Those Middle Age Blues

I was feeling kind of bored that Saturday, having gone around the usual places, picked up this and that for the upcoming trip to India and completed some of the long pending home repair activities. I had already cooked lunch and polished it off with gusto, but dinner cooking was not on the cards – you see, my wife was not at home and was already in India having left earlier on vacation. While driving in, I met my neighbor who asked if I was interested in eating Chindian noodles of the Gujarati style, but I was not too keen as lunch was actually Chindian fried rice. Not another Chindian session and that made up the decision for me to go to our local Udupi joint (joint – old college parlance for meeting place).

As I entered, I saw the elegant faced lady and her family sitting at the corner table. In a flash I knew who she was though I had never met her in person before. I had corresponded on musical history matters with her, for she was very adept in such things. I wanted to pass by her table and say hello, but however much I tried; I could not remember her name. So I ambled off to the other corner, not meeting their eyes and slouched over the menu, not really reading it but racking my brains..what in the hell…what is her name? I had written to her, listened to her on stage, but why was her short South Indian name not coming back to my lips? This time, it was not even at the tip of my tongue; it simply would not come out of those dark recesses in the grey matter contained within that little head of mine. What was it? Sita? Sudha? Seema? I had this inkling that her name started with an S, but nothing beyond that would form in my brain, to pop out a name…

I ordered a Chana batura. The lady and her strapping sons and husband were in animated conversation and did not even glance to my side; the lady’s back was turned to me, mercifully. But then again, I should not have worried; there was no way she would know who I was even though my picture was in my blog pages. The waiter took my order, marched off and was back in a jiffy with a humongous batura for which Udupi was famous. No time to think, for many S’s whirled about in my brain, but to no avail. I polished off the batura in record time and slunk away from the dark restaurant and got back home. Picked up the magazine where she contributes, turned the pages, there it was, the name…

My cousin, with whom I shared this anecdote, pulled my leg, saying I just had what they call a ‘Senior moment’. I ‘pooh poohed’ her….. but naturally. Senior moment, of all things…that is perhaps a long way off..I said.

The other day our friend Anu was also questioning…. ‘Do you remember everything? You write a lot of stuff on lots of different things”. I replied stating that I did not and that when I reread some of my older articles, I wondered myself about some parts of which I had little detailed recollection. In fact I even pat myself on some writing, telling myself, ‘not bad, man, that read good, not bad writing’. Anu sighed with relief, and said ‘phew, I thought only I had that kind of a problem’.

Well, that my friend is one issue with middle age, for you forget some things that otherwise occurred to you in a flash. You may not forget faces, but you forget names and sometimes things you have read long ago. As the hair line recedes (making one think if Indulekha was to be applied), as the paunch starts to appear like a baby bump (Picked that up when one of those celebrities got preggered (typical slang used in UK for somebody who got pregnant) and they were talking about it on TV), your gait becomes less animated but your conversational style becomes more animated instead and you talk on and on, sometimes repeating yourself. Many a time you do not quite realize it, till your better half nudges you and you are jolted back into getting to the point.

A time when you start making lists of things to do and when you sometimes forget a planned meeting, realizing that it is time to use the calendar function on your smart phone. And you ponder about the term they used for ages, something associated with professors - ‘absent mindedness’. A time when the body is slowing down, when you cannot eat and digest as much as you once did, a time when you sit back at the end of a day and doze off on the sofa as the wife is watching a serial on TV or your snores start to get louder and when belches, farts and burps start reappearing in your daily hours. When you try out your hand at your sons high speed car chase video game and crash in no time or get shot at within the first minute of the war game, you know that things are a little slow somewhere, no longer swift as it were when you were clambering up the tree in your youth or running away faster than Ben Johnson after breaking the pot, as a child……

 Friends, that is middle age encroaching into your life’s territory, that is what it is, some dread it, they start with creams to get the wrinkling skin look healthier, then comes the hair dye and moustache color, when the belt is tightened a further notch to get the belly out of sight. As your mind rebels, you start to chase after the youth that is passing by, you start wearing brighter colors, that you would have otherwise kept far away from, you watch your sons carefully or listen to figure out what is cool, you pick up the trends quickly to be in sync. People start to use youngsters usages like that stupid ‘anyways’ and you think about changing your car to a ‘hep’ version, like a sport coupe. The point is that you do not want to appear like a fossil…

But then fashion rebels too, the shirts today, the new wave type are a tragedy for the middle aged. They are tight slim fit ones and when you have that little paunch, it does look odd, well actually terribly and miserably horrible on a middle aged body. We have unfortunately been caught unawares, and the looser shirts are out of fashion, after office. And the shoes today, ugh! Long and pointy or square tipped like the ones we wore during the post Beatles 70’s.

Phone numbers are difficult unless they are entered into the smart phone with pictures to boot, but you do remember quite an important few. Sometimes, they ask you for your home phone number when in some office discussing something and the first thing that comes to you is the number you had many years ago in some other place, not the number you have now. And it all gets exacerbated when you are working in the middle of a university campus and you see the breathtakingly beautiful girls walking by and you start getting a little wistful….but then the bones are still not starting their creak though the joints tend to get a little stiff at some places, and you start getting stiff necks and sore shoulders at times, and you start to see that little sag under the eyes or the skin here and there..

You suddenly see that some of your office colleagues who were driving dowdy Toyotas and Hondas have switched to a Porsche, BMW or a Mini cooper. And you see that people suddenly blame others for all the problems, and things are not just your fault. A time when your dreams have wound down and you realize that some things are no longer in your reach. And it is the time when some rediscover themselves and find new hobbies, for it removes bitterness from one front and cover it up with the thrill of discovery in the other, where you are a young new student once again..

But then it is also the time when as some say, you should relax, slowdown and enjoy. That is why the rich and famous pick up skimpy clad, buxom young things while speeding in racy cars as others are coasting along to a duller home-office-garden-phone routine.

But then, experts state that my problem with the name has nothing to do with not eating enough okra while a child. They explain with elan that it is nothing but a rite of passage. They say that it is akin to your climbing up a flight of stairs and wonder why you went up in the first place and go on to explain that it has nothing to do with an onset of Alzheimer’s or any such thing. It is just a matter of not getting enough sleep, or anxiety or some other underlying issue. It could as some doctors say, be a case of vitamin B12 deficiency, resulting in low energy, fatigue and slight memory problems. Anyway why leave that to doubt? I went and purchased a bottle of ‘one a day for men’ and have since then religiously started ingesting one of those fat pink looking pills a day, chock full of vitamins and all the minerals and metals in the world.

Other doctors and experts say that the best thing to do is take a brisk 30 minute walk thrice a week and so my wife & I have been at it for a while now, walking around the community after office. As fall approached, I took out my new metal clad 600 lumen torch much to my wife’s disgust, checking out its awesome one mile beam. She thinks I am kind of silly flashing the torch now and then, remarking that all that is left is wear a monkey cap and a sweater, to make the look reach the ‘silly limit’. But I like my torch and I have to use it, for it is my latest acquisition (know what? I have many torches… a weakness like my collection of pens and watches) with its yellow super-bright LED and so on and the sleek gunmetal body…

And yet other doctors tell you to read a lot (perhaps they want you to nod off on your sofa reading them), solve crossword puzzles or play Sudoku (never tried any of those – I am racing cars or playing angry birds on my phone instead) like my MIL does. But I heard that my MIL has also started playing games on the phone these days. And wiser doctors state that you should now start to establish patterns and stick to them, so that you worry less. I think that is OK, but the problem is that when the unexpected occurs, you are really thrown off balance. So the question is if you should stick to a tight pattern or a loose one, I will find out from experience and tell you the result one of these days. A solid advice is to travel, but well, I think that needs time and money, so better to leave it for until later, I suppose.

Nevertheless, you are, as they say, as young as you feel. Then again, you do feel bad, if you had been going all around the house searching for your glasses till your wife points out that it is atop your head and that it is time to hang it round your neck on a chain or cord. Perhaps that is the right thing to do, but dear reader, these are all small things, irritations so to speak. If the result of all this is anger, depression or irrational behavior, it is something else, it is time to seek a doctor.

Or is it the onset of Andropause or Meopause? One research states that adults between 40 and 60 have changes in their brain activity that make it difficult to switch focus. A doctor says that ‘our ability to turn down our default mode, the state we are in when our brains are just ruminating, diminishes (Cheryl Grady, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest – See Barbara Turnbull’s article). The doctors also point out that it is a bit slower in onset for men compared to women who see it earlier and quicker. So it is time to make that extra effort to tweak the brain or nudge it back into shape…

Reminds me, many a man I have talked to has not the faintest clue about Andropause, though they scoff at female menopause, so it is in order that I educate them some.. Not a medically accepted term as yet, likely because "andropause" is more a term of convenience describing the stage of life when symptoms of aging appear in men. This as definitions go, relates to the slow but steady reduction of the production of the hormones testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone in middle-aged men, and the consequences of that reduction, which is associated with a decrease in Leydig cells. Andropause is, to put it in simple terms, a decline in the male hormone testosterone. This drop in testosterone levels is considered to lead in some cases to loss of energy and concentration, depression, and mood swings, including loss of libido and potency, nervousness, depression, impaired memory, the inability to concentrate, fatigue, insomnia, hot flushes, and sweating…………

So when you are in that meeting or extempore speech and you stumble on a word that should have automatically come to your lips, you do not have to worry yourself to death; it is just onset of midlife. All you need to do is prepare better instead of rushing into it as you were once capable of, or as they say try learning a new language or something like that to activate the brain more by challenging itself. Do not give in or be a grouch and grumble about the ill effects, just come to grips with the events and manage the effect, that’s all.

And most of all, don’t try and strive for a six pack on your abdomen, but go for building a one pack in your brain instead. Remember that experts and scientists, Nobel Prize winners included go through exactly the same phase, every single one of them. Neurologists explain that memories are stored in neural networks which are shed or lost throughout your life. Actually the cells that insulate them are lost in the ageing process and as this insulation thins out, you have some small issues. Also, as you grow older, your brain is getting filled up with all kinds of information and gets a little fragmented, nothing stands out anymore (Karen Gram) and this shows in the case of children where each second can stand out from the first. But then again this is interesting, for we are actually talking about a problem with children and youth where the issue is forgetting what they need to do. In the case of adults, the problems is something else, it is about forgetting what you did.

Nevertheless, I am going to start reading a very interesting book on this subject written by Barabara Strauch, which I just received in the mail. I have to provide you a little insight into it by quoting from the book blurb..

While we might not be able to find our keys, our brains still have dazzling talents. We may lose some gray matter but we increase the white stuff (Myelin) that lets us process information faster. As the grown up brain reorganizes itself, it creates powerful new systems that cut through complex problems to find unique solutions. We often become happier overall, since our brains manage emotions more calmly. Even if the brain cannot cram as many civil war battle dates into its databank as it once did, it is at the top of its game. Because of better pattern recognition, we know how to size up situations and find answers quickly. We know how – with incredible ease- to juggle hundreds of emails, negotiate a complex deal, and cope simultaneously with a car that talks and a teen ager who doesn’t.

While windows has a solution to this where you defrag the disk and bring order into the storage facility, the adult brain does not seem to have one unless you can call a vacation one of those methods. I had a good one and I will have a quick and short long week end this year end. Not that I will be a teenager after the vacation, but I surely will have a lot more to talk about and write on, after being refueled, rejuvenated (I even had a proper ayurvedic massage this time) refurbished and recharged…and ladies, worry not – according to a British study, women are better at recollection than men at middle ages…

“Middle-age makes people miserable, so don’t blame your job, your kids, your spouse, your income or lack of it, proclaims Sharon Jayson’s article, but friends, worry not for middle age is not such a bummer, and now you know some of the why’s……….

and so….‘hum honge kamyaad, we shall overcome’…slim shirts or not, sharp shoes or whatever………….

In the meanwhile, wishing you all..

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a great 2012

Pics from baby boomers r and other sites thanks

Back from India…..

The much awaited trip finally happened and I was soon wedged in the window seat of the Emirates flight headed for Dubai. The long and uneventful flight dropped me off at the swanking airport hall in Dubai where I had to spend another 6 hours watching the bustling humanity. It was fun, for the halls were initially overflowing with people in the morning hours which gradually tapered off as time flew by, to coincide with the flight and landing patterns. As I sat, I saw many of my fellow Malayalees at work in the airport, cleaning up, working in the shops or chatting with one another. It was a group of people, the Malayali NRI’s in the ‘gelf’, that I understood pretty well. Some were soon flirting with the Filipino girls at shop counters, some gossiping with their own brethren during their breaks. The shops meanwhile were disgorging people with swollen bags full of duty free stuff, and Indians coming out had their two mandatory bottles of booze under their arms, to take back home. From gold to dates, you can find anything you want in that huge and ‘happening’ airport, and I was soon to find that another one was being built nearby as an expansion project.

Soon it was time for my flight and I found that I had been upgraded to business class. The long flight from New York was taking its toll on my weary body and creaky bones and all I wanted to do was doze off after about 24 hours or so on the go. I found that this was not going to happen soon, for it was certainly interesting to hear and watch our friends in the plane. Some were emphatic in demands for ‘old monk rum’ to the stewardess who was asking if they wanted high end scotch or wine, only to be politely told that Bacardi was the only spirit of that kind available. Later it was a request for ‘porota & mutton curry’ when told that chicken and Veg were on the menu. Ah! That reminded me, it was the first time I was seeing an entire airline menu printed in Malayalam, certainly interesting translations if I recall right, and I only wish I had scanned or purloined one to put up here, but weariness just made it slip off my mind..The pretty African stewardess was concerned with the fatigue on my face (actually she was just being polite and practicing). I dozed off eventually just as the plane was nearing the Malabar Coast towards the dusk hours of the Oct sky laced with heavy rain clouds and pretty soon I was lost to the world. Not for long though, we soon landed in Calicut where as expected, my baggage took ages to get to the conveyer belts. I was watching those big & heavy cartons or LCD TV’s that the Gelf worker bought home, instead of suitcases of the past, and the enthusiasm with which they were yanked off the belt with many helping hands and deposited in creaky trolleys destined for the waiting four wheeler outside, with much amusement. The NRI was back home….after enriching the state for the last working year with his remittances to his relatives and various banks and the construction and paint industry of Kerala, now he was finally here, to spend all the balance or some more at the various restaurants, cloth shops and possibly in gold purchases, or loans to suddenly needy relatives. But well, the cycle has to continue one more time, till it the end of the 20-30 day vacation and the man was to head back to the gulf.

My wife had gone to Calicut a few days earlier, so she and my brother in law were updating me with all the happenings at Calicut, the fabulous Kishore-nite they witnessed, the various political gaffes (part and parcel of malayali life – the dissection of the state political characters and their life) and the musical scene. After a couple of days there, I was off to our ancestral home and village – Pallavur. It was still mercifully the same, with hardly any changes to show. The change of scenery was certainly interesting; from the fall colors and golden yellow leaves of North Carolina to the white blinding sands of Dubai and now the mellow green of the paddy fields, the serene though rare breeze and the evening rains. Ah! I felt at peace…the temple was active, and looking all spruced up after the Navaratri celebrations.

My brother had a lot of family news for me, and his children updated us on other happenings and gossip. A mandatory shopping visit to Coimbatore and the food we ate there (actually the tempting mint-lime juice) hit our intestines hard and made us a bit sick for a couple of days, but it was not too bad. There the Tamilians as usual (and rightly) complained about the horribly unsettled and undisciplined driving by Malayalai drivers in Coimbatore, not sticking to lanes and doing all wrong things or disobeying lights. But the money they spent in the shops was a great compensation, I guess. In the background there was a steady rumble of news about Mullaperiyar amidst a couple of tremors, the fear of a dam collapse as the two governments argued upon the basis of an ancient water sharing and dam operation treaty established by the British. To exacerbate matters a movie was soon to hit the screens about a dam disaster…and the TV anchors spun it around and around, increasing the rhetoric and exhorting action, instead of professing calm and intelligent thought or level headed discussions.

But we were soon off to Cochin and from there to Bangalore. The Bengaluru airport was a revelation, classy for Indian standards and the Volvo bus service to Jayanagar exemplary. But Bangalore was as expected, crowded, fast, happening and dusty. It was totally different from the place where we had started our family and family life. Things had changed so rapidly, and we just could not make out some of the places anymore, for gone were the familiar landmarks of old times. People had tons of money to spend and frequented the hotels and shops and malls, there were cars and two wheelers everywhere. We even got on to spanking new Namma metro and went from MG road to the end of the line (forgot the name of the station) and back, all of 6 stops. Bangalore had lost its old world charm for us, but it was still a fond memory. Here I met a budding chef and Jewish (Cochin) history enthusiast T Zakriya and we talked about Goitein and Friedman and the Geniza for a while and the Jews who traded in ancient Malabar. So nice it was, to see this young man interested in the history of our land.

Soon we were headed south, this time to Kumarakom with our friends, where two days of bliss awaited us. While the stay at Whispering Palms was quite nice, the food at the palms left much to be desired. The problem was too many North Indian dishes and a bland tatse when we expected more exotic Kerala food to be served, as it should be. The mandatory Ayurvedic massage took away all the pains from the travels and much of the weariness. But the beauty of the backwaters and the house boat cruise for a whole day was to remain in our memory. And the food they served in the boat, no more adjectives than ….simple but exquisite…A short and sweet trip, it was, where we sat and caught up on various events and matters with our friends and relaxed, as the boat glided past the watercress, past homes on either banks where people were leading their simple lives. The beauty of Kerala once again marveled our hearts.

A night in Cochin, a trip to the Lotus club, shopping by the bustling MG road and the crowded Panampally junction, across the Mamooty bridge (he lived there once, in a house that previously belonged to my friend Madan) at Girinagar, and while gobbling the Naushad biryani, we were uneasily wondering at the pace that India was going through and the throes of development and the run for the attainment of material desires. Everybody was brand hunting, and it was chic to have the latest model smart phone or the European model Car…In the middle of all this, my SIL took me to the state archives where I was trying to find material that would help me get to the bottom of a story that had once taken the region by storm. I got what I wanted but knew that those records were not going to last too long, for those ancient manuscripts were fading away in the weather and neglect due to lack of funds.

Finally back in Calicut, and my trips to the various book shops started. A few books of interest had come out in the last two years I had been away, but otherwise life was pretty much the same, though building work was apparent at all corners. The beach was pretty much the same, but more organized, and the new beachfront at Beypore a place to go for some relaxation. The Kadavu resort, true to form had a nice ghazal evening to boast though the food was mediocre. But the food hunt was compensated by the ever reliable Paragon though the Sagar hotel had sadly deteriorated from the past. Paragon now is even more popular after Rahul Gandhi quickly hopped in for some rice and fish curry one night and Soniaji later had food delivered to her from Paragon. I could not unfortunately have my favorite Nannari sherbet from the juice mash after the stomach issues, post Coimbatore.

A few days were spent talking to all kinds of people, like the journalist and writer C Ramdas and historian Dr Nampoothiri, on a couple of subjects I was working on. A trip to Mathrubhumi publishers revealed that there was no interest in their publishing any works written in English, especially of a historic nature. I spent an enjoyable evening with the eminent KS Manilal, the person behind the translations of the Hortus Malabaricus. I met him and his charming wife Jyotsna and we spent an evening talking about the Dutch governor Van Reede (Manilal was explaining to me how it was wrongly written as Rheede all these years) and Itty Achutan. I was grateful to receive a copy of his book on Achutan, a book I had been searching for a long time, a book that Manilal himself had to get printed and published, once upon a time. I was hoping to meet the renowned historian MGS Narayanan, but that meeting did not take place. But before saying goodbye to Calicut, I met another of Calicut’s favorite personalities, the ex mayor Raveendran for a short interview on a subject I was quite keen about.

I should not forget the lunch we all had at Nissa’s house (she was home on a short visit, husband being a big businessman in Dubai). Nissa incidentally is our next door neighbor and lives in a swanky ‘gelf’ house with pool and lawn and lift and so on…she insisted that we visit come for lunch. Typical of a Malabar Mopla’s warm hospitality, the table that she laid out was sumptuous. Tellichery biryani, fish fry, rice, curry, shrimp and so on….the list was so long, but it was all so good and the stomach took in so much that it sagged to my knees (if you could exaggerate so much). A lady with a charming personality, and we had a jolly time, meeting her.

And with that the three weeks in India had gone quickly by, and the next destination was the glossy city of concrete and steel in the deserts of the emirates – Dubai. Again the place had developed so fast and was a showcase of the rich and famous. On the flight we met the lady with the deepest of deep voices, Saynora Philip and while wandering about the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), we chanced on the movie actor Mohanlal. The dancing fountains were a good match to the Bellagio’s fountains in Vegas. The food scene was great, and we chomped on great shawarma and other varieties. But a walk around some of the fascinating malls and a trip to the palms showed one how money could be spent and how lavish life could be. The Vegas of the Middle East, and I suppose that would be some kind of a parallel. It was also a chance to meet many old friends, and so very relaxing..

That was quite the end, I suppose, and we were soon back. At the JFK airport, we chanced on a young girl from Ankara, a medical exchange student with whom we exchanged news about Istanbul and Turkey and how we missed that lovely country. As we loaded all our boxes into the taxi, the driver – a black American asked us aha…you have brought all of India back with you eh? And later, much to our surprise he asked – “how is the corruption in India these days? Has that guy who fasted brought some change?” I was open mouthed in surprise to see this coming from an American taxi driver. I mumbled that everything was pretty much the same, and he said ‘My friend, for things to improve there, Mahatma Gandhi has to be reborn’. For a while, I was totally taken aback and lost in thought wondering what would happen if the Mahatma were indeed reborn and wandering around Bombay where the politician Pawar had just been slapped by an irate citizen or Delhi where a minister was using government planes to fly her shoes. But realization set in, we were back in Raleigh.

The leaves on the trees are all gone, the community is well lit with Christmas lights, the air is cold and dry and winter is setting in after a normal fall. An occasional shower brings in a change, but North Carolina is running true to ‘fall’ form. The people, I thought looked a little happier than last year, with a little more hope even though the worlds markets were topsy turvy and the Euro world in deep doldrums. What was missing was the full smile I saw on the faces in India, so it must be the difference in approach, even though the Indian Rupee was tumbling to new depths and the greenback grimly hanging on. The business scene and the world is still in a slump, I suppose. Everything seems normal if this is normal, at least it has been like this for so long that normalcy has to be redefined, I guess.

So I am back home friends, and hope that all of you are keeping fit and fine, hale and hearty, looking forward to a season of holiday cheer and the New Year…….

Kadambari – The mysterious one….

I started on this topic by chance. The plan was to get to the origin of a particular song. The song was one that I had previously written about, sung by the person I covered then, the sonorous Kozhikode Abdul Khader. The song being Padan orthoru madhurita ganam….as the words went ‘The sweet song that I wanted to sing’…..I knew that it was the 13th poem from Gitanjali. It was no mystery that it came to the Malayalee singer’s lips, for in those days much was borrowed from Bengali writings. Malayalees found emotional and intellectual attachment to Bengalis and what Bengali’s wrote. Books were eagerly devoured; many were promptly translated and discussed in mehfils and clubs and sometimes in the press. Tagore was a revered writer in Kerala and his books and poems have been available in stores since ages. I think it was G Sanakara Kurup who first translated his Gitanjali.

Anyway that song again came into my memories and soon the story behind it had caught me by the throat and I was researching it with gusto, wandering about the 3rd and 5th floors of NCSU Davis hall libraries in search of material and sources.

Until then, I had not bothered to get into the details of Tagore’s personal life, nor had I seen Ray’s Charulatha. Soon I did and dove to depths that I had not believed I would, for the story was enthralling. The mysterious lady at the centre of it all still refused to come out and show her true self and I found that as her family had wanted, she would always remain an apparition, a maid of the mist so to speak. But after so many books and articles, I got a brief and general idea and so friends, here we go, to a period long ago, a period when children were children and adolescents were adolescents and when joint family was the norm. Simple, don’t you think? Only it never was. It was far too complicated.

Tagore himself wrote sentences and poems and books and even mentioned that his story can be found between the words and sentences, if a person who could understand looked deep. But translations are not always perfect, and I knew that Gitanjali has moved people so deeply that even Bulunt Ecevit the Turkish premier learned Sanskrit (or was it Bengali) to enjoy it better and later translated it into Turkish. The people of Bengal have covered Tagore’s personal angle though not tackling it head on, so many times in the press and in books, some have fictionalized it, some have guessed the reasons and as I said before a great film maker even put to celluloid the story of that relationship, basing it on Tagore’s own novel Nashta Nir or “the Broken nest’.

A good writer uses his own experiences many a time to draw a caricature of the protagonist and the other characters of the movies, or to set the scene, and this was a classic case in Nashta Nir. Even today Bengali’s argue at length and with great passion supporting either the she or the he in this story. But for those who wonder what it is all about, here goes…I will not dwell too much on Tagore and his accomplishments for that is all available in text on various media, but for those who want to know about his muse, about the very essence of his early life, the reasons behind his early creative output, look no further, and try to get to know Kadambari Devi. I will not make judgments or conclusions, but will definitely provide my leanings & inclinations, for we are talking about human beings, much like us, though greatly and brilliantly talented. By being a genius does not elevate one to any special moral and godly pedestal and as some great people state it in simple words, it is simple and basic human actions, inactions and mis-actions which come out as an artiste’s work to enthrall us. This therefore is the story of Kadamabari born exactly a hundred years before me… I understood it.

We go to a mansion in Calcutta called Jorasanko Thakurbari, and into the hallways of the large house. The grandfather, the patriarch (a stony hearted Zamindar) Dwarakanath had amassed a fortune and a fiefdom from his Indigo and opium cultivation with the British and had established his large image. The son, however, though fathering a 15 member lineage, was not into successful business but was more involved with creating the Brahmo Samaj. It is to his joint family that we will pay a visit. It is situated at the Chittaranjan Ave and Dwarakanath Tagore intersection in Calcutta. The sprawling mansion, as Chitralekha Basu from the China Daily once wrote, branching out into several wings, cradling a largish courtyard illuminated by its dazzling white walls, is still pillar-box red in most parts, contrasting dramatically with the forest green on the foliage, and the wooden rails holding the ornamental grills, girdling the never-ending balconies.

Today that house has many rooms open to the public and is tastefully decorated. You will, as you walk around, find a room which is dedicated to Tagore and Mrinalini, his wife, and then the guide, if you had one that is, has finished his tour, would mention that there is a room which remains locked, an attic room. That was Kadambari’s abode. It is not open to public, but there was a time when it was the world for Robi (Rabindranath) and older brother (Jyothirindranath) and Jyothirmoy’s wife Kadambari who was roughly the same age as Rabi. The terrace where the girl bride made a small roof garden, was where Robi started out with his poetry and where Kadamabri listened to them and provided ample criticism, goading the young talent to greater and greater heights. Jyothirmoy, though 12 years older, was his mentor in many ways and initiated Robi into the world of music, thus forming a threesome intensely involved in reading, creating poetry and music. I am starting out with three young people now, not a hallowed Nobel Prize winner and his secrets, and is deliberate in not accepting him as a great person at this stage. That we will come to, much later and as the story runs it course.

In those hallowed halls and many rooms, lived the father the Brhamo Maharshi and his 15 children. The youngest of the children was Rabi (Rabindranath).

This story starts with Jyothirmoy’s marriage to a nine year old Matangini Ganguly of Jessore, the year being 1868. Carr, tagore and Co, which made fortunes with Indigo had collapsed and son Debendranath Maharshi was not a great admirer of the British. The family of Tagore’s were highly literate an even the women in the household were encouraged to delve deep into the Bengali literary world. But it was also orthodox in many ways and men married young girls, color was sacrosanct, as there is an instance of a young bride not being fair enough (Satyendranath (ICS)’s wife) being scrubbed daily with potions to make her fairer…That was the house where the child Robi was growing up and the home where the child bride Kadambari (Matangini renamed) arrived. Soon the two young kids stuck a rapport and Robi would be found often in the women’s quarters, with his playmate Kadambari. Robi took to her fancy and other women by reading Kalidasa’s works. But it was also a typical ancestral home where antagonism and back biting existed and ran akin to many of the TV soaps we see today. On the other hand, many of Tagore’s brothers dabbled in writing. The large home had a fair share of mental illness too, with two of Robi’s brothers spending much of their time in asylums.. I hope you are getting the hang of the place now.

Jyothirmoy, the most aristocratic product of the household was a fierce anti colonial person and even created a new dress which was part trousers part dhoti and wore a turban toupee even though it was banned. He was a born musician to his peers and many others who wrote about him, such as Rothstein and Satyajit Ray. He was an actor & director dabbling in theatre, and his debonair attitude was to cast in Robi’s life a companionship ‘as necessary to my soul…as the monsoon after a fiery summer’. Robi too was caught up with patriotism and read his poems at mela’s and participated in secret and public rallies.

As Krishna Dutta writes - During the 1870’s, a highly affectionate, teasing, somewhat childish relationship grew up between Kadambari, who remained childless and somewhat lonely, and the budding poet Rabi, especially after the death of his mother Sharada in 1875.”…..Whereas music drew him to Jyothindranath, with Kadambari, literature was the first bond. Kadambari seems to have read whatever Rabi wrote as soon as he wrote it…She would cook special dishes for him…Rabi says in his memoirs – My new sister in law could cook well and enjoyed feeding people. As soon as I came from school some delicacy made with her own hands stood ready for me. One day she gave me shrimp curry with yesterdays soaked rice, and a dash if chillies for flavoring and I felt that I had nothing left to wish for…that was his bouthakrun (young sister in law) ……and since then many of his stories have characters based on bouthakruns…

It was a special relationship, what they called in Bengal the Nothun botun – debar relationship which sanctioned a great level of intimacy but stopping somewhat before the border…

Tagore explains in a poem written in 1939..

Hesitantly I tried to come a little close
To her in a striped sari, my mind in a whirl
But there was no doubting her frown, I was a child
I was not a girl, but a different breed.

Soon the unwelcome intruder was an interesting visitor, and Robi started attending his mother’s gatherings in the terrace for the women of the household, making grand lectures and recitations of Ramayana in Sanskrit and translating them with some dollops of exaggeration to the amused ladyfolk. Strangely in that family of learned, Tagore was a loner with no formal education; he was considered a ‘good for nothing’ academically, flunking out of school very early.

So as we see, we come to the crossroads, when the boy was close to 14, and his mother died. Kadambari took over the additional role of mothering Robi. Rabi continued writing and Kadambari continued listening…with kadambari gently fanning the boy ‘s sweating brow using a hand fan..Tagore stated, There were no electric fans then and as I read, I shared the benefits of my sister in law’s hand fan..This was around the time they found names for each other, Rabi calling her He for Hecate and she called him Bhanu for sun. This was the pseudonym he used for a few years. Those early writings were not too good as people were soon to realize, Rabi too agreed in his own analysis of his early works. ..the sentiments in those books simply did not pass muster.

Life went on and Tagore was soon sent away to England to become a barrister. In preparation he spent time at his brother Satyandranath’s mansion in Ahmadabad where he read English books to sharpen his somewhat poor English. Soon he was off to London, but on arrival he hated the place and missed his home and sister in law. So by 1880, he was back in Bengal, studies unfinished, writing and singing and soon published his Bhagna Hriday which caught the fancy of the prince of Tripura who became his financial sponsor, this family continued to be his sponsors all his life. Why are we talking about Tagore, we were supposed to be talking about Kadamabri, right? You see, their lives were so intertwined all these years, she was always openly disapproving but then again Kadambari was the person Robi always wanted to please. Tagore dedicated his book Bhagna Hriday to Shrimati He…Kadambari. This was also the period when their relationship, the threesome’s that is to say was at its most intimate level. Jyothi and he were deeply involved in music, and drama and Kadambari an avid critic.

Dwarakanath, Tagore’s grandfather as we saw earlier, was an opium exporter. Rabi hated it and called the shipments the death traffic, and supported China who he believed was being destroyed by England. Little was he to know that the very same drug would play an even bigger role in his own life. But in the midst of this, Tagore was soon bound for London, but he cancelled it midway (1881). Instead he moved to Chandarnagore, part of French Calcutta with his brother and kadambari. Wandering around woods collecting berries and riding or swimming, Jyothirmoy, Kadambari and Tagore spent the summer at Morans garden. The brothers sang and composed, Robi wrote many articles and poems, during this trip. It was a peaceful idyllic sojourn, far from the hustle and bustle of Calcutta.

Something was happening between Robi and Kadambari during this period, we do not know any details, but we do know that she attempted suicide. Was Tagore trying to drift away? Was he enamored by other women? Or were they getting even more deeply attached? Robi perhaps tried to warn his brother at that time by writing a poem ‘Suicide of a star’. Gossip was increasing in the Jorosonko house and Robi soon moved to a house rented by his elder brother and away from his beloved Nothun Bouthen, to concentrate on writing.

The Nothun bouthen was anguished and close to losing her life, but why? Was it because Jyothirnath had no time for her? Was the platonic relationship between her and Robi changing to something else? Who was the instigator? Was Robi falling in love with Kadambari? That a certain level of intimacy is permitted between the debar and the nothun bouthan in Calcutta of the past is well known, but who drew the border? Did the border shift or did one of them cross it? Tagore as we saw, moved out of the family house to his brother Satyendranath’s (he had returned from UK) house. Why would he do that? Was life becoming difficult at Jorasanko (for him or Kadambari?)? He moved again with his elder brother to Karwar. Tagore was 22 then. In the meantime, the Jorasanko ladies including Kadambari started a lookout for a bride for Robi. Marriage was being discussed and he was soon involved in the match making, even checking out a girl in Madras. Rabi was on that occasion was enthralled by the more beautiful girl, who unfortunately happened to be the step mother of the rather ‘plain’ girl in the market.

One fine day he was summoned by his father and within days (Dec 1883) married off to a plain & illiterate child bride (but of the same Piralai caste as Dwarakanath had insisted) just 10 years old, named Bhabatarini, daughter of an estate hand. Rabi did not complain, he obeyed his father and sat impassively through the event conducted in his own house. Many of the family were not even present, even the father came a month later, presented four gold mohurs and departed. The brides name was changed to Mrinalini and she was immediately sent away to a convent school for studies & polishing. Rabi and Mrinalini did not live together for over a year.

Why was he married off to a lesser status house, that too in a hurry? Was it because he had earlier found the girls in England like Ana Turkhud attractive? Was it something to do with Kadambari? Was there something else wrong in Jorasanko? Why was Tagore not happy with the marriage? We have unfortunately no clues or facts to provide any answers. But we do know one thing, he wrote a set of poems in 1884, again dedicated to Kadambari, some days before his marriage while at his elder sister in law Jnanadanandini’s house. The song Rahur prem ..the song of bodiless Rahu in love with the moon and swallowing her occasionally in eclipse was probably one that precipitated the relationship with Kadambari. He wrote…

"From the very beginning of time, you have been my partner because I am your shadow. You could better see me in your smile and tears.... You will be surprised to see me gazing on your face in the pitch darkness when you are wrapped in a blanket of despair...

Wherever you turn, you will see me. My shadow will taper off to the sky but it will enshroud the whole world. My miserable voice and sinister smile will resound in all directions because I have an insatiable hunger... In short, I am a malady to your mind and body. I am the sword piercing your heart. Just as the night comes at the end of the day, I am behind you and that is your destiny". (from "Rahu"s love).

Some months later, on the 21st April 1884, Kadambari committed suicide by an overdose of opium. She suffered for two days before her eventual death. The mandatory suicide letter was destroyed, together with the coroner’s report and all her other letters and diaries. The expense for suppressing the facts and events was duly recorded in the family ledger, Rs 52.00.. With that Kadambari the enigma, vanished from this world, mysteriously…

Tagore was shattered, but he continued to write. Nashtanirh ( Charulata) was written after her death and like many other books earlier and later, dedicated to her. It is obvious that the book is a parallel of Kadambari’s life. Why did she kill herself? Robi? Jyothirindranath? Her own depressive suicidal maniac tendencies or was it the oppressive back biting at Jorasanko? Nobody really knows, for that matter it appeared that even Rabi speculated, though he may have known some aspects. There were a lot of rumors, including a possibility that the lady was pregnant and that due to this a huge scandal about to erupt, but it is just that, a rumor without any semblance of proof, for if it were the case, Tagore may have alluded to something. The shattered Tagore wrote

That there could be any gap in the unbroken procession of the joys and sorrows of life was a thing I had no idea of. I could therefore see nothing beyond, and this life I had accepted as all in all. When of a sudden death came and in a moment made a gaping rent in its smooth-seeming fabric, I was utterly bewildered. All around, the trees, the soil, the water, the sun, the moon, the stars, remained as immovably true as before; and yet the person who was as truly there, who, through a thousand points of contact with life, mind, and heart, was ever so much more true for me, had vanished in a moment like a dream. What perplexing self-contradiction it all seemed to me as I looked around! How was I ever to reconcile that which remained with that which had gone?

The terrible darkness which was disclosed to me through this rent, continued to attract me night and day as time went on. I would ever and anon return to take my stand there and gaze upon it, wondering what there was left in place of what had gone. Emptiness is a thing man cannot bring himself to believe in; that which is not, is untrue; that which is untrue, is not. So our efforts to find something, where we see nothing, are unceasing.

Just as a young plant, surrounded by darkness, stretches itself, as it were on tiptoe, to find its way out into the light, so when death suddenly throws the darkness of negation round the soul it tries and tries to rise into the light of affirmation. And what other sorrow is comparable to the state wherein darkness prevents the finding of a way out of the darkness?

One could speculate, One angle is that Jyothirnidranth was in deep debt, his stage activities and his business were floundering and he was perhaps involved in a fling with an actress (some letters were found in his coat pocket the day Kadam decided to take her own life). It is also known that Kadam was upset because Jyothirmoy would not take her for a party on the steamer. Then again, Rabi had drifted away by now, the threesome were no longer together and Rabi was living with his senior sister in law. He was no longer the Rahu waiting to envelop the moon. It is even said that Kadambari herself chose the unattractive bride from the estates hoping that Robi would turn down the proposal, but he accepted. Was it because of Robis’ entanglement with Ana? Finally, the childless Kadambari had previously adopted the youngest daughter of Swarnakumari, Rabi’s sister, but by late 1879, she died. By 1883, Kadamabari was sick, possibly suffering from deep and long bouts of depression, for which she had no outlet. And so, one day, she took her life.

Tagore recovered and continued to write and started Shantiniketan, and got deeply involved in his own world. Kadambari was forgotten at Jorasanko, but Tagore continued to include her in his writings. He had dreams and nightmares frequently of her and sketched faceless women, many alluding to memories of Kadambari. In fact Tagore even admitted to the artist Nandalal Bose when he was in his late seventies that it was Kadambari's eyes which lay behind the hundreds of haunting portraits of women he painted in old age. At one time, he even talked to Sigmund Freud and studied his works, to look into himself.

Kadamabari – ah the mystery lady…we know she loved poetry, music and literature, we know she read a lot, something not taken easily by the other women in the household and she cooked well, from what we know, bringing many new dishes to the household. The young Rabi was intensely jealous if she went away to visit relatives, but Kadambari handled him with much aplomb. She loved flowers and birds, it was she who converted the terrace to a garden and she who incessantly criticized him always, except his slicing of the betelnut, by doing it she perhaps kept his vanity in check as his poems brought him fame, little by little…but it was indeed a complex relationship which could never have ended ‘happily ever after’ for any of the three involved. Tragedy eventually struck Kadambari but that was to teach Tagore the essence of creation, that being pain….

That was Shrimati He, the Notun bouthan of Jorasanko. You can see her and feel her in Tagore’s poems, sangeeth and books. Read deep and you will perhaps find out more about her as Tagore intended.

Bandana Mukopadhyay sums it up very well…..As a central character of Tagore's personal life, Kadambari is all but forgotten, snuffed out for having committed suicide, disgraced for her indiscretion that she had dared to love unwisely, ignored for her socially unacceptable role in the making of a poet whose genius knew no bounds.

She was ultimately the one sacrificed and forgotten, in the midst of the people of Jorasanko searching for success and recognition.

Tagore survived, became stronger with the knowledge of grief and wrote prodigiously, but remembering his Nothun bouthen often…for she lived always, in his heart…..

Rabindranath Tagore Krishna Kriplani
Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man - Dutta, Robinson & Desai
Selected letters – Tagore, Dutta, Robinson
Tagore – Sriparna Basu
Satyajit Ray: the inner eye Andrew Robinson
Tagore – Sisir Kumar Bose
Gateway to the life of Tagore – Chitralekha Basu – China Daily

pic - Kadambari - Telegrapgh India

Walter Kaufmann

The man behind the AIR signature tune….

The other day I was sitting at our local Tamil restaurant in Cary and munching a rava dosa, happily musing about my days in Chennai (it was Madras when I was there, but not so long ago) and the fantastic food in Hari Nivas and so many other places, while at the same time glancing around the packed restaurant. One could see a smattering of the desi populace here, Tamilian families – the IT crowd, some Andhra guys, Kannadigas, but no other Malayalees, they venture out rarely for some reasons I suppose only they  know, I suppose. But there are always one or two tables with the gora’s sticking out in the brown ambiance, and then my glance would linger for a while at their countenances and the food they had ordered. You see it is a south Indian Veg restaurant where you do not get naan and chicken tikka masala.

It is the countenance that arrests you at times, for you see no confusion or consternation that one saw before. These guys know the food they are eating. They eat dosas like they should be eaten, with their fingers while you see some of the gujjus or punjabis handling it gingerly with two fingers and supping the sambar with a spoon. These guys dip the dosa into the sambar and munch it with glee signifying the amount of time they have spent in our mater-land, perhaps Bangalore or Madras.. where they learnt these new eating habits. As the dosa is munched and the filter coffee is sipped, you see the bliss on their face (I am exaggerating some) and I feel happy..ahh..I say, one more entrant into our fold.. perhaps wise chaps like we are??

But this is not about South Indian food or anything of that sort, It is about a person who came to India and lived there for a long time. He left behind a legacy for us, one of the best. I had mentioned him once before and over the years, I have received so many mails from so many people I have never met or known, asking me questions about the person and his everlasting composition.

The composition, if you have not guessed until now is the lovely AIR signature tune that we hear every morning. People like us who are away from India, marvel at that simple tune, and remember the mornings as I described it in my previous blog (linked here). That was a popular blog of mine, it has been copied and reproduced by so many people in parts. I will provide an excerpt from that blog and continue on about the creator.

I have no doubts that some of you, once upon a long time ago, listening to the radio at the break of dawn, have heard this tune. It was a time when the lady of the house would be up, starting up the activities at home, after her bath, with wet hair hanging loosely tied, slightly damp sari with the one end tucked into her hip, getting the coffee and breakfast ready, the wood fire in the kitchen up and going nicely, smoke tendrils creeping up the chimney, clinking sounds of various brass & steel utensils in the background, while the man of the house and his father would be shaking themselves out of their beds, the younger anxiously ready to face life, the elder cursing his arthritic creaking bones and the various indignities of life as one gets older. Through this all, the child of the house would be fast asleep under his thin blanket, dreaming of animate & inanimate things; the boy had at least another two hours to dream before he started off for school.

The younger man would move slowly, still drowsy and with unsteady legs, to the living room. He would reach up to that wooden plank on the wall steadied by the two L brackets, where the old valve radio set was placed and turn the brown stained knob to click the radio on. It took a minute for the EL 84 vacuum tube valves to start up and glow as the man could see it through the cloth front of the radio. But it was not yet time; he heard only the hiss of static. Sunlight had started to streak through the gap between the wall and the roof, also through the glass tiles, and the man idly looked at the dancing dust particles in the beams for a while as his body warmed up. One could not help but notice the webbed antenna of the radio near the ceiling, where a number of spiders were busy with their own lives, spinning webs and waiting for their flying prey.

Then he did what his father had once routinely done during his entire life time, he walked across to the other side of the room and wound the wall clock, always remembering his fathers words ‘Son! Not too much or the spring will break…never should you move the needles back. If the time has to be changed, move it only forward – and as you move the needles make sure the pendulum is stopped carefully’…It was a clock imported from the old blighty (bilayath), and Papaji had to wait a two full months after placing the order at the local Spencer’s. It had cost all of fifty rupees in those days.

It was now 0530 AM, and the lady of the house called out from the kitchen ‘coffee is ready, come and have it before it is cold’. Papaji had also come out after his ablutions, he would touch food only after all that was done and after he had finished his bath, and like he said every day, he grumbled “the younger generations are not right, ugh! They drink coffee without brushing teeth”.

The magic eye tuner of the radio narrowed to a slit like cat’s eyes, the station came on air and the Akashwani signature tune started. Kaufmman’s immortal work composed on the resonating Tanpura, Viola and Violin echoed in the room. The Indian day had started.

And thus the many millions woke up to a new dawn in the teeming Indian villages, towns, cities, metropolises to toil and hustle to reach their own dreams…Many would remember the AIR signature tune in their lives, at some moment or the other – like I did today!!

That was the tune that set the trend for the day, a tune that many people attributed wrongly to all kinds of musical ustads. Some said Ravi Shankar, some said Vishnu Govind Jog, some others said John Foulds and some said Thakur Balwant Singh,

Debashish Chakraborthy a reader clarified then with details

At the risk of being called a revisionist, let me say that Walter Kaufman did compose the AIR signature tune but not as a signature tune. In fact, it was an extract from a sonata commissioned by Mehli Mehta the well-known violinist who later became the first violin of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and ended his days in California at the tender age of 92. He was, ultimately, better-known as the father of Zubin Mehta, the conductor. Mehli Mehta played the violin for the signature tune which, thank Heaven, has not been "improved" by any charlatan. He remained justly proud of this fact to the end of his long life. However, let me assure you that all the assertions about the AIR signature tune which I have made are correct. Mehli Mehta confirmed the facts to me in a letter after I wrote to him. Before he died, I was able to bring the letter to the attention of PC "Tiny" Chatterji, one of the most enlightened Directors General of AIR. He knew Kaufman in India, being an AIR old timer, and was delighted to read it, even though he was very sick…

So we know that the person behind this magnificent tune is one Walter Kaufman. Who was he? Why was he in India? What did he do? Why did he go back? Is he still alive? So many questions, which need answers, at least to some people… So the next part of this blog is a little account of Kaufman in India compiled mainly from the essay written by Agata Schindler, my heartfelt thanks to her and Bhatti for the book Jewish Exiles in India which I perused recently. I thought it would be nice if I left something here for people to refer to someday if they had a doubt about such matters, for it is not easy to get data on people like Kaufman. I myself am particularly blessed to have three fabulous libraries in my neighborhood, the NCSU library, the UNC Chapel Hill library and the Duke library to feed my frantic searches for such information. The only grouse I have is a lack of hours left in a day to devote to these researches after regular office hours and also the risk of upsetting domestic harmony with a head buried in musty pages and spectacles becoming thicker as the years go by..But I manage..

Freda and Walter Kaufmann
Back to the 30’s. Walter was from Karlsblad (B 1907) then in Bohemia (today’s Czech republic) living in Prague (He left Berlin in 1933 for safer Prague) and known as ‘a musician with an instinct sure to sweep you off’. Ah! Prague, I have been there once or twice, a lovely little city with a castle and a typical European layout and a lovely bridge that has a lot of history. His friends circle boasted Einstein, Haas, the Kafka family and so many others. By the age of 24 his compositions were being played in various orchestras. Later he worked for many radio stations (Berlin and Prague). But Walter knew he had to leave his abode, for he feared Bohemia would also be no longer be safe for Jews. The Nazi’s were tightening their anti Semitic noose and Walter’s friend had just been killed in Berlin and they were no longer safe in Prague even. It was winter 1933, early 1934.

Unlike others who went to all kinds of usual places, Walter chose India on an impulse and went to Bombay which was to be his home for the next 12 years. One of the persons he worked with in Bombay was Willy Haas another émigré, with whom he conducted many orchestras and composed energetic and exhilarating music. During these periods in India, he composed many pieces of music with an Indian flavor using new instruments and even taught at Sofia College in Bombay. He went on to write voluminous books on North and South Indian Classical music, both of which are now considered reference books on the subject. In addition to performing, composing and lecturing, he began collecting Nepalese traditional music, which he described as “a strange combination of Indian, Tibetan and Kashmiri music and learnt Indian and Urdu notation, before incorporating these into his own compositions.

Why did Walter chose India over other more exotic safe havens like Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai? Why did he not even say goodbye properly (he did it on the phone) to his father and girlfriend? Let us see what he himself had to say in reply to these questions

My reasons to go to India were relatively simple, I could get a visa. I had a friend in Bombay and his inspiring lectures at the university had roused my curiosity, (Note - the friend was Mohan Bhavani and they met at the UFA studios at Berlin, even V Santaram did a stint there). When I heard the gramophone music for the first time, I found the music to be so alien and incomprehensible. However I knew that this music was created by people with heart and intellect, one could assume that many, in fact millions would be appreciating or in fact loving this music. As this music was alien to me, I decided that the fault was entirely mine and the right way would be to undertake a study tour to the place of its origin. A ship Lady Trietine ‘Conte verde’; was scheduled to leave Venice in the next 4 days and I found I could still catch it if I hurried. My friend in Bombay had assured me lodgings for the first few days. My most difficult task was to explain my plans to my father. It was impossible for me to travel fast to Karlasbad, so I had to settle the matter over the phone.

Walter had by now another problem; he could not collect his doctorate when he found his professor Franz Becking to be a Nazi and refused it. Another catalyst for the impulsive decision was the fact that a rich listener brought outright the rights for one of his incomplete orchestral pieces (Die Weisee Gottin – a tale of an Indian king and a European damsel – later completed from India). He (Felix Braun possibly) paid Walter 10,000 Krona and with that Walter went to the post office to post the letter to the university refusing his doctorate. On his way back he walked into the Travel agency and purchased the ticket to Bombay.

Walk along Warden Road, Breach Candy – today it is called Bhulabhai Desai road, an affluent part of Bombay and imagine a time when Kaufman lived there, when you could hear the tinkles from Kaufman's piano as the virtuoso perfected his melodies and compositions or learned Indian music. Today Bollywood tunes fill the air, the world has advanced, I suppose. That is where he lived, at Rewa House.

Walter’s stay in India got prolonged and it took him all of 12 years to learn the music and write two very big books on the south and North Indian music as well as many others on notations and so on. As he started out, the first thing he did was to sell of the return ticket and get his wife to Bombay. He married his girlfriend Gerty Herrmann (Franz Kafka’s niece) by proxy so that she could join him later in Bombay. Soon he landed a job at the AIR in Bombay (1935) and it was then that the signature tune was composed using the Tanpura and violin, based on the Raga Shivaranjini. Many people contributed and provided inputs for his work in the AIR later, one being Dinakar Rao. Of his own days at the AIR, Walter explains in a letter to Edith Kraus – I am the key person in music of AIR, I am something of an extraordinary bureaucrat, I do not have a high but comfortable income, lots and lots of work a lot more of intrigues and squabbles and few chances for a better future!!

He learnt Indian notations and music slowly, dabbled with music for films (he did music for Bhavani’s ‘The Mill’ (‘mill ya mazdoor’ – Premchand also left the movie midway), which was unfortunately banned and later did ‘Premnagar’) made in Bombay and created the Bombay Chamber music association and formed a string quartet. In this period of time he wrote seven masterly books on music. He created music for documentaries “Information of India’. It was in this Bombay chamber music society that Mehli Mehta played. But he was also affected by the difficulties of life in India for as a foreigner, he was sick often with flu, malaria and dysentery..and eventually managed to get his music blended with a lot of Indian tones as his own psyche was. He was highly influenced by Buddhism. It was during his stay that Moritz his father died in a concentration camp in 1942. Two years later his daughter Katherine was born. As you could see, Walter’s flight to India has saved his life, certainly and for that he paid back the country with his writing and music, at a time when nobody else had popularized Indian music overseas.

His years in India were certainly an eye opener for him, in terms of music. Take this for example from his book ragas of North India. He reports a conversation with a leading musician in Bombay in 1934. Kaufman interacted with many musicians and many he says, were illiterate, but were masters in their field. The musician said..

Do you know that you people in the western world will soon experience a terrible disaster? And do you know why? Because you people in the west abuse music and perform it at wrong times and occasions. You play funeral marches and sing dirges when there is no funeral and no cause for sadness, you sing love songs and spring songs when there is neither love nor spring, you play nocturnes during the day, wedding music when there is no wedding. How long – he roared- will the universe tolerate this abuse of music, ………….music, mind you a sacred thing?..

The musician in Bombay perhaps had the foreboding; for the WW II took place 1939-45 and since then many more wars both in India and the western world…

Soon it was time to leave and he had applied for British immigration, and joined the war service in the Royal navy, West was beckoning again. His heart was telling him to go to the USA, he wanted to compose soulful film music for Hollywood. Why did he leave? Was it to fight against the Germans? Was it because of Hindu Muslim riots in Bombay or was it the uncertainty over the partition after independence? It could have been one or a collection, and that was the time yet another great artist left Bombay, about whom I will write soon, named Sadat Hasan Manto.

After war service he was a guest conductor 1946-7 for the BBC in London and assistant music director for J. Arthur Rank films. He moved to Canada in 1947 and spent 10 years there teaching as well as creating symphonies and orchestras. In 1951 Kaufman married Freda Trepel, a pianist and teacher. In 1957, he finally realized his dream and came to the USA with Freda, to join the University of Indiana where he taught musicology. A prodigious composer, he applied raga techniques in some of his works and combined western and oriental traditions in others. He taught until 1977 and eventually bid adieu to this world in 1984, sadly not realizing his last wish which was to catalog all his Sikkim, Nepali and Hindukush collections. Perhaps somebody in Indiana University will do it…some day..

Back to the present - Another day starts in India and the rare few who are awake (or those who do not have a preset FM station) tune into the AIR to hear Kaufman's composition…...

Growing with Canada: the émigré tradition in Canadian music- Paul Helmer
Walter Kaufman - A forgotten genius – (Jewish Exile in India 1933-45) Agata Schindler
Exile country India as the source for creative works of Walter Kaufmann – Agata Schindler

Picture – From University of Indiana site Acknowledged with thanks.

Manu and her friends

Sometimes it is very difficult to separate the threads of truth from the vast fabric of a tale woven over decades. Such was the case as I set about unraveling the story of the girl named Manakarnika, fondly called Manu, the product of a family displaced by the tussle between the Marathas and the English. It is not my intention to retell the tale in anyway, but to hover around an aspect from the whole story, namely the relationship between three people who set about to change the scene in British India. That they were unsuccessful is the unfortunate part of their history, but then again, their actions eventually sowed the seeds of dissent in a passive field where those who came as traders became usurpers and later, holders of power.

And with that, let us move on from the lands of Venad, Cochin and Malabar and venture out far North, to the arid regions of Bundelkhand. A place where wars were fought, where rival kings and queens ruled and where the warring people rode furiously on their horses fighting, if not making merry, since time immemorial. As Joyce Lebra Chapman introduces Jhansi - igneous sandstone rock cropping rising abruptly from the level, barren plains punctuate the landscape and provide ideal natural defensive sites for forts….it lies south of the river Yamuna, where today scrub and tamarind thorns dot the arid soil. It was once a dense forested jungle, but then like the kingdom, the vegetation soon vanished from those areas. It was to this kingdom of Jhansi that the 12-13 year old Manu from Varanasi went after she was locked in marriage to the middle aged Gangadhar. But as I said at the outset I will not really explain the story of the lady and her days, for there are many books out there that glorify her deeds, some very expansively, some very deliberately, some in great nationalistic tradition, and some in downright filmy fashion with large dollops of exaggeration. Suffices to say that she was one of the lone voices who fought for herself and her people’s rights in the middle of a motley crowd comprising large numbers of kings, queens and leaders who quietly acquiesced to the overwhelming British superiority at that time.

Three characters rose to fame in that turbulent period where the unholy mixture of pigs, Enfield rifles, goras, beef and Kshatriyas resulted in an uprising against the new rulers and shook the British plans somewhat. I will hover around them in this study and leave the rest of the characters and events in the dark historic realms. Each of these characters was an interesting person, and one or two of them have books covering their exploits, but well, without much ado, let me introduce them. They were Nana Saheb, Tatya (Tantya) Tope and Rao Saheb. Nana Saheb became famous as the leader of the 1857 Sepoy mutiny, Tatya Tope was another rebel leader and Rao Saheb was with them most of the time. Interestingly each of these 4 characters was a Maratha, not Rajputs or Jats or Punjabis. How did this group of men get involved with Manu and on the wrong side of the British? Or did they? Were the stories of their childhood together a figment of imagination? To get to that you have to venture out in a study of Manu and her life, and that was the difficult part, for her story is largely a collection of many legends accounting the life of the Jezebel of Jhansi, the actions of the Rani of Jhansi, or the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai.

It is said that Nana, Tatya and Manu were childhood friends. Many an account provides interesting tidbits from it. Let us look for some and go to Bithur where Chimnaji Appa, the brother of the last Peshwa Baji Rao had settled in exile with his adviser and friend Moropant (Manu’s father) Thambe. Baji Rao lived here in peace, collecting his large large (£ 80,000) pension from the British.

Bithoor was the capital of the Pargana from 1811 to 1819 located some 12-15 miles away from Kanpur, on the banks of the Ganges. After the departure of the courts, the place was assigned as a residence to Baji Rao, the deposed Peshwa. In fact, its glorious past is wrapped in legends and fables. A legend in Hindu mythology has it that after the destruction of the Universe and the reconstruction of the Galaxy by the Lord Vishnu, Bithoor was chosen by Lord Brahma, the Creator, as his abode. Bithoor is also the poignant setting where Sita was left by Lord Rama to lead her life in exile. It is also the site where Saint Valmiki meditated and later wrote the timeless epic Ramayana. At the same time, it is also known as the auspicious place where Lord Rama's twin sons Lav and Kush were born. It was here that under the guidance of Saint Valmiki, the twins spent their childhood and were initiated into the technique of war and politics and finally, it is the place where the two sons were reunited with their father in a spirit of joy and peace. It is perhaps for this reason that the place is also known as Ramale. Bithoor is believed to be the place where Dhruv (the legendary child who grew up to be a revered saint, shining in the sky as an eternal star) had his first opportunity for a divine visitation and practiced meditation.

Dhondu Pant (later known as Nana Sahib) was the adopted son of Baji Rao and Tatya Tope (Ramachandra Panduranga) the son of Pandurang Rao, a nobleman in Baji Rao’s court. Rao Saheb was Nana’s cousin brother (or nephew). These three were fiery leaders of revolts later against the British. And the young Chhabili spent their childhood with them. But did they really know each other since childhood? What details do we have of their friendship and was it an enduring friendship, if it existed?

It is said that the three boys (a fourth Bala Saheb also figures in the story, at times) and Manu were playmates in Bithoor, and it is with them that she became well versed in reading and writing (something girls were not allowed to do in those times) and horse riding and weapon usage. She was virtually a tomboy among them and their childhood is retold in a number of stories, some possibly legends. Let us look at some.

Once Nana Sahib fell down from his horse and was about to be crushed. But Manu showed great presence of mind and courage. She jumped from her own horse and caught hold of the leg of the horse which was about to stamp Nana. She quickly pulled out Nana and thus saved him. Though Nana had received serious injuries, she encouraged him by telling him that the injuries were ordinary and that he would be quite alright within a day.

Another time, she asked Nana to allow her to climb up and sit atop the elephant next to him and Nana refused. Indignantly, she proclaimed, ‘One day I will have 10 elephants to your one, remember my words’.

And there is another story of an elephant running amok in Bithur when Manu clambered on to its back climbing over its trunk and tusk, and calmed the elephant.

Manu was born in 1828 though some books mention her birth year at 1835. She got married in 1842. Nana was born in 1820 and Tatya in 1813. So in Bithoor, a small town, and in Baji Rao’s palace area, you can see the young group romping about, though much separated in ages. Nana some 8 years older and Taya 15 years older to Manu. Would they have been playmates? Let us assume so.

Allen Copsey who studied the Rani mentions in his website, In "Our Bones Are Scattered", Andrew Ward notes that in Bithur there is a legend that Manikarnika and Nana Sahib had fallen in love but that Baji Rao forbade the marriage. If true this suggests how Manikarnika came to the notice of Gangadhar Rao; what better way for Baji Rao to be rid of a troublesome relationship? It also indirectly confirms the later age of Manikarnika as this would not have happened if she had been 8 years old, but at 13 or 14 it is somewhat more likely.

As the story goes the 13 -14 year old Manu gets married to Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi in 1842 and is thereafter known as Lakshmi Bai. Jhansi itself had a checkered history. In 1732 Chhatrasal, the Bundela king, called in the aid of the Hindu Marathas. They came to his assistance, and were rewarded by the bequest of one-third of the Maharaja's dominions upon his death two years later. The Maratha general developed the city of Jhansi, and peopled it with inhabitants from Orchha state. In 1806 British protection was promised to the Maratha chief. In 1817, however, the Peshwa in Pune ceded all his rights over Bundelkhand to the British East India Company. The heirs to this state were always a problem, and when Ramachandra the eccentric ruler died childless in 1835, the British chose to recognize Gangadhar, his brother as the next ruler of Jhansi. That was how Lakshmi Bai ended up as Rani Lakshmi bai.

Why is Lakshm Bai’s story so difficult to get into? As events unfolded, the revolt happened in 1857 and the ruthless suppression and the fear situation after it resulted in nobody (i.e. from the Indian ranks) making a proper written account of the Rani, especially one that took a line opposite that from the British line which ridiculed her.

Back to Jhansi – Rao was a king more interested in the arts than anything else and very orthodox. Following a pilgrimage to Varanasi and Gaya in 1851, Lakshmi Bai delivered an heir, a boy named Damodar. However he died after four months and Ganghadar Rao was shattered. His health deteriorated and he passed away in 1853. Just before he died the royal couple adopted a 5 year old boy from the Nevalkar family named Anand Rao, upon Moropant Tambe’s prompting. There was another reason for the hurried adoption, that being the Dalhousie Doctrine of Lapse. With that last action, Gangadhar died and Lakshmi Bai became a widow at the age of 25, but she was a different person as always, she did not commit sati as was the practice and she did not shave her head. She remained herself and set about bringing the state under good governance. Nevertheless the British had other ideas of annexation and in neighboring areas, stirrings of discontent were brewing.

Before we get to the Sepoy mutiny, we must check out some reasons, for they are very interesting and not directly related to the Beef tallow. Late in the 18th century, after the battle of Buxar, the British realized the need to bolster their Bengal troops with local content. There was much political instability with the collapse of the Moghul empire and with the Afghan invasions and the Maratha moves, the British had to have a bigger set of armed forces. A large number of sepoys were recruited and installed in different areas not just for suppression of revolts, but also for governance and control in areas were firm action was needed. Hastings at that time believed in creating a high caste army and this resulted in enthusiastic response from the northern areas. Complications however arose when they had to be moved from the East to the West to fight the Marathas and Afghans. Crossing the seas was a problem, so also stay and dietary restrictions, but they were all taken care of in acceptable ways and many Hindu festivals were celebrated with gusto. Thus camaraderie was firmly established. But like all good things, this was not to last. Various tactical reasons and wars in the west resulted in a number of Rajput, Jat and Muslim entrants to the British army in the 1800-1820’s. Another problem manifested itself, the EIC coffers were drying up and maintenance of a big military establishment was becoming a problem. In 1830’s military reforms were announced and this irritated the high caste sepoys for they lost many of the ‘perks’ that had drawn them to the army in the first place. Permanent transfers to the NW, daily Batta loss, pension issues and pay differences between different battalions etc were the main reasons and then again there was this feeling that their high caste status was being infringed. The final trigger was the greased cartridges used in the newly introduced Enfield rifles.

As this was going on, the civilian lords were also being affected. Baji rao died but the EIC refused to continue the grand pension to Nana Saheb and he was incensed. He continued trying to influence the British establishment until 1855 to change their decision but failed.

In Jhansi, pretty much the same thing was happening - Because Anand Rao was adopted, the East India Company, under Lord Dalhousie, had an excuse to apply the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Rao's claim to the throne. Dalhousie then annexed Jhansi, saying that the throne had "lapsed" and claimed the right to put Jhansi under his protection. In March 1854, Lakshmi Bai was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace and the Jhansi fort.

In 1851, when Lord Dalhousie deprived Nana Sahib of his father's pension, Tatya Tope also became a sworn enemy of the British. In May 1857, when the political storm was gaining momentum, he won over the Indian troops of the East India Company, stationed at Kanpur (Cawnpore), established Nana Sahib's authority and became the Commander-in-Chief of his forces. He later helped orchestrate the attack on Hugh Wheeler's entrenchment.

And so the mutiny happened in 1857. All the leaders like the Nana Saheb, Tantya Tope and the unwilling Rani of Jhansi, hoped to influence the discontented sepoys with religious overtones and get them to their sides further incensing the British employers and create an even bigger unbalance.

The three we met in pervious paragraphs had by now become personal enemies of the EIC. The dams were about to burst soon as many sepoys were also at their wits end, seeing their way of life threatened by foreigners. Questions were starting to be asked.

The rebellion started in Meerut in May 1857 with Mangal Pande’s actions. In June, Nana Saheb who lived a wasteful life thus far entered the fray and marched into Kanpur in June 1857 and ransacked the British cantonment stating that he would become a vassal of Bahadur Shah. This part of the story is a complicated one but ended up with the English in Kanpur getting routed. Tantia Tope joined in the massacre at Kanpur. The fighting continued until July when fresh British reinforcements started to arrive. Nana Saheb later retreated to Bithoor and escaped to live the balance of his life in hideouts in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Nepal or in far flung Sihor in Gujrat.

Tantia Tope tried to retake Kanpur in Nov 1857 but was unsuccessful. By March, he decided to go to Jhansi in support of the Rani, where General Rose was planning to take over the state. The battle however went against Tope and he lost. The Rani escaped mysteriously from Jhansi, destined for Kalpi. Now she turned to the Rao Saheb of Bithoor for help in order to recreate a new army. Tope was asked to take care of that. The next series of actions took place at Gwalior from where the Scindia raja had absconded. The rebel chiefs Rao Saheb, Tantia Tope and Rani Jhani assembled to witness the last act. In the battle which followed against Col Rose’s troops, the Rani is killed and is cremated (though many other legends remain).

Tatya tope escaped and became a guerilla leader for much of a year leading skirmishes against the British. After losing Gwalior to the British, Tope launched a successful campaign in the Sagar, Madhya Pradesh and Narmada River regions and in Khandesh and Rajasthan. By Nov 1858, Rao Saheb surrendered. Tope was however betrayed by his trusted friend, Man Singh, Chief of Narwar while asleep in his camp in the Paron forest. He was defeated and captured on 7 April 1859 by British General Richard John Meade's troops and escorted to Shivpuri where he was tried by a military court. Tope admitted the charges brought before him saying that he was answerable to his masters Rao & Nana. He was executed at the gallows on April 18 1859. Legends however mention an impersonator was hanged and Tantya died later and lived in the garb of a Sadhu.

Lakshmi Bai’s father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao (Anand Rao), fled with his mother's aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore. He spent most of his life trying to convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on May 28, 1906, at the age of 58.

Dalhousie returned to England in 1856, before the mutiny. His health deteriorated amidst public outcry over his policies and he died in 1860. Today a hill station in Himachal named after him reminds one of his days in India. Hugh Rose fell sick after the Gwalior storming, but continued various battles in India. He later became the CIC of the forces in India and became a general in 1867.

The friends from Bithoor are now consigned to history books. The people of Jhansi possibly remember them now and then. The palace of Nana Sahib was reduced to rubble by the British in 1857 and the only traces remaining of it are some large well heads and broken palace walls.

Bithoor is forgotten; it had housed so many great names from the distant past and the near past, but after the town’s destruction by Gen Havelock, has never recovered any of its lost glories. Jules Verne wrote a book about the Nana Saheb (Steam boat) and many more were written on Nana and Lakshmi Bai by the people who remembered them.

And with that we turn the page, from this to the next.


Rani OF Jhansi – Lebra-Chapman
Rani of Jhansi – Jaiwant Paul
Rani of Jhansi – Rainer Jerosch
Rani Lakshmi Bai – Allen Copsey

Colonel Malleson wrote "...her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country.....Recently Time magazine put her in the list of top 10 bad ass wives of the world.