Marathon runner

A marathon runner has been,  for me,  an un-understood entity ;  and there was a time when I used to think it was something Ethiopians did.  Anyway, I didn’t give a thought to the prospect of ever meeting  anyone who did 26.2 miles  in one go.  This was till I met Dr Srinivas  a couple of years back.  But then I first knew him as a research scientist (at Berkeley) before I got to learn about  his marathon exploits.

A research lab,  I would have thought,  is the least likely place to nurse a marathon runner.  That Dr Srinivas averages a 14 hour-day at his lab, seven days a week,  makes him even  a less likely candidate to be in this business of long-distance running.  What makes his case  all the more baffling is his  ‘fairly complicated’ domestic life.  Didn’t I say  I couldn’t understand marathon runners ?

I can’t say I still do,  after reading Dr Srinivas blog post describing his latest marathon at Sacramento earlier this month.  His narrative about a mindset and fighting spirit that kept him going,  against a body in revolt made  engaging read. After reading him Dr Srinivas struck me as someone capable of  invoking a mental stamina that triumphs over a battered body.

As he put it,  marathon running, was for most part,  a mentality,  as it became evident to him early in the race . At Mile-10  he already started feeling  his ‘body  falling apart’. And there were 16 more miles to go. It was  at this stage Dr Srinivas  decided to ignore his body that kept telling  him to slow down, eat,  and replenish his electrolytes.  This would have been good for  his body;  but,  would have at the same time,  made him feel a loser.

This was when  Dr Srinivas  did what his book prescribed  for marathon runners,  at the mid-way point. Determined to stay on track, he pushed himself beyond physical parameters for extreme stress.  But then he had also to contend with an   ‘ego in tatters, and a  sense of self-loathing’.  His book didn’t tell how to cope with this.

It was at this point – Mile-19 –  that Dr Srinivas had a call from wife  Maya on his cellphone.  She wanted to know how he was doing ;  and he could hear his little daughter Ila on the phone. He couldn’t  be telling them about the state of battered ego. Dr Srinivas doesn’t  tell us what he told his wife.  But her phone call did seem to work wonders on him. He swallowed some salt tablet,  ate and drank as  much as he could, and focused on making it to the finish line – still over six miles  away.

On his final mile Dr Srinivas felt his body rebel against his sprits –  he could sense his  abdominal muscles going in spasms,  calf-muscles  contracting,  and toes curling into his  shoes.  Spirit was still willing  – “If  I had to crawl the last mile, I was going to finish the bloody marathon”.  And he did – all 26.2 miles of it, in four hours.  Which was 30 minutes more than the timeline he had set for himself. But Dr  Srinivas had gained 54 minutes over his previous performance in  San Francisco.

Where would it be next, Dr Srinivas ?  My hunch is Baltimore.  Maya mailed me they are moving there  early in the new year.   Johns  Hopkins  would soon have a marathon runner on their faculty.


Thoughts of a poll loser

Karnataka voters have ousted twiddledee only to bring back twiddledum.  So wrote Dr Bhamy Shenoy in 1995. He could as well write the same stuff in May next,  after the 2009 elections. Our voters do not care who wins and often do not even know whom they are voting for. So says Dr Shenoy, who contested the 1995 Karnataka assembly election as an Independent. And lost by a huge margin.

He reckoned that our voters are easily swayed,  even those whom we expect would take informed decisions. A  retired Karnataka Administrative Services (KAS) official, who had promised his vote to Shenoy, changed his mind on way to the polling booth. Because someone supporting  a rival candidate came up to him and handed over his voter registration slip.  The official had  in his government day held responsible positions  that entailed taking decisions. 

Losing elections, twice in a row,I suppose,  makes Dr Shenoy an electoral veteren. Referring to the last time he lost, 1994, the IIT educated  Mysorean said his  assembly constituency, with a fair chunk of well-to-do residents, had eight slum areas,  where votes were controlled by petty landlords, usually small time politicians. Our candidate had reckoned on neutralising the slum area vote,  by appealing to the educated middle-class to 1) stop staying away from the polling booth; and 2)  think before voting.

Dr Shenoy first contested in 1989,  when he polled 550 votes.  His strategy to draw middle-class votes fetched him 2260 votes in 1994. The strategy worked,  but the candidate lost. His years between elections – 1989-94 –  were spent on proactive social activism and networking  retired professionals and officials to help him mobilise public opinion.

With their support Dr Shenoy reached out individually to 70,000 people and visited 30,000 households, spending time at each place discussing issues of common concern.  “If only half of those we met had kept their word,  I would have easily won,” says Dr Shenoy.

On reflection he felt many who promised Shenoy their vote had, presumably, associated his name with BJP.  The middle-class everywhere has a segment of party-committed voters, who went by the party symbol, rather than a condidate’s merit. So much for the power of informed voting.  Dr Shenoy’s home-visits and his efforts to educate them on democratic maturity simply fell on deaf ears.

Another discovery he made was that, like parties and their parties ,  voters too have an ‘unspoken agenda’.  Sharing his thoughts in the media, Dr Shenoy wrote in 1995:

A shopkeeper was frank enough to admit that if we really root out corruption he would not be able to earn his living!…many of us may talk against the present corrupt system. But  we   have learnt the art of managing the system….Traders ans business class  may  agitate for unification of taxes and show their protest against the political system that brings in irrational rules and regulations.  But in the final analysis, they prefer a system where they can bribe and manage rather than the one where the rule of law prevails.   

Dr Shenoy can be reached at

Leopold Cafe: Back in business

I first heard it on BBC.  Nik Gowing,  winding up his take on Mumbai for the 1.30 p m news bullletin added as a footnote that Leopold Cafe was to re-open Sunday evening. Didn’t consider posting anything till I read Arun Shanbhag’s blog post,  saying he happened by the cafe  on Sunday morning and dropped in, noticing an open side-door.  Arun’s post carries a photo (presumably, an exclusive) of the cafe being readied for the re-opening. The photo by Mr Shanbhag reproduced here with the blogger’s permission.

At the cafe Arun ran into Keith Bradsher of The New York Times talking to Farzad, a partner in the cafe that has been in business since 1871 (that is correct).  Farzad told them two of his waiters were lost to  the terrorist attack.  Eight others, four of them foreigners,  in the restaurant were killed . Visitors would find a granede crater (of the size of a large organge, says Arun) under a table. The cafe owners have left it unfilled,  ‘as a reminder of what we went through’.

As they left  the cafe Arun introduced himself to NYT reporter, and  captured in his camera  Mr Bradsher thumb-typing on his Blackberry an update for Lede, the NYT blog. 

A NYT report on citizen journalism refers to Arun’s blog posts/twitter feed on Mumbai attacks. The newspaper quotes him as saying,  he had not heard of the term citizen journalism till the other day, but Mr Shanbhag kept up his twitter feed/blog post because he felt “I had a responsibility to share my views with the outside world”. Mr Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard medical School, is a Boston resident visiting Mumbai.

Footnote: Mr Shanbhag followed up his post with a  report around 4.30 p m Sunday, saying,  The Leopold Cafe “did” open briefly this morning, but apparently the crowds showed an excessive enthusiasm to get in and see the battle scars. The Owners could not get private security quick enough and the Police asked the owners to close shop. . . .

Keep It Going, Dr.Natashekar

You don’t have to be a doctor to make a mark as a stage singer. But being one serves as your calling card to open the door of opportunity. I wonder if Dr Natashekar’s musical talent would have had such public exposure, if  the singer had been a shop assistant, instead of an ENT specialist. He is known widely as doctor who also sings well.

Left-handed compliment, perhaps. Dr Natashekar doesn’t mind. He is a doctor first; music making is his spare time passion. Point is, Dr Natashekar is not competing with Sonu Nigam. “Singing is my hobby, and I am happy that it entertains others,”says the doctor, who leads a similarly talented group of local doctors.  Styled as Geet Gatha Chal the doctors’ cultural group organises free concerts at Mysore’s Kalamandira. “We’ve been doing this since 2001,” says Dr Natashekar, adding that over this period Geet Gatha Chal has built a name for itself as a crowd-pulling music group. Inviting me to his next concert (Nov.9) Dr Natashekar suggested that I be at Kalamandira half-hour early.

I had gone to his clinic at Ramaswamy Circle with an ear  complaint; and we started talking music on seeing a trophy with a photo of Mukesh on Dr Natashekar’s desk – ‘I got this for our ‘Mukesh Evening’ concert in August’.  Dr Natashekar played to a packed house for three hours of vintage film songs credited to playback singer Mukesh.  

Portraits of Dr Natashekar’s favourite trio – Mukesh, Rafi and Kishore – found space on the wall of his clinic. Outside,  at the reception counter, I saw a photo of our doctor paying respect to Siddaganga Swami at Tumkur. To mark the swamiji’s 100th birthday celebrations Dr Natashekar brought out a CD of his rendering of  Basavashwara’s Vachanas.

Geet Gatha Chal is Mysore’s own music group of the local medical fraternity that puts to public use their personal hobby.  The group includes dermatologist P A Kushalappa, Dr A L Hemalatha, Dr Sneshasri and a few others.  A one-of-its-kind cultural initiative that is worth emulating by talented professionals in other towns is not widely known beyond Mysore.  Geet Gatha Chal doesn’t have a website.

Dr Natashekar, like most other professionals in Mysore, is not very coversant with Internet usage.  He could do with some help and guidance from software professionals who admire Dr Natashekar’s music.  A website of his group would surely spread public awareness about the good work done by this group; and help Geet gatha Chal network with interested individuals and groups wth flair for music.

Geet Gatha Chal can upload video-clips of their concerts on YouTube for the benefit of non-resident Mysoreans who admire their music.  With a website of its own and YouTube exposure Dr Natashekar and his group could get sponsored for concert tours by NRI associations, notably, Kannada Sanghas in the US and other countries.

Meanwhile, Geet Gatha Chal could visit local welfare institutions such as orhanages and homes for the aged to entertain inmates. Spending time, an odd Sunday afternoon, with them could by a fulfilling experience for the music group.  Dr Natashekar and his friends would do well to reach out to the  folks who have neither the opportunity nor abiity to make it to Kalamandira.

Slaughtered at the stock market

Karthik Rajaram is now household name in stock market circles the world over. His stunning end tells Wall Street story more poignantly than NASDAQ figures can do. Rajaram lends a human face to the trauma and tragedy of US financial turmoil.

The financial market, poised to get worse before it gets better, would eventually be back to normal. But the toll the turmoil took in terms of lives and human enterprise can’t be fixed by the $700b bailout or the G7 five-point plan.

An NRI who lost his millions in the stock market, Karthik Rajaram,45,shot his 39-year-old wife Subashri, their three sons, and his mother-in-law, before taking his own life at their gated community residence in Los Angeles.The man who had worked for PriceWaterhouse Cooper and Sony Pictures, and,more recently,had set up his own company,was alumni of IIT-Chennai and an MBA in finance.

Trained to manage coporate finances Rajaram found himself hopelessly inadequate to manage life. He opted death when it came to the crunch. In a suicide note Rajaram is reported have written he had considered two options – 1) Should he take his own life and leave his family to face penury,without a father figurehead and finacial provider ? Or 2) should he release his entire family from the shame of poverty by killing them?

The option he took impacted yet another life, that of his father-in-law Mr Ramaseshan in Channai. A retired bank official, the 76-year-old who lost his all – wife Indra, his only daughter Subashri, and three grandsons – has been orphaned and devastated, says my journalist friend M R Venkatesh (MRV) who tried to contact him. ‘Ramaseshan, in trauma, doesn’t want to speak to anyone’, says MRV, quoting a close friend. He has yet to recover from this condition – stony silence and a blank stare.

I gather from MRV that Mr Ramaseshan who retired from a senior position in a bank has acquired a ‘green card’. He recently sold his Alwarpet house in Chennai, and was getting ready to move to L A, to live with his only daughter. Mr Ramaseshan is now being taken care of by his sister in Triplicane.

A Los Angeles police official handling the case is reported to have told the media, “a perfect American family destroyed by a man stuck in a rabbit hole of absolute despair.” This was the first such stock-market triggered tragedy since the start of the financial meltdown in the US. A week earlier a 90-year-old woman in Ohio shot herself as she was about to be served an eviction notice on the home she had lived in for several years.

October 2 in New York

My investment banker friend Mr B R Ramaprasad and his wife Shyamala take time off every oct.2 to be at New York’s Union Square Park to pay homage to the Mahathma. Son of a Mysore school headmaster, Mr Ramaprasad has been in the US since 1970; and a regular at the Oct.2 prayer meetings since 1986 when the Gandhi statue came up in the park. Indian consulate, along with the Bharatiya vidhya Bhavan, host the solemn, if thinly attended,ceremony marked by bhajans and meditative silence.

India Abroad, referring to the unfailing attendance of Mr Prasad, of Millington, NJ, once quoted him as saying he  came there to remind himself of Gandhi’s  sacrifice for India and to celebrate the cause he upheld – peace with freedom. Mr Prasad reckons that the freedom that most of today’s generation has come to take for granted can be valued more, if we remind ourselves of the strife, struggle and the sacrifices that had gone into the battle for Independence.

Mr Prasad, in reference to his adopted country, cited the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where America’s Freedom Rising is articulated with sound-light effect that relates to the digital era citizenry. Mr Prasad believes we could emulate the technology to tell the story of our freedom struggle. Raj Ghat in New Delhi would a natural venue for a Philadelphia-type Liberty Bell complex.  And NRIs in the US could help India with know-how and funding for the audio-visual presentation, says Mr Prasad, adding that the proposal could be taken up for discussion in the next Pravesi Bharatiya conference.

A funny thing happened on our way to Philadelphia. Driving from Millington, New Jersey, Mr Prasad keyed in the GPS device in his car for direction to the Liberty Bell complex in downtown Philadelphia. A recorded voice from the gadget kept telling us when and where to exit from Freeway; talking us through a series of turns and crossings before announcing that we had made it to the destination. But we found ourselves in a market area with no sign of the Bell in the vicinity. As it turned out, the GPS had led us to a Taco Bell, not the Liberty Bell.

P S: Reacting to the above Mr Prasad e-mailed, “Just one correction; I am not an investment banker, just an ordinary old fashioned (dumb ?) banker”.

The NRI swadeshi fervor, a growth industry

It is said a desi abroad grows fond of India and things Indian; native Bellary or Bhatinda tends to look more romantic from Boston or Birmingham. And our Bollywood thrives on the genre of movies that hype patriotic fervor of desis abroad – Dilwale Dulahania Lejayenge,  Khabi Khushi Khabhi Gum, Pardes, Aa Ab Laut Chalen and several others.

Indian TV news channels have made inroads in NRI living rooms. They pay hefty subscription to watch ‘Page-3’ frivility; and celebrity-related non-events jazzed up as ‘breaking news’. Headlines Today the other day made ‘breaking news’ of Aamir Khan taking to smoking again.

The channel gave viewers in the Bay Area an insight into why and how Aamir Khan took to smoking again, quoting extensively from the actor’s blog post. Those of us who were concerned about Aamir Khan’s smoking habit were reassured that our celebrity smoker doesn’t light up in the presence of children, and in company where someone objects. I don’t suppose Doordarshan carried this item. But then I don’t get to see DD channels in San Ramon, California. 

Swadeshi-minded NRI’s keen on keeping up with developments back home could count on better fare from DD channels, though their coverage may be boringly developmental. And I wonder how many NRIs are aware of the Lok Sabha channel that telecast Question Hour and notable parliamentary debates. But then how many flag-waving Americans watch C-SPAN, to get first-hand account of US Senate proceedings?

My blogger friend Maddy says the degree of swadeshi fervor of NRIs is  proportionate to the length of their stay away from India. He calls them India Deprived Desis (IDDs); the type that would drive 50 miles for a plate of masala dosa at Bhimas in Milpitas or Sunnyvale’s Saravana Bhavan. Indian eating joints have mushroomed in and around San Jose.  IDD zindabad.   

Tapping the NRI swadeshi fervor is a growth industry and Bollywood promotes its own version, notably, among ABCDs – America born confused desi. Their take on India’s socio-cultural tradition is shaped by Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar. A growing number of ABCDs are Bollywood movie fans. Many of them, with aspiration to be part of it, are reported to have signed up for courses at Anupum Kher’s and other acting schools in Mumbai.