Sunday, June 23, 2019

Shankar, a tribute

There came a phone call on the evening of 18th December, 2017.  Unfamiliar voice, "This is Kiran....".  A simple clue pointed he was a childhood friend.  We had met each other occasionally but not in regular contact and never before on phone.  He goes on to tell "someone with me wants to talk to you .... [gives the phone to him] ... Hello Dinu, this is Shankara.  Remember me? ..............[some pleasantries]...  I have come to Mysore for a few days [from America].  I am right now with JS Kiran..... where and when shall we meet?".  His voice, instantly recognizable, was just the same it was, when I had last met him, thirty plus years ago.  What a delightful surprise! He had suddenly wanted to meet me, on this visit!  Kiran had located my telephone number through some of his known sources.  They were classmates in Engineering and one year junior to me in school. 

Shankar and I were great street mates who had enjoyed playing cricket, hide and seek, chess, carrom, marbles, etc. along with other street boys at Devaparthiva Road where just 50 metres separated our houses.

Not surprisingly, it was just a smile and handshake when Shankar arrived, at my residence now at Vani Vilas Road the following evening.  Shankar has never been one to show too much emotion or was too outwardly expressive.  Only, some words in his speech had 'Americanized' after living there for 25 years plus.  He was the same, simple chap. From a young age itself, his maturity had been beyond his age and his level-headedness was a trait.  He was well behaved and decent in every manner.

Very joyfully, we reminisced the fondest and most enjoyable memories of those beautiful days for close to 90 minutes. He briefed me about how he had switched over to a job that was non-engineering/technical and how he was stressed about it and how he kept his fitness routine. 

  My late aunt had introduced me to play on paper, 'word building game' and sometime during my middle school days, some friend had 'Lexicon', a word game played with cards.   I had then not known about Scrabble, but it was Shankar who introduced me to it with the Set he used to bring here and play.  I reminded him of how we spent hours and hours playing this beautiful game, laughing and laughing so much [what we now term as ROFLOL] esp. whenever we made funny sounding non existent words.  This greatly irritated my grandmother who used to come shouting at us to stop laughing!

Later I made a Scrabble set from cardboard, myself.  [click to read that separate blogpost]

It was also from him I came to know about live radio cricket commentary from BBC in 1973. It was he who showed me that it was aired on the 31-metre band.  He had taken me to his grandmother's house opposite Manuvana Park to show where he had tuned in to that station.  It started off my great fancy for cricket commentary, particularly from BBC and later from Radio Australia for a number of years.

Shankar had known about radio stations from his father, G.Sachidananda [Sachi, popular name in the street].  He was a Hindi Professor at Maharaja's College, jolly chap, fun loving, loved to humourously tease people who passed by his house, in some particularity, womenfolk. He and all his children were intellectually brilliant. Sachi's father was Gundavadhani, a great Sanskrit scholar.  

Shankar had showed me the news magazine from Deutsche Welle [Voice of Germany, Cologne] that his father used to get.  From it, later, took me to the great hobbies of DX-ing/Shortwave Listening and Penfriendship. Details in another post.

In 11th I had failed.  And Shankar became my classmate for 12th [2nd PUC] and we often went to college together.  It was due to Shankar's simple teaching and clearing the doubts that rescued me get through a couple of troublesome subjects.  He made them look so simple, so easy!  So brainy he was.  He never seemed to study long hours. He was gifted in grasping the gist very quickly and was able to put it in simple and effective words and sentences.  He was never known for mugging up the lines, he never needed to, because his memory was very sharp.  It was not a wonder at all that all his school education was done on scholarship [the education dept. paid for meritorious students].  It was a great thing back then, much to some awe and envy of fellow mates.  Not surprisingly, his engineering, also with distinction found him a good job in Bengaluru where he moved and married silently and had moved to America!  That's when we had lost touch.

In the mid 70s I had introduced him to the 'katte', where a group of mostly mischievous friends in late teens, 'wasting time' at a particular spot in the neighbourhood and also played tennis ball cricket.  We were the silent ones, along with 2 others. He continued to go there even after I migrated to another group because of my joining a regular cricket club.  In later years, rarely, I used to see Shankar walking by when he visited home [from America] without stopping at our house.
It was a mystery and will remain so, permanently, because Shankar is no more.

Last April, news about his demise shocked me, as it did to everyone. He had suddenly died, found fallen from the bed at night.  It was not even 4 months since he visited.  And met so many old friends, including me.  As my mother was at home too when Shankar came, his childhood recollection about a couple of incidents with his little brother and grandmother had joyed her.

It makes me think what had driven him to meet so many of his old contacts this time.  Did something in him 'knew' it would be the last time?

When he went back to America, he wrote:

Attached is the picture we took yesterday.  Once again, it was great to meet you after a long time and to have the conversation with you and your mother.      Regards      S. Shankar 

This is the picture from his phone [taken by my w], as it is:

Though he said he had a happy family with grown up children, was it job stress that took its toll?  We may never know.
May his soul rest in peace.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Pears Soap and Cyclopaedia

[To enlarge, click on the pictures, all in the post]

Many of us were fond of this transparent [actually translucent], oval shaped, darkish amber coloured, delightfully fragrant and mild bath soap. It was one of the very few soap brands, even doctors and paediatricians were safely recommending to patients esp. with sensitive skin.  Long lasting and hard, the fragrance filled the home when someone came out after a 'Pears bath'. How we enjoyed looking through the 'transparent' soap when it got thin!  How automatically we put it close to the nostrils to take in the smell when a new bar was opened for use!  'Pears soap' was not missed when the monthly list of 'essential items' to be bought was prepared.

Pears Soap is the world's oldest registered brand. Who made this beautiful soap? Andrew Pears. He had trained as a barber and had stepped into manufacturing cosmetics in 1781. Andrew was observing that people who used general cosmetic products were coming up with problems that resulted from the content of Arsenic and Lead in them.  So after experimentation he came up with a soap formula in 1789 with just a few ingredients like glycerin and natural oils that was gentle on the skin.  The first "Pears Transparent Soap" was marketed in 1807.  The virtues of the soap gained people's acceptance because it lived up to its claim as "pure soap".  'Pears' became a household name in the following decades for its pure quality and also due to vigourous marketing and advertising.  "Good morning, have you used Pears soap?" was one of several popular advertisement slogans used by Andrew Pears.

This Wiki link has plenty of information on Pears [Click]

A thumbnail sketch of Pears.

1781 - Andrew Pears, a Cornish barber sets up business;
1789 - soap first produced and sold by Andrew Pears at a factory just off Oxford Street in London, England, the world's first transparent soap;
1835 - grandson Francis Pears joined the business to form A. & F. Pears;
1838 - Andrew Pears retired;
Francis' son-in-law Thomas J. Barratt, [often considered as Father of modern advertising] joins the company; under the stewardship of Barratt, A. & F. Pears initiated a number of innovations in sales and marketing. According to Unilever records, Pears Soap was the world's first registered brand and is therefore the world's oldest continuously existing brand.
1862 - production of the soap moved to Isleworth;
1865 - Francis' son, Andrew, joined A. & F. Pears Ltd. as joint proprietor and ran the factory; Thomas J Barratt ran the head office in London.
1910s - A. &  F. Pears Ltd. became part of Lever Brothers and production moved to Port Sunlight, Cheshire, England;
2011 - Pears soap is now made in India by Hindustan Lever, a company in which Unilever controls a fifty-two percent stake.

Pears also started to publish a Cyclopaedia.  The first Pears' Shilling Cyclopaedia was published in 1897, it aimed to offer a taxonomy 'not of all knowledge, but of necessary knowledge'.  The edition from the following year, 1898, which seems to be the first the British Library has in its catalogue, is split into nine distinct sections: English Dictionary, General Knowledge, Dictionary of Synonyms, Desk Information (how to mix paint, postage rates, how to remove stains from books, the order of precedence of the Royal family, etc), Gazetteer of the World, Atlas of the World, Dictionary of Cookery, Language of Flowers and Medical Dictionary. Here, then, is a compact reference library in a single volume.
And this, the 1898 edition, my great grandfather, had purchased as early as 14.1.1899 for One Rupee.  Here is his account book entry:

Here are some images from this edition, which survived a bad termite attack on the bookshelf.  The paper has become very brittle.  I made some external repairs.

On the right is the 40th edition,  July 1931. Actually, it was published as and when they found demand for it, sometimes more than once a year. 

The first three pages.

The 'English Dictionary' section.

Termites can destroy libraries.

A page from the section 'Language of Flowers'.

There are several entries in my great grandfather's account books having purchased "Soap".  But he does not mention any name, like he mentions "Kesharanjan Oil" or "Eno's Fruit Salt".  So the brand he was bringing home remains a mystery.  It could be Pears, though there were brands like 'Vinolia' also at that time. That soap was also from England. 

My great grandfather's home library had two later editions of Pears Cyclopadeias, both printed in 1931, one in March and the other, July. One had survived with its jacket in tact.  [See picture] But his account book does not have any entry for having purchased these during 1931 or 32. It is also not known where they were sold.

Soap makers by appointment to Their Majesties The King and Queen [King George V / Queen Mary] and to Their Late Majesties Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

The morning bath is baby's joy. With Pears he wants no other joy.
Pears' Soap is transparent because it is PURE! "It wears, but does not waste" ~ an ad of Pears, 1789.
It did not waste in my time also. When it became nearly paper thin, just before it could have snapped, it was stuck in the concave surface of the new cake.

The painting: St. Paul's from Blackfrairs Bridge, 1840, in possession of A & F Pears. 

3 million copies printed. July 1931.

"Bubbles" the painting [1886] by Sir John Everett Millais was purchased by Thomas Barratt in 1890, a famous advertisement for Pears soap.  See the soap near the shoe of the girl. In the 1931 edition.

Read the first two paras of the above. Interesting.

Section separators with interesting messages.

From the Atlas section.


Section of Dictionary of Photography. Most of the jargon in it for the present 'digital' generation will be like Greek or Japanese!

In 2017, came the 125th edition by which time demand had gone down drastically and the publishers decided that the 126th would signal the final edition which was released this year, 2018. 
Pears' Cyclopaedia, 1897 - 2018

One tin box which my late aunt was fondly keeping is treasured.  
"The original glycerine beauty soap". 

This is a plastic freebie, a soap box Pears offered post 1995, along with a pack of three. 

The beautiful texture of Pears' soap, not too hard on the knife as to break nor too soft to stick to it was found by soap carving artists highly suitable for their crafts.  Around the year 1970, I remember having visited with my late aunt to the house of such an artist in Chamarajapuram's Balakrishna Road.   The best among his many displayed works I vividly remember was Krishna-Arjuna's chariot, a very complicated work of his, entirely from Pears soap, including the thin reins. It was somewhat like this wooden sample:

Millions of patrons found it hard to accept when Pears altered the original formula.  We were no exception and thereafter our Pears' priority dropped low. We are left to imagine and resort to olfactory memory to recall that 'heavenly fragrance'.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Our Jackfruit Tree

Many houses in olden times had ample space around them for trees and shrubs. In the Devaparthiva Road house my grandfather had purchased in 1950, there was a big jackfruit tree, among other fruit bearing trees.  This jackfruit tree with its huge girth, large canopy of leaves and tallness gave an imposing sight. It must have been planted by the first owner who built that house around 1905 or it may have been there even before.  I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in such green environs and yard space to run around, even managing to play my solo cricket on the northern side. The jackfruit tree was the start of my bowling run-up. I would bowl at a single stump and wanted to see it fly, on hitting with the cork ball. 

 Colour pictures [click on them to enlarge] in this were taken as memories during 2007-8 when we had to leave the house to move to another ancestral house in Lakshmipuram.

Cricket in the backyard [posing]. The 'umpire' was the Jackfruit tree!

That was the space for cricket. The rose apple tree is seen. The extra room in the background was built later.

Here, my cousin has climbed to pluck fruits. The branches needed periodical pruning to prevent trouble to the neighbouring house and spreading too much.  

We kept an eye on the eyes of its spiky outer rind to check their widening and yellowing, a sign of maturity.  Its fruity aroma would start wafting in the air, a hint for removal.  But sometimes, crows and monkeys would find it earlier than us, with the opened rind making the aroma stronger.  A hollow sound on slapping the rind with the palm was also a guide for removal. When the fruit was low on the trunk, just slitting the thick stalk was enough. 'Thud'!  For those that were high, a rope was tied and lowered to prevent breakage.  It was kept there for a few minutes for the latex oozed out from the cut portion.  A huge one was a pleasing sight and the first of the season 
was tastiest.

Two cousins on the tree.  See the girth of the trunk up there! I could climb only up to a certain point. 

The sweetest things come at a cost.  This one, by way of sticky latex! Smearing castor oil or coconut oil to the knife and fingers prevented the goo from sticking. In no time, a passing cow stood at the gate having picked up the sweet scent from the jackfruit filling the air.

On the left, uncle is waiting anxiously to lay his hands while cousin cuts and mother already has hers on the sweet bulbs, also called fruit pods!  When I was younger, once I had gobbled up about 40 'bulbs'!  But this figure of 40 is an utter shame.  We had a relative in Shimoga, one Suryanarayana, a renown glutton. He was known to gobble up all the fruit pods in a medium size fruit, from his own trees!  There is a separate post dedicated to his eating exploits, here: [Click]

2009 picture.  Roadside neem tree in the foreground.  The big canopy of Jackfruit is behind.

The tree also attracted jackfruit thieves at night.  They would jump over the tallish conservancy wall [above picture] and got in, but would step on the dry leaves producing a rustle.  The alert neighbour, Acharya's shout on hearing that from his adjacent kitchen made the thief fled. In the dark, we dared to go out there to chase.  The dry leaves were used for the hearth in the bath. Sometimes the dark green, roundish leaves would be plucked and served 'kosambri' during festival -- they were no-plastic days!  The pruned branches of the tree after drying provided plenty of firewood, which mother or I would chop into suitable lengths and store.  The soft wood of the tree is suited for making musical instruments like 'mridangam' and 'veena'. The thick soft seeds are nutritious, finding use in cooking with 'sambar' or roasted on charcoal, both have good taste. There are numerous dishes that can be made out of this nutritious jackfruit.

This picture of the tree was taken from the road a few years after we left and before the new owner started building his big bungalow.  In the open space [foreground, where Acharya's house existed] also a hotel building has come up. The jackfruit tree seems to have survived but suffering due to damaged roots judging by the sparsely leaved end branches that could be seen from the road behind new structures. 

Till we were in that house we got our annual supply of jackfruit and there was no jackfruit tree in our ancestral Lakshmipuram house where we had moved.  But sometimes, one or two per season were sent by our kind neighbour Lady Shenoy, from their tree.  Irresistible temptation shoots when we see good fruits with the push cart vendor [below].  The parcel is taken home, washed and savoured, at times with honey. Seasonal fruits must be eaten!



Grape-like bunch, my friend's tree.  Neighbour's tree.  Another tree in a campus.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Our Mango Tree

My grandfather had purchased an old house in 1950 at Devaparthiva Road, renting the ancestral Lakshmipuram house and moved after repairs. The 6 tall coconut trees and the big jackfruit tree here were likely to be planted by the first owner, may be around 1910 after constructing the house.  There were also guava, rose apple and mango in my time. 

One day, may be 1951-2, children had eaten mangoes. Among them was my grandfather's young nephew Sathya.  He had discarded a seed of his mango in a particular spot in the backyard.  It sprouted and grew.  Till Sathya lived [up to 81], he had clear memory of this.  He would take a peek at the well-grown tree each time he visited decades later. Lucky are those that grow up in a house with some fruit trees around it.  

All the pictures in this were taken in 2007-8 just before our 'ownership' of this beautiful old plot ceased.  Click on them for enlarged view.

The mango tree had grown and established itself without any extra care at all. This is where it stood, providing plenty of fruit to us. Rose-ringed parakeets, bats and monkeys had their good share too!! Monkeys feared my slingshot.  Chasing them away was fun as they were capable of rampage!   

Bunches of dangling mangoes was quite a pleasing sight! So it was when the whole tree bloomed.  We were unable to find out which variety of mango this was.  Because of its juiciness, someone suggested it to be Raspuri, but its correct identity remained a mystery. Not Raspuri, Badami or Alphonso but something probably very special.  It deserves some eulogizing.  The ripened fruit was green with a light washing of red to look at, lovely non-stringy pulp, flavourful, sweetly juicy and highly delicious to savour.  Actually it defies a proper description.  When green, it had just the right amount of sourness for pickling.

Ceramic pickle jars which were filled with diced green mangoes and stored with their necks tied with cotton cloth. Plenty of people in the family and hence, big jars!  Grandmother and mother would dice them. 

Mischievous boys would throw stones at the green mangoes dangling from the overhanging branches from the conservancy. Stones that missed their target would fall on the asbestos roof of the out house or zinc roof of the latrines and the sound would alert us.  Before we opened the backdoor and peeked into the conservancy, their swift legs would have made them 'disappear'! Now my friends boldly recall how they tried to steal our mangoes! 

View from the terrace. 

 I would pluck them by hand or with the mango plucker pole with net, either from the latrine roof or by climbing half the tree on to an easy-for-me branch if some green mangoes were needed for small-scale pickling or to prepare something like 'gojju', 'tokku', 'chitra-anna' or to give a few to some guest.  

When good-enough-for-ripening mangoes were seen in large numbers mango 'pluckers' who came by asking.  Mother would do tariff bargaining ['per hundred mangoes' plucked].  We kept track and an eye when they counted the harvested mangoes in the end.  Then we would shift them to the warmth and coziness of the store room where a bed of dry straw supplied by our kind milkman was readied to keep the fruits for ripening.

It was virtually a mango-feast.  At times during good yield, 500, 600!  But we would keep only as much as we could and all the rest went for distribution among the streetfolk, who waited eagerly. Yield of mangoes dipped every alternate year.

The penultimate year before we got to see the tree, a pair of pluckers had been called in. This is how they did.  One would drop the plucked mangoes one by one.  The other person used a gunny bag to 'catch' and absorb the force to softly drop-slide them down to the ground to prevent the slightest damage to the fruit. See combo pictures above. 

Murali [click for], a poor young boy, who also climbed the tall coconut trees, came to pluck.  He slipped and fell once, luckily on the latrine roof with very minor injuries and we were reluctant to hire him thereafter as he was epileptic.

[Jackfruit tree in the background. Photo by cousin Santosh]

Imagine me sitting on those steps that faced the mango tree savouring whole juicy mangoes.  A careful bite at the beak opened for stripping the skin further.  I sometimes ate the skin if it was good. Then, I buried the front teeth into the pulp to pick up piece by piece till the kernel was completely scraped making it white!  The excited bites were to such an extent that little fibres would get caught between the teeth and trying to remove them later was tricky!   It was also not unusual for the juice to trickle down to my elbow to stain my pyjamas and a few drops would escape the mouth unnoticed and stain the shirt!  So juicy were these mangoes, ripened the traditional way!  Have eaten tens of them each season often sitting there, swishing away fruit flies that hovered around the eyes as they were also in proliferation in summer. 

When many ripened at the same time, 'Seekarnay' would be prepared [mashed pulp, milk and some sugar].  Mango leaves for auspicious occasions were readily available, esp. for flagging the doorframe. 

During strong storms tens of mangoes fell away, but not wasted.  When a hailstorm came about, that would mean fruits would rot during ripening.  

Old house being torn down by new owner.  Mango tree seen at the back. 2012.

New owner's bungalow under construction, 2016

The only occasions when we ate 'purchased mangoes' during our tenure there were during seasons of low yield.  Mr. Salar Masood [a paint merchant and old client of my grandfather] would supply a basket of mangoes upon request by my grandfather.  We never knew how much he used to pay for them. 

An unusual thing happened after we left this house [Devaparthiva Road]. People observed that there was no flowering and no mangoes the following season!  Tests have proved that trees and plants can bond and feel the human care-takers' emotions.  Was our beloved mango tree also feeling the absence and its chemistry temporarily altered and showed its suffering in that manner? Not once had this happened before. When the new owner dug for foundation very close to the tree for his new bungalow a few years later, it is likely that its roots were severely damaged. 

Henceforth, no longer could the neighbourhood get the taste of those mangoes and they felt as sad seeing the tree slowly dying as us looking in that direction as we passed by. People said they tried to save it, but it was futile. The loss is theirs. 

What remain with us are sweetest memories of our beloved mango tree and the most delightful fragrance of the sap filling the air when the dangling fruit was pulled from the stalk.
I consider myself lucky to have grown up in that house with such useful trees and shrubs in the yard.


There was a mango tree in the ancestral Lakshmipuram house [half razed in the picture] also where we moved. The tree's reputation was so so, but it did bloom profusely only once and gave some fruit, as if to welcome us.  Thereafter, hardly 4-5 or none!  It was an ordinary variety. The new owner of that divided portion now has chopped all trees to make way for his new structure. 

Now, our own mango plucker pole was idle laying in the open shed.  Our Red Whiskered Bulbuls found it a suitable place for nesting!  It has used the same nest 6-7 times, renovating it each time, making babies. Many little ones fledged while many eggs were feasted by the Mynas.

"King of fruits"

We have to content ourselves to buying mangoes.  Artificial ripening using calcium carbide [health hazard] has become so rampant in recent years so much so that one must exercise caution in choosing the outlets selling naturally ripened fruits. 

It is no surprise that my fondness for eating mangoes is as great as it was drawing a mango and colouring it during childhood, like this, with a prominent 'beak'!