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mardi 16 août 2016


As he drove me towards Fort Cochin, after his busy day at work as a dentist, my friend assured me: you will enjoy meeting George.
As we entered his home, George apologized, “it is our family tradition to meet for prayers at 8 pm”.  Christians in this part of the world observe a shorter lent at this time of the year, in honour of Mary.
Our conversation immediately launched ourselves into the depths of the rich history of Fort Cochin. A history professor in the past, this polite and erudite displayed his knowledge with ease. There is something very Jewish about him, I said to myself.
He talked about Hannah, his great grandmother who had moved into this house in 1885. The house had been built by the Portuguese in 1660, just three years before they were ousted out of Fort Cochin by the Dutch. G is married to Maria, well known in the tourist circles of Fort Cochin for her delightful cookery classes.
He then began telling me of his Jewish connection. I have come to expect Jewish connections among the established Christian families but this jolly historian had all the facts at his fingertips.
His great grandmother Hannah was Jewish, she married his great grandfather who was Christian. They had two daughters, by our law considered Jewish. One of them kept her faith and the other who was his grandmother, followed the Christian faith married his grandfather and the Christian lineage continued of which he is the product. So he has an entire Jewish family on one side. In fact his father would be considered Jewish by our law and many Jewish communities would accept him as well, as Jewish. So my intuition about this intelligent historian was right!!
His Jewish side has/d some prominent members and some groundbreaking marriages. Ruth, his grandmother’s sister had married Abraham Barack Salem, a prominent member of the so called Malabari Jewish community, civil rights activist, and lawyer. Their son, who recently passed away was married to Rima and their two children, cousins to our Jolly Historian live in Toronto and Vancouver. If I remember correctly it was Balfour Salem, brother to Gumliel who was the first person to marry over the “colour” line to Simmy Koder?
So in the very short time, our conversation took us from the Portuguese occupation of Cochin to the eternal history, in this house built by the Portuguese, where three aficionados of Cochin history had gotten together for a chat: a philosopher dentist, a jolly historian and a visiting anthropologist from Cuba…such is the world we live in now…

Thus a good connection was made. As my friend had assured me earlier, I enjoyed meeting George the jolly historian of Fort Cochin. More time together to come, I am sure, along with some nice Kerala Curry from Maria?

dimanche 14 août 2016


At the beginning of this visit, I had been thinking of Cuba and my new role as an Ambassador for the Health Care in Cuba especially at the National Institute of Endocrinology in Havana, Cuba. Kerala is one of the most welcoming places for Cuban ideas and philosophies and it is also has one of the more educated populations in India, akin to the highly literate people in Cuba.
The most unexpected introduction on this short visit to Cochin was to Mr. Ansif Ashraf. When my good friend, Dhanusree, called to ask me whether I could be in Ernakulum at 4 pm the day before my departure from Cochin, I accepted the invitation and arrived at the offices of Cochin Herald, without any preconceptions. American Indians have taught me that you must go to new meetings with clear minds and conscience and also with a genuine desire to learn and offer.
I spent the next two hours in the company of Ansif Ashraf, the current CEO of Cochin Herald and Ms. D. Cochin Herald on paper, so to speak, presents itself as a glossy Business Magazine but it differs from others published in India or Malaysia and elsewhere in that there is a hidden dynamism and a connection to an emerging world at a different level altogether. I had heard about Dr. Rashid Al Leem of Sharjah and his concept of Education and was happy to know that Dr. Al Leem was the leadership mentor of this young man. Dr. Al Leem is the Knowledge Ambassador for UAE and the United Nations Good Will Ambassador of UAE.
I am a Cultural Anthropologist who happens to be a Physician and also a traveler and thus my view of people and places are mired in various strata of culture and connections. During our conversation, we could bring up a subject, such as Cultural Identity, and connect it with the projects they were involved in. I listened intently to the various paths he has taken, learned about his illustrious father and his cultural lineage and marveled at his energy. He had just returned from Shenzen and from the various photographs in his magazine and the prospectus it is obvious that he is a regular at many venues. Travel broadens your mind, it is like reading of a tome of many pages, and at the same time, if you are building bridges, your dreams will obscure the peculiarities and provincialities of the thinking around you. It matters not his cultural origins and belongings, I could see him being successful in other highly competitive countries, where networking, connecting, looking and exploiting opportunities are an art form in the world of business. To think of him as a businessman would be applying a too limited a border to his expansive dreams. I agree, after a couple of hours talking to this energetic entrepreneur of ideas, with what Dr. Al Leem said about him: he is set to make a difference in the world.
My world revolves around Cuba where I am deeply involved in sociocultural matters and American Indians, to whom I am deeply indebted to their teachings and giving me the opportunity to help them. A long way from that well-appointed office in front of Centre Square Mall in Ernakulum in Kerala where the expectant monsoon was about to peak. As I was leaving, I remarked to my friend DS, he has high energy level. Because I am from a totally different background professionally, I couldn’t grasp many of his projects and I admitted to him, I am just a small fry from Cuba!
I realized that meeting Ansif Ashraf, my world suddenly expanded geographically. I can see him becoming active in two of my favourite countries in this region: Oman and Malaysia and I certainly would be open to visit Sharjah, when on a mission to Qatar.
For more information on Ansif Ashraf and Cochin Herald, please visit the following websites:

vendredi 12 août 2016


The sweet part of my short visit to Cochin in August 2016 was the reunion with DS, who is in charge of Corporate Relations at Cochin Herald. Cochin Herald was founded in 1992 by the late Dr. Sheikh Ahmed Asharaf whose son, Ansif is the dynamo behind this impressive network, a Muslim with Hyderabad lineage going back to the Middle East. The young CEO appeared to be of an intellectual bent, full of energy.
She wanted me to come and meet the CEO and the Manager, with a possibility of a future collaboration. How best to describe this sweet youth, I am sure she has inspired poets to the path of sonnets. Her presence alone exudes sweetness. She is intelligent, evident from conversations with her. Clever as well, since she was the one who designed my very popular visiting cards with Cochin motifs. She is full of energy, ready to embrace the challenges ahead of her that face this Tamil woman of Kerala of 21st century. She is well suited to her current position with a chance to internationalize her talent, to open it to a wider world.
From a selfish point of view, I enjoy her presence as I have in the past. I look forward to a dinner at Nawras or to a special Tamil meal prepared by her. If allowed, she would produce excellent journalistic pieces from Malaysia or Oman, for example, two countries whose hidden characteristics deserve to be better known to the general public. As the CEO said: she has journalism in her blood!

It was just delightful to see her after an absence of one year!
I wish her well

mardi 9 août 2016


THE PHILOSOPHER DENTIST OF FORT COCHIN or did you know that the familiar name VARGHESE in Christian Kerala is derived from the Portuguese VARGAS?
Over the years I had become accustomed to the excellent dental are of a certain Dr.Jagdeesh but my later travels were just to Fort Cochin. In Cochin, you would soon discover that there is an unspoken network, and once you enter it, you are able to obtain excellent services in each and any field of human enterprise. Over the course of years I have made excellent friends in Cochin, and Mr. M suggested that I see Dr. Varghese. A mild mannered man, he waited at his surgery for nearly 45 minutes after he had finished his daily work, as I was delayed getting to his place of work in Ernakulum. Welcoming words on the wall of the surgery included: We treat you as a human and not as a patient, which was later to be proved by his kind manners and explications of my dental health or shall I say ill health? He organized a full mouth x-ray which is like a cat scan of your teeth! Not only that when he learned that I would like to see an ophthalmologist on this very short visit to Fort Cochin, he arranged me to meet Dr. A of Lotus Eye Institute.
The next day we were both invited by our kind mutual friend Mr. M, after my ophthalmic appointment to a delicious lunch at Nawras Restaurant, which has some of the best Kerala food that I had tasted in Cochin.
During the next few hours of conversation, it was evident that he was cut of a different cloth and is much more interested in philosophy and history than materialism and that his years in the UK had prepared for his successful return to the land of his ancestors.
I am glad to have become a friend of Dr. Seby Varghese. Our conversation centered around the history of Fort Cochin (the only piece of this part of the world I know anything about, I came to Fort Cochin from London yesterday and leave for Kuala Lumpur tomorrow) and while we were talking about the Portuguese period, he told me something: that his name Varghese is a corruption of the Portuguese surname VARGAS, a name quite common in South America (I thought of Getulio Vargas, the President of Brasil for a long time in the nineteen thirties and if you write down the sound of Vargas in Portuguese, it would be VARGES..And over the course of time corrupted into the popular VARGHESE in the Kerala Christian Community). Verghese used as a first name, see the spelling, may have its origin in the name George?
Also he introduced me to Mr. G of Burger Street in Fort Cochin of whom I would write later