Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Our Mango Tree

My grandfather had purchased an old house in 1950 at Devaparthiva Road, renting the ancestral Lakshmipuram house and moved after repairs. The 6 tall coconut trees and the big jackfruit tree here were likely to be planted by the first owner, may be around 1910 after constructing the house.  There were also guava, rose apple and mango in my time. 

One day, may be 1951-2, children had eaten mangoes. Among them was my grandfather's young nephew Sathya.  He had discarded a seed of his mango in a particular spot in the backyard.  It sprouted and grew.  Till Sathya lived [up to 81], he had clear memory of this.  He would take a peek at the well-grown tree each time he visited decades later. Lucky are those that grow up in a house with some fruit trees around it.  

All the pictures in this were taken in 2007-8 just before our 'ownership' of this beautiful old plot ceased.  Click on them for enlarged view.

The mango tree had grown and established itself without any extra care at all. This is where it stood, providing plenty of fruit to us. Rose-ringed parakeets, bats and monkeys had their good share too!! Monkeys feared my slingshot.  Chasing them away was fun as they were capable of rampage!   

Bunches of dangling mangoes was quite a pleasing sight! So it was when the whole tree bloomed.  We were unable to find out which variety of mango this was.  Because of its juiciness, someone suggested it to be Raspuri, but its correct identity remained a mystery. Not Raspuri, Badami or Alphonso but something probably very special.  It deserves some eulogizing.  The ripened fruit was green with a light washing of red to look at, lovely non-stringy pulp, flavourful, sweetly juicy and highly delicious to savour.  Actually it defies a proper description.  When green, it had just the right amount of sourness for pickling.

Ceramic pickle jars which were filled with diced green mangoes and stored with their necks tied with cotton cloth. Plenty of people in the family and hence, big jars!  Grandmother and mother would dice them. 

Mischievous boys would throw stones at the green mangoes dangling from the overhanging branches from the conservancy. Stones that missed their target would fall on the asbestos roof of the out house or zinc roof of the latrines and the sound would alert us.  Before we opened the backdoor and peeked into the conservancy, their swift legs would have made them 'disappear'! Now my friends boldly recall how they tried to steal our mangoes! 

View from the terrace. 

 I would pluck them by hand or with the mango plucker pole with net, either from the latrine roof or by climbing half the tree on to an easy-for-me branch if some green mangoes were needed for small-scale pickling or to prepare something like 'gojju', 'tokku', 'chitra-anna' or to give a few to some guest.  

When good-enough-for-ripening mangoes were seen in large numbers mango 'pluckers' who came by asking.  Mother would do tariff bargaining ['per hundred mangoes' plucked].  We kept track and an eye when they counted the harvested mangoes in the end.  Then we would shift them to the warmth and coziness of the store room where a bed of dry straw supplied by our kind milkman was readied to keep the fruits for ripening.

It was virtually a mango-feast.  At times during good yield, 500, 600!  But we would keep only as much as we could and all the rest went for distribution among the streetfolk, who waited eagerly. Yield of mangoes dipped every alternate year.

The penultimate year before we got to see the tree, a pair of pluckers had been called in. This is how they did.  One would drop the plucked mangoes one by one.  The other person used a gunny bag to 'catch' and absorb the force to softly drop-slide them down to the ground to prevent the slightest damage to the fruit. See combo pictures above. 

Murali [click for], a poor young boy, who also climbed the tall coconut trees, came to pluck.  He slipped and fell once, luckily on the latrine roof with very minor injuries and we were reluctant to hire him thereafter as he was epileptic.

[Jackfruit tree in the background. Photo by cousin Santosh]

Imagine me sitting on those steps that faced the mango tree and taking bites at a whole mango, juicy mango!  It was not unusual for the juice to trickle down to my elbow and staining my pyjamas!  They say, we cannot lick our own elbows!  So juicy were they.  Have eaten tens of them each season mostly sitting there and swishing away the fruit flies that hovered around the eyes. 

When many ripened at the same time, 'Seekarnay' would be prepared [mashed pulp, milk and some sugar].  Mango leaves for auspicious occasions were readily available, esp. for flagging the doorframe. 

During strong storms tens of mangoes fell away, but not wasted.  When a hailstorm came about, that would mean fruits would rot during ripening.  

Old house being torn down by new owner.  Mango tree seen at the back. 2012.

New owner's bungalow under construction, 2016

The only occasions when we ate 'purchased mangoes' during our tenure there were during seasons of low yield.  Mr. Salar Masood [a paint merchant and old client of my grandfather] would supply a basket of mangoes upon request by my grandfather.  We never knew how much he used to pay for them. 

An unusual thing happened after we left this house [Devaparthiva Road]. People observed that there was no flowering and no mangoes the following season!  Tests have proved that trees and plants can bond and feel the human care-takers' emotions.  Was our beloved mango tree also feeling the absence and its chemistry temporarily altered and showed its suffering in that manner? Not once had this happened before. When the new owner dug for foundation very close to the tree for his new bungalow a few years later, it is likely that its roots were severely damaged. 

Henceforth, no longer could the neighbourhood get the taste of those mangoes and they felt as sad seeing the tree slowly dying as us looking in that direction as we passed by. People said they tried to save it, but it was futile. The loss is theirs. 

What remain with us are sweetest memories of our beloved mango tree and the most delightful fragrance of the sap filling the air when the dangling fruit was pulled from the stalk.
I consider myself lucky to have grown up in that house with such useful trees and shrubs in the yard.


There was a mango tree in the ancestral Lakshmipuram house [half razed in the picture] also where we moved. The tree's reputation was so so, but it did bloom profusely only once and gave some fruit, as if to welcome us.  Thereafter, hardly 4-5 or none!  It was an ordinary variety. The new owner of that divided portion now has chopped all trees to make way for his new structure. 

Now, our own mango plucker pole was idle laying in the open shed.  Our Red Whiskered Bulbuls found it a suitable place for nesting!  It has used the same nest 6-7 times, renovating it each time, making babies. Many little ones fledged while many eggs were feasted by the Mynas.

"King of fruits"

We have to content ourselves to buying mangoes.  Artificial ripening using calcium carbide [health hazard] has become so rampant in recent years so much so that one must exercise caution in choosing the outlets selling naturally ripened fruits. 

It is no surprise that my fondness for eating mangoes is as great as it was drawing a mango and colouring it during childhood, like this, with a prominent 'beak'!


Friday, May 11, 2018

An old Radio Friend, Parikh

A chain of events prior to 1984 had led me to the hobby of shortwave listening.  We had our vintage Bush Radio.  It was not long before I had found myself sending reports to Radio Korea [in Seoul] which was broadcasting in English, an hour every night. Its signal in the 31-metre band was inconsistent, yet I listened fairly regularly. Another thrill was to hear my name on the radio when my letter was mentioned in their 'Listeners Corner'!  Also, I sent in entries for their monthly quiz or essay competitions and won some prize or other. Little did I know this would lead to a great surprise.  A letter from them saying that I was chosen as their 'official monitor' had me very elated.

[Don't forget to click on photos to magnify]

The hobbies of 'shortwave radio listening' and penfriendship usually go hand in hand and are considered in many ways educative and healthy. Radio stations needed feedback from their audience across the world.  'Shortwave listeners' provide help in that while enjoying the hobby.  These people write and inform the stations about the radio signal, program content, suggestions, etc. To keep audience attracted, they sent stickers, pennants, calendars or little gift.  I too put my feet in this as I found it fully worthwhile. With my limited time for indoor hobbies, I was mostly content with Radio Korea and some penfriendship with a handful of people both in India and abroad [which eventually waned away]. Almost automatically, a network among the hobbyists forms as they have similar interests.

In 1985, Radio Korea had sent a list of monitors in India upon my request. In it was a certain Mr. Vasudev M. Parikh's name, in Bombay [now Mumbai]. The same year I was to go to Pune for a cricket coaching camp [10 days] after which I had planned to visit Bombay to meet a couple of relatives.  An opportunity of meeting him had opened itself.  I did not know anything else about him. So I wrote to him about my schedule and my keenness to meet.

At Pune, my relative was in the same campus as our camp.  So I had given his address to respond to.  I was in joy when my relative handed over Parikh's reply.  I was curious to know how young he was and had inquired a few basic information about him. This is what he wrote:

I had guessed him to be a young person but he was 65 year old seasoned veteran, esp. in the hobby!

He sent this photo taken during a radio club members meet in 1986, at his Nadiad home.

After an enjoyable camp, I traveled on my favourite 'Deccan Queen' train for Bombay and reached my relative's Andheri residence.  The following day, Mr. Parikh's clear directions helped me easily reach 'Jupiter' and climbed 13 floors [in the elevator!], in Colaba. On the way, I had visited my favourite Victoria Terminus [now renamed after Shivaji], the GPO and the streets around them.  I was excited to see the digital radio he used and talk about several things related to the hobby.  It was an engrossing one hour, learning about several new things. It was a friendship that was to continue till 2003.  We used to exchange letters frequently, some contents of which were about information on different radio stations' broadcasts.  His letters were neatly typewritten and full of information. We used a lot of post cards also. 

In 1986 also there was an opportunity to meet him again. But this time, in Hardwar, a sacred place for Hindus in North India! I was to go to Roorkee for cricket. Hardwar was very close and his annual stay coincided. He would go there with his wife for 10-15 days of relaxing.  Read his invite on the left.

My team mates, 2-3 of them, were surprised about my hobby outside cricket!  My third meeting with my wife happened to be the last, in 1989. 

Thereafter, only letters. He had also some access to e-mail when it was introduced, but there were only a couple of exchanges through this.

His e-mail.

He was using small address sticker labels in his correspondence. I wanted to have them too. So he had kindly helped me get a box of these. They were not available here at that time.

He was born on 12th May, 1920. His handwriting had slowly become very shaky, yet he managed to write a few  despite his physical weakness and weak eyes.  Probably he could no longer use the typewriter. But, promptly, he would wish me, my wife for our birthdays and usually on time.  He also never failed to inquire about our young children.

He would sometimes start the letter with 'dear radio friend'. And in another letter he wanted me to write him 'Dear Uncle'.  It is truly amazing how he was able to find time and energy in promptly writing to all his contacts with such long letters when he was younger!

The last mail I got from him was in 2003 in which he had expressed a rather low enthusiasm for life at 83.

[Magnified, read and feel]

He writes unhappily that "SWL is a dying hobby..."

Subsequently, I wrote a letter or two inquiring about his health, but never heard back.

His was a very renown name in the hobby, one as old as him is rare to find. I had planned to write an article about him in the late 90s for which he had sent some information. But my plan did not take off. Here are two sheets he had sent for this. Astounding achievements ever since he started listening in 1938 using a Crystaltone receiver as an 18-year old! The first radio station in the country was here in Mysore, 1936, but in Bombay, radio broadcasting had started a few years before that.

One of the persons who kept my zest in tact in the hobby was him.

 He would have been exactly 98 as I write this today, 12th May. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Binaca Toothpaste Freebies - 2

I made the initial post on this in 2009.  Much of the 'story' is there.  Click here: [Click]

That post also attracted quite a number of people [as the comments and views suggests] that knew about this wonderful Binaca Dolls. 

Since I improved upon the old version of display, I thought an update, as a 'No.2' would help. The open old version in which I kept the dolls used to collect plenty of dust thus necessitating too much maintenance. I made a display box to solve this issue. 

Displaying in the showcase and also protecting from dust to avoid cleaning remained a challenge for a long time. But I found a way by way of 'v shape' clear plastic name display boards a former neighbour had given. Cutting the plastic to pieces of measured dimensions was a tricky affair.  Glad it came off well. 
Click on images to 'enlargify'.

This would form the base.

The left shelf.

The right shelf. The sea horse had to be mounted on a piece of stiff plastic.

Full collection before keeping inside the box.

The 'Binaca Zoo' now inside the box, joints sealed by cellophane tape.

Side view of the box.

Ready for the showcase. Any dust.... just wipe the box! 

* * * * 

I remembered yet another little freebie that used to come in the Binaca toothpaste box just before these attractive dolls.  It used to be a small gold-like plastic pendant with different letters of the Alphabet. My aunt had collected many but none survived. They were the size of a shirt button, something like this:

My illustration to show how it was.

" " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " " "

Sunday, May 6, 2018

My time with CHESS

My exposure to chess was from an early age.  The earliest I can recall having been taught the basic movements of chess pieces was by cousin Manjunath. He had been sent from Bangalore to study his engineering here. I was in 7th class or so and I would watch him play with a friend.  At times he would be reminded by my grandmother to study because he engaged himself playing chess during his exam time.  He had an excuse, one that I would adapt years later, saying that the game of chess would improve concentration and memory.  But it was not enough to convince her. 

In those beautiful times so many board games were played within the family and among the children in the streets as well.  Nobody at home was playing chess before Manju's entry and stay for just 3 years until his end came shockingly.  Probably my father and grandfather also knew chess, I know not.  I think, someone brought his chess set here to play till the time I was bought one.  I had picked up the game easily by playing with friends, sometimes guided by Manju in the early stages as he watched us play.  After Saturday's 'morning class', I remember my friend Gopi coming to play during high school days. In later years Sridhara, MG Ravi and several others came to play. It was a fantastic pastime.

[Click on images to see magnified view]

One of the early 'toys' that came to us was this plastic set [above], most likely purchased at the Dasara Exhibition where toy shops were a great attraction.  Luckily, all pieces are in tact! The paper and cardboard chessboard did not last long.

Showing a few of our heirloom dolls, my grandmother used to mention these are 'Chaduranga pawns' [the old name of chess]. A few have survived. Extreme left must be the 'King'. 

It was in my high school days that I played chess more often than at any other time in my later life. In early college days, Shankar used to bring his father's popular chess book written by a champion in the 50s in which famous games played by J.R.Capablanca, Boris Spassky, et al were recorded.  We replayed a few to see how intelligently they moved their pieces in different types of openings, endings and gambits.  Our newspaper's weekly supplement also carried notes on chess games which I curiously studied.

Shankar's book was something like this, showing moves. They were in 'P-K4' [Pawn to King Four] numbering. The chessboard numbering was later modified as 1-8 and a-h to which I never got familiar.

During the annual day sports events at the 'Keerthi Typing Institute' which I was attending in 1973-4, I took part in chess.  I beat two people and lost to the next having run out of patience as they were played in a chain.  I learnt patience and calm thinking were keys to 'holding fort' in chess! 

There was an interesting, very active, old retired govt. doctor in the opposite 'Liver House', Dr.Rama Shastry.  He carried a nickname of 'Bappu', very intelligent chess player with great expertise.  I had seen him play with his old friend as I used to go there whenever I pleased.  A huge vintage desk and his bed occupied most of his tiny room. He mostly lay on  his bed due to a chronic back problem, but sat up during play or whenever he had to go out.

Bappu had known I could give good chess games.  So I went to him nearly every evening in the mid to late 70s and we would play 2-3 games.  It was also providing me good experience.  It was a challenge to play well against him. It was from him that I learnt that the white corner square has to be to our right.  He was extremely hard to beat but I have the privilege of checkmating him once, just once in a hundred plus games we played!  That evening I felt like having won something very big that deserved a newspaper headline!  It was the first time I saw him sheepishly struggling to see himself a loser while I was enjoying my ecstasy!  But he was happy for me.  He was also one of the old generation players who used the word 'Shah' for 'check' in chess. 'Shah' is a Persian word to warn the opponent King thus.

Bappu's chessboard was a big one.  He had 'laminated' it with a thin white cloth for durability. The wood pieces were large and beautiful.  I wanted to have one such of my own! 

This small cane table was a gift to a one-year-old me from the family.  My carpentry and painting skills were useful to make a large chessboard from the available pieces of hard board at home.  Nailed it to the table-top so that it also protected the cane surface.

1978 it was. Endless number of games were played on it. 

If my memory serves right, it was Bappu who also suggested me the shop where these wooden chess pieces were sold - DVG Road, Gandhi Bazar, Bangalore, luckily it was close to the place where my relative/s were. On my next visit to Bangalore - must be 1980, league cricket had taken me there - I was in utter glee when the shopkeeper showed me what I was looking for!  It was a small shop that sold board games and other small items.  I used the pocket money plus a small sum borrowed from father to purchase.  The neat wooden box has a sliding lid. Later I pasted gift paper on it for a colourful look.

Beautifully crafted wooden pieces. 

Not so beautiful!

Some family friend was visiting one day when I and brother were engaged in chess. There was a little boy who had accompanied them. After they were gone, we found one pawn missing. I felt very angry and bad. Using my carpentry skills, I made the replacement using balsa wood, pieces of which I had from my aeroplane making [a little story in another blog].

Aside from Bappu, I used to play with one Masood. He was the brother of my good friend Zakir whom I used to visit every now and then [sons of Dr.B.Sheik Ali, VC of two Varsities].  Masood [no more now] was also a very good player and I am proud to have beat him once, trapping the castled rook and king - he had failed to spot my simple plan!

The last I played frequently was in the mid 80s, with Sanjay [Geeta Book House family], much younger to me. He was playing well and I used to beat him more often.  He remembers those enjoyable games even now.  It was a lot of fun.  One Pradeep, who was also from our friends group used to join. 

This Pradeep played good chess.  He and his friend Sid [who now owns SPI] played chess 'in the mail' as Sid was in another city. In each letter they would write a chess move and thus one game would extend several months!  And when computers came to workplaces, I tried to play chess 'with the computer' but never found it interesting. It was 'more intelligent' than me!  Perhaps it contributed a little bit in diluting my enthusiasm to play, what with not finding interested people. But not for nothing the game of Chess is so popular worldwide.  

It is unfortunate that the electronic-gadgets-distracted younger generation is completely unaware of the beauty of this great game.

Do you know chess?  How proudly we used to say 'YES'!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Meeting a disconnected relative

Kitta was one of first cousins of my grandfather's.  He was married to Sumitra in the early 1960s.  His elder brother was Shankara, married Girija and both couples were childless.  The youngest brother Chandu had never married.  They were all living together in Bangalore.  Probably owing to their lazy nature or lack of a degree Kitta and Shankara were in small jobs that brought small salaries.  Chandu was a lawyer and it was from his earnings they were able to somehow sustain life reasonably for many years.

A time came when age was catching up on all of them.  Health issues were slowly making their lives difficult, economically also.  But for the considerate support from two of their nephews and their doctor-father, their condition would have turned pathetic, much sooner. Eventually, sustenance became impossible.  Shankara departed first.  Then Kitta, many months later.  Chandu's health was also deteriorating.  So it became too difficult for the two widowed ladies to take care of Chandu.  Girija who had her own knee issues left and went to live with her brother in Mysore.  Sumitra followed suit, going to her native Chickmagalur, leaving an ailing Chandu.  Chandu also did not live long thereafter, having been under the care of his kind nephew's family towards the end. 

Shankara and Girija during their marriage. No photo of Kitta is available. My aunt was fond of collecting photos of relatives and particularly children.  That is how this came to be part of our 'family albums'.

They were all very friendly, kind and warm-hearted people and the way they had maintained a harmonious environment consistently was adored.  Sumitra and Girija cooked together and very well. Being more efficient and active than Girija, it was Sumitra who did the outside chores.   On nearly every cricket trip to Bangalore I had made it a point to visit "Chandu's house" [we called like this] and sometimes even stayed with them because their affection was genuine.  At times Sumitra's brother Mohan also came there for short stays.  

Several years went by.  My co-employee Ravi asked me if I knew of one Mohan who was a tenant in one of his relative's house in Mysore.  At first I could not place him, but when the connection was revealed, I was glad.  Mohan had known me from "Chandu's house" and that was all I knew of him. Mohan had been aware where I worked.  So when he learnt that Ravi was also working there, he had inquired about me. 

So I got Mohan's contact from Ravi and on calling. The last I had seen Sumitra [or Mohan] was several years ago.  The mental image of her as a short and small build, active, cheerful and always wearing a smile was all that had remained.

A visit to Chickmagalur, in connection with our daughter's marriage provided me the opportunity to meet Sumitra.  My co-brother-in-law Satish took me on his scooter to her address [provided by Mohan] which was not far from Satish's house.  It took Sumitra a couple of seconds to place me with "Oh, Dinu!"  when she answered the doorbell.  That same friendly smile was in tact, now welcoming me and Satish. Pleasantries and family updates were exchanged.

Age and minor health issues had made her appearance rounder but said she had been generally well, living alone and often visited by her very fond brother Mohan.

Our visit was taking another happy and unexpected turn.  Now Satish seemed to remember Sumitra, both 'Chickmagalur natives'.  They discovered they were neighbours on the same street for several years 35-40 years ago and their families were close too.  What a coincidence!  It was a bonus for Satish, finding and renewing contact with an old acquaintance in such a manner!

Sumitra could not make it to the marriage for whatever reason but the short visit to her provided me an exhilarating moment nevertheless, thanks to the unique chain of circumstances that formed itself. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pagade Game memories

The Law Courts and our house were just 200 metres apart. My grandfather would return from his court work for lunch.  If there was a case or hearing he would go back and attend, at the most, for an hour. Otherwise, he would take a short nap, post lunch.  Around half past three or four, it was time for a couple of games of Pagade ( ಪಗಡೆ ).  A straw mat would be rolled out in the room in readiness.  The first game [match] would be played between my grandfather and grandmother.  For the second, my aunt replaced my grandmother.  Some games would end up in nail-biters providing great thrill for all.  The one who rolled the right numbers on the dice and moved the right pawns at the right time would win while tactics contributed, with occasional ideas coming from onlookers.  The game of Pagade involves skillful strategies.  

Those were the halcyon days - these memories are from the 60s till my grandfather's death in 1976. The two games would together last for about three quarters of an hour, during which time, my grandfather would also mention an old anecdote or two in between.

On school holidays I got a chance to witness the games which I did with great excitement. Sometimes I found pleasure to make the pawn moves on their behalf.  They would even allow an occasion roll of dice by me also.  I played with my aunt or brother after those two main games occasionally.  I used to try and imitate my grandfather's unique style of rolling the dices, but instead they either slid without rolling much or went totally awry.  Utter failure.  At times the players would pray for a required number to be rolled to suit the situation and often it was flop.  They were not 'Shakuni's dices', but they were on a stray occasion now and then, much to the excitement!  It was great fun. 

After the games, my grandfather would return to his desk to study a case or sit outside on the built-benches to read some book.  The shadows of the opposite house coconut trees fell on our west-facing front yard thus favouring the place for relaxing or reading.  My grandmother after her game would return to the kitchen to prepare coffee [tea was rarely prepared in those days at home] and the evening snack, after which my grandfather would ready himself to leave for his office at Gandhi Square at sharp 5 pm every day [by bus].  Even half a century later people who have seen this routine of his - keeping up time - recall it today! 

In Kannada it is Pagade ( ಪಗಡೆ ) and in Hindi it is 'Pachisi', known to have been invented around 4th century.  If our National Sport is Hockey, Pagade is a National Board Game. 
How the game is played, see this link: Pagade Game.  

In short: Each player has a set of pawns that start in his or her corner of the board. The goal is to move the pawns around the board to the "home" section. Movement is controlled by dice. All players move around the same board, so they may capture each others pawns. Captured pawns are returned to their player's corner and must start their journey all over again. The winner is the first player to move all pawns "home".

Mysore is home to a host of traditional board games.  It may not be out of place to mention that it was Mysore's 22nd Ruler, Krishna Raja Wadiyar III [Mummadi Krishna Raja Wadiyar, reign - 1799-1868] who was a master of board games and a great connoisseur.  This great King even has the credit of inventing a few board games also.

With time, the enthusiasm for playing this beautiful game of Pagade waned for lack of will more than anything.  For a few years after my grandfather died, we continued to play it among other games esp. during the Summer Vacations to school.  The game set of cloth board, pawns and dice hardly got to see the light out of its box except adding more antiquity.  

The Pagade 'board' made of cloth - crochet work - which must be more than 60 years old. I know not who made this.  Very durable! 
Arranged above is the position of the pawns for the start. 

Wooden pawns and Ivory dices. Already antiqued from the time of my memory. The reds are replacements of lost ones!

Ivory dices, clearly at least about 80 years vintage. 
The etched markings had to be re-marked at least twice after re-etching and filling with some colour [by me]. They wore out from being rolled on the straw mat hundreds of times over the years!  Even the beautifully woven mat [thin reeds] used for this wore out to the hilt at the two places - actually holes - where opponents rolled them.  It had to be replaced!! 

Will there be an enthusiastic revival in this so called 'fast moving times'?