Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Photo studios and old photographs

(Internet image)

Owning a camera was big deal up to the 1970s. There was no camera in our home until 1970. Agfa's Clik III came in the mid 70s. Our family had toured Jog falls and Gokarna in 1969. For this trip a maternal uncle offered his box camera, an Ansco Pioneer (which was something like this) which was given to him by a friend. It could use a coated paper film roll that took twelve exposures per roll!! Film was '120' type. Imagine today how we click our digital cameras in thousands!! That film paper was red on the outside and black on the coated side and while winding we had to set the number carefully in the little red window. We could record some memorable scenes of the trip with this humble camera. I remember we bought one more roll in Gokarna because all the 12 in the first roll was done with. On our trip to Bombay (now Mumbai) the same year, that camera did not travel with us. So memories of that (first long trip by train) are not in albums!

On the left is Ansco camera. (See this link with some description)

On the right is an Agfa given by a friend (never used, just showcased).

Our first camera, the type one had to hold in front of the tummy and look down at it's wide viewfinder lens, was bought in 1970 for Rs.100/- (a substantial sum in that time) as a family gift to take pictures for my Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony). On that day, 3 rolls of 12 exposures each were finished with all the excitement. In the absence of flash bulbs, all lights in our hall were put on. The ceremony was at home. While my cousin clicked, others were holding table lamps trying to 'spotlight' on the area of 'action'. What a circus it was, amidst a sea of people witnessing the Upanayanam in the largish hall. My cousin had tested a roll before the event and results seemed good.

After the event, the rolls were 'washed'. Everyone was waiting to see the pictures. Lo and behold! All exposures were washed out, much to our disappointment! All the light that was lit was just insufficient for that camera! But, an uncle who was a 'foreign returned', had taken one shot with his camera that had a flash bulb. This is the only one that stays on for record and much treasured! All efforts from my cousin unfortunately turned out to be 'empty photography'! But my own experience three decades later was even emptier! Read about it!

This is my uncle's only picture to tell the story of that day! 30th April, 1970.

I remember my late cousin 1n 1970, trying to photograph my mother's Rangoli art she did on Varamahalakshmi Vrata. When I got older I got a few opportunities to load the roll and shoot some just for fun. But that was very short-lived. By early 80s its film became unavailable and this was cornered and I gave it to a friend. Now I am unable to recall its brand name.

People had a fancy to get photographed or to record events but not everyone possessed a camera (even for that matter, wrist watches, radios, scooters or cars!). Camera and photography were expensive affairs. Some of those who could afford, did some photography and a few of them developed pictures in their own homes for fun and hobby. Our good old tenant by name Gopinath who lived upstairs was having a camera because photography was his passion. He used to work at KR Mills when it was at its zenith. It was because of him many of our pictures in our album can show how people looked like in the late 1950s and 60s. I still cherish them.

Photo studios were in vogue since 1930s or so. Long later I came to know of Star Studio near Woodland Theatre, which had a great reputation for its sharp group pictures. My only visit there was around 1980s when our cricket team picture was arranged. But I have very vague memories of visiting Raj & Bros. (opposite Raghulal & Co, druggists) off Sayyaji Rao Road, when I was very young. I can remember a small round object (which was the lens) mounted on what looked like a wooden partition with those light bulbs behind ground glass sheets that diffused light and on either side of that lens. I was asked to stay still, smile and look at the lens! (The camera was hidden behind the 'partition'! Then the photographer would choose the right moment to turn a lever (at the right speed) that worked the camera shutter. Many are here in this web album (click)

As a young kid, it was a weird feeling when I was made to sit on a tall wooden desk in front of that 'partition'. With crying kids it required patience on the part of the photographer and those who accompanied the kid to calm it down. At times, they would beg the kid to smile and wooden toys were given so that a good shot could be taken.

Observe the wooden toy elephant and train here.

Many of our pictures in our album has the embossing of Raj & Bros. Most of the people in those days knew my grandfather as he was quite renown. So I think the owner of the studio knew him as well because my grandfather's very old office was in nearby Gandhi Square and also perhaps he specialized in children's stills. It appears that one of my pictures was prominently displayed at the studio among the samples which gave great pride to my grandmother, mother and aunt.
These are pictures (click to enlarge) of my father and maternal aunt taken most likely in the very early 1940s. Observe the artistic pencil-signature of "Raj Bros, Mysore City" and embossed address on my aunt's picture, which perhaps is of a slightly later time.

Raj & Bros. seemed to be great patriots of the Nation. Small complimentary pictures of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and our beloved Mysore Maharaja (Jayachamaraja Wadiyar) were distributed to the public to show his love for the city and country (probably also to advertise). They adorn our vintage album. Raj & Bros. were "photographers by appointment to the Maharaja of Mysore". Royal recognition and a great privilege!

His Highness Jayachamaraja Wadiyar

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when he was the Prime Minister of India

Mahatma Gandhi

After many decades, I was at this studio and it still exists in the same old building (looked ill maintained for what reason I know not) with the same old furniture though I did not see that 'partition' with lights and camera - but an assistant was working at a computer in a corner. I saw some very old pictures of hindi film heroines and of course the Mysore Maharajas. As I came out and looked up at the board, it read in Kannada "digital studio"!

Raj & Bros. Studio

Those black and white pictures seem to last forever and those that Raj & Bros. have taken, give us cherishing moments with those wonderfully beautiful images on matt paper.

Procuring "35mm" cameras (film width) that took 36 exposures either in black & white or colour was something great! A great jump from the old paper film type. In the centre is a Russian camera my friend 'threw it to me'. I repaired a small flaw and used it until I got the Canon automatic. Both are now at rest because the invasion of the digital camera has brought out a little shutterbug in me.

We no longer talk about selective photography with merely a dozen photos per roll, but in hundreds and thousands in Gigabytes!

The B&Ws are the ones that are going to stay for posterity!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


In our schools, September mid-term examinations were scheduled (even now, in fact) in such a way that the short vacation (much awaited) following them always coincided with the Dasara festivities - Navaratri. 'Dasara Holidays' was a wonderful period in those days in the 1960s and 70s and I try to recount those times.

The excitement and participation of people in the festivities is something one cannot imagine these days. It came from within oneself and not through lighted up streets and circles or publicity loudspeakers! The Mysore Maharaja (Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar) was very revered by one and all and the Royal Family was respected. People's zeal and excitement were genuine. They looked forward to the ten day festival with all eagerness. Dasara of yore was quite something and before the 60s, perhaps even better.

On the home front, preparations would begin with the orderly arrangement of traditional dolls, toys and other little things for show on temporary platforms in our homes. We children were the most excited lot. We would make mini parks, zoos or mountains using little dolls and Binaca’s mini plastic animals as part of the doll show. Many enthusiastic children in small groups would visit houses asking “reee, bombe koorsideera?” (is there a doll show?) This custom of visiting the neighbourhood and farther to have a look at the doll show, sing a song and get that day’s “bombe bagina” (special snacks) is almost forgotten today, dominated by the influence of the telly, etc. Now, when the telly gets more attention than the guest and with the why-bother attitude, many neighbours remain strangers, thus defeating the idea of the social visit, i.e., to promote good relationships.

Children would gladly keep all their books for the Saraswathi Pooja and get busy cleaning their tricycles and bicycles for Ayudya Pooja.

It was such a thrill when my grandfather used to show tickets for the Dasara Procession which we eagerly looked forward to witness. I think they were 5-rupee tickets, chairs were under the pandal and a decent, disciplined crowd to be with. Of course, there were some light lathi charges from the Police guarding the spectators when they misbehaved. We used to be there under the pandal near KR Circle well before the 21-gun royal salute, which signaled the start of the procession from the Palace.

The public never feared the cloudburst that is nearly guaranteed on Vijayadashami day, as if by arrangement. A special something drew thousands from all over. I can project in my mind’s eye the Majestic troops, meaningful tableux, melodious bands, two ‘tall’ men walking on stilts, decorated camels, horses, cows and elephants. Then there was the perambulating horse carrying Commander Bijli (probably my grandfather knew him), checking that all was well when the procession went on and host of other beautiful items like the silver chariot made the procession, which went to Bannimantap and returned in the night via Ashoka Road. But the tailpiece of the procession was the highlight. The Maharaja and the Prince, Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar sat on the delightful Ambari Elephant carrying the 80kg. Golden howdah.

It was the most thrilling sight to behold in itself. (The young Raja can be seen in the above old picture from a recent newspaper). What was even more enthralling was when His Highness spotted my grandfather by his prominent white hair, among the crowd with a special ‘namaskara’ and that little bow meant for his friend elderly friend. The Highness used to play tennis in the 1940s and 50s with my grandfather, who was a well-known personality in the city, esp. in the sports circles.

Some people from the public would offer flowers to the Maharaja. An assistant would collect the flowers in a special vessel to which a stick was attached and pass them up to the Maharaja who would receive and acknowledge with a little nod and folded hands to the person that offered. It was a grand sight. The Maharaja’s personality itself was so royal too.

(In this album picture, the His Highness Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar is seen presenting a trophy to my grandfather at Mysore Sports Club in the 1960s)

Translating that unique enjoyment of witnessing the procession is a hard task. When the Govt. abolished the titles and privy purse in 1972 or so, the original tang of Dasara was dissolved, forever. People could not think of a Dasara Procession without the Highness in the Howdah. It upset the sentiments of Mysoreans very much so much so that many (including me) stopped witnessing the procession henceforth. It was considered a farce. A picture of Goddess Chamundeshwari (Mysore’s Royal deity) then occupied the Highness’ place in it. Since that time onwards (the Maharaja alao died in 1974) Dasara has sadly, become secular, gaudy and too cheap-looking, completely lacking that magnificent Royal touch. That pure charm is now only a sweet memory. Such ambience will never be paralled, however colourful they make the Dasaras of today. Just as I wrote, there was our today's (21.9.2009) paper saying:
The boundary gates of the Palace were open in those days and we could go through any of them for short cuts, freely. Of course, they were still the days of ‘pedestrianism’ and bicycling. All gates except one were closed since the 80s due to security reasons.

This is a picture from 1930, of the illuminated Palace which had since seen many 'face lifts'.

In the Palace on all the nine days during the Dasara, the Maharaja used to sit on the throne at sharp 7 p.m for durbar. At the very instant of his sitting, the entire palace’s 80,000-bulb illumination was switched on. It was the grandest sight for anyone to behold. They were days when climate was according to Nature and rains never failed to fill the dams and so power generation was no problem. Imagine 97,000 40-watt (were they 60 w?) bulbs glowing! The glare of the illuminated palace could be seen many a mile away. Compare the illumination with the present day 15 watt ones. Just dull. Power problem!

This is a recent picture of the 15-watt era. Just visualize the brightness with 40-watt ones! How beautiful it would be!
One of the special single-coil, threaded bulbs manufactured for the Mysore Palace illumination. Note the print.

The spirit of Dasara after Vijayadashami and the Procession was sustained for two more months by way of another attraction, the Dasara Exhibition. (That is my separate blogpost). It was then beside the Mysore Medical College and that special splendour with its perfect location. Pictured below.

The beautiful waterfall seen from the entrance-passage is so vivid in my memory and particularly one visit that was most memorable.

The same building as it was in 1958 (from a Mysore guide).

In the ‘Ladies Section’, my grandmother’s crafts used to win prizes, since 1931. Picture of the certificate of that year:Some years, even the opposite Jeevannarayana Katte grounds would become an additional venue.

The song Mysooru dasara eshtondu sundara, chellide nageya panneeraa, ellellu nageya panneeraa…” sung by P.B.Sreenivos in the Kannada film 'Karulina Kare' glorifies Mysore Dasara. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fascination for the Radio

The sound from the radio has always fascinated me. My earliest memories recall a Made-in-England 8-band Bush radio, a gift from a family friend, from the famed Paints dealer on Ashoka Road, Salar Masood & Sons. Almost fifty years later it remains a working model. It has undergone minor repairs and sat in my father's friend Adam Khan's Silicon Electronics for two years unattended. Vacuum tubes have been replaced but I have seen to it that it still functions. Sound from it is so different and deep. Connected to it was a 10-feet long copper-wire mesh antenna near the ceiling that also helped support cobwebs! There was a special wall shelf out of reach of children on which this was placed in the living room and was operated only by the elders.

The radio was on every morning and evening, without fail. All India Radio, Bangalore was the most tuned in station even though Mysore was where the first radio broadcast was made in India in 1936. The first broadcast was unofficially made in 1927 itself. Besides, “Vividh Bharthi” was tuned on Shortwave for its transmission of Hindi film songs. Its “Binaca Geet mala” every Wednesday was a great hit, due to its presentation by Amin Sayani whose voice still echoes! Hotels became famous not because of its preparations, but people flocked due to the presence of a radio there. Not every home had a radio in the 1950s or 60s. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Broadcasting Corporation also was famous for its broadcast of hindi songs at convenient times. Here is a picture of the hotel, Meenakshi Bhavan, which was famous for Binaca Geet Mala!! Meenakshi Bhavan as it is today, in Krishnamurthypurm.

I must add here that my father who did his Diploma in Sound Engineering in one of the earliest batches at the Technical Institute in Bangalore in 1949, worked at the Radio Station for a short period after his passing the diploma. He later worked as a sound recordist with distinction in the film industry in Bombay between 1951 and 1957 under a few reputed companies before he had to return to Mysore. While there, he has recorded many songs of films and one particular film he used to mention was "Phakheezah" in particular and he used to narrate how Lata Mangeshkar rehearsed before a recording. See picture of my father at a radio studio in the early 50s.

Programmes of AIR Bangalore that were much sought after were “pakshinota” (bird’s eye view of the programmes for the week every Sunday morning), Pradesha Samachara (Area news), Kannada news and Chitrageete (film songs). But the one that attracted most was the Sunday afternoon show of “sound track” of Kannada films: members of family would sit close to the radio (with volume blaring!) to listen. None would dare talk in the middle!

What Live telecasts of cricket matches of today were Ball-by-ball commentaries of Cricket Test Matches of bygone days. When any team toured India, radios did extra hours. Also for Davis Cup Tennis and Ranji Trophy cricket matches. Radio was a great source for entertainment and information to everyone at home, besides the newspaper, “Taayinaadu”. The Hindu was also widely circulated, but we subscribed that kannada paper.

People would curiously inquire, as part of conversation, which radio their home had, if they had one at all. The next question was which brand and how many bands it had! More the bands, more the envy! Radio owners were looked at with awe, much like those who owned wrist watches or even cars or scooters. Those were such days.

The late 1960s saw the advent of the transistor radio. It had the greatest advantage of portability and it required no cumbersome external antenna. That was much to our amazement. It had become a great fashion, at least to some, to show off their ownership of transistors. They would keep them in shoulder bags, play with a loud volume as they went walking or on their bicycles. The main idea was to get noticed, not to listen to programmes! To accompany the Bush, our first transistor was a National Panasonic 3-band. After our 4-day taxi-tour in 1969, we saw the car driver Ganesh using one to pass off time at leisure and he was ready to sell that imported set from Japan after our return! He sold us for Rs.800/-, a substantial sum of those days. It served us for a long time and gave us great joy until I gifted it off to a friend who is using now.

The 1970s saw me explore the depths of Shortwave bands esp. on the Bush radio. One Shankar came with the information in 1973 that his father had tuned in to the BBC on the 31-metre band and was listening to live cricket commentary of the Test Match between West Indies and England. That opened the door to a world of its own – the hobby of “Shortwave listening and DX-ing”. More on it later.

I came home, located the 31-metre band on the Bush, patiently turned the analog needle as slowly as I could, because I found so many different stations crammed between one another so closely! I later came to know that just 5 kHz separated them. I finally ‘caught’ what I was looking for - cricket commentary from the BBC! It was an excitement I can never forget. Though commentaries were aired before but they were relays from AIR Bangalore on Medium Wave, which was 'nothing special'. It was a ‘turning point’, in every sense! That was also when I learnt what those numbers meant on that analog dial.

I did enjoy the commentary, learnt so much from it – language and also the game itself, by persistent listening. There were some very renown commentators behind the microphone like John Arlott, Alan McGilvray, Fred Trueman, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Lindsay Hassett, Bill Lawry and so on. Their voices are taped from the 2-in-1.

2-in-1, the radio cum tape-recorder was the next step that happened, thanks to
one HM Srinivas, a late colleague and music lover. He helped me buy my first 2-in-1 with stereo speakers in 1986. Even till 1987, the telecommunications dept. was collecting a nominal fee (Rs.15/- per annum) for every radio set bought and we had to pay it at any Post Office (the govt. stopped it later).

Coming back to the hobby of listening to Shortwave bands, I learnt that they had hundreds of broadcasting stations at any given time. Signals came from all corners of the globe. I came to know how climate and the earth’s ionosphere and even sun spots aided or disrupted shortwave broadcast over esp. over long distances. In the late 70s, I had begun spending lots of time searching for something new. Mostly I used to hear languages I never heard and with some experience, I came to identify some of the foreign languages as well. Many foreign stations broadcast English programmes also at set times every day. It sounded interesting to hear them. By then, BBC and Radio Australia had become familiar for their cricket transmissions. I was now ready to explore other stations on the air. I was to know that this new hobby was known as “DX-ing” (meant searching for stations from unknown distances).

One fine night, closely sandwiched between two others, a station was heard, though not clearly.
I was delighted when the announcement went as “Radio Korea”. Link to Radio Korea
They also announced the address for listeners to write back which I soon did mentioning some information about the time, frequency of broadcast and content. After some days, much to my glee, I got a reply from them, ‘verifying’ what I wrote. It was called as a “QSL” card. A couple of years later I could record my voice (comments on the station) and send the cassette to Radio Korea which they broadcast as part of a contest. It had won a prize. Listening to my own voice on the air was hair-raising at that time!

I had by then been appointed by them as one of five 'official monitors' in India. This signaled the beginning of a new era for me in this hobby, post 1980-81. We were sent coupons to cover postage that we incurred to send reports of their broadcasts and program contents on a regular basis. It was a great feeling!

After some years, I had collected some 200 cards from 55 different stations. I came to know later that it was a great fancy among listeners and that there were other giants who were experienced listeners that counted them in thousands! There was one TK Soundararajan in Thanjavur whom I met at his home once. We discussed Radio! I now came to know that there is even a
QSL card museum

In 1986, I came across Mr.Vasudev Parikh in Bombay who was also an ‘official monitor’ for Radio Korea. I met in his home following exchange of letters, only to learn that he had been born in 1920; that he was one giant in the hobby with a listening experience dating to the 1930s! Radio clubs are still in existence in various parts of the country and this man was also a respected member of one or two, because he had the rare privilege of monitoring a few other radio stations like BBC, Voice of Germany, Voice of America, etc. I too got a chance to monitor the BBC for a short while that helped me realize my dream!

The dream was a ‘digital radio’. I had seen it with Mr.Parikh and upon his suggestion, I was able to buy one in Madras with the help of another radio-enthusiast, Harsha. It is a Sony 7600D.
Tuning was easy now, no knob-turning – but all digital. I used to get program schedules from a few stations and I knew which frequency had to be fed directly into it.

Many friends are brought together by this wonderful hobby, Harsha is one. He is more of a HAM now. I have no idea of Mr.Parikh as we seem to have lost contact. When he was active, he seldom missed sending a greeting card on my birthday.

Radio stations used to send out to its listeners complimentary gifts like pennants, posters, stickers, cards
key-chains, t-shirts, pens, and whatnot to sustain audience interest. We felt great displaying them. It was a great pleasure to take part in various contests esp. in Radio Korea, which awarded many little gift prizes for the winners. Probably judging my enthusiasm, they retained me as its monitor for 16 years on the trot. It had become common for my local friends to inquire me how I was doing with the hobby, esp. at Radio Korea. Such was the interest.

Mid 90s saw another phase when the Idiot Box began to dominate through Cable Network and the radio audience gradually made their shift. It happened in many countries and a drastic reduction in audience was noticed. Technology too was progressing with the advent of World Wide Web and many stations saw no point in their radio broadcasting. So some of the big ones stopped broadcasting and went on line with the Internet. The whole scenario changed. But a few stations have remained in the old ways.

A friend’s family was visiting us in the 1990s. The young boy asked in great awe what that gadget was – I had switched on my Bush Radio to show them the ‘antique’ was still working! We had to explain what a radio was!

Soon after we entered the 21st century, people thought that the radio would be pushed to unheeded corners. But no, FM Radio seems to have revived the radio though not in the same variety in shortwaves. In my opinion it is more of a nuisance because it is available on mobile phones and cars and everywhere in such an "impressive" manner that people have stopped "listening to the beautiful world of silence". Satellite radio is also available for those who have the real inclination for quality of sound and listening pleasure in their homes.

A person in Bangalore, Mr. Prakash has a hobby of ‘collecting’ radios. He has a fleet of 800 of them! See photo.

The greatest advantage with the radio compared to its fierce competitor, the Idiot Box, is that while it is on, people can do other things while just lending an ear and you can carry it around too, wherever you want. Thanks to Marconi. Radio is here to stay on. One day our Bush radio may become obsolete, but the Radio will never be.

Take a look at this guide.
This is a beginner's guide to SW listening.
And another.

Maddy''s Ramblings blog has this to say, picturesquely described. (Listen to AIR's signature tune in the little widget in the blog) It brings me old memories too.

(Radios pictured at the beginning:
Bush EBS 51, National Panasonic, Philips 2-in-1, Sony 7600D and Sangean.)


My work group in office had a leader who was famous for his strictness, loyalty to duty, work efficiency and punctuality. But he had that nasty habit of giving pin pricks to his subordinates and carrying false tales to his Boss, who unfortunately had a “bronze ear” for such things. Others knew it, but were helpless. There were also others in his vicious circle that gave him nice, colourful stories. That system worked much like the press reporters, the sub-editor and the editor. 

In the initial stages when I was placed in his group, he would expect me to feed information about others, which was not my cup of tea. From the outset, I had felt it was not proper of me to add salt and inform him untruth, which he seemed to dislike, because I had answered in a strong no! I later got to know his intentions, which were malicious. I could not react because I was a raw junior at that time. It went on for a few years and I was always given a raw deal in most of the day to day affairs, which was not profitable to him or the office. But he seemed to be getting kicks doing that, to his newest victim.

Allegation after allegation for trivial matters began to make me tense. Knowing me and my abilities, my colleagues knew he was having a hand in this mischief and were sympathetic, because his mischief was too well known. His role was indirect but that counted to the Boss. The tension that had built up all those years finally exploded one afternoon at another normal official matter which was handled arrogantly by the department head, The Boss. It was again clearly another piece of harassment. I decided enough was enough. Beware the fury of the patient man – so goes a proverb and was in demonstration. So there and then, my frustration found vent through a loud voice, which was shocking to others, and bang-slamming the door I left the room. It was an "un-me", because there was an enemy in envy! 

I was to make an official tour the next day and he was to clear the formality with just a signature, which he did not do. Instead, he threw the paper! But then I knew he was amidst a certain period where a hectic schedule had made him tense too, as he was the 'Convenor'.

So I decided to ask a couple of senior colleagues for suggestion. One that normally I turned to, was on leave and my next choice too was away. A third senior was available. I explained my plight and he suggested me to leave a note on his table and leave for tour. Just one sentence he wrote. It was a bold and daring one which no junior was thought to have courage to do, leave alone seniors. But I did. I left the note on the Boss’ desk and left.

I felt at being taken to a dead end and the only way out was to retaliate with boldness, unthinkable of me. It was a come-what-may situation. I had to put a “period” to all that and I thought it was the right time and that too by such a daring method. I left after duly explaining the matter to the head of administration and returned after a week.

The Boss was fuming hot, expectedly. That little note had kindled the fire in him: the tenor was such! Memorandum after memorandum followed, filled with flimsy allegations, trying to ‘build up a file’. To each one I replied with facts without hesitation (another senior colleague from another dept. helped me). The office issued another, stating that my explanations were not satisfactory, again as expected.

Probably by my bold and straight replies, the Boss and our group leader saw that I was too hot to handle. They probably felt that guilt. But mental tenseness continued. One night I went to the home of my first choice colleague who was on leave that eventful day, to ease my tension by discussing. He did give me the idea of a discussion with the Boss, it was actually he that mattered, not the pin-pricking group leader. But then I felt it would be in vain. For, he was the stubborn-stiff-neck type, strict in office, not easily approachable, but had the hidden quality of a kind man. I found an advantage there, because he too was a victim of “that man’s” antics many years before and now he was displaying “bronze ears” (by then he had replaced the other bronze-eared Boss). I decided to play on that and demanded an explanation for his “behaviour”. I also told him that I knew he was a kind man and asked why he was doing such things to me. I had also the daring to tell him on his face that nobody liked his overall behaviour! He just listened. He let out the cat when I reminded his own suffering earlier under “that man” and asked if he was bronze-eared too. He said nodding, “yes”! Imagine a subordinate asking his Boss all that!

That hour-long discussion in his chamber changed things on both sides. I had wanted a change in groups to get away from the wicked clutches of “that man”, the group leader, which happened soon, much to my delight. I was relieved of pin pricks and was giving more attention to the new job in a more relaxed and efficient manner.

Gradually, probably having realized his official image (!) by my ‘outburst’, the Boss also changed his style of functioning, for good, which all of us got to notice. I told him on his face "Do you think the colleagues are liking your ways?; You are listening to the false tales that man is carrying to you." He never expected such a thing from as small a fellow as me.  By the time he retired, he was such a mellowed person who was thanking people for trivial things. He never did it in his 'hey days'.  That man, the group leader who too retired before the Boss remained the same.  I am sure my outburst was an eye-opener for him, but he was not expected to give credit to me for this, because I was so small!

Had my first choice, who is a soft person, attended office that day, I probably would have continued to get pin pricks and a solution to that problem would have delayed! Was it destiny that led me to a more daring person for suggestion, I know not. Whatever, now long later, I recollect this period with a sense of satisfaction. Attitudes, environs, reactions and responses are all different in 'private offices' where the boss can 'fire' the employee, but this was in a place too different from that. Hence all such.

Could destiny rest in someone's hands? Can you say no?

Bathing economically

Do you know that during bathing, about 50% of water falls directly to the floor without touching the body if water is poured hurriedly? In India most of us, first fill a bucket and then pour on our body using a mug or small container. Usually the mug holds about one litre. There are people who require more than two buckets of water for one bath! They keep on pouring! I know a friend who does this. Asked why, he says that his bath ends only when a certain 'current' passes through his body at a certain point of time!

These are days when everyone of us must prevent unnecessary wastage of water esp. during a water crisis. It is very much possible to economize use of water for bathing [in such a crisis]. Take the first mug of water and begin by wetting the body with a sponge / kerchief / palm of the hand. Pour the second mug all over the body, SLOWLY. A moist skin surface is easier to wet than a dry one. You can notice this in summer and winter. In summer due to presence of sweat it is quick and in winter more water is needed to wet as sweat is very less.

Next step is 'soaping'/scrubbing.

The third mug is used for washing off the soap lather. Follow it by slowly pouring a couple of mugs by which time all soap is washed off. The bath is now complete! Actually, on an average, just five to six litres of water is sufficient for a clean bath. Add 1-2 mugs in case of the head-bath. Majority of people use warm water for bathing. Do not demand a demo!  I have tried to describe clearly for you to try!!
A shower is reasonably economical

A normal shower bath finished off quickly (with cold water) also consumes less quantity of water. The tap has to be closed during 'soaping'. One can calculate the average time taken for a shower bath and see how much water is spent. Note the time taken and then fill a bucket with the shower and see how much water is collected in the same time. Of course, an oil bath requires more water.

This 'economy bath formula' would come in handy in a crisis such as a 'water shortage period'. Those who are accustomed to spend water carelessly should be made to realize the crunch. Indications of water shortage are looming, if not large at this point of time, there is an alarm. Not only in India but in many parts of the world . There is everyday talk of climate change. For places like Mysore and surroundings, a good monsoon means a good storage at Krishnaraja Sagar Dam.  If the rain is deficient, tough summers.

The US Army people is said to use a high pressure automiser (that can be made using cycle pump and a few pvc pipe fittings) for their bathing purposes. This means even less use of water.

The great water guzzler, a certain NO in crises.

Aside from bathing ourselves, there are plenty of car-owners that bathe their beloved cars daily with a hose pipe and flood the streets, like this!

I wonder if that is judicious - even responsible practice! Some of them argue that they are paying the bill and why should others worry! At times one feels what they waste (that is just one example) is the water saved with difficulty by others. We are so careless when it comes to mass action.   How many of us switched off lights during the set hour recently?

We will do well to harvest rooftop rainwater to alleviate the situation to a great extent. It is easy and economical too. During the rainy season, plenty of pure water can be collected and used provided one plans a large volume sump/tank. One inch of rain on a 1000 sq. foot catchment area will yield 623 gallons of water. Let us all use water judiciously, for all purposes. 

  Water is more precious then we are aware.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bygone era doctors and some memories

This is how we pictured a ‘Doctor’ in our childhood - stethoscope on the neck, injection syringe in one hand ready to jab and an elderly face ready to heal the sick! When kids got uncontrollably cranky, parents would threaten “I’ll get you pricked by the doctor.. or I’ll hand you over to the police!” To even younger kids, there was always a ‘Gumma’ (demon!). We feared doctors most for that dreaded jab and often asked them to use thin needles if it was absolutely necessary to jab! Not to speak of their much renown ‘scribbled prescriptions’ – that meant bitter pills to swallow!

My memories are from the 1960s, which was still an era of family physicians. Doctors were not in great proliferation. There were neither many private practitioners nor any specialists for each body organ at every street block as we find now. We had neither nursing homes everywhere (barring a handful) nor “specialty” hospitals.

Krishnarajendra (KR) Hospital was rather infamous for its own reputation (hard earned) as ‘a booking counter for heaven’, took good care of most patients in the real sense also. Mission Hospital (where I was born) provided better facilities and had better reputation for their nominal charges also. P.K.Sanatorium was far off from the city to treat and isolate Tuberculosis patients. Holdsworth Memorial hospital off Irwin Road treated epidemic diseases. The Government Dispensaries (free) here and there sufficed the general ailments of people of nearby localities. There was one on 100-ft. road (Chamaraja Double Road now, next to Gayatri Talkies) in an old tiled building. Still functioning is the one on Prince of Wales Road, behind Lakshmipuram School. It is in an old house donated by the Ursu community many decades ago. I remember once how I got my earwax removed using water in this Dispensary. The attendant did the job. For half a day, there was an odd feeling in the ears! Here is a picture of it:
The old building has received a fresh coat of paint recently.

This is a Buddha temple that has come up recently in the same premise as the above Dispensary

A family of doctors in the opposite house, famous for their own formula for babies with liver troubles, lived as a boon to the neighbourhood for many decades. ‘Liver House’ was the name of their residence. Even autowallas (3-wheeler taxi) and Tongawallas (Mysore Tonga – horse taxi) knew this Devaparthiva Road landmark in the beautiful locality of Chamarajapuram. I can say that these were one of the earliest doctors my memory carries. I remember my mother or aunt carrying me on their arms and taking there for treatment either for fever or ‘boils’. The old lady Saraswathamma pricked me in the butt and the fever was gone very soon after my mother made me eat those bitter pills powdered and mixed with honey (weird taste) to make it kid-palatable! There were numberless occasions like that.

Both her children were doctors who served the people for many years. She was the wife of Dr.Rama Shastry, the formulator of that liver cure. He was a Gandhian, also adept at chess. I beat him once when I was in high school and I consider this a great achievement. His son Dr.Eswer (no more) together with his nephew Dr.Shivaram (now an experienced orthopedic surgeon in the US) had saved my life once (when a pickled gooseberry got stuck in the gullet while playing on the street in 1970), most of which I have mentioned in a separate blog. The story of how Dr.Rama Shastry’s son-in-law Capt. Srikantaiah (Kanti) saved my father’s life twice is here in this linked blog.

At home, there was a sick uncle who required frequent and sometimes long hospitalization at KR Hospital for an incurable disease in the mid 1960s. I used to see how much respect KR Hospital doctors had from the patients, staff and subordinates alike. Dr.A.K.Gopalarajan was the “Dodda Doctru” (Senior Doctor). I remember his short frame and a great halo of reputation that went with him. He was an authority.

Around this time, my grandmother once had a bad abscess on the heel. She suspected that it was because of her having stepped on a broken egg while she was taking lunch to her ailing son at the hospital. She always walked barefoot. To treat this, my friend Srinivas’ (now in USA) grandfather Dr.Doreswamy Iyengar (Thambi) was called one afternoon (from his house opposite Manuvana Park), as the pain was unbearable and she was unable to walk. This old man arrived with his bag, examined and simply pricked it open. The pressure of pus inside an abscess was enormous and the jet went across many feet. She became fine after a couple of days of limping.

Doctors wisely prescribed antibiotics in those days – never, indiscriminately and only when absolutely required. I remember the names of Pencillin and Sulfa drugs. A test dose (an injection) was given to patients to see if they developed any reaction, before administering! They were precise in their prescribing and there were no 'round abouts' in their thinking.

As a young boy, I remember visiting a clinic opposite Subbarayana Kere on 100-ft. road (now Chamaraja Double Road), with my grandfather who occasionally stopped by to say hello to his Rotary Club friend Dr.N.Sanjeeva Rao whenever he went to his office on foot. It was next to a rice mill. I do not remember my (sportsman) grandfather taking any medication. But sometimes he used a certain cough lozenge ‘Sucrets’ that came in a neat tin box fitting in the palm and my olfactory memory can vividly recall the flavour of it even now.

The only time my grandfather was admitted to hospital was when a scooterist hit him one morning while riding his 1914 Sunbeam bicycle on his way to his office in the late 60s. He suffered some bruises and scraped wounds. After he was retained for more than one day, he escaped home without getting tests conducted!! He knew he had no problems! He recovered quickly at home and for the first time in his long career, he had to sit idle at home for two weeks much to his dislike!

My grandmother used to take some medical help for her problem from one Dr.Shamachar, an Ayurvedic doctor but she never had been on persistent medication till the end. He lived by Geeta Road, the road behind ours and had his pharmacy near Sita Vilas Choultry on Narayana Sastry Road.

I am from the ‘milk of magnesia’ days. We did not like to take this white liquid for our indigestion. Those were days before the ‘antacids’. The day I hated most was when I was forcibly administered Castor Oil to ‘clean the alimentary canal’. The taste of it … ‘yuck’ itself was quite nauseating. In one hurried gulp it had to go in (we preferred it with coffee), with least contact with taste buds! It had to be a Sunday and the toilet had to be free for purging out, about 5-6 times at least for half a day. My father took it on another day – one person for one day only! Though purgative pills were on the market, castor oil was the preferred home remedy that needed no doctor!

I must mention many things of a sleepy clinic named “Mysore Pharmacy” in Krishmamurthypuram because of the long association we had in parallel to the “Liver House Service”. It was opposite Meenakshi Bhavan, a hotel more famous for its Radio rather than its dishes. People thronged there to listen to the radio, esp. Wednesday evenings for the Binaca Geet Mala programme on ‘Vividh Bharathi Station”, playing with loud volume! Not everybody had a radio at home or even a wrist watch those days. They were rarities. Come to think of the reach of the mobile phones of today!!

A shop in the ground floor of this building was where Mysore Pharmacy was. There was no shabbiness then as it looks in the picture now.

The Doctor at that pharmacy was V.R.Krishnaswamy Rao, LMP. He had earned a very high reputation. These LMP doctors were many. MBBS doctors were not in great numbers for obvious reasons. This pharmacy served the needs of the locality and if my memory does not fail me, we paid two rupees as consultation fee. He had an electric coil stove to sterilize the needle and syringe in a corner of his examining room always ready for any injection. Those were days when ‘disposables’ were not born. Then there was the “compounder” (that was his designation) inside his counter with many coloured liquids in huge bottles on shelves. The code of mixtures when needed was a secret between the compounder and the doctor. In many cases, only one liquid was enough. We always visited the doctor with an empty bottle in hand to get it filled with this coloured liquid. These medicated liquids were sure shots for various day-to-day ailments.
As we passed by, an acquaintance would inquire on seeing the bottle in hand, “to doctor’s shop?”

Dr.Rao possessed ‘hands that healed’ and a unique scribbled handwriting, esp. his signature, from his thick fountain pen. V.R.Kr….. followed by a spiral! .

I was about 6-7 years old when I was watching steel bars being cut during construction of the neighbour’s house. A splinter had struck and I felt something dripping down my leg. That I did not feel any pain is still a mystery. Cry. My friend late Rama of the same age was also standing with me, but ran off when he saw this. A hostel chap next door noticed me. He was from a sect of ‘untouchables’ as my Gandhi-hating grandmother classed. He took me to Dr.Rao on his bicycle for treatment. I cannot remember what her reaction was after that kind and gracious help of his, knowing well my grandmother’s ‘attitude’ which was understood in its perspective in those days without qualms. I can still show that mark of the size of a rupee coin on the left shin. After many years, I got hit by a cricket ball in backyard cricket and he put a stitch to my right pinna. He had very skilful hands be it stitching or jabbing.

Those were the days when life was easy, not many people fell sick, and so there were no queues in pharmacies. Taking appointments were not in vogue, fashion or a need in those nice days when telephones were owned by very few! Proportionately, there were few chemists. Chemist-doctor connection for commission might not have been in vogue then. Doctors were satisfied with what they earned from their humble service. At times when an elderly or very sick could not go to the doctor’s ‘shop’ (we used this term also), a word sent to him would be promptly responded to and Dr.Rao would visit on his old Lambretta Scooter, leather bag in hand. Those were good old days of ‘family physicians’. Of course, he never demanded that others carry that bag in and out when he arrived or left. Often, the patient after merely meeting the doctor would find half cure of the ailment. Can we find such a patient-doctor association/rapport so easily now? They were healers.

Once in high school, I was suffering from malnutrition following the sudden death of a cousin. Aversion to food was the main cause. Dr.Rao had prescribed 30 injections of Iron, Calcium and Vitamins given in turn. Iron was pricked in the butt as it was painful. Calcium was the least painful and so it went into the arm. I used to take one on each day before I went to school at his pharmacy, which was on the way. I was never afraid of getting pricked as an orthopadeician long later was in amazement at the KR Hospital when I said I wanted to look at being pricked. He was giving a local anesthesia for my fractured ring finger following a blow from the cricket ball in 1982, the same day when Amitabh Bachhan’s accident happened at the shooting of ‘Coolie’.

After the 30-prick course, I had regained some strength and was eating better. In the end, he emphatically told me to eat well, esp. Avarekalu Saaru (Hyacinth beans soup) that came in the winter. Those were words that came in handy much later in life after I began observing others’ eating habits and correlated their well-being!! But it crucially inspired at that time, to improve to a great extent.

It was either Dr.Rao or Liver House that we turned to for our family medical help often. It was Dr.Rao who was summoned in the wee hours when my grandfather had a heart attack in 1976. He gave an injection and he was by his side when the last breath happened. He said the attack had been massive and impossible to save. By the time the KR Hospital ambulance arrived, it was too late.

Dr. Rao visited his pharmacy until he became old and died. I knew two of his sons. The eldest among them was Vasu. Cricket was our common factor. He proudly boasted of having been born before ‘independence’ (1946). He was an avid cricket follower and a talented player with the tennis ball. Obesity never prevented him playing. His heavy beedi-smoking was much renowned. Unfortunately, he was unemployed and loitered. We played many games together for our ‘own team’. He died a couple of years back after suffering towards the end. After his parents’ demise and brothers having moved out, he faced a tough life. That a son of a doctor was almost on the verge of begging was a pathetic sight. He would show a prescription for his stomach ulcer and asked help to buy medicines. It was a sorry state.

His younger brother Narasimha was my classmate in high school and we often went to school together as he lived just a furlong away.

In our high school (Sarada Vilas), there was a routine annual medical examination, which we tried to avoid because the doctors of those days made us remove the knickers and made us cough. They could find out an underlying problem from that! I still wonder why other doctors did not do that. I remember his nickname as a ‘buffalo doctor’ or something. His son was my father’s colleague and his grandson was my classmate there.

By early 80s, one Dr.S.V.Subramanya who had passed MBBS was now ready to serve the people. It was he, who helped us often in the years to come until his untimely end.

A little senior to him was another Dr.Srisha in the next street. We went to him also for help at times. He was kind enough to respond to our request when my father suffered a stroke in the wee hours in 1981 and had to be admitted to a nearby nursing home. The end came a few hours later, primarily due to negligence of the attendants on duty and the doctor, Govindappa (who was being consulted and visited that nursing home), who never answered the phone in the wee hours.

In the late 80s when my aunt fell sick, we had to turn to a doctor who had newly opened his clinic close by. It was for the first time we were in an unfamiliar situation like this because it was related to the heart and he claimed to be his cup of tea. We were late to realize that times had changed. His high ego reflected in his behaviour. He would never carry his leather kit but asked me to carry it as if I was a servant. I could feel the changing times of the noble profession getting too business-like also by the way he handled the case. He was new to his profession but his actions contradicted his knowledge! We settled his account soon after my aunt’s demise a few days later for which he sent hurried reminders! May be what we saw was a hint of what was in store 15-20 years later when medical science and technology improved by leaps and bounds only to devalue human value! Medical ethics seemed to have dissolved somewhere. “Kaliyuga doctors” appeared to have mushroomed .

There was one Ayurvedic doctor who landed to reside in the same street in the 80s, the knowledgeable Dr.Vijendra Pandit. Sometimes my mother went to his house for treatment – once he used leeches to ease the problem of the arthritic knee. He was quite efficient and was helpful many times.

Being a doctor was really something in those days. Studying medicine was for the elite as it required a high fee and as such, it was difficult for all and sundry to pursue this field. As such, the noble profession had in great numbers people that came from respectable families with culture, ethics and compassion - essential components that made them demi-gods to the patients. They were considered life-savers and life-givers.

It was a job of much dignity, dedication, respect and honour. There was hardly any who deviated from these. Doctors used their commonsense, communication, intellect and that vital healing touch before he prescribed anything. They could tell by the look what the patient lacked and what they needed to get better. For a low RBC, the paleness told the story and one pull at the cheek to expose the inside of the lower eyelid only confirmed his judgment. Only then, he would advise remedies or appropriate diet. Pathology labs were not required much because the doctors mostly relied on their knowledge and resorting to technical help would tantamount to insult to their own knowledge, or so they might have thought, rightly so. Only dire emergencies warranted pathology tests. They never sent their patients to the lab unless absolutely needed.

Doctors healed the patients and freed them from their ailments with absolute ease because they were straightforward and honest with no malicious intention. Doctors felt happy to see the patients cured - there was such fine rapport. Often they would stop by his clinic to inform the cure. Doctors had firm belief in their own capabilities and there was no place for ‘if’. They dealt with conviction. They used their stethoscope, or felt the pulse to study the case asking relevant questions - one was about stools and the other, urine, basic indices for troubles! They built up genuine confidence in the patients. For digestive ailments, they used to press and feel the problem in the ‘temple of wonders’ called the stomach. They used brains and stethoscopes and not machines, however few machines were. They never meddled with human lives and they were there to cure sicknesses and not spread panic and further sickness! Patients believed their doctor’s word in full faith because they knew that the doctor was being honest! I do not know if anybody thought of a ‘second opinion’ – this is a modern word. That this second and even a ‘third opinion’ is in vogue now despite much extravagant, excellent technical support, only in my opinion, reflects the overall stuff! Medicine has become big business. Why, even places of worship and education also!

Presence of approachable doctors in the locality is a boon to humanity and I must say we were blessed to have had at least one at any given time. My tributes to each and every one of them for having responded to our calls of need, sometimes dire need. I hope their number is not dwindling what with the commercial aspect trying to supress everything. There might be a few here and there, but one must be lucky to find such ones who can respond to calls and visit homes just like a friend. Doctors are a very busy lot, or so it appears, nowadays. They have so many machines to attend while the patients are waiting in queues!! I know the old world charm of family physicians will never return, but at the same time, it is hoped that medical ethics are kept in practice.

Before employment came my way, I had come across by chance a person by name Rajgopal Nidamboor who happened to be a nephew of my father’s long time friend, one Krishna who also happened to be a many-decades-long acquaintance to our family. Read the story of this chance meeting here). Raj’s father, Dr.N.Ramakrishna Rao, became our doctor at times and he helped me regain health on quite a few occasions before they moved away to another city. Age was no barrier to our friendship that developed from my frequent visits to his home in Krishnamurthypuram. That chance meeting with Raj was to change the course of things that was to follow in terms of taking care of health.

By the way, I thought this blog by MPV Shenoy gives a good insight on medical practices in Myosre earlier than the period I have mentioned here.

A place with many police stations, hospitals, doctors, clinics and busy lawyers means that the place is ailing from serious ill health that no doctor can heal! Yet another "multi-speciality" hospital has sprung up in Mysore now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Very bad English!

Today, September 5, is "Teacher's Day" in India. I thought ours was the only country observing it till my search took me here. (click on link) Many other countries are also observing it. The value of a teacher in one's life is immense.

Prominently, we remember Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on his birthday as 'Teacher's Day', every September 5 [the day I post this]. But Mysoreans also remember another great man, M.Venkatakrishnaiah (1844-1933) whose birthday coincides and is overshadowed by Dr.Radhakrishnan's. He was popularly known as "Thataiah". Let me present a very brief thumbnail sketch about Thataiah.

He was considered a 'grand old man of Mysore' renown for his fearless journalism. He started his career as Head Master of Marimallappa's High School (the revolving chair he used is still being used in the same place!) in the last quarter of the 19th century. He was a freedom-fighter, educationist, philanthropist, co-founder of Sadvidya Patashale, founder of Sarada Vilas School and Maharani's Girls School (the first school for girls in the city) and of a Kannada daily "Sadhvi". Most prominently, he started the "Anathalaya" in 1895 (a free boarding hostel for poor students) which even now, continues to help the needy.

We know a little bit of Dr.Radhakrishnan but not much of Thataiah whose contribution to education in Mysore is great. Hence that little bit.

Now about the subject. Little did I imagine at that time, that a seemingly innocuous incident in Sarada Vilas High School in 1972 during my 9th Std. days would stick in the memory firmly.

Returning my book after a routine test, my history teacher, Sri Panduranga Vittal, frowned with the words "Very bad English!". I stretched out my hand to receive it, head hung low.

Later, mostly due to foolish neglect, I made my two-year-Pre-University a 4-year circus, two of which did not have the need to attend college. It created plenty of time to pursue street cricket and other interesting indoor hobbies which I was adept at. Listening to live cricket commentary on the radio, esp. from BBC and Radio Australia was as fascinating as it was educative, cricket-wise and language-wise. In parallel, I also tried to tune in to other overseas radio stations that broadcast English programmes, mostly for curiosity. It was in one of these, a list of penfriends was being announced. Pen friendship appealed to me as an exciting prospect where I could write freely without being under the powers of an evaluating teacher. Exchanging letters with a few like-minded penfriends brought immense joy, sharpened the language, improved my knowledge and a bit of vocabulary. The excitement of waiting for the postman to deliver letters to me was another joy. One of my introductory letters to a friend had returned "addressee not found" and reading it many years later, I realized why my history teacher had frowned in dismay. In the meanwhile, one of my essays had won a prize in the English Section of Radio Korea's contest, much to my delight. Reading autobiographies of famous cricketers was a passion that cropped up around that time, though not much of novels and stories. My friend Dr.Rajgopal Nidamboor, author of Cricket Boulevard was to inspire me in so many ways, after we met by chance, in a common friend's place in 1979. He is a renown writer for his rich vocabulary and a unique style.

The words of my teacher in that seemingly innocuous incident kept cropping up in my mind often and my conscience probably wanted to prove them wrong, much the same way when Navjot Singh Sidhu was quoted as a 'strokeless wonder' by a newspaper reporter after he failed in his Test debut. That angry look in my teacher's eyes had pierced mine, along with it, my mind.

As years passed and after lots of water had flown under the bridge, my article on this incident was published in a paper. A month or so later, as luck would have it, I spotted Mr.Vittal on the street one evening and went up to him. He had become frail from natural ageing. I introduced myself as his student and told the "very bad English" incident (which obviously, was not on his mind). He was joyed when I evinced interest to visit him more leisurely at his home. He gave his address. A fortnight later I went to his humble home and reminisced the days of yore. He told the passing away of a few of his contemporaries who were also teachers to our class. He was 82 when I met him in 2005 but he said he was normal with his health. I took his autograph (pictured above) as well as on the article in the paper. I offered my respects by prostrating and touching his feet (Indian tradition). When I got up and looked at him, his eyes had moistened. He was so happy inside that an old student was visiting him, leave alone remember. He said it is such a rarity esp. in these days.

Prof.S.Dandapani writes in his tribute to Dr.Radhakrishnan, "I wonder whether this kind of teacher-pupil contact exists today or it got reduced to mere teacher-pupil contract."

It is a meeting that will stay in memory for a long time. Gurudevo bhava.

Date: 5th September, 2009, Teacher's Day.