A Granddaughter Is Born At Ratna Vilas Road


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?

I Wish I Was Back In Babelore

Some years ago, I was walking into the Conference Room in Vidhana Soudha to cover the press conference of the Chief Minister,  H.D.Kumaraswamy,  while speaking on the cell with a cousin. I spoke in Tamil, and  after a few minutes  I hung up, and found myself a chair. A journalist from another newspaper slid into the seat next to mine, said hello and asked, in Kannada, “Madam how come you are speaking  the Konga bhasha? ”  I replied that’s because I was a Konga. He had the grace to blush, and mumbled his apologies but he was also surprised to learn I am not Kannadiga.

I told him there was no need to apologize, as he had no way of knowing this , but couldn’t  resist telling him that I was quite conversant in 75 per cent of  South Indian languages. At home the lingua franca is Tamil, but it’s simply impossible not to pick up some Telugu when you have seven uncles and six aunts who were born and raised in Nellore, and argued ( they call it conversation) in the only language in which mythological movies must be watched.  My second language at school was Kannada, and  it was also generally the language in which I played, but  there never was any occasion to learn  even a smattering of Malayalam.

Now everyone knows, or has often lamented the  penchant of many Kannadigas to deny their language, and  reams have been written about the Kannadiga pride in displaying  ignorance of their own language. When two Malayalis or two Andhraites meet, the happily lapse into their language, whereas the Kannadiga , so the common complaint goes,  will lapse into English.

This was the theme  of  friend   Sandhya Mendonca’s blog a couple of days ago- in which she pointed out that many Indians are bilingual, and  can switch between the languages with great felicity.  I have always been amused to see my father and his five siblings communicate – one pair of his sisters would speak to each other in Dharwad Kannada, my dad and his elder brother  too spoke to each other in Dharwad Kannada, and the other two sisters spoke Tamil to each other. But if the pairs broke up,  Tamil was the medium!

I  enjoy  my GP Rajaratnam and Kailasam in Kannada, I can identify a  Bharatiyar gem or two in Tamil , and  as for Telugu,  there is no greater joy than to watch the movie Mayabazar and soak in the romance of  Lahiri Lahiri or laugh till I get stitches in my sides at Vivaha Bhojanambu. I find Thyagaraja and Purandardasa equally epiphanic in their respective languages,  and despite a limited understanding of literary Tamil, I enjoy the occasional Rajaji’s Korai Onrum Illai  for the voice of MS,  and  take a guilty , childish pleasure in  parodied  renderings of K. B. Sundarambal’s  Avvaiyar songs. And of course,  knowing Kannada has been a great boon- I have taught myself to read  my grandfather’s Telugu translation of Valmiki Ramayana, since the scripts are similar.

My life has changed in the last five years, and I now live in a place where knowing 75 per cent of South Indian languages has been of little help.  The husband speaks Malayalam, the 25 per cent that I never  learnt!

Which means,  we are now a 100 per cent English speaking family. And I have begun to recognize that  it takes a lot of effort to learn a new language, never mind the comforting “its very easy,  just like Tamil,” etc.   I was on the plane to visit  cousin Meenakshi in Minnesota a few months back, and it turned out I was the only desi among the 30 odd passengers on the tiny plane. both onward and the return flight. It was any icy winter morning, on the return flight, and we were delayed an hour  while the plane and the tarmac got a wash. I passed a good deal of the time thinking I could say things in four languages (including Hindi) to anyone on the plane, and no one would even know  that  they were getting gibberish of four kinds!

Which brings us to my present peeve. In order to speak lustily and for long in Kannada, Tamil, or  even Telugu, I need to call friends and family back home in India, or here in the US.  There are reasons why when I hear these three languages in this wonderful land  that I currently call home , I  turn away, move to another aisle, or pretend I am not there at all.  Experience is a great teacher. I mostly blame the knol khol pyramid at the Korean store, Lotte’  Plaza where you can buy  dosakai  (Mangaluru Southekai) under a  gantry sign that  loudly declares “DOSAKAI).

There is a lot of Telugu to be encountered at  say  Lotte’ ,  COSTCO, or Walmart, and  Tamil, and much Malayalam. Kannada, on the other hand, is  rarely heard.  So I could barely conceal my delight when I heard this urgently pregnant  woman  contemplating the knol khol in her hand, and wondering, loudly, “idu knol khol allva?”

Too excited to  consider that it might be a bad idea, I  cheerfully volunteered, “howdu, idu knol kholenay“, because I had asked myself the same question when I first visited  this store. One can never be sure of  our familiar veggies  knol khol, seemebadnekai that goes by the exotic name of chayote, in this country . They tend to be giant sized, and most of the time, quite tasteless . I long for  the pungent “aroma” of  a radish simmering in the sambhar nearly as much as I pine for a  chinwag in Kannada. With someone sitting by me, on the same couch. Not over telephone .

Well, the upshot of my  interjection was that we were soon talking about Uma theatre, Bull Temple, Gandhi Bazar, and so on, and exchanged phone numbers. . A couple of weeks later, she called, and asked if i was interested  in a project. I am mortified to say I failed to see through her  jargon and  was in denial when the husband said it sounded like an Amway scam. I asked for more details, and found out, indeed, that it was Amway. I  told her I wasn’t interested, and forbade husband from every mentioning this episode again, if he wanted  his parippu prathaman

So you see,  I can’t be blamed for  being wary of  Kannada- speaking pregnant women on the loose in   Herndon Halli, and  turning to   FB, youtube and my  small library of Kannada books  to my regular fix.  The important thing is to know  you may take me out of Kannada, but you cannot take Kannada out of me. On this cliche’d note,  I end, yearning deeply for my Babelore!