sweetkharacoffee

A Granddaughter Is Born At Ratna Vilas Road

Posted in FrontPage by Jayasri on July 22, 2017

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The Diary of Ramabrahma. The Date is July 17, 1964.

Thulasi felt the first pains early this morning. Sheshagiri phoned to Kutti who came here at 5 a.m She took Thulasi to Vani Vilas hospital where the birth of  a daughter took place at 7.55 a.m.

Today is Subramanyam’s birthday. I gave him Rs. 5/-

Kutti who came here from the Vanivilas hospital at 12.30 p.m. dressed my leg. It is healing quite well.

Lakshmi read 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Chandogya Upanishad.

July 29, 1964

Thulasi and her baby were brought home by Kutti and Sheshagiri.

Wrote a letter to Ramakrishna giving him this informtion.

Lakshmi came at 2.30 p.m. and read Chapter VII of the Chandogya .

Harihara Iyer who is leaving for Kottayam at 6.20 came to take leave of me. With his much broken health, he looked a weak man. This leave-taking touched me. I wished him good health and long life.

July 31 1964

Cradling of the new baby

This function took place between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and was attended mostly by our close relatives. There were a few men too.

I sent a cheque for Rs 30/- in favour of Vimala. It is a present to her on her birthday which falls tomorrow.

August 26, 1964

Kutti and Mangala came in the evening and took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples of Visveswarapuram.

There was a shower in the evening.

Paid Rs, 5/- to Sheshagiri. Paid Rs. 10/50 to Gangabai- her pay for 13 days. From 1st to 13th inclusive.

Paid Rs. 5 to Lakshmi, the maid servant, to be recovered at the beginning of next month.

***

 

I chanced upon two diaries of Grandfather Ramabrahma of Mahadev Vilas, Ratna Vilas Road, a couple of years ago while I was decluttering our shed. As soon as I realized what the two Bangalore Press Pocket Diaries were, I dismissed Siddaraju who was helping, for the day. With great excitement and urgent curiosity, I turned page to July 17. And sure enough there it was.

Grandfather Ramabrahma had recorded the birth of his granddaughter! And that grandaughter is me!

To me, the discovery of these two diaries is comparable to the the learned Shyama Shastri (librarian, and later curator at Oriental Research Institute, Mysore) chancing upon the manuscript of Arthashastra! May I add that this happened under the stewardship of Alladi Mahadeva Sastry, curator of ORI at the time. Yes, the same Mahadeva Sastry, father of Ramabrahma, who had given his father’s name to his house on Ratna Vilas Road .

I’m quite certain Ramabrahma would have taken to Facebook like a duck to water. His diaries, for 1964 and 1966, are a delight! They are the status updates of the sixties. About the comings and goings of Ramabrahma, his sons and daughters, grandchildren and his own siblings, his circle of friends.

His universe was Basavanagudi and its environs. Walks to MNK Park, purchases in Gandhi Bazar, visiting his brother on Patalamma Gudi Road, meeting his friends and fellow-walkers.Celebrating births and weddings, festivals and of course, his preoccupation with the status of his own health. The visits to his doctors, the change in medication, the purchase of medication from Basavanagudi Society’s pharmacy.

I had heard from Amma, my mother Thulasi, that Ramabrahma ( who was also her maternal uncle) lived by the clock. He loved to note the time he did anything. Or the time anyone did anything. Like the time I was born. I always knew it was 7.55 am, because my horoscope says so. But to find it written in Ramabrahma’s diary is to know its carved in stone.

I have an image of him, not given much to smiling. And generally nor very expressive of his feelings. These diaries, though tell a different story, of a man who loved his life, revelled in the doings of his family and the soaked contentedly in the social life of Basavangudi.

Having lost both grandfathers by the time I was five, I have very little memory of either of them. I often wondered if Chamanna (Ramakrishnaiah) my mother’s father, who had 16 children, could name all his grandchildren . Did he,an advocate in Nellore who translated the Ramayana into Telugu, know of my existence at all? Him, I am getting to know, as I atttempt to translate his Ramayana into English.

Now comes this diary. This serendipitously stumbled upon diary. The diary that tells me of how I was welcomed into this world by a grandfather who was known to be somewhat taciturn, and not given to much humor, unlike his late wife Venkamma, who had once charmed  the legendary Kailasam with here talent for trilingual pun.

When I decided to come into the world, Kutti my father’s sister, a doctor who retired as Superintendent of Bowring Hospital, was summoned by telephone. For which Appa, aka Sheshagiri had to go to our neighbor, Hindu Ramaswamy’s house ,Sita Bhavan , through the connecting gate between our two compounds. For Mahadev Vilas did not boast a telephone connection. Kutti (Dr Kokila ) came over at 5 am took Thulasi to Vani Vilas Hospital. At 7.55 a.m. , I was born. Amma never said so, but the fact tha I took no more than 3 hours to arrive, without much fuss, must surely mean something. Like I am the kindly-adjusting type, who doesn’t like to make life difficult for others.

Although, on that very day , my Big Brother Subri might have had something to say about my timing. You see, it happened to be his 8th birthday on July 17. When he woke up, in great anticipation of birthday wishes and presents and treats, the house was silent! Amma was gone! He was told the reason.

The diary says Ramabrahma gave him Rs 5 as a birthday present. Later that day Lakshmi came and read to him the chapters 2 and 3 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Lakshmi Mami was a widow with children who used to come home every day and read to Ramabrahma, mostly from the Upanishads and related texts. This was a source of income for her.

Then Ramabrahma says, Kutti came from the hospital, at 12.30 pm! , and Subri now tells me that she asked him , “So for your birthday, do you want a baby sister, or a baby brother?”

“A baby sister, “ Subri said. He already had a younger brother, our Bunty,  who left us five years ago, and is sorely missed. So he though a sister would do nicely!

Kutti whom we knew and loved as Doctor Athey, said, “come with me, then”, and brought him to Vani Vilas , where he met his 8th birthday present. With whom he has shared every birthday ever since.

According Ramabrahma, I was brought home on July 29, by Kutti and Sheshagiri. He then wrote a letter to Ramakrishna (Chamanna) , Thulasi’s father  who lived in Nellore, informing him that the baby ( yours truly) had been brought home. I guess that means he did not go to the hospital to see me.

I can live with that. He probably wrote a diary all his life, . But only these two have survived. In the 1966 diary, on January 9, he notes the birth of his grandson Anand, born to Pandu ( Appa’s elder brother, and our Periappa) and our aunt Leela. At Vanivilas Hospital! It also happen’s to be Thulasi’s birthday! She turned 29 that day. Ramabrahma records both in his diary.

When Pandu arrived at Mahadev Vilas to announce the birth of Anand, Thulasi offered sweets. Panda was surprised. He wondered how she could have heard the news already. (There was no WhatsApp then) Everyone had a good laugh when she said it was her birthday! Of course, I don’t  know if Ramabrahma joined in. May be he was smiling inside?

Anand,is now a fine pediatric surgeon, working, yes, at Vanivilas hospital!

On July 31, the new baby (that’s me!) had the cradling ceremony. All my aunts and uncles must have come for Ramabrahma says close relatives attended.

That day he also made a gift of Rs. 30  by check to Vimala , his daughter whose birthday was on August1. Her son , our cousin Seenu was born on January 5, six months before me. Ramabrahma says Kutti came in the morning to inform him about the baby boy’s birth at midnight.

A few weeks later, on August 26, the diary tells me that Kutti and Mangala (Ramabrahma’s daughters) came in the evening.They took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples in Visveswarapuram.

Wow! Ever since I read that, I can never go past Sajjan Rao Circle without thinking of Grandfather Ramabrahma.

He probably never dandled me on his knee. Or  talked baby to me. But  this is better!

This evening’s outing when I was just five weeks  old, that Grandfather Ramabrahma recorded in his diary,  never ceases  to amaze me.  The arrival of a baby brings the family together  like nothing else.  Here are two aunts, one of whom helped in the delivery of  the baby in this story, coming to take their baby niece on a little outing. Probably the baby’s first outing.  Mangala Athey, I remember  had given me a pair of gold earrings, tiny butterflies with a bunch of pearls hanging from them. A lolak, it was called. I loved  the lolaks, but lost them when I was in my teens. As for Kutti,  she has given us so much affection, and wisdom, and much else that is precious,  that  it’s quite immeasurable.

And then the Grandfather thinks it is an important event,  and writes it down in his diary .

It’s been said of Grandfather Ramabrahma that he was not a talkative man.  I get the impression that  no one had heard him guffaw, or even laugh too loudly.  But he was a correct man.  Being a responsible father , though not a demonstratively affectionate one.  Writing down his accounts. Writing  his diary , about his day. Perhaps he laughed when he was among his friends , when he strolled to the park and sat on the bench.

What if I had never found these diaries ?

We’d never know . How he enjoyed the life he had, and plainly loved having his chldiren, grandchildren his siblings and extended family about him, writing letters, receiving letters. Celebrating birthdays, attending weddings, receiving his sisters and brothers at Mahadev Vilas, celebrating his own 81st birthday and most touchingly, remembering his wife on her death anniversay.

He has listened to the radio coverage of Nehru’s death and marked Gandhi Jayanthi.

Getting to know one grandfather through his telling of the Ramayana, and the other grandfather through his diary- and how life was lived before TV arrived, and Facebook was was not even imagined.

Who could say no to that?

Secrets In The Red Diary

Posted in Uncategorized by Jayasri on May 10, 2017

IMG_3946Tales her Red Diary tell.

Amma’s little red diary in the early seventies reveals  how simple life was in the late sixties  and mid seventies.  How pleasurable it is  now,  to,peek into its yellowing pages, and see a Bangalore  that has been lost to,us irretrievably.   A Bangalore where we played “joot aata” around the circle at Madhavan Park, yes we did, IT’S TRUE!  And chased each other al the way around Rani Sarala Devi school , past the pink  Cooperative Society where we got rations from, and  into the little ABC park  which had one solitary cement slide  and a broken swing in it.

Amma’s diary spans several years. I remember random entires being made when I was in college a decade later!!
Filled with knitting patterns – the little jersey and matching cap with the pom-pom that Appa says I left behind in an auto rickshaw. It was dark blue with a row of light blue dancing men at the yoke. Appa made the pom-pom, winding the wool around a cardboard disk with a hole in the middle, cutting it , securing it in the middle and fluffing it up. It was a collaborative effort.
There are entries of monthly expenses. I’m amazed at how little it cost to educate me, and my two big brothers, but soon realize it wasn’t “little” then. There were bills to be paid. Malik Stores, sometimes entered as Sabi, supplied our groceries for the month and got paid a princely Rs. 72!. His store,was just two,doors away on 7th Cross, I Block, Jayanagar. The maid’s salary was Rs. 10. Firewood 10 md( I think that stood for Mede) cost Rs 14. An auto ride cost Rs.3.

There’s the ubiquitous Gurkha, who, for some reason, was always made to come back tomorrow to collect 0.50 paise per month. Every mom knew enough Hindi to tell him “Kal Aao!”
Later, there is some “kanakku” or lekka from which I can see how she started the lemon yellow foreign nylex cross-stitch saree project. She has sent for the saree, embroidery thread, scissors and some other things, from Rohini, her sister in Madras, who is an award winning cross-stitch legend. There is also some plastic wire sent for, and that I think must be yellow crochet potli bag with colored beads she and Leela Periamma made in another project. Must check,with cousin Popy if she got it as a gift from Amma.
The saree is very much here with me, and so is the pink shawl she knitted ( the pattern is to be found in the red diary! )
Though she was no fan of North Indian food, I think she took at a shot at it because I had acquired a taste for it, and she has written down recipes for chole kurma, and cauliflower bajji and the like . I have no recollection of biting into the last item at all.
I find I have added my own childish scribbles to some of the entries, and I have no idea what she made of them. Was she annoyed? Or irritated? I suspect not, after all,as they say back in Nellore,, Amma is Amma!
However, I think there were times when she despaired of me. I have heard from quite a few aunts that she was quite sure that no other mother in the world had a daughter who didn’t confide in her. Which was true, but I’ve never been the confiding kind!
But she must concede that she was also the only mother who was actively encouraged(by said kid) to leave her kid in someone else’s care to go the movies with friends, cousins, nieces and nephews. I loved to play by myself, and I think I’ve always enjoyed my own company , and so I rarely complain of boredom.
Even the Mummest of Moms must admit a kid who recited her second prize-winning 8 stanzas of Suprabatham to scores of visitors for weeks is worth all the bother.
Of course she did.

A game was played

One page is filled with sums which all add up to 3958.
As in Thulasi 1937+1955+24+42= 3958 when you divided 3958 by 2, the answer was 1979. The current year.
It has been done for my aunts Mangala, Leela, Pandu(uncle) and my Dad, Sheshagiri. And my cousins Ashok and Girija.  The answer for each was 1979

Clearly,  Amma and Leela Periamma spent a fun afternoon, doing these sums for their sisters-in-law,  their husbands and LP’s son and daughter, who were the only ones among the cousins to be married .

When I figured it out, I felt very smart. Until the Spouse , and the Big Brother said , when you add,your age and the year of birth , you have to get the current year as the answer. Jeez. Some people just can’t not suck the air out of a happy room!
I will just cherish the fact that my mom had fun doing these sums.

Mum’s the word. For today.

Summers with Kailasam

Posted in Uncategorized by Jayasri on March 10, 2017

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   On March 12 , Appa is 94. We celebrate his anecdotage, and cherish the gift the  of humor, that he has given to all of us in generous proportions. This is our greatest asset, and a gift that goes on giving.

He got it from his mother, Venkamma. Not so much from his father, the taciturn Anglophile, Ramabrahma, once the Headmaster of Sardar’s High School Belgaum, who lived by the clock, and always noted the time he did anything.

This is a photograph of Appa, aka Sheshagiri,taken in 1941 or 1942. At the age of 18, in Solapur. It was the summer he spent a month with T.P Kailasam, the reigning Emperor of trilingual wit, and humor, and Master of Drama.

First about the picture. Sheshagiri was then a student at the DAV College, Solapur, and home was that of his Uncle, Dr Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City. The marriage of cousin Shankaran (Dr Subramayam’s son) was fixed with Gomathi . The bride-to-be wanted photographs of the cousins and relatives of her betrothed, and so it was that Sheshagiri was marched off to a studio , tweed coat on, to have this picture taken.

Dr Subramanyam (brother of our grandfather Ramabrahma) lived in a big house on Patalamma Gudi Road near Armugam Circle, and figures regularly in the diary of Ramabrahma, whom, says the diary, he visited nearly every day, at around 4 pm!Ramabrahma’s own house of course is Mahadev Vilas, on the corner of Ratna Vilasa Road and Kanakapura road, already mentioned in earlier stories.

This is the youngest photograph that we have now of our Appa. He remembers the studio was on the road where Bhagawat cinema house and another theatre whose name he’s unable to recall ( McKenzie?) were located, opposite the Solapur City Health Offices. Bhagawat cinema has now transformed into the 21st century avatar a multi-plex. 

This was also the summer that the great Kailasam came visiting. And Sheshagiri practically overdosed on Kailasam It was during a random conversation with Appa a couple of years ago, I learnt of his “Kailawesome” summer, 75 years ago!

Tell me about Grandmother Venkamma,” I said, for she had died when Big Brother Subri was barely a year old, and we have never seen her. Amma had spoken fondly of her, and yes, her sense of humor, and there were a couple of photographs.

She was a good hostess, a great cook, and had blended comfortably into life in Dharward, and later Belgaum, wherever her husband Ramabrahma’s job as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency took him. She had started to wear her sari in the Maharashtrian style which was common in Belgaum , and introduced her friends to the Tamil way of celebrating Varalakshmi pooja.

Many grey eminences , writers and citizens of Bangalore often came to Belgaum on work, and Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar’s High School hosted them in his home, or in one of the hostels on the campus So it was that the great,eccentric racounteur, the soul and spirit of Kannada theatre, and humor literature aka T P.Kailasam, came to stay for a few days. He was delighted to learn that Venkamma could laugh in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, and some English, and he set about regaling his hostess with spontaneous one-liners, and tri-lingual puns.

KAILASAM’S GIFT OF THE BOOK

He once brought presents for the boys, Sheshagiri and his older brother Pandu. Books published by Ward, Lock & Co -Robinhood for Pandu and Aesop’s Fables for Sheshagiri who was around 10 at the time.Both were inscribed with a message and signed by Kailasam. Sheshagiri was not impressed with his Aesop’s Fables, for it had no pictures in it ! He made bold enough to tell Mr Kailasam, who right away sent for a new , illustrated copy. But when the new book arrived, Kailasam had already left, so he had no inscription now.

“My favorite story was the The Donkey’s Shadow”, Appa said to me, reminiscently.  The book, of course has been lost.

TOLLU GATTI PHOTO PROJECT

Meanwhile, Kailasam undertook an unusual project at the legendary Katti Studio in Belgaum. He made himself up as each of the characters of his play Tollu Gatti, and got photographs taken of each of them. He then sat with the studio owner and explained to him the technique to put them all together and voila’ ! He had a single photograph of Kailasam as entire cast of Tollu Gatti!

The fate of that photograph is not known. Neither do we know why Kailasam undertook this project. But plainly, he enormously enjoyed dabbling in “trick” photography!

THE LONG KAILASUMMER

Fast forwarding to the summer of ’42, the time Sheshagiri’s photograph was taken. One morning he was summoned from his classroom to the chamber of his English Professor Sadasiva Iyer, at DAV College . He went, wondering what lay in store, and presented himself before Mr Iyer, who said, “ Ah Sheshagiri, Mr Kailasam has just arrived from Bombay, you are to take him home to your uncle. He is to be your guest for a few days.”

Sheshagiri complied, quietly pleased at the prospect of a few evenings filled with humor, that would break the tedium of polite conversations at the dinner table. Home was the residence of his paternal uncle, Dr. M Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City, while Sheshagiri attended college. With cousin Shankaran away studying in Poona, it was quite lonely for young Sheshagiri expect when Shankaran visited for holidays.

Uncle welcomed his guest with the stoicism of a long-suffering host, remarking to Sheshagiri that the man was not likely to leave very soon, and, would doubtless cause him many a headache , throwing the household quite out of gear. But he was practically family, and a genius. One had to make allowances for his eccentricity. When Old Gally came to nestle in the comforting arms of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth could hardly give him the heave-ho.

SHESHAGIRI IS SHORTS-CHANGED

The entertainment began right away for Sheshagiri. Kailasam’s luggage had gone missing on the train from Bombay, and he “borrowed” a pair off the clothesline at the back of the house. It happened to be Sheshagiri’s PT shorts, but it become TP Kailasam’s and was never returned to its owner.

Kailasam settled down quickly to his erratic routine of writing, drinking, smoking at odd hours. There were plenty of evenings when he regaled the host and his nephew with his endless supply of spontaneous humor and impromptu poetry.

The 1940s Solapur , a dusty little town with many cotton textile mills, already famous for the Solapur bedsheets, was not known to be a place where the high-minded gathered and discussed literature and philosophy. An occasional cinema, and dramas on the theme of mythology were the most popular entertainment, for the large workforce employed at the mills. However, Kailasam often had visitors, the local grey eminences, so to speak, with whom he had long conversations and discussions, and he went out to meet people at the office of Prabhat Theatre, which had been provided to him by the manager.

Sheshagiri and his “chaddi dost” spent many evenings being a one-man-show for a one-man-audience. Sheshagiri learnt that during his student days,  Kailasam had been a magician’s assistant to a hata yoga master who had become very popular in England. This hata yogi used to give lectures, and perform “magic” at private events and for a while Kailasam played his assistant. The magic tricks included chomping glass and sipping acid.

It was Kailasam’s job to go around the audience showing them the glass and the acid. Kailasam told Sheshagiti that a little girl in the audience once asked “why does he eat glass?”

Because he wants to eat bread,” Kailasam had said.

An excellent football player, a fact he used as a bargaining chip to continue being a student in London, he was asked, “why don’t you go back to India?”

“Because I fear my father has reserved the fatted calf for me,” he said, meaning his father, T. Paramasiva Iyer, was waiting to deliver a kick on his backside, when he returned home. 

Gandhiji’s recently acquired love for soya bean inspired the Kailasam-speak that went “ Khaya bean, soya Gandhi”,

Sheshagiri wondered if it was true Kailasam could blow smoke rings, and sign his name in it. Kailasam laughed, and said it was just a myth that wouldn’t go away!

Kailasam, described by N. Sharda Iyer as a scientist , sportsman, wit, actor, playwright and bohemian in her book, “ Musings Indian Writing In English”, then put on his scientific hat and explained to Sheshagiri the science behind smoke rings.

VISITOR TO AKKALKOT PRINCIPALITY

A few weeks later, Mr Kailasam had a visitor. Mr M.S.Sardar, aka Barrister Sardar who was also part time judge in the Akkalkot Samsthana , who took him away , to be the guest of Akkalkot royalty. Akkalkot, now a municipality of Solapur, was ruled by the Bhonsle family, which had been installed as rulers by Chatrapati Shahuji in 1712. Going by history, Kailasam’s host was Vijayaraje Bhonsle, who ruled from 1936 to 1952.

He was gone about 10 ten days. When he returned, he brought with him a neatly typed and bound copy of his latest work, which, plainly, he had been putting the finishing touches to in the preceding weeks at Solapur.

Sheshagiri soon learnt that Kailasam’s latest work was the play, “The Brahmin’s Curse”, about the tragic prince Karna and his guru Parashurama, from the Mahabharata. A reading was arranged at Prabhat Theatre, and Sheshagiri was part of an audience of about 50 Solapurians, making him one of the first to hear the play read by the great man hinself. He never forgot the last lines of the poem “Karna”-

“Availed thee naught ‘gainst unjust death! Alas,

Be fooled babe ‘gainst fate’s bewild’ring odds!

bauble of the jeering gods.

Seventy-five summers later, Sheshagiri, our Appa, recited these lines to me from memory. I took notes. Appa asked, “ do people know Kailasam these days? Who reads him? Who’d be interested in my Kailasam story?

Let’s find out on SweetKharaCoffee, I said.

Who wouldn’t want to hear from a boy who was present at the first reading of The Brahmin’s Curse, by the great Kailasam himself?

END

 

 

A Rocks Asi Valentine’s Day

Posted in FrontPage, Literary Lapses by Jayasri on February 14, 2017

Twisted Talons  was bored.  Life on the edge of Dan Daka forest was beginning to pall. Preying on the hapless rishis and scaring them witless with her frightful form no longer tickled.  She was in fact, lonely.  On a sudden impulse, she decided to fly out , across the sea, to her brother’s island to check out the party scene. She might bump into that lusty, bull-chomper, Oxshas ….  The Bloody  Maya  at  Draksha’s,  made with peacock blood was to die for,  at least.

She threw  a   much gnawed elephant bone away,  flung aside her empty rhino-horn,  that stank  of stale wine,  and hoisted herself up into the air, startling a flock of  parrots that flew out of their perch on the tree she had been leaning on, complaining loudly.  With an unsympathetic “hmph!”,she began cruising in the air, heading south,  following the  flow of the Gotta Worry river. Janisthan, her stomping grounds, appeared  tiny and toylike .

When she came over a small clearing  she hadn’t noticed before, she swooped down lower to investigate.  She sighted a  tiny hut in the middle a pleasant hermitage where  deer and hare romped about in the garden .

“Whose hermitage is this?  How did I miss this one?” she wondered . There was a sudden movement, and  Twisted Talons quickly went behind the canopy  of the shinshupa tree,  to watch.

The man walked out  of the hut, and  strode gracefully towards the peepal tree. He sat down on the stone seat under it, and  smiled, looking at the antics of the squirrels  near by.

He was dark-skinned,  his chest was broad like a lion’s. His arms long and strong,  a pair of lotus eyes  in a face that glowed golden. Had Kama descended upon the earth?  Twisted Talons was enchanted.  Oxshas could go drown in a  rhino-horn of  Bloody  Maya…. This one was a keeper.  She would not eat him…. at least not immediately.  it would be nice to play with my food, she thought… ..

Wasting not a moment, she  came out from behind the tree, and swooped down to a perfect landing in front of the man, who looked up at her questioningly. No alarm. Not even surprise!

She came straight to the point. “Will you be mine, handsome one? she asked,  wagging her curly talons at him. He looked at her. He smiled . That killer smile that had melted her heart.  He’s smiling his acceptance, she thought, and noticed for the first time his slim waist,  the perfect six-pack abs. She could  spend hours getting to know him.

A great sigh of anticipation escaped her heaving, gigantic bosom.  Everything about her, was, in fact gigantic. She was surprised at herself.  Here was a man,  such a fine specimen of human, and  making a meal of him was the last thing on her mind!

“Pray tell me who you are,”, he was saying, and  Twisted Talons came back to the present.

“Aham Rocks Asi”,  Twisted Talons said, switching to Sanskrit, hoping to impress him.  A Rocks Asi, who can change shape and form, a kaama roopini.. I wander these forests of Dan Daka, preying upon the rishis,  creating fear and terror among the all the creatures living here.    I’m in love with you, and  in my heart, I have already made you my husband. Come away with me, and we shall live happily ever after.”

“Dear lady  with the waist of two elephant’s girth,  unkempt hair and those fang that seem to grow in all directions, I am sorry, but I have to disappoint you. FOr I already have a wife, whom I love very much.”  he said, adding, slyly, ” besides, you don’t look to me lke someone who can share your husband with another wife”

Twisted Talons laughed, ” your wife? That creature, with sunken waist, who looks like a harridan. Let me just make a meal of her. Then we’ll be free  to roam these forests and hills!” . She slurred  on the last words, last night’s wine drunk by the kegful suddenly catching uo with her

“That’s no plan. I cannot leave my wife.  Not even for you.” he said.  ”  Here’s what, here’s my younger brother. Happily, he has no wife to bother him, and I’m sure he ‘ll gladly marry you, “he said.
Twisted Talons glanced at Handsome’s brother. “Go on,” he said . ” His name is Lux. He deserves a wide-eyed, wide chested, pot-bellied beauty like you for a wife. He will make you very happy.”

Twisted Talons, a  true Rocks Asi,   went happily over to Lux,  who was no mean looker, and propositioned him. “Lux,  will you be mine?   Look at my glowing complexion, and see the love in my heart which beats for you”.

Lux choked on a laugh. ” Dear lady who glows like a  lotus, why would you want to my wife? I am the servant of  my brother. Would you  marry a servant? Do you deserve such a fate? Go back to my brother and ask him again. ”

“Are you two playing with me?” Twisted Talons asked, suspiciously.  “Oh no!  ” said Lux  a little too quickly.”  I’ve never been so serious!”

She went back to Handsome.  The wife had joined him. Twisted Talons looked at her. What a sorry figure she cuts, sunken waist, sunken cheeks, sunken… well, everything. What did he see in her. There’s so little of her anyway…. If I just sink my teeth into her, and eat her up raw,  he won’t even notice she’s gone…. and when he does, he’ll thank me………..

Twisted Talons never knew when her 12-inch long curly talons   begin to claw at  the little lady’s ribs, but she heard a piercing scream that rang out for miles around  and when it ended,  it was the turn of all the trees around to disgorge a thousand flocks of birds into the air,  twittering and chirping raucously.

And then, that excruciating pain that shot through her giant samosa nose and cauliflower ears. She covered her ears with her palms , and   looked at  them, covered in blood. Her nose ,  had been lopped off, and it would never  again be the giant samosa which made Oxshas  go ga-ga, especially after a dozen Blood Mayas were inside him.

Twisted TAlons ran. And ran. Deep into Dan Daka  forest to where Uncle Marich lived. He would give grind up a herbal paste to  regenerate her ears and nose. But of course they would never be quite the same again.

Some time later, she sat down on her favorite rock , still smarting about her ears and  resisting the temptation to pull the cinnamon bark bandage off her nose. She  thought about what Uncle Marich has said. “These humans don’t go by our rules. In their world  no means no.   And their idea of beauty is  nothing like ours. ”

Oh yes,  they thought I was ugly, she said, talking to herself. They laughed at me.. and then this!  Lux had been so quick, she had not even seen the flash of the sword or felt it’s cold touch on her nose….Now  now I have to live with this ..this fixed up nose.  Uncle Marich’s  rhinoplasty doesn’t go very far.

But… but    I’m a Rocks Asi. I rock.   When I say yes, I mean YES!….  why don’t they get it?

.

.

The tall man

G.G.Welling: From Wedding to Retirement

Posted in FrontPage by Jayasri on January 7, 2017

 

One studio. Two photographs.

Two photographs that bookend a wedding and a retirement and life that happened in Bangalore from 1955 to 1979.

The most precious picture in our collection is the wedding photograph of the parents , Sheshagiri and Thulasi, who were married on July 20, 1955, in Nellore. A few days later, Sheshagiri brought his new bride to Bangalore, and they went to G.G.Welling Photo Studios , M.G. Road to have their wedding picture taken.

Because everybody went to Welling when they wanted to have their momentous occasions frozen in a frame, when Sheshagiri retired 26 years later,  he ttook Thulasi  to Welling again , for he was required to submit a picture of them together for his pension purposes. Though many momentous occasions happened in these 26 years, including the birth of their three children – aka My Big Brothers Subri and Bunty, and of course me, they were not frozen in frames at Welling’s, for reasons unknown. However, we have a treasure trove of memories between the two pictures- Leaving Mahadev Vilas on Ratna Vilasa Road after Grandfather Ramabrahma died, moving house three times, changing schools and starting college.

How many times have I sat down with Amma and pored over that album with all the photographs. Their wedding pictures, those of my aunts’, uncles and ants and cousins and the maternal grandparents in their Nellore home. But this picture, taken by Welling is the one that the eye lingers longest on. It holds a thousand stories, of nine little girls and their seven brothers , the weddings of the girls all of which took place in the house of their Ramayana writing father Mamidipudi Krishnaiah.

I’ve tried to imagine the colour of Amma’s saree- it was maroon, with a gold bordern, my aunt, Amma’s youngest sister Rohini tells me. The blouse, was pink, and the special lattice-work at the neck is the “jalebi neck” .

It’s five years ago that Amma went, and two years ago, it was their 60th anniversary. 1955 was the year named Manmatha, the God of Love, and Spring, and Colors, and everything beautiful, and in 2015 it had been again Manmatha Samvatsara, the year in which Appa was left with 57 years’ worth of memories.

In 2015, I asked Appa why his parents ( Ramabrahma Tatha and Venkamma Paati) are not to be seen in any of the 10 wedding photographs . “it was taken by Thambi Mama” he explained. That would be Amma’s eldest brother, M Venkatakrishnan, known as Thambi . I remember Thambi Mama, the bachelor uncle, chartered accountant who was well known in the Madras music and dance circle, for encouraging young artistes who needed an introduction into the Sabha circuit , and taking them under his wing.

Appa then said, ” may be you shouldn’t post the reception photo, don’t we look funny sitting far apart, almost hugging our corners of the two-seater”

Too late, I responded, we have already shared all the photos last year, and told the story of your wedding , of which I’m very proud.
July 20, 1955:- the wedding of Thulasi and Sheshagiri was celebrated at the grand residence of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, at Nellore. Appa, , told me that on July 18, 1955, when the groom’s family had arrived, the bride’s home was abuzz with wedding-related rituals, and the house was beginning to look like it was in Malgudi instead of Nellore, an elder know-all pointed out that the next day, the wedding eve when the groom is welcomed was going to be a day of Amavasya. No one had thought of this, and there was momentary consternation. But soon enough , someone suggested that the ritual could begin on 18th, and that’s exactly how it was done. Thanks to Amavasya, another day of wedding revelry came to be enjoyed by everyone!
Our mother, The bride of the day
61 years ago, is in Amma Heaven . Her absence has become a presence, and she talks to us in everything we do. Appa and I have pored over these photographs, and he remembers little nuggets about the wedding . His cousin Baba travelled with him from Madras I remember him telling us when Amma died, about what Grandfather Ramabrahma had said of the bride chosen for Sheshagiri- he had got the most beautiful one of the seven daughters of Ramakrishnaiah.
How simple,and yet grand, a wedding could be in those days! It’s just not fair that we never get to be at our parents’ wedding. I notice my mother’s bare feet at the reception, and how
the bride and groom are seated as far away from each other as the two-seater permits! No visits to the beauty parlor, no make-up.
I remember playing wedding games , with Amma looking indulgently, and telling me the bride must sit with left leg folded up, and the left arm around it, and that’s what, I thought it took to be a bride!
Amma often told me about how the daughters of Ramakrishnaiah learnt of their impending marriage – suddenly, the house would begin to buzz with activity.  A set of imposing parents  would arrive and go into a huddle with the grandparents. The head of a party of wedding cooks would make several visits, a priest who conducted weddings would  drop in and leave with horoscopes  and return with list of auspicious muhurthams. 
The oldest un- married daughter would soon realize her turn had come to leave her parental home. The bride and groom would probably get to throw furtive, glances at each other.
Father it turns out, had seen his future wife much before their marriage was decided by the elders. At the wedding of his cousin in Madras, he was a dapper 21-year-old when he first saw her, a seven-year-old, running around in a little pavadai and blouse, with no idea whatsoever that she would wed this man 11 years later. She probably had no idea he was even there at that wedding, nor interested ! Glad to know she did marry him, for if not , this tale would never be written!

The retirement photograph caused much hilarity. Both of them had put on weight. “He couldn’t fit all of Amma in the frame, ” we said, and she had  laughed, as she always did at the fat jokes. We’ll never know if it hurt, or offended, and the laugh was meant to hide her annoyance. She was just Amma, and took it all on the (double) chin.

 

THE G.G. WELLING STORY

The Wellings come from a place called Veling in Goa They have been in the photography business since the 1850. Srinivas Mahadeo set up the Mahadeo and Sons photo store in Belgaum. They manufactured and sold cameras, and other photography equipment . Appa, who spent his childhood in Belgaum, around 1935 , remembers Mahadeo and Co as one of the first photography store in the town, although Katti Studio came up later. Grandfather Ramabrahma,was Headmaster of Sardar’s High School at the time, and Appa remembers that the services of Katti Studios were engaged on a few occasions, since it was the new kid on the block.

The Wellings opened the Bangalore store in 1903. It was then owned by Gajanan Goving Welling, who decided to go back to their roots, and added their native village as the family name. IT must have been the second generation Welling in Bangalore who took the parents’ wedding photograph in 1955. I have taken two or three passport photographs at Welling’s. The last must have been when I was with The Times Of India, just a few doors away from G.G.Welling.

Kailasam On Our Shelf

Posted in Anecdotage, FrontPage by Jayasri on January 1, 2017

Appa will soon be 94, but has been on a steady descent to anecdotage for as long as I can remember! We are a family that prides itself on its sense of humor, and revel in inflicting Appa’s puns and limericks and funny stories on unsuspecting visitors who actually leave with a promise to visit again soon for more! I often wonder if it’s politeness and if our guests really pay attention? Perhaps they keep nodding and smiling and fool us into believing they’re listening?

We do that sometimes, too. I confess. Not pay attention to Appa as he rambles on, and sometimes gruffly tell him “I know that story already” only to regret it and desperately try to un-say it all. Most of the time though we have conversations. He talks, we listen. we ask ,he answers…. He’s been around a long time, and remembers more than I have learned and forgottten! Memories of our Amma, Grandfather Ramabrahma, Grandmother Venkamma, his being a boy in the decade when we received the gift of Malgudi, and actually living the life of Swami and Friends….

Our own childhood, was growing up in a home where Mark Twain and Wodehouse lived and Kailasam was never far away.. though I never read much Kailasam as a kid, it never mattered because Appa could quote/recite/sing Kailasam from memory, and make us laugh.

Listening to my Appa has become more important now, with Amma gone. For she was our Pensieve before J K Rowling gave us a word for it, and I knew all about our uncles, aunts and cousins , and friends and neighbours, because of listening to her.

So it was that during a random conversation with Appa a couple of years ago, I learnt of his “Kailasome” summer, 75 years ago!

“Tell me about Grandmother Venkamma,” I said, for she had died when Big Brother Subri was barely a year old, and we have never seen her. Amma had spoken fondly of her, and yes, her sense of humor, and there were a couple of photographs.

She was a good hostess, a great cook, and had blended comfortably into life in Dharward, and later Belgaum, wherever her husband Ramabrahma’s job as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency took him. She had started to wear her sari in the Maharashtrian style which was common in Belgaum , and introduced her friends to the Tamil way of celebrating Varalakshmi pooja.

Many grey eminences , writers and citizens of Bangalore often came to Belgaum on work, and Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar’s High School hosted them in his home, or in one of the hostels on the campus So it was that the great,eccentric racounteur, the soul and spirit of Kannada theatre, and humor literature aka T P.Kailasam, came to stay for a few days. He was delighted to learn that Venkamma could laugh in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, and some English, and he set about regaling his hostess with spontaneous one-liners, and tri-lingual puns. Appa (around ten at the time) and his elder brother Pandu, were not so keen on the Kailasam brand of humor, not that anyone asked, but Appa told me, Kailasam was not very popular in those parts because his humor was more Mysore than Bombay.

He was a thoughtful guest, and he gave the two boys a book each. Pandu got Robinhood And Appa received a copy of Aesop’s Fables- published by Ward. Lock Co. Ltd. It was inscribed with a message from Kailasam, and signed. Appa, who had just then begun studying English, was not too pleased that the book had no illustrations, and told Kailasam, with childlike candor. Kailasam sent out immediately for an illustrated version,

Sadly, Appa remembers, he had left by the time it arrived, and so his book ddidn’t have any inscription. He enjoyed reading the book, and loved it for the illustrations, and told me that his favorite story was about the traveler and the donkey’s shadow. The book was lost a few years later, and Appa forgot all about it.

TOLLU GATTI ONE-MAN PHOTO

Meanwhile, Kailasam undertook an unusual project at the legendary Katti Studio in Belgaum. He made himself up as each of the characters of his play Tollu Gatti, and got photographs taken of each of them. He then sat with the studio owner and explained to him the technique to put them all together and voila’ ! He had a single photograph of Kailasam as entire cast of Tollu Gatti!

The fate of that photograph is not known. Neither do we know why Kailasam undertook this project. But plainly, he enormously enjoyed dabbling in “trick” photography!

It was a few years later, when Appa was about 18, and studying at the DAV College, Solapur, that Kailasam trundled into his life again. One morningAppa was summoned from his classroom to the chamber of his English Professor Sadasiva Iyer. . He went, wondering what lay in store, and presented himself before Mr Iyer, who said, “ Ah Sheshagiri, Mr Kailasam has just arrived from Bombay, you are to take him home to your uncle. He is to be your guest for a few days.”

(Appa will be referred to as Sheshagiri, reading on)

Sheshagiri complied, quietly pleased at the prospect of a few evening filled with humor and that would break the tedium of polite conversations at the dinner table. Home was the residence of his paternal uncle, Dr. M Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City, while Sheshagiri attended college. With cousin Shankaran away studying in Poona, it was quite lonely for young Sheshagiri expect when Shankaran visited for holidays.

Uncle welcomed his guest with the stoicism of a long-suffering host. remarking to Sheshagiri that the man was not likely to leave very soon, and, would doubtless cause him many a headache, throwing the household quite out of gear. But he was practically family, and a genius who was going to alternate between bouts of prodigious output and agonising writer’s block, and one had to make allowances for his eccentricity. After all, when Old Gally came to nestle in the comforting arms of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth could hardly give him the heave-ho.

SHESHAGIRI IS SHORTS-CHANGED

For Sheshagiri, the “entertainment” began right away. Kailasam’s luggage had gone missing on the train from Bombay where he had attended some literary do, and he “borrowed “a pair of shorts from the clothesline at the back of the house. It happened to be Sheshagiri’s PT shorts, which was never returned to its owner.

Kailasam settled down quickly, writing, drinking, smoking at all hours, and being very , very indisciplined. Mealtimes, and any other time when the mood struck him, the master of wit regaled the host and his young nephew with his endless supply of spontaneous puns, one-liners, impromptu poetry, and even, on occasion, titbits from the play he was currently working on.

The 1940s Solapur , a dusty little town with many cotton textile mills, already famous for the Solapur bedsheets, was not known to be a place where the high-minded gathered and discussed literature and philosophy. An occasional cinema, and dramas on the theme of mythology were the most popular entertainment, for the large workforce employed at the mills. However, Kailasam often had visitors, the local grey eminences, so to speak, with whom he had long conversations and discussions, and he went out to meet people at the office of Prabhat Theatre, which had been provided to him by the manager.

Sheshagiri and his “chaddi dost” spent many evenings being a one-man-show for a one-man-audience. Sheshagiri learnt that Kailasam was assistant to a hata yoga master who had become very popular in England when he was a student there. This hata yogi used to give lectures, and perform “magic” at private events and for a while Kailasam played his assistant. The magic tricks included chomping glass and sipping acid.

It was Kailasam’s job to go around the audience showing them the glass and the acid.

Kailasam told Sheshagiti that a little girl in the audience once asked “why does he eat glass?”

Because he wants to eat bread,” Kailasam had said, by way of saying it was the magician’s source of living.

An excellent football player, a fact he used as a bargaining chip to continue being a student in London, he was asked, “why don’t you go back to India?”

Because I fear my father has reserved the fatted calf for me,” he said, meaning his father, T. Paramasiva Iyer, was waiting to deliver a kick on his backside, when he returned home, Gandhiji’s recently acquired love for soya bean inspired the Kailasam-speak that went “ Khaya bean, soya Gandhi”,

Sheshagiri wondered if it was true Kailasam could blow smoke rings, and sign his name in it. Kailasam had a hearty laugh, saying he had been trying to do that, but had never really succeeded. But the myth had persisted, and now it simply wouldn’t go away!

Kailasam, described by N. Sharda Iyer as a scientist , sportsman, wit, actor, playwright and bohemian in her book, “ Musings Indian Writing In English”, then put on his scientific hat and explained to Sheshagiri the science behind smoke rings. He demonstrated how it was done- with a mouthful of smoke, which was expelled with a flick of the tongue. A simple experiment that demonstrates the diffusion of gases, he told Sheshagiri, would explain how smoke rings were made.

A few weeks later, Mr Kailasam had a visitor.Mr M.S.Sardar, aka Barrister Sardar who was also part time judge in the Akkalkot Samsthana , who took him away , to be the guest of Akkalkot royalty. Akkalkot, now a municipality of Solapur, was ruled by the Bhonsle family, which had been installed as rulers by Chatrapati Shahuji in 1712. Going by history, Kailasam’s host was Vijayaraje Bhonsle, who ruled from 1936 to 1952.

He was gone about 10 ten days. When he returned, he brought with him a neatly typed and bound copy of his latest work, which, plainly, he had been putting the finishing touches to in the preceding weeks at Solapur.

Sheshagiri soon learnt that Kailasam’s latest work was the play, “The Brahmin’s Curse”, about the tragic prince Karna and his guru Parashurama, from the Mahabharata. A reading was arranged at Prabhat Theatre, and Sheshagiri was part of an audience of about 50 Solapurians, making him one of the first to hear the play read by the great man hinself. He never forgot the last lines of the poem “Karna”-

Availed thee naught ‘gainst unjust death! Alas,

Be fooled babe ‘gainst fate’s bewild’ring odds!

Bejewell’d bauble of the jeering gods.

Seventy-five summers later, Sheshagiri, our Appa, recited these lines to me from memory. I took notes. Appa asked, “ do people know Kailasam these days? Who reads him? Who’d be interested in my Kailasam story?

Let’s find out on SweetKharaCoffee, I said.

 

An 81st Birthday – From The Diary of Ramabrahma

Posted in Uncategorized by Jayasri on December 7, 2016

Grandfather Ramabrahma , who famously lived by the clock, and loved to note the time he did anything, also wrote a diary. probably every day of his life. We chanced up two, for the years 1964 and 1966. His children mostly remember him as a self-centred man-in a positive way, if such a thing is possible! And it is!
I mean, he writes of the comings and goings of his sons and daughters, and their spouses, the birth of his grandchildren, and their cradle ceremonies and birthdays , and the little presents he gave. The letters he wrote and received, neighbors and siblings, and festivals , and how my mother, Thulasi celebrated his 81th  birthday. He writes that he went to Harsha Stores to pick up the cake that was ordered, and that Thulasi had invited the family over for afternoon tea!
Basavanagudi, Kanakapura Road, Ratna Vilasa Road, Gandhi Bazar and MNK Park, were his little universe, as he lived his twilight years at Mahadev Vilas, and to us, it brings back the Bangalore that once was.
There is gossip, though he’d be surprised to hear his entry about his brother’s cook being ill, due which said brother Dr Subramanyam had to take his meals at our house, being termed gossip. Somehow, the image springs to mind of Ms Marple of St. Mary Mead putting away this important factoid in a corner of her mind, while solving a murder mystery which nobody asked her to solve, any way!

Ramabrhma was  not just a man of few smiles, and  speaking for/by the clock was his way of announcing his arrival and reason thereof.  The unflappable Mrs Venkamma Ramabrahma,  with a sense of humor minted in Tirupattur (the ten-village town)  of great antiquity in Vellore, Tamilnadu,  who managed her brood that ranged many age-groups adroitly enough to leave him thinking that it was all his doing,  often took recourse to droll little utterances  that ridiculed his devotion to punctuality.  But it was many, many years , when they retired to life in Bangalore,  before  his wife  thought to rib him by    asking, “who is hungry, you or the clock?”  Mr Ramabrahma ‘s  response, one imagines, was  a   Narasimha Rao-like-  inscrutable silence.

His 83rd birthday entry speaks of Cousin Bharathi and children ( of Vesteras, Sweden) came to tea. I think that is when my doll Gita Papa arrived , as a gift from Bharathi. I still have her, and she stands  on the book shelf,  wearing a  frock and matching  shorts sewn by Amma. Here’s the post about Gita Paapa.

FROM THE DIARY OF M. RAMABRAHMA 

DATE: DEC.8, 1964

Grandfather Ramabrahma turned 81 on this day, December 8, in 1964.   Fifty-two years ago. He also enjoyed it immensely, and basked in the attention of his children and grandchildren, who attended the tea party in his honor at Mahadev Vilas, his  home on the corner of Ratna Vilasa Road and Kanakapura Road.

Tatha’s  81st birthday celebrations, as per his diary began on the night of Dec. 6– My Birthday falls on Dec.8, he  says, a Tuesday. Thulasi ( my mother, and his daughter-in-law) will arrange for a tea party at 4 p.m., inviting only the members of my family. We decided what the menu should be.

An earlier entry for the day notes  that Lalshmi Mami, a  lady who used to come by every day and read to Tatha, mostly from the Upansihads and the like, had been to Kutti’s place and had brought back his Rastinon tablets, for his diabetes.

On Dec.7  the birthday eve, it was a very busy day.  As decided yesterday night, writes Ramabrahma, I went to the Gandhi Bazar and placed an order for plum cake at Harsha Store.and khara bundi at the sweet Thulasi  has invited all my daughters who are here, and Pandu and family for tea after 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Went to Gandhi Bazar in the evening, and brought the cake and the savory preparations.  Received an invitation card from R.Ananthasubramanyam for the marriage of his grandson. Received an invitation from S.S. Kumar fro tea at Woodlands on the 11th.

AND THEN, its Dec. 8. My Birthday,  he says with an underline. “I have completed 81 years of my life. My neighbour K.S.Ramaswamy was the first to offer me birthday greetings.  Then I met Lakshmi and her children who offered me greetings. Went to the  Canara Bank and withdrew RS. 115/- from my pension account. My pension for November had been credited.

Received by post the brithday greeting from Bharathi and Bala at 4.15 pm. (That would be cousin in Sweden, Bharathi ,daughter of  our aunt and his second daughter Mangala.)

I had tea with those came at 4 pm.  The writing gets illegible here. but I think Mangala and Nanjundaiah arrived,  followed by Kutti (his first-born,  a doctor)  at 5 p.m. Vimala  his third daughter and her husband Bobby, and his elder son Pandu had their refreshments at 8 p.m. My sons and daughters gave me useful cloth(?) presents. Vimala and Bobby gave RS. 101/-

Two years later, Ramabrahma is  ready for his 83rd birthday.  I was there, not quite two-and-half years old. I was there at his 81st too, barely 5 months old,  also the only grandchild whose birth he recorded in some detail, in his diary. But that’s a story for another day. )

Dec. 8 , 1966

My 84th birthday. I completed 83 years of age, and my 84th year begins today. The children (that’s us, Big Brothrs Subri and Bunty, and the little toddler me) and Thulasi offered me birthday greetings when I went in for my morning coffee. I gave sweets (Parry’s toffee) to all of them.

TVS Iyer came home at 8.10 and wished me many happy returns of the day.

Issued cheque for Rs. 166/- in favor of Sheshagiri (Appa) . Of this amount, Rs. 100 is for household expenses and Rs. 40 for my personal needs. Kutti came here at 11.30 and gave me birthday presents (1 umbrella and 2 biscuit packets)  Nanjundaiah, Mangala, Bharathi and children came at 4 p.m. and offered me greetings and presents.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ratna Vilas Road

Posted in FrontPage by Jayasri on March 28, 2016

image

The picture of our house , in the center. The wall seen here is along Ratna Vilas Road. In the cricket pictures, in the background is  Anand Bhavan if I remember right,  where  Krest Park Apartments stands now

Ratna Vilas Road
This is a picture of our house, Mahadev Vilas, which was at the corner of Ratna Vilas Road and Kanakapura Road. In present day terms, it is diagonally opposite to Krest Park Apts. My grandfather M Ramabrahma bought and moved into that house in 1944 after retiring in Ahmedabad as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency .
I asked my father, Sheshagiri, who turned 93 this March 12, about Ratna Vilas Road and he of prodigious memory , told me the name comes from a house on the road, where a lady was running an “abhayashram” or a shelter for girls and young women who were victims of exploitation. Sometimes girls who had gone “wayward” and had been abandoned for their sins too found their way there.
My father who was 21 years old at the time, and studying to be a dairy officer at the National Dairy Research Institute says the house, a smallish building with gabled front, a style that was popular at the time, had a small compound with several trees. He remembers an almond tree or two, and also that it was a bleak, depressing place.
Ratna Vilas Abhyashrama ( not sure about the exact name) was run by a trust, with an endowment left by donor whose name is not known. The girls were given training in sewing, tailoring, and the like.
Not many people wandered into that neck of the woods, so to speak, and it was still developing as a residential area in the forties. It was such a gloomy place, that children didn’t need to be told to avoid going near it. Appa said he and friends rarely wandered in that direction,  unless they  were headed for Nagasandra Circle, or Gandhi Bazar or MNK Park, which they could reach through other roads.
Appa says after a few years, the home wound up, probably ran out of funds, and no one was willing to invest in it. It must’ve been sold, demolished and a new house built , and probably in going by current trend, that too has been pulled down to make way for an apartment block.
That, at least has been the fate of Mahadev Vilas, which had a vast compound, with the house in the middle, and originally had the outhouse on its side facing Kanakapura Road. (This is the road the leads off the South End Road somewhere near what was once Shanti Theatre, and goes on to Armugam Circle, and straight on by MNKrishna Rao Park, past the charming Renuka Devi temple). The outhouse was sold to K.S Ramaswamy, who was Editorial Representative of The Hindu, and named their house Sita Bhavan .and our two families have been friends ( and family by marriage, and sometimes purely on an honorary basis cousins, currently in third generation)This bonding was made all the more easier by the little wicket gate in the compound wall by the big champak tree, between the homes, which saw a great deal of traffic -kids, parents, and the grandparents, playing, knitting, and talking.  As  can be seen from the photographs,  the compound was large enough for a game of cricket to be played. And it was!

This is the house we lived in when I was born, and in the pictures here are my brothers and their cousins and friends playing cricket. In the background can be seen Anand Bhavan , with a bandstand, which has made way to Krest Park Apartments.
Another nugget from Appa illustrates the charming, simple lives that was lived in those days, and indeed into the sixties when I was born. With no TV, or Internet, and telephone being a luxury, people were always visiting each other, exchanges news of births, marriages and deaths, and many things in-between. Even the installation of traffic lights at MG road was big news!
So when the R. B Muthu , wife of Capt. R.B Subramanyam, a doctor who had served in the WW-1 and had settled in Bangalore on retirement, came to Ratna Vilas Road all the way from the Cantonment where they lived, my grandmother, Venkamma, ( Subramanyams were friends of our grand-uncle M. Subramanyam who was a major, and a doctor who had served as health officer of Solapur and who lived on Patalamma Gudi Road) welcomed her, and enquired as to the purpose of her visit to these parts.
Muthu, told here she had come to see about the Ratna Vilas abhayashram.
Which alarmed Venkamma a great deal, who exclaimed, ” Ayyo why do you need become a member of such a place,!”
Muthu explained she was a member of the committee that manages the home, and see to it that everything ran smoothly, much to Venkamma’s relief!
Ratna Vilas Abhayashram must been a strange presence amongst the homes of mostly middle and upper class families settling down in Basavanagudi in the 1940s, and while no one doubted its usefulness , they were also wary of it, probably being aware of how the girls who ended up there came to be there.
It wound up a few years later, until today, when the question has popped up , “How did Ratna Vilas Road get its name?”
I could look to Appa, and ask him! And get an answer.
PS – I spoke to him this morning, and when I rang off, he had left Ratna Vilas Road way behind, and racing toward Model House Street, Alur Venkat Rao Road, which referred to as Albert Victor Road, and mumbling merrily about the bus service from market via Minto Hospital , Shankar Mutt Road and terminating at Old Poor House Road.
PPS: Bye I need to catch up with him

A Soap Opera Sandalous

Posted in FrontPage by Jayasri on March 22, 2016

imageAppa's surprising Birthday Selfie. He's now iPa.

 

 

Appa turned 93 on March 12.  He and Amma  had 57 years together, from 1955  to 2012, when Amma left us. This, however is the story of another relationship, one that Appa started when he was about 14,  and endures to this day.  An intimate relationship  that never bothered Amma , though she  was often angry, and petulant and even disparaging of Appa’s choices and preferences. Sometimes, it seemed to me that Amma reserved an extra dose of meanness for him when she  laughed at his expense, and I felt torn – should I laugh with her, or  show solidarity with Appa by not smiling. Appa himself  never let it bother him, I think. Come to think of it, I don’t remember when  I last saw Appa being “officially” angry, about anything. It was the sole preserve of  impatient, intolerant Amma, whose impatience, and intolerance, I have to admit, dissipated as quickly as it erupted, and her whacky, often wicked sense of humor took over.

Then  I grew up and came to realize that they were still together,  carrying on their strange, monologous arguments conducted by Amma, interspersed with  Amma’s demands for help with the crossword, her giggles over Appa’s pooja which she found very funny- he’s saying the shlokas hesitantly, as if he doesn’t want to disturb the gods, she’d say.  I  often found myself snapping at Amma or Appa with impatience  and immediately regretting it. We would all sulk a little, laugh a little in a conciliatory manner, or  let the moment pass while I’d look rueful, and then ask for coffee, and everything became “normal” again . I also learnt that  no one can understand, or explain the how and why of a  husband-wife relationship, other than the two who are in it. Why even Valmiki wisely steered clear of this relationship, and  refrained from including “husband”  in the 16 attributes  of  the ideal man,  before he began composing the Ramayana.

I digress.  This is about Appa and his companion of  79 years. A part of our memories and thoughts of Appa. We remember how we’d wake up and go bleary eyed to the bathroom, to find three toothbrushes ready with toothpaste,  laid out on the  cement counter around the cauldron which used firewood for heating water for bath (not used, for we had graduated to the brass  “anda” fitted with an electric heating coil). For Big Brothers Subri, Bunty, and for me. We never had to squeeze paste on to our brush. In the summer holidays, when we went to Madras, or Nellore, we’d forget to pack our brushes, and Appa would forget we weren’t there, and  it would be left to Amma to scrape off the dried paste, and fling them into the waste bin.

Since I left for school early, , it was only on Sundays that I got to see Appa emerge from the bathroom, wrapped in his towel, and  the nostrils would catch a whiff of his  soap, Mysore Sandal .The scent of  comfort, and  contentment.

Which brings us to  the point of this story. We have known Mysore Sandal Soap  for as long as we have known Appa. I espy  the familiar cream box with green border, and the logo of Sharabha, the mythical  creature with the body of a lion and the head of an elephant, in an Indian store here in Herndon, and I remember Appa. Sometimes I pick up one to use, though it is not my personal choice. Indeed,  I’ve  found  it never wears out, just sitting there for weeks, hard, and relentlessly smelling of  stale sandal. If Appa didn’t ask for ia new one every few days, I’d think he ‘s been using the same cake all this time time!

So let’s begin at the beginning. , in the Old Days of Belgaum, as Appa is fond of  beginning his oft-repeated  stories , which he amazingly rememberswith great clarity,  for  Appa’s choice of soap is no mere story, but history.

In 1937, Appa (Sheshagiri, from now on) and his elder brother Pandu were sent to the hostel of Sardar High School Belgaum. Their father, M.Ramabrahma, Headmaster, had been transferred to Poona. It was also the time they  made a few choices. The one we are concerned with is-  the soap of their choice to lather up with.

For the 1930s was the decade when soaps came to be regarded as a neccesity and not a luxury. and most households had long since abandoned the desi  way of bathing with shikakai, or  besan and turmeric. Sheshagiri remembers there were some soaps claiming to have shikakai in them, but  they never did really become popular.

Soaps came to India with the British, naturally, with the Lever Brothers England introducing modern soaps , importing and marketing them here.. The first soap manufacturing company in India was set up in Meerut, by the North West Soap Company where they started marketing cold process soaps in 1897. It floundered during the World War I , but picked up again soon after the war ended.

The first indigenous soap factory was set up by Jamshedji Tata in 1918, after he purchased OK Oil Mills in Cochin, Kerala 1918, where coconut oil was crushed, and laundry soaps were made for the local market. It was renamed Tata Oil Mills and branded soaps made an appearance in the  early  1930s.

In the year 1906,  urged on by Lokmanya Tilak the Indian National Congress began the swadeshi movement, and  Ardeshir Godrej decided to launch  Indian made soap  The Governments of Mysore and Madras started independent soap factories in 1916, and in 1918, the Godrej company came out with its product, making them from vegetable oils instead of animal fat. In 1920 Godrej introduced a soap named No.2,  which was followed by No.1 in 1922.

By 1937, when  a 14-year-old and his older brother were  ready to  settle down with their personal choice of soap,  there were soaps called Turkish Bath,  and VAtni which means “of the motherland”  There was, indeed, a wide array of soaps to choose from, both  imported, and swadeshi. Lux,  and Pears, and a few other brands that came from England. , The Government Soap Factory in Bangalore, Godrej Soaps in  Bombay, BEngal Chemicals, Tata Oil Mills and the Lever Brothers  company, were already vying for the attention of Indians who bathed with passion , even obsession.

Pandu picked  Pears Soap. It was first made and sold  in 1807, by  Andrew Pears, at a factory just off Oxford Street in London, England, according to Wikipedia.Everyone knows it was the world’s first mass-marketed transparent soap with a 100 year history of its own, already. Like many other brands, mainly Lux, it came all the way from England, who still ruled over us in the 1930s. It had arrived in India in 1902.

Its not clear what clinched it for Pears Soap with Pandu. Perhaps he was fascinated by its transparent amber color, and that he could see through to the other side. Or its pungent scent, and the feel of its lather on the skin?      The extremely  racist ads Pears put out in the African continent , didn’t make their way into India,  so they are unlikely to have lured Pandu into buying Pears. There  was this cheesy one which looks like Goddess Lakshmi was endorsing Pears soap for a baby she was holding, Even Pandu would surely have found it cheesy.I do not know how long Pandu ( who is of course, our Periappa) used Pears. Perhaps Leela Periamma, his  wife and our aunt, will be able to tell us.

Sheshagiri’s choice was a historic one. A soap that had a royal birth,  from the mind of   Mysore Maharaja,  no less.  Mysore and its sandalwood are an inseparable part of  old Mysoreans’ cultural memory. And why not.

In early 1900s,  a small, exclusive stretch of forest was the solitary home of the sandalwood tree, and  this lay in the Kingdom of Mysore. Much of the sandalwood was exported to Europe, and it was only royalty, or the  rich Mysoreans who coould dream of  possessing some. World War I changed everything. Mysore was left with a glut of sandal which it could not export.  The great Sir M. Visveswaraya,  urged the Maharaja,  Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, to set up the sandalwood oil factory, and in 1916 the Government Soap Factiry became a reality. Sosale Garalapuri Shastri, was the man who came up with the process to make soap using sandal oil. Appa mentions that one of the engineers involved with this project, later launched a clone, calling it Kailash. It was quite unsuccessful .

It is 2016 now. Mysore Sandal Soap is a hundred years old. At 93,  Appa is still using it. When he married Thulasi (our Amma,  who incidentally, was born in 1937, the year Appa picked Mysore Sandal)  in 1955, they never thought of  going out together to see if they were made for each other. They just got married, as arranged by their parents,  and that was it.  Mysore Sandal Soap, was luckier. Appa dated it for a while, used some other soaps before decided to settle down with Mysore Sandal Soap, seven years his senior. He remembers seeing the ad in Aluru Venkata Rao’s monthly  Kannada journal, Jaya Karnataka, that said Mysore Sandal Soap  was “kaasige thakka kajjaya”  ( kajjaya being a regional sweet,  fritters, made with rice flour and jaggery and deep-fried.and eaten at weddings, and on Deepavali. ) In other words,  Mysore Sandal Soap, like the kajjaya , was full paisa vasool!

Aluru  Venkata Rao, is known to us as the Father of the idea of Karnataka Ekikarana,  bringing together all Kannada-speaking areas together to form  the State of Karnataka.

Appa agrees. About  the Kaasige thakka kajjaya. He thinks the soap has remained unchanged in these eight decades of bathing together.  Perhaps it may have shrunk in size a bit,  but the non-descript shade of brown, the scent  of sandal, and it’s quiet, oval presence has not changed at all.

Appa,  of course, has aged , well, gracefully. Unlike the other guy, the famous, charming, debonair,the late Dev Anand, who was born in the same year as Appa. Whose numerous face-lifts are legendary, and who, four years ago,  looked nothing like the dashing hero he’d once been in Tere Ghar Ke Samne or Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai. If he had  used Mysore Sandal,  he’d surely look nearly as good as Appa does in this  surprise selfie that he took on his birthday.

As I wind down to The End of this story,  I wonder if  the people at  Government Soap Factory, now called Karnataka Soaps & Detergents Ltd, would be interested in this Soap Appera Sandalous,  in the year  that marks Mysore Sandal’s centenary. What better endorsement than one from who has bathed away  79×26  oval bars  of Mysore sandal soap , all it’s life, barring seven years?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarada Hoffman

Posted in Uncategorized by Jayasri on February 29, 2016

As I wrote about Rukmini Devi and our Great-Grandfather Alladi Mahadeva Sastri,  I realized our aunt Sharada, who is the second student of Rukmini Devi, and has  been given the Sangeet Natak Akademi award ,  it’d be a good idea to share an interview of her which  shows how deep and close the connections are.  I know Sarada mostly from listening  to my father speak of her , though she did visit me a couple,of times when I briefly lived in Madras .

I thought it’s a good idea to post interview here. It was featured in Kutcheribuzz.com 
  

Sarada Hoffman

Bharatanatyam dancer 

Long associated with the doyen of Bharatanatyam, Rukmini Devi, and privileged to be the second student to graduate from Kalakshetra (the first being Radha Burnier), Sarada Hoffman, now at 73, is the first recipient of the Rukmini Devi Medal for Excellence in the Arts from the The Centre for Contemporary Culture, New Delhi.
Residing in a small flat, near the seashore in south Madras, Sarada who has spent all her life dancing and teaching, now leads a quiet life with her husband Hoffman and her books. Born in 1929 and hailing from a family of theosophists, dance has been the only dream, passion and mission of this artiste, who did not seek to be in the limelight. Sarada who formally retired at the age of 60 in 1989, continued her services till 1996 at Kalakshetra.
Although awards and honours have been given to her now, (she received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1997), what she still cherishes is her younger days spent with Rukmini Devi and the temple of fine arts. She reminisces about them in an interview with Kutcheribuzz Reporter S. Aruna.
Award for Sarada Hoffman – Click here.
You have received an award in the name of Rukmini Devi, what does it really mean to you?

It is a very special honour, since this is the first time that an award has been instituted in her name and I have been chosen to receive it. I’m indeed happy and appreciate their gesture. Although, awards are not for which I worked. I just enjoyed working and with the person I wanted to work with.
How did you get to be called ‘Chinna Sarada’?

Simply because there were many ‘Saradas’ during my time. The older Sarada was called ‘Periya Sarada’ and since I was younger, I became ‘Chinna Sarada’. Besides, there was also a Saradambal amma.
About your theosophical background?

I belong to the third generation of theosophists. My grand father, Alladi Mahadeva Shastri was the Director of the Adyar Library in the 1920s. My father M. Krishnan, also a theosophist worked for the Olcott Memorial schools. (There were five schools originally, with one left right now, which is being run by the society.) He was the first Indian to head the institution, who opted to work for the downtrodden, in those times. So, I was born and brought up in the theosophical estate.
About your first meeting with Rukmini Devi?

She knew my family since my grandfather, Alladi Mahadeva Shastri, was the priest who performed the ceremony while conducting her marriage with Arundale.
I met her in 1934, when I was about six. She was producing an English play, ‘Light of Asia’ by Sir Adwin Arnold. It was the life story of Lord Buddha, and she asked me to take part in the play. She was Yashodhara and I was her son Rahula. I had no major part except to sleep next to her! In the play, she also danced the ‘Swan’, which inspired me.
When did you see her first perform?

She gave her first Bharatanatyam performance in 1935, which I attended. It was a memorable occasion, which I’ll never forget. Such beautiful dancing. She was like a goddess and the audience was spellbound. She gave this performance to prove to the people, the divinity in dance. It was a time when the British were against dancing in the temple.
So, did you begin learning your first dance steps from her after this?

When we approached her, she said I was too young and therefore we had to wait. But I was enrolled as one of the first students in the Besant Memorial school (later renamed Besant Theosophical school), founded by her and Dr. Arundale.
When I was ten, she said I was ready.By then, she had started Kalakshetra, where Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai conducted the classes for her, while his nephew, Chockalingam Pillai, conducted the classes for the other students. I was a student for four years under him.
What do you remember of her as a student learning from a Guru?

I have watched her learn from Meenakshisundaram Pillai and the way she responded to what was being taught. He saw that she was creative and would let her portray the abhinaya according to her imagination.
Were there many students taking to dance then?

Oh yes. When she became famous as a dancer, everybody wanted to learn Bharatantyam. Many wanted to learn from Menakshisundaram Pillai. So he moved to his village, Pandanallur. Later even Chockalingam Pillai left and Rukmini Devi was left without professional teachers.
How did she manage the crisis?

She conducted the classes herself. She learnt to handle the nattuvangam (cymbals) from Bhairavam Pillai, who played the mridangam for her concerts. She conducted my arangetram and did the nattuvangam for my performance. I was about 14 then. Then on, she began training her own teachers. When I was 16, she asked me to assist in handling the classes for the younger students and in 1947, I was appointed as a teacher officially.
Were you also giving solo performances then?

Yes. I was a solo dancer since 1945. Sabhas would invite us to give performances. But I was working with Kalakshetra and the institution took priority.
How did the dance dramas that Kalakshetra is known for, originate?

In 1944, Kalakshetra produced the first dance drama, ‘Kutrala Kuravanji’. It was Rukmini Devi’s original contribution and was done with her own intuitive knowledge. The Kuravanji was done in the temples as a tradition and she wanted to revive them and present them on stage. She invited Karaikkal Saradambal, who gave her suggestions on the production. The music was composed by Veena Krishnamachariar and Rukmini created the entire production. It was premiered in Bombay and traveled all over north India.
She played the role of the heroine, Vasantavalli and I was a sakhi (friend).
In 1947, she organised the ‘Besant Centenary Celebration’ all over India. Somebody suggested that she could work on Kalidasa’s works and so she produced ‘Kumarasambhavam’, which was the second dance drama produced. She played the lead role of Parvati. She would say that the dance drama was one way of expressing bhakthi (reverance) and wanted the people to be conscious of the divinity in dance and not that it was just a show. She was trying to make the Indians aware of the Indian classical dance.
Was Kalakshetra getting stronger then?

By this time the institution had grown and we had a number of teachers and a lot of youngsters poured in. It was an established institution. Besides dance, classes in music, painting, poetry, Bhagavad Gita and theosophy were also conducted. In 1954, the first Ramayana was produced. In all this, I was helping her. She would choreograph them on me and in turn we taught the sequences to the students.
What is unique about the Kalakshetra style?

Rukmini Devi was particular about refinement and whatever was portrayed through dance was dignified. She made sure that any kind of vulgarity was eliminated. Movements have to be stylized on stage and our style was particularly noticeable.
Many people feel that Kalakshetra today is not what it used to be?

Now I’m not there so, I can’t say anything. But the ideals of the institution were based on her principles then. Her whole idea was that through dance one must transcend to be a better human being. Many students have branched out from the institution, but that is how it should be, to propagate the art and its values everywhere.
And surely dance isn’t what it used to be?

Sensitivity to aesthetics is lacking today. If it is there, the quality is different. The quality that was seen when I grew up is not much seen today. One must forget oneself to be an artiste. Only when the mental attitude is focused on the divinity and purity of dance, one can shine as a dancer. If you think of money, popularity and publicity, you may be appealing but you don’t touch the heart. The art must elevate the dancer and the audience.
And how do you see what many dancers call their work as ‘innovative’?

Considering the actual meaning of the word, nobody has done anything new. They haven’t developed any new techniques. Concept and themes may be different but the techniques are the same. Change is a way of life, but today, we’re trying to compete with the west. We can be rich in our own culture.
Any dreams that never came true?

I wanted to be a dancer and I wanted to help the person I admired most and I did it till the end. No more dreams were necessary. I had no time left for any.
Any favourite pieces in the dance repertoire?

I used to dance Andal’s dream, ‘Varanam Aiyaram’, which was specially composed for me, since I was fond of Krishna. It was a lovely piece which I performed in 1945 at the Theosophical Convention.Later I played the role of Andal in ‘Andal Charithram’ in 1961 The Anandabhairavi varnam, ‘Sakiye’ is another refreshing piece.
Are you completely retired?

I just like to lead a quiet life now. I spend my time reading, which I enjoy. Earlier, we worked from 6am to10pm and I hardly had any time to read. Occasionally, some students come for help.
Has your husband been supportive all along?

Oh yes. My husband is a very nice husband! A theosophist himself, he came here from the U.S in 1949, to assist Rukmini Devi in her various projects. He was the first editor of ‘Animal Citizen’, the magazine on animal welfare started by Rukmini Devi. In fact we got married at Dr. Arundale’s house in 1960.
She resides at Flat 2E, 23 B, Coral Bay Apartments, 3rd Seaward Avenue, Valmiki Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai-600 041. Ph: 4420246.
 

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