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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Old tyre 'driving'

This was a very popular pastime esp. of the boys.  We just ran all over the street pushing the tire [also spelled tyre] with the palm but a small wooden stick was preferred.  A guava tree branch [strong] was just right.  Just for kicks, we used to roll it on crooked kerb stones as long as we could. We made it jump across them and made it roll down the steps.  When we wanted to go to a friends's house close by, or on some small shopping errand in the nearby shops we ran fast driving the tire.  It was a thrill to run after, control and keep pace with the tire esp. down a gradient.  Only sometimes we raced against each other on the street because traffic was never an issue in the 60s and 70s.  But it never stopped my possessive grandmother to warn 'beware of vehicles' [ಕಾರು ಸ್ಕೂಟರ್ರು ಬಂದ್ಬಿಡುತ್ತೆ ಜೋಪಾನ]. 

When there was no game being played with the street children, we took the tire along.  We often gasped after a long run, but we were never tired with the tire!  We were mostly on the streets, outside our 'study and school time'.  We were all barefoot in those times.  The only footwear we had was a pair of school shoes and a pair of rubber sandals.  The flip-flop sandals were worn only on summer afternoons or only when it was needed.  They hampered our free running and so there was no comfort like barefoot.  It was pure fun. 

My tire was from one of our three bicycles at home. My father's favourite was "Dunlop Roadster" manufactured for Cycle Rickshaws which had heavy duty rubber.  They were durable to us.  By the time they were replaced, it had become thin and weak, exposing the fabric like those of a frail old man who was proud of his strength in his prime but now exposing the bones.  Some tires were so weak that they wobbled like a cat-walking slim young lady walking the ramp when they were 'driven'!!  It reminds me of the start of a popular Kannada movie song "ಬಿಂಕದ ಸಿಂಗಾರಿ, ಮೈ ಡೊಂಕಿನ ವಯ್ಯಾರಿ".  "Driving" this weak tire was a funny feeling and attracted some teasing but quite a sight to watch!!  It often collapsed, like the cat-walking lady toppling from her high heels! 

Those that possessed stiff old tires were seen with a bit of envy.  Those that possessed a bare old rim, though rare, were envied more!  Driving the rim on the road produced that clanking sound was music to our ears!  It had the 'enviable' advantage of being steered from the groove as it rolled while we tire-drivers used the sides.  Even more envied were the ones that owned a scooter tire.  Scooter owners were far and few in those times and their old tires, even rare to find for play!  When the stick hit the scooter tire as it was pushed along produced a hollow sound that was so pleasing as to create envy among other bicycle tire owners!!  We used to borrow the scooter tire or the rim to enjoy their feel.  I used to see a boy who rolled a slim hoop wondered from where he got it!  Another boy had a small ring of about 15 inch diameter, probably fabricated from a 8 mm iron rod and steered with a hook-like tip, also fabricated.  It was a very cute toy! 

There was a cycle repair shop at the end of the street owned by Shivaram.  We used to pester him to give us junked rims, but he would not give.  We did not know at that time that these things were sold for recycling at the junkyard.  So he used to save them to make some money. We had to return satisfied just gazing at all those junked rims in his dirty attic.

When I was about 8-9, I was going my friend Srinivas' house in the next street, driving my tire fast, so fast that I must have tripped something and fell flat on my elbows, stomach and knees [like lock, stock and barrel] almost in front of his house.  I still cannot recollect why I was running so fast!  There was a deep cut on my right wrist and blood began to ooze.  The cut was very close to where doctors feel the pulse!   I returned home, tire hung at the left forearm and pressing the wound with the thumb to stop bleeding. When I released the thumb, more blood would ooze. It took a long time for the blood to clot, due to its location near the vein.  Mother did some treatment with antiseptic lotion and I cannot remember crying as I mostly didn't. I also cannot remember if it affected my notes-writing.  The scar mark is still visible, faintly but I can still replay this fall in the mind vividly.

We did not know at that time that such games kept us fit and active and helped in concentration.  We had to keep focus on its movement and it also aided in brain-muscle coordination.  Simple games and activities like those in that era had their positive effects on health.

Recently, I thought of reliving the childhood, but inside the premise.  See this short video.  Now I can boast of an old tire on a rim!  But no one cares!!

O/        O/

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Tennis, Racquets and more

Left: Early 1930s.  Right: Probably 1950

My grandfather K.M.Subba Rao's name was a famous one in the Mysore tennis circles esp. between 1920 and early 50s when he played and also thereafter.  There were his four old racquets lying here and there, neglected, because two had tattered guts and weak 'necks' and the other two were fit to be thrown out. One of these two appeared 'playable' though having signs of warping. Racquet guts in those days were from cows!

The great man was no longer playing when I arrived.  But the last I saw him wield his racquet was during late 60s.  It was against a wall in our living room standing 4 feet from it to show a little me how to hit half-volleys. 

I got it restrung just to get kicks from using my famed grandfather's racquet!  I was warned that the frame was weak and would not withstand the tension of stringing anew and that it would break.  It did break, despite being framed down.  But I had played a few sets with it and fulfilled the desire! This was in 2002 or so.

Cricket was my game but I had begun to play tennis just for fun and fitness, in 1984 at the CFTRI courts, being an 'insider' there.  Vintage 'pavilion' and lovely setting at CFTRI courts. I wonder why no one thought of spending a film or two during play at that time!

Since none of my grandfather's racquets were in usable condition, my friend's father Maj. Hemachandar [also my Biology lecturer in College] gifted me his 'Dunlop Maxply'.   I started playing with this. 

I was a very inconsistent player and tried to use power with this racquet!  I had a strong serve, but only if it landed properly!  I could place the ball well and could run and retrieve any ball.  The backhand was my nemesis. Often I wished for baselines to be farther, the tramlines wider, the net, shorter and my racquet head very wide! I enjoyed playing and hitting aces though.  And I had fun with my slow second serve. The load was too much on the shoulder which was already doing the job of bowling long spells in cricket.  It gave way. I had tendinitis.  Slightly faulty technique and the heavier racquet went hand in hand to create this problem. I stopped playing for some months. This was before my memorable lesson-game with veteran Shama Rao. [Click here].

Composite racquets were too costly for me at that time.  Another colleague Deo whose son Ajay was a national ranked player, gave me a Symonds Tusker - an experimental model given by the company to him.  Four hundred rupees.

It was good, but I did not feel comfortable with its balance.  Our cricket club President Mr.K.G.Venkatesh gave me his old Spalding racquet.  These were all alternates that would not take me any further in my game.  I was the only one using wood! This continued for sometime.

I stopped playing in the early 1990s to allow my shoulder to heal properly.  It did not affect my bowling in cricket but it affected throwing the cricket ball. 

In 1996, there was our annual tournament.  Suddenly I gave my entry, dusted the racquet and went to court after a long gap, totally without practice.  I was to play a knock out round.  To my surprise, I beat one Gowtham who was playing regularly and entered the league stage, holding my nerve in a close game!!  I fared poorly in the league and ended up low-ranked.  Now my shoulder was okay and I thought of playing the game again regularly.  

I went looking for a lighter, affordable second-hand racquet.  I went to Cosmopolitan Club where I knew my English teacher and father's friend S.N.Shankar was a member.  In fact, all three forefathers of mine were members of that very old club in their times!  Shankar found that V.T.Raman had one for sale.  All of them knew my grandfather's achievements in the game in his time as they were all old-timers. V.T.Raman gave me a Pro-Kennex for two thousand rupees.  This was in 1998 and my game underwent a change and I felt comfortable with the light racquet.  I felt like Ivan Lendl because of my T-shirt design! I loved the smooth game of Ramesh Krishnan. 

See there, a wider head!! 

I was a threat to many players but they knew of my inconsistency. So I used to end up either #3 or #4, instead of the #2.  Ramesh is unbeatable in our group.  I even represented our Institute twice, at Pune in 2001 and at Mysore in 2003. I stopped playing again, unable to get enough motivation and time for this beautiful game.  

[With Davis Cupper Gaurav Natekar, Pune]

Among the many lovely trophies of Subba Rao this one is my favourite, for its meaningful design.  

[Mysore Sports Assosiation, 1933, Runner-up]

From left: BS Dattatri, KM Subba Rao and two others, Cosmopolitan Club, 1952. 

Subba Rao partnering Dattatri during a match.

Tennis ball tin. Dunlop.

Two Slazenger tins from different angles.  Look for "Entirely made in England" also!

When Mysore Tennis Club was started, he was honoured. 1968. I made a mark for the occasion - literally - I drew a line as I dragged my grandfather's umbrella on the lovely new tennis court on that day!!  And I was reprimanded by someone.  

My grand uncle K.M.Narain Rao [standing 2nd from right] also played tennis - 1909!  U.D.Ranga Rao [extreme left, standing] became K.M.Subba Rao's famous doubles partner later.  Also in this picture is Mekkri [Mehkri - of Bangalore's Mehkri Circle fame - an old family in Mysore].  
See racquet shapes.

[Maharaja's College Tennis Club]

Even my greatgrandfather Mylar Rao played tennis as early as in 1903.  Found some entries in his account book.  There were also entries for 're-gutting' of tennis racquets.

In 1906 he had ordered "one pair gents brown canvas tennis shoes" for four rupees!  
See the bill.

Game, set and match!

[See 'older post' on Shama Rao, a tennis veteran]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tennis Veteran Shama Rao

[In his heydays with his trophies, now 96]
Click on images to see them big.

It was in 1984 that my colleague Mukunda 'invited' me to start playing tennis on CFTRI courts. And 'why not?' I told to myself, since it was an opportunity to try my hand in a sport my grandfather Subba Rao was renown for.  The CFTRI tennis club had a few internal members, most of them played for fun and fitness only on weekend mornings. Since this was not a serious group a few 'outsiders' were also allowed to play.  I did not take much time to learn the basic skills because of my cricket.

One such 'outsider' who started coming in the 1990s was septuagenarian Shama Rao, a relative of our No.1 player, Seetharama Rao. Just before this, Seetharama Rao had included me in the team to give some match exposure in a small tournament at Railway Institute where Shama Rao was a regular. I used to see this white-haired man of short stature frequently, walking by on the street side, but did not know anything about him.  I was to play singles against the same man!  It was a surprise to me that afternoon on the tennis court.  He must have touched 70 at that time.

The match started.  I took the first set from Shama Rao 6-4 and was happy.  Old man who cannot run much, easy fish, I thought.  In the next two, he made me run all over the court and magically, he became a magnet and whatever ball I sent back seemed to go straight to him while he just stood and punched his shots hardly making a mistake!  It was awesome consistency from Shama Rao who won point after point and I made error after error and fully exposed all my lacunae.  He won next two sets, may be 6-1 and 6-2 and took away the match, humbling this small fish!  My tongue was out. My admiration for this man had begun. 

When he started coming to our court regularly - as an honorary member whom everyone respected - it was a joy to me.  Seetharama Rao had  already told him that I was a grandson of Subba Rao. In fact, Shama Rao, along with Seetharama Rao, was among the few who had seen my grandfather play, before mid-1950s after which he had hung up his racquet. 

Shama Rao used to walk the 3 km. from Krishnamurthypuram to CFTRI court.  He played only when there was a place in doubles, otherwise he would just sit and watch.  He wanted everyone to improve their games. He would point technical flaws and suggest corrections.  This he used to do even when he was on court partnering either me or someone.  He had the distinction of having trained Indian Davis Cuppers Vijay Amritraj and Anand Amritraj in their early days after their father Robert Amritraj saw Shama Rao's game!  

Accuracy of shots and consistency were Shama Rao's forte.  He used to tell me how he could hit a coin placed on the opposite court with his shot and he could aim the sideline or baseline with pinpoint accuracy.  He used to send his returns very low which made the opponent make mistakes.  He preferred the baseline and was a perfectionist.  When I mishit a ball, he pointed to the sweet spot on his racquet "Take the ball here"!  "Do you know how beautifully your grandfather played?"  When he hit the ball, the 'plonk' was musical as the ball skimmed across.  

He fondly remembered the numerous tournaments he won beating very good players - including Mohammed Ghouse who was a Davis Cupper later; defeating top seed P.A.Sheshadri of Chennai without conceding a single game. He was a regular in Railway Open Tennis tournaments in Bangalore and other places and also at other tournaments in Tiruchirapalli, Erode and Guntakal. 

Another unique thing about him in his early days was that he played barefoot.  He was fond of recalling how he won a tournament in Guntakal playing barefoot in very hot weather! 

Shama Rao was of the opinion that the players in olden days were extremely skillful, possessed brilliant games, were plucky and tricky and that today's game is based more on power rather than skills.  With wooden racquets one had better control of strokes and skills. There was a dress code in those days and the players on court were all in white dress. 

He was able to play on our courts till he was about 85, but he continued to come for a couple of years more until his knees started to give him trouble.  Either Mukunda - who lived close to his house - would drop him back or I dropped him back [on scooter].  His enthusiasm for the game remained unfazed and he would continue to give valuable tips to us even though he could not play. 

I used to practice the Shama Rao punch at times to good effect but could not adapt the Shama Rao grip on a regular basis. The index finger was kept straight on the handle, which according to him added power to the shots!  His forehands were deceptively fast and low, skimming just on top of the net either catching the opponent on the wrong foot or leaving no time to return.  I was at the 'receiving end' in that early match and I can imagine how much more potent Shama Rao's strokes were during his prime!  His fingers and palms were robust and strong and also revealed the hard work they had done.

Shama Rao was born in 1918, a typical Mysorean, simple and humble to the core.  He started playing at the age of 12 and played on for the next 73 years.  He started at Rao Bahadur Bhakshi Narasappa Tennis Club [RBNTC] which his uncle N.Krishnaswamy had started and culminated at CFTRI courts. RBNTC was closed down due to non-availability of playing equipment including tennis balls. Shama Rao's commitment to the game later saw to it that RBNTC was restarted and got back its glory while he worked for the Railways. He often prepared the courts himself to make tennis possible.  Such was his dedication to tennis.  He used to recall how difficult it was during the War years [1939-45] to get tennis goods and how they were also rationed.  They all came from England [Slazenger, Dunlop and Spalding, to name a few brands].  

Subba Rao had taken part in a tournament organized by RBNTC in 1933.   See this cute little cup:

Shama Rao was a silent tennis legend of Mysore. 

He is on his way to pay his electric bill - I was returning from there.  2006.

When he stopped coming and I stopped playing tennis, I would occasionally go and meet him in his old house. Once I took my friend Vinay Parameswarappa. 2009.

Same day as above - Picture by Vinay.  Shama Rao was 91 and his hearing ability had further waned.

In 2011, my tennis partner Murali and I went to meet him. 

In 2012 when I went again, he had become a widower.  Every time I went, he used to say "I was just thinking of you. Come, come. It has been so many days since you came." His face would brighten as he held my hand in affection.