I have always maintained that I have to just write about a building for it to be demolished or burnt. Sure enough, my write up on Chepauk Palace was published just a few days before the great fire. But read on…
Archive for January, 2012
Ours may be the second oldest Corporation in the world, but it did not cover itself with glory during the last few weeks when it came to garbage management. With the contract with the private agency running out a month ago in three zones, and the new contractor yet to take over, garbage overflowed in these areas. But what was surprising was that garbage was also not cleared in the other zones which are directly managed by the Corporation.
The last few weeks have been witness to an unusual sight, even by Chennai standards – mounds of garbage piling up on all the streets with no conservancy worker in sight in most areas. And in the places where they were operating, the service was perfunctory, leaving most of the waste behind on the streets. Foraging animals and rag-pickers may have had a field day, but to the average citizen it was a matter of shame. With the area under its jurisdiction having suddenly increased from 174 to 426 sq kms in the last two months, it is clear that the civic body has neither a strategy nor capability to handle its new responsibilities.
By the time this article appears in print, the new agency may have begun its service. The initial date of 9th January now stands postponed to the 12th. But can a city afford to function with no garbage clearance even for a day, let alone weeks? That is a question that the Corporation needs to answer. The ostensible reason that has been given is that the contract with the present agency was expiring and so the workers had lost interest in the matter and that was why garbage was piling up. But surely after having operated with private waste-collection agencies for over two terms, the Corporation ought to have come up with some safeguards to ensure that the garbage would be disposed of by the incumbent agency till a new one takes over. But that appears to have not been the case. When can our municipal body anticipate and be proactive?
What is often conveniently forgotten is that the private waste collector operates only in three zones of the city and this is true of both new and old contractors. The rest are supposed to be managed by the conservancy workers of the Corporation. If that be so, then why is the waste collection tardy in those areas as well? It is learnt that the Corporation has a shortage of around 6000 conservancy workers overall. But there are zones where there is surplus staff that could be transferred to the areas facing a deficit. But here it is political considerations that call the shots and the powers that be are reluctant to effect such transfers. Surely this cannot be the way the civic body of a thriving city can operate. There are certain decisions that need to be taken by the executive and not by the political masters.
Interestingly, the Corporation is silent on waste segregation. It does not state explicitly what it proposes to do with the waste collected and even its new contractor for the three zones contracted for does not appear to have any plans for waste segregation and disposal. From a glance at the web site of this company it would appear that it plans to use the time-tested method of landfills.
With Chennai fast running out of open space, and with those living near the existing landfills protesting against them, this may not be a feasible solution in the long run. And the garbage that the city produces has only increased since recently from 3400 tonnes a day to over 4000 tonnes. It is also not clear as to what plan the Corporation has for separating hazardous waste, which now freely mixes with bio-degradable wastes on our streets. Given the way the city is generating garbage, it would be no exaggeration to say that a crisis situation has reached and a comprehensive plan for segregation at source, effective collection and safe disposal is the need of the hour. But will our Corporation act before it is too late? While that may be the case with the Corporation, does the average Chennaiite have the slightest sense of responsibility and awareness of his duty to himself and his neighbours? He is simply under the impression that every street corner is a dumpyard and throwing around anything and everything in a most haphazard manner is the end of his responsibility.
Early in 1912, the full bench of the High Court of Madras met to pay tribute to one its giants – V Krishnaswami Iyer. On that occasion the Advocate General, (later Sir) PS Sivaswami Iyer spoke of his “extraordinary vigour and quickness of intellect, a sound knowledge of legal principles, a keen insight into human nature, a never failing resourcefulness, a pluck that recognised no difficulties except to overcome them, an exuberant energy, a robust constitution, gifts of speech of a very remarkable order, and last but not least, a high character.” There could have been no better epitaph to a life of less than 50 years, but which left its impress forever in legal circles and in public service.
As 2012 falls exactly between his death centenary (2011) and birth sesquicentennial (2013), I conducted a heritage walk in the Mylapore area, to coincide with the Mylapore festival. On the 8th of January, a small group, which included descendants of V Krishnaswami Iyer, went around the area, reliving his story at the various buildings and institutions that he endowed the locality with.
Krishnaswami Iyer was born on 15th June 1863 at Tiruvidaimarudur, as the second son of Venkatarama Iyer and Sundari. The family came from Arivizhimangalam, a village in the Thanjavur District and the father was making a name for himself in law, becoming first a shirestadar and later a munsiff. Krishnaswami and elder brother Swaminathan were enrolled at the SPG High School in Thanjavur and in 1877, he, following the footsteps of his elder brother, went to Kumbhakonam to complete his matriculation. From his SPG days, his closest friend was PS Sivaswami and it was a bond that was to last through life. In fact, it was through Sivaswami’s good offices that Krishnaswami was married, in 1878, to Balambal, the daughter of Sanskrit scholar Tiruvalangadu Ramaswami Sastrigal.
In 1882, both Sivaswami and Krishnaswami moved to Madras, to enrol themselves at the Presidency College, where law was being taught. The English accent of the professors (Shephard, Mitchell and Shaw) being unintelligible, the friends preferred signing the attendance register and then vanishing to the vast expanse of the Marina. Back at his lodgings however, Sivaswami was to chart out a careful course of study, a characteristic of his in all his activities through life. Consequently he stood first in the law examination while the mercurial Krishnaswami managed to pass only in the second class. Rather than reflect on why he did not fare so well, he was to typically attack the examination system! He is also said to have taken an oath that he would rise to the top, the second class notwithstanding.
The two apprenticed themselves under R Balaji Rao, one of the leaders of the Madras Bar and after whom Balaji Nagar in Royapettah takes its name. The two went about from Court to Court in the Madras High Court which was then located at Bentinck’s Building (later demolished and reconstructed now as the Singaravelar Maligai, serving as the collectorate for Madras) on First Line Beach. If it was known that any top-ranking lawyer was arguing in one of the Courts, they were sure to be found there, their idols in particular being Nugent Grant, Spring Branson and V Bhashyam Iyengar. It was later said of V Krishnaswami Iyer that he modelled himself on the last named – both could intimidate their opponents, spoke at great speed, continuously raised objections during when the other side was presenting its case and above all, could with uncanny ability be able to foresee what the main stance of the opposing party would be. Both were of great intelligence and could in a short while be able to master all aspects of a case.
Krishnaswami Iyer obtained his sanad as a vakil in 1885. The initial years were tough. He and Balambal took up residence at Pelathope in Mylapore. It was here that he was to make another lasting friendship – with PR Sundara Iyer, then practising as a junior under (later Sir) S Subramania Iyer. The two were to be greatly encouraged by Subramania Iyer and it was through his kindness that the first clients came to Krishnaswami Iyer. The big break happened in 1888 when S Ramaswami Iyengar, a vakil at the High Court, was appointed as Munsiff. He handed over his pending cases to Krishnaswami Iyer and thus began a meteoric rise in the profession. The first cases were at the Sub Court in Cuddalore and those who heard him argue were impressed. Clients began coming in and within the year, relative affluence had made him shift to South Mada Street, becoming a neighbour to PR Sundara Iyer. It was at this residence that once demonstrated his physical courage by pinning down a burglar and sitting on his chest till help arrived. It was to result in Bhashyam Iyengar remarking that Krishnaswami Iyer ought to have joined the police force.
The legal circles began taking note of his rise when in 1895, he appeared in Kumbhakonam in connection with a case involving the estate of a Zamindar of Sirkazhi. His opponent was V Bhashyam Iyengar, his idol. He managed to win the case and that established him as a leader of the Madras Bar. When in 1898, V Bhashyam Iyengar decided to bring an action for libel against the Madras Standard, it was Krishnaswami Iyer whom he chose to employ. He won the case and the paper was forced to print an apology and retract what it had published earlier.
By this time, with both Bhashyam Iyengar and Subramani Iyer being elevated to the Bench, Krishnaswami Iyer and PR Sundara Iyer found themselves flooded with cases. Together with CR Pattabhirama Iyer (father of Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer), and a few others, they became what was dubbed in the High Court as the Mylapore clique. This group did not naturally see eye to eye with what was known as the Egmore clique which had those of the likes of Sir C Sankaran Nair and T Rangachari . The Mylapore group was to strongly oppose the entry of mofussil lawyers into Madras legal circles. Chief among these was Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, who was to later become the force behind The Hindu. In 1894 he shifted his practice from Kumbhakonam to Madras and the Mylapore lobby shut its doors on him. He shifted allegiance to the Egmore group and that was to colour several of his newspapers pronouncements on V Krishnaswami Iyer, though the two were to collaborate on more than one occasion, chief among these being the Arbuthnot Crash.
In 1906 when the leading business house of Madras declared bankruptcy, it was The Hindu that first raised concerns on the impact this would have on hundreds of families. It was imperative that Sir George Arbuthnot be tried for criminal conduct and not just for insolvency as the initial trends appeared to indicate. Setting aside the consideration that he and Sir George had fought side by side on several issues concerning the public weal in Madras city, V Krishnaswami Iyer took the lead in prosecuting him. The redoubtable Eardley Norton was leading the defence and sitting in judgement was Subramania Iyer. Right in the beginning, Norton raised an objection on Krishnaswami Iyer not having a barrister to lead him. Iyer was to coolly circumvent this by flinging aside his vakil’s gown and stating that he was impleading himself as one of those affected by the collapse of Arbuthnot. There could be no objection to that. Several lawyers and vakils were to appear for both sides and at the end of the trial, Sir George was sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment. During the trial, Krishnaswami Iyer was to participate in meetings that debated on what could be done to mitigate the losses suffered by several innocents. Out of this came the Indian Bank, of which he was the prime mover.
By 1906, feelers were being sent from the Government asking him to consider taking up the position of a judge. In those days, the income of a successful lawyer was far higher than what was that of a judge and Krishnaswami Iyer hesitated. However, the sudden death of his wife in 1908 gave him cause to rethink. He had six children and he felt that a busy lawyer’s life would prevent him from spending quality time with them. Moreover, he had been diagnosed with diabetes, an illness for which there were no known medicines then. Thus in 1909 he became a judge of the Madras High Court. His tenure on the Bench was hardly for a year and during that time he focused on bringing down the number of pending cases. In this he was not popular. In the words of his friend Sivaswami Iyer, “he did not care a brass farthing to make the practitioner before him understand whether he had sufficiently grasped the case, or not. He trusted his own reputation for quickness with the Bar, and he thought everybody must give him credit for understanding the case, without much argument or waste of time. In that way he made himself as a Judge very unpleasant to many practitioners before him but otherwise he was a good Judge.”
In 1911, he was invited to join the Governor’s Executive Council. He was to be on it for less than a year too, for death was to bring to a quick end a life that held promise of greater things to come. Throughout this rather short span, he was to follow a parallel set of activities in the social sphere, which we shall see in the concluding part of this feature.
The second part is here – http://sriramv.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/v-krishnaswami-iyer-the-social-side/
From Royal Enclave to Residential Area
Why Royapettah? Several explanations have been given for this name but the most convincing one is that because it belonged to the Nawabs of Arcot it became Raya (ruler’s) pettah (district). And, after the British took over, the royal family was finally given Amir Mahal on the edge of Royapettah to live in. The residence may be tucked deep inside the compound, but the ornamental gateway is a sight to behold. And if you are lucky, you will hear the ceremonial drums beaten on special occasions from the first floor gallery of the gateway.
Close to Amir Mahal is the clock tower, a Royapettah landmark. Built in the 1930s in the classic art deco style it is still functioning. From here begins Westcott Road. On the left is the vast Woodlands Estate, once the residence of the Rajahs of Ramnad. In the 1930s, it was sold to a businessman and the new owner leased it out to a young man who had made a success of running the city’s first Udipi style restaurant on Mount Road – Krishna Vilas. K Krishna Rao was his name and he made Woodlands a success- as a 40-roomed hotel. But the lessor soon wanted the place back and so in the 1940s, Krishna Rao moved to Mylapore and began New Woodlands, the first of the famous worldwide chain of hotels. Happily, old Woodlands still functions. Its South Indian style lunches are known to few and inside the hotel it is as though time has stood still in the 1940s. Period furniture and ambience is what it offers for a low price. At its edge stands the better-known Woodlands Theatre.
Opposite these is the Wesleyan Church with its associated educational institutions, set in a vast green enclosure. The church was begun in 1819. Further down the same stretch is the empty expanse of the YMCA, which is used for exhibitions. By far the best-known landmark on Westcott Road is the Royapettah Hospital. Begun as a native infirmary in 1843 in a side street and meant to cater to the requirements of those who lived in South Madras, it has expanded since 1911 when it became a hospital. Parts of it, especially its morgue section, date back to an early vintage and are Gothic in appearance. Bodies from the morgue were taken by horse carts and the area became well-known for horse dung according to noted writer Ashokamitran. He has it that rose-growers from all over the city would come to Royapettah to buy horse-dung as it was a great manure.
Royapettah High Road, which can be called the spine of the district, begins just after one wing of the hospital. On its left, almost unnoticed is the local post office, the second oldest in the city and having been in service since 1830 or so. The police station, a short distance away is also of a venerable age. Painted a bright red, it is a classic, a perfect example of Raj-style police stations. Just behind the police station, and perhaps rather appropriately so is the “town of killers” (Kolakarapettai), which is happily far removed from the truth. The name is a corruption from the days when a colony of stone-workers (kallukkaran) lived here. Here stands Pilot Theatre, the first in the city to get a wide screen when they came into vogue in the 1960s. The theatre still functions, going strong despite challenges. Opposite Pilot are two icons of Royapettah. The Sultan Market, an arcaded Indian style shopping area is now empty and faces an uncertain future. But Mani’s Auction House, famed for its old furniture is thriving. Around it have come up several showrooms selling the modern variety of furniture.
Just after Mani’s is the Provident Fund Commissioner’s Office. Now a modern building, it was once a vast garden house, named at various times as Gowri Vilas and Acharya Griha. In olden times it was Nawabi property and a secret passage was said to run from it to Amir Mahal. Opposite this building is Swagath Hotel, a throwback to the 1960s. It still functions though its competitor and another landmark of Royapettah, Ajanta Hotel with its art deco façade has vanished to make way for a modern one – Deccan Plaza. Diagonally opposite Swagath is Adarsh Vidyalaya – one of the well-known schools of the city.
Religion is firmly entrenched in Royapettah. Some of the old shrines here are the Srinivasa Perumal and Gangai Amman temples. The Gaudiya Mutt, established here in 1932, is a small piece of Bengal transhipped to Chennai. Its Krishna Jayanthi celebrations are famous. Further down Gaudiya Mutt Road is the Balasubramania Bhakta Sabha, a place where bhajans were performed regularly and where Tamil scholars such as Maraimalai Adigal and Tiru Vi Ka met. Royapettah High Road is now named after Tiru Vi Ka.
Royapettah was always known for its professionals. Dr KN Kesari who made the Kesari Kuteeram brand of medicines, in particular Lodhra tonic, lived here. Commemorating another well-known physician who did work in medical research is the Dr T Sitapathy clinic, run by his descendants, now with the 4th generation of doctors in the family. Another medical man was Jammi Venkataramanayya who beginning practice in 1900, perfected Jammi’s Liver Cure, which saved countless children suffering from infantile cirrhosis. Jammi Buildings, shaped like a ship and now home to several offices commemorates him. Ehrlich Laboratories in Balaji Nagar, a locality in Royapettah, is a well-known diagnostic facility going back several years.
Balaji Nagar takes its name after Balaji Rao a prominent legal luminary of the early 20th century who lived there. Another famed lawyer was S Doraiswamy Iyer who lived at Palm Grove, a lovely Palladian building, which later became the Kesari High School founded by Dr KN Kesari. It was perhaps due to the office-goer type of residents here that the Indian Officers Association, founded in 1907, struck roots here. For years it functioned from Mohana Vilas, a stately bungalow on Royapettah High Road where members could stay for nominal rates. Now this has become a commercial complex, owned by the Association. Several famed lawyers lived on Lloyds Road which cuts Royapettah High Road. Some of their bungalows survive though several have become high-rise. The one that stands at the corner is aptly named Lloyds Corner and it was the residence of VP Raman, Advocate General of Tamil Nadu whose younger sons carry on the legal practice from the same place while eldest son, Mohan Raman has chosen acting as a profession, again another old Royapettah tradition. Royapettah was home to artistes too. Lloyds Road is now Avvai Shanmugam Road, named after the great thespian Avvai TK Shanmugam who lived here and whose residence still stands. Close by is Thandavarayan Street, home to several cine and stage artistes in the past, the most famous being SV Sahasranamam. MGR lived on Lloyds Road for some time too and that is where the AIADMK office is today.
Close to where Royapettah joins Mylapore, after RK Salai cuts it, is the Mylapore branch of the Young Men’s Indian Association, established by Annie Besant in 1914, it offers board and lodge to those coming to the city for education. And Royapettah has its share of schools too. Apart from those within the Wesley College campus, there are others such as Adarsh Vidyalaya and Sri Venkateswara. A unique facility for the young ones is The Childrens Club, established in 1954 and going strong. It was to provide music to those in Royapettah that the Narada Gana Sabha was formed in the 1950s, in an empty plot of land next to the Childrens Club. That it moved elsewhere later is another matter altogether.
Behind all these great buildings is a bewildering maze of streets all of them with street-houses and some spacious bungalows. Interestingly, several still have houses of early 20th century vintage, giving the impression that Royapettah is happy to live in the past.
I wrote this piece for XS Real’s blog a couple of months ago.http://xsreal.com/blog/?p=74
The decision of the State Government to work on a monorail system for the city, in parallel to the in progress metro-rail has been questioned. Doubts have been raised as to whether the implementation of the monorail would affect the financial viability of the metro-rail especially with the persistent rumour that the latter will not be allowed to expand to its fullest possible extent as planned earlier. It is also being said that the metro-rail is receiving step-motherly treatment because it was a pet project of the previous regime. The question is, should such considerations affect what is ultimately going to be a life-saving transport system for the city, which is already choked with vehicular traffic?
The latest salvo against the monorail has come from E Sreedharan, the man who is credited with making the Delhi metro-rail network a reality. The 190 km long Delhi Metro is the fastest expanding network in its genre outside of China and caters to 16lakh passengers in a day. It has completely revolutionised the traffic system in that city, thanks to its integration with other transport systems at various strategic points. And when the person behind this questions what is happening in Chennai, it makes you think.
One of the fundamental premises for the success of a monorail system, Sreedharan has argued, is the availability of large tracts of land for commercial exploitation in tandem with the rail network. This he says is absolutely necessary for financial viability as a monorail network is at least 30% more expensive in implementation. And such land is not available at any cost in Chennai, except perhaps by acquisition at from private parties. This will once again push up the cost of the project.
There is also concern about the viability of the present metro system, given that the Government is reportedly mulling over dropping one of the two corridors along which it was initially planned to operate. The Metro ‘s economics was calculated on the presumption that at the end of a three-phased programme it would run right across the city in two corridors – Chennai Airport to Washermanpet and Chennai Central to St Thomas Mount. The former was also to be extended up to Wimco Nagar, which plan also it is understood, is to be axed. Sreedharan has strongly urged the Government to reconsider, stating that unless a metro has the capacity to cater to around 90,000 passengers an hour, it will never be self-sustaining. Such capacities he says can be achieved only if the two corridors and the extension are taken up. In addition, there must be a commitment to the metro as the solution for Chennai with successive governments continuing to invest in it.
While Madras Musings is no expert on the subject, it would strongly the urge the State Government to heed the voice of an acknowledged authority. The idea of a monorail was that of the present regime when it was last in office. The previous regime was all for the metro. Such political stances cannot be the consideration for the implementation of a transport solution. These are long-term public amenities and a decision, one way or another, will have a telling impact, either positive or negative, on the quality of life in the city. We are already facing the problems caused by the ineffective way in which the MRTS was integrated with other transport systems and also constructed along a water body. We cannot wish away those errors in hurry. Can we therefore avoid any repetition? Can a debate be called among experts, can the findings be publicised and then a decision taken?
I ran into Shobha Menon at a wedding sometime in November. We were meeting after quite a while. Last heard she was off to the Institute of Mental Health in Kilpauk. Upon my asking her what she was up to now, she replied brightly that she was leaving the next day for the Cuddalore Prison.
Before you run away with the idea that this friend of mine is a psychopath who after a stint at an asylum is being finally brought to justice, let me assure you that she is anything but that. In fact she is as normal as several of my other friends, though that is not saying much according to Sarada.
But let us get back to the Shobha story. We were first introduced when I was writing Carnatic Summer. Paddu the publisher pronounced that she would be the editor and so from then on we became close friends. I was flooded as time went to with calls that went something like this: “Ayyo Sriram, why should this Ariyakkudi do like this illa?” or “This Papa Venkataramiah looks such as paavam character” or “Ayyo Sriram, this Mali was really mad” etc. Shobha was very pally in real life with MS and DKP, being neighbour to the former in Kotturpuram and therefore living not far from DKP either. MS by then was too far gone but DKP was all game for trying all kinds of Mallu snacks that Shobha would take across.
Post Carnatic Summer, Shobha bade goodbye to the world of editing. Her first love was always Nature. Her husband was (and is) a pillar of the Madras Naturalists Society and daughter Sneha decided to major in something do with forests which I forget and is now well on her way to a PhD. Son Nishant wanted to be cricketer and wound up in hotel management. In short, a rather different family, not the conventional “My son is an engineer, my daughter is a CA etc.”
In September 2005, Shobha launched Nizhal, an NGO for saving trees and promoting greenery. Hers is not a Chipko kind of movement. She believes in educating (!!!!!) Government servants and public officials on saving tree cover. For a while Shobha had been helping Muthiah on some of his work and in this connection she had become very close to everyone in the Corporation, and in true Shobha style this was from chaprasi to top boss, in that order. Everyone knew Shobha, the rather strange lady who wanted to save trees. But such being her gentle nature, they all gave her a patient hearing. Not that it changed them a wee bit. Even as they smiled at her and gave her government regulation tea, they would cut down trees by the dozen, for road widening or by the hundreds for Assembly (sorry Hospital, sorry expunge that, it is all sub judice) construction. But somewhere it began to have some effect. The Corporation began calling her for advice on parks and the one near the Madras Club, on the banks of the Adyar, definitely owes its existence to her, though she wont claim any credit.
The public also began to know Shobha when she began doing tree walks. She would get experts on the subject to conduct guided tours in well-wooded areas such as My Ladye’s Garden, the Government Estate (before the sub judice nameless structure gobbled everything up) and the Museum Compound. These have had an effect too. Last month, a couple of residents of Adyar noticed that Corporation workers were preparing to uproot two trees in their neighbourhood. Protests were of limited use and then Shobha was called in. The drainage for which the trees had to go, were re-routed and laid around them and so some foliage was saved. Shobha is the person to call when you need advice on trees. Or when you need to mourn the passing of one. When the 45 year old mango tree in my garden keeled over one morning for no reason and died, it was Shobha to whom I turned, to weep over its passing.
Now what does Shobha do in prison? Plenty. She has been consulting with several of our state prisons to get them to put their vast acreage to good effect. Ditto with the Kilpauk Institute of Mental Health. Now, thanks to her efforts, these spaces are going green. Kitchen gardens are booming in the prisons and one of them has sold over Rs 4.00 lakh worth of vegetables, all organic mind you. In another prison, Nizhal has taught prisoners how to make bio-pesticides and they are supplying these to other prisons. Shobha hopes that some day the prisons will be allowed to market their surplus produce.
Nizhal is of course not Shobha alone. She now has several experts who help her when needed and several volunteers as well. How does she manage I ask. To discuss this I invited her over to the Madras Club where she spent most of the time talking about the trees in the place. Her fondest memory she told me is of a sarakkonrai tree near her childhood home in Chintadripet. I finally bring her round to the subject of finance. And that finally is when she says that Nizhal could do with a lot more money, most of its rather small budget now being financed by the members themselves and a few donors. “We need a full-time coordinator,” she says. And travelling to all these places, from loony bins to jugs, everything costs money. I have promised to do my bit. If you too feel like doing something, please see what Nizhal has to offer and then decide.
For more on Shobha and Nizhal read -http://www.theweekendleader.com/Nature/686/Tree-lover.html
The newspapers are full of his visit to Jaipur and how the radicals are all against it. I am no fan of his, not having read any of his books bar one – Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which I really liked. This was several years ago and I remember reading it aloud later to my kids as well. But now, with all this hoopla about him, I cant help remember by brief and practically non-meeting with him around five (or was it six) years ago. We almost rubbed shoulders for we sat on the same sofa.
It was at the second Madras Week celebration. We had a three-day programme at The Amethyst, which was then at its old location – Sunder Mahal. Muthiah was speaking on Madras and there was a good crowd to listen. I went in late (not being part of the organising committee then) and got a seat somewhere at the rear. Halfway through the talk, a tall vision appeared in something short and behind her, short, rather like her dress, came another being whom I vaguely recognised as someone I had seen in some photo.
“That is Padma Lakshmi,” said my neighbour. “And therefore that is Rushdie,” I deduced. And sure enough it was him. Even Muthiah was taken aback and paused mid-presentation before continuing as though nothing had happened. The vision and her companion looked around for a seat and finally came and sat, next to me. I wondered what conversation I could make. Surely not about the fatwa. I had a fear somewhere at the back of my mind that Amethyst and all of us were at risk. If I had only been carrying my copy of Haroun… with me, I could have asked for an autograph. What if the man at the other end of the room was staring pointedly at us, were to have a gun and a poor aim? What if the neighbour who recognised them be a Mata Hari?
I need not have worried or bothered. 15 minutes further into the talk, the vision and her companion vanished. Perhaps I had imagined it all for when the meeting ended, nobody spoke about their arrival, or departure.
In the passing of KV Balu, or Hindu Balu as he was better known, the world has firstly lost a wonderful human being. That is the most irreplaceable loss. Among the many who will feel his absence will be the Music Academy of which he was Committee Member for years. He will be missed by his family and of course friends like me.
I got to know Balu as the man who would wear a Mysore Maharajah-like turban on the inaugural day of the Music Academy season each year. I was introduced by someone to him and we became friends. But that was the way it was with Balu, everybody who made his acquaintance became his friend. He kept in touch, got to know your family members and bound himself to your heart with hoops of steel as I believe the expression is. He was a man of limitless cheer and that kept getting him more friends. You never caught Balu grumbling about money, power failures, traffic jams, garbage, corruption or even health problems. He remained smiling through it all and preferred to look at the positive.
As I got to know more of him, I came to realise that he was a legend by himself in the world of advertising. Everyone knew Balu. It was said of him that when he was in service, the advertising department in The Hindu had to just whisper to him that a certain space would be empty weeks from now and he would ensure that it was filled with an ad. A phone call from Balu to some top industrialist would do they would say. It was no wonder that he was sent to Bombay by the newspaper and he spent several years there, making it known that it paid to advertise in it. And when colour was introduced in the paper, he brought in many advertisements as well. Balu for his part, never spoke of all this. He attributed everything that he had learnt in the business to G Narasimhan, father of N Ram, N Murali and N Ravi. Each year, on GN’s date of passing, Balu would at his own expense, publish a photo of the former in the paper, by way of his tribute. Balu cherished his Hindu years and kept with him an album that contained all his precious memories of his time with the paper. This included his appointment letter as well.
In the Music Academy, Balu was to fulfill a similar role. He was responsible for getting the souvenir filled up with advertisements, year after year. And once again he would use his contacts for it, in his gracious, non-pushy way. But my favourite memories of him at the MA are two- Firstly, he was the prime-mover in getting the MA to perform a Ganapathy Homam each year before the season. This was after the MA emerged from its court cases in 2005. He would organise the homam and be there much before everyone on the morning in which it was conducted. Secondly, he would ensure that right through the Season, all the volunteers had had their food and several times feed them at his own expense. The same affection extended to the boy scouts and the staff who took care of the services – the toilets, the back stage, the corridors – matters that the usual concert-goer takes for granted. He believed that keeping the staff and volunteers happy made the MA a happy place. There was another aspect to Balu – he never lobbied for getting his relatives concert slots at the MA. And there was never any dearth of talented people in his family.
Navaratri at Balu’s house was always special. With wife Vijaya taking pains to put up a spectacular display of dolls, some several years old. When he asked me to attend it one year, I was most reluctant and said that it was a ladies function. “Nee vaayya,” he said. “The snacks will be good. Anyway your wife is invited and so what does it cost you to also come?” I went and found that kolus in his house were some kind of high point in the social calendar. I can never forget one year when Vijay Siva had also come. At Balu’s request he agreed to sing and I then made bold to ask him to sing Dikshitar’s paradEvata. It was a wonderful experience. Immediately after Vijay left, we had Balu’s sister and brother-in-law, Charumati and Trichur V Ramachandran singing viruttams from Narayaneeyam, followed by a song on Krishna.
For me, the 2011 Season at the MA did not have its usual gaiety because Balu was absent, fighting his last battle valiantly. The end came on the 18th of January. Adieu Balu! I know you will expect us to keep smiling, but it is not all that easy as you made it appear my friend.
Tweedledum and tweedledee
“How many people have you invited for your speech this evening?” asked the voice over the phone and instinctively the Man from Madras Musings realised that something was wrong. But hang on, half a sec. MMM realises that he has not supplied footnotes by way of what he is talking about.
It always happens in December. Come the last month of the year and MMM gets invited to say what are euphemistically referred to as a few words at various locations. And this was one of those places. And there were two organisers conducting this event together to boot. MMM had visions of huge crowds thronging the event, hanging on to his every word and when he finished of their rising up like one man and giving MMM a standing ovation.
Over the years MMM has developed a kind of sixth sense of when an event of this kind can go wrong and the first of these indicators is the organiser expecting the speaker to supply the audience as well. And this was only confirmed further when MMM sensed the panic at the other end of the wire (or wireless), when he informed the organiser that he had invited no one. “No one?” asked the voice in a tone that suggested that all was lost.
And so on to the evening. MMM entered the venue only to find the two organisers conversing anxiously in a corner. A violinist was performing in the most ghastly fashion and realising that he was unlikely to be invited anywhere else in a hurry was delivering his music with verve and gusto. But MMM managed despite the din to hear what the two organisers were discussing.
“You haven’t invited anyone?”
“No! I thought you had!”
“Oh no! I am sure you said …”
“No! That wasn’t me.”
“Anyway I have sent out a few emails this afternoon. I am sure some people will come.”
And sure enough they did. Six of them. In a hall that could accommodate a hundred. Among the six that came was the Chief and MMM was touched at this camaraderie among the MM staff, which as you all know numbers two – the Chief and MMM.
But to come back to the programme. Organiser 1 had decided to post himself permanently at the gate where in MMM’s view he would meet with no success unless he resorted to waylaying a few unsuspecting passersby. In fact thugee or garrotting may have been a few good techniques as well. As for organiser 2, he had arrogated to himself the responsibility of coming up to MMM and offering excuses for the lack of audience. “The music season,” he said. “After all, most people would prefer to be at Sabhas.” Clearly he was a model of tact. A few minutes later he was back. “The rain,” he said. “Who would stir out to listen to some speech on a day like this?” After some time he had run out of excuses and still no sign of an audience! MMM decided to come to his rescue. Perhaps it was because of the traffic wondered MMM. Org 2 was delighted at this absolutely original idea. “Yes! That is it,” he carolled. “Terrible traffic. No wonder people are unable to come.”
After plenty of waiting and enough and more of the violin playing, it was decided that no one else was going to come. MMM was asked to get on to the stage and hold forth. There followed an introduction to MMM by Organiser 1 which was clearly based on some document written about MMM when he was in the first year at school. And then MMM spoke. While on stage it occurred to MMM that given the shortage of electric power, it would be best if the audience of six was also asked to sit on stage and the extra lighting and air conditioning was turned off. But he did not say it. The meeting ended with Organiser 2 offering a vote of thanks in which he thanked the audience for “turning up in such large numbers.” Ha to that.
There are several who are jealous of the Man from Madras Musings. They feel that all he does is to sit, ponder over what is happening and then churn out all that he has pondered about into this fortnightly column. Little do they realise that MMM is more or less like Uncle Tom playing to the Chief’s Simon Legree. But be that as it may, MMM considers himself to be indeed worthy of being an object of envy.
Consider most of his friends who are now working for some multinational or the other. Apparently most of these companies are spread over practically every time zone of the world and that means business is forever ongoing. Consequently, some of MMM’s friends never go to bed. Early in the morning, Japan is already well into mid-day and even before MMM’s pals have applied toothpaste to brush, their phones are ringing with queries as to the fate of some tender or enquiry or whatever else these companies are worried about. Soon Korea has joined the list of callers. By mid-morning parts of Europe are stirring into wakefulness and dialling MMM’s friends.
Late in the afternoon, the US is fully awake and asking for clarifications of various kinds. And just before Japan goes to bed it leaves instructions that it would like certain pieces of information to be on its desk so that it could go through them all with characteristic thoroughness before the Indian counterparts are awake. And so it goes on. No wonder all these friends of MMM are perpetually haggard and envious of MMM’s ruddy cheeks.
Ironically all this slavery is a consequence of a process often referred to as liberalisation!
Given that the cyclone struck Chennai and Pondicherry, why was it named after a Bombay suburb? The Man from Madras Musings feels that it ought to have been named after something local. May be Mylapore?