Monday, May 16, 2016

The Voice

It was the mid-seventies. My college’s (National Institute of Engineering, Mysore “NIE”) annual intercollegiate competitions were in full swing. One of the competitions was the impromptu speech competition. There were many good speakers. The panel of judges was full of well-known and great speakers themselves.

When the mark sheets from the judges were taken away for tallying, one of the judges remained on the dais and the organisers requested him to speak to the audience. Though he declined at first, he relented and came to the podium.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I am a teacher” he started in the familiar deep bass. He regaled the audience with an arresting talk for a few minutes filled with gentle humour. As soon as he started the lady sitting next to me in the audience went, “Ooooooh! What a voice!” She continued to listen with rapt attention, starry eyed! everyone felt that he could have gone on when he stopped, to let the prizes be announced.

That is the famous voice of Dr. N. Ratna, the Founder Director of All India Speech and Hearing, AIISH, of Mysore. That shows that he was not a teacher because he could not “do” but because he was a great teacher.

He had a naturally deep voice but he trained his voice to be really deep. The only other voice I have heard that was as deep, if not deeper, was that of Willis Conover, the man who presented The Voice of America Jazz Hour.

I was reminded of this incident because of a Facebook post his daughter shared today.

To listen to Willis Conover and get an idea of what I am talking about, listen to this:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Short Visit to Bettadasapura

My cousin, Kashi, had been telling me that we should visit this temple inside a fort that he had seen from a distance. We did that today and found that it is in a Bettadasanapura.

It was a little disappointing because the fort itself is newly built - in the last few years. Apparently, the original fort was dilapidated and only some of the gateways were all that was left of it. You can see them in the pictures below. The Garudagamba (A pillar in front of the temple) is an old (ancient?) one. The interesting thing is the Kalyani (temple pond) on this rocky and elevated place. It is now green with algae and has trash floating around.

The rocks, heated by the summer sun, made it uncomfortably hot. I plan to go there again during or immediately after the monsoons and early in the morning.

The main gateway


 A side entrance

Don't miss the mynah at the corner

The main entrance 


This time, unlike it the case of the previous post, I had a Canon DSLR.,+Bengaluru,+Karnataka+560100/@12.8396052,77.623976,879m/data=!3m1!1e3

A Sunday Morning Bike Trip

Whenever I crossed the Hebbal flyover, which was almost every day for some seven years, I saw a small hillock with, what appeared to be, a temple on top. I always wondered what it was. Today, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. Google maps told me that the temple is called Anandalingeshwara temple.

I awoke at six and rode to the place on my motorbike, armed with two cameras - one my mobile and the other an apology for a camera by Sony that their service centre refused to service. Here are some of them.

The setting moon as I took my first look at the hillock

The sunrise from atop

An uninvited guest who dropped in, quite literally, from the tree above me, to share the oats porridge.

The sun rises behind a rock

The view towards Hebbal 

Play of light on a door

This place is sixteen kilometers away from my place and it took just twenty minutes to reach it. An unthinkable time in normal traffic.

The best thing was that there was no other human on the hillock. The worst was that a nearby temple was playing loud pop devotional music.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reading Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland

Some books are memorable because of the stories they tell, some because of the sheer beauty of their prose, others because of the power they have to change something important in us, in a subtle way. Some books are memorable just because of the circumstances in which we read them. If we read a large enough number of books, we are bound to remember one for all these reasons.

It was the mid-seventies and it was winter. December, I think. The engineering exams were comfortably far away. I was looking for something to read. A particular book had been on my mind for a long time. My father had spoken highly of it. The subject of the novel, or the protagonist, was of great interest to me as well. It was Ludwig von Beethoven – one of the greatest music composers of all times – fictionalized in this novel and called Jean-Christophe, not Beethoven.

I had been introduced to Beethoven’s music, notably his fifth symphony, by a very unlikely person. He was my teacher at the engineering college. He had taught us Hydraulics. He was a very colourful character and was a legend. He deserves, no, demands a separate blog post. He shall get one too, soon. I had also heard some LPs of Beethoven’s music at my father’s friend’s place. More about him too in another post.

I had not gotten around to reading the book because it looked forbidding. Some thousand five hundred odd pages. Modern Library edition. Not that the number was forbidding in itself. It was just that I did not want to start a book like that and stop after some time due to some unexpected reason. In any case, I did take up that book and things fell into place. For some unremembered reason, I had a few days off from college. I decided that I could finish the book without a break. As if to ensure that I did just that, a cyclone hit the Bay of Bengal and it started raining in Mysore and did not stop for five days.

My father was away from Mysore on some engagement and my sisters were not at home, most of the day. Perhaps they did not have a break in their school or college. So, my day started with a cup of coffee and the book. Soon my mother would call me for breakfast. I would reluctantly keep the book down, have a bath, and have breakfast. With the post-breakfast coffee, I got back to my reading. Mid-morning, mom would ask me if it was time for tea. I would generously offer to make tea. We would have it together. Then I read till lunch. You get the idea, I am sure. The reading day was punctuated by eating and other essential activities.  The incessant, steady rain preempted any thoughts of going out except for essentials. It was cold, humid and the steady sound, which is white noise, lulling me into a relaxed state.

 Please see the note at the end, about the picture

My reading posture and place. A corner of a room. Windows on both walls. A rattan easy chair. Legs up on the window sill. I in my white dhoti and banian. Reading lamp on, even during the day, thanks to the dark days with grey low-hanging Stratus clouds. The wind – blustery. The ebb and tide of the intensity of the rain. A relaxed state of mind. Not a care in the world.

When I think of those days, I can still feel the cold, damp weather. The sound of the rains. 40 years down the road I hardly remember any details of the novel. The memory of the circumstances of reading the book is all that remains.

When I write blog posts, I do so with some purpose. In this case, it is just the joy of sharing the joy the memories bring.

Note: The sketch is unusual for me – drawn from imagination and memory.  People who know me now may wonder if my imagination ran wild when they see the hair. That was in the seventies and I had luxurious and long hair!!! Drawn with  black graphite pencil and digitally converted to sepia. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reading Louis Pasteur's Biography by René Dubos

I had just passed the 7th standard examination and was eagerly looking forward to becoming a High school student – with a capital h. Sharada Vilas High School (Mysore) was the school of choice. The application form gave a choice of the medium of instruction - Kannada or English. Having studied in Kannada until the seventh standard and my father being a vocal supporter of mother tongue as the medium of instruction, it was perhaps natural to choose Kannada. My father suggested that I do so. For the first time in my life, or so it seems to me, I rebelled against my father. Rebelled sounds sexy and macho but I guess I only whimpered and sulked and whined that I wanted to study in English. My father tried his best to persuade me to choose Kannada but his logic and reasoning did not have any effect on me. I was more worried about all my friends choosing English and my being left alone. Finally, my father conceded and I filled the form, with great relief. And thus, I started attending my high school classes.

The enormity of what I had gotten myself into, sunk in very soon.  In the lower classes, I had scored very good marks in English. Now, I hardly understood what was being taught. I realized that I did not have enough English to navigate the higher classes. This was a revelation.

I went to my father sheepishly and confessed what was happening and asked him what I should do. Now, when I look back, I am surprised (and am a little proud too, let me admit) that I did so. To his credit, he did not say, “I told you so” and ask me to change over to Kannada. (People who know my father, will chide me about the last sentence. How could I even suggest that he would do anything like that, is what they would say, I am sure)

He thought for a moment and asked me to read English books. I asked him what I should read. This appears to me to be a pretty silly question, now. My father had filled our house with books of all sorts. Children’s books, books on philosophy, science, politics, history, literature, art, dictionaries and encyclopaediae, you name it and he had books that would fall under that classification. All I had to do was explore and soon I would find what I could read. He did not tell me what to read right away. He again looked thoughtful and said he would give me something to read. In a day or two I asked him again and the book he chose was René Dubo’s biography of Louis Pasteur.

In my schoolboy eyes, it was a big book but not intimidatingly so. I sat in a corner of his room, (always referred to as Annan room – father’s room) and started reading the book. I plodded through some twenty-five pages and felt disheartened. Not much was going in. I had a faint idea of ‘what was happening’ but I was not sure. I hung my head and went back to him and told him what was happening. He suggested that I go through the book, not being concerned if I understood individual words or sentences. Read a sentence and move on to the next, but finish reading the book, was the message, if I remember right. 

I do not know when the magic happened. Soon, I was lost in reading. In a day or two I had finished it. I felt that I had understood whatever I had read. And the rest, as they, is history. At least my history, not world history. I was hooked. I read and read. There were enough books at home to choose from and I read obsessively. One casualty was Kannada books. I had read lots of those earlier and now I was bitten by the English bug. That too changed over time and my reading included a good sprinkling of Kannada too, again.

Decades later, this experience had an unexpected consequence. I had developed a fascination for the German language. I had the opportunity to attend some German language classes. I learned fairly well in an equivalent of the first level course of German as a foreign language prescribed by the Goethe Institute based on books called Moment mal. Grundstufe eins is what this course used to be called. I could not attend further classes due to work and family responsibilities. The desire to learn more and improve my knowledge of German lingered. 

It occurred to me one day: “If I could improve my English just by reading, after learning a little English, why not German too?” I decided to give it a shot. I searched on the web to find something suitable to read. I came across Der Spiegel online and found that I could subscribe to its newsletter. Using the minimal knowledge of the language I had, I did subscribe. I found that I could understand a little bit of the articles and news reports on science – Wissenschaft. I persisted and every day I read at least one article. Since a lot of the content in a report is already known - the background to the news item - it was fairly easy to understand or guess what it was saying. Over time, I started reading the sections on art, culture and travel too. (Kunst, Kultur, Reise). A friend, Pradeep, had generously gifted me his Langenscheidt Taschenwoerterbuch (Pocket Dictionary. A fairly large pocket, mind you) came in very handy. So did – an online translation dictionary. is now like a one stop shop for translating words from practically any European language to any other.

I have enough German to read and even translate German documents. This became a great asset since, in my professional life, I came across German Patent documents. I did not have to wait for a professional translation.

The motivation for writing this post is the earnest hope that it acts as a trigger or it gives hope and encourages to someone who wants to learn (or improve) a new language. 

Picture, courtesy Wikipedia, designated as Public Domain. 
Studio portrait of Louis Pasteur, restored (removed dust, scratches, and what looked to be a water stain)
Date:    Before 1895

Source File: Louis Pasteur, foto av Félix Nadar.jpg

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Reading the Black Panther of Shivanipalli

The Stage

In the year 1967, my father built a house and we moved into it. This is in an area called Saraswathipuram in Mysore and it was called Saraswathipuram Extension then. Before this extension came to be, Saraswathipuram was limited to seven or so main roads, running North – South, and half a dozen cross roads or so, running East - West. The extension had extended "old" Saraswathipuram up to the fourteenth main which was the eastern border of the city of Mysore then. Our house was on the twelfth main road. When we moved in, there were still many plots on which no houses were yet built. We had two such sites to the right of our house and all the sites till the next cross road to the left were “empty”. Weeds grew profusely in them, especially after the monsoons. It was before the invasion of Parthenium aka congress grass. Cattle and donkeys often grazed on these sites.

The Context

Around the year 1969, my father brought home books by Kenneth Anderson, often informally referred to as Jim Corbett of the South, from the University Library. They were hardbound, published by Allen and Unwin, with their logo embossed on the hard cover. It was a pleasure to hold them in one’s hand, smell the glue and 'Calico', and read the incredibly interesting stories about man-eating leopards, tigers  and rogue elephants hunted by Anderson. While the stories of Corbett appeared exotic because of where most of the stories took place, Kumaon, Andersons stories were nearer home, in South India. There was a sense of proximity and familiarity though the exact locale was as alien to me, really, as Kumaon.

I devoured the stories eagerly and lived the events vicariously as they unfolded. The very names of the books and stories still bring those memories back. Nine Man Eaters and a Rogue, Marauder of Kempakarai, The Aristocrat of Amligola, The Assassin of Diguvametta, The Black Rogue of the Moyar Valley, The Lame Horror of Peddacheruvu, The Crossed-Tusker of  Gerhetti – names to savour!

Reading the Black Panther of Shivanipalli

While I was reading the volume containing the story of The black panther of Shivanipalli I fell ill with a fever of unknown origin.

When anyone had a fever in the family the routine was something like this. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the first person singular pronoun. I was expected to stay in bed. All food, drink and medicines were brought to my bed. My father took my temperature as soon as I woke up in the morning, never letting me read the thermometer myself. When I asked him what the temperature was, he would smile and say cryptically, “Telling you the temperature is contra-indicated”. (By that hangs one of his nostalgic stories that is contra-indicated here, right now) He would take my pulse rate. He would do the same in the evening after he came home from work. The afternoon temperature taking and pulse taking was my mother’s responsibility. When the doctor visited or I was taken to the doctor, all these details were reported to him. I knew a few families where, if one of the children had a fever, the whole household looked gloomy. No such thing here. Everybody’s life went on as usual. But everyone walked in now and then to see how I was doing.

Once the fever subsided and I spent a night without a fever, my life would be allowed to return to normal in a day or two.
My father is a disciplinarian but, a gentle one. I did not even think of defying these rules! One of the rules was that I was not supposed to read when I had a fever. That was the hardest part. They were days without TV. Thankfully. I tuned the radio to various stations and managed to listen to classical music practically throughout the day. “Classical” included Carnatic, Hindustani, Western and even Jazz. The last being two half-hour slots on The Voice of America called the Voice of America Jazz Hour presented by the inimitable, deep, leathery, bass, disembodied voice of Willis Conover.

Coming back to the Shivanipalli story, I was desperate to read the story of the black panther – fever or no fever. On the third day, if I remember right, my fever had come down a little. When my father had taken my temperature that evening, it was around 101 (deg F). It was about 7 in the evening and was already dark outside. The world was very quiet. Mysore was a quiet city and the roads were deserted by 7:30 in the evening. Everyone else was either studying or busy with their own things. I quietly turned on the bedside lamp I had fixed to the bars of the window next to my bed.

This was a lamp that could be fixed practically anywhere by its vice like clamp. We called it “Bapa’s Lamp”. Bapa was my maternal grandfather. My mother’s family belonged to a Marathi speaking community and hence, my mother and her siblings called him Bapa. This lamp once belonged to him. It was perhaps made in England or the US and had an Edison type /screw type holder. I had found an Edison type bulb in the market and could use Bapa’s lamp to read in bed.

I stole out of the mosquito net tiptoed to the bookshelf and fetched the book and started reading this most interesting story about the panther with hypermelanism. In an hour or so, I had reached the climactic part of the story. Anderson is trying to hunt a big black cat on a new moon day! He is wandering in the forest randomly, without a plan, but with the hope that he runs into his prey. He enters a clearing. He suddenly feels that someone or something is watching him. He stops, unlocks the safety latch of his double barrel gun, raises it to his shoulder into shooting position and slowly turns around - not sure who or what is watching him and from where.....

I suddenly jumped in my bed, cried out aloud, took a sharp breath in – all at the same time. The book fell to the floor with a loud thud. And I was shivering.

A donkey was grazing just outside our compound wall, very close to the window next to me. Perhaps an insect had entered its nostril and it had snorted loudly and long! The suppressed excitement and tension brought on by the narrative had been rudely shaken by the snorting of the donkey and had scared the living daylights out of me.

My mother walked into my room, turned the light on and saw my flushed face. She knew immediately that I was stealing a read. She picked the book up, lifted the mosquito net and touched my forehead. It was hot. She brought the thermometer and took my temperature and it was 103+! She scolded me, turned the lights off and went out to bring my dinner - perhaps some bread and milk and semolina porridge. Once dinner was done, she gave me my medicine, including some paracetamol to bring the temperature down, and ordered me to sleep. She took the book away to her room.

Agony!! I had to wait another thirty-six hours or so to read the last few pages of the story.

Do buy the two-volume paperback edition of the Kenneth Anderson Omnibus published by Rupa and read them. Money and time well spent, I can guarantee you.