Spelling whiz Akash Vukoti

Akash Vukoti from Texas was all set to appear for his first spelling bee competition. His hair was neatly combed  clothes were pressed and he had practiced hard  still uttering spellings and brimming with excitement.  For finishing touches he put on his diaper before he takes on people twice his age. He was two and a half years old at the time.

Last year the now seven year old won billions of hearts when he became the youngest person to compete in the Scripps National Spell Bee the most reputed competition of its kind in US.  Akash whose parents shifted to America from Nellore appeared on Steve Harvey’s  hit TV show  Little Big Shots for the third time earlier last week.

About how it all started Akash says “ I was about a year and a half when my uncle was feeding me and he spelt out the word spoon.  The next day he asked me again. Without expecting me to repeat it but I remembered. I also used to be transfixed with the magnetic alphabets on our refrigerator and my parents noticed this talent in me.”

His talent has kept Akash’s parents  DR Krishna and Chandrakala Vukoti on their toes.  “ when he was three Akash and his sister Amrita became the youngest sibling members of MENSA  an organization for people with high IQs.  Since we are homeschooling him we have to constantly update ourselves to be able to teach him “ Dr Krishna adding that one of their concerns was that he would not have interactions with people his age.  However Chandrakala says “ we get together with other kids who are home schooled for outings”.

As for his popularity Akash thanks Steve.  “ Mr Harvey is an amazing person and he introduced me to the world. Now so many people know me.  I feel great.”  So how does he deal with all the fame?   His father Dr Krishna says “ we always remind him that all this attention is temporary so we ask him to be friendly towards everybody”.  Akash can even read and write Hindi and Telugu fluently.

Meanwhile his father adds “ there was this racial undertone to spell bee competitions.  People would dislike Indian origin participants because they felt that they were being forced by their parents to study continuously.  Akash has broken this misconception. He just practices for one hour a day and some more when the competitions are approaching. He can make anything humourous and both Steve and Jimmy Fallon have said that they see themselves in Akash”.


The Vithoba temple

The Vithoba temple had its origins amid a jungle more than 150 years ago

Devotees know it as Jungle Vithoba temple. Named after a wild forest on the banks of the Musi, the temple’s gopuram soars into the sky with a tapering saffron flag fluttering in the wind. You can easily miss it on the road that runs parallel to Musi near Gowliguda but for the shikaram/gopuram.

In the evening, as the bhajan mandali troupes in almost every day, the clanging of cymbals and the soaring ‘Vitthala, Vitthala, Panduranga Vitthala’ echo through the streets as children emerge to play on the road.

Alas, the jungle after which the temple is named no longer exists. Now reduced to a traffic island, albeit a large one at that.

“All this was jungle and belonged to this temple. Even the Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station was built on this temple’s land,” says a devotee waiting for the temple doors to open for evening prayers.

In front of the temple, with a road running by, is a small Hanuman temple, also a part of the temple complex. Parked yards away is the rath or chariot on which the presiding deity of the temple is taken around the area in procession for Brahmotsavam on Shudh Ekadasi.

To fulfil a wish

“This was a wild forest area where mendicants would stop to smoke hookah, cook, eat and go. One day, one of the soldiers of Nizam met one of those sadhus and spoke about how he was without children. The sadhu suggested that he build a temple for Pandharinath Vitthala to get his wish fulfilled. The soldier was reluctant. The sadhu told him not to believe him but to just make a sankalp (promise) about the temple for Vitthala and execute the promise only if his wish was fulfilled. Within two years, the soldier had a son and he donated the piece of land for building the temple,” says Raju Maharaj, the sixth generation temple priest, who carries out the rituals and leads prayers every day at the temple.

“In the middle of the small forested area, the temple came up more than 150 years ago. Some believe the temple was built by Singam Rajiah. It was nestled in a forested area as the Musi flows close by. Just over the last 15-20 years all these big buildings have come up,” says Surya Maharaj, hailing from a family of priests.

The family of priests traces its descent from Ramacharya who came from Paithan near Sant Eknath’s birthplace. Not surprisingly, the area has a fair sprinkling of Mahrashtrian families who speak Marathi at home and Telugu, Hindi and English outside. Nearby, is the Vivek Vardhani Girls School.

What sets apart the temple is the architectural style of the shikaram. It is a replica of the famed shikaram of Pandharpur right down to the detailing and style.

“There was a smaller temple here with thick walls and it could not accommodate enough devotees so we built a new temple keeping the inner sanctorum intact. We wanted to replicate the temple of Pandharpur exactly. But once the artisans from Tamil Nadu started working on it we realised that the temple will be dwarfed by the buildings around it. We changed the plan a little to ensure that the shikaram soars above the neighbouring buildings,” says Raju Maharaj.

Festive spirit

The area comes alive during the Brahmotsavam with the chariot being wheeled around the area to the sound of drums, pipes and cymbals. Steering the chariot with just wheels in the small bylanes of the area near Sultan Bazar is a skilled task which is done by a family of charioteers. “They use wooden sticks to turn the chariot which requires quite some skill,” says Surya Maharaj. But when the chariot wends its way through the narrow lanes, with devotees singing, clapping and chanting bhajans, it is easy to forget that the Jungle Vithoba temple is in the midst of a concrete jungle and not a forested one.


Courtesy    The Hindu


The freshly brewed aroma of a letter

In a bygone era young women would spray a little perfume on their letters to their beaus. Nowadays of course even getting a handwritten letter in the poet is a rarity.

But India Post is making it possible to send letters that carry the fragrance of something a large part of India loves deeply  on Sunday April 23 the Department of Posts will release a ‘ coffee stamp ‘ at the General Post Office Bengaluru.  The stamps have been printed at the India Security Press   Nashik.

It will last long

The technology involves spraying or embossing the stamps with fine coffee granules that will retain the aroma for a long time  said Charles Lobo,  Chief Post Master General Karnataka Circle.  “ Only on the day of the release will we know the colour  texture and design “

The stamp will be released by Minister of State for Communications Manoj Sinha and Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman with officials of the Postal Department and Coffee Board.  “ I ‘m very excited about the coffee stamp “ said Ms. Sitharaman.  “ It is not just about philatelic interest but also about the appreciation of coffee.  It’s a collector’s version priced at Rs  100.  Coffee deserves a premium price  we should not underprice it”.

One lakh stamps will be ready for sale to collectors.  The stamp first day cover miniature sheets and information brochures will be available at the Philately Bureau  Bangalore General Post Office and all other head post offices.

Bhutan first introduced the concept of aromatic stamps in 1973.  New Zealand  Thailand and Switzerland among others joined in later.  Brazil has issued coffee and burnt wood scented stamps and China has done fruits and sweet and sour pork.

India introduced its first aromatic stamp in 2006 with a Rs 15 sandlewood scented stamp.  Thirty lakh of these sold out within two weeks.  In 2007 there were rose scented  stamps  in four varieties of the flower Jawahar  Neelam  Delhi princess and Bhim  at Rs 5 each and a jasmine fragrance in 2008

Courtesy   The Hindu


The Banyan Tree is an integral part of Indian folklore and Pillalamarri is home to one of the biggest ones in South India spread over a whopping three acres and going back to 800 years.  The tree that resembles a dense wooded area rather than a lone giant tree has many a surprise in store. One can see religious shrines tucked away in its folds and branches.  Pillalamarri is often called by different names including Peerla marri   Pillala Marri  or Peerlamarri.

The giant tree which forms a massive wooded canopy can easily shelter around 1000 people.   Other added attractions here include a small aquarium and a museum. The Indian Postal Department has even released a stamp to commemorate the tree.  Do remember to carry food along as there are limited options on this route.

Do not miss

Jolly hills near Mahbubnagar which is an amusement park and an ideal pit stop and a newly relocated Shiva temple which was earlier submerged under the Srisailam reservoir project.

Distance from Hyderabad

90 kmts.

Courtesy      The Hindu

19th century’s last human is no more

London  April 16  The world’s oldest person believed to be the last known living individual to be born in the 19th century  has passed away at the age of 117.

Born on 29th November 1899 Emma Martina Luigia Morano from Italy held the Guinness World Records titles for oldest living person and oldest living woman.

Morano who passed away on Saturday was confirmed at holding both Guinness World Records titles in May last year following research conducted by the Gerontology Research Group

Raised in Vercelli the oldest of eight siblings Morano later moved to Verbania on the shores of Lake Maggiore  Italy where she remained for the majority of her life.  She followed the same extraordinary diet for around 90 years  three eggs per day  [ two raw one cooked ]  fresh Italian pasta and a dish of raw meat only changing her routine within the final years of her life.

Morano was engaged to a man who died during the First World War.  She got married to another man in 1926 but chose to end the abusive marriage after her six month old child passed away. She never got married again.

She survived the loss of her  only son lived through two World Wars and more than90 Italian governments.  Morano was five years younger than the oldest person ever Jeanne Louise Calment who lived 122 years  164 days according to the Guinness World Records. According to a list kept by the Geronotology Research Group Violet Brown from Jamaica who was born in 1900 is now the oldest living person.

The oldest living man is Holocaust survivor Israel Kristal who celebrated his 113th birthday in September last year.


Courtesy     Deccan  Chronicle

A 320 km journey for cleanliness

Tejaswi Podapati has become a sensation in Ongole. After all this IT employee has changed the face of her city so much so that due to her efforts  the city has been declared a poster free city.  The 23 year old has always had an eye for social work. It was the encouragement from her father and the discussions with him that pushed her to go ahead to start Bhoomi Foundation in 2015 with just 10 volunteers most of whom were family and friends.

“ Right from college I was involved in a lot of social projects but I wanted to take up something bigger and then got inspired by the work of The Ugly Indian in Bengaluru. It was on October 15  2015  on the birthday of DR A P J Abdul Kalam that we started our work. The scenario in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad is different from the state in Ongole.  It’s a small town where everyone seems to know everyone and such cleaning was looked upon as something embarrassing” shares Tejaswi.

Initially the response that she got was mixed. “ Some encouraged us and others looked at us like we were clowns. We cleaned the walls and got rid of posters. Eventually we support from the authorities. In fact when film posters were reappearing on walls that we cleaned  the municipal commissioner fought for us.  The MLA too had come to join us. We didn’t ask for any funds and we were doing it all by ourselves. We just needed the authorities to co operate. We got great help in that regard. What more could we ask for “ she shares.

With more than 700 volunteers so far  IT employees  college and school students and a lot of middle aged people in tow  she has completed more than 80 projects where they cleaned up parks hospitals schools the collectorate and other buildings. However there’s one glitch.  “ we don’t get any funds. My father usually bears most of the funds. However a local businessman helped us with one lakh rupees and we spent them on flower pots to decorate a main road. On New Year’s Eve someone destroyed them.  We took it to the authorities but there has been no response” she rues.

Alongside this she loves the fact that they are inspiring others.  “ People have been asking us to come to their towns to start a clean up drive there. We’re planning to begin work in Kukatpally and Hitec City soon” she says.

Courtesy     Deccan chronicle.


The small wonder

If you have watched the trailer of Srinu Vaitla’s upcoming film Mister then you might have noticed a little Polish boy mouthing Telugu dialogues fluently. But this isn’t the only claim to fame that the seven year old Zbigniew known as Bujji at home has.  He’s also called Zac these days which is short for zbigniew Acharya Chertlur

For a long time now Bujji has been garnering attention on social media with his rendition of Telugu classics like Neeve Na [ which had gone viral with over four lakh views on Facebook ] and Na Hrudayam Lo Nidurinche cheli among many others.  NTR’s famous dialogue Emantivi Emantivi is yet another of his famous renditions.   What’s surprising every one though is the interest of the “ tella abbayi’ in Telugu cinema. It helps that Bujji has got his own little Telugu connect. His father Sharath Chertluru is a Hyderabadi who moved to Europe nearly two decades ago where he eventually met the Polish lady Ula Bujji’s mom.

‘ When he was just two and a half years old I realized that he has an amazing memory power. He was singing a Spanish song he had heard randomly and he didn’t even know the language’ says Sharath  Zac’s father. “ By the age of three and a half Bujji knew names of countries and their capitals could name discoveries and that’s when I first taught him the shlokam  Suklam Baradharam.  He learnt it very quickly.  Since then I continued teaching him Telugu songs. He doesn’t understand the language but easily grasps the lyrics” shares Sharath.

Bujji claims to be a Pawan Kalyan fan because of his good fighting. In fact he recently watched the actor’s latest release katmarayudu and shares that he was blown away by the movie and loved the song  Jivvu Jivvu.  I also like chiranjeevi  Mahesh Babu Salman khan and Varun Tej. When we were working together he specially ordered a pizza for me he says talking of Varun Tej soon after he starts singing Ye Divi Lo Veesinga Parijatamo

Mister might be his debut in a feature film but Bujji has starred in several commercials across Europe. In fact his father Sharath is a photographer himself and has been instrumental in giving the little boy a presence on social media.  “ He can browse what he likes but of course  we monitor him.  He’s also got immense knowledge about Indian mythology only through online search. He bought his own Xbox too with his earnings.  We are so proud.  He loves Facebook.  In fact it was through social media that writer Gopi Mohan spotted him and eventually Mister happened  he explains.

Studying in class III in a school in London  Bujji already knows what he wants to do when he grows up  become an actor. His father tells us that he makes short films too.  “ He has a camcorder which he uses to shoot films on his own.  I am the scapegoat as I have to star in them’  says Sharath with a laugh.  He adds “ he sings well and we’ll soon train his in carnatic music.  Let’ssee where destiny takes him.”

Courtesy    Deccan Chronicle