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Earthships at Karuna Farms: Mantra for Sustainable Living

Plus: Green Architect Michael Reynolds Green Crusader Alex Leeor

December 2012

Sponsored by:

Volume 2, Issue 37

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Dr. Nandini Murali

Project Coordinator

Archana Sundararajan

Journalism Supervisors

B. Pooja

Journalism Administrator

G. Durgairajan

Designer & Technical Support

T. Jesuraja

Reporters & Photographers

Brydee Streader

Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen

Hanae Araki

Oliver Briggs

Camille Gobin

Giulia Testaverde

Nicholas Magnolfi

Lea Buettner

Isabelle Brotherton Ratcliffe

Amy Cassell

Florence Davis

Romina Gobbo

Audrey Simon

Anthony Menard

Roxanne Dadvar

Cover Photograph

G. Durgairajan

Sivakasi Projects Abroad Pvt. Ltd.,


[email protected]


No. 17, T.P.K Road


Madurai – 625004

Tamil Nadu


Tel. 0452-2370269


01 Writing in the Margin COVER STORY

02 Earthships at Karuna Farms: Mantra for Sustainable Living CAUSES

08 Michael Reynolds: Prophet of Radical Sustainable Living MAKING A DIFFERENCE

10 Green Crusader Alex Leeor IN CONVERSATION

12 Manohar Devadoss: A Matter of Perspective TRIBUTE

15 The Life and Times of Nadhaswaram Artiste Ponnuthayi ISSUES

18 An Eye on the Eye EATING OUT

22 A Slice of Italia in Madurai NOSTALGIA


27 Warm Welcome and Cold Sweat


28 Green Living FILM

30 Erin Brockovich: Hollywood-defined reality VILLAGE VOICES

32 Vilpatti: Valley of Hope FIRST IMPRESSIONS

36 Culturally Vibrant Madurai

37 A Surprise Ending

38 Sensational India

39 Overwhelmed by Helpfulness

40 Colours of the Rainbow

Writing in the Margin

When I was growing up, most of the books I read were second hand. Those were the days of pre-liberalisation of the economy when books were terribly expensive. The first paperbacks I read were the rust and

cream Penguin edition with a black comical penguin as its emblem. Most of them were from the well-stocked lending libraries in Madras that is now Chennai.

In contrast to the library of freshly minted books that I own today, the books of my growing up years were well-thumbed, yellowed and frayed at the margins. Some of them were so fragile that they tore and crumbled unless one had a feather touch. Yet there was a strange comfort from holding such a book. I loved the musty earthy odour that lingered on the pages… some of them even had fossilized silver fish embedded in the pages. Often, several of the books were underlined heavily and had jottings in the margins. These were comments by the reader and most often, they were insightful and interesting. Even as a young girl, I recall being fascinated by the scrawling in the books. Often, they were windows to the kind of person who wrote them—sensitive, perceptive and readers with a keen criticality. Several of the books we had at home were hand-me-downs. My maternal and paternal uncles, both of whom were avid readers, believed that it was worth investing in books even if it meant having to forego a meal or walk home from work or college. My mother, who was their reading heir, inherited the legacy. Through her, some of the titles I inherited were Gone with the Wind, Vendetta by Marie Corelli, The King’s Story (the memoir of HRH the Duke of Windsor), Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Gone with the Wind and Rebecca continue to remain evergreen personal favourites. I must have read those innumerable times; every time, thumbing the same old edition that by the time I inherited, was bound.

As a young girl, I recall visiting the second hand book stores at Moore Market near Central Station in Madras. You could find books ranging from pins to philosophy in the second hand book stores that overflowed with books. During one of my expeditions, I stumbled on Ruskin Bond’s classic, Flight of Pigeons.

There is something special about reading books which have been passed down by others. When many minds converge on a book, there is a confluence of energies which adds on to the value of the book—much like the annular rings on a tree as it ages. In these days of disposable incomes, second hand books are an oddity. Yet I cannot resist the impulse to browse at such book stores on the pavement when I spot one. I recently discovered a much written and heavily underlined book on Transactional Analysis (TA) belonging to my TA Supervisor Dr TS Radhakrishnan. His meticulous notes, incisive comments and explanations make it a textbook within a textbook. As I read, I feel I am conversing with the primary author and the note maker too. And I am evolving my own thoughts and insights as well.

Dr. nanDini murali Editor

EDITOR’S CORNERConTEnTS December 2012 | Issue no. 37

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Earthships at Karuna Farms: MaNTRa fOR SuSTaINablE lIvINg

brydee Streader takes us on a tour of Earthships Karuna, mainland India’s first homes built on the concept of sustainable architecture, near Shenbaganur, Kodiakanal. built on eco friendly principles such as recycling discarded consumer products and harnessing renewable energy sources such as water, solar power, Earthships remind us of our responsibilities to reduce the impact of unsustainable lifestyles that are a fall out of excessive consumerism and materialism. It’s now or never...

By Brydee StreaderAustralia

A view that is impossible to bring tire from plains to Karuna Farms

Hidden away in Prakasapuram, a quiet little village in Shenbaganur, 13 kms from

Kodaikanal, the well-known hill station in Tamil Nadu, is Karuna Farms, a small but devoted community, which champions the idea of sustainable living. First created in 1986 by architect Nevil Moncher 60, a Parsi from Mumbai, as a quiet place to live his self-sufficient and spiritual life, Karuna Farms has turned into a community of likeminded individuals and families who live alongside nature sustainably.

One of these individuals is 39-year-old British-born Alex Leeor. He has brought with him a way of building sustainable housing called “Earthships.” This innovative and highly sustainable housing style is the first of its kind in mainland India. Leeor has built his home in Karuna to be as sustainable and self-reliant as possible. This is a main aim of Karuna. “People make a place,” believes Nevil Moncher, “and these people have made this place deeply spiritual and highly sustainable.” These two things go hand in hand, and according to Moncher, Nature and self-sufficiency are crucially important to achieving a quiet mind, spirituality and true happiness.

Located in the picturesque mountains of Kodaikanal, away from the rest of the town, this was the perfect place for Moncher to live amid nature and away from modern consumerism. Moncher sees a lot is changing in India and believes that Western means and traits like disposability, wasteful housing, materialism and greed are bringing negative changes to the country. He says that the world is “in a poverty of spiritual knowledge.” In order to find the now lost spirituality of life, people need to live in tune with nature and in self-reliance. He believes India is a spiritually charged place and is promoting his simple way of living.

As he embraced his self-reliant lifestyle, a small group of people from around the world came to Karuna. There are now about five families living there permanently, coming from all over the world including Israel, Germany and England. There are also nine guest houses where anyone can come and experience this way of life. Everything at Karuna is eco friendly. All the power used here comes from solar panels or

change in society’s attitude towards consumerism and disposability as a radical activist. Now he was looking for a place where he could live spiritually and sustainably. An incredibly spiritual man, he looked to God while looking for this place. He says that God showed him Karuna Farms and knew this was the place for him.

Nevil Moncher speaks passionately of sustainability and spirituality but shies from personal exposure in the media

hydro-electricity. The first solar panel was installed here in 1993 before which Karuna had no electricity. Now every house has its own solar panels. Two years ago, thanks to a government scheme, Karuna also started harnessing hydroelectricity, making use of the streams and waterfalls that run through the land. The people grow dozens of types of food: fruits, vegetables, coffee, and milk. They are entirely disconnected from the rest of the town’s electricity, water and sewage systems, living entirely off the beautiful land around them.

Every visitor who comes here finds out about Karuna by word of mouth as there is no advertising, just people telling one another about this enchanting place. Most people who

come here expect to stay only for a few days but Moncher says “a large number of them will stay for a few months, years or forever.” From November to April every guest house is filled with visitors, usually travellers discovering the spiritual and sustainable aspects of Karuna. Moncher’s main aim of the accommodation side of Karuna is to “teach and spread self-sufficiency and spirituality.” If they live this lifestyle and people come to learn about it, they tell each other and bring more people to discover Karuna.

Earthship’s ArrivalAlex Leeor, a British web developer, moved to Karuna about seven years ago from England. Like many of its inhabitants he had expected to visit for just a few days and has been here

How it all began Moncher has been involved in sustainable practices his entire life. He has a strong set of beliefs and values revolving around living sustainably and spiritually. Moncher first came to Kodaikanal 26 years ago. He had previously been a monk for 15 years and was working hard to make a

“People make a place,” believes Nevil Moncher, “and these people have made this place deeply spiritual and highly sustainable”

Madurai Messenger Cover Story December 2012

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ever since. He had long been searching for a place where he could build his Earthship. Earthships is a concept based on “biotecture” created by American architect Michael Reynolds. An Earthship is a building or home that is defined by the following principles: thermal or solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity, contained sewage treatment, built with natural and recycled materials and has facilities to conduct its own water harvesting and food production. Leeor learnt the principles of biotecture from Reynolds, the father of the pioneering way of building. Leeor worked with Reynolds on an Earthship in England about ten years ago and has wanted to implement the sustainability of Earthships in his own home ever since.

The Earthships concept was born over four decades ago. Reynolds saw that the world could not cope with the way people were living. He saw a need for change; otherwise there would be no future. A qualified architect, he used his skills and passion to create an entirely new way of building and living. The construction of a conventional home is wasteful and harmful to the environment. Reynolds therefore saw an opportunity in the form of rubbish. He first began using cans as a substitute for bricks to make houses. Now he uses recycled cans, bottles, tyres and more. His innovative designs ensure that the homes require no additional heating or

and outdoor plants is important to an Earthship, providing the household with sustainable self-sufficient foods and contributing to the overall health of the air and environment. There are a huge number of other aspects that make this house innovative, such as the roof that can be opened or closed to allow proper airflow and for heating and cooling, the tyre sewage treatment system that is self-contained and requires no maintenance, the house that is earthquake resistant as it has no foundations and fits into the land

beneath it. Leeor has been living in his Earthship for over a year now and has successfully created a self-sufficient and luxurious home in the wonderful surroundings of Karuna.

Leeor has demonstrated in his Earthship that living sustainably doesn’t mean giving up comfort or luxury, nor does it mean a higher cost in construction. His house has all the comfort and more of an ordinary house. The design and construction of the house ensures that the house keeps itself warm especially

in the cold rainy weather of Kodaikanal. The house has a fully functioning toilet and shower facilities as well as a complete kitchen all powered by renewable energy. Nothing here has been compromised. Another positive aspect of an Earthship is the cost. In the long run, this house will work out far more economical than conventional housing. All the materials are recycled and low cost, there are low labour costs as most of the work is done by enthusiastic Earthship students and this house will never produce a water, heating or electricity bill. Leeor says that the simplicity of the design of an Earthship means that anyone can customise and build their own sustainable home. With so many positive aspects, Leeor has found the most suitable style of housing not only for sustainability but for cost, comfort and more in Karuna.

cooling and rely on renewable energy sources. Now that he had found out that it is possible to build and live in this way, he wants to spread the word. The world needs to make changes to the way lives are being led now so that the future generation have the opportunity to enjoy nature. His message has made its way to Alex Leeor and to Karuna. Leeor started to build his own home about four years ago. He sourced local recyclable materials and brought them to Karuna to build his home. He used over 600 used tyres from around Kodaikanal, transported them all up to remote Karuna and built the walls of his Earthship with these tyres that were rammed into the earth where the house was to be built. He has also built part of the house with recycled plastic bottles. The house was entirely built by hand, helped by over 200 volunteers from around the world who wanted to

learn about Earthships and biotecture. Construction started at the beginning of 2009; it is still under construction, but is completely functional.

The house is totally solar powered; there are six panels that provide enough electricity for the entire house even in the rainy season. Leeor also has a separate panel to provide solar heated water to the house. This way of harvesting solar energy is very sustainable and cost efficient. This house has a guttering system that can harvest and store over 30,000 litres of rain. The water is safe to drink and is used three times in the house. The water that is used in the kitchen or the bathroom is then delivered to the indoor greenhouse located in front of the Earthship. Once it has been fed to these plants it goes outside to the vegetables and plants growing outside. Growing indoor

The Earthships concept was born over four decades ago. Reynolds saw that the world could not cope with the way people were living. He saw a need for change; otherwise there would be no future. A qualified architect, he used his skills and passion to create an entirely new way of building and living

“Every visitor who comes here finds out about Karuna by word of mouth as there is no advertising, just people telling one another about this enchanting place”

Madurai Messenger Cover Story December 2012

One of the cosy, eco friendly guest houses at Karuna Farms

Alex Leeor’s Earthship, sustainable and luxurious

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76 An Earthship blends seamlessly in Karuna. In such a secluded and peaceful area, the self-reliant and sustainable home makes perfect sense. The other houses inhabited by Moncher and the other permanent families all embody sustainable living practices too. None of them are connected to the town electricity supply but instead make use of water harvesting opportunities. Moncher is passionate about spreading the concept of living sustainably to find spirituality and Leeor is a forerunner in the movement to total sustainable and environmentally friendly living.

Importance of sustainability in IndiaThe work done by Moncher and Leeor is of huge importance to the area they reside in and the entire country. India is a country experiencing rapid development, but these changes come at a high ecological loss. It is important to spread the message of sustainable living and Moncher and Leeor are trying very hard to promote these crucial lessons. The Global Footprint Network, a US based NGO that works with global ecological sustainability,

recently published a study stating India’s national ecological footprint (the effects a country leaves on the environment) has doubled since 1961. This coincides with growth in business, infrastructure and other developments taking place in India. It is vital that there is substantial knowledge and information about the importance of self-sustainability available and both Karuna Farms and Earthships are doing this.

Moncher passionately says, “Earth will provide everything necessary for life, more than enough. It will not provide for greed.” He believes that by living a materialistic lifestyle, people are stopping themselves from achieving true happiness. Leeor is a firm believer that a future without radically sustainable architecture will not sustain itself. In order for people to continue living in this world, there needs to be a change in the way that people think about architecture and housing. By living their lives in total self-reliance and ecologically sound principles, they are providing people with the necessary information to choose a sustainable lifestyle themselves.

Karuna Farms is a unique place for people devoted to eco friendly lifestyles to come and live totally separately from the town’s supplies of energy and so on. For many people this is not an option, but there are several important lessons to be learnt from this lifestyle that can be adapted and used in everyday life. Renewable energy can be used anywhere: solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectricity systems can be installed in already built homes. This is an eco friendly alternative to provide a pre-existing home with sustainable power and to limit electricity costs. People can also live more self-sustainably by growing their own food; fruit and vegetable gardens or greenhouses provide homes with organic natural foods and are easily obtainable. Recycling waste, conserving and reusing water and countless other acts can help a household become more sustainable and self-reliant. Whether the changes that people make to their lifestyles are big or small, Karuna farms and Earthships are focused on spreading this message.

Moncher passionately says, “Earth will provide everything necessary for life, more than enough. It will not provide for greed”

A Bright Future The future is optimistic for this place, with people like Moncher and the others living here passionate about promoting self-sustainability, there can be no doubt that there will be much progress and several steps forward in their aim to spread these concepts throughout the world.

Moncher is trying to spread his beliefs as much as possible. But he says living so simply can be difficult although with limited resources and time, he lives leading by example.He hopes that if he continues to live spiritually and self-sufficiently, others will follow. This idea is proven by all the people who live at or visit Karuna. If the community keeps growing, then increasing numbers of people can learn the message that Moncher is so passionate about spreading.

Leeor is still finishing his Earthship; there are still improvements to be made. He is also passionate about spreading the message of sustainable living. He intends to start workshops and seminars on biotecture and Earthships. He wants to teach as many people as possible about this revolutionary way of building and living. He will also write a book on building an Earthship, his journey and highlight the struggles he went through. With these men driving the force of self-sustainability in Kodaikanal, who knows how far their efforts will stretch…

Spirituality and sustainability are two things that go hand in hand. Moncher and Leeor are showing the importance of these worldwide issues. Both of these aspects are awfully vital to the future of Karuna, India and the world. With these men behind the cause and spreading the message as best they can, the world is beginning to prick its ears to the importance of self-reliance, sustainability and the negative effects of consumerism and disposability. There is hope that the future will consist of more communities like Karuna and more houses like the Earthship.

Leeor walks us through his impressive home Explaining how the solar heating system works for his Earthship

Madurai Messenger Cover Story December 2012

Leeor’s home among the breathtaking scenery

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Michael Reynolds: PROPhET Of RaDICal SuSTaINablE lIvINg

In an exclusive interview to Madurai Messenger, maverick american architect Michael Reynolds talks to brydee Streader over Skype about his ecologically sustainable approach to architecture—that he terms biotecture—and its significance as an ecologically viable alternative that has the potential to radically impact the future of life on earth

By Brydee StreaderAustralia

Eminent American architect Michael Reynolds, 67, hardly glances at his extraordinary past, preferring instead to set his vision on the future of sustainable architecture.

He is the creator of Earthships, a pioneering method of sustainable architecture that is a radical departure from conventional architecture, with its failure to deal with the enormous wastage that building design generates and the imminent environment devastation that it heralds. Reynolds talks to us about the journey of Earthships and also charts out their future. Reynolds was born and raised in Kentucky, southern Indiana. “I grew up in an old wood frame house that my father and I built. I even dug a basement by hand. It was very inefficient, hard to heat, it was a typical house.” This is where Reynold’s association with regular housing stopped.

not in sync “Probably shortly after I graduated from architecture school, I started seeing many problems with the way we live on this planet and started seeing that architecture was a big part of it.” He had attended University in Cincinnati for six years, studying conventional architecture techniques. “I learned that architecture was not really meeting the needs of the people or the planet in this day and age and wanted to go in a direction where it would relate more to people and the planet, to what was being done and taught at this time.”

Thus the very first steps of what is now called Earthships were taken. “The first building we made of beer cans happened in the early 1970s. It wasn’t an Earthship then, it was just a building

made of recycled materials. Then we had the first energy crisis in the early to mid-70s so we tried to make the buildings heat themselves and make their own electricity. Then we had water shortages around the planet so we tried to make the buildings harvest water. Somewhere along the line we started to use them to treat sewage because sewage was a big problem everywhere. When we looked back on what we were doing we saw we were making a sustainable building and we called them Earthships. The word “house” has preconceived ideas and we did not want them to get trapped in that definition because they (Earthships) are machines that by encountering the natural phenomenon of the planet, take care of people in a way that is in correlation with the planet. It happened over a series of years and we ended up calling them Earthships about 25 years ago,” explains Reynolds.

Ironically Reynolds admits that the concept of Earthships was influenced by the very challenges it was trying to solve. “I think that the idea of the Earthships was influenced by the problems that humanity was having on this planet. The problematic issues of pollution and lack of fossil fuels and population explosion -all of these things influenced the emergence of the Earthship concept as a logical answer to those problems. The problems that we were having were the biggest influence.”

The only way With such a radically different approach to construction, Reynolds had countless hurdles to overcome. First, he struggled to succeed with the design and construction of the building. Once that was achieved, he then faced the task of convincing the public

that this is not only the right way, but also the only way. He then had to swim against the sea of rules and laws that were making it impossible for him to sail to a sustainable future. “First, the challenges were just making things work, building with garbage, trying to make those methods as good if not better than conventional methods. The same with the electricity and the water harvesting and the sewage treatment. Trying to make these things work was fun, but it was a challenge,” recalls Reynolds.

Great oddsAccording to him, once the initial bottlenecks were successfully addressed, the biggest challenge was public acceptance of the concept. “It was unusual for them to not just be throwing garbage away but to be building with it; we recognise garbage as a natural resource and we are trying to get the public to recognise that too,” explains Reynolds. Once this was successfully dealt with and public acceptance was evident, the next barrier was overcoming the laws and regulations in developed countries.

Reynold’s determination and passion leave him with a positive attitude towards failure. “They don’t even consider these things. So those have been bigger hurdles to get over than learning how to doing it itself. The truth is we learned and still learn a lot more from failure than we do from success. The failure causes us to work harder and think harder than the successes. We aren’t afraid to try anything, we will try anything and we will keep trying it until it works if it is in the direction to making people have a pathway to sustainable autonomy on this planet.”

About ten years ago in the midst of building his concepts and ideas, Reynold’s architectural licences were revoked by the state due to illegal and unsafe building methods. A blow like this would have knocked the ambition from an ordinary man’s heart, but Reynolds strong will and optimism served him well.

“It made me question myself for sure, but at the same time it opened up a whole new world of things I could do as a private citizen than as an architect. Actually it gave me more freedom and now it is a good thing because (conventional) architecture is not responding to the problems of this planet and by not being a professional architect, at least not in this state, I’m able to address more issues with more freedom.” Reynolds is outspoken about the need for “decentralised sustainable autonomy for every living person on this planet. If architecture gets in the way, I’ll call it something else. I call it biotecture now, anyway. Architecture and codes and regulations are actually inhibiting the revolution of living conditions on this planet.”

At Reynold’s office, there is a map of the world with lines going to every corner of the globe—the tip of South America, Russia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Asia. “It’s going everywhere! We are planting seeds everywhere.” Earthships have also spread to India. Alex Leeor’s sustainable home near Kodaikanal is the result of Reynold’s green vision. “We

can’t build every Earthship, so we hope to have people do it themselves just like he did. He did it, he was inspired by the direction that we have taken and he had the strength and the funding to pull it off for himself and I think that’s what needs to be done. That’s what we are really trying to do, make a path, a map, a guidebook for people on an individual basis to transcend the existing situation and I think Alex pulled that off.” As Earthship voyages around the world, Reynolds sees a vital need for this concept in India. “Any place that has a lot of people has a future for sustainable autonomous building. India has a lot of possibilities. I think that the thing that we are trying to point out is that decentralised methods of living seem to be the way to the future. A building that supplies everything for itself without infrastructure that takes care of people just by encountering earth itself is the way of the future and illustrating that in every country is what we are trying to do.” More important than spreading into different places is spreading the idea to different people. People are what make things happen and Earthships have a strong community and family devoted to making a change.

A Brave new World“We have started to call it an army now because we have people all over the world. It is a family but it’s an army of people who don’t want to fight the existing situation. They just want to move in this direction and basically rise above it, transcend the existing dogma and political and corporate situation; they simply want to transcend that into a way of living that is much more appropriate than nuclear power plants and fossil fuels.”

A big part of this family are the hundreds of interns who every year volunteer their services to build Earthships and learn hands on for themselves. “The interns come from all over the world and go to wherever we are all over the world. We didn’t design that, it happened. People were interested in what we were doing and said, “Can I come and help?” And of course we said yes. That has grown to two or three hundred people wanting to go with us. That’s a gift, that makes our effectiveness jump tenfold,” says a gratified Reynolds, who nevertheless says that the programme has to be nurtured.

The future for Reynolds holds no rest. He laughs at the idea of retirement. Reynolds is seeing his seeds grow and bloom; more and more people are getting involved in the green architecture movement. There is hope that his vision of sustainable autonomous living, which is voyaging around the world, will soon arrive at a destination where people are living in tune with nature and not relying on other methods.

“I never really had a plan other than to keep doing this for myself and those around me and now it’s becoming a larger picture, not just my area or my country, it’s the world. The fact that we are able to plant seeds all over the world is showing us that we have seen some success and certainly there is a lot more to see, but we have enough success to encourage us to keep going, that’s for sure!“ says Reynolds as he signs off on a note of hope.

Madurai Messenger Causes December 2012

Michael Reynolds, pioneering with passion

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Green Crusader Alex LeeorSustainable housing is a passion for british IT professional alex leeor. having constructed his own home based on Earthships, a radical green architecture model at Karuna farms in Shenbaganur near Kodaikanal, leeor tells brydee Stryder that despite the many challenges, green architecture is an antidote to the human-induced global ecological crisis

By Brydee StreaderAustralia

It takes quite an effort to find Alex Leeor and his home. Once you have arrived in Kodaikanal, there is a half

hour long bumpy ride in a jeep, then a winding trek through the slopes of the Kodaikanal mountains. Nestled among the foliage and flora, Leeor’s home is well worth the search. Leeor, 39, is originally from England but now

Leeor’s determination and desire is evident in his evolutionary home

calls India “home.” He has lived at Karuna Farms, Kodaikanal for the last seven years and has more recently built his own home. Innovative and self-sustainable, his home is unlike any seen before. He greets us from his unique home located among breathtaking views of nature. He is a friendly and talkative man especially when it comes

to discussing his home, the product of years of scouting for the ideal location, and many more spent on construction. A green journey Born in England, Leeor has a background in computers and IT as well as biology and other sciences. As his life progressed, he adopted

flourishing greenhouse in front the front of the Earthship. Creative artworks have been painted on the walls; a lively waterfall adds an even more natural feel to the main room, mosaics lace the spiral stairway and everywhere you look there are hand made artistic trimmings. This house has been created with not only sustainability in mind but also with art and luxury sensibilities. Leeor lives in his home with his partner, one dog and three cats. There is a relaxed atmosphere here. He welcomed us in and happily shared his experiences in creating his home, that he is obviously very proud of and rightly so. A lot of work has gone into creating his Earthship and there ‘’were a few struggles along the way”, but Leeor says he is incredibly pleased with the results so far. The environment inside his home mirrors his own personality, a relaxed man with strong beliefs, like his comfortable home with powerful sustainable aspects.

The future is a bright place for Leeor. He intends to complete his home, and admits, “There are still improvements to be made.” He is also planning on writing a book, about building his Earthship, the highs and the lows. He has hopes that this book will help other people to create their own Earthships and adopt the lifestyle he so passionately espouses. His life has lately been devoted to the creation of his Earthship. It takes determination and a passion for life that radiates calmly from Leeor.

views and beliefs that would lead him to sustainability and in turn, India. He became interested in sustainable housing and self-reliant building and discovered the concept of Earthships. An Earthship is a kind of radically sustainable way of building pioneered by American architect Michael Reynolds in the 1970s. About ten years ago Leeor worked with Reynolds on an Earthship in Brighton, England. He learnt all about the construction and design of an Earthship and ever since then, Leeor knew that this was the sort of building he needed to create.

Leeor spent quite some time travelling to different countries and places searching for the ideal location to build his home. He says, “I have lived in four different countries looking to build.” Nowhere he lived felt like the right place to set up his home. He found out about the Karuna community through a friend and decided to pay a visit. Expecting to stay only two days, Leeor says, “I immediately knew that this was the place,” the place to create his self-reliant, sustainable home. Like many of the people living in Karuna, Leeor was wooed by the seclusion and natural features that the area afforded, something that he has incorporated in the building of his home.

He lived at Karuna for a few years before starting the construction of his home. During this time, he worked on renovating and constructing which he calls a “dome” using the techniques

He found out about the Karuna community through a friend and decided to paya visit. Expecting to stay only two days, Leeor says, “I immediately knew that thiswas the place to create a self-reliant, sustainable home.”

Parts of the walls have been created from used plastic bottles and can be seen from the outside; not only does this give a hint of what the house is made from, it also looks magical and stunning. Inside the walls are hundreds and hundreds of second hand tyres, recycled bottles and the Earth from Karuna

and ideologies learnt from Reynolds. This small dome was “great practice and provided him with even more knowledge and hands on experience” to create his house. It was in early 2009 that he began the construction of his own home. He has been through a long journey with great achievements and success, but also some low points and struggles. Leeor has overcome these obstacles with his determination and today his home is almost complete. A brilliantly astounding structure in beauty, sustainability and comfort.

Rooted in the Earth Leeor’s home is aesthetically beautiful. Its walls are earth coloured because they are made from the earth that was once where his home sits. The raw circular house sits among the incredible green vegetation around it, looking out to one of the most spectacular views, the mountains and valleys of Kodaikanal. Every day Leeor wakes to the picturesque surroundings and the soothing sounds of Nature around him. Parts of the walls have been created from used plastic bottles and can be seen from the outside; not only does this give a hint of what the house is made from, it also looks magical and stunning. Inside the walls are hundreds and hundreds of second hand tyres, recycled bottles and the Earth from Karuna.

Leeor’s home is a lively place, consisting mainly of one circular room with separate bathroom and a mezzanine above for a bedroom. There is a

Madurai Messenger Making a Difference December 2012

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Manohar Devadoss: a MaTTER Of PERSPECTIvE

If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Well known Chennai-based author and artist Manohar Devadoss, was recently in Madurai to complete his latest book, From an Artist’s Perspective, to be released in January 2013. Devadoss’s strength and endurance in dealing with his progressive loss of vision and leading a complete life with his spinal cord injured wife the late Mahema is all about a matter of perspective, says Caroline lyngsoe larsen

By Caroline Lyngsoe LarsenDenmark

“Please call me Mano,” says well-known Chennai-based writer and artist Manohar

Devadoss, 76, who prefers the rather uncommon way of addressing an elder in India. The young-at-heart Manohar Devadoss says that he does not feel like an old man. Even though his seven decades have been full of seemingly endless challenges that would have zapped anyone else, the man in front of us seems to be radiating positive energy.

When he was just 15 years, Manohar Devadoss was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that gradually causes severe vision impairment and often blindness. Manohar Devadoss has been gradually losing his vision since then, and is today almost completely blind. In spite of the vision impairment, he is a successful writer and artist, and is especially known for his intricate pen-and-ink line sketches of various buildings and monuments. His books Greenwell Years (1997), Dreams, Seasons and Promises (2002) and A Poem to Courage (2002) are based on his own life, the first depicting his boyhood years in Madurai and the last two revolving around his adult life and an event which changed it irrevocably. He has also published a book of sketches Multiple

facets of my Madurai, (2007) and a small portfolio in connection with his art exhibition titled Mahema and the Butterfly (2010). And he is not done yet. Though based in Chennai, he has recently been staying in Madurai under the care of doctors at the Aravind Eye Hospital, working on a new book From an Artist’s Perspective, to be released in early 2013.

parties and events. They became very close and spent a lot of time together, with Mahema reading out an endless list of books to Manohar in the evenings, while he worked on his drawings. By then he had only little vision left in one eye, but he was still able to draw from his mind, with the help of a special equipment including strong halogen lights. The couple also created and sold greeting cards with drawings by Manohar and text by Mahema, and sold around about 33,000 cards over 42 years. All the proceeds went to charity.

While Manohar’s sight was deteriorating to the point of near total blindness, Mahema’s condition was getting worse over the years. One evening in March 2008, she was particularly exhausted and went to lie down. When Manohar went to turn her in her bed at 2 am, she was awake and demanded to have a look at the drawing he was working at, as she usually would in order to give her feedback on it. “It is coming out really well, Mano,” she said, and those were her last words to him as she passed away later that night. “She lived in grace, and she died in grace,” says Manohar.

The story of the couple is an inspiring tale of love, perseverance and steely courage and determination. Above all, it is a tribute to positive thinking, the main message being that even if bad things happen to you, it is not the end. Their extraordinary life – or rather attitude—has been an inspiration and the subject of an audio book, as well as features in several well known newspapers and magazines.

Their harmonious life was disrupted by this accident, but it never crossed Manohar’s mind to walk out on his wife, as he believes many others would have done. He took care of Mahema with such love and devotion that it made a deep impression on her doctors, and, helped by her vivacious personality, it motivated her doctors to provide her with extraordinary care and attention as well. She slowly regained some function of her biceps, and would eventually be able to write by the help of a special device attached to her arms.

Manohar, whose vision started rapidly deteriorating around the time of the accident, was set on honouring the promises he had made to his wife at their wedding. “I swore that she would never have a single bedsore as long as I lived,” he says. He also exercised in order to gain sufficient strength to be able to carry his wife up flights of stairs in her wheelchair, hired helpers and did whatever he could to lessen her burden. Mahema herself had vowed to create as happy and natural a home for their daughter as possible, and they did what they could to create a bearable life, receiving great support from their families, doctors and many friends in India and around the world.

The last chapterWith unheard of determination and a strong sense of humour, the couple managed to lead as happy a life as practicable until Mahema’s passing in 2008. During those years, they re-established a flourishing social life, receiving lots of invitations to different

The golden yearsBorn and raised in Madurai, Manohar Devadoss had a happy boyhood where his flair for art as well as other subjects was obvious. At the age of twenty, he moved to Madras, where he planned to do a Master’s degree in chemistry and teach at a local college. However, his father’s sudden death forced him to become the breadwinner of the family, and he found a job in a Madras-based British company Oldham and Son India Private Limited as a technical engineer. His work was of such quality that he quickly became highly appreciated by the management who enabled him to go for training in the UK and even to visit Paris and Rome on occasional holidays.

The next, happy chapter of his life began in 1963, when Manohar was married to Mahema, a fine arts major from Stella Maris College in Madras who taught him the basics of oil painting. That was the beginning of the creative side of his life, and he practically “stumbled into being an artist,” as he puts it. They had a daughter named Sujatha, who later married a U.S. Consulate official Michael Pelletier and move to the US.

In 1969, Manohar was the first member of the family to move to the US to study chemistry at Oberlin College, Ohio. His wife and daughter followed a year after, and Mahema started working as an organiser of programmes on Asia. He looks back at those years as the happiest of their lives. However, despite the pull of the US, they decided to move back to Madras in 1972. That year, tragedy struck.

The struggles and the promisesThe family was driving from Madras to Madurai in their new Herald car when a lorry hit them, causing the car to roll down a slope. Manohar and Sujatha where unharmed, but Mahema, who was at the wheel, was flung out of the car and suffered a severe spinal injury. She was paralysed from the neck down and for the rest of her life would be bed ridden.

He took care of Mahema with such love and devotion that it made a deep impression on her doctors, and, helped by her vivacious personality, it motivated her doctors to provide her with extraordinary care and attention as well

Madurai Messenger In Conversation December 2012

Looking at, but not seeing us through massive prescription spectacles, talking through a constant genuine smile, Manohar tells us about the events, which moulded his life. As his life unfolds before us, it becomes clear that this is a person who seeks neither glorification nor pity, but who represents an immensely important message about life and the way we choose to look at it.

Manohar Devadoss (76) can no longer make use of his eyesight, but his views on life remain positive

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The Life and Times of NaDaSWaRaM aRTISTE PONNuThaI

from the moment she was born to the moment she passed away, Madurai Sripathy Ponnuthai captivated family members and friends alike through her expertise as a nadaswaram artiste and the first woman instrumentalist in what has traditionally been a male bastion. Nicholas Magnolfi talks to her grandson P.vigneswaran, also a Nadaswaram artiste, and pays tribute to the life and personality of a stalwart in the Carnatic music tradition of south India

By Nicholas MagnolfiUnited Kingdom M.S.Ponnuthayi- A Pioneer in Nadhaswaram

Blazing a musical trail Born on July 5, 1929, MS Ponnuthai had a fast and intense ascent as a professional musician. Her mother Subbuthai and father Sripathy were very supportive, the former being a musician herself, a harmonist, and the latter constantly pushing her forward and insisting that she make a musical career. Further, she had an uncle, Velusamy Pillai, who was a flautist and whom she once described as her greatest inspiration.

The first signs of her passion were seen at the age of eight, when she picked up a stick and pretended it was a flute, though her proper lessons with the famous master Mr

The nadaswaram is a wind instrument with a body made of wood and a flare at the bottom from where the sound comes out. It is one of the most popular classical

instruments in Carnatic music and the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument. This particular instrument is played in pairs, sometimes with a percussion to accompany and keep the rhythm. In south Indian culture the nadaswaram is considered a holy instrument, and is therefore played mostly at joyous occasions, such as at a temple festival or at a wedding. It is very rare for a woman to play this instrument and take it to such high levels. The late MS Ponnuthai was the first woman to ever play it at many temples and shrines.

manuscript and anticipates its release in late January 2013.

Although Mahema is no longer by his side, ‘Mano’ has maintained an amazingly positive attitude, and sets an inspiring example of how to live what he calls “a reasonably happy life”, no matter what the circumstances are. “I have never been a crying type,” he says. Of course he cried a lot when Mahema passed away, but refuses to shed even one drop for his loss of vision. He seems to have made peace with life, by being intent on getting the best out of it. Now that’s what one would describe as a matter of perspective.

‘Green Well Years’ is the first book by Manohar Devadoss. The illustration on the cover is an example of his intricate drawings

Life goes onAlmost completely blind today, Manohar is dependent on helpers when it comes to everyday tasks. He is not really able to draw any more, but he writes, assisted by others when it comes to proofreading. He keeps himself busy, and enjoys his days as they unfold. He usually wakes up early and does yoga while listening to BBC. Later, he switches to Sun News, to stay in touch with happenings in Tamil Nadu as well as the rest of the country. He still exercises as he did before, although now it is rather to stay fit than to be able to carry his wife. The rest of his time he spends writing letters or working on manuscripts, giving talks at different occasions, and he even goes out now and then. Not yet sure what his future looks like, he is considering several options, including writing more books. “I might even switch to the genre of fictional love stories,” he says with a grin, “or maybe teaching chemistry in schools,” he adds.

The story of the couple is an inspiring tale of love, perseverance and steely courage and determination. Above all, it is a tribute to positive thinking, the main message being that even if bad things happen to you, it is not the end

His recently finished manuscript, From an Artist’s Perspective, is about how he discovered and understands the concept of perspective in art, and tells the story of his “personal adventure with this aspect.” He actually started working on it 20 years ago, following a discussion about perspective with his cousin, an architecture student and fellow artist. Struck by Manohar’s insight, he encouraged him to put his thoughts into writing. At the time, however, Manohar had other things on his mind. In the book he writes about the things that interest him the most, and, about his wife who introduced him to art. He is happy to have finished the

Madurai Messenger In Conversation December 2012

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The proud family- Vignesh’s father, P.Thangavel Murugan, Vignesh and his mother, T.Murugambal

M.S. Ponnuthayi’s grandson P.Vigneshwaram, proudly poses with his Ghatam

dedicated, she would provide them food and accommodation in her house and would teach them to play the instrument until they mastered the art.” Her charity also went towards supporting musicians; from low socio economic backgrounds with financial aid. Eventually, the very common disease with nadaswaram players, chronic ulcer, caught up with her. She died in January 2012. However, her legacy carries on through her grandson P.Vigneswaran.

A musical legacy According to Viknesh, his grandmother was a loving woman who was especially fond of him. She taught

The amount of energy that she derived from her passion, as she grew older, was said to be a gift from God himself! Her concerts lasted for over ten hours, in some instances from 10 pm to 6 am

Natesan Pillai began when she was nine years. During her musical tutelage, her regular schedule lasted up to eight hours a day of practising the nadaswaram: 9am-1pm, 3pm-4pm and 6pm-9pm. Her arangetram (first concert) was at the age of 13 years, a performance in the Alagar Koyil temple, just outside Madurai, with her own personal orchestra consisting of two nadaswarams, two thavils and a person who checked if she was playing in alignment with the tune with his shruthi box. This arrangement of people and instruments followed her for 32 years, till 1970.

Among her many concerts, three are memorable for they are a perfect reflection of her professionalism and personality: the first was at the age of 14, when she was called to play in a temple in Madurai. Upon her arrival, the men and women there started to throw stones and torches at her, but she persisted and played, defying the will of the crowd. The second was when she was invited to be the first woman to play at the Hindu pilgrimage centre of Sabarimala in Kerala. Though as a woman she was not allowed to play there in keeping with the orthodox temple tradition, the head priest insisted that someone of her skill had to play there. In the end, she did three consecutive concerts there.

Lastly, she was the musician who inaugurated the Sri Sathguru Sangeetha Samajam musical academy in Madurai. In this school she is a local legend. Sadly, in 1972, her husband passed away. After this bitter event, her career encountered a few problems. A music critic wrote that a holy instrument was being played by an unholy woman, simply because she was a widow. But her career was in full swing, so even criticism on such a sensitive issue could not stop her. The amount of energy that she derived from her passion, as she grew older, was said to be a gift from God himself! Her concerts lasted for over ten hours, in some instances from 10 pm to 6 am.

Despite this, she was aware of her age. For example, at the age of 50, she was invited to make a speech at the Madurai Musical Academy but turned it down insisting that upcoming younger artistes deserved to speak there, not an old woman. Her gradual decline started in the year 1990, when she began to feel the strain of age. During that period she would play, from time to time, the nadaswaram in temples and marriages only for pleasant and holy occasions and finally stopped at the age of 74, in 2003. Nonetheless, she continued to be involved in the field. Vignesh recalls, “If a student is really

Ponnuthayi’s Nadhaswaram and Vignesh’s Ghatam and Mridangam

The prestigious ‘Kalaimamani’ award

Madurai Messenger Tribute December 2012

him vocal Carnatic music and basic nadaswaram. Both grandmother and grandson shared a special relationship. “Ponnuthai was a soft, calm and nice lady but very courageous”, says her grandson. “Nadaswaram players were all very impressed by her character, and I can say that I am very proud to have been born in her family.” But what struck me most was Vignesh’s observation, “True artists are always simple people.”

Viknesh is rooted in Carnatic music. He studied at the Madurai Music College and was fortunate to have had teachers of exceptional calibre such as Palani Subramaniyam Pilai, I. T. S. Janakiram, Chinnamanoor M. R. Thiagarajan and lastly Valangiman K. Thiagarajan. With their help, he has managed to perfect his musical skills, especially as a percussionist. He always recites the jathis and swaras before playing any instrument, be it the Ghtam or the Mridangam, that he has been learning for many years now. Born into a very talented family, and with a musical heritage as his legacy, it is hardly surprising that Viknesh has followed his grandmother’s footsteps as a reputed nadaswaram artiste.

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The children are being taught about many aspects of eye care, and will hopefully pass on the information to their friends and families

Chitra (55) is in charge of Aravind publications and is one of the people behind the Kannae Namalaa exhibition

exhibition, will go home and tell their families and friends about it, perhaps even urging them to go for an eye checkup or to seek medical help for existing eye problems.

All about eyesThe exhibition emphasized the consequences of eye problems left untreated. Visitors were first led through rooms illustrating a simplified version of the eye’s anatomy, consisting of the cornea, the lens and the retina. To get an idea of what it feels like to be deprived of their eyesight, they then walked through a completely dark room, now and then colliding with various objects. Even though it only lasted a few seconds, this simple exercise left a remarkable impression and helped the visitors enter into a state of awareness of what it feels like to lose vision. It prepares them to take in the important information highlighted in the exhibition, comprising of informative movie clips, games and stalls explaining a wealth of eye care related aspects.

The most common causes of blindness in adults (and consequently the most heavily featured in the exhibition) are diabetes and glaucoma. For children, it is refractive error and amblyopia (lazy eye). At the various stalls, the causes, symptoms and treatments of these diseases were explained in detail, along with many other illnesses, risk factors and eye care options. The stalls are managed by girls who are in training to become hospital nursing staff, expertly

“The seriousness is underlined by means of some very detailed pictures and illustrations of untreated eye problems on display throughout the exhibition”

An Eye on the Eye On the occasion of World Sight Day (October 11), the Kannae Nalama (how are your eyes?) 2012 exhibition was conducted at aravind Eye Care Systems (aECS) in Madurai from October 9-11, 2012, to create awareness of common eye problems and the need for regular checkups in order to prevent needless loss of sight

Spread the word How are your eyes today? That is the question you should be asking yourself on a regular basis, according to eye care professionals at Aravind. India accounts for about 25 percent of the world’s blindness, making it a national public health problem. However, up to 80 percent of blindness is avoidable, and the mission of AECS is to eliminate needless blindness. The focus of the

Walking through the dark room is meant to give an understanding of the “blind experience”

exhibition is to spread the message and get people to go for periodical eye exams in order to detect illnesses such as diabetes or glaucoma at an early stage, before they create irrevocable damage to the eyes. Chitra Thulasiraj, 55, in charge of Publications, AECS, and one of the people behind the exhibition, puts it this way: “When you start losing vision, you can’t do anything more. We need to catch them

before they start losing vision, or it will be too late.”

The exhibition was mainly aimed at students, but was also open to the public at certain hours. Apart from the students, most of the visitors were the hospital’s own patients, and a few who had heard of the event through friends or the media. The hope is that the children and adults, having visited the

By Caroline Lyngsoe Larsen Denmark

Madurai Messenger Issues December 2012

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M. Mohan (55), a public visitor, has learned a lot about the things he needs to look out for in order to look after his eyes

properly.” The aim is to ensure a better understanding for the visitors, who, in turn, will be better able to convey this knowledge to others.

A visitor, 54-year-old M. Mohan, had only just read a notice about the exhibition in the newspaper the same morning, and decided to pay it a visit. He was not disappointed, and he says, “It has given me awareness of how to look after my eyes and to be cautious of diseases like diabetes, glaucoma and cataract, and how to prevent these things. It’s all very useful information.” He also realized that he should probably start going for eye checkups more regularly.

The Aravind conceptEven though the Aravind team would like to make Kannae Nalama an annual event, challenges related to human resource make this virtually impossible.

However, the Aravind chain of hospitals- work round the year to prevent avoidable blindness by means of early intervention. Chitra mentions one of the initiatives, the community outreach eye camps that are conducted throughout Tamil Nadu. These camps are conducted in a number of rural villages, where the locals have access to professional consultations through a web cam. If an eye problem is detected, they are invited to travel to the nearest Aravind hospital to receive treatment, free of charge. The camps are set up at the request of locals who have educated themselves on the issue, perhaps visited one of the Aravind hospitals in the past, and who would like to share the opportunity with their local communities. Both the eye camps, as well as the exhibition, are based on spreading the message through word-of-mouth and local involvement. It is a way of reaching as large a number of people as possible, and eventually reaching the goal of eliminating avoidable blindness in Madurai and Tamil Nadu. The most important thing to remember is that blindness can be prevented, if you take certain precautions. So see an eye doctor, while you still can!

Clearly meant to jolt the visitors into action, the sight of eyes in various diseased states - maimed, swollen, infected and bloody, to name a few—created vivid memories and made people want to go for an extra checkup in future!

explaining the issues by means of illustrations and models, which they have made themselves. Made with just a few days of preparation, the models are highly illustrative and excellent tools for explaining the often quite complex issues to children as well as adults. Many of the stalls were interactive, something which the children especially seemed to enjoy, but as one of the Aravind employees, K. C. Krishnaveni (19) professionally notes, “This is all very serious.” The seriousness is underlined by means of some very detailed pictures and illustrations of untreated eye problems on display throughout the exhibition. Clearly meant to jolt the visitors into action, the sight of eyes in various diseased states - maimed, swollen, infected and bloody, to name a few—created vivid memories and made people want to go for an extra checkup in future!

Making a difference This year’s Kannae Nalama is the third one conducted at Aravind in Madurai. The two previous ones were in 2001 and 2010, and in 2008 a similar exhibition took place at the Aravind Hospital in Theni. While a total of about 80 people were involved in running the exhibition, it was planned by the hospital’s communications department, consisting of six people who sat down only one week in advance to outline the structure of the event. When asked what they would like to do better next time, the team responded that they would definitely like to start planning earlier, in order to ensure that the structure of the exhibition and the models would be more adequate. “Basically, whatever we have been doing, we would like to do better next time,” says Chitra.

That said, the exhibition appeared to be a great success. On the first day, approximately 1000 people visited the exhibition. The number of invitations has actually been restricted compared to the previous exhibitions, because, as Chitra says, “If they come in too big batches, they are not listening and it is too hard to explain everything

Eye surgery simulation in one corner of the exhibition. All stalls are manned by girls training to become hospital staff

Self-made models illustrating the deterioration of the eyes at the different stages of diabetes

Made with just a few days of preparation, the models are highly illustrative and excellent tools for explaining the often quite complex issues to children as well as adults

Madurai Messenger Issues December 2012

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“This is our key to fully-satisfied our customers. You cannot pretend to cook Italian cuisine without authentic products!”

Phil’s bistro- First of its kind in Madurai

The staff and volunteers of the Journalism project fully satisfied by Chef Phil’s cooking

dishes. In their kitchen, veg and non-veg sections are separate: “There is one freezer and one fridge devoted to each one.” Besides Mathew allow all customers to visit the unseen heart of the bistro and see for themselves the process of cooking: the kitchen. It is thus an excellent way to guarantee their clientele how hygiene measures are valued and followed to the letter.

Phil’s bistro’s is new but has already built a following. On an average, around 60 clients come to have lunch and dinner. Mathew confesses, “Phil’s bistro is especially full for dinner.” There is of course, a price to be paid for their success, Mathew and Phil have had to institute booking. “Now, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday we ask to our customers to book. From Monday to Thursday, people can just walk in for food at specified timings.“ Phil’s bistro is located in a prime area in Madurai. All around there are hospitals, schools and offices. ”Many doctors and business people take their lunches at our bistro.”

A family business To provide attentive services and delectable cuisine, Mathew and Phil are helped by a fabulous team. A team of eight people work at Phil’s bistro. They each have their own roles to play, which they do to their best ability. “I have two cooks assisting in the kitchen,” explains Phil. Another staff member is in charge of accounts, while another takes care of purchases. Phil and Mathew also have a separate marketing department and HR, managed by Pheba, Mathews’ wife

wife. Phil’s bistro is a success story where all the family members are into the business. “Everybody is involved and does his or her best!” says Matthew.

When you ask both of them how they visualize their bistro’s prospects five years from now, a little smile lights up their faces. Mathew is optimistic, “Until now this business has given me

more than I expected, so year after year it will be better I guess!” The brothers, however, have no plans to open branches elsewhere in India. “We just want to focus on Phil’s bistro in Madurai,” explains Phil.

So, fingers crossed! This hotel could be a victory for the two brothers, just as Phil’s Bistro is. Surely then, success holds no secrets for the brothers.

A Slice of Italia in Madurai!Italian food in India? Incredible as it sounds, Philip and Mathews, two Indian brothers have made your dream come true with Phil’s bistro, their very own Italian experience in Madurai city! Mamma Mia, is all we can say!

By Giulia TestaverdeFrance

Phil’s bistro. This new Italian restaurant at KK Nagar opened just a month ago. Mathews, the

owner is proud of their creation, “We are from Kerala but we decided to create our own restaurant in Madurai,“ he says about the venture that he co-created with his brother Phil. Hand in hand, Phil and Mathews took the plunge and opened their own bistro in Madurai. Considering their their background as long time Maduraiites, their choice was obvious. In 1957, their grandfather P.A. George came to Madurai. Then Mathews and Phil’s parents P.M. Abraham and Nisy Abraham settled here.

Roles and responsibilities between Phil and Mathew are clearly defined. Mathew is in charge of the restaurant, customers and booking, while Phil is the chief chef. For six years he has learned all the nuances of Italian cuisine with an Italian chef, at the famous Marriot chain of hotels. “A perfect experience for me to, then, invent my dishes!” says Phil. Phil’s bistro chef also got the knack of cooking thanks to his previous employment, “I was working in Chennai for Courtyard Marriot in Anna Salai after completing my degree in Hotel Management and my Masters of Business Administration with specialization in Human Resources.”

Fired with a passion to bring Italian bistro food to south India, Phil’s Bistro is unique. Mathew is proud, “Actually, in the south of Tamil Nadu, ours is the only place that offers Italian dishes!”

From left Matthew (36) and Philip (29)- The enterprising brothers!

The secret of success To be honest, the spread in the menu makes it difficult to decide. Actually, all these Italian dishes are calling out to you, screaming your name. Pasta, lasagna and pizza: all your favorite ones are in Phil’s bistro. Now, it’s time for you to make your selection.

Phil, the chef, is meticulous: “For the perfect Italian formula I select only typical Italian ingredients.” Every week he imports a load of Italian products. “This is our key to fully-satisfied our customers. You cannot pretend to cook Italian cuisine without authentic products!” insists Phil. According to Mathew, importing Italian products is expensive, but also productive: “We draw customer’s attention thanks to our finest and freshest Italian ingredients!” Every three months Phil will vary his menu to attract more customers. Phil’s bistro also gives you a choice between veg and non-veg

“For the perfect Italian formula I select only typical Italian ingredients”

Madurai Messenger Eating-Out December 2012

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An ancient second hand book store in the city

Volunteers Hanae and Oliver with A.Murugan, 48, and P.Kumaravel, 49, the proprietors of Amman Book Centre

hanae araki visits several second hand bookstores in Madurai and explores why people buy used books. besides pricing and availability, she concludes that used textbooks that have several lines highlighted by a previous owner are useful pointers for students preparing for exams!

Hand Me Down Books

Walking around the centre of Madurai city you find some small shops full of books

tucked away amidst those selling souvenirs, saris and fruits. You can even find some such book shops on the road! I dropped in at one of the many second hand book shops that can be found in Madurai , and found books that were not “new” and seem to have been read a few times.

According to G.Sekar, 78, the owner of New Book Centre, there are approximately 30 secondhand bookstores in Madurai. People in Madurai still have great love for second hand books and they always like the smell and feel of the old books that they get to read after it has been read by many generations.

These bookstores have a long history. One of them, Sri Palaniappa Bookstore, currently managed by A.Selvaraj, 52, was established 72 years ago by his grandfather. When he came to Madurai from his home town Sivakasi, he started this business though at the beginning he was handling only old newspapers. Another newer store Amman Book Centre, has a history of 52 years.

A win-win relationship How do the books find their way to these second hand bookstores? Generally, the shopkeepers buy books from students in Madurai or booksellers in Chennai, Bengaluruand other big cities. When a person comes to a store to sell a book which are priced at Rs 100 when new, the book sellers usually buy it for around Rs 30-Rs 40 and they sometimes pay more if the authors are famous and sell well. Though it seems to be difficult to decide to buy one particular book or not, “through experience I know which book I need to buy,” says G.Sekar. Then, when it comes to selling it, they price it at around Rs

By Hanae ArakiJapan

60. Thus, all of the sellers, shopkeepers and customers can profit, which is a perfect “win-win-win” relationship!

At first sight, these stores all look the same, but actually every bookstore is different from each other in terms of the numbers, the range of books and languages. In the case of the New Book Centre, G.Sekar and his father have textbooks, fiction, and even old medical textbooks, both in Tamil as well as English. “Sometimes we have books in Hindi but not always,” he says. And as the name of the store implies, they also sell new books bought in Chennai, Bengaluru, Agra and Delhi.

A.Murugan, 48, the owner of Amman Book Centre, says in a lighter vein, “Once you go inside, you will get lost because there are so many books” as much as 10000. Different from the previous store, they also sell French titles, although rare. These differences have an influence on their customers or sales. Their common customers are students, teachers and people from

Madurai Messenger Nostalgia December 2012

G.Sekar, (50), the owner of New book centre in Madurai

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A labyrinth of thousands of books A massive pile of books

libraries looking for textbooks or old syllabi, but each store has its own regular customers: for example, doctors or astrologers come to a store such as Palaniappa Bookstore that sells medical books or astrological titles. Usually, the stores whose main customers are students have busy seasons during June and July (the beginning of a new academic term) when the number of customers per day is five to ten times that of non-peak season. “During peak seasons, we are so busy that we have no time to spare for such an interview,” says A.Murugan. On the contrary, for those who have such regular customers, peak season and non-peak season makes no difference, and they have about 200 customers and earn around Rs 6000 every day.

Why do so many people buy old books instead of new ones? One reason is the price. For instance, as stated above, you can buy a book worth Rs 100 at Rs 60. That would be especially helpful for students who need to buy a number of textbooks. According to P.Kumaravel 49, the business partner of A. Murugan, they sell what customers need, when they need it, and at reasonable prices. Another reason is that they sell books which one can hardly find in stores selling only new books. There, of course, we can find new books written by

foreign authors like guidebooks for computers, but they don’t stock old ones written by Indian authors such as old medical books or religious titles in Tamil. And lastly, surprisingly, the third reason is that old books have something new ones don’t have: notes or markings made by previous readers. Though some people might dislike them, they can be also great help to students because they highlight important sentences.

However, not all old books sell well soon after their arrival, and some remain unsold for a long time. According to A.Selvaraj, the future of such books is to become a part of a collection in libraries; if two years pass after its arrival and it doesn’t sell, he then sells it to libraries at a lower price. “Anyway I’ll wait for at least two years,” he says.

Indeed, as P.Kumaravel said, the culture of books has been affected by the spread of the Internet, CDs and other digital devices. However, many people continue to come in search of old books. One such customer, Ms. Polly says “it’s because I love books!” to explain the reason to visit a roadside store, holding an English novel in her hand. As long as there are those who love reading books in the traditional style, the culture of book reading will last.

which encouraged the volunteers to understanding the differences between their native land and India.

Later in the evening, I visited a few temples and also walked through the streets of Madurai to understand the strong culture that this land possesses. I realised that people here give a lot of importance to the rituals and beliefs of their respective religions and also, they make it a point to educate and introduce the same to the people who come from different countries. In short, Madurai can be described in five simple words: beautiful, colourful, rich culture, friendly and of course, hot!!

hot, sweaty, jam packed traffic, friendly, colourful.... anthony Menard discovers this and more during the days that he spends in this beautiful temple city

Warm welcome andcold sweat

By Anthony MenardFrance

“Welcome to Madurai. The outside temperature is 40 degrees. Have

a nice day.” Well, I think my first experience of Madurai (or at least my first landing) began like that. Madurai was an unknown entity for me. I only knew that it was the rainy season...but it did not rain when I arrived. I was lucky but I wasn’t lucky for long. Over the first weekend, I had stomach ache. Why ? Food? Maybe. I have learnt, with time, that south Indian food definitely does not suit me. Spicy and vegetarian, dosa or idly, I have tasted almost everything but only pani puri is my cup of tea. Yes, I am hard to please!

And as for the climate? At 40-45 degrees, you need to take out your cap and stock fresh bottles of water. I did it and inspite of that, I couldn’t escape the heat.

Anyway, let’s get back to the subject. I was picked up by a member of Projects Abroad who took me to the city of Madurai. Without that short span of time, I faced near death experiences - with the driver’s rash driving, the terrifying traffic snarls and the sight of animals nonchalantly crossing the road.

Arriving at my new home, I was welcomed by my host family and the other volunteers who would be my roommates. The moment I met them, I knew my stay would be memorable, as they seemed to be very warm and caring and so were the other volunteers.

Cool guys with a lovely ( but sometimes incomprehensible) Tamil accent. After spending some time chating and relaxing, I set out with the other volunteers to visit the renowned Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple. On our way, a lot of localites were staring at me and my roommates, making signs and smiling.

The next day, I started my project at the Madurai Messenger office and had a warm welcome from the supervisor and the coordinator. I started my first day with having a local induction of Madurai and also had an induction/orientation programme about the project followed by a cultural workshop,

Madurai Messenger Nostalgia December 2012

The famous auto rickshaw in Madurai

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how they are deeply connected with each other. As he said, “We have science and technology to help us along the road to peace and plenty,” or “If Western civilization is in a state of permanent crisis, it is not far-fetched to suggest that there may be something wrong with its education.” Even though at first sight these problems seem to be difficult for us to address, the truth is quite the contrary. His way of writing and explaining greatly helps you understand the contents, even if you don’t know enough about economics. Such clarity in writing could be attributed to his twin careers as a journalist and economist.

In addition to these plus points, what makes this book outstanding is that he not only explains what he knows but also leads us into thinking what the general public like you and me can do. As he writes, “To change or not to change, this totally depends on you.”

The problems this book tries to address are really serious. Some of us may even be unwilling to face them and pretend that they do not exist, which Dr.Shumacher describes as “groundless optimism”; cases in point would be US president Obama no longer talking about the “A Green New Deal”, which he held up as a main policy, after its failure, or the Japanese government’s inability to carry out its commitment to the Kyoto

Protocol. Because we are living in such an age, it’s necessary for us to read this book and think what we can do. The past, the present and the futureThe only aspect in which the book falls short is that the data or the situations cited in are somewhat out dated as it was published in 1973. Despite this shortcoming, the book also has certain universality in terms of the larger global issues facing mankind. Besides what is needed now is not a prediction about the future but action today, as Dr.Shumacher says.

So, it would be our responsibility to know what is happening today, that is, what are the current problems, to reveal how they are connected and to think what we should do from now on. We can make our own decision about how to live because “mankind has indeed a certain freedom of choice.” Throughout this book, Dr.Shumacher repeatedly tells us the importance of changing our way of living into a more suitable one for ourselves, or changing the size of our life into the actual size of man, for “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for everyone’s greed,” as Gandhi said. One of the most quotable lines in the book is, “Human is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.” Why don’t you read this book and appreciate our “smallness”?

Schumacher takes up environmental, economic, political and even moral

issues to criticise modern materialistic civilisation such as excessive

capitalism, pan-scientism or modern economics, which uses mass-

consumption as an index of happiness

E F. Schumacher- The Author

One of the most quotable lines in the book is, “Human is small, and,

therefore, small is beautiful”

Green Livingan insightful review of the timeless classic Small is Beautiful finds its message still relevant to the globalized world we live in, as it was when first published in 1973

By Hanae ArakiJapan

Do you remember what happened on March 21, 2011 in Japan? The Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy. The nuclear power plants, which were

damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, polluted the huge area around them, and forced the local people to leave their hometown. I could not help remembering this disaster when I first read the book Small is Beautiful by the well-known economist and journalist E.F.Shumacher in 1973. It might have predicted this accident as well as other environmental problems, which have been occurring over this quarter of a century, such as the 1st oil crisis, which happened soon after this book was published. After working as Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board in the UK from 1950 to 1970, Schumacher devoted himself to writing and giving lectures until he died in 1977. One of his best-selling books, Small is Beautiful, was written during that time. It soon became a best seller and was translated into many languages, which also earned him the CBE, one of the prestigious awards conferred by the monarchy of the UK.

An easy textbookIn Small is Beautiful, which is a collection of essays rather than a specialized book on economics, Schumacher takes up environmental, economic, political and even moral issues to criticise modern materialistic civilisation such as excessive capitalism, pan-scientism or modern economics, which uses mass-consumption as an index of happiness. He not only explains each problem, but also shows us, in simple English, everyday examples or through thought-provoking questions,

Title: Small is Beautiful

Author: E F. Schumacher

Publisher: Hartley and Marks

Year: 1973

We can make our own decision about how to live because “mankind has indeed a certain freedom of choice”

Madurai Messenger book Review December 2012

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filmed to follow natural storyline changes and he tones down his cinematic style to ease the audience into understanding the ‘movie biography’ of Erin Brockovich, he reveals his style in certain scenes. Most unusual of all, for Steven Soderbergh, is the gradual climax to Erin’s life resolving itself into a happy ending. Some could even say this film fits too neatly into the Hollywood feel-good movie genre, rather than the tenacious struggle through life, that the protagonist is known for.

The cast of this film have been chosen expertly. Julia Roberts plays Erin, not only to portray the factual journey and reality of this film, but also to create an unmistakable air round the main character that shines as a sensual, scrappy, loving character that the audience grows with, to finally accept Erin’s flaws and admire her strengths. Granted, some scenes show too much of Erin’s strengths; the low cut blouse and ridiculous high heels, compared to the drab grey office clothing that surrounds Erin, becomes comedic to the viewer and takes away from the message of the film. After watching the film you can think of only Julia Roberts being in the movie and no other character matters. Maybe this is why she won an Oscar for her performance.

Fiction vs. RealityOne interesting idea that always follows a film biography

is the balance between fiction and reality. For the film to be watched, the film must be a high ideal of life that is impossible to find in real life. But to combat this, the truth of the story must be preserved and in some aspects Soderbergh exceeds this balance. Erin is not seen to be a goddess who is perfect, but rather she is a fashionable, yet sometimes outrageous woman whose dialect is filled with unprofessional language, a clever mix between attraction and repulsion. The infrequent, jolting commercialized scenes, such as the water board’s documents building, only show Erin as the seductive and manipulative woman as she almost discovers a super power tool to control men with her feminine charm. The dorky assistant wearing brown checkered trousers is so entranced with Erin’s thigh-high leather skirt that the audience is removed from connecting with Julia Roberts.

This film captures a range of emotions. Of course, anyone who watches this film will surely remember the struggle of single mothers, the triumph of David over Goliath and of course, Julia Roberts fishing out toxic water in bright red heels. The few generic ‘Hollywood’ scenes do not matter in the grand canvas of the film. The director has succeeded in creating a feel good movie, in his portrayal of the story of Erin Brockovich. The several awards that the director and the actors received speak of its success.

“Julia Roberts plays Erin, not only to portray the factual journey and reality of this film, but also to create an unmistakable air round the main character that shines as a sensual, scrappy, loving character that the audience grows with, to finally accept Erin’s flaws and admire her strengths”

Oliverbriggs reviews the Oscar-winning smash hit Erin brockovich, based on a true life story and says that although the element of hollywoodisation is all too evident, it is a powerful narrative about one of the biggest lawsuits in uS history, championed by the fearless whistle blower Erin brokovich

Erin Brockovich: hOllyWOOD-DEfINED REalITy

By Oliver BriggsUnited Kingdom

The film Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh, (released in 2000), is a biography of an unemployed mother struggling to feed and house her children.

Because of a series of unfortunate events, she finds herself unable to provide medicines for her baby, aged nine months. Eventually the jobless protagonist finds herself in a career as a legal assistant to Ed Masery. While filling applications for legal cases, Erin chances upon the famous PG&E case involving the toxic agent, hexavalent chromium. This poisonous by-product created a variety of serious health problems for the inhabitants of the town Hinkley. Through rigorous work to expose PG&E, by Erin Brockovich and Ed Masery, the case became one of the most expensive court settlements in US history. PG&E ended up paying 333.6 million dollars in compensation for the health bills and property damage. While this incredible case is uncovered, a sideline story concerning the romance between biker George, and beauty queen Erin, fails and succeeds at almost opposite times to the success and pitfalls of Erin’s career. This creates some of the tense moments in the film as it seems Erin cannot have both lives, as a mother and a professional. Inevitably the film resolves to find Erin Brockovich as the heroine of the lawsuit, while simultaneously finding happiness with George and her three children.

Although the story may seem enough to make a blockbuster, the cast director has added some Hollywood flair to the proceedings. Erin Brockovich is played by Julia Roberts, who bursts onto the set, with poster-girl style scenes. Her multi-award winning acting prowess shows in every scene. This includes her portrayal of a chaotic yet independent single mother, the gritty business woman attitude she displays to high class lawyers, but most prominent is her flamboyant, fashion confident persona she creates around Erin’s proudest moment in becoming Miss Wichita.

Steven Soderbergh uses his trademark directorial style of using fast, jerky scenes to jolt the audiences. While Erin Brockovich is

Madurai Messenger film Review December 2012

Title: Erin Brockovich

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney,

David Brisbin and Others

Released: 2000

Duration: 131 minutes

A frame from the film

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Throughout the year, they grow crops such as carrot, figs, turnip, radish, beetroot, potato and tomato. However, farmers face a rather problematic, recurring scenario: every year, during the rainy season of about four months, the only crop that can be cultivated is carrot. This causes prices to decrease as everyone is relying on the same product for their income. Besides, only about half the crops are usable, as carrot is a perishable product. They are sold mainly through middlemen in Madurai and Trichy, causing further loss of profit, which means that in the end, the crops will only generate a minimal profit, if any at all. This causes a lot of insecurity, but there are virtually no alternatives.

Only about half of the crops are usable

People P. Magadeshvaran (33) is one of the many small farmers. At the moment, he is leasing half an acre of land for one year, which he cultivates with the help of five others. They work in the field from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., leaving no time for leisure. It is hard work, but as he says, the people of the area like to work hard. Besides, there really is no other option.

He and his family live in a mud house, like many others, and he has two daughters who are currently in school. The village has schools up to Std X, but those who wish to study further, have to go to Kodaikanal. Whether P. Magadeshvaran‘s daughters will be able to go on to college, however, depends entirely on the profit he can make by then. Education is costly, and the dowry system which is prevalent in India means that they will have to pay a huge sum to the family of a prospective groom when the daughters marry. Even though he would like them to continue their education, P. Magadeshvaran‘s daughters may have to come and work in the fields instead, if the money is not sufficient.

In general though, P. Magadeshvaran is not dissatisfied with his life. Sure, he would like to improve conditions for himself and his family; perhaps one day be able to buy some land of his own, but there is no way of knowing how the future will turn out. As he says, “It all depends on luck.”

Although it is located only about 9 km north west of Kodaikanal town and shares the beautiful surroundings with the tourist destination, we discover that life in Vilpatti is completely different

Caroline lyngsoe larsen meanders around the picturesque little hill town of vilpatti in the Palani hills and concludes that although it’s not as rich and famous as its glamorous neighbour Kodaikanal, the several development initiatives in the offing promise to transform the “peaceful green panchayat” nestling in the hills

Vilpatti: Valley of Hope

By Caroline Lyngsoe LarsenDenmark

Place and PopulationAbout 120 km north west of Madurai lie the hills of Kodaikanal, where green forests and rocks covered by a blanket of misty clouds offer a cool escape from the heat and dust of the plains. This makes the place a popular holiday and weekend destination, and especially the main hill station of the area, Kodaikanal, is a popular tourist destination. Dotted across the hills are a myriad of smaller villages and communities, and we jump in our all-terrain jeep to explore the area further.

On the north side of the mountain, we find Vilpatti, the main village of a panchayat consisting of 36 villages and hamlets. It is the biggest panchayat in Tamil Nadu, with

approximately 25,000 inhabitants. Although it is located only about 9 km north west of Kodaikanal town and shares the beautiful surroundings with the tourist destination, we discover that life in Vilpatti is completely different.

Production and labourWhile Kodaikanal, less than 10 kms away, thrives on tourism, the people of Vilpatti depend entirely on farming. There are different types of farmers; those who own varying amounts of land, those who lease land for a certain period of time, and finally those who are agricultural labourers working for daily wages. The latter account for about 90 percent of the working population.

The beautiful, but demanding farmland of Vilpatti

Madurai Messenger village voices December 2012

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ProspectsThe person responsible for the planning of the development of Vilpatti is the chairman of the panchayat, E. Malaichamy (49). He originally came to Kodaikanal from Madurai on foot, with no money. Working as a labourer at first, he earned enough money to buy a modest two acres of land. Never having anticipated a career in politics, he slowly won the goodwill of the locals and was elected chairman of the panchayat in 2011. As he puts it, having lived as a poor farmer himself, he “knows the pain of the people” and therefore has a good idea of what they need. Consequently, he has established a number of priorities for the development of the area, including the construction of new roads, the implementation of streetlights, better housing and sanitation.

Among other things, his plans include improving the power supply in the area. However, bringing a power grid to the villages is a huge challenge, and he is planning on implementing solar power as an easier and more efficient way of supplying electricity. He is also planning on solving the drinking water problem by implementing a number of large storage tanks and pumps to supply water to the villages.

Of course measures such as these entail considerable costs, which are to be covered by bank loans and funds which E. Malaichamy expects to receive from the government. For instance, the funds for the drinking water project have already been allocated. The chairman also hopes that the area will be able to attract foreign investment in the future, as another driving force for local development.

All in all, E. Malaichamy is hoping to see many of his projects through within his five-year period as chairman. However, although he would like to see fast improvements, he knows that the development will happen at a slow pace. “Everything has to be done from scratch,” he says. It is a long road ahead, but there is a lot of hope for the future of the peaceful green panchayat on the side of the mountain.

“Everything has to be done from scratch,” he says. It is a long road ahead, but there is a lot of hope for the future of the peaceful green panchayat on the side of the mountain

Chairman E. Malaichamy has many plans for the future development of his panchayat

The infrastructure in and around Vilpatti is in need of serious improvements

ProblemsLife in Vilpatti comes with a number of problems, most of which are related to poverty and an insufficient supply of essential resources.

Limited water supply constitutes a fundamental problem. There is the issue of drinking water, and the farmers obviously rely on water for their crops. Due to the limited supply, they are forced to follow a ration system where each individual farmer can harness water from the canal only once a week. This jeopardises the survival of their crops, and, consequently, their livelihood.

The lack of adequate infrastructure is another obvious problem. As we had already noticed, the roads are poor and the villagers often have to walk the 10 km uphill to Kodaikanal to get supplies. This is also the case when they need access to medical facilities, as there are none available in Vilpatti.

A lack of education causes problems when it comes to the environment and human health. There is little or no access to proper sanitation, and a big part of the population is unaware of the importance of hygiene. Further, many people in the area do not have access to power, and an estimated 5000 people live in the forest without any kind of electricity.

To sum it up, Vilpatti is facing a lot of problems on a very basic level, and there is a lot of ground to cover if they are to reach a standard of living similar to that of their richer neighbour, Kodaikanal.

Madurai Messenger village voices December 2012

During the monsoon, the farmers all rely on carrots for their income

P. Magadeshvaran (left) is one of many small farmers living a life of hard work in the fields

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evening, we used to plan on visiting a different place in Madurai. While in office, I write articles, go on interviews (both to observe and interview). The staff members at the placement are very helpful and I am happy that I can always count on them to help me during my stay in India.

Above all, I am surprised to see the diverse religions and cultures of India----many churches, mosques and temples many faces and deeper aspects of this country. At this moment, I am happy and excited that I have a lot to dicover about this colourful, friendly place, in the days to come!

volunteer audrey Simon talks about her thoughts and feelings of Madurai, its people, the popular Meenakshi amman temple, the vibrant colours that keep attracting her and above all, the tasty food which she claims will always remain in her taste buds

Culturally Vibrant Madurai

By Audrey SimonFrance

When you arrive in India, if you’re a woman, the first impression that concerns you

is the attitude of the people. They are very down-to- earth and are ready to help. This goes without saying for both men and women. I realised that the people in India were very thoughtful and if you had any problem, they would come up to you and offer to help. After a few days, I visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It was so majestic. And without shoes, it was very hot too! I met a lot of people in and around the temple who were very enthusiastic about orienting me on their culture. The second impression

Ladies busy shopping in the Tailor’s market in Madurai

about India is that of its tradition. During the car journey home from the airport, I saw many things that depicted Hindu culture, the temple, sacred cows, and clothes.

In the next few days, I took a ride in the popular auto rickshaws, tasted the traditional foods and my favourite among them is idli, naan and paneer butter masala, like the other volunteers. I really can’t express how heavenly it felt to be chewing such yummy food. Meanwhile, I also settled down well in my journalism project and had a nice time talking to the volunteers from other countries. Every

like most foreign nationals, lea buettner too is overwhelmed by the differences between India and her birth country, germany. but once she wades through the noise, chaos, heat and dust, she discovers a totally different, beautiful world that surprisingly, makes her feel good!

A Surprise Ending

By Lea BuettnerGermany

It is dark and just a few stars are sparkling on the horizon. It is the middle of the night. It is raining. I am alone. I have just done a 32-hour journey and finally

arrived at Chennai airport. It is full, crowded, loud and hectic. Everyone is staring at you. And the one and only question I have in my mind is: “Where can I get the next flight back home?”

The rain gets heavier, it is windy and cloudy. Climbing in the propeller-driven aircraft to get to my final destination, “Madurai,” I feel my excitement rising. When I finally land in Madurai, jetlagged and overwhelmed with all that I have seen during the night, I wait for my baggage, just hoping that it did not get lost half way. Gladly, I collect my suitcase and make my way to the exit.

The doors open. I take a deep breath and it smells…. frowsy, like damp soil. Of course, it was raining during the night. Then, I breathe again, feeling the warm, wet air on my face. I look around and my eyes meet a smiling Indian man waving a paper with “Projects Abroad.”

While I am sitting in the car on the way to my host family, I look out of the window, observing the life on the streets. I see barefoot people carrying palm leaves, bony dogs lying in the shadow of small booths at the side of the street and people sleeping on the ground, with dirty clothes because of all the dust thrown up by the traffic. The city streets are crowded, narrow and loud. Even now, though I am in a car, everybody stares at me, observing me. I feel intimidated, and feel as though I don’t belong here.

But after all this, when I take a closer look I see a totally different, beautiful world. There are a thousand different colours. I notice people’s curiosity. I ee small, funny-looking rickshaws, all the different kinds of food, smell baked bread and see fruits I have never seen before. People are smiling, laughing. You see all the women dressed in beautiful sarees, the jingling of their bracelets meets your ears and suddenly you feel good. You have finally opened your eyes and here it is! Welcome to India.

A clear view of the Meenakshi Amman temple tower

“After all this, when I take a closer look I see a totally different, beautiful world. There are a thousand different colours. I notice people’s curiosity. I ee small, funny-looking rickshaws, all the different kinds of food, smell baked bread and see fruits I have never seen before”

Madurai Messenger firs Impressions December 2012

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and sit in shared twilight, but the thing I like most is the sound of the trains as the main train line runs very close to the house. At night I lie beneath my mosquito net and listen to the sound of the trains going by imagining the distant and unknown destinations to which their passengers are being taken through the dark night. One day I hope to be one of them.

in a totally different place, meeting different kinds of people and above all, swimming in the Indian Ocean was a dream come true. Thus, my first few days in India have been very memorable and I already feel that it is one of the best things that has happened to me so far. I will never forget India for its wonderful people, culture, tradition, smells, colours, flavours and the hospitable nature of its people.

Roxanne Dadvar, a volunteer Journalist at ‘The Madurai Messenger’ claims that her visit to India has been one of the best things that has happened to her as she is a travel freak and loves to learn and experience the culture of new destinations

Sensational India

By Roxanne DadvarFrance

I was in my second airplane, from Dubai to Chennai, my first one being the one from France to Dubai. I was

impatiently waiting for the landing, when I suddenly saw, just below me, a hundred vibrant colours...I immediately knew I was in India!! At that instant, I was very glad that I had chosen India to volunteer for the Journalism project and learn the aspects that go with the subject in India. When I put my feet out of the airplane, a heatwave hit my face: just like any other person,my first impression of India too was this humidity.

A few minutes after I entered the airport, a huge sensation of peace and serenity crept inside me, a feeling that I had never before had in my life. Having reached Chennai, I now had to wait for my next and final flight to Madurai. During the waiting period, I was mesmerized by what I saw around me: beautiful women wearing saris of various colours and the very popular jasmine flowers that adorned their hair, men in the traditional dhoti, children with wonderful eyes... and the very sweet smell of incense that will stay on my mind for ever. With all these thoughts running in my mind, I boarded my flight to Madurai. The Madurai airport was very neat and clean and it was certainly massive!

I was happy to be received by Rajan, the desk officer and administrator of Madurai Messenger. We took a car and as soon as I steeped into the car, I had two surprises: one was the absence of a seat belt and the other being the rule

of left side driving. That very moment, I knew I was in a totally different world!Rajan took me to a restaurant for lunch where I ate my first Indian meal: the spicy but delicious panner butter masala. It was so exciting to eat with my hand!

The following day I went to Rameshwaram, a wonderful island on the Indian Ocean: I experienced two most beautiful fun-filled days being

“I experienced two most beautiful fun-filled days being in a totally different place, meeting different kinds of people and above all, swimming in the Indian Ocean was a dream come true”

Isabelle brotherton-Ratcliffe’s first impressions of Madurai are the incredible generosity and helpfulness of its people and their natural acceptance of a foreigner. anticipating a greater degree of formality in living with the host family, she, however, discovers that their lives are a happy parallel

overwhelmed by Helpfulness

By Isabelle Brotherton- RatcliffeUnited Kingdom

Perhaps my overall impression of Madurai is that of the helpful personality of its citizens. From

airport staff returning a jacket left on the plane, to my host family and the shop staff I have encountered, everyone has been helpful. On my second evening, this was clearly demonstrated in an auto rickshaw adventure. I had directed the driver to take me to the Mota Garden Colony, confident that I could steer him to my family’s home by my memories of the route. Alas, the night fell faster and darker than I could have imagined and I was utterly unable to identify any streets in the dark. We ended up at atraffic-less dead-end where a group of young men were chatting over their motor bikes. One had a mobile phone and by gesture I asked if I might borrow it – they were helpfulness personified in dialing the number of my supervisor, passing the message to him that I needed to get home and engaging in prolonged discussions to clarify the directions needed to get me there. The auto rickshaw driver joined in and a spirit of camaraderie seemed to have infused the situation. I felt it was a triumph for us all when I was delivered back to the welcoming arms of my family.

Arriving to live with strangers can be awkward but I have been fortunate with the relaxed acceptance of my host family. The house is in a tranquil residential area and three other volunteers and I live in the main rooms of the house while the family live their lives around us in a way that

Holy cows share the roads with rickshaws

At night I lie beneath my mosquito net and listen to the sound of the trains going by imagining the distant and unknown destinations to which their passengers are being taken through the dark night. One day I hope to be one of them

has evidently been honed to a fine degree of harmony from their long experience of looking after strangers. I had anticipated a greater degree of formality and that interaction with the lives of the family would be considered appropriate, but in fact our lives run in a happy parallel. The regular power cuts engender a feeling of solidarity as we put aside our light dependent tasks

Madurai Messenger firs Impressions December 2012

A people packed vegetable market in the city

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European national Romina gobbo is enchanted by the colours in Madurai, especially the women with their breaided hair decked with flowers and shiny saris—in contrast to the unimaginative European clothes, she says rather candidly

Colours of the Rainbow

By Romina GobboItaly

A few hours aren’t enough to understand a town, even if it is small. But for me it is the second time I have come to India. Two years ago I was in North India

and visited New Delhi, Jaipur, Benares, Agra and Haridwar. To the unimaginative European eye, some sights are similar, both in a small or a big city. You see a colourful and chaotic world around you.

At crossroads, there are people on foot, taxis, carts, private cars, lorries, rickshaws, bicycles, cows, motorcycles... all together. I have not seen elephants here, but in Delhi I did. Add to that the fact that in India people drive on the left, and for us Europeans it is impossible to understand who has the right of way. But I think for Indians too it is difficult and so everyone toots their horn. The result is more chaos. But it is funny.

In Madurai there are no tourists, so people stare at me and the other volunteers with an interrogative glance. When we came, the first thing I did was to get new clothes. So I went

with some other girls to the city centre of Madurai, where there is an interesting market, Pudhu Mandapam. You can find everything for every need there. It is strange because it is inside the wing of the Meenakshi temple and is a tangle of corridors between lines of counters. It is a dark labyrinth so it is easy to get lost. The girls bought colourful material for Indian trousers, popularly known as “Ali Baba” pants. The tailor took their measurements and told them that the trousers would be ready in two days. On the road, some children tried to sell us some post cards and a flute. Postcards are welcome, but none of us can play the flute.

Another typical Indian aspect is the continuous presence of religion. In Madurai also, this is the case. Not only do you have the big temple, but you can see statues of gods and goddesses everywhere. Madurai’s people are nice and colourful, especially the women. They wear shining sarees, have a long braid, to which they add flowers. What elegance! We Europeans have to learn a lot from them. We, who wear

The elegance of Madurai women with colourful and the jasmine flower on their heads

Madurai Messenger firs Impressions December 2012

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