Shower in an Indian Train

A preferred travel option on long distance Indian trains is usually the air-conditioned sleeper (IInd or IIIrd tier). Undoubtedly 1st tier AC sleeper is a great luxury but often one would be tempted to simply fly instead. Also it’s not available on most trains. But the 2 or 4 sleeper cabin coupé with a personal attendant make it something that one should try at least once, particularly if you enjoy train travel. An added incentive – not widely known – is the availability of the shower facility that enables you to have a quick bath as well.

If people think of this with wonderment, imagine if I were to tell you that showers are nothing new on Indian trains. They existed in the premium First Class option earlier as well when AC  was not widely available on Indian trains. The FC option is as good as gone nowadays except in few parts of South India – am sure that even a coupé, shower and personal attendant sans the AC can’t make it a popular choice when it is priced higher than the IIIrd tier AC option.

When I was a child school vacations were invariably marked by a standard holiday plan – my father would take the family to Chennai to spend time at our ancestral home with my cousins and relatives.

My father was a Central Government employee and entitled to be reimbursed the train ticket cost under an elaborate LTA scheme. And that meant that even though the finances were usually straitened, we could afford the luxury of travelling First Class. Air conditioned train travel had not yet arrived in India and so FC was the best experience on offer. Indeed I would eagerly await the journey though it did happen in the peak of the summer.

Continue reading

Review of Tamil movie ‘Thevar Magan’

Sivaji Ganesan and Kamal Haasan epitomized the perfect picture of a feudal father and modern son in Bharathan’s ‘Thevar Magan’ (Son of Thevar).

Kamal’s genius went beyond playing the perfect foil to Sivaji Ganesan as Thevar – he donned many hats in the movie including that of singer, writer and producer.

Sakthivelu (Kamal) returns as a London educated young man to his native village with Bhanu (Gowthami) in tow. His dreams are apparent as he plans to marry her and launch himself as a restaurateur. Picture perfect life and the initial frolic of the movie is innocent enough.

Sivaji Ganesan essays the role of a benevolent patriarch in a feudal set up – we see all the familiar sights : folk singers entertaining him as he holds Court, the village being fed daily meals and being provided clothes as part of the celebration. There exists a bitter feud between him and his younger brother that vitiates the climate.

Vadivelu (Isakki) plays a memorable cameo that brought him lot of recognition and praise from the industry’s stalwarts. It was a milestone in his career and helped him establish himself as a ‘bankable’ actor who could provide comic relief as well as enact supporting roles.

Continue reading

Review of Tamil movie ‘Manathil Uruthi Vendum’ by K Balachander

Veteran director KB, as he is affectionately named by innumerable fans, had a penchant for doing woman centric movies. Marked with spirited screenplay and dialogues they were indeed entertaining and iconoclastic in the 70s and 80s.

They seem a bit formulaic now as it is easy to predict the story and its twists. Still they were a welcome relief from the melodrama or mindless masala plots that  otherwise dominated our films.

KB was inspired by Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s poem ‘Manathil uruthi vendum …’ (The mind should be firm …) and he used it on couple of occasions.

He used the original song in the Tamil movie ‘Sindhu Bhairavi’ to showcase a classical singer’s (Siva Kumar) change of heart when a spunky heroine (Suhasini) demands that he should sing folksy Tamil songs as well so that the message reaches his audience. Intrigued by the challenge he decides to experiment – instead of singing only traditional verse set in Telugu or Sanskrit, he ventures to sing Tamil songs as well. Bharathiyar’s songs are an obvious choice. Symbolically Siva Kumar renders the said song seated on a rocky seashore, to be praised and rewarded by a local fisherman who stops by to listen his rendition.

Continue reading

Review of ‘Death In Holy Orders’ by P D James

An interesting murder mystery and James is in top form in serving us a classic whodunnit along with a full-fledged novel with strong characters and an intricate plot.

Set in an unusual locale of a remote theological college on a crumbling coastline, the physical decay and daily battle with sea is like an allegory of the state of affairs of the religion as well in the modern 21st Century. We are provided a bird’s-eye view of alternate voices – an unpopular one of an Archdeacon who views the college to be too elitist and archaic to serve the needs of the new millennium.

Source:Hulton Archive Courtesy: Getty Images

Source:Hulton Archive
Courtesy: Getty Images

The murder mystery is not so engrossing, but the narrative is rich in character and content – the face-off between Archdeacon Crampton and Warden Sebastian Morrell are like ‘David v/s Goliath’. But there is a twist in the tale and James ensures that not many a reader would mourn the brutal death of the Archdeacon.

The tale has an innocuous beginning – Dalgliesh has planned a vacation in Suffolk and doesn’t mind visiting St. Anselm to enquire about a suspicious death of a student. The visit is a mix of business (allaying the concerns of a rich and powerful father who was not good terms with his deceased son) and pleasure (Dalgliesh had spent his vacations as an adolescent in the college and has many happy memories including that of Father Martin).

Continue reading

Review of Gallup’s ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’

At school the two approaches that irritated me the most, it seems, were flawed after all. One was the constant focus on ones weakness (attending PTAs was surely dreadful) and the other was trying to make you a more ’rounded’ person (Seems daft to me that you should give up on what makes you unique).

So I always tried to avoid becoming a square peg that had to fit a round hole. I instinctively felt that it made sense to find your strengths and invest in them. With some luck and grace, it would help you lead a fulfilling life at work and home.

Collection:Brand X Pictures Courtesy: Getty Images

Collection:Brand X Pictures
Courtesy: Getty Images

Gallup too thought that this was a great idea and they backed it up with great research to launch the best-seller book and ‘self-assessment’ online test in 2001 when Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton came up with, ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’

The basic premise of the book is that people and organization will benefit and will be more engaged & energetic so long as they try to leverage on their strengths. Weaknesses cannot be ignored and you need strategies to manage them, but they shouldn’t usurp the pride of place that is to be given to ones ‘Strengths’.

Continue reading

Prathap Pothan – the teacher with the Guitar

The enduring image of an unconventional hero in Tamil cinema of the early 80s – if one were to slot him as one – was Prathap strumming the Guitar during a school picnic trip in one of the best school romance movies – ‘Panneer Pushpangal’

He comes across as a cool and mature person who guides couple of teenagers through a phase of turbulent adolescence. He went on to do far more quirkier roles as well but this one was a popular and defining image for him

Collection: Moment Courtesy: Getty Images

Collection: Moment
Courtesy: Getty Images

Prathap appeared in the supporting cast of many popular Tamil films – Varamai Niram Sigappu (Kamal-Sridevi pic), Penmani Aval Kanmani (Visu all the way), Azhiyadha Kolangal (Balu Mahendra’s story is the real character), Kudumbam Oru Kadambam (part of an ensemble cast) come readily to mind. He did not mind even playing quirky characters but typically was the one to make you to laugh or at least smile at his antics.

Continue reading

Balu Mahendra’s Tamil classic, ‘Azhiyadha Kolangal’ (Unforgettable memories)

It is the directorial début movie in Tamil for Balu Mahendra and was released in 1979. The ace cinematographer delivers a rare gem that was not widely known but has gained the status of a ‘cult classic’ now.

A bildungsroman tale set in the boondocks of rural India, the content and context is adapted well to its locale. In terms of transition, it can remind you of other popular tales like Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’, Bennett’s ‘Clayhanger’ and Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’.


The movie begins on a cryptic note – we meet Kamal Hassan as the grown up Gowri Shankar who has the mark of being a successful businessman. He receives a letter from childhood friend Pattabi and asks his secretary to ensure he is not disturbed. The news turns out to be disturbing though – he learns about the death of Indu teacher and we traipse down the memory lane for the rest of the movie.

It marks the rites of passage of 3 youngsters who were in the midst of childhood when an unfortunate accident marks their transition to adulthood. The haunting melody that marks the opening scenes of a placid sunrise echo in true meaning only at the end of the 100 minute movie.

Continue reading