Saturday, October 10, 2015

Remembering N Ramani, the Flutist

Vidwan N Ramani, the great flutist of our times, passed away yesterday.

I heard of him for the first time when I came across that delightful 33 1/3 rpm record which was called V Trio. It featured Lalgudi, Ramani and Venkataraman on the Violin, VENu and VeeNa. I am not sure V Trio was coined by the record label or someone else did. This album was parallel to the "Call of the Valley" LP featuring Chaurasia, Shivakumar Sharma and Brajbhushan Khabra - Flute, Santoor and Hawaiian Guitar respectively.

Since hearing of the LP, I have attended many concerts of Ramani over the years and enjoyed them immensely. However, one particular concert remains fresh in my mind albeit for a non-musical reason. But, it says a lot about Ramani the artist and the man.

It was sometime in the seventies. Ramani's concert was in full flow during the Ramanavami concerts at Mysore's unique venue - normally referred to as Bidaram Krishnappanavara Rama Mandira or just Bidaram. Its official name however, is Ayyanar College of Music. Everyone was engrossed in the music  when suddenly there was commotion on the stage. Ramani stood up and shook his dhoti vigorously and the Mridanga and other artists also jumped up in great confusion and concern. What had happened was that a gecko had fallen from the roof. Ramani had got rid of it somehow. No one really knew where it had disappeared.

There was confusion only for a few seconds. Next thing I knew, Ramani had sat down and was getting ready to continue. The accompanying artists were still standing up and joking about the incident and taking their time. Ramani glared at the Mridanga artist and, as if desperately, waved his palm commanding him and other accompanists to sit down and continue. Before they realised what was happening, Ramani started off seemingly where he had left off. The accompanists had to sit down hurriedly and pick their instruments up and join in.

If you had arrived at the concert 30 seconds after the gecko had fallen, you could not have known that there was an interruption, confusion and commotion only a few seconds before. This was much appreciated by the elderly connoisseurs of music who always sat right in front of the dais at Bidaram. I was immensely impressed by his attitude of great respect for the occasion and the audience. There is a term for this in Kannada, and perhaps in many other Indian languages. It is Sabha Maryaade. Ramani exemplified that.

Another aspect of this excellent artist was narrated to me by my Guru, Vidwan V. Desikachar. (He was the brother of the great Veene Maestro, Vidwan V Doreswamy Iyengar. Though he was a flutist by profession, his initial training in music was on the Veene. He played it elegantly. He taught both Veene and Flute though he never gave concerts. I too learned the Veene from him) My respect for him is such that I find it hard to mention him by name. It almost sounds disrespectful to do so. So, you may please imagine my hands joined in a Namaskara when I mention the name or performing the north Indian equivalent of touching ones ear as a mark of respect. Now, I paraphrase what he said, in first person. Alas, I can't convey the childlike honesty and wonder his eyes and body language conveyed while he narrated this incident to me.

"Though I had learned the flute to the best of my abilities I was not satisfied with my music. I had reconciled myself to the idea that this was all I could achieve. This is because I could not play long passages in one breath and convert my musical ideas into passages. I thought that I was not blessed with the lungs of a flutist.

Once I attended Ramani's concert and I was fascinated. He played with such ease. He played long passages in one breath. I also noticed that he was using a larger flute than I did then and the pitch was lower. After the concert, I met Ramani and asked him about his flute.

He was very forthcoming. He showed me his flute and explained that it was indeed larger and of a lower pitch. He explained that with such a flute, you did not have to blow hard, you could conserve your breath, and play longer passages.

In those days, we did not get such flutes in Bangalore and Mysore. Ramani is such a great man that he actually brought me a few on his next visit to Bangalore. I can't thank him enough. Now I could play with much greater ease and could execute my ideas with greater ease."

I am sure this incident says a lot about the two people. My Gurugalu was one of the finest people I have had the good fortune of knowing. I am sure his whole-hearted praise speaks volumes about Ramani.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Best of Both the Worlds

Interventional X-Rays and cycling tracks; Digital Pathology and footpaths; Beehives and MRI; Healthcare Informatics Solutions and Services (HISS) and sheep. These pairs do seem a little odd, don't they? But it all makes sense if you are talking about the Royal Philips facilities at Best in The Netherlands.

Best is a town near Eindhoven - the birthplace, and for a long time the headquarters, of Philips. It is home to the MRI and Interventional X-ray (IXR) systems made by Philips. The facilities are a clutch of buildings in a sprawling area just outside Best.

Some time ago a team in Best took up the job of making the surroundings closer to nature. One of the initiatives was to get a shepherd to bring his flock twice or thrice a week. The sheep eat the grass and weeds keeping them under check. Their droppings provide the manure to enrich the soil. This also brings a touch if the rustic to the Hi-Tech facilities.

I really don't know the exact sequence of events, but soon they had a beekeeper set up a beehive. When it grew large enough they had him set up a second one. These activities have attracted butterflies to the area.

In a related incident, a colleague parked his car and went into the buildings to work. That day, the beekeeper was establishing a new hive - transferring a queen bee to the new hive. The worker bees who wanted to follow that settled on this colleague’s car, perhaps attracted by the shiny spots. He was dropped home by a colleague who also brought him to work the next day. No one wanted to disturb the bees just for the sake of taking one's car home.

They also changed the route taken by the trucks which deliver parts and ship equipment out so that they do not cross the cycling and walking paths and are limited to only one side of the area. Similarly, the cars are limited to a certain area.

What I find extraordinary about this is that this is as it should be, but we find it extraordinary. Nowadays Hi-Tech and nature, 'development' and the environment, are artificially pitted against one another. Trees, forests and water bodies are under threat. If you so much as raise an objection and suggest alternatives you are called anti-progress and worse.
Isn't there something for everyone all over the world to learn from this?

Concerned as I am with the possible fate of Kukkarahalli Kere in Mysore, the story of Best impressed and left me with a longing for a little more care and concern from everyone towards preserving what is precious! 


My colleagues from Best generously provided me with information and photographs and allowed me to use them for my blog. I thank all of them for their generosity. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Repetitive Ropeway Urge Syndrome

From Now Scientwist:

Researchers in the field of Social Psychology from NAMHANS in India have given a name to a phenomenon that has been observed for quite some time now. This phenomenon has been known in the field Organismic Social Psychology. (Study of communities as if they were living organisms) The new name is Repetitive Ropeway Urge Syndrome (RRUS).


Scientists have long observed that within each Community there is a group of people elected, appointed or selected to lead the Community and take care of the Community's interests. This group is called Authority Group (AG). Every now and then AG loses touch with reality and loses common sense and executes or plans to execute, things that are not in the interests of the community, thereby not fulfilling the very purpose of AG. When the Community wakes up to this, it has to organise itself to stop the plans from being executed or undo or mitigate the effects of the things already excuted. A struggle ensues in which the AG loses touch with the Community and reality more and more. Much money, effort and time are lost in the process.

The name for this phenomenon was prompted by one strange manifestation of it in a city in South India. This city boasts of an extraordinarily beautiful range of hills rising a 1000 feet (locals always use this archaic unit since 1000 (ft) is far more impressive than 330 (m), whatever the units may be) from the plains around it. Atop it is a temple dedicated to the deity of the erstwhile royal family of the kingdom which bore the name of the city itself. The hills are eponymous with the deity. Repeatedly, the AG of this city has been seized by an urge to build a ropeway to the hilltop and has announced its plans. When the Community came to know about the plans, it organised itself, gathered public opinion - strongly against the plan - and thwarted the AG successfully. It has happened at least twice already. The AG of this city is in the throes of the urge once again, at the time of this report. It was during this latest episode that the researchers coined the new name.

Now that the phenomenon has been defined and named, the researchers show how the AG is disconnected from the Community by enumerating the reasons why the Community feels that it does not want the rope way. The reasons are many. Some are listed below.

1. It is unnecessary and hence a waste of public money: If it is impossible or very difficult to build a motorable road to the top of a hill, it may be necessary to have ropeways. The hills in question have very good set of roads, with hardly a hairpin bend. This makes the ropeway unnecessary, the members of the Community feel.

1.1 The AG says that that it will attract tourists. The city itself and the surrounding areas, within a 15 km. radius, have so many tourist attractions that one more is of not much value. As it is, many tourists have to choose from the many worthwhile attractions and are forced to leave out a few. Some tourists may be tempted to devote some of their time and money for a ride on the ropeway and miss the more historically and aesthetically significant ones.

2. The ecological impact: The hills are covered with thick scrub jungle. Installing the ropeway will necessitate clearing parts of it. This and the human activity during the construction will cause irreparable damage to it.

3. Noise and Light pollution and garbage: Some members of the community are concerned that the two ends of the ropeway will attract commercial activity - eateries, curio shops and give rise to noise, lights, garbage and make the hilltop more congested than it already is.

4. Sociological: Some members of the community say that it is meant for the pleasure of the rich and ask why the rest of the Community should bear the ill effects?

5. Suspicion: Finally, one oft-repeated concern expressed by many members of the Community is about the AG making money illegally from the ropeway project. If the project is allowed, the AG "eats" a large portion of the funds allotted and very little of it actually goes into the stated purpose – is how it is expressed. People who express this opinion are called cynics. (One particular dictionary defines a cynic as a realist)

Even though the name of the phenomenon described has the term ‘repetitive’ in it, signifying that the same (stupid, as some call it) idea keeps popping up repeatedly, it is not a necessary condition. Repetitive may refer to different (stupid) ideas occurring to the AG one after the other.

Here are some pictures of the Community that has organised itself to stop the latest Ropeway Urge of the AG of the city that gave rise to the name RRUS.

The first few steps of the thousand or so steps to the top

A poster explaining the reasons for the opposition to the ropeway

A signature collection campaign to oppose the ropeway

Some of the people conducting the campaign

*Photographs Copyright: J L Anil Kumar

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Save This Beauty for Posterity

Look at these pictures below. LIke them? Love the beauty of it?

So do the birds. Bee eaters, Indian Grey Hornbill, Purple Moorhens, Pelicans, Sunbirds, Mynahs, Wren-Warblers, Bulbuls, to name a few. The lake is also home for fishe and also a few crocodiles. All quite in the city limits!

How would you like the idea of building a musical fountain in this area, bringing with it crowds, noise, garbage, lights and ruining the whole thing for man and bird?

This is being contemplated as a part of the centenary celebrations of the University of Mysore. Surely the University can come with better things than ruining a thing of beauty which will be a joy for ever, if preserved?

If you do not like the idea, please support my petition to the authorities by clicking here

You do not have to be from Mysore. You may never visit it. It does not matter. If you agree with the principle of it, please support it!

Disclaimer: NONE of these pictures is shot on expensive high resolution cameras by professional photographers. They are shot by by amateurs who love this place. They have been shot with mobiles.

Please support my petition by clicking here.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Prof. K. Srinivasan aka Srinivasan Maama

HAB Parpia, G T Naryana Rao, J R Lakshmana Rao, T S Satyan, K Srinivasan - activists all, Picture from Star of Mysore.

I had the good fortune of being taught by four of the finest teachers in Mysore, of their respective subjects, during my PUC days. For the uninitiated, PUC is pre university course. It was a one year course between High school and college. Later, it was a two year course. One of those teachers was Prof. K. Srinivasan and he taught me Physics. He was also my father's classmate in Intermediate and B. Sc. classes. He entered active politics and did his M. Sc. years later.

When I sit down to write about him, it feels strange realising that I know him at two completely different planes. One, as I knew him personally and the other, as I heard my father talk about him. Here are my recollections as I saw him and also from what I had heard of him.

His first class addressing the new students in Yuvaraja's college was an experience in itself. There were nearly hundred and twenty students in the main Physics lecture hall which was huge. In comes this thin man in Khadi trousers and white Khadi shirt. When he started talking, a hush descended on the class. His voice was commanding and surprisingly loud and of a timbre that reminded me of a good temple bell. His command over the language, clarity of thought and expression and confidence was nothing less than awe inspiring. He did not teach anything that day but gave the rules of the game governing the lecture classes and the practical classes. Later, when he taught in the theory classes too, the same qualities were evident in ample measure. In the practical classes, his familiarity with the instruments appeared magical to me. The flow of thought and expression were so good that I can't imagine anyone not understanding what he taught.

Maama was politically very active in his student days. He entered active politics with M. N. Roy’s Radical Democratic People's Party. So, you could say that he was a Royist or a radical humanist in those days. He was also influenced by Marxism and in later years turned a Gandhian. I have heard him being referred to as a Gandhian in his later years. I have heard my father talk of him with great admiration - that he had a brilliant mind.

Though he always treated me with great affection, I was in awe of him when I was young and perhaps was very reserved and respectful. Only after I started working did it recede a little and it was always a great pleasure talking to him. He would often talk to me about work and what I did. One thread that was quite common was economics and the management - labour relationship at my place. His insights and comments were always enlightening.

Maama was a connoisseur of Carnatic Classical music. The two families would often go to concerts together and walking back from the concerts was always a pleasure since he would discuss the concerts with my father and they would also talk of other things and what an education that was.!

Maama took a great interest in Philosophy once again and a special interest in the philosophy of science, if I remember right, so much so that he registered for a PhD after he retired from the university and worked on the subject a seriously for years. He never completed it though. Even in his later years he remained a social, political and environmental activist. He helped organise and participated in various movements.

Apart from all this, visiting his house was always a pleasure. Thanks to his wife, whom we referred to as Subbulakshmi atte or Srinivasan maami and addressed her as atte*, the house was always spotless, bright and cheerful. Maama would be ready for a good conversation fueled, at the least, bya strong, aromatic cup of coffee served with great care and affection by atte.

Both maama and atte were excellent hosts - whatever the occasion. My eldest sister's first music concert was organised at their home. This and many other things made his house a second home. I have never learnt to cook. One of the people to be "blamed" for this deficit is maama and atte. When I was alone at home with all the others away from Mysore, it would be treated as a serious and personal affront if it was even suggested that I ate elsewhere or cooked for myself. (The other party to be "blamed" is referred to here) It seems almost churlish to use the term "blame" while talking about this but they would understand. They had such a great sense of humour. It always fascinated me that these people, with such serious interests and deep knowledge had such great sense of humour and never ever took themselves seriously.

I will end this with just a couple of anecdotes about how he allowed us to pull his leg. Maama had a large imperious nose. Especially on such thin, frail looking man it really stood out. Once when he was at our home, he was given a small glass of juice. The glass was shaped like a wine barrel. Maama could not drink since the nose came in the way. He loudly complained that we had chosen such a glass just for his discomfiture. He questioned our hospitality. Whenever my mother offered him a juice or something when he visited us later, he would say, "yes, but not in that glass!" Another time, many of us were atop Chamundi hills on a very windy day. Maama was wearing a Khadi coat. Every one of us was cautioning him to keep the coat buttoned lest the wind would carry him away. We also advised him that whenever he wanted to get home, all he had to do was unbutton the coat and fly!

With those two anecdotes, I have to come to the last and sad part of this piece. Maama passed away a couple of weeks ago. When I attended the last rites, my mind kept on wandering and I recalled my association with him a great sense of loss. I have put some of those thoughts down here, with great affection and admiration, as a tribute to a very special man.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

J R Lakshmana Rao, Pioneer of Science Writing in Kannada

This is a translation of an article in Kannada about my father by Sri. T. R. Anantaramu, translated with his permission. Since some friends who do not read Kannada were interested in the English version of the article, I translated it.


This is an incident from 1937. Kuvempu*1 was still in his youth.  Just 32 years young. In the intermediate class of science students, before teaching Raghavanka’s Harischandra Kaavya, he said, “many of you believe that only what is in Gregory and Hodges*2 is science.  That is not right. As a part of the curriculum, two or three branches of science may be prescribed for study. When you take up more advanced studies, it may be limited to just one. But, you should not become a “turtle in the well” by limiting your studies to only that field. You should at least have a broad understanding of the other branches of science. You should understand the expanse of science and imbibe the scientific method. There are books written for laymen, not experts.  By reading such books you can learn about other branches of science.” He showed them the book The Mysterious Universe by Sir James Jeans. “This is a very interesting book. Even people like me can read and understand it”, he said.

We don’t know what impact Kuvempu’s words had on others but one student, J. R. Lakshmana Rao was mesmerised by that talk. That very evening, he went to the bookshops and searched for the book. Apart from the book suggested by Kuvempu, he also bought Sir Arthur Eddington’s Expanding Universe, J. W. N. Sullivan’s The Bases of Modern Science and Julian Huxley’s Essays in Popular Science, for all of two rupees. Lakshmana Rao reminisces now that he read all of them in the next seven or eight weeks. “For me, it was like opening the doors to a new world. He adds, “It was not the science teachers who made me aware of the greatness of the scientific view but the Kannada teacher, Kuvempu”.

Teaching chemistry, grasping the essence of life, creating popular science literature, editing science magazines, creating a dictionary, managing conferences, founding organisations such as the Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat, and along with these nurturing an unshakable belief in Marxism – each one of these were paths he created for himself throughout his life. He asked himself the fundamental question - what kind of science does the common man need - and went on to say some interesting things in answer.

“There is a sort of elitism among many experts who have studied science. They feel that it is beneath them to come down from their ivory towers to the plane of the common man and write and talk about science. Theirs is the dry ideology of “art for art’s sake and science for science’s sake”.  While he cautions them so, he conveys another truth:  “They have not been shaken even by examples such as Einstein, Max Born, Huxley, Haldane and Gamow, who came forward to write for the common man because of their natural broad mindedness.”

Give up Elitism

Like Kuvempu who preached the mantra of scientific thought with the words, “give up temples, churches and masjids, and come out” Lakshmana Rao has swung the whip of righteous anger at researchers with the words, “Give up the elitism of scientists and come out”. He has been constantly calling for science to be taken to the common man. He has not just waited for results while giving that call. “There is science in the dOsé” he said and explained fermentation. He has written about the retrograde movement of planets clearly, in a way understandable even to a school student. Every article he has written in the last fifty years is in this vein. Each one of them could be a model for how popular science should be.

Lakshmana Rao is now 94 years young. Even now he is restless. He translated Arnold Kettle’s work, Karl Marx, The Founder of Modern Communism, at the age of 93. “Is it printed? It is already a month now. Please send me the proofs” - he has prodded the publishers affectionately and has placed a unique work in the hands of Kannadigas.  This Marxist, who has never addressed the likeminded as “comrade” in his whole life, got attracted to Marxism while still in his honours classes in Central College.


JRL was born in 1921 in Jagalur, in the then Chitradurga district, in a Shanubhog’s (Village Accountant) family. He had his middle school education there. Even though the name is Jagalur, (Jagala means quarrel, in Kannada) he never fought with his classmates. When he came to Chitradurga for his high school studies, he lost his way. He failed in the exams too. He has written about all this openly in his autobiography – Nenapina Alegalu. (Ripples of Memories). By the time he came out of the Intermediate College in Mysore, he had attained a certain maturity. When he did his honours in Central College, along with Chemistry he had an introduction to the evil of casteism that had already infected Central College. As if to make him forget all that he also got teachers like Veesee*3. Soon after he finished his M. Sc. Examinations, in 1943, he got a call to be a lecturer of Chemistry in Tumkur. There, he came into contact with the incomparable Rajaratnam. (G. P. Rajaratnam was a great Kannada writer and poet) When he says that he ‘worked out’ in Rajaratnam’s Gymnasium, his eyes light up, even today. Those days, Rajaratnam organised University Extension Lectures. He was instrumental in bringing out Lakshmana Rao’s lecture on food (Ahaara) in print. Inspired by this, he asked Rajaratnam to edit the manuscript of ParamaaNu Caritre (History of the Atom). Rajaratnam extended a hand of friendship and said, “No! Let us read it together. The mistakes in your writing will catch your own eye”. He went through the whole manuscript like this. Later, the Madras University awarded it its prize for the best book written in the languages of South India. It was also this jewel of Kannada who helped him bring out that book in print.

In 1966, when the University of Mysore formed a committee to edit its English - Kannada dictionary, JRL’s was the first name to come up for the expert on scientific terms. It was here that he was introduced to the famous poet Pu. Ti. Na.*4 The opinions of Pu. Ti. Na. and Lakshmana Rao diverged on the question of tradition. Lakshmana Rao did not argue when Pu. Ti. Na. declared, “However much science you may have studied, however much Marx and Lenin you may have read, you are essentially an Indian”. Nor did he agree with him. He also met the great teacher of English, H. K. Ramachandra Murthy, while there. With him, Lakshmana Rao translated beautifully, Berthold Brecht’s play Life of Galileo.

Multifaceted Talent

Lakshmana Rao is a well-read scholar with many interests. His interest in music was so deep that Doreswamy Iyengar*5 once gave a performance in his house. JRL has recalled the occasion and the unforgettable experience that it was, in his autobiography. JRL’s wife, Jeevubai, has been his companion and helpmate all his life.

Among the many books that Lakshmana Rao has written in his long journey, some have received the Karnataka Rajya Sahitya Academy award. He has received the NCERT award and the Sahitya academy award for his work Galileo. The play Galileo has received the Nataka Academy award and the Sahitya Academy award. Vijnana Vicaara, Archimedes, Meghnad Saha, and the collection of essays, Chakra, have received awards too. He is also the recipient of the Indian Government’s National Council for Science Communication’s national award for communication of science in 1992. Mudabidare’s Shivarama Karantha*6 Pratishthana has honoured him with its Shivarama Karantha award in 1977.

There are many high points to the achievements in JRL’s life. The two volumes on science brought out by him during the golden jubilee year of the famous Kannada magazine Prabhuddha Karnataka were path breaking for Kannada. He ventured to trace the history of science in those two volumes. He was the editor, for eight years, of Vijnana Karnataka the ‘daughter’ magazine of Prabhuddha Karnataka, and through it, made writers out of teachers who had never wielded a pen. He took on the editorship of the magazine Bala Vijnana in 1978 and breathed life into it and cultivated it. It is still being published uninterrupted. He founded Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat on the lines of Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishat (along with another activist, teacher and Marxist classmate, M. A. Sethu Rao) and created a platform for publications in science and science communication.

The English - Kannada Vijnana Pada Kosha (Dictionary of Scientific Terms) that he published along with the famous science writer Adyanadka Krishna Bhatta has already seen many editions. Feeling that he had sinned by writing ParamaaNu Caritre, he wrote Baijika Vidyuttu as atonement. (ParamaaNu Caritre was pro atomic energy.  Baijika Vidyuttu is against it)  The part played by J. R. Lakshmana Rao, G. T. Narayana Rao and Adyanadka Krishna Bhatta in smoothing the path created by Bellave Venkatanaranappa, Shivarama Karanth, and R. L. Narasimhaiah is really big. The writers of the present generation are cruising on that path, like vehicles travelling at high speeds on a highway.

Recently he received the Shivarama Karantha Award for lifetime achievement, given by the Shivamogga Kannada Sangha. Like Shivarama Karantha, Lakshmana Rao has not moved away from the values he believed in all his life. In spite of old age embracing him, he has not jumped ship.

*1 K V Puttappa, poet laureate of Karnataka, popularly known as Kuvempu
*2 Experimental Science for Indian Schools, by Gregory and Hodges
*3 Verse, V. Seetharamiah, famous Kannada litterateur.
*4 P T Narasimhacahar – a great poet of Kannada
*5 Mysore V Doreswamy Iyengar, a great Veena player

*6 Shivarama Karantha, A great Kannada litterateur

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The World has not Changed Much

I was reading an article in a German magazine about a famous person. I read that she was raped by a neighbour when she was just eleven. I should not have understood the next sentence because it had two words critical to its understanding that were not in my vocabulary. But, I did, without even thinking about it.

It said that the police accused her of having seduced the rapist.

I could understand that  because the story has not changed, since then.

That was the year 1926.

A helpless child was raped.
A helpless child who was poor was raped.
A helpless child who was poor and belonged to a minority was raped.

And she was blamed.

The world has not changed much.