Monthly Archives: July 2016

Doors open to tales of a century


There is a room in the 120-year-old Kavalaparambil family home at Konthuruthy, Thevara, whose walls have heard the first cries of seven newborns. The non-descript little room bears the enormity of the seminal births in the quiet elegance of a polished four poster bed, a chest of drawers and a cupboard that came as dowry. It is positioned at the centre of the house and is the coolest room.

Of the 10 family children who grew up in the large and spacious house, it has come to be in the hands of the youngest, Sash George, Applications Development Manager, Microsoft in Dallas, Texas.

In its romantic vicissitudes the house saw many changes, faced many hard and happy times and has opened as a service villa replete with tales of a century.

Sitting over old style tea service in a western style open kitchen, a later day addition, savouring traditional vattappams and kozhukattas hark back to a time when this would have been the scene, decades ago, with children hovering over tea and hot snacks. Sash and his brother recount the frisson in the kalavara, the storeroom that was added on by their father. “It held a wooden trunk to store rice. My mother would have the snacks placed there and as children we would run to open the box,” says Sash. Today, the storeroom remains much the same but the kitchen has changed into an open one looking on to a wide corridor that loops the house.


The area, before the family houses, three of them, came up, had several ponds, water bodies and was swampy. Mango trees grew in large numbers. There was a pond for bathing, one for drinking and one for fermenting coconut leaves. The house was built by Sash’s grandfather, Kochu Varkey, a man with a taste for fine living, as is seen by the art pieces he made on the walls. The house bears evidences of his artistry and of his faith.

Before the road came up to the house in 1976 and changed the entrance to the house, the main thoroughfare was the water body. Boats brought people up to the edge of the land on which stood the house. “When my grandmother’s arrival was announced a chair used to be put on the skiff and was sent to bring her,” says Sash who is in the process of collating photographs and incidents of yore “for the sake of the future”. If one ventured to arrive at the house on land it was through 16 or 17 turns, says Sebastian, Sash’s older brother, a former Sr. Manager with LIC and one who takes care of the house after it opened itself to hospitality.

Much of the grandeur of the house comes from its simple architecture, a fusion of European and traditional style. It was one of the few two-storied houses in Ernakulam in its time. Two rooms atop two rooms encircled by breeze ways or wide corridors remains its main form. Rooms were added, but not ad-hoc, to the house, as realities changed. The area around was paved. Earlier, the house had no attached bathrooms and these were added as European habits replaced traditional lifestyle. A shed with cows was a sign of wealth and it existed for a long time. The area was quiet and wooded. Sounds and sightings of birds and tree animals were common. As the family grew and moved away the house was closed down for nearly eight to 10 years, until Sash, nostalgic and faraway in America, decided to bring alive his heritage.

“The family elders used to talk so often about a flood that saw the verandas of the house accommodate the affected people. It was called the flood of 99, in the Malayalam year. There are lots of memories around this house,” he says.

Today, memories arise from the preserved utensils and objects, from the shiny brown baby cot, the inscribed wooden bowl, old doors, measuring bowls, trunk, vase, jars and such. A photograph of Kochu Varkey hangs with pride. The delicately restored house has now all modern facilities in the new wing with two rooms and attached baths.

In its new mode, Kavalaparambil, now Lake County Heritage Home, offers guests the best of both worlds, the delicately preserved past and the swiftly changing present.

source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> Metroplus> Society / Priyadershini S / Kochi – July 29th, 2016

Conquering disabilities by breaking records


Prashanth with the Asia Book Of Records certificate  B P Deepu
Prashanth with the Asia Book Of Records certificate  B P Deepu

Thiruvananthapuram  :

City-based genius Prasanth C, who recently entered the India Book of Records for his memorisation skills, has broken his old record. This time, the differently-abled youngster recalled the days for the most number of dates given within the timeframe of a minute earning him an entry into the Asia Book of Records. The record breaking feat was held on Thursday at Hotel Hycinth in the city.

Those who attended the event included former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, noted magician Gopinath Muthukad and Asia Book of Records representative L Franklin Herbert Das among others.

The youngster earned the title by writing down the days for a set of seven random dates with the particular year, all in 45 seconds. Speaking about the record-breaking feat, Franklin, Asia Book of Records said, “It gives me great privilege to be part of this event. Youngsters like Prasanth are unique in the sense that they have high focus on a particular innate ability. He is a great learner and his parents have been supporting him immensely by providing him with the best of resources.”

Besides being visually impaired, Prashanth suffers from speech and hearing impairment. He also has a congenital heart defect.

However, in spite of these problems, the youngster has a number of wonderful skills. Apart from having a photographic memory to recall the days for random dates in the Gregorian calendar, he has the ability to calculate the exact temperature of any particular place he stands on.

The 19-year-old youngster is also talented in the keyboard and can play the instrument using only his right hand. His parents Chandran and Suhita as well as his elder sister Priyanka are equally overjoyed as Prashanth now adds another feather to his cap. Priyanka says, “I can’t describe my happiness. Now that he has entered the Asia Book of Records, he plans to compete for other record titles, especially the Guinness Book of World Records. I hope that he will achieve more.”

source: / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Thiruvananthapuram / by Express News Service / July 29th, 2016

Pope names 2 bishops for expats in Europe

Syro-Malabar Church head Mar George Cardinal Alencherry adorning episcopal insignia with Msgr Stephen Chirapanath who has been appointed Apostolic Visitator to Europe. Fr Joseph Srampickal (R) who has been appointed Bishop of the newly-formed Syro-Malabar Church diocese in Britain looks on, in Kochi on Thursday | Albin Mathew
Syro-Malabar Church head Mar George Cardinal Alencherry adorning episcopal insignia with Msgr Stephen Chirapanath who has been appointed Apostolic Visitator to Europe. Fr Joseph Srampickal (R) who has been appointed Bishop of the newly-formed Syro-Malabar Church diocese in Britain looks on, in Kochi on Thursday | Albin Mathew

Kochi :

Pope Francis has appointed two new bishops for expatriate Syro-Malabar Christians in Europe. Fr Joseph Srampickal of the Pala diocese has been appointed bishop of the newly-formed diocese in Britain, while Msgr Stephen Chirapanath of the Irinjalakkuda diocese has been appointed apostolic visitator to the whole Europe.

The announcement in this regard was made on Thursday simultaneously at Mount St Thomas, headquarters of the Church, and in Vatican.

Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangat, Irinjalakkuda Bishop Mar Pauly Kannookakadan and Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Mar Jose Puthenveetil were also present. After the announcement, Syro-Malabar Church head Mar George Cardinal Alencherry adorned the bishop-elects with episcopal insignia.

Born to Srampickal Mathew and Elikutty of Urulikunnam under the Pala diocese, Fr Srampickal had his seminary formation at the Good Shepherd Seminary, Pala, and pursued philosophical studies at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor. Fr Srampickal was ordained priest on August 12, 2000, by Bishop Joseph Pallikkaparampil.

He had his schooling at Valiyakottaram LP School, St George’s UP School and St Joseph’s High School Vilakumadam.

Later, he pursued Pre-degree and PG at Pala St Thomas College, and went on to pursue BEd and MEd. In addition, he secured Masters Degree in Oriental Theology from Oxford University. He had served as teacher at the Eparchial Minor Seminary, Pala; Mar Ephrem Formation Centre; and Pala St Thomas Training College.

He is the founder-director of Cherpunkal Mar Sleeva Nursing College and Mount Nebo Retreat Centre, Wagamon. He had also served as secretary of the Eparchial Medical Education Trust, Pala, and as secretary to Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt. Later, he was appointed vice-rector of the Pontifical Urban College De Propaganda Fide, Rome.Fr Srampickal had pastoral ministry at St Alphonsa Parish, Kankanady, Karnataka, and in England during his studies.

Fr Stephen Chirapanath, who has been appointed the apostolic visitator for Europe, has been serving in Rome as the procurator of the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and coordinator  for the Syro-Malabar faithful in Italy for the last five years. He is also a member of the Presbyteral Council of the diocese of Rome, representing priests serving migrant communities from different countries.

Msgr Chirapanath was born to Kavalakkattu Chirapanath Paul and Rosy on December 26, 1961, at Puthenchira under the Irinjalakkuda diocese. After schooling, he had his minor seminary formation at St Mary’s Minor Seminary, Thope.

He pursued philosophical and theological studies at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor. He was ordained priest  on December 26, 1987, by Bishop  Mar James Pazhayattil.

After ministry as assistant parish priest at St Mary’s Forane Church, Chalakudy, and St Joseph’s Church Aloor; and Father Prefect at St Paul’s Minor Seminary, Msgr Chirapanath was sent to Rome for higher studies. He secured Doctorate in Moral Theology from Alphonsian Academy under the Lateran University.

source: / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Kochi / by Express News Service / July 29th, 2016

LEARN TO LEARN – India’s largest education technology startup was built by an engineer who aced CAT for fun—twice

Byju Raveendran has always been a self-learner.

As a child, he says, he taught himself English. His school in Kerala’s Azhikode village used Malayalam, the local language, as the medium of instruction.

Years later, those self-learning techniques came handy when Byju appeared for the Common Aptitude Test (CAT) in 2003, the demanding entrance exam for the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). He aced the test with a 100 percentile—twice—but didn’t bother to join any IIM. Instead, the mechanical engineer turned around and took up teaching.

Byju, 35, is now using those tried-and-test self-learning skills to expand what is already India’s largest education technology startup: Think and Learn, which owns the Byju’s Learning App.

The app has audio-video and animation tools to teach math, science, and logic to around 200,000 school and college students. The app is gaining around 30,000 new users every month, according to Byju.

This March, his company raised $75 million (Rs505 crore) from Sequoia Capital and the Belgian investment firm, Sofina. This was one of the largest fund-raising in the education startup segment in India.

On July 24, the company said it is in final talks to raise another $50 million  from investors.

“The freshly-raised funds will be deployed to fuel international expansion and inorganic growth through global acquisitions,” a release from Think and Learn said.

CAT for kicks

Byju’s parents wanted him to become a doctor. But he joined the Government College of Engineering, Kannur, in northern Kerala.

In 2003, during a vacation, he visited some friends in Bengaluru who insisted that he take a shot at the CAT. “My friends knew I had my own set of hacks and tricks when it came to math, and they asked why don’t I give it a try,” he recalled. CAT is an unavoidable nightmare for those seeking admission to the top B-schools of India.

Byju appeared for the test and ended with a 100 percentile. Two years later, he appeared for CAT again “just to check if it wasn’t a fluke.” The result was the same.

His teaching career began sometime in 2006. Byju’s first informal session in Bengaluru, with friends and others, had 40 participants. In six weeks, he was dealing with crowds of almost 1,000 students. His weekend workshops became so popular that soon students from Mumbai, Delhi, and Pune were dropping in. He began charging a small fee and turned it into a full-time job.

“One day I was in Pune, the next day in Mumbai, and the third in Delhi,” Byju said. He even held his workshops in stadia with around 10,000 students attending his session at a time.

Till 2011, he continued the “running around.”

That year, he founded Think and Learn, the company that owns the Byju’s app. Some of the best students from his workshops—many of them IIM graduates by now—joined him. His initial focus was only preparations for management entrance tests and the civil services exams.

“I was a teacher by choice and an entrepreneur by chance,” he said. “It just took off.”

Catching them young

Byju’s focus is simple: change the way students learn.

That’s key in Asia’s third-largest economy where educational outcomes are often based on rote-learning and geared simply towards scoring in exams. Practical knowledge or application is seldom the priority. Not surprisingly, many students can’t perform (pdf) basic math problems or read full sentences  even at the third or fourth-grade level.

“After speaking to some of the brightest students, I realised that most of them, unfortunately, study only because of the fear of exams. They are taught to solve a problem but aren’t enabled to find a problem,” explained Byju, now father to a two-year-old.

He realised that if his strategy of self-learning was adopted in early years at school, it could potentially create a huge impact.

“You learn the best when you learn on your own,” Byju said. The videos on the app don’t need any guidance from teachers, students can watch and learn by themselves. The app also incorporates quizzes and games involving other students.

The massive Indian education sector, with over 315 million school students, has quickly become his target audience. The school vertical, which covers grades 4 through 12, is now bringing in 90% of Think and Learn’s revenue. In June 2016 alone, Byju’s app generated Rs30 crore.

The average annual subscription cost per student is Rs10,000.

Sustainable business models

Education technology firms in India don’t exactly have a stellar track record.

Unlike the relatively new internet businesses such as e-commerce and taxi-hailing services, education technology firm have been around in India for over two decades. But most failed to sustain their business models.

For instance, the BSE-listed Educomp, which provides schools with digital products and online solutions, is unprofitable and under massive debt —Rs3,056.99 crore as of Sept. 2015. In January 2016, its lenders were considering acquiring a majority stake in the firm, the Mint newspaper reported.

However, analysts believe demand for technology in education is still high. In India, this market is expected to be over $70 billion by 2017, with the kindergarten-to-grade 12 range estimated to comprise around 40% of this.

“India’s education system is pretty weak, so there is a lot of demand for technology companies to do something extraordinary. But the problem is that none have so far succeeded in monetising from edu-tech businesses in India,” said Yugal Joshi, practice director at Texas-based management consultancy Everest Group. “There is immense scope for any entrepreneur who can develop a sustainable business that has the potential to make money.”

Joshi believes the newer generation of edu-tech companies like Byju’s have certain advantages over the older ones like Educomp. Much of that has to do with increased smartphone penetration in India and cheaper internet.

The road ahead

Byju, however, wants to look beyond India now. Currently, his app is also available in the Middle East. Over the next few months, it will enter the US, UK, and other Commonwealth countries.

But, back home, some challenges still persist.

For one, Byju admits that since credit card penetration is pretty low, Think and Learn relies heavily on the fintech industry  for payments. He wants to start monthly subscriptions, but that’ll only be possible with the availability of other digital payment channels with huge reach.

Besides, it needs to scale up, while constantly focusing on innovation.

“Technology will keep changing, and we need to adapt,” Byju said.

source: / Quartz / Home / by Madhura Karnik & Itika Sharma Punit / July 27th, 2016

Scent of a soy candle

Sona Vaidyan and Mary Abraham / The Hindu
Sona Vaidyan and Mary Abraham / The Hindu

Mary Abraham and Sona Vaidyan of Asoy Candles cast light on the benefits of handmade soy wax candles

Enterprising aunt and niece Mary Abraham and Sona Vaidyan, both of them Australia-based Malayalis, can’t stop waxing lyrical about soy candles, the hep thing in home décor these days. “Soy candles are made of soy wax, which in turn is processed from soybean oil and are thus much less toxic than paraffin candles that are made from hydrogenated petroleum,” explains Sona. “As such, soy candles are clean burning; they burn slower and last longer; they do not leave a soot residue nor do they have a petrol-like scent,” she adds. Smelling an opportunity the duo launched Asoy Candles in Australia back in January and quickly came up roses for their artisanal soy candles in a jar. Asoy Candles is now available in India.

Asoy Candles / Photo: Special Arrangement / The Hindu
Asoy Candles / Photo: Special Arrangement / The Hindu

“Each Asoy Candle represents the memory of those in your heart,” writes Mary, an airlines professional based in Sydney. “I learnt to make candles from a professional candle maker; I enjoy making them because I find it therapeutic. My hobby soon became a passion and I felt the need to expand,” she says. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Sona, a homemaker, was a huge fan of scented candles. She read an article about the chemicals used in incense and normal candles and started researching about alternative materials, particularly those made of soy. “I started making customised soy candles for friends and for their kids’ birthday parties. Everyone liked the candles and started ordering more. My aunt and I combined knowledge and resources to start Asoy,” explains Sona.

The duo says that all their candles are made from pure soy wax; the wicks are 100 per cent cotton and they use only natural colours. “The materials are all from Australia. Each candle is handmade. The glass jars are reusable,” says Mary

One of Asoy top-selling scents is citronella, which is a natural oil extracted from the citronella plant. “Citronella is a natural insect repellent,” says Sona. Lemongrass, meanwhile, is “an uplifting fragrance” known for its anti-depressant properties and Lavender is known for its calming properties. They also have scented candles of eucalyptus, English rose, vanilla and others based on designer fragrances. “Each new fragrance is brought out after careful research and trial. We can customise the candle jar by adding messages, if it is a party order (10 or more),” explains Sona.

Prices start from Rs. 700 and can be ordered online through Asoy’s Facebook page for delivery anywhere in India.

source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> MetroPlus> Society / Nita Sathyendran / Thiruvananthapuram – July 27th, 2016

The Malabar River Festival is back!

The excitement in the air is almost palpable. Fuelled by large doses of adrenalin and adventure quintessential to extreme sports, spectators are gearing up for the popular Malabar River Festival in Kerala.

In its fourth edition, the festival will be held this month at Kondencherry, near Kozhikode.

Scheduled to take place from July 28 to 31, the competition, organised on behalf of Kerala Adventure Tourism Promotion Society by the Kerala Kayak Academy and Bengaluru-based Madras Fun Tools, will see athletes vie for the total cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh in categories that include BoaterCross, Downriver time-trial and Slalom.

The number of events this year has seen a slight dip. There may be around 60 events compared to the 110 held last year, said Manik Taneja, CEO of Madras Fun Tools.

Also missing from the event will be a big team of Olympians with the mega-sporting event scheduled to be held in August.

However, the event will see the participation of more female participants (10) compared to the usual average of five, mostly from India, UK and Italy, Mr. Taneja said.

For further details about the Malabar River Festival,

The fourth edition of the event will be held at Kondencherry, near Kozhikode, from July 28 to 31

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Bengaluru / by Staff Reporter / Bengaluru – July 26th, 2016

ICSSR honours Kochi economist

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) has chosen SME policy researcher P.M. Mathew for its Senior Fellowship.

Mr. Mathew is the senior fellow and director at the city-based Institute for Small Enterprises Development, a policy research group and think tank.


He plans to initiate long-term research on the global SME policy in the new millennium.

He is a former member of the Consultative Group on Unorganised Sector at the PMO and member of the SP Gupta Committee on Development of Small Enterprises at the Planning Commission.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Kochi / by Special Correspondent / Kochi – July 25th, 2016

Book throws light on little-known facets of Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai

The cover of a new book on Pillai.
The cover of a new book on Pillai.

The author of Tamil prayer Neeradum Kadaludutha was a philosopher, historian and epigraphist

He is known as the author of the Tamil prayerNeeradum Kadaludutha , which is part of his verse drama ‘Manonmaniam’. But few people know that P. Sundaram Pillai was a philosophy professor at the Maharaja’s college in Trivandram for over 15 years and the work was dedicated to Robert Harvey, Professor and Head of the Department of the College.

Sundaram Pillai, who died at the age of 42 in 1897, was also a historian, an epigraphist and a government official who held the post of Commissiones of separate revenue.

“He dedicated his work to Dr. Harvey as it was he who had recommended the appointment of Sundaram Pillai in his place after he decided to leave for England. He had even named his house as Harverypuram,” said A.K. Perumal, whose new book Manonmaniam Sundaranarin Innorupakkam (‘The other side Manonmaniam Sundaram’, NCBH), throws light on the multi-faceted personality of the author of the Tamil prayer.

‘Manonmaniam’ has its roots in Lord Litten’s ‘The Secret Way’, which was part of the collection of ‘The Lost Tales of Miletus’.

It was made into a film by Modern Theatres in 1942. The prayer song was set to music by late M.S. Viswanathan, but M. Karunanidhi, the then Chief Minister, deleted a few lines.

Sundaram Pillai’s family was from Kalakadu in Tirunelveli district and moved to Alapuzha in the 18th century.

“He had studied Tamil in school. It is not clear how he had learnt Tamil literature in Kerala even though he was in touch with great Tamil scholars of his time, including U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer and C.V. Damodaram Pillai,” said Mr. Perumal.

When he was the principal of the MDT Hindu School he learnt Saiva Siddantha from Kodakanallur Sundara Swamigal and held a long discussion with Swami Vivekananda during his visit to Kerala.

As the Commissiones of separate revenue, the temple management was under his control and it came in handy for his research on epigraphs.

“As a historian he established with substantial evidence that Saivaite saint Thirugnana Sambandar belonged to 7th century and his English essay on the subject was published in the journal of the Madras Christian College. He also wrote an early sovereign of Travancore, an in-depth study of Travancore history,” said Mr Perumal, who has collected the essays.

Lost letters

“Unfortunately, we are not able to get many of his letters and photographs. Since he was a Congressman, police seized many documents from his residence, including his correspondence with Swami Vivekananda. They are lost permanently,” said Mr. Perumal.

‘He was in touch with great Tamil scholars of his time, including U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer’

source: / The Hindu / Home> Cities> Chennai / by B. Kolappan / Chennai – July 24th, 2016