The Parachute Paradigm

Parachutes have always fascinated me. Not because I love high adrenalin activities; far from that, I am acrophobic – I do have an inordinate fear of heights! What fascinates me is the fact that it works only when it is open. A closed parachute is a dysfunctional one. No wonder Anthony J. D΄Angelo says in The College Blue Book, “Minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.” What a brilliantly drawn analogy!

I read about a parachute story that is doing the rounds in the internet – of Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate, who was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. Captured, he spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. On surviving the ordeal he lectured on lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were at a restaurant, a man came up and said, "You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"

"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb. "I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.

The man shook his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today."

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. He kept pondering what his saviour might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. "I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything else because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor."

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who’s packing your parachute?" Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory- he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

Now, the analogy between the parachute & the mind as well as the anecdote from Charles Plumb’s life brings to fore three prime questions:

Are our minds like the functional parachutes? Are we keeping them open, so that we can absorb new information and think / respond differently? Experience has taught me that we need to keep our minds open and let in change, like a whiff of fresh air. The moment we stop resisting change, we get into the flow and groove of things. And things do fall into place, beautifully.

Are we acknowledging the little cogs in our wheel, those who pack our parachutes? It is not only the people, but each and every event, circumstance and tribulation is worth thanking. For, the more gratefully thoughtful and thoughtfully grateful we are, the more we make room for better things in life.

Are our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes in top gear? Do we exercise and take care of this temple of our body? Do we find time to relax and unwind and keep out mental faculties  sharp? Do we communicate effectively? Or do we bottle up our emotions? Do we do things that nurture our spirit? Do we get in touch with our higher consciousness?

We need to do all the three… to be wholesome people who can make a world of difference – whatever, wherever, whenever, however we can! 🙂

Go Wild, Go Green

It has always been a dream to write and see it published. Imagine my surprise when I could just do that and that too in Asian Traveller, October 2009 edition. I owe my profound thanks to Praveen and Suraj who made this dream come true… And of course, to Aathira, my daughter, through whom these contacts came to be…

It is truly a deliriously happy moment! 🙂 and am so very grateful for the wonderful doors of opportunities being opened for me….

Photo credit: Praveen Muraleedharan Pillai

The Glory Of Pallavur

My first memory of Pallavur, my maternal village dates back to the late 60s when we moved in from Valparai, in the Anamallais. Those were times when the naxalite movement was gathering steam and a few landlords received letters of threat. As a child, it amused me to hear adults talk in hushed tones about those letters written in ‘blood’. Pallavur, a tiny village southeast of Palakkad, was then a non-descript hamlet with dusty, pot-holed roads. Though located at an almost mid-point on the Kollengode – Alathur road, there were hardly any buses plying down the road. Life was quiet, the place serene. Truly time stood still.

Occasional hustles and bustles lent quaint allure to this charming rustic life. These were when the traditional festivals were celebrated with caparisoned elephants, pomp and splendour at the Tripallavurappan temple – the Aarattu in March – April & the Seventh Day Navaratri festival. These are held to propitiate Lord Shiva, the presiding deity. Mentioned in history as one of the 108 Shiva temples of Kerala, it is believed that Khara (of Ramayana fame) installed the idol by his teeth. Hence, the name Pallavur. No toddy or liquor shops are seen within two kilometres of this temple. Something uniquely divine indeed.

The precincts of this temple saw the Pallavur Trio of Appu Marar, Manian Marar & Kunjukutta Marar begin their journey of acclaim, catapulting Pallavur into limelight with their temple tala ensembles of Chendamelam, Thayambaka & Panchavadyam. These are highly developed forms of art with Panchavadyam leading the rest by virtue of synchronization of different instruments in different pitches into a thrilling crescendo of percussion music. It is only in Kerala that we find such a wide array of percussion instruments in use.

The Kanniyar Kali was another great draw. Coinciding with the holiday season in May it invited the migrants to get back home for the festivities. This thorough rustic folk art form is performed only in certain pockets, to the east of Palakkad district. With its fast moving steps, lively music, lyrics laced with humour & satire and accompanying drum beats, it was wholesome entertainment for people before the advent of the electronic media.

The seventies & eighties found Pallavur taking a giant stride in the path of progress. The CBSE School run by Chinmaya Mission made its presence felt in the educational scenario, easing the travails of many students who had to travel 8-10 kilometres struggling against inadequate transport facilities. The visits of Swami Chinmayanda, his impressive entourage and his brilliant lectures left lasting impressions in the minds of people.

The shortest route from Palakkad to the lush Nelliampathy hills via Pallavur opened in the nineties. This expanded Pallavur’s horizons further. With asphalted roads, came more transport facilities. The Pallavur Trio standing head and shoulders above the others, were keenly sought after for festivals. Awards and accolades came in search of them. And every time their names were printed in the vernacular and English media, Pallavur lapped it all up with immense pride.

We waited eagerly for our local festivals to hear and relish the magic of the fingers of our favourite Trio. Appu Marar, the eldest, was a genius of his own kind. While performing Panchavadyam, he managed with ease, the Thimila or Edakka. At the Elanji Thara Melam, during the Thrissur Pooram festival, he revelled at the Chenda. Well-versed in Karnatic music, he displayed fine musical sense and rhythm. Crowds went into rapture while hearing him play the 1960s evergreen Malayalam hit ‘Thechi Mandaram Tulasi’ in Edakka. Keenly interested in Sopana Sangeetham, he played the Edakka mellifluously as accompaniment. A perfect guru to his younger brothers, he watched with joy and pride their immense success.

Manian Marar was also quite adept at many of the temple percussion instruments like his elder brother, but made a mark with his expertise in the Thimila. Kunju Kutta Marar, who had a wonderful sense of humour, on the other hand was unsurpassed at the Chenda. Chenda is considered to be an ‘asura vadyam’ but the Pallavur brothers, gracefully infused music into it.

Today, Pallavur is teeming with life. Every three minutes, a bus plies up or down the road. The verdant paddy fields, once a sight to behold, are a rarity. Houses have sprung up, blotting the landscape. Agricultural produce has dwindled and coconut produce halved. Cable television has entered homes but pay channels are yet to make inroads. Agraharams, around the temple are without the Brahmin populace; many have gone in search of greener pastures.

And the Trio, on whose glory Pallavur basked, is there no more. Death snatched all the three within a span of 18 months, the last being Appu Marar, who passed away on 9th December, 2002. By then, this Mela Acharya had regaled his audiences for 47 Thrissur Poorams and 60 Nemmara Velas. Their void can never be filled up. But Pallavur will continue to savour the glory of these stalwarts – for they have lent our village’s name for the style they created – the Pallavur style – and left it for posterity. Pallavur and the lovers of these temple arts are sure of it to stand the test of time.

(This piece was written in December 2002 when a sense of loss overpowered me – as a tribute to the Pallavur Brothers, on Appu Marar’s death.)