Four stars and India

Cliff Richard, Englebert Humperdink, Freddie Mercury and Norah Jones -

Each a big name, conjuring up great music, amassing fans and making a name for themselves – What connection did they have with India? I decided to investigate

Englebert Humperdinck – Born in Madras 1936 as Arnold George Dorsey to a British dad and an Anglo Indian mom – Big family, Arnold was the youngest - mom taught violin, moved to UK in 1947 and then on to US. His manager renamed him Englebert. This multimillionaire singer still has relatives in Chennai and
visits them

"I have such wonderful childhood memories of Madras. I like the sun, and my 10 siblings and I went from a big home in India to relatively modest surroundings in England, which can be so cold and grey."

"We lived near the harbour," Engelbert dimly recalls his Madras days. "The beach was nearby. I understand that the house that I lived in is no more. The tsunami took it away”.

Cliff Richard - Born in Lucknow 1940, named Harry Rodger Webb, Parents lived in Dehra Dun, English father and Anglo-Indian (Cliff never confirmed this!) mom Dorothy Dazely from Asansol, For 8 years Harry lived & studied in Calcutta, then moved back to England to a miserable (teased on his Indian looks) period until 1958 till he started his Drifters band and renamed himself Cliff Richard.

Any remaining connections in India? Charity organisations at Lucknow & Calcutta…
His perfume line started with a scent ‘Miss you nights’ inspired by his Indian memories…

Violence began to erupt on the streets of Calcutta around 1946. English nationals living in India were also becoming the target of violence, and Harry's mother Dorothy was being hassled while shopping with Indians shouting 'Go back to England white woman.' A frightened young Harry would scream back 'Leave her alone. She's my mummy.' During a period of intense rioting, a nearby family of Moslems were killed, with the only survivor a young boy who they could see hiding in his garden. They kept him alive by dropping food parcels from their window every night until Dorothy's uncle, a Calcutta Policeman, could be called. This experience shook the young family tremendously, and when the police arrived to collect the boy with flesh visibly hanging off the tracks of the car they decided they had to leave.

Freddie Mercury- Farok Bomi Bulsara , born 1946
in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents, educated at St Peter’s Boarding school at Panchagni until he was 17, returned to Zanzibar where political upheaval forced them to move on to UK in 1963. Used to be called Freddie at school and took up the name Freddie Mercury – Messenger of Gods during his legendary singing career with Queen..

Freddie was particularly good at Table tennis, cricket, boxing and of course playing the piano. By the age of twelve he was performing alongside four of his schoolmates in The Hectics, St. Peter's first rock and roll band.

Subash Shah knew him as Buckwheat, a shy, insecure boy with a severe overbite, mimicking the moves of Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley.

Between 1936 and 1946, three of these stars emerged. After that I guess Indians singing pop or rock remained Indians, like our inimitable Usha Uthup.

But I must add one more to complete the round and she is

Norah Jones- Geetali Norah Jones Shankar born in NY 1979 to Ravi Shankar & Sue Jones.

I wonder why I got her into this, she was born & bred in the USA, never really had anything to do with her pater-land. Dad and daughter hardly met…but well, she and her half sis Anoushka are to perform soon. Another titbit,
Dad & daughter are furious with Dev Anand for making a movie of their lives – ‘Song of Life’. I think I should have mentioned Anoushka or Karsh Kale instead…Anyway you know how it is, we would like to claim that she is India’s daughter…a half Desi that she is.

Two more persons whose origins you may not have known...Paul Anka - Lebanese & Andre Agassi - Iranian.

A few of my favourites...

OK, I have picked up the tag from Reshmi, ….here goes...

I admire

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand (Alissa Rosenbaum) fled Russia with 50$ during the early years of the Russian revolution, heading for Chicago. Working odd jobs in Hollywood, she learnt English and did what she always wanted to do, write – to finally publish her first book ‘We the living’ after a decade of struggle. Seven years later, she wrote the classic ‘Fountainhead’. But for me, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ was by far her best...Ok, so that much for the author, why do I admire her? Her trip from a secure middle class life to despair and poverty, then out of it, her determination to keep her head high and her firm decision to become a great writer against many odds. In a strange & fiercely competitive land, she mastered a new language and wrote literary classics with it, sticking to her ‘objectivism’ philosophy. Her life & works teach you – perseverance, faith in one-self and above all, belief in success…

Ayn Rand said, My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

It was very difficult for me to select ‘a’ person actually, I have admired and will continue to admire so many from the past & present…explorers, writers, artistes, philanthropists, can’t placed one above the other…So I chose one of the persons I admired…

I want to see

The Great Wall of China

I have travelled far and wide, but still many a mile to go – now on the active list below are…. much of Australia, St Petersburg in Russia, Tokyo(?), Bali in Indonesia, much of Sri Lanka, Brazil, Alaska…. Most of all, it is this that I wish to see, not all 6352 kilometres of it, but a decent stretch near Beijing. Hey, though a number of people stated that it is the only man made object visible from space, Wikipedia and Neil Armstrong assure us that it cannot be seen from that distance! Anyway my wish is to see it upfront, not from outer space or afterlife.

Want to do this someday

I wanted to fly, be a pilot, even be like Jonathan Livingston Seagull (i.e. the gull in a million - part!), in my dreams. But has become too complicated these days - for a guy living in the West, with brown skin and a moustache looking around for a flying lesson... recipe for serious problems. I will settle for a 15-minute parasailing session near some beach, at the next opportunity.

Random favourite

Alberto Santos and Cartier
Alberto Santos Dumont stands out, much aided I am sure by my desire to possess a Santos Cartier watch…Did you know that Alberto Santos flew his own self-powered airships around Paris way before the Wright brothers made their planes? He flew the first flying machines without a doubt, but I stop with a question – what was the random favourite? Albert Santos or the Cartier Watch?

The Santos Cartier, now look at it! Ah! What more need I say?

Thanks Reshmi, for introducing me to the tag concept…it was fun

This will be an open tag, open for anybody to pick.


The Man inside

There we are, the train has reached Stafford. The PA system in the train has announced so. But I knew we were in Stafford, even though I had been using the Liverpool train from Crewe only for a month now. I have no choice but to memorise the stations and the time taken between the stations. I must be doubly sure though, so I flipped open my watch to check. Yes, the dial felt right, 8:20.

Off the train steps, I knew we were in platform 3, oho! The smell was right, you know what, it is easy; each place has a distinct smell, especially places like railway stations and shops. Nobody knows that better than me, most places have a distinct vibration & feel about them. They are all in my mental library, to be picked up on demand!

We are not on platform 1 though, hmm! There must be something dodgy with the trains today, maybe the 7:35 Pendolino to London was delayed and is therefore expected in platform 1? Up the stairs, over the tracks and down to platform 1, through the doors and to the pedestrian crossing on Railway St. Today the coffee shop at the doors has freshly baked croissants, they smell heavenly, no time for it or a freshly brewed coffee though.

There is a nice lady next to me, She is wearing Obsession by Calvin Klein, I like that fragrance, they say even certain insects are attracted to it!!! On my left is a chap wearing Hugo boss cologne. He surely is well dressed, only an affluent man would buy Hugo boss. Ah! I love perfumes, and I have my collection, so I know what smells like what, even if I have sprayed the lowly ‘Diesel’ on me today (I like it though!). The CK obsession lady is wearing heels, I heard the ‘click-click’ as I came out of the train, I have been thinking about her for two months now. Wonder how she looks? Oh! come on lady, today is a rainy day, can you not smell the coming rain? I can smell it, how I wish we were friends, If so, I could have chatted you up and warned you, you are going to get wet before the evening and those heels are going to get soggy. Hey! I can smell curry, not in the breath, but on the clothes as well, I can hear bangles and the tinkle of earrings, that must be the Indian girl who uses the same train. Lady, why don’t you wear your office clothes after completing the cooking? The guys in your office must be making jokes about you, did you know that?

Know what? I am wearing my suit and my oxfords, We have an office party today, send off for Mr Clark, I like Clark, he is a great chap, he used to be patient with me, only problem was sometimes a bit protective…Well, people like Clark move on. Will a new guy come in his place? Or are they firing many of us? Out-sourcing to India, Maybe? People talk about that all the time at the office.

Finding that suit I am wearing was tough and getting myself fitted even more complicated. But I have a friend in the shop, we grew up together at Crewe, he helped me get fitted. Many friends tell me how dapper I look in this suit, and I have even figured out how to gel my hair. It is so damn easy these days, no partition or anything, just gel up the hair and lift it up here & there…new style? Sharon had cut it short & nicely, at the ‘New barbers’. Thanks to those great silicone swab polishers. One rub and the shoes are done. I am confident today…I feel good.

It has been over a minute at the signal, I guess there is a lot of traffic or maybe the lady has not punched the button as yet, no, there you go, there! the beep has started. At the signal is a diesel Jaguar X type, wonder why the guy did not buy an S type instead, they are so much better, Does he not know that the X type is an American contraption in a Brit body? A Ford Mondeo in Jag frame? And that too a diesel; I can even smell the bloody fumes…The S type purrs in comparison, I know about cars, since I worked in the Rover factory in Coventry till the Chinese shut it down, and that is how I started working in Stafford.

Oh come on, big man, get a move on, the beeps will stop in a minute. Right! I am through the pedestrian crossing, walking past the war memorial park. Aah! What the blooming hell was that, a kid in a bike, speeding by the pedestrian walkway, brushed me, don’t they have manners? I nearly fell down there!!

I have to learn to look down, it has always been my habit, my friends tell me that I keep gazing above their heads, and that surely looks funny, I agree with them. I can’t wear dark glasses all the time, which is even worse. I wonder if I will ever be able to get rid of my cane, ah, well, soon somebody will invent something, GPS based, I guess and then I can throw this cane away. I can smell, I can feel, but when people mention colours, I am lost, Oh! How I wish I knew what that was? I live with hope though, look at Stephen Hawking, he can’t move or talk, yet he is living a life, it may not be so great, but compared to him, I am better off, what if I don’t have the ability to see??

Author: After I wrote a few lines on the ‘man on the street’ I started to think a bit about ‘the man inside’. This is the result. There are two kinds of handicapped people, those who despair and those who learn to handle it with aplomb. Our man above is one such…

Curious incident of the dog in the night time – Read it!!

Two books I read recently which were very different from the usual stuff - Life of Pi and Curious incident….. Thanks Venu, for recommending ‘Curious incident’ it was well worth a read and more.

The author is a chap called Mark Haddon who wrote children’s books and decided to get into the mind of one, but this time an Autistic child. It must have been a daunting & painstaking idea because from the efforts, one can easily make out that he eventually learnt precisely how to go about it. It must have been a really huge effort, because not only did he get into Christopher’s mind, he also created an engrossing whodunit.

Chris sees a murdered dog and decides to find out who did it; he also decides to write about it and well, that is the complex route you take with Chris once you get the book in your hands. Sometimes you even wonder, Is Aspergers a boon? Anyway as he progresses, he is drawn into the complex non-Asperger world…and this bewildered boy’s, orderly and mathematically assisted quest becomes the engrossing tale!

Most of you would be thinking, aha! This must be like Hardy boys or Enid Blyton or such teenage detectives. Not at all, and here is where the beauty of the whole story lies!!

Chris starts the book thus “This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them”.Christopher loves mathematics and uses it to structure his daily life. How he explains some basic concepts are brilliant. The way he explains Monty’s problem and various aspects of using logic as a method.. Wow!!! Fantastico!
Autism vs Aspergers syndrome- Apparently Aspergers is a mild cousin of Autism, so what is Aspergers? An extract from Wired: Tony Attwood describes Asperger’s children as them who lack basic social and motor skills, seem unable to decode body language and sense the feelings of others, avoid eye contact, and frequently launch into monologues about narrowly defined - and often highly technical - interests. Even when very young, these children become obsessed with order, arranging their toys in a regimented fashion on the floor and flying into tantrums when their routines are disturbed. As teenagers, they're prone to getting into trouble with teachers and other figures of authority, partly because the subtle cues that define societal hierarchies are invisible to them. In the taxonomy of autism, those with Asperger's syndrome have average - or even very high - IQs, while 70 percent of those with other autistic disorders suffer from mild to severe mental retardation.
Look at Christopher, our book’s protagonist; he tells you “People should not tell lies”. That is his core belief and when somebody tells him one, it drives him to do things that he himself could not have imagined. Also, I loved the way he went about explaining Conan Doyle’s writing methods with Sherlock Holmes books…and the concept of Red herrings in a story. While he admires Holmes, he disliked Doyle for a reason!

Siobhan tries to teach Chirs 'rhetoric'. It goes thus - Siobahn says it is called a rhetorical question. It has a question mark at the end, but you are not meant to answer it because the person answering it already knows the answer. It is difficult to spot a rhetorical question.
Haddon said this in an interview
One of the things I like about the book, if I'm allowed to say that about my own book, is something I realized quite early on: It has a very simple surface, but there are layers of irony and paradox all the way through it. Here is a fiction about a character who says he can only tell the truth, he can't tell lies — but he gets everything wrong. Here is a narrator who seems to be hugely ill-equipped for writing a book — he can't understand metaphor, he can't understand other people's emotions, he misses the bigger picture — and yet it makes him incredibly well suited to narrating a book. He never explains too much. He never tries to persuade the reader to feel about things this way or that way; he just kind of paints this picture and says, "Make of it what you will." Which is a kind of writing that many writers are searching for all the time.
Also — and this has become something very important to me — it's not just a book about disability. Obviously, on some level it is, but on another level, and this is a level that I think only perhaps adults will get, it's a book about books, about what you can do with words and what it means to communicate with someone in a book. Here's a character whom if you met him in real life you'd never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world……….
People have said to me that it's a desperately sad book and they wept most of the way through it. Other people say it's charming and they kept laughing all the time. People say it has a sad ending; people say it has a happy ending. Because Christopher doesn't force the reader to think one thing and another, I get many different reactions.

Ah! Mark – Yo the man…as they say in the US. What a book! Thankfully I purchased it, so it is now part of my library!

P.S Mark had also this to say - The best question I ever received came from a boy who asked whether I did much crossing out. I explained that most of my work consisted of crossing out and that crossing out was the secret of all good writing

Auto-rickshaws are here!!!

Newspapers and BBC heralded their arrival as a fun thing, last month. There was a twinkle in the TV anchors ayes eyes and there was one in mine when I saw it…

Well, Well, our venerable auto-rickshaw has hit the UK streets. Tuctuc’s in Delhi were virtually old ‘bullet’ bikes towing a passenger compartment (or so I thought) and did sound ‘tuc tuc tuc’& carried more than 3 people. In Thailand, I recall, it was called the Tuc-tuc. Our Bajaj autos don’t tuc tuc by comparison, they just purr.

Well Domnic Ponnaih saw them in India and decided to bring them to Brighton UK, so he imported 12 Bajajs from Pune, upped the safety features (adding side bars and roll bars) converted the engine to natural gas…and Voila! hit the news. The fleet is now 12 big and expected to grow to cover London, rest of UK and then on to mainland Europe.

Drivers are supposed to be fun loving and have to wear a special uniform by a big name designer!! They have to know some tinkering (like our auto drivers – though not as far as the ones who ask you to get off so that they can lift one side of the auto to get the last drop of fuel into the system). No! I do not think they have been trained to sit at 45 deg to the handle, on a half bum. Oh! And they are allowed to hoot now and then to add to the fun….

Aha, it is available from 8AM to 2AM…no ‘oneandhalf’ fare terms like in Bangalore. Also for now, you can get a free toy & T Shirt if you ride one of those funny named brightly painted autos.

As for me, Brighton is too far away …So it still is reminiscences of the auto’s in India…I wont be surprised, if another Dominic comes up with a taxi-bike (like in Thailand) service to beat the traffic jams…

they are looking for drivers .

Pictures Courtsey Times, BBC, Tuctuc

The survivors

Every now and then a good one pops up in the 'inbox', alittle American, but the essence of it is applicable worldwide. I guess

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's !!
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.
They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes
Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.
We shared one soft drink with four friends, and NO ONE actually died from this.
We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games , no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........
WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate mud pies made from dirt.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in or simply called their name!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

Our generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.
We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned


And IF YOU are one of them!CONGRATULATIONS!

Canal boats

I certainly did not know about these. Where I come from, the canal carried water to the fields in the district from Malampuzha. There was a lot of muttering amongst the farmers if that did not happen at the prescribed time.

So here I am in England, Liz who works in our department came the other day and said, ‘I am off on my holiday’. I asked ‘where are you going? Majorca or some such place?’ She said, ‘No, I will be on my canal boat’. I was wondering what on the earth she was talking about. I did recall passing a canal with some brightly coloured miniature boats the other day, so I asked Liz ‘you are going to spend a vacation on one of those, are they big enough?’ She said ‘of course, they are, we live & spend days on one and boat around the canals. We have a community and meet for supper in designated canal side pubs’..

‘It is really nice, you must try it’ she added. Well…I wondered...

No, I did not, but I looked it up. Today there is a community of some 27,000 boats, all used for pleasure. These boats are modern diesel engine versions with bedrooms, bathrooms TV, Internet and could (depending on size) sleep 2-12 persons!! They ply the British canal network which were originally manmade for transporting goods through the Industrial revolution in the 18th - 19th century. All sounds fine right, till you hear about the dimensions. The minimum width of canal can be just about 7 feet. So what would the boat feel like? Pretty narrow, right? Yes it is and that is why it is also called ‘narrowboat’. If it is narrow then how do you have all of the above? It has to be plenty long (20-40ft) and you guessed right, some call it longboat…

Think of this, a narrow canal, a long and narrow boat.. So you just go one way is it? Oh.. NO! You have places (winding holes) where you can turn and BTW, the canal has different depths and is at different heights. So to navigate these, you have to pass through ‘locks’ and thus even go uphill.. Then there are tunnels to pass through…

I mentioned diesel powered, so how was it in the 18th century? A horse walked along the side of the canal on a ‘canal path’ and pulled the boat laden with goods. It was all very complex, read this to figure out how it worked when another boat & horse came head one. Also, these were then called horseboats!

Like somebody said, it is the fastest way to slow down…travelling at 4mph. Now you understand the concept of a canal holiday, I presume???

Pictures (courtesy Wikipedia, Holidayuk…)

Eating at Ananda Bhavan

I had to find Ananda Bhavan without haste…So on the walk back (to catch the 1817 limited stop fast train from VT to Mulund) to VT from Nariman point, I decided to hunt out the place. Finding it was no big deal, everybody knew in the Fort area. Appeared to be a meeting place for Southies of Tamil or Mallu origin!! There it was…The smell of sambar and ghee wafted from the doorstep and every seat looked taken. A few hung around tables that were about to be vacated, looking with pleading eyes (go on, get up & go) on the other hand the guys sitting were finding reasons to delay their departure…this seating tug of war went on.. I joined this group waiting for a seat. And finally got one where a couple of guys were animatedly discussing the merits of living in Matunga vs Dombivilli..

How did I end up here ( this was in 1982)? As a South Indian in Bombay, fresh from Kerala (after a two-year stint in Chennai), I was desperate for proper South Indian food. There were plenty of Udupi restaurants, but the sugar in the Sambar and other dishes somehow put me off. The search for a proper Tamilian or Malayali vegetarian joint started in right earnest. A benevolent uncle who had spent decades in Bombay came to the rescue, he suggested the Ananda Bhavan in Fort on Cawasji Patel St, at Fort.

Typical of such café’s, the ambience was dull; the walls had not seen paint for sometime. Table boys were on their toes, busy cleaning tables at the earliest possible opportunity with a ‘vazhaka thundu’ later polishing off with a rag soaked in some strange chemical (to keep flies at bay – Phenyl??). As soon as a plate was seen empty, it was pulled away & dumped into a plastic bucket they lugged around (Steel Glasses were the responsibility of another boy!!). The waiters (slightly older – hence not termed boys) were running around, shouting orders to the cooks in the kitchen. I marvelled at the efficiency, some 6 waiters, 5 boys, some 25-30 tables and the orders were in continuous flow. The system worked, rarely did a wrong dish land up in front of the waiting, drooling, hungry man…You could overhear conversations in Tamil and Malayalam…an odd Kannadiga or a Northie speaking Hindi.. ‘No Smoking’ screamed one board. ‘No hair combing at basin’ reminded another…

The scowling manager/owner dressed in traditional dhoti and white shirt sat behind the glass topped quadrant unit next to the door. His symbol of power was the bell. One press of the button, you heard a dull tinkle (wonder how people heard it across that busy room – I guess if they did not, the next sound was a loud bellow) and the nearest waiter had to quickly amble across and find out what was wanted by Periyavar... In front of him, there was the pin-stand where the bills brought by patrons for payment were punched in, under the glass table was a calendar with a bright Murugan picture and many time expired notices…the cash-drawer was open and notes would go in, Chillar would come out…everything went on like clockwork. For those so inclined, there was a bowl of Beeda (pre-prepared South Indian Paan), which you could buy for Rs2/- on the way out.. The whole place smelt heavenly…

Ancient fans droned away slowly on the ceiling, grime from many decades coated those fan blades…The board on the wall announced ‘Today’s special’. I have always wondered who decided the special, the manager or the cook or was it team effort like we have these days? Today it was Sevai, served piping hot…That was what I ate and I still remember the Sevai (spicy version) with Chutney and Podienna…Super - Ugran.

It was soon to become a routine, Ghee Roast, or vada sambar or vada rasam or sevai….On Saturdays it was a half day at office, so it was lunch – a proper ‘thali’ with Avial and semia payasam all the other stuff. Many of the waiters were from Palakkad, so we had a lot to chat about when they hovered around.

Finally rounded off with filter coffee served in the steel glass and ‘dovarah’ !! Delicious…reminded me of Ashoka Bhavan in GB road, Palakkad….

I miss it all and wonder if others remember the place, like I do…. I am not sure if it is still around, but it surely is in my memory.

Two other mentions of Ananda Bhavan - thanks to google.

London taxi

You get into an auto in Bangalore….Eenree? elli hoga beku??? You pray to the gods before you tell the guy ‘take me to 1st block Kormangala’. The driver sits in that famous ‘half bum cheek on the seat’ pose, 45deg to the steering handle (I have never figured out why, my friend Madan told me that it came from Lamby scooter (Lamby had the engine on one side – so u have to offset yourself to balance it) drivers) he either does so straight away by the fastest & shortest route (Am I lucky today!) or he asks you which route you want to take, - ‘route gotha? Do you know the way?’ or if he finds you gullible enough (e.g. newbie off island express), by the longest possible route at ‘onthu arai’ ‘1andhalf’ fare..

So what should it be like in London?

Before being allowed to light their for hire sign, London's taxi drivers must pass a series of rigorous exams to prove they have committed to memory every street, major building and open space within a 10-km radius of the city centre and be able to recite a set litany of 320 routes or "runs" — in both directions. This feat of memory is so daunting that it is capitalized as "the Knowledge," and scientists have found that in order to accommodate such a vast mental map, the posterior hippocampus of a London cabbie's brain, the bit responsible for spatial memory and navigation, actually grows bigger than those of mere humans. Read on at Self Knowledge from Time Magazine, July 6th

The 'Knowledge of London' was introduced in 1851 by Sir Richard Mayne after complaints that cab drivers did not know where they were going. Passing the Knowledge involves detailed recall of 25,000 streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. The locations of clubs, hospitals, hotels, railway stations, parks, theatres, courts, restaurants, colleges, government buildings and places of worship are also required. It can take three years to pass the test, including the six months it takes to be tested.

I did not know all this, but I started to think about the plight of the Indian or Bangladeshi émigré planning this test!! You complain of children having to cram so much for their tests, how would it be for a 30-40 year old man deciding to become a hackney-cab driver in London?

P.S Now did you know that old British law (I don’t think it does these days) permitted British hackney drivers to pee, on cab wheels/tyres?

MB Srinivasan, A tribute

Chembaka pushpa suwasita yamam…. Yesudas is crooning that wonderful MBS song from Yavanika…You are listening and picturing a time and place in front of a wood-cased valve radio, fingering its piano key selector array and looking at the magic ‘cat’ eye twinkling green, But no, Yavanika was actually a 1982 movie!!

I grew fond of MB Srinivasan’s music when I first heard his songs from the movie Ulkadal. Then came songs from the movies Yavanika, followed by Chillu and I adored those melodious numbers…. Many of this generation may not know MBS; he passed away some eighteen years ago.

Life went on, countries, continents and days passed by. His songs moved to the ‘old songs collection’ in my hard drive to be double-clicked on rarely. Today MBS re-entered my thoughts. I thought I will pen a few words on that great man who made me hum many a tune in the bathroom.

MBS always maintained a low profile in the news media, you read very little about him these or even those days.MBS was not a Mallu, Inhabitants of Chitoor in Andhra Pradesh could not have imagined Manamadurai Balakrishnan Srinivasan Iyengar, born 1925 would go on to become a music maestro, or practise his art in languages not theirs. Born in a rich family, music was integral in his early life, but higher studies took MBS to Madras Presidency College. Bharatiyar was working up patriotic fervour at that time with his songs and the freedom struggle was peaking. It was MBS’s communist leanings which then took him to Delhi and exposed him to plays, music and many other people & languages. Here he met, fell in love with and later married Zahida Kitchlew a Kashmiri Muslim, daughter of the freedom fighter Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew. Doing music for films was another matter though, he did hardly 8-9 movies in the Tamil world, but Malluwood beckoned and here MBS flourished.

He was the one who gave Yesudas his first solo song in Kalpadukal, and also his first duet with Shanta P Nair (a time when the stalwarts would not sing with a newcomer) in the same movie. He worked with all the great singers of the time. MBS was again the man who gave Jayachandran his great award winning song ‘Ragam sree ragam’. He gave Usha Uthup her movie hit, Peethambara O Krishna, and even penned the lyrics for her chirpy ‘Under the mango tree’ in Madana maligai.

National integration and patriotism were themes that always drove him and he believed in using music to instil these into children. Thus started his choral work. MBS started the Madras Youth Choir many years ago. M Jayachandran, todays hit music director used to work in the MBS choir!! Many a singer graduated out of his Choir, people like Kavita Krishnamoorthy, Sudha Ranganathan, the list goes on. Tragically, he died of a heart attach while conducting a choir in Lakshdweep in 1988.

Oh! He was a great man, involved in a many activities, making his mark in all he did. Radio, AIR, movies, societies…..Many of the great radio jingles of the 70’s and 80’s were directed by MBS!!He even acted out the main protagonist’s role in the controversial John Abraham movie ‘Agraharathile kazutha’.

Today’s music directors and lyricists owe a lot to him; He was instrumental in guaranteeing them their royalty payments by helping establish the IPRS Indian Performance Right Society Ltd (IPRS).

His son Kabir survives MBS. Zahida passed away in 2002.

(N Saravanan via contributed much of the information. The picture was extracted from .One good article was located in the Hindu

My MBS favourites
Oru vattom koodiya,
Chembaka pushpa
Mizhikalil nira kathirayi,
Sharabindu manideepa naalam,
Ente kadinjool pranaya

MBS conducted music in these movies
Kalpadukal, Mukhamukham, Ulkadal, Sukhamo devi, Swati tirunal, Swapnadanam, Nirmalyam, Parasparam, Manssinde teerthayatra, Valarthu mrigangal, Idavazhiyle Poocha Mindapoocha, Melam , Venal , Ilakkangal , Kathi , Manimathoorile aayiram Shiva Rathrikal, Yavanika , Lekhayude maranam oru flash back , Kolangal , Aadaaminte variyellu , Chillu, Meenamasathile sooryan , Prem naseerine kaanmaanilla, Kodiyettam , Swayamvaram , Mukhamukham , Elippathaayam , Anantaram , Bandhanam , Amrutham gamaya , Puthiya aakaasam puthiya bhoomi, Parasparam , Sagaram santham , Oppol , Jaalakam , Kadal , Oru Kochu Swapnam , Nurse, Sivathandavam, Aarathi, Thatamme poocha poocha

The talking drums

We used to love vacation time at Pallavur, where our maternal tharavad was located. All the cousins were around then and that meant lots and lots of merriment. Cricket was still to reach us, football and other games like seven stones were the main pastimes, spending whole days in the hot sun (no, we did not use sun screens!), till of course a lady with the loudest voice screamed food time from the kitchen area, accompanied with dire threats if we did not come right away.

Holidays usually coincided with the Ulsavams, be it Aaratu or Vilakku, in our huge Siva temple and during these a Thayambaka or Panchavadyam session took prominence. We kiddies were always there, hanging around, managing to squeeze past the bare bodied dhoti clad men to be up close and personal to the drummers (The air had the sweet smell of the Agarbathis and Kalabhom).

The sounds still remain in the head; I can pick up the starting Thayambaka beat anytime. We children used to have ‘at home’ sessions later, on a biscuit tin tied to our necks and a couple of sticks passing off as Chenda kols. The trick was finding a stick with the right curve, After some mastery, the hunt went on for a Kanjiram tree, it was mentioned by somebody that real Chenda sticks were whetted out from Kanjiram branches. We did find a tree, but it was so big and the branches so high that the whole idea was summarily dropped. Even the most daredevil amongst us (me?) could not find a way to climb that tall one. After playtime and a bath in the pond (can you imagine that! Some 10 of us splashing away to our hearts content and screaming our heads off), it was drumming on the dinner table, of course an action perfected to irritate all and sundry. Ah I remember it all…. When I try telling these things to my son, he sniggers…he says, “Oh! What losers, you played with biscuit tins & sticks”??

I remember the drummers; they were the heroes in our village. The brothers Manian, Appu and Kunjukuttan were a class unto their own, the Pallavur brothers or the Pallavur trinity as they were fondly called, held a percussion audience in rhapsody. For a tiny village nesting somewhere around the Western Ghats with a population of a few hundreds (those days), this was our claim to fame, three Chenda stalwarts who made it to concerts around the world and who worked magic with their drum sticks, ah! They could get their drums to talk, believe me!!

I still remember Appu marar, a long gold chain round his neck. Kunjukuttan was the stockier one, his Chenda rested on his potbelly. I can’t picture Manian though; his memory has faded away like someday the others would too. But the drums continue to beat at every festival, the very same beats that were once played by the brothers; and people still remember and talk about the lost trinity…like it was yesterday..

Picture - Guru Pallavoor Appu Marar preparing for Keli Classical Rhythm Festival 2001 Thayambaka, Mumbai -Picture courtesy Prithvi Theatre