Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life before Cell Phones

We are all familiar with BC and AD for designation of years. The invention of cell phone has affected the humanity in such a big way, in years to come the labeling of years will be redone as BC ‘Before Cell’ and AD will be replaced by AC – ‘After Cell ’. Human memory is short and I am certain that most of us have forgotten what life was like in the distant past when there were no cell phones and human beings had to use an ordinary telephone to communicate. Probably Alexander Graham Bell if he were alive today would have been the best person to answer it.

Mr. Graham Bell patented his unique invention of telephone machine with the appropriate authorities in the U.S., on 7 March 1876. Graham Bell, after three days of patenting his discovery, on 10 March, 1876, transmitted the first message ever sent by the telephone. It is recorded that Alexander Graham Bell's notebook entry of 10 March 1876 describes his successful experiment with the telephone. Speaking through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room, Bell utters these famous first words, "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you". History also notes that, five years earlier in 1871 an Italian American named Antonio Meucci had applied for patenting his invention of telephone with the authorities. Unfortunately he could not find enough patronage or supporters for his unique invention, and as such, could not afford to pay the $250 required for getting the patent for the discovery. Be that as it may …. Invention of telephone impacted mankind like no other invention in the 19th century, it influenced every facet of life and the world changed permanently.

Bell uncle may have used the telephone in 1876 but I had to wait for another 80 long years. There were many reasons for this long delay. The main reason being I was born only in 1949 and had to wait another five years to visit my uncle who as the Divisional Commissioner of Mysore had a telephone. I still remember the telephone was kept on the left side as we entered the house and was an object of awe and mystery. We could only see it being operated by others and never got to use it. The instrument remained a stranger for many more years.

The only telephone we knew as youngsters was one made out of two empty 555 cigarette tins connected by a length of twine. I and my childhood friend Kanthu shared a private connection.

I do not remember what life was like without a telephone in the house or for that matter in shops or booths. How did we manage to spend an entire day without calling somebody? It must have been very weird and scary not receiving any call – not even a wrong number call.

I landed up in the Institute of Armament Technology (IAT) Khadakwasla - Pune in early December 1975 as a part my training to become a specialist Gunnery and Missile officer in the navy. All along from Kochi to Pune I had dreamt of going across to Mumbai to meet my fiancé. On reaching IAT, the first thing I learnt to my dismay was, that the next day was not a holiday and there was not going to be any meeting up with the fiancé. This was a very big disappointment for a 26 year old boy madly in love and who had not seen or talked to the apple of his eye for many moons. My course mates tried to pacify me but there was no way I could be consoled. I headed straight to the bar to drown my sorrows and Kats joined me with his western cowboy novel to keep me company. After a few Gin and Tonics down the hatch the picture became clearer and the way ahead seemed simple. I decided that enough was enough and booked a trunk call to my fiancé. Half an hour later I checked with the operator to be told that the line was down and it would take some more time. Notwithstanding a few more G and Ts, there was a steady note of disquiet and frustration building up – I raised the precedence of the call to urgent which yielded no result. Kats by now was equally involved in my struggle to get through the call and suggested I raise it to the ultimate ‘LIGHTNING’. Within a jiffy I got the call and spoke to Jai and was all smiles thereafter from ear to ear. The euphoria remained till next morning only to be shattered when the telephone bill was handed over – The lighting call had cost me Rs 1400 when my monthly pay was less than that figure. I was truly struck by a lightening. What all one has to do – when you are in love? Jai as a wife disagrees and entirely blames the G and T for the fiasco.

To make a telephone call in them days was a herculean task. Firstly you had to find a telephone and more importantly the person you wanted to contact also had an instrument. Having overcome the first obstacle, there was the question of having the right coin. People in India are very ingenious. A friend of mine made an important invention to beat even the best minds in AT&T. He used to stick a length of horse hair to the coin with a very light layer of glue and with this contraption he was able to insert the coin –dial - speak – withdraw – reuse – continue to use. I think the ‘Horse Hair Coin’ remained in active service all his bachelor days. The contraption had to be unceremoniously retired when he came to know his wife to be was a close relative of the Post Master General. Not to be left behind in the race for most important 20th century inventions, another friend of mine studying in Baku - Azerbaijan in the Institute of Petroleum and Chemistry discovered that the Indian 25P coin otherwise of no use to Indians or Russians, was capable of passing of as 1Rouble coin for weight and dimension. With this discovery he was able to talk his way through the entire Soviet Union. One day the mandarins in Kremlin realized that their coffers were full of Indian coins, which ultimately led to the fall of Soviet Union. Please don’t tell me we are not scientifically inclined.

Telephones those days were rare. They did not come naturally as tap and light fittings in the house. Having lots of money was not good enough, one needed to know at least an MP or a Minister to make the telephone talk. Then you waited for a long time – like people these days do for club membership – at times the waiting could bypass an entire generation. The problem of owing a telephone did not end there. The moment a telephone was allotted to you the entire colony in a radius of 2Km came to know about it which propelled you into instant stardom. Almost everyone claimed to be your friend or a distant relative. Your telephone number was immediately transmitted to their friends and relatives to be used only in an emergency. My father used to receive calls from strangers at all odd hours asking for someone or the other to be informed or to be brought to the telephone. Mr. Murthy habitual caller would ring up asking for Mr. Krishnaswamy from 28. My father by then was short of hearing due to constant imbibing of a BP medicine by the name of Emdopa. He would send our man Friday ‘young Rama” to fetch Mr. Rama Swamy from 32 instead. Mr. RS who was also of the same age and afflicted by similar acoustics problems would be facing Mr. M who by now who would have forgotten why he had called in the first instance.

When we were posted in Port Harcourt Nigeria we had to go to the local telephone office to make an ISD call. It would take ages to get Bangalore. Exasperated with the system I complained to an Indian Expat, who immediately offered a solution. Mr. Baweja said “Ring up Omashola Babatunde on 261832 and ask him to connect you to anywhere on earth and he will do it in a tick” I said “what about the money the receipt and all that” Mr. B said “you don’t worry – he will send it to you once a month and it will be half the government rate”. Initially I was hesitant and later on I realized it was the only way to communicate. Later on I was shocked to learn that this system prevailed in our own Rajdhani the land of all possibilities – New Delhi. This was much before the CWG.

When we came to Bangalore we were given an out of turn allotment of telephone as a retired government officer. The connection came with STD and we had to put a code for its usage. Next to the most well guarded secret in the world ‘Coca-Cola concentrate secret’ kept under lock in Atlanta USA, was our STD code. It had to be guarded day and night from being stolen by my adolescent son and daughter. Whilst in service I had free phone facility and the children had gotten used to it. It took a while for them to realize that poor daddy had to pay for all their calls.

Cross connections, wrong connections, multiple subscribers on the line, delays, abrupt cancellation, and background noise were very common. Telephones could land you up in peculiar situations. When posted in New Delhi I had a telephone which once belonged to Mr Arjun Singh the politician and minister. I used to get calls for favours, approvals and decisions.

Once my brother in law from Mumbai booked a call through the naval trunk lines to speak to his wife in Bangalore. I was posted in New Delhi and unknown to my relative by marriage had also come down to Bangalore. When the call came, I took the telephone and greeted him. Thinking I was in Delhi my BiL thought the call had been connected to Delhi and let the exchange staff have it. It took some time and effort to sort out this humor in uniform.

Some Gyan. The first telephone exchange in India was opened in Calcutta in Jan 1882, six years after its invention. Exchanges were also established in Bombay, Madras and Ahmedabad in the same year. Indian Telephone Industries Ltd (ITI) was the first public sector undertaking started in 1948 by Government of India after independence. The main objective of ITI was to design, manufacture & supply telecommunication equipment such as telephone instruments, electromechanical exchanges, transmission systems, electronic exchanges & ground stations for satellite communications.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Comedy is Serious Business

I have always wanted to witness a Stand Up comedy for a very long time. The closest I have ever got to was watching it on TV – Jerry Seinfeld, Russell Peters, George Carlin and rest of the gang. Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where a comedian performs in front of a live audience, usually speaking directly to them. Their performances are sometimes filmed for later release via DVD,Internet,movies, and telivision. The performer is commonly known as a stand-up comic, stand-up comedian or simply a stand-up. This form of entertainment in English is new to India.

The Comedy Store (in London since 1979 and Manchester) has been operating at Mumbai's leading lifestyle destination ‘The Palladium’, Lower Parel, as India's first and only state of the art venue for stand up comedy. It opened in June this year, The Comedy Store, Mumbai presents a fabulous opportunity for the people of Mumbai to enjoy a serious night out…..a fresh breath of entertainment.

Our daughter Akhila took us there one evening while we were at Mumbai for the Dusshera vacations. To be frank I went with an open mind, not expecting anything fantastic. Having visited the place earlier my daughter told us that we should be on time, avoid the front row and switch of the cell phone. The comics literally get after these types and make them the butt of their jokes. There were three stand ups – big time British and Australian comedians - Wayne Deakin, Rainer Hersch and Junior Simpson and they appeared one at a time. The show is like a roller coaster ride – unending narration of jokes, laughter, screams and shrieking for two hours with a fifteen minute break to refill glasses and grab a bite. I suppose having a drink in your hand inside the auditorium adds to the relaxed atmosphere and creates the right mood for laughter.

The theatre accommodates about three hundred people. It has excellent acoustics, comfortable chairs and a good view. The jokes are about Indian culture, traditions, weakness, failures, population, strength and so on. There are similar jokes on Brits, Blacks, Aussies, French and Americans. Lot of jokes relate to sex. Some of the jokes are from current events like CWG. The comic shows a leading national news paper with headlines screaming “WE ARE SECOND TO NONE” and says “I thought Indians were good at counting” how can you be second to none when Australia stood first. The jokes are frivolous and lighthearted bordering on the ridiculous. The best part is that you do not remember any of the jokes a day later. They pick on two or three from the audience and the jokes are on them. There was this married chap who arrived late with his sisters after leaving behind his wife at home – a number of jokes were on him. Similarly a person in the front row sitting with a girl from the office, while his wife sat in the row behind, a young student and so on.

My wife says “So, well fed and obedient, we entered the auditorium- slinked in noiselessly and unobtrusively into seats in the fifth row. Three comedians took the stage that night and as each one picked on some of the chaps in front, the Commonwealth games, the lack of space in Mumbai and so on, we enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, secure in the knowledge that we would not be picked on that night….. Standup Comedy is still new to India. We are just learning to laugh at ourselves…. There were times when you could feel the entire audience tightening up in defence as the jokes was directed at some of our revered institutions like cricket but for the most part it was hilarious. Lewd, vulgar and at times bordering on gross, but very, very funny…. The thing is with standup comedians, it’s not so much what they say as how they say it and their superb sense of comic timing (if they’re good). If they are not, no one can bomb as badly as a comic. All in all, a lovely way to spend an evening in Mumbai”.

To keep the audience continuously laughing for two hours in no ordinary task – as the adage goes – ‘Comedy is Serious Business’ .The comedians must be putting in lot of effort and hard work every day to remain current and make their jokes click.

It is certainly a different kind of stage entertainment, something new and utterly hilarious. We enjoyed it thoroughly – it was value for money. When you are in Mumbai next I strongly recommend you to watch the show.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bengaluru Days - Brighter side of Darkness

On retirement from the navy in 1995 we bid good bye to Delhi and came to settle down permanently in Bangalore. Delhi in a way spoils all its residents with cheap petrol, milk, electricity and many other benefits. We stayed in Daula Kuan in South Delhi and as a result we had never experienced any power cuts, fluctuation, blackouts etc.We led a very sheltered life full of power and light.

On arrival in Bangalore we realised that power cuts were a natural phenomenon and it spared no one – we became powerless. Not a single day passed without a cut. There were days when the electricity went off three to four times in a day. Either scheduled or otherwise these cuts had a huge impact on all of us. There was very little one could do to overcome these cuts other than sit back and suffer. That’s when I decided to see the power cuts from a different perspective and I said to my self let us be positive and see what the benefits of power cuts are – is there any ‘Brighter side of Darkness’.

The first visible sign of positivity was seeing the whole family wake up at 6AM to beat the scheduled power cut, commencing at 7AM every alternate day. Within the hour a lot had to be achieved – shave, press clothes, hot bath, check mail and what have you. At least the family woke up early for fifteen days. My 17 year old ‘Prince of Wales’ was a habitual late riser and it was very gratifying when he asked me one morning “Baba what it that bright orange circular thing coming up in the sky”. Thanks to Karnataka Power Corporation we got to see sunrise too.

I used to look forward to 2 PM - that’s when we had the second power cut. Peace and tranquillity used to descend on the whole house like gust of cool breeze in a desert.Baba Sigal, Madonna, Grave Diggers, Bone Rattlers and the whole ruddy gang were forced to clamp down. Within ten minutes of ending the relentless high decibel audio war, all the acoustic attributes of the victim’s ear would be restored. I could even hear the rustle of the dry leaves from the garden.

KPC also helped restore Indianess in our youth of that time. Two minutes into Santa Barbara or Bold and the Beautiful the unscheduled power cut used to cut off CC and Gina in the middle of their very important conversation, much to the dismay of my adolescent daughter and mother dear.

The benefits continued to affect every facet of our lives. We had an old fridge which required a lot of care and looking after. Whilst in Delhi the LOH had not clearly demarcated responsibilities regarding upkeep and maintenance of our refrigerator. At times it was impossible to remove the ice tray as nobody bothered to defrost for weeks together. In Delhi it’s impossible to passage from evening to night without the sparkle of the ice cubes in ones glass. In Bangalore this acute problem was solved for ever. The fridge was defrosted automatically two to three times a day without fail. LOH repeated hints to buy a frost free fridge fell on deaf ears. Who needed all this when you had KPC working for you. Cheers we had plenty of ice.

There were other lesser benefits too. One day the LOH, very reluctantly wore an old sari for a party. She was a bundle of nerves as we entered the host’s house. I was very worried about the outcome of this terrible and unacceptable social situation - LOH being caught wearing an old sari. As we entered the party scene, the lights went off and on came the candles. No one in the party could make out the sari was old. A certain disaster was averted by KPC with utmost élan.

Candles replaced the electric bulb and the whole atmosphere used to be romantic and helped bonding. The whole family was forced to sit together in a room and sing songs, exchange notes, crack jokes and generally enjoy the togetherness in semi darkness. With one flick of a switch the KPC had brought scores of families closer and ensured more of QT.

Finally – As I have said elsewhere, pouring of drinks in ones glass is a fine art. It requires a lot of concentration, determination and sleight of hand to pour the right measure. Under the constant gaze of the LOH this task becomes even more difficult and pouring a large one is almost impossible. To exit from these unfavourable conditions one requires divine intervention – That’s when KPC used to resemble the almighty GOD. Suddenly the lights would go off.

Please tell me, can anybody make out the difference between a large and a small peg in total darkness. Who wants light?

Even to this day my observations still hold good. As I publish this in Oct 2010 Bangalore has 4 to 6 hours power cut.

Incidently, In 1906, Bangalore became the first city in India to have electricity, powered by the hydroelectric plant situated in Shivanasamudra.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meter Jam -Reward the Good

I am sure October Meter Jam was successful and the message “Be honest and polite to all your passengers” has reached all the auto operators. Both the Meter Jams were a warning to the erring operators, if you cross the line we will boycott the autos which will hurt you financially. I think it’s time to move on and change our tactics to garner better response from all the operators. Like any other profession, the defaulters are a minority who are bringing a bad name to their occupation. On the other hand there is a silent majority which consists of good and law abiding drivers. We need to recognise their effort and reward them for the good work. This will enthuse them to operate correctly and over a period of time attract the law breakers to turn a new leaf. How do we address this issue?

To start with the Meter Jam can formulate a set of guidelines which recognises the ‘Good Operator’ (GO). We could then have the “GO” of the week or something like that. Give the GO a Meter Jam T - Shirt, a sticker which he can proudly display, claiming membership to “Meter Jam’ club, give wide publicity to this event, encourage the public to patronise such autos and so on. On these occasions we must try and bring in other stake holders such as the Police, RTO, Auto Drivers Association (They are a bunch of good people – they were very helpful in recovering a misplaced laptop on one occasion and set of important documents in another instance)

We could adopt a carrot and stick policy – in tandem.

May be the jammers will give a serious thought to this proposal.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We went to Devarayanadurga

Devarayana Durga (DD) is a temple town near Tumkur in the state of Karnataka. The town is situated at a height of 3940 ft – slightly higher than Bangalore. Connected by very good roads (NH4) and only 65 Km from Bangalore is a very attractive weekend proposition. DD is dotted with many temples. The main temples are ‘Yoganarasimha’ and the ‘Bhoganarasimha’. About 3-4 Km from the town is another place of interest called ‘Namada Chilume’.

Figure 1 Entrance to DD

It appears that the place was originally known as Anebiddasari, then as Jadakana Durga after a chief named Jadaka and finally Devarayana Durga name was given in 1696 by the king of Mysore Sree Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar. The’ Yoganarasimha’ temple, built in the Dravidian style of architecture located on the hill top is said to have been constructed by Kanthirava Narasaraja I (was the ruler of Mysore from 1638 to 1659). It is also understood that the enclosure and tower were repaired in 1858 by the Krishna Raja Wodeyar III. The hilltop gives a splendid view of the surrounding areas. To the East of Tumkur and North of Devarayana Durga, the region presents beautiful scenery of forests and hill ranges intersected by cultivated valleys
Figure 2 Yoganarasimha Temple located on top of the farther hill

I remember having visited DD many times when I was a boy of seven or eight. That was when my uncle MG Gangadhar Rao was posted as the Assistant Conservator of Forests in Tumkur. Sadly, after so many years I was unable to recollect anything except one incident - where in, the radiator cap of Oldsmobile car, in which we had gone up the hill, burst open with steam gushing out and scaring all of us.

Dore and Lalitha, Sunder and Saroja, Jayanti and Self decided to beat the hum drum existence of the city and headed to DD on 02 Oct 2010.We left Bangalore at 0800 h and reached on top of the hill at about 1030 h after a sumptuous breakfast at Kamath, short of Tumkur. As you drive up the hill you can see green forested area on both sides of the road - an extremely welcome sight to anyone coming from a city. As you continue the drive you are tempted to halt and camp in the lush growth and become one with nature. Truly an invigorating experience – available just 70 Km from Bangalore. An ideal location for camping, trekking and outdoor activities.

Figure 3 Water body on the way

Figure 4 Typical landscape

Understand from forest records that- “Devarayanadurga State Forest is about 42 sq. km large. Apart from being the catchment area of hundreds of streams and many lakes/tanks, the forests, both within the boundaries of Devarayanadurga State Forest as well as the Revenue forests adjoining it, are home to rare and endangered wildlife like tiger, leopard, deer, sloth bear and more than 250 species of birds. Among them is a rare and endemic bird species – the Yellow Throated Bulbul (Pncnonotus xantholaemus). This bird is found only in a few areas of south India including Devarayanadurga forest and nowhere else on earth. This patch of hill is visited by people from all over the world to see the Yellow Throated Bulbul, which is found there in good numbers”.

Figure 5 Yellow Throated Bulbul (from net)

Figure 6 The Team

The road is steep but comfortable to drive and it takes you up to the foot of the temple. There are some 200 odd steps to be climbed to reach the temple. I understand that the temple is maintained by the TVS Group. The outcome is immediately visible. The surrounding area is very clean, devoid of plastic, waste and any throw away. Surprisingly there are no beggars. The entire area is very clean and tidy. The climb itself is relaxing and the steps with stone guard are made of nicely polished granite. All along the way the path is lit by solar powered lamps. The overall ambiance is very conducive to prayer and worship.

Figure 7 The Climb

Figure 8 Dore sitting on polished granite guard

Figure 9 Rock painting on the way

Figure 10 Solar Powered Lamps

As you reach the temple there is a welcome party awaiting your arrival. There are scores of monkeys ready to grab anything and everything from your hand. One has to be very careful. Dore lost his Rayban cover. Understand that ‘this is one of the few patches in entire Eastern Karnataka, where wild Hanuman Languor can be seen roaming freely”

Figure 11 The welcome party

Figure 12 Temple on the Left

The temple itself is small and the idol of Narashima has been installed in the ‘Garbha Gudi’ – ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’. I have always wondered why the ‘Garbha Gudi’ is small, dingy and devoid of any light and ventilation. The net has some answers to offer, one plausible reason being “that the temple developed from the cave-shrine of the extremely remote past. Throughout all subsequent developments in temple architecture, however spectacular and grandiose, this main shrine room remains the small, dark cave that it has been from the beginning. This is another instance in Hinduism where the primitive and the modern, along with all the developments in-between, can be seen to co-exist remarkably and peacefully”. Another reason being “Unlike other organized religions, in Hinduism, it is not mandatory for a person to visit a temple. Since all Hindu homes usually have a small shrine or ‘puja room’ for daily prayers, Hindus generally go to temples only on auspicious occasions or during religious festivals. Hindu temples also do not play a crucial role in marriages and funerals, but it is often the meeting place for religious discourses as well as ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs and chants).
Whatever the reason may be, I personally feel that time has come to examine this form of traditional architecture in greater detail and establish its relevance in the modern age. It may be time to bring in lot more space, light and ventilation to accommodate the huge and rising Hindu population that visit the temples. A visit to any popular temple on a day of a festival will corroborate my thoughts on the subject. The jostling, pulling and pushing one is subjected, can be very exasperating to say the least. Added to this is the heat, smell of sweat, stagnant air, crying and wailing of children and adults alike. The whole atmosphere is claustrophobic and intimidating, far removed from the ideal surroundings one yearns while praying.

Figure 13 View of the township from the top

Having visited a Vishnava temple I thought it would be in good faith to have my forehead painted with the three namas. There is a person sitting on the steps waiting to draw the Nama and claim his bounty.
Wikipedia says “Of all religious markers, the Sricharanam is the most important of all for Sri Vaishnavas. The Srichooranm describes the type of Naamam Iyengars sport as a sign of their devotion to Lord Vishnu. This may be worn by a priest, ascetic, or a worshipper. It shows the Hindu tradition or sampradaya he follows, in this case Sri Vaishnavism. The Srichoornams are also made in different styles in different sub sects, the dominant types being the Vadakalai type and the Thenkalai type. The Vadakalai sport a U shaped thiruman along with a srichurnam (mostly a yellow line) in the centre, while the Thenkalai sport a Y thiruman with a red srichurnam in the centre”.

Figure 14 Two white lines with a Red in the middle

We then proceeded to ‘Namada Chilume’ meaning the ‘Water spring for the Nama’ (Religious marking on the forehead). Namada Chilume is a natural spring situated in Devarayanadurga. 'Chilume' means spring. The spring issues from the surface of the rock. It is believed that Lord Sri Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, stayed here during their Vanavasa. Lord Sri Rama searched for water to wet the "Nama". When he could not find any water, he shot an arrow into the ground, aiming at the rock, and created a spring.
Figure 15 The mythology of Namada Chilume in Kannada

As you can see in the picture below, the water comes out from a small hole, throughout the year and never dries up. Also, there is a foot impression of Lord Sri Rama near that.
Figure 16 The Spring

The water is pure and slightly sweetish in taste. After a tiring walk it was very refreshing to wash the face and sprinkle a little water on the head to cool off. The water itself is very refreshing to drink.

Figure 17 Relaxing

Figure 18 Nursery of medicinal herbs

There is a deer park nearby, maintained by the Karnataka forest department in addition to a nursery of medicinal plants.

Figure 19 Deer Park

The only downside to this excellent weekend getaway is the lack of any accommodation anywhere in DD. Visitors are advised to take packed food as it is not available at the temple. One must take a head cover as the sun is sharp.

Having come all the way from Bangalore we saw lot of merit in spending the night in Tumkur. Finally we drove down to Tumkur and stayed in a friendly and clean hotel – “Sampige Comfort” on BH Road. The lunch and dinner was wholesome and tasty. We all sat up late into the night recalling old times. It is appropriate to mention :-
“I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)She Stoops to Conquer, I