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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  The idea of Peru  
  Continent of beauties  
  I WAS with my immediate neighbour at Kayamkulam, insurance executive Anil Kumar when I received an invitation to attend the World Democracy Movement's biannual conference at Lima in Peru. One of LIC of India's senior business associates, he can do a creditable job if he is asked to sell coal in Newcastle. As I read the invitation letter on my BlackBerry, he could make out that it contained good tidings for me. My facial expression must have been a dead giveaway. He was close enough to me to ask what it was all about.

When I told him about the invitation, his son Aaditya, a Class V student, had a funny comment to make: "Peru must be the most populated city in the world as it means "delivery". He was obviously referring to the Malayalam word 'peruka', which means, "to deliver a child". I observed that he is a good student of geography, for he brought a globe from his study room and instantly located the Latin American country and its capital.

"Uncle, you will have to virtually circumnavigate the world to reach Lima", he said. He went on to show me the shortest route, little knowing that aircraft do not fly like the crow. "Mon, there is no direct flight from India to Peru. One can reach there via Europe or via the Gulf. I shall leave it to the organizers, though the Gulf would be a better option". He continued to play with the globe and ask me questions about all the countries I have visited.

Aaditya seemed to be more excited than me. About 40 years ago, when my editor O.P. Sabharwal asked me to do a fortnightly column entitled "Window on Latin America", I was as bewildered and excited as my young friend. How could I handle a column when I knew precious nothing about the continent where ancient civilizations existed even before the advent of the Europeans? The India Press Agency (IPA) office had a globe lying around somewhere. I extricated it with some difficulty, dusted it and concentrated my gaze on South America.

Of course, I knew a little bit about Latin America because of my short but passionate dalliance with Communism. In fact, I epitomized what George Bernard Shaw said about Communists: "A man who is not a Communist at the age of twenty is a fool. Any man who is still a Communist at the age of thirty is an even bigger one". Two names that fascinated me during that period were Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

When Che's book "Bolivian Diary" was added to the Pathanamthitta Panchayat Library, I was one of the first to borrow it. I was simply amazed by the dare-devilry of the Argentine-born revolutionary, who fought in the jungles of Bolivia and fell to the bullets of the American CIA-funded military when he could have been smoking Cuban cigars and enjoying the creature comforts that the post of minister offered him. I drew inspiration from Che's photograph on the cover taken by the Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, which was one of the greatest portraits ever taken. I confess that I even ruined my studies to an extent.

I fancied myself as a Che when I protested against the casteist remarks made against a fellow student by a powerful priest of the Orthodox Church and thus had the college's door closed to me for higher studies. However, it was my poor father who had to pay a price for my transgressions when I had to seek admission to a distant college for my degree course.
When the CPI(M) leader, the late EMS Namboodiripad, wrote an article about a Catholic priest in Latin America, known as the Red Priest because he held both the Bible and the Communist Manifesto, I developed an interest in Liberation Theology.

One of the happiest political events of the period was the election of Salvador Allende, a Communist, as President of Chile. He was the second Communist, the first being EMS, who came to power through the ballot, not the bullet. Alas, he was not allowed to continue as a bullet felled him (another version has it that he committed suicide) and the country came under military dictatorship. Latin America was those days a continent of political uncertainty where not a day passed without a coup in one or the other country.

The situation was much the same when Mr Sabharwal bestowed upon me the honour of writing a column, so early in my career. He also had a suggestion to make, "We get all the bulletins from Prensa Latina, a Latin American news agency. It provides a gist of all the developments on the continent. Why don't you make use of them?" It was a helpful tip for I started monitoring events in the land of revolutions and dictatorships.

Each fortnight I would pick up a subject, which could be the discovery of oil in Venezuela or the American bid to stop the ceaseless flow of Mexicans to the US. Years later when I was posted in Chandigarh, I was woken up by a Radio Station at Caracas in Venezuela. A lilting voice asked me whether it was okay for them to wake me up a couple of hours later for a one-hour radio programme, when they would interview me against a background musical score.

I did not ask them how they got my name and number because I knew that only my friend Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, could have played this mischief. I waited for the call. It came on the dot and I was asked to hold on. I could hear the goings-on in the studio. The host asked me some personal questions like what I did for a living. Then she asked me about beauty queen Aishwarya Rai and why I thought Indians and Venezuelans did better than most others when it came to feminine beauty.

I told her about the Indian culture of worshipping beauty. I told her also about a great sage who fell to the charms of a beauty, abandoned his worship and made love to her. I could make out that the programme was live and it was having an effect on the audience. I also told her how our temples depict beauty in all its manifestations. In between she would play some music and interpret in Spanish what I said in English. It was amusing for her to know that Nataraja, the God of Dance, was none other than the Lord of Kailash. "Where is Kailash?" she asked. "It is in the Himalayas" was my answer. "Where the Mount Everest is located", she showed off her knowledge.

The programme continued for one full hour. After she signed off, she told me that it went off well. The feedback was good and she said she benefited a lot from the interview. I told her that a fascination for beauty united the people of Venezuela and India. A few days later, I got a call from the same sexy voice. By then I was familiar with the format. I had to wait an hour or so for the programme to start. In the meantime I could wash my face, prepare a cup of coffee and wait for the phone to ring. Also, think of something that would interest the listeners there.

Those days I had been trying to understand how the people of Malwa differed from the people of Doaba, though both spoke Punjabi and shared other cultural traits in common. At the rate at which calls came from Caracas I wondered whether I might have to learn about how the female form varied from region to region in Venezuela. I also wondered why they were not asking for my bank details to deposit the hundreds of dollars that I earned speaking about beauties. I began taking a greater interest in the Times of India, which, I thought, should be re-christened The Beauty of India, given the coverage it gave to beauty pageants, both in India and abroad.

Finally, I asked the lady how much she would pay me for the trouble of waking up at night, holding the phone for more than a hour and taking part in a programme in which I could follow only what I said to her. "Sir, people consider it a honour to be featured in our programme. We do not make any payments. We only thank our guests. And they include celebrities like you". That was the first time I knew that I had become a celebrity, not in India but in distant Venezuela. I told her politely that I would not like to be disturbed again.

Then she asked me whether I could suggest the name of a person who would like to be approached by them. Unfortunately for her, I had no enemies whose names I could recommend. That was the end of my status as a celebrity and my tryst with Venezuelan radio. When I read the invitation to Lima, two names that came to my mind were that of the Peruvian editor and my Facebook friend Cesar Sanchez Martinez and an acquaintance from my Chandigarh days, whose wife was from Lima.

I knew it was pointless to contact Cesar because I needed a Spanish interpreter to communicate with him. As for my Chandigarh friend, he played hide and seek when I told him that I was planning to visit Lima. I lost much of my interest in following it up when I heard that his family no longer lived in Lima but in Chandigarh. All I needed were some tips to visit Machu Pichu, which is to Peru what Nalanda, Takshashila and Harappa are to India and Pakistan.

The little information I gathered from the Internet suggested that it was not easy to visit Machu Pichu, where I could even have faced altitude problems. That I visited Siachen Glacier, the coldest battlefield in the world, four years ago would not automatically enable me to visit Machu Pichu, for I had visited the former as a guest of Defence Minister A.K. Antony with all the attendant comforts and facilities. I would have had to fend for myself if I had a breathing problem at Machu Pichu and so I gave up the plan.

The idea of my forthcoming visit to Peru so captivated another friend that he sent me a limerick with an innocuous headline, "The Man From Peru". I had the shock of my life when I read the rather risque contents of the five-line verse. The author of the limerick was Anonymous who, I once thought was the greatest Christian hymn writer because in a book of hymns, the largest number of hymns was attributed to him. It was much later that I understood what Anonymous meant.

Actually, the original poem, 'The Man from Peru' is quite innocuous:

There was an old man from Peru
Who dreamt he was eating his shoe.
He awoke in a fright
In the middle of the night
And found it was perfectly true.

Since the version sent by my friend is un-publishable in a family magazine, I shall refrain from quoting it here. Enterprising readers can just as well locate it on the Internet.

I do not know whether the organisers of the conference knew about my Latin American connection, for they changed the original idea of sending a ticket that would have taken me to London and to Lima via the US. It would have entailed obtaining a visa from two more countries. Hence when I sought another route, they chose a far more convenient one -- Delhi-Dubai-Sao Paulo-Lima-Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro-Dubai-New Delhi -- with the result that I could touch four new countries. Now I can tell Yohaan, my three and a half year old grandson, that I have visited 52 countries.

I realized that traveling involves more planning than fun when I began going about the steps one by one. First and foremost was knowing about the country before applying for a visa. A little carelessness on my part and a gross error on the Embassy's part could have scuppered all my plans. But Providence was on my side.
Courtesy: Indian Currents
Caption: Tawakel Karman, the first Arab woman -- also the youngest -- to get the Nobel addressing the Democracy conference at Lima -- Photo by A.J. Philip
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  By  A.J. Philip  
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