Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Diaries of my great grandfather

My great grandfather Mylar Rao was born in 1868.  In all probabilities his schooling would have been in Mysore itself going by one pencil rough draft he had made in the 1890s for an application for a govt. job where he introduces himself saying that his father was 'in Mysore Council Service'.

It was the British era when the standard of education was high class. The positive British influence reflected at jobs people held.  Thanks also to our Mysore Maharajas several dedicated teachers from Britain were employed.  Discipline, good habits, sincerity and hard work were inculcated in schools but they also came from within the families, almost naturally.  Among the many 'good habits' was 'diary writing'.  Mylar Rao had fairly regularly kept up this practice almost right through, but was inconsistent towards his end in 1936.

This post is about just some of the entries he had made in them.
Where did I find these 18-20 diaries?

My grandfather, renting the ancestral house, moved to another in 1950.  Among the several old pieces of furniture was one wooden almirah, said to be full of 'unwanted' stuff.  It had been kept in a passage that was the staircase room which led to the space [rented] upstairs. My curiosity in the late 70s led me to open and investigate the contents of this almirah.  The black-painted doors were stuck with dust.  I force-opened, alert to the chance of cockroaches flying out! Luckily none, but only dead specimens, as if trapped in.  Books, papers, diaries, account books and letter correspondence - this was my actual interest for the old postage stamps - lay there!  Most of them were from Mylar Rao's lifetime.

[I used it for many years and this is how it looked upon painting.]

After a thorough dusting and screening, I segregated the items that were interesting and worth further preservation.  It was only in more recent years that I found Mylar Rao's diaries had some beautiful [copied] quotes, some incidents, his activities at work, his brief daily routine and some amusing self-instructions and admonishments. The oldest diary is from 1898 when he was 30 years old.  The little diaries and his handwriting are beauties in their own right.
Let me pick up a few pages that I found interesting.

Mylar Rao was working in various positions like Munsiff, Asst. Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner in the towns in and around Mysore between 1898 and 1926 [retirement].

Click on the images for readable view.  

"My conduct on the bench was rather regretable, caused partly by the unpreparedness of the lawyers and partly by my anxiety to turn out more work than it seems possible for me.  Story of miracles we should not possess a gift of which we do not know the right use." 

Left page of next day: "Conduct satisfactory. Strength of will can work miracles.  Cultivate it. Many people discontinue reading after they enter in to life.  I am one of them.  I should hereafter make it a point to devote at least a few hours every day in reading something."

Left page: "Mr. Shama Rao's arrival.  So far as manners, I am becoming a little rude.  I should not be so.  I must mend them and be more hospitable.  Supper at Mr. Krishna Rao's.  Work hard. Do not waste time."
Right page: "My boy is very delicate.  A blow yesterday made him make water.  I feel troubled nowadays at slight circumstances.  Do not know the reason why.  Have not finished arrears of work.  Must be more sharp in writing out judgments."

"Sorry that my behaviour in court was not as it ought to have been.  I was rather narrow-minded. There is no use of losing one's temper for the wickedness of others.  An opportunity must be waited and the lesson taught. Why should there be any more pa.... "

"Beware of borrowing things from others.  Had a fall from Cheluva Iyengar's machine.  The brake was a little bent."  [Machine = Bicycle]

"5.30 am. Was very slow in my work.  After a record is read, it is always necessary to take some time to consider the points to be prominently set forth in the judgment and arrange them.  My hurry has to some extent been the cause of my slackness.  Obligations make one a slave."

"Be slow to place yourself under the obligations of another person.  If possible, never place yourself in that position."

Death of his servant Puttappa is felt.  ".... faithful and an obedient servant, never failing in his duty, character found wanting in many a so called educated man."

May 1899.
"Rode on the bicycle from here to Bankipur and back again.  Owing to my rashness, I let the machine run into a pit, fell off it, and damaged two of the spokes.  Beware of running headlong." 
[They were all mud 'tracks' back then!]
Right page: "Entertained a new servant Nagappa by name.  Sudden illness and harshness of the throat, commencing at about 10 a.m." 

September, Nagappa dies.  He writes: "I am rather unfortunate in my cooks. Both of them were good people and both died.  God bless their souls."

This was printed at Krishna Vilas Press here.

May 1900... he writes "Must have a time-table and must work according to it.  Every night half an hour for Kanarese reading and another half an hour general reading.  Morning one hour for professional studies and the remainder for writing judgment. This seems to be a fair regulation of work.  May I be helped to continue this kind of work." 
He probably could not, as there are many blank pages! 

On the left page he regrets having left the 'shed' [may be he was renting it during his job outside Mysore] and on the right, he realzes..."My conduct in leaving the sheds where I was so comfortable and had such excellent company seems inexplicable.  The whole of this day my mind was disturbed.  Many a time did it strike me why I should not go back to the sheds and be as happy as ever.  Blessed be the Dr."

Left page: "Morning spent in cycling.  Afternoon wasted in idle work. Wrote to brother regarding the Upanayana of the boy.  Mother's wish must be respected.  A man can have only one person who can be called by that name."

Left page: "Went out shooting in the morning. Crocodile in the river. Duck - Bagged nothing after all.  Felt exhausted in the afternoon. Had a good nap."
Right page:  It is the last page - December 31, 1900:  ".... The apparent natural inclination of all people seems to be to utter a falsehood in all cases in which they think that the speaking of truth is against their interest in some way or other. Good bye to the 19th century."
Shooting?  I did not know that! And what a fuss the world made with "Y2K" - Year 2000!  The end of the 19th century passed just like any other day!

1917 diary. 

In his official capacity Mylar Rao was accompanying the 'guests' to the "Kheddas" - a method they used to trap wild elephants in the forests for taming them - and shooting trips.
Left page: "The Gaekwar went bison shooting today and bagged a good one in no time.  Very lucky."
Right page: "In the evening, we walked up to the Chirakulli Hill from where we were able to have a good view of the surrounding country.  It was one of the signal stations and by means of the telescope kept there, the temple and the bungalow on the Chamundi [hill] were clearly visible.  Excitement on account of a wild baby elephant coming away to camp." 
[There are some pictures of the Kheddas of those times in our album.]

Left page: "Traveled from Budipadaga back to Mysore.  Excitement in camp owing to a wild tusker having come to the crawl.  Yesterday the Maharaja shot a tusker and today the Maharani who was unsuccessful in the jungle where she had gone shot in the crawl the tusker which was giving a lot of trouble.  Piety among the educated is at a low point."
Right page: "H.H.'s guest Mr. Oomabhai was shewn the Sandal Oil Factory, the Jagan Mohan Palace and the Garage in the morning. In the afternoon, he was taken to Seringapatam and Krishnaraja Sagara. H.H. returned from Budipadaga this day." 
[Garage = the Palace Garage where the fleet of Royal Cars were kept.]

His diary writing had become irregular at times and there were a few blank ones  pages of which he used for copying small portions of articles esp. from newspapers [The Hindu] that interested him. This he did after he retired in 1926, but never failed to write his family account, which will be in a separate post.

In fact, I did try to imitate this type of diary and account writing for a few years. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Great Banyan Tree of Kolkata - my chance visit

[Click to enlarge and read the description]

It was a large and heavy pictorial book, "Glimpses of India" published in 1895 [J.H.Furneaux] that served as the 'attraction' in my very young days when mother used to push little morsels of food into a fussy me.  Some of the partly torn and food-stained pages stand testimony to this memory.  During spare time when I grew up also, I used to turn the pages of this beautiful historical, illustrated book containing invaluable information and rare scenes of India.  One particular photograph, out of many, was to induce great wonderment, that of the 'Great Banyan Tree, Calcutta'.  [Read statistics and history here]  See picture from that book above.  It was too huge to be believed because the banyans I had seen here were nothing compared to its sheer volume.  

This Banyan Tree was on Jhansi Lakshmi Bai Road.  The dangling aerial roots close to the footpath was a beautiful and popular play thing for the children and I used to swing a few times while our family passed by on foot. It was great fun.  In 2014, it was sad to see it had fallen down due to high winds.

The Great Banyan at the Botanical Gardens was in distant Calcutta [now Kolkata]. Would I ever see it?  There was no such thing as a 'bucket list' for me way back then.  My employment and being a member of the official cricket team brightened the chances of various tours to different parts of India Kolkata was a possibility, even if remote. For my desire to reach fruition, the tournament had to be in Kolkata or in one of the venues to which we had to pass onward through this big city, which was the capital of India till 1911. 

In 1990, the tournament was in Kolkata, but no time. Again, passing through to Dhanbad [Bihar] via Kolkata, no time.  In 1999, it was in Durgapur [also in West Bengal], on 'knock-out' format.  Undeservedly, our team got knocked out on the first day itself.  It was the most awful feeling for all of us after our arduous journey that took four days, instead of two!!  Floods in the east coast had damaged railway lines and a linking bridge.  We had to reach Vijayawada by road - a long and energy sapping journey - to catch the train rescheduled to start from that point onward.  Losing the first match was like adding salt to the wound!  As if it was not enough, the arrangement for team stay was pathetic to make matters worse.  It was difficult to imagine living there for 3 more days with no further purpose at all.  We could not alter our railway booking in those days as easily as now.  So, me and my team mate Ram Sharma thought of escaping to Kolkata, three and half hours away, which was from where our train back home was to start.  By then the rail track was ready for traffic.  Ram Sharma wanted to see his cousin in Kolkata and agreed to tag me along to the historic city.  We got the tickets from the organizers and the next day we were away from the dreadful place, leaving the others [most of them card-players] behind. 

Ram Sharma's cousin after hosting us overnight, arranged a taxi for us to visit places which we wished.  Both of us found out that we desired to go to the Botanical Gardens particularly to see the Great Banyan! Similar likes, what luck!  Those were still the film camera days.  I had not taken mine along, also Ram.  Would I regret?

Walking through some of the vast spaces in this beautiful 1797- founded, 109 - hectare gardens housing 12,000 perennial species of plants was a great thrill with a sense of fulfillment!  The size of this Great Banyan had been reduced compared to the book image above.  I learnt that a good part of it had been damaged by great cyclones in the past. If you have read the description shown in the old pre-1895 picture, its volume can be vizualized when the tree's coverage was at its maximum before being hit by cyclones.  The authorities have protected it by supporting the hundreds of branches, many precariously weak, appropriately.  

Ram Sharma was as delighted and stunned as I was being dwarfed by the sheer vastness.  Satisfied, we went about the day and the next, visiting a few other places also, including Dakshineshwar, Victoria Memorial, Rabindra Setu and doing a bit of shopping, before joining the team at the railway compartment on our return journey.

[One portion of the 1.89 hectare, 330-metre circumference Great Banyan, image from Wikipedia]

I was lucky to have Ram Sharma along for this unexpected little tour, putting the forgettable loss in the game and preceding journey tensions and troubles behind, to fulfill this little dream of getting under the branches of this Great Banyan Tree.  Superstitions about the Banyan Tree [associated with Yama, the Lord of Death] apart, thousands throng to see this imposing 250+ year old [its exact age has not been clearly known] living object.

In 2010, we played a match in the ground attached to "The Banyan Tree School"!  Wondered why the name as there was no Banyan Tree in the area.

Long later, when digital cameras invaded the world, I was to collect several images of the Banyans in and around our own city. 

See the album here: [Click] 


Monday, June 12, 2017

My friend Venkataramana

Early to mid seventies scenario, old locality of Chamarajapuram.   After school in the evening, all the children would be on the street, playing various games on or across it.   Opposite our house was Capt. Srikantaiah's.  With him was a teen aged boy who answered to the name of Venkatesh.  His actual name was Venkataramana.  He had been summoned from his town of Sringeri to help in various chores for the elderly Captain, his wife [with chronic back problem] and her old parents [who were 'founders' of what was the "Liver House"].  They also had engaged an elderly lady, Sarojamma to do the cooking.  Venkatesh was from a humble family, probably known to the Capt.  It is likely that his parents had removed him from school unable to meet expenses for his schooling.  Both Venkatesh and Sarojamma were 'part of that family' and both resided with them.

Wearing a white dhoti is typical for boys from Sringeri, a very orthodox temple town.  Venkatesh wore it too.  He would fold the dhoti at the knee and tuck it at the waist to facilitate running when a ball came towards him and sometimes when the ball came the dhoti would loosen at the waist and unfold at the wrong time.  It was a funny sight to see him attend to the priority of tying it up at the same time he had to run to the ball!  All other local boys wore knickers.  The boys teased him for it without hurting him.

The Captain was the son-in-law of one Dr. Rama Shastry who had his own formula to treat young children for 'liver issues' and hence "Liver House" was a landmark for the street for several years which even the tongawallas and autorickshaws knew.  They are our distant relatives too.  The doors were open in those days and we were free to enter other houses for any trivial thing almost at any time.  Very homely and social atmosphere prevailed in the neighbourhood, a typical Mysore thing of those days.

When I was free I went looking for Venkatesh asking him if he too was free for play.  If not, I would just be there watching him do his work or if there was nothing, we just chit-chatted.  He was also being helped by the Captain's family to study school books.  He later passed his 10th in private examinations.

There came a time that ended his stay, may be 2-3 years with the Captain. He was to go back to his parents.  By this time, our friendship had developed, as he was my age, or so I had believed.  Before he left, I had given my address so that we could exchange postcards.

A few years passed and one fine day, there came his postcard, from Bangalore, updating his progress.   About the same time, I had our club's league match there and I had written back about this.  The day after the match I went in search of his new place, which was close to the Race Course.

I reached the location, a big house, which was of a 'big lawyer'.  The Race Course area is considered a porsche locality.  Venkatesh had been allotted a small outhouse to live.  His expression of pure joy when he saw me stand in front of his door really defies words!  I still recall this vividly.  I was also very happy to know he was being helped by the kind lawyer to make a career.  He had been brought there for possible help from Venkatesh's family friend, one Iyer who visited Sringeri [also his parents].  He revealed this on my request recently.  He said he was also attending typing classes at that time.  Thereafter we kept exchanging letters once in a while.

His typewriting skills had found him a job in the state govt. and still continues to work there.  I had visited his rented house once from where he had also taken me to the small plot which he bought from his earnings.  When the invitation for his house warming ceremony came a couple of  years later, it was honoured.  He is an example of  how people can rise from humble beginnings to reach a stage where one can live life in a very contented manner, through simplicity, hard work and honesty. It heartens to note he is doing comfortably in life being able to give good education to his two children, now grown up and I learn that Venkatesh is one year older than me!  It is so heartening to see him live a contented, busy and good life.  His generous attitude, simplicity, honesty, hard working nature, sociability and friendliness would have helped in what he is today.

Last year Venkatesh visited Mysore for some wedding and called that he cannot come home for want of time. I went across to where he was to meet  him for two minutes.  Photo at the top taken during that little occasion.

From postcard to cell phone,
our contact
is in tact.

"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth." ~ Charles Darwin

Friday, March 31, 2017

Family Priests through four generations

Most Hindu families, like ours, have grown through religious traditions and customs followed over generations.  Worship of the family deity etc. was part of the daily activities besides the festival days, which are also many in the calendar.  The specially allotted worship room is maintained with great sacredness.  It is a strong rule that if the family had a 'Saligrama stone' it had to be worshiped with a water ritual [ಅಭಿಷೇಕ] regularly.  If male members of the family, in spite of knowing the rituals cannot do it due to their study or work routines, a priest was employed to carry out these on behalf, for a monthly fee.

When I was young, it was priest Puttaramaiah who was coming on a regular basis.  A tall, lean man whose house was more than a mile away in Jayanagar from where he used to walk barefoot every morning, in clean loin cloth [a second one to cover his chest], holy ash on his forehead and usually white-hair stubs.  The first to wake up at home was my grandmother, at five a.m. She would quickly finish the ablutions and make ready the worship room and then prepare for cooking as my father used to have his first meal early at quarter to eight before he left for work. Puttaramaiah used to come around quarter past eight or half past. 

Puttaramaiah was not extraordinarily equipped with the knowledge of the Vedas.  But he could smoothly do simple ಶೋಡಷೋಪಚಾರ ಪೂಜೆ.   His mantra chantings, ringing the bell, the smell of camphor and incense burning were part of the morning air.  My mother or aunt would pluck flowers [Barleria - ಸ್ಪಟಿಕ, Jasmine - ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆ, Night Jasmine - ಪಾರಿಜಾತ, Crape Jasmine - ನಂದಿ ಬಟ್ಟಲು, Hibiscus - ದಾಸವಾಳ] from the garden for worship.  A lady seller brought betel leaves, required for the rituals, from ಎಲೆ ತೋಟ.

Puttaramaiah would do the ಅಭಿಷೇಕ to the 'Saligrama stone' and this 'charged water' [ತೀರ್ಥ] would be served at the end of the ಪೂಜೆ [worship routine] along with camphor flame [ಮಂಗಳಾರತಿ] to the members available.  In between he would have extracted paste from sandal wood pieces, both yellow and black varieties. The male members were to apply the black paste on their forehead.  My grandfather would return from his morning office work and have his meal at quarter past ten before he went to the Court at eleven.  Before the meal, it was a must that he took ತೀರ್ಥ and apply that paste [see photo] as a dot on the forehead.  Every meal is viewed as God's gift [ಪ್ರಸಾದ] and that dot also indicated that he has had his meal. That is the custom. 

The 'worship room' we had in our house at Devaparthiva Road where Puttaramaiah used to come.  See the large piece of vintage sandalwood under the Mantapa. It serves decades!

The photo below is during the 60th birthday of my grandfather in 1956.  You can see him along with other 'lesser priests' assisting the main priest [seen extreme left] in the ritual of pouring water. To his left is the priest whom he had succeeded.

Closer view.

Puttaramaiah became old and could no longer continue his priesthood from late 70s.  He went to Bangalore to live under the care of his son till his end.  So someone had to do the rituals here.  At this time, another priest, Ramaswamy Shastri, who had also been coming for other special occasions even before Puttaramaiah's time had met with an accident.  He was well versed in the Vedas, so was too busy to come daily. He had nominated his young son who was still a novice to help us.  He came for some months managing his school time for a few days a week until he too felt difficult. Brother took this up for some time. 

Puttaramaiah's predecessor was Narayana Shastri [N].  He had been coming since my father's young days in the late 1920s. Photo below is of the same 1956 occasion as above.  See 'N' facing the camera.  Young Ramaswamy Shastri [R] is seated next to a renown Sanskrit and Veda Pundit Gundavadhani [G] whose house was a stone's throw away from ours. 

Narayana Shastri sported a thin tuft at the back of his head.  It was tied into a knot.  He must have been connected to one of the temples of Mysore Palace.  He lived in a very small humble house near the Palace, behind where the present JSS building is. He was a widower and lived with his daughter, separated by her husband.  Her brother was an electrician and lived on his own earnings.  It was not a secret that they fought on trivialities and lived separately.

His voice was not pleasing but distinct with a little crackle and a bit hoarse.  He was a short-tempered  and impatient character which might have had a negative impact on his humble profession.  Making ends meet was tough for him and that had probably made him a little greedy to expect more and he was not shy to ask straight.  He was employed for the post death ceremonies of my grandfather in 1976 and I remember the occasion when an umbrella was donated to him had passed a comment that it was not good, much to the displeasure of my grandmother!  Knowing him for decades it did not surprise her.

A couple of  years after my father died in 1981, Narayana Shastri was engaged to do the annual ceremonies which I did.  Age had been catching upon him.  Then Ramaswamy Shastri used to be engaged after he had recovered from that accident but he was not the same.  He was also getting weaker.  Gradually, he 'retired' from such work as his son had also grown up and his family was reasonably comfortable.

Narayana Shastri became old and frail.  But he managed to come as long as he could, occasionally, to our house asking for financial help as even a meal was difficult for him and his daughter.  Priesthood of those days were different and difficult, unless one was qualified in the Vedas.  One day we heard the bad news that he had died.  His daughter was alone and she continued to visit certain brahmin houses she knew and we would give her a small sum to keep her going.  She had managed a small room somewhere to live and slowly she too vanished. 

Ramaswamy Shastri used to come on his green Raleigh bicycle from his house near Anathalaya [Devamba Agrahara].  He was much above the level of ordinary priests in several aspects.  So he was called for special occasions.  He also had a busy schedule.  Any call from "Subba Rao family" [grandfather], he never hesitated to agree to come, unless he had very important engagements.  

Ramaswamy Shastri was another tall, bespectacled man possessing a personality one had to respect just by a look.  And his voice was a very special one, deep, loud and resonant, which surely must have been trained by his long experience in chanting the Vedas. His pronunciation of mantras was crystal clear, a true joy to listen.  It still reverberates in my mind. For the Sacred Thread Ceremony [ಉಪಾಕರ್ಮ] annually, he was the main priest who conducted this - it was a mass event as people from the street also came - fine days that people cherish even now!  He was also the one who conducted the 70th year birthday celebration of my grandfather in 1966.  Picture below. The rhythm in which he shook the bell was something wonderful. 

On that occasion, I find in this photo, all the 4 priests who succeeded one another are in this single frame!  N, P, R and S.

Shankaranarayana Bhat [S] was the son of the priest at Sri Prasanna Vishweshwara Temple at Gita Road since 1940s and lived in the out house provided behind the temple.  He had been coming for many of our family events from his younger age also and so had good acquaintance. I will shorten his name to 'Shankar', but we referred him as ಭಟ್ಟ್ರು.  He was another great priest of high repute, had attained fine knowledge of the Vedas and knew the traditions and customs very well.   

Shankar's forte was his knowledge of Sanskrit, the Vedas, the traditions.  He was also a Yoga exponent, sported a finely shaped body, large lungs and sinewy biceps.  As a young boy I used to see him in awe.  His conducting the activities was par excellence, despite his temper which people knew was due to workload stress in his later years. So he was never mistaken.  His voice again was special, pronunciation proper and clear to the sound the mantras meant. He got angry if someone mispronounced some word and corrected it then and there and warned that the meaning would change, with an explanation.

In the 1970s the onus of the temple rituals fell on Shankar after his father died of old age.
Shankar had yielded to our slight compulsion to do the daily ritual in our house despite his busy morning engagements at the temple.  But when managing time became too tricky he substituted his son Prasad.  He too felt tight on time as he was also working.   

In 1998 I had moved to our ancestral house in Lakshmipuram.  Shankar was the one who did the customary rituals before we moved in. 

Worship room at the Lakshmipuram house. This portion of the house is also history now. 

Shankar's 'enlarged heart condition' had become worse and felt too weak to honour all requests, but by then, he had his son Prasad trained, up to a level.  Shankar's end had created a big void esp. in the temple.  

He was my favourite after Ramaswamy Shastri and was the last one whom we engaged, also to do my father's death ceremonies annually until he was fit.

Gradually, situations changed in the family and observing father's death ceremony was also taking a different shape.  In the meantime, the Saligrama stones also could not be attended to by any.  It is believed that if it is kept at home, it has to be taken care of by rituals.  So it was given away to his temple in his lifetime itself. 

Priesthood demands honesty in their lives too.  They are supposed to and not to do certain things.  It is with great pleasure to have known that all the priests mentioned above were sincere and lived up to the expectations in that regard.

This post is a tribute to their honesty, wholehearted and invaluable service they have rendered to our family at various times honouring our requests during occasions both auspicious and otherwise. We were fortunate to have had such ones.

Recorded mantras started to become available in cassette tapes [now CDs] to assist.  "E-priest!"  But nothing can surpass the physical resonance of a priest's chants.  I silently miss these great humble men. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Audio Cassette tapes - now only memories!

In the 1980s and 90s when we so dearly recorded, collected, protected and stored cassette tapes, we did not imagine them being forced to extinction only 20-30 years later.  Millions have done that globally and built cassette libraries in their homes containing rare audios, music and whatnot. Computers are doing everything now.  So what did the geeks do to soothe the worries and save those audios trapped in cassettes for 'eternity'? They found out ways of converting those golden possessions into digital formats like MP3, etc. In other words, 'digitizing', using computers.

My music collection - mainly of old Hindi and Kannada movie songs.  All of them were selected and got recorded, paying a fee of Rupees twenty for each cassette, almost the same as the cost of the cassette.  

Music and song clips from movies are available on the Web but none can recreate the original golden memories of relatives and kids whose voices in speech or song were recorded on 'magnetic tapes' housed in cassettes. The main danger is of the record players going into oblivion faster than the tapes themselves. Manufacture of cassette players and spare parts have stopped already.

Now the only option left for those who want to preserve their beloved audios is to 'digitize', sooner than later.  If the cassette player/recorder stops working, it is the end of it due to danger of non-availability of spares.

Even a decade ago people had started to digitize tapes, but due to software cumbersomeness many could not do it easily.   Magnetic tapes have a life and if we keep them beyond their time, we may not be able to reproduce the sound at all.  Luckily, I have my dear cassette player whose 'playing head' is still in order. I replaced the rubber belt of the motor myself. It had gone brittle over time and being idled. I was able to digitize some of my rare tapes.  How did this start off? 

One day I was having an informal chat with my friend Krishna Rao who was heading the computer section [at the workplace].   A computer geek - because he was the first one in the early 80s to get trained in 'computers'.  Having known my interests he raised the subject of digitizing old audios.  He was in delight telling me how he had digitized his mother's songs in her own voice from two very rare and special wax-coated gramophone plates, which have been saved by him with great effort.  They were recorded in 1953.

Rao then introduced me to a user-friendly software called 'Audacity' [click], a downloadable freeware to digitize audio to MP3, etc.  On first look, it looks complicated, but with a bit of guidance which is also available on the web, one can do it quite easily.  For me, Krishna Rao provided that initially.  In fact, he digitized one cassette tape containing the only recording of my late aunt playing on the Veena [stringed musical instrument].  She was a good artiste.  Later, I was able to digitize using 'Audacity' a few rarest sounds of my tiny tots from cassette tapes. 

So let's get going!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Aahkshhooo! The Sneeze

My father was a rather loud sneezer.  And he has passed it on.  When he sneezed sometimes, my grandmother would get rattled and there was a comment from my mother or aunt. So he used to demonstrate [with an unreal sneeze] how his colleague Mr. Dastur's sneezed... just an almost unheard funny sound near his vocal chord!  That was another extreme.

In my workplace room we were three. My colleague Manju was my competitor which rattled the lady colleague who sometimes got angry but did not show it.  She would tell us "Why don't you tell me just before it was coming, cannot you control it?"  We always told her "I'd love to, but there was no time for that, Madam."  When my sneeze happened loudly most of the time, it would get the appreciation from Manju and when he performed better, I would praise him profusely and wait for the reaction of the lady.  At times she would not be there.  "She would have got really angry at that one!" we would look at each other and imagine. 

Yes, sometimes we know it is coming.  It develops slowly, but we are busy enjoying the beautiful work going inside the nostril - the moment cannot be missed.  Our eyes are half closed and the mouth half open - someone who is nearby can make out from the face that a sneeze is brewing up!  "A...aa.a.aaaa....."  But then, all of a sudden, it explodes ".... Kshooeee!  

I am on my scooter, when the 'Ahckshoo' happens.  People look in my direction with what-was-that-sound look.  There is that something that tickles that one tiny part in the nostrils.  There are mischievous youngsters who have troubled their room-mates in the hostel tickling with a piece of thinly rolled paper or thread in the nostrils while they are asleep! 

My other colleague Murthy used to present his sneeze whenever we wanted, free. We would ask for one esp. when we went out of the building into the sun on our way to the canteen, a furlong away.  Murthy used to say "Okay, wait, take this?" He would look towards the sun blinking in a funny way, his facial muscles contracting weirdly, then "Aksheeee", not loud, but a normal one.  Then a smile. He had this knack of getting the Sun to tickle that something in his nostril. I think we can do it too, it is somewhat psychosomatic! They say the sun can trigger a sneeze.  But nothing can beat Soapnut powder.  Just open a box of it and take the nose close!  

At home I also get comments on the loud sneeze. What to do, it is my nature, I argue!  "Can't you control yourself and let it out softly?"  There we go, same request!  I try to be musical dividing the sneeze into two sounds with different pitch and even end up with a long drag, but still they are not impressed!

The best and my most effective sneeze happened in 1995.  Our cricket team was traveling in a bus from Trichy to Kumbakonam. Most of us, including me were in the back seat where the door was.  All was well until there was a great explosion.  I still do not know myself from where it came and how it came, in such suddenness!  It was my sneeze!!  Our eyes always close the moment the sneeze happens and the moment my eyes opened, I saw people in front of me turning in the direction of explosion asking "Yenna, yenna adu?" in Tamil [What, what was that?]  My team mates who were near me were also aghast with a "What-happened-look."  The explosion had even shocked the driver who pushed the brake and almost stopped.  Everyone soon realized it was just a loud sneeze and not a bomb.  They told the driver "Vannu ille, vannu ille, po, po" [Nothing, nothing, go on, go on.].  My team mates started laughing but it was no laughing matter for me.  It was the first sneeze of tens that signaled the onset of a bad cold!!  Luckily, I played in all the matches [all six days of half day each] and even contributing well to the team's fine performance, despite the tiredness [being young] and the hot weather there. The cold ran its normal duration. My sneeze did not break the Guinness record for the loudest!  May be some other time!

At home when someone sneezed once, my grandmother immediately told "Shathayushi" [Live a hundred  years] and then waited for the second one to follow.  If it did, then she would tell "PoorNaayushi" [Full life].  Somewhat the equivalent of "Bless you."  One must bless the other with long life when the other sneezes!  `Dheergaayushmaan bhava' [Sanskrit].  The sneezer would say 'Excuse me.' as a show of 'good manners', a western tradition.  I do not know if the one who farts also asks for an excuse!

There are several superstitions the sneeze is tagged with.  One sneeze is 'bad omen', two is good and so on.  They say that a sneeze must not be prevented, but it can be controlled... if there is time! The funny feeling is when we know a sneeze is brewing slowly and is about to come but just wanes away! Then we give the nose a good rub! 

Wikipedia says: A sneeze, or sternutation, is a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth, usually caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa. The function of sneezing is to expel mucus containing foreign particles or irritants and cleanse the nasal cavity.

The air from a human sneeze can travel at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more -- another good reason to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze -- or duck when you hear one coming your way.  

  Cartoons show dentures flying away on the sneeze!  Seriously, those who wear should be careful.

Enjoy this short video clip of my favourite comedians: 

Bless you!

A tribute to Pillai, the Boss.

Hot-tempered, hard working, workaholic bosses are always a pain in the neck esp. for his subordinates in workplaces.  More so when the boss himself is a 'Yes Master' and a favourite to his superior!  One such, Pillai, headed our department for 15 years till he retired in 2001 much to the relief of many in our department.  But then the tiger in him had meowed, nay, mellowed a lot in his last three years in service, thanking and showing 'crocodile appreciation' even for simple tasks completed, gestures never seen from him before!  I was one of his targets to show off his official power, but this target was created by the cunning tale-carriers that lurked around!  We knew he was good at heart but was disliked for his 'tale-listening ears', tempers and showing 'seat powers'.   His ego was high that had prompted one colleague to nickname him as 'Stiffneck', which also went with his 'chin drawn back' postures. 

A pencil cartoon I had made of Pillai. My work is good if the 'stiffneck' is noticed!

"You take retirement and go." said Pillai to one senior colleague Srinivasa Rao during a tiff.   This aroused Rao who replied shouting "I will retire you from this world!"  This happened in front of the many of us.  Pillai then had 20 years of service, Rao had a few left and I was just a few years new.  Rao was very happy that he 'gave back' to him something, he being a 'blue eyed boy' in the dept.!  Many things like this used to go on.   In some years, he was to occupy the 'boss chair'.

But work went on as usual and these kind of incidents was fun gossip for coffee breaks.  He was a jovial person at times, when he was not at work.

There was a period of tense years where he had made me a target for trivial allegations - the background and something that followed when I felt being at a 'dead end' finds a separate story - in another post:  Click  here.  Freedom and some peace resulted, that changed my ways at the workplace.

Pillai settled in his Kerala home town immediately after he retired in 2001.

I had prepared a poem and had presented to him as a 'scroll' for that occasion.  The poem lists many of his qualities and was read out by my colleague.  Here it is:


Our Sri Pillai lays down office at the end of March,
To Sri Prabhu he will pass on the torch.

As spearhead of TT and B Development,
He brought laurels for the Institute's betterment.

His great virtue has been the art of conversation,
Which fully deserves our appreciation.

When there was no question of an agreement,
He outwitted the other in the argument.

His forte was his courage and wisdom in decision making,
The speed with which he did so was truly amazing.

Working with him had been mostly a pleasure,
The rest of the time it was pure pressure.

With the pen he was ever ready to sign,
Many a time, he had to 'draw a line'.

The bell switch will no longer feel his fretful finger,
But those typical "ting-ting ting-tings" will always linger.

The engaged telephone at the other end drew him nuts,
And his own, suffered from bruises and cuts.

When situations made us feel his presence,
We wished for his temporary absence.

Up until the time he crossed well over fifty,
He was the Chairman of Doorvas Committee.

Saviour faire had become one of his top attributes,
Also to all his other good ones, we pay tributes.

What we all usually saw was Pillai the taskmonger,
But the real Pillai happens to be a humdinger.

Le'im settle at Cochin, Calicut or wherever,
Let health and happiness be with him and family forever.

"Colleagues", 29th March, 2001
* * * * * * 

In May 2016 or dept. got the information that Pillai had passed away. He was 75.
May his soul rest in peace.
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