Posts Tagged ‘Sunaad Raghuram’

When you can’t think of your tiff with your GF

10 March 2014

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SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Mandakalli airport. 10 kms south-east of Mysore.

A four-seater Cessna 172 waits on the tarmac on a balmy early March morning. The young and affable Captain Harshit Gupta (25) is at the controls.

He goes about his routine pre-flight checks on the small aircraft with well-rehearsed efficiency, clambering up on a footstep on the side of the tiny aircraft to check the fuel levels inside the two tanks mounted on either side of the wings with a wooden dipstick in hand.

As Capt Gupta turns on the ignition, the piston driven aircraft comes to life more like a motorbike, spewing greyish exhaust smoke from a pipe located to the right side of the body.

As the whirring propellers make their perennial arc, Capt. Gupta radioes air traffic control, seeking permission to take off. The mandatory interaction over; he eases the aircraft into taxiing mode.

On board are two other men: Ales Palicka and Shibu Alexis.

As the Cessna slowly lurches forward in a northerly direction with the greyish hued Chamundi Hill in the distance, looming large with a forbidding omniscience; and makes the mandatory turn to the left seeking the asphalted runway of the Mysore airport, it is about to be part of an aviation rarity in India—a sky diving expedition!

Among the two other men on board the aircraft, Palicka (31) is a Czech hailing from the town of Karviena. He has a hard earned diploma in commercial sky diving from New Zealand, at the only sky diving school in the world close to Christchurch, which offers a diploma after 32 weeks of intense training.

Ales was a back packing tourist in New Zealand in early 2009 when he encountered a man at a bar who floored him with his extraordinary zest for life explaining to him that he was a sky diving coach. That man went on to colourfully describe to the young and impressionable Ales that it was the most exciting sport in the world where you could live man’s oldest fantasy; the fantasy of flying in air!

‘People pay me to jump out of a plane and have fun. What better way to live?’ the stranger had laughed uproariously.

Ales was hooked for life. He raised the necessary NZD 50,000towards fees and equipment (the helmet alone with the cameras cost him NZD 5000), partly with help from his parents and partly through a bank loan. He then went about diligently learning the intricacies of sky diving.

Alexis(26) is a techie and a sky diving enthusiast who has driven down all by himself from Chennai to be part of the indescribable adventure of playing a gliding eagle high up in the sky for a short while at least.

All these three men are about to embark on a 45 minute expedition in the skies above Mysore, underlining the city’s least known status as the one and only sky diving destination or drop zone in technical skydiving parlance, in the entire country;recognized by no less an international accreditation agency as the United States Parachute association (USPA), which recognizes authentic drop zones around the world.

How did Mysore of all the places, known more for its sandalwood, silks and royalty come to be recognized as the only perfect sky diving destination in the country?

Ales explains why. Ideal weather conditions, perfect visibility, clear airspace, a full-fledged airport with a terminal building and a functioning air traffic control tower, a fire station and most of all, very sparse air traffic in the skies above the city.

With just one single commercial flight operating out of the Mysore airport throughout the day, the rest of the day cannot be anything but perfect for sky diving. The itinerary for the day is so precisely charted that when the larger commercial aircraft is within fifteen nautical miles of the airport, all skydiving activity is halted with the entire paraphernalia on the ground.

With Mysore being one of the most popular tourist destinations nation-wide with innumerable places of interest around, Ales has every reason to believe that the city has the potential to become one of the top destinations for sky diving in the world.

Well, he should know, because he has done over 2600 jumps across the globe.

Big cities anywhere in the world and so also in India simply cannot offer any semblance of an ideal condition for this sport because the air traffic above them is so high that planes keep landing and taking off like a flock of birds. And the danger of men gliding about in the sky strapped to parachutes amidst all this frenetic aviation activity is simply too serious to contemplate.

It was this reality that made Dr Aanchal Khurana and her business partner Commander Kaul scour every perceivable part of the country seeking the right airstrip for launching sky diving expeditions under the aegis of Sky Riders, the sky diving division of their company Kakini Enterprises.

Meeting people, understanding procedures to be followed and permissions to be sought, they zeroed in on Mysore with the help of two local adventure enthusiasts, Satish Babu and Deepak Solanki, and decided that this is where they would set up base.

It was October 2012. Dr. Aanchal’s company has since facilitated some 200 jumps in the skies above the royal city with the pink domes of the Wodeyar’s palace in the distance.

Enthusiasts come from as far as Delhi, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Chennai and Bombay. And foreign tourists too. The corporate world of Bangalore, a mere three hours away also constitutes a major chunk of the company’sclientele. All seeking the thrill and excitement of a life time.

Cut to the Cessna. The plane is readying itself for takeoff.

Seated inside the aircraft, one of whose doors has been deliberately dismantled for easier access to the aluminium foot board attached to the frame of the aircraft, Ales Palicka throws a smile and a thumbs up sign. His ‘student’ Shibu Alexis grins and if there is any hint of butterflies in his stomach, he doesn’t show it.

Both of them are wearing heavily padded jump suits with zippers running right through the middle and goggles that make them look like lesser astronauts whose area of activity is well below the limits of outer space! Both of them have a plethora of strong metal hooks attached to their suits. It’s into these hooks that the harnesses will go when it’s time for the jump.

The main parachute made of high quality nylon is lying inside a bag; folded, ready and strapped on to Ales’s back. The rip cord that will activate it when pulled is to the side. There is another reserve parachute too strapped on to Ales with a built in computer into which is fed data in the form of a pre-determined altitude and velocity.

Should the main parachute fail to open, for reasons as varied as the man fainting or his co-ordination going completely awry, resulting in an uncontrollable free fall, the computer on the reserve parachute upon sensing that the pre-set altitude and velocity has been breached, will trigger the Automatic Activation Device (AAD).

The computer smells danger and sends a signal to the built-in cutter that will severe the loop. The compressed spring loaded pilot chute shoots into position unfurling the reserve parachute completely on its own. ‘I always say that sky diving is more safe than driving your car to the airport to do it,’ Ales had joked while being on the ground.

Every six months the reserve parachute has to be unpacked and repacked from its bag as a matter of procedure.

Nobody is ever allowed to even as much as touch it unless he has what is known as a riggers licence, a licence that authorises one to handle the meticulous processes involved in ensuring that the reserve parachute is indeed in working order.

After all, it’s a question of life and death. Ales got his riggers licence from a rigging school in Philadelphia in the United States after five months of study and practice. ‘Such is the level of precaution and safety while sky diving’, assures Ales.

Ales is now asking to Shibu to come closer so that he can strap himself with harnesses to his ‘student’. They are readying themselves for what is known as a tandem jump.

The air is palpable with nervous excitement. Capt Gupta though, is focused on reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. He has radioed the ATC that he will be within a radius of 5 nautical miles of the Mysore airport, which translates to a vicinity of some 9 kms.

The tiny Cessna takes close to half an hour to reach the necessary altitude of 10,000 feet, climbing up in huge circles. Soon it is a speck in the cloud laden sky above Mysore. Only the drone of the engine can be heard as a distant reminder of the aircraft’s presence somewhere high above.

An altitude of 10,000 feet is the preferred one for sky diving anywhere in the world as anything above that height would be like sitting in the plane for an unnecessarily long period and also the plane itself would be burning more fuel as the air gets thinner above that height.

Soon the altimeter shows 10,000 feet. The atmosphere inside the aircraft is filled with a sense of nervous electricity. There is a sense of joy interspersed with a deep seated feeling of fear, especially in the heart of Shibu, who’ll be making his first ever sky dive.

The thrill, the delight, the enchantment and ecstasy of jumping off a plane from that height into the unfathomable nothingness of the sky with the horizon in the far distance amidst the fluffy white clouds that look like balls of cotton is an experience that can make a poet out of a soldier and a soldier out of a poet in a sense!

Because to summon up all known and unknown reserves of mental strength and will yourself to get close to the door of a moving plane at that fantastic height and jump is something the faint hearted simply cannot achieve. You are stepping into nowhere, into the unknown; letting yourself be a part of the giganticness of an ocean of ethereal blue.

It’s just your body with no engine!

Complete freedom from thought, you are living the moment as most masters of the art of life and living have extolled. ‘No mortgages to think about, or the recent tiff with your girlfriend,’ jokes Ales as he readies himself near the opening of the aircraft with Shibu strapped beneath him and in a flattened position.

One, two, three and Ales shouts, ‘jump’!

Even before Shibu’s mind can register what’s happening, he is in a free fall on his belly at an unbelievable velocity of 220 miles per hour. The feeling is simply incredible. The adrenalin is pumping, the blood is rushing to the head, the heart is pounding, the mind is perhaps a little numb and the eyes are straining to focus.

And in 40 seconds, the parachute opens accompanied by an incessant flutter and the faint hiss of nylon. Ales has pulled the rip cord. Both of them are soaring now, spiraling into the womb of the cosmos.

The parachute is shaped like a colourful bow up in the sky with two miniscule human figures dangling with their legs. They make turns to the left and then to the right, their manoevres giving them the freedom to use the vastness of the sky as their own private playground. They are now experiencing the sheer unbridled sense of freedom; a kind of unfettered exuberance; a feeling of complete lightness; a sense of unrestricted abandon.

Ales is such a master at controlling the parachute that he finally positions it to land at a designated spot where a make shift wooden stick with a white cloth attached to it is planted for guidance.

As they go around in small circles they eventually touch down exactly on the square piece of grass right in front of the terminal building. There are squeals of joy and euphoric laughter from Shibu as both of them brace themselves to touch the earth with their legs as the parachute billows in the wind behind them.

For Shibu it was an experience to tell his grandchildren about. For Ales too. For he says, ‘The first jump is the most thrilling and the scariest. So is the 100th!’

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How the Maharajas shaped Mysore & Mysoreans

11 December 2013

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Mysore

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The rest of democratic India that is Bharat—indeed, the rest of Karnataka that is not Mysore and Bangalore—will not understand the fuss over the passing of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last link to the rajas and maharajas of Mysore, who lorded over a tiny five-star kingdom for 614 years.

Although Srikantadatta’s own role, even as a member of Parliament, may have been infinitesimal in the republican era, the imprint that the benign and benevolent royals left on generations of Mysoreans is immense: in our education, in our arts and culture, in our attitudes, in our palaces, roads, gardens and clubs.

Here, one grateful 22-carat Mysorean pays a 21-gun salute.

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By SUNAAD RAGHURAM

Mysore of the 1970s when I was growing up as a young boy.

There was an air of well-proportioned dignity to it; a rare kind of regality; a sense of easy sophisticated charm; in the quietude and tranquilLity that pervaded the air like a gossamer thin veil, a kind of strange allure that no other place in the rest of Karnataka possessed.

It showed in its beautifully laid out streets; quiet, broad, tree-lined, leafy and handsome. And in the magnificent but slightly dulled mansions of Lakshmipuram with their delicate fountains, more often than not with the statuette of Lord Krishna, standing with his right leg elegantly over his left and a flute to his lips.

In the bungalows of Vontikoppal with their bougainvillea-smothered porticos, where invariably stood in grand aloofness, a car, mostly either a stately black Ambassador or an Austin of indeterminable vintage, a subtle indication of a certain exaltedness.

And in the greying grandioseness of the homes of the privileged. European in style and dimensions, with their wood latticed windows and many structured floors, their green gardens with red geranium creepers hanging from moss covered earthen pots in the balconies.

In Nazarbad and on the rain-tree lined street leading up to that white beauty of splendid stature, the Lalitha Mahal palace, nestling under the imposing omniscience of the Chamundi Hill.

Inside these mansions could be found Mysore style paintings in gold.

Paintings of goddess Chamundi, astride on a lion.

Or a beautiful swing with its ivory in-lay showing delicate flowers and mango motifs.

Or a rattan sofa.

Or a teak or a rose wood one, with its cushions in cream and white.

The massive black head of a gaur or a chital with its huge antlers fixed to the walls around, trophies from a long concluded hunt in the awesome jungles of Bandipur or Kakanakote, not too far from Mysore.

Mysore was unique.

A kind of baby of the Wodeyars, the kings of the dynasty that ruled for an impossibly long 600 and odd years. A baby born into serious privilege. A baby that had everything laid out for it.

Mysore was like none other. For sure. The Maharajas showered it with the kind of luxurious abundance that no other town or city in the state could ever imagine.

So fascinatingly royal in its demeanour and style.

So laid back and mellow.

So very easy in its manner.

The Mysorean was a gentle, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of man for whom the din and tumult of a Bangalore or Bombay was anathema; a kind of culture shock which left him dumb founded.

Not to him the mindlessness of heavy traffic, not to him the frenzied pace of business, not to him the rush hours of life where clambering on to a bus or a train defines the difference between success and failure.

To the Mysorean, life was almost always meant to be an unhurried, relaxed, quiet and elaborate repast. And even to this day, it is largely so.

At the many social clubs that you find in the city. All set up by the Maharajas.

Like the Cosmopolitan Club, the Narasimharaja Sports Club, the Race Club and the Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Club. Where many an evening has been spent observing intellectuals discussing and debating weighty matters of scholarship and the casual gentry deliberating on the timing of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement!

Over soothing glasses of scotch of course!

The royals of Mysore gave to the city a kind of atmosphere where there could be seen a sense of luminous exuberance in the general affairs of existence.

The impact of the Maharajas could be felt everywhere. In the manner in which stood the royal palace built out of fine grey granite in the heart of the city with its deep pink marble domes, under whose amazing arches on the day of Vijayadashami, erstwhile Maharajas climbed on to the magnificently caparisoned royal elephant with its shimmering silks and glistening ivory tusks covered in a sheath of shiny gold.

In the slightly standoffish seclusion of the Rajendra Vilas palace in the distance, perched like an eagle’s nest at the edge of the Chamundi Hill where not too many Mysoreans ventured, even when it was being run as a luxury hotel.

In the red turrets of the Gun House next to the main palace, a tony bar and restaurant in the early 80’s, where you found some exquisite continental fare served by liveried waiters in an atmosphere of absolute mellowness, to the accompaniment of cool, soft, easy English numbers sung by a portly singer called Saby who rode an old but well preserved Yezdi to work.

In its culture of music concerts during Rama Navami and Dasara. Where some of the greatest and the most accomplished of singers and instrumentalists from around the country felt it a singular honour to perform.

In the manner in which the University was shaped. Where some of the brightest and most sharp minds came to teach. Like Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a professor of philosophy at the Maharaja’s College, then one of the most revered institutions of learning in the country.

Like Professors J.C. Rollo, A.B. Mackintosh, W.G. Eagleton, B.M. Srikantaiah and S.V. Ranganna.

Inside whose classrooms with their teak wood tables and benches sat, as students, the likes of M.N. Srinivas, H.Y. Sharada Prasad, T.S. Satyan, ‘VeeneDoreswamy Iyengar, R. K. Narayan, U.R. Anantha Murthy, P. Lankesh, Kuvempu, Ta.Su. Shama Rao, G.S. Shivarudrappa; the list of the great and the prodigious can go on.

The campus housing the departments of higher learning, so poetically named Manasagangotri.

Where stands, sentinel like, the Jayalakshmi Vilas palace, that takes you back even now, to the time of the 1800s, when Mysore was a tiny little town cocooned in kingly warmth; a reminder of the munificence of the royal family which gifted hundreds of acres of their personal property for the cause of setting up these post graduate schools of learning as they exist today, amidst a profusion of greenery and wooded bliss.

Where apart from students, you find walkers and exercisers of all shapes and sizes, willingly getting their daily fix of muscle toning activity. A lung space so beautiful and leafy, it could perhaps be compared to the ones in the universities in distant England, especially after the cricket ground named Gangotri Glades, one of the prettiest in the whole country, was developed!

As the orange hued flames begin to lick the sandalwood pyre of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, veritably the last of the royals of Mysore, the mind stills and the heart aches.

Perhaps in the deep longing for the Mysore that his ancestors created and left behind or in the feeling that all good things, as the old line goes, shall never last forever.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: My daddy, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore

Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

When Bishen Bedi bowled from the Maharaja College end

Mutton chops, mudde and saaru with Srikantadatta Wodeyar

The maharaja’s elephant that made me a photographer

Rama, Rama rajya, and Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar

Why the Maharani sold her diamonds and jewels

The policeman who stopped the Maharaja

IPL scorecard: Morality c Avarice b Greed

4 June 2013

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: In the labyrinths of hell, inside its boiling cauldrons, through its unfathomable maze of blood-curdling monstrosities, of the macabre, the cadaverous and the ghoulish,  in the sepulchral dankness of it all, there is perhaps a spot of idyll.

But at the moment, not in Indian cricket for sure.

The shock and shame of an international cricketer in police custody, an absolutely arrogant and defiant cricket board chief who thinks he personally owns Indian cricket, the strange term called spot-fixing, where anything on a cricket field can be orchestrated by men with shades of grey in their hearts and souls, for whom the smell of money and more and more money is more fragrant than all the legendary scents of Arabia.

Men of the same mental conditioning as maniacal terrorists, except that here they deal in cold cash, not cold blood!

Men who don’t think twice before plunging a dagger of deceit into the very hearts of the game’s fans, the millions glued to television sets inside homes and at street side cafes; fans who come to cheer lustily for their favourite teams; fans, most of whom have saved up to their last penny to get hold of a ticket to get into a stadium and revel in the joy of seeing their idols in flesh and blood on the field; to enjoy the headiness of it all and forget for a few euphoric hours the bleakness of their own lives.

Such a travesty of faith that these multitude of fans have been brushed aside, their feelings trampled with the finality of an angry elephant’s foot.

And amidst all this mayhem, the silence of the legends!

The legends of the game occupy a very high pedestal in the hearts of their fans, in the very pantheon of the game. Fantabulous creatures, their lives, as a result of their rare deeds on a cricket field, awash in folklorish superstardom.

But to stand up and speak from the interiors of their existences, to put the hand up and make it to be counted, to utter weighty words of meaning and responsibility, to show from their very being, the all-important sense of anguish and disappointment and outrage.

Seemingly, not on their busy agenda.

To react forcefully to the manner in which their own game, the game they love and live for, is being marauded by scums and scoundrels, all for a few rupees more than the millions already earned and credited to their accounts officially.Those traitors who seemingly have the same proclivity of a serpent that can bite the very hand that holds it.

But then, the serpent is a mere animal.

In the silence of the legends is the silence of conspiracy. Not one of complicity but the complicity of convenience, the collaboration of selective deafness to the painful moans of the game itself and blindness to the ghastly sights of monumental murder, the murder of probity and earnestness in Indian cricket.

That the game has been brought to serious disrepute is not on their minds, that the name and image of Indian cricket has been tarnished and lies in a sad heap of shabby shreds is not their botheration. That young boys who ought to have been taken under their wings and shown the path of morality now find themselves in police custody is not their concern.

But alas, what matters to them are their professional contracts with the cricket board and the resultant lucre that accrues.

Is that all there is to their lives?

To ignore the future of the very game that got them to the station they find themselves in, in life, is the very definition of self-preservation. Men with their ability for heroics and the capacity to handle pressure and adversity and perform scintillatingly in the presence of a million baying spectators almost all through their sporting careers.

Men who came to be known as legends of the game.

Such men to owe a sense of a fatherly responsibility to the game is fundamental to the very basis of their existence. Not for nothing are they deified as great players. Not every cricketer who bowled a cricket ball or wielded the cricket bat has come to be known as legendary after all!

Just to name some immediate names like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, notwithstanding the fact that the last two have made some semblance of a statement regarding the need to clean the rubbish in the bin of Indian cricket, for them to behave as if they all played hockey for India and not cricket is simply amusing.

Their silence makes it look like they don’t belong to the game at all.

Come on gentlemen, bowl that one unplayable ball once again or essay that one marvellous stroke one more time so that the score board of Indian cricket looks respectable.

If we may inform you, right now it reads, morality caught avarice bowled greed! As for the runs, like the money, you can add whatever is feasible to both sides!

Dal, rice and a round of Scotch in ‘Little England’

17 November 2012

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes from Nuwara Eliya: It’s monsoon time in Sri Lanka. The rain drops sound like little pellets bearing down on you from some invisible musket somewhere in the high firmament, their intensity simply unrelenting, as I set out on highway A1 from Bentota to Nuwara Eliya, a good seven hours away.

My driver, Alex, though, seems unfazed by the celestial barrage as he manoeuvres the Toyota Land Cruiser with the ease of a seasoned veteran used to water splashing on the wind shield with more force than the feverishly sweeping wipers can handle.

Past the Mackwoods Labookellie tea estate, 1200 acres in all, and founded as far back as in 1841 by an Englishman named captain William Mackwood, on a beautifully winding road of sheer beauty, with thoughtfully marked lines in glistening white on either sides of the dark asphalt, I finally reach the Hill Club up in the mist wrapped mountains of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s ‘Little England’.

The Hill Club, born in 1876, as a watering hole for British planters, assumedly for them to gather in the evenings to mingle with their own kind, is a mesmerising symbol of all that the age old era of British colonialism stood for.

Walking into the grand stone and timber manor standing like a lone weather beaten sentinel amidst the white clouds that seem to be on some perpetual journey through the day and night in this part of world, I was transported instantly to at least a hundred years back in time.

Incandescent lights issue forth a mellow glow from their positions along walls that also play host to a myriad other objects of curiosity ranging from an amusingly wooden specimen of a rainbow trout caught by a club member in one of the lakes around, way back in 1927, to a black and white photograph of Queen Elizabeth II as a young girl, a little past her teens.

There is a certain British air to the whole place; not for a moment to be mistaken for any hint of snootiness that has unfortunately come to be associated with that time and age, but a gentle, easy, relaxed charm to it, a certain dignified classiness to it all, an ever so subtle intimation of old courteousness pervading the place, leaving you with a strange sense of being part of an era where the world was a lot more unhurried and more importantly, less complicated.

The quietude, the remoteness, the feeling of being gently cut off from the hubbub of the world at large; you could well imagine you are somewhere in Kirkmichael in Ayrshire in Scotland!

Sri Lankan waiters, gloved in white and wearing golden woven epaulets on their uniform shoulders, genially smile and greet you at every turn along the corridors inside, where are placed vases full of lilies on wooden stands that were surely made at the turn of the last century.

In the library with its collection of books ranging from the latest magazines to one on the history of the club is where I found out that the first-ever remark written in the club’s register was in 1881 when a member complained that there were no markers in the billiards room!

The ceilings are an ornate decoration in solid rose wood, all carved, dark and regal; the furniture mostly in latticed wood. Tables look like they are perpetually set for an impending banquet with snow white napkins neatly folded in a floral form; the cutlery perfectly in place.

Huge upholstered sofas with floral designs sit in the splendidly large ‘formal’ dining hall, with the ubiquitous fire place in the middle, to sup at which, you are expected to wear a jacket and tie, which anyway shall be provided ‘free of cost’ from the club’s wardrobe, as the manager told me, if I was interested.

Of course, there is a ‘casual’ dining hall too, where I settled down for the evening.

Corn and egg drop soup, roast pork or seer fish, plus profiterole, tomato soup, and orange mousse for dessert. Chicken dipped in mayonnaise and garlic sauce.

Herb roasted lamb sandwich with tomato, lettuce, red onions and tzatziki. Ground tenderloin meat loaf sandwich, baby spinach and blue cheese salad with granny smith apples and sweet grape, tomatoes tossed in warm bacon vinaigrette.

I beckoned the waiter whose name was Chamila and asked him if I could get some rice and dal with vegetables.

He smiled and said, ‘yes sir’.

My evening was made. I ordered another scotch!

Wait 30 years for a few inches; 300 for the rest

31 March 2012

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: The orange flames leapt up like an army of hissing snakes gone berserk. The searing heat singed, scalded, scorched and burnt every single shrub, root, leaf, branch or trunk that it could encompass in its wake.

The blazing, raging, maniacal inferno unleashed its fury like a gargantuan dragon spewing a gush of acrid brimstone smoke from its furious nostrils and the conflagration went completely out of control.

A pristine part of the sylvan Nagarahole national park—home of that mysterious streak of ochre, the awesome tiger and the lumbering slate grey handsomeness of the elephant, to just think of the two most famous denizens of the mesmerising, soul uplifting, almost divinity inspiring, swathes of wilderness in my part of the world—lay consigned to the innards of history; to the nether world of total annihilation and oblivion; the serpentine aloofness of the game roads of which, I have traversed times without number, in total delight and joy.

Some precious 600 hectares in the Kalhalla range of the national park lay in cinders; the dying embers of the fire that raged uncontrolled for almost close to three days; a gory, sad and tragic reminder of a conservation thought gone awry; the sense of hubris on the part of the powers-that-be, who manage the delicate ecological balance of the park being showcased in stark grotesqueness amidst the ashy white stumps dotting the landscape; vestiges of what were once grand, proud trees that sheltered a million creatures, big and small.

They say just for the first few inches of the upper substrate with its alluviality to re-appear could take about 30 years. And for the jungle to come back to its original state with the trees and their canopies and their eco-system, perhaps a 300! With the rains would have come the humus of the abundant leaf litter that would have aided in the sprouting of fresh grass.

Now the burnt area will show up as a bald patch for an interminably long time.

Nagarahole fell a victim of human rage, a kind of seething, unexplainable frustration that stems from the general feeling that you are not really wanted; of an impotent anger at being marginalised and discarded from the general scheme of things in these jungles, where the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, mandates emphatically that even to pick up a piece of dead or fallen timber is a punishable offence.

The rage stemmed from a tribal heart; those hapless, unfortunate men and women who were brought into the area by the British towards the latter part of the 19th century to raise and manage timber plantations and are now seen as a serious liability by the forest department and conservationists.

Between 1894 and 1901, the British conducted extensive timber logging operations in large tracts of Nagarahole that had come to be called reserve forests. Wood was in great demand in the shipping industry, for railways and the gold mines near Kolar.

The abundant availability of different species of timber made the idea of logging extremely viable. Hence, the Jenu Kurubas, Betta Kurubas and the Yeravas moved in. Under colonial management, the forests of India were seen as rich sources of valuable timber. Conservation, unfortunately, was not high on their agenda. Wild life was never really seen as worthy of being protected.

For the tribals though, life began to take a terribly uncertain turn after the British left in 1947, when the emphasis of forest management slowly began to shift from one of exploitation to that of conservation and protection.

The year 1973 saw the launch of Project Tiger as a desperate attempt to save this flagship species whose numbers had dropped precariously to around 1800 in 1972 from some 40,000 at the turn of the 20th century.

All these developments began to slowly but surely erode the legitimacy of the tribals and more importantly, took away the relevance of their existence inside the forests.

Life for them, inside the jungles of Nagarahole, became a question mark, much like the tail of the grey langurs that inhabit the high branches of the trees around their own settlements.

Talk of relocating them began to surface. Although the government’s thinking was not out of place, certain non-governmental organisations professing to ameliorate the lot of these tribals came into the picture, decidedly with a clear anti-government attitude, vitiating the atmosphere.

Amidst all this, in the nearly 55 tribal hamlets inside the Nagarahole jungles, men, women and children went about life with a certain anguish, an indescribable vulnerability and a sense of near rootlessness as the new milestone Act with its focus on the reduction of the use of forest biomass by humans, forbade them to collect even minor forest produce for selling; like honey, gooseberry, bamboo shoots, soap nut, lichen, tamarind and the barks of certain trees.

While it is indeed sensible to ensure that tribals vacate the jungles in due course, as the extremely sensitive and delicate biodiversity of places like Nagarahole simply cannot take the pressure of humans living there any more, a thought has to be spared to the confused, hapless, poor men and women who have lived there for a hundred years and more.

What is of solemn, paramount importance is to realise once and for all, that wild life conservation simply cannot be done in exclusion. Definitely not by antagonising or alienating those who have professed to understand and believe that the jungle is their legitimate home, no matter what the Wild Life (Protection)Act explains.

On the one hand, the tribals are seen as a serious nuisance to the cause of wild life conservation by foresters. On the other, the government of India passes the Tribal Bill in Parliament which envisions granting legitimacy and tenancy to those who have made the jungles and other wooded expanses of our land their home for centuries!

While it is wonderful to see tribal families move out at the behest of the government and its many schemes aimed at providing them alternative living outside the precincts of the national park, it also becomes incumbent on the managers of the park to build a certain rapport at a human level with those continuing to live inside and refusing to leave for whatever reason. That clearly seems to be non-existent.

How many times haven’t I seen sundry range forest officers either insult a tribal for no apparent reason or simply dismiss him from their midst.

As for the higher officers like the conservators and the rest, mostly even the thought of acknowledging the tribal as a fellow human being is as much a rarity as spotting a tiger on the asphalted road running across Nagarahole! Largely clueless, almost completely illiterate, poverty stricken, tense in the mind, quite often drunk on some cheap liquor, he nourishes a grudge. A kind of torment driven annoyance deep in his heart.

Come summer, when the mostly dry deciduous jungles turn into a living, breathing time bomb, ready to explode into flames at the flick of a match stick, the disgruntlement and the frustration, the anger and angst combine to wreak unspeakable havoc.

For sure, not all tribals harbour such evil thoughts in their mind, but how many angry minds does it take to set fire to a ready-to-burn accumulation of impossible-to-contain combustible biomass?

My own conversations with a cross section of guards and watchers, along the length and breadth of Nagarahole; the actual foot soldiers who strive to safeguard our jungles to the extent possible, generally reveal the point that tribals in the area have to be made to feel a certain oneness with the rank and file of the forest department, importantly the officers.

A kind word, the placing of a friendly arm across their largely bent and impoverished shoulders; a certain gesture of goodwill; an address by the ranger or the conservator at a few key hamlets, educating them to preserve rather than destroy.

Appealing to them not to harm the forests and co-operate with the forest department staff, especially during summer, like it was quite successfully done in the 54 distant and deep ‘podus’ or settlements of the Soliga tribals in the jungles clothing the B.R. Hills in Chamaraja Nagar district, at the behest and initiative of certain well meaning wild lifers; they feel, would have done a great deal to prevent such disastrous incidents like the recent one in Nagarahole.

Incidentally, there has not been a major forest fire in the B.R. Hills area for the past four years where prominent tribal leaders were made to take an oath in the name of Mother Nature on behalf of all the members of their settlements not to disturb or harm the jungles around. The police department was also brought in to be part of such meetings just to instill a certain fear of the penal law as well. All subtle human management ideas, really.

But quite sadly, in the Nagarahole national park, no such moves seem to have been made for decades, leading to a serious disconnect between the forest department and the tribals living there.

And to top it all, there are theories floated around every time a fire occurs that trees rubbing against each other cause sparks to light up; and even worse, the hooves of deer and such other ungulates jam into flint stones causing a conflagration! Not even in the Jurassic era would any paleontologist, worth his own fossil, agree!

A case of double distilled bunkum being bandied about by men of rare idiocy.

Fires happen because of humans. And when you have a section of angry, disgruntled, humans inside a national park, the intensity of the fires they light can be seen from a long distance indeed.

Photographs: courtesy D. Rajkumar

Sunny, Vishy, Immy, ITC and namma Meera

16 March 2012

NARENDRA K. writes: I was all of 18 years and Meera was 20.

Life had meandered on amidst the vicissitudes of destiny. “Anna” was no more and his absence both as a provider and bulwark of the family was being felt every single day.

“Amma” soldiered on. She put up an iron fisted fight in the unrelenting ring of every day existence; in the heat of abjectness; through the seething fire of an unmarked, untoward future and its uncertainty; amidst the misery of it all.

Meera had completed her MSc degree. Life and its various possibilities looked her in the eye. As a young girl she obviously didn’t quite grasp the various implications.

“Amma” was keen to see her married. But the process of a connubial union comes with a certain mandatory requirement- the money to solemnise the marriage! And that is exactly what was in short supply.

***

It was around this time, in 1978, that a sporting event of rare historical meaning was beginning to unfold in faraway Pakistan.

Beyond the Khyber Pass.

The resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan after a few decades of political hostility. If cricket lovers had to be grateful for the sight of eleven flannelled Indians putting bat to ball on Pakistani soil after a long time, so should Meera be!

Before you wonder how on earth, in the sheer improbability of such a possibility, Meera, of all the people, could have played a role in either Sunil Gavaskar or Gundappa Viswanath padding up in Lahore to face the menacing Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz, there rests a tale!

The cricket series had been sponsored by the famous Indian Tobacco Company (ITC), known the world over for its many cigarette brands. In conjunction with Sportsweek, perhaps the most famous of sports magazines in the country then, under editor Khalid Ansari, they launched a cricket quiz named, ‘Howzatt Cricket Quiz’.

Participants had to collect ten cigarette packs of the ITC brand, answer a few basic questions on cricket, pen a catchy slogan relating to the then fledgling concept of instant cricket and mail them to the company along with the entry form.

I hurried to Sundaram provision store in Vontikoppal, where Amma would always buy the meagre household provisions. I was on a mission. Not to buy rice or dal or soap but to somehow collect the ten mandatory packs of cigarettes, mercifully in their empty state. I had decided to participate in the cricket quiz.

“Sir,” I began hesitatingly. “Could you please help me with ten cigarette packs?”

Before the shop keeper could begin to see red in the rather strange and potentially damaging desire of a young boy barely in his teens in the conservative Mysore of the 1970’s for an item that bespoke an unholy pleasure, and that too in multiple packs, I blurted to him that I needed them only in their empty form to fulfill the requirement to participate in a cricket quiz sponsored by ITC.

The shop keeper, who obviously knew Amma, laughed and said, “In that case, why ten, take twenty!”

And so it was that two sets of forms came to be filled. One in my name and one in Meera’s. All the questions were duly answered, two different slogans were thought of, the cigarette packs were put in place in a big envelope and the post was on its way!

As for the slogans, unfortunately, their recollections are lost in the mists of time, although I vaguely remember writing something of a line which said, ‘Instant cricket is the embodiment of……’, the word embodiment, obviously coming to mind from the many spiritual sessions that I had been part of at the Vidyashala!

This was in September 1978.

***

The cricket series ended, so did the career of the great Gundappa Vishwanath, and there was no sign of any result of the quiz. Not that I expected to win.

As the days went by with their usual uneventfulness in our lives, Dwarakanath of the famous Srinivasa Stores at K.R. Circle, a wholesaler of ITC products, where even the renowned novelist R.K. Narayan shopped for some of his essentials, came calling.

He had some news to give us.

And the news he gave us was the equivalent of a tortoise outrunning a cheetah; of a lame man winning the Olympic gold in the 100 metre dash!

Both Meera and I had won prizes in the cricket quiz!

In July 1979, when the official letter did arrive from the ITC group duly type written on its letter head, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief; in a state of extreme astounded incredulity; in the throes of amazed joyousness.

To read the news that Meera, who incidentally had simply lent her name to the quiz with me having done all the hard work of filling up the form, not to forget doing the round of the provision store in desperate search of those vital cigarette packs, had won the grand prize of ten thousand rupees!

Also, I had won two thousand!

There were two options offered by the company. Either we could accept the cash or in Meera’s case, an Enfield Bullet 350 Standard Motorcycle.

As for me, they offered the cash or a quartz watch in lieu of it.

The leafy streets of Mysore never ever saw the amusing sight of Meera zooming around on a Bullet motorbike nor did anyone see me check time on a gleaming quartz watch then.

Cash it was, thank you!

***

Post script: Quite unbelievably, it was the very same twelve-thousand rupees that went into the financial corpus of Meera’s marriage. That my sister promptly sent back that amount in dollar form after her departure to the United
States is a testimony to her sweetness!

As I sit back today and muse on the serendipitous happening that changed to a large extent the family’s lot, my mind travels back to the time when Swami Jagadatmanandaji, in his book, Badukali Kaliyari, written in 1979, even made a mention of the incident!

Making a reference to a student who had unwaveringly, patiently and intently focussed on the sports page of the newspaper from the back for long, while the swamiji himself, spreading the newspaper in front of him, read the preceding pages which contained other news of varied kinds, he went on to say that any act done with single mindedness and sincerity went a long way in helping achieve the goals of young minds!

Mercifully, in my case, it surely did help. The twelve thousand rupees that came into my family’s kitty was indeed, Manna from heaven!

As told to SUNAAD RAGHURAM

(This article appears in Prabuddha Chetana, a forthcoming souvenir on Kyatasandra Jagannath, an illustrious headmaster of the Ramakrishna Vidyashala and a legendary mathematics teacher. The book will be released on April 8 by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice M.N. Venkatachalliah)

Lessons for a Kannadiga in swachcha Cantonese

6 November 2011

The question of English continues to puzzle India and Indians even after six decades of independence from the English. Every academic year, every government in Karnataka (and elsewhere) ties itself up in knots on just when or whether English should be introduced into the syllabuses of students.

Buddhijeevis like the novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy argue that a child must speak and learn exclusively in her mother tongue until she enters high school lest she become totally disconnected from her social and spiritual roots. Dalit activists suggest that the promotion of Kannada is an upper-class ploy to keep them away from the fruits of modern learning.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha writes in The Telegraph, Calcutta,

“Dalits say that once the Brahmins denied them access to Sanskrit; now, the descendants of those Brahmins wish to deny the Dalits access to the modern language of power and privilege, namely, English.”

While we continue to look at speaking English merely through the prism of power, privilege and livelihood, there is yet another dimension to it, as Sunaad Raghuram discovers in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

***

By SUNAAD RAGHURAM in Hong Kong

As the Jet Airways Boeing 777 began to activate its ailerons in sight of the Hong Kong International airport by the South China Sea, and heaved its gargantuan body sideways, aligning its pudgy nose with the dark grey of the runway in the distance, I peered groggily out of the window to see the lazy bobbing of fishing boats in the haze covered morning, with the October sun still haven’t woken up.

Out of the swank, squeaky clean airport which seemed to have halls large enough to house an assortment of aircrafts within their own expansiveness, I approached an elderly man and asked him the way to the taxi stand.

“No English,” he waved.

Even as I wondered if it was one of those things that I spoke to that one man in the vicinity who incidentally did not speak English, I noticed a line of red taxis, all Toyota Crowns.

Hailing one of them, I pushed my baggage into the rear of the car and sat down next to the driver and said, ‘Hi, good morning. Let’s go the Harbour Plaza Hotel, Tokwawan’.

The ease with which I threw the hotel’s name at him, I thought, would give him the impression that I was one of those travellers whose trip to Hong Kong was perhaps the 17th! The taxi driver looked at me, smiled a weak smile and didn’t do anything much else.

“Well, this is where I need to go,” I said to him, pointing to the name of the hotel and its address that I had written down on a piece of paper. Only when he stared blankly at it did I realize that even he did not speak or read or understand English.

Getting off the car, I walked up to a woman in uniform, may be an airport volunteer.

“I need to reach Tokwawan, the Harbour Plaza Hotel.”

Perhaps the familiarity of the sounds that I uttered rang a bell in her. She walked up to the taxi and said something which immediately elicited a nod, a smile and a wave of the hand from the driver who beckoned me to hop in.

Off we drove past the harbour bridge with its amazing pylons and cables of sheer steel that resembled its more famous cousin, the Golden Gate in San Francisco; the mesmerising views of the sea and the skyscrapers along its edge that seemed to rise out of nowhere amidst the clouds; the emerald coloured hills in the distance with their velvety looks; and finally the hotel.

On the third day, on a train along the Orange Line from Hong Kong Central to the Disney Resort in Sunny Bay on Lantau Island, I did small conversation with a Filipino woman who spoke impeccable English.

“Why don’t people in Hong Kong speak English all that much although the whole area was under the British for such a long time,” I ventured to ask.

She smiled and answered my question in just one word: “Defiance.” And then she said, “the thought here was; you have come to rule us, so you better learn our language.”

Yet Hong Kong is so much like legendary New York in parts. The mind boggling high rises; the million apartment blocks that have so many houses in them that the architects and the builders themselves seem to have lost count; the vibrancy, the power, the pace, the glitz, the showiness and the social electricity of Tsim Shat Tsui, the central business district; with its grand hotels, boutiques, restaurants, shops and showrooms that showcase the very best of the world’s fashion from clothes to jewellery to watches and shoes.

Louis Erand, Rado, Ebel, Breitling, Tag Heuer and Rolex. A piece of the last named brand that I chanced upon was a diamond encrusted one with a whopping $ HK 3,56,000 price tag, the equivalent of a little over Rs 21 lakh! And then, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Blvgari.

The magnificence of Victorian grandeur amidst modern day razzmatazz. Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis zoom around as if they are regulation here.

But in their showrooms somewhere in Hong Kong, I suspect, you better ask in Cantonese!

CHURUMURI IMPACT: A train for R.K. Narayan

24 September 2011

churumuri.com is delighted to record the renaming (and flagging off) of the daily Mysore-Yeshwanthpur Express between Karnataka’s two premier cities as Malgudi Express, to perpetuate the memory of India’s first globally renowned English writer, the Mysorean R.K. Narayan.

We are delighted for two reasons.

One, we believe that even as small a gesture as getting a train named after Narayan’s creation, although rather late in coming, is an important signal in giving our literary, social and cultural titans their due.

And two, the railway ministry’s decision is largely if not solely the outcome of the suggestions of churumuri readers across the world, who responded magnificently to our campaign which began over five years ago.

In many ways, therefore, this is a victory of online activism of a kind not generally known or seen in India.

***

On this happy occasion, please allow us a moment of self-congratulation.

We would like to thank the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, who took the churumuri campaign to the railway ministry in the centenary year of Narayan’s birth; the Union minister for external affairs S.M. Krishna who revived the campaign in the 10th year of RKN’s death; and the railway minister Dinesh Trivedi who gave the green signal.

Additionally,we are thankful to the late Mysorean icon, T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram who took the churumuri campaign to the governor of Karnataka. Several writers have kept the campaign alive over the years by writing pieces on Narayan. S.M. Krishna’s advisor Raghavendra Shastry, played a key role in reactivating the campaign this year.

Above all, we are thankful to our readers. Without you, this small salute for a giant Mysorean would not have been possible.

Coming up next: A stamp for R.K. Narayan.

***

MALGUDI EXPRESS TIMINGS

Train No. 17304: Leaves Yeshwanthpur daily at 11.35 am, reaches Mysore at 3 pm

Train No. 17303: Leaves Mysore daily at 12.10 pm, reaches Yeshwanthpur at 3.30pm

***

Photograph: courtesy Simon Winchester/ The Guardian

Read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

***

Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving churumuri.com‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When churumuri.com was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

9 June 2011

On the 10th anniversary of his passing away, The Guardian, London, has a long piece on the legendary creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, with churumuri‘s own Sunaad Raghuram quoted in it.

churumuri‘s 2006 campaign for keeping Narayan’s memory alive in Mysore, by renaming a Mysore-Madras train as Malgudi Express, connecting the two cities Narayan was connected with, also finds passing mention.

“There is at least one place in Mysore where you can put your finger on the elusive RKN – at his former home, up in the northern suburb of Yadavagiri. It was built to his own specifications in the late 1940s.

“The area, then rustic and isolated, is now a leafy street in a pleasantly breezy uphill location, but the house stands empty and rather forlorn, with a look of out-of-date modernity – two storeys, cream-coloured plaster, with a stoutly pillared verandah on the first floor.

“The idiosyncratic touch is a semi-circular extension at the south end of the house, like the apse of a church. On the upper floor of this, lit by eight windows with cross-staved metal grilles, he had his writing room.

“It had such a splendid view over the city – the Chamundi Hill temple, the turrets and domes of the palace, the trainline below the house – that he had to curtain the windows, “so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day”.

“A few hundred yards up the street stands the smart Hotel Paradise. The manager is Mr Jagadish, a courteous and slightly mournful man with a neat grey moustache. He knew Narayan in the 1980s, when he would sometimes dine at the hotel with his equally famous younger brother, the Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman.

“I ask what he was like, but it is Laxman who stands out in his memory. Laxman was “very funny”, and had opinions about everything, but Narayan was “more serious”. He was a modest man, he didn’t “blow his trumpet”.

“Sometimes, says Mr Jagadish, he has guests who ask him: “Where is Malgudi?” He laughs and taps the side of his head. For a moment I think he is giving an answer to the question – that Malgudi was all inside one man’s head – but what he means, of course, is that the question is daft.

“Narayan was asked it many times, and ducked it in a variety of ways. One of his more enigmatic answers was this – “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived.”

Read the full tribute: Rereading R.K. Narayan

Illustration: courtesy James Fennelly/ Adelphi University, New York

R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

‘A devil’s idea from hell’s labyrinth to ruin us all’

10 September 2010

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Switching on the telly late yesterday, at an hour when the beat policeman had perhaps blown his tenth whistle for the night, I watched with bemused disgust the morbidity of the mandarins of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) organising committee led by Suresh Kalmadi.

The television showed pictures of half-complete stadia in various stages of almost irreparable dereliction, their pylons and multiple tiers exposed in all their brutal nakedness, maimed, battered and contorted by the shameful acts of uncaring ineptitude of  men who do not simply care even for a moment what it means to the pride of a nation to botch up the preparations for one of the most important sporting competitions on the world’s calendar.

Suresh Kalmadi and his band have shown to the world that ours is a nation where governmental bodies run by politicians can so easily, and without as much as a sliver of accountability, mess up anything they are assigned to achieve; one where gravediggers of the kind on show wouldn’t think twice before picking up shovels in the dead of the night to dig their own mother’s grave looking for the trinket she wore on the day of her burial.

A nation where the slightest opportunity to make money from projects funded by the exchequer is explored in all its dimensions with the never-say-die spirit of medieval bounty hunters; one where denial in the face of charges and simply shameless justification in the heat of enquiry is the usual fallout of the whole morass like the one the nation is presently faced with, courtesy the hosting of the CWG in Delhi.

A nation that does not know its priorities, a government that is so pathetically bereft of a conscience that it thinks nothing about literally blowing up a whopping, heart-stopping Rs 28,00 crore on putting together a sporting extravaganza where the medals list will eventually have so few Indian names so as to be rendered completely disproportionate to the monies invested to have these games in India.

A nation where a tragically large number of citizens live below the poverty line with a mere daily morsel of food becoming the equivalent of the finding of a precious nugget after unendingly long hours of toil in the harsh mines of their regular day to day existence; where infrastructural realities paint a scary and grim picture of urban existence with the vehicles of consciousness having veered off the track, seemingly not able to come back for ever.

Did we ever need to host these games?

Are we such a rich country and an athletic superpower that the track burning feats of our athletes shall be written in gold on the plaque of time for the rest of the world to be in awe of?

Can we simply afford to have so much money going into the making of mere play grounds, which in reality, is what grand stadiums are all about, for the enjoyment of a few in the midst of the unspeakable sufferings of many?

In a country which is surely not among the most advanced in the world and where the index of corruption displays such demeaning figures that to keep our heads high at the angle that god meant them to be is itself a conscious effort as we walk the national streets of sleaze, each day of our lives!

This is not to say that the pursuit of excellence in sport is abhorrent. The point is, a poor nation like ours which is still in the process of being built by half-baked, self-serving men and women who sit in judgment over our collective fate should prioritise when it comes to opening the ‘things to do’ list.

# How about striving towards building an excellent network of roads across the nation?

# How about augmenting public hospitals and their capabilities so that millions can benefit from decent health care?

# And how about going full steam ahead and building many more court halls across the length and breadth of the nation and appointing legal officers to improve the justice delivery time frame? And how about computerising the functioning of the courts to the maximum extent possible?

# How about making education accessible to the common boy and girl by refurbishing the existing government schools and colleges all over the country and making them centres of true learning?

# How about striving towards ensuring uninterrupted power supply to the nation, in today’s age and time when technology beckons?

Just a few obvious examples of what Rs 28,000 crore can do to the fortunes of a country like ours, a nation in urgent need of repair.

Twenty eight thousand crores for high jump and long jump? The 100 metres dash and the 1,200 metres steeple chase? And for the 400 metres baton race?

That too in the hands of men who are, by the looks of it, genetically predisposed towards money laundering, cheating and account fudging?

And that too when the average Indian athlete, with genuine respects to those who try, is as good, especially at the international level, as a cowering mouse in the presence of a madly hissing cobra!

This cannot be anything but the devil’s idea from the labyrinths of hell to ruin a nation’s future.

Also read: The Times of India and the Commonwealth Games

Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

How we successfully Save Our Tigers on Page 3

1 March 2010

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: “He’s two months old. He’s hungry. And scared. He’s wondering when his mother is coming back…”

A shot rings out.

“Maybe, she isn’t?”

This is a tiny video clip produced on behalf of Aircel, as part of their Save Our Tigers Initiative. And we have the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Baichung Bhutia and the ever vigilant Kiran Bedi identifying themselves with the cause.

There are only 1,411 tigers left in the wilds of India. So say the statistics. They shouldn’t be allowed to die for sure. And Dhoni & Co point the index finger in the direction of the viewers and declare, “I won’t let it happen,” meaning that they shall not let the glorious beasts fade away.

Wanting to save the tiger—or even wanting to see one in the wild—has almost become a fashion statement, something the rich and the famous, and bold and the beautiful, mouth routinely.

Something that has become an integral part of cocktail circuit chatter.

Hollow, vacuous, pretentious, inane, superficial and almost hypocritical, these feeble and almost laughable gestures made by celebrities, at the behest of some corporate house that is looking for a ‘worthy’ cause to espouse….

And such other pompous Page 3 denizens that inhabit the dark and clammy insides of their own shallow worlds, to get into which, you would perhaps have to risk being frisked, physically and even intellectually.

It simply doesn’t cut much ice in reality, or in the case of the tiger, not much raw meat!

Like how it was a fashion of sorts during the time of the British—to aim a gun at a growling tiger cosseted by men on elephant back—-a ‘sport’ to enhance the sense of the man in them and bag the big cat, either to eventually display it’s stuffed head close to the fire place or simply to impress the beau close by, the urban rich have now found it almost a fashion to pursue the thought of wanting to save the tiger from extinction to the accompaniment of the sounds of whisky glasses clinking!

In drawing rooms across the big cities of this country, in the seminar halls of our land, in the wildlife conferences around the nation and in board rooms and perhaps even rest rooms, where they eventually find themselves after a few solid rounds of “the good stuff”!

But reality…

Reality is something that stares us menacingly in the face so much like the tiger itself, one which has been aroused from its post-meal siesta somewhere in the thickets of Nagarahole or Ranathambore or wherever else tigers may exist.

Reality is forest watchers and guards, impoverished and uncared for, barefooted and barren without a proper meal in their stomachs, living in sub-human conditions, almost all of them picked from the hinterlands of rural India, who don’t normally have even basic education, and who don’t have the wherewithal to stand up in unison and ask for a better deal; men whose services haven’t even been regularised by shameful governments for years and years, reeking of nothing but criminal hypocrisy and blatant irresponsibility.

Reality is that the governments that make a song and dance about the need to save the tigers from going the way of the dodo are the same governments that declare that there are not enough funds in the exchequer to make the jobs of the foot soldiers, the die-hards, the men on the battle front, the forest watchers and the guards, who risk their life and limb in the depths of the jungles day in and day out, come rain or shine, in their call of duty, permanent.

Reality is even the salaries of these hapless watchers and guards, as meagre as an ant’s droppings anyway, some two thousand and odd rupees, in today’s age and time when life and its inflationary fiscal realities is not easy to go through even in the best of times, are not paid on a monthly basis. They get to see some money after much begging and haranguing once in three months and in certain wild life divisions, once in six months. Until then, they have to continue saving the tiger!

Is it so impossible to have a certain fund allocated in the national budget to ensure that the services of these men, so vital to the cause of saving our forests and the wild life within, are regularized? So that they and their families can lead a more secure and meaningful life and also contribute harder to the cause of conservation. Especially when multiple crores of rupees are squandered away frivolously by governments for some or the other dubious cause every year.

Reality is this is a country where a vast majority of these men are shockingly known as PCP (Petty cash payment) watchers, which simply means that these are men who are paid a certain remuneration from the petty cash made available to the range forest officer of the wild life range concerned and whose services are not legally sanctified by the forest department. Just imagine their morale, their sense of worth, their commitment and their drive to work every day in such circumstances. But yet, most soldier on.

They are ‘freelancers’ of sorts who are given a tattered khaki uniform to wear and a laughably ancient double barrel gun to hold in their miserably weak hands. And they have to save the tiger, no less, mind you!

If this is not a shame, what else is?

If this is not a joke, I haven’t heard anything funnier.

How simply macabre is the thought process of the powers that be?

Reality is these very same governments, be it in Karnataka or anywhere else in the country that have senior officers belonging to the hallowed Indian Forest Service, trained and acclimatised at forestry colleges to conserve and preserve not just the tiger but also the rabbit, in a manner of speaking, whose olive-green Maruti gypsies with smart canvas tops, gleaming in the sun, are invariably found parked in the driveways of their posh offices; while battered, rattling, old junks that resemble jeeps that neither have proper brakes nor much diesel in their tanks are handed over to range forest officers in charge of wild life sanctuaries and national parks, simply do not do anything realistic or practical in their quest to save and conserve wild life.

These are the men who are in charge of leading a cohesive team in saving the tiger, our national animal, the one predator that is at the apex of the food chain; the one animal whose continued existence will mean good for the environment at large and also India’s image internationally as a conservation conscious nation, blessed with so much flora and fauna!

All they can do is to enlist a celebrity, a famous cricketer like Anil Kumble in the case of the Karnataka government for example, give him a fancy designation in some wildlife related department, and sit back and see wildlife dwindle.

How on earth, do you expect a completely honourable man like Anil Kumble or anybody else for that matter to do anything worthwhile without the active, sincere and committed support of the governmental machinery? With the system itself being allowed to rot and putrefy like a wild carcass in the jungle?

Where man-animal conflicts rage from time to time; where compensations for crop damage by elephants and boars are paid almost after the already poverty stricken farmer has reached a dead end at the tunnel of frustration, anger and impotent helplessness.

And the amount doled out as compensation is so minuscule that it may not mean anything at all eventually. Where the scenario is so hostile that the average villager couldn’t care less if a tiger got poached, in most cases abetting it himself, or an elephant got electrocuted.

And, as for those who come on national television saying that they will not allow the tiger to die, may they be reminded that saving the tiger is not about empty lines for prime time television fun, but grim, dire, apocalyptic action on the field, full of fire and brim stone and nothing less.

And this only governments can do. Overhauling the existing state of affairs and infusing a certain drive into this whole process of conservation.

Will they?

And we haven’t even discussed China and its hunger for tiger penises and claws as yet. And India’s own serious diplomatic manoeuvres at the international level to drum up support to quell the madness afflicting the Chinese.

After some thousand odd words, we are still on the subject of our forest watchers and guards being paid their rightful salaries and provided shoes for their feet and a semblance of dignity to their existence!

Save the tiger, we must. Isn’t it?

Also read: Why our Nagarahole scores over Ranthambore

In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses….

Nagalinga raised his arm. Behind was a charging elephant cow’

Name of tiger. Age. Name of father of tiger. Age.

It used to be 1,411 till last night. It’s now 1,410

Finally, it came down to Abhishek Nayar’s balls

14 January 2010

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: Yes, all the cliches you hear during a Test match or ODI commentary are true—”It was a fitting finale,” “The result did not matter,”  “The game was the ultimate winner”—and I don’t say this as a fan of the losing team.

Indeed, at the end of the four innings, there was little to differentiate between the two teams, although the scorecard would find six runs. Bombay had more experience playing, more experience winning. Karnataka had oodles of youth and one incandescent star flickering to life in this match.

And boy, did the shimmer off Manish Pandey‘s willow light up the ocean of learning (Manasagangothri) this morning!?

We had seen both teams exhibit almost everything that two top teams playing in a cricketing nation’s top domestic match should: good bowling, fantastic catching and great fighting spirit. But what had been missing the first three days, was the X factor that has crowds ooh-ing and aah-ing.

That was delivered to the Gangotri Glades by a 20-year-old. For nearly two hours, Manish Pandey elevated batting to levels not seen in the past three days. Perhaps, with the exception of Wasim Jaffer no other player in either side was even capable of coming close to those standards.

It wasn’t merely that Pandey batted freely, his 144 coming off a mere 151 balls. His shot selection and stroke-making was top-notch, and he dismissed everything thrown at him at him imperiously.

At times, it seemed to me that Pandey wasn’t batting to win the match.

He wasn’t competing with the Bombay bowlers.

For all he cared, they could have been local bowlers at the nets. The challenging circumstances Karnataka was facing at the final hurdle to a seventh crown didn’t seem to matter. He just batted at a high level simply, perhaps, because that’s what comes naturally to him.

When batting is elevated to such heights, opponents and circumstances do not matter.

The scorecard says he made 85 runs off 80 balls this morning, with 9 fours and a six. His elegant and highly cultured strokeplay simplified batting to his partner, Ganesh Satish, with whom he added 209 runs.  Karnataka were 255 for 3, when Pandey got out and Karnataka needed another 85 runs, which looked gettable within an hour-and-a-half, since Pandey and Satish had scored at a run a minute.

One wishes Pandey had stayed at the wicket until the end, if only to see how he would have batted under pressure as the target became smaller. Perhaps, such challenges are more appropriate for workman-like batsmen, whose forte is patience and temperament, and who specialise in eliminating risk and accumulating runs.

The fourth-wicket partnership between Pandey and Satish should have been a match winning partnership, but this young Karnataka team found a way to lose the game. Home team supporters would point at a couple of poor umpiring decisions, but the fact remains that this match could have easily gone the other way.

The atmosphere at Glades was electric, with overflowing crowd watching the game from trees, light poles and any other place, which offered a view of the field. Nearly 10,000 people cheered the home team lustily, and the Glades offered a fantastic setting for this game.

After the match, Wasim Jaffer defended the visitors’ decision to bat first, even though the wicket had moisture and helped seam bowling. Jaffer said they expected the pitch to be soft initially and then get hard, which made batting difficult on the second day. When we look back at the first inning performances, perhaps he has a point.

Yet neither team impressed me, admittedly an amateur cricket enthusiast, with their tactical acumen.

For instance, Bombay this morning could have bowled their overs quickly using spinners to take the new ball just before lunch or immediately after lunch. This would have put Karnataka batsmen under some pressure but bowling with the old ball, their fast bowlers conceded 27 runs off four overs to Sunil Joshi and Stuart Binny, who with some belligerent batting almost swung the match Karnataka’s way.

But it was too little.

Binny, who had a chance to justify his selection to this match and indeed longevity in the state side, failed miserably and perhaps it is time to blood one more youngster in his place. He was clearly the weak link on the field, and off the field too, given the rumours of a late night at the Mysore Sports Club.

A final word on the winner’s conduct, in particular the victory celebration.

Throughout the match, they seemed to needle the Karnataka players in the middle but complained constantly against real or perceived slights, either by the players or the crowd. Their muscular celebration at the end seemed to embody the so-called “Spirit of Bombay” and one could certainly understand their elation given the close and hard fought battle.

Abhishek Nayar‘s antics, however, were the most disgraceful acts I have ever seen on a cricket field.

He thrust his crotch at a section of the crowd, and at one point even seem to hold his balls in his hand, shouting repeatedly: “Come on.” His behavior in general seems to be as ugly as his batting stance, and notwithstanding his cricketing  accomplishments, if such behaviour isn’t questioned or curbed, then shame on the authorities, and the media, if it remains silent.

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Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.

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PhotographNeo Sports anchor V.B. Chandrashekhar prepares for the final act of the finals of the Ranji Trophy finals at the Gangotri Glades in Mysore on Thursday as KSCA officials (from left) vice-president P.R. Ashokanand, secretary Brijesh Patel, president Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, M.R. Krishna, KSCA (Mysore Zone) secretary Satyanarayana Nadig, convenor R.K. Harikrishna Kumar, and chairman Sunaad Raghuram look on.

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Cricinfo match report: Bombay hold nerve for 39th title

Scores: Bombay 233 & 234; Karnataka 130 & 331

Bombay win 39th Ranji Trophy title by 6 runs

Also read: A tale of two cities as narrated by a cricket field

Players, patrons and the crowd in the age of IPL

A real workhorse from the land of ‘benne dose

From the Coffee Board end to Hunsur Road end

Photograph: Former Test stars Brijesh Patel and S.M.H. Kirmani, among others, catch the action at the Gangotri Glades (Karnataka Photo News)

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Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia

***

Cricinfo match report: Pandey, Kulkarni set up exciting final

Scorecard at end of third day: Bombay 233 & 234; Karnataka 130 & 135 for 3

Also read: Players, patrons and the crowd in the age of IPL

A real workhorse from the land of ‘benne dose

From the Coffee Board end to Hunsur Road end

From the Coffee Board End to Hunsur Road End

10 January 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: There are many ways of celebrating Mysore being ranked No. 4 on the list of the must-see places in the world by the New York Times. But can any of them come close to the spectacle of the finals of the nation’s premier domestic cricket tournament being held in our midst?

The finals of the Ranji Trophy, in this the 75th year of the tournament, between Karnataka and Bombay, will be played in Mysore for the first time. Besides the picture postcard venue—the beautiful Gangotri Glades Grounds overlooking a lake against the backdrop of the Chamundi Hills—there is an additional surprise: this is the first time the finals of the tournament is being held away from the homeground of the host sides in 12 years.

What swung the venue in favour of Mysore was Rahul Dravid.

The Karnataka captain, who along with Sachin Tendulkar will miss the match as they will be in Bangladesh doing duty for the country, thought the Mysore pitch offered ‘pace and bounce’ to the young Karnataka pace bowlers—R. Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S. Arvind—who between them have bagged over 100 wickets this season.

Therefore, Karnataka preferred to play at Gangotri Glades rather than the M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore.

***

As the Karnataka State Cricket Association’s pointsmen in Mysore—chairman Sunaad Raghuram, secretary Satyanarayana Nadig and convenor R.K. Harikrishna Kumar, and C. Krishna of the University of Mysore—prepare the pitch and oversee all the exacting arrangements that go with hosting a Ranji final,  I remember a couple of anecdotes connected with the Karnataka (then Mysore) Ranji team.

1934: Mysore vs Madras, Chepauk

Captains: C.P. Johnstone (Madras), Major M.S. Teversham (Mysore)

Not too many know that Mysore figured in the first ever Ranji Trophy match played on November 4, 1934. It was a typical monsoon day with the sky heavily overcast and one day was all it took for Madras to beat Mysore by an innings and 23 runs.

Morapakkam Joysam Gopalan better known as M.J. Gopalan, the double international who represented India in both hockey and cricket, bowled the first ball in the tournament; left-arm spinner A.G. Ram Singh captured six for 19 and C.P. Johnstone four for 10 as Mysore batting first on a rain-affected pitch collapsed for 48; five players scored zeroes.

In Madras’ reply of 130, only four batsmen attained double figures, Cota Ramaswami (another double international, who played Test cricket and Davis Cup tennis) top scoring with 26. Offbreak bowler M.G. Vijayasarathi (who later became a famous international umpire) captured six for 23, and Shafi Darashah, in whose name a schools’ tournament was later played, bagged three.

Mysore, facing a deficit for 82, failed again, this time for 59! Ram Singh dismissed half the side for16 while Gopalan claimed three for 20.

The story is told how some people, who had gone to the Bangalore city railway station to read The Hindu newspaper coming from Madras for the cricket news were surprised to see the Mysore team getting down from the train. They must have got the news of the match first hand and in greater detail from the players themselves!

This is for the first time and only time perhaps the only time a Ranji match was over in one day after having commenced at 11 am, the game lastig a little over 100 overs!Gopalan and Ram Singh were the quintessential Madras cricketers of this generation and in time became living legends. Ram Singh’s sons A.G. Kripal Singh and A.G. Milkha Singh too went on to represent the country. Cota Ramaswami attained fame in a different sort of way. He went for a morning walk and never returned and was never found. If alive, he could be the oldest living cricketer today!

***

1945, Mysore vs Holkar, semi-finals, 1945

Captains: C.K. Nayudu (Holkar), B.K. Garudachar (Mysore)

The details of this match, held in Rahul Dravid’s place of birth, were narrated to me by B.K. Garudachar, a member of the team who played Ranji for Mysore in the 1940s and ’50s. Mr Garudachar was staying in Mysore colony in Chembur, Bombay, when I met him in 1980.

In Mr. Garudachar’s words:

“Holkar won the toss and started batting. We never knew the kind of leather hunt we were in for. Holkar played for two and a half days and destroyed our attack to score 912 for 8 wickets declared. Six of the first eight Holkar batsmen scored centuries with Mushtaq Ali who rarely ever failed, being caught and bowled for 2!

“Wicketkeeper K.V. Bhandarkar (142), Chandu Sarwate (101), M.M. Jagdale (164), C.K. Nayudu (101) , B.B. Nimbalkar (172), R.P Singh (100) scored centuries. C.S. Nayudu missed out but scored 70 and odd runs.

“I felt, if we had run all the way to Bangalore we would have reached earlier than the time we took running around the field fetching the ball from the boundary!  I took 4 wickets, B. Frank 1 and K.P. Ubhaykar 1.

“We were all out for 190 in our first Innings with Chandu Sarwate claiming 9 wickets for 61 for Holkar.

“Following on, we scored 509 in the second innings and gained some self- respect. I scored 164, Frank scored 80. I will never forget that match”.

P.R. Shyamsundar, elder brother of P.R. Ashokanand, the current vice president of KSCA, did not have a good match, He scored a zero bowled by Sarwate. Y. S. Ramaswamy, in whose name the YSR  shield is instituted, also failed with bat and ball in that match.

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1983, Bombay vs Bangalore, finals, Bombay

Captains: Ashok Mankad (Bombay); Brijesh Patel (Karnataka)

Who can forget the thrilling final when Karnataka chased Bombay’s first innings score of 534 after losing 6 wickets for 293 in the 1983 finals? Roger Binny made 115 and A.V. Jayaprakash 89. But still there was a mountain to climb. That was when numbers 8, 9 and 10 in J. Abhiram (69), Ranjit Kanvilkar (32 ) and B. Vijayakrishna (42) contributed handsomely .

When Karnataka was 526 for nine still 8 runs short, and time for chewing the fingernails, it was left arm spinner and current selector A. Raghuram Bhat who held his nerve and stayed with Vijayakrishna till they overhauled Bombay’s 534! What a thrilling finish it was worth befitting a final!

Kanvilkar, a budding all-rounder at the time, was tragically killed in a train accident.

I am sure there will be a thrilling encounter, as always, between two of the best teams in the country, with no quarters given or taken.

I hope Karnataka will lift the Ranji Trophy for the first time at the Gangotri Glades in Mysore.

That will be a fitting festival gift for fans for Sankranthi.

Photographs: (From top) A combined fish-eye lens view of Gangotri Glades shot from the Coffee Board end; the pitch overlooking the Chamundi Hills, the man standing in the dead-centre of the frame is KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel; and the groundsman responsible for what is now being considered as one of India’s best pieces of turf, Nagaraj (Narayan Yadav/ Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: BCCI and Infosys: Made for each other in Mysore

SUNIL GAVASKAR: India’s most petulant cricketer ever?

For one cricketer, kabhi dukhi, kabhi gum

JAVAGAL SRINATH: The only “good” commentator around?

Is State’s success in cricket and economics linked?

Hurgaalu & Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

14 December 2009

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: On 13 December 2009, The Picture Editor upstairs decided to set the shutter speed of the life’s camera of a venerable man to a metaphorical 1/125.

On that day, the shutter curtain of one of the finest photo-journalists of his era opened and closed even before anyone could realize what had come about.

T.S. Satyan lay still, his eyes closed for ever.

He had become one with his Maker.

As the tongues of flame began to lick his pyre at the foot of the brooding omniscience of the Chamundi hills in his favourite city of Mysore, the sun was about to set in a haze of orange; the mynahs among the branches chirped faintly; a cow mooed in a tone of voice that heightened the feel of the sepulchral.

Satyan was on his way out to a “happier world”.

Soon, in six to eight hours, they said, the ashes of his mortal body would collect on the platform of aged stone, the very platform that was facilitating his passage to the world beyond.

As I stood close to the pyre, along with my friend Saggere Ramaswamy, staring in blank confusion at the ways of the Creator, the terms and conditions of whose policy make it incumbent on all those alive today to die some day at some pre-ordained hour, the chirpy, friendly, adorable, gentle and affectionate man called Satyan came back alive.

In my thoughts.

My mind began to travel to the time when the two of us had been such good friends, friends separated by a mere four decades plus a little more in age, but gloriously united in spirit, completely because the man in question had been endowed the power, among the rarest a man can hope to aspire, of making every single person he met, feel so completely at ease and disarmed.

Not for Satyan any form of aggrandisement in the heat of his stupendous achievements with the camera as also the pen.

Not for Satyan the importance to the self, the blowing of the bugles about some photograph well composed or some prose well conceived, although there were perhaps a few hundred or even a thousand such creations in both forms of his craft that he could have spoken about, bragging almost without end.

Not for Satyan the postulation of a hoary past where men of his type, men who could wield the camera and the pen with such complete unequivocal ease and chronicle an event or even a whole era with such stupendous impact, were as rare as hen’s teeth.

Not for Satyan even a suggestion of pompousness or supercilious patronizing when it came to life; life post-retirement, in the old, quiet suburb of Saraswathipuram, where the neighbourhood did not exactly boast of men and women who had been trail blazing world beaters of any kind in their time.

The sight of Satyan walking to the post office on 10th main road with a suggestion of a arthritic shuffle or to the Canara bank next to the park on the same road, simply amazingly did not give away the secret that he was a man, who in his time was one of the greatest of his tribe.

A man who presided over the very manner in which photojournalism in our country took shape in the 1940s, at a time when the camera as an instrument of the media and its infinite chronicling power, was as well known to the masses as shark fin soup to a traditional vegetarian.

Satyan was a remarkable man, which is like saying, the elephant is a very huge animal.

But for someone like me, who had the opportunity to be friends with him and share moments of such grace and gentility issuing forth almost endlessly from the man who could hold nothing but warmth in the cockles of his soul, to make a feeble attempt to explain his persona is a tad difficult.

For, Satyan epitomized such wonderful qualities, that anything I say could seem to veer towards the text book definitions of how an evolved man should be.

But that was the man. A man whose very face mirrored the mellow, nuanced emotions inside him, his large cheerful eyes conveying a sense of bonhomie and vivaciousness of spirit, never mind even if they were some 80 odd years old.

And spirits he had but in small measure. Of the alcoholic kind I mean! Scotches and preferably Black Dog, if you please. Pouring a small measure and suffusing it with copious soda enough to drown a man, he loved long conversations while his right hand gently picked either ground nuts or hurgaalu from the side-table next to him.

Speaking of the Mysore of his days, the Maharaja’s College, his friends of the likes of H.Y. Sharada Prasad and R.K. Narayan and the legendary writer’s love of “mosaranna with uppina kayi“, which he insisted on having every time he dropped by at Satyan’s, his interesting trysts with the royal family, reminiscing the time when he trod the back alleys of Shivarampete, the studio where he got his early prints done; Satyan loved to languorously travel back in time, like an accomplished collegian remembering his kindergarten days.

I particularly remember the trip the two of us did together for eight full days in my jeep in January 2007 when we travelled to some of the most fascinating places of such infinite charm and beauty in Malnad. Sringeri, Kasaravalli, Megharavalli and even Mathoor.

It was Satyan’s desire to shoot the fascinating interiors of century old Malnad homes, one of which was the devastatingly beautiful and richly carved 250-year-old ancestral home of the famed cine director Girish Kasaravalli. The manner in which Satyan composed his shots in that locale with the grand rose wood pillars of such humongous girth was an expression of complete passion for his craft.

The positioning of the camera, a Nikon of indeterminable vintage; the angle, the composition of the frame, the optimum use of the naturally available light, the checking and re-checking of the parameters, bending and peering through the lens time and again, in spite of his painfully arthritic knees, the gentle readjustments, the tiny shifting of the camera position before he was convinced that all was well for a perfect shot.

Just one click of the button and there would be a classic to hold in your hands.

I was mesmerized as I stood on the sidelines and watched the master at work. So far removed indeed from the regulation photographers who shoot with their SLR cameras of high sophistication, as if they were handling a self loading rifle in the face of an enemy onslaught.

Satyan was precise, to the point and clear as to what he wanted his camera to do for him.

On that trip, we drove leisurely around the countryside, endless hours of chatting and joking with Satyan even breaking into song at times.

At Sringeri, he asked me to take him to a century-old ‘agrahara’ (Brahmin enclave) called Vaikuntapura, where incidentally, the famous Kannada film, Vamshavruksha had been shot.

Satyan himself had shot a famous picture of his here. A photograph which features a wizened old woman with her shaven head covered, sitting on the parapet of the veranda of her ancient tiled house, and smiling amusedly into the camera with a baby close to her, and rain drops falling in a small slender cascade from the roof!

An old man recognized Satyan straightaway as we walked into the narrow alley of the agrahara. He remembered the famous photograph and remarked that the small baby in that picture was now a mother herself and living in Bangalore!

Satyan was pleased to be there and pointed to me the various houses he had spent time in on that assignment.

As we returned to Sringeri and entered the temple precincts, he wanted to know the whereabouts of ‘Moorne ManeRam Bhat, the chief priest of the temple in the 1970s, an imposing man he had framed with a Palmyra umbrella in hand and in conversation with another priest in front of the imposing arch of the famous temple.

Ram Bhat had since been deceased but the other priest in that well-known photograph, who was his understudy at that time, was still around to greet Satyan affectionately!

And then onto Manipal, where he suddenly decided to meet his old friend M.V. Kamath, the legendary journalist and editor. It was a sight to see the two old friends exchange pleasantries and settle down for coffee. Satyan even addressed impromptu, a gathering of journalism students at the media institute there at the behest of Kamath, who introduced Satyan as one of the living legends of Indian photo-journalism, nothing less!

Indeed, Satyan could write prose with such effortless lucidity and simplicity that the sentences flowed like a beautiful stream making its way through a carpet of flowers somewhere in the mountains, uncluttered and without a stutter. So much like his mind, simple and unostentatious. This was rare indeed.

For a photographer to have the twin gift of being able to wield a pen with such felicity. A photo-journalist nonpareil.

To me, Satyan even in death, is alive and clicking!

Photograph: T.S. Satyan at work during his 2007 sojourn with Sunaad Raghuram at a Catholic home near Manipal. (‘AstroMohan/ Karnataka Photo News)

YOGA GURU K. PATTABHI JOIS IS NO MORE. RIP.

18 May 2009

bio2

churumuri.com records with profound regret the passing away of K. Pattabhi Jois, the legendary yoga guru, in Mysore on Monday afternoon. He was 94 years old, and had been ailing for some time.

Jois, born in tiny Kowshika in Hassan district, put Ashtanga yoga on the map of the world and was singularly responsible for restoring Mysore’s rightful place as the yoga capital in the country.

Starting out from a tiny nook in Lakshmipuram, Jois taught the way to achieve the union between the jeevatma and the paramatma. And on any given day, Gokulam, where he resided, resembled an Olympics Games village, with hundreds of foreigners practising the craft at the hands of Jois and his grandson, Sharath Rangaswamy.

The Guardian, London, noted last week:

“Ashtanga was introduced to the west from India by Pattabhi Jois—or Guruji. At the age of 12, Jois started studying with the guru Krishnamacharya who, in the early 20th century, revived the millennia-old practice of yoga. Jois visited California in 1975, and America was hooked. Jois’s six series of poses are the ashtanga practised today. He believes you must master each pose before you can proceed to the next (the only person certified to practise the sixth series, apart from himself, is his grandson).”

***

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From the churumuri archives:

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Like all of us, he too is playing host to age. But age, in his case, seems to be a casual cousin who just dropped by. Not a long staying relative who bears upon you the burden of his visit’s upkeep.

He’s more like a sun kissed flower. Vibrant, colourful, joyous and bright. Age alights upon him like a bee and buzzes off in an instant.

K. Pattabhi Jois has seen 91 summers. Or winters, if you like. But… But the eyes still flash bright hues. The smile is friendly and full. It doesn’t matter that it is denture assisted. The skin is taut and blemishless.

So much like his resolve to do what he has been doing in stages almost every waking moment for 77 of his 91 years. Learning, lecturing and teaching yoga. His has been a journey. Long, timeless, poignant, exciting, frustrating, fulfilling and in a sense, eternal.

Perhaps the greatest living guru of ashtanga yoga in the world, Jois lives in Gokulam, Mysore. If he is not teaching in London or Paris or Melbourne or New York or San Francisco, that is. His is the life of a man whose soul has been satiated by the sheer attainment of a life’s ambition; the fulfilling of a karmic yearning; the continuing of a tradition that is steeped in his very being.

To him life is yoga. And yoga is life. There is nothing beyond it. Not anything that he has tried seeking. He ran away from his home in the village of Kowshika near Hassan as a 14-year-old boy. Getting into the train to Mysore from the station at Ambuga, a neighbouring village, four miles away, because he didn’t want any one to notice him or even recognize him.

The mind had been made up. To answer some strange otherworldly calling.

Watching guru S.T. Krishnamacharya demonstrate yoga at the Jubilee Hall in Hassan one 1928 evening, stirring in him some irresistible awakening. “It’s the shaping of the soul over many lives,” he says. His answer to why he got so irrevocably drawn to the pursuit of yoga. Long years of ‘tapas’. At the Sanskrit College in Mysore.

In the early days, the meals were frugal but the insults to the heart were substantial. Poverty snapped at his heels like a persistent dog. He could only glare back and keep going. His resolve was cast in solid iron and his mind wavered only as much as a mountain would against a mild breezy waft.

The numbing sacrifices in life. The honing of his very internal rhythms to suit the lifestyle of a yogi. From an unearthly young age. Waking up at 4 in the morning. When the rest of the world remained snugly curled up in the folds of a hazy dream. Pushing his limbs to do the mind’s bidding. Yoga practice. And more of it until the sun was high up in the sky. Day after day. Week after week. Years went by.

There is to him the visage of a yogi. The mellow glow of knowledge and achievement. But there is not even a hint of the ego. Quite surrealistically humble. He doesn’t speak the English language beyond the customary ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.

Yet there’s some unbelievable communion happening all the time between him and his tens of hundreds of western students. They call him guruji. And in return they get a soulful of benediction. Or so it seems going by the way they fawn over his presence.

I have seen him walk the long cavernous halls of airports in the west amidst the gloss, the glitter, the lights and the shrill crescendo of revved up jet engines taxiing for take off. But he is his own self. In his white dhoti and shirt and pump shoes.

He neither understands the thousand reasons his co-passengers have to be on the same plane nor does he want to know why else the world moves. To him he is on his way to Los Angeles or Encinitas or Hawaii because a student has invited him to be there.

Only the boy from Kowshika has touched 91 years of age!

Also read: The most-famous Mysoreans in the world

Marichasana on Madison Avenue; Trikonasana on 34th

What it means to have a guru

How a world-class yoga photograph was shot


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