London 2012: Lunch was on Kini

Way back in the 60s when Kini T R  and I worked for a magazine in London – Afro Asian Echo – we used to  lunch together at Oxford St. (at neighbourhood Wimpy Bar ? Do they still have them ?)  Kini usually paid for our meal; I was tight-fisted on more occasions than I cared to remember.  Early this month,  revisiting London after 45 years,  I looked up Kini at Herne Bay, Kent.  And the lunch was on him.
His French-born wife Catherine (we hadn’t met till that day)  lined up pilau rice, cheese-on-tomato, salad, fruits, and red wine to wash it all  down with.  Kini is fond of his wine, said Catherine.  She had earlier  picked us up – Nangia and me – from the railhead in Herne Bay,  made us lunch,  and was to drop us back at the station for our train  to London.  Kini, weak and ailing,  relies on  Catherine to do the running-around in and outside their house.

Catherine, Kini  had said , would await us in a sky blue Fiat.  We spotted each other right away.  Sushil  Nangia and I were the only passengers on the 10.52 from Victoria, London,  to get down at Herne Bay, Kent.  On the drive home Catherine filled us in on her seaside town,  and how she and Kini came to make it their home,  after 40 plus years in London.
Herne Bay station,  on  Kentish coast.  The train takes 90 mins. to London;  and there is one every 30 mins. from here to victoria station

We spent some four hours –  Nangia, and I –  with Kini  reminiscing.  On my return to  Chennai  I got mail  from  Kini saying,  ‘it seems like a tear-jerker when one has to accept that we are never likely to meet again in person.  I share his sentiments, though I couldn’t bring myself  to saying so when we took  leave from him at Herne  Bay the other day.  Kini’s  Chronic Fatique syndrome (CFS) virtually immobilizes him.  And his only window to the world  around him  is the Internet.  And for a few brief months we stayed in touch through a blog-to-blog,  which prompted Kini to articulate his hitchhicking experience,  from Delhi to London – a 40-day saga, over 45 years back.

It was some  five years back that I first heard  about his health  condition,  when Kini e-mailed to informed me about his move from London to a chalet bungalow  in Herne Bay, Kent, ‘geriatric town where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting about on electric scooters  than young lads on noisy motor-bikes’.  His e-mail ended on rather disprited note – ‘ uncertainty and hope fills our lives at present’. Kini’s ailment , they say, is incurable.  What’s is worse,  medical science has yet to figure out the why and the how-come  of his nagging  pains in chest and legs,  of his incessant  sleep problem.  Of late  Parkinson’s  has set in,  making Kini rely on Levodopa  (Sinemet),  a drug that relieves him of distressing symptoms for a limited time.

Kini said he took extra dosage in view of my trip,  so that he could,  hopefully,  spend a couple of hours at a stretch without having to retire to  bed because of fatigue –  “I was – to tell the truth,  apprehensive about your visit to Herne Bay – worrying whether you could endure it,  and whether I could,  with my discreet dosage of dopamine”.   I am 73 and Kini can’t be faulted for associating age with some form of ailment.

As it turned out,  our meeting was engaging,  reflective,  and it triggered memories of men and matters long dead or forgotten.  I noticed Kini had even  listed out some  talking points, just in case we fail to cover them .  As we parted Kini handed me a few issues of Afro-Asian Echo – a collector’s item –   that he had thoughtfully preserved.
The magazine,  of 1966 vintage.  Was published by a Nigerian who had fled to London following rioting in Lagos, and assassination of prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (on our magazine cover).

Kini commissioned articles,  from Subhash Chopra,   Adil Jussawala,  and Farrukh Dhondy.  They were no big names then.  Dhondy, writer, playwright,  social activist,  widely known among British Indian community for his stint at BBC Channel 4,  was a student at Cambridge when Kini got him to write for Afro-Asian Echo.  Adil a poet and writer,  who was then,  I believe,  teaching English for a living in London of mid-Sixties.  Subhash Chopra worked at the business desk in The Times,  London,  after stints in a couple of provincial dailies.  Chopra has since authored two books – Partition – Jihad and Peace;  and India and Britannia – an abiding affair.
  On racial prejudice Farrukh Dhondy wrote of insulation of the student community at Cambridge.
A foriegn student rarely faces the despair that haunts the working immigrant when he looks for a place to stay in, or for employment, or for ways to keep up with living. Most colleges ensure that strange faces fit in and are absorbed. They send African, Asian or West Indian students to landladies who confess to having no race prejusice.

When I went to North East England for work,  my newspaper – The Northern Echo – had advertised and interviewed  my prospective landlady to ensure I wasn’t exposed to racial prejudice in my neighbourhood during my stint in the newspaper at Darlington.  In fact the landlady and her husband met me at the station to take me to our residence when I first arrived in  Darlington to take up the newspaper job.

After lunch,  as Kini and I were on our nostalgia  trip  down the memory lane,  Nangia offered to do  the dishes,  and make coffee.  We were waiting for Catherine to return from a meeting of the local Workers Education Committee.  As Kini put it, besides taking care of him she finds  time for weekly Arts group meetings;  for learning skills as a water colourist.   Kini once wrote that Catherine was so enamoured with Herne Bay and Canterbury cathedral  that she spent  there as much time as she could,  hoping to become a knowledgeable guide to visiting friends and relatives.

Catherine would have loved to show us around her town,  if only we had time. On our drive back to the station to catch the 16.32 to London  she talked about her familiarization trip to India,  and of the time she spent at Kini’s village in Mangalore.  This was quite a while ago.  Catherine wasn’t sure, if  they would have another chance to do India.

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Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet

Photo-journalist  T S Satyan’s  work for Life magazine  included  numerous  assignments of events of historic importance.  On his recent demise I looked for something I wrote on Satyan on the occasion of the release of his memoir – Alive n Clicking – in Mysore.
Excerpts from  Zine 5  column :

Among the more exciting assignments Satyan covered for Life was the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama, then 24 years old, disguised as one of his bodyguards, escaped out of Tibet.  After three bitter weeks on the run crossing snow capped passes, he reached the last village in Tibet before entering Assam.  Satyan was among those who took position at a place near Tezpur  to capture the drama for Life.

An American newsman,  in his book,  gives an amusing account of  world media  coverage of the Dalai Lama escape by two other photographers. The Associated Press (AP) and the United Press International (UPI) were fierce competitors,  who went to great lengths in their bid to reach their news pictures faster than the other,  to newspapers around the world.

Dennis Lee Royale of AP and the UPI man chartered planes,  set up motorcycle relays for a frenzied race from the point where Dalai Lama crossed into India to the nearest photo-transmitting point. UPI was the first with the pictures.

A dejected AP man,  Royale,  got a cable from his office in New York,  saying  “opposition’s  Dalai Lama has long shaggy hair. Yours, bald.  How please?’.

Royale cabled back,  ‘because my Dalai,  right Dalai’.

As it happened,  the UPI photographer in haste  had mistaken the interpreter for Dalai Lama. Which was how AP won the day.

You will find this account in a book by the then  AP Bureau Chief in Paris,  Mort Rosenblum.  Its title: Coups and Earthquakes : Reporting the World for America

Satyan, T S, no more

Heard about Satyan’s  demise from  his  neighbourhood  friend Mr Bapu Satyanarayana ;  shared an auto-ride with  Satyam’s long-time media colleague  Mr Krishna Vattam to his Saraswathipuram residence, Mysore , for the last glimpse of Satyan. His  mortal remains were placed for public homage on his frontyard.  Within  half hour after our arrival  he was carried away to the crematerium.

A graduate from the Maharaja’s,  of 1944  vintage,  Mr Satyan took to photography at a time when most others in his profession were not even schooled  enough to write a photo caption in grammatical English. Satyan  rose to represent Life magazine,  an odd sized and picture-filled weekly founded by Henry Luce in 1936.  As someone accredited to Life , Satyan enjoyed the status of an aristocrat among the Delhi press corps those days.  But this  photo-man from Mysore retained his common touch.

To quote him ,  “My people are not the rich and the famous; they are simple ordinary folk…..(who) were there when I picked up the camera six decades ago, and they have been there every time I have gone back to capture the interesting moments in their lives” So wrote Satyan in 2002, when his In Love with Life –  a photo journey through life –  was released.

Among numerous historic events he covered for Life,  if I remember right , was the flight of Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959.  Among the chapters in his subsequent work – Alive and Clicking – that still sticks in my mind is  Satyan’s  account of a meeting with  Satyajit Ray  for a photo assignment ,  when Ray,  a coffee house regular, took Satyan along for meeting friends at the Calcutta Coffee House.

My association with Satyan dated back to early 60s when I was a sarkari journalist with the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in New Delhi. Despite  our gap in the pecking order in the media, Satyan always found time for a chat whenever he dropped in at my office to collect photographs of government functions and other official events handed out by the PIB photo publicity unit. He had an affinity with reporters and writers in the media.  Being a photographer with a flair for writing  Satyan practised  photo-journalism at a time when they had not invented the term – photo-journalist.
Earlier this evening as I lingered for a while  in front of his residence,  after he was gone, memories of my Satyan connection flashed through  mind.  This photo of his deserted residence may well symbolize  the end of the  Satyan chapter in the book of my life.

Media talk

We keep writing about ( read ‘ against’) powerful people, but simultaneously publish their best photos  so that they don’t bother about what is written inside’ – Morocco Newspaper publisher Ahmed Benchemsi, at the World Newspaper Congress,  Hyderabad.  He describes  his publications – Tel Quel and Nichane – as ‘revealing’,  not ‘combating’, media.

Photos sourced from  –  The View from Fez

A Jail monthly from Chennai

outlookSpeaking of in-house journals, Ul Oli (Inner Light),  sounds unique. It’s a monthly of, by and  for  jailbirds in Tamilnadu.  It can count on a captive circulation of 16,000 in the state’s 137 prisons. Ul Oli is not available at news stands.

As journalist Pushpa Iyengar put it,  the magazine may not be Pulitzer material,  but it deserves an honourable mention. Pushpa has done a pageful on Ul Oli in her Outlook magazine. The 50-page jail monthly,  launched in mid-January,  is reported to be the brainchild of Tamilnadu Director General of Prisons, R Nataraj.

Pushpa,  Outlook bureau chief in Chennai,  who has had access to the inaugural issue says  the magazine has stories by jail inmates on their life in prison.  It has poems, drawings,  anecdotes and spiritual quotes and other literary contributions, all  by convicts in theft, smuggling, rape,  murder, and bomb blast cases. On the magazine editorial board is a Sri Lankan Tamil Santhan,  who faces death sentence for his role in the LTTE conspiracy to kill  Rajiv Gandhi.

Incidentally, Pushpa was among the journalists on the scene of the suicide bomb attack on Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur.  She had covered the story for The Times of India.