Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mystery of the Disappearing Divine Dancer

As soon as I entered my room I noticed that Natraj was missing. Always on my table. Comforting. Available to me just for the asking. Now missing.

It created a void, an uncertainty, an undefinable insecurity that was palpable. Not that it was one of those things that have great financial value. Many might not even give it a second look. But, for me it was an essential feature of my room. Something that defined it.

Now missing.

In a panic, I searched high and low. Well, not exactly panic. Just dramatizing it. But if you observed how frenzied the search was, you would think that it was panic. But you couldn't because you were not in the room.

When I did not find it, I wondered if the cleaning lady, who came to clean the room when I was not room (if “I was not home" is OK why not "I was not room", eh?) took it. Asking her would be a problem. We hardly ever met. The only proof that she existed was that my room was clean. Even if I left it unclean in the morning.

Apart from that, what if she had no hand in it? Or it was never in her hand? I ask and she gets offended and stops coming to clean my room? No, that won't do.

Then what? What next?

I wondered if I should e-mail Sherlock and ask him. Not that I had his e-mail id. But what if I asked BBC? Would they give me? What if he refused to take the case? Would Byomkesh Bakshi be interested? He is already so old and Door Darshan was not showing any more stories of him. Had he retired? Or even dead, without letting anyone know? What about Feluda? He must be older. Why would he travel all the way from Kolkota to solve a case for me. Aren't there any good private detectives/investigators around? There was that Insepctor Ajit or somebody. Not heard of him in ages. There is a rumour that the stories of Inspector Ajit were actually stories of Sherlock Holmes which were Kannadised by Soorappa and inspector Ajit never existed.

I pushed all these thoughts aside as I had to write a report on a stolen sculpture from a temple and here I was, missing a Natraj. Well, when I say write I don't mean actually write with pen on paper. Typing on my archaic desktop, as I am typing this now. Well, that is funny because when you actually read it, I will no longer be typing this. That could happen in the days of telex and Morse code. Then of course, it would not be typing but tapping for Morse code and typing for telex. The remorseless march of time and technology (wait for no man) have made them all obsolete. But, I digress.

Coming back to the Natraj, presence of the Natraj on the table was comforting. His role began in the other preoccupation of mine. Writing is occupation and the other is preoccupation. I had no mood to write the aforesaid report. But there was the deadline. Why do they call it a deadline? Because my editor would make me wish I were dead when I missed a deadline? Anyway . . .

Reluctantly I sit down, boot my archaic machine and wait for it to come to life, however pathetic a life that is. 

As I waited, patiently impatient (if you so prefer reverse the order of the last two words, keeping the ly where it was) I sipped my coffee. Coffee in name only. Brown, hot and a liquid. Mostly. Because some of it was getting into the vapour phase. It was happening when I brought it in. Now, where did that coffee suddenly come from you wonder? Without antecedent, as my lawyer friend (Never mind if that is an oxymoron or he is just a plain moron) would pompously say. I had bought it at the Darshini right below my room. The coffee dispenser, the man, not a machine, acting as if I asked to borrow a silver cup when I asked for the coffee in a paper cup. Well, the existence of the coffee and the reason for it to be in my hand and my right to drink it having been established, I sipped my coffee and kept it on the table. In the process spilled a little of it. I pulled the foot rug (an old towel now playing second innings) by the bed with my foot, (appropriately?) and tried to wipe the spot of coffee on the floor and its swinging corner hit something below the horizontal bar of wood connecting the two nearly vertical legs of the table and …

my dear Natraj rolled out from underneath. 

Its body a bright read with black stripes, tail a shiny black separated  from the main body with a white band, with the graphite tip just a little worse off from its fall from the table for me to indulge in my preoccupation - drawing.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

gurubhyo namaha

English . . .

  . . . is an egoistic language.

That is why . . .




small! . .

. . . intoned the sonorous voice, with dramatic pauses, rising to a crescendo with the words ‘I’ and ‘you’, the last accompanied by an accusing finger moving as if to jab a meek front-bencher in the face.

The flustered front-bencher stands up thinking that the larger than life teacher was accusing him of a misdemeanor.

Durrani waves a dismissive hand bidding the student sit and continues his exposition.

This scene plays itself in front of my mind’s eye whenever I think of Durrani, my English teacher, who passed away recently in Mysore.

He taught us English in PUC in Yuvaraja’s College, Mysore.

His classes were something to look forward to. The intricacies of the language, the nuances in the story from the text book, good usage were all laid before you most entertainingly, but never frivolously.

Years later, when my sister enrolled in the same college, became an unabashed fan of his, would come home and narrate one of the day’s highlights - from his class, I felt a strange pride. An emotion for which there seems to be no explanation except that he was “our” Durrani.

You know a teacher lived a successful life, when his students remember him with awe, admiration, and fondness.

Professor Durrani was one such teacher.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Remebering Dr Prabhushankara

Dr Prabhushankara, along with many greats of the Kannada literary world. Prabhushankara is to the between Prof U R Ananamurthy and my father, J R Lakshmana Rao
(Photographed at the funeral of the poet laureate, Pu Ti Na)

Dr Prabhushankara, a great Kannada scholar passed away recently. He was the director of the Kuvempu Kannada Adhyayana Samsthe (Institute of Kannada Studies) and Prasaaraanaga (Publications Division) of the University of Mysore. He was a writer of note, acclaimed translator and scholar

What follows may be an odd way of remembering a man who passed away recently - by recalling his jokes and his sense of humour and spreading a little laughter. I am sure, if he could see this happen, he would approve.

Dr Prabhushankara was a frequent visitor to our home as he was a close friend of my father. He almost always walked in with, “Lakshmana raayrE... “, addressing my father, as a prelude to recounting a joke or a real incident with great humour, wit and turn of phrase and make us all laugh. He himself laughed heartily which was always a pleasure to watch.

One of the earliest jokes of his that I remember is this. He had a long association with the Ramakrishna Math. And to the best of my knowledge, he was a firm believer in god. I say this because he did not wear his religion or belief on his sleeve. But these should form the background to what follows.

"Lakshmana raayre, I have proof that God understands English but, not very well", he said one day and continued. “When we were young we prayed every day with the words ‘give us this day our daily bread’. He granted our wish. But, it is bread for breakfast, daily!”

My father once went to the Ramakrishna Ashram for lunch with Dr Prabhushankara. The lunch was sumptuous and rich, with expensive ingredients - ghee, milk, saffron, almonds, cashew nuts and so on. After lunch, my father pulled his leg - "the Ramakrishna Mission preaches high thinking and simple living. Look at that lunch! Do you call that simple living?" He was unfazed. He retorted, "I can't help it if you misinterpret that statement. We do exactly what we preach. High thinking and SIMPLE living" - the latter half was said with an intonation and a wave of the hand that meant "just living it up".

Such irreverent humour is to be cherished especially now when the slightest (imaginary or otherwise) light-hearted or derogatory reference to matters religious or spiritual has the potential to become a Weapon of Mass Distraction. The politics of hurt sentiments.

Khushwant Singh, the iconoclastic author, among other things, was invited by the University of Mysore for a talk. Dr Prabhushankara went to Bangalore to receive him and bring him to Mysore. In the preamble to his talk, Khushwant Singh said something like this: "I had a wonderful drive from Bangalore. The greenery on either side of the road was exhilarating. I had the delightful company of Dr Prabhushankara who told me several Sardarji jokes that even I had not heard before". This can give you an idea of how much he loved humour.

Dr Prabhushankara once expounded on a theory of the origin of the universe. “In the beginning, there was Tamizh. God saw this and thought, “here is such a rich and beautiful language but, no one to speak it. So, he created the earth and put people on it so that there would be someone to speak it.” This was his way of poking fun at the justifiable pride the Tamizhs have about their language.

There was a Kannada drama being staged at the Maharaja's College Centenary Hall. Dr Prabhushankara was seated in the front row. The screen parted and the stage lights grew brighter as the hall lights dimmed. One stage could be seen a street with the front of a house. The name board of the house was visible. It read "Jnaana Villa". Read in Kannada, as a single word, this means no knowledge or a nincompoop. The intention of the playwright was to make fun of the middle class’ fancy for English - with such absurd consequences. Dr Prabhushankara's voice could be heard clearly, "Hey! This looks like the logo of the university".

His wit and wisdom, large-heartedness, and critical, fearless scholarship will be missed dearly.

Two incidents - Nehru and M Visvesvaraya

The papers ordering the construction of the Hirakud dam came to Nehru, for his signature. Though he was convinced that it was to be done, he had some doubts. He needed some assurance that things were in order.

He requested Visvesvaraya to take a look and see that everything was OK. Visvesvaraya said that seeing the files was not enough. He wanted to personally check some important aspects of the surveying and the land at the site itself. He was already in his nineties. In spite of it, Visvesvaraya travelled all the way to Sambalpur. He asked some of the concerned engineers to stay at the inspection bungalow where he was staying so that they can go through some of the important aspects of the plan.

The engineers were in a quandary. Their official grade made them ineligible to stay at the inspection bungalow. This meant that the review would have to be done the next day and he had to extend his stay in Sambalpur. Visvesvaraya was not interested in extending his stay. He insisted that he wanted to return to Bangalore, by the very next available train, if the engineers could not stay in the inspection bungalow.

The engineers had to get approval from the headquarters by telegram. Late into the night, Visvesvaraya grilled the engineers about the plans. Early next morning he was ready in full suit and Mysore pETa (turban) to go to the proposed dam site, twenty kilometres away.

He spent the whole day at the site and eventually approved the plans.

Around the time the Hirakud dam was being finished (Incidentally, it was finished ahead of schedule) Nehru's cabinet of ministers decided that Visvesvaraya should be honoured with Bharata Ratna. Aware of the strictness in all matters and bluntness of Visvesvaraya, the ministers were reluctant to write to him and request him to accept the honour.

Nehru himself decided to write and he did.

Visvesvaraya wrote back saying that he was ready to accept the award if it did not restrict his freedom to criticise Nehru's government's policies or actions in the future if the need arose!

Only after Nehru wrote back saying that this was precisely why he was being honoured did he agree to accept the award.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reminiscences of a Ramanavami Long Ago

The events connected with Ramanavami, in Asansol, as reported in the media, reminded me of my first experience of Ramanavami in Eastern India. I thought I should share this with anyone interested.

I had gone to Ranchi, on my first job after my BE, in December 1978. Ranchi was then in Bihar as Jharkhand state was still decades away. It was a bitter winter and the spring of 1979 was exhilarating. The days were getting longer and the idea of an evening was creeping back. One evening, I went to Main Road with a friend. As the name suggests, there was one main road in Ranchi and it was named, appropriately, Main Road. Steel towers of about five meters height were being erected at various places, on both sides of the street. Each tower was separated from the other by about a hundred meters. They supported a platform with a railing around it and appeared capable of allowing four people to stand on it. They made me curious.

I asked the friend what it was all about. He said, “Ramnavami aa raha hai na?” (Ramanvami is coming, no?). I was not aware that Ramanavami was approaching and could not understand what connection the towers had with the festival. I asked. He pityingly explained to me that communal riots are to be expected during the festival and there will be guards on these towers, just in case. He said this as if it was as “natural” as people preparing paanaka and kosambari for the festival.

A few days later, foolishly - I now think, I went to Main Road again with the friend. Ramanavami was a day or two away. I saw two dapper army men, holding AK47s (I think, with hindsight) standing atop each tower. I gaped. It was the first time I was seeing a real machine gun. When the friend had told me earlier about the guards on the tower, I had visualized lathi-wielding policemen. That is when the gravity of the trouble expected hit me. When I mentioned this to the friend, he laughed at my backwardness and explained the situation to me.

The juloos (I think that was the word he used for procession) goes from one end of Main Road to the other, carrying an image of Rama. Main Road, being the main road, was broad enough for a stately, impressive procession. In front of the image would march many youths displaying their martial skills. They would twirl and swing lathis. Others would display their skill in swordsmanship and swing swords. An awe-inspiring sight, I could imagine.

Hailing from Mysore, Ramanavami meant; spring, paanaka and kosambari, good food at home, evenings of public music concerts, approaching examinations and the conflicting pulls of the need to study and reluctance to miss a concert by M D Ramanathan or Lalgudi. Lathis, swords and machine guns found no place in my mental picture of Ramanavami.

Still, I could not figure out where the fear of violence stemmed from. I asked the friend and he explained to me the tradition of Ramanavami in Ranchi, patiently. The procession proceeds from one end of the suitably broad Main Road to the other. At some point, it is overtaken by an irresistible urge to make a detour and enter a narrow lane. It just so happens that the lane goes through an area in which a majority of the families are from a minority community and the lane also has the community’s place of worship. (I wrote that sentence for nostalgic reasons. This was a supposed nicety till recently and now, with the advent of social media, fake sites and openly hostile groups, the euphemisms are gone.)

The friend told me that the idea was to show off the strength of the majority community. There would always be a possibility of miscreants or hot heads from either side creating trouble and a fight would ensue. I was told that on one Ramanavami day, a few years ago, someone threw raw pork at the place of worship and all hell broke loose. The news of this reached nearby Jamshedpur and all hell broke loose there too. (Because of this experience and the fear of rumour mongering leading to violence, the telephone connections to Ranchi and Jamshedpur would be cut off, in preparation for Ramanavami.)

Tens, if not hundreds, died by the time the army was called in to quell the riots. Another South Indian friend who was in Ranchi when that happened, told me that blood flowed, literally, in the small river, Hinoo, next to where he lived. He commented that once mixed there was no knowing which community’s blood it was. At the same time, he told me of heroic stories of people of either community hiding people from the other community in their houses and protecting them from the murderous mobs.

Almost anticlimactically, nothing happened that year. The procession ended peacefully. No fights, no bloodshed. My friend, who was always seemed to be in the know, told me the story. No one knows under whose leadership or initiative, the organisers of the procession and some influential members of the minority community met. And it was agreed that Rama might not like to leave the “chakkani raajamaargamu”, aka Main Road, and meander into the “sandula”*.

Whether the city and good sense heaved a sigh of relief or not, I did.

* I allude to a kriti of Tyagaraja. It goes, “cakkani rAja mArgamulunDaga sandula dUranela O manasA” meaning O mind! When the spacious royal path to salvation is available, why should you take to by-lanes? 

Monday, September 25, 2017


Long post warning!

The Urban dictionary defines corporatese as, “A manner of speaking that uses the most amount of words to give the least amount of information. Most often used by Upper Management when not wanting to, or be able to, give a direct answer. Very often used when put on the spot.”

The habit of corporatese goes so deep in corporate types that they slowly lose the ability to speak like normal human beings. This leads them to use phrases, terms, and idioms that baffle the uninitiated. These replace normal language and end up being clichés. Some of us, who refused to be the corporate types or hate clichés or both, refuse to use them and cringe, involuntarily, every time we hear them. I have found that looking for and noting down corporatese is a good way of keeping your sanity in many meetings.

When the corporate types use corporatese, the uninitiated - not yet the corporate types - are still intelligent and get the gist of what is said. The aspiring corporate types absorb corporatese like blotting paper and inflict it upon their unsuspecting underlings. For them, using corporatese signifies belonging to the upper echelons.

Some, resist corporatese and continue to retain their language and native intelligence. The aspirants succumb to it with dire consequences. The aspiring types, already in the process of losing their native intelligence, often hear unfamiliar corporatese wrong and use it wrongly, often with hilarious results. Suddenly, the symbol of power and belonging invites laughter and derision.

Here is a list of corporatese for the curious. As you may guess, this is only a small list. The list of corporatese can be quite long. You can imagine the size of the problem.

Statutory WARNING: Reading this may be injurious to your mental health.
No issues        
No problem, it is of no concern, it is no trouble, don’t mention it  - as a reply to  an expression of thanks
Not an issue
No problem, it is of no concern, it is no trouble, don’t mention it  - as a reply to  an expression of thanks
Touch base
We will review
We will compare notes (later)
I will ask your or tell you before
Buzz me, ping me
Contact me
Call me
Message me
Pain points
Difficult things
What someone does not like
Drop a mail, shoot a mail
Send an e-mail
Perhaps "drop a mail" could be right sometimes because it is like "dropping a bomb"
Invitation, meeting request
Let’s do it
You do it
EOD (Can we touch base, EOD?)
By the end of the day or when you finish it, whichever is later.
“Can we have some analytics on number of applicants through social media?” -  All that was required were two numbers!
Big data
Small data that you do not know how to analyse.
Low hanging fruits
Things we can do easily
Let us talk to him/her
Let us confuse or confound him/her
Ballpark figure
Quite often, just a guess
Estimate without any basis. (Trying to give respectability to a blind guess)
Time frame
Approximate time or period. Even just one time. We will meet 6:30 time frame
Bandwidth (E.g., I don’t have the bandwidth)
Time or interest, usually the latter.
In other words I can’t or don’t want to do it - usually the latter. (Non-technical people trying to gain the respect of technical people. Unsuccessfully)
Human resources are our biggest asset
If it was, you would call them people.
Bad apple
Someone you do not like
A human being
Data point
Talk to the manager of the person who is of no help
Shot in the arm
Often mistaken for Slap in the face
Connecting the dots
Damn Steve Jobs.
He said that once and everyone is connecting dots now.
How things are connected. What really happened. How the whole pattern was evident, in hindsight
Ah ha moment
When something mundane was realised
Paradigm, paradigm shift
Viewpoint. (We can blame Stephen Covey for this one) Ah ha moment above could also be a moment when the paradigm shifted
Where I am coming from
No, not your place of birth or where your home is.
Just the way you looked at it. Your viewpoint. As you see it. Your opinion.
Based out of
Based in.

One working in Bangalore says, “I am based out of Bangalore” Where you work, not the place you are NOT in.
Going south
Worsen, weaken
In lieu of
In view of
Meet up
Put your hands together
Clap, applaud
I agree. It is quite often followed by a BUT, leaving you wondering what absolutely means.
Let’s park the question.
We will answer that later, which never comes.
Hold on to that thought
Same as above. It is damn inconvenient and I don’t want to talk about it.
That is a very good question
I have no clue what that means or what the answer is.
Followed by, hold on to that thought or let’s park the question for now, meaning it will never be answered.
Motherhood statement
A statement of wish, not a concrete idea how to achieve it.
Elephant in the room
An obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss, or a condition of collective thinking no one wants to challenge.
Bio break
Time to use the loo!
Work together
(Stephen Covey may be blamed again. Corporate types did not learn the successful habit of synergy. Learned only the word)
Both parties are equally unhappy  (Stephen Covey again)
Take home
Conclusion, gist
Going forward
In future, from now on, later
OK, will do, and also perfect!
Take it offline
Discuss something separately, not in this meeting.
Take it outside the meeting.
Same as above
(As if meeting is a place)
Monkey on the shoulder
Not my/your problem.
To make a question out of a statement.
You are joking. Right?
Tiger team
Task force of people with specialisations. Or a scapegoat team.
Put down one’s papers
To resign. Spin-off of another corporatese - “Put in one’s papers.”
On the same page
We have the same understanding of the situation
In sync
As above
I am/We are on it
We are not top of it
We are working on the problem. Used mostly in times when we have no clue how to solve it.
Revert back
Respond, answer, report after an event.
Let’s connect
Let us talk/discuss
When one doesn’t know what to say but is somehow compelled to say something. Silence is anathema to the corporate types
Increase the number of people you know. Talk to people so that you can use them later
“We will leverage his skill” = “Let’s make him do this job”
Loop in someone
Add someone to an e-mail thread. (Like the hangman looping the noose around someone’s neck)
Based on.
Basis Industry average, there is no pay hike this year.
Close the loop.
Conclude the discussion.
I was not in the loop.
I did not know
I did not get a copy of the e-mail
I gave a shout
I organised this meeting.
I actually heard someone say, “I gave you guys a shout so that going forward we are all on the same page.”
At this point
At this point of time
At this point in time
It is called “now”, you moron!
A futile attempt to sound precise in something as nebulous as now!