mercredi 2 septembre 2015


I was more than happy to be a guest lecturer at the invitationn of the head of the programme at the Sacred Heart College in Cochin. Meeting the Principal of the College was definitely a fine moment, as the Syrian Catholic Priest personified the sentiments of the age old presence of Syrian Catholics (since AD 49) in Kerala.

The students loved to hear about things that they would normally wouldnt hear, as they dont have opportunity to meet travellers. So I put together the following slide presentation and gave explanations, mostly anthropological, stressing the sustainability of Tourism and our individual responsibility.

 I showed them the following pictures and wanted them to guess where they were. at the end of the lecture I showed them again and told them where each one of them were situated and some simple stories about them,

 This was the right time to introduce the great chinese navigator Zheng He/Cheng Ho. He brought the chinese fishing nets to Cochin but as can be seen in the above photo, he also brought them to other parts of the world he travelled to, such as the Mekong delta, above 
 Eventhough Sacred Heart College is a Catholic Institution there are plenty of non Christian students in the College, in fact the young woman who introduced me was dressed in the local costume of a specific Moslem group. 
I wanted them to read the papal encyclical about responsibility about our earth, not as a religous edict but a caring persons thoughts about protecting our earth 

Then I showed them some pictures of my island, CUBA
Kerala was the first place in the world to elect a communist government by the power of the vote, and thus has a good memory and relationship with Cuba. Most people knew about Fidel and Che.
 Above the Hotel Nacional, the hangout of the gangsters before the Cuban Revolution
Below the beautiful village of Baracoa which gave me a Golden period in my life 

 Entry into the La Habana harbour above and the vintage cars Americans are so thrilled about. For us, they are old taxis that take us from place to place 

 A dream catcher crafted by Indians along the Amazon River, above

 I am seen here with the members of a family of Ticuna Indians from Nazaret , the tribe that banned tourists from their land. Using the lessons from UmonHon, I was able to befriend them and soon be involved in projects relating to their health

 When it comes to friendliness you cannot beat CUBA. This is my friend Ochun who works at the Mexican Restaurant along the Rampa opposite Cine Rivera. Say Hello to her if you drop by!
 I talked a little bit about my good friends Dr M and G and wanted the Kerala students to know what exactly did we eat in the west?  They think we are KFC MCDO Donut eaters as they are not exposed to good western food. I also wanted  to show them some recent food pictures from my camera.
 A small selection of Lebanese appetizers
 Sundanese food of West Java, in Sentul City
 Kerala has delicious food and there is one particular dish which is the local fish prepared in banana leaf
They were surprised to see the above picture of fish prepared in banana leaf, but this was at Restaurant Tierra Amazonica in Leticia, Colombia 
 Northern Mexico
 Seafood from Brittany coast in France 

I ended up showing them a picture of my UmonHon Indian sister W, as Kerala people have no idea about American Indians.

lundi 24 août 2015


If I had travelled the eight hours on an Etihad Airways flight, then taken the train to the centre of town, checked into a Hilton Hotel and then went to see them for dinner, Indian Take Away Tucker, at their home, it would have been worth it.
It is one of those delightful get together with a family, where a family is family, a conversation going on, with every one participating, there are no quarrels, no one is shouting at another or discipline the way people were eating or drinking. Young and Old (three adults, two university students, and one high school student) participated in the conversation and it was truly a give and take. I learned so much and in fact an explanation of how the White Jews became “white” given out by the lady of the house was a very plausible one. The four dogs did not interfere in the dinner conversation. Two hours went so quickly….

It is truly one of the genuine pleasures of life, share a nice meal with a good family and have a congenial conversation, in which respectful information is exchanged and every one contributing to the best of their ability.
Lessons to take home:
As Gabo, Dali, Pablo all have demonstrated, behind every successful man there is a good and strong woman, Mercedes for Gabo, Gala for Dali, Matilda for Pablo..
Stockholm Nobel Prize 1982  Gabo with Mercedes
Many think that Dali's success was due to Gala, the talent was his own!
That is the look of LOVE.. Matilda with Pablo, who wrote a book of love poems when they met  El Versos del Capitan.  Pablo won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971

Dinner table is for conversation, to talk and discuss and not to shout and vent your anger and frustration and disappointments in life.
Be Happy with what you have, and not be unhappy with what you don’t have. ( Pierre Merrick, my UmonHon Indian Brother)
If you are a guest, leave the youngsters in the table some knowledge. For LBGS who is five, it is the difference between Alligators and Crocodiles. For the young adults tonight was a discussion on Jewish Cultural Identity and how differs from Jewish Religion.
Let the hostess decide the flow and direction of the conversation, Talk what they want to talk about, even if it is about Anthropological adventures in the Amazon or the reason for the popularity of politicians whether Trump in the USA or the failing grades for Dilma in Brazil.
What was interesting for me was the liberal opinion of these very highly intelligent people who had lived through Apartheid. Mullahs in Iran, who are unpopular with the educated Iranian public, were compared to the Broderbund during the Apartheid.
They asked me questions about the vanished (just about) Jewish community of Cochin and helped me answer, in discussion, how the 93 year old Sarah Cohen of Cochin who is of Yemeni Origin becomes part of the “white” Jewish Community?
The lady of the house explains Jewish males always travelled for trade. From Egypt, Yemen and Iraq (all names are new, Jews lived in El Fustat, there was a Jewish suburb of what later became Aden in Yemen and Baghdadi Jews always existed, Iraq is a fairly recent invention), Jewish traders in and around 10th Century of the Common era traded with Spain, Italy, India among other places.  Travels involved months if not years and many traders like Abraham Ben Yiju who prayed at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in El Fu stat (later became part of Cairo) lived in Mangalore for 18 years.
It was a common practice for them to take local women, not as harem or concubines, which was the practice among Moslems (see Ibn Battuta, requesting that his concubines to be provided for during his journeys). We have reason to believe that the local women were converted to Judaism and the children brought up in the strict Jewish tradition of the day. Ben Yiju took his Kerala born (her mother was from the Nair Caste) Jewish daughter to Yemen and later to Egypt where she married the son of an illustrious Jewish family. In Cranganore, where the Malabar/Cochin Jews lived and worked, the traders and their families in a very short period of time, would have become large enough in number to separate themselves from the natives ( in this case, Hindu or Moslem or Christian Malayalam speaking  people) and constitute themselves into a separate group. Money, lack of it and the influx of more Jews from Middle East and some remnants of the Expulsion from Spain, further the Malabar Jews into two groups, aided and abetted by the Colonial masters, particularly the British who were sensitive to such issues such as colour and racial origin.
( from an article on Cairo Geniza: Hundreds of letters buried in the genizah show that Jewish merchant princes set sail from Egypt or Yemen to India and returned along the Red Sea and Malabar Coast if they didn’t marry Indian women and settle there. Marriage contracts in the collection show that divorce was common. )
(a photo of Cairo Geniza, and a good book to read the history of Geniza and its discovery is  Sacred Trash.)
Thus the conversation in this distant continent was helpful for me to further understand the sociocultural phenomenon which was later institutionalized as White and Black Jews of Cochin.
As I explained to a student who was at the table from Cape Town, being Jewish is about relationships, our relationships with each other not only at the level of the family, but historically and through time and distance and the genuine affection we feel for each other.

That breeds curiosity in us, curiosity is a very Jewish characteristic and it pays off in acquiring and accumulating knowledge, spreading it and turning it into a Mitzvah, a duty to help others, a humanitarian mission as well as Tikkun Olam, to heal the world.

dimanche 23 août 2015


A good friend of mine is doing a course on Cross Cultural Business Management at a well-known university in Asia. It made me think of the interest spiked by globalization of recent years. The Online magazine Strategy+Business occasionally has articles of cultural interest to Business students/people. There is a parallel rise to in objectifying these to the tremendous rise in our understanding of how our brains function. One example would be Prof Ramachandran’s work on why and how are people attracted to Art, whether a Picasso or Miro or the proliferation of “naïve” art brought by backpacker tourism.

(what makes us think of Divinity when you look at the face above?)

The role of the anthropologist is to observe and what my friend is doing is participant-observation. She can observe, analyze; but that analysis is based on her experience in the field of business. Thus she can advise people in “business” about cultural awareness to enhance the milieu of transactions.
She is perhaps unique in her approach because of her capacity for collaboration. In my field of Medicine, collaboration has become the benchmark of quality, doctors are not judged as carpenters or plumbers, orthopedic and urologic surgeons fell into the category in the past, but are judged by their capacity to collaborate.
On my flight today I was reading an article about changes in workspace. The new concepts of work spare in the innovative world, does away with individual offices, If concepts like WeWork spread through the corporate world, since they are darlings of Silicon Valley, a presence would be formidable such as shown by their presence in Manhattan.
The writer had this to say:
What it means to work in this world today can be summed up in one word: Collaboration

That brought forth thoughts about a mutual friend, Dr. Ta Tan Sen, a tireless humanist entrepreneur from Singapore who propagated the ideas of the greatest Chinese Admiral, Zheng He or Cheng Ho. He has published a book (written by a professor of Business from Singapore University): Zheng He and the Art of Collaboration. It is amazing to think that 600 years ago when the current business titans of the west were foraging in forests, the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho backed by his Emperor practiced Collaboration, with the many cultures and kings and courts he came across. The cultures were many and he was in the commanding position, much like the Business Conglomerates of today. From small kingdoms and sultanates in Indonesia to Kenya, from Indian Subcontinent through Straits of Hormuz, he was humble and offered not to conquer or dominate but to collaborate and show them the gem qualities of the Culture he represented. The objective was exchange and gifts and not profit but the profit was not individual gain but a great contribution to humanity, as he is remembered everywhere he had visited and to this day his contributions, such as the Chinese Fishing Nets provide employment to many! This after 6 centuries!
In my travels through poorer and developing countries makes me realize how philosophical and forward looking was Fidel Castro when he pronounced years ago that the Globalization would bring on poverty to many and wealth to some. The gifts to the poor has been cheap polyester clothes and latest style haircuts and to the rich, holidays in the west To this day the rich from the poor and developing countries spend their money and time and holidays in the richer countries of the west! Rather than the poorer sister countries.
Like Zheng He, our Jefe Comandante, a latter day Revolutionary was adamant about the negative aspects of globalization without collaboration. To mark his 89th birthday, just recently, Fidel said:  Cuba is committed to goodwill and peace in our hemisphere but added, “We will never stop fighting for the peace and welfare of all human beings, regardless of the colour of their skin and which country they come from.”
If you listen to the current presidential contenders of the USA, any intelligent person would embrace Fidel’s view of collaboration with the world, especially the developing nations, rather than the conservative philosophy expounded by the politicians at the hopeful Presidential level who want ME, much more than the WE approach to the world...
Just one example. The medical schools in the USA, reflecting the conservative and capitalist philosophy of its graduates, do not educate a single poor student from a developing country with the specific intention of returning him back to serve his or her people. All foreign medical graduates are kept for services in the USA. In contrast, Cuba a poor country educates more than 20 000 poor students in Medicine alone so that they can go back and serve their people. Just recently I was told that a native Ticuna Indian had returned to his Amazon River home to serve his people, after his studies in Cuba! 14500 dedicated Doctors from Cuba are working in Brazil, serving people who have never had easy access to Doctors. I was told of a young lady doctor who will work at the Indian community at Torrentins along a tributary of the Amazon River which is 9 hours by boat from the remote small town of Tabatinga in the Brazilian Amazon!
That is collaboration with a large dose of Humanism
(travelling along the Amazon River under an overcast sky)

So, as the flight is about to land, I thank my good friend MC and this romp through the Asian business and collaborative mind.

And Dr. Ta Tan Sen and his work to further the collaborative work of the greatest naval admiral ever lived, the Chinese Navigator, Zheng He/Cheng Ho
This photo of Tay Kak Sie Temple is courtesy of TripAdvisor