Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Back Water Mystery.

It has been in mind for so long, to take a day off and set out to the lavish greenery of Alappuzha to rejuvenate my soul. The place where the essence of Malayalam could be sensed with all its purity. The fertile smell of land, when the monsoon showers hit the surface. The sip of a hot black tea from a local tea shop near the river side, with two crispy vadas. Kerala back waters should definitely be on my camera; else I would be missing out the joy of exploring the natural scenic beauty of my native land. And to make the experience more like a self discovery and earthy, I decided to opt out the hangout concept of travelling to the spot with my friends or cousins. After all, sometimes it’s best to follow our instincts blindly. That’s from where our wisdom evolves in its true form. We should consider the right to chose or the freedom we are given to choose our own path as a sacred privilege. The door of possibilities reroutes itself like in a GPS as we choose a new path in life.

Long before the sun could stretch out its morning shades, I got out from the comfort of my warm cozy bed. Through the misty freshness of that morning, I walked past my local church which was preparing for the early holy mass. Avoiding the comfort of driving with the basses and trebles of music was a good decision. Boarded an ordinary KSRTC bus, heading to the town of Alappuzha. I often wondered why the KSRTC buses have different facial expressions. When I was a child, I used to think of them as the different moods of these buses. Some of them seems happy, some childish, others could even have an angry face. While the private buses seemed to have some trendy looks and new hair styles, which could be the reason why some KSRTC buses looks grumpy.

I missed the green and yellow tickets, we used to have before. Technology is a killer. It murdered our past, making some stuffs the things of past. This wasn’t an old KSRTC but a renovated one I guess. The hand rails are plastered; I always hated the naked steel rails and its rusty smell. The rush of school children in uniforms with heavy bags took me back to memories of school days. Glad am done with it. Speaking of school, I love the smell of biscuits and milk in water bottles, the smell of fresh text books and new uniforms. Whenever I buy a new book, I open it randomly and have a long inhalation. May be that could help me absorb some of the hidden knowledge.

Having taken a private transit bus to Kumarakom, popularly known as the head quarters of back water packages; hired an auto and headed down the rural inroads to explore the virgin back waters. Something was bothering me, the calling of fresh Naadan food. As we passed by a hotel with its Naadan menu kept on the road side, I could sense the title song of Salt and Pepper movie calling me to spoil myself right now.

        ‘‘ Thana thinna thaana thinna thaana thinna thinthinno.
                       Thana thinna thaana thinna thaana thinna thinthinno.’’

Of course, I was on the table the next moment lost in the menu. Puttum Beefum, I ordered. Porotta, is my favorite but I got seduced by the unique Puttu available here with its Thenga Peera and the spicy beef with Thenga Kothu. Sipped the local tea listening to the tunes of radio music and the news paper conversation of the localites. Before heading to the Kadathu Vanchi opting out the house boats, I decided to come back here to have the Ucha Oonu with the delicious Special Fish Curry.

The Vanchikaran was having a local Beedi under the shades of the slanting coconut tree. I kind of worry sometimes while playing around or passing by a coconut tree. Isn’t there a risk of the coconuts falling down ? It’s damn scary. An old man in his 70’s and two sisters boarded the Kadathu Vanchi. Having seen the sisters I thought, there could be a local church somewhere on the other side. ‘‘ Ok, let’s go’’, said the Vanchikaran in an indifferent way. I grabbed my camera and the hat. It could be sunny out there. Should have taken some Pazhampori or Parippuvada as parcel. Never mind. We sailed through the shades of local trees and the view of traditional houses by the river side. Paradise was right there and I was sailing through it. This is definitely ‘‘Gods Own Country’’. Took some great shots and drowned myself in the pleasure of sailing wild back waters. We were slowly heading to the big wide opening of the Kayal. A flock of birds, probably the Kokku, flew across the sky. The view was heavenly. And I didn’t miss to freeze that frame in multiple shots.

We had a small chit chat on the way with topics ranging from local Chemmeen Chammandhi to Mullaperiyar. The Vanchikaran was speaking lots of crap, could probably be some words of wisdom. In fact we are inclined to believe the words of those whom we don’t know, as they haven’t deceived us. The clouds were getting darker. Mullaperiyar issue, in my view is not a stupid water dispute. It’s more than a life and death situation. The heat of the issue was at its peak then. And there was much tension and protests between the people of both states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Unless the Mullaperiyar dam is rebuilt, three districts of my state will be wiped away along with the lives of 3 million people. I defended the issue strongly in our debate of Mullaperiyar issue in the Kadathu Vanchi. I always believed that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I wondered if the Vanchikaran was from the other state. The old guy was showing some sign languages. Is he practicing some kind of Kathakali moves ? But I sensed something wrong when I saw the strange faces shown by the sisters. In the next moment, the Vanchikaran challenged me and jumped into the river. What the ?

It started raining. Thunders fighting in the sky. And am struck with some strangers in a boat lost in the middle of monsoon showers. I agree that going through challenges and failures is a solid test to develop more faith in God. But how could this situation be explained ? The monsoon showers got much stronger and I could really feel my face getting wet and colder. Somewhere from the corners of the dark clouds in the sky I could hear a whispering voice. It was my mom. Mom, you saved me from a big ship wreck. I was inside the Titanic. I tailored my dreams to make it sound more appealing. Any way I was glad that I didn’t have to spend much time in that Kadathu Vanchi, wandering aimlessly through the wide river and getting wet in the heavy monsoon rain.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Road to Sainthood : Monsignor Lawrence Puliyanath.

I consider this brief article as a thanksgiving for all the favors received and as a prayer for the canonization of Monsignor Lawrence Puliyanath, who lived his saintly life in my hometown. A monsignor who illuminated thousands of lives with the message of love, a genuine Christian hero, a man of action who obeyed god, by having a mental state of being incredibly optimistic against overwhelming odds. Monsignor Lawrence Puliyanath was declared as the ‘‘Servant of God’’ on February 4th, 2011 completing the first step in the process of canonization.

His mortal remains are venerated in the St. Lawrence Church at Edakochi, where faithful from places throughout the state visit, in order to give thanks, for the favors received through his intercession. I consider myself blessed for being in the church locality, where a priest, who lived as one among the ordinary people, glorified the name of god. His life was dedicated to fill this world with love and to make people love one another. His life is a message for each of us to understand each other and to be generous in our lives irrespective of religion, cast and creed.

The over flowing devotees to the pilgrim centre at Kochi is a reflection of his exceptional holiness. Thousands of devotees consider him as a father figure who guides and helps them throughout the hard journey called life. Most of the familiar faces in my hometown are living testimonials who still remember how; he personally touched the lives of people through selfless service and love for the community.

Monsignor Lawrence was born on 8th August 1898 in Kochi, to the blessed couple Maria and Peter, of the Puliyanath family. He was fortunate enough to have a good school education and eventually attained a doctorate degree in both Theology and Philosophy from a Seminary in SriLanka. He was ordained priest on 1926 and started off his apostolic mission for the poor, serving the society at large. During his 33 years of church service, he served as a professor of Philosophy in Alappuzha Seminary and later as a Forane Vicar in the parish of St. Lawrence Church, Edakochi. He was conferred the title ‘‘Domestic Prelete’’ by His Holiness Pious the XII-th in 1951. His simple life with no special attachments to material comforts in the midst of glory makes him an ideal religious teacher. His humbleness was revealed when he declined the promotional title offered from Rome, to be the first local bishop in the Diocese of Kochi. He was sick during his late days, yet was always concerned about the needs and lives of the people. The divine soul of Monsignor Lawrence left to heaven on 20th February, 1961.

Like the two sides of a coin, with the touch of god, come miracles and blessings as well as sufferings and the cross. Dear lord, as Christian followers, we know that our lives would be subjected to testing and temptations throughout our life, to strengthen our faith. Monsignor Lawrence Puliyanath is our local guardian, who guides us through this worldly life, to follow your way of light. We consider this stage of canonization as the phase of our struggling and we hope our prayers, along with the ever glowing candle lights, in front his sacred tomb, would one day open the gates of heaven and bring out the shower of miracles and blessings by declaring his sainthood.

To Visit the Official Site of Monsignor Lawrence Puliyanath. Click here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alcohol Use and the Risk of Developing Alzheimer's Disease.

Being a cognitive disorder involving the degeneration of brain, progressive loss of memory and lowered life expectancy, Alzheimer’s disease resembles in strange ways to the after effects of alcohol consumption. Obviously both of them serve as a burden to the health, society and economic stability of any nation. Studies on alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking have shown cognitive impairment which is parallel to the usual symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Irrespective of nutritional deficits, progressive psychological decline is observed in chronic alcoholics. Hypothalamus, Cerebellum and the frontal superior cortex are the most predominantly affected areas by the toxic effects of alcohol. In addition they cause significant structural changes in myelin which could be reversible during abstinence.

Alcohol consumption could be attributed as one of the risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease, as both of them share biological complications, related with brain chemistry and associated disorders. The main challenge while researching on the impact of alcohol usage on developing Alzheimer’s disease is in diagnosing and distinguishing alcoholic dementia from Alzheimer’s disease.

Heavy alcohol drinking causes both immediate and long term detrimental effects on brain such as accelerating brain shrinkage, eventually leading to neurodegenerative changes and cognitive decline. Comparative investigations by Jensen & Pakkenberg (1993), on subjects with cerebral atrophy caused by aging and alcohol consumption have revealed that, alcohol induced damages are mostly reversible, as it doesn’t cause any change in the number of nerve cells, although considerable death of brain cells, which supports the neurons is observed. Since the brain cells could be regenerated during the process of abstinence, cognitive performance could be improved. While research by Krill & Halliday (1999), have revealed loss of cholinergic neurons that are associated with the chemical messenger of our brain, the neurotransmitter acetyl choline. As any defects in the cholinergic system such as reduction in acetyl choline or reduced protein receptors is well established with the Alzheimer’s disease, chronic alcohol usage could definitely be linked as a cause for Alzheimer’s disease. Shockingly, studies by Arendt (1993) have shown partial reversal of these damages on cholinergic systems upon stimulation by compounds such as nicotine during tobacco smoking, which discloses the controversial hypothesis of decreased association of Alzheimer’s disease with drinkers who smoke.

Speaking of alcohol induced nutritional deficiency; the most frequent one is the vitamin B1 deficiency, which eventually induces Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome involves isolated or associated symptoms such as mental confusion, abnormal ocular movement and gait ataxia. If left undiagnosed, the patients could either evolve into a serious condition called the Korsakoff’s syndrome or even death. Clinical features and findings on structural neuroimaging of Korsakoff’s syndrome involve episodic memory deficit, variable compromise in semantic memory, nystagmus, cortical atrophy, reduced volume of thalamus and mammillary bodies. Marchiafava-Bignami is a rare disease generally diagnosed in chronic alcoholics with symptoms involving dementia, muscular hypertonia, epileptic episodes, dysphagia etc. This disease has a high lethality rate with most of the patients evolving into a comatose state. Its neuroimaging findings have revealed prominent atrophy of corpus collosum, with varying degrees of necrosis and cystic fibrosis. Alcoholic dementia is yet not uniformly diagnosed during epidemiological studies making the discriminations between alcoholic dementia and Alzheimer’s disease more problematic.

Further clarity is needed to prove the association of alcohol with Alzheimer’s disease. Longitudinal researches are needed which avoids methodological limitations such as the confirmation of investigations on subjects by studying the brain after death. Association of factors ranging from genetic, vascular and even gender should be extensively and thoroughly investigated to clarify the association of alcohol with Alzheimer’s disease.


Arendt, T. (1993). The cholinergic deafferentation of the cerebral cortex induced by chronic consumption of alcohol: Reversal by cholinergic drugs and trans-plantation. In: Hunt, W.A., and Nixon, S.J., eds. Alcohol-Induced Brain Damage. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 431–460.

Bottino C.M.C., Padua, A.C., Smid, J., Fegyveres, R.A., Novaretti, T., Bahia V.S. (2011).  Differential diagnosis between dementia and psychiatric disorders. Dement Neuropsychol. 5(4):288-296.

Jensen, G.B., & Pakkenberg, B. (1993). Do alcoholics drink their neurons away? The Lancet. 342:1201– 1204.

Krill, J.J. & Halliday, G.M. (1999). Brain shrinkage in alcoholics: A decade on and what have we learned? Progress in Neurobiology 58:381–387.

Tyas, S.L. (2001). Alcohol use and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alcohol Research & Health. Vol: 25, No: 4.

(Review of the original article by Suzanne L. Tyas. Original publication is available from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. )