must have been thousands of them over the centuries. 


From the ferry  back from Staten Island , I notice the sun dazzle across the Manhattan Skyline and reflect light into the sea before it. It is a picture perfect moment.
But there is a void over here, There stands ground Zero, where once stood those two iconic towers.  The rest of Manhattan , the Wall street, the Empire state building, the Waldorf  Astoria hotel , the Grand central station and the other skyscrapers that make the magnificient Manhattan skyline are all there intact.

It is the spirit of New York.  The spirit of those who toil to make money . The money that they hope will one day help them make their dreams come true. 

She is a very attractive bait.  
Those who land in her shores, seldom go back.
They toil  happily  and  unhappily. 
Some settle down make this place their adopted home , Some keep dreaming of going back home  and many die here while taking their dreams to their grave.  

And that is the spirit that keeps the New Yorkers going.


I click a picture with the big bull ( these were times before the fearless lady found place opposite the big bull) . 

Then as I walk back to the Wall street metro station after watching in awe the city that churns a good chunk of the world’s wealth,   I notice this little poem on the underground Metro train.

Billy Collins wrote it.  And so beautifully summarized what I have clumsily attempted in so many words all over this post. 

As you fly swiftly underground
 with  a song in your ears
or lost in the maze of a book, 

remember the ones who descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite,

to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone. 
Remember as you come up into the light. 






M- Malai Makhan in Benares


Been there... done that


Malai Makhan  in Benares







It is pre-sunrise time and the Ghats along the river Ganga in Varanasi are buzzing with action.
The pilgrims have come to take a dip in the holy river. The priests, sages and the common men alike are also getting themselves ready to bathe in the river before going about their daily chores. 

Akhil, my appointed boatman for the day picks me up at the Dashaswamedh ghat and rows the boat to the middle of the river bed. It is a late February morning and the sky is greyish black. I wonder if the sunrise would be clear enough for me to do the touristy thing.  I am here to click the sunrise along the river bank. I am not very optimistic but Akhil says it would be a fabulous sunrise this morning.  I dismiss his optimism as the usual sales talk and take in the sights.


A small boat made of thermocole sails past us.  Akhil asks me if I want to have an up and close view of the Siberian birds and I nod. Akhil makes eye contact with the boy who is now sailing towards us on the makeshift thermocole boat.  The boy hands me over a paper cone filled with seeds from across the two boats.

This is the bird feed that he is selling to me.  It is a part of the package deal from Akhil.  I do not have to pay the boy. He will settle it with the boatman. 

The little boy, not more than 10 years old shrieks out... caw…caw… caw and the Siberian birds come flocking towards our boat as he sprinkles  out the seeds.  He hands me a handful and I repeat after him. Akhil in his practiced tone now tells me to hand over my camera and sprinkle the seeds. 

After all he has been there, done that. Day after day, tourist after tourist.  





Once we have captured the moment in the digital format he tells me about the Siberian birds and their migratory flight from Russia. Apparently when they arrive in November they are white like snowflakes. By the time they leave they turn greyish. But they return  without fail every year before the onset of winter and fly back soon after Holi , the festival of colours in the month of March.
             
Akhil my boatman studies History and tourism in college and takes the occasional tourist when the real boatman Mukesh is out of action.   He does not get paid for the work.  He depends on the tips from the tourists to earn his money for the day.  

True to his prediction the sun has risen and the views are spectacular. I live in that breathtaking moment only occasionally  remembering to click the pictures of that much awaited moment.
 We then get talking.  He takes me close to the Harishchandra Ghat where a couple of corpses are burning, warning me not to take the picture of the dead as it is considered disrespectful. 

We row past the Dhobi ghat where the washer men are washing the linen by beating them on the stones and dipping them in the river water after scrubbing them with the sand and clay washed down the river bank. 
As we row along I watch the devout pilgrims taking a dip into the Ganges as the sun rises above on the horizon. 
Somewhere in the background a flock of Siberian birds are cawing while in yet another boat, yet another tourist is sprinkling seeds that he has bought from the little boy rowing down in the makeshift thermocole boat. 
   
It has been more than an hour since I had my chartered boat trip watching the sunrise.  The sun has now risen and I get out of the boat and alight at the Manikarnika ghat. This is main ghat  where the dead are  brought to be cremated.

There are a few corpses that were set on fire earlier in the night that have now turned into ashes.  A group of relatives of the dead  return to collect the ashes that will be immersed into the holy river before they leave the ghat.

As I climb up the river bank, yet another fresh corpse arrives for the ritual. There is never a opening and closing time at the Manikarnika Ghat. The dead bodies  arrive 24/7 and the Dom workers take turns to do the needful.

I cross the narrow lanes above the Manikarnika Ghat that are piled up with fire wood . The fire wood will be used up in a day or two for the number of corpses that arrive to be cremated in Kashi. About Tow quintals of forewood is required to cremate a dead bocy. On an average about 350 dead bodies at the Ghat on any given day.

The narrow Alleyways now merges into a street that is slightly broader. It is still very early in the day and the shops that sell trinkets, clothes, sweets have not yet opened.


A hawker has set up a small makeshift  shop in front of a small but ancient temple and is selling a bright orange milk sweet.


Malai Makhan  - he says as he attempts to catch my attention and convert it into a sale.

 I am tempted to move on but it seems like a moment worthy of a photograph.

He coaxes me to buy one.  Five rupees per cup he says.  I am amazed at how cheap a sweet could sell for.  But I am not a fan of milk sweets.  Certainly not butter and I politely decline.

Akhil who is passing by after mooring the boat stops by and greets me.  He tells me this is a special delicacy of this region.   You would not get it in except in the winter mornings.

Hafeez Mia is an expert in Malai Makhan he says , as if to flatter the vendor.   

Malai Makhan is made from the cream that floats over the unpasteurized cows milk  when it has been freshly milked in the winters.  It is the magic of the dew drops that make it light. soft and frothy. 

As the day’s temparature rises the buttery cream would melt . The commerically savvy restaurants add transfat to it to make to last longer so they can do brisk business throughout the day. 

The real test of Malai Makhan is when the froth bubbles are constantly dipping over.  In a pure one they do not last beyond a few hours after sunrise on a fairly nippy winter morning. By the time the dew drops have evaporated an unadulterated Malai Makhan would also moved beyond its shelf life.   It is a delicacy that has a shelf life of not more than a few hours and that too  only in the winters.

You would not get it anywhere else, says Akhil the boatman  whose sense of salesmanship bowled me over and  whom I had generously tipped earlier in the morning as he takes leave to go about his day as the student at the local college.

I am tempted . Despite the many cautions about street food, my instinct tells me to go for it.   
Anything that does not travel well usually escapes the traps of mass scale commercialization and therefore can be considered to be fairly safe.  
I ask Hafeez Mia for one cup.  A cup made of dried fond leaves is taken out and a generous scoop of Malai Makhan is doled out to me.

I take a spoonful into my mouth from the wooden ice cream spoon with the usual expectation of a buttery and  milky sweet and there  I am taken in for a surprise.

Malai Makhan  melts into my mouth and before I could relish the pure taste of fresh cream and the flavor of pistachio and saffron that my taste buds have just savoured,  the moment has passed.

The gentle cream made of cow’s milk has not been sweetened by sugar. The natural  light sweetness of milk lingers in my tongue for just a fraction of second as it melts away and gets out of reach of the taste  buds.   

By now my taste buds that have been left wanting signal for more.  Hafeez Mia babu has sensed it .  He knows by now for sure that I would order  another cup . This time I make  sure I relish it slow and steady. 

This is what memories are made of.  That crisp and cool morning over the ghats where I was taking in the amazement of a city  that  has existed there for centuries , topped up by a Malai Makhan  that just could not be replicated elsewhere.  I felt privileged for having experienced it at the right time and the right place.

Any other time ... any other place ... I could not have been there ... done that 

L - Pehelwan ki Lassi




Been there ... done that


Pehelwan ki Lassi






A cycle rickshaw takes me to Lanka crossing.

I have just been inside the sprawling campus of the Benares Hindu university , that is such a world apart from the old city of Benares.  Tree lined streets , garbage free roads, students bicycling their way  inside the campus and the various departments and the modern replica of the Kashi Viswanath temple inside the  campus.
Nothing could have embodied a more modern  outlook of Hindutva.

Once cannot but Marvel  the vision that Madan Mohan Malaviya its founder had in the early 1900s.
 
Legend has it that when MM Malaviya was on his death bed and his family insisted  on shifting him to the old benraes , just  so he could breathe his last  on the banks of the Ganges river and thus attain moksha from the cycle of birth and rebirth,  Madan Mohan Malaviya refused to go there because he believed his work was not over as yet and he would not want to die, leave alone on the banks of the Ganges.

Wonder how many of us overworked Zombies from today's air conditioned but toxic workplaces would say that.
   
While the BHU campus and the museums were the main purpose of my visit, it was Pehelwan ki Lassi that I was eagerly anticipating to visit.
I had starved myself all the way while I was inside the campus because I was forewarned. 

I was told Pehelwan ki Lassi was a meal in itself and one would not do justice by having even a light meal if you were to savour Pehelwan ki lassi.

About ten minutes of walking from BHU is Lanka crossing.  A busy  thorough fare  that connects the modern and new part of Varanasi and the old city.

 It is over here  that there are about three ‘Pehelwan ki lassi ‘ outlets and plastic chairs strewn  across all of them.  It would have been impolite of me to ask which one was the original pehelwan ki Lassi and so I chose the middle one, although in all probability they were brothers or cousins of each others and decided to bank on the brand of the legendary ‘Pehelwan Ki Lassi’  that to this date remains the iconic brand of Lassi for the locals and the tourists alike.

Getting to the point. 

Banarasi Lassi, particularly Pehelwan ki Lassi is’nt anything like the Lassi from Punjab.  The one from Punjab is served in huge glasses, is frothy and creamy and is a thirst quencher.

Pehelwan ki lassi is more a desset meal and less a drink.  Served in baked mud earthern pots it is topped with malai ( clotted cream) and a generous helping of Rabri ( condensed milk sweet).

Laid in front of you  are huge plates full of set yogurt in flat stainless steel plates called Parat,  from which some is scooped up  to fill your earthern pot before topping it up with generous helping of Malai and Rabri.

The Parat itself is set to form yoghurt the previous night, using condensed milk that is boiled over and over again perhaps to half its original quantity.  A dash of palm jaggery is added to it and then some yogurt is added so that the next morning it sets into a thick base for the Lassi.

This base in itself is a full meal and with the toping of malai and Rabri gives it the feel of desert.
     
You got to have a real sweet tooth to relish Pehelwan ki Lassi.
It does not matter if you do not have a sweet tooth or are lactose intolerant , When in Benares you have to indulge. Otherwise it is like walking out of Louvre without watching the Mona lisa.     

And Benares has many such delicacies that leave a stamp on you. 


Watch out fot the next post for one such delicacy that cannot be had in any other place and any other time except in the winter mornings  and in the alleyways of Benares ... 

         

Thursday, April 13, 2017

K - Kochi -The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi

Add caption
Been there done that 
Kochi – The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi









Cheena Vala’ as they are called in the native Malayalam are found across the harbor towns in China.

Kochi once a trading port owes the import of Chinese fishing nets as a legacy of traders from the AD 1400 court of Kublai Khan, these enormous, spiderlike contraptions require at least four people to operate their counterweights at high tide.   

 

While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are found in Kochi , where they have become a tourist attraction. 

The Indian common name arises because they are unusual in India and different from usual fishing nets in India. With the advent of modern fishing techniques the Chinese fishing nets are not exactly profitable, but have been preserved as a tourist  attraction.   


They are fixed land installations, which are used for a very unusual and now outdated method of fishing. Operated from the shore, these nets are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes.

The net is left into the water for a short time; say for four-five minutes, before it is raised back by tugging the ropes. The catch is usually modest, but it is not meant  for  a big trade. At the corner of the Chinese finishing nets are small street hawkers who could take  the fresh catch and cook up a lip smacking fired fish fritters that would get sold  in a Jiffy.

The Chinese fishing nets are also most photographed  attraction  while aboard  a local ferry especially around sunset.
Here is another one when the sky was overcast and the tides were high on the backwaters of the port of Kochi. 



The cool breezy humid air atop the ferry was refreshing to feel as the chinese fishing nets dwindled into oblivion while the local government operated ferry touched the island of Vypin.





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J - Jew Town of Mattancherry


Been there ... Done that ...

Jew town of Mattancherry 


1170: When the traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited India, he reported that there were about a  thousand Jews in the south.
1686:   Moses Pereira de Paiva listed 465 Malabar Jews.
1781: The Dutch governor, A. Moens, recorded 422 families or about 2,000 persons. In
1948:  2,500 Jews were living on the Malabar Coast.
1953 : 2,400 emigrated to Israel, leaving behind only about 100 Paradesi Jews on the Malabar Coast.

Amongst all the must see tourist destinations in Cochin is the ‘Pardaesi’ Synagogue . Paradesi in native Malayalam means the Foreigner.  The Synagogue which is the main tourist destination is a small place of Jewish worship.

The bylanes that approach the Jewish synagogue are strewn with Antique shops selling tourist souvenirs  and real as well as fake Antique Trinkets, furniture and bric a brac from the era gone by .
They are all not necessarily genuine, but if you really have an eye for the antiques you can find them.  On the face of it they are exorbitantly priced, and a good deal of haggling is absolutely necessary unless you want the shop keeper  to laugh his way to the bank.

This is the Jew Town of Mattancherry which until 1953 was home to about 100 hews whose descendants had made this neighbourhood their home over the centuries.

Today hardly six of them remain.  The youngest Yael Halleguan is in her mid forties.  She is the care taker for the Synagogue which charges five rupees as the entry fees. The money goes in maintaining the synagogue. 

It is an ornately decorated synagogue.  Its tiled floors were imported from China in 1762, the handknit Oriental rug from the last emperor of Ethiopia and the cadle lamps from Belgium. 

Sadly though, there is no Rabbi to sand at the bimah, the Pulpit. The place itself is a small museum that is visited by travellers specially Jews from all over the world. Services are held only when there is a minyan - a group of 10 Jewish men needed to form a prayer service.  It is now only possible with the inclusion of Jewish male visitors.  So the beautiful Synagogue is usually empty, save for tourists who some to marvel its beauty.   

As you finish looking around the synagogue, you would inevitably visit the adjacent exhibition that has some artefacts that explain the history of the Jews in Malabar. During Portuguese persecution in the 16th Century, they were granted sanctuary by the Hindu Rajah of Cochin, Keshava Rama Varma. The present day Paradesi synagogue was built in 1568 on land granted by Varma, and the Jew Town neighbourhood built up around it.

By 1953 when Israel declared independence many Jews from Mattancherry emigrated back to their ome land, although most of them had been living in the ocast of Malabar for generations.

Of the few who remained in Mattacherry is Sarah Cohen. 

When you walk past the Synagogue you cannot miss the quaint ‘Sarah’s Embriodery shop’ in the outer verandah of what once must have been a quaint Jewish home.

As I  look through the window I see an incredibly old woman sitting up in a four poster bed calling out in a feeble voice when the house keeper comes and props her pillow down for her to sleep. 

I enter the shop and look around for the things.  I am not exactly a customer looking to buy a challah  the jewish Ritual Bread covers  or the Mezuzah , intricately embroidered with Hebrew writings on them.

I must say I am  tempeted. But my main attraction is the lady of the house, now probably resting down for her siesta. She speaks fluent Malayalam to the house keeper.

The house keeper is a middle aged muslim lady.  

She and her son are doing the day duty today looking over Sarah’s aunty as well as the occasional customer to the shoppe.

Her husband Thaha Ibrahim , when he was a young boy  was a frequent visitor to the house of Sarah and her husband to the extent that the childless Sarah Cohen considers him her adopted son. His father used to work next door at the post card shop and he would visit them as a young boy and was intrigued by all things Jewish.

When Jacob Cohen died it was his wish that Thaha Ibrahim take care of his wife. It has been nearly two decades since then and the Ibrahim family is the caretaker of the shop as well as Sarah Cohen.
Thoufeeq Zakriya, a friend of Sara Cohen maintains a blog that Chronicles the Jewish Heritage . A Chef by passion and a calligrapher by profession, Zakriya, learnt the Hebrew language and helps tourists decipher some of the Hebrew script at the Paradesi Synagogue.
    
Sarah Aunty’s memory has been relapsing on and off in the last few months says Thaha Ibrahim’s wife. Her son who was showing me around the shop is now sitting and studying.

Sarah is now listlessly gazing at the ceiling, as I take her photopgraph.  I ask if I may click her photograph and I am told that she would hardly understand.  In better days she has entertained many a curious  visitor and explained to them a lot about the interesting history of Jew town.  

Today she hardly remembers things happening around her.  

A nurse comes and stays in the night when the Ibrahims get back home which is just at the end of the lane.    
As I look around the shop I see many quaint black and white photographs that talk about a vibrant social life that must have existed in the 50s and 60s in Jew town among the Jews.
Sara & Jacob Cohen on their wedding day 
    

Today Sarah Cohen is too old to do her own embroidery. Her hands shake and her memory relapses too often. 

Most of the embroidery in the shop comes from a village in Andhra Pradesh.  Many Jews and non –Jew tourists who come to Fort Kochi inevitably visit Sara’s Embriodery Shoppe where you still can buy some very delicately embroidered Mezuzah and Challah covers.


It is one of the last remnants of a once industrious and thriving Jewish community in this region.   





Stay tuned for more from Kochi  

To be continued


Newton

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