Sunday, September 21, 2014

My only stage 'performance'

Those were days before the 'Kindergarten' system or Child Creches in Mysore came into vogue.  Little kids would be sent to school at the age of four and start with 'nursery' to get a feel of 'school atmosphere'.  They became eligible for Class One when they attained five years.  'Nursery exposure' was not mandatory and kids were directly admitted to Class One in many cases.  For my 'nursery' I was first sent to Jagadamba Shishuvihara in 1961 [this school, established 1939, has the same wooden board even now] and a few months later during that academic year to Bhagini Seva Samaja  [established in 1937].  Next academic year I was admitted to Christ the King Convent [CKC] for Class One. 

I carry a few impressions from my nursery days in both schools but those from Bhagini Seva Samaja are more, may be because I was then a few months older. In this post, let me recollect one particular impression, out of a few.   This is still fresh in my mind, probably due to the extreme discomfort I was put in at that young age.  It was much against my nature, wish or desire, at that age of may be four.
This picture is around that age:

What was done to put this little fellow in so much discomfort?  It was some function, could be 'School Day'.  I clearly recall the day as festive and very grand and there was a stage covered by pandal.  Plenty of people had gathered in front of that stage - see this in the photo below [I took this photo 3 years ago from the street].  Look inside the quadrangle.  

I cannot recall any speeches or in what dress I was in or how I was taken there.  It was already dark when the programmes started. I cannot recall anything else but standing on stage with other tiny tots in the front corner for some song/rhyme item being performed!  And there were may be 500-600 people in front of me, as an over-estimation, but my frightened mind was magnifying it to be 5000, even though I did not know the count of 1,000 at that age!!  My memory is blank on any rehearsals on the days before that our teacher made me to attend.

There I was, on stage, bright lights from above, other kids clad in white were doing some actions in tune with the music.  I was in a state of shock at the sight of '5000' people in front of me.  I was simply standing still and staring at other kids or looking here and there as the song/rhyme went on and the other kids performed their actions. I had turned in the direction of other kids to my left and behind as if to avoid looking at the audience.  I never wanted to face that crowd at all leave alone do anything!  The item must have lasted just a few minutes which seemed to drag and drag!!  I do not know what I did later. My mother recalls my unique and grand 'stage performance' vividly. She says that I was placed in the front row because of my cuteness!  Boldness and participation were completely missing!

When my kids were in school for their school day programmes on stage my memory rolled back to 'my stage performance day' when I saw, sitting among the audience, some tiny tot 'doing a Dinu' and teachers getting restless from the stage's side wing!

Perhaps, if I did not feel the shock on seeing '5000' people at that age, 'the Dinu story' would have taken a different course!

Friday, September 19, 2014

A 100-metre sprint I won

Returning to sleep mode seemed an uphill task, as it sometimes happens, especially towards dawn.  So instead of counting sheep I decided on a morning walk and some fresh air.  I jumped out of bed, brushed my teeth and attired myself for the purpose.  I had reached the The University Athletic Ground where I go since several years. This is just a 5-minute scooter ride.  It was quarter to five in the morning when I landed with my right foot on the bitumen track, parking my scooter outside. First skylight was still about an hour away.  I was the first walker there that day and am regularly irregular.  My schedule is for a 30-40 minute routine that includes short sprints, brisk walks and casual trots. I race against other walkers but they do not know.  So it is one-sided, but never mind, it is good for my own 'competitive spirit'!  I do not adapt this in traffic.

[Click on pictures to enlarge]

I must very briefly touch upon some facts about this vast area which has a long history.  See the Athletic track above.  The entire area in the frame [satellite image grab] was earlier known as Gordon Park, named after Sir James Gordon who was 'Guardian', 'Commissioner' and 'Resident' between 1871 and 1882 and also tutored the then Mysore King Chamarajendra Wadiyar X.  Sir Gordon's statue still stands in front of the magnificent District Offices building [partly seen in picture below] which is more than a century old. 

This ground was popularly called as 'The Ovals' [may be for its shape] and is surrounded by District Offices, a younger Crawford Hall and another century old beauty, the Oriental Library/Research Institute].  'The Ovals' was a regular venue for many cricket matches, till about early 80s.

Crawford Hall [my recent picture]

Oriental Library [vintage picture]

District Offices [vintage picture] 

Many may not know that this is where an extremely rare cricket world record happened in 1934 and stands unbroken even today. Read about this very interesting feat [Click here] - of Y.S.Ramaswamy capturing "All Twenty" wickets - in my other blog where M.N.Parthasarathy who witnessed it describes.

The Ovals is also where probably my great grandfather had walked a hundred years ago and surely my grandfather and father in later decades. My sportsman-advocate grandfather had played cricket here in the 30s and 40s and I too had the chance to play a match in 1980 before it was converted exclusively for athletics in the mid 80s.

Old picture of The Ovals - my grandfather is the one with bat in hand at the far end.
Oriental Library and part of Yuvaraja's College is seen. Bottom picture, from same angle, by me.

The bitumen track and Dist. Offices are seen in the picture below, which I took one morning 4 years ago.

Now let me hop back to the bitumen track.

September rains had made the morning air cool and pleasant smelling and a lone lapwing was calling from the centre of the ground. This bird is more regular than me.  I can say this because almost on all early mornings whenever I went early I used to hear its call.  The athletic track was partly, slightly lit by a street light from across the road in front of Crawford hall.  The white-powder sprinkled lines that divided the lanes were clearly visible in spite of darkness.  I walk the track anti-clockwise, usually in Lane 7 or 8 [outer] just the direction track events are held world over, while some others prefer to walk the opposite.  I was briskly walking my fourth or fifth round.  My body had started to warm up.  Sweat was moistening my chest, covered by a pullover and jacket.  I turned the track's curve and then suddenly I went towards Lane 4 due to an impulse. I was almost there at the starting line of the 100-metre dash.  

Just recently, I had read in the paper about sprinter and world record holder Usain Bolt's visit to Bangalore [for a promotional] where he challenged professional cricketer Yuvraj Singh to run the 100m in 14 seconds.

Now the track was in front of me and I had just received a Bolt-jolt of motivation. 

Ready, get set, blaaassst!!!  My feet took off .  I bolted away the 'Bolt way' and breasted the imaginary tape.  There was none ahead of me.  I dared to look behind.  The entire track fell behind me.  I had won the race, in flat 14, may be 15.  It is 'may be' because I could not see my second hand of my watch in that darkness!  I was at least two seconds faster 25 years ago and now I was just five seconds slower than Bolt.  For sprinters, a second is divided into a hundred parts which is long time, which P.T.Usha realized when she lost the Bronze by 1/100th of a second in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics!  So my timing was reasonably good for a 'veteran'!

My winning that race was witnessed by three drowsy dogs, resting on the tracks [they can see in the dark] and feeling lucky.  As if in great appreciation they looked in my direction as I went past them in my victory lap.  They actually wait for a  man who comes daily after dawn with a pack of biscuits - and they appear friendly.  Savouring the glory, my 10-minute free-hand exercise session became that much more pleasing and the dogs made my day!

Before leaving, I celebrated with two more 'victory laps' [walking].  Now there was some skylight and two dozen people - who missed the race.

I won that, but in 1987 when I represented my employer in the Athletic Meet at Karaikudi I came fourth in the 100m heats and the eventual gold winner was in my round.  I had also run the 4x100 relay which our team lost. I had suffered a small torn muscle in my thigh but still managed a leap of 17 feet, to end fourth in the long jump, all without proper preparation.

My first ever prize for running was at Rotary Club's fun event as a little fellow.  I was gifted with this [spring-wound] toy tortoise!
A tortoise for sprinting!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Abraham bids final adieu

Abraham Tharakan had been a very popular figure in the blogosphere as a prolific blogger.  He merged with Divine Light on 7th September, at the age of 80.  I came to know about this from my blogger friend in Mysore, Ramachandran who had linked me to 'Maddy's tribute': [Click here]

My brief friendship with him started on an unusual note.  My brother had sent me an e-mail with a link to this blog [click here], asking me if I could identify the striking blue flowers from the 3 photos in it. The blogger [Abraham Tharakan] was curious in knowing its name.  He had posted his friend K.O.Issac's plant pictures. It was a rare plant, so I copied one image and posted it on "Dave's Garden", where there are many knowledgeable gardeners.  I was/am also a member there, being an avid gardener. It was in 2007, the same year Abraham [and yours truly too] had started blogging.  He was then 73 and in Chennai from where he moved to his home, Cochin in 2009 I think.  

Very soon, that plant was identified.  I posted the plant name in the comment box in Abraham's blog.  He took objection to my posting it up without permission, which was my mistake, as he had mentioned 'copyright'.  Our brief e-friendship started with my apology to that!  In the meanwhile I had his e-mail address.  One of my introductory e-mails was with the apology!  Later he gave a formal permission to add that picture to the plants database there, but only after he got the green signal from Mr. Issac.  That is how meticulous he was.

It was no wonder that many bloggers had become good friends with him as he was a wonderful and friendly person. He wanted to meet me too and thought of a possibility in Bangalore where he used to travel frequently on some work at that time. My going to Bangalore did not happen.

It did not take me too long to get impressed with his beautiful style of writing and the subjects he chose.  One can see a long 'followers list' in his blog which was absolutely no surprise. 

Our e-mail exchanges were long apart but we forwarded mails to each other a little more often.  In one of the mails he mentioned about his younger days in Bangalore and his love for Hockey.  He linked me to his post with those memories because of that 'Mysore connection'. [Click here].  But I would like to reproduce what he wrote me in his mail: 

"I did play hockey for the Mysore University in 1954. Was goalkeeper. We came up to the All India finals but lost to the star studded Punjab in the bitter cold of Ludhiana that year. The match was on Jan 25 or 26. I didn't go for selection in 1955 because it was my final year.

In 1957 I played in the Nationals at Bombay for Kerala. That was the high point in my hockey career. The opponents were again Punjab which was almost the Indian Team. We conceded the first goal through a deflection. Then Udham Sigh scored twice against me. Only that great forward could have scored those goals. 

Dhyanchand who was the Chief Guest said my performance that day was perhaps the best he had seen.  I had to give up hockey for my career." 
[Dhyanchand was a hockey wizard]

One of my blog posts on old memories prompted him to come up with one himself and he mentions me in it: [Click here].

RIP Abraham Tharakan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teeth, claws, hide and horns

People in olden times knew how to restore health using home remedies prepared from materials sourced from plant, mineral and animal kingdoms.  There were no hospitals and the likes as we have now.  They knew how to prevent or cure several common ailments using their knowledge of several concoctions and formulae.  Thousands of such secrets have vanished with the person that possessed the knowledge as they were not disclosed in most cases, even to their kin, for, they had no full trust. Also they acquired that knowledge secretly from their fore/fathers and were probably taught to keep the secrets to themselves.  Nearly every home had its own 'doctor' as most women also know many simple and sure-shot remedies.

Certain important 'medicinal' stuff [besides the usual items/spices available in the kitchen itself] were procured and kept readily available in many homes to take care of day to day ailments.  Usually it was the older lot who knew how and what to be prepared and administered in a given affliction that bothered a family member.  Some medicinal plants used to be available in their own gardens, but in a small box were some special items like tiger teeth, claws, pieces of deer horns or dried roots from trees.  Unless the knowledge and application is not passed on to newer generations, they will become mere objects. Also their applicability has diminished due to the 'progress' and popularity of medical science.   

All objects shown here are from family heirloom.

The horizontal thing is a piece of 'crude' ivory. It used to be rubbed on a rough stone [as can be made out on its lower side] with a few drops of water to obtain a small quantity of fine paste which was administered with honey or whatever was the practice.  Extreme right is a piece of sandalwood - for making paste in the same way. The other two objects are deer horn pieces, also used to grind into paste for some remedy.  The horn looks to be from a walking stick handle that got separated from the stick!   

Besides the 'traditional medicine items', there happens to be some other things.
This Bison horn mount was probably a gift to my great grandfather from some British officers who hunted game in the British era. 

Which animal had these??

An old [unshaven] deer skin prayer mat for meditation and religious rituals. It is known to increase the magnetic field around the person sitting on it during meditation and also helps as an insulator to the ground.

A very old [unshaven] deer skin wallet!  

A cousin of mine was wearing a necklace pendant which was a pair of tiger claws. I used to get amazed at that.  But another interesting set of heirloom is this.  Tiger claws and teeth. 

In my recent finding from my great grandfather's account book I see that he has purchased these on 16.1.1898, yes, 1898, for six annas.  See picture below.  Claws and teeth were kept with the belief that they ward off any evil.  
A century ago, animals were not killed to make profit like now, but were killed for sport. Hunting was a game until it was banned long later.  The world was cleaner and intents were different.

A Crocodile hide wallet. It belonged to my grand uncle K.M.Narayana, who had his initials KMN inscribed. It is probably from 1920.

It is so beautifully made that one has to admire it even now, despite its age and wear. Soft buckskin inners, high class workmanship!

The lock also works nicely even after nearly a century.

Here is a foldable ivory comb meant for the mustache.  My great grandfather used it in the late 19th century and early 20th century. 

Two more ivory combs. The teeth are very close to each other and is good to remove lice. 

Two toothpicks are on the left but what are those on the right?  They have a small hole at the tip as if that it held something.

My great grandfather used a couple of pens having ivory. 

Two of the above black wood pens are inlaid with ivory in a beautiful pattern. 
Very intricate work.

I must now brush about the beautiful brush you will see now.  The red and white tooth brush of the present day is for comparison. What sort of brush is that, having an ivory handle, I used to wonder in my young age.

I surfed the web for the trademark name printed on the ivory handle - S.Maw Son & Thompson, London.

I visited this link [Click here] and through this, I found some amazing details on this brush! It happens to be a TOOTH BRUSH and so large!  Surely the cows at home did not need to be brushed!!
S.Maw Son and Thompson, London, was a reputed manufacturer of surgical instruments [from 1860] and several other things which I found from this online illustrative book:  Click on the link below for the full book from 1869:

'My brush' was shown on page 139 [circled].  You will be amazed how many types of brushes they made!!
Circled image is the one, No.87

See here, the number 87 and the lovely nylon bristles:

My great grandfather was 32 in 1900 when he was already earning.  He must have bought the brush then but I wonder how long he used this brush or did not use at all, because it looks so new!

Healthcare was so different a century ago!  
Artefacts have hidden stories and unless talked about to the younger generation, the story dies.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Trek in Bandipur Forest

My friend Girish Nikam had planned a trek in Bandipur forest [Wildlife Santuary, a Tiger Reserve, now a National Park].  Two years before in 1981, we had done a crazy trip to its adjacent sanctuary, Nagerhole |click|.  Trekking in the forest sounded good, so I agreed to go with him.  Applying a day's leave for Friday 8th July, we set off on this 80 km. journey by bus, with me expecting to be back on Sunday.

On landing, I discovered it was not a casual trek at all, but to my big surprise, it was for the "Tiger Census"!  30-40 people, mostly young, had also come as volunteers, having hopes of interesting fauna and a sight like this during the census trek!

His Majesty - adapted as our National Animal in 1950!

[Click on all images to enlarge]

In the evening, the briefing session by the Range Officer turned out to be a laughing session to us [English-language wise].  Pug mark recording methods were explained along with other information about how we must behave in the wild forest etc.  After dinner the night was spent in a dormitory.

Early next morning a truck took us up to the nearby "Himavad Gopalswami Hill", the starting point of the trek.  Post breakfast at the heritage guest house, we were divided into 3 or 4 groups, each one to go in a different route accompanied by one range officer and one armed guard each.  The place is amazingly cold and misty in the mornings many months in the year and hence 'Himavad'. [hima=dew/mist].

All these colour pictures are from the film camera that Girish brought with him.

The sanctum sanctorum is inside.  The mist had cleared. 

We saw a herd of elephants looking like ants, roaming on those hills seen here far away. We were to go into their territory, into thick forests.

Me in Girish's sweater behind the temple, before the trek started. It was a cool morning.

I soon realized I was very ill-equipped for the trek in several ways:  not knowing where and how we would camp, not carrying warm clothes [nights in the green forests are chilly]or sheets for night stay, just one pair of socks which were on my feet and I had to return to work on Monday [being new to the job and hence no leave at credit]. I learnt that comfortable trekking shoes were needed, but I only had my ordinary sports shoes, the only pair I had, besides my cricket boots. I was wearing my cricket cap and custom-made black jeans and carrying a water bottle.  Girish was equipped with his jacket and so he lent me his sweater as I was not having my own at all. 

The drawbacks were to make me tense as I went through the day.  To add to these, I had learnt that this census would be of five days duration.  I was in a dilemma!

The trek began at about half past ten. Before we set off, we made 'walking sticks' from branches of shrubs grown behind the Temple.  

This was after trekking for two hours and resting a while.   
Beautiful views of the green forest. 

Our group taking a breather. The armed guard in khakhi is also seen. 

We were trekking in single file, making no noise.  Speaking had to be in soft tone.

The smell of the forest was heavenly.  Our group officer was explaining about the samples of dry animal poop that was in our path and what food they ate.  My sports shoes were soon proving inadequate.  In certain stretches of challenging [for newbies] terrain I had to hold on to the tall grass or embedded rocks to climb down or up slippery and steep paths. 

Mid way, we were at a place called 'Chammanahalla' for the lunch break and some freshening. It was on a small hillock.


The young man on the left [above] had some mountaineering experience.  He was showing some techniques on how to use our fingernails to grip and climb rocks. The depth behind that rock on which the boys are resting is not perceived in this shot. 

The enthusiastic elderly man seated centre [above] was nearly 70!  He developed breathing problems and had to be carried by the young men until he felt comfortable.  Someone's nylon rope came to the rescue as four people carried him for quite a distance even treading through difficult terrain, until he felt better. He had his own medication but was determined to continue. That was still the pre-cellphone and pre-PET bottle water era!

All the way through we were enjoying the beauty of the forest, its tranquility, its smells, listening to the sounds of the bird calls, the creaking of tree branches far away, the occasional chirp of the langurs and also enjoying the different shapes and colours, mostly green and brown, while eager to spot any pug mark on the soil or any clues the tigers might have left - that is why we were there.  Some interesting trees made us to stop and take notice.  We did not come across any tiger pug mark but we encountered fresh and steaming bear poop and dry elephant dung. 

How lucky we would have been if such a sighting had taken place!

By about 4 pm my feet started to cry, not because of tiredness but from peeled skin on my toes.  My shoes were too ill fitted for such a long trek. We had trekked about 20 kilometeres for the day when we reached Moolehole [pronounced Moolay-HoLay], our night stop.

The small rivulet Moolehole flowed silently close to the 'forest check post', the perfect ambiance to relax till daylight faded out.  This is where I also first saw the little water skimmers.  We were advised not to venture after dark as wild elephants would be wandering.

Here are two satellite-images showing locations of where we started and where we camped:

Bandipur to Gopalswami Hills - see line.

Gopalswami Hill to Moolehole Forest check post - see red circled spots.  We had trekked westward. 

A simple dinner was served.  The injury caused by the shoes to the skin on my toes were too sore.  My last hour's trek itself was a struggle.  I decided not to continue the trek.  Also, I HAD to return to work Monday.  Some of us slept in the checkpost room floor, while others slept in the adjacent block. A borrowed newspaper was my sheet to sleep while my towel and water bottle became my pillow.  Nothing to cover myself from the cold [and mosquitoes] except wearing Girish's sweater. 

This place was on National Highway 212 connecting our state Karnataka and Kerala.   Buses plied far apart but goods lorries were frequent.  After breakfast next morning, I prepared to leave for home.  the groups had left for the trek, minus me. Soon, a lorry came by. The driver agreed to drop me at Mysore.

We fear of being bitten by some creature in the wild forest, but I was bitten by my own shoes and had to shy away!
After I left, the group encountered elephants at a water hole.  Girish explained his experiences of seeing elephants in the wild, up so close.  

They had stopped overnight at Gundre and enjoyed a campfire. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

Bandipur was once the private hunting ground for the Mysore Kings. Animals were shot and taken as souvenirs and trophies and proudly displayed the taxidermied animals, their skins, heads and horns in their rooms and decades later we go there to count the remaining numbers!!  Imagine the abundant animal and tiger population then and a hundred years before.  Now in a forest area of 874 sq. km we were trying our luck to see if any of the few big cats [tigers] left, left their pug marks, leave alone the chances of sighting them.  Not surprisingly, we found none on the first day and I know not if the group found any later.  Nagarhole and Bandipur forests in a combined area of 1500 sq. km is said to be the largest [among the 47] tiger reserve in the country.

A few shots from the web. 
Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar [pictured below] who was also hunting, later was instrumental in banning shooting in the forests [1960s] as soon as it was realized the wild animals had to be protected. It was a fancy among the Royal people or dignitaries visiting India to go on hunting expeditions, including from the time of King Edward VII [early 20th century].

It was a great fancy in those days to pose for a photo with the 'trophy' they shot. 
What a huge animal they shot here! 

Picture below: 1930s. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV (the then ruler of Mysore - in whites) with his hunting team.

Bisons, deer, leopards, bears etc. were also hunted for sport, not to speak of poaching. 

It is estimated that there were 40,000 [forty thousand] tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century. Reduced to 4000 by 1965 due to indiscriminate hunting and poaching, the latter still a bane. Bandipur alone had 75 in 1973 and the good news is that the number rose to about 300 by 2010. 

A few banknotes featuring Tiger from my collection:

Reverse [see years of issue]

We reach an era observing "International Tiger Day" on July 29.