Finding Irshad: A Google-yuga saga

My search for Irshad Panchatan started a couple of years back,  with a blog-post – Irshad Mia, where are you ? –  about a long-lost coffee-house comrade.  We were regulars at New Delhi Janpath coffee house in early 1960s.  It has been so long ago that  Irshad  had remained in my fading memory cells  a forgotten folder , waiting to be retrieved.

This was till a couple of years ago when I happened by on TV a familiar face  in the telecast of  this German movie – Reclaim Your Brain.  The face was that of  Irshad Panchatan,  my coffee-house  friend.  I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course,  Irshad wasn’t a close pal,  but  sharing a coffee-house table tied us into a biradari (brotherhood).   And then,  it has been over 50 years – time lapse of a yuga,  after which a re-connect triggers excitement of its own. During our lost decades  we   drifted away from New Delhi,  into our separate work life,  and into marriage,  family,  retirement, and now,  ageing .  He must be 80 ;  I am 73.

We now have the Internet,  Facebook,  Linked-in and other social networking tools.  They weren’t of any help in finding Irshad.  Wikipedia entry on him is in German.    I blogged about him – Irshad Mia, where are you ? – in the hope that if Irshad or someone who knew of his current whereabouts were to read my piece in DadiNani ,  he or she would know where to find me.  This was my way of sending a message-in-the-bottle,  tossed out  into cyberspace.

After doing the blog-post I sent the link to  another coffee-house friend S P Dutt  (NDTV Barkha’s dad),  and  he forwarded it to his friends.  Speedy’s (is how friends call S P Dutt) networking  produced a Berlin phone number.  As part of the Janpath coffee-house brotherhood  Speedy got involved in the search for Irshad.  For the next few days the three of us –  Speedy (in New Delhi), Sushil Nangia (in London),  and I (from Mysore) called Berlin. No response.

Stonewalled by unanswering ringtone from the Berlin phone line, we gave up our search.  My wife and I moved base from Mysore to Chennai – this was an  year back.  Irshad lapsed out of mind, till the other day when DadiNani  editor Subodh Mathur    e-mailed, saying,  your message in the bottle made it to Irshad Mia’s daughter.  Rita Sonal Panjatan had left a  comment in my blog post – The message in the bottle has reached, I will forward this to my father.

And within the next two days I get a mail from the man himself –   ‘Your bottle must have touched so many shores of different planets before it was fished by Rita in a German space shore’.  Irshad quoted Firaq to convey his feelings at  hearing from someone he didn’t ever think  he could –   Urdu poets  have a couplet for  every thing,  don’t they.

And then,  added Irshad: I was stunned…your message took me back into the 60s, to beautiful days of our meetings at Delhi Coffee House …. Those meetings played a very important role in my life,….am thankful to my Coffee House friends. Their critique helped me become a Pantomime. You,  RG Anand and Balraj Komal were my main critical guides.  M S Mudder who put me on stage on and on (with whom I’m still in contact) and O P Kohli  (died decades ago) who used to do the lights for me…Two years back,  moderator of German TV show  ‘Weltspiegel’ (World mirror)  Navina Sudarum,  niece of painter Amrita Sher-Gil, sent me the newspaper cutting relating to Dr.Charles Fabri (The Statesman dance critic), who loved and encouraged me as you also know.  It was a lovely and very important time for us all,  that we can never forget.

I left India again in 1971….for Europe, where I stayed, as you know, with Ingrid in Berlin, and later, opened a Pantomime School also. But that I closed in 1995 and after some time also stopped performing. Now from time to time I get offers to act in small roles in German TV and Films.

I am eighty and Ingrid is still beautiful and active. Rita, who did her MA from London School of Economics,lives close to us.

Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.

Mysore: Airport in search of flights

Now that the city has an airport with no flights,  Mysore is faced with the problem of generating passenger and cargo traffic that would make it worthwhile for airlines to come in here.  A recent seminar on the issue came up with the idea that Mysore-based IT corporates and other business establishments should hold out a promise of minumum seats occupancy to lure the airlines.

The idea doesn’t seem all that bright or workable because no airline can be expected make its business decisions on the minimum seats guaranteed  by a few corporates. Anyway,  no such assurance can be binding on individual companies.  Besides, airlines are reported to be looking for a state subsidy by way of a cut in fuel tax (27 perecent in Karnataka).

Air-traffic projection by Infosys has it that 800 of its employees  would use air services every week to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. To be meaningful such projection ought to be able to give a break-down, city-wise, and also in terms of seat-occupancy on weekdays,  and weekends.

It doesn’t require much study to say that much of the corporate employees traffic out of Mysore is on weekends. Check the Chennai Shadabthi bookings from Mysore on Friday/Saturday. Viewed in this perspective, Mysore could at best function a weekend airport, to start with.

Among other wild ideas that spring to mind:
1) Make Mysore a cargo hub for carrying  vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other perishables from distrcts and nearby Nilgiris to  major market centre. This would need deep-freeze storage facility.
2) Airlines operating from Mysore would do well to  look at traffic to tier-2 destinations such as Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Bellary, Mangalore, Tirupathi, Cochin.
3) The Airports Authority of India  could consider developing  a shopping complex for air passengers and also local residents, in view of the relative proximity of the airport to the city limits.
4) Doubling the railway track could attract air traffic from towns on railway route.
5) Early completion of the Mysore-Bangalore expressway would make Mysore a credible alternative for air passengers in Bididi, Kengari and other Bangalore suburbs on the Mysore-end.

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.

Speaking for horses

A Mysore horse, presumably pulling tonga for a living,  is left by his owner to fend for himself on Ramavilas Road.

In stark contrast,  a horse stabled  at the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC), they say, is taken care of by as many as   six persons.   There are a 1,000 of them at BTC.  They are well fed and bred, and now,  they have an NGO to speak for them  –  People  for Animals (PFA). The NGO has  filed a petition in the Karnataka  High Court  challenging a government decision  to shift the Bangalore race course  from its prime location to the suburbs at  Chikkajala-Doddajala.

NGO’s  case:   There is no infrastructure for proper upkeep of horses at the proposed location. PFA,  in its petition,  says BTC has ‘ excellent’  facilities for taking care of horses.

Apparently,  People for Animals  is not  for every horse.

Of media access to MUDA meet

The headline is misleading.  Proceedings of a board  meeting of Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA)  was relayed live to the media on closed-circuit TV,  presumably,  for the first time  in MUDA’s history.   How could anyone object to such initiative for transparency ?

But some MUDA members,  notably state legislators,  were not enthusiastic about it . In fact, they opposed any  access to media,  as if  what transpires among MUDA board members is state secret .  Reasons they gave point to their mindset.

Some legislator members are quoted as saying,  1) MUDA board meets are comparable to in-camera  meetings of the Karnataka cabinet.

2) Media presence would  ‘disturb deliberations and decision-making ‘  process at MUDA meeting .

3) There  is no provision in law that ‘mandates’  MUDA to hold an open meeting, in media presence’.

What  they neglect  to mention is there is nothing in the law that bans media  access to MUDA meetings.  If the press had been kept out for so long,  it was for reasons best known to its board members.  Despite objections, or rather because of the member’s reservations,  MUDA chairman P  Manivannan worked out an arrangement,  by which local media can have access to proceedings of meetings without causing  ‘disturbance’  by their physical presence at the  MUDA boardroom. The boardroom proceedings were relayed through closed-circuit TV to reporters assembled elsewhere  at MUDA office.  However audio quality of telecast left much to be desired.

A local newspaper gave its own spin to this lapse,  saying  “it was not known if the audio was deliberately muffled or was due to a technical problem” .  Unpredictable are the ways of our  media.