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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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  On the rails  
  Encounters galore  
  I KNOW an editor who has written several columns on civil aviation in the wake of the opening up of the skies to private airlines. He would often rate Jet Airways as the best and Indian Airlines and Air India as the worst. I remember him praising Jet for introducing world-class -- whatever that means -- travelling experience to India. He would describe IA and AI air-hostesses as matronly and those of private airlines as young and smart.

I often wondered why the age of an air-hostess should bother passengers. I remember flying on the Mumbai-Kochi sector in East West Airlines, which had to be closed down because of their unsubstantiated links with terrorism. I found one of the young air-hostesses and an equally young steward in love and engrossed in each other, paying little attention to their work.

Another private airline, run by a liquor magnate, introduced "world-class" travel experience by forcing its air-hostesses to wear tight, short red dresses which many of them would have found embarrassing. He sought to redeem his prestige by donating a large sum of money to a temple in Andhra Pradesh while he failed to deposit money deducted from the employees' salaries in their provident fund accounts.

Editors competed with one another in writing about the civil aviation sector totally neglecting the Railways. Political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists and businessmen shifted wholly to airlines. Even railway ministers and senior railway officials started flying. In the late-seventies, I remember travelling with former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar in a train from Bhopal to New Delhi. I once interviewed BJP leader and former Minister of State for Railways O. Rajagopal during a train journey.

The only political leader I met who acknowledged that he enjoyed train journeys is K. Muralidharan, Congress MLA in Kerala. He knew by heart the time-tables of important trains. One day, he surprised me by suggesting various train options to reach Kayamkulam from Kozhikkode, where I was his guest.

I wish political leaders travelled more by trains so that the railway service could improve. After all, Indian Railways is the world's largest rail network, carrying millions of passengers everyday. 

In a country where the prime minister "imports" the services of a foreign doctor, who specializes in knee-cap surgery, and checks into a private hospital in Mumbai for the operation when similar services are available at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, ministers cannot be expected to seek treatment in government hospitals, travel by trains and admit their wards to government schools. These are all meant for the poor in whose name air-conditioned Garib Raths were introduced.

The pleasures of travelling by train are indeed unique. More than anything, you get acquainted with people, like in the case of a former colleague, who found her life-partner in a fellow rail passenger.

Train journeys have always provided me memorable moments, whereas in flights I have met only those who doze off the moment the plane is airborne, except when I travelled with the 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, who headed our Embassy in Mongolia. I narrated the experience of that journey when every passenger walked up to his seat to seek his blessings, which Chandan Mitra, MP, who was Executive Editor, found interesting enough to publish as the bottom-spread on Page 1 of the Hindustan Times.

Claire is a British lady I travelled with recently from New Delhi to Bhopal. When I asked her whether the facilities in the First Class AC cabin were comparable to the ones in her country, she said, "We do not have long-distance trains like Grand Trunk Express, as ours is a small country". Suddenly I remembered the thick Illustrated History of British Steam Railways written by David Ross that The Tribune's sports writer from Patiala brought for me from London. I did not tell her that the railways are a legacy of the British.

She teaches English and had some interesting comments to make on Indians speaking in English. When I told her about former Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon's comment that "Indians learn English whereas the British inherit it", she laughed. Many Indians think that the British speak and write better English. When a friend in Dalhousie showed me a letter the great-grandson of Lord Dalhousie had written to her, I found grammatical and spelling errors a good Class V student in India would laugh at.

When Claire took out a needle and thread to stitch a torn portion of her dress, realization dawned on me that we know stitching only by way of the phrase, "a stitch in time saves nine". Unlike her, we would rather discard the clothes than stitch them. A student of comparative religion, she finds virtue in all religions, though she finds the caste system in India unacceptable. After learning clay pottery in Himachal Pradesh, she was all set to experience life in Puducherry and Kerala.

On another day, I was so engrossed in reading that I would have missed getting acquainted with Ashokan Kunnunkal but for a comment his friend made about him. "Look at this man. He is 83 and an Asian Games medallist. He is still an active sportsman. Does he look that old?" The mention of "Asian Games" attracted my attention and I started interacting with him.

He is a widely-travelled person and speaks fluent English. He took part in the 9th (Formosa), 10th (Bangkok) and 13th (Malayasia) Asian Games and the Eighth World Meet at Oregon for elders in the US. After serving in the Royal Navy, he joined the Accountant General's office at Thiruvananthapuram from where he has retired. He is a national champion in pole vault and an international referee in volleyball. He has many firsts to his credit.

Kunnunkal is still active in sports for elders. Since the age limit for pole vault is 60 and for triple jump is 65, he cannot participate in those events. "I could have participated in some other events in the forthcoming Colombo Games but I thought let others also participate and win". There was a feeling of contentment in his words. His brother K.A. Achuthan was once a Congress MLA.

It was with a lot of pride that he told me that he was an alumnus of Rama Varma Union High School, Cherai, near Ernakulam and a student of K.C. Abraham. Some of my readers would recall that "Abraham Master", as he was known, was a tall Congress leader. When the Congress split following Mrs Indira Gandhi's decision to support V.V. Giri for the post of president against the party's official nominee, N. Sanjiva Reddy, it was Abraham Master who mediated between the two sides in the Congress.

When all his efforts to keep the Congress united failed, Abraham Master chose to side with the Syndicate-led Congress (Organisation), which was roundly defeated in the 1971 election. Ashokan has fond memories of the Master who encouraged sports. 

Ashokan's family is representative of India's religious diversity. He has three children whose names are Novel, Bright and Shine. While one son married a Nair and another a Christian, his daughter married an Afghan Muslim. "Shine and Shabir, who is now a senior executive with Saudi Airlines, met at Jawaharlal Nehru University".

He does not have any diseases whatsoever and he keeps himself busy organizing sports for elders. "Donít think that sports ensures long life and health. I had some friends in the sports field, who died young. Health and long life are all God's grace."

As I took leave of him when the train reached Kayamkulam, I realised what a miss it would have been if I had not talked to him and continued reading Amartya Sen's latest book, Uncertain Glory. I found it amusing that when I got into  the New Delhi-bound Rajdhani from Ernakulam, my neighbour in the train was Joseph G. Abraham, an Arjuna Award winner. He was on his way to the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, to train for the 2014 Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

He showed me a video on his laptop on the kind of reception accorded to him when he returned to Kerala after receiving the Award. Alphonse Kannanthanam, who was an MLA at that time, received him at the airport and accompanied him all the way  home. When I saw the video, I called Kannanthanam, who is now with the BJP, on my phone and enabled him to speak to the Arjuna winner. When I mentioned his name, he exulted, "Abraham is my hero!"

Joseph trained under Dronacharya K.P. Thomas and studied at C. Kesavan Memorial Higher Secondary School, Koruthode. Those who have a modicum of knowledge about sports in Kerala know that his school has produced several sports champions. In sports this school is like the university in Amritsar which every year wins the inter-university sports championship.

He would like to participate in the Asian Games in South Korea in 2014, the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow in July 2014 and the Olympics in Brazil in 2016. His achievements include Silver in 400 metres at the 2006 Asian Games at Doha, Gold in 400-metre hurdles in the 2010 Asian Games, China. His wife is Smitha Paul, who was a university-level sportsperson.

Joseph, who is now with the Railways as a travelling ticket examiner, feels at home at NIS, Patiala, thanks mainly to his coach Rajinder Singh. "He attended my marriage and has visited Kerala several times. He is fond of me and so am I of him. He likes the Kerala greenery". What he can't stand is the winter at Patiala. "Fortunately, we shift to Bangalore during severe winter".

The Gold medal fetched him about Rs 50 lakh, which he invested in a house in Ernakulam where he stays. Joseph was not the only one going to Patiala. There was Anju Thomas. Daughter of a daily-wage earner in Vayanadu district, she was also going there for training. Her role model is P.T. Usha, who narrowly missed an Olympic bronze.

She is now with the Kerala Police as a Head Constable. She took part in the recent World Police Meet at Ireland and won three gold medals and one silver. Nobody in her family was a sportsperson. "My parents encouraged me to take part in sports." She mentioned Satyanandan as her coach. She, too, believes that with the training at NIS, Patiala, she will be able to find a place in the Indian contingent at the next Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

We all admire sportspersons when they win medals and bring glory to the country but we do not realize how much time they have to devote to sports every day to become national and international-level sportsperson. "From tomorrow onwards I will have to start practicing", said Joseph, who was constantly getting calls from his wife.

Sports is not a bed of roses. It involves hard work and dedication. Both of them were happy with the facilities their organizations -- the Railways and the Kerala Police -- were providing them to excel in their chosen fields. As we parted at Hazrat Nizamuddin, I wished both of them a great career in sports. We need more Ashokans, Josephs and Anjus to make India a nation of sports and games.

The writer can be reached at
Courtesy: Indian Currents
  By  A.J. Philip  
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