The bare footed eleven

My younger son is always talking about shoes, like he is crazy about Lakers star ‘Kobe Bryant’. He is forever looking for new basketball shoes, and has no qualms even about wearing yellow and purple Lakers shoes that we have so far managed to forbid purchase of…There was a time when I had just one pair - a North star shoe from Bata which was fantastic (rumour has it was an prize winning design by N Singh in 1960, but got introduced in India after a lot was rejected by a ‘phoren’ buyer in the 70’s eventually becoming a rage in India) till its PVC heel detached itself and flew off in the desert heat of Riyadh’s roads (that story was covered in an Earlier blog), but then, today foot accessories are big business.

During college days, I used to see soccer matches, especially the Sait Nagjee and Santosh trophy matches. Calicut was a football crazy place and my room mate Soman was a big time fan. So we used to go watch the clubs like Mohan Bagan, Mohamedan’s, Titanium, state teams like Goa & Kerala, playing at the flood lit stadium…and watching the mastery of players like Victor Manjila (his precision half volley kick from the goal line was legendary). However Indian football then & now remains sanctioned to state levels & club levels and in the hearts of such diehard fans, unfortunately never reaching world levels. Since then there has only one Indian claim to international football fame – the parentage of the ever so pretty Parminder Nagra from ‘Bend it like Beckham’ now a lead in ER(she even became FIA football personality of 2002, but saw India for the first time only in 2003!).

Well, there was once a time when India did not participate in Olympic football because they would not wear shoes while playing. For 39 years until that date, Indian footballers played without shoes, excelling in the game, winning many a tournament. Let us take a look at those heady days. It was a time when players did not have million dollar endorsements for scoring goals with their hands or sitting out on the bench or head butting others in fury.

It was 29th of July, 1911, 96 years back, when the Indian freedom movement found a new avenue towards the independence when Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment by 2-1. Eleven bare footed men showed their character and came from behind not only to equalize but ultimately won the shield. It was on that day when Mohun Bagan Athletic Club became an example towards the subservient Indians and that phenomenon transformed the whole nation. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club became the first ever Indian team to win the IFA Shield and to pay the tribute; 29th July has been celebrated as Mohun Bagan Day

The first overseas trip for Indian footballers was finally realized in 1948
. The occasion was the biggest sporting congregation of the world - the Olympics - and the venue even more enticing - London. The patronage of the Indian government ensured that for the first time an Indian football team set sail for Europe. It was a team stitched together under the captaincy of the celebrated Mohun Bagan captain Dr. Talimeren Ao. The squad included other stalwarts such as Sahu Mewalal, Ahmed Khan, S. Raman, Dhanraj and of course Manna. "There was no elaborate preparation. We only played a few matches against local teams under our trainer Baliadas Chatterjee. There was no concept of a coach at that time," recalls Manna. "We had to travel for more than three weeks and the deck of our ship became the training field. We would do the fitness drills everyday and practice shooting with balls dangled by ropes. We were cheered by other people travelling with us." Manna's face gleams as his memory flashes images. "We lost the match 1-2 against France but our performance drew huge cheers as we were challenging the Europeans bare-footed," says Manna. The biggest appreciation came from the English monarchy. "Princess Margaret had asked me during a reception at Buckingham Palace, `Aren't you afraid of playing barefooted against boots?' We could not say that there was no fund for buying boots. We just grinned and said playing without them was more comfortable," says Manna with a hint of pride.

Who was the only Asian footballer ever to be named among the best 10 captains in the world? The man in question is Sailendra Nath (Sailen) Manna - the former Indian captain who fetched the country a host of international laurels including the first Asian Games gold in 1951. Today, Manna, is the representative of the period when Indian football was at its peak. Manna's exploits at the helm of the Indian national team had prompted the England Football Association to rate him among the 10 best skippers of the world in its yearbook of 1953. That was the best of times. The euphoria of newly gained independence was sweeping across the nation.

The Indian team qualified for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, but could not appear as they still played in their bare feet at that time. Wearing shoes was a mandatory requirement by FIFA. There are also some statements & reports that it was only an attributed reason, the board did not apparently have the resources to send the team abroad!!

India faced disappointment in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. "We were still the `barefooted bunch' as most of us were unaccustomed to boots," says Manna. "We could only see snow all around. We were freezing on the ground. The chill proved too much against a well-accomplished team like Yugoslavia." India bowed out of the tournament losing 1-10.

Mohammed Abdul Salim from Calcutta played for Celtic, the first club to win the European cup, but had to bandage his feet. Called the Indian juggler, Celtics website explains why & even have a fantastic poem on him –
check it out

After showing amazing skills as an essential member of Calcutta's Mohammedan Sporting Club side, a cousin urged Salim to try his hand at European football. During his trial at Celtic Park, which came after an enduring boat trip via Cairo and London, Salim's ability even in bare feet astonished Willie Maley. On his debut in 1937 Salim, in bare feet, proved exceptional helping Celtic win 5-1. In his second match against Galston, Celtic won 7-1 and his performance led the Scottish Daily Express to write: "Indian Juggler - New Style." Ten twinkling toes of Salim, Celtic FC's player from India, hypnotised the crowd at Parkhead. He balanced the ball on his big toe, lets it run down the scale to his little toe, twirls it, and hops on one foot around the defender." The board would have been happy, there is not truth that they tried to get the rest of our players to go bare footed, boots are expensive you know.

Salim even refused to take penalties out of shyness (too easy for him, perhaps?). When he decided to go back to India due to homesickness, Celtic offered to pay him 5% of the gate proceeds. In those days it was GBP 1,800, a princely amount, per day. He gifted all of it, until he left Britain, to orphans who were provided entry using this amount. ‘A social history of Indian football’ provides more details to those interested. Can you believe that 1000 club members were there to witness the selection session that Celtic laid out for Salim, before he was chosen?

For those interested in the origins of Football - Recorded in a military manual dating back to the Han dynasty (200-300 BC), it is usually believed that the Chinese Tsu Chu is the earliest form of football known to man.Two 30-feet high bamboo canes were used to suspend a large piece of silk cloth with a hole 30cm-40cm in diameter cut into it and competitors would attempt to kick a leather ball through it. Tsu Chu, it seems was played to celebrate the emperor's birthday and the penalty for losing was death.

Socal Fires

Socal is how they call South California and we have been in the news lately as many of you may know. Having watched the Malibu fire story on TV during the week end, I was a bit apprehensive about the coming days with the dry weather and the howling Santa Ana winds. There was also an official trip coming up mid week.

Sunday – we went out for dinner, and on the left of highway 15 saw a smallish fire & lots of smoke at the Fallbrook area about 15 miles from home.
Monday morning – went to the office as usual, the smoke by I15 had increased. By afternoon we heard that there were huge fires in the San Diego County & mass evacuations were underway. That was when things started to get a little worrisome. I decided it best to leave & quickly drive the 40 mile distance back to Temecula, where we live. It took me six hours to get home and took me close to the raging fires in Fallbrook, we could see stuff falling from the air – soot, cinder…and people fleeing with their cars & trucks laden. Stuck in traffic, I tried many roads to get back on the highway as the GPS instructed, all the inlets into the 15 North were blocked by Police.
Eventually my wife, who was scanning Google maps at home, relayed over the phone that there was a smallish road that joins up in Temecula and I landed up in it. De Luz - Sandia Creek road – a gorgeous drive through forest, some fabulous mansions (I saw a wooden house on an artificial lake even!). Winding, twisting and sloping, the small road & the few inhabitants were finding the many hundreds of cars a bit difficult to cope with, I suppose.

Later that night somewhere on the road through which we came, the shrubs & forest caught fire. It is now called the Rosa fire. This is about 5 miles from where we live, as the crow flies. The wind was blowing the smoke in dense trails…

Tuesday, lots of worry whether the Rosa fire would flare up – Only one site seemed to have any interest in this – The North Californian newspaper site. All others had eyes on the bigger fires.

There were far too many fires in the Socal area & by evening engines, firemen and helicopters from other states started to come by – a million people had got evacuated from Socal...Officials have evacuated nearly 350,000 homes in San Diego County alone, where the worst of the fires are blazing. Based on numbers from the 2000 census, as many as 950,000 people may have been affected

Ground crews and a helicopter launched a full-scale assault on the stubborn "Rosa" fire Tuesday morning in an attempt to surround the blaze, keep it away from homes and stop its march toward the San Diego County line and the inferno currently battering Fallbrook.At noon Tuesday, more than 400 combined acres had been charred, much of it in the thick underbrush of the avocado groves. The fire was about 50 percent surrounded with full containment expected by Wednesday, said Jody Hagemann, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This blog covers a bit
of the Fallbrook& Rosa fire.

- This fire has burned 411 acres and is 70 percent contained. 175 residences near Temecula are threatened. Evacuations have been lifted and residents are allowed to return to their homes. Suspected arson!!

Fallbrook -This fire has burned 7,500 acres in Rice Canyon in Northern San Diego County and is 10 percent contained. 206 homes, 2 commercial properties and 40 outbuildings have been destroyed. 1,500 homes are threatened currently. 35,000 people have been evacuated from the communities of Fallbrook and Deluz Canyon.

The De Luz - Sandia creek road is an interesting drive that I would not have experienced, had it not been for the fire.
This site provides some nice pictures!!
The plight of those who lost their property and had to endure the pain of evacuation is terrible - I hope they can get back soon to their homes or rebuild them, to continue living their lives as they wanted!!

Fire close up pics Courtesy Lateott
Highway pice from the net - thanks, owner
Others taken from our porch

RK Narayan – The simple man

They are the only people who have realized their place in life, said RK Narayan about Malayalis, the people of Kerala!! Surprised? It was not related to any great person or event, but to the Malayali fondness for an Umbrella!! With his unopened umbrella in hand, Narayan was a familiar figure walking in Mysore. For him an umbrella was “a status symbol and an elegant adjunct to walking”. He had collected umbrellas from all over the world, and the strange thing was that he retained most of them. He hated lending his umbrella to anyone. He liked Kerala and its people because of their ‘devotion to umbrellas’ – This recollection comes from TS Nagarajan the photo journalist.

RKN is a much loved writer and a personal favorite. There is so much of him beyond his books and autobiography that some would be interested in, so I ventured to find some of that stuff. This collection will I hope, help those uninitiated into the world of the creator of Malgudi - Mr Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Naranayanaswami.

RKN loved walking
Walking was not a mere routine exercise for him but the main spring of all his thinking. He once said: “I pray I should be able to walk all my life and write a book called Testament of a Walker on the pleasures and problems of walking, the equipment needed, the dos and the don’t s etc.” Here, for instance, is the novelist and journalist Khushwant Singh on a visit to Mysore forty years ago: ‘Being with Narayan on his afternoon stroll was an experience. He did not go to a park but preferred walking up the bazaars . . . He would stop briefly at shops to exchange namaskaras with the owners, introduce me and exchange gossip with them in Kannada or Tamil.’

How many of you know that it was his mentor Graham Greene who asked him to change his name to RK Narayan?? (Reminded me of my friend K Vijayan Nair who was quite unsuccessful in his attempt at terming himself KVN Air) This, Greene explained (note that in those days Libraries were the bigger purchasers of books), would help 'old ladies in libraries' to remember him."

The July 69 issue of Playboy had, amongst the gorgeous exhibition of mammaries belonging to one Nancy McNeil and many others, a story called ‘A Breath of Lucifer’. Guess who wrote it? RKN!! Those who had no access to the nice color version later read it in the short story collection ‘Under the banyan tree’. The story as such is about the dependence of a temporarily blinded man upon his male nurse. Funnily the story was dictated by RKN when he was recovering after his cataract operation!! But I am still to figure out how it ended up in Playboy…

Food - RK Narayan liked his curd rice and coffee – Let us see what he had to say about his food, coffee and betel nut chewing….

On his walks Narayan always sucked a clove, cardamom or betel nut stored in a tiny Kodak film box he carried in his pocket. He always bought his stock from Srinivasa Stores on Sayaji Rao Road. TS Satyan adds - I have seen him smilingly rattle the film box before his friends and proclaim: “I carry my life blood in this. My pen moves only when I have a betel nut in my mouth. Without one, I can neither think nor write!” Once I offered a New Year gift to him - a small, elegant silver box - to store his betelnut. My wife had bought it for him in Nepal. He thanked me and said that he preferred my Kodak film box instead and suggested that I make a present of the silver one to his younger brother Srinivasan, also a betel addict.

TSS adds in a Hindu interview -
If curd rice was Narayan’s favorite dish, coffee was undoubtedly his favorite drink. He was a strict vegetarian and, when invited for a meal, would often tell my wife not to prepare many dishes. “I am happy with curd rice and lime pickle,” he would tell her. He thought, “The sound of curds falling on a heap of rice is the loveliest sound in the world.” He did not impose his regimen on his hosts. But I know for sure, that he made a great deal of fuss about coffee. He relied on his sister-in-law, Sulochana, to prepare the brew. This gracious lady, wife of his younger brother Seenu, was a great friend of my wife Ratna. She would bemoan: “It is a terrible task for me, making the ‘perfect’ coffee for Kunjappa––Narayan’s pet name. The warmth of the drink and the mix of sugar, milk and decoction have to be very, very correct. Even if there is a slight variation in warmth or flavour, he will ask me to make it all over again. One has to be a genius to ‘repair’ it.”

Natwar Singh, a friend recalls - At the U.N. Dining Room, at the end of luncheon, R.K. wanted a cup of coffee. The waiter asked him, "Black or white, sir?" R.K. replied, "Brown".

At a wedding, Satyan says - He accepted a cup of coffee forced on him by the bride's brother. I shuddered at the thought of his rejecting it much to everyone's embarrassment. He gingerly held the cup in hand and took one sip and then looked at me raising his eyebrows. I could make out that what he had in hand was not his 'cup of coffee'. Both of us were aware of the average quality of coffee served at south Indian weddings. After rotating the cup for a while with his nimble fingers, he quietly deposited it under the chair and went over to someone he knew for a chat.

N Ram of Hindu reminiscences -
Our favourite haunt was the Southern Spice restaurant at the Taj. He always sat at a particular table and knew exactly what he wanted, which would generally be a dosa or an aappam. He was very disciplined in his eating habits. He wouldn't eat anything or take any soft drink before his meal. But he loved desserts; he also loved chocolates and Indian sweets. Late into the night, if he was hungry, he would hunt the house for sweets. His son-in-law is diabetic, but he had no such problems.

There is a very interesting article written by a Swedish writer Zac o’zeah about RKN in the Hindu- It provides you great insight about the person himself. Following a terrible encounter with ‘Times’ interviewers which resulted in hospitalization, RKN refused interviews. Zac had flown all the way to India to meet the great man. But RKN would not see him. It was only when he heard that Zac was living in a Triplicane hotel and ate South Indian dishes that his curiosity led to an invitation home. After some patient minutes, RKN got to the point – what south Indian dishes had Zac eaten? He was pleased to hear that both Idli & Dosas had been tried!!

Frugal - He was a simple man, with simple tastes and simple wants (but he did possess a Mercedes car!). Once he had the following to say to the script writer of Malgudi days . It
was time for me to leave. I pulled out the copy of Bachelor Of Arts I had just bought at Gangarams and asked whether he could sign it for me. And it was then, in a rare, precious, cameo moment, that I saw what R K Narayan was all about. He took the book and turned it around. "Two hundred rupees?!" he said indignantly, seeing the price at the back. "You paid two hundred rupees for this book?! Why do you waste your money like this, I say? You can get the same thing in the Indian edition for just eighty rupees. What a waste!"
He was never motivated by politics, though he referred to some in Swami, Waiting for the Mahatma etc- Says HY Sharada Prasad, his close friend and a student leader: “During the Quit India movement and all when nationalist politics were at fever pitch, Narayan never issued statements condemning imperialistic perfidy or the inadequacy of the Cripps Proposals. He appeared curiously unconcerned and uncommitted––to borrow a word which came into vogue later.” Once when Naipaul met RKN, he asked about Indian politics and problems- RKN replied simply, ‘India will go on…’

His sense of humor could be infectious- Stayan continues - Whenever I went to Madras I used to find Narayan constantly talking to friends on a cordless telephone. “Without this I cannot survive,” he would tell me. When young friends visited him, they sought his blessings and prostrated at his feet. Narayan made them laugh saying: “This is an advantage that age bestows on a man even if he is an utter ass!”

Music - It may be noted in passing that, during his dark days, music was a source of solace to him. R.K. was a self-taught veena player, but good enough to earn the commendation of the veena maestro of Mysore Palace, Vidwan Doreswamy Iyengar. They spent many hours together, and R.K. showed himself to be quite good in alapana and kirtana rendering. In return, R.K. became Doreswamy Iyengar's English teacher, and helped him obtain his B.A. degree. He had a hundred-year-old veena on which he played in a very unorthodox manner. "I will pluck the strings in any order, in any way I like. I want only the sound," he used to tell his music teacher and close friend, who also taught his daughter Hema. Iyengar was already a veena wizard when he studied with me in college. He had already become a musician at the Royal Court in Mysore. Narayan would often say, "But for the education I received, I think I would have become a Bhagavatar - professional classical musician." Surprisingly, music as a theme and musicians as characters do not figure in Narayan's novels, rues a common friend, H.Y. Sharada Prasad. This linked article details his relationship with the Veena, music & Iyengar.

Family Life - In July 1933, R.K.Narayan fell in love. He was staying in Coimbatore with a sister, and one day he "saw a girl drawing water from the street tap and immediately fell in love with her." This was Rajam, 15 years old at the time, tall (taller than R.K. by a couple of inches), slim and good-looking. He cultivated the friendship of Rajam's book-loving headmaster father, Nageswara Iyer, and one day he came out saying, "Sir I want to marry your daughter." They were married shortly thereafter, and after Hema their daughter was born, Rajam succumbed to Typhoid. ‘The English teacher’ is based on his own wife’s death and his dark days after the sad event. Many years later, it was a tragedy that stopped Narayan writing - His daughter Hema died of cancer in 1994. RKN left us later in 2001. These two women meant a lot in his life and without them he lost interest. He moved from Mysore back to Chennai in his older years to be close to Hema. Hema’s last days were terrible for RKN – He said this to N Ram - "It (chemotherapy) is like setting fire to the house to roast the pig."

About Mysore - In his autobiography My days - “Unlike Madras, where even a shirt on one’s back proves irksome, here (in Mysore) one could dress properly—coat, cap and footwear, which my father insisted both as a headmaster and a teacher.’’

Garbo - When his wife, who could never read English, but was the greatest support for RKN, died at
an early age, Narayan sought to communicate with her across the worlds. Greta Garbo once asked the author to teach her the secrets of meditation. Narayan modestly declined, explaining that he had not been privy to any such 'secrets'. His meeting with Garbo is described in this article by Donald Keene - Another guest was R. K. Narayan, the great Indian writer. Garbo sat at the end of a sofa not saying anything. Looking at her I could not help but be aware that Garbo was no longer beautiful. I remember particularly that her lipstick was smeared. But when Narayan began to speak of his conversations with his late wife in the world of the dead, Garbo's interest was awakened, and for a while we saw again the face that had captivated the world. Narayan taught her the Gayatri mantra and Garbo offered in return a cigarette!!

Some notes about his writing - R. K. Narayan began his first novel on a day (1930-Vijayadashami) selected for its auspicious quality by his grandmother, a firm believer in horoscopes.
Narayan started reading in earnest, the classics of English literature, and writing. He read out his pieces to a close band of friends, and after priming the audience with coffee and snacks, asked for their opinion. Such reviews were laudatory, “brilliant” being the unanimous word.

RKN once queued for the Master of Arts course, viewing the degree as an expedient in job hunting. While walking up the university stairs to submit the form, a friend warned of the privations of M.A. Narayan turned around and came down the steps in a hurry, never to try their ascent again. For a short period (2 days) in his life he was a teacher in Mysore (the only job he ever held). He resigned
the job when he was asked to take a PT class!! His first attempt at writing was a play called ‘Home of Thunder’ which was neither played nor published. Hindu offered to publish his attempts in ‘Letters to editor’. Others rejected him since he used plain prose as against Victorian prose.
“Swami and Friends” his first book was completed and sent to publishers. The full story is in this fine Hindu article. The manuscript repeatedly returned. Narayan dispatched it yet another time and gave the return address as one of his friend’s in London. He wrote to the friend Kit (Kittu Raghavendra Purna)Puran, an old neighbor studying in UK, requesting the manuscript be tied to a brick and thrown into the Thames if it came back. It did. But the friend took it to his acquaintance Graham Greene, who was already an established author. Narayan received a telegram soon thereafter, “Novel taken. Graham Greene responsible.” Though the two men Greene & RKN corresponded for more than 50 years (until Greene's death in 1991), they met only once (in 1956), when Narayan passed through London on his way to New York. Incredibly, only after 15 years did Narayan allow himself to address his friend as "Graham" rather than "Mr Greene".

Narayan was worried about the kind of reception The English Teacher would receive. Graham Greene read the manuscript and wrote to Narayan: "At the least it is a damn good ghost story," or something like that. Greene's verdict relieved Narayan greatly

Throughout his career, Narayan changed publishers often, sometimes publishers changed him; he even dabbled in self-publishing (during WW II) for some of his books. The Rockefeller Foundation selected Narayan for a travel grant. This was his first travel abroad, and he says coyly, “Finally I did break out of the triangular boundary of Madras, Mysore and Coimbatore and left for the United States, in October 1956.” RKN was short listed for the Nobel Prize, but never won it. Rumor has it that the Nobel literary board were confused that his books were a series of self help books owing to their quaint titles. RKN’s own reflections on the Nobel prize- He did not win the Prize and has speculated on what might have tripped him. Here is his humorous reflection on the committee’s deliberations, “His writing is too simple, and too readable, requiring no effort on the part of the reader. …He has created a new map called Malgudi in which his characters live and die. Story after story is set in the same place, which is not progressive, a rather stagnant background….. We hope some day Narayan will develop into a full-fledged writer deserving our serious consideration.”
Movies and plays - He entered the movie world with the script for the Tamil movie Miss Malini (the novel Mr Sampath is based on this). Gemni Ganesan made his debut in this movie. He did work on some other movie scripts like Moonru pillaigal and Avvaiyar, but it was his book Guide that thoroughly disappointed him, forcing him to write a review on “the misguided Guide’. Source for above . Guide the play - A planned Broadway edition was as reckless in its treatment. Narayan had to withhold his permission to present it on stage, even as the adaptation was done by an old friend of his, a former literary editor of the New York Times. As an example of the outrage, Narayan mentions, “For instance, his version managed to abolish the heroine. I objected to his omission and to two irrelevant characters of his own; above all I objected to the hero’s turning around and urinating on the stage.” Matters became rather acrimonious over this script and Narayan had to leave New York at a very short notice to avoid being summoned for a subpoena; he found asylum in the Indian consulate before boarding a flight out of the United States. However the script was later revised and “The Guide” opened in Broadway in March 1968. It closed in less than a week.

Rajya Sabha - He looked at Parliament, as a cynic and used to regale the children and his nieces with stories of the happenings in the House. He seemed to enjoy the masala dosa at the Parliament house canteen, perhaps, it reminded him of Malgudi. RKN was always fond of children. When Narayan was appointed a member of the upper house of parliament in Delhi, in his maiden speech, he spoke of children having so much homework that they had no time to play. He focused on the school bag. “The school bag has become an inevitable burden for the child. I am now pleading for abolition of the school bag, as a national policy, by an ordinance if necessary. I have investigated and found that an average child carries strapped to his back, like a pack-mule, not less than six to eight kilograms of books, note books and other paraphernalia of modern education in addition to lunch box and water bottle..”.

Malgudi – This of course is the imaginary town created by RKN in his novels. Fans would recall the various buildings and roads like Kabir street, Market road, Lawley extension, Nallappa grove, Albert mission school & college, the river Sarayu….Neha Viswanathan uploaded this brilliant map depicting the lanes & by lanes of Malgudi. RKN says - "Malgudi was an earth-shaking discovery for me, because I had no mind for facts and things like that, which would be necessary in writing about Malgudi or any real place. I first pictured not my town but just the railway station, which was a small platform with a banyan tree, a station master, and two trains a day, one coming and one going. On Vijayadasami I sat down and wrote the first sentence about my town: The train had just arrived in Malgudi Station."

RKN said - I am often asked, “Where is Malgudi?” All I can say is that it is imaginary and not to be found on any map (although the University of Chicago Press has published a literary atlas with a map of India indicating the location of Malgudi). If I explain that Malgudi is a small town in South India I shall only be expressing a half-truth, for the characteristics of Malgudi seem to me universal.
New addition - My friend Venu tells me (he read it in another book -about Prakash Padukone)that the name Malgudi comes from RKN's favourite places Malleswaram & Basvangudi in Bangalore!!

His niece recalls - On one occasion when I took him shopping to Connaught Place, at one particular bookshop he paused and asked me to see if any of his books were there for sale. "Don't tell anyone I am here", he said his eyes twinkling with mischief. "I will be hiding behind the pillar in the verandah"

RKN on poetry- I don’t read poetry. I had enough of it in the classroom long ago… Even “Baa Baa Black Sheep” would need an annotator for me today.

One of RKN’s fans is Alexander McCall Smith whom I wrote about some time back. Smith wrote the introduction to the new ‘My days’ edition. He writes in a fashion similar to RKN and admits – ‘Some people say that they remind them of the novels of that great Indian writer R.K. Narayan, which is very flattering, but I suppose I can see the similarities in the world which his and my books portray’.

RK Lakshman the great cartoonist was lucky to hear most stories first hand -
Reminiscing the past and his brother's literary world, Laxman said, “I was the first one to listen to Narayan's stories. He used to read out to me first and ask for my opinion."

It is Oct 10th – It would have been RKN’s 101st birthday…. Oh! I would have loved dearly to meet this great human being ….and share a bit of his decoction coffee and chat… Other than his books and the fact that I have read Hindu, there is only one small connection I can think of. Both RKN and my father were treated by Dr TJ Cherian of Madras at different times!! RKN thought highly of this physician…
''I chose to be writer,'' he told a radio interviewer, ''mainly because it is the only career which guarantees absolute freedom to live as one pleases.''

Another great quote ‘I'm amused mostly by the seriousness with which each man takes himself’.

Note: I must state here in very plain terms that I have just collated a lot of trivia from various articles found in the public medium and wish to thank all the contemporaries and friends of RKN who provided such information. In many borrowed portions of text, I have tried to put in the required hyperlink to the original articles. They are not my creation. The pictures belong mostly to Hindu and others – Acknowledged with many thanks.

More links for diehard fans
- A special read –
an essay on the Indian dream to living in America.
- You could take a peek into
Malgudi times created by Bellur - Rambling with Bellur.
- An interesting
Time article
A very nice Hindu Article on RKN and another on Malgudi
- An interesting
- A previous blog
Shashi Tharoor on RKN

Khalid Hosseini’s Kite runner

I had heard about the book and so I purchased a copy, but that was about when my son kept telling me that I should actually listen to the audio book. He had finished the audio book and insisted that the audio book in this case gave a better feel to the words, place and persona…With great trepidation, I started on this audio book for the first time, complaining all the time that I could listen to the book only when I was in the car, that I could not go back & check things now & then, that I could not feel the pages and all that (or drift away into my own world between words). My son would not let go, he pushed and pushed. It took me two chapters to get into the groove and then I was hooked - to Khaled’s own voice narrating his touching novel ‘Kite Runner’.

Thus it was during the many miles back & forth between home & Carlsbad that I got acquainted with Kabul, Freemont, Amir, Hassan & Sohrab. The miles flew by and the story grew in my mind. Gone were the half sleepy & dreary rides back home, as I heard the book, I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel each day and hoped that the drive stretched a few more miles, as I neared the destination. Sometimes I had teary eyes, and the paper seller at the Vista traffic signal who met my eyes on more than one occasion would have found it pretty odd, I think…

Let us now get a bite of the ‘Kite runner’ treat. Like most of us in India, I knew only a bit about Afghanistan, mainly from Tagore’s ‘Kabuliwalla’ and a few movies (more about those in another blog). For those who are yet to read Kite runner, the movie is about to be released and another book “A Thousand splendid Suns” are already here - so you should catch up. It is not ‘just good’, but a great read/listen, quite enjoyable and for Indian readers, very understandable. It is the story of a guilt ridden boy Amir who grows up first in Kabul during the Z Shah days, moving on through the difficult days of the Soviet led invasion, his friendship with his servant’s son and how a betrayal of Hassan, his childhood friend torments him throughout his adult life as an immigrant in America. Eventually he is forced to act…

Rich and poor, Sunni and Shia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and America, pride of giving and distaste of penury and begging are all covered in this book that sweeps through two continents. As we get to the end, you do tend to think that the author was a wee bit influenced by the very ‘Bollywood’ movies that he decries now & then in the book, though he says emphatically towards the end that “Life is not a Hindi movie”.
Kahled says in an interview with R Sethna - Kabul was a thriving cosmopolitan city with its vibrant artistic, intellectual and cultural life. There were poets, musicians, and writers. There was also an influx of western culture, art, and literature in the '60s and '70s

The book takes you from those good old days through the Communist regime’s bad governance and the nerve racking Taliban period when life styles of the once proud Afghan in Kabul became that of abject poverty & devoid of any dignity. A period when Sharia ruled and woman became objects, a period when religion was misused by a select few fanatics and rogues, to wreck this once proud nation.

As you read the book, you notice at times, that Khaled (son of an Afghan Émigré himself) is guided by his own upbringing in America, but he has been reasonably close to the point. You can see that he yearns for Afghanistan’s Perisan connections and the Zahir Shah period of the past. He is meticulous in a clever way. First he goes on a tangent and you wonder what significance the event has to the story, then he converts the tangent to a curve and eventually closes the curve into a circle, later on in the story. Pretty neat actually!

He writes from his heart, as a simple man, without explaining or covering any of the geopolitics that shaped these conflicts in Afghanistan over the many years. But what it seemingly lacks there is compensated amply in soul. Few books have a soul, this has one and that is I guess why it has sold 5 million copies already. Read it (or better still listen to it), enjoy it, and treasure it!!

Readers may feel a strong biographical touch to the book and there surely is. Khaled while living in Kabul, did have a servant boy in his house called Hossein, whom he taught to read & write. The other interesting thing is that Khaled wrote about the return of the protagonist Amir to Kabul, while living in California. He went back to see Taliban Kabul only after the book was published. Khaled said in a
Time interview - "On the one hand, I was hoping I'd got it right, that I didn't screw up," he says. "On the other hand, what I'd written was so terrible, part of me was kind of hoping that it wasn't quite that bad. The reality was that it was actually worse."

Khaled goes on, in the same interview, defending his western sensibility when attacked with mail stating - There are problems in Afghanistan, but do we really need to talk about these things? At this time?. “ I guess I misunderstood what the role of fiction was. Because I never thought it was about writing things that everybody agrees about, that make everybody feel warm and fuzzy inside. I guess it's my Western sensibility, now that I've lived here for so long, that I feel like these are things we should talk about”.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, Hosseini's family moved to San Jose, California. Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004. While in medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001.

His thoughts
about his second book – A Thousand Splendid suns.

Those who would like to hear & see him talk, just type Khaled Hosseini on Youtube, you will find many videos…

Pics - from here & there, thanks to the posters...

Sahib & Collector

Sayippum Collectrum

In colloquial Malayalam, Sayip is loosely associated with a Western (white) foreigner. However I discovered that it is mostly a usage conveying respect. Did it originate from the word Sahib? Perhaps! Anyway I have heard the usage ‘Sayip’ associated with one of these two gentlemen who I will venture to introduce to you.

Tellichery – a place once called the Paris of Kerala, the city of cricket, circuses, tennis and cakes. So many great luminaries came from this birthplace of Malayalam literature. There was a time and period in Malabar (The original Malabar in Kerala not Malabar-Florida) when two great persons lived in the same town, in a country and locale totally alien & mysterious to both. They ended up loving the town, the very region itself and easily merged with the local populace. The city gratefully honored them, one with a road and the other with a statue. One of them is Gundert Sayip, the other William Logan. Both have become part and parcel of Kerala and are always the first to be quoted when people dredge the annals of Malayali history. Both came to India for purposes different from what they are known for today. Malayali’s will always respect and love them for taking pains in recording their place & times in the world’s documented history.

William Logan (1841-1914) – Sadly, other than the few notes that Logan was a Scotsman sent by the British East India Company to the Madras Civil service, not much information about the person himself or his life exists in the public domain. Starting as a Judge in 1873 at Tellichery (and elsewhere since 1855), Logan became the Malabar collector in 1875 and lived at East hill Calicut. I believe his bungalow is now the VKKM museum. However, his name to fame was the authorship of a fine 1200 page manual in two parts by 1887 called the Malabar manual, in which he recorded all that he could about the people of Kerala, their history, culture and varied practices. (‘A Collection of Treaties, Engagements And Other Papers Of Importance Relating To British Affairs In Malabar’ written by him is sometimes referred to as the Part3) He was supposedly pretty good at spoken Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. In history, Logan is titled the Gazetteer of Malabar. Now what was a Gazetteer supposed to do? Gazetteers became popular in Britain in the 19th Century, many of whom were Scottish, documenting activities to meet public demand in Britain for information on an expanding Empire. Logan simply put, produced in ‘Malabar manual’, the work of an enlightened administrator, an assiduous scholar and an authority on British affairs in the region. People of Tellichery have not forgotten him. A road with his name can be found in the town.

Beginning 1836, several Mappila outbreaks were reported till the end of the century, in which Mappila tenants killed the Hindu landlords. Strong measures were taken to suppress the Mappila unrest. In 1855, four Mappilas killed H.V. Conolly, the District Magistrate of Malabar at Calicut. One of the grievances of Mappiilas was said to the lack of sites for Mosques and burial grounds. William Logan was appointed as the special Commissioner to enquire into the land tenures and tenant rights in Malabar and highlighted the agrarian discontent and poverty among the Mappilas as the causes of the unrest.

Logan with all humility states in the preface of his work "I shall consider that I have failed in one main object if I do not succeed in arousing a feeling of interest on many points whereon I have necessarily touched, but briefly in this work." He was appointed Collector of Malabar in 1875, at a crucial stage of the history of Malabar, and he was well equipped for the role, having served the area for more than 20 years as judge, special commissioner, and magistrate, and had gained a wealth of knowledge in the process. Logan loved the land and the people, and his tenure made him a real "Kerala man.
Noted historian and former chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan opines "Logan was sincere and serious about the task entrusted to him. He was an efficient Collector who had an affinity with the people of Malabar. The personal contribution is evident all along. The details given by Logan with regard to dress, festivals and other social customs go a long way in providing insights on the social history of Malabar. The cultural heritage of Malabar, the race for hegemony in the trade of pepper and spices, the Mysorean invasion, and finally British supremacy find mention in his book”.

Those who want to take a peek at the exhaustive accounts of life in Malabar in those days can try out the Malabar manual,

Taj Residency Calicut has a Logan suite that has a Scottish flavor & a Logan’s bar; well I guess that is one way of remembering the man!!

Rev. Dr. Hermann Gundert (1814 –1892) Dr. Gundert was born at Stuttgart in Germany on February 4, 1814. Educated at the grammar school there and the Maulbronne seminary later, he studied Protestant theology and philosophy at the Tubingen University. It is said that his desire was to be a soldier, but his sister’s sudden death changed his priorities and he took up evangelical work. In 1836, he left Germany for India to work as a private tutor. He traveled extensively in the erstwhile Madras province with an unquenchable passion for learning the languages and cultures of the people. It was after his marriage to Julie Debois from Switzerland that Gundert joined the Basel Mission in 1838. On an invitation from the Basel Mission to take over the mission establishment at Thallassery - Malabar, Dr. Gundert moved to his Illikkunnu residence in 1839, where he lived for 10 years, if not for anything else, but also to enrich Malayali literature and the educational system.

Gundert's bungalow today is a tourist attraction, which also houses part of the Nettur Technical Training Foundation - a unique institution started by the Swiss Foundation. Before 1839, he was posted in Chittur in Andhra Pradesh, Nagerkoil, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. From 1849 till 1856, Dr. Gundert was posted in Chirakkal near Kannur where he stayed till he was transferred to Mangalore in 1856.In 1857 the British colonial administration appointed Gundert as school inspector of Canara and Malabar. By 1859, however, poor health forced Hermann Gundert to return to Germany, where he went on to manage the Calw publishing house from 1862 until his death in 1893. The revered German priest and lexicographer compiled a Malayalam grammar book, Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1868), the first Malayalam-English dictionary (1872), and translated the Bible into Malayalam.Gundert also published the first ‘Patamala’ textbooks for children.

Gundert was no ordinary Pietist missionary. Not only was he fluent in English, German, French, and Italian, but he was just as capable of preaching in Hindi, Malayalam, and Bengali. He was almost as fluent in Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil, and was familiar with at least ten other languages.

Gundert was commonly known as Gundert Sayip – the person created the first Malayalam to English Dictionary – In his own dictionary completed in 1872, he defines Sayip as ‘a lord or a Gentleman’. That he sure was…a fine Gentleman!!! The people of Thalassery have honored him by a statue in the city

Some very interesting notes – Gundert published the very first formal and free (actually the Malayala Panchangam was the first published paper) Malayalam newspaper ‘Rajya samacharam’(though quite evangelical in tone) in 1847? He continued on with another newspaper, the more popular paper Paschimodayam (Malayala Manorama started theirs in 1890). It was Gundert’s intent to publish a newspaper that influenced the need to standardize grammar & text. In 8 years, i.e. by 1855, he had mastered the Malayalam language, for example by going to the markets and listening to people conversing. Such was his love for the people he worked with. Through his paper, he introduced people to life in the West, about English folklore, Germany, Netherlands, the French revolution and so on…

I studied at the BEM School at Palakkad for some 4 months before I moved on to Sainik School. Little did I know that BEM schools had much to do with our beloved Gundert Sayip. Herr Gundert’s BEM’s were the first to start schools as early as
1847 in Kallayi!

How many of you know that our revered Gudert sayip is the grandfather of Nobel Prize winner Herman Hesse? Hesse's mother Marie Gundert (1842-1902), was born in Tellichery. Hesse's fascination for Indian philosophy and Buddhist mysticism is reflected in the famous book "Sidhartha".
Herman Hesse said of Gundert, his grandpa - He understood all of the languages of man, more than thirty, and perhaps even those of the gods, perhaps of the stars as well, he could read and write Pali and Sanskrit, he could sing songs in Kanarese, Bengali, Hindustani, Singhalese, he knew the prayers of the Muhammadans and Buddhists, although he himself was a Christian and believed in the triune God, he had spent years and decades in eastern, hot, dangerous lands, had journeyed by boat and by ox cart, on horseback and mule, no one knew as well as he that our town and land were but a small part of the earth, that there were a thousand million people with different beliefs to our own, with different customs, languages, skin colours, gods, virtues and vices.

Those interested in his original Malayalam-English dictionary can download it
here. Those who are interested in the first newspaper may read this exhaustive report on it.

Sayippinum collectorkum Malayalikalude nandi..

Pictures - from here & there - thanks to the originators & posters!!

The Pathan

Recently I read Frederick Forsyth’s new book titled ‘Afghan’. Reading it makes me feel that this once great author has lost his touch. It is a thriller alright, but nowhere in the league of his other books, books like Odessa File, Day of the Jackal etc where the author had carried out meticulous research and understood the place, people, time & the game. He is lost when it comes to places like South Asia & the Middle East, not really understanding the people or their psyche. The book has no real soul actually, and the author for good measure, has even included four Malayali’s as obscure, no name ‘extra’ side villains. Really, is it not obvious, if you have seen burly fierce looking Pathan’s, you know that no Brit or American can pass off as an Indian, let alone a Pathan, ever? The last quarter of the book meanders along, somewhat lost, like a cow in a British pasture, when it should be galloping like an Arab stead (The hero Martin, incidentally was the main character in Forsyth’s ‘Fist of God’ another so-so book).

But then this is not a critique of ‘Afghan’ the book (It is also NOT about our great cricketer Irfan Pathan), but about an Afghan Pathan who we had the good fortune to meet, many years ago, in the year 1988.

There is another Afghan who is now giving me a great insight to life in Afghanistan of the 80’s and that is Khaled Hossieni with his brilliant book
Kite Runner. But then this is not about Khaled H, my story is about a nameless Pathan, one I should be thankful to…

This was many years ago – a number of Afghans landed up in Saudi Arabia those days, painfully eking out a living doing tasks that are the most difficult, the most unwanted, working on roads and sites, moving stones, concreting and the such – working under the burning desert sun, sometimes miles away from the cities. The rule in Saudi is that if the temperature hits 50deg C (122deg F) all work outdoors should cease for safety reasons. I can assure you that it does not officially hit that level often, but always stays just under and I know that even if it does, Pathan’s would always work on gamely ….Most of the other Pathan’s, slightly higher in the class hierarchy maybe, drove trucks. It was one of them whom we came across in the burning deserts of Saudi Arabia.Even today, when I remember the incident, I thank that nameless Pathan and think, where is he now? Fighting somebody? Or dead? Still driving perhaps? Or living happily off his savings from Arabia, now tending his sheep and family?? I don’t know!!!

The outdoors of Arabia then was no place for a woman or a child. The place was full of expatriate men, working hard to make that country more livable for its future generations. Some of the more well to do expats had their families out there, and the living rules were always strict. The women were to go out only with their men folk, covered in an Abaya, and this was strictly administered.

The excellent road taking one from Riyadh to Dammam in the East coast is about 400 KM (~300 miles), with four tracks on either side. The up and down roads are separated by a central guttery portion. On either side of the road, it was white sandy desert – stretching many miles to the horizon both ways and when the winds raged on some days, the air was thick with twirling sand and visibility quite low. As you drove you saw the shimmering on the surface due to the heat.The wind whipped sand everywhere. If you were out, it got into your eyes, nose & ears. If you were driving, the paint on the car bonnet or for that matter even the windscreen got pitted sometimes. The windows were always up and the AC running. On this particular day, we had decided to drive for the first time, to Dammam in order to spend the weekend with friends out there. The sand storm had subsided and my elder son all of two years old (now a young man) who was quietly playing or sleeping was insistent on attending to natures call, and it had become very urgent. There were no gas stations for miles, so we had no choice but to pull over…I looked, the median seemed OK and clear and without any further ado, we quickly pulled over and walked over. Later, when I got back to the car, after a couple of minutes, I was alarmed, the tires were half covered with sand, and the car had simply sunk. Soon the alarm turned to terror when I saw that the car was sinking further. I jumped in, and tried to drive out, only making the situation worse. The car sank in deep and the tires just spun in-situ.

All kinds of fears came to my mind, I got my wife (all covered up in her black gown – Abaya) and son out of the car and we stood out in the burning sun, abandoning my car, the Isuzu Gemini that you can see in this picture. I tried waving frantically to motorists speeding by, but nobody stopped. While at it, I was wondering - what if some car with the wrong kind of persons stopped, this was a totally remote place with nothing other than desert on either side. Fast losing hope, with not a kindred soul stopping, I scanned the roads in desperation. There were no mobile phones then, nor were there any emergency call phones on the roadside. All we could do was wait & hope. Vehicles were speeding both ways at speeds exceeding 120kmph, drivers concentrating on the road ahead through the slight dusty gloom & catching up on lost time after the storm.

It took a good half hour of waiting before a huge & fully laden truck speeding towards Riyadh on the other side of the motorway suddenly screeched to a halt. I looked and saw that it had some Pathans inside and our terror multiplied many fold. I had of course heard from childhood days that these were fierce people and was wondering what was in store for us, when this truck simply took a wide U turn over the shallow median and came to a shuddering stop behind us, but on the edge of the road. The driver, a tall swarthy man with a flowing beard, hooked nose & piercing eyes, dressed in typical Afghan garb – (salwar kameez and turban) came towards us and the car and took in the situation. He smiled and asked in heavy accented Urdu – “Hindustani?? Salaam aleikum, ki hallu? Gheddi kyon rukka idhar? Gadbad hogaye?” he affirmed then that we had made a blunder of stopping and parking on this median which was all quicksand. He looked again, squatted down near the tires and saw that the car had sunk quite a bit. He felt around the back and found what he was looking for and went back to his truck, screamed to his assistant who was still dozing and together they came out with a bulky metal chain…Hooking the metal chain to the car (he had found the tow eyes under the bumper) he quickly & adeptly pulled the car out and on to the road with his truck. He then asked us to start the car and when we restarted the car, sand gushed out of the silencer, but the engine caught and purred as though nothing had ever happened.

Soon with a ‘Khuda hafiz’ and a stern ‘Be careful in future – don’t do silly things like this- you have a family to look after’ warning in Urdu, he swung back to the other side of the road and was gone, heading for Riyadh.

That was the one and only time I came across one of those majestic Pashtuns – I hope someday I will see Kabul and meet many more – who knows when, but until then, thank you my dost…I don’t know what made you feel like helping us, but you did and we will remember it.

It was also the first and last time we traveled alone long distance as a family on Saudi roads. After that we were always a convoy of two or more cars. But I guess things have changed out there – and are more expatriate friendly, I don’t know for sure though, all my old friends who worked there have moved on, gone back or settled in other lands

The Pathans (or Pushtun) are mountain people living in the eastern regions of Afghanistan. Most scholars believe that they probably arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans with subsequent invaders. Pathans are known for their physical strength. They are tall, light-colored and handsome, good soldiers and for the most part bear arms from a young age. They are diligent and intelligent, faithful to an exemplary degree and are known in the world as outstanding hosts. They wear unique turbans, which have the cloths tied in such a way that indicates tribal identity.

The Sabkhah surface in the Saudi desert is not akin to quicksand, but its danger lies in the inability of the traveler to recognize its nature in time to avoid sinking into a morass.
Global security suggests the following (not that it would have helped us) A car or truck can be freed from soft sand by letting about one fourth of the air out of the trapped tires (so how do you find the air valve or a shovel??). Winching out a stuck vehicle has proven to be the most effective means of recovery (You need to meet that elusive & nice Pathan!!). Another extrication procedure applicable to light vehicles stuck in very fine sand is the "rocking method." Pile sand around all four tires. Three to four men (where to find them??) then violently "rock" the vehicle from side to side, forcing the vehicle to bounce as high as possible. As the vehicle's weight shifts from side to side, the piled sand will flow under the tires of the vehicle as it is rocked. Eventually, the vehicle will be raised back to the level surface.

Pic of Pathan - Courtsey AOL group site, & thanks to others who posted the sand dune & storm pics