Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sandow's Dumb Bells of Mylar Rao

Lean boys in the street who showed off their pencil-biceps were teased by seniors "You think you are a Sandow, eh?"  Knitwear shops used to clarify "Sandow or sleeves?" when we went to buy our vests. I used to wear 'Sandow' vests for some years in my early teens.  I never gave a serious thought to this Sandow name in my younger days.  The next I heard the word 'Sandow' was long later, during my friendship in the 1980s with my Anglo-Indian friend Mr.Brown who was nearing 70.  His fondness for Sandow had never faded.  There was a special twinkle in Brown's eye whenever he took the name of Eugen Sandow.  Be it in the context of suggesting me some hand strengthening exercises or any story he had to tell about him, his tone suddenly took an energetic lift when he uttered 'Eugen Sandow'! It was from him that I came to know Eugen Sandow was in fact a very famous body builder in the late 19th century and still admired eight decades later!

[To enlarge, click on images]

Now I can relate. My great grandfather Mylar Rao and Eugen Sandow lived about the same time.  Mylar Rao was born in 1868 and Sandow, a year earlier.  Sandow had a 'premature' end at 58 and Mylar Rao died at 68. Mylar Rao was a fitness freak who was surely inspired by Sandow who had become world renown by 1900 itself.

  One can guess from the upright posture in many old photographs, most of which are when Mylar Rao was 45 plus, about how he had maintained his body.  The photo below shows him sitting to the right of Sirdar M.Kantharaj Urs, the then Diwan of Mysore [circa. 1920], but this does not reveal much!

Mylar Rao's century old diaries are very interesting.  His language is amazing as well and no wonder, because of the British influence in education which he was so fortunate to get here in Mysore!  He often mentions taking long strolls, exercising and bicycling. I show a few pages from his earliest diary of 1898 when he was 30.

This page is a jolly good read.  "I felt very jolly today and was inclined to become a sort of singing bird.  Temperaments are changing. Went out on a long walk of about ten miles in the evening."  
Ten miles is the distance between Mysore and Srirangapatna [16 kms.]!  I have measured that we take roughly ten minutes with a brisk walk to cover about one km.  At this rate he would have walked close to three hours!

"Tennis court, evening stroll, exercise..."

"Tennis, stroll" on the left page; "Long walk and running exercise" on the right.

These are a pair of wooden 'Indian Club bells' of Mylar Rao. In my guesstimate they are from the 1890s, so also the iron dumb bells.  Getting some hints from my elderly colleague Mukunda who was into body building, I too used them for some years, not to become like Sandow, but only to strengthen the arms and shoulder that helped in my cricket.

Here are a pair of cast iron dumb bells.

The next relic is "Sandow's Spring Grip Dumb Bell"
Eugen Sandow himself designed and patented it! 1899.

The above picture is of the tin box lid. Rust has taken its toll.  Mylar Rao must have procured these circa. 1900.

Sandow Patent - imprinted. "Nickel-plated with leather handles".

In the box

These became very well known very soon and became one of the hottest items among the strength equipment of that time.  It consisted of two dumbbell "halves" joined together by a series of springs, meant for crushing together while the rest of the exercises were done. I crush in the picture above.  Springs can be removed to reduce resistance.

Sandow's dumb bells were manufactured in many varieties and styles to suit gentlemen, women, youth and children. Advertisements of Sandow's firm claimed that if they were regularly used in the 'Sandow prescribed' manner, they also improved will power and concentration. This was something new and very appealing at that time.  They were light dumb bells but still amazing results were possible, as Sandow proved.

Besides the club bells and dumb bells Mylar Rao also used a 'Chest Expander' which would have looked like this in this picture I found from the web [yuku]- see the small high tension springs at either end, connected by a 5 tough ropes:

But what remains of it are just these three springs as the equipment had fully tattered away.  Mylar Rao did not pull it hard in anger!

Indian Manohar Aich - nicknamed as Pocket Hercules was Mr.Universe in 1952. He was a mere 4'11" Chest 54" Waist 23" at 97 years of age in 2010 [picture below]. He is still alive, a Centenarian.

Cheap imitation Sandow.

Two years ago, my friend Madhu, a little lean fellow posted a picture of himself for fun on facebook posing like a body builder.  This prompted me to turn to the web and discover about Mr.Brown's idol Eugen Sandow and why he had such a liking.  This is what I found:
[Click here]
It has some beautiful old images, an original 44-second film/video [by Thomas Alva Edison, one of the firsts of Edison!] and information on "The World's First Hulk", Eugen Sandow, strongman and 'body beautiful' from the Victorian times!

Mr.Brown was a great fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and used to relate stories from his works frequently.  Also, Sir Arthur was a friend and dedicated follower of Sandow himself.  W.B.Yeats also was also a Sandow's follower in the same physical training school. Sandow was so famous that King Edward VII and later King George V befriended him.

Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger came in later decades!

O==O    O==O     O==O

Some excerpts from the web:

The Prussian-born Sandow’s early career as a circus acrobat led to his first break, touring Europe as ‘The Great Muscular Phenomenon of the Century’. He made a sensational debut in London in 1889, thrilling audiences with his astonishing strength, somersaulting with 56 lb weights in each hand and even raising a grand piano with eight musicians sitting on it.

By 1893 he was pulling in the crowds in America with a daring pi├Ęce de resistance in which he supported the weight of a team of horses on his chest. Examined by an anatomist from Harvard, Sandow was pronounced ‘the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen’.


Here are some links where biographers have gathered and reviewed books on Sandow, the Father of Modern Body Building.  He was an icon and a widely idolized personality who had devised his own method of physical strength training, [physical culture] diet and several other things.  Sandow was also into other businesses with Sandow cigar, Sandow cocoa, Sandow baking powder, Sandow magazine and of course Sandow dumbbells.

A review in The Telegraph by Miranda Seymour on David Waller's book on Sandow "The Perfect Man". [Click here]
Helen Rappaport who reviewed that book says:  "The cover of David Waller’s entertaining story, with its compelling image of a short, stocky and perfectly formed man with only a strategically placed fig leaf protecting his manhood, leaves us in no doubt about Sandow’s massive appeal to hordes of puny young Victorian and Edwardian men, or the homoerotic power of his photographs today."

"Forgotten newsmakers" [2010].

This is a beautiful compilation - a review to a book released in 2011: [click here]

This link to a pdf takes you to the full collection of Chronological Events in Sandow's life. Very good work. [Click here]

Here is a link where some of the 'old time strongmen' who had their own unique physical training methods. [Click here]

The tips of my middle finger and thumb met around my biceps, but now they do not. :)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Spotted Dove and its eggs

On our garden arch
[Remember to click on the images for an enlarged view]

 Despite slightly dwindling numbers, spotted doves are quite common here.  They are regular visitors to our yard, either foraging for food or to have a drink from the bird bath, pond or a stone trough.  They even spend time playing. See if you like, here: [Click]

My backyard 'junk shed' has no brick wall on three sides but has a tiled roof.  I have used the space just above the horizontal metal beam to store left over pieces of pipes from various home projects.
I had noticed a spotted dove occasionally resting under the roof of the shed somewhere near these pipes since some weeks. It would fly out at my sight as this shed is adjacent to the garden.  I thought the dove simply rested there because it felt comfortable.  In the last week of August, I noticed little straggly twigs on the shed floor.  I knew it was the work of a bird trying to build a nest.  I looked up to see on the bunch of pipes, a nest still under construction. I thought it had chosen a very good location, not visible easily.

The next day again when I went close to the shed to take water for my garden from the rainwater collection tank it flew away.  The dove had gone out.  I took this photo to 'see' the nest by way of an 'overhead' shot as I could not directly see. The nest was a foot above my head. What I saw in the camera monitor was this:

This was on 3rd September.  My joy knew no bounds. Two eggs of medium size! 

They were certainly one or two days old at the most or even laid the same morning!  In the meantime, I had 'googled' and found that it builds a rather flimsy and shallow nest, lays one or two eggs which would take about 13 days to hatch.  Incubation duty was shared by the parents, as was recorded.  Very soon, I could distinguish the two parents as one of them was stouter.  

4th September

9th September

17th September.  The dove had been sitting there continuously and not frightened by my presence anymore.  I would wave my hand and say hello slowly and I got a thanking nod. Its position in the nest appeared as if there was something larger than the egg now. I could not know.

On the morning of 19th September I went to check. There was no dove.
Fledglings!  Quite big already!

Here is a close-up.

I was joyous to see the chicks.  The parent had gone to bring some food surely.  All the time, I had been praying for its safety.  I worried about them falling down and becoming food to a neighbourhood cat that prowls at night. 

About four years ago, there was another cat that used to prowl and visit the yard very often.  It found some reptiles here [garden lizard - Calotes] or rats.  Our yard is also home to these little creatures.

See the picture below and notice the stone trough where I grow water lilies.  Koels, mynahs, pigeons and doves make use of this for their water needs, sitting on the brim.  So I keep topping up the water. One morning there came our lovely little dove, flew down to the ground close to the trough and as is its wont and instinct, it looked around to survey. These birds take no chances.  All was clear and safe.  So it hopped on to the brim of the trough.  Like a bolt from the blue, the cat pounced on it in a flash and there was no escape for the dove.  I was as surprised as the hapless dove.  It happened so swiftly. The cat was hiding behind the bushy plants behind the trough and it knew the bird would come there!  Very soon, it was in tatters as the cat took it under the tree and ate. That was a sad day for me having watched it happen. 

Coming back to the two little chicks, I saw on 19th September.

On the morning of 20th September the first thing I did was to check and say hello to the chicks. I had kept an old badminton racket up near the pipes. It was on the ground and giving me some clue to what could have happened the previous night.  With the help of the ladder I looked at the nest.  Empty!  The chicks had vanished.  The birds were too small to fledge as it would take about 2 weeks to reach that stage.  So I called in Scotland Yard who found no clues other than the fallen racket.  The nest was undisturbed.  Did the cat climb up and reach the nest via the pipes, I'll never know?

In Nature, survival is difficult.  For a bird to fledge and survive, leave alone the eggs, it has to escape predators.  Luck also matters. Our chicks were one of the unlucky lot.  The birds carefully choose the spot for nesting after observing it for a long time, as our dove did, but in the end, the predators are usually one step ahead. Now I know why the spotted doves are not multiplying as profusely as the rock pigeons that abound the neighbourhood. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My only stage 'performance'

Those were days before the 'Kindergarten' system or Child Creches in Mysore came into vogue.  Little kids would be sent to school at the age of four and start with 'nursery' to get a feel of 'school atmosphere'.  They became eligible for Class One when they attained five years.  'Nursery exposure' was not mandatory and kids were directly admitted to Class One in many cases.  For my 'nursery' I was first sent to Jagadamba Shishuvihara in 1961 [this school, established 1939, has the same wooden board even now] and a few months later during that academic year to Bhagini Seva Samaja  [established in 1937].  Next academic year I was admitted to Christ the King Convent [CKC] for Class One. 

I carry a few impressions from my nursery days in both schools but those from Bhagini Seva Samaja are more, may be because I was then a few months older. In this post, let me recollect one particular impression, out of a few.   This is still fresh in my mind, probably due to the extreme discomfort I was put in at that young age.  It was much against my nature, wish or desire, at that age of may be four.
This picture is around that age:

What was done to put this little fellow in so much discomfort?  It was some function, could be 'School Day'.  I clearly recall the day as festive and very grand and there was a stage covered by pandal.  Plenty of people had gathered in front of that stage - see this in the photo below [I took this photo 3 years ago from the street].  Look inside the quadrangle.  

I cannot recall any speeches or in what dress I was in or how I was taken there.  It was already dark when the programmes started. I cannot recall anything else but standing on stage with other tiny tots in the front corner for some song/rhyme item being performed!  And there were may be 500-600 people in front of me, as an over-estimation, but my frightened mind was magnifying it to be 5000, even though I did not know the count of 1,000 at that age!!  My memory is blank on any rehearsals on the days before that our teacher made me to attend.

There I was, on stage, bright lights from above, other kids clad in white were doing some actions in tune with the music.  I was in a state of shock at the sight of '5000' people in front of me.  I was simply standing still and staring at other kids or looking here and there as the song/rhyme went on and the other kids performed their actions. I had turned in the direction of other kids to my left and behind as if to avoid looking at the audience.  I never wanted to face that crowd at all leave alone do anything!  The item must have lasted just a few minutes which seemed to drag and drag!!  I do not know what I did later. My mother recalls my unique and grand 'stage performance' vividly. She says that I was placed in the front row because of my cuteness!  Boldness and participation were completely missing!

When my kids were in school for their school day programmes on stage my memory rolled back to 'my stage performance day' when I saw, sitting among the audience, some tiny tot 'doing a Dinu' and teachers getting restless from the stage's side wing!

Perhaps, if I did not feel the shock on seeing '5000' people at that age, 'the Dinu story' would have taken a different course!

Friday, September 19, 2014

A 100-metre sprint I won

Returning to sleep mode seemed an uphill task, as it sometimes happens, especially towards dawn.  So instead of counting sheep I decided on a morning walk and some fresh air.  I jumped out of bed, brushed my teeth and attired myself for the purpose.  I had reached the The University Athletic Ground where I go since several years. This is just a 5-minute scooter ride.  It was quarter to five in the morning when I landed with my right foot on the bitumen track, parking my scooter outside. First skylight was still about an hour away.  I was the first walker there that day and am regularly irregular.  My schedule is for a 30-40 minute routine that includes short sprints, brisk walks and casual trots. I race against other walkers but they do not know.  So it is one-sided, but never mind, it is good for my own 'competitive spirit'!  I do not adapt this in traffic.

[Click on pictures to enlarge]

I must very briefly touch upon some facts about this vast area which has a long history.  See the Athletic track above.  The entire area in the frame [satellite image grab] was earlier known as Gordon Park, named after Sir James Gordon who was 'Guardian', 'Commissioner' and 'Resident' between 1871 and 1882 and also tutored the then Mysore King Chamarajendra Wadiyar X.  Sir Gordon's statue still stands in front of the magnificent District Offices building [partly seen in picture below] which is more than a century old. 

This ground was popularly called as 'The Ovals' [may be for its shape] and is surrounded by District Offices, a younger Crawford Hall and another century old beauty, the Oriental Library/Research Institute].  'The Ovals' was a regular venue for many cricket matches, till about early 80s.

Crawford Hall [my recent picture]

Oriental Library [vintage picture]

District Offices [vintage picture] 

Many may not know that this is where an extremely rare cricket world record happened in 1934 and stands unbroken even today. Read about this very interesting feat [Click here] - of Y.S.Ramaswamy capturing "All Twenty" wickets - in my other blog where M.N.Parthasarathy who witnessed it describes.

The Ovals is also where probably my great grandfather had walked a hundred years ago and surely my grandfather and father in later decades. My sportsman-advocate grandfather had played cricket here in the 30s and 40s and I too had the chance to play a match in 1980 before it was converted exclusively for athletics in the mid 80s.

Old picture of The Ovals - my grandfather is the one with bat in hand at the far end.
Oriental Library and part of Yuvaraja's College is seen. Bottom picture, from same angle, by me.

The bitumen track and Dist. Offices are seen in the picture below, which I took one morning 4 years ago.

Now let me hop back to the bitumen track.

September rains had made the morning air cool and pleasant smelling and a lone lapwing was calling from the centre of the ground. This bird is more regular than me.  I can say this because almost on all early mornings whenever I went early I used to hear its call.  The athletic track was partly, slightly lit by a street light from across the road in front of Crawford hall.  The white-powder sprinkled lines that divided the lanes were clearly visible in spite of darkness.  I walk the track anti-clockwise, usually in Lane 7 or 8 [outer] just the direction track events are held world over, while some others prefer to walk the opposite.  I was briskly walking my fourth or fifth round.  My body had started to warm up.  Sweat was moistening my chest, covered by a pullover and jacket.  I turned the track's curve and then suddenly I went towards Lane 4 due to an impulse. I was almost there at the starting line of the 100-metre dash.  

Just recently, I had read in the paper about sprinter and world record holder Usain Bolt's visit to Bangalore [for a promotional] where he challenged professional cricketer Yuvraj Singh to run the 100m in 14 seconds.

Now the track was in front of me and I had just received a Bolt-jolt of motivation. 

Ready, get set, blaaassst!!!  My feet took off .  I bolted away the 'Bolt way' and breasted the imaginary tape.  There was none ahead of me.  I dared to look behind.  The entire track fell behind me.  I had won the race, in flat 14, may be 15.  It is 'may be' because I could not see my second hand of my watch in that darkness!  I was at least two seconds faster 25 years ago and now I was just five seconds slower than Bolt.  For sprinters, a second is divided into a hundred parts which is long time, which P.T.Usha realized when she lost the Bronze by 1/100th of a second in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics!  So my timing was reasonably good for a 'veteran'!

My winning that race was witnessed by three drowsy dogs, resting on the tracks [they can see in the dark] and feeling lucky.  As if in great appreciation they looked in my direction as I went past them in my victory lap.  They actually wait for a  man who comes daily after dawn with a pack of biscuits - and they appear friendly.  Savouring the glory, my 10-minute free-hand exercise session became that much more pleasing and the dogs made my day!

Before leaving, I celebrated with two more 'victory laps' [walking].  Now there was some skylight and two dozen people - who missed the race.

I won that, but in 1987 when I represented my employer in the Athletic Meet at Karaikudi I came fourth in the 100m heats and the eventual gold winner was in my round.  I had also run the 4x100 relay which our team lost. I had suffered a small torn muscle in my thigh but still managed a leap of 17 feet, to end fourth in the long jump, all without proper preparation.

My first ever prize for running was at Rotary Club's fun event as a little fellow.  I was gifted with this [spring-wound] toy tortoise!
A tortoise for sprinting!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Abraham bids final adieu

Abraham Tharakan had been a very popular figure in the blogosphere as a prolific blogger.  He merged with Divine Light on 7th September, at the age of 80.  I came to know about this from my blogger friend in Mysore, Ramachandran who had linked me to 'Maddy's tribute': [Click here]

My brief friendship with him started on an unusual note.  My brother had sent me an e-mail with a link to this blog [click here], asking me if I could identify the striking blue flowers from the 3 photos in it. The blogger [Abraham Tharakan] was curious in knowing its name.  He had posted his friend K.O.Issac's plant pictures. It was a rare plant, so I copied one image and posted it on "Dave's Garden", where there are many knowledgeable gardeners.  I was/am also a member there, being an avid gardener. It was in 2007, the same year Abraham [and yours truly too] had started blogging.  He was then 73 and in Chennai from where he moved to his home, Cochin in 2009 I think.  

Very soon, that plant was identified.  I posted the plant name in the comment box in Abraham's blog.  He took objection to my posting it up without permission, which was my mistake, as he had mentioned 'copyright'.  Our brief e-friendship started with my apology to that!  In the meanwhile I had his e-mail address.  One of my introductory e-mails was with the apology!  Later he gave a formal permission to add that picture to the plants database there, but only after he got the green signal from Mr. Issac.  That is how meticulous he was.

It was no wonder that many bloggers had become good friends with him as he was a wonderful and friendly person. He wanted to meet me too and thought of a possibility in Bangalore where he used to travel frequently on some work at that time. My going to Bangalore did not happen.

It did not take me too long to get impressed with his beautiful style of writing and the subjects he chose.  One can see a long 'followers list' in his blog which was absolutely no surprise. 

Our e-mail exchanges were long apart but we forwarded mails to each other a little more often.  In one of the mails he mentioned about his younger days in Bangalore and his love for Hockey.  He linked me to his post with those memories because of that 'Mysore connection'. [Click here].  But I would like to reproduce what he wrote me in his mail: 

"I did play hockey for the Mysore University in 1954. Was goalkeeper. We came up to the All India finals but lost to the star studded Punjab in the bitter cold of Ludhiana that year. The match was on Jan 25 or 26. I didn't go for selection in 1955 because it was my final year.

In 1957 I played in the Nationals at Bombay for Kerala. That was the high point in my hockey career. The opponents were again Punjab which was almost the Indian Team. We conceded the first goal through a deflection. Then Udham Sigh scored twice against me. Only that great forward could have scored those goals. 

Dhyanchand who was the Chief Guest said my performance that day was perhaps the best he had seen.  I had to give up hockey for my career." 
[Dhyanchand was a hockey wizard]

One of my blog posts on old memories prompted him to come up with one himself and he mentions me in it: [Click here].

RIP Abraham Tharakan.