Archive for January, 2009

The funniest part in the reception was a priest requesting the guests to give gifts to the couple. After the photo session, we had a sumptuous lunch, as usual, boiled rice, non-veg items.

After the lunch, we rushed to the hotel for a siesta, before heading towards Kumarakom. Rajeshattan told us to take rest for 1 hour, but we had a nap for over 2 hours. We checked out of the room in the evening and went to Rajeshattan’s house in Kottayam. His mother and sister at home made us feel comfortable. Tall, good looking and elegant, Rajeshattan’s mother didn’t look like a Mallu! Neither his sister did, may be because of the accent which was polished.

Later, we went to the club to inform the staff that we were going to the cottage. What I observed after travelling for two days was the roads were very narrow and maneuvering them needs skill.

The road leading to the cottage was so narrow that even if a two-wheeler came from the opposite direction, it was very difficult for both motorists.

By the time we reached the place, it was dark and couldn’t see the backwaters. The moment we stepped in, the staff informed us that there was only one room, which enraged Rajeshattan. He started shouting at the staff for not reserving the rooms, as the rooms were booked one month ago.

Rajeshattan had confirmed and re-confirmed the booking several times before we went there. After an hour’s shouting and making several calls, the staff had no other go but to give the room booked for someone else! His anger was legitimate. What if someone from other state visits and comes to know that the reserved rooms were given to someone else? If they don’t have any acquaintance in the place, it is very difficult to find accommodation in the night in a new place.

Though a tiring journey, the men sat for a drink and later, Rajeshattan’s friend Benny joined them.

Benny, Rajeshattan and Paapi

Benny, Rajeshattan and Paapi

Viji and me shared our past sitting on a swing. Cool breeze from the backwaters gave a nice company for us.

On the swing

On the swing

After eating Kerala Paratha with chicken curry, we slept off planning to get up early.

I woke up at 6 am to see the lake and it was like Oh My God! I was speechless for a moment. It looked like an ocean rather than a lake, water water every where…

Vij looks at kayal from the room

Vij looks at kayal from the room

I woke up Vij and he didn’t mind to come out of the room even though the hangover had not gone completely. He was taken aback to see the vastness and beauty of the lake.

Vembanad Lake

Vembanad Lake

Both watched the serene lake and a few houseboats moving before capturing the beauty in the camera.

Our room in Kumarakom was a fabulous private cottage. From the wonderful location overlooking the backwaters, clean and spacious room, good cuisine, cheery, polite and attentive staff made the stay most memorable one.

The cottage was meant for club members and was not given for outsiders.

old motor boats

old motor boats

There were few old motor boats anchored in the cottage.

water hyacinth (water lilies)

water hyacinth (water lilies)

Water lilies completely covered the surface and we were unable to see the depth of the lake near the cottage.

The vast lake behind me

The vast lake behind me

I was badly in need of drinking water and I remembered how sweet our Cauvery water is and I missed it there. The water didn’t taste good and I was feeling thirsty not for any water, but for our water! No other go, I asked the staff if I could get a tender coconut (red one in particular) and the person got me not one but two. It tasted so delicious that I felt like taking the other with me for the boat journey, but I didn’t.

The houseboat waiting for us near the cottage

The houseboat waiting for us near the cottage

Rajeshattan told us that Kumarakom was practically unknown till Henry Baker purchased the land from the erstwhile Raja of Travancore to build himself a grand home.

Kottayam Kunjachan, named after a Malayalam flick

Kottayam Kunjachan, named after a Malayalam flick

When they left India, Taj hotels stepped in to turn it into a fancy resort, changing the fortunes of the once quiet fishing hamlet. But today, it is a maze of modern resorts and heritage homes-cum-hotels spilling over the island banks.

Our houseboat coming near the cottage

Our houseboat coming near the cottage

The houseboat came near the cottage around 9.30 am and round 10.30 am, we embarked on a voyage of dreams in our exquisitely built houseboat. Traditionally, houseboat was called Kettuvallam, which means a boat made by tying together pieces of wood. Unbelievable as it may sound, not a single nail is used in the making of a Kettuvallam. Jack wood planks are joined together with coir rope and then coated with black resin made from boiled cashewnut shell oil, which acts as a protective coating. The roof is made of bamboo poles and palm leaves. A houseboat will be about 60 to 70 feet in length and a width of around 15 feet in the middle.

Our houseboat had well furnished and bath attached three bedrooms, sun bath-deck, lounge-cum-dining room and a kitchen. The boat had modern facilities like air condition, electric lights, fans, European style bathrooms and showers in all the three rooms.

The boat looked like a mini-palace gliding along the vast green expanse of backwaters, the most exciting spectacle of the world. The simple joys of life amidst the delicate embrace of mists, was enhanced by the pleasant harmony of singing birds. Green stretches of paddy fields surrounded the rustic charm of tiny islands fringed with long rows of swaying coconut trees, as time seemed to stand still while we drifted along.

Rajeshattan, Viji and me on the upper deck

Rajeshattan, Viji and me on the upper deck

The boat was very spacious and had lot of moving space. The view of the lake from the Sundeck (upper deck) was most spectacular.

Music, dance and jokes by Anglo-Indian friends made the journey more interesting and lively (??!!).

Two experienced boatmen navigated us through the tranquil stretches of the backwaters.

steering the boat

steering the boat

All enjoyed the meals — lunch (avial, thoran, white rice, taravu, fish curry and pappadam), evening snacks (palampuri, I might be spelling it wrong, as Malayalis pronounce it with a nasal sound!), and dinner (rice, sambar, chapati, upperi and pappadam), breakfast (Idli and sambar). Rajeshattan had informed the cook that we need white rice ad not Kerala boiled rice. The food was served on time and we found the quantity to be adequate.

Vij and others, being sea food lovers enjoyed fish delicacies, as the fresh catch from the backwaters went directly from the waters to the kitchen for frying!

What more, the boat stopped near a toddy shop in an island and everybody enjoyed the drink while children kept themselves busy catching small fish in the lake.

A fisherman transporting sea muscles in his canoe

A fisherman transporting sea muscles in his canoe

Fishermen not only catch fish in the Vembanad Lake but also small muscles, one of the dietary staples of backwater dwellers, that grow in the bottom of the lake. Fishermen take shells generated by muscles and sell it to factories.


Factories mix the shells with carbon, bake in fire till they turn white and hose with water. The chemical reaction turns them into calcium hydroxide powder.

Lying down on the bed and seeing the sprawling backwaters from the bedroom window made it a perfect holiday!
They docked the boat in the evening and it was already getting dark and my plan of going on a canoe cruise through narrow backwater channels went for a toss. Vij didn’t miss a chance to steer the houseboat when it was anchored!

Vij steering the boat

Vij steering the boat

Eldho and his wife Sheela joined us in the evening to spend night on the houseboat. It was time to bid adieu to others, and one group went to Munnar and the other to a religious visit.

Anglo-Indian group

Anglo-Indian group

We went to a small church overlooking the lake and sat on the compound of it and had a quick chat. The chat revolved around Christian beliefs and miracles.

The three men had their own time, pulling each other’s legs and we three women shared our thoughts. Eldho’s wife explained us about the working condition in Thuraif, about people, shopping and other related things.

In the meanwhile, we decided to watch a movie and caught few scenes from Mammooty’s latest flick, where his mother’s role was played by Usha Utthappa. While we were busy watching the film, Rajeshattan was busy swimming in the backwaters. He shouted from there that the water was not deep and if he stands it is coming to his shoulder level. Some parts in the lake are not deep and are shallow and fishermen take shells from such places.

During Onam festival, the lake becomes alive with boat races.

The Kerala Backwaters is a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast known as the Malabar coast. The network includes five large lakes, including Ashtamudi Kayal and Vembanad Kayal, linked by 1,500 km of canals, both man-made and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually the entire length of the state.
Backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats. Vembanad Lake is the largest of the lakes, covering an area of 200 sq km. It borders Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kottayam, and Ernakulam districts. The port of Kochi is located at the lake’s outlet to the Arabian Sea.

On Tuesday morning we bid adieu to our houseboat. We visited the house of Rajeshattan to meet his mother before leaving for Kochi.

Vij and me were eager to meet see Suhana, his close friend Amar’s daughter. It had been so long since we met Amar and his wife Deepa. Eldho dropped us to Amar’s house by around 2.30-3 pm.

Great legendary figure Rev. Fr. Paulose Kathanar alias Kadamattathu Kathanar lived in this church and people are not sure about the period.

Kadamattom church

Kadamattom church

Viji told us that Kadamattathu Kathanar finds a very prominent place in the local mythical stories Asianet broadcasts the serial ‘Kadamattathu Kathanar’.

A worker cleaning the outer wall of Kadamattom church

A worker cleaning the outer wall of Kadamattom church

Rajeshattan told that the rush of pilgrims to this place has been there from time immemorial. And the church was lively with the celebration of Holy Sacraments according to the Antiochean Syrian Orthodox rite. But unfortunately, the church is gripped in the faction feud of Malankara Church and is closed now.

Before going to the wedding, we thought of parking the car in the Poyedam Church.

Poyedam church

Poyedam church

It is  a new building compared to the Kadamattom.  Near this church is the famous ‘well’ known as ‘Pathala Kinar’ (the well through which Kathanar went to the underworld).

well near Poyedam church

well near Poyedam church

The Poyedam church can be seen from the back of the Kadamattom church and is only walkable distance from there.
Rajeshattan informed us that devotees of Kathanar, mostly non-Christians, throw money, butchered hen and bottles of liquor into the well as a mark of respect and gratitude to Kathanar. A witchcraft known as ‘kadamattom seva’ is also popular among non-Christian devotees here.

Devotees throw bottles, money, buthchered hen into the well

Devotees throw bottles, money, buthchered hen into the well

Jacobites have a chapel near the Poyedam church, where Eldho’s wedding was organised.

Jacobit chapel wher Eldho's wedding happened

Jacobit chapel wher Eldho's wedding happened

Kadamattom church is not accessible to worship. Devotees are forced to be satisfied by praying at the doorsteps in front of the closed main door.

Huge lamp in Kadamattom church

Huge lamp in Kadamattom church

Devotees light candles in front of the door and pray.

closed main door of kadamattom church

closed main door of kadamattom church

But we were fortunate enough to enter the church from a side door which was kept open for some renovation. In fact, workers were cleaning the walls of the outer building when we visited the place.

nadakashala in kadamattom church

nadakashala in kadamattom church

There are many traces of Hindu temple architecture having influenced the church and the main door of the church holds mirror for it. There is a huge lamp inside similar to Hindu temples.

Inside the church

Inside the church

The ‘nadakashala’ is the place where devotees pray.

old chandelier hangs from the mural adorned ceiling in kadamattom church

old chandelier hangs from the mural adorned ceiling in kadamattom church

Old chandeliers, pictures of saints, including Kathanar in eyes of a painter as an old man dressed white and having a long white beard which is a characteristic of Syrian Orthodox tradition belief drew our attention.

Kathanar in the eyes of an artist

Kathanar in the eyes of an artist

Rajeshattan informed us that there were around 2,000 families under this Parish spread around Kadamattom. It is believed that Mar Abo, (also known as Mar Sabour), a Persian prelate established the church with the help and permission of local ruler of Kadamattom.

Mar Abo was a theologian, conjurer and herbalist. He stayed in a hut along with a poor old widow and her son Paulose and the place which houses Poyedam church now. Paulose assisted Mar Abo for several years and Mar Abo ordained Paulose as priest and he later became famous as Kadamatttathu Kathanar.

Rajeshattan telling about Kathanar's miracles

Rajeshattan telling about Kathanar's miracles

Kadamattathu Kathanar was a famous magician and a conjurer, blessed with divine powers. Folklore describe his feats against evil forces, witchery and incantation with his prayers and divine powers. He always helped the poor and the needy, irrespective of caste and creed.

Rajesh and Viji in front of Kadamattom church

Rajesh and Viji in front of Kadamattom church

The stories about Kathanar were indeed interesting.

One day, young Paulos was grazing cattle of the priest when he had to enter the forest in search of a strayed cow.  Mala Arayas, a cannibal tribe in the jungle capture him. The chief of the tribe likes the intelligence of the and teaches him the magic which the tribe had been practising for long. Paulos stayed with the tribe for 12 years and escapes. After walking few miles, he finds a hut on the roadside and requests her to give him some food.

She informs him that she too is hungry and there was no rice at home to cook. He asks her to find at least some rice gains in the house and get them to him. On his advice, the old woman boils water by putting few grains found at home and gets pot full of rice.

After hearing this story, I felt how Hindu tradition has greatly influenced the Christianity. In Mahabharata, during the exile of the Pandavas, Durvasa visits them with his disciples. During this period, the Pandavas obtained their food by means of the Akshaya Patra, which would become exhausted for the day once Draupadi finished her meal. When Durvasa arrived there was no food left to serve him, and the Pandavas were very anxious as to what would be their fate if they failed to feed such a venerable sage. While Durvasa and his disciples were away at the banks of the river bathing, Draupadi prayed to Lord Krishna for help. Sri Krishna partook the lone grain of rice that remained in the Akshaya Patra and announced that he was satisfied by the meal. This satiated the hunger of Durvasa and all his disciples too, as the satisfaction of Lord Krishna meant the satiation of the hunger of the whole universe. The sage and his disciples then left, blessing the Pandavas.

The concept of Akshaya Patra might have influenced people while praisng Kathanar through folk songs.

Viji, and and Vij

Viji, and and Vij

People from all over Kerala sought his help often for various matters. He had lots of disciples also.

Kadamattom church

Kadamattom church

Another interesting story about Kathanar is associated with yakshi. The capital of Travancore in those days was Padmanabhapuram, now in Tamil Nadu. There was a deep forest between Thiruvanathapuram and Padmanbhapuram. But  people were forced to use the forest track to reac. One Yakshi settled in the forest,  in the guise of a beautiful woman wait by the wayside and request travellers for white lime for her pan. After getting lime, she used to chat and entice them to go with her deep into the forest. Once inside she would kill them, drink their blood and eat them. Only hair and teeth would be left. So people were scared to go that way and she started catching people from neighbouring villages. The village elders sought the help of Kathanaar. He went to the forest and offered to her on an iron nail. Although Yakshi initially hesitates, finally accepts. The priest reciting some magical words inserts the nail into her head and walks back to Kadamattam. Yakshi follows him like a lamb and after after walking for four to five days, they reach  the house of an old woman at Kayamkulam. The priest offers the old woman to keep as a domestic help. After the lunch, the old woman combs the hair of Yakshi and removes  the iron nail from her head. Yakshi immediately gets back her powers and becomes invisible.

After learning about the incident, Kathanar reaches  Parayannarkavu  (kavu is a small temple) in search of Yakshi.  After taking promise from Yakshi that she would not harm people, he allows her to stay there.  Later, she became famous as Panayanarkavu Yakshi or Parumala Yakshi.

There are many folk tales, quite interesting, about Kathanar and his miracles. People strongly belive that he went to the other world by jumping into a well in the church complex.

road leading to the Kadamattom church

road leading to the Kadamattom church

After taking few pictures we rushed for Eldho’s reception arranged in a school, just near the hotel where we stayed.

Syrian Jacobite Christian Wedding

Around 7.30 am Vij and Rajeshattan went to dress Eldho and came back to pick me and Viji at 10 am. I wike up at 10 am and we got ready for the wedding. We reached the chreiyapally (small church) around 11 am on Sunday. The wedding ceremony was going on and we joined others. It is customary that orthodox Syrian Christian women cover their head when they enter the church. So almost all women had covered their heads with their saris.

Priests preaching the couple

Priests preaching the couple

The ceremony took about one hour and we couldn’t attend the first ceremony which had taken place in another church for an hour. No one sat, everybody was standing and the priests were preaching to the couples in Syrian and Malayalam which was accompanied by choir singing. Though I didn’t understand much of it, Viji kept on translating and explaining things to me.

Bride and the groom hearing preaching

Bride and the groom hearing preaching

At last, the couple turned towards us and the bride was beautiful. Viji told me that in most Malayali weddings, the age gap between the groom and the bride will be minimum 10 years. They are very conservative in this. Any guess what is the age gap between this couple???:)

Eldho and Sheela

Eldho and Sheela

Eldho, groom, works in Bangalore and is a friend of Rajeshattan and Vijith. Sheela, bride, works as a nurse in Thuraif, Saudi Arabia.

Priest performing a ritual during the wedding

Priest performing a ritual during the wedding

Though not like Hindu weddings, Syrian Christain wedding has lot of influences from the Hindu culture. Their churches, traditions and customs have derived a lot from our tradition and culture and every ceremony clearly shows it.

Bride and groom

Bride and groom

There are five important ceremonies in Syrian Christian weddings.

1. Kalyanamaurappa: Arranging a match

‘Kalyanamaurappa’ means ‘arranging a marriage’ between the girl and the boy. Once the groom’s family accepts the proposal, male members from the groom’s family visit the bride’s family to fix a wedding date. Both families take a decision that the girl will come to into the boy’s family along with ‘streedhanam’ (wealth of a woman), which can include money, clothes, jewellery or property. Henceforth she will not lay any more claims on her father’s wealth. Once an agreement is reached, the two eldest male members from each family hold hands in a symbolic clasp. An ‘angavastram’ (white cloth) covering their hands, seals the contract. The engagement is announced at the respective churches for three consecutive Sundays in the presence of the community and the families of the bride and groom. On the third Sunday, the bride and groom go to their respective churches for confession and to partake in the Holy Communion.

2. Madhuramvekal: Pre-wedding ceremony

This ceremony is held in the respective homes of the bride and the groom, a day prior to the church wedding. Barring a few differences, the ceremonies are similar.

The groom sits facing the east, while a barber cuts his hair and shaves off his beard. The groom’s eldest sister or female cousin anoints his hair with oil.The groom’s brother-in-law then escorts the groom for his regular bath ensuring that he does this from the westerly direction. The groom returns from the easterly direction, sheltered under an umbrella, held by the brother-in-law. On his arrival, all the ladies clap their hands and cheer him. This is called the ‘korava’, traditionally considered very auspicious throughout Kerala.

In the bride’s home, she is made to wear a simple sari and her brother’s wife performs the rituals of anointing her with oil and taking her for her bath in the same manner as done for the groom. After her bath, the bride changes into a resplendent silk sari, wears traditional jewellery; adorns her hair with flowers and puts on a gold chain with a cross on it.

After the ‘korava’ the bride and groom in their respective homes, heads covered, sit on a chair, which has been covered with a white cloth and are blessed by the priest. A sweet called ‘madhuram’ (banana slices soaked in sweet Palmyra palm juice) is brought to be blessed by the priest. After the blessing, the sweet is given to the bride and the groom by the mother or grandmother.

3. Mantra Kodi: Preparing the’ taali’

The sari, which the groom will present to his bride in church the next morning, is called the ‘mantra kodi’. The night before the church ceremony, strands of thread are drawn from this sari by the groom’s sister and twisted to form a cord. Taali, a leaf shaped gold pendant with a cross inscribed on it, is tied on this cord.

4. Church ceremony: Holy Matrimony

On the day of the wedding, the priest visits each home separately and blesses the bride and the groom. The groom carries the sari for the bride, the ‘taali’ and two wedding bands. After the blessing, the bride and the groom step out of their homes, preceded by a young girl holding a ‘diya’ or lamp. The bride wears cream coloured Kerala sari. In the church the priest officiates and after the sermon, the couple exchange wedding bands. All through the ceremony the bride’s sister stands behind her. Vows are exchanged and the groom ties the ‘taali’ to the bride. During the tying of the ‘taali’, the bride’s sister is replaced by the groom’s sister. The ‘mantra kodi’ is placed on the bride’s head by the priest and blessed. Later, the bride puts the sari on her left hand. The same sari is worn by her for the reception. The couple joins hands and is announced man and wife.

5. Reception: Post wedding celebrations

The reception is a modern day concept, borrowed from the West and is basically a celebration of the wedding. The families involved host a grand dinner and the newly wed couple is introduced to the relatives and guests.

Vij and Rajeshattan

Vij and Rajeshattan

After the wedding we headed towards the valiayapalli nearby, which is famous for a miracle. People say that the priest of this church disappeared after drowning in a well. When people tried to fish out his body, it was not found in the well.


Posted: January 25, 2009 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

In God’s Own Country

Waited for a long time to witness a Christian wedding and it was special because it was a Syrian Christian wedding, that too in the God’s own country Kerala. When Vijith  wanted to take me for the wedding of his friend in Kolenchery in Kottayam I was more than happy.
Rivers meandering past the houses and paddy fields, exchanging pleasentries with the people washing clothes, the long regiments of coconut trees giving an impression of guarding the endless stretch of paddy fields flashed in my mind.
We reached Kottayam around 9 am in the bus last Saturday, travelling almost 12 hours from Bangalore, and took a room at Indraprastha hotel to freshen up, while Rajeshattan and his wife Viji headed towards their home. After eating Masala Dosa (they called it so) I thought how good our Masala dosas are in Karnataka.
Waiting for Rajeshattan to turn up, I had a naqp in the room and at last, the couple arrived around 2 pm.
Leaving the hotel, we went to see CMS College, the oldest college in Kottayam. Founded by the Church Missionary Society of England in 1817, it is the oldest of the institutions for higher education in South India. Rajeshattan and his parents studied in this college and Rajeshattan became nostalgic about his college days.
The college looks like a traditional Kerala house and the campus is considered to be one of the most natural campuses in Kerala. The different departments are housed in separate blocks, a unique feature of the college. With neatly laid out roads and lawns, the college campus sprawls in about 35 acres.
clean road inside the college campus

clean road inside the college campus

Recently, Malayalam movie Classmates was shot in the campus.
At present, the College is affiliated to Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam.
CMS COllege, Kottayam

CMS COllege, Kottayam

The alumni of the college include former President of India Dr K.R. Narayanan, formulator of Indian foreign policy K.P.S. Menon, former ambassador to China Sardar K.M. Panicker, renowned physicit Dr E.C.G. Sudharshan, former judge of the Supreme Court Justice K.T. Thomas, chief editor or Malayala Manorama K.M. Mathew, former chief minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy and others.
About eight acres of the campus is maintained as a forest, which houses a large variety of plants and animals. This patch of forest with its rich bio-diversity acts as the lungs of the town.
Rev. Benjamin Bailey was the first principal of The College, COTTYM, as it was called and spelt then.
Earlier, the curriculum included the study of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Mathematics, History and Geography besides English, Malayalam, Sanskrit and Syriac. In 1838, the college was shifted to the wooded hillock, the present site, commanding views of the distant Western Ghats. Rajeshattan remembered told us that one of the oldest buildings in the campus is Room 52 or “Grammar School” as it was named then.
The college provided free education to all the students until 1855 when the fee of 1 rupee a month began to be collected from each student.
Today, the college has 14 departments with 47 courses and six research centres.
Was feeling damn hungry and we headed towards Family Toddy Restaurant. The hotel on the roadside with a dhaba look was crowded. Rajeshattan told us that the place is famous for kallu (toddy) and families visit the place to drink it. Even women don’t mind to savour it! The smell of fish curry was so much that we were forced to sit outside for the lunch. Not that they are not used to it, but I was not used to it. The smell was unbearable for me. Came to learn from Rajeshattan that families take pictures standing outside the hotel and women don’t hesitate to pose for the camera in front of a kallu shop (he pronounced it as ‘shaap’, the typical Malayali pronunciation of the shop).
ducks in the backwaters

ducks in the backwaters

After hearing so much of, wanted to see the menu and worried if there will be only kallu to drink and fish to eat in the place and nothing else for me!
Karimeen fry

Karimeen fry

The person came to take the order, and then went the list from Rajeshattan to him – Kallu,  Karimeen (Karimeen is known as Pearl Spot in English and is found in abundance in the warm, brackish waters of the lakes and backwaters of Kerala and is considered a delicacy by fish lovers), Taravu (duck), Kappa (tapioca), Chicken, Kallappam and Palappam.
Karimeen or Pearl Spot Fish

Karimeen or Pearl Spot Fish

They got the kallu in an earthen pot, kept in the fridge. The drink looked like buttermilk and after my hubby forced me to taste it, I just took a sip from his glass and it tasted like a mixture of buttermilk and tender coconut. It tasted well and I didn’t want to take any risk by having it, as I never drink alcohol.


 I liked Kappa and chicken fry and tasted little Taravu and Karimeen for the first time in my life.


Rajeshattan told me that duck is considered to be cold and chicken hot for our body.
The place is best known for its toddy and karimeen curry and I came to know that they wash the fish with vinegar and salt to avoid the smell. And the fish really didn’t smell fishy! The best part came when the bill came and a single Karimeen fry was ONLY RS 200! The same will be available at other hotels for less than Rs 75, but with the fish smell. There goes the secret of this toddy shaap. Ask in the market for 1 kg Karimeen and you will get it for less that Rs 175! After the lunch, we went to the house of Paapi (Rajeshattan’s childhood friend) to pick him for the wedding along with us.
house seen on the other side of the backwaters from the house of paapi

house seen on the other side of the backwaters from the house of paapi

It was on the banks of a river provided a perfect background for our photograph.
Paapi and Rajesh

Paapi and Rajesh

Later, we went to Motel Aaram in Vaikom on the Vembanad backwaters. Near to the hotel is the famous Vaikom Memorial.
rajesh, his wife Viji, me and Vijith

rajesh, his wife Viji, me and Vijith

The Vaikom Satyagraha was the first systematically organised agitation in Kerala against orthodoxy to secure rights of the depressed classes. No mass agitation in Kerala acquired so much all-India attention and significance in the twentieth century as the Vaikom Satyagraha.
Vaikom Memorial Hall

Vaikom Memorial Hall

Vaikom is a small town on the eastern banks of the backwaters of Vembanad Lake.
Fishermen in the Vembanad Lake

Fishermen in the Vembanad Lake

The town is famous for its Shiva temple, which in the early twentieth century was the citadel of orthodoxy and casteism. And we couldn’t visit it. As was the custom prevalent in those days, the Avarnas were not allowed to enter the temples. But at Vaikom , they were not permitted even to use the public roads around the temple. Notice boards were put up at different spots prohibiting the entry of Avarnas reminding them of their social inferiority. All the more unbearable to them were the fact that a Christian or a Muslim was freely allowed on these roads. An Avarna had to walk through a circuitous route, two to three miles longer to avoid the road beside the temple.
Fishermen busy catching fish in the Vembanad Lake

Fishermen busy catching fish in the Vembanad Lake

Saw a few lorries filled with sand and other vehicles being ferried to the other side of the Vembanad Lake. Rivers and backwaters in Kerala are like our state highways and national highways. People still use waterways to move from one place to another using small canoes or motor boats.
While the trio indulged in their drinking session in the motel, I kept myself busy in capturing the dusk engulfing the vambanad Lake and fishermen spreading nets. I was fortunate enough to see a water snake moving fast in the lake but it missed my lens.
We headed towards Eldho’s place and on the way saw some religious procession on the road.
A religious procession

A religious procession

After travelling for around one hour, we reached Hotel Lovedons in Kolenchery and checked in to an A/C room, as the temperature was very high. By the time a gang of Anglo-Indians, Eldho’s friends in Bangalore, reached the hotel. We took bathed and freshened up, got a call from Eldho and we headed towards his house. The ceremonies were over by the time we reached his house and we met his relatives and family members.
Had a nice dinner and the menu had chicken, rice, moru kolambu, beef and upperi. Met a relative of Eldho whom Viji  called as Ammachi. She was too talkative and she asked my hubby if I was his daughter studying in college. We left the place around 12.30 am, promising them that we would go for the wedding the next day by 10.30-11 am.
Rajeshattan and Vij were supposed to go to dress Eldho by 7.30-8 am the next day…

Soviets stole bomb idea from US

Posted: January 24, 2009 in politics
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Soviets Stole Bomb Idea From U.S., Book Says


Published: December 29, 2008 NYT
A defining moment of the cold war came in 1955 when Moscow detonated its first hydrogen bomb — a weapon roughly a thousand times more powerful than atom bombs and ideal for obliterating large cities.
The bomb ended the American monopoly and posed a lethal danger. So Washington dealt far more gingerly with Moscow, beginning a tense era dominated by fear of mutual annihilation.

Now, a new book says Moscow acquired the secret of the hydrogen bomb not from its own scientists but from an atomic spy at the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico. Historians call its case sketchy but worthy of investigation, saying the book, “The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation,” by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman, adds to a growing number of riddles about who invented the Soviet H-bomb a half century ago.

“It’s quite intriguing,” Robert S. Norris, a nuclear historian, said of the book. “We’ve learned a lot about atomic spies. Now, we find out that a spy may be at the center of the H-bomb story, too.”

A surprising clue the authors cite is disagreement among Russian nuclear scientists over who deserves credit for the advance as well as some claims that espionage played a role. The book details this Russian clash and questions the popular idea that Andrei D. Sakharov, who later became known as a campaigner for human rights, independently devised the Soviet hydrogen bomb.

The book does not name the suspected spy but says he was born in the United States, grew up in a foreign country, fell in with communist sympathizers during the depression, and worked at Los Alamos during World War II. Afterward, it says, he became “deeply involved” in the American effort to develop the H-bomb.

The book says that Mr. Stillman, a physicist who worked at Los Alamos from 1965 to 2000 and served for more than a decade as the lab’s director of intelligence, took his suspicions in the 1990s to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the F.B.I. inquiry, the book says, was “botched beyond recognition” and went nowhere. The alleged spy, the book adds, is now dead.

The F.B.I., often accused of disarray in cases of atomic spying, declined to comment.

Historians and nuclear scientists call the book’s claim provocative if vague and seemingly circumstantial. They add that its suspect is unlikely to be the last put forward to account for the Soviet breakthrough.

“It’s a fascinating puzzle,” said David Holloway, author of “Stalin and the Bomb” and a military historian at Stanford University. “Mystery is too strong a word. But exactly how the Soviet physicists hit on the idea remains unclear.”

Harold M. Agnew, who worked on the world’s first H-bomb and eventually became director of Los Alamos, said the Soviets probably had had numerous spies divulging the secret. “We were always surprised,” he said, “at how quickly they moved ahead.”

The new book is due out in January from Zenith Press. A main focus is how spies spread nuclear secrets around the globe.

In recent years, the ranks of known Soviet spies in the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb have swollen to a half dozen or so, and more are expected to be named. But so far, accounts of the ensuing project at Los Alamos to build the hydrogen bomb have documented no major episodes of atomic spying.

Hydrogen bombs, unlike their atomic cousins, are unlimited in size. American scientists who sought to devise one in the 1940s and early 1950s thus called their dream weapon “the Super.”

The successful architects were Edward Teller and Stanislaw M. Ulam. Their 1951 breakthrough, known as “radiation implosion,” called for putting an atom bomb at one end of a metal casing and hydrogen fuel at the other. The flash of the exploding atom bomb was to flood the case’s interior with enough radiation to compress and ignite the hydrogen fuel, releasing huge bursts of energy through nuclear fusion.

In late 1952, the first test of their idea caused the Pacific island of Elugelab to vanish. The explosion was 700 times more powerful than the blast that leveled Hiroshima.

Moscow had nothing comparable until 1955. It then made an arsenal of H-bombs that in time dwarfed Washington’s. It also detonated the world’s largest bomb — a behemoth more than 3,000 times as powerful as the Hiroshima blast.

Over the decades, scholars identified Klaus Fuchs as one possible source of H-bomb intelligence. The Soviet spy in the Manhattan project left Los Alamos in 1946, gave Moscow H-bomb ideas, and was arrested in 1950. But most scholars judge his tips as too early, too sketchy and too erroneous to have provided much assistance.

The authors of “The Nuclear Express” said in interviews that their interest in the issue stirred after the cold war as former Soviet nuclear scientists told of their hidden labors. Mr. Reed, a former designer of H-bombs at the Livermore weapons laboratory in California and a former secretary of the Air Force — met a number of the Russians scientists at Livermore in March 1997.

He said the meetings had proved eye opening. The Russian scientists described how Dr. Sakharov never took full credit for the hydrogen advance. And Lev P. Feoktistov, a member of the founding H-bomb team, suggested that espionage unrelated to Fuchs played a role.

In his 1999 book, “Nukes Are Not Forever,” he reiterated that claim. “I cannot escape the feeling,” Dr. Feoktistov wrote, “that we were extended a helping hand once in a while, although quite inconspicuously.”

For instance, he said the Soviet team had been given an unfamiliar bomb sketch that he subsequently identified as having been the work of Ulam, the American H-bomb pioneer. The sketch showed a design that antedated the breakthrough of radiation implosion.

Amid the revelations after the cold war, Mr. Stillman, at Los Alamos, zeroed in on a candidate spy. In an interview, he said his suspicions had been aroused for a number of reasons, including the man’s great apparent wealth.

Mr. Stillman said the F.B.I. inquiry fell apart in the 1990s as the bureau’s Santa Fe office became entangled in the case of a modern alleged spy at Los Alamos — Wen Ho Lee. In time, all but one of the charges against Dr. Lee were dropped after a judge found significant flaws in the government’s case. The episode is seen as having raised the federal bar on new claims of atomic spying.

When Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman began to collaborate on their book, they judged that they had complementary pieces of the H-bomb puzzle.

In the book, they say they declined to name the Los Alamos suspect because he is now dead and “can neither defend his family name nor refute our arguments.” The actual identity does not matter, the books adds. “His fingerprints are what count.”

Reactions to the claim range from strong interest, to outrage, to curiosity about the identity of the alleged spy. For years, most Russian scientists and officials have insisted that the Soviet invention was completely independent of the United States, with the exception of preliminary intelligence from Klaus Fuchs.

Gennady Gorelik, a Russian historian of science now at Boston University and a Sakharov biographer, dismissed the idea that the Soviets had received the secret from newly disclosed espionage. “NO, THEY DID NOT,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Priscilla McMillan, an atom historian at Harvard and author of “The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” said her weighing of old and new evidence had come down on Dr. Sakharov’s side as the main inventor. “It’s a tantalizing subject,” she said. “But I wouldn’t preclude that his version is pretty much correct.”

John Earl Haynes, a Library of Congress historian and an authority on atomic spying, said the book’s authors might have found a new spy at Los Alamos but he doubted their identification of him as a K.G.B. asset. If the spy existed, he added, he might have been controlled by the G.R.U, a military intelligence agency.

Richard L. Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the American H-bomb and has advised Washington for decades, echoed Dr. Agnew in saying he found quite reasonable the idea that Moscow had espionage tips from Los Alamos about radiation implosion.

“It is difficult to believe that U.S. security was so good that the Russians could not have picked up the term,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb,” an account of the Manhattan Project, said solving the H-bomb riddle awaited more candor from Moscow.

“The only way of clearing this up is for the intelligence services, the successors to the K.G.B. and the G.R.U., to claim their share of the credit,” he said. But he added that such openness could undermine Russian pride in its nuclear achievements during the cold war.

“It cuts both ways,” he said. “It would really be a blow to the self image of the Russian scientists, who believe to this day that they invented it independently.”

Vehicle registration number in Karnataka

KA-01 —-> Bangalore Central (Koramangala)
KA-02 —-> Bangalore West (Rajajinagar)
KA-03 —-> Bangalore East (Indiranagar)
KA-04 —-> Bangalore North (Yeshwanthpur)
KA-05 —-> Bangalore South (Jayanagar)
KA-06 —-> Tumkur
KA-07 —-> Kolar
KA-08 —-> KGF (Kolar Gold Fields)
KA-09 —-> Mysore
KA-10 —-> Chamrajnagar
KA-11 —-> Mandya
KA-12 —-> Madikeri
KA-13 —-> Hassan
KA-14 —-> Shimoga
KA-15 —-> Sagar,Shimoga Dist
KA-16 —-> Chitradurga
KA-17 —-> Davangere
KA-18 —-> Chickmagalur
KA-19 —-> Mangalore, Dakshina Kannada District
KA-20 —-> Udupi
KA-21 —-> Puttur

KA-22 —-> Belgaum
KA-23 —-> Chikkodi
KA-24 —-> Bailahongal
KA-25 —-> Dharwad
KA-26 —-> Gadag
KA-27 —-> Haveri
KA-28 —-> Bijapur
KA-29 —-> Bagalkot
KA-30 —-> Karwar, Uttar Kannada
KA-31 —-> Sirsi, Karwar
KA-32 —-> Gulbarga
KA-33 —-> Yadgir
KA-34 —-> Bellary
KA-35 —-> Hospet
KA-36 —-> Raichur District
KA-37 —-> Koppal/ Gangavati
KA-38 —-> Bidar
KA-39 —-> Bhalki
KA-40 —-> Chikkaballapur
KA-41 —-> Rajarajeswari nagar, Bangalore District
KA-42 —-> Ramanagar, Bangalore Rural District
KA-43 —-> Devanahalli, Bangalore Rural District
KA-44 —-> Tiptur, Tumkur District
KA-45 —-> Hunsur, Mysore District
KA-46 —-> Sakaleshapur, Hassan District
KA-47 —-> Honnavar, Uttarakannada District
KA-48 —-> Jamkhandi, Bagalakot District
KA-49 —-> Gokak, Belgaum District
KA-50 —-> Yelahanka, Bangalore District
KA-51 —-> Bannerghatta, Bangalore District
KA-52 —-> Nelamangala, Bangalore District
KA-53 —-> K.R. Puram, Bangalore District
KA-54 —-> Nagamangala, Mandya District
KA-55 —-> Mysore East

Ripley Under Ground

Posted: January 14, 2009 in movie
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Ripley Under Ground (2005)

Forgetting about Sankranti and had to wake up early, I watched Ripley Under Ground yesterday late night on Star Movies. I wondered at the talent of the protagonist who hides his crime and the ending came as a big surprise not only to the protoganist but also to me. The hero successfully pulled the wool over everyone else’s eyes, but freely showed the entire picture to my guilty delight. Barry Pepper in the role of Tom Ripley won my heart.

Tom has a funny, stylish way about him, exuding the charisma that keeps him in the good graces of his circle, while occasionally turning his back to pick a a pocket, kidnap a cat or lock a competitor in a washroom… all in a day’s work.

On the night of Derwatt’s (played by Douglas Henshall) first gallery exhibition (the typical rebellious bad boy of the canvass), Cynthia (played by sexy Claire Forlani) rejects his proposal of marriage, and the artist is killed when he drunkenly drives off the road. Tom (played by Barry Pepper) suggests they cover up his death to maximise the profit potential. Mercenary art dealer Jeff (played by Alan Cumming) is delighted, as is Cynthia, who saw no future in her relationship with Derwatt anyway. Only Bernard (played by Ian Hart) expresses qualms, but his conscience is soothed by Cynthia’s sexual ministrations, all the better to enable Bernard to forge more Derwatt “originals.”

Not to forget, behind them all is Tom controlling the whole programme as the puppet master. He plants the seeds and lets his players reap what he has sown. He seems a mystery man.  His motivations and actions are always in motion as well as question, but his goals don’t seem.

He is the villain in the guise of the hero. I know that he is ruthless, evil, cruel and murderer but I still love him for his grace.
Everyone gets rich from Bernard’s expert forgeries, until American art dealer Murchison (played by Willem Dafoe) takes one look at the “Bernard forgeries” and begins his warpath. Tom has no other go but to put an end to his opponent’s war.

Inspector Webster of Scotland Yard (played by Tom Wilkinson) is after Tom to find the mystery behind absconding Murchison, but fails.

How can I forget the charming lady, Heloise (played by Jacinda Barrett), who is in a running competition with her bank account in the race for Tom’s affections?

The actors are very well cast for their roles, and put in the right amount of comical twists for their serious situations.
Barry Pepper is especially to be commended for his impeccable performance. Tom’s Ripley is really a virus that practically infects the others to his own ends.

The film is well-made, enjoyable and has enough pleasant twists to make it worth seeking out.

Sacred prostitution

Despite the Devadasi system being declared illegal in Karnataka in 1982, the practice is still rampant in about 10 districts of the state.
Only one case pertaining to the illegal Devadasi system has been disposed of in Karnataka in the past 19 years. There are 44 cases pending in courts. Fear of influential people in villages often makes witnesses turn hostile in the courts. This is why very few cases will be disposed of.
Of the 45 cases registered, only one from Shivpura village in Belgaum district has been tried. Three people were convicted; one person was given a two-year jail term and fined Rs 2,000 and the other two got one-year terms and were fined Rs 1,000 each.
There is a need for amendment in the Prohibition of Devadasi Act to ensure severe and strict punishment for offenders. Rather, it should be made a non-bailable offence.
Many Devadasis across the country are trapped in prostitution. Young girls are forced into prostitution in the name of religion. They are dedicated to gods. The system is nothing but a sacred prostitution. After the girls are dedicated, the priests of temples claim their rights on them first and later everyone else. They are courtesans in god’s court. A Devadasi cannot belong to any one particular husband, but she is a common and public property belonging to anyone and everyone.
Poverty-stricken parents unable to pay their future dowries and hopeful that a pleased goddess will give them a boy in the next pregnancy, marry their daughter to a deity or a temple even before the girl reaches puberty. The girl is supposed to become a prostitute for upper-caste men.
Forbidden to marry or work outside the temple, Devadasis spend their lives tending shrines and decorating altars, singing and dancing, narrating devotional stories and collecting coins from worshippers to support themselves and their religious work.
The government should provide alternative jobs so that these women can come out of this proscribed system. There is a need for counselling and medical care besides assuring them that they would be safe after renouncing ‘sacred temple jobs’.
Join hands to abolish the system and make these women to lead a respectful life in the society.

Bee dance

Posted: January 7, 2009 in science
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Food Dance Gets New Life When Bees Get Cocaine

Published: January 5, 2009 NYT

Buzz has a whole new meaning now that scientists are giving bees cocaine.
To learn more about the biochemistry of addiction, scientists in Australia dropped liquefied freebase cocaine on bees’ backs, so it entered the circulatory system and brain.

The scientists found that bees react much like humans do: cocaine alters their judgment, stimulates their behavior and makes them exaggeratedly enthusiastic about things that might not otherwise excite them.

What’s more, bees exhibit withdrawal symptoms. When a coked-up bee has to stop cold turkey, its score on a standard test of bee performance (learning to associate an odor with sugary syrup) plummets.

“What we have in the bee is a wonderfully simple system to see how brains react to a drug of abuse,” said Andrew B. Barron, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia and a co-leader in the bees-on-cocaine studies. “It may be that when we know that, we’ll be able to stop a brain reacting to a drug of abuse, and then we may be able to discover new ways to prevent abuse in humans.”

The research, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, advances the knowledge of reward systems in insects, and aims to “use the honeybee as a model to study the molecular basis of addiction,” said Gene E. Robinson, director of the neuroscience program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a co-author with Dr. Barron, and Ryszard Maleszka and Paul G. Helliwell at Australian National University.

The researchers looked at honeybees whose job is finding food — flying to flowers, discovering nectar, and if their discovery is important enough, doing a waggle dance on a special “dance floor” to help hive mates learn the location.

“Many times they don’t dance,” Professor Robinson said. “They only dance if the food is of sufficient quality and if they assess the colony needs the food.”

On cocaine the bees “danced more frequently and more vigorously for the same quality food,” Dr. Barron said. “They were about twice as likely to dance” as undrugged bees, and they circled “about 25 percent faster.”

The bees did not dance at the wrong time or place. Cocaine only made them more excited about the food they found. That’s like “when a human takes cocaine at a low dose,” Dr. Barron said. “They find many stimuli, but particularly, rewarding stimuli, to be more rewarding than they actually are.”

Now, scientists are studying whether bees begin to crave cocaine and need more for the same effect, like humans.

The testing occurred in Australia, and, Dr. Barron said, “my dean got extremely twitchy about holding cocaine on campus. It’s in a safe bolted to a concrete floor within a locked cupboard in a locked room in a locked building with a combination code not known even to me. A technician from the ethics department has to walk across campus to supervise the release of the cocaine.”

That, Dr. Barron said, for a bee-size supply of “one gram, which has lasted me two years. One gram, a human would go through in one night. I’m not like the local drug lord.”


Posted: January 7, 2009 in science
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British Gray Suqirrel

British Gray Suqirrel

Saving a Squirrel by Eating One

Published: January 6, 2009 NYT

 RARE roast beef splashed with meaty jus, pork enrobed in luscious crackling fat, perhaps a juicy, plump chicken … these are feasts that come to mind when one thinks of quintessential British food. Lately, however, a new meat is gracing the British table: squirrel.

Though squirrel has appeared occasionally in British cookery, history doesn’t deem it a dining favorite. Even during World War II and the period of austerity that followed, the Ministry of Food valiantly promoted the joys of squirrel soup and pie. British carnivores replied, “No, thank you.”

These days, however, in farmers’ markets, butcher shops, village pubs and elegant restaurants, squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in.

“Part of the interest is curiosity and novelty,” said Barry Shaw of Shaw Meats, who sells squirrel meat at the Wirral Farmers Market near Liverpool. “It’s a great conversation starter for dinner parties.”

While some have difficulty with the cuteness versus deliciousness ratio — that adorable little face, those itty-bitty claws — many feel that eating squirrel is a way to do something good for the environment while enjoying a unique gastronomical experience.

With literally millions of squirrels rampaging throughout England, Scotland and Wales at any given time, squirrels need to be controlled by culls. This means that hunters, gamekeepers, trappers and the Forestry Commission (the British equivalent of forest rangers) provide a regular supply of the meat to British butchers, restaurants, pâté and pasty makers and so forth.

The situation is more than simply a matter of having too many squirrels. In fact, there is a war raging in Squirreltown: invading interlopers (gray squirrels introduced from North America over the past century or more) are crowding out a British icon, the indigenous red squirrel immortalized by Beatrix Potter and cherished by generations since. The grays take over the reds’ habitat, eat voraciously and harbor a virus named squirrel parapox (harmless to humans) that does not harm grays but can devastate reds. (Reports indicate, though, that the reds are developing resistance.)

“When the grays show up, it puts the reds out of business,” said Rufus Carter, managing director of the Patchwork Traditional Food Company, a company based in Wales that plans to offer squirrel and hazelnut pâté on its British Web site,

Enter the “Save Our Squirrels” campaign begun in 2006 to rescue Britain’s red squirrels by piquing the nation’s appetite for their marauding North American cousins. With a rallying motto of “Save a red, eat a gray!” the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat.

British bon vivants suddenly couldn’t get enough squirrel. Television chefs were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers’ markets were selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on the menu.

Meanwhile gamekeepers, hunters and trappers were happy to know that the meat was being eaten, not wasted. “My lads don’t like to kill an animal if it’s not going to be eaten,” Mr. Shaw said of the hunters who bring him game.

Many enjoy squirrel, however, simply because they like its taste. Mr. Carter said he didn’t know what he was eating when he tried it. But, he said, “at first bite, I thought it delicious.” Patchwork will send squirrel pâté, by the way, in return for a donation to “Save Our Squirrels” — but only within Britain.

Mark Holdstock, a writer and broadcaster specializing in countryside matters, is less enthusiastic, having recently eaten squirrel on the air on “Farming Today,” BBC Radio 4’s iconic program devoted to rural issues. “It’s fair to say I didn’t dislike it,” he said.

Nichola Fletcher, a food writer and co-owner of a venison farm, held a squirrel tasting for Britain’s Guild of Food Writers, finding “their lovely flavor tasted of the nuts they nibbled.” At a later event, however, she found the flavor disappointing, with “a greasy texture and unpleasant taste,” presumably reflecting these squirrels’ diet.

Though squirrel has been promoted as a low-fat food, Ms. Fletcher said that in her experience, “the quality and amount of fat varied from no visible fat to about 30 percent, depending on the season, their age and, especially, diet.”

Fergus Henderson, the chef and co-owner of St. John restaurant in London, offers squirrel on the menu “seasonally.” Though the meat is available all year long, it is in the spring, when hunting season is over, that country folk can focus their attentions on controlling the squirrel population. That’s when squirrel appears on St. John’s menu.

Mr. Henderson, who cooks with both poetry and passion, sometimes prepares his squirrels “to recreate the bosky woods they come from,” braising them with bacon, “pig’s trotter, porcini and whole peeled shallots to recreate the forest floor.” He serves it with wilted watercress “to evoke the treetops.”

Other chefs may be less lyrical, but they are no less enthusiastic. The Famous Wild Boar Hotel in Britain’s Lake District serves squirrel Peking-duck style; at Matfen Hall, a grand country house hotel, it is layered with hazelnuts into a terrine; in Cornwall, it can be found baked into the iconic meat pie known as a pasty.

If you want to grab your shotgun, make sure you have very good aim — squirrels must be shot in the head; a body shot renders them impossible to skin or eat. (You want to get rid of the head in any event, as squirrel brains have been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease.)

Skinning a squirrel is “difficult and unpleasant,” the food writer Leslie Mackley said, adding, “You have to fight to rip the skin from the flesh.”

A. H. Griffiths, who sells squirrel for the equivalent of about $3 per squirrel at the butcher shop in Shropshire that bears his name, added that it is “best left to the professionals.”

“Each squirrel skinned makes the next one easier,” he added. “When you’ve skinned as many as I have, you find the best way.”

Mr. Griffiths is a fan of the meat, likening it to a slightly oily rabbit. “We started selling squirrel a few years ago, after the owner of our local pub bragged about winning a squirrel-eating contest,” he said. Then, he said, the owner “caught a squirrel, casseroled it up, and we liked it so much Griffiths has been selling it ever since.”

One might think that because of easy availability, squirrel would be the perfect meal-stretcher for these economically challenged times, but it takes a lot of work to get the meat off even the plumpest squirrel. (One would make a good main course.) Combined with the aforementioned difficulty in skinning, Mr. Carter said, many otherwise enthusiastic hunters, gamekeepers and chefs “can’t be bothered with it.”

red squirrel

red squirrel