Author: Deeya Nambiar

I believe in taking every day as a learning phase, and exploring my writing skills. I have enjoyed the challenges as a journalist, content writer and college lecturer, and at the moment am living life analysing the extraordinary in the ordinary!

Kerala: Backwaters And A Kettuvallom Ride

A holiday in Kerala is incomplete without a trip to its lovely backwaters. By Deeya Nayar-Nambiar

We were in a celebratory mood. A wedding in the family had taken us to Kerala and it was natural that we would also take time off for soaking in at least a slice of God’s own country. A quick Internet search helped us zero in on Ashtamudi, the second largest backwater lake in Kerala. Who would want to miss the backwaters, a combination of canals, estuaries, deltas of rivers and lakes that flow into the Arabian Sea?

Ashtamudi, as its name suggests, means eight branches in Malayalam. Designated a wetland in the international records, the lake with its unique biodiversity is said to have an area of 37 square kilometres. This interesting backwater lake, indeed a tourist delight, is in the Kollam district of Kerala. Kollam, better known for its internationally acclaimed saint Mata Amritanandamayi, is one of the ancient port towns identified by Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta during their travels in India. Known more as the hub of the cashew industry, Quilon, as it was known as earlier, is a great pilgrimage centre.

We began our day by visiting places of tourist interest near Kollam. You can make time for a five kilometres drive from Kollam to Thangassery, a seaside village, a charmer in its own term. The sight seeing trip includes the famous lighthouse, the ruins of an old Portuguese fort and an 18th century church that reinstates the influence of western culture in the life style of people. Similarly, a visit to Alumkadauv near Kollam gives an interesting ‘preview’ of the construction of modified ketuvallom (house boats), once used to transport goods. Keeping with the trends and demands of tourists, the district has several water theme parks and ayurvedic massage parlours. But there’s nothing like Thirumullavaram Beach and the Ashtamudi lake. Though it was easy to travel by speed boat, we chose to drive down to get the feel of the place. The scenic journey takes you through a simple village with grazing cows, little urchins playing around, and women drawing water from the well. After ages we got a chance to see a real village!

The city still has some of the very traditional houses, the joint households known as tarawads, with low sloping roofs, woodwork and brick walls, made to match the climatic conditions of Kerala. In fact with the growing interest in tourism, some of these tarawads, are being refurbished to accommodate tourists, especially foreigners who want to stay in an authentic Kerala homestead. The trip is incomplete without a boating trip round the lake, especially on a kettuvallom, a houseboat that’s been a part of Kerala’s culture. The modified houseboats are renewed to meet the comfort needs of tourists. In fact these goods carriers were transformed and given eco-friendly designs with the accommodation facilities by an entrepreneur to promote tourism. Made of wooden body, bamboo and coir roof, the kettuvallom is powered by a motor but for lighting still retains the lantern of yore. A sample of tradition in modernity!

The houseboat we hired for the day reminded me of a one-bed room flat in Mumbai: a small kitchen, a bedroom with attached toilet, a spacious living-cum-dining room, followed by a stairs that lead to a balcony on the deck. Though it was warm, the breeze kept the temperature comfortable. The backwaters known for its calm splashed in a friendly manner, making the boat glide and sway a little.

The land along the lake side was nicely bordered by the wet sand and coconut palms, making it appear rich and prosperous from a distance. As the boat glided past, we could see the church through the coconut grove and a little further the chimney of the brick kiln. At the lake we spotted some folks dredging shellfish by hand. We were told that the shell minus the organism is later burnt in coal to produce lime. The villages surrounding the lake bustled with businesses. The coconut husks were immersed in the lake and kept netted some for many months to be softened and processed into coir. It was just like an industry visit, as we could see women busy working, removing fibre from the softened husks to be woven into coir.

As we sailed, we observed the prominently built Chinese fishing nets or cheena vala. In this unique fishing technique, installed on land, at least 10m with an outstretched net suspended over the lake or sea, is operated by a team of at least six fishermen. The installation has large stones suspended from the rope to maintain the balance, which is used to pull the net immersed in the lake or sea. It is made in such a way that the weight of the fisherman walking on the main beam is sufficient to descend the net. Their magnificent size, shape and elaborate but slow rhythm of operation naturally attracts spectators. This is indeed a marvellous sight that represents Kerala’s trade connection with China and its glorious past.

The lake has several natural islands. Some are inhabited and the locals use valloms (country boats) as their personal transport. The main source of income is duck-rearing. Some other islands appeared abandoned with a few unhealthy coconut palms battling it out with what looked like mangroves. A journey without getting to enjoy the food is meaningless and Kerala’s cuisine tickles the palate, even if it is just a morsel. We finished our sumptuous breakfast of appam and egg curry, a hot favourite that was served in the houseboat. In the restaurants at the lakeside, one can explore a vast selection from Kerala’s besides the ubiquitous kababs and Chinese delicacies.

April is off-season in tourism lingo, but for us it was the best time. For a change the heat and humidity of Kerala seemed a blessing in disguise. With royalty we got treated, and the grandeur of family get together is being cherished as an Ashtamudi ketuvallom family.

By Deeya Nayar-Nambiar; Copyright ©2006, Published in BTW, Chitralekha Publication 17 July 2006

Silk: The Queen Of Fabrics

India is the biggest consumer of silk though it is only second to China when it comes to production.
Silk has its roots in the culture and tradition of India and has evolved with time to be used for designer clothes and T-shirts. Even the concept of Ahima silk is being well received.

Here is the link to the article:

BTW – Fashion Silk

Precautions during wash

– Always wash silks in soft water. Add a pinch of Borax or ammonia, if water is hard use a good neutral soap or light detergent in the case of hard water.

– Wash in lukewarm water by kneading and squeezing or suction.

– Add a few drops of citric acid or acetic acid to the final rinse in cold water

Silk with doubtful colour fastness may be steeped in cold water with a small amount of citric or acetic acid for 1-2 minutes before washing. Squeeze lightly by hand to remove water.

– Always dry flat, in shade.

– Iron silk cloth in low to medium heat and never spray water to dampen silk before ironing. This will cause water-spots on the fabric.

– Silk should always be ironed on the reverse side if still damp.

– While storing silk make sure the environment is clean and if the storage is prolonged, periodic airing and brushing is advisable.

– Avoid direct contact with wood and also wrap zari saris in cotton cloth to avoid discolouring of zari.

– Keep silica sachets in store racks.

Snehalatha Rajan – A mother Who Made A difference To Roshan And Ritvik Rajan

Deeya Nayar speaks to Snehalatha Rajan, mother of two special children, on the highs and lows of her life.

When I told Snehalatha, my family friend that I wanted to interview her, she laughed, “Why me, are you running short of stories. I am like any other mother.”

True. She is an ordinary person. She is also a devoted wife who kept pace with her husband M P Rajan, an officer in the Indian Postal Service with a transfer liability.

Yet, she has stood out in the crowd because she is a fountain of inspiration, treating her differently abled (visually impaired) children as normal. Roshan and Ritvik, have seen the world only through their parents’ eyes. With their parents’ support and own efforts, today Roshan is a Post-graduate, who is independent with a job in hand and Ritvik the younger of the two establishing himself in the world of music. The brothers have made a niche for themselves in the music industry as singers and composers.

Ask Snehalatha about the turn of events and she says in a philosophical tone, “I live in the present and don’t brood over the loss. I neither worry about the consequences nor have expectations from tomorrow. It is only when you have too much of desire that it drags in problems. Accept people and situations as they are and be practical.”

Indeed she was practical. Snehalatha, who spent 20 years plus of her life being a “working woman”, let go her career dreams with Canara Bank as she felt that the job was interfering with her role as a mother (in her case, the demand being even more). “Now I am doing full justice to my job,” she declares.

Chidren are any mother’s precious gift. Snehalatha is no different. A moment I pause to pop up the next question, and reading my eyes, she begins, “Initially it was distressing, but slowly we learnt to cope with the situation. Roshan’s brilliant track record gave us immense pleasure. But we did not want to rest on our laurels. Our second child Ritvik’s condition was more complex. There was learning disability and autism along with blindness.” “I was determined to fight back, however,” she adds. And she believes that “love” is the winning word.

Snehalatha recalled the various means the couple had adopted to guide their children nurture their hidden talents. In the process, she learnt Braille to extend a helping hand to her first child, Roshan. When she found that he was picking up music comfortably, a master was arranged to train him. Schooling was another mission. Since they did not want to segregate him from normal children, Snehalatha and Rajan put him in normal school. But for Ritvik, “music became the medium of communication,” a language that brought out the best of emotions in him.

“I pray to God and see Him in my children. In that way, I get the energy to serve them better,” Shehalatha smiles.

How time passed I did not know. Roshan showed me one of his write ups on ‘life’ that he had saved in the computer. I read the words carefully and was moved by lines in particular. He wrote: “What is blind? Everyone sees with their two eyes, but I have ten fingers to see. I have help and support too. So who is luckier? I am.”

Deccan Herald, Bangalore, Dec 2004

Red Alert

Take interest in what your children are doing for it will not only help them be an open book, you will also be able to satiate their curiosity without them misusing the Internet.

By Deeya Nayar-Nambiar

Surfing the Net is like an early morning cup of tea that makes you feel incomplete if you do not catch up with your friends, check e-mail or book movie tickets online. It has made the world a smaller place, but along with that it has also brought unforeseen influences on the young, curious minds. So it is essential to monitor your children when they are in cyberspace to ensure their physical, mental and psychological growth in a safe and secure environment. For this, it is necessary that parents acquaint themselves with the Internet to understand the warning signs.

Last year a 13-year-old Mumbai schoolboy from the upmarket Bombay Scottish School died while trying to perform a choking game, a fad among teenagers in the West. Though the death was initially attributed to suicide caused by academic pressure, his parents later came out to speak about the ‘choking game’ where participants strangle themselves in order to experience the high that comes with the deprivation of oxygen to the brain even though the website warns of the dangers but peer group influence encouraged the young lad to practice the lethal stunt.

Children often engage in activities they consider adventurous or fun. The Internet to a great extent serves children in their pursuits, be it finding new friends, updating their blog or getting entertained. Parents, however, are unaware of the dangers or even the existence of such popular activities. And even if they know, peer pressure makes most of them overlook the parent and child age difference as a ‘generation gap’.

The result is that cyber crimes involving children are on a rise on the Internet with the various chat rooms, networking sites and search engines encouraging forbidden activity. But again, in every case the Internet is also an information provider that binds people in the cyber world to your children. As said by author Parry Aftab in her book The Parent’s Guide To Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace says, “Information does not harm children, people do.”

Concerned parents have started self-help groups to educate their children about the dangers and also to increase their knowledge of the same. But there are many parents who are not even aware of the basic Internet operations and these groups help to explain the concepts. Although well-read and competent professionally, they are often unable to distinguish harmful data for themselves that becomes a handicap in protecting their child.

A number of filter programmes such as NetNanny, CyberPatrol, CyberSitter, SurfWatch can stand guard against these dangers. Filters not only block out content that you do not want your child to access but also monitor the general content viewed and help you keep a tab on the time spent on the site. It can also help you to trace and protect your child from strangers on chat rooms.

For example, with CyberPatrol you can customise the filter levels depending upon you child’s age and decide how much of your personal information is open to the world. It can even limit the amount of time a child can use the Internet. There are even websites like to help parents ‘block’ harmful or inappropriate websites. But the hitch is that in most cases once the free trial period is over, you must to buy the software if you wish to continue using it.

Here is a simple way to monitor your computer’s activities. Begin with looking into the machine’s history. Click on the Start button on the left corner of your main screen and go into My Computer -> C: -> Local Settings -> History. The history tells you the websites that have been visited along with the day date and time. You can also go and view the web pages for yourself. You can then block the website by customising the settings of your Internet browser.

An alternative method is to click on the Start button and select Run. Type c:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts in the Run box. Choose to open the link in Notepad. It will display some cryptic information. Just go to the last line of the file, hit the Enter key and type the name of the website with the number

For example, if you wish to block the networking site, your last line should read Save the file and exit. Likewise, you can block as many websites as you like with the above technique. If you want to remove the ban later, repeat the process and delete the name of the website from the last line.

Ask your children to help you with operating the machine and search engines and try working together. If you still feel your child is getting addicted to Internet, move the computer out of the kid’s bedroom to a more visible location, assign reasonable time limits, and encourage more real-life activities with family and friends. There is also no harm in taking professional help for your child’s Internet addiction.

It is easy to attribute the mistakes of a child to bad parenting but you need to realise that there is no better way to protect your child than being vigilant. Teach them the rules of computer safety and leave it to them to decide right and wrong. Take interest in what they are doing for it will not only help them be an open book, you will also be able to satiate their curiosity without letting them misusing the Internet.

But you can understand your children better by being a friend first and a guardian later. It becomes even more essential for parents to maintain close relationship and open communication to ensure they stay connected through all stages of their upbringing.

BTW, February 4, 2008