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.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

N.S. Sitaram - tribute to a teacher

On Saturday 14th May, 2016, I passed very close to the house of my high school teacher NSS [N.S.Sitaram] on the way to the market.  There were thoughts of stopping by for a minute to say a respectful hello to him. But I did not. I had been longing to meet, pay respects and take his photo, but kept procrastinating.  Our houses are not very far apart, may be one kilometre.
The evening paper of 16th May had this to shock me:

It was terrible news considering what I failed to do just two days ago.  He had died on Sunday.

Sarada Vilas High School [for boys] is an old institution with a very fine reputation through its dedicated teachers who had moulded characters and imparted great knowledge and culture to its pupils, some of whom becoming famous nationally and internationally.  

2009 photo of our school. [Click to enlarge]

NSS was one among the great teachers who had served there for a long period of time and retired as Head Master.  My father and uncle were also students in that school around the mid 1940s, but it may be before the time NSS joined. When I joined in 1970, NSS was the Asst. Head Master. When I passed out from 10th, he had succeeded Sri M.N.Lakshminarasimhaiah as Head Master. His signatures are on my Admission Ticket as well as Marks Card. 

NSS came on his bicycle clad in a simple mull-cloth ಕಚ್ಚೆ ಪಂಚೆ [white dhoti], leather sandals, light gray 'close-collared' coat, old but neat, worn on a white, long tailed, full-sleeved shirt, the same length of the coat.  His headgear was a black ಟೋಪಿ [stiff cap] and he wore a wrist watch.  His fair-face had features one had to appreciate.  His eyes required a pair of spectacles for short-sight.  The costume was typical of the older generation Mysorean 'school masters'.  We were fortunate to have been students of this 'last batch' of them.  

I try to roughly show how NSS appeared.

[Or did he wear an open collared coat that exposed the two shirt buttons?]

The cardboard headgear used to be like this [without the dark band shown here]:
Click on the image for larger view.

It was a delight to see his writing on the blackboard, the letters forming neatly, equal in size and uniformly white.  He held his chalk softly and never seemed to apply any pressure as he wrote sum after sum.  It was also something as much appreciated as his teaching.

NSS' forte was Mathematics, but used to fill in with some English or Science subject occasionally when that teacher was on leave.  He used to take Algebra which most students remember for his fine method of making the difficult subject to be understood easily [I admit I was an exception!].

He was a very lovable and approachable teacher, mild mannered but strict.  When NSS walked in there would be silence.  He was never armed with a stick for lashing [like MRK], or needed to slap any boy [like KRK] if the homework was not completed or some sum was wrongly answered or someone was not attentive in the class.  He would correct it so that the pupil learnt.  NSS was never one to get teased or his dhoti pulled by mischievous boys, [we heard they did it to one VSS who also came in a dhoti] but was one who had commanded respect through his dignity and quality as a teacher.  Yet, on the lighter side, he had been nicknamed in Kannada for fun, like other teachers' initials also, as ನೊಣ ಸಾಯಿಸೊ ಶೂರ [Fly killing expert] to expand his initials of NSS.

The last I met NSS was about 5-6 years ago.  He had said "86" when I asked his age.  He had been on his walk on Krishnaraja Boulevard when I was on my bicycle on my way home.  I had the opportunity to walk with him pushing my bicycle along for a long way, while we talked on a few subjects, also of moral values, teaching standards and the teachers of my time.  I had told him I would take him on the scooter to his contemporary PV's house one day.  This never happened and PV also passed away last year.  He was our history teacher.

"Wow, our NSS", I used to mentally exclaim on seeing him walk leisurely in front of our house and along the calmer streets in the area, clad in his simple white dhoti and white shirt.   At times I went closer to be seen and bowed the head to greet.  He had mentioned why he had chosen the time for his walk which was an hour before noon - low density of traffic.  I remember him having mentioned of his normal health and kept himself active with a long walk daily.  He used to be in my thoughts often, because of some unexplainable, special admiration and impression.  He had known my grandfather also.  About 10 years ago we wanted to put our daughter for maths tution with him, but it did not work out.  I had gone to his house for this and had taken the opportunity to get his blessing by prostrating at his feet as an old student.
Another great old timer now joins light, aged 91.
May his soul rest in peace. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Doing a 'Krishna'

Brothers Krishna and Venkatesh lived [until recently] in their old house that faced the lovely Manuvana Park in Chamarajapuram.  It was across the road a hundred feet from 'Chandra Cafe', a popular landmark hotel which served tasty Masala Dosa and flavourful coffee.  Our connection since the early 70s was Tennis ball cricket.  We played for the same team later.  Our house was a hundred yards away, in the parallel road.  All of us are around the same age and so we had a good rapport that made us meet often.  

Venky is more fun loving than his elder brother.  The short temper of Krishna was well known. He has stopped tennis-ball-cricket matches a few times when he used to get angry in the midst of a game due to disagreement with the umpire's decisions and would walk out frowning, sometimes kicking the stumps in disgust and spoiling the spirit of others that led to abandoning games!  Hot blood days!

In our college days there was lot of time outside of 'study time'.  In fact, I cannot say if we had allotted a set hour for 'studies'.  In daylight it was some play or other and when it was dark, it was time for chatting, with friends.  This has given many enjoyable moments and memories.  It used to be in their house premises or ours.

Venky is in the forefront in 'bell bottom pants', a fad in that era.  Photo taken by me during our bicycle trip to Sommathpur in 1981. Krishna had not come.

Facebook grab of Krishna, a smiling one at that - after all, we mellow down with years!  I must never forget to mention that he was with me when the first scooter came home.  Two decades later he drove our first car home from the showroom, not to mention he was our wedding photographer as well.   
He used to meddle things, break, repair and learn.  I was fascinated by this because I am of this type!  He used to tear apart his bicycle to overhaul it.  When he had his scooter, he did the same and later his car.  So much was his interest in mechanics that he had a job related to it and continues to be in the same line, with distinction, in a reputed car showroom.  
So do not judge him just because he kicked the stumps and ran home! 

It was an evening, post dusk, in the early 80s.  Myself and Venky were sitting on the compound wall by the gate of his house, for a chatting session, which was very common in those days.  Inside, we had seen Krishna doing some work involving the strongest adhesive known to us, "Araldite".

After a long time, Krishna was done with his project.  It also meant we had spent that long there!  The gate and their main door were separated by a 30-feet walkway.  Krishna walks along here, holding a sheet of paper that was used for mixing the adhesive.  He was in a bid to dispose it off outside the gate.  He approached the left side of the gate to the low compound wall. We were sitting on the other side.  Krishna stretches out his hand well away from the compound, flicks his hand to get rid of the thing.  Since his fingers were also a little sticky, the paper did not properly detach instantly at the force of the flick.  It stuck that little bit longer, wobbled back and fell inside the compound, near his own feet!

Venky and I were watching this.  It was one absolutely funny scene, more because it was involving a character like Krishna.  The scene of him feeling annoyed and him having to re-do the act was a very hilarious sight to me and Venky!   Krishna achieved his goal, in slow motion as we started to laugh loudly almost instantly! This caused even more irritation to him. Krishna turned towards us and sprayed a few angry words and went back in to wash his hands!

We laughed and laughed so long that our sides cramped out and we gasped for breath!

Even now, after about 35 years, myself and Venky recall this scene and still laugh. I have to check with Krishna if he remembers it.
"Doing a Krishna": You throw away an object but it boomerangs only to fall back in, all in one action!

It has happened to me also many times esp. in my garden and I laugh at myself telling "I did a Krishna".  It is something like 'Doing a Mankad' [wiki link] in cricket.  It has become a mode of dismissing a batsman!

The Krishna scene is so strongly impressed that it seems impossible for it to fade from my memory!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The 'Black Scissors'

Till the 1980s, my main mode of transportation was my Robin Hood, my late uncle's, an English bicycle which he had bought second hand in 1958.  Even now I use it occasionally.  It has a Lucifer headlamp [Swiss] and a Miller dynamo.

One evening in the mid 1980s I was to watch some cultural programme in the workplace auditorium.  Before leaving, there was a loose connection at the dynamo terminal to be rectified.  I had stripped the wire, rectified the connection and  pedaled off happily whistling a song, unmindful of what I had done before leaving home in a hurry.

The dynamo ['bottle generator'!], lamp at work and my Robin Hood. 

I was about to enter the campus gate when I heard a very familiar metallic sound behind me as the bicycle wheel passed over a small dent.  Familiar, because it makes a noise when it is handled or dropped esp. on hard surfaces.  Sound of my favourite 'black scissors' on the road, there? Certainly baffled, I stopped immediately.  The thing had fallen to the ground from the 'carrier' behind the saddle.  Very miraculously, it had stayed put all the way up to this point, two kilometres, despite the several vibrations our roads offer cyclists!  To my great luck, it had got itself tangled firmly on the 'carrier' behind the saddle.  That was where I remember to have kept it after stripping the wire sitting near the hind wheel. The little thing 'knew' how much I loved it and never wanted to leave me, so it seemed to call my attention by falling with a tinkle!  It was quite unusual of me to have not kept it back its place on my desk after finishing the job.  

The overwhelming relief I got on finding it and that too in such a manner defies description.  But I must admit making some funny actions [no one was watching] before keeping it safe in my shirt pocket, in front of my heart, which I kept touching every now and then to reaffirm its presence while watching the cultural programme that ended at 9 pm.  I returned home and heaved a sigh of big relief!  And a lesson reminded!

It has always been identified as 'Black Scissors"  [ಕರಿ ಕತ್ರಿ].  Its colour, size and unappealing appearance is contrary to its performance and utility.  Earlier my father used to keep it safe in his drawer.  I have seen it all my life and been using for most part of it.  Since about 40 years it has been an invaluable tool on my desk and in my rough guesstimate it is with us for another 40, previously!   That is how old this heirloom must be!  It must always be handy near my desk. Always.  My furious side surfaces when I do not find it in its place when I require.  It HAS to return to its allotted spot.  Others at home know my furious side if they were careless, misplacing, searching and finding it back. The last thing they want to hear from me is "Who has taken my ಕರಿ ಕತ್ರಿ?

My ಕರಿ ಕತ್ರಿ can cut a thread, cloth, paper, cardboard, plastic and whatnot.  All my hundreds of paper clippings of photos of cricketers to make albums were done with it decades ago.  Only I can use this to strip electric wires.  I have even used it to cut thin metal sheets for various home projects, before a proper cutter came to me.

Only twice, in half a century, I have seen it being sharpened, by knife-smiths that came by the street. It seems to retain its sharpness for ever. Such is the quality of steel.  I could verify this from the little sparks that flew and the sound it made when the smith held the cutting edges against the grinding wheel.

It is manufactured by the "Diamond Scissors Co", imprinted on one side.....

......Meerut City on the other.

Meerut, I understand is a renown place for making knives and scissors, highly durable, with a 360-year old history! I also learn now that Meerut Scissors have recently earned a GI mark!  Geographical Indication.

This marvel scissors is a cut above the rest.
It will and shall never leave me!


Having just learnt about Meerut's fame, I now gather a few tailoring scissors at home to check. Indeed, they have the Meerut imprint!  Three of them, clearly.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Model T Ford Car of Mylar Rao

Many decades ago, owners of cars were recognized by their wheeled possessions! "Is it the one who has a car?"  The bicycle was a common mode of transport. A car at home reflected the elite status. Even before that, it was the bullock cart or horse cart.
(Do not forget to click on images to get a magnified view)

Going by the presence of my grand uncle's teacher peeping in the window of the bullock cart and my grand uncle himself [boy, left] in the horse carriage, I must strongly assume that these belonged to my great grandfather. The same bullock cart's window shutters were later fixed to a storage shelf which sits by my side!

Way back in the 1920s into the 1930s, my great grandfather, Mylar Rao who had risen to be an elite citizen had a car, a "Model T Ford".  He could afford a Ford!  Those were good days when a rupee could buy a lot and large joint families could run comfortably on a hundred rupee income, which was considered high.  Mylar Rao died in 1936 and I learn from uncle Sathya [his memories and hearsay from his young days] that later my grandfather Subba Rao continued to use the Ford for some time before disposing it off, for its frequent trouble and repairs.  Sathya recalls that Subba Rao had bought a dark green Morris - with a 'hand brake'.  He had to dispose it off as he could no longer afford to sustain.  A few things related to the Ford Model T and probably the Morris, still hang around. 

Operation Manual, with full details of parts!

In all probability, it would have been the model shown on top.

Parts description.

About the book, signature is of some Wajid, may be the mechanic, known to Mylar Rao.

The Shell can (right) was, repurposed for something else. The Mobiloil BB can had unused gear oil that had the most awful smell, having stored for decades!  I can show how bad it smells!  Such cans are listed as antiques and are sold online! 

In my great grandfather's diaries, I found these separate accounting entries for petrol purchases.  

Gallon measures.  1929.  Page starts with 3 rupees and 15 annas, for 3 gallons. 

Agent/Supplier's seal for receiving the money. 1930.  I learn that S.Vittal Rao & Son, Agents Messrs BEST & Co. Ltd. were the first petrol pump owners in the city. 

See that every 3-4 days petrol was bought.  1934.

More accounts, granduncle's signature for having paid. He would have driven the car!?  1934.

1936, February.  Another supplier, A.Gopalaratnam?  December that year, my great grandfather died.

Photo of my time.... look for the house in the background, which was originally the stables and motor shed. Uncle Sathya recalls the motor shed had GI doors actually where the door and window is and had a pit in the centre for cleaning. 
Later that portion which was at the back of the main house was sold off in the 60s. The stables housed the bullocks, cows and horses.  What life!

Old time cars were petrol guzzlers.  That was the best technology available then.
Maintaining cars have always been an expensive proposition.
Earlier models required much maintenance for wear and tear.

There is no record available as to where. when, how or for how much the Ford was bought.
My uncle Sathya says my grandfather did not drive much but had engaged a driver by name Thammaiah who in fact continued from Mylar Rao's time, driving the Ford.  When the family moved to another house in 1950, the Morris used to be parked in one Prof. Srikantaiah's house.  Sathya says, from here, my other uncle, young Kitti used to stealthily take it out to enjoy rides.  This worried Kitti's mother. Sathya also recalls that selling off the car was a problem because there were no buyers.  No one now can tell how he got rid of it finally.