Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Mulberry friend Devanath - tributes and memories

 I had noticed "C.J.Devanath" on a small old inconspicuous wooden name board, its paint distorted by exposure to weather and facing the harsh western sun.  It was hoisted on a wooden heritage balcony, behind which his 'lawyer office' was, upstairs.  I had this habit of looking up at those beautiful old balconies above the shops beside Sayyaji Rao Road. This was in the early 80s.

[I add these two above photos after I had published the post.  Much to my astonishment, the board is still there!  I had taken the camera to capture this recently.  He had stopped his law practice long ago. Probably it will be there till the building faces renovation whenever that is.]

Around the same time, I happened to be in front of the old-coin vendor on the pavement, looking at some old coins, in front of Cauvery Emporium also on Sayyaji Road.  An old man was also showing some interest in the coins, spread on a sheet of plastic. I asked him if he too was interested in coins.  He nodded and said, just looking.  'Devanath' he said when I asked his name. I said I have seen that advocate's name board down there.  He smiled.  When asked if he had heard my advocate grandfather's name, he nodded with a grin.  I was happy.  That was our first meeting and I had forgotten about it.

In the 90s he had written a short letter in our local eveninger about how birds, esp. the Koel can be attracted to our garden. Birds are very important in the system for various reasons. Growing cities have affected bird life to a great extent what with authorities and even public carelessly chopping off trees which are homes of various species of birds even in cities.  So he was showing some concern about this and he had observed in his garden that Koels love Mulberry fruit.  

I had some space in our garden as well.  Koels, among other birds were already visiting my yard, but I thought there must be something special in it.  So wasting no time, I soon went to his house.  Road name was familiar, but the only thing left was to locate the house.  It was not difficult at all because on the other side of the Church was all too familiar to us because a relative was staying there.

He had some space in his spacious front yard filled with excellent greenery, between his house and the entrance gate, in silent Yadavagiri.  His home was next to a Church with added to the serenity of the place.  Since I was also interested in matters related to Nature and Gardens, this letter in 1992 attracted me.

I went in through the little gate that evening.  This man, probably around 70 then, was relaxing on a comfortable rattan chair in his garden, looking at the trees and shrubs.  He watched me walk towards him through the shady walkway.  I introduced myself as the grandson of K.M.Subba Rao, whom he knew as they were in the same profession.  He was glad to see me. When I told him about the letter in the paper and the reason for my coming, he was gladder!  Very soon, he started explaining how much the Koels love to eat the mulberry fruits and how important it is for us to attract birds.

 Morus alba - [Mulberry] - image from Wiki. The taste is pleasantly sour but likeable.

He was pleased to know that I wanted to grow it too.  His garden servant was working in his yard. He instructed him to get a few cuttings from that bushy shrub, which had grown quite tall.  As it was already getting dark, I took leave, thanking him profusely for the Mulberry cuttings.

The next morning, the first thing I did was to plant the cuttings in my garden. After a few days of care, I noticed that one of the 4-5 cuttings was showing healthy signs of good growth.  Once it was big enough, I transplanted it to the ground at the chosen spot.

In a few months, it grew tall and needed pruning!  It is a quick grower and grows without much attention, much to my liking!  It bore berries and I noticed that Koels, as he had told, got attracted to this little tree and were frequenting it. They also loved the Curry plant (Murraya koenigii - 'karibevu') for its fruit which was growing close to it.   I enjoyed watching the koels for a few years until I noticed that the tree was dying. It had grown quite big.  Probably termites had attacked the roots.  So there ended the mulberry tree but later our friendship begin to grow.

Devanath used to write columns and letters to the local paper loaded with historical information.  So I thought of meeting him again because it was yet another common interest.  Since he had a good library and he being a voracious reader, his articles, usually about Mysore's past, were very informative. He had a good collection of old pictures also. He had shown me B.L.Rice's Gazzeteer of Mysore and Coorg, in two large volumes.  It is considered a great work by Rice. He would not part with his books easily, but he trusted me and gave me some other books I wanted.  I also gave him some very old books for his reference, from my library. When I delayed returning his books, he would call to remind.

I used to meet him after calling him over phone once in a few months and chat about Mysore's past which he seemed to know in and out, and authentically. He had that amazing knack of reeling out names of persons and the posts they held, when he told about something.  So sharp was his memory.  It stumped me. Sometimes his wife, who also knew our family, used to prepare a cup of tea as we engaged in our chat.  Since they had no issues, they stayed together here and spent time leisurely.  They used to go and stay for a few weeks in Bangalore also where they had a house.  This he did when he went for his medical check-up or when he was unwell.

In 2009, I was shocked to see his picture in the paper informing his death. The following day, it carried a small tribute.  Some days later, I called up his wife to convey condolences.  I delayed personally meeting her, but by the time I went to meet after a few months, the house had a dry look, the garden greenery was now 'brownery'.  There was none in the premise. Windows were closed as if to indicate their association with that premise had ended, once for all. I assumed the expected fact - she vacating it.  I returned disappointed and also thought about his fine library of books and other old articles he had preserved with care.  I only hope they have ended up in their rightful places.  His passing away was a great loss to the city of Mysore.

The Hindu reports his passing away [screenshot image of online edition - click to enlarge]

From our chats, I had come to know that Devanath's father was Rao Bahadur H.C.Javaraiah, who was the first Indian Horticulture Director [credited for designing Lal Bagh at Bangalore].  His younger brother was Capt.C.J.Ramdev who was a famous cricketer who played for Mysore State and served the Army.  He proudly showed various photos of Ramdev and his cricket book collection.  Devanath was a former Member of Legislative Council, a respected citizen of Mysore, a respected advocate and a great historian whose knowledge about Mysore and Mysore's Royal Family was astounding. 

I was not knowing that he was a true Gandhian, having served as an 'ashramite' at Sevagram with Mahatma Gandhi between November 1945 to April 1946 along with his uncle H.C.Dasappa ["Dasappa Circle" near J.K. Grounds is named after him - Devanath used to proudly recall it] who was later Railway Minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet, that he served the Indian National Congress for four decades and also served as a member of the executive committee of the Congress Legislative Party.  I learn that he also worked as Secretary of the Mysore Branch of Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Trust and as President of various Trade Unions. A very active person indeed!

He was 87 and lived between November 12, 1921 and April 9, 2009.  He used to tell me how frail his health was 'inside', though 'I look okay outwardly'. On the few visits I made towards the end to show my old vintage albums, I had not taken my camera with me even when I had one.  As such, there is no picture of him with me. 

The Mulberry tree died and our friendship culminated with his death.  Little did I know when I went to ask for the mulberry cuttings, that he was such a great person! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Earliest memories of watching a movie

There are numerous memories, some hazy, some vague, some unusually clear, that I carry from the time when the brain cells had begun to hold impressions.  I tried to make a short list of only the memories related to movies.

My earliest in my memory timeline of watching a film in a theatre dates back to the early 1960s. It was a matinee show.  The theatre was Ganesh Picture House.  The movie was Absent Minded Professor.  [click on the link]. My late uncle who was fond of children, had taken me.  Some scenes from it have clung in my mind.  Fifty years on, my mind's eye can project those scenes much the same way Lee Falk's Comic hero, Mandrake the Magician, could project images [on the wall] from the minds of others using his magical powers!

Before I made a web search on this old movie, let me first make an attempt to briefly describe what I had in memory of those scenes in Absent Minded Professor.  I had seen only once, probably as a four-year old: A flying car, some people playing some ball game where players are jumping like springs and a little black rubber ball that goes bouncing everywhere; there were two cars crashing head on, both their fronts go up together and then come crashing down with a loud thud, throwing clouds of dust from the road.  This scene I used to animate using my toy cars for quite some time!  It was a fun sight!

As I grew up, but still very young, elders used to discuss about this film.  I used to give an ear to their talk.  So I learnt that the movie was about a professor, who was renown for his forgetfulness, yet, a genuis.  He calls one of his wonder-inventions in that story as "Flubber".  There was a game of basketball in which the players are using flubber.  This is all I knew for a long time.

Then, when the internet arrived, I have wanted to see if this is available to view online, by what we now call 'googling'.  Lo and behold!  It was there!  I could not wait!  I started to watch.  That was a fine copy, very clear.  I watched it in full for 100 mintues and drove down memory lane.   It stretched well past midnight and I wonder why Dear Drowsy kept away!  With a great feeling I went to bed having a sense of some great achievement!  Reliving some fond old murky memories from that young age was simply thrilling.  I was now able to compare with my memory those very scenes I actually saw now after a gap of nearly 50 years.

The players with flubber-shoes were unstoppable with their amazing 'slam dunks'. Then there was the professor in his car that goes flying like an aircraft. I did not remember the dog sitting by the professor's side during its flight.  What creativity!  I now wonder how such amazing scenes were filmed 50 years ago and how much trouble it must have been to bring out such magnificent effects!  I also learnt that not for nothing it was one of Walt Disney's most hilarious productions as well! There are some really wonderfully funny sequences which make me think of watching it again!

That car in the movie was a Model T (Ford).  My great grandfather also had a Model T for a few years in the late 1920s.  Here is the operation manual of the same car, just FYI!

Here is a link I found from Walt Disney site itself, about the movie.
During my web search, I discovered that the original model used in the movie is preserved in the wax museum.  See this 2-minute video. 

So much about the movie, now a bit about the famous Ganesh Picture House which screened it and enthralled thousands of people.  It was just a few furlongs down the street where we lived and could be reached within 5 minutes by foot.  It was one of the very few theatres which screened English movies and so had become popular with the English-movie-loving public.  Later at Christ the King Convent [which was adjacent to GPH] where I studied, we had a boy in our class by name Vishwanath, but everyone called him "King Kong".  Probably in our 2nd or 3rd Standard class, I came to know that he was the son of the owner of Ganesh Picture House.  He had probably been nicknamed after "King Kong" which was the name of the film in which the famous wrestler Dara Singh had acted. It was also popular in the early 60s!  Our little King Kong was a daringly naughty fellow too, if you know what I mean and fully deserved that nickname as much as Dara Singh was prefixed with the same name!  But we adored that that theatre was 'his'!

It was not a pleasant sight, many years later to see the theatre building being demolished. As of today, a new venture is coming up.  There have been so many fond memories of great movies thousands of people have watched there.  When I last saw a movie, the ticket rate was one rupee sixty paise.  I had seen a few with friends when it was only 80 paise too.   It must have been much less when my uncle took me there when I did not need a ticket.

Another murky memory is from the film 'Hatari'.  It may be around 1964-65.  My late uncle had taken both me and my little brother along, to Gayatri Talkies for this film which was actually released in 1962.  It was an action movie involving an African Safari.  I remember two scenes where a fast running Rhino is caught by a hunter using lasso from his open jeep that is moving close to it. The Rhino also gores the jeep with its horn. It was a thrilling sequence that has stuck in my memory.  I remember the theatre because I was now a little bit older.  Gayatri Talkies also screened English movies.  Some theatres were content with Kannada or Hindi.  This theatre is still active, though not with English movies due to changing times, but still in the news.  See this write-up (most recent) relating to this historic theatre.

Gayatri Talkies on Chamaraja Double Road

Deccan Herald, November 2011.

Woodlands Theatre near the Clock Tower is another old theatre.  It also screened various fine films.
I remember a particular scene from Sant Gnaneshwar, a  Kannada film, where a poor boy who is spiritually energetic bakes some rotis on his back.  He goes on 'all fours' exposing his back to the hot sun and the roti puffs up like it does on a hot pan!   The rotis were for another poor boy who was very hungry and  had nothing to eat.  Vague memory of the only scene but I clearly remember it was a morning show.  Some years later,  I was taken by my mother and late aunt to watch Arunodaya, also a Kannada movie meant for children as it was featuring some animals and birds. The movie was very nice, but somehow, the suffocation of the theatre hall was too much for me and I was feeling breathless - this word I can say now, but I never knew how to express it then.  Instead, I complained of 'stomach ache' and relented to quit at intermission.  We had gone to the matinee and I remember that we walked back home that evening all the way, past K.R.Circle and Lansdowne Building.  I was very relieved to be out of the theatre, not one bit regretting missing the movie.  They would not believe my seriousness because I was already renown to make these 'stomach ache dramas' when I wanted to skip school [I hated school-going].  But that evening, it was really discomforting.  We could never watch that movie again.  Sound of Music was another English movie I remember vaguely in the same theatre. I think this was the evening show - it ended in the night - it seemed a very very long time in!  I am not too sure if this was the movie in which it required two intermissions because of the length of the film. The movie was filled with soulful songs which I never understood, but one particular scene stands out - two people are singing under a garden gazebo.  It was a movie that everybody spoke about. "Did you watch it?" was a common part of conversation!

It was fun to watch the ushers coming in with battery torches to show late-comers their seats by pointing the beam of light on the empty seat/s.  When we were already seated, it was a nuisance when someone came in the way of the screen!  The smell of cigarette smoke that filled the hall was awful.  The huge fans added more misery.  The darkness inside the hall was not a pleasant sight!! When someone moved in and out, the light from the door/curtain distracted people.  Balcony tickets were slightly higher priced.  During the time when we had entered the theatre hall well ahead of time, lights used to be on and I wondered why the wall on which we see the movie was a curved surface.  When the lights were switched off, everybody went silent as it was a sign that the show would start.  When the movie started , I could not 'notice' that curve on the wall! 

In the olden days, bed bugs was a problem not only in homes but in theatre seats as well. They had coir cushion seats in the pre-foam seat era!  It was heaven to those little blood suckers. We boys wearing shorts used to scratch our thighs by intermission time and kept scratching the areas even after we returned home!  The suckers also used to ride with people's clothes into their homes to infest there too. It was a heck of a problem. I hope theatres have got rid of this pest!

[Image of Bedbug borrowed from the web]

I used to derive pleasure from watching the beam of light passing from the projector lens on to the screen and the dust wafting across the beam adding effect!  I used to wonder about how the beam from such a small window diverged on to a big screen!  

Small booklets were sold in theatres for ten paise.  It contained the lyrics of songs and a gist of the story of the film that was being shown.  My late aunt had a great fancy for collecting these and I have salvaged a few from her collection.

There were also Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy comedy movies that were screened in Mysore, but I cannot remember having seen any in my young age in theatres, but I have some weak memory of watching probably one of Chaplin's, which was shown at CFTRI by its film society.  In fact, my late father had taken me pillion on his bicycle specially for this and I used to sit by the 16 mm projector which he operated there.

I cannot remember huge crowds at theatres for buying tickets.  Queues were short and people walked in leisurely to the ticket-issuing window.   There were four shows per day. Morning show, Matinee, Evening show and Night show. Our normal choices were morning or matinee probably because my Ajji - Grandmother wanted us back home safe before dusk!

 Mysore can boast of theatres dating back to the 1930s. Krishna Talkies near Gandhi Square was perhaps the oldest.  It had become non-functional in my time itself!  The building is still in existence - Kaveripatnam Market.  Picture below.  Opposite/behind this, was my grandfather's famous office on Rave Street.

Lakshmi, Gayatri, Uma, Prabha, Padma, Shantala.... all female Godess names.  They are all names of theatres in Mysore, besides Opera, Olympia, Sri, Prabhudava, Rajkamal, Sangam, Ranjith, Ganesha, Krishna...

Though I do not remember having watched Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai - a hindi movie released in 1960, the song sung by Mukesh "Mera naam Raju..." has embedded in memory.  It was very frequently played on the radio.  On hearing it, my ears would straighten!  My mother had found this out.  I can vividly remember, when this was being aired, I'd open my mouth and accepted spoonfuls of cooked rice-rasam without a fuss, much to the delight of my mother as it saved her some trouble feeding, which usually was a circus!  We can now watch the song sequence here.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

A magazine called 'Sport and Pastime'

The Hindu, started in 1878, was a much sought-after daily newspaper outside Madras also.  From my great grandfather's dairies, I see quite a few interesting paragraphs he has copied from it - in the early 1930s.  So he had access to it in the Mysore area as well, which testifies its wide circulation.

The Sports pages was very popular for its action photographs and crisp articles by renown writers.  Action photographs was The Hindu's forte.  Collecting Cricket pictures was a favourite pastime with many cricket followers and these action photographs added a lot of value to the collections.  Not many newspapers carried action pictures but The Hindu was ahead.

The Hindu is also probably the first to publish an exclusive magazine dedicated to sports. It started "Sport and Pastime" in 1947 under the leadership of S.K.Gurunathan, who was the Sports Editor at The Hindu.  He was a renown sports journalist, a cricket statistician and a player himself in his younger days. Gurunathan passed away in 1966, but the weekly magazine limped for two years after his death before it ceased publication in 1968.  Sports-following public has always been on the rise and the stoppage of this unique and popular magazine disappointed many.

The magazine was unique because it tried to cover varied hobbies and pastimes besides popular sports events.

Stamp collecting 



It featured even the film festival in 1965.  Sir Richard Attenborough was here!

It had a centre-spread from time to time - in colour.  Here it has B.S.Chandrashekhar who was a rising star in 1965. I must tell that colour pictures were a great attraction in those days.

Demonstration of cricketing strokes with a series of photographs - here it is Don Bradman's cover drive.  Pictures borrowed by them from Daily Mail, London.  People had no access to films of action in those days but such series photographs helped learners of the game.

Cooch Behar Trophy - which was Schools Cricket, also got coverage in Sport and Pastime.
Sunil Gavaskar was coming to limelight in 1966.  This is from the issue dated January 1.

There was an athlete by name Akhande from Kenya who was studying in Mysore and represented Mysore University in the inter-varsity sports.  He was a star in his own right and his name was on people's tongues in Mysore in the mid 60s which I remember. I have very unclear memory of seeing him at Maharaja's College Grounds where at that time, there was a long jump/high jump pit where he used to practice.  He was a runner and also a footballer.  He was also featured on Sport and Pastime Cover [Nov.1965]!!  

Contents list

"Laugh it off" page full of cartoons.  I liked Sporting Sam the best!  It came in "Sportsweek" also later in the 1970s from Bombay, for which I used to subscribe.

Action photographs were its forte.  They were supported and given value addition with beautiful, informative and meaningful captions:

Tennis action:

Varsities cricket and other sports at that level also got good coverage.  Through this, it gave good encouragement to upcoming players.

These magazines are all not mine!  They were given to me by my good friend and our team captain Kashi.  This lot was among a huge collection of cricket pictures which he handed over to me when he left for the USA many years ago.  Here is the pile of the few issues he gave me.

Came 1978 there was a great surprise waiting for sports fans.  Much to their delight, there was sort of a rebirth for Sport and Pastime.  It was to bring a similar magazine out, larger, like a mini newspaper with a new name "Sportstar".  I have the inaugural issue, Vol.1, Issue 1 for which I waited for, went to Newspaper House in Lansdowne Building and bought on the day of issue. It was thrilling.  I used to buy from the pocket money of Rupees five which my father gave me.  Each issue would cost one rupee and fifty paisa.  By month end, I had to use the small savings in the piggy box!   

I have kept the pen to compare the size of the new format. 

The back cover which they called 'mini cover' also had a picture. Look at young Martina Navratilova there!  Wimbledon '78 had just been finished and Bjorn Borg had won the Men's final (see above cover pic).

Of course the publishers needed no introduction!

True to its promise, action pictures continued to delight readers and fans, not to speak of the quality of articles.  I used to buy mainly for its pictures and articles were secondary.  Collecting pictures [cricket] was a hobby among many prior to the 70s.  Afterwards, this hobby has lost popularity.

It has successfully won over competitions from Sportsweek from Bombay and Sportsworld [which Tiger Pataudi wrote editorials] from Calcutta and is still growing strong.  I have stopped subscribing or reading many years ago due to various reasons.  I have many old issues gathering dust.  It is a tough decision to dispose them off for want of storage space and want of interest to bring them down for a re-look/re-read.  But let Sportstar continue to shine.