Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tribute to Krishna Vattam

My father stopped when he saw his friend, a tall bespectacled man, walking in the opposite direction in the sparse crowd near the Dufferin Clock Tower. "This is Krishna Vattam, working with Deccan Herald" he introduced him to me.  My father was 'walking' the bicycle with me beside at that moment.  We had been to the market on one of the weekend morning trips.  This was in the early 1970s.  It was my first glimpse of Krishna Vattam, to the eye and the name to my ears.

We were getting Deccan Herald's sister in Kannada, "Prajavani", but I was not reading papers at that playful age. Years passed and we shifted over to Deccan Herald, also a popular English newspaper. I had started to browse some news or articles in addition to comic strips.  Seeing the name "Krishna Vattam" in print itself thrilled me, only because I had met the man.  In those adolescent years, I had no interest in reading the full content of his writings. But I had become aware of Vattam's reputation as a very good writer.

Some more years passed.  He was seen on the street or somewhere. I usually stopped to say hello. At other times, he would be on his blue Lambretta scooter, later replaced by a blue Chetak, which he used till his early 70s.  The warmth of the man and the affectionate smile that readily emerged from his mustached face was of a magnetic sort.  Like a password, I would introduce myself referring my father's name which he seemed to remember, among the thousands of his acquaintances. This happened many times.  The frequency led to a stage when he remembered my name, because my letters to the editor of a local paper were now appearing occasionally and as one would expect of a person of his involvement in the local affairs, would notice that column.

In the 80s, his house had become a very popular landmark, just off Jhansi Lakshmi Bai Road, adjacent to the Silk Farm on the road leading to Vidyaranyapuram.  If someone had to guide to a location in that area, "Vattam's house" was the index. Everyone seemed to know it.

After a long and very distinguished service he retired.  A few years later he joined as editor of a local eveninger, Mysore Mail which was located close to my house.  Occasionally I would go in there and say hello to him and to see the wrinkles on his face, which was wisdom personified.  They say each wrinkle had a story of its own and he was a man full of stories from his long experience.  In fact, as one would expect, he has put them down in many an article and a book.  I had not been aware he was a cancer survivor until I read an article he wrote in the local paper.  He was one Mysorean who knew the old city very well and a few times our discussions were about the heritage too. He was well versed in many subjects and his expression was crystal clear, his writing simple yet emphatically conveyed the purpose in full.

I had door crashed his house a few times whenever I went to the scooter mechanic 'Bogadi Srinivas' right opposite his house. One such turned out to be my last glimpse, last year.  He had breathed his last on July 27. The papers were filled with news and tributes. Just a month before this happened, his beloved granddaughter who lives on the other side of the planet had visited him. She had hinted me to go and meet him as he had been weak. But I was not destined to. The Krishna Vattam era had ended.

A certain G.V.Krishnan, a retired pressman had come to settle in Mysore.  It was he who brought us closer, through 'blogging'.  And it was through GVK I came to know that Lakshmi Bharadwaj, a young blogger, now already writer, was none other than Vattam's grand daughter!.  In one of my earliest mails Lakshmi wrote: "Sir, you know thatha? that's great! :-) He's really into journalism and he's the one who basically encouraged me to take to blogging, although he himself prefers to write for the papers more than to write for his blog!! :-)"  After a few years GVK left Mysore for Chennai. At a small farewell to him we gathered, including Vattam.  


We wait for GVK's arrival that evening.  He is holding Lakshmi's poem in praise of GVK which he read later.

I brought Vattam home on my scooter on the way before dropping him to his.  
No amount of tribute will do justice to a person of Vattam's stature, which was simplicity personified as well.


The Four Justmen said...

The late Vattam covered Mysore news. We knew him a lot longer than you in early 1960s. But with the publication of the Bangalore edition of the Hindu in late 1960s or so, and also Indian express ( their journalists dominated in Mysore), Deccan Herald lost its shine, and it never gained its shine. Vattam was an amiable man, but like GVK, he was not a formidable journalist, but unlike GVK who suffered from a myriad prejudices, Vattam was basically a nice man-too nice to be involved in journalism which needed then incisive investigative reporting. A number of issues were crying to be reported then Mysore University’s shenanigans alone could have filled many column inches of the paper for many issues. One cannot be nice to all people, particularly letting the politicians and powerful administrators go without serious questioning of their activities.
Now about GVK. He started his blog with great fanfare, appealing to the Kannadiga diasporas around the world. He reported his younger days in the West, and particularly in England, where he was employed as a sundry reporter for Indian employers of news sheets, and if any one questioned the authenticity of his so called facts, he would get particularly miffed and his uncivilised responses were unbecoming of him as a serious ex-journalist. He had surrounded himself with some who had at best tenuous links with Mysore, and one of them a Keralite who like him got nasty in his replies when any one questioned the authenticity of what he wrote. One time, he revealed the personal correspondence of one poster to rubbish what was a legitimate correction for a flaw in his article. He wrote about South Parade ( now Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Bangalore , but except a few photographs nothing substantive about this patch of Bangalore was produced. On the other hand, a few articles in Churumuri about Bangalore of those days were more illuminating. Churumuri had no policy of verification either, and never removed outrageous posters who verbally abused other posters! Well typically Indian trait!!
After GVK left Mysore, surprising because he claimed that he came to Mysore as it was relatively tranquil etc.. etc.., and like that “Kannadiga” RKN, he went back to his tribes in Tamil Nadu! Mysore Blog Park became the Park of all sorts of people who wrote all kinds of things not related to Mysore at all. Then it became Kerala Blog Park! Now, it has become irrelevant. GVK ridiculed Churumuri , not clear what his gripe was; one could imagine that this Churumuri blog at one time was attracting the contributors and posters from the Kannadiga diasporas around the world in a way GVK never managed. He had another supporter called Bhami Shenoy- he was really barmy, who as a graduate of IIT Madras , claimed IITs were still above board in their admissions etc.. When one professor who worked there observed how this merit only admission-based on competitive exams were circumvented through backdoor admissions, he flared up and ridiculed this professor ( Barmy- that should be his name, worried that his degree was downgraded by this “infidel”!). Barmy ridiculed Narayana Murthy too, as not worthy of IIT and hence he said Murthy joined the local engineering college. Those who know Murthy well in his engineering college days will testify him as one of the brightest students there. His decision was purely based on finance; he was a son of a teacher and could not have afforded to live in IIT hostel even with the scholarships, as they had to supplemented by parental contributions often. Now Barmy is in Mysore Grahachara Parishad. Grahachara is the opt title!

The Four Just Men

The Four Justmen said...

Some articles started appearing in the Mysore Blog park on topics such as “Sears” in America, and these days when every street in Mysore has seen a dozen families settling in USA ( unlike in 1960s and early 1970s when it was hard to spot a few Kannadigas even in large metropolis there. That made that arch Loud Mouth Ballal of that mediocre Ballal hotel to prattle so much about his daughter in America!!).
Lastly, as Saradavilas High School students, we knew the flip side of those venerable teachers. They supported and eulogised those students who projected themselves in the class, suggesting solutions to rider work in geometry. Later, it came to light that these very students took private tuition with these very mathematics teachers, just the day before, where they got solutions to these riders from them!! Where are those glittering students, who were eulogised and paraded as exceptional wise young men then? Not many thrived in their college days, and were not able to compete the really bright who kept quiet in the class in the Saradavilas High School class rooms, but thanks to their rich fathers got good jobs These blog articles about Saradavilas High School for example lack real analysis, just like GVK articles. Yes, they could be anecdotes of one’s experience. But these need critical analysis too. K V Narayan used to ridicule in a threatening way ( no one knew whether he grinned or not!), any bright young lad who went to see him asking to be put in the English medium section. He used to cite the example of his son in the Kannada medium class, but conveniently forgot to reveal that his son was not bright, that he arranged his admission in engineering college, and the medium of instruction for him did not matter given the almighty “R”-the recommendation behind his son!! The son became a mundane civil engineer in America-one often wonders why go to America to become a builder of bridges!! Similar culture then in Saradavilas College except a few lecturers who were impartial, surprising though this institution grew out of the High School; still students like the sister of one of us, and and Narayana Murthy could flourish
Who reads these blogs anyway? We did and still do sporadically to find out whether standards have improved. We may have a very long wait then. Like Mysore Blog Park and Churumuri, blogs often have a short life!!
The Four Just Men