Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Tennis, Racquets and more

Left: Early 1930s.  Right: Probably 1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See there, a wider head!! 

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

[With Davis Cupper Gaurav Natekar, Pune]

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

[Mysore Sports Assosiation, 1933, Runner-up]

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

Subba Rao partnering Dattatri during a match.

Tennis ball tin. Dunlop.

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

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

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

[Maharaja's College Tennis Club]

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

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

Game, set and match!

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tennis Veteran Shama Rao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shama Rao was a silent tennis legend of Mysore. 

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 16, 2014

Handshake with Dr.Farooq Abdullah

Venue: Maulana Azad Stadium, on the banks of Tawi River, Jammu.  
Year: November,1983, cold morning.
Occasion: Inauguration of the Cricket Tournament organized to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of host Regional Research Laboratory.
I was with our combined team representing CSIR.
Myself from Mysore and Subramanya from Bangalore had traveled together 3 days to reach Jammu [2,900 kms.] well ahead of the date.

12 to 14 teams having about 150 players in all are lined up after the formal inauguration and speech from the Chief Guest who was none other than the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr.Farooq Abdullah.

I do not recall any delay in the chief guest's arrival that morning.  This handsome, tall statesman, a medical doctor, was clad in his usual costume of a kurta-like full-sleeve shirt, buttoned at the wrists. His speech was short and sweet and in English.

We were thrilled when the announcement was made that he would meet all the participants who had lined up, team-wise. He came greeting with "How do you do?", smiling, looking into the eye, shaking the hand with a warm and firm hold.  It warmed us in the cold though there was some sunshine.  It was astonishing that this man had the time and patience to do this to each and every participant.  This 'How do you do?' greeting was typically British, not surprising because of his education in England. It is the equal of "How are you?" etc.

Our manager Narayanan is partly hidden, Subramanya is standing 4th from rt, having Tikku and me to his lt.

To add to the thrill after the handshake, there was a group photo session also. He posed with all the teams.  I managed to get hold of this photograph only after 25 years when a Souvenir of our Sports Board was being prepared!

 The peaceful scenario in 1983 in that northernmost state underwent an undesirable transformation from 1984 and the statesmen felt the need for a security cover thereafter. As such this remains a very memorable and a rare handshake.

The real purpose of this Jammu trip was to play cricket.  Before the tour, our humourous team manager had written "Your stay in Jammu depends on your stay at the wicket." to mean it was a knock-out tournament. Our team was knocked out in the first match itself since we did "not stay at the wicket, longer."  All of us were very disappointed. We had traveled up for 3 days and lost the match in half a day!  Painful!

Match lost, we had nothing else to do and our return tickets from Delhi was 5 days later!  Night weather was very cold and living conditions, poor - the organizers having not provided even hot water for bathing.  Our manager protested and made the convenor lend a bed from his home to me.  It was no fun staying any further.  So I immediately wrote to my friend Ravi with whom we spent the day on the way up that we would be coming down early.  So Subramanya and I used this time to get back to Delhi after a tough exercise to get the tickets from Jammu to Delhi. So now had three days free time.

Some memorable snippets from that tour: First Jammu.

~For the trip, my colleagues had given things - one gave me a pull over, one gave his holdall, one gave a waistcoat, but I had bought myself a suitcase, my first, because we had none suitable for large luggage.

~It was my debut for our employers team, which I was to play for the next 26-27 years.

~It was and remains the longest railway journey I made, second class sleeper - at a time when long distance onward journey railway tickets were confirmed by telegram and we had to visit the booking counter a few days later to know the status!  Both Subramanya and I did not get confirmation from Delhi to Jammu, but Ravi helped us in Delhi [`600 kms further north]

~Our wicket-keeper Tikku [from Jammu] dropped 3 catches I produced in 3 balls in a row, two of them going through his gloves to the boundary!  The same batsman getting a reprieve!  Some feat that! He was very nervous standing back to my bowling!

~Myself and Subramanya enjoying the apples - so cheap in Jammu. We were there for 4 days and we had an apple a day, sometimes two.  What a luxury it was - we felt like kings!  I had bought walnuts and some other dry fruits which were a lot cheaper there [also for colleagues who had paid money to bring them!]. It was a thrill to see so many varieties!

Now, Delhi.

~Ravi taking us to a few places including Gurudwara Sisganj, a sikh holy place established in 1783 in Chandni Chowk, taking us to Nirula'a and got us our first ever Pizzas.  We were of course touring those places for the first time.

~We stayed with Ravi whose mother was there and cooking 'home food'.  We had got to a stage when we craved for it - after the horrible stay in Jammu.

~Ravi helped us to tour Agra, Fathepur Sikri, Mathura.  We were seeing the mammoth Taj Mahal for the first time.  I clearly recall its marble was so white then. Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna, close to Agra.

~I had forgotten my suitcase with all my belongings and purchases from the tour.  How it was retrieved is here in a separate post! [Click] Read if you wish.

~Of course, the wonderfully warm handshake with Dr.Farooq Adbullah.

See the stadium location. 

Mysore to Jammu route. I was seeing my school atlas before my journey! Now we have googlemaps! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

How I hunted old classmates

 After a small shopping stint in the market in 1996 at Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores, I and my wife were coming out to the road.  In the sparse moving crowd a familiar face drew my attention.  It looked like the face that was in the same class as me from Std. 1 to Std. 7 at Christ the King Convent [CKC].  So I mustered courage, approached and stopped her as my wife watched with awe!   With a racing heart, but not shivering, I asked "Are you Sujaya?"  To my delight the reply was "Yes." "Are you not Diwakar?" she recalled!  "Yes, almost that, but Dinakar, to be precise." I replied.  After an exchange of a few formal pleasantries and a couple of old school memories we went our ways.  It did not occur to me to take her address or ask about a phone [not owned by all then]. None in our class can forget her as she was the topper almost throughout.  One month later I was in Bangalore's N.R.Mohalla vegetable market near my relative's house that evening.  The same Sujaya was there again!   “You here?” she asked.  "Come let us go to our house." inviting me and my wife.  She had married and moved to Bangalore. She had finished her shopping and we had visited our relative.  Her house was close by. This time I had the presence of mind to take her address before we left.

The last I had dared to approach this topper, was for an autograph [I lost the book in 1973] when I said goodbye to CKC and many chums in 1970, ending a most memorable association with that fine school.

The Sujaya encounter was a real shot in the arm, unwitting at that time, for my endeavour to grow wings - to hunt and re-group as many of the scattered classmates.  It was an urge that emerged from within, unplanned.

Schooldays are in several ways the best because memories are sweetest, golden and stay evergreen.  Some of our best chums come from those kindergarten and primary school days.  CKC, at that time admitted both boys and girls but the boys had to move out after Std. 7 while girls could continue till 10th.  We totaled 80-85.  Chums got separated, lost touch and gradually their whereabouts became a mystery, with no hope of meeting again.  Those of us whose houses were close to each other or those who managed to stay in touch, were some exceptions, though very few.
||These are group pictures from 1963-64. Click on images to enlarge.||

Another 'booster shot in the arm' came in the form of Meera, at a Bonsai show a year later, in 1997. Meera's house and mine were only 200 metres apart but we never spoke, despite being in the same class for 7 years and even sitting on the same bench in some class. I also used to go to her house shyly to ask for notes when I missed a class at times.  Many years later even if we crossed on the street or when I saw her playing with her little son in the Manuvana Park, I would not talk. The school-time shyness was being carried forward, a trademark trait!

It was ridiculous of Meera asking me if I was me!! But I was now old enough to understand it was only to begin a conversation and I could see her excitement.  My meeting Sujaya earlier had given me enough boldness to speak to Meera now, something that I never did in my schooldays.  A few pleasantries were exchanged.  She was delighted when I told that I was also in touch with a few old chums.  Later in my hunting endeavours it was Meera who was to help me in giving important clues to locate a few more of our classmates.

But where were they?  How do I locate them?  Will they remember me?  Some had left midway to different schools, some were abroad or in other places after their degree / marriage, some were in Mysore and a few were dead too, among the 80-85.  It was a big challenge, but I was to be relentless, with no outside pressure!  The serious hunting endeavour began somewhere in 1999-2000 and actively lasted for about 8-10 years.

Meera too showed great interest in re-grouping, which was good and she too was keen in re-establishing the old connection even though boys and girls did not interact much in those years. CKC was a reason now to do that.  The advantage with Meera was her 'vantage point', which is her husband's Eye Clinic cum spectacle shop on Sayyaji Rao Road.  She had told me that a few from CKC were visiting her shop as patients or just because she was there, being in the heart of the city.  The importance of collecting addresses or telephone numbers [if any] were not realized until our endeavour began.

One day she called and wanted me to come to her shop immediately to meet a guest.  I rushed in curiosity. There was our one-time class monitor whom we dreaded, Rupa!  The expression of delight on seeing each other after so many years can never be expressed in words!  Now I was old and bold enough to make eye contact with them!  Rupa finding Meera there was also just by accident, adding to the thrill!  I collected Rupa's contact details before she left [for Bangalore].  We all remember each other because we were together for 7 years and then there was a gap of more than 20 years having lost hopes of tracing them back.

Another chum Zakir Hussain and I continued to write postcards and letters even after he joined a different school for 8th and persisted even after he left for his degree in Mangalore and later to earn abroad. He remains the only one with whom I did keep continuous contact and also kept meeting whenever he visited Mysore.

I was traveling in a night train to Chennai with our office cricket team and we were preparing to sleep on our berths. A young man in the side berth opposite to mine was looking at me in long stares.  He was impatient.  "Are you not Dinakar?" he asked.  I was delighted. Now I could recognize this fellow, the same who was very timid, cried at trivials and absented from school very often.  He was Madhukar [Kulkarni]. And he was happy when I recognized him.  We were together till 10th, having continued from CKC.  At that time, it had been 17-18 years since we had seen last and never imagined meeting again. He was working in Chennai.  After a few years I wanted to meet him in his office through his visiting card address.  When I went there, I was told he had left.  So I lost him again. 

In a separate post I will briefly touch up about how I hunted the others and some came to me after a long gap, because each one has a little story.  My list steadily grew to 45 in ten years and got slowly stagnated.  And the privilege of meeting all of them at least once in this hunting period is mine. Some of us have since been in regular contact. 

When other classmates meet, they remember me for this endeavour which makes this exercise a most satisfying one. This reunion must last forever!  

I could see hints of that wish during the School's First [and only so far] Alumni Meet in 2011. 

Being with old teachers who amazingly recalled the names after 40 years was an absolute thrill! Aren't they gifted?

Many were meeting after 35-40 years, but I had met them before in the course of my endeavour. 

This building is now gone, so is that one above in the full group image. 

 This was where It was here that I stepped in to CKC - I Std. 'A'.  The building itself is history now. On the right is a page from our Science Book of that class! 

This is the last fee receipt.

So much for this post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Peep Into My High School Premise

I was passing by Sarada Vilas High School on Dec.2, 2009.  [It is also spelled as Sharada]. I had a camera in my pocket and took a few shots of the place where I had spent 3 years between 1970-73 [for my 8th, 9th and 10th]. There were a few changes in the quadrangle. The Head Master's room was shifted. In the old place there were some new rooms. Classes were in progress.  Except for the peon (seen in the picture below) in front of the HM's room none was out.  Some boys near the windows tried to see what I was doing there!  The classrooms appeared cloc-a-bloc as teachers were doing their duties. I did not walk through everywhere lest that distracted the window-side students too much, but just took a few pictures, reminisced those times and moved out quickly.  The school was just a ten minute walk from home and so went home for the lunch break to quickly gobble and return. None can forget Jogaiah [Jogi], the peon from our time used to bring the hand bell from the HM's room and using both hands he would take up up and down from his thigh and above his head. Short duration rings to mark each period and a long  one to end the session or day!  It was a sight! And the most sought after sound in school.

This is the quadrangle where morning assembly was held with each class making a line and stood in rows. Cricket was played in the evenings and it was excellent for running around chasing other boys and for playing many other games like tops, marbles before school.

Another view of the quadrangle.

Old building.  I was standing and looking at the school from where the entry gate was in our time. Now they made that passage into a room!   That high gate was locked after assembly.

What was the backdoor entry to the field in our days is now the main entry to the school premise. Note the college structure standing right in front of it!!

We used to have our 10th class sections here. Some of us used to bring our bicycles occasionally and they were parked here in this corridor in front of our classrooms! There was no cycle stand in those days! Since most of us came by walk there were just a few bicycles in total and putting them there was not a hindrance for our playful running in this corridor.

Classrooms had ventilators below the windows and now they are all closed up. But the little pipe that is provided to take out any water from the rooms are still there. It is through these pipes mischievous boys used to put their mouths and make a sound that would amplify inside the class that took everyone aback. The teacher would then rush up to the window shouting "yaavano avanu muTTaaLa" [Who is that fool?] only to find nobody there - obviously the rascal would have gone close to the wall unseen and "vanished"!  They never found it out. 

This is the vast playground from where we tried to escape home for lunch as the 'games' slot was just before luncheon. Later in the evenings during my college days in the same institution I used to come for tennis ball cricket here in the same field. A few years later I played one of my earliest cricket matches with the cricket ball here on this ground - there is no regular cricket pitch now because the institution has grown up with new facilities. The one in the background is/was the Girls High School.

The stone protection is a new addition. Earlier there was only soil. Erosion might have prompted them to come up with this. Tree roots were then not visible then.

As it now looks from the far field. The right side building that has come up is of the college. Ealier there was an open space with a nice gap between the college and the school buildings.

At this high school, which was a very reputed one in the 1930s and 40s, both my father and uncle also studied.  Some documents here:

Above is my uncle's Progress Card, below is father's certificate for birth proof. It was actually 1922, but records show 1924. 

Click on images.  See the signature of K.V.Narayan.  He was a very respected teacher which the old timers rememered.

If you were wondering who our teachers were, you will have to go to my link here - I have listed out their nicknames: [Click here and enjoy]