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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Melaka (Malaysia) 1

Authored by 

PN Sampath Kumar
Cochin Shiptard, Kochi

The Port city of Melaka was ruled by one Parameswara, a Hindu King, who  is said to have embraced Islam and established the Melaka Sultanate.  His successors were defeated by Portuguese led by “Alfonso de Albuquerque” of Goa.  The Dutch followed, them and then British and later the nationalist movement culminating in independence.

The chronology of events recorded in the annals of history of most of the port cities in the east, as made known to us by the Westerners are very similar.  And this commonness they shared with Cochin, my current home town,  
attracted me to such heritage cities in the east. 

The picture portrayed in my mind about Malaysia has a lot to do with the readings in my younger days.    Cities of Penang and Melaka had already been there in my childhood mind and I wanted to visit these places as a wanderer when I grew up.

Places like Perek, are even more historically important as far as Indian connections are concerned.  The “Chola” kings have either conquered or had treaties with most of the states throughout the east.    Interestingly there is mention of one ‘Gangai Nagara’ that existed in the Perek State of Northern Malaysia.  It is possible that King Rajendra Chola had been honoured with the title of ‘Gangai Konda Chola’ after his conquering Gangai Nagara a very rich kingdom in Malaysia, which was under the rule of the Sri Vijayan Dynasty.

Due to time constraint, when I had to choose one among the three, I opted “Melaka” for its proximity to Singapore.

Legend is that after he was made to flee from Singapura, his earlier base, Parameswara a Sri Vijayan King, landed on the banks of the small river mouth (Bertam River) sometime in the year 1405.  While resting, he witnessed the interesting scene of his hunter dogs being chased by a mouse deer, forcing them towards the river.  He considered this to be a good omen and decided to establish a port City in Melaka.  To deal with the initial opposition raised by Ayuthaya, the Thai kingdom, he approached the Chinese kings for support and took the local pirates (Orang Lauts) along.   For centuries, Melaca was a strategic trade point.    The sailors had to rely on the trade winds before setting sail to the next point and had ample time to trade and accumulate goods till the winds changed direction.  

Hundreds of languages were spoken in that city.  Hundreds of ships called on the port each month.  Traders from the west, Arabia, Java, South India, Gujarat, Bengal, China and Thailand traded their commodities like spices, sandalwood, camphor, tin, etc…

As this fetched good revenue, the rulers employed professional services of Wharf masters, repairers, hydrology experts, etc, who maintained the river navigable and provided security.    The strong trading community provided sufficient warehousing, transport and banking facilities. 

But all these are history book stuff.  We wanted to witness and feel it.   I had slight fear of getting disappointed as this place never figured in any so called “conducted tour operator’s” programs promoted in India.   Initial surfing in the internet also did not suggest much more than this. However, it turnedf out to be something to cherish.  

To be continued....

Monday, August 26, 2013

Look alikes

Friends may help in identifying them.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elephants returning home

At Thrissur (Kerala - India) the famous Vadakunathan temple arranges an annual feast for the temple Elephants. This year it was held somewhere  on the 17th July. Although we could not witness the event as such but we were fortunate to be there to see the guests off.

Finally ready to start the return journey.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


A Cat frequenting our home became pregnant. It was searching for a suitable hideout for confinement.  Day before yesterday it was missing and my mother predicted that it could have made it some where. In the evening itself we could hear the baby cries. All of us at home were curious to locate them and finally my niece who is here on a similar mission found two little ones screaming. 

Next day when the mom came to visit the kid seems to have complained about our intrusions.

After carefully listening she would have consoled  and fed them.

A little annoyed for being photographed

And this one is perhaps waiting for an opportunity to make a meal of the babies!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


“If you could count the stars, then you could count all the ways the coconut tree serves us.”- Philippine proverb

While  roaming about in Rattan Bazaar, Chennai, I came across broken Coconuts being sold on the pavement. There is nothing strange about it but they had reached the sprouting stage. There was a white sponge like ball protruding and I was told that this growth is edible. It is tasty as also  has great nutritional value. I was unaware of any such thing. We never considered that part as edible and never also attempted to have a taste of it. We just used to remove it and throw it out.  Therefore I was a little bit surprised. However, now I learn that if that white portion turns yellowish, it becomes toxic.

In our own garden we have some 60/65 Coconut palms and some times we do find in fully matured Coconuts, a small spongy but a little hard ball. We used to get rid of it in the manner stated above. If the Coconut is allowed to remain for a longer period on the tree, the ball get enlarged by absorbing the water and the meat inside the shell.  During summers it is quite common  to come across Coconut water vendors on the streets. They may look big but are still in their infancy. They may contain nearly 1 litre of sweet water to quench your thirst. Incidentally this water could also be used as a substitute for Dextrose therefore administered to patients intravenously. After consuming the water from the Coconut the nut is broken in two halves. A thin layer of pulp which sometimes resembles the egg white (boiled) is delicious.

If allowed to further ripening the meat inside the shell becomes hard with lesser quantity of sweet water. This is the stage at which Coconuts are generally plucked. The white semi solid portion is used in various parts of India as an ingredient for various dishes after grating.  When the shell is broken and dried in Sunlight the white meat could be peeled out. At this stage it is known as Copra. Coconut oil is extracted from Copra in an expeller. There is one more method of extracting oil by householders. The meat of the nut is removed, grated and squeezed (any good method) and a milky substance gets extracted. This is the Coconut milk. When this milk is heated in a pan, the residue is the Oil in its purest form. The Coconut milk is used for making sweet dishes (Payasa/Payasam/Kheer). The Coconut milk is also added while cooking fish.

If we take out the round shell from the outer coir casing, we find three eye like formation on one of its poles. One eye is a little fragile and any thing a bit sharp could be driven in and the water drawn out. If the nut is too ripe and in its germination stage, a sprout will come out of that hole. Two roots will also come out from the remaining eyes. When still on the tree and the Coconut ripens fully, the outer layer would become brown and eventually fall on the ground . They then sprout and the roots will try to pierce through the ground.

Normally over ripening of Coconuts while still on the tree is very rare as they get plucked much earlier. However due to paucity of farm labourers particularly those who could climb the palm has made this possible. Even if some one turns up, the fee demanded to climb one tree is  prohibitive.   If some one with higher remuneration is engaged, the additional cost incurred for removing the outer layer makes the economics to fail.  Now a days I find a great influx of farm hands from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Assam and Rajasthan and they are willing to work for less than 1/3rd than the locals demand. However, climbing a Coconut palm is not their cup of tea.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Victoria Public Hall, Chennai

when you get down at the Chennai Central Station and proceed towards the car parking , it would be difficult to escape a grand old building staring at you at a distance.  This building happened to be an inviting  curiosity for me even when I was a child. The need to catch a taxi to reach home quickly was so overbearing that I could never find time to go nearer to the imposing structure, except while passing by, seated in the car. Now that I have been in Chennai for a couple of months , I ventured to visit the building a couple of times with a view to gain an entry. However all my attempts were thwarted due to the Chennai Metro Rail Project. They are constructing  the underground portion of the project and the tunnelling work was in progress just adjoining the place. The area was cordoned off with corrugated tin sheets and a watchman has been posted to prevent entry to the premises. Therefore I had to satisfy myself with few snaps from outside. The building referred to is the Victoria Public Hall commonly known as the Town Hall. 

During the 1880s a need was felt to have a community hall where cultural and social programmes could be held. A meeting was organised by prominent citizens in 1882 and the participants had contributed around Rs.20,000 for the purpose. A separate Trust was also created to implement the project. The civic body i.e. the Corporation of Madras also provided land admeasuring 3.14 acres on a 99 years lease. A foundation stone was laid in December 1883 and by 1888 the construction could get completed. The architect credited to have designed this beautiful building was  Robert Fellowes Chisholm  and as with many other buildings of Madras this too was  a derivation of Indo-Saracenic architecture.  To commemorate the Golden Jubilee of queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, it was named after her.

The main building has two floors. There are four beautiful wooden staircases leading to the first floor. both floors put together has an area of 26000 square feet and every floor has a seating capacity for 600 people. Once having been opened to the public many a social organisations  jumped in. Plays were being staged every evening on a regular basis. Swami Vivekananda, Subramania Bharati, Mahatma Gandhi, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel were amongst the great men of yester years who addressed public meetings at this venue. The hall was also used for screening some 10 English films in 1892 by one T. Stevenson the owner of Madras Photographic Stores. Incidentally by that time the Indian Cinema was yet to be born. The first Tamil film “Keechaka Vadham” without a sound track was produced only in 1918.

With the passage of time, the health of the building started deteriorating and by the second half of the 20th century it became critically ill due to continued neglect. There had been some attempts to rejuvenate it but they proved inadequate. For the last 45 years the hall is in a state of Coma. In between the Trust leased out the spaces around it  for commercial purposes. Taking advantage of the situation certain unscrupulous traders also made their intrusions to put up their stalls/shops. Disputes surfaced between the Corporation and the Trust when the 99 years lease term expired. Fortunately the Corporation was in a position to take over the building after eviction of all those illegal occupants. Due to continued hue and cry made by heritage lovers the Corporation sanctioned an expenditure of Rs.3.39 Crores for complete renovation/restoration of the building and work started in 2009. When the work was half way, the Metro Rail Project commenced its construction work resulting in a temporary stoppage of the renovation project. However, the Chennai Corporation has announced recently that by end of July 2013, the Victoria Public Hall would be in its original shape. At the moment we do not know whether the hall would get opened up for social/cultural purposes as was originally envisaged.

Under the Chennai Metro Rail Project, the trains are to travel over pillars and they will go underground in busy areas. As has been stated earlier, the tunnelling work is in progress near the Victoria Public Hall and they have also encroached upon the area in front of the building. A beautiful fountain which existed thereat has since been removed and moved to the right hand side of the hall. In the process some ornamentations have been broken/lost. This fountain too has a story of its own.

During the British rule, Government’s budget proposals were introduced by James Wilson in 1860 for the first time when the capital of the country used to be in Calcutta. Losses sustained during the Freedom Struggle of 1857 were sought to be bridged by taxing the personal income of citizens. Every individual with an income of Rs.200 was within the ambit of the proposed tax net. This move was highly resented and there was a hue and cry amongst the people. Charles Trevelyan who happened to be the Governor of Madras Presidency in those days, supported the people’s movement and expressed his anguish by sending a telegram to Fort William, Calcutta. As an after effect he had to compromise with his job. When Trevelyan was the Chairperson of the Madras Corporation, he made available potable drinking water for the people and also created a beautiful park in the heart of the city. A fountain was built in front of the Victoria Public Hall in his fond memory which is known as Trevelyan Fountain.

Incidentally there is another heritage building known as Victoria Memorial Hall which houses the National Art Gallery. This building too remains closed for the last 10 years or so on account of some cracks having developed inside. This building awaits restoration.