Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning a thing or two about divine grace, courtesy R.V. Rajan

Divine Grace and Blessings is the headline veteran adman and rural marketing expert R.V. Rajan has given his piece. After retiring and quitting many of the official positions he held (he continues to be chairman of Anugrah Madison), Rajan, who had a sparkling career, now spends his time visiting temples and other places of interest with his wife, Prabha, and also writing articles that gets published either in The Hindu or Business Line or in magazines such as Eve’s Touch. His writing is free-flowing, he uses simple language and talks about day-to-day things that anybody can relate to. I always find some message or the other subtly told through his writings. Here is the unedited version of what he sent me today:

Divine Grace (Anugraham) & Elders Blessings (Aashirvadham) are two values which my parents taught me early in life.

My mother was a very pious woman, who celebrated every religious occasion with reverence and great devotion, with appropriate Poojas performed at home. Whether it was a simple `Kardia Nonbu` or the more elaborate ` Varalakshmi Vratham`, she would spare no pain to make the occasion an opportunity to appease her chosen God / Goddess.

While her favourite Lord was Rama of the Ramayana fame, my father always claimed that Guruvayurappan little Krishna of Guruvayur in Kerala, was his chosen deity whose name he kept invoking whenever he felt happy or depressed. Like millions in the world, both my parents also believed that whatever be their problem, the Lord will always provide a solution!

They also believed in openly expressing their respects to elders. Any elderly person visiting our home was showered with genuine hospitality and made to feel like a VIP. No one left the home without taking the simple meal my mother served, with lots of love! Invariably before the elders took leave, my parents would prostrate before them seeking their blessings! The visiting elders more than touched by the gesture, would be generous in their blessings. Whenever we went on a visit to South on holiday, my parents would make it a point to visit all the elders in the family seeking their blessings.

As for me Lord Balaji of the Tirupathi fame and Vinayaka the elephant God are my chosen deities. Like my parents, I also totally surrender to the Lord not only during hours of crisis but on a daily basis whenever I have the time and opportunity. I am no good at pooja rituals, which are performed by my wife who is proficient in them. My belief is expressed in the form of invoking the Lord`s name, as often as I can, silently.

Keeping elders happy and getting their blessings is also something which I have believed in all my life. Though old age and physical problems are preventing me from prostrating before the elders I do not fail to touch the feet of the elders in the typical North Indian; `Pai Lagey` style, even now! I feel thrilled when they bless me from the bottom of their hearts! I can say with confidence that my bank balance of Elders` blessings is always overflowing.

I believe that Gods grace and elders` blessings have played a major part in my leading a fulfilling life apart from my relentless pursuit of my dreams and goals. I have even named my home and company invoking the Divine Grace; ANUGRAH!

Coming to the younger generation, judging by the turnout of youngsters in places of worship and other spiritual get-togethers of modern day `Gurujis` of all shades, I feel that belief in God is certainly growing among the youth of the country.. Whether it is Rama, Krishna, Allah or Christ, every young man has his chosen deity or a `Guruji` whom he regularly invokes for moral support in his hours of trials and tribulations.

I also find the practice of paying respects to elders, by touching their feet is prevalent among all sections of North Indians, wherever they are located,, even today. You can see an ample display of this fine gesture among the younger generations at Railway stations, Airports, other public places and of course at family functions. It might look perfunctory to some but I always admire at the spontaneity with which the act is performed by North Indian youngsters, even in Chennai. Whereas in the South, particularly in Tamilnadu and among Tamilians, the concept of prostrating before elders, the traditional form of paying respects is slowly fading amongst the younger generation. It is especially difficult for the Vada Kalai Iyengars (a sect of Vaishnavites sporting the `U` Namam on the forehead) because they have to perform the act of prostrating- four times, each time they meet an elderly person!

It is quite a punishment, especially for the newly married couple at Weddings, when they are forced to go around the wedding hall prostrating before every elderly person in the crowd. Of course, a wise young man found a solution to this problem by requesting elders to assemble in groups so that he could perform a `one for all` ritual to get their blessings. Saving effort and time!! The idea is catching on even at homes where families get-together on occasions. The fact is today`s younger generation in the South has to be persuaded to pay respects to elders in the traditional way. It is also true that the stresses and strains of modern life have made them physically unfit to perform this arduous form of paying respect!

I suppose that the present day parents and grandparents should feel happy if their children or grandchildren or nephews and nieces express their love and respect in whatever form they choose- if at all they feel like expressing their respects!

Rajan appreciates feedback at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Madras Week: Unsung heroes (A. Ananda Kumar)

Probably the youngest hero of Madras Week was A. Ananda Kumar who exhibited his paintings at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. Kumar graduated this year from the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai and is the first degree holder in Fine Arts from his village Koralpakkam in Thiruvannamalai District.

When I visited the g Vennirul Art Gallery there was no visitor. The lights were off and somebody came to switch them on as I entered. The sad part in some of these exhibitions is that there are hardly enough people interested in coming to see what’s on offer.

Whether it’s the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation or the Gallery Sri Parvati or other galleries, it all looks good for the record, to have exhibits during Madras Week, but in reality, except for the inaugural if there is one, you will hardly find people coming in. Lakshmi Venkataraman, who runs Gallery Sri Parvati, has echoed my view many times. She should know. Her gallery, done up fairly well, in the centre of the city, in Alwarpet, does not attract many visitors during Madras Week.

So, I had the whole Vennirul Art Gallery to myself and spent some time looking at the exhibits before an officer from the Foundation trooped in, probably signaling that my time was up.

Outside I was pleasantly surprised to see Ananda Kumar immersed in what he does best – paint. As he wielded his brush, his eyes were focused on an old building on the campus, probably one that might have been the residence of Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar.

Pictures show some of Kumar’s work – the flow of the Cooum against a backdrop of heritage buildings, of St Andrew’s Church and Victoria Public Hall, and of the Mylapore Temple tank. I managed a picture of Kumar even as he was providing final touches to his painting of the building that formed the background.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Madras Week: A flavour of early 20th Century Madras

Last year, Nanditha Krishna of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation had organised during Madras Week an exhibition on Fort St. George. The exhibition included aquatints, etchings and engravings from private collections, maps and sketches.

This year, she had two exhibitions running – one, a display of paintings by A. Ananda Kumar and the other, a display of some splendid photographs taken by the late M. K. Rangaswamy Aiyangar – of Madras and its environment in the beginning of the last century.

Let’s look at Aiyangar’s pictures first. M. K. Rangaswamy Aiyangar was a prolific writer and photographer. Born in 1886 in Srivilliputhur, he was a scholar of art, culture, religion and music, having written many articles on the subjects in leading dailies like The Hindu, Indian Express and the weeklies and magazines of his times. He authored several books, among which Thyagaraja Thatvam and Mahabalipuram – A Guide Book with illustrations of photographs taken by him are noteworthy.

Aiyangar was an eminent photographer and, according to Nanditha, will be remembered for his famous photographs of the early 20th century Madras and Tamil Nadu, especially the temples. Tirumala to Tillai, his famous exhibition of pictures, was held in Madras, Tirunelveli and Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh.

Aiyangar’s son, the late R. Madhavan, who retired from The Hindu, gifted his father’s collection of negatives and prints to the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation library.

Here are a few of Rangaswamy Aiyangar’s pictures: a long-shot view of some of the pictures of monuments, of the Sri Thyagarajar Temple in Thiruvottriyur, of a person feeding vultures in Thirukkalukundram, of the Sangu Thirtham Tank there, and of the St Thomas Church on the Little Mount.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Madras Week: Unsung heroes (John Moses, Winston Henry, Venkatesh)

It appears kerosene was first imported to Madras by Best & Company in 1879. It was sold in tins by the brand names Chester and Monkey. Kerosene lamps were also sold on carts till the late 1970s. With the import of kerosene from abroad, lamps from England, Germany, Hungary, France, Japan and the United States followed. According to John Moses, who had an astonishing display of lamps at the Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar, the lamp industry was highly competitive in these countries – in producing lamps, wicks, chimneys and globes. Most of the lamps then were made of brass, glass and porcelain.

Moses and Winston Henry (who helps put up aquariums and aviaries), narrated at length their passion for collecting anything old. Moses said his collection of old lamps, watches, pens and cycles was so large that there was hardly enough space at his home in Kilpauk to keep them. “My family just manages to tolerate me,” he said.

Winston said just about the same thing. The passageways in his house are lined with large containers filled with old books. He had brought along the 1870 edition of Francis Buchanan’s ‘Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’, published by Higginbotham and Company, Madras. The pages were almost falling apart and the years had taken its toll – but you were taken to another world just by grasping the book.

Together, Moses and Winston made a difference to the exhibition at the school. They also took pains in describing the displays to all those who seemed interested to know and learn more.

Another participant who needs special mention was Venkatesh, a peon at the Padma Seshadri School. He has been an avid collector of coins and has always sought an outlet to exhibit them. Two years ago, he came up with a similar display. School duties have not blunted his enthusiasm to pursue his hobby. His is an example many should follow.

And these are the people who make Madras Week what it is. They toil hard all day long, expect little publicity, prefer to keep a low profile, are happy with even the smallest word of appreciation, and treat every person with dignity.

Pictures show Moses before his prized collection, Winston going about his job of explaining to visitors, Francis Buchanan’s book, a coloured illustration on one of the pages of the book, and Venkatesh beaming before his collection.

Madras Week: Unsung heroes (S.A. Govindaraju)

The Madras Heritage Lovers Forum put up a wonderful show at the Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar. Most of the members are past 50, with consultant architect D.H. Rao, who organised and ‘choreographed’ the entire show, well past 70. More than anything, it was rare commitment on display, a passion for a city and its heritage.

The forum is made up of Rao, V. Prabhakar, Winston Henry, S.A. Govindaraju, who has an amazing collection of old books and magazines, John Moses, Lazer, Roland Nelson and Hemant Chopra. Some of them were there throughout at the three-day event, standing for the most part in a hall without the air-conditioning system turned on.

Govindaraju is 80 years old but his passion for old books and magazines hasn’t diminished a bit. He has been collecting them for more than four decades and has over 5000 books and 10000 magazines, paper clippings and advertisements. A retired labour law consultant, he runs a small garage where he sells these books. What is remarkable is that he is able to identify each of the books just by the look of them – the author and publisher’s names, even the date of publication.

Govindaraju has books on law, philosophy, literature, history, wildlife, poetry, encyclopedias and books on film stars and politicians. He has a large collection of R.K. Laxman’s cartoons as well.

Every day, he spends his time in the garage (Rare Books, R.A. Puram, 2nd Main Road) with his collection, waiting for people with a similar passion, a passion that is hard to find these days.

Pictures show some of the material on display – Manohar Devadoss’s exquisite s pen-and-ink drawings; Govindaraju’s books; and one (Madras – Chennai Pattinam) of several fascinating articles by Nanditha Krishna (director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation) that had appeared in The Illustrated Weekly of India in the 1970s.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Madras Week: Spontaneity lacking, need for new energy

It’s been a long break with the blog, with work and other things keeping me company most of the time. It’s Madras Week again, but after seven years of playing the catalyst role in putting events together in some places, I get the feeling that a lot of it is not as spontaneous as it should be.

We’ve had two press conferences – one in June to announce broadly the celebration, and the second a week ahead of Madras Week, to drive home the specifics. What if we, the catalysts or coordinators, did not convene the press meets – would we then have had as many ‘celebrations’ of the city or events that are there now? My answer is ‘no’.

People, whether they be individuals, heading schools, colleges or institutions have to be pushed a bit to get events off the starting block. There’s only one school that seems to have earmarked Madras Day and Madras Week in the school calendar. So, why is the spontaneity missing? Does love of one’s city not amount to too much, or doesn’t heritage and allied subjects not rank high at all? I would say heritage does not rank high in a person’s list of priorities.

So, how do we get more people to celebrate the founding of a city? To the best of my knowledge, Chennai is perhaps the only city in India to have such a weeklong celebration bracketing its birthday. There are no straightforward answers to the question as much as there is no short-term solution. The best way is to instill the idea in the minds of schoolchildren from all schools so that when they grow up, they realise the value of protecting and conserving the heritage of the place where they spent their growing years.

The other point is that over the years we’ve been having the same people speaking at various forums. Of course, it’s a pleasure to listen to city historians S. Muthiah and Randor Guy and V. Sriram but we need many others who can speak or make presentations on a variety of other subjects connected to the city. Where are the Tamil speakers? Gnanai Sankaran, Badri Seshadri or Ashokamitran are fairly good speakers and people will come to hear them, but they, and I’m sure there are many more like them, are not part of the week’s celebrations this year. What I’m trying to say is that often it is the same message that goes out, from the same speakers. I think some of the older speakers must make way for new and younger ones.

Overall, it’s schoolchildren who are benefiting the most, from participating in quiz contests, essay and drawing competitions, in exhibitions, and by listening to speakers. The three-day exhibition of Madras memorabilia, put together by the Chennai Heritage Lovers Forum headed by the indefatigable D.H. Rao, at the Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar was a success, with students from many neighbouring schools coming to have a look.

However, a rather disappointing note was struck at the Jaigopal Garodia School in Anna Nagar, when Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan failed to live up to expectations and rather than showing some of the hundreds of pictures he must have taken during his ‘photowalks’, decided to get teachers of the school to demonstrate how they took history classes. His larger message was to get schoolchildren out of the classrooms, a message that we have often heard, and the point was not lost. But if he had enough pictures to show or stories to tell it might have made up for something, but it wasn’t to be.

Pictures show the chart displayed by students of Padma Seshadri School, KK Nagar, at the entrance to the exhibition; the students and an enthusiastic Mrs YGP, dean and director, PSBB Group of Schools await the start of the programme along with S. Muthiah; Ramanujam, chief postmaster general (second from right) and Indira Vaidyanathan, principal of the school; G. Vijaykumar, principal, Jaigopal Garodia School, Anna Nagar seems surprised as his teachers are called by the speaker to demonstrate; and one of the teachers makes a spirited response amidst thunderous applause from the children.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Errant drivers, clogged lakes, felled trees... woes that plague the erstwhile Garden City

Last week, I was in the erstwhile Garden City once again, part business, part pleasure. Cloudy skies, an occasional drizzle and a continuous wind kept my energy going. My luck with the city’s autorickshaw drivers continued to run, small mercies. But I was surprised to read in the newspapers about the notoriety of some of the drivers. My cousin pooh-poohed my premise that the drivers there were far better than the ones in Chennai. “You have to be here to understand,” he grunted. So, perhaps what a friend had insisted earlier was true, after all.

And now, there is a proposal to introduce 40000 new autos to the city. Will there be space for all of them, I wonder. Thankfully, it remains just a proposal and let’s hope it stays that way for some time to come. Talking about drivers of all forms of vehicles in Bangalore, it's almost the law of the jungle that rules - might is right.

Bangalore residents are having much to worry about these days, it appears. Yesterday, a group of them in Kaikondanapalli (off Surajpur Road) marched down the streets demanding that the Kaikondanapalli Lake and other lakes in the city be cleansed and restored to their natural beauty. What a shame that nature has to bear the brunt in the face of senseless development!

I took a late evening walk around the Ulsoor Lake and was happy to see clear waters – thanks to an army operation some weeks ago. Part of the lake area still stinks though, with all kinds of debris floating. What is the civic administration doing? We all know what the government ministers are up to. It’s the same everywhere in India – name one state where there is good governance. Gujarat? Probably.

The other demonstration in Bangalore last week was the one against the felling of trees. Many trees on Sankey Road are on the chopper’s block, for the sake of a flyover perhaps or a rail-over-bridge or some other monstrosity. But the innocent trees (how many years does it take for a sapling to grow into a tree!) have to suffer for no fault of theirs.

It’s not Sankey Road alone. As I was walking across the street near the Thom’s supermarket I saw the remnants of a felled tree. You talk to any Bangalorean and s/he will tell you how ‘they’ massacred the trees on MG Road, promising a replant for posterity’s sake; but will that ever happen? Which civic administration is willing to listen to the voice of residents these days? Unless you have money and muscle power, which not many middle-class families have.

So what is the way out? I think media has to step in, and step in a big way as far as civic issues are concerned. Are civic issues discussed during prime time on national television? No. It’s politics most of the way, isn’t it. Newspapers, too, must chip in with powerful, hitting stories every second day. If the administrators refuse to listen to people’s voices, they may not like to ignore some powerful stories the media puts out. Civic issues are not glamorous issues, the reason why the media is not really taking them up the way they should. That’s the sad part. Obviously, the media has a lot of soul-searching to do and that is unlikely to happen in hurry.

Well, here are pictures of the felled tree near Thom’s and the clear waters of the Ulsoor Lake, thanks to efforts by the army at heritage conservation.