Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nelsons of National High School – SLt BG Vasuki an ‘Officer and a Gentleman’

The 1962 Chinese aggression had triggered a wave of patriotic fervor all over the country. We were then students of National High School in Basavanagudi Bangalore. Our school proudly boasted a junior division NCC naval Wing. We all desired to be part of this elite group. We enjoyed being in the NCC and looked forward to the Sunday parade and classes. The war had upped the tempo, which meant more starch to our uniform, boots polished to mirror finish, arms swinging all the way front and back and rapt attention in the naval history class.

The NCC naval unit of the school was managed by Mr. SN Murthy our chemistry teacher. As an NCC officer he took a lot of interest and was extremely dedicated. He was solely responsible for running a very smart and taut outfit. The NCC unit brought many laurels to the school. Annual camps were another great attraction. The camps gave us an opportunity to be on our own, travel, meet new people and above all it opened an avenue for adventure. We grew up and became adults in these camps and it taught us many lessons of life. I still remember the daily bath in a stream close to the camp in Karkala near Mangalore - on an off day we went out to sea in a fisherman’s boat - a truly exhilarating experience. The camps took us to Channapatna, Goa and Nainital where I met Girish and we kept in touch for a number of years. He used to religiously send fruits every year, all the way from Naini to Bangalore. On the way back from Naini, Subash Chandra, Janardhan Reddy and self broke journey in Delhi and went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

The influence of NCC did not wash off and after college few of us joined the navy in mid 60s.

It’s almost 50 years since then. Sunder has retired from the navy as a Rear Admiral and was decorated with ‘Nao Sena Medal’ in the 1971 Indo Pak war. Krishna Prasad has also retired and sports a big salt and pepper beard and settled down in Kamannahalli. He was decorated with a ‘Vishista Seva Medal’ for his meritorious service. Vijendra, Vijay Gopal and Surendra have also retired. Vijay unfortunately passed away while in service.

BG Vasuki was a young Sub Lieutenant smart and an efficient naval officer. He was the second in command of a Patrol Vessel INS Ajit. The ship sailed from Port Blair in April 1971. During the passage, the ship encountered a very severe storm and extremely rough sea. Being a small vessel the crew found it exceedingly difficult to counter the ravaging storm. In the ensuing battle against nature the ship was mercilessly thrown about in the open sea which resulted in flooding. The crew battled bravely to keep the ship afloat. In spite of all efforts the ship sank in the Bay of Bengal taking away our very own ‘Dear Vasuki ’.Some of the survivors later on told me that BG being a good swimmer had given his own life jacket to a sailor. The courage required to make such a magnanimous gesture, especially when facing certain death is an act of supreme sacrifice and highest bravery. BG was an ‘Officer and a Gentleman’ in the true sense. May his soul rest in peace.

I had the opportunity to meet BG in Port Blair in Feb 1971 along with Vijay Gopal. We had a lovely evening reminiscencing.

For a school so far away from the sea to have produced so many Nelsons is really a proud achievement.

The credit of popularizing the navy in the school certainly goes to Mr. SN Murthy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Meter Jam – It has the potential of becoming the next ‘Dandi March’

All of us at some point or the other have been refused to be taken to our destination by an auto – rude and uncooperative behavior by the airline staff – extremely bad service in the restaurant – felt totally cheated when we went to a resort based on their website –we were molested for no reason and so on - the list is endless. In these circumstances, an individual is left high and dry to sort out the mess all by himself without any support from any quarter. All that one can do is to fight for your rights alone. There is absolutely no guarantee that your efforts will pay dividends. In the end you give up not because of lack of conviction – but due to host of other reasons- shortage of time, lengthy legal process, bureaucracy – very tough opposition etc.

The other day the doctors at the AIIMS went on strike to protest against bodily harm from patients and their supporters. In Bangalore the autos went off road to pressurize the government to increase the minimum fare, the sweepers decide to hold the city to ransom by resorting to ‘down with brooms’, the bus drivers stop driving buses – everybody wants to stop doing whatever they are doing and hurt the person on the street -POS .

People who can protest and make their fair or false grievances felt with utmost impact are the ones who have their own association, group, union or forum.

What can the POS do to project their problems? – They can collect all their problems and keep it safely in the store and wait for the next general election thinking they will vote for a party which is responsive to their needs. By now we have understood that all parties are the same but with different names. Waiting for the elections, then voting for a different party has not solved any of our problems.

The ‘Meter Jam’ – boycott of autos in Mumbai was a very innovative and novel way of registering POS protest. The response on ground may not have been great but it certainly increased the awareness. Using electronic channels, web and social networks such as Face Book and Twitter, the campaign was able to reach a very huge audience – more importantly it reached the educated- tech savvy – employed – urban youth – the society which matters and which has the ability to enforce change in the way common people live. The ‘Meter Jam’ campaign is a very powerful tool capable of providing justice to the common people. The campaign has the potential of becoming the next ‘Dandi March’

Electronic channels, web and social networks such as Face Book and Twitter has now become our association and ‘Meter Jam’ the tool to register our protest. For the first time we have a with us a very powerful tool to seek justice and set things right.

With this success let us STRIKE back not only at the autos but all forms of injustice affecting common people and the person on the street.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Marriage of Children – Whose Problem is it Anyway

My dear friend Dharwadkar is a very worried man. Come to think of it there is no need for him to worry at all. He is financially well of, with a regular pension, own house, working spouse, reasonably good health and above all both his sons are working in reputed firms. You may then ask me what is worrying him. I have a theory – Mind has a 1” box which has to remain full all the time with worries. Just when you think all the worries have been attended to and the box is empty, it gets filled up again with some other worry. Dharwadkar – DK for short spelt ‘Decay’ was unusually depressed and worried after his return from his home town – which incidentally happens to be Dharwad. His main worry is to find a bride for his elder son who is working in a reputed MNC in US and has an MS and MBA under his belt. I thought for a moment, why a boy with excellent education and a good job should find it difficult to get a life partner.

Looking back – meaning my generation – we became eligible – coming of age – a good catch - so to say in the mid seventies. I don’t think we had much difficulty in finding partners. One by one all of us got married – bore children and in due course have also become grand fathers. We gave no reason to our parents to worry about. So I cannot say how parents feel when, one’s offspring does not tie the knot on time. A friend of mine came very close to causing some degree of discomfort to his aged parents when they found out that he was still a bachelor and reaching the thirties. His mother a very strong woman with great persuasive skills one day called him and very frankly told him “my dear own blood and bones, time has come to say ‘I Do’ and you better say it quick or else you will end up as an abandoned road side bull, aimlessly wandering and grazing new pasture every day. The thought of becoming an aimless bull was too much for my dear friend, who then acted swiftly and found a mate.

In our days there were two kinds of marriages – ‘Love’ and ‘Arranged’. Even today it has remained the same.

Going back to Decay – I normally listen to his woes without offering any unsolicited advice except to say yes, no, grunt, yawn, scratch here or there etc to help him continue his narrative of the day. This morning while exercising one’s body, mind and soul, I somehow felt a strong urge to take this bull by the horn (not my friend who was about to become an aimless bull) and get to the bottom of his problem. To my great astonishment I found that dear Decay had done what all was required of the Marriage Blue Book- They had put ads in all the matrimonial sites, contacted their kith and kin, given their requirement to the traditional match makers, temple priests were told – you name it Decay had done it. Mind you this colossal effort has been in place from the last two years without yielding any result. The reasons are I suppose well documented – boy does not like the girl, girl does not like the boy, she is not fair, too smart for me, comes from a different background, too short, too tall, gotra does not match and so on.

What has so drastically changed in the last 35 years making the institution of marriage so different – meaning, why has it become difficult to find a mate either through L or A.
Amongst my friends and acquaintances there are a number of similar instances where in, their children have not been able to find suitable life partners. The boys and girls in question are highly educated, well employed, attractive and charming. When compared with us, ‘Generation – Today’ - grew up in a more open and liberal society and they were mostly left to themselves to conduct their day to day activities. Parental influence and guidance was there but limited. The society gave them more opportunities to interact with the opposite sex.They grew up in age of options and choices and still made good decisions. Surprisingly, when it comes to the all important decision of marriage – they dither, stall and delay.

Talking about L marriage – I simply cannot understand why some children cannot find suitable mates within their area of interaction. Is it that, they do not know what they want or their expectations are so high and idealistic that it becomes extremely difficult to find a mate. Does ‘Generation – Today’ think that they will lose their independence and identity if they were to say yes to M. In an age of instant food, quick fixes and frequent job hopping is there an unconscious resistance to long term commitment and relationships. May be as young children the life was in fast forward and they had very little time to sit back and reflect on their way of life. So when they finally slow down, they learn that the life they were leading and the life they want to lead are at variance and this revelation affects all aspects of life including selection of a suitable mate. Whatever the case may be these youngsters hem and haw when it comes to marriage.

Some youngsters prefer A marriage from the word go – either due to parental pressure or own accord. Those who did not succeed in L marriage at some point of time agree to go the A way. There are a number of hurdles to be crossed in this route also. As the children are busy, the task of progressing the A marriage is conveniently left to the parents, who in turn rely on traditional sources to find a match. When perceptions of the parents and that of children differ, matchmaking turns into a nightmare. I know a case where the parents are busy finding a girl with good ‘D in L’ like qualities. Each time they find someone suitable it turns out that their son is not interested. It’s almost a year and they are yet to find a right match.

Parents and the children should know that marriage is similar to catching a running train – with every passing minute the train is gaining speed and the other party is losing ground. With age, the window of opportunity becomes smaller and choices gets narrowed down .The competition gets too severe.

It’s high time someone gave advice to both parents and the children – may be a marriage councilor who can take a dispassionate view and render good practical advice.

Till such time this vexing problem is resolved people like Decay will continue to be worried and spend sleepless nights.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bengaluru Days – Trip to Hogenakkal falls – Extreme Adventure

It was another uneventful evening at ‘Anadhi’resturant, some three by five coffee was lying on the table and the conversation was very routine. The usual crowd was there -Prasad popularly known as ‘Gudda”, Question Babu who is no more with us, G Srinivas to all Bangaloreans he is known as Kappanna, Erkatu Chandu who is also no more – we were generally relaxing after a tiring day at the college. A little later Sunder, VK Ramu, Ramaswamy and Seeni joined us and of course not to forget dear Santhanam. The conversation suddenly took a turn and Sunder was telling us about his class trip to Hogenakkal falls. 45 of them were leaving the next morning by bus to the falls.

One thing led to another and suddenly the tone and tenor of the conversation changed and the whole atmosphere was electric. I heard some one saying “how dare you say we cannot come to Hogenakkal falls” “if you don’t want to take us, we shall come on our own” some body said “its ok yar we will go some other time” how will you come, too far, too late and so on. The whole argument made no sense and stopped as abruptly as it had started and not before Gudda making a very bold and imaginative statement on behalf of all the non Hogenakkal goers “It’s a matter of honor,we will meet all of you chaps in Hogenakkal tomorrow morning; we will leave now on cycles”. The statement sounded like Mahatma telling his followers – let’s go to Dandi.It was alright for Mr MKG to make a statement of this nature – he had Birla house to support, hordes of Congress workers and in fact the whole nation was behind him. We had very little.

We had a lot to do – firstly find out the route to Hogenakkal, commandeer a cycle, gather some cash and finally concoct a story to be told to the parents. It was indeed a very tall order for a bunch of fifteen year olds, with Gudda and Babu standing tall at sixteen and a half. Within two hours, at about 8 PM in October 1964 –Gudda, Babu, Kappanna, Chandu and self were ready with our cycles for the great adventure. Even to this day I do not know how we all decided to embark on this misguided escapade - bordering on foolishness and utmost stupidity. May be it was sheer recklessness, sudden surge of adrenalin or youthful exuberance.

Just a bit about Hogenakkal. At Hogenakkal, the Kaveri, now a large river drops and creates numerous waterfalls as the water cuts through the rocky terrain. In places the water falls as much as 20 meters and sounds like continual thunder. Soon after the falls the river takes a Southerly course and enters the Mettur reservoir. When the water falls on the rocks it appears as if hoge (smoke in Kannada) is emanating from the top of the kallu ( meaning rock ) because of the force of the water, hence Hogenakkal (smoking rocks). It is located in the Dharmapuri district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, about 130 KM from Bangalore

It was a journey in total darkness with our cycle headlamps making absolutely no impact on the road ahead.Gudda being a good singer kept us distracted from the task of endless peddling through his melodious voice. Babu regaled us with his many anecdotes and the task ahead looked a little easier. We constantly sought directions from the locals in the village shops which happened to be open at that point of time. Tea was another strength giver and morale booster. The places which have remained in my memory are Hosur, Palakodu, Dharmapuri and Pennaguram before reaching Hogenakkal.While we were making slow but steady progress, we saw Kappanna flash his torch on a mile stone and immediately switch it off. This suspicious and odd behavior attracted all our attention and we made him light the mile stone once again only to learn that the name of the village was ‘Karpalli’ – what an extraordinary coincidence. Remember having the mother of all breakfast at Pennaguram and very easily making the last 15 KM downhill through the winding roads to the falls. We reached the TB at around 11 AM and the college bus had already reached.

We had averaged almost 10 KM per hour for 13 hours, which was a remarkable feat by any standard. There was no wild cheering, garland or the media to welcome us. The whole afternoon was spent under the waterfall in the bathing area. The water fall beautifully massages the body and all the fatigue of cycling was removed. It was time for the bus to depart and our dear friend Chandu decided to call it quits. After some deliberation Sunder decided to come back with us on the cycle. The rest of the day was spent amidst the various water falls and a ride in the coracle. Sun set in the forest is fascinating to watch, the sun suddenly disappears and the entire forest is covered in a blanket of darkness. With it comes the eerie silence of the forest and the nocturnal calls of various animals and birds.

After a peaceful and refreshing eight hours of sleep we started our journey back to Bangalore. The uphill 15 KM to Pennaguram was literally back breaking, that’s when we realized that we would have to climb from almost sea level to Bangalore at 3000 ft.Not a very encouraging thought. After a really hefty breakfast at Pennaguram we headed towards Dharmapuri.It was about this time we realised that the collective wealth could at best get us one round of very basic lunch and thereafter be officially declared pauper, bankcrupt, khaput.In the finance meeting that ensued after lunch, the newly joined member of the group Sunder cast some very serious doubts regarding the fiscal management exercised by Gudda.This led to a ‘cycle out’ similar to ‘walk out’ by Gudda, who decided to proceed on his own to Bangalore.

Almost exhausted and dying of thirst and hunger, in the middle of the afternoon we sighted an ‘Alemane’ - a Kannada term for a unit or home where jaggery is made. When we narrated our plight to the people in the Alemane, they took pity and instantly offered us Kabbina halu - sugarcane juice and thick jaggery juice. It was the most refreshing and energy boosting drink we could have had in that situation. Sufficiently charged with sugar in our blood we embarked on the second leg of our journey. Unlike the night trip the group got fragmented and separated by large distances between each rider. We could not keep an eye on each other and at one point Babu collapsed with exhaustion. The journey became even slower and requiring much more effort making it uphill.

By about 5 PM we reached a village shop, having no will or energy left to proceed ahead. The only good news was that Gudda had also stopped in the same village and had left a message that he would be waiting for us at Hosur.In this village we found a good Samaritan in the form of a jawan from MEG.He instantly took charge of the situation and invited us to the function at the village well wherein the local deities were being worshiped in order to bring rain. At the end we were served ‘Mudee’ – Raggi balls and saru- dal. When he learnt that we were all NCC cadets, his desire to help us went up another notch. He took us to his house and offered us freshly prepared Uppit and coffee. In the end he collected money from all the villagers and gave us 1Rs and 72 P in change for the journey ahead and for Gudda. In those days the amount was a princely sum, especially coming from a famished village badly in need of rains.

The spontaneous act of generosity on the part of the jawan is one thing none of us will ever forget. Sometimes I wonder if we were to come across someone in a similar situation in the city would we be forthcoming and unhesitatingly embrace fellow beings and shower them with milk of human kindness – my sincere answer is NO. The city has made us very selfish and we shiver to stare at adversity. We look at all strangers with suspicion and reaching out to the needy is the last thing on our minds. Life in the city is in an unnatural state of perpetual ‘fast forward’ leaving us with little or no time to sit back and see how others are faring.

Having thanked one and all profusely we commenced our journey to Hosur. By about 8 PM we reached Hosur and delighted to find Gudda sitting in the open verandah of a house. All bickering and misunderstandings were forgotten by the time we finished one round of hugging and greetings. Gudda had put to use his spare time to good use. He had approached a gentleman and had obtained his permission to spend the night in their open verandah. In the mean time he had befriended the children of the gentleman and told them his story, which was mainly about his hunger and desire to eat. Once again the act of kindness was in the fore. The lady of the house served us a very hearty but simple meal of rice and sambar.We spent the night with grand visions of Bangalore, home, hot bath, lunch and finally the much needed sleep on soft beds.

Early next morning, 1Rs and 72 P in change provided all of us with good breakfast and strength to undertake the last leg of our journey. We reached Wilson Garden Bangalore around 11AM where we were treated to bread and badam milk by Bheem Rao a classmate of ours.

By 1 PM I reached home. An audacious adventure came to a safe end after almost 65 hours of exicitement, anger, hope, frustration, camaraderie, achievement and a host of other emotions. After a hot bath followed by beet root sambar, rice and papad I went to sleep for many many hours still dreaming of Hogenakkal.

Sunder, Gudda and self have retired from the navy and settled down in Bangalore. We meet frequently and fondly remember the daring trip which all of us undertook to Hogenakkal.Looking back, we are truly amazed at the tenacity and determination exhibited by all of us.

The trip certainly qualifies as ‘Extreme Adventure’