Two years ago, at 5.30 pm on Saturday, June 28, 2014, one of the twin eleven storied apartment blocks under construction situated on Kundrathur road near Porur junction, Moulivakkam in the suburb of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, collapsed due to heavy monsoon rains, killing 61 people including children. The rescuers saved 27 people trapped under the wrecked building. The hospitals admitted more than 50 injured people.
Most victims were construction workers, who were reportedly in the building to collect their wages.
This incident exemplifies the dark side of the real estate and construction business wherein ambitious entrepreneurs consider amassing money the prime function of their operations and do not care for the safety of the lives of their customers.
Three years before this disaster, M. Manoharan (60), a native of Madurai, worked as a clerk with the Indian Bank in Madurai. He opted for voluntary retirement in 2011 and became a and graduated to a full-time ‘well-known’ real estate dealer within a short time with the support of a DMK panjandrum he launched Prime Sristi Housing Pvt Ltd.
Head quartered in Madurai Prime Sristi Housing Pvt Ltd’s promoters have nearly two decades of extensive Real Estate Development experience. We at Prime Sristi believe our buildings should stand apart and should reflect engineering marvel . It is our intention that the quality of our products and services should result in complete Customer Trust.
In 2014, the Prime Sristi Housing Ltd., promoted the ‘Trust Heights’, a residential project. It had two 11-storey buildings under construction named ‘The Faith’ and ‘The Belief’ on the Kundrathur Main Road at Moulivakkam, the catchment area for the nearby Porur lake and Adyar river,
According to the initial assessment made by the Public Works Department, the soil does not support heavy construction and permission is not easily granted for the the construction of high-rise buildings in the area. But none of the authorities raised any objection when construction started.
‘The Faith‘ had four apartments of two BHK on each floor, and ‘The Belief‘ has four apartments of three BHK on each floor, priced at ₹5250 per square foot.
Due to the heavy rains, ‘The Faith’ collapsed on an adjoining building. Though deemed the most serious construction-disaster Chennai has ever witnessed, the builder and the authorities blamed “natural causes”.
On Sunday, June 29, 2014, the city police arrested Manoharan, Managing Director of the Sirsti Housing Private Ltd., his son Muthu Kamatchi, M. Balagurusamy, S. Venkatasubramaniam, structural engineer, R. Duraisingam, K. Karthik, S. Sankar Ramakrishnan, and Vijay Bargotra, consultant architect.
A release signed by the registrar of the Council of Architecture, New Delhi, stated that Vijay Bargotra, the prime architect of the 11-storey buildings, cannot function as an architect in India since he had not registered with them.
The cynosure in most village festivals in Tamilnadu would be entertainment items such as the theru koothu, karakaattam, dancing, singing, drama or a pattimandram (debating platforms), etc. But, what many, even in Tamilnadu, do not know is the fact that this nondescript village enacts 100 dramas every year to please the village deity – “Thaanaai mulaitha Thanilinga Perumal” (தானாய் முளைத்த தனிலிங்கப் பெருமாள்) meaning “self-sprouted Thanilinga Perumal”. So much so, the villagers do not fancy cinema theatres.
Even in this modern scientific era, women barred from entering the Thanilinga Perumal temple, pray to the deity standing outside the temple.
On the stage erected in front of the temple, the villagers allow only performance of dramas. They consider the stage sanctified and none can approach it wearing any kind of footwear.
According to a former village headman, the deity Thanilinga Perumal loves staged dramas; hence his devotees perform dramas 100 days per year to please him.
Devotees entreat the deity to fulfil their request and in return pledge to stage a drama of their liking when the deity answers their prayers.
This tradition of staging dramas in this particular village dates back to the days of Thirumalai Nayakkar who ruled Madurai from 1623 to 1659 when a severe drought brought famine to Valayankulam and other surrounding villages. Since the people believed the deity Thanilinga Perumal loved staged drama, they pledged to perform a drama if he answered their prayer for rain. Miraculously, it rained and the village had a bountiful harvest. As obligated, the villagers staged a drama the following year to thank their village deity. From then on to date, the village has been performing dramas to please their deity.
Around this time, when king Thirumalai Nayakkar visited the Thanilinga Perumal temple, the villagers entertained him by performing a drama from Mahabharata titled “Abhimanyu Sundari” – the story of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra, and his first wife Sundari. The king relished the play and praised the actors who took part in it, and those actors adopted the phrase ‘Thirumalai mechinaar‘ (திருமலை மெச்சினார்) meaning ‘Praised by Thirumala’ as their family name.
Consequently, the first play performed during the drama festival would always invariably be Abhimanyu Sundari performed exclusively by members of the Thirumalai mechinaar families
Every year the drama festival begins on Maha Sivarathri or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence to mark the marriage of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati – the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. From that day onwards the villagers enact a drama daily for 100 days without any interruption.
The villagers believe that if anyone prays to their deity and pledges to stage a drama, the deity would hearken to their prayers. The villagers of Valayankulam boast that barren couples who pray for issues would come to the temple the following year with their offsprings and offer their thanks by sponsoring a drama.
In the past, when there was no electricity, the villagers lit the stage using flaming torches. Hence even now, to uphold the tradition, the villagers carry flaming torches from the village square to the stage with pomp and ceremony before the day’s play begins. When the torch bearers reach the stage, the pujari or archaka (priest) performs special ceremonies in the temple.
After paying the due respects to the seniors of the village, the play will begin at 10:00 pm and will proceed till 5:00 am the following day. The pujari keeps the door of the sanctum sanctorum open during this time for the deity to view the play.
The drama festivities will culminate on Chithra Fullmoon Day followed by a banquet for people belonging to all castes.
The minimum cost of staging a play by mediocre actors would amount to ₹25,000 and might go up to ₹60,000 to ₹1,00,000 if performed by cinema actors. Almost all Tamil drama actors and artisans connected with the dramatic art have performed or taken part on the stage at Valayankulam before the deity Thanilinga Perumal.
Staging a play at Valayankulam whenever one likes is not easy as anyone might think. Devotees who have pledged to sponsor a play have to pay ₹100 and wait in a long queue for at least a year to stage it on a stipulated date.
Note: I gleaned most of the above details from the article published in dhinasari.com written in Tamil titled, “வருடத்தில் 100 நாட்கள் நாடகம் நடைபெறும் கிராமம்” (“A village where dramas are performed 100 days per year”) by Mr. S.P. Senthilkumar, a reputed Tamil journalist from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
– Mother Teresa
Born in 1981, Narayanan Krishnan, a former award-winning chef hails from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
In 2002, while working at Taj Hotels, Bengaluru, India, he secured a job as a chef in a five-star hotel in Switzerland. Before heading for Europe, he went to his birthplace to see his parents. There, on his way to a temple, he saw a distressing scene. Narayanan recalls:
“I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available. They had idli [rice cake], which I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness.”
Narayanan forfeited the job in Switzerland. From June 2002 onwards, using his savings of about $2500, he started distributing around 30 food packets a day for the destitute in and around Madurai City.
Narayanan Krishnan action reminds me of an incident in the Gospel of Mark:
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
In 2003, Narayanan Krishnan founded the nonprofit Akshaya Trust. In Sanskrit, Akshaya means “non-depleting.” In Hindu mythology, Goddess Annapoorani fed the hungry with the never depleting “Akshaya bowl”. Krishnan said that he chose the name Akshaya “to signify that human compassion should never decay or perish … The spirit of helping others must prevail forever.”
Narayanan Krishnan wakes up every day at 4 am and with his team, prepares a simple hot meal. After loading the cooked food in a donated van, the team goes out to feed around 400 destitute, mentally disabled, and elderly people in Madurai. He provides them breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Narayanan Krishnan shaves a destitute.
He not only feeds the needy, he has also acquired the skills of a barber. With the comb, scissors and razor he carries along with him, he cuts hair and shaves those he serves, transforming them into dignified persona. Krishnan says:
“I cut their hair, I give them a shave, I give them a bath. For them to feel, psychologically, that they are also human beings, that there are people to care for them, that they have a hand to hold, and a hope to live. Food is one part, and love is another part. So, the food will give them physical nutrition, and the love and affection which you show will give them mental nutrition.”
Narayanan Krishnan, born into the Brahmin caste says:
“Brahmins are not supposed to touch these people, clean these people, hug these people, feed these people. Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me, everybody is the same. “
Many destitute people do not know their names or where they come from. Some, because of their conditions, are paranoid and hostile. They do not beg, ask for help or offer thanks. Even then, their attitude only helps strengthen Krishnan’s steadfast resolve to help them.
“The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force in me and my team members of Akshaya,” he said. “I get this energy from the people. The food which I cook … the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people.”
In 2010, Narayanan Krishnan was in “CNN heroes 2010” list. He was selected among the top 10 out of 10,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.
Narayanan Krishnan summarizes his goal:
“What is the ultimate purpose of life? It is to give! Start giving. See the joy in giving.“
Vijaya’s ministers were quite intrepid in founding their own villages around Tambapanni. After they had founded settlements, the ministers spoke to prince Vijaya.
“Sire, please consent to be consecrated as the ruler of this land,” they said.
In spite of their request, the prince refused the consecration for want of a maiden hailing from a noble house to be consecrated as his consort at the same time.
The ministers, sent emissaries entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls, and other valuables, to the city of “Then Madurai” (the modern-day city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu), in the Pandya kingdom of the Tamils in southern India, to woo the daughter of the Pandya king for their lord, and the daughters of others for his ministers and retainers whose wives got separated from them during their voyage from the Lála country.
Since then, there are several recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandya, Chola, and the Chera.
The messengers from Tambapanni, on reaching Then Madurai laid the gifts and letter of request before the Pandya king. After consulting his ministers, the king agreed to send his daughter to the island of Tambapanni to become the consort of Vijaya. So, he proclaimed with the beat of drums:
“Those citizens who are willing to let their daughter depart to the island of Tambapanni shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign we will know that we may take their daughters to ourselves.”
The Pandya king thus obtained a hundred maidens. After compensating the families of the maidens, he sent his daughter, bedecked with all her ornaments and all that was needful for the voyage, the maidens whom he had fitted out according to their rank, elephants, horses, waggons, an so forth as dowry. He also sent craftsmen and a thousand families belonging to the eighteen trade guilds.
This multitude from Then Madurai disembarked at the port of Mahatittha (Mantota or Manthotam).
When Vijaya heard that the princess from the Pandya kingdom had arrived at the port of Mahatittha with her retinue he said to Kuveni: “Go thou now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings.”
When Kuveni heard this, seized with mortal fear of the yakshas she started wailing.
Vijaya then told her, “Delay not! I will give you a thousand (pieces of money).”
Kuveni implored again and again, but Vijaya did not relent. Outraged, Kuveni scorned Vijaya with words of wrath and cursed him and his city of Tambapanni. She then departed from the city with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala, for Lankapura, the capital of the yakshas, knowing very well that evil would befall her.
On reaching Lankapura, she left the children outside the city in the forest glades and went alone into the city. The yakshas in the city on recognizing her took her for a spy, and a violent yaksha killed Kuveni with a single blow of his fist.
A yaksha, an uncle of Kuveni on her mother’s side, saw the children waiting in the glades for the return of their mother. On learning that they were Kuveni’s children, he said: “Your mother has been slain, and if the other yakshas see you they will kill you also. So, go away immediately from here!”
They children trekked towards Sumanaküta (Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District). When they grew up Jivahata took his sister Disala for his wife. Their offsprings are the Veddhas of Sri Lanka.
The envoys of the Pandya king delivered their princess, the maidens, and the dowry to Vijaya. The prince offered his hospitality and bestowed honours on the envoys of the Pandya king. He distributed the maidens to his ministers and retainers according to their rank.
The ministers solemnly consecrated Vijaya as their king and the Pandya princess as their queen. King Vijaya bestowed wealth on his ministers. Every year he sent a valuable pearl to his father-in-law, the Pandya king.
Vijaya forsook his former evil way of life. He reigned Tambapanni for thirty-eight years from 543 BC – 505 BC, in peace and righteousness.
Maariyamma is likely to be killed by her children because they cannot afford her. They will give her a loving oil bath. Several glasses of coconut water. A mouthful of mud. Perhaps a poison injection. She is just one of many old parents in Tamil Nadu dying in this way. But no one blinks at these ritual murders.
IN TAMIL, it is known as thalaikoothal. A leisurely oil bath. An exercise in love and health when given to newborn children, a ceremonial beginning to festivals, and the universal answer to pitiless summers. In Tamil Nadu’s small industry hub of Virudhunagar, however, it is the beginning of slow murder. The marker of the devastating poverty that makes a son kill his own aging mother.
Young family members of this district in southern Tamil Nadu have been pushing their infirm, elderly dependents to death because they cannot afford to take care of them. When 65-year-old Maariyamma suspected this might happen to her too, she moved out of her son’s house two years ago. “I’m not well enough to live on my own, but it is better than being killed by them,” she says. Amazingly, there is no bitterness in her voice. Or anger. “They’re struggling hard to take care of their own children,” says Maariyamma, of her sons. She places no blame. Her two sons and two daughters are farm labourers who travel to different villages every sowing and harvesting season. Seeing her children at pains to run their house, and feed and educate her grandchildren, Maariyamma knew she was a burden. She knew how it would end if she didn’t leave.
Maariyamma had seen it happen to other men and women of her age. Her neighbour, Parvathy, had been paralysed at the age of 76. “She had only one son,” says Maariyamma. “And he was working in Chennai, surviving on some menial job there. How could he afford to look after his bedridden mother?” One day, Maariyamma says, Parvathy’s son came, “did it” and went back to Chennai. “What else could he do?” she asks. Again, in place of anger or fear, there is helpless resignation. And a strange empathy for the person who might elaborately plan her murder.
Thalaikoothal works thus: an extensive oil bath is given to an elderly person before the crack of dawn. The rest of the day, he or she is given several glasses of cold tender coconut water. Ironically, this is everything a mother would’ve told her child not do while taking an oil bath. “Tender coconut water taken in excess causes renal failure,” says Dr Ashok Kumar, a practicing physician in Madurai. By evening, the body temperature falls sharply. In a day or two, the old man or woman dies of high fever. This method is fail-proof “because the elderly often do not have the immunity to survive the sudden fever,” says Dr Kumar.
OVER THE years, other methods have evolved too. The most painful one is when mud dissolved in water is forced down; it causes indigestion and an undignified death. Velayudham of Help age India says the families often take the mud from their own land, if they have any. “It is believed that this makes their souls happy,” he says.
Dorairaj, a farmer in Satur, confesses that Muniammal, a distant relative, had been killed four months earlier. She was 78, and too weak to fend for herself. She was given an oil bath, but somehow survived. After a few days, she was given the ‘milk treatment’. “When the milk is being poured, the nose is held tight,” says Dorairaj. This ‘milk treatment’ is often preceded by starvation. The household stops serving the parent solid food. “When milk is poured uninterruptedly into the mouth, it goes into the respiratory track. A starving person cannot withstand even a moment’s suffocation,” says 60-year-old Paul Raj, coordinator of a district elders’ welfare association.
Though everyone seems to be in the know, thalaikoothal officially remained unexposed until the death of 60-year-old Selvaraj, of Ramasamipuram village in Virudhunagar on 18 June this year. Selvaraj, who was bed-ridden due to an accident, died suddenly. Asokan, Selvaraj’s nephew in Virudhunagar, raised the alarm on his uncle’s death. He registered an FIR, and subsequently a woman named Zeenath was arrested for administering a poisonous injection. Prabhakar, the Virudhunagar Commissioner of Police, admits that it is hard to find any evidence. “The body was cremated and there is no scope for a re-examination of the corpse,” he says.
Zeenath has been released on bail and refused to talk to TEHELKA when we met her in her village, Ramasamipuram. Some villagers claimed that Zeenath was a ‘professional mercy killer’.
‘It’s difficult to view it simply in a legal or criminal framework,’ says district collector VK Shanmugham
A few days after Selvaraj’s death came to light, a newspaper published a report exposing more mysterious deaths in the district. When the district administration of Virudhunagar learnt how widespread the mercy killing was, it ordered an investigation. “It was shocking for all of us,” says V K Shanmugham, district collector in Virudhunagar. He soon realised that conventional state responses like arrests, warnings and interrogations would not even scratch the surface.
Thalaikoothal lay in the indefinable space between crime and desperate acts of poverty. It was social custom, a collective family decision, a ritual goodbye to a loved one who had lived a full life. Sometimes, it was the victim’s own idea. Shanmugham found that many called it a path to “eternal peace”, an escape from the violence of poverty. “It is difficult to view this simply in a legal or criminal framework,” he adds.
If thalaikoothal is seen as a crime, an entire village is accomplice. Community members and relatives not only support the practice, several even arrive a day before the auspicious oil bath to meet the aged parent one last time. Everybody knows the man or woman is going to die.
“Nobody questions or reports it to the police. They don’t even see it as a crime. It is a kind of accepted practice,” says Dr Lakshmi, a physician in Karyappetti village. Over 75, Dr Lakshmi recollects that she has been hearing of this practice of killing the elderly for 34 years.
The practice is not confined to a particular caste or community. “The poor do it, whatever their caste,” says Chandra Devi, the district Welfare Officer. Most residents are seasonal farm labourers, livestock shepherds or migrant workers in small factories in the nearby industrial hub Sivakasi. Their mobile lives make it virtually impossible for them to stay home to care for their parents.
Killing is indeed a brutal solution to financial burdens, but community members claim there is no alternative. “It does not mean that they do not love their parents,” says Chellathorai, the president of Paneerpetty village Panchayat.
Paul Raj, of the district elders welfare association, recently requested the district collector for government protection for the elderly. “The aged in these villages are highly vulnerable. We demand government’s immediate action.” Raj, however, realises that while police forces can protect an aged woman from her children, what they really need is protection from penury. “If the seniors had some income, they would not be considered so burdensome,” says Raj. “For example, if they got more pension, or at least got it regularly, it might give some respite.”
Kasi, a daily wager, moved out of his son’s house after his wife died. He’s not sure if he’s 65 or 70, but his shock of white hair, equally white handlebar moustache, and soil-black wrinkled skin are testament to his long and arduous life. Kasi had decided to leave when he watched his children grow tired of tending to their father’s every need. “I’m very fond of them, and can’t imagine they will try to kill me,” he says. “But anyway, I didn’t want to push them to any extreme step.” Whether he too would have been invited for that chilling oil bath some years down, Kasi doesn’t know. And he didn’t stick around to find out.
ACROSS VIRUDHUNAGAR, even as elderly men and women leave their homes, they make excuses for their children. “My son was struggling with his own life,” says Kasi. They put up a brave front. “I’m surviving fine with the ration rice at 2 per kilo,” says a reed-thin Maariyamma. They starve, and sigh, but do not complain. Thalaikoothal is to them not cowardly murder, but a brave farewell. Kasi and Maariyamma do not see how extreme it is, how dramatic. For them, it is a sort of practical love that is simply about survival.
In India and elsewhere, when a High Court Judge retires, it is usual for all the judges of the High Court would to assemble a meeting in the Court of the Chief justice and the Advocate General would deliver a farewell speech followed by a photo session, high tea and dinner in a five-star hotel. However, Justice K. Chandru, who served as a judge of the Madras High Court for the past sevens years, did not want this ritual farewell. In a letter to the acting chief justice R K Agrawal, dated February 8, 2013, Justice Chandru requested him not to order the farewell ritual for him as he would like to leave office quietly.
The last time a judge declined a farewell function was in 1929, when Justice Jackson told the Advocate General, “I have done my job; where is the question of a farewell for me?”
Friday, March 8, was the last day in office for Justice Chandru. He submitted a copy of his ‘voluntary declaration of assets’ to acting Chief Justice R K Agrawal. After returning to his chambers, he signed a few documents. From there he went to the press room and e spent a few happy moments with the journalists who had assembled there, answering their queries.
After leaving the court premises, he walked up to Sangeetha Restaurant across NSC Bose Road. A group of friends was waiting there, and he had coffee with them. From there he walked up to the Beach Station and boarded a suburban MRTS train bound for Velacherry.
Posted as an Additional Judge of the High Court on July 31, 2006 , Justice K. Chandru became a Permanent Judge on November 9, 2009. He had disposed of nearly 96,000 cases, both at the Principal Seat and at the Madurai Bench. He is altogether a different kind of Judge. Known for his simplicity, he shunned some of the accoutrements that usually accompanied a Judge. He disliked pomp and pageantry. He was a role model for others.
He dispensed with the practice of his duffedar carrying a mace while escorting him to the court and returning to his chamber.
He did not have a gun-toting personal security officer (PSO) beside him.
He did not have official servants at home.
He did not approve lawyers calling him “my lord”.
Justice Chandru would be remembered for several of his landmark judgments including a ruling that women could become priests in Hindu temples.
Regrettably, the websites of Madras High Court that carry the bio data of its judges has no links to details about Justice K. Chandru. For example, the page, “The Honourable Judges of the Madras High Court,” lists the name of 48 judges, but Justice Chandru’s name though listed does not link to any page with details about him. With his retirement, the strength of the Madras High Court has come down to 47 judges while the sanctioned strength is 60.
A notice displayed at the entrance to his chamber declared:
“No deities – no Flowers No one is hungry – no Fruits No one is shivering—no Shawls We need only best wishes”