Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravi Shankar – A Tribute

It was in the early seventies. I was in Mysore – studying Engineering. Ravishankar was billed to perform in Bangalore. The cheapest ticket was a whopping ten rupees. I asked my father if I could go to Bangalore and attend the concert. The answer was a no, we could not afford it. It was also a matter of principle – we should not spend that kind of money on entertainment.
I was crestfallen but there ended the matter.

In 1980 I was working in Bombay and there was this all night concert at the St Xavier’s college with N Rajam and Sangeetha concert followed by Ravishankar. I bought a ticket, weeks ahead, and went and listened to him. When he came on the stage the organisers announced that he was to receive the Padmabhushan. An electric moment. The audience cheered and clapped and whistled for minutes. He was very gracious and he had this magical quality that created excitement wherever he went.

The story that I want to remember is what I heard from someone. He was there when this happened. All my facts may be wrong but the story is true or accurate.

There was this all night concert in the race course in Calcutta. Ravishankar’s was the second concert and the first one was by a great artist but, with a drinking problem. He was half an hour or more late coming to the stage. The audience was getting restive. Finally when he was escorted to the stage, he was weaving and staggering. He could hardly sit and play his instrument. There were loud protests and there were signs of things turning violent. Ravishankar came on stage with his accompanists and the first artist was taken off the stage. He was at the venue far earlier than his time – he wanted to listen to the first concert. His tastes were eclectic.

Ravishankar was all grace. He requested the audience to quieten and they did. He said something like, “The man who has just gone off the stage is a real genius with prodigious talent and accomplishment. Such geniuses sometimes have problems and we should ignore that. When they do play, they play like no one else can. We should take that and leave the rest. I know that you have come here to listen to good music. In his place, I will play for you and hope I can compensate in some measure.”

He went on to play through the previous artist’s time and his own too.

A tribute to Ravishankar by my friend Anwar - a brilliant artist.

That defines Ravishankar like nothing else can. He was a lover of music and musicians and a phenomenal, almost unparalleled, man and musician himself.

There is another incident that gives one a glimpse of the man. He was playing in Dharwar and the venue was close to the railway track. As he was playing, a train approached and blew the whistle. The listeners were disturbed by this harsh intrusion. Not so, Ravishankar. He just pulled the string hard and reached the note of the whistle and thereby included that into the raga he was playing. What could have been, actually was, a harsh intrusion was converted into something the audience cheered!

Now my own pigment liner line drawing of the man.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Short Holiday in Dakshina Kannada

Onwards to Mangalore

A quaint station on the way

Exiting one of the fifty odd tunnels the train passes through

Panoramic view to the right of the train

A small waterfall to the right of the train

One of the bridges that spans a deep ravine. See the three locos required to pull (actually push back) the train

 Entering one of the tunnels

Yours truly in front of a cave, called Parasurama guhe, on Kunjalagiri, near Pajaka - the birthplace of Madhvacharya.


A Garudagamba in one of the Devi temples, with the moon

An old old bridge on the way to Dharmasthala and is next to the sangama of Netravati and Kumaradhara

A butterfly trapped in a cup full of natural rubber being collected from a rubber tree.

 Devotees at a rare open air Ganapati temple

A rainbow in broad daylight without rain! Never have I seen one such before.

Garudagamba (?) in front of the the Thousand Pillared Basti in Mudabidri.

The view of the Basti with evening sky

 A storm threatens us at the Ullala beach.

Statue of Rani Abbaka Devi of Ullal. A figure that fascinated my sister and I when we had a lesson describing her heroics during her war against Portuguese invaders in the mid-seventeen hundreds. She formed a part of our games too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Remembering Shivaram Karanth

It was in the mid 60’s. My father was invited to give a talk either in Puttur or Mangalore. The man who had invited him was none other than the polymath Shivaram Karanth. He was already familiar to me through his encyclopaedic works in Kannada. Though I had read little, I had devoured all the pictures in that book. I meekly put in an application to my father that I wanted to go with him. In retrospect, I am amazed that he agreed to take me along, after he sought the permission of Karanth. Those were the days before the telephone, so to say. The unendurable anticipation ended when Karanth said I was welcome and soon we were off.

The magic element started soon after we left Mysore by bus – I saw a mongoose cross the road in front of the speeding bus. I screamed in excitement and went red in the face when the whole bus turned to look at me.

Karanth had sent a car to the bus stand to pick us up. When we reached his house, I gaped open mouthed when I saw Karanth come out in kacche panche and banian. In my childish imagination, he was always dressed in a full kurta as in the photographs I had seen.

His house had two parts. An older Mangalore tiled part and a newer brick and concrete roofed structure standing a little apart from the older part. I was sleepy soon after dinner, in the older part of his two part house. We soon moved towards the newer part before which Karanth lit a cigarette and smoked, sitting on the steps leading to it. When we entered the building my mouth fell open. The walls were lined on all four sides with hundreds of issues of National Geographic magazine. There must have been a thousand other books there but all I could see was the golden yellow!
Soon, Karanth explained the sleeping arrangements: Lakshmana Rao and I will sleep in this hall. Anila will sleep in the next room on the tiger skin. In the night the tiger will wake up and kachch (kachchu in Kannada means to bite) him. Now this was a revelation! How can such a great man indulge in such jokes? Such thoughts were drowned in the fear of the impossible happening! I peeped into the next room and there was indeed a huge tiger skin on the floor with its mouth wide open and glassy eyes staring straight ahead, fortunately, away from me. He told my father how it came to be but I do not remember it since I was staring at a large framed oil colour canvas, perhaps 2m by 3m, resting against a wall. Years later, when I first saw a picture of a Gauguin, it reminded me of that painting. Was it Karanth’s himself? Or was it a Hebbar?

Thankfully, I did not have to sleep in that room alone and we slept on beds spread on the floor and quite close to my father.

The next morning, at breakfast he introduced us to his daughter who came to serve us, “she is my daughter, kShAmadevi….” (Thanks to the simple transliteration in English, the name could be pronounced with the first vowel short or long. When short, it means goddess of mercy or pardon and when long it means goddess of famine!) The item she had come to serve was a dark brown/black halwa with ghee oozing from it. He instructed me, “ತಿನ್ನಯ್ಯಾ ss ss s, it is genuine Indiyaaa rubber” in a theatrical style and voice.

He later asked me, “ಏನಯ್ಯಾ ನೀನೇನು ನೋಡ್ಬೇಕು? ಮಂಗಳೂರಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಅರಬ್ಬೀ ಸಮುದ್ರ ನೋಡ್ಬೇಕೋ? ಕಾರ್ಕಳಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಗೊಮ್ಮಟನ್ನ ನೋಡ್ಬೇಕೋ? (My man, what do you want to see? Go to Mangalore and  Arabian Sea or got to KarkaLa and Gommateswara) I chose Mangalore and the sea. And that is what we did. On the way there, he challenged me, “ನೀನು ಇಂಜಿನಿಯರ್ ಆಗಿ ಪುತ್ತೂರಿನಿಂದ ಮಂಗಳೂರಿಗೆ ಹೋಗೋ ರಸ್ತೇನ ನೆಟ್ಟಗೆ ಮಾಡಿದರೆ ನಿನಗೆ ನೊಬೆಲ್ ಪ್ರೈಜ್ ಕೊಡಿಸ್ತೀನಿ.” (If you study Engineering and straighten the road from Puttur to Mangalore, I will get you a Nobel Prize) Unfortunately, I never took up the challenge.

As with childhood memories, perhaps aided by some of these things recounted by father later, my memories stop there. I have some visual memories of the lay of the land near his house, his fair shiny hairless shoulder and upper arm peeping out of the banian, the remarkable twinkle in his eyes which would suddenly disappear when deep in thought and so on.

I write all this to show how childlike he was while dealing with me as a boy – a facet of a great man that hardly ever gets described.

Note: This was written on Karanth's 110th birthday -  this year - 10th October. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

An Explanation

I posted this picture on Facebook and commented that people who collect blood - like blood banks - might have missed an opportunity here. (The last line in the banner says "we are ready to give blood but we will not give a drop of water")

Three of my good friends took objection to this. One of them (F1) said I was being insensitive. Another (F2) said that he felt bad. I am particularly fond of this friend F2 and hence his opinion matters to me. If I make him feel bad, even unintentionally, I feel very bad. It so happens that the third friend is also someone who I am very fond of agreed with F1 and F2 and said that he is sensitive to social and farmer related issues.

Starting from the last one, my response is - so am I! But the question is, are farmers in Tamil Nadu not farmers? Having said that, I do not know if the demands made by the TN government are just or not. Since the dam was built by Karnataka (The erstwhile princely state of Mysore), it is in Karnataka, Karnataka "loses" large tracts of land to store the water and the major part of, if not all of, all the people displaced by the waters are in Karnataka, the catchment area for the dam is in Karnataka and Karnataka bears the maintenance charges for the dam, does Karnataka have a greater claim on the waters?

(The plight of the displaced people is something ignored by all. Some of those 'new' settlements have drinking water shortage. Since their numbers are smaller their cries are unheard. All of us are guilty.)

If I remember and understand right, some agreement was reached on the water sharing issue and Karnataka was supposed to release x units of water but TN is asking for 6x. Upping the ante like this is not fair if my understanding is right.

The other reason that makes me not take the banner seriously is this. Is it really the directly affected people who feel so or is it the politicians of both TN and KA whipping up passions for their gain and let the people (farmers and others) be damned. Do we really know either way?

And one final point is that is it not better that we share waters justly, the only measure of it is optimising or maximising food grain production for the nation? Yes, it is right to be sensitive to famers' issues - even if it is purely out of self interest! But that is not my interest. Assume that KA hoards water, a not inconsiderable part of it will evaporate over time, and we as a nation produce less grain than we could, who are the worst affected? The poorest of the poor - farmers and other workers - industrial or otherwise and every one of us

The slogan quoted above is emotional. I do not reject emotions but distrust them. When rational solutions are the need, emotions are at best distrusted!

Dear F1, F2, F3, I rest my case.

* Note, when I talk about Karnataka above, I do not say "we" - only when I talk of India.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Amusing Anecdotes with Scientists (ವಿಜ್ಞಾನಿಗಳೊಡನೆ ರಸನಿಮಿಷಗಳು)

My father, J R Lakshmana Rao, wrote a book called ವಿಜ್ಞಾನಿಗಳೊಡನೆ ರಸನಿಮಿಷಗಳು (vijnAnigaLoDane rasanimiSagalu) - a collection of humorous anecdotes involving scientists. It was a great success and saw at least seven reprints.

At my father's suggestion, I have translated that book and here is a sample of three incidents.

Mr. Ramamurthy, the great cartoonist famous through his Mr. Citizen cartoons for the Deccan Herald created brilliant cartoons as illustrations for the book. 

The way it came about itself is interesting. A friend of my father, who knew Mr. Murthy, requested him to provide the illustrations. Like the true artist that he was, he had to be coaxed and finally agreed to provide some ten illustrations. He had to be provided the pictures of some of the lesser well known (to him) scientists so that he could draw using them as reference.

The anecdotes apparently caught his fancy and he ended up doing 52 cartoons that enhanced the book immensely! 

I am looking for a publisher to take up the publication of the English version. Anyone interested may please contact me. Suggestions are welcome too!

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    

The Boy who Would not Let Read

If you are asked to name the three greatest mathematicians of all times, it is difficult to leave out the name of Karl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician, physicist and astronomer who lived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
As a professor at Göttingen for many years, he brought name and fame to the university. His mathematical acumen was recognised from his childhood. He was a child prodigy.
Gauss’ father was an assistant to a civil contractor. He had the habit of sitting in the courtyard of his house and doing all his paper work. He was sitting there one payday and was paying the labourers their weekly wages. He called out the name and mentioned the wage paid to each labourer. Then he noted it down in a ledger. After every one was paid, he totalled up the wages. He read out the numbers aloud while he did so. When he finished the list and wrote down the total, Gauss who was playing in the yard said, “Your total is wrong. It falls short by eighty-three Marks.” The surprised father did the addition again and found that the child was right. Gauss was just a toddler of three at that time.

A few years later the boy started going to school. One day the teacher was in no mood to teach but could not let the students off. He hit upon an idea to keep the students busy. He asked the boys to write down all the numbers from1 to 200 and add them up. He was sure that this would keep them busy for quite some time. He then settled down to read a novel, sure of an hour of peace and quiet. To make sure, he added, “No mistakes! Once you are finished, check it all again.”
            He had not read even half a page when Gauss stood up and said, “Sir, the answer is 20,100”, and the answer was right. The teacher, in shock, asked, “How did you do it so fast?”

            Gauss said, “I used the formula”:       (n × (n +1)) ÷ 2
                                                            = (200 × (200 +1)) ÷ 2
                                                            = 20100
            “Who taught you the formula?”, wailed the teacher.
            “I arrived at it myself”, said the boy.
            “Just now”, said the little imp.

Ah! That Elusive Word . . . .

A student of Norbert Wiener, the renowned mathematician and father of Cybernetics, had great admiration for him. But, he had not had an opportunity to talk to him. One morning, when the student went to the Post Office, Wiener was there. He was looking intently at a sheet of paper on the desk. The student, being an ardent admirer, saw immense concentration in that look. He did not know if he could talk to him. Wiener suddenly left the paper, walked to the opposite wall, stood there for a moment and returned to the paper and started staring at it again. The admirer still did not know if he could talk to him. Wiener left the paper again but, this time, walked directly towards the admiring student. Now he had to, at least, greet him. He did. “Good morning Professor Wiener”, he said. A smile broke out on the face that was so serious until then. He stopped, stared at the student for a moment. He then slapped hisforehead and exclaimed, “Ah! It is Wiener. Isn’t it? I just could not recall that elusive word, however hard I tried. Thanks!” He now returned to the paper and continued filling the form. 

Different points of view

When the first experimental nuclear explosion was carried out in a desert in New Mexico, all the scientists and officials connected with the atomic bomb project had gathered in a safe place, a good distance away from the explosion site, to witness the test. Both Leslie Groves, a two star general, who was the military director of the project and Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project, were there.
A newspaper reporter, awed by the explosion, asked Oppenheimer, “What did you see?” A perturbed Oppenheimer replied, “….the end of the world”.
The reporter asked the two star general the same question. “The third star”, was the prompt reply.

Not a Question, a Statement

Paul Dirac was notorious for his extreme taciturnity. Once he gave a talk in an American university. At the end of the talk, the chairman invited questions from the audience. Someone got up and said, “I did not understand such and such in your talk” and sat down. Dirac sat comfortably without saying anything. Everyone was curious and after sometime even uncomfortable. The chairman asked rather hesitantly, “Prof. Dirac, could you please answer that question?” 
“That was not a question but, a statement of fact” replied Dirac nonchalantly.

Friday, August 31, 2012


You were so slim
elegantly simple
like the letter aliph,
as the arabs say.

You did so much 
with so little, 
ignored often, you
never complained

You stood for 
lingusitic unity
not the hard
mathematical one.

You bestowed space
breathing and personal,
granted me choice - 
nothing was final.

Sentences swirl around me
I miss a quiet presence
singular, ethereal
indefinite article 'a'.

* Bidding Adieu to the Indefinite Article in Modern Indian English

"I have sent you one mail", messages a friend. "Yesterday I saw one movie", informs a colleague.  A kannaDiga youngster comments with disdain, "he is one fellow" - translating "ಅವನೊಬ್ಬ" directly.

The more I hear conversations and read mails and messages, the more I miss the indefinite article, and hence this Adieu.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Woman

1981. It was a cold winter morning in Mysore. The unseasonal rains, in December, had made it colder. The Bay of Bengal had a depression. (Time someone took it to a psychiatrist, or vice versa, don't you think?) That was causing these grey stratus clouds drizzle down on you relentlessly. 

I had recently taken up a job in Mysore after short stints at Ranchi and Bombay. I had a Suvega (a moped) to commute to work. I also had a new raincoat - the same vintage as the moped. I wore the raincoat and started my moped and started off for work, riding through deserted streets. I felt good - so committed I am. I felt brave - thumbing my nose at the cold and the rain and here I was off to work.

My ego suffered quite a puncture. The streets were deserted, did I say? Yes, except one girl on a bicycle! I often  passed her pedalling briskly to work on normal days. I had to see her today? There she was, pedalling more briskly, in a white sari with a blue border, holding the handle with her left hand and an umbrella in the other.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Lalbagh Spring

The sketch club, Pencil Jammers, of which I am a member, had its weekly jam session at Lalbagh. In the throes of spring-summer it is a sight to behold, The first tree we observed, or we could not ignore, is called the Pride of India, seen below.

We went close to the tree and enjoyed it from all angles. The authorities have helpfully put up a board to educate the public about the tree. We were in for a shock. Starting from the very first line, there are so many errors that there is no way you can rely on anything that is on the board. So, to me, the board is useless. (click on the pic to see it bigger and more  clearly)

Take a look. ದಾಸದಾಳ? Krushova? President of USSR? 

Obviously it was Nikita Khrushchev. He never was the president of USSR. Actually there was no such post during his time. The only posts he held were  First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Chairman of the Council of Ministers = Premier.

These boards must have cost a lot of the tax-payers' money and we get practically nothing in return. (That is peanuts compared to many other monies ill spent, but...)

Will someone take a look and get these corrected?

Now forget all that and enjoy the lovely sights, from the pictures below. Better still, go to Lalbagh as soon as possible and see with your own eyes. Soon the flowers will be fallen and you have to wait a year before you can enjoy them again. 

There is one more interesting picture that stupid Blogger interface insists on rotating on uploading. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Goodbye Dr. Avid

Dance is one art form I never really learnt to appreciate although I have enjoyed individual performances once in a while. 

Decades ago, I attended a dance recital in the Open Air Theatre of the Mysore University. The artiste was Sanjukta Panigrahi, accompanied by her husband Raghunath Panigrahi’s impressive singing. 

It was a very good performance and once in a while, I found an appreciative “ah” escaping me. The sheer beauty of her footwork matching the beats of the percussion while her torso did an elegant twist, her arms essayed a graceful glide, her hands assumed a Mudra that even my uneducated mind could not only grasp but gasp at – all in a thrilling moment of time, gone forever.

My relationship with cricket is very similar to that with dance, even though I have played gully cricket when in school, straddled with the nickname Loyd* since I wore glasses, where the similarity to the big cat ended. My appreciation of the game is at about the same level as that of my appreciation of dance. I have even rejoiced, often, when the Indian cricket team lost a series or a tournament, only with the hope that one billion odd people would consider other sports for entertainment. The team has been showing such exceptional consistency at losing, in recent times, that depresses even me.

Similar to Sanjukta, Dravid has made an appreciative “ah” escape me by playing one or two of his famous shots. I do not know the names of those shots but the sheer beauty of a lean white clad figure, set in an emerald background, shuffling backwards on his feet while he rises on his toes, his body leaning backwards in perfect poise, the arms and gloved hands moving fluidly down and away and the cherry racing to the 1 O’clock boundary. You know what I mean. You probably even know the name of this shot if you are anywhere near a typical Indian. There are two other shots that have done the same thing to me.

I am thankful to Rahul Dravid for those moments as I am to Sanjukta Panigrahi for those unforgettable moments.

His dapper looks, impeccable behavior, self deprecating humour - never threatening to be mistaken for false modesty and lastly his records, only added to the background in which those shots could be appreciated for their beauty intuitively.

* For those who know less about cricket than I do, it was Clive Loyd, from the West Indies, who was the only cricketer then that wore glasses. He appeared to be a lumbering gentle giant with feline grace and there was nothing gentle about the way he dispatched the ball all over the park

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Miracle that was Not

I recently watched an episode of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC serial. Holmes in today's world. Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson have done an excellent job.

In this episode, caught in the excitement of the case, Watson forgets his limp and the walking stick and is cured. 

There is also a reference to his analyst who is treating him for intermittent shaking in his hands and has diagnosed it as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes diagnoses it as the result of Watson's addiction to action he experienced in Afghanistan!

If Holmes were to be in India, he would be deified, I am sure. 

A friend had once told me the story of a man who had lost his legs and was  wheelchair dependent.

This man heard of a healer somewhere in Karnataka and came all the way from Kerala to seek a cure. The healer took a look at the man, examined him and asked a lot of questions and asked the man to stand up. What? Yes, he was asked to stand up and the healer helped the man up. When his family members came forward solicitously to assist, they were shooed away. Miracle Miracle. The man stood up. Of course he had some difficulty but the healer would not hear of it. 

Then he told the patient that there was nothing wrong with him and that others were making him believe that he could not walk.

Then he asked the patient to get going. Fees? Nothing. "I did not treat him at all. He is perfectly OK. So where is the question of a fee?"

When the patient started walking slowly to the car they had come in, again the family members tried to help him but were strictly forbidden from doing so. 

If I remember right, my friend told me that he had accompanied the family as he was also from Kerala. I can't check since the friend is sadly no more. I can't get the details of the man either.

The healer was a simple man, in a dhoti and shirt. The place where he saw patients was also very simple and no fancy stuff at all. He was not after money, I am told and borne out by the above story.

So, what is the point of all this?

Not much perhaps but something very important. When something seemingly miraculous happens, you do not have to conclude that a miracle did happen. You may at least suspend your belief.

Especially when such a thing happens with a lot of fanfare and razzle dazzle you can be sure that you are being taken for a ride. Benny Hin's visit to Bangalore comes to mind. There was this funny incident when he touched Deve Gowda, the former prime minister and the then chief of Karnataka Police. Many others he touched had all collapsed and there were members of his entourage and volunteers to catch them. They were at the ready for these two too. They need not have wasted their efforts. These two stood like rocks.