Patta

        Among our seven magnificent Mamas, ( not to mention their seven sisters one of whom was our mother) Patta who,left us suddenly yesterday, was the one endowed with  an extra sprinkle of Mama Magic .   He was the most adored Mama of yours truly when she was a little girl about whom she had penned a corny poem called My Uncle Pat, which thankfully, is  irretrievably lost. 

     Soon after the devastating  news arrived on the morning of May 27, , Big Brother Subri and I  talked about Patta, who like most other Mamas – Kittu, Srinivas, Venkatesh, and the  late Sriram, was never addressed as  Mama.  Only the eldest Venkatakrishnan and  the second, Dasaratharam were reverentially addressed as Mama.

     Patta’s magic worked differently with each nephew or niece.  To me , he was  always my equal in age. When I was eight, Patta was eight too, totally involved in entertaining me and being my best friend. As cousin Gita said,  one could tell-him anything – secrets, gossip, or cook up an imaginary tale, and he’d listen and offer  opinion  and carry on long conversation with a niece 17 years younger . . I wonder which kind of Mama would actually let a six-year-old tag along with him to work- which was  being a lecturer of Botany in V R College Nellore,  of course the answer is the Patta variety of Mama! 

      Subri remembered the many hot summer vacations spent in Nellore. “When Bunty and I went to Nellore,    Patta and Sriram would be preparing for their exams. But  Patta would take them to. movies, grumbling mildly because it was “boring” Pandava Vanavasam,  or take them out for a round of Trunk Road, setting aside his exam tensions. 

         In the 21st Century,  we are all grown up, and he had upgraded to Tatha status, but I suspect his little grandson 6-year-old Neo, could call him Patta without adding Tatha, and he’d happily answer!  

      He was a great cook, and mightily proud about the great “Pattatos” fry that he’d roast up for everyone , never mind that the entire kitchen would be in the sink to be washed later by someone else! 

             His affection was boundless, and generously given, and if he offered to turn up at your home to make. Pattatoes Fry, you  could consider yourself greatly honoured.

           Botany, painting and Ganesha, these were his passions. He had a vast collection of Ganeshas and dabbled in painting – acrylic on canvas mostly, I he informed me. I started sharing his paintings on Facebook and he was thrilled at the attention he got and the compliments. I t all started with the 21 leaf Ganesha that he sketched. 

I wrote on FB-

Our Uncle Patta,  is a Botany expert,  and an awesome painter too, 

His other passion is Ganesha. Here he has combined all three to create a painting that I have named BELEAF IN GANESHA. . 

The 21 leaves that are offered to Ganesha are in this leafy Ganesha. It is acrylic on canvas, says the uncle. 

Now there are other uncles who also paint. I shall tell all about them in the book to be titled Uncles Who Paint.  

This meanwhile is a great way to learn botany, painting, and to know Ganesha’s Grace.

Many friends appreciated and complimented him, and it became the ritual -I  would share his work on my timeline, so more people could see it. 

In these COVID months, he became more prolific, and when he painted a portrait of Mahaperiyava,  I asked him if would make one for me.Patta said he could have this one, and what’s more when we asked him if could make a companion piece of Ramana Maharshi, he quickly produced that too! 

      What can be more sublime than to receive the most precious gift of their portraits from  our Mama Patta  aka Pattabhiram Mamidipudi, prolific painter of prodigious talent who is also the great botanist of our family  which loves, laughs, lives and argues in the Ramayana. 

      Patta had recently finished a portrait of MS,and I was to share it on FB as usual.  I’ve been dawdling over it, 

“Yedu dee Subbi !” I  thought he’d call and say, “eppo post pannarey MS portrait?  “ 

        That is not to be.  Someone up there in Mama Heaven summoned our Patta  to rustle,up that heavenly  Pattatoes fry for them 

     Farewell Patta. Wander merrily in your  foodie Swarga where they never run out of dosas, idlis,, pongal, vada, all the potatoes that you can fry.   We will  hold on to and celebrate the memories, the  fun and laughter that you always brought along ,and that extra sprinkle of. Mama Magic! 

PS: Patta’s other grandson, Vihaan has. Written to Patta a little farewell letter, addressing him as Patta! . Added below, with presumed consent from Vihaan and his mom Vinaya.

Bangalore’s Tree Man .

Intrepid wildlifer. Forest officer who put the Garden back into Garden City in the eighties. The man who made trees fashionable again in Bangalore, when it was fast losing its arboreal wealth and turning into a concrete jungle. In 1994, I was a greenhorn reporter,with The Times Of India, eager to make a mark in journalism covering the environment, wildlife, and my beloved Bangalore, the Garden City.

I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious, greener beginning to my career – The Bangalore Urban Art Commission, then headed by another defender of nature and wildlife, M.A. Parthasarathy, brought out a coffeetable book, “Your Bangalore The Trees“. Authored by Neginhal, I was assigned to meet Mr Neginhal and review the book , for which Mr Parathasarathy had written a “Tree”velogue, inviting Bangaloreans to “walk” amidst the tree wealth of our Garden City.

What a delightful engaging and enthusiastic man Mr Neginhal turned out to be! His boundless curiousity, tremendous energy and eagerness to share the wonders of nature that he witnessed on his numerous journeys into the wilderness of KArnataka! His untramelled joy as he remembere the sighting of a rare bison in Bhadra, or bears in Nagarahole was infectious and unforgettable.

Back to the first meeting with Mr Neginhal- in the April of 1994- It had been two decades since Bangalore had started shunning its trees to become a city bursting at its seams! Yes! in the nineties, reporters covering the city beat were already writing portentuous articles about Bangalore’s vanishing tree cover!

Mr Neginhal was the best man, the right man to author the book called :Your Bangalore The Trees. Ten years ealier, in the mide eighties, when things were getting out of hand! the late R. Gundu Rao, the then Chief Minister created and exclusive Green Belt Division in the Forest Department. Its mission: To regreen Bangalore.

The Chief Minister picked a Range Forest Officer, who was taking care of wildlife in Thirthahallli (Shimoga), named S.G. Neginhal to head the new division. Neginhal was quite illiterate about trees and urban spaces at the time..

Lack of knowledge about trees and how to go about accomplishing the task he had been set, didn’t daunt him in the least. He set about building parks, nurseries and made millions of saplings of trees available to Bangaloreans to plant and grow in their compounds. A bungalow in Bangalore with a garden that goes all around the house with its own compound, is the stuff of dreams in the second decade of the 21st century. But it was something Bangaloreans too for granted four decades ago!

Mr Neginhal quickly learned his trees, treelore and tree science. In no time at all he was offering expert advice on what kind of trees are suitable for different kinds of urban spaces. he learnt to give tradition and culture their due, and understood the reverence that trees have always had in ancient Hindu culture.

I kept in touch with him over the years, and we spoke frequently on the phone (landline!) and until a few years ago, he always had tales to tell from his latest wanderings into the forests. He wrote and published three or four books on forest trees, urban tress, and a compilation of the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of Karnataka.

Mr Neginhal made my wish to be a environmet correspondent even stronger, and since this first story the writing of which brought me great joy, I have covered many stories about wildlife, environment, pollution, and law and the politics around these subjects. I met men and women who have worked to save our forests and urban green spaces and written about them. Mr Neginhal’s time was one of more innocence, and reverence for nature, when urban greed wasn’t nibbling away at rhe edge of the forests, while ridding the cities of green cover . Mr Neginhal’s life and work and the times he lived in will always be remembered for what could have been. Bangalore , one laments is already past redemption. And now its Tree Man too has left.

Balarama’s Story

 

 

Mightily proud to announce our book, “BALARAMA’S STORY- An Elephant’s Journey” (By D.K.Bhaskar & Alladi Jayasri)  Inspired by  real-life story of a famous elephant, captured in the jungles of Western Ghats, and  trained  in captivity to be  the lead elephant in the Mysore Dasara festival that is famed all over the world.  The book follows the journey of Balarama from jungle to city, and its intent is to help young readers  understand the complex relationship between man and elephant.  It has been a couple of years in the making. Good friend Bhaskar,  a nature photographer  and now a documentary film-maker with the award-winning “Elephants In The Coffee”, and passionate about the elephant,  whose journeys into the Amazon and elsewhere I have chronicled,  caught up with me in America . He then proceeded to nag me, bug me and coax me  into  writing this story for children. He gave me the plot , and story line,  the bones and the meat, as it were, and I was to give wings to my imagination.

 

I did, reluctantly at first, and the story hobbled along, and suddenly, there he was, Baby Balarama, naughty, adorable, and  full of dreams about a beautiful life in the forest,  playing and growing up in Nagarahole forest.  It was agonizing to have to write about his  capture, the shattering of his dreams, and his journey to  Mysore where he became the lead elephant, carrying the Ambari in the Vijayadashami procession.

The delightful illustrations by Yati  Siddakatte( whom I haven’t met)  are a treat.  Though they are each worth a thousand words, they still make my words matter!

The Mysore Maharaja, Yaduveer Krishna Datta Wadiyar,  in his introduction to the book,  says “  the book highlights through its unique narration, the importance of the elephant to the sub-continent, and in traditions that are still prevalent.  The challenge is to maintain a balance between modernity and our heritage. We need to look into how we can give back to elephants that have given us so much.”

I am surprised and delighted to see that C.Jayaram, currently Principal Chief Conservation of Forests, Government of Karnataka, has  written a preamble to our book. I have enjoyed writing and reporting on Jayaram’s good work as Deputy Conservator of  Forests,  saving Cubbon Park,  and  fighting to save the lakes of Bangalore .  “The book is as captivating as a story being told by a grandmother to the children. The authors have explained the life and times of Balarama in a lucid way that will have lasting impression on young minds”

For Bhaskar, this book is “a small way to preserve the cultural relevance of elephants and our understanding of these gentle giants.  For  me,  it was a a ramble through the world of elephants, learning how they live , love and even mourn the death of a loved one. A celebration of the elephant’s place in our culture, mythology,  religion, and at the same time the sombre realization that  the future of the elephant, and its home, and by extension, this planet which is our home is not as grand as its past.

Grateful thanks to the CLIC Abroad Foundation  for the generous support  in  making this book a reality.

Dairy Diary

 

Dasanna, Vinayak Tulupule, Subba Rao and A. R. Sheshagiris at there Alma Mater in early 2000

One February evening in Bangalore,  two men who, between them, have been on this planet 195 years, got together  to remember their salad days ( or in their case,  milk days).   Another 90-year-old  joined them for a few minutes on the phone from  Pune)  Sheshagiri aka our Appa, who turned 95 in March.  Dasanna the centenarian, and Tulupule, the youngest at  90 something. All of them alumni of the National Dairy Research Institute, Audugodi. When the NDRI celebrated its platinum jubilee in 2000,  (these  three, and the late Subba Rao,   marked the golden jubilee of their class of  1949. The NDRI was born in  1923, as the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying.  The year our Appa was born!

In 2000, the four, who were in their seventies, checked into the hostel at their old Alma Mater , and reminisced about their days  on the campus, 50 years ago! Appa and Subba Rao wrote a nostalgic piece in the Platinum Jubilee souvenir. He called it  “Chewing The Cud! (Reminiscences of Two  Golden Oldies- Batch of 1949)
We recently revisited “Chewing The Cud” which was written 18 years ago, and we realized it now has vintage!  So, shall we say this post is a nod to age, vintage and anecdotage!
After completing  their course, Dasanna and Sheshagiri joined the Karnataka State Cooperative Department as Dairy Officers. It was their job to teach the modern way to do dairying to farmers in the rural areas.  Subba Rao served in the Animal Husbandry Department. Tulupule joined the National Dairy Development Board and worked witih the great Verghese Kurien,for a while. It is not too long ago that  Appa was still telling   of Mr Tulupule’s little trips out of  Pune to give consultation to needy dairy enterpreneurs!

Here is the article, from which it is clear that much fun was had, much learning was done, and when the milk curdled, it was all good!  And there was absolutely no provocation to say “Don’t have a cow!”

While writing this post  I couldn’t help thinking how dairying and life in general, was so uncomplicated in those days. I think Appa will have much to say about the  Cattle breeds that  are vanishing,  and about. Jallikattu ,  and traditions that had much meaning and significance in those days, if I pester him enough.

In 2000, during the Platinum Jubilee, I wrote an article in The Hindu about Gandhiji’s stay at NDRI. Dr Iya, Appa’s teacher, visited our home, and so did his three mates. Appa is eagerly awaiting this post, which has been long overdue.

Mr Dasanna, who is turning  100  in  August, is a freedom fighter and a great elder who will be featured in a separate post.

  Chewing The Cud!

                                  (Reminiscences of Two Golden Oldies- Batch of 1949)

 A.R. Sheshagiri  and S.N.Subba Rao

In the beginning of November 1947, we entered  with great pride, the portals of IDRI for the first time. Fifty years ago  in 1949, it was with great pride that , we  came of the institute as technical members of the Dairy fraternity, qualifying  as we did in the first batch produced by free India.   As students, we took part in the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the institute. We were indeed fortunate  to be around when along with the golden jubilee of our passing out from there, we celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of our Alma Mater as well!

The heart-warming welcome we the new comers received from the senior residents of the hostel who hailed from different regions of India is still fresh in our minds. Amidst this air of friendliness and solicitude, our initial feeling of strangeness in our new surroundings soon vanished, and we were made to feel comfortable and at ease. The hostel premises were neat and comfortable and had a pastoral charm of its own. In addition to the IDD students there were also post graduate students and short course trainees residing at the hostel. Some of the IDD students were fresh from the colleges. Many were already in service or in business and a few were deputed by the government of different states. 

In the beginning food posed a major problem for the students, coming as we did from diferent areas and having varied food habits and preferences. Broadly speaking, North Indians  wanted mainly wheat and for the South Indians rice was staple!  The cuisine also differed. There were already three messes working- one non-vegetarian, one vegetarian catering to the northerners and a third one managed by the Bengali and Assamese students.  To top it all, we southerners added the fourth dimension to the existing mess situation!   For some time we enjoyed our favourite rice  dishes with sambhar and rasam. 

Soon there was a direction from the Centre that this kind of regional bias was against the spirit of national integration and there should be only two sections- vegetarian and non-vegetarian. This was immediately implemented. Mess secretaries were chosen, committees to advise on the menu were formed, and a happy formula  was evolved to the satisfaction of all.  We felt at that time that   “nutrition” being one of the subjects  of the IDD course, was largely responsible for the smooth selection of menus!  During  the menu committee meetings, words like palatibility, succulent, roughages, digestive coefficient, starch and protein content were freely usedto make the point.  Such practical application of the theory would have certainly delighted our teachers!

At the commencement of the course, the subjects were introduced, batches were formed and a timetable was drawn up. Code of uniforms and behaviour were explained. Khaki shorts , shirt and cap for cattleyard and agriculture, white shorts, shirt and cap for dairy technology. If anybody was not in the proper uniform, he would not be allowed to attend the class!   ow we were all se t to become dairymen!

It was impressed on the students that this dairy course was a practical course. “You have to learn everything by yourself through hard work, practical experience and observation”.  Students were divided into batches and practicals started very early in the morning. Each batch used to work in the cattleyard, farm section, Dairy Technology section or Engineering section for ne week, by rotation. In the afternoon section, batches would work in Dairy BActeriology, or Dairy Chemistry laboratories.  And as you might have guessed, our favorite language of communication was Dairy English!

Naturally, our dairy training started at the cattleyard. The best way to learn about the cows was to attend to them personally. We washed the cows, rubbed them with kafai and groomed them with curry comb. We attended to their feeding and finally, to the milking. Milking was a delicate operation needing special attention and was allotted a separate timing, which started rather early- at three in the morning!   Our “gurus” were the gowalas- the permanent cattleyard attendants. 

They showed us how to  tie the legs of the cow with one swing of the rope and untie them one pull of the rope end. The Institute possessed a large herd of high-yielding milch cows. They were docile, well-trained very patient and cooperated very well with their novice classmates!   “Jill Shed” the model milking byre, was the best classroom for the practical dairy husbandry.

     The Dairy Technology section was the favourite of all. Butter making and cheese making practicals offered full of scope for developing our individual skills and ability in the dairy techniques. As part of the training, we cleaned the equipment and the premises spick and span, even polishing the brass bolts and door knobs with Brasso!  We took in our stride the various agricultural operations, ploughing, plating grassroots, cutting grass and irrigating the plots. During the engineering practicals, we chiseled and filed iron and wood blocks. Indeed a dairyman had to be a man of many parts!

  The most interesting part of our curriculum was the study tours we went on. These tours, apart from being a source of education and entertainment, certainly helped in broadening our vision of dairying in India.  In our first year, we toured Kangayam Cattle FArm at Palaykotta, Thirupur, Coimbatore, Ooty, Coonoor, and MAdurai.  During the second year, we toured north India, visiting  Delhi, Lucknow, Izatnagar, Hissar and Karnal. The north Indian tour was alway organised to coincide with the all India Cattle Show at Delhi which offered  an opportunity to make a comparative study of various breeds of cattle in India at one place. 

The unforgettable event during our training was the celebration of the Silver Jubilee 0f the IDRI in 1948. The main function was presided over by the then Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. Dr. Kothawala, a prominent figure in India dairying and Dr. Khurody, the Milk Comissioner of Bombay graced the occasion. As part of the cultural show, a drama specially scripted for the event was enacted by thr tudents under the able direction of Dr S.C.Ray and Dr. K.K.Iya. The drama was well appreciated by the audience. There were also sports events and competitions. Jubilee celebrations were a grand success and as events in the institute’s long history have borne out, the forerunner to many more jubilees!

We enjoyed our dairy course, and benefitted greatly from it.  It not only shaped our careers but also gave direction and purpose to our lies. There was the lighter side to it also, like  “Yeh kya cheese hai?” addressed to our brothers from the north during practicals! Making fun of the foibles of our Maharashtrian classmates, we had a taste of humour with “tasting” the milk when the activity referred to was in fact, nothing more than testing the milk at the lab! For us, our hostel had become a mini India!

By the end of two years, we learnt a great truth- how vast any subject can be if one aspires to be an expert!  To the team of dedicated scientists and teachers like Dr Sen, the director of the institute, Dr Dastur, Dr Ray, Dr Iya, Dr BAsu, Dr Ananthakrishnan, Mr Rangaswamy andMr Lazarus, we owe them our Diplomas in Dairying. They were ably assisted by all the staff of the institute and we remember taking staff assistance for the simplest things like the rope trick while milking the cows, to complications in the  chemistry laboratory.

The two years spent in the Indian Dairy Research Institute were the best period of our lives together. The memories of the happy days at the institute still forms the “CUD”to ruminate over in our twilight years! 

                                                                 ***

 

Thulasi Puja. Or, Thulasi’s Puja

She was named Thulasi , the ninth child of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, of Dandayudhapuram , Nellore, for the profusion of Tulsi plants in the garden at the time of her birth. The story goes that when a Smart Alec acquaintance asked if she’d have been named Gummidi if the garden had been overflowing with pumpkins, her Ramayana-writing Father crisply retorted that such names were given by the townspeople and not parents!
The Tulsi Kotai that dominates this picture was also the centerpiece of the backyard, and the domain of my grandmother, Indira, just as the puja room with the magnificent mandasanam and the life-like idol of Hanuman was the preserve of Chamanna Tatha .
Memories of Grandmother Indira , a tiny figure wrapped in a cotton or rayon saree going out to wash the Tulasi Kotai – I don’t think i I’ve seen another of these immense proportions, line its corners with manjal- kumkum, pick flowers from her garden, draw kolams, and recite shlokas , light lamps and offer flowers. One time she graciously allowed me to hold the little brass basket and gather flowers.
In this picture – it appears no one thought to take a picture of Grandmother at her giant-sized Tulasi Kottai though her children , 16 ( seven son and nine daughters) have posed in front of it, the daughters with their own babies like Thulasi here, carrying, not me,,but my Big Brother Two , aka Bunty.
Thulasi is now in Amma heaven, and one hopes, Bunty is with her , as they are in our memories, and in our conversations everyday.
Amma has left behind her own Tulasi,puja tradition. Just like,her mother, Amma just went about establishing her own little Universe of gods and goddesses, her little soapbox hundis from which she often “lent” a fifty or hundred in exchange for IOUs from Dad for emergencies. Sometimes she used it herself, perhaps to get me a little treat, or to give tamboolam to an unexpected guest . The IOUs, however always went in Dad’s name!
When I was little, I loved cleaning the puja room, washing the brass idols of the pantheon, and pouring oil/ghee in the lamps, and placing flowers and doing kolam. As I grew older, I lost interest and would often do it under protest, and then I outgrew it altogether, leaving Amma to her own little deals and secrets with her gods. I did help during festivals, and now when I stuff kozhakattais on Ganesha Chaturthi, there,is a tinge of regret that I denied her, and myself, the joy of doing it together.
Of course in my defense, I have to say she made,it all seem easy. Amma had a great accomplice in Ganesha, and together they made the divinest kozhakattais sweet and savory, .there was no miracle necessary of course, to make them disappear.
Reflecting on Amma’s relationship with her pantheon, I do,believe she never missed any festival until,the last four or five years. Im also certain that they joined her at her labor of love and devotion. This season, I celebrated all the “feastivals” and at everyone, she was,there, making the kozhakattais and the Janmashtami goodies happen.
With her presence, and Paati-Tatha ‘s mandasanam installed at home, I feel blessed.
Doing puja with the little,ceramic Tulsi Kottai that she used to keep, Krupa and Shanti adding their presence and memories, my Tulsi puja is also for Amma and Paati and all that they mean to us.

A Granddaughter Is Born At Ratna Vilas Road

IMG_4035

The Diary of Ramabrahma. The Date is July XX, YYYY

Thulasi felt the first pains early this morning. Sheshagiri phoned to Kutti who came here at 5 a.m She took Thulasi to Vani Vilas hospital where the birth of  a daughter took place at 7.55 a.m.

Today is Subramanyam’s birthday. I gave him Rs. 5/-

Kutti who came here from the Vanivilas hospital at 12.30 p.m. dressed my leg. It is healing quite well.

Lakshmi read 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Chandogya Upanishad.

July 29

Thulasi and her baby were brought home by Kutti and Sheshagiri.

Wrote a letter to Ramakrishna giving him this informtion.

Lakshmi came at 2.30 p.m. and read Chapter VII of the Chandogya .

Harihara Iyer who is leaving for Kottayam at 6.20 came to take leave of me. With his much broken health, he looked a weak man. This leave-taking touched me. I wished him good health and long life.

July 31

Cradling of the new baby

This function took place between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and was attended mostly by our close relatives. There were a few men too.

I sent a cheque for Rs 30/- in favour of Vimala. It is a present to her on her birthday which falls tomorrow.

August 26

Kutti and Mangala came in the evening and took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples of Visveswarapuram.

There was a shower in the evening.

Paid Rs, 5/- to Sheshagiri. Paid Rs. 10/50 to Gangabai- her pay for 13 days. From 1st to 13th inclusive.

Paid Rs. 5 to Lakshmi, the maid servant, to be recovered at the beginning of next month.

***

 

I chanced upon two diaries of Grandfather Ramabrahma of Mahadev Vilas, Ratna Vilas Road, a couple of years ago while I was decluttering our shed. As soon as I realized what the two Bangalore Press Pocket Diaries were, I dismissed Siddaraju who was helping, for the day. With great excitement and urgent curiosity, I turned the pages to find the entry on the day I was born. And sure enough there it was.

Grandfather Ramabrahma had recorded the birth of his granddaughter! And that grandaughter is me!

To me, the discovery of these two diaries is comparable to the the learned Shyama Shastri (librarian, and later curator at Oriental Research Institute, Mysore) chancing upon the manuscript of Arthashastra! May I add that this happened under the stewardship of Alladi Mahadeva Sastry, curator of ORI at the time. Yes, the same Mahadeva Sastry, father of Ramabrahma, who had given his father’s name to his house on Ratna Vilas Road .

I’m quite certain Ramabrahma would have taken to Facebook like a duck to water. His diaries, for 1964 and 1966, are a delight! They are the status updates of the sixties. About the comings and goings of Ramabrahma, his sons and daughters, grandchildren and his own siblings, his circle of friends.

His universe was Basavanagudi and its environs. Walks to MNK Park, purchases in Gandhi Bazar, visiting his brother on Patalamma Gudi Road, meeting his friends and fellow-walkers.Celebrating births and weddings, festivals and of course, his preoccupation with the status of his own health. The visits to his doctors, the change in medication, the purchase of medication from Basavanagudi Society’s pharmacy.

I had heard from Amma, my mother Thulasi, that Ramabrahma ( who was also her maternal uncle) lived by the clock. He loved to note the time he did anything. Or the time anyone did anything. Like the time I was born. I always knew it was 7.55 am, because my horoscope says so. But to find it written in Ramabrahma’s diary is to know its carved in stone.

I have an image of him, not given much to smiling. And generally nor very expressive of his feelings. These diaries, though tell a different story, of a man who loved his life, revelled in the doings of his family and the soaked contentedly in the social life of Basavangudi.

Having lost both grandfathers by the time I was five, I have very little memory of either of them. I often wondered if Chamanna (Ramakrishnaiah) my mother’s father, who had 16 children, could name all his grandchildren . Did he,an advocate in Nellore who translated the Ramayana into Telugu, know of my existence at all? Him, I am getting to know, as I atttempt to translate his Ramayana into English.

Now comes this diary. This serendipitously stumbled upon diary. The diary that tells me of how I was welcomed into this world by a grandfather who was known to be somewhat taciturn, and not given to much humor, unlike his late wife Venkamma, who had once charmed  the legendary Kailasam with here talent for trilingual pun.

When I decided to come into the world, Kutti my father’s sister, a doctor who retired as Superintendent of Bowring Hospital, was summoned by telephone. For which Appa, aka Sheshagiri had to go to our neighbor, Hindu Ramaswamy’s house ,Sita Bhavan , through the connecting gate between our two compounds. For Mahadev Vilas did not boast a telephone connection. Kutti (Dr Kokila ) came over at 5 am took Thulasi to Vani Vilas Hospital. At 7.55 a.m. , I was born. Amma never said so, but the fact tha I took no more than 3 hours to arrive, without much fuss, must surely mean something. Like I am the kindly-adjusting type, who doesn’t like to make life difficult for others.

Although, on that very day , my Big Brother Subri might have had something to say about my timing. You see, it happened to be his 8th birthday on that day. When he woke up, in great anticipation of birthday wishes and presents and treats, the house was silent! Amma was gone! He was told the reason.

The diary says Ramabrahma gave him Rs 5 as a birthday present. Later that day Lakshmi came and read to him the chapters 2 and 3 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Lakshmi Mami was a widow with children who used to come home every day and read to Ramabrahma, mostly from the Upanishads and related texts. This was a source of income for her.

Then Ramabrahma says, Kutti came from the hospital, at 12.30 pm! , and Subri now tells me that she asked him , “So for your birthday, do you want a baby sister, or a baby brother?”

“A baby sister, “ Subri said. He already had a younger brother, our Bunty,  who left us five years ago, and is sorely missed. So he though a sister would do nicely!

Kutti whom we knew and loved as Doctor Athey, said, “come with me, then”, and brought him to Vani Vilas , where he met his 8th birthday present. With whom he has shared every birthday ever since.

According Ramabrahma, I was brought home on July 29, by Kutti and Sheshagiri. He then wrote a letter to Ramakrishna (Chamanna) , Thulasi’s father  who lived in Nellore, informing him that the baby ( yours truly) had been brought home. I guess that means he did not go to the hospital to see me.

I can live with that. He probably wrote a diary all his life, . But only these two have survived. In the 1966 diary, on January 9, he notes the birth of his grandson Anand, born to Pandu ( Appa’s elder brother, and our Periappa) and our aunt Leela. At Vanivilas Hospital! It also happen’s to be Thulasi’s birthday! She turned 29 that day. Ramabrahma records both in his diary.

When Pandu arrived at Mahadev Vilas to announce the birth of Anand, Thulasi offered sweets. Panda was surprised. He wondered how she could have heard the news already. (There was no WhatsApp then) Everyone had a good laugh when she said it was her birthday! Of course, I don’t  know if Ramabrahma joined in. May be he was smiling inside?

Anand,is now a fine pediatric surgeon, working, yes, at Vanivilas hospital!

On July 31, the new baby (that’s me!) had the cradling ceremony. All my aunts and uncles must have come for Ramabrahma says close relatives attended.

That day he also made a gift of Rs. 30  by check to Vimala , his daughter whose birthday was on August1. Her son , our cousin Seenu was born on January 5, six months before me. Ramabrahma says Kutti came in the morning to inform him about the baby boy’s birth at midnight.

A few weeks later, on August 26, the diary tells me that Kutti and Mangala (Ramabrahma’s daughters) came in the evening.They took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples in Visveswarapuram.

Wow! Ever since I read that, I can never go past Sajjan Rao Circle without thinking of Grandfather Ramabrahma.

He probably never dandled me on his knee. Or  talked baby to me. But  this is better!

This evening’s outing when I was just five weeks  old, that Grandfather Ramabrahma recorded in his diary,  never ceases  to amaze me.  The arrival of a baby brings the family together  like nothing else.  Here are two aunts, one of whom helped in the delivery of  the baby in this story, coming to take their baby niece on a little outing. Probably the baby’s first outing.  Mangala Athey, I remember  had given me a pair of gold earrings, tiny butterflies with a bunch of pearls hanging from them. A lolak, it was called. I loved  the lolaks, but lost them when I was in my teens. As for Kutti,  she has given us so much affection, and wisdom, and much else that is precious,  that  it’s quite immeasurable.

And then the Grandfather thinks it is an important event,  and writes it down in his diary .

It’s been said of Grandfather Ramabrahma that he was not a talkative man.  I get the impression that  no one had heard him guffaw, or even laugh too loudly.  But he was a correct man.  Being a responsible father , though not a demonstratively affectionate one.  Writing down his accounts. Writing  his diary , about his day. Perhaps he laughed when he was among his friends , when he strolled to the park and sat on the bench.

What if I had never found these diaries ?

We’d never know . How he enjoyed the life he had, and plainly loved having his chldiren, grandchildren his siblings and extended family about him, writing letters, receiving letters. Celebrating birthdays, attending weddings, receiving his sisters and brothers at Mahadev Vilas, celebrating his own 81st birthday and most touchingly, remembering his wife on her death anniversay.

He has listened to the radio coverage of Nehru’s death and marked Gandhi Jayanthi.

Getting to know one grandfather through his telling of the Ramayana, and the other grandfather through his diary- and how life was lived before TV arrived, and Facebook was was not even imagined.

Who could say no to that?

Secrets In The Red Diary

IMG_3946Tales her Red Diary tell.

Amma’s little red diary in the early seventies reveals  how simple life was in the late sixties  and mid seventies.  How pleasurable it is  now,  to,peek into its yellowing pages, and see a Bangalore  that has been lost to,us irretrievably.   A Bangalore where we played “joot aata” around the circle at Madhavan Park, yes we did, IT’S TRUE!  And chased each other al the way around Rani Sarala Devi school , past the pink  Cooperative Society where we got rations from, and  into the little ABC park  which had one solitary cement slide  and a broken swing in it.

Amma’s diary spans several years. I remember random entires being made when I was in college a decade later!!
Filled with knitting patterns – the little jersey and matching cap with the pom-pom that Appa says I left behind in an auto rickshaw. It was dark blue with a row of light blue dancing men at the yoke. Appa made the pom-pom, winding the wool around a cardboard disk with a hole in the middle, cutting it , securing it in the middle and fluffing it up. It was a collaborative effort.
There are entries of monthly expenses. I’m amazed at how little it cost to educate me, and my two big brothers, but soon realize it wasn’t “little” then. There were bills to be paid. Malik Stores, sometimes entered as Sabi, supplied our groceries for the month and got paid a princely Rs. 72!. His store,was just two,doors away on 7th Cross, I Block, Jayanagar. The maid’s salary was Rs. 10. Firewood 10 md( I think that stood for Mede) cost Rs 14. An auto ride cost Rs.3.

There’s the ubiquitous Gurkha, who, for some reason, was always made to come back tomorrow to collect 0.50 paise per month. Every mom knew enough Hindi to tell him “Kal Aao!”
Later, there is some “kanakku” or lekka from which I can see how she started the lemon yellow foreign nylex cross-stitch saree project. She has sent for the saree, embroidery thread, scissors and some other things, from Rohini, her sister in Madras, who is an award winning cross-stitch legend. There is also some plastic wire sent for, and that I think must be yellow crochet potli bag with colored beads she and Leela Periamma made in another project. Must check,with cousin Popy if she got it as a gift from Amma.
The saree is very much here with me, and so is the pink shawl she knitted ( the pattern is to be found in the red diary! )
Though she was no fan of North Indian food, I think she took at a shot at it because I had acquired a taste for it, and she has written down recipes for chole kurma, and cauliflower bajji and the like . I have no recollection of biting into the last item at all.
I find I have added my own childish scribbles to some of the entries, and I have no idea what she made of them. Was she annoyed? Or irritated? I suspect not, after all,as they say back in Nellore,, Amma is Amma!
However, I think there were times when she despaired of me. I have heard from quite a few aunts that she was quite sure that no other mother in the world had a daughter who didn’t confide in her. Which was true, but I’ve never been the confiding kind!
But she must concede that she was also the only mother who was actively encouraged(by said kid) to leave her kid in someone else’s care to go the movies with friends, cousins, nieces and nephews. I loved to play by myself, and I think I’ve always enjoyed my own company , and so I rarely complain of boredom.
Even the Mummest of Moms must admit a kid who recited her second prize-winning 8 stanzas of Suprabatham to scores of visitors for weeks is worth all the bother.
Of course she did.

A game was played

One page is filled with sums which all add up to 3958.
As in Thulasi 1937+1955+24+42= 3958 when you divided 3958 by 2, the answer was 1979. The current year.
It has been done for my aunts Mangala, Leela, Pandu(uncle) and my Dad, Sheshagiri. And my cousins Ashok and Girija.  The answer for each was 1979

Clearly,  Amma and Leela Periamma spent a fun afternoon, doing these sums for their sisters-in-law,  their husbands and LP’s son and daughter, who were the only ones among the cousins to be married .

When I figured it out, I felt very smart. Until the Spouse , and the Big Brother said , when you add,your age and the year of birth , you have to get the current year as the answer. Jeez. Some people just can’t not suck the air out of a happy room!
I will just cherish the fact that my mom had fun doing these sums.

Mum’s the word. For today.

Summers with Kailasam

     IMG_3224

   On March 12 , Appa is 94. We celebrate his anecdotage, and cherish the gift the  of humor, that he has given to all of us in generous proportions. This is our greatest asset, and a gift that goes on giving.

He got it from his mother, Venkamma. Not so much from his father, the taciturn Anglophile, Ramabrahma, once the Headmaster of Sardar’s High School Belgaum, who lived by the clock, and always noted the time he did anything.

This is a photograph of Appa, aka Sheshagiri,taken in 1941 or 1942. At the age of 18, in Solapur. It was the summer he spent a month with T.P Kailasam, the reigning Emperor of trilingual wit, and humor, and Master of Drama.

First about the picture. Sheshagiri was then a student at the DAV College, Solapur, and home was that of his Uncle, Dr Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City. The marriage of cousin Shankaran (Dr Subramayam’s son) was fixed with Gomathi . The bride-to-be wanted photographs of the cousins and relatives of her betrothed, and so it was that Sheshagiri was marched off to a studio , tweed coat on, to have this picture taken.

Dr Subramanyam (brother of our grandfather Ramabrahma) lived in a big house on Patalamma Gudi Road near Armugam Circle, and figures regularly in the diary of Ramabrahma, whom, says the diary, he visited nearly every day, at around 4 pm!Ramabrahma’s own house of course is Mahadev Vilas, on the corner of Ratna Vilasa Road and Kanakapura road, already mentioned in earlier stories.

This is the youngest photograph that we have now of our Appa. He remembers the studio was on the road where Bhagawat cinema house and another theatre whose name he’s unable to recall ( McKenzie?) were located, opposite the Solapur City Health Offices. Bhagawat cinema has now transformed into the 21st century avatar a multi-plex. 

This was also the summer that the great Kailasam came visiting. And Sheshagiri practically overdosed on Kailasam It was during a random conversation with Appa a couple of years ago, I learnt of his “Kailawesome” summer, 75 years ago!

Tell me about Grandmother Venkamma,” I said, for she had died when Big Brother Subri was barely a year old, and we have never seen her. Amma had spoken fondly of her, and yes, her sense of humor, and there were a couple of photographs.

She was a good hostess, a great cook, and had blended comfortably into life in Dharward, and later Belgaum, wherever her husband Ramabrahma’s job as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency took him. She had started to wear her sari in the Maharashtrian style which was common in Belgaum , and introduced her friends to the Tamil way of celebrating Varalakshmi pooja.

Many grey eminences , writers and citizens of Bangalore often came to Belgaum on work, and Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar’s High School hosted them in his home, or in one of the hostels on the campus So it was that the great,eccentric racounteur, the soul and spirit of Kannada theatre, and humor literature aka T P.Kailasam, came to stay for a few days. He was delighted to learn that Venkamma could laugh in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, and some English, and he set about regaling his hostess with spontaneous one-liners, and tri-lingual puns.

KAILASAM’S GIFT OF THE BOOK

He once brought presents for the boys, Sheshagiri and his older brother Pandu. Books published by Ward, Lock & Co -Robinhood for Pandu and Aesop’s Fables for Sheshagiri who was around 10 at the time.Both were inscribed with a message and signed by Kailasam. Sheshagiri was not impressed with his Aesop’s Fables, for it had no pictures in it ! He made bold enough to tell Mr Kailasam, who right away sent for a new , illustrated copy. But when the new book arrived, Kailasam had already left, so he had no inscription now.

“My favorite story was the The Donkey’s Shadow”, Appa said to me, reminiscently.  The book, of course has been lost.

TOLLU GATTI PHOTO PROJECT

Meanwhile, Kailasam undertook an unusual project at the legendary Katti Studio in Belgaum. He made himself up as each of the characters of his play Tollu Gatti, and got photographs taken of each of them. He then sat with the studio owner and explained to him the technique to put them all together and voila’ ! He had a single photograph of Kailasam as entire cast of Tollu Gatti!

The fate of that photograph is not known. Neither do we know why Kailasam undertook this project. But plainly, he enormously enjoyed dabbling in “trick” photography!

THE LONG KAILASUMMER

Fast forwarding to the summer of ’42, the time Sheshagiri’s photograph was taken. One morning he was summoned from his classroom to the chamber of his English Professor Sadasiva Iyer, at DAV College . He went, wondering what lay in store, and presented himself before Mr Iyer, who said, “ Ah Sheshagiri, Mr Kailasam has just arrived from Bombay, you are to take him home to your uncle. He is to be your guest for a few days.”

Sheshagiri complied, quietly pleased at the prospect of a few evenings filled with humor, that would break the tedium of polite conversations at the dinner table. Home was the residence of his paternal uncle, Dr. M Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City, while Sheshagiri attended college. With cousin Shankaran away studying in Poona, it was quite lonely for young Sheshagiri expect when Shankaran visited for holidays.

Uncle welcomed his guest with the stoicism of a long-suffering host, remarking to Sheshagiri that the man was not likely to leave very soon, and, would doubtless cause him many a headache , throwing the household quite out of gear. But he was practically family, and a genius. One had to make allowances for his eccentricity. When Old Gally came to nestle in the comforting arms of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth could hardly give him the heave-ho.

SHESHAGIRI IS SHORTS-CHANGED

The entertainment began right away for Sheshagiri. Kailasam’s luggage had gone missing on the train from Bombay, and he “borrowed” a pair off the clothesline at the back of the house. It happened to be Sheshagiri’s PT shorts, but it become TP Kailasam’s and was never returned to its owner.

Kailasam settled down quickly to his erratic routine of writing, drinking, smoking at odd hours. There were plenty of evenings when he regaled the host and his nephew with his endless supply of spontaneous humor and impromptu poetry.

The 1940s Solapur , a dusty little town with many cotton textile mills, already famous for the Solapur bedsheets, was not known to be a place where the high-minded gathered and discussed literature and philosophy. An occasional cinema, and dramas on the theme of mythology were the most popular entertainment, for the large workforce employed at the mills. However, Kailasam often had visitors, the local grey eminences, so to speak, with whom he had long conversations and discussions, and he went out to meet people at the office of Prabhat Theatre, which had been provided to him by the manager.

Sheshagiri and his “chaddi dost” spent many evenings being a one-man-show for a one-man-audience. Sheshagiri learnt that during his student days,  Kailasam had been a magician’s assistant to a hata yoga master who had become very popular in England. This hata yogi used to give lectures, and perform “magic” at private events and for a while Kailasam played his assistant. The magic tricks included chomping glass and sipping acid.

It was Kailasam’s job to go around the audience showing them the glass and the acid. Kailasam told Sheshagiti that a little girl in the audience once asked “why does he eat glass?”

Because he wants to eat bread,” Kailasam had said.

An excellent football player, a fact he used as a bargaining chip to continue being a student in London, he was asked, “why don’t you go back to India?”

“Because I fear my father has reserved the fatted calf for me,” he said, meaning his father, T. Paramasiva Iyer, was waiting to deliver a kick on his backside, when he returned home. 

Gandhiji’s recently acquired love for soya bean inspired the Kailasam-speak that went “ Khaya bean, soya Gandhi”,

Sheshagiri wondered if it was true Kailasam could blow smoke rings, and sign his name in it. Kailasam laughed, and said it was just a myth that wouldn’t go away!

Kailasam, described by N. Sharda Iyer as a scientist , sportsman, wit, actor, playwright and bohemian in her book, “ Musings Indian Writing In English”, then put on his scientific hat and explained to Sheshagiri the science behind smoke rings.

VISITOR TO AKKALKOT PRINCIPALITY

A few weeks later, Mr Kailasam had a visitor. Mr M.S.Sardar, aka Barrister Sardar who was also part time judge in the Akkalkot Samsthana , who took him away , to be the guest of Akkalkot royalty. Akkalkot, now a municipality of Solapur, was ruled by the Bhonsle family, which had been installed as rulers by Chatrapati Shahuji in 1712. Going by history, Kailasam’s host was Vijayaraje Bhonsle, who ruled from 1936 to 1952.

He was gone about 10 ten days. When he returned, he brought with him a neatly typed and bound copy of his latest work, which, plainly, he had been putting the finishing touches to in the preceding weeks at Solapur.

Sheshagiri soon learnt that Kailasam’s latest work was the play, “The Brahmin’s Curse”, about the tragic prince Karna and his guru Parashurama, from the Mahabharata. A reading was arranged at Prabhat Theatre, and Sheshagiri was part of an audience of about 50 Solapurians, making him one of the first to hear the play read by the great man hinself. He never forgot the last lines of the poem “Karna”-

“Availed thee naught ‘gainst unjust death! Alas,

Be fooled babe ‘gainst fate’s bewild’ring odds!

bauble of the jeering gods.

Seventy-five summers later, Sheshagiri, our Appa, recited these lines to me from memory. I took notes. Appa asked, “ do people know Kailasam these days? Who reads him? Who’d be interested in my Kailasam story?

Let’s find out on SweetKharaCoffee, I said.

Who wouldn’t want to hear from a boy who was present at the first reading of The Brahmin’s Curse, by the great Kailasam himself?

END

 

 

A Rocks Asi Valentine’s Day

Twisted Talons  was bored.  Life on the edge of Dan Daka forest was beginning to pall. Preying on the hapless rishis and scaring them witless with her frightful form no longer tickled.  She was in fact, lonely.  On a sudden impulse, she decided to fly out , across the sea, to her brother’s island to check out the party scene. She might bump into that lusty, bull-chomper, Oxshas ….  The Bloody  Maya  at  Draksha’s,  made with peacock blood was to die for,  at least.

She threw  a   much gnawed elephant bone away,  flung aside her empty rhino-horn,  that stank  of stale wine,  and hoisted herself up into the air, startling a flock of  parrots that flew out of their perch on the tree she had been leaning on, complaining loudly.  With an unsympathetic “hmph!”,she began cruising in the air, heading south,  following the  flow of the Gotta Worry river. Janisthan, her stomping grounds, appeared  tiny and toylike .

When she came over a small clearing  she hadn’t noticed before, she swooped down lower to investigate.  She sighted a  tiny hut in the middle a pleasant hermitage where  deer and hare romped about in the garden .

“Whose hermitage is this?  How did I miss this one?” she wondered . There was a sudden movement, and  Twisted Talons quickly went behind the canopy  of the shinshupa tree,  to watch.

The man walked out  of the hut, and  strode gracefully towards the peepal tree. He sat down on the stone seat under it, and  smiled, looking at the antics of the squirrels  near by.

He was dark-skinned,  his chest was broad like a lion’s. His arms long and strong,  a pair of lotus eyes  in a face that glowed golden. Had Kama descended upon the earth?  Twisted Talons was enchanted.  Oxshas could go drown in a  rhino-horn of  Bloody  Maya…. This one was a keeper.  She would not eat him…. at least not immediately.  it would be nice to play with my food, she thought… ..

Wasting not a moment, she  came out from behind the tree, and swooped down to a perfect landing in front of the man, who looked up at her questioningly. No alarm. Not even surprise!

She came straight to the point. “Will you be mine, handsome one? she asked,  wagging her curly talons at him. He looked at her. He smiled . That killer smile that had melted her heart.  He’s smiling his acceptance, she thought, and noticed for the first time his slim waist,  the perfect six-pack abs. She could  spend hours getting to know him.

A great sigh of anticipation escaped her heaving, gigantic bosom.  Everything about her, was, in fact gigantic. She was surprised at herself.  Here was a man,  such a fine specimen of human, and  making a meal of him was the last thing on her mind!

“Pray tell me who you are,”, he was saying, and  Twisted Talons came back to the present.

“Aham Rocks Asi”,  Twisted Talons said, switching to Sanskrit, hoping to impress him.  A Rocks Asi, who can change shape and form, a kaama roopini.. I wander these forests of Dan Daka, preying upon the rishis,  creating fear and terror among the all the creatures living here.    I’m in love with you, and  in my heart, I have already made you my husband. Come away with me, and we shall live happily ever after.”

“Dear lady  with the waist of two elephant’s girth,  unkempt hair and those fang that seem to grow in all directions, I am sorry, but I have to disappoint you. FOr I already have a wife, whom I love very much.”  he said, adding, slyly, ” besides, you don’t look to me lke someone who can share your husband with another wife”

Twisted Talons laughed, ” your wife? That creature, with sunken waist, who looks like a harridan. Let me just make a meal of her. Then we’ll be free  to roam these forests and hills!” . She slurred  on the last words, last night’s wine drunk by the kegful suddenly catching uo with her

“That’s no plan. I cannot leave my wife.  Not even for you.” he said.  ”  Here’s what, here’s my younger brother. Happily, he has no wife to bother him, and I’m sure he ‘ll gladly marry you, “he said.
Twisted Talons glanced at Handsome’s brother. “Go on,” he said . ” His name is Lux. He deserves a wide-eyed, wide chested, pot-bellied beauty like you for a wife. He will make you very happy.”

Twisted Talons, a  true Rocks Asi,   went happily over to Lux,  who was no mean looker, and propositioned him. “Lux,  will you be mine?   Look at my glowing complexion, and see the love in my heart which beats for you”.

Lux choked on a laugh. ” Dear lady who glows like a  lotus, why would you want to my wife? I am the servant of  my brother. Would you  marry a servant? Do you deserve such a fate? Go back to my brother and ask him again. ”

“Are you two playing with me?” Twisted Talons asked, suspiciously.  “Oh no!  ” said Lux  a little too quickly.”  I’ve never been so serious!”

She went back to Handsome.  The wife had joined him. Twisted Talons looked at her. What a sorry figure she cuts, sunken waist, sunken cheeks, sunken… well, everything. What did he see in her. There’s so little of her anyway…. If I just sink my teeth into her, and eat her up raw,  he won’t even notice she’s gone…. and when he does, he’ll thank me………..

Twisted Talons never knew when her 12-inch long curly talons   begin to claw at  the little lady’s ribs, but she heard a piercing scream that rang out for miles around  and when it ended,  it was the turn of all the trees around to disgorge a thousand flocks of birds into the air,  twittering and chirping raucously.

And then, that excruciating pain that shot through her giant samosa nose and cauliflower ears. She covered her ears with her palms , and   looked at  them, covered in blood. Her nose ,  had been lopped off, and it would never  again be the giant samosa which made Oxshas  go ga-ga, especially after a dozen Blood Mayas were inside him.

Twisted TAlons ran. And ran. Deep into Dan Daka  forest to where Uncle Marich lived. He would give grind up a herbal paste to  regenerate her ears and nose. But of course they would never be quite the same again.

Some time later, she sat down on her favorite rock , still smarting about her ears and  resisting the temptation to pull the cinnamon bark bandage off her nose. She  thought about what Uncle Marich has said. “These humans don’t go by our rules. In their world  no means no.   And their idea of beauty is  nothing like ours. ”

Oh yes,  they thought I was ugly, she said, talking to herself. They laughed at me.. and then this!  Lux had been so quick, she had not even seen the flash of the sword or felt it’s cold touch on her nose….Now  now I have to live with this ..this fixed up nose.  Uncle Marich’s  rhinoplasty doesn’t go very far.

But… but    I’m a Rocks Asi. I rock.   When I say yes, I mean YES!….  why don’t they get it?

.

.

The tall man

G.G.Welling: From Wedding to Retirement

 

One studio. Two photographs.

Two photographs that bookend a wedding and a retirement and life that happened in Bangalore from 1955 to 1979.

The most precious picture in our collection is the wedding photograph of the parents , Sheshagiri and Thulasi, who were married on July 20, 1955, in Nellore. A few days later, Sheshagiri brought his new bride to Bangalore, and they went to G.G.Welling Photo Studios , M.G. Road to have their wedding picture taken.

Because everybody went to Welling when they wanted to have their momentous occasions frozen in a frame, when Sheshagiri retired 26 years later,  he ttook Thulasi  to Welling again , for he was required to submit a picture of them together for his pension purposes. Though many momentous occasions happened in these 26 years, including the birth of their three children – aka My Big Brothers Subri and Bunty, and of course me, they were not frozen in frames at Welling’s, for reasons unknown. However, we have a treasure trove of memories between the two pictures- Leaving Mahadev Vilas on Ratna Vilasa Road after Grandfather Ramabrahma died, moving house three times, changing schools and starting college.

How many times have I sat down with Amma and pored over that album with all the photographs. Their wedding pictures, those of my aunts’, uncles and ants and cousins and the maternal grandparents in their Nellore home. But this picture, taken by Welling is the one that the eye lingers longest on. It holds a thousand stories, of nine little girls and their seven brothers , the weddings of the girls all of which took place in the house of their Ramayana writing father Mamidipudi Krishnaiah.

I’ve tried to imagine the colour of Amma’s saree- it was maroon, with a gold bordern, my aunt, Amma’s youngest sister Rohini tells me. The blouse, was pink, and the special lattice-work at the neck is the “jalebi neck” .

It’s five years ago that Amma went, and two years ago, it was their 60th anniversary. 1955 was the year named Manmatha, the God of Love, and Spring, and Colors, and everything beautiful, and in 2015 it had been again Manmatha Samvatsara, the year in which Appa was left with 57 years’ worth of memories.

In 2015, I asked Appa why his parents ( Ramabrahma Tatha and Venkamma Paati) are not to be seen in any of the 10 wedding photographs . “it was taken by Thambi Mama” he explained. That would be Amma’s eldest brother, M Venkatakrishnan, known as Thambi . I remember Thambi Mama, the bachelor uncle, chartered accountant who was well known in the Madras music and dance circle, for encouraging young artistes who needed an introduction into the Sabha circuit , and taking them under his wing.

Appa then said, ” may be you shouldn’t post the reception photo, don’t we look funny sitting far apart, almost hugging our corners of the two-seater”

Too late, I responded, we have already shared all the photos last year, and told the story of your wedding , of which I’m very proud.
July 20, 1955:- the wedding of Thulasi and Sheshagiri was celebrated at the grand residence of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, at Nellore. Appa, , told me that on July 18, 1955, when the groom’s family had arrived, the bride’s home was abuzz with wedding-related rituals, and the house was beginning to look like it was in Malgudi instead of Nellore, an elder know-all pointed out that the next day, the wedding eve when the groom is welcomed was going to be a day of Amavasya. No one had thought of this, and there was momentary consternation. But soon enough , someone suggested that the ritual could begin on 18th, and that’s exactly how it was done. Thanks to Amavasya, another day of wedding revelry came to be enjoyed by everyone!
Our mother, The bride of the day
61 years ago, is in Amma Heaven . Her absence has become a presence, and she talks to us in everything we do. Appa and I have pored over these photographs, and he remembers little nuggets about the wedding . His cousin Baba travelled with him from Madras I remember him telling us when Amma died, about what Grandfather Ramabrahma had said of the bride chosen for Sheshagiri- he had got the most beautiful one of the seven daughters of Ramakrishnaiah.
How simple,and yet grand, a wedding could be in those days! It’s just not fair that we never get to be at our parents’ wedding. I notice my mother’s bare feet at the reception, and how
the bride and groom are seated as far away from each other as the two-seater permits! No visits to the beauty parlor, no make-up.
I remember playing wedding games , with Amma looking indulgently, and telling me the bride must sit with left leg folded up, and the left arm around it, and that’s what, I thought it took to be a bride!
Amma often told me about how the daughters of Ramakrishnaiah learnt of their impending marriage – suddenly, the house would begin to buzz with activity.  A set of imposing parents  would arrive and go into a huddle with the grandparents. The head of a party of wedding cooks would make several visits, a priest who conducted weddings would  drop in and leave with horoscopes  and return with list of auspicious muhurthams. 
The oldest un- married daughter would soon realize her turn had come to leave her parental home. The bride and groom would probably get to throw furtive, glances at each other.
Father it turns out, had seen his future wife much before their marriage was decided by the elders. At the wedding of his cousin in Madras, he was a dapper 21-year-old when he first saw her, a seven-year-old, running around in a little pavadai and blouse, with no idea whatsoever that she would wed this man 11 years later. She probably had no idea he was even there at that wedding, nor interested ! Glad to know she did marry him, for if not , this tale would never be written!

The retirement photograph caused much hilarity. Both of them had put on weight. “He couldn’t fit all of Amma in the frame, ” we said, and she had  laughed, as she always did at the fat jokes. We’ll never know if it hurt, or offended, and the laugh was meant to hide her annoyance. She was just Amma, and took it all on the (double) chin.

 

THE G.G. WELLING STORY

The Wellings come from a place called Veling in Goa They have been in the photography business since the 1850. Srinivas Mahadeo set up the Mahadeo and Sons photo store in Belgaum. They manufactured and sold cameras, and other photography equipment . Appa, who spent his childhood in Belgaum, around 1935 , remembers Mahadeo and Co as one of the first photography store in the town, although Katti Studio came up later. Grandfather Ramabrahma,was Headmaster of Sardar’s High School at the time, and Appa remembers that the services of Katti Studios were engaged on a few occasions, since it was the new kid on the block.

The Wellings opened the Bangalore store in 1903. It was then owned by Gajanan Goving Welling, who decided to go back to their roots, and added their native village as the family name. IT must have been the second generation Welling in Bangalore who took the parents’ wedding photograph in 1955. I have taken two or three passport photographs at Welling’s. The last must have been when I was with The Times Of India, just a few doors away from G.G.Welling.