Father Time

Mr M.Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar High School, Belgaum, was an awe-inspiring figure. Not too generous with his smiles,  may be a little taciturn, even. An anglophile, he expressed his fondness for the “English life” very sartorially. Always sporting a fine suit, a neat tie,  a nd even a hat and walking stick if he thought the occasion demanded these accesories. Hardly surprising he was known as the best-dressed Headmaster for miles around.

A man of  habit and many foibles which he  considered necessary to  enforcing discipline and order at work and in the home,   he lived by the clock. The clock struck eight , and so breakfast must be had. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the coffee must be at his elbow  just as the  clock chimed the second time.

A  passionate tennis player, he was district champion, and  often volleyed with  colleagues and friends, and royalty even.  He played every morning,   a familiar figure in tennis gear making his way to courts just a little way away from home.  Folks probably set their clocks  by his tread  each morning !

The Headmaster was a man of few words,  not just a man of few smiles, and  speaking for/by the clock was his way of announcing his arrival and reason thereof.  The unflappable Mrs Venkamma Ramabrahma,  with a sense of humor minted in Tirupattur (the ten-village town)  of great antiquity in Vellore, Tamilnadu,  who managed her brood that ranged many age-groups adroitly enough to leave him thinking that it was all his doing,  often took recourse to droll little utterances  that ridiculed his devotion to punctuality.  But it was many, many years , when they retired to life in Bangalore,  before  his wife  thought to rib him by    asking, “who is hungry, you or the clock?”  Mr Ramabrahma ‘s  response, one imagines, was  a   Narasimha Rao-like-  inscrutable silence.

Back in Belgaum,  the Headmaster’s  days  ticked and tocked with great punctuality.  His children  (Vimala and Pramila followed S, who was preceded by Kokila, the first-born, Mangala, and Pandu )   were more deferential to Father, than to Time. Though he took little notice of them,  in his presence, Pandu and S   didn’t engage in Tom Sawyer tactics at the breakfast table.

Not that they were  incorrigible imps, or any kind of imps.  It was just that they were mindful of the  consequences of  incurring the  wrath of    Father who was also Headmaster.  The glint of his gimlet eye threatened  great possibilities, and  the boys  –  Pandu and S, thought  it best to leave  things well alone.

Which was not  hard to do, really.  The truth was  that as long as  they refrained/abstained from escapades that  tainted the fair name of the family, or  seemed to undermine the Headmaster’s authority,  he was happy to leave them to their own devices.

“It was a good life”, S says now. There were movies, train rides,  holidays in Bangalore, Poona and Bombay, and all the fun things that make childhood, well, fun.  They did witness the transition  to electricity, and piped water.  Father was not really as forbidding as he looked, and  there were times of  enlivening conversation, great wit, and cheerful laughter,  and  everything else, woven into the clockwork regularity that reigned in the establishment.  . As we’ll see , by and by.

There is this about him in the  1936 edition of    the Who’s Who:

Ramabrahma, Mahadev, B.A., L.T., (Mad.), Asst. Educational Inspector, Bombay Presidency, Poona comes of a distinguished Brahmin family of Mysore.  Born on 8th December 1884, he was educated at Maharaja’s College, Mysore, and Central College, Bangalore. After having his training at the Teachers’ College, Saidapet, Madras, he started life as a teacher in the Training College, Mysore, from June, 1912 to August, 1915, and entered Bombay Educational Department at Lecturer in Nature Study and School Gardening in Training College for men and women, Dharwar, where he served from September 1915 to October, 1923.  In August, 1921, he went to England for Scout Training in the Gill-well Park, having been deputed by the Bombay Provincial Boy Scouts’ Council, and he was Instructor in charge, Scout Master’s Training Camp at Lonavla from January, 1922 to March, 1923.  On return from the deputation, joined the Dharwar High School as Asst. Master (1923-27).  As Asst. Criminal Tribes Settlement Officer at Poona and Dharwar from November, 1927 to June, 1928 he did good work. He was Asst. District Scout Commissioner in Dharwar during 1926-29.  It was in February, 1929, that he was appointed as the Headmaster of the Sardar High School, Belgaum, and he held this post continuously till the middle of August, 1936.  During these seven years and a half he was the Asst. District Scout Commissioner of Belgaum District and was intimately connected with the Scouting activities of the Belgaum town and the District.  As Head Master and Superintendent of the Sardar High School Hostel, he was generally liked by the students.  He was an enthusiastic worker in the cause of Social and Educational Reform and was connected with all institutions at Belgaum in one way or another.  He was a member of the District Depressed Classes Committee, Belgaum.
     He was transferred to Poona in August 1936, when he was appointed as Asst. Educational Inspector, Bombay Presidency.  He officiated as the Educational Inspector, Central Division, from 16th November, 1936, to February, 1937, when Mr. W.B. Corieur (later corrected illegibly in pen),  D.P.I. of the Bombay Presidency, was away from India on leave.
Address-Asst.Educational Inspector, B.P., Poona.
About the Who’s Who:
An old British tradition, Who’s Who is an annual British publication of biographies of  “notable people”. Until 1897, it provided a list of the names of Members of Parliament, and all the Bishops.  But since then, it has listed  people alphabetically and provided fuller biographical details.Subjects include peers, MPs, judges very senior civil servants, and distinguished writers, actors, lawyers  scientists, researchers, and artists. Some (such as those holding a Professorial Chair at Oxford and Cambridge) are included automatically by virtue of their office; those in less hierarchical occupations are included at the discretion of the editors. As long as they were in India, it included several Indian names too.  According to The  Wall Street Journal,  an entry in Who’s Who “really puts the stamp of eminence on a modern British life”, and the Daily Mail has described it as “Britain’s most famous reference book”. I guess it was a bigger deal  about a 100 years ago, when there was no internet, Facebook or Twitter, or 24/7  news channels, and news ambled along at a leisurely pace,  and not at “break neck” speed!


Kapooscan Mari

What on earth is Kapooscan Mari?

A train of camels  arrived at a little village in the boondocks of  Dharwad four score years ago.  The villagers had never seen anything like it.  So if you were to ask them , “have you seen a dancing camel?”   they would reply,  “what’s a camel?”

The camels were probably being taken by their owners from Rajasthan on a journey that would end at  Bakrid,  on not exactly a joyful note for them. Or  you could pay for a ride on the hump of the what is arguably the ugliest animal.  Not that the villagers knew any of  that.  Curiosity getting the better of the younger denizens of the village, a group of them marched  up to the caravan and asked the camel owners,  “What kind of animal is that?

They spoke in Kannada, which the camel -owners did not know, and they replied, “Kya poochte ho?”  What do you ask?

After a few more futile attempts to translate or convey their meaning through a combination of dumb charades, and not-so-dumb charades,  and repeating  “kya poochte ho?”   ad nauseum,  it  began to sound like  “kapoosca”.

The village lads  concluded that this was a caravan of kapooscas and their young ones- kapooscan mari.  The word passed down the group and  soon everyone was marveling at the  kapooscan maris with their  humps,

The young one of a Kapoosca.

The Kapooscan Mari is a tale of  “Lost In Translation”  froim the life and times of S,  and  was  brought back to  school by  some of the boys who had abandoned the Sardar High School hostel for the summer holidays.  S  (Appa) only shared it with his family a few months back, in the days following  Amma’s death, and it has come be used  frequently- to break the monotony of a long silence even though two or more members of the family have been lounging around for over an hour without exchanging a word;  as and I-don’t-know when   a question is asked , and you don’t know the answer.  Or simply for the joy of calling a camel Kapooscan Mari .

And when you say, “but kapooscan mari, …….” .you are redefining the terms of endearment with the spouse or the niece .

I wonder if the village in the boondocks has  confronted the reality of  kapooscan mari . They’ve probably googal-ed it by now.   And learnt that the sandscape of Rajasthan is awash with camels, there are camel  fairs at Pushkar. At Bikaner camels dance, , run in races, and the Border Security Force has a camel band that performs at the Republic Day parade,. There are more camels in Rajasthan than in Saudi Arabia .  And apart from being ugly, they are considered  brainless and gullible  and pay for their stupidity with their lives in the Panchatantra.

However,  if you can get used to saying Holy Camel!  they are nearly as sacred as cows in  some Rajasthan communities. A devi with a camel-head is the family deity for some clans, and some goddesses even come riding camels to shower their blessings on deserving devotees.

At the Hanuman temple in Bangalore, where one ties a coconut, and  does 41X4 pradakshinas over 16 days to get your wish fulfilled, a little camel in black stone crouches humbly in front of the monkey-god.  The pujari tells me the camel is Hanuman’s mount.

Why does Hanuman need a mount?  And why  camel?  Questions that clearly call for throwing up your hands and exclaiming, “Kapooscan Mari!”

Diverting as these  droll references to the dromedary and  its place in  nature’s scheme of things  are,   camels do have a purpose . This completely domesticated  beast  can travel long distances ,  and  can access  resources in ways that no other animal can.  They never have to worry about dehydration  between watering holes, and can go an entire season without  needing to drink water.  Water is their fuel, and they  given great mileage !  As for food, they are the most “kindly adjusting” creatures. Vegetation, meat, bones, salt, sweet, bland, anything goes  with the kapooscan mari.   Docile and sweet under a caring hand,they can be stubborn and angry if ill treated.

This is the point, perhaps, that Hanuman seeks to make, in picking the camel for his mount. Next time a camel ambles into town,  I mean to welcome the kapooscan mari with all the  devotion that the invisible Hanuman astride it deserves!!

Meanwhile, if anyone of you ever end up in a village where the camel is referred to as kapooscan mari, do let me know . And, , feel free to add kapooscan mari to your own lexicon, with due acknowledgement of copyright !

Thoughts of Train

Only the first time on an airplane is a flight of fancy. The monotony and ennui of  long  up-in-the-air  journeys watching the clouds  at the end of which you discover  neither God,  Amma or M S Subbulakshmi is going to  perch on the  wing outside your window and  treat you to an epiphany  is all it takes to  turn a plane journey into a chore that needs getting done as quickly as possible.

A train journey, however, has been around for two hundred years, but its thrill quotient has endured  with such vigor that I am convinced the frisson of excitement that I remember from  those  half-a-day journey to Madras on the Brindavan Express  is the same that coursed down Appa’s  nine-year-old spine   eighty years ago,  when the family travelled often and long, passing  charming little stations and watching  little India display its quirks and colours, the  fields and villages that whizzed past between stations.

S remembers  vividly  the  large presence of trains  in every day Belgaum life,. They watched the train winding its way steamily down the countryside,  while playing in the fields near the Fort, and they often heard the  siren wailing  balefully , announcing an arrival or departure.  Railway stations were easily accessible then and they often went to watch the exciting goings-on at the locomotive shed – engine shunting- there was a turntable for the engines, and it was manually operated. Of course in the eyes of S and friends,  this was the most exciting job in the world.  They played at  shunting, pushing  at the engine and pretending they moved it.

They often made short trips on the passenger trains to Dharwad or Hubli,  and S and Pandu . Once an old man toting his toddler grandson on his shoulders loped up to their window asking “Does this train go to Haveri?”  S and Pandu,  being in a cheeky mood as little boys often are,  informed him helpful, ” oh the next coach goes” , and  had a good laugh. But S felt a twinge of remorse a few moments later when he saw the old man struggling to hop on as the train had  begun to move, and the platform form was left behind, and he just about made it.

The trains of those days, with steam engines and coaches that looked like they were taking Cinderella to the ball,  were 30-seaters . Sometimes they were 8-seaters, used by attendants of  British officers travelling on duty, or  the servants of  the rich Indians who would be travelling royally in First Class.  Occasionally even royalty travelled in these trains, and the Mysore Maharaja’s guards resplendent in their gear added  intrigue and fascination to  the journey.  The Tungabhadra flowed merrily as the train wound its way in the June-July summer.

S remembers the “best idli and dosa ” that could be had at Harihar station,  a stall run by  a  man from Kerala. Since  the local people could never tel the difference between his Malayalam and Tamil, they  enjoyed his  offerings  in what they  assumed was Tamil. S and Pandu and his friends, of course knew their Tamil,  and their idlis.
Most  summer holidays they made the long journey to Bangalore, but  they often went to  Bombay and Poona or Kolhapur- . Bombay meant staying in the house of Bombay Ramaswamy, known to the family , whose bungalow off B P Wadia Road was a well-known landmark and is now a block of apartments still named Bombay House, It overlooks theDewan  Madhava Rao Circle, and remains as picturesque as the whole of Bangalore used to be ion the 60s and 70s.

S had  a wish  in those days.  They often clambered up a high mound on the field near the Fort, and watched the trains go by. His wish was to be on this high perch and look down on the train, and watch himself  travelling grandly in the train as it wound its way towards  Poona . Now is that possible?   About as possible as  the epiphany of    God, Amma or M S Subbulakshmi waving us on our way from Cloud Nine.

A  fine train of thought indeed.   Or  a flight of fnacy?

The Old Days of Belgaum

One  summer day in the early 1930s,  a game of hide ‘n seek  began to be played on the  silent, abandoned-for the-holidays campus of Sardar  High School in Belgaum, and a boy names Sheshagiri  (S, from now on)  got himself a  really secret place to hide, and waited to be found.

The hostel was vacant, and the Head Master M.Ramabrahma’s  brood ( S, and siblings) had the run of the grounds.  The Joshi, Datar and Kittur boys came over most afternoons . A bunch of boys, grounds and garden, and nooks and crannies behind buildings– all the ingredients for an excellent game of hide ‘n seek. S  lurked in his hideout, and listened to big brother Pandurang be “it” and find the others. He wondered how long he ought to give Pandu before turning himself in.

Lost in these thoughts, it was a while before S  realised that  no one seemed to be about. There were no calls for him to come out, nor did  he hear footsteps advancing stealthily and getting louder as  the predator approached. He  stuck his neck out  round the corner and found he was quite alone. The game had moved, or  it was up !!

He ambled homewards to find Pandu and the others  loping about on the verandah,  and completely unsurprised to  see him. “Hey why didn’t you come looking for me?” S asked.

“Oh, we  looked everywhere, and when there was no sign of you, we decided you must’ve come home for a drink of water, and forgot to come back into the game..” Pandu said with a big brother’s  insouciance, and S  decided the next time he needed a hiding place, he’d head home!