A childhood with grandpa

When you grew up, or raised your own kids, did you have an experience which felt 100% real to you? So said the IndiBlogger e-mail announcing the Kissanpur contest.

I couldn’t recall right away any anecdote or childhood incident that fit the bill. It is easier to think of episodes in life that made you ‘feel good’, but are they necessarily the ones that give you the feel that they are real,100 percent ? The real-feel episode I share in this post wasn’t a feel-good one while I went through the phase. But as I look back on it, I feel it was as real as they come.

If it wasn’t for IndiBlogger e-mail, I wouldn’t have strayed so far down the memory lane, some 65 years back, to dredge up a childhood that I spent with  thatha (grandpa). This was in mid-1940s when I was less than 10 years old, living away from parents, with my grand-parents. When my parents moved to New Delhi – father being in a govt. job – they left me behind under the charge of grand parents in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
The primary school I went to,  in Telugu Brahmin St., was across the road from my grandparents’ place. Periappa – father’s elder brother – was the school head-master. Which wasn’t such a good arrangement. My uncle, a stern disciplinarian, was  a terror in the school. What was worse, besides being the school head, he took Class IV.  And, as his nephew, I wasn’t shown any favour, though they counted me among his favorites, off school. He made me stand up on the bench (a standard punishment) even for minor lapses such as talking to someone across bench,  trading match-box labels or cigarette-pack fronts  with classmates during school-hours.

At home grandpa, a retired cop,  ran our household of three – that is, grandma and me – a bit like a police training establishment. I had a time-table for meals, play, study, and sleep. The only grace-time (when I could do whatever I felt like) was when grandpa had his afternoon snooze. But then I was away in school, on week days, returning home at 4.30 p m. By which time grandpa would be up and about.
Grandmother, subject to her time-table, occasionally flouted it.  She would simply disappear next door – like they do for water-cooler breaks in offices –  for a mid-day gossip with neighbour; or she would linger longer than  warranted, at our door front chatting thayirkari (lady selling buttermilk door to door).

Grandma got away with it,  but I wouldn’t dare flout the routine, set for study and play. Regulation play-time started at 5 p m, when I escorted thatha to the neighbourhood Gandhi park. He took a designated park bench for listening the evening radio programme relayed all over the park through a public address system. I wasn’t obliged to listen to radio, though. Grandpa would let me try the swings, slides and things in the play area. An hour and quarter later, 6.30 pm,  we headed home.

Study time, under thatha’s watchful guidance, started at 7 p m. An hour later,  he retired for 15 mins.  to the kitchen for evening meals. On his return, 8.15 p m, ,thatha made his own bed  on a cement slab embedded in a corner of his room. What followed was 15 minutes of question time, when thatha would ask me something, anything,  from class lessons, lying in bed.  At 8.30 p m, as if on cue, patti (grandma) showed up at thatha’s door to summon me for meals. That was the signal to which I looked forward the whole evening; the signal that my day was done.

Such small delights made my day. Grandma, as most of the clan are,  was considerate. She would even let me sit in at after-dinner gossip session grandma held with neighbours at the door-front thinnai ( a cement platform to seat a gossip group).

I hate to admit this, my feelings were mixed – sad, if somewhat relieved –  when thatha passed away . At the age of 11  I rejoined  my parents in New Delhi


Our visa interview

My wife and I appeared for visa interview at the US consulate, Chennai,  the other day. A new experience,  it was.  We had got our first visa without interview.  They had this drop-box system then(1998),  for fuddy-duddies wanting to visit their NRI sons/daughters.  You handed in relevant documents to the security staff at the consulate gate by nine any morning; and collected your passports with stamped visa the same evening.

Personal appearance was for youngsters.  When our son Ravi sought visa for higher studies (in 1994,I believe)  they used to queue up overnight on the pavement outside the consulate.  Proxy was allowed and the going rate for a stand-in through the night was Rs.100. We hired my office boy Jeeva to spend the night on the consulate queue, so that Ravi could swap place with Jeeva on the morning of the interview. 

When I met him the morning after Jeeva told me not to worry –  Ravi would get visa for sure. As Jeeva put it,  the consultate queue was no patch on the Friday rush at movie theatres.  Jeeva,  a veteren of scores of cinema-house queues,  had never once failed to get the tickets.  Jeeva was among the top ten in the consulate queue.  How could then Ravi not get a visa, he reasoned. I loved his cut and dried reasoning,  and his theatre queue anology.  And true to Jeeva’s word, Ravi got his visa. Getting ticket for a Rajnikant movie at Satyam would have been tougher.

I missed Jeeva on our interview day;  could have done with his pep talk.  The visa interview can be a life-altering experience for parents with NRI sons/daughters.  So accstomed we are, to visiting our only son and family periodically,  that I can’t imagine a life without US visa. 

On the interview day my wife and I were at the consulate half hour before before time – 11 a m.  The orderly way they regulated, what seemed, an unending stream of visa-seekers reminded me of Tirupathi,  where they regulated the flow of pilgrims through holding areas,  with seating arrangement, water-cooler and closed-circuit TV at every holding stage. Unlike in Tirupathi,  the waiting area in the US consulate is fully air-conditioned.

 Interview area resembled railway reservations counters,  with several visa-seekers being attended to simultaneously.  Many other couples like us were in queue, waiting in unspoken silence, and anxious to get it over with. The man ahead of us in the queue kept removing his thick-framed glasses, every now and then, to wipe his forehead with a hand-kerchief.  He looked conspicuously over-dressed, wearing a dark suit in Chennai summer.

Another gent preceding me in the final queue  appeared over-prepared for the interview.  In response to a routine query he came up with a speech. I heard him say, apart from spending time with his son and family, he planned to do New York, visit Niagara, and take the opportunity to meet people and understand American culture.  This was when the interviewer cut him short politely, with a smile, assuring a visibly anxious parents that their visa would be couriered to them within a week.

We got a similar assurance , after a brief exchange.  The interviewer didn’t even want to see  the papers I carried – my son’s affidavit of support, his job status, tax returns, my house tax receipt,  fixed deposit cerificates. Asked about the purpose of our visit, I mentioned our grandsons, with whom we wanted to spend time. Interviewer welcomed the idea, saying it was a nice way to spend time in retirement. 

To his question on my income, I said, I had none.  Somewhat surprised at my response, he asked, ‘Not even pension’?  To which I said my wife and I lived on remitances from our son.

Was he a US citizen? No, a green-card holder.

The interview was over.

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.

Ms Page turns a page, at 93

Ninety-plus is an age when people get written off. Ms Lorna Page almost was, till her daughter-in-law stumbled on a sheaf of papers in her suitcase; found the stuff worthy of being published, and persuaded her mother-in-law to look for a publisher. The result: A Dangerous Weakness, a feminist thriller set in the Alps. Ms Page, a 93-year-old widow, wrote it three years back, to keep herself occupied, rather than vegetate.

Publication was not on her mind. Ms Page put her writings in a suitcase and forgot about it. Till her daughter-in-law discovered the work, read it and couldn’t put it down. Following its publication Ms.Page came into the kind of money with which she traded her one-bedroom place in Surrey, UK, for a five-bedroom house. What’s more, she asked three friends from an old people’s home to move in with her – ‘care homes can be miserable; you sit there all day staring out of the window, with no one to talk to’.

Ms Page, through her gesture, highlights the need for individuals to give a thought to those constrained to stay at old people’s home; and, possibly, do things that might make their lives a little less lonely, even if it is to visit them, occasionally, for a chat or invite a couple of them over to spend weekends with you. A press release issued on Ms Page’s behalf said she was at work on her next book – ‘after all, I have to buy a jolly big house for all the friends I have who are alone and need a home’.

Now that Ms Page has turned a page in her life, morphing into a best-seller writer with a mission, there would be a readership for a memoir. And Ms Page has seen eventful days in the past, notably, during the war-time Britain. A mother of two living in a thatched cottage with no electricity or running water during WW II, Ms Page helped organize the local branch of women’s junior air corps; and taught Morse code to cadets.

Her personal life would not have been of interest to anyone, least of all a publisher, before A Dangerous Weakness happened. Today it is best-seller material. Obama’s Dreams From My Father is reported to have sold a million plus copies. Would anyone have cared to read about his personal past when Barak Obama was a mere US senator?

Coffee-house culture

A bunch of retired men meet twice a week at a New York restaurant to sort out the world. Nowadays Obama is on their agenda every time they meet over cottage cheese and egg-white omelet. According to The New York Times, their all-under-the-sun discussions do not cover, as a rule, talking about grand-children and their sicknesses.

This is what those in the media call a soft-story; done at times when there is not enough hard news to fill newspaper pages. It is a fluff job done to fill a hole in a news page. The NYT retiree story, featured next to the chess notes, below the fold on Page 21, says most members of the Manhattan retirees’ group, 12 when there is full house, have been together at a neighborhood college for continuing education; and it was one of their instructors who had initiated them into the chat group.

I know of a group in New Delhi that dates back to my college days in the late 50s. Its venue has changed, more than once, over decades. So has its composition. Our New Delhi chat group meets nowadays at the Embassy restaurant in Connaught Circus, eleven-ish on week-days. S P Dutt, a retired Air-India executive, is its unelected life-time convener, whose job it is to pick up the bill. Convention is that every member chips in with whatever he thinks is his share of the coffee bill. If the collection falls short, SPD makes up the difference. Usually, contributions from others – Chawla, Mehra, Mahajan and whoever else joins in –  more than makes up for the bill, plus a generous tip; and it is Mr Dutt’s, Speedie to friends, pleasant duty to accept the table waiter’s grateful salaam.

Evolved during our Delhi University days, the chat group has undergone many changes in its composition. After our graduation the venue shifted from the Delhi University Coffee House  to the one at Janpath. With the closure of the Janpath coffee-house we moved to the Tea House in Regal Buildings; and eventually, to the Embassy.

Connaught Place was then  a convenient meeting point for a varied group that included sales and medical reps., insurance agents, journalists, Speedie’s colleagues in Air-India, and university teachers. At times, we were six or more at a table for four. Late-comers simply pulled up a chair from an adjacent table. Many of those in the group, who have moved away to other towns for bread and butter – Nangia, Mongia, Davy or Munshi – make it a point to drop in at the Embassy whenever they visit Delhi. They debate, deliberate and disagree with uninhibited vehemence of a regular. Lapse of time and changed circumstances of the group members – from bachelors to grandpas – haven’t altered their back-slapping terms of endearment.

Most people in my generation have been brought up in the coffee-house culture. Former PMs – Inder Gujral and Chandrashekar – had been coffee-house regulars in Delhi before they assumed the high office. A B Vajpayee, they says, used to frequent Lucknow coffee-house. Photo-journalist T S Satyan, in his book, Alive and Clicking, refers to his meeting with Satyajit Ray in Calcutta, when the film-maker took Mr Satyan to his favourite haunt – the coffee-house.

Cross-posted in SiliconIndia.com 

Brenda.77, blogs in verses

Brenda, a blogger from Australia, would like to make contact with folks from other cultures; left a blog comment, saying as much. The 77-year-old who took to blogging recently posts in her Rinkly Rimes daily comments, all of them in verses. We have linked her blog to Mysore Blog Park.

Born in Britain and trained as teacher, Brenda Bryant has worked on a mail ship; spent seven years in Zimbabwe, married in Capetown, and moved to Australia in1974. After retirement Brenda worked for a publisher for a while.

Interesting person, whose posts would interest me more, if only she were to do it in prose. Not because her verses are bad, but because I lack the flair.

Doing (IT) Without Diapers: a grandpa’s perspective

I don’t think my mother lost a wink of sleep over my getting it right, nearly seven decades ago. In a joint family set-up, where we had cousins and nephews growing up together, it was a peer group thing, done at the backyard of our farm house. We took it as extension of playtime activity, and took our own time doing it, till one of the woman in the household found time to pull us out to give us all a wash. Diaper culture was then unknown in my native Pollachi, Tamilnadu.

In my son’s case my wife did not see it as a big deal either, though he didn’t have the benefit of a peer group to learn from. Left largely to fend for himself, with a little help from friendly neighbours, our son picked it up through trial and error. Parental guidance was minimal; and mom intervened, with a threat or spanking, occasionally, only when she found you in soiled shorts.

As our son grew up to be a teenager we moved to Chennai; and our second-floor apartment in Egmore had a view of Don Bosco’s  kindergarten section. And we were used to the sight of pre-school kids with soiled behinds, waiting for the ayah to clean them up.

Now his son Siddarth goes to play-school at San Ramon, CA; and he has had parents worried over his apparent reluctance, nay, refusal, to give up diapers. This can be embarrassing, particularly if most others in his play-school were potty-trained. Siddarth is two plus, talkative, and even daring in a childlike way.

What cramped his style was the suggestion that it was time he switched diapers for ‘Spiderman’ underwear. He would have nothing of it; and after much cajoling and coercion Siddarth relented, insofar as he agreed to swap diapers for more fashionable underwear. Doing without diapers was one thing, but doing it without diaper was quite another can of beans. And, here was the sticking point. Siddarth would rather hold it, rather than do it in anything other than a diaper. Using potty was simply no, no.

Getting Siddarth out of his potty-block called for some collective thinking in the family; and a plan of action was drawn up for the Memorial Day weekend in May-end. Everyone in the house – mom, dad and the grandparents – cancelled all other plans to join the ‘SpotForce’ (Siddarth potty-training task force).

During the three-day weekend Siddarth was put off-diapers; and we took turns to watch for signs in his facial expression or body language so that he could be rushed to a potty, strategically placed in the house – one in the hallway and the other, in his upstairs bed-room. At the slightest hint of anything happening we gathered around the potty with expectations, like cheering fans on the stands, watching a goal-mouth tackle in a game of hockey.

Amid several such false alarms that had us rushing to the potty during the much of the long weekend, the breakthrough came, late Saturday evening. Irony was that when Siddarth took his first shot at breaking the potty-barrier none of us, other than his dad, was there to witness the event. He got his favorite toy car as a reward. In accordance with the plan, with every successful strike at the potty Siddarth got a gift from a special basket of toys. And by the end of the Memorial Day the basket was nearly empty; and mom Meera was proud of having her Mission Accomplished.

Related post – Who’s turn is it to change diapers.