Thursday, July 18, 2013

I found my friend Mahabala

Our street - Devaparthiva Road - was in two parts divided by Vani Vilas Road. Our house was on the southern side of it.  Street boys usually found their play mates on their side of the street where their houses were.  In the bygone 'pre-TV' and sparse traffic decades, most boys and girls were found playing on the footpaths and roads during evenings.  Only an occasional scooter or cyclist passing by interrupted our games.  

Seldom did the southern and northern side children crossed over for play on a regular basis, but there were exceptions. I sometimes used to go near the Peepal Tree [Saced Fig/Ashwatha] at the northern end where many boys gathered to play various games esp. cricket. We played marbles, gulli danda, hide and seek also. Some of the boys went of the same school as me.  But one of them was a [Sarada Vilas] high school classmate [1970-73] in whom I had found a companion for indoor games like chess and carrom.  He was 'Mahabala' which meant 'great strength'.  But we compared his stature with that of Bheema of the Great Epic Mahabharata. Bheema was a great virtue of strength and a gigantic personality. But this Mahabala was a complete misnomer, yet, was a bundle of energy and renown for little daring acts to rattle timid boys like yours truly. I sometimes used to fear him like he was the original Bheema!

Mahabala and I were separated by our future courses of academics.  He lived just 100 metres away, yet we hardly met.  I learnt later that after completing his degree [he was as intelligent as he was adventurous] he had moved to Delhi.  Years passed and we lost touch completely and I had joined work.  Then in 1983 I was to go to Jammu for a cricket tournament. It was a very long train journey and Delhi was on the route. I had planned the schedule so that I could halt at Delhi for 3 days with my relative ML Ravi who was also a classmate in college. Before going, I had collected Mahabala's address from his parents. When I told Ravi about my interest in meeting this little Bheema he gladly agreed to take me which he did.  It was to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, a renown school of music.  In fact, those were days when even telephones were only used for emergencies and long distance calls were only by Trunk Booking which the younger generation can never think of now! My prior intimation to Ravi was only by 'inland letter'. So he knew my coming there.

After my Jammu tour, I returned to Delhi again.  Ravi took me to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya where Mahabala was learning music and also staying.  But to my bad luck, he had gone out at that time of our visit to the school. Disappointed, we went away on some other local sojourn.

Years passed and somehow, this little Bheema used to pop up in the mind many times.  His parents also had left that house. So I had lost hope of seeing him again. 

Bue one fine day in 2010, when internet had abound, I thought of trying my luck by 'googling' the name of Mahabala in a bid to locate him.  To my greatest joy, I found his site:  

I felt like Archimedes and nearly ran out of my chair as I was 'cyberslacking'. I verified from his photo shown in the link [also shown here] that he was the same little fellow.  Using the contact address given there I mailed an intro to him with "Your old Mysore friend - Chamarajapuram" in the subject line so that he does not delete this as spam mail!  I was sure it would hold him.  It had been more than 30 years since we had seen each other! My delight knew no bounds to find his quick reply:

"Dear Dinkar,
I cannot express in words how I felt to see your email in the morning.  I keep my blackberry right next to me with it's power chord on, so that I can see the glowing time on the phone.  As soon as I hear the alarm early in the morning, regular routine is to glance through my emails and to delete all the junk mail.   Today when i browsed my email, I came across your email and did not strike at first.  After reading first few lines, I jumped out of my bed (which otherwise usually takes 10 minutes!) and read over and over again.  Thank you for taking so much effort to track me and bringing my good old Mysore memories.  How can I forget those days of playing with you and your brother.  You were so kind, matured even at that age and spending time at your place was like finding peace and calm in my heart.  You wrote about the Radios in your house and I remember that there was a big radio on the window of your living room.  It was on always.  I remember your mother always eager to feed me food.  I do not know if you remember, we even staged a drama in your house and I was a comedian. The other attraction of your house was that big mango tree..............."

He was to visit Mysore in two months to look up his parents and what a joy it was for both of us.  He visited again a year later and we met again. He remains the same, but the Bheema has been transformed by his music life into a wonderful individual full of maturity and serenity.  He is a devoted Sitarist and has already many concerts behind him.  He intends to do it full time after calling quits with NY City Transit where he is for the last 20 years. 

Music is in his blood but before he gave any clues to me in our play-days, we went our ways for academics. Read the intro in his website and see how much he is into Music.

From the other side of Devaparthiva Road, I had known two sportsmen who were famous. N.P.Raghuveer, a National Tennis No.6 seed of his time, R.Thyagaraj, whose house is canopied by that heritage Peepal tree - he was a state level Basket ball player and now Mahabala, the famous Sitarist, a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar'sdirect disciple. Then there were Phani, Jeweller Ananda Rao's sons, Shankar, son of the one and only G.Sachidananda, the Hindi lecturer in the Mysore University, Sudhakar and brothers known as 'cricket team family' because they were 11 children, N.D.Srinivas Prasad, et al were all our friends from "that side"!

Thanks to the internet, I found this "Great Strength"! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

End of the Telegram Era

Everything is silent and everyone is sleeping, wee hours in the night, the sound of the gate being opened is heard.  It would be only one man at that odd hour whom people dreaded.  Then in a few seconds his call of "Telegram" and knocking at the door would send shivers.  For, the telegram had become so renown in the bygone days as a harbinger of sad news from a relative in another town far away.

The Posts and Telegraph Dept. was playing a very important role in communication of all kind. Beyond the decades of this mobile phone revolution, the telegram was the only dependable means of conveying especially urgent messages across this vast nation.   The popularity of the telegram was because of its reliability what with dedicated telegraph operators.

Somashekar who is in his early 70s now and heads the Youth Hostels Association of India in Mysore shared his touching story on the radio during an interview a few months ago, how during his service as a telegraph operator he himself delivered a telegram at an odd hour to some family a long way away as he had read the gravity and urgency of the message that had been received from a relative of the addressee.  When the message arrives during the day it is normal, but when they arrive at night the operator will be the only one or two persons on duty on the night shift.  They had to brave the night-time vagaries, risk themselves from thieves and stray dogs to deliver a message. They are armed only with a torch to search the house numbers and they came on bicycles.  There will be many incidents like Somashekhar's which can moisten people's eyes. Their humanitarian concern despite their job pressures needs a warm applause. 

There was my own maternal uncle Shankarnarayan who joined the postal dept. as a postman and retired as a postmaster after a long service.  He was also a trained telegraph operator in the 1970s.  He would sometimes visit us after his work hours when he used to tell us how his wrist pained from the heavy workload of operating the Morse Key, a testimony to the popularity of the telegram service.  Messages were sent in the Morse Code.  Then, messages arriving had to be attentively decoded for delivery and written down before printers came into the scene.  The picture on the left shows the receiver [bigger box] as well.

Wedding halls, many companies and government organizations had a "Telegraphic Address" like postal address.

Sending 'telegram greetings' to the bride or bridegroom on their wedding day in another city when the person could not attend was a wonderful thing.  It was to make them feel important and a show of concern, a friendship bond.  Wedding halls had its unique telegraphic address which would be printed in the invitation cards.  The telegraph address [for sending telegrams saved word count in the full postal address] in short was "Grams". See in the picture to the left how this got a prominent place ["rectangled"] in wedding invitation cards.  In fact, I received 3-4 greeting telegrams from good friends and well wishers at the wedding hall itself, but I could not trace them now in time to include here.

See another invitation I found at home - move your eyes to the bottom left corner "Grams".

~~|  Click on the pictures to enlargify  |~~

This is another morse key [image from the web]. It is to be electrically connected to the transmitter that sends the message to the other end. My uncle used to tell Katta-kadaa-kadaa-katta etc.  Katta=dot, kadaa=dash.   -/./.-.././--./.-./.-/--  Ignore the slash. This is "T-e-l-e-g-r-a-m" in morse code. When sending, there will be a distinct pause between the letters than between the dot or dash in a letter.

Telegraph stamps were used solely for the prepayment of telegraph fees. The customer completed a telegraph form before handing it with payment to the clerk who applied a telegraph stamp and cancelled it to show that payment had been made.  See picture on the left from the Victorian Era.  Later, this was stopped and a receipt issued with an dated ink stamp.  Charges were on word count.

My blogger-friend Abraham Tharakan [click name to see his blog] during a recent exchange mentioned that I write a piece on this subject and sent me this Wikimidea Commons image for me. He is himself a prolific blogger.

During my radio-hobby days, when I had the lucky opportunity to monitor for the BBC around 1987, the Transmission Planning Unit used to send its monitors telegram messages to check frequencies they were surveying on the radio bands.  We needed to tune in to those indicated frequencies and had to report back.  It was fun. And at the same time, we got paid small sums to cover the cable and postage charges for sending our reception reports.  Here are a couple of the telegrams and letters I got from the BBC.

Here is another.  Note how the message is pasted.  The message was printed continuously on a strip of paper that unrolled from a spool. Then the operator would cut pieces at suitable places and paste them in lines.

Here is what I had sent in one of my reports. Shown below is the receipt I was issued at the Central Telegraph Office [Sayyaji Rao Road], next to Lansdowne Buildings.  This facility was available in the city only at this place.

One of the letters the BBC wrote to me.  These monitors they choose were of immense help to their technical team.

At other times, we had to use the forms for rating the reception conditions. We were supposed to mail these at regular intervals.  The form code was E65.

Mahatma Gandhi used the telegram service to convey important and urgent messages. Here is one he had sent to a relative of mine connected through my grandfather's brother-in-law.  It was sent from Wardhaganj to Bangalore in 1940.  Date is clearly seen.  The message is handwritten at the telegraph office at Bangalore where it was received and delivered to "Sampige Venkatapathaiya, Advocate, Bangalore". The telegram reads:
"No question misinformation my objection on principle supported by experience Maharaja's prestige will be enhanced by doing right thing.  Gandhi".
Sometime ago, Murthy, my grandfather's nephew had showed me this telegram.  So I went to his house requesting for this and he kindly obliged.  
Sampige Venkatapathaiya featured in a magazine and in our family photograph [cropped out some people from this].  SV - 1884-1963, renown politician and advocate, had connection with Mysore Congress from 1930-33, founder of 'Hindu Mahasabha', first Principal of Sarada Vilas College [where I studied] and many other credits besides being a renown advocate.

Now some snippets.
The arrival of a telegram was part of the story in various Kannada movie sequences also.

I used to send home a telegram "Reached safely" when I went on my cricket tours, from the nearest post office.  A telegram would end the anxiety as this was the quickest mode of communication, even in the 1980s.  

The shortest telegram in the English language was from the Irish writer Oscar Wilde. He was living in Paris and he cabled his publisher in Britain to see how his new book was doing. The message read: “?” The publisher cabled back: “!”

Born in Calcutta [now Kolkata] in 1850 during the rule of the British East India Company, the 'Indian Telegram dies from Technology' on 14th July, 2013, aged 163 years. A sad end to a glorious life. It is not pleasing to write obituaries, even if it is a telegram. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The final Sanskrit Exam!

​I was failed in my Second Year Pre-University Course ['PUC' here, the equivalent of 12th Grade] for not passing in one subject, which was Sanskrit.  The penalty was spending the 'fail term' a la 'jail term' at home for one year. My attempt in the Supplementary exam in September 1976 brought the same result. So I was to take it again in March 1977.  

For one who has always disliked attending school the 'fail term' was a wonderful godsend.  I never felt ashamed at all.  It was the best time when I did so many things relating to my several hobbies.  Believe me, this was my second such beautiful term in 3 years.  I sat out in the First PUC also.  All my classmates had bade me goodbye and marched ahead!  People in the neighbourhood were aware of my 'fail term' which was no secret. 

Sanskrit, which was Latin to me, but a glass of water to others for 'some reason'.  It was the sharpest thorn later in my academic career and the nemesis!  To me all subjects were thorns, for that matter! 

One afternoon in March 1977, the main exams were looming large without my knowledge!  I was lying down on a mat preparing for the post-lunch snooze a habit I had fallen into.  I was feeling wonderful. 

I heard my [late] aunt who was at the gate outside, talking to her friend, who was passing by, inquiring about the PUC exams. "Did Dinu take the Admission Ticket?  The exams are starting tomorrow."  She was shocked and came rushing in to pass this shock to me!  It is still a mystery why I had not inquired anyone before!   So there I was happily lying on the mat, listening to the radio, reading a comic book preparing for a snooze! 

Panic struck. I sprang up from the mat like a monkey, quickly changed the dress, combed my hair in a jiffy and was in college in 3 minutes flat. The college was half a mile away and I went on my bicycle. There was a short queue at the office issuing Admission Tickets. I also re-confirmed on the Notice Board and that the exam was indeed TOMORROW!  It was almost 4 in the afternoon and the exam was just 17 hours away.  This may probably be some record with regard to the very small time-gap for knowing, preparing and attending an important exam.

I raced home in the same urgency as a toilet visit and changed back to my pajamas. Straightaway headed for the bookshelf, blew some imaginary dust from the Sanskrit book and opened it.  The pages creaked!  

I must have sat with the book for the next nine hours which meant reading in to the wee hours, so alien to me! During this time, I had to skip my evening cricket session and also bring in my friend Shankar who lived 200 feet away across the street.  He was one year junior to me in age, but far ahead in intelligence. He was also taking the same exam but he was attending college as a regular.  Shankar spending an hour with me in such a tight crisis to clear my doubts will never be forgotten.  I remember we had a tough story "Prathijna YougandharaayaNa" which Shankar explained to me in simple terms, in areas I could not understand!  That is how brainy he was, like his illustrious forefathers, Sachidananda and Gundavadhani. His presence was such a confidence booster. At other times, he used to come to play scrabble and many games.  But this time, for teaching.  

Not in my life till then and never again did I study at that length and with such attention!  It was as if at 'gun point'. For a person who hardly studied, this was hard study, literally.  The brain fatigued very soon, the gray cells moaned with this never-before-applied load!  "Mother of all languages" was hard on the gray cells!  Even harder was the "Guide" which was in Kannada.  Even though it was the mother tongue, my medium of instruction all through my career was English.  We had the option of answering the Sanskrit paper either in English or Kannada.  I had chosen Kannada.

My grandmother always reminded me not to do "Yuddha kaale Shastraabhyaasa" [practicing the handling of weapons at the time of war, a proverb] but to prepare well in advance.  Now it was the eleventh hour already! 

After a few hours of sleep, I got up early to look at the book one last time.  Another bad performance would tantamount to one more year at home.

It was a tradition at home that before going to the exams we were to do a prayer in the worship room and light two 'ghee lamps' with wicks.  Either my grandmother, mother or aunt would ready it.

So with this 'record study' to back I went to the 3-hour exam hoping it to be the last one, which would also decide the course of my career.  If I say I wrote well, I would be lying.  I have never done such a thing in exams. All 'papers' in my academics were tough to me!!  I came home relieved. Relieved of not having to study for another few months!  For the results, I have always kept the fingers crossed.  It was like lottery!

I was shocked when the results arrived more than a month later.  I had passed!!  But I would like to say 'they passed me' - someone did not want me to spend another 'fail term'.  See the marks they gave me in the picture. Click on it. And also notice the years of passing the subjects.  :)

Whichever way, it was sweet news for everyone!  My two 'fail terms' seemed to have been forgotten, just like the mother forgets the pain when the baby arrives.  Finally, I had crossed the big hurdle and in what circumstances!

What if my aunt's friend had not mentioned about the exam schedule?  I dread to even imagine.